Friday, October 17, 2014

COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS IS NAMED FOR HIM - Daniel Pope Cook

My mother used to complain that whenever my father or I noticed a historical plaque in our travels we immediately wanted to stop and read what was on it.  She, on the other hand, could not have been less interested in historical plaques.  I guess I inherited my love of history from my father.  I always say that I would much rather talk about what happened on this spot 100 years ago, than what happened here yesterday.
 
On of the most widely read posts from this blog was the one I did on William Grant Edens, for whom the Edens Expressway was named.  That got me to thinking about other nearby places and who they might be named after.  We know that Illinois is named after the Illini Indians who used to live here, but what about Cook County?  It must be named for some well-known politician.  He was a politician, and was fairly well-known in his era but is all but forgotten today.  Cook County, Illinois is named for Daniel Pope Cook (1794-1827), who was a newspaper owner, lawyer, Illinois attorney general and member of the US House of Representatives - and all before he died at the age of 33! 
 
Daniel Pope Cook
 
Daniel Pope Cook was born October 16, 1794 in Scott, Kentucky, to John Dillard Cook (1753-1828) and Mary Jane, nee Mothershead (1748-1840).  Cook used to say of his family that they were "an impoverished branch of the prominent Pope family of Kentucky and Virginia."  Daniel has six siblings who lived to adulthood: Nathaniel (1775-1852), Sarah (1779-1859), Elizabeth (1784-1872), Nancy (1785-1824), John Dillard (1789-1852), and Eleanor (1790-1858) and two siblings who died in infancy.  
 
Daniel Cook moved to Kaskaskia, Illinois in 1815 and took a job as a store clerk, but soon began to read law under the supervision of his uncle, Nathaniel Pope.  Territorial governor Ninian Edwards appointed young Cook the territorial Auditor of Public Accounts in 1816, so he moved to Edwards, Illinois where he purchased the Illinois Herald newspaper and renamed it the Western Intelligencer.  
 
Cook's uncle, Nathaniel Pope, became a delegate to the U.S. Congress from the Illinois Territory, so upon the election of James Monroe as president, Cook moved to Washington, D.C. to establish his career in the nation's capitol. In 1817 Cook travelled to London to deliver dispatches and bring back John Quincy Adams, the country's representative to Great Britain, whom President Monroe appointed to serve as Secretary of State. Cook and Adams became closely acquainted during the long voyage back to the U.S.
 
Shortly after Cook returned from England, tired of service as a mere dispatch-bearer, Cook moved back to Illinois, where he became an ardent supporter of statehood. Cook used his newspaper and new appointment as clerk to the Territorial House to influence the Legislature, which unanimously passed a resolution urging statehood (and forbidding slavery) on December 10, 1817. Cook also lobbied his friends back in Washington and Virginia, and his uncle conveyed the territorial resolution to the U.S. Congress on January 16, 1818. After both the U.S. Senate and House agreed, President Monroe on April 18, 1818 signed the law authorizing Illinois to hold a convention to adopt a state constitution and elect officers. On December 3, 1818, President Monroe than signed the law admitting Illinois as the 21st state.
 
Despite his successful advocacy of statehood, Daniel Cook was unsuccessful in his first attempt to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, losing to John McLean by only 14 votes for the short term remaining after Illinois became a state. However, the new state's legislature appointed Cook as the first Attorney General of Illinois. Cook also had briefly served the territory as judge of the western circuit.

Again running for Congress in 1818, Pope defeated McLean in the general election, and again in 1820 (after a debate over slavery), 1822 and 1824, thus serving as the second representative from Illinois (although the first to serve a full term).
 
But it was not all politics for Daniel Cook.  On May 6, 1821, he married Julia Catherine Edwards (1801-1830) in Madison, Illinois.  Julia was the daughter of Cook's mentor Ninian Edwards (1775-1833) and Elvira, nee Lane (1780-1829).
 
While he was in Congress, Daniel Cook served on the Committee on Public Lands and later on the Ways and Means Committee. He secured a grant of government lands to aid in the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. In the 1824 election, Cook also helped defeat a proposed convention to legalize slavery in Illinois, and at year's end helped elect John Quincy Adams as President (by one vote when the election was thrown to the House).
 
Daniel and Julia Cook's one child, John Pope Cook was born in Belleville, Illinois on June 12, 1825.  He went on to become a famous Union general during the Civil War and ultimately to serve in the Illinois General Assembly.
 
In the election of 1826, Daniel Cook  was in poor health, so he did not do much campaigning.  Cook again scored more votes than McLean, but the pro-slavery Jacksonian Democrat, Joseph Duncan, won the election.
 
In the spring of 1827, President Adams sent Daniel Cook on a diplomatic mission to Havana, Cuba, but that did not restore his health.  Upon his return home, Cook asked to be taken back to his birthplace in Kentucky, where he died October 16, 1827.  He was 33 years old. 
 
Daniel Cook was first buried in Kentucky, then reburied with the Lamb family (relatives of his son's wife) in 1866 in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois, where he rests today, under a monument where his name had become illegible as a result of time and the elements.
 

 
Surely he deserves better.

Daniel Pope Cook - tireless advocate for the people of Illinois - may he rest in peace.

Friday, October 10, 2014

KILLED BY BULLIES ON HIS WAY HOME FROM SCHOOL - Joseph Stein

About two years ago I photographed a large number of the graves in Section 111 - Lomzer, at Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois.  I posted all the photos to Find a Grave, creating memorial pages when necessary.  One of the pages I created was for Joseph Stein, a nine year old boy who died in 1929.  Nothing about his gravestone indicated anything unusual about his death, and I just assumed that he had probably died from some disease.  Although childhood mortality rates in the US are down significantly from where they once were, the fact remains that children still do die from disease.  I posted the photos to the page I created and forgot all about it.


Recently I was contacted by Find a Grave member "dm wms" who made the following suggestion about me memorial page for Joseph Stein:
 
"Hello, I found this in an old newspaper and thought you might like to add it to the memorial.

ARREST TWO YOUTHS

Chicago, April 19. -

Two youths who frequently were seen loitering about the John Marshal high and grade schools were ordered arrested today after several school children had been questioned concerning the death a week ago of Joseph Stein, 9, another pupil of the school.  The boy died shortly after telling his parents that he had been beaten by older boys.

The Jacksonville Daily Journal; Jacksonville, Illinois.
April 20, 1929; Page Five"

So it looks like Joseph Stein did not die from disease after all - he was killed by bullies. 

The Chicago Daily Tribune from April 13, 1929 carried the following story:

SCHOOLBOY DIES FROM INJURY TO HEAD IN SCUFFLE

Fillmore street police and the coroner's office last night began an investigation into the death of Joseph Stein, 9 years old, 319 South Kedzie avenue, a pupil in the John Marshall Elementary school, at 3250 Adams street.  Joseph died in his home yesterday afternoon, complaining that his head hurt because "the boys pushed me down."

George A. Beers, principal of the school, said he would make inquiry among his 4,000 pupils on Monday in an effort to learn who was responsible for the boy's injury.  Joseph was unable to name any of the boys who pushed him, according to his father, Paul Stein.  The father said his son fainted a few minutes after he entered the house and remained unconscious until his death.

When the boy collapsed, Stein summoned physicians, who in turn called in a fire department inhalator squad.  The firemen worked for an hour to save the child's life, but their efforts were in vain.

People think that bullying is a recent phenomenon, but bullies have always been around - they certainly were around when I was in school. Before we get back to the stories surrounding young Joseph's death, let's see what else we can discover about the Steins:

Joseph Stein was born January 28, 1920 in Chicago to Paul Stein (1893-????) and Florence, nee Poncher (1896-1973).  Paul was an immigrant from Russia, but Florence was born here in Illinois.  They married in Chicago on January 25, 1915.  Paul and Florence Stein ultimately had four children:  Joseph (1920-1929), Leona (1915-1997), William (b. 1925), and Jean (b. 1932).  Paul Stein owned a retail ladies clothing store.

I was unable to locate the 1920 US Census for the Stein family - that would be the only one Joseph was alive for, but when he died the family was living at 319 S. Kedzie Avenue in Chicago.  There is now a parking lot at 319 S. Kedzie.

