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Prince & Me

One of our long time family friends just was asking folks in one of our groups on Facebook, “What famous people have you met and where?” I think I have been pretty lucky to have met some very famous people in my life. So here is one: When I was 18 in my freshman year of attending Fairleigh Dickinson University I was under an amazing amount of stress as I finished up my first semester (long sad story). My family decided I could go up to spend the winter break with Aunt Gwen who lived in Edina, MN, just outside of St. Paul. Aunt Gwen & Uncle Alan had managed Prince’s Sign of the Times tour, and still worked very closely with him.

I had so much fun on this visit with Aunt Gwen: She gave me my first camera for my birthday, which is how I have pictures of any of this… we went to the Mall of America, Byerly’s grocery store (the most amazing grocery store I had ever seen), cross country skiing, walking across an enormous frozen solid lake, amazing fancy dinners out (including one in a rotating rooftop restaurant where you can see a tiny, baby Mississippi River out of the window,) shopping (at Ragstock and all kinds of cool shops), I picked out awesome and amazing clothes from Aunt Gwen’s insane clothing collection, taped copies of lots of Alan & Gwen’s amazing music collection, took long bubble baths with all manner of pricey perfumes, oils, masks, lotions, (you name it!  Aunt Gwen loves the HABA products just like I did especially back then, plus they stayed at tons of fancy hotels…), we had facials at the Aveda headquarters!!!, my 2nd professional manicure (I think the first was for my senior prom)… And we had TICKETS TO PRINCE’S PRIVATE NEW YEARS EVE CONCERT AND PARTY!!

But that was days away, and she just took me all around town with her for the whole time I was there. I went to work with Aunt Gwen at Paisley Park Studios. This was the lobby:

19871222 Paisley Park 1b

She showed me around and introduced me to a bunch of the people she worked with at the studio. I remember being especially thrilled that I got to take home a few buttons from wardrobe. It was in the wardrobe department that I got this pic of me wearing some sunglasses from wardrobe and holding up Prince’s outfit from the All Around the World in A Day video.

Me in Prince's wardrobe with his "All Around the World in One Day" outfit.

Me in Prince’s wardrobe with his “All Around the World in One Day” outfit.

So there we were, walking down one of the halls at the studio, and sure enough, here comes Prince with his girlfriend Susannah, (who was the twin sister of Wendy, of the musical pair Wendy and Lisa, Prince’s bandmates in the Revolution…). Aunt Gwen introduced us, and Susannah just flat out asked if I would like to join them in the studio, and Aunt Gwen (of course) is all “NO, she doesn’t need to go in there”, and I was dying of “yes yes yes please…”  And they let me in.

It was dimly lit, with a chair off to the side where I sat, and Prince sat at his Fairlight, which is a huge audio processing machine, and Susannah was kind of next to him but back a bit.  I sat there for about 2-3 hours, quiet as a mouse, listening to Prince work on his new album. He was doing a song called The Line. I was in awe – completely silent (afraid to get thrown out). Prince spoke to me only very briefly, and I was soooo nervous I could barely reply. But still. I will never forget that experience as long as I live. This was during the time Prince was working on The Black Album. I only learned that later when I looked up the words I remembered him singing because it wasn’t something that ever came out in wide release.

19871222 Paisley Park 2.

Of course, cameras were strictly forbidden! That is my excuse for why this picture is so blurry – I was shaking and trying to be really quick about it! I snapped this just after Prince and Susannah walked out of the room.

This is another shot from one of the studios (I’m sure it looks completely different now):

19871222 Paisley Park 3

I have a few more shots from around the studio – I was being very sneaky, I don’t know how I wasn’t too scared. I really was terrified one of Prince’s “people” would catch me and confiscate my camera…

The manicure and facials Aunt Gwen treated me to were in preparation for the big New Year’s Eve party thing. I wore a black velvet dress, long black gloves and my great great grandmother’s fur trimmed coat.

19871231 Sasha fur

At our table was Prince’s younger half(?) brother, John. I think he might have been about 14 at the time. This is John and me from the photo thing at the party.  Again, cameras were strictly forbidden, but they had this setup with a professional photographer so you could have some remembrance of the night.

19871231 Sasha b

At the party, I got to meet Morris Day and the Time, and then I was thrilled beyond words to meet Miles Davis, who kissed me on the cheek!!! I immediately ran to a pay phone to call my old boyfriend Matt, because I was dying to tell someone!!! There was caviar (which I tried) and champagne (which Aunt Gwen would never have let me have) and a really amazing concert that I was right up front for… I was too scared to take any photos for most of the night but I did snap this one pic as they were cleaning up at the end of the night:

19871231 PP stage

I just found out (thank you, Google) there is a bootleg DVD of this concert available, and even an interview of Uncle Alan talking about Prince and Miles and a little about this night.

I have always loved Prince’s music, but to watch and listen to him at work was just magic for me. I know I was sooo lucky to have that experience. I will never forget it, but I sure am glad to have these few pics to remember it all. For this and so much more, Thanks Again, Aunt Gwen!

