Archive for the ‘World War I’ category

Welcome Home, Wyburn

October 29, 2016

There’s a grave marker in the closet! Not too many people have the opportunity to say that phrase but, in the case of James Starbuck, it was true. James had purchased a house in Westport, New York, in 2007. While renovating his new home, James located a flat, military plaque bearing the inscription, “Wyburn Litchfield Lee, QM 3 US Navy, World War I, 1893 – 1977”. Who was Wyburn Litchfield Lee, and why was his grave marker at a house in Westport, New York? The search for answers was on!

Courtesy of James Starbuck

Courtesy of James Starbuck

The package containing the grave marker was addressed to Wyburn’s brother, Gerald A. Lee, of Elizabethtown, New York. James Starbuck hypothesizes that the grave marker was unable to be delivered to Gerald Lee and somehow made its way to Carlin Walker. Carlin was a Westport postman and local historian. James believes the Elizabethtown postmaster gave the package containing the marker to Carlin Walker to track down the owner. When Carlin was unsuccessful in that endeavor, he left it in his house, which now belonged to James Starbuck. In an interesting twist of fate, Gerald Lee used to play bridge with James Starbuck’s mother!

James spent several years pondering the mystery of the grave marker. Occasionally, he would search online for answers. On May 31, 2013, I received an email from James, who had located the Find A Grave memorial I had created for Wyburn Litchfield Lee. Wyburn’s parents, George Albert Lee and Gertrude E. Ketcham Lee, are buried at Pittsford Cemetery in Pittsford, New York. They have a nice headstone with their names and dates. Underneath Gertrude’s name it says, “Son, Wyburn L. N. Lee, 1893-19__”. No death date is listed for Wyburn.

The information about Wyburn’s grave marker was intriguing. Who was Wyburn, and why wasn’t his marker on his grave? This promised to be an interesting story. I was already familiar with Gertrude Ketcham Lee. The Ketcham family was a big name in Pittsford. They even had a road named after them! Surely we could learn something more about Wyburn.

Wyburn has proven to be as much a mystery as his errant grave marker. He was the third of George and Gertrude Ketcham Lee’s four sons, and was born April 22, 1893 in Buffalo, New York. Wyburn’s father, George Lee, had risen to prominence in the 1890s as a shrewd and calculating financier. The family lived in luxury as George, known as the “Sodus Boy Financier”, spent money lavishly. The Monroe County Mail in 1899 noted that George had purchased “the table on which the Declaration of Independence was written”. By 1900, Wyburn and his family were living in Sodus with his paternal grandparents, William and Lucy Clark Lee, quite probably to escape the notoriety of George’s alleged underhanded dealings on Wall Street.

Grave marker courtesy of James Starbuck

Grave marker courtesy of James Starbuck

When the Great War arrived, all four Lee brothers – Merwyn, Gerald, Wyburn and Lowell – served in the military. Wyburn’s abstract of service shows that he enrolled at the recruiting station in Newport, Rhode Island, on May 11, 1917 as Quartermaster 3rd Class. He served at the Newport Naval District until June 4, 1918, when he became a member of the Naval Auxiliary Reserve before officially transferring to inactive service on February 9, 1919. The July, 1918 issue of The Rural New Yorker magazine features a photo of the service flag hanging in the window of George and Gertrude Lee’s home bearing four stars, one for each son serving the war effort. All four Lee brothers survived the war.

Following his military service, Wyburn lived in the New York City area, and was employed in several different occupations through the years. The 1930 census record shows Wyburn married to a woman named Phyllis, but by 1940 they were divorced. It is unknown whether Wyburn and Phyllis had any children together. Little other information about Wyburn’s life was found. Wyburn Litchfield Lee died August 26, 1977 in Palm Beach, Florida.

