Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Cistern From Hell

Few things terrified me as a kid like the thought of the cistern out at the farm.  We used to love to go out there with Grandpa and search around the concrete foundation where the house once stood, before it was burnt to a cinder by a fateful bolt of lightning.  We'd look for remnants of Uncle Don's melted marble collection or whatever other treasures might have been thrown from the burning house in an effort to save what they could.  But every step around that concrete foundation was made cautiously, after an over-abundance of careful looking, lest we fall in the dreaded cistern.

Grandma, besides being small in stature, was outnumbered by us so she'd frequently tell us "little white lies" to help enforce the rules - except with the cistern - besides being true to a certain degree, she went out of her way to tell us what would happen if we didn't heed her stern warnings.  "Don't get too close, or you'll fall in!"  "The ground around the cistern is soft and it'll suck you right in!"  "You'll be stuck in a small little dark space with nothing but water!" and the worst - "We might not be able to get you out!"  It's still hard to even think of all the things she told us about the cistern without a little panic setting in.  I didn't even know what a cistern was, but I didn't care.  I wanted no part of it.  It was a hole right down to hell itself, as far as I was concerned.

A few years ago, I was looking at an old photo album with my mother and we ran across this photo - and she said, "There's my grandma holding my sister, there's Dorothy, there's me, there's Teddy the dog, and the cistern..."  My blood ran cold and my heart rate skyrocketed.  I had not thought about the cistern since I was about 10 years old.  I was horrified at how close they were all standing to it!  And how near it was to the house!  And the dirt - the soft dirt around it!  And no one seems to be terrified!

Once I settled down, I fully understood why Grandma said what she said.  My first thought was, "I wonder what it looks like under that board!?"  Which is probably why someone put a heavy rock on it and started telling tall tales.  Love ya, Grandma, and I miss you every single day.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Nathan Graves and the "Indian Cancer Plaster"

Nathan Graves had cancer.  And he was desperate.

He was about 53 years old when the cancer first appeared on his right cheek, but it didn’t cause him a lot of suffering until about four years later.  And then, he was frantic to be rid of it.

Nathan was a Ross County, Ohio native, who came to Stark County with his newly widowed mother in the fall of 1844. He was just 14 at the time.  He remained under his mother’s roof until the age of 22, when he married 14-year-old Emily Boardman, an orphan. Nathan procured his own farm in Stark County, and they set about raising a family. Nathan and Emily had six children in all.  He was described by his niece as "a big fat man with a hearty laugh."  During his cancer crisis, he gave up his farm and moved his family to nearby Wyoming, Illinois.

I know little about what treatments Nathan sought to eradicate the tumor, until late summer of 1889.  As a last resort, Nathan wished to see a "cancer specialist" in Kansas City, who employed a special method not commonly used – the method was called Indian Cancer Plaster 1– a recipe used to destroy the “roots” of the tumor.  The cost of the treatment was $100, and the patient needed to stay in Kansas City under the care of the physician for the duration of the treatment, at an additional cost of $1 per day.  Proceeds of a local event were unanimously voted to go to Nathan, described as a “sorely afflicted citizen.”  But he needed more – he petitioned the Stark County Board of Supervisors for $100 in financial assistance for the cost of his treatment, but was turned down.  Despite that blow, Nathan found money from somewhere, and made arrangements for one of his sons to take him to Kansas City.

Nathan was in Kansas City for four weeks.  During this time, he kept in touch with the editor of the local newspaper, and told him in October that the cancer “fell off his face” and weighed over a pound.  He said he would bring it home with him, and that, he did.  In a jar of alcohol, it was on display at Cox’s drug store.

Once Nathan arrived home from Kansas City in October of 1889, he told a different story than the encouraging notes he had sent to the newspaper.  He was uncertain about the permanence of the treatment, and was in such poor physical condition upon his return that the first order of business was to regain some strength.  He described his doctor as a “little sawed-off German,” and his living conditions while under the doctor’s care were dismal.  He was kept locked in a small, dark room on the third floor of a large building.  The only things in his room were a hard cot and a broken chair.  Three times a day the doctor’s servant would bring him soup made of garlic and onions, which sometimes Nathan could eat, and sometimes it was so bad he could not.  Nathan, ordinarily a husky man, was reduced to a skeleton by the time he was able to leave, and he was glad to get away while he still had sufficient strength to go.  Hopes were still high that once he regained a bit of stamina he would be on the road to recovery.

