How did you meet your spouse/sweetheart? How did your siblings or friends meet theirs? Most people I know met at school: college or high school. Of course there have always been more interesting and unusual ways to meet, and these stories usually get told and retold. I suspect there are more matches made these days by online or other dating services as well as fix-ups among people who have settled into a job and place to live without a significant other. As we wait longer to match up, the needs change for meeting a special someone.

For earlier generations I think it was a little different. Do you know how your parents met? Or your grandparents? I know for my parents and one of my two sets of grandparents, so I am doing well. My husband doesn’t know for his parents, and has a family myth for one set of grandparents (never confirmed or fleshed out as far as I know) and doesn’t know for the other set. The stories I know confirm that young people met at school or in a neighborhood, or sometimes through friends (but still in a relatively close geographic neighborhood).

How their parents met is a large question mark for my husband and his sister. Neither parent would talk about the past much by the time my sister-in-law was asking and my husband wasn’t as interested when he was younger. Now both of their parents are long gone, as are my father-in-law’s sister and her husband, who might have known some of the story. The problem is that Sarah, my mother-in-law, was born and raised in Milwaukee and was in school in Chicago (the furthest East I can place her) up until the time they married in Buffalo. Izzy, my father-in-law, was living and working in Buffalo having been born and raised in Syracuse New York. I don’t know that he ever traveled as a youngster or young man any further West than Buffalo. I was thinking about this mystery again, which inspired this post.

The couple who couldn’t have met

Here is what I know about Sarah and about Izzy, along with my thoughts and many speculations and questions about what might have led to their meeting. The basics are as stated in the previous paragraph. Sarah had been raised by her mother in Milwaukee, who was a single parent so life was difficult. At any rate, Sarah graduated from high school and went to college, finishing at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1932. Then in March 1937 she was admitted to the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration as a graduate student, taking one course per quarter (according to her transcript). She attended classes in the Spring and Fall Quarter of 1937, withdrew for the Winter Quarter of 1938, and resumed classes in the Spring and Fall Quarters of 1938. She left after the Fall Quarter of 1938 and did not earn a degree. In March 1939 she and Izzy were married in New York.

Izzy started high school in Syracuse and the family moved to Buffalo in his senior year. He finished courses in Buffalo but officially graduated from Central High School in Syracuse (because he didn’t meet the residency requirement to graduate in Buffalo he always said). He attended the University of Buffalo from about 1928 – 1932 when he graduated with a Law degree. He soon went back (this was the Great Depression) and since he had already completed some of the coursework, he graduated with a B.A. In 1936. There is some reason to speculate that by being a student, perhaps only part time, he was eligible for some student benefits and perhaps even some financial support. From 1936 to 1941 he worked in the Buffalo area but I don’t have an accurate picture yet of where or for how long. He told his children that he worked for the Water Department in what he described as a sinecure, and he had a small (?) private practice as a lawyer.

So how did a graduate student in Chicago and a young lawyer in Buffalo happen to meet and fall in love? That is the $64,000 question. On the face of it, their meeting seems so unlikely as to have been impossible. The first piece of evidence showing them to be in the same place at the same time is when they applied for their marriage license in the Buffalo clerk’s office in March 1939.

So far, I have come up with the following fantasy scenarios. Izzy went to Chicago for a union strike (or to visit a college friend) and they met. Izzy went to Detroit to visit relatives and Sarah was visiting in Detroit and they met. Sarah went to Buffalo for some reason (I’d say a professional conference but in the late 1930s I would guess that was very unlikely). As far as I know they didn’t have any common relatives or even friends. So, for now, while I struggle to think of ways to find out which one traveled and what the meeting circumstances were (?purely social, purely political? something else?), it looks like this is another documented case of ancestors dropped in place by aliens and their lives went on from that time forward. Unless it was just Sarah who was abducted by aliens and she found herself in the clerk’s office where you apply for marriage licenses and Izzy just happened to be there doing some other legal business and they decided it would be a great joke if they got married.

On Thursday, July 19th I was finally able to visit the Willamette Heritage Center and meet all of the people who have done so much for me. I have written about the wonderful file of 80 family photographs and their journey to our generous donor, Mary O’Meara and finally to me. If you haven’t read that post please click here and read this great story.

