Thursday, August 15, 2013

Another Letter from Oscar

It seemed like I had found everything that there was to find about Oscar Langford, his parents and siblings. My next step in recording a family history, is to write the story. So, I set out a rough outline and began to write the first chapter "Finding Oscar Langford".

The key factor in finding Oscar was, a web site recommended to me on Twitter. It was here that I got the first inkling that Oscar had written a number of letters to a newspaper in Fredonia, New York, where he spent his youth. I tracked all these down and they led to me to many other discoveries until I finally had the whole story, or so I thought.

They say that the things that you really learn are the things you learn after you know it all and that was the case for me. In writing Chapter One, I tried to recreate the original search I did last November. And, this time, I found a new poem and a new letter. The poem was from the same time frame, the mid 1920s, as the letters I found last year. The new letter, however, was written much earlier, 1913. It is a rehash of some of Oscar's 1920s letters with a couple notable exceptions. He mentions meeting his brother Charles E. Langford and calls him "a wealthy farmer". He also mentions his sister Eliza and that she was living in Monroe, Wisconsin. Eliza is the one sibling that I have struck out on. Its almost like Oscar is feeding me information!

Here is the full letter:

Boyhood Reminiscenses

    I was born in Erie County in 1833, and reared in Chautauqua County. My mother died in Fredonia when I was about three years old, leaving a family of eleven children, of whom I was the youngest. My father, a mechanic, then went west, some of my older brothers and sisters being left to take care of the younger children. Afterward I was adopted by Benjamin Griswold, a farmer, living about half way between Fredonia and Laona. The rest of the family except my sister, Jeanette, were scattered to the four winds, several of them before my birth. Jeanette was adopted by a Fredonia merchant named A. H. Walker, with whom she lived until about 1845, when she married Peter Wise, a cabinet maker, at Laona. My brother, James, died at their home a few years after their marriage.

    I was brought up to believe my surname was Griswold and that Jeanette’s name was Walker, and did not know she was my own sister until her marriage, when I found out her real name and my relationship by reading the marriage notice in the Censor with the name of Langford. Finding it then useless for further concealment, my foster parents informed me of my forgotten but true name, by which I was afterward known. It would not probably interest many of the present generation in your region to be told of my humble boyhood spent on the farm, and at “the old red school house” on the hill at Laona, at intervals up to about the age of sixteen. Then the Griswold family broke up and I was left to get along the best I could.

    Then I became a boy wanderer or tramp for many years, often facing starvation where there was plenty, without any place I could call home in Chautauqua County or anywhere else. I remember becoming so hungry one day in autumn, near Fredonia that I went to a field, dug potatoes out of a hill and tried to eat them raw. Failing in this, I took a few of the vegetables, dug a hole in the sand and roasted them. Afterward I managed to get to Jamestown by riding on the seat with a stage-driver. There I had similar experience as a “hobo”  among strangers. To try to describe my varied experiences there might be interesting, but it would intrude too much on your space.

    I finally got to Erie, Pa., after enduring many tribulations. I there came across A. P. Durlin, one of the publishers of the Observer, and a relative of W. McKinstry, editor of the Fredonia Censor. Applying to Mr. Durlin to learn the printing trade, I found out the above facts and that he knew my brother, James, when working on the Censor. I served three years with Durlin and Sloan, the name of the firm, and then went to Iowa, where I had a brother, the oldest in the family, whom I had never seen. He was a wealthy farmer. Mr. and Mrs. Peter Wise lived on his farm. At the latter’s home I was introduced to my own father, whom I then met for the first time since I was an infant.

    I worked on many different newspapers in that region, which was then a new country, and more thinly populated then Colorado is today. I saw many small towns in Iowa grow into big cities, among them Clinton, which was plotted in 1854 and now contains some 25,000 inhabitants. In that city I worked for Charles E. Leonard, publisher of the Herald, who in 1860 became the father of Lillian Russell, who is now the the reputable, much-married but retired actress. I there met another sister I had never met, and a brother whom I had never met but once, who lived with still another brother (William), at my sister, Jeanette’s home in Laona, in the late 40s. The last named many years afterward became a noted lawyer and a judge of court and died in Spokane, Washington, in 1893.

    Several years later I came upon a married sister, Eliza, at Monroe, Wis., and another one, Jane, with family at Two Rivers, on Lake Michigan. They both were total strangers to me until these first introductions and subsequent acquaintances.

    Among my school mates at Laona I recall the names of Floyd and David Ramsdell, Frances Graham, the mother of Postmaster Clark of Fredonia, Wm. Cook and sister; the Hall brothers, Fred Boynton and three brothers; Avis Sage (now Reed), Dorinda Thompson, nee Clough; (deceased) the Moore sisters, and Cooper sisters, Henry Skidmore, Tom Morian, Jule Miller, John Russell (afterwards a Fredonia lawyer). Theron Winship, and many others I might mention if your paper had room for them. I would be glad to correspond with any of those who are living and may read this letter.

    Well, I am getting old, near four score years. It seems but yesterday when I worked about the old Harrington farm and played “I spy” with the boys at the old school house at Laona. Strange that in my infirmity I can remember those youthful experiences so much better than recent events, of which my memory grows dim. God Bless old Laona!

    I give you this above condensed autobiography for what it is worth. I trust it may awake some pleasant memories among the surviving comrades who may read in in your grand old paper, whose appearance is as welcome as a visit from God’s angels.

Oscar Langford
Union Printers Home
Colorado Springs, Colo.
December 3, 1913

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