Monday, December 17, 2012

My Famous Relatives: Richard Gere

Richard Tiffany Gere, born 1949.
A few years ago David and I found that he was related to many crowned heads of Europe. It was exciting. And it was one of the factors that spurred me to delve into the genealogy of my own family. For months I searched for a celebrated blood relative of my own, but without luck. At last, however, I began to turn up relatives who had made some wider mark on the world. One thing rewarding about famous relatives is that there’s usually a lot more information available than just dates and names. Perhaps the best known of the famous relatives that I’ve discovered so far is the actor Richard Tiffany Gere (born 1949).

How are Richard Gere and I related? We’re tenth cousins. Our common ancestors are our mutual great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents Samuel Rider (1601-1679) and Anne Gamlett Rider (abt. 1605-1695). They immigrated to the USA from Northampton, England, between 1636 and 1638, and I’ve mentioned them in previous posts to this blog.

With Debra Winger in An Officer and a Gentleman.
The Rider branch of the family provides the blood relationship between Richard Gere and me, but we also have a family connection through two marriages. My second cousin twice removed Charles Elwood Grant (1900-1945) married Helene Thelma Stafford (1902-1985), Richard Gere’s tenth cousin once removed. And Helene’s sister Hilda Lucille Stafford (1898-1973) married Roy Robert Grant (1897-1988), another of my second cousins twice removed. As I’ve written on this blog before, the Staffords descend from Mayflower passenger Richard Warren (1580-1628) and his wife Elizabeth Walker Warren (1583-1673). And so does Richard Gere.

Richard Gere has never been an actor whose career I particularly followed. I recall first being aware of him when the movie An Officer and a Gentleman was released in 1982. I saw the movie during its original theatrical run and enjoyed it. But I was far more interested in one of the movie’s locations than I was in Richard Gere’s leading role.

Fort Worden State Park, near Port Townsend, Washington.
An Officer and a Gentleman was partly filmed at former US Army base, now State Park, Fort Worden near Port Townsend, Washington. I spent a week at Fort Worden in 1974 when I was one of the two kids selected from Clallam County to attend a retreat for fifth and sixth graders with a talent for writing and drawing. In addition to working on the book the students all collaborated on—my contribution was a linoleum block print of Herby the Medicine Man from Ruth Plumly Thompson’s The Giant Horse of Oz—I explored, with adult supervision, Fort Worden’s spooky old, partially flooded military bunkers. And in the boys dorm I learned definitions of terms for sexual prophylactics that had previously been opaque to me. So when I saw An Officer and a Gentleman I was more interested in the shots of Fort Worden than in Richard Gere.

The poster in Judi's room.
But I continued to be aware of Richard Gere, as ubiquitous a presence as most any movie star in US culture. When I was in art school one of my female apartment-mates had a poster of Richard Gere hanging in her bedroom. His white tank top-clad torso and tight jeans so blatantly screamed sex symbol that I scoffed at the poster. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so derisive if I’d known back then that he was my cousin.

I remember hearing jokes in the 1990s about Richard Gere’s conversion to Buddhism and trips to Tibet. Why were people who didn’t even know him so concerned by Richard Gere’s religious life?

I went with a group of friends to see The Cotton Club in 1984. We went opening day because one of the friends was a big Francis Ford Coppola fan. I remember kind of liking the movie, contrary to the general reaction, but beyond Diane Lane, the Hines brothers' dancing, and a scene of someone shaving with an old-fashioned razor which I think I admired for the historical research and the ability of anyone to shave with such an instrument, I don't really remember the movie. I certainly didn't remember Richard Gere was in it until reviewing his career for this blog post. Well, it's been a while.

In And the Band Played On.
I've seen a few of his other films that I actually recall him being in. Days of Heaven from 1978. Something called Power from 1986, which I saw on an airplane.  Sommersby, a 1993 movie he did with Jodie Foster, I barely remember except for the scene where Gere quotes from Homer’s Iliad. I was impressed to see him in 1993’s And the Band Played On, a tv adaptation of Randy Shilts’s book of investigative journalism into the early years of the AIDS crisis. In that Gere played a thinly disguised version of Broadway choreographer Michael Bennett.

More recently I’ve seen him in Shall We Dance, a solid, middle-of-the-road Strictly Ballroom-wannabe, notable for Stanley Tucci’s comedic performance. I thought Gere made a perfectly respectable Billy Flynn in the movie version of the play Chicago. I have friends—many of them dancers—who thought the movie of Chicago was terrific. I'm afraid it seemed mostly like lukewarm Cabaret leftovers to me. But I don’t fault Richard Gere for problems with the material and direction. Or for the fact that Catherine Zeta-Jones—one thing in the movie I would call terrific—overshadowed everyone and everything else simply by appearing onscreen.

Richard Gere in recent days
Richard Gere married model Cindy Crawford in 1991, but they divorced in 1995. In 2000 Richard Gere and Carey Lowell had a son, my tenth cousin once removed, Homer James Jigme Gere. Homer is also the first name of Richard Gere's father, my ninth cousin once removed, Homer George Gere (born 1923). In 2002 Richard Gere and Carey Lowell married.

Richard Gere’s been in popular and critically praised movies that I haven’t seen—Pretty Woman, American Gigolo, the recent Arbitrage—so I can’t claim to be a big Richard Gere fan. But I’m certainly happy for his success and wish him the best in his continuing acting career. I also like being able to say I’m related to a movie star.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Preserving the Forest

In 1956 a few interested citizens of Mentor Headlands became aware that the obliteration of natural areas was progressing parallel with the growth of the community.
So begins an essay by my maternal grandmother, Arlene Wilhelmina Stuuri Hietanen (1917-1971), on the development of a school forest—a sort of outdoor classroom—at Headlands Elementary School in Mentor, Lake County, Ohio.

What the essay fails to mention is how vital my grandmother was to the project. Although many people were involved in making the school forest a reality, it was Arlene’s initial idea and her work at the forefront of every step that turned a leftover area of real estate into a community asset.

Diagram of Headlands Elementary School property, showing the area of the proposed school forest. This diagram may have been drawn by Martha Keltto. Click to enlarge.
In the early 1950s a twenty-seven acre plot was purchased for the site of Mentor Headlands Elementary School, but when the school opened in 1955 at what is now 5028 Forest Road in Mentor, only three acres had actually been built on. The rest of the property, a wooded area, was left untouched and was evidently regarded as useless.

Early examination of the forest behind the school.
Arlene realized that the woods behind Headlands Elementary School could serve both educational and conservationist purposes if it were designated as a permanent school forest where students could observe nature firsthand and learn about plants and animals, their growth and seasonal changes.

On September 18, 1956, Arlene wrote a letter to Warren H. Corning of the Holden Arboretum in Kirtland, Ohio, asking for advice on starting a school forest on the unused land. Corning forwarded her letter to Benjamin Patterson Bole, Jr., an assistant professor and naturalist at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Patterson Bole was on the executive board of Mentor’s Holden Arboretum and lived in nearby Kirtland Hills. Bole’s reply to Arlene’s letter gave specific advice on preparing a school forest—“There must be at least 75% of the actual ground surface that is free from the danger of running, romping children”—and he offered to visit the forest area to judge its potential.

Progress was slow for many months, but occasional signs of encouragement popped up. At one point Arlene communicated her tentative plans for a school forest to Mr. Coupland and Mr. Shadle of the Mentor School Board. The reply was, “Go ahead.” In spring of 1958, Carol Sweet of the Horticultural Committee of Mentor’s Garden Club encouraged Arlene to proceed with her plans.

Flowers in the school forest, photo probably by Alice Sinko.
Finally Arlene took Patterson Bole up on his offer to examine the forest area behind Headlands Elementary School. On March 24, 1959, Bole walked over the land with Arlene and a group of interested people that included Carol Sweet and Mrs. Coupland. Bole determined that the land had been cut only once before, in the 1880s. He pointed out its wealth of features—high ground facing every direction, low marsh areas unique to northeastern Ohio, evidence of forty Erie Indian fire pits and a possible Indian burial ground, the only wooded ravine preserved on Lake Erie’s shores between Cleveland and Painesville, and nearly every variety of tree, wildflower, and animal that was native to northeastern Ohio. Bole judged the site an excellent choice for a school forest.

