Charlie’s Depression Wedding – Part 2

August 1935 

He completely lost track of time sitting out there in Hayward’s Grove that day. In the same way he had been unaware how he had gotten there; he was equally unaware how he got home. Eventually, he had gone back to the house that he and Margaret had recently rented. You couldn’t really call it a home. They had not had time to establish it as such. The next day, Charlie did what people with troubled lives do, he got through the day. Charlie managed his basic physical needs, he met his financial responsibilities, he took breaths in and let breaths out. He got through that day and then did the same on the following days.

Just as he had so zealously invited everyone he met to the wedding; he started quizzing everyone about Margaret. Had she said anything to them about why she might leave? What cues had she left about where she went? The answers he got were as unsatisfactory as the one he got from Postmaster Schroeder. Most people said they did not know anything, and others refused to betray her confidence.

Charlie Begins to See Things Differently

Slowly, though enough hints had been dropped that Charlie was forced to see some things that his anger and disappointment had hidden from him. Perhaps, the glorious wedding event he had planned for them, was not quite so glorious for her. Possibly, he had overwhelmed her or worse scared her. He felt a little foolish now that he had not seen that as a possibility before. Margaret had ridden a thousand miles on a hot bus to start a new life in foreign place with a strange man. She and eleven-year-old Jarvis had barely gotten into his car, when she had been swept up in his unusual schemes and expectations. He had not even given her time to breath in the clean Iowa air before he started sucking most of it out the automobile with his exuberance.

They had not spent any time together before she was expected to stand in front of 200 strangers and pledge her fidelity to him. She had not been given an opportunity to plan any of the details of her own wedding. There had been no question what  traditions she wanted to honor. He had done it all. What he had initially seen as taking care of business now looked more like taking control and although he did not understand women well, he understood this might not be desirable.

On the day of the wedding, she only had two people present who knew her while Charlie had two hundred. If he had gone about the whole thing in a more reasonable fashion, she might have seen the guests as potential friends instead of spectators who had purchased a ticket to watch her perform like a circus act, but he hadn’t. The newspaper said that after the minister pronounced them man and wife, he had insisted on kissing her and she had resisted this. It appeared everyone had seen that. Everyone except Charlie.

From the moment she met him on that Tuesday and on through Friday night, it had been a constant whirlwind of activities and people, Charlie’s people. When all that was over, she found herself alone in an unfamiliar place with him. Nothing was the same for her. She had never been outside of New York before, and she certainly had never seen so much corn and flat land. White Falls was a  small city in New York with access to public transportation and shopping so unlike this one-mile-square town with limited business options and no freedom to travel outside its boundaries.

Charlie had never been much for sentimentality but in retrospect, he could see how things might have been for her and regretted his lack of insight. He thought he might be able to do better if he was given another chance.  And then, one week later, he got his chance. As mysteriously as she had disappeared, Margaret and the boys returned.  No explanation was offered regarding where she had gone or what she had been doing. She let him know that his fight with Bill was completely unnecessary and unfounded. Charlie was a fool for making such a big deal out of her leaving and once again getting their names in the papers. This did not seem to be something they could avoid. After her return, her name appeared in the paper again as a one sentence update: Charlie’s depression bride had returned.

Margaret’s Return

By the time she returned, it was late August and two months had passed since their wedding. She enrolled Jarvis in the fifth grade in Dysart where he joined his new classmates, Dean Klinzing and Bob Knupp as well as others. The weather that Fall was warm and sunny. Margaret watched as the crops were harvested and brought into town to the grain elevator. Jarvis participated in school activities. All around them everyone was busy getting ready for the winter ahead. They managed to stay  out of the spotlight. James finished the canning season in Vinton. The nation was still in the grips of the Great Depression so he and Charlie both tried to find what work they could. They celebrated their first Thanksgiving and Christmas together.

