American Generation 6
Edgar Franklin Kessler, Sr. (1897 – 1966)
Edgar Franklin Kessler, Sr. was born at the end of the 19th Century but spent most of his childhood and adulthood in the 20th Century. Ed, Sr. was the grandfather of the author, who has vivid and clear memories of him.
Ed, Sr. grew up in Frederick, Maryland. He and his family were members of the M.E. Church of Doubs. There are newspaper records from a 1910 edition of the Frederick Times describing Christmas performances in which he and his sisters played roles in “Santa’s Little Boy” at the church. He was the first in our direct line to locate from Frederick to Baltimore.
World War I started in 1914 with the assassination of Francis Ferdinand on June 28th. The war raged in Europe through the rest of 1914 and all of 1915 and 1916. Finally, the U.S. declared war on Germany on April 6th, 1917.
Ed, Sr. enlisted in the Maryland National Guard on July 30, 1917 and was assigned as a private in the 29th Division, 115th Infantry Division. He likely fought in the Third Battle of Aisne, which was fought from May 27 to June 6, 1918. Allied troops were defending the Chemin des Dames Ridge when German General Erich von Ludendorff opened a 4,000 gun preliminary bombardment starting on May 27th, 1918. The initial bombardment caused heavy casualties on Allied front-line trenches. A gas attack was followed by an infantry advance and the Germans rapidly advanced to the River Vesle. The offensive continued and by May 30th the Germans had captured 50,000 soldiers and 800 guns and were only 10 miles from Paris. Allied counter-attacks halted the advance by June 6th.
Our parents told us that Ed, Sr. had suffered from a mustard gas attack and facts seem to support this assertion. Mustard Gas (Yperite) was first used by the German Army in September 1917. The most lethal of all the poisonous chemicals used during the war, it was almost odorless and took twelve hours to take effect. Yperite was so powerful that only small amounts had to be added to high explosive shells to be effective. Once in the soil, mustard gas remained active for several weeks. Between 1914 and 1918, the U.S. suffered 71,345 non-fatal mustard gas injuries and 1,462 deaths.
After being wounded in France, Ed, Sr. left for the U.S. so that his injuries could be treated. On June 14, 1918 Ed, Sr. arrived at Camp McClelland, Alabama. He was assigned to Development Battalions (unable to physically perform duty) until he was honorably discharged on Dec. 4, 1918. NOTE: A newspaper item from the January 20, 1920 edition of the Frederick Times notes that Sergeant Edgar Kessler of Doubs returned from France, which creates a bit of a mystery relative to the prior notations. The item has been saved on disk for reference by anyone who has time to explore the mystery.
Marriage records indicate that Ed, Sr. married Daisy E. Romoser, age 38 on Nov. 21, 1924. He was 27 years old at the time, even though the marriage records indicate he was 32 at the time. He likely lied about his age in order to reduce the age difference between Daisy and he.
This marriage presents a bit of a mystery, as he fathered a child, Clara, in 1923, a year before he married Daisy. It is not clear why, when or under what circumstances he met Elizabeth, fathered a child with her, met and married Daisy, and continued fathering children with Elizabeth. According to my father and recollections from cousins, Ed, Sr. periodically disappeared from the home for long periods – as long as six months at a time. It is possible that during these periods he was living with Daisy. Cousin Patricia (Patty) Seelhorst Ball recalls that he may have spent time in or near Charlottesville, Virginia during these trips.
After Clara was born on August 7, 1923, Ed, Sr. and Elizabeth parented six more children: Edgar, Jr., Margaret, Helen, Dorothy, George and Charles. They resided in East Baltimore. On his World War II draft registration card, completed on April 25, 1942, he listed his address as 1205 N. Washington Street, Baltimore, Maryland (note: there is a line-out through this address and another address is typed in: 1837 W. Franklin Street, which is apparently the address of his sister, Anna Florey). His height is stated as 6 feet 1 inch (I honestly do not remember that he was that tall). His occupation is stated as Jobber: painting, papering, etc.
I recall visiting Ed, Sr.’s sister, Nellie, who lived in Frederick, Maryland. I cannot recall too many details, but I can still visualize what Nellie looked like and the general look of her home. Cousin Patty Ball also recalls visiting Frederick, Maryland. Her recollections are as follows:
I remember him talking to me at times. He was a bit of a drinker so it was hard to understand him all the time. He did show me different coins that he had gotten from different countries and some confederate money as well. I also remember when I was about 5 or 6, maybe even younger we went to Frederick to visit some older family members. It was out in the country side and they had an outhouse, no indoor bathroom. I remember that it was a big old white house with a big white fence around it. I also remember that old lady smell. Also I remember there were several dolls on a big bed that had a beautiful handmade quilt on it. I think they were my mom’s aunts.
