On Valentines’ Day

Jane Frances Graham and John William Kinnear

Friday, February 14, 1947

Baltimore, Maryland

Wedding

On Valentine’s Day, my parents were married. Not because it was a romantic holiday but rather because the Catholic Church said that day was acceptable.

It was January 1947 when my parents found an apartment. That was no easy feat in post World War II in a big city like Baltimore as weddings were often delayed until suitable housing could be located. It was a surprise when they found the apartment. It was too long and too expensive to wait until after Easter to marry, so they married on St. Valentine’s Day.

My parents had met only several months before. They were on a streetcar. My shy father was watching my mother, and he came forward and asked, “Aren’t you Jane Graham?” My mother looked up and said, “Yes”. My father introduced himself – or rather reintroduced himself. They had lived just a few houses apart on North Fulton Avenue as children in the  – before he moved away when he was about eight years old.

My father was coming from the Central Post Office downtown after mailing a letter to a girl he was seeing in Oklahoma. After the Army shipped their troops home from Europe, they not sure what to do with until their service was completed. He offered to go to the Pacific. The Army countered with Alaska. He returned to Baltimore by way of Oklahoma but he had plans to go back. The girl’s father owned a business and was going to give him a job so they could marry. Oklahoma seemed like a nice place.

My mother was with her sister coming home from making a novena at the St. Jude Shrine. She was trying to mend a broken heart. According to the Catholic Church, she was not allowed to marry the man she loved and she wouldn’t defy their dogma. She tried to become a cloister nun but they wouldn’t accept her. The Church told her to repair her heartbreak and proceed with her life. She was trying. In addition to the novena, every morning before work, she would listen to two records before leaving the house – “Ave Maria” and “Stormy Weather”.

My father asked her out and she agreed. My mother said she wanted to go dancing. They set a time, she got ready, and he never came to pick her up. He stood her up. She was not heartbroken and didn’t think much about him or the broken date.

He made contact with her about six weeks later and asked her out again. It turns out that he didn’t know how to dance and was taking dancing lessons. He was also no longer writing to the girl in Oklahoma.  They went dancing, began dating, and after a few months, became engaged.

While courting her, he tried to give her the stuffed animal he bought for the girl in Oklahoma. He told her it was purchased for the other girl. My mother refused the gift and was not at all pleased by his offering. My father was bewildered that she didn’t want the gift. (He and I talked about it last summer before he died and he was still bewildered about the refusal almost 70 years later. He observed to me with a question in his voice that women don’t like to receive gifts that were bought for another woman. I agreed with him).

In typical post World War II haste, they became engaged. And almost immediately, an apartment became available. Their rush into matrimony was fueled by the apartment, much like gasoline on a fire. But, it was Lent.

The solution was to marry on a Saint’s Day to receive a dispensation. Because everything was sudden and very hurried, many were people counting on their fingers to see if she was “caught”. Even her mother seemed poised to do some finger counting. She said to her daughter, “Of all my girls, you Jane?” They married on a Friday evening after work.

When I was little, I wanted a romantic version of my parents wedding, the beautiful white gown, and some sort of magic. It was not to be. My mother was married in a blue suit. I later learned that it was designed and sewn just for her. She carried and wore pink roses and the reception was at her mother’s home.

I always has thought that my parents were married in my mother’s home, but it turns out they were married at St. Martin’s Catholic Church two blocks south on Fulton Avenue. They were married in the vestibule because it was Lent. After the ceremony, they walked back to her house for the reception.

Perhaps some people were disappointed when counting on their fingers for the next few months. But what most didn’t know was that there was an addition to the new family made between the St. Martin’s and the reception. My mother adopted the first of many stray cats she brought home. The cat’s name is lost to history but the habit of picking up stray pets remains in the family DNA, at least mine.

Last year, I had to clean out the house for sale. A house they shared for over 50 years. Much to my amazement, I found her wedding flowers, her headpiece, the cake topper she painted, and their wedding pictures in the attic. There was also the remains of her going away dress. I never knew any of these things existed before last year.  In the pictures, I saw my parents as such young adults. I was able to see a tiny peek of the inside of my grandmother’s house, decaying for decades before finally being torn down. All were amazing gifts I never expected to discover.

