Researching Myself

Researching Myself

When I was working on my most recent Memories post, I wanted to check some details, and possibly push past the haze to discover some of the places about which I was writing. In particular I tried to locate the precinct to which we drove in order to make our report about the robbery, and hence perhaps find out the name of the night club next door.

A Google search with the words “San Francisco Police precincts 1977” landed me on the Internet Archive site – and the SFPD annual report for the year of 1977. I was rewarded with a plethora of statistics and even some useful info in the thickets.

Our request for police service on that Saturday night in 1977 was one of 424,368 that year, and became more specifically one of 105,374 criminal incidents reported. Curiously the report we gave them was one of a grand total of 140,979, so I guess 35,605 of those they took in, were non-criminal. (I wonder what constituted a non-criminal report back then).

They did some comparisons to the year before and were happy to report that the incidents of robbery in 1977 were down in the city by 17.8% – (from a total of 6640 in 1976, down to 5456). Seeing that made me feel better, too.

Then I saw the category entitled malicious mischief.  I briefly considered this designation, as I thought our broken window might have fallen under that rubric. Its incidents were down only 1.5%.

There was a map included with the annual report showing the various police districts in the city. And wouldn’t you know it, Market Street makes up the boundary of two, the A and B districts.

So, in which district had our car break-in been reported? With no guidelines to go by, it was difficult to make a determination. If it had been presented to Solomon and he asked me which side of Market Street we had parked on, he would have gone with the B District. But I have a suspicion that we made our report to a station somewhere in the A region, and they should have gotten credit for it.

So armed with these pertinent facts, I found a SFPD records website, and filled out a PDF request form to order copies of the police incident report. After a four day wait, I received an email back from their clerk, who reported that all the records from that time, had been “purged/destroyed.”

I guess just like Vegas, what happened in San Francisco, stayed in San Francisco, except for the official reports about what had happened in San Francisco.

Aside – I discovered some years after this incident that the stolen 8mm Bell & Howell movie camera had been to San Francisco before. It had been in my Mom’s family from at least the 1940’s. Among the footage is a shot that clearly was Coit Tower and a couple more scenes were taken in Chinatown.

Aside aside – Two police TV shows set in San Francisco – McMillan & Wife, and The Streets of San Francisco finished their runs in 1977. Coincidence?

Before the Wind Came

before-the-wind-came

In writing my most recent Memories post (The SoCal Trip 1975), I was curious about one of the sites we visited on that particular vacation, so I did a little research.

The site was (and is) the Selznick Studio, which is wedged away in a small enclave in Culver City, California. (It still does business but now under the name of the Culver Studios). Formed in 1919 when Thomas Ince broke away from Triangle Pictures (whose other two partners of the troika were D. W. Griffith and Hal Roach), it has changed hands a number of times over the years. After the mysterious death of Mr. Ince in 1924, Cecil B. DeMille moved into the lot. He merged the concern with the Pathe company in 1926, which in turn was acquired by RKO in 1932. Selznick leased the lot from RKO in 1936.

[Check out this history, that chronicles some of the films (and TV shows) done on the lot. Of particular note were the old sets on the lot (i.e. ones for King Kong, etc.) that were torched for the burning of Atlanta sequence for GWTW.]

When doing some research for another project, I came across this brief article in Variety for October 30, 1935 p 7.

Shearer-Garbo in with Selznick-Whitney Prods.

Norma Shearer and Greta Garbo are among those who are reported tied in financially with the new Dave Selznick producing firm in which Jock Whitney is also concerned.

I realized this article heralded the genesis of Selznick’s involvement at the Culver Studio (then RKO). Shearer and Garbo disappear from any connection to Selznick, in so far as any corporate involvement is concerned. He had been pursuing Garbo prior to this for the role that finally went to Bette Davis in “Dark Victory” when the rights were sold to WB. Instead Garbo chose to do “Anna Karenina” as one of Selznick’s last projects as a producer in the employ of MGM. Garbo was close to Shearer and her husband Irving Thalberg, so this conjunction of their names is not unusual. The untimely death of Thalberg the following year and the subsequent turmoil may explain their absence from the concern going forward.

This article also set me off on another “rabbit trail,” in so far GWTW was involved.

The name in the last phrase, Jock Whitney, was completely new to me, and it proved fascinating to learn more about him.

