Wednesday, October 21, 2020

John D. Edmonds: 
His Pension Lived On

Too often  people of talent and promise are lost to war. Such was the case with John Edmonds, but it wasn't a Civil War bullet or blast  that ended his military career and may have contributed to his early death. And, amazingly,  his 80-year-old widow was reapplying for pension benefits more than a half century after his death.

 John D. Edmonds was born in Ridgefield in 1832, a son of Robert Chauncey and Abby Darling Edmonds who lived on Silver Hill Road,  a short distance west of Wilton Road West. By 1850, when he was 18, Edmonds was teaching at one of Ridgefield’s one-room schoolhouses. (His father, Robert, was an official of the Flat Rock School district, but the Flat Rock school committee did not employ John.)

He met Harriett Eliza “Hattie” Edmond, a first cousin with a “singular spelling,” and they were married on  Aug. 22, 1853, in Portchester, N.Y., officiated by a Presbyterian minister, according to research by Judith Adams, a descendant of his family. Hattie was 16 and John, 21.  

Hattie was a daughter of Aaron and Harriett Edmond of Ridgefield (some members of the family spelled their name Edmond but most chose Edmonds — and a few appeared as Edmunds). Apparently John, Hattie  and her parents all shared an interest in the West — western New York, that is, an area that had been opening up to farming development after the Revolution. By 1855, John and Hattie, and their baby daughter, Emma, were living near the Finger Lakes, at Benton, N.Y., with her parents and other family members 

But Benton was not west enough. By 1860 John was teaching school in Ada, Mich., just east of Grand Rapids. 

When the Civil War broke out, Edmonds was quick to respond. Despite having a wife and two young children and being 29 years old, he enlisted  in the 2nd Regiment of Michigan Cavalry Volunteers at Grand Rapids in September 1861, signing up to serve three years. 

By January 1862, he was stationed at the Benton Barracks in Saint Louis, Mo., when the
accident that helped doom him occurred. Something spooked the horse he was riding, and it took off, out of control. The horse ran past a shed, from which roof boards were projecting. Edmonds collided with the boards, which hit him in the lower ribs of his right side, and he was thrown from the horse.

The injury was so severe, Edmonds was unable to return to active service and was honorably discharged from the army in May 1862. He returned to his family, who were living in Grand Rapids, and according to medical records, was unable to work more than a few days at a time. 

Since teaching was a rather taxing job, Edmonds apparently decided to take up law as a profession since he could more easily coordinate his workload to his physical disabilities. He began law schooling in Grand Rapids and became a lawyer.

Meanwhile, his brief service made him and his family eligible for an army disability pension that provided money off and on for a half century — long after he had died.. But to obtain veterans disability payments, he and especially his widow, Hattie, went through what must have been tiring application procedures several times over. Just surviving records reveal more than 50 pages of submissions and correspondence,  including testimony from doctors on the nature of his injury, his disability, and his death as well as evidence of his marriage and his children. 

Even a character reference was provided.  Said one physician who backed up his claim,  “Mr. Edmonds is an entirely upright and reliable man of good habits and I know nothing to invalidate his claim.”

Soon after returning to civilian life, John Edmonds began applying for the  pension. In 1863,  Dr. E.R. Ellis examined him and rated him two thirds incapacitated. “Applicant complains of severe pain in his right side over the region of the short ribs ... which at times, especially on exposure or over exercise becomes greatly aggravated,” the physician said.

He received a pension of $5.33⅓  a month ($64 a year) — equivalent of about $112 a month or $1,350 a year today.

However, his health continued to deteriorate. He and probably also his family, by then including two boys and a girl, moved back to Ridgefield, probably to live with his parents. On July 23, 1865, he died of what Ridgefield physician Nehemiah Perry determined to be “consumption” — what we now call tuberculosis. He was only 33 years old and is buried with his parents in the Hurbutt section of the Ridgefield Cemetery on North Salem Road.

Subsequent documentation described the disease as “contracted while in the service.”