That brings us back to Wyburn’s grave marker. Someone ordered the marker from the U.S. government, who shipped it to Gerald Lee in Elizabethtown. Carlin Walker became the unofficial keeper of the grave marker shortly thereafter. In 2007, the torch was then passed to James Starbuck. In spring 2016, James sent the marker to Beth Knickerbocker, secretary of the Pittsford Cemetery Association. Beth coordinated the effort to install Wyburn Litchfield Lee’s military grave marker in the family plot at Pittsford Cemetery this past August.

The mystery of Wyburn Lee isn’t completely solved, though. Burial records show that Wyburn had permission from the plot owner to be buried at Pittsford Cemetery, but the records don’t definitively show that he is, indeed, interred there. Perhaps in a few years I’ll receive an email from someone that begins, “While cleaning my house, I found an urn containing the remains of Wyburn Lee.” If that is the case, we’ll have the spot all ready for him.

Welcome Home, Wyburn

Welcome Home, Wyburn

The Pittsford Cemetery Association (PCA) took on the initial financial responsibility of paying for the marker installation for this World War I soldier. If you are so inclined to honor Wyburn’s memory, please send a check payable to “Friends of Pittsford Cemetery Association” to 155 South Main Street, Pittsford, New York 14534 and note “Wyburn Lee” on the check. The PCA will utilize the funds to pay for the marker installation. Any additional monies received will allow the PCA to continue their fine upkeep of the cemetery and the graves of its eternal residents. For additional information about the Pittsford Cemetery Association, please visit http://www.PittsfordCemetery.org.

Thank you to CAPT Steven F. Momano, USN (Ret.) for his assistance deciphering Wyburn’s military abstract of service and a special thanks to James Starbuck, who worked tirelessly to ensure that Wyburn Litchfield Lee’s grave marker found its rightful home.

(c) 2016 Vicki Profitt’s Illuminated History

Illuminating Carl W. Peters

August 31, 2016
Carl W. Peters mural, "Fairport", on display at the Fairport Historical Museum.  Photo courtesy of Keith Boas.

Carl W. Peters mural, “Fairport”, on display at the Fairport Historical Museum. Photo courtesy of Keith Boas.

On June 21, 2016, Illuminated History held its fifth annual cemetery tour in which actors portrayed residents of the burying ground.  The tour, which was sponsored by the Perinton Historical Society, took place at the Fairport Historical Museum.  Mount Pleasant Cemetery in the village of Fairport, New York, was the focus of the tour.

Carl W. Peters was a renowned artist.  Born in Rochester, New York, he moved to Fairport as a child.  Carl’s love of art was apparent at an early age, and it was a passion that would last his entire life.  His “Fairport” scene, on permanent exhibit at the Fairport Historical Museum, is just one of many murals that were commissioned to him around the city of Rochester.

In this Illuminated History series, each of the scripts are based on in depth historical research, although some creative license may have been taken.  Carl W. Peters was portrayed by Craig Caplan.

Evening, folks.  I’m not quite sure why I’m here this evening.  My family wasn’t influential like the DeLands or industrious like Mr. Parce.  You see, I’m just an artist.  My name is Carl Peters.

Since I’ve been invited to tell my story, I suppose I should get to it.  I was born in Rochester November 14, 1897, the eldest child of Frederick and Louise Meyers Peters.  We moved to Fairport when I was 11 and bought a place on Jefferson Avenue, at the corner of Sandy Hill. 

After we moved here, my passion for painting went into overdrive as people started to take notice of my work.  I designed some post cards for the Stecher [pronounced STEK’-er] Lithographic Company and also some covers for McClure’s and other magazines.  In 1917, the Fairport Herald printed a story about me winning the best poster contest to advertise the pure food show to be held in Convention Hall, Rochester. 

Carl W. Peters, courtesy of the Perinton Historical Society.

Carl W. Peters, courtesy of the Perinton Historical Society.

That was nice and all, but I didn’t paint for the awards.  I painted because I had a love for it.  Best thing in the world to make a living at a job you love.

