Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Titanic: an unexpected experience

     My husband and I just returned from a Christmas trip to Las Vegas, where we discovered it isn't all about tinsel and neon.  A highlight was our visit to "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition," which has been a fixture at the Luxor hotel for several years.  As the press release states, "viewed by more than 20 million people worldwide, the Exhibition is among the highest attended in history."
     Hundreds of authentic objects gathered from around the site of the ship's sinking are on display, including a massive chunk of the ship's hull, called "The Big Piece."  What makes the experience come alive, however, is the way in which the items are presented to tell a story.  Beginning with the Titanic's design and construction, to depictions of shipboard life, and the events leading to the ship's sinking, the viewer is taken back in time.  Various sections simulate a third-class cabin, the Grand Staircase, and a luxurious first-class suite.  We see dishware, beautiful jewelry, and gambling chips.  One very dark area represents the promenade deck on the moonless night of the disaster:  only starlight aided those on watch for icebergs.  The sound of the rushing ocean water alongside is somewhat ominous.  The next room has a large wall of "iceberg," which one is encouraged to touch.  We learn that the water temperature was actually colder than the ice, which I could only stand for a few seconds.  People didn't only die from drowning, but from the freezing water.
    The part that struck me the most, however, were the stories of personal experience.  When you enter the exhibit, you're issued a replica of a boarding pass with the name of an actual passenger, which includes age, destination, and what class traveling.  I had the pass of Esther Bloomfield Hart, traveling in second-class with her husband and small daughter.  Throughout the exhibit, I paid special attention to items relating to second-class.  There were several posters telling stories which represented a cross-section of the passengers and crew, along with their belongings.  From a handbag and the hand-addressed envelopes found inside, a set of tools someone was carrying to start a new life, to a simple pair of socks, it was a deeply moving experience.
    The last room is a simple wall with the name of every passenger.  The smaller section of names were the survivors; a huge area lists the names of those lost.  I found that Esther Hart and her daughter were saved, but they never saw Mr. Hart again.
    Truly a memorable and recommended outing.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Marriage notice: the rest of the story

    Using the website http://www.deathindexes.com/ as a portal, I recently made my way to an index of digitized newspapers for Quincy, Adams County, Illinois.  That website is at:  http://www.quincylibrary.org/library_resources/NewspaperArchive.asp .  There, I discovered a treasure trove of news snippets about my ancestors and their connections.  Notices of  trips taken, new jobs, illnesses, and the like, were all used to fill small corners of the pages.  However, a wedding notice of Fred Francis to Florence Dempsey, from 1916, points up the dangers of recording these items as "proof" of anything, or even a starting point for further information.  Here is the article from the Quincy Daily Journal of Saturday, 12 February 1916: 

     From my research in other sources, I know that the story is accurate on many points.  The last sentence, however, needs major clarification.  "She is the daughter of a prominent business man in South Chicago," diverges from the truth on two major points.
     Florence Isabell Dempsey was born in Cleveland:  Ohio, the youngest child of James Dempsey and Louise Coleman.  James and Louise were natives of New York state, and met when both were living in Oswego, NY.  The couple moved to Cleveland around 1880, and were the parents of 7 known children.  Theirs was not a happy marriage, and by the early part of the 20th century, lived apart.  Research to date hasn't revealed whether they ever actually divorced.  Louise Coleman Dempsey moved with her two youngest children, James Gleason Dempsey and Florence Dempsey, to Chicago by 1913, where she worked as a "practical nurse," and may be the individual listed in a city directory of that year described as widowed.   James Dempsey, the father of her children, remained in Cleveland, where he died in 1916.  He's buried at Calvary Cemetery, Cleveland.   
     Based upon the addresses which appeared in varioius Cleveland city directories, as well as the job description of stationery engineer on his death certificate, it's possible that James Dempsey worked at the Walker Mfg. Co. of Cleveland.  This was a forerunner of Westinghouse.  The addresses for the likely James Dempsey and his known children all surround a massive property where the factory was located.  Using a plat map of the time, I was able to identify the name of the factory on the site.

     And so, using additional available sources, the prominent South Chicago businessman emerges more accurately as the factory heavy equipment operator in Cleveland.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mining the family treasures for Christmas decor

     The family trips of my childhood were never undertaken without the "toilet kit," a small leather suitcase which served as a sort of portable medicine cabinet. Besides toothpaste, there was always a small jar of Pond's cold cream, Chapstick, with its original, waxy flavor and black metal cylinder, and a tube of something for poison oak, which, when spread over a rash, dried to a nasty pinkish brown patch.  We would set out on camping trips in our unlovely Rambler station wagon, the wooden poles of the tent crammed crosswise behind the back seat, providing a firm neck support.  Most of the time the destination was Washington state, so there'd be rain at some point.  As a result, the green canvas tent always held a strong whiff of mildew.  Arrival at the campsite for the night meant everyone blowing up his or her air mattress, which usually deflated at some point overnight.  I know all this now, but at the time, a trip only meant a wonderful adventure was in store.  We have dozens of beautiful pictures where we're all smiling, so we managed quite well.
     Several years ago, I asked my mother for the "toilet kit" as a reminder of those times.  I think she had to replace the mirror in the lid, but eventually gifted it to me.  Inside was a note which read, "I hope you cherish the enclosed items as they come from my heart."  And yes, there was a jar of Pond's cold cream, a couple of 1960's pink plastic hair rollers, and the like.
     I hadn't remembered that part when I took the suitcase down off the shelf today, and it gave me a real chuckle to experience it all over.
     It had struck me that the case would make the perfect place for items of holiday decor, displayed on my hutch.  I put some wadded newspaper on the bottom, and arranged some fun items like they were spilling out the top.  The felt winter doll is one my sister made several years back.  It's fun seeing the case out on display, and only I know why my decorations carry a faint aroma of a 1960's hair net when I walk past.