Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours. May you have a safe, happy holiday season.

The Charles Jennings, Sr. Family, Thanksgiving, 2001
What a wonderful time of life this must have been for Mom and Dad. Their children were (and are still) all happily married and the grandchildren were growing up to be responsible young men, who eventually married and started families of their own.  As I look back, it was a special year. Dad had his first cerebral hemorrhage the next year, which was quite a scare for all of us. Now we of the middle generation are in a renewal cycle for which we must be thankful as we each learn to cherish the twilight of our parents' lives and look forward expectantly to the new babies that will join our family in 2014.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Archie Connett in His Own Words: Part III -- Parole

Archie Connett was released from prison on July 1, 1968 after serving 15 years for murdering his three children and attempting to murder his estranged wife. He was released from parole two years later and was a free man. After prison he founded Ex-Offenders Resources, Inc., to influence the ex-offender community to contribute to society. He co-authored at least two books, including "Paroled but Not Free: Ex-offenders Look at What They Need to Make It Outside," which was published in 1973. In the epilogue of this book, Connett describes what happened on December 23, 1952 and his life after that.

Book Archie Connett co-authored in 1973

This is Archie Connett in his own words and is a continuation of these  posts, which you may find here and here.

"I became the right-hand man of the therapist, something of an auxiliary therapist, and the lead man in the psychological testing section. I learned to administer, score, profile, and interpret psychological tests, including projective techniques. As lead man, I located and selected the men who worked in the section and trained and supervised them. Incarcerated military officers, teachers, businessmen, doctors, lawyers (even a judge) wound up in the section.

I had staff library privileges and I read and wrote four papers which I presented to therapy groups, AA groups, etc. People began to come to me for help. I was asked by the staff to take a therapy group. At one time, I had three groups.

Suddenly, there were not enough hours in the day to do all the exciting things to be done -- all the reading, writing, working with individuals and groups. I was on a new frontier -- learning and doing things that gave meaning and significance to my existences; but I never did an easy day of time in prison.

Copley News Service article that ran in several newspapers across the country when Archie was released from prison in 1968

In my fifteen years in prison, I refused to think of myself as a convict, an inmate, a number. I accepted responsibility for what I had done; but I fought tooth and toenail to maintain my identity as a person. Not all custodial personnel nor even treatment personnel were happy with this, and I never hit it off with certain higher staff people who were easily threatened by a competent person traveling with the benefit of portfolio.

With these exceptions, I got on quite well with most people in prison. I got on with most staff people because I lived within the rules, with inmates, even regulars, because it was known that I never "ran to the man" and that I would help where I could.

For fifteen years, I was between a rock and a hard spot from which there seemed no way out. I had been tried and found guilty by jury through due process of law of three counts of murder second and one count of assault with intent to commit murder and sentenced to consecutive terms. I was given the maximum sentence the judge could legally hand down. However, after I had served eighteen months and was to appear for a parole hearing before the California Adult Authority, the judge wrote saying that if ever a man in the state of California had committed first degree murder, I was the man; that if ever a man deserved to go to the gas chamber, I was the man; that I should never be released from prison.

Each year the judge and the office of the district attorney held to the above view and reaffirmed it in a letter to the Adult Authority before my parole hearing.

That I did not do a day of easy time in those years in prison may also be indicated by a few excerpts from a letter to the district attorney:

I feel the full impact, the enormity of my offense. It was bizarre, horrible. I think no one feels this more intensely than I; and I cannot tell you the remorse, the sorrow, I feel for having taken from my children their chance to live, for having failed them, my wife, myself, and others. I miss my family.

I loved my children dearly, and they loved me. But in a moment of emotional upheaval, of madness, I destroyed them. I must live with this and memories of tenderness with them as long as I live. I would do anything to undo what I did, to make up for what I did. But there is no way to undo what I did, to make up for what I did. I can only give now to others what I have to give, do my best with what I have from here on.

I have done my best to find a way to go on living, loving, and creating. I am going to continue to do my best. But the offender -- no matter how hard he tries to, no matter how worthy he becomes -- can only join with and feel he is a part of society to the extent other people are willing to identify with and accept him on a one-to-one basis.

