Pool of Seduction

I bet that title got your attention.

If you’ve ever been in our research room at the Historical Society’s headquarters, you’ve seen that we have a lot of books.  However, the books on our open shelves are only part of our collection.  We have school books, rare religious texts, histories of local schools and businesses, but my favorite part of the collection are the novels written by locals.

Way back when we started this blog, I told you about Charles Heber Clark, a best-selling author and rival of Mark Twain, who lived in Conshohocken.  Today I have the books of Howard R. Watt, a Norristown native who took up writing (or at least publishing his writing) in his retirement.

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Howard R. Watt’s author photo

Watt was born and raised in Norristown.  He attended Norristown High School and William Penn Charter School before entering Princeton.  After graduating in 1917, he returned to Norristown and eventually took over the family business, Watt Woolen Mill.

He retired in 1949, and it seems, took up writing as a hobby.  His first book, The King’s Pardon, was published in Great Britain in 1958.  It’s the story of the young Marquis de Tourville and the poor but beautiful Andrienne de Savoie.  The Evening Chronicle in Manchester said it was “altogether a clever and delightfully told story.”

The front cover of Alert All Ships from Amazon.com

He followed up his first book with Alert All Ships, also published in Britain.  It continues the story of the Marquis’ son, René, a physician in revolutionary Philadelphia.  The same year, Alert All Ships came out (1962), his first book was released as a paperback in the US.  The title was changed from The King’s Pardon to the much racier Pool of Seduction.

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The books did not become bestsellers (though they’re not all that bad).  Howard R. Watt died in 1967 after breaking his hip in a fall at his 50th college reunion.  His obituary doesn’t mention his books at all, but I’m sure he was proud of them.  The three books in our collection were all donated by Watt himself, and he inscribed the first one to the Historical Society.

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Emeline Hooven

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Many of the people who come into the research library stop to admire the chandelier that hangs over the tables.  This chandelier came from the Hooven house which stood at 28 East Airy Street in Norristown.  The house was torn down in the 1930’s for the Norristown Post Office, and the family donated the chandelier to the historical society.

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The Hooven House

Several members of the Hooven family grew to prominence in Norristown.  James Ekron Hooven and his son Alexander Henry Hooven ran the Norristown Iron Works, which was located on the Schuylkill River.  It consisted of a rolling-mill, a blast furnace, and pipe-mill.

Alexander’s daughter, Emeline Henry Hooven did not go into the family business.  After schooling at Miss Caroline Whipple’s school, Norristown High School, and St. Mary’s Hall in Burlington, N.J., she began working in the law office of John Faber Miller.  She later became the second woman in Montgomery to pass the Bar.

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Hooven practiced law in her own office on DeKalb Street.  I’d love to tell you more about her practice or an interesting case she was involved in.  Unfortunately, her long obituary in the Norristown Times-Herald of March 16, 1937, makes little mention of her long career, but focuses more on her ancestors and her membership in various societies (including the Historical Society in Montgomery County).

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Emelin Henry Hooven in the Norristown city directory under “Lawyers”

The obituary does mention another accomplishment of Hooven’s however:

“In 1920, she was elected a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, to represent the Ninth District of Pennsylvania, consisting of Bucks and Montgomery Counties.  This was an unique honor — the first time a woman hdd been selected to receive this distinction.”

One woman’s life

As I work my way through the lower stacks, I find a lot of intriguing things.  This morning, I opened a box that had been donated to the Historical Society in 1972 with instructions to keep sealed until 1978.

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That’s not particularly unusual.  Donors often protect the privacy of their relatives or friends by requesting that personal papers go unopened until sometime after the individual’s death.  The boxes containing Main “Annie” Derr Slingluff’s diaries were probably opened in 1978, as instructed, but they were never cataloged or described.

