Category Archives: Genealogy

The Chinese Laundry

Detail of an image taken of Public Square, Wellington, Ohio, between  1892 and 1902. Sign over basement entrance to Wells building reads, "WAH SING LAUNDRY." My thanks to Mr. Alan L. Leiby for providing the enlargement.

Detail of an image taken of Public Square, Wellington, Ohio, between 1892 and 1902. Sign over basement entrance to Wells building reads, “WAH SING LAUNDRY.” My thanks to Mr. Alan L. Leiby for providing the enlargement.

A really marvelous development was brought to my attention recently. The Library of Congress has added twenty years of The Wellington Enterprise to its “Chronicling America” digital newspaper repository. The papers–rather confusingly grouped into three separate holdings–date from 1879 to 1899, and include nearly 900 keyword-searchable issues. Many thanks to fellow blogger and Wellington historian Joshua Fahler for alerting me.

As you might imagine, I immediately spent hours compiling search terms, to see if I had missed anything important in my old-school visual scanning of the issues on microfilm. Optical character recognition can be very spotty with nineteenth-century newspaper print, but I was pleasantly surprised by how many things I was able to locate. I still prefer the more immersive experience of reading the issues sequentially, but the search box is undeniably faster for “clean up” checking of proper names, etc.

One of the first names I wanted to search for was Wah Sing. To cover additional possibilities, I also checked terms such as “John Chinaman” and “Chinese laundry,” phrases often used in the reporting of the time. I uncovered a wealth of additional information about the Chinese laundry in Wellington. The dozen notices that I found disproved some of the suppositions I posed in my previous two posts about Wah Sing. I debated whether to remove those posts, but ultimately decided to leave them intact and use this entry to correct some of my mistakes.

By far, the most glaring error that I made was to assume that, given its rural setting, Wellington most likely had only one Chinese resident during the nineteenth-century. I painted Wah Sing as a highly unusual person, even in the context of Wellington’s fifteen percent foreign-born population, which I have noted several times. But this new information, which in turn caused me to reevaluate the materials I already had in hand, now allows me to report that I can record at least nine distinct Chinese individuals connected with the operation of a laundry in Public Square between 1884 and 1899.

In my original post on Wah Sing, I noted that the first published announcement I have found of a Chinese laundry in Wellington was made by Sone and Chong in December 1884.

By the summer of 1890, the newspaper was making reference to “our enterprising, live and let live Chinese laundryman, Col, Chas. Moon” and commented, “Charley is so different from the generality of his countrymen that he enjoys the respect of all who know him” (6-18-1890, pg. 5). Seven months later, a repeating series of notices announced that an unnamed “we” had purchased “the laundry business of Charley Moon” (1-28-1891, pg. 5).

The next time a Chinese individual appears in the Enterprise, it is in connection with the assault that I detailed in my first post on Wah Sing; I recounted the trial and sentencing of William Gulde and Clinton Wadsworth in a second post. The victim of that crime was referred to by multiple names, one of which was Thomas Chinsing. I erroneously assumed that this must actually be Wah Sing, and wrote the discrepancy off as the discriminatory reporting practices of a time when newspapers regularly used names such as “John Chinaman.” But I now know that Wah Sing did not move to Wellington until nearly two years after this attack.

It was therefore Thomas Chinsing, not Wah Sing, who had a cousin in Cleveland and a brother in Painesville. His brother was a telegraph operator who spoke fluent English and served as a translator at the assault trial in April 1891. There were four separate robberies of the laundry in the previous two years; how many proprietors the establishment had in that period remains a mystery.

In September 1892, The Wellington Enterprise noted, “A new John Chinaman arrives in town about every new moon to take charge of the laundry. It must be that the business doesn’t pay very well, or this place has become exceedingly attractive to them and they are all anxious to come and remain a short time” (9-14-1892, pg. 5). And indeed, in that year I find records of at least two other individuals connected to the laundry. In July, a man named Sing Lee apparently returned from Painesville after an absence of three months, as “the celestial that succeeded him in the laundry…failed to pay up and so John [Chinaman, i.e Sing Lee] came back and took possession” (7-20-1892, pg. 5). Was there a connection between Sing Lee and Thomas Chinsing, given that each had some association with Painesville? I don’t know, nor do I know anything about the “non-paying” individual who ran the operation for that three-month interval.

By October of the same year, the proprietor of the laundry was listed as Ham Yuen in a notice asserting that the business would not be relocating to North Main Street, but would remain in Public Square. And readers of the earlier post will recall that local historian Robert Walden also recorded a man named Charley Lee as Wah Sing’s immediate predecessor, but without giving any indication of what time period he lived in the village.

“The latest celestial to arrive has a new sign, which reads, ‘Wah Sing, Laundry'” announced the paper on December 21, 1892. (Astute readers may note that I have adjusted the dating on the photograph at the top of this post accordingly.) Federal census data indicates that Wah Sing emigrated to the United States sometime between 1878 and 1880–just prior to passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act–and made his way inland from the west coast, arriving in Wellington twelve years later. By 1896, he was contemplating a trip home to China “to visit his wife and children” (12-16-1896, pg. 5). He ran into some trouble with money; both the Enterprise and the (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported that he loaned $300 to another Chinese individual who was either away without leaving his whereabouts or had deliberately absconded with the stolen funds, depending on which report you believe.

Whatever the truth of that incident, Wah Sing’s financial issues were somehow successfully resolved. In October 1897, he left Wellington to make the six-week journey home to China, with the intention of remaining away for nearly a year. He left the laundry in the care of his cousin, Gin Gim, and returned as he had promised in October 1898.