The district attorney did not answer my letter. Instead, he again wrote the Adult Authoirty saying his view of my situation remained unchanged.

In my letter to the Adult Authority, I said:

I understand the feelings of the district attorney and the judge, why they have done what they have; but isn't what they have done and are doing, if not extra-legal, clearly beyond the intended spirit and responsibility of their office?

Next June, I shall have been in prison thirteen years -- three times my minimum parole possibility.

In the jury's verdict and the consecutive terms of the judge's sentence, in the reports you have on my conduct and rehabilitation, in the indication you have that I identify with our society's values and still feel I have a contribution to make, and in the knowledge that I am in the least parole risk category and have served three times my minimum parole possibility -- in these have you not full rational, moral, and legal basis for releasing me?

What sense does it make, what good purpose can it serve, to go on punishing me for what I did thirteen years ago in a terribly distrubed, irrational state of mind? What benefit can possibly accrue to those who insist that it be done, to those who do it, to me, to anyone?

But I was not released until two years later, until after the judge's death (the district attorney died of a heart attack three or four years after my trial) and some friends obtained a letter from the incumbent district attorney saying he would not oppose my release and that he thought the Adult Authority was in better position than he to determine it. After having been shot down, denied, thirteen times by the parole board -- in my fifteenth year in prison I was submitted en banc, that is, to the full board for parole consideration. After another six weeks, I received word I was to be paroled with a five-year tail.

Archie Connett in 1973

On June 30, 1968, after more than five thousand days and nights in prison, I was released on parole.

NOTE: Part I (The Crime) may be found here and Part II (Trial and Prison) here.

NOTE: To read the front page story that was published in the Oakland Tribune the day after the murders on December 24, 1952, click here and here.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Archie Connett in His Own Words: Part II -- The Trial and Prison

Archie Connett was released from prison on July 1, 1968 after serving 15 years for murdering his three children and attempting to murder his estranged wife. He was released from parole two years later and was a free man. After prison he founded Ex-Offenders Resources, Inc., to influence the ex-offender community to contribute to society. He co-authored at least two books, including "Paroled but Not Free: Ex-offenders Look at What They Need to Make It Outside," which was published in 1973. In the epilogue of this book, Connett describes what happened on December 23, 1952 and his life after that.

This is Archie Connett in his own words and is a continuation of this earlier post.

"After five months, I went to trial. There, after a month-long trial, the jury found me guilty of three counts of murder in the second degree and one count of assault with intent to commit murder.

Archie Connett was convicted of second degree murder and attempted murder and declared sane. Article published on June 3, 1953 in the Oakland Tribune

The judge sentenced me to San Quentin Prison for the maximum sentence he could hand down: three 5-to-life sentences and one 1-to-14-year sentence to run consecutively. This meant 16 years to life. Later these sentences were aggregated by state law to 10-to-life, which meant I became eligible for parole in 3 years and 4 months.

In my first two years at San Quentin, I just put one foot in front of the other. The betting on the Big Yard was that I would commit suicide in the first year. Nights -- after a hard workout in the gym on the top floor of an old building down in the alley -- when I came out on the fire escape and looked five floors down to the pavement, it would have been very easy to have stepped off.

It was not until I was transferred to the California Medical Facility at Vacaville that I began to find myself. There I had five years of individual and group therapy. Therapy that was much like that at Synanon -- hard-driving, uncovering. For months I had diarrhea and difficulty sleeping. But I learned some things.

I learned that quite early my mother communicated to me an unstated proposal that had far-reaching effects on my life: "If you love me, you will do everything I want you to do because everything I want you to do is right and good and perfect; and if you do, I will love you above everyone."

She kept the promise -- as long as she lived. Even after my offense she treated me as though I were a god. In her eyes, I had been perfect: I accommodated to toilet and eating and language training earlier than children usually do. I measured up to her moral and social expectations. I became the all-American boy -- a scholar, an athlete, a school and campus leader. I became a naval officer, a teacher and coach, a devoted husband and father. For thirty-nine years I lived entirely within the law. I fulfilled her expectations and she kept the promise.

