Thursday, May 5, 2011

Here's to Unknown Parts

I have been a little preoccupied with the 'present' this week, planning and running a yard sale with Ed and having our house on the market and holding an open house kept me busy. So, I haven't spent much time in the 'past' researching ancestors in my tree. Because of that I don't have any story about my ancestors for Henrietta this week.

Instead, I picked up that little scrapbook of newspaper clippings I have, which I have told you about before and I found an article that piqued my curiosity.

Maggie is always a helpful assistant when I am working on Henrietta. Here she fetches the scrapbook.

This scrapbook is filled with articles, mostly obituaries, primarily from the town of Southbridge, MA where my maternal grandmother's family lived.

This is the article that caught my attention:

 Leaves For Unknown Parts

Hayes J. Brackett, a well known citizen of Southbridge and for many years a trusted employee at the A. O. factory, has taken his departure from Southbridge, and has left for a distant part of the world unknown even to his most intimate friends. Every effort to find where he intended to make his future habitation was made in vain before he set forth on his journey. This is a step he has been contemplating for a long time, so it is rumored, and a fair opportunity presenting itself he availed himself of it. It is said that he wishes to forget Southbridge and hence has made no arrangements, so far as known, for correspondence with any local person whatsoever. The fact that he severed his connection with the American Optical Company, where he was held in highest esteem, did not become generally known until today, the first intimation to the public being made through the columns of this paper.

Mr. Brackett is a native of Southbridge and has always lived here. In recent years he has done more or less travelling for the American Optical Company.

All surmises as to the part of the world he is headed for are of equal value. He did not state where he was going, nor leave any hint, beyond the fact that it is far distant from Southbridge, and there among new scenes and new faces he hopes to pass the rest of his earthly days. His affairs here he has left as they are, and whatever becomes of them will be of little concern to him. He just simply reached that attitude of mind which compelled him to get out of this environment, and beginning life anew elsewhere he expects to find contentment and even happiness. He left in good spirits, nothing at all depressed with the thought that he was taking a long, perhaps eternal farewell of the scenes which have been familiar to him from his infancy.
Two notes, written by two different pens at different times, are added at the bottom of the article in my great great grandmother’s hand:

1st note:
Mch 1st 1913
Left Saturday

2nd note:
Returned Feb 20th 1914
5 o’clock PM car from Worcester

Here is the article, on the left side of the page.
Notice handwritten notes at bottom.
You can click on it to enlarge it.

The title of the article was intriguing, of course, but as I read it, I wondered if the person writing it didn't have some inside information. Was it written by someone who knew Hayes J. Brackett well or just by a journalist who wanted to be an investigative reporter in the worst way. It sounds as if the writer knows even more than he's willing to reveal. I am sure it was a big story in the little town. Maybe the reporter was covering for him. Perhaps they were old classmates. Hayes didn't make any secret that he was leaving, apparently, but he didn't tell anyone where he was going, either. The writer makes it seem as though Hayes was setting off on an exciting adventure, a cast-your-fate-to-the-wind sort of  life for which circumstances made him more than ready. And, I might even think, reading between the lines, that the writer was just a bit envious.

American Otpical Company
So, curious as always, I did a little research on old Hayes Brackett. Although I didn't find any ancestors we shared in common, my great great grandfather Harlan Tiffany and his son-in-law, my great grandfather James Lonsdale Paige, were both employed as executives for American Optical and were probably quite well acquainted with Mr. Brackett. They might have even known more about his plans than the article divulged. I can only assume that great great grandmother was just as curious as I was when she read the article, clipped it out and pasted it into the scrapbook. Maybe while she waited for the mystery to play out  she did some digging of her own. I'd like to think she did, just for fun, polling the locals and grilling her husband and son-in-law about the incident. But even if she didn't, the fact that she went back to write the note when Hayes returned indicates to me that it remained on her mind the whole year he was away.   
I was able to find out a few things using the 21st century tools I have to work with. Hayes Jurien Brackett was born in Southbridge on September 16, 1876. He had a twin brother named Haven Darling Brackett. In 1880 three year old Haven and Hayes were living in Southbridge with their parents, Fannie and George. Fannie and George certainly came up with some interesting names for their twins. This family were neighbors of my great great grandparents at the time, living only a few doors down on the same street. And I just know that great great grandmother was itching to find out all about what was going on with her neighbor's son when she heard about it.

