Saturday, June 1, 2019

A Very Cold Case...of Murder!

Of all the artifacts in the collections of the Grinnell Historical Museum, a small grey box may be the strangest. A legend inscribed on the box top by a hand from another age reads: "Personal effects of unknown man shot at Grinnell June 30, 1914. Turned [in?] by coroner S. C. Buck Sept 16—1914." Inside the box may be found a small collection of possessions: a single-blade razor; an empty shaving stick container; a broken comb; a brass ring; two cuff links; a damaged pen knife; a pair of dice; an empty wallet; a button hook; and a woman's (?) watch case with nothing inside. Someone added a small, typed note to indicate that former Poweshiek County supervisor, Raymond Harris (1903-81, supervisor 1968-1976), had donated the box to the museum. Nothing indicates exactly when the museum received the box, but even if the box arrived in the last year of Harris's elected duty, the museum has held the box for at least 43 years, and perhaps for as many as 50 years.
"Personal Effects of Unknown Man Shot at Grinnell June 30, 1914"
Grinnell Historical Museum
When Museum Vice-President Ann Igoe alerted me to this unusual item in the museum's inventory, I hardly knew what to think—what murder? what unknown man? Nothing in the box and nothing in the museum library told the tale of the 1914 murder. So I set out to learn what happened. This post reports my findings on one of the very coldest murder cases in Iowa history.
The events of June 30, 1914 quickly and unexpectedly splashed onto the pages of Grinnell's two newspapers. Although the shooting had occurred about 2:30 PM on Tuesday, the 30th, the Grinnell Herald, which published on Tuesdays and Fridays, managed to print a brief report on the murder in its June 30th edition. Short on specifics, this first newspaper account announced the main themes of the story: "Weak Minded" Frank Raleigh, who worked at the Monroe Hotel, had somehow concluded that a man sitting on a bench in the Grinnell depot's waiting room was involved in the "white slave trade," what today's newspapers call human trafficking. Raleigh drew 
a revolver and shot and almost instantly killed a stranger...[who] ran out on the platform in front of the depot, where he dropped. He was taken into the office of the old Chapin House and died in a few minutes (Grinnell Herald June 30, 1914).
Grinnell's Rock Island Train Depot (ca. 1900)
Digital Grinnell
The newspaper continued, pointing out that, before anyone could restrain him, Raleigh had fled "in a northeasterly direction." But then the newspaper turned attention to the victim, whose identity could not be established. "He was," the newspaper remarked, "a young man, of light complexion and wore a blue shirt, a dark suit and brown shoes. The pockets contained little of value" (ibid.). The remaining prose focused upon Raleigh, who was said to have been employed at odd jobs around the Monroe Hotel "a long time." Known "to break out suddenly in wild bursts of shouting," Raleigh had nevertheless been judged harmless. Now the "weak-minded" man had committed murder and run away.
Photograph of the Monroe Hotel (ca. 1905)
Digital Grinnell
The next news on the shooting appeared in the Grinnell Register. Because it published on Mondays and Thursdays, Thursday July 2nd was the first chance the Register had to tell the tale, and it had used the intervening two days to collect more details, assigning more than two full columns on the front page. Readers learned that the weapon employed was a 38 automatic, and that Raleigh had allegedly told the stranger to "get out of town." The Register also provided more specifics on Raleigh's flight, noting that a college student, Joe Carter, had first attempted to stop Raleigh, "but the display of the gun and remembrance of its work caused [Carter] to desist."
Joseph Carter 1914 Cyclone
The story then followed the shooter, said to have made a brief stop at the Monroe Hotel for his possessions before fleeing up the alley between Park and State streets. Later, heading north along the tracks of the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad, Raleigh was seen by Grinnell College Professor Henry Matlack, by workmen at the country club, and others. This information led police to search the territory north of town. "Autos loaded with men scoured the roads to the north long after dusk in the hope of getting a trace of Raleigh" (Grinnell Register July 2, 1914). But Raleigh successfully eluded capture. Townsfolk wondered whether he had perhaps doubled back into Grinnell, and had tried to hole up there to avoid arrest. This suspicion led police to search (in vain) a home in south Grinnell. Police also looked for the fugitive in Gilman and Marshalltown, and inquiries were sent to Oskaloosa, in case Raleigh had tried to cross-up his pursuers. While locals were anxious to have the man arrested, the Marshalltown Evening Times-Republican reported that Raleigh had been captured in Newburg. However, this report was soon rescinded; despite looking far and wide, police found no trace of the man.
Marshalltown Evening Times-Republican July 1, 1914
After that the Grinnell newspapers could only report that Raleigh remained at large, as the Register noted on the 6th and the Herald did on the 7th.  Then the Grinnell papers fell silent on the case, although occasionally papers from other towns reported an arrest or alleged sighting of Raleigh. These all proved mistaken; gradually Raleigh's name disappeared from the news. Only the college newspaper, Scarlet and Black, briefly revived the story in its September 16 issue, succinctly summarizing events of the preceding June, and noting that the shooter, "Crazy Frank," had still not been apprehended. Indeed, Frank Raleigh was never brought to justice, and Grinnell townsfolk apparently never again laid eyes on the man. The murder, committed in broad daylight and witnessed by a number of people, therefore went unsolved; everyone knew who had killed the stranger, but no one knew where Frank Raleigh had gone.
After the victim fell on the train platform and was carried into Chapin House, a doctor was summoned, but Dr. E. F. Talbot (1873-1943) arrived too late to do any good, and the dead man was then taken a few blocks to J. W. Harpster's Furniture and Undertaking on Main Street. 
Early 1900s Photograph of J. W. Harpster's Furniture and Undertaking business, 905 Main Street
Digital Grinnell
There the coroner, Dr. S. C. Buck (1866-1946), examined the body, but found little evidence with which to determine the man's identity. He reported that the victim was about twenty-five years old, of medium height with black hair and no distinguishing marks. His hands, "soft and uncalloused [sic]," were not, he thought, those of a laborer. In its Friday follow-up the Grinnell Herald added a few details, noting that the deceased weighed about 160 pounds, stood about 5 feet 10 inches tall, had light brown hair [!] and grey eyes. He wore a "suit of blue serge with a coarse blue shirt, worn brown shoes and blue socks and a brown hat" (Grinnell Herald July 3, 1914). The hat had been purchased in Spencer, Iowa, so Buck sent an inquiry to Spencer, but the merchant there proved unable to recall the man. The initials "W. R." in the headband caused some early excitement, because a certain William Rodgers from Terre Haute, Indiana had been in Grinnell in search of his wife. Rodgers, alive and well, soon surfaced, however, leaving investigators no wiser than before. The dead man's shoes had been bought in Des Moines, but this information, too, proved of no help to the coroner.
Scarlet and Black December 9, 1914
But what about the man's possessions, now part of the Museum's inventory? Do these items contribute anything to learning the identity of the victim?
Photograph of top of the Williams Shaving Stick
Grinnell Historical Museum
Nothing in the newspaper stories indicates where the stranger slept during the several days he was in Grinnell, and the man's pockets indicate that he was living rough. Not only was his wallet empty, but he was also carrying his shaving tools around with him, rather than leaving them in a suitcase (which he did not have) or in his hotel room (which he also did not have). The Williams shaving stick (small) he owned was popular and long advertised as the "traveler's favorite." If ordered by mail from the Connecticut manufacturer, the shaving stick cost twenty-five cents, but merchants often discounted the price to attract customers, so the dead man might have paid no more than a dime for it.
Photograph of Single-blade Razor
Grinnell Historical Museum
The stranger also carried in his pockets a single-blade razor encased in a narrow, rectangular box whose cover announced the manufacturer as the J. R Torrey Company of Worcester, Massachusetts. Advertised as a "real man's razor," Torrey razors were quite popular until safety razors took over the market in the mid-twentieth century. Indeed, for many years Arbuckles' coffee offered Torrey razors as a premium to those who regularly bought their coffee, an indication, perhaps, of how popular Torrey razors were.
Advertisement from Wilmington Morning Star July 17, 1914
However, the razor within the stranger's box was not a Torrey product; etched into the steel of the razor blade is the name of an English manufacturer, Joseph Rodgers, "cutlers to their majesties." Apparently the Grinnell murder victim had replaced the Torrey razor that had originally occupied the box with its English cousin. Neither razor, however, was unusual enough to help identify the dead man.

