The real fun of "doing" family history arises when you find an interesting photo, or a fact, or a keepsake of a long gone ancestor and use it as a clue for revealing a greater episode in that person's life. Often that clue leads to the discovery of other surprising facts that, once assembled, resuscitate a compelling, long forgotten chapter of family history. The following tale is just such a story where a neglected, tattered photograph led me on a great family discovery adventure...
This yellowed and torn "cabinet card" photograph showed up in a pile of old photos that were part of my Dad's (WJC2) estate. No names, no explanation but plenty intriguing because of that window sign "Curry's Cigar Factory." Every time I came upon this curiosity over the years, I'd ask it questions and listen for answers as though it was a Ouija Board: Who were those four guys? When was that photo taken? And, where was this business anyway?
Hearing no whispers from across the mists of time, I finally decided it was time to call in—drum roll—the History Detectives!
The address on the front side of the card—Thackeray & Kraeling, 99 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburg, led me (and my father before me) to first guess that the cigar factory was located in Pittsburgh's "Old Allegheny" section (the "North Side" where the Steelers' stadium is now). While just a guess, it did make some geographic sense: William Ezekiel Curry, my Great-Grandfather, owned property in Old Allegheny that he received from Dr. Joseph Curry’s will.
Imagine for the fun of it, how this photo might have come to be. One of these partners...let's call him Elburt Kraeling, is a paunchy, itinerant photographer whose modus operandi is to slowly shuffle his one-horse buggy along dusty commercial streets, all the while casting a sharp eye for prospective customers. Strapped down on the seat beside him is his large format bellows camera, a tripod, glass plates and other paraphernalia. Spying the Curry Cigar Factory, he pulls to the side and ties his sway-backed mare to a hitching post.
Mounting the entry porch, Elburt pulls a beaming smile and marches through the door. Looking around, he booms out, "My, what a impressive seegar emporium you fellers have built here." Turning to a gray-bearded elder who appears to be the proprietor, he asks, "Now, might you have a half dozen of them fine, hand rolled tobies that you'd apply as a discount against me taking a professional photograph of your establishment? Would sure make a good advert for your business, too. I kin do that deal for two bucks and give you a dozen cabinet cards."
After conferring with a younger, mustachioed man, the senior man says, "We'd druther be dressed in our Sunday best for an official photograph but I guess we cud do it now in our work duds for a dollar and six bits." Hands are shook and the four rumpled looking cigar men file from the building. Elburt sets up in the street as the men arrange themselves outside the door. "Hold it now, gents," says Elburt and the men stand stiffly for serveral long seconds as the plate is exposed to the light by removing and replacing the lens cover. And so, a moment in time is captured...a moment that will be unexpectedly resurrected some 120 years later by the old man's Great Grandson!
The photo below is a young, Jack Curry, who was a lifelong CIGAR aficionado. Also note the mustaches in both photos. At first, I rejected the idea that the he was the same guy in the cigar store photo because the hair parting lines don't match: One's on the right side of the head and the other is on the left. Then, I realized that the cigar-in-mouth shot is a tintype which means it is an original negative image and not a printed positive. That means both hairlines are really on the left side and they certainly could be photos of the same person, taken ten or so years apart.
But there's still a big problem—I've got it all wrong time-wise: The photo location can't be Old Allegheny, PA because William Ezekiel moved from there to his Darlington, PA farm in 1866, and then on to East Liverpool in 1874. Since the photo was taken during or after 1888, this business had to be located in East Liverpool, Ohio. I later confirmed that this was the location while perusing old editions of the East Liverpool Saturday Review where I hit paydirt with this entry:
July 31, 1886 - East Liverpool Briefs
Mr. W. J. Curry has opened a cigar store and factory, in Burgess’s building, Fourth street. “Jack” will continue in his present position at R. Thomas & Sons, while W. E. Curry will manage the cigar business.
From the few facts we actually know, William Ezekiel Curry's business career appears to have careened from failure to failure: He dropped out of Washington College, Washington, Pa. before graduating; worked as a pharmacist for a short while in Johnstown, Pennsylvania; farmed on his father's land southwest of Pittsburgh in the 1850's; then started a lumber business in the early 1860's on property willed to him by his father in Old Allegheny. In 1866 he moved to Darlington, Pa. and farmed land bought in his wife's Letitia's name. After the tragic loss of two teen-aged children, Emma and Harry, the family moved to East Liverpool, Ohio in 1873 where, for a time, he sold furniture and caskets in partnership with a man named Anderson.
Clearly, the Curry family was struggling economically in the mid-1880's before starting the cigar factory. William Ezekiel's daughter, Mame Curry Moody, reported in her diary that...
I graduated [from high school] in June 1884 and took the teacher exam, received a good certificate but did not have the luck to get a school. I was determined to get one so I could help Father & Mother out. We had lost a great deal of our money and my sister Anne’s husband was drowned in a steamboat disaster & we had to take care of her & her four children.
January 1, 1887 - East Liverpool Briefs
Those who expect to buy cigars for their gentlemen friends for Christmas presents, would do well to call at Curry’s and get a good article for as little money as you would pay for an inferior cigar at other places, as we deal exclusively in the tobacco and cigar business, and can therefore suit any and all customers.
The cigar store was still a going business in September 1893 when the Saturday Review dramatically reported on a robbery by a tough from the downriver town of Wellsville:
W. J. Curry's Store Visited
Burglar and Bullet Figure in a Brush with Officers at Midnight
Broke the Glass.