Here is a picture of the John Marshall School at about the time Joseph Stein attended:


The April 14, 1929 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune carried a follow-up story:

CONTINUE PROBE IN DEATH OF BOY HURT AT SCHOOL

The inquest into the death of 9 year old Joseph Stein, 319 S. Kedzie avenue, pupil of the John Marshall Elementary school, Kedzie and Adams street, who was alleged to have been beaten fatally by other pupils of the school, was continued yesterday until April 19.  The boy returned from school and told his father that he had bumped into other boys and fallen,  He fainted and died without regaining consciousness.

The Warren avenue police were asked to make an investigation by deputy coroner Jacob A. Schewell, and Mrs. Mary M. Abbe, assistant principal in charge of the elementary classes.  She questioned several pupils but could not learn whether the lad had been beaten by bigger boys or had merely stumbled and fallen.  The parents, however, said that the boy had been slugged by others and that they hold those in charge of the school responsible for his death.

There was another follow-up article in the April 20th Tribune:

POLICE HUNT TWO YOUTHS IN DEATH OF SCHOOLBOY, 9

Two youths, who are said to be friends of a girl student at the John Marshall High school, were being sought last night in connection with the death of Joseph Stein, 9 years old. 319 S. Kedzie avenue, a pupil at the Marshall Elementary school, who died a week ago in injuries believed to have been suffered when he was thrown down by the older boys.

The search was started when Gertrude Stein, 10 years old, 3300 Warren avenue, also a pupil at the school but not a relative of the dead boy, testified at the inquest yesterday of hearing a group of girls discussing the youths who are alleged to have caused Joseph's death.  She said she did not know the boys' names, but added that they came to the school to meet a girl who she only knew as Corey.

Here is the death certificate for Joseph Stein with the results of the Inquest:



The cause of death was listed as:  "Shock & hemorrhage following traumatic laceration of the anterior branch of the left middle meningeal artery and vein due to external violence."

Unfortunately, I could find nothing further about the sudden death of Joseph Stein - no story of an arrest of the "two youths" - nothing further at all in the Chicago Tribune archives.  Perhaps they were never able to capture the youths who had assaulted Joseph.  Joseph had either been unable or unwilling to name his attackers, and apparently no other witnesses came forward.  If anyone has any additional information about the aftermath of this crime, please contact me.

We will not forget Joseph Stein - his young life taken by bullies, and now thanks to the miracle of the internet, Joseph and his story will be available for all.

Joseph Stein - gone but not forgotten - may he rest in peace.  

Friday, October 3, 2014

THE MOST UNFORGETTABLE WOMAN I EVER MET - Ailzia M. Drake - Part Four

When I left off telling the story of Ailzia McElroy (Babe) Drake last week, I related how she was living in the Independent Living section of Lincolnwood Place in Lincolnwood, Illinois.  Her beloved husband Dukie had died in January of 1998.  I mentioned that she was still quite sharp mentally but physically she was starting to deteriorate.

I also mentioned before, that over the course of her lifetime she suffered a broken hip five times, the last one coming when she was 99 years old. Up until that time she was still able to walk unaided but she did use a wheelchair for long distances.


She recovered from this broken hip as well as she had recovered from the previous ones, with one major exception.  Her orthopedic doctor told her that her bones were so brittle, they would break if any weight was put on them at all.  Even the effort of trying to move her from the bed to the wheelchair put a tremendous strain on her brittle bones.  So, starting when she was 99 until her death at 102, Babe was confined to her bed.   

We made it as pleasant for her as we could.  We rented a hospital bed and put it in the living room, instead of the bedroom in her apartment at Lincolnwood Place.  Her friends still called or stopped by to visit, but it was not the same.  Babe still worked the crossword puzzle in the Tribune, but now she had to do it by herself.  She was no longer able to go down to the dining room for her meals, she had to have the meals delivered to her apartment.  Her doctor suggested that she might want to move to the nursing home section but she absolutely refused.  She had spent time in the nursing home section when Dukie was there at the end of his life, and she had been a patient there several times after her own broken bone episodes.  In fact, she was a patient in the nursing home section on January 1, 2000 because I remember sitting with her watching Y2K come in around the world when they had everyone scared that the world as we knew it was going to come to an end.  Luckily for all of us, it didn't.  Babe's doctor did insist, for her mental health, that she get dressed in regular clothes every day and put on makeup even though she was confined to her bed.


Babe had turned over the daily management of her investment portfolio to the Northern Trust Company but she still followed the markets religiously and went over each month's statement line by line.  Her attitude about money at that time in her life was rather contradictory.  At times she could be very generous, at other times very stingy.  One summer day in the 1990s my home on Harvard Terrace was broken into. When I related the story to Babe she insisted that I call that very day and have an alarm system installed - at her expense.  She said "I'm not going to sit over here every day and worry that something is going to happen to you or your mother."  And yet whenever I did her grocery shopping I had to present receipts for everything, and if the total bill was $19.72 she would count out nineteen dollars and seventy two cents, whereas other people would probably have given me a $20.00 bill and told me to "keep the change" - a whopping 28 cents in this example. 

I told Babe's daughter Florence that neither she nor I could begin to imagine the hell that Babe must be going through by being bedridden. Here was a woman who had been independent her entire life, and now had to depend on others for everything.  If her caregivers had to leave the apartment for any reason Babe was terrified that she would be trapped there if something happened.  We finally decided to put the telephone in the bed with her if the caregivers had to leave, but we made sure any time away was kept to a minimum.  You may remember that I related that Babe had been one of the original "Polar Bears" who used to break the ice on New Years Day to swim in Lake Michigan, but now she couldn't even get out of bed without endangering her life.  

The drudgery of being bedridden was reduced somewhat by the celebrations surrounding Babe's 100th birthday on May 6, 2002.  It was a joyous occasion and as the song says "everyone who was there, was there."  Unfortunately most of her friends and relatives were dead.  She used to tease her doctor that she had "already outlived four doctors (and one dentist) so watch out!"  Babe's daughter Florence came in from Utah, and of course I was there, and Babe's niece Valerie and her husband Joe were there as well.  It was very frustrating for me in one respect:  I had wanted to present a slide show of Babe's life through photos, only to find out that she had destroyed almost every photo from her past.   Florence and Valerie were able to give me a few photos (most of which I have used for these articles), but certainly not enough for a slide show.  When I asked Babe where all her old photos were she told me she had torn them all up.  She said she didn't think anyone would be interested in old photographs!  (I guess she didn't know me as well as I thought...)  By that time it was too late for me to do anything about it.  We did use one of the 50th wedding anniversary photos for her birthday cake:


We had a grand time, and were so glad to have been able to celebrate that auspicious day.

Babe with Val and Joe

In October of 2002 my mother fell and broke her hip, but unlike Babe her recovery was incomplete.  Physically, my mother came through the ordeal just fine, but mentally it pushed her over the edge.  We had been dealing with some early symptoms of dementia before her fall, but afterward the dementia was out in full force.  I was finally forced to put my mother in a nursing home in February of 2003.  It was the same nursing home where Babe's mother had been, although by 2003 it was owned by an Order of Catholic nuns.

My mother's decline was steady but when she died on July 12, 2003 it caught everyone by surprise.  I had been starting a trip to New York to do some genealogy research when the call came through that she had died, so after I returned to Evanston and signed all the papers I had to tell Babe.  I called her caregiver and prepared her for the news.  I told her to have Babe's nitroglycerin handy as well as a shot of brandy if she needed it.  When I walked into Babe's apartment she said "What are you doing here - I thought you were on vacation?"  So I sat on the bed and told her the news.  She took it very hard because she and my mother had been very close friends for many years.  

Babe was dealt another psychological blow when her niece Valerie McElroy Hunley died on August 30, 2004.  Val had had her share of health problems, but her death still came as a shock to all of us.  Val's husband Joe called me and asked me to break the news to Babe.  They were all worried how it would affect Babe, and Joe said he did not want to just call Babe and tell her the news.  So again I called the caregiver and told her to get out the nitro and the brandy.  But this time when I came into Babe's apartment she knew that I must have bad news.  Again, it was very hard on Babe.  She said "Everyone important to me is dead - why am I living on so long?"
 
As you can imagine, because of Babe's age and the losses of her loved ones, death is something we used to talk about.  Not all the time - but not infrequently, either.  Babe's constant question was "Why am I living so long?"  She also used to say, "I don't think I'm ever going to die."  To which I used to respond, "there are not many things I can be 100% sure of, but I am 100% sure that you will die - someday."