My personal memories of Ed, Sr. include a number of things. He was a painter and my Dad would help him with certain jobs and he would take me with him. Ed, Sr. suffered from alcoholism throughout much of his life. I would go with my Dad when he would take Ed, Sr. to Spring Grove Mental Hospital and admit him for treatment. This happened on more than one occasion.
Ed, Sr. lived in an apartment in the 300 block of Smallwood Street in Southwest Baltimore, near where my family lived (more about that later). I recall going with my father to the apartment and my grandfather being very drunk – too inebriated to walk. Those were occasions when we would pack a suitcase and take him to detoxification. Cousin Marie Seelhorst recalls that Ed, Sr. lived with the Seelhorst family on Newkirk Street in East Baltimore.
I also recall that after he was released from Spring Grove Rehabilitation Center he lived with the Seelhorsts for a period of time, but I also recall helping my Dad clear out his apartment on Smallwood Street after he died (I was 12 years old at the time). He had a yellow canary named Pete. We took Pete to live with us and later, after Pete laid a “dry egg” we laughed as we learned that Pete was a female canary. Ed, Sr.’s funeral was held in downtown Baltimore at the William Cook-Brooks Funeral Home on North Charles Street, near Pennsylvania Station (no longer in business). He is buried in the veteran’s section of Baltimore National Cemetery on Frederick Road. I recall that his grave is near the back right corner of the cemetery, within sight of the exterior fence.
Ed, Sr.’s funeral was held in downtown Baltimore at the William Cook-Brooks Funeral Home located at Charles and Preston Streets. The funeral home was a very imposing mansion. While the building is still there it is no longer a funeral home. He was buried at Baltimore National Cemetery located on Frederick Road in Baltimore County, Maryland. I later attended Rock Glen Junior High School and every day I arrived at a bus stop right next to the Cemetery, so I remember it well. He is buried in the Veteran’s section of the Cemetery.
American Generation #6
Edgar Franklin Kessler, Sr., Elizabeth Moore and Children
|Edgar Franklin Kessler, Sr.||b: Feb 5, 1897, Frederick, Maryland
d: Oct. 29, 1966, Baltimore, Maryland
|Elizabeth Wesley Moore
|b: Jan. 19, 1906, Baltimore, Maryland
d: Dec. 5, 1962, Baltimore, Maryland
(Married Joseph J. Dewitt)
|b: Aug. 7, 1923, Baltimore, Maryland
d: Nov. 9, 1978, Baltimore, Maryland
|Edgar Franklin Kessler, Jr.
(Married Sue Kate Fairchild)
|b: Dec. 3, 1924, Baltimore, Maryland
d: Apr. 14, 1978, Baltimore, Maryland
(Married a Tracy (sp?))
|b: Jun. 3, 1927, Baltimore, Maryland
d: Oct. 1, 2005, Baltimore, Maryland
|Helen May Kessler
(Married Herman Marina Seelhorst)
|b: Jul 5, 1929, Baltimore, Maryland
d: Jun 22, 1979, Baltimore, Maryland
|b: Mar 7, 1931, Baltimore, Maryland|
|George “Bud” Kessler
|b: Aug 13, 1935, Baltimore, Maryland
d: Jul 17, 1993, Baltimore, Maryland
|Charles Lee Kessler
(Married Elaine ?)
|b: Dec. 21, 1937, Baltimore, Maryland
d: Aug. 15, 1984, Pasco, Tampa, Florida
MATERNAL ANCESTRY: ELIZABETH WESLEY MOORE
As we get closer to our own generation, we have the ability to capture memory-information based on what we observed, over-heard, and were told by our parents, grandparents and other family members. Elizabeth Wesley Moore (Liz) was my grandmother and I have clear memories of her time with us.
Liz was born on January 19, 1906 in Baltimore, Maryland and died on December 5, 1962. No official record of marriage to Ed, Sr. can be located so it is reasonably safe to assume that she was never legally a Kessler. However, she mothered seven children with Ed, Sr.
Liz’s father was George Moore, Jr. (1878-1952) and her mother was Mary L. “May” Stewart Moore (1884-1933). She was second oldest of six children. Her older sister was Helen M. (1904) and her younger siblings were George Moore (1908), Ella Stewart (1915), Aurelia Stewart (1917) and Alma Stewart (1919). Sometime between 1908 and 1915 Liz’s mother and father divorced, hence the reason that the three later children’s last name was Stewart instead of Moore.
