The Good Old Days Actually Kind of Sucked

The Good Old DaysI’m working on an interesting case.  I have a young widow, Emma Scheiber Ackermann, who married a guy named Marshall Milton Mashburn in Milwaukee in 1901.  Emma’s father was the court commissioner for Milwaukee at that time, and he served as the officiant.  I learned this by looking at the marriage registration, which has another interesting tidbit:  In the place where the marriage license number was recorded, the words “License No.” have been crossed out, and “Order of Hon. L. W. Halsey Circuit Judge dated Sept. 17 1901″ has been written in.

That’s a new one for me.  I’ve never seen people married based on a court order.  I went down to the Milwaukee County Historical Society library, which has circuit court records for this era.  Unfortunately, because of the way the filing system works, I apparently can’t access them unless I can find them in the index.  The index is by plaintiff and defendant, and I searched for both Emma and Marshall in both, but I didn’t find them.  Since Emma’s family was prominent in Milwaukee at this time, I thought maybe this sort of thing would have been mentioned in the local newspaper.

I did find I five-paragraph story about Judge Halsey and his colleagues’ work on the day in question.  He granted permission to marry to Minnie H. Reynolds, who had been divorced and wanted to remarry before the one-year waiting period was up because her eyesight was poor and she couldn’t work anymore.  She had received a proposal and thought it best to accept it so she wouldn’t starve, and had to go to court to be granted permission.  Mrs. Della Maloney (wife of Frank, a telegraph operator for the Milwaukee Road) filed for divorce and was granted a restraining order against her husband.  Mrs. Sarah D. Clark had to be appointed a guardian before she could file for her divorce, since she was not yet of age.  She’d been married for over a year.  Four other couples either filed for or were granted divorces on that day, but my Emma’s situation wasn’t mentioned.  People think divorce was unheard of back in the day…but when you read old newspapers, you hear of it quite a bit.

One thing I realized almost immediately when I started was that the President McKinley had been assassinated just before Emma and Marshall’s wedding.  In fact, they were married on the day of the funeral, when the entire country was shut down in mourning.  Shops were closed, railroads stopped, streets were empty…and Emma and Marshall were getting married.  It was not an auspicious beginning for them at all (and in fact, I’m awaiting a copy of their divorce record).

In the eight days’ worth of Milwaukee newspapers I reviewed (which were mostly filled with news of the president’s death and funeral), here’s a sampling of the other stories I saw:

  • People (more than one!) committing suicide, supposedly because of their grief over the president’s death.
  • A guy who was sentenced to three months in jail for publicly stating that he was glad the president was dead.  This was only 2-3 days after the president died, so it must have been a speedy trial indeed.
  • A rich guy who had been murdered in Kenosha.  He was last seen out and about with a wad of cash.  Foul play was suspected.
  • Am 18-year-old heiress in Chicago, who had gone shopping and never returned.
  • A guy who was spurned by a 17-year-old girl he liked.  He brutally murdered the girl and two of her younger siblings.  He was described variously as an Indian and as a “half-breed.”  A manhunt was underway, and the paper crowed that lynching was likely.
  • A husband who stabbed his wife, who was pregnant with her seventh child.  He cut open her abdomen.  She didn’t die right away, either…it took a day or two.  The guy was in protective custody, lest he be lynched too.  He expressed no remorse.

Sometimes when I read the paper today, it feels like the world is coming apart, and like things are getting so much worse.  It’s perversely comforting to go back 100+ years and see that bad stuff happened then too.  This is one of the great things about studying history up close; it gives you perspective you can’t get any other way.

The world isn’t getting worse.  It’s always been messy.

Photo by GollyGForce

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