Lady of the House

by Kathleen Franks

~

We had a ladies’ sewing circle back in Connecticut when we lived in civilized society. How I miss those delicate days of dining on a table draped in fine Irish linen with my grandmother’s china placed properly among the silver. Those were the times when a woman could pour her creative spirit into the art of homemaking and rear her children to become true ladies and gentlemen.

Everything changed around the turn of the century, when some of our menfolk got the notion that we should pull up stakes and head westward. The lure of becoming masters of a land vast and mysterious, a chance to mark a virgin territory and shape it as they wished, appealed to their need for conquest. Most of us women were perfectly content to stay in Connecticut. We saw no need to risk our lives for an uncertain future.

It was Mr. David Hudson who got this whole thing started. He spent many an evening in the homes of our townspeople sparking in them the same fever that he had – I swear, it was contagious, mainly to the men, but nonetheless, before long Mr. Hudson had recruited a group of 45 unsuspecting souls. My brother Joel Gaylord was one so persuaded. He talked me into going along saying that the group would need a woman who had her wits about her. He also said something about my cooking being the best of any woman in all of Connecticut and how he wouldn’t be able to survive without it. I knew he was just shining me on, but on the other hand, every word he said was true.

There was one woman in Goshen who didn’t need to be sold on the idea. Eunice Oviatt, Heman’s wife,  actually got excited at the prospect. She immediately immersed herself into a collection of books on such topics as, “How to Live off the Land” , “Hunting for Sport – Killing for Survival”, “Edible Plants and their Medicinal Uses” and the most shocking title of all (cover your children’s ears, please) – “Sex in a One Room Cabin”. That one made me question Eunice’s sense of decency as a God-fearing woman!

In February of the year 1800, we began our journey to “New Connecticut” which some of us had named the god-forsaken place in hopes that it would become a copy of our beloved home. On the map it was named, “The Western Reserve”. There were more than 45 in the group that left that day. David Hudson, his wife and six children were in the lead. We stopped in Bloomfield, NY less than a month from our start. Winter weather would not allow a continuance of our journey. Don’t ask me why our menfolk thought it wise to even begin such an endeavor in the dead of winter! Hare-brained fools, is what I thought they were. I had said so before we left, but was told that February was in fact, the best time to venture out and that I should not be worrying my “pretty little head over such matters”.

In Bloomfield, we purchased four boats and repaired the old one that Mr. Hudson had taken on his previous trip. They were open boats, which I thought were not at all suitable for what lay ahead, but then, my opinions were of no account. They named the boats, “Sloth”, captained by David Hudson; “Lion”, captained by my brother, Joel Gaylord; “Beaver”, captained by Samuel Bishop; “Loon”, captained by Joseph Darrow; and “Duck”, captained by William McKinley”. They appointed Sam Bishop’s son, Reuben, only thirteen years of age, to be the steersman of the “Duck”. Needless to say, I was appalled at their lack of good judgment in placing a mere child at the helm! By then, however, I was keeping my opinions to myself.

We left Bloomfield on April 24th in better weather, but still, I worried that the spring rains would be a problem, and I was right, as usual, which I will tell you about in a minute. From Bloomfield we started out at Wood Creek to Oneida Lake which took us up the Oswego River. From there we traveled to Lake Ontario, and up to the Falls where we carried the fleet on our wagons to the mouth of the Cuyahoga River. We spent our first night down river at the Pinery which is now Northfield. During the night a torrential rainstorm filled the Cuyahoga over its banks which flooded our camp. If ever I wanted to say, I told you so, it was then, but I held my tongue.

On the 28th of May we reached our landing place at Brandywine Creek. We set up camp for an extra day or so while the men made wooden sleds that we used to pull our goods to our destination. Elijah Noble, Joseph Bishop, David Bishop and Lumen Bishop had been driving the cattle and hogs through the wilderness while we had taken the river route. They arrived right around the same time as our fleet.

Almost immediately, Heman Oviatt and my brother set up a shanty on the bank of the creek south of the center and planted four acres of spring wheat. Grass didn’t grow under their feet!

The first Sabbath was in three days. We had planned to meet in the village clearing using the tree stumps for seats, but mother nature had a different agenda. A relentless rainstorm began in the night. It was still pummeling us when morning came. Never one to give up, David Hudson directed the rest of the men to drag one of the wagons to the center of the clearing and flip it over, resting one end on a couple of stumps for an entrance. Voila! An instant church! We scurried inside for a service we will never forget. Deacon Hudson provided a rousing sermon on the courage and determination of the Israelites in their forty years wandering in the wilderness. We all felt so encouraged. And from that day forward it has been said that the town of Hudson has never seen a Sabbath without a church service!

The next day, we gathered for a public thanksgiving. Many pats on the backs were given to those men who so valiantly led our party, but I was totally surprised when the men raised their glasses to the brave and unflappable women who accompanied them. Mrs. Hudson was given the news that hers would be the first house built in our town. Mrs. Noble, who fearlessly traveled with their infant son, was given a breathtakingly beautiful strand of pearls by her husband, Elijah. He actually got down on bended knee to express his appreciation for her fortitude, as he quoted the scripture in Proverbs that says a good wife is hard to find and as rare as the finest of pearls! Then he promised that in their new home they would have a grand house-warming where he would get her a new dress to wear with her pearls.

Sam Bishop, not to be outdone by the other husbands, reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a tiny little box wrapped in gold leaf. With misty eyes he passed it to the trembling hand of his wife who gingerly opened it so as not to disturb the wrapping. Inside was a black velvet box which contained the most sparkly pair of diamond and ruby earrings that any of us had ever seen! Lizzy fell into Sam’s embrace while we burst out in spontaneous applause.

Heman Oviatt, not one to stand on ceremony and knowing his wife would neither, told us to hold our horses for a minute while he got something out of the wagon. He came back with a long leather case trimmed in brass. “Eunice, my love, open this case and see what I have saved for you.”

Eunice turned the key, lifted the lid and gasped with glee, “Oh, Heman, just what I’ve always wanted!”

Inside were two rifles and one pistol that Heman’s father, Benjamin Oviatt, had used as a minute man in the Connecticut revolutionary militia. A better gift could not be had for Eunice, as I mentioned earlier, she had been preparing for her life in the wilds of the Western Reserve by educating herself. Beyond books, Eunice had spent day after day in target practice with an old 22 that she had bought from the blacksmith in Goshen. Her father-in-law’s gun collection would be most prized.

But when they turned to me and said, “Miss Ruth Gaylord, for your great bravery in coming as a maiden woman on such a journey, we are apportioning as bounty for your trouble, 40 acres of land at any location of your choosing.” Well, I was at a loss for words, as you can imagine, but managed to give a small speech of gratitude.

That day, in the calm of our companionship, the challenges that lay before us were hidden in the glow of our naivety.

Next Porch

“See How Stout I Am!”

As time went on our group used their skills to fell trees, build simple shelters, plant gardens and the like. Dr. Moses Thompson established his medical practice shortly. Mosquitoes were the first health hazard we had to deal with and Dr. Thompson relieved our suffering. He also instructed us to take a spoonful of quinine after every meal to stave off any stomach ailments.

There’s a story about Dr. Thompson that I need to share with you before I forget. After about six months in the settlement, Moses had run out of medicine and feeling rather homesick for his family in Goshen, he announced that he would be leaving. When David Hudson heard that our only doctor was leaving, he offered to give him $50 for medicine and other supplies. In those days, $50 was a substantial sum. It would have bought enough medicine to take care of our small settlement for quite some time. Well, Moses thought about the offer for a few days. On Monday morning he announced that he would be happy to serve as our official doctor. Mr. Hudson reached into his pocket and pulled out the agreed upon sum and the deal was done. Not having a wagon for the journey back to Goshen, nor even a horse, Dr. Thompson set out on foot. Word came back that he made the 600 mile trip in just eleven and a half days! That sounded like a tall tale if I ever heard one. I got out my paper and pencil to do the calculations. He would have had to walk an average of 18 hours per day to accomplish such a feat. History proved this to be the case and I had to eat my words. Interestingly, he took his time on the return trip to Hudson. With wagons of supplies and his family in tow, it took over four months to make the overland journey.

~

Back in Connecticut I had heard the wild tales of ferocious animals and equally fearsome savage Indians that roamed the Western Reserve. Looking back on those early days, I’d have to say that the animals were much more of a threat than the Indians. I say this for two reasons: 1) The local chief, Ogontz, had been educated by the French missionaries some years before, and hence had a measure of civility about him which he transferred to the tribes; 2) and then there was Eunice Oviatt who immersed herself in the native tribal customs and language soon after our arrival. Word spread quickly among the Indians of this white woman who had taken the time to learn of their culture.

Eunice wasn’t the only one who felt the need to commune with the natives. David Hudson set the example right from the start. He made it clear that we should respect the Indians and find ways to share the land instead of ripping it from them. On his earlier visit to the Reserve, he had provided assistance to the Indians whenever he could and assigned them dignity by asking for their instruction in the best way to manage the land. Most everyone in our settlement concurred with Mr. Hudson.

In these early days, the Indians often brought venison, fowl and fish for our village, knowing that we had so very little to eat. One early settler wrote in his diary, “they are more numerous than the white people but are very friendly, and I believe are a benefit rather than an injury though some persons seem disposed to quarrel with them. I, for one, have never had any problems of any sort and on the contrary find them to be of generous spirit and good heart.”

Eunice Oviatt developed relationships with the Indians that went beyond mere acquaintance and proved to be of greater value. They taught her which of the native plants were useful, and which ones to avoid. She asked for hunting lessons. At first they thought that any white woman would be too weak to learn how to hunt, but after they got to know Eunice, their doubts were removed! Soon Eunice was stalking the woods for all sorts of game, coming home with pheasants hanging from her belt, rabbits slung in her pack and a deer dragged behind on her sled.

Wolves and bears abounded along with stories of attacks. Most were believable, after all, we were in this wilderness together and knew of the presence of such animals. There were a few stories, though, that I found hard to believe.

Elijah Noble had been for a visit to Colonel John Oviatt’s house one fine spring day. Not a minute after Elijah  left, John heard an ear-shattering scream! It was loud enough for the rest of the town to hear. Being former minute men, the town fathers were ever-ready to spring into action. Immediately they ran with guns in tow toward John Oviatt’s place. Not more than than a hundred yards from John’s house they came upon Elijah Noble in the tight embrace of a towering brown bear! With the sudden shots of their rifles, the bear let go and ran back to the woods where the men could see her cub waiting by a large sycamore.

Elijah was none worse for the wear and after giving him a once-over, the men all broke out in hysterics, falling onto each other in laughter. They weren’t sure if the mama bear was hugging Elijah in the delirium of spring fever or if she was just looking for a papa for her cub!

The stories of wolves weren’t as light-hearted. Gov. Huntington left on horseback one evening from Tinker’s Creek about ten miles north of Hudson headed for David Hudson’s house. No sooner than he got started on the old Indian trail then a pack of wolves came after him, snapping at his feet! He beat them off with the butt of his whip for some distance till it was worn out. He grabbed his umbrella from his pack and beat the wolves back for what seemed like the whole night. When the umbrella wound up in shreds he thought he was a goner until he saw in the darkness the dim light of John’s lamp. His horse must have sensed that they were near safety for he took off in a sprint and made it to John’s doorstep exhausted, but safe, for the wolves had given up when the horse took off. It was past midnight. John opened the door, surprised to see the Governor on his porch with his face still washed with fear and his pant legs shredded up to his knee. The horse had suffered deep gashes to his hindquarters. They stitched up the horse’s wounds under the light of the oil lamp, faint, but good enough to get the job done. With the horse in the barn, the Governor and the Colonel sat on the porch, sipping good whiskey and counting their lucky stars.

