Edwin Corrigan Letter 1995 - Part 1
Written by Edwin Corrigan
January 24, 1995
Thank you for you recent letter – it was surely nice that you could get to the reunion in July at Channing, MI. Just wished we could have talked more, but being so many there it was hard to get to visit much. Only wished I had taken some more pictures, as I have very few. Thought some of the kids would have sent me some more – I being the only member of the original Corrigan family. It was saddening, as the years went by to see the family gradually passing on. Guess, I have been blessed to be able to be around. Guess I must have done something right to live to 85!
To begin with, the were two Corrigan families – the first four children were born in Orillia (Mara county, Ontario.) Pa's first wife, Ellen Ferguson, was buried in Washburn, WI across the bay from Ashland. Don't know just when they came to the area – nor how long they lived in Washburn. The youngest child, Thomas Francis, was born in Washburn, Sept. 15, 1886. Shortly after that they must have moved to Sanborn, where Pa built a saloon and boarding house (the building is still there, but has had an addition put on it.) Three of our family members were born while the folks lived in Sanborn, the rest born (at the Summit) in Ashland. Due to an early stroke, Pa had to get out of the business. He did some kind of a trade with property and got property on the outskirts of Ashland, which included a small five room house and building which house a saloon, dance hall and gambling rooms. Remember these were in the early logging days when Ashland housed many saloons, houses of ill-repute, etc. They lived a short time in the large building and then had the small house moved closer to the road – eventually he sold the building (the hall, etc) to the Town of Sanborn to be used as the Town Hall.
The property was on a five-acre plot which had a large sand pit which had real fine sand – PA supported the family by selling sand to the blast furnace in Ashland (produced Pig Iron which was shipped out of Ashland to lower Great Lakes Ports.) He also sold sand to builders which was used for plastering houses – no plaster board in those days. He would probably haul two loads per day – one and one-half mile to the furnace. He would also get jobs working for the town grading the roads and putting culverts. We had two small barns on the property – one housed the horses (two) and the chicken coop – the other housed the two cows and the hay barn.
By the time the folks moved to Ashland all of the members of the first Corrigan family had moved or gotten their own places. My dad married my mother in April 1892 – he being much older than she with his five children. Don't know the circumstances of the marriage, but think that Mother must have worked as a hired girl, helping with house work and taking care of the children. Mother had a miscarriage early and didn't conceive until when Maurice was born in Dec 1898 – the the flood gate opened and there were eight more children, including Ethel and me, the twins.
My mother's dad, Grandpa Firmenich, was a millright in Ashland and homesteaded just north of Sanborn – he had a family of five girls and two boys – Mother was born in Wrightstown, WI – and the family came up to Ashland in the early eighties. Lived in Ashland and during that time, Grandpa homesteaded the property at Sanborn and then moved the family out there. My folks moved from Sanborn in the spring of 1905 – Grandpa with the remaining daughter Claire sold the property and moved to Ashland in 1915.
My dad, your great grandfather, died on July 25, 1915 at Ashland. Mother was in the hospital expecting the birth of Sadie – she was brought out to the house to the funeral. Funerals were from the homes in those days. I was 6, but can remember the casket and funeral, although I can't remember going to the cemetery, which was just kitty-corner from our house – across the line into the city of Ashland.
At that time Maurice was 16 – he did some of the selling of the sand for that summer, then got