Monday, May 1, 2023

July 4th, 1882 -- The Day I Almost Wasn't Born!

Scioto Disaster Sketch - Leslie Newspaper 1882

On Saturday evening, July 4th, 1882, the side-wheel steamer Scioto collided with another steamship and sank on the Ohio River, leaving over 70 people dead and many more injured. The disaster made national headlines and devastated the communities of East Liverpool and Wellsville, Ohio, which suffered the greatest loss of life.

 Among those who narrowly avoided boarding the doomed vessel that day were my grandfather, Jack Curry, age 22, and his best friend, Atwood Thomas. This story of their involvement in the infamous sinking of the Scioto and the tragic drowning of Jack’s brother-in-law, Wilson Paul, came to light when I discovered a 1931 newspaper interview of my grandfather.  What follows is a paraphrase of that article*.

Atwood Thomas
Jack Curry

Jack Curry and Atwood Thomas were constant companions as teenagers, being near-neighbors on West Seventh Street in East Liverpool, Ohio. They even worked together in Atwood’s father’s pottery, which produced porcelain doorknobs. The pair typically visited the plant nightly, even after their social engagements, to attend to the knobs so that they would be in condition for their further processing the following morning when they reached their benches.

Jack and Atwood arrived at the riverfront at dawn on July 4th, 1882, just as the steamboat Scioto pulled into dock. It was a sunny Saturday morning. The excitement was palpable, as many happy young people gathered to embark on an Independence Day picnic excursion down river to Moundsville, West Virginia and back. The young men watched as the Wellsville Coronet Band onboard the Scioto came down the gangplank to shore and then marched up-town and about some of the streets, playing loudly to attract more customers. On its return to the dock, the passengers followed the band onto the deck. 

On the spur of the moment, Atwood suggested that they make the trip to Moundsville but Jack demurred on the grounds that the boat looked overloaded and he couldn’t swim. As the two stood arguing, Atwood saw Wilson Paul in the crowd about to board. “There goes your brother-in-law, Wils” he said as an additional inducement to board the steamboat. “But he’s a good swimmer,” Jack said, “I’m just not up for it.”

So, the trip was vetoed. The pair noted, however, that the Scioto listed smartly toward the Ohio shore when it pushed off as many of those on it rushed to the north side rails so they could better see the outline of the town that many of them unknowingly were looking at for the last time. The ship then cast off at 6:30 AM and swung down stream on its ill-fated journey.

Jack was indeed prescient about the boat being over capacity. The Scioto normally carried no more than 60 passengers but had secured a permit for 300 day trippers that day. The inquiry following the disaster revealed that more than 500 people were aboard.**

In any event, it was the Fourth of July and the two young men turned to the next best thing available-- the First Presbyterian Church picnic which was held at the Gaston grounds just to the west of the present Patterson Field. There was an orchard there with a fine well of water. And there was also the old Jethro spring to slake one’s thirst not many steps away from the spot. 

In those days, swings, hung by ropes from tall trees, were a major attraction. The young swains pushed the fair damsels they had escorted to the place high into the air. The pastime carried considerable thrills and some were quite expert in the operation of the swings. Another hotly contested game was quoits.

Toward evening the young men returned to town and saw the sizable stern-wheel steamer, Emma Graham, approaching the town wharf and bound for Pittsburgh. “Now, I wouldn’t hesitate about riding that boat,” observed Jack. “Then let's take it,” replied Atwood. They boarded to find that the fare to the Smokey city was still $1, which included a berth for the night and dinner upon the craft. They purchased their tickets and remained on board.

On the upper deck under a darkening sky, they viewed the beautiful scenery passing by and later enjoyed a fine meal in the dining room. My grandfather remembered tasting pineapple ice cream for the first time, and he described the experience with a sense of wonder and nostalgia.

Forty miles downriver from the Emma Graham, as dusk descended just south of Mingo Junction, Ohio, the Scioto was abruptly gutted by its violent collision with the descending steamboat John Lomas. It sank near instantly in 15 feet of water some 200 yards from shore. Terror, confusion and death ruled the coming night on that part of the river.

The next morning, in Pittsburgh, Jack and Atwood ran into two East Liverpool men, Len Dobbins and R.W. Taylor, who asked if they had seen the morning papers. They had not, and were stunned to learn of the disaster. Fearing for his brother-in-law’s safety, Jack and his friend boarded the next Panhandle train heading down river to Steubenville.

