Tag Archives: Iowa

Tombstone Tuesday: Lorenz Stoehr (1790-1876)

Lorenz Stoehr was born in or near Weißenstadt, Upper Franconia, Bavaria, Germany, a village located a mere twenty miles from what is now the Czech Republic.1 Weißenstadt was named “white city” as a nod to its landmark white church, and is situated on the shore of a lake in the Fichtel Mountains.2 From the inscription on Lorenz’s tombstone, his birthdate can be calculated to 04 September 1790.3

As a young man, Lorenz served approximately six years in the military during the Napoleonic Wars, first under Napoleon and then, as allegiances shifted, with the Germans.4 As the story goes, he was eventually wounded on a march to Paris and was then discharged and granted a pension.5 Lorenz was trained as a master tailor, a trade he pursued during the winter months as the summer months were consumed with his labors as a farmer.6 Amazingly, several mementos of these chapters of his life survive today: buttons from his military uniform, his discharge and pension paperwork which granted him the amount of five Gulden each month for the remainder of his life, and an 1828 purchase agreement for approximately one and a half acres of land in the Weißenstadt area.7

Lorenz was married to Barbara Feicht in 1820 or shortly thereafter, and with her had the following known children: Margaretha B. (1824-1897), Johann Wolfgang (1826-1883), Eva Margaretha (1831-1906), George Adam (1833-1915), and Johann Friedrich (1842-circa 1857).8

In 1853, at the age of sixty-two, Lorenz arrived in New York harbor aboard the Solon.9 Traveling with him were his wife and youngest daughter; his sons had made their way to America the year prior, disembarking in New Orleans before making their way up the Mississippi River to the community of Garnavillo, Clayton County, Iowa.10

Find A Grave, Inc., Find A Grave, digital image (www.findagrave.com : accessed 26 January 2019), photograph, Lorenz Stoehr (1790-1876), Memorial No. 69221239, Elgin City Cemetery, Elgin, Fayette County, Iowa; photograph by Tammy Miller, 2015.

Lorenz was widowed in 1855 and spent the years thereafter at the homes of his children.11 In 1856, he lived with his daughter Eva and her husband Hiram Hammond on their farm in Clayton County; in 1860 and 1870, he could be found at the home of his son George, a jeweler and dry goods merchant, first in Clayton County and then in neighboring Fayette County, Iowa.12

Lorenz Stoehr died at the age of eighty-six on 07 December 1876, likely at the home of his son in Elgin, Fayette County, Iowa.13 He is buried at the Elgin City Cemetery where an upright tombstone marks his grave.14

Copyright © 2019 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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A Danish Marriage in Sioux City

It was 09 December 1909 when Jens Jacob “James” Walsted and Kathrine Christensen were married by Reverend Julius A. Larson of the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa.1 Both James and Kathrine had been born in Denmark; both had left their native country several years prior, James in 1902 and Kathrine in 1906.2 At the time of their marriage, James was twenty-nine years old and Kathrine was twenty-three.3

Sioux City’s sole Danish church, located at 1113 12th Street, was organized in 1890, and met in a former Norwegian Lutheran Church that was moved to this site in 1892.4 While what may well be this original building, a modest one-story frame structure situated in a residential neighborhood, still stands to this day, it is now the Iglesia de Dios Evangelio Completo Pentecostes. At the time that James and Kathrine were married, however, it was home to a congregation of nearly two hundred and sixty Danish Lutherans, and it seems quite likely that it was through this immigrant community that James and Kathrine had the opportunity to meet.5 There is no known account of their marriage, nor any known photographs.

The couple settled in Sioux City, where in 1910, within a few months of their marriage, they could be found rooming at a property on the corner of 7th and Pearl Streets in downtown Sioux City, a location that is now a parking lot across the street from a children’s museum.6 James worked as a bricklayer, and family lore suggests that he may have helped lay the brick for St. Boniface Catholic Church at this time.7 Kathrine, who before her marriage had been a servant at a house that stood on what is now the campus of Bishop Heelan Catholic High School, was at home.8 The couple’s first child, Roy Louis Christian, would be born in 1911.9

Kathrine (Christensen) Walsted and son Roy Walsted, Sioux City, Iowa, 1911; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2018.

