A Piano Bond From Across the Miles


piano

In doing this blog, stories come up in ways I least expect. Like earlier this month when I was talking on the phone with the Amos Boys and the conversation drifted from one thing to another. It often happens that the guys say they don’t remember things. But inevitably what one forgets, one of the others fills in.

And so it was when Duane wondered if he’d been baptized.

“I don’t remember any of us being baptized,” said Duane. “Do you know anything about it Bruce?”

“You and I were baptized down in Topeka,” answered Bruce, definitely. “At the Methodist Church that was across the corner from where Grandpa and Grandma lived when we were down there. We were baptized there.”

Bruce was referring to his grandparents Wm. Arthur and Beatrice Amos, who he and Duane lived with in the later 1930s.

“Later we went to church for a little while at the Salvation Army,” said Bruce. “It was on East Allegen Street. That was when we came back to Lansing. ”

I asked Jerry if he went to church when he lived with his grandmother Maggie and her husband Jim.

“No, they never went to church,” said Jerry. “My grandmother was her daddy’s little girl and he didn’t like the Catholic Church. Her mother was a die-hard Catholic, but her father didn’t like the priest for some reason. So my grandmother didn’t have anything to do with it either.”

Since then Duane’s been wondering more about his baptism. He still can’t remember being baptized, so I offered to call the Topeka Methodist Church and verify their records.

Here’s where it gets really interesting.

I contacted Pastor Tamra Gerber, of the Methodist Church, and it turns out she grew up in Topeka. When she was a girl, she and her twin sister often visited Arthur and Hazel (Arthur’s second wife).

“I remember as youngsters going to sing for Art and Hazel Amos,” writes Pastor Gerber. “Art was a big man as I remember him but then I was quite small. Our mother would play the piano and we would sing for them. They were Christian people and active in church.”

Talking with Pastor Gerber on the phone was really fun. When I asked about the piano, she described exactly where it was when she was a girl—the same place against the wall, to the south of the front door, just as I remember it.

Then I told her I have that piano now. I sent her a picture of it, sitting right here in my dining room. I feel a bit of a bond knowing we both have made music on this very old instrument. Pretty cool, don’t you think?

But what about Duane and Bruce’s baptism?

Pastor Gerber said their records only go back to 1943, a few years after Duane and Bruce lived in Topeka. If they’d like to, she welcomes them back to reaffirm their baptism. And she welcomes all of us to visit her church.

“The sanctuary still looks the same,” said Pastor Gerber. “It really hasn’t changed.”

Revisiting Topeka

Three weeks ago, having left Philadelphia early to avoid Hurricane Sandy, we found ourselves driving through Indiana with a bit of time to spare. In my opinion, unscheduled, meandrous travels are times of serendipitous happenstance. This trip was no exception.

We got off the I-80/90 freeway at the Indiana-Ohio border and headed 30 miles southwest on country roads to Swan, Indiana. This is where our Amos and Holmes ancestors settled.

Swan, Indiana

Swan is a small cluster of houses on Old State Road 3, just off Highway 3 (it doesn’t even show up as a village on the map, but is listed as a township). If we let our imaginations run, we could wonder if the old building in the background was Charles Wesley Amos’s carpenter shop.

Just south of Swan, the Swan Cemetery is at the intersection of Old State Road 3 and E 300 S (creative street naming at its best). Here the Holmes and Cramer families are buried—if you remember, these are names from the Amos Boys’ Grandmother Beatrice’s side of the family.

Because it was cold and raining (thanks to Hurricane Sandy) and because there are over 900 interments in the Swan Cemetery, we were not about to get out and search for gravestones. Mark that down for next time, along with some advance research!

Bethlehem Cemetery, Swan, Noble Co. Indiana

Bethlehem Cemetery, Swan Township, Noble Co. Indiana

We did, however, find the Bethlehem Cemetery, a much smaller, quaint, country cemetery located a few miles west on Swan Road. And here is the Amos family!

Charles Wesley and Elizabeth Amelia (Jarrett) Amos gravestone, Bethlehem Township, Noble Co. Indiana

Charles Wesley Amos military marker, 5 IND Battalion, G.A.R. Bethlehem Cemetery, Swan Township, Noble Co. Indiana

Charles and Elizabeth (Jarrett) are the Amos Boys great-grandparents. On the gravestone it reads 5 IND BAT. G.A.R. for Charles’ military service during the Civil War.

Andrew and Catharine Amos gravestone, Bethlehem Cemetery, Swan Township, Noble Co. Indiana

Our son, Jonathan, needed to be in South Bend later that week. Not trusting the flights out of his town of Philadelphia, he hitched a ride with us. Jonathan’s middle name is Amos so spending 3-4 hours with his parents on a cold, rainy legacy tour was especially meaningful…right, Jonny? (Thanks again, Hurricane Sandy, he says.)

