Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sepia Saturday: The Woman at the Top of the Stairs

When I was young, 
a hand-colored portrait of this woman
hung at the top of the stairs
at my paternal grandparents' house.

She looked so stern she always scared the peewadden out of me.
That might not be a word, but you get the idea.

Her name was Mary Jane Bliss, nee Mary Jane Butt.
She was the daughter of Leonard Butt and Maria Weedman.
She was born in 1845 married Sylvester Lyman Bliss 
in Perry County, Indiana on August 14, 1861.
Mary Jane managed to bear two children in short succession,
my great-grandmother Eliza Jane and her brother John,
before Sylvester answered the call of the bugle in September 1864.

Sylvester mustered out in June 1865 and died in December 1865,
presumably of something war-related.
Mary Jane became a very young widow.
And unlike most periods during American history
in which young widows swiftly remarried,
the Civil War snuffed out huge numbers of potential suitors.

She got a small widow's pension
(and I think the ribbon bow on her bodice 
evidences her status as a war widow),
but she mostly lived with relatives for the rest of her life.
In 1870, she was living with a cousin. his family,
 and miscellaneous kin.
In 1880, she and the children lived with her maternal uncle.
The 1890 Census was destroyed, so I don't know where she lived
then, but by 1910 she's in Snohomish County, Washington
with her daughter and son-in-law Eliza and Benjamin Rosencrans.

She later moved with them to Hillsboro, Oregon
where she died on April 12, 1923.
She actually outlived her daughter Eliza by about 14 months.

One of Eliza and Benjamin's grandchildren, Don McLaren
lived for a time with his grandparents when his great-grandmother
Mary Jane Butt Bliss was still alive.
He recounted that she was a pint-sized woman
with a foul mouth and a penchant for smoking a corn-cob pipe.
He said she didn't want the little ones to know she smoked,
so if they came into the room, she'd stuff the lit pipe
in the pocket of her apron.
But they always knew that great-granny was at it again,
because they could see smoke wafting from the apron pocket.

  Wouldn't it be fun to talk to her
and hear the story of her life?
I'd like to be able to ask her about her father's people
and what her parents and grandparents were like.

For more Sepia Saturday fun,
click HERE.


Elisabeth said...

This is a fascinating story, Meri. So much history, so many complex lines, and intertwining.

I had to read the word 'peewadden' twice. It made sense to me only as an expression, like so much fear your wee literally ran out of you, a frightened little girl. Then I read her full name and wondered, did you unconsciously invent the adverb out of that name.


Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

What an interesting woman! You have clearly done a lot of research into your ancestry. Did you use one of the websites for that purpose? I keep intending to do this - but I just never seem to carve out the time. I have one grandmother who died in childbirth that I particularly want to know more about ... Thanks for the inspiration to stop procrastinating. I have so enjoyed your posts about your relatives.

Vicki Lane said...

Love the thought of the corncob pipe smouldering away in the pocket!

Liza said...

the intensity in those eyes.
the smoldering pocket.
i love it!
thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

It's fun to see old photos and the stories behind them. You have quite a lot of info on her so that is nice to pass down. :O)

Barry said...

You can see the character in that photo, especially around the eyes.

And what a name!

Betsy said...

I think you've coined your own word there with 'peewadden'. LOL!

The smoking apron pocket cracked me up! ha. ..funny that she even bothered to hide it since it was obvious. She does look like someone you wouldn't want to mess with. I bet the grandkids behaved when she was around!

willow said...

I have a similar stern, hand colored photo of my ggg grandmother hanging in the hallway of the manor. My kids are scared of it, to this day!

Martin H. said...

To think that Mary Jane was a war widow during the Civil War. She must have had some stories to tell.

Christine H. said...

At first glance she looks a little hard and mean, but really her face is just full of sorrow. I like the story about the corncob pipe...and the peewadden.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

she would have scared the bejesus out of me too had I come across mary jane's face as a child.... peewadden, that's a good one.

Anonymous said...

Hi Meri, thanks for dropping by. I so love this SS, but it takes me a few days to get around. I have several pictures similar to this one. Some I know who they are and about them and some I don't know. I am an avid genealogist and search Ancestry. Com for pictures when doing genealogy. I love your writing style. Blessings

Pat transplanted to MN said...

"a foul mouth and a penchant for smoking a corn-cob pipe" very funny! And I can imagine the smoke going up from her apron. Do you suppose she was the originator of Hot Pockets? Interesting post tracing her steps!

LadyCat said...

I like her name...Mary Jane Bliss...much better than Butt. She looks lkie a woman of strong character and I'm sure she endured much in her lifetime.

Barbara said...

She looks like an interesting woman who lived a pretty hard life. It couldn't have been easy living with all those different relatives.
Peewadden Bliss Butt would be a good name for an English butler in a mystery novel.

lettuce said...

thats a great story about the smoking - what a character.

peewadden is a good word!

steven said...

meri such a great story!! i wish it were possible to have my long flown away relatives come back and let me unpack their stories. the wealth the riches the shocking truths!!!! steven

Kathryn Magendie said...

I love that - that she was a pipe smoking cussing woman *laugh* ... :) Yes, would be so interesting to talk to her!

Anonymous said...

This is so fascinating.
I have my great grandmother's date book of birthdays and anniversaries and study it with great interest.
So good for people not to vanish entirely.

Alan Burnett said...

I note that a number of people who have left comments have used the word "fascinating" about your post. I can't think of a better description - that mixture of images and words just draws the reader in. Great post.

Delwyn said...

Hi Meri

What a character and to go from a Butt to a Bliss...but she still looks very stern and serious...

Happy days