The Strange Case of James Burnite SeBastian, DDS

Without the full story, you have to read between the lines, and this cabinet card photograph inscribed “Yours, J. B. SeBastian” offered lots of room to do just that.

The portrait, taken at the 17 W. Lexington Street studio of William Ashman (1863-1902), displays all the typical characteristics of a post-1900 card photograph: Oversized, simple black textured mount, understated advertising mark, plain background uncluttered by scenic backdrop or papier mache rocks and balustrades.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that I’d found yet another graduate of the University of Maryland Dental Department.

He was listed among the 1902 graduates of the program in the commencement announcement published in the journal Dental Cosmos. I quickly found census and directory listings in Baltimore from 1903 on for a James Burnite Sebastian, dentist, born in Delaware about 1875.

He had an undistinguished career as a dentist, eventually buying a two-story, two-bay row house at 3521 Greenmount Avenue, just east of Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus, in a now-faded neighborhood called Waverly. The ca. 1920 house stands today, virtually unchanged.

Dr. Sebastian served in the US Army Dental Corps Reserves. In these records, his origin was listed as Wilmington, Delaware, born 18 October 1875. His wife, Caroline, applied in 1947 for an Army-provided headstone in Lorraine Park Cemetery, Baltimore, on the basis of his service, using this date of birth.

Things became odder from there, however.

I couldn’t find anything on Dr. Sebastian earlier than 1902.

After trying a number of different possible spellings and variations, I found the surname Bastian. Thanks to the efforts of a family historian on Ancestry.com, I then found an obituary for a Delaware farmer named George M. Bastian (1832-1909) that listed a son, a Baltimore dentist named James Burnite Bastian.

But what the what??

James Burnite Bastian, or J. Burnite Bastian, was already three years old in the 1870 census–not in Wilmington, Delaware, but near a small rural peach-growing and peach-packing town named Felton, in Kent County, Delaware. He was born a good seven or eight years earlier than he’d claimed.

This same portrait, under the name James B. Bastian, appears on page 133 in the 1902 year book for the professional schools of the University of Maryland, Bones, Molars and Briefs.

Why the name change? And why fudge his age–something more usual with women of the period?

His family was a perfectly respectable one: farmer George M. Bastian rated a sketch of his life and family history in volume two of the Biographical and Genealogical History of the State of Delaware.

This history suggested a clue to James’ change of surname. The sketch mentioned that the family traced its roots to a vague “Count Sebastian” who had fled some sort of unspecified royal persecution in the 18th century.

They had settled in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. George M. Bastian worked as a carpenter in Tioga County, Pa., eventually saving enough to buy a small farm in Delaware, where he and his wife, Rachel (Brion) Bastian (1836-1919), raised 10 children. George and Rachel Bastian are buried in Hopkins Cemetery, Felton, Delaware.

So James had reinvented himself in the city as a younger man with the legendary family surname, telling his classmates that he was 25 when in fact he was about 32 years old at the time he graduated from dental school. His signature on the back of this portrait connects the two parts of the surname with a capital “s” and a capital “b,” suggesting the self-consciousness of the change.

Vanity, thy name is SeBastian.

Buffham’s Brice House, Annapolis

Cabinet card photograph of Brice House, Annapolis, Md., by George BuffhamThis over-sized (8-1/2″x6-1/2″) card photograph by George Richard Buffham (1846-1915) is much larger than today’s tourist mementos, but the photo of the Brice House on East Street, entitled “Colonial Annapolis,”  seems meant for a tourist market.

English-born George Buffham moved to Annapolis from Baltimore and operated a photographic studio at 48 Maryland Avenue there from the 1890s to about 1910. He held an appointment as official photographer to the US Naval Academy between 1890 and 1900; in 1912 he sold his studio and retired with his wife, Ethel, to their home outside the town.

