Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Grinnell's First African Americans

Earlier posts on this blog have profiled some of the African Americans who lived and worked in Grinnell early in the twentieth century. Lee Renfrow, for example, cooked for hotels in Grinnell and Jim Tibbs shined shoes. These jobs did not enjoy much prestige and brought only modest incomes, but at least these black men occupied visible places in modernizing Grinnell.

The situation was different for the first African Americans to appear in pioneer Grinnell, decades before Lee Renfrow and Jim Tibbs.  The heroic narrative of sod-busting, abolitionist white men who settled the prairie and founded Grinnell made little room for the black men and women who, on the heels of the American Civil War, made their way out of the former kingdom of slavery to this tiny town on the prairie. But these refugees from slavery worked and lived here, too. Absorbed by a town that made much of its opposition to slavery and the implied equality of all people, the black men and women of early Grinnell nevertheless found themselves on the margins of society once again. Like the white men and women who sought in the frontier prosperity and a new beginning, the former slaves who discovered J. B. Grinnell's town hoped to celebrate lives free from white overlords and to exercise their abilities in return for fair wages. These hopes proved difficult to realize, and this post will focus upon the African Americans who first joined themselves to J. B. Grinnell's nineteenth-century experiment.
Anna Katherine Craig (1867-?); Theodora (Dora) Craig (1864-1949); and Eva Pearl Craig (1875-1962) (ca. 1900) . Anna married William Goode; Dora married John Brown Lucas; and Eva married Lee Renfrow.
(Digital Grinnell)
The records that document these lives are spare: none of Grinnell's earliest black settlers bequeathed us a diary or trove of letters; few photographs survive; and none of these early African American Grinnellians gained prominence through elective office or successful commerce, so the public record barely mentions them. Historians are obliged, therefore, to work from the terse records of federal and state censuses, and the occasional reference by white citizens. Moreover, because most of this first generation of African Americans did not remain in Grinnell, but soon sought new homes elsewhere, the Grinnell chapters of their life stories are inevitably truncated. In one post we cannot tell all their stories, but here we will try to recover the overall outlines of nineteenth-century black Grinnell, and also tell a few of the stories that these men and women lived out in white Grinnell.
The settlement founded on the plains in the mid-1850s had grown to almost 400 persons by 1860, and almost every one of them was white. The single exception recorded in the 1860 census was Edward Delaney, then 80 years old (according to the census; his gravestone listed him as 75) and serving in the household of Deborah (1803-1887) and Mary Jane Hays. Edward was born a slave in Maryland, and, when still a boy late in the eighteenth century, had been purchased by Joseph Hays as a playmate for the planter's son. Later "Ned," as they called him, was sold to the son, but when the family fell onto hard times in Maryland, the Hays family went west in search of good land. Delaney, when emancipated and asked about his future, announced his desire to remain with Deborah Hays, who, with Ned, had cared for old man Hays in his last years. So Ned Delaney came to Iowa with the Hays household in the 1850s. Then already an old man, Ned died in 1861 and was buried in Hazelwood cemetery adjacent to the plot where Deborah Hays was later interred.
Gravestone of Edward Delaney, Hazelwood Cemetery
By 1870, however, Grinnell's population had more than tripled, and among the 1482 residents counted in the census there were forty blacks living in Grinnell (Stuart Yeager's 1984 study counted 42, but I could not verify that number)—almost 3% of the total population.  Mostly men and mostly single, this early cadre of former slaves deserted homes in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Missouri, Louisiana, Tennessee, Virginia and the Carolinas to reach the still young settlement in central Iowa. Bringing few special skills, the new arrivals occupied the lowest rungs on the labor ladder, the great majority of them working as day laborers. A few filled other jobs open to blacks—as cooks and barbers, for instance—while women took positions as domestic servants or washer women.

Without families, many of these men, despite having come from different places and not having known one another previously, lived with one another, rather than among any of the majority white population. According to the census sheet, Z. Hubbard was a 33-year-old black man who was born in Alabama, but in Grinnell was "cook in a club." Living with him were four other African Americans, all described as "day laborers": Redic Roberts, 36, born in Georgia; Robert Baker, 31 from Alabama; Doc Granville, 27 from Missouri; James Jenkins, 23, also from Missouri; and John Cooper, 29 from Mississippi. Next door lived Willis Reagen, a 22-year-old from Tennessee; Lawson Butler, 40, from Mississippi; Frank Sprull, 28, from North Carolina; and John Bone, 24, from Kentucky. The census described all these men as day laborers, but provides nothing more definitive about their work. Most of these men were soon gone from Grinnell, their lives here too ephemeral to have left much trace.

A few of the newly-arrived blacks resided with and served in white households. Jane Austin, for example, was a 25-year-old domestic servant in the household of Rev. and Mrs. J. B. Hardy. Robert Redrick, 30 years old and born in Georgia, and Julia Barker, a 29-year-old washer woman, had rooms from and worked for George Christian in his hotel. Willis Rogers, 21 years old and a farm laborer, boarded with John and June Black (along with two white stone masons and a female domestic servant). Ellen Slaughter was one of the few black women to appear in the 1870 census. Only 22 years old, Slaughter served in the household of an African American family new to Grinnell: Clark Thompson was a 40-year-old farmer from Kentucky who reported owning property worth more than $3000. How Thompson accumulated his wealth we don't know; if he was the runaway slave who worked for James Fordyce Bailey (1815-1888), he may have gained title to land from his former employer. In any case, the fact that his two teenage daughters had been born in Arkansas indicates that the Thompsons had once been property themselves.
Extract from 1870US Census, Town of Grinnell in the County of Poweshiek of Iowa, 4th Day of August, 1870, p. 23: Clark Thompson Household
In 1870 Grinnell there were also some single, young black men who came to town for an education, attending Iowa College. How they learned of Grinnell the record does not reveal. Living with a cluster of young whites who were also college students were J. Jenkins, 21 years old from Louisiana, and W. Rogers, 22 years old from Tennessee. Neither one seems to have graduated, as Hannibal Kershaw, who finished Grinnell in 1879, and therefore missed both the 1870 and 1880 censuses, was the first African American to graduate from what later became known as Grinnell College. What happened to Jenkins and Rogers is unclear.

Hannibal Kershaw (1856-1883), the First African American Graduate of Iowa College
(photograph courtesy of Grinnell College Special Collections)
In addition to these singles, there were also a few African American families in 1870s Grinnell. The largest belonged to Joseph and Patsy Blackwell, who brought their eight children to town. Joseph Blackwell was a 60-year-old black man who had been born in Kentucky, which is to say that he had been born a slave. His wife, Patsy, was said to be forty years old; she, too, had been born into slavery—in her case in Missouri. The "peculiar institution" brought them together in Kentucky (probably Patsy had been sold to a Kentucky planter), where Charles, their first child, was born. No later than 1850 they settled in Missouri (again, presumably through the economics of slavery), where all their children but the youngest were born. Sometime after the end of the Civil War and no later than 1867, the newly-freed family came to Iowa where Helen, their youngest child, was born. 
Extract from 1870 US Census, Town of Grinnell in the County of Poweshiek of Iowa, 4th Day of August, 1870, p. 12: Joseph Blackwell Household
In 1870 Joseph was working as a day laborer, as were sons Charles (then 24 years old), Lewis (just 12), and Joseph (11). The fact that Joseph felt the need to bring into the work force two boys not yet teenagers points to the financial limits under which the family was living. Nevertheless, somehow Blackwell had accumulated some resources, telling the 1870 census people that his real estate was worth $500 and that his personal property was worth $300. Neither Joseph nor Patsy admitted to being able to read or write, another regrettable legacy of slavery. Although Charles and his sister Malinda were both able to read, neither could write. All the other children, except little Helen, were attending school that year.

