Secret Compartments

     Imagine finding the original house deed of your Victorian home, or perhaps love letters from over 100 years ago. It’s possible you’ve been walking by them on a daily basis.

     Newel posts, or the large post ending a staircase, are structurally meant to keep the rest of a staircase safely anchored, but sometimes they keep secrets as well.

Newel Post at the Carr Mansion, Galveston, Texas

     In the last half of the 19th century, machinery had advanced to make the popular “new style” of broad posts on a lathe, often leaving an empty space in the middle. It’s the hollow posts that have lent themselves to the folklore of secret hiding places.

     Before the cap of a hollow newel post was attached (or removed later), some owners rolled up their house deeds, original plans or other mementos and placed them in the void before it was closed. The item most often found is a coin, placed inside for good luck.

     The lady of the house was, of course, aware of this hidden space as it was most likely one of the few places not easily accessible by her servants, children or spouse on a daily basis. There are many family stories of love letters from previous relationships or loved ones off at war, or documents that might reveal some tawdry detail from the owners past being found years later in a newel post.

     Though most of these stories are probably the stuff of family legends, enough have been true to keep the intrigue alive.

Amity Button

     Another feature of a newel post cap sharp eyes might spy is a small round “button”  carved of ivory, whale bone or mother of pearl sometimes inlaid in the newel cap. These are called mortgage buttons or amity buttons, and signified their was no lien on the property – a point of pride for the homeowners. Not as mysterious perhaps, but interesting nonetheless.

     So the next time you tour a grand home with a large newel post anchoring the staircase, ask your guide if anyone has peeked inside. There might be a story there.

UPCOMING CEMETERY TOUR

I’ve been getting quite a few requests  to do more cemetery history tours in Galveston in the past couple of months. So…..

I’ve scheduled a tour through Eventbrite to make it easier for individuals to sign up!

This is the cemetery tour that has been featured on “Texas Country Reporter,” “Texas Chronicles,” the local news, magazines and newspapers. I’m ready to show you that the true stories from the past really can be stranger than fiction!

We’ll meet in the Historic Broadway Cemetery District, where I’ll introduce you to some of Galveston’s past citizens, from heroes to villains, notorious to noteworthy. We’ll focus on Trinity Cemetery, where’s something here for everyone: stunning artwork, hidden symbolism, Civil War history, surprising trivia and even one resident ghost.

Follow this link to purchase your tickets, or to find out more details about the tour:

https://bit.ly/2uFLmDg

See you at the cemetery!

 

Tiny Home, Large Family!

I almost passed this adorable home by since I was on my way to an appointment earlier this week, but had to turn around to take its photo to share with you!

John Jacob and Wilhelmina “Mina” (Miller)  Theobald built this Galveston cottage at 1605 Winnie in 1892, after they had been married 14 years. It’s a bit mind-boggling that something that seems so small and quaint in comparis

on to surrounding homes actually survived the 1900 Storm.

It must have been a lively household, with four bedrooms and eight children!

Daughter Mary Elizabeth married Otto F. Lossow in the home in Oct. 1910.

Daughter Susie married Oscar Milton Scales there in 1913. For the next few years, she ran her cut flower business out of her parents home (probably because they had the luxury of a home phone). She took orders for a wide variety of cuttings for the grand homes and special occasions of her customers, including Easter lilies, hydrangeas, callas, geraniums, larkspur. coleus, roses and more.

Her two other sisters Julie and Alice never seemed to have married, but Julia became one of the first female attorneys employed by Galveston County. There were four sons as well: George, Louis, August and Charles (who was also an attorney for the county).

John owned a large carriage and blacksmith shop on Mechanic, and built many types of specialty conveyances for locals and customers in other cities. He also had a staff of ferries (trained in the horseshoeing trade) and blacksmiths. 

Mina hosted meetings of Galveston’s Young Women’s Embroidery Club at her home.

It sounds like their home was filled with beauty and joy. What a wonderful legacy.

