Friday, March 3, 2017

Earthquake Survival

As a Seattle-area native, I have been hearing my whole life about the risks of earthquakes in this area - talk about earthquakes and earthquake drills have become second nature to me.  I can remember experiencing three significant earthquakes, including the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake (when I was sitting in my high school classroom).  I can also remember stories from my grandmother of the 1949 earthquake, in which waves were smashing against the windows of her office building on Lake Washington; and my mom in the 1965 earthquake, when she had to duck from bricks falling off chimneys as she was walking home from school.  For me then, earthquakes are relatively minor (no significant damage and nobody hurt or dead) and kind of exciting.  However, the fear of a severe earthquake is all too real.  Scientists have been saying for many years that we are long overdue for (or at least could be hit any day by) "the big one".  This concept was echoed in a widely-read 2015 New Yorker article, The Really Big One, which predicts complete devastation of western Washington.

The subject of this post is a  real-life disaster that may be similar to whenever the big one does decide to hit Seattle.  The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake was one of the worst natural disasters in American history.  As a result of the (approximately) 7.8 magnitude earthquake: 3,000 people were killed; over 220,000 people became homeless; 80% of the city was destroyed and the cost to restore was approximately 10 billion dollars (estimate of the actual cost in 2015 dollars).  In spite of the tragedy, the aftermath of that event is uplifting: people (citizens, companies, governments) came together to care for the wounded and homeless and quickly rebuild the city.  In nine short years, San Francisco celebrated its complete recovery at the Pan-Pacific Exposition in 1915.

This blog explores the earthquake and its recovery through the lens of the experience of my great-grandfather's sister, Ada Jones, who survived the disaster and was a part of the city's recovery.

Ada Jones
Ada Plymale Jones, c. 1909

Ada Plymale Jones was born and raised in southern Oregon, one of the oldest siblings of my great-grandfather Ben Plymale.  She married at 19 and had a happy, but brief, married life.  She moved with her husband to the Bay Area of California in 1896.  Sadly, tragedies struck her family.  Both of her children died in childhood and her husband died suddenly in 1900, at the age of 35.  Ada was left in a difficult situation. At 34, her entire family was dead and she had nothing to do but go back to work and support herself.  Although she had worked for newspapers in her youth, she decided to go into a field that was popular with women: stenography.

At the time of the 1906 earthquake, Ada was living by herself in an apartment in nearby Oakland, California.  She was working as a stenographer for the Fulton Iron Works in their office in downtown San Francisco.  Ada was at work in San Francisco at the time the earthquake hit during the morning of April 18, 1906.

The Earthquake

3rd and Howard in San Francisco.  This was just two blocks
from Ada's office - Fulton Iron Works - where she was at the
time of the quake and which was also destroyed in the disaster
Courtesy California Historical Society
Prior to the major 1906 earthquake, there were decades of minor earthquakes that served as precursors to the big one.  The big earthquake hit on the morning of April 18, 1906; the epicenter was just offshore, west from San Francisco.  The earthquake lasted about 42 seconds and estimates range from 7.7 to 8.3 magnitude on the Richter scale. 
Many buildings were destroyed during the initial quake.  However, most of the destruction occurred as a result of widespread fires in the city.  The fires burned out of control because of ruptured gas mains and an inability to fight the fires because the city's water system was also destroyed. The fires burned out of control for four days.  At that point, 80% of the city was destroyed.  In addition to the hardships to its inhabitants, this was also crippling to the economy because San Francisco was then the largest city and port on the west coast. 

Front page of the Oakland Tribune newspaper, April 18, 1906

At the time, my great-grandfather on my other side of the family (Odin Wadleigh) was a 17-year old high school student in upstate New York.  He wrote the following entry in his diary on April 18, 1906: "There was a terrible earthquake in San Francisco this A.M. It killed 3,000 persons and destroyed many buildings. Fire broke out and because the water works + water pipes were destroyed could not be stopped. They are having an awful time. We do not know all about it yet." And the next day he wrote: "We hear more about San Francisco. The earthquake has ceased but fire is raging every where and can not be stopped. The whole city will probably be destroyed."


a scene from one of the refugee camps at the Presidio, where
Ada lived for three weeks after the earthquake
Courtesy California Historical Society
When the earthquake hit, Ada was at work in her office at Howard and Fremont.  She managed to escape unharmed even though her office building was destroyed.  In addition, her  home in Oakland was also destroyed and all of her possessions were lost.  This was probably a terrifying time; it would have been difficult to find food or water and in the immediate aftermath there were many riots and looting and the mayor gave an order for military and law enforcement to "shoot to kill" anyone engaging in those activities.  Somehow, Ada navigated her way through the rubble of city to the Presidio, where she assembled with other survivors.  For the next three weeks, Ada lived as a homeless refugee on the grounds of the Presidio - where she probably lived in a shared tent and received food and water supplied by the US military. 

Six days after the disaster, Ada was finally able to notify her family in Oregon that she was alive and safe.  Three weeks later, she was eventually able to evacuate out of the city and went to Medford, Oregon to stay with her sister.  Others were not so lucky, especially if they did not have relatives they could stay with or money they could access (most banks were not able to disperse money because their funds were still locked in fire-proof vaults that had to completely cool before opening).  Somewhere between 220,000 and 300,000 people were made homeless as a result of the tragedy and two years later, many refugees were still living in camps in the city. A majority of the homeless population though evacuated out of the city and fled as refugees to other cities (most to San Jose and Los Angeles) where they were supported in camps similar to those in San Francisco. 

In spite of the magnitude of destruction, the city was relatively efficient at supporting the refugees and rebuilding the city.  At the time, many government officials downplayed the extent of the disaster - with the intent of appealing to potential investors, which seems to have been successful.   Many insurance companies went bankrupt as a result of payouts from the disaster (mostly due to fire claims, earthquake damage was - and still is - not covered by most insurance policies).  The disaster also received worldwide attention and the effort was also aided by relief support from around the world - and received funds from the federal US government, from foreign governments and from private companies and individuals.

Short newspaper article about Ada in the
Medford Mail Tribune, May 18, 1906
After spending about a month with her sister, Ada realized that she needed to find a job and a place to live.  During the summer of 1906, she briefly moved to Grants Pass, Oregon and then to Roseburg, Oregon; where she accepted temporary work.  Then in August 1906, she moved by herself to Seattle, where she had finally found a permanent job.  In Seattle, she worked for the Caldwell Brothers Company, which manufactured and sold machinery - including urban water systems - perhaps they helped with the reconstruction effort in San Francisco.  (Her office was in Pioneer Square, across the street from where I currently work). 

She lived in Seattle for four months until she heard from her old employer - Fulton Iron Works - in San Francisco.  They were rebuilding their company and wanted her to come back to her old job to be a part of the effort.  In December 1906, after being away for 7 months, Ada moved back to San Francisco.  She moved downtown to an apartment at Haight and Buchanan that had probably just been built.  She continued working as a stenographer for the Fulton Iron Works, which as an iron supplier and manufacturer was probably heavily involved in the reconstruction efforts.  It must have been exciting to have been living and working among those that were rebuilding the city. 