Jan 12, 1951, Tom Sims

Sims Tom

(includes earlier clipping about Tom’s 81st birthday) On Feb 2 Tom Sims of Charlotte celebrated his 81st birthday with is family at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Salley Davis __ Shuman Ave in Charlotte. Mr. Sims also has a son, Phil Sims of Harrisburg, Pa., three grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren.

Funeral Services for Tom N_ Sims of 130 Martin St. who died Friday were held today at 2pm at Galilee Baptist Church. The Rev. Douglass Owens, pastor will officiate. Interment will be in the church cemetery.

Survivors include a daughter, Mrs. Sallie Davis of Charlotte, a son, Phillip sims of Harrisburg, Pa., a sister Miss Gertie Sims of Winston-Salem, __ grandchildren; and 18 great grandchildren.

From a newspaper scrapbook kept by Ethel Pearson Daily (1908-1992) mostly of obituaries of African Americans of Asheville, NC, but also including some news stories of mostly African Americans from Charlotte, NC, and some from around the country and the world.

Love Sarah 1948

Mrs. Sarah Welch Love died yesterday at her home, 83 Hazzard street, at the age of 103 years. She had been ill one week.

Born in Jackson county April 18, 1845, she had resided in Asheville for 85 years. Surviving are a son, Robert P. Love; eight grandchildren; four great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren. Funeral Arrangements under the direction of McCoy-Wilkins funeral home, were incomplete last night. (born to Louis Welch and Lucinda ____)

From a newspaper scrapbook kept by Ethel Pearson Daily (1908-1992) mostly of obituaries of African Americans of Asheville, NC, but also including some news stories of mostly African Americans from Charlotte, NC, and some from around the country and the world.

In the Public Eye…

Today I have the honor of being featured in a profile story in the Living section of our local Sunday paper, the Asheville Citizen-Times. It’s been an enlightening process. The interviewer read my name in a press release about the new online digital access to slave deeds in Buncombe County. She checked out my website, and thought my story would be a good one to share, so we started to work. After reading a great deal of background about me, my family, hobbies and interests, she sent me 23 questions, and I answered all of them in as much detail as I could. I am comfortable writing and I welcomed the opportunity to share my story. I have considered writing a memoir, so I knew I had to get familiar with this process of bearing my soul in print.

It’s a little unnerving to read about yourself in the newspaper. While our family portraits are usually carefully orchestrated and masterfully photoshopped creations featuring everyone’s best smiles, the photos in the paper feature a group shot where my husband appears to be mildly scowling towards me or my son and a second photo of me holding my dog at a somewhat unflattering angle for both of us. In any case, it’s out there now, and the responses from the public and from my friends and family are coming in.

My very first response was an email from an African American woman I don’t know. She said she was “dumbfounded” by what she read. She said she had “a difficult time digesting and believing your story of hiding your heritage.” She went on to say I didn’t have to explain, but she had a lot of questions about the story, and because she is a fellow genealogist with an interest in mixed race studies I wrote her back a very detailed email attempting to fill in some gaps in the story. I decided to write this blog post to answer some of those questions here, because I’m sure many people will not understand how this happened in “modern times”.

One thing that was left out of the article is the fact that I look back on those years at the Jersey Shore as some of the happiest times of my childhood. Yes, this first experience of racism directed at me was horrible, and as a young girl it affected me tremendously. But it wasn’t a constant thing. Because of that painful time, my family encouraged us to hide our background rather than open ourselves up to the risk of being hurt.

What I didn’t know at the time was that the area where we lived in Wall Township, NJ was once the location of New Jersey’s Klu Klux Klan headquarters. I think several of my classmates must have been descended from those people, many of whom lived in a subdivision near Camp Evans, which was owned from 1925 to 1935 by the Monmouth County Pleasure Club, a Klan summer resort. Some people might think that New Jersey, being in “the North” and certainly including many cities of great diversity and tolerance is full of racially tolerant people. The reality is that it included at least 28 suspected “sundown towns” where black people were not welcome to live for many years long past desegregation. My family sometimes mentioned businesses they avoided because of their treatment of black people. Mixed race children were particularly troubling to some people, so when we were out in a group with my black side of the family I remember drawing curious and often critical looks.

Another aspect of my experience that might be hard for other people to understand is that as a bi-racial person I am in a strange almost invisible position. I have been told many times by black people that it is perfectly obvious to them that I am black, (and they usually don’t say “part black”). At the same time, I have not been exactly welcomed with open arms in the black community. As a college student at the University of Arizona, I joined the Black Student Union, and even there I was brought to tears by outright hateful things some people had to say about my participation in the group and about white people in general. Most people see my tan skin and know I’ve got some kind of different ethnicity, but guesses as to my background include Italian, Greek, Hispanic, Filipino, and east Indian among others.

My ambiguous looks leave many people feeling quite free to express their racist feelings in front of me. I’ve even heard specific comments about mixed race children and how wrong it is to bring them into the world. Although our society has changed a great deal, and mixed race families are much more common and far more acceptable, there is still a lot of work to be done before the United States can call itself “post racial”.

