State of Maryland
My mother's mother has always been a been of a mystery to me and so has her family. Myrth - my grandmother - my motherís mother - Grandma.
A wonderful, beautiful, talented woman that I didnít know a great deal about - and despite what Iíve discovered I still donít I suppose. She died from breast cancer on November 16, 1977. I was twelve years old. She had spent the previous 22 months undergoing the disabling process of chemotherapy which would leave her frail, weak, bald and without any real desire to live. Diagnosed in early 1975 following a stroke, she underwent a radical mastectomy for a cancer that was already raging in her lymph nodes and most likely the remainder of her body as well. I suppose that the chemo halted the spread of the disease, but ultimately it delayed the end, turning the whole process of dying into what had to be an excruciatingly slow and painful death - something no one should ever have to experience. Ultimately she had to know that she was dying, and was helpless in the wake of this terrible illness. Sadly, when she knew she was dying, she began to remove photos from albums and burn things - telling my mother that she didn't want her pictures to wind up in an antique store or with people that didn't care. I was too young at the time to understand why she was doing what she was doing, but with my decision to do genealogy, I made up my mind that nobody would ever forget anyone's story - especially hers. My memories of my her are fleeting - I can recall them like snapshots in a photo album - but unfortunately there arenít as prolific as they could have been had she lived longer.
I remember rings of flowers and leaves in our hair at Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia; playing in her backyard at 3637 Hilmar Road and building teepees; her glorious rose bushes (tended carefully by my grandfather); the azalea bushes over the grave where their dog Tyler was buried; the garden in the back yard; trying on a Peter Pan costume that she made me; raking leaves in their front yard; Thanksgiving dinner at their home (she was a fabulous cook); sleeping over and getting to sleep with grandma; the huge attic in their house where my sister and I would run and play, literally for hours; dressing up in her gorgeous old dresses; being told by a relative that her grandfather was a Native American --then suddenly the wonderful memories cease and desist altogether, and all I remember from that point on was her being very, very sick - and then just as abruptly she was gone. I remember seeing my grandfather lean over her casket with tears in his eyes and kiss her goodbye. They had known each other since 1921 - they met when she was 15.
In cleaning out their house one year, my parents unearthed boxes of photos and other keepsakes, poems, notes and baby books - all covered with my grandmothers distinctive handwriting. Nobody wanted it, nobody was interested in it at all and for fear that it would land in the garbage, I procured a box full of the irreplaceable items, took them home and began to sort and in rapt fascination, began to read - and read - and read. This is how Iíve come to know this grandmother. With the help of my mother in 2002, who literally sat for hours and made me tapes detailing what she remembered and was told by others about the family, I've added onto what was already there - in the letters and poetry and most especially what was handwritten all over the the photos. Now that Iíve discovered more of who she really was, I wish that she had lived longer. I believe we could have been fast friends.
ďMy little hoard of precious themes, of
things that were. My one lifeís real blessing. Thank you God.Ē
According to my mother, my grandmother was born Myrth Ellers on October 25, 1906. She lived, for a time in a big white house on the Chester River in Chestertown, on Marylandís rural Eastern Shore. I don't know how true this was because the family is listed on the Baltimore census in 1910 at 104 N. Mount Street in West Baltimore. I do know that the Ellers family was originally from the Eastern Shore of Maryland so there very likely was a family home that they visited frequently. The home my mother spoke of was eventually sold to the Methodist Church and used as a camp on the Chester River. Per vital records the area was known as Booker's Warf at the time and is now Pecometh Camp. There has been some discrepancy as to the spelling of her first name. I was always told that it was spelled Mirth, but in a note written to her by her mother, the spelling is given as Myrth - whether that was a first name, middle name or a nickname remains a mystery. I will use the spelling her mother used. I believe her full name was most likely Norah Myrth Ellers.
She always told me that she was youngest of 10 children born to Sarah ďSallieĒ Everngam (b. 1865) and Benjamin Franklin Ellers, Sr. (b. 1861) Sallie and Benjaminís first child was James Martin Ellers (Uncle Marty), born in 1883 when Sallie was just 17. Next were a set of triplets who died because Sallie couldnít nurse them. From what I can glean from birth dates and census records - Sally was around 16 when she was married - either in 1881 or 1882. As a teenager, I can not imagine giving birth to triplets. There were no hospitals in the area at the time. According to my mother, the next child born was MInnie Ellers, born in 1889. The fourth child was Ada, who, again because there were no hospitals, died at the age of eight from diphtheria. According to the family, Sallie took the childís death very hard. According to her death certificate, she died in 1901, and while the family was living in Baltimore by then, Ada died at "Booker's Warf" in Queen Anne's County. Sallie had given birth to six children - four of them were deceased. Next born was Benjamin Franklin, Jr. in 1897, Lelia in 1900, Margaret in 1904, followed by my grandmother. Grandma never finished school - her writings are quite an accomplishment considering she never went beyond the sixth grade - something that is inconceivable by todayís standards. Years later, when she went to work for the state of Maryland, they requested the name of her high school. She either made one up or gave them the name of one that had long closed, so that they couldnít trace the records. My mother always thought that she was ashamed of the fact that she didnít complete school.