Although life under these conditions could hardly have been easy, the Blackwells had traveled to Grinnell to escape the culture where slavery had so recently prevailed, but also to improve their economic status. With slavery officially behind them, the Blackwells nevertheless had a difficult road to travel, and life in Grinnell did not suddenly overcome all the barriers the family confronted. Things only grew worse when both Joseph and Patsy Blackwell died in the 1870s. The details of their deaths are obscure: none of the conventional sources remembers the dates or causes of their demise, and their Hazelwood cemetery gravestone is too worn to permit reading.
Gravestone for Joseph and Patsy Blackwell, Hazelwood Cemetery (Hazelwood 013) (2017 photo)
No published obituaries of either one survive, but the manuscript records of Hazelwood Cemetery, recently transferred to the local history archive at Drake Community Library and expertly mined by Ms. Dorrie Lalonde, allow us to confirm the dates of their deaths (or perhaps their burials): Patsy died in June, 1872 and Joseph almost exactly one year later, as the index to the Hazelwood Plat Book plainly reports. What the cemetery records do not remark upon is why they died: although Joseph would have been about 63, Patsy was only 42, too young to die, even in this era. The deaths of their parents seem to have hastened the breakup of the family, which is missing from the 1880 census.
Index to Plat Book of Hazelwood Cemetery, Local History Room, Drake Community Library
Less financially secure was William Pearno, a 26-year-old barber from South  Carolina who owned no real estate and claimed only $100 of personal property. His wife Frances hailed from Alabama, but the couple's three children had all been born in Iowa, and therefore were all born free.
Ten years later the town's population continued to grow: instead of the 1482 people counted in 1870, the 1880 census identified 2415 residents. The number of African Americans, however, declined from 40 to 22 (Yeager counted 31). As before, men outnumbered women, and most of the black arrivals had begun their lives in slavery. Families of black settlers remained rare, a function perhaps of the harsh conditions on the frontier and also a consequence of slavery's impact upon family composition. Nevertheless, among Grinnell's African Americans in 1880 one finds Braxton Dimmit, a 48-year-old laborer from Missouri, his wife, Rachel, 38 and born in Kentucky, and the couple's seven children, all living on Elm Street.
Extract from 1880 US Census, Town of Grinnell in County of Poweshiek, 5 June 1880: Dimmit Household
As before, some of the single black men lived together. For example, the 1878 city directory noted that Charles Blackwell, John Cooper, Robert Redrick, and A. H. Willis all lived above Reece's barber shop on Commercial Street.
Extract from 1880 US Census, Town of Grinnell in County of Poweshiek, 5 June, 1880:  J. B. Grinnell household, including groom, Lewis Blackwell
Although Joseph and Patsy Blackwell were gone by 1880, Lewis Blackwell, the couple's third oldest child, born about 1858, was included in the new census, recalled as a groom in J. B. Grinnell's household. Within two years Lewis married, taking as his bride 18-year-old Lizzie Lewis. By 1885, Lewis and Lizzie had their own household in town, and also had two children—Harry and Blanche. No longer in the employ of J. B. Grinnell, Lewis was now, as his father before him had been, a "laborer," although doing what the record does not reveal.

Emma, the sixth child born to Joseph and Patsy Blackwell, was only 9 in 1870; by the time the 1878 city directory was published, however, Emma, then about 17 years old, is described as a "laundress" whose residence was on Pearl Street (this before house numbers). Emma does not appear in Grinnell's 1880 census because by then she was living and working in Marshalltown. According to the census record, Emma was boarding with the African American family of Henry and Alice James and their little girl, Mary, on North Fifth Avenue, Marshalltown. Emma was working as a domestic, as was another black woman living with the James family, Jenny Steward (described as "mu[latto]"). Also boarding there was a three-year-old, Geneva Blackwell, who must have been either Emma's own child or a niece. In August, 1880 Emma married in Cedar Rapids, taking as her husband Cato Aberson, a 25-year-old cook who, like Emma, described himself as "African." The 1885 census found the newlyweds in Grinnell, living on Main Street. No later than 1890, Cato and Emma moved to Omaha, Nebraska where Cato found work as a cook in the Occidental Hotel.
Record of 1880 marriage of Emma Blackwell to Cato Aberson
(Return of Marriages for the County of Linn For the Year ending October 1st, 1880)
Emma's brother Charles, however, was still residing on Commercial Street in Grinnell when the 1880 census was taken. Described as single and thirty years of age, Charles was living next to John Posten (1852?-1924), another black man. Charles continued to work as a laborer, although for whom he worked and where he went after 1880 are questions not yet answered.

The 1880 census also found African American men who were attending college: J. D. Posten seems to have been living by himself, adjacent to Charles Blackwell. Whitefield McKinlay, however, was boarding with a white family—Fisk and Julia Barber, their six children and their 17-year-old white servant. Both Posten and McKinlay had previously been students of Brewer's at the University of South Carolina, and when Brewer accepted appointment at Grinnell, both students came to Grinnell with him. (Yeager also connects the enrollment of Hannibal Kershaw to Brewer, but I could not corroborate that assertion.)
Undated Photograph of Fisk P. Brewer (1832-1890)
J. D. Posten initially enrolled in the college's Academy, but went on to complete the college degree, graduating in 1885. Among the first African Americans to attend Grinnell, Posten enjoyed an outstanding career as a lawyer. Born in Missouri, where he was first admitted to the bar, Posten later moved to Libby, Montana where he practiced law (and was apparently the only African American in town). According to J. Clay Smith (Emancipation: The Making of the Black Lawyer, 1844-1944 [Philadelphia, 1993], p. 502), in 1893 Posten was appointed United States commissioner to the District Court, making "him the first black lawyer in the Pacific region to hold a position of trust in the federal judicial system." Still in his 70s, Posten died in Davenport, Iowa, November, 1927.
Advertisement from Boyd's Directory of the District of Columbia (1926)
Whitefield McKinlay did not complete Grinnell, but went on to a successful career as a realtor. In 1888 he married Catherine Wheeler, and settled in the District of Columbia where the couple raised two daughters. For a time he enjoyed federal appointment as collector of customs for Georgetown, but he devoted most of his career to real estate. He died in the District, December, 1941 at age 89.