At Steubenville, they met Brad Louthan, who showed them a list of those who were still missing from the boat. My grandfather saw that Wilson Paul’s name was on the list, and they continued on to Mingo Junction where they saw search parties removing victims from the sunken craft. 

Jack hurried on downriver to Wheeling when he heard that a number of bodies had been picked up there. Atwood returned to East Liverpool. While sitting on the wharf at Wheeling, Jack watched as some of the floating bodies were brought to shore. One of them he sadly identified as his brother-in-law's corpse. 

After arranging to have Wils’ body wrapped in a sheet and placed in a plain wooden box, he accompanied the remains back to East Liverpool by train. Once there, Jack walked to his sister Annie’s home and broke the shattering news that the father of her four children was gone. 

I find one aspect of this tragic story especially confounding. Anna Belle “Annie” nee Curry Paul had delivered their fourth child on June 30th, 1882, a mere four days before Wils, a 29-year-old plasterer, decided to board the Scioto for the pleasure trip downriver. A possible explanation might have been to meet up on board with some chums to let off steam and celebrate the successful birth of his child. 

One troubling notion about the unattached men on board appears in the inquiry report following the disaster which noted that alcohol was not served on board at all but...

Once in Moundsville, many passengers took a pre-arranged tour of the West Virginia Penitentiary while others headed for the nearest saloon. The return trip to Wellsville and East Liverpool began at 3:30 p.m. Much of the huge crowd on board settled down for the trip. Some continued to enjoy the dancing and music from the coronet band and others, who had imbibed freely at the Moundsville saloons and who had probably brought bottles back on board, stretched out on the deck to sleep. According to one account about twelve to fifteen men were dead drunk.

I feel confident that Wils wasn’t among the latter because Annie’s parents were prominent prohibitionists and would not have tolerated an imbibing son-in-law. My preferred story is that Wils, “the good swimmer,” died a hero’s death trying to save others. Atwood Thomas observed at the time, in reference to Wills that “The best swimmers on the boat were in many instances those who lost their lives. They aided many to safety before they themselves were lost.” There is, however, no doubt that Wils was deeply loved and missed…the new baby girl was named Wilsetta.

The only extant photo of Annie Curry Paul, Circa 1887

The loss of Wilson Paul had a profound impact on his family. Annie and the kids were forced to move in with her parents, William E. and Letitia Curry. Money to keep the clan afloat was extremely tight thereafter. To alleviate their financial woes Jack and his brother Frank started the Curry Cigar Store business while Jack also worked at the Thomas pottery and a bit later he founded the Old Roman Wall Plaster Company. 

While Annie later remarried to Samuel Johnson, a streetcar motorman, and had one more child, she sustained additional tragedies with the early deaths of two daughters, Blanche, age 18, in 1895 from typhoid and Fannie May, age 20, on Christmas Eve 1900 by brain hemorrhage. It was more than one person could bear and all too much for Annie who died young at age 45 in 1902.

Annie's stone in Riverview Cemetery

My grandfather always maintained that his lack of swimming ability saved his life that day. Had Jack Curry gone on the Scioto, there’s a high probability he may not have survived, and all of his progeny…my Dad, myself, my children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews all included, might never have seen the light of day! 

The sinking of the Scioto was a tragic event that left a lasting wound on the communities of East Liverpool and Wellsville, Ohio. My grandfather's story is just one of many sad tales from that day but, for our family, it's an especially dramatic reminder of the fragility of life and the role that chance plays in determining our fate. It's also a tribute to Jack Curry's unusual perception in avoiding a dangerous situation.

East Liverpool Review, “The Reviewing Stand” column by Tom T. Jones, July 9, 1931

** From The Scioto Disaster By
 Kenneth R. Bailey, Ph. D., p. 2.

References to further information on the Scioto Disaster:

Saturday, October 30, 2021

William Jack Curry, Sr. -- Porcelain Pioneer

After seventy-five years, it’s remarkable that I can still picture him in my mind’s eye: The bedroom is dimly lit, illumined only by pearly soft sunlight sifting in through the white lace curtains. The old man is tall but stooped over, very thin and frail. He appears almost wraith-like, in a knee-length nightshirt. My Grandmother, "Grand Dodie," steadies him by the arm as he shuffles barefooted from his bed toward the bathroom. He’s obviously quite ill.

