Poem to Helen Written by Bertha L. Watts

At the age of eighty-eight, my adoptive grandmother, Bertha L. Watts (Gra Gra) wrote a poem about her dear friend Helen L. (Sykes) Woolsey (1907-1998). I have mentioned in previous blog postings that Gra Gra was a poet. Her mind was sharp as a tack right up to the end. To be able to write such a poem at an advanced age shows how clear her mind was. However, she was legally blind well before that point; so, it meant that she would have had to dictate the poem to someone else and then someone typed it up for her.

Bertha was born on September 12th, 1891 so I thought it would be a fitting tribute to display her poem on this day. My featured postcard was one given to Bertha for her birthday in 1908. The card was blank on the message side but I think it may be from her cousin Martin James as he commonly sent postcards with the glitter writing. The postcard is embossed and was copyrighted in 1907 by R. Sander, in N.Y.

I remember Helen very well. She was a kind and gentle soul and always seemed to have a calm demeanor. I have spent some time researching a little bit of her genealogy and had originally intended to incorporate that into this writing. But, I was able to find out some interesting things particularly about her father and have decided to break that information into one or more additional postings.

One of the church groups that both Helen and Bertha belonged to was the Congregational Church Club at Riverpoint Congregational Church, in West Warwick, RI. I have included a photo of that group taken between 1970-80, shown at the end of this blog following the poem. I possess two separate written histories of Riverpoint Cong’l Church. One of them was written by Wilton Hudson who was the editor for many years at the Pawtuxet Valley Times–his wife is also in the photo. There is information in that history that includes Helen and her mother, as they were both involved with the church at various points. I want to include some of that information in my future stories.

Here is the poem, shown below in image form taken from a scanning of the original sheets. I worked on typing the poem into the body of the blog but I was having issues with the technical end of things and I could not get it to present correctly in the form of a poem and I was getting too tired to figure it out. That said, I hope the words in the images are large enough to read or can be zoomed in to make large enough to read.

To HELEN

Below is the photo of the CC Club. Helen Woolsey is the second from the right, in blue.

Shown left to right, Ruth Rose, Marian Allen, Edith Hudson, Bertha Watts, May James, Helen Woolsey, unsure of far right

The information I have on the reserve side of the above photo says that the lady on the far right is Elizabeth James. Aunt Elizabeth was sister-in-law to Bertha–wife of Uncle Lionel but she died in 1971 and I don’t think this photo is quite that old. And it is very difficult to tell in this picture if it is her for sure, I think it is possibly someone else but I am not sure. The reverse of the photo is stamped as developed in May 1980 but that was back in the day of film which was not always developed right after a picture was taken. Or, it could have been a copy made from a negative. That is why in the early part of the blog above I said the photo was some time between 1970-80.

I hope that you have found the poem interesting.

Until next time…

Silent Film Star Mary Pickford

Over a morning cup of tea–which I was only allowed during my weekend visits with my grandmother (Gra Gra)–the stories were learned of the “old” days when they had dishware give-aways at the movie theaters. She had quite the dish collection from these weekly movie shows, including many from the days of silent films.

Gra Gra was quite theatrical at heart. She directed Minstrel shows prior to the second World War. They ended those show productions because so many of the young men had to go off to war. A large trunk in the basement contained costume items which she would go through with me from time-to-time, reminiscing all the while of which costume belonged to which show. Although I no longer have the costumes, somewhere within all the old stuff that I do have are some posters from a few of those shows. My mom had appeared in some of those productions and I remember seeing her listed on the posters as a singer. When I eventually uncover those posters, again, they would be something nice to share within this blog.

LOCAL THEATERS

Over the years, there have been three old theaters in the West Warwick area of Rhode Island, that I know of anyway. I am not certain which movie theater Gra Gra attended most often during that time she collected all the “free” dishware. Nor, do I know which theater held those minstrel shows she directed (at least until I find those posters again). However, the oldest theater in town was called Thornton’s and was located in the Riverpoint section of town. This theater opened in 1895 and was destroyed by fire in 1910. The original building was replaced by a new theater but then was demolished in 1968.

In the Arctic section of town, the Majestic Theatre opened in 1901. It replaced a previous theater which was destroyed by fire. The theater was part of the Majestic Building, which is pictured on the postcard shown below and I remember as a hardware store. The theater portion of the building closed in the late-1920s and the entire building was demolished in the late 1990s.

The third old theater in West Warwick was also in the Arctic section of town, it was called the Palace Theater and was located at 85 Washington Street. This 1000-seat theater opened in 1921 and had been demolished by the end of the 1980’s.

