Thursday, April 19, 2012

“Shut Your Pie Hole”

If you have ever said “Someday I want to attend the Scottish American History Club,” let me give you a special invitation to attend May 5, 2012. May is our birthday month mostly because May 5th is my birthday, but there are others I can name: Jim Bell, Sandy Kerr and Joe Feehan for instance, and I am sure I have forgotten someone.

Our special speaker is Michael C. Copperthite, President and CEO of Capital Campaigns, Inc. based in Washington, D.C.  A former top Campaign Manager and Consultant to the Democratic Congressional Committee. Michael has worked on campaigns since 1968.  First as a volunteer for Robert Kennedy and later he served on the presidential campaign staffs of Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Richard Gephardt, and Bill Clinton and as assistant to House Speaker, Thomas P. O’Neil.  His company is a Strategic Planning, Government Relations, Marketing, and Public Relations company with experience in the national political scene for over 30 years.”

In spite of his impressive resume, Mike Copperthite is not coming to our History Club to talk politics.  Instead, he is coming to talk about his family and especially his great grandfather, Henry Copperthite. In 1885, Henry and his wife arrived in Georgetown with a wagon, horse, and $3.50. They started baking and selling pies. By 1914, Henry was producing 60,000 pies a day in Washington, D.C. It is an amazing story of hard work, ingenuity and honesty. You will hear how he gave back to his community in much the same way Scots have done for generations. The original company was sold in the 1950s.

Mike and his family are now announcing the historic return of the Connecticut Copperthite Pie Baking Company at The Taste of Georgetown on June 2, 2012. They plan to open a retail store in the fall to be called “Shut Your Pie Hole,” and will be using the world famous recipes that Henry Copperthite developed for the original company. Proceeds raised will go to the work and charities of Grace Episcopal Church and the Georgetown Business District.

You will have a chance to taste these pies at our History Club meeting on May 5. Mike is bringing pies with him from Washington. They will be warmed in the kitchen of the Scottish Home and served in Heritage Hall. You must make reservations and seating will be limited to 60 people.

Mike and I first met on the internet. He came across one of my blogs last fall and we began a series of emails and later telephone calls. He is an engaging man, with lots of energy and eager to tell his family story. Please call Kristin at 708-447-5092 to make your reservations. There is no charge.

Wayne Rethford, President
Scottish American History Club of Chicago

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Miss Mary Garden - Born in Aberdeen, Died in Aberdeen - in Between She Rocked Her World

During our recent tour of the Auditorium Theater in Chicago, the name of Mary Garden was mentioned several times. Mary Garden is a member of the Scottish American Hall of Fame located in North Riverside, Illinois. Some of the things Mr. Thomson wrote for her plaque are mentioned in this article.

Mary Garden was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, on February 20, 1877. Her father, Robert Davidson Garden was a prosperous engineer. Her mother was Mary Joss. The Joss family was prominent in government, the military and business. When she was six years old, her parents emigrated to America, settling in Chicopee, Massachusetts, and Hartford, Connecticut. In 1888 the family moved to Chicago where Mary learned to play the violin. In 1907 her father was the president of Harrolds Motor Car Co. that sold the Pierce-Arrow automobile. When her parents moved to Philadelphia, Mary stayed in Chicago to continue her education.

At age 12, she was playing concerts and singing for Sunday schools. She studied music and singing with Sarah Robinson Duff and attended Chicago’s public schools. She later studied piano and in 1896 went to Paris to further her musical education. A note on the Society page said: “Mrs. Sarah Robinson-Duff and Miss Mary Garden will sail for Europe on Saturday.” David Mayer and his wife took an interest in Mary and paid for her education both in Chicago and Paris.

In Paris she studied voice under some of the great contemporary teachers like Trabadello and Chevalier. On April 13, 1900, when the leading singer in Charpentier’s “Louise” suddenly became ill during a performance in the Opera Comique, Mary Garden was sent on stage as a substitute. She continued in the role for more than 100 performances. She went on to perform in Brussels and London.

