Sunday, February 24, 2008

Needed a boost . . .

Hi Family,
I have regretted not getting anything posted here for quite a while, but had, quite frankly, been on a low personal ebb (depressed?) and was preoccupied with multiple car and other difficulties which didn't let up for a frustratingly long time. I know, that was a long sentence, and I know I'm not the only one dealing with stuff. That's just how it was feeling.
But then, a few days ago, several events seemed to help lift my spirits, in spite of the fact that Jeanette's car (we've decided to drive it minimally until repairs are set up or another vehicle available for her) didn't want to start, and then the hood didn't want to close after I jump-started it, Monday morning.
First of all, what we were able to learn of Mike and Sue's adventure in Alaska and their finishing well in the Yukon Quest, had us swelling with pride. Before that, my colonoscopy had not been difficult and revealed that I didn't have any polyps or diverticuli and should not need another intrusion for ten years, and that was all good news. Being one of the presenters in an Alfred Bicentennial event (we told the history of Alfred's two fire companies) was fun and fulfilling. Did you know that I joined the A.E. Crandall Hook and Ladder Company almost exactly 100 years after they saved 33 South Main from greater damage of possible destruction? The tool shed, perhaps as the result of a Halloween prank, had caught fire and scorched the back of the house. According to Jean Lang's monograph, the fire was November 2, 1894, and I joined the company in the summer of 1993. The company's first chief was W.H. Crandall, A.E.'s nephew (and husband of Chester S. Clarke's nephew, I think).
Speaking of Chester, I went to Belmont last week to get a tour of Allegany County's historical records, from the county historian, Craig Braack. I was pretty sure I knew about most of them, but I wanted to see some historical-type people I hadn't seen for a while, and thought I might learn something. I did. Years ago, I had learned that each county should keep a record of a judge's decision to commit any resident to Willard Asylum, where Chester was rumored to have gone. But I had struck out in trying to find any record at that time, having asked the historian and others, years ago, where I would find a record of Chester being committed. As part of the tour, we went to the Surrogate's Court records (where I had filed the initial statement regarding Dad's estate, and now need to file a final report), and asked if their records would contain information on Chester's commitment. I was told that it should be in the Superior Court records, so I went to those files after our group was done touring.
I knew that Chester was reported to have been moved out of the family home in 1905, that he showed up in Binghamton Business directories beginning about 1913 (as a shoe-repairman), that cousin Neil Clarke had visited him there at some point and been told "don't bring him back here", and that he had died in 1925. Census records show that he was living alone in Alfred in 1910. Carol fairly recently had found that shoe-making was one of the therapeutic things that Willard "inmates" were given to do.
As for why Chester was sent to Willard, what I remember Dad saying was that Uncle Clarence and Grandpa (Ford) put him out of the house because he was verbally abusive. Anger management problems? Low blood sugar resulting in extreme crabbiness? Depression? Bipolar, leading to psychosis? Maybe Ophelia was overbearing and he reacted poorly to her?
Anyway, after the tour ended, I looked in the book of Superior Court records where I thought 1905 would be, and I think the first or second book I opened referenced "in the matter of Clarke, Chester S." in the index. I found that one and a second one, and I will transcribe a portion of each below:
"At a special term of the Superior Court held at the Court House in the city of Rochester New York . . . on the 20th day of May, 1905, present Hon. Nathaniel Foote, Justice . . . in the matter of the appointment of a Committee of the person and estate of Chester S. Clark[sic] an alleged incompetent person and an inmate of the Willard State Hospital, on reading and filing the petition of Robert M. Elliott, Superintendent of the Willard State Hospital . . . duly verified on the 6th day of April, 1905, asking for the appointment of a committee . . . the said Chester S. Clark was duly committed to said Hospital as an incompetent on the 5th day of July, 1904 admitted thereto on the 8th day of July, 1904, and is now an inmate . . . at the time of commitment was a resident of the town of Alfred, State of New York and that he has the following property namely an undivided one-half interest in 230 acres of land in the town of Alfred which interest will not exceed $3000.00 in value . . . it appears that said Chester S. Clark is married and that no committee of his person or estate has been appointed . . . Ordered that D.S. Burdick of the town of Alfred . . . is hereby appointed committee of the person and estate of the said Chester S. Clark . . ."
The second one says "At a special term of the Supreme Court held at the Court House in the Village of Belmont, NY. . . on the third day of September 1907, Present, Hon. Truman C. White, justice presiding . . . in the matter of Chester S. Clarke, an incompetent person, upon the coming in of the Referee's report in this proceeding, dated the 18th day of July 1907, by which it appears that the said Chester S. Clarke has so far recovered his mental capacity as to be capable of managing his person and affairs and that there is not any longer a necessity for a committee of his person and property and after hearing Crayton L. Earley attorney for the petitioner and Eldyn Reynolds of counsel for the committee D. S. Burdick . . . ordered that the said committee . . . be discharged."
Ok, so what does all this mean? That, perhaps because Ophelia (Chester's wife) did not do anything about it, the court appointed someone to look after Chester's property until he was again deemed competent, or was judged to be permanently incompetent. D.S. Burdick may be Dighton Burdick, whose farm (I believe) is the one just up the hill from the Alfred State College farm pond. I remember "Scotty" Bill MacCrea saying something about a connection with that farm, so I'll call him and ask what he remembers, and check on the property records to see if I'm right. I haven't waded through all the "legal-ese" but it may mean that D.S. Burdick was to make any of Chester's assets that were available, payable to the state, in exchange for his being an inmate at Willard.
I am working on a letter to the state, asking to be given copies of Chester's Willard records. I had been told that I couldn't even apply until I knew when he was admitted, but I first started looking about 15 years ago. I sure wish I could ask Gram about that. Ruth Norwood didn't recall anything when I asked her, years ago, and now she can barely speak. I think I'll ask all the old people I know around here, if they know anything, at all about it. Anyway, I am hopeful that now we may be able to get some understanding of what happened. Maybe I'll write a book about it, too (in my spare time).
I wanted to get this posted and let you know that some things are looking up, some things are being celebrated, and that we're doing ok. We spent most of the past weekend at Carol and Barb's, and it was nice to take walks with Nicky and Buddy and Ian and Carol, to eat a celebratory meal honoring Mike and Sue's success, and to relax a bit. Thanks, ladies!
I hope Mike and Sue and the dogs can stop over for a few days on their way home!

