I think my earliest memories of hearing about the Depression came from tidbits my mother shared when I was little. I don’t really remember her first reference to it – it may have been related to doing without something we couldn’t afford. My mother, as I have described briefly elsewhere, was a girl and teenager during most of The Depression (see this Wikipedia page for a general description of it). She was born in 1919 so was about 10-11 years old as it was beginning and her junior high and high school days were during the worst years.

The Denman family was living in Canton, Ohio during this time. Canton was a northern industrial city, although there was farm land nearby, dependent on such companies as Hoover and Republic Steel. My mother’s description of Canton was of many mills burning lots of coal, so that there was coal dust everywhere and you couldn’t open windows without enduring a layer of fine grit on everything.

The family had moved to Canton in 1925, first renting a house on one side of town, and then in 1928 buying a house in a new development across town on 22nd Street. There were about 8 houses when they moved in and my mother remembered playing with the other children, on a street with little enough traffic that they sledded down the big hill on the street.

Her description of the Depression: “We lived there for about six years [the house on 22nd Street] during the Wall Street Crash, the Bank Holiday, and first few years of

Mom and Uncle Dick, Canton 1931

depression. As the Depression deepened and the furnaces were allowed to cool in the steel mills, more and more people were out of work and there was real hunger in town. Some families lived in one room in the winter, hanging blankets in the windows and doorways to keep as much heat in that room as possible. Dad’s salary was cut in half and he could no longer afford the house payments so we lost our home and once more moved back across town – this time near the Junior High School my brother was still attending.” This picture shows my mother and her younger brother in the 22nd Street neighborhood. I don’t know why they had the small fire (although it was December).

To continue what my mother wrote about her memories of the Depression: “The whole country seemed to be in trouble. The big farm belt in the middle of the country was enduring the “dust bowl” years when the wind, and sun, seemed determined to completely remove all the topsoil from the land. The weather was hot and dry and families lost farms. These were the days of the “Okie”, when families and all of their possessions loaded into a broken down car to head for a city and hope of a job. They were the days in the big industrial states when plants shut down and unemployment was high and just kept getting higher. Young people without jobs could not marry. Without jobs they couldn’t rent rooms let alone apartments. Many of them left home to wander around the country looking for work because there simply wasn’t enough food at home to feed one more. “Riding the rods” was a phrase understood by a generation that stole rides in box cars on the trains or in some cases rode beneath the cars.”

“I remember one fall when one of my friends was happy because the shoemaker could put lower heels on a pair of her mother’s old shoes so she would have something to wear to school. Her aunt had an extra coat and her mother was making her a skirt out of another old coat. Another friend wore her spring coat all winter because there was not always money for food let alone a coat. There were times when Mother made cocoa and buttered toast for us and a couple of school friends in the afternoon when she suspected there wasn’t sufficient food at their house.” [I also remember my mother telling about a friend wearing cardboard in her shoes when the soles developed holes and her family couldn’t afford another pair for her. This was very common it seems, and a way for a child to be able to continue to go to school since you had to have shoes to go to school.]

I never asked a lot of questions about my mother’s experiences growing up in the Depression, and am left with impressions that the family was among the luckier ones with a job that kept a roof over their heads and ways to get enough food. My grandpa Lyle’s family lived not too far away and farmed, so I suspect that some food came from their gardens. My grandparents probably also had a garden. I know my grandmother canned all sorts of fruits and vegatables when I was a little girl and I think she must have done so from her earliest married days and certainly during the Depression.

I recently finished reading Ted Gup’s book, A Secret Gift, which I had bought because it was described in the review as being about the Great Depression in Canton Ohio. I knew my mother had grown up in Canton during the Depression, so I had to have it. Once bought, it sat – as other books do – in my to-be-read pile for a year or more, but there was always something else more intriguing to be read first. When I got the copy of my mother’s high school yearbook, and decided to write about her high school days, Gup’s book percolated to the top of the pile and I began reading it. I had expected a description of what The Great Depression was like in Canton and got that plus much more. Of course there have been other books written about the Depression but this one struck home for several reasons. His descriptions, using transcriptions of original letters written at the time, show just how bad it was for many families. They also show how proud people often were, and how difficult it was to ask a stranger or organization for help. I was left with a better understanding of why so many who lived through the Great Depression didn’t talk much about it, wanting to move on and wanting to protect the next generation from its deprivations.