MOTION PICTURE CAMERA AND SILENT FILM

The motion picture camera was invented by Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931). He made a patent application in 1891 for what was called a Kinetograph and a Kinetoscope, a motion picture peephole viewer. He went on to adopt a projector developed by Thomas Armat and Charles Francis Jenkins and called it the Vitascope, which premiered on April 23, 1896.

Although the Silent film era is usually noted as occurring from 1910 to 1929, the first silent film was actually made in 1903 (with multiple-reel films appearing in the US as early as 1907). This first silent film was titled: The Great Train Robbery and was produced by Edwin Porter and published by the Edison Manufacturing Co.

By 1916, in the US, there were more than 21,000 movie theaters.

MARY PICKFORD

My featured postcard today is a real photo style card showing Silent film star, Mary Pickford. By 1914, Mary became “the world’s highest-paid actress” and was soon afterward referred to as “The Queen of the Movies”.

Mary Pickford, was named Gladys Louise Smith at birth. She was born in Toronto, Canada, on April 8, 1892 and died on May 29, 1979, in California. Gladys was the daughter of John Charles and Charlotte (Hennessey) Smith.

Her middle name was changed to Marie in 1896 by a Catholic priest when Gladys became sick with diphtheria. She had two siblings: a sister Charlotte Smith, also known as, Lottie Pickford and a brother John Charles Smith, Jr., also known as, Jack Pickford.

Their father, John Charles Smith died in 1898 of a cerebral hemorrhage.

In 1900, Gladys made her stage debut at the Princess Theatre, in Toronto.

It was in 1907 that theatrical producer David Belasco suggested Gladys change her name to Mary Pickford. The last name being inspired from her maternal grandfather’s name, John Pickford Hennessey. Her mother and siblings took the last name of Pickford, as well.

In 1909, Mary performed in her first film, Her First Biscuits. It was during this time that she met her future husband, actor Owen Moore (1911-1920). They married on January 7th, 1911 in a secret ceremony, in Jersey City, New Jersey.

In 1912, the Famous Players Company was started by Adolph Zukor and in 1913, Mary played the role of Julia in her first feature-length film, A Good Little Devil for this new company. The film was actually released in 1914.

Notice along the bottom section of the front side of the postcard shown above, (as well as on the postcard shown below) the words printed: “MARY PICKFORD Appearing Exclusively in Famous Players Film Co. Productions”. The Famous Players Company formed a merger, in July 1916, with Jesse L. Lasky’s Feature Play Company, becoming Famous Players-Lasky. So, that would lead me to assume that both of these postcards would date prior to 1916, most likely sometime between 1913 to 1916. Both postcards were “unused”–no postmarks and no writing.

The back side of my featured postcard (shown first above) has the publisher printed as Kraus Manufacturing Co. (1912-1930), New York, NY. The second card (shown just above) does not show a publisher on the back. Kraus was known to publish halftone lithographic view-cards and cards related to the theater.

Both postcards have some fine print on the front indicating that each photo had been taken by the Otto Sarony Co and each are numbered. My featured card is numbered 10 and the second card is numbered 20.

Otto Sarony (1850-1903) was a photographer during the timeframe of 1875 to 1903. Although his name appears on the postcards they were most likely taken by a different photographer. In 1902, Otto sold the right to his name to Theodore C. Marceau. Otto died in September of 1903 and afterward the Otto Sarony label issued photographs taken by other photographers. In 1906, the Marceau Studio merged with the Otto Sarony Studio.

In August 1916, Mary formed the Mary Pickford Film Corporation and produced only Pickford films.

On March 28, 1920 Mary married Douglas Fairbanks (1920-1936), in California. They were the first stars to get their hands and feet imprinted in cement at the Grauman’s Theater, in 1927, in Hollywood. They were among the founding members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with Doug being the first elected president.

Mary’s mother Charlotte died on March 21, 1928 of breast cancer.

Mary’s first “talking picture” feature Coquette premiered on April 12, 1929, which would earn her an Academy Award for Best Actress the following year.

Her brother, Jack, died on January 3, 1933, at age 36, in Paris and her sister, Lottie, died on December 9, 1936, of a heart attack.

On June 24, 1937, Mary married Charles “Buddy” Rogers (1937-1979). They adopted a son in May of 1943, Ronald Charles Pickford Rogers and a daughter, Roxanne Pickford Rogers, in 1944.

Her autobiography Sunshine and Shadow was published in 1955.