After his death Hattie began applying to take over his benefits, and a year or so later, started receiving $8 a month in “widow’s relief,”  an amount increased after another  year to $14 apparently to include support for the three children whose existence had required additional documentation.

However, when she married Charles P. Scott in 1870, Hattie lost her pension. Nonetheless, the children — all still minors — remained eligible, but apparently Hattie had to reapply to keep those modest support payments coming to her new name, Hattie E. Scott. As each child reached 21, the benefit for him or her stopped and by the early 1880s, the family was no longer receiving any military pension payments.

All that later changed many years later. Charles Scott died in 1911, leaving Hattie a widow for the second time. Apparently it was six years before she realized that, as an unmarried widow of a Civil War-disabled soldier, she was once again eligible for John’s pension payment.

In 1917 at the age of 80 and living in Loveland, Colo., Hattie again began a tedious process of applying for a pension, including digging up half-century-old records and testimony. 

She succeeded. The pension was still $8 a month, and despite time and inflation, had changed little in buying power. In 1866, $8 had been worth the modern equivalent of $141. In 1918, it was worth $138.

Hattie Edmonds Scott collected that $8 a month or $96 a year until her death in 1923 at the home of her son, Lynn Edmonds, in Loveland. She was 87 years old. The local newspaper described Hattie as a “pioneer” of Larimer County, Colo, “having come to the county in 1871” and noting that her husband had  “at one time been county clerk.”

Her first husband and Lynn’s father, Civil War veteran John Edmonds, who had died 52 years earlier, was not even mentioned. 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Mary Linda Bradley: 
Free-Spirited & Adventurous

Whether it was with four legs or two wings, Mary Linda Bradley liked being out in the open air. The poet and writer loved horses, dogs and flying and became one of the earliest women pilots, owning her own plane.

A descendant of Col. Philip Burr Bradley, a Revolutionary War leader and prominent 18th Century Ridgefielder, Mary Linda Bradley was born in 1886 in Chicago. Her father was William Harrison Bradley, a United States diplomat who brought the family with him on assignments in Italy, England and Canada. His first wife, Mary, was killed in a train crash, and his second wife, Carolina “Carrie” Lawson, decided to name their daughter after William’s first wife.

“Don’t you think it was sporty of my mother to name me after her?” Mary Linda once told a friend. 

Shortly after the turn of 20th Century, the Bradleys moved to Ridgefield, establishing an estate off Peaceable Hill Road called Felsenberg — possibly built on land that William’s great grandfather, Colonel Bradley, had once owned. When World War I broke out, both Mary Linda and her sister Marion became active in community efforts on the home front. Mary Linda founded the local chapter of the National League for Women’s Service, and was its first chairman. The league did projects to support the troops. Both sisters were athletic, organizing and playing on the Katoonah Basket Ball Club, a woman’s team that was captained by Mary Linda and coached by a young Francis D. Martin before the war.

After the war, Bradley built her own house, called Ackworth Cottage, off West Mountain Road, and although she later lived part of the year in Arizona or California, she always considered this her home. (Ackworth was the Yorkshire home of  the Rev. Thomas Bradley   [1597-1673], chaplain to King Charles I, and an ancestor of the Bradleys of Connecticut.)

Educated at private schools in Europe and North America, Mary Linda Bradley began writing while in Ridgefield, especially poetry but also natural history essays. Two books of her poetry were published. One, Reconnaissances, produced in 1937 by William Harrison Press, included a two-act poetic play, “Delusion,” set on an ocean liner and in Manhattan.

Her natural history interests included birds, and she wrote a number of pieces for publications about her observations. One, which appeared in a California periodical in the early 1930s, told of a problem that one bird caused.

“The viborous innocent villain,” she wrote, “was the Red-Naped Sapsucker, who gouged the trunk of the old Acacia by my west window, from dawn to dusk. The sap must have been worth a bird singing commercial, because one hopeful hummingbird took up his orbit around the tree and when the Red Nape withdrew for a ‘breather,’ the hummer rushed to the cracks and holes and satisfied his thirst till Red Nape returned.

