The Lost Son

A Note to My Readers:  Genealogists understand that researching entire families, siblings, in-laws, aunts and uncles and cousins more often than not reveal the human history of our ancestors and indeed are likely to break down brick walls.  In my nascent days of genealogical research, I called this kind of research “sideways”.  I believe the scholarly term is “indirect evidence”. I still say “sideways” out of habit, but I am finally channeling my instinctive and self-taught methods into developing a more academic approach to accepted standards set by the Board for Certification of Genealogists®

I may need more than a modicum of patience for myself and the discipline of BCG reportage.   Still I have learned a great deal from historians, archivists and fellow genealogists and the satisfaction of continuing to improve on my knowledge and skills keeps it all so very interesting.

And, pardon the pun.   Relative.

The Long Lost Son. Walter George Lounsbury (aka Downing).

For several years I was trying to find out what happened to Medorah Rogers, daughter of the prominent veterinary surgeon from the village of Cayuga and Rochester, NY and his wife Mary J. Downing.  Medorah had a son, Walter George, but due to a misspelling of her his last name (Longsby) an error in transcription in the 1875 New York State Census, I could not find her or her family. Today I discovered that the name was Lounsbury not Longby and with that I was able to create the life and circumstances of  Walter George Lounsbury Rogers Downing.

 

As is my practice, I often go back to enigmas and check to see if I might find a new source of information that has come to light.  This time it was to once again see if I could find out what happened to Medorah Rogers Longsby and her son Walter George.  Medorah is an unusual given name and using it and the advantage of Soundex, there might be hope for discovery.  I have been back to these individuals countless times with no luck, but if I have one trait, it is tenacity. Or maybe I am just a cock-eyed optimist.   It paid off when I found Walter’s death claim and the complicated research data came together.

U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007

 

Name Walter George Lounsbury
SSN 565035802
Gender Male
Race White
Birth Date 28 Oct 1874
Birth Place Tonawanda, New York
Type of Claim Original SSN.
Signature on SSN Card WALTER DOWNING
Relationship of Signature Signature name differs from NH’s name.
Notes May 1937: Name listed as WALTER GEORGE LOUNSBURY
Household Members
Name Age
George Lounsbury
Medora Rogers
Walter George Lounsbury

It was time to work backward and sideways.  Create a timeline and analyze my research.   Still using my own wonky vocabulary as you see.

How and why did Walter George Lounsbury become Walter Downing?

According to his Social Security record, Walter was born in 1874 in Tonawanda, Erie county, New York.  His professional biographies state that he was born in Rochester, New York.  The confusion is understandable since Walter’s father, George, was from Tonawanda and his mother from Rochester.  Sometime shortly after his birth, his mother died. His father moved back to his hometown of Tonawanda, working as an Express agent or ‘cartman’ and traveled constantly.  He left Walter with his late wife’s parents, Dr. George G. Rogers and Mary J. Downing in Rochester, New York. Walter’s father continued on with his occupation and subsequently remarried and adopted a young German orphan girl, naming her Carrie after his sister. Walter was raised by his mother’s parents in Rochester, New York.

In the New York State Census of 1875 the infant boy was enumerated in his grandparents’ Rochester, New York household as their grandson, Walter G. (transcribed incorrectly as Longby which I have since reported to Ancestry.com).

Walter continued to live with his grandparents and was enumerated in the 1880 Federal Census in Rochester, New York as their 6 year old son “Walter G. Rogers”.   In the New York State 1892 Census, Walter was living with his now widowed grandmother in Rochester and still enumerated as her son, “Walter G. Rogers”.

When Walter G. Rogers married Katherine Ellsworth on October 15, 1897 in Rochester, New York, the marriage license listed his parents as George and Mary Downing Rogers and he was an insurance agent.  By 1900 Walter had relocated to Auburn, Cayuga, New York living on 87 East Genesee Street with his mother, Mary J. and a second wife enumerated as Mary, an actress. George continued selling insurance.

After  his mother Mary died in 1902, Walter G. Rogers left Auburn and I chased him by all three surnames all over country.  Born circa 1874 in New York State. Parents born in New York State.  Occupation: Insurance.  Wife: Mary who was an actress.  I found some promising information here and there, but nothing with that ‘slam dunk’ factor.

Since Walter’s social security records confirmed that he also used the surname of DOWNING, his maternal grandmother’s last name as his ‘stage name’, I went searching and found one Walter Downing. Actor. In Hollywood. With a wife named Augusta.  An actor that was in bit parts…mostly in ‘oaters’.

