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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.

 

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Ghostly Appearance at the Pier

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Many people assume that the majority of Galveston hauntings stem from the 1900 Storm. While it’s true that the overwhelming loss of life during that hurricane contributed to the population of restless spirits of the island, entities were experienced long before the waves of 1900 washed across the city.

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Pier 33 in 1910

In January of 1894, Galvestonians were talking about the wraith of a woman seen on the West End. She was said to be the spirit of a woman who had drowned in the neighborhood years before.

Appearing at midnight and clad in a calico gown, she clutched a shawl that was drawn around her shoulders and beneath her chin. Moving slowly and deliberately she moved from the east end of Pier 33 to the west end, then going over the edge.

There were different theories at the time as to whether she had fallen or jumped, but no sounds of footsteps or a splash was ever heard. If witnesses rushed to the end of the pier to look, there was no sign of her in the water.

Was she distraught from the loss of a child during a Yellow Fever epidemic, or a husband lost at sea? Was she a victim of the harsh life experienced by many during the rough, early years of the city? It seems her identity and story will remain a mystery.
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In 1894 that area, home of the newly constructed Moody Cotton Compress, was bustling with business and waterfront workers, but as 12 o’clock neared…no one ventured toward Pier 33, at one time called Western Wharf.

The sad spirit became such a regular occurrence, that even those who lived nearby avoided the area around the midnight hour.

Today grand cruise ships past the spot of the ghost’s appearance on their way to dock at the cruise terminal. I wonder if she even notices.

 

GOG-CoverRead more tales of Galveston’s spirited past in ‘Ghosts of Galveston’ from The History Press.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1467119652

 

 

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Elegant Sessums Monument with Galveston Ties

When I found this amazing (and immense) Woodmen of the World grave marker in Glenwood Cemetery in Houston, I had no idea that the person who rests here had important ties to Galveston.

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Alexander Sessums (born in 1830 ) came to Texas and married Mary Howell Runnels (born 1835 in Houston) in 1854.

He became an important cotton and wool factor in Galveston, eventually also purchasing the wholesale grocery supply on the Strand from Ware & McKeen. Sessums also ran a mill in Houston.

Sessums’ office was upstairs in the John Berlocher Building (2313 Ships Mechanic Row, across from the Tremont Hotel) which was built in 1858. At the time, the Berlocher was four stories, only three of which remain.

Berlocher Building as it appears today

Alexander died at the young age of 43 in 1873.

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His monument at Glenwood definitely signifies his success in business, towering over surrounding markers. A beautiful example of Wo
odmen of the World gravestones, the marker shared by Sessum and his wife features morning glories (symbolizing resurrection), roses (symbolizing beauty, for Mary) and acorns (symbolizing immortality for Alexander).

“Broken branches” lay at the base, with individual inscriptions for Alexander and Mary.
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It’s well worth the trip to Glenwood to see this stunning sculpture in person.

CLICK HERE for a video showing the entire monument:

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Christmas Spirits…Bottled and Otherwise

     A 1904 ad for a different kind of “Christmas spirit.” Henry Toujouse ran the bar in the basement of the Tremont Opera House (where the National Artist Lofts are now).

     His beautiful mahogany bar now resides at the Tremont House. It’s seen a lot of spirits in it’s day and is still reportedly tended by Toujouse, who committed suicide in 1918.

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The Floating Coffin

235px-charles_francis_coghlan_003Among the most famous and tantalizing stories to come from the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” franchise is one that begins with a death at the Tremont House Hotel in Galveston.

An Omen

The curious tale began when a young actor named Charles Francis Coghlan visited a gypsy fortuneteller. The mystical soothsayer told Coghlan that he would die at the height of his fame in a southern U. S. city – but that he would have no rest until he returned home.

charlesfranciscoghlanwikimcmmThe prediction tormented Coghlan, disturbing him so much that he repeated it to friends and co-workers numberous times in the course of his life.