On May 15, 1959, at the invitation of the Mentor School Board, Arlene and her partners presented a short proposal for a school forest at a school board meeting. The board reacted positively to the forest’s clear educational potential. Additional advantages were that the land was unused, it was adjacent to the school, and best of all, the school already owned it. The board authorized Arlene and her committee to proceed with their plans, requesting a more detailed presentation at the July 15th school board meeting.

Arlene wrote to Robert R. Paton, Forester with the Ohio Forestry Association, Inc., requesting copies of the association’s booklet “Planning School Forests.” Using this booklet as a guide, Arlene, Carol Sweet, Harriet Forbes, Martha Keltto and others formed a committee within the Mentor Headlands Garden Club to spearhead the school forest project.

At the July 15 Mentor School Board meeting the board listened to a full presentation from Arlene and her group on the proposed school forest. The school board enthusiastically approved the plan.

Arlene and Harriet Forbes invited Arlene’s Ohio Forestry Association correspondent, Robert Paton, to tour the forest area on October 22, 1959. Also in attendance were Superintendent of Schools W. W. Zinser, Headlands Elementary School Principal Wayne L. Kihorany, teachers from Headlands Elementary School, members of the Garden Club, and other interested parties. Arlene served luncheon at her home to Robert Paton and the Garden Club committee, then they met the rest of the group for the forest tour. Afterward Paton declared that the forest had the potential to become one of the finest school forests in the state.

A meeting of some of the movers and shakers behind the Headlands School Forest. Robert Paton at upper left, Headlands Elementary School Principal Wayne Kihorany at upper right, B. Patterson Bole at lower left, and Arlene Hietanen at lower right. From an unidentified news clipping.

Planning sped onward. In January 1960, Robert Paton mentioned several experts from Columbus who were interested in the Mentor Headlands school forest project. After viewing the forest on February 2, 1960, one of the experts, Robert Finley, Supervisor of Conservation Education of the State Department of Education, said he’d seen nothing in Ohio to compare with it. Carl Johnson, professor of Conservation at Ohio State University and Chairman of the Ohio Forestry Association’s School Forest Committee, observed that the proposed school forest was “the cheapest classroom you have.” The experts proclaimed it an excellent teaching tool for not only Headlands Elementary but for all the schools in the area, as well as for scouting organizations and other groups interested in conservation. Arlene and her co-workers made sure that local reporters attended this meeting.

Press coverage increased as a School Forest Board was appointed by the Garden Club Committee and school officials. The board included all the interested parties, plus representatives from the town and school. Maps were drawn, trails marked, identification markers both permanent and seasonal were prepared, and class projects were planned. A school essay contest on the theme “Our School Forest” and a drawing contest pertaining to “a trip to the woods” were announced.

An early student tour of the Headlands School Forest. Arlene Hietanen stands at right, face partly obscured by leaves.
On February 25, 1960, the wooded area behind Headlands Elementary became a true school forest. That day Arlene led Mrs. Speece’s fifth grade class on the first Headlands School Forest walk. Over the next few months more than four hundred fourth, fifth, and sixth graders followed in their footsteps. Arlene’s speech for the class walks began: “This is our outdoor classroom; it is also something else—it’s a home, of wild flowers, birds, trees, animals, and we will enter it as guests—with respect for what we see.” She pointed out varieties of wildflowers—trillium, trout lily, may apple, to name just a few from her lists. She had the students listen to birdsong and taught them about the importance of conservation. One of the features both she and the kids seemed most delighted by was fungus.

Unidentified newspaper clipping. Click to enlarge.
Her notes on Bracket Fungus read in part: “The spore develops by protruding one or more tiny threads or ‘mycelia’ that finally penetrate into the cells of a tree and steal nutrients manufactured for the tree’s own growth. In time the tree will starve.” And, “It has its good points though: it makes a fine absorbent dressing for cuts and other wounds.” And more charmingly, “It has been called the ‘dryad’s saddle’ because long ago when people believed fairies and nymphs peopled the woods they thought these tiny ones used the growth as seats or stools.”

One letter of appreciation from Mrs. Speece’s student John Ryerson reads, “We found out about . . . wooden mushrooms . . . puffballs, fungus . . . We liked the old Indian village and the dried up Grand River. The Indian pits were very interesting.”

Class representative Douglas Pohto of Mrs. Speece's class wrote a thank you letter to Arlene Hietanen after the first day of school visits to the Headlands School Forest. Douglas Pohto is Arlene's (and my) relative by marriage. Douglas's great-uncle's daughter Hilja Pohto married Jacob Kauno Hietanen, an uncle of Arlene's husband Everett Hietanen. Used with the permission of Douglas Pohto. Click picture to enlarge.
Formal dedication of the school forest took place on April 29, 1960, proclaimed by Ohio Governor Michael DiSalle as Arbor Day. Invitations had been sent to all the Mentor Elementary Schools, asking that each send representatives to the ceremony. Arlene’s partner in the project, Harriet Forbes, was guest speaker. She recounted the steps taken in planning the school forest and stressed the importance of conservation. Among other features the winning student essays were read aloud and the school chorus sang.

Planting the tree at the school to honor Arlene Hietanen.
The final announcement of the ceremony was a surprise. It had been decided to honor the person who had led the way and contributed so much time and effort into making the school forest a reality. Headlands Elementary School Principal Wayne Kihorany announced that a tree would be planted in front of the school—a tree in honor of Arlene Hietanen. And so it was.

The plan had never been to limit the Headlands School Forest only to school groups, so Boy Scout groups and special science classes also toured it. The Mentor Garden Club led forest tours for any interested parties. Arlene enlisted her sister Alice Lillian Stuuri Sinko (1915– 2002), my great-aunt, to photograph wildflowers in the school forest for use in talks to schools, scouts, and others. Arlene spoke to various organizations about the school forest, how it came to be and the importance of teaching conservation. The October 1967 issue of American Home magazine published an article by Dorothy B. Warnick on the Headlands School Forest. Arlene continued to take an active interest in the preservation of natural features of her community, especially in the fate of Mentor Marsh, which was finally declared a Living Museum under the custodianship of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in 1971.

The Mentor Marsh portion of the Headlands School Forest. This photo was probably taken by Arlene's sister, my great-aunt Alice Stuuri Sinko.
Arlene Hietanen and Martha Keltto were involved with the Headlands School Forest until their deaths, but after they were gone, the school forest languished. In the 1970s Headlands Elementary School teacher Gwen Stephens Meissner was assigned the job of reviving the school forest and was instrumental in bringing it back for a while. But when Meissner moved on, the Headlands School Forest languished once more.

I never toured the Headlands School Forest with my grandmother Arlene. She died young while I was still a child. But I remember her interest in nature and conservation. One summer she had my sister and me catch caterpillars and keep them in old cigar boxes where they built cocoons. It was quite a surprise one morning to open one of the boxes and find a large moth inside, seemingly from nowhere. On another visit she took us walking through Mentor Marsh where I remember her pointing out Queen Anne’s Lace and the sassafras tree’s three distinct leaves, which we picked and chewed.

My grandmother was proud of her accomplishments. But nothing lasts forever—not Headlands Elementary School (it closed in 2011 due to declining enrollment, it’s now the Dr. Jacqueline A. Hoynes School housing the Cardinal Autism Resource Education School), not the school forest (it languished after Meissner’s revival), not the pine tree planted in my grandmother’s honor on Arbor Day 1960 (it was gone in the 1990s), and not my grandmother. She died in 1971.