Ada continued living in the city until she died there in 1933. 

What I appreciate about history are the very important lessons we can learn from those who have come before us.  In this case, the threat of a similarly destructive earthquake is quite real.  Everyone who could be effected by one (from individuals to corporations and governments) should take the risks seriously and have a plan not just for surviving the disaster but for surviving and rebuilding in the subsequent weeks, months or years.  Ada's example is one for the average person to emulate.  She survived the disaster, fled to the correct or safe location for refugees, evacuated out of the city as soon as she could, found her support network and quickly set about pulling herself "up by her bootstraps" and finding work.  And instead of abandoning her city, she came back and was a part of its rebuilding effort. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Seduction and Founding of the Mormon Church

On this Valentine's Day, I thought it fitting to write a post that is - sort of - about love.  This explores a simple act of sexual seduction that apparently occurred almost 200 years ago in Pennsylvania.  However, as we will see, it directly involved my family as well as the founding of the Mormon Church.  In 1829, Joseph Smith (the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) supposedly seduced Eliza Winters, who was the teenage half-sister of my great-great-great-great-grandfather Joseph Winters.  Eliza also happened to be his wife's friend and a close relative by marriage. This happened exactly when Joseph was in the process of writing the Book of Mormon and founding the new church. The supposed act likely had an effect in shaping his views on polygamy, Mormon doctrine and the reputation of Mormons in general.

Although much of the below narrative is conjecture, it also seems to shows historical precedent for the negative treatment (revictimization and character assassination) of female victims of sexual abuse by men in power, which unfortunately still happens to this day.

Joseph Smith
Excerpt from 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed, which is
the only direct evidence of the supposed scandal between
Joseph Smith and Eliza Winters

Joseph Smith is well known as the founder of the Latter Day Saint churches (i.e. the Mormon Church) and was known as a prophet by his followers.  During the 1820s though, Smith was relatively unknown; he claimed to have religious visions and supported himself by literally digging for treasure. 

In 1827, he was married to Emma Hale and moved with her to her hometown of Harmony, Pennsylvania.  It was at that same time that Joseph retrieved the infamous golden plates and began transcribing them.  The transcription process, which resulted in the Book of Mormon, took place between 1827 and 1830.  Joseph was a close friend during this time with Martin Harris, who apparently helped him transcribe the plates.  (Note that Martin Harris' wife Lucy Harris had a prominent role in songs about the history of Mormonism on the TV show South Park, in which she is lauded as "Lucy Harris, smart smart smart smart" for her skepticism of the whole thing. In reality, Lucy Harris soon separated from her husband because of their disagreements over Joseph Smith and the plates.)

In May 1829, the Smith family moved away from Harmony.  In 1830, the Mormon church was officially founded and a fascinating historical/religious movement began. Joseph had quite a colorful life until he was murdered in 1844.  Later the Mormon movement was headed by Brigham Young and resulted in the founding of Salt Lake City and Utah.

Eliza Winters

In 1827, Eliza Winters was a 15-year old girl who lived with her mother and stepfather (Phebe and Joseph McKune) and siblings, in Harmony, Pennsylvania.  She had recently moved to the area when her mother had remarried after her first husband, Eliza's father, had died.  Eliza's ancestors were from New England (some of her ancestors were documented passengers on the Mayflower in 1620). At the time of the incident, Eliza's half-brother Joseph Winters (my great-great-great-great-grandfather) was recently married and living in nearby Cannonsville, New York. 

Although the existing sources are far from definitive, it seems clear that something inappropriate happened between Joseph Smith and Eliza Winters.  We do know that Eliza was the close friend of Joseph's wife Emma.  Apparently Eliza "was often at Smith's home and much in Mrs. Smith's company. The young women were on very intimate terms, and very many times did Mrs. Smith tell her young friend about the finding of the "golden plates" or the "golden bible"" (3).  At the time, Eliza's family were literally next-door neighbors of the Smiths (2).  In addition to being a friend and neighbor, Eliza Winters was also related to them by marriage.  Eliza's stepsister Nancy McKune was married to Emma's brother Isaac Hale.  It was in this situation that Eliza was frequently in their house that Joseph "attempted" to seduce Eliza Winters.  Apparently, Levi Lewis (Emma's cousin) was close to Joseph Smith and Martin Harris.  He said that he overheard Smith and Harris talking about trying to seduce Eliza Winters in which they also said that "adultery was no crime" and that Harris specifically said he "did not blame" Joseph for trying to seduce her.  Levi made this allegation which appeared in a newspaper article and a book against Mormonism in 1834 (1).  Note that Eliza was also related to Levi Lewis: his sister was married to Eliza's stepbrother.

The inference is that Joseph Smith made inappropriate sexual advances to Eliza Winters, but that "nothing happened".  The date of the incident(s) in question is unknown, but would have occurred sometime between 1827 and 1829 (when Eliza was between 15 and 17).  The best guess is that the incident occurred in early 1829, when the Smith family moved away.  Regardless of what happened, Eliza was frequently in the Smith household (along with vocal critic Lucy Harris) and would have been an indirect witness to Smith writing the Book of Mormon and establishing the church. 

Aftermath - Smith

Emma Hale Smith - the wife of Joseph Smith
and apparently the close personal friend of Eliza
Winters.  She apparently did not know about or
approve of her husband's sexual behavior or
polygamy - after his death she became an anti-polygamy
activist in the Mormon church
Although the 1829 incident might have been unremarkable or innocent, it appeared to establish a pattern.  Based on this and later accusations, Joseph Smith might have been something of a sexual predator.  Eliza's story was the first in a series of 12 known (but unproven) allegations of sexual misconduct between 1829 and 1841 by Joseph Smith against various young women that lived in towns where he lived and preached. 

It is also interesting that the Mormon church's views about polygamy were developing at the same time that Joseph was engaging in apparent inappropriate sexual activity with other women.  Joseph had been married since 1827, but had apparently began teaching a polygamy doctrine by 1831 and eventually became a polygamist himself.    According to some sources, Joseph had at least 27 wives during his lifetime, in addition to his legal wife Emma.

After his death, the leaders of the Mormon Church used evidence of Smith's polygamy to establish the practice officially as part of church doctrine.  Interestingly though, Joseph's own family (his first wife and his son) refuted the claims that he was a polygamist and were publicly against the practice for the duration of their lives.

Since Eliza Winters was possibly the first known recipient of Joseph's supposed extramarital sexual advances, perhaps his experience with her was what whetted his appetite enough to seek out adulterous relationships with other women and eventually establish a church that accepted the practice of polygamy.