We used to talk about what we thought was on "the other side."  Babe told me that during those long days and weeks that she had sat at the dying Robert McElroy's bedside, they had discussed death as well.  "He made me promise that I would be buried next to him when my time came, and he told me that if there was any way that he could contact me from the other side, he would."  The lack of any after-death communication from her beloved father often caused Babe to question whether there even was an afterlife.  "Sometimes I think that when you're dead, that's it," she used to say.

So that brings us back to where we started - the morning of October 28, 2004.  Lincolnwood Place had called the paramedics to come get the body, but that took a while because they had to get someone from the coroner's office.  Babe had made me promise years before that if I felt her death was in any way suspicious, that I should demand a full autopsy.  I guess that came from reading all those Perry Mason books.  The thing was, that even though Babe was 102 years old, no one had expected her to die at that time.  We had had many deathwatch vigils for Babe over the years, but this time it was unexpected.  Babe had several serious bouts of pneumonia through the years including one in the 1990s where her doctor told me that this was it.  I started a vigil by Babe's bedside when all of a sudden she sat up and said "I'm not going to die this time, I'm going to be OK.  And two days later she was home from the hospital.

After we knew that the paramedics were on their way to pick up Babe's body, I sent her caregiver home.  The caregiver had obviously had a horrible night, but the agency asked her to stay in case there were any questions.  I'm sure she was relieved to be able to go home.

So now Babe and I were alone, so I asked her, "Well, what's it like?  Are you with your father?  You waited so long to get to this point, tell me what it's like."  But like her father with her, years before,  Babe gave me no response from the other side.

One incident did happen the night before Babe died, but when it happened I did not connect it to her.  I had just gotten into my bed at home when my cell phone lit up.  It used to light up only if a call or message came through so I got up and looked at the screen - but nothing.  There was no call or message.  Toward the end of my mother's life she had a very distinctive walk.  She was so afraid of falling that she used to "scuffle" her feet along in her slippers which made a very distinctive noise on the wood floors.  After I realized there was no call on my cell phone I got back into bed, and then I heard my mother's distinctive scuffle.  Remember, at this time my mother had been dead for a year.  So when I heard her scuffle I said, "Mother, is that you?" and my cell phone lit up again.  Again no call or message.  That was all, so I went to sleep.  Several hours after that, Babe died.

When I related this story to the funeral director, she told me that they heard stories like this all the time.  She said, "your mother was coming to help Babe make the transition to the other side, and as long as she was in the neighborhood she stopped by to see you.  Her lighting up your phone was her way of trying to tell you that she was there."  That may be true, or it may have just been a coincidence, but it was interesting nonetheless.

I had one more immediate duty with regards to Babe's death - I had to call her daughter Florence.  Florence lived in Utah, and they are one hour behind Chicago so I waited until mid-morning and called Florence.  Her husband George answered the phone and when I told him who I was he passed the phone to Florence.  When I told Florence that her mother had died, she couldn't believe it.  "But I just talked to her, and she was fine."  And Babe had been fine.  She had had a cold for several days, but when I called to check on her before I went to bed, her caregiver said she was doing much better.  She said that Babe's fever had broken and she was breathing easier.  In fact, the caregiver only realized Babe was dead when she no longer heard Babe breathing.

Babe had specified that she wanted a very simple funeral, so that's what we gave her.  Florence came in from Utah, so it was just the two of us at Babe's service.  They left the location up to me, so I requested the beautiful May Chapel at Rosehill Cemetery, where Robert McElroy's funeral had been years before.  I had an ulterior motive - I wanted to see the inside of the May Chapel, so what better way, than to have a service there?

The May Chapel at Rosehill Cemetery
May Chapel - Interior

The service was simple in beautiful surroundings.  It was a crisp fall day, and many of the trees at Rosehill were changing color.  The May Chapel was as beautiful inside as I thought it would be.  Babe had asked for two readings, and so the funeral director did them for us.  They had asked me to do the readings, but that would have been too difficult for me.  The first reading is called "Thanatopsis" by William Cullen Bryant: 
To him who in the love of nature holds
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
A various language; for his gayer hours
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile
And eloquence of beauty; and she glides
Into his darker musings, with a mild
And healing sympathy that steals away
Their sharpness ere he is aware. When thoughts
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
Over thy spirit, and sad images
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;--
Go forth, under the open sky, and list
To Nature's teachings, while from all around--
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air--
Comes a still voice. Yet a few days, and thee
The all-beholding sun shall see no more
In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,
Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears,
Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist
Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim
Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again,
And, lost each human trace, surrendering up
Thine individual being, shalt thou go
To mix forever with the elements,
To be a brother to the insensible rock
And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain
Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mold.

Yet not to thine eternal resting-place
Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish
Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down
With patriarchs of the infant world -- with kings,
The powerful of the earth -- the wise, the good,
Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,
All in one mighty sepulchre. The hills
Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun, -- the vales
Stretching in pensive quietness between;
The venerable woods -- rivers that move
In majesty, and the complaining brooks
That make the meadows green; and, poured round all,
Old Ocean's gray and melancholy waste,--
Are but the solemn decorations all
Of the great tomb of man. The golden sun,
The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,
Are shining on the sad abodes of death
Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread
The globe are but a handful to the tribes
That slumber in its bosom. -- Take the wings
Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness,
Or lose thyself in the continuous woods
Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound,
Save his own dashings -- yet the dead are there:
And millions in those solitudes, since first
The flight of years began, have laid them down
In their last sleep -- the dead reign there alone.

So shalt thou rest -- and what if thou withdraw
In silence from the living, and no friend
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe
Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh
When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care
Plod on, and each one as before will chase
His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave
Their mirth and their employments, and shall come
And make their bed with thee. As the long train
Of ages glides away, the sons of men--
The youth in life's fresh spring, and he who goes
In the full strength of years, matron and maid,
The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man--
Shall one by one be gathered to thy side,
By those, who in their turn, shall follow them.

So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.
             
And the second one: "Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep" by Mary Elizabeth Frye:

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

I come from a very religious background, and I thought that a funeral that was limited to two nature poems was very cold, but it was Babe's funeral, not mine, so we did what she wanted.  But you can believe I was praying silently while all this was going on.

Florence did not want to stay for the interment, so we went back to Lincolnwood Place and began the task of breaking up Babe's apartment.

Once I got Florence settled in back at Lincolnwood Place I returned to Rosehill by myself and made sure that Babe's ashes had been buried between her father and Dukie, and I left one red rose on her grave.


And that ends the 102 year story of Ailzia McElroy Drake.


Florence did not inherit her mother's longevity - she died on May 18, 2011 from complications of COPD.  She was 87 - not a youngster, but not 102.

Many people asked Babe the secret to her long life.  She not only lived to a ripe old age, she had the most beautiful skin I have ever seen.  Even at 100 years old, she had very few wrinkles and her skin was as soft as a baby's behind.

She credited her longevity to her genes.  Her mother had lived to 90, so it was not unreasonable to expect that Babe would meet or surpass that.  It was not due to living a life free of vices - both she and Dukie had been heavy smokers and heavy drinkers - and both always had big appetites for full course meals.  Just because Babe lived to 102 does not mean that she had been healthy - as a matter of fact she had many illnesses through the years - and many that required surgery.  During one of her surgeries her heart stopped and they had to work to revive her.  Babe told me that she was disappointed - no long tunnel, no bright light - she wasn't even aware that it had happened until they told her after the surgery.

I think it is safe to say that Babe lived to 102 in spite of her lifestyle and her illnesses.  I personally feel that we cannot discount the long term effects of a happy marriage.  Dukie idolized Babe and she was crazy about him.  Even after 60+ years of marriage, their faces immediately brightened when the other came into the room.  They were happiest just puttering around the house, shopping or going out to eat - as long as they were together.  Babe did not pick well when she married the first time, but she sure made up for it when she married Dukie.

And the secret to her beautiful skin?  She stayed out of direct sunlight and used nothing on her skin but Oil of Olay.

I have tried over these past few weeks to give you an idea of why I found this woman so fascinating. 

It is not unusual to have dear friends who have an age difference, but it is unusual for two people born over 50 years apart to get along as well as Babe and I did.  It has been ten years since she left us, but I still think about her every day.  So many times since she has been gone I have thought, "I can't wait to tell Babe about this," or "Babe's going to love this," then I remember that she is gone.   Every time I am in Rosehill Cemetery (and my blog readers know that is very often) I stop at the graves by the road in Section S that Florence McElroy bought back in 1938 and pay my respects.  Just as Babe's father never contacted her after he died, I have received no communication from Babe since she died (but I didn't really expect to).

