THE LIFE OF A PLODDER
FRED GORTON'S 95 YEARS
an account compiled from his memoirs and diaries
by his granddaughter
Kathy Lynn Gorton Emerson
CHAPTER TWO: THE YOUTH
The Gorton boys, all except George, who couldn't saw a board off straight, built rabbit traps out of old boards at the farm and used them to trap rabbits that they sold to Fred Sanford at ten cents each. When the season was over, Fred sold the traps, too, five of them to Charlie Crispell for fifty cents.
A bit more about the Sanford family: Fred Sanford (d. May 28, 1951 @ 81) married Nellie Buchanan, a school teacher. They also took in summer boarders. Irving Sanford committed suicide while living with his brother Fred, on September 25, 1935 @ 64. Carrie Sanford (Mrs. Henry W. Ackerly) died on May 1, 1933 @ 71 at her girlhood home on Smith Hill.
Fred Gorton almost lost his life before he ever had a chance to go off and work, as he recounts:
Father borrowed a horse of Clark Gorton in haying time to rake hay. When I was returning it after supper, riding bareback and bare footed, all at once the horse bolted, lowering its head. I went flying over the horse's head. If I had landed on my head, it might have been fatal, a broken neck, but I lit on my feet in the road and didn't get hurt at all. I walked the rest of the way.
One day Fred spent eight hours holding bags while buffalo feed from a railroad car at the switch at the Strongtown crossing was shoveled into them. Orlando Monroe was in charge and when they were done he asked Fred if fifty cents was enough. Unfortunately, "Father was present and said twenty-five cents was plenty for a boy of thirteen years. Don't ask me if I was mad!"
Later Orlando Monroe (d. 1938) married Anna L. Mould (Aug.15, 1865-Dec. 3, 1962), daughter of Charles and Charlotte Bennett Mould. Her first husband was Charles Phillips (d. Dec. 7, 1924).
Earning money was never easy. Another time Will Ratcliff lost a new born calf and said Fred could have the skin if he went over and skinned it himself. Fred walked the two miles and back to do it and sold the skin for twenty-five cents.
In 1891, the Tig Tag Tunnel near Fallsburgh was finished and the first passenger train passed through on June 25th. The tunnel cost $300.00, a great sum in those days. There always seemed to be work being done on the railroad. Fred's father "stabled three teams of horses while the Strongtown trestle was being filled. They made a tunnel under the trestle six feet high and four feet wide and I went through it at that time."
Like many people in the area, Gill Gorton took in renters and boarders when he could.
Gid Young and his wife lived in part of our home and when his alarm went off it would wake us up as Floyd and I slept just over their rooms. Tony Meek and his wife rented the Little Barn next to our spring in the north pasture and his wife used to carry water in a wash tub on her head and a pail of water in each hand besides.
In 1893, the cottage on the next lot was rented to Willis Meyer, the Free Methodist minister who preached in Liberty Falls and in Briscoe, eight miles away.
One night he hadn't gotten home by one o'clock. His wife began to pray at the top of her voice. Our home was 400' away so it woke all of us up. Father threatened to shoot the gun off but the minister got home safely.
This was the era of the large boarding house. In 1886, Summer Homes listed three farmhouses in the Liberty Falls area with guest accommodations: W. K. Loder, Mrs. W. W. Bartholomew, and John Clements. As former Sullivan County Historian Manville B. Wakefield puts it: "Ferndale, Liberty Falls in those bucolic years, was a microcosm of the pioneer farm boarding house industry in Sullivan County. By 1910 four 'classic' farm boarding houses were located more or less within walking distance of John T. Clark's famous pavilion on Lake Ophelia--the Clements Lake Farm House, the Nichols Boarding House, the Pinney House, and the Ferndale Villa." The Nichols Boarding House later gained worldwide fame as Grossinger's Hotel.
Fred's first real job was working for Cynthia Ernhout, his mother's sister, at her house in Liberty. [Cynthia Misner Ernhout (May 27, 1833-Nov. 19, 1903)]He earned $3.00 for ten days work plus a tip of fifty cents. Cynthia's husband, Henry Ernhout, built the White Sulphur Springs House in what was then called Robertsonville. According to Fred, Uncle Henry was responsible for changing Robertsonville to White Sulphur Springs because he made a pond in the brook, put in four barrels of sulphur, and began to sell baths to the city people for twenty-five cents a bath.
Fred's next job was with Aaron Stanton.[d. Nov. 30, 1941 @ 76; m. Lillie Beebe, daughter of Richard; she d. Sept. 16, 1964 @ 94] He spent two weeks haying for him, earned $9.00, and boarded with his Aunt Ann Hall. This was in July, 1893. David Hall had died in June. Ann kept up his diary. In October of that year his brother Ai left home for good and took Fred's place at their Aunt Cynthia's.