Would you attempt to raise such a large family in this relatively small home?

Wounded at San Jacinto – Died at Galveston

I wanted to write a post for Memorial Day that tells the story of someone with Galveston ties who gave their life in battle. The challenge was that there are so very many stories to tell. In the Broadway Cemetery complex alone there are veterans from every war from 1812 forward. Of course, not all of them lost their life in the service, and many of those who did have stories that are well-known.

So I decided to go with a little more obscure story with Galveston ties that many locals may not have heard.

When people visit the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, they usually visit the impressive star-topped monument and possibly the USS Battleship Texas. But are you aware there are actually TWO cemeteries on the grounds?

The most visible of the two is close to the battleship, and known as San Jacinto Battlefield Cemetery. It is where the handful of Texans killed in the battle were buried near the Texan Army camp. Buried there are Dr. William Junius Motley, Sgt. Thomas Patton Fowle, Lt. George A. Lamb, Lt. John C. Hale and privates Lemuel Stockton Blakey, Mathias Cooper, Ashley R. Stevens, Benjamin Rice Brigham and Olwyn Trask.

A monument called the Brigham Monument was erected at the gravesite in 1881.

Taking the time to read the lengthy inscriptions, the word “Galveston” (of course) caught my eye.

“Olwyn J. Trask…died on Galveston Island… of wounds …received at the San Jacinto Battlefield…”

This is how it begins, folks. I see something like this and I’m off, down the rabbit hole of research. Olwyn’s story took me on a complicated journey that involved his family, his unlikely demise, and even the beginnings of Baylor University. But here, I’ll just concentrate on his story.

Olwyn Trask’s sister Frances was a brilliant educator in Texas. By some accounts Olwyn, a recent college graduate, was sent to Texas during the Revolution by their family in Massachusetts to bring her home. Because he arrived in the Spring of 1835, however, it is more likely that he came to join her and their cousins (the Dix family) to seek out business prospects.

Soon after spirited 21-year-old reached Galveston though, he impulsively joined the Texas Army to fight for independence from Mexico.

He became a member of Captain William H. Smith’s Cavalry Company, after General Sam Houston himself witnessed his horsemanship skills in lassoing a young mustang.

On April 20, 1836, the day preceding the famous Battle of San Jacinto, he was one of 80 men under Colonel Sherman who skirmished against the Mexican Army. Only two men in the Texan ranks were wounded, but Olwyn’s were mortal.

Dr. N. D. Labadie

Nicholas Descomps Labadie was an assistant surgeon in the Second Regiment Volunteers under Anson Jones, and treated Trask when he arrived back at camp. The conditions were primitive, and resources limited.

Olwyn was transported to Galveston on a boat with Texan President Burnet and others, where he was to receive further treatment.

The following extract of a letter from New Orleans furnishes details of Olwyn’s fate:

“I called on General Houston yesterday, to ascertain particulars relative to Olwyn J. Trask; he says that he lies dangerously wounded at the Fort at Galveston Island. His thigh was broken in a charge made by 80 of our calvary on about 250 Mexicans, on the 20thof April, in which he behaved most gallantly. He fell from his horse when the ball struck him, but was almost instantly seen again supporting himself on one leg by his horse and had the satisfaction to kill the man who shot him. This was confirmed by one of the aids of General Houston, then present, who remarked that he was in a position to see the whole of it. He said that after Olwyn had laid the man dead at his feet, he sprang on his horse again, in the midst of the enemy’s cavalry, his own corps having retired and immediately urging him to his utmost speed, cutting his way through the ranks, and brandishing his sword at everything that opposed him, when, as the Aid remarked, they seemed to open for him to pass, and he entered the camp with his leg swinging like the pendulum of a clock.”

Olwyn’s thigh bone had been shattered. It was generally believed among those present that if he had received expert medical attention from the start he might have lived. The makeshift facilities are blamed for his demise about three weeks after the battle.