Buffham photographed several well-known graduates of the Naval Academy, including Chester W. Nimitz. Some of Buffham’s portraits can be found in the Maryland State Archives and the Library of Congress.

Buffham also operated a photographic studio at the Bay Ridge Resort, a popular summer hotel and amusement park now an exclusive enclave of homes just south of town that is fiercely protective of its heritage, wildlife, open space and community traditions.

George and Ethel (Hubbard) Buffham’s red-roofed home, built in 1891, still stands at 11 Barry Avenue in Bay Ridge. Unfortunately, a 1915 fire that destroyed Bay Ridge’s hotel also destroyed Buffham’s large collection of photographic plates.

This is the first example of one of Buffham’s tourist-market photographs that I’ve seen come up for sale. It depicts one of the oldest and best-known Georgian homes in Annapolis, the James Brice House on East Street. Begun by Annapolis Mayor James Brice, the Brice House was built of brick on a fieldstone foundation 1767-1774, in a five-part form featuring a central structure flanked by two “hyphens.”

The Library of Congress has digitized 15 of its collection of 17 photographs of Brice House’s interior and exterior. The house is now home to the International Masonry Institute’s headquarters, and apparently is not open to the public.

The house has figured in recent archeological work in the town.  1998 excavations in the east wing uncovered African-American protective Hoodoo caches.

Photographs like this one open a window into the ways that 19th century photographers attempted to expand their products beyond portraiture by capitalizing on Americans’ revived interest in their nation’s origins.

Additional Sources:

Jane Wilson McWilliams and Caroline Patterson, Bay Ridge on the Chesapeake: An Illustrated History (Annapolis: Brighton Editions, 1986) Available for purchase from the authors.

“Death Came Softly”: Rev. Cornelius L. Keedy, Hagerstown, Maryland

Cabinet card photograph of Rev. Cornelius L. Keedy by B. W. T. Phreaner, Hagerstown, Md.

Those are the first words of the headline on Rev. C. L. Keedy’s obituary in the Hagerstown Daily Mail of 25 March 1911. The paper made much of the gentle manner of Rev. Keedy’s passing. It was what used to be known as a “good death”: peaceful and without suffering.

This notion of the good Christian death was very different from mid-19th century accounts that stressed, says  historian Patricia Jalland, the spiritual nature of suffering and its ability to bring dying sinners to God :

“The ordeal could provide punishment for past sins, while also purifying, testing and strengthening the Christian faith of sufferer and attendants. . .[Christan writers’] emphasis was usually on the spiritual struggle and ultimate triumph rather than the physical ordeal” (Death in the Victorian Family, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996, pp. 51-53)

At the end of the Victorian period, however,”the evangelical model of the good death declined in influence. . . . The decline in Evangelical piety and passion in the late Victorian period was paralleled with an increase in anxiety about the physical suffering of dying” (Death, 53).

Those who mourned Cornelius Keedy, Lutheran minister, physician and long-time president and proprietor of Hagerstown Female Seminary, could take comfort in the ease of his passing.

He had died  “sitting in his natural position when he was in the habit of reading, the paper in his hand, his arm on the table. His features were composed and peaceful, indicating that death was instantaneous, occurring without a struggle or any pain.”

This easy death might be taken as an indication that the longtime Lutheran educator had, in Christian terms, found his heavenly reward for an exemplary life. The obituary writer described him as “widely known” and “prominent in religious and educational circles;” the writer claims that “the news of his death produced a shock throughout the community”–but we really don’t know what kind of a man he was.

Cornelius Keedy (1834-1911) was one of eight children born near Rohrersville, Md. to prosperous Washington County farmers Daniel Keedy (1799-1876) and Sophia (Miller) Keedy (1809-1880). Rev. Keedy graduated from Gettysburg College in 1857 and was ordained as a Lutheran minister in 1859. He  served Lutheran congregations in Johnstown, Waynesboro, and St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Barren Hill, Pa.

