Tag Archives: 1890s

The Curious Case of Alfred Adam

In the fall of 1895, just a year after his older brother died as a result of epilepsy, Alfred Adam collapsed on the street in the midst of a seizure.1 Twenty-two at the time, Alfred, the son of Timothy and Odile (Millette) Adam, was an employee of the wholesale grocer Tolerton & Stetson in Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa.2 The Sioux City Journal reported the following:

“Fred Adams, a young man in the employ of Tolerton & Stetson, fell in Water street last night in what at first appeared to be an epileptic fit. Symptoms of hydrophobia soon developed and he had the actions of a dog attacked with the rabies. He barked and snapped and was in great agony. It took the combined strength of four men to hold him. The fit lasted almost an hour. The sufferer was taken to the police station and placed in a cell. He finally became calm and said he was bit by a dog thirteen years ago. He believed the fit was the result of that bite. When he talked Mr. Adams seemed to be all right.”3

It of course seems highly improbable that a dog bite more than a decade prior was the reason for Alfred’s “fit,” particularly as his own brother had been similarly afflicted with seizures. Indeed, epilepsy is known today to have a genetic link. However, Alfred may have had good reason to want to downplay this incident: his brother was committed to an asylum as a young adult and died at the age of twenty-five. Unlike his brother, Alfred seemed able to live out a normal life.

Alfred G. “Fred” Adam, Des Moines, Iowa, 1898; image privately held by Jeanette Borich, 2018.

In May of 1898, shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Alfred apparently felt well enough to volunteer to serve in Company H of the 52nd Iowa Volunteer Infantry.4 In a portrait that was likely taken shortly after he mustered in at Camp McKinley, which was located at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, he posed proudly in uniform, nearly dwarfed by his musket. Alfred saw no action during the course of the three-month conflict; after time spent stationed in both Des Moines and in Chickamauga, Georgia, the 52nd Iowa Volunteer Infantry was mustered out of service in October of that year.5

His brief time in service, however, may have sparked feelings of wanderlust, as his whereabouts for much of his thirties are unknown. Notes in the margins of his mother’s information card for the 1905 Iowa Census suggest that he headed west to Seattle in 1903, but no more than that is known.6 After eventually resettling in Sioux City, he was employed for many years as a freight checker for the Chicago and North Western Railroad.7

At the age of forty-seven—although he claimed to be fifty—Alfred married Margaret Nelson, a widow with two teenage daughters.8 He is not known to have had any children of his own. Two years after his marriage, in 1923, Alfred filed a patent for an electronic swivel connection, a notable accomplishment for a man who had only attended school through the third grade.9 His application read in part:

“My present invention has for its objects the production of an improved electrical swivel connection adapted to be interposed in a multiple electrical conductor cord, as a telephone or lamp cord to effectually prevent such cord from twisting upon itself and yet form a perfect electrical connection of low resistance.

Furthermore, the invention contemplates a device of this class which is comparatively inexpensive in construction and to and from which the cord conductors may be readily attached and detached.”10

Despite this accomplishment, however, when asked years later about their late uncle Alfred, it was his Springfield rifle that his nephews remembered most.11

Copyright © 2018 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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Finding Homes for Two Orphan Photographs

On a recent visit to western South Dakota, I flipped through a stack of nineteenth century photographs at an antique shop in scenic Hill City. I had my eye out for any with names inscribed on the backs so that I might have a chance to reunite them with their families of origin, but unfortunately, only two in a stack of a dozen or more were fortunate enough to have been labeled.

“May Durkee” read a photograph of a young woman pictured by heaping bouquets of flowers, while the other inscription on a photograph of a young girl caused me to do a double-take: “Emily J. Frick.” Frick is my married name and not terribly common—and although my husband is the immigrant in his family and we know of no Frick relations in the United States, there was no way I could pass up the opportunity to research Emily. Young May made it out of the shop with me as well.

Emily J. Frick, Brookings, Dakota Territory, ca. 1889-90; privately held by K.F., 2018.

