Beyond the Black and White Image

I was talking with some genealogical researchers today and we were discussing physical traits of our grandparents East Gallery Walland great grandparents. Because I was born late in my parents’ lives, I did not know my grandparents and my kids barely knew theirs. There are records that give physical descriptions…mostly for men as they are military…that state height, hair color, eye color and ‘build’. On occasion there is a traveler who gets a passport that gives us our female ancestor description. Kids, you have seen my heritage portrait wall of black and white photos, but that doesn’t specify the details or the histories and I realized that I am your link to know about those facts.

So. Because my kids never knew him…their grandfather (my dad) was barely 5′ 3″ and though I know he was pretty slim, I don’t know his specific weight. Look at my brother, their Uncle David Martin…that is pretty much our dad. I do know that my father had straight, reddish blonde hair with a receding hairline and that he had (my) blue eyes. Oh…and though this is not genetic…he smelled wonderful of Old Spice and starch and just a whiff of lemon drops. He had his brilliant white shirts done at (pardon the politically incorrect language) the Chinese laundry and to hide his road tipple of whiskey, he sucked on lemon drops in an attempt to hide it from my mother. It never worked, but that is another story.

Al loses finger in accident at Beacon Mill AccidentAt the age of seventeen my father lost his right pointer finger and half of his index finger when his hand was caught in a piece of machinery when he worked at Beacon Milling in Cayuga (now part of Cargill). I held his hand without a hesitation when we tromped through the high grasses along Cayuga Lake while we looked for walnuts and butter nuts…and a handful of Tiger Lillies and Bittersweet for my mom. When he would pose for pictures, he hid his hand. Mostly in his suit coat pocket. Dad was nearsighted and had gold-rimmed spectacles that he would habitually remove and clean and replace in the same fashion. Left ear…nose…right ear…in such a familiar gesture that I can still see him doing it some 50 years later. His pockets were always filled with NECCO wafers or LifeSavers and he would share them with me while I sat on his lap.  I spun the sweet candy idly around my mouth, dreamily listening as he spun odd tales in a ritual we called “The Big Lie”. It was mostly a deliberately garbled rendition of various fairy tales spiced with his inventive imagination and twist and turns that left us breathless laughing.  Those were the good times.

A E Martin 5yrsHe was a complicated man arisen from a 5 year old boy who witnessed his father committing suicide by swallowing carbolic acid. Dad was brilliant and entrepreneurial and could take anything mechanical apart and put it together again without one ounce of doubt. On occasion when he hit a snag, he might utter a ‘dammitall”, but he was persistent and by golly, it never failed to run. It was kind of a magical genius.

Human beings were another thing.

I was four when Dad was first committed to Willard State Hospital for alcoholism. I have a letter from his doctor that my mother tucked in the pages of the family bible. It spoke of a man who doubted his faith in being loved. He was in his late forties and to everyone else he was a successful self-made man.  Dad had thrived during the Great Depression and WWII. He owned an airplane and a valuable piece of Ithaca real estate on State Street in the 1940’s that has since ‘disappeared’ into urban renewal. He also had a mistress…one Harriet “Hattie” Daniels.  Mom always knew about Hattie.  I can’t imagine what it was like for her.  Dad would take the plane and fly down to D.C. on the weekends to see Hattie.  The affair lasted for decades until I was born.  You can imagine that Hattie lost it and told him to take a hike.  Then my father’s unraveling truly began and we lost everything. Our home. Everything.  While Dad was hospitalized, his business manager cleaned out the assets.  When my mother and father came back to the business, it was an empty building.  The inventory was gone and the office equipment including my little pink wicker chair that played nursery rhymes when I sat on it.  The bank accounts were almost empty.  Just enough was left to keep the accounts open.  And the business manager had fled the country.  The authorities including the FBI bumbled around and called the trail to South America ‘cold’.    Years after my father’s death, my mother shared the story with me so I knew what happened to our Ithaca life and I suppose so she could mourn the loss with a sympathetic child.

To say that ‘Daddy” – I call him that to this day- had a difficult and complicated history is an understatement. But when I attempt to describe him with ‘my blue eyes’ and a slight build…it overly simplifies it all.

I have come to the conclusion that you cannot create a biographical profile in a sterile box and with just a physical description. That said, “what did my grandfather look like” is the question. We family historians cannot resist to fill in with the other senses and emotions.

Still and all, he was my ‘Daddy’ and that means something to my child self.

When my brother, Rich died this year, we sat by his grave…next to my father’s in Lake View Cemetery in the little village of Cayuga, NY…and I allowed myself to grieve for them both.  I will return next summer and place flowers like I always do and choose to remember “The Big Lie”.


Deborah Martin-Plugh
Author, Writer and Genealogical Researcher
© Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.

That’s Philip Stein.

A Note to My Readers:  Recently a fellow historian and Auburnian, Lydia Rosell and I were communicating about a photo that she had found on eBay several years ago.  Lydia collects some intriguing items relating to Auburn, New York and Auburn Prison and posted on FaceBook that she hadn’t been able to find anything about the murder case involving the man in the photograph…”Philip Stine.”  As any historical researcher knows that is like waving a red cape at a fierce bull and shouting “Toro”.   Thus I was off to see what I could find.  The first thing I did was consider a name variation.  As soon as I made it “Philip Stein”, the story of a troublesome criminal life culminating in the murder of William Jones unfolded.   I also found the tale of intrepid Police Officer Benjamin B. Roseboom and the capture and conviction of Philip Stein.

Winter weather was in full force in central New York and Auburnians had their homes secured against the blustering and chilling December winds and the inevitable snowfall. Sleighs had been readied with newly waxed runners and reins had been inspected and treated with saddle soap. The folks in central New York needed no lesson in being prepared to tackle Mother Nature. They just didn’t count on the likes of career criminal Philip Stein.

Stein hailed from Rochester, New York and though he committed many of his crimes in that general area, he held no prejudice for where or whom he victimized. He was an opportunist. His father, Peter, had been a shoemaker and his Uncle Philip was a grocer in Rochester in 1860 and young Philip and his siblings were surrounded by family in a section of Rochester filled with immigrant tradesmen with a strong work ethic. Philip’s father had died and his mother, Johanna, remarried to another “Prussian” immigrant. Stein’s older siblings were off on their own in 1870 and 14 year old Philip and his 12 year old sister Maggie were part of the newly blended household. His stepfather, Franz, was a grocer and Philip was an apprentice carpenter. All in all, it seemed that the young boy had a clear path to make a good life for himself.
Something went very wrong. At 19 years of age, Philip was an inmate at the Monroe County Penitentiary, married and declaring his trade as butcher in the 1875 New York State Census. His life of crime had clearly begun in earnest. Five years later in the 1880 Federal Census, Philip was a convict at Auburn Prison. Still married and still claiming his occupation as butcher, it seemed more likely that crime had become his true vocation. In New York State prison records, his crime at that time is recorded as receiving stolen goods.

In April of 1881 Philip was released from Auburn Prison and made his way back to his wife and child in Rochester. Within hours, he was in serious trouble again. The young Mrs. Stein had supported herself and their child during his incarceration and according to the authorities, had ‘an unblemished reputation”. Her errant husband begged for forgiveness and asked to let him stay with her. His promise of acquiring gainful employment went unmet and his young wife’s supporters advised her to be rid of him. She stood her ground and told him to leave immediately. Angry and resentful, Philip left. Feeling content that she once again had the peace of her own humble life, the young woman put her child to bed and settled down in her parlor which also served as her bedroom. At 10 PM her reverie was broken with the harsh report of a pistol. Two shots were fired,

“the balls passing through the window, burying themselves in the bedding”.

Alarmed, she dashed to the door in time to see Stein running away. Securing the young one, she ran to the nearby police headquarters and an arrest warrant for Stein was issued.