The Ellers family lived in Centerville, in Queen Anne's County but by 1900 they were in Baltimore in the 100 block of Mount Street. Sallie was the mother of 8 children but per the 1900 census only 5 were living. Ada would died the following year. Then it gets interesting. According to the 1910 census the next children were Margaret and Norah. Margaret is listed as 5 years old and if you look at the handwritten census itself, Norah is listed as 3. Also with the family in 1910 was Aunt Minnie's husband, Samuel Stickel and her son Earl - born in 1906. James Martin Ellers and his wife Minnie Kraft were also living at the Mount Street home along with their three children - Mamie, Genevieve and James P. Ellers. Mamie is listed with a 1906 birth date. The name missing is my grandmother's. There is no "Myrth" listed at all - just Norah.
According to my mother and my grandmother - James Martin - "Uncle Marty" as my mother knew him, fell while repairing a roof. The fall apparently left him with a severe head injury and he was committed to Springfield State Hospital in Carroll County. From Springfield in Eldersburg, he was transferred to Spring Grove Hospital in Catonsville about 1922. Census records confirm this - in 1920 he is listed on the rolls at Springfield and by 1930 he is at Spring Grove, so the injury had to have occurred sometime between 1910 and 1920. He used to wander away from the hospital a lot and they would call my grandmother to let her know that he was missing. Normally he would be found very quickly but one winter he wandered away and was never located. A farmer found his remains in his field the following spring as he was plowing. His death date is listed as May 1977, but he probably died sometime the previous winter. His death certificate lists heart trouble as the cause of death with schizophrenia listed as a contributing factor. What is even more perplexing is this: while the 1920 census reveals Uncle Marty in Springfield Hospital, his wife Minnie disappeared completely. His son James P. Ellers was placed in St. Vincents Male Orphans Asylum - he is on the rolls there in 1920 and by 1930 he is listed in the City Jail. In 1920, Genevieve was in the House of the Good Shepherd for White Girls which was just up the street from the family home and by 1930 she was listed as a domestic in a local home. There is no Mamie - she appears to have vanished too - but a Mary Ellers now appears as a niece with Minnie Stickle and her family. Given her age and birthdate - this is the same child. Just as suddenly on the 1920 census - a "Mirth" appears - listed as 13 years old and the daughter of Sally and Benjamin Ellers. Same address. If my grandmother was born in October 1906 like she said, and the census was taken in June 1920 - she would have indeed been 13. So where was she in 1910? She would have been 3. I believe that her name was really Norah and that it was either changed to Myrth - or Myrth was her middle name. I have been unable to locate a birth certificate for her - all I have is a death certificate. Trying to find relatives willing to talk has proven even more difficult - her sister's son told me years ago that there was some "family secret" but he had no clue what it was. Perhaps this is the reason she began burning things when she discovered she was dying. Perhaps she didn't want people to find out - perhaps not. What is perplexing is the disappearance of James Martin Ellers' wife. It is Of course it is possible that she remarried - but why were two of her children placed in orphanages? Where is the third - Mamie/Mary? Did she died young? Questions I will probably never have answers to.
The man Grandma called daddy was a boatman, probably a fisherman, who captained an ice breaker in the winter when the bay froze over to help get boats through to Baltimoreís inner harbor. He began drinking and eventually abandoned the family. Either that or Sallie threw him out. He came back a few times, once which precipitated a fight in which my grandmotherís kitten was stepped on and killed. He became a shoemaker and used to fix my grandmotherís shoes, so he apparently did see his children every now and then. Eventually I believe he drifted away from the family altogether. Myrthís wedding invitation contains only her motherís name; however, her father would not die until 1928, almost a full 2 years later, from pneumonia. He was apparently picked up on the street and somehow the hospital eventually got in touch with her. When she went to see him, she found him lying completely naked in a hospital bed. She always said that when elderly people were picked up off of the street, the hospitals would take away their clothes, and leave them uncovered so that they would catch pneumonia and die. In an age with no health insurance, if you couldnít pay the doctors, you were essentially left on your own. My grandmother always blamed the hospital for her fatherís death, although his lifestyle probably did nothing to help his condition.