He married Elizabeth Wyatt Marbourg (1840-1920), daughter of successful Johnstown merchant Alexander Marbourg, in 1860.

In 1863 Keedy earned a degree in medicine from the University of Pennsylvania. He practiced, according to his obituary, for about five years in Washington, Iowa, where some of his wife’s relations had settled.

But it was as president and owner of the Hagerstown Female Seminary,  later renamed Kee-Mar College, that Rev. Keedy was chiefly known.

The school, located at E. Antietam and King streets, had been established in 1853 by the Maryland Synod of the Lutheran Church.  Keedy purchased it in 1878, and according to J. Thomas Scharf, “continued to improve it until it has become one of the most beautiful and attractive places in any of the middle states” (J. Thomas Scharf, History of Western Maryland, v. 2, 1882, p. 1159).

“The seminary stands upon a commanding eminence just east of Hagerstown, from which may be had a magnificent view of hill and dale and of the town outstretched below. The main edifice is an imposing brick structure, four stories in height, and built in the Romanesque style. There are three wings of equal height with the main building. The grounds, comprising an area of 11 acres, are thickly set with upwards of one hundred handsome evergreens, and about five hundred trees of other varieties. Choice shrubbery marks in graceful lines numerous picturesque divisions of the inclosoure, and over the entire surface is spread a bright carpet of rich green-sward.”

The school had a fairly serious and  ambitious curriculum for its young women,  including ancient and modern languages, English literature, and music.

Mrs. Keedy served as principal, and she may have also had a considerable financial stake in the school. F. J. Halm published a song entitled The Hagerstown Female Seminary March,” dedicated to Mrs. Keedy, in 1877.

Hagerstown Female Seminary was created as part of a wave of enthusiasm about women’s education that swept the Lutheran church after David F. Bittle published his 111-page “Plea for Female Education” in 1851 (Richard W. Solberg, Lutheran Higher Education in North America (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1985, p. 102). Rev. Bittle even resigned his pastorate to raise funds and support for the proposed school.

After the college closed in 1911, the buildings were occupied by Washington County Hospital. The structures on the site were demolished in 2012, and the city is currently considering how to use the open space.

This cabinet card photograph, taken at the Hagerstown studio of Bascom W. T. Phreaner (1845-1932) is dated in pen on the reverse “1861-1862,” but Keedy’s white hair and wrinkles suggest a later date. Phreaner maintained a photographic studio in Hagerstown from 1866 to 1901.

For this portrait, the photographer chose a vignetted, head-and-shoulders composition, with the sitter facing a quarter turn away from the camera. The pose created deep shadows above eyes that look slightly upward, as if Keedy were thinking about his many responsibilities: four children to educate and provide for, and a school full of 150 lively adolescent young ladies to watch over.

Rev. Cornelius L. Keedy and Elizabeth Marbourg Keedy are buried in Rose Hill Cemetery, Hagerstown. Their children were Sarah (Keedy) Updegraff, James Marbourg Keedy, Wyatt M. Keedy, and Cornelius King Keedy.

My thanks to the wonderful Washington County Free Library and to the Hagerstown Neighborhood Development Partnership for the research on Hagerstown Female Seminary posted on their blog [re]Develop Hagerstown.

A Life of Honor and Piety: Mary Latrobe Onderdonk

This cabinet card portrait, inscribed “Mrs. Onderdonk,” was taken at Richard Walzl’s (1843-1899) Baltimore studio, located at 46 N. Charles Street from 1873 to 1881 (Kelbaugh, Directory of Maryland Photographers 1839-1900).

The cherub and camera motif on the reverse was popular on studio photograph advertising ca. 1866-1874.

Mrs. Onderdonk wears a large artificial hairpiece, a fashion of the 1850s that persisted through the 1870s. The hairpiece, made of human hair, is worn as a braided coronet with two long “lovelocks.”

