Friday, February 06, 2009

What's in a name

I got to wondering after celebrity Britney Spears began her descent into whatever it was she descended into some time ago just how many young mothers cringed when it became obvious they'd named innocent infants after a major case of dysfunction. Chances are, they'd misspelled poor Britney's name as Brittney (do a Google search and you'll get 140 million hits for "Brittney" and only 131 million for "Britney"), but still ...

Parents do the darndest things when naming their young.

Consider some of the greats in my collection of North Iowa names: Mina Bird, Obed Skogerboe, Emmanuel Hogbin, Grover Stover. And the now sadly diminished string of gems popular early in the 20th century: Pearls and Rubys, Jewels and Opals, even the occasional Emerald and Amethyst.

In my own family, I think of Aunt Zella Hockett (left), a pioneering Friends minister in Kansas and Idaho. Born as No. 11 in a string of 12 children to James Wayne and Elizabeth Rachel (Rhea) Clair, her parents seem to have run out of naming options, dipped at random into the Bible and alighted on two, Hannah (rather nice) and Zipporah (daughter of Jethro and wife of Moses; what were they thinking?). Unfortunately, little Hannah Zipporah (1 October 1875-13 January 1951) had many older brothers who promptly started calling her "Zip." Eventually to head off major family unrest a treaty was reached: Hannah Zipporah henceforth was to be called "Zella" and everyone agreed to abide by that.


Still, names can tell us a lot about people, although generally more about their parents (who did the naming) than the fortunate or unfortunate child who got a good name or an appalling one.

Take Deming Jarves Thayer, for example. Poor Deming and his stillborn daughter, Louise, interred in separate locations in the Chariton Cemetery, are the sole human reminders in Chariton of Smith Henderson Mallory, the once great Mallory fortune and its influence on Lucas County. After Smith H. Mallory's 1903 death and the great First National Bank collapse of 1907, Smith Mallory's widow, Annie, and daughter, Jessie (Mallory) Thayer, fled to Florida. In the 1920s, Jessie returned to Chariton briefly and had her father's body disinterred from the Chariton Cemetery and cremated and the magnificent Celtic cross that had marked both his and Deming's graves crated up. Both ashes and cross were shipped to Orlando, Florida, where they may be found to this day. Jessie, however, left her daughter Louise and husband Deming behind, Louise in the Stanton Vault (now vanished) and Deming alone on the Mallory lot.

Deming's name comes up often in relation to what my friend Nick and I refer to optimistically as "the book," a lagging attempt by me to put the Mallorys and their Lucas County era into some sort of written perspective. So I know a good deal, but not enough, about him. I do know where his name came from, however.

Deming, now high and dry in Iowa, was born 3 October 1852 at Sandwich on Cape Cod to Harlow Hooker Thayer and his wife, Mary P. (Nye) Thayer. Harlow Hooker, a name that probably sounds odder now than when it was administered early in the 19th century, was named after an uncle of that name who had married his father's sister. Harlow's parents were Solomon Alden Thayer and Abby (Stutson) Thayer. As you might expect, Solomon Alden Thayer was descended from John Alden.

Abby (Stutson) Thayer was widowed quite young and seems to have bounced around a bit, although she never remarried. Fortunately for the Thayer fortunes, her sister, Anna Smith Stutson, married very well indeed. Anna's husband was Deming Jarves, so now you see where that name on a tombstone in the Chariton Cemetery, Deming Jarves Thayer, came from.

Deming's mother died at Sandwich in 1859, when he was 7, and Harlow became increasingly obscure. But Deming trained to become a civil engineer and for many years his star was in the ascendant. He built railroads in Colombia and served as an engineer for James B. Eads' Tehuantepec Ship Railway project, a proposed alternative to the Panama Canal that would have moved fully loaded ships from Atlantic to Pacific oceans by rail. In the 1880s, returned to the United States after a career in South and Central America, he joined Smith H. Mallory as chief engineer for his rail-building projects in the West.

Deming also married the boss's daughter, Jessie, on 9 June 1886 and was apparently swallowed whole by the Mallory family. He and Jessie had no home other than the Ilion, the Mallory mansion in Chariton, although much of his time well into the 1890s was spent away on rail-building projects in Kansas and Colorado.

Finally, a descent into some sort of madness began. It's tempting to apply 20th and 21st century science to 19th century people and conclude he was a victim of manic depression, but that's not clear. After a burst of violence in a Chicago hotel, he was institutionalized at Mt. Pleasant, then released some months later reportedly "much improved." Sent off immediately to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, to benefit from its healing waters, he shot himself to death while heading home to Chariton aboard a sleeper car rumbling through the night between St. Louis and Burlington overnight June 20-21, 1898. I've sometimes wondered if he simply couldn't bring himself to face those overpowering Mallorys.

So that's how Deming Jarves Thayer came to Chariton and, sadly, stayed there.


Now back to Deming Jarves for a few paragraphs. This is not a name that is widely familiar these days --- unless you are a fan of Sandwich glass. Deming Jarves originated that hugely popular and tremendously expensive collectible.

Deming, a wealthy Boston resident and former agent of the New England Glass Co., founded the Boston & Sandwich Glass Co. at Sandwich with two partners in 1825. The operation he developed there as principal owner and manager became known worldwide for its pressed-glass innovations and the quality of its products. It also became widely known for its benign treatment of company craftsmen and their families.

Perhaps at the behest of Jarves's wife, Anna (Stutson) Jarves, several members of her family came to Sandwich to live and/or work, including her sister, Abby S. (Stutson) Thayer, and nephew, Harlow Hooker Thayer. Harlow acquired and operated for some years a lumber operation founded as part of the Sandwich glass operation. So it must have seemed honorable (and perhaps useful) to Harlow Thayer and his wife, Mary, to name their firstborn in honor of this illustrious great-uncle, Deming Jarves, in 1852.

Deming Jarves got into a fight with the board of the Boston & Sandwich Glass Co. in 1858 and withdrew. With his son, John, he founded the nearby Cape Cod Glass Works which he operated until his death in Boston on 15 April 1869 at the age of 77. John Jarves died a young man, however, and Jarves operations at Sandwich ceased after Deming Jarves' death.

Deming Jarves was buried in Boston's widely renowned Mount Auburn Cemetery, I believe, but his widow --- like his nephew Deming Jarves Thayer --- would find a place of rest far from home. Soon after Jarves' death, Anna (Stutson) Jarves set sail for England to join her daughter, Anna Maria (Jarves) Brewster, then living on the Isle of Wight. She died at Ryde, Isle of Wight, on 19 November 1874 and was buried in its cemetery where she was joined in 1900 by her daughter, Anna Maria; and in 1933, by her grandson, William Brewster.

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