Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Distracted Husband Lillian Westrum Keyes Part 2

The definition of distracted is :
Having one's thoughts or attention drawn away: unable to concentrate or give attention to something. This is the word used to describe Lillian's husband in the obituary attached to the back of her photograph and below the letter, we have been discussing. In all my years I have never ever seen that term used in an obituary let alone describe the spouse of the deceased. In a messenger conversation with James, we decided that perhaps it was a comment on the state of the marriage. This seems the most likely explanation. So I began an attempt to find out what I could about Ray Keyes.

His full name was Raymond Edward Keyes and he was born March 7, 1894, in Martin Minnesota. His parents were Edward Keyes and Alma Nelson and he had a sister named Ora Keyes.  Edward Keyes was a hardware salesman from Illinois or New York and his mother a housewife from Sweden. His life overall seems very unremarkable. On the 1920 census, Ray is listed as doing clerical work in a machine shop. Normal right? Well yes up until August in 1929. Ray's first newspaper mention that I've found happens in August 1929 when Albert Lea experienced a very large fire. The fire occurred at a business called Albert Lea Transfer Company. The fire nearly wiped out the business district in Albert Lea.  It's odd because for some reason Ray Keyes had his band equipment stored there along with the equipment of another person named Earl Hunt. Keyes lost 2000.00 worth of equipment and vehicles. It kind of boggles my mind how a man from Martin, Minnesota was able to afford equipment and vehicles valued at 2000.00.  In terms of 1929 money that is a large amount or least, it is for a young man who worked a clerical job in 1920.

The remainder of the information I can find on Ray has to do with tracking where he was playing from 1929 on. He seems to have been booked for outside gigs mostly at fairs or outside venues. The primary information seems to be from Saint Cloud Minnesota.  The gigs are sporadic and mostly summer or fall gigs. What blew my mind is that Ray, the same Ray whose wife killed herself February 11th was back playing gigs by March of 1937. Ray must have been so decimated at having lost his wife, NOT.  Nine days after Lillian's death Ray advertises the goods from their home "priced right." Suddenly Ray doesn't seem so um, what's the word, oh loving.

The other issue that seems to plague Ray seems to be suicides. July 6, 1938, the Minneapolis newspaper "The Minneapolis Star" reports that the sax player, George "Red" Russell, is found hanging in the Albert Lea Courthouse. Allegedly Red seems to have been despondent for a while.

Long story short. Ray traveled a great deal and seemed to become mired in things when he was around. The fire, his wife's apparent suicide, and the suicide of his sax player in a very public place. You will find yourself saying "What the hell is up with this dude?" Then Ray walks away from Albert Lea and goes to Minneapolis. By 1940 is married to one Lorraine Catherine Boudin who is 22 years his junior and December of 1940 has a son.

I can't judge Ray's behavior but I can with some confidence say that his relationship with Lillian seems to have not been a healthy one at least for her. Perhaps that you could go as far as to say he was responsible for her death if only by neglect. Whatever the cause Lillian paid much too high a price.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Lillian Palma Westrum Keyes Enigma Part One

The definition of the word enigma is as follows:
a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand. It is the only word that I think can be used to describe Lillian Westrum. Her location at any given time is next to impossible to determine save for 4. 

  1. 1. August of 1922 her name shows up in a newspaper article from the town of New Ulm, Minnesota about a "town reunion" dated August 9, 1922. That article lists her address in 1922 as Minneapolis. I kid you not it is the only newspaper article aside from the obituary attached to her photograph that I can find. 
  2. 2.The 1910 census which lists her residing with her mother and biological father in Haywood, Freeborn County, Minnesota. 
  3. 3. The 1920 census which lists her as residing with her biological mother and her stepfather in Hayward, Freeborn, Minnesota. By the way, the census is notorious for making up names, making up birthplace, making up an individuals sex and/or race, and finally for making up towns. I believe Haywood and Hayward are the same place or so the map says in any case. 
  4. Finally, she appears on the 1930 census residing with her husband Ray Keyes in Albert Lea at 509 Park Avenue.  

I can find no high school records, no newspaper articles and let me tell you that attempting to find information on someone of Nordic descent is like trying to walk through a dark room blindfolded without tripping over something.  Lillian's mother was Emma Amelia Kronberg. Her grandfather was Even (Ewen) Olsen Kronberg. Her great-grandfather was Ole Friedland or Frankland. It gets even tougher with her grandmother Sophia Inger Abrahamsdottir Johannesen Johnson. Her maternal great-grandfather is Abraham Johannsen Moesie Johnson. Genealogy is not for the easily frustrated.  So to recap we have Emma or Amelia Kronberg who married Andrew Westrum and bore him 10 children, 5 girls, and 5 boys. Lillian was 3rd from the bottom. Two of her sisters died younger than she Lulu Pearl in 1923 and Inez Verone in 1927. I have no idea what they passed from but Inez was 15 years old and Lulu Pearl was 21. I am sitting in a pile of Norwegians trying to connect the dots and keep track of Lillian. 