The photograph of Emily J. Frick held several clues to assist with determining its date. While cabinet cards such as this were popular throughout the late nineteenth century, the location of the studio was stamped “Brookings, Dak.” As South Dakota achieved statehood on 02 November 1889, the reference to Dakota Territory suggests that the photograph was likely taken no later than 1890, should the photographer have held onto any outdated stock.1 The name of the photographer, O.G. Oyloe, is also revealing, as They Captured the Moment: Dakota’s Photographers 1853-1920 indicates that Oyloe began practicing his trade in Brookings in 1889.2

Emily appears to be in her early teens in this photograph, with fashionably frizzled bangs and her hair pulled back into a braid. Her dress features a high, pleated neckline and sleeves that puff above the shoulders, a popular look in 1890 fashion plates.3

Ultimately, it did not take long to identify Emily J. Frick thanks to online records. Young Emily was, as it turned out, Emily Josephine Frick (1876-1918), the daughter of Thomas and Barbara (Fisher) Frick.4 Born in Pennsylvania, Emily spent spent a number of years in Brookings, Dakota Territory when she was a child.5 Emily studied to become a teacher—records show that she taught a kindergarten class at Chicago’s Calhoun School as of 1899—and in 1909 she married Clarence Estes.6 Emily died of Spanish influenza at the age of forty-two, a victim of the Influenza Epidemic of 1918.7 She left no children.8

Emily did, however, have a number of nieces and nephews, and I was able to connect with one of these descendants via a Public Member Tree on Ancestry.com.9 Then, her photograph made its way into an envelope and was sent to its new home in Minnesota.

Mary “May” Durkee, Alexandria, South Dakota, ca. 1892-93; privately held by S.B., 2018.

May Durkee’s photograph held a number of clues as to its origins as well. Stamped with the location Alexandria, South Dakota, this photograph was most definitely taken after 1889, once Dakota Territory was no more. According to the Collector’s Guide to 19th Century Traveling  Photographers, the photographer, M.B. Barton, was believed to have operated in Alexandria circa 1887-94.10 A record search soon turned up Mary “May” Durkee (1877-1972) of Alexandria, the daughter of Franklin and Mary (Wakeman) Durkee, as the most likely candidate for this photograph.11

Although at first glance it seemed to me as though May was posing by a memorial of some kind, the words on the apparent certificate propped among the flowers at her feet read “To Whom It May Concern,” with the header labeled “City of Alexandria,” which does not give the feeling of a tribute. Could this have been an educational certificate?

According to a biography held in the South Dakota State Archive’s Pioneer Daughters files, May, who was born in Wisconsin and came to Dakota Territory at the age of two, completed the one-year high school course offered at Alexandria’s brick schoolhouse in 1892 when she was fifteen years old.12 She had to wait until her sixteenth birthday before she was eligible to begin teaching in the local country schools.13 This photograph might have been taken in honor of one of these occasions. May, a young woman with a fair complexion, wears what was likely a white dress with puffed sleeves that rise above the shoulder and are gathered above the elbow. A corsage is at the center of her chest and what appears to be a small book dangles along the side of her skirt, held in place by a sash affixed at her waist.

May taught school for five years until her marriage to John H. Dobson in 1898.14 The couple remained in Alexandria and had four children: Burdette James, Merrial Bertha, who died as an infant, Henry Bird, and Florence Louise Dobson.15 They enjoyed seventy years of marriage; John died in 1968, and May in 1972.16 A number of years before her death, she was celebrated as Alexandria’s longest continuous resident and was even crowned “queen” during a local anniversary event.17

After tracing May’s descendants through obituaries, I contacted a surviving granddaughter who remembered her well and was glad to have May’s photograph mailed to her home in Oregon.18 Thus, happy endings were found for both orphan photographs of these young Dakota pioneers.

Copyright © 2018 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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A South Dakota Marriage

Fred Nielson was twenty-six years old and Christina Marie Schmidt was twenty-one when they married on 08 March 1890 before the Justice of the Peace in Yankton, Yankton County, South Dakota.1 Both Fred and Christina had emigrated from Denmark as children, and for more than fifteen years their families had been neighbors as they farmed less than a mile from each other in eastern Bon Homme and western Yankton counties in southeastern South Dakota.2 Whether the couple first became acquainted as children or young adults is not known, but their first known photograph together, their wedding portrait, survives today.

