Memento Mori

Memorial card. "IN MEMORY OF Mrs. A. W. Scranton, Who died at her home in Wellington, Ohio, Tuesday, the 15th day of December, 1885, AGED 50 YEARS." Author's collection.

Memorial card. “IN MEMORY OF Mrs. A. W. Scranton, Who died at her home in Wellington, Ohio, Tuesday, the 15th day of December, 1885, AGED 50 YEARS.” Author’s collection.

I love the idea of every object being the gateway to a story. At first glance, this small card is unassuming in every way. It is small, just three by five inches. The paper is not very sturdy, the edges having darkened and creased with age. The verso is blank. The black borders convey, perhaps even before one’s eyes reach the text, that this is a memorial card, a remembrance distributed to friends and family members after the passing of a loved one. This ephemeral article is a tangible reminder of a Wellington woman who died nearly thirteen decades ago.

Who was she? The card tells us only that she was the wife of a man called A. W. Scranton. I have found her recorded as Terissia (1880 federal census); Teressee (marriage record); Terressee (family genealogy); Terisa (obituary); and Terissa (nearly illegible headstone). I believe if she were alive today, she would most likely sign her given name, “Theresa.”

She must have been born in 1835, since she died at aged 50. The federal census of 1880 listed her age at the time as 45, and her place of birth as New York. Abel W. Scranton must have been at least her second husband, and the census household enumeration included a nineteen-year-old girl called Jennie Gardner, named as Abel’s stepdaughter. Jennie would have been born around 1861, when her mother was twenty-six. If Terissa Gardner Scranton had other husbands or other children, their names have not yet come down to us.

Terissa had married Abel in Lucas, Ohio on November 16, 1873. According to corporation tax records and a few newspaper notices, the Scrantons lived on a farm about a mile north of Wellington, on the west side of the main road to Oberlin, today called State Route 58. Two months after Terissa died, Abel held a public sale of “one mare, one pony, one Jersey Heifer, two wagons, double carriage, phaeton, double harness, Norwalk tanning mill, corn sheller, reaper and mower and other articles too numerous to mention” (The Wellington Enterprise, 2-17-1886, pg. 4). A few weeks later, he sold his farm to S. K. Laundon and moved to a property on Magyar Street formerly occupied by Caroline Wales Woodworth, longtime owner of the American House hotel.

I have been able to discover very little else about Terissa’s life. An unpublished Scranton family genealogy records that Abel had three wives and a child out of wedlock by a fourth woman (perhaps a contributing factor to his first marriage ending in divorce in 1866). His third wife was a widow named Eliza Kester from Chicago; the couple was married at her home in that city and Abel Scranton relocated there for some period of time, before returning to Ohio. He died in Dover in 1905 but his remains were carried to Wellington for burial next to Terissa.

Headstones of Abel W. and Terissa Scranton at Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Headstones of Abel W. and Terissa Scranton at Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Terissa’s daughter, Jennie Gardner, had an even briefer life than that of her mother. Jennie apparently continued to live with her stepfather in his new house on Magyar Street, until she moved to Cleveland and married Dr. Clinton E. Leland in 1888. (She visited Wellington frequently after her marriage and was often noted as being a guest of her friends, Peter and Minnie Eidt.) The Lelands had one child, a boy who lived only three days. Clinton died after just three years of marriage, aged thirty-five. Jennie then moved to Chicago, at the same time that Abel Scranton moved there, and remarried a man called Rotter. She died in 1895 at thirty-four years of age, and is buried with her first husband and infant son at Riverside Cemetery, in Cleveland, Ohio.

But what of Terissa? I’ve spent weeks trying to learn more about her. We have no known copies of the Enterprise from the period of her death. I have tried to determine her maiden name, in order to trace other census or marriage records, but to no avail. It began to feel as though the tiny card might truly be all that was left of her. Then I stumbled on a citation for an obituary that was printed in the New London Record. In the basement of the New London Public Library, I found this:

In Memoriam. Mrs. Terisa, wife of Mr. A. W. Scranton, died at her home in Wellington, Ohio, Dec. 15th, 1885, in the fiftieth year of her age. Her illness was occasioned by dropsy, resulting in blood poisoning. During the five months continuance of her fatal sickness she suffered severely. But she endured her distress with patience, not a murmur or complaint passed her lips. She possessed the affectionate esteem of the numerous friends with whom she became connected by marriage, and was beloved by her neighbors and associates. She was buried from the family residence on Thursday, Dec. 17th, the funeral services being conducted by the Rev. Mr. Brown of the Methodist Episcopal church” (12-23-1885, pg. 3).

Dropsy is today known as edema, a swelling of the soft tissues caused by an accumulation of excess water within the body. It is often related to congestive heart failure, but can also be caused by a severe sepsis of the blood (i.e. blood poisoning caused by an infection). In a pulmonary edema, the lungs begin to fill with fluid causing extreme difficulty breathing. If the fluids are not removed, the patient can literally drown in her own bed. Prolonged as Terissa’s sickness was, it would have been a highly unpleasant way to die.

Notice on the illness of Mrs. Abel Scranton. "The Elyria Republican," 9-17-1885, pg. 1.

Notice of the illness of Mrs. Abel Scranton. “The Elyria Republican,” 9-17-1885, pg. 1.

To which of her “numerous friends…neighbors and associates” was this little memorial card given after the funeral? How did it come to survive for more than a century? I’ll never know the answers to those questions. Regardless, the card has done its job beautifully. It inspired me–and through me, all of you–to once again honor the memory of Terissa Gardner Scranton.


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