I was very blessed to have had such a wonderful friend for so many years - not long enough, but then it never is.

I love you, Babe, and I sure miss you.  Until we meet again -


Ailzia Lathrop McElroy Harper Drake - Our beloved Babe - May she rest in peace.

Friday, September 26, 2014

THE MOST UNFORGETTABLE WOMAN I EVER MET - Ailzia M. Drake - Part Three

When we left off telling the story of Ailzia McElroy Drake (Babe) and her husband T.H. Drake (Dukie) they had just bought a bungalow at 1020 Harvard Terrace in Evanston, Illinois.  It is the early 1950s.  My family moved to 1027 Harvard Terrace in 1953, although I did not come along until 1956.  My family was already living on Harvard Terrace when Babe and Dukie moved in across the street.

My best friend growing up was Freddie Murray who lived next door to the Drakes at 1016 Harvard, so all through my childhood the Drakes were there, although in the background.  We would say hi when we ran into each other but that was about it.  Babe and Dukie did not like answering their door on Halloween, but they always gave  Freddie and me Hershey Bars ahead of time so we wouldn't think they had forgotten us.

The first long talk I ever had with Babe and Dukie was during the aftermath of the "Big Snow" blizzard that hit Chicago in February of 1967.  It was weeks before the snowplows were able to get down the side streets in Evanston, so you had to walk to either Ridge of Asbury to get a cab or catch a bus.  There was a small footpath in the snow down the middle of Harvard Terrace, but that was it.  Luckily food stores, a Walgreens and Woolworths were all within walking distance, but your grocery shopping was limited to what you could carry back home.

My mother and I were returning from grocery shopping and walking down the footpath when we ran into Babe and Dukie.  They stopped and we chatted about the aftermath of the blizzard and Babe mentioned that her mother was in the Three Oaks Nursing Home four blocks away at Oakton and Asbury.  They were walking over to check on  Babe's mother because many of the staff at the nursing home were unable to get in to work.  Anyway, we chatted for 15 minutes or so - it was a nice conversation.

Later that year we read in the newspaper that Florence Dascombe McElroy had died on August 22, 1967, just short of her 91st birthday.  She was, of course, buried next to her husband at Rosehill:



Florence McElroy was an unusual person.  Although Babe and her brother Robert had each received bequests from their father, the bulk of Robert McElroy's fortune went to his widow.  Babe said that up until Florence McElroy's will was read, they did not know for sure that they had been left anything by their mother.  Florence McElroy had an unusual sense of humor, and she used to tell Babe and Robert that she was going to leave all he money to a shelter for homeless cats. 

Back in 1933 the US government forced all US citizens to turn in any gold coins or gold bullion they held.  One day Florence McElroy got a letter from the government telling her they were coming for her gold.  She did not want to be bothered, so she asked Babe to meet the treasury man at the bank where she kept her gold in a safe deposit box.  Babe told the man that her mother always kept $20,000 in gold in her safe deposit box.  This was during the Great Depression, and the treasury man said they heard stories like that all the time, but most turned out to not be true.  Well, the box was opened, and the treasury man apologized after he gave Babe a receipt for exactly $20,000 in gold.

Florence McElroy did end up leaving the bulk of her estate to Babe and Robert.  She set up a trust with the Northern Trust Company in Chicago, and after a lump sum payment, Babe and her brother received annual payouts for the next twenty years.

I really got to know Babe and Dukie during the summer of 1971.  The Murrays were gone for most of the summer on vacation and they asked me to take care of things while they were away.  So I was over at their house every day watering the garden or cutting the grass or picking up the apples that had fallen from the apple tree - a myriad of duties around the house and the yard.  Almost every day I would run into Babe and Dukie working in their yard or around their house.  My father had died the previous October and Babe told me later that they knew that I had been close to my father and wanted to see how I was getting along.  Babe told me that she had been close to her father so she knew what I was going through.

We talked about everything - politics, the economy, religion, current events - you name it, we talked about it over that summer.  One day we started talking about reading.  Babe and I both loved murder mysteries and when she found out that I was a Perry Mason fan, that sealed our friendship.

One day they asked me to come inside their house.  I don't remember why they invited me in, but I will never my first trip inside 1020 Harvard Terrace.  Although they lived in a bungalow, the inside of their home was filled with beautiful antiques - from the oriental rugs on the floor to the paintings on the walls.  I had never seen so many beautiful things in one place before.  I was captivated.  On her own, Babe's taste ran more to the modern, but the house was filled with beautiful pieces that had belonged to her parents that Babe took when they broke up the big house at 704 Sheridan Road.  There was a story behind each piece and Babe knew them all.

Days turned into months and toward the end of the year Babe asked if my mother and I liked to play cards.  Did we like to play cards?  I think my mother would rather play cards that eat or sleep.  We both enjoyed playing cards but my mother loved to play cards.  So, they invited us over to play canasta on January 2, 1972 and for the next twenty-seven years we played cards every other Saturday night.  

Canasta, unlike bridge, is a game you can play while chatting about other things.  By 1972 Babe was 70 and Dukie was 68.  He had retired at 62 because Babe said that she wanted to enjoy some time with him before he died.  Most of their friends were widows, having buried their husbands after retirement (or in the case of my father, before retirement).

You can imagine that in twenty-seven years of card games we covered any and all subjects in our chats between hands.  Very early on, my relationship with Dukie, and especially with Babe, developed into more than a casual friendship.  Perhaps they saw me as the son they never had (or in Babe's case had and lost) and I used my friendship with them to help fill the void that my father's death left in my life.  Our every-other-Saturday card games were supplemented with phone calls and frequent visits.  If Babe was having a particularly bad day she might call and ask me to come over that evening just to chat.  As we grew closer they began to tell me about the events of their lives - all of which I found extremely interesting (as I hope you are, as I pass them along to you).

Dukie and Babe c1975
 
Babe's daughter Florence and her husband George had settled in the Salt Lake City area and had five children of their own, but they were one thousand miles away and I was just across the street.

One of the many interesting things about Babe was that she had a wonderful memory.  I would say, "Tell me about the tornado that ripped through Wilmette in the 1920s" and she would proceed to tell me all about it - in detail.  Or "How did the stock market crash of 1929 affect your father?" and she would tell me in-depth, not only about how it affected her father, but would then tell me the stories of her father's friends who had lost everything and jumped out the window.  Talking to Babe was like having a live, historical encyclopedia.


50th Wedding Anniversary - 1980


One day in the late 1980s Dukie called to tell us that Babe had fallen in their backyard and broken her hip.  Babe was in her mid 80s at the time and I thought this was the beginning of the end (as it would be with my own mother, years later).  But I had under-estimated Babe.  By the time she died in 2004 she had recovered from five broken hips - three breaks on one side, and two on the other.

Another fascinating topic to discuss with Babe was investments.  She had started investing in the stock market in the 1920s and she and Dukie managed all their own investments until they turned the management over to the Northern Trust Company in the late 1980s.  Babe had an interesting investment strategy:  she invested 50% in stocks and 50% in US Treasury Bonds.  Some said her strategy was too conservative, but people who had lived through the Great Depression tended to be very conservative where money was concerned.  She felt that even if all her stocks were wiped out, she would still have half of her investments - and if US government securities were worthless then everything had gone to hell and nothing would be worth anything.

People who saw Babe as just a little old lady were in for a rude awakening.  One of her best friends through the years was Kate Jans, the widow of Matt Jans the golf pro.  One day Kate told Babe about a man she had met who worked miracles with investments.  He promised incredible double-digit returns on an annual basis and had the figures to prove it.  After Babe talked to the guy for 5 minutes she knew he was a shyster and told him so - and told Kate as well.  Kate was very insulted and things cooled between her and Babe, especially after Babe turned out to be right and Kate lost a lot of money.  Babe invested in nothing but blue-chip companies, and once she bought a stock she kept it.  When she finally turned her investments over to the Northern Trust to manage they could not believe the portfolio she had amassed without any professional investment advice.  

Time passed and by 1990 we noticed that Dukie was starting to have some memory problems.  He made mistakes when we were playing cards, and Babe said that she would send him to the store for something and he would return with something entirely different.  By 1990 Babe was 88 and Dukie was 86.  Babe said that she realized that age was catching up with them. 