Over the next thirty years, Coghlan became one of the most famous actors of his day, appearing on stages across the U.S. and Europe. During the rare weeks that he did not appear on the stage, he and his wife retreated to their beloved home on Canada’s Prince Edward Island.

Fate Enters

On October 30, 1899, Coghlan arrived in Galveston with his performing troupe, ready to present one of his own works,screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-10-52-18-am titled “The Royal Box.”

He never had the chance to appear on stage on the island, however. He became seriously ill with what doctors at the time diagnosed as acute gastritis. His understudy, Mr. Robinson, received wonderful reviews often mistakenly credited to Coghlan in print.

The actor’s wife remained with him, transcribing the first four acts of a new play, which he dictated while resting for four weeks. But, after an abrupt relapse of pain, he died in bed at the Tremont Hotel on November 27, with his distraught wife by his side. He was 57 years old and at the peak of his career.

His body was taken to the Levy Brothers Funeral Home, while his wife attempted to make arrangements in a strange city far from family and friends.

The grievcharles-coghlaning widow knew that her husband, upon his death, had wanted to be cremated and buried in New York. Galveston did not have a crematorium at the time, so she arranged for her husband’s body to be sh
ipped to the nearest facility in St. Louis.

By the time those preparations were made, a flood of demands from family and admirers insisted he be taken immediately to New York. It is no wonder that confusion exists about the final arrangements for the disposition of the actor’s body. Unfortunately, the funeral home records from this time were destroyed in 1979.

Her funds and energy exhausted, Coughlan’s widow had his remains placed in a temporary receiving vault at the Lakeview Cemetery until she could manage to have him sent to New York the following year.

In September of the following year, the infamous 1900 Storm hit Galveston, killing thousands and sweeping coffins out of mausoleums and vaults. Though300px-wea00586 the vault where Coghlan’s body was constructed of heavy granite blocks, it was washed away like so many other structures on the island.

Those coffins that were recovered were reinterred in the cemetery, but many were never found. Coughlan’s casket, which was among the missing, had been caught in the swift-running current and believed to have been swept into the Gulf of Mexico. The New York Actor’s Club offered a sizable reward, but the casket was never located.

Because his widow had purchased an elaborate cast iron casket for her beloved, it is highly unlikely it could do anything but sink in a body of water.

Going Home

In 1929, an edition of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” published a rumor that had developed in the years after the storm.

The original Ripley feature said: “Charles Coughlan comes home! He died in 1899, and he was buri00-01ed in Galveston. When the tragic flood came his coffin was washed out to sea and the Gulf Stream carried his around Florida and up the coast to Prince Edward Island – 2,000 miles distant – where he had lived.”

Ripley mentioned in October of 1908, fishermen spied a large box floating the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Snagging it with their nets, they pulled the badly damaged object to shore. A silver plate was revealed after cleaning off a few barnacles, which identified it as the casket of Charles Coughlan.

The legend tells that the actor was taken to his home church on Prince Edward Island and buried near the church where he was baptized in 1841. His wandering spirit was finally home.

Truth or Urban Myth?

Numerous books and articles have been written about the incident over the years, with slight to outrageous changes in the details. A brief internet search yields several versions of the story.

Local cemetery records of the small church on Prince Edward are considered to be complete and accurate. They show no sign of Charles Coughlan’s burial, and no gravestone exists.

It was reported that his daughter, actress Gertrude Coughlan Pitou visited Prince Edward in the 1980s and stated that her father’s remains had not been recovered or reinterred in Galveston. This report is seemingly eerie enough, since Gertrude herself died in 1952!

His sister, actress Rose Coughlan, was highly offended by the stories about her brother and she asked Robert Ripley for a retraction. Ripley, ever the savvy businessman, declined. He credited Sir Johnston Forbes Robertson, a Shakespearean actor and friend of Coughlan, for sharing the story with the publication.