Living in Liberty village, even for brief periods, would have been very different from life on the farm. There was no electric power yet but there was a man named Harry Atkins who drove a two-wheeled gig and lit kerosine street lights at nightfall. Fred saw his first moving picture in the Music Hall over B.F. Green's store.
It was hard to believe in a picture where the horses stopped for a drink in the brook. I think I attended a clam bake in the Schaeffer and Lennon Grove the same day. Later my brother Cecil rented the hall but made a failure. He couldn't get the good shows as he didn't have connections with the right people.
Another brother, Leslie, got into some trouble at about this time.
Three boys at Ferndale about twelve years old got some blasting powder at the blacksmith's shop and put it in the anvil in a hole 3" square. They covered it up and set it off, making a loud noise. The second time they tried it a little spark was left in the hole and when the powder was put in an explosion burned brother Leslie's eyebrows and eye lashes off. He was blinded for three days.
When Fred was fourteen and his brother George eighteen, they took two jobs together. They strung telephone poles from Ferndale to the Strongtown Church.
With Father's team we tied a rag on the hind wheel of the wagon and counted the revolutions to measure the distance between one pole location to another. Lewis Wheeler refused to let them put any poles on his property as he owned both sides of the road. Cassie and Mrs. Wheeler sat over the holes dug on his roadside. Old Lew pushed one of the men, and they arrested him and took him to Monticello. The men dug two extra holes while the women sat over the first two and set two poles while Old Wheeler was in Monticello and strung a wire from one new pole to the other. Mr. Wheeler threatened to chop them down but he got counsel and decided not to get his fingers burned.
In August, when the dust on the road was thick, Fred and George drove twenty-three head of cows from a half mile above Liberty village to Warwick in Orange County, a distance of thirty-eight miles. They spent one night in Middletown, where the maid told them they ought to get a bath but neither would. They took the O&W train home. The drover paid for their tickets, but their father didn't give them anything for two days of driving cattle.
The Gorton boys dug a round pond on Old Hickory in August of 1893. It took three weeks to finish because they had to dig black muck out of an area 100' across and 7' deep. It was a very dry season and the weather hot, so while the boys dug their father held and filled the scraper and between times sat under a 5' umbrella used for advertising by the Liberty merchant whose name was on it. The boys drove a yoke of bulls, Dan and Noten, and a team of horses, Topsy and Daisy, to help them, and spread potters clay on the bottom until it was as smooth as a house floor. The pond was filled with surface water.
We started to build a dam across the gully below the pond, but Father said the water backing up would kill the trees above. I still think with a boat we would have a better and longer ride and running water besides, but Father was the boss. We went swimming naked and it was in sight of the highway. Later we stocked the pond with bullheads or catfish from the Hilldale or Jackson Smith Pond. The Hilldale Lake was at one time a sawmill owned by Jackson Smith. This place was formerly known as Jockey Hollow. This pond is a half mile long and reaches nearly to the Brown Hotel on Loch Sheldrake Road. Many fine pickerel have been caught in a tip up through the ice and in summer catfish are good eating.
The boys often caught fish in the pond with a bob. A bob was "fish worms strung and tied together like a ball." In winter they cut ice and sold it to neighbors who came with bobsleds to draw it home. Their father gave them a cent a cake for cutting it. Sad to say, the Rt. 17 Quickway now runs right through the Gorton pond and "destroyed it and many good meadows."
In January of 1894, four of the Gorton boys were at home with the measles. Horace Wheeler caught them and they rapidly spread through the entire school. On one occasion they were left alone while Gill went to Joel Crispell's [Joel Crispell (1845-1898) m. Anna Salina Sparling (d. Nov. 4, 1914 @60)] to turn a calf that was coming wrong end to. Fred was put in charge. This meant he had to fetch water for his brothers and comfort Leslie, who was cold and convinced that he was dying. All in all, however, the boys had the time of their lives while they were recovering. They didn't have to work, and one day they found some chunks of blasting powder the size of kernels of corn.
We made a cannon out of a piece of wood 4" in diameter and bored an inch hole about 10" deep and made a small hole for a fuse used in blasting rocks. We ground the blasting powder in an old coffee grinder with a crank. To try it out we just put in one or two kernels of powder and it didn't spark so we put in a half handful at a time and ground it up ready to use. We put some powder in the cannon and used paper tamped in tight over the powder, then inserted a bolt. I touched a match to the fuse in the little hole and it blew the bolt out with a loud bang. It sure was fun. I still wonder why the coffee mill didn't blow up and maybe blow our heads off.