I cannot verify the accuracy of Robert Walden’s published memories. All of the incidents that I wrote about in my first post, Walden explicitly described as happening to “Waugh Sing.” Whether he was conflating memories of interactions with multiple Chinese laundrymen, I do not know. What I can say is that the few published mentions of Wah Sing in the last decade of the century may paint a very incomplete portrait of his life, but they do not necessarily suggest someone in total isolation and misery. Obviously Wah Sing was able to visit his family in China for nearly a year. He was noted several times traveling to friends in Cleveland, including attending a celebration of Chinese New Year in the city in 1899. There is evidence of community and connectedness for several of these men, despite the scantiness of the extant written record.

I found mentions of other Chinese laundries operating in nearby Oberlin and also in Newark, Ohio, about ninety miles south of Wellington (near the state capital, Columbus). The article about Newark was denouncing a series of attacks against “a couple of respectable Chinese laundrymen” in that town, in which white patrons were actually hiding explosives in their own laundry. The piece is worth quoting at some length: “And now the industrious foreigners can go on rinsing the sweat from white men’s shirts and perspiring over the polishing board as their lazy persecutors would not if they never had a change of clean underclothing. It is a national disgrace that a well-behaved Chinaman cannot walk a square in the streets of our cities without meeting with staring impudence and hooting insult, even from our well educated school children…Because he has not the bullying propensities of the Anglo-Saxon, and is physically weak, and is quiet, peacable, willing to work hard and to do his work well, he is everywhere imposed upon by our ‘superior race,’ and treated with such want of fairness and courtesy that it is no wonder the observing Celestial is not apt to think well of either the civilization or the religion of this country” (7-15-1880, pg. 2).

Did Wah Sing feel that he was treated with a “want of fairness and courtesy” by his Wellington neighbors? My fear is that there is no way to ever truly know. But then I recall that just a few days ago I though there was one man running the Chinese laundry, and now I know that there were many. That gives me hope that other sources of information may still exist that can offer more insight into this part of our history. There is a Chinese proverb that says, “The palest ink is better than the best memory.” Our collective memory of this small community within our midst may have disappeared, but we can begin to reconstruct the evidence of their presence and thereby deepen our understanding of the true complexity of our shared past.

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Murder Most Foul

The Crosier building, located at 203-205 North Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

The Crosier building, located at 203-205 North Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

“A murder-suicide took place in a grocery store on North Main Street in 1890. S. L. Sage, the proprietor, accused his clerk, David Hoke, of diverting income to his own pocket to which he admitted. Angry words ensued over the amount of the restitution. Only two men were present when the final scene was enacted on December 8. Mr. Sage was found in front of the store, a bullet hole through his head, and in the back room was the body of Hoke, in similar condition” (pg. 10).

This is how Ernst Henes described the deaths of Samuel Sage and David Hoke in his 1983 publication, Historic Wellington Then and Now. What I find curious about this brief passage is that it is specific enough to suggest that Henes had issues of The Wellington Enterprise from the period at hand while writing, yet his description of the motive for the crime–at least as it was reported at the time of the shootings–is incomplete. The Sage/Hoke tragedy was not Wellington’s first murder, nor sadly its last, but it might have been its most salacious.

In late 1890, Samuel L. Sage was the 63-year-old owner of a grocery store operating in the ground floor of the Crosier building, built as a cheese warehouse and still standing on the west side of North Main Street today. Sage led a quiet life; his wife of more than forty years had just died over the summer. His clerk, David Hoke, was also in his 60s and had previously worked for decades in the carriage business, first for Edward Tripp and later with Timothy Doland.

According to a published interview with Wellington’s Marshal Williams, he noticed in early November that Hoke was regularly opening the grocery store as early as 5:30AM. Williams soon observed that the same female customer was shopping at that strange time of day, and leaving “with well-filled baskets.” The marshal decided to tell Samuel Sage that he believed something inappropriate, and likely criminal, was occurring. Sage did not immediately believe the allegations, so they arranged to have the store watched. “[I]t was not only ascertained that [Hoke] donated goods but sold goods for cash and did not account for it to Mr. Sage. What else took place at these morning meetings will not be reported in this paper” (The Wellington Enterprise, 12-10-1890, pg. 5).

I realize that I live in a hyper-sexualized 21st-century culture, but I read this as implying that Hoke was “trading” provisions for some sort of illicit interaction. The woman in question was Emma Gardner, a 28-year-old domestic servant who lived with her husband and child on Kelly Street. Gardner’s husband was a railroad worker and the family had been in town for less than a year. Four decades younger than David Howk, Emma Gardner was described as having light hair and blue eyes, and “previous to this happening, she presented a very fair appearance” (12-17-1890, pg. 8).

Sage and the marshal decided to summon Emma Gardner to appear before Mayor George Couch. She was accused of theft, a charge she denied. She confirmed that she had purchased items at the Sage store, but “supposed that they were charged upon the books to her husband” (12-10-1890, pg. 5).

Sage then confronted Hoke directly. The clerk initially denied wrongdoing, but when presented with evidence of his crimes, eventually confessed. The marshal proposed that Hoke be allowed to make financial restitution, but warned that if he did not fully satisfy Sage in whatever figure the owner demanded, Hoke would be arrested. The men settled these terms on Saturday evening, and Hoke was to be arrested Tuesday morning if he had not complied. Hoke then made the rather extraordinary request that he be allowed to continue working at the grocery store in the interim, so as not to arouse his wife’s suspicions. Sage agreed, an act of kindness which perhaps cost him his life.

Monday afternoon around 3PM, shots rang out in the village. Marshal Williams was on patrol near Doland’s carriage factory, and came running into the grocery store to find Samuel Sage bleeding on the floor, a bullet wound in his temple. David Hoke was in the back room, also with a mortal wound to the head. Both men were still alive. Hoke died within minutes, but Sage was carried to a relative’s house on Mechanics Street (now East Herrick Avenue) and expired about three hours later.

