Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Ruth Grows Up - The Rest of the Story

March is Women’s History Month. I used to do more marketing around that theme when my first book, Ruth by Lake and Prairie, was still newish, even though Ruth is only twelve in the story. I rarely talk about Ruth as an adult, but it seems fitting for the occasion.

I couldn’t believe it until I did the math, but it’s been seventeen years since Ruth by Lake and Prairie was published! Drawing on all the history I could find, it tells the journey to settle Naperville, Illinois. I chose Ruth as the main character because the children of Joseph and John Naper were only preschool-aged. Ruth is their niece and was also on the voyage, so it made more sense to use her as the main character.
Briefly, if you don’t already know this story, in 1831, Joseph Naper planned a community in Illinois. He gathered friends and family from New York and Ohio, including his brother, John Naper, and brother-in-law, John Murray, who was Ruth’s father. It was a four-week journey, most of which was spent sailing the schooner, Telegraph, through the Great Lakes to the Chicago settlement and then another three days overland to the DuPage River.

Bits of the story have come to light from odd sources over the years. Ruth’s older brother, Ned, gave some newspaper interviews when he was one of the last surviving original settlers. Some of the other families passed down details but didn’t stay in the area, so their contributions are harder to track down.

I have found nothing directly from Ruth like an interview or a diary. The Warren girls (of Warrenville) told a story about calling on a neighbor with Ruth. She shows up as a probable “female” in early census records and is later listed by name.


At twenty-three, Ruth married Harlyn Shattuck. Harlyn was part of a large family who had staked out land in Boone County, near Rockford. While Harlyn was clearing the land and building the farm, Ruth seems to have lived in Naperville at the New York House hotel, possibly working for brother Ned who was the owner. (Full disclosure: My notes are still packed away and I’m recalling this without confirmation.)

Eventually, Ruth and Harlyn moved out to the farm in Boone County where they raised their children Murray, John, Olive, Willard, and Orris. Nephew Byron Johnson became part of their family after the death of Ruth’s younger sister. Cordelia had given birth to her second son, Edgar, in December of 1846, but the baby died at the end of January and Cordelia followed a week later. Ruth and Cordelia’s father, John Murray, also joined the household for a while after his wife, Amy, passed away in 1856.


I never mention it in a presentation for children, but Ruth’s adult life must have been difficult. In 1845 alone, she lost toddler daughter Lovisa in July and baby daughter Louesa in September. Another daughter, her last child, died in 1863, just before her first birthday.

Ruth did not live to make old bones, either. I don’t know any details, but she died in July of 1864 at the age of 45 and is buried in the Shattucks Grove Cemetery in Boone County. This was during the Civil War and her son, Murray, named for her father’s family, had joined the 9th Illinois Cavalry in January of that year, along with several of his Shattuck cousins.

When fleshing out Ruth’s character for the book, I speculated that Ruth was family-oriented, the center of hearth and home. As evidence, I look at the care she provided for her nephew and her father and the fact that, after her death, the family seems to fall apart. Harlyn remarried, to a widow named Lucretia Orton Hall, and this second family shows up in Boone County history for generations while Ruth’s children scattered.

John died in 1872 at the age of 23, leaving a widow but no children. Military records list Murray as a deserter in September of 1865. He died in 1925 at the Fergus Falls State Hospital for the Insane in Minnesota. Orris married and settled in South Dakota. Willard, who was named for Willard Scott, stayed somewhat nearby in Kane County. Olive was the only one who remained in Boone County.

When I was writing Ruth by Lake and Prairie, I tried to find descendants to see if they had any knowledge that was handed down rather than published in books and records. There wasn’t much that was new, but I did correspond with a couple of great-grandchildren, which was great fun! I’m sure Ruth would be happy to know they still think of her.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Looking at Agatha Christie's 1920s Novels via Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises"

Hemingway's Writing Studio
Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1899, just a few years after the World’s Columbian Exhibition in 1893. One of the by-products of the Exhibition was that young people from rural areas were exposed to the Big City and all of the tantalizing advances of the American Industrial Revolution. Among those drawn to Chicago were writers such as Carl Sandburg, Theodore Dreiser, and Edgar Lee Masters. The years between 1912 and 1925 are characterized as the Chicago Literary Renaissance and Hemingway was coming of age during that time.

Sherwood Anderson, who wrote the stories in the book Winesburg, Ohio, was also part of this Chicago literary society. He met Hemingway in 1920 and became a sort of mentor to the younger man. By this time, Hemingway had already recovered from the wounds he received as an ambulance driver during World War I and had been writing for the Toronto Star Weekly.

Also during this time, Hemingway met and married Hadley Richardson. Barely existing on her small trust fund and his freelancing for the Toronto Star Weekly, Anderson suggested the young couple move to Paris where the post-war economy was more affordable and there was an exciting expat creative community. He even provided letters of introduction to his friends Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound.
Paris during the 1920s must have been amazing! Stein would hold gatherings that included Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, Sinclair Lewis and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and many other creative types. Hemingway moved in this circle as well and even asked Stein to be his son’s godmother.