Working backward, in the 1930 Federal Census I found a stage actor named Walter Downing born in New York circa 1874 with parents who were born in New York , but with a wife, Augusta.  Just possibilities, so I went into industry sources to find more on Walter Downing.

 

Walter Downing’s IMDB bio states:

Walter Downing was born on October 28, 1874 in Rochester, New York, USA. He was an actor, known for Two-Fisted Sheriff (1937), The Hidden Light (1920) and One Man Justice (1937). He died on December 21, 1937 in Hollywood, California, USA.

The bio also indicates that he began his film career in 1915 though I found him in Broadway productions in the 1920’s.  So Walter was bi-coastal.

His brief biography in “The Stars of Hollywood Forever” by  Tony L.Scott fills in more information which indicated that Walter was in New York City performing.

DOWNING, Walter (b. October 28,1874 Rochester, NY d. December 21, 1937 Hollywood, CA-  Veteran western actor, Downing appeared in two Broadway productions: Taboo in 1922 starring Paul Robeson and Ruth Taylor and The 19th Hole starring Marion Abbott, Kitty Kelly and Howard Sidney.

Subsequent research into film titles in “The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion  Pictures;

Walter-Downing-as-newspaper-editor-Bill

Walter Downing as ‘Newspaper Editor Bill’ in “Kentucky Blue Streak”

Feature Films (1931 -1940)” include Walter’s listing in such films as “Helldorado“(1934),  “Kentucky Blue Streak” (1935), “Code of the Range“(1936),  “Two Fisted Sheriff” (1937) and ironically, “The Case of the Missing Man“(1935).  “Kentucky Blue Streak” is available to view online at no cost. Walter is cast as ‘newspaper editor Bill’.

In a 1920 Broadway show cast list, Walter Downing was cast as ‘Chief of Police’ in the comedy production of “Outside Looking In” starring James Cagney.

And what about “The Lost Son”?

New York NY Clipper 1890-1891 - 0671 E O Rogers display adWalter was never lost. He never ran away from home. He always lived with his mother’s parents and without much doubt spent time with his uncle, Edgar O. Rogers, the great showman and actor from Rochester, New York.   His father couldn’t have failed to know exactly where his son was. Dr. Rogers was prominent in his field of veterinary surgery specializing in horses and was listed in Rochester directories for all to see.  After the death of Walter’s grandmother,  it seems logical that the reason I lost track of him after 1902 was that he was offered a position with his uncle’s traveling emporium of actors and circus entertainment. Edgar’s wife who was a celebrated actress and his business partner died suddenly in 1903 and uncle and nephew found comfort together as a newly minted family and show business entity.  Goodbye, insurance and hello to the hurly burly of limelight and the romance of stage plays and life on the road.

All The Life’s A Stage

My favorite area to research is old newspapers. When I had nailed down the primary sources of censuses and death records and directories and noted secondary sources for further research, I settled down to the tried and true method of boolean searching for Walter George Lounsbury Rogers (on occasion Rodgers) Downing.  Two newspaper articles popped up concerning one George A. Lounsbury of Tonawanda who ‘found his long lost son’ in 1905. Walter would have been on the road with E. O. Rogers at most only three years at that time.
North Tonawanda NY Evening News 6 Oct 1905 Grayscale Walter Lounsbury gone 15years with E O Rogers

North Tonawanda NY Evening News 6 Oct 1905

According to the article, George thought Walter had died until one day in 1905 he read the posted bills of E. O. Rogers Repertoire Company that was posted in a public place with  the words ‘under the management of Walter G. Lounsbury’ and in a flash of recognition, found his long lost son.   What no doubt caught his attention was the fact that his son was listed as managing his uncle’s traveling acting troupe. George Lounsbury would have known his brother-in-law and putting two and two together and approaching his 60th year, he wanted to see his ‘long lost’ son.

Walter died in 1937 and is buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery (formerly Hollywood Memorial Cemetery).   Walter’s wife Augusta died in 1944.  There is no evidence that Walter had any children from any of his marriages.
Author’s Note:  Mary J. Downing Rogers is the sister of my maternal 3rd great grandmother.   She and her husband, Dr. George G. Rogers are buried in Lakeview Cemetery in the Village of Cayuga.  The research is the ‘easy’ part.  The ‘fun’ part for me.  I travel the individual’s history with them in kind of a time machine and always with a sense of visiting family.   My imagination and my practical fact finder detective brain work that way together.  Note taking and citing are on autopilot.  It is when I have to abandon my time machine and report the work academically that I chafe.   All those citations.

