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Posts Tagged ‘milton crum’

C’mon Realtors…You Can Do Better

April 6th, 2017 Sears Homes 4 comments

For the last few weeks, I’ve been on the hunt for a house in a quiet place with a little bit of land. I’ve been working with a true real estate professional, Tracie Gaskins, who is not only a queen among real estate agents, but an angel let down from heaven. When you read my forthcoming book (to be published in 2021 - maybe), you’ll learn more about this wonderful woman and how she has kept me alive through the worst hard times.

Sadly, Tracie the Realtor is not the norm amongst Realtors.

Within the current structure of the MLS system, there is a great need for factual, accurate information, and that’s where too many Realtors show a shocking lack of professionalism, and a pococurante attitude toward factual data on their listings.

Several times, I’ve found egregious mistakes on listings. Earlier this week, I wasted Tracie’s time as we went to see a house that was listed as having more than 1,400 square feet. When we arrived at the house (out in the hinterlands of Suffolk), I remarked, “This is about the size of a Sears Puritan.” (Yes, most of my spatial references are centered around Sears Homes.)

Measuring the small two-story house, I found that it was barely 1,100 square feet. Now, I might have been able to make 1,400+ work, but not 1,100. For my current needs, that’s just too small. The house had two small wings on the first floor. Apparently the listing agent had taken the home’s footprint and doubled it, rather than do some basic math.

About two months ago, I visited an open house that was listed at 2,200 square feet. After a quick walk-through, a friend and I measured the exterior and did some quick math. The house was 1,678 square feet. I spoke to the Realtor at the open house and told her, “This isn’t 2,200 sfla. It’s 1,678. We just measured it.”

Her reply, “No, it’s 2,200 square feet. We have an appraisal and the appraiser measured it out.”

I said, “Look at the rooms. They’re quite small. This is not a big house. It feels like about 1,700 sfla.”

She restated, “An appraiser said it’s 2,200 and that’s the right number.”

I wanted to say, “Honey, I don’t care if Euclid himself did the appraisal. Unless there’s an inter-dimensional portal to another space, it’s 1,678 square feet.”

Realtors are eager to be considered “professional,” but until they learn some basic math and spend a little more time double-checking simple facts, they’re not going to be taken seriously.

If you enjoyed this blog, please share it with others!

Images are courtesy of www.zillow.com.

Contact Tracie through her site.

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FF

Actually, this lot is 28 by 100 feet. It took me less than 60 seconds to find that information on the assessor's website. If a Realtor lacks the competence and care to fill out a listing form, how can they be trusted with the biggest investment of one's life? There's a big difference between 28 acres and 2,800 square feet.

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This house is on a small lot.

As is shown below, the lot's depth is 108.5 feet, not acres.

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ff

Again, 47 seconds online showed that this lot on Cumberland is 108.5 long. The house is not situated on 108.5 acres.

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Little house. Big Lot.

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House

I take house hunting very seriously...

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Just in case you were wondering what a Sears Puritan looks like...This one is in Mounds City, Illinois (the southern most part, near Cairo).

Just in case you were wondering what a Sears Puritan looks like...This one is in Mounds City, Illinois (the southern most part, near Cairo).

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Images are courtesy of www.zillow.com.

Need a house? Contact Tracie through her site.

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Pottstown and Penniman and A Mystery School - SOLVED!

March 6th, 2016 Sears Homes 2 comments

We found Pottstown, and it isn’t the one in Pennsylvania.

About a month ago, I wrote a blog about a mystery school house mentioned in the Newport News Daily Press. The story, from December 1922 said that the school would soon be built for African-American children in Pottstown, using salvaged brick from the Penniman smokestack. Problem was, no one seemed to know anything about a community called “Pottstown” near Williamsburg.

Then not one, but two of my favorite researchers found a bibliographic reference in a book, mentioning Pottstown and citing a plat book at the James City County Courthouse.

I toddled down to the courthouse one day (about a 50-mile drive from my home) and went into the clerk’s office and asked to see page 31 of “Plat Book Number Three.” The mystery was quickly solved. In the early 1900s, Pottstown was an African-American community in the heart of Williamsburg, and the school in question was the James City County Training School, built (finished) in 1924, and sitting at the corner of Nicholson and Botetourt Streets.

The article in the Newport News Daily Press (December 20, 1922) said that Williamsburg School Board Chairman W. L. Jones had purchased the smokestack while it was still vertical, in hopes of using the slightly-used bricks to build a public school for black children in James City County. After discovering the location of the school in question, I was still left wondering, “Did he use those bricks from Penniman?”

After a lot of digging around, I don’t have a definitive answer, but I do have a strong suspicion. Based on the voluminous materials I’ve studied in the last three weeks, I’ve come to the conclusion that W. L. Jones probably did use those bricks from the Penniman smokestack for the James City County Training School.

In short - financial reasons.

The first bids received for the James City County Training School, came in at about $30,000. The school board’s budget for building the solid-brick, six-room schoolhouse (with a center auditorium) was $13,000. Even in 1924 dollars, that was a trifling amount for a schoolhouse (about $180,000 in today’s money). There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth as school board members struggled to figure out how to reduce costs. One of the suggestions was to lop two classrooms off the plans.

Ultimately, two African-American contractors (Sylvester L. Vaughan and J. Andrew Jones) stepped forward and managed to shave the bid down to $16,650. The plumbing, heating, electricity and insurance were not factored into these early bids, raising the final price to $20,280. Local black patrons raised an additional $3,700 and the Rosenwald Fund contributed $1,500. A Williamsburg contractor, R. W. Holmes, offered to supply the plumbing and heating system (and all materials) and wait one year before billing the school board.

In 1924, salvaged bricks cost about $15 per thousand (clean) or $10 per thousand (not clean). In other words, if  you’re willing to sit down and chisel mortar off a whole lot of bricks, you’ll save about 33% on your costs. Some ciphering shows that the school would have required about 44,000 bricks. And some extra-fancy ciphering shows that the 250-foot tall tapered Penniman smokestack contained more than 150,000 bricks (and probably closer to 300,000).

In December 1922, W. L. Jones told the newspaper he was buying those bricks to use in a school building for Pottstown. Given the enormous budget constraints, it seems likely that he did just that. Other sources revealed the following:

1) In July 1922, Reverend Thomas Potts had sold two lots to the school board for $1,300. When Jones bought those bricks, a lot had already been purchased for the new school (School Board Minutes, July 1922).

2) Years earlier, Jones had given the black community a personal promise that he would build them a new brick school house. The promise was re-stated in a letter to the editor that appeared in the Daily Press in May 1923.

And there’s this: In the early 1900s, Americans were very thrifty and smart when it came to recycling quality building materials, and the bricks used in a DuPont smokestack would have been of the very highest quality. As of 1902, W. L. Jones had owned a brickyard in Williamsburg and he probably knew quite a bit about bricks. Buying salvaged bricks was such a common practice in the early 1920s that their prices were advertised in building journals and magazines. And salvaged bricks were considered a fine alternative to the higher cost of new bricks, as long as they were being used in a one-story structure. More on that below.

Bids for the new school were solicited in May 1923, and the contract with Jones and Vaughan was closed in July 1923. On Monday, September 15, 1924, the James City County Training School welcomed almost 200 new students on its first day.

Unfortunately, the James City County Training School fell into terrible disrepair in the early 1930s. The biggest problem facing the school was moisture intrusion on the interior plaster walls and non-stop leaks throughout the predominantly flat roof. Was this a failure of building materials or workmanship? Given the age of the structure, I’d have to lean toward workmanship, but it’s impossible to know for sure.

Perhaps one of the main problems was that, according to the July 1935 minutes of the school board, they’d hired “Mr. Leakey” to fix the problems in the roof. That doesn’t seem like a good choice.