Starting in January, the weather across Iowa became quite brutal. After several smaller blizzards, Tama County was hit by a major storm in mid-February that completely overwhelmed the available equipment and manpower for snow removal. Most of the small towns and farmers were cut off from the outside world as many roads throughout the county were declared “closed until Spring”. Trains were unable to pass through the twenty feet high snowbanks and so supplies coming into town were cut-off for days. Daily temperature averaged nine degrees adding to the feeling of confinement everyone experienced. The winter of 1936 was one of the worst ever experienced by the state of Iowa. The new family were basically trapped in their rented home seeking whatever warmth and comfort they could. They forged a bond and weathered the winter together. Storms continued until very early in March when hope started to return to the landscape.  The snow melted, roads opened, and little signs of Spring started to return to the area.

It All Falls Apart Again

Everything seemed to be moving along well for them until April 5, 1936, when Charlie somehow discovered something about his wife, that he could not reconcile. For the second time, she was about to make him the object of ridicule and gossip and that damnable pity he had sensed before. After six months of relative peace and harmony everything was about to come crashing down around them again and he would not have it.  The realization that she and her two sons had conspired to deceive him day after day in his own house enraged him. He ordered her to pack her bags and take her sons and go. He assured her that this time, he would not look for her. There would be no fights with people in town over her honor. They were through.

He drove the nine miles to the Traer office of Bordewick and Powell, Attorneys at Law, where he engaged their services to file for an annulment as quickly as possible. Not only did he want the marriage annulled, he wanted whatever protection the state could give him over his money and properties. She was to get nothing further from him. His decision was final, he told the lawyers because Margaret was never really his wife. Margaret already had a husband and the boys already had a father back in White Falls, New York.

It did not take the lawyers long to help Charlie fill in the gaps. Margaret had been married to a man named, Chauncey, a junk dealer, since she was nineteen. They were the parents of two boys, Jarvis and Chauncey D.R. who had gone by the name James while in Iowa. They had all lived together up until the time that Margaret left for Iowa and her marriage to Charles. In fact, Chauncey was still living at the address in Little Falls that Margaret had used in her letters to Charlie.

The state’s newspapers snatched up this new twist to Charlie’s story and for a brief period between September and November of 1936, Iowans were once again privy to the details of Charlie’s life and annulment proceedings. Facts, however, don’t provide insight into people’s motives. The reasons she had chosen to commit bigamy were never made clear. By the time the annulment was decreed in November of 1936, he no longer cared. It was over. Charlie sold the household possessions and moved out of town, never to live in Dysart again. The papers and Charlie presumed that Margaret had returned to White Falls.


Writer’s Notes


When I first set out to the tell the story of Charlie and Margaret, I confess, my sympathies were primarily with Charlie. Initially, I did not use his last name in an effort to protect his surviving family. I used hers because, I reasoned, she had committed a crime. She knew what she was doing. It did not seem necessary to try and protect her identity. But, to write a good non-fiction story, you need to immerse yourself in the people you are writing about. Using whatever resources are at your disposal you try to get the broadest picture you can of their life. This helps you represent the individuals better to a reader.  For the writer, the “characters” become much more personal. Getting to know Charlie, Margaret and to some extent her children had an impact on me and I became  more sympathetic to both of them. I saw Margaret in a much different light and have since removed her last name from the story.

Charlie seems to be one of those guys who despite his best efforts, never really seemed to get anywhere. He worked for a lot of different people and moved around a lot even within Tama County. Granted, the depression was going, and everyone was forced to do what they had to do to survive but there is a pattern to his movements and decisions that left me wondering about his ability to stick with things. He was also someone who did not mind drawing attention to himself as seen by this advertisement he put in the Dysart Reporter the year before his marriage to Margaret.

Over time, I came to feel that his scheme to get money from the wedding was consistent with who he was as a person and less of a quirky move by a guy who just got excited.

There is no way to find out how Charlie learned of her bigamy. Did Jarvis slip and say something? Did they have an argument and Margaret blurted it out? Did something arrive in their mail from Chauncey? It’s interesting to speculate.

There is hardly any information available about Margaret or her husband, Chauncey so any conclusions about her are purely speculation. I found myself wondering why had she started answering matrimonial ads? Why would she agree to come to a place she had never been before and marry a stranger? Why would “James” and Jarvis help her in this ruse? Charlie was not a successful farmer with a great fortune for her to secure. Even if he represented himself as such in his letters, once she got to Iowa the truth was self-evident. The fact that she enrolled Jarvis in school and stayed through that horrible winter caused me to believe that she meant to stay and see it through. That she was building a new life and identity for herself.  It also made me wonder what was going on in New York that she was willing to do all that? There is no way to know but I like to think she was a mom living through a rough time in this country’s history and she was looking for a better life for her boys.


