In 1999 my father purchased a very old home in our town and moved in. It's an enormous home and was built by a very influential man who obviously commissioned the finest craftsmen. The home was in a state of minor disrepair and had been split into three apartments at the date of purchase but most of the important features were still in tact. The pocket doors between each of the ground floor rooms are made of solid cherry, the fireplaces feature Italian marble or imported ornate porcelain tile and the parquet floors are exquisite. I was curious about the type of person who would go to such pains and expense to have such a showpiece built, so I began my research.
Having only a collection of four interior photographs taken May, 18, 1922 to go on, I went straight to the newspaper archives at the library. The subject of one of the photos is a young woman wearing a wedding dress so logic told me that there was a wedding announcement. From there I found the name of the woman and her parents' names and proceeded to sift through the years and years of microfiche searching for those names. What I was able to compile from those news articles was a fantastic portrait of a turn of the century wealthy man and the role he played in what our town is today.
Many of the articles were from the society column, telling tales of "The Ladies' Shakespeare Club" and elaborate parties held in the home, but there were also stories of the master of the house's travels abroad. One particular story told of the gentleman's 40 day voyage to Italy and of the slabs of marble that he'd purchased while there. No doubt this became the hearth for my bedroom fireplace. Another told of the family's trip to West Palm Beach, Florida to visit his ailing mother. This was a 1300 mile journey taken by car in 1918!
I am beginning to understand the importance of this man and his family in the history of our town. His father and a partner opened the first bank in our county and he also maintained a thriving business in his department store, the first and only one in the county, during the great depression. The building still stands and has recently been renovated to house a local bookstore. This is where the man I was researching worked all of his life, though something tells me that he wasn't earning normal store clerk wages.
Because I am a woman, my focus soon shifted to the women of the family. Though the men are interesting to me, the women are fascinating. Both mother and daughter graduated from college and went on to have careers, often taking time out to travel to Europe, and still found time to volunteer. The daughter was instrumental in founding the local chapter of the Red Cross after volunteering for a month in Chicago. She held a degree in English that she used to teach and many of her writings were published in magazines and old text books.
I am currently deciding whether to write a historical fiction piece based loosely on the daughter, a historical romance based upon the mother and father, or just a fiction piece using their stories for inspiration. Decisions decisions.