One event from my high school years sticks out in my mind. In 1985 the Daily news featured an article about my father. At the time my history teacher Mr. Baker often sat at his desk with the Daily News and would read it throughout the day. I was proud of my dad being in the article, but at the same time I was terrified that Mr. Baker would look up in class and point me out. I don’t look back at my high school years as a happy time for many reasons. My racial background was just one several troubling secrets I was carrying around. In many regards I was a regular student, and I’m sure most teenagers are unsure and nervous and constantly concerned about what their peers think of them. From the outside it might have looked like everything was rosy. I was an attractive girl (although I didn’t appreciate it at the time), I earned good grades, ran track, had some good friends. But I was also very good at hiding a great deal of personal pain. I can’t imagine being able to share that article with the class. It mentions my dad’s struggles with drugs and alcohol. I can say without hesitation that racial issues aside, no high school student wants to share the fact that their father is a drug addict.

I have come a long way from those days. Still, being comfortable with my life and my past now doesn’t mean I’m completely comfortable with sharing all of it with the world. I hope sharing my story helps foster understanding. Now that the story out is I have to deal with this part of my past more honestly, and now thanks to Facebook and the digital age, the story is now just a mouse-click away from dozens of my old classmates and acquaintances. I guess it might be of some comfort to believe I am my own harshest critic.  That remains to be seen.

Irish Roots

I’ve got LOTS of Irish cousins, mostly connected to my grandfather William Ryan, who had many nieces and nephews through his four siblings.  His ancestors include the Donovans and Conroys of Co. Cork, Ireland. His Ryan ancestors had the misfortune of being named William and Mary (only about 200 of them…) and apparently left no paper records of their existence. My Aunt Bernadette Ryan, with her Ryan, Kane, Tally & Symon ancestors also has a rich Irish history. Her cousins even have a pub in Ireland!

This is what I know of my ancestors from Ireland…

Thomas Donovan was born in Jan 1834 in Co. Cork, Ireland. He migrated to the US in 1852 on the ship Constellation. On May 15, 1859 when Thomas was 25, he married Ellen Catherine Conroy. She was born in 1832 in Co. Cork, Ireland and emigrated to the US in 1854 on the ship Commerce.  They opened a savings account in her name at Emigrant Savings Bank in 1863 in New York, listing their residence as 243 Cherry St. with their daughter Elizabeth. He was a longshoreman and she was a housewife. They were listed on the census for 1870 in Bethany, New Haven, CT. He was a tanner, she was a housewife. They had in their household three daughters and 80 year old Catherine Donovan, who I imagine was Thomas’ mother, although I can’t be sure.  In addition, a woman named Ama Kough and her daughter Mary were living in their house. In 1880 in the same place, he worked in a shoe factory, she kept house. By then they had 6 children, the oldest three (girls ages 19, 18 & 14) worked in a woolen mill. On May 10 1900, Ellen died after a lingering illness at the age of 68. A little over a year later, her husband Thomas died on his way home from work, falling into a canal and drowning.  I found out about his sad death in a newspaper article from the Naugatuck Daily News, and wrote about it here.

Their children were:

  • Elizabeth Mary C. (1860-) I found no record of her after 1880
  • Anna (Annie) M. (1865-<1930) married Michael Morris, and their daughter Nellie was the mother of Frank “Spec” Shea the baseball player!
  • Margaret “Maggie” (1867-1909)
  • Catherine “Katie” (1869-1898)
  • William (1872-)
  • Elizabeth (1876-1955)

Thomas and Ellen’s youngest daughter Elizabeth married my great great grandfather, William A. Ryan, born Feb 1874 in New York to William & Mary Ryan. He was a vaudeville performer, and then in 1900 a rubber worker, his wife Lizzie working as a Rubber Shoe maker.

William & Larena Harden Ryan

William & Larena Harden Ryan

Their three sons were William Joseph Ryan (my great grandfather), Thomas J. and Edmund. William Joseph Sr. lived his whole life in Naugatuck, Connecticut and worked as an Insurance Salesman, a Store Manager and a Factory Worker, employed for 31 years with a division of General Motors. He was married at age 22 to Larena Harden, daughter of William Arthur Harden b. 1871 in Quebec Canada to an English father and French mother and Lucinda Fournier, whose parents Ira Fournier and Lucinda Hutchinson were both born in Canada of French parents. I met my great grandmother Larena a few times – she lived to be 91, and played piano with the Senior Citizen’s Orchestra for over 25 years.

I know very little personally about my grandfather Bill “Ski”Ryan. I was told by my grandfather’s sister, Aunt Betty, that that he left school to travel on the road with bands in his 2nd year of high school. In 1942 at age 17, his Social Security application shows him living in Youngstown Ohio, employed as a musician by Jack Melton. He married my grandmother when they were both serving in the Army in during World War II, after her brief 1st marriage to Richard Shoemaker. Bill left my grandmother while my mother and her two brothers were still young, remarrying with the blessings of the Catholic church after having his marriage to my grandmother annulled. When my Grammie fell apart for a while after her divorce, mom and one uncle stayed with Betty’s family, attending Catholic mass with them in Latin!