In 1956, the Mary Pickford Charitable Trust began and was later renamed the Mary Pickford Foundation.

Her films are housed at the Library of Congress, she hoped they would be of interest for future generations. In January of 1979, Mary placed her memorabilia collection at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences library to establish “The Mary Pickford Collection”, allowing for use by students and scholars.

Mary Pickford passed away on May 29, 1979 after having suffered a stroke.

During my research, I did find where there have been several years of an event called the “Annual Mary Pickford Celebration of Silent Film” with some years in collaboration with other entertainment-related organizations. Due to all the restrictions of this past year, I don’t think that it took place this time around. The event may be something to watch for in the future if that is of your interest.

If you would like to learn more about Mary or the Mary Pickford Foundation, see their website at: marypickford.org

Until next time…

RELATED BLOG STORY LINKS:

Intro to my blog

Intro to Gra Gra & Volunteering at Kent Hospital

Radio Star Bess Johnson: Fan Letter

RESOURCES:

Britannica; History of Film; britannica.com/art/history-of-the-motion-picture/The-silent-years-1910-27; Accessed 21 March 2021.

Cinema Treasures; cinematreasures.org/theaters/united-states/rhode-island/west-warwick;
Accessed 21 March 2021.

Library of Congress; Film, Video; Barnes, J. D. , Cast, et al. The Great Train Robbery. prod by Porter, Edwin S. Uction, Camera United States: Edison Manufacturing Co, 1903. Video; loc.gov/item/00694220/; Accessed 20 March 2021.

Library of Congress. Life of Thomas Alva Edison; Biography; Articles and Essays; loc.gov/collections/edison-company-motion-pictures-and-sound-recordings/articles-and-essays/biography/life-of-thomas-alva-edison/; Accessed 21 March 2021.

Mary Pickford Foundation; marypickford.org/mary-pickford-chronology/; Accessed 19 and 20 March 2021.

The MetroPostcard; Metropostcard.com/publishersk.html; Accessed 20 March 2021.

Photography & The American Stage; broadway.cas.sc.edu/content/otto-sarony; Accessed 20 March 2021.

Thanksgiving Greetings: Lionel and Bertha!

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

I am grateful for the memories of holidays past and glad that I am able to share my family stories with you, including the one that follows. In today’s blog, I share a Thanksgiving Greetings postcard that was sent by Gra Gra (Bertha) and her brother Lionel to their grandmother (Grandma Julia), in Plainville, Mass.

The publisher of this postcard is not clearly identified, so I am not sure on that but it was postmarked in 1909 from Riverpoint (West Warwick), R.I. At the time this card was sent, Bertha would have been 18 years old and Lionel age 17. To me, it looks like Lionel’s handwriting on the card.

His handwritten message reads:

Love from your two big grandchildren. Lionel & Bertha.

Julia Ann Moore James (1836-1914) was a nurse as shown in the picture below. I have not yet identified who the other lady might be, whether it was a co-worker or a family member, I am not certain at this time.

Bertha Lillian (1891-1983) and Lionel Henry (1892-1969) were two of five children born to George Lang Parkhurst James (1869-1926). In addition to Bertha and Lionel, their sibling Howard Allan James (1894-1963) was the third child born to Martha Ella Carr James Cady (1873-1920). George and Martha were divorced in 1894. Since Martha had limited means, the two older children were placed with George and the baby Howard was allowed to remain with his mother.

The below pictures are identified, as follows: the top larger block is Bertha at 8 years old and is the earliest picture of her that I have found to this point, she is also in the picture just to the right of that at age 16 with the hair bow; the lady with the bangs is Martha and George next to her with Julia on the right which is a tin-type photo. I will show some pictures of Lionel further on in this story as I do not readily have a young picture of him.

George remarried to Susan Mary Henrich (1876-1956) and they had two sons together: Vincent Charles James (1901-1997) and Lester Hill James (1905-1996). Susan and the two younger boys are pictured below.

Bertha and Lionel remained close throughout their lives and he used to come to her house to help with things like shoveling snow or little handy tasks that needed tending to. Below is a picture of him after a winter snowstorm standing next to his car.

In my last blog, I mentioned about the summer cottage we had when I was young and we frequently had visitors including Gra Gra and Uncle Lionel. There is a picture below with myself, my brothers, my parents (my dad is hardly visible standing in back) and Bertha and Lionel. In my last blog, I mentioned about the back addition to the cottage and I thought it was about 1968 but this picture is from 1966 and I can see that the addition is already on the back by this point, so it was at least started by 1966.