Headstone of murder victim Samuel L. Sage (1827-1890), Evergreen Cemetery, Huntington, Ohio. Image from website

Headstone of murder victim Samuel L. Sage (1827-1890), Evergreen Cemetery, Huntington, Ohio. Image from website “Find a Grave.com.”

The coverage in the Enterprise is fascinating in that it does not seem to judge David Hoke at all harshly. The lengthy report of the murder-suicide is followed by obituaries for both men, and Hoke’s reads in part: “There probably was no more prompt man in Ohio to meet his obligations. His credit was gold-tinged, and although he was possessed of some weak points of character, he had many virtues which would not come amiss for the average person to observe.” This is a surprisingly positive assessment of an individual who apparently confessed to theft and possibly sexual misconduct, before pushing down and shooting a man “noted for his honesty and uprightness” (12-10-1890, pg. 5).

David Hoke was interred in Greenwood Cemetery; Samuel Sage was taken to Huntington and buried next to his late wife. Emma Gardner was summoned again to Mayor’s Court. Her trial was set for Monday, December 15th, one week after the shootings. Saturday evening she was seen boarding a southbound train, apparently fleeing town. The Enterprise rather callously printed an account of Gardner’s legal troubles directly above a note from David Hoke’s widow, thanking her friends and neighbors for their sympathy and assistance (12-17-1890, pg. 8).

Headstone of murderer David Hoke (1824-1890), who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Headstone of murderer David Hoke (1824-1890), who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

The grocery store became a kind of town curiosity. The paper noted that it was visited daily by numbers of people long after the shootings. In March of 1891, a little notice appeared in the paper: “When the Hoke-Sage tragedy took place in the Crosier building, the contents of one chamber of Hoke’s revolver passed through a cluster of bottles standing on the shelf filled with ink and struck the wall. Three or four bottles were broken and the contents forced upon the wall, leaving an indelible mark of the tragedy for visitors to gaze upon through the window. A mason was called last week to kalsomine the wall to obliterate the marks” (3-11-1891, pg. 5). Kalsomining is better known, of course, as whitewashing.

Wah Sing Addendum

"No more Chinese cheap labor," ca. 1880 anti-immigrant trade card. The Warshaw Collection of Business Americana, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Archives Center, PO Box 37012, Suite 1100, MRC 601, Constitution Ave, between 12th and 14th Sts, NW, Washington, D.C. 20013-7012. www.si.edu

“No more Chinese cheap labor,” ca. 1880 anti-immigrant trade card. The Warshaw Collection of Business Americana, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Archives Center, PO Box 37012, Suite 1100, MRC 601, Constitution Ave, between 12th and 14th Sts, NW, Washington, D.C. 20013-7012. http://www.si.edu

I located additional information about Wah Sing and the beating and robbery he suffered in 1891. The local paper reported at the end of April that Sing’s brother was visiting from Painesville, Ohio. “The brother is a telegraph operator and speaks English very fluently. He acted as interpreter before the grand jury at Elyria for his brother in the Gulde-Wadsworth case and will be on hand at the trial of the case in the common pleas court” (4-22-1891, pg. 5).

A month later, the headline proclaimed, “SENTENCED. Gulde and Wadsworth Plead Guilty to an Assault with an Intent to Commit Robbery and Are Sent to the Penitentiary for the Term of One Year.” The men initially pleaded guilty to assault but not robbery, so the judge sentenced them to six months in a Cleveland work-house and a fine of $270. “The boys considered that rather oppressive and decided to change their plea,” and the sentence was consequently altered to one year in jail. To my mind, the most interesting piece of information included in the article is the fact that Gulde and Wadsworth’s attack was actually the fourth robbery of Wah Sing and his laundry in a period of two years. I have not done a systematic analysis of theft reports in the Enterprise, but my impression is that this is a high number of crimes committed against a single business in the village.

At the end of June, a curious notice was printed in the paper. “[A]n application will be presented to the board of pardons at the penitentiary for the release of Clint Wadsworth, who is now confined there for assault and robbery” (6-24-1891, pg. 5). There is no further information provided. I am so curious to know on what grounds Wadsworth was planning to appeal his incarceration. After pleading guilty to the charges against him, why did he feel deserving of a pardon? Was he successful in his application, and if so, did Gulde follow suit? And how did Wah Sing feel, hearing that his assailants were attempting to avoid the punishments handed out to them by the American justice system? I will continue to look for answers.

PLEASE NOTE: I subsequently uncovered materials that proved some of the assumptions of my first two “Wah Sing” posts to be incorrect. The entry detailing that corrective information can be found here.

Wah Sing Laundry

Detail of an image taken of Public Square, Wellington, Ohio, between  1882 and 1902. Sign over basement entrance to Wells building reads, "WAH SING LAUNDRY." My thanks to Mr. Alan L. Leiby for providing the enlargement.

Detail of an image taken of Public Square, Wellington, Ohio, between 1882 and 1902. Sign over basement entrance to Wells building reads, “WAH SING LAUNDRY.” My thanks to Mr. Alan L. Leiby for providing the enlargement.

“CHINESE LAUNDRY. Sone & Chong have opened a Laundry under the Mutual Relief Ins. office. All work will be done promptly and in first class order. Collars and Cuffs a specialty. Make them look like new” (The Wellington Enterprise, 12-10-1884, pg. 5).

I have wanted to write a post on this topic for quite a while, but struggled with how to present it. My research into the history of my house, and Wellington in the nineteenth century, has been a pastime I have undertaken for enjoyment. I am not here to stir up controversy, but at the same time I have no interest in rewriting or sanitizing the past. I have always tried to be honest about the limitations of the sources I am working with–most of which are secondary–and point out inconsistencies in the written record whenever I see them. That having been said, I enjoy reporting the stories of people that lived in this town, but are not memorialized on plaques or in publications. People like Noah Huckins. People like Wah Sing.