However, just five months later, Nathan was again seeking medical help, this time in Marshalltown, Iowa, where a physician would take a look at the cancer which had returned to his right cheek.  The doctor agreed to care for him on a “no cure, no pay” plan, and he would be given the medication to take home with him, where his family and friends would be able to take care of him.  Three weeks later, he noted that his condition had improved “considerably.”  But again, it was not to last.  One of his daughters came home to Illinois in July to help in Nathan’s care, and he finally passed from this earth on October 4, 1890, at his home, just past 60 years of age.


1"Dr. H.W. Libbey's Indian medical infirmary and national bath rooms : 90 and 92 Seneca Street, Cleveland, Ohio, where he treats all forms of chronic diseases with complete success"
by Libbey, Hosea W. Publication date 1863. This publication lists different formulations of the “Indian Cancer Plaster” and their uses.

Other sources:
Numerous issues of the Wyoming Post-Herald, Wyoming, Illinois
Letters of Myrtis Evans
Obituary of Nathan Graves

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Every Kid Needs an Uncle Don

Recently I was working on a set of autobiography questions, one of them being "What is your earliest memory?"   Well, the first thing I remember was being in a black baby buggy at my grandparents' home.  My mother and I lived with them while my father was in the Army, stationed in Germany.  It was the first home I had after being born, and I was surrounded by such wonderful, loving people, including an aunt and several uncles who were all still in school.  I remember laying in that buggy and hearing all their voices but being unable to see anything but the sides of the buggy.  Then, suddenly, my Uncle Don's head poked into the buggy, and I felt absolute glee!

My uncles and aunt were all nurturing and attentive, but there was something different about Uncle Don.  Perhaps it was because he was the youngest of my grandparents' children, and just 11 years old when I was born.  He was not really a child, but not really an adult either.  In some respects, we grew up together. He was doing all the fun things while the rest of them were pursuing more adult activities like dating and dancing, and Don frequently included me in whatever he had going on. We went on go-cart rides and bike rides. He took me sledding in the yard, pushing me around on a baby sled. He let me help feed his rabbit, Sam. He had fun things like baseball cards and Mad Magazine, which we weren't supposed to get into, but... 

So many other memories were never captured on film.  I was the only kindergartener who got to ride home every day on a motorcycle!   I was the pesky kid who asked his girlfriends if they were going to be our "aunt."  After he went off to Vietnam, there was a huge gaping hole in our time spent at Grandma and Grandpa's, but I recall him eventually coming home on leave and all of us fighting over who got to wake him up in the morning, while Grandma got his breakfast cooking.  Just the fact that he didn't strangle us speaks greatly to his patience!

Yes, every kid needs an Uncle Don.  My own grandchildren have an Uncle Adam, which is awfully close, and they adore him.  But growing up with Uncle Don brought something special to my childhood that I am grateful to have had. Thank you, Uncle Don!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Is it him? Or is it not him? That is the question...

                I have pined away for a Revolutionary War Patriot in my lineage for a long time, but have come up disappointed at every turn.  My husband, however, can boast of several.  My best hope for a patriot is my direct-line ancestor Joseph Lair.

                Lair, the son of German immigrants, was born in Philadelphia in September of 1745, and by 1768 had purchased land in Rockingham County, Virginia.  In 1788, he contributed horses to Captain Richard Ragan’s company, so he did at least something toward the effort.  The DAR database confirms his contribution.  Maud Ward Lafferty and Helen Lafferty Nisbet, in their book “Background of the Lair Family,” state that he no doubt served as well, in addition to his brothers, and that his service was likely documented in Virginia.

                I first took up the quest to find information on his service about 15 years ago, long before websites like were available.  I had made note that he attained the rank of Corporal, but did not note the source of that tidbit.  In the limited resources available at the time, I was unable to find much, so I made a few notes and stuck them in a folder.  Now, I’m going through that folder and have picked up the job of looking for his service.