The first radical change that took place for them was when they gave up their car.  After one scare where Dukie could not remember the way home on one of their drives, Babe realized that keeping their own car would no longer be an option for them. 

But what happened next almost ended the story for both Babe and Dukie.  In the fall of 1991 they arranged to have their furnace serviced as they had every year since they had bought the house.  The furnace man came, did his work, and told them that everything was fine.  After he left Dukie went downstairs to make sure everything was put away and turn off the lights.  After several minutes Babe realized that she didn't hear any noise coming from the basement and called out for Dukie - no response.  She called louder but still no response.  She walked over and started down the basement stairs only to find Dukie passed out on the floor in front of the furnace - carbon monoxide.  Babe dialed 911 and was able to open the front door for the firemen before she, too passed out.  They both were revived by the paramedics who insisted they spend the night in St. Francis hospital because of their age.  Although both appeared to have come through the ordeal in one piece, Dukie was never the same again.

In early 1993 Babe told me that they would have to give up the house.  She looked around, and after consulting with her attorney and the Northern Trust Company where she had her trust, decided on Lincolnwood Place in Lincolnwood, Illinois.  Florence had asked them to move to Utah where she and the grandchildren were, but Babe felt that they needed to keep some continuity in their lives, and so decided to stay in Chicago where they still had some friends and doctors, dentists, etc, they were used to.  And there were relatives here as well.  Although Robert McElroy Jr and his wife Ruth, nee Van Ness were both dead, their daughter Valerie and Val's husband Joe Hunley were still in the Chicago area and frequent visitors.

In the Spring of 1993 Babe and Dukie left Harvard Terrace and moved to Lincolnwood.  Babe got an apartment in the Independent Living section and Dukie was put into Managed Care.  This was the first time they had been separated for any length of time since they got married in 1930, and it was very hard for both of them.

Lincolnwood Place

Time passed, and Dukie slowly but steadily declined.  In late 1997 he could no longer feed himself, and although mentally alert he could not communicate much beyond "yes" or "no" answers.

One night years before, when my mother and I were over at Babe and Dukie's for a card game, they asked me if I would be their Medical Power of Attorney.  They both had filled out and signed Living Wills and they wanted to make sure that all their affairs were in order for "when the time comes."  Their daughter Florence would have been the logical choice but she was in Utah and I was just ten minutes away.  When I agreed to be their Medical POA I asked them what their final wishes were.  They were both adamant that they wanted nothing done that would prolong their lives unless there was hope of a recovery.  We discussed food and water as well, and again both were adamant that under no circumstances did either one of them want a feeding tube - ever. 

Back to early 1998.  Dukie could no longer swallow much beyond ice cream, and finally not even that.  Their doctors suggested that Dukie have a feeding tube inserted so he could continue to receive nourishment.  Babe told the doctors that Dukie had always said they he did not ever want a feeding tube.  It was cruel the way the healthcare professionals tried to "guilt" Babe into approving the feeding tube,  Every day when she went to see Dukie, they tried to get her to allow it.  They even said things like "We thought you loved your husband.  Do you want to see him starve to death?"  Finally I had had enough.  By this time I was stopping by every day to check on them and make sure everything was OK.  I arrived to find Babe in tears after she had spent another day being bullied by the healthcare staff and the doctor.  I said, "Let's settle this once and for all - let's go ask Dukie."

We went downstairs (Dukie was now in the nursing home part of Lincolnwood Place),  and found Dukie in bed watching TV.  The minute Babe walked into his room Dukie brightened up.  I sat on the side of the bed and said "Dukie, do you know who I am?"  "Yes."  "Are you in any pain or discomfort?"  "No."  "Do you need anything?"  "No."

Dukie, they want us to agree to having a feeding tube put into you so that you can receive nourishment."  The minute he heard "feeding tube" he said "NO!", loud and clear.  "Well," I told Babe, "there's your answer."  Then I went and told the staff that under no circumstances were they to even utter the words "feeding tube" around either Babe or Dukie or they would have more trouble than they bargained for.

I understand where they were coming from - healthcare workers have a duty to prolong life - but we should have the ultimate say about the health care we receive.

In the afternoon of January 14, 1998, Babe called to tell me that the nurses said the end was near, and early in the evening Dukie slipped away at the age of 93.  As I mentioned before, they had been married just short of 62 years!

Florence came in from Utah, and the three of us, plus Babe's caregiver, attended his funeral.  Babe felt that if anyone else was there it would be ever harder for her, so it was just the four of us.  There was a short service at the William H. Scott Funeral Home in Evanston, and then Dukie was cremated.  His ashes were placed in the plot in Section S at Rosehill, with Babe's father and mother.



At this time, Babe was 95 years old.  Although she had slowed down somewhat, and used a wheelchair for long distances, she still walked unaided and mentally was sharp as a tack.  Every morning after breakfast at Lincolnwood Place, she joined a group of fellow residents who did the crossword puzzle in the Chicago Tribune.  Each did the puzzle separately and competed with the others to see who could finish the puzzle first.  Babe was the winner of that competition on more than one occasion.

Although it wasn't home, Babe enjoyed living at Lincolnwood Place.  The food was excellent and she quickly made friends among the residents.  One of the first friends she made was Margaret Rockola, the widow of  David Cullen Rockola, the founder of the Rock-Ola Manufacturing Corp, manufacturer of classic jukeboxes for homes and businesses.

In addition to her daily crossword puzzle competition, Babe also participated in frequent bingo games, sing-alongs and even the Catholic Mass offered at Lincolnwood Place every week.  These activities were supplanted by yearly visits from Florence to celebrate Babe's birthday and Mothers' Day, frequent visits from her niece Valerie and Val's husband Joe, and of course, our every-other-Saturday night card games.  After one of her falls, Babe decided that she did not want to be alone, so she made arrangements for round-the-clock caregivers to look after her.  Once Dukie was no longer able to play cards, Babe would teach her caregivers how to play canasta, and the caregiver would take Dukie's place in the card game.

Florence and Babe - May, 1998

Next week I will finish the story of Ailzia M. Drake, the most unforgettable woman I ever met, by telling you about her 100th birthday celebration and her declining health which led to her death in 2004 at the age of 102.  Believe it or not, there are still stories that remain to be told about the twilight years of this fascinating woman. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

THE MOST UNFORGETTABLE WOMAN I EVERY MET - Ailzia M. Drake - Part Two

We pick up the story of Ailzia McElroy ("Babe") in the spring of 1929.  She is living in Reno, Nevada, having just been granted a divorce from Phillip Francis Harper.  She has her five year old daughter Florence living with her.

Babe was perfectly content to stay in Reno after her divorce.  She had had to establish residence there to be eligible for a quickie Reno divorce, and during that period she made a lot of friends.  She had no desire to return to Chicago to the "I told you so"s of her family.  For the first time in her twenty eight years she was not under anyone's watchful eye, and she loved it.  She had no interest in getting involved again with anyone romantically - at least not right away.  But she did enjoy being taken out on the town by young men, especially a particular dentist she had been spending some time with.

As I mentioned before, Babe was very athletic and especially enjoyed golf, tennis and swimming.  She used to play doubles tennis with the dentist and another couple on his free days.  One day they were missing a fourth for doubles and happened to spy young Terah Herschel ("Dukie") Drake (1904-1998) by himself along the sidelines.  "Will you join our game?" they asked, and when he said "Yes" it started a chain of events that would change his life, as well as those of Babe and Florence, forever.  Here's a photo of Dukie around the time he met Babe:

T.H. Drake - c1929

Terah Herschel Drake was born October 5, 1904 in Goodlettsville, Tennessee to Wesley Terah Drake (1879-1964) and Sudie, nee Galbreath (1884-1953).  Dukie was the oldest of seven children.  His parents went right to the Bible when they deciding what he should be named.  When he was a teenager he left home because his family was very poor and he felt they would be better off with one less mouth to feed.  After wandering around the west for a while he taught himself Morse Code and got a job as a telegrapher for the Southern Pacific Railroad in Reno/Truckee, Nevada.   On his day off he used to play tennis, and he was immediately taken with the athletic divorcee and her young daughter.  Babe used to bring Florence to the tennis courts in her stroller and put her on the sidelines so she could watch the games.

Dukie got his nickname because there was no way a railroad man was going to use a name like "Terah".  His family called him "Herschel" but the railroad men started calling him "Drake" and then "Duck" which evolved to "Ducky" and eventually to "Dukie".  Babe was pretty taken with the handsome young telegrapher. 

