A Sad Day in L.A.

3-month-old Ursula and her parents

Alfred D. and Clara Cheshire pose with daughter, Ursula, on September 14, 1902, when she was age 3 months, 5 days

Paging through the photo album a while back, I found a newspaper clipping that reported on an upsetting, life altering change for Ursula and her mother, Clara. The timing wasn’t right to share it on Mystery Dancer then, but our story calls for it now.

June 19, 1913 was a sad day for Ursula and Clara. Ursula’s father, Alfred Dudley Cheshire, had been ill for several months and died on that day, just 10 days after Ursula’s 11th birthday. Even though Ursula lived more than a hundred years ago, and I didn’t know her (duh!), I feel so sad for her losing her father at such a tender age.

According to the article that appeared in The Morning Union (a daily newspaper covering Grass Valley and Nevada City, California between 1908 and 1945), Alfred was born in Hamilton, Canada, and emigrated to the United States “when a mere youth.” I know from census records that he was born around 1853 and would have been about 60 years old at the time of his death.

Alfred Dudley Cheshire, husband to Clara Uphoff Cheshire and father to Ursula Cheshire

Alfred Dudley Cheshire, husband to Clara Uphoff Cheshire and father to Ursula Cheshire

Alfred first settled in Michigan and became an expert cabinet maker before relocating to San Francisco in 1830. There, he began a career in undertaking and eventually came to own the California Undertaking Co., which he sold “in splendid advantage” around 1903. Alfred and Clara married in 1899.

The newspaper reports that:

“Everyone who knew Alfred Cheshire esteemed him as a man of the strictest integrity and honorable in every sense of the word. He made friends readily and always retained them.”

The full article appears below. Rest in peace, dear Alfred.

Alfred-Cheshire-Obituary

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All in the Family

Nine-year-old Ursula and her mother, Clara Uphoff Cheshire, in front of their LA home. I love Clara's dress!

Nine-year-old Ursula and her mother, Clara Uphoff Cheshire, in front of their LA home. I love Clara’s dress!

Tucked between the album’s pages, I found several loose photographs from around the same time, all stamped “SEP 10 1911” on the back (which probably means they were processed, not necessarily taken, on that day). It looks like they may chronicle a multigenerational family gathering over at least a couple of days.

Matilda Denzer Uphoff, Ursula's maternal grandmother. Check out the fancy rope work on her dress.

Matilda Denzer Uphoff, Ursula’s maternal grandmother. Check out the fancy rope work on her dress.

I see 9-year-old Ursula and her mother, Clara, in two of the photos, but who are all the other people? Only Ursula’s maternal grandmother, Matilda Uphoff, is identified on the back of the photo of her standing outside at the Cheshires’ house. I’ve been doing a bit of detective work, and I think I know who everyone is in this collection of photos, except for, in the photo below, the woman at the back resting her chin on her hand, and the ghostly young girl at the far right!

I found my first clue to the identity of some of these folks in an item published in the “Society” column of the Los Angeles Times. Dated the same day as the photos, it read: “Mrs. Cheshire Entertains. Mrs. A.D. Cheshire of No. 1422 Malvern avenue [sic] entertained fifty guests Wednesday evening in honor of her mother, Mrs H. Uphoff, and her sisters, Miss Mathilde Uphoff and Mrs. C.R. Pemby, all of San Francisco.

A family gathering in Los Angeles in 1911

A family gathering in Los Angeles in 1911

I’m not sure at whose house they are gathered, as it is not the Cheshires’ Malvern Avenue home, but it may belong to the chin-in-hand lady, perhaps a family friend. Based on subsequent research described below, I believe this photo features (left to right) Ursula, Clara, Ursula’s Aunt Jeannette, little cousin Marion, unknown (chin-in-hand lady), Aunt Mathilde, Grandmother Matilda, unknown ghostly girl, and father Alfred. At first I thought Alfred was Ursula’s grandfather Herman Uphoff, but then I remembered he died in 1909, and on closer inspection, this man’s nose and hairline look a lot like Alfred’s as depicted in much earlier photos. He would have been 58 at this time.