Deborah J. Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

©May 2016   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 of his sentence 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 filled 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 the enraged citizens 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 an 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 had stolen 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, the prosecution 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, the journalist wrote

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.

Just the facts, Ma’am. Who is Uncle Chickafer?

To My Readers:  In my childhood days in the 1950’s  television was in black and white and there were three stations…all plagued by snow and flipping images unless, of course,  a flag of tinfoil merrily decorated the rabbit ears.  One of my favorite programs was “Dragnet”.  I never missed it and when it returned again years later, I was one happy camper.   I should have known I had a detective’s spirit and frame of mind by the nature of my viewing choices.   I could have just as easily loved “December Bride”.   I need a mystery to solve and that’s that.  

As an historian and genealogist, mysteries are the stuff of my dreams and the whipped cream on top of my homemade apple pie.  Sergeant Joe Friday was a no nonsense detective who relentlessly and stiffly pursued the facts…kept the interviewees in line with “the facts” and had his perp neatly in handcuffs at the end of the half hour.   Unlike the sergeant…I run amok now and then.  I suspect I have been more than a bit influenced by the playful nature of his partners as well -especially Harry Morgan’s Bill Gannon.  And thank goodness…because humor gets us through the worst brick wall frustration.  Along with a little apple pie with whipped cream.

Finding Uncle Chickafer

I recently connected with a long lost second cousin and we began sharing knowledge of our great grandparents, George Downing Curtis and Kate C. Curry Curtis. His grandmother, Jennie was my maternal grandmother’s sister.  I did not know my grandmother as she had died eleven days before I was born.  As a family historian that plagues me more often than not.   We all complain about never asking questions or listening intently to the stories of our elders.  Jeff’s grandmother lived until 1960 so she had time to share memories of her life and family with her grandson and now through Jeff I have the pleasure of knowing them in a more intimate fashion.  Along with the new facts,  a new mystery arose.

In the course of our emailing one another, Jeff asked me if the name “Uncle Chickafer” rang a bell. Uncle Chickafer evidently was a quirky old guy and liked to eat his dessert first. “Best part of the meal.” I do dig in and find the darndest things…part tenacity…part luck…and part finely honed research skills. But luck sometimes is everything. Or nothing. After all, I had to identify an old guy whose nickname was Chickafer and who put apple pie before roast beef. Oh goodie…let’s see if THAT is in a census…or a directory…or a draft registration.  But I am a Joe Friday devotee and an apple pie lovin’ gal, so I went to my old standby….reading vintage newspapers since so many times I had found personal information of all kinds there. I mean how much more ‘boolean’ can you get than “Chickafer”?

The Suspects

Frank J. Curry Jr.

With our great grandparent’s family group data in front of me, I focused on my great grandmother’s brothers, Eugene and Frank, Jr.   Frank seemed likely…he was a loner of sorts…married briefly and had disappeared for a number of years at the turn of the last century after leaving the family farm in Montezuma and enlisting in the army and shipping out the Philippines. Newspaper Auburn NY Daily Bulletin 1899 Frank Jr enlists and goes to Manila

He was nowhere to be found after the 1899 article about his sudden departure to Manila until he showed up in the 1910 Federal census working in Rochester, New York at his sister Kate Curtis’ business…The Strand Theater.  Frank married a younger woman in Rochester in 1913.  He is not showing up in the subsequent census or a city directory…and then he is alone again…working for the City of Rochester in 1930.   In 1940 and seventy years old he is living at 274 Smith Street in a rooming house…just a short distance from where The Strand stood on St. Paul.

He outlived his siblings…an old bachelor who had probably developed peculiar habits that suited him just fine.

Perhaps Frank Jr. learned to eat dessert first when forced to eat Army chow.  Could he be Uncle Chickafer? Could be.

Henry Eugene Curry

So let’s see…how about Eugene…Henry Eugene to be precise. He worked for my great grandparents managing their first billiard parlor in Ithaca in the late 1880’s and then after a bit of uncertain employment became a railroad man. By 1896 he was in Attica and moving to Rochester leaving his job as a master cook for the Rome & Watertown railroad depot and taking up the position of Baggage Master (cartman) for the Rome & Watertown railroad depot in Rochester. From that time on Henry Eugene Curry lived and worked in Rochester until his death in 1923.  Maybe HE made great apple pie and developed a dessert first philosophy.