An aside about Dukie - he had very little formal education but was one of the most intelligent men I ever knew.  He was a voracious reader and could converse (and debate) on a myriad of subjects from history to politics to religion to economics.  He was also gifted with a strong dose of common sense.  Intellectually he was a good match for the classically-educated Babe.

Dukie was taken with Babe right away.  She was very pretty, had a killer figure from all her athletics and could match Dukie drink-for-drink whenever they went out on the town.

Babe was attracted to Dukie because he was handsome, but also intelligent, athletic, and level-headed.  But most of all, Dukie was not the least bit impressed with Babe's family money or her fancy education.

Babe and I were talking about it once, many years later, and Babe admitted she was attracted to Dukie at first because he was so unlike Phil Harper, or any of the other boys she had dated.  So after the tennis match when Dukie asked her out, she accepted.

Dukie told me years later that he knew that if he wanted to win Babe he had to woo Florence.  He knew that Babe would never stay with a man that Florence didn't like, so he set out to win the affections of a little six year old girl.  It worked.  Within a short time both Babe and Florence were in love with Dukie.

I mentioned before that even after her divorce, Babe stayed friendly with Phil's sister Helen Harper Graf.  In the 1970s Phil asked Helen to ask Babe if he could get in touch with Florence.  Neither Babe nor Florence had any contact with Phil since the divorce.  Phil said that he was getting older and wanted to restart his relationship with his daughter, as well as get to know his grandchildren.  Babe said that she would ask Florence, although Babe had an idea of what Florence's answer was going to be.

Florence said to tell Phil that "Dukie is my father, and that's that."  She said that since Phil had no time for her when he was young, that she had no time for him now that he was old.  

So, Babe and Dukie (and Florence) started dating.  As things began to get serious Babe told her parents about the dashing telegrapher and they told her (without ever meeting him) that Dukie was only after Babe's money.  Babe's father said to tell Dukie that he would not be supporting them financially if they went through with the marriage.

Babe felt she had a "keeper" this time so they traveled back to Chicago to give her parents a chance to get to know Dukie, as well as see their granddaughter Florence.  Although Babe's parents liked Dukie they were still against the marriage because they still felt that Dukie was after Babe's money.  This was a legitimate concern, because by this time, Robert McElroy was a Vice President and member of the Board of Directors of the Standard Oil Company.  The McElroys were very well-to-do.

Babe again asserted her independence and she and Dukie were married in downtown Chicago by a judge on January 20, 1930.  (When Dukie died on January 14, 1998, he and Babe had been happily married for just short of sixty-eight years!).  Here's their marriage license:


They returned to Nevada where they took up residence in a small house at 543 Humbolt in Reno:

543 Humbolt, Reno, Nevada

Strangely, the 1930 US Census (taken on May 9, 1930) reports Ailzia "Drake" as living with her parents in Wilmette.  They listed her marital status as "Divorced" and no sign of Florence.  Just goes to show that you can't always believe what shows up on the census.

Time passed and the Great Depression hit.  Dukie was still working for the Southern Pacific Railroad as a telegrapher but was finally laid off in 1933.  He was the youngest man in the Reno operation and he had the least seniority, so he was the first to go.  Job prospects were very grim in Reno, so he and Babe had to get creative to be able to earn enough money to live on.

Babe had always been an excellent bridge player, having played from an early age. She had an excellent memory and used to say that after everyone bid she could almost tell you exactly what cards they held.  So, whenever funds were getting low, Dukie would put Babe on the train and she would travel back and forth across the country hustling bridge for 1/4 of a cent per point.  Dukie still had a lot of friends on the railroad, so Babe could ride for free.  She would ask if anyone was interested in a bridge game and pick out her mark - and off they would go.  She said that it was her bridge hustling that paid their bills after Dukie lost his job.

But even that tapered off after a while, so finally Dukie, Babe and Florence packed up and returned to Chicago.  Babe had decided to swallow her pride and ask her family for help.  They took what little savings they had and rented an apartment at 1636 W. Juneway Terrace in Chicago:

1636 W. Juneway Terrace, Chicago

After getting settled in, they went to see the McElroys to ask for help.  Robert McElroy let them know that financial help would not be forthcoming from him.  He reminded Babe that he and her mother were against this marriage, as they had been against her first marriage.  He also reminded her that he had said previously that he would not support them, so he did not understand why she was asking.  This was a real blow to Babe.  She had always been very close to her father, and she could not understand why he was unwilling to help.  After all, there was a nationwide depression, and that certainly was not her or Dukie's fault.  Reminiscent of Mr. Harper's refusal to help so long before ("You made your bed, now you can lie in it.") Robert McElroy's advise was just as pithy: "Ailzia, live fish go upstream and dead fish go downstream.  Now go out there and find a job."  Rough advice when the national unemployment rate was 24.75%.

Babe and Dukie talked it over and decided that they had the best chance of finding work where there was the highest concentration of jobs:  in downtown Chicago - the Loop.  So every day after breakfast they took the El (elevated train) downtown.  Each day they picked a new street - Babe took one side and Dukie too the other and they went into every single business on that street asking for work.  They went into every ground level store and every high rise office building.  Day after day they "swam upstream" as hard as they could.  Finally, a break.  Babe got a job in a doctor's office because she had taken some nurses training long ago after she left St. Mary's.

Dukie had always been adept at working on cars, and he finally got a job at a Standard Oil gas station at 6601 N. Sheridan Road in Chicago.  There is a parking lot on that site today.   

And so, by the end of 1933 both Babe and Dukie were working in Chicago.

Life went relatively smoothly for Babe and Dukie until about 1937.  Robert McElroy, Babe's father had always enjoyed good health.  He was a big man - about 6'-4" and had a robust constitution.   But starting about 1937 people began to remark that he was losing weight, and he seemed to have lost all his energy.  When the diagnosis finally came it was a shock - cancer.  Babe took her father's illness especially hard.

Babe and Dukie were happily married, and there had been a reconciliation of sorts with Babe's family.  They could not help but like Dukie, and once they saw that he was not a fortune hunter, and that he was taking good care of their daughter and granddaughter they relented. 

By the beginning of 1938 Babe realized that her father was dying.  When Robert McElroy checked into Henrotin Hospital for a long stay, Babe and her mother dealt with the crisis in exactly opposite ways.  Florence McElroy stayed away from the hospital, going about her life as if nothing at all was wrong.  Babe, on the other hand, stayed by her father's bedside morning and night - some nights even sleeping in her father's room at the hospital.  To pass the time, Babe took up knitting, and after awhile she said she had knitted blankets for almost the entire hospital staff.

But Robert McElroy was terminal, and he died at Evanston Hospital on June 25, 1938 at the age of sixty-one.     

Here's his obituary from the Chicago Daily Tribune of June 27, 1938:


Florence McElroy bought ten graves in Section S of Rosehill Cemetery.  Why ten graves?  She said she did not want to be near anyone else.  Robert McElroy is buried in front of a beautiful monument of Vermont marble:
        
The Grave of Robert H. McElroy
 
 
Babe took her father's death very hard.  After the funeral she took to her bed where she stayed day after day.  She wasn't interested in eating or anything else.  All she did was stay in her darkened bedroom and cry.  Dukie and Florence tried everything to get Babe to start living again with no success.  Finally Dukie called their family physician, who had also been the doctor for Babe's father.  After checking Babe over he sat down on the bed and gave her a good talking-to.

The doctor told Babe that her father would be horrified at her behavior, had he known.  The doctor reminded Babe that her father was dead, and nothing would change that - but that she had a husband and a daughter who were alive, and she owed it to them to get out of bed and get on with her life.  He told her he wasn't leaving until she got up and got dressed and went out into the living room.  Babe told me later that she was so overwhelmed with her grief that she didn't realize what it was doing to those around her, so she took the doctor's advise and got out of bed, got dressed, and started living again.
 
Here's a photo of Babe and Dukie from about 1940:
 
 
The years passed - Florence entered Northwestern University in 1939 at the age of sixteen, but soon became bored with the structure and discipline, so she pulled a stunt that even topped her mother - she ran away from home and started following Frank Sinatra around the country.

Eventually the excitement of being a Sinatra "groupie" wore off and Florence returned home.  She wasn't interested in returning to school, so she shocked everyone when she enlisted in the US Marines Corps. While serving in the Marines, Florence met her future husband, George F. Wurster (1923-2007) of Shamokin, Pennsylvania.  George was a devout Catholic so Florence took Instructions and became a Catholic before their marriage in 1945 in Philadelphia.