The congregation of the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church eventually outgrew their space on 12th Street, and in 1922 a new church, located at 1924 Jones Street, was dedicated.10 In 1930, the church was renamed Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, and within a few years, Danish language services ceased.11 Some seventy years later, the church once again introduced bilingual services, this time in Spanish, but soon after, in 2009, the church closed its doors.12

At the time that James and Kathrine married, Sioux City’s population was nearly forty-eight thousand, and included a diverse immigrant population represented in its many foreign-language churches.13 For recent immigrants James and Kathrine, it must have been a great comfort to find there a close-knit Danish community that shared their native language and cultural heritage.

Copyright © 2018 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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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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A Woman on Horseback

Just two years apart in age, Ellen Eskeline Walsted and Jens Jacob Walsted were the youngest of eight children born in Denmark to Christian Jens Jacobsen Walsted and his wife Johanne Marie Larsdatter.1 Ellen and James, as he was known for most of his life, were the last of their surviving siblings to immigrate to America, with Ellen arriving in New York aboard the aptly-named New York in 1900 and James arriving in Boston aboard the Saxonia in 1902.2

James Walsted, Juanita Hansen, unknown, Clifton Walsted, and Ellen (Walsted) Hansen, Iowa or Oklahoma, ca. 1907; digital image privately held by Paul Hansen, 2018. Provenance of the original unknown.

The siblings soon reconnected in Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, and were by all accounts close; James witnessed his sister’s wedding to fellow Dane Hans John Hansen in 1904, and later joined the Hansens on their move to New Hampton, Chickasaw County, Iowa.3 Eventually, Ellen and Hans moved on to Oklahoma, while James returned to Sioux City and married there to Kathrine Christensen, also a native of Denmark.4 

Although numerous photographs survive of Ellen, who was once noted to be “a lady of fine appearance” in a local newspaper, until this photograph was uncovered, only two snapshots, both taken in his later years, were known to exist of James.5

In this photograph, dated circa 1907-08, James and Ellen may both have been in their late twenties; Ellen would celebrate her thirtieth birthday in 1908, while James would turn thirty in 1910.6 Pictured, from left, are a young man in a bowler hat with a pipe between his teeth, believed to be James Walsted; a girl in a knee-length dress, believed to be Juanita Hansen, stepdaughter of Ellen; an unidentified boy perched atop a cellar door, perhaps a nephew of Ellen and James; a small boy standing before a horse, identified as Clifton Hansen, son of Ellen; and on horseback, an elegant young woman identified as Ellen (Walsted) Hansen.7

Ellen sits with poise on horseback, a hat with a broad upturned brim atop her head. While not a small hat, it is of a more modest size than those of the Merry Widow style which exploded in popularity after one was worn by actress Lily Elsie in 1907’s The Merry Widow.8 Ellen’s bodice appears to be pigeon-breasted, her skirt reaching her natural waist, and long riding gloves cover her hands and forearms.9 Horseback riding may have been a skill that she acquired in America, rather than during her upbringing in Denmark, where her father alternately worked as a baker and shoemaker.10

The provenance of the original photograph is currently unknown, and until it is recovered and the reverse checked for any possible inscriptions, questions about it remain. Where were James and Ellen when this photograph was taken? The group poses casually outside of a house with wood siding and a stone foundation; a cellar door and the corner of a porch are also visible. Two narrow windows, one open, offer a glimpse of fluttery ruffled curtains. It is possible James might have visited Ellen in Oklahoma, where she spent several years; alternately, it might have been taken at the Iowa homes of their sisters Jensine (Walsted) Winther or Anna (Walsted) Johnsen, both of whom had young sons who could be candidates for the little fellow seated on the cellar door.11 Regardless of the location, however, this informal outdoor photograph gives more insight into the personalities of these immigrant siblings than most studio portrait ever could.

Copyright © 2018 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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Tombstone Tuesday: Hiram and Eva Margaret (Stoehr) Hammond

Hiram and Eva Margaret (Stoehr) Hammond were a couple who, at the surface, appeared to have little in common.