Young Fred was relatively free of illness. Only one man in Liberty caught the dread smallpox, around 1890, because fear of the disease had led to vaccination. In the Liberty area the serum was provided by the Crispell family but Fred refused to be vaccinated because he believed the Crispells had scrofula of the blood. He was also reluctant because he had heard of another boy who had the serum in the arm, then in the leg because it didn't take, then in both the arm and the leg, and had ended up laid up for a week when it finally worked. The doctors worked twenty hours a day trying to vaccinate everyone, but Fred eluded them. Fortunately, he did not catch smallpox. The next epidemic was chicken pox. He did catch that, but suffered no ill effects.
On Saturday nights the young men of Liberty Falls congregated at the Manion store. There was no dance hall, no radio, no television. The middle class had victrolas, but farm boys did not. In the 1890s platform dances came into vogue. The first in the area was in part of Jim Wheeler's house in Stevensville (now Swan Lake). Its music was provided by someone playing accordion or violin and passing the hat after. From 9PM until 1AM, eight couples at a time could dance. Another dance platform was built near the Liberty Depot in Schaeffer and Lennon Grove, where the Conductors' Clambakes were held until 1898.
Fred was still in school at this time but he, Floyd, and Leslie went to Liberty, where they paid tuition of $5.00 as non-residents. One year the professor gave Fred a receipt but forgot to enter it on the stub. Later Frank Dodge (Frank M. Dodge d. March 14, 1955 @ 88; m. Nettie Chapman (d. Dec. 12, 1936); of Young, Messiter and Dodge) of the school board came to the farm to collect but Fred's father had always told him to save receipts, so he was able to find it in his trunk and save having to pay twice.
Because they had not been taught grammar at Strongtown school, the Gortons had to take fifth grade grammar in Liberty, but Fred did excel in drawing and was also in an advanced class with four girls. He walked home for a time with Edna Baker, who lived on his way.
Her father thought I wasn't the right kind of boy to be in his daughter's company. I never asked her why she didn't walk along with me anymore but many years after he bragged about it and told me she never went along with me after that. Had I known how he felt about it, I would have made an effort to see her on the sly. She never married and he denied himself a grandchild.
Before long, Fred was commuting by bicycle. He bought his first bike from his brother Ai when he was fourteen for $1.25, never learned to ride it, and sold it to Leslie for $2.00 ten months later. This was his first speculation. When he did learn to ride he got the nickname Scorcher because he could cover the distance between Liberty school and the farm in eleven minutes.
One day when I was scorching through the village just past the Steenrod Bridge, two boys were playing horse with lines on. They passed right in front of me and I was going so fast I couldn't stop and hit John Ernhout (d. Feb. 13, 1954 @ 63; m. Edna Grant, who d. May 15, 1966 @77) and skinned his leg. I came back to see if he was hurt but he denied it. Some years later he told me he got an ugly gash on his leg.
The second winter the boys boarded with their Aunt Cynthia from Monday night to Friday and their father came for them on Friday after school. They still did a lot of traveling on foot, however. One day Fred decided to go to Stevensville to visit Eunice Wheeler, a girl who had kissed him after a Free Methodist service.
The Jim Wheeler farm was one and a half miles south of Stevensville store (Stevensville was five and a half miles south of Liberty) and all of them thought I had a horse in Stevensville. I was very tired in school the next day.
One day as I came along to Hoos bakery there was a boy with a bag of evergreen. It was just before Christmas. Ralph Fisk (d. Oct. 25, 1938 @ 55; lineman) grabbed the heavy bag and tried to hit me with it. I ducked and the plate glass in Hoos's window was smashed. It cost his mother $25. The Hoos family had a set of twins, too, Fred and Hank. Fred had two fingers off which he got caught in his father's ice cream freezer. The Hoos boys used to tread the bread dough with their bare feet.
On August 31, 1894, David Hall's diary (at that point being kept by his widow, Ann) contains the following note, amended by Fred:
We with brother Gill came home on the way to the Falls. He fell from the wagon and was quite bad hurt. (Fred Gorton witnessed the fall and grabbed the wheel to prevent his getting run over. We were taking Celia to the train for New Paltz College.)
There is some discrepancy here as Fred elsewhere lists her as one of his teachers in Strongtown. He does not mention his father's injury again.
Aaron Stanton bought the Hall farm, which he had been working before, in 1894, and hired Fred and Floyd to cut twenty-four cords of stove wood that winter. By then the Halls were in Liberty.
Also in Liberty was a girl named Abbie Bengel. At sixteen, Fred took her to a camp meeting in Gerow Grove, later the site of the Triangle Diner. There were large maple trees there. He owned no overcoat and it was late fall so when they stopped on the way back to her home to sit on a large rock she generously gave him part of her long skirt to sit on. Back at her house, since her parents were then in Germany, her sisters Rose and Libbie chaperoned. [see Appendix III for more on the Bengel family.]