Newspaper Auburn NY News & Bulletin 1882 Philip StineIn February of 1882, Philip Stein was back in Monroe county jail awaiting transfer to Auburn Prison for the crime of Grand Larceny in the second degree. He was arrested in Rochester, tried and convicted and was due to be returned to Auburn Prison to serve out an eight year sentence. Once again his crime was outrageous and showed a disturbing state of mind. He had entered a barn in Parma, Monroe, New York where he killed twenty sheep, skinned them and sold the pelts for $26.50. Seems that his trade of butcher was indeed accurate. Within no time after being incarcerated, Stein had proved himself again handy with tools by jimmying a lock with a pen knife and escaping into the Monroe County countryside. On February 15th Stein jimmied open a lock to a dungeon cell and acting as the ringleader, along with his fellow convicts drilled a hole through a three foot thick wall. The dungeon cell led to a chicken coop in the jail yard where the convicts found a hand ladder and scaled the wall.

The alarm went out to the Rochester officials who knew Stein on sight after dealing with him for over a decade. Disguising himself by shaving his mustache and wearing civilian clothes, he prowled Rochester to find shelter and perhaps seeking another crime opportunity. As he walked down Front Street, a vigilant sheriff spied him and arrested him on the spot. The sheriff questioned Stein to determine the details of his escape and his evasion, but Stein refused to cooperate. Still mum, Stein was taken to Auburn Prison and placed in a cell with a lock that offered no chance of tinkering. His reputation in central New York was becoming infamous as he was dubbed “The Sheep Killer”.

Stein did not serve the full eight years and that sealed the fate of William Jones of Erie, Pennsylvania. State Prison records for Auburn Prison report that Stein’s sentence was commuted for good behavior and he was released on August 15, 1887. This time Stein did not return to the Rochester area and he would surely be under the watchful eye of Auburn police. He went instead to Erie, Pennsylvania.

Philip Stein

Philip Stein, courtesy of Lydia Rosell

William Jones was the proprietor of the St. Cloud hotel in Erie. In November of 1877 he had taken Stein in out of pity and gave him shelter from the bitter cold and provided him a warm meal and board. Stein was allowed to stay for a few days. A desperate man, Stein rewarded Jones’ generosity in a most heinous gesture. On December 1st, as Jones sat alone in the hotel with Stein, Jones drew him a beer and went about his evening routine. Stein crushed the top of Jones’ head with a blunt object described as an ice pick or a mallet or a bung starter. Jones lingered for the month of December and finally died of his injuries on December 31st.

“While Jones lay quivering in his life blood, Stein took a wallet containing $60 from Jones’ pocket and turning out the lights fled to Auburn.”

Once again the Rochester and Auburn police departments were on notice to watch out for Stein. A $250 reward was offered and the citizens were unnerved after learning of the nature of the crime. Stein had graduated from a thief to a murderer. Stein was accustomed to evasion and kept a low profile and yet he returned to Auburn where his face was well-known. He learned that the police were actively pursuing him in Auburn and began to make his way into the countryside. He would not make it out of the city. “an old prison official”, spotted Stein on Dill Street and alerted the Auburn police. The entire force was mobilized, but they could not seem to catch up with Stein. Days later, he was spotted on North Street and Officer Roseboom answered the call. He secured a horse and buggy and pursued Stein as he attempted to flee on Grant Avenue. Brandishing a gun, Roseboom commanded Stein to stop. Knowing he couldn’t outrun a buggy on foot, Stein turned and drew his knife. Staring down the barrel of Roseboom’s gun, Stein threw down the knife and a bottle of sulphuric ether and surrendered. He had been on the run for eleven days.

Philip Stein Arrest Record December 11, 1887

Philip Stein Arrest Record December 11, 1887.  Courtesy of Lydia Rosell

Auburn police officer Benjamin B. Roseboom and police reporter Charlie Rattigan and Erie, Pennsylvania Detective J. P. Sullivan and Captain Grant had their hands full transporting Stein. Despite Stein’s calm demeanor, he was shackled hand and foot as they were acutely aware of his wiliness and his earlier escape. They also had to worry about the enraged citizens of Erie. When the Lake Shore train reached Westfield, Chautauqua, New York on December 17, 1887 a telegram from Erie District Attorney Baker was given to Captain Sullivan. Throngs awaited the arrival of the train and along with a steady snow, shouts and curses rang in the air. A plan was formulated to take Stein to another part of the train and disembark away from the mob. They no sooner had stepped down onto the remote platform than a shout went up.

“Hang him to that post!”

Stein was tossed into the waiting carriage arranged by D. A. Baker and the men were off to the Erie jail at a tear. The mob had been in full pursuit and as many as 25 people reached the carriage, but it had a good start and soon they were left behind and the lawmen and the suspect were on their way unencumbered.

Though the circumstantial evidence of his culpability was powerful, Stein maintained his innocence throughout his arrest and trial. Appearing in Erie court in May of 1888, Stein was dressed neatly in black and his previously shaven mustache had been grown back. He was cool and confident and represented by two of the best defense lawyers that money could buy. Stein’s brother-in-law, Phillip Christman, a well-to-do butcher and grocer from Rochester, footed the bill. Christman had married Stein’s sister, Maggie. When pressed by and Erie reporter about Stein’s case, Christman stated that he believed Stein to be too cowardly to commit such a crime and that his forte was stealing. He also stated that Stein had never attempted to hurt anyone. Mr. Christman clearly hadn’t considered the incident when Stein attempted to shoot Mrs. Stein.

Erie District Attorney A. Elverton Sisson

Erie District Attorney A. Elverton Sisson

At the trial no defense was offered, but rather the attorneys battered the court with procedural sparring. Objections flew at every point. They tried to get the jury dismissed on the grounds that it was drawn for the second Monday of the term instead of the first which would have considerably delayed the case. The judge denied the motion and the jury, consisting of eleven farmers and one ‘city’ man, was seated. The prosecution team of District Attorney A. Elverton Sisson and his predecessor, Cassius Leland Baker and Captain J. P. Sullivan worked the arrest and trial so as no fault would bring about a verdict of not guilty. A precise prosecution strategy was in place.

The prosecution swore in between forty and fifty witnesses and their testimonies solidly refuted Stein’s statement at his arrest. Jones’ leather wallet Stein was produced as evidence. It had been found along the tracks where Stein was spotted fleeing. The circumstantial evidence mounted and confident that they had made their case, they rested. At the close of the trial, the defense pulled their trump card. Laying claim on a common law case tried fifty years earlier, they demanded to open AND close the argument phase of the trial. The prosecution’s hands were tied and the defense proceeded with their strategy. Observers thought the defense might be able to sway the jury for an acquittal. Baker, however, had a compelling close and was a deft and eloquent speaker. With the advantage of giving the final argument of the case, defense attorney and ex-Congressman Samuel Myron Brainerd held the floor handily.  Brainerd had also served a three year term as District Attorney for Erie county before his stint in Congress.   It was a battle of wits and experience between the three men who served the same office.

Thanking the jury, the judge sent them off to deliberate the case.

After five hours of deliberation, the verdict was pronounced. Guilty of second degree murder punishable by imprisonment for life. Trial attendees and reporters noted that Stein’s escape from a verdict of first degree murder was a direct result of that defense strategy. A defiant Stein demanded a new trial.

Officer Roseboom and Rattigan of Auburn and Chief Detective Hayden of Rochester left that night after staying in Erie for the duration of the trial having been the guests of  the county of Erie.

It appears that Stein’s demand for a new trial went unmet and Stein was imprisoned in Pennsylvania to serve out his life sentence. No trace of him appears in later official records or newspaper accounts. Stein’s infamy came and went as he served his time in Erie, Pennsylvania prison.  Christman returned to Rochester to run his market and raise his family.

Twenty-two years later, a Rochester lawman, Chief Hayden, remembered Philip Stein.

In 1888 Hayden received a telegram from Erie, Pa., which read: “Wanted for assault and attempt to kill, an American, 28 or 30, five feet, ten inches, 165 pounds. Evidently American. Had one weak and watery eye.”
“That’s Philip Stein, “Hayden said to Chief Cleary and Captain McCormick. “The fellow who was convicted awhile ago of stealing sheep from a Parma farmer, and has been out of Auburn only a short time.”

Philip Stein never left the thoughts of Roseboom and Rattigan either.  When 70 year old Roseboom was interviewed in 1915 in his cozy home at 3 Sumner Street in Auburn, New York.

Pointing out the window toward Lansing Street, he mused: “Right back of that house I took a murderer, a fellow named Stein, way back in 1887.  And he’s sworn revenge on me and Charlie Rattigan, a police reporter at that time, whose testimony down in Pennsylvania sent the man up for a dozen years.  But Charlie and I are here yet.”