What about the rest? The broken comb bears no identifying marks, except for the fact that it is broken, indirectly confirming that the stranger was living on the edge. The pen knife, now rusted closed, was also damaged, missing pieces of the decorative cover. The cuff links likewise added little to the search for the dead man's identity. If today wearing shirts that demand cuff links is unusual, that was not true in 1914 when men's  shirts frequently required at least modest cuff links. Nothing in the stranger's cuff links sets them apart from those most commonly used.

The dead man also wore a brass ring, but it carries no inscription. Without knowing on which finger the stranger wore the ring, we can only guess at its meaning. It might be that he thought, as some still do, that wearing brass can "amplify energy," "create balance in the body," and assist various metabolic reactions in the body. Worn on the index finger, a brass ring is said to "bring out the qualities of leadership, executive ability, ambition, and self-confidence"—or so some believe. Perhaps the ring, if worn on the left hand, indicated that the victim was married, but the coroner did not reveal from which finger he had taken the ring. Nor did word from an anxious spouse reach the Grinnell authorities.
Photograph of Button Hook
Grinnell Historical Museum
The murder victim also carried a button hook, commonly used at the time to "thread" shoe buttons, and often given out free for advertising purposes. The button hook in the stranger's pocket advertised "Burke's Shoes 7123-25 So. Chicago Ave." Perhaps this device implies that the murder victim had once lived in Chicago, as he apparently admitted to Elva Sparks, one of the Grinnell girls to whom he spoke. But by 1914 the Chicago building which Burke's shoes had once occupied was available for rent, Burke's business having moved or failed sometime previously.
Advertisement from Chicago Tribune April 5, 1914
One might expect a man to carry a watch, but why carry around an empty watch case, and what was apparently a woman's watch case at that? Had the man won it in a game of chance? Or had he been obliged to cede the works on a bet, and kept the ornate case because it had some sentimental or real value? 

The most intriguing item in the dead man's possession was a pair of dice. Who travels with dice in their pockets? Do the dice indicate that the man was a gambler, eager to embark on games of chance whenever he could? If so, had he recently lost big-time, since he had no money? Or was he addicted to gambling, in the process having lost all his money? No evidence survives to answer those questions. The meager possessions of the dead man tell us only that he was without money, was apparently sleeping rough, and had some affection for games of chance.
An inquest was convened Tuesday evening—only hours after the shooting—in the Superior court room in Grinnell; testimony (here following the report of the Grinnell Register, July 2) revealed a more complicated story than the original accounts had indicated. Joe Carter, the college graduate who had briefly attempted to capture Raleigh, testified that at the depot Raleigh had told Carter that "that a white slaver and he is trying to get away." Evidently Carter dismissed this assertion, perhaps because he had known Raleigh "for some time" and did not find his behavior unusual or alarming. At any rate, Carter entered the ticket office, leaving Raleigh to his concerns, and emerged only to see the victim, already shot, stumbling out of the depot with Raleigh behind him. A second witness, Gladys Davenport, a teenager, said that she had been in the depot waiting room when Raleigh approached the stranger, told him to take his hat and "get out of the seat" [sic]. When the visitor reached for the hat, she said, Raleigh shot him. A third witness was E. T. McKennan from Dubuque, but this name is apparently an error; there was no E. T. McKennan living in Dubuque at the time, but there was an Edward T. McKenna on Booth Street in Dubuque. McKenna testified that on Sunday, two days before the shooting, the man had asked him "if he could feed a hungry man." McKenna had treated the man to a meal at the Gem restaurant, just south of the depot (735 Park Street). McKenna further testified that he had seen the stranger again Sunday evening with someone else. It was clear, therefore, that the man had spent several days (and nights) in Grinnell, and that he was short of money.

The most revealing testimony came from Elva (sometimes Alva) Sparks, another Grinnell teenager. She testified that on Monday evening, the night before the shooting, the man had approached her, taking a seat beside her on a Central Park bench. She claimed that the man asked her if she didn't want to leave Grinnell, but that she had told him "no." Tuesday afternoon the stranger approached her again, repeating his question. When Sparks declined his offer a second time, the man, she said, "pulled her back on the seat and told her that she had to leave Grinnell." She said that she had then agreed to go, merely as a way of getting away from him. She then ran into Frank Raleigh—where they met she did not say—who questioned her about the stranger and what he had said to Sparks. When he learned the details, Raleigh said that that "was all that he wanted to know," and told the girl to report her story to the city attorney, Harold Beyer. The shooting, she testified, occurred as she was returning from the attorney's office on 4th Avenue.

The Rock Island agent, A. E. Yates, testified next, telling the inquest that Raleigh had approached him at the ticket window that afternoon at around 2:20, asking him to telephone Beyer to say that a white slaver was in the depot. Apparently Yates, too, was familiar with the strange behaviors of Raleigh, and dismissed Raleigh's request, making no effort to telephone Beyer. When Raleigh returned to the window a few minutes later, again demanding that Yates summon Beyer, the ticket agent reluctantly complied. Shortly thereafter Raleigh approached the ticket window a third time, demanding that Beyer be summoned. Apparently Yates turned away, but reported that he soon heard the shot and saw the stranger and Raleigh leaving the depot.

On hearing this testimony, the coroner's jury determined that "this unknown man came to his death by a gunshot wound fired from a gun in the hand of Frank Raleigh; and we do further find that he came to his death feloniously and that a crime has been committed." But the person who committed the crime was never apprehended, and therefore never faced trial.
What, then, can we make of this story and the pitiful remainder of this unknown murder victim? On a surface level, the shooting constituted explosive news, bringing unexpected violence to the usually more pastoral rhythm of life in Grinnell. The original reporting preferred to center the story around the mental condition of the shooter, Frank Raleigh, and the record of his Grinnell sojourn offered corroboration to this interpretation.

As the Grinnell newspapers repeatedly observed, Frank Raleigh was disturbed. The Herald offered the most detailed account, alleging that Raleigh had even consulted
eminent surgeons [who] had told him that the trouble was in the nerves at the base of the brain and that an operation might remedy it but that the operation was so delicate that there were about 99 chances in 100 that he would not survive. So he never ran the chance (Grinnell Herald July 3, 1914).
"In his rational moments," the newspaper allowed, Raleigh was a "hard and willing worker and he spent many leisure hours reading at Stewart Library." In summary, the Herald, like most of Grinnell, no doubt, thought him an "odd character," but harmless. The reactions of Joe Carter and A. E. Yates confirm this view; these men ignored Raleigh's demands for help, and did so without worrying about the consequences.