The Great War came along just as my career was heating up.  I joined up with the 15th Cavalry and spent a year overseas.  I was fortunate to be assigned to the Camouflage Corps as a designer.  I’d like to think I saved a few lives with my camouflage painting, despite the fact that I wasn’t on the front lines.  It’s pretty ironic, though.  I had always wanted to paint in France.  It just never occurred to me that I would be painting camouflage on military equipment!  By the way, I did get furlough in the fall of 1918 and managed to get some nice sketches done while in Paris.

After the war, I settled in New York City for awhile, and then moved on to Massachusetts in 1925.  Winters were spent painting in the Rochester area, and summers in Massachusetts.  I’d built a new studio at my place in Fairport, and it was exhilarating to be out in the snow looking for bursts of color in an otherwise white landscape.  Most of my paintings have a pop of red in them somewhere.  It just helps bring the paintings to life.

My first marriage didn’t work out, but it gave me two beautiful daughters.  My second marriage, to Blanche Peaslee, lasted over thirty years.  You see, Blanche was also an artist and she understood my need to paint.

Since I’ve been old enough to hold a brush, I’ve painted every day.  I’d still paint if I could hold a paintbrush.  This

Carl W. Peters self-portrait.  On loan to the Fairport Historical Museum by a private collector.

Carl W. Peters self-portrait. On loan to the Fairport Historical Museum by a private collector.

otherworldly stuff just isn’t conducive to that.  I’m most known for my landscapes, though I’ve been known to paint a portrait or two.  Your museum actually has a self-portrait that is on loan from a local art collector.  I feel it’s an accurate representation of my face. 

Speaking of my face, there’s a legend that I painted myself into one of the people in the mural upstairs.  In fact, there’s another legend that I painted my face into each of the people in the mural, even the women!  I’ll let you be the judge of that.  I’m just the artist.

Since we’re in this museum building that used to be the library, let’s talk about that mural upstairs.  It’s something I’m very proud of, the fact that I was chosen to paint that mural through the Works Progress Administration, also known as the WPA.  I wanted it to reflect the history of our community, the farmers and the laborers and everyone who worked hard to make Perinton what it is today.  Throughout the city, more of my murals still exist, though the Fairport mural is close to my heart since it represents my hometown.

I died July 7, 1980 at age 82.  I’ve got a nice spot at Mount Pleasant under a large tree.  Hmm…this would be an interesting landscape to paint.  If only I could hold a paintbrush again!

Script by Vicki Masters Profitt

(c) 2016 Vicki Profitt’s Illuminated History

Illuminating Deva Ellsworth

June 22, 2015

On June 16, 2015, Illuminated History held its fourth annual cemetery tour in which fifteen actors portrayed eternal residents of three historic Perinton, New York, burying grounds: Egypt Cemetery, Schummers Cemetery and Perinton Center Cemetery.  The tour, which was sponsored by the Perinton Historical Society, took place at the Fairport Historical Museum.

In this Illuminated History series, the scripts are based on in depth historical research, although some creative license may have been taken.

The first person to be highlighted from this tour is Deva Ellsworth (1894-1925) of the Perinton Center Cemetery, who was portrayed by Denise McLaughlin:

Who here likes music? Any fans of jazz here? Well, I am Deva Ellsworth, and I was a professional musician during the heyday of jazz. Let me tell you my story.

I was born in May of 1894 on a farm on Ayrault Road. Our house was across from Center Cemetery. There is a school there now, which would have been convenient when I was growing up. Instead, my three siblings and I had to walk all the way down to the end of Ayrault, where it connects to the Palmyra Road, to District School #6. It was a long walk in winter, although we enjoyed it the rest of the year. After finishing eighth grade in the District School, I went to high school in East Rochester. I graduated in 1916, during World War I.

Deva Ellsworth, courtesy of the Perinton Town Historian

Deva Ellsworth, courtesy of the Perinton Town Historian

I was a talented musician, and rather unconventional for my day (thank you, Great-grandma Irena, for my independent spirit!). Instead of staying on the farm and finding a husband, I joined the Madame Meyers Ladies’ Band as the coronet soloist. (I played several brass instruments.) Now John Phillip Sousa was the most famous band-leader of that time, and concert bands were a popular form of entertainment all over the country, but neither Sousa’s band, nor any other professional band, would hire women, unless they were either a vocalist or a harp player! Consequently, women formed their own bands. We were well-received and never lacked for playing engagements, I assure you.

