Thursday, December 5, 2013

"My escape is little short of miraculous..."

"My escape is little short of miraculous. As I cannot swim, I held onto a piece of wreckage until a man pulled me out."

Frank Cullen, September 1906

Frank Cullen (right) & brother Elmer (left) in 1904.
When I was in the 7th grade, I was given an assignment to write about an ancestor in my family. I wrote about my great-great grandfather, Frank Cullen, and his experience in a train wreck. Frank is the family member who has most dramatically influenced my desire to research my family history. Frank lived more of a life in his first 25 years than most people do their entire lives.

In the years between 1904 & 1909, Frank traveled the entire country, as well as parts of Canada, as a bill poster for various performing acts - Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth, Forepaugh & Sells Bros. Circus, Isle of Spice Company, Palmer's Uncle Tom's Cabin Company,and possibly Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. Frank had worked in 1900-1903 for E.D. Stair who was a prominent newspaper & theater man (the eventual owner of the Detroit Free Press & the Lyceum Theatre in Detroit). 

Frank documented & saved bits of memorabilia from his career, which has helped my family piece together his story. Frank kept detailed travel journals for the years of 1904-1909, which show the location of every route stop. He also kept names & addresses & a financial ledger in the same journals, which contributes greatly to my research of his life. He also bought postcards at nearly every one of his route stops, and mailed many of them to his mother & his beloved Viola (who he later married in 1918). Our family has a collection of hundreds upon hundreds of postcards bought by Frank. Frank also saved glowing recommendation letters from most of his employers, which are just as interesting as the letterhead & envelopes that contain them.

When I was in 7th grade, I called my grandmother to hear her recount the story of Frank Cullen and the train crash. I don't remember much of that conversatin, and I don't know if I still have the paper or not (I will be looking for that this week!), but I do remember the impact that her story left on me. What I didn't know at the time was that 15+ years later, I would still be discovering bits of Frank's life...

Frank Cullen was born 130 years ago today - December 5, 1883 (& incidentally so was his wife Viola Marmaduke). I called my Grandma yesterday to talk about Frank & Viola, and she began to tell the story of the train wreck to me. She said that she wasn't sure when or where the accident occurred, but that it was the story that Frank told over & over in her childhood. She said that she had friends who loved to listen to her grandpa Frank tell his stories, particularly the one about his train wreck. Grandma told me the parts that she remembered: The accident was somewhere mid-west like Oklahoma... Frank's mother (Mary Jane Quinn Cullen) didn't know for weeks if her son had survived or not... A bridge gave out & the train went in... Frank floated for hours on pieces of scrap... The tow of the river was so strong that it ripped his clothes from his body. A farmer & his daughter rescued him on the bank of the river & gave him a blanket to cover up. She also mentioned the name of Frank's friend, Hank Littlefield, who was with Frank on the train. 

After our phone call, I started to think about Frank & his travels. I got out his travel journals - small date books that could've easily been discarded over the years. Yet, here they are over 100 years later... I was looking for clues in the books - dates, locations, mention of an accident, names of people... I didn't see what I was looking for. What I should've noticed is that the 1906 date book has the name & address for a N. N. Littlefield in Gainesville, GA & also a C. S. Kitch in Kingfisher, Oklahoma...

Then I "googled" his friend's name: "Hank Littlefield." 

There it is! "While it is believed that several lives were lost, only one person is known positively to have perished. He was Hank Littlefield, an employee of the Forepaugh-Sells Circus..." (New York Times,  Sept 19, 1906).

The accident occurred the morning of September 18, 1906 on a train en route to Chicago in Oklahoma. Here is the New York Times article from September 19, 1906.

(The sun. (New York [N.Y.]), 19 Sept. 1906. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>)
Frank's account of the accident is recorded in the New York Sun as shown above. It isn't very clear, so I've transcribed the portion concerning Frank: 
Frank Cullen, one of the advance crew of the Forepaugh-Sells circus, was one of those picked up by a farmer several miles below the wreck. He said:  "I was in the smoker, and the first thing I knew there was a grinding sound, as of something falling. In a second we were in the water with the coach turned on its side and I crawled out of a window. The car was whirled around and around by the water, but we managed to hang on. In a few minutes we grounded in midstream and we tried to pull off our clothing. The waves were so high that it was all we could do to hold on.
We had been there about half and hour when the whole bridge fell. The big waves and wreckage struck us, throwing us all into the water. The car was overturned and completely submerged. Several of us had been sitting on top of the car trying to figure out some means of escape.  