Epilogue


Charlie

Charlie moved to Keystone, Iowa, sometime after Margaret left in April of 1936. He continued his pattern of advertising himself out for work and appears to have maintained a close relationship with his son, Leonard. In 1940, while riding in a car with Leonard, Leonard’s wife and young child they were rear-ended by a young couple and their infant from Waterloo. The accident happened four mile west of Cedar Rapids on Highway 30. Charlie spent some time in St. Luke’s hospital with stomach and chest wounds. He was fifty years old. In October of that year this clipping appeared in the Des Moines Register.

Whether he ever made it to Oklahoma is unknown. By 1942, Charlie was living in the Baltimore, Maryland, area. He was remarried to a woman who was 20 years his junior. Interestingly her name was also Wilhelmine. He was engaged in farming with her family until his death in 1958 and ran several ads in the Baltimore Sun selling farm related items over the years. It appears he finally found a woman who loved him and a measure of success. The obituary his family posted in the newspaper partially reads:

On September 17, 1958, Charles E., beloved husband of Wilhelmine (died) 


Margaret 

Census records tell us that Chauncey was eight years older than she Margaret and that she only had  a fifth grade education which would not provide her with a lot of options. It is clear from those same records that she returned to live with Chauncey after she left Iowa and as far as I can tell, that is where she stayed until his death in 1948. Where she went from there, is not clear. It appears that she stayed close to her sons. She died in 1968 and is buried in the same cemetery as her sons in Norwich, New York. Chauncey Sr. is buried in Little Falls.

A Trip to Dysart, Iowa – Travel Tips for a North Central Iowa Visit!

Dysart, Iowa – Home of “Dysart Illusions: Art in Public Places”

 

Recently, my family and I made a trip to my childhood home in Dysart, Iowa, a town located about twenty miles south of Waterloo and fifty miles to the west of Cedar Rapids. Dysart is a small town of about 1,200 people but unlike some of its counterparts; it’s an active place with a lot of civic pride. Their Facebook page shows several fun and interesting annual activities which other Iowans won’t want to miss including 4th of July, Old Iron Days and the Backroads Market, to name of few. Next year, they will celebrate 150 years and plans are underway to make this a special celebration.  I am a very fortunate person. My mother who is 94 years old, is still living on her own, in the same house I grew up in there and she was the reason we made the trip. People have a lot of a reasons to want to travel to the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area. This article hopefully, will provide those travelers with some of the resources we found for their own trip to the area.

We drove to Iowa from our home in Michigan and speculated that we have made this trip at least 100 times over the years of our marriage. This time, there were five of us in our party; my husband and I, our son and his two boys aged 7 and 2. The trip crosses Illinois and Iowa on I-80 which has several very nice rest areas ideal for travelers wanting to avoid fast food restaurant stops and needing room for kids to move about a bit. Many offers small play areas as well as picnic tables as well as clean restrooms and vending machines.

My brother was also planning to be there; traveling from the West Coast. This meant more pre-planning than before. Seven people in a one-bathroom house is a few too many so first we needed to look at lodging options. The previous Thanksgiving our entire family made the trip and we stayed at a house in Cedar Falls we found on airbnb.com which was a very good experience. If you look on their website or VRBP.com, you will find several nice places available for small and large groups. We initially thought we would use one of the sites again but really wanted something closer to home if we could find it.

For our first night’s stay who chose The Cobblestone Inn & Suites in nearby Vinton. We were pleasantly surprised with our choice. This two-story hotel on Hi-Way 218 was easy to find and conveniently located. The rooms were clean and the staff able to accommodate our request for two rooms next to each other. A quick check-in and deposit of our belongings and were were off to Dysart for an evening visit with my mom and brother. We did not get to spend much time in Vinton but I would have loved to visited The Old Hospital Pub which is located directly across the street from the Inn at the former Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School where my Aunt Helen spent her childhood in the 1930s. If time had allowed, we would have returned to the Pizza Ranch where we have eaten in the past.  I love Vinton’s downtown and courthouse square and certainly would have taken that in had time allowed.