My Aunt, Dorothy Kessler Huth told my brother and I that May Stewart’s ancestors were related to the Singer Sewing Machine family. She said that May Stewart’s mother was Annie Mae Wells Stewart and Annie’s father was Samuel Wells. Aunt Dorothy said one of the relatives along this family tree branch was Jacob Singer and that Jacob did something to be disinherited from the Singer family fortune. I have worked to determine if there is any truth to this family rumor (experience has shown that there is usually some truth to such rumors).
Here are some relevant facts that suggest the rumor might be true, even though I cannot directly link our descendants by name/dates:
Isaac Merritt Singer was born in Pittstown, New York, on October 27, 1811. He was the youngest child of Adam Singer and his first wife, Ruth Benson. Isaac’s father was a German immigrant whose surname at birth was Reisinger. Adam Reisinger, a millwright, and his German wife immigrated in 1803. They had eight children, three sons and five daughters. When Isaac Singer was 10 years old, his parents divorced. When he was 12, he ran away, and later went to live with his elder brother in Rochester.
Isaac Singer went to work in his elder brother’s machine shop. He learned the machinist trade as he reached his adult height of 6 feet 4 inches. He was also enamored with and dabbled in the acting profession.
Isaac married Catharine Maria Haley in 1830 and they had two children: William (1834) and Lillian (1837). In 1835 he, Catharine and William moved to New York City to work in a press shop. In 1836, he left NY as an agent for a company of players, touring through Baltimore, where he met Mary Ann Sponsler, to whom he proposed marriage (though he did not actually go through with it). He returned with Mary Ann to New York in 1837. That year Isaac fathered two children by two different women: Catharine gave birth to Lillian and Mary Ann gave birth to Isaac Augustus. His marriage to Catharine fell apart but they did not divorce until 1860.
In 1839 Singer obtained his first patent, for a machine to drill rock, selling it for $200,000 to the I&M Canal Building Company. In 1846 he set up a shop for making wood type and signage. Here he developed and patented a “machine for carving wood and metal” on April 10, 1849.
At thirty-eight years old, with Mary Ann and eight children, he moved back to New York City, hoping to market his wood-block cutting machine. He built and constructed a working prototype and met G. B. Zieber, who became Singers’ financier and partner. A steam explosion destroyed the prototype. He and Zieber relocated to Boston and found a show room for the new prototype.
Orders for Singer’s wood cutting machine were slow but Lerow & Blodgett sewing machines were being constructed and repaired in the same machine shop. The owner, Phelps asked Singer to look at the sewing machines, which were difficult to use and produce. Singer noted that the sewing machine would be more reliable if the shuttle moved in a straight line rather than a circle, with a straight rather than a curved needle. Singer obtained US Patent number 8294 on his improvements on August 12, 1851. Singer’s prototype sewing machine became the first to work in a practical way.
Sewing machine design
Singer did not invent the sewing machine. All sewing machines before Walter Hunt’s produced a chain stitch, which had the disadvantage of easily unraveling. Hunt’s machine produced a lock stitch, as did all subsequent machines including Lerow and Blodgett’s, which Singer in turn improved in Phelps’s shop. Elias Howe independently developed a sewing machine and obtained a patent on September 10, 1846.
War broke out between Howe and Singer, with each claiming patent primacy. Singer set out to discover that Howe’s improvements had been reinventions of existing technology, and found one of Hunt’s old machines, which indeed created a lock-stitch with a shuttle. Hunt applied in 1853 for a patent, claiming priority to Howe’s patent, issued some seven years earlier. A lawsuit, Hunt v. Howe, came to trial in 1854, and was resolved in Howe’s favor. Howe then brought suit to stop Singer from selling Singer machines, and protracted litigation ensued.
I. M. Singer & Co
In 1856, manufacturers Grover & Baker, Singer, Wheeler & Wilson, all accusing the others of patent infringement, met in Albany, New York to pursue their suits. Orlando B. Potter, a lawyer and president of the Grover and Baker Company, proposed that, rather than sue their profits out of existence, they pool their patents. This was the first patent pool, a process which enables production of complicated machines without legal battles over patent rights. They agreed to form the Sewing Machine Combination, but for this to be of any use they had to secure the cooperation of Elias Howe, who still held certain vital uncontested patents which meant he received a royalty on every sewing machine manufactured by any company. Terms were arranged, and Howe joined on. Sewing machines began to be mass produced: I. M. Singer & Co manufactured 2,564 machines in 1856, and 13,000 in 1860 at a new plant on Mott Street in New York. Later a massive plant was built near Elizabeth, New Jersey. Sewing machines had until now been industrial machines, made for garments, shoes, bridles and fortailors, but in 1856 smaller machines began to be marketed for home use. Singer was the first who put a family machine, “The turtle back”, on the market. I. M. Singer expanded into the European market, establishing a factory in Clydebank, near Glasgow, controlled by the parent company, becoming one of the first American-based multinational corporations, with agencies in Paris and Rio de Janeiro. Credit for the invention of the sewing machine, so Andrew B. Jack, must go to I.M. Singer on three very important counts: 1. only he used the 10 most important elements for highest capacity and adaptability; 2. his design was a revolution of former attempts; 3. his concept is still today the basis of all sewing machines.