Eunice had her share of wolf chases and bear encounters to tell, as you can imagine being a woman of the woods like she was, but by far the best story happened one night when Heman was in Warren for jury duty. Not one wild animal is part of the tale, but the fortitude that Eunice showed that night would have scared off any self-respecting bear.

I had been at Eunice’s house that afternoon, helping with the children. She sure had her hands full in those days – three little ones under the age of five. Sophronia, her eight-year-old daughter and Tom, the twelve-year-old helped as best they could. Ethel, the oldest daughter helped with the cooking. I usually stopped by once or twice a week to help with the washing and ironing.

Eloida Lindley and Miss Polly Kellogg had paid Eunice a visit that day, also. The four of us decided to have dinner together. As we were washing the dishes and singing songs with the children, there was a sharp knocking at the door. Eunice opened it to find two young Indians so drunk that they could hardly keep from falling on each other. They asked if they could spend the night. Eunice spoke with them in their native language. We had no idea what she was saying but it looked like she was telling them to leave. After much back and forth, Eunice stepped back and let them in, but not without first having them hand over their tomahawks, guns and knives. She put them behind the bed by the pantry. Eloida seemed a bit nervous. She said that it was getting late and that she had best get home, which wasn’t more than a half mile from Eunice. Not long after she left, there was another knock at the door. It was Lumen Bishop, whom Eloida had sent. He mumbled something as he stepped inside that they might need to have a man around the house that night.

The taller of the two Indians, didn’t take too well to having this white man show up, clearly with the purpose of “protecting” the ladies. He took offense that anyone would think that they would do any harm to Eunice or her friends. All the neighboring tribes knew Eunice. She could speak the three local tribal languages fluently: Chippeway, Seneca and Delaware. This endeared her to them and invoked their friendship. Many a time Eunice had gone to their villages to help nurse the sick. In turn, they had brought native remedies for her family. She shared the bounty of her garden and always gave something of her most recent hunt to any in the tribes who were in need. There were many occasions when the young warriors had been sent to protect Eunice, her family and her village from neighboring threats, both man and beast.

Why, one time when one of them had been falsely accused of a crime, Eunice got on her horse and rode all the way to Warren to defend this Indian in court! Of course, she won his case. Eunice was their hero.

So this Indian, drunk as he was, had real cause for offense. Eunice took him aside to reassure him that this was not the case. Eloida had not acted in prudence by sending the white man. Eunice turned to Lumen and asked him to leave. He resisted her request, not being fully aware of Eunice’s relationship with the Indians, but Eunice repeated herself in no uncertain terms and Lumen quietly left.

However, shortly afterward, trouble set in. Eunice’s two-year-old began to fuss about bedtime. His continual crying disturbed the larger of the two Indians who grabbed the child by his ankles and threatened to slam his brains out against the hearth! As he started to swing the baby toward the chimney, Eunice caught the little guy and snatched him from the Indian’s grip, with a stern look of disapproval. She handed Eli to Sophronia who took him upstairs to bed.

Still enraged by the white man’s intrusion, the same Indian went outside to snatch the ax away from Tom who was chopping wood for the night fire. Eunice suspected that the Indian had gone out there to vent his anger, so she followed close behind just in time to wrestle the ax from the Indian as he raised it to chop off Tom’s head! She ran inside and emerged with a large kettle of boiling water.

“See how stout I am! I can handle a half dozen just as you. I will tie you to the post if you don’t behave yourself! Now get inside and get to bed!”

Without so much as a grunt of protest, the drunk Indian marched himself inside and laid down on the bed next to the pantry. Eunice went upstairs to read her children a bedtime story. No sooner had she started then a gunshot cracked the peace of the moment.

“Who’s got a gun?” she yelled downstairs, “You best put it up right quick before I have to come down there.”

Eunice then settled back to finish reading to her children. She tucked them in with a hug and a kiss goodnight and headed back downstairs. Sophronia, being the most curious of her siblings, crept out of bed to peek through the crack in the floor which was a good two inches across. She saw one of the Indians taking a handful of hot coals from the fire and tossing them to the other as they danced around the room whooping war cries. Then they teased Miss Kellogg with threats of scalping her. At that point, Eunice sent her oldest daughter, Ethel, to get the rope that hung behind the back door. Eunice then set out to tie up the loudest of the two Indians. He tried to fight her off, but too drunk to keep his balance, fell face forward across the bed at which time Eunice swiftly wrapped his hands and feet together like he was some young bull calf. The younger of the two, seeing how the larger one didn’t stand a chance, sat down on the hearth promising to stay quiet.

Since the rope was stiff from lack of use, the Indian was able to loosen his bounds before too long. He sprang up, ready to fight again. By this time, Eunice was getting pretty tired of their antics.

“Ethel, get me the flax,” she ordered with an irritated tone. She twisted a strand in no time and tied up the Indian’s hands and sat him down on the hearth next to the quiet one. As soon as she turned her back, the foolish Indian jumped up and started dancing around the room shrieking war cries. Eunice pushed him down to the floor and tied his feet, but that didn’t keep his mouth shut. He continued his war whoops. Eunice spun around, snatched a large potato out of the bin and crammed it into the loud Indian’s mouth! I’ll never forget the younger one’s face at that point. His jaw dropped and his eyes looked like they were going to pop out of their sockets!

After things calmed down and the rest of us could finally get some rest, Eunice felt sorry for the potato-faced Indian and took it out, whereupon he asked if she would please untie him so he could get to sleep, also. Soon after, the Indian crawled over to the bed where Eunice and Miss Kellogg were sleeping. He whispered, “haw wechee”, which means, “here, friend”. Eunice asked him what he wanted. He pointed to Miss Kellogg and said, “cawen nishishen squaw” – meaning “no good squaw, send to wigwam”. Eunice scolded him for thinking such a thing and turned over to go to sleep. Next thing she knew, he was standing over Miss Kellogg with a tomahawk raised over her head! Eunice had had it by then and pointing to the door, ordered both of them outside for the remainder of the night. She kindly tossed them a coal from the fire on their way out so they could start their own. Daylight was drifting over the horizon.

In the morning, when Eunice went out to feed the cattle, gunshots shattered the early morning stillness. Eunice turned around to see feathers flying and two chickens running with their heads shot off.

“All you had to do was ask. I would have given you some breakfast,” she shouted.

~

A few days later, Chief Ogontz showed up at the Oviatt’s house. With him was Pontecacawaugh, the father of the two boys who had caused the trouble. They had heard of the incident and wanted to make recompense for the ordeal. Pontecacawaugh expressed great shame at the conduct of his sons and requested that Eunice write up an order stipulating the damages done to her property. She listed the loss of the two chickens.  It was agreed that the boys would repay Eunice with two coonskins in four days. Chief Ogontz and Pontecacawaugh signed the bottom of the order. The Chief wrote his name in cursive as the French had taught him. Pontecacawaugh signed with an X. Eunice signed as “Mrs. Heman Oviatt”. This document was placed in the office of the town clerk as witness to the agreement.

Exactly four days later, the boys arrived at Eunice’s door with the coonskins in hand and an apology on their lips.

As an addendum to the document concerning this incident, Eunice went to town hall the next day and wrote beneath the signatures that the coonskins were indeed delivered and then wrote, “How much more is this in the spirit of Christianity than the manner the whites have fulfilled their engagements to the Indians.”

 ~

Many have said regarding the Indians that they were brutal savages of low intelligence. I think that my story proves otherwise. Men of any size, shape or color behave badly and likewise can redeem themselves.

Those that speak disparagingly of the natives do so out of their own ignorance. It is not the color of a man’s skin that determines his identity, nor heralds his reputation. I know this sounds high-minded and all, but it was what I learned from those early days in the Western Reserve.

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The Banshee of Brewster Mansion

by Connie Mroczkowski for Porch Stories™ Ghost Tour 2009, Hudson, Ohio

Welcome to Brewster Mansion, where late at night a man working alone in his basement office heard the thump, thump, thump of footsteps treading across the floorboards of the closed shop above him.  He crept up the creaky stairs to check. The narrow hall was dark and empty, like a waiting coffin.  He peered through the lightless window and saw that the shop was deserted. Thump, thump, thump, footfalls, distinct footfalls, echoed from the locked room.  He closed his office and hurried home.

The Brewster Mansion

Yes, this is Brewster Mansion where doors locked by dead bolts mysteriously open on their own and paintings move from the walls to the floor during the dead of night, when no one is here – at least no living person.  But who haunts Brewster Mansion?

Sally Brewster died suddenly in this home on December 29, 1889.  On December 30th, David Duncan Beebe, her son-in-law, died as he ran up these steps to attend Sally’s funeral.

Sally was born Sarah Porter White, in 1812 in Granville, New York, and she came to Hudson to help her ailing sister, Lucy. Sarah Porter White met Anson Brewster, Jr. at Brewster’s Store in the building that now houses Citizens Bank on the corner.

Anson and Sally married in 1832 and built this Gothic-style brick and sandstone mansion in 1853. Anson Brewster died in 1864, but Sally and her unmarried daughters continued to live here.

One Brewster daughter, Ellen, married David Duncan Beebe and moved to the house on the other side of the church next door. This section of the street became know as Brewster’s Row.

After the Brewsters’ deaths, the mansion was sold to become the Park Hotel, and during the 20th century, it served as a rest home, where more than one resident may have passed on to the other side.

As you can see, the mansion now houses several businesses and, perhaps, a paranormal persona.  Is it Sally, Duncan or Anson?

Maybe the chilling story of the piano will help you decide. It seems a small wire sculpture of a piano was put on prominent display here in the front showroom window of Hudson Fine Art and Framing. On several occasions, when the shop opened in the morning, employees found the piano in the middle of the floor, upright and undented, several feet from where it was on display the day before.

For a period before its sale, the storekeeper kept the little piano locked in storage case, its small white price tag dangling by a string from one of its curved wires. More than once, she found the price tag laying on top of a showroom counter the next morning, the piano still locked in its case.

An unsubstantiated story about Sally Brewster said that during her windowed years, she formed a close relationship with a concert pianist.  Moreover, an old write-up of her death said Sally “rarely ever desired to go beyond the circle of a domestic world, where she had so long been the presiding spirit.”

Take heed you pass the darkened houses on Brewster’s Row at night; there may be more than one “presiding spirit” lurking in the shadows – Sally and Duncan and Anson may all be out and about.

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The Harlot of Hudson

 by Constance Mroczkowski for Porch Stories™ Summer Tour 2010, Hudson, Ohio

~

She was about as hard a character as ever disgraced a town, and it was hoped that Hudson was well rid of her.  That’s what our town newspaper, The Enterprise, said when Miss Amelia Zook was hauled off to jail in Akron in August 1880.

But I’m getting ahead of myself; let me tell the story from the beginning, so you can understand just how much of a…a Jezebel I think Miss Zook was. I know some people have used the H word to describe her, but I’m too much of a lady for that kind of talk.

In fact, it was my genteelness that enabled her to bamboozle me.  She had such an angelic face when she first came to Hudson from Chicago. The big city.  I should have suspected.