Archie Connett's mother, Lefa Marie (Amsberry) Connett/Zeller with her brothers and sisters. She is in the front row, far left.

With no father (my father was beaten to death with a hammer when I was six months old) to rescue me in my most vulnerable years, my obsession (to be loved by everyone as my mother loved me) and my compulsion (to qualify for that love by being perfect) took root.

To feel impelled to measure up to and to please others -- to be always "right and good and perfect" -- in order to feel right about yourself is a terrifying and precarious existence, and when you fail -- catastrophic.

My wife and children were my little world -- the principal people between me and the terrifying threat of isolation, failure and self-doubt. Confronted with this threat, having no real identity, ridden with anxiety, dependent on those close to me for constant assurance of love and affection that would stave off anxiety and give me at least some feeling of self and security, it was imperative that I maintain my little world. I could not let it go, accept an altered version of it, or create another. I had to have it. I wanted, desired it so much that I struggled to obtain it until I drove myself beyond the edge of sanity.

Archie Connett is upper right; his wife, Wynona (Gottlieb) Connett, lower right; his two oldest children Michael and Theresa are to the left

In therapy I learned what had happened to me and why, and what I must do about it. I learned I could not undo or make up for what I had done and that no matter what I had done, no matter what happened to me, I still had the potential to go on living, loving, and creating, and that it was up to me to do so.

NOTE:  Part one may be found here.

NOTE: To read the front page story that was published in the Oakland Tribune the day after the murders on December 24, 1952, click here and here.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Archie Connett in His Own Words: Part I -- The Crime

Archie Connett was released from prison on July 1, 1968 after serving 15 years for murdering his three children and attempting to murder his estranged wife. He was released from parole two years later and was a free man.  After prison he founded Ex-Offenders Resources, Inc., to influence the ex-offender community to contribute to society. He co-authored at least two books, including "Paroled but Not Free: Ex-offenders Look at What They Need to Make It Outside,"  which was published in 1973. In the epilogue of this book, Connett describes what happened on December 23, 1952 and his life after that.

This is Archie Connett in his own words:

"On December 23, 1952, after a year of estrangement from my wife -- in a moment of madness -- I took the lives of my three small children and almost destroyed my wife and myself.

My wife and children were my little world. When my wife withdrew her love and affection, when she rejected me again and again, my mind and energy over the months, night and day, were bent on getting her back. When, after attempting to please her, waiting, arguing with her, when my wife said things to me I could not stand to hear, and struck me -- when this happened, I felt cut off with terrible finality, violated, betrayed, almost inundated with terror. I could no longer contain myself. It was as though something burst deep inside me. I felt impelled to destroy and did.

While I was attacking my wife, the children came screaming out of their bedroom, and my violence was transferred from her to them. It was all over in a few seconds. The explosion into violence, the manner and means of it, what I did to myself afterwards (cut both wrists to the bone and severed my esophagus with a razor blade) -- these were not the actions of a sane man.  Emotional upheaval had transported me beyond a focus of awareness that included rational decision.

If the ambulance had arrived a few minutes later, I would not be here. At the county hospital a team of surgeons worked hours to save my life and repair the damage done.

For five days, I was given private nursing care around the clock. I could do nothing for myself. My hands and forearms were bound on boards to protect my wounded wrists. A tracheotomy had been done to permit me to breathe. Only my mother was permitted to visit me. I felt strange and frightened. Every time I opened my eyes, a nurse was there looking at me, waiting to care for me. I began to mend, to want to live.

Archie Connett being fingerprinted. Photograph was published in the Oakland Tribune on January 13, 1953

After five days, I was arraigned in Municipal Court and taken by the sheriff and two of his deputies to San Quentin for safekeeping. The authorities at San Quentin, I was told, would be able to provide medical care and protection not available in the county jail.

My first night in San Quentin was spent in an observation room in the "psych" ward on the third floor of the hospital. A naked bulb above the bed burned brightly through the night. It was terribly hot. Frequently, screams shattered the stillness. Mutterings, ramblings and obscenities startled me from an uneasy sleep. Every few minutes an eye would appear at the peephole in the iron door.