She returned to the U.S. in 1907 to make her American debut in New York in “Thais.” Returning to Chicago in 1910, she appeared in the title role of “Salome” and until 1931 performed with the Chicago Grand Opera Company. Among her friends was George M. Pullman. It was said that Mr. Pullman “would break down and weep” when she sang “Annie Laurie.” When he was ill or troubled with insomnia he would send for Mary and her chaperon to come to his house and Mary Garden would sing to him. She first met Chicago society at a reception given by Mr. and Mrs. William J. Chalmers in 1910. Mrs. Chalmers was the daughter of William Pinkerton, the Scottish detective.

Miss Garden was warmly received in tours of American cities between 1949-1954. She also appeared at the Edinburgh Music Festival. Wherever she traveled, Mary Garden was always a sensation. She once attended a reception in New York City in a blue dress and one lady wrote to her friend: “It was really the most startling thing I ever saw, my dear. The bodice was cut so low in the back it reached the girdle, and in front - O, heavens! I should say it was a gasp. We all gasped when she came in.”

Mary Garden was a star in Chicago for more than twenty years (1910-1931) and in 1922 was made the managing director of the Chicago opera. It was a magnificent season but the deficit was more than a million dollars. It is said that Harold McCormick wrote a “check for a large chunk of it, and said it was a pleasure.” Financially, Mary Garden did quite well with property in Aberdeen, on the Rivera and in Corsica.

When she was 75 a reporter asked if “romance had ever come her way.” She replied it did, “her eyes twinkling. But I always put it in the scales and weighed it against art. It was always the same. Down went the gentlemen and up went the art.” She continued, “There were four men in my life, but, I’m not telling who they were. Anyway, I wouldn’t want any man trailing after me as Mr. Garden.”

She retired to Aberdeen and wrote her autobiography, “The Mary Garden Story.” She died in a nursing home, January 3, 1967 at the age of ninety.  Her funeral service was held at the Aberdeen crematorium and was conducted by The Very Rev. Richard E. Kerrin of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral. Her lawyer reported that there were no close family members who could attend. Her only remaining sister, Madame Helen Garden, lived in southern France, was in her 80s and too frail to attend. I don’t know if there is a burial plot in Aberdeen. Perhaps someone can check for us. In 1927, the Chicago Daily Tribune ran a story about her father with a picture. It reported that he lived in New York City and was wintering at Nassau. I could find no information about her mother as to her death or place of burial. It would be interesting to see Mary's will, and I once knew how to do that but have forgotten. I had to purchase a copy as I remember. Perhaps, someone can help.

I found enough newspaper quotes to make an entire blog. She once said that only lazy women married and that men were only interested in business. She explained her stubborn independence by saying, “We were all born in Aberdeen except Helen. We were Scots through and through, and that, I think, is what makes me so independent. She said: “So I live, and will die - a Scot.”

 Mary Garden rest in peace. You are not forgotten.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrew’s Society

The Scottish American History Club of Chicago will meet on May 5, 2012. Some of you know we celebrate birthdays at this meeting each year. This is a special birthday for me and I hope others will join us. There is a possibility that we will have a variety of pies shipped to us from Washington, D.C. You will be receiving more information about this soon. Watch for the email.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Mary Slessor, Presbyterian Missionary, Raised in the Slums of Dundee to become the "Mother of all the Peoples"

Mary Slessor was born December 2, 1848 in Aberdeen, Scotland. Her father was a shoemaker but also an alcoholic. In an attempt to start a new life, they moved to Dundee where her father obtained work in the mills. Her mother was a weaver. In the 1840s, Scotland was undergoing great changes as steam powered looms began to overtake the cottage industries. Crops were poor for several years and families were moving into the cities to find work. The cities were squalid, unsanitary places with families crammed into one-room houses called “single-ends.” Mary Slessor was ten years old.

When she was eleven, this small child began working in the mills as a “half-timer.” She would begin working at 6 a.m. and would finish at 11 a.m. Then, it was school from noon to 6 p.m. It was a difficult world, but one that provided Mary the ability to later cope with the forests of Africa. If you could survive the slums of Dundee in the 1840s, you could survive anything. Today, Dundee is a beautiful city with a great university.

