When An Old Man Dies, A Library Burns Down

petticoat-ranch-cover-small.bmpCivil War Widows 

In Petticoat Ranch, my hero Clay fought in the Civil War as did Sophie’s first husband. Research can really lead you into fascinating areas. I saw this head line on a story the other day.

Gertrude Janeway, 93, Is Dead; Last Widow of a Union Soldier

Gertrude Grubb Janeway, age 93, died Friday Jan. 19, 2003, at her home in Blaine, Tenn. She lived in a three-room log cabin bought for her by her husband in 1927. She was the last surviving widow of a Union soldier. Her husband, John Janeway, died in 1937 at age 91.Gertrude Janeway Civil War Widow She married her husband in 1927 when she was 18 and he was 81. In an interview in 1998 she said they sparked for three years because her mother would not sign for her to marry. As a Union widow pensioner Janeway received $70 per month from the Veterans Administration until the day she died. Gertrude never remarried and talked all her life about how much she loved John. So that article led me to this one:

Alberta Martin, 97, Confederate Widow, DiesCivil War Widow Alberta Janeway

The person thought to be the last-known Confederate widow, Alberta Martin, was born Dec, 4, 1906, and died at age 97 in Alabama on May 31, 2004. In 1927, at age 21, she married William Jasper Martin, then 81. William and Alberta had one son. Mrs. Martin died nearly 140 years after the Civil War ended.Her marriage in the 1920s to Civil War veteran William Jasper Martin and her longevity made her a celebrated final link to the old Confederacy.And, do you think we’re done yet? No!

Widow recalls marrying Civil War veteran

Maudie Hopkins Civil War WidowThe publicity surrounding Alberta Martin’s death prompted relatives of Maudie Celia Hopkins of Arkansas to reveal that the 89-year-old was in fact the last civil war widow.

Hopkins married 86-year-old William Cantrell on Feb. 2, 1934, when she was 19.To me this is almost staggering…isn’t it? C’mon! It’s history come to life. Our links to the past seem so distant and, as I sit here typing on my computer, and click around on the World Wide Web–sometimes annoyed because it takes WEBSITES too long to open–I get hit with this. Someone is still alive today who was married to a Civil War veteran. In the historical western novels the Petticoats and Pistols fillies write we have to capture that long ago time. But as long as Maudie Celia Hopkins is still alive, that history is now.Who is the oldest person you know?

Any veterans in your past?

My father, Jack Moore—who never did much traveling at all until he retired, spent a year and a half in Korea. There’s traveling for you. Can your parents remember when the lights went on? My mom and mother-in-law can. Ask them about it. You can see the amazement in their eyes at the miracle of an electric light bulb. At church one day someone mentioned WWII and I asked the lady who brought it up, ‘Did your husband go to war?’ She said, “Everybody went.”

I remember someone saying Laura Ingalls Wilder came west on a wagon train and lived to see a rocket launched into space. It’s just not that long ago.

Tell me what the oldest person you know lived through. World War II? The Dust Bowl? The Depression? And if you don’t know the answer to that, go talk to them. Have you ever heard the saying,

“When an old man dies, a library burns down.”

There is a book in everybody’s story, and a library in an old person’s story.

Who’s the oldest person you know? Tell me about your own living history.

Mary Connealy Signature Icon

Website | + posts

Author of Romantic Comedy...with Cowboys including the bestselling Kincaid Brides Series

25 thoughts on “When An Old Man Dies, A Library Burns Down”

  1. The oldest person I ever knew was my step-grandfather on my daddy’s side…he was born in 1919! I called him paw-paw and I was the light of his life! He loved telling stories of when he was a child and I loved to listen. I miss him very much.