In my last blog, I also mentioned a swimming area, in the Charlestown Beach area, called “Danger Deep” located at the shack. Below is a picture of Uncle Lionel swimming with us there. I am the blonde-headed kid in the water on the left side of the picture.

Although I am not able to gather with my children and grandchildren on this Thanksgiving Day, I am grateful to spend some time sharing my family memories with you. There are previous blogs that I have written that tie into the family members listed here today and I will make a list of those links below.

Uncle Lionel military service: Uncle Lionel: Fort Greble, RI; Vet of WWI

Other Links: Turkey Day Memories

Thanks Mom for the Effort!

A Thanksgiving Greeting from 1908!

Intro to Grandma Julia and the Bitgood’s Pine Knoll Laboratory

Intro to Gra Gra & Volunteering at Kent Hospital

Wishing all a Happy Thanksgiving!

Until next time…

Radio Star Bess Johnson: Fan Letter

For the first fifteen years of my life, until we moved, I was able to admire a certain 8″x10″ framed photograph on a daily basis.  This photo was of radio actress Bess Johnson and it always sat on my mother’s sewing machine, which resided in the corner nook of our dining space. The picture of Bess, shown below, is not the same one referred to above, which I still possess but could not locate it in time for this posting.

Radio Actress Bess Johnson

This blog piece will be the first part of a three-part series focused on Bess Johnson. I will begin the series with some background on the friendship that developed between Bess and my family. The second piece will provide more details about her own family history background and the final piece will focus on her career highlights. Unfortunately, I cannot pinpoint exactly when the other two pieces will be written, but I will try my best to complete them in the very near future.

Bess was born in Keyser, West Virginia, in 1901, and grew up in Elkins, West Virginia. She died in 1975, in New York City. She had attended drama school in New York. Her radio work began in 1930 and she became known as the “Queen of Daytime Radio” on serial soap opera’s such as the Hilltop House and Lady Esther. In my third part of this series, I will explore her career in greater detail.

Bess was married in 1923 to Dr. Solomon Perry. They had a daughter, Jane Orr Perry. They were divorced in 1936. Bess was granted custody of their daughter Jane and she waived alimony, stating she earned more than her husband.

Bess with daughter Jane

Though not blood related, in our home she was fondly known as Aunt Bess. Through the years, I had been told that she was my eldest brother’s Godmother. To the best of my determination, it was about 1932 when my grandmother “Gra Gra” had sent a fan letter and it began a warm friendship between she and Bess. The letter had been sent to Bess via the National Broadcasting Company in New York City. In the letter, Gra Gra had expressed concern of why Bess had not been making her daily appearances on the Hilltop House program–for which she was known at the time. Bess had been confined by illness in her apartment when the letter reached her.

To learn more background about Gra Gra, you might like to read my previous post: Intro to Gra Gra & Volunteering at Kent Hospital.

Bess Johnson and Bertha Watts

Around 1940, Bess invited Gra Gra to be her guest in New York, which she immediately accepted. My grandmother was not a traveler, only doing so on a couple of occasions–this weekend visit to New York being one of them. Many times, as we sat at the breakfast table during my weekend visits, I would hear Gra Gra tell the story about her visit to see Bess and the lasting friendship that developed.

Bess with daughter Jane, sitting is Pop Pop and Gra Gra standing behind him

On June 24, 1940, my grandparents (T. Wm. and Bertha Watts) celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. At the time, they were still living in the Carr-LeValley homestead on Fairview Avenue, in the Phenix section of West Warwick, RI. According to a later newspaper article, Bess had been among those who attended the celebration. The picture shown above I believe was from a different occasion at a later date. To read more about the Carr-LeValley homestead, please see my previous post: LeValley Homestead, Fairview Ave and Moore’s Motor Service Postcard.

The Carr-LeValley homestead in 1939, Fairview Avenue

My grandparents moved from Fairview Avenue shortly after they celebrated that anniversary and lived for a short time on Maple Avenue before purchasing their home on South Street.

In 1941, while residing on Maple Avenue, Pop Pop got a surprise phone call on his birthday which would have been February 20th. At the other end of the line he heard a birthday-greeting song that Bess had recorded for him via a special disc. At first, he thought someone was playing a joke on him.

Headline from a local newspaper article telling the story of Pop Pop getting a birthday greeting from Bess Johnson

Over the years, Bess and Gra Gra continued corresponding and I have found some of the postcards that Bess had sent while traveling. For each of the three pieces I write in this Bess Johnson series, I will feature a different postcard received.