I have decided to name it the Shelton Images Collection. I am going to make it my first fully described archived collection. It is a small self-contained set, so I should be able to accomplish this. I know how important it is to do this, partly from wishing the person I obtained any materials from had done it for me. Alas, when pieces from family members get passed down, in dribs and drabs, that doesn’t often happen. Not in my family anyway. I aspire to do better.

This collection of images is different from most of my others. I obtained them from eBay, all at one time, with a very short description attached. Here’s how it happened. When I started listening to Lisa Louise Cooke’s podcast, one of her suggestions was to set up searches on eBay for places your ancestors had lived. She talked about finding neat things that related to ancestors’ lives and even discovering new information this way. Cool idea, thought I. And at some later point (much later, since I am often slow to follow through on this kind of intention) I tried it out. That was how I found the high school year book for my mother. And learning how to successfully bid in the auctions on eBay is another story!

I also set up a search for Wakeman Ohio, thinking I would love to find a high school year book or other material for my grandfather and his family. Given my recent success with my mother’s year book, I went back to eBay, and renewed a number of the searches I had set up. These searches last a finite amount of time and then they stop sending you email when they’ve found anything and you have to go back and renew them. Soon after I did that, and spent a morning rummaging around the eBay site looking at things, I got a message from my Wakeman search with the family name Shelton in it. The description sent to me was “10 vintage cabinet photos-Wakeman Ohio-Haines Studio-Shelton 1898″. The cabinet photos caught my eye immediately and when I realized that the name and date meant they were likely part of my mother’s family I went to take a look at the offering.

I was thrilled to see the complete description. “—–LOT OF 10 OLD-VINTAGE FAMILY CABINET PHOTO’S…THE 2 TOP PICTURES OF THE SAME BABY,BOTH ARE MARKED–“ELBERT MINOR SHELTON,5 MONTHS OLD..25 LBS.”; THE OLDER MAN WITH A LONG GRAY BEARD IS MARKED “HENRY S. SHELTON 1898? ON THE BACK…..ALL OF THESE ARE MARKED “HAINES,WAKEMAN OHIO” STUDIO.” The seller described buying the pictures at an estate sale, where she was told they would only sell the lot together since they were from the same family. What she was offering was that same lot of 10.

I knew as soon as I saw the baby’s name that this was our family – at least the baby picture. I opened my computer database to look at names and refresh my memory on this line. Sure enough, Elbert was the son of Nellie Minor and Myron Shelton. Myron was the son of Henry S. Shelton. So I knew there was at least a picture of the grandson Elbert and grandfather Henry. Nellie Minor Shelton was the sister of my great grandmother, Mamie

Elbert Minor Shelton, 5 mos., 25 lbs


Minor Denman. This is the baby Elbert – the back of the photo gives his full name and that he was 5 months old and weighed 25 pounds. You have to love it! And here is his grandfather, Henry S. Shelton, who would have been about 66 years old if the date (1898) on the back is correct.

Henry S. Shelton, c 1898

I have my work cut out for me to identify the other people in the photos. They are all from the same photography studio so I am hoping that the variation of the logos will help date them. I am also hoping I can lure one of my cousins into helping, or at least looking at them. There are individual pictures of a man and woman who *could* be baby Elbert’s proud parents. And there is an irresistable one of a young child who *might* be Elbert at around 2-3 years of age. I think this picture is a little boy – what do you think? Luckily, to describe the collection I don’t think I have to have all the images identified.

