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.

Trodding the Boards

A Note to My Readers:  It was heady stuff…trodding the boards as a high school senior..”Onions In the Stew” and on to Auburn Community College acting under the direction of Dan Labeille in Moliere’s “Tartuffe”…studying Pinter and Chekov and crewing behind the scenes for “Antigone”.   On the road to the Corning Theater Festival…and later the marvelous fun with the Auburn Players…Mark Twain’s “Adam and Eve”.  Rehearsals.  Scrims.  Gels.  Albolene cream.  Performance jitters.  Applause and a curtain call.  

In later years when I would attend the theater, I would find my foot or hand twitching in sync with the performer’s movements.  Obviously though I had gone on to other things, some ancient vibe still responded to the footlights.  And it’s no wonder…it’s wired in the blood.

George D. Curtis, vaudevillian, Minnesota

George D. Curtis, vaudevillian, Minnesota

My great grandfather, George Downing Curtis,  was a theater man.   From his youngest days he was an entertainer and drama followed him in every aspect of his life.   He trod the boards, but soon found his entrepreneurial nature and began purchasing billiard halls and ‘eating establishments’ and vaudeville theaters…eventually opening one of Ithaca, New York’s first moving picture theaters in the old Cornell Public Library.    George was also a dandy who sported a diamond pinkie ring and it wasn’t a big leap to expand his business interests to men’s clothing stores.  Then on to Rochester where he and he wife purchased the old St. Paul’s Church and opened the Happy Hour.  Within a few years the building was razed and the great and grand Strand Theater was built.     Always the showman, his life story is definitely grist for the stage.  Gambling.  Drinking.  Scandal.  Bankruptcy.  Grandiosity.   Divorce.  But never dull.

The Smell of Greasepaint

He wasn’t the only grandson of  Quaker Obadiah J. Downing to find himself drawn to the world of entertainment and drama.  George’s older cousin, Edgar O. Rogers also left the small village of Cayuga to eventually find life under the proscenium arch.   His father, George G. Rogers,  well versed in caring for horses, took his wife, Mary Downing Rogers and their children to Waterloo and then to Rochester where he became a prominent veterinary surgeon.

E. O. Rogers, as he was always booked, had a flare for jewelry and was known to wear a very large diamond breast pin…only to be out shone by one of his minstrel players, “Hi Henry”, whose pin was described as illumining “the hall more than half a dozen or so kerosene lamps”.

As a young man, E. O. Rogers came back from the Civil War and immediately began his stage career.  By 1869 he was a variety performer headlining his own troupe with vocalist, Kate Tilston; comedian Mr. Fielding; Miss Susie Starr, whose specialty was a “Greek dance”;  Mr. E. F. Gorman, flutina soloist;Miss Maude Grinnell, actress;  Mr. J. M. Murray and Miss Nellie Clifford.  Called the Rogers Combination Company they were advertised as the most complete variety troupe ever brought together with a combination of five distinct companies -presenting dramatic, burlesque, pantomime, terpsichorean, Ethiopian and musical features.

Auburn and vicinity welcomed many of  his earliest shows.  The E. O. Rogers Pavillion show performed in Moravia in the summer of 1879.

In 1882 while his cousin was beginning his entertainment career opening billiard parlors and eating establishments, Edgar was the manager of a Havana NY Journal 17 Jun 1882 E O Rogers Uncle Toms Cabincomplete theatrical company taking “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” on the road…

laden with canvas of Mr. Roger’s Pavillion Opera House which he erects in every place where the show is given.  It is the most complete affair of its kind ever carried about by a traveling organization.  It included a large and commodious state, twenty-three complete sets of scenery, folding opera chairs for parquet and dress circle.  The stage has an area of 1600 square feet and the pavilion has a seating capacity of 2, 200.  The company consists of thirty-six artists.  Music is furnished by Professor Morey’s brass and string orchestra.

Never missing an opportunity to astound and thrill, the troupe of performers entered each town with a street parade featuring two uniformed brass bands, “white and colored.”

Investing in a large farm in Friendship, Alleghany, NY in 1885, Edgar and Lillie established a summer home where they could find respite from life on the road and ‘the canvas theater’.

With the flamboyant moniker of The E. O. Rogers Mammoth Double Uncle Tom Cabin’s Troupe, his retinue played to a full house at Nye’s Opera House in Auburn in February 1887 and again at Genoa’s Academy Hall.

The village of Cayuga welcomed their favorite son when he brought the E. O. Rogers Pavillion Opera Company presenting “Ten Nights in A Bar Room” under the big tent in July of 1888.  Company members (Professor) C.  J. Morey and W. B. Waterman registered at the Titus House belonging to  Edgar’s uncle,  David Sands Titus.

With his wife, Lillie Crider Rogers, who played Topsy to his Simon LeGree, Edgar and his entourage traveled throughout New York state, Pennsylvania and New Jersey to “Standing Room Only” crowds of enthusiastic fans as late as 1889.