I should begin by saying that Wah Sing is not his actual name. I do not know what his given name was, but here are some of the ways in which he was recorded in the very few printed pieces in which he appeared: Waugh Sing; Thomas Chinsing; the Chinese Laundryman; ‘John;’ the laundryman; Our John Chinaman; John Chinaman. I will refer to him as Wah Sing throughout this post, for consistency and clarity, but also because the one photograph that I have of his laundry–shown above–features a sign using that name.

I have no biographical information about Wah Sing beyond anecdotal evidence relayed by local historian Robert Walden; he knew the man slightly but had some unfortunate personal biases that are evident from his writings. Not knowing the man’s actual name, I have no way of tracking down his burial place, though Walden claimed he died in Cincinnati. Always a tenant and never the owner of the building where he operated his laundry, Wah Sing does not appear in the Wellington corporation tax records (at least, not that I have found). I have seen him in the newspaper only once, in connection with an unfortunate incident that illustrates the difficulty of his life in Wellington. Ironically, the fact that there is so little to go on makes me want to tell his story–as best I can–that much more.

Public Square, Wellington, Ohio. Image must have been taken between 1882 (construction of the Rininger building, seen at left) and 1902 (when the American House hotel was demolished). This is the image from which the above detail was taken. Courtesy of Alan L. Leiby.

Public Square, Wellington, Ohio. Image must have been taken between 1882 (construction of the Rininger building, seen at left) and 1902 (when the American House hotel was demolished). This is the image from which the above detail was taken. Courtesy of Alan L. Leiby.

The first mention of a “Chinese Laundry” in Wellington appeared in the Enterprise in 1884. Given the lack of care that the paper showed in printing unfamiliar foreign names correctly, I have no idea whether the proprietors were, in fact, called “Sone & Chong.” I also have no idea whether Wah Sing was connected to that first business. Robert Walden wrote three consecutive columns about the laundryman in 1954, and he noted that, “His predecessor in that location [the basement of the Wells building] was a young Chinaman named Charley Lee. Charley could speak English and was Americanized in many ways. On Sundays, when the weather was pleasant, he would wind his three long pigtails well under his Derby hat and, dressed in a long black coat with a flowered vest and bell-shaped trousers that flared at the bottom, golden-headed cane in hand, would strut about the streets with boys of the town who thought he was about the last word in style. He did not stay long and left no further impression on me” (Robert Walden Notebook, #A117). Was this earlier operator of a laundry connected with the “Sone & Chong” business? I have no way of knowing at present.

According to federal census data, in 1880 there were just twenty-six people born in China who were living in the city of Cleveland. By 1900, that number had increased to only ninety-four, in a city that had some 382,000 residents (the seventh largest municipality in the United States at that time). This surprising lack of growth in the Chinese population is due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The act initially prohibited all Chinese laborers from entering the U. S. for a decade, but was renewed in 1892 and then made permanent ten years later. It was not repealed until World War II.

The act was passed in a climate of racially-motivated intolerance toward Chinese immigrants, who were perceived to be taking jobs from American citizens. It not only stopped all immigration from China for six decades, but also made it very difficult for Chinese people already in this country to visit their homeland and then return to the U. S., a piece of national policy that directly impacted Wah Sing, as we shall see. Given the size of the overall Chinese population in this country in the late nineteenth century, it seems remarkable to encounter multiple Chinese individuals in a small, rural community like Wellington. Wah Sing also had a cousin in Cleveland and a brother in Painsville.

Detail of a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for Wellington, Ohio dated March, 1899. Main Street is on the bottom of the map. Note that the building to the right of the American House is labeled, "Chin'e Laundry, B[asement]; Teleph. Exch. 2d [floor]; Vac. 1st [floor]." OhioLINK Digital Resource Commons. Accessed 1-26-2014.

Detail of a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for Wellington, Ohio dated March, 1899. Main Street is on the bottom of the map. Note that the building to the right of the American House is labeled, “Chin’e Laundry, B[asement]; Teleph. Exch. 2d [floor]; Vac. 1st [floor].” OhioLINK Digital Resource Commons. Accessed 1-26-2014.

Wah Sing operated his first recorded laundry in the basement of what is now known as the Wells building. (The Wells family purchased, renovated, and put a new facade on the structure in 1929.) It stands at 107 Public Square. It was immediately adjacent to the American House, and evidence suggests that at least some of his workload was generated from travelers staying at the hotel. Walden noted, “The back yard of the Wells building and the southeast portion of the American House were enclosed by the same high board fence. It separated these two properties from the alley in the rear. A wire clothesline fence was extended from the laundry to the fence so Waugh would hang his wet clothes to dry” (#A117). The fence and yard are visible in the map detail above.

As I mentioned, Walden produced three articles about Wah Sing. (He always spelled the first name “Waugh,” so for readability I will transcribe his quotations verbatim.) He attempted to fill them with humorous anecdotes, but to modern eyes the stories are not so amusing. They seem to tell a tale of regular teasing almost to the point of abuse. Walden related one incident of a man connecting an electric battery to the wire clothesline, for the express purpose of giving Wah Sing a mild shock. For reasons he didn’t explain, Walden and his wife were in “an upstairs window” watching as the laundryman touched the line and received jolt after jolt. “What he said probably was unprintable, but being in Chinese we had no translation, excepting through the intensiveness of his antics. Someone upstairs laughed. Waugh looked up and probably grinned, for then he understood that his friends up there were having fun with him” (#A117).

1929 facade of the Wells building, 107 Public Square, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

1929 facade of the Wells building, 107 Public Square, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Rear facade of Wells building. This area, now abutted by the Herrick Memorial Library and a 20th-century brick structure, was once the yard where Wah Sing hung wash to dry.