“Then, amusingly, the sparrows came to the feast and tried to hover like tiny jeweled helicopters! At this point, I began to be worried about the poor Acacia, which was trying to become a golden tent, but was losing too much sap! So, ruthlessly, we decided to bind its wounds with friction-tape. The free lunch was over!”

She also liked horses. She had a postcard made of a picture of herself in 1926 with a favorite horse named Bird, whom she described on the back as “almost as clever and sassy as she looks.”

Over the years Bradley penned many letters to The Ridgefield Press, few of them of the warm and fuzzy type. In 1960, when town officials were considering a petition to change the name of the road bordering her family’s old estate from Standpipe Road to Peaceable Hill Road, she expressed her opposition and exclaimed, “How titsy-pootsy can one get!”

She also self-published a 188-page autobiography, The Fifth Decade, produced in 1947 by the Arts & Crafts Press of San Diego, probably mostly for family and friends. It was illustrated with black-and-white photos, printed on photographic paper and tipped into the binding, with captions hand-inscribed by Bradley herself. (A copy appeared on eBay in 2004 for $100. The owner called it “a very personal account of a free-spirited, adventurous single woman meeting middle age head-one — and on her own terms. It is also a record of a fledgling female pilot in an era when most American women were confined to roles as housewives and mothers.”

In the book, she describes herself as “the first Ridgefield she-pilot and the third to be licensed in Arizona.” Around 1930, at her part-time residence in Arizona, she had bought an airplane, naming it “Merry Robin.” At first she hired another early female pilot to be her aerial chauffeur, but by 1932  she had earned her private pilot’s license and was flying the Western skies on her own. She traveled extensively, both in her plane and on land, often accompanied by her dog, Arizona Pete. 

Mary Linda Bradley died at Ackworth Cottage in 1966 at the age of 79. She had been in poor health for many years and spent the last two years bed-ridden.

In late September six years earlier Linette Burton, a reporter for The Press, wrote Bradley, asking to do an interview for the newspaper. Bradley declined, saying “I am too full of wheezes to talk” and adding that “I feel my occupations in and enjoyment of life are of no specific interest to my fellow townsmen.” However, explaining that she admired Burton’s writing and was flattered by her offer, she said she would like to get together just to chat. “Please come to see me when the leaves are worth looking at,” she wrote.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Dr. Raymond Mindlin: 

Modest Man Honored by Presidents

It’s not everyone who earns a national award presented by a president of the United States, but Dr. Raymond Mindlin did that and more: He received two awards from two different presidents. 

While his honors came in realms few know about and even fewer understand, the results of his work are everywhere. For instance, the electronic watch on your wrist keeps accurate time because of its high-frequency, quartz crystal oscillator whose operation is based on equations that Mindlin “cooked up” around 1951.

A mathematical theorist and researcher, he was considered a world leader in his field, which he described succinctly in a 1980 interview: “I devise mathematical equations to describe and explain mechanical and electro-mechanical phenomena.”

His work over five decades helped the Allies win World War II, and led to the development of core components in not just electronic watches, but also televisions, radios and cell phones. His work even helped devise packaging materials with the best cushioning abilities.

Raymond David Mindlin was born in New York City in 1906 and earned two bachelor’s degrees and a doctorate at Columbia University, where he taught in the engineering school from 1932 until his retirement in 1975.

During World War II, he left Columbia for three years  to work on naval ordnance at the government’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Silver Spring, Md. There he contributed significantly to the development of the radio proximity fuze, which causes a shell or missile to explode when it is near the target instead of having to hit the target directly, greatly increasing its effectiveness.  The fuze has been called one of the most important technological innovations of World War II, and for his work on it, President Harry S Truman awarded Mindlin the Presidential Medal of Merit in 1946.

Over the years Mindlin researched and taught in such esoteric areas as photoelasticity, fictional contact and granular media,  waves and vibrations in isotropic and anisotropic plates,  wave propagation in rods and cylinders, and crystal lattice theories.