My partner, Hank Littlefield, was about all in when the wreckage struck us. I saw him go down and I am sure he was drowned. How I was saved I don't know, as I cannot swim. The water was full of floating heads and bodies all around me, and I am sure that not many of them escaped. It was a hard matter to get out of the window and help Littlefield through. The coach was so full that it is almost inconceivable that so many got out. The chair car and two Pullmans remained on the track.
(The sun. (New York [N.Y.]), 19 Sept. 1906. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>)

First of all, it is amazing to me that Grandma (or anyone for that matter) remembers the name of a man who lived over 100 years ago. A man that she never knew, but only heard about in her grandpa's story... Well, his name turned out to be the key to our family mystery. Not only did my Grandma remember his name, but she remembered the facts of the story incredibly accurately! 

When I called Grandma with the news of finding the story of the train accident, she told me a follow up story from her grandpa Frank.

When Frank was down the road a few years, he went to a seance. Being a Bible believing man of God, he was not prepared to hear the woman say that someone named Hank was trying to get in touch with him. She said something to the effect that Hank wanted to tell Frank that he was better off in his own watery grave than Frank. Boy did this freak him out! 

I am incredibly proud to be the Great-Great Granddaughter of Frank Cullen and the granddaughter of his granddaughter! Thank you Grandma for instilling your love of family into my life! I love you!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

#5 - My Own Darling Children - January 29, 1903

Brick Haven
Jan 29, 1903

My own darling children,

I received your very welcome letters & was delighted to hear from you & to know that you are well. We are all sick with colds & cousin Mary has been very sick, but is better again. Bettie please send me brother's address when you write again, he never writes to me & I am so anxious to hear from him & to know how he is getting along. Bettie please burn my letters as soon as you read them. I never feel like writing any more & am ashamed for anyone to see my letters. I have been sick ever since summer & am now very weak & nervous, but I think I will be better soon.

I am going to send Cousin Mary's picture, but you must not mention it in your letters for she does not want me to send it & would not like it, but I just think it is cute. The baby is much prettier than this picture. He is very interesting.

You have both improved a great deal in your writing.

Try to do the best you can children & God will do the rest & answer our prayers some day. He has seen best to separate us for a while.

Good bye darling ones. Pray often for help & comfort & all things will work around for our good some day. Write again soon to your devoted Mother.

Boy, am I thankful that Bettie didn't burn her mother's letters! 

This letter leads me to believe that Bettie & Jeannette are together at least. I wish I had more of the envelopes from the letters. I'm assuming that the girls are still in Belfast, NY just 20 days after Alice wrote to Bettie there (see the blog post that includes letter #3). I still don't know who they were living with at that time - maybe Uncle Eddie. The living situations will unfold some more in the coming letters, but never become entirely clear. 

Wouldn't it be fun to see the photo of Mary & the baby? I need to go through all of the photos I have in Viola's collection to see if there is anything that looks like it could be of Mary & baby Clinton Swift... 

Here is one photo that I think could definitely be of Mary Swift. I have seen a photo of Mary later in life (I posted it on a previous entry), which was added to by Mary's great-grandson, and so this one compares very favorably, and seems to be a photo of Mary in her younger years. It's just a hunch though. 
How sad it must've been for Alice to spend so much time with her niece Mary & great-nephew Clinton and not be able to see her own children... It really does bother me, and I wish I knew the reason & the outcome...

