Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Cold (Needle) Case File

I spent quality time at the museum Friday with this bright little item, photographing it and then processing and inserting the images into a digital catalog file. Although the artifact was part of a 1967 accession, as far as I know it's always been in storage --- so tiny it would get lost in a display of multiple items; not significant enough to deserve the type of display that would draw attention to it.

Now, I'm hoping, we can figure a way to show it off.

It's a needle case distributed, when filled with needles, about 1875 by the C.M. Linington & Bro. Co., a Chicago-baased importer and distributor of "novelties, notions and general merchandise." The product line included an array of needles advertised in a small catalog that year.

The case, constructed of heavy red leaterette and with elaborate gold-embossed cover, is similar to one in that catalog described as a "Combination Needle Book & Porte Monnaie." The latter translates as "wallet." The inscription on the cover reads, "Linington's Celebrated Spring Steel Needles. Try Them."

Needles were stored in the tri-fold "book" according to gauge and the "wallet" --- a small pocket --- provided a place for the lady of a house to keep her calling cards, or other small paper items. Whether or not the owner carried the case in her reticule when out and about, I can't say.

I thought it might be fun to figure out how and why this small item, 2x3 inches, landed in the Lucas County Historical Society collection, so a little detective work was in order.


Still tucked into the pocket of the little case after all these years are two hand-written calling cards with clipped corners bearing the name "Mrs. G.W. Dungan." That probably tells us who the original owner of the case was.

Nancy (Ferris) Dungan arrived in Chariton from Knoxville with her husband, George W., and children at some point between 1860 and 1870. His occupation was given as "horticulturist" in the 1870 census, but we don't know too much about him, other than the fact he died at age of 66, during 1876, and was buried in the Chariton Cemetery. The family was native to Beaver County, Pennsylvania.

Nancy outlived George by many years --- until 1901. She left five surviving children, but only one daughter --- Mary --- who may have held onto the case as a memento of her mother. Mary also was the only Dungan child who lived out her life in Chariton.


Mary, born during 1851 in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, was educated in Chariton and at a "female academy," probably affiliated with what now is Iowa Wesleyan University, in Mount Pleasant. She taught school prior to her marriage during 1875 to Channing Smith, some eight years older and a veteran of the Civil War, who had arrived in Chariton from New York immediately after the war.

The Smiths had two children, both of whom died as infants. Channing worked many years as a clerk in the G.W. Blake & Co. hardware store, then as secretary and treasurer of the Chariton Telephone Co. and as Chariton city treasurer. He died during 1921, leaving Mary alone in their home on South Eighth Street.

Mary Smith lived on for many years, dying at age 94 on October 17, 1946, although she was not well during her final years.

Her only family in Chariton consisted of distant cousins, the daughters of pioneer Chariton attorney Warren S. Dungan.

Warren and George W. Dungan, both native to Beaver County, Pennsylvania, shared great-grandparents, James and Rebecca (Wells) Dungan, and it may have been on Warren's recommendation that George brought his family to Chariton in the first place.

Warren's daughter, Myra, an educator, was the only one of his daughters to live all her life in Chariton and she and Mary Smith were close friends. As Mary's health failed, Myra took her under her wing, and upon Mary's death, the personal belongings of both Channing and Mary --- including most likely the needle case --- fell into Myra's hands.


Myra, born in Chariton during 1871, was a lifelong educator --- one of seven children. Her only brother, Fayette, who never married, was a newspaperman who died at age 35 in Chicago; All of her sisters (except one who died as an infant) became school teachers, too, although Effie May, Minnie Warren, and Mary Edna taught in Minneapolis. Myrtle, married to Francis Marion Hunter, lived in Minneapolis, too. None of the Dungan children produced children and so when they passed, this branch of the family dead-ended.

When Edna retired from teaching in Minneapolis she moved home to Chariton to share the family home with her sister, Myra. Edna had had a try at marriage, tying the knot with Joseph B. Culbertson in Chariton during 1903 --- but that relationship had ended before long in divorce.

Myra Dungan died during 1966, also age 94, and the weight of the Dungan belongings, including the needle case, fell upon the shoulders of the only surviving sister, Edna.

The Lucas County Historical Society had been formed during 1965 and was actively soliciting family related memorabilia from residents at the time Myra died. Edna was aging and, wishing to downsize, donated an amazing variety of the family's personal belongings --- including many items related to Mary and Channing Smith --- during 1967 to the society. The needle case was part of that accession, and has been in the collection ever since.

Edna was the longest-surviving member of the family, passing during January of 1975 at the age of 100. Her burial was last on the family lot --- all of the children's graves there are marked by simple marble headstones bearing only their given names --- and that was the end of the family line.

1 comment:

Jack Williamson said...

Frank - very interesting article as I wonder if Channing Smith was a brother of Clarence Smith who was my Great Uncle. He married my Grandmother's sister, Leona Howard, lived on North Main across from the Catholic Church, they never had any children, and both buried in the Chariton cemetery. Uncle Clarence sorted mail on the South Branch train from Chariton to St. Joseph for the latter part of his life. I know nothing about his early life or family. The coincidence of the last name and both first names beginning with "C" caught my attention.