San Quentin Prison circa 1935. Photograph courtesy of the Online Archives of California

The next morning, wearing only blue coveralls and felt slippers, shivering in the frosty January air, I was taken across the Big Yard, to the North Block, then up in the elevator to Death Row.

On the row, I was told I would receive the best care available in the prison. A doctor would see me daily. I would have privacy. I was placed in a cell -- a few doors down from Caryl Chessman.(1)

On Death Row, you are locked behind massive stone and steel walls, behind a steel cage that encloses the row, behind the steel-barred door of your cell. A naked 40-watt light globe burns 24 hours a day. The bull -- the armed guard -- on the gunrail looks down on you. The truth of your predicament hangs over you; fear crawls through you.

Article from the January 13, edition of the Oakland Tribune

For several weeks I was behind the bars of my cell until my mother retained a lawyer who had me transferred to the county jail, a 102-yeard-old structure in which a corridor ran around a small cell block.

Each day I was allowed to walk in the corridor, but at night I was locked in a small cell with three other men behind the solid iron door -- solid save for a peephole. In the cell was the usual naked 40-watt light globe, two double-decker beds, and a 5-gallon can (honey bucket). Outside, men lined the corridor floor, trying to sleep -- coughing, hacking, spitting. All day long and a good part of the night, music and announcements blared forth from a squawky overhead loudspeaker. During the day, the population moved restlessly around the tank, talked incessantly, gambled. There were fights and attempted suicides.

(1) Carl Chesman was a convicted robber and rapist who gained fame on California's Death Row. He became a cause celebre for the movement to ban capital punishment. He was executed on May 2, 1960.

NOTE: To read the front page story that was published in the Oakland Tribune the day after the murders on December 24, 1952, click here and here.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering JFK's Assassination: 50 Years Later

I was five years old when our president, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated. I had started morning half-day kindergarten a few months before. Mom had just cleaned up the kitchen after lunch and set up her ironing board in the living room so she could watch her soap operas while she ironed.

That's when Walter Cronkite broke into the regular programming and we learned our president had been shot and later that he had died. It is a memory that will always be seared in my mind. Unfortunately, not the last as there are a few other shocking tragedies -- some personal, some national -- for which I will always remember where I was and who I was with when I first heard the news.

My mother was absolutely stunned. I know she voted for Nixon and Dad voted for Kennedy; it's what they did until much, much later in life. But my brother was born on the same day as John F. Kennedy, Jr., in the same city, at hospitals that were not too far from each other -- Columbia Hospital for Women and Georgetown University Hospital. So for Mom there was a connection.

President Kennedy moments before he was shot. Photo courtesy of

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Archie Vernon Connett

The toddler in this photograph is Archie Vernon Connett.  The man on the left is his step-father, John Victor Zeller.  The woman on the right is Archie's mother, Lefa Marie (Amsberry) Connett/Zeller.  She later divorced Archie's step-father.

Archie Connett as a small child

When Archie Connett was 38 years old he murdered his three small children and attempted to kill his estranged wife.

The idea for this post came from

NOTE: To read the front page story that was published in the Oakland Tribune the day after the murders on December 24, 1952, click here and here.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Connett Family Tragedy Continued

Let's pick up the rest of the Connett family story from the Oakland Tribune, which reported the murder of Archie Connett's three children on December 24, 1952.

Current photo of the house where the murders took place in 1952

"continued from page one:

High School Teacher Kills 3 Children, Stabs Wife, Then Self


Connett was placed in the same ambulance in which his wife lay wounded and both taken to the county hospital.

The slaying occurred about 3:35 p.m. A friend of the family, Gordon Simons, 19, a student at San Jose State College, who roomed at Mrs. Connett's home, said he had been with them until a little after 3 p.m.

When he left for work in the post office, Simons said, the Connett's appeared to be having a friendly visit.

But he said Connett had attempted to kill his wife in a rage last year and said he thought Mrs. Connett was "foolish" to let him in the house.

Mrs. Connett was not told that her children were dead and she was not questioned at length because of her condition.


Connett regained consciousness during the night, but a deputy on guard in his hospital room said he was not rational.

