Part 5: Rose's Story
George Drake, Jr.: Last time on Fifth and Ludlow…
Jessi Sievers: “So this is from the 16th of May in 1917 in the Dayton Daily News.”
George Drake, Jr.: We learned from amateur genealogist Jessi Sievers that Rose’s husband Jim wasn’t such a great guy…
Jessi Sievers: “‘After being told that he had run his wife out of the yard with a razor, Judge Budroe fined James O'Connor 18 Tecumseh Street $200 and costs. and six months in the workhouse on a charge of assault and battery.’”
George Drake, Jr.: But now Vicky — Rose’s living great-granddaughter — may want nothing to do with this podcast…
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “She does not want to participate in this at all, unless she's able to keep the letters.”
Kathy Hollingsworth: “Oh wow.”
Frank Hollingsworth: “Wow.”
George Drake, Jr.: I’m George Drake, Jr. and this is Fifth and Ludlow Part 5: Rose’s Story.
Before starting this project, I didn’t know who would be the central figure — Rose, Will, or Jim. I had the most from Will, that was certain — I had the letter that he sent to Rose in July of 1920. Here’s what it says:
“Friend Rose. I got your letter and I am well, and I hope this will please you, Rose. I will meet you at the corner of Fifth and Ludlow at Jenkin’s Drugstore at 7:30, and you and I will go out to the home and go some place to ourselves and talk the matter over. Hoping you will be all okay when we meet, if you are willing to do this and keep it to yourself. Will”
The fact of the matter is this: Will has been evasive from the beginning. He didn’t use his last name in the letter, so it wasn’t possible to track him using that. And we thought we’d found him with William Hoffrichter, Rose’s border, only to start to doubt that he was actually the Will in question. Jessi did find out that Will the border had a checkered love life and a possible affair between he and Rose may not be out of the question, but then Vicky — Rose’s great granddaughter — explained to me that she may have an idea of who Will actually is. And, to me, Will the border seemed like too simple of an explanation for someone like Vicky, who’d been investing so much time looking into her family’s past.
Then Vicky told me that she’d like confirmation on whether she’d be able to keep the letter and envelopes, or else she didn’t feel like she could be a part of this project.
With that, potentially finding out Will’s true identity and more was in the hands of Kathy and Frank Hollingsworth — the people who found the letter under their bathtub. I sat them down later that week to ask them if they’d be willing to part with everything.
Kathy Hollingsworth: “Oh wow.”
Frank Hollingsworth: “Wow.”
Kathy Hollingsworth: “Interesting.”
Frank Hollingsworth: “Well, you know as I think about… who’s... who's got really the most claim on those letters?”
Kathy Hollingsworth: “It would certainly be her family.”
Frank Hollingsworth: “It would certainly be her family.”
George Drake, Jr.: In a way, keeping the letter was never their intention — they always wanted it to go back where it belonged. Vicky was hesitant about Jessi and me wanting to know about her family, which is why she wanted the letter in the first place. As soon as I told her that the Hollingsworths agreed to hand over the letter, the switch seemed to flip back, her hesitance vanished and her excitement returned. Looking back on it, I think I was reading too much into the situation. She had all the reason to be hesitant — I was a stranger looking into her family’s past, I had a letter written to a distant relative of hers which I wasn’t divulging the contents of, and I was wanting to present what I’d found out to the masses. She’s spent years researching, collecting, and putting together pieces of her family’s past. All she wanted was another missing piece.
Vicky: “I always enjoyed hearing stories from Clara, so this just takes me back to her days, for sure.”
George Drake, Jr.: That is Vicky, Rose’s great-granddaughter.
Vicky: “My father's family is pretty well set-out. We knew everything about his family, but my mother's family... there was a lot of question marks.”
George Drake, Jr.: She met Ruth and me along with her mother Eileen and her Cousin Clarissa.
All of a sudden I found myself sitting in a room with three people who were directly related to Rose. It had taken two years to get to that point — a point I didn’t think we’d be able to get to — but this is who we had been looking for. I was looking forward to hearing their personal additions to people I’d become attached to over that period of time.
Eileen — Vicky’s mom — is Rose’s granddaughter. Her mom was Clara — Rose’s youngest daughter. Her memories of Rose and Jim are patchy, but they help paint a picture of their lives more than census records ever could — like this story of Clara’s from Krug’s Bakery, the place where the letter to Rose was sent.