Unknown Shelton child, c 1898

drawing of McKinley High School, Richard Cook

I was reminded about high school yearbooks in a conversation at our recent family Christmas get-together. A while back I started thinking about the possibility of getting yearbooks for my parents – or maybe even my grandparents – as another way to fill in information about their lives. I went looking on eBay (thank you Lisa Louise Cooke!) and discovered that my mother’s high school yearbook might be obtainable. Mom, Elizabeth Ann Denman, graduated from McKinley High School in Canton, Ohio in 1936. She attended her 50th reunion in 1986, even though she was physically pretty restricted, and had a wonderful time reconnecting with classmates.

I started looking on eBay, and found a copy being auctioned, but wasn’t successful at my bidding. I was so disappointed! I kept my eBay search going, and finally this fall another one came up. And I got it! (I felt like I had won the lottery.) Of course it arrived just as Real Life was heating up, so I haven’t had much time to really go through it. Until I got reminded, at Christmas, of how much information might be in there.

So I got it out and spent some time going through looking for all the activities she participated in. The resulting picture of her senior year in high school captures both my mother as a young woman and provides a glimpse into what high school life was like in the mid-1930s in Ohio. This was the midst of the Great Depression, which had a particularly large impact on Canton, and which my mother talked about on occasion. Her father was lucky enough to have a job with a Chicago meatpacking company which he kept through the Depression although his salary was cut in half. The family lost their house and moved back into a rental, but between Grandpa Lyle’s job and Grandma Cena’s ability to make do, they managed.

Mom went to Lehman Junior High for the first 2 years of high school and then everyone got sent to the big downtown high school, McKinley High School. This was a pretty large school – bigger than the ones she had been at in the past, having about 4000 students for the three class years, and over 900 in her senior year class.

L-R: Elizabeth, Virginia, Jayne, and Sylvia, June 1936

She was particular friends with three girls: Virginia Dorland, Sylvia Frantz, and Jayne Puncheon. They had many of the same interests and participated in many of the same school activities. And they were all very active. Mom had the following listed in her yearbook description: National Honor Society, Booster Club, Friendship Club, Leaders’ Club, Choral Club, Swimming Club, French Club (she was secretary), Girl’s Service League (she was vice-president), and Volleyball. I only listed the ones she was active in her senior year. The descriptions of the clubs comes directly from the 1936 McKinleyite. In addition to all of these, Mom continued to be active in Girl Scouting throughout her high school career and finished her Golden Eaglet award.

The Girl’s Booster Club

“…the Boosters participated in all of the outstanding school activities. The year was a successful one and the Boosters were kept busy contributing their share to the advancement of ideal school spirit….total membership of more than 700, which was nearly double that of former years.” Appointed as chairmen for activities were Sylvia Frantz, Virginia Dorland, and Elizabeth Denman. Among the activities were pencil-selling contests in support of the football and basketball teams. There was the annual big party in the music room, with the theme of Nursery Folk Frolic. At that party there were prizes for various costumes, a walk through the “Land of Make Believe” where everyone saw snapshots from a Booster girl’s day, a dance review and a playlet and a mock football game. The Boosters faithfully supported the basketball team, having a section reserved for members and pulling stunts on opposing teams.

Friendship Club

“To face life squarely, to find and give the best” is the motto of the club. Their aim is to help those less fortunate than themselves. There were a total of 350 members this year. They made a large donation to the Scholarship Foundation fund and to the community fund. Baskets for the needy were prepared at Thanksgiving and Christmas. With branches in surrounding schools, there was an inter-club council played a large part in this club’s activities this year. There were dances, parties, two conferences, a white elephant sale, a faculty tea, a mother-daughter banquet, and an open house. There were meetings every two weeks through the whole year. There were interest groups for dramatics, music, nature, knitting, arts and crafts, and first aid.