Whitney was the young well-to-do scion of an East Coast family (who inherited 20 million from his father after 1927, and 80 million from his mother after 1944). His full name – John Hay Whitney gave the first clue to his family history. To anyone who has read about Abraham Lincoln, John Hay is a familiar name. He was one of Lincoln’s secretaries during his time in office. Later he was appointed ambassador to London, and later still served as Secretary of State under both McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt. And Jock Whitney is his grandson and namesake. His other grandfather, served as Naval Secretary under Cleveland.

  Whitney graduated from Yale, and was a member of the Scroll & Key secret society while there, (his father also was an alumnus, but a member of the Skull & Crossbones secret society). He started as a clerk in a banking house. But once he came into money, he invested in personal interests. He was a major “angel” for Broadway productions during the 1930s. – “Here Goes the Bride,” “Life with Father,” and “Jumbo.” From there it was short hop to film.

He had been brought into the film business by Merian C. (“King Kong”) Cooper, then a producer and head of production at RKO. By 1933, Jock founded his own production company, Pioneer Films.  And around the same time he acquired a 15% interest in Technicolor. He used the process in making a musical short “La Cucaracha,” and later the first technicolor (three strip process) feature “Becky Sharp.” Pioneer was merged with Selznick Int’l Pictures in 1936, and Whitney ended up as chairman of the board of the new company.

Together on the Culver lot they were responsible for such films as “A Star is Born,” “Nothing Sacred,” “Rebecca,” and “Gone with the Wind.” In fact, it was through Whitney’s direct investment that Selznick acquired the rights to the Margaret Mitchell novel, which laid the foundation for what would be Selznick’s “signature” film.

In the Yale yearbook for 1926, in its write up about Whitney it noted that his future plans looked to an occupation in either the field of literature or diplomacy. Actually he “checked off both boxes.” The thirties and forties mark his time of involvement with literature as literary projects were translated to the stage and to the screen (in the 1940 census he lists himself as an executive in the Motion Picture Industry). He was an Eisenhower supporter in the fifties, and was consequently appointed the US ambassador to London, following in the footsteps of his maternal grandfather.

The Reluctant Midshipman Alexander Duer Gedney Pt 1

the-reluctant-midshipman-alexander-duer-gedney-pt-1

The fifteen year old from Goshen, New York really did not want to be in Annapolis, but most of all Alexander Duer Gedney did not want to be at the Naval Academy. All of this I discovered later. For it was the date of admission listed for the young middie that first made me curious.

Gedney’s entry record shows that he arrived at the academy on November 24th, 1859. That looked like a misprint or an outright error (by navy regulation, Sept 30 is the prescribed cut-off). Then I noticed that a good number of his fellow candidates arrived at the academy in late October and November of that year, well after the normal September window. So what exactly was going on?

I turned to the correspondence of the Naval Academy Superintendent, Captain George S. Blake, to look for any clue as to this anomaly. I started with his letters to the Secretary of the Navy, Isaac Toucey. In the beginning of the school year of 1859, Blake was dealing with various problems  – a watchman drunk while on duty, fall out from the Foot Outrage, selection of new text books, etc. All of these important and unimportant items, Blake was discussing with the secretary. Then, towards the close of that month, I found the answer.

The ship selected as the school ship that year was the USS Plymouth. It had returned from the summer cruise September 27th, had disgorged the upper classmen two days later, and began to be outfitted to house the plebe class. At that time, Blake tallied the plebes at 85 in number, and asked Toucey to hold off on any further candidates until November first, when he would have a better idea of how many they could accommodate aboard the vessel.

So after Blake issued word that there was room for more, Gedney was among those forty plus candidates that were given the chance to join the plebe class.

Gedney’s was a short career as a midshipman – in, on Nov 24th, and out, forty-nine days later, on Jan 12th. The fact that his career was ended by a dismissal, is a clear indication that a serious infraction was involved. Another curiosity, so I checked his demerits next.

A perusal of his conduct records show that he was on a tear to collect all he could. None are recorded for the few days left of November when he started, but once December rolled around, he racked up 126 in that single month. (Two hundred in a year were grounds for dismissal). The bulk of the demerits were for disruptive behavior; he was constantly annoying his teachers and his fellow midshipmen. In fact, he managed to tick off one fifth of the members of the plebe class on board the school ship with him. And once he hit January, Gedney upped the ante. He pushed his demerits above the two hundred mark before his dismissal on the 14th.