I rented her an upstairs room, with its very own parlor mind you, in my own home on Railroad Street (it’s now called Maple Drive).  It didn’t take long for the bloom to fade from the rose, if you know what I mean.  She paid her weekly rent of $2 on time, but since she had not yet found a job, I wondered where she got the money. The Enterprise reported that she used other names, like Amelia McGuire and Amelia Starr, to cover her outrageous behavior, I suspect.  It seemed that no one knew her true identity.

For an unemployed person, she certainly kept unusual hours, coming and going day and night disturbing the whole household.  More than one neighbor told me that they saw her (while on their way to the privy) sitting on my front porch rocker in the middle of the night smoking a cheroot with her bare feet dangling over the railing.

One neighbor never spoke of her though.  That was Mr. Charles Higgins at 78 Railroad Street.  He had been a widower for two years when Miss Zook came to Hudson. His beloved wife, Mary, had died suddenly in their home at 58 from heart disease.  Mr. Higgins was 11 years Mary’s junior and only 47 when she passed.

One sultry August night I decided to take matters into my own hands.  My other renters had complained, my neighbors had complained and my reputation for running a respectable boarding house was in jeopardy, not to mention my standing as a lady in this town.

The temperature was still hovering in the mid 80s at midnight when I heard Miss Zook sneaking up the stairs, giggling.  At first, I planned to wait until a more decent hour in the morning to confront her, but the stifling heat inflamed my anger.  I grabbed my robe and crept up the stairs, not wanting to add more noise to the ruckus she was creating.

I am sure I knocked on her door, although she claims I never did.  A woman of my manners would never enter without announcing herself.  Well, either way, she had left the door unlocked, and what I saw nearly stopped my heart.

There they were, lying in embrace on the parlor divan, Miss Amelia Zook and Mr. Charles Higgins, wearing nothing but sweat.  Oh, the shock and horror!

I lodged my complaint with Marshal Trowbridge and they were both arrested the very next day and charged with adultery and fornication.  Mayor Foster deemed the evidence of their guilt as sufficient and placed Miss Zook under a $300 bond.  She could not pay it, so he sent her to the Akron jail, never to darken the streets of Hudson again.  Mr. Higgins was fined $10 and costs after pleading guilty.  He went home.

That October, 1880, The Enterprise reported that one Annie Zook was indicted by the grand jury for fornication.  No one seems to know what became of her.

Charles Higgins had served in the 27th regiment of the United States Colored Infantry during the Civil War and had received an invalid’s pension.  He was a short man, just five foot five, with piercing gray eyes. He could neither read nor write but observed the Catholic faith.  He died in 1892 and is buried at the Soldiers’ Home near Dayton.

I have no doubt that the Hudson temptress took advantage of his broken heart.  Why else would he have been her paramour?

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A Gentleman of Color

 by Constance Mroczkowski for Porch Stories™ Summer Tour 2009, Hudson, Ohio

I, Seth Bridgman, recite this eulogy in honor of Mr. William Branch, unarguably one of Hudson’s most charismatic residents and my dear friend.  Although schooled by life on a multitude of subjects, Mr. Branch was illiterate, and I often read to him from the many newspapers sold at the train depot, where I apprenticed as a telegrapher.

I’ll start my story with an article I read to him on a dreary April day in 1865.  I read the story slowly, chocking out the words as if I were standing right in the middle of the acrid air and soot.  The article said, “The evacuation of Richmond, Virginia, commenced Sunday night. Monday dawned to a horrific conflagration, kindled when Confederate authorities torched Shockoe Warehouse and other tobacco storage buildings.  A breeze from the south swept the fire from one building to another in short order. Naught was seen of the noon sun through the great plumes of black smoke that reeked of burnt cigars and charred timber.  Richmond is now a wasteland.  Many prominent buildings and hundreds of homes are lost, and, more sadly, are some lives.  Officials are certain that more poor souls are yet to be discovered under the smoldering rubble.”

Mr. Branch had received no word of his sisters, Miss Charity and Miss Patience, both in Richmond at the time of its demise.  When I read to him about the abandoned state of the General Jefferson Davis mansion, his face took on the sunken look of despair – very uncharacteristic of that jovial man. You see, Mr. Branch and his sisters were slaves of General Davis, sold to the man when he first came to Richmond as President of the Confederacy.

General Davis had an untold number of Negro servants and slaves, and rumors that some were spies for the Union Army circulated without restraint. After Davis’s wife was injured when her carriage plummeted into a deep gully, speculation arose that William Jackson, the coachman and a slave, was one such spy.  Soon after, General Davis sent some of the strong and sharp-witted Negro men to the iron works at Grace Furnace to make cannon for the Confederacy.  Mr. William Branch was counted in their number.

“Lawd, we workt ten hours a day smeltn’ tons o’ pig iron in the heat o’ Hades,” Mr. Branch once told me.  “They was nothin’ but fiery furnace an flamin’ torch t’ see by, an they cast ghost-like shadahs in da sky. Now ah see they was omens.”

While living at the foundry, Mr. Branch had limited communication with his sisters and aged mother at the mansion.  One soggy evening a muddy rider brought him woeful news from that house.  General Davis’s son, Joseph, just weeks shy of his fifth birthday, fell from the railing of a Confederate White House portico and broke his neck.  Lucinda Branch, Mr. Branch’s mother, died shortly thereafter of a weak heart. Young Joseph was her most beloved charge.

In June 1864, just two months after Mr. Branch buried his mother, Union General David Hunter pounced upon the Grace Furnace facility and laid it to waste.  Mr. Branch seized the opportunity for freedom and came north to Ohio with a returning regiment of the Union Army, arriving in Hudson, unceremoniously, in January of 1865 on a train from Cleveland. I immediately assessed him to be a notable man in an unassuming guise.  My first thoughts were vindicated when time proved him a polite and honest businessman, philosopher and occasional mystic.

Within a few weeks of his arrival, Mr. Branch had wrangled near all of the drayman business right out from under Jimmy Taylor – not by hook or crook, but by his industriousness.  An astute businessman, he attended to his commerce with urgency, always in a hurry.

“Has no time t’ swap jackknives, boss,” he would say.

Starting with just a wheelbarrow, he hauled, for twenty-five cents, whatever needed hauling, even carting trunks from the depot to Western Reserve College,  a half mile uphill, for the students. Then he carried the heavy trunks on his back to the rooms, sometimes on the fourth floor.

Wise in the ways of thrift, it didn’t take him long to save enough money to buy a horse he called Fred and a wagon equipped with a device for hoisting the trunks through the college’s dormitory windows.  The gaily-colored paint on the wagon’s boards reflected the man’s personality.  Not four years after he arrived, Mr. Branch had become a janitor at Western Reserve College (later called Western Reserve Academy), a job he held for twenty years, forming lasting friendships with both students and faculty.

The students held affection for Mr. Branch and they began to call him Uncle Billy.  He remained loyal to their fondness, never snitching on a student.

“Ah’s an old coloret man and ah just kaint remember,” he would say when questioned by school officials about a student’s dereliction.

Our close friendship formed when he asked me to write a letter for him inquiring about the status of his sisters in Virginia.   Although I wondered why he did not have a faculty member of the Academy to do it, I never questioned him.  His trust in me outweighed my curiosity.  When a reply came several months later telling him that Miss Charity and Miss Patience were last seen evacuating Richmond with General Davis’s wife and children on the eve of the city’s destruction, Mr. Branch said he would conduct a séance.

“If they’s gone over,” he said, “they’ll contac me, an if they doesn’t, then ah’ll keep searchin’ here on earth.”

Mr. Branch had an eye for the ladies, and they seemed to find him captivating.  He spoke fondly of Miss Molly, his first wife who died in slavery just before the war, and his second, Miss Harriet Carter of Hudson. There were two women in his life, however, who sparked a lot of gossip:  Miss Sabina Hunt and Miss Amanda McCoy.

Whether Miss Hunt was real or just a figment of the collective imaginations of Hudson residents remains a mystery.  Gossip about her spread, including that she ran away from the family that brought her from Kentucky to Stow and hid out with a renegade tribe of Wyandot Indians.  Although married to Harriet Carter, a dear woman who worked as a housekeeper for the Ellsworth family in Hudson, Mr. Branch did spend considerable time in Stow during that period.

When advanced age had turned his neat beard white and his once sturdy body more stooped, Mr. Branch went to live with Amanda McCoy in Cleveland. He must have been over 90 by then.  She was a well-to-do colored lady in her 80s, who ran a very successful hat making business. She eventually took up with a young grifter named Garland.  Miss McCoy lost everything in one of Garland’s schemes, including her two homes and a home Mr. Branch built in Hudson that was in Harriet Branch’s name. Good thing Miss Harriet was not on this earth to see it.

After Miss McCoy died from the shock of being bamboozled by Garland, Mr. Branch was sent to the Home for Aged Colored People in Cleveland (later renamed the Eliza Bryant Home). Hudson’s very generous benefactor, James Ellsworth, paid for his stay.

While visiting him there one frosty day in November 1913, I had, again, the opportunity to read to him from a newspaper.  The Hudson Independent reported that his home on Brown Street was being put in first-class condition for the new school superintendent.

“Ah’s pleased,” Mr. Branch beamed.

Mr. William (Uncle Billy) Branch passed away 1 October, 1920, with nothing more or less than he had when born to a slave in the antebellum South:  a pure heart and the love of those who knew him.  Some claim he has not yet left but works as a heavenly drayman, carting souls to the other side while keeping an eye on the pretty ladies.

by  Constance Mroczkowski

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Nickshaw’s Hoedown

 by Constance Mroczkowski for Porch Stories™ Ghost Tour 2009, Hudson, Ohio

On a crisp December eve, 1806, in the light of a cold winter moon, evil stained Hudson’s heritage with blood spilled in a tale of fear, hatred and revenge that still haunts the city to this day.

It started in Streetsboro, when a Seneca Indian named John Nickshaw felt cheated after trading his pony with John Diver from Hudson.  Nickshaw wanted to trade back but was told the deal was final.

So, an angry Nickshaw and his brother-in-law, John Mohawk, sought out Diver for their own brand of justice, but Mohawk mistakenly shot John Diver’s brother Daniel, temporarily blinding the man. Nickshaw and Mohawk ran, thinking they had killed Diver, but Diver managed to escape back to town.

A posse of Streetsboro townsfolk trailed the Indians across the Cuyahoga River and through what are now Kent, Peninsula and Boston Township.

The tracks in the new fallen snow led the posse to Christian Cackler’s cabin in Hudson.  Frozen to the bone from the bitter cold, many of the men dropped out of the posse, but a reputed Indian killer named Jonathan Williams and a man named George Darrow from Hudson, joined in the hunt.

Near Richfield, the Indians built a fire and pulled off their moccasins to dry them. When the posse approached, Nickshaw and Mohawk sprang up and ran off barefoot with Williams and Darrow in hot pursuit. The Indians’ feet began to bleed from tramping over fallen pine cones and twigs in the woods.  They soon split up, taking separate trails.

Both Darrow and Williams followed Nickshaw, chasing him like hounds on a fox. They finally overtook him, and Nickshaw charged at them with his hand under his blanket as if he had a knife.  Darrow tried to club him with a small tree branch.  Williams fired a warning shot over Nickshaw’s head, but the Indian did not stop. Williams reloaded and shot the Indian dead. The two men hid Nickshaw’s body under a log and came back to Hudson with their story of self-defense.

