Sunday, October 24, 2010

Historical intrigue

Joseph Very Quarles (Senator)
On a recent visit to Kenosha, I unearthed the abstract and title for my parents' house.  It's a sizable document, detailing the ownership of the land the house was built on, and eventually the house itself.  Included is a charming map of the sector of land first purchased in 1839 and then divided up into plots.  The map is from 1920, and I love it because all the streets and avenues had their old names.  Seventy-fifth Street was Selma Avenue.  The little park was already there on the median in the middle of 27th Avenue, but 27th Avenue was called Erie Street.

Included in the abstract are various Last Wills and Testaments, by which the land passed from one owner to the next.  At some point around the middle of the nineteenth century, it was owned by Ann Quarles.  Her last Will and Testament was among the most interesting, bequeathing such items as a portrait of herself (to her baby granddaughter), and a portrait of her deceased son (to another of her sons.)  She also left a gold watch, chain, and "appendages" to a Joseph V. Quarles, or, in the event of his death before her own, to his wife.

I'm not sure of the relationship between Ann Quarles and Joseph V. Quarles, but Ann appointed Joseph and a man named Michael Frank as the executors of her will.    The rest of the will detailed specifications for what should happen to her estate.  Four thousand dollars was to be taken from the total remaining after the sale of all her properties, invested in real estate bonds, and the interest earned was to be split yearly between two of her sons.  The remaining total from the sale of her estate was to be split between her three daughters.  There were more clauses for various eventualities.

This was all kind of cool, but none of those later details grabbed my interest like Article III of the will.  Before Ann Quarles went into specifics about her estate, there was Article III.  One sentence.  "To my son Samuel Quarles I leave the sum of Twenty Five Dollars."


That was the one and only time Samuel Quarles was mentioned.  I have a hundred questions, of course.  What did Samuel do to piss off his mother?  Was he a genuine scoundrel, or did he just, say, marry a kitchen maid?  Why bother naming him in the will at all?  It had to be for vindictive purposes, right?  The whole family would come together for the reading of the will, and Samuel would be humiliated in front of the largest possible audience?  

Things only got more interesting with the next document in the abstract, a notarized statement by Michael Frank.  In it, he refused to be an executor of Ann Quarles' Last Will and Testament.  Why would he refuse?  Too much on his plate?  Or was it possible that Michael Frank didn't approve of Article III, and wanted nothing to do with the will?  Obviously that's wild speculation, given that this probably wasn't among the top ten most outrageous things you'd find in a will, even in the 1800s.  And it looks like Michael Frank was a busy guy.  Still, I wonder.

It may be possible to find answers to some of these questions.  The Quarles family was prominent in Kenosha.  A quick Google search shows that there were at least four men named Joseph V. Quarles (each man kept passing the name down to his son).  The first was a notable Wisconsin pioneer.  His son was a lawyer, eventually mayor of Kenosha, and a Wisconsin senator around the turn of the century.  One of them was the Joseph V. Quarles named as executor of Ann's will (and left a gold watch).  I don't know how Ann Quarles was related to Joseph, but that should be one of the easier mysteries to solve.  Beyond that, I'm not sure.  Scour old Kenosha newspapers for mentions of Samuel Quarles?  Look for a marriage certificate?  Talk to someone who knows Kenosha history?  If only they had the internet back in the 1800s.

I have no idea when I might find time to delve into this, but I'm happy to have a little history project for a rainy day.  Okay, to be honest ... probably a whole lot of rainy days.  

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Kindergarten, 1973

I posted this once before, years ago, but I came across it today while cleaning out some files.  It's cute.  And it's been a slow week.  So - here it is again.

This is pretty much my family's only good brush with fame story, so I have to keep it alive.  (For a larger version, click and zoom.)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Blue lake and rocky shore

Last weekend, Allison and I took a trip to Maine.  We spent Friday night in Portland, Saturday in Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, and then drove back to Portland on Sunday.

I loved it.  We picked an excellent time of year to visit.  Friday was rainy, but Saturday and Sunday were sunny and beautiful, with temperatures in the low 60's.  Perfect weather for a day at Acadia among the spruce and fir trees next to the ocean.  The park wasn't too crowded, and the wildness was palpable.  Even though the coast of Maine has been settled longer than central Wisconsin, nature feels much less tame there than it does here.  Falls colors weren't at their peak, but well on the way.  We hiked the Ocean Path from Otter Point to Sand Beach, part of the Jordan Pond Shore trail, around the summit of Cadillac Mountain, and caught a beautiful, chilly, blustery sunset at the Blue Hill Overlook.  We even saw a bald eagle.

The shops and scenery in Portland were charming, and even on Friday we didn't let the rain stop us from exploring.  We poked in and out of stores - there's a lot of pottery in Portland - and took a monumentally gusty walk in the rain along Casco Bay.  On Sunday morning we found the Maine Historical Society, and I paid a fascinating visit to the Tate House Museum before I left on Sunday afternoon.  I now know what I want to do when I retire ... I was born for docenthood.

On every step of the trip, sometimes by accident, Allison and I dined well.   A restaurant with hanging herbs in the small dining room, a chowder house, Jordan Pond House in Acadia, a funky cafe in Bar Harbor, S.O.S. for brunch in South Portland, drinks at a majestic bar that used to be a church.  And everywhere - stores, restaurants, hotels, museums, the park - people were incredibly friendly and helpful.  Maine knows how to make an excellent impression.