Friday, April 8, 2016

A Wyeth Tragedy

Artist Killed by Train at Grade Crossing 
Philadelphia, Oct. 19 - Newell C. Wyeth, 62, noted American painter, was killed today when a Pennsylvania Railroad freight train smashed into his station wagon at a crossing at suburban Ring Road, Pa. Wyeth, whose home was at Chadds Ford, Pa., was accompanied by his 4-year-old grandson, Newell, who also was killed. 
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/20/1945.

 Most folks recognize the Wyeth name, and many would realize that the article above refers to the artist better known as N. C. Wyeth, father of the most easily recalled Wyeth of the entire artistic group, Andrew. Though N. C. was also quite an accomplished artist, his fame has never reached the levels of that of Andrew. What is less widely known is that N. C. Wyeth is believed to have had an affair with Caroline, the wife of his son Nathaniel and the parents of the youngster mentioned in the article.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Mary Newlin Murder

Sometimes research leads us to strange stories, filled with disturbing details and sordid facts. The story of the murder of little Mary R. Newlin of Chester County, PA in 1907, has all the right ingredients to make it a memorable story for decades to come.  A quick version of the story as it appeared in the New York Times appears below.

Accused of Killing Child 
Five-Year-old Stepdaughter's Body Buried in Yard 
Philadelphia, June 21. The body of five-year-old Mary Newlin was found today buried in the yard of the home of her stepfather, Irwin A. Lewis, near Avondale, thirty-five miles from this city. Lewis under arrest. John Newlin, her grandfather, is a nephew of William L. Elkins, the millionaire. 
The child had been strangled with a piece of tarred ope and over her head a burlap bag had been drawn. Near one of the little girl's hands was her mouth organ. This she had apparently clutched tightly up to the last, and the fact that it lay in the grave beside her is taken as proof that the child was murdered beside the hole. 
In suspecting Lewis of the murder of the child, the District Attorney's most important clue had lain in the facts of Mrs. Lewis's past. More than five years ago she was employed as a nurse in the Chester County Asylum for the Insane. There she had met Lawrence Butler, who was an attendant there. They were to have been married, but Butler unexpectedly departed for the South soon after both he and Edna Newlin, as she was known before her marriage, were compelled to leave the employ of the hospital. She returned to her father's home, where her child was born. 
Lewis and Edna Newlin had been childhood sweethearts and he knew all the facts of her life. Five months ago he married her. That the presence of the little girl was a cause of irritation to the stepfather was the motive for murder upon which the District Attorney worked. 
Little Mary disappeared last Sunday and her stepfather insisted she had been kidnapped.

As you can see, we have lots of newsworthy bits in this story - insane asylum workers, rich relatives, an illegitimate child, a  jealous stepfather, and ultimately, a horrible murder of an innocent child. It's really no wonder then, that the story was covered extensively in the press at the time, and perhaps even less surprising that Mr. Irwin Lewis was eventually executed by the State of Pennsylvania on February 25, 1909 for the murder of little Mary Newlin.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Strange Things We Read

I have to admit that I'm somewhat addicted to reading old newspaper articles, continually amazed at some of the stories that are found in old papers. My latest fascination started with this article, from the Philadelphia Inquirer on Jan 1, 1921:

West Chester "Crank" in Phila.; Bound West
Police Glad To Have Him Leave Home Town After Siege
Police in all parts of the city kept a watchful eye on the merrymakers, in an effort to single out Elliot Penrose Jones, the demented "Blond Giant" of West Chester, who left his home armed with two automatic pistols and took the train for West Philadelphia yesterday afternoon. Up to a late hour, they failed to find him.
Jones had held the police and several hundred citizens at bay with an array of firearms for several days, when they attempted to lure him from the home of his mother, Mrs. Anna Ralston Jones, on North Walnut St.
Leaving the house shortly after noon and carrying a handbag, Jones walked out of the rear door and announced that he was going on a trip. He refused to tell his relatives where he was going, although he had promised earlier in the day that he would go to the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane. This promise was qualified with the understanding that he was to be accompanied by a physician or attorney.
Boarding the train he rode to Frazer and then changed to an express for this city. Meanwhile neighbors telephoned to the West Chester police that he was headed for the station, but the police arrived there too late.
The mother issued a statement last night that she and her family would leave West Chester as soon as possible and locate elsewhere because of the notoriety caused by her son's actions.