I was able to confirm the identify of the sitter by comparing the portrait to two group photographs in which she appears, taken at the Saint James School near Hagerstown, an institution with which she was closely associated for 47 years.

Mrs. Mary Onderdonk, born Mary Elizabeth Latrobe, was christened at Christ Episcopal Church, Chase and St. Paul streets, Baltimore, on 15 March 1837.

Born in Salem, New Jersey, she was the second of five children and the first daughter of civil engineer Benjamin Henry Latrobe Jr. (1806-1878) and Maria Eleanor “Ellen” Hazlehurst Latrobe (1807-1872).

In 1868 or 1869, she married a widowed teacher with two teen-aged sons, Henry Onderdonk (1822-1895). Onderdonk, formerly head of the Maryland Agricultural College, was about to take on the rebuilding, both literal and figurative, of the College of Saint James near Hagerstown, in Washington County, Maryland.

Mary would be his help-meet.

Founded by the Episcopal Church in 1842 as Saint James Hall on part of the General Samuel Ringgold estate,  Fountain Rock, the school had been abandoned in 1864, after General Jubal Early’s forces occupied the grounds and some of the buildings and arrested the school’s head, Dr. Kerfoot.

Onderdonk reopened the old college as a boys’ preparatory institution, and through his and Mary’s unrelenting labors, and that of their son Adrian,  today it endures as the thriving Saint James School.

In June 1885, the Hagerstown Herald and Torchlight reported on Onderdonk’s commencement address, in which he recalled the early days after their arrival, when “the buildings [were] so ruined and dilapiated as to be uninhabitable.”

The new Mrs. Onderdonk took on the task of helping her husband revive and run the school and care for the boys. The nearest town, Williamsport, was five miles away, and the school was almost nine miles from Hagerstown.  With little financial support forthcoming from the school’s trustees, the Onderdonks used $5,000 of their own money on the effort.

For a woman brought up in a well-to-do household in Baltimore, rebuilding must have meant hard physical labor in less-than-ideal conditions, including everything from cooking, cleaning, laundry and sewing to nursing sick students.

By 1877, when the Illustrated Atlas of Washington County was published, the school was well established as an excellent educational institution, and worthy of illustration as one of the highlights of the area.

Mary’s hard work, determination and organizational skills were surely an unacknowledged part of this success.

But her work did not stop at the edge of the school grounds. As wife of a prominent county citizen, she was expected to take part in the larger life of the county and the local Epsicopal church.

Hagerstown papers mention Mary Onderdonk as a leader of the Dorcas Society, which sewed for the poor and indigent, and as an active member of the board of the Washington County Orphans’ Home.

She bore her husband two sons, Latrobe Onderdonk (1872-1883), and Adrian Holmes Onderdonk (1877-1956), who became the revered long-time headmaster of the school in 1903.

Omitting mention of Mary’s work as her husband’s partner in the school’s revival, her obituary in the Hagerstown Daily Mail notes the stock feminine qualities  associated with the good Victorian woman: her regular attendance at chapel, her “noble and upright character” and “lovable and kindly disposition.”

Mary (1836-1916 and Henry Onderdonk (1822-1895) are buried in Baltimore’s Green Mount Cemetery. Each year the school honors a student–and remembers Mary Onderdonk–with the Mary Latrobe Onderdonk Memorial Prize for Sound School Citizenship.

Additional Sources:

Cartes de Visite in Nineteenth Century Photography, William C. Darrah (Gettysburg, Pa.: W.C. Darrah, 1981)

Saint James School: One Hundred Twenty-Fifth Anniversary (Hagerstown: Saint James School, 1967)

History of Western Maryland, vol. 1, John Thomas Scharf (Philadelphia, Pa.: L. H. Everts, 1882)

Dressed for the Photographer, Joan Severa (Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 1995)

Mary Onderdonk’s obituary provided courtesy of the Washington County Free Library

“A prominent figure” forgotten: Dr. William Potter Shaw, Berlin, Pa.