Rear facade of Wells building. This area, now abutted by the Herrick Memorial Library and a 20th-century brick structure, was once the yard where Wah Sing hung wash to dry.

Perhaps, if this were an isolated incident, it might be a harmless practical joke. But Walden immediately followed with a story of a woman offering Wah Sing a hot green pepper to eat at Bowlby & Hall’s grocery store. His physical distress is presented for comic effect: “Mis Doty, get a doctor! Get a doctor quick. Belly burny like a helly!” Walden later poked fun at the laundryman’s supposed ignorance by relating an anecdote about Wah Sing attending the Methodist Church–after repeated pleas from a local woman who wanted “to save him from the burning”–and asking after the collection, “What’s the matter with that Jesus Christ? Him always broke” (#A118).

The most obvious act of exploitation that Walden related was one he claimed to witness personally. While leaving his own laundry, he observed a woman entering with a bundle of clothing. “‘Waugh,’ she said without any preliminary, ‘I want them tomorrow without fail. Understand?’ The Chinaman made no response nor indicated that he had heard. The young woman walked out of the room. In the doorway she turned and again demanded, ‘Understand?'” After she left, Wah Sing explained to Walden that the woman carried over washing from American House clients two to three times each week, and never paid him a cent for any of his work (#A118).

I have found only one piece in the Enterprise about the life of Wah Sing in Wellington. At least, I am assuming it is about him, because the paper referred to the subject by five different names, all of which were racially charged. Late one spring night, William Gulde and Clinton Wadsworth–their names were printed consistently–beat and robbed the proprietor of the Chinese Laundry. The article describing the assault was oddly titled, “Celestial,” a term used in connection with Chinese immigrants in the nineteenth century, because China was traditionally known as the Celestial Empire. “Chinsing [i.e. Wah Sing] has the reputation of being a very quiet man and would do nothing to harm anyone and their unceremonious departure at that hour of the night from the business room of an inoffensive foreigner and the condition of his person and room will be a hard matter for the boys to explain away satisfactorily to an intelligent public” (3-18-1891, pg. 5).

Detail of a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for Wellington, Ohio dated November, 1911. Shows businesses operating on the east side of North Main Street, including "Chinese Laundry."  OhioLINK Digital Resource Commons. Accessed 1-26-2014.

Detail of a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for Wellington, Ohio dated November, 1911. Shows businesses operating on the east side of North Main Street, including “Chinese Laundry.” OhioLINK Digital Resource Commons. Accessed 1-26-2014.

After the American House was demolished in 1902, Wah Sing apparently relocated his laundry to a wooden building on the east side of North Main Street, the former home of the Star Bakery. The structure no longer exists; it was condemned after a massive fire destroyed the adjoining business block in 1915. (The brick building presently occupying 206 North Main Street is dated 1941 on its facade.) The details of his life become even murkier from our vantage point. Walden wrote that Wah Sing left behind a son in China, who wrote to him in English and had been planning to come to America to attend school. “Waugh, we understood, was saving every penny he could for this boy and to return to China himself” (#A118). But with the tightening of travel restrictions after passage of the Exclusion Act, that dream was no longer possible.

Wah Sing grew old and lonely, and as a consequence began to drink and gamble. The timing of his decline is unclear, but according to Walden’s recollections he was still alive until at least 1915. “For years of toil and saving, the mystic cord of love had bound him to his old home and son in China. Once he had returned there for a visit, but it was obvious now that it was broken or too attenuated to draw him back again. Because of the Chinese exclusion [sic] Act, he could not bring any member of his family to America had he so desired and he chose not to go back there himself” (#A119). Walden claimed that Wah Sing died in an opium den in Cincinnati. I have no way of checking the truth of this, at least at present, and do not know what year he died or how old he was. Or even his real name.

I find the image at the top of the post so evocative. The sign is tiny, microscopic in the larger scheme of things. Wah Sing is nearly impossible to see in the street-level view of Wellington life. He is literally subterranean. But if one takes the time to investigate, it’s impossible to deny that he is there.

UPDATE: I was able to locate Wah Sing in both the 1900 and 1910 federal census records for Wellington. (He was listed as “Sing Wah” in one of the documents.) Though there are contradictions between the information provided by each listing, it is intriguing nonetheless. The 1900 census states that he was born in October 1854, making him about 45 years old at that time. It noted that he emigrated to the U. S. in 1878, so just before the Exclusion Act passed, when he was about 23 years old. He spoke English, but could neither read nor write; it is unclear whether this means “in English” or “at all.” Ten years later, the census takers listed his race as “mulatto” and his age as 59, about four years older than the earlier census suggested. Under the category of years married it seems to say “78,” which makes me wonder if this was the year of Wah Sing’s marriage, just prior to leaving China. In 1910, he was apparently renting a house on what is today East Herrick Avenue, and his occupation was “Proprietor [of] Laundry.” Ten years on, he still could not read or write. This later census recorded his emigration to the United States as occurring in 1880, and if he was truly 59 at the time of the enumeration, he would have been about 29 when he left home, rather than 23. In any case, well more than half his life was spent away from his family and friends in China.

PLEASE NOTE: I added a follow-up post about the trial and conviction of the 1891 laundry assailants here. More importantly, I subsequently uncovered additional information that proves some of the assertions in this post to be incorrect. That post can be found here.

Prosser vs. Prosser

Headstone of George Hilo Prosser (1855-1921), Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Headstone of George Hilo Prosser (1855-1921), Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

As regular readers of the blog know, I have been slowly making my way through all the extant nineteenth-century issues of The Wellington Enterprise, from 1867 to 1900. At present, I’m reading the year 1890. A lengthy article caught my eye, because it described an acrimonious divorce case in great detail. I noticed that the couple in question, George and Mary Ann Prosser, had the same last name as a family that rented my Italianate from the early 1930s until after World War II.