Mrs. Connett's home in the new Garden Gate Village tract, had been furnished to serve as a day nursery, which Mrs. Connett had been operating for about a year.

Simons came to the home about Thanksgiving from Denver, Colo., where he had known Mrs. Connett previously. Mrs. Connett's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Gottlieb, live in Denver. Mrs. Gottlieb is flying to the Bay area and is expected today, the Santa Clara County sheriff's office said today. 

Connett was a member of Phi Beta Kappa honor fraternity at the University of Colorado, where he received his BA degree. During the war he served as a Navy rehabilitation officer.


Connett received his master's degree at Stanford University. He taught at Rolling Hills, Los Angeles County, from 1947 to 1948, and joined the James Lick High School Faculty in San Jose in 1950.

He came to San Lorenzo High School last September after resigning from the San Jose teaching post because of his domestic troubles, according to William Woodworth, principal of James Lick.

Principal Carl Ekoos of San Lorenzo High, said of Connett: "He was one of my best teachers."

Last Friday, just before going to his wife's home in Cupertino, Connett had taken part in a faculty Christmas play at the school.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Connett Family Tragedy

Archie Vernon Connett is my fifth cousin once removed. His father was murdered in 1914; but as hard as it may be to believe, that is a story for another day.  My cousin, Archie, is a murderer...of his own three children: Michael, aged 4, Theresa, 2 and baby Carl, only 4 months old.

The photo spread on the front page of the Oakland Tribune the day after the murders

I think I'll let the Oakland Tribune story, which was published on December 24, 1952, tell the initial story. In future posts, I'll fill in as many details as I've been able to discover.

Front page of the Oakland Tribune on December 24, 1952

High School Teacher Kills 3 Children, Stabs Wife, Then Self

One of San Lorenzo High School's "best teachers" killed his three children and critically wounded his estranged wife and himself late yesterday when he went beserk in an argument over Christmas.

The teacher, Archie V. Connett, 38, and his wife Wynona, 28, are in the Santa Clara County Hospital.

Dead are their three children: Michael, 4; Theresa, 2; and Carl Paul, 4 months.

Deputy Coroner Gilbert C. Sowers, of Santa Clara County, said the youngsters apparently were held by their feet and their heads bashed against the floor or walls of Mrs. Connett's home at 10345 Ann Arbor Avenue, Cupertino.


Mrs. Connett was beaten and her throat slashed. Connett slashed his own throat and wrists and took poison. Reported near death last night, he is said to be "holding his own" today. Mrs. Connett is expected to recover.

Connett is an English and physical education teacher at San Lorenzo High School.

Connett has been living at 15057 Hesperian Boulevard, San Lorenzo. He and his wife had been separated since March.

Four days ago Connett went to Mrs. Connett's home. Mrs. Connett took the baby and went to the home of friends in Palo Alto, while Connett stayed with the other two children.

Mrs. Connett said she returned yesterday with the baby and asked her husband to leave, telling him he could come back Christmas morning for breakfast and the opening of gifts.


But Connett flew into a rage and struck her with his fists. Michael, the oldest child, tried to intervene. Then Connett slashed her throat with a boning knife and she fled, crying: "Don't hurt the kids."

Mrs. Connett ran across the street to the home of Mrs. Alice Kean, who said at first she didn't recognize the woman because she was covered with blood, her lips and head bruised.

Mrs. Kean and other neighbors gave her first aid and called the sheriff's office and ambulance.

Deputy Ray Pantiga said Mrs. Connett was already in an ambulance outside when he arrived. Neighbors told him that the three children were still in the house with Connett.

Pantiga went to the front door and looked through the Venetian blinds. On the front room floor he saw one of the children in a pool of blood.

He went to the rear of the house and found the back door open. Entering the kitchen, he found the body of Theresa. She apparently had tried to escape and was caught.

In the living room were the bodies of both boys were on the floor.

Pantiga began a search of the house and found the door to one of the two bathrooms locked. He smashed it open and found Connett lying on the floor unconscious, bleeding from wounds in his throat and wrists.

Archie Connett did live and stood trial for the murders of his three children and the attempted murder of his wife.  Surprisingly, he was not given the death penalty or a life sentence and remarried in 1970. In 1978 he died at 64 years of age.