Sunday, November 17, 2013

#4 - Brick Haven - January 13th, 1903

Brick Haven
Jan 13th, 1903

My dear darling Jeannette,

I have wanted to answer your letter before, but have so much writing to do. I have not had an opportunity sooner. I wrote to Bettie last week & hope to get an answer soon. I am miserable when I do not hear from my children regular, so please write often Jeannette.
I rec’d a letter from Vi for Xmas & a nice collar but have not answered her letter yet. I do not have much time to write, besides I have been sick. It is very cold out here & the houses are cold, but it will not be long before we will be in a home of our own to do as we please.
I have written to Bro. twice since hearing from him. Now I do not know where to write.
I will send you a picture of Cousin Mary & her Baby. She is ashamed of it, but I think it is cute don’t you?

I will have to close now, Jeannette, as Cousin Mary is waiting for me to take the baby. Write soon if not sooner to your devoted Mother.

Page 2

This is one of Alice's letters that doesn't seem to have a lot of substance. It leaves me wondering several things. Where is Jeannette at this point, and who is she staying with? She is 11 years old. 

Alice seems frustrated when she says "we will be in a home of our own to do as we please." I wonder what her living situation is like with the Swifts. Are they kind to her? Do they treat her like "poor old Aunt Alice?" Alice, by the way, was only 44 when she wrote these letters. 

What kind of illness plagues Alice throughout these letters? Was it something that contributed to her death 4 years later?

I like the way Alice refers to her son Dare as "Bro", and her daughter Viola as "Vi" in many of the letters. This gives me a sense that the Marmadukes didn't relate to each other as differently as my family does today, with nicknames & all. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

#3 - My Dear Bettie - Jan 7th, 1903

Brick Haven, Va

Jan 7th, 1903

My dear Bettie:
Your very welcome letter was duly rec’d & was very thankful of the money, but am afraid you needed it your own dear self. Never mind Bettie I think we will all be together again soon, so keep courage darling children. I know you have had a hard time and our trials have been severe, yet I know they all must be for some purpose & for our good in some way, so lets have courage to the end of the battle.
Be a good girl Bettie & do the best you can which I am sure you do. Oh Bettie,

I do want to see you & Jeannette so bad! I will write Jeannette soon, had intended to write tonight, but it is so late & all are getting ready for bed.

I have not seen May for some time, as the weather has been so bad I could not get to town. I rec’d a letter from Vi a  few days ago & she sent me a very pretty collar.

Bettie I will have to close with lots of love & kisses for you & my darling baby. Write soon to your devoted

Let me begin by observing several things in this letter & the prior letter from my last post.

This is letter #3 in my collection from Alice. It was written January 7, 1903, about 2 weeks after letter #2. I would imagine that there were even more letters written by Alice to her daughters, but these are what remain. 

In letter #2, Alice refers to Aunt Janie, Cousin Mary, the baby, & Cousin Johnny. Aunt Janie is Alice's sister Mary Jane Sandys, who remained unmarried until her death in 1920 at the age of 74. She was 56/57 at the time that these letters were written. From what I can tell from my research on & other sites, Alice was staying with Aunt Janie in Brickhaven, Alexandria County, Virginia (I believe just outside of Washington DC). Aunt Janie also appeared to be living with her niece Mary Sanford Swift, daughter of Janie & Alice's sister Rosalie Vashtie Sandys Sanford. The Sanford name is fairly prominent in Virginia, so I will be exploring that more very soon. Mary married John Clinton Swift on December 1, 1894 in her mother's home in Stafford County, Virginia. John Clinton is called "Johnny" in these letters. 

Coincidentally (or maybe not), Alice's son Dare Marmaduke married Johnny's sister Louise Swift in 1906. Louise bore Dare 3 children, & then in 1925 she committed suicide by drinking Lysol. Yikes! So Alice had a Swift as a daughter-in-law & also as a nephew-in-law. Interesting!

Here are photos of Mary & Johnny - they were added to by Louis Shomette, my awesome 3rd cousin 2x removed that I have collaborated with some on 

Anyway, back to the letters... I do have the envelope from this particular letter, which shows that Bettie & probably Jeannette were living in Belfast, NY. It is my belief that they were living with their Uncle Eddie (as future letters may hint) in New York. I'm currently going through the US phone directories to pin down where Uncle Eddie was living in 1902 & 1903. I know that he was in Brooklyn, Kings, New York in 1910, and had married a woman from New York in 1901/2, so I'm safely assuming that he was living in New York in 1902/3. I'll keep looking though. 