By February 1935, Rockefeller’s restoration of Colonial Williamsburg had caught up to Nicholson Street and the school board decided to stop repairing the dilapidated building. The school board officially decided that ugly was good. “Money spent [on repairs] should be spent on the inside and not on the outside, in the hope that the Restoration might buy the property if its appearance were too unsightly” (February 1935).

Estimates to repair the building ranged from $8,000 to $10,000, and in early 1936, the 12-year-old school was condemned. The restoration committee stepped up to the plate and paid $10,000 for the old school building and donated a new lot for the new school (Bruton Heights). The new school would be built at a cost of $245,000 (and completed in 1940).

For a time, Penniman’s bricks lived on, a little bit more.

The school board minutes from June 1940 showed that gravel was being tracked into the shiny new Bruton Heights School. It was suggested that school board member, Mr. Byrd, contact the “Restoration People” and ask if the brick from the old building could be used for walkways around the new building. In August 1940, it was reported that the “bricks from the old building have been hauled over to the school grounds.” Children from the NYA (National Youth Administration) were sought to help remove all that mortar and lay the pavers in place. Additionally, bricks from the old school were used for the underpass walkway (a pedestrian tunnel under the train tracks, by the new school).

Last week, as I strolled the grounds of the old Bruton Heights school, I saw only concrete walkways at every point and turn. The underpass, classic 1930s Art Deco construction, is also 100% paved in concrete. Do our Penniman bricks rest quietly under all that concrete?

I can only hope.

Thanks so much to Mark Hardin, Milton Crum, Bill Inge, Pat Spriggs, Dale Wolicki and Anne Hallerman for providing research help.

And thanks to The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for providing the vintage images of the James City County Training School.

To read the prior blog on this school, click here.

And I’m eager to know - did the desks come from Sears and Roebuck?  :)

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This plat from James City County Courthouse

This plat from James City County Courthouse shows that "Pottstown" was a small community within Williamsburg, and James City County Training School was located at the corner of Nicholson and Botetourt Streets. Outlined in red (for emphasis) is the school in question. Harmon Athletic Field is in the upper right-hand corner of this plat.

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And right on the face of this plat is our answer: Pottstown.

And right on the face of this plat is our answer: Pottstown.

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Bill Inge

Norfolk historian Bill Inge found this 1933 Sanborn Map, which says that the JCCTS was built with hollow tile and brick. These were very common building materials in the early 1920s. Plaster could be applied to the interior face of the hollow tile, creating a fire-proof wall, and this was of utmost importance in early 20th Century America. In more expensive applications, the interior face of the hollow tile was glazed, creating a finished appearance that required no plaster.

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James City County Training School - on the hoof.

James City County Training School - on the hoof. This 250-foot-tall smokestack dominates most views of Penniman. According to the Daily Press, it took 35 sticks of dynamite to topple this behemoth.

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My smart friends and I are flummoxed by this view.

My smart friends and I are flummoxed by this view of the smokestack. Is that brick on the exterior? It looks very squarish. Is the brick turned "end out"? Based on contemporary building standards, we know that the smokestack walls were more than four feet thick on the first 20' section near the base, a little less than four feet thick at the second 20' section, and so on. That means that there's a whole lot of brick within this "tall chimney" (as they were then known). Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Heres what started the ball rolling. This article states that school superintendant W. L. Jones bought the bricks to use in the schoolhouse in Pottstown.

Here's what started the ball rolling. This article states that School Board Chairman W. L. Jones bought the bricks to use in the schoolhouse in Pottstown (Daily Press, December 20, 1922).

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And

And it was reaffirmed two days later (December 22, 1922).

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In May 1923, Jones wrote this letter to the editor of the Daily Press, re-stating his promise to build a brick school house for the African-American children of Williamsburg.

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Thanks

And he made good on that promise. The James City County Training School is shown here, in all of its solid-brick glory. Judging from the muddy mess, it seems likely that this picture was taken soon after the school was built (1924). Photo is courtesy The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

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Another view

Another view of the James City County Training School. The auditorium was in the center of the building, with clerestory windows (barely visible in this photo). These windows provided an abundance of natural lighting. Photo is courtesy of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

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HB

Bricks and mortar bind mechanically. That bond is compromised on salvaged brick. New mortar and old bricks don't have the same strong "bond" as new brick, because the old brick's pores can be clogged from prior use. For this reason, only one-story applications would have been recommended - even in the 1920s. Today, used brick is considered suitable only for pavers and short non-structural brick walls. The image above is from the 1927 Homebuilder's Catalog.

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Bricks for sale. Cheap.

This one is a puzzler. W. L. Jones apparently had quite a few bricks on his hands. This advertisement appeared in May 1923 (Daily Press). And why are the bricks pricier at Penniman? That's another mystery.

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Seems like he was anz

And he was offering extra-cheap bricks to people who bought his lots in College Heights. This appeared throughout March 1923 in the Daily Press.

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By February 1935, the school had fallen into disrepari.

By February 1935, school board minutes reflect that the JCCTS had fallen into disrepair, and the school board hoped that the "Restoration" might buy the property. Ultimately, they were successful, and the school and lot were purchased by Rockefeller for $10,000.

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fff

School board minutes from August 1940 show that the bricks from the JCCTS had been carted off to the new school, to serve as pavers. Are those our Penniman bricks? I think it's likely. NYA (National Youth Association) was a "New Deal" program.

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Today, every place where our Penniman bricks should appear is covered in concrete.

Today, every place where our Penniman bricks should appear is covered in concrete, such as this pedestrian tunnel under the train tracks (near Bruton Heights school) and the walkways around Bruton Heights.

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J. Andrew Jones was a professional carpenter and brick layer, and he did a beautiful job on the brick work. What a pity that it was razed a mere 16 years later.

J. Andrew Jones was a professional carpenter and brick layer, and he did a beautiful job on the brick work. What a pity that it was razed a mere 16 years later. Photo is courtesy The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

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Sears Schoolhouse specialty catalog

Did you see that part about The Rosenwald Foundation providing $1,500 in funding for the JCCTS? How fun is that? Wraps it all up in a neat and tidy bow, doesn't it? I spent more than three weeks of my life chasing down every detail on this story and it all comes back in full circle - Sears was involved! In 1908, Richard Warren Sears retired from the company he'd spent 22 years building, and Julius Rosenwald became president of the mail-order business, and also became a very wealthy man and a philanthropist. Catalog shown above is from 1926.

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Thanks so much to Mark Hardin, Milton Crum, Bill Inge, Pat Spriggs, Dale Wolicki and Anne Hallerman for providing research help.

And thanks to The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for providing the vintage images of the James City County Training School.

To read the prior blog on this school, click here.

Did you know Sears sold school desks too?

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Oh Dear Ethel, What Were You Thinking…

February 15th, 2016 Sears Homes No comments

According to newspaper accounts, Ethel didn’t die easy. For 10 days in November 1918, she lingered in a Richmond hospital before succumbing to her injuries, caused by two bullet wounds through her left lung.

In the last days of her life, between labored breaths and unimaginable pain, Ethel dictated her will to her mother and bequeathed “many pieces of diamond jewelry” to her mother, Carrie Grace Schneittacher. Carrie had come down from Girard, Pennsylvania so that Ethel Mae wouldn’t die alone.

Ten days earlier, Ethel Mae Brown had stepped off a train in downtown Richmond to meet her lover, Ralph E. Walker. It was a Wednesday night, about 7:00 o’clock, on a typical November night with temps in the mid-40s. Ethel and Ralph had met at Penniman, a World War One munitions plant on the York River. Ralph did the same work at Penniman as he’d done back home in Chattanooga: He managed the livestock at the plant. Ethel was a foreman, probably in the shell-loading area.