Hayes was married to Marian W. Bickerstaffe, another Southbridge native, on Halloween in 1898. A year later, daughter Marjorie Viola was born. They were in their early twenties when they married. Hayes was a spectacle maker at American Optical then, having been out of work a while that year, he was glad to have his job. Marian was at home with the baby and an elderly Aunt of Hayes' whose name was Tamison Darling Bainbridge also lived with the young family.

Unfortunately, their marriage didn't last. As early as 1907 Marian and Hayes are living apart. In 1910 when daughter Marjorie was just 10 years old, Hayes is renting a room in a boarding house, alone. He had by then become a travelling salesmen for American Optical Co. He told the census taker that he was still married and had been for 11 years. Marian, on the other hand was renting a house on Dresser St. in downtown Southbridge which she was sharing with her daughter Marjorie and Marian's older brother John Bickerstaffe. John moved in to help her out. He worked at the American Optical Company, too, and probably knew Hayes fairly well. Marjorie was making ends meet by working as a salesclerk in a local dry goods store. 

When this article appeared, I bet it became the topic of discussion over tea when the ladies of the neighborhood got together. The whole town, at least fellow employees and their wives, were probably shaking their heads, and saying that they knew it was just a matter of time. The men in town may have been wishing at some level they could also just drop their responsibilities and head for "Unknown Parts". But, fortunately for their families, just Hayes headed there.

Just a random salesman's photo I found.
Could be Hayes. You never know!
A travelling salesmen might have had a reputation then, deserved or not and who knows who everyone blamed for the disapearance and disollution of the marriage. Brackett was an old family in this town and tongues were sure to be wagging. They didn't have All My Children or General Hospital to keep them occupied back then. I am thinking this may well have been how my grandmother learned to love her "stories" when they television finally provided her with afternoon entertainment.

As I was looking for records on Hayes, in 1920 I found his twin brother Haven Darling Brackett living with a wife named Marian, in Worcester. When I found out that his wife was Marian, I was just a little suspicious that the boys had shared more than a birthday, but no, it was just a coincidence that Haven also chose a bride named Marian.

Haven was easier to track as he was a much more public figure. He graduated from Harvard and became a professor of Greek and Latin at Clark University. He was a member of many academic organizations and  received several honors that show up in various educational publications. Professor Haven Darling Brackett travelled extensively and I found several records of passage for him on ships to and from Europe about the time Hayes disappeared. I was hoping to find him accompanying his brother on one of these voyages but did not.  
In 1920 Hayes resurfaces in the Southbridge census records, once again a travelling salesman with American Optical. They must have welcomed him home and back to his former position when he returned in 1914 after a year-long absence. My guess is that the good old boys who ran the company might have been living vicariously through Hayes' exploits way out there in "Unknown Parts" and what better way to  hear all about it than to take him back into the fold. By this time Hayes has a new wife whose name is Ada, although I never found a divorce record for Marian and Hayes.

Ada and Hayes lived in the neighboring town of Charlton in 1930, presumably a happy couple. They had no children. I found no record of his first wife Marian or his daughter Marjorie after 1910 and what happened to them is still a mystery to me. But I did find Haven and his wife Marian and Hayes and his wife Ada all buried in the cemetery in Charlton. Haven and Marian died in 1956 and 1963, respectively. Hayes died in 1962 and Ada outlived him.
My great grandmother's notes written at the end of the article indicate that Hayes was living in "Unknown Parts" just under a year. I wonder if there was some intention on Hayes' part to establish a case for abandonment so that Marian could file for divorce and get out of the marriage gracefully. Could it be that Hayes was planning his marriage to Ada? Or was the whole idea Marian's who would later leave for "Unknown Parts" herself, remarry and get on with her life? 

There is one more record that I found of some interest. In 1915 I found Hayes returning from Bermuda on the ship The SS Bermudian. The record indicates that he is married, but I don't find him travelling with anyone specifically. However, the records aren't always accurate. And, Bermuda makes a fine spot for a honeymoon, don't you think?


I love to find information about my ancestors because I feel that connection to them and to the past. But it's also fun to pull out a character from some random newspaper article like I did with Hayes Jurien Brackett and see what we can find out about them, making even a stranger seem more real. Just to follow that thread, one clue leading to the next is really fun for me. It's like solving a puzzle and once I get started, it's tough to stop. It's like I have been saying all along, it's all about the HUNT.


1 comment:

Heather Kuhn Roelker said...

What an interesting tale. I wonder if he had a deal with his bosses at A.O. to take a year off and they all kept it a "secret" to blow the story up. Great press for a company, don't you think?