This story will be continued...

Friday, November 15, 2013

Out of Africa: The Eland Hunt

When the Bailey family lived in British East Africa, now Kenya, they hunted game, not for sport but to put food on the mission table. Homer, my aunt Joan's brother, wrote about hunting in his journal. This is the story about hunting elands, Africa's largest antelope. Grown bulls stand close to six feet tall.

Late one afternoon a man and a youth rode into the wilds hunting eland. Should you finally off in the distance spot a big bull eland, that would be a great thrill. You realize full well it will be hard to get within firing range unnoticed. So as to get this good eland meat, great care must be taken in the approach. Just snap a dry twig or in some other way be careless and the opportunity will swiftly disappear and all your effort will have been lost. Should you stalk it successfully, and should you drop it, taking it home remains a rather tall task.

On this day, father and I had searched for hours when late in the evening high on the plateau ahead we caught sight of some of these beautiful antelope. Very carefully we worked our way from the ravine to plateau to gully to clump of trees until we finally came into shooting range. It was quite a bit after the initial sighting until the Dad's gun was fired. After the shot we rushed to the prize. The bull eland had fallen close among a clump of those flat-topped thorny trees. 

Darkness was now fast approaching. We were a long way from home with a sizable task before us. One of us must go for help for how else could we move this load without pack animals? One of must stay so as to stand guard -- remember, there were hungry meat-eating animals nearby. I was the one to stay.

Night dropped its curtain over the plateau and darkness was upon me and the wind rose.  It was not hard to realize that eyes were watching my every move, unfriendly, savage eyes. I became deeply concerned. I knew there was not a single soul within miles. The night was full of frightening noises.

I realized my greatest danger was being by that beast there on the ground. Though the thorny trees were quite unfriendly, I climbed up one to sit and clung to some limbs. Lions, they say, do not climb very well. It was certainly safer up there out of their reach. Holding on and waiting I did a lot of thinking. As the long hours wore on I waited. Time has a way of seeming very long when we are all alone. Up there in that old tree, I wept and prayed.

Finally, way off in the distance, a glimmer of light showed quite intermittently. At first I could not be certain, but gradually I knew it was coming nearer. Above the night noises I finally heard voices calling my name.  Soon we were reunited and the long night ended just as we arrived home.

NOTE: Previous "Out of Africa" posts:
  1. Doctor Livingstone, I Presume
  2. The Kikuyu

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Same Man, Yea or Nay?

Is the man in these two photos the same man?

The photo on the left is William Judkins Bailey. The quality is poor as I found the photo in a much copied journal written by one of his sons. The photo on the right I found on They look quite similar to me. What do you think?

Here are both photos with Lily Manson (Bradley) Bailey, his wife:

This photo was taken in Kijabe, Kenya, and is from Homer Bailey's journal. Homer was their son. 

I found this photo on

The idea for this post came from

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans Day: Medal of Honor Ancestor

I do not have the data in my family tree organized yet in such a way that I feel confident listing my ancestors who served their country in a manner that would do their memories justice. So today, on Veterans Day, I would like to profile one very illustrious ancestor, Alexander Archer Vandegrift, Medal of Honor recipient and 18th commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.

General Alexander Archer Vandegrift

General Vandegrift's second wife's great grandfather, John William Jennings, Jr. (1805-1886) and my great great grandfather, Powhatan Perrow Jennings (1812-1858) were brothers...yes, I wandered down another rat hole to find him!

My relationship to General Vandegrift

This historical marker, located in Charlottesville, Virginia, provides a summary of General Vandegrift's military career.