Other aspects of the story, however, make it less obvious that Raleigh was mentally unbalanced. For one thing, the fact that he escaped indicates that the man was capable of rationally analyzing his situation and pursuing a plan to avoid capture. Moreover, in retrospect Raleigh's concern about white slavery sounds more credible than it might have to Yates and Carter in the train depot. Particularly revealing in this respect was the testimony of Elva Sparks, the young woman whom the stranger tried to recruit, not once, but twice. At the time of her encounter with the stranger, Sparks was apparently 16 years old, although she later arranged for a delayed birth record that declared her to have been born April 15, 1896. During the 1915 Iowa census she told Frank Thackeray that she was 17 years old, which would mean that she was 16 when the events of 1914 unfolded. 
1915 Iowa Census card for Elva Sparks
If Sparks really was 16 at the time of the murder, we might have expected her to be enrolled in high school, but, as she reported during the 1915 Iowa census, she had left school after the 6th grade. According to the Grinnell Herald, Sparks worked at the Monroe Hotel where, the paper speculated, Raleigh had become acquainted with her. Having quit school and begun work (presumably at low wages since she had developed no specialized skills in high school), Sparks might have been exactly the sort of person whom a "white slaver" would try to solicit. The fact that the stranger tried twice to entice her into fleeing offers some confirmation of the theory. Moreover, the girl's own testimony raises questions about how truthful she was. In reporting on her encounters with the stranger, she emphasized that she had twice declined the man's offer to run away, but added that she had ultimately agreed to his plan so as to escape from the man. But this last claim makes no sense; did the man hear her say "yes," and then made no plans for when and how they would leave Grinnell or where they would rendezvous? Did he hear her say "yes," and then wait alone for a train to take him away from Grinnell?
Photograph of B.P.O.E. building on 4th and Main; the Antlers Hotel is visible on the right
Digital Grinnell
Accounts of the murder barely mention Gladys Davenport, another teenager and a witness to the shooting. Davenport was apparently 15 years old, and, like Sparks, might be expected to have been a high schooler. She told the 1915 census official that she had completed twelve years of schooling in Grinnell, but I found no trace of her in Grinnell high school yearbooks from the years around 1914, so it seems unlikely that she graduated. As of 1917, she and a couple of friends were working at the Antlers, another Grinnell hotel, when they announced their application to become military nurses.
Marshalltown Evening Times-Republican April 13, 1917
Apparently this plan never worked out, as an October 1917 story reports Davenport's "surprise" Montezuma marriage to John Stahl, a Grinnell woodworker. Might Davenport have been another of the stranger's recruits? Her testimony at the inquest did not explain why she was waiting for a train, sitting close enough to the victim to hear the exchange between him and Raleigh, but might she have contemplated leaving town with the stranger?
Daily Gate-City (Keokuk) January 4, 1914
Certainly we cannot be surprised that Frank Raleigh had white slavery on his mind; Iowans in 1914 heard a lot about the subject. Indeed, my search through the scanned records of for "white slave" in 1914 Iowa newspapers yielded an impressive 841 hits. The 1910 Mann Act introduced Americans to the "white slave trade," making it a felony to transport across state lines "any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or any other immoral purpose." The legislation had a powerful effect on public conversation, if not necessarily upon the work of police and the judiciary. Numerous plays—like Rachel Marshall's "The Traffic"— were written with "white slavery" as context, and in 1914 Iowa many cities had these plays on their theater programs.
Quad Cities Times January 11, 1914
Arrests of accused white slavers were also common. For example, a Colfax grocer, G. H. York, was charged in January 1914 with having transported a Kansas City woman to Des Moines "for immoral purposes" (Ottumwa Tri-Weekly Courier January 13, 1914). In April, a Quad Cities waiter pleaded guilty to having lured a fourteen-year-old girl from her home in Rock Island to Kansas City "for immoral purposes" (The Daily Times April 23, 1914). And in October, a Sioux City pool hall operator faced the same charge for having transported a "young girl not yet out of her teens" from Sioux City to Sioux Falls, South Dakota "for immoral purposes in violation of the Mann white slavery law" (Sioux City Journal October 7, 1914).

In short, discussion of white slavery was frequent in 1914 Iowa, so it is not surprising that Raleigh had absorbed the main themes. In fact, as the Register proved, Grinnell townsfolk knew that Raleigh was preoccupied with white slavery.
He has been the butt of jokes and ridicule by those who took advantage of his unfortunate condition. Urged on by those who take delight in seeing him suffer, he has become obsessed with the idea that White Slavers were at work in Grinnell and that he was the one to thwart their evidently became a mania with him (Grinnell Register July 2, 1914).
So it was that a man whose mental health was known to be in question became preoccupied with one of the most prominent issues of 1914 criminal public law. How Frank Raleigh came to own a .38 automatic the record does not say, but we know that he brought that gun and his manic concerns about white slavery into the Grinnell train depot. There he fixed his attention upon a visitor to town, a man with no money, no identity documents, and a motley array of possessions. Persuaded that the man was a white slaver (and he may have been right), Raleigh shot and killed the stranger, and immediately fled, never again to be seen in Grinnell. The hapless victim was never identified, and so he was promptly buried in Hazelwood Cemetery's potter's field, leaving the meager contents of his pockets as witness to their unknown owner and the sad fate he met in Grinnell, June 30, 1914.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Comet Fever: 1910