Andrew Amos gravestone, Bethlehem Cemetery, Swan Township, Noble Co., Indiana

Catharine Mottinger Amos gravestone, Bethlehem Cemetery, Swan Township, Noble Co. Indiana

Andrew and Catharine (Mottinger) Amos were Charles Wesley’s parents. If you recall, Andrew was born in Hanover, Germany. At some point, he immigrated to America and settled in Ohio, where he married Catharine. Together, they raised their family in Swan.

From here, we loaded back into the car and headed westward. We drove past Corunna, a town my father Duane has often mentioned; and Kendallville, where Duane remembers, as children, he and Bruce went shopping every Friday with their Grandmother Beatrice.

Late in the afternoon, we arrived in Topeka.

Amish buggy in Topeka, Indiana

In some ways Topeka is the same town I remember as a child. It still has only one stop light. There still is a hardware store on the corner. And there still are Amish—in fact, there are lots of Amish!

Just as Duane described on the phone, if you turn west at the street light (Main and Lake St) and go one block to Babcock St., there on the corner is the building that was their grandfather Wm. Arthur Amos’s blacksmith shop. Interestingly, it still looks somewhat the same. It’s now the Eastside Harness and Tack Shop, and here is a blog with lots of photos of the shop.

I later called Eastside and left a phone message. The owner called back and also left a message. He said Arthur Amos was before his time, however his father remembered such a blacksmith shop. I’m still trying to connect with him.

209 S. Babcock, Topeka, Indiana

Does this house look familiar? It’s 209 S. Babcock St., in Topeka, and it’s where Arthur and his second wife Hazel lived. Many of us may remember coming here when we were young.

How’s this for fun…the house is currently for sale and it’s listed on this realtor’s page. You can see the interior rooms and imagine how they looked decades ago.

On the outskirts of Topeka is Eden Cemetery. Here, Wm. Arthur and his first wife Beatrice are buried. I’ve marked this cemetery for a return-trip-to-do list but in the meantime, you can check out their gravestone on this page.

So that was our trip. In spite of some nasty weather, it was still lots of fun and very special. Definitely one to do again on a nicer day!

Finding Culture Within the Family

Last week, we studied the Amos side of our family tree and once again we learned of our German roots. This week, let’s look at Beatrice Holmes, the grandmother from Topeka who took care of Duane and Bruce. We know so very little of her and her family. But perhaps, just by her English surname, we can imagine a bit of cultured decorum that counterbalances the stodgy stubbornness so often associated with our Kraut-iness (although, surely we have none of that).

So, let’s take a look at Beatrice and her family.

From our family records, we know Beatrice was born in 1880 in Swan, Indiana, to (Eugene) Milton and Mary Alice (Cramer) Holmes. Her father Milton drilled wells for a living and was originally from Ohio. We don’t know much more about his family.

Thanks to Ancestry.com however, we know quite a bit about Beatrice’s mother’s family. The Cramers were from Swan, Indiana—in fact they settled the town. That means we have another founding for which we can claim credit (so what if it’s only an unincorporated community within the township of Swan).

According to the 1860-1870 census records, Beatrice’s grandfather, Ephraim Cramer, ran a dry goods and grocery store there in town. According to this website on Indiana cemeteries, her great-grandfather, Conrad, was the community’s first settler. On that site, check out his list of children: six from his first wife, Magdalina, before she died at the young age of 32, and 12 from his second wife, Lydia. The Cramers were a town, just of themselves!

But wait a minute, Cramer—is that an English name? It could be, according to this Ancestry.com family fact page. Or, it could be Dutch, German or Irish, depending on its original spelling.

We have more surnames that pop up on Beatrice’s side of the family—names like Broughton, Rickard, Timmerman, Sitts and Haus. All these people, as far back to the mid-1700s, were born here in the United States. We’re like founding fathers within our country!

Interesting, huh? I wonder where we’ve immigrated from and when?

The Amos Boys in Small Town, USA

In 1937, when Bruce was four and Duane was five, they hopped on board a car-hauling semi and headed down to Topeka, Indiana.

“Our Uncle John (Hughes), from the Gulick side, drove a truck that hauled cars,” says Duane. “Not a big truck like you see now. It only could haul three cars. He was making a delivery to Indiana so we rode with him down to our grandparents’. ”

It’s not like the boys hitched a joy ride without their parent’s permission. If you remember, in the mid-1930s Gladys was having trouble making ends meet. Roland wasn’t home and she’d lost her welfare. She needed help caring for her three young children.

So in 1937, when Duane was about to start first grade, Gladys arranged to have him and Bruce live with Roland’s parents in Topeka and one-year-old Jerry to live with her mother and step-father in Lansing.