A stuffed tabby cat about 15" high was sitting on the floor next to Abbie. I sat across the room so when I looked in another direction she grabbed tabby and socked me, throwing it very hard so it knocked my wind out. She said she was sorry but I think it delighted her to get the best of me. I went to Orange County to work and never called on her again.
For awhile, however, he didn't think he was going to make it home. He took a short cut through the woods in back of her home that led to the Free Methodist Church and halfway there, on a night so dark he had to look at the stars to find his direction, he heard a bobcat cry out.
A shrill scream, and then a sobbing noise, like a baby after being spanked. My hat raised up and nearly fell off. I was never so scared in my life. I expected the bobcat would scratch out my eyes. These cats, sometimes called wildcats, reach up to thirty pounds when grown and will pounce on a deer's head, cut the jugular vein, and have venison for a week. I reached the highway safely and never went through that woods again.
While Fred had remained on the farm, his brother Floyd had taken a job with Clark Gorton. He got $15 and board for three months' work. Clark owned land by the Strongtown school but also bought the Sergeant place and Floyd used to come there with the team to plow and put in crops. One day he left the team for a moment and they ran home.
We used to have a green box to put our savings in when we were growing up. Floyd spent most of his money. I saved mine and Father would always make up the difference at New Years because we were twins. But when Floyd brought home the $45 it was too much for Father to give me to match. I got nothing.
It was this sort of thing that prompted Fred to leave home. It was an accepted fact that the farm would go to George, the oldest son. In fact, as his father had done with him before, Gill made an arrangement to lease the farm to George, give him a quarter of the milk check, and give him board. The younger brothers "milked all the cows and all George did was fodder them." While George drove cows for Will Ratcliff, "we foolishly washed his milk cans for ten cents." George cut no wood, nor did he help Fred and Leslie draw out the thirty-nine loads of manure using Maud and Daisy for a team.
Milk was a profitable source of income most years. Gill kept twenty-five cows and shipped four forty-quart cans of milk a day to New York City on the O&W. They charged ten cents a can freight and half the milk bill was depleted for feed during the year, so one year farmers got only forty-seven cents a can for milk. A good milk cow sold for $35 and a newly born calf for $1.00.
Fred worked for Will Ratcliff for two months, receiving $17.00 plus board. One evening they had two or three loads of hay all cocked up ready to draw in and a thunder shower came up. Will asked Fred to help get a load of hay in after supper and by dark they drove into the barn just as it began to pour. He gave Fred ten cents. If he had given him twenty-five cents, Fred would have been pleased, but as it was his discontent was growing. He did get one day off during that summer, to go to Hurleyville for the grand opening of a hotel that had just changed management. It was July 2nd and they had a greased pig race. Fred caught the pig, but Ben Kyle (who later married Emma Van Inwegen) took it away from him. In a wheelbarrow race he won over Link Lawrence and got a silver watch, but it wouldn't run unless the case was open.
On July 7, 1896, Fred's opportunity to escape came. One Charles Calkins (Jan. 1, 1872-Nov. 22, 1956; Harris, N.Y.), farmhand for Miss Martha Reeves, came to Old Hickory to ask Gill if he had a boy who wanted a job. Fred was quick to offer himself at $17.00 a month for four months if washing as well as board was included. The farm was in Orange County, between Middletown and the little hamlet of Slate Hill, and Fred got on the train at the Strongtown crossing without saying goodbye to anyone, not even his sister Janette, who had put a little Testament in his luggage. She wrote to him quite often while he was away, but he didn't pay much attention to her advice or her Bible.
Miss Reeves was about fifty years old and owned the 110 acre farm and a locked shed in Middletown. Fred tied the horse there when he took her into the town to do her shopping. The farm, which was known for its chestnut, black walnut, and butternut trees, housed thirty cows and a dog named Hubert who helped herd. Most of the work, however, was done by the three hired men--Fred, Calkins, and Will Freeman. They were up at 5AM to milk, did the haying, cut corn, and raised wheat which they took to the mill to be ground into flour. They were rarely done until 7 at night.
The David Reeves farm cornered with Martha Reeves's place and for a time Fred called on Cora Calkins there, but Cora called him a little fraud and laughed at him. She never went out with him and later married Fred Bengel. Martha Reeves's hired girl was Grace McIntosh (m. John Van Allen of Middletown), a redhead, and when her sister Hattie (d. Sept. 18, 1963 @ 88; Mrs. George Alexandria), who had glaring black hair, and a friend, came to visit her, Fred and Will Freeman took them to Midway Park to a show that evening. Afterwards
the girls suggested we go for a walk out in the woods apart from anyone, which we did. Hattie suggested we separate, but both of us being timid souls didn't know the score, so we stood around for awhile and took the girls back to their homes in Middletown in the trolley, then returned to the farm, about two miles out of Middletown. The girls must have thought we were either dumb or afraid of the outcome.