So now Babe and Dukie were "empty-nesters."  By the early 1950s they decided that their apartment was too big for just the two of them and decided to start looking around for a small house.  Babe had inherited some money from her father, and always lived frugally - a habit she acquired during all those years with Phil Harper.

Babe and Dukie were on very good terms with Babe's mother.  Although Florence McElroy was fiercely independent - she stayed in that big house on Sheridan Road all by herself until the 1960s - as the years passed she began to rely more and more on both Babe and Dukie.

Babe's brother, Robert McElroy, Jr. had married and had a family of his own and was available to his mother, but was busy with family and career responsibilities.  A success story in his own right, Robert McElroy Jr worked his way up to Vice President of the Pure Oil Company.  He was not interested in riding his father's coattails, and when he started his career even used an assumed name so no one would know of the connection.

When Babe and Dukie told Florence McElroy that they were looking at houses, she picked out one for them and offered to pay for it as a gift to Babe and Dukie.  The home Florence picked out for them was a magnificent home on Lunt Avenue in Chicago overlooking Indian Boundary Park.  They refused her offer.  Dukie told me years later that he felt if they accepted the house as a gift, that they would feel they were beholden to Babe's mother, and that was a situation he did not want to be in.

Instead they found a cute little two bedroom bungalow at 1020 Harvard Terrace in Evanston, that they bought with $20,000.00 of their own money:

1020 Harvard Terrace, Evanston

Hey - what about me?  I thought this was a story about the most unforgettable woman I ever met.  So far I have covered 50+ years of the story and I am still not in the picture.  Well, my friendship with Babe and Dukie didn't really blossom until about 1971, so we'll just say that I came along "in the last act."  So to find out "the rest of the story", as they say, come back next Friday and I'll tell you all about it.

You didn't really expect me to cover 102 years of living in just two installments, did you??? 

Friday, September 12, 2014

THE MOST UNFORGETTABLE WOMAN I EVER MET - Ailzia M. Drake - Part One

The phone rang at a few minutes after 5:00 AM on the morning of October 28, 2004 - never a good sign.  I answered with a sleepy "Hello" and the voice said "Mr. Craig, this is Lincolnwood Place.  We are calling you about Ailzia Drake.  We had a report from her caregiver that she passed away a few minutes ago."  "But she was doing better last night when I called," was my response.  "Oh well, I'll call her nurse."

I dialed the number and the nurse answered, "Jim?" "Yes," I responded, "what's up?"  "It's Mrs. Drake.  I think she's dead," the nurse replied.  "You think she's dead???," I said.  "You don't know for sure?"  "No," the nurse replied, "but I think she's dead."  "I'll be right over," I said as I hung up the phone.

When I entered her apartment at Lincolnwood Place in Lincolnwood, Illinois, I could see why her nurse made the comment she did.  Mrs. Drake looked like she was sleeping.  Other than the fact that she wasn't breathing she looked calm and peaceful.  

With that, the long and storied life of Alizia McElroy Drake came to an end, 102 years after it began.  Looking back now, almost ten years after her death, I can say that she was a dear friend, but more than that she was a very interesting woman.  In fact, I can safely say that she was the most unforgettable woman I ever met.  So settle back and let me tell you a fascinating 102 year story about a fascinating woman.

Ailzia Lathrop McElroy was born May 6, 1902 in Chicago to Robert Hemmington McElroy, Sr. (1877-1938) and Florence Queen, nee Dascombe (1876-1967):

R.H. McElroy
Florence McElroy

 
She joined her big brother Robert Hemmington McElroy, Jr. (1898-1969)  The first interesting fact about Ailzia was her name.  Her father, who chose her name, said that years before he had been on a trip to Canada where he saw a professional swimmer named Ailzia Frank.  He liked the name so much that he said if he ever had a daughter he would name her "Ailzia" and he did.  Her middle name "Lathrop" was because she was a direct descendent of Wisconsin pioneer William Henry Lathrop.  She used to say that Lathrop Hall at the University of Wisconsin was named for her family.

Lathrop Hall

Her big brother Robert couldn't get his mouth wrapped around the name "Ailzia" so from the very beginning he called her "Babe" and that's the name that stuck.  And so, for the rest of this article, except where it is not appropriate, I will call her Babe.

When Babe was born, the family was living at 602 (now 1750 W.) Pratt in Chicago:

1750 W. Pratt

By the 1910 US Census the McElroy family was living in Wilmette, Illinois at 1607 W. Lake Street:

1607 W. Lake Street, Wilmette

Robert McElroy Sr. lists his job as "Traffic Expert" with the Standard Oil Company.  Robert McElroy Sr. is a success story in his own right, and will be featured in a future article in this blog.  He started his long career with Standard Oil in 1906.  Florence, Robert Jr, and Ailzia were all listed as not having an occupation.  Babe used to say that her family moved to Wilmette "right after the Ouilmette Indians moved out."

To say that Babe was a hellion as a child is an understatement.  She used to laughingly say years later that she was kicked out of some of the finest schools in Chicagoland.  She told me that among the many schools she had attended was Evanston Academy, the prep school division of Northwestern University. 


The Evanston Academy closed in 1917, so her father then decided to send Babe to a school where she would experience a little discipline:  St. Mary's Academy, Notre Dame, Indiana.


Although Babe was not a Catholic her father decided that the structure and discipline of a Catholic girls' school would be good for her.  Robert McElroy had been raised a Scots Presbyterian; Florence Dascombe came from a High-Church Episcopalian family.  Neither Babe nor her brother received any formal religious education after their baptism as infants.

Although Babe chafed at the structure of St. Mary's, she loved it there.  Back in those days there were so many nuns that each student had a nun assigned to her as a mentor/guide/buddy.  Babe's assigned nun was Sr. Clare Assisi, who she came to love like a blood sister.  Those were the days when nuns wore full habits but that did not stop Sr. Clare Assisi from playing tennis or golf, or many other of the athletic activities for the students.  Babe said that Sr. Clare Assisi had come from a very well-to-do family and was very highly educated.  She had given up a life in Society to become a nun and teacher.  Babe said that she used to love the long talks that she and Sr. Clare Assisi used to have as they strolled around the beautiful campus at St. Mary's.

While Babe was still at St. Mary's, Sr. Clare Assisi died suddenly.  As was the custom then, she was waked in the school chapel.  Coming from a non-Catholic background, Babe had never been to a wake before that featured an open casket.  Babe said that all the girls were to line up and file slowly past the casket.  When it was her turn, Babe took one look at Sr. Clare Assisi in the open casket and fainted dead away.

Although Ailzia McElroy is prominently featured among the graduates in the 1920 St. Mary's yearbook,

 
that is not exactly what happened.  Babe was kicked out of St. Mary's prior to graduation because she had been caught smoking a cigarette and had "bobbed" her hair.  In 1920 long hair was considered the sign of a "good" girl; whereas if a girl had short hair she was called a "flapper" and the implication was that she was a person of loose morals.  And, of course, "good" girls did not smoke cigarettes.  So Babe topped off the list of schools she had been kicked out of, with St. Mary's of Notre Dame.

(An interesting side note:  When she was in her 80s, Babe returned to St. Mary's for a visit.  She was ushered into the office of the principal who asked her what year she graduated.  She replied that she was Class of 1920 but that she had been kicked out prior to graduation.  "What did you do to get kicked out?", the nun asked.  "I got caught smoking a cigarette and bobbed my hair," was Babe's response.  "Oh my goodness," the nun said, "the nuns here today do worse things than that.")

It is interesting, however to take a look at Babe in the 1920 St. Mary's yearbook.  I did not find this yearbook until after Babe was dead, so I was never able to ask her anything about it, but it does provide an interesting insight into the Babe McElroy of 1920.  Here is an essay she wrote on Booth Tarkington that was included in the yearbook:



         
From the yearbook Class Prophesy:


In about 1915 her father bought the beautiful home at 704 Sheridan Road in Wilmette:

704 Sheridan Road, Wilmette

Babe had the front bedroom and during the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918 she used to sit in her bedroom window and watch all the horse-drawn hearses bringing the dead soldiers back from Fort Sheridan. 