                The first stop was Fold3.  I was pleased to get an immediate “hit” – and discover a Joseph Lair who rose from the rank of Private to Corporal in the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard, Continental Troops, commanded by Caleb Gibbs.  Caleb Gibbs was a “right hand man” of George Washington, and it was his duty to not only protect Washington, but to engage in battle as well.   This was a big deal!  Perhaps waiting all these years to discover a patriot was well worth it with a story like this for the family tree!  However, the reference envelope pictured below notes that the cards are filed with “Law, Joseph.”  And herein begins a whole new struggle.

                I looked at every muster roll available for this group, and beginning with July 1777 until July 1780, either a Joseph Lair or a Joseph Law shows up, but never both at the same time.  A few of the listings are clearly “Lair,” more are clearly “Law,” and some could go either way.  This man starts out with the rank of Private, and ends up as Corporal.  Because both “Law” and “Lair” never show up separately, I have to conclude that this is the same man.

That's a nice "Lair"!!

Ugh.  That's a good "Law."  The loop at the end of the "w" is consistent with handwriting in other parts of the document.

                 My Joseph Lair was born in Pennsylvania, but purchased land in Rockingham County, Virginia in 1768, and lived there until at least until 1792.  Caleb Gibbs was associated with the 14th Massachusetts Regiment, but served elsewhere in his capacity with George Washington’s Guard, and since Washington lived in Virginia, it would not be inconceivable that Virginia men, such as Joseph Lair, were involved.  It was noted that after the war, Gibbs returned to Massachusetts.

                So – who was this man?  Was it Joseph Law, or Joseph Lair?  And if it IS Joseph Lair, is it MY Joseph Lair?  These are the problems that stand between me and a Revoultionary War ancestor.

                I wondered if I could document a Joseph Law as having served in the war, so it was back to Fold3 with a new search.  That search brought up a widow’s pension file associated with a Joseph Law who served with a Connecticut regiment under Colonel Chandler, for three years commencing from 1777.  My hopes rose!  Yes, there was a Joseph Law, but he was tied in up Chandler’s regiment during the time in question.  Continuing on through the numerous documents in the file, I found another that stated he was transferred into Gen. George Washington’s Corps of Guards.  Shoot  (no pun intended).  I am back to my previous condition of not having a patriot in my family tree.  

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Menzie House Hotel - An Early Problem Property

     The town of Huron, in Dakota Territory, was a growing, bustling little town situated along the tracks of the Chicago and North Western railroad.  In the early 1880s, the influx of settlers, businessmen, and railroad workers produced a demand for lodging, and numerous hotels sprang up to fill that need.

     On the corner of what was then First Street and Kansas avenue sat the Menzie House, one of Huron’s many early hotels.  A two-and-a-half-story building, it also included a livery stable further down the street.   Like other hotels in booming towns along the railroad, it saw its share of guests.  And in the case of the Menzie House, it saw its share of trouble, too. 

Above: The red "X" shows the location of the Menzie property, with the hotel to the left, and the livery stable to the right.
Below: the same area, with the red "X" marking the location of the hotel.  

The hotel was opened by New York native John W. Menzie in 1883, and was described in the local newspaper as “well-kept and furnished, with large, bright rooms.”  Mr. Menzie, the article elaborated, “takes pains in making his house inviting in its arrangements, its cleanliness and the splendid table regularly set before his guests.   As a host Mr. Menzie has the happy faculty of making his guests feel at home, and pays strict attention to the many details that help to make a hotel a success, and which disregarded are sure to bring failure.”  But, at some point details were indeed disregarded.

What brought the Menzie family to Huron isn’t known, but their tenure in the town, and in the hotel business, was about 10 years.  And in that time, they lost a barn to fire, a child to death, had another child abducted, had one employee kill another, had a patron claim to be drugged and robbed, and another patron died refusing to divulge his identity.  In addition, Mr. Menzie was arrested several times on charges relating to his operation of the hotel.