David Reeves hired a colored girl, Milly Hardy, from the South. One evening, she and Fred were alone in the kitchen and she told him he was very hard to get acquainted with. Then, as Fred puts it, "Milly rolled all over the floor." [Editor's Note: I haven't got a clue whether that's supposed to be a euphemism for something kinky or not. Fred never explained.]
He bought a Columbia bicycle for $11.00. All the farm hands had bicycles and used them to go to different villages on Sunday afternoons. The Columbia weighed forty-four pounds, however, as opposed to the twenty-six pound weight of most of the other bikes. One Sunday they went to Westtown and on the way back Fred got lost and had to ask directions. It was his first trip and he got cramps in his legs from all that pedaling. Later, in the fall, he bought a second hand Rambler with inner tubes, clincher tires, and 63 gears. To compute the gear, he had to use the diameter in inches of the hind wheel (28") times the front sprockets (18 teeth) and divide by seven teeth in the hind sprocket.
As the summer wore on, Fred became quite attached to Grace McIntosh. He called her "Huckleberry" because once, when Miss Reeves sent him to find out why she hadn't returned, he met her by the berry patch and grabbed her.
I used to hug her front to front when no one was looking. I was eighteen and never had but one girl I was intimate with. I liked Grace very much but was too shy to ask her my heart's desire and she mostly pushed me away if I got too fresh. She was too strong to be pushed over so I realized nothing doing. As she was the age of marriage she was after a husband and kept herself straight. She expected to get one of the three young men who worked at the farm.
She had a pet name for him, too, and her girlfriends called him "beautiful teeth" behind his back. Fred and Grace had their picture taken together, but then, on September 11, 1896
Will Freeman and I went on an excursion to Coney Island. It cost $1.00 for the round trip. We rode in the chute and landed in a pond below. When we came on the grounds we met two women with bare legs clear up. You can guess what that done to me! We had our picture taken for twenty-five cents with two strange girls.
They were all in bathing suits. When Grace saw that photo she was offended and that was the end of her friendship with Fred. She wouldn't have anything more to do with Will Freeman, either. Fred kept both the photograph of himself and Grace and the one with the two "pickups."
While he was at the Reeves farm, Fred also corresponded with a girl back home, Lizzie MacKay, but when he returned to Sullivan County he didn't even call on her. He did not really want to return home. He answered an advertisement in the Middletown paper the next spring for a young man to live in and do all work. They had hired someone else the day before, but the man had a brother, a banker, who wanted a boy. He had a fine residence but he wanted a slave, not a servant. Fred would have had to
get up at four o'clock in the morning, clean up the bank, exercise the pony, wait on his wife, do her dishes and do my own washing. I must not be on the street at night, or see girls. I would get $10.00 per month and if I stayed until Christmas I would get $25.00 as a present.
Instead, Fred hired out to David Reeves at $15.00 a month for seven months. There he bought a new bicycle, an Arlington, which he rode across the single track railroad to go after the cows. It cost $25.00 and when Fred took out an insurance policy with Prudential in 1898, he included the bike on it. It was that same policy, which cost him $24.33 a year, on which he borrowed money fifteen years later to buy the lot on which he built his house.
Meanwhile, in Liberty Falls, the Gorton boys were scouting around to get the signatures required to change the name of the post office to Ferndale. The change became official on July 5. In Liberty, a power plant was built in 1896 under the supervision of William Sunderland and in 1897 Main Street had electric service under the auspices of Liberty Light and Power Company. It would be several more years, however, before there were electric streetlights.
Fred had a narrow escape while working for David Reeves. He had loaded a 22 rifle, ready to shoot some chipmunks, and left it, already cocked, behind the feed box in the barn. A neighbor boy by the name of Van Norwick came in, found it, and aimed it at him for a joke. Fortunately, it didn't go off.
By the turn of the century, railroads were booming. Not only did trains carry milk and passengers, but also coal. At nineteen, Fred went to work for a few months for Doug Eronimous, Section Boss at Liberty. He earned $1.05 a day for a ten our day. One day he had his head down, scraping cinders at the Ernhout Switch, when a shout from the brakeman warned him that a boxcar was headed straight at him. If he had been any slower it would have butted him in the head and very likely killed him. He jumped just in time.