The question remains: If Charles Coughlan is not at home at rest, and not in Lakeview Cemetery…where is he?

 

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Magnolia Grove: Galveston’s Lost Victorian Era Cemetery

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An article I wrote about the history of Magnolia Grove Cemetery (established 1871) will appear in the September issue of Galveston Monthly Magazine. Now, lost this once elegant, Vithrasher-gravectorian Era cemetery was the most beautiful burial ground on the island.

Not all of the bodies were moved, but the grounds of the cemetery now lie beneath the runways of Scholes Airport and the back nine fairways of the Moody Gardens Golf Course.

My investigation led me to many of the usual resources for history in Galveston, such as the Galveston & Texas History Center (always wonderful), but led me on new research paths as well. No single source seemed to MagnoliaCemeteryJournalhave all of the pieces of information, and many whom I contacted had no knowledge of the lost cemetery at all.

There unfortunately simply wasn’t room to include all of the fascinating information that I found about the lost cemetery, so I will list some of the details here for those who are interested or researching their families.

Magnolia Grove was comprised of 100 acres, divided into 25 sections. They were identified as Sections A through X, and City Circle, otherwise known as Rest of Honor. This circle was reserved for the interment of people of distinguished merit or achievement. The first two burials in this section were the first and last presidents of Texas, David Burnet and Aaron Jones, who were moved from previous burial sites.

Sections 6 and 7 (also known as F & G), which were located on the waterfront, were consecrated by the Catholic Church and reserved for exclusive use of members of that faith.

A portion of Section 2 (B) was purchased by the Masonic lodges and used for burials of Masons and their families. The Tucker faMagnoliaCemeteryInvitationmily, headed by the president of the Magnolia Grove Cemetery Association, was also located in this section.

Many of the larger lots in the cemetery were purchased by wealthy families and organizations.

Less expensive public lots for white “clients” were located in Section 4, and for “colored” loved ones in Section 5 of the Eastern Division of Magnolia Grove.

The Spanish Benevolent mausoleum still stood after 1900 in Section D on lots 31 and 32, which was part of the southern half of lot 258. Although heavily damaged by weather and vandalized, the mausoleum still stood in the 1920s.

MagnoliaGroveBylawsGalveston’s Fireman’s Relief Association purchased a portion of Section B for their members in August 1878.

Plots in Section J were purchased by Joseph W. Rice and David Guthrie; Section M included family plots for Adriance and Trueheart; Section N for August Kleinecke; and Section P plots belonged to the Sealy, Ball and Hutchings families.

General Wigfall’s plot was in Section Q, and J.P. Davie purchased four lots in Section R.

Section S was home to the The French Benevolent Society lot, as well as the Nahor Biggs Yard and Grover families.

Adolph Flake chose his plot in Section T, but now rests in the Historic Broadway Cemetery District.

John Sidney Thrasher, who married the widow of Galveston’s founder Michel Menard, was buried in the City Circle in 1879.

Of the many illustrious citizens in Galveston who were interred in Magnolia, some remain on the grounds, some were moved to other cemeteries, and some were lost to weather events.

Among the well-known Masons interred at Magnolia Grove who remain there are Henry S. Pearce, First Master of Hope Lodge in another part of the state; Adolph Cycoski, a Civil War veteran and teacher of French in Galveston, also a prominent Mason; and Dr. Benjamin Ball, a prominent businessman who was buried with Masonic ceremonies Feb. 13, 1880.

French native Achilles Mingell; Captain John Price, who formerly owned part of this property, and a residence in the early days; and Isaac McGary, veteran of Texas Revolution,; Mexican American War: and the Battle of San Jacinto are just two of the illustrious people whose graves wer never relocated and are now lost.

6475360_130510553456David Burnet (pictured at left) , the first president of Texas, was moved from Magnolia Grove and now rests in the Sherman plot at Lakeview.

William Tennant Austin of early Texas revolutionary fame, was mo3753_1018045175ved from Magnolia to Lakeview Cemetery.

