The Earth Shook and Two Old Men Went Home

A Note to My Readers:  Like many historians and genealogists, I spend a good deal of time pouring over old publications in search of mention of an ancestor…a marriage…a birth…a death…a family gathering.  Every bit is a tender thread to weave a story of the times in which they lived.  Context.  History.  Flavor.  Going beyond the discovery of a specific published morsel…is the indulgence in a full blown meal.  Reading the whole page…in fact, the whole publication…it changes the perspective.  Getting beyond the ‘ah ha moment’ and the impulse of stashing the nugget into your research is critical to becoming a complete historian and to developing a meaningful biography of your ancestor.  Everyone knows that there is more satisfaction when you eat slowly…enjoying a lively and interesting conversation with fellow diners.  The same holds true when researching.  Reading the complete document…savoring the complexities…sipping a lovely wine before nibbling on the next delicious tidbit…makes it a memorable occasion.  Before you snip and run, make the time to read the surrounding material.  By opening up your research strategy, you will know your family on an intimate basis in ways you couldn’t contemplate.  Enjoy the feast, historians!

Newspaper Auburn NY Semi-Weekly Journal  15 May 1906 banner

In mid-May of 1906 the weather was mild and the farmers of Cayuga County were well into their spring chores. In fact one old fellow had fields to till and was in need of beasts with which to pull his plow. As reported in the Skaneateles Free Press, James B. Robinson made quite a stir as he turned Genesee Street into the scene of his small cattle drive.

Newspaper Auburn NY Semi-Weekly Journal  15 May 1906 Long Overland Journey


“One day last week James B. Robinson who occupies the late James J. Gross farm in the southwestern part of the town, went to Fox Ridge, where he bought a pair of steers, driving them to Auburn, a distance of fourteen miles in one day, and the next day driving them home, where he is now using them in plowing and doing other farm work. His journey through Auburn attracted much attention, a yoke of cattle being a rare sight these days in city streets, or farm roads, either. Mr. Robinson is nearly 84 years old, but is a vigorous and active man.”

Newspaper Auburn NY Semi-Weekly Journal  15 May 1906 Scenes From San FranAuburnians F. D. Burleigh and his wife Clara L. Stockwell Burleigh wrote a letter home to her father recounting their ordeal in San Francisco having survived the great earthquake. Her letter was transcribed in complete. 

“We escaped San Francisco yesterday with what little baggage we could carry by hand. Last night we were taken in temporarily by acquaintances here and are trying to find a way to reach Los Angeles. Dean and Mr. Pyre represent a company with $35, 000, 000 in capital but cannot get in communication with them and we are almost penniless. Oakland banks are all closed, fearing a run, and no one here seems to be able to give us any help financially. If we can reach Los Angeles, money and telegraphic communications will be easier to obtain we hope. And, too, smallpox has broken out in San Francisco, it will soon be quarantined and in that case this place will be infected, too. The fire is out and our flat was saved.”

Mrs. Burleigh tells that the fire did not damage their household goods but she lost a valuable watch at a jeweler’s. Continuing she says:

“The weather has turned cold and the suffering and sickness will no doubt be doubled. we have cause to be grateful that our lives were spared and our household goods saved. But no one who was not there can ever get even the faintest idea of the horror of the hours since 5:15 last Wednesday morning. I have to stop and study before I can name a day that anything happened, for every hour seemed a day and every day was nameless.”

Her letter told of fear and death and desolation during those first dreadful hours.

“The house rocked back and forth and rose and sank all at once, together with an awful roaring and rambling and the noise of falling bricks and breaking crockery. I got to the door just as soon as the floor was quiet enough to let me walk and by even that time the first column of smoke was rising in the south. Little did we think that it was signal of a horror worse than the earthquake.”

“Thousands camped as thick as grass blades with no shelter except some kind devised from their small store of baggage; women fainting in the road and carried by the loads to the United States hospital.”