In spite of his experience as a section hand, Fred soon returned to the O&W, together with his brother Floyd, to lay down new rails. They were putting in rails thirty feet long and weighing 950 pounds each to replace rails of the same length that only weighted 750 pounds. The twins were part of a gang of seven men supervised by Frank Root. The other five were Italians. They got $1.20 a day for their work, but it was hard and tempers flared. Once one of the Italians, called Skinny, provoked Fred into telling him to go to Hell. This upset Skinny, who lifted the rail tongs as if to strike him and told him to shut up. "You told me to go to Hell!" he shouted. "You told me to shut up!" Fred yelled back. Before they could come to blows another member of the section gang, Pete, who was a large man, intervened and quieted them down. Recalling the incident in 1963, Fred remarked that "from that time until now I never told anyone to go to Hell. I came very near getting clobbered over the head."
Fred's next job was with Charles Carpenter, another farmer (d. Sept. 13, 1925 @ 67 in Middletown; wife Mary d. Nov. 1, 1961 @ 91). Carpenter put him to work digging a ditch from the spring to his barn so the water would run by gravity through one and a half inch galvanized pipe some 300 feet down a hillside.
I used to swear a lot when at the Reeves farm and at Carpenter's I moved a large flat stone but slipped and the stone caught my first finger and I jerked loose and it took off my nail. I swore bloody murder. Mrs. Carpenter heard me and said she had no idea I was such a profane man. Since then I have taken the name of God very little in vain, as I am ashamed of such language.
In 1899, Fred went to work at the Hall House, later the Lenape Hotel, in Liberty, for John Hall (d. July, 1937 @ 90). Fred was there three months at $16.00 a month but got no wages until the end of that time. He did get tips, however, and an all-time high of $2.00 from a lady who sent him to take her wooden leg to the blacksmith to be repaired. Most of the tips were twenty-five or fifty cents and some jobs, like carrying trunks up two or three flights of stairs from the wagons that brought them from the depot, brought no tips at all.
While working at the Hall House from 5AM to 7PM every day, Fred took a second job tending bar at the Mansion Hotel that lasted until 2:30 AM. The next day he was so sleepy that when he went to work in the garden he dozed off. Still half asleep, he thought a strange girl came up and talked to him. It could have been a dream, or she could have been one of the city girls he met at the platform dances. He went to Eureka Park on upper Chestnut Street, where it cost five cents a corner to dance and eight couples could be on the floor at a time.
Mr. Kaye, the manager, would get a partner for you, ask any girl whether a stranger or not to dance, so we had no trouble to get a partner to dance with. We wasn't even introduced. Most were city girls anyway.
There was a masquerade dance one time where the men wore false faces and the girls old fashioned dresses. Another time there was a cake walk where the prize was a whole cake, complete with candles, which the Killion sisters won.
A fellow and a girl came on the dance floor and he began picking something off of her dress called the devil's pitchfork or cuckler. Everybody started to laugh. They knew what they must have been up to.
Fred went out walking with quite a few of the young women who worked at the Hall House (a seven day week for $4.00). He took Grace Hosier out one night and when he left her at the door next to the Halls' bedroom on the first floor, she kissed him on the lips. Mrs. Hall knew about it and laughed at him.
Other lady friends included Anna Zarick, Christine Muhlig (m Horton Parks who d. Feb. 4, 1945 @ 75), Edna DeBoyce, Clara Kenworthy, Mattie DePuy, and two others whose names he could not afterward recall. One was the girl who peeled potatoes and helped the cook, a big fat Dutch widow who used to give Fred pumpkin jack, what was left over from the pie filling. There were also three girls named Ida--Ida Johnson, Ida Cooley (d. Dec. 1934; m. Floyd Randall), and Ida Kirby. The latter jilted Fred. He had begun to carry a bottle of apple wine about with him and when he offered her some she was convinced he was a toper. She refused to go out walking with him again. Seeing his mistake, Fred threw the nearly full bottle against a stone wall and never indulged in spirits again. [Editor's Note: In spite of this claim, there was one instance when he did. See the diary entry for Sept. 17, 1937.]
It was during this time at the Hall House that Fred rode his bicycle out to a gypsy camp and had his fortune told. The gypsy said that two girls lived very near him. One, with big blue eyes, wouldn't have him. The other, if he married her, would drag him through the dirt. He stayed away from Grace Hosier ("the kissing dame") because of this warning. He was also warned to stay away from gambling because he would lose. He'd had little experience with that. When he was about fourteen, he'd tried for a chance on one of the ten turkeys at a turkey raffle at the blacksmith shop in Liberty Falls. He sold his rematch at dice to Bill Manion, making a profit of forty cents for a ten cent investment, but Manion won the turkey by throwing three aces and it was worth about a dollar. After the gypsy warning, Fred once won twelve cents in a dice game but he took her seriously and did not indulge again.