Owen Prosser (1877-1953) was a local barber. I had the privilege of conducting an oral history last year with his step-granddaughter, Mrs. Pat Markel. She remembers her grandmother and “Mr. Prosser”–as she always called him–living in the house on North Main Street. I intend to write more about that in a later post, but I was immediately curious to know if there was a connection between the Prossers of my home, and the Prossers of the divorce case.

I did some genealogical research and determined that Owen Prosser and George Prosser were brothers. Their parents, Hilo (1828-1887) and Mary Meredith (1832-1909) Prosser, emigrated to Ohio from England and eventually settled in Pittsfield, where they produced at least eleven children. George was second oldest, born in 1855, and Owen was the baby of the family, born twenty-two years later. The Prosser siblings spread all over Pittsfield, Wellington and Brighton, and many of them are interred in Greenwood Cemetery. Owen would only have been about thirteen years old when George divorced. He was not directly involved in the events I’m about to describe, but several of his older brothers were.

Undated image of Owen Prosser at work in his shop on North Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo 970603 of "Wellington Family Album" Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

Undated image of Owen Prosser at work in his barbershop on North Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo 970603 of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

In 1890, George Prosser was a trustee of Brighton township. He had been married to Mary Ann Runals in 1877 (the year Owen was born) and they had three children. George began to believe that Mary Ann was having an affair. “[H]is first suspicions of the infidelity of his wife arose from her relations to his brother” (Enterprise, 3-19-1890, pg. 5). Charles Prosser was two years younger than George and worked for him on his dairy farm, but was “discharged” in 1887 because of George’s jealousy. Two summers later, George hired a man named Henry Haynes to help on the farm and Haynes moved into the family home.

George soon claimed to observe his wife blowing kisses to the hired man, and testified that he saw them eating ice cream together and dancing at the public hall during the annual fair. He later saw his wife leaving an outbuilding of the family farm, “brushing her dress,” with Haynes following shortly after. George enlisted the help of younger brother Thomas Prosser (1867-1918) to confirm his suspicions. “While he [Thomas] was looking through the openings in the lumber pile he saw Haynes enter the corn-house and make a loud rapping noise, soon after which Mrs. Prosser came out of the house in her stocking feet, and entered the corn-house. Leaving his hiding place he went to the door, which was not closed, and saw them both upon the floor in the rear of the house.”

George Prosser then laid another trap for his wife, pretending to visit a sick relative, “but soon returned and crawled under the house, which stood on stone blocks.” Apparently satisfied by what he heard, he went to an attorney to file for divorce the next day. But he had one final snare to spring. George asked another brother, Frank (1872-1948), and brother-in-law Tom Burton, to help him catch the pair in the act. In the middle of a September night, the three men broke into the Prosser house. “Frank had a loaded revolver, and Tom had a dark lantern. The stairs landed in Haynes’ room, and when half way up they saw defendant lying on the front side of the bed, and Haynes lying beside her next to the wall. Both were undressed, and the bed clothing was thrown back over the footboard.” The three men grabbed the hired hand, tied him up, and dragged him down the stairs and into the front yard. George Prosser “went to the barn, procured his rattan carriage whip and commenced whipping him.” They then untied Haynes and sent him back into the house to pack up his belongings, but before he left the aggrieved husband took Haynes’ pocketbook [i.e. wallet] and removed ten dollars from it, presumably as some sort of compensation for damages done to his marriage.

Mary Ann Prosser had a very different story to tell, and she took the stand to defend her own reputation. She denied that she had ever been unfaithful and painted a picture of a spouse who was irrationally jealous and physically abusive. “At one time he knocked her down without any provocation. At another time he threw a basket of potatoes at her which he had dug for breakfast, because she had not got breakfast ready, she waiting for the potatoes. At another time he pulled her ears until the flesh was ruptured behind them. On one occasion he kicked her severely because she remonstrated against his abuse of a horse.” The night of the whipping, Mary Ann claimed that she was in her room and, hearing the noise of the brothers breaking into the house, ran to Haynes for help. She was then held at gunpoint while the Prossers bound and beat an innocent man. Her testimony, the paper reported, “was given without hesitation, and at times with much feeling” which seems to suggest that the writer believed her.

Haynes was ill with consumption and could not appear in court, but submitted a deposition categorically denying any improper involvement with Mrs. Prosser. He had denied all the allegations while he was being bound and hauled into the yard, and only later confessed to adultery while he was being attacked, “extorted under the terrible blows of the whip and a threat that he would be whipped until he did confess.” Now safe from additional harm, he retracted the forced confession.

A few other witnesses testified, including Mary Ann Prosser’s mother, who saw the grievous injury to her ears and “black and blue spots” from other incidents of spousal abuse. In giving his decision, the judge noted his discomfort with George Prosser beating Haynes and then taking his money. He did not want to find against Mrs. Prosser as an adulterous, preferring “to render a decree that would leave no stain upon the innocent children.” George Prosser agreed to withdraw his petition, which allowed the judge to grant Mary Ann Prosser a divorce on her cross-petition, on the grounds of “extreme cruelty.” He awarded custody of the couple’s oldest daughter, Stella, and their son, Elmer, to George; Mary was awarded custody of younger daughter, Ida Belle. Both parents were granted visitation rights and Mary was given alimony in the amount of $1,500, as well as “cows and horses to the value of $500.” George was ordered to pay all court costs excluding his ex-wife’s attorneys.

