Mother Love: The Townsends (Pt 2)

Woman's portrait
Caroline Townsend Comstock                The Los Angeles Times; Sept 20, 1931

Feb. 16, 1921; Santa Barbara, Calif.

When Caroline Townsend Comstock took the phone call from the Chicago Daily News reporter — learning that her grandmother was dead; she had died a year earlier; her mother and sister had buried the body under their backyard geraniums; they had since been arrested; and occult practices were involved — she didn’t scream or hang up the phone. If she was shocked, it was quickly outrun by years of frustration.

Caroline had been married in a bohemian ceremony, at dawn, on the top of a mountain. Her husband designed bookplates and was an expert lepidopterist. They began their married life in an artists’ colony. She knew about choosing a life outside the mainstream. And she also recognized that this was beyond even that.

“I knew something like this would happen,” she said with resignation.

 

Continue reading “Mother Love: The Townsends (Pt 2)”

Mother Love: The Townsends (Pt 1)

February 1921; Chicago

One chill February afternoon in 1921, a call rang into the Englewood police station from a Greek restaurant on 63rd Street. Could they please come remove some patrons who wouldn’t leave? 

Police arrived to find two reluctant customers: Ruth Townsend (61) and her daughter, Marian (26). The pair had just been evicted from their home a few blocks away, at 57th and Stony Island. It was cold outside. They came to this restaurant, where they’d eaten before, because they had nowhere to go and nothing to go with.

Accustomed to handling sympathetic hard-luck cases, the police took the now-homeless women to the Hackett Stevenson Memorial Lodging House, a women’s shelter on South Prairie Ave. They probably thought that was the end of it.

But a week later, on Valentine’s night, the police had reason to return — and they weren’t bringing valentines. The Townsends’ neighbors had watched their eviction take place, and had seen the furniture piled up in the backyard. They also noticed something that was missing from the scene. Rumors began to spread. Eventually one of the neighbors had approached the police to say: Ruth’s elderly mother was living with them. We haven’t seen her since last summer.

The cops wanted answers. Where was Ruth’s 93-year-old mother, Nancy Chamberlain? 

Continue reading “Mother Love: The Townsends (Pt 1)”