But his dismissal was not for his demerit count. The name of Gedney is conspicuous in Blake’s correspondence for the first part of January 1860, but not for gallantry. Officers were writing reports about his activities to Blake, and he in turn was writing to the navy secretary. On New Year’s Day, Gedney was in custody, locked in one of the ward rooms of the school ship. He used his locker key to unlock this door and was caught. He repeated this feat by using a “false key” three times on the fifth of January, and again was reported each time. On the eighth, he picked the lock on the door and was turned in by a fellow midshipman and penalized with ten demerits. But Gedney was not through that day. One of the Lieutenant’s caught him red handed with a book into which he had pasted obscene prints that he had cut out of a pornographic volume, and thereby doubled his demerits for the day.

This letter from Blake’s correspondence from earlier in the month began to make sense:

  Naval Academy
Annapolis Md
  Jany 5 1860

Sir
In order to prevent the introduction of
obscene books on board the Plymouth, you
will direct the officer in charge to have all
books and packages received on board for
the Acting Midshipmen opened and
carefully examined in the presence of
the owner and all books of this description
and articles that are prohibited by the
Regulations will be retained and the owner
punished as the nature of the offense
may require.-
I am very respectfully
Your obt servt
G S Blake
Sup’t’d’t

Commander
Thos T Craven
Comdt of Midn

I ran a check on the other midshipmen who reported Gedney’s misbehaviors and found that one of them, William Knox Wheeler, had been himself reported for loaning an obscene book to a crew member on January 1st. I haven’t created a database for the conduct files for that school year, so I decided to comb through them one by one. I discovered that a total of five midshipmen were involved with obscene material on New Year’s Day. Besides Midshipman Knox, one was cited for possession of an obscene book, and three others for the reading of one. Since Gedney was in custody on that date I did not see a direct connection, but evidently the Commandant of Midshipman, Thomas T Craven did. About Gedney, he states:

The example which he has set by
the introduction of obscene books and prints,
had already done amongst his young class-
mates, an immense deal of harm.

To my mind his shenanigans were consciously entered into, having as their goal to be expelled from the academy. The obscene books just brought him closer to his ticket out of there. Blake records Gedney’s frame of mind, in this observation to Toucey:

When remonstrated with by me, he has
replied that he came to the Academy
against his wishes, & intended to leave it.”

So he got his wish and more. Gedney did put in a resignation (and Blake notes that it was without the consent of his father). With this in hand, Blake advised Toucey not to accept his resignation, but rather recommended that he be dismissed outright.

Toucey took Blake’s recommendation and dismissed the midshipman. Gedney probably did not even care as to the stigma attached, I surmise he was just happy to be out.

Stay tuned for part two next week in which I look into who or what brought him to the academy, and about his latter end.

Fixing Walt Coy’s Timeline Part 2

Image-1

I had to laugh when I realized that this Research post had its reference point centered in 1928 San Francisco, a time and a place about which I have written five other posts.

This time around it is a starting point for unraveling a timeline problem in the life history of Walt T. Coy, the stagehand whom I knew at the Fifth Avenue Theater in Seattle, Washington. Occasionally during the 11 month gig (June 1927 to May 1928) that the Herb Wiedoeft Band put in at the Trianon Dance Hall, Walt filled in for their drummer (Walt spelled his name as “Weidoff”). Herb got an offer from a major studio in Hollywood to score a picture. He did not have a regular place on the band for Walt just then, but dropped a hint that he might be able to use him if he happened to find himself down south.

Walt did pick up a job that would serve to that end. He joined the band on the H. F. Alexander, a passenger liner that sailed up and down the West Coast, making calls at Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Once the ship was beyond the three mile limit out came the booze without limit. When the ship called at San Francisco, Walt bought a San Francisco Examiner in which he learned to his dismay that Herb Wiedoeft had died as the result of an automobile accident.

I looked up the details about this event. Herb Wiedoeft died in Medford, Oregon on May 12th 1928, the day after the car accident. So, this places Walt in San Francisco, most likely in a seven day window after the accident. After this news Walt says he decided to try his hand at acting down in Hollywood. This seems logical because as I established in last week’s post, he already had some experience as an extra on the production of “The Patent Leather Kid,” the year before.

After the news in San Francisco, Walt records :

“Finding myself eventually in Los Angeles with a few extra nickels in my pocket, I decided to take a fling at being an actor. This turned out to be a rather short-lived adventure.

One of the studios I was in was called the Chaplin Studio – later changed to United Artists – and a Charlie Chaplin picture was in the process of being filmed. For a young fellow to be there, it was a big deal. Charlie Chaplin was a meticulous artist. The same scene was reshot hour after hour until it was perfect in Chaplin’s eyes. As young as I was then, I classified him as a perfectionist.” (from My Uncle Sam Don’t Like Me, page 67).