Other single, black men were also living in 1880 Grinnell. Augustus Gatrell, for instance, just 16 years old and born in Missouri, lived in the home of Henry and Fidelia Lyman whom he served. John Cooper, who in 1870 had been living in the company of fellow African Americans, was now living with Ephraim (1834-1902) and Hannah Palmer (1836-1928) and their children on Fifth Avenue. Palmer was a veteran of the Civil War, and had arrived in Grinnell only in 1863.  According to his obituary, Palmer operated a successful blacksmith's business in town for about twenty years. When Palmer left Grinnell in the early 1880s, Cooper boarded with another white couple,  William (d. 1916) and Elisabeth A. Fierbaugh (1857-1924), members of the small community of Adventists then present in Grinnell. Having been a groom for the Palmers, Cooper in 1885 was listed as a "laborer" in the Fierbaugh household, sharing lodging with four white men, one of whom was James Totten, famous later as the "Poor Man Who Died Rich."  But then Cooper, too, was gone from Grinnell to points unknown.
Extract from 1880 Census of Grinnell: Household of Alexander Fowler
Other black men took shelter with a black family. For instance, Walter Morse, 25 years old from Missouri, and Charles Robinson, 21 years old from Kentucky, were boarding with Alexander Fowler, a 30-year-old barber from Mississippi. Fowler and his wife, Mary, had moved to Grinnell from Indiana, where both their daughters, Eva and Lulu, were born.
Petition to Appoint Administrator of Intestate Estate of Lawson Butler, November 27, 1899
The 1878 city directory recalls Lawson Butler, a white-washer who was then living on Pearl Street. By the time the 1880 census was taken, however, Butler and his wife Belle were living on West Street, apparently the only black family within blocks. Born around 1845 in Missouri, Butler, like other blacks in Grinnell, knew first-hand the meaning of slavery, and was perhaps drawn to Grinnell because of its connection with abolitionism and the underground railroad. But Butler's life was not long: the records of Poweshiek County report that he died intestate in October, 1899. Lawson Butler died free, but not rich—probate documents indicate that his estate was worth only about $50. His bodily remains, therefore, were consigned to the ground in Hazelwood Cemetery's potter's field, November 3, 1899.
Extract from the list of those buried in potter's field, Hazelwood Cemetery
(Plats, Hazelwood Cemetery, Drake Community Library, Local History Room, Box #6)
First remembered in the 1878 Grinnell directory where he is identified as a "cook" who lived on Pearl Street, James Spencer is another African American whom the 1880 US Census found in Grinnell.  Living on Pearl Street with his wife, Frances (described as "mu[latto]"), Spencer—just 32 years of age in 1880—was said to be "out of health, living with kidney disease." Born in North Carolina (his wife was born in New York), Spencer presumably grew up in the slaveholders' world, but somehow made the journey to small-town Iowa. He is remembered as having volunteered for Company D of the US Colored Heavy Artillery, and served during the Civil War, an experience that might well explain his later poor health. Despite James's illness, the Spencers appear again in the 1885 Iowa census, James being described as "laborer."  But he died at age 36 on March 21, 1887 in Grinnell.
The 1885 Iowa census reported a slight increase in the number of blacks living in Grinnell, although still far fewer than were reported in 1870; in 1885 26 African Americans resided in Grinnell (Yeager counted 33). As a proportion of the total population, however, African Americans constituted an ever smaller share of the total population, since the town continued to attract many more white settlers: 1885 Grinnell was home to 3320 residents, so blacks accounted for less than 1% of the total population. However, by 1885 more of the town's African Americans belonged to families that had settled here. For example, Cato Aberson, a cook, lived on Main Street with his wife, the former Emma Blackwell, and with their baby daughter, Jessie May. John Barquette, who cooked for George Christian's hotel, had his wife, Sophia, and their baby, John, the family making its home on West Street. James Abryan, a 36-year-old laborer from Tennessee, lived with his wife, Louisa, and their four children: Hattie, James and Claude (twins), and Elijah. Overall, therefore, white Grinnell saw fewer African Americans, but more of them anchored to families than had been the case in the earliest days of settlement. This changing demographic meant that black boys and girls began to populate the town's schools, bringing to the classroom distinctly different backgrounds than their white fellow students had.
Mumford Holland (photo ca. 1890s) (Digital Grinnell)
Of course, there were still single African Americans in Grinnell. Mary Branch, for instance, was a 20-year-old servant to Steven Herrick and Edward Goode was a 35-year-old barber living in George Manatt's household on High Street. J. D. Posten, the college student mentioned above, was now boarding with a white family, Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Kepcke who lived on Main Street. On the other hand, as before, some black men boarded together, as Robert Redrick and Mumford Holland did on Fourth Avenue.
The 1895 Iowa census counted 24 African Americans (Yeager reported 25), almost all of whom belonged to families settled in town. Robert Redrick, last known to be sharing quarters with Mumford Holland, had by this time married and started a family. His wife Mary attended to their five children while Robert worked as a carpenter. Another African American family was known to the 1895 Iowa Census—the household of Mitchell Monsley, a 36-year-old piano tuner from Missouri. His wife Gertrude had been born in Mount Pleasant, and it was here that their daughter Fay had been born around 1882. They had a 19-year-old barber from Mount Pleasant (Charles McCracken) living with them, but, for reasons unknown, the Monsleys did not find Grinnell a suitable place to prosper, and they were soon gone.
Extract from 1885 Iowa Census for Grinnell: Household of William P. Bird
Just up Pearl street from the Spencers lived William Bird, a black man born in Missouri, and first recalled in Grinnell's 1885 census. Like James Spencer, Bird was cook in an unnamed local hotel. In 1871 he had married Mattie Vincl in Boone, Missouri. According to the 1885 census, the couple had just two children: Harry (4 years old) and Hattie May (2). No later than 1898 the Birds were living in Knoxville; and it was in Knoxville that William volunteered for service in the Spanish-American War. Why William enlisted is a mystery; African American participation in the Spanish-American War was very controversial, many believing that blacks—suffering numerous civic disabilities despite emancipation and the abolition of slavery—should not support American arms against Cubans. Apparently Bird did not buy into this view. Records of soldiers in that war confirm that William served for about a year and a half, cooking for soldiers as he had earlier cooked for hotel guests.
Roster and Record of Iowa Soldiers in...the Spanish-American and Philippine Wars, 6 vols. (Des Moines, 1911), 6:518
In late 1899 William returned to Knoxville where US census officials found him and his family in 1900. William was again working as a hotel cook, and Mattie evidently stayed home. Harry was no longer part of the household, but a third child, Roy, was 12 years old, which means that he might have been born in Grinnell. By 1910 the Birds had moved again, this time moving out of state; census officials found them in Augusta, South Dakota where William resumed his occupation as a hotel cook. No children were living with the Birds then.
Undated photo postcard of Old Soldiers' Home, Marshalltown, Iowa
We lose sight of the Birds for a while, but they apparently moved back to Iowa. Because of his veteran status, William was able to move into the Old Soldiers' Home in Marshalltown where he died in June, 1938; by that time Mattie was already dead, William being identified in his death certificate as a widower. Having passed his 84th birthday, William died of chronic endocarditis and "age debility," his body buried in the cemetery adjacent to the Soldiers' Home.
Gravestone of William P. Bird (1854-1938), Cemetery of Iowa Soldiers' Home, Marshalltown, Iowa
In contrast to the earliest Grinnell censuses, in 1900 families dominated the African American population in Grinnell. The absolute number of blacks in town rose to 35 (Yeager found 32), the most since 1870. But, because total population continued to grow—to more than 3800 in 1900—African Americans occupied an even smaller proportion of the whole. George Craig, a 62-year-old barber who had been born in Kentucky but had been living in Oskaloosa with his wife, Eliza, now settled in Grinnell at 515 2nd Avenue with their youngest daughter, Eva. Two older daughters had already married in Iowa: Theodora (Dora) married John Lucas in 1883 and in 1887 Anna Katherine married Ed Goode, a 40-year-old barber born in Ohio.
George and Eliza Craig Family (ca. 1902) (Digital Grinnell)
2nd row, Left to Right: Violet Lucas; Anna Craig Goode; Eva Craig Renfrow: Theodora Craig Lucas; Bruce Lucas
1st row, Left to Right: Aaron Lucas; George Craig; Martha Lucas; Eliza Jane Craig; unidentified child; Will Goode; John Henry Lucas

Lucas Triplets (Rebekah, Mary, Martha) born to Dora and John Lucas in 1895 (Digital Grinnell)
By 1900 both couples had children and both families were living in Grinnell. Dora had given birth to seven children, including the triplets born to her in 1895; husband John, his mother Lottie, Dora, and the couple's seven children occupied the house at 1517 West Street. Anna and Ed Goode, who were living at 715 Spring Street, had just one child, young William Edward, who had been born in 1898 (although the 1895 census recalled 7-year-old Franklin, who was not named in the 1900 inventory). When father Ed died at age 41 the next year, Anna was left to raise their son herself. The Craigs' third daughter, Eva, married soon after the 1900 census, taking as her husband Lee Renfrow in a 1901 ceremony. Lee and Eva generated six children who were younger than their Lucas and Goode cousins.
Anna Craig Goode and  son William (undated photo, but ca. 1910)
(Digital Grinnell)
Some of Grinnell's black population in 1900 had by this time accumulated considerable history in town. For example, Robert Redrick, who had been in Grinnell since at least 1870, was living with his family at 721 Center Street.  Frances Spencer, widow of James, who was known in Grinnell since at least 1878, lived just a block away at 715 Pearl, and Mumford Holland, first recalled in the 1870 census, lived at 815 Pearl. Some others had briefer histories in Grinnell. William Davies, for instance, was living at 615 Park, just as he had been when the 1894 city directory first listed him.
Altogether, then, more than 100 African Americans are named in the several Grinnell censuses and directories compiled in the second half of the nineteenth century. Especially in the 1870s and 1880s almost all these arrivals had been born into slavery, and came to Grinnell with hopes of building new lives that were both free and prosperous. Mostly male and mostly single, this first wave of black settlers took jobs at the bottom of the wage scale; practically all these men were day laborers and the women domestics. The exceptions were cooks and barbers, occupations that show up with surprising frequency in the population inventories. A handful of blacks enrolled at Iowa College, some of them beginning remarkable careers.

As Grinnell's African American population swelled and shrank over the next couple of decades, many of the single arrivals left Grinnell for other destinations. Were they dissatisfied with Grinnell? Had the reception and work available proved less liberating than initial impressions had suggested? Or had their ambition discovered new possibilities elsewhere? We have little evidence with which to answer these questions, although the "riot" of 1858, attributed to white settlers resentful of the Negroes being admitted to school, confirms that racial antagonism was not far from the surface in early Grinnell.