William Ryan Jr with sister Betty

Betty & William Ryan Jr

My mother saw her father very rarely after that, and I have only one hazy memory of visiting him with his 2nd wife. I remember they gave my sister and I chocolate Easter Bunnies that must have been a little old. His wife Betty was a former gymnast or dancer, and I remember doing some small acrobatics with her.  He was an organ player who played with and wrote arrangements for several local Connecticut bands including Al Gentile and Hal MacIntyre and big name bands Raymond Scott and Art Mooney Orchestras and Joe Mooney Jazz Quartet. I remember asking my mom if Grammie was upset that she was dating my father – if she was bothered about his race, and Mom told me that Grammie was far more upset about my mom dating a musician.

My Irish heritage is somewhat diluted at this point. I’m not subscribing to any stereotype of Irish people here, but in my own family there is definitely a streak of alcohol abuse down my Irish family line, although we’ve got a few streaks of one sort or another in other branches of my family tree. My visits to this branch of my family were mostly to the home of my mother’s Aunt Betty, who raised a lovely large family with her Italian American husband Mike Palaia. Although my own family obviously didn’t embrace the Catholic faith, it is one of the things I most associate with my Irish relatives, along with the fact that they seemed to have comparatively large families.  Besides that, Betty clearly embraced her own family heritage. She is the keeper of photographs, she has the family bible, and she shared those with me, along with countless family memories and facts. Betty’s kids were close to my mom’s age, except for her youngest son Jim, who was just a little younger than me and has been a dear friend to me since we met as kids. I will always be grateful for my friendship with Betty and all that she has done to share our heritage.  I also proudly wear green every St. Patrick’s Day!

This past weekend, I took a trip to Wytheville, VA with my Grandma Mary Gwyn to visit with her Aunt Ossie and family.  My grandmother’s mother Addie was Ossie’s sister, but she died in childbirth. My grandmother came to know this part of her family because her paternal grandmother took special care in bringing her down to visit with them. I too, am grateful to my paternal grandmother for introducing me to these cousins I would otherwise not have personally known.  Of course, in addition to wanting to meet my distant family, I insisted that I would take some time to research. I get few opportunities to travel to a family history destination and I had to make the most of it. My first trip to Wytheville was made when I was expecting my eldest son, now 11 years old. The second trip was made with my sons, sisters, aunt and Grandma. I’ve been back several times, and each time I seek a little more.  This time was no different, and I was richly rewarded!

Ossie is 97 years old now, in a nursing home and rather frail. We stayed with her daughter Janet, who was very sweet to us, and grateful for our company after having lost the companionship of her mom and her brother Eddie who passed away in 2008. On our first day in, we visited a while at the house then spent some time with Aunt Ossie at the nursing home, and then I dropped Grandma & Janet back at the house and hightailed it to the Mary Kegley Genealogy collection at Wytheville Community College library. Mary Kegley is a descendant of Kegleys in the area, as well as a researcher and writer, having written extensively about Wytheville’s history. Visits are by appointment only, and I felt pressed for time as it the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. This was followed by a quick trip to the court house, and later that night by a visit to a local researcher I had met years ago.

I felt a little unprepared at the library, as I had to request the specific records I wanted, and I really didn’t know what I was looking for. I asked for the books listing marriage records and death records, as well as files about the Kincannons who were the last owners of my Great Great Great Grandmother Phoebe Sanders Sayles.  In each case, I looked for the surnames in our family: Johnson, Jackson, Sayles, Sanders, Howard.  Eventually, I located a file labeled “Blacks.” I wasn’t really sure what that meant. (A surname? African Americans? Something else?) but it was soon obvious – it was all African American records of various sorts. They were indexed by number with a list describing the contents at the front of the file. In it I found a record I had read about years earlier, and was thrilled to now hold in my hand. It concerned an 1880 court case of a man named Allen Smith, attempting to prove in court that he was next of kin to Edmund Smith, (his stepson, the son of his wife Mary Bell/Kincannon) who died intestate, but with an estate of some value. One of the defendants in the case was Wesley Johnson, my GGG grandfather. (He was Mary Bell’s brother.) The papers I held had been hand written, and were an edited transcription of the original court depositions of the former slaves who knew Allen, Edmund and Edmund’s mother Mary Bell. Years earlier I had transcribed the rest of the case from photocopies loaned to me by another Wytheville researcher, but my copies had not included these depositions.  Even better, they had already been transcribed (I believe by none other than Mary Kegley) so I was spared the tedium of trying to decipher the old script in the original file.

What a gold mine! Most of these people were former slaves owned by the Kincannons and by their neighbors and associates. They named their owners, as well as the people they had been hired out to, and their spouses. One even described his decision to never again marry a slave woman, because his first slave “wife” had lived 40 miles away. He continued to “court” other women, but finally married a free woman, and was approaching his 28th anniversary at the time of the deposition. Several of them were either relatives of mine, or knew them well. They spoke about their owners, their work, their living situations, their families and/or the family of Edmund Smith, and whether Edmund favored either of his purported fathers in looks. There was rather a lot of attention focused on Mary Bell Kincannon – when and with whom she was intimate. Of the three potential fathers brought up during the case: were they married (in slave marriages or otherwise), how often were they there visiting or “courting”, had they been seen in bed together? I found myself feeling a little badly for her – I am sure she would have been mortified to know she was the subject of these kinds of discussions, if she had still been living – but I would hope she could have settled it all rather easily if she had!