Aftermath - Winters

Eliza Winters continued living with her family in Harmony, Pennsylvania.  In 1838, Eliza served as a witness when her stepfather wrote his will; she was then one of the only children still left in the home.  Sometime between 1838 and 1840, she was married and lived in the area until her death in 1899 at the age of 87 (4).  It is quite interesting that (much like the other allegations against Smith) the Eliza Winters-Joseph Smith scandal has been dismissed by many Mormon historians based on lack of evidence and the suggestion that Eliza Winters was a promiscuous girl with low morals and because she was apparently silent on the subject.  Many have dismissed the allegation entirely as propaganda meant to disparage the reputation of Joseph Smith and the Mormon Church.  However, just because the evidence is inconclusive - there is nothing to suggest that it did not happen.  Why would she have been specifically named by a third party relative in an allegation against Smith if there was not some basis to the claim?

In 1832, Martin Harris (the same man apparently overheard talking with Joseph Smith about trying to seduce Eliza) publicly accused Eliza of having an illegitimate child.  Eliza responded by suing Harris for slander because his words "render her infamous and scandalous among her neighbors", but she lost the case (5).  During the court proceedings (against Harris), Eliza made no mention of the seduction attempt by Joseph Smith. This has led many to conclude that the seduction attempt by Smith didn't happen because she didn't mention it (even though it would have been irrelevant to the slander case against Harris).  It is possible that Eliza did have an illegitimate child, but it is also quite possible that (regardless of whether it was true or not) the "bastard child" allegation was an intentional attempt by Harris and Smith to damage her reputation and thus credibility.  It's worth noting that at the time, Joseph Smith was subject to a variety of unrelated criminal charges and was increasingly in the public eye; and it would have been in their best interest to remove character witnesses that could be used against him. 

Decades later, Eliza was interviewed with Sallie McKune (her step-brother's widow) by a reporter to gather derogatory statements against Joseph Smith (and the Mormon Church) by people who had known him in his youth.  During the interview, they were both quoted as saying "Joe Smith never made a convert at Susquehanna, and also that his father-in-law became so incensed by his conduct that he threatened to shoot him if he ever returned" (2), but apparently made no reference to any sexual misconduct or seduction attempt.  Again, this omission has been used by historians as evidence that the scandal never happened.  But perhaps Eliza had learned the "lesson" she had been taught years earlier by Martin Harris, and didn't want to damage her reputation by bringing up the sordid past - especially if she was a willing participant in the event and if she was in the interview with her sister-in-law.  (And as described below under sources, above is the only known statement that Eliza made during her interview.)

It is interesting that even today, historians are not in agreement on this incident and Joseph Smith still has many apologists.  One such recent writer wrote that Eliza lost her 1832 slander lawsuit "likely because she had no good character to sully" and that "it seems far more likely that Eliza was known for her low morals." (He basing this off no more evidence described above and the fact that she lost her slander lawsuit. To me, it's not surprising that she lost her case. The court system - especially 184 years ago - would not have necessarily been on the side of a 20-year old single woman suing a 50-year old wealthy, well-respected man. The only other known record which speaks to Eliza's character or conduct is her 1899 obituary which simply stated that she was "well known and highly esteemed" (4).)   It's also interesting to note that when Eliza married in her late 20's, she was considerably older than any of her 6 sisters were when they married.  Perhaps she did have a damaged reputation that made it more difficult to find a husband (she eventually married the brother of her sister's husband) or perhaps she was just simply more independent.  Being a middle child in a very large family (she had 7 full siblings, 4 half siblings and 8 step siblings) it would have been understandable if she was a little rebellious or independent. 

My Winters family lived in New York and apparently did not have much contact with their relatives in Pennsylvania - including Eliza Winters.  The story of the Joseph Smith scandal had not been passed down in the Winters family.  To me, that suggests that the story is plausible - if indeed Eliza Winters was involved in the scandal, it would have been damaging to her reputation (and to her family) to even talk about it. 


1. Affidavit of Levi Lewis, March 20, 1834, which appeared in: 1) Susquehanna Register and Northern Pennsylvanian, May 1, 1834 and 2) Howe, Eber D. Mormonism Unvailed: Or, A Faithful Account of That Singular Imposition and Delusion From Its Rise to the Present Time. Painesville, OH; 1834. 

2. Article "The Early Mormons" in Broome Republican, Binghamton, New York, July 28, 1880. [This is what other sources refer to as the interview in which Eliza does not mention the seduction attempt.  However, the source is only a newspaper article which briefly mentions that Eliza was present at an interview with Sallie McKune (her sister-in-law) and that she corroborated a brief statement by made by Sallie.  It is far from a transcription of an interview with Eliza.]

3. Stocker, Rhamathus M. Centennial History of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, R.T. Peck & Co., 1887.

4. Obituary of Eliza Squires, Tri-Weekly Journal, May 2, 1899

5. Case file (slander) of Eliza Winters vs. Martin Harris, Court of Common Pleas, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, 1833.  "Harris, M."

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

National Security Violations, Murder Cover-Ups, Secret Families and Corruption

If someone mentions genealogy, you probably imagine a family tree filled with the names of people who lived hundreds of years ago.  For me though, genealogy is story-gathering and detective work - it is the compilation of qualitative information about peoples' lives, rather than just names and dates.  Every person has a story and all of them are interesting.  I like to uncover the truth, which is sometimes sensitive and unsavory. Everything about our ancestors – the good and the bad – has shaped who we are today.  Their stories deserve to be heard. 

Ben Plymale
official Boeing portrait, early 1960s
My maternal grandfather – Ben Plymale – was a fascinating man.  He died before I was born, so I never got to meet him myself or hear his stories first-hand.  But, my family did talk about him and I listened when they were talking – he was brilliant and successful and also a little eccentric and abrasive.  Years ago, when I began looking into my family history I began asking questions and doing my own research.  I realized that there was much more to my grandfather’s story than I had ever heard – some of it was purposefully not discussed by my family but much of it was information that nobody even knew about.
In many ways, my grandfather’s life was typical or unremarkable – he had a wholesome upbringing, he was a WWII veteran, he went to college, regularly attended church, had a family, had friends, was financially successful, had a 30-year career with Boeing.  It was his career with Boeing though that brought about most of the events that will be discussed in this post.  His brilliance and aptitude allowed him to advance steadily in the company; he was a low-level executive by the 1960s and a vice president by the 1970s.  It was also his rise in ranks in the company and specialization in defense systems (specifically ballistic missiles) that allowed him to be highly involved with something he was passionate about: politics and the Republican Party.  He had a position as a deputy secretary of defense in the Pentagon under Richard Nixon and remained active in Boeing-US government relations throughout the 1970s. His ultimate achievement occurred when he was hired by Ronald Reagan during his campaign for president in 1980 and worked for him into 1981.  It was while working on Reagan’s team that he wrote Reagan’s original defense spending budget.  Because of his technical and political expertise and level of involvement with defense spending planning, my grandfather was indirectly responsible for much of the US military-industrial complex that happened during the 1970s and 1980s.  That in itself is a little mind-blowing.  (During the Reagan presidency, the US was apparently spending more than $30 million dollars an hour on defense.)
It was during my grandfather’s time as a Boeing executive and Pentagon official that he also became involved with several scandals including: having a secret family, (supposedly) helping to cover up a murder and being involved with a national security breach by stealing a top-secret Pentagon record intended for the President and destroying evidence and impeding official investigations.  Perhaps there was even more that we will never know about.