I confess I was really curious to know which Chaplin film this could be. According to his filmography, “The Circus” seemed to be closest in time, but it was released in January 1928. The next film in order was “City Lights” which was not released until 1931. I remembered that “City Lights” did have a longer than normal production period, so that seemed the logical place to start. (This Chaplin film is one of my all-time favorites, and in my opinion a masterwork).

One online source listed that it was in production from 12/31/1927 to 1/22/1931. This seemed to fit the bill easily, but what if the scenes employing extras were all before May 1928? So, I did more checking.

Variety gave the negative to that question, for it reported in their 1/29/1929 edition, that the Chaplin Studio had remained dormant for the first five months of the preceding year (1928).

Production reports for the studio indicate that Chaplin was working on the story for that time period, clear up to August of 1928, when set construction began. Another source confirms the construction month:

“Charlie Chaplin’s unit is building sets for “City Lights.” (from the Daily Exhibitors Review for 8/20/1928).

This very same article mentioned that Gloria Swanson’s “Queen Kelly” was to enter production after September 1st.

This gave me the idea to look into the Swanson picture. I thought that whatever time Walt spent as an extra on that film, might shed some light on his Chaplin Studio tenure.

“Queen Kelly” did not start on September 1st. In the trades there are articles showing it moving back and back. Finally Variety on 11/7/1928 (p 4) reported:

Los Angeles 11/6 – “Erich Von Stroheim’s second day directing “Queen Kelly” was a long one. During the day he worked on exteriors. In the evening, he came into the studio to kill one sequence with certain actors. There was a little delay in getting going, but the original plan was adhered to. It was 6:30 in the morning, when the troupe was dismissed. The call was for the following evening when the company again worked during the night.”

In the same edition of Variety (over on page 7) there is another short article that identifies the exteriors noted in the above quote.

Los Angeles 11/6 “…While the schedule calls for 10 weeks’ shooting it is deemed doubtful if this will be observed on account of the large number of mob scenes to be photographed out of doors – and the sun at this season is not dependable.”

Therefore, it would seem that Walt gained work as an extra on Von Stroheim’s “Queen Kelly,” before he was at the Chaplin Studio. Variety reported that the silent version of “Queen Kelly” was finished before Christmas. They then moved over to the Pathe Studios to work on the sound version, one for which they would not be needing extras, as only the leads had speaking parts. Things fell apart for Von Stroheim with the new year (1929), he was fired off the production and another director brought in for the dialog version. It was all a big mess after that. In fact, “Queen Kelly” was released in Europe and South America but never saw the light of a theater projector in the US (it was televised in the 1960s).

[Aside – with one exception – there was a clip from “Queen Kelly” that was inserted into Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard,” whose cast included Gloria Swanson and Erich Von Stroheim.]

This dovetails nicely with the start of filming for “City Lights.” I could not find any proof that Chaplin had ever pointed a camera at any extras in 1928. But once 1929 rolled around, (and Walt would have been looking for extra work after “Queen Kelly”), I found some substantial proofs. Variety again (for 2/6/1929, page 7):

Los Angeles 2/5 – Charles Chaplin after many delays has started “City Lights.” Previously he had done some work alone, but now he is surrounded by Virginia Cherrill, leading woman; Henry Clive, Henry Bergman, and Harry Crocker.

There are two sequences in the beginning of “City Lights” that called for lots of extras. Both, I believe, were filmed in the first two months of 1929.

The first was a scene where the Tramp character (“working alone” – i.e. not with named performers) fidgets with a stick that is stuck in a sidewalk grate. A ton of extras pass back and forth in the background. The sequence was cut from the release print, but you can view it in the Kevin Brownlow limited series, “The Unknown Chaplin.”

(The cut sequence from “City Lights.”)

The second scene covers the meeting between the Tramp and a blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill). I like to think that Walt was present for this segment. It does seem to fit his description above (“The same scene was reshot hour after hour”), for Chaplin famously took 342 takes on this very scene.

I watched both sequences with an eye to catch a glimpse of Walt, but I could not make him out anywhere – but I guess that is the purpose of an extra, to be an unrecognizable presence.

The Chaplin Studio shut down production on “City Lights” from mid-February until April 1st. Illness in the cast was the main cause, including Chaplin himself who was sent home with ptomaine poisoning (Variety 2/27/1929). When Charlie returned he again tackled the meeting scene with the blind flower girl (a scene that he would revisit in December, and again in 1930).