Her sister Minnie's husband Samuel Stickel was a sailor who worked in the boiler room of a ship during WWI. He apparently had contracted syphilis prior to his marriage while in the service that he passed on to her. She died a terrible death according to my grandmother. Sallie used to send my grandmother and her sister Margaret to clean Minnieís house after she married because she was never well after that. Her husband died later; the heat in the boiler room where he worked at Mt. Claire aggravating his syphilis and making it worse. There were two children born of this union - Doretta, and Edward Earle Stickel - the boy my grandmother called ďmy beautiful nephew.Ē And he was handsome. What became of the niece, Mary is unknown.
Aunt Margaret married twice, but never had any children of her own. Her first husband was Richard Irvin Boteler, a jealous little man who, despite an affair of his own, would make my great-aunt wear numerous slips so that no one could see through her dress. She divorced him and remarried Irwin Charbonnet, a cajun from a large and respected family in New Orleans. He had several children of his own from a previous marriage, two of whom Margaret raised as her own. Aunt Lelia married Garland Wilson Glenn, my grandfatherís brother and Benjamin Franklin, Jr. (Uncle Frank) married Catherine Glenn, my grandfatherís niece (daughter of his eldest brother, Charles Rensalier Glenn, Sr.) following the death of his first wife Gertrude Davis.
Ocean City was apparently a favorite family haunt, for I have photos of her as a young girl and in middle age on the beach with different assorted family members and friends. Most of the photos though, were taken on the Eastern Shore on a family farm. My grandfather came in to the picture about 1921, when Grandma was about 15 years old. Her mother had a piano in the house, and my grandfather would stop by, play a few tunes and run back out the door. He lived a few houses up the street (108 N. Mount Street) and had a little dance band. According to her, he was a full seven and a half-years older than she, being born March 20, 1899, and supposedly this caused quite the scandal, most notably with her mother. Sanford, wanted to marry my grandmother the second she turned eighteen but her mother apparently had fits and they agreed to wait until she was nineteen. They finally married on March 20, 1926, which was also my grandfatherís birthday. She would turn twenty in October.
Following the wedding, she and Grandpop lived at 4205 Potter Avenue in the city. That home is still there - very near to Loudon Park Cemetery off of Frederick Road. The following is some of her writing regarding the marriage and their first home:
~~My ring - Sanford gave me on October 25, 1924 - It was on my eighteenth birthday. It was wonderful, that night, all the world seemed in harmony. The things he said were all that counted and then - the answer I gave him.
~~Our first dinner I served on Sunday 3/21st/26 - - -It wasn't very fine - of course we weren't very hungry. Noone is ever hungry when in love.
~~We entered out little apartment on our Wedding night. Every thing was in readiness. We ate our first breakfast - our Wedding breakfast in our little blue kitchen. Outside the birds were singing and the trees were just coming into bud - because this was the first day of spring. The birds were beginning to build their little nest - the same as we. "Life holds nothing sweeter than it's Springtime."
~~Our little breakfast room is of white and blue. It is the best room to me. It is all mine - it is a little throne to - where I alone am queen. It is so cozy, and I can look out and see the pretty trees, birds, and over in the trees I have seen fluffy squirrels. Our living room is of blue - most everything blends. We have pretty floor lamps that cast a soft mellow glow - just like a moonlight night. I love to sit there in the big chair and listen to my sweetheart at the piano.
favorite has to be this:
~~To my husband, Mar 21st/26 All true deep feeling purifies the heart. Am I not better by my love for thee? Still - I'm not selfish. I would give my life to buy you happiness. ~ Mirth
grandfather responded with gorgeous writing of his own
Pretty impressive considering that she never made it past 6th grade.
The pictures I have of my grandparents during the twenties are idyllic; photos taken at Loch Raven, Ten Hills, Druid Hill Park, and Woodlawn Lake, which is now the entrance to old Woodlawn Cemetery. Each is covered with handwritten humorous commentary and some is labeled with affectionate nicknames. Some is just plain charming and makes quite the humorous albeit aged observation about girls - they havenít changed at all. One page from a photo album is labeled ďTHE BOYĒ and is quite literally covered with photos of my grandfather. Adorable? Absolutely. Obsessive? Probably, but who cares, she was a teenager and he was a very good looking young man. I think every teenage girl plasters pictures of her heart-throb somewhere. Grandma just chose to put hers in a photo album and titled it in big, bold letters with a number 2 pencil so that anyone who was looking could see who it was that she was obviously in love with. Shy? Her? I donít think so. They were married for 51 years.