My eye was caught by his mother's name, as the Ralston name is connected to some of my own lives, but this Ralston does not appear to be related to mine. While looking for more information about her, I found this article, from a few years earlier, also from the Inquirer:

Will Fight On in West Chester
West Chester, Feb 1. In the courts of this county today, Mrs. Anna Mary Ralston Jones, daughter of the late Mrs. Francis Hooton, through her counsel, presented a petition to have the will of her mother set aside, the claim being that the mother was unduly influenced by her husband and her daughter, now of New York. The petition also sets forth that Mrs. Hooton was of feeble mind at the time of her making the will, in which she disposes of all her estate, which is considerable, to Mrs. Guilford, Excepting $5, which is left to Mrs. Jones.

As it turns out, Anna Ralston's mother, Anna Rowan Penrose, married Colonel Hooton after Mr. Ralston passed away and she and the Colonel had a daughter together, Mary Penrose Hooton, the Mrs. Guilford mentioned in the article above.

Mrs. Hooton had passed away the previous New Year's Eve and though the article does not mention where she was buried, it was probably Oaklands as the Colonel was buried there when he died in 1904.

Just to make the whole story even more fun, the Colonel managed to create quite a stir himself:

Philadelphia Inquirer  3/9/1893
Charged With Contempt
West Chester, March 8. Colonel F .C. Hooton, a leading lawyer of this place and ex-chairman of the Republican state central committee, was arrested today by a Philadelphia court officer and taken to that city on a charge of contempt of court in not paying a claim held by Anna Jones, of Philadelphia. The trouble grew out of the estate of James Neely, deceased, of which Colonel Hooton was executor.

The Anna Jones mentioned in the story does not appear to be of any connection to the Colonel's step-daughter Anna, though it is certainly an intriguing coincidence. Months later,in August of 1893, the Colonel was sent to prison as the contempt of court had not been resolved:

Baltimore Sun, 8/2/1893
An Executor Imprisoned
Col. Francis C. Hooton, executor of the estate of James S. Neely, deceased, was today committed to Moyamensing Prison by Judge Hanna, of the Orphans Court. Colonel Hooton was ordered some time ago to pay $4,730(?) to Anna Jones, one of Neely's heirs. He failed to do so and was committed to jail for contempt of court. He cannot get out until he purges himself of the contempt by paying the money.

This soon becomes a bigger issue:

Philadelphia Inquirer. 8/9/1893
West Chester, Aug 8. There is likely to be trouble resulting from the Sheriff's sale tomorrow of the property of Colonel Francis Hooton, who is now in prison in Philadelphia for contempt of court. Hooton had a farm in Honeybrook township on which the sheriff levied on an exception issued by the Farmer's National Bank of West Chester. The tax collector levied on the personal property for taxes and sold some of it. Edward Brinton and Isaac Cochran then issued executions against Hooton and the question now arises, who has the right to the disposal of the property? Mrs. Hooton, the Colonel's wife, got a deed from the sheriff for a part of the property, and today she adds to the complications by exhibiting this. The consequence will be that every one will be afraid to bid tomorrow for fear of being mixed up in the most complicated case the county has ever had.

One can only assume that the Colonel managed to clear up some of the issues before he died in 1904. I would also be interested in finding out if Anna Ralston Jones ever managed to have her mother's will set aside and whether the other Anna ever got her inheritance. And did they ever capture Elliott? What a convoluted family this one is! Next time I get to Oaklands, I'll have to try to locate the Colonel's grave.