In 1915, a dozen eggs cost about 34 cents, a gallon of milk was 18 cents, and that pound of coffee you’d pay 8 to 10 dollars for today cost just 30 cents. Dedicated gas stations were a new phenomenon and gas was sold mostly as a side-business by drug stores. Canned beer had not yet been invented and the Star Spangled Banner had not yet been officially adopted as our national anthem. As different as life was in 1915, some things were much the same as today.
Take the story of my great grandfather Simon Elliott. All of the Elliotts were hellraisers I’m told, and Simon was no exception. When he saw the opportunity to get “friendly” with a lady, he wasn’t about to let a little thing like her marital status get in the way. In this particular instance however, he would find himself hauled in front of a judge, forced to publicly testify about things he would have rather kept to himself, I’m sure.
From the Wilmington News Journal, Wilmington, Delaware, May 11th, 1915:
Entertaining story, right? Better still if we break it down, line-by-line, to the parlance of modern day. Let’s start at the beginning.
In the City Court today the court vacated the order made a short time ago on George L. Thompson, which required him to pay $2.50 a week toward the support of his wife.
At some point earlier, Mrs. Thompson had her husband, George L. Thompson, hauled before the court on a charge of non-support, the court agreed and ordered Mr. Thompson to pay $2.50/week in spousal support. It doesn’t seem like a lot of money in today’s terms ($2.50 per week is $130 per year) but consider the average American’s per capita annual income in 1915 was $300 to $400, it would be like giving up 15 or 20-thousand dollars per year by current standards.
Somehow Mr. Thompson got wind that Mrs. Thompson had been fooling around with my Great Grandfather, Simon Elliott, and asked the court to reconsider the order. Simon was called to testify.
Simon E. Elliott testified that he had been friendly with Mrs. Thompson.
The word “friendly” should be in quotation marks there, because when Mr. Elliott said he was friendly with her, he really meant, “Yes sir, I banged her.” Next, a hotel clerk was called to testify.
Leonard Behringer, a hotel clerk, was called to support testimony along this line, and while he said he had seen a woman with Elliott at the hotel where he was employed, he could not identify her as Mrs. Thompson.
I like to imagine this like something out of a movie. Mr. Behringer was at work one night when my Great Grandpa and Mrs. Thompson came in looking to rent a room. Maybe they’d had a few drinks, caused a commotion, or did something that was just memorable enough that, when asked later, Mr. Behringer said “Yes, I remember him coming in with a woman, but I can’t be certain it was her.”
So, then the court asked Simon, “Mr. Elliott, was it Mrs. Thompson who was with you at the hotel on the night of March 5th?”
Elliott declared that Mrs. Thompson was with him at the hotel referred to on March 5th.
Simon said, “Yeah it was her.” It’s starting to look grim for Mrs. Thompson, isn’t it?
Mrs. Thompson entered an emphatic denial, though she admitted having walked with Elliott in Brandywine Park.
She entered an emphatic denial. She stood up and yelled, “You LIAR! We just went for a walk in Brandywine Park!” Or at least that’s how I like to imagine it happened. The judge rapped his gavel, restored order in the court, and Mr. Thompson’s attorney called his final witness.
Elliott’s wife, who does not live with her husband, said Mrs. Thompson admitted to her that she was friendly with Elliott.
My Great Grandfather’s wife, from whom he was separated, said Mrs. Thompson admitted she had been getting freaky with Simon.
With facts established and Mrs. Thompson’s infidelity no longer in doubt, the support order was canceled and everybody went on their way. I’m sure they were all very happy to have their dirty laundry aired in open court and published in the newspaper. If you’ve been reading this story from the beginning, you understand why I wasn’t surprised to find a tale like this in my family tree. Maybe I also shouldn’t be surprised that this philandering gentleman would father a drunk who would beat his wife and then commit suicide when faced with the consequences and another son who would be found murdered in a ditch (a story we’ll get to in a future post).