And because these things survived, packed away for over half a century, I suppose there was something romantic in my mother’s wedding after all.

The Egg Lady

Emma Staylor Pryor

1 April 1838- 2 November 1914

Baltimore, Maryland

decorated egg

 

It’s funny the things you learn from obituaries. I was collecting data in the Baltimore Sun for my long ago Staylor relatives and didn’t expect to find anything beyond the usual dates, possibly cemetery information, and maybe a new name or two. I didn’t expect to find a story that I would carry with me from Easter to Easter.

Little Sisters of the Poor opened their home for the aged and poor of Baltimore at the corner or Valley and Biddle Streets in the 1869. In the beginning, the home was dependent on charity – even for their food. The donations were generous; hotels and housekeepers both always purchased extra foods and made donations of it.

It came to Emma Staylor Pryor’s attention that the Sisters received all sorts of donations. Baltimoreans were generous, but there was one thing that was not donated – ever. Eggs.

In 1880, Aunt Emma enlisted the services of some friends and collected funds for the purchase of eggs for the residents. There were 30 men and women living there at the time. The eggs were a tremendous success with everyone and Aunt Emma collected money the following year as well. This gift went on for 34 years. Aunt Emma became known as the “Egg Lady”.

The residents were always thrilled to receive the eggs. Indeed, it was the one day of the year when they had fresh eggs and they could have as many as they wished. Some residents were reported to have eaten as many as half a dozen of them in one sitting.

By 1914, there were over 300 residents at the Little Sisters of the Poor Home. Over 300 dozen eggs were purchased that year and served for Easter.  Indeed, monetary donations were so generous that there was enough left to purchase many pounds of sausage (something considered easy for the elderly to eat).

My Aunt Emma died 2 November 1914. That 3,600-egg purchase in April was to be her last. But the Sisters and her charity were in her final thoughts. Among her last words she “cautioned” her children not to forget the Easter eggs.  And they didn’t. For Easter in 1915, over 350 dozen eggs were collected and sent for the residents’ enjoyment.

The eggs were soft boiled, hard boiled, made into omelets, and even rolled on the lawn. There were “picking contests” with the altar boys from St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church, located on the same property. And after eating all the eggs, the residents enjoyed watching a baseball game on their lawn.

And yes, there were enough donations left for the purchase of 55 pounds sausage that year to be enjoyed with the eggs.

I’m not sure how long Aunt Emma’s charity continued on after her death, but it is certain that she made a great many people happy– especially on Easter morning.

 

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“Obituary,” The Baltimore Sun, 7 November 1914, p. 5, col. 2.

“In ‘Egg Lady’s” Memory,” The Baltimore Sun, 2 April 1915, p. 7, col. 5.

“Old Folks Feast On Eggs,” The Baltimore Sun, 15 April 1915, p. 5, col. 4.

 

 

 

William Alexander Chilcote 1834-1902

William A. Chilcote Wedding photograph 1858

William Alexander Chilcote  – My Great Great Grandfather

November 2, 1834 – September 11, 1902

Residence: 1122 Argyle Avenue Baltimore, Maryland 1902

It was a clear, cool September morning. The weather was reminiscent of autumn rather than a late Baltimore summer morning.  The newspaper that day recommended wearing an overcoat. A northeasterly breeze was blowing and the humidity low. For most, it was going to be a fine day in Baltimore.

William Alexander Chilcote was the second son born to Richard Chilcote and Harriet Parks Chilcote on November 2, 1834 in Frederick, Maryland.  I don’t know anything about his early life, my knowledge begins with his moving to Tennessee to operate  mills for his father.

There, he met Kate Moore, the daughter of a farmer. They married on November 17, 1858 when he was 24 years old. They began their married life in Tennessee until just before the outbreak of the Civil War, when he family moved his family back to Frederick, Maryland.

