Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Some who served in World War II...

Larry Wills

Arthur H. Mylott

Al Rivet, "from somewhere in England"

The Wills Brothers: William Robert Wills i.e "Bobby"

Robert Wills was the youngest of all the Wills children and was only 12 when his mother died, 13 when his father died. His older sisters, especially Dorothy, took over caring for Bobby.  I frequently heard the story how, while living with Dorothy in 1938 (approximate year), he fell on the edge of the canal in Cohoes. He was riding a bike, delivering newspapers or as the other story goes, he was just having a good time. His head hit the stonework and opened a wide gash!  Initially, there was no money to pay for a doctor, so the wound was nursed at home. Soon he developed a fever and, in the age before antibiotics, it soon became infected.   Dr. Connally of Lansingburg practiced at Leonard Hospital and accepted Bobby as a patient even though he knew he wouldn't get paid right away and even though Bobby was close to dying from the infection - probably sepsis.  Dr. Connally saved Bobby's life.  In the years afterward, whenever we drove by Dr. Connally's house on 2nd Avenue in "the Burg", we made the sign of the cross and said a prayer for him because he was "so good to Bobby" and "saved his life".  In the 1970s, Dr. Connally was an old man but I saw him sometimes when I walked by his beautiful house. He would be walking in his yard with a cane.  I was fearful of approaching him and never spoke to him. Now I wish I had.  I wonder if he ever had any idea how much Dorothy and Bobby thought of him and held him in such high reverence! His services were completely paid for but it took a long time.

Sister and Brother: Dorothy Mae Wills & Wm. Robert Wills
perhaps at Saratoga Lake 
Bob Wills and wife, Doris Laurent
With his twins
There is so much to write about Bobby, Larry and the other Wills children!.  It will take time and several entries in this blog.  If you think you have a story to share about the Wills brothers and sisters, please forward and share.  Meanwhile, the stories will keep on....

Wills Brothers: Earl Larry Wills

The last two children of  Libby Bissonnette and John Wills were boys. Larry Wills was the second boy born to John and Libby Wills on March 12th, 1920.

Three Wills Toddlers: Dorothy Mae, Earl Larry and Muriel Etta
Larry is surrounded by his older sisters!

Conclusion: This is Earl Larry Wills

Handsome Young Man

Earl Larry Wills and his wife, Dorothy.

Larry and wife Dorothy

An interesting story

After the war...a growing family.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Catholic, Protestant and a wall between the coffins

One of the strangest stories in our family is the story of the grave site of Elizabeth Bissonnette Wills and John Albert Wills as told to me by my mother.  Elizabeth Bissonnette was born and raised Roman Catholic, John Albert Wills was born and raised Protestant.  They married in St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Cohoes, NY on August 26th, 1903.  Marriage in the Catholic Church indicates the groom was willing to have his children baptized in the Catholic faith.  Of the nine children, only the first born male, Uncle Johnny, was not baptized in the Catholic Church.  Perhaps because he carried the male line and name, he was raised Protestant.

St. Joseph's Cemetery, Waterford, NY

Elizabeth Bissonnette Wills died  on February 1st, 1936 from complications from her thyroid gland and surgery to remove it.  Her daughter Elizabeth Wills died less than one year later-on January 9th, 1937.  Less than two months later John Albert Wills died on March 3rd, 1937.  In thirteen months, the Wills siblings had to face the death of their mother, beloved sister and father.  Then, in order for their parents to be buried together in the Catholic cemetery,  the Wills siblings had to pay for the construction of a brick wall between the grave of their Catholic mother and Protestant father.  The Catholic church required this in order to bury a Protestant in the Catholic cemetery and was not that uncommon. To gather the funds to accomplish this during "The Great Depression" was no easy feat, especially considering the three oldest sisters were married with children to support, and the youngest three were eighteen and under.  Only Johnny and Dorothy were eighteen and older and not supporting children. But they all (Lena, Anna, Julia, Johnny, Dorothy, Etta, Larry, and Bobby) scraped the money together and, accordingly, the brick wall was built between the two places the coffins rested upon.

Is there really a wall six feet under between the coffins?
I cannot confirm it but my mother certainly told me in no uncertain terms, the wall was built and if it was, it is there in the ground between Libby and John where God can see it - if God wants to.  Personally, I think God has more important things to look after these days.

There wasn't enough money to buy a gravestone during the Great Depression.  For over thirty years the grave was unmarked.  The stone was added in the late 1960s or early 1970s.  I remember driving to the cemetery with mom to see it after it was installed.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Troubles All My Life: the day grandfather's canal boat "went to the bottom"

One of my great grandfathers, John Mylott,  descendant of Nicholas Millot dit Champagne, was a canal man in Whitehall. He and his first wife, Addie, traveled the Champlain Canal from Quebec to Brooklyn with their children on board.  Several years after the death of Addie, John continued to transport merchandise on his boat but it all ended one night when his boat sank in the fog....