Anson Jones (pictured at right), the last president of Texas, was originally buried in Trinity Episcopal Cemetery, moved to Magnolia Grove Cemetery five miles away in 1871 as part of the opening ceremonies. His remains were moved to Glenwood after 1892.

After the article runs in Galveston Monthly, I will share more information about this fascinating, and sad, loss of history.

 

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SS Selma: Galveston’s Concrete Wonder

Concrete ships? Believe it or not, during World Wr I they became a reality, and Galveston is home to one of the few remnants of the era.

Please allow a few minutes for the pages to download – large files. Or you can read the article online in Galveston Monthly’s June issue at galvestonmonthly.com.

*One correction has come to my attention since this article was published. Raymond Dalehite has kindly let me know that it was his grandfather, Captain Henry Dalehite, who sold the ship and not his father as is stated in the article. I sincerely apologize for this mistake.

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Fashionable New Year’s Visits

Calling Cards For Greeting New Year in the Victorian Era (1)

In genteel Victorian-era society, making visits or “calls” was the fashionable thing to do on New Year’s Day.

Gentlemen would don their finest attire and make the rounds, visiting all of the ladies of their acquaintance.

Ladies were discouraged from sending invitations for them to do so, as that would seem “desperate.” Instead, the local papers would often print lists of homes that intended to receive callers that day.

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Upon arriving at a home (preferably in a carriage), the gentleman would be invited to remove his hat and overcoat. His gloves were often left on his hands, as the visits, to be considered polite, must be kept fairly brief. – not exceeding then or fifteen minutes.

The gentleman would then send his calling card with a servant to the host, announcing his arrival, and would be ushered into the reception room.

b2014_1_29_detail_categoryBaskets or receiving trays would hold the cards of each day’s callers. This beautiful example is in the Bishop’s Palace in Galveston.

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Ladies could receive guests at their own home, or come together in small groups to receive callers together. Young ladies visiting for the holidays partook in the visits of their hostesses’ homes.

They would have spent the previous day making the parlor as inviting as possible with a warm fire, and small table with refreshments such as fruit, cakes, tea and coffee. Alcohol was never served.

Fashionsfor1845Common visiting hours were from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. which, although it was enjoyed, must have been quite exhausting. Because of the constant “change of faces” due to the coming-and going of guests, they were to receive each as politely and pleasantly as the first. Thankfully, callers knew to avoid lunch and dinner hours.

Calling cards were kept by the hostesses, and often reviewed later. In addition to reminding the hostess of the caller’s name, much could be discerned from the quality and style of the card.

The two or three days succeeding New Year’s were the ladies’ days for calling, “upon which occasion they pass the compliments of the season, comment of the festivities of the holiday, and the number of calls made.”

IMG_0926AAlthough the ladies’ visits were considered to be less formal, they would also include refreshments, finery, and by today’s standards seem quite formal.

Whatever you are doing this New Year’s Day, I hope 2016 brings you laughter, adventure and fun glimpses into our fascinating history!

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Roker Book is Entertaining but Flawed

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Here is an interview I did with Al Roker about his new book, “The Storm of the Century.” It deals with the devastating 1900 hurricane in Galveston, which still stands as this nation’s worst national disaster.

Mr. Roker utilized the services of a professional researcher for this project.

As someone well-versed with Galveston history, there are some things in the book that grate on my nerves, such as mislabeling the Bishop’s Palace (one of the island’s most loved architectural treasures) as Ashton Villa (another historic home), and stating that Indianola (which was completely obliterated by a hurricane) was in Mississippi (it was in Texas). I would dearly have hoped that a professional researcher or publisher fact-checker would have caught things like this.

Aside from that, Roker and his team have gathered some heart-wrenching stories about those who did and didn’t survive the storm, and the book makes a quick and interesting read.

If you read “The Storm of the Century,” let me know what you think!