Arlene knew that change was part of life and believed in the importance of understanding life’s cycle. As she said to the children she led through the Headlands School Forest, “As we talk here now, it is changing—there are things being born out of the ground, there are things dying and returning to the ground. . . . You can see it happening. Some are weak, some are strong, some help others, some hurt others. We can learn all this if we look, listen, and think. . . . This is the way we are citizens of our country. This is a little piece of this great country.”

Thursday, December 13, 2012

House Hunting

Both my great-grandfather, Louis Dillard Kirkpatrick, and great-great-grandfather, William Henry Kirkpatrick, were mayors of Bridgeport, Texas - and sadly over the years we have lost track of the location of William Henry Kirkpatrick's home. I do have a fine photo of the house showing William and his wife Macarinah sitting on the front porch. Please note you may click on any of the photos to make them bigger.

Home of William Henry Kirkpatrick in Bridgeport, Texas  (taken before 1908).

William Henry Kirkpatrick died in1908 and this photo predates his death, as he is sitting on the porch with his wife, Macarinah. Mac lived in the house until her death in 1921. Here she is late in life, standing in the front yard, showing the view toward the street.

Macarinah Bridges Hunt Kirkpatrick in Bridgeport, Texas.

My memory is that my mom showed me this house a couple times when I was little and finally in 1993 on her last trip to Bridgeport. As I recall, it was on Stevens Street somewhat west of my great-grandparents' home.

A couple years ago Royce Raven, a historian in Bridgeport, sent me a photo of what he thought might be the house which stands at 1400 Stevens Street.

House at 1400 Stevens Street, Bridgeport, Texas.

Now, clearly the photos have some differences - mainly that the newer one shows a house nearly twice the size of the Kirkpatrick house in the 1908 photo. However, I was struck by how similar the right-hand side of the house was to the 1908 home - the narrow window (ignore the shutters on the newer photo) and the unusual rounded porch design. Given that the two images were taken from a very similar angle and position, I couldn't resist doing an overlay in Photoshop.

Composite image of the 1908 house and the 1400 Stevens St. house.
Below is a more transparent version that better shows how the two houses align. The pointed roof and the rounded porch seem virtually identical and the window lines up exactly, as well.

Transparent view of the two houses.

The house is approximately where I remember my mom showing it to me in 1993. And given the architectural matches, I strongly suspect this is the old Kirkpatrick home. A couple of my cousins are not convinced. I look forward to examining the house at 1400 Stevens if it is still standing when I next get to Bridgeport. I heard a couple years ago it was being eyed as a future parking lot.


One of my cousins who has not previously agreed with me about the identification of this house suggested that just possibly the original photo was printed backward and that I might try flipping it. I have now done so and (if that's the case) I am more sold than ever! Here's the same overlay, but with the pre-1908 image flipped.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Bert Clayman "Ed" Shanower, 1923-2012

Bert Clayman "Ed" Shanower (1923-2012), circa 1944. Used with permission.
I never met my second cousin twice removed Ed Shanower, although I've met his daughter, son-in-law, and one of his granddaughters. Our common ancestors were Ed's great-grandparents John and Polly Shanower, whose grave I showed a picture of here in a previous posting about a pizza restaurant owned by one of Ed's grandsons.

Last Friday, November 23, 2012, Bert Clayman "Ed" Shanower, of New Philadelphia, Tuscarawas County, Ohio, passed away at Community Hospice House in New Philadelphia. He was eighty-nine. I knew he'd been in and out of the doctor's office in recent months, but death is always a blow to the family and friends remaining.

Here's some information about Ed Shanower's life, drawn mainly from his obituary:

Ed, as family and friends called him, was born September 23, 1923, in Burton, Ohio, to Olen Earl Shanower (1887-1970) and Cora Edith Mathias Shanower (1892-1977). He joined the United States Army in 1944 and served as an Infantryman during World War II in the Central European and Asiatic-Pacific Theatres. On August 23, 1947, Ed married Dola Jean Zimmerman (1929-2010) at her family's home. They were married for sixty-two years until Dola's death two and a half years ago. Ed worked for many years as a mechanic at the Ford Garage at Sugarcreek, Ohio. Later he operated the Walnut Creek Sohio Garage where many recall his service. He ultimately retired from the Ohio Department of Transportation in New Philadelphia. He belonged to the Baltic American Legion, the Baltic Conservation Club, and the First United Church of Christ in New Philadelphia. He enjoyed playing golf at Five Waters and playing cards with his family.

He's survived by his children; many grandchildren, step-grandchildren, and great-grandchildren; nine of his eleven siblings; and lots of nephews and nieces.

The funeral, with military honors, was earlier today in Dover Burial Park. A reception followed in the Hospitality Room of the Dover Geib Center. You may honor Ed's memory or light a virtual candle in his name by visiting his permanent memorial located on the Geib Family Funeral Home's website here. Memorial contributions in Ed's name may be directed to The First United Church of Christ, PO Box 422, New Philadelphia, Ohio 44663, or to Community Hospice of Tuscarawas County, 716 Commercial Avenue SW, New Philadelphia, Ohio 44663.

My thoughts are with Ed's family. I offer my condolences to all who knew him. I thank Rocky Shanower for permission to post the photo of Ed above.

You can read Ed's full obituary on this site.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Thanksgiving Strangler

Gravestone of Harvey Allen Shanower, Massillon, Ohio.
Sensational Story Uncovered

I hope all my USA readers had a lovely Thanksgiving of 2012. One hundred years ago this week, the aftermath of the Thanksgiving of 1912 was far from lovely for my first cousin three times removed Harvey Allen Shanower (1884-1970) and his wife Edna I. Hardgrove Shanower (1889-1912). Harvey strangled Edna to death.

Recently I visited some Shanower graves in Massillon, Ohio, including that of Harvey Shanower. Afterward I stopped in to the Genealogy Room at the Massillon Public Library. Jean Adkins, the personable and helpful genealogist, did a computer search for Massillon Evening Independent newspaper articles containing the name Shanower. Among the first search results appeared a partial headline from December 3, 1912. It mentioned arrest and murder. Intrigued, we located the article. The full headline read:


The shocking story was front page news. Subsequent issues of the Massillon Evening Independent continued the revelations.

Harvey Allen Shanower (1884-1970).
I knew about Harvey Shanower from an essay written by his great-niece, Sarah Elizabeth Rueckert Snyder (1907-?). It outlines the lives of the nineteenth and early twentieth century Shanowers of Massillon, Ohio. Her paragraph on Harvey concentrates on his employment in Massillon’s steel industry. I also knew that Harvey had married a woman named Florence Verla Hodnot (1897-1979).

But I’d never heard or read anything about Harvey strangling a wife named Edna—a woman, a marriage, and a crime that were completely new to me. Yet Harvey wasn’t such a distant relation. My grandfather Stanley Raymond Shanower (1917-1987) and his brothers attended the same Shanower family reunions that Harvey did. So I’ve known relatives who had opportunity at least to meet Harvey. But no hint of this sensational story had reached me before this.

As far as I’ve been able to determine, Harvey Shanower’s murder of his first wife was suppressed so completely that no one alive knew it had ever happened. I certainly understand why Harvey’s family and friends back in 1912 would have wanted to put this story behind them. But one hundred years later I don’t have any qualms about bringing this skeleton out of the closet for its centennial.

Harvey and Edna Shanower

Harvey Shanower grew up in Massillon, Stark County, Ohio, near Canton, and became a machinist by trade. About 1910 when he was twenty-six, he married twenty-one year old pianist Edna Hardgrove, and they settled in her home town of Barberton, Summit County, Ohio, near Akron.

Reports of their wedding are melodramatic. The unsubstantiated story is that Harvey ushered Edna at gunpoint from her parents’ home to a minister’s house where they were married. No one was notified of the wedding until nine days after it occurred.

Edna was popular with the people her age in Barberton, even after she became Mrs. Shanower. Her friends noticed that Harvey seemed to be a loving husband. He showered Edna with attention and always escorted her home when she played in the orchestra for local dances. Edna’s family, however, feared that Harvey’s intense relationship with their daughter masked an insane jealousy.