Ben with my grandmother and their first child, 1950
Ben Plymale was born in 1926 in Oregon.  His father died when he was a baby, and his mother raised him and his sister by herself.  As a result of his upbringing, Ben apparently had a somewhat lonely and independent childhood.  Many have speculated that this brought about much of his later behavior – including his sometimes rough, sarcastic and abrasive behavior towards others.  He was a gifted child: was in the Boy Scouts, took piano lessons, and excelled in school; winning awards for perfect attendance, penmanship and fingerprinting.  He was also a curious and gifted child – he liked to take apart electrical objects just so that he could see how they work.  It was during his youth though that he exhibited some of his future tendencies to do whatever he wanted.  In high school, he was enrolled in an ROTC program, but was kicked out because of a cheating scandal.  He also frequently got in trouble as a youth for petty crimes.  
After high school, he entered the Navy at the tail end of World War II and served for 2 years, and was primarily stationed on Guam.  He returned to Oregon and attended the University of Portland where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Physics and Mathematics.  The same month, he married my grandmother and they moved to Seattle where he began attending graduate school at the University of Washington.  In 1950, he quit graduate school to accept a job offer working as an engineer for Boeing.  It was during his first ten years with Boeing that he helped to develop the Minuteman missile program. 
Ben was a brilliant engineer and “a pioneer in radar, missile guidance and multiple war-head technology” and frequently authored technical works about the subject.  His first research paper ("Nutation of a Free Gyro Subjected to an Impulse") was published in 1955.  Apparently fellow executives “turned to him for advice on budgets and research, praising him as Boeing’s resident Buddha of strategic thinking.” He “could cut through technical bullshit in a matter of seconds.”  His aptitude and reputation enabled his meteoric rise to power within Boeing.

Secret Family
In the mid-1960s, my grandparents had been married for over 15 years and had a family of four children and lived together in a house in the Mount Baker neighborhood in Seattle.  They had known each other since high school and apparently had a relatively happy marriage. They had also helped support each other through difficult times, including the death of two children as babies and financial strain in the early years of marriage.  It was during the 1960s though that Ben began to stray from the marriage.  As a manager at Boeing, Ben had his own secretary and soon began to have an affair with her – a young woman who I will call “Margaret”.  Things became more complicated though when she got pregnant, in early 1964.  Their daughter was born in October 1964.
newspaper article about the car accident that brought
Ben's secret family out into the open, January 1966
Because of her pregnancy, Margaret quit her job at Boeing. Ben began supporting her and the child.  According to her, she had no idea he was married [although I don’t know how that’s possible] and considered herself his wife in all but name.  Because he was gone so often for his job, he was able to keep his two families secret from one another, and spent time with both of them.  My grandmother and my mom and her siblings had no idea that anything was going on. 
Meanwhile, after Margaret quit her job as his secretary, Ben began having an affair with her replacement – Susan.  Coincidentally, Susan and Margaret knew each other – they had grown up together in a small town in Montana.  Somehow though, he was able to compartmentalize his life and was able to keep his wife and two girlfriends secret from each other – for a little while.  Then the s**t hit the fan in January 1966.  Ben and Susan attended a late night party together and decided to drive home after perhaps having a little too much to drink.  They were in a serious car accident late that night on January 8, 1966.  Luckily, nobody was seriously injured but they were both hospitalized and an article about the escapade somehow made the newspaper. 
It was as a result of the car accident that all three women found out about each other.  The story is that the EMTs and the hospitals assumed that Susan was his wife, and was thus Mrs. Plymale.  When my grandmother and Margaret were informed of the accident, they both rushed to the hospital and both introduced themselves as Mrs. Plymale [Margaret considered herself his wife]. After some confusion at the hospital, they all apparently found out what was going on and my grandfather’s infidelities came out in the open.  My heartbroken grandmother made the decision to file for divorce – it was eventually finalized in January 1968. Ben decided to marry his girlfriend from the car accident, Susan.  He and Susan were married 6 days after his divorce was finalized.  They remained married until his death.
Although my grandmother found out everything, they managed to keep the secret family from their children.  My mom and her siblings had no idea they had a half-sister until Ben died and his obituary mentioned the other mystery child.

Murder Cover-Up?
newspaper article about the death
of Mary Lou Paisley, May 1968
Ben’s best friend was Melvyn Paisley, a colleague and fellow executive at Boeing.  In the late 1960s, Melvyn lived on a farm in Kent, Washington and was married to his second wife, a younger woman named Mary Lou who enjoyed painting as a hobby.  Then on May 8, 1968, Mary Lou’s dead body was discovered in their home in suspicious circumstances.  She was found in the bathroom, lying face down and her head was surrounded by towels laced with carbon tetrachloride, a toxic cleaning fluid that she used to clean her paint brushes.  The story that Melvyn gave was that she had gotten drunk and she took sleeping pills the night before and then accidentally asphyxiated herself with the cleaning fluid.  There was a police investigation and an investigation by the coroner.  Her death was officially ruled an accident and the matter was officially dropped. 
Despite the cause of death ruling, the matter was not dropped entirely; mostly because Mary Lou’s sister didn't believe the official version of events.  It became clear that there was more to the story, and the possibility of a cover-up and a murder became plausible.  Twenty years later, when Melvyn was being investigated for separate corruption charges while working in the Pentagon, the case was reopened by King County.  It became clear that there were many inconsistencies and inaccuracies with the autopsy report, including the fact that the report found no traces of alcohol or sleeping pills in her system and the fact that the coroner who performed the report also worked for Boeing and somehow kept the report from review by his boss, the head coroner.  There was also the revelation that not long before her death, Mary Lou had discovered or speculated that Melvyn was having an affair and had hired a private investigator to follow her husband.  (Seven months later, Melvyn married the woman he was having an affair with.)
Also damning was that – according to phone records – after Melvyn discovered his wife’s body, the police was not the first number he called.  The first number he called was his attorney and the second was his best friend, Ben Plymale.  Then that morning, my grandfather’s wife Susan went over to their house to clean it before the county authorities arrived.  Susan apparently cleaned or threw away what the investigators assumed was vital evidence.  That afternoon the investigators also noted that a fire was burning in the fireplace, which they remarked as unusual because it was May and not cold outside.  The inference was that some evidence was probably incinerated in the fire. 
Although the investigation was reopened in 1988, no additional charges were ever filed and Mary Lou’s death still remains classified as an accident.  However, given the circumstantial evidence, it is likely that there was more to the story. Was Mary Lou Paisley was murdered? If so, my grandfather and his wife were directly involved with covering up the crime.  Interestingly, for decades after the fact, the case of Mary Lou Paisley was used an example by the King County Sheriff’s Office as an example of how not to investigate a crime scene.