Holding my little hand, Mom ushers me further into the room and says softly, “Father Curry, this is your Grandson, Billy.” The gaunt and wrinkled face, framed by a full shock of tousled white hair, turns and looks down in my direction. His eyes twinkle from their dark, hollow sockets and his sunken lips part in a toothless, affectionate smile of recognition…and then my mental image fades to black.

That fragment of a memory, one of my very earliest, is my sole recollection of my Grandfather and namesake, William Jack Curry. The year is 1945. The place, East Liverpool, Ohio. I’m three years old. He’s 85—born in 1860 before the Civil War!

“PopPop" Curry died shortly after my visit, on the nineteenth of August. I learned much later that he starved to death from an obstruction in his digestive tract. Dad said it was his father’s decision not to have an operation. I’ve always wondered why he chose a sure slow death instead of a good chance to live longer—did he doubt a successful outcome or was he just world-weary and ready to go?

It recently struck me that my sisters and I are probably the last three people on earth who have even the faintest memory of PopPop Curry while he was alive. And faint memories they are—we know next to nothing about the man or his life. As sister Jane recollected, "What a pity that as an old man he never really communicated, let alone told stories, to his grandchildren! I don’t remember ever having one single conversation with him...or him ever laughing." It made me sad to think that, after our generation passes on, Jack Curry's life would totally vanish from our family’s memory. 

Fortunately, family historians are granted a special superpower to journey back into the dark abyss of time and resurrect long unspoken family names and forgotten stories, photos and documents. We then send them echoing on ahead to be heard by generations yet unborn. How cool is that! 

Starting only with that wisp of a memory, I’m amazed how much I’ve been able to learn about him, largely through online research. So, let me now introduce you more fully to my Grandfather and your ancestor...

William Jack Curry, Senior was born on the family farm at Curry, Pennsylvania, southwest of Pittsburgh, on January 4th, 1860. He was the fifth-born child of William Ezekiel and Letitia Jack Curry and a grandson of Dr. Joseph Curry, a pioneer physician and early coroner of Allegheny County. Everyone called him "Jack," probably to avoid the confusion of having two Williams in the same household.

His father, William Ezekiel Curry, tried his hand at a number of professions--druggist, farmer, and lumber merchant until he finally found his niche in East Liverpool, Ohio as a joint owner of Anderson, Curry and Co., a furniture store, dry goods and undertaking establishment. This was a common business combination in those days since caskets were sold as furniture and most bodies weren't embalmed before burial.

The Curry family arrived at this flourishing pottery town on the banks of the Ohio River in 1874. Their short 20-mile move from a farm in nearby New Galilee, Pennsylvania was precipitated by tragedy.

As an 11-year-old child, Jack witnessed the horrific death of his beloved sister, Emma, age 15. Her hair and clothes caught fire when the kitchen stove flared up and she soon died of her excruciating burns. His older brother, Harry, age 17, was dispatched on foot to fetch the doctor. Panicked by the terrifying emergency, the lad overstressed his heart while frantically running the long distance to town. Weak and sickly with pneumonia after that, his heart finally gave out. Harry died December 20, 1873 at age 19. This was the third child that William and Letitia had lost. Their first baby, the toddler Jennie, died at age two in 1854.

It's little wonder the Currys couldn't bear living in that farmhouse any longer. How could you expunge the images of washing and dressing your dear children's bodies as you prepared them for burial on the dining room table...or of cooking over that same stove? And how did those dreadful events affect the psyches of the Currys' remaining five children?

My Dad related a melancholy visit back to that New Galilee farm with his father (Jack) and my mother in the 1930s. They viewed the impressive brick farmhouse and then paid their respects at the graves of Emma and Harry in the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. That had to be difficult for Jack who by then had witnessed other tragic deaths of young family members, including his own cherished 15-year-old daughter, Elinor, who succumbed to the Spanish Flu in 1919.

By 1876 William and Letitia had purchased a five-acre tract of land on the west end of East Liverpool (see 1877 map below). This land, for the most part, was a steeply falling hillside that ran down to Tan Yard Run below but afforded sufficient level ground to build the Curry home off the end of West Seventh Street and, somewhat later, a plaster factory at the foot of the hill which evolved into a porcelain pottery business.

After graduating from the public schools, Jack Curry got a job with the East Liverpool Tribune and by 19 signed on as a pharmacy clerk in the employ of Dr. George Ikert. Around age 20, he switched careers to work for R. Thomas and Sons, a manufacturer of porcelain and pottery door knobs. 