Hiram, who was said to have been born on 26 February 1813 in Ohio, first appeared in public record when he purchased land in Jackson County, Iowa Territory in the spring of 1845.1 Presumed to be in his early thirties at this time, Hiram spent the next nine years honing his skills as a farmer before purchasing one hundred and sixty acres of land near Volga, Clayton County, Iowa.2 Although there are speculative connections potentially linking Hiram to the family of War of 1812 veteran Jonathan Hammond and his wife Lovisa Herrington, no connections have yet been verified.

Eva Margaret Stoehr, on the other hand, settled in Clayton County, Iowa alongside her parents and siblings.3 She was said to have been born on 02 March 1831 in Weißenstadt, Wunsiedel, Bavaria, the daughter of Lorenz Stoehr, a master tailor who was a veteran of the Napoleonic wars, and his wife Barbara Feicht.4 She immigrated to America aboard the Solon, arriving in New York in 1853, and settled alongside many from her home village in northeastern Iowa.5

Find A Grave, Inc., Find A Grave, digital image (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 13 July 2014), photograph, Hiram H. Hammond (1813-1896), Memorial No. 84463650, and Eva M. (Stoehr) Hammond (1831-1906), Memorial No. 84463738, Garnavillo Community Cemetery, Garnavillo, Clayton County, Iowa; photograph by Ken Johnson, 2016. Note: The third headstone belongs to daughter Amelia Hammond (1857-1872).

When the couple married in Garnavillo, Clayton County, Iowa on 02 December 1854, Eva was likely just twenty-three years old while Hiram was forty-one.6 Although they were married by a German Lutheran minister, Hiram, unlike Eva, was neither German nor Lutheran.7 Eva was literate and came from a family of skilled craftsmen; Hiram was a farmer and could not write his own name.8 The couple went on to have the following known children: Amelia (1857-1872), Matilda J. (1859-1947), Louisa Barbara (1861-1936), John William (1865-1931), and George H. Hammond (1867-1934).9 In addition to losing their daughter Amelia when she was fourteen years old, it is believed that the couple lost two additional children at young ages.10

The Hammond family farmed near the community of Volga in Clayton County for thirty years, eventually moving to Henderson Prairie near Clermont, Fayette County, Iowa in early 1885.11 They saw success as farmers, and by 1893, as Hiram entered his eighties, he and Eva decided to retire to the nearby town of Postville, Allamakee County, Iowa.12

Despite their vast difference in age, language, and culture, these Iowa pioneers celebrated more than forty years of marriage together. Hiram H. Hammond died on 23 August 1896 in Postville, Allamakee County, Iowa, and Eva Margaret (Stoehr) Hammond died there a decade later on 01 October 1906, both having suffered cerebral hemorrhages.13 They are buried side by side in the Garnavillo Community Cemetery in Garnavillo, Clayton County, Iowa.14

Copyright © 2018 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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Spring at Grandview Park

Not long before they married on 08 June 1929, Gerald Adam and Fern Thoma posed for a series of snapshots at Grandview Park in Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa.1

Gerald, known as Jerry, was twenty years old to Fern’s twenty-one at the time these photographs were likely taken; the prints are stamped with the date 19 March 1929. On what was perhaps the first day warm enough to shed their jackets that year, they clowned around with friends Dorothy Thompson, Irene Tasker, and Clifford Thompson, and snapped a number of photographs documenting their time together. Curly-haired Dorothy and Clifford were siblings; Clifford and Irene would later marry.2

Fern wears heels and stockings, and her on-trend long sleeved, drop-waist dress hits just below the knee. Its geometric pattern is indistinct in the photographs, but it features a sailor-esque tie at the v-neck and two rows of ruffles at the hem.3 Her long wool jacket, worn in all but one of the photographs, has a warm fur collar; her two female friends also wear fur-trimmed jackets. Fern’s bob is neatly concealed by her stylishly adorned cloche hat.4 Jerry is smartly dressed as well, wearing a wool suit with a bow tie and a straw hat, his outfit nearly identical to that of his friend’s. His pants, cuffed at the hems, are so wide and loose that they appear to almost skim the grass; they look much like the ready-made “Oxford Bags” that became popular in the mid-1920s. 