I have to admit I thought to try to track French Canadian names was difficult but at least I read, write and speak French. I do not read, write or speak Norwegian and that's a problem because many Lutheran churches in both Wisconsin and Minnesota keep their records in Norwegian. Now for her father's side. Lillian's father was named Andrew Westrum. Andrew's parents were Lars Larsen O Westrum and his wife Karn Karen Mathea Westrum. Great-grandparents are unknown. These folks pretty much came to Wisconsin and Minnesota then parked. Emma Kronberg Westrum was born in Wisconsin but the majority are from Minnesota, Norway, and Sweden. Still with me? 

When you cannot track a persons movements the best way to attempt to determine their locale falls into 3 categories:

  1. 1. Census
  2. 2. Newspaper
  3. 3. School records such as yearbooks.

I've managed 2 out of those three but I learned some interesting things while doing it. Searching the newspapers proved out several theories:

  1. 1. There was a train network that went from New Ulm to Minneapolis and from Minneapolis clear to Chicago with stops in Stevens Point where a spur line ran to New Lisbon Wisconsin. 58 miles southwest of New Lisbon is Soldier's Grove.
  2. 2. Directly between New Lisbon and Wiota lies Reedsburg Wisconsin. Reedsburg is a mere 30 miles south of New Lisbon and was probably serviced by bus.

The odds that Lillian and Agnes were on a train together anytime from Agnes' stint in Soldier's Grove and her tour with Phil Baker are enormous because her mother's family never left Wiota. If there were any visits with family in Wiota they likely would have been on the same train especially since that line terminates in Chicago on one end and Minneapolis on the other. We have established that via rail maps of the period and by attempting to read Norwegian. The other really interesting thing is that Lillian's uncle Ole Evanson Kronberg lived in Chicago. So we have these two women with really enormous odds of being in the same place at the same time over a very long period that being 1922 to 1937. The fact that the train ride from New Ulm to Minneapolis was a little over an hour, found that out by finding an article completely by chance in which is described an automobile accident that left a woman whose last name was Westrum in serious condition. The accident took place outside of Minneapolis and they put her on the train to New Ulm to get medical attention. The train ride according to the newspaper was about an hour and twenty minutes. 

So we have a line that looks like this:
New Ulm to Minneapolis
Minneapolis to New Ulm
Minneapolis to Wiota Wisconsin
Minneapolis to Chicago Illinois
Minneapolis to Albert Lea
Albert Lea to Hayward

This is a finely tuned well-run series of trains and buses. There was even a bus called "The Flying Bus" that was apparently widely known for its rapid rate of speed and lack of long stops. We imagine that because Lillian was from what we perceive as a small town the odds of her ever knowing Agnes are astronomical and that's just not the case. Lillian traveled on her own at least once from Minneapolis to New Ulm because it's documented in a newspaper. With a family spread out along the same lines as the major train system, she could have met Agnes a few hundred times over. I know that we tend to judge travel based on what we know as standard today but in the 20's and 30's trains and buses were the norm and long journeys were viewed as adventures or small breaks from the day to day grind. People dressed up for travel. They conversed with strangers and at least in one instance became extremely close. It was a small world even then. I do believe with a little patience and a quick lesson in Norwegian we will unravel this mystery a small bit at a time.

Monday, October 30, 2017

“What cannot be said will be wept.”

Saturday, October 28, 2017
At 12:26 a.m. on the date listed above something of a miracle occurred and I have Facebook to thank for it. I was sent a messenger request by a lovely individual named James Maxwell. I was not familiar with the name nor will you be, however, in one single message to me this person changed all of our lives in ways I can only imagine. The gist, ironic I know, of the message, was about a photograph and more importantly what was on the back of that photograph. James asked me how familiar I was with Agnes Moorehead's handwriting and my answer was I know it as well as I know my own. I have to admit I was so curious about why my knowledge of her handwriting was being sought out so I read on. He wrote to me the story of the photograph or should I say rather he told me the story of what was on the back of the photograph.

