04 November 2011

Tribune Tuesdays Follow-Up: Death Stopped Wedding

I posted earlier this week a Tribune Tuesday story about Alice Atwood, whose fiancee died just three days before their scheduled wedding in 1904. A few people mentioned in comments and emails how sad and haunting the story was, and most wondered what the rest of Alice's life was like.

Well, I did too, so I set off to find out!

Now, what follows here is a mash-up of what I've been able to find online, so I haven't gone and ordered any records or consulted anything in person, however, I think I've been pretty successful in finding out about Alice's life.

Armed with the knowledge that Alice Atwood was living in Oakland in 1904, and was the daughter of E. N. Atwood, I started out checking Alameda county voter registrations to see if I could establish her father's first name. I was able to locate an Edward C. Atwood, but nothing more. Searches of directories turned up blank.

I had my first big clue when I went back to the noblest source of all (NEWSPAPERS!) and found this item in the Oakland Tribune, 30 June 1907:
The marriage of Miss Alice Atwood and John Madison Walthal was quietly solemnized last Tuesday at Trinity Episcopal Church. The ceremony was performed by the Rev. John Bakewell. There were no attendants and only the immediate relatives of the couple attended the wedding.
The bride has won many friends by her gracious personality and attractive manner. She is popular in society about the bay.
Walthal is a graduate of the State University and is prominent in politics, holding the office of District Attorney in Modesto.
After a honeymoon trip Mr. and Mrs. Walthal will make their home in Modesto.
Now, nothing here corroborated that this was the same Alice Atwood, but I found it peculiar that two likely young people would celebrate a wedding in so restrained a fashion--particularly when the society pages were overflowing with details about the elaborate (and costly... and large) weddings that seemed to typify the time. If this were the same Alice Atwood, it seemed to me, the muted nature of the 1907 wedding would have happened out of a sense of respect and sorrow over the death of her first intended.

With this information, I looked up Alice and her husband in the 1910 US Federal Census. I found a listing in Modesto for a "Mathew L. Walthall" and his wife, Alice A. Walthall, who was born in Maine. Although the name for the groom was off, this seemed likely to be the right household. In 1920, in Modesto, Stanislaus, California, I found this:

Walthall, John M., 48, California, Attorney
Walthall, Alice A., 35, Maine
Walthall, Sidney, 8, California
Atwood, Elizabeth, SIL, 32, Maine

It seemed clear I had identified the Alice and John who were married in Oakland, and I now had a name of one of Alice's siblings: Elizabeth. Taking this under advisement, I jumped back in time to see if I could identify Alice in the 1900 census, and get a fairer idea if this was the correct woman.

In the 1900 Federal Census for Lake Valley, El Dorado, California, I found the following clincher:
Edward Atwood, 38, Maine
Alice Atwood, 16, Maine
Bessie Atwood, 14, Maine
Lillian Atwood, 13, Maine
George Whitefield, 25, England (Physician)
Remember, of course, that the name of Alice's intended that had passed away in Los Angeles was named Dr. Whitfield [sic], a physician from England. The same, it appears, was enumerated along with the family in 1900, as a visitor! There's Alice, born in Maine abt. 1884, and her sister Elizabeth from the 1920 enumeration, born in Maine about 1886.  Why were they in Lake Valley in El Dorado county? My best guess is that, as the census was performed in June, the family and guest were enjoying themselves in Lake Valley--perched on the beautiful southern shore of Lake Tahoe.

Feeling sure that I had found "our Alice," I moved forward to find out more about her life after her marriage to J. M. Walthall. And, by all apparencies, it seems to have been a good one.

Firstly, Mr. Walthall wasn't a shabby looker, as you can see by a portrait of him in the History of the Bench and Bar of California, 1901:


And, according to a passport application Mr. Walthall filed in 1908, he stood at 6'3" tall... the perfect imposing height for a man working as an attorney-at-law. 

This same passport application revealed Alice's birthplace and birthdate, including the lines "accompanied by my wife, Alice A. Walthall, born at Portland, Maine, on the 17th of September, 1883..." The couple, it seems, travelled abroad for a bit in 1908, returning to New York City from Liverpool, England on 16 September 1908 aboard the ship Etruria. I couldn't help but wonder: did she visit Dr. Whitefield's home and family while she was there?

The 1921 History of Stanislaus County included the following information on John Madison Walthall and his wife, Alice Norton Atwood:
At Oakland, on June 25, 1907, Mr. Walthall married Miss Alice N. Atwood, a native of Portland, Me., daughter of Edward N. and Emma Atwood. Mrs. Walthall's grandfather was an analytical chemist and discovered a process to make kerosene out of a liquid found in Lake Trinidad ; but about the same time oil was discovered in Pennsylvania, and John D. Rockefeller put the scientist out of business before he had really begun to accomplish his aim. Afterward, Edward N. Atwood was employed by Mr. Rockefeller as an assistant to Henry Rogers in the Philadelphia office of the Standard Oil Company; and when his health broke, he settled in Oakland, where he became general western manager for a large Eastern life insurance company. And in Oakland, in October, 1909, he passed away, esteemed by all men. 
Mrs. Walthall went to college, and also attended the Convent of the Holy Names in Oakland, receiving there that finish to an education and culture which have always been recognized as among her real accomplishments. Mr. and Mrs. Walthall have one daughter, Sidney, nine years of age, a bright pupil in Modesto grammar school.
 The "E. N. Atwood" who was mentioned in the 1904 article turns out to be Edward N. Atwood, and Miss Alice Atwood turns out to be a rather accomplished and educated lady in her own right.