He joined the Union Army on August 21, 1862, just before the battle of Antietam, which was close his home. According to his enlistment records, he stood 5’6” with dark hair and dark eyes. He enlisted for a three-year period in Company E, 8th Regiment Maryland and was a private. He mustered in September 21, 1862 near Hagerstown, Maryland, where he functioned as the company clerk until his discharge for kidney disease in April 1863 at Harpers Ferry – just seven months after his enlistment and less than 25 miles from his home.

His military service was short in miles but it was a journey that traveled with him for the rest of his life. He honored his brief service in the Union Army and became an active member in the Dushane Post of the Grand Army of the Republic in Baltimore.

The Chilcote family stayed in Frederick until between 1870 and 1880, when they moved to Baltimore City. According to various public records, he supported his family by being a grocer, a butcher, and working weaving woolens as he had done for most of his life.

It was on that cool September morning in West Baltimore that was to be his last. He came down the white marble steps of his home and walked to the streetcar two blocks away to go to work.

According to accounts of the accident, he boarded the streetcar at about 6:45 in the morning from the front of the car and began walking toward to back when he slipped or fell while on the footboard, falling backwards and fracturing his skull on Pennsylvania Avenue. Some witnesses think they saw a small basket he was carrying on his arm become caught and he lost his footing as a result.

He was taken to the corner drugstore, attended by a physician who determined his injuries to be fatal and was then carried home to die. He died the next day at 11:00 a.m.

Although the streetcar conductor Mr. Silas Shipley was arrested, it was found that the incident was an accident and was subsequently released without charges that September evening.

The funeral was conducted from his home and he was interred in the National Cemetery where graveside services were preformed by his fellow GAR post members. He left a wife and six children.

There is not much left of that old neighborhood. It doesn’t resemble what was known during his life there. But, his house is still standing and is currently for sale. The interior has been gutted but the marble steps remain. The middle of the row unit is now a corner house, waiting to become a home again. The surrounding vacant lots in the block are clean and well kept. Cats walk freely in the grass and over stones without fear about the neighborhood. So did I two Sunday mornings ago. I was luck enough to be able to stand on the same steps as my great great grandfather, who died over 100 years ago.

My Ancestors Lived Here

Where my mother lived and where Auntie Betty was born

G. Jane Graham 1925-2003

Rutledge Avenue and Calhoun Street       Charleston, South Carolina

For years, when in Charleston, South Carolina, I have driven past the site where my mother lived as a child. It’s now a gas station. They even have a “Beer Cave” inside.

My mother came to Charleston to find her house back in the early 1980’s.  She was shocked to discover that it was no longer standing.  It was like a part of her was no longer there. That part of her history was being denied. She felt like she couldn’t prove that any of it really happened. She searched high and low in the surrounding neighborhoods asking anyone and everyone  if they remembered the house. No one did. Everyone said that it was a gas station for as long as they could remember – it was never a house.

She couldn’t believe that no one remembered the Charleston single house where her picture was taken on the piazza as a child. It was the place where her sister Baby Ann was born in an upstairs bedroom on an early April day.  No one in Charleston remembered that there was at a corner house with a traffic light installed  that would “DING!” when it changed.  The sound set my grandmother crazy.

Instead, my mother found a gas station and held a handful of memories and stories that no one else shared except for her mother, who had died almost a quarter century before. And, her daughter, the next keeper of the family stories. So, I remember. And I share – what is appropriate.

This is the first entry and the origin of this idea in this blog. It seems only fitting to start with this picture and launch the site as I’m attending the National Genealogical Society Annual Conference in Charleston. And on the anniversary of my mother’s death.

I plan to continue with pictures of places that may or may not be standing and a brief story from one of the lives lived there, at least for a time, at that location. Some of the stories I will have learned first hand, others pieced together from newspapers, some from official documents, and still others from those sharing an interest in preserving and sharing stories of family.

So, beginning in Charleston, South Carolina, I will share my journey. I will tell the stories as I know them, and as I learn them. I begin this trip with hope, memories, and a full tank of gas.