Whether the couple was celebrating something in particular—an engagement?—or simply enjoying the spring weather on an afternoon walk with friends, it is interesting to note that several photographs were taken at a memorial for one Mabel Allison More, a Sioux City resident who had died in 1924.5 Given the lighthearted nature of the photographs, it can be assumed that the young people did not know More, but were rather attracted to the charming tiled wall merely as a backdrop and convenient place to climb. Grandview Park was presented to the city of Sioux City in 1908, and soon became a popular gathering place known especially for its trellised rose garden, the beginnings of which may be visible in the photograph of Fern, Dorothy, and Irene, and later for its bandshell.6

A little less than three months after these photographs were printed, Fern and Jerry would marry, with one of their friends pictured here, Dorothy, serving as an attendant.7 Although no photographs of their wedding day, nor their honeymoon in the Black Hills, are known to exist, these snapshots give a glimpse into the relationship of this happy young couple who leaned comfortably into one another and smiled joyfully for the camera.8

Copyright © 2018 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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The Adam Brothers

When five of the six living sons of Timothée and Marguerite (Chicoine) Adam gathered in the Midwest circa 1913, it was deemed an occasion worthy of a photograph.1 From left are pictured brothers Louis (1848-1927), Peter (1852-1936), Joseph (1850-1926), Prosper (1867-1943), and Timothy Adam (1846-1919). Although the twenty-one year span in age of these brothers is impressive, in fact, twenty-seven years passed between the births of their eldest sibling and the youngest, who arrived when his mother was fifty years old. At least fourteen children were born in total, with all but the youngest born in Quebec. All got their start in life in the cotton mills of Indian Orchard, Hampden County, Massachusetts, which had lured the Adam family from rural Quebec to America.2

Brothers Louis, Peter, Joseph, Prosper, and Timothy Adam(s), ca. 1913; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2018. Image courtesy of Dorothy Bouchard.

Timothy, at right, likely resided in Jefferson, Union County, South Dakota at the time this picture was taken,3 not far from Peter, second from left, and Prosper, second from right, who had both settled in Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa.4 Joseph, at center, had apparently traveled from his home in Ponca City, Kay County, Oklahoma to reunite with his brothers, as well as, undoubtedly, his twin sister, who lived in Jefferson.5 Louis, the one brother to have remained in Hampden County, Massachusetts, traveled the greatest distance for this reunion.6 The only living Adam brother not pictured here was Euclid John (1856-1940), who spent his adult life in Southbridge, Worcester County, Massachusetts.7 Whether he lost touch with his brothers or was simply unable to make the trip to visit them at the time that this photograph was taken is not known.

The Adam brothers, some of whom adopted the surname Adams in addition to Anglicized versions of their given names, held a variety of trades between them. Census records indicate that after leaving the cotton mills, some went on to become carpenters, barbers, homesteaders, clerks, pool hall operators, and hotel-keepers, among other occupations. All married, and all but Joseph had children of their own.

This photograph is a photocopy of what was said to be a real photo postcard, a format designed to be easily sent by mail to friends or relatives. Like the only known (or suspected) photograph of the mother of the Adam brothers, the original is believed to have been lost.8 Despite the poor quality of this photocopy, it is apparent that the brothers have dressed sharply, with their hair neatly combed and several in ties, although this was apparently not such a formal occasion that they opted to wear jackets. It is also plausible that it was quite hot, if their reunion took place in the summer months, and the gentlemen may well have opted to be as comfortable as possible. Several appear to wear sleeve garters, arm bands that helped to adjust the length of one’s sleeves.9 While the men’s appearances are distinct from one another, particularly given their disparate ages, similarly prominent noses—and, when visible, even hands—help to link them convincingly as brothers.

Copyright © 2018 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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The Royal Neighbors of America

When Melanie (Lutz) Adam of Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa became a member of her local chapter of the Royal Neighbors of America as a newlywed in 1906,1 she could not have known how much her role as a Neighbor, as members called themselves, would define her adult life.