National Security Scandal
part of a 1979 newspaper article about the national security breach
that Ben was involved in
Ben Plymale was highly independent and often did exactly what he wanted.  He had what others described as a rather “cavalier view of the law”.  This became more of an issue for him when his job became even more high profile and he had access to more privileged information.  Ben worked in the Pentagon as a deputy secretary of defense for strategic weapons from 1968 to 1972.  After that ended, he returned to his Boeing VP job in Seattle, but he retained his government contacts and sources, and his top-secret security clearance at the Pentagon.  He remained a political player and often served as Boeing’s liaison with the US government as a sort of lobbyist/consultant and had “a reputation as an ingenious salesman and consummate power broker in Washington, D.C.”  He was especially adept at getting information from the Pentagon that could be used to Boeing’s advantage; especially information about which programs were likely to fare best in the Pentagon.  He had “unrestricted access to the Pentagon’s innermost secrets, from confidential budget projections to top-secret performance reports on specific weapons.” Eventually this is what got him in trouble.  

In March 1978, Ben got his hands on a top-secret memo about US missile operations that was intended for the President.  Part of the process to get the memo to Boeing was transmitting it over a telephone fax line; which was especially dangerous because apparently the Soviets were at the time routinely monitoring US telephone lines to and from US-defense contractors. 
In this case, it was Ben’s own boastfulness that got him in trouble.  In a meeting with a Pentagon official who helped draft the memo, he discussed the memo in such great detail that it immediately set off red flags.  An investigation was opened and Ben and five others were investigated for the national security breach. 
In addition to the breach itself, Ben and others were also implicated in trying to cover up the crime and impede official investigations.  Specifically, Ben was implicated in lying, destroying evidence, planting fake evidence, and not cooperating with investigators.

Amazingly, there were no formal charges ever filed and nobody was ever prosecuted for what was surely criminal activity.  My grandfather though did lose his security clearance and was demoted from his job at Boeing (although they eventually gave him his old job back and reinstated his security clearance).



Ben (right) meeting with newly-elected Congressman Norm Dicks (left)
and another Boeing executive (center), 1977
Ben was a staunch Republican and remained involved with Boeing-US relations, even after his security breach scandal in 1978.  In spite of his past, he remained a key nationwide expert in strategic defense systems and many relied on his expertise.  Then after the presidential election of 1980, Ben was hired by Ronald Reagan’s team to work on the transition team and later for his administration.  He was specifically hired by Reagan to identify where additional defense dollars should go. According to some, Reagan’s decision to hire my grandfather was a perfect example of many of the ethical problems with the Reagan presidency.  There were also other examples of how my grandfather was involved with corruption at Boeing and at the Pentagon. For example, in 1977 a former Boeing employee came to Ben with evidence that other employees were using Boeing funds for prostitution and other illegal activities.  Ben purposefully turned a blind eye to this information, destroyed the evidence given to him, and took no action to root out the corruption. 
From 1980 to 1981, Ben took a leave from Boeing to work on Reagan’s transition team as the deputy head at the Defense Department [Pentagon].  His primary role during that time was as co-chairman of Reagan's Defense Budget Committee.  Ben’s crowning achievement during that time was writing Reagan’s original defense budget.  Then in early 1981, to Ben’s disappointment, he was not chosen to continue serving on Reagan’s administration and he returned home to Boeing where he was once again appointed as a Boeing vice president.  He was in that role when he died several months later.

Careless Health and Dramatic Death

Ben was something of a hedonist and did not take care of his own health.  He was a notoriously heavy drinker and a chain smoker.  During his DC days, he was often known for meeting colleagues for what he called a “gin lunch”, when he would drink 4 or 5 glasses of gin before going back to his office to work on some report.  His habits caught up with him as he suffered from a heart attack and contracted lung cancer. Yet Ben was persistent and successful at most everything he did.  He stopped drinking, started eating healthy and began jogging regularly.  After having one of his lungs removed, he had also beaten lung cancer.  

One of Ben’s greatest passions was fishing.  In August 1981, Ben went on a fishing trip to rural British Columbia, Canada.  In true form to his cavalier attitude towards life, he neglected to take his required oxygen supplies with him.  His single lung began filling with fluid and he realized he was dying.  After a dramatic helicopter ride, he died on the steps of the tiny hospital in Bella Bella, BC.  He was 55 years old. 

Some have speculated that if Ben had not died when he did, he would have eventually wound up in prison.  Later during the 1980s, much of the corruption in the Pentagon came to light and many were eventually prosecuted – including his close friend and coworker Melvyn Paisley who served 4 years in prison. 
As mentioned above, Ben died before I was born, but my family frequently talked about him.  My family though did not know about or pay attention to the more notorious parts of his life, instead focusing on him as a family man.  In late 1989, when I was entering kindergarten, my grandfather’s Boeing records were being subpoenaed and reviewed by a federal grand jury investigation into Pentagon corruption.

Much of the above comes from the 1995 book When the Pentagon Was For Sale by Andy Pasztor, in which Ben features prominently. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Crazy Cat Lady

As a cat owner, I get a lot of flack from other people - most of whom are dog owners. So when I found out about this particular person I am related to, I couldn't help but laugh. Doris Bryant was something of a (crazy) cat lady.  Perhaps more than that though, she was THE cat lady.  And I just happen to be related to her. As a divorcĂ©e living in New York City, she was one of the world's leading cat experts in the mid-Twentieth Century. 
Doris from her 1915 yearbook at Franklin High School in Seattle. And one of her prize-winning Siamese cats, Mee Zee, from a 1932 newspaper article. 

Doris was the second cousin of my maternal grandfather.  (Her grandmother, Lucinda Merriman Prather, was the sister of my great-great-grandfather, George Merriman).  Doris was born in 1896 in Ohio.  She was raised in Montana. After her mother died when she was 9, she moved to Seattle to live with relatives.  She attended Annie Wright School in Tacoma and then Franklin High School in Seattle.   After high school, she continued living by herself in Seattle (she lived in an apartment at Olive and Harvard on Capitol Hill) and worked as a stenographer.  Eventually though, she grew tired of Seattle and decided to move on to a bigger city. 
In about 1920, Doris moved by herself to Manhattan, New York.  There, she married Willard McHargue in 1921.  Doris and Willard lived together in Greenwich Village in Manhattan.  Throughout the 1920s, they were quite wealthy.  Willard was a vice president of an advertising agency in New York.  It was during that time as a wealthy housewife that Doris became involved with her hobby that developed into her passion: cats.  She quickly became a breeder of Siamese cats.    

As Doris became more and more obsessed with her cats, she realized that although there were plenty of dog toys and supplies, there were none specifically for cats.  So she set about making her own cats toys.  Eventually, there became a demand for her cat toys and she decided to open a cat shop.  It was while this was happening that the Stock Market Crash of 1929 hit and the Great Depression began.  Her husband quickly lost his lucrative job and Doris’ cat shop began supporting their family.  (In addition, her husband began creating small pastry cups filled with hamburger meat that he sold to speakeasies during Prohibition). The financial issues must have put a strain on their marriage and they were soon divorced.