Toward century's end the black population in Grinnell once again expanded, even if the African American proportion of the total did not grow. This second wave of arrivals came largely in the company of families. Jobs open to the parents seem not to have changed much from the 1870s, but the presence of numbers of African American children meant that school classrooms changed. All-white classes gradually gained color, as children from the families of John Lucas, Robert Redrick, and John Barquette, among others, entered school. We know little about these encounters, but it is easy to imagine that school classrooms provided more opportunities for racial mixing than most anywhere else in early Grinnell, which remained decidedly white.

As the slim evidence available confirms, the first African American arrivals in Grinnell did not radically alter the social and political orientation of the growing town. Black men and women, newly freed from the bonds of slavery, discovered in Grinnell jobs that differed little from the work they had done for their southern masters. None of these men and women were able to break through the economic and social barriers that race defined, and this fact may well have helped spur the decision to leave Grinnell for other locations. However, as more African American families took root in Grinnell, a new generation of black Grinnellians came of age, and set out to overcome the obstacles that their parents and grandparents had confronted.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Illegitimacy and Abortion in 1920s-1930s Grinnell

In the United States today, about forty percent of all births belong to unmarried mothers. Whether you think this a good or bad thing, it's hard to deny that the number reflects a substantial change from the recent past. According to available data, in Iowa of the 1920s and 1930s, for example, single parents accounted for less than three percent of all births. Consequently, if today a single woman in the United States can give birth without incurring a lot of social criticism, single women in early twentieth-century Iowa likely faced a much more censorious world. "Illegitimacy" was a brand that made life onerous for both child and parent.
Sally C. Curtin et al., "Recent Declines in Non-Marital Child-bearing in the United States," National Center for Health Statistics, Data Brief No. 162, August, 2014 (
Determining exactly how common was illegitimacy and how it affected Grinnell in the past is not easy. Largely because of the negative valence illegitimacy carried, people kept quiet about their situations, and did what they could to hide pregnancies outside marriage. Nevertheless, given the public's concern about illegitimacy, the issue did occasionally surface in the press. In 1925, for example, the Des Moines Tribune published a report based on the findings of the Iowa State Health Commissioner, who announced that the previous year (1924) illegitimate births in Iowa were three times as common as they had been in 1915.
Des Moines Tribune, September 28, 1925

But what about Grinnell? Newspapers here featured no stories announcing a wave of illegitimacy. However, a new source on this question has recently emerged: a complete register of all admissions to Grinnell's St. Francis Hospital between the years 1919 (when the hospital opened its doors) and July, 1935. Identifying more than 4400 hospital admissions, the register provides singular evidence on morbidity and hospital mortality in Grinnell in the 1920s and 1930s. Moreover, the register identifies every baby born at St. Francis, and, where officials deemed it appropriate, the register signified who was "illegitimate."

Of course, St. Francis—a Catholic institution—was one of two hospitals in Grinnell, and births continued to occur at Grinnell Community Hospital as well as at home and at other hospitals. So, it is impossible to know how representative are the data from St. Francis. All the same, the St. Francis register provides vivid insight into "illegitimate births" in Grinnell, and also, surprisingly, a peek at the incidence of abortion, both issues that law and popular morality helped keep out of the published record.
Register of all admissions to St. Francis Hospital, Grinnell, 1919-1935 (Grinnell Historical Museum)
For obvious reasons, babies deemed illegitimate when born at St. Francis hospital usually—but not always, interestingly—had unmarried mothers. Most of these mothers came from elsewhere, presumably seeking in Grinnell some privacy from the criticism they might have encountered in their home towns.  So it was that Miss Eleanor Cassilly (the hospital register regularly identified female patients as "Miss" or "Mrs.") of Le Claire, Iowa checked into St. Francis hospital in October, 1923. Just nineteen years old at the time, Eleanor was the younger, unmarried sister of Merle Cassilly—ten years her senior—, who with his wife, lived with their parents in their Le Claire home. Within a day of arriving in Grinnell, Eleanor gave birth to a baby girl whom the register called "illegitimate." Likewise, Ivy Singleton, the oldest child of five in the household of H. A. and Nora Singleton in Chalmers, Illinois, arrived in Grinnell in the last days of December, 1922. Then either nineteen or twenty years of age and pregnant, Ivy soon gave birth to an illegitimate son. More than a decade later, Amelia Reha, a very pregnant and unmarried eighteen-year-old from Iowa City, came to Grinnell for similar reasons. The third child of six born to Frank (a farmer) and Amanda Reha, Amelia delivered a baby boy at St. Francis hospital September 5, 1934. Just two months earlier Margaret Madesen had found her way from McFarland, Wisconsin to Grinnell, where she also gave birth to an illegitimate son.

It is easy to imagine how the staff cosseted these innocent babes, but the hospital register rarely offers any indication of the fates of these children, instead merely attaching the damning adjective "illegitimate" to their arrival. However, the hospital register reports that at least one unwanted child did find adoptive parents. Amanda Reha's little boy, who was born in early September, 1934, became something of a Christmas present to Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Koett of Marshalltown. A cramped note in the margin of the hospital register reports that the Koetts adopted the boy—whom they named William—December 14, 1934, three months after his birth. How the Koetts came to know of the child, and exactly how the adoption was arranged are matters presently-available evidence does not address. One wonders, for example, who kept the baby those few months between his birth and his adoption? Hospital records show that Amanda was discharged shortly after the child's birth, but whether she took the baby home the register does not say. That the hospital reported on the adoption offers reason to think that Amanda left the child in the hospital's care, and that officials undertook to find adoptive parents. Marshalltown newspapers confirm that Veronica Koett was very active in local Catholic organizations, and the Koetts also made sure that William attended Catholic schools, so it seems likely that the adoption took place through Catholic contacts.
Gravestone of Eugene, Veronica, and William Koett, Riverside Cemetery, Marshalltown, Iowa
Perhaps other children born at St. Francis and judged "illegitimate" were also given up to be adopted, although the register mentions no others. Alternatively, unwanted little ones might have found their way to a nearby orphanage, such as the one in Toledo (which later became the State Juvenal Home/State Training School for Girls). Another alternative saw the mother keep her baby, and records make clear that at least occasionally this is exactly what happened, despite the opprobrium these births brought their mothers. Take, for instance, Miss Hazel Mintle, born in Malcom township in 1898, the fourth of five children welcomed by Laura Mintle and her farmer husband, Frank. The family soon moved to Grinnell, living at 702 Broad. Hazel told the 1915 Iowa census taker that she had completed two years of high school, but her absence from the high school yearbook suggests that she did not stay in school long enough to graduate. After Frank Mintle died in 1916, Laura remarried in 1919, taking as her husband John Creamer, a Grinnell auctioneer who lived at 423 West Street. Hazel moved with her mother, and by 1920 was employed as a clerk in a department store.