Historical marker in Charlottesville, Virginia

Medal of Honor Citation

For outstanding and heroic accomplishment above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the 1st Marine Division in operations against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands during the period August 7, to December 9, 1942. With the adverse factors of weather, terrain, and disease making his task a difficult and hazardous undertaking, and with his command eventually including sea, land, and air forces of Army, Navy and Marine Corps, Major General Vandegrift achieved marked success in commanding the initial landings of the United States forces in the Solomon Islands and in their subsequent occupation. His tenacity, courage, and resourcefulness prevailed against a strong, determined, and experienced enemy, and the gallant fighting spirit of the men under his inspiring leadership enabled them to withstand aerial, land, and sea bombardment, to surmount all obstacles, and leave a disorganized and ravaged enemy. This dangerous but vital mission, accomplished at the constant risk of his life, resulted in securing a valuable base for further operations of our forces against the enemy, and its successful completion reflects great credit upon Major General Vandegrift, his command, and the United States Naval Service. 

General Vandergift receiving the Medal of Honor from President Franklin Roosevelt. His first wife is on the far right.

General Vandegrift and his two wives are buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

General Vandegrift's grave

Friday, November 8, 2013

Matanuska Colonization Project of 1935

The Matanuska Colonization Project was part of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, a series of programs to help the country recover from the Great Depression. It was not the only rural rehabilitation colony, but opinions about Matanuska were greatly divided. It brought praise from some for helping people rebuild their lives and condemnation from others for being a waste of money and dangerous social experiment.

Matanuska colonists from Wisconsin waiting to board the train that will take them to Alaska. Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Public Television

People from the states of Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin were chosen for the Alaska project because the temperatures were most similar. Local aid workers were given loose guidelines for for selecting candidates:

"As far as possible, families should be selected first on their farming ability and secondly, those who may have secondary skills and who may adjust themselves to a diversified farming activity and can assist with carpentry on their homes and then those who may know something about machinery and blacksmithing and who have leadership qualities."

The Matanuska Valley was chosen as the location with the new town of Palmer as the base of operations. The town had been established in 1916 when the railroad was built to the coal mines at Chickaloon. At the time only a hundred families lived in the valley. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) set aside 260,000 acres for the new colony.

Settlers waiting in line for the first land drawing. Photo courtesy of

The first contingent of settlers arrived from Minnesota in on May 10, 1935. In the beginning things did not go well. Perishable food was shipped without refrigeration and could not be eaten. School desks arrived before the construction materials needed to build the school. But slowly things began to improve. The government designed five different house plans that could be frame construction or built out of logs. There were no options for barns. Many of the early settlers did not know how to build structures and had to take partially finished buildings down and start over.

So was the project successful? Out of the original 203 families who entered the first drawing for land in 1935 only half remained five years later. But in August 1935, a few months after the first colonists arrived, 903 people were working and earning a salary. But by 1965 only 20 of the original families were still farming in the valley.  The project cost $5 million and 60 percent of the cost was for public works projects.

Kathreen Estelle Gibson and her first husband, William Hecker, and their six children were not among the first colonist living in Palmer, Alaska. But the family was there by 1938 and Kathreen remained in the Matanuska Valley all her life and was considered one of the its pioneers. I wrote about Kathreen here.

Kathreen Estelle (Gibson) Hecker/Huntley/Glatfleder, the second wife of my aunt's sister's husband

To learn more about the Matanuska Colonization Project, a very good program is available from for viewing.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Lincoln State School and Colony

In 1930 the Lincoln State School and Colony raised a lot of its own food on the 1,100 acres it farmed. Male patients helped farm and with the livestock.

Photo courtesy of

The idea for this post came from

Monday, November 4, 2013

Experimental School for Idiots and Feeble-minded Children

In 1865 the Experimental School for Idiots and Feeble-minded Children opened in Jacksonville, Illinois. According to the asylum's circular, the institution successfully taught "children who were moderately or mildly retarded but not epileptic, insane, or greatly deformed." In 1877 a new Victorian Gothic Revival building was erected on 40 acres of land and the first residents moved into the new facility. In 1910 the institution was renamed the Lincoln State School and Colony. The Commitment Act of 1915 gave responsibility for admissions and discharges to the courts, which could commit anyone who was feebleminded but not insane.

Main building of Illinois Asylum for Feeble-minded Children constructed in 1877

As a result, a large influx of people arrived at the school. Some were dangerous. Cook County judges classified juvenile delinquents as "criminal morons," sending them to the school instead of to overcrowded reformatories. In 1937, Smith Cottage was built as a detention building for incorrigible residents. In 1944, two riots broke out in Smith Cottage.