Upon his death he was buried with his comrades “with all the honors that could have been paid to the Commander in Chief; all the troops were under arms, and the officers of the Navy joined in the procession and minute guns were fired during its progress to the place of burial.”

Olwyn J. Trask’s name and gallantry were so revered in his home state of Massachusetts that young men went so far as to legally change their name to his.

In the years that followed, a community cemetery grew around these graves, but now part of the 10-acre site is partially covered by a parking lot for the battleship.

Brigham Monument at San Jacinto

The deed records of Harris County shows that on November 2, 1837, Frances J. S. Trask, Olwyn’s sister, was living at Independence, Washington County, Texas and was on that day appointed representative of Israel Trask of Massachusetts, who was heir to the property of his deceased son. She was awarded the 640 acres of land due Trask’s services at San Jacinto, and used some of it to build a school. This school was the root of what would eventually grow into Baylor University.

Memorial Day seems an appropriate time to remember this young man,

and so many others, who have given their lives fighting for their beliefs and country.

 

 

Galveston’s Tie to Britain

Happy Royal Wedding Day!

Galveston and its port have long had a prosperous working relationship with Britain.


Arthur Thomas Lynn (1812-1888), who was described as remarkably handsome, came to Galveston from England while Texas was still a republic. He was appointed consul general for Great Britain in 1850, and was a beloved member of the community for the rest of his life.

This wonderful cabinet card photo of his grave marker was taken by local photographer Justus Zahn (1847-1918), and appears in my book “Galveston’s Broadway Cemeteries.” The marker is still visible and in Galveston’s Trinity Episcopal Cemetery.

The “Great Snow” of 1895

Today’s icy weather is definitely not the norm for this part of Texas. Our streets, tires and infrastructure is designed to handle heavy rains and heat, but not snow.

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Sealy “Open Gates” Mansion blanketed in snow

But because it’s such a rare occurrence, photos of snowfalls from the past seem especially enchanting. On Valentine’s Day in 1895 Galveston was blanketed with over a foot of snow, bringing street car traffic to a halt, and closing the doors of banks and wholesale businesses.

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Snow-covered Strand

The snow began to fall about one o’clock in the afternoon, and continued to fall for the rest of the day.

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Carriage driving through snow at 17th and Postoffice

Shoes stores sold out of “gum boots” (rubber boots) and overshoes, as even the most sedate citizens took part in citywide snowball fights. Merchants, policemen, bankers carriage drivers, doctors an other adults took the opportunity to launch snowballs at each other, to the delight of onlookers.

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Rear of the Kopperl Residence

Those trapped at the train station waiting for trains that had no way of reaching them were less amused.  The bright spot at the station occurred when Officer Perrett saved a yellow dog he found half-frozen in a snow drift, and warmed it by the waiting room stove.

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Shoveling snow outside the Kopperl residence

A few ingenious locals attached temporary runners on their carriages and used them as makeshift sleighs. Others were the victims of icy falls and other mishaps.

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Ball High School surrounded by snow

As evening fell Dr. Isaac Cline, the now famous Galveston meteorologist was busily answering telephone inquiries about the prospect of more snow, but were met with the news that the “worst” was over. Our generation isn’t the first to be excited over the prospect of snow or worry about it’s implications…and it certainly won’t be the last.

Photographs courtesy of the Rosenberg Library Archives.

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Icy harbor

 

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The Poignant Tragedy of the Battle of Galveston

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A small, unassuming grave marker stands in the Trinity Episcopal Cemetery of Galveston, located at Forty-First Street and Broadway. Tough simple in design, it marks a New Year’s Day that encompassed the tragedy of the War Between the States; the day a Confederate officer embraced a dying Union officer, his own son.

When West Point graduate and military veteran Colonel Albert M. Lea moved to Texas in 1857 his son Edward remained in Maryland to attend the United States Naval Academy and continue the celebrated military tradition of the family; the same family that would be devastated by fighting each other within the very country they loved.