Founded in 1888 as a social organization, the Royal Neighbors of America incorporated as a fraternal benefit society in 1895 and became known as one of the nation’s first insurers of women.2 Following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the Royal Neighbors of America developed a disaster aid program,3 and perhaps it was hearing about these worthy efforts that encouraged twenty-two year old Melanie to join later that year.

Melanie (Lutz) Adam, in hat with dark sash seated center left, on a local outing with the Royal Neighbors of America, Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, 1916; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2017.

Melanie was first a member of the Evening Star Camp before transferring to Sioux City’s Twilight Camp #6674.4 In 1922, she began her first term as oracle (leader) of the Twilight Camp, a position she held for nine years, and in 1925 began work as a field representative.5 She traveled frequently throughout northwestern Iowa as a life insurance agent, which provided a welcome source of income—particularly when her husband was unable to find steady work as a carpenter and after his death in 1944.6 Melanie retired as District Deputy in 1959, having served a total of fifty-three years with the Royal Neighbors of America.7 Upon the occasion of her retirement, she was honored with a speech, special guests, and the presentation of a scrapbook, “This is Your Life,” assembled by her colleagues.8

Melanie (Lutz) Adam at Royal Neighbors of America retirement, Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, 1959; digital image 2017, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2017.

From her earliest years with the organization, Melanie found a strong circle of female friends among her fellow Neighbors, and photographs showcase countless gatherings, both formal and informal. Called “Mala” by those closest to her,9 notes in her retirement scrapbook call up a number of lighthearted memories within the organization as well as glowing praise for her work:

“You are to be congratulated […] for having accomplished, in good measure, what every person who does much thinking so very much wants: That is, to be remembered for something good they have done. Could you ask for more than – At the end of a cold, snowy day of driving in Monona County, as you drove home late and tired, to know that it had been you who had guided and influenced a young family in the start of a plan that has materially helped to educate their fine children? […] And perhaps that same cold day you had been responsible for the protection that later was the means of keeping together in the home a young mother with her children; because you had urged the young father that night to protect his family with Royal Neighbor insurance.
“We could look into many homes in Sioux City and the counties around, where you find Neighbors to bless you for the little extra you urged them to save. This little, now added to their Social Security, makes the difference between a bare existence and many of the good things of life.
“Perhaps many remember the good times at meetings and conventions and Royal Neighbor trips together. All that has been enjoyable and a happy way of life. And when you can add to it the sure knowledge that you can be remembered in so many places for something truly good, that you have done, you can say with certainty that yours has been a most worthwhile life as a Royal Neighbor Deputy.”10 

The Royal Neighbors of America remains an organization with a rich tradition, and in addition to the scrapbook received upon her retirement, Melanie tucked away a number of other mementos of her time with the organization. One, a book, Rituals for Local Camps, details the many ceremonial aspects of the organization and also notes the tenets of faith, endurance, courage, modesty, and unselfishness upheld by its members.11 As a champion for women and children, the Royals Neighbors of America was known also for their support of the suffragette movement, and Melanie may well have taken part in local efforts to secure the right of women to vote.12

Although enrollment has dwindled in Sioux City, the Royal Neighbors of America remains active nationwide today, a fact that would certainly have pleased Melanie who had a profound appreciation for the friendships, leadership experience, and career opportunities she enjoyed during more than half a century as a Neighbor.

Copyright © 2017 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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An Ancestor with an Alias Revisited

In the past, I’ve touched upon the mystery surrounding George Hiram Thoma, who used an alias for a number of years before reverting back to the use of his original name. Born on 29 September 1880 in Clayton County, Iowa to Fred and Matilda (Hammond) Thoma, census records indicate that George remained in his home county at least until 1895.1 Family lore states that he left home as a teenager due to a poor relationship with his father;2 he was said to have bicycled from northeast to northwest Iowa where the next definitive record of his existence shows him marrying Anna Leota Fenton in the spring of 1902.3 However, he married under the assumed name of George A. Neilson, and later affidavits attest that this was one and the same person.4 George continued to use this assumed name for a number of years before finally reverting to the Thoma surname.