That evening, we made the fifteen mile trip to Dysart for a visit with family and dinner at the Harper’s Public House. These brave folks opened their restaurant about a year ago in the middle of a pandemic and appear to be doing well. We were able to find a table big enough to accommodate our now large group and by the time we left every table in the place was full. The menu had a lot of variety, and we were all able to get something we wanted. I personally had a gigantic tenderloin sandwich which is my go-to when in Iowa along with some very yummy onion rings! I’ve been following Harper House on Facebook since before they opened and see that they have a lot of special meals and special events throughout the year.

After a good night’s rest in Vinton, we awoke to a complementary breakfast at the hotel which is both a money saver and time saver, especially with small children. The Inn is located on the edge of a bean field where someone was nice enough to leave a tractor for my youngest grandson and I to explore which is always a hit for a two-year old. On the way to Dysart that morning we stopped at Rodgers Park, located just outside of Vinton, where the kids could get some exercise for their seemingly boundless energy. After touring the park, we spent some time on the playground before heading to Dysart again. If you were traveling to the area in a camper, this looked like a nice place to stay. The campground was quiet and situated nicely by the small lake.

Our planned activity for the day was swimming and the Dysart Family Aquatic Center did not disappoint. This is not the same pool we had growing up. With its gradual grade entry, it is perfectly designed for small children and older swimmers who like to make a slow entry into the water. Our two-year-old loved going down the frog slide and the seven-year-old found plenty to do including the big slide, the driving board and a dad who was invested in playing with his boys. The pool had swim toys available which is a bonus when you are from out of town. The pool is heated and unlike when we were kids, there are chairs and umbrellas where you can take a break from the sun if you wish and tables for snacking and gathering. If you go, please note that updates about pool hours are posted on the city’s Facebook page not the aquatic center’s page. The second day of our visit the pool was closed due to a lack of staff, and we were caught unaware.

 

After a day of swimming, we moved on to our lodging for the next three nights at  Hickory Hills Park where we had rented a cabin. Located just a few miles out of town, this was one of the best decisions we made during the whole trip. The cabins are simple but quite nice. With two separate bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, and large bathroom it was more than adequate for our needs. There was a large porch with a picnic table and a view of the lake. The cabins do not come with linens which is a little bit of a challenge if you are coming from out of town. The cabins also do not have any dishes although pans and utensils for cooking were available along with a stove and refrigerator. Because we were traveling by car, we were able to bring everything we needed. While staying at the park we took advantage of the playgrounds and fishing off the dock. They continue to have the buffalo and elk enclosure for viewing the animals. My mom who does not travel outside of Dysart’s city limits much anymore enjoyed coming out to the lake and watching the waterfowl. We had access to a firepit and were able to have a nice fire.

If you go, you should be aware that the park has more than one type of cabin and not all of them have the same set up so make sure you review the website carefully before choosing your spot. They also offer all types of camping sites. The price is extremely reasonable at just $100 per night. The cabins are not designed to hold events but there is a lodge building for rent if you wanted to have some type of reunion. Cell service was a little spotty for us and streaming anything on a phone or other devise was out of the question. The cabin had a TV with limited stations and a DVD player. If you are traveling with kids, bringing some DVDs with you would be a great idea. We were able to purchase some inexpensive ones at the new Dollar General in town. There is Wi-Fi available by the bathhouse in the campground and our son who works remotely spent a couple of mornings parked by the building so he could get some work done. Lastly, we were traveling during the week and so were lucky enough to find quite a few options. Weekend travelers might need to plan further in advance to secure a cabin. The cabin we rented was both air conditioned and heated and available year-round. The ladies in the cabin next to us looked like they were having a crafting party which looked like a lot of fun.

As mentioned, the Dysart pool was closed our second day so we drove the nine miles west to the Traer pool which was also very enjoyable. We were also informed there is a nice pool available in LaPorte City which is close to the campground. The two pools are very similar in terms of what is offered with an important difference being that the Traer pool is not heated which I noticed right away but seemed lost on the kids. Entrance fees at both were very reasonable at $3.00-$4.00 per person. Both pools were beautifully maintained and enviable resources for these small towns to possess.

