Sunday, February 19, 2012

Henry Elbert Wright: A Family Renaissance Man!

During my trip to Springfield, Missouri last year, I had the opportunity to interview many relatives and combine that information with multiple visits to the Springfield Green County Public Library for additional research on a number of family lines. One of my most pressing research goals was to learn more about my maternal great grandmother Pearl Davis’ first husband, Henry Elbert Wright (b. 8 Jan 1874, d. 1 Apr 1908). I actually descend from Pearl’s marriage to her second husband, Frank Grover Fisher and am not directly related to Henry Wright. However, he has been a fascinating figure I have wanted to learn more about for years.

In a long overdue visit with two of my first cousins (one time removed), Jim Hurd of Springfield and Ben Hurd of Sparta, Missouri, I was able to get a great background brief on Pearl and both of her husbands. I was particularly fortunate to make a copy an old photo of Henry (above) provided by Ben. The photo was handed down from his mother, Dorothy Evelyn Fisher (b. 10 Aug 1920, d. 19 Jul 2008) who was Frank and Pearl’s youngest child.

Following the discovery of the photo, I shifted my search for additional information on Henry Wright to the Springfield Green County library. Thanks to the expert help of Patti Hobbs at the reference desk, I was able to locate a citation of Henry’s death in an index of Springfield newspapers compiled by William K. Hall. The Hall index is a great source for information on birth, death and marriage announcements covered by Springfield newspapers stretching back to the later decades of the nineteenth century.

It turns out that Henry was a prominent citizen in his day, leaving me to wonder if there was more than an obituary in any of the two local Springfield newspapers following his death. To my surprise, the index led me to a listing of newspaper articles announcing his passing in April of 1908.

The first article I uncovered comes from The Springfield Daily Leader, April 1, 1908, page 2. The microfilm record was badly deteriorated, and very difficult to photocopy. A profile photo was prominently displayed at the top of the news item:

The article following the photo (below) is a challenge to read, but I have included a transcription that follows:

Henry Elbert Wright, well known in Springfield amusement circles, died at a late hour this afternoon at his home near the Prospect avenue and Chestnut street, in the eastern part of the city, as the result of an attack of pneumonia. He was of middle age and left a widow and three children.

No arrangements for the funeral have yet been made.

Mr. Wright was a prominent Republican and Modern Woodman. He ran for the nomination of criminal clerk on the Republican ticket two years ago and at one time was endorsed for a consular appointment under McKinley. He was a leading Modern Woodman and an officer of that lodge here.

At the time Mr. Wright was in a high position with the Springfield Furniture Company. He left that concern to be advertising manager for the Doling Park Summer Theater and was later manager of the Lyric Vaudeville Theater. Last summer he was manager of the vaudeville at the White City.
The second article (below), from the Springfield Republican, dated April 2, 1908 didn’t have a photo, but the microfilm record was in better shape.

Ironically, Henry was a well-known Republican in the area, but the Daily Leader apparently gave his death more coverage than the Springfield Republican. I reviewed several editions of both papers following his date of death, but this is the extent of what I could find.

I also took a trip to the Maplewood Cemetery to locate Henry’s grave, but it turned out I picked a day the cemetery office was closed. To make matters worse, I had no idea where the headstone was. Faced with the daunting task of searching thousands of monuments, my dad and I decided to make one windshield pass through the cemetery to orient ourselves to the grounds then return another day. To our amazement, I spotted the stone just prior to driving off the grounds. Talk about finding a needle in a haystack! Henry must have been calling out. Not only did we locate the headstone, but no sooner than I had taken a few photos (below), it began to rain.

The two newspaper articles were a wonderful find and shed some light on Henry Wright’s life. While research time was limited on my last visit, I look forward to future trips to discover more about Henry’s political and theatrical pursuits and to see if I can uncover additional information about his days in the Modern Woodman organization. It was obviously very important to him and his survivors to have the fraternal organization logo inscribed on his tombstone.

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