The Richard Thomas family's residence and adjacent bustling pottery was just a couple of blocks east of the Curry home on West 7th Street. Jack and young Atwood "At" Thomas became best friends as teenagers, a bond that lasted the rest of their lives.

Richard Thomas' Sons June 6, 1883,
From left clockwise: George (30), Atwood (24), Lawrence (28) and Charles (6)
Courtesy of Museum of Ceramics, East Liverpool

In an episode I'll relate in a future post, Jack may have indirectly saved At's life on Sunday, July 4,1882 when he dissuaded his friend from taking an Ohio River excursion on an overloaded steamboat, the Scioto. That afternoon, the ill-fated paddle-wheeler collided with another boat and sunk, taking 57 lives, including Jack's brother-in-law, Wilson Paul, age 29. I have to think the Thomas family felt a special gratitude for Jack after that tragic event and treated him like another son.

Two months after the sinking of the Scioto, an event occurred in New York City that swiftly created an entirely new ceramic industry in East Liverpool. On September 4, 1882, Thomas Edison threw the main switch at the Pearl Street Station in Manhattan and thereby inaugurated the first central power station and electrical distribution grid in America. It served a total of 59 customers! This humble beginning was a historical pivot point that heralded in the electrification of the entire world. This singular event also determined the career pathway of young Jack Curry, living in a small Ohio town 400 miles to the west.

Almost overnight there was huge demand for the products to build out the electric grid of America, especially wire, poles and ceramic insulators. R. Thomas and Sons would eventually become one of the Nation's leading manufacturers of electrical porcelain insulator products.

R. Thomas & Sons Advert June 6, 1891
Courtesy of Museum of Ceramics, East Liverpool

I was tremendously excited to discover this 1887 photo below of my Grandfather with the R. Thomas crew at an Internet site for collectors of antique insulators. I believe the older gentlemen sitting on a chair at the right end of the first row might be Richard Thomas, Sr., the company's founder and a hands-on potter. In his later life, Jack would take a similar lower-right position in company photos when he was the founder/president of the American Porcelain Company.

Employees, R. Thomas & Sons, East Liverpool Plant, 1887
John W. Boch, VP & porcelain expert, to right of Wm. Jack Curry
Courtesy of Museum of Ceramics, East Liverpool

Jack served fourteen years with the Thomas company, rising to the foreman position. While there, he obtained an intimate knowledge of ceramics technology and the electrical porcelain insulator business from his mentor John W. Boch. Is it Jack's admiration for Boch that shows in the photo above where he sports a matching bowler hat and moustache? 

Economic times were tough in the Curry household after the drowning of Jack's brother-in-law, Wils Paul, in the 1882 Scioto riverboat disaster. His sister Annie Curry Paul, was left with no means of support. She and her four children moved back in with her parents and four adult siblings (Jack, Frank, Mame and Hattie). To help support this expanded family, Jack started up the Curry Cigar Factory on Fourth Street in 1886. He put Frank in charge of cigarmaking and was able to keep his job with R. Thomas and Sons. See my blog post, "History Detectives: The Cigar Store Mystery" for more on this entrepreneurial venture.

During his tenure with Thomas, Jack's early interest in compounding medicinal remedies shifted to experimentation with different ceramic mineral mixes. In his spare time (a bachelor until age 43) he busily pursued development of a hard wall plaster material in a building on his father's property. This proved a success as was his subsequent invention of a cement composition that was totally impervious to water. He also developed ceramic products for school blackboards and furnace liners.

© Willam Jack Curry, III

To produce and market these products he organized the Old Roman Wall Plaster Company in 1893 and served as its president (see stock certificate and letterhead). In addition to their manufactured product lines, the firm sold cement, lime and building materials and did a large business. His brother, Frank, was the company's Secretary and Treasurer.

© Willam Jack Curry, III
The East Liverpool map at the beginning of this post shows that the Curry's hillside property shared a long boundary with a cemetery situated on the flat bluff above. The Old Roman plaster plant was located at the bottom of that steep hill in West End Hollow.

The company's products were made from sand and gravel mined from that hillside. Like a child's sandpile, the unconsolidated materials uphill from the digging would slip down until they reached their stable "angle of repose." Often a high and precipitous wall would temporarily form and then come cascading downslope with the next rain. As the resource was progressively mined out, the top edge of the now steeper hillside fell away in fits and starts, caving in and inching its way eastward toward the property's boundary line with the cemetery.

