Week 44: #52 Ancestors – Shadows
By Eilene Lyon
My current WIP is a book about Colorado pioneers, told in light of the cemeteries they are buried in. One I visited on our way back from Denver is called Cleora Cemetery, near Salida in Chaffee County.
It is considered a “boot hill” cemetery. People buried there died in the prime of life, aka “with their boots on.” Graves are randomly scattered, some with headstones, others with perhaps only a lump of rock to mark the remains.
I scoured the local newspapers to find names for those unmarked graves. Some of what I found were things like:
“Mrs. C. S. Norman was thought to be getting rapidly better, but at that time she suffered a worse attack and died …” (Maria E. Waterman)
“Obituary: Mrs. R. N. Vickers – At her home in this city on Saturday morning …” (Riodel Norte Camp)
“Mrs. J. B. French died last evening at her home on Adobe park …” (Melissa J. Sprague)
“The funeral of Mrs. Ferd Wilkson who died at Monarch on Tuesday …” (Louisa Marshall)
Most often, these reports never, ever give the poor deceased woman her own name. She is merely her husband’s shadow. Finding out who she was before she became a wife and mother ususally involves researching the husband and children. A marriage record is good, but absent that, the children’s death certificates will sometimes give their mother’s maiden name.
This practice of naming married women as “Mrs. [husband’s name]” has continued, though it is, fortunately, much less prevalent today. Obituaries now commonly give a woman’s birth name and parents, not just her married name(s).
The photograph above shows a group of women attending a “Patio Punch Party” at Fort Lee military base in Virginia. My mother is seated at the table, second from the left. The picture was taken on July 16, 1964 by an Army staff photographer (thus is not copyrighted). The photographer is named by rank and last name: Sp5 Ketchum.
The wife of Fort Lee’s Commanding General hosted the party. The purpose was to honor the wives of students in the Basic Class 65-1 and QM [Quartermaster] Officer Career Class 65-1 (which my dad attended). Every woman in the photograph is given the Mrs. [husband] treatment in the caption on the back. For those still living (or unknown), I’ve given only their last name. The divorced women retained their married names.
Left to right:
Mrs. Church (unfortunately, the husband’s name is too common to verify her identity)
Mrs. Gorman S. Oswell (born Beverly Blanche MacPhee (1920–2009; divorced; Col. Oswell died in 1984)
Mrs. Albert E. Levulis (born Renate E. MNU in Bremen, Germany, 1925–2012; divorced 1985; Lt. Col. Levulis died in 2001)
Mrs. Halse (Mom; living; divorced 1983)
Mrs. Edward Hersh (born Shirley Friedman, 1921–2017; Col. Hersh died in 2012)
Mrs. Hugh Mackintosh (born Bonniebell A. Morgan, 1909–1995; Maj. Gen. Mackintosh died in 1974)
Mrs. Richard B. Goudie (living; Maj. Goudie died in 2020; he served two tours in Vietnam about the same times as my dad)
Feature photo: Patio Punch Party (U.S. Army)