February 13, 1937
A photograph of a woman named Lillian Palma Westrum Keyes was taken at some point before this date and was given as a gift to someone. What makes this date so special you ask? This is the date that Lillian Palma Westrum Keyes took her own life. There is an obituary from a local newspaper glued on the bottom of a letter and above the letter dated February 13. 1937 is another little snippet from a newspaper. But what really makes this letter priceless is the person who composed it. I'll get to that in a minute. The letter is gut-wrenching and actually made me weep when I read it. Anyone who knows me well knows I'm not given to shedding tears easily but this letter broke my heart. Here it is:

"Lillian Keyes"
 And so the days go by, dawn after nights mooned(?). 
And endless futile lie - Time doesn't heal the wound. 
My aching lips can know no rest from your last kiss; The pillowed sanctuary of your breast I miss.
 But more than ecstasy of flesh I miss your soul; Divinely fragile mesh that held us whole! 
And so the days go by. There is no cure; I do not live, I do not die_ 
I just endure.
Lillian was my dearest, sweetest girlfriend I ever knew or had.

October 29, 2017
I began on this date to really scrutinize this letter because, like James, I wanted to be absolutely certain of what I was looking at. I began with the signature. For those who don't know it our handwriting is as fluid as we choose to make it. It can be small and neat one day then wild and loopy the next. But like tells, things that let us know we're being bluffed or things we do absentmindedly, the signature tends to be fairly similar if you have samples taken from the same period of time. I have those samples. Handwriting in the form of signatures on photographs, letters, school books and 1 Christmas card.
As I began looking at the handwriting I zeroed in on the things that have remained constant in Agnes' cursive writing, her odd combination of cursive and printing, writing from the 60's and 70's, and what things I could identify that were consistent.

October 30, 2017
The very first item on the menu is her signature during the 1930's specifically. Before she began to sign large numbers of autograph's Agnes had maintained the same style of handwriting she doubtless learned as a girl. Penmanship was actually a subject taught in schools and you were graded on the shapes as well as the consistency of your handwriting.

Signature 1:
This signature comes from a photo taken about 1931 or 1932:

This signature that contains only the first name is taken from the letter which is dated 1937:

What stands out the most immediately is something you'll only notice if you enlarge the signature. There is always a gap between the Ag and the nes. During this period she did not join her g and her n ever. The second most noticeable thing is the gap at the top of the g and again during this period, it was standard in every signature I've been able to find that is from the 1930's. The third attribute is the shape of the e you'll see that they are pretty much identical. The top signature is signed with a much heavier pen but the main body of the n is nearly identical and while the beginning loop of the n on the lower signature is longer she had a great deal more room and the same is true of the tail of the s. I believe without reservation that these two signatures are from the same person.

The letter D:
The first capital D comes from the a letter written by Agnes in the 1960's:

The second capital D comes from the letter:

Aside from the obvious flourish in the top signature the three D's are unique in shape. They are all nearly identical from the beginning of the D to the bottom drop of the D and if the flourish were added to the tail they would be exactly the same. Given that the first is written as a thank you note to a fan and the bottom in an anguished post-mortem letter the lack of follow through on the tail of the D is understandable.

The small letter m and the small letter y:
The first example is also from the 60's letter:

The second is from the letter:

The interior of the two-letter m's are so similar that it would be highly unlikely that they were not written by the same individual. Again the top is formal and the bottom is not. The lead into the m is longer but the letter flows exactly the same way both ending in the unique pointed second peak. The y's are slanted slightly differently but the loops are very similar and I believe the bottom tail of the y in the 1937 letter does continue across but it is very faded.

The long story short is that this letter was written by Agnes Moorehead. What makes is so unique is the content. 

“Someone, I tell you, in another time will remember us.” 
There is not a single person who has followed the life and career of Agnes Moorehead who has not at one time or another been involved in a discussion about her sexuality. My mind is drawn right back to the interview that author Boze Hadleigh did with Agnes Moorehead where she specifically talks about the emotional level of the love between two women and she says that this kind of love was almost a spiritual experience.

"But more than ecstasy of flesh I miss your soul; Divinely fragile mesh that held us whole!"
That's exactly the sentiment that she communicated to Hadleigh. The connection between two women who loved one another was a joining of the souls a connection across time or distance.

“You came and I was longing for you.
You cooled a heart that burned with desire.” 
What is unclear but is something both James and I are attempting to figure out is how Agnes came to know Lillian. Lillian was from a small town in Minnesota but there are some circumstances in her life that could have afforded more than one opportunity for her to have met Agnes. These are the circumstances:
1. Lillian was married to bandleader Ray Keyes. Keyes fronted a band called Ray Keyes Dixieland Band. While he played primarily, apparently, in the Midwest he may have been on the same circuit as Phil Baker's radio tour which Agnes participated in. Baker's radio shows went all over America and notably landed in two of the larger towns close to Ray Keyes circuit about the same time.
2. Lillian worked in a restaurant in this small town and could have met her at any given time during said tour.
3. Lillian's mother was from Wisconsin and her hometown is about halfway between Reedsburg and Soldier's Grove. Their paths could have crossed at any point during Agnes' parents two separate stays in Reedsburg and it likely would have happened on a journey from Soldier's Grove to Reedsburg.