It is said that David Hudson, Heman Oviatt and Owen Brown mounted their horses and brought the body of the dead Indian to Hudson where it was discovered that Nickshaw had been shot in the back of the head.  The townsfolk brought the matter before the proper legal authorities, but the investigation came to no conclusion and it was rumored to end in a “hoedown,” where they enjoyed plenty of whiskey and collected $5 for Williams as reward for the deed.

Nickshaw’s body vanished.  Some believe Williams dumped it in the ghost-laden Pine Swamp on Rt. 303 near Terex Road.  Williams disappeared, too.  Now, when the sky is dark and a cold moon raises, bloody footprints trail through downtown Hudson, especially on Darrow Road. And spine-chilling howls, like Indian war cries, can be heard in the night.

by Constance Mroczkowski

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Murder in a Sleepy Village

 by Kathleen Franks

I found it tucked between the old volumes. A small booklet, obviously homemade, not more than an inch thick. “My Stories,” by Ellen Ryan. It didn’t look very old. I looked for the date of publication on the cover page: October 18, 1912. Written only a few short years ago! I wondered who Ellen Ryan was. I had never heard of her. She must have had something to do with the Academy. This is the Headmaster’s house and I am the Matron and Manager of the Boarding Hall. If anyone should know of this Ellen Ryan, it should be me!

Why would her book be on his shelf?

The chapter titles looked interesting: “Toy Clowns and other Terrors”, “The Secret of the Frozen Flies”, “The Saturday Gang”, “Blamed for Everything”, “Moon Messages”, “Young Hearts”, “I Saw John Kill Michael”, “The Cat that Never Died”, and the final chapter, “‘I Told You I was Sick’ and other Interesting Tombstones”.

I jumped to Chapter 7. She was a witness to a murder? I had to find out.

~

Poor Bridget. When she told me that she was pregnant I didn’t know what to say. This was going to change her life. Mine, too. I’m her best friend. I told her that, of course, I’ll help her with anything. It was a shame that she wouldn’t be able to start at the Ladies’ Seminary in the fall. But then, she didn’t pay that no mind. Bridget was never one to give up. She’d get back to school someday.

It was a relief to hear that her family was going to support her through the whole thing. That didn’t surprise me, though. The Calnan’s were just what a family should be – large and loving. There’s no way they would send Bridget off to one of those homes for “bad girls.” Bridget had made a mistake, but it wasn’t a reason for them to judge her as unworthy of their love.

Another thing about the strength of this family – they told Bridget that if that coward of a boy, John Maloney, ever stepped foot in Hudson again, they’d see to it that the legalities of the matter would be settled on the spot. Uncle William, the attorney in the family, would see to that.

~

Michael Stepleton and John Maloney worked on the railroad together. A couple of young Irish blokes. Worked hard, played hard, as they say. Like a lot of young people of that time, they liked to kick up the dust in Hudson. Everyone knew that this was the place where all the fun was, especially on a Saturday night.

Michael stopped by John’s place early one morning.

“You wanna go to Hudson tonight?” Michael asked.

“No, I don’t think so. I don’t want to run into Bridget,” replied John.

“Oh, don’t worry about that, I heard she was sent off to one of those homes for unwed mothers,” declared Michael.

“Really?” responded John, “That doesn’t sound right. The Calnan’s wouldn’t do something like that.”

“Well, I don’t know what you know about the Calnan’s, but, I do know that I heard from a reliable source that Bridget had to leave town,” said Michael, “C’mon, you just gotta come out tonight. There’s a new girl in Hudson. I met her last week. She’s best friends with my Kate. I can fix you up.”

“I don’t know,” muttered John, “It’s too soon for me to show my face around there.”

“What if I told you she was the most beautiful creature I had ever laid eyes on?” Michael said with a big grin.

“Well, okay, now you got my curiosity aroused. What’s the plan?”

Michael slapped John on the back. “That’s my man! I’ll pick you up at 6:00 sharp.”

Michael couldn’t wait to tell Kate that he had gotten a date for Louise. He rode off as fast as he could.

Well, with Hudson being a small town and all, it didn’t take too long for word to get around that Louise had a date with none other than John Maloney! Of course, Bridget got the news before lunch. Her Uncle William drew up the necessary legal papers before dinner.

Lockhart’s Saloon was packed to the corners that night. Lights were low. It was hard to see who was coming and going. John felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around and there was Bridget! I was standing on the other side of Michael, so I couldn’t hear what she said. It didn’t look like she said much. All I saw was her giving John an envelope and walk out.

“I thought you said she had left town!” John roared in Michael’s ear.

“I’m just as surprised as you!” Michael shouted above the din.

John got up and left, not ten steps behind Bridget. None of us heard what took place after that, but knowing Bridget’s family, we were all pretty sure that plans were set that very evening to make things right for all concerned. The next Sunday’s edition of “The Hudson Independent” wrote up what had been running on the gossip trail around town all week long (why do small towns think they need a newspaper is beyond me), “Calnan-Maloney Exchange Vows” in which was said that the “loving not wisely, but too well” couple were accordingly joined in the bonds of holy wedlock by Father Scanlon of Akron, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul’s Church.

John and Bridget set up housekeeping in Macedonia where he owned a beautiful piece of property situated on a picturesque stream with an old weeping willow sweeping the banks. John had built a house out there for himself the year before. A small cottage, but nevertheless, a nice place for the newlyweds. From all outward appearances, it seemed that the rocky start to their marriage had smoothed out just fine. In fact, I had paid them a few visits myself and was impressed with the peaceful transition they had managed to create. On my last visit, the addition for the nursery was nearly complete. John had even used his masterful carpentry skills to build an ornately carved cherrywood crib. Bridget was happily sewing a layette on the new machine John had gotten for her birthday the month before. She was the first of my friends and for that matter, any woman in all of Summit County to have one of those Singer sewing machines. John had certainly turned out to be a model husband if you ask me! Life for the newlyweds couldn’t have been sweeter.

A few months later, I ran into John one Saturday afternoon in town. He was talking with Michael in front of the Mansion Hotel. I came up as I heard Michael say that he had no idea Bridget was going to show up that night at Lockhart’s Saloon, that it was a total surprise. John seemed to accept Michael’s explanation, laughing with him about the  “little misunderstanding”.

Later that evening a group of us met for dinner at the hotel. Michael had invited John to stay in town and join us. The two seemed to be having a gay old time, telling jokes, slapping each other on the back. Why at times they nearly fell off their chairs they were laughing so hard!

Long about 8:00, having enjoyed the evening, John said he was going to call it a day. He relayed the usual pleasantries of departure, shook hands all around, and left.

We lingered another hour or so, then the boys offered to walk us girls home. It was one of those cool autumn evenings in late October. We weren’t in any hurry as we strolled along the village streets crunching leaves beneath our feet.

Kate and I were the last two girls to be dropped off. We got to my house shortly after 10:00. Well, it wasn’t really my house. It belonged to George Pierce, president of Western Reserve College. I was living with the Pierce family while my parents were in Europe.

We lingered at the gate, stalling as long as we could, telling old stories and silly jokes. Suddenly a man jumped out of the bushes, shouting, “You are there yet!” and with both hands raised a heavy club and struck Michael on the head with such force that I heard a loud crack! Michael fell to the ground. The darkly clad assailant stood over Michael pummeling him with severe blows, all the while yelling, “Traitor! Traitor!” I recognized the voice as that of John Maloney, our affable companion of earlier that very evening!

Without a thought as to my peril, I jumped into the fight and twice tried to pull John away from Michael. John shoved me aside both times, screaming, “Ellen Ryan, let go! This rat has betrayed me!” As I got to my feet again, John threw his weapon into the hedge and took off running on the road to Macedonia.

During the melee, I had not even noticed that I was alone! I yelled for help. Kate came out from behind the Pierce house. We took hold of Michael and tried to prop him up on the steps. His groans made us afraid that we were causing him further injury. I yelled again for help. Kate said that Sam Rowley, my date for the evening, had took off for home as soon as the fight began. So much for gallantry on his part. I have to say in his defense, however, that he did apologize later. I understood. Not everyone knows what to do in those kind of situations, nor has the inclination to do it!

Neighbors started to pour out of their houses. M.C. Read, Esq., was soon on the scene. He lived across the street. Dr. George P. Ashmun came running from next door. Sadly, they arrived too late. Death had gotten there first.

The news quickly spread that a man had been murdered. The once sleepy village of Hudson was abuzz with excitement. The residents were in shock. How could such a heinous act happen in our upstanding community? Why, weren’t these the sort of despicable crimes that only took place among the drunken sailors up in Cleveland?

In no time, a group of men took it upon themselves to bring the villain back to Hudson that very night. They mounted their horses and took off thundering for Macedonia.

Upon arrival at Maloney’s home, the men hurriedly dismounted their steeds and charged through the front door. Much to their surprise they found the murderer at home in bed with his wife!

“Have you no shame?” roared Dr. Ashmun.

Ignoring the question, Maloney sat up in bed and turned to his pregnant wife, “I’ll be leaving you for a little while, dear. I had a dispute earlier this evening that apparently is in need of reconciliation.”

With that, he stood up, stepped into his trousers, pulled on his boots and walked out leaving Mrs. Maloney in a state of pitiful bewilderment.

M.C. Read tipped his hat and apologized for the intrusion.

Outside, Maloney calmly saddled his horse, not responding to any of the questions hurled at him by the awaiting party.

Back in Hudson, Maloney was retained in custody until Monday morning when he was brought before Judge Harry C. Thompson. It was then that Maloney was forced to answer all the questions concerning the incident. Judge Thompson rightly assigned Maloney to remain in jail until further legal proceedings.

Prosecuting Attorney McKinney did not think it necessary to interrupt the ongoing docket of cases through the fall term of the Court by arranging a special grand jury to expedite matters. Therefore, the trial was placed on the calendar for the November term. At that time, Maloney was indicted on the charges of willful and premeditated murder. Upon arraignment, Maloney entered a plea of “not guilty.”

The trial commenced on Monday, November 26, 1860. Jurors were selected from a pool of 36 summoned to appear that day. The prosecuting attorney, Henry McKinney, was assisted by William H. Upson and Matthew C. Read (yes, he is the same M.C. Read who took Maloney into custody on the night of the murder). The team for the defense consisted of Judge Van R. Humphrey and General Lucius V. Bierce.

The trial took seven days including the jury deliberation of six hours on the last day. At 3:00 that afternoon, they returned the verdict of murder in the second degree.

Remorse washed over John Maloney’s face upon hearing his fate. Visibly shaken, he asked to address the court:

“Your honor, I am deeply regretful for the murder of Michael Stepleton. A lifetime of apologies will never be enough to cover the cavern of sorrow that I have created for the Stepleton family. I especially want to convey a message to any young person that may hear my story. Please listen to me. One rash act of rage can ruin many lives. Violence can never be justified as a means to resolve insult or injury.”

With those final words, John Maloney hung his head in shame as he was escorted back to jail.

On the 14th day of December, 1860, John Maloney began his life sentence at the state penitentiary. Bridget had had the baby on November 14th, exactly one month before. She named her son, John H. Maloney, Jr., and called him little Johnny for short. He got to see his daddy on several occasions while John, Sr. was in the local jail before he left for prison. Sadly, visits to the state penitentiary would be nearly impossible due to the distance.