Albert Miller Lea
Albert Miller Lea

As a Texan and friend of General Sam Houston, Albert Lea applied for a Confederate commission in March 1861, just one month before the Civil War began. He wrote a letter to his then 26-year-old son advising him to follow his conscience when he made the decision regarding which side of the conflict to support, but added an ominous warning: “If you decide to fight for the Old Flag,” he said, “It is not likely that we will meet again, except face to face on the battlefield.”

Edward chose loyalty to the Union, telling his fellow officers he did not desire his family’s love if it involved being a traitor to his country.

After months of serving in a variety of locations, Colonel Lea was transferred back to Texas on December 15, 1862, staying with his wife and family at a relative’s home in Corsicana.

Once in the area, Lea learned that the Union vessel Harriet Lane on which he believed his son was serving, had been occupying the harbor of Galveston since the Union captured and occupied the island earlier in October. Lea hurried to Houston to long-time friend General Magruder’s headquarters, where he learned that a plan to recapture Galveston Island would be executed within a week.

During the pre-dawn hours of January 1, 1863, Lea helped to move six brass cannons of Captain M. McMahon’s battery across Galveston Island’s rail causeway. Afterward, Colonel Forshey posted Colonel Lea in one of the town’s tallest buildings near Broadway (some reports suggest a church, others Ashton villa) to observe and report the status of the attack.

A severe battle ensued, during which the Westfield, which had run aground off Pelican Spit, was blown up, and the Confederate gunboat Bayou City rammed the Harriet Lane near the wheelhouse, which allowed the Confederate troops to overrun the vessel. The remainder of the Union fleet fled to New Orleans, leaving three companies of the 42nd Massachusetts infantry on Kuhn’s Wharf to surrender. The rebels had retaken the city at a cost that was yet to be seen.

Colonel Lea rushed to Kuhn’s Wharf waterfront near where the battle had taken place. Once granted permission to board the Harriet Lane, he learned that her Union commander, Captain Wainwright, was dead and Lieutenant Commander Edward Lea, the executive officer, had been shot through the stomach.

Making his way through the soldiers pillaging the ship, Lea found his son lying in the cockpit, surrounded by dead and dying comrades.

Dr. Penrose, who was operating on a wounded man, handed Colonel Lea a flask of brandy for his son to sip, telling the grief-stricken father that the wound was mortal.

Cradling the young officer’s head, Colonel Lea said, “Edward, this is your father.”

“Yes father, I know you,” the young man whispered in return, “but I cannot move.”

In a desperate attempt to change fate, the Colonel went ashore to arrange for his son to be moved to the Sisters of Charity Hospital. After relating the events to General Magruder, whom he met along the way, Magruder offered his private quarters for his friend’s son.

While his father was absent, the lieutenant was told that his death was near and was asked if he had any last wishes. With his last breath, Edward replied, “No, my father is here.”

When Albert Lea returned, his brave son was dead. The next day an elaborate funeral procession that included Confederate and Union officers, sympathetic local citizens, a drum corps of prisoners from the battle and a group of Masons in full regalia solemnly carried

Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright II
Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright II

Lieutenant Lea and Captain Wainwright from Magruder’s headquarters to a service at the Episcopal Church. Colonel Albert Lea himself delivered the eulogy before the two men were buried with full military honors in a common grave, donated by local business leader W. Grover.

The fair city of Galveston had witnessed the true horror of Civil War violence on a personal level.

In 1866, the body of Captain Wainwright was reinterred with honors at the Naval Cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland.

A wealthy relative offered to rebury Edward Lea’s remains beside those of his mother in Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore, but

Albert Lea refused. He said he felt it was more fitting for his son to rest where he fell “in sight of the sea and in sound of the surf.”

Albert Lea remained in Corsicana, where he experienced several reversals of fortune in the cotton trade. On the morning of January 16, 1891, Lea died of heart failure sitting alone in his bedroom. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Corsicana.

