Friday, September 24, 2021

Chariton Cemetery Tour 5: Mae Glenn Gasser

Leslie Goldsmith (above) closed  Sunday's 17th annual Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour --- "The Lady in the Iron Fence and Her Neighborhood" --- with a portrayal of Mae Glenn Gasser (1884-1969), among Chariton's most widely acquainted residents during a lifetime that began a half block east of the southeast corner of the town square and ended in the same location, 85 years later.

The annual event is a project of the Chariton Historic Preservation Commission, composed this year of Alyse Hunter, Melody Wilson, Florence Heacock, Dave Edwards and Frank Myers.

Mary Finley (Alicia McGee), reinterred in the cemetery soon after it was established in 1864, was first on the program. She's the "lady in the iron fence." You'll find the script of her presentation here. Deming Jarves Thayer, second on the program, was portrayed by Blake Yocom. His script is here. Mike Miller portrayed adventurer Charley Rose. And Booker T. Richmond's story is here. Those portrayed appeared in the order of their deaths. 

We're grateful to this year's excellent portrayers, everyone who attended Sunday afternoon and to City Manager Laura Liegois and other city staff who helped with such details as getting folding chairs to and from the site of the program. And of course we're grateful to those who do such a good job of maintaining the cemetery that serves as a backdrop. Here's Mrs. Gasser's script:


When asked to talk about my life this afternoon, I offered to sing. I had been the soloist at 1,250 funerals in Chariton by the time I passed during 1969, age 85, so thought that appropriate. But the organizers of this event thought otherwise, so instead I will tell you a few things about my life, including one or two rarely discussed.

My name is Mae Glenn Gasser and I was described, when I died, as the last of Chariton’s grande dames --- not haughty or affected, but known and respected by all.

If you wonder how I knew the number of solos I’d sung, I kept track of such things --- in a daily diary for much of my adult life. Those diaries are long gone, however, because I asked my attorney, Virgil Meyer, to destroy them upon my death --- and he complied, with one exception. The surviving diary along with the diaries of my father, Henry Glenn, now are in the Lucas County Historical Society collection along with a considerable number of my personal belongings. I was the last of my family.


My parents were Henry Shannon and Maria Glenn, Pennsylvania natives who wed during February of 1866 in Greenville, that state. My father was an honored veteran of the Civil War and a blacksmith by trade.

During May of 1869, looking for a place in the West to settle, Father passed through southern Iowa by train, stopping in Chariton for a brief breakfast break. Rather than eating, he took the opportunity to survey the town and was immediately offered a job in the blacksmith shop then located on the site of what now is a city parking lot on South Grand Street a quarter block south of the square. He accepted the job, the train continued west without him and my mother joined him here soon thereafter.

My parents’ first home was a simple one-story frame house a half block east of the southeast corner of the square, handily just across the alley from the back of the blacksmith shop, which my father purchased during late 1870. He enlarged the shop into a substantial two-story frame building and began to manufacture wagons and buggies there, building a reputation as one of the finest craftsmen in the region.

Although it often was assumed in later years that I was an only child, that was not the case. My three older siblings all died young of various childhood afflictions before I was born. Emma was born during 1872 and died during 1875, age 3; my little brother Friend, born in 1877, also died at age 3; and little Lucius, born in 1880, was only a year old when he died. They are buried in a row just over there on the family lot.

This meant that I was doubly precious when I entered this world on June 24, 1884.

My birthplace was the house my parents had moved into in 1869, but a fine new two-story home was built on the same lot when I was one year old. This was a showplace --- not that there weren’t other fine homes in Chariton, but this was in the most prominent location, now 810 East Court Avenue, the site of an apartment complex.

This was a wonderful home --- a curved walnut stair leading upwards from the front hall; front and back parlors and a dining room connected by pocket doors to the west, a bed-sitting room and kitchen on the ground floor to the east. Upstairs, there was a fully plumbed bathroom with marble sink; downstairs, a marble mantlepiece in the back parlor; and in the basement, a massive Richardson & Boynton Co. hot air furnace that warmed the entire structure.

I grew up in this grand old house, married from it or in it three times, lived there all my life and finally died there.

Our church, First Baptist, was just a half block southwest on South Grand Street and I was among its most loyal members all of my life --- singing in the choir into my 80s, nearly 70 years. Many of my most intimate friends, including Jennie Yocom, who worked in tandem with her husband, Dr. Albert, at Yocom Hospital, just a block northeast of my home.

Although I graduated from Chariton High School, I had fallen under the spell of a young man named Harry Yost, employed as a salesman. He was just 18 and I was only 17 at the time, but we were determined to marry, even though our parents advised against it. My parents acquiesced and our wedding at First Baptist Church on Sept. 4, 1901, was described in Chariton newspapers as “the social event of the season.”

We moved in with my parents and their caution soon proved to be well founded. Four years later I was obliged to divorce Mr. Yost. To discuss the details would be indelicate, but the reason was scriptural. I reclaimed my family name and rarely discussed this unfortunate alliance thereafter.


My father died during July of 1905 and during July of the following year I married again --- to the love of my life, Ernest Gasser, by trade a pharmacist. Some 10 years my senior, he provided the stability that I needed, and was happy to join my church and move into my family home with my widowed mother and myself. Mother died 10 years later, during March of 1915, and after that we had the home to ourselves.

Although we had no children, our lives were happy ones. I was a woman of independent means, but Ernest made a good living. We were progressive, doing our best to keep up with the latest innovations. Shortly after our marriage, for example, I bought Chariton’s first electric washing machine.

In addition to positions of prominence in our church, he was a long-time member of the Chariton Fire Department and both of us were active in Masonic organizations.

But after 18 years of marriage, Ernest suffered a fatal heart attack on June 18, 1934, and I was left alone in that big house again.

Although I really didn’t need the income, I then decided to rent out the upstairs as an apartment and that was how I met Lucille David, who moved to Chariton from Chicago in 1939 as secretary and stenographer to architect William Lee Perkins, then heading a national organization of architects. We became good friends and I frequently referred to her as “my little girl.” Lucille married Cleo Judd during 1943 and moved out, but our friendship lasted until my death.

During February of 1943, I decided to give marriage another chance, choosing for my groom Frank Patterson, a fellow member of First Baptist Church and someone I had known for years. His first wife had died during 1939. We made our home in my house and were quite content there until he suffered a fatal heart attack during December of 1949, leaving me a widow once again.

Although I had been known as Mrs. Frank Patterson during our marriage, I had not changed my surname on any official documents, so reclaimed the name Mae Glenn Gasser and was known as such for the remainder of my life.

I remained active and independent until death claimed me at home on Nov. 15, 1969, at the age of 85. I had named First Baptist Church as my principal beneficiary, so everything was sold after that.

For a time, various people tried to use my former home as a business location, but in 1983 the lot on which it stood was sold as the site for the apartment complex now on the site. My lovely old home was dismantled and many of its fixtures and fine woodwork sold at a salvage sale during 1984.

There’s little left, other than at the historical society, to remember me by. So I have appreciated your attention this afternoon. It’s been good to have an audience again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Such well written scripts, they seem really to have been written by the individuals protrayed. Thanks for posting