At his retirement in 1975, some 200 people attended a Columbia testimonial dinner at which Professor Jewell M. Garrelts, former associate dean of the Columbia engineering school, called Mindlin “an outstanding scientist whose clear, concise lectures were those of a master.” Garrelts noted that Mindlin was recognized internationally as “a pioneer in extending the mathematical theory of elasticity to bordering areas of electrical, thermal, optical, and acoustical phenomena.” Among the attendees was Mindlin’s first doctoral student, a man who went on to become head of the school of engineering at the University of Illinois. 

Just before his retirement, a book documented his accomplishments.  R.D. Mindlin and Applied Mechanics, published by Pergamon, consists of eight chapters written by eight of his former students describing his major contributions to science.

Over the years he received countless awards, including, in 1980, the National Medal of Science, presented by President Jimmy Carter. The most lasting honor came after his death: The Raymond D. Mindlin Medal is today awarded by the American Society of Civil Engineers for outstanding research contributions in applied solid mechanics.

Dr. Mindlin lived on Deer Hill Drive from 1973 until 1983 when he moved to New Hampshire. He died there in 1987 at the age of 81.

In the 1980 interview with The Ridgefield Press, Mindlin joked about the estimated    100 million electronic quartz crystals that were then being manufactured each year based on his formulas. “Unfortunately, I don’t get any money for it — you can’t patent a mathematical equation,” he said. “If I had a tenth of a cent for each one, I could support the school system of Ridgefield.”

But neither money nor notoriety motivated Mindlin’s research. “I do it for the fun of it,” he told the Press interviewer.

Ray Mindlin was also well-liked. “His professional colleagues treated him with deference at times bordering on awe,” said a fellow professor at the time of his death. “He was secure in the knowledge of his own worth, but wore the mantle of his eminence with genuine modesty. He was generous in giving or sharing credit, and unfailingly courteous to peers seeking his opinion or advice. 

“Basically a shy, reserved person, he was, invariably and unexceptionally, the consummate gentleman.”



Isabel M. O’Shea: 
A Compassionate Principal

The plaque outside the library at Veterans Park School reads: “An innate compassion and deep understanding of human beings, coupled with a keen mind and fine administrative talents, make her an outstanding personality.” 

The plaque honors Isabel M. O’Shea, the first principal of Veterans Park School. The school’s library is named for her; so is the auditorium of East Ridge Middle School, a building she helped to design. 

Isabel Margaret O’Shea was born in Ridgefield in 1905, daughter of a popular chauffeur. After graduating from Ridgefield’s Hamilton High School in 1923, she studied education in normal school and two years later became a teacher at the old Benjamin Franklin Grammar School (which soon became the East Ridge School and then Ridgefield High School). Both she and her sister Elizabeth (Mrs. Harvey Lown) were teachers. Both women, said historian Dick Venus, “were the old-fashioned type of teacher who insisted on getting some knowledge into the heads of even the poorest students.” 

Isabel O’Shea was named principal of the town’s elementary level in 1944, when those grades were housed both at the East Ridge School and at the Garden School on Bailey Avenue.

When Veterans Park opened in 1955, she became its principal, serving till her retirement in 1960. 

Though O’Shea left her job with the schools, she didn’t leave community service. In 1961, she became a member of the building committee that erected Farmingville School and then served on the East Ridge Junior High’s building committee. 

She was chairman of a town study committee on recreation needs, and was active in the District Nursing Association, now the RVNA. In 1960, she was named Rotary Club Citizen of the Year, the first woman so honored. Rotarians noted that O’Shea was chosen for “contributing a great deal to the educational system and devoting to it more hours and actual labor than her duties called for.”

In 1965, the year she died, the Veterans Park library was dedicated to her. When the school was built, the space devoted to the library turned out considerably smaller than what O’Shea had requested. In the years that followed, she pressed administrators to enlarge the library, which was finally accomplished a short time before her death. 

The bronze plaque outside the library notes that “she devoted her life to the community, its people, to her family and to her God,” adding that, through the dedication of the library to her, “It is hoped that her devotion to education will thus be remembered and serve as a constant inspiration to all people who visit this library.”