Amidst the colorful and witty charm of cattle being driven down Genesee Street and the harrowing and moving recount of Mrs. Burleigh’s earthquake experience in the May 15th Auburn Semi-Weekly Journal, sits the brief and practical death notice of my 87 year old, great great grandfather, Daniel J. Jennings.

DIED

“JENNINGS – At the residence of his daughter Mrs. John J. Trowbridge, East Orange, N.J., Thursday, May 10, 1906. Daniel Jennings (formerly of Auburn) in the 87th year of his age.
Remains will arrive in Auburn via N.Y.C & H. R. R. Sunday morning, May 14 at 6:46 o’clock. Funeral services at the residence of his son, W. H. Jennings, No 9 Easterly avenue, in the afternoon at 3:00 o’clock. Burial at North Street Cemetery.”

The Friday, May 11th edition of the Auburn, New York Citizen Advertiser offers only the additional Daniel J Jennings Auburn Newspaper Obit May 11 1906words “a well known and respected citizen of this city” to his obituary.

“The funeral of Daniel J. Jennings who died at East Orange, N. J. was held there (Auburn) this afternoon at the home of his son, W. H. Jennings, No. 9 Easterly ave.”  reports the Syracuse Daily Standard.”

I spent a great deal of time creating Daniel’s biography.  Beginning with his birth in the whaling city of New Bedford, Massachusetts to Samuel and Ruth Jennings and through his 1839 carriage maker apprenticeship as a young boy with Silas N. Richards.   Discovering his 1843 New Bedford marriage record to Harriet Jane James and their migration to central New York with their young family.  Exploring Daniel’s politics as a member of the Whig Party in Ithaca with his brother, Nathan supporting Zachary Taylor and Millard Filmore in their bid for the White House in 1848.  The Jennings family membership in the Trinity Methodist Church.  Daniel’s carriagemaking career first working at the shop of Bench Brothers Cayuga Wagon Works crafting wagons, carriages and sleighs and eventually opening his own business “Jennings & Lewis” on Dill Street.

Decade by decade assembling the life of the man who is my paternal great great grandfather, I came to know him and his children in Auburn, New York in the 19th century.  The days when the streets were filled with mud and sidewalks were fashioned of wood planks.  When horses pulled wagons and sleighs and trolleys.   During the Civil War when his 16 year son, Charles, went off to fight with the 111th NYS Volunteers and later his service as Auburn’s Chief of Police.  Exploring the successful business story of Trowbridge and Jennings that son William established with his sister Emily’s husband.  The pride of son Daniel carrying on his father’s craftsmanship with carpentry.  Giving away his teenaged daughter, Lillian, to a young man named Henry Martin, my great grandparents,  at Trinity Methodist Church.   Waving the pair good-bye as they left Auburn in 1884 for their newlywed adventure and the promise of the business boom of the New York City area fostered by the building of the Brooklyn Bridge.  Celebrating the marriage of 49 year old daughter Harriet who after years of being the family’s dutiful spinster daughter,  wed widower Roderick White in 1901.  Mourning his dear wife, Harriet and their daughter, Lillian and her son, Harold.

Coming Home

Amid the wealth of words in three newspapers, I could only find the briefest and final arrangements of Daniel’s death and his journey home.  No elegy to his character and his rich life.  That is left to me to construct over one hundred years later.

As part of that biography is the imagery of his daughter Emily’s long train ride accompanying her father’s body to Auburn and their arrival at the depot, steam billowing from the engine and the somber carriage ride to Easterly Avenue on a fine spring day where the siblings, Emily, Charles, Daniel and Harriet and grandchildren gathered to say farewell to their patriarch.

The intimate family rite transpired as the world still went on…lilacs coming into bloom;  the Burleighs recovering from the San Francisco earthquake and James Robinson leading his steers through the fields of his farm.

Deborah J. Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

http://www.facebook.com/thegenealogistsinkwell

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