This postcard photo of an early baseball game at the West End Ball Field gives a great panoramic view of the Curry's plaster plant and the slumping sand and gravel slopes created by the mining operations. 

The Old 5th Street Cemetery atop the bluff was in use as early as 1800. It served as the town's main cemetery for more than eight decades but began reaching its capacity in the 1870s. It became a serious concern for City Council by 1882. This led to the creation of the new burial grounds including Riverview (1883), Spring Grove (1885), and St. Aloysius (1883) cemeteries.

When 5th Street Cemetery was closed, families of the dead there were requested to relocate the remains, but many descendants no longer lived in East Liverpool, and as many as 134 bodies remained in place. The Evening News Review reported that all bodies not removed by October 29, 1901 would be taken up by the authorities to make way for the new City Hospital on part of the cemetery tract.

The abandoned cemetery soon became a jungle of weeds. In 1903 a section of the old cemetery was purchased for the site of the new City Hospital. The remainder was designated as a city park which was not funded and the site soon fell to ruin and became a hangout for drunks, tramps and felons...tough guys with monickers like "Tip, the Denver Kid" and "Applebutter Ike". The area became derisively known as "Skeleton Park" after some children found exposed bones lying about on the ground.

Run-down Skeleton Park, ca. 1905, Courtesy of East Liverpool Historical Society

The closure of the Old Roman Wall Plaster Company, 14 years after its startup, was a dark, some might say ghoulish, episode in Jack's business career...and by now, you may have an inkling of where this is going. 

As Roman Wall Plaster's mining operations dug further into the hillside, the unconsolidated material kept cascading down and caving in the cemetery land until five long-forgotten caskets were undercut and human bones went tumbling down the slope. The East Liverpool Review headline read, COFFINS WERE LAID BARE!  The City sprang into action and got a permanent injunction that stopped all mining in March 1908.

Back in the fall of 1907, Jack foresaw the inevitable cessation of mining and the necessity to find another business to replace the plaster company.  Along with three brothers-in-law, J. C. McQuilkin, W. A. Andrews and T. J. Andrews, he organized the Ohio Porcelain Company in October 1907 and built the plant at the Old Roman Wall Plaster site on the Curry property as shown on the 1908 Sanborn Insurance map below.

Credit: U. S. Library of Congress
Sanborn Insurance Co., July 1908

Courtesy of East Liverpool Historical Society

The Ohio Porcelain Company plant site is seen in the lower right foreground of this photo just beyond the 7th Avenue trolley viaduct.

Ohio Porcelain made standard shapes of electrical porcelain over the several years of its existence. The photos below shows some rare insulators produced with the company's "O.P.Co" mark...

Credit: Jim Colborn

Credit: Elton N. Gish

In 1911, Ohio Porcelain and all the porcelain companies in East Liverpool, (except R. Thomas & Sons) were acquired and merged into the General Electric Porcelain Company "Combine." Jack Curry apparently worked for the Combine as he’s listed in the 1912 and 1914 Polk City Directory as “general manager” without a company name. During that time, he was actively planning a new ceramic venture. In 1915 the Combine sold the Curry's old Ohio Porcelain site to George Reid, founder of the Adamant Porcelain Company, which operated there for many years.

In 1914, Jack Curry along with family investors formed the American Porcelain Company. He took over the old plant of John W. Croxall Sons at the southwest corner of Second Street and Union Streets in East Liverpool and refitted it for the manufacture of standard electrical porcelain shapes. 

In spite of some adverse economic conditions and a fire which destroyed a part of the plant in 1916, this company prospered under Curry's technical ability. The Sanborn Insurance Company map for 1923 shows the layout of the American Porcelain factory on Second Street.

Credit: U. S. Library of Congress
Sanborn Insurance Co., July 191

My Dad told me that his father, Jack, was a potter's potter who formulated proprietary mixes for his products and slept on a cot at the plant when necessary to keep a close eye on his kilns during their firing cycle. 

Jack also had his boys, Bill & Mac, do minor jobs at American Porcelain from time to time, mostly to keep them busy after school and out of trouble. Dad related, when he was 12, he was given a job to count out small wire insulator parts in groups of one hundred and put them in envelopes...apparently thousands of them waited in a huge pile to be packed this way. 

After seeing how much time the counting took, and wanting to be done so he could leave and hang out with friends, he found a balance scale, put a hundred parts on one side of the scale as a standard weight and then proceeded to weigh and package the parts with blazing speed. With the pile dispatched, he hid the scale and went to get his father to check his work and release him. 