Author’s Note:  The mystery remains…Philip Stein was given a life sentence and Roseboom mentions a dozen years.  Since I fail to find Stein after his incarceration…did he die before 1900 in a Pennsylvania prison while in his mid thirties?  Seems unlikely that in light of his crime, Stein would have been released.  But then Officer Roseboom’s light-hearted comment seems to tell us that Philip Stein is safely tucked away.  Dead or alive.  And no threat to Roseboom, Rattigan or the citizenry of Auburn, New York.

Deborah Martin-Plugh
Author, Writer and Genealogical Researcher
© Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Old No. 63 Trolley

A Note to My Readers:  Trolleys are one of my all-time favorite things. I lived in the San Francisco bay area for a couple of years and loved hopping onto those beauties. I am also a train geek…passed that on to my grandson. As a kid growing up in Auburn, New York, I only vaguely became aware of trolleys when winter thaw would lift the weakened macadam from the underlying cobblestone on Genesee Street and the iron rails would be exposed. My mother, who grew up in Ithaca, would often tell me about riding the trolleys as a child and what a thrill that was for her. It wasn’t a typical thing for the Purdys to do, but an event where everyone wore their best attire, including hats and gloves.

My grandmother would tuck peppermints in her purse and once they were seated, she would dole them out to keep the children still. There is something tender about that bit of nostalgia and I suppose that is why the romance of riding a trolley has stuck with me. When my father died in 1958, mom sold the car and our transportation modes were city bus and good old ‘bus number two’. Those were the days when not everyone had a car and those that did had just one. The family car. Fathers drove it to work and to church and took the family on those wonderful Sunday drives in the countryside.

I didn’t drive until I was 24 years old and a young mother. My mother said I was a pioneer. Really!

She always carried peppermints in her purse and I suspect if Auburn still had trolleys when I was growing up, she would have definitely preferred to hop on and let the buses go on without her.


Hiram Mial Titus (1861-1943) is my first cousin 3X removed. We are both descendants of Gilbert Titus and Jane Hoag who along with their son David Sands Titus and his family and their daughter Lydia H. Titus Downing and her family arrived in the village of Cayuga in 1829. Hiram is descended from David and I am descended from Lydia. Lydia is my mother’s great great grandmother. I have put together a scholastic publication for this branch of the family tree and it will be published later this year.

While it has been a great journey studying my Quaker family history, it has also been fascinating to learn about the generations beyond David and Lydia.

Hiram and Susan Cook Titus 1912 with Indian motorbike

Hiram Titus and his wife Susan Cook with his Indian motorbike in 1912.

David’s son Hiram inherited a substantial part of the Titus land in Cayuga and by 1879 had an impressive operation with prize -winning cattle and horses. Though he indulged in a team of “handsome” matching black horses for his sleigh and drove the team into Auburn, New York often to show off his magnificent animals, he also loved the ‘new-fangled’. He was an old man of eighty-four in 1912 when he was photographed with his wife, Ada B. Shoemaker Titus and his prized Indian motorized bicycle.

Despite all of Hiram’s successes at farming and his social and political prominence in Aurelius, his sons did not share his passion for the bucolic life along the shores of Cayuga Lake. In 1895 thirty-four year-old Hiram, Jr. sold his meat market and left the small village of Cayuga to go to the bustling and expanding city of Auburn, New York to ride the rails.

As one of the first men to be employed by the Auburn & Syracuse Electric Railway(then the Auburn Inter-Urban Electric Railroad), he helped survey the line on which he later became a conductor. During that time, Hiram served as superintendent of the old Lakeside Park at the foot of Owasco Lake for over fifteen years when the park was operated by the railway. A park that was part of my summer every day of my young life in the 1950’s and 60’s and where my 50th class reunion will be held this year.

No. 63 was full to capacity that day and many took the ride as a last goodbye to the old trolley that they had ridden for decades. One elderly woman who had traveled from Skaneateles needed to be helped aboard the car and told a reporter that she had made the journey to take the last ride before the buses of Cayuga Omnibus Corporation began that very day. Timothy Hayes of Throopsville in Cayuga County, who had made his first trip in 1903, was a passenger on that last grand journey. Charles H. Abbott of Auburn who traveled the line as a passenger on the very first day of the road’s history journeyed with Mr. Hayes. Many of the passengers kept their tickets as a souvenir.

Conductor Hiram M. Titus of Auburn, New York

Conductor Hiram M. Titus of Auburn, New York

There was no grand ceremony to see them off from Syracuse. No bands. No flags or banners. No grandstand. No speeches. Only two minor officials were present to travel on old Number 63 as it made its way to the Auburn barn before it would be claimed by a wrecking company. The crowds were there. The many faithful passengers and citizens who wanted to be part of a passage in time.

The car left Syracuse several minutes after its scheduled departure of 11AM and Hiram remarked to his passengers

“Well, if they don’t like it, they can fire us.”

Motorman Gordan Winters gave the whistle ‘vigorous pulls’ as they pulled out of Syracuse in a raucous goodbye to an era and to the crowds who had gathered to watch the trolley depart one last time.

As No. 63 slowly traversed the streets of Auburn, men and women had waved and shouted, but it was during the journey from Syracuse to Auburn that this event made its greatest impact. The farmer stopped his plow to watch its journey out of sight. The housewife stood on her porch

‘with wistful eyes as though looking for the last time at an old friend’.

Boys and girls ran along the route waved and swung their caps and bonnets in a hearty farewell. Frequently along the route line, the car was forced to stop by sentimental central New Yorkers in order to permit more snapshots of the moment.

Old No. 63 on its last journey.

Old No. 63 on its last journey.

It was at Skaneateles that an appreciative crowd had gathered and Hiram and Gordan stood to pose before a battery of cameras. The arrival and departure was signaled by waving of hats and blowing of horns.

It was Hiram’s 65th birthday that day. Cameras clicked as Hiram and Gordan took the car from the Dill Street station where they discharged fifty-nine passengers and took the car to Genesee and Exchange Streets where it was boarded by city and railroad officials who made the final leg of the trip to the Franklin Street Barn. Observers stood silently as they realized that they were seeing something that marked the changes of life. Changes that the automobile made on their everyday existence.

“Passing through the streets of Auburn during the noon hour, the car was the center of all interest until it had deposited its last passenger and had departed with its load of officials for the car barns.”

Not to let history go without a memento, the car was scavenged by onlookers. Still someone had a greater thirst for a piece of history.

“Some souvenir hunter possessed himself of the car sign and it was reported that the draw-head was sought by another before he was stopped.”

A draw-head is part of the coupling mechanism and this souvenir hunter was one ambitious gent!

When the No. 63 trolley entered the car barn switch for its final stop, “torpedos” (fireworks) placed along the rails gave out a passing salute.

As the A & S Electric Railroad Company passed into history and No. 63 sat at its destination in the Franklin Street barn, the final transaction to transfer the property of the road took place. Aboard No. 63, President of Enna Jetticks, Fred L. Emerson, delivered to Mayor Marvin of Syracuse a check in the amount of $225,000. In that single gesture, the interurban traffic over the A & S road ceased after twenty-seven years of continuous service. A single official photographer memorialized the transfer of the check.

On that day, Hiram Titus and Gordan Winters were presented a check for $50 and a commemorative gift by Treasurer Zinsmeister on behalf of Fred L. Emerson. After the two trolley men stepped down from the car, they shook hands and each man made his way home that April afternoon. Without further fanfare, Mayors Marvin and Charles D. Osborne, City Manager John F. Donovan, City Attorneys William S. Elder, A. H. Cowle, William H. Seward and William B. Haeffner, Superintendent William Lee and Treasurer W. K. Zinsmeister adjourned to awaiting automobiles that drove them to the Osborne home for lunch.

Within the hour of No. 63’s arrival…indeed as the check was being transferred, the Cayuga Omnibus Corporation’s first bus left Skaneateles eastbound at 11 A.M.