There are any number of plausible explanations trust me I've lived them. I had a 20-year long relationship with a woman that I met after I came to Arizona. This was someone so far off my beaten trail that if this were me and nobody understood all of the little things that happened in my life to lead me to that relationship there would be no understanding of how I got from Flagstaff to Page from a suburb of Washington D.C. None of us know where Agnes traveled specifically except for those items that made the paper IE Phil Baker's tour or any other number of articles about her going here or there. I have offered 3 viable explanations but it could have just been literally by chance and we will never fully grasp that unless some other document like this comes to light.

What is certain is the level of passion both emotional and physical conveyed in the letter. Another certainty is we know that Agnes had previously written an emotional letter to her sister while grieving her death in 1929. This is what she did when she was emotionally distraught and like the letter to her sister discovered by chance in an old ADA notebook, this too was a letter of grieving for a loved one discovered by chance. 

“Love is a cunning weaver of fantasies and fables.” 
I have no doubt that this letter will bring the trolls and the naysayers out of the woodwork. If you choose not to believe it that is your right and you're welcome to it. I, on the other hand, choose to believe it. Agnes was a beautiful woman what person, male or female, in their right mind could look at her and not fall in love with her. She was ethereal, outrageous, witty, sensual, strong, fragile, talented, opinionated and above all human. This letter is the deepest connection to her real self outside of the letter to her sister and it kicks open a door to reveal a woman who was passionate in every sense of the word. Keep in mind at this point in her life Agnes was young and as we all know we do things in our youth that we would never consider doing as we age. This is the woman whose picture hangs on the wall of my bedroom. This is the woman whose photograph sits next to a picture of my mother on my dresser. What this is not is the caftan-wearing flamboyant woman we watched on the small screen as young people. This woman is human. She's coming down from that castle we've had her in for years and she's showing us that she had a heart and soul as great as the universe. She's showing us that she loved unabashedly. She is showing us her heartbreak and grief. A grief she likely felt twice as strong as it should've been because her sister had committed suicide by poison as well. If she shut down emotionally I guarantee you this would be the reason why. You cannot lose two people whom you love so fiercely to the same thing and not be terrified to open yourself up to love again.  She became so private because she couldn't afford to have any of this come out not if she intended to stay financially independent. She became a series of fantasies and fables. But just look at her now and how stunning she is inside and out! She has finally blossomed for everyone to see.

Lillian Palma Westrum Keyes

Monday, May 1, 2017

All The Russells Neatly In A Row

Just discovered that a picture of Agnes during her divorce proceedings against Jack Lee demonstrates the close knit Hollywood/New York City community.  It's this one:

Unbeknownst to me the woman standing with Agnes in this picture is none other than the baby sister of Rosalind Russell.  Her name is Elizabeth Roberta Russell and her nickname is Lee. She gave testimony on behalf on Agnes testifying to abuse witnessed at the hands of Jack Lee during the divorce trial....small, small world!

Found a snap of this with slightly different point of view in the L.A. Times May 1951 that identifies Elizabeth Russell as a witness on behalf of Agnes.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Twisting Road Continues

Today, while doing genealogy I discovered some interesting newspaper pieces.  For years I wondered how John and Mary could have gone to Reedsburg leaving Peggy behind in St. Louis.  I also wondered why Agnes would travel to St. Louis on hiatus from Muskingum.  Now I know why.

For years the progression of John Moorehead's churches included Hamilton, Ohio and St. Louis as well as Reedsburg and Dayton.  It's not quite as clean cut as all that though. Yes John Moorehead was the pastor of a church in each one of these cities but what isn't commonly known is that Moorehead and his family went back to St Louis after Reedsburg, Wisconsin.  I came across several articles that talked about his services at Carondelet in 1925. Another article that talks about the history of Carondelet stating that John H. Moorehead was pastor of the church from 1924 to 1928.  That means that Peggy moved with her parents from St Louis to Dayton Ohio in the fall of 1928 and would go on to commit suicide approximately 9 months later.

I found another interesting article that talks about Dr. Moorehead preaching the Thanksgiving service on November 21, 1926 at Lindenwood College. I made me wonder if perhaps Peggy may have attended Lindenwood. That's research for another time though.