Both Ralph and Ethel were married, but not to each other.

Eyewitnesses later told police that there was an argument between the two as they stood on the sidewalk at 14th and Main Street. Ralph (55) pulled a pistol from his pocket and shot Ethel Mae (38) twice in the left chest at close range. She fell to the ground immediately. He then pointed the pistol at his own chest, and fired two shots before collapsing on the sidewalk.

Splayed on the sidewalk, bleeding out from two wounds, Ralph managed to prop himself up on one elbow, point the pistol at Ethel and fire two more bullets at her, with one bullet grazing her head.

Ralph then collapsed.

Richmond Patrolman Walter M. Angel had just passed the couple moments earlier. Upon hearing the gun shots, he rushed back to the corner, and saw the horrid scene. Using a citizen’s vehicle, Ethel was rushed to Virginia Hospital, about one mile away. Another patrolman rushed Ralph to the hospital, where he died less than 30 minutes later.

It was November 13, 1918. The Great War had ended two days earlier. While the entire world celebrated, Ralph fretted. Soon, he’d be separated from his sweetheart.

It’s my opinion that Ralph had decided sometime earlier that he’d either sweep Ethel away to a new life, or take both of their lives. Either way, Ralph had no intention of returning home. Shortly before meeting Ethel at the train, Ralph had checked into Rueger’s Hotel signing the register as “F. H. Armstrong of Birmingham, Alabama.”

Back in Chattanooga, Ralph had a wife and six children, one of whom (Ralph, Jr., age 28) had become an invalid after a terrible street-car accident. Ralph, Sr. came from a prominent Chattanooga family, and was the youngest son of Judge Dawson Walker, and the brother of Judge Seth Walker.  Ralph’s work had always centered around buying, selling and managing livestock.

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Despite Ethel’s suffering, she consistently refused to provide details of the tragedy to the police or medical staff.  When admitted to the hospital, she used the name, “Mrs. N. E. Brown.” Eventually, she told the staff that her name was Ethel Mae Brown. The newspaper articles explained that she wished to keep her identity a secret, because her husband was “a prominent physician in Pennsylvania.”

Ethel would only tell the police that Ralph “had been despondent for some time,” and that he had a terrible temper. Ethel told the police that Ralph had shot her “in a fit of anger…following a quarrel.”

In the wee hours of November 22, 1918, Ethel breathed her last, “with the secrets of this [story] still locked in her heart” (Richmond Times-Dispatch, November 23, 1918). Her body was prepared by Henry W. Woody Funeral Home of Richmond and shipped to Girard later that day.

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Until a couple days ago, that’s a summary of everything we knew about Ralph and Ethel. Thanks to Genealogist Extraordinaire Milton Crum and Ohio Historian Ashley Armstrong-Zwart, we now know quite a bit more about Ethel.

Ethel and her mother misrepresented Ethel’s age on several legal documents, but we now have a confirmed birth date of October 23, 1880. Her father was Wilford Joseph Schneittacher and her mother was Carrie Grace Young Schneittacher. Carrie was born in 1865, and she was only 15 when Ethel was born.

On June 3, 1905, Ethel married Dr. Sydney R. Titsworth in Manhattan. The two had met at J. Hood Wright Hospital (also in Manhattan). Sydney didn’t tell his poor blind mama about his marriage for more than a year. When he went home to Plainfield, New Jersey, he sprung the news on everyone. The story of the young doctor who returned home with “a diploma and a bride” was a headline in the New York Times (June 14, 1906).

As the inimitable Milton Crum said yesterday, “There’s a reason you don’t tell your own mother about marrying a certain ‘type’ of girl, and it’s not a good reason.”

The newspapers said that Ethel made a statement to the police, informing them that her husband was “a prominent physician in Pennsylvania.” Milton and I thought Ethel was talking about Sydney R. Titsworth. We were wrong.

And we also assumed that Ethel had created the pseudonym of “Mrs. Brown” in order to hide her true identify. We were wrong about that too.

Our big break came when Milton discovered that Ethel was enumerated twice in the 1910 census. She was enumerated in early April, living with her physician husband in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and then ten days later she was enumerated again, this time as a boarder in Manhattan, and working as a manicurist.

In other words, there was trouble in paradise. Sometime between those two enumerations, Ethel grabbed her diamond jewelry and left Dr. Sydney R. Titsworth, landing in Manhattan at a rooming house. In 1911, the good doctor sued his soon-to-be-ex for divorce. Seems that Ethel was a friend of the drink, and to hear Sydney tell the story, she was a mean drunk.

By 1912, Ethel was back in Pennsylvania, working in Erie as a corset dealer at 924 State Street. In December 1915, Ethel married Frank Arthur Brown, and lied about her age on the marriage certificate. Most likely, Ethel headed off to Penniman in the Summer of 1918, about 2-1/2 years after marrying Frank. The 1910 census shows that Frank was a laborer, and his 1917 draft card showed he was a laborer at American Fork and Hoe Company.

On May 26, 1918, Frank became something else: Part of Pershing’s American Expeditionary Force. Private Frank Brown survived one of the worst battles of World War One: The Meuse-Argonne Offensive. It raged from September 26, 1918 until the end of the war, November 11, 1918. More than 26,000 Americans died and 95,000 were wounded. Frank survived with no permanent physical injuries.

While Frank was serving his country and trying to stay alive in the mud-filled trenches on the Western Front, Ethel was serving in the second-line trenches at Penniman, and in her spare time, she was playing “who’s got a secret” with the guy in the stable.

Ralph Walker, the man with a wife and six children in Chattanooga, told several people that he had a “sweetheart” at the plant. He also told the lady who ran his rooming house that she shouldn’t be surprised if she came into the room one morning and found that he had killed himself.

When Ethel got off that train in Richmond on Wednesday night, she was probably returning to Penniman to pack up her things and go home. The previous few days, she’d been on a short vacation in Girard, visiting the folks back home. The war was over. Perhaps Ethel decided that it was time to end the affair and go back home to Pennsylvania and get on with her life. Frank would be coming home soon, and she could forget all this ever happened.

Instead, standing on a sidewalk in Richmond, still wearing an expensive diamond brooch and “handsome diamond ring,” she was mortally wounded when an angry lover pressed a gun to her chest and pulled the trigger - twice.

In death, Ethel didn’t fare much better. The story of her very bad ending was kept out of the papers in and around Girard. Her hometown paper, The Cosmopolite Herald, which detailed every citizen’s runny nose, sprained ankle and wandering chicken, had almost nothing to say about Ethel’s death. In a newspaper where even an infant’s death merits a front-page 200-word obituary, how did Ethel get overlooked? It must have been intentional and/or a gentleman’s agreement with Mr. and Mrs. Schneittacher.

Ethel Mae Schneittacher Titsworth Brown was buried in Girard Cemetery with the simplest of markers. The only child of Carrie Grace and Wilford Joseph Schneittacher rests alone in the cold ground. Cemetery records show that three plots were purchased for the three Schneittachers, but only Ethel’s plot was used. The remnant of the Schneittacher family lies in Gustavus Cemetery, more than 50 miles south of Ethel’s grave site.

Some may ask, is this really a story about Penniman? Yes, I’d say it is. It provides a thumbnail sketch about what happens in war time when people are put under difficult circumstances and endure grievous dangers and hardship. In short, it’s a story about the people of Penniman, and that’s what makes history so enchanting.

Thanks to Milton Crum, Ashley Armstrong-Zwart and Anne Hallerman for their help and brilliant research work!

To read an earlier article about Ralph and Ethel, click here.

Learn more about Penniman here.