The Auburn & Syracuse was part of what was called the “Beebe Syndicate” or “Empire United” lines that also included the RS&E, Auburn Northern, Rochester, Lockport & Buffalo. Developed by Clifford D. Beebe, the network of suburban and interurban lines ran through Baldwinsville to Phoenix, Fulton and Oswego. A native of Michigan, young Mr. Beebe and his syndicate bought up the financially troubled Syracuse & Auburn railroad in 1904. At that time the line had only been completed as far as Skaneateles and had been initiated as the Auburn Inter-Urban Electric Railroad. Opened on January 1, 1901 it had struggled until Mr. Beebe’s group came along with the money to invest in its future. Under this syndicate, it was extended to Auburn within the year. The company also ran the South Bay line and the Newark & Marion Railroad. All of the lines were interconnected. While there were few grades on the Auburn & Syracuse line, it was still referred to as a ‘roller-coaster operation’. Trolleys ran every half hour with extra trips during peak periods.

In its heyday, the region was in the throes of ‘trolley fever’. A fever that had begun in the area when surveyors filed proposed railways in the 1870’s when Hiram Titus, Senior was a young farmer building his new barn and driving a well into the deep bedrock. When the cars first traveled the Auburn & Syracuse line, the roads running along Route 20 were narrow and dirt-covered and the tracks followed the shoulder of the road. From Syracuse the line passed out Burnet Avenue to Split Rock, Howlett Hill and Marcellus paralleling Howlett Hill and Lee-Mulroy Roads along Route 20 to Skaneateles and to Franklin Street Road from there to Auburn. The stop at Split rock was the first major stop along the line and from there it passed through a scenic gorge with rocky cliffs on either side. In the late 1920’s the roads were beginning to be paved. Trucks and cars were easily making their way between Syracuse and Auburn and with that, the fate of the electric interurban lines was sealed.

Marcellus NY Weekly Observer 1995 Trolley building restored near Skaneateles imageFor another year after the Auburn & Syracuse line ceased to run, travelers could still get from Syracuse to Auburn on the trolley via the Rochester, Syracuse & Eastern through Jordan and Weedsport to Port Byron, then to Auburn on the Auburn & Northern. Once the railways became a modern day dinosaur, relics of trolley fever still remained well into the 20th century. Along Route 20 just east of Skaneateles a brick building which housed machinery to convert alternating current to direct current for the Auburn & Syracuse Electric railroad stood abandoned for some time. It was a garage and then a restaurant known as “The Willows” during the 1960’s before it was abandoned again. A design firm owned it for a short while and restored it including adding some railroad tracks and ties in tribute to its past. The white paint was removed and the old bricks re-pointed and replaced. The design firmed moved on and sold it to an insurance agency. It is believed to be the only original building still standing on the A & S Interurban line.

I wonder as I come home and drive that stretch of Route 20 if there is a bit of rail line underneath the shoulder of the road.

As always, my genealogy research serves as a time machine and my first cousin, Hiram Mial Titus, is the conductor on this trip. Motorman Winters….pull that whistle!

All aboard.

Deborah Martin-Plugh
Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher
©Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Postcript.  In advance, I beg your indulgence if I have spelling and grammatical errors at this time.  I damaged my eyes and am awaiting eye surgery so my usual editorial fastidiousness is absent.

Great Grandmother Nature Abhors a Vacuum

A Note to My Readers:  I may not be the “Lone Ranger” here, but I am fortunate to be the custodian of a great many family treasures including my maternal great grandparents’ family bible circa 1867, a myriad of cabinet cards, Victorian trading cards, a key to the city of Auburn, NY presented to my mother, my parents’ marriage ceremony booklet,  a panoramic photo of a 1929 Tyler Kindred of America family reunion and an 1896 fraternal order ribbon badge to name a few.  Most all photos are from my mother’s side of the family which includes a few reproductions of the originals that are in the possession of cousins.  My mother was hugely sentimental and the ‘keeper of memories’ and she passed the torch on to me. 

My father died when I was ten and there was some Martin family time with his kith and kin, but it did not have the bonded blood-to-blood tribal love that imbued every Purdy gathering.  Accompanied with singing and gossiping, cigarettes, cocktails, bosoms sporting expensive perfumes and glorious shades of lipsticks that marked cigarette butts and children’s cheeks,  nothing was done in small doses in my mother’s family.  Especially reminiscing.  Along with the affectionate and dramatic Purdy panache,  I was provided with enough memorabilia, photos and lore to know my mother’s side and to begin to build a worthy maternal family tree.  Not so with my father.  I barely had time to know my father and having no knowledge of my paternal history was something that challenged me from the very beginning.  It also gave me one of my first and ongoing brick wall mysteries.

Lillian W. Jennings Martin (1858 – 1905)

My great grandmother, Lillian Jennings Martin, disappeared off the planet shortly after her daughter Lillian was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1898. I have researched every entity, nook and cranny in and out of the genealogist’s toolbox within the boroughs of NYC and including a Long Island Sanitarium.  In fact, I even searched in nearby New Jersey as she had given birth to a still born child at a hospital there in 1888.  Though I could cull much about her husband Henry from Brooklyn newspapers, there was nothing about Lillian.  According to Evergreens cemetery in Brooklyn, NY where her husband (and my great grandfather, Henry A. Martin) is buried, she had no burial record there.  On March 30, 2015, I found that to be wrong.*

Failing to find her information in the Brooklyn area, I went back to her hometown of Auburn, New York.  Burial records for North Street Cemetery in Auburn, NY are full of gaps of information. The maintenance of the grounds and records have a terrible history, but I do have records of most of the burials in the Jennings family plot as recorded in an old sexton’s log book.  In addition, I have the obituaries of her father, Daniel and sister, Harriet Jennings White that state their burials took place in North Street Cemetery ‘in the Jennings plot’.   Lillian is not listed among them in the book and no stones remain to mark any Jennings Henry marries Lillian Jennings 1884 news and Democratburials due to scores of years of vandalism and lack of care.  Painstakingly searching through Auburn, New York newspaper articles for any Jennings or Martin mention, I had no trouble finding information on her Jennings family members including death notices and obituaries. Why not Lillian?  Her husband’s Martin family lived in Auburn and they never failed to show up in the local newspapers.   Only Lillian’s 1884 marriage to my great grandfather surfaced in an Auburn, NY newspaper article.

Lacking any more avenues to find Lillian, I decided to open up the research to her siblings.  Perhaps there was a clue awaiting me among the Jennings kin.  I began with  Lillian’s sister Emily Russell Jennings Trowbridge and brother William H. Jennings.

Trowbridge & Jennings Art Store in Auburn, New York.

Trowbridge & Jennings Art Store in Auburn, New York.

Lillian’s oldest sister, Emily Russell Jennings Trowbridge, lived in Auburn for decades with her husband and three children.  John Jasper Trowbridge in partnership with his brother-in-law William H. Jennings owned and operated an art and supplies store in Auburn, New York.  Both men were prominent citizens and socially and politically active.  Information on the two siblings was an embarrassment of riches.   When  John moved on to open another store in Binghamton, NY,  Will Jennings continued to run the Auburn, New York store with his sons.  His new venture was social and business news in both Auburn and Binghamton newspapers.   After the turn of the century, the Trowbridges relocated to Orange, New Jersey for a short time as John found a new opportunity to pursue.  Eventually the family came back to Binghamton where John had been offered a lucrative position.  He and Emily spent their remaining years in Binghamton as did their spinster daughters, Grace and Emma.  Son Charles Jasper Trowbridge had fallen in love with socialite Paula Mencken Flugal and the pair were married in West Orange, New Jersey in 1909.  Their wedding was reported in the New York Times.  A salesman like his father, Charles found opportunity in several places…Philadelphia, New York City, Buffalo, New York, Newton, Massachusetts eventually living in Long Beach, California with his wife and near his married daughters, Ruth Jennings Trowbridge (wife of Graham Hurd Stewart) and Louise White Trowbridge (wife of Philip L. Bruce).   I followed Lillian’s nieces and nephew in the hopes that sister Emily’s family would shed some light on her fate.

As I considered it, Emily and her family were living in East Orange about the time Lillian and Henry were living in Brooklyn.  And about the time she disappears from any records of any kind.  Emily would have known about Lillian’s life and death.  Possibly they spent time together as the distance was not great.  Perhaps West Orange might hold some kind of clue.  A long shot to be sure, but as any genealogical researcher can attest, long shots are very often the very weapon that solves a mystery.   New Jersey held no revelation so it was back to Auburn.