In the photograph, Christina stands in a heavy skirt and bodice, perhaps wool, with contrasting velvet panels on the high collar, cuffs, and bodice. Her hair is styled without the frizzled bangs that she wore a few years prior, and is instead swept smoothly off her forehead. A horizontal pin at her throat appears to match the pin worn in the earlier photograph. She rests one hand on the shoulder of her husband, who is seated. Fred wears a three-piece suit that is rather tightly fitted, as well as a white collared shirt and tie. A watch chain affixed to his vest is also visible. Fred’s hair has been combed and parted neatly, and he sports a small mustache.

Fred and Christina (Schmidt) Nielsen, South Dakota, 1890; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2018.

Posed before a painted backdrop of a pastoral scene that doesn’t quite reach the floor, the husband and wife look directly at the camera. Both sturdy, fair-haired Scandinavians, their expressions are serious as was typical in portraits of this era. Although this image is a photocopy, it can be assumed that the original portrait was a cabinet card, a style of photograph mounted on card stock emblazoned with the photographer’s emblem that was popular at the end of the nineteenth century.

Fred and Christina (Schmidt) Nielson would go on to welcome nine children into their family and would live to celebrate twenty-eight years of marriage together.3

Copyright © 2018 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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The Iowa Asylum

“Timothy Adams, living near Moville, was sent to the insane asylum the past week.”1

When a casual online search turned up this statement printed long ago in a small-town Iowa newspaper, I was intrigued. There are three generations of Timothys in my family, and all three might have lived near Moville, Woodbury County, Iowa at the time of publication of this issue of the Sioux Valley News on 9 January 1890.2 Which Timothy, then, was sent to the insane asylum? For that matter, which asylum? And why?

As it turns out, this Timothy Adam was the youngest of the three, the son of Timothy and Odile (Millette) Adam, and the grandson of Timothée and Marguerite (Chicoine) Adam. He was born on 26 September 1869 in Chicopee, Hampden County, Massachusetts,3 where his parents, French Canadian immigrants, were employed in the area’s cotton mills.4 The family remained in Massachusetts until 1883 when they traveled west, first to southeastern South Dakota and then to homestead near the community of Moville in northwestern Iowa.5

When Timothy, Jr. was seven years old, he suffered a fever that led him to experience what was described as a fit.6 These fits continued, “sometimes three or four in succession,” although a week could pass before another occurrence.7 Apparently, however, Timothy “was never [a] very bright boy,” and furthermore, as he grew older, his condition became more unmanageable.8 He suffered memory loss and “wanted to run away constantly without occasion.”9 It was for these reasons, including his first unmanageable fit, that his father had Timothy evaluated and committed to the Clarinda State Hospital in Clarinda, Page County, Iowa, on 7 January 1890.10

“Iowa State Hospital for Insane, Clarinda, Iowa (1908),” Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, Prints & Photographs Reading Room, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pan.6a04897 : accessed 28 March 2017).

One can only speculate as to what condition or conditions might have ailed Timothy. While the fits he suffered were perhaps epileptic seizures, low intelligence and a desire to run away from home were noted as secondary issues. Timothy was not the only child to cause his parents similar distress, as his younger brother, Edward, had run away several years earlier. In addition, upon Timothy’s entry into the asylum, it was noted that a member of his extended family had also been institutionalized: his mother’s younger brother, Joseph Millette, had entered the poorhouse in Beekmantown, Clinton County, New York, in 1869 at the age of nineteen.11 Records state that Joseph was an “imbecile,” intemperate, and, though he was of “respectable parentage,” his parents, too, were unable to care for him.12

At the time of Timothy’s admission to the asylum in the winter of 1890, the Clarinda State Hospital was brand new. Its first patients were received less than thirteen months before, and in fact, construction would not be complete until 1897.13 The Second Biennial Report of the Board of Trustees of the Iowa Hospital for the Insane at Clarinda reported a commitment to humane treatment, with avoidance of extreme measures such as restraint and isolation, and it can be hoped that Timothy and his fellow patients were treated with respect and kindness.14 Indeed, whether embellished or not, the Second Biennial Report stated of the years 1890-91, “Perfect harmony seems to exist between our superintendent and his subordinates.”15