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Pasted

Ralph (from Chattanooga) and Ethel (from Erie) met one another at Penniman, Virginia, a World War One munitions plant and village, built by DuPont. At its peak, more than 15,000 people inhabited the 6,000-acre site on the York River. Penniman was established in Spring 1916, and by 1921, it was a ghost town.

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Penniman

Ralph and Ethel were only two of the 6,000 workers employed at Penniman. After the war, Penniman was disassembled and in 1942, the land was purchased for use by the Navy (Cheatham Annex).

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Ethel Nove 16

Ethel's story appeared in "The Chattanooga News" on November 16, 1918.

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Titsworth

In early 1911, Dr. Titsworth sought a divorce from Ethel.

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1911

And the divorce was granted a short time later.

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In 1912

The 1912 directory shows that Ethel is a "corset dealer" in Erie.

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Even after the divorce

Even after the divorce, Ethel kept the name.

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Married

On December 15, 1915, Ethel married Frank Arthur Brown.

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Ethel's father died on March 30, 1923 from cirrhosis of the liver. Did he become an alcoholic after his little girl's death or was that a contributing factor to Ethel's many problems?

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In a town where every sniffle makes the news, its hard to believe that this was the only mention of Ethels death.

In a town where every sniffle makes the news, it's hard to believe that this was the only mention of Ethel's death.

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Ethel

Ethel Mae Schneittacher Brown rests alone in the Girard Cemetery, with her grave marked with the simplest of headstones, offering only the barest facts as to her life and death.

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To read an earlier article about Ralph and Ethel, click here.

Learn more about Penniman here.

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A Penniman Murder Mystery: Ethel and Ralph

February 7th, 2016 Sears Homes 1 comment

Ralph and Ethel were married, but not to each other.

About 7:00 o’clock, standing on a sidewalk at a busy intersection in downtown Richmond, Ralph and Ethel got into an argument. Ethel had just stepped off the train, and the two started quarreling. Ralph pulled a pistol out of his pocket and shot 39-year-old Ethel twice in the chest. She collapsed immediately. Ralph (55) then turned the pistol on himself, and managed to shoot himself twice in the chest before he fell. Splayed on the sidewalk, bleeding out from the two wounds, Ralph summoned the strength to prop  himself up on an elbow and fire the last two bullets at Ethel, with one bullet striking her in the head.

Ralph then fell back on the sidewalk, where a sailor kicked the empty pistol out of his hands.

Richmond Patrolman Walter M. Angel had just passed the couple at 14th and Main moments earlier. Upon hearing the gun shots, he rushed back to the corner, and commandeered a citizen’s vehicle. Ethel was rushed to Virginia Hospital, a modern three-story hospital about a mile away. Another patrolman rushed Ralph to the hospital, where he died less than 30 minutes later.

It was November 13, 1918. The Great War had ended two days earlier. The entire world rejoiced when Germany surrendered and hostilities ceased, except for Ralph E. Walker, as it meant that he’d soon be separated from Ethel.

The two had met each other at DuPont’s munition plant at Penniman, Virginia, about seven miles from Williamsburg. Many of Penniman’s residents regularly took the C&O train to Williamsburg when they wanted to get out of the village. Ralph and Ethel probably hoped that Richmond would be a safer bet, where it wasn’t as likely that they’d be recognized. According to newspaper articles, the story of their involvement was already well known throughout the munition plant.

In Chattanooga, Ralph’s hometown, this story of the “suicide-slayer” was headline news for several days. The Chattanooga News immediately sent a reporter to Richmond to interview Mrs. D. S. McDonald of Williamsburg, where Ralph had been a boarder. According to Mrs. McDonald, Ralph had told several people that he had “a sweetheart at the DuPont plant.” Ralph also told Mrs. McDonald that she shouldn’t be surprised if she came into his room one morning and found that he’d committed suicide.

Ethel lingered for 10 days. As soon as Ethel’s mother received the news, she rushed to Ethel’s bedside from her home in North Girard, Pennsylvania. Ethel, who was lucid part of the time, refused to make any statement about the events, admitting only that they’d been quarreling, and that Ralph had a terrible temper. Despite intense questioning from both the medical staff and law enforcement officers, both Ethel and her mother managed to keep Ethel’s true identity secret. The story made the headlines up and down the Eastern Seaboard, but - from what I can glean - nothing appeared in the newspapers around Ethel’s hometown of Girard.

At Penniman, Ethel was in a supervisory position (probably on the shell-loading line) and Ralph managed the livestock at the stables,  at the edge of the Penniman camp. Back in Chattanooga, Ralph had a wife and six children. They lived at 801 Union Avenue. His eldest child, Ralph E. Walker, Junior (30) had been in a tragic streetcar accident years earlier and was now an invalid who suffered from frequent convulsions. Ralph, Sr. came from a prominent Chattanooga family, with two judges in his immediate family (a brother and a cousin).

Before meeting Ethel at the train, Ralph had checked into Rueger’s Hotel under the pseudonym of F. H. Armstrong of Birmingham, Alabama. Letters from his wife and youngest child (Mark) were found in his suitcase.

Despite the agony that Ethel must have been experiencing, she wouldn’t give anyone her real name, identifying herself only as “Mrs. N. E. Brown.” Eventually, she told the staff that her name was Ethel Mae Brown. The newspaper articles explained that she wished to keep her identity a secret, because her husband was “a prominent physician in Pennsylvania.”

By all accounts, Ethel’s sufferings were great. With Mother at her bedside, Ethel dictated a will, bequeathing her “jewelry, diamonds and other effects” to her. On November 22, 1918, Ethel succumbed to her injuries, “with the secrets of this [story] still locked in her heart” (Richmond Times-Dispatch, November 23, 1918).

And for 98 years, that’s about all we knew about the murder/suicide in downtown Richmond.

Soon after I discovered this story, I asked Milton Crum, my BFF and genealogy genius if he could “spare a few minutes” to track down this mysterious Mrs. Brown. Frankly, I thought it was hopeless. But he found her, and that’s when we learned the rest of the story.

Ethel’s husband back in Girard was not a prominent physician, but a 41-year-old army doctor who enlisted in March 1918, and was serving somewhere in France. His name was Dr. Sydney R. Titsworth, and he met Ethel in the early 1900s, when she was a nursing student at J. Hood Wright Hospital in New York. Secretly married in 1905 after a very brief courtship, they had no children.

Milton first found Ethel when he discovered her death certificate. Her mother (the informant) gave false information on this document as well, stating that her daughter’s last name was “Brown,” and giving her age as 28.  A 1900 Census gives a birth date of 1879 for Ethel, which corresponds to newspaper reports, putting her age at “about 35″ in 1918.

Ethel’s mother, Carrie Grace Schneittacher, made the necessary arrangements to have her only child, Ethel Mae, buried in Girard Cemetery. Ethel’s tombstone bespeaks the deep shame her own family felt toward her. Stripped of her married name, deprived of the traditional familial connections and dates, it says only, “Ethel, dau of J.W. and C.G. Schneittacher.”

Less than 14 months after Mrs. Ralph Walker (Mary) buried her husband in disgrace, her eldest son (Ralph, Jr.) died during a convulsive fit. He was 31 years old. Mary died in 1938 at the age of 70. Her occupation was listed as “domestic.” It must not have been an easy life for either family. Four years after Ethel’s tragic death, her father (Wilford Joseph Schneittacher) died from cirrhosis of the liver.

So what is the mystery? There are many.

Did the Pennsylvania papers carry anything on this story? I’ve searched several archived newspaper sites (LOC’s Chronicling America, Newspapers.com and Find My Past) and can not find a single mention of this story. What happened to Ethel’s mother, Carrie Grace Schneittacher? She just disappeared after the death of her husband.