Do you remember the 1997 visit of Hale-Bopp comet to our part of the universe? If not, you are not likely to get another chance, as the comet's present orbit requires about 2500 years to complete one revolution. But in 1997 Hale-Bopp attracted a lot of attention. In addition to being newly-discovered and especially bright and visible, Hale-Bopp gained notice for its part in the mass suicide of some 40 persons belonging to a cult called "Heaven's Gate." With confidence that they would be transported to some other life by the comet, the cult's followers committed mass suicide as the comet approached. Perhaps it's just as well, therefore, that Hale-Bopp won't return any time soon.
Halley's Comet, May 15, 1910, photographed at Meeanee Observatory, Napier, New Zealand
Historically, however, the appearance of comets has stirred anxieties and hopes. For example, when Halley's Comet approached planet Earth in 1910, rumors of dire consequences gained traction around the globe. And when cyanogen was discovered in the comet's tail, there was widespread speculation about whether, when Earth passed through the comet's tail, cyanogen might not snuff out all life on the planet. Most scientists scoffed at such fear-mongering, but the public at large responded more dramatically. It got me to wondering: How did the 1910 visit of Halley's Comet play out in Grinnell and across central Iowa? Today's post examines that question.
Scarlet & Black February 26, 1910
With the erection of Goodnow Hall after the 1882 Cyclone, Iowa College had an astronomical observatory, and astronomy courses were taught regularly. Unfortunately, the bright 1910 comet did not make a good subject for the college's 8-inch Clark, small field-of-view telescope, but did offer good opportunities for naked-eye viewing, and this circumstance seems to have encouraged the student paper to alert campus to the viewing possibilities. In a February, 1910 issue the Scarlet and Black pointed out that Grinnell might have the chance to view numerous comets that year. In addition to Halley's, whose roughly 76-year orbit had long been documented, several other comets were expected (if nothing had happened to them since their last appearance). Moreover, in early January a "new" comet had been observed—in daylight—in South Africa. Within a few days a Des Moines astronomer confirmed having observed this very bright, unexpected heavenly visitor, so central Iowans were alert to the developing cast of comets as Halley's approached earth.
Des Moines Register January 20, 1910
Much of the news, however, was devoted to the fears that the comets' coming generated. In mid-March, for instance, the Perry Daily Chief headlined a story about Halley's comet with "Dire Calamities Might Happen," alluding to the cyanogen threat.
San Francisco Call February 8, 1910
The Marshalltown Evening Times-Republican published a miscellany of brief reports on the anxiety with which the comet's approach was being received around the globe ("'Cometitis' Afflicts Many People and Some Queer Things Happen," the headline read): a 10-year-old girl in Illinois was said to have been "seized with a result of fear of the comet...," and when the engine of a mine in Evansville, Indiana failed, panic was reported among the miners, "many of whom thought Halley's comet had struck the earth...." Predictably, reports of fear and irrational behavior frequently focused upon people occupying the social margins, notably "gypsies," Mexicans, negroes, and other people of color. An account datelined Atlanta, for example, alleged that "Dealers in 'conjur' bags in the negro sections of the city carried on a thriving business as the result of the scheduled trip of the earth thru [sic] the comet's tail..." (Marshalltown Evening Times-Republican May 10, 1910). Keokuk's Daily Gate-City published a story date-lined Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Here, the newspaper reported,
Several white persons in all walks of life are waiting the event [the comet's tail] with great trepidation and refuse to be comforted. Negroes have given notice on their employers that under no circumstances will they work today, and at least one negro church here will hold an all-night service tonight (May 18, 1910).
Daily Times (Davenport) May 18, 1910
As the comet drew nearer, public anxiety seems to have grown apace. In mid-May Davenport's Daily Times chastised Quad-Cities residents, censuring parents who were too frightened of the comet's impact to allow children out of the house. The Waterloo Courier of May 19 reported that, when a gas range exploded at 5 AM in the Fortner Hotel in Waverly, Iowa, guests panicked, "Fearing the Comet Had Struck Them."

Attention-getting though these reports must have been, many newspapers tried to defuse public fears. For instance, the Ottumwa Tri-Weekly Courier on March 12 published a long interview with the director of the Yerkes Observatory in southern Wisconsin, the chief conclusion of which was that there was no danger of collision between Earth and what the paper called a "wandering planet." Keokuk's Daily Gate-City (March 2, 1910) could not resist a misleading headline—"May 18 Will Be Doomsday"—to an article more accurately described by the sub-head: "There Will Be No Danger."
Of course, so long as there was money to be made, hucksters tried to take advantage. Anti-comet pills were for sale, as were myriad instruments that promised to give earthlings better sight of the comet or protection from the comet's imagined influences. City theaters added to their vaudeville shows presentations devoted to the comet. Davenport's Family Theater, for example, promised that, in addition to the Quaker City Quartette of Singing Blacksmiths, they had secured slides of Halley's Comet: "The World's Coming to An End," the announcement threatened; "Come and See What's Going to Happen" (Davenport Daily Times May 12, 1910). The comet even found popular musical expression in Harry J. Lincoln's "Halley's Comet Rag."
Undated postcard of First Baptist Church, Des Moines, IA
In Des Moines, clergymen had their own take on the import of the appearance of Halley's Comet. The Des Moines Register gave attention to the sermon of Rev. Howland Hanson of the First Baptist Church. Dismissing the petty interests of showmen, fear-mongerers, reporters, and scientists, Hanson urged listeners to use the comet's coming to ponder the fact that
God is greater than the universe he has created. Shall our finite minds therefore despair because our theology fails to solve all the problems of his nature? Shall we who measure distances by miles grow skeptical because we cannot comprehend him who uses the comet's orbit as a unit of measurement? How shallow must that life be that professes to know God whose nature is as much larger than ours as the universe is larger than our tiny earth. Let us therefore expect problems, mysteries, enigmas, insoluble in our little span of life.
"Halley's comet will soon return to his long, long voyage of three quarters of a century," Hanson concluded. "But his brief visit will do us good if only he teach us not to despair if our finite minds cannot explain all the mysteries of God's infinite nature..." (Des Moines Register May 2, 1910).

Two weeks later the Register reported on another clerical reading of the comet. Rev. William Boynton Gage of Highland Park Presbyterian Church was said to have declared Halley's comet "a religious force" that "has made people become more devout church members."
It has worked for righteousness as has no preacher, and religiously is almost as significant as the career of Martin Luther or the life of any other of the churches' great men...Who knows those whom it has made pray? How very many has it converted? Truly it is the [Dwight L.] Moody of the skies. It is the evangelist of the heavens. It is the [Ira D.] Sankey in the chorus of the stars (Des Moines Register May 16, 1910).
To others the arrival of Halley's comet gave cause to party. The Marshalltown Evening Times-Republican reported that, as elsewhere,
Comet Parties were the rage throughout the city Wednesday night...In the west part of town people were out in droves gazing westward in the hope of catching a glimpse of the celestial wanderer...A large party of young people spent the evening at the Country Club [where] dancing was indulged in from 7:30 to 9:30...and lunch was enjoyed at 10 o'clock.
When the comet proved resistant to viewing against the setting sun, party-goers could enjoy "numerous rockets...[that] illuminated the sky over the club house" (May 19, 1910).

Scarlet and Black April 23, 1910
Parties or not, actual viewing of the comet in central Iowa must have proved difficult for many. Although newspapers like the Scarlet and Black published detailed instructions on when the comet would be visible to Iowans (even without telescopes), the paper was careful to note that "It must not be supposed that the comet will be at all brilliant when first seen. It will be only just visible at first, but will rapidly increase in brightness and in apparent size as it comes nearer to the earth during the latter part of April and in May" (Scarlet and Black April 23, 1910).

Weather was also an issue. A report to the Iowa Weather and Crop Service noted that for much of early May, 1910 the weather in the Dubuque area had been "cloudy or hazy most of the time and the comet itself could not be seen." Then forest fires in Minnesota and Wisconsin added haze to the atmosphere. However, at 2:45 a.m. on May 18th,
a remarkably bright and distinct shaft or band of light, now known to have been the comet's tail, appeared, and was visible for three-quarters of an hour. [The following night] The comet's tail appeared in the heavens at the identical hour and in the same location as on the previous night, but it was very much less distinct...It appeared at 2:45 a.m. and disappeared at 3:30 a. m...  (Iowa Weather and Crop Service. Annual Report for 1910 [Des Moines: Emory H. English, State Printer, 1911], 26-28).
Clouds on the 19th obscured further viewing.

The Daily Iowan reported that in Iowa City on the evening of the 18th "weather conditions were excellent for observation [of the comet] but the sun was too near the comet." Professionals had better luck. Mr. G. H. Thomas, for example, told the newspaper that
the comet's tail was followed with great distinctness for a distance of about eighty degrees...The head of the comet was too near the sun to be seen this morning, but immediately before sunrise, the tail swept obliquely southward from the point on the horizon at which both the sun and the head of the comet rose together a few minutes later (Daily Iowan May 19, 1910) 
In Des Moines a Drake University astronomer found the comet successfully May 23-25, then could not capture it again until the 29th-30th, by which time "The comet had changed materially," D. W. Morehouse wrote. "The head presented a knob-shaped appearance, directly behind which projected a cone-shaped tail...composed of streamers, those on the south side being the brightest." By early June Morehouse thought the comet head brighter, but the tail "faint and contorted" (D. W. Morehouse, "Halley's Comet," Popular Astronomy 18[1910]:426).
Popular Astronomy 18(1910): after 426
Marshalltown appears to have had clear skies on May 18th and 19th, but the comet was nevertheless not visible (Marshalltown Evening Times-Republican May 17, 1910). Apparently only on May 25th did circumstances combine to give Marshalltowners a clear view; "as yet, however, the comet is a disappointment as far as being visible to the naked eye is concerned," the newspaper remarked (Marshalltown Evening Times-Republican May 26, 1910).