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There are twenty-seven volumes in all, from 1908 until her death in 1938.  Main Derr Slingluff was born in Norristown in 1868 to Henry and Ellen Derr.  She married William H. Slingluff (a future president of Montgomery National Bank) in 1892.  Now, I can’t say for sure that this picture is Main D. Slingluff because it is only identified as a member of Slingluff family.  However, it was donated by the same man who donated the diaries, and the style of the clothing is consistent with Mrs. Slingluff’s dates.

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When something has been sealed up, we often expect there to be something scandalous or controversial.  Of course, I wasn’t able to read all twenty-seven volumes of her diaries, but I didn’t see anything of the sort.  I did find some very moving passages from the life of one of Norristown’s society ladies in the early 20th century.

The entries describe trips to the theater and the “movies,” bridge games, her involvement with St. John’s Church in Norristown, and drives in the family car.  The Slingluff’s had two children, Eleanor (born in 1896) and Marjorie (born in 1900), and they feature prominently in the diaries.  In August of 1909, both girls became ill.

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Everyday in August, Mrs. Slingluff recounts her day with the children, their symptoms, and the doctors who came to the house.  Then on August 30th, she wrote:

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Eleanor recovered would recover from typhoid a few weeks later.

Most of the diaries are personal.  I looked through the years of World War I and saw little reference to it.  Likewise, I looked through October of 1929 and found no reference to the stock market crash.  In 1918, however I found two entries that were interesting.  At the beginning of the year she wrote:

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“Grippe” is what we usually call the flu today.  And it’s possible that the the flu that sent Mrs. Slingluff to bed in January of 1918 was just the run of mill flu.  But, January, 1918 was the start of the “Spanish” flu epidemic that killed tens of millions.  She recovered, and in November was able to record this happy entry:

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Main D. Slingluff continued to live in Norristown after the death of her husband in 1930 and after her only surviving daughter moved to New York.  She fell ill in the summer of 1938, and the last few entries were written by Eleanor.

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Main Derr Slingluff is buried at St. John’s Cemetery in Norristown.

R. C. Titlow, Cabinetmaker and Undertaker

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Small chair made by RC Titlow

Earlier this year, we received a call from a woman with a chair she thought we might like for our collection. It turns out that this chair had a label on the bottom showing that it was made in Norristown, Pennsylvania, AND it had the name of the craftsman, R. C. Titlow!

 

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Label from underside of chair seat “R. C. Titlow Cabinet Maker and Undertaker Main St. Norristown, Pa”

I did some digging and came up with some more information.

 

Reuben C. Titlow announced the opening of his business in Norristown with a notice in The Norristown Register and Montgomery Democrat on May 22, 1844.  Here’s what it said:

 

“Reuben C. Titlo Respectfully informs the public that he has commenced the cabinet making business in the shop lately occupied by Jerome Walnut, in the lower end of the Borough of Norristown, where he will be happy to wait on all those who desire furniture. The newly married are especially invited to call.  His furniture is made of good materials and durable.  He endeavors to gain credit by the manufacture of good furniture and therefore does not slight his work; his desire is to furnish people with furniture in the future, and not get a job once, and by slighting it, never receive their patronage again.  His work is not made by apprentices.

Old furniture repaired in a superior manner, at short notice.

By strict attention to business, prompt execution of orders, and moderate prices, he hopes to receive a liberal share of public patronage.

He would also beg leave to inform the public that he carries on the coffin making business, and can wait on all those who may desire his services. Having a hearse, he will attend on funerals in the country.

Reuben C. Titlo.”

 

A few years later in 1847, he moved his store and advertised in The Norristown Times Herald and Free Press.  Below you can read the ad:

 

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Advertisement from the Norristown Herald and Free Press

 

It seems that the apprentice he advertised for was found in David Y. Mowday. According to Bean’s History of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, Mowday learned cabinet-making and undertaking from Titlow, for whom he was an apprentice and later a journeyman.  Mowday was very successful and his business lasted well after his death.  Undertaking became the main focus and Mowday Funeral Home continued well into the 20th century.