The Trowbridges of Binghamton…Emily, and her husband, John Jasper Trowbridge and their spinster daughters, Grace and Emma were all brought back to Auburn, New York to be buried in their family plot in Fort Hill Cemetery.  North Street Cemetery had long been disregarded as suitable and Fort Hill held the ‘new’ pioneer burials with all of the grand monuments.   Would Lillian have been brought ‘home’ to rest with her Jennings family members in North Street Cemetery?  Could she have died in Auburn and not in the Brooklyn area?  Was she buried in Brooklyn or her hometown of Auburn?  Nothing. No death records. No burial records. No obituaries or death notices.  Anywhere.  Just unanswered questions lurking everywhere.    Lillian’s fate remains a mystery despite my best efforts.  I keep at it…blurry eyed, out of ideas, yet still believing that I will find her.    Perhaps that energy and faith lives in the ether.

Emily Comes Home

Dad, his Uncle George and Uncle George's Aunt Harriett Jennings White. Two of my brothers play at their feet.  Four generations!

Dad, his Uncle George and Uncle George’s Aunt Harriett Jennings White. Two of my brothers play at their feet. Four generations!

One of two Jennings photos I have is one of Lillian’s sister, Harriet Jennings White. She lived in Auburn all of her life and died in 1940. My father visited her quite often and I am fortunate to own the original photo of Harriet taken around 1936 with my father, his Uncle George Martin (my grandfather Albert’s brother) and two of my older brothers. The other photo I have is gift from an individual who found it among her great aunt’s belongings. It is of Grace Trowbridge.  Her cabinet card was tucked among her schoolmate’s memorabilia for over a century only to be found by her schoolmate’s granddaughter.  She discovered my blog and reading about Emily and her daughter, Grace, sent Grace’s photo to me to once again be part of family.  Grace’s cabinet card is framed and hung in my gallery among her extended family members.  She is home.

Emily Russell Jennings Trowbridge

Emily Russell Jennings Trowbridge

Recently I was offered another family treasure…a gift…by another historian who found the cabinet card of Emily Russell Jennings…Mrs. John J. Trowbridge in an antique shop near her home.  Vicky is an historian herself and makes a point of rescuing the random orphan image and sets about to find family of the subject.  A thoughtful (and kindred) spirit, she dug in to the Trowbridge research and came upon my blog and sent me an inquiry.  On the back of the cabinet card is gold stamped “Mrs. J. J. Trowbridge.  Binghamton, NY”.  Was I family?   It was the most stunning moment because I had been looking into my Jennings material at that very moment with the hope that a new source had become available and perhaps I might find Lillian.

This was one of those shiver moments.  Scoff if you will, but to have the image of Lillian’s sister Emily cross the grand void and find me at that very moment took my breath away.   I think I am pretty stubborn…tenacious sounds better…and I hate an unsolved mystery and abandoning an ancestor.   What do they say?  “Nature abhors a vacuum.”  So do I.   An incident such as this reinforces my instinct to press on.

Emily’s image is now hung in the gallery in my sitting room where I research and where she has joined her daughter, Grace and her sister, Harriett in the Jennings collection.  Perhaps some day, Lillian will find her way home.  Meanwhile, I adore the image…the very light blue eyes that I sport.  I see family so clearly in her face.

For the few days it took for Emily’s image to arrive in the mail,  I haunted my mailbox.

This is when my neighbors question my sanity as I dance to the mailbox in anticipation.  Call me a silly and sentimental, but make sure you add genealogist.

Then my bit of Terpsichore to check the post will explain everything.

*March 30, 2015 UPDATE:  I found a death record today for Lillian and Henry’s 14 year old son, Howard.  He died in 1907 and was buried in Evergreens Cemetery.  I called them today and they confirmed he was in the family plot.  As was an “L” Martin.  That was Lillian!  She was buried there on July 2, 1905.  No details on where or how she died and it deepens the mystery since Henry declared himself a widower in the 1900 Federal Census and the 1905 New York State Census.  It does make me think that the Lillian W. Martin in Kings Park Psychiatric Hospital is my great grandmother.  It was abandoned and the records moved and I have begun the daunting process of trying to find out just where they ended up.  The good news is I know where she is buried and that is a sense of closure.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2015.  All Rights Reserved.

I Can’t Knit, Elizabeth Cady Stanton

A Note to My Readers:  It’s Women’s History Month and I am reading material on the Suffrage Movement as it relates to my hometown of Auburn, New York.  Auburnians Emily Howland, Julia C. Ferris, Sara Wadsworth, Lucy Brown Mosher and Eliza Wright Osborne were influential suffragettes and leaders in the movement. A plaque in their honor was installed in the reception room of the National League of Women Voters in Washington, D.C. on April 15th, 1931. Their biographies characterize these women as determined and dedicated as prominent leaders in political, social and educational activities in Cayuga County and New York State.

Dr. Emily Howland from The Emily Howland Papers, Cornell University

Dr. Emily Howland from The Emily Howland Papers, Cornell University

Miss EMILY HOWLAND was born on a farm near Sherwood, Cayuga, New York on November 20, 1827 to Slocum and Hannah Talcott Howland. She was reared as a Quaker,  educated in Sherwood and later at a Society of Friends school in Philadelphia. Miss Howland’s life was dedicated to education, women’s rights and the abolition of slavery. In 1880 she published a monograph entitled “Early History of Friends in Cayuga County” which recounted the Quaker families and characters and the history of Scipio Meeting.  For me it is a delightful read because in 1829 my Quaker family migrated to the west side of Cayuga Lake and became members of the Scipio Meeting.

Emily was a teacher before the Civil War and after the Emancipation Proclamation she nursed and taught in a camp for freed slaves. Fearlessly she continued her work there despite a severe outbreak of smallpox. After the war, as Miss Howland continued her mission for education and health for all, she established schools for the freed slaves in Virginia.

Returning to her roots along Cayuga Lake, Emily turned her energies toward women’s suffrage and became a delegate to state and national conventions and at one time addressed the United States Senate. It was not uncommon to see her giving speeches in the streets of Auburn and Syracuse.

In 1882 Emily also founded a school in Sherwood, New York and in 1927 it was renamed Emily Howland School in her honor. In 1926 she was the first woman in the state to be honored by the New York State Board of Regents with an honorary doctor of letters.

A woman of great intellect and leadership skills, she managed two Cayuga County farms and was a director for the Aurora National Bank. During her lifetime,  she was a member of the board of no less than 30 schools.

Miss Emily Howland died on June 29, 1929 in Sherwood at the age of 101 years and is buried in Howland Cemetery in Ledyard, New York. The inscription on her monument reads:

She wished to have these words upon her stone.

“I strove to realize myself and to serve. Purposes nobly fulfilled.”

Newspaper Auburn NY Citizen 1928 Julia C. Ferris imageMiss JULIA C. FERRIS was also an educator and independent woman. Born at 16 Court Street on July 3, 1844 to Charles Thacher Ferris and Jane Underwood, she studied in Auburn public schools and was a graduate of Albany Normal College at the age of 16. Julia first taught at the Basswood Street School in Aurelius and then on to the No. 1 School in Auburn (Fulton Street School). After the Civil War she taught at a private school which was held over Sutton’s Drug Store on Genesee Street and then went on to be principal at the Genesee Street School. Briefly she was a teacher at a girl’s school in Detroit, but returned to Auburn in 1878 where she taught at Auburn High School. From 1881 to 1887 she was principal of North Street School. In 1888 she went on to head the mathematics department of the Central Grammar School until her retirement in June of 1913. It was estimated that she had taught in excess of 7, 500 pupils

“hammering the puzzling problems of ‘rithmetic into the heads of youth today”.

From 1914 to 1928 she was commissioner of education, a political position that she did not seek. In fact, she was nominated by educators and former students and placed on the ballot. She won over other candidates with a resounding margin and went on to be named as president of the board.

When Julia C. Ferris died in 1928 at the age of 83, Mayor Charles Osborne ordered the flags on all public school buildings to be flown at half-staff until after her funeral. She is buried in the Ferris family plot in Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, New York.   Julia’s sister, Mrs. John G. Hosmer survived her as well as many nieces and nephews.

