Chapter Four:
Bess (Gardner) Wilson and Charles Edwin Wilson (1959)
Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, the Wilson family's first contact with Hingham was in August, 1892.

An outbreak of cholera in Chicago prompted John C. Gardner to send his wife, Margaret, and their two-month-old daughter, Bessie, to his step-mother's house in Hingham for their safety, while he stayed on his job as a Chicago policeman. The maneuver was successful, for they all survived.

John's mother, Lydia Morey Hammond Gardner, was still living in Syracuse NY, now remarried to
Dr. Lyman M. Conger. John's father, Emery, had died in 1887. So his choice of Hingham indicates
he must have been on good terms with his step-mother, Julia Hurley Gardner and his step-sisters
May and Ida.

In fact, by 1894 Ida Gardner lived with John and his family while attending business school in Chicago. She wrote to her mother and sister that “Bessie talks about Aunt May and Grandma Gardner. She is so smart and just as good as she is smart. Today she was washing the window in the kitchen – Maggie had been washing them and when Maggie saw her she said ‘Bessie you get away from those windows and keep out of the water’ – Bessie says ‘Margaret Ann, don’t you have so much to say’. She hears John call Maggie Margaret Ann. If we tell her anything that surprises her she will say ‘You—don’t—say—‘ – just like some old woman.”
Elizabeth (Bessie) Gardner, age 3
    John Charles Gardner
       (1869 - 1924)
Bessie’s father, John Charles Gardner, was the son of Emery B. Gardner and his first wife, Lydia Morey Hammond, born January 11, 1859.

He was just five years old when his parents divorced and Emery left New York for good. John had grown up in Syracuse with a half-brother, Frank W. Hammond; their mother was married to Dr. Lyman T. Conger.

In 1884, John had gone to Chicago to start a dairy route which he later sold to Sidney Wanzer, whose company became one of Chicago's major dairies.

John then joined the Chicago Police Force, working out of the Woodlawn Station for many years. In his later years, he worked as an inspector at the Malleable Iron Works.

John married Margaret Ann Jones on December 6, 1886 in Chicago. Maggie Jones was born in Whitten Park, County Durham, England on March 2, 1862 and her family came to America when she was seven years old.
John and Margaret's only child, Elizabeth May (Bess) Gardner was born June 27, 1892.

Some years later John and Margaret separated and divorced. Margaret secured work as a children’s nurse, living with the families by whom she was employed, keeping Bessie with her. While so employed by the Sutherland family in Pass Christian, MS, Margaret was taken gravely ill and notified her mother, Maria Jones, who lived in Chicago.

Maria came and took her daughter back home by train, leaving Bessie behind in Mississippi. Margaret recovered and resumed her work with other families, but never had Bessie with her again. She was employed by the Hawley family in Oakland CA at the time of her death in 1936.

Bessie later described seeing her mother leave Pass Christian on the train as one of the worst moments of her life. At just nine years of age she didn't know where her father was, but she did know that a grandmother and two aunts lived in Wisconsin.

Mr. Sutherland wrote to them and May sent money for railroad fare to Wisconsin. How long Bessie         Margaret Jones Gardner and Bess lived in Hingham is uncertain and at some point she went to live with "Grandma Conger" in Syracuse.
She was apparently happy there; she added her grandmother's maiden name to her own. A bit of a stir was created at her high school graduation when her name was read out as "Bessie Elizabeth May Morey Gardner".

 Elizabeth (Bess) Gardner (1892 - 1976)

   Charles Edwin Wilson (1894 - 1969)

At this point, about 1910, Ida was living on Cornelia Street near Paulina in Chicago and working as a claims adjuster for the streetcar company. She invited Bessie to live with her and attend business school. After finishing, Bessie worked as a secretary for A. G. Spaulding Co., and later as private secretary to Dr. A. N. Hitchcock of the Congregational Board of Foreign Missions.

While living with her Aunt Ida, Bessie joined Gross Park Methodist Episcopal Church, where she met her future husband, Charles Edwin Wilson, known as Edwin.

Ida, Bessie and her father, John, journeyed to Hingham for Christmas in 1912 and invited Edwin to accompany them. Roy Shaver met their train at the Adell depot with his horse and carriage. Edwin enjoyed the experience thoroughly.

The next spring, he took the entrance exam to West Point and while waiting for the results he went to Hingham to help Grandma Gardner with her spring house cleaning.