The hospital housed a daily average of two hundred and sixty-one patients in January of 1890, a number that climbed over to over three hundred within a month.16 Although Superintendent Lewellen applauded the facilities as a whole, he also admitted that the hospital was overcrowded due to an influx of patients, many of whom had transferred from Iowa’s other mental institutions.17 However, the Second Biennial Report offered an encouraging perspective as to the overall conditions of the hospital, and plans were outlined for future improvements, including additions to the building and grounds as well as opportunities for patients to engage in both amusements and meaningful work.18

Timothy was discharged “without improvement” on 31 October 1891 after nearly two years at the hospital, perhaps once it was determined that no available treatment would be of help to him.19 It is not known whether he ever returned to his family. Sadly, Timothy died at the Clarinda State Hospital on 1 December 1894 at the age of twenty-five. Epilepsy was reported as his cause of death, which suggests he may have returned to the hospital due to a fatal seizure.20 He is buried in the hospital’s cemetery, many miles from his family and his former home.21

Copyright © 2017 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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A Sioux City Streetcar

One might not expect that a community in Iowa was the first in the world to have an electric-powered elevated streetcar system, but in the early 1890s, Sioux City blazed that trail.1 It was already the third city in the United States—after New York and Kansas City—to host a non-electric elevated streetcar system, and for years to come, streetcars served to connect its far-flung neighborhoods, offering a convenient and affordable transportation option to its citizens.2

Henry_Adam_Streetcar

Henry Joseph Adam, center, Sioux City, Iowa, circa 1903-07; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2016.

As a newlywed in his mid-twenties, Henry Joseph Adam of Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa worked as a conductor for the Sioux City Rapid Transit Company, also known as the Sioux City Service Company.3 This photograph, dated circa 1903-07, shows him in uniform, his suit rather baggy on his slight frame and a cap atop his head. Half a dozen men and women pictured behind him are in the process of boarding the streetcar, while three men at the front seem to be investigating an issue with either the tracks or the car itself. As this seems an unlikely place for passengers to board the car, suspended as they were over the Floyd River, I suspect there was a problem with the streetcar and the passengers had temporarily disembarked, an inconvenience on such a chilly day. That might also explain the occasion for the photograph; the original, mounted on a large piece of cardboard, looks as though it could be a copy of a local press photograph.

Just a few years before, Henry’s parents had had an unfortunate encounter with Sioux City’s elevated streetcars. In the summer of 1896, the Sioux City Journal reported:

Yesterday afternoon Timothy Adams and wife, of Moville, were about to cross the track of the elevated railway at Hedges station, Morning Side, when they met with a severe accident. They were driving a team to a light wagon, and as the electric car approached the horses became frightened. The tongue of the wagon broke and stuck into the ground, throwing Mrs. Adams violently over the dash board. The wheels passed over her, but when Dr. Brown was called it was found she was not much hurt and that no bones were broken.4

Seriously injured or not, Henry’s mother filed a suit against the Sioux City Rapid Transit Company and received one hundred and twenty-five dollars.5 Little could she have known that her son would soon become their employee, and, fortunately for Henry, if this incident was recalled, it must not have been held against him! He was employed there for only a few years, between approximately 1903-07, and spent the rest of his life as a carpenter. In the above photograph, he is working the route from East 4th and College to Greenville, which necessitated crossing the Floyd River on an elevated track.6

As for the streetcars of Sioux City, they peaked in 1933 with around forty-five miles of track that traversed multiple neighborhoods and even crossed the state line into South Sioux City, Nebraska.7 By the 1940s, however, with the introduction of a more-flexible bus system, streetcars quickly became obsolete, and after sixty years of service to the community, operations ceased in 1948.8

Copyright © 2016 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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The Best (Early) Christmas Surprise

Christmas came early for me this year in the form of a long-lost antique photograph – thanks to the efforts of a state historical society and a random act of kindness by a fellow genealogist. It was early on a Saturday morning when I sleepily picked up my phone to check the time, only to see a notification that someone had sent me a message via this blog. The first line read, “I thought you might be interested to know that there is a photograph in the online archives of the Kansas Historical Society that I believe shows members of your Fenton family.”1

Interested? INTERESTED? I was up in an instant. The message included a link to a photograph digitized and made available online courtesy of Kansas Memory and the Kansas Historical Society, and while the description has since been updated, on that Saturday morning it was simply titled “Family in Gypsum, Kansas.”