That evening, my brother went to the Traer Pizza Palace and delivered dinner for the rest of us at the campground. We have had this pizza before and found it was very good, especially the supreme.

On Thursday, our group split up in the morning with the guys going to the Traer Golf & Country Club for eighteen holes. My brother, who golfs every time he goes to the area likes this golf course as well as the ones in Reinbeck and Dysart. Meanwhile, the kids and I spent the morning at the Norma Anders Public Library. This library is very impressive and rivals any of the branch libraries we have in our area of nearly a half-million people. The boys were busy for two hours with the many problem-solving games and building materials here. My oldest grandson used the computer station for a bit, and I enjoyed the comfortable chairs and much appreciated air-conditioning.

Normally, we would have had an outdoor lunch at KE Black with it’s daily specials but it was a hot day and the youngest among us looked like he could use a nap. So, we stopped by Bobby’s Grocery & BBQ for the ingredients for a home-cooked supper and another tenderloin for lunch (when in Rome…).  Bobby’s is also fairly new in town, and we hear their BBQ is quite good. We are looking forward to trying that on our next trip! After the guys returned from their golf outing my son took the boys to the pool again while mom and I had a chance to visit and catch up.

That evening, we treated ourselves to dinner at the Dysart Drive In (sign says Dysart Drive In, Facebook says Dysart Drive Inn) which has been a staple in the community for as long as I can remember. The drive-in is under new management this year but it does not seem like much has changed. The menu was what you would expect from a drive in and although many friends swear by the pizza burger we went with the burgers, hot dogs and fries plus ice cream, of course, all of which was good. My mom had suggested we get our food and take it to the city park and as is so often true, mom was right. We should have done that. The available seating area at the drive in was not ideal for our group, and we would recommend the park option to other visitors. The city park offers so much more in terms of playground, shade trees and tables and they have a new art installation which I am sorry we missed. This is their third illusion artwork called Magic Cylinder Koi Pond. Check the others out here.

 

 

Our trip to Iowa concluded the following day with a stop at the Field of Dreams which was quite special for us. Last time we were there our son was the same age as his son is now. They were busy getting ready for the upcoming game between the Reds and the Cubs on August 11, 2022. There are big upgrades and expansions planned for the movie site. It’s a wonderfully nostalgic place to visit.

We had a wonderful time in Dysart and hope to return soon. We did not get a chance to do everything we would have liked to have done. Here’s some things from our bucket list that other travelers might enjoy!

Local Museums and Historical Societies including the Dysart Historical Center. Most small communities (and large) have groups of dedicated volunteers keeping the history of their place alive. This one is exceptionally nice particularly if you ever lived here. It’s a great trip down memory lane to places and people you have likely forgotten. Housed in three separate buildings, make sure you plan on spending some time here taking it all in!

 

 

Hansen’s Dairy Farm Tour located near Hudson. Agri-tourism location where kids can feed and milk the cows and families can sample their ice cream and cheeses.

 

 

 

 

Lost Island Waterpark located south of Waterloo which looked like it would be great fun when the kids are a little older.

 

 

 

 

Matchstick Marvels in Gladbrook. An amazing place full of structures you will not believe are made from matchsticks. Although it sounds a little hokey, it’s really very impressive and you will be glad you went.

 

 

 

 

Taylor’s Maid-Rite in Marshalltown. My Michigan family does not understand Maid-rites but it’s one of those things “if you know, you know”. It’s the nearest place to get an authentic Maid-rite sandwich. For those of you unable to travel to Iowa, did you know you can get these shipped to your house????? Check this out! https://www.maidrite.com/send-a-maid-rite

 

 

 

 

Hurts Donut in Cedar Falls. My son and his girlfriend stopped there when we were there in November and claim “it’s the best donut ever”.

 

 

 

 

Cedar Falls Brown Bottle an old favorite from back in the day. This, along with Nino’s Steakhouse which is no longer open were the go-to places for date night when I lived in the area. We drove by last November and I longed to go back in for their famous lasagna.