While cleaning a window at his store on Fourth street yesterday afternoon, Frank Curry was so unfortunate as to fall through. Although the glass was broken, the merchant was not injured.
Frank Curry (photo left) was a total enigma to me before I followed this story down the rabbit hole. I never heard my father talk about this uncle at all—probably because Frank wasn't around when Dad was growing up. Online research, however, yielded helpful tidbits. The 1900 U. S. Census, the year his mother Letitia died, found Frank working with Jack making plaster. He and his brother were boarding at the East Liverpool home of his sister, Annie Curry Johnson. This aging pair of bachelor brothers, then 43 and 40 years of age, were broken up when Jack married my Grandmother, Dora Andrews, in September 1903. Being the odd man out may have contributed to Frank's decision around that time to move from ELO.
Frank next surfaces in the 1910 census. He's out in Goleta, California, a rural town near Santa Barbara, where he worked for 20 years as a laborer in the walnut orchards and ranches. I imagine he went out to the Santa Barbara area to be near his sister Mary (Mame) Curry Moody, yet I never heard of any association of his name with Santa Barbara or the Moodys until I uncovered this info online.
I also found Frank's Goleta precinct voting records during this period. As a dutiful son of teetotaler parents, he voted for the Prohibition Party from 1910 to 1918 and then switched to the Republicans. The 1930 U. S. Census, has him living at 119 W. Victoria Street, Santa Barbara, at age 68 and still classed as an active laborer. It's sad to think of Frank as a lone, elderly, worn-out farm laborer in that "Grapes of Wrath" depression era. Hopefully, Mame was there to support him in his final days.
Frank Curry died in California, September 14, 1931, after a six-month bout of heart disease. His East Liverpool obituary related the surprising fact that he had been a chiropractor in that city 30 years previously. It was also stated that his body would be returned to Ohio for burial. Unfortunately, there is no record of his interment in the family's Riverview Cemetery.
Magnification of the cigar store photo revealed another totally unexpected family history clue that ties the Curry and Moody families together. If you look in the cigar factory window over Frank's shoulder, you can make out a sign that says:
"Branch Office, The Crisis".
The Crisis was East Liverpool's Democrat newspaper during that era. Sort of surprised me to see that a store owned by a Republican/Prohibitionist Party family would carry this paper but, like most cigar stores of that time and later, local and regional newspapers of all sorts were sold to attract customers on a regular daily basis.
This magnified snippet came into clearer focus with my recent discovery of another startup article in the East Liverpool Saturday Review of 1886. It revealed that Jack Curry's future brother-in-law, Elmer Moody, and his brother Ed Moody, operated the news stand within the cigar store.
July 31, 1886 - East Liverpool Briefs
Elmer Moody married Jack and Frank's sister, Mary "Aunt Mame" Curry, in June 1888 and moved to Santa Barbara around 1890. In her diary, Mame reports meeting Elmer in the summer of 1884, when she attended a teacher's institute:The Moody Bros., (Ed. and Elmer) have opened a news stand on one side of the room just occupied by W. J. Curry as a cigar store.
So I went over to Fairview West Virginia to a teachers institute & was going to take the exam but I got word from home that I had been appointed to a school 2nd grade.The cigar store business relationship between the Currys and Moodys commenced during the 4-year courtship period prior to Elmer and Mame's marriage. As Mame goes on to record, times were tough and both families were struggling to make ends meet...
Met some nice people & one boy Clem (I’ve forgotten his other name) took me for several buggy rides. Then I saw a man across the room & and I said to my friend Emma M, why but that’s a handsome fellow over there. I would like to meet him and just when he started over in our direction with a girl I knew & she came up & said, Mame this gentleman wants to meet you. It was Elmer Moody. I had never seen or heard of him before. Guess it was love at first sight. We had a lovely time during the rest of the institute, had lots of buggy rides. Elmer had a horse & buggy too. I remember the horse’s name was Dolly.
Elmer got a school at New Cumberland with the handsome salary of $60.00 a mo. & I went back to E.L.O. and taught my 2nd grade school at $30.00 a month.
Elmer came up to see me quite frequently and in less than a year [ca 1885] we were engaged. So started to save up to get married some day. I wanted to buy a piano and gave Mother $10.00 a mo. Elmer had to help his folks & would no more than get a little ahead when taxes or something had to be paid so we struggled along for three years & then got married on June 6th 1888. Elmer had enough to buy a little furniture & we got an upstairs apartment for $6.00 a mo.Undoubtedly, the Curry/Moody joint venture in the cigar store/new stand contributed to the bonding of the families. By 1887, Elmer had become a member of Jack's outdoor camping organization, the Forest & Stream Hunting & Fishing Club, and Mame was among the female day guests entertained during the club's three-week summer campouts. The fact that Frank Curry worked as a close associate in the cigar store building with Elmer Moody is a further reason why he may have found it a congenial idea to later relocate to the Santa Barbara area.
The Moody linkage in the cigar store business may also provide a hint to the identity of the elderly man on the right in the photo. Is this the father of Elmer and Ed—Robert Ewing Moody (b. 1827 - d. 1900) who was the same age as William Ezekiel Curry? Would be great if our Moody relatives could surface some other photos of R. E. Moody to confirm or deny this hypothesis.
Wow, what a fun trip this was to rediscover the lives of these all but forgotten people and preserve their stories for future generations! It's amazing how a beat-up old photo, like a Hardy Boys secret clue, led step by step to a trove of family history. Best of all, was the appreciation I gained for the pluck and perseverance of our ancestors as they struggled in the face of dire economic conditions and other life challenges.