5 comments:

musiclover said...

Hey Doug,
Very interesting.... Puts some punch(excuse the pun) into Chester's commitment to Willard. "Inmate"? That sounds like jail. It was a locked ward probably, so I guess that makes sense.
Who else that's "old" is still able to give you family history? We are getting scarce. I fear I may not have grandchildren, the way my family is going with mental health. That scares me!!
Don't mean to bring you down! I do have good things happening, too. Bruce is taking me on a "surprise trip" this weekend. I look forward to hearing my Rabbi speak again, as he is back from Israel.
Shabbat Shalom. Much love, Cathy

Carol M. Clarke said...

Thank you, Doug, for giving me credit for discovering the shoe making workshop at Willard. I always feel good when I can add something (however small) to the huge body of genealogical work you have done. You giving me credit is the icing on the cake! (big toothy grin) If anyone is interested, I have a copy of a photograph of that shoe shop from a book that I found at the historical society in Penn Yan. Just to set the record straight, after reading "The Lives They Left Behind", I am thinking that Chester may have been "employed" in the shoe shop at Willard. The book indicated that the asylum was self-sustaining and self-sufficient during the period when Chester would have been there. They had their own gardens and such. If he did work in the shoe shop there, it may have been required that he do some type of work as part of his "incarceration" and may have made and repaired shoes for other "inmates". There were also "locked wards" described in the book for the worst of the afflicted. Accounts of those wards sounded inhumane. I will spare you details. If you want the gory details you can read the book. And that is my two cents.

shermaniac said...

Maybe it shouldn't make you feel good to have your great-grandfather called incompetent ... but on a day when you're feeling incompetent yourself, it seems just about right. It's not that I'm feeling incompetent really but a tad stupid and put-upon (no, Doug, not Sonny this time). I'm delighted that you got this information because I know it was an irksome thorn.

Carol, I still want to find the suitcase book but it hasn't appeared here at the NYU library, or hadn't the last time I checked the catalog. I might just have to order a copy if I can't find one in a bookstore though they might carry it somewhere. I wonder if that used bookstore in Wellsville will have copies after the reading next week. Tee hee. Doug, there were four copies of Mike Perry's Truck in the Strand half-price review section but I decided I'd lend you my copy rather than buying another one right now.

Barb Crumb said...

Sherm, I am sorry you feel that way.
Btw, the suitcase book is available at our local bookseller, Long's in Penn Yan. Funny that we should be able to find it easily and you have not found it with all the bookstores in NYC. (we are closer to willard physically but still the exhibit was just in NYC) If you want I can pick one up for you. It is $25 and hard bound, with some of the photos in color, unlike the copy Doug has which is newsprint and only b&w. Our little bookstore is pretty good.
Carol

gdeecee said...

I just finished reading The Lives They Left Behind (about Willard Hospital residents), and I am not comforted by Chester being called incompetent. He was most certainly misunderstood and, according to this book, was VERY fortunate to have only spent three years confined there. The stories in the book are all about people who endured big stresses in their lives and probably felt some desperation, and were simply put away, when they had difficulty dealing with everything. I feel overwhelmed so much of the time, that I really feel for all of them, and especially Chester, who was cut off from our family. I'm glad things are at least a little better now.
To help us feel better, I just posted A.B. Kenyon's obit at the Clarke Cousins blog. In scanning that out of the Sept. 24, 1931 Alfred Sun that Carol recently handed off to me, I found an ad for D.S. Burdick, Attorney. He was the one appointed by the court to take care of Chester's affairs during his confinement.
Thanks, Carol.