John Maloney became a model prisoner. It was recorded in the records that he was a “quiet and cooperative” prisoner and “performed all his duties of internment cheerfully and thoroughly.” He submitted to all rules and regulations without complaint. Thus, he gained the goodwill of the prison guards and officials.

In time, John Maloney’s loyal friends interceded on his behalf and petitioned Governor Jacob D. Cox for his pardon. On the 22nd day of October, 1867, John Maloney secured his freedom having served only six years, ten months and eight days of his sentence.

Bridget welcomed her husband home with unbounded joy. Being a fine Christian wife and all, she believed that “love covers a multitude of sins” and that her unwavering love for John would restore him to his God-given role as her husband and as little Johnny’s father.

John Maloney did indeed live on to benefit thoroughly from the deep and abiding love from his dear wife. The Good Lord blessed their union with many “slips of olive trees around their table” just as the Bible says. All nine of the children grew to become fine upstanding citizens. As for John and Bridget, they lived well into their nineties, happy and satisfied.

~

My dear children and grandchildren, I am leaving these words on this paper as my gift.

signed and dated, October 18, 1912

Ellen Ryan

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“Crow”

 by Kathleen Franks for Porch Stories™ Ghost Tour 2009, Hudson, Ohio

Halloween and bad luck have always walked hand-in-hand. But in the year 1913, the two of them ran amok in Hudson.

My twin daughters, Lily and Lacy, were opposite in every respect. Lily was sweet and delicate like her namesake flower. Lacy, however, did not turn out to be the elegant young woman that her name might suggest. Have you ever heard the term, “evil twin”?

It was Lacy’s turn to prepare the meal for the Civic Association dinner that Halloween. She  picked up the chickens from Mrs. J. L. Harper, who had a reputation for raising the very best poultry. So, it could not have been the chicken that caused the trouble.

The salad was merely red cabbage with a little vinegar and yellow wax beans, both from my garden. Obviously, the salad was not the culprit.

The ice cream was purchased from Jones’ Ice Cream Parlor in Cuyahoga Falls. Mr. Jones insisted that it was fresh that day and made with the finest of ingredients.

So it was so very strange, indeed, when over fifty guests that evening became violently ill. Lily and I were in that number. What made it even more mysterious was that not one item on the menu could be singled out as having been eaten by everyone. Lily and I only had the ice cream. However, Mr. Hamlin had eaten several helpings of both flavors! Other guests had chicken, some did not and likewise with the salad.

No one died from the ordeal, at least not immediately.  Some never did get back to their former robust health. Lily and I weren’t quite ourselves afterward. We both died on the same weekend almost a year later. It was rumored that the maid heard Lacy laughing a most hideous laugh after she was summoned to our deathbeds. How I wished Harmon had changed the will before he died. Lacy inherited a substantial amount of assets when he passed a few months after we did.

Revenge paid Lacy a visit on the day before her wedding ten years later (the groom had to have been a gold-digger, if you want to ask me). The story goes that Lacy had become annoyed with the neighbor’s cat sleeping on her porch. On the morning of that fateful day, Lacy decided to do away with “Crow”. She tied a weight around his neck and flung him into the pond. Later, as Lacy napped on the wicker chaise, Crow, having freed himself from his impending doom, came running onto the porch, sprang at her face, clawing at her cheeks, gouging at her eyes, biting through her nose. None of the neighbors said they heard any screams that day. The maid had gone to town for supplies. She found Lacy’s body with the head shredded to bits, blood spurting skyward from her neck. One eyeball hung at the side of the chaise, connected by a strand of nerve coming from the socket. Crow sat there, his black coat glistening in the sun, batting the eyeball back and forth.

Some have said that a black cat lives in the clocktower on the green. Some have seen it pass through the white door on moonlit nights. Others have heard its eerie screams. It darts across the green and runs up Aurora St., a glowing eyeball hanging from its mouth. The cat stops at #38. A ghostly figure sits on the side porch, rocking in the old wicker chair, stripes of luminous blood dripping from her face, while the cat sits in her lap, the eyeball nestled between its paws.

This is a photo of the house at #38 on a benign sunny day – this is the front porch – the ghastly deed took place on the private side porch – the white stone cat on the front step is merely a mask for the evil blackness of Crow who is never available for photographs.

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A Man of Orbital Precision

by Kathleen Franks for Porch Stories™ Summer Tour 2008, Hudson, Ohio

Since none of you knew my grandfather, Elias Loomis, I have been plucked from the year 1890, to be here with you today, on this porch, in your town, to tell my grandfather’s story. He left a piece of history here in Hudson that was of great significance in its day and continues to give testimony to the great educators that formed this town. I understand that Hudson still maintains an excellent reputation for the quality of its schools, both private and public. My grandfather’s influence steered your community onto this course.

The Porch of Hayden Hall, Western Reserve Academy, Hudson, Ohio

When I am finished with his story, you will have made the acquaintance of a most unusual man. A man, as some would say, ahead of his time. His early life gives credence to that fact. His very entry into this world was ahead of schedule for he was born nearly a month before the due date for my grandmother’s pregnancy!

He was the oldest of six, which also lends to his habit of being first and foremost in all that he did. I’ll get to the details to support that statement in a moment, but first, I want to say something about the observatory that my grandfather built in this lovely little town of yours. That it is still standing gives me a great feeling of pride and awe in the enduring qualities of my grandfather’s work. By the way, thank you for keeping up on its maintenance. As I look across the lush campus here at Western Reserve Academy (which was called Western Reserve College in my grandfather’s day), I can see what a tribute it is to your town fathers! Everything looks just as pristine as when I used to toddle around here with my grandfather. As a small child, of course, I had no idea of the importance of the work that my grandfather was doing, let alone, the significance of this observatory. It’s amazing to me that it is the second-oldest observatory in America! A fact that I was not aware of until returning to this year of 2008. I died not knowing how important my grandfather’s work would be to the generations to come even more than a hundred years into the future!

Entrance to the Loomis Observatory, Hudson, Ohio

Did you know that my grandfather’s father was named Hubbel Loomis? I found out from talking with some of you at lunch today, that the name Hubbel is rather interesting in relation to the astronomical fame of my dear old Gramps. Even though the spelling is different, the Hubble Telescope is something my Gramps would have been very interested in. I still can’t quite grasp the idea that there is a telescope circling miles above the earth, traveling at the speed of 5 miles every second! That means that it completes one journey around our planet in an hour and a half. Gramps would have been very impressed! He would have loved to have been a part of that project, not to mention that he most likely would have wanted to be an actual passenger. Just think of the observations that he would be recording. You know, he had a reputation for being extremely precise in everything he did. His records were impeccable. He once spent an entire year making hourly observations of the declination of a compass needle in order to measure the earth’s magnetic field. I once asked him if he actually did this twenty-four hours a day seven days a week and he looked at me with those calm steady eyes of his and replied, “Darla, my dear, the scientific method as discovered by Francis Bacon dictates not only precision, but a thoroughness in each and every procedure.”

Years later, many years after Gramps had passed away, I finally got around to reading some of his books and scientific papers, and in, “The Recent Progress of Astronomy, Especially in the United States”, that he wrote in 1851, I at last got an answer to my question. It was for seventeen hours each day from November of 1834 till November of 1835 that he made these hourly notations. My childish conclusions were diminished with that knowledge, but still, I think seventeen hourly observations every day for one whole year is quite a feat!

I will never forget what one of his students said at Gramps’ funeral service at Yale: Gramps was so undeviating in his march around the campus – referring to this very campus at the academy here in Hudson – that he was never half an inch off his path from one trip to another! That always left me with a picture in my mind of Gramps actually creating a path on the campus that looked like an orbital trail.

Let me get back to Gramps. I promised that I would tell you how it was that he had the habit of being first and excelling in all that he did. Well, as I said, he was the firstborn. His father, Hubbel, whom I just told you about – affectionally known as “Hubbie” – was a Baptist minister and a well-educated man, receiving an honorary degree from Yale in addition to his earlier academic achievements. Hubbie’s love of knowledge prompted him to teach all of his children at home as adjunct to their studies at school. Gramps learned Greek and higher mathematics from his daily studies with Hubbie. When he was only ten years old, Gramps could read the entire New Testament in its original Greek! Gramps did so well in school as a result of the extra tutoring from Hubbie, that he was admitted to Yale University when he was only 14 years of age! I’m not sure, but family folklore has it that Gramps was the youngest to enter Yale up to that time. In 1830 he graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He was a mere nineteen years old!

Yale hired him to teach mathematics, Latin and natural philosophy. He worked with Denison Olmstead an eminent science professor at Yale who encouraged Gramps to study astronomy. Yale had a fine telescope for its day, but it was housed in a steeple on campus where the view of the night sky was hampered by low windows. Nevertheless, Gramps and Professor Olmstead spent many an evening mesmerized by the constellations. One night, they must have had their socks knocked right off when they discovered the return of Halley’s Comet in 1835. They were the first Americans to observe this celestial surprise!

Shortly after that, Gramps was asked by the trustees at Western Reserve College to teach mathematics and natural philosophy. The president of the college, George Pierce, a Yale graduate himself and a man of formidable character, wanted his college to establish itself among the educational institutions of the day as a leader in the sciences, as this was a field of special interest to him. President Pierce’s strong competitive nature pushed forward his agenda and with great foresight, the trustees voted to apportion $4,000 for the purchase of scientific equipment for the study of astronomy. That was a princely sum in those days!

Having heard about the scientific projects that Gramps worked on at Yale, the trustees were eager to hire him. Most of the original trustees at the college were Yale graduates. In fact, your beloved academy was known as the “Yale of the West”. The campus and buildings are patterned after Yale’s campus in Connecticut.

Before Gramps could begin his teaching duties, the college entrusted him with the task of traveling to Europe with the $4,000 to procure the very finest in astronomical equipment. Now mind you, traveling abroad in those days was virtually unheard of, a privilege only for the wealthy. For a small college that had only been founded a mere ten years before and located in a town that had only been settled less than forty years earlier, this was quite a bold move.

You might think that this request to embark on such a journey was quite a tall order to ask of a young man in his mid-twenties – and it was – but Gramps didn’t even give it a second thought. However, the townspeople were besides themselves with excitement at the prospect of Gramps’ travels. They all came out for quite a bon voyage when he set sail in July of 1836.

During his year-long journey, Gramps wrote thirty-six letters to the Ohio Observer, a newspaper that was published in Hudson. Readers were enthralled to hear about the sights of London and Paris. True to Gramps’ love of details, his writings painted pictures of every street, every building, every cafe, every person he came across. He attended many lectures by noted scientists of the day, such as Franfois Arago and Jean-Baptiste Biot. What a rare opportunity it was for the people of Ohio to hear firsthand accounts of these distinguished scholars. Gramps visited several observatories, noting all facets of their operation. He purchased the finest of telescopic equipment made by Simms of London. He also bought a clock made by Molyneux of London. It’s in the physics building right over there. A chill shot up my spine when I stood there looking at it this morning, thinking how my grandfather purchased that very clock of such good quality that it is still running today.