Many–maybe most–people are forgotten. Some are remembered who ought to be obliterated, and some who should be recalled are lost to recollection.

So little is left of Dr. William Potter Shaw (1866-1933) that it is impossible to say what kind of man he was.  Here is what I know:

According to his obituary published in the Meyersdale Republican, William Potter Shaw, the son of Barton, Md. native George Shaw (1827-1912), was born “at the famous stone house along the National Highway, near Grantsville” (likely the Tomlinson Tavern and farm at Little Meadows). His mother was Harriet (Potter) Shaw (1832-1909).

Shaw was a teacher before entering the University of Maryland Medical School. He earned his MD in 1893 and settled down in Berlin, Pa. to practice medicine (Baltimore Sun 19 May 1893; Meyersdale Republican 16 March 1933).

He likely had this portrait taken as a memento of graduation; according to Ross Kelbaugh’s Directory of Maryland Photographers, Harry Lenfield Perkins (b. abt. 1854, Md.), son of photographer Palmer Lenfield Perkins, had a studio at 311 Baltimore Street between 1887 and 1897.

In 1903, Shaw married a girl from Middletown, in Frederick County, Md.: Miss Harriet Geisinger Shafer (1871-1949), daughter of school teacher Peter W. Shafer and Anne L. L. (Young) Shafer.

In their home at 401 Main Street, the Shaws raised  two daughters: Mary Elizabeth Shaw, a trained nurse who married accountant Robert B. Berkey, and Helen Louise Shaw, who remained single.

By 1910, the Shaws had enough money to keep a servant, whose occupation is given as “ostler, barn,” so they must have kept a horse and buggy for the doctor’s calls.

Although I haven’t found any evidence that Shaw was anything more than a competent country G.P., his obituary says that “Dr. Shaw was a prominent figure in the religious, social and civic life of the Berlin community.” He was a member of  Trinity Reformed Church, served on the Berlin Borough School Board and the Borough Council, and in 1931 was elected Burgess of Berlin Borough.

Although Dr. Shaw’s obituary does not mention his ancestry, my research strongly suggests he was descended from the Shaws who settled the Georges Creek area that became known as Barton, in Allegany County, Maryland. They mined coal, laid out towns, and amassed land and businesses.

Shaw’s father was George W. Shaw, and one family history researcher, Pat O’Toole, has a family tree that lists George W. Shaw’s father as being a grandson of English immigrant Rev. William Anthony Shaw (1757-1815) and Charlotte Trimble Shaw (1765-1844). Both are buried in Morrison Cemetery, Barton, Allegany Co., Md.

According to Pat O’Toole’s research, George Shaw’s parents were, Joseph and Francis Shaw.

I’ve traced them from Maryland to Barbour County, West Virginia. Descendants of George’s siblings, Benjamin, Samuel, and Harriett, settled there and in Buckhannon, Upshur County, West Virginia, where they were farmers and teachers.

Dr. Shaw’s brother, Henry Columbus Shaw (1852-1910), appears to have had both the popularity and business acumen of his forebears. H. C. Shaw, a coal mine owner and merchant, left a valuable estate in Somerset County, Pa. His funeral was said by the Meyersdale Republican to have been attended by hundreds.

Some years after Dr. Shaw’s death, his widow, their two daughters and son-in-law Robert Berkey left Berlin behind and moved to Long Beach, in Los Angeles, California, where descendants still live today. Nothing remains in Berlin of the Shaws to mark their approximately 40 years in the community.

I am grateful to the wonderful Meyersdale Public Library in Somerset, Pa., Pat O’Toole, Steve Colby’s amazing Cumberland Road Project, the digital archives of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, and the diligent researchers of the Allegany County, Md. Genweb for their resources and aid.

