Completely by chance, I came across a grainy 1911 photo of a “Mrs. L. D. Brodhead,” under the headline: “Lutherville Girl Who Eloped.” The photo was from the Baltimore Sun whose old issues can be found on Genealogy Bank. I certainly did not recognize her nor did I expect to. However, having just published the story about William Hall Brodhead and Mary Van Tassel’s elopement, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by news of yet another Brodhead elopement. So, I found the accompanying article, expecting I’d come upon some “new” Brodheads down there in Maryland (“my Brodheads” were mostly from the NJ/NY/PA area), probably some distant relations… But, life changed in an instant–half way into paragraph No. 2, my jaw dropped and all I could think was “Holy cow!” The Brits have the greatest word: “gobsmacked”– and that’s exactly what I was. The groom’s name? “Lewis D. Brodhead of Elizabeth, New Jersey.”
“Uncle Lewie,” as my dad used to call him, died of a heart attack on 8 December 1933 at age 49, when my Dad was just 12. At the time of his death, which took place in his office, Lewis was on the board of the American Swiss File and Tool Company. The December 10 obituary notice in the New York Times mentions only his mother and two brothers as surviving him.
All my Dad remembered about Uncle Lewie was that he was a bit too fond of his drink, had a reputation for being quite a character, and had never married or had children. And there I was–almost 80 years after Lewie’s death–suddenly confronted with proof that he’d been married—to one Mildred Elizabeth Hancock on 23 June 1911. How bizarre. It was shocking. Even my 90-year-old mother was shocked, and it takes a lot to shock her these days. My late father would have been completely flummoxed by this. How could it be that neither of his parents ever mentioned Uncle Lewie has having been married?! It’s extremely odd, and all I could immediately surmise was that the marriage was either a very brief one or a very troubled one that ended in divorce and was swept under the rug permanently. But it still seemed a bit nuts that my dad would not have heard anything about it.
Lewis (b. 5 October 1884) was the second of three sons of Andrew Douglas Brodhead (son of Andrew Jackson Brodhead) and Margaret Lewis Martin (a daughter Edith died in early childhood); I cannot help but wonder what their and the rest of the family’s reaction was to this elopement. My grandfather (Uncle Lewie’s older brother) Frank M. Brodhead (b. 5 Feb. 1882) and wife Fannie Woodruff, who lived in Elizabeth, would have been entering their third year of marriage at that time. Youngest brother Andrew (b. 3 October 1886) was still living at home in 1905 but was gone by 1910, so I don’t know where he was at the time of Lewis’s 1911 elopement (Andrew married in 1916).
The elopement of Mildred Hancock, daughter of Laura and Josias A. Hancock, caused a great deal of buzz in the local Maryland press. Mildred was described as “one of the most attractive belles of the [Lutherville, MD] community” This was the second Hancock to elope in the space of three months, and Mildred broke the news to her parents via telegram. Mildred, 18 years of age, had been employed for five months in a touring theatrical troupe, partially against the wishes of her parents. Sometime during her brief stage career, she met Lewis, who became a regular member of the audience. She left the troupe and returned to Baltimore. Apparently Lewis was a traveling hardware salesman, and he soon found reason to visit Maryland regularly on business. He met Mildred’s mother on several occasions, but never met Mr. Hancock. In June 1911, Lewis was in NYC on business and Mildred insisted on making a trip to NYC at that time, not telling her parents the trip involved Lewis.
They eloped, marrying at the Church of the Transfiguration on 29th Street (a.k.a. The Little Church Around the Corner; Episcopalian). Afterwards they “made merry” in Atlantic City and elsewhere on the Jersey shore. The Hancocks eventually telegraphed their blessing (no indication given that a blessing arrived from M/M A.D. Brodhead). Lewis then made his way to Canada on a business trip and Mildred returned home to her parents where all awaited Lewis’s August 26 visit to finally meet Mr. Hancock. Then, according to Mildred, Lewis and she would be leaving for a honeymoon although she had no idea where, just that it was going to be an “awfully long distance” away and that she wanted to go to Europe soon as well. The article contained a number of comments made by Mildred that made her come across as immature and a bit ditzy. It closed by saying Mr. & Mrs. L. D. Brodhead planned to make their home in Springfield, MA (And they did end up going there).
So, the big question for me was: Did the marriage last? Well, the answer is “yes”–at least for 11 years. I found Lewis’s 12 September 1918 registration card for WWI. His home address was listed as 132 Bushkill Street, Easton North, Pennsylvania. He stated his place of employment as manager at Crew Levick Co. (an oil company) in Easton, and lists wife Mildred as sharing his Bushkill St. home address. He described himself as “tall” and “slender”, and as having brown eyes and black hair.
I found the next trace of Lewis and Mildred in a 1922 Pottsville, PA, directory. They were living at 109 S. Centre Street. Why Pottsville, home of the famous Yuengling Brewery, (America’s oldest; est. 1829)? I don’t know, but it wasn’t for the beer as prohibition had gone into effect in 1920. Perhaps a clue comes from the Wikipedia entry for the town: Until the middle of the 20th century, Pottsville was a popular destination for many traveling acts and vaudeville performers. The 1929 film Berth Marks stars the comedy legends Laurel and Hardy as they attempt to reach Pottsville by train for one of their booked performances. Pearl Bailey had once resided in Pottsville during the early part of her entertaining career. Soldiers in training at nearby Fort Indiantown Gap were prohibited from visiting Pottsville during most of World War II due to the large amounts of illicit venues and activities present during the time. Maybe Mildred was involved with the theatre there, or maybe the couple just liked the city’s “vibe”. It was, after all, the roaring ’20s.
So sometime between 1922 and Lewis’s death in 1933, Mildred died or the pair split up. She is not mentioned in his obituary. I’ve searched high and low for further clues, but have so far come up empty-handed. A trip to Pottsville to look at old court records and library archives will probably be required to figure this one out! If anyone reading this has any clues, please share!
Update 9/17/13: I found an Elizabeth city directory for 1931 showing Lewis (salesman) living with his widowed mother Margaret Lewis Brodhead at 11 Elmwood Place. No mention of Mildred. Also, I forgot to mention that Lewis was buried in the family plot at Evergreen Cemetery in Hillside, NJ.