Deep-dive genealogy and history research, with Chicago connections.
Author: Ms. Snoop
I was lucky to be born into a family of genealogists, and to be gifted a family tree already bristling with names.
Along the way, other names have somehow found me.
My job is to listen to their stories.
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.
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?
Lady Bledzo failed to make her two court appearances on Nov. 7, 1927, and seemingly vanished. There were a few casual mentions in newspaper articles reminiscing about her ex-boyfriend, Yellow Kid Weil, but never again was in she in the news for herself, and never again under that name.
It was her curious name that drew me to this story in the first place, and its disappearance convinced me that I could never know her true ending. What I had seen of her life didn’t promise a good finish. I resigned myself to the idea that she probably died somewhere seedy, unknown and alone.
Some weeks ago, I was tagged on Twitter, in a question about design and COVID-19 and the future. Design is another interest of mine — in particular, design as a force for answering questions and making choices. And since I tend to frame things within historical contexts, I’ve been turning it all over in my head since then.