In March of 1941, Bess sent this featured postcard to Gra Gra when she traveled to Indian River Ranch, in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. This linen postcard was published by Curteich, Chicago, it is a “C.T. Art Colortone” and was distributed by Doubleday & Co., Council Bluffs, Iowa.

The handwritten message reads: “Dear Bert, Will try to write a letter soon. Its lovely here. Jane and I are having a grand time. Its been so nice and warm. We came by train and were sore all the way. Give my best to the family. Bess.”

Later in 1941, my grandparents purchased their home on South Street, in West Warwick, where they would live out the rest of their years–pictured below, before there was a garage addition.

Bess would come to visit them at the South Street home at least twice that I have found documented, possibly more. When daughter Jane was gearing up to graduate from school in Norton, Mass., they spent several days. My mom, Marian, was noted to have accompanied them while attending a play presentation “Twelfth Night” at the school in which Jane appeared in the role of “Sir Toby”.

Headline from a local newspaper article outlining their visit from 1942

Here are some pictures taken during that visit, showing the large backyard garden and goldfish pool. Gra Gra and Jane are looking at the pool and Bess is relaxing in a chair for one photo while picking flowers in the other.

 

Below are pictures taken during a later visit, about 1952, showing my eldest brother, Mark, with the two poodles that belonged to Bess.

 

My mom, Marian and Jane (with the flower in her hair) are pictured below.

More pictures will be shared in the next two postings. Please be on the lookout for my second-part in this Bess Johnson series, when I explore a bit of her family history.

Until next time…

 

Suffrage and The Independent Man

Stop! Think for one moment. I ask you to consider just how massive the span of time that covers the course of seventy-two years. That was the expansive number of years it took for the struggle and fight by women in this country to achieve the right to vote.

The women’s suffrage movement was first launched in 1848. After decades of struggle, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was successfully achieved in 1920. This Amendment guarantees all American women the right to vote.

I have taken the following definitions for the words “suffrage” and “suffragette” from the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

The definition of suffrage is: “The right to vote in an election”.

On the front side of my featured postcard, it says, “Suffragette Vote-Getting, The Easiest Way”. The word suffragette means: “A woman who worked to get voting rights for women in the past when women were not allowed to vote”.

The back side of my featured postcard is unused, no writing, so I cannot be completely certain which of my three “leading ladies” it belonged to, see my posting Intro to my blog. However, my best guess is that it belonged to Aunt Etta who seemed to be very involved in civic organizations and such. As I was gathering background information for this blog, I gained much appreciation for my own ancestors that had a hand in the suffrage movement. To learn more about Aunt Etta, refer to my previous posting Intro to Aunt Etta And Her Great Adventures.

At the end of this blog, I have a list of “Works Cited” since  I have used several sources for the information used in my details listed here today.

The featured postcard was published in 1909 by the Dunston-Weiler Lithograph Company and is Number 4 in what was a series of 12 anti-woman suffrage postcards. These lithographic cartoon postcards presented an argument that men would become feminized by woman suffrage (Palczewski).

The following quote was found in reference to this card:

In one card called “Suffragette Vote-Getting” for example, a woman campaigns by spontaneously grabbing a stranger while kissing him on the lips. Ultimately the effect is soft ridicule, not the vicious satire that appears on English postcards and occasionally on American examples as well (Florey 275).

Since the election is upon us, my goal would be to remind all of us, especially women, about the huge effort and fight it took for our ancestors to win the right for women to vote. Just think about those seventy-two years they fought for us to have that right–please honor their efforts by voting.

Rhode Island and the Independent Man

Since I reside in Rhode Island and I have a family tie to the statue that sits on top of our state house–a symbol of our independence–I thought the following postcard might be of interest.

The Rhode Island State House, located in Providence, was built during the years of 1895 to 1904. It has the fourth largest self-supported marble dome in the world.

The above Rhode Island State House postcard was postmarked July 16, 1909 and was published by A.C. Bosselman & Co., of New York. The card was printed in Germany. This card was sent to my grandmother Bertha James (Gra Gra), in Riverpoint (West Warwick), Rhode Island. If you would like to learn more about Gra Gra, see my previous blog posting Intro to Gra Gra & Volunteering at Kent Hospital.

Below is a closer look at the publisher information on the back of the postcard.

Sitting on top of the Rhode Island State House is a statue known as “The Independent Man”. He was designed by George Brewster, a sculptor from Massachusetts. The statue originally began in New York City as a statue of Simon Bolivar and was composed of bronze and gold metal.