Throughout the testimony, there was a consistent avoidance of ANY discussion of slaveholders and their potential paternity, despite comments about how fair one slave or another was, and looks shared by (for example) the “Austin negros”. No one said that anyone had more “white” in them, but rather mentioned one slave being darker than another. I imagine that the judge and the lawyers and white former slave holders who testified may have known about slaves who looked rather fair and similar to their slave holders (even themselves or their parents) but obviously this topic was never touched upon. I noticed when I followed up on some of the names listed while searching marriage and death records that many documents would list “unknown” under father’s name, when I had a strong suspicion that the name was well known, but was just typically unspoken.

Previously, the most valuable records for me were the marriage and death records. The slave births were rarely recorded, but marriages (either those found in the Freedmen’s records that were “ratified” after slavery’s end, or those made after slavery) often recorded birthdates, birth places and parents names. Likewise, death records recorded these details, although often less reliably.  Several of my records contradict each other. (For example – my GGG Grandmother’s children’s marriage records list three different maiden names for her – which I believe had to do with the fact that as a slave she didn’t really have an official last name – so she was probably known by the various slaveholders she worked for.  I had already traced what I could for most of my direct ancestors and some close cousins, but these transcriptions provide an additional layer of information about the generation first out of slavery – about the time when the details of their lives were generally unwritten.  Most of them are not direct ancestors of mine, but they are close!

Early in my research in this area when I first visited with Ossie, I brought with me an early version of my family tree – several pages taped together that I had generated with my family tree program, using information from a list I believe was a handwritten copy of entries in a family bible along with a few census records.  I sat in the kitchen with Ossie and asked her about every name on the tree. Were they married? Who was the spouse, what were the maiden names? Who were the children? Were they married? Where did they live?  Before her health failed her, she was sharp as a tack! With the “tree” layed out in front of her, it was easy for her to give me all the names. Then I visited with Ossie’s older sister Leon Holliday around the corner and spoke with Leon and her husband Albert who told me all they knew of their family history, and then let me copy down all of the information from the many funeral programs and cards they had kept in the front of their family bible. I wrote down everything, then at home I followed up with census records for initial dates, and then marriage, military and death records to fill in the blanks and additional names. Over time I met more cousins – and continued the process.

I have learned how the African American Crockett, Kincannon, Johnson, Jackson, Chaffin, Sayles, Sanders, Howard & Woolwine families were interconnected, as well as the relationships between some of their slave holders. There are very few records of slave sales in Wythe County, but clearly these slaves moved from household to household and had relationships, friendships and marriages – some formal and others assumed, to the extent it was possible. A lot of these families were affiliated with the Red Bluff Church in Ivanhoe and have extended families still in the area.

At this point, our family tree on Ancestry.com now includes several branches that are not “connected”. The community of people who lived there made up a kind of family even when they lacked ties of blood or marriage. Even between the Black community and the descendants of former slave holders there is an aknowledged “kinship” whether or not there are known blood ties (although in some cases this was a known and accepted fact). I’ve started hoping that some day we could have a big reunion, maybe even including descendants of former slave holders. Very soon I’ll need to write a post about finally connecting with a descendant of the man who owned (and likely fathered) my GGG Grandmother, Phoebe Jane Sanders Sayles. If you are interested in reading the court case transcription, please let me know.

Ride, Tenderfoot, Ride

This post is written for the 78th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Pony Pictures! hosted by Jasia of Creative Gene. We were invited to share some pony pictures from our collection. I had two lovely photos I was happy to share. Thanks again Jasia for your work!

Lou @ age 2 on a pony
This is my father-in-law, Lou Mitchell, Jr. probably about 2 years old on a sweet little pony. I love his old fashioned outfit, and the look of this cute, compact little pony, and imagine Lou was happy sitting up there (although I know this is not always the case, from seeing many children change their minds about riding the pony once they get to the head of the pony line.) This was probably taken about 1942, and likely in Pennsylvania where he grew up, but I know little else about it, and neither does he.

Sasha Eden & Prince 1995
The photo above was from before the days of my digital camera. But I was able to precisely date it from the hospital records.

I don’t think I had ever ridden on a pony or horse before the time this photo was taken. If I had, I had no recollection of it. My experience was of feeding them carrots at the farm market or things like that. I always approached horses with a healthy fear, from the handful of times I had been close. They are so big! And they have big teeth and can kick hard with iron shoes! But this was my friend’s old horse, and he was gentle. My sister Eden was visiting me and we had just taken a triumphant hike to the top of a trail not far from our home in Boulder, CO. My husband’s friend Tonya from work offered to let us take a ride on her horse, Prince, who was stabled nearby. Seemed like the perfect way to end the day, and look at that beautiful sky!