One of the editions (1953) of one of her books. 
After her divorce (when she was about 36), Doris reverted to her maiden name.  She continued living by herself (with her cats) in Greenwich Village in Manhattan.  Luckily, her cat business became very successful.  She first began selling cats toys and supplies (including imitation snakes, balls made out of cellophane wrap, scratching posts, catnip balls, litter pans, etc.).  Eventually though, she also realized that the market was also woefully lacking in cat medicines.  She worked with a local veterinarian, Dr. Louis Camuti, to develop the world’s first known cat medicines.  Doris sold all of Dr. Camuti’s medicines in her store.  They had a symbiotic relationship where they referred customers to each other’s businesses.  He was apparently the only cats-only veterinarian in the country and she had the only cat drug store in the country.  Others suggested she had the only cat shop in the world. 

Doris’ shop – called Doris Bryant’s Emporium – in Greenwich Village was very successful.  Because it was so unique, she apparently had customers across the world.  She did much of her business by mail.  Eventually, Doris put her self-promoted expertise to use and decided to write books about cat care.  Her first book was published in 1936.  She eventually wrote and published at least three more books; all of which went through several revisions. 

Doris operated her cat shop in Greenwich Village for over 30 years.  By the 1960s, Doris was acknowledged as a veterinarian herself, even though she had never been educated as a veterinarian. 

Over the years of her cat business, Doris had many famous customers.  They included Clare Luce (US congresswoman and writer), Selena Royale (actress), Beth Merrill (actress), Sophie Kerr (writer), and Doris Duke (socialite/heiress). Perhaps her most famous customer though was Ernest Hemingway, who was a noted cat lover. Apparently Ernest kept one of Doris' cat care books next to his bed and read from it every night. 
Excerpt from a 1935 newspaper article discussing
Doris' shop and cat advice
In 1936, Doris had 5 cats of her own (in her apartment in Greenwich Village) - coincidentally the same amount of cats I've had before.  She died in 1978. 

In 1980, her old colleague Dr. Camuti wrote the following description of her:
Doris was always very pale. Her skin had the look of alabaster to it. She seemed like a delicate statue come to life. In fact, she resembled - at least, to me - the large ceramic Siamese cat that stood in her pet-supply shop window. But there was nothing of the cold statute about Doris Bryant. She was a warm, outgoing person and a bit of a character. Cat lovers came to her from all over the city, and she usually was very helpful to a customer. But if someone came in that she didn't take to, Doris had no hesitation throwing him out. "That's not for you," she'd say, or more bluntly, "You don't like cats well enough, get out!"
Some excerpts from Doris' 1944 book The Care and Handling of Cats, A Manual for Modern Cat Owners (the same book kept on Hemingway's nightstand):
"Getting a certain kind of pet because it is pedigreed or is a smart breed at the moment is the worst possible reason; we should get our pets because we love them - not to exploit them."

"A cat refuses to flatter and he is never servile. He is capable of deep devotion, but his devotion depends upon his approval; his utter lack of flattery makes his devotion something worth cherishing."

"Some cats have become so vicious that it was necessary to have them put to sleep. This is deplorable, since it was not their fault that they developed as they did, but rather the fault of the people who mismanaged them."

"Cats are not suitable pets for children and most cats are not happy in households where they are children."

"When a woman has a well-loved cat, there is no reason for disposing of it just because she has a baby."

"Any two cats living together will have their little quarrels, or one may temporarily be annoyed with the other. People have their differences of opinion too, and cats are little people."

"If your cat "will not do a single thing you want him to" you should be ashamed to admit it; the fault lies in the way the cat has been handled - by you, or by previous owners."

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Women's History Month

March is Women's History Month - a fitting time to honor the women in my family tree. When I started researching my family tree, I did not know anything about the lives or accomplishments of my ancestors. Researching these real people has been fulfilling to me as I’ve learned about the fascinating lives of those who have come before me. They were a part of history, and also helped to shape who I am today.

This post focuses on just a few of the women in my family tree who had remarkable aspects of their lives.  But, all women in my family tree deserve to be honored. All of these women were daughters, were wives, were mothers; they all lost something; they all persevered and they all lived. They all deserve a 'high five'.  Unfortunately, even in my own family tree the lives of my female ancestors are overshadowed by their male counterparts.  For many of my female ancestors, I don't know much about them except their names and who they happened to be related to.

Today, all women should be honored and attention should be paid to continued gender inequality around the world. But I also want to draw attention to some of the struggles and strength of women throughout history and within my own family tree.

Josephine Martin (1845-1899)
Josephine Martin, c. 1870s

My great-great-grandmother Josephine Martin was a fascinating woman and accomplished more in her short life than most people do in their lifetime. First and foremost, she was a wife and mother of 12 children. She was also a very active Women's Suffrage activist. Additionally, she was a Temperance activist; she was politically active and ran for political office; she worked as a committee clerk for the state legislature with her daughters; she was a school teacher; she worked as a buggy driver; she was a newspaper journalist; she was a popular speech giver; she was a farmer. She had much energy and strength of character to accomplish so many things, while also raising her large family. She was not meek or subservient and in her time went against her father, her husband, her pastor and her community; but still maintained respect and dignity. In her lifetime, she was described as "sharper than lightning". 

In addition to her accomplishments, she also went through tragedy. One of her children died as a baby during an epidemic. In 1888, her house burned down in the middle of the night and the whole family escaped unharmed, but lost all of their possessions. Her contemporaries remarked that she had maintained a cheery disposition throughout the rest of her life until her death at the age of 54 - "she was always ready with a pleasant or witty expression under the most irritating circumstances".  Much more about her life is in an earlier post - Pioneer Feminist.

Artinecia Riddle (1830-1917)
Artinecia Riddle, c. 1880

My great-great-great-grandmother Artinecia Riddle was a courageous woman and a sturdy pioneer. She was married young but was widowed at the age of 20. In 1851, she left behind everything she knew and crossed the Oregon Trail as a 20-year old widow with her infant son. During her crossing on the Trail, she performed a surgical operation on a man that had been shot because there was no one in the train with any surgical or medical skill. She settled in the frontier of southern Oregon and soon remarried and had 15 more children. As opposed to other white settlers, Artinecia and her family became friendly and close to the local Native Americans and they were also fluent in the Chinook dialect that they spoke. In 1855, war broke out between the whites and the local Indians. Artinecia was hired by the government to work as an interpreter between the military and the local tribes. She fulfilled this role with bravery while living in a military camp between 1855 and 1856.

She continued living in southern Oregon and thrived as a farmer, while raising her 16 children. Her second husband died in 1877, and the 47-year old widow continued to run the family farm and raise her children on her own. During the 1870s, she was also documented as being a supporter and activist (a "staunch coworker") of the Women's Suffrage movement.