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D.Y. Mowday from Bean’s History of Montgomery County

 

Aside from information about Reuben Titlow’s business, I also found information about his life. The newspaper announced his marriage to Sarah B. Levering of Barren Hill on the 21st of November, 1844, by the Reverend Frederick R. Anspach.  He died February 12, 1858, at the age of 41.  The inventory of his estate lists quite a bit of furniture, including bureaus, chairs, and bedsteads.  There were also 16 coffins.  His wife survived him, and in the 1860 Norristown Business Directory she is listed as a widow with “Cabinet ware rooms North Side Egypt (now Main) Street above Green, house same address.”  An interesting fact is that David Y. Mowday began his business the same year Titlow died, in 1858.

 

Although I could find no images of him, you can visit Reuben C. Titlow’s grave in Historic Montgomery Cemetery! He’s buried in Lot Q-33/34 with a Masonic symbol on his headstone.  Check our website to find out more about Historic Montgomery Cemetery.

Joseph Amodeo

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Last week, I described the papers of Cleopatra McClellan Nelson, which were left in a grocery bag by our back door in 2013.  Mrs. Nelson’s papers weren’t the only ones in that bag.  It also contained the papers of Joseph Amodeo.  If there was a connection between Nelson and Amodeo, I wasn’t able to find it, so I don’t know how their papers wound up together.

Nevertheless, in Amodeo’s papers we can also see the interesting life of an ordinary person.

Born in Norristown in 1917, Joseph Amodeo’s parents were immigrants from Sicily.  His father owned a shoe shop at 303 East Moore Street in Norristown.  Joseph began working in the shop as a boy, eventually inheriting it after his mother’s death.

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Amodeo stayed in the shop for decades as his brothers and sisters grew up and moved away.  His papers give us little hints about them.  There is a letter from his brother Charles who was stationed in San Francisco while serving in the Signal Corps.  His brother Harry got into some trouble with the police.

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He seems to have straightened out and also served in the military during World War II.

As I often do when writing a blog post about a particular person, I did a little sleuthing on the internet.  It was helpful, but I also discovered some of the shortcomings of internet research.

I found the Amodeo family in the 1940 census.  The census taker’s handwriting isn’t great, and here’s what he wrote for Joseph’s occupation:

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Since I know something about Mr. Amodeo’s life, I know that this says “shoemaker.”  The person who transcribed this record, however, interpreted this as “stenographer.”  Always check the original.  I also found him on findagrave.com where he has a spouse listed, “Mary Maria Amodeo.”  Mr. Amodeo never married; it’s possible this is referring to his sister Mary.

Still, I can say with some confidence that Joseph did not go into the military, as his brothers did.  Among his papers was this proclamation on “aliens of enemy nationalities.”  His mother, Anna Amodeo, would have fallen under the category of “enemy alien.”

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Joseph Amodeo continued to work in his shop, a mainstay on the East End of Norristown, while the neighborhood around him changed.  I found a great article on him from the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1994.  The article makes a reference to an old stitching machine.  Perhaps it was the same machine his father Melchiorre (Menzi) Amodeo purchased in 1931.

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In the article, “Mr. Joe” seems determined to stay on E. Moore Street.  The Norristown phone book lists him there until 2003.  He died in 2004 and is buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery.

Cleopatra McClellan Nelson

I couple of years ago, I arrived here at the Historical Society to find a grocery bag full of papers left at the door.  For the record, archivists hate that; we like to know where the papers come from and get a little background.  But, this grocery bag contained the papers of two individuals.  I’ll write about one this week and one next week.

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Cleopatra Nelson is identified on the left.

Cleopatra McClellan Nelson was a local political leader.  Her obituary, which appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, described her as “the grand dame of politics in her community.”

Her early life is a little mysterious.  Her obituary states that she was born in Norristown and that her father was a lawyer, but the 1920 and 1930 census both list her birthplace as Florida.  In the 1920 census, her father James McClellan’s occupation is given as “Laborer,” and by 1930 he’s listed as a “Plasterer.”