I was lucky enough to be visiting Portland, Oregon for the wedding of a good friend’s daughter. The wedding was a wonderful excuse for a meeting with a group of old friends, so I was accompanied to the museum by my husband and three good friends, including the mother of the bride.

Before our visit to the museum Norman and I were able to visit the family graves and the house that Amy and Jessie Martin lived in  during much of their time in Salem.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kylie Pine, the director of acquisitions was waiting for us at the museum. She was accompanied by Mary and Mary’s friend Carol and our fabulous volunteer Kaylyn Mabey.

Mary, Judy, Norman, and Kaylyn

I can’t begin to tell you what an exciting day this was for me and for my husband, the actual descendent of the Martin sisters. We had a good look at all of the photographs, talking and laughing and telling some family stories with the entire group.
My dear friend Pat, the alternate author and administrator of this blog was in Portland with her husband for the wedding. She was unable to make the trip to Salem, but thoroughly debriefed me on my return to Portland.

As we looked through the photos we were all struck by the excellent state of preservation. My new best guess is that these photographs were cherished and protected by Amy Martin, until her death at 101. At that point there were no family members in Oregon and the photos probably came to Mary’s neighbor when he was given the task of cleaning her room. I don’t have any idea if this is true but it seems a good guess.

Before we arrived Kaylyn went above and beyond my wildest expectations.  She assembled death certificates, cemetery info, and William Martin’s probate file.  Thanks to Kaylyn I now have information about William Martin’s first wife, daughter and grandsons.

After viewing the photos and talking we were able to tour the museum.  It is a wonderful place with permanent and changing exhibits.  This month’s exhibit about beer brewing in the Willamette Valley was enjoyed by all, even though there were no samples.  There is even a small glass case with photos and information about the Martin sisters.

If you live near Salem or are traveling through I highly recommend a stop at the Willamette Heritage Center.  I will look back on my visit with the warmest of memories for many days.

As I was walking the other morning, talking with a friend who now lives in central Ohio, she was telling me about the community park she was walking in. She mentioned that it looked like the pool was holding classes, since everyone was all lined up and seemed to be listening to the leader. This made me think about the summer days in Lebanon Indiana, where I spent my elementary and junior high school days.

We lived in Lebanon, the second time, from late 1953 (as I remember it was right around Christmas and I was in first grade) through the summer of 1962. It was the second time because the company my father worked for had transferred him from Lebanon to Decatur Illinois and then back again a few years later. So my older sister and I started school in Decatur.

Lebanon got very hot and sticky in the summer, and my memory is that the entire summer would be that way. There was no air-conditioning most places in those days, including at home. (The movie theater downtown had air-conditioning I think, but we never went. As a big treat my parents would take us to the drive in, maybe once a summer.) The only break in the weather I remember in the summertime was the occasional thunderstorms that would come up, darkening the sky and then pouring rain down on us like a bucket was being emptied on your head. We would stand on the porch and watch the lightening.

Pool at Memorial Park

There was (and still is) a community pool in the park, that a family could join for the season (about Memorial Day to Labor Day). I remember using this pool from the time I was about 7. We took Red Cross swimming lessons in the morning for several years, progressing from Beginners to Junior Life Saving. The lessons were early in the summer, from about the first of June for about a month, and first thing in the morning. It was sometimes actually cold to get wet and then stand on the side, listening to your teacher or waiting your turn.

Once we were a little older, and had passed the required swimming test, we could go to the park and spend all afternoon at the pool with friends. My memory is that this happened around 6th grade. We rode our bikes to the park, pumping hard up the hill at the entrance to the park that was the last obstacle. We parked our bikes out front of the bathhouse, and went into the changing rooms. Boys to the right and girls to the left. You got a wire basket, went into a changing booth with a cloth curtain for privacy and changed quickly into your bathing suit, pinned the large safety pin with the basket’s number to your suit, and handed the basket with all your clothes to the high school girl behind the counter. You were supposed to shower before going out – under a cold water shower – but sometimes we could sneak out without. There was a pan of liquid something that smelled to walk through at the door – you couldn’t avoid it – it was to kill any germs on your feet.

