Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Titanic Connection

My mother, her mother, and her aunts periodically worked for the Ryerson/Salvatore family who spent their summers on Otsego Lake, just north of Cooperstown, NY. I remember going with them to open the big house called Swanswick in the Spring, letting the fresh air in and removing the sheets that covered the furniture. This was a relationship that lasted for four generations, as my great-grandmother received an invitation to the wedding of Ellen Ryerson in Chicago in 1917 and my great aunt cared for her children and grandchildren in Cooperstown, Scarsdale, and Washington DC over the years.

Ellen "Nell" Ryerson was the daughter of Arthur Ryerson and Emily Borie. While Nell and her brother Arthur jr. were in school in the Spring of 1912, their family was traveling in France. Arthur, a student at Yale, was the victim of a fatal car accident on April 8 in Bryn Mawr PA. Upon receiving the news, the Ryerson family booked passage on the next available ship - the Titanic sailing on its maiden voyage.

Arthur Ryerson, lawyer and steel baron, went down on the ship, after seeing his wife, daughters Emily and Suzette, and son John into the lifeboats with their governess and maid. The 1997 movie reportedly mentions that the fictional character of Jack Dawson (actor Leonardo DiCaprio) filched a coat belong to Arthur Ryerson.

As an aside, it was reported that Mr. Ryerson caught the attention of Juliette Gordon, future founder of the Girl Scouts at "an outing in Providence" in 1883, prior to his marriage. See this article.

(Photo from Encyclopedia Titanica)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

1940 in Northampton, MA

The census takes a snapshot of my father's family in 1940. They lived at 36 Holyoke Street in Northampton, on the corner of Hawley Street. The house was valued at $4000, and they were the only homeowners on this census page.

In the years since the preceding census in 1930, Dad had lost his mother in 1936, as well as his oldest brother, Bennie. The household was headed by my grandfather, Peter, who was a naturalized citizen. He was 58 and working as a dishwasher. Jennie was 24 and was the informant for this census taker. She had four years of high school, and stated that her father had 8 years of education. We don't know anything else about his education in Poland.

At 19, Bert was in her second year of college, a student at Smith. The oldest son, Charlie, was no longer living at home, but the younger boys were still in school. At 16, Henry was in his first year of high school with Dad, at 14. Dad's twin brother, John, was still in 7th grade. Jennie was a waitress and earned $360 in 40 weeks of work. For 50 weeks of work, Peter earned $450. Bert had also worked as a waitress for 8 weeks. During this period they were employed by the Hotel Northampton.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

1940 in Cooperstown - Mom was Sweet 16

My mother was 15-going-on-16 when the census was taken in 1940. Her sister Peggy was 14 and in eighth grade. They were living in the home that I knew twenty years later on Brooklyn Aveue in the Town of Middlefield, on the south side of the village of Cooperstown, NY. It was the home her grandfather had built for his bride, and home of her father, William, and his sister, Bess.

The house was valued at $4000, twice that of the next home. I know they had a large barn and more acreage, which may account for the difference. Her father was a foreman in a sawmill, which was a short walk away on the Susquehanna River. This was the same place his father and grandfather had worked. His salary was listed at $1416, which is slightly more than the neighbors, and he states he worked 53 hours the previous week. The neighbors who were employed all worked much more than today's 40 hour norm.

Aunt Bess had a hat shop on Main Street in Cooperstown. She doesn't list a "salary."

The education column reveals that William had 3 years of high school, while the women in the family each had 4. Bess had continued in a teaching training class and taught school for several years. My grandmother, Sara Meeneghan, also finished high school before working in child care for several private families.

Bessie's stated age or 56 would have been correct as of her birthday in May, but Sara was approaching 51 and the census form states that she is 44. William was 49 at the time of the census, but is listed as 47. Based on the "X" next to her name, it was my Grandmother, Sara, who gave the information to the census taker.