Sara Wadsworth 1916

Sara Wadsworth 1916

Miss SARA WADSWORTH was the daughter of Auburn scythe manufacturer David Wadsworth and his wife Phebe E. Partelow. She was born in Auburn to wealth and leadership as was her brother David, Jr. who served at one time as Mayor of Auburn. Sara served at separate times as the president and the treasurer of the Cayuga County Woman Suffrage Association and was praised for her dedication giving the better part of her own time and money to the cause. Her home at 210 West Genesee Street (situated at the corner of Genesee and Fort Streets) was the family home that she inherited from her father. One of the loveliest homes in Auburn, it was a constant venue for teas and boarding for suffrage organizers, speakers and dignitaries. In 1937 the old Wadsworth Mansion, as it was known, was dismantled and all of the antiquities and valuables auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Sara was a delegate to conventions and conferences and traveled often in the company of Mrs. Osborne to promote women’s suffrage. Sara’s politics were more of the intellectual and genteel persuasion and she frequently wrote other groups and asked that they refrain from picketing as it detracted from the message. She traveled often and used the ‘boardroom’ approach to ply her message and in confrontation with male politicians was intelligent and stern yet gracious. She impressed them with her intellectual skills and often won them over to at least have a discussion. That said, when pressed and the heat was on, Sara was a presence at the 1916 street rally to demonstrate at the New York State Republican Convention held  in Saratoga, New York. She lectured to other suffragette groups on

“how to raise and spend money”.

In a letter to the Citizen Advertiser, she reports that as treasurer of a fund for The Women’s Union in 1922, she had managed the donation of Mrs. Osborne in the amount of $25,000. Sara was often found in fundraising events for the Women’s Union and though she was pouring tea, she was often in the role of financial management.

Sara died in 1927 at the age of 76 and is buried in the Wadsworth family plot in Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, New York.

Eliza Wright Osborne

Eliza Wright Osborne

Mrs. ELIZA WRIGHT OSBORNE was the wife of David Munson Osborne and the daughter of David Wright and Martha Coffin and the niece of Lucretia Mott. Born on September 3, 1830, Eliza was a powerful force in the Suffrage Movement doing

‘everything for the cause of suffrage that her position as one of Cayuga County’s leading women would, who believed in the cause.”

Like her friend and fellow activist, Sara Wadsworth, she was born to a family of influence. When she married David M. Osborne, a wealthy farm machinery manufacturer, she plunged into the Women’s Suffrage Movement and with her fellow Auburnian suffragettes assumed positions of leadership. She traveled to conferences and conventions and in her own home hosted regular meetings which often included Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. She was described as a “lover of books and a woman of wide reading” as well outspoken and courageous with a devotion to principles yet with a love for flowers and humanity. Her collection of books was reported to be massive.  At the age of 80 and showing no signs of losing her passion for women’s suffrage, she led a delegation to Albany and appeared before legislative committees to promote the cause.

Eliza’s  information is archived in the Library of Congress in the NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897-1911 and in Collections of letters at the Smith College. One such letter written in 1892 from Elizabeth Cady Stanton shows the endearing relationship the two women had and the delight in one another’s wit.

Dear Eliza,
In a recent letter… speaking of the occasion when we last met you say, “why was Mrs. Stanton so solemn?” to which I reply, Ever since an old German Emperor issued an edict, ordering all the women under that flag to knit,…I have felt humiliated whenever I have seen any daughters of our grand republic knitting,…or occupied with any of the ten thousand digital absurdities….
Looking forward to the scintillations of wit,…the mysteries of theosophy, palmistry, mental science, the revelations of the unknown world where angels & devils do congregate, looking forward to the discussions of all these grand themes, in meeting the eldest daughter of David and Martha Wright, the niece of Lucretia Mott, the sister in law of William Lloyd Garrison,…one can readily imagine the disappointment I experienced when such a woman pulled a cotton wash rag from her pocket & forthwith began to knit…: it was impossible for conversation to rise above the wash rag level….
Who can wonder that I was “solemn” that day? I made my agonized protest on the spot, but it fell unheeded &, with a satisfied sneer, Eliza knit on….I not only was “solemn” that day, but I am profoundly solemn whenever I think of that queenly woman & that cotton wash rag. And yet one can buy a whole dozen of these useful appliances…for twenty five cents!! Oh Eliza, I beseech you, knit no more.

Affectionately yours,

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

In 1910 with her health failing, Eliza had to decline her attendance to a rally.  In good humor and still in the game, she writes –

My dear Anne: –

It certainly would be dandy to join your party and go on to Albany.  When I was there last spring I said I never would miss another one, but all the same I have to miss it.  I am not quite graduated from my nurse and not at all able to leave home for which I am exceedingly sorry.  It will be might interesting this year, and what do you think of a man lobbyist?  Funny what a snarl they have got into regard to the different schemes of the different people who have lately come into the work.  Thank you for the clippings.

Hoping and know that you will have a perfectly delightfully time, believe me,

Affectionately & Most regretfully yours,

Eliza W. Osborne

Eliza Wright Osborne died in Auburn on July 18, 1911 at the age of 82 and was cremated and buried in the family plot in Fort Hill cemetery between the graves of her husband and daughter. Eliza and David have generations of  descendants.  She was the only one of these amazing women that did not live to see the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.

Mrs. LUCY M. BROWN MOSHER was born on September 27, 1844 in Clay, Onondaga, New York, to Mr. and Mrs. Seeber and Margaret Brown. The Browns moved to Fleming and then to Union Springs where she met her husband, Charles S. Mosher. The Browns and Moshers arrived in Auburn in 1882 and Lucy immediately became involved in her new community in religious, social and political pursuits. Lucy was best noted for her work during the suffrage campaigns of 1915 and 1917 arousing the interest of the community. She was chairman of the speakers’ bureau and directed speaking tours and mass meetings and her home, too, was the site of teas and social hours for dignitaries who spoke at the Suffrage headquarters.

I have an affinity for Lucy as she, too, was a genealogist and loved her heritage. The Mosher home at 125 East Genesee Street was not only a gathering place for women’s suffrage events such as The Society for Political Education, but it was also a museum to her family heritage. One of her favorite treasures was a

quilt fashioned by her mother with a signed block bearing an autograph of General Lafayette which had been signed by him when he visited Cayuga County in 1825.

Unfortunately the relic was lost in 1916 in a fire at their home. Lucy was a wonderful storyteller. At a Brown family gathering, she told the story of her maternal grandmother’s saga along the Mohawk River as an infant. Her grandmother was ‘stolen by the Indians’ from the family log cabin while she was asleep in the cradle while her distraught mother was threatened by the Mowhawk invader. It was claimed that it was the ‘renegade’ Joseph Brandt who had instigated the murder and scalping of white settlers from New York to Pennsylvania and who was a British ally under Burgoyne. For eight years the child lived with the Indians while her father, friends and neighbors searched for her. When they found her, the Indians wanted money for her return. A large sum of money was offered by the father and the little girl was returned to her family. She was not accustomed to their way of living and was homesick for her Indian family. Eventually she adapted and, as they say, the rest was history.

LUCY M. BROWN MOSHER died in her Genesee Street home on January 27, 1922 and is buried in Fort Hill Cemetery alongside her husband, Charles and their son and only child, Judge Edgar Seeber Mosher. Lucy and Charles have generations of descendants.

Vira Boarman Whitehouse circa 1915

Vira Boarman Whitehouse circa 1915

Author’s Note: The resolve and great character of these women speaks volumes about the journey they had to take among some harsh attitudes regarding equality that existed by both men and women. There was an Anti-Suffrage Movement and other women echoed the sentiments of the men in their opposition to women ‘getting the vote’. Auburn members of the State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage proclaimed “hundreds of thousands of votes of illiterate women would show a criminal disregard for American institutions”.

In an open letter in 1917 to Senator Elon R. Brown, a New York State suffragette leader, Vira Boarman Whitehouse,  challenged the senate leader’s perfidy.