Girls' Leaders' Club

Girl’s Leaders’ Club

Leaders’ Club had a membership of 80 girls, who had to have an 85 in gym and passing grades in all other subjects in order to be eligible. There were tryouts in the second six weeks [I assume this was a grading period.] based on a letter each one submitted telling why she wanted to join the club. At the tryouts each had to give a speech on “Why I Want to be a Leader” and was graded on that speech plus her athletic ability. Those unanimously chosen by the old members of the club were given probationary status until after initiation, when they became full fledged Leaders. Membership in this club meant spending two extra periods a week assisting teachers and those in classes who needed help. There were also activities: a formal dance at Christmas; a picnic in the spring that included the students’ mothers; an informal dance in the spring; and a demonstration at the gym exhibition that was “the highlight” every year. They also helped put on two sports competition games: a basketball game and a volleyball game.

Senior Choral Club

This is a large musical group that gave concerts and special programs “constantly through out the year.” They put on the Mikado for 2 nights. They did special concerts for civic organizations, vesper services, and a district teacher conference. Their final performance was at the commencement exercises.

Girl’s Swim Club

This club included endurance tests and competitions using different strokes and diving contests. There were about 28 members.

French Club

Eligibility for this club required a grade of 85 or better in French. Mom was elected secretary in her senior year. Activities included monthly meetings, a Christmas entertainment, a Mardi Gras celebration on February 26, and a picnic later in the year.

Girl’s Service League

The members of the league participate in many services. They are girls who had maintained a 90% or better through their three years of high school, selected while juniors. This year they aided students while changing classes in September. At Thanksgiving and Christmas they put together baskets with food and clothing for needy families. they visited a home for the aged. They ushered for a Parent Teacher convention. They were “Big Sisters” to all new juniors and sophomores. Social activities included an informal dance in December and a party in May for new members. Officers for the year included: Elizabeth Denman, vice-president and Sylvia Frantz, treasurer.

Elizabeth Denman, senior picture

When I read these descriptions I don’t see any direct reference to the effects of the Depression, but I do see a value placed on scholarship and on service to others. I also see characteristics of my mother that continued into her adult life and most of them for her entire life. She was concerned about the welfare of others. She was interested in being a leader, in the service of helping others or promoting things she believed in. She loved nature and the outdoors and using her body physically, playing a variety of sports and continuing physical activities like swimming as long as she could (before Real Life intervened).

Since I’ve posting the stories from Grandpa Lyle about early Wakeman days I’ve gotten more curious about his father, F.A. who was the focus of many of these stories. So, I’m going to combine a couple of ideas here to write about my great grandfather, F.A. Denman and his life.

When we first talking about doing a blog and what we would write about, Judy suggested she might write about all of the changes her mother had seen in her long life. I thought that was a good idea, and might be interesting in my family as well. Using a timeline to write about an ancestor has also been suggested as a theme, by the COG and others. So here is a capsule of F.A.’s life and some of the changes he would have experienced in his long lifetime.

F.A. August 1913


First a little background to set the stage: F.A. Denman was born December 12, 1866 in Florence Township, Erie, Ohio to John Denman and Mary Groatt Denman. He died January 22, 1960 in Wakeman, Huron, Ohio in the house that Grandpa Lyle described. He was 93 years old. F.A.’s childhood home was a house across the road from the Denman parents’ house (where he was born), surrounded by farmland belonging to the family. F.A.’s name was just F.A., not standing for anything else. It may have been that he was named after a favorite childhood playmate of his mother’s – that was always my mother’s story to explain the name. She said that his mother played with twins named M.A. and F.A. and so F.A. was named after his mother’s friend.

F.A.’s Denman grandparents and his Groatt grandmother all outlived his mother, Mary Groatt Denman, who died at age 35 when F.A. was not-yet 5 years old. F.A. had two older sisters and an older brother (4 to 9 years older than he was). His father John remarried two years after the death of his first wife, presumably needing help with the 4 children. The story is that John knew of a young woman who had lived in Wakeman but had moved to Michigan to teach. He took the 4 children up to Michigan to meet her and then married her.

Andrew Johnson was President when F.A. was born. The Civil War had ended the year before. The house he was born into did not have running water, electricity, or a telephone. It probably had gas lights, and an icebox. This is the Denman family home, built by F.A.’s grandfather, John Denman, about 1835.