Now, a century has passed, and none of his living descendants, including his youngest daughter, seem to have even heard of the Neilson alias! In an effort to learn more about the potential cause of George’s name-change, a closer look was taken at his movements during his late teens and early twenties:

Did George leave home as a teenager? It was said that George had a poor relationship with his father, and recently uncovered evidence shows that he did, in fact, leave home as a teenager. However, at least at first, he didn’t go far. At the time of the 1895 Iowa State Census, George was fourteen and lived at home in the community of Garnavillo.5 Two years later, sixteen-year-old George attended high school in Postville, a town about twenty-five miles away.6 As George’s maternal grandmother also resided there, it’s certainly possible that he may have lived with her while completing his education.

“Postville Firemen Of 1897 On Dress Parade,” 28 January 1940, Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette; clipping privately held by David Adam, 2016. George Thoma is seated second from right; text reads, “George Thoma, clerk in Waters and Nicol[a]y hardware store, left in early 1900’s for Sioux City where he has represented wholesale hardware firm on road for many years.”

Also in 1897, George served with the Postville Fire Department.As reported in a local newspaper decades later, “Back in 1897 […] the Postville fire department members wore white duck trousers, red sweaters and blue military caps when on dress parade, and on dress parade they often were, for that was the period when firemen in Iowa towns met regularly for field days and what a time they had, with contests, feasts, and dances.”8 George, slim and clean-shaven, sits cross-legged in the front row of the group of twenty men, among whom he may have counted both former classmates and kin. At this time, after having dabbled previously with the idea of becoming a tinner,9 he was a clerk at a local hardware store.10

Did George really ride a bicycle across Iowa? Although family lore states that George left home as a teenager and bicycled across Iowa, I’ve always questioned whether this particular tale was entirely true or, indeed, even possible. As it turns out, George did, in fact, have access to a bicycle, and according to a blurb in the Postville Review in the summer of 1898, he “took an overland trip by bicycle to Farmersburg last Saturday, returning on Sunday.”11 From Postville to Farmersburg was a distance of more than fifteen miles—more than thirty miles roundtrip—which, with an eye to both the quality of bicycles of the era as well as the condition of the roads, frankly impressed me. Maybe he did bicycle across Iowa, or at least part of it, but from this clipping we are able to learn that he did not make the journey before he was eighteen; he remained close to home and was known as George Hiram Thoma at least until 1899. In January of that year, the Postville Review shared that he had spent several days visiting his parents in Garnavillo.12

How long did George use an alias? Thanks to the record of his daughter’s birth as well as the discovery of the record of his relinquished homestead, a fairly concrete date can be determined for the conclusion of George’s alias. His eldest daughter was born Fern Neilson in September of 1907;13 George A. Neilson appeared in a city directory printed in late 1908;14 and in February 1909, George H. Thoma made application for a homestead in western Nebraska.15 Perhaps the need to sign a record at the federal level inspired George to embrace his true identity once again! As for when George first used his alias, however, I have as of yet discovered no definitive records of his life between February of 1899, when he was known locally as George Thoma, and March of 1902, when he was married as George A. Neilson.16

What could have happened in those three years to give George reason to change his name? His experiences between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one remain a mystery to me. While I don’t yet know why George Hiram Thoma used an alias throughout a seven to ten year period of his early adulthood, however, I do have a more complete picture of his life during his late teens: he was a high school student, clerk, and fireman who lived apart from his immediate family but maintained a relationship with them, and he was apparently known well enough in his community to be mentioned routinely in the local newspapers.

Further complicating matters, however, is the fact that, in December 1905, during the midst of his documented use of an alias, a newspaper in his home county noted that “George Thoma, from Nebraska, is visiting with home folks since Friday.” This suggests both a continued relationship with his parents as well as the fact that his alias was either unknown or unacknowledged by those in northeastern Iowa. In any case, further information gleaned from historic newspapers could ultimately narrow the search for answers as to why, exactly, George Hiram Thoma was known as George A. Neilson.

Copyright © 2016 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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