Eileen: “Whenever she baked cakes and she’d ice them, she'd say ‘when I worked at the bakery we iced them with our hands. We got a big handful of icing.’ Then they put it on the top and then they turned it. That's really all I know about Krug’s Bakery: that she worked there and she iced cakes.”
George Drake, Jr.: Clarissa also remembers Clara telling stories of the bakery
Clarissa: “She was underage, like 14, and when the inspectors or officials came around she would have to go hide in the flour bin — in a giant flour bin because she was under age. I remember her telling that story.”
George Drake, Jr.: The one person who they didn’t have many stories about was Jim, Rose’s husband. He died pretty early on in Eileen’s life, but she does have one memory of him that stands out.
Eileen: “I never knew James at all. I think I saw him once that he came to our house where my mother and daddy were. They were working in the yard, and he was only there for a few minutes — somebody brought him but they stayed in the car. He was a short man, had dark hair, but after he left, I don't know if it was my daddy or who it was, they said, ‘what did he want?’ and my mother said ‘he wanted money,’ and that's the only time I ever saw him.”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “Who do you think Will is?”
Vicky: “Pardon me?”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “Who do you think Will is?”
George Drake, Jr.: This is Vicky talking now.
Vicky: “Well, when I first, when you first shared that with me, I thought it was going to be someone from the Roses past, but now I'm not so sure. She had two children with a gentleman by the name of William. So I thought maybe it was him, but the dates kind of don't really match, unless he, for some reason, tried to seek her out in 1920? I'm not sure.”
George Drake, Jr.: The man she’s talking about is William Downey. According to the 1900 Census, Rose was living and working in William’s home as a servant.
Rose and William’s two kids were Roy, who was born in 1900, and Ralph, who was born in 1901. The unusual thing is that Ralph for the rest of his life went by the last name of O’Connor — Rose and Jim’s last name. Every census, every newspaper clipping, up to his death record, he used O’Connor as his last name. Roy, on the other hand, seemed to have stayed behind with William as Roy Downey. We’ll come back to that a little later.
Vicky thinks the letter itself doesn’t seem like William wrote it — or at least the man she’s thought him to be through her research.
To her, William Downey had money and was probably well-educated. The way the letter is written doesn’t seem like that kind of person. The first letter of most of the words on the page is capitalized, and there are spelling errors throughout. For instance “place” is spelled “p-l-a-s-e,” and words like “ourselves” and “yourself” are both split into two words.
As Vicky put it, “If this was a gentleman that had servants, you think he'd be much more fluent.”
On the other hand, to Jessi Sievers the amateur genealogist, William isn’t like that at all, and may have only had an elementary school education. She found that in 1880, when he was about 17 or 18, he was an apprentice to a machinist. By 1884 he was on his own working as an iron molder. He was not a white collar guy.
Other records also indicate Rose may have been more of a border and not actually a paid servant in William’s house.
And, finally, there are places in Dayton where it’s obvious people with money once lived, filled with large old houses that have unfortunately seen better days. The area where William’s house was when Rose was living with him is definitely not one of those areas.
During our conversation Ruth asked them if they’d ever known Bertha or Harley Wysong — Rose’s oldest daughter and her husband.
Vicky: “She went by the name, ‘Dolly.’ “
Ruth Reveal: “Oh!”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “Oh, okay. That's news.”
Vicky: “I always knew her as Dolly.”
George Drake, Jr.: And the name differences don’t end there. Here’s Clarissa.
Clarissa: “The thing with the family is… is that everyone has these names but they're not their real names. Like, they had these nicknames that like, we only — like, I only knew her as Dolly. And I grew up with my uncle Butch, but his name was ‘Francis,’ and my grandfather's name was ‘Francis,’ but everyone called him ‘Phil.’ They they they gave people these names and then they didn't use them.”
George Drake, Jr.: For Vicky and her family, questions concerning their past are like playing whack-a-mole — once you answer one, another one pops up somewhere else.
And, this time, that somewhere else — was me. More specifically, how the letter found its way underneath the bathtub where the Hollingsworths found it.
Clarissa: “Our grandfather — her father — Francis had a floor finishing business, right? So he installed and refinished wood floors. So when she said it was under, like, a floor, we figured maybe somehow it got in their building materials or something, and maybe that's how it got there.”
