Celestial Blackmail?

Week 23: #52 Ancestors – Going to the Chapel

By Eilene Lyon

There’s no question that Great-grandma Clara was a staunch supporter of the Methodist Church. Her father (God rest his soul) had been a lay preacher in the faith, after all. She was abstemious, and thought everyone else should be, too. (I do hope she isn’t observing my imbibing.)

Thwarted in her professional ambitions, she used her energy to accumulate a mini real estate “empire” in her home town of Moscow, Idaho. She took in renters in her own house from the University of Idaho and tutored them when they fell behind in their studies. She had nearly a city block filled with her tenants, according to family lore.

The basis for her accumulation of property began with a homestead claim near Orofino, but I’ll detail that another time. Suffice it to say, she had some property and used it to wield a little influence. That’s where the church comes in.

This is also a family story that I have not been able to confirm. But it’s just a little telling tale about Great-grandma.

Sometime around 1930, the Moscow First United Methodist Church was interested in procuring a pipe organ for the sanctuary. Clara offered to purchase the organ for the church, but there was a hitch (of course). The church would have to hire her daughter, Clare, to play it!

Well, I do have this photo of Clare (my grandmother) seated at a pipe organ. And the church’s music director confirmed that it matched the description of the placement of the organ at that time (it was later moved).


He was also able to relate that the current organ (which may be the same one from 1930) was built by the famed Shoenstein Company, founded in San Francisco in 1877. The company has an archive that might shed light on this tale.

I remember Grandma playing the piano on occasion, but I had no idea about her history as a church organist, nor that her mother may have coerced the church into hiring her to play. But it doesn’t surprise me a bit!


My grandmother, Clare Ransom Davis, in her Sunday best.

13 thoughts on “Celestial Blackmail?

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  1. We enjoyed the story and history. Wish I knew my great grandparents. My dad’s parents died when I was very young. Your story is one to be treasured. Aunt Judy

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