It is my guess that Walt left Los Angeles when production halted in February, and went back to Seattle. And his future involvement in film making was from the other side of the camera.

Fixing Walt Coy’s Timeline Part 1

Fixing Walt Coy's Timeline Part 1

As I mentioned in my Memories post, The Stagehand of the Fifth Avenue, I made the leap of deduction that Walt T. Coy must have been an extra in Charlie Chaplin’s WW1 comedy “Shoulder Arms.” For he described donning a soldier’s uniform and charging about in some trenches, all for two dollars a day and a box lunch.

When I received Walt’s autobiography I eagerly read it to find out more about the things he had told me over talks at the Fifth Avenue. In the pertinent chapter Walt dated his first time down in LA as 1928 (May or later). This timing rules out “Shoulder Arms” as that film was made a decade earlier. He lists in order – the Chaplin Studio, Queen Kelly for von Stroheim, and finally “The Patent Leather Kid” with Richard Barthelmess. This Barthelmess film is a boxing picture set against the backdrop of the WW1. I realized that this must have been the WW1 film that Walt was telling me about. He writes that he heard while down in LA that First National was going to shoot the Barthelmess film at Fort Lewis in Washington State and that the unit manager was to be Otto Lukan.

However, my preliminary research on this title turned up some problems. “The Patent Leather Kid” was released in August 1927, which means, obviously, it would not have been in production in 1928. And there is no Otto Lukan listed in the credits for the film.

I knew that Walt would not give me a bum steer, but he may have confused some dates and details. So I had two lines of attack to research and set things straight. First, find out when The Patent Leather Kid went into production, and second, find out who was this Otto Lukan.

So, to find out when the production was at Fort Lewis (or more properly as it was then known – Camp Lewis), I navigated to the Internet Archive and called up its Variety holdings and beginning with the opening date, combed through its volumes backwards.

And this is what I gleaned (arranged in ascending order):

2/9/1927 – On February 8, Richard Barthelmess broke his foot playing tennis, pushing back the start of production on “The Patent Leather Kid,” 3 or 4 weeks.

2/16/1927 – Though production was suspended on The Patent Leather Kid, Barthelmess was able to work on one scene, in which his character was wheelchair bound.

And here’s the clincher:

3/30/1927 – On March 28th  Barthelmess comes up from Camp Lewis to the Columbia Theater in Seattle to promote his film “The White Black Sheep” (also a First National Picture). About 750 extras were hired in Seattle, many ex-soldiers, for the filming at Camp Lewis. The manager of the theater gave a special preview for the extras before they went to work on the new picture.

4/19/1927 – mentions that Barthelmess was on location in Tacoma. Variety reports that his ex-wife had contacted him there about assuming custody of their daughter, while she went to be with her new husband in Singapore.

I conclude that Barthelmess was at Camp Lewis (near Tacoma WA) from the end of March 1927 through the month of April. This dates the time that Walt was an extra on the film and about which he writes:

“I worked in a Hun’s uniform with a spiked helmet part of the time, then shifted to the warp [typo – should be wrap] leggings of a doughboy. I spent various days in the slop and mud of the movie battle. Later, we would go down to the parade grounds, where they strapped a dummy on your back and we would follow the lead camera. When the simulated explosions occurred, we would fall and cut our dummies loose as the sawdust and brick dust hit us. Then we would get up and repeat the same sequence until the film director was satisfied.” From “My Uncle Sam Don’t Like Me” p. 68

I next tackled the mystery of Lukan. After a few stumbling starts, I learned first that Otto Lukan was L. Otto Lukan. Then after more searches using that clue, I discovered that he was more specifically – Lorenz Otto Lukan. With the full name everything fell into place. Here is his chronological resume:

1884 – born in Carver, Minnesota

1900 – the census shows him living with his parents in Everett, WA

1906 – he marries Evaleigh Smith

1908 – first and only child born – Margaret

1910 – the census for Seattle lists him as an accountant in the Assessor’s Office (either for King County or the city of Seattle)

1917 – Seattle directory – in the Advertising department for the Seattle P-I

And his first job in the film business

1918 – his draft registration lists him as the manager of the Pathe Film Exchange in Seattle

1920 – the census for Haller Lake WA (his residence near Seattle) just shows him as a manager of a Film Exchange (but does not specify), though articles in the Seattle Times for 1920 and 1921 list him as manager for the Associated First National Pictures Inc.