Jack was very suspicious that his son could accurately do this job in one fourth the time it usually took so he counted several envelopes and was surprised to find exactly 100 parts in each. After making Dad reveal his method before he could go play, Jack implemented the balance-weighing method as a standard doubt with more than a bit of fatherly pride. From this simple anecdote, I can see how Dad organically developed an early interest in the ceramics industry and innovative problem-solving that would eventually propel him to high level executive positions in major refractory corporations.

Jack Curry also designed porcelain insulators and was inventor of record along with his brother-in-law, Will Andrews, on an insulator patent granted April 4, 1916 (U. S. Patent No. 1,177,996).

© Willam Jack Curry, III

One of the products made by The American Porcelain Company was the large trolley line insulator seen in the attached photo and close-up of the company's mark that was manufactured pursuant to the Christian Sauerisen patent (U. S. Patent No. 1,381,594).

© Willam Jack Curry, III

This unusual insulator was unearthed from the former American Porcelain site during construction of a new business. It was given to my Uncle Mac (Matthew), Jack's second son, who then passed it on to me.

Insulators of this type were used to suspend the many cross-wires that carried electrified trolley lines. One of the features of this patent was that the insulator could be imprinted with text to act as signage along the trolley route. The “Car Stop” version of these trolley insulators is rare because they were only used at the stop locations along a line.

Credit: Popular Mechanics Magazine, February 1923

The photo below shows the American Porcelain crew shortly after the company started up, circa 1914-16. Jack, in work apron with pipe in mouth, is seen sitting with his men at right side of the first row. His brother-in-law and head of sales, William A. "Will" Andrews, is the dapper mustachioed white-haired man on the back right and the two boys on the left are his sons, Clement and Donald, who would later work for the company. The man in the raincoat is unknown, possibly the other co-owner, Thompson "Thomp" Andrews.

Courtesy Sally Kittridge Smith

During this period, and specifically from 1916 to 1926, Jack speculated  heavily in the booming stock market. After he passed in 1945, my Dad found a thick folder of worthless stock certificates in a drawer in a little-used dropleaf table. Clicking on the stock below will take you to a scrolling gallery of these ornate old certificates.

Fast forward 15 years from its founding and here's the American Porcelain crew, circa 1928, shortly before Jack retired at age 68 and sold his interest to the Andrews brothers. Jack, again, is seen at the right side of the first row, kneeling with his fellow potters. The woman to his right in a work smock is probably the office manager.

Courtesy Sally Kittridge Smith

Unfortunately, the Andrews' were not potters by training or work experience and by 1932 the business had failed in the wake of the Great Depression.

After retiring from the ceramic industry, Jack immediately started yet another business in town, the Curry Tire Shop on Dresden Avenue, with the intention of involving my Dad in its operation. Here an ad from the ELO Trib Review of 10/28/1928...

Source: East Liverpool Tribune Review, October 24, 1928 

Dad, at that time and by all accounts, was a wild 21-year-old bachelor and fast car enthusiast--a young man in need of subduing! Uncle Mac said it didn't take, and Pop soon found other work more to his liking.

Unfortunately, the depression took its toll on the tire business and Jack Curry was regrettably forced into bankruptcy in 1938./

William Jack Curry, Sr. passed away on August 19, 1945, at age 85 and is interred at Riverview Cemetery, East Liverpool, Ohio.

© All rights reserved

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Forest and Stream Hunting & Fishing Club Log Book, East Liverpool, Ohio, 1882 to 1891

In an earlier post, William Jack Curry, Sr. -- Porcelain Pioneer, I recounted some of my Grandfather's early life but focused mainly on his business career. While Jack was a hard-working, teetotaling Presbyterian and one of the very few in town who voted the Prohibitionist ticket, he was also a well-liked, fun-loving member of the East Liverpool, Ohio community. I would know little of this were it not for several surviving records that show his lighter side.

Some twenty years ago, my Uncle, Matthew Andrews Curry of East Liverpool, Ohio (ELO) came upon the logbook that is the subject of this post. It was in a box of yellowed, musty memorabilia that belonged to his father, William "Jack" Curry. Mac passed the book along to his niece, my sister Jane Louise Curry, a noted children's book author. Jane worked at transcribing the logbook to a digital file in her spare time over many years and finally published her record in 2007. The original record book is now in the possession of the East Liverpool Historical Society.