Both the plaque and an artist’s portrait commissioned by former student Louis Ridolfi would help keep her memory alive, said George Stromberg, her successor as principal of Veterans Park. 

“To forget her and to permit her memory to fade into oblivion would be unthinkable,” Stromberg said. “Her life has touched all of us in one form or another. Future generations should be made aware of her interest in their welfare.”

William S. Hawk: 
A Hotelier and His Nest

William S. Hawk built one of Ridgefield’s grandest estates as well as the world’s tallest hotel. Both are now gone, but in Ridgefield at least, relics remain as a reminder of a man who loved music, helped create an orchestra and, more lastingly, a venue for music to be heard in. With his friend Andrew Carnegie, he helped build and operate Carnegie Hall.

William Samuel Hawk was born in Ohio in 1859 and, after leaving a prep school in Massachusetts, went to work for his uncle,  who owned the St. Nicholas Hotel in New York City. He joined the management of the Windsor Hotel in the late 1800s.

In 1899 he built and operated the Hotel Manhattan, then the tallest hotel in the world and among the premiere hotels in the city — it provided accommodations for both Presidents Theodore Roosevent and William McKinley. (The hotel, near Grand Central Terminal, was razed in 1961 to make way for an office building.)

Hawk became friends with President McKinley and was in Buffalo with the president the day he was assassinated in 1901.

In the 1890s, Hawk and his wife Edith decided they wanted a house in the country and acquired 14 acres between Branchville and Rockwell Roads to build “Hawk’s Nest,” a spreading, many-angled mansion on a hilltop. 

A 1914 advertisement for the estate described the 28-room house as “large and roomy, built on a hill affording views of the sound and the peaks of the Berkshires, containing eight master’s rooms, three master’s baths, twelve open fireplaces, seven servants’ rooms, and two baths, large living room, dining room, drawing room, library, billiard room, den, lavatory, butler’s pantry, kitchen, also servants’ dining room, kitchen, pantry, laundry, hot water heating and gas for light, two furnaces, etc. The cellar makes an immense store room, and is floored with cement.” There was also a carriage house that included six stalls, spaces for both carriages and automobiles, and a small kennel.

The Hawks had been fairly active participants in the community, supporting the improvement of schools and the library. Edith Hawk was a supporter of the town’s first kindergarten and both she and her husband contributed the money to build the sidewalks around the new Ridgefield Library at the turn of the century.

The 1914 advertisement was placed because the Hawks apparently wanted to focus on their life in Manhattan. William retired two years later. The estate did not fare well and had been vacant a couple of years when it caught fire in October 1921 and burned to the ground. The spectacular daytime blaze could be seen for miles around and was viewed with excitement by hundreds of Ridgefield students at the nearby Benjamin Franklin Grammar School and Hamilton High School.

Today, stone walls and some parts of at least one modern house remain as reminders of Hawk’s Nest. So does the carriage house which years ago was converted into a residence called the Coach House at 80 Branchville Road. Over the years the Coach House has been home to a number of celebrities in the arts, including dancer Marthe Krueger (1942-1951), tap dancer Paul Draper (1949-50), Chinese art collector Abel Bahr (1951-59), and Broadway singer and actor Don McKay.

That would have probably pleased William Hawk, who was closely associated with the music circles in New York City. With industrialist Andrew Carnegie in 1891, he helped build Carnegie Hall as a venue for the New York Symphony Orchestra, of which Hawk had been a founder in 1878. (The symphony eventually merged with its longtime rival, the older New York Philharmonic.) 

At a luncheon he hosted in 1901 at his hotel for the visiting Pittsburgh Orchestra, its director Victor Herbert, and chief benefactor Andrew Carnegie, Hawk recalled one of his first meetings with Carnegie. “I expected to find him steeped in business, for it was a time of keen business tension,” he said. “Instead I found him at his home discussing paleontology with one man and with another the selection of a good oboe for an orchestra.”

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