Gramps returned from Europe in September of 1837. That November, he proposed to the college trustees a plan to build an observatory “moderate in dimensions, of brick, 36 feet long by 14 feet wide, or a little larger if found expedient”. The little knoll on the southwest corner of the campus was chosen, not because it happened to be convenient for a building location, but, of course, because my grandfather had carefully calculated that an observatory positioned at a precise angle to the south at that corner would gain the best advantage for celestial viewing. In my grandfather’s proposal he wrote that “the transit commands an unobstructed meridian from ninety degrees zenith distance on the south, to eighty-nine degrees on the north. The openings for the transit are fifteen inches wide, the side openings being closed by solid wooden shutters, and a single trap door cover the entire top. This covering is such as effectually to exclude the most violent rain.” I am proud to say that his design stood the test of time.

My grandfather’s inaugural address on August 21, 1838 noted, “it is believed the one erecting in this place will be among the most efficient. It will be a European observatory in miniature, and as auxiliary to the instruction of a class will serve nearly the same purpose as a large observatory.”

The only other college observatory built prior was at Williams College in Massachusetts, completed less than a year before my grandfather’s. Wait a minute, there was one other, at the University of North Carolina, built in 1831, but not really anything to speak of, basically it was a shack erected to house astronomical equipment, deemed an observatory, but far from it. About eight years later it burned to the ground and was never replaced.

Some have asked and probably continue to wonder, why, a small, young college far from the Ivy League, would have the audacity to build such a fine observatory. Harvard, Yale and William & Mary, the oldest American colleges at the time, had not even thought of such a plan. Astronomy was merely a hobby on campus, only discussed in clubs, as if it was a subject on the level of importance like some sort of sport, like rock climbing or boating.

An answer to why this observatory was built in this place at that time, is found in the sort of people that were living here, the early settlers of this town. Most were Connecticut Yankees of strong stock, persons who considered education and the pursuit of higher knowledge, as a tradition to be upheld, carried forth with all earnestness. Scientific matters were at the top of their priorities. They knew that science was the key to their progress and prosperity.

In that same inaugural address that I mentioned before, my grandfather made some interesting observations about education in America that I think you will find applicable to your time, as I have heard that the quality of education in America has suffered in these past decades. The zeal and enthusiasm for education that this country laid in its bedrock, has become buried in your modern way of life. I think my grandfather’s comments will give you cause for consideration.

“In no country in the world is it so rare a phenomenon to find an individual who can neither read nor write as it is in some of the States of this Union. But the fact is notorious that we have hitherto done very little to extend the boundaries of science.”

He felt that the fields of scientific studies in longitude and latitude, magnetic observations, observations of tides and of meteorological conditions, and studies in types of soils were grossly neglected.

I’d like to interject a note of history here: my grandfather wasn’t one to point out a problem and not be part of the solution. He contributed much in his later years to each one of those sciences that he made mention of in his speech. I’ll have more to tell you on that in a minute. First I want to share with you what Gramps said at the conclusion of his address that day.

“Enough, I trust, has been said to show that those who are disposed to devote themselves to the cultivation of science in this country need not remain idle for want of employment; and if my remarks shall have the effect of stimulating a single individual to this work, they will not have been made in vain.”

Now, about those specific sciences that Gramps mentioned in need of intense study, some say his most significant concentration was in meteorology. He encouraged the new technology of his day with the telegraph system as a means to record weather conditions. He collected data from observers all over the country and complied charts connecting places with equal barometric pressure. He concluded that atmospheric pressure passed “like a wave over the entire country, from west to east.”

What Gramps could only picture in his mind and transfer to charts, your modern technology has created onto a moving screen that you call television. I watched the weather station yesterday, fascinated by the weather patterns traveling west to east. If only I could tell my Gramps that his original observations are now placed in every household worldwide by means of a little box with colorful charts that move and flash across a screen. I know he would get the concept immediately because he knew of signals and energy waves from all his studies in terrestrial magnetism.

I should say something here about my grandfather’s personal life, lest you think that he lacked in family or social connections. It was here in your town, while Gramps was teaching at Reserve, that he found a wife, my grandmother, Julia Elmore Upson of Tallmadge. They were married in 1840 and raised two sons, Francis and Henry. The Records of the Trustees at the college confirms that my grandparents had “the use of the Clark place after Esquire Hudson’s year expires for $100 per annum.”

Gramps and Grammie saw to it that Uncle Francis and my dad had the finest of education as you can imagine. My dad graduated from Yale with a degree in law and enjoyed a long and successful career. Uncle Francis took after Gramps and became a noted astronomer in his own right armed with his degree from Harvard.

I’ve probably gone on too long about my grandfather, boasting about his accomplishments, but what was said at his funeral address by the president of Yale, Timothy Dwight, is something I think you’ll want to hear before I finish.

“The peculiar constitution of his mind disposed him to quiet reflection, and to solitary searching after truth. He had a calm joy in the accurate and steady and even working of his powers. He was not a lonely man. He was ready to teach others, and to work and write for their benefit. He was kindly and generous and glad to talk with his friends. Among all the lectures whom I have ever heard, I know of no one who surpassed him in this respect. His words were excellently chosen. There were just enough to express his idea, and no more.”

One of his students, Arthur Bostwick, remarked at the time, “Mr. Loomis was an eccentric man, very short and brief in what he had to say. He was sometimes so amusing, without meaning to be so, that being still very young and not having our emotions in good control it was all we could do to keep from laughing out loud.”

There you have it. My Gramps was a man of great accomplishment. I might add that he wrote many, many books and papers on astronomy, natural philosophy, meteorology, analytical geometry and calculus. He translated these textbooks into Arabic and Chinese, thus being instrumental in bringing western math concepts to Asia. I was told by my host here in Hudson, that if Gramps were alive today, his translating skills could certainly be used as this is a time when those very languages are of the utmost importance for global communication.

Elias Loomis truly was a man ahead of his time!

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It Takes A Woman

by Kathleen Franks for Porch Stories™ Summer Tour 2010, Hudson, Ohio

History is replete with the accomplishments of men. Sprinkled among these are the rare accounts of women whose intuitive determination leave the world a better place. Caroline Baldwin Babcock was one such woman.

I am Lucy Susannah Baldwin, Caroline’s cousin. I’ve made this journey through time to be with you on the 100th anniversary of the Hudson Library and Historical Society. I am profoundly and deeply honored. Here I stand, on the very porch of the house where my cousin Caroline was born, privileged to tell her story to all of you.

This was Caroline’s corner of the world. She spent most of her 80 years in Hudson. It was a place, and still is, I may add, that highly values education as a life-long endeavor. Our forefathers brought scores of books on their journey westward, with the intention of infecting their “New Connecticut” with an unquenchable love of knowledge. These values were at the core of my cousin’s character.

Caroline’s father, Frederick Baldwin, was 47 when she was born in 1841 and her mother, Saloma, was 37. Six years before, their first daughter, Maria Louisa, died less than a month old, leaving them in unspeakable grief. Caroline turned out to be their only child. I know that she gave my aunt and uncle boundless joy. Often I would hear my parents talk about the special delight that Caroline brought into the family.

Reared in a home where intellect was prized, Caroline had the auspicious advantage of immersing herself in the joy of reading. Her parents kept company with like-minded individuals like Nathan Seymour, professor of Greek and Latin at Western Reserve College, whose home contained a library of over 2,000 books – an astounding number of volumes for an early pioneer of the Western Reserve.

Caroline absorbed the knowledge that freely flowed in the Seymour family library. This is where her journey of self-education began, an adventure that never ended. Her most admired guide along that endless pursuit was her mother, who was a teacher at heart, and by profession. Caroline received an education from her dear mother that was much more extensive than any that she could have gotten elsewhere.

Frederick Baldwin was a merchant. He and his two brothers, Harvey (my father) and Augustus, arrived in Hudson from their home in Goshen, Connecticut, following in their father’s footsteps, Stephen Baldwin, who was one of the original six purchasers of the 16,000 acre parcel of the Western Reserve. Frederick and his brothers arrived in 1812 ready to open a general store, “A. Baldwin and Bros.”, to serve the needs of their new neighbors.

Uncle Frederick fell in love with Saloma Whedon Bronson, who had graduated from one of the first schools of higher learning for women in the country, the “Young Ladies’ Institute” in Litchfield, CT and had moved to Hudson to begin her career in education. They were married in 1828 at the home of Squire Benjamin Whedon which happened to be next door to the future location of the young couple’s home that would be built in 1834 at the northeast corner opposite the village green.

While Aunt Saloma contributed much to children through her gift of teaching, Uncle Frederick was community-minded. In the historic first election to incorporate the “Town of Hudson, Township of Hudson, County of Portage”, Uncle Frederick was voted in as one of the five trustees, along with the Mayor, Heman Oviatt, and the Recorder, Lyman Hall.

This group of seven comprised the first city council. Uncle Frederick served his town well. His reputation went beyond the borders, for The Cleveland Leader wrote of him as, “widely known as a just and honorable man.” It was from this heritage of education and civic leadership that Caroline grew into womanhood.

Uncle Frederick died in the winter of 1881 and Aunt Saloma died that summer. They had one of the best marriages ever known. Still falling in love after 53 years, neither one could have gone on living without the other. I think there is something to be said about dying from a broken heart.

Suddenly Caroline was alone in the world at the age of 40. Some might have felt sorry for her, assuming she was a lonely spinster. Not at all! She had several earnest suitors. Men were captivated by her ability to hold a conversation on any topic imaginable. Why it was said that at any party that Caroline attended, an adoring cluster of men gathered around mesmerized by her repartee.

One such admirer that caused the most talk about town was that of a certain teacher from the high school, a strikingly handsome man, 11 years younger than Caroline. They were often seen together at town events, arriving in the Baldwin cutter, laughing while falling in one another’s arms, practically tumbling out of the rig. Caroline’s youthful persona matched perfectly with his boyish charm.

As Caroline’s romantic life unfolded, another man threw his hat in the ring. He was an old friend of the Baldwin family. Perry H. Babcock and his former wife had been frequent guests at the Baldwin home. After his wife died, Perry’s visits became more numerous. It soon became obvious that he had marital intentions toward Caroline. Perry was 11 years older. What could this all possibly mean?

Well, as life would have it, things got a little complicated. Two marriage proposals arrived at the same time on the doorstep of Caroline’s heart. Not able to decide which one to let in, she considered her options from all sides. Friends and family were called upon to give advice. In the end, Caroline’s heart chose Mr. Babcock.

They were married in 1884. Caroline moved to Perry’s home on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland. A man of substantial means, a well-known banker and civic leader, Perry Babcock wrapped his life around Caroline like a soft summer breeze. Caroline settled into the comfort of his love and assumed her new role as lady of the house with all grace and dignity.

They had a happy and satisfying marriage of 27 years when Perry passed away at the age of 81. His obituary was a testament to what a fine man he was when it stated, “Perry H. Babcock was a man of great executive and business abilities as well as of sterling moral worth.”

Caroline became a very wealthy woman. However, such new-found affluence did not alter my cousin’s sense of frugality. She remained a woman of prudence and good sense .

Although she loved her life in Cleveland and had made many great friends, Caroline returned to her home in Hudson shortly after Perry’s death. She had something on her mind, something that she had been wanting to do her whole life, and now she had the money to do it – establish a library for her hometown – not just an ordinary one, but a library that also could serve as an historical society and learning institute.

She discussed the concept with many friends and acquaintances. Caroline wanted to make sure that the project would be well received and supported. She began a correspondence with James W. Ellsworth, Hudson’s great benefactor, to enlist his help. He immediately responded in a letter dated July 8, 1910, “I will do everything necessary to promote Hudson’s best interests and provide a place for the keeping of all this material that is so important to the village.”