  2. My mother-in-law was born in 1919, Melissa. She’ll be 89 this year. I know what you mean about the stories.
    Marybelle just says these things that make you realize how long she lived, what she’s seen.
    She is fond of saying. “I’d grab three live chickens by ten o’clock and have fried chicken for dinner.”
    That was routine. Her food had to be caught. 🙂 I love it.
    And she can tell about electricity. It came earlier to the city but she didn’t get electricity until about 1946. She had three children and still pumped water from a well and hauled it inside and heated it on a stove to wash clothes. It HAD to boil to soften the lye soap. She did this twice a week at least, in August… twice while in an advanced state of pregnancy!!
    You should hear me whine because right now, the power window on my car won’t roll down. SO ANNOYING.
    Could I be any bigger of a wimp???

  3. My dad was 25 years older than my mother so I have much older relatives on that side. Two of my uncles and my aunt served in WWII, one dying in the South Pacific-Aunt Marilyn has his purple heart. Marilyn was a WAVE and I’ve seen her photo album and she’s told me some stories. She just turned 83. My dad always told me that he and his youngest brother hid in the cornfield, that’s why he didn’t go to war. Turns out Dad drove a milk truck for a guy on the draft board so the guy would push back his number all the time so Dad didn’t get sent. I’m not sure why my Uncle Dale didn’t go, might have been medical thing. It was fun to go to old car museums with Dad, we’d go along and he’d be pointing saying, “That’s a Model T and I drove one, that a ’25 Model A and I drove one, etc”. He used to tell me about the boys going dancing on the weekends and sneaking back to the farm for more gas without their dad knowing.

    Otherwise, the oldest person I know right now is our family friend Ellen. She’s 89 and in the nursing home but her mind is a sharp as ever. She’s like a grandmother to me since I don’t have any grandparents any more.

  4. Teenagers marrying guys in their 80’s…ick, although the living history is cool. My gramma who raised six kids during the depression on a minister-husband’s salary has always been my hero. She once made my mom a business suit out of an old suit of my grampa’s, when mom had a job interview as a young woman. I loved the stories she told about growing up on a Kansas farm. She had a partial scholarship to an art school and didn’t have enough $$ to make up the diff…She died at 79 just before I learned I was expecting my son…but I like to think she peeks down once in a while, but only when times are going good of course.

    Thanks as always, Mary, for another interesting post.

  5. It IS icky, Tanya. Did you notice the first lady’s holding a picture of her and her husband.
    One of them had a CHILD with the old coot. Ewww!
    I think that’s the one that never remarried and still considers her Civil War husband to be the love of her life.
    Well, who can judge matters of the heart, I guess.
    One of them was hired as his housekeeper then married him, very business-like.
    One of them was married three times.
    One of them (I read a ton about these ladies) married her old husband’s GRANDSON after the old man died. I wonder……. Nah, not going there!

  6. My in-laws are ten years older than my parents. They talk about the depression…my father in law, Tom, is gone now, but he told great stories.
    The sum total of the Depression? Nobody had nuthin’ That’s it. Certainly no cash.
    Food came from the garden or you went without. Two or three families would live in one small house, with only minimal heat… this is in Nebraska. Seriously cold winters.

    FIL Tom said, “Maybe the Doctor’s daughter had one new dress a year, that was as rich as anybody.”

    My father’s father was wounded by inhaling mustard gas in WWI, in France. Because of this he struggled with lung problems all his life and he was considered life-long disabled by military service and he got a check for $75 a month. Dad said they were the richest people he knew and one of my dad’s cousins told me this same thing, Uncle Walt and Aunt Berniece were rich.
    On $75 a month!? Can you imagine?

  7. Mary, this is astounding! I can’t imagine a teenager wanting to marry a man that old. What in the world were they thinking? And how weird for an 81 year old man siring a son. That’s just bizarre.

    My mom and dad were the oldest people who told horror stories of living through the Depression. What they endured make them true heroes in my book. They traveled across the country as migrant workers looking for something they could do to earn a buck. Most of the time they didn’t even have a roof over their head. I can’t imagine living like that and not having a home to go to. But they survived and proved how tough they were. I’m proud to have them as parents. They’re both gone now but their stories live on. I’m so glad I wrote down some of the history.