Madam Meyers’ band worked in Atlantic City the summer after I graduated. I found that I enjoyed performing and seeing life outside of Fairport. Subsequently, I toured New England and also out west with several bands. Soon after I graduated, however, the United States joined World War I. My brother Elmwood enlisted right away. My sister Ruby and I, not to be outdone in service to our country, both joined the America Ladies’ Military Band, which was led by the famous Helen May Butler, America’s “female Sousa.” There were about fifty women from all over the country in our band, and all of us had brothers in the service. We toured military training camps all over the U.S. to entertain our troops.

We played concerts at camps in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, and Missouri, to name just a few locations. However, 1918 brought unbelievable devastation: the Spanish Flu, which killed more U.S. serviceman than the fighting in Europe did. Our band often visited camps that were quarantined, and frequently we were playing only a few feet away from the bed of someone who was dying of the flu. One soldier’s last words were, “Please play that last selection again.” Not surprisingly, both Ruby and I caught the flu; her case was more severe than mine. We both survived, thank God. We had both hoped to go to Europe to entertain troops over there, but the war ended before we had the chance.

After the war, Ruby returned to Fairport and settled down. I, however, continued my life as a professional musician. I was in several exclusive women’s groups, including the Ladies’ Eleven Piece Jazz Orchestra. I traveled throughout New England, performing at famous, upscale resorts. I remained a performer all of my short life, working throughout the early 1920s, during the advent of Jazz and the start of Prohibition. It was an exciting time in history, especially for women.

Although I had survived the Spanish flu in 1918, I was never quite as healthy again. I became ill in late 1924, and,

Headstone of Deva Ellsworth, Perinton Center Cemetery

Headstone of Deva Ellsworth, Perinton Center Cemetery

after a lingering illness, died in April of 1925, just 8 days shy of my 30th birthday. I am buried in the family plot in Center Cemetery, across the road from where I grew up. In addition to looking eternally over the beautiful land that was our farm, I can often hear the strains of the Martha Brown band students as they rehearse; I just shake my head when they play Sousa! I am so proud that I got to spend my life working at something I loved, and I got to bring joy to so many people with my music. Who could ask for anything more out of life, however short that life might be?

Script by Suzanne Lee

(c) 2015 Vicki Profitt’s Illuminated History

Looking Back While Facing Forward

January 1, 2011

The end of the year brings reflection as we put to rest one year while looking ahead to a new beginning.  I’ll always remember 2010 as an incredible year for my Civil War soldiers project, as well as for the start of some new research projects. 

Martha Jewett & Evan Marshall visit Mary Jewett Telford's grave

In January, I met a descendant of one of my Civil War veterans.  Martha Jewett is the second great-grandniece of Civil War nurse Mary Jewett Telford.  Martha and her husband, Evan Marshall, drove to Fairport to attend my Illuminated History presentation for the Perinton Historical Society.  After Martha and Evan returned home, we spent a frantic two weeks emailing and calling each other in order to meet the deadline for Mary Jewett Telford’s nomination to the National Women’s Hall of Fame.  We will soon hear whether we were successful in our endeavor.

With February came a slight shift in my research, as I began to study the World War I soldiers of Pittsford.  February was also memorable as it was the first time I have formally interviewed a research subject.  Bill Cooper, a World War II veteran and survivor of the Battle of the Bulge, was my assignment.  Bill is a member of American Legion Rayson-Miller Post 899.  The stories he shared about his military experience and life with his wife, Margaret, were 

Bill Cooper, World War II vet

 inspiring.  I also had the opportunity to meet with Philip G. Maples for the first time.  Phil is the Director Emeritus of the Rochester Medical Museum & Archives.  Since then, I have volunteered research time to the RMMA, as well as spent time with Phil, who is himself a Civil War researcher and enthusiast.  I proudly headed to school in February to hear my daughter make her first presentation by portraying Civil War nurse Mary Jewett Telford.