And what about Ethel? Did anyone in Girard ever know what happened to her? Was there an obituary for Ethel? The family had been in Girard since the 1900 Census. Surely, someone would have missed this woman.

Lastly, is Ethel buried in the family plot, or in some corner, forgotten by her family - even in death? If Girard wasn’t so far from Norfolk, I’d drive up there, just to see for myself.

There are many interesting stories we’ll find when we go digging around in history, but this story of Ethel is one that I’ve found especially sad and haunting.

Thanks so much to Milton Crum and Anne Hallerman for assisting with the voluminous research.

The above is a preview from Rose’s forthcoming book, Penniman, Virginia’s Own Ghost City. You can read more about Penniman here.

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Pasted

Ralph and Ethel met at Penniman, Virginia, a World War One munitions plant and village, built by DuPont. It was located about seven miles from Williamsburg. At its peak, more than 15,000 people inhabited the 6,000-acre site on the York River. Penniman was established in Spring 1916, and by 1921, it was a ghost town.

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Penniman

About 6,000 men and women worked at Penniman, loading shells for The Great War. After the war, Penniman was disassembled and in 1942, the land was purchased for use by the Navy (Cheatham Annex).

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Thanks to Hagley Museum and Library, we have many wonderful images from Penniman, but no names.

Thanks to Hagley Museum and Library, we have many wonderful images from Penniman, but no names. This shows the freight depot, where the 155mm and 75mm shells were shipped out to Newport News, for transport to France.

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Ralph had a background in buying, selling and managing livestock. At Penniman, he got a job managing the livestock.

Originally from Chattanooga, Ralph had a background in buying, selling and managing livestock, and that became his job at Penniman. In the upper left hand corner, you can see the stables for the donkeys, horses and other animals. The small square buildings at the top are chicken coops. Located on the edge of the property, this is probably where Ralph spent much of his day.

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This is the lone photo of Mrs. Ethel Brown. It was published only in the Chattanooga News, and the accompanying article described her as a good-looking woman.

This is the lone photo of "Mrs. Ethel Brown." It was published only in "The Chattanooga News" with the accompanying headline, "Same Old Story of Human Emotions Repeated in Virginia City."

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News

This article appeared in the "Richmond Times Dispatch" on 11.14.18

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Ethels mother, the informant misrepresented the true facts about Ethels name, age

It was my history loving buddy and genealogical wizard Milton Crum who figured out Ethel's real last name, and I'm still not sure how he did it, but I think it was the discovery of this death certificate that started it all. Ethel's mother, the "informant" misrepresented the true facts about Ethel's name and age.

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It was my history loving buddy and genealogical wizard Milton Crum who

This 1900 census shows Ethel is still living with her father "William" and mother "Gracie" Schneittacher in Girard, Pennsylvania. In 1918, when Ethel "disappeared" did anyone in Girard ask about her?

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Ra

Ralph Walker's body was shipped back to Chattanooga where a "family only" service was held.

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Ethels husband

Ethel's husband was discharged nine months after Ethel's death, in August 1919. He spent the next several years traveling the oceans, working as a ship's physician. He remarried in 1925.

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Most heart-breaking of all is this tombstone at the Girard Cemetery.

Most heart-breaking of all is this tombstone at the Girard Cemetery in Erie County, Pennsylvania. Stripped of her legal, married name, Ethel's marker is nondescript. It's my impression that - even in death - Joseph Wilford and Carrie Grace wanted to put a little distance between themselves and their only child.

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An interesting update - just as I was finishing up this blog, I found this article in a Pennsylvania paper, The Kane Republican.

An interesting update - just as I was finishing up this blog, I found this article in a Pennsylvania paper, "The Kane Republican" (November 15, 1918).

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New Bern’s Numerous and Nobby Kit Homes (Or “How I Spent My Second Honeymoon Last Week”)

January 21st, 2016 Sears Homes 13 comments

How did New Bern come to have so many kit homes? Is it because of New Bern’s proximity to Aladdin’s largest mill in Wilmington, North Carolina? Perhaps, but how does that explain the grandiose Sears Homes I found on Spencer Street?

It’s a mystery, but I hope it’s one that this community will fully explore!

What is a kit home?

Sears is the best-known name in the kit home business, and they started selling houses through their mail-order catalogs in 1908. These “kits” came in a  boxcar in 12,000 pieces, and included a 75-page catalog that told you how all those pieces and parts went together. Sears promised that a “man of average abilities” could have the house complete and ready for occupancy in about 90 days.

Sears closed their “Modern Homes Department” in 1940, and during a corporate house cleaning, all sales records were destroyed. The only way to find these homes today is literally one by one.

I’m confident that New Bern has many more kit homes than shown below. I saw less than 30% of the town, and I went through that 30% very  quickly! I’d love to return to New Bern soon and do a proper, thorough street-by-street survey.

If you enjoy the information and pictures, please share this link with friends on Facebook and/or via email!

To contact Rose (who art in Norfolk) about returning to New Bern, please leave a comment below!

To read the prior blog on New Bern, click here.

Read about The Peach House in nearby Kinston here.

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New Bern has many Aladdin kit homes. Is that due to their proximity to a large Aladdin Mill in the southern part of the state?

New Bern has many Aladdin kit homes. Is that due to their proximity to a large Aladdin Mill in the southern part of the state? Most likely, yes. Image is from the 1923 Aladdin catalog.

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One of my favorite finds in New Bern was the Aladdin Hampshire located in the heart of the historic downtown. This house was offered in the early 1920s.

One of my favorite finds in New Bern was the Aladdin "Hampshire" located in the heart of the historic downtown. This house was offered in the early 1920s.

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This must surely be infill, because the houses around it all date to the mid-to-late 1800s.

This must surely be infill, because the houses around it all date to the mid-to-late 1800s. It's a beautiful little house in wonderful condition. And it retains its original casement windows!

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Due to heavy landscaping, I had trouble getting a good shot, but you can see that little bay window poking up from the bushes.

Due to heavy landscaping, I had trouble getting a good shot, but you can see that little bay window poking up from the bushes, and the small fixed sashes flanking the fireplace. It's a thrill to see a 90-year-old house in original condition.

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What a cutie!

What a cutie! The house in New Bern is "flipped" (the mirror image).

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The Aladdin Plaza was another very popular house for Aladdin (1919).

The Aladdin Plaza was another very popular house for Aladdin (1919).

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Is this an Aladdin Plaza? Given its proximity (near other Aladdins), Id say its very likely.

Is this an Aladdin Plaza? Given its proximity (near other Aladdins within Ghent), I'd say it's likely.

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The Pomona was one of Aladdins most popular homes.

The Pomona was one of Aladdin's most popular homes. I saw two of these in New Bern, and neglected to capture the address of the second one. The first one (in Ghent) is shown below.

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Its a terrible picture, but it shows a piece of the Aladdin Pomona in New Berns Historic Ghent neighborhood.

It's a terrible picture, but it shows a piece of the Aladdin Pomona in New Bern's Historic Ghent neighborhood, on Spencer Avenue. It's definitely a Pomona, but has endured a great deal of remodeling. The front porch is 100% enclosed.

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The Aladdin Cape Cod (1923) was another popular kit home.

The Aladdin "Cape Cod" (1923) was another popular kit home.

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Did someone order an Aladdin Cape Cod from the Wilmington Mill and say, Supersize Me?

Did someone order an Aladdin Cape Cod from the Wilmington Mill and say, "Supersize Me"? It is a nice match to the Aladdin, but it's much too wide. It's likely that this is a pattern-book house, but I haven't been able to find a corresponding match in my collection of early 1900s pattern books. More than 30% of kit homes were customized, so it's possible this was ordered "extra large" from the Aladdin mill.