Jack Curry was one of the organizers of the Forest & Stream Hunting & Fishing Club and served as "Camp Boss" and logbook scribe. "Jack", by the way, was his actual middle name, which honored his mother's family name.

The Club held camp for several weeks each summer at various sylvan retreat locations within a half-day's wagon ride from ELO (see map below). In 1882 the camp was staged at Gaston's Mills, the general area now well-preserved as part of Little Beaver State Park. In the years of 1883, '84 and '85, the camp was located on the Loudon farm at Dobson's Mill on the south side of the West Branch of the Little Beaver near the Morgan Surrender Monument. The campsite was moved to Camp St. George at "Madison Square" during the five summers of 1887 through 1891.

All of the encampment adventures took place adjacent to mill sites on the bucolic Little Beaver Creek. The millponds enabled boating in skiffs, plus good fishing and turtle catching opportunities. No mention was made of the rent paid to the property owner but in one instance several members spent an afternoon hauling "hay doodles" for the farmer, perhaps to offset the rent. OK--what on earth is a hay doodle? It's simply a small piled-up stack of loose hay about four feet high and the same in diameter, that would next be hauled to a haystack.

Jack Curry's handwritten logbook of daily activities recounts in great detail the names and dates of the comings and goings of each club member and visitor, the supplies consumed, the fish caught and squirrels shot, the pranks laid and games played. It is a wonderful diary of a simpler, slower life when people made their own active entertainment rather than passively mainlining it from an electronic screen.

At least one day of each camping week, usually Thursday, was designated as "Ladies Day." Camp members would either provide several horse-drawn wagons or they would hire commercial hacks (carriages) to convey a bevy of eligible young women from East Liverpool to the country for a day of picnicking and innocent fun. Without fail, a married couple or two would be present to give social sanction to these exciting comminglings of the sexes.

Quoits, a game much like horseshoes, where metal rings are thrown to encircle a steel post, was very popular on these occasions. Baseball and boating on the millpond rated highly as well but the most anticipated activities were the "play party games."

These were not your mother's party games but an earlier American folk tradition where people sang out and danced to popular ballads. Using the word "game" in this instance was a pious fiction to avoid reference to "dancing," which was considered SINFUL. The dance aspect of party games was very similar to square dancing, though the games were often performed in a circular ring instead of a square.

The main difference between play party games and dancing was that the participants provided their own music by singing without instrumental accompaniment, whereas "dancing" was often done to the tune of a fiddle--an instrument considered in some parts to be the Devil's own!

But, oh what fun they must have had, tromping along and singing round after round of the lyrics to "Happy is the Miller," "Tilda McCrankey" or "Pig in the Parlor."  So, close your eyes and let's travel back over a century to that forever summery, shady, oak grove by the millpond and see those happy, perspiring young folks clasping hands in a circle. Yes, I can now hear them singing the lyrics to the tune, "He's a Jolly Good Fellow"...

We got a new pig in the parlor, (three times) 
And he is Irish too. 

He ate a carload of potatoes, (three times) 
And they were Irish too. 

Your right hand to your partner, 
Your left hand to your neighbor, 
Your right hand to the next you meet, 
And we'll all promenade. 

All promenade, We'll all promenade, 
Your right hand to the next you meet, 
And we'll all promenade. 

These four stanzas are repeated except the first line is varied: 
We got a new hog in the parlor, 
Same old hog in the parlor 

After a day of vigorous outdoor activities, the members bade their female guests adieu in the fading afternoon sun, waving goodbye until the last carriage passed out of sight. Everyone was, no doubt, happily exhausted!

Sundays in camp were strictly observed with members attending Sunday Schools and sermons at nearby churches. Fishing and sporting activities were decidedly frowned upon. Otherwise, general laziness was the order of the day. Also, in keeping with this sober tone, there was no evidence of any alcohol use in camp, ever, other than the night their beloved black cook, Sidney Gwinne, got a supply of liquor somewhere and experienced a hallucinatory episode where he was found with a shotgun in the middle of the night, fending off ghosts and imagined snakes.

There are some cringe-worthy racial references in the log made by a substitute secretary that remind us that this was a more callous time. It was heartening, though, to see the deep bonds of respect and true friendship between Jack Curry and Sidney Gwinne.