October 17, 1921, however, Hazel Mintle entered St. Francis hospital where she promptly gave birth to a little boy whom the hospital register judged "illegitimate." I found no evidence of how Hazel's delivery was received locally, but it is hard to imagine that she and her newborn were received enthusiastically, either within the Mintle clan—whose numerous branches were well-known and well-regarded in Grinnell—or more broadly. Nevertheless, as additional documentation proves, Hazel did indeed keep her baby, naming him Keith Lavelle Mintle. For reasons not spelled out in hospital records, Hazel and her newborn were not released until after Halloween. But soon she and her baby took up residence with Mr. and Mrs. William Sears at 1122 Ann Street.
1921 Death Certificate of Keith Lavelle Mintle (1921-1921)
Sadly, misfortune soon followed this brave course: little Keith grew very ill (perhaps he was already under treatment when born, helping explain the delayed release from hospital), and before he was two months old the child died. The death certificate identified the cause of death as syphilis, which indicates that the baby had contracted the disease from his mother while still in her womb. And this fact, in turn, indicates that Hazel had had at least one sex partner—either the child's father or someone else—who himself was infected; Hazel then transmitted the disease to her fetus.  Whatever people may have thought of this short-lived little boy, Hazel herself must have endured a double dose of criticism, having not only violated accepted morality in conceiving a child outside marriage but also having gained a sexually transmitted disease that she visited upon her unborn son. So far as the baby's grave can contribute to the story, Hazel's family (or some part of it) at some point absorbed the child into the family—at least that is what is implied by Keith's burial in Hazelwood, adjacent to his grandparents and other members of the Mintle family (although the misspelling of the boy's middle name indicates some distance from the child and his mother).
Gravestone for Keith Lavelle Mintle, Hazelwood Cemetery (West Hazelwood 976) (2017 photo)
Hazel herself, however, soon left Grinnell behind, never to return. Des Moines city directories from the early 1920s find her living in Des Moines and working at the new Hotel Savery, opened there in 1919. Also living in Des Moines at this time was Paul Seeburger, identified as a "battery expert" at Iowa Storage Battery Company. How and when the two met I could not learn, but I wondered whether Paul might not have been the baby's father. In any case, in 1926 or 1927 Hazel and Paul Seeburger married and moved to California. The 1930 census found them in Los Angeles; Paul was a clerk in a drug store whereas Hazel was employed in sales at a department store. Evidently the pair never generated any children, as the 1940 census found them still childless in Los Angeles where Paul worked as apartment manager in the building in which they lived. Hazel died in Los Angeles in July, 1963, and was buried half a continent away from her only child; Paul survived Hazel for some years, dying in March, 1971.
A happier, if more confusing, narrative came to the baby born to Mrs. William A. Flanagan at St. Francis Hospital June 14, 1935. Helena A. Jones had married William Flanagan September 15, 1930, and they soon set up house in Grinnell. April, 1932 saw the couple welcome their first child, Joanne, and in May 1933 a second child, William, joined the family. Then in June 1935, Helena was admitted to St. Francis where on the 14th she give birth to a little girl. For reasons that I can only guess about, the hospital register clearly labeled the baby "illegitimate." None of the persons whose admission notice is near Helena's gave birth to a child, so the entry cannot be an obvious, clerical mistake, transferring to Mrs. Flanagan the birth of a single woman admitted with her. But how can a married woman have given birth to an "illegitimate" child? Had Helena confessed a sin to one of the nuns who worked there, and she felt obliged to record this failing? Had Helena perhaps earlier decided to unburden herself of a secret to her husband, who then reported this news to his wife's doctor? Neither course seems especially likely, if not impossible. But answers to these questions cannot be expected ever to appear, since matters like this are communicated orally and in privacy—if indeed they were communicated at all.

Once Helena delivered the baby, the Flanagans faced some hard choices. If resentment and regret accompanied the new arrival, should the Flanagans perhaps give the child up for adoption, removing from their household the living evidence of Helena's extra-marital adventure? Or, whether Helena's misstep was forgiven or not, should Helena and William welcome the baby into their home like any other offspring, since there was no reason for anyone to suspect anything in the arrival of a third child to a married woman? The hospital register cannot answer these questions, but other documents about the family reveal that the Flanagans did take the baby home, and raised her as their own. The 1940 US Census identified four Flanagan children, including their third child, Marguerite, who was said to have been 4 in 1940, which would point to a birth in 1936. In fact, however, as Social Security records and other documents confirm, Marguerite Flanagan was born June 14, 1935, the exact date entered in the St. Francis Hospital register when Helena Flanagan gave birth to an illegitimate girl. Marguerite was that "illegitimate" child.
Marguerite Flanagan (1935-2006), 1952 Grinnell High School Yearbook
So far as I could learn, Marguerite enjoyed a normal childhood, passing through the Grinnell schools and graduating from Grinnell High School in 1952. She married Richard Owens, moved to Omaha, and there gave birth to two children of her own. When she died in 2006, she had already been widowed for several years, but there is no evidence that the one damning word attached to her 1935 birth ever brought her any unwanted consequences.
So far we have been discussing mothers who, however reluctantly, brought their children full-term, and delivered babies. At least some women, however, must have considered how they might avoid the scorn that an illegitimate birth would bring. Despite its Catholic commitment, St. Francis Hospital offers some evidence on these cases, too, periodically noting in the hospital register that a patient had had an abortion.

When I first encountered this term in the hospital records, I doubted that the word denoted the termination of pregnancy, as we understand that term now. But as I saw the term repeated, along with other expressions ("miscarriage," "uterine hemorrhage," etc.) which might have hidden abortions, had the physicians wished to do so, I became convinced that Grinnell doctors had indeed performed abortions in St. Francis hospital.
But wasn't abortion illegal? Indeed it was, as James C. Mohr convincingly argues ("Iowa's Abortion Battles of the late 1960s and Early 1970s: Long-term Perspective and Short-Term Analysis," The Annals of Iowa 50[1989]:63-89). In the last years of the nineteenth century, Mohr points out, the Iowa legislature and courts gradually tightened laws aimed at abortionists, so that by 1886 the death of a woman as a result of an abortion could be prosecuted as second-degree murder. Nevertheless, Mohr contends, "substantial evidence suggests that abortion remained a reasonably wide-spread practice in Iowa, just as it did in other states...." Mohr read decisions of Iowa's Supreme Court as admitting "that the death or even the presumed death of an unborn fetus was considered a threat to the life of the woman carrying it and therefore justified an abortion; that anyone could attempt an abortion as long as the life of the woman appeared to be at stake; and, most importantly, that the state had the burden of proof to demonstrate that the abortion was not necessary." The result, Mohr argues, was that performing an abortion, especially if done by a physician, rarely attracted prosecution. Survey data collected in 1931 from more than eighty rural Iowa physicians seems to support his contention: inquiry of more than eighty rural Iowa physicians revealed more than 6600 abortions alongside some 51,000 deliveries.

Accepting this argument does nothing to undermine the Catholic church's own opposition to abortion, a force of considerable power within a Catholic hospital like Grinnell's St. Francis. And yet the hospital register identifies at least seven abortions, all carried out in the 1920s (for unknown reasons, not a single abortion can be found in the register's records from the 1930s). Who were the women at St. Francis who underwent abortions?
St. Francis Hospital, Grinnell, Iowa (1920?) (Digital Grinnell)
Only once does the hospital register report that the abortion was self-induced, and that description was attached to Mrs. Philip Thomas, who was admitted to St. Francis February 3, 1924. Philip Thomas and Mildred Halstead had married in Newton in December, 1920. The Grinnell city directory of that year reported that the couple lived at 1507 Summer, and that Phillip was a "meat cutter." Later evidence indicates that Phillip took up farming, as his death certificate confirmed that he had died unexpectedly in 1928: he suffered a lightning strike as he planted corn on their farm. Available records indicate that Phillip and Mildred Thomas had no other children after the 1924 abortion. Although a self-induced abortion might have damaged Mildred's reproductive organs, she gave birth to a son in 1930 after Phillip's death and her remarriage, so the failure to add children was not a biological consequence of her abortion. But why did she try to abort her 1924 pregnancy? And did that abortion somehow interfere with her relation to her husband?

Other abortions identified in the hospital register seem to have originated with the women's doctors. For example, in April 1928, Miss Kathleen Clifford came to Grinnell from West Branch—at least that's what the hospital record says. However, I could find no Cliffords in West Branch, Iowa; the closest family of that name lived in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and their daughter Kathleen would have been about 25 years old in 1928. It could be, therefore, that, like other unmarried pregnant women who wanted to escape the censure of their hometowns, Kathleen made the trip to Grinnell, but, instead of giving birth to an illegitimate child, she underwent an abortion.

Another single woman said to have had an abortion at St. Francis was Wilma Wentzel, whose name readers of this blog might recognize: in a highly-publicized 1923 case, she had run away from home with a married Grinnell man whom newspapers dubbed "Iceman Romeo." Unlike other young women who had journeyed from distant points to Grinnell to resolve their pregnancies, Wilma was a local girl, her family residing at 1016 Center Street. She had been admitted to St. Francis once before—in June, 1921—to be treated for gonorrhea, a sexually-transmitted disease not often met in the St. Francis register. Just fifteen years old at the time, Wilma was evidently sexually active, which may explain how she returned to the hospital in mid-July, 1922 where, according to the register, Dr. Talbott performed an abortion. Medical authorities explain that a pregnant woman infected with gonorrhea is more likely to experience miscarriage or a pre-term birth, and it may be, therefore, that when Wilma Wentzel returned to St. Francis hospital in 1922, she exhibited some signs of these problems, encouraging her doctor to terminate the pregnancy. Evidently there were no complications, and Wilma was promptly released.
Luella Walker Holstrom (1901-1984)
1925 yearbook of Mankato State Teachers College
The case of Mrs. Harry Holstrom was quite different. Luella (Nellie) Rosalina Walker was born in 1901 in Princeton, Iowa. By 1920, her father was dead, and she and a younger brother were living with their widowed mother in Davenport. Nellie decided to pursue an education, focusing upon teacher training. In 1924 she accepted a position at Mankato State Teachers College (today's Minnesota State University, Mankato). At about the same time, she met Harry Kay Holstrom, and in November, 1926 they married and settled in Brooklyn, Iowa. Apparently Nellie promptly conceived, but she entered St. Francis March 13, 1927, her doctor reporting that he had performed an abortion.