The other Gorton brothers were not so temperate. George won a black sheep in the same raffle where Fred lost a turkey. Another time three of the brothers were playing cards at home on a Sunday. When their sister Janette told their father that they shouldn't and he made them stop, they picked up their game and moved to Charles Farquhar's hotel across the Falls Brook from the blacksmith shop to finish. Their mother concluded that nothing had been gained by sending them to a hotel to finish a card game.
When Fred left the Hall House on October 6, 1899, John Hall gave him a letter of recommendation. He then worked for the Ferncliff Hotel for a month, taking the team to draw manure from the livery stables and setting shrubs and doing general handyman work. He drew the line, however, at getting up once he had gone to bed to put away his employer's horse. The man had taken his daughter to the theater and came home late expecting Fred to be at his beck and call. When Fred refused to get up, he was fired.
In the fall of 1899, Fred went to Fallsburgh to visit his Uncle Jim (James B. Misner; Jan. 1, 1822-Dec. 15, 1908) and Aunt Wealthy (Palmer) Misner and to Woodbourne to visit his Uncle Billy Misner (William A. Misner; Feb. 1, 1824-Feb. 1, 1907; m. Mary Loder). Uncle Billy's son Norman took him hunting rabbits and told him to stand where the dog started on the scent because a rabbit would circle in the woods and come right back to where it started from. Sure enough, in about twenty minutes, the rabbit appeared, but as Fred raised his gun to fire, "Norman ran right in range of my fire, laying down his gun, and chased the rabbit into a woodchuck hole. I could have shot the rabbit if Norman had stayed put. I was so mad I swore I would never go hunting again. I kept my word."
In 1900, Fred went to work for Mary Carrier (see Appendix III) on her farm. One day he was sent to Liberty with Old Prince and the buckboard to pick up the new girl and her trunk. Her name was Daisy Steenrod. On June 7th, he asked her to go to the singing school the Free Methodists had at Billy Bartholomew's home. He had no faith she would go with him, but she said yes.
I bought a red letter Testament of them, and we walked back to the Carrier place. I didn't even kiss her goodnight. At that time, Daisy was just another girl. I liked Gertrude Evans quiet well, but one Sunday afternoon she and I were together and Will Bartholomew came into the orchard where Gertie and I were sitting in a hammock and she went to another hammock with Will. Soon Daisy came there. I grabbed her and set her down in the Rabbi Silverstein's hammock and forced her to lie down. In spite of her protest, I slipped her ankle-length dress to her knees and put my leg between them. Later we said we "got crossed."
When he walked her back to the house he kissed her lips and never courted another girl. They sat in the hammock in the orchard every evening and one time when some of the young people were "jumping around in the hay bay . . . by some freak accident my hand went under her clothes much higher than was proper and I felt bare skin. The old maid, Mary Carrier, said 'she being there' witnessed the affair, and told Daisy it was an insult, and that she should have nothing to do with such a bold young man."
Fred, however, did not apologize. One night when they were in their hammock, two women, Mrs. Wahr and Mrs. Waldren, sneaked up on them to spy, but the hammock was near a stone wall and they gave themselves away by dislodging a stone.
Daisy was scared so I had to hold her tight and explain that skunks always travel at night. When we got back to the Carrier kitchen in came Mrs. Wahr and Mrs. Waldren and I explained how a skunk had pushed a stone off the wall. The two women's faces were red.
Fred had two narrow escapes while working for Mary Carrier. She had a foolish boy working for her who helped Fred saw wood and one day he was helping in the barn. When Fred asked him to go up into the hay mow and throw down some straw, however, he refused, saying he would fall down.
So I went up there myself on a scaffold on one side with boards on it. I stepped on one board and it broke and let me fall to the barn floor on my head. My head felt as if it was cracked open but I lay still to see if Henry would say anything. Pretty soon he said, "I'm glad it wasn't me."
Later, because it was a very dry season, Fred was sent to draw water from a brook south of the farm.
I loaded two large barrels on the stone boat and drove down to the brook. I let the team trot down the hill, but the bolt which held the chain to the whiffletree slid out and I saw the whiffletree up in the air. I was still holding the lines, and was jerked in the air as high as the horses' backs. I let loose and landed on my face in the road. My face was so skinned I couldn't shave for a week. The team ran down to the brook and crossed the barbed wire fence where one of them, Thetus, got a foot caught between two wires. I got her out and drove them back to the stone boat and got the two barrels of water.
When he brought them home, Daisy saw his face and washed it very gently for him. It was then he knew she loved him, but just how much was determined when he decided to put her to a test.
I stepped in some fresh cow dung and came to the table for dinner. She always sat straight across from me and our feet sometimes touched. I dabbed some of the filth on her shoes and long skirt. To my surprise, she didn't blow up about it. I said to myself, what a good wife she would make. She could make her dresses, trim a hat, cook a meal, and enjoyed the same religion.