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Gordon Van Tine,  like Sears and Aladdin, also sold kit homes through a mail-order catalog. Shown here is the GVT Roberts

Gordon Van Tine, like Sears and Aladdin, also sold kit homes through a mail-order catalog. Shown here is the GVT "Roberts"(also known as the #560).

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And heres a near-perfect Roberts I found on Rhem Avenue.

And here's a near-perfect Roberts I found on Rhem Avenue.

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Within New Bern, I found two of these Gordon Van Tine homes, but neglected to make a note of the address. The porch on this

Within New Bern, I found two of these Gordon Van Tine homes, but neglected to make a note of the address. The porch on this house and those clipped gables are what first catch your eye. If you find this missing "Mt. Vernon," please give me an address (and a photo)!

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And now Sears. The Sears catalog identified the Osborn as a bungalow from the West. Its distinctive and easy to pick out in a crowd (1921 catalog).

And now Sears. The Sears catalog identified the "Osborn" as a bungalow "from the Golden West." It's distinctive and easy to pick out in a crowd (1921 catalog).

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Alson

It's had some remodeling, but it's very likely that this house on Spencer Avenue is the real deal: A Sears Osborn. Check out the tapered chimney, rafter tails and detailing on the porch railing.

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The Sears Roanoke is another distinctive Sears house (1921).

The Sears Roanoke is another distinctive Sears house (1921).

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That

That side entry (originally with a pergola) is a unique feature of the Roanoke, as is the wooden awning and symmetry on the home's front. It's so lovely to see that awning still in place. And look to the left. What's that next door?

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And whats that next door to the Roanoke?

Is that a Sears Chelsea? Hmmm...

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Boy oh boy, its hard to know for sure.

Boy oh boy, it's hard to know for sure. In that the "Chelsea" (also known as #111) in New Bern was built without a basement, that side with the staircase bay is not going to have a doorway under it (as shown here). I'd have to see this house up close and personal to make a positive ID. For now, I'd say it's a "definite maybe."

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Just down the street from the Roanoke and Chelsea is something that looks a lot like a Sears Chelsea.

Just down the street from the Roanoke and Chelsea is something that looks a lot like a Sears Saratoga.

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Is this a Sears Chelsea?

Is this a Sears Saratoga? The Saratoga is 30 feet across the front. This house in New Bern looks much wider than that. Again, was it supersized? It's another house that is a "definite possibility." I'd need to see the interior to make a proper judgement. It certainly is a good match in many other ways.

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The majestic Milton (1918 catalog).

The majestic Milton (1918 catalog).

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What a glorious house!

What a glorious house, and it's in such beautiful condition!

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And just across the street from the Milton is Modern Home #178. Its the ONLY #178 Ive seen in my many years of traveling (25 states and 200 cities).

And just across the street from the Milton is Modern Home #178. It's the ONLY #178 I've seen in my many years of traveling (25 states and 200 cities).

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What fun to scratch one more house off my never seen this model list! And right in New Bern, North Carolina.

What fun to scratch one more house off my "never seen this model" list! And right in New Bern, North Carolina.

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The Lynnhaven is a tricky model to identify authoritatively because it had so many kissing cousins that looked very similar.

The Lynnhaven is a tricky model to identify authoritatively because it had so many "kissing cousins" that looked very similar. The position of the shed dormer and the depth of that front-facing gable are good clues for this model.

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Is this the Real Deal? Might be. It looks like a good match.

Is this the Real Deal? Might be. It looks like a good match.

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Last but not least is the sweet little Starlight (1921).

Last but not least is the sweet little "Starlight" (1921).

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Forlorn and forgotten, it sits next door to the RollerLand Skating Rink in the 3500-block of Neuse Blvd.

Forlorn and forgotten, it sits next door to the RollerLand Skating Rink in the 3500-block of Neuse Blvd. Stay strong, little Starlight. Perhaps help is coming. Either that, or you'll be eaten by Kudzu soon, and it'll all be over.

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If you enjoy the pretty pictures, please share this link with friends on Facebook and/or via email!

To contact Rose (who art in Norfolk) about returning to New Bern, please leave a comment below!

To read the prior blog I did on New Bern, click here.

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Oh My! Who Knew That New Bern Had So Many Kit Homes!

January 19th, 2016 Sears Homes 4 comments

Fun times in New Bern!

Mr. Hubby and I just returned from a visit to New Bern, NC where we stayed at the Aerie Bed and Breakfast and spent the days seeing the sights (and looking for kit homes).

Within New Bern’s Ghent neighborhood, we found an abundance of kit homes, and (a nice bonus) one turquoise Lustron, (all-steel homes from the late 1940s).

My favorite two finds within Ghent were the Sears Milton, and - just across the street - a Sears Modern Home #178  facing the Sears Milton. And here’s what’s even more fun: In the 1914 Sears Modern Homes catalog, Modern Home #178 was featured on the same page as the Milton.

And I was surprised to find that these two radically different houses - The Milton and Modern Home #178 - share an identical floor plan! I’ve been playing around with Sears Homes for 15+ years and never noticed that before.

The next blog will showcase a few of the two dozen kit homes I found in New Bern, but today, it’s all about the Milton and it’s fraternal twin, Modern Home #178.

To read more about the Milton, click here.

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The Milton and Modern Home

The Sears Milton and Modern Home #178: Two different models, one floor plan. Sears Homes were given names in 1918. Modern Home #264P210 survived long enough in the catalog to merit a name: The Milton. Modern Home #178's last year was 1914.

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Both

Two houses - one floorplan. The Sears Milton in New Bern (across the street from #178) was customized when built, and does not have the traditional two-story bay window.

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Two houses - one floorplan.

Both first and second floors are identical in the Milton and Modern Home #178.

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The Milton was one of Sears finest homes.

The Milton was one of Sears finest homes.

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Notice

Notice the massive eaves, and cornice returns on this grand house. It's a very distinctive house (thus making it easier to spot). In the Miltons that I've seen, those pergolas have been converted into a roof, covering the expansive front porch. Notice also the dramatic bracketing on the eaves. Dentil molding is found at the top of the columns and around the eaves.

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The

Absent that two-story bay window, every other detail on this Milton is spot-on.

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house

Here's a close-up of those distinctive cornice returns.

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Another view of this

Another view of this grand old kit home in New Bern, NC.

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Between landscaping obstacles

A surfeit of landscaping obstacles made photographing this old house a challenge. Note the tapered board on the underside of the first-floor porch roof, with a small block at its center. This is also a perfect match to the old catalog image.

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And just across the street is the Sears Modern Home #178.

And just across the street is the Sears Modern Home #178. Beautiful! There must be s a story here, as to how these two spacious (and fancy) Sears Homes were built just across the street from one another!

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A view of the Milton, as seen from the front yard of #178.

A view of the Milton, as seen from the front yard of #178.

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One of these Miltons is not like the other!

"One of these Miltons is not like the other!" On the far left (in blue shirt) is my BFF, Milton Crum, with Jim Silverstorf (holding an antenna tuner). When I first told Milton (blue shirt) about the Sears Milton (white clapboards), Milton said, "Now that's a darn fine name for a house!"

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My next blog - the OTHER 22 kit homes I found within New Bern, including this little cutie in the 600-block of Broad Street!

My next blog - the OTHER 22 kit homes I found within New Bern, including this little cutie in the 600-block of Broad Street!

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Isnt it a darling little house?

Isn't it a darling little house?

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To read more about the Sears Milton, click here.

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History and Her Story

October 19th, 2015 Sears Homes 5 comments

The older I get, the more I realize, I just love history, and as is evidenced by the Addie blogs, I have a special passion for the story of the women in my family.