On Wednesday, November 27, 1912, the day before Thanksgiving, Edna cheerfully accompanied her mother, Sarah Ann Highton Hardgrove (1864-1930), an invalid for the previous four years, to Mrs. Hardgrove’s physician, Dr. Mansfield, to get medicine. Later that evening Edna played at a dance in Barberton given by the Maccabees, a fraternal order similar to the Elks and Eagles. A male friend of Edna’s asked her to play a certain piece, which she did. When the dance was over about 11:30 pm, Harvey scolded Edna for agreeing to the other man’s request, then as usual escorted his wife back to their home at 423 West Paige Avenue in Barberton.

Thanksgiving Without Turkey

Edna I. Hardgrove Shanower (1889-1912).
A quarrel started early the next day, Thursday, November 28—Thanksgiving. In the morning Edna told Harvey that she had no meat for Thanksgiving dinner. Harvey offered to go to the market, but Edna told him not to bother. She refused to go to a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner, but had no objection to his going without her. Harvey said he would stay home with her and eat whatever they had. Later Edna declined to go out for an afternoon walk, saying she didn’t feel good. After 4:00 pm she got a meatless supper ready, but refused to eat any of it. Harvey ate alone.

After dinner they reached some sort of truce. They went out to the movies and then picked up some sandwiches, eating at home and sitting up—not talking much—till about 10:30 before going to bed. Edna fell asleep right away, but Harvey, disturbed by their quarrelling, was restless. Not a very happy Thanksgiving for either of them.

Fatal Friday

On the morning of Friday, November 29, they overslept. Harvey had forgotten to set the alarm. He woke too late to get to work on time and decided to go in at noon. Harvey and Edna both got out of bed cross. After refusing to prepare breakfast, Edna announced that their marriage was a failure, that they could not make it work even if they tried for fifty years. They argued for hours. About 4:30 pm Edna told Harvey she could no longer live with him.

In a frenzy Harvey followed Edna upstairs to their bedroom where she put on her coat. He argued, pleaded, begged her to stay. But Edna’s mind was made up. She intended to go to her parents’ house.

Enraged, Harvey grabbed Edna’s throat and shook her. Edna fought, but she was no match for Harvey. As she struggled, his fingers closed around her neck. She collapsed.

Harvey couldn’t quite believe that she was actually dead, but he realized how terrible his actions had been. In despair he decided to kill himself. Perched on the edge of the bath tub Harvey wrote a letter to his younger brother Clarence David Shanower, Sr. (1889-1968), a letter full of remorse for “the deed,” as well as instructions about bills to be paid and debts to be collected. Then he gently tucked Edna’s body into bed and sat beside her, caressing her face, stroking the beautiful hair that had earned her the nickname “the bronze bride,” and begging her to wake up. Finally he had to face the fact that Edna truly was dead.

Harvey lost the nerve to commit suicide. He stuffed his letter into his pocket and left the house, intending to take the 5:54 pm train to Massillon to see his mother. But the train had been postponed, so he got a bite to eat before returning home for an hour. He straightened up the bedroom in an attempt to conceal all signs of struggle, then locked the front door behind him, and caught the 7 pm train.

Melissa Agnes Gerber Shanower (1861-1942)
In Massillon he went to 1614 Kent Street, the home of his mother, Melissa Agnes Gerber Shanower (1861-1942). Her husband—and Harvey’s father—William Zachary Shanower (1855-1903) had died almost a decade before, leaving Melissa a widow. Melissa and Edna did not get along well, so Edna’s failure to accompany Harvey to his mother’s house was unremarkable.

Weekend at Mom’s House

Harvey betrayed no sign of stress or strain. On Saturday, November 30, he walked around town, greeting friends he passed in the street, arousing no suspicion whatsoever.

During the afternoon of Sunday, December 1, Harvey and his brother Clarence went to a football game in Massillon and ran into their cousin, George Louis Cecil (1885-1959), son of their aunt Mary Ann Shanower Cecil (1843-1931). Cousin George asked Harvey how Edna was doing. She’d been fine on Friday night when he left her, Harvey explained, betraying no hint of any weight on his conscience.

Monday Surprise

Over the weekend Edna’s invalid mother, Sarah Hardgrove, grew nearly frantic with concern. She and her husband, William, lived in Barberton, the same town where Harvey and Edna made their home, but they hadn’t heard a word from their daughter for days. At first William tried to calm Sarah’s fears, but by the afternoon of Monday, December 2, they were both worried enough to report their concerns to the Barberton police.

Barberton Chief of Police H. E. Eby and at least one police officer accompanied William Hardgrove to Harvey and Edna’s home about 7:30 Monday evening.  The Saturday and Monday newspapers were still lying on the front porch. Eby entered the house using a skeleton key and found Edna’s lifeless body upstairs in bed, under the covers, still wearing her scarf and coat. Her throat had deep fingermarks and her left side was bruised. Barberton coroner R. C. Kenning confirmed death by strangulation and ordered Harvey's arrest for the crime.

Terrible Tuesday

Shortly after midnight the police woke the Shanower household in Massillon. They arrested Harvey on suspicion of murder and locked him up for the night in the Massillon police station.

Around noon on Tuesday, December 3, Massillon Mayor Arthur N. Kaley, Massillon Chief of Police Edward M. Ertle, and Barberton Chief of Police Eby subjected Harvey to an hour-long grilling in his cell. Harvey coolly maintained his innocence. Mayor Kaley confronted him with the letter found in his pocket, a letter that seemed to point directly to Harvey’s guilt. But Harvey steadfastly claimed that “the deed” referred to in the letter meant his contemplated suicide, not murder. He’d written it in despair after a quarrel with Edna had driven him crazy, he said, but she’d been alive and safe on Friday evening when he left her.

In spite of all circumstances pointing to Harvey’s guilt, his composure impressed his interrogators, as well as a reporter who was also present. Mayor Kaley was so impressed that when the session ended, he shook hands with Harvey and offered any help he could give.

After the interrogation, Chief Eby drove Harvey by automobile to Barberton prison. Word of the murder and Harvey’s arrest had spread. Although many who knew Harvey in Massillon found it hard to believe him capable of murder, the population of Barberton, where Edna and her family were well known, was hostile toward Harvey. Crowds formed around Barberton prison, waiting for Harvey’s arrival with Chief Eby. The Barberton police were summoned in order to quell any violence that might break out.

Just before 3:00 pm, Eby sped up to the prison entrance through crowds yelling threats to lynch the murderer. Harvey was hurried inside and placed in a cell. Barberton Mayor Mitchell held a preliminary hearing at which Harvey pleaded not guilty. A $10,000 bond was fixed and Harvey was bound over to the common pleas court.

Harvey begged to see Edna’s body one last time before she was buried. But city officials, aware of growing anger in the Barberton populace, were concerned for Harvey’s safety and refused his request.

Chief Eby hurried Harvey back outside into the car. The crowd shouted threats and photographers took pictures. Harvey tipped his hat over his face at first, but then changed his mind and raised his hat, displaying his calm for all to see.
I know this is a bad reproduction of this newspaper photo, but it's the best I have. Near the center Harvey Shanower gazes calmly from the car just as it's about to leave Barberton prison for the Summit County court house in Akron, December 3, 1912. Barberton Chief of Police Eby is to the right of Harvey at the wheel. Officer Kretzmer is to the left of Harvey in the back seat. On the extreme left is Officer Bart, one of the men who found Edna's body. The insert at top right is, of course, Edna.

On the drive to the Summit County court house in Akron, Harvey completely reversed his position. He confessed to Chief Eby that he was guilty of the murder and promised to reveal the details when they reached Akron. At the court house Harvey took half an hour to relate the whole story to Prosecuting Attorney Frank J. Rockwell, Sheriff David R. Ferguson, and Chief Eby. Then he collapsed. He was taken to a cell in the Summit County jail and held without bail on a charge of first degree murder. Guards were stationed at the jail to prevent any attempt to lynch him.

