A collection of bicentennial biographies from Chautauqua County, N.Y. featuring Alfreda Locke Irwin (Dunkirk, Chautauqua), Forrest Crissey (Stockton), Charles L. Webster (Charlotte, Fredonia) , Howard Ehmke (Silver Creek), John Owen (Carroll). Originally broadcast on local radio stations July 11 – July 15, 2011.
No. 131 – Alfreda Irwin
Alfreda Locke Irwin was born in Dunkirk on March 16, 1913, the daughter of Methodist minister Rev. Alfred C. and Nellie Hess Locke. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1933, with a degree in English and journalism, and continued as an English graduate assistant in 1934. In October 1935 she married attorney Forest B. Irwin and settled in Franklin, Pa., to raise their family of one son and five daughters.
Alfreda’s career as a writer and journalist began in Franklin, where she served as a staff writer for the Franklin New-Herald. She also hosted a children’s radio program entitled “Aunt Mae’s Story Hour,” which aired in front of a live audience Saturday mornings from 1959 to 1963. She also appeared as a guest story teller on “Dimple Depot” on WQED-TV in Pittsburgh and she also visited many schools and children’s groups as a story teller.
Alfreda and her family began spending their summers at the Chautauqua Institution in 1955. She became a reporter for the Chautauqua Daily in 1958, assistant editor in 1959, and editor in 1966. During her time as editor, she introduced several new features still found today.
Alfreda retired from her post as editor in 1981 and was named editor emeritus and Chautauqua’s official historian, a post she held until 1999. As an historian, Alfreda wrote the book Three Taps of the Gavel in 1970, with a second edition published in 1977 and a third edition in 1987, titled Three Taps of the Gavel : Pledge to the Future. Taps is considered the standard, modern introduction to Chautauqua.
Upon retirement she was named historian emeritus and honored by the renaming of the Chautauqua Archives to the Alfreda Locke Irwin Archives. Alfreda Locke Irwin died Jan. 22, 2000.
Ref: “Remembering Alfreda” by B. Dolores Thompson
No. 132 – Forrest Crissey
Forrest Crissey was born June 1, 1864 in Stockton. In 1877, at the age of 13, his family moved west to Illinois and settled in McHenry County. There, Crissey completed high school and went to work. Among his early jobs was as a bookkeeper to a local bank and also in the office of a local lumberyard. In July of 1882, Crissey married Kate Shurtleff, the daughter of the lumberyard’s owner.
It is said Crissey had a gift for writing from an early age. At the time of his marriage, Crissey was employed as a country correspondent for the Chicago Times, and in 1884, at the age of 20, his first work of short fiction was published in a Boston-based magazine. He soon found work as the editor of a weekly newspaper, The Patrol, printed in Geneva, Illinois. In his spare time, he also continued to write fiction.
Before long, Mr. Crissey attracted the attention of a number of editors in nearby Chicago, and he again began to accept assignments from a number of newspapers, including the Chicago Times. By 1906, he had become a regular feature writer for the Saturday Evening Post and continued to contribute articles until 1934. He also traveled extensively, writing for a number of major magazines, but his home always remained in Geneva.
In addition to his work as a journalist, Crissey wrote several fictional books. His first book, The Country Boy, was a popular children’s book published in 1897. His most famous work was Tattlings of a Retired Politician, a 1904 book, which entails the humorous but fictional letters of William Bradley.
Crissey died the morning of Nov. 5, 1943 in Geneva, Ill. The street in which he lived in Geneva has since been renamed Crissey Street in his honor.
Ref: “Famous Author Called Geneva Home” by Kelly Nowak; Wikipedia
No. 133 – Charles Webster
Charles L. Webster was born in the Town of Charlotte in 1852, but when he was still quite young his family moved to Fredonia. There, he received his education, graduating from the normal school.
After graduation Webster chose the profession of civil engineer, and met with marked success in that line. While engaged in an engineering project in the west, he formed the acquaintance of General Ulysses S. Grant, and they became firm friends.
Webster’s fate would take a turn in 1875, when he met and married Annie Moffett, the daughter of Pamela Clemens Moffett and niece to Mark Twain. Soon after, he formed a partnership with Twain and established the publishing company Charles L. Webster and Co. In 1881, he and his family moved to New York.