Mr. Ellsworth arranged for one of his attorneys to draw up the legal papers necessary to form a public institution. He offered one of his buildings to use for the new library – the beautiful newly-remodeled, six-columned, Greek Revival that stood stately at the corner of Aurora and College. How fitting that this grand structure would house Hudson’s first library!

With this first step in place, Caroline could turn her attention to the rest of her dream – that of providing free public lectures for the purpose of “training so that as we walk, or run or motor, we shall know when we find uncut jewels in our path. Knowledge is worthwhile,” she added: “For myself I’ve been hungry for it all my life. I beg each and all of you to help the effort being made to open treasures that will make character for strong men and women.”

Caroline arranged for the library trustees to manage the endeavor. She stipulated that they would be required to spend “not less than $500 or more than $700 annually for lectures on science, art and history which will be free and for the benefit and pleasure of Hudson citizens.”

Caroline’s extensive travels gave her the backdrop on which to design an impressive lecture series. She had made many trips to Europe and had gone around the world once. She envisioned discourses on paper-making for example, so that children could learn how U.S. currency was made thereby instilling respect for the dollar and a desire to treat it sparingly!

She made a list of talks on subjects such as St. Peter’s and the Vatican, Chinese embroideries, pottery, glass-blowing, hand-tooled books, tapestries, gardening and Hudson beautification plans.

Caroline included local history as an integral part of the overall program. She wanted excerpts from the diaries of the village forefathers read. She believed that, “We are better able to appreciate our blessings of today if we pause a bit to think on the hardships and discouragements that those first settlers endured.”

I am thrilled that you have so beautifully restored my cousin’s home. Caroline would be so pleased to know that her home is shared by four organizations that do so much to enrich the lives of Hudson residents and that right next door is a foundation which provides support for entrepreneurs. Caroline would be impressed to know that community support and business development are side-by-side.

I understand that this is now known as the philanthropic corner of Hudson. How fitting that the legacy continues. What good can come of this has no limits. It reminds me of what Mr. Ellsworth used to say, “The best is none too good and everyone must do his best.”

Speaking of the best, that new library you’ve built across the way is quite a testament to the value that Hudson still places on the pursuit of knowledge. Caroline would be speechless at the sight of it! I know it would bring her to tears to know how much the town benefits from its extensive resources. I think what would delight her even more, though, would be the continuance  of her beloved free public lecture series. Thank you for making my dear cousin’s dreams come true.

Isn’t it amazing how one woman’s vision of one hundred years ago can become such a beautiful reality?

Posted in Notable Women, Pioneer, Small Towns | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Shoulder to Shoulder

by Kathleen Franks for Porch Stories™ Ghost Tour 2009, Hudson, Ohio

~

Yesterday I finally found out what I’ve been wanting to know ever since I was lynched that night. Lynched, you say? Now I know that when hearing the word, “lynch”, you have concluded that I must have been a Negro, a slave, an African-American as you folks call people of color these days. No, I was a white man who lived in Hudson about a hundred and fifty years ago. Those were the times when this Western Reserve was being settled by men and women of courage and determination. Here in Hudson we had a penchant for hard work and a belief that anyone who did his fair share was entitled to his portion. We had a reputation for community cooperation and respect for each and every inhabitant which included the native Indians.

When slavery became an issue in our country, we naturally felt repulsed by the idea of using a fellow man to do work without receiving a wage. Most of us were from the eastern shores where this great country took hold. We knew how our constitution was written and what it said about all men being created equal.

I was a man who was opposed to slavery so much so that I became a conductor on the Underground Railroad. My station was just up the road on the property that I owned on what now is Hines Hill Road. I had a slave camp, a clearing in my backwoods where runaway slaves could rest up a bit.

I’ve kept an eye on my property ever since that day I was lynched. I had to know what happened afterward. I wanted to know if those slaves that were there that night got away safely, especially that young married couple. While I waited all these years to hear the end of the story, I have been privileged to watch this little village I love so much, grow into the beautiful town that it is.

~

If I told you that I am a ghost, would you run away screaming? Please don’t. Most ghosts come around only because we’ve got some unfinished business, a story left untold or just out of plain curiosity. We never mean any harm. I guess we’ve got a reputation for spooking people because of a few “bad apples” among us who get their jollies from scaring you. But most of us would never do any harm.

I’ve been living in Hudson since 1805. Some think that living is only for those who reside in a human body. That’s understandable. How could you think otherwise? As humans, we only know one way of living. But as ghosts, we know of many. The possibilities are endless. We ghosts get to do some of the things that we couldn’t get done before we died, like, catching up on all that reading, finishing that quilt, practicing our music – you know what I’m talking about. You know those books that you keep on your night stand? We love reading over your shoulder. It’s so nice and peaceful nestled on the back of your pillow. We love reading your stories, but this time, I have a story to tell you. It pieces together some of Hudson’s history that you may have been wondering about.

~

It was a cool evening in late autumn in the year 1836. I understand that you’ve already heard the story of Roger and Moll, the runaway slaves from Virginia who left their master’s plantation one mid-summer day when Moll was six months pregnant! What a story they had to tell when they arrived at my farm that evening. We could hardly believe our ears. The serenity of the night when Moses was born, the stars in his eyes, the moon on his face, the hope in our hearts is my last memory as a human and one of the best.

Not an hour had passed after Moses was born when the tranquility of that beautiful night was shattered by the sound of barking dogs and horses’ hooves cracking the cool night air. Quickly we hid Moll, Moses and Roger in the tunnel under the barn. The other slaves that had been at the camp for the past day and a half fled into the woods. My family rushed to our house and bolted our door. Minutes later, the commotion of dogs, horses and shouting men converged upon my property. Pounding on my door they demanded to see me, “In the name of the Lord Almighty, open this door! The business at hand is urgent!”

Before I could answer, they had kicked my hand-hewn solid hickory door down, and burst into my home, “Release the slaves you are harboring! Return them to their rightful owner lest you be prosecuted under the law!” snarled a man who stood so close to my face that I could feel the heat of his anger.

“Who are you to demand such a thing of me?” I retorted, “Such accusations do not go lightly in these parts.”

“I am Mr. Edward C. Covey, owner of the Bluestone Creek Plantation in the great Commonwealth of Virginia. It is known that you provide shelter for negro slaves. You are in possession of two of my most prized slaves, Roger and Moll. I have been in pursuit since they took off three months ago. Their trail leads onto your land. I command you to turn over my property!”

“Which Negroes could you possibly be talking about? I have never met any negroes with such names,” I mused.

With that perceived insolence on my part, Mr. Covey ordered his men to take me outside.

Before I tell you what happened next, allow me to let you in on the character of Mr. Covey. His reputation as an unusually cruel and harsh slave master was known far and wide. But his tactics were not of his own originality, no, he was tutored by a Mr. Lynch, who was an infamous slave owner who boasted that he could break any negro no matter how stubborn or stupid. He was held in high regard by his peers for these unique abilities.

Lynch’s methods were so effective that he was often called upon to visit neighboring plantations to “train” slave owners. In other cases, slaves would be sent to his plantation to be broken. These unfortunate souls would wind up in this tortuous habitat for a year or more before being sent back to their original owner. I’m sure Mr. Lynch extracted a handsome fee for his services.

Covey also was well-respected among his peers for his prowess. His credentials exceeded that of being a mere slave trainer, he also was a professor of religion, along with being a charter member and highly esteemed elder of the Methodist church. However, men of such high station in the church were regarded among slaves as the worst of the worst. Under that shell of righteousness was a seething pit of rage that easily spewed out their scorching hypocrisy upon their slaves. Elsewhere in their communities, these men were mild-mannered gentlemen.

Covey’s tactics went beyond brutality. He used psychological methods as well. Slaves who came to my camp told me stories of Covey crawling on his hands and knees through a cornfield then springing up right in their midst and screaming, “Ah Ha! Hurry up now! Get on!” Consequently, he was known as “the snake”.  Other times he would jump out from behind a tree, a bale of hay, a horse trough – one never knew where he could be lurking. This element of surprise served him well in gaining control. His skillful use of deception rounded out his repertoire of manipulation.

Now a little background on Covey’s mentor, Mr. Lynch. Not much was known about this man. None of the slaves even knew his first name. But tales of his brutality went far and wide. I won’t go into the details of the atrocities that this man inflicted upon his victims. His name does not deserve the use of my words. I will say, however, that his last name has gone down in history as the origin of the term, “lynch”.

For the sake of some who might wonder, there is a difference between lynching and hanging. The latter is done under the cloak of justice. The former is the very opposite. Justice cannot come near when a lynching is underway, banned by the frenzy of the mob, it can only stand silent while the innocent cry out.

All this that I have just told you about Edward C. Covey and Mr. Lynch, is information that I have picked up from many hours of reading over your shoulders. One source that was very fruitful was from the writings of Frederick Douglass. I don’t know how many of you know this, but this great orator and former slave was here in Hudson in the year 1854 to give the commencement speech at Western Reserve College. He titled it, “The Claims of the Negro Ethnologically Considered”. The essence of his message that day – oh, and by the way, I was there – I couldn’t help myself, I had to look over his shoulder – the essence concerned the challenge that the American School of Ethnology had been promoting during those years, namely that all men were not created equal. The founders of this ideology were three scientists who wrote a very popular book of its day entitled, “Types of Mankind”. One was a medical doctor who also was a slave owner who performed experiments on his slaves and had a strong belief that Negroes were inferior.

In the text of their book, they argued that racial groups were in fact, separate species with differences so distinct that one could arrange them in a hierarchical order. I won’t go further on this topic because it doesn’t deserve our attention, but I will say this as a man with a certain degree of common sense: if the races were indeed separate species, then there could be no mixing of them, in other words, a cat and a dog cannot reproduce, but humans of any color, size or shape can produce perfectly beautiful children.

Frederick Douglass, as you can imagine, dismantled this ridiculous premise of racial inequality in his commencement speech. His eloquence of argument was not easily refuted. As a fellow Hudsonite and a former abolitionist, I am so proud to say that I was in the presence of Mr. Frederick Douglass that day.

Talking about that day with Mr. Douglass is gratifying indeed, but there is another part of my story that carries through many more years of Hudson’s history.

The night when I was lynched there were a few other slaves at my camp along with Roger and Moll. These are the slaves that ran into the woods. Among them was a slave by the name of William Branch. I always wondered what happened to him. There was something unforgettable about his character, maybe it was his distinctive baritone voice, but no, there was much more about him than just his voice. He had a remarkable sense of humor and found it easy to make light of any situation. He had the other slaves at the camp in stitches all day long!  I felt compelled to search out his story. Yesterday, I finally found it out.

As is my habit, I was wandering through town in the evening, trying to decide which house looked most inviting for a night of literary adventure. As I floated south on N. Main with the intention of first meeting some of my friends at the old Brewster Mansion on Aurora St., I first took a turn down Owen Brown St. I was immediately drawn to #24. I’m not sure if it was the familiar voice I heard or the alluring glow surrounding the house. I paused mid-air across the street so I could get a visual on it. Then I heard the voice again. Yes, I said to myself, I know that voice, why it’s the distinctive drawl of William Branch! I just know it!

“William, is that you?” I whispered from across the street.

“Frederick? Frederick Brown?” he asked in response.

“Over here, William, I’m at the top of the oak tree.”