Can you imagine how hard that must have been for her? And can you imagine how a trip in a big truck was for two young boys?

I wonder if Roland went with them?

“No, we went by ourselves,” says Duane, matter-of-factly.

“Were you scared? Were you sad about leaving your mother? Were you nervous about living with your grandparents? Had you ever met them before?”

I’m so curious about the feelings of these young boys, but the only answers I get are, “oh, I don’t remember” or “that was just so long ago.”

Instead I get factual data.

“I went to kindergarten when we lived outside Lansing near our Uncle Ralph,” says Duane. “Then, when we moved to Topeka I went to first and second grade. I remember the grade school and high school were in the same building and we all played soccer together at recess.”

Because there was no kindergarten in Topeka, Bruce didn’t go to school.

“I remember those two apricot trees out back,” says Bruce. “We each had a tree we were supposed to keep clean underneath. We had to pick up the bad apricots.”

“One thing I remember is every Sunday morning before church, we’d go to the gas station and get ice and Grandpa would make ice cream,” says Duane. “Every Sunday morning.”

“Remember cranking that thing, Duane?” asks Bruce. “We’d crank it until it’d start getting thick, then Grandpa would take over. We did that every Sunday.”

At that time, their grandfather was the mayor of Topeka.

“Their house was a big house right across the street from the church,” says Duane. “We thought Grandpa was the most important man in town because we lived in a pretty big house and Grandpa was the mayor.”

Now Duane wonders, with a laugh, if maybe they just passed around the mayoral position amongst the businessmen in town.

“Whoever they could force into the job,” adds Jerry. “Although being the blacksmith, he probably was the most important man in town.”

“Well, Grandpa’s shop was always full of men,” says Duane. “I remember Bruce and I were down to the shop, and if they had a particularly mean or ornery horse Grandpa would always send us home. He knew there would be a lot of cussing going on.”

When I ask how they remember their grandfather’s personality, neither Bruce nor Duane have many recollections.

“He may have been a little gruff,” says Duane. “I remember being at a church dinner and pulling a chair out from behind a girl. I was swiftly evicted.”

“He wasn’t too tall,” says Bruce. “He was like the rest of the Amos’s, maybe 5’8” or 5’9”. He was a husky guy though, probably from all those years of blacksmithing. I’m sure he was pretty strict about things, but I don’t remember him being overly strict with us. ‘Course Duane and I were such angels…”

letter by Dorothy LoughmanLetter from Dorothy Loughman to Jason, 1991, in which she describes her father Wm. Arthur Amos. Stay tuned for more of her letter in the months ahead.


The boys also don’t remember much of their grandmother Beatrice.

“I remember she was small, and she had dark hair and skin,” says Duane.

“That’s where Bruce gets his handsome, good looks,” says Jerry. “We always thought he must have been from the mafia, he’s so dark.”

They’ve always gotta’ get that teasing in.

And of course, there’s the train trip Duane and Bruce took with their grandmother to get their tonsils out. They went all the way to Chicago because Beatrice’s daughter Dorothy was a nurse there.

In 1944, their grandmother Beatrice died of cancer. By that time Duane and Bruce were young teens and had been back in Lansing for many years. They remember Roland going to her funeral but he didn’t take them, perhaps because it was too expensive.

A few years later, after Duane graduated from high school, he once again went down to Topeka. This time he went to learn the blacksmithing trade. By then Arthur had remarried to Hazel, the town’s postmistress, and they lived in the house most of us know from our childhood memories and pictures.

“I went down after high school and lasted six months,” says Duane. “That little town of 500 people—there was just nothing to do. I didn’t have a car. I was so bored.”

“Yep, when I graduated from high school, my grandfather thought I should come down too. He thought I should learn some blacksmithing,” says Bruce. “But Duane told me not to. He said I would be too bored.”

So, apparently the big city Amos Boys were no longer cut for small town living! We’ll hear more of that in the months to come.

The Smithy

The Smithy by Paul Detlefsen

Isn’t it interesting how a person’s career defines not only him, but also his family? How many in the Amos family hold a nostalgic fascination for the Amish, simply because they’re part of our childhood? Or, as Joel wondered in last week’s comments, who remembers this painting entitled The Smithy, by Paul Detlefsen, and feels a kinship to the art of blacksmithing?

We feel these emotional tugs because a hundred years ago Arthur Amos, grandfather to the Amos boys, was a blacksmith for the Amish. They are our heritage as much as the man himself is.

Thankfully, I’ve come across a bit of a treasure trove on Arthur, considering we don’t have much information otherwise. Back in 1991, my son Jason also was intrigued by the Amish and blacksmithing (well, as intrigued as an 11-yr-old can be when his mother tells him he must write a 4-H report on family history during the middle of summer vacation). He chose to research and write about Arthur.

Here are portions of his report.