This letter & the one previous emphasizes the desperation in Alice Marmaduke over not being with her children. As a mother of a toddler myself, I cannot imagine the heartache of being separated from my child, especially in circumstances beyond my own control. Heartbreaking! 

The next letters are much more interesting, so stay tuned!


Monday, July 22, 2013

#2 - My dear darling Bettie - Dec 25, 1902

Brick Haven, Alex Co., Va. 
Dec 25th 1902. 

My dear darling Bettie, 

I rec'd your very nice letter some time ago but have been sick & could not answer sooner. This is Xmas day & cousin Mary & Aunt Janie have gone to Mrs. Swift's to spend the day, but there is no pleasure for me Bettie except with my children, anywhere, or at any time. I enclose a letter to Jeannette, as she wrote in her last that she expected to be with you soon.

Please write me everything Bettie about yourself & Jeannette and just as soon as you receive this as I am so anxious to hear from you. Cousin Mary has a darling little baby. He is very smart & pretty. Cousin Johnny's health is very poor & is sick all the time. 

I can only write you a short letter this time Bettie as I have a number to write and will not have time again. So hoping to hear from you. 

I am as ever, Your devoted Mother 

 PS. please send me a stamp in your next Bettie if you have one.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

#1 - My dear darling Jeannette

This is the 1st in a collection of a dozen letters written by Alice Sandy Marmaduke. I am sure that they are a fragment of what must have been many more letters, but they do give us a glimpse of the Marmaduke family in 1902 & 1903. Because of Alice's vague language, I can only guess at some of the underlying struggles going on within the family. These letters are what first attracted me to the Marmaduke family, and what drew me in to take a deeper look at my ancestors.

Let me first introduce you to Alice May Sandy Marmaduke. Born August 9, 1858 in Essex Co, Virginia, Alice was born to a family who could trace themselves to original settlers of Virginia (more information on that in another letter). I have no records of her childhood aside from the 1860 census. Her father Edward is listed in the 1870 census, but the rest of the family is missing. The 1880 census curiously shows Alice & her sister Mary Jane living with their older brother, Edward M. Sandy, in Washington DC. Alice was 22 at the time, and her mother had passed away several years earlier. 

Alice married James Berkeley Marmaduke in 1881, and their marriage was recorded in the newspaper & can be found in the Washington DC health department marriage records. The interesting thing is that my family has their original marriage certificate, which is in a glass frame. I am trying to find it, and will scan & share it when I do. 

The Marmadukes made their home in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. 

Alice & Berkeley's first child, a son named Andrew Dare, was born nearly 9 months to the day of their marriage! He was followed by 4 daughters, Ada Viola, May Croxton, Bettie Gordon, & Jeannette. 

Alice became a very young widow on December 26, 1892. The circumstances of Berkeley's death are still unknown to me. 

We pick up the story about 10 years later, in 1902. In the 1900 census, 4 of the 5 children were living in Spotsylvania with their mother near the Hilldrup, Wenger, & Mason families (I believe off of Old Plank Road). But things have changed in just 2 years. In late 1902, Alice Marmaduke's children are all living apart from her and apparently all apart from each other. Jeannette was just 10 years old at the time. I cannot imagine what it is that separated this family, and as the coming letters will show, it seems that it is outside of Alice's control. 

Below is the 1st letter in our collection. My hope is to post the entire collection of letters in a set of blog posts over the next few weeks. This one has very little substance, but does provide us some context clues - date, Alice's location, Dare's location... 

Spotsylvania Co. Va,

Oct 27th 1902

My dear darling Jeannette

I am so anxious to hear from you & to know how you are getting along. Please write to me at once Jeannette.

I rec’d a letter from May a few days ago. She is well & doing well.

Dare is in Fredericksburg & is well. Jeannette will you please send me Bettie’s address. I can’t understand why she does not write sometimes.

I cannot write much this time, but if you will ans this right away I will try to write you a long letter & give you all the news.

I am as ever

Your devoted Mother

2nd page: “I will send you Mamma’s letter” – presumably written by Jeannette or Bettie. 

Well, that's all for tonight. More of Alice's letters to come!