Their first home was 9 Glenwood Avenue in Catonsville, built in 1928. Just off the Baltimore Beltway today, back in the twenties, it was considered the boonies and everyone in the family made sure they told them so. No one wanted to live way out in Baltimore County then. Anyone who was anyone still lived in the city. It is here that my mother was born. She was actually born just down the street at St. Agnes Hospital, and she spent most of her formidable years living in that home. It wasnít until my mother reached high school, that Grandpop decided to build a home of his own in what is now Rockdale, just south of Randallstown off of Liberty Rd.
In 1928 within a few short months of each other, my grandmother lost her sister Minnie and her father. Both were laid out in front of fireplace at the Glenwood Avenue residence. I often wonder what the current residents would think if they knew that their living room was used as funeral space. All of the Ellers relatives from the Eastern shore came to pay their respects and stayed for a brief time with my grandparents. By the time the second funeral ended, according to my mother, my grandmother almost broke down herself. The stress of having 2 bodies laid out in her living room and having to feed and house an army of people took itís toll. After Minnie died, grandma took in her two children, Earle and Doretta Stickle. Minnie was considerable older than Myrth, and her children were fairly close in age in to her. My grandmother was by all accounts a beautiful woman, and her ďbeautiful nephewĒ did the unthinkable, even by todayís standards. My grandmother went to lie down and take a nap and she was startled by her bedroom door opening. Earle was standing there and apparently wanting more than was allowable from his aunt. My grandmother was very shaken by this, and told my grandfather who ordered both Doretta and Earle from his home.
In 1933, Lelia Glenn, grandmaís sister and sister-in-law, Garlandís wife, died. She had suffered a nervous breakdown (most likely post-partum depression) following the birth of her second son, Richard in 1928, and had quickly been committed to Spring Grove Hospital, the same mental institution in Catonsville that housed her brother James Martin Ellers. At Spring Grove, she contracted tuberculosis, and was moved to Mt. Wilson Hospital in Randallstown, then a State Sanitorium for TB patients, now North Oakes Retirement Community. Her sons Richard and Mifflin were split up and sent to relatives homes to be raised. My grandmotherís sister Margaret took in Mifflin for a while and my grandparents essentially raised Richard alongside my mother. I always called him "Uncle Richard" even though he was technically my mother's cousin. To her he was effectively her older brother. When Margaretís first marriage ended, she was forced to give Mifflin up and placed him in a orphanage. Their were no other relatives willing to give him a home and my grandparents had no room in their home for another child. Residing at 9 Glenwood Ave were my grandparents, who gave up their bedroom and were living in the unheated attic, my grandmotherís mother, Sallie, her sister Margaret, and Garland Glenn and his son Richard. There, simply put, was no more room. Mifflin lied about his age, joined the army, served during WWII and Korea and rose to the rank of 1st Lieutenant. He sent grandma (who he called "Sis") parachute silk and trinkets bought in Italy and Germany during the war.
During all this, Sallie suffered a massive stroke. My grandmotherís dear friend and neighbor Violet Bohannan recalls hearing my grandmother call her name. She went for help and told Violet that she thought that her mother was dead. Grandma kept calling, ďMama! Mama! Itís Myrth! Mother! Mama!Ē Eventually Sallie recovered, but Violet always swore that grandma had called her back from the dead. When Margaret remarried, Sallie went to live with her and lived another ten years, but was claimed by yet another stroke. Margaret also took in Yvonne, her second husbandís daughter. She was unable to have children of her own thanks to a pregnancy in her fallopian tube. She lost the ovary and the tube and never became pregnant again. They lived at 2810 Beechland Avenue in Hamilton. The home had a double lot, and during WWII, Uncle Irwin put in a victory garden which he kept up until he died. He also raised chickens. Eggs were in abundance and apparently, so was chicken for Sunday dinner. There was grape arbor in the yard and Margaret made jelly and canned fruits and vegetables.
Most of her immediate family is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery. It was a favorite place - I remember feeding the swans on the lake as a child with her and my grandfather. There is a stone on her grave, but her mother, father, sister Lelia, brother James, and sister-in-law Gertrude are buried just a few feet away in what is essentially an unmarked grave. There is one footstone the reads "Ellers" to mark 5 graves. Minnie and her husband are buried a few feet to the other side of her.
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