In June of 1925, Hemingway returned to Pamplona, Spain for the Festival of San Fermin, which he had fallen in love with a few years before. He started writing The Sun Also Rises in July, finishing the first draft in just a couple months. Following revisions and edits, the novel was published in October of 1926. A second printing was ordered in just a couple of months.

People loved the book. Or hated the book. They found it realistic. Or a flight of fancy. Regardless, it remained in print for decades and spurred new analyses over the years. The character of Lady Brett Ashley has often been dissected and discussed. Was she a poor little rich girl starved for love or a spoiled slut without a heart? Since Hemingway wrote an awful lot about manliness and was married four times, one has to wonder how much he really understood about women.

Lady Brett was based on a real woman of Hemingway’s acquaintance, Mary Duff, Lady Twysden. She was in her twenties during WWI. While proof is elusive, it’s probable that she served in some capacity during the war as so many did, either working men’s jobs while they were overseas or nursing. That war time experience no doubt impacted women in many ways and influenced a lot of “flapper” behavior.

Yes, there was that new taste of independence in which a girl could work – often in trousers! – and make her own money. But war is a grim business and few families were untouched by that grimness. Many lost fathers and brothers and sons or brought them home maimed and broken. Girls who worked in hospitals experienced horrors daily such as amputations, chemical burns, and other disfiguring wounds. It’s no wonder fictional Lady Bretts and their real-life counterparts adopted a “devil take tomorrow” attitude.

Rereading Agatha Christie’s 1920s novels after contemplating The Sun Also Rises is an interesting exercise. Did mild-mannered Arthur Hastings suffer battle flashbacks? Were the outwardly self-possessed women screaming inside? “Keep Calm and Carry On” didn’t become a slogan until the next war, but seems to have been born during The Lost Generation years.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

101 Years Ago this Month, Agatha Christie Started her Around-the-World Voyage

Recently, I was researching South Africa, particularly Agatha Christie’s visit there. I was amused to see that her trip took place almost exactly 101 years ago. After boarding the ship R.M.S. Kildonan Castle, Christie wrote a letter headed: “First day: 20 January 1922.” She was to spend the next two weeks onboard, arriving in Cape Town, South Africa, on February 6. 

The Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company attached “castle” to the names of all their steamships, but there actually is a Kildonan Castle on an island just off the east coast of Scotland. The name “Kildonan” apparently refers to a Saint Donan who came to the Isle of Arran to convert the Picts to Christianity in 600-something. 

Christie was traveling with her husband, Colonel Archibald Christie, who was the financial advisor for the British Empire Exhibition Mission. The Mission intended to visit all of the British Dominions and secure their participation in the British Empire Exhibition, planned for 1924. 

While visitors certainly enjoyed the Exhibition, it was a financial failure and not the unifying celebration planners had hoped for. Critics pointed out that the pavilions depicted some of countries as stereotypically primitive by not showcasing their modernization as well as their traditions. Also, it was becoming harder to ignore the general friction growing between the British Empire and its various colonies, territories, and dominions. 

The Christies left their very young daughter behind to go on this ten-month-long trip. Not an easy decision to make, one supposes. In addition to having a grand time, Agatha certainly made the most of the opportunity and put many of the details into her books. “The Man in the Brown Suit” particularly follows her real-life journey and she based the character of Sir Eustace Pedlar on her husband’s boss, Major Belcher. 

image credit: R.M.S. Kildonan Castle by CC BY-SA 4.0

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

The Clarion in Holland’s 1886 Directory

One of the advertisers in Holland’s Business Directory – and a major source of information about all the other advertisers – is the Naperville Clarion. While it is no longer in publication, the Clarion provided news to Naperville citizens for over 100 years. For many of those years, the Givler family served as publisher and editor.

A series of newspapers that were available to Naperville readers came and went until the 1860s. In the early days, folks read the Chicago Weekly Democrat and then the DuPage County Recorder. Other briefly published newspapers included the DuPage County Observer and the DuPage County Journal as well as the Naperville Newsletter and Naperville Sentinel.

During the Civil War, Robert Naper and Dr. Robert Potter founded the DuPage County Press, probably so locals could keep up with the national news. In 1867, after local boy David Givler had returned from the War and found his footing, he bought the Press and changed the name to the Naperville Clarion. Givler wore all the hats from reporter to editor to publisher and his motto for the paper was "Neutral in Nothing; Independent in Everything."

Givler was born in Ohio, but in the 1850s, his family relocated to the Copenhagen settlement which was around Route 59 and 83rd Street. He married Abbie Matter in 1864 while on leave from his war service and their early years were spent in Copenhagen while Givler taught school.

By 1867, they moved to Naperville and Givler became a pillar of the community. He was a well-respected speaker on history and current events and visited schools as well as clubs and organizations. He and Abbie raised three girls and three boys, with all of the boys serving at some point in the newspaper’s print shop.

Son Walter switched from printing to working for the First National Bank of Naperville. In his later years, he was instrumental in preserving early Naperville history, especially the Martin-Mitchell Mansion which had been given to the town by Caroline Martin Mitchell.