What does this mean? Was the conception somehow defective, perhaps putting Nellie's own life at risk? Had there been some other trouble that necessitated terminating the pregnancy? The hospital register has nothing to say about these questions, remarking only that Nellie was dismissed four days later. Whether related to the abortion or not, something did go wrong with Nellie's marriage, even though the next year she gave birth to a daughter, because by the time federal census agents appeared at her door in 1940, she was no longer living in Brooklyn with Harry, but had returned to Davenport where she lived with her daughter, the census describing her as divorced.
Gravestone for Grastina Marchellino, Hazelwood Cemetery (2017 photo)
A similar scenario played out for Mrs. "Geo." Marchellino. Giuseppe ("Joe") Marchellino had immigrated to the United States in 1909, and established a shoemaker's business in Grinnell. By 1920 Joe was living and working in Ottumwa, where in 1922 he married eighteen-year-old Grace Weeks; they both reported that this was their second marriage. Soon thereafter the newlyweds settled in Grinnell. Grace entered St. Francis Hospital May 10, 1923 where Dr. Talbott again reported having performed an abortion. Apparently there were no complications, as Grace was dismissed two  days later. She conceived again very soon, because their son, James, is reported (on a delayed birth record), as having been born November 6, 1923. This date, recalled years later for the substitute birth certificate, seems very unlikely, and St. Francis records do not remember James's birth at all. Nevertheless, November 6, 1923 is what was recorded in numerous later documents, including the report of James's World War II death in New Guinea in 1942. A second child, Grastina, was born in September, 1925, but died the following spring. Francis came in 1927, and LaVena in 1928. For reasons unknown, by 1930 the couple divorced, and in 1931 Grace remarried and left Iowa. Joe remained in Grinnell until 1962 when he returned to Italy, where he died in 1966.

The other abortions listed in the St. Francis register occurred to married women who already had other children. Mrs. Dow Mehaffey, for instance, entered hospital October 16, 1921, and Dr. Talbott reported having performed an abortion. Dow Mehaffey (1879-1950) and Maude Carson (1890-1955) had married December 20, 1909 in Washington, Iowa. Their first child, Lyle, was born in 1910, but died the following year. Lauretta followed in 1914, and Frances in 1916. So, when Maude was admitted to St. Francis in 1921, she had already given birth three times, and two children awaited her at home. It seems likely, therefore, that her abortion had something to do with the child, and that her doctor determined that an abortion was necessary to preserve Maude's own life, especially inasmuch as Maude went on to have two more children: Metta and Martina.

Mrs. Eugene Dewey of Newburg also had an abortion, hers done by Dr. Parish in late April, 1924. In his later years Eugene Dewey (1895-1960) drove a truck for Richardson-Phelps Lumber Company in Grinnell, but he had begun his working life as a farmer in Hamilton, Missouri. In 1915 he married Cora Jane Innis (1899-1943) in Caldwell, Missouri, and they soon moved to Iowa, first living in Newburg, then later in Grinnell. Cora Dewey gave birth to son Walter in 1917, to daughter Francis in 1918, and to a second daughter, Thelma, in 1923. It seems likely, therefore, that the 1924 abortion reported in hospital records, like Maude Mehaffey's, was the result of some irregularity in the pregnancy that threatened Cora's health.
The cases pulled from Grinnell's St. Francis Hospital records highlight experience that weighed especially heavily on women: childbirth outside marriage. Still a rarity in the 1920s and 1930s, extra-marital childbirth in Iowa proved resistant to cultural acceptance, so that young women who conceived a child before having married often had to resort to desperate solutions. For many, it meant finding a hospital far from home where they could give birth, and then return home, hoping that neighbors and friends were none the wiser. Occasionally these single mothers elected to keep their children, but this was difficult and, as happened with Hazel Mintle, these women ultimately chose to leave Grinnell—and their babies—behind.

Other unmarried women appear to have elected abortion. The records tell us nothing about how advanced the pregnancies were or whether there might have been medical problems that made abortion necessary. No doubt each case was complicated. Perhaps for some, who even at a young age were accustomed to serial sexual encounters, abortion was no big thing; in and out of the hospital promptly, as Wilma Wentzel was, for example, these women could not allow pregnancy to complicate their lives. Most of the abortions at St. Francis, however, seem to have been performed on married women who already had children. Consequently, their treatment at St. Francis seems to have had nothing to do with avoiding pregnancy and childbirth.

The brief reports of these women's encounters with illegitimacy and abortion, therefore, preserve for us only the dimmest outlines of lives in which pregnancy brought not only medical but also important social consequences that helped define their biographies. These stories were not written into the master narrative of Grinnell's past, and even within the walls of their own homes may not have been much discussed. Yet these stories, too, belong to Grinnell's past.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Grinnell's Potters' Field: Who's Buried There?

When I began this blog a couple of years ago, I asked the rhetorical question, "Whose stories deserve to be told?" My point was that narratives of our past commonly exclude large swaths of the population: women; members of religious, racial or ethnic minorities; the disabled; and the poor. The resulting stories, therefore, omit a great deal, and often overlook the unhappy and unsuccessful lives that also belong to our past.

Perhaps nothing illustrates so well the difference between stories told and lives forgotten as potter's fields. A term whose precise origins remain obscure, potter's fields have existed since at least biblical times when, according to Christian scriptures, the chief priests took the money returned by Judas Iscariot, and used it to purchase a "potter's field in which to bury strangers." Already excavated for the clay potters used in their craft, potter's fields made for inexpensive burial of the unknown (strangers) and those too poor to acquire their own burial sites. Like many other places, New York City continues to maintain its own potters' field on Hart Island where the unclaimed bodies of the indigent, criminal, and the unidentified continue to take their final resting place. As in most potter's fields, there the dead sleep unidentified, with no markers or gravestones to testify to their once having been part of the human story.
Potter's Field, Hazelwood Cemetery (2017 photo)
It might surprise some to learn that Grinnell's Hazelwood Cemetery also includes a potter's field. Occupying a strip across the southeastern edge of the original cemetery, Grinnell' potter's field provides burial for transients, the poor, and others for whom no one spoke when death claimed them. Seen from the nearby roadway, Hazelwood's potter's field gives the appearance of uninterrupted lawn, a sharp contrast to the rest of the cemetery where stone markers stubbornly poke skyward, announcing the identities of those buried there. In fact, however, Hazelwood's potter's field, for all its apparent anonymity, includes some grave markers—small, modest slabs of cement into which the barest information was inscribed before the cement hardened. This post uses these slabs and other resources to resurrect the stories of some of the people who died in Grinnell and, for lack of means or identity, were buried in Hazelwood's potter's field.

Additional evidence with which to untangle the history of potter's field comes from old cemetery records recently transferred to the Drake Community Library local history room. Among the papers transferred from city provenance is a single page that reported on those—or at least some of those—buried in Hazelwood's potter's field.
Plats, Hazelwood Cemetery, Drake Community Library, Local History Room, Box #6
This single page identifies almost 90 persons, whose deaths stretched from 1885 to 1963. Some names appear with an attempt at localizing the grave ("two feet southeast of tree"), and some appear with numbers whose meaning is unclear. Otherwise, the descriptions are spare (not to mention difficult to make out), and follow no obvious order. Nevertheless, this page provides an introduction to some whose destiny took them to this isolated corner of Hazelwood cemetery. With the help of the occasional grave marker, the potter's field list helps us learn who were the people who ended up there, and perhaps discover what brought them to this destination.
Part-way down the first column of the cemetery's list of potter's field burials one finds the following entry: "Anna Coply [sic] April 12, 1920 Strangers Rest." We know little about this woman, except for a brief report published in the Grinnell Herald's listing of local news (April 9, 1920): 
Mrs. Anna Copley died at the Community hospital last night [=8 April]. The body was taken to the Snyder Brothers undertaking parlors this morning to await funeral arrangements. The deceased was about 35 years old.
How or why Copley came to Grinnell remains unknown, but clearly the newspaper did not know her, having misidentified Allie Stepp Copley (1882-1920) as Anna, and able only to guess her age. Apparently no more news arrived before her body was consigned to potter's field, gently titled here as "stranger's rest."