When D. W. Brainard (1837-1918) (who left behind one of Hazelwood's most interesting gravestones) submitted to the newspaper his observations on Grinnell's May, 1910 weather, he reported only six cloudy days all month against fifteen clear days, but he did not identify which days were clear and which cloudy (Marshalltown Evening Times-Republican June 4, 1910).
Extract from Richard Spire, "Characteristics of the Times and Seasons," p. 49
But Brainard was not the only local who kept track of the weather that spring. Richard Spire (1853-1924), who farmed in Sheridan Township from 1872 to 1910, for almost a quarter-century kept a journal on the "Characteristics of the Times and Seasons." Happily, the journal has survived, is archived in the Drake Community Library Local History collection, and is accessible via Digital Grinnell. Spire did not report on every month, every year, but he did record his summary of the weather for May, 1910, even if his brief report leaves doubt about when the comet could be seen:
May was a cool month...some frost...there was considerable fruit, cherries and plums and apples.. some show for grapes. Much talk about Halley's Comet whose tail would strike the earth on the 18th, many sit up to watch but the illumination was only slight and of short duration... ( 
As Brainard and Spire implied, overcast skies kept the comet out of view in Grinnell for several days, especially mid-May. NOAA historical data report 0.55 inches of rain in the Grinnell area on May 2, a touch of rain on the 7th and 11th, then steady rain from the 15th to the 21st; after a few clear days, the 28th and 29th brought more rain. Consequently, as the Grinnell Herald announced, the comet was not visible in town until May 23 when an eclipse was also on tap. "The eclipse of the moon looked just like any other eclipse," the Herald allowed, "and as for the comet...well, the comet didn't approach in pulchritude the Johannesburg wanderer that hovered around Grinnell a few months ago." Halley's comet, the newspaper continued, "was nothing but a smoky patch of phosphorescence in the heavens" that had no "more tail than an up-to-date bull dog" (Grinnell Herald May 24, 1910; thanks to Dorrie Lalonde and Cheryl Neubert for locating and sending me this file long-distance). With that complaint, the much-anticipated 1910 visit of Halley's comet whimpered to a close.
When Halley's Comet next approached earth in winter 1986, much had changed. The public anxiety of 1910 seems to have been replaced by large-scale disinterest. According to the Iowa Poll, only about 16% of Iowans even bothered to try to find the comet in the sky. "Compared with its last passage in 1910," the Des Moines Register wrote, "Halley's Comet stirred no more interest this time than a child's sparkler at a fireworks display" (April 6, 1986).

The scientific community was much more deeply invested. For one thing, five spacecraft were directed toward the comet, producing a raft of photographs and data. The United States had planned to release a satellite and an orbiting observatory from its space shuttles to be launched in January and March, but the January 28 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger put an end to those plans.

Unsurprisingly, attempts to profit from the comet's visit were visible in 1986, just as they had been in 1910. For example, those who wished might acquire a Halley's Comet collector's spoon; Quad City residents had the chance to buy the 22400 Halleyscope "for closeup viewing of Halley's Comet"; and Iowa City diners might obtain a "Free Halley's Comet Collector's Cup" at the Patio Restaurant in Sycamore Mall.
Des Moines Register January 27, 1986
Back in Grinnell, the comet attracted considerable attention on the college campus. Erection of the Grant O. Gale Observatory in 1984 brought to campus good opportunities for viewing and talking about Halley's Comet. A feature article in a November 22, 1985 edition of the Scarlet and Black reported on a South Lounge talk by astronomer and director of the observatory, Professor Robert Cadmus. A January 31, 1986 article contained an update, including a photograph of Halley's Comet provided by Cadmus. Another of Cadmus's photos was published that month in the Des Moines Register, and in late April Cadmus hosted two open house viewings of the comet at the Gale Observatory (Des Moines Register April 28, 1986).
Grant O. Gale Observatory, Grinnell College
Overall, however, the 1986 visit of Halley's Comet found a world much less troubled by the astral traveler. No reports of mass panic appeared in the press, nor did theologians imbue the comet with moral or spiritual force. Indeed, if the Iowa Poll be believed, the 1986 appearance of Halley's Comet proved a public relations bust, despite the rather impressive achievements of astronomers from around the world. Perhaps, against the backdrop of the region's agrarian crisis and its impact on farmers or, more broadly, the horrific explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the slim tail in the sky seemed of relatively little import.

Of course, Hale-Bopp and its accompanying tragedy lay in the undiscovered future.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

One Family: Two Countries, Two Lives...

As often happens, I was looking for something else when I ran across an item that caught my attention. This time I was perusing the 1925 visit book of the Grinnell physician, Pearl Somers; the booklet identified patients whom he had visited and treated, and included occasional visits to the college, where on January 7th and again on January 14th he attended to Shizu Yamamoto. Who?
Shizu Yamamoto
(1924 Pathfinder, Burlington High School Yearbook; courtesy of Sam Helmick of Burlington Public Library)
The name jumped out at me. Although I have seen many names from the 1920s at the college and in town, I had never run across a Yamamoto. Who was Shizu Yamamoto? Was she Japanese? I knew that several Chinese students had been enrolled at the college in the 1920s, but since the days of Sen Katayama (1859-1933), who had graduated from Grinnell in 1892, Japanese students at Grinnell had been rare.

I soon discovered that Shizu Yamamoto's story was even more interesting than I had guessed. Born in 1906 (later reported as 1907) in Burlington, Iowa, she was the daughter of Japanese immigrants. A son, Toshitada (or Toshi), was born to this family five years later; like Shizuko, he was an American citizen. These two Japanese American siblings, however, crafted life arcs that soared off in radically different directions. Shizu, after completing high school and abandoning college, spent her entire working life in Washington, DC as an employee of the US federal government. Toshi, on the other hand, after his high school days and college, moved to Japan and by 1938 held an appointment in the diplomatic corps of the Imperial Japanese government. The 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, therefore, erected an immense wall between them: yes, they both belonged to one family, yet the sister and brother found themselves on opposite sides of the globe and aligned with dramatically different political traditions at war with one another. The stories of Shizu and Toshi Yamamoto are the subject of this post.
The beginning of the Yamamotos' story reaches back to the first years of the twentieth century when a wealthy Burlington, Iowa industrialist, Walter B. Eaton (1863-1948), found Raisuke Yamamoto, a Japanese national who was living in Honolulu. Eaton arranged for Yamamoto and his wife, Chito, to travel to Burlington where Raisuke would work as gardener, chauffeur, and house man for Eaton. When the Yamamotos first came to Burlington, Eaton was living at 613 N. 5th Street. The Yamamoto family lived up the street a bit in lovely brick home at 621 N. 5th, a location that kept Raisuke close at hand, the better to tend Eaton's gardens and fulfill his other wishes. 
621 N. 5th Street, Burlington, IA, the Yamamotos' home until the 1920s (2018 photo)
From the beginning, the Yamamotos were a source of wonder in Burlington. When the Burlington Evening Gazette published a 1907 story about a Baptist missionary who gave a talk on Japan at First Baptist Church, the missionary
was assisted by Mrs. [Chito] Yamamoto, the only woman Japanese in Burlington, who had a baby with her. This little one [Shizu] is the first Japanese child born in Iowa and her English name is "Iowa" (October 24, 1907).
Whether in fact Shizu was the first child born to Japanese parents in Iowa is unknown, and what was meant by calling her "Iowa" is also mystifying; perhaps the translation of Chito's remark fell wide of the mark. The newspaper account, however, continued, pointing out that the missionary 
praised the Japanese for their efficient work and stated that Burlington would be benefited by the addition of a hundred or more. Especially are they desired around the house for housework, as they are very polite, clean and do their work thoroughly (ibid.).
This caricature of Japanese must have confronted the Yamamotos often during their years in Burlington, although what they thought about it the record does not preserve.

