Saturday, May 20, 2017

A "Little Fairy" Daughter for Will and Sarah Howe Salyers

Mary Alice with mother Sarah Howe Salyers, c1914
Mary Alice Salyers was born to on April 6, 1910. I long to include her baby picture here, but I have never seen a picture of baby/toddler Mary Alice that didn't also include her twin Jim!

To solve that problem, I've cropped one of the images to feature her with only her mother. After all, as you will see, she was like her mother in many ways. You can see several more images in a previous post about the twins.

Letters in the family scrapbooks refer to young Mary Alice as a "little fairy" and a "sweet little elf." Maybe that little round face and those big eyes played a part in that. Based on what I know of the adult Mary Alice, I can imagine her as a little girl full of creativity, a keen interest in everything, and a love for books and stories.

This fading picture hints at another part of her personality. An older Mary Alice, maybe 10 years old, is playing with her brothers Jim and Bob and two unknown (to me) adolescents. This image fits with the adventurous and playful Mary Alice who in her 60s and 70s waded with my children in a creek, gave them rides in a wheelbarrow, and helped them catch bugs.

Mary Alice Salyers forming a pyramid with brothers Jim (far left) and Bob (far right) and two, c1920

Mary Alice Salyers, c1928 (age 18)
When Mary Alice was in her mid-teens, she moved from Carrollton to Richmond, Kentucky, where she graduated from Madison High School circa 1928. (I'm guessing at the year, based on her birth year of 1910.) I wonder if this portrait might be her senior picture. Like most of the photos in the scrapbooks and family albums, it is not dated. I may discover details about her high school years as I delve into more scrapbooks. Her mother Sarah made some of them specifically for her, but Mary Alice made many scrapbooks, too, just like her mother.

Mary Alice got her college degree from the University of Kentucky, where she was a member of Kappa Delta social sorority; Theta Sigma Phi communications/journalism society; Phi Beta Kappa honor society for the liberal arts; Kappa Delta Pi honor society for the field of education; and Mortar Board, a society recognizing scholarship, leadership, and service. All of these accolades fit with the Mary Alice I knew 35 years later.

From about 1934 to 1939, Mary Alice was the librarian in Somerset's combined city and high school Carnegie Library. She left that job when she married Richard Allen Hays of Anchorage, Kentucky. What fun it is to read newspaper articles about her engagement and wedding. This article from the Lexington Leader of April 9, 1939 (found at describes how Mary Alice announced her engagement to her friends. Of course the event involved books!
An article in the same paper's "Personals" column of June 4, 1939, described a linen shower give in Mary Alice's honor. "Gifts for the bride-elect were presented in a box made to resemble books on a shelf," with the names of the guests as authors of the books.

The ceremony uniting Dick and Mary Alice in marriage took place at sunset on June 17, 1939 in the garden of her parents' home in Lexington. 
(Will and Sarah moved there from Richmond around 1930.)  The local paper reported the next day: "The bride, given in marriage by her father, wore her mother's wedding gown of ivory silk, shirred in princess style, with lace veil caught to a wreath of white rosebuds."

What a treat to see Sarah Eva Howe's wedding dress! I have not come across any  pictures of Sarah's wedding (14 December 1905 in Carrollton, Ky.). Now I can imagine the way she looked when she married Will Salyers.

Dick and Mary Alice moved to a farm in Jefferson County during the 1940s. In 1945, Mary Alice gave birth to the couple's only child, Richard Allen Hays, Jr. A few decades later, they downsized into Dick's childhood home in Anchorage.

Mary Alice was an educator and librarian at Anchorage School, where she made reading important – and fun – for students from the 1940s to 1975. She offered summer sessions that brought her students in to read, do projects based on that summer's theme, and hear stories. Like her mother Sarah, Mary Alice could tell a good story.

Mary Alice died on July 18, 1998, just two months after becoming a widow. Her story continues through her son and his wife, their sons, and a new generation now numbering two.