Unfortunately, she did not have his saddle, but that was not a big problem – he was just a gentle old horse, and it would just be a short walk around the field. We draped our old blanket from the back of our car across his back, and I sat behind Eden, while Tonya held his bridle. But if you look closely, I think you can see the evil glint in his eye…

Tonya walked us around the field, holding Prince, while we sat on his back, and I remember feeling rather giddy but with my usual horse nerves. I guess Prince smelled my fear. He decided to take off at a run – there was no way Tanya could hold on – and they he bucked and Eden and I went sailing into the air.

I landed with a thud, hitting the back of my head on a rock in the field and promptly blacked out. Lucky for me the rock was nearly flat or I doubt I would be here today. It still managed to give me a good cut and a concussion. Lucky for Eden she landed on me, and was none the worse for wear. Poor Tonya felt terrible, but it was just one of those things we all learned from the hard way. Trip took us to the hospital, and then stayed up, took care of me and woke me through the night. If I ever try to wear pigtails in my hair I worry that people will notice the scar that runs across the part down the back of my head, which is all that remains of our little adventure. That, some pictures, and a healthy fear of horses!

I was first inspired to write about our old home in May of 2007 when Jasia of CreativeGene asked for blog submissions about a family home. In general, I’d say most of our family homes were modest at best, but we once lived in a beautiful old home that also had a great story! I diligently researched so I could back up the legend with the facts. However, unable to travel to the area, and lacking funds to pay for on-site help, I hit roadblocks over and over in my research and wound up abandoning my draft. But I still want to tell you about it …so (almost two years later) here goes.
Cottage Hill 1972
When I was just two years old I lived in a big beautiful mansion which was also known as Seven Gables in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. It was not Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, which was the inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables. However, my house did have seven gables and was part of the several acre estate which shares that name as well.

My mom told me that when we lived there the house was showing its age and very run down. In a college town, then as now, it’s easier to find a bunch of “kids” to rent and share a big dilapidated house. We lived there with my dad’s bandmates in Black Forest Rhodes, along with their families. The band played at Dickinson College and also played gigs in several states from Virginia to the North East. I have very hazy memories of this house, beyond the image of the darkness of the stairs, playing with the kids we lived with, I might even remember the steps to the basement (I picture these steep, creaky, basement stairs with no risers and VERY high up – but again, I was two…)
Me Upstairs
We lived there probably less than a year before we moved back to New Jersey. Some years later when I asked my mom about the house, she told me she heard it was being used as a fraternity house. It was around that time that she also told me the house was once part of the Underground Railroad.
Empty Pool
To me it was a cool tidbit of fact about our old house. It wasn’t until I considered Jasia’s blog invitation to write about a home we lived in that I thought again about this house, and how this story needed to be investigated and shared on my blog.

My mom had been told the Underground Railroad story by the caretakers who lived in another small building on the property. She had seen in the basement a rough wall and a boarded up area, behind which was the tunnel that was supposed to have led to the caretaker cottage.

The first person to burst my bubble was George F. Nagle, editor at Afrolumens: Central Pennsylvania’s journey from slavery to freedom. This site is such a wonderful resource of history, and I am very grateful for his efforts. Mr. Nagle informed me that despite it’s name, there is absolutely NO historic documentation of an underground tunnel of any kind being used in the Underground Railroad. I honesty believed that there would be at least a few actual tunnels featured in the Underground Railroad. My immediate thought was, “Wow! Wouldn’t it be something if this house just happens to feature the ONLY use of an actual underground tunnel!”

The second problem with the Underground Railroad story was that the house we lived in wasn’t built until about 1925. The house that probably stood there from about 1835 had burned down in 1925. However, it was quite likely that the 1925 house was built upon the foundation of the older house, and perhaps I would find documentation of an active abolitionist family living there during the right time period.

Debbie, one of the staff members of the Cumberland County Historical Society emailed me this info from their folder containing the History of Seven Gables (my notes in parentheses):

The earliest known owners of Seven Gables were Richard and Thomas Penn. (The sons of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. Mr. Nagle told me they were the first owners only in the sense that they owned everything west of the Susquehanna) In 1799 John and Richard Penn, (Richard’s sons) Proprietaries of Pennsylvania, sold 47 acres to Jacob Crever. No improvements to the property are mentioned in the deed book. Mr. Crever sold the land to William Moore in 1809. The record of this sale notes improvements.

Mr. Nagle wrote that I should determine who owned the property between 1830 and 1850, and whether a house stood there. It was during those years that the Underground Railroad was most active. But I soon ran into trouble. William Moore, who had purchased the land in 1809, died in 1812, unmarried and intestate, two years after his brother George had died leaving a wife and four children. There was a dispute over William’s estate when another of William’s brothers, Lawson Moore, swindled his sister -in-law and her children out of much of their part of the estate. I was fortunate in stumbling across the website of a researcher who had spent a great deal of time reading through that case. But in the end, I don’t know who came into possession of the house in 1812.