Webster’s publishing company not only printed the works of Mark Twain, but also several other notable individuals. When General Grant’s memoirs were ready for publication, he entrusted Webster with the publication. Also while on a trip to India, Webster was knighted by Pope Leo, who conferred upon him the title of Pius. A few years later Webster’s company would publish the pope’s memoirs.
In 1887, Webster’s health began to fail and he developed severe headaches. As a result, he and his family moved back to Fredonia in 1888. It is said that the responsibility, fame, and fortune that accompanied working for the temperamental Twain may have caused the condition.
After Webster’s partial recovery, Twain refused to allow him to return on the grounds of inefficiency and lack of management. Twain bought Webster out for much less than his share was worth, and stopped speaking to him until Webster’s death in 1891, which some say was self-inflected as a result of his failed relationship with the author. Webster was 39 at the time of his death. His daughter, Jean Webster, went on to become a notable early 20th century author.
No. 134 – Howard Ehmke
Howard Ehmke was born in Silver Creek in 1894. He lived in the area throughout his formative years and played baseball for Silver Creek high school.
Ehmke began his Major League career in 1915 at the age of 20, pitching 18 games for the Buffalo Blues of the Federal League. The Detroit Tigers purchased Ehmke from the Blues in February 1916. After seeing limited action in 1916, Ehmke appeared in at least 30 games a year for the Tigers in five of the following six seasons. He delivered his first of several historic starts on Aug. 8, 1920 when he shut out the New York Yankees 1-0. The game lasted just one hour‚ 13 minutes making it one of the shortest games in American League history.
In October 1922 the Tigers traded Ehmke in a deal with the Boston Red Sox. He flourished in his first season in Boston, winning 20 games and pitching a no-hitter against the Philadelphia Athletics on September 7, 1923. In his very next game, he pitched a one-hitter against the Yankees.
In the middle of the 1926 campaign, the Red Sox traded Ehmke in a deal to the Athletics. By 1929 his number of starts had diminished, but the Athletics won the American league pennant and Manager Connie Mack selected Ehmke as the surprise starter in Game 1 of the 1929 World Series against the Chicago Cubs. Ehmke responded with a complete game and struck out a then-World Series record 13 batters in a 3-1 victory. The A’s eventually won the series in seven games.
Howard Ehmke retired from Major League Baseball after the 1930 season. His career record was 166-166 with 338 starts and 199 complete games. He also tallied 1030 strikeouts and finished with a career ERA of 3.75.
No. 135 – John Owen
When it comes to the longest-living member in our Bicentennial Biography series, no one did better than John Owen, who reportedly lived until the ripe old age of 107.
Owen was born in 1736 in Windsor, Conn. As a young man, he was a soldier for the English in the French and Indian War, taking part in the attack on Quebec in 1759. When America declared its independence from Great Britain, he served in colonial army in the Revolutionary War. Following the war, he settled in Eastern Pennsylvania in an area near the Susquehanna River.
In about 1806 Owen came with his family to settle in Warren, Pa. Within two years, they had moved up the Connewango into an area that is now the town of Carroll, near the state line. In a short period of time, Owen built a tavern and it was known as “Owen’s Tavern” the remainder of his life. He used the building to house and entertain lumbermen and flat boat operators of the time. It also assisted those who were traveling between New York and Pennsylvania.
Owen is said to have been a good-natured man who enjoyed telling jokes and stories to any traveler who would listen. Many a night when his tavern was filled with weary raftsmen, they were kept awake till a late hour by his witty stories. He was married three times. His son Ira Owen was a distinguished member of the Chautauqua Militia, serving in the War of 1812.
Owen was a stranger to sickness and it might be truly said that he “died of old age.” He died in Carroll on Feb. 6, 1843 at the age of 107.
Ref: History of Chautauqua County by Andrew Young
Bicentennial Biographies is a not-for-profit radio project designed to raise awareness and increase interest in local history. It is brought to you as a public service by the Chautauqua County Historical Society throughout 2011 to celebrate the county’s 200th birthday. To learn more, visit www.McClurgMuseum.org or contact your local historical society.