As a young woman, Mrs. Nelson worked as a domestic servant, but she eventually attended Cheyney University and became a schoolteacher in Philadelphia.  She married Russell L. Nelson of Ardmore at the age of 29 and moved there.

Cleopatra Nelson was active with many organizations as evidenced by the papers donated to the society.  She was secretary of the Main Line chapter of the NAACP from 1968 to 1988.  She was a member (or Soror) in Zeta Phi Beta, and president of the Young Women’s Literary Guild.  In 1981, she was elected President of the Democratic Committee of Lower Merion and Narberth.

Mrs. Nelson’s papers are not complete, so in some cases we can only see part of the story.  For example, during the war, it seems Russell Nelson entered the military, but at some point the army ceased paying his family allowance.  We have the letter indicating that the payments would be reinstated, but we don’t know anything else about it.

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While her husband was in the service, Mrs. Nelson may have worked at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, but this temporary pass was only valid for two weeks.

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Finally, the biggest mystery of these papers has to do with another person named Robert Nelson.  Presumably a relative of Russell, he isn’t listed with Russell in the census, and doesn’t seem to have lived in Ardmore.  We know that he worked for a family named Kauffmann for forty years.  A certificate stating as much is included, but it doesn’t give much more information.  The Kaufmann family had at least one well known friend, Clifford Berryman, the cartoonist who first drew the Teddy bear.  He drew this anniversary picture showing Robert Nelson with his famous creation and the Kauffman family.  It’s an amazing picture.

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Cleopatra McClellan Nelson died at the age of 95 in 2004.  I’d love to know more about her, so please share this blog with anyone who might have more information.

Thomas A. Stewart

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Currently on display in our lobby and reception area, is a sword that belonged to Adjutant General Thomas A. Stewart.  The sword was a gift to Stewart from the Pennsylvania Department of Internal Affairs.

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The name Thomas J. Stewart may be familiar to you if you’ve heard of Stewart Middle School in Norristown.  But who was Thomas J. Stewart?

Born in Belfast in 1848, Stewart emigrated with his family when he was a year old, and settled in Norristown.  He attended local public schools and Quaker City Business College.  The Norristown Area School District’s webpage notes at that he was particularly recognized for his penmanship and that he opened his own writing school.

When he turned 16 in September, 1864, he joined the 138th Pennsylvania Volunteers.  The war ended only a few months later, and Stewart never rose above the rank of private.

When he returned to Norristown after the war, he worked manufacturing and selling window glass.  He also joined the Pennsylvania National Guard in 1868, and in 1877 was appointed adjutant of the 6th Regiment (he might have gotten the position due to his handwriting; an adjutant is an adminstrative position).  In the 1870’s he became a member of the Grand Army of the Repulic, Zook Post #11.  According to an article on his life that appeared in the Times-Herald in 1925, he helped to revive the Zook Post which had not had meetings for several years.

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Stewart also went into politics.  He was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as a Republican in 1885. Ten years later he was appointed Adjutant General of the Pennsylvania National Guard, a position he would hold until his sudden death in 1917.

 

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As Adjutant General, Stewart oversaw the compilation of Pennsylvania soldiers and sailors who severed in the Spanish-American War.

Stewart also rose high in the ranks of the G. A. R.  In 1889 when the Johnstown Flood killed 2,200 people, Stewart and the G. A. R. stepped in to centralize the distribution of supplies and organize door-to-door canvasing.

Thomas J. Stewart died on his birthday, September 11, 1917.  A bronze statue was erected for him in the state capitol, and today the Pennsylvania National Guard has a medal named for him. Here’s the criteria for the medal from Senate Bill no. 232, 1971 session:

The General Thomas J. Stewart Medal shall be awarded to members of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard and Pennsylvania Air National Guard upon recommendation of their unit or organizational commanders, for one hunder per cent attendance and excellence in drill, including annual field training, during any one year.  Only one of these medals shall be awarded to any one individual.

Stewart Middle School opened in 1925 as a junior high school.  It became a middle school in 1973, and continues to educate the children of Norristown.