In fact, while working at the Carrier place, they went to Arrat Camp Meeting together.
We had to change from the railroad and walk quite a distance to the campground. There was a large tent with seats where the service was held. I slept in a tent with eight other men. Our meals cost $3.50 for the week. A short, stocky woman got up to testify what the Lord had done for her and jumped up and down and hollered "Glory! Glory! Glory!" until she was out of breath. After the evening service all the people would march around the place and sometimes someone would fall because they were overcome with the Spirit and you couldn't feel any pulse for possibly five minutes. Reverend Tamblyn was the preacher. Daisy took a large valise along with much clothing and on the return it got mislaid. Two weeks later it was returned with nothing missing. The Reverand John Cavanew, the one armed rebel, preached part time.
All through their courtship, Daisy also had a second beau. Every Sunday Ralph Main hired a horse and took her for a drive. He had no idea Fred sat with Daisy in the orchard every night. He found out when the two of them stood up for Jenny Main and George Hutchinson at their wedding and the minister offered to tie the knot for them too. Daisy primly announced that she was engaged to another man.
Daisy Steenrod had not had an easy life before she met Fred. Her father died when she was four, leaving her mother with two boys from her previous marriage, two by Steenrod, and eight Steenrod stepchildren. Fortunately, most were grown, but Daisy's brother Edwin soon became a problem and had to be sent to his Uncle Charles in Wisconsin to be brought up. As for Daisy, she was hired out at the age of ten to a couple who expected her to wash dishes, churn, keep house, and sleep in a garret where rats ran over her at night. When, two weeks later, her mother came for a visit, she learned the facts and took Daisy away with her. Later Daisy went to work at the Meeker Hotel, a boarding house. Her brother came back from Wisconsin and worked there too while their mother lived on the widow's pension she had because her first husband was killed in the Civil War.
Daisy Cordelia Steenrod and Ma Steenrod
On March 7, 1889, Daisy's mother wrote in her autograph album:
Let the road be rough and dreary
And the end far out of sight
Foot it bravely, strong or weary,
Trust in God and do the right.
On June 8, 1895, when she was nineteen, Daisy did the right thing by turning down a marriage proposal from George Brendon, a dairy farmer who told her she would have to milk cows if she married him. She replied that her hands were too small.
What probably strengthened Fred's desire to marry Daisy was his brother George's wedding on October 24, 1900. Fred drove the wedding party to the train using George's horse Pete and a horse borrowed from Clark Gorton. The boys had tied tin cans and old shoes to the hind axle which made such a clatter that George ordered his brother to cut loose the excess baggage. George began keeping house in the cottage originally built for Grace.
Meanwhile, Fred went to work for Clark Gorton, planting apples and thrashing buckwheat and oats. They cradled their own grain in those days using a four fingered cradle with a broad blade and laid it in rows with the grain or heads to one side. This was raked by hand into shieves or bunches for buckwheat and bundles for oats. Fred thrashed many bushels of grain on the barn floor with a flail and cleaned it with a fanning mill turned by hand with a blower to remove the chaff from the grain.
All the time he was at Clark Gorton's, Fred walked to Liberty (about five miles) twice a week to call on Daisy. His cousin had three horses in the barn but Fred was too proud to ask to borrow one, even in winter. On March 24, 1901, he wrote in Daisy's autograph book:
'Tis hard to part with those we
'Tis hard to part, 'tis true.
But not so hard to part with some
As it is to part with you.
He worked, briefly, at the Buckley Hotel, but left Liberty, and indeed the state, to go to Torrington, Connecticut and work for James Bonney (d. May 27, 1940 @ 80) as a carpenter. When the carpentry work ran out, Fred got a job with Charles Kirsch but was laid off. He came home and straight to Daisy. He stayed with his aunt in Liberty until their wedding on June 25.
They were married at the Randall home on Orchard Street, where Daisy and her mother lived and where Fred would live for a time after the wedding.[Walter Randall died June 11, 1952 @ 81. He was married to Ellen M. Hall (1871-Oct. 26, 1940)] Mr. and Mrs. Randall were witnesses and when Fred asked Walter Randall to get a box of cigars to celebrate, he also returned with a lot of people, some of whom Fred didn't even know. Some turned out to be Daisy's relatives. In any event, he gave out forty-one cigars. At the wedding itself there had been, in addition to the Randalls, only his mother and father and Daisy's mother. To Fred's relief,
when the wedding vows were said, "If anybody objects to this union speak now or forever hold your piece," Ma Steenrod kept still.
copyright 2010 Kathy Lynn Gorton Emerson. All rights reserved.