Cottage at Lincoln State School and Colony

A number of residents were only poor, but if the community in which they lived didn't want to help them, judges could commit them. In 1949 the Mental Deficiency Law gave the power to discharge residents back to superintendents of these facilities. In 1954 the institution's name was changed again to the Lincoln State School and funding was increased for resident care. However, the facility was still severely overcrowded.

In 1973 the Supreme Court ruled residents working in charitable institutions had to be paid like employees. The superintendent of the Lincoln State School ordered an end to the practice of having residents work. By 1975 the institution had undergone another name change and became the Lincoln Development Center. Most of the residents had been moved to smaller institutions, group homes or nursing homes. By 2000 the facility had 383 patients and a staff of 698.

Over the years, the people who were cared for at the school have been called pupils, students, patients, inmates, resident, clients, kids, and boys and girls. Today they are referred to as individuals. However, in 1940, when my  cousin Charles Riggin was there, he was referred on the Census form as an inmate.

Charles was born in 1908, never married and lived with his mother until her death. After her husband's death Charles and his mother lived with his sister and her husband. When his mother died, it appears, his sister had Charles institutionalized.

For more information on the history of this institution, check out the "Our Times" Winter 2000 issue.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sunday's Obituary: Honoring a Centenarian

Every once in awhile, when researching your family genealogy, you come across someone you wish you could have met.  A few weeks ago, I "met" Ruth Mildred (Beard) Fuller, my fifth cousin once removed.

Ruth was the middle child of Henry Clay and Anna (Duncan) Beard. Clay was an attorney, prominent local politician and public servant. His daughter, Ruth, was born on April 6, 1907.

Bernard Aloysius Fuller, Jr. and his wife, Ruth Mildred (Beard) Fuller

Ruth lived to be 100 years old. She died on January 5, 2008, in Davenport, Iowa. Her obituary appeared in The Daily Iowegian a few days later:

Ruth M. Fuller, 100, a resident of Ridgecrest Retirement Village, Davenport, and a former long-time resident of Centerville died peacefully on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2008 at Genesis Medical Center West Campus, Davenport.

She was united in marriage to Bernard Aloysius Fuller, Jr. on Aug. 11, 1928 in Iowa City. He preceded her in death on Dec. 31, 1997.

Ruth attended the University of Iowa, Iowa City, which is where she met her future husband, Barney. She was the bookkeeper as well as a partner with her husband in their business established in 1946, Fuller Manufacturing Company of Centerville. They retired to Florida in 1976 where they lived several years in North Ft. Meyers.

Her local memberships include St. Anthony's Catholic Church; PEO. Chapter KU and TTT, Chapter BV. In Centerville she had been a very active member of St. Mary's Catholic Church, PEO. and TTT. She and her husband had also been active in numerous civic affairs in Centerville. She was a member of the Catholic Women's Club and the National Council of Catholic Women since 1928. Ruth was privileged to receive Papal Honors when she was presented the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice for distinguished service to the Roman Catholic Church.

She was a life long Democrat and was a member of the 1944 Democratic National Convention Delegation Committee to nominate President Roosevelt.

Ruth was an adventurous woman, she was the first woman pilot of Appanoose County and during World War II she served as a Sergeant in the Civil Air Patrol.

She was a lifelong sports fan and in early years she was quite an athlete herself. She and Barney were very generous supporters and fans of the University of Iowa. They always enjoyed following their beloved Hawkeyes in various sporting events.

What a life she led!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Fun with Family Tree Maker: Most Popular Male Names

I finally broke down and bought Family Tree Maker. I fought it for a long, long time because I didn't want to have to mess with synching my tree. Plus, I've worked for Internet companies and designed websites for over 20 years. I'm just plain used to the web.

But my tree on was getting larger by the day and I couldn't find many things I wanted to find any more. So I broke down and purchased a personal computer software application. A few weekends ago, I was playing with the filters and creating custom reports.

The results of my experiments? The most popular male names in my family tree between 1841-1940:

Earth shattering, it certainly isn't but it was educational...for me, anyway. I learned a lot about Family Tree Maker.