Mr. Brewster, the designer, formed a partnership with the Gorham Foundry, of Providence, where the statue was melted and cast into the “Independent Man”. The Gorham Foundry was started in 1831, by Jabez Gorham.

This statue was set into place on December 18, 1899 where it remained until 1975 when it was taken down for a one-year makeover in preparation for the Bicentennial. The repairs and gold leaf were done by the Paul King Foundry, in Johnston.

Gra Gra had often mentioned that her father was a moulder and that he had worked on the “Independent Man”–the one sitting on top of the Rhode Island State House. My great-grandfather, George Lang Parkhurst James was born on Cushing Street, in Providence, on February 25, 1869 and died on March 15, 1926. He was a son of Charles Henry and Julia Ann (Moore) James. He was a Moulder by trade, first learning by working at the Providence Locomotive Works. He went on to work for other foundry places in Providence, including the Gorham Foundry, before moving to the Riverpoint section of West Warwick in 1905. To read more about his parents Charles and Julia, please see my previous post Intro to Grandma Julia and the Bitgood’s Pine Knoll Laboratory.

There will be more details about my great-grandfather and his family in future blogs but I will make brief mention here that he was very musically inclined. In addition to his trade as a moulder, he was sought after in the music world to furnish baritone and banjo solos. At times, he was a professional entertainer. Again, I will be sharing more stories and background as time goes on.

This old photo shown below, which previously belonged to my grandmother, has written on the back “Providence before the State House was built” so it would be from prior to 1895. It gives a glimpse into this area at that time, some of these buildings remain today, notice the church steeples in the background.

In closing, as we move forward to Election Day may we be reminded of those in the past that have fought for our independence and the right to vote. Whatever your choice, at least make the effort to vote. After the results, may we all go back to being kind to our friends and neighbors.

Until next time…

Works Cited

Florey, Kenneth. American Woman Suffrage Postcards: A Study and Catalog.  Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2015.  books.google.com.  Accessed 06 November 2016.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary.  www.merriam-webster.com.  Accessed 06 November 2016.

National Archives.  www.archives.gov/historical-docs/19th-amendment.  Accessed 06 November 2016.

Palczewski, Catherine H.  Postcard Archive.  University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA.  www.uni.edu.  Accessed 06 November 2016.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gorham_Manufacturing_Company.  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhode_Island_State_House.  Accessed 06 November 2016.

http://www.rhody.com/the-man-atop-the-statehouse.  Accessed 06 November 2016.

Happy Halloween!

On this Halloween day, here is another postcard, from the past, that celebrated the holiday–this time from 1909. This postcard was postmarked from Newark, New Jersey and was sent to my grandmother, Bertha James, in Riverpoint (West Warwick), Rhode Island. To learn more about Gra Gra see my previous blog, Intro to Gra Gra & Volunteering at Kent Hospital.

The sender of this postcard was Aunt Theresa, who was sister to Frances (Schlosstein) Henrich, mother of Susan M. (Henrich) James. Susan was step-mother to my grandmother. In the near future, I will continue with more on the Henrich family. In the meantime, if you missed my recent posting based on the Henrich side, you can check it out at What’s in a Name, Lena Henrich?

My featured postcard was published by Raphael Tuck & Sons. This card is from their Hallowe’en post cards Series No. 150 and was printed in Saxony.

There is a great website where you can learn more about the history of this company and it is the source for my information below, the site is: https://tuckdb.org/history.

Raphael Tuck was born on August 7, 1821. He married Ernestine Lissner in March of 1848. In 1866, they started a business together, in London. They had seven children, four boys and three girls; of their sons, three would go on to participate in the business.

In 1883, Queen Victoria granted the company the Royal Warrant of Appointment. After this time, a message was printed on the cards. In the case of my featured card, the message follows:

Art Publishers to Their Majesties the King & Queen.

The Raphael Tuck & Sons business would go on to open offices in several places, including New York in 1885.

Ernestine died in 1895 and Raphael in 1900.

This is the final post for Halloween cards, for this year anyway. In the month of November, I plan to post some interesting Thanksgiving postcards along with continuing family history stories.

Until next time…

Intro to Gra Gra & Volunteering at Kent Hospital

My blog today will be introducing you to my grandmother, otherwise known as Gra Gra, one of my three leading ladies as was mentioned in my first post. She was assigned the name by my eldest brother and later discovered that the word “gra” was a Greek derivative for the word “love”, this being learned within the context of completing a Crossword puzzle. Gra Gra was thrilled to think her grandson had been smart enough to create this name that would turn out to mean “love love”.