Clearly life in an Iowa river town presented many challenges to the Yamamotos, and may explain why in 1913 the family returned to Japan "for a lengthy visit." The newspaper account, mistaking Toshi for a second daughter, announced that the Yamamotos would "take their two little daughters born in Burlington, the Misses Toshitada and Shizuko, who will no doubt have some wonderful things to tell their cousins...concerning the great land of America."
Burlington Hawk-Eye, August 27, 1913
The announced plan was to visit Japan for only a year before returning to Burlington. In fact the entire family did return, reaching San Francisco in late April, 1915. Soon thereafter, however, Chito Yamamoto disappeared—whether she died or returned to Japan is unclear; newspaper articles report both fates. However, there can be no doubt that by autumn 1918, when Raisuke registered for the US draft, Chito Yamamoto was gone: on the draft registration form Raisuke listed as his contact person not his wife, Chito, but rather his twelve-year-old daughter, Shizu.
Raisuke Yamamoto's 1918 Registration for Draft
In 1921 Raisuke traveled to Japan again, taking with him 10-year-old Toshi, but leaving Shizu behind. Perhaps this moment determined the different paths for the Yamamoto siblings, Toshi getting his second taste of his parents' homeland while fifteen-year-old Shizu stayed in Burlington, residing at the local YWCA without parents or family nearby. The year-long absence of her Japanese-speaking parents meant, among other things, that Shizu became more deeply immersed in English-speaking American culture than she had been at any previous time.
Extract from passenger list of Taiyo Maru which arrived in San Francisco December 26, 1922
When Raisuke and Toshi set foot again on the American mainland in December 1922 they brought with them Aki Yamamoto, a new wife and mother. Twelve years younger than Raisuke, Aki seems to have had no prior experience with America or with speaking English, making the Burlington home of the Yamamotos determinedly more Japanese than it had been with Chito Yamamoto, who had lived in Burlington for fifteen years or more before she disappeared.

Aki was, of course, completely unknown to Shizu who had spent the last year living largely on her own, without father, mother, or brother. Newspaper notices confirm that Shizu sometimes performed "Japanese dances" for various Burlington groups, but her contact with Japan was much more distant than was anyone else's in the family: her last visit to Japan had been half a lifetime ago. Meantime Shizu had become an active and evidently popular high schooler. At Burlington High School she played soccer, basketball, and volleyball as a sophomore, and was a member of the Hypatian literary society, Blue Triangle club (YWCA), and the class social committees as a junior and senior. She made the school honor roll, participated in the high school "Rooters Club," and in May 1923 attended a "mothers and daughters" banquet at the YWCA not with Aki, her step-mother (who almost certainly spoke no English), but rather with Mrs. J. E. Jamison (Burlington Hawk-Eye Gazette, May 12, 1923). On at least one occasion she overnighted with friends in Fort Madison, further settling into the culture of her teenage American friends. Her high school yearbook offered this small poem in tribute:
She had great fame in B. H. S.
For pep and brilliancy of mind.
In both these qualities, I fear,
She left the rest of us behind.
Unsurprisingly, Shizu gained a place on the commencement honor roll, ready for the next step in a life that had less and less connection to her parents' Japanese ancestry.
Main Hall, ca. 1915 (A Glimpse of the New Quadrangle for Women, Grinnell College, 1915)
Autumn 1924 Shizu enrolled at Grinnell College. How she heard about Grinnell and what brought her to central Iowa for college remain unknown. On arrival, Shizu moved into what was then called the "Central Building" of the women's dormitories on South Campus, now known as Main Hall. Extant records provide slight evidence of Shizu's first year. Only once does her name appear in the Scarlet and Black, reporting that she had substituted for another woman in a game of six-on-six basketball. But apparently Shizu did well in her studies, as she was one of several freshmen who at the end of the 1924-25 academic year won honorable mention for their writing. Whether her work, entitled "Japanese Prints," constituted prose or poetry is not reported.
The Henry York Steiner and Freshman English Awards for Original Writing, 1924-25 
(Grinnell College Special Collections; thanks to Elaine Thut, student assistant in the archives, for locating this material)
But if Shizu did well at college, something unknown moved her to abandon Grinnell after her first year, and she never returned. Perhaps she wanted to be closer to home, because the following year Shizu enrolled at Iowa Wesleyan College. But this, too, proved unsatisfactory, because soon she was back in Burlington, enrolled at the College of Commerce. Founded in 1912 to offer an array of courses suitable to secretaries and beginning businessmen, the college had but four teachers in 1924-25 and an average of about 50 students in the day program and another 20 in night classes.
Advertisement from Burlington Gazette, July 30, 1926
Apparently Shizu did well here, too, because she soon passed the civil service examination and set off for Washington, DC, where in March 1927 she began work as a junior stenographer in the Department of the Navy. What her family thought of this move no records report, but the Burlington newspapers noted that, on the eve of her departure, Mrs. C. W. Woodward hosted at her home a farewell dinner for Shizu and Lelia Penrose, a YWCA official who accompanied Shizu to DC (Burlington Hawk-Eye, March 17, 1927).
Somers House, 1104 M Street NW, Washington, DC (Social Service Review 7[Apr 1918]:16)
Given her history with the Burlington Y, it is no surprise that on arrival in DC Shizu settled into the Elizabeth Somers House at 1104 M Street NW, a YWCA residence. Somers House was designed to welcome women who were new to town and who were taking up work with the government. At some point prior to publication of the 1929 DC city directory Shizu moved to an apartment building on Clifton Terrace NW; the 1929 city directory gives no street number, but reports that Shizu was living in apartment #506; both the 1931 and 1935 city directories have her at 1323 Clifton Terrace, apartment #21.
1323 Clifton Terrace NW, Washington, DC (2009 photo)
When she returned to Burlington for visits, as she did in 1929 and 1930, Shizu enthused about life in DC: "One of the things that I like most about Washington is that the sky is always filled with planes...You just can't imagine how pretty the blimps look up in the sky" (Burlington Hawk-Eye, March 21, 1929). She was especially complimentary about the women with whom she worked and lived in Washington.
I was afraid everyone would be cold and distant as you always hear they are in the east.... But the girls there were the friendliest people I had ever known in my life. I guess it was because we were all away from home and needed each other (Burlington Hawk-Eye, August 17, 1930).
"Almost everybody goes to night school," Shizu told the Burlington newspaper, and she herself attended George Washington University at night, studying French and Spanish, a surprising choice of subjects that might reflect on her earlier academic interests.