Vicky: “And then you also mentioned that the homeowners kept original wallpaper that they found.”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “They did, yeah.”
Vicky: “And my mother said, well, Rose used to wallpaper for people. So, we were thinking, did she do that?”
George Drake, Jr.: The other question this letter made them consider is what it could be about. If William Downey really is the one who wrote the letter, there is one part that Vicky saw as a possible connection.
As I said earlier, Rose and William had two sons together — Roy and Ralph. While Ralph spent the rest of his life living with Rose and Jim, Roy seems to have stayed behind with William.
According to the Montgomery County Children’s Home “Register of Admittance and Indentures” log, on January 16, 1905, Roy — the older of the two — was put into the care of the Children’s Home by his aunt Emma Downey when he was just over four years old.
The Children’s Home was originally called the Dayton Orphan Asylum, until 1866, when the city took it over. Its mission was to help educate and take care of orphans or other children who couldn’t be taken care of.
On January 29th, not even two weeks after Emma checked him in, Roy died of diptheria.
Vicky: “He's buried there, wherever this home was. So maybe they went to his grave. I don't know.”
George Drake, Jr.: In his letter, William uses the phrase “you and I will go out to the home.” I’ve always felt the “out” part implies that the “home” in question is a bit out of the way. The Children’s Home was about two-and-a-half miles away from the corner of Fifth and Ludlow, so it fits the bill.
Back to the Children’s Home log — there are three things that are odd about it.
To begin with, Roy is listed as “Roy Downey, parentheses, (Heckroth)” — the last name of Rose’s first husband Harry. Maybe that’s just to denote who his mother was, because Rose is also listed with the last name Heckroth.
Next, under “father,” it simply says “unknown,” which could have been Roy’s and Emma’s doing because Rose and William weren’t married, so maybe she was trying to keep it a secret.
And, finally, Jessi Sievers found out that Emma Downey wasn’t actually Roy’s aunt. If Rose and William really were Roy’s parents, that would make Emma his step-mother, because Emma was William’s wife at the time.
Jessi Sievers: “So, more or less, Emma Downey checked him into the children's home to die, because she would have known he was sick. There was no other reason for her to have put him there, because up until that point I think he was living with them. There is a brief newspaper clipping that says something about... it's one of those social clippings where ‘so-and-so and so-and-so attended a party’ and it lists ‘Mr. And Mrs. William Downey, their son Charles, and Master Roy Downey.’ ”
George Drake, Jr.: That article was printed in the Dayton Herald on January 23, 1904, almost exactly one year before he got sick.
George Drake, Jr.: In the six months since Jessi last presented me with what she’d found out about everyone this letter has to do with, she’d kept digging, finding more and more out and continued to form her own informed speculations, which is why she wanted to talk again.
About five years after Emma put Roy into the Children’s Home she passed away, leaving William a widower.
Eventually, he married a woman named Josephine.
Jessi started to look into Josephine using her and William’s address and kept finding classified ads Josephine had apparently taken out.
I’ll let Jessi pick it up from there.
Jessi Sievers: “They were advertisements for a message service. More or less she was a psychic. Almost weekly she had ads in the paper, like “Come see me and we'll talk to the dead people,” or something. I don't know. When William died it actually listed as his church in his obituary the spiritualist church. So apparently she converted him at some point.”
George Drake, Jr.: And it’s with that — William’s conversion — that we arrive at her speculation behind his letter to Rose. Like Vicky, Jessi also thinks the “home” he mentions is the Children’s Home.
Jessi Sievers: “We're just going to totally theorize here because what else can we do? You know, if he at any point had been raising Roy, he would have been attached to him. So when he died, I'm sure it probably bothered him. And so, what if after they got married, Josephine convinced him maybe that she could get in touch with his spirit or something? Because, you know, when you read the letter and it talks about going out to the home… well, the children who died in Montgomery County Children's Home were buried really close to it in old Greencastle Cemetery. That is a theory.”
George Drake, Jr.: She also thinks that a plausible theory is if you remove Josephine all together, maybe William just wanted to make peace with Rose about losing Roy. Maybe they never had that chance. It could have been something that had been eating away at him for the 15 years since his death to when he sent the letter.