Meanwhile, Edna’s body was taken in a white casket to her parents’ home on Baird Avenue in Barberton. Edna’s invalid mother, Sarah, was so hysterical with grief that two doctors were in constant attendance. The rest of the family would not allow her to see Edna’s body. They feared that the shock would kill her.

As Time Goes By

The next day, Wednesday, December 4, at 1:30 pm Edna I. Hardgrove Shanower was buried. Reverend U. M. Roby of the United Brethren Church conducted the funeral service at the Hardgrove home. It was one of the largest funerals Barberton had ever seen. The crowd was so large that Mayor William Mitchell stationed a squad of police around the house in case of trouble.

At the same time Edna was being buried, Harvey was back in Mayor Mitchell’s court in Barberton being arraigned a second time. On the advice of S. A. Decker, the Barberton attorney retained to represent Harvey, he pleaded not guilty, despite his confession of murder. He waived preliminary examination and was bound over to the next session of the grand jury. His brother Clarence met him at court in order to make arrangements for Harvey’s clothing in jail.

On Thursday, December 5, Harvey was noticeably gloomy in his Akron jail cell, all calm and composure gone. He barely touched his breakfast and paced back and forth in his cell, muttering to himself. Authorities feared he might attempt suicide, so a close surveillance was assigned to him. By this time they were more concerned that Harvey would kill himself than that someone else would.

The Summit County grand jury was scheduled to meet in January. A grand jury panel of fifteen men was selected on Friday, December 6.

On the following Thursday, December 12, Sarah Hardgrove was at last able to sit up and eat for the first time since hearing the news of her daughter Edna’s murder.

As the days passed, the public couldn’t stop talking about the murder. The Barberton populace seemed to hold no sympathy for Harvey, but in Massillon and Akron sympathy was widespread, in part because the murder had been unpremeditated. Even those with no sympathy for the confessed murderer hoped that he would be sentenced to life imprisonment rather than go to the electric chair. Rumors circulated that Harvey would plead insanity. But his attorney S. A. Decker maintained that he hadn’t yet formulated a defense.

Day in Court

The general sympathy for Harvey Shanower seemed to be shared by those who’d brought him to justice. Police Chief Eby confessed to feeling sorry for Harvey. Massillon Mayor Arthur Kaley expressed sympathy for a local boy in trouble. In January 1913 they were both among those called by the Summit County grand jury to testify in the Harvey Shanower case. Harvey’s cousin George Cecil appeared before the jury as well. On January 28 at 2:00 pm the grand jury indicted Harvey on a charge of first degree murder.

In early February Harvey was arraigned before Summit County Judge Ahearn where he entered a formal plea of not guilty. A trial was scheduled for Monday, March 17.

Attorney Decker seems to have been discharged, because on March 14, the Friday before the trial was to begin, Harvey and a new attorney, Judge Anderson, conferred with the Summit County prosecutor, who agreed to a reduction in the charge from first degree murder to second degree murder. Harvey appeared before Judge Ahearn, pleaded guilty to second degree murder, and was immediately sentenced to life imprisonment.

In the Pen

Late Monday, March 17, Harvey was transferred to the Ohio state penitentiary at Columbus to begin his sentence. But that was hardly the end of the story. Forces were at work behind the scenes.

James J. Wise was the former mayor of Massillon, Ohio, his hometown, and in 1912 he’d been elected State Senator. In May 1913 after visiting Harvey in the penitentiary, Senator Wise took Harvey’s regards back to the people of Massillon and reported that Harvey was considered a good prisoner and a hard worker.

By December 1915 things were looking up for Harvey. In Massillon, petitions for clemency had been signed by officials and employees of Harvey’s former manufacturing plant, the pastor and members of his former church, and other prominent citizens. The week before Christmas Senator Wise, along with Ohio Representative Milo Cathorn and Harvey’s brother-in-law Frank Stoner, brother of Clarence Shanower’s wife Icy May Stoner Shanower (1891-after 1933), interceded with Ohio Governor Frank B. Willis on Harvey’s behalf. Governor Willis agreed only to go so far as to turn the case over to the state board of pardons.

Harvey’s partisans refused to give up. Their efforts to free Harvey finally paid off. On June 26, 1917, James M. Cox, now Governor of Ohio, issued a pardon for Harvey Shanower. Harvey was free.

On July 9, 1920, Harvey, now thirty-five and employed by Russell and Company where he’d learned his machinist trade, married again, this time to Florence Verla Hodnot of Massillon. Their marriage lasted fifty years until Harvey's death on November 16, 1970.

That’s pretty much the story, exposed once more to the light of day for all to see.


Gravestone of Florence Verla Hodnot Shanower Kirby.
When I initially discovered the story of Harvey Shanower, strangler, I found it exciting. But in following the newspaper accounts through to his release from prison and second marriage, my feelings became conflicted. It’s kind of creepy the way Edna disappears from the story as if even the memory of her life was buried with her dead body. But there’s one consolation. If punishment is meant as a preventative, then Harvey’s time in prison—four and one quarter years—seems to have succeeded. His second wife Florence outlasted him by nine years, surviving to marry her second husband, Carl Kirby.

But poor Edna.

I trust that your Thanksgiving was more enjoyable than hers. I guess one lesson to be learned from this is to remember that if you’re cooking dinner next Thanksgiving, don’t neglect to put some meat on the table.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

My Gay Relatives: Gold Miner Jacob Huss

Everyone has gay relatives, whether one knows they’re gay or not. As a gay man, I’m interested in identifying my gay relatives. I know several living ones, but I’m more intrigued by those from the past, the hidden ones.

Before the twenty-first century, being attracted sexually to someone of the same gender was far less acceptable in Western society than it is today. There was a time when the subject of homosexuality was taboo in public. Today’s familiar topic of equal marriage rights for LGBT people would have been a concept inconceivable to many in bygone days. Of course, prejudice against homosexuals is still around, but it used to be greater. Most lesbians, gay men, and bisexual people of yesteryear tended to hide their sexual preferences. They would “stay in the closet”—consciously or unconsciously—to avoid negative repercussions from society, from family, from the workplace, from organized religion, even from self.

So it’s difficult to identify gay relatives when most traces of their homosexuality never made it out of the closet, much less into the historical record. How can one draw conclusions about any aspect of people’s lives when all that’s left are names, some dates, and family relationships?

Marital status can be a clue. Homosexuality is one obvious reason an adult might remain single. But a lack of marriage is hardly conclusive—there are any number of reasons people don’t marry. And in a culture of repression, gay people do marry those of the other sex. Married or unmarried, a specifically gay person is virtually impossible to recognize from such scanty remains.

More information is necessary. Most times there isn’t more information—not information that contains clues to sexual preference, anyway. But once in a while there is. Case in point: Jacob Huss.

Grave of Jacob "Jake" Huss (1830-1911), Clyde, Ohio
Jacob Huss (1830-1911) was the tenth of eleven children born to my great-great-great-great-great-grandparents Noah Huss (1790-1843) and Mary Burkholder Huss (1789-1849). Jacob’s elder sister Eleanor “Ellen” Huss Hawk (1812-1889) was my great-great-great-great-grandmother.

The information that I have about Uncle Jake comes primarily from his 1911 obituary in an unidentified Sandusky County newspaper. He was born and died in Green Creek, Sandusky County, Ohio, but what he did in between is fascinating.

Uncle Jake lived with his parents on the family farm until he was twenty years old. In 1850 the California gold fields called to him. He followed the footsteps of the previous year’s Forty-Niners to northern California and became a placer miner. Placer mining is the mining of gold or other minerals from alluvial deposits found in stream beds. So far, so good. Nothing to exclude that Jacob Huss was gay, but then, nothing to confirm it, either.