By 1922 he was the western division manager for the First National Theater Circuit. He was in the same company through the early 1930s, and definitely for the crucial time period in question – 1927 to 1928. Now whether or not he was bouncing back and forth between exhibition and distribution, I do not know for sure. But I am inclined to think that since FNP was a creation of a film exhibition circuit, he probably straddled the fence, with a foot in both domains. He was definitely situated in Seattle, with the exception of possible trips to LA to the Burbank studio and offices of FNP (this company was later acquired by Warner Brothers).

It seems to me then that Otto Lukan in his capacity as the district rep for FNP, was no doubt present for the promotion at the Columbia Theater in Seattle, and it makes sense that he would have stood in as a unit manager for the studio in the matter of hiring extras in the local area for “The Patent Leather Kid.”

Join me next week, when I will share what my research has revealed about what Walt may have seen when working at the Chaplin Studios.

The Illusive Midshipman Charles Polhemus

The Illusive Midshipman Charles Polhemus

Probably the most difficult midshipman to get a bead on was Charles Polhemus. I first looked him up back in 2009, with nothing but the slimmest of clues. I had no indication, where he had been born or from what state he had been appointed.

I concentrated on the censuses for 1850 and 1860 and got a hit on a Charles G. Polhemus of NY. Though each census showed a different NY county, I knew him to be the same individual in both because the other family members’ given names were the same in each instance, with a corresponding increase in ages. And the ages listed for Charles was on track to be my midshipman, but there was nothing else that confirmed that he was the actual person for whom I was looking. I noted down the details from the two censuses, hoping to track down some links that could corroborate his identity.

Many people with the name Polhemus popped up for the state of New Jersey, and in particular Burlington County, but no one there matched my midshipman. So, Charles G of NY was looking more and more plausible. Besides I learned that “Polhemus” was of Dutch origin which again can fit nicely with the Knickerbocker state. Further research revealed that this Charles Polhemus served in the Civil War in a New York Regiment, the 13th Heavy Artillery – a fact that would not be unusual, as other midshipmen had switched from webfeet to landlubbers, especially those middies who had resigned from the Academy.

But it was all a false trail.

When I found the list of the candidates for examination for the Naval Academy, I filled in some important details for my illusive Charles Polhemus. He held an appointment from the 2nd Congressional District of New Jersey (which includes Burlington County) and  passed his examinations on 9/26/1857. The possibility that the Charles G from NY was my midshipman began to dim. (Not totally, as I had come across appointments that originated from one state even though the candidate lived in another – especially when the appointing Congressman was a relative).

And so things sat for several years.

With the inclusion recently of the naval hospital records on Ancestry.com, I was able to zero in on the right Charles Polhemus.  For three days in November 1857, Charles was admitted to the naval academy hospital for bronchitis.  As with all the Acting Midshipman admitted, their place of birth was recorded. C. Polhemus was born in Chile. This “rare” tidbit combined with the other data that has accumulated on the internet in the intervening years gave me the breakthrough I needed.

This Charles Polhemus was related to the New Jersey family that I had run across earlier. His father was John Hart Polhemus sr., who was a grandson (and namesake) of John Hart, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. John moved down to South America sometime in the late 1820s and entered into business.  In Lima Peru he met and married an English woman Marianna Dean on August 28, 1836. My Charles was born to the couple in Valparaiso, Chile on December 27, 1841. Some sources state that President Andrew Jackson had named John, the American consul in Valparaiso.

As you can guess, there was a very good reason then for the family of my midshipman not to show up in my earlier searches of the US census for 1850.  They were out of the country. The future midshipman returned to the US from Valparaiso on February 8, 1851 entering through Baltimore, with two of his brothers (their mother had died in Peru in 1849).

And there is another good reason why my midshipman is missing in the 1860 census.

Charles’ naval career was very brief. Having entered the Naval Academy in the fall of 1857, he resigned six months later – though  not through overindulgence in demerit worthy activity. His demerit total stood at 108 for that time period, half of what would have called for dismissal. (He did have a notable doozy, receiving 6 demerits for throwing a fellow midshipman down the stairs. And he evidently had a problem keeping his room clean, being cited a total of ten times for a dirty room – I have a suspicion he relied on servants at home for that chore). As the saying goes, he bilged (i.e. failed) in the February academic exams. The family genealogy shows that Charles died at sea on December 2, 1858, nine months after leaving the Academy.

I am in the dark about the circumstances behind his death. Had he gone to sea in the merchant marine? Was he out on a pleasure craft, or merely taking passage on a commercial carrier? Was he lost overboard or did he go down with his ship? I can only speculate.