This story has a wild ending. I wondered what happened to Mary Ann after her divorce. I know that George married again, and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery with two of his later wives. A little digging revealed that Charles Prosser–the younger brother with whom Mary Ann was initially suspected of infidelity–is buried in LaGrange, Ohio with his wife…Mary Ann Runals Prosser. The divorce was finalized in March 1890 and according to Ohio marriage records, “Charley” and Mary Ann wed on November 30th of the same year. Their son, Ray, was born in 1892 and was living with them for the 1910, 1920 and 1930 federal censuses; by 1930, Ray’s Scottish-emigrant wife, Bessie, had also moved in. Mary Ann’s daughters by her first husband, Stella and Ida Prosser, both listed their uncle/stepfather Charles as “father of the bride” on their marriage licenses, which perhaps suggests estrangement from George, their biological father. Charles Prosser died in 1936, meaning the lovers had almost fifty years together after her disastrous first marriage. I wonder if George felt vindicated when he heard the news?

Headstone of Charles (1857-1936) and Mary Ann (1855-1945) Prosser, LaGrange Township Cemetery, LaGrange, Ohio. Image from website "Find a Grave.com."

Headstone of Charles (1857-1936) and Mary Ann (1855-1945) Prosser, LaGrange Township Cemetery, LaGrange, Ohio. Image from website “Find a Grave.com.”

The Union School

"Main Building," from "Catalogue of Wellington Public Schools" (1899).

“Main Building,” from “Catalogue of Wellington Public Schools” (1899).

“THE SCHOOLS have from the beginning been the special pride of the town, and Wellington has always given its youth the best advantages for obtaining an education, which the circumstances of the people would permit, and now she sustains one of the best high schools to be found in the State” (The Wellington Enterprise, 6-5-1889, pg. 1).

On the very first page of the earliest surviving issue of The Wellington Enterprise–dated September 19, 1867–is an article about the new Union School house. It calls the construction of the school “prominent among the improvements on foot in Wellington” and describes in detail the proposed dimensions and amenities of the building. Stone was coming from “the Berea quarries” and local manufacturers Kirk, Bennett & Co. had won the masonry contract for digging the basement. More than 400,000 bricks were expected to comprise the finished structure, topped by a slate-covered mansard roof installed by the Cleveland firm of Towsend & Co.

There had been some controversy over where to locate the school. Two years earlier, the Lorain County News published a dispatch from Wellington correspondent J. B. Lang that revealed, “We understand that a location for the new Union School house has been decided upon, and the lot surveyed and taken possession of, against the wishes of the owner, Mrs. Howk, who we understand threatens to destroy anything they may place upon it. We are sorry that it was necessary to take that course on the part of the school directors, as we learn from conversing with the people, that Mrs. H. has many friends, who will embarrass and trouble the directors, if not entirely defeat their plans. All this will be attended with more or less expense, and have to be paid by those who feel as though they were already paying rent instead of taxes. Besides these reasons, it will create a disagreeable feeling among our citizens, which should, if possible, be avoided” (8-16-1865, pg. 3). “Mrs. H.” may refer to Theadocia Howk, early settler Alanson Howk’s widow; an 1874 map of the village shows that she owned more than forty acres of land that ran north-south from today’s East Herrick Avenue down almost to Pleasant Street, immediately east of the eventual school grounds.

Postcard image reprinted in Alan L. Leiby's "Memory Lane, Wellington, Ohio" (2012), pg. 30.

Postcard image reprinted in Alan L. Leiby’s “Memory Lane, Wellington, Ohio” (2012), pg. 30.

Little more than a decade later, an addition was already in the works. “The contract for building the new wing to the Union School building has been let to Mr. Black, for the sum of $5,795, which includes everything except furniture, furnishing and Kalsomining [i.e. whitewashing]. The contract for brick work is sub-let to Messrs. Bennett & Holmes, and the stone work to Mr. Richard Gibbons. It is to be completed and ready for occupancy Dec. 25th, 1879” (The Wellington Enterprise, 7-17-1879, pg. 3). The wing added four new rooms, each with a large adjoining closet. An 1880 editorial praised, “We do not hesitate to say that these are really the finest school rooms in the State of Ohio” (1-15-1880, pg. 3).

By 1885, a new steam heating system was installed in the school, the twenty-year-old furnaces having worn out from use. For $2,200, the Toledo firm of Shaw, Kendall & Co. put in a state-of-the-art system, which immediately reduced the heating costs of the building by some fifty percent, or $300 per year. Previously, very cold weather had sometimes resulted in the cancellation of classes, because the old furnaces were not capable of maintaining a reasonable temperature in all rooms. But the steam method resulted in “rooms [that] have been kept at a uniform temperature though the whole winter, all the while comfortable…This season there has been no complaint, and we may congratulate ourselves on having as cheap and perfect a system of heating as any school building in this section of the country” (4-1-1885, pg. 4).

"High School Building, Wellington, Ohio." Postcard printed in Germany for J. W. Houghton. Author's collection.

“High School Building, Wellington, Ohio.” Postcard printed in Germany for J. W. Houghton. Author’s collection.

The school sat in the center of several acres of green space (see image above) and public traffic across the grounds was an ongoing issue. In 1880, the Board of Education issued a notice that, “Parties living in the vicinity of the Union School grounds, who are accustomed to cross them on their way to and from town, are hereby notified it is unlawful and is strictly forbidden by the Board. Measures will be taken if necessary to enforce this requirement. It is hardly necessary to present a reason for forbidding pedestrians the use of the grounds for foot paths and we hope this notice will put an end to the practice of running over them” (4-22-1880, pg. 3).

It did not. Nine years later, a nearly identical notice was published in the paper. “Persons living on South Courtland street and on Carpenter street are requested not to cross the lawn in front of the school building, but to keep the walk. The path being made by such persons greatly mars the beauty of the lawn, which is not used as a play ground by any of the pupils. Those crossing the school grounds with delivery carts are also asked to keep the walks. It is hoped that no personal request will need to be made to those improperly using the school grounds in front of the building” (1-16-1889, pg. 5).