In fact, strangers who died suddenly in town with no kin to help or claim them often found their final rest in Hazelwood's potter's field. I wrote earlier about two Mexicans who came to Grinnell in the 1940s on temporary jobs, and died here suddenly. Both joined Mrs. Copley in "stranger's rest." Manuel Rodriguez Ramos drowned in Arbor Lake in July, 1944, and the following year Melchior Hernandez died in a Grinnell hospital. Local officials were uncertain about exactly where the two men came from, and had no way to contact relatives, no doubt explaining how the Mexicans ended up permanently at rest in Grinnell's potter's field.
Melchior Hernandez, August 17, 1945 (2017 photo)
Potter's Field, Hazelwood Cemetery

Manuel R. Ramos, [July] 20, 194[4] (2017 photo)
Potter's Field, Hazelwood Cemeteery
Another Grinnell transient who ended up in potter's field came from a different continent. In June, 1932, Arthur Borowski, an itinerant interior painter, fell ill in Grinnell, and was admitted to St. Francis Hospital. For almost two months, Borowski remained in hospital, but the hospital register indicated no diagnosis nor treatment. August 5th, Borowski died. When admitted to St. Francis, Borowski had evidently told officials that he had come to town from Omaha, but the published notice of his death observed that the "only known living relative is a sister who lives in Poland," a fact that guaranteed that Borowski would be buried in potter's field.
Grinnell Herald, August 5, 1932
Even those who were familiar to Grinnellians might end up in potter's field. Take the case of "Rusty" Taylor, whom the newspaper described as an "eccentric recluse," and who burned to death in an accident January 13, 1944. The Grinnell Herald-Register (January 13, 1944) reported that Taylor had lived for "many years in a shack near the site of the old tile factory" south of town. Called a "mechanic of exceptional ability, almost a genius," Taylor nevertheless "rarely worked, preferring to live alone in his little shack with his pets," among which he numbered a badger, rats and snakes. Some years earlier Taylor had worked with Billy Robinson on his airplanes, but he had had little regular work for years. Because the McBlain greenhouse on East Street had recently suffered fire damage, Mrs. McBlain had hired Rusty Taylor as night watchman. At some time after 4 o'clock that morning when his employer had checked on him, Taylor fell asleep and "his oil-soaked clothing caught fire." According to a neighbor who was aroused by Taylor's shouts, Rusty threw himself out the door of the greenhouse, and hit the ground, rolling over and over in an attempt to put out the flames. But he was unsuccessful, the coroner reporting that Taylor had third-degree burns over his entire body.

As with transient strangers, no one in Grinnell knew much about Taylor, despite his having lived in Grinnell for decades. The newspaper allowed that he was "about 56 years old and was born in Canada," but there was little else to go on. Officials apparently learned the identity of a brother said to be living in Princeton, Illinois, and a sister who was thought to live in Canada. The newspaper said that officials were trying to contact relatives, but either they failed to reach his siblings or the relatives disassociated themselves from their "eccentric" kinsman, allowing him to take his rest in Hazelwood's potter's field.

Luke W. Taylor, Jan[uary] 13, 1944 (2017 photo)
Potter's Field, Hazelwood Cemetery
A similar destiny befell Everett Fulton, who was "about 65 years old" when he "dropped dead about 4 o'clock Friday afternoon in the Rex cigar store" on Fourth Avenue. Apparently Fulton had just come from a doctor's office, bringing a prescription to have the pharmacy fill. But death caught him unawares as he sat in a chair, awaiting the medicine that might have saved him. Reporting on the man's demise, the newspaper (Grinnell Herald-Register, January 16, 1950) admitted that, although Fulton "had been around Grinnell for a good many years and had been employed as a hired hand by several farmers," little was known about Everett Fulton except that he had previously worked as a coal miner in Kansas. A subsequent report (January 19) indicated that officials had reached two sons—one in Kansas and the other in Texas. Both expressed an intention to come to Grinnell, but apparently without taking responsibility for their father's burial, as Fulton entered Hazelwood's potter's field soon thereafter.
Everett Fulton, Jan[uary] 20, 1950 (2017 photo)
Potter's Field, Hazelwood Cemetery
Likewise, when Martin Parse (1883-1930) of 1527 Davis Avenue died, the brief newspaper account admitted that, although the man had lived in Grinnell "most of his life," he had lived largely out of sight to most of the town. The published report claimed that Parse had a son, but his death certificate, reporting that he had died of carcinoma of the prostate, identified him as "single." In any case, if any kin survived Parse, none arrived to claim his body, so that Martin Parse soon joined other "strangers" in potter's field.
Martin Parse, May 5, 1930 (2017 photo)
Potter's Field, Hazelwood Cemetery
Even when survivors were known and close by, the deceased might nevertheless be left to join the penurious and unknown in potter's field—which is what happened to Arthur Tompkins (1887-1933), who died of injuries incurred in an automobile accident. His skull fractured, Tompkins died soon after admission to hospital, but, as the newspaper confirmed (Grinnell Herald, March 24, 1933), he was survived by his wife and several children. Indeed, his wife, Helen, when reached at their Des Moines home, served as informant for officials who completed the death certificate. Nevertheless, for reasons unknown, Tompkins joined the others in potter's field.

One fairly obvious contributor to the potter's field was the railroad. J. B. Grinnell is famous for having selected a site for his new town based upon the coming of the railroads, and, of course, the railroads did come, and they contributed mightily to the town's well-being. But less often remarked upon is the fact that the railroads also played their part in helping populate Hazelwood's potter's field. Of the several persons to have been killed at the railroad one of the most pathetic was never identified, and therefore the small cement marker embedded in the grass over his potter's field grave describes him only as "unknown man railroad victim." According to news reports (Grinnell Herald, November 6, 1931), an elderly man with a wooden leg had stepped in front of the Rock Island Train No. 9 at 9:15 in the morning of November 4, 1931. The train severed the man's head and one arm, killing him instantly. No identification was found in the dead man's clothing, and, despite the dispatch of fingerprints to Washington, DC, the victim was never identified, and his body was buried at Hazelwood, November 10, 1931.
"Unknown Man," November 10, 1931  (2017 photo)
Potter's Field, Hazelwood Cemetery
Another occupant of Potter's field owes the railroad for his permanent resting place. James O'Malley, who earlier had lived and worked in Grinnell for some years, on June 7, 1933 rode a freight train from Des Moines where he had looked for a job. As the train approached Grinnell's Railway Express office at Park and Third, O'Malley tried to jump off. But something caught, and, instead of landing on his feet away from the train, he fell beneath it. "One leg was badly crushed, and O'Malley died from shock and loss of blood," the newspaper reported (Grinnell Herald, June 9, 1933). Authorities attempted to contact O'Malley's wife in Newburg, Oregon, but either these efforts did not succeed or the woman declined to accept her husband's body. As a result, James O'Malley was put to rest in Hazelwood's potter's field June 10, 1933.
James P. O'Malloy [sic] (1873?-1933), June 10, 1933 (2017 photo)
Potter's Field, Hazelwood Cemetery 
In October, 1940 yet another freight train generated a potter's field burial. The Grinnell Herald (October 31, 1940) reported that a "Negro hobo reached the end of the trail" when a Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway "southbound freight severed his body at the waist after he fell from a carload of poles." According to an acquaintance who was riding the freight with him, both men had been drinking alcohol on the ride down from Marshalltown. When the train stopped at the Grinnell depot, William Hart (as he was later identified) awoke to vomit, and when the train jerked to a start, he "fell off between the cars." Apparently at first unharmed, Hart tried to make his way across the rails to escape, but the moving freight caught him and cut him in two. Like O'Malley, Hart was known in town. The newspaper said that since Hart often stopped in Grinnell, many would have recognized him, "a rather stooped man who always used a cane because of an impediment in his walk." But local familiarity with Hart was only superficial, since no friends or kin asked for his body, leading to his burial in potter's field.
William Hart (1900?-1940), October 30, 1940 (2017 photo)
Potter's Field, Hazelwood Cemetery 
Perhaps the most wrenching tale of railroad death belongs to Velma Marie Davis. The June 2nd, 1933 issue of the Grinnell Herald reported that the little girl (whom the paper misidentified as "Vivian" Davis), left in the care of her invalid father in their home on the west edge of town, had wandered out of the house and through the fence. For reasons known only to her, little Velma started walking the tracks with her dog. Unfortunately, at just that time a freight train was headed west out of Grinnell, and began to pick up steam as it left town. Before the engineer noticed the tyke the train had run over both dog and child. The train screeched to a stop, but too late to help the girl or dog. Extracted from between the cars, some ten cars back of the engine, little Velma Marie was rushed to the hospital where she died an hour later.