Ironically, the Harriet Lane itself sustained little damage in the battle, and it visited Galveston as a cargo ship under the name Eliot Ritchie for years to come.A1-20180106_100411_DSC_0008

Of all who fought and died on the Harriet Lane’s decks only Lieutenant Lea remains in Galveston. A weathered sculpture of an anchor and binoculars lay on top of a stone that poignantly echoes his last words, “My father is here.”

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To see photos from the 2018 re-enactment of the Lea-Wainwright funeral in Galveston, visit:

https://www.facebook.com/pg/AuthorMaca/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1980358102237412

New Year’s Eve 1895

     On New Year’s Eve 1895, the Misses Caroline, Fannie and Josephine Kenison gave a cotillion for their young friends in this beautiful home at 1120 Tremont in Galveston. It was the home of their parents Alphonse and Ellen, originally from Louisiana.

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     The lower floor of the residence was prepared for the occasion by stretching canvas over the spacious double parlor floors, and then taking up the carpet in the library and waxing the floors to create a dance floor.

     One can only imagine the other preparations that took place!

     At exactly 11:59 the young celebrants gathered underneath the chandelier and gave six cheers for the parting year. When the minute had passed, six cheers welcomed the new year.

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     The house was filled even on non-social days, with a large family. Alphonse, the father; Ellen, the mother; daughterscreen-shot-2016-12-30-at-11-04-11-pms Josephine, Frances, Caroline and Lucie; son Alphonse Jr.; Lucy Sydnor, a boarder; Josephine Settle, Mrs. Kenison’s mother; and servant Belle Washington and her young daughter Hazel.

Alphonse was one of the first general insurance agents int he state of Texas. He and his wife lost two sons, Maximiliem and Wartelle, in infancy, but the rest of their children thrived.

     Josephine “Josie” (1878-1957) eventually became Mrs. Clinton G. Wells, and remained 127524196_1396805025on the island for the rest of her life, passing away in 1957. She had one son, named Clinton III, born in 1906. She is buried in Trinity Episcopal Cemetery. One wonders if she regaled her son with stories about the homes in her home when she was a young girl.

     From the 1910 census on, Josephine and her son lived with her parents. Her status on the records is listed as being a widow, her husband having passed away in 1908.

     Francis (1879-1968), known as “Fanny” to her family, married William Penn White, moving first to New York and then to New Jersey. They had three daughters.

     Caroline, called “Caro” by her family was born in 1879. She can be found listed in the society pages through the 1910s attending parties and volunteering in the community.

     Alphonse Jr. (1881-1934) married multiple times, and had two children.

     Lucie (1886-1973) married Herman Bornefeld in 1914, with whom she had a son and daughter.

     Graves of members of the family can be found in Old City, Old Catholic and Trinity Episcopal Cemeteries in Galveston.

 

New Year’s Eve Box Parties 1912

The Grand Opera House in Galveston was the site of festive “box parties” on Dec. 31, 1912.

A box party occurred when a host or hostess purchased tickets to an entire box at a theatre, and then invited their guests for a special afternoon or evening of entertainment.

grand-1894-opera-house

Miss Mary Moody was presented with a box to the matinee performance of the play “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine” by Miss Charlotte Walker, a famous Galvestonian who was appearing in the production.

The play had opened the previous January in New York at the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway. Walker also appeared in the silent film version in 1916.

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Charlotte Walker

Mary’s guests were the Misses Allen, Phyllis Walthew, Anna Mosle, Libbie Moody and Ethel Sykes.

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At the evening performance of the play, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Archer Robertson hosted their own box party with Miss Margaret Robertson, Miss Eileen Allen, Miss Jane Alvey, Miss Winifred Allen, Mr. Fred Austin of Houston, Mr. Charles E. Witherspoon, Mr. Gus I. Arnold, and Mr. Earnest G. Diehl of Cincinnati, Ohio.

This group was especially fortunate, proceeding from the play to the “watch party” (to await the New Year) at the fabulous Hotel Galvez.

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Wishing you all every happiness in the New Year!