The Roar of the Crowd

Belmont NY Weekly Dispatch 22 Apr 1890 E O Rogers Circus AdIn 1890 the flamboyant showman was not satisfied with the throngs and financial success that “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” garnered and decided a menagerie would be his next great venture.  Giraffes, elephants…”Ladies and Gentlemen…from the far corners of the world, I bring you…” kind of entertainment.    E. O. felt the need for something new to excite the audience.   For decades he and his accomplished troupe of stage performers had been one of the most successful companies in New York State.    On his new farm in East Hill in Friendship, New York, $8, 000 worth of circus animals were prepared for his latest venture.  A circus.   The animals had been  purchased from the holdings of the late Adam Forepaugh who died in Philadelphia in January of 1890 during the flu epidemic .   Forepaugh and P. T. Barnum had the two largest circuses in the nation, were bitter rivals and E. O. Rogers was ready to give old P. T. some stiff competition.

Elephants and camels were ‘prowling around” the farm joining the ‘terrors’ of the local neighbors…the Rogers family bloodhounds.  Despite the “-ugh” commentary in the Belmont, NY Dispatch, they politely wished Mr. Rogers a prosperous business.

Within months, he and Lillie who had been childless, adopted one year old Sarah Richardson from a Rochester orphanage and renamed her Edna Rogers.  Lillie’s twice widowed mother,  Emily Hess,  moved in with the Rogers and life was good.

Unlike his troupe of human performers, transporting the animals,  training them, caring for them was a bigger task than he had imagined.  And the human performers…were a different breed entirely.  He had heavily invested in his new enterprise confident in his ability to draw crowds.  But the competition was quickly becoming thick and he was out of his element.  Now in their forties and with a new daughter to consider, the Rogers found themselves struggling.    Expenses were terrific and the environs of  a circus brought a rougher side to their lives.

And gambling.  In 1891 during his Great Inter-state show,  circus and menagerie booking in Cattaraugus county New York, he was arrested for conducting a three-monte swindle in connection with the show “whereby one man lost $250.  Rogers readily settled the matter by back the money with $15 costs added.”  Things were going from bad to worse.

Running out of money and not getting any younger, the Rogers decided to go back to what they knew best.  Acting.  By 1897 E. O. Rogers had been booked quickly as a popular orator and promoting him as of “Uncle Newark NY Union Sat Jan 9 1897 Edgar O Rogers Sherman Opera House LectureTom’s Cabin fame’ and ‘veteran circus man’ .  He  gave illustrated lectures  on Sunshine Shadows of a Great City” and  “The War of the Union” and exhibited pictures with Edison’s kinematograph.

Trouble followed Edgar in the form of Rochester laborer Charles John.  When little Edna came home in late summer of 1898 and reported that she had been ‘interfered with’ and pointed out Mr. John as her molester, the enraged father rushed to the site where the man was working a short distance from the Rogers’ home and beat him badly enough to require a physician.  Edgar was arrested and put on trial.  Evidence of Mr. John’s proclivities were brought about by testimony of others in the neighborhood whose children had similar complaints.   After a short deliberation, Edgar was pronounced not guilty and he returned home to the arms of his family.

An 1899 newspaper report in the Bolivar New York “Breeze” reported.

E. O. Rogers, formerly of Friendship is now proprietor of an Uncle Tom show.  Rogers once made $60, 000 with an Uncle Tom show.  Then he got stylish and put his money into a circus that bankrupted him.  He is making money.

The Final Curtain

His beloved Lillie, known as the greatest Topsy for her role in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, was stricken in her dressing room before a performance of Edgar’s acclaimed play “A Dash For Freedom” in 1903.  Her husband carried on his role on stage and the audience knew nothing of the tragedy unfolding back stage.  She died days later in their hotel room in Friendship.

Edna,  then 13 years old, lived with her maternal grandmother in Williamson, NY and Edgar went on with the show.  Westfield NY 1 Nov 1905 E O Rogers Stock Co Ad

The new company, Rogers Dramatic Company later The E. O. Rogers Stock Company, toured the northeast performing their old standard “Ten Nights In A Bar”, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”.  The trades were picking up on his activity back on the boards with great enthusiasm in 1905 reporting a repertory which included his own play “A Dash For Freedom” and characterizing him and his performance as “the author, manager and leading man, is receiving much praise for his clever acting.”

As late as 1907 he was promoting himself  in the New York Dramatic Mirror from his mother-in-law’s Williamson home.

EDGAR O. ROGERS

At Liberty after Oct. 15

For old men – height 5 feet 11 – weight 190 -wardrobe-experience-ability-good habits-one play preferred.

He was 57 years old.

In three years he would be dead, destitute, but not forgotten.   The vain and glorious young man who trod the board with the beautiful Lillie, wore diamond stick pins, fascinated crowds near and far, dreamed the wildest dreams ,  took his final curtain call at the Old Soldier’s Home in Bath, New York.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2013.  All Rights Reserved

 

Author’s Note:   My great grandfather, like his cousin, dreamed amazing dreams and found himself without his theater and his family.