Well, I did have family in Gypsum, Kansas, a small community in rural Saline County. Pioneers George W. Fenton and his wife Sarah Ellen Hall married there in 1873 and had three daughters – Minnie Belle, Alpha Doretta, and Anna Leota – before George was accidentally shot and killed by his brother-in-law in 1880.2 Sarah later had a son, Charles Alfred, with her second husband, John Hoffman, whom she married in 1883.3 According to the original caption, based on a handwritten notation on the back of the photograph, the individuals were identified as Charlie, Belle, Alpha, and Ota, but their last name was unknown. Could it be…?

Hoffman_Charles_Fenton_Belle_Alpha_Leota_c_1890

Charles Alfred Hoffman with half-sisters, from left to right, Belle, Alpha, and Ota Fenton, Gypsum, Saline County, Kansas, ca. 1890-1892; digital image 2015, courtesy of KansasMemory.org, Kansas State Historical Society. Used with permission.

It was. Pictured circa 1890-92, half-siblings Belle, Alpha, and Ota Fenton and Charlie Hoffman posed for this cabinet card photograph at Kassebaum’s in Gypsum City, Kansas. I have found little information about the photographer, but local newspapers place him in the county at the appropriate time. A J.A. Kassebaum was a resident of Saline County, Kansas as early as 1890 when a newspaper announced his marriage; in 1893, it was reported in the column “Gypsum City News” that “Kassebaum is kept busy taking pictures of our citizens and residences.”4

Apparently, these four siblings were some of the very citizens he photographed. Minnie Belle Fenton, likely between sixteen and eighteen at the time, is dressed fashionably, and, as the eldest, is the central subject of the photograph. The bodice of her dress is very finely detailed, featuring a high collar and a double row of large, decorative buttons. Her sleeves, as commonly seen between 1890-92, are fitted, but looser at the upper arm and with a modest puff at the top of the shoulder, and she wears a bracelet on her right wrist.5 There are two decorative velvet bands at the cuffs of her sleeves and three at the bottom of her skirt. Belle would marry Joseph Anthony Hoffman, the younger brother of her stepfather, in 1893, at the age of eighteen.6

Alpha Doretta Fenton, reclining against her older sister, was likely between fourteen and sixteen in this photograph. The dark-eyed teenager wears a fitted dress of a much more simple design than Belle, but it is still flattering with attention to detail. There is a bunch of ruffled lace pinned at the bodice and a brooch at her throat, adorning the folded collar. Her hands are curled in her lap, and like Belle she appears to hide her fingertips; perhaps these country girls did not want to call attention to unmanicured nails. Alpha would marry Clare Eugene Gibson in 1895, at the age of nineteen.7

Anna Leota Fenton, standing behind her sisters, was perhaps ten or twelve at the oldest when this photograph was taken, and she stands straight with a direct gaze. Small and slim, she was not yet corseted like her older sisters, although like them her bangs were frizzled in the latest fashion.8 Her dark dress – which features a row of buttons and a lace collar – is almost surely a hand-me-down, perhaps made over to be suitable for her. Ota would marry George Hiram Thoma in 1902 at the age of twenty-two.9

Charles Alfred Hoffman, the little blond half-brother of the Fenton sisters, was likely around six or eight in this photograph. His resigned expression seems to bear evidence of the burden of having three older sisters; his mouth is clamped shut, his eyes fixed purposefully on the photographer, and his small hand is a blur as he was unable to keep completely still. He wears a jacket and his buttoned shoes are polished to shine. Charlie would marry late in life, and unlike his sisters, had no children of his own.10

All of the children bear a strong resemblance to photographs in my collection that picture them as adults, but this is by far the oldest photograph I have seen of any member of this family. In fact, I had previously seen no photographs whatsoever from their years in Kansas, so this window into their lives is priceless. Gypsum was a rural community of just over 500 residents in 1890; for a photographer to be numbered among its businessmen must have been somewhat significant.11 Kassebaum’s studio featured a somewhat amateur painted backdrop of a parlor setting, a carpeted floor, and animal skin rugs, which created a rather rustic yet elegant setting for the Fenton and Hoffman siblings. It seems possible that this might have been the first studio the children had ever visited.