‘Dear Sir – Although your party endorsed the principle of woman suffrage at its national convention and recommended submission of woman suffrage to the voters of New York state at the next election in November, at its state convention, and although you yourself voted in favor of this resubmission amendment, nevertheless, in your speech to the senate on Monday, March 12, you say:
“I am opposed to woman suffrage because it conflicts with my ideals of manhood and womanhood. The present European conflict illustrates my point. Who fights? The men of France or the women of France? Who for Belgium? Women can neither defend themselves nor the state.”

When I began to read about these women, I thought it would be a brief research in order to gain a simple biography for each one and a sense of the history. As I began to unearth more about them, I realized the subject of suffrage history was highly complex and spanned over scores of years of daunting struggle.  In fact, the lives of these most interesting women were so full of character, charm, intelligence and fearless commitment that I became overwhelmed with the scope. Each of these women met the barriers of bigotry and unvarnished prejudice from men in power and indeed from some of their own sex. To be considered as too illiterate as to be criminal in matters of American institutions in light of their great intelligence and capabilities seems unfathomable to me.

As a mother, grandmother, historian and an accomplished businesswoman and leader in my own right, I owe them a gratitude for forging a path for me and the future of our nation.

It is a sisterhood and probably why I cannot knit, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.


Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2015.  All Rights Reserved.


Much Reason to Fear

A Note to My Readers:  It’s been a deep plunge into early American history and my German-Swiss immigrant families…the Learns and the Brinkers…and their pre-Revolutionary life in northeastern Pennsylvania. I found a number of colonial Pennsylvania archives online that witness the months, weeks and days before the Learn family massacre on July 3, 1781. It becomes a warren of circumstances that entail personal grudges, slander, political clay feet, atrocities and the fog of war.

Pennsylvania Historical Marker-The Learn Massacre

Pennsylvania Historical Marker-The Learn Massacre

For quite sometime I have researched Tannersville and Wyoming Valley during the pre-Revolutionary period because my maternal 4th great grandfather, Samuel Weyburn, fought with the Pennsylvania Rangers as part of Washington’s Continental Army and was under General Sullivan’s command. Journals from officers encamped in Tannersville, refer to John Learn’s tavern as a favorable and strategic bivouac point in the Pocono Mountains. General Sullivan and his troops used the Learn site to gather and prepare for Sullivan’s Campaign in 1779.  Not far from the site of John Learn’s tavern is Brinker’s Mill which still stands today. Jacob Brinker is my paternal 6th great grandfather. His daughter, Anna Margaretha, married George Learn (son of John Learn) and they are my paternal 5th great grandparents.  On July 3rd, 1781, Jacob Brinker would lose his daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter and close friend in what has come to be known as “The Learn Massacre”.

As the story unfolds, John Learn and Jacob Stroud (Stroudsburg, PA was named after him.) were not on the best of terms. It seems that Stroud got it into his mind that John Learn was a Tory sympathizer and as the local in charge of militia, left Learn’s tavern without protection during the restless and uncertain days of the Revolutionary War. Though the Learns often traded with the local native population and according to survivors had no issue of any kind, they still worried. Tory sympathizers and British soldiers under the command of the infamous Captain Joseph Brandt, a Mohawk,  and Colonel John Butler were providing the local tribes with liquor and guns and fostering ill will against the settlers. The situation was escalating and becoming unpredictable and perilous.  John Learn and Jacob Brinker petitioned over Stroud’s head for more military protection. While witnesses testified Stroud’s behavior was concerning and promised a tragedy, nothing went further up the line to get help. It seems a junior politician (Robert Levers) worried about his fledgling career though he did have the honesty to admit it in a letter to his superior after the massacre.

On July 7, 1781 a grieving Jacob Brinker came to the quarters of Robert Levers and gave the account of the Learn Massacre and what led up to that unfortunate day. I transcribed the letter that Levers wrote to Joseph Reed, President of the Supreme Council (a position analogous to Governor).

“Jacob Brinker, whose daughter was the Wife of George Lerne, Two of the late unhappy Victims slain by the Indians, was with me last Evening, with young John Lerne, who killed and scalped an Indian soon after his Father was shot, desiring a small party of men might be posted at the place of his late Father deceased, for the Protection of his Crop and of his mother and younger Brethren – upon what occasion I know not, but Lerne tells me, that a few men were posted at one Jacob Lewis(?) about a mile & and half within Lernes’. Here a Regard to Truth, and a Commiseration of this unhappy Family, constrain me to reveal to Council what has long lain on my mind with deep Concern; it is in the Line of my duty now I apprehended if I interfered some Persons in County might have given an ungenerous Construction to my good design.

These Families, there is too much reason to fear, have unhappily fell a Sacrifice to malicious Resentment; -Frequent application had been made to Col. Strowd for Guard, by the late unhappy John Lerne, whose Place is so situated that it is certainly a proper Post, and he was as often refused; and, as the deceased some time past told me himself, because Col. Strowd asserted he was a Tory, and he only wanted men there to have them destroyed, and on which Account John Lerne, in his Life Time, brought and action of Slander against Col. Strowd. On the 30th June, when Col. Chambers was with me, he produced to me a paper directed to him, & delivered as he said, by one Mr. Denis (?) to him; the Paper contains a Number of Charges against Col. Strowd, and I have taken the Liberty to enclose a Copy; and I was desired to put Col. Strowd under Arrest.

‘It occasioned me much Uneasiness of mind, and I declined the matter, telling Col. Chambers I was young in office, the Military duty never having engaged much of my Thoughts; and that as it was well known that I had an unfavorable Opinion of Col. Strowd, which however well grounded, my Interference at such a time might rather be injurious, and frustrate my design, which was rather to cement different Parties than divide; nevertheless, I would take a Copy of them, and if upon strict Enquiry, I should find the Charges well grounded, I would transmit them to your Excellency and sollicit advice and Instructions from you on matters of that Nature. What has since happened, has made me conceive it to be my duty to represent the Whole to Council without Reserve.

From the Account I have received from young John Lerne, the Indian attack was thus: – his Brother George was mowing Grass in a meadow where he was attacked; upon endeavoring to make to the House, his Retreat was cut off and he killed & scalped. The old man with Son John were in a Rye Field, and attacked by Two Indians, who both fired; John Lerne the Elder having first fired, but missed, he was shot and began to run; his Son escaped, and whilst he was watching the Fate of his Father, the Two Indians running after him to scalp him, Young Lerne saw another in the Rye, with his Head down as if he was doing something to his Rifle, upon which Lerne immediately fired & shot him through the Head, but dared not venture to scalp him at that time. He thinks he could have shot another of the Indians after he had loaded, but his Weakness of body being such that he could not make his Escape if he should have missed, he judged, as his Father and Brother were killed, it was best to secure himself. He says had there been Four or Five Persons then present, beside the Family, all the Indians must inevitably have fallen into their Hands –From every Circumstance it appears there were but Four. The Indian he killed was of those who formerly lived at Chemung, named Edsky, but about Five years ago gave himself the name of Jacob Stroud. His Brother George’s Wife and Child were taken & carried off by the Indians, with some Plunder, the House, &c, not destroyed – and after the Prisoners were taken some distance were both killed. That upon Col. Strowd coming up with a Party, the Indians were pursued to the Edge of the Great Swamp; and upon one of the Party’s going into the Swamp & whistling in the Indian Fashion, he was answered by the Indians, and by the Sound at a very small distance, it is imagined the Indians supposed it to be the Comrade that Lerne had killed – But it is said that the Party Col. Stroud had the Command of, had taken out a Ten Gallon Keg of Whiskey, and some of them had become so intoxicated with Liquor, and began to whistle, hoop & haloo, that they might have been heard a mile, by which unhappy Accident the Indians were alarmed, when that had collected wood to make a Fire, and went off in a great Fright, leaving their Plunder, besides other matters of their own, behind them.

It is generally conjectured old John Lerne wounded one of the Indians, and that he died somewhere of his Wounds; because Two Indian tracks were only seen on their Retreat. – Young Lerne tells me a strange circumstance of Col. Strowds’ Conduct, which I have heard from others, and is difficult to be accounted for – That after having marched some distance with Party on the Pursuit along the Indian Tracks, and had passed the Place where the Woman and Child had been killed, he lost his party, and was afterwards found on the Road leading from his house to Wyoming, (about Four miles, supposed to be across from the Indian Track pursued, by a party that had come out to strengthen him, and had reached Lernes’ after he and his Party had marched about two Hours; with which latter Party her returned & proceeded to the great Swamp. The Two Companies is said to have been about Fifty men. I cannot say how far this Report is to be depended on, as I have heard nothing from Col. Chambers; but it appears of too serious a nature not to mention it in Council.