George Drake, Jr.: In the 1940 census, William is living on Wyoming Street in downtown Dayton. What’s interesting is, Rose is also living on Wyoming Street at that time — not even half a mile away from William and on the same side of the street. Whether this was intentional or just coincidental is anyone’s guess.
George Drake, Jr.: There are a lot of moving parts to this story — way more than I ever thought there would be. There were many times that I thought it would be dead end after dead end and I’d be left with little snippets of a bigger story. But I’m confident that we’ve figured out at least 80% of the facts to do with this story and these people. Admittedly, there are details that we weren’t able to figure out, simply because it’s stuff that you wouldn’t be able to look up in public records.
So let’s start with where everything was found: How did the letter and envelopes end up underneath the bathtub?
Of course there are the speculations that it could have ended up there because of Rose’s wallpapering or her son-in-law’s flooring business, but they all leave a lot of open questions.
Was the letter actually forwarded to Jim from Zanesville?
Yeah, we did take the envelopes out and put them together and they fit like a glove, but they may not actually have been mailed together, and the envelope to Jim may just be another envelope under the same tub. There’s also no way to confirm whether Jim even saw the letter.
What is the letter is actually about?
Well, because Will was so vague, any speculations, like the ones Jessi just laid out, are just that: speculations. We can’t confirm that the “home” is actually the Children’s Home, or that the “matter” is their dead son Roy. This letter from Will is obviously in response to a prior letter, because he starts with “I got your letter and I am well.” So, unless we can find Rose’s letter, or any others that possibly came before, all we have are speculations.
For that matter, we can’t fully confirm who Will is, either. William Downey does seem like the most likely suspect but, to be honest, it could have been any other Will living in Dayton in 1920.
And finally, did Rose and Will ever actually meet?
Personally, I like to think that they did, and all went well with whatever they were meeting for, but that’s just my optimistic viewpoint. Only Rose and Will would be able to confirm anything.
Over the course of the two years that I’ve been researching and doing interviews for this series, one person stayed front and center the whole time, both in my mind and in the story itself: Rose.
Rose was quite the woman. She unfortunately found herself in abusive relationships and had children with three different men, but she kept living with or without them, raising her children and burying others.
Even though her husband Jim had a job on the railroad, they apparently still struggled financially. She did peoples’ laundry, wallpapered, and took in borders. Her oldest daughter Bertha also took in laundry and, as Clarissa said, Rose’s youngest daughter Clara worked at Krug’s Bakery, even though she was underage. It seems like she was a smart and resourceful woman who did everything she could to stay afloat — traits that were adopted by her daughters.
Jessi sees her that way too. It wasn’t just her strength dealing with abuse from men in her life — it was her resilience and ability to push forward.
Jessi Sievers: “...this is going to sound odd… she was the one, for whatever reason, she was who I connected with in this. So, which is probably why you have the most about her. But yeah, she was kind of my person.”
George Drake, Jr.: Towards the end of my time making this series, Vicky found a picture of Rose and said she’d send it to me. I had conjured up an image of her in my mind that had changed and morphed the more I learned about her as a person, and from the physical descriptions Vicky’s mother Eileen provided. So, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
But then I got it.
It’s a black and white picture. Rose is older. She’s standing next to a magnolia tree sapling in the front yard of Eileen’s house, a barn-shaped home with a big stone chimney — you can see a bench swing peering out from behind her. She’s wearing a long white skirt and white sweater. And, as Vicky puts it, she’s “looking at a magnolia bloom on the tree [as if] she’s just reflecting on life.”
I never knew Rose personally, but this is how I want to remember her.
George Drake, Jr.: To see scanned images of the logs from the Children’s Home, newspaper clippings, and more, visit the website, .
There you can also find the show on iTunes and other outlets to subscribe to the podcast.
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Theme and other music used in Fifth and Ludlow is by Mustafa Shaheen.
Logo and branding is by Peter Diaczenko.
This series was made possible by a generous grant from the Montgomery County Arts & Cultural District with assistance from Culture Works.
Additional funding is from 91.3 WYSO.
Episode editor is Katie Davis. Additional content assistance from Ruth Reveal and Craig Shank.
Special thanks to the Hollingsworth Family, Rose’s family members Vicky, Eileen, and Clarissa, and Jessi Sievers for their help with this episode, as well as Dayton Access Television for giving us a place to record Rose’s family.
I’m George Drake, Jr. Thanks for listening to Fifth and Ludlow.