“A lovable and strong man”: Dr. Charles T. Harper, Wilmington, North Carolina

A young Dr. Charles Thomas Harper (1872-1915) had his photograph taken at the studio of William Ashman, whose establishment was located at 17 W. Lexington Street ca. 1889-1904 (Kelbaugh, Directory of Maryland Photographers 1839-1900).

Harper might  have made a present of his cabinet card portrait to a friend while studying medicine in Baltimore.

After a period of pre-med study at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina, Harper earned his medical degree from the University of Maryland in 1894. He married Jessie Glenora Zimmerman in 1895,  and they remained in Baltimore for a number of years.

He was  “Demonstrator of Anatomy at the Woman’s Medical College in 1895, and also during that year Assistant Demonstrator of Histology at Baltimore Medical College. In 1896 he was Chief of Clinics of Surgery at Baltimore University, and in 1897 lecturer on Minor Surgery and Bandages at Baltimore University” (Henry E. Shepherd, History of Baltimore, Maryland, p. 91).

By 1900, Harper and his wife and daughter Jessie returned to Wilmington, North Carolina. Dr. Harper’s family was prominent and prosperous. His father, Capt. James Thomas Harper, ran a tugboat service, was a partner in the  Boney & Harper Milling Company and proprietor of the Wilmington Steam Laundry.

Capt. Harper built a home at 5 Church Street, today known as the Harper-Newbold house,  in 1905.  He also owned the Wessel-Harper house, 508 Front Street.

But it was at 1 Church Street, a sprawling 1828 house backing onto the Cape Fear River, that Charles Harper grew up.

Dr. Harper’s granddaughter, Anne Newbold Perkins, remembered the house, which remained in the family from 1882 to 1992,  as a center of activity for the neighborhood children,  “a big old house . . . a wonderful house, fourteen rooms- no central heat. So you were either freezing or burning up. And we just had a good time there” (2006 oral history of Anne Newbold Perkins, William Madison Randall  Library, University of North Carolina Wilmington).

Charles and his family moved back into the big Harper home with his parents and sisters, Mary and Anna.

Once settled back in Wilmington, Dr. Harper took a leading role in matters of municipal health as well as county and state medical affairs. He served as port physican and superintendent of health for the City of Wilmington and was a member of the North Carolina State Board of Medical Examiners.

In 1910 Harper founded a small sanitorium, in a Second Empire-style building at Front and Castle streets, where, ironically, he died of complications from an appendectomy in 1915.

After his death, the Association of Seaboard, Airline and Railway Surgeons published a memorial  to Dr. Harper in the  International Journal of Surgery:

“Dr. Harper was a lovable and strong man, and was always willing to bear the infirmities of the weak and lowly. His genial personality and bright disposition endeared him to all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance  . . . Among the profession he was universally popular” (International Journal of Surgery, v. 28, 1915).

Charles T. Harper and his wife Jessie are buried in Oakdale Cemetery, Wilmington, North Carolina, along with their daughter, Jessie Harper Newbold.

Ashman’s operator used the very popular vignette style, which burned out the background so that the figure seems to float. Curiously, Harper’s bow tie remains the most vivid thing in the photo–the tie seems so real you can almost imagine reaching in and touching its shiny folds.

View a portrait of an older Dr. Harper at the New Hanover County Public Library Digital Archives.

Yours Very Sincerely, Agnes Blass

Inscribed “Yours Very Sincerely, Agnes Blass, taken July 1902, to Mrs. G. Sander,” this busy, slightly over-sized cabinet card portrait looks much more back to the 19th century than it does forward to the 20th.

Although attempting to highlight the subject’s rather striking gown, the Julius Hebbel studio operator overwhelmed the dress with clutter representing some of the 1880s’  typical props: a sentimental rural landscape backdrop (the visible edge of which reveals the studio’s “back stage”), artificial flowers and Hebbel’s ubiquitous Victorian wicker screen.

Miss Blass is posed in profile to highlight the ornamentation on the gown’s filmy overskirt and small gathered train, but somehow the lighting has produced a deep shadow that makes the young women look as if she has a black eye.