I have the Honor to be,
your Excellency’s
most obedient Servant,

John Learn Monument.  Miller Cemetery, Lansing, NY

John Learn Monument. Miller Cemetery, Lansing, NY

Other accounts of the event are more specific. John was killed first and then his son George, as in the testimony given by George’s surviving brother, Margaretha was carried off with her infant daughter, Susan. Both were scalped and gutted. Their two year old son, John, survived the attack after being gathered up by his aunt who hid with him in the unmowed rye. The young family dog threatened to give them away so she kept it and the child silent until it was clear to run for help.

The little boy is John Learn, my 4th great grandfather. He was raised by his father’s family and when they migrated to New York State, he settled in Lansing, New York. John is buried in Miller Cemetery along with his wives, Elizabeth (my 4th great grandmother) and Linda.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c)Copyright 2015.  All Rights Reserved.

The Last Grand Curtain Call

Helen Modjeska

Helen Modjeska

In the fall of 1927 an old theater curtain…a ‘drop’ as they were called, was found in a remote niche on the upper level of the old Burtis Grand Theater on North Street. It was made of canvas…yellowed and crumbling. As fragile as parchment with the hand painted images vague and muted. When examined, dozens of autographs were discovered. Applied with crayon and make-up paint, the signatures revealed were of old performers with names like John Drew, James Hackett, Nat Goodwin, Charles O’Neill, Otis Skinner, DeWolf Hopper, Lincoln Carter and the great “Modjeska”. Polish-born actress Helen Modjeska was an amazing stage presence…sometimes vamp…sometimes the spirit of a rascally boy…or the epitome of royalty.

At the time of the discovery the theater had already been unused for a short period of time. It was at one time a combination theater and skating rink and built in place of the Academy of Music. After major construction, it was opened on November 13, 1889 as the Burtis Opera House. There were indoor circuses.  Touring stock companies performed.  Surrounded by the soaring architecture, politicians and civic leaders delivered elaborate speeches. Vaudeville first came to Auburn to appear within those walls. Wrestling matches and boxing bouts were held at the Burtis as well. The theater was described as a “‘second story’ house…its stage and auditorium being above the first floor with stores beneath”.

During the administration of Mayor Thomas Mott Osborne, the city became concerned about fire and forced the owners to install fire escapes and to remodel the front of the building.  One of the favorite dining places was the Osborne Hotel and  the patrons of the theater could be found enjoying small performances held at the hotel as another venue for Auburnians to enjoy entertainment and club gatherings. The Jefferson, erected by Mayor Osborne, also figured into the entertainment of Auburnians with an active billing roster. A new name to me was Motion World. Just as the Burtis and the Jefferson began to show the occasional moving picture, Motion World also hosted live entertainment. Dog acts seemed to be a particular favorite for Auburnians.

Genoia NY Tribune 1919-1922 Burtis Grand Display AdBy 1913, The Burtis Opera House underwent another name change. It became the Burtis Grand. To illustrate the lively nature of entertainment available in 1912 and 1913, newspapers around the area published the bookings commenting “Three shows at the Jefferson, three shows a day at each the Burtis Auditorium and the Burtis Grand and the usual entertainments should furnish plenty of amusement for Auburnians next week.” At the Burtis Auditorium…’eighteen new reels of pictures and eight acts of vaudeville a week’. The Burtis Grand not to be left behind promised ‘popular priced vaudeville’ with excellent several bills. “All of the smaller houses will offer the usual big entertainments for a little money next week and doubtless draw their usual big patronage.” More sites…the smaller houses start becoming familiar…Turn Hall with a boxing exhibition following by a dance party. The Cornell…The Genesee and The Universal where motion pictures were featured with starts as late as 10:45 PM.

Who says Auburn rolled up the sidewalks and everyone went to bed at sunset??!! If you had a nickel, you had somewhere to go.

039-NYC-1918-09-18-NY Clipper Burtis at Auctionp30Amid the grease paint and roar of the crowd environment came civic events and the occasion of the preacher with a theatrical style who was not intimidated by the spirit of the painted vamps and rascals. In 1918 while the United States was at war and the epidemic of Spanish Influenza was killing millions…including Auburnians, the theaters still flourished. Touring troupes from New York City clamored to be booked in Auburn’s theaters. And the audiences came and filled the seats. Laughing, crying, applauding, they chased away the harsh times that existed outside of the majestically adorned halls. It was also in 1918 that the Burtis Grand went up for auction to settle the estate of Edwin C. Burtis, the son of Cary S. Burtis who originally built the Burtis Opera House.

In 1920 it was a great occasion for the Burtis Grand, now billed as “Auburn’s Foremost Photoplay House”, as it featured Lionel Barrymore’s silent motion picture, “The Copperhead”.  As advertised, the audience came from near and far to sit in the great darkness and weep and cheer as the Civil War drama unfolded on the silver screen.

New seats and decorations had replaced the old fixtures by 1927, but the general grand architecture still existed at the Burtis Grand as it had when

crinoline and bustle adorned the stage and heroes in knee pants and silk stockings strutted their hour upon the stage.

Films continued to flicker inside the building which came to be referred to as the ‘old’ Burtis Grand as its grandeur faded and Auburn’s audiences sought a newer vogue. In 1928 and 1929 local groups such as the Odd Fellows could be found gathering at the Burtis Grand.  Meetings, speeches and exhibitions were still filling the auditorium. The great open interior still provided accommodation for large gatherings and though its beauty was of yesteryear, it was still…grand and appreciated. On Halloween night in 1928 the Republicans held a rally featuring Assistant Secretary of War F. Trubee Davison with music by the Salem Town Commandery Band.

As one old theater buff reported

The shell of a once proud palace of amusement today lies idle, facing the prosaic possibility of someday being converted into an office building. But the glory of its past remains as a shadowy heritage of a bygone day, recalled for its brief moment by the hidden musty scroll of names of stars now gone.
Few living remember the heyday of the theater’s prestige, few remain who played upon its boards in the golden days of the trouper. The glamor has gone from a temple of make-believe whose old-time stars themselves have answered the last curtain call.

Newspaper Auburn NY Citizen 1926 Boxing at the Capitol formerly Burtis grandEventually the Burtis Grand became The Capitol Theater. By the mid 1950’s there was no sign of the old double mansarded building and the ghosts of Modjeska, Eddie Foy, the Burtis Orchestra and the thousands upon thousands of central New Yorkers who strolled what could easily be called Auburn’s theater district were left to drift the much emptier streets in search of one more encore.

Suffice it to say, Auburn’s downtown (I still call it that) was a vibrant center of activity and theater played a significant role in its culture and economy. Mayor Thomas Mott Osborne was known to complain that there weren’t enough restaurants to accommodate conventions and theater go-ers and that would be the downfall of the theater and convention business. I have read a great deal these past few days about the scores of years that marked that period of its history and I have barely scratched the surface. There are a number of people who have made this part of Auburn’s past their grand passion for decades and I envy their amazing deep knowledge. I think I would love to do a walking tour with these wonderful historians and drift among the ghosts of Auburn’s theatrical heyday.

Author’s Note: I have theater in my blood so to speak. My great grandfather, George Downing Curtis and his cousin, E. O. Rogers were born in the little Village of Cayuga and became ‘theatrical’ men. George owned one of the first motion picture houses in Ithaca and Rochester, New York and booked vaudeville acts all over New York State and the Midwest. Edgar O. Rogers was larger than life and took his Uncle Tom’s Cabin Touring Group to perform far and wide.  Ned Wayburn…my 3rd cousin 2x removed produced and choreographed with the famous Ziegfeld Follies. I followed another actor…Nat Blossom…who ran off with one of my great grandmother’s family members.  I myself flirted with the limelight a bit in my youth.

And I love old architecture. It speaks to me and when it disappeared before I could experience it,  I cannot help but feel that empty space.

Deborah Martin-Plugh
Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher
© Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.