Her mother was a very religious person and would read the children missionary stories from “The Missionary Record.” She encouraged the children to play as missionaries teaching African children. They attended the United Presbyterian Church. During her teen years, Mary Slessor by her own admission was rather wild and, of course, to survive in the mills one had to be tough. By now, she worked full time and attended school at night. Her hero was David Livingston a pioneer medical missionary, explorer, and anti-slavery crusader. Livingston was born in the mill town of Blantyre, Scotland, March 19, 1813.

Mr. James Logie was a leader in Mary’s local Presbyterian kirk and he began to loan Mary books, and his wife began to teach her proper manners and speech. By 20, she was teaching Sunday school, running youth clubs and helping women with large families. She was described as “an angel of mercy in miserable homes.” In 1875, Mary Slessor applied to join the missionary society. She was accepted and arrived in the town of Calabar (now located in Nigeria) a year later.

Mary was uncomfortable with the protocol of the mission station and felt herself of lower class. She found the uniform not to her liking - white blouse, black skirt, petticoats, stockings, helmet and boots. She wanted to work among the common people who spoke the language known as Efik. At the mission house she was not an African and her desire was to become one of the natives, living as they lived.

By 1880, she had abandoned the prescribed dress for missionaries and began to wear cotton dresses and canvas shoes. She was eating native food, drinking water from the river and several times nearly died of malaria. Her parents and last remaining sister died, and Mary was traveling deeper and deeper into the forests with her medicine chest and food locker. She would travel barefoot like the natives and soon the native women were wearing cotton dresses like Mary.

Sometimes the tribes brought Mary back to Duke Town for medical treatments and on one of those journey she met Charles Morrision. He was described as delicate, sensitive and a loner, like Mary. He wrote poetry and was working on a novel. They both loved books and it is said he would often go to the hospital and read to her. He proposed and she accepted, but in 1892, he was sent back to England for his health. Mary Slessor refused to leave her work, which was now her life. They said goodbye and a year later Mary heard that he had died.

In 1891, the British set up a system of vice-consular justice in Calabar. Mary Slessor was made a consul-general and was the first woman appointed to a position like this in the history of the British Empire. As a result of her preaching, changes began to take place. Human sacrifices stopped at funerals. Schools were started and churches established. In time, tribal chiefs from as far away as 100 miles were coming to Mary for advice on how to handle the British occupation. The government was asking Mary how to deal with the natives. In the forest, tribes were amazed to see this barefoot white woman with red hair traveling with a group of orphans whose lives she had saved. For the next 23 years, she traveled deeper into the forests preaching her message. By 1905, at the age of 57, she could no longer walk and was pulled along in a cart by her orphan children. The people of Scotland had raised the money and sent the cart.

In January of 1915, Mary Slessor, now 66 years of age, died in a mud hut surrounded by only what she and her orphans could carry. Among the treasures was a book where she and Charles Morrison had signed their names side by side. In her pocket was one of his poems. She was given a State funeral and buried in the mission cemetery at Duke Town.

When Queen Elizabeth II first visited Calabar, at her own request, she laid a wreath on Mary Slessor’s grave. The Aro Tribe gave her the name by which she was known throughout the West Coast of Africa: Eka Kpukpro Owo, “Mother of All The Peoples.”

Books have been written about Mary Slessor and this is just one page. I encourage you to read more about her amazing life. You can also find information on the Internet.

Wayne Rethford, President
Scottish American History Club of Chicago

The next History Club meeting is scheduled for May 5, 2012. If you have a birthday in May come celebrate with us at our meeting. More announcements shortly.

Monday, April 2, 2012

James A. Patten, the Wheat King

James A. Patten was described as a plain, blunt, forceful man, who always spoke his mind. He was born May 8, 1852 at Freeland Corners, IL. (Someone may correct me, but I believe Freeland Corners is north of Somonauk, IL.) He was the son of Alexander and Agnes (Beveridge) Patten. He was educated in the local school and did some farming before moving to Chicago. On April 9, 1885, he married Amanda Louisa Buchanan. They had three children.