March rang in another opportunity to interview a Battle of the Bulge veteran.  This time it was Ed Kinnen, also a   member of Rayson-Miller.  Ed and his wife, Ellen, graciously invited me into their home so I could talk with Ed about his World War II service.  We share a common love of genealogy, and I was happy to hear them speak of their children and grandchildren and the importance of sharing the family history with them. 

Lynda Skaddan & Jane Andersen, Telford descendants

The next few months went by in a blur as I once again collaborated with Pittsford Town Historian Audrey Johnson for our annual Pittsford Cemetery tour in May.  Theo X. Rojo, who researches the men of the 13th NY Infantry and the 22nd NY Cavalry, contacted me in May and we have spent much time emailing back and forth regarding those units and others.  June was the pinnacle of excitement.  I gave a tour at Greenvale Cemetery for the Perinton Historical Society members.  I was so pleased to meet Cheri Branca, one of my online friends and fellow Find A Grave contributor, who attended the Greenvale tour with her husband, Matt.  Jane Andersen and Lynda Skaddan, descendants of Robert Telford, made a special trip to Fairport with Lynda’s husband Ray so I could meet them at Mary Jewett Telford’s grave to discuss her life.  Mary was wed to Robert’s younger brother, Jacob Telford.  In June, I also had the opportunity to meet Norman and John Henry Miller, who are the nephews of Henry L. Miller.  Henry was killed at Belleau Wood during World War I.  Norm and John are not only veterans themselves, but they come from a long line of men who served their country, beginning with their great-grandfather, Civil War veteran Henry L. Mueller.

Throughout the rest of 2010, I gave a presentation for the American Legion Rayson-Miller Post 899 and discussed the 

John and Norm Miller at the grave of their uncle, Henry L. Miller

early history of the post and its members.  Audrey Johnson and I hosted another tour of the Pioneer Burying Ground in October, and I started a Facebook page for Illuminated History.  However, I think the biggest thrill has been meeting the veterans’ descendants and other researchers, both in person, by phone and online.  I spoke by phone with John R. Bacon, grandson of WWI & WWII Lieutenant Colonel Howard Bacon and great-grandson of Civil War vet John Buckley Bacon, after emailing back and forth for several years.  I spoke with veteran David Retchless about his military service, as well as those of his brother, father and uncle.  Tyler Emery, the current owner of the Retchless military memorabilia, and I have corresponded via email and he has graciously shared photos of the contents of the trunk he owns.  At the Pioneer Burying Ground tour, I met Gail and Marilyn, the daughters of World War I vet Raymond L. Hulbert.  I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Lloyd F. Allen’s daughters, Betty Anne and Katie, as well as his granddaughter, Elizabeth.  Dr. Allen, like his friend and neighbor Howard Bacon, had also served in both World Wars.

2010 was an extraordinary year.  Thank you for your interest in my project, and your appreciation for these veterans.  With your support, Illuminated History will continue to shine the light on these heroes for many years to come.

Church Records: A Gift from Above, Part I

December 10, 2010

When Private Homer Rayson of Co. G, 308th Infantry, 77th Division, was killed on October 19, 1918 during the Meuse-Argonne offensive, he was mourned by two families – his birth family and his church family.  Homer was a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford, New York.  A newspaper article stated that  Homer’s church had erected a plaque in his honor.  Intrigued, I contacted current Associate Pastor Carrie Mitchell for more information.  Ms. Mitchell directed me to First Presbyterian’s Historian, Dick Crawford.  Mr. Crawford graciously offered to meet me at the church to show me the plaque which still hangs in a place of honor. 

World War I plaque, First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford, NY

A week later, we met and discussed the reason for my visit.  After photographing commemorative plaques bearing the names of the men and women who had participated in both World Wars and being given a tour of the church by Mr. Crawford, we ended up in the administrative offices.  It was there I saw the records.