Son Oscar spent time in the print shop, too, as well as serving as town clerk, but he suffered from childhood with a “catarrhal affection” and underwent treatment at Edward Sanitorium. Unfortunately, he succumbed at age 47, leaving behind a wife and son.

David Givler published the Clarion until 1905 when he turned over the reins to his son, Rollo. David continued to write and speak during retirement, but he never rallied after his wife of 59 years passed away in the fall of 1922. He followed her on January 6, 1923.

Rollo ran operations at the Clarion and provided other printing services until 1951 when he sold everything to Mel Hodell and retired to California. The Clarion ceased to be published in the 1970s, but most issues are available for perusing through the Naperville Library’s website. They make for fascinating reading and with the search function, you can find great tidbits about Naperville families, businesses, and events.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Furniture Makers and Undertakers in Holland’s 1886 Directory

It was common for craftsmen who built furniture to also provide coffins and the Holland’s Directory listed two men in Naperville: Charles Babst and Frederick Long. 

The mass production of furniture was just beginning, so stores might offer both ready-made and hand-crafted items as well as furniture repair or other fine woodworking. Coffins were a natural offshoot of the woodworking business and providing funeral services was an added source of income. 

I’ve written about Frederick Long before, but here’s a review:    

Long started his career in cabinet-making in 1857. By 1861, he was operating his own workshop and had added undertaking by 1870. In 1861, he married Amelia Beidelman and they had one son, Charles, who only lived until the age of thirty and left no children from his brief marriage. 

Amelia’s nephew, Oliver Beidelman, worked for Uncle Fred and eventually acquired the business. He and his son, “Dutch” replaced the old frame building on the corner of Washington Street and Jackson Avenue with an impressively large brick building. Adjoining the building to the north was a space where funerals were held and you can still see the arched windows of the chapel on the second and third floors. 

The Beidelman’s Furniture business continues to be run by the family and still occupies the corner building. The funeral business is now helmed by a different branch of the family with two Beidelman-Kunsch locations in Naperville. 

Babst’s shop was on the corner of Main and Jackson, which is now the parking lot for Dean’s Clothing. Holland’s says that Babst has been in business “a long time” and has “a fine hearse,” but doesn’t detail when the business started. As Babst was a younger man than Long, no doubt he had less experience. The Babst family is buried in Saints Peter and Paul Cemetery and the Longs are buried in the Naperville Cemetery, so apparently Charles Babst specialized in Catholic funerals. 

Long seems to have been a savvy businessman. He formed a partnership with James Nichols and John Kraushar to launch the Naperville Lounge factory in 1893. They hired a young clerk named Peter Kroehler who eventually also became a partner and then the sole owner in 1916. The Kroehler Furniture Company was a major employer in Naperville for many years. Technically, that company closed in the 1980s, but the name continues to be used with other manufacturers.

Babst also married, to Catherine Bauer of Alsace, France. They had eight children together. Two little girls, Mary and Cecilia, died of scarlet fever in 1887. Edward was a victim of the Spanish Flu and died in 1918 at Great Lakes Naval Base where he was serving during World War I. 

Two other sons also served in that war, August and Julius, and both returned home. Julius was around forty when he went overseas and it was not the first war for him as an army chaplain. The Naperville Clarion published many articles celebrating Father Babst. 

A third son, George, was married to Mayme Kennedy in Los Angeles with his brother, the chaplain, officiating. Mayme died in her forties of a cerebral thrombosis and there is no evidence she and George had children. 

Daughters Rose and Anna remained in Naperville with their parents. They seem to have been musical. Anna taught piano and both were involved in theatrical productions in town. During that time, Rose advertised for a position as an “experienced children’s nurse” so they kept busy, but neither one ever married. 

Mother Catherine passed away in 1903 and soon after Charles sold his “3-story stone building.” An advertisement in an 1908 issue of The Clarion tells that Babst offered his funeral ““paraphernalia and good will for sale. A good opening for a Catholic.” 

Where the family went from there has been difficult to trace. Tidbits in the Clarion tell of travels to Kankakee, Springfield, Colorado, and other places so it seems they liked to travel. 

The 1910 census has father Charles living in Naperville with Rose, Anna, Edward, and August. In 1924, the Clarion says that Capt. Chaplain Bapst was visiting his father and family, so they must still be living in town, but the 1930 census records Charles, Rose, and Anna in New London, Connecticut. In the 1940 census, Julius is living at the Fort Lewis Military Reservation in Pierce, Washington, with father Charles, now 89 years old, and his sisters Rose and Anna, both in their fifties. 

Charles Bapst passed away in 1941 and his son Julius followed in 1943. George was already living in California and his sisters soon moved to California as well. George died in 1951, but the sisters continued to live in Santa Clara until the 1980s. Anna died in 1984 at the age of 94 while Rose lived to be 100, passing away in 1988. All of the family is buried in Naperville in Saints Peter and Paul Cemetery, save George’s wife.