In DC Shizu rapidly ascended the civil service ladder. Already in October 1927 she was promoted to senior stenographer, and in November 1933 she transferred to the Agricultural Adjustment Administration where in September 1935 she was promoted to clerk in the budget section. In October 1941 she was appointed junior administrator, the beginning of a series of promotions and pay increases that decorate her entire personnel record.

And then came Pearl Harbor, and with it suspicions about persons of Japanese ancestry. Several government actions, including the notorious Executive Order No. 9066  (February 1942) revealed official anxiety about Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans.  Public Law 135 of the 77th Congress (June 28, 1941) was mainly an appropriation bill for the Departments of State, Commerce, Justice, and the Federal Judiciary, but it, too, worried about citizen loyalty. Tucked into discussion of funding for the Justice Department were a few lines that affected Shizu and everyone else who worked for the government.
$8,750,000, of which at least $100,000 shall be available exclusively to investigate the employees of every department, agency, and independent establishment of the
Federal Government who are members of subversive organizations or advocate the overthrow of the Federal Government...
Her federal personnel file shows that in June 1941—months before Pearl Harbot—Shizu signed a loyalty affidavit, apparently without any problem, and a brief 1942 report from the FBI found nothing with which to suspect Shizu's loyalty. Nevertheless, in December 1941 Shizu filed notice at work of a name change—to Shizu (later Sue) Y. Meushaw—"because of marriage." Although I examined every source I could find to document the marriage, I was never able to identify a spouse or a place or date of marriage. Likewise, Shizu's obituary makes no mention of a spouse having survived her or having died before her. An inquiry to relatives in Hawaii brought no reply, nor did an inquiry to Honolulu's Epiphany Episcopal church where her 1986 funeral was held. Of course, not every record survives, so it may be the case that Shizu did marry and somehow the records were lost. But I have not been able to escape the suspicion that, on the heels of Pearl Harbor and the government's increased interest in Japanese Americans, Shizu simply changed her name to escape notice as Japanese.

This brush with wartime suspicions having passed, Shizu continued her successful career in the Department of Agriculture, regularly receiving pay increases and promotions. In the anti-communist craze of the early 1950s her 1942 loyalty oath was recalled, her supervisor noting in December 1952 "that the employee has been favorably processed under the loyalty program." In February 1958 she gained commendation for "Sustained Outstanding Performance in completing difficult and complex budgetary duties in an exemplary manner," and in 1962 she was rewarded for having provided "expeditious service to top management levels of numerous and realistic estimates of operating costs of programs under legislative consideration."

Finally, in December 1965 Shizu retired with more than 30 years of service to the federal government. There was no reason to return to Iowa, and the District of Columbia had evidently lost its appeal, so she settled in Honolulu where twenty years later "Sue Meushaw" died, her brother and two older sisters surviving her.
Honolulu Star-Advertiser December 31, 1986
Shizu's younger brother, Toshi, followed a different life course. As noted above, by the time he was twelve, he had already visited Japan twice, both stays lasting a year or more. He was, therefore, more familiar with his parents' homeland than was Shizu, and he had become friendly with relatives there. Nevertheless, back in Burlington Toshi seems to have fit in well with small-town Iowa. If a photograph of his eighth-grade class reveals him as the only outlier among all those Caucasian faces, none of this seems to have fazed the young man.
Eighth Grade Class, Perkins School, Burlington, IA (Burlington Gazette May 29, 1926)
Toshi Yamamoto on far left, second row
Even more than his sister, Toshi was attracted to the Burlington Y where he played basketball, swam, and served as an officer in the Hi-Y club. In early summer 1927 he joined a clutch of other Burlington boys to take a Y-sponsored camping trip to northern Minnesota, dispatching enthusiastic reports—on birch bark!—to the Burlington newspaper on the group's adventures.
Burlington Gazette June 14, 1927
Working in the Burlington Y at that time was a young Quaker named George Townsend (1903-1990). Because Townsend later worked for the War Relocation Authority, in 1978 Frank Chin interviewed him about the Japanese internment camps. In that interview Townsend recalled that, prior to his 1942 appointment with the War Relocation Authority, he had had few opportunities to meet Japanese. One exception, he noted, was Toshi Yamamoto,
a Japanese American kid about thirteen or fourteen who hung around the Y a lot. He was the only Japanese in Burlington, Iowa when I was in Y work (Frank Chin, Born in the USA [NY: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002], p. 266).
Newspaper stories in Burlington confirm that Toshi was deeply involved with the local Y: he was part of the membership campaign; he life-guarded, demonstrated life-saving, and taught the breast stroke in the pool; he performed the so-called Monte Cristo trick, escaping from a tied bag under water; and he played Y basketball. Consequently, although Toshi had experiences in Japan that differentiated him from most of his classmates in Burlington, Iowa, he was nevertheless deeply integrated into the local teenage culture.

Like his sister, Toshi graduated from Burlington High School as a member of the honor roll, and, like his sister, decided to attend a liberal arts college. Instead of Grinnell, however, Toshi chose Knox College in Galesburg, IL, enrolling there autumn 1930. As he had in Burlington, Toshi soon became active in extra-curriculars. No later than his sophomore year he was part of the cheerleader squad, and the following year was the group's head. At Knox he also continued to swim, and was known as an ardent fan of Knox athletic teams.
Knox College Swimming Class, 1934; Toshi Yamamoto, front row, far left
(Knox College Special Collections and Archives, Harold E. Way Photograph Collection, J8 #2)
In all this, Toshi could hardly be distinguished from any of his Knox classmates. And when he graduated with honors from Knox in the spring of 1934, he returned to Burlington where he resumed active participation in Y activities. Almost immediately on reaching Iowa, however, Toshi announced his intention to travel to Japan in what would be his third visit (Burlington Hawk-Eye Gazette, June 18, 1934).

For reasons unknown, Toshi did not embark upon this trip until the following April. The newspaper expected that, as had been true of earlier trips, Yamamoto would soon return to the US.
He has no desire to live anywhere except America [the newspaper reported], but [he] said a knowledge of languages, especially Japanese, will be important. While in Japan...he will work at an importing office owned by an uncle, getting practical experience in the work he plans to follow the remainder of his life...On his return to the United States, Yamamoto hopes to become connected with his Tokio [sic] uncle's importing house in San Francisco (Burlington Hawk-Eye Gazette, March 8, 1935).
In short, so far as the local newspaper could imagine, Toshi would follow the same life course as most of his fellows in Burlington, and live out his life in America.

Once in Japan, Toshi sent the Burlington newspaper reports of his life abroad. Apparently at first he lived at Nichibei Home, a dormitory "founded in 1932 specifically for Nisei students coming from Hawaii." Here Nisei could prepare for entrance examinations at Japanese universities (Toyotomi Morimoto, Japanese Americans and Cultural Continuity [NY: Routledge, 2014], p. 93). Yamomoto was not alone in traveling to Japan for more education. It is estimated that in any given year of the 1930s some 40,000 to 50,000 Nisei were living in Japan, although only a fraction expected to return to the lands in which they had been born (Eiichiro Azuma, "'The Pacific Era Has Arrived': Transnational Education among Japanese Americans, 1932-1941," History of Education Quarterly, vol. 43, no 1 [spring 2003]:39).