Marriages, divorces, and children
The financial success gave Singer the ability to buy a mansion on Fifth Avenue, into which he moved his second family. In 1860, he divorced Catherine, on the basis of her adultery with Stephen Kent. He continued to live with Mary Ann, until she spotted him driving down Fifth Avenue seated beside one Mary McGonigal, an employee, about whom Mary Ann had well-founded suspicions, for by this time Mary McGonigal had borne Isaac Singer five children. The surname Matthews was used for this family. Mary Ann (still calling herself Mrs. I. M. Singer) had her husband arrested for bigamy. Singer was let out on bond and, disgraced, fled to London in 1862, taking Mary McGonigal with him. In the aftermath, another of Isaac’s families was discovered: he had a “wife” Mary Eastwood Walters and daughter Alice Eastwood in Lower Manhattan, who both adopted the surname “Merritt”. By 1860, Isaac had fathered and recognized eighteen children (sixteen of them remaining alive), by four women.
With Isaac in London, Mary Ann began setting about securing a financial claim to his assets by filing documents detailing his infidelities, claiming that though she had never been formally married to Isaac, that they were in fact wed under Common Law (by living together for seven months after Isaac had been divorced from his first wife Catherine). Eventually a settlement was made, but no divorce was granted. However, she asserted that she was free to marry, and indeed married John E. Foster. Isaac, meanwhile, had renewed acquaintance with Isabella Eugenie Boyer, a Frenchwoman he had lived with in Paris when he was staying there in 1860. She left her husband, and married Isaac under the name of Isabella Eugenie Sommerville, on June 13, 1863, while she was pregnant.
Final years in Europe
In 1863, I. M. Singer & Co. was dissolved by mutual consent, with the business continued as “The Singer Manufacturing Company,” enabling the reorganization of financial and management responsibilities. Singer no longer actively participated in the firm’s day-to-day management, but served as a member of the Board of Trustees (even though he now lived in Europe) and was a major stockholder.
He now began to increase his new family: he would eventually have six children with his wife Isabella. Unable, probably because of Isaac’s chequered marital past, to enter New York society, the family emigrated to Paris, never to return to the United States. Fleeing the Franco-Prussian War, they resided first in London, then in Paignton, (near Torquay) on the Devon coast where he built a large house, Oldway Mansion. He brought some of his other children to live there. Nine days after the wedding of his daughter Alice Merritt to William Alonso Paul La Grove, Isaac Singer died of “an affection of the heart and inflammation of the wind-pipe.” He was interred in Torquay cemetery.
Estate and legacy; his families after his death
Singer left an estate of about $14,000,000 and two wills disposing this between his family members, leaving some out for various reasons. Suits followed, with Mary Anne claiming to be the legitimate “Mrs. Singer”. In the end Isabella was declared the legal widow. Isabella remarried in 1879 with Dutch musician Victor Reubsaet and settled in Paris. After his death in 1887, she remarried in 1891 with Paul Sohège.
Isaac’s 20th child Winnaretta Singer married Prince Louis de Scey-Montbéliard in 1887, when she was 22. After annulment of this marriage in 1891, she married Prince Edmond de Polignac in 1893. She would become a prominent patron of French avant-garde music, e.g., Erik Satie composed his Socrate as one of her commissions (1918). As a lesbian she became involved with Violet Trefusis from 1923 on. Another of Isaac’s daughters, Isabelle-Blanche (born 1869) married Jean, duc Decazes (Daisy Fellowes was their daughter). Isabelle committed suicide in 1896. A brother to Winnaretta and Isabelle, Paris Singer, had a child by Isadora Duncan. Another brother, Washington Singer, became a substantial donor to hi the University College of the South-West of England, which later became the University of Exeter; one of the university’s buildings is named in his honour.
I know this was a fairly long biography about Isaac Singer, but given the rumor that we are related I decided to investigate. I could find no evidence that the rumor, that we are related to a disinherited Jacob Singer, is true. However, given Isaac’s propensity to womanize and the notes above that he disinherited some descendants, the rumor could in fact be true.