Debbie at Cumberland County Historical Society also shared:

The property passed through the hands of several owners in the first part of the nineteenth century. In 1835 there was a seventy-acre estate known as Cottage Hill. The tax records of 1855 reveal that the central twelve acres was owned separately. There was a two-story house and a barn on it.

In the early 1860’s J. W. Bosler purchased eleven central acres, which were described as a plantation. By 1867, Mr. Bosler had built a two-and-one-half story brick “villa.” The tax records indicate the presence of both a log and a frame house also on the property. The property passed through the hands of several owners in the first part of the nineteenth century. In another record I found the notation, “Cottage Hill Farm and Cottage purchased from C. Stayman by James W. Bosler.”

Of course, the Underground Railroad, it’s “Conductors” and “Stations” were closely guarded secrets. I learned on Mr. Nagel’s site, that although Pennsylvania abolished slavery in 1780, the “phase out” period through which slavery was finally ended was dragged out for many years, generally through greedy slave owners bending (or breaking) the rules that would have emancipated children of slaves, and slaves born after a certain date after 28 years of service.

Carlisle had residents who felt very passionately about the subject of slavery on both sides of the issue, and there were several violent clashes between them. Dickinson college had a good number of abolitionist supporters, despite also being the college of choice for many families with sons from the South. (Years ago I found the text of a letter warning Southern families against sending their sons to Dickinson, because they would turn to the abolitionist cause.) Carlisle was also situated on a known route to freedom. Still, it’s highly unlikely I’d ever find documentation of a station at the house. It is far more likely that I would be able to identify an owner or perhaps a few generations of a family who were known abolitionists. It’s possible that in the time between its ownership by William Moore and Christian Stayman, the owner of the property was involved with the Underground Railroad, but those names are still unknown to me.

In 1850, Christian Stayman (born about 1801) lived in Carlisle (perhaps in this same house) and was a member of the Dickinson Board of Trustees from 1850 to 1991. He did not own slaves. His sons were Joseph, Milton and Christian, born 1840. A reference to Christian Stayman (Sr.) mentioned that he and his brothers Abraham and Joseph were members of a prominent Methodist family in Cumberland County in the mid 1800s. The Methodist church was split over the issue of slavery, one of the causes of the splintering of the Free Methodist Church from the main group. I imagine that even if a man’s congregation wasn’t fully in support of the abolitionist cause, if his personal conscience dictated it, he would aid and support the cause even to the point becoming a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

Dickinson College’s House Divided says J. W. Bosler entered Dickinson college in 1854, but in his junior year he moved west, returning to Carlisle in 1866. If so, he came into possession of the property too late to have played an active role in the Underground railroad. You can read some more about him here and here.
The house is shown below as it appeared in Carlisle Old and New in 1905, still the home of the Bosler family.
Cottage Hill circa 1905
The Bosler house burned down in 1925, and the next owner, Eugene Martin, built the house that we lived in about two years later. Some years after we lived there it was being used as a fraternity house, and it was finally razed probably in the late 1980’s. If there was a tunnel on the property, it must be long gone. Maybe some day I will learn that the house was indeed a Station on the Underground Railroad. Until then, I hope my efforts so far will bring that day closer.

Carlisle Old and New, Civic Club of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Printed by J. Horace McFarland Company. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Copyright, 1907 Page 150

In February of 1972, I lived with my parents and my sister and several of my Dad’s Black Forest Rhodes bandmates and their families (and our Great Dane) in a large mansion named Seven Gables in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. On the back of photos of the house, my mom had written “Cottage Hill” (more about this historic home here)
Cottage Hill 1972
Friends from Kearny: David D. and Roy W. wrote these letters to the “Estate Dwellers” from their apartment at 473 Edinburgh, San Francisco (which I just learned is 6.8 miles from Haight Ashbury according to Google maps). I’ll just say they were clearly at Haight Ashbury in spirit. David did most of the writing. He writes about being out there, partying and contemplating his future. Apparently, my mom did the actual writing back, and I sure would love to read some of those letters! I don’t think I ever knew Dave, but I learned he struggled with drugs and alcohol for years and died too young. I only very recently relocated Roy through another friend – he’s back in California. The last time I saw him, I was about 18, and I hadn’t seen him since I was a little girl. Through the kindness of Dad’s friend Harry P., I was backstage at the Grateful Dead show in Las Vegas. I think Roy was touring with them – I walked by him and stopped in my tracks. Roy has a face you never forget! (Plus, I always thought he was really cute… somehow I have no photos of him)

When I talked with Roy recently, I asked him if he had any photos or memorabilia from “the old” days, but he told me he’d had a house fire years ago and lost all of his things. I offered to send copies of these letters to him if he wanted, for a glimpse of the past. After scanning them I had to share a little bit. Here’s a snapshot:
Envelope 1972