I invited William to the gathering at the Brewster house. The other ghosts were delighted to learn that he had moved back to Hudson after spending the past 100 years at the Cleveland Home for Colored People. I hadn’t heard that Mr. James Ellsworth had arranged for his stay there when Willliam fell upon hard times in his later years. His fourth wife had absconded with his entire savings and left him destitute. Mr. Ellsworth kindly saw to it that William had a comfortable life for the remainder of his days. To tell the story of William’s four wives would require an entire evening, not to mention all the other stories in between, such as how he happened to move to Hudson as a free man after the Civil War and become a builder of fine homes! But be assured, we’ll get to that someday.

“Tell me, William, what happened that night after I was lynched?”

In his beloved baritone voice, he related how the four of them hid in the woods within earshot of the camp. William, in fact, had a bird’s eye view from a small opening in the hollowed out tree he was hiding in. He saw Covey’s men drag me to the grand old elm that stood at the far corner of the clearing. Juliette and the children were close behind, screaming, throwing stones, doing all they could to stop the intrusion.

In an instant, William said that I was strung up on the nearest branch. He didn’t know who was more worked up, the dogs or the men. They were whooping and hollering around my swaying dead body as if they were out of their minds.

In the mania of the moment, Covey found the shackles that Roger had left behind and raised them to the sky in a gesture of hateful determination, screaming that he would find his negroes if it was the last thing he ever did. Just then a bolt of lightening came thundering through the clear night sky directly striking the shackles!

Covey’s entire body lit up with a glow that must have been seen for miles! As he fell backward William heard him scream, “Over my dead body!”

William finished by saying that he had moved back to his house on Owen Brown St. just yesterday because he had heard that Covey’s ghost had returned looking for revenge upon our town. William vowed to lead the charge in this ghostly battle soon to come! With one accord that night at the Brewster house, we rose up in solidarity, knowing that our collected goodness would triumph over this evil.

~

Oh, before I go, could some of you please find a few books on famous old battle plans? We’ll need to do some studying. Just leave them on your night stands. We know where to find you.

Posted in Slavery, Uncategorized, Underground Railroad | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Silent Night

by Kathleen Franks for Porch Stories™ Summer Tour 2008, Hudson, Ohio

~

“By the time you hear this story, it might not be exactly as it happened, but, if you are reading it in my own handwriting, then you are holding the true story.”

That is what Moll Johnson wrote in the year 1838 and this is her original story written in her own hand.  You may be wondering just how it was that I came to have this in my possession. Well, my great-great Aunt Sally saved Moll’s story and it has been carefully secured in my family’s history down to this day.

First I’ll read the newspaper clipping that was in the envelope:

RAN AWAY ON THE 30TH OF SEPTEMBER LAST, FROM THE SUBSCRIBER, LIVING IN HANOVER COUNTY, TWO NEGROES, VIDELICET: ROGER, A NEGRO MAN, BORN AT ANGOLA, A PRETTY TALL, WELL SET FELLOW, ABOUT 30 YEARS OLD. HE HAS ON, WHEN HE WENT AWAY, A NEW OZNABRIG SHIRT, AND AN OLD COTTON WAISTCOAT, A PAIR OF VIRGINIA CLOTH BREECHES, STRIPED BLACK AND WHITE, AND A PAIR OF COUNTRY-MADE SHOES. MOLL, ABOUT 18 YEARS OLD, IS WIFE TO THE ABOVE-NAMED ROGER, AND IS VERY BIG WITH CHILD. SHE HAD ON, AN OLD OZNABRIG SHIFT, AND AN OLD COTTON WAISTCOAT AND PETTICOAT. THEY BOTH SPEAK TOLERABLE GOOD ENGLISH, WHOEVER WILL BRING THE SAID NEGOES TO ME, AT MY HOUSE, IN HANOVER COUNTY, SHALL HAVE A PISTOLE REWARD FOR EACH OF THEM, BESIDES WHAT THE LAW ALLOWS.

Since the language is archaic, let me clarify a few words before we go on. “Oznabrig” is an unbleached linen, rather coarse in nature. Lest you think that “Pistole” refers to a hand gun, it was a gold coin of European origin in use from the Middle Ages to the mid-19th century.

Now let’s get on with Moll Johnson’s story.

When we escaped from Covey’s plantation that night, we had no idea just where we were going or how would we would get there. All we could do was follow the “Drinking Gourd” which was the Freedom Train’s term for the constellation known as the Big Dipper, which includes the North Star. If the stars weren’t out, we’d been told, “The dead will show you the way” which meant that moss grows on the North side of dead trees.

If it weren’t for Peg Leg Joe we would have had a much more difficult journey. Ol’ Peg Leg used to be a sailor but then became a carpenter. He had an idea to help slaves escape to freedom. He worked all through the South on as many plantations as he could. He taught us songs that had code words imbedded in the lyrics. Words like, “Moses”, which denoted a conductor on the Underground Railroad; “Shepherd” were people who escorted some of us; “Parcels” were fugitives to be expected; “Stockholder” was one who donated money, clothing or food. Throughout our journey, Roger and I came across many kind and generous “stockholders” who gave us extra attention because of my condition. Peg Leg also made trails for us. “Left Foot, Peg Foot” was the outline of a human left foot and a round circle in place of the right foot.

That first night, we went as far as we could. If I hadn’t been so heavy with child, we might have gotten farther, but Roger didn’t want me to push it. Peg Leg had said that “The river bank makes a mighty good road”  because the dogs can’t pick up the scent that way.  So, that’s just what we did. We walked until near daybreak in the backwoods streams swollen from the spring rains. The rocks were slippery and my lack of good balance made for some slips, but Roger kept a hold on me.

In the still before sunrise we heard a strange sound coming from the upper bank. Instantly our hearts stopped. We knew we were goners. A raspy whisper broke the silence, “Shepherd, up here.” We looked up and there stood a figure in the pale light of the morn beckoning us to his side. “He’s an escort,” Roger whispered, “an angel in our midst.” We scrambled up the bank to his outreached hands. Without so much as snapping a twig on our way, we followed behind him on the trail till it opened onto the road. A team of horses snortin’ in the morning dew pawed at the dirt like they were telling us to hurry up and jump in the wagon.

“We’ve got a load of potatoes,” our shepherd said to the driver. Before I could even see his face, I was lifted into the back of the wagon, then Roger crawled in. They covered us under mounds of cabbages, beets and greens. The fresh-picked vegetables with the dirt still covering their roots filled my nostrils with the smell of freedom.

~

After a time that I couldn’t measure, the constant jostling of the wagon came to a halt. We couldn’t hear anything from the outside. Roger squeezed my hand. Gradually the light of day came seeping through the layer of vegetables as the weight of them receded.

“Give me the lady’s hand.” Roger pulled my arm upward. Two hands reached each side of me and I was lifted out. I must say that I was greatly relieved to be standing on still ground. I was worried that the rough ride might have sent me into labor. Before I could take a deep breath of fresh air, we were whisked to a wagon right ahead of us.

It proved to be fortuitous that I took in that gulp of fresh air because I had barely exhaled when we were tossed into a wagon full of manure! Well, not actually tossed into it, rather we were stuffed into a box behind the driver with manure piled high over it. The fresh vegetables that we had been feasting on suddenly were replaced with a stench that easily seeped through the porous pine wood of the box. Mercifully, that leg of our journey only lasted a few hours.

It was a circus of all things that picked us up after that. I don’t think they minded how stinky we were. We were put in a secret stall behind the monkey cages. We sure didn’t get any rest on that link of the Freedom Train. Those monkeys kept shrieking and hollering all night long. I was hoping that they’d quiet down for the day, but no such thing. Lord knows if they ever slept!

We started to wonder if we should have ever left the plantation. Roger was plenty worried that our baby would come too early what with all this movin’ around. Exhaustion had set in on both of us. Our minds began to play tricks. I said that maybe life as a slave really wasn’t that bad. Roger said that at least we had three meals a day and a place to rest our heads.

The monkeys settled down the next night and we got some good rest. Before daybreak someone tapped on our stall and slipped us corn pones with a big jar of cold milk. I will never forget dippin’ those pones into that milk and suckin’ ‘em down. From that point onward, Roger and I quit complaining.

I don’t remember how many times we were jostled from one wagon to another. Days rumbled into nights. Sometimes we were taken to a farm and put up in a barn. Those were times of real relief for me. The best sleep I ever had was while nestled in that sweet-smelling hay. The farm families were so good to us. Soon as they found out I was with child, they all went out of their way to take care of me. We had some of the best chicken, biscuits and gravy I ever did have and the sugary corn pudding settled my stomach. I think the baby liked it, too, cuz he kicked up a storm after it!

My baby might have jostled his way right out of the womb if it weren’t for the Indians we met up with along the way. Word must have spread that a woman near term was traveling on the Freedom Train. They gave me all sorts of potions to help with my pregnancy. Blue cohosh and raspberry leaves, they said, would strengthen my womb for the grueling journey. Squaw vine would ease the pain of childbirth. When we were at a farm, we’d ask for hot water to make the leaves into tea. When we couldn’t do that, an old Indian squaw had told me how to roll the leaves into a paste that I could chew. Thankfully none of it tasted too bad.

A conductor along the way had told Roger about a camp in northern Ohio where we could stay a few days. I prayed that we’d get there before the baby came. The Lord heard my prayers. We arrived in Hudson not a day too soon. Steady contractions had started that morning. It took Roger and two other men to lift me out of the casket in the back of the funeral wagon that I had been riding in for the previous two days. It hadn’t been too uncomfortable, though, all lined in puffs of satin with a pillow for my head!

The station master, a Mr. Frederick Brown and his wife, Juliette, came out to greet us with a supper fit for royalty. I had barely eaten for those two days in the coffin. I certainly needed some nourishment for my upcoming labor. The Browns said that they had heard about me makin’ such a journey in my condition, and wanted to do all they could to help. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Their oldest daughter, Jane, appeared with extra blankets and a kettle of hot water seeing how we couldn’t have built a fire.

Two Indian squaws stepped out of the shadows. I learned later that Chief Ogontz had sent them. Seems there was a lady in Hudson named, Eunice Oviatt, who had befriended the neighboring tribes so much so that they were beholdin’ to her. Mrs. Oviatt had heard earlier in the day that a “wind was blowing from the South” meaning that “baggage” on the train was to arrive that evening. The local Indians who had been tracking us through this part of Ohio had let Mrs. Oviatt know that this “baggage” soon to come had a very special small “bag” inside.

There were about a half-dozen Freedom Seekers also at the camp. I was the only woman among them. They were wide-eyed that I had had the strength to make such a trip. I told them that it wasn’t my own strength that I was relying on, that the Good Lord had sent his angels to carry me along.

When the moon got high enough to peek over the treetops, my labor pains grew closer together in greater intensity. The Indian squaws moved me so I could lean against one of the trees. They said the tree would steady me as I squatted for birth. One squaw stood each side of me and gently pushed downward on my belly. I thought that it might hurt, but it felt good to have help like that. I was lucky in that Mrs. Brown was the town’s midwife. She knew just what to do and instructed me on everything. The pains got real bad there at the end, but I didn’t make so much as a whimper.

When Moses was born that night, it seemed that every star was reflected in his eyes.  All of us were silent that night as events unfolded. Moses kept quiet, too. I’m sure he knew that the silence was sacred and meant our very lives. Everyone formed a circle around us, holding one another’s hands skyward. With the moonlight directly overhead, I could see hope shining on their faces – the same hope that I felt rising in my heart.

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