Through scouring various resources provided by Ancestry.com, including U.S. Census reports, California Death Index, Find a Grave Index and city directories, I have pieced together a narrative of Ursula’s immediate and extended family at that time, which helped me further figure out who was whom. It goes like this:

In September 1911 (the time the photos were most likely taken), Clara Uphoff Cheshire was 39, married to 58-year-old Alfred Cheshire, and mother to Ursula. Her father, Herman, had died two years earlier, and her widowed mother, Matilda (who lived to age 84), was 62 years old.  Clara’s siblings (Ursula’s aunts and uncle) were as follows:

  • 38-year-old widower Charles, a miner and father of 3-year-old Marion;
  • Mathilde, a single, 32-year-old public school teacher;
  • 31-year-old Jeannette, married to Charles R. Temby by October 1908, and mother to her first child, 16-month-old Randall, who must have been taking a nap when this photo was snapped! (Notice the LA Times misspelled Jeannette’s last name as “Pemby” in the above-mentioned news item);
  • Emma, 27, a single bookkeeper working in a physician’s office (who, apparently, did not come to LA for this family visit)

I believe the photo below depicts (left to right), Matilda, the matriarch of the family; Jeannette with her brother Charles’s daughter Marion on her shoulders (“Playing Horse”); and Mathilde. It took me a little while to decide which woman was Ursula’s Aunt Mathilde and which was Aunt Jeannette. I think it more likely that Jeannette is on the left because a) she looks more harried and physically more likely to have had a baby just over a year before than the more fresh-faced, small-wasted woman on the right; and b) when I blow up the photo, I can just barely make out a shape that looks like a ring on her “wedding” finger.

"Playing Horses": Ursula's grandmother, aunts and cousin

“Playing Horses”: Ursula’s grandmother, aunts and cousin

I think the little girl is Ursula’s cousin Marion, because she looks about 3 years old—the right age for her at that time—and because her father, Charles, was working as a miner and living in Nevada around that time. Since his wife, Grace Key, had died in 1909, possibly from complications of childbirth (as Marion had just been born in 1908), I imagine he left his daughter to the care of her aunts or grandparents while he was off making a living.

A family gathering in Los Angeles in 1911

A family gathering in Los Angeles in 1911

Back to the photo taken on the front porch…Notice that Aunt Mathilde is perusing what possibly could be a photo album, and it makes me wonder… is she is looking at some of the very same family pictures I have in this velvet-covered antique photo album (which, by the way, belonged to Ursula’s mother)? There’s that thread again, stretching from 1911 nearly 103 years to 2014. I can’t wait to see what I discover next!

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Did Secret Societies Influence Ursula’s Destiny?

So, I have a theory about how Ursula’s parents, Alfred and Clara, met. And, based on a historical tidbit I discovered today, I have another, related theory about how our Mystery Dancer came to be named Ursula. In my version of events, it all started with two secret societies: the Odd Fellows and the Native Daughters of the Golden West.

Alfred Cheshire at 23

Alfred at age 24. He would marry Clara 25 years later.

Clara at 23

Clara at age 23. She would marry Alfred 7 years later.

Through several mentions in The San Francisco Call, I have learned that Alfred was quite active in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows fraternal organization, which is similar to the Freemasons with its degrees, symbols and ritual. He belonged to the society’s Yerba Buena Lodge No. 15, instituted in 1853, and was elected its Noble Grand (the lodge’s highest office) in 1896. (Fun fact: “Yerba Buena” was the original name of San Francisco.)