Feb. 1972 Dear Folks,
How are ya all. I got weird waiting for you to write back, so I decided to get a little pushy about the whole thing and write you again. Besides, as Karma would have it, I have something to say to you. First of all, to the Whites ( I guess), on Valentine’s day night, I attended a St. Valentines Massacre Party where I got all torn up on acid. At the party were a whole brood of the notorious Hog Farmers. Being as by 1 o’clock in the morning I couldn’t remember my legal name, I ended up leaving with some of these people and in the morning while having a chat with a fellow named Doug, I learned that we shared acquaintances with a rocka-rocka-group of musicians who have banded together and called themselves “Black Forest Rhodes”. He even had a button with the above name printed on it. … Anyway the whole trip was beautiful those people are the most beautiful people I have had the pleasure of meeting since I came to California. I was so spaced I barely spoke a word and probably left a very unrealistic impression as to what my personality is really like…

Black Forest Rhodes
Of the few facts I remember about the house: it had seven bathrooms(!), one of the occupants had a pet rattlesnake, and tiny mice lived in the keyhole of his door. In the letter dated Feb 1, 1972, David listed these people who I believe lived there at the time:

  • The White’s: My Dad’s bandmate Jerry and his wife and son, whose son Jason was my 1st friend.
  • The Gwnyness (sic) – one of many ways our family name Gwyn was butchered by people attempting to spell it. Mom, Dad, Alison and me.
  • Danny and Friend – not sure about them
  • Jamie & Linda – Another of Dad’s bandmates and his girlfriend or wife
  • My dad’s bandmate Tom, his wife Carole and daughter, Melissa, another of my earliest friends.
  • Mike – not sure.

Bell Bottom Beauties

I’m sure everyone pitched in around the house, I imagine the women probably did the cooking, cleaning and childrearing, and the men were in the band (only a few months prior to this, the band had opened for Bruce Springsteen while touring in Virginia and some sites in New Jersey.) Mom said the place was pretty run down when they were there. As it was, although I don’t know the exact date we left, I know they didn’t last there long. Money was short, and this was just one of the earliest of many moves we made while I was a young kid. I have only the haziest of memories of the place, and for years I wished I could go back and see it. Unfortunately, the house was torn town years ago and the estate is now a nature preserve.

Two things that strike me about these letters. One: The handwriting is so nice! I can’t even imagine a 20-something year old male being able to write such lovely flowing script today. Obviously we’ve moved into the email & texting age, and I have read about the loss of the importance of penmanship as “keyboarding” skills have supplanted it. I think it’s kind of sad, but maybe I’m just showing my age. The second thing that strikes me is the relative permanence of the letters. Email whisks across the ether and is gone. Letters take time, thought and follow-through. Then the paper, the envelope, the post mark, the small damages to the paper from handling become artifacts – evidence of past connections.

I have saved most of the letters I have received since I was about 7 years old. They fit in two small plastic boxes. I am sure I would be embarrassed to read some of the letters I sent to my friends when I was a teenager. But I think I’d be glad to know they were still around.

I am writing this post to talk myself through a project I need to finish before December 12 (today is the 4th), but it takes several steps and needs a careful proofreading by my aunt. I made a book as a Christmas gift for my aunt last year. It was kind of a surprise, although I did need to gather information and photos from her family and she knew I was doing it. (She’s married to my mom’s brother) My book for her was a combination of a family history for her branch of the family and ours, and included photos of her kids, and many of our Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations.  She loved it so much she said she wanted to hire me to make books for her family for Christmas ’08. We started talking about it in the spring, so well prepared.  We were going to get it done well before the holidays, of course…

This week she finally came down with photos. I have to give her a lot of credit.  She knew what I could make, and she knew what she wanted to include and she was soooo thorough in preparing for it.  I have our full family tree in my computer, but had to hand update many lines in my Ancestry.com family tree to fill in important information.  Ancestry will organize all the facts, faces and info very nicely, but you have to put it in there first.

Book Contents

  1. Dedication
  2. 2 Page spread of Family Tree (two 5 generation pedigrees for each of her parents that meet in the middle where the 7 kids will be shown.)
  3. 2 pages of Kane ancestry
  4. 2 pages of Reynolds ancestry & photos
  5. Family Group pages for each of her 7 siblings including wedding photos & 3 family photos
  6. Christmas Page
  7. Vacation Page
  8. Our Faith Page
  9. Brother in Laws Page
  10. Random Favorite Pictures 2 pages
  11. The Next Generation 1 page

My plan of attack:

  1. Enter all of the names and dates given to me for ancestors, siblings & kids in ancestry tree online. (save for later addition to my Reunion tree)
  2. Scan all of the photographs
  3. Minor editing and color correction on photos in Photoshop
  4. Duplicate and break up the photos into head shots where indicated
  5. Upload all to Ancestry.com (save for later addition to Reunion)
  6. Link all photos to their respective people in Ancestry.
  7. Create the book using the automated feature on My Canvas
  8. Delete additional pages (extra timelines, census pages, etc. – we can’t afford to include these)
  9. Add extra pages & photographs as indicated.
  10. Share book with my aunt online so she can proof read it – she will send me a list of changes)
  11. Make the changes required
  12. Read through one more time
  13. Deadline for publishing (before paying for expedited orders) by Dec 11 for Delivery to her house Dec 23.

Wish me luck!

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