First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford, New York, has been in existence since the mid-1820s.  During that time, the church endured two fires; first in 1861 and then again in 2004 when it was struck by lightning.  The resilient churchgoers, with the assistance of the community, rebuilt both times.  Despite these trials the church records, dating back to 1825, miraculously remained intact and untouched by the flames.  It was these record books that Mr. Crawford showed me. 

My excitement grew as I perused the records.  The names of many of my Civil War boys were recorded in the older books.  Wiltsie.  Light.  Shepard.  COOK.  Finally!  The Cook family that no one seemed to remember was listed in the records of the First Presbyterian Church.  It served to validate the fact that they were real, and not just a figment of my active imagination. 

First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford, NY

The records of the First Presbyterian Church have given me a fresh insight into these families.  In them, I have discovered the middle name of the missing Cook boy, Edward.  Information about W. Miller Shepard’s death and surviving family members were listed.  Who knows what other nuggets of information will be gleaned from them as I read from page after page?  Time will tell.

Special thanks go to First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford Historian Dick Crawford and Associate Pastor Carrie Mitchell for allowing me access to these local treasures.

Coming soon:  Church Records:  A Gift from Above, Part II, a visit to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.

Henry L. Miller, Lost at Belleau Wood

October 29, 2010

He was supposed to be a farmer, like his father.  But when the United States entered the Great War, Henry L. Miller felt a patriotic duty to join the fight.  Henry enlisted in Co. M, 49th Infantry of the regular Army, on July 26, 1917.  Soon thereafter, he transferred into Co. M, 23rd Infantry, 2nd Division and began training in Syracuse.  Little more than one month later, young Miller shipped overseas.

Henry L. Miller was born in Perinton, New York, on April 23, 1895, but moved to Pittsford, New York, at an early age.  The third child of Charles and Reka Miller, he was their first son.  Three more daughters and another son, Norman, later joined the Miller family.  Dorothy, Henry’s youngest sibling, was just 9 years old when he went overseas.  She must have been so proud of her big brother.  Henry no doubt smiled as he received the packages of letters from his sisters and brother which sporadically reached him somewhere in France.

The letters Henry wrote home most likely inspired both pride and fear in his parents.  Henry wrote of life at the front.  He mentioned the six weeks he had spent in the trenches before being allowed a short period of rest.  He talked of going “over the top” of the trenches to pitch headlong into the thick, German artillery fire.  Somehow, Henry managed to survive.  Then came Belleau Wood.

On June 6, 1918, the Marines stationed with the 23rd Infantry sustained casualties of 31 officers and nearly 1,100 men.  The 23rd Infantry also lost many good men, including Henry L. Miller.  Four weeks after the Battle of Belleau Wood, the Miller family received official notification that Henry was missing in action.  It took another three weeks before Charles and Reka Miller were formally notified that their son, Private Henry L. Miller, had died at Belleau Wood on June 6.  Henry was buried in France and would remain there for three long years until his parents could bring him back to Pittsford.

Henry L. Miller

“Hero’s Body Arrives” touted the local papers.  Henry L. Miller was home.  On September 11, 1921, the remains of Henry Miller were interred at Pittsford Cemetery.  He was laid to rest beside his grandparents, Henry and Elizabeth Lussow Mueller.  The military honor guard that oversaw the burial were members of a one-year old American Legion Post known as Rayson-Miller Post 899, so named after Homer Rayson, who was killed in action in October, 1918, and Henry L. Miller.  This year, the Rayson-Miller Post celebrated their 90th anniversary. 

The Miller family of Pittsford has a proud history of military service.  Beginning back in the Civil War when Henry’s grandfather, Henry L. Mueller, fought for the Union with the 8th NY Cavalry, the Millers have had over 15 family members serve in the armed forces.  These Miller men have served in the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korea and in the Persian Gulf.  Something tells me Henry L. Miller would be extremely proud of such a legacy.


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