In old age (in about 1914), she was filmed and appeared in a silent movie made to promote the Rogue River Valley of southern Oregon, where she lived. Her movie was presented at the Pan-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915.

Abigail Tilton (1842-1929)
Abigail Tilton, 1858

My great-great-great-grandmother Abigail Tilton was the daughter of a Baptist minister and was one of the oldest children in a very large family. When she was 15, her mother died in childbirth. Until her father remarried two years later, Abigail was the oldest woman in the household and was instrumental in caring for her 9 younger siblings. Although her family did not have much money, her father wanted all of his children to have excellent educations. After her public school education was over, Abigail attended two different seminary schools. She then worked for about 4 years as a school teacher.

She was married at the age of 22 and then focused on raising her family. One of her children, Helen, had a mental illness and Abigail devoted herself to caring for her daughter for the remainder of her life, until she died at the age of 86.

Patricia Bixby (1928-2008)

Patricia Bixby, 1946
My grandmother Patricia Bixby was a strong woman and a great source of inspiration to me. After high school, she worked as a secretary. She married my grandfather at the age of 20 and continued working for 2 years to support her husband while he was in graduate school. She then quit her job to raise her children and devoted her time on her family. Sadly, after nearly 20 years of marriage she discovered that her husband had been unfaithful to her and was having an affair with another woman. 

After an emotionally tumultuous time, she made the difficult decision to divorce her husband and start her life anew. After the divorce was finalized in 1968, she took a course and went back to work as a secretary. She continued working and supporting herself until she retired at 60.

Patricia had her share of tragedy and sadness in her life. Two of her children died as babies and two more children died as relatively young adults. Her only brother died when she was 16, all of her other siblings predeceased her, and she lost her marriage through adultery. In spite of what she went through, she was one of the most positive people I have ever known and continued to have an infectious smile and inner joy that radiated to those around her. Even on her death bed she was continuing to smile at those around her. Her simple strength has been a major source of inspiration to me in my life.

Maxamillia Bouseman (1808-1868)
Maxamillia Bouseman, c. 1850

My great-great-great-great-grandmother Maxamillia Bouseman was born in Ohio and later lived in Illinois. She married young and had ten children. Then in 1851, she and her family left their life behind and moved over the Oregon Trail. In Oregon, they lived in a frontier environment. She and her family became quite friendly with the local Native Americans that lived near them. She and her family also became well versed in the language that they spoke. The tribe also had their own names for her and her family. Maxamillia was called "Mulagolan" (which meant “mother”).

Sadly, the harmony in the area did not last as conflicts arose between the Indians and other white settlers. By 1855, it had culminated into war. In late 1855, after the war had just begun, Maxamillia left by herself on horseback to visit the tribal encampment and plead with them to not go to war. Many of the other settlers asked her not to go, fearing for her safety. But she insisted that she would not be harmed and she went anyway. Later, after the war was in full swing, some soldiers arrived at her home and told her she would probably not be safe at home. She lost patience and responded to them: “You gentlemen seem to forget that those two boys back there are lying dead through your incompetence, and as to leaving my home again, all I ask of you is to leave my boys with me, and we will take care of ourselves.” She then remained with her children in their home in spite of the wartime concerns. 

Baefje Pieters (c. 1620-1680s)

Baefje Peters was from Amsterdam, Netherlands and migrated to New Amsterdam (now New York City), when she was young.  She was married in 1641 and raised a family of at least two children.  They later moved to Beverwijck (now Albany), New York.  During her marriage, Baefje was apparently the primary breadwinner for her family.  She owned and operated a tavern in Beverwijck, while her husband had no occupation. 

Baefje's first husband died and she remarried during the 1670s.  Sadly, her second husband was apparently abusive and a drunk.  Fortunately, in 1679 she took it upon herself to leave the situation and separated from her husband.  Three years later, he repented and agreed in court to not mistreat her anymore and would avoid drunkenness in the future. 

Rachel Field (1780-1851)

My ancestor Rachel Field was born in 1780 in Pennsylvania.  She was raised as a Quaker.  Rachel married Levi Willits in 1797, when she was 17.  At the time, she was disowned from her faith for marrying Levi, who was not a Quaker.  I do not know anything about her marriage.  But I can only speculate that because she risked being disowned she had married for love (or at least by her own choice), as opposed to many of her contemporaries. 

Rachel had 9 children.  She and her family later lived in Ohio and Indiana.  Her husband died in 1827 and she remarried to William Kirlin, who survived her.  Rachel died in 1851 at the age of 71.

Marye Du Trieux (1617-c. 1670s)

My ancestor Marye Du Trieux was a pioneer of New York City and was also one of this nation's first female business owners.  As a child, in about 1624, She moved to New Amsterdam (now New York City) from Amsterdam.  Marye married twice and had 8 children.  She was first acknowledged as owning and operating a tavern in 1644.  She continued operating her tavern for at least 20 more years and also worked as a trader.

More about her life is in an earlier post - banishment and an illegitimate child

Marie Bradley (1881-1973)

Although not a direct ancestor, Marie Bradley had a fascinating life.  Marie was the first cousin of my great-grandmother Vera Merriman.  She was a child labor activist.

Marie was raised in southern Oregon but decided that she wanted to pursue a higher education.  She eventually attained her bachelors and masters degrees.  She put herself through college by teaching school. Then she quickly turned her attention to investigation and activism in the child labor issue.  In 1907, she moved to Washington, DC and was hired by the US Bureau of Labor, where she worked as a special agent to investigate working conditions for children and women.  During most of that time she investigated the glass industry, where children aged 6-10 often worked 10-12 hour days. 

Marie later married a fellow child labor investigator and remained active in labor causes for most of her adulthood. 

Martha Woodson (1795-1859)

My great-great-great-great-grandmother Martha Woodson was born in 1795 in Virginia.  She married her first husband, Anthony Jones, in 1809 when she was only 13 years old and he was 28.  They had 4 children were together and were married until he died in 1824, leaving her a 28-year old widow.  Martha remained unmarried for 7 years, continuing to raise her children. 

Then in 1831, Martha remarried.  She was 35 years old and her new husband, Archibald Fletcher, was 19 years old - 16 years her junior.  In fact, Martha's new husband was the same age as her oldest son Albert Jones.  I assume that this arrangement must have been a little odd and maybe even scandalous.  But I also hope that marrying a much younger man was a result of her own independence and her own choice in a husband.

Sarah Crenshaw (c. 1761-1846)

My great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Sarah Crenshaw was born in about 1761 in Virginia.  She was married to John Wallace in 1780 when she was 19.  Surviving records suggest that her marriage caused something of a scandal and was not approved of by her father.  Although we don't know why, we can assume that her marriage was her own choice and hopefully because of love. 