There will be more posts about Mary Alice, because Sarah created scrapbooks for her and because Mary Alice created some of the scrapbooks herself.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be taking a break from blogging to spend time with living cousins. In the next post, we'll return to the scrapbooks to learn about a death in the Howe-Salyers family – a death that brought Sarah much sorrow barely two weeks after the birth of her twins.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sarah's Son Jim – Mischievous Boy, Mischievous Man

Of the four children who grew to adulthood in the household of William L. and Sarah Eva Howe Salyers, the one most likely to pull pranks and play practical jokes was James Richard.

Jim and his twin Mary Alice were born 6 April 1910 in Carrollton, Kentucky. I didn't meet either of them until the 1960s. Even though Jim was then in his 50s, I could see the little boy in him. He liked to tell jokes. Like all of the Howe-Salyers descendants, he was inquisitive about any topic that came before him. He liked to tease, and he was a little bit full of himself. I think his Aunt Leonora Alice Howe was likely on target circa 1912 when she referred to toddler Jim as "a little dickens."

Jim circa 1935, in his mid-20s

Jim attended Carrollton High School but got his diploma at Madison High School in Richmond. His parents had moved the family there so first-born Bob could attend Eastern Kentucky State College (now university) but still live at home. Jim attended the University of Kentucky and, like his brothers, joined Kappa Sigma Fraternity. He graduated from UK with AB and MA degrees and began working in adult education and vocational rehabilitation of adults with disabilities.

Jim and Lee, circa 1943

On 17 May 1941, Jim married Harlan County native Lee Rose Pope in a simple ceremony at Cumberland Falls, Kentucky – a location that was both beautiful and geographically convenient to relatives of both bride and groom.

Like many of his peers, Jim served in the military during World War II (1942-1946). During service in the U.S. Army, he won battle stars in the Rhineland Sector of Europe and worked as a clinical psychologist and psychiatric assistant at an Army hospital. Popular ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and pal Mortimer Snerd helped Jim promote the Army's psychological testing and treatment for soldiers and veterans.

Ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, James R. Salyers, and "dummy" Mortimer Snerd, circa 1945

By 1951, Jim worked in downtown Louisville for the Area Medical Office of the United Mine Workers Welfare and Retirement Fund. When I met him in the 1960s, he was still working for UMW. At some point, his job included traveling to the homes of miners who had filed disability claims. He interviewed them and took 16mm movies to document their problems with mobility or health issues.

In fact, Jim shot a lot of 16mm film over the years. His movie camera was his constant companion, and he left behind stacks of metal film cases full of scenes from his work and from family gatherings and celebrations, everyday activities, vacations, sporting events, and everything else imaginable. After hours of editing and splicing, my husband had the family scenes digitized to DVD. He then donated a copy of that DVD plus all of the original reels to the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort.

The Salyers Brothers (from foreground): Jim, Bob, David
Jim did a lot of still photography, too, probably more than anyone else in the family. He shot selfies before selfies were cool! The selfie on the right shows Jim with his brothers Bob (center) and David, circa 1960. The brothers captioned this image was "The Salyers Mafia."

Like his mother, Jim had a keen interest in genealogy and family history. Much of the information I have about him comes from his application to The Filson Club (now The Filson Historical Society) of Louisville. The application, complete with a four-generation family tree, is dated 10 December 1958. If you want more evidence of his love of family history, visit the library of the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort and open the Salyers surname file. You'll notice that somebody has written on several of the pages with crayon, usually red. Jim had a habit of labeling documents, letters, and photos with crayon. The first time I researched that file, I had no doubt who had contributed those crayon-embellished pages. I think there are papers donated and crayon-marked by Jim in the library's Carroll County and church files, too.

Like his parents, grandparents, siblings, and cousins, Jim paid attention to politics. He made it a point to meet elected officials, and he supported Democratic Party platforms and candidates. He ran for political office only once, as far as I know, in the primary for state representative of Kentucky's 34th Legislative District in Louisville (1965). He lost by a substantial margin.

James R. Salyers and Colonel Harlan Sanders

Jim was always flamboyant, to the point that his nieces and nephews referred to him fondly as "Crazy Uncle Jim." As he aged, Jim became more eccentric. He wore cream-colored or white suits in the style of Colonel Sanders. Note the photo of the two men, complete with Jim's signature crayon mark, which probably pointed to information he had written to the left of the photo in an album. He drove a big Buick with seating for six – except he kept the passenger and back seats full of books, files, newspapers, and all manner of "important things." His life-long tendency for name-dropping became more pronounced, and he referred to famous people he had merely seen from a distance as if they were his long-time friends.