Louisa Agness Blass was born 1 December 1872 in Washington County, Ohio to Bavarian immigrants Jacob Blass (1834-1890) and Catherine (Barthell) Blass (1835-1920).

Jacob Blass was apparently a pastor of the German Reformed church who served congregations in Baltimore, Pennsylvania and Indiana, including St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran and Reformed Church in Erie, Pa., Emmanuel Church (now part of the United Church of Christ) in Meadville, Pa., and St. John’s Evangelical Church, Evansville, Ind.

A 1901 Baltimore Sun article on the 50th anniversary of the “First German United Evangelical Lutheran Church” noted Jacob Blass as a former pastor, and said the church was  located on Eastern Avenue near Broadway, but this may not be accurate.

The Blasses lived in the Canton neighborhood of Baltimore in 1880. There is an Evangelical United Church of Christ at Dillon Street and S. East Avenue in Canton, but it’s unclear whether this congregation has any relation to the one served by Blass.

Agness and her mother made their home with Agness’ brother, Reverend Julius Blass (1861-1902). According to a family history researcher on Ancestry.com, Agness became the second wife of Erie, Pa. cigar manufacturer Henry Mueller and step-mother to Henry’s daughter Thelma Mueller.

Reverend Julius Blass was ordained as a Unitarian minister in 1882 after studying at the Meadville Theological School, Meadville,  Pa.. He died on 5 April 1902 in Baltimore (Baltimore Sun, 6 April 1902).

Agness’ brother John Henry Blass became a pharmacist, and in 1902 kept a drug store at 410 N. Gay Street, next door to the Hebbel Studio at 409 N. Gay Street, so having her portrait taken there would have been quite convenient.

Jacob Blass, Catherine Blass and Julius Blass are buried in Erie Cemetery, Erie, Pa.

The funeral directors H. Sander and Sons were charged with conveying the Reverend Julius Blass’ remains back to Erie, Pa. for burial. Agness Blass presented this portrait to “Mrs. G. Sander,” who likely was the wife of George A. Sander, Henry Sander’s son and a member of the family firm.

Dentists I Have Not Known: Fred M. Wheeler, Nashua, New Hampshire

Of the six graduates of the University of Maryland Dental Department class of 1888 whose portraits I have written about,  Fred Morton Wheeler  is the only one who gave up dental practice.

Son of Nashua, New Hampshire job printer Harrison Rodney Wheeler (1841-1898) and Nettie (Mills) Wheeler, Fred was born in April 1866 in Nashua. In 1900 he was practicing dentistry in Milford, New Hampshire, but by 1910 he was working as a printer. In 1920, he had a  position as a clerk in the Manchester, New Hampshire post office, where he stayed for the rest of his known career.

Their family’s ancestry is well documented, thanks to Albert Gallatin Wheeler’s 1914 work The genealogical and encyclopedic history of the Wheeler family in America.

Fred’s grandfather was Daniel Wheeler (1789-1867), an Amherst, New Hampshire farmer. According to family historian Paul Wheeler, the family’s roots go back to American Revolution: great-grandfather Timothy Wheeler (1750-1826) served in Col. Nichols Regiment, New Hampshire Militia, and may have seen action at Fort Ticonderoga.

Fred and his wife, Mary (Batten) Wheeler had one daughter.  Mabel Florence (Wheeler) Lovering (1904-1996), taught school in Manchester before her marriage to Clarence E. Lovering (1905-2000).

Wheeler had his portrait taken at the studio of Russell & Company. Ross Kelbaugh’s Directory of Maryland Photographers 1839-1900 dates Russell’s location at 17 & 203 W. Lexington Street to 1888, which corresponds nicely with the date of Wheeler’s graduation from dental school.

For this vignetted bust portrait, the photographer chose to add a touch of rose to Wheeler’s cheeks, probably on the print, to highlight the sitter’s youth and health.