Denman family house

There was a pump in the yard by the kitchen door, and an outhouse “out back”. The electric light bulb was developed when F.A. was about 13. He would have been about 12 years old when the first commercial telephone exchange in the U.S. was created. Neither of these were in common use in rural areas like Wakeman until after Grandpa Lyle was born.

My mother remembered that the house F.A. bought in Wakeman did have electricity when she was a young girl (the 1920’s) although most of the farmers in the area did not. There was no city water or indoor plumbing (although F.A. did install a toilet for his wife around 1924) even in those years. There was a telephone by this time for F.A.’s various business dealings.

F.A. lived through the administrations of 18 Presidents (Calvin Coolidge twice; I was corrected by my youngest brother: the President who served twice but not contiguously was Grover Cleveland), born when Andrew Johnson was President and dying the year that John Kennedy was elected. A newspaper story said that hie vividly recalled the day James Garfield was elected, and how some of the overly-enthusiastic Garfield supporters got drunk and spent the celebration holding up a wall of the train depot across the street from the saloon.

F.A.’s father-in-law (Charles Minor) and 4 Denman uncles were Civil War veterans. His son served in World War I; his grandson and grand-son-in-law were in World War II. He lived through the Spanish-American War, both World Wars and the Korean War, never being the right age to serve in the military.

Many changes in how people moved around also happened during F.A.’s lifetime. From courting his to-be wife using horse and buggy, he saw the automobile and the airplane invented and become common transportation. F.A. was a relatively early adopter of the automobile as Grandpa Lyle proudly noted in several places in his stories about life in Wakeman. About 1914 F.A. sold the family horse and used the money to help pay for his first automobile. In 1905, F.A. took his wife and 2 children on a train trip west to visit with his 3 siblings. They went from Wakeman through Chicago to Kansas and Nebraska and as far west as Colorado on that trip. In about 1937 F.A. took another trip to vist his brother and sisters, traveling to California and back by train. This trip included an air flight over Hoover Dam and the reservoir it created. Sputnik was launched when he was 91, introducing the Space Age.

F.A. didn’t really retire from his various entrepreneurial activities until he was around to 80. He had several hobbies or long-term interests, including photography, local history, and family history (one place I inherited it from). He was the informal town historian for Wakeman; as early as 1917 he was part of the Wakeman Centennial group, helping promote a 2-day celebration in August 1917 of the town’s centennial. Although he never went further than the fourth grade in school, having to leave to help on the family farm, he was a writer, keeping various journalis for much of his life. He was always interested in how things worked.

His wife, Mamie, was 61 when she died in 1930. Their younger daughter had married the November before and I would guess that the young couple moved in with her parents at the time of their marriage or soon afterward. F.A. lived with his daughter and her family for the rest of his life, dying in the house in Wakeman that he had bought and improved so many years before.

This is the last of the early Wakeman stories told by Grandpa Lyle, for now.  Clearly one of the common threads in all of these stories has been F.A.’s entrepreneurial style.  He found a variety of ways, typical to a rural area to support his family over the years. This one is about the several things he did toward the end of his working life. This post is also the most heavily edited from Grandpa Lyle’s words. I have tried to keep his use of words and cadence while tightening up some of his digressions and pauses.

“One of the things that Father became interested in, or became involved in, was a vineyard. He had a certain amount of money left when he sold the mill and he purchased a small acreage, perhaps a matter of ten acres of ground from the Paul Hall family.  (I have been trying to figure out who Paul Hall was and where he fit in our Hall family, without success so far.) The Hall family was related to the Denmans through the Minors. Will Hall was a brother of my grandmother Minor and the rest of the family all called him Uncle Will, Uncle Will Hall. And to me he would be a great uncle. So Father purchased this ground — he loved to raise things and see things grow and he had his orchard on it, he still had his orchard. And he planted several acres of vineyard. Why, I don’t know. But something prompted him to start a vineyard of perhaps, let’s say there may have been six or eight acres. Or may have only been four. I cannot say. But anyway he bought that. That was following the sale of the mill and the fact that the mill burned after he had sold it is of no consequence to our family there.  (This is a story for another time.) So Father bought this area of ground and set out a grape vineyard which took several years before it came into production.”

