Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Carrie and Romeyn

Wedding photo of
Carolyn and Romeyn Ogle,
circa 1905
My dad was still in the service, most likely in Manila, when he got the news on Sept. 22, 1946 that his mother had been struck and killed by a car in his hometown of Butte, Montana. After four years, Tom Romeyn Ogle was only weeks from being discharged from the U.S. Naval Air Corps. His urgent request for leave to attend his mother’s funeral was denied. After tending to wounded and dying soldiers for four years as a medical officer in makeshift jungle hospitals in Southeast Asia, my dad was unable to watch his mother’s body laid to rest in a cemetery but a mile or two from where he was born.
Last week I located the very street corner where my grandmother, Bertha Carolyn Ogle, was struck 65 years ago. Most of the dignified brick and stone buildings at the corner of Broadway and Main predate her death. Standing where she likely had stood, it was easy for me to imagine how the accident might have unfolded. It was 6 p.m., about the time of day she was hit by a driver headed due west with the sun in his eyes. In the inquest that followed, the driver (who happened to be a neighbor) testified that he didn’t see her step from the curb. He was booked on a charge of reckless driving, but was later acquitted. Witnesses reported that Carrie, as she was known to friends and family, might have been crossing against the red light.
Carrie Ogle
shortly before her death
at age 64
Practically a ghost town today, “uptown” Butte in the ‘40s would have been bustling with people and vehicles. My grandmother, who at age 64 was both small and frail, was apparently on her way from her one-bedroom apartment to a restaurant for dinner. A crowd would undoubtedly have gathered quickly over her as she lay grievously injured on the street. It was the man who hit her who took her to the hospital a few blocks away. She died about two and a half hours later from internal bleeding.
Carrie’s husband (and my grandfather), Romeyn Tice Ogle, was not present at her death. He was most likely out in the mountains that surround Butte on one of his frequent forays to prospect for gold and other precious metals. He didn’t learn of Carrie’s death until the next day. Romeyn never remarried and lived out his days in the Pennsylvania Block, a residence hotel three blocks from the corner of Broadway and Main. He liked to play cards, have a beer or two with friends, and ate practically every dinner with one of his three adult daughters who lived across town. As for my dad, he immediately went to work as a drug rep for Squibb once back on American soil. He never lived in Butte again.
Romeyn and me
I stopped for a day in Butte while I was in Montana last week just to see what I could learn about my grandparents. I was 9 when Romeyn died, so I barely remember him. What I lack in personal knowledge was more than compensated for by what I learned in the city-county public archives, and in conversations over two days with a cousin who is nine years older than me. As a boy, Bud went hunting and fishing with Romeyn, and heard many of his yarns. By the time granddad died at 87, he likely knew the scrubby countryside within a 20-mile radius of Butte as well as any man alive. He staked mining claims everywhere he went. And he died practically penniless. Butte might have been known as “the richest hill on earth,” but that wealth never made its way into Romeyn’s pockets. He was a dreamer and a drifter, a lousy husband and father, but one of those characters on which a book could be written.
For now, this blog post will have to suffice. I barely scratched the surface of my family’s history while in Butte, and with my dad and his sisters all dead, everything I learn from here on out will be at least second-hand. It’s good to know a little of where I come from as it helps to explain some of who I am. I regret that my dad was not a loquacious man—unlike his sisters—and by the time I was old enough to want to know his story, he was too deep into Alzheimer’s to remember. So I’m left with only fragments of my history, such as the events surrounding the sad demise of Carrie Ogle on a busy intersection on a bright September afternoon.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Great stories. Romeyn outdoes my grandfather's name: Rufus Choate Wagner. (named for the 19th century U.S. senator)