Burlington newspapers announced that Toshi had begun study at Waseda University, but later notices that Toshi himself filed with the Knox College Alumni Office omit reference to Waseda, reporting instead that he had attended Meiji University law school. After finishing there in 1938, he seems to have moved directly into the diplomatic service of the Japanese Empire, a decision that marked a sharp revision in Toshi's career ambition and presumably also in his identity: joining himself to the Japanese diplomatic corps, he associated himself very visibly with the land of his parents' rather than with the land of his own birth.
Burlington Hawk-Eye Gazette September 9, 1938
No later than September 1938 Yamamoto was in Nanjing, China, serving in the Japanese embassy there. The appointment could hardly have been more difficult, with the Chinese capital still reeling from the Japanese assault characterized as the "Rape of Nanking." George Townsend, the former director of the Burlington Y, told Frank Chin in 1978 that he and Toshi had corresponded often over the years, and it would be fascinating to learn if any of Toshi's letters came from his time in Nanjing. Regrettably, Townsend's heirs know nothing of this body of correspondence, nor has any diary surfaced to give us insight into Toshi's reflections on the subject.
Toshi Yamomoto ca. 1941 (Burlington Hawk-Eye Gazette April 11, 1941)
A November 1938 report from the British consul in Nanjing observed that Yamamoto had been appointed Vice-Consul and that, unlike his co-Vice Consul, Toshi spoke English "perfectly." The same report, however, bemoaned the inability of Japanese diplomats to do anything to restrain military authorities, so it might be that, if Toshi attempted to ameliorate or complain about conditions in Nanjing, he met considerable resistance from Army officers (Suping Lu, ed., A Dark Page in History: The Nanjing Massacre and Post-Massacre Conditions [NY: Rowman and Littlefield, 2018], p. 74).
Burlington Hawk-Eye Gazette December 22, 1941
His superiors found nothing to complain about his diplomatic work, because by 1941 Toshi was promoted to "liaison officer" at Nanjing; as the war in China ground on, Yamomoto moved to the Japanese embassy in Shanghai where he remained until the end of the war. According to records from the Diplomatic Archives of the Foreign Ministry of Japan, in Shanghai Yamomoto worked mainly as a translator, first for the military and then for the trade section. Back in Burlington, Iowa, however, locals were uncertain where Toshi might be. Weeks after Pearl Harbor and the US declaration of war on Japan, people in Burlington, which "has no Japanese residents at present," the newspaper remarked, turned their thoughts to the Yamomoto family, whose head, Raisuke (nicknamed "Moto") had returned to Japan the previous summer. The newspaper observed that it was not known whether Moto, who had worked in Burlington for 37 years, "was ordered home [by the Japanese] or decided of his own volition to return" to Japan. The newspaper's view of Toshi, who, after all, had been born in Burlington, was less suspicious: "Those who knew him here found it difficult to believe he would use his knowledge of this country to its detriment in serving its enemies." Indeed, the newspaper suspected the reverse, wondering whether Yamomoto "might have been demoted or interned for the duration because of his American connections" (Burlington Hawk-Eye Gazette December 22, 1941).

As it happened, it was the Japanese in the western United States who were interned, but no further news of Toshi Yamamoto reached Iowa while the war lasted. A brief article in 1943 wondered whether the hometown boy was related to the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack, Isoroku Yamamoto (1884-1943). As before, Burlington locals doubted that Toshi was "serving in any important capacity in Japanese occupied territory," believing that "Hirohito's government would not trust an American-born Jap with a prominent post in time of war" (Burlington Hawk-Eye Gazette May 22, 1943).

A less confident perspective emerges in an unsigned, June 1945 letter to Knox College's Bessie Hinckley. The unidentified writer, regretting that he could not answer Hinckley's question about the whereabouts of Toshi Yamamoto, reported that four representatives of [US] military intelligence had visited his office since Pearl Harbor, asking the same question. The letter writer recalled that, when last he knew, Toshi had been working for the Japanese government, but the
Bureau of Military Intelligence say that...he did not do that at all. But returned, they are informed, though as yet have not been able to prove it, to the United States where he is a spy for the Japanese (Knox College Special Collections and Archive).
In a 1980 interview, Yamamoto reported rather vaguely that during the war he had been "interned for six months in China, but 'I wasn't treated badly.'" By whom or where he was interned Yamamoto did not say. George Townsend claimed that Toshi had been captured by the Soviets, but, if so, Yamamoto himself never acknowledged it in print.
Toshitada Yamamoto (right) in Tucson, AZ, October 1951 (Arizona Daily Star October 28, 1951)
Once repatriated to Japan in 1946, Yamomoto almost seamlessly resumed his career, despite his service to the Japanese Empire. By his own testimony, he "was asked to sit in on trials [of war crimes in Japan] and identify documents being entered as evidence." But before the trials of Japanese officials were over, Yamamoto was "assigned to Supreme Command, Allied Powers," working in the Economics and Social Section to help remodel defeated Japan. Still later, Yamamoto was evidently a member of the Japanese delegation at the 1951 San Francisco Peace Conference, although my search of documents associated with the negotiations did not yield a single hit for Toshi. In 1950 he and another Foreign Ministry colleague arrived in Los Angeles to establish there an office of the Japanese Overseas Agency, anticipating the consulate that later opened there for post-war Japan (Burlington Hawk-Eye June 5, 1980).
Undated photo of Tokyo Prince Hotel
Recalled to Japan in 1952, Toshi was soon sent to the Japanese embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, where he served until 1956. The following year he was loaned to the United Nations, Toshi and his family moving to New York where he became Chief of the Documents Division in the Conferences Department. In 1972 he retired from the diplomatic corps, leaving the UN and New York but stopping at several US cities (including Burlington) before reaching Japan where he took up a position as Director of Public Relations at the Tokyo Prince Hotel.

The official, published record provides scant insight into the private life of Toshi Yamamoto.  We know that in 1941 Toshi married Mei Sugimoto, presumably while he was home on leave. Whether Mei followed him back to his duties in China is unknown; in his public remarks Toshi never referred to it. The couple had two daughters, Keiko (Gloria), born in 1943, and Shoko (Shirley), born in 1947. The only photo I found of the family comes from much later when all the Yamamotos were flying from New York to Japan on vacation.
Toshi, Mei, Keiko and Shoko Yamamoto (Shin Nichibei June 21, 1961)
How long Toshi and family remained in Japan the record does not explain, but at some point the Yamamotos moved to Honolulu, and it was there that Toshi died in 1994, leaving his wife and daughters behind.
Death Notice for Toshitada Yamamoto, Honolulu Advertiser July 4, 1994
Much remains unknown about how Shizu and Toshi Yamamoto organized their lives. Despite these open spaces, it is easy to see the different attractions of the two cultures this family inhabited. Born to Japanese nationals in the American midriff, Shizu and Toshi as adults each identified themselves with different strands of that background. Probably from her teenage years when she remained in Iowa while the rest of her family went to Japan, Shizu associated herself with a distinctly American destiny. Even when, after Pearl Harbor, American authorities tried to warranty American commitment from federal employees, Shizu signed the oaths demanded of her. Toshi, on the other hand, despite all his connections with the Burlington YMCA and its onetime leader, and with Knox College and his fellow collegians, found his future not in America, but rather in service to his parents' native country. To judge from his sojourn in China, even in the face of the organized cruelty that fellow Japanese had inflicted on Nanjing (and covered up), Toshi put his confidence in his adopted land.