If she looked in the other direction from her bedroom window, she could see the Bahai Temple being built:

Bahai Temple, Wilmette, Illinois

So now it's the spring of 1920 and Babe is back home in Wilmette with nothing to do.  According to her she spent each day at the parks and beaches with her friends.  Gilson Park in Wilmette had not been built yet, so Babe could walk out her back door about 1/2 block and be at the shore of Lake Michigan.  Babe was very athletic and an expert swimmer.  She spent her days with her friends swimming, playing tennis (more about that later) and dancing.  And her love of dancing would take her into the next phase of her life.

(Another side note:  It's about this time that Babe became one of the original "Polar Bears" a group that would break the ice and go swimming in Lake Michigan on New Years Day each year.) 

The February 27, 1921 edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune featured the following article:


The Tribune notwithstanding, that's not exactly how it happened.  According to Babe, Phil Harper was part of the crowd she hung around with.  Phillip Francis Harper (1899-1980) came from a well-to-do French Canadian lumber family.  The Harpers had a big home on Sheridan Road in Chicago and undoubtedly Babe and Phil's paths would have crossed as they moved in the same social circles.  

Years (75 years to be exact) later, one day Babe and I were talking about her marriage to Phil.  "What made you marry Phil Harper?"  I asked.  "He was a good dancer," was her response.  She admitted to me then that when she married Phil she really didn't know him very well.

Anyway, they decided to "run away and get married" on Valentine's Day, February 14, 1921.  The Tribune said they had gotten married on a Sunday.  In those days Catholics would not have marriages on Sunday and February 14, 1921 was a Monday.  I suspect this was a story the families came up with for public consumption.  

I used to tease Babe every Valentine's Day with a hearty "Happy Anniversary."   To which she would respond, "There's nothing happy about it."  She snuck out of the house early that morning in 1921 and met Phil at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Wilmette. 

St. Francis Xavier Church, Wilmette.

Babe wasn't a Catholic so they could not be married (in those days) in church with a Mass.  They had to be married by the priest in the rectory.  Then they went off on their honeymoon and cabled the news to their respective families.  

The families were not all that happy about the elopement.  Their first questions was "Why so fast - do you "have to" get married?"  (They didn't).  Robert McElroy Sr lamented that his only daughter would not have the big church wedding he had always planned.  "And what about all those gifts I have given to everyone's children over all these years?" the pragmatic Scotsman asked.  "This was my only chance to tap them for a generous gift in return."

Babe admitted that they eloped for the adventure of it.  But then life caught up with them.  They moved in with Harpers in the big house at 6821 N. Sheridan Road and Phil had to give up his dream of going to college.  (6821 N. Sheridan was razed in 1964 and an apartment building built on the site.)  Phil had a wife now, so he would join the family lumber business.  Babe always felt that Phil's parents never really liked her (they probably didn't).  Mr. Harper, Phil's father, insisted that only French be spoken at every meal because he was afraid the family would lose their French-Canadian roots.  Babe did not speak a word of French and had a very hard time at meals.  But, young people are resilient and she quickly became fluent in conversational French.

Mr. Harper decided that the best thing to do was to get the newlyweds out of town, so he sent them to Mexico City where Phil would oversee the Mexican lumber operations of the Harpers.  Phil spent all his time in the small towns and rural areas of Mexico; Babe was stuck in Mexico City.  She did not know a soul, and did not speak a word of Spanish (she had enough trouble with French).  To keep her company Phil bought her a beautiful collie dog which she used to walk all over Mexico City.  The dog was so well behaved that she started walking him off the leash, thinking it was not necessary.  One day the dog ran out in front of a car while chasing something, and that was the end of the dog.  Babe felt like she had lost her best friend (she had).

On a happier note, Babe found out in the Spring that she was going to have a baby.  She was due in December.  To all the nosy people who were counting (including her own parents) she passed the test.  She had not been pregnant when she and Phil were married.

Unfortunately she had a very difficult pregnancy.  She had terrible morning sickness compounded by the gastric problems many people have in Mexico.  She was alone, thousands of miles from home,  and horribly sick.  She begged Phil and her parents to let her come back to Chicago and they finally relented.  

Babe gave birth to her son Phillip Harper on December 8, 1921.  He died December 10, 1921 from a congenital heart defect.  The walls between the chambers of his heart were not fully developed and therefore his heart could never function normally.


Because the Harpers were Catholic, Babe had agreed to raise any of their children as Catholics, so little Phil was baptized shortly after his birth. 

After the baby had died, the chaplain from St. Francis Hospital came in to see Babe and Phil.  The priest said that they were lucky that the baby had been baptized before he died otherwise his soul would not have gone to heaven.  Although as a cradle Catholic this would not have been news to Phil, he was so enraged that he vowed never to set foot in a Catholic Church again, and as far as Babe knew, he never did.  

Babe told me Phillip Harper (the baby) was buried "in the Harper Family Plot" at Calvary Cemetery in Evanston.  Years later when the Harpers moved to California they sold the big plot at Calvary and had little Phil's and one other grandchild's body moved to another section of Calvary.  They are there in an unmarked grave to this day.

When Babe and Phil moved back to Chicago before the baby was born, they did not want to move back in with the Harpers, so they rented an apartment at 6004 N. Paulina Street in Chicago:

6004 N. Paulina, Chicago

Life went on for Babe and Phil.  For awhile Phil worked for his father in Chicago but in about 1922 Mr. Harper transferred Phil to the Harper offices in Rochelle, Illinois.  It is here in Rochelle, that their daughter Florence Dascombe Harper (1923-2012) was born:

 
In accordance with the vow he made when little Phil died, Florence was not baptized, and received no formal religious training. 

Babe actually liked the rural, small town atmosphere in Rochelle.  She had never experienced life in a small town and she liked the fact that all the neighbors looked out for each other.  Years later, Babe and Florence were reminiscing about their days in Rochelle and their neighbor lady who raised chickens.   

But life was not all idyllic in Rochelle.  Phil Harper developed a gambling problem.  It got so bad that Phil would not come home on payday.  He would disappear, and then turn up days later, once he had gambled all the money away.  Every time, Phil would vow that he would never do it again, and the next payday the episode took place all over again.  Babe knew that her parents wouldn't help, so she got in contact with Mr. Harper and asked him for money so Babe could "feed his granddaughter."  Mr. Harper was unsympathetic.  He reminded Babe that she and Phil had run away and gotten married and that neither set of parents were too happy with news of the elopement.  Mr. Harper said he would help Babe just once, and after that she was "on her own."  His exact words were, "You made your bed, now you can lie in it."

The only bright spot was that the Harpers had a winter home in Pasadena, California and every year the Harpers would send Phil, Babe and Florence train tickets to come to Pasadena for the winter.  Babe said that she loved those days in Pasadena. 

Babe told me that Phil had a lot of friends in Los Angeles and once they were invited to an infamous "Hollywood Party."  There was a casket of cocaine sitting on the mantelpiece and anyone who wished could help themselves.  Neither Babe nor Phil partook of the cocaine.  Babe said she was too afraid of it.  At one such party Babe was feeling so good she called out "I feel like such a fairy tonight," and Phil slapped her.  He said she embarrassed him in front of all his friends.  

Life back in Rochelle was getting worse and worse.  Phil was disappearing for longer periods, and Babe had to beg, borrow and steal to get money to feed herself and Florence.  By the fall of 1928 Babe decided that she had to take action. 

In those days, the place where you could get the fastest divorce was Reno, Nevada, but you had to establish residency there.  During one of Phil's disappearances the train tickets to Pasadena from the Harpers arrived.  Babe cashed in the tickets and bought a ticket for her and Florence to Reno, and by the time Phil finally returned, his wife and daughter were gone for good.

Ailzia McElroy Harper filed for divorce from Phillip Francis Harper on October 26, 1928 in Reno.  Here is the notice from the Reno Evening Gazette:


The decree of divorce was granted October 29th.  Phil Harper's sister Helen Harper Graf (1897-1987) actually came to the trial in Reno and testified on Babe's behalf.  When he granted the divorce, the judge said that he had never had a case where the husband's sister testified on behalf of the wife.  Helen and Babe remained lifelong friends until Helen's death in 1987.

After her divorce was granted, Babe participated in the custom of throwing her wedding rings into the Truckee River in Reno from the Virginia Street "Bridge of Sighs."

Now Babe and Florence were free to enjoy life.  One day when Babe went to play tennis, little did she know that her life and Florence's would change for the better starting that very day.

We will take up Part Two of the story of Ailzia McElroy Harper Drake next week in this blog.  Stay tuned!