Although numerous infants and children are buried in Hazelwood's potter's field, why Velma Marie ended up here is not clear. Unlike the transients described above, the little girl lived in town with her family, although apparently they had moved to Grinnell only a few months prior to the accident. But why would their brief residence in Grinnell leave her to join the unknown in potter's field? Perhaps the father's disability meant that the family had few resources and none to invest in a burial plot, and therefore acceded to the option of burying their daughter in potter's field. Or were there other reasons behind the abandonment of this little girl?
Velma Marie Davis (1931-1933), June 5, 1933 (2017 photo)
Potter's Field, Hazelwood Cemetery
The death of Velma Davis highlights the fact that many of the graves in Hazelwood's potter's field belong to infants and children. At least twenty-two names on the cemetery list identify infants or children consigned to potter's field. As many readers will know, Hazelwood Cemetery includes "Baby Land," a section dedicated to the burial of children. Moreover, the graves of numerous infants and children can be found throughout the cemetery, often in proximity to parents and family. How did these little ones find their way to potter's field instead? Careful examination of some babies buried here offers possible explanations.

Part way down the second column of the hand-written list of those buried in potter's field, one finds reference to an "unnamed infant of F. H. Lagrange." Floyd LaGrange (1900-1969) was well-known in Grinnell where he lived all his life. In 1918 he married Vera Martin, and the 1930 census found them living at 1217 First Avenue, along with their three children: Colleen who was 9; Lorita, almost 5; and Judd, who was almost three. Their next child, who was born and died on the same day, May 3, 1935, ended up in Grinnell's potter's field. Records from that time, including the potter's field list, describe the child as unnamed, but Floyd's 1969 obituary identified the baby as Bernard Dean. Had the little baby boy, so long ago abandoned in potter's field, somehow remained alive in the memory of his parents and family?

Nothing survives to answer this question, nor does the available evidence explain why this baby was laid to rest in potter's field. The 1930 census reported that Floyd worked as a mechanic for the washing machine company, perhaps Maytag in Newton for whom he is said to have worked many years. His later employment—for Winpower, then Solar Aircraft in Des Moines, and finally for Berman Brothers Salvage Yard in Grinnell—gives little indication of his pay, but Floyd seems to have worked steadily and presumably, therefore, he maintained reasonable income. Nevertheless, his unnamed baby found permanent rest far from Floyd's and Vera's own graves in Hazelwood. Why?
Gravestones of Floyd and Vera LaGrange, West Hazelwood plot 467 (2017 photo)
The baby's death certificate cites as cause of death "prematurity," without any specifics. It may be, therefore, that the brevity of the baby's life—"ten minutes," according to the death certificate—coupled with the child's incomplete fetal development allowed the LaGrange family to separate themselves emotionally and physically from the newborn, and accede to the child's burial among the unknown. But then one wonders when and how this infant, unnamed when buried, came to have a name that remained in family consciousness at least until Floyd LaGrange's death in 1969.

Several other infants, whose circumstances we know less about, joined the LaGrange baby in potter's field. Guy Ewing, for example, was born September 13, 1932, but died in a few days, and was buried in potter's field September 17.
Guy L. Ewing, Infant, September 17, 1932 (2017 photo)
Potter's Field, Hazelwood Cemetery
Richard Leroy Stanley was born October 23, 1934, but died the next day; he was buried a week later, not far from Guy Ewing. Nearby lay the unnamed child of Luther and Anna Mae Troxler, who was born premature (about six months, according to the death certificate) on January 21, 1934 and died on the same day.
Richard Leroy Stanley, October 30, 1934 (2017 photo)
Potter's Field, Hazelwood Cemetery
One of the earliest potter's field burials commemorated with a stone was James Snyder, who joined the others in Hazelwood mid-September, 1903, several months before he could celebrate his second birthday.
The infants committed to potter's field make one wonder what explains their seemingly uncaring abandonment. If some, like the premature La Grange baby, barely lived and may not even have been fully formed, we can perhaps more readily understand their parents' distance. The same might be said about infants whose lives were measured in days or weeks—although Hazelwood is filled with graves of infants and children whose parents claimed them and buried them near themselves, no matter how brief the children's lives. Hardest of all to internalize are cases like James Snyder's—a child who had already spent a year in his parents' care before he succumbed. How did he earn their inattention when death called him?
Hazel Haines (1920-1936)
Potter's Field, Hazelwood Cemetery
A very different story surrounds the grave of Hazel Mary Haines, above which stands a relatively new and handsome gravestone that provides the girl's full name (although apparently in mistaken order) and dates of birth and death. How this marker got there I don't know; perhaps one of her relatives took pity and later added this stone to her grave. But apparently at the time of her death her family abandoned her, like any stranger, to potter's field.

As the newspaper reports, Hazel was a suicide. Her death certificate confirms that Hazel Haines, when only sixteen years of age, shot herself in the left breast with a 22-calibre gun at 2:45 in the afternoon. What led this teenager to extinguish her own life may never be known, but how did a teenager with family in town end up buried in potter's field?

Born in Brooklyn, Iowa in 1920 and one of ten children to whom Pearl Otto Haines gave birth, Hazel had moved to Grinnell only three years previous to her death, the family taking up residence on north Summer Street. "A bright and intelligent young girl," the newspaper said (Grinnell Herald-Register, December 17, 1936), remarking that she "had promise of developing into a fine woman." Her father, Andrew Jackson Haines, who lived into his eighties (died in 1964), was a graduate of the Brooklyn schools, although his signature indicates that he might not have been fluidly literate. Hazel's mother also lived a long life filled with the labors of a farm and a large flock of offspring. None of this information, regrettably, casts much light on why a young, promising woman fired a gun into her chest.
Undated Photo of Hazel Haines
Although her parents and several family members lived in Grinnell a long time, both Andrew and Pearl Haines were buried in Brooklyn Memorial Cemetery. Why did they not choose to bury Hazel near their own plots, and why did they allow her to go to Grinnell's potter's field? I could discover nothing that answered this question, leading me to wonder whether Hazel's suicide had generated an emotional barrier that Mr. and Mrs. Haines, reportedly long-time members of the Church of Christ, could not scale. It is worth noting that Hazel's funeral took place not in her parents' church but rather in the Northside Friends church. The newspaper notice published no word on the ceremonies, named no pallbearers nor kin, making the young girl seem very much like the strangers buried near her in potter's field. Perhaps—and this is only a guess—after the parents' deaths a sibling or some other relative sought to dignify Hazel's grave with a more expensive marker and added to her on-line grave memorial a fetching photograph of a smiling, energetic young woman.
No doubt many other stories lay undiscovered in the graves of Hazelwood's potter's field. Even this small selection, however, reminds us that the physical separation denoted by potter's field is but symbolic of the separation that Grinnell felt from those buried there. Many of those who ended up in potter's field were in fact transients—people like Arthur Borowski or Manuel Ramos—whose brief appearance in town provided no opportunity for them to be better known or for their distant kin to claim them. Some others who lived here longer nevertheless occupied a space distant from most of the town. People like Luke Taylor, regarded as "eccentric" and different, never joined the warp and weft of greater Grinnell, so that when dead, they remained, as they had been in life, objects of interest rather than members of a social body. Hazel Haines, who took her own life, had to succumb to a similar distance, presumably because of the manner of her death.

And what about the infants and children who occupy space in Hazelwood's potter's field? At least some of these children arrived prematurely and lived so briefly that not even their parents could think of them as whole persons. Others who lived longer, like James Snyder, present a situation harder to understand. Something unknown to us allowed his parents and family to consign him to permanent rest alongside the others who remained strangers to living Grinnell.