For now, this final detail about Midshipman Charles Polhemus remains illusive.

When is a naval officer not a naval officer?

When is a naval officer not a naval officer

When is a naval officer not a naval officer?

The question does not rest upon what the word “IS” means. Rather it pivots upon what the phrase “naval officer” can mean in two different circumstances. The fact that the same two words describe or denote two different offices is the source of the confusion.

At least I was confused when I first came upon the designation of “naval officer” when reading about the makeup of the US Customs Service in the 19th Century, and in this specific instance I was looking at the appointed officials of the Port of New York. The chief officer in charge was called the Collector, the one responsible for collecting the import tax due on any foreign goods entering via that port. These taxes were the only revenue for the US government from the inception of the country until the beginnings of an income tax which saw its introduction at the time of the American Civil War.

(Aside – the Port of New York at times supplied as much as two thirds of all the revenue, and never less than half of what was taken in by the US Treasury).

The Collector, therefore, was a very important position, and he was appointed directly by the President of the United States. In practice it was a political plum, awarded to a fellow member of the President’s political party, as thanks for his aid in a successful election campaign. The Collector in his turn appointed the officials that would serve with him – with titles such as Auditor, Appraiser, Weigher, and their assistants such as Deputy Collector, etc., and in the case at hand – the Naval Officer and his deputy.

Originally I thought that this Naval Officer must be an officer of the US Navy who had been assigned duty to help out the US Customs Service. It would seem a simple request for the Treasury Department (the branch of the US government controlling the Customs and Revenue services) to ask for the loan of an officer from the Navy Department. In a similar vein I had found many examples where Acting Midshipmen left the Naval Academy (usually by resignation or dismissal) and ended up in the Revenue Service to command the ships that agency employed to enforce customs law, to interdict smuggling and occasionally to aid in life-saving. But this was not the case. The Naval Officer in the Customs House was a civil appointment, and he had a particular purpose to fulfill. The position was designed as an important check and balance to the Collector. The naval officer had to sign off on all the transactions that his boss approved. That was the theory, but in practice the fact that they owed their position to the Collector colored their judgment when it came to what their boss was doing, a recipe for fraud and corruption

I learned more about all of this when looking into the father of Midshipman Morgan Lewis Ogden jr., the subject of my two recent Research posts. His father Morgan Lewis Ogden Sr. had been the deputy naval officer of the Port of New York, commencing in May of 1843. From his time at the New York Customs House, Ogden learned some valuable lessons about the workings of this agency. He parleyed that knowledge into a whole new profession after his time there.

Ogden was instrumental in the 1850 Supreme Court decision (US vs Southmayd) that changed the way duties were assessed “on all future importations of sugar and molasses.” He advised Benjamin F Butler, the lawyer who was hired to argue the case before the court. According to prior statute, the assessments were made on the weight stated on the invoice – prior to shipment. By the time the shipment arrived in New York the weight was always less due to leakage and drainage. You can understand the shipper’s sense of injustice when he was taxed on the portion that was lost in transit. Now thanks to this decision “the duties are to be levied upon the actual quantity arriving in the United States.”

Subsequent to this, Ogden became a claims attorney, representing firms or individuals with claims against the US government for overcharges on import taxes. He kept a home and office in Brooklyn, and also a home and office in Washington DC. One might say that he was a bit of a “fixer” in these matters for he had a lot of clout in both cities. And it did not hurt that his older brother Samuel Gouverneur Ogden was the Auditor of the New York Customs House between 1841 and 1878.

So, when is a naval officer not a naval officer? It’s a bit of a trick question. Both are. But a civil appointee who is a part of the Treasury Department is not the same as a commissioned officer in the armed services of the United States.

(Side note – I have found, so far, ten individuals who were appointed to the US Naval Academy in the ante bellum period with relatives that were Collectors in the Customs service. And only one who was related to a naval officer in the Customs Service).

The Puzzle of Midshipman Morgan Lewis Ogden jr Part 2

The Puzzle of Midshipman Morgan Lewis Ogden Jr. Part 2

A second puzzle related to Midshipman Morgan Lewis Ogden jr. surfaced in the results of one of my Google searches with his name as the subject. The link led me to a page in a book (A Civil War Soldier of Christ and Country by John Rodgers Meigs, edited by Mary A Giunta, and published in 2006 – Univ of IL Press) and the following quote:

“Morgan Ogden I am sorry to tell you is turned away from the Naval School.  Mary says for drunkenness.”