My beloved mother died about 13 years ago, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about her. She was beautiful, funny, enchanting, quirky, honest, brilliant and loved very deeply. She did not suffer fools gladly, and she spoke her mind bluntly. I so admired that about her. She was a lot of fun in so many ways, and she also shared so many stories with me about her own mother (Flossie Appleby Brown).

Mom (Betty Brown Fuller) adored her mother but she didn’t have a very high opinion of her own father (Edward William Brown) because - according to Mom - he divorced Flossie when Mom was about 14 years old (about 1935), after 27 years of marriage and ran off to marry a younger woman named “Elsie.” Flossie would have been 50 years old at the time.

Flossie was devastated and never got over the divorce.  Compounding the difficulty was the fact that Edward would drop in at Flossie’s apartment regularly for a visit and a meal “with his three girls” (Flossie, Betty and her sister, Engie). Even after Engie and Betty left to serve in the WACS and WAVES, Edward continued to visit Flossie. Mom said these visits made it harder on Flossie, because each visit left her reeling; it was a reminder of how much she still loved him.

As Mom said, “Mom and my father clearly loved each other very much; they just couldn’t live together.”

Flossie’s health went downhill in the 1940s and she died in 1951, after a prolonged illness and institutionalization (in a primitive convalescent home).

These last few weeks, I’ve been working diligently (as in 8+ hours per day) to finish this manuscript on Penniman. It’s been slow going, and when I was ready for a respite, I went digging around on Ancestry.com for more information on Flossie and Edward William Brown. It was a welcome distraction and so very entertaining, but I hit a number of dead ends. That’s when it became more than a lovely distraction; it became a quest. I contacted fellow history buffs and researchers Milton Crum and Mark Hardin, and I also contacted a professional genealogist, Lori Jackson Black.

All of us came to the same conclusion: There wasn’t much to be found on Edward’s second marriage to Elsie.

And there wasn’t much to be found on the divorce of Flossie Appleby Brown and Edward William Brown. In fact, the 1940 Census shows that they were living in the same house as man and wife.

Unfortunately, I don’t know Elsie’s last name (her marriage to Edward Brown was her second marriage), and I don’t know where or when she died. I do know that my mother had a low opinion of Elsie and did her best to tolerate her step-mother when she came for a visit in 1959. And - thanks to Lori - I know that Flossie categorized herself as “the widow of E. W. Brown” in the city directories of the 1940s.

Did Edward ever legally divorce Flossie? Was he legally married to Elsie?

There are plenty of folks who will say, “what does it matter?” but it matters to me. It’s these very questions that make family history so utterly captivating. In learning about the trials and travails of our mothers and grandmothers, we can learn more about ourselves.

To visit Lori’s wonderful website, click here.

To read about Addie, click here.

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Flossa Mae Appleby Brown was born in 1885 and died in 1951 from complications of diabetes. This photo is probably the late 1930s. 30s

Flossa Mae Appleby Brown was born in 1885 in Wisconsin and died in 1951 (in California). This photo is probably the late 1930s. My mom always told me, "I wish Mom could have met you. My mother would have loved you so much. You would have been her favorite. She adored little girls."

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I dont know the date of this photo, but I suspect its Flossie and she appears to be emerging from a biplane. Id love to know the approximate date.

I don't know the date of this photo, but I suspect it's Flossie and she appears to be emerging from a biplane. I'd love to know the approximate date. I'm guessing 1920s (from the hat).

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Mom and Grandma Flossie - perhaps in the late 1930s. Apparently Flossie was very short. Mom was 59 tall.

Mom and Grandmother Flossie - perhaps in the late 1930s. Apparently Flossie was very short. Mom was 5'9" tall. Grandmother is in heels. Mom is in flats. Look at the difference in heights!

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Edward William Brown and Elsie about 1957 or 1958. He died in 1959 in Marin, California. I have no idea when Elsie died.

Edward William Brown and Elsie about 1957 or 1958. He died in 1959 in Marin, California. I have no idea when Elsie died, or what her maiden name was, or her first husband's name...

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Elsie and her daughter Prudence visited us in Portsmouth, Virginia in 1960.

Elsie and her daughter Prudence visited us in Portsmouth, Virginia in 1959. Apparently, I had already formed a strong opinion of Elsie by the age of four months. I wish I could find leggings like that now with the little balls on top of the foot.

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My opnion

My opinion of Elsie improved when she offered to take me for a car ride to look at old houses.

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Less

Apparently Prudence visited us in 1960, and I don't know if she brought Elsie with her at that point. Prudence was Elsie's daughter, by Elsie's first husband (another name lost to history). I know less about Prudence than I do about Elsie. I'm not sure, but I think that's an ashtray in my little hand. Or it might be food, which explains the big smile.

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My wonderful, quirky, brilliant and inimitable mother in 1988.

My wonderful, quirky, brilliant and inimitable mother in 1988. I miss her so very much.

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Thanks to Lori, I now know that my grandparents eloped! The article is from the Rockford Morning Star, August 18, 1908.

Thanks to Lori, I now know that my grandparents eloped! The article is from the Rockford Morning Star, August 18, 1908.

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As an added bonus, I found this picture amongst my Aunt Engies belongings. It appears to be Alameda or a nearby area in the 1920s (and thats nothing more than a guess). Any clues?

As an added bonus, I found this picture amongst my Aunt Engie's belongings. It appears to be Alameda or a nearby area in the 1920s (and that's nothing more than a guess). Any clues?

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Thanks again to Mark Hardin, Milton Crum and Lori Jackson Black for their help!

To visit Lori’s wonderful website, click here.

To read about Addie, click here.

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Webster Groves, Missouri: Part III

August 2nd, 2015 Sears Homes 1 comment

Webster Groves has a multitude of interesting old kit homes, and one of my favorite finds is this 1910s Dutch Colonial, offered by Lewis Homes.

Lewis was one of six national companies selling kit homes through mail-order catalogs in the early 20th Century. Sears was probably the best known of the kit home companies and Aladdin was probably the largest, but Lewis Manufacturing (based in Bay City, Michigan) was a serious contender.

It’s been many years since I drove the streets of Webster Groves, looking for kit homes, and I’m not surprised that I missed a few back in the day, such as this Lewis Homes Dutch Colonial (”The Winthrop”).

Last week, I was back in the St. Louis area, visiting family members and decided to revisit Webster Groves. I didn’t have time to do a thorough survey, but in the four hours I spent there, I found an abundance of kit homes.

To read my prior blogs about Webster Groves, click here and here.

Interested in learning more about marked lumber on kit homes? Click here.

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Webster Groves

What's not to love? It possesses "unusual charm and dignity"! (1924 catalog)

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The Wintrho

That inset front porch is a defining feature of the Lewis Winthrop.

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I sure do love a nice Dutch Colonial, and this one has a front porch!

I sure do love a nice Dutch Colonial, and this one has a front porch!

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Oh my, what a fine-looking home!

Oh my, what a fine-looking home!

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And it looks good from every angle!

And it looks good from every angle!

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Home

In this image, you can see those distinctive attic windows.

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house

Who wouldn't love coming home to this every evening? As philosopher Samuel Johnson wrote, "To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and labour tends."

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But heres where it gets frustrating.

But here's where it gets frustrating.

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As soon as I spotted this house, it tickled the neurons.

Here's a Lewis Winthrop I found in Toana, Virginia. Like the house shown above, it has no fireplace on the side, but rather three windows. Is this a pattern book version of the Lewis Winthrop? For now, I'm going to make an educated guess that these two homes are the Lewis Winthrop, because I haven't seen a pattern book match. But who knows! Time will tell!

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To read more about the Lewis Winthrop in Toana, Virginia, click here.

To read my prior blogs about Webster Groves, click here and here.

Interested in learning more about marked lumber on kit homes? Click here.