Dentists I Have Not Known: Dr. Theodore A. Cross, Piedmont, West Virginia

As far as I can determine, Theodore A. Cross, another 1888 graduate of the University of Maryland Dental Department, lived a quiet bachelor life as a Piedmont, West Virginia dentist.

He was born  9 Mar 1862 in Westernport, Md. to William R. Cross (1831-1895), who became head of the carpentry department for the B & O Railroad operations in Piedmont, and milliner Penelope (Jameson) Cross (1838-1891).

Piedmont was a key B & O Railroad hub, and in its heyday was a prosperous town. The Cross family’s upper middle class status probably enabled Theodore to study for a profession in Baltimore.

Dr. Cross died on 4 Mar 1944, Burlington, Mineral, West Virginia.He and his parents are buried in Philos Cemetery, Westernport, Allegany Co., Md. He was a member of the Knights of Pythias, Piedmont Company No. 10, Uniform Rank, which held graveside services for him at his death.

Cross had his cabinet card portrait taken at the studio of William Ashman (1863-1902). Ashman learned photography from his uncle, stereoview photographer and publisher William M. Chase. The young photographer worked  for David Bachrach, then in 1877 left to open his own studio.

As with many of the portraits of dentists I’ve written about, Cross’ photograph focuses on the bust and employs vignetting–careful overexposure of the background–to create a floating effect. The popularity of vignetting may point to a shift away from the gimmicky props and backdrops  of earlier years.

The technique has, however, the unfortunate side-effect of destroying depth and flattening the sitter’s image. Compare this lack of depth with the much more attractive and dimensional effect created when a nuanced, textural backdrop returned to the studio in the 1890s, as in this moody later Ashman portrait.

Dentists I Have Not Known: Dr. Julian Gartrell, Brookeville, Maryland

Julian D. Gartrell was yet another dentist who graduated from the University of Maryland Dental Department in 1888, along with five others whose Baltimore cabinet card portraits I acquired earlier this year.

Born in Missouri on 1 April 1860, he grew up in the hamlet ofBrookevilleand the town of Olney, Montgomery County, Maryland, where his father, Rufus Worthington Gartrell (1824-1898), was a merchant and postmaster. Although not a distinguished family, their roots in Montgomery County went at least as far back as the American Revolution.

Rufus appears to have been the only one of five siblings who married and had children. Julian was one of three siblings, and all remained single.

In 1889 Gartrell joined the DC dental practice of C. E. Kennedy at 1426 New York Avenue, NW (Washington DC Evening Star, 23 May 1889).

Gartrell’s interest was oral prophylaxis, and he became a lecturer on this subject at the George Washington University School of Dentistry (GWU Bulletin March 1910).

His mother Caroline (Robinson) Gartrell, and his sisters Hallie May and Laura, kept house for him at 3025 15th St., NW.

Dr. Gartrell died 28 March 1943 in Washington, DC. His funeral was held at All Souls Episcopal Church, just a few blocks from his DC home.

He is buried, along with his parents and sisters Hallie and Laura, at Saint Johns Episcopal Church, Olney, Montgomery County, Md, the church his ancestor Caleb Gartrell helped to found in 1842.

John Philip Blessing (1835-1911) and son-in-law Henry Fenge were partners at 214 N. Charles Street in Baltimore from 1887 to 1904, a timeline that fits my tentative dating of this portrait to 1888 (Ross Kelbaugh, Directory of Maryland Photographers 1839-1900).

As with many of the other portraits of Maryland doctors and dentists in my collection, the operator chose a vignetted bust for Gartrell’s portrait, in which the background is burned out to create a soft, floating effect.

I am grateful to descendant and family historian William Gartrell, who has posted a Gartrell family tree based on notes made by Hallie and Laura Gartrell and  The Gartrell/Gatrell Ancestry of Colonial Marylandby Randall A. Haines.