The Modesto papers on which I did a general search turned up a number of tidbits about the Walthall family, featuring, as they did, prominently on the society pages. They hosted bridge clubs, and summered in their cabin on Pinecrest Lake in the Stanislaus National Forest. Life, it seemed, was pretty good, at least until J. M. Walthall died on October 6th, 1933.

Her daughter, Sidney, didn't turn out to be a slouch, either, if one can judge by her interesting and heartfelt obituary posted on SFGate.

Sidney's obituary mentions that in 1938, "after the Japanese surrounded Peking," she left China with her young son and went " to her mother's home in Alameda, California." The obituary also notes that Alice's middle name was Norton... a few more details that might help track down Alice's final years.

So what happened to Alice after her husband's death? 

I lost the thread on Ancestry and other sites, so decided to do a general Google search on "Alice Walthall" +Alameda. What I found was a cemetery survey for Mountain View Cemetery, listing what seems to be a burial for "Alice A. Walthall Peck," born 1883, died 1976. The plot was shared with a Lillian Peck, and Elizabeth Atwood as buried in the plot. 

Had Alice remarried?

My first stop to investigate the new information was the California Death Index, where, sure enough, there was listed an Alice W. Peck, born 17 September 1883 in Maine, died 15 January 1976 in Alameda. 

It seemed apparent that Alice, after her husband's death in 1933, had remarried.

Diving back into the newspapers, I located a 30 July 1937 Oakland Tribune article about growing tensions in "Peiping" and some of the Bay Area residents who were living in China at the time. Mentioned was Sidney Walthall Lismer, along with a picture and a note that Mrs. Lismer was "a niece of Elizabeth Atwood and Arthur Peck of Alameda."

Did Alice marry an Arthur Peck?

A death notice from the 13th December 1934 issue of The Oakland Tribune provided another interesting twist to the mystery:
PECK- In Alameda, December 12, 1934, Lillian Atwood Peck, loving wife of Arthur Preston Peck, mother of Alison Preston Peck, and Norton Atwood Peck, sister of Mrs. Alice A. Walthall, and Miss Elizabeth Atwood, aunt of Sidney Walthall; a native of Maine, aged 48 years. [Interment Mountain View Cemetery]

So, it appears that it was actually Alice's sister Lillian who married Arthur Peck, and perhaps not Alice at all. So what to do with the information we have and how can we reconcile it?

Without having seen a photo of the gravesite enumerated in the Mountain View Cemetery, I can imagine that there is a large plot headstone with the name "Peck" engraved on it, then listings of the individuals buried in the plot, which include Lillian's two sisters, the maiden Bessie Atwood and Alice Walthal. Thus, in the course of the gravesite listing, Alice may have been listed as a Peck.

How to explain, though, the question of the California Death Index's entry for an Alice W. Peck, with the same birthdate and place as our Alice? Did Alice coincidentally marry a man by the name of Peck? Or perhaps an in-law of her sisters? Or did she marry her dead sister's husband? Or is this an error in indexing or record creation? Of course, the mystery may be solved by ordering the actual certificate... but since I probably won't be dropping the $14 for it,  I guess this mystery will have to stand for now!

Overall, I think this afternoon-long exercise in online resources offers a good glimpse of poor Alice Atwood's life after the tragic death of her young husband-to-be, George Whitefield. Her descendants--through her daughter Sidney and her son Peter--still live in the Bay Area, and who knows... they may even run across this blog entry! Should they turn up, I can only say: what a wonderful family story.


Nancy said...

I'm amazed that you spent an afternoon and found all this information. The internet is certainly making things easier for us. This was a really interesting story. Thanks for sharing the research an the outcome.

pete-lismer said...

I too am quite interested in what you have posted. I would like to talk about your research. Please contact me via the internet. I am Peter Walthall Lismer and my mother was Sidney Walthall Lismer. My Grandmother was Alice Walthall Peck. There are a few minor errors in what you posted but most was correct.

Petel said...

Jennifer. I am Peter Walthall Lismer and you have done quite a good job of describing my Grandmother Alice's life. I take my hat off to you. There are a few small changes but all in all it is pretty close to her story. My wife and I live in San Leandro, Ca and would be happy to discuss the Walthall-Lismer clan. Thank you for your "story."

Petel said...

Thank you for your information about my Mother and Grandmother. My wife and I still live in the area and we have answers to your questions about Alice and her life in California as well as my mother Sidney. Feel free to call me if you want more information.
Peter Walthall Lismer