Uncle Jake never married. His obituary calls him a “bachelor,” a word that, if spoken aloud with a certain emphasis, has long been a code word for “gay.” I can’t honestly claim that the person who wrote the obituary definitely intended this understanding, but it’s a possibility—especially when considered in the light of what follows.

Grave of James Carson (1822-1906), Weaverville, California.
The obituary continues. “For nearly 40 years he and his boon companion, James Carson, made their home at Weaverville, Trinity county, California.” Now, when I first read this, I immediately leaped to the conclusion that Uncle Jake and Irish immigrant James Carson (1822-1906) were a gay couple. Two men who live together for almost forty years as boon companions is about as clear an announcement of that as seems practical in an Ohio newspaper of 1911.

Eventually paralysis struck James Carson, who was Uncle Jake’s senior by eight years. Jake “cared for him as a brother until the end, then gave him a Christian burial” in Weaverville Cemetery. Clearly Uncle Jake was devoted to the man the obituary calls his “partner.” Now, the word partner has many aspects. In 1911 could it have implied a member of a gay relationship, however that was conceived of? Possibly not—but the obituary certainly doesn’t say that Uncle Jake and James were business partners.

Now comes an interesting twist. After James died, we learn that “kind friends at Weaverville, especially Miss Lizzie Fox and her family, did what they could” to comfort Uncle Jake. Who’s this Lizzie Fox? Should I throw out the window my assumption of Uncle Jake being gay?

Not necessarily. Elizabeth “Lizzie” Fox (1833-1908) seems to have been part of a crowd. She was the foremost of Uncle Jake’s “kind friends” along with unnamed members of her family. Lizzie was evidently important in Jake’s life, but who knows if there was more than friendship between them? They were close in age. He would have been in his mid-seventies and she was three years younger.

Perhaps there was a romantic relationship between them, and because no marriage resulted, the writer of the obituary, for propriety’s sake, calls them friends and doesn’t mention romance. Or perhaps Lizzie had romantic intentions that weren’t reciprocated. Or perhaps there was no romance because Jake was known to be gay and the obituary writer hoped to obscure this by throwing in a woman’s name. Or perhaps there was never any thought of romance on either Lizzie’s or Jake’s part because Lizzie was gay, too. I find no indication she ever married.

[UPDATE 11/27/2012: In nineteenth century Weaverville, California, there was an Elizabeth Johnson born in Ireland in the 1830s, who immigrated to the USA in 1847. Elizabeth married William Orson Fox—called Orson—on August 15, 1861, and gave birth to five children. Orson Fox was born in Suffield, Connecticut, on October 31, 1824, and died in 1897 in Weaverville, leaving his wife Elizabeth a widow. It's possible that she is the Lizzie Fox mentioned in Jacob Huss's obituary, although I don't know why she'd be called "Miss."

Also in the Orson and Elizabeth Fox household were five nephews and nieces, children of Elizabeth's brother-in-law William I. Hupp and apparently left with Elizabeth and Orson after their mother Isabella Johnson Hupp, Elizabeth's sister, died in the 1870s. One of these nieces was also named Elizabeth and called Lizzie. So it's also possible that Miss Lizzie Fox of the obituary instead refers to Elizabeth Fox's niece Elizabeth Hupp, who perhaps was called Fox instead of Hupp because she'd been raised in her aunt and uncle's Fox household.]

Extremists may question my conclusion that Jacob Huss was gay. I would argue that the evidence weighs more on the side of his being gay than not. It’s unusual for two unrelated straight men to live together for forty years and care for each other like family, particularly with no indication of one employing the other. The obituary provides subtext—as well as not-so-subtext. Remember that “boon companion” bit?

In addition to the obituary’s wording, which can’t help but be subjective, I believe that the context of Uncle Jake’s traveling to the California gold rush is also telling.

The frontier has always been a place where non-normative activity is tolerated. The California gold rush was overwhelmingly male. Many of the miners were unmarried. I’m not saying that all or even most of the men who went to the gold rush were gay. I am saying that gay men in the gold rush had fewer societal pressures to conform to heterosexual norms than gay men had in the east. The attraction of such an environment to a twenty-year-old young man who felt different from those around him is easy to understand. The opportunity to explore one’s homosexuality without negative consequence was greater in the west—and so was the opportunity to strike it rich.

But I don’t think Uncle Jake and James Carson made fortunes in the gold rush. In January 1909, less than a year after Lizzie Fox died, seventy-eight-year-old Uncle Jake returned to Green Creek, Ohio, to live with relatives. He died two years later, February 13, 1911, at the home of his nephew, Chaplin Lorenzo Rathbun (1845-1921), who’s my first cousin, five times removed. Jacob Huss was buried in Bakertown Cemetery, in Clyde, Sandusky County, Ohio. A few months ago I was happy to visit my gay great-great-great-great-great-uncle’s grave.

Uncle Jake and me.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Worth the Drive

John A. Shanower and Mary "Polly" Roush Shanower grave.
The past couple blog posts of mine have been heavy on the drama—what with murder and messy marriages—so this week will be lighter.


My fourth cousin Rocky Corlin Shanower and his wife Courtney Yoder Shanower own Park Street Pizza in Sugarcreek, Tuscarawas County, Ohio. Rocky and I share the same great-great-great-grandparents, Johannes "John" Abraham Shanower (1814-1859) and Mary “Polly” Roush Shanower (1820-1896).
Park Street Pizza and me.
I suspect Courtney and I might share some relatives, as well. I don’t have solid evidence of that, but every once in a while I run across Yoders marrying into my family lines. One of these days I’ll have to dig a little deeper into the Yoders.

Park Street Pizza seems to be something of a family business. Rocky and Courtney have two young sons, Rigsby and Raleigh, who aren’t old enough to work there, but Rocky’s sister Sarah Shanower Whiddon and brother Edward Shanower have both worked there.

At Park Street Pizza they’re dedicated to making great food and inventing new recipes for delicious gourmet pizzas. Rocky and his crew often seem to be attending one pizza competition or another. The company strives to be planet-friendly, buying their ingredients locally when possible and using recyclable products. Rocky and Courtney seem pretty principled about all this. Watch this Youtube video—it’s less than five minutes—and see:

A few months ago David and I went out for dinner at Park Street Pizza. We drove. Since Sugarcreek, Ohio, is about 2500 miles away from where we live, we did a lot of other stuff on the way. Actually, Park Street Pizza wasn’t the only reason we went, but sampling their wares was definitely on my list of things to do while planning our trip.

Rustic Chicken Pesto pizza.

We didn’t get to meet Rocky and Courtney when we stopped in—previous plans prevented them from meeting up with us. But the pizza helped to make up for that. And we did meet some other Shanower relatives that evening.

I’d have been glad to try just about every item on the menu, but that wasn’t practical. I ordered the Rustic Chicken Pesto pizza, made with basil pesto sauce, grilled chicken, red onion, and mozzarella, parmesan, and feta cheeses. It tasted just as excellent as that description sounds.

Park Street Deluxe pizza.
David ordered the Park Street Deluxe, topped with pepperoni, mushrooms, Italian sausage, green peppers, red onions, and hot banana peppers.

For dessert David and I split an order of Campfire Fun Smores Ravioli. “It’s like smores without the camping,” says the menu. All I know is that they were yummy, and by the end of the meal I was stuffed.

Campfire Fun Smores Ravioli.
I asked David whether Park Street Pizza was worth the 2500 mile drive. He wasn’t too sure about that, although he liked his pizza. Maybe 2500 miles is a little excessive. But if you live nearer than we do to Park Street Pizza, I say definitely stop by and order some of their delicious food.

Park Street Pizza is located at 215 Dover Road NW (that’s the same as Route 39) in Sugarcreek, Ohio. You can visit Park Street Pizza on the web at

Or call 330/852-2993 for delivery. There’s a minimum $10 order for delivery, and the delivery charge varies depending where you’re located, so ask about that when you call. If I didn’t think the delivery charge for a distance of 2500 miles would be exorbitant, I could easily order a pizza myself right now.