    Thanks for an intriguing post, Mary! You reminded me not to sweat the small stuff. 🙂

  8. Lynn/Elesandra, I had three uncles in WWII. One of them, a pilot was shot down and held prisoner in Germany for…a long time. At least a year, but I’m thinking longer.
    He’s never talked about it until just recently and listening to him is just amazing, what this quiet, easy going man lived through.
    He said the worst was the hunger and boredom.
    Once, because the Russians were getting close, they were moved deeper into Germany. He said they woke up one morning to find all the guards vanished. They were alone in the prison camp.

    IN the distance they’d always been able to see the top of one tall building with the Nazi flag flying, and while they stood there, in that prison, wondering what to do, where to run, they saw that flag start to lower, every one in the camp just stood there, frozen, watching that flag slide out of sight, then the American flag raised up on that spire.

    Later in the day, here comes all these troops, and riding in the lead…Gen. George Patton. Patton told them he was chasing Germans and he couldn’t stay but he’d sent help. He left them food and weapons and rolled on.

    Seriously people, go find an old person and get them to talk. They’ve seen such amazing things.

  9. Amazing blog, Mary. My father, who died two years ago at 92, was a naval officer in World War II. I can remember what it was like having him gone. Those old veterans are so precious–it still saddens me that by the time they built a memorial to them most of them were gone or had to come in wheelchairs to see it.
    There was a bestselling novel and movie a few years ago about the last surviving civil war widow, where a young girl marries this eccentric old man played by Donald Sutherland (can’t remember the actress). Hard to believe things like this actually happened.

  10. There was a list on one of the many websites I visited hunting info on Civil War Widows, about Civil War children, there are very few of them left, but some. Pretty interesting.

    My mom remembers when they got electricity in her house, she was really young. She said they came during the day when she was in school and when she got home, her mother flicked on…a lightbulb.
    That was it. The only electric thing in the house.

    When mom talks about it you can HEAR the miracle of that moment in her voice. To flick a switch and have LIGHT. Just staring at it, amazed, awe struck.
    We have come a long, long way, baby.

  11. Hi, Mary!

    Interesting stuff. My grandfather came over from Sicily in 1922 and barely had a dime in his pocket. He told of eating sparrows to survive.


  12. SPARROWS???
    Wow, hungry, huh?

    My son-in-law’s grandparents came from Germany in the early 1900s and they spoke no English. They were headed for family in Nebraska but they got on the wrong train and ended up in Montreal in Canada.

    His other grandparents had family in Nebraska and Brazil. He said they came to Nebraska on more or less a flip of a coin. Imagine how different his life would have been…chances are he wouldn’t be married to my daughter for one thing.

  13. wow 18 marrying a 81!! My dad traveled alot in the AirForce he was in 25 years went to moracca, korea my mom says she also served her country as well being left with 2 small boys in places she couldn’t speak their laungage and no transpertation. My Dad is 80 I ahve a Aunt that’s over 80> I have grown up listening to my dad tell stories of growing up and the stories are quite fasinating i even remember when i was small my grandparents still had a outhouse and no tellephone i was so excited when they got these things especially the bathroom inside. My grandmother use to make lye soap and which i didn’t know this when i was younger i was forbidden to go out to the barn i always wondered what the men did in their now i know they made their whiskey Think of how happy they would’ve been with there own local ABC stores!!

  14. My grandma made her own soap. She was born in 1902.

    Once, when I was a bit too young to drive, but we were farm kids, we drove all over the country roads, starting…as young as eight, seriously.

    Anyway, I got the job of feeding my grandma’s dog. I’m just saying, I wasn’t SIXTEEN.
    She told me to feed it some of the (follow the unknown words) rancid suet.

    Okay, on the counter by the stove. Got it, Grandma.

    So I drove over to Grandma’s everyday and there were these white chunks that looked exactly like I thought rancid suet should look, I’d pick up a chunk, toss it into the dog dish and go home.

    Grandma comes home…I think she had cataract surgery, it’s a cinch the old lady never took a vacation, so it must have been the hospital. And all her home made soap is gone. And there’s a can of rancid suet sitting there beside the now non existant soap…and one majorly hungry dog.