“Part of this property was down on the flats along the Vermilion River and Father had sort of a camp ground. People would drive in there and stay overnight that wanted to. And there was clumps of bushes and he’d have a picnic table there. He’d have probably six or eight picnic tables there and he just called it Denman’s Picnic Ground. And up the hill there was an acreage, perhaps four, maybe three, maybe five acres that he planted into vineyard and raised grapes. And they came into harvest in just a few years and he would harvest the grapes and would take them to Dover, near Cleveland, to have them pressed into wine. And there wasn’t too much to tell about that except the the bit of humor from the fact that at one time some twenty years earlier he had been a very rabid prohibitionist. Wakeman was a dry community under local option and somewhere or other that had been discontinued in later years. And he had these grapes pressed into wine and with the help of his son-in-law, Fred Graves, they would take them to the wine press and he would have a few barrels of grape wine which he was able to sell retail from his residence in Wakeman. He had obtained the proper permit from the state that allowed him to do that. And occasionally people would come there and buy a gallon of wine which he would sell from his basement.”

“But in the meantime he was buying eggs from different people and would take them to Cleveland. He had certain customers there, among others Hotel Cleveland which was the newest and biggest hotel there. Father would take those eggs and they would be candled, hand candled, and h would guarantee the absolute freshness of every egg that he sold. And they paid him a premium to get Father’s special white candled eggs which they used for their three-minute boiled eggs. They bought cheaper eggs for the general use, for baking and for serving, frying and scrambling and what have you. But for any customer that ordered a three-minute boiled egg, you would get one of these eggs that Father had and he would take a certain number of cases to Cleveland once a week and he had developed a small business that way. And then he had other eggs and things for sale. And there was a market, a farmers’ market, in Cleveland that he would make his deliveries. There was a grocery store there, the Brayman brothers owned a store, and the Braymans had lived in Wakeman at one time and Father supplied them with eggs every week.”

(My mother remembered that when he raised strawberries, he used to take the strawberries into Cleveland.) “Well, we didn’t, he didn’t raise many strawberries. It was, he, whenever he had produce of any kind that he raised, he would take into Cleveland. And one year, among other things, he had a quantity of white Easter lilies and he raised, oh, how many hundred I don’t know. But those were bundled up and were taken in to a florist in Cleveland. And he did quite a lot of work like that. He was gradually getting older and that was one of the reasons that he sold the mill. The mill had become, he had been fifteen years younger and when he was fifteen years older the mill property had become a burden, trying to operate it along with his orchard business and all of these — he seemed to like to get into everything at the same time and didn’t concentrate.”

“Father seemed to like to dabble in many things. One of the other things following the sale of the mill — at one time he decided that hatching eggs, baby chicks, would be a good idea and he had the space in the barn at Wakeman. And he obtained from someplace, or bought, an incubator that would hatch or would carry three thousand eggs at a time. And for more than one season — I can’t remember how long he did it. I know he did it for at least two different years, in the spring of the year. People who would want baby chicks — he would contract to furnish them at so much apiece. If they brought their own eggs and had wanted a certain breed of chickens, they would bring the eggs for those. Or if they would tell him what they wanted, he would get them.

“Father raised chickens. We had quite — always did have a lot of chickens around.

F.A.'s chickens 1922

F.A.'s chickens 1922

This picture was taken in 1922 of F.A.’s chickens.  I have it on good authority that these are a large flock of young birds and include a few Plymouth Barred Rocks, Leghorns, and Rhode Island Reds. If we didn’t have them, he would get the eggs from someplace that did have, whether they might be Plymouth Rock or White Leghorns, or White Rocks. There were a number of different — I remember there was a Silver Laced Wyandott that was a popular bird. It was a heavy bird. It was a good laying bird and also was a good bird for a family — roasting. It was not a fryer type like the Leghorns they used for the fryer types. He operated that for several years until it was destroyed later by a fire that destroyed the barn.”

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