I am grateful to Kansas Memory and the Kansas Historical Society for preserving and sharing this image in their digital repository and for generously allowing me to display it here. If you have Kansas ancestors, this database is well worth a thorough look. Beyond numerous photographs of people and places, I spotted transcribed nineteenth-century journals (how fun would it be to find a mention of your ancestor?), correspondence, advertisements, and a host of other primary source material fascinating to the historian and genealogist. And if an unidentified photograph happens to pique your interest, consider running a search on the information available as a fellow genealogist did for me – you never know when you might run into a descendant seeking those very ancestors!

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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Wedding Wednesday: Puffed Sleeves

On a late September day in 1896, Elizabeth Hoffman of North Washington, Chickasaw County, Iowa affixed a gauzy, floor-length veil to her hair. It may have been crowned with flowers, although the faded photograph does not make this clear. Flowers or foliage of some kind – perhaps even autumn leaves? – were indeed attached to the front of her dress, although she wore no white gown. Her best dress was likely black or another dark color and fashionably made with a gathered bodice, narrow waist, and sleeves generously puffed to the elbow. (Anne Shirley would have been envious.)

Elizabeth’s attire is evidence that, at this time, even recent immigrants living in rural areas of the United States were aware of the latest fashion trends. Corsets were not worn by all women in the 1890s, and Elizabeth, already slim, was not dramatically corseted if she was at all.1 The gathered bodice was of a style worn throughout the decade, and while the care of these full leg o’ mutton sleeves was time-consuming, they were at the height of popularity in the middle of the decade.2

MathiasElizabethWedding

Mathias Noehl and Elizabeth Hoffman, wedding, North Washington, Iowa, 1896; digital image 2001, original held by J.H., 2015.

At the age of twenty-seven – her birthday had been just the week before – Elizabeth was to marry a fellow immigrant, Mathias Noehl.3 As it so happened, he hailed from the village of Holsthum, Bitburg-Prum, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany, which neighbored her own home village of Prümzurlay.4 By all accounts, however, their first meeting took place in northeastern Iowa, where Mathias encountered Elizabeth, whom he called Lizzie, at the Immaculate Conception Church in North Washington. She lived there as the housekeeper of Father Probst and the Sisters of Charity.5 The couple was married there on 22 September 1896 and may have celebrated with Elizabeth’s mother and siblings, who had also made Chickasaw County their home.6

A copy of Mathias and Elizabeth’s wedding portrait was shared with me by a relative; I suspect the original is a cabinet card photograph, popular at the turn of the century. I can’t make out much of the setting (is it grass or a rug at their feet?), but Mathias sits in a wicker chair while Elizabeth stands to the side, her right hand on his shoulder. In her left hand is clutched a small book, perhaps a prayerbook. As was typical of the time, neither of the newlyweds smile, and their faces are so faded in the copy that it’s difficult to see the direction of their gazes. Mathias has short hair; in his memoirs, he wrote that that, upon meeting Elizabeth, his blond hair was “unkempt like dried up flowers of the cemetery,” so a haircut may have been in order!7 He has a tidy mustache and wears a wool suit and white shirt. At twenty-eight, having recovered from an earlier heartbreak during his first years in America, he was prepared to settle down and start a family.8 Mathias and Elizabeth would go on to raise nine children on their farm.

This wedding portrait is one of several photographs that I have in my digital collection of the family of Mathias and Elizabeth (Hoffman) Noehl, both immigrants who came to Iowa from Germany in the late nineteenth century. For more photographs of the family of Mathias Noehl (1868-1950) and Elizabeth Hoffman (1869-1957), check out my new Noehl Family Album

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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