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Burnt Ordinary Kit Homes: Lewis Winthrop

March 23rd, 2015 Sears Homes 3 comments

Believe it or not, that title is not “word salad” or aphasia: It will make sense in a minute.

On Sunday (March 22), my husband and I visited Williamsburg and (per my request) we drove to Toano (a few miles west of Williamsburg) so that I could look for houses from Penniman. I didn’t see any Penniman houses, but this little pretty caught my eye. I wasn’t sure where I’d seen it, but my first impression was “Lewis Manufacturing.”

This morning, I looked it up and sure enough, it’s a Lewis Winthrop.  (Lewis was a kit-home company based in Bay City, Michigan which [like Sears and Aladdin] sold kit homes through a mail-order catalog.)

As to the title, Toano (in James City County, another interesting term) was founded in the late 1800s, and this little fork in the road was originally known as “Burnt Ordinary.” (Yeah, it puzzled me, too.) Like so many of our modern terms “ordinary” meant something a little different 200 years ago.

An ordinary was a place where food and drink was served. In the 1700s, there was an “ordinary” at that site known as John Lewis’ Ordinary, and it was subsequently named Fox’s Ordinary, which burned down in 1780. In 1781, George Washington’s cartographer marked the area as “Burnt Brick Ordinary.”

In later years, it was designated “Toano” which is an Indian word for “high ground.”

Whilst driving through the tiny town of Toano, I spotted this house and took a picture with my TV-phone (as my husband calls it).

Best of all, it was my first sighting of a Lewis Winthrop, and it’s in beautiful shape!

To read about another Lewis Home, click here.

What’s a Penniman? Click here!

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As soon as I spotted this house, it tickled the neurons.

As soon as I spotted this house, it tickled the neurons. I knew I'd seen it somewhere.

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This morning, I pulled out my catalogs and found it!

This morning, I pulled out my catalogs and found it! (1924 Lewis Homes).

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That indented porch was a feature that caught my eye.

That indented porch was a feature that caught my eye.

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On the upstairs, the bathroom window is gone, which is not uncommon. These houses were built with tubs, and when its time to put in a shower, the bathroom window often disappears. This has has vinyl siding, so its easy to cover up such changes.

On the upstairs, the bathroom window is gone, which is not uncommon. These houses were built with tubs, and when it was time to put in a shower, the bathroom window often disappeared. This home had vinyl siding installed, so its easy to cover up such changes. Notice also the tiny closet window is gone. Removing this window creates a little bit more space in an already tiny closet. The "sewing room" (on the right rear) has no window on the side, which is also a good match to the house in Toano.

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Close-up on the sewing room side.

Close-up on the "sewing room" side.

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Toana

Unfortunately, that room addition on the side looks a lot like a mobile home.

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That darn tree made photographing the old house extra tough.

That darn tree made photographing the old house extra tough.

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Pretty house!

Pretty house! And I'm pleased that I "guessed" the right angle for my shot!

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This One’s Asking For Advice on Old Cook Stoves…

March 13th, 2015 Sears Homes 1 comment

A delightful anecdote from 1921 tells us that, when the Penniman houses were shipped to Norfolk, some of the workers went into one of the houses - as it made the slow 36-mile trek across the water - and made a full breakfast, using the oil cook stove in the kitchen.

That’s the kind of story that really makes history come alive.

The article, which appeared in the Peninsula Enterprise says,

Several workmen crossed the bay on the first barge that brought the houses. They had an oil stove in one of the houses. They got hungry and cooked some bacon and eggs and heated some coffee. They enjoyed a meal cooked in one of the houses while it was being towed to Norfolk (December 24, 1921).

More than being an interesting tidbit, it also illuminates this detail: Every kitchen in every Penniman house, built by a three-party contract between DuPont, Hancock-Pettyjohn and the US Government, came with an oil-fired cook stove.

Including an appliance in each house would have substantially increased the per-unit cost. Which is probably one reason why they did this. The houses were built on a popular-WW1 program known as “The Cost Plus Plan.”

When America entered WW1, we were in such a mad rush to get these munition plants up and running that there wasn’t time to seek bids and wait for bids and open bids and investigate potential contractors, so DuPont was charged with finding a trust-worthy contractor and the government agreed to pay all expenses of construction plus 8-1/2%. The downside of the Cost-Plus Plan is that the more money the house cost, the more money the contractor pocketed. Put another way, it took away incentives for the contractor to be efficient.

But I think there was more to this than just padding the price of a house.

This was a munitions plant where there were lots of opportunities for lots of things to go boom.

And when this contract for 200 houses was signed on December 31, 1917, the realities of the danger of TNT would be very fresh in everyone’s mind.

Three weeks earlier, December 6, 1917, the SS Mont Blanc, a French freighter, had just left Halifax heading for Bordeaux, France, where it would deliver 5,000,000 pounds of war-time explosives. It was about 8:45 am when the Mont Blanc collided with a Norwegian ship, the Imo. Despite the slow speed (about 2 knots), there was a resulting fire on the Mont Blanc. Sailors tried desperately to extinguish the growing fire, but eventually abandoned ship. About 20 minutes later, the drifting vessel returned to the wharf, and moments later, there was an explosion on the Mont Blanc.

According to the book, Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why, the resulting blast shattered windows 60 miles away, and more than 1,000 people lost their sight due to flying glass. A tsunami eliminated a nearby community.

All in all, more than 1,900 people died. During WW2, scientists working on the Manhattan Project studied Halifax because the magnitude of the explosion emulated an atomic bomb in so many ways.

Not that anyone at DuPont would have needed any such reminders. The engineers and architects employed by the company would have been well aware of the grave risks of a single errant spark.

Which also explains why each house had steam radiant heat, supplied by a central heating system. No risk of sparks from an independent residential coal-fired heating system.

Which also explains why each house did not have a coal-fired or wood-burning cook stove: The risk of embers and fire would have been too great.

Which leads me to my question: It appears that - maybe - these late 1910s oil (kerosene) cook stoves didn’t require a chimney or any venting. As my friend Milton said, they appear to be similar to kerosene space heaters (which were hugely popular in the 1980s). There’s a reservoir of kerosene, fed by gravity to a burner with a large wick. The unit produces small amounts of carbon monoxide, but not enough to cause CO poisoning.

If that’s true, why did every house in Penniman have a brick chimney?

Heat was supplied by a central heating plant. And I suspect (although I’m not sure) that the oil-fired cook stoves didn’t require venting.

Was it more evidence of the inefficiencies of the “Cost-Plus Plan”? Every house gets a chimney, whether or not it needs it? Or did the oil cook-stove need venting?

Thanks for any insights.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

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Perfection cook stoves were a big deal in the 1910s and 20s.

Perfection cook stoves were a big deal in the 1910s and 20s.

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These blue cylinders were called Chimneys but they were

These blue cylinders were called "Chimneys" but they were the burner mechanism for the stove.

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H

Lighting these puppies didn't look simple.

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fef

That does look pretty hot.

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This looks like a lot of work. Why not electricity? Two reasons, electric stoves required tremendous amperage and re-wiring a house to receive an electric stove wouldnt have been easy. Electric stoves didnt really catch on until the late 1920s.

This looks like a lot of work. Why not electricity? Two reasons, electric stoves required tremendous amperage and re-wiring a house to receive an electric stove wouldn't have been easy. Electric stoves didn't get a foothold in the household appliance market until the 1930s.

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ffffe

The last line is the best. Wow.

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Bacon. Its whats for breakfast. In a barge house.

Bacon. It's what's for breakfast. In a barge house. Virginia Pilot, December 1921.

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A Penniman house in Norfolk, about 1960.

A Penniman house in Norfolk, about 1960. All of these homes had chimneys, accessible from an interior kitchen wall. The question is - why?

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Read more about Penniman here.

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