And then you were out and deciding where to put your towel. We all had sides of the pool and favorite spots to base ourselves. The pool was a large circular one, I don’t know the dimensions but it seemed very big to me. The outer part of the pool started shallow and got progressively deeper as you walked toward the middle (to maybe a depth of 4 feet), so you just walked in. The deep water was in the center of the circle, with a fence all around it. There were 4 openings in the fence to go through and inside was a short ledge that was the same depth as outside the fence before you stepped in/fell off into the deep water. I don’t know how deep it was but it was plenty deep for diving. In the center of the circle was a diving tower, with three boards of differing heights, and the life guards’ seats above even the highest board. There were 4 lifeguards facing the 4 quadrants of the pool. They were older high school kids or even college kids, home for the summer, and a big deal. You had to obey them or get thrown out for the day. If you managed to do a cannonball or anything else that would actually splash the lifeguard you would get thrown out of the deep water.

On Sundays, the whole family would go to the pool in the afternoon. Church and Sunday School in the morning, a fried chicken lunch, and then after the dishes and kitchen were cleaned up we’d be off. My parents both loved to swim and often took turns being in the water when my brothers were very young. There was a small, very shallow area fenced off for the baby-pool. After several hours of swimming and playing in the water, we would be ravenous. Occasionally we would go

Concession stand, Memorial Park

across the street in the park to the concession stand and be allowed an ice cream treat. When we were at the pool on our own we could go over and spend our allowance that way if we wanted (and had any left); I don’t remember doing that very often.

I know it isn’t accurate, but my memory is that I spent almost every summer afternoon at the pool. I know that for a number of years, by the time we went back to school in the fall many of us had a very green tinge to our hair (bathing caps were not required and there was a lot of chlorine in the water).

The pool I remember (and described) was in use for more than the 8 or so years we were in Lebanon. Apparently it was replaced a few years later, since by about 1966 it was the 50-meter pool shown above. The two pictures I’ve used here were taken in 2005 by my brother Steve and are used with his permission.

If we could take a trip back in time it would be very much like a visit to another culture.  Cultures are living entities and like families and the individuals that comprise them cultures change.  What was common, acceptable, even expected and lauded 100 years ago may well be unacceptable and even a bit nauseating to us today.  Sometimes change is good, sometimes it is bad, and sometimes it is just different.

An old photograph can take us on a journey to another culture.  I took such a journey recently thanks to a photograph I received from the Willamette Heritage CenterI have already written about the journey this photograph took to find me, now I am writing about where the photograph has taken me.

William F Martin

This photograph caught my eye because, in our modern world, it is quite macabre.  It is a photo of a beautifully dressed child in a stroller. It looks fairly normal at first, but the child is dead.

The child is William F. Martin.  He was born in August of 1877 in Muskegon, Michigan and he died there in September of 1881 of “congestion of the lungs”.  He was one of six children born to William Martin and Rosa Cleantha Blood.  One of his older sister’s was my husband’s grandmother. What drove them to take their dead child, dress him in his best clothes, put him in a life-like pose and have this picture taken?  The answer is custom.  Postmortem photography was quite common in the Victorian Age, for both children and adults.  An early photographer’s advertisement said, “secure the shadow, ere the substance fade”.  Securing the shadow slightly after the substance had faded became the custom.  Adults were generally pictured in bed or in the coffin, but children were posed, often with their families. Here is another example from Stanley Burn’s Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Photography in America.  These are two postmortem daguerreotypes of the same child.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another oddity of Victorian mourning is  jewelry fashioned from the deceased’s hair.   These pieces might just be a lock of hair encased in glass or truly elaborate necklaces and bracelets of woven hair.  A bit repulsive to us , but a declaration of love and loss to those who wore it.

Here are two examples.  Both are made of human hair with gold embellishments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The young William Martin lived in a time when people did not die in order as we expect today.  Most of us expect to bury and mourn our parents, but not our children.

It has been said that in times when medicine was mostly useless and death was common that life was cheap and the pain of loss less deeply felt. Anyone who has wandered through an old cemetery and read the tender inscriptions on the tiny tombstones or considered the photographs and jewelry on this page will be forced to a different conclusion.

 

Thanks to the Willamette Heritage Center for the use of the picture of William Martin, their catalog number P 2012.011.0023

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