Back in 1891, on this date of September 12th, she was born as Bertha L. James. Her life went on to span the course of 92 years until her passing in the early morning hours of February 4th, 1983.

She grew up in the Foxpoint section of Providence, Rhode Island. Her parents were Martha Ella (Carr) James Cady and George Lang Parkhurst James, both are pictured below.

In 1896, at the age of five, her parents were divorced and at the time there were two younger brothers, Lionel and Howard. The court ruled for Gra Gra and Lionel to reside with the father and the baby Howard to reside with their mother. Three years later, in 1899, her father was remarried to Susan Henrich. From this second marriage, two sons were born–Vincent and Lester.

After completing the fifth grade, my grandmother found it necessary to leave her education in order to help support the family. Her working day, in the mill, consisted of ten to twelve hours with her earnings for the week being a mere $4.00.

Even though her classroom education had come to a halt, she never gave up on her inner thirst for knowledge. She was an avid reader and studied a variety of subjects. In a published article, while in her 80’s, she referred to the benefit of learning from others, those she felt to be smarter than herself.

In 1905, her family moved from Providence to the Clyde section of West Warwick. Soon afterward, Gra Gra joined the local Riverpoint Congregational Church where she was an active member for the following 78 years.

Over time, my grandmother was quite the poet, an animal lover and greatly enjoyed her gardens. Her family was very musical and so it was that she played the piano, the ukulele and Hawaiian guitar.

In 1915, she married my grandfather Thomas William Watts “Pop Pop” who she always affectionately called Bill. They are pictured here together, I am not sure of the exact year of this photo.

Gra Gra was the most selfless person I have ever known, devoting her life to serving others. She was a well-known 4-H Leader for many years and was part of the 4-H All Stars. Prior to WWII, she directed local Minstrel shows. Once the war hit, many of the young men in the area headed off to war so those show productions ended. In later years, she would fondly tell me stories about the various costumes as we examined them from a large trunk in the basement.

My featured postcard today is of the Kent County Memorial Hospital, located in Warwick, the postcard itself was printed by the printcraft shop from Cranston, Rhode Island. This hospital was chartered in 1946 and first opened its doors in 1951. My grandmother was a volunteer at the hospital from the time those doors first opened until the mid-70s, this was some time after she had become legally blind making it too difficult to read. She was a member of the hospital auxiliary and I can remember when they held an annual fundraiser where there would be a large tent set up on the front lawn and my grandmother would serve as a fortune-teller of sorts–using her set of tarot cards.

I have at least two plaques that were presented to her from the hospital for her volunteer work there. The following quoted item (shown below) is from a type-written speech that is attached to the back of a plaque from the Thirteenth Annual Meeting of the Corporation, held on Tuesday, November 19, 1963. The front of the plaque itself says it is an Award of Appreciation for 2,000 hours of unselfish devotion to Volunteer Service.

The second plaque is in recognition of 20 years of Volunteer Service to Kent Memorial Hospital, presented in 1971.

 

Bertha began her volunteer and auxiliary service at the opening of K.C.M.H. She is one of the first women to be assigned to the information desk in the old business office, and has moved with the desk to each of its new locations. Wednesday afternoon and Mrs. Watts at the Information Desk have become synonymous, and on the rare occasion when she has been unable to report on that day it’s just hard to believe.

Because of her many other community activities she has a wide circle of friends in Kent County, and the information desk on her day, sometimes has the appearance of a ‘homecoming reunion’. She has also had much experience working with teenagers, and has ‘adopted’ many of our Candystripers, with whom she continues to keep in touch as they pursue their careers.

She has served on the auxiliary board in various capacities, and worked on many of the auxiliary projects. And, like all the women being honored tonight, she is a dedicated, loyal supporter of K.C.M.H. and my friend and neighbor for more than fifty years!

Read and presented by Robert E. Quinn of the United States Court of Military Appeals. He is also a former Governor of the State of Rhode Island.

Gra Gra was known as the “lady with the braids” as she had worn them crossed over in a circle upon her head for over fifty years. Many young folks called her “Aunt Bertha”.

The picture on the left is of my grandmother and parents, taken some time after 1941.

When I was a very young person, Gra Gra was always very heavy-set in weight and I felt she was a bit stern in demeanor. The turning point came when I was about the age of nine, she had a slight heart attack, lost a lot of weight and we became much closer. It was from about this timeframe, I started spending a lot more time with her, staying over on weekends and school vacations. In the beginning, I think it started as me trying to help her but in the end what enrichment she provided to my life was so much more–she became my sanctuary and always listened without judgement.

