Today’s mystery photo is only partly a mystery. Well, mostly a mystery, really. But I do know some things about the photo.
In this photo, a dashing gent in a flat cap, knickerbockers, a leather car coat and argyle socks is showing off a pan of something while posing between two women. The hats and clothing of all three is evocative of the fashions of the Roaring Twenties (roughly 1925–1932), and the little bit of the automobile that we can see also looks like a 1920s-to-earliest-1930s model.
George Irvin Prettyman (or G.I. Prettyman, as my grandfather told me he liked to be called) was my grandfather’s uncle. I recently learned that a cousin was looking for some information on G.I. and his wife Frances, and I discovered that while I had some new information for him, a lot of what I had was contradictory and could use some dedicated research. For instance, my grandfather William Prettyman once told me that his uncle G. I. Prettyman didn’t make it past the fourth grade, as he was needed to help out at home on the farm. However, according to a contemporaneous biography (Minnesota and Its People, 1924, by Joseph Alfred Arner Burnquist),
[G.I.] “was reared and educated in Hewitt, attended the grade and high schools of the town, and then took a course in a commercial college at Little Falls, Minnesota.He was then sixteen years old and after completing his education entered the banking business and continued in it until 1911…”
I’m hoping that relatives reading this summary of what I’ve learned about G.I. Prettyman may be able to contribute considerably more than I’ve presented here. Please leave a comment below if you have additional information or stories about G.I. Prettyman or his family.
Another of the finds that my cousin Sharon Black sent along to me earlier this week is a newspaper account of Ruth Black’s old sod house. I had heard tales of the old sod house from my grandparents, Vernon and Dorothy Black, and I have several artifacts from the sod house that they brought back with them from various trips to Kansas in the 1950s through 1970s.
It’s always been a hope of mine to one day see the old sod house, but as I don’t know of any living person who’s been inside the old sod house, or even knows where the sod house is, l figured that the old family house has long since returned to the earth. The following transcription of a 1932 newspaper article that Sharon sent to me appears to support this unfortunate conclusion.
Lately I’ve been spending a couple of hours each weekend day reorganizing our family history archives. In the yet-to-be-organized portion of the archives, I’ve got a dozen large, plastic storage boxes, each of which holds hundreds of papers, photos, mementos, and other items judged at some point as worthy of being preserved.
One of these boxes is filled with memories and keepsakes from my great-great-aunt Dorothy Mary (“Dot”) Bailey and her husband Clarence Humphrey Bailey. You may know Dot as the young girl pictured at the center of my site’s header photo. Dot and Clarence were distant relations (third cousins; although they apparently didn’t know this when they met) and had the same last name before marriage, so I can’t be sure whether Dot adopted Clarence’s “Bailey” surname according to tradition, or whether she was an independent maverick who bucked tradition and kept her own “Bailey” surname.
I was lucky enough to have known them both as a child and to have known Dot until I was a young man in college. They were incredibly thoughtful, gentle, intelligent, and modest people, but for whatever reason, they never had children. My grandmother, Dorothy McMurry Black, their niece, was like a daughter to them and she was their sole heir. Their tangible memories have now passed to me, and I’m making my way through them.
This post is about a man who was either part of our family or was close to our family, but I don’t know exactly who he is. I have at least eight photos of him (one additional photo is uncertain), and nothing is written on any of these to help identify him. I’m hoping that someone reading this recognizes this man or has additional photos of him, perhaps even some that may yield clues as to his identify.
From what I’ve heard, my grandfather, Vernon Black, didn’t get much from his biological father—not even his surname. Vernon’s mother, Catalina Edel, divorced Vernon’s biological father, Zyonia Ray Shearer, when Vernon was only 5½ years old “on the ground of gross neglect of duty.” On several occasions, my grandfather even denied that Ray Shearer (the name his father went by) was his father. In his later years, my grandfather was somewhat more forthcoming about his biological father, but it was clear that Vernon held onto a lot of resentment for Ray.
I’ve never seen a picture of my great-grandfather Ray Shearer, nor do I know of any items that once belonged to Ray. What little I know of Ray I learned from my grandfather’s sister, Anelia (short for her given name of Anna Cornelia) Shearer. She was just a little over a year old when Ray left the family, but she kept his last name and kept his memory alive.
I’ve been going through a stack of papers and letters from my grandfather’s teenage years, and I found one envelope that was particularly worn out and discolored (as compared to the relatively clean envelopes that contained letters from Vernon’s friends and girlfriends). When I removed the letter contained in the worn envelope, I was surprised to see that it was a letter from Ray to Vernon, dated July 2, 1932, when Vernon was 15½ years old.
The Commercial Hotel (on the National Register of Historic Places, now repurposed as the Commercial Apartments), is a three-story Queen Anne Style, late Victorian brick building on South Jefferson St. in Wadena, Minnesota, that served as an anchor for the Askew family, especially the women of the Askew family, for decades. I’m still trying to understand this aspect of the Askew family, so this post will serve as a place to gather my notes and sources about the Askews at the Commercial Hotel. I have a lot to learn about this subject, so please do leave comments if you can further illuminate the subject.
In the Spring of 1901, Joseph Askew and his wife Jane leased a three-story brick hotel called the Wadena Hotel. They soon renamed the hotel the Commercial Hotel, as their target customers were travelling salesmen who came by train and needed a place to eat, sleep, and display their goods. After a time, Joseph purchased the Hotel for an estimated $10,000 (the equivalent of about $275,000 in today’s dollars).