Click on either menu page to view it larger.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Shadow of Matti Hietanen


“Edla, darling, I fear we’re in for rough times. All I know is, if anything bad happens, deputy sheriff Rasmussen will be at the bottom of it.”

Matti Hietanen, Jr. (1883-1921)
“Matti, what are you telling me? What do you mean ‘if anything bad happens’?” Lately Edla had an almost constant dread of something bad happening to her husband. Up until two weeks ago Matti had walked the night patrol beat in Fairport Harbor. Every morning she’d thanked the good Lord above when he stepped safely once again through the doorway of their home.

“The trial is next week and I mean to tell the truth—the whole truth. There are men in this county that won’t like that. And Rasmussen is one of them.”

“Maybe you won’t have to say anything, Matti. Maybe Alex and Steve will be enough.”

Matti frowned at the floor. “Edla, I can’t fail to back them up. Alex is my partner.”

Edla didn’t know exactly what secret police work Matti was involved in, but she knew something had already gone wrong. Two weeks ago he'd been arrested with his fellow patrolmen, Alex Southerland and Steve Forks, for receiving intoxicating liquor. All three had been suspended from the Fairport Harbor police force and were awaiting trial. The trial was supposed to have been before the end of October, but for reasons that Edla couldn’t fathom, it kept being postponed.

Edla sighed. “This Volstead Act—this Prohibition—it’s brought nothing but trouble. I wish . . . I wish . . .”

“It’s no use wishing, Edla. Things are as they are. Our parents brought us here to the United States from Finland in hope of better things. But trouble is the same all the world around. There are Rasmussens everywhere.”

“But Rasmussen is deputy sheriff. He can’t be a bad man.”

“He’s an ambitious man. His father was famous in this town. The son means to outdo him. He has his eye on being sheriff of Lake County. One big case can make his career. I’m afraid he means for Alex, Steve, and me to be that case.”

“But that charge isn’t true!”

“Doesn’t matter to a man like Rasmussen. He’ll take whatever opportunity he can find—and woe betide the man who stands in his way.”

“Then you must stay out of his way, Matti.”

“I’m already in it, Edla. That’s why I’ve got to go talk things over with Alex and Steve. Don’t sit up for me—you need your rest. I won’t be long.”

“Be careful, Matti. The children can’t do without you. I can’t do without you.”

Matti gave her a quick kiss and then he was out the door and gone. Edla parted the window curtains just a little and watched her husband vanish into the Thursday evening twilight of late October.

She turned back to where she’d left her darning. The children wore holes through their stockings so fast, even little Ruth, who was only three and a half. Edla adjusted cushions and settled herself into the sturdy rocking chair. Seven months of pregnancy made it difficult to sit comfortably for a long time. Thank goodness her eldest daughter Elsie would be around to help when the baby came—especially if “anything bad” happened to Matti. But she mustn’t think about that.


Matti hadn’t come home all night. Edla had a hard time concealing her frantic worry as she got her five older children up and off to school. She tried to get through the housework, but Matti’s words of warning echoed in her head all morning. Then, just before noon, when she’d finally made up her mind to walk over to the police station and ask about her husband, two police officers had knocked at the door. She recognized them, but didn’t know either of them well.

Edla Sussanna Salo Hietanen (1884-1961)
They’d told her the news—Matti was dead, shot once through the heart. Edla had hardly been able to keep from collapsing. She had to see Matti, prove to herself that it was true. She’d dropped little Ruth and baby Dorothy at the neighbors. Then the policemen had brought her here to the Lake County hospital.

Now Edla stared at her husband’s dead face. The room was gloomy, full of harsh shadows cast by the single light bulb. Matti’s body lay on the table. Matti—her dear, darling Matti. He was gone. He’d never speak to her again, never take her hand as he always used to in that shy way when they were alone. She didn’t know how she’d make it through the next hour, much less face the rest of her life without him.

She let them lead her back into the ugly gray hallway. People bustled by—people who had no idea who Matti was. People who didn’t care that he was dead.

How had this happened? The officers wouldn’t tell her anything. Was Rasmussen responsible as Matti had hinted last night? Edla didn’t dare mention Rasmussen’s name—didn’t even know whether she could force the word past her lips. There were forces in play here that were far stronger than she was. Money and power and what else, she didn’t know. She couldn’t fight the men involved in Prohibition—neither the men who smuggled liquor across Lake Erie from Canada nor the men who fought them. She just wanted to go home. The older children would be arriving from school soon. She’d have to break the news to them. She would need all her strength just to do that.


Edla was resting in her upstairs bedroom, lying in the bed she and Matti had shared since their marriage just over eighteen years ago. Her insides felt scraped empty. Telling the children the awful news had been almost too much on top of her own sorrow. Without seventeen-year-old Elsie, Edla didn’t know how she would have even made it this far.

Elsie Emilia Hietanen Austin Behm (1904-1990)
Someone rapped softly at the bedroom door and stepped inside. It was Elsie. She sat down beside Edla on the bed. “Mother, how are you feeling?”

“Don’t worry, Elsie. I was born a stubborn Finn. I’ll go on.”

“Mother, I don’t know how to tell you—but you’ll need to see it soon. I suppose all of Fairport is already talking.” Elsie held out the evening newspaper. “Here. Read this.”

Edla took it. It was the Friday evening edition of the Painesville Telegraph. Why was Elsie bothering her with the newspaper? Edla had no room in her head for anything beyond her own family’s trouble. She held the paper toward the dregs of daylight falling through the window. She could just make out the headline.



The newspaper slipped from her fingers. She felt as if someone had punched her in the stomach.

"Mother?” said Elsie. “Mother, are you all right? Oh, I’m sorry I let you see it.”

“No, Elsie, don’t be silly. Read it to me. You know I don’t read English well. I need to know what it says.”

Elsie read aloud.

The newspaper was crazy. It told a story about a Matti that she’d never known. Last night he’d been down at that new pool hall over on High Street, Szabo’s, drinking with Alex and Steve. Then early this morning Matti and Alex had gotten into an argument. Matti shot Steve twice then turned the gun on himself. Sheriff Ora Spink had come over from Painesville to deal with the aftermath. And with Spink had come deputy sheriff Rassmussen. Edla couldn’t listen any longer. She laid a hand on Elsie’s arm.

“Is this true, Mother?” asked Elsie. "What the newspaper says?"

“No, Elsie. Burn it. Don’t tell your brothers and sisters. Your father’s dead—that’s all they need to know. I’m going to tell you what your father said to me last night, but you must never breathe a word of it to any living soul.”

“Yes, Mother. I’ll do exactly as you say.”


Saturday had been a blur—arranging for the funeral, arranging for the casket, and the delivery of Matti’s body. Alex Southerland had died in the hospital, and Steve Forks was nowhere to be found. But Sunday—already Edla could feel how Sunday would drag. All day they’d be at Zion Lutheran. Church service in the morning was first. The afternoon would be Matti’s funeral and then burial in the church cemetery. Leaving the house was the last thing Edla wanted to do, but the idea of staying home was absolutely unacceptable.

They owed it to Matti to show themselves, show that they were coping with tragedy. They’d hold their heads high in order to say that Matti wasn’t a drunk, wasn’t a murderer, hadn’t committed suicide—even though the whole Finnish community of Fairport Harbor knew those things already. Everyone knew what sort of man Matti Hietanen was, no matter what the newspapers were saying. But Edla and the children had to show them that right to the end Matti had been the man everyone knew. And the only way to do that was to show that she and the children were still the same, too.

Suomi Zion Lutheran Church and parish house, Fifth and Eagle Streets, Fairport
Morning service was a torture. She could feel the eyes on her, but when she raised her own, so many other eyes refused to look back. And the ones that did held looks she’d never seen before—looks of pity, looks of disapproval, and blank looks shielded by an impenetrable wall.