It is from a letter written by Ann Minerva “Nannie” Rodgers Macomb to her nephew John Rodgers Meigs dated 10/7/1859.  And by the dates indicated, the news travelled fairly fast (his dismissal letter was dated 9/23/1859).

The names of Meigs and Macomb I had encountered before. They are famous in the history of the US military. Other midshipmen I have researched have ties to these two families, but their connections were obvious. Why were they writing about Morgan Ogden? What was his connection to these two illustrious family names?

I tried one avenue after another to find the connection. There were no intersections in the ancestors of either Morgan’s parents. And I saw no connection to any Ogdens in the Meigs or Macomb lines. I decided to look sideways at the problem, and finally found it, by performing a genealogical do si do, so to speak.

Morgan’s mother was Eliza Glendy McLaughlin. She had an older brother named John Thomas McLaughlin. I was surprised to learn that he was an US naval officer (and thus possibly an inspiration for Morgan to enter the navy). John entered the navy in 1827, and was in charge of all the naval forces during the Second Seminole War in Florida. His wife, Salvadora, came from another illustrious American military family – the Meades (one of her brothers was George G Meade, the victor of Gettysburg). Salvadora lost her husband John in 1847, remarried in 1852 and was living in New Jersey at the same time that the Ogdens were in New York City. Eliza probably visited her sister-in-law, for many of the Ogdens lived and worked in that state.

Another of Salvadora’s brothers was naval officer Richard Worsam Meade II. He was married to Clara Forsyth Meigs, a cousin to army officer and engineer Montgomery C Meigs. He is the father of the John Rodgers Meigs mentioned above, to whom his aunt was conveying the news about Morgan.

In 1860 the Montgomery C Meigs and the John N Macomb families were living in the same residence in the second ward of Washington DC. Each had married a daughter of senior naval officer, Commodore John Rodgers; Macomb, the Ann Minerva Rodgers mentioned above, and Meigs, her sister, Louisa Rodgers. The house may well have been that of the deceased Commodore, whose widow was then living with her daughters’ families.

Since the Ogdens were also in Washington DC from perhaps as early as 1855, they were probably aware of the Meigs and Macombs, either through the salons of Washington society or the rather roundabout familial connections that I’ve traced above.

Thunderball, Mr French

Thunderball, Mr French

We had a color TV in our little two room apartment. It sat on its own little cart with casters and we could wheel it from the sitting room through the double sliding door opening into our bedroom – a room that was normally empty save for a dresser and a couple of chairs, which chairs would be moved aside to make way for the murphy bed that folded down from the back wall.

One Sunday, after working the matinee (I was now assistant manager at Mann’s Fifth Avenue, and no longer at the UA Cinemas), my wife and I were looking forward to our evening meal and catching the broadcast of Sean Connery as James Bond in Thunderball. The meal out of the way, we settled in to watch the show from bed.

We did not get to see the whole show.  Sometime in the first half hour I was jolted by a stabbing pain in my backside. I vaulted upright and something was stuck in me, something from within the mattress. The something was a bedspring that had broken loose from its weld, its sharp edge having sliced into me and caught there like a fish hook.

[Aside – in Thunderball, Sean “James Bond” Connery upon despatching one of the evil minions with a speargun quips, “I think he got the point.”]

Though the actual wound was small, little more than an half inch long it was about a similar amount deep, so a trip to the emergency room was in order. Though when we got to Virginia Mason, no stitches were deemed necessary. A single butterfly bandage was applied.

The Sheridan apartments paid for it all of course (or their insurance did). And the manager was very solicitous. So much so that he made it a point to introduce us to his “star” tenants – Mr Sebastian Cabot and his wife.

I recognized the rotund actor as the British butler Mr French from the TV sitcom Family Affair. He was caught off guard and self conscious. Though his voice was very recognizable, his speech was halting and a bit slurred. Both my wife and I could sense he was a little embarrassed, so we did not not invite ourselves to dinner or any other such imposition. We rather excused ourselves at the earliest convenience, and thanking them for the acquaintance. And I didn’t tell him that another bloke from the UK had a hand in our meeting.

[Aside – I did some research on Mr Cabot and discovered that he suffered a stroke in July of 1974. This left his right side paralysed and impaired his speech. Before this he had just completed voice work for Disney – on Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too. He and his family had some property outside of Vancouver BC, which he briefly alluded to in our conversation, and kept this apartment as a residence stateside].