Unlike his brother Frank, Eugene had a somewhat bigger ‘footprint’ as far as research information goes.   But not the sort that hollers “Hey…Uncle Chicafer, here!”

And it sure was a sweet sidebar in an otherwise ‘normal’ meat and potatoes life.  Sorry for all of the food puns…I skipped lunch to write today.
In 1907 Eugene was a prosecution witness at the Schultz murder trial in Rochester as recounted in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle of March 13, 1907.

“Eugene Curry, baggage master of the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburg, who lives at the Rollian house, testified that he knew three men were lodging in the house, but never saw them. Mr. Curry is the man whom Officer Vaughn named as the one who informed him of the presence of the defendants in the Big B place house the morning of the arrest. The witness said he heard nothing of the men the night before the homicide or any other time. A light left burning in the hall at night and turned out by the last person to enter was out at 5 o’clock the morning of the homicide when the witness came down stairs.”

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle Wed 6 March 1907 Trial EvidenceThe 1907 “Shultz murder” trial involved the crimes of bank robbery and the murder of the night watchman, a Mr. Pullman of Sodus in Wayne county. The three perpetrators…Big Ed Kelly, Jim McCormick and Fred Shultz…also known as the Lake Shore Gang… fled the scene by stealing a horse and “cutter” (a sleigh) and were arrested after being cornered in their room at the Rollian boarding home…guns and knives were found hidden in the couch of the Big B Place boarding house including the weapon owned by the murder victim. McCormick and Shultz squeezed out a window, but were quickly caught.   Blankets from the cutter were found in the room…covered with hair from the stolen horse. The horse’s owner shared that it had to be hair from his horse…it always shed when it was nervous.  Take THAT defense team!

The trio were shivering, wet and cold and scantily clothed when they were apprehended.  They all had frozen toes from fleeing the crime scene. Big Ed Kelly was known nationally as a dangerous criminal and eventually the Pinkertons became involved in the investigation because it was a “railroad crime”. The trial was a fascinating tangle of witnesses and forensic evidence and for awhile Rochester was abuzz with the flamboyant nature of the case.

Eugene and his wife, Josephine lived at No. 2 Big B Place-the boarding home of Mr and Mrs. Fred (Florence) Rollian-a modest boarding place for teamsters and railroad workers. Testimony in the trial characterized Mrs. Rollian as a ‘crazy woman’ who had developed some sort of odd and delusional attachment to one of the defendants thinking he was her long lost brother.

The Currys had lived there for at least two years…it was a short walk to the depot and convenient and the Rollians, transplanted French Canadians,  seemed to be a nice little family.  It all was an ideal situation…until Big Ed and his boys turned the place into a major crime scene…and Mrs. Rollian had her ‘spell’.   By 1910 Eugene and Josephine were at their own modest home on 28 Scrantom Street where they lived until Eugene’s death in 1923.  I suspect the year long murder drama prompted the Currys to leave the now notorious boarding house at No. 2 Big B Place for the security of their own walls and free of fellow boarders who rob tiny country banks and murder railroad night watchmen.

Unlike their highly visible, business savvy, successful and influential sister, Frank and Eugene did not seem to break out of any work-a-day life…if you don’t count the sudden bolt to the Phillippines in 1899 or finding himself in the midst of a contentious murder trial simply by living in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The aging Curry brothers found a groove…near their sister in Rochester and that was that.   But not one hint as to an unusual nickname or a propensity to dessert first.

So WHO was I looking for?

Oh…Uncle Chickafer!  Guess what…I spent the morning reading the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle and a myriad of other newspapers following the crime and trial of Big Ed Kelly, Jim McCormick and Fred Shultz.

Today we are obsessed with forensics as a result of the O.J. Simpson trial, but the folks in 1907 were, too. Testimony involved a dizzying amount of circumstantial evidence…along with horsehair on the perp’s clothing and blankets…matching bullets…witness testimony and accusations that the railroad detectives…the Pinkertons…pressured ‘crazy’ Mrs. Rollian…Eugene’s landlady…to lie on the stand. I was riveted!

I didn’t find slam dunk proof of the identity of Uncle Chickafer….but I did read some humdinger background on Henry Eugene Curry’s witness account.

And I am pretty sure Uncle Chickafer is NOT Big Ed Kelly…..

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2013.  All Rights Reserved