The pastor’s sermon had deplored the way that crime could ravage a community. He’d prayed for a blessing on Edla and the children. But the only time Matti’s name crossed the pastor’s lips was when he announced the funeral for the afternoon. Matti’s siblings and their families, even her own sisters, had been strange. They had spoken to her, true, even murmured words of consolation. But there had been a distance, almost a coldness, that Edla could barely bring herself to acknowledge was there.

Six-year-old Everett had run up to her after the service ended. He was crying because a friend had refused to play with him and called him a dreadful name. As they all walked back home to the house on Third Street, Everett’s older brothers Et and Al had teased him back into a better mood. But Edla’s mood had only grown darker.

Elsie carried baby Dorothy. Karl and Et were kicking through piles of dead leaves. Al was lost in dreams as usual. Once home they would just have time to see the casket with Matti’s body put onto the truck for the funeral, maybe eat a quick meal, and then they’d be on their way back to church to sing a few hymns and watch Matti being lowered into the ground. Edla’s back hurt—her pregnancy was really starting to show.

Was this the way it would be from now on? A shadow cast over them? Family and friends holding them at arms’ length? Why couldn’t everything go on the same way as before—only without Matti? She knew he hadn’t killed himself. He would never have pointed a gun at his own heart and pulled the trigger. But the world was saying different.

Today she had the funeral to think about. But tomorrow she needed to find paying work. She had seven children who needed her and an eighth was on the way. She couldn’t change the world—Matti was right, trouble was everywhere—but she would not let it defeat her. In her heart, where it really mattered, she would fight, and she would conquer. She would put this all behind her and simply go on.


The foregoing is a fictionalized account of the death in the early morning hours of October 28, 1921, of my great-grandfather Matti Hietanen, Jr. (1883-1921). No one can say for sure whether his death was a suicide, as the official story goes, or whether it was murder, as family tradition has it.

“Family tradition” may be a glorified term. Matti Hietanen’s death has been an established fact since 1921, but the circumstances surrounding it were suppressed within the family. My mother Karen Hietanen Shanower grew up knowing nothing of the events surrounding her paternal grandfather’s death. Then in the 1970s while doing some genealogical research she ran across the Painesville [Ohio] Telegraph article of October 28, 1921, the article referred to in my story above. Some high points of the article are as follows:
“An argument on politics and socialism, conducted in Andrew Szabo’s pool room . . . ended tragically . . . when Matt Heitenan [sic], Fairport policeman, shot and twice wounded Alex Southerland, . . . and then turned his revolver on himself. . . .

“At the time of the shooting five men were in the establishment. . . . In addition to Heitenan [sic], Southerland, Forks, Szabo, there was a man who is said to be John Merk, Szabo’s partner.

“Sheriff Spink and Deputy Edward Rasmussen arrived about 20 minutes after the tragedy took place, and proceeded to place Szabo under arrest. The latter is being held in the Lake county jail on a charge of possessing intoxicating liquor.

“Four chambers of the revolver were found empty by Sheriff Spink and Deputy Rasmussen when they arrived. The fourth shot can not be accounted for.

“Later in the morning, Prosecuting Attorney Ralph M. Ostrander and Deputy Rasmussen searched Szabo’s establishment for evidence of liquor. Empty bottles were found strewn about the place, but no liquor was discovered until they looked into the trap of a sewer. Then, they say, they found a quantity of liquor which had evidently been hastily poured there.

“Heitenan [sic], Southerland and Steve Forks were arrested October 13 on a charge of receiving intoxicating liquor. Their trial was to have been held some time this month.”
When my mother discovered this article she asked her father about it. Everett J. Hietenan (1915-1998) had been six-and-a-half when his father died and hadn’t been aware of the circumstances. But one of his siblings had since told him this: their father, Matti Hietanen, Jr., had told their mother, Edla Sussanna Salo Hietanen (1884-1961), that if anything happened to him, it would be deputy sheriff Edward Rasmussen’s fault. In-the-know family members believed that Matti Hietanen hadn’t committed suicide, but that he’d been a victim of murder.

Everett Hietanen’s eldest sister, Elsie Emilia Hietanen Austin Behm (1904-1990) had been seventeen at the time, old enough to remember what had happened. At first Aunt Elsie agreed to tell my mom what she knew about Matti Hietanen’s death. But then she changed her mind. Eventually all knowledge she had went to the grave with her. As my mom once wrote, Aunt Elsie died following her mother Edla’s advice to “put it behind them and get on with their lives.”

So the “official” story of suicide remains in conflict with the “family tradition” story of murder. No one knows how the truth might be discovered at this point. I prefer the "family tradition" version, however lacking in detail it may be. But I suspect that the truth may lie somewhere between the two versions.

There was a major split in the Hietanen family a couple generations ago, and those “stubborn Finns” wouldn’t talk about the reasons for it. Some of us in the more recent generations wonder whether the split had anything to do with Matti Hietanen’s death. Into my story above I put implications to support that possibility, but I want to make it clear that I have no idea whether that was actually the case.

I believe the bedrock of Matti Hietanen's death was Prohibition. The National Prohibition Act of 1919, known as the Volstead Act, was enacted by the US Congress to prohibit intoxicating beverages in the United States of America. Organized crime took over the illegal importation and distribution of liquor. Violence among rival gangs escalated as their influence grew. Many politicians either caved in to gang intimidation or, tempted by power and money, joined the illegal activity. But by 1933 public opinion had overwhelmingly condemned prohibition. In December 1933 the Eighteenth Amendment to the US Constitution was repealed. Prohibition was over. But not before many lives had been affected.

Edward T. Rasmussen, circa 1927, during the Velma West case
After Matti Hietanen’s 1921 death, Edward T. Rasmussen went on to achieve a degree of fame, surpassing the local Fairport Harbor fame of his father, seafaring captain N. W. Rasmussen. After serving as deputy sheriff of Lake County, Ohio, Edward Rasmussen ran for sheriff in 1924 against Arta Spink, sheriff Ora Spink's wife, and won election for the term 1925 to 1928.

In 1928 Rasmussen was peripherally involved in investigating crimes surrounding the 1926 gangland murder of Donald Ring Mellett, editor of the Canton [Ohio] Daily News, slain for his newspaper crusade against underworld activity during Prohibition. Mellett's bravery is still celebrated today in journalism circles.

However, the case that brought Rasmussen’s name to national attention was that of “Hammer Killer” Velma Van Woert West’s 1927 murder of her husband, Thomas Edward West. Young socialite Velma bashed in T. E.’s head with a claw hammer in their Perry, Ohio, honeymoon cottage. This murder had nothing to do with Prohibition, but more to do with a bridge party given by Velma’s lesbian lover Mabel Young. Associated Press articles reveled in the lurid details of the case, spreading sheriff Rasmussen’s name across the country from Florida to Washington state. Rasmussen's fame, though wide, seems to have been brief.

Velma West (right) with her legal team
Family tradition doesn’t implicate Lake County sheriff Ora Morris Spink in Matti Hietanen’s death, but as Rasmussen’s immediate superior at the time, if there was corruption in the sheriff’s department, Spink could have been involved. Like Rasmussen, Spink also had later career highlights. On October 25, 1922, nearly a year to the day after Matti Hietanen’s death, the body of Hazel Burns was found dead in a shallow grave near Painesville, Ohio. Hazel’s husband Harry Burns was charged with the murder. Sensational clues turned up around the marshy countryside—a pistol, a raincoat. The newspapers duly quoted sheriff Spink’s opinions.

I have little idea what happened to the other men mentioned in the Painesville Telegraph article about Matti Hietanen’s death: pool hall owner Andrew Szabo, his partner John Merk, policeman Steve Forks, and prosecuting attorney Ralph M. Ostrander. Alex Southerland evidently died from his two gunshot wounds, whoever inflicted them. Town Marshal John Werbeach seems to have lived in Painesville until 1980, and there are Werbeachs still living in Lake County.

I wonder whether any of these men have family who could shed any light on the three shots that rang out during those fateful early morning hours of October 28, 1921.