    I’d been feeding the dog soap for a week. Grandma picked the chunks of soap up…you know, where were they? Surely I wasn’t such a dim bulb that I didn’t notice if they were still in the dog dish day after day???
    Let’s just assume the dog picked them up and dropped them elsewhere.

    Anyway, grandma found the soap chunks and brought them back inside adn used them, what’s a little dog slobber between friends?
    The dog lived.
    The suet apparently was still rancid.

    Next time boys and girls, I’ll tell you the story of:
    My Semi-senile Grandma and the Lard Sandwich.

    Or not, it’s rated R for Rancid!!!!

  15. Mary, I’m still laughing, I laughed so hard that
    Honey came down the hall to see what was going on!
    That poor dog! I remember that my grandmother
    made her own soap, too. Only we never tried to
    feed it to old Brownie! Back on task: The oldest
    person I ever knew was my mother’s father. When
    he died, the family did not know his age. His
    doctors “guesstimated” his age at 108 years!! The
    reason we didn’t know how old he was: he lied to
    my grandmother’s parents when he asked for her hand! She was 15 y/o, he was at least 8-10 years
    older(or more) and didn’t think the parents would
    give their permission. He never gave anyone his
    correct age because he didn’t want Grandmother to
    know he had lied to her. The truth didn’t come
    out until after she passed away.

    Pat Cochran

  16. My great uncle lived to be 81 he served in WWII, twice the ship he was on sank. My grandmother was told he had died at one point. My Uncle Bill was a character he could tell some stories.

    His first wife died of cancer and he later remarried a lady that kept him away from the family, she too died of cancer. We were able to be with him in the end. The last year of his life we visited quiet often. He was my grandmothers brother and only surviving sibling. Visting with him was like having her back all over again. We miss him very much.

  17. My grandpa, whom I never knew, married to the grandma with the soap-fed dog, was eleven years older than her. She was nineteen when they married and thirty when they had their one and only child (my dad), this was my grandpa who was injured in WWI, which might explain the lack of children.
    He was born in 1891. So, he died in 1951 at a pretty good age, 60, especially considering his health.
    About fifteen years ago, a friend of mine told me her grandpa died. Her grandpa that was born in 1891. He was almost 110 at the time.
    So my grandpa (born the same year as hers) had been gone for over forty years at the time…and he was an OLD MAN when he died.
    Very odd. And sad, too. I wish I’d had my grandpa all that time.

  18. a late comment, but I can’t resist…
    My grampa is 100 and still alert, although he’s slowed down a lot. It was only last August that he moved out of his own home into an assisted living situation.

    And his stories! Wow! He was older in WWII, but still enlisted and took training with the native americans who are now honored as the code talkers.

    He tells about trying to keep his livestock alive during the depression. He mourns the loss of a high school friend in a FOOTBALL accident. He smiles when he relates his first date with gramma (They were married 69 years)and boy is he proud of his family!

    As I am proud to be a part of that family! And so lucky.

  19. Oh my im feeling old my mum was born in 1919 and dad 1909

    dads uncle was in world war one and died at Gallipolie it has big importance to aussie and mums uncle died in Austria i think in WW1.
    but people i know, Mum and dad lived through the depression mum still talks about it and some of the recipies. Oh pumpkin was cheap and she ate so much of it she hates it.
    Dad was in WW2 he was a machine gunner in Darwin. his brother was in the army, sister and her future husband the airforce. mums brother, army, sister an army nurse, bil was in the z force or a spy we found out and the other was a prisioner of war in Ambon island Indonesia. Dad died when i was 11 but i remember his war stories well some of them.
    Pop was older but i dont know what he did back then.

  20. Jenny, my husband’s mom was born in 1919, so I guess that makes me old, too. No news flash there.
    I’d love to here more about Australia’s part in WWII. In America we tend to think we’re the center of the universe but I know the whole world was at war.