James R. Salyers, circa 1984.
Jim died on 16 September 1985 in Harlan, Kentucky, leaving no direct descendants. The loss of a relative is sad in itself, but the saddest part of losing Jim was losing the family history he kept in his head and in boxes and bags. We could not find those records, letters, notes, and family artifacts after Jim and his wife moved from Louisville to Harlan in the early 1980s. Only after his death did we learn that his wife had burned all of those family treasures. Explaining why she did it would take another blog post. Bottom line: By that time, both Jim and Lee were dealing with dementia and were convinced they had been wronged by his Salyers relatives – even though various members of that family had gone above and beyond to care for them.

There's advice in this for all families. If you have one relative who holds most of the family history, make sure you are making copies or audio recordings all along. Don't assume those facts and stories will be there for you when your relative passes away.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

It's a Boy – and a Girl! Twins for Will and Sarah Howe Salyers

When Robert King Salyers was two weeks shy of his third birthday, he became a big brother. His mother Sarah Eva Howe Salyers gave birth to twins James Richard and Mary Alice.

The earliest image I have of the twins is this charmer that includes mother Sarah holding  Mary Alice (on the left) and Jim while Bobby looks on. What a perfect example of the clothing styles children wore in that day. Based on the birth date of the twins, 6 April 1915, I'm estimating that the photo was made in the summer of that year, when the twins were about four months old.

In the photo below, taken when the twins were maybe 18 months old, the three children are having a tea party. Mary Alice is on the left, and Jim is on the right. Bobby is serving – using a teapot that we have today.

This excerpt from their mother's scrapbook includes comments from a letter written by their Aunt Leonora (Sarah's sister), whose reference to "we" includes her mother (the children's maternal grandmother Alice Ada Cost Howe):
Those twins! I just long to see them. The pictures of them are so sweet – we have put them on Grandma's mantel, where we can see them every minute of the day. We can't decide which of the pictures we like better – but I think little Mary Alice in the Tea Party looks like a little fairy, and I'd just love to gather her up for a good hug. In the same picture, James Richard's eyes gave us the impression that he is a real little dickens." (Note Sarah's notation "right you were!" Sarah transcribed many letters into her scrapbooks and added editorial notes such as that one.)

I'm guessing this image of the twins in their coats and hats could have been taken in the winter of 1911, as they approached their first birthday that early April. Again, Mary Alice is on the left. The arrangement seems to be true of all the images taken of them as children. Was that intentional?

I date this photo of Sarah with her twins at 1914, based on a guess that the twins are 4 years old. Based on family stories and tidbits from the scrapbooks, I've come up with these sketchy profiles:
• Jim was rambunctious and mischievous. He liked to tease (probably his sister more than anybody else).
• Mary Alice was quieter; dainty and feminine yet fun-loving. She slept with her favorite dolls and a plush bunny.
• Both were smart and inquisitive, as were their big brother and their parents and grandparents. As they got older, Mary Alice learned to play the piano and also performed in a number of school and college plays. Jim played sports and performed in plays, too.

The only other "twins" photo I have handy jumps far ahead to circa 1955-1960 (?). That's just a guess as I place them between 45 and 50 years of age. It captures the personalities I remember. She looks thoughtful, kind, and serene; he is probably thinking about a joke or a prank he plans to pull!

In one of the scrapbooks, Sarah pasted ads and cartoons that featured twins. Here are two of them:

Artist: Charles H. Twelvetrees



Caption to cartoon at right:
"We might flip a coin, and the one who loses can grow up to be VICE-president!"

I've heard twins talk about their frustration at being thought of, especially during childhood, as a "unit." I suppose I have done that very thing by posting about "the twins." To redeem myself, I will soon post about each of these fascinating ancestors separately. Even though there is nobody today who can tell us their birth order, I will start with Jim and lead up to Mary Alice, who was better known to me and my family and who was like a third grandmother to my children.