I don't know much about the life of Sarah.  She had 11 children and remained married to John Wallace for 65 years.  Their youngest daughter Harriet Wallace suffered from a disease that made her crippled from the age of 5.  Apparently she was crippled in her feet, legs, hands and arms and was not capable of walking or standing.  Still, Sarah continued to raise and nurture their daughter.  In 1821, Sarah wrote a letter in which she tenderly described an illness that Harriet was suffering from and how she tried to coordinate Harriet being able to travel to visit relatives.  Harriet was at that time 23 years old, and it is the last reference to her being alive.  She probably died not long after.

In about 1835, when Sarah was in her 70s, their house burned to the ground and the family managed to escape unharmed, but they lost all of their belongings.

Sarah Dearborn (1778-1864)

My ancestor Sarah Dearborn spent all of her life in New Hampshire.  She married at 21 and had 12 children.  In her life, Sarah displayed independence from her husband by having different religious views and attending a different church.  Her husband, Josiah Tilton, was a member of the Baptist Christian denomination.  Sarah, on the other hand, was a member of the Congregational denomination.  They disagreed on account of minor differences between the denominations, and attended different churches.  Sarah's independence made an impression on her children.  Her son remarked that while her husband Josiah was "sometimes disagreeable", Sarah was "amiable and easy tempered".  Her son also noted that she was an accomplished singer with a "powerful voice and high pitch".  He also described her as "a woman of great executive ability, physical force, clear, strong mind and naturally high tempered yet pleasant". 

Lydia Dunham (1836-1869)
My great-great-great-grandmother Lydia Dunham was born and raised in Indiana, but moved to Iowa with her family as a teenager.  She was married on her 19th birthday to Irvin Thurston, a doctor.  They moved to Minnesota, where she remained for the rest of her life.  She had 5 daughters.

Unfortunately, I don't know much about Lydia.  In 1862, her husband enlisted as a surgeon in the Civil War.  Until he was discharged three years later in 1865, she remained behind in Minnesota to manage their farm and raise their daughters.  She was reunited with her husband, but continued to experience loss.  In 1867, their 8-year old daughter Cora died from an illness - which must have been tragic for the family.  Sadly, in spite of being married to a doctor, Lydia suffered from consumption (tuberculosis) and she died in 1869, at the age of 33 - her daughters were then 12, 10, 5 and 1.  Afterward, the family was in a difficult situation and Irvin feared that he would have to split up the family and send his daughters to various relatives, because he could not care for them by himself.  Fortunately, Lydia's elderly mother Vashti Dunham sent Irvin a letter giving him her blessing to remarry so that the family could remain intact.  Irvin eventually did remarry and was able to keep his family together.

Although I don't know much about Lydia's personality or life, I do know that she must have been an accomplished horseback rider.  In 1865, she won the award for Best Lady Equestrianship at the county fair. 

Christina "Dora" Lilienthal (1834-1921)

My great-great-great-grandmother Christina Lilienthal was born in northern Germany.  As a young woman, she left her family and moved by herself to Denmark where she married and began raising a family.  Although they were relatively comfortable in Denmark, the situation became uncertain for her family when Prussia gained control of the area and began drafting all available men into the army.  In 1871, her husband Christian Kling suddenly fled to America to avoid being conscripted into the Prussian army.

Christina must have been in a difficult situation, having been abandoned by her husband.  She had 5 young children aged between infancy and 10 years.  She spent the next year in Denmark, but eventually decided to follow her husband to America.  In 1872, they left their home forever and went by ship to England.  They made their way to Liverpool, England and boarded a ship named "City of New York", bound for the US.  They arrived in New York City in October 1872.  It must have been difficult for her to have made this journey with only her 5 young children, with no knowledge of the languages or the customs of the countries that they passed through. 

Eventually, Christina reunited with her husband.  They then moved out west to Iowa and then Minnesota, where they remained.  When Christina and her children made the trip over the Atlantic Ocean in 1872, they were the last of my ancestors to have moved to America from their homelands.

Susan Sthreshley (1774-1846)

Susan Sthreshley was not my direct ancestor, but she was the sister of my ancestor William Sthreshley.  Susan spent her life in Virginia and Kentucky.  She married Daniel Preston in her youth. They had no children; although she helped to raise her orphaned niece.  Susan and her husband were wealthy, and owned slaves.

Susan's husband predeceased her and she continued managing her home in Hopkinsville, Kentucky.  Susan wrote her will in 1844 and died in 1846.  Susan's will was interesting because she left none of her estate or property to her family or relatives.  Instead, she left all of her property to her slaves and to her church.  She also directed that her slaves be freed and allowed to move to Liberia, Africa if they desired.  Although she unfortunately did not free her slaves during her lifetime, Susan's directions in her will reflect a strength and independence of character to do exactly as she wished. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day

Enjoy this short collection of photos of mother's in my family tree with their children.

Happy Mother's Day!

My great-great-great-grandmother Artinecia Riddle Merriman with 10 of her 16 children, circa 1890, Medford, Oregon.
Left to right: Auletta Merriman Harvey, Lucinda Merriman Prather, Will Merriman, George Merriman (my great-great
grandfather, Effie Merriman Hill, Artinecia Riddle Merriman, Isabel Merriman Fronk, Isaac Merriman, Josephine
Merriman Beek, Marie Merriman Bennett, Laura Merriman Bradley

My great-great-grandmother Julia Thurston Bixby with her son Neil,
my great-grandfather, circa 1917, Salem, Oregon

My great-great-grandmother Mary Murray Merriman with three of her daughters:
l to r: Blanche, Mollie and Vera (my great-grandmother). Circa 1918, Medford, Oregon

My great-grandmother Louetha Jones Brown and my grandmother Bettye, circa 1926, Helena, Arkansas
My great-grandmother Louetha Jones Brown and my grandmother Bettye, circa 1938, Indianapolis, Indiana

My great-grandmother Louise Custer Wadleigh and my
grandfather Paul, c. 1940, Indianapolis, Indiana

My great-great-grandmother Christina Kling Hoffman and her four children:
l to r: Ernest, Bertha (my great-grandmother), Dora and Howard, circa 1940,
Mankato, Minnesota
My great-grandmother Bertha Hoffman Bixby and my grandmother
, circa 1940, Mankato, Minnesota

My grandmother Bettye Brown Wadleigh and her children, l to r: Mark, Randy, Karen, 1952, Indianapolis, Indiana

My grandmother Patricia Bixby Plymale and my uncle George,
1953, Seattle, Washington

My grandmother Patricia Bixby Plymale and her four children: Catherine, Deane, Barbara, George
circa 1963, Port Angeles, Washington

My grandmother Bettye Brown Wadleigh (Staley) and my Dad, 1964

My grandmother Bettye Brown Wadleigh, her eldest child, Karen, and eldest grandchild, Lisa 1969

My grandmother Patricia Bixby Plymale and my mother Barbara, 1967

My mom and I, circa 1985, Federal Way, Washington
My mom and my sister Carmen, 1995, Kent, Washington

My mom and three of her kids, 2012,
Boston, Massachusetts