It's also interesting to witness in Jack's log that hunting and fishing were carried out year round back then without respect to breeding seasons. It was pretty much open warfare on anything that walked, crawled, flew or swam. Neither chipmunks, skunks, flickers, owls, frogs or groundhogs escaped the onslaught and there were no bag limits.

This wanton destruction of wildlife through sheer ignorance decimated many species in those times and even exterminated the passenger pigeon. The backlash to these practices ultimately led to the creation of the conservation movement in the early 20th century and the science of modern wildlife management.

While we can criticize our forebears for their lack of environmental consciousness, we do this with 20-20 hindsight. They lived in the fading twilight of the Man-versus-Nature American frontier when we learned many hard lessons that our natural resources weren't inexhaustible.

So now come with me, 135 years back in time, to Gaston's Mills where we find our intrepid troop having the times of their life...none of which would ever be remembered but for the faithful efforts of their historian, Jack Curry.

To view the logbook in an expanded window, hover your mouse over the upper right corner of the title page below and click on the arrow link...

Monday, May 9, 2016

History Detectives: The Cigar Store Mystery

Like many family historians, I get frustrated that my ancestors left so little information behind to illuminate their personal lives and times. But then I remind myself that these were modest, religious people who struggled hard just to care for their families and put bread on the table. Their lives were lived in the moment through good times and bad. Little thought was given to self-reflection. Diarists were few and far between. So, let's just be thankful when any one of our folks took the time to record births and deaths in a family bible or capture fleeting experiences in a photograph.

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.

The reverse of the card advertises Thackeray & Kraeling's photographic services. It also bears the pre-printed year of 1888 (encircled below). This can't be relied on to conclusively establish the year the photo was taken because T&K could have printed it on old, out-of-date card stock. Still, it does enable us to say it was taken sometime in 1888 or after. One Internet source confirms this time frame by stating that cards with elaborate advertising covering most of the reverse side were prevalent between 1888 and 1900.

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 several 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!

OK, enough fantasizing! Maybe I'll get further if we can ID the cigar store four. The old gentleman in the white whiskers is obviously William Ezekiel Curry (WEC) and the mustachioed younger man second from right looks like my Grandfather, William "Jack" Curry, Senior (WJC1), affectionately known as "PopPop" Curry to us kids. As for the guy on the left, I was immediately struck by his resemblance to my Uncle Mac, Matthew Andrews Curry.  I think he might be PopPop's younger brother, Frank Foster Curry, but I need more evidence. The older bearded fellow on the right is a mystery but I have a hunch that he may be Robert Ewing Moody as I explain later in this post.

This portrait of William Ezekiel Curry,  (b. 1827 - d. 1898), yields a positive ID to his older image in the cigar store photo. As parents of Mame and Jack Curry, William Ezekiel and his wife, Letitia Jack Curry, are the common ancestors that tie the Curry & Moody lines together. They are the Great Grandparents of me and my sisters, as well as of Brenda and Bruce Moody. 

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 pay-dirt 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.
What a great find! We now conclusively know the location and startup date of the business. Since Jack Curry retained employment at R. Thomas, & Sons, it appears he started the factory/store both to supplement the family's income and provide work for his father and brother.

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.
For your interest, here's a cigar store advertisement I found in a later edition of the Saturday Review—they apparently missed the filing deadline for the Christmas edition of the paper:
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.
I also found a listing from the 1891-92 Columbiana County Directory that identifies Frank F. Curry as potter and cigar maker with a business address of 127 East Fourth St. (and a home address of West East Drury Lane), East Liverpool. Not only did this reveal the exact location of the store but Frank Curry's stated role as cigar maker also makes it highly probable that the young man on the left in the photo is Frank.

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 

The last entry I found for the cigar store was an Evening Review newspaper report dated December 11, 1895 of a near-injury incident involving Frank Curry:
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.
If the photo was taken during 1895, the last year of record for the store, William Ezekiel would be a 68 years old, Jack Curry would be 35, and Frank, 32. Judging from the age appearance of the men below, 1893-1895 appears to be a reasonable date period for the photograph.

Frank Foster Curry                     William Ezekiel Curry              William Jack Curry            ??? Possibly Robert E.Moody
This may also have been near the end of the cigar store business, as Jack at that time was focussed with Frank's assistance on the startup of his new venture, the Old Roman Wall Plaster Company. His father, William Ezekiel Curry would pass on a few years later in October 1898 at age 70. 

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.

Moving on!

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  
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.
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:
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.

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.
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...
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.