It was not until the twentieth century that the Union School was incorporated into a greatly expanded facility that served as a township high school. The stately Italianate was gradually swallowed up in 1916, 1938 and 1953 additions, which put an entirely different facade on the structure, as well as enhancements such as an auditorium and gymnasium. In the 1960s, a modern high school building was erected on North Main Street, and the “old high school” was redesignated as McCormick Middle School.

View from Courtland Street of the Union School, still visible within the structure of McCormick Middle School. Photo by author.

View from Courtland Street of the Union School, still visible within the structure of McCormick Middle School. Photo by author.

Sadly, the Union School is not long for the world. Plans are underway to construct a new middle school, adjacent to the 1960s high school on North Main Street. My understanding is that the present middle school is due to be demolished within the next few years and its grounds are to be turned into a public park. Having just written a post about the loss of the Opera House, I suppose it goes without saying that I already mourn the loss of yet another monument to Wellington’s past.

Too Much Married

Map of Section XI; the Crabtree family occupies adjacent plots 480, 499 and 500. From Linda Boyles Navarre's "Records of Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio" (1997), pg. 42-A.

Map of Section XI; the Crabtree family occupies adjacent plots 480, 499 and 500. From Linda Boyles Navarre’s “Records of Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio” (1997), pg. 42-A.

A few months ago, I wrote a post about the Crabtree family. John Crabtree was a butcher, born in England, who emigrated to Wellington and lost three members of his immediate family in a matter of weeks. I mentioned in passing his youngest daughter, Hattie, and the fact that she died relatively young. What I did not know is that Hattie had a tragic experience of her own that also made news in the town.

Reported to be Too Much Married. In our issue of June 5th appeared the marriage notice of Mr. Andrew N. McD. Murdock of Cleveland, to Miss Hattie Crabtree of Wellington,” reported The Wellington Enterprise in 1889. Twelve years had passed since a teenaged Hattie lost her mother, sister and brother in a single, terrible summer. The paper continued, “June 26 reports reach us that the late [i.e. recent] groom has two companions, one residing in St. Louis, Mo., and the other in Cleveland, and turns out to be a gentleman forger” (6-26-1889, pg. 5). Murdock was wanted in at least two cities and charges of bigamy had already been brought against him by “Wife No. 2” in Cleveland. At the time of publication, Hattie and Murdock were reportedly in Pittsburgh, and John Crabtree was en route to Pennsylvania to retrieve his daughter.

A week later, Hattie was allegedly in Canada. The Enterprise reprinted a brief article from a Detroit, Michigan newspaper which noted that Detroit detectives were also now in pursuit of the couple. “Murdock came here [Detroit] a week ago and stopped at the Griswold House with his wife. He left the next day without paying his board, and later the father of the young woman accompanying Murdock arrived and claimed that Murdock was a bigamist” (7-3-1889, pg. 5). Murdock was soon captured by a detective who recognized him on the street. He first denied his identity and claimed to be named McDowell, but a search of his personal effects revealed a marriage license for his May 31st wedding to Hattie. “The Crabtree woman has been sent home and professes to know nothing of Murdock’s shortcomings.”

The final mention that I found of this unfortunate series of events was published the following week. Hattie returned to Wellington on July 4th and “her husband” was in jail in Cleveland for infractions totaling over $600, a considerable sum when a month’s rent in the village was about $10. “Our fair damsels in the Cheese City should not be in haste to marry traveling men,” the paper snarked. “A thorough investigation as to their standing will do no harm and will certainly be of untold benefit to the intended bride and all concerned” (7-10-1889, pg. 5).

When Hattie died in April of the following year, just twenty-nine years old, her obituary made no mention of the most highly publicized moment of her life. She was accorded the dignity of being referred to as “Mrs. Hattie Murdoch” [sic] and “kindly remembered by all who knew her in Wellington.” Murdock’s mother in Newark, New Jersey, “forwarded by express a beautiful floral piece,” so she at least knew of the young woman’s connection to her wayward son. There is no indication in the obituary of Murdock’s whereabouts.

John Crabtree passed away eleven years later. His lengthy obituary noted the difficulties of his life and his struggle to maintain religious faith in the face of great loss. There is very little about Hattie, except for the following passage: “The faithful father’s love for his child came out beautifully about the time of the death of his youngest daughter. There was nothing in him of the hard and unforgiving spirit which sometimes makes parents recreant when the parent’s supreme obligation is upon him” (3-27-1901, pg. 4) I read this as a comment on John’s lack of bitterness about Hattie’s death at such a young age, rather than a reference to her earlier troubles.

What is strikingly missing from this entire narrative is Hattie’s voice. Did she truly know nothing of Murdock’s actions? How did she come to meet such a character, and why did she marry him? When she decided to marry, did she already know that she had consumption, the illness that would end her life so quickly? Was she humiliated to return to Wellington after all the sensational coverage in the press? Or was she the type of person who did not care what other people thought of her actions? There is no way to know.

Record of Harriet [Crabtree] Murdock's burial in Greenwood Cemetery. The asterick indicates that no stone has been standing on the grave since at least 1995. From Linda Boyles Navarre's "Records of Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio" (1997), pg. 44.

Record of Harriet [Crabtree] Murdock’s burial in Greenwood Cemetery. The asterick indicates that no stone has been standing on the grave since at least 1995. From Linda Boyles Navarre’s “Records of Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio” (1997), pg. 44.

There is one more way in which Hattie is hidden from us. She is buried in an unmarked grave next to her family’s monument. I was unable to find her through a visual search of the cemetery, so I checked Records of Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio, compiled by Linda Boyles Navarre in 1997. Sure enough, the Crabtree family lies in plots 499 and 500, and “Harriet Murdock” is in adjacent plot 480. There is no additional information provided. Was there a marker on the land at any point? Why would the young woman receive a funeral “largely attended” by “loving friends” but receive no headstone? I have so many unanswerable questions.