In 1878, James Patten and his brother George W. began to trade in grain and would soon dominate the market. In just a few years, James Patten would become known as the “wheat king” amid allegations that he had cornered the market. Later, he would trade in corn and cotton. In 1901, he held 4,000,000 bushels of corn which he had bought at $.38 and traded at $.41, making a profit of $100,000. In May 1905, he may have cornered the wheat market and as a result made millions of dollars.

Sometime after their marriage, Mr.and Mrs. Patten moved to Evanston, IL and built a large home which for many years was the showplace of the city. (In 1901, James Patten was elected mayor of Evanston.) Their home was located at 1426 Ridge Avenue and was built of “massive, rough-hewn limestone.” The architect was George Maher and the house contained twenty-two rooms, eight bathrooms, 15 fireplaces, a large ballroom and a stable that became a ten-car garage. The original cast was $500,000. When Mr. Patten died in 1928, the house was left to his widow. When Mrs. Patten died in 1935, the property was left to her two living children. They in turn gave the house and its contents to Northwestern University. Unable to use the property because of zoning restrictions, the University sold the house to wreckers for $65,000 and built nine single family homes on the property. The old iron fence may still be in place. Perhaps someone in Evanston can tell us.

A newspaper reporter talked about the thistle plant motif “which runs all over the Patten house, in stone, wood, brass, and even wallpaper . . . but this brambly botanical theme, hinting at the Scotch ancestry of the family, failed to give the needed graceful relief. The design, like the plant itself, is harsh and inedible.” The contents of the house were sold at an auction. On one Sunday afternoon, a reported 15,000 people visited the old house. Everything was sold, fine jewelry, china, glassware, silver and 114 oil paintings.

The Chicago Daily Tribune estimated Mr. Patten’s wealth at the time of his death to be more than $20 million, half of which would go to charity upon the death of his wife and the remainder to his two children. Northwestern University was not mentioned in the will but had already received more than two million dollars in gifts.  I could find no evidence that Mr. Patten was a member of the Illinois Saint Andrew’s Society but he was a contributor and once made a donation of $5,000 which was given to James B. Forgan and several others men who visited his office.

Mr. Patten owned considerable property in Chicago including the land at the northwest corner of Michigan and Monroe. This is the land on which the University Club now stands. I found this interesting since I was once a member of the club. Mr. Patten had purchased the property from the International Harvester Company in 1915 and the land was under lease for 108 years at an annual rental of $45,000. At the time of his gift, the land was valued at $1.5 million. The land and other items were placed with the Chicago Community Trust and the income was to be used for charitable purposes. I assume this trust is still in existence but you cannot determine the present value from their web site. During the Great Depression, the holdings in real estate and securities “shrank to only $2,000,000...”

Mrs. Patten died January 26, 1935, at Evanston Hospital. She was 76 years old and died of heart problems. The newspaper reports that her children, “John L. Patten of Evanston and Miami, FL. and Mrs. Agnes Patten Wilder of Santa Barbara, CA. were at her bedside when death came.” Also at the hospital were, a brother-in-law, Henry Patten, and a niece, Miss Ada Belle McCleery.

The funeral for Mr. Patten (1928) was held at the First Presbyterian church in Evanston and hundreds were in attendance. The a-cappella choir from Northwestern sang and three Presbyterian ministers conducted the service. The church had also received a gift of $50,000 from Mr. Patten. Mrs. Patten’s funeral (1935) was held in the old mansion in Evanston. Burial was at the Oak Mound cemetery in Somonouk, IL. The newspaper does not mention the place of burial for Mr. Patten but I would assume he is also at the Oak Mound cemetery.

More than 15 years ago one of our history tours was to the Somonouk area. We visited the old Presbyterian church which is still very active. They entertained us with their history and refreshments. We then visited the cemetery. The Scottish grandmother of Governor James Thompson is also buried in this cemetery. I don’t remember visiting the Patten’s grave probably because I didn’t yet know their history.

There is so much more to the story but this gives an insight into the life of one very successful Scot who like so many others did it with hard work and little formal education.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrew’s Society

Note: The History Club meeting scheduled for April 7, 2012 is cancelled. Next meeting is May 5, 2012 and the June meeting is June 2, 2012.