  21. Mary, we are not old we just have old parents! mum was almost 45 when i was born.
    Dad was in Darwin and a machine gunner shooting down the jap planes. then he did jungle training and got spondalitis (sp) in his back and was invalided out of the army.
    My uncle and Auntie were both in New Guinea. Uncle bill was a transport driver and my aunt was a nurse. Mums bil was captured on Ambon. i think something like 700 captured and less than 160 survived. He only survived cos they thought he was dead. They japs would bayanet anyone who wasn’t moving or falling down but they thought he was dead and his mates kept him alive. We are not sure what mums other brother in law did but he was with the spy force and did alot of missions behind enemy lines.
    Dads family we dont know much of what they did. I know mums family mainly joined later besides the one in special forces. so were inthe war on the japanese. Mum even worked in a shirt factory that make shirts for the diggers and they use to write there names in them.
    There were alot of Americans that came to australia on way to where they were going mum even went out in a group with some soldiers, They had money and gave nice gifts like nylons.

  22. This is more of a reply to those who think that it is icky for a young girl to marry an old man. I can remember when I was in my younger years, how old my aunt and uncle were. I remember when they met each other in Whitesburg KY and married. I thought that they were too old to be getting married. Now that I am in my sixties, I realize that they were only ten years older than me. Age is all a perspective. In the time that we are talking about, 1900 to 1930’s, survivial was difficult especially in places like the deep south where there was little industry. My relatives were mostly coal miners from KY and it was a hard life.So, I don’t think it is so icky for those young girls to marry such old men. They probably represented security and comfort to them.

    My grandfather was born in 1896 and my grandmother in 1897. My grandfather was a farmer and when he died when I was 10 years old, my grandmother continued to run the farm. She raised everything she needed right on the farm.The only thing she store bought was clothes, shoes and staples like flour and sugar. She milked her cows,churned her butter, canned her vegetables, butchered her hogs and cut her firewood.If she had extra milk, butter or meat, she would go “peddling” in Whitesburg or Neon to get money to buy the things she needed from the store.

    My uncles remember having only 2 pairs of overalls, one for everyday and one for dress. When the everyday ones wore out, they were patched, when they couldn,t be patched, the Sundat overalls became everyday ones and eventually when the crops sold, they would get a new pair for Sunday. They all went to school in a one room school house. They didn’t much have to worry about being overweight, because they had no TV to watch and had walk two miles to school and another two back home, in all kinds of weather. They never heard of “snow days”.But, they also remember never going to bed hungry, always having love and having fond memories of stories around the fireplace on a cold winter’s night. They didn’t miss the computer games, cell phones and satelite dishes-although they get a kick out of them today. And are proud of themselves when we they learn how to operate one.

    I really wouldn’t want to turn back time and live as they lived in those days. But I do wish there was a way to have progress without losing the flavor of those times. My grandmother knew every one on her holler, and many in the area. She didn’t just know their names. She knew their history. If someone, even a stranger, needed help, she looked over her meager supplies and choose a few things to contribute to those in need. She did this knowing that her own family would have to go without. But her thinking is that everyone needs a little help now and again.
    It was a strong sense of community.

    I din’t mean to go on so long. I guess I had these memories inside waiting to be expressed.

  23. My dad was born in 1916 and died in 2003 at age 87. My mother will be 90 this year (2011). My mother’s parents was born in 1888 my grandmother died age 98 in 1986. My grandpa born 1891 died age 91 in 1983. My mother only sister was born 1916 died age 91 in 2007 her husband just died 2010 age 98. I attended a Civil War Solider funeral. Sever years ago I took my parents to Sulphur Springs, Arkansas near Pine Bluff, Arkansas. While we were there they had a funeral for a Civil War Soldier from Texas. They found his grave in the woods near by and brought his remains in on a cart driven by horses. They had people dressed in blues and grays and a lady dressed as the widow. They had no name just buttons from his uniform stating he was from texas. They had his funeral and I videoed it. So now they have a grave to the Unknown Soldier. It was very interesting to be there and witness it.

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