The photo on the right was probably one of the last pictures taken of my grandmother and to me this picture, taken in her kitchen, is worth a thousand words.

So many conversations were had at this kitchen table, she passed along so many stories of her life–many were repeated over more than a few times. Even the objects in the picture hold so many memories, the “blue” sugar bowl that would have been sitting on the lazy Susan along with the orange and fiesta green salt and pepper shakers and the sterling butter dish with the little holder for a butter knife. On the counter, in the background, is the pedestal cake stand that may have been harboring a goodie or two. The large double-doored cupboards with a matching set on the other side of the window were filled with dishes, I think there were three, maybe four, sets of dishes–many were collected from the movie shows that gave them away, one piece at a time.

My grandmother followed the “spring cleaning” routine, meaning each spring we would work together taking down the dishes from each shelf row at a time from the cupboards and hand washing each item. The same was done with all the nicknacks located on the whatnot display. During spring school vacations, we also spent many hours raking leaves from the huge yard and garden areas.

She used to tell stories of when she was a child in school and the teacher each day would write a different saying on the board, things like “honesty is the best policy” and “things done by halves are never done right”. Most of these little sayings were taken to heart and “rules” my grandmother lived by over the course of her life.

What a life it was…and so in honor of her birthday, I have explored just a few pieces of her life. In future posts, I will explore other details and explore more genealogy for both her Carr and James ancestors.

Thank you for reading, watch for my next post which should be my introduction to Grandma Julia, another leading lady but whom I did not have the pleasure to meet in person but yet have learned a little about from reading some of the family postcard correspondence.

Until next time…

Intro to my blog

Welcome! Let me begin by introducing you to myself and my brand new blog.

My blog title of Darpity Jean’s Blog is based on my nickname that I had acquired from my best childhood friend, Debbie, to whom I dedicate this first post in dearest memory. Today, being September 8th, would have been her birthday and it just seems to be fitting to finally get this blog off the ground on this day.

With the exception of about six months, I have resided in Rhode Island for all of my life. Though it is the smallest state in the USA, it certainly is the greatest in many ways. Most of my life has been spent within the communities of Warwick, West Warwick and Charlestown (in South County).

My extended family would be considered to be what is called Swamp Yankees, they never threw anything away–so true, it is. Fortunate for the sake of this blog as I will have plenty of material to work with.

This blog has been on my “back burner” for quite a while now. Even in these recent days, when I finally decided to take the plunge, it seemed like I was never going to get to the actual writing due to the sifting through all the technical page settings. Please bear with me, on the technical end of this page, as I may still need to make fine tuning adjustments. By the way, I do have a saying that goes something like “learn something new every day” and this sure has been a learning process.

The intention of this blog is meant to be an exploration, on several levels. My plan is to explore some postal history, from my ancestors, in the form of postcard correspondence as many of these postcards reveal stories about their lives. There will be some family genealogy information shared, primarily from my James branch of the family tree. The actual postcard images that I share on this blog will also be explored, with any notes of a historical nature that I might be able to provide.

To begin unfolding my family stories, the first few blogs will focus on my three “leading ladies”. It is from them that I have inherited quite the postcard collection, many with great images from around the New England area. Each of the three ladies, my great great grandmother (Grandma Julia), her daughter Henrietta (Aunt Etta), and my grandmother (Gra Gra) will each have their own Intro posting, helping to provide some background information for each of them.

My goal is to continue my blog posts at least once per week. If time is short on my end there may be posts that simply show an uncirculated postcard image, or gallery of images with some brief background information.

There will be times when I may post something other than postcard images, like old photos or some vintage memorabilia.

The postcard image leading my blog today is of The Majestic Hotel, Arctic Center, in West Warwick, Rhode Island. The following information was taken from the RI Historical Preservation Commission Survey Report of 1987. The Majestic Block, was located at the corner of Washington and Main Streets, built in 1901 by Joseph Archambault (after the block previously burned down Nov. 3, 1900). In addition to rooms along the exterior, the Hotel contained a movie theatre, bowling alley in the basement, a bar and a drug store at street level. The postcard itself was from prior to 1920. In my younger years, I remember this building being Majestic Hardware, it has been gone now for several years–torn down–it was replaced by a park with gazebo.

My Logo, shown below, is an original drawing by my mom, from 1940. Thank you for viewing my first blog entry. Until we meet again…