The Ticonderoga Sentinel October 14, 1920 
On page one, fifth column

"Boat Sunk in Hudson"
John Mylott, who runs a canal boat on the waters of Lake Champlain, Hudson River and Barge Canal, last week had one of his boats split in two when a tug hit it head on in a fog on the Hudson River.  Mr Mylott had on board a consignment of molasses for northern points.  The boat went to the bottom in a short time. 
Typical canal boat on the Champlain Canal
John Mylott was 68 years old when the accident occurred and he had been canaling all his life.  He died five years later.  His obituary stated he worked for the YMCA in Whitehall when he passed away.  It seems the sinking of his boat ended his canaling days once and for all.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Walking and Remembering Tour: The Erie Canal in Cohoes and the Ghosts of Child Laborers

On a lovely Friday evening in August, the Spindle City Historical Society sponsored a walking tour of the ruins of the Erie Canal in Cohoes.  Our knowledgeable guide took us down pathways hidden to me when I was a child. The paths were there in the 1950s and 1960s but I never saw them and never realized their significance.  Of course in the 1960s,  the main basins and many other areas of the canal were just cesspools filled with algae and discarded appliances.  Today Cohoes has cleaned up and filled in the channel downtown, excavated around the Harmony Mills and erected signs to help us remember. Walk and remember, walk and remember....that is all that exists today...a walk and a remembrance of those before us whether they were French Canadians, Irish, Polish, Eastern Europeans.

Our guide explained how, when the original canal was widened and rerouted, the original beds became the "power canals" to run the looms inside the textile mills. Inside the mills, mainly children, teens, and young women worked the looms. Cohoes was full of young children enumerated on census records and working in the mills.  If you were from Cohoes, there is a good chance at least one of your ancestors was a child laborer in the textile mills.  Even after the heyday of the Harmony Mills, child laborers continued to work in the garment factories.  My mother left grammar school when she was 12 years old during "The Great Depression" to sew collars on shirts.  She never completed the 8th grade and was always over compensating for that fact in her life.

If you are ever interested in learning more about the children working in the textile factories, you can read Counting on Grace by Elizabeth Winthrop.  This book is intended for young readers, but adults will relish it if they are interested in the history of child labor in textile manufacturing.  Also, for readers with Cohoes-Hoosick Falls-Pownal, VT connections, there is Joe Manning's search for the heroine in the book's cover photo, detailed in six chapters on Mr Manning's website, starting at Search for Addie

There are many Ghosts of Cohoes and they are mainly children.

Our guide to the ruins of the Erie Canal with the towpath and filled in canal behind her.

Another area of the original canal in the vicinity of Lock #16, now filled and mowed.

The canal along Harmony Street

Soon the tour becomes a capsule history lesson about the Erie canal, the textile mills, and how this small landscape fueled the Industrial Revolution, the economic growth of a small nation, and the westward expansion of the United States....

The original Harmony Mill built in 1837 by Peter Harmon

Another view of the original Harmony Mill

Remains of Lock #16

Interior of Lock #17


These individuals standing inside the basin help to understand the size of the Lock #17.

A section of Lock #18 which is directly across from the new Cohoes Falls Overlook Park

At the end of the evening walk we could check out the new Cohoes Falls Park and enjoy the views
A view of Cataract Street

The Spindle City Historic Society has pamphlets for self guided walking tours of the Erie Canal in Cohoes and the Harmony Mills Historic District available in their museum downstairs in the Cohoes Music Hall on Remsen Street.  It is worth checking out the exhibits if you are fortunate enough to visit when they are open.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Wills Brothers: Johnny

Uncle Johnny was an unusual fellow.  My mother told me that during the Great Depression, Uncle Johnny was something of a hobo who would ride in boxcars across the United States, worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps out west, worked in a logging camp, had many an adventure and eventually traveled back to the east coast.  He married a "much older"  women, Margaret,  and they farmed in Gansevoort, NY.  They had pigs, chickens, roosters and a talking parrot.
After Margaret died he lived in Florida where I first remember meeting him and the talking parrot.  He lived in a small trailer in Clearwater area. Eventually he moved back up north to Johnstown where he met Mary Kendall who became his second wife and whom he loved dearly.  After Mary died, Uncle Johnny came to live with my mother and father.  He brought his dog,  "Dimples".  Uncle Johnny and Dimples remained with my folks until Johnny died in 1985 in Glens Falls Hospital..  Dimples didn't last much longer, I think she really missed Uncle Johnny.

Overall Uncle Johnny was a loner and somewhat of a quiet person.  But when you got him talking, he always had a interesting perspective on politics, the economy, and whatever else was going on.  He was a big reader and loved reading about cowboys and Adirondack reclusives......Noah Rondeau, Anne LaBastille.  He was a carpenter by trade and was most comfortable with a hammer in his hands and wood materials to build something.

This is an old photo of Uncle Johnny and it needs some repair
What is a Wills without a dog?

Dorothy and Johnny Wills in Cohoes

Uncle Johnny with his first wife

Uncle Johnny and Aunt Mary in Johnstown