Perhaps good help was hard to find in those days.  Or perhaps Mr. Menzie wasn’t particular about his employees.  It was in August of 1886 that Menzie’s livery employee, Nathan Freeman, described as easily angered, killed Joseph Kessler, another Menzie employee.  Kessler, also described as  “high-strung and quick-tempered,” was in charge of the general operations at the hotel.  Kessler was critical of Freeman’s handling of the horses, and his expletive-laced “suggestions” to Freeman were not well-received.  An argument with “coarse words” and a scuffle broke out, but they eventually separated with little physical harm done, except for a scratch on Kessler’s face which infuriated him.  Kessler made some threats, and threw a punch.  Freeman headed for the hotel building to find Mr. Menzie, intending to resign, but by the time he got there he decided to go home to have his mother sew his ripped shirt and return to his duties in the livery.  Before returning to work, however, he grabbed a revolver and took it back to work with him.  Back at the livery, witnesses say that Kessler continued to harass Freeman, and Freeman could be heard telling Kessler, “Don’t come near me – keep away from me!”  But Kessler continued toward him, so Freeman took out his gun and raised it to fire, but Kessler hit Freeman’s hand to try to knock the gun from it, and it discharged, entering Kessler’s left temple.  He fell to his knees, then prone to the floor.  Dr. Huff did all he could do, but the bullet was lodged deep in Kessler’s brain, and he  never regained consciousness.   He died a few hours later.  Freeman was arrested for murder, but was later acquitted of the charge.

The site of the old Menzie Livery, where Joseph Kessler was killed.

A few years later, the Menzie’s four- year-old adopted daughter, Edith, was abducted.   Mrs. Menzie had been out shopping, and picked up a letter at the post office from the child’s birth mother, Ada Hawthorn, telling her that she “need not be surprised should Edith disappear at any time.”  In fact she might be gone before the letter even reached Mrs. Menzie.  Ms. Hawthorn clearly stated numerous reasons why the child should no longer remain in the Menzie family, but the primarly reason was that the Menzie House was not a proper home for her.  It was late in the afternoon when Mrs. Menzie got the letter from the post office, and returning home, she began looking for Edith, but no one had seen her “for some time.”  The police were summoned and felt confident that the child would be found and returned, and apparently at some point in time she was indeed returned to the Menzies.

In 1893 J. Rosenthal took over the Menzie House and dubbed it “Hotel Columbia” and let the town know that it had been “thoroughly cleaned and repaired, and will be kept in first-class order.”  What, exactly, happened after that isn’t clear, but it appears that John Menzie was back at the helm a short time after that.

In January of 1895, Menzie House was raided, and beer and other liquors were found.  The house was closed “by injunction” and the Menzie family was forced to find shelter elsewhere.  The police had been watching the hotel for some time and the local paper commented, “One would think that the frequency with which Menzie and his establishment get into trouble that he would become tired and cry ‘give us a rest.’”  But there was no rest.  Menzie was arrested at least once for selling liquor without a license, was fined at least twice (and his wife and son each at least once) for “keeping a disreputable house.”   After his wife’s arrest, Menzie “sniffed trouble” and left town, despite having his own similar charge pending in court.  Said the local newspaper, “Menzie left for parts unknown on a former occasion and remained away from Huron for two or three years.  The moral atmosphere of the town was not improved by his return.”

The Menzies made their way to Indiana, where they opened a used furniture store in Muncie, and opened another "Menzie House" hotel in Matthews, as well as adopted another daughter.  By 1910, they had moved to Ashtabula county, Ohio, where Mr. Menzie died in 1922.

The current site of the old Menzie House hotel, on the corner of what is now
Market Road and Kansas ave.
By 1896, the hotel building in Huron was owned by Richards Trust Company, and the business was being advertised for rent with the statement, “A good chance for a good man.”  By 1898 it briefly housed the “Farmers Home” and in 1899 was purchased by James McWeeny and dubbed  the “McWeeny House.”

Sanford Fire Insurance Map of Huron, South Dakota 1884 - 1898
The Daily Huronite – numerous issues from 1885 - 1936
Sioux Falls Argus Leader - Nov. 19, 1890; Jan. 5, 1895; Jan. 26, 1895; March 13, 1895.
1900, 1910, 1920 Federal Censuses
Muncie, Indiana City Directory 1899-1900
The Star Press, Muncie, Indiana, Aug. 28, 1905
“Huron Revisited”
Google Earth