She welcomed his help for at that time Aunt May was keeping house for her cousin, Lyman D. Hill, as well as teaching school. Edwin kept a diary that details the beating of rugs, washing of floors and woodwork, painting stairs, etc. as well as taking hikes to Waldo and to Sheboygan Falls.

Edwin was rejected by West Point for physical reasons; his eyes and feet were less than perfect and he suffered from asthma. He received the news in a letter from his father; one gets a bit of insight into the family structure from the fact that the letter was signed "Yours truly, Charles H. Wilson".

Edwin worked that summer as manager of Jackson Park Golf Course, then went to work in the steel mills of Gary, Indiana. His father died suddenly in 1915 of a heart attack, and Edwin took over his real estate and insurance business in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago.

Bess and Edwin (right) in Hingham with the Shaver family 1916


Bess and Edwin with daughter Barbara in Hingham 1943

Edwin and Bess, as she preferred to be called as an adult, were married September 15, 1917. Less than three weeks later, Edwin was drafted into the army. The insurance business suffered due to his absence, and his mother filed a request for his discharge on hardship grounds. He was honorably discharged December 13, 1917 and took up his father's business again.

Bess and Edwin lived with his mother on Bosworth Ave. between Addison and Cornelia, then in an apartment next door. In 1923, they moved to an apartment at 1817 Patterson Ave. and transferred their church membership to Ravenswood M. E. Church to stay with their favorite pastor, Dr. Abel M. White. In 1929, they moved to 6633 N. Rockwell St., and in 1944 to 4507 N. Campbell Ave., where they remained for 15 years.

The insurance business declined during the postwar depression. By 1920, the income was insufficient to support both Edwin's family and his mother and sister. So Edwin got a job at the Davis Store in the Chicago Loop as a bill collector while maintaining the insurance business as a sideline.

In 1921, he was promoted to a position in the Davis Store's credit department, where he stayed until Davis Store was sold to Goldblatt Brothers. He then went to work in Marshall Field's credit department. However, the 1938 "repression" ended his job there. He then sold oil burners for Hardinge Oil Burner Co., which was purchased by Elgin Tool Co. Edwin became their purchasing agent and later, office manager until his retirement in 1959.

Edwin and Bess and their three children, Charles Edwin Wilson, Jr., Lyman Gardner Wilson and Barbara Jane Wilson, spent part of every vacation and many weekends in Hingham. The Wilson boys spent every summer with their great aunts, coming up to Hingham immediately after the school year ended and staying until Labor Day.

Edwin’s visits to Hingham usually involved a home improvement project. In 1923, he wired the house for electricity, and in 1925 helped raze the horse barn and build the garage. He helped install indoor plumbing in 1941. He replaced the coal stoves with an oil-burning floor furnace in 1946 and had an oil burning boiler with hot water radiators installed in 1959. He had a new propane-fueled boiler installed in 1964, doing much of the work himself. The same boiler was converted to natural gas in 1988 and still heats the house today.
 
Bess moved to Hingham to care for her aunts after May was paralyzed by a stroke in 1948, staying on until May’s death in 1949, when she returned home to Chicago.

Edwin retired from Elgin Tool in 1959 so he and Bess could move to Hingham to care for Ida, whose health had deteriorated significantly. After Ida’s death, Edwin and Bess continued to live in Hingham, joining the Methodist Church and becoming involved in community affairs.
When the Hingham school was razed in 1961, they bought the land
and later sold the corner lot to David and Audrey Dolfin, who built their new home on the site.

The Wilsons planned a trip to California in December 1968 to spend Christmas with daughter Barbara and her family, but the day before they planned to depart Edwin was hospitalized with pneumonia. He was released from the hospital two months later, but never fully recovered.

Edwin suffered a heart attack and died March 3, 1969. Bess then lived alone in her family home, maintaining the social life they had developed. While she never had learned to drive a car, Bess had enough friends with cars that she always had transportation.

She had developed rheumatoid arthritis in 1945 and took the newly developed cortisone derivative, Metacortin, the long term effects of which were unknown at that time. Later, against the advice of several physicians, she continued taking it because it kept her pain-free and able to walk.

In the summer of 1975, she was stricken with a stomach ulcer, a result of the medication. The ulcer was brought under control, and she was persuaded to go into Pine Haven Christian Home for the winter.

The following May the ulcer reopened; she was hospitalized and underwent surgery from which she never recovered. Her death occurred June 10, 1976.

 




                                                                                                                                     Bess (Gardner) Wilson in Hingham 1953

Charles E. Wilson, Jr. and Jeanne (Wesley) Wilson (1976)

 

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