Odd Fellows Temple

The Odd Fellows Temple, located on the corner of Seventh and Market Streets in San Francisco, was one of the showpieces in the city. The structure pictured here was destroyed during the 1906 earthquake, and the Odd Fellows rebuilt on the same site. (Photo: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library)

IOOF Lodge No. 15 Seal

In 1896, Ursula’s father, Alfred, was elected Noble Grand of the Odd Fellows Lodge No. 15

While the Odd Fellows was (and is) a benevolent association undertaking various charitable projects, it also provided a social network for its members. For example, a newspaper article from 1895 reported that the Buena Vista Lodge threw a festive bash (with Alfred in attendance) for members and friends, featuring music performances, recitation, singing and a humorous address, which “for half an hour kept the audience convulsed with merriment.” To top off the evening, the hall was cleared of chairs and “dancing was indulged in until midnight.”

Odd Fellows Entertains

Odd Fellows events for members and friends included music, speeches and lots of dancing.

According to voter registration records from the early 1890s, Alfred was five-foot-nine with dark hair, a dark complexion and blue eyes. Did those eyes spy Clara among the ladies and gentlemen on the dance floor at a club event like the one described? Perhaps she was one of the “friends” invited. It’s possible.

You see, Clara belonged to a similar organization: the Order of Native Daughters of the Golden West, a fraternal and patriotic organization of California-born women. While Clara was active in the group’s Manzanita Parlor No. 29 of Grass Valley, she no doubt had friends, or at least acquaintances, in the San Francisco parlors, as she was a delegate to the 1896 Grand Parlor meeting held in Napa, and served as an elected officer in 1898. The Native Daughters and Odd Fellows worked together at times, for instance in 1897 organizing San Francisco’s Carnival of the Golden Gate, the purpose of which was to attract visitors to the city. Perhaps one of Clara’s Native sisters invited her down for the event and she met Alfred then. It’s just a theory, but I like it!

One-year-old Ursula

One-year-old Ursula

Native Daughters seal

Ursula’s mother, Clara, held elective office in the Native Daughters of the Golden West

In any case, they did meet each other, and married in 1899. Clara became pregnant with Ursula in 1901. My second theory related to the secret societies is that, while thinking of names for her impending baby, Clara was inspired by the history of the Native Daughters of the Golden West, the group she devoted time and energy to in the years leading up to her marriage. I was thrilled to learn today that when the Native Daughters group was founded in September 1886, its charter members selected for its first Parlor (akin to a Lodge) the distinctive name of “Ursula” (meaning “little she-bear”—suggestive of courage and strength)!

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A Good Investment

The Cheshires' Baker Street home sold for more than $1.5 million in 2011

A 2011 photograph of the Cheshires’ Baker Street home

While researching Ursula and her family via the Library of Congress’s “All Digitized Newspapers 1836-1922” website, I discovered a bit more about their Baker Street home in San Francisco, where Ursula lived as a little girl. My previous post included a link to the deed for the lot on Baker Street that Clara’s father, Alfred, bought in 1903. When I initially read the deed, I had been puzzled that Alfred bought the lot for just $10. It didn’t make sense that it would be so cheap, unless perhaps the house hadn’t been built yet. Maybe the real estate records stating the house was constructed in 1902 were wrong, and the Cheshires had the house built in 1903. But that didn’t make sense either—$10 still would have been a ridiculous price for the lot.

And now I know why. The $10 must have been just a legal formality to purchase the lot, because Alfred actually paid $9,250 in August 2003 for the new 2,400 square-foot, 2-flat house, as I learned from the Real Estate section in The San Francisco Call. According to the article, residential properties were in strong demand at the time.

Ursula's father buys their 2-family Baker Street home in San Francisco for $9,250

Ursula’s father buys their 2-family Baker Street home in San Francisco for $9,250

$9,250 was no small potatoes back then. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s inflation calculator, if he had paid that amount 10 years later in 1913 (the earliest date for which statistics are available) it would be worth about $219,000 in today’s dollars. Since he paid the amount in 1903, it presumably would be worth even more today.

The Cheshires lived at 715-717 Baker Street for the first several years of Ursula's life. The home sold for more than $1.5 million in 2011,

The Cheshires lived at 715-717 Baker Street for the first several years of Ursula’s life. The home sold for more than $1.5 million in 2011.

Compared with present-day real estate prices, however, Alfred paid peanuts for 715-717 Baker St. He would be laughed out of the real estate office if he bid $219,000 for the house today—almost exactly two years ago, this hot property sold for $1,635,000!

The real estate listing from 2011 describes the building as consisting of two large, remodeled, full-floor Victorian flats with period details, beautiful wood floors, high ceilings, bay windows and fireplaces. I wonder if the new owner would be interested in learning about the first family to walk across his home’s wood floors, play piano in the parlor, peer out the bay windows and warm themselves by the fire.

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She Got Her Start in San Francisco

Ursula Cheshire birth announcement

The “San Francisco Call” announces “a daughter” (Ursula) is born to “the wife of Alfred D. Cheshire.” Poor Clara doesn’t even get credited by name!

I’ve been having fun researching Ursula’s early life, and have found several mentions of her and her parents in early 1900s San Francisco and Los Angeles newspapers, mainly in the “Society” columns. I feel like I am on a treasure hunt, and for me, the clues I am discovering are the individual coins, gems and jewels that are amassing one by one in the chest that holds Ursula’s story—the ultimate treasure.

I was particularly thrilled when I came across this announcement of Ursula’s birth in the San Francisco Call’s “Births—Marriages—Deaths” column. It confirms

Baby Ursula on September 14, 1902, at age 3 months, 5 days

Baby Ursula at age 3 months, 5 days, with mother Clara, on September 14, 1902

she indeed burst into the world on June 9, 1902, which I had earlier deduced from the penciled caption on the back of the baby picture at left, which noted the photo was “taken Sept. 14th, 1902, baby age 3 mos., 5 days.” Another copy of the same photograph announced that Ursula weighed 12 pounds (!) at birth.

At the time of the 1900 Census, Ursula’s parents, Clara and Alfred Cheshire, were living at 516 Jones Street in San Francisco (just three blocks south of where my husband and his ex-wife lived in the late 1980s!). The Cheshires may still have resided there at the time of their daughter’s birth, but in August 1903 when she was one year old, they bought a lot on the west side of Baker Street, just north of McAllister. I discovered this in the “Real Estate Transactions” column in the San Francisco Call, which let me to an index of deeds, and then to the deed itself (which I found at familysearch.org).

House rendering

A modern rendering of the Baker Street home

The inscription written on the back of the photo below of the interior of the Cheshires’ home confirms their residence as 715 Baker Street, where they lived when Ursula “was small.” According to San Francisco property records and a contemporary real estate description, their house—which still stands!—was a Victorian dwelling built in 1902. As you can see from the picture, Clara and Alfred decorated it in typical ornate Victorian fashion. You can see what the exterior and interior of the home look like today, including some period details, in photos appearing on a 2011 real estate listing.

Baker St. house interior

An ornately decorated room in the Cheshires’ Victorian house at 715 Baker Street in San Francisco

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, 1897 (from Online Archive of California)

The Cheshires lived within walking distance of Golden Gate Park and I can just imagine Clara, Alfred and little Ursula visiting there from time to time. (In fact, a couple of the pictures in the album may have been taken there, although it’s impossible to say for sure because they have no captions.) According to the Encyclopedia of San Francisco, “At the turn of the century, Golden Gate Park was the free Disneyland of its time, with attractions ranging from animals and birds to lush plantings and numerous types of recreational and athletic activities.”

Ursula and Alfred

Ursula and her father, Alfred…at Golden Gate Park?

Ursula and Friend

Ursula (left) and friend…at Golden Gate Park?

 

 

I just want to say I am having a ball with this blog and everything it entails, and I hope you’re having as much fun learning about Ursula as I am! Until next time…

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A Star Is Born

3-month-old Ursula and her parents

Alfred D. and Clara Cheshire pose with daughter, Ursula, on September 14, 1902, when she was age 3 months, 5 days

On Monday, June 9, 1902, the local newspaper welcomed to San Francisco thousands of Shriners from “all parts of the Union,” who were gathering there for a weeklong convention. Elsewhere in the city that day, Clara and Alfred Cheshire, who had been married for two and a half years, welcomed baby daughter Ursula into their lives. At ages 30 and 49 respectively, Clara and Alfred were older-than-average first-time parents.

Ursula, 1 month old

Ursula at one month old

Ursula was born in the era of silent film; just two months before her birth, the first permanent movie theater opened in Los Angeles. Women would not gain the right to vote for another 18 years, and it was not uncommon to read of lynching in the daily news. Earlier in the year, a great workers’ strike in the anthracite coalfields of Pennsylvania had threatened to shut down winter fuel supply to all major cities until President Theodore Roosevelt got involved. At the same time, the United States of America was enjoying a continued “period of unbounded prosperity,” and its “place must be great among nations,” according to the president’s December 1902 State of the Union address.

Ursula, age 1

The many faces of Ursula, at 1 year old

Ursula at age 1, with Mama Clara

Mama and 1-year-old Ursula

In an uncanny coincidence, the date of Ursula’s birth also happens to be the date of the Roman Emperor Nero’s death by suicide nearly 2,000 years earlier. That in and of itself would not be worth mentioning but for the fact that in 1922, Ursula played the role of Nero’s wife, Locusta, in a college production of the English dramatist Stephen Phillips’s tragedy, “Nero.”

Ursula in the role of Locusta in the play "Nero"

Ursula in the role of Locusta in the play “Nero”

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The Ghost of Ursula Cheshire

A card sent to Ursula's father in 1890

A card sent to Ursula’s father in 1890

At first, I was planning to write a post about Ursula’s beginnings, as the album holds several pictures of her as an adorable baby. But something happened tonight apropros to Halloween, so I decided to write this instead:

While paging through the album again, I discover a small, cream-colored envelope trimmed with a thick black border, postmarked 1890 from Ypsilanti, Michigan and accented with a red 2-cent stamp. Addressed in fountain-pen ink to Mr. A.D. Cheshire in San Francisco, it contains a small, thick card, also bordered in black. I know Mr. A.D. Cheshire is Ursula’s father because several pages earlier is a 1913 newspaper clipping that mentions him, his wife and “little daughter, Ursula.”

I reach into the envelope and slowly slip the card out. “In Loving Memory,” it says on the cover. I open it carefully, wondering why it is so thick. My stomach jumps slightly and I gasp. I feel as if the card were a jack-in-the-box and a surprise has burst out. There in center of the card are three thick locks of hair—brunette, blond and gray-brown—each tied with thin string and wrapped loosely in tissue paper.

AD Cheshire Card2Wow! This hair grew on the head of someone—perhaps Ursula herself—who is long gone. Maybe it is all Ursula’s hair, cut from her head at different stages of her life and slipped into the card for safekeeping years after it was sent to Mr. Cheshire. If this is true, I actually have part of Ursula with me. I feel a tug, as if there is a long, long string attached to the hazy, black and white Ursula of the past and extending into the Technicolor present, attached to me, who is unearthing and telling her story. It’s eerie.

But do you know what’s eerier? Just last night, my husband and I finished the first season of a dark, Canadian crime series called “Durham County.” In it, the serial killer cuts locks of hair off his victims’ heads—a blonde and brunette—and keeps them as macabre souvenirs. And, get this, the quote on the card, which is a remembrance of Mr. Cheshire’s mother (who “fell asleep in Jesus” the previous month) is a perfect script for a serial killer to leave behind at the crime scene:

“Safe, safe upon the ever-shining shore,
Sin, pain, and death, and sorrow, all are o’er,
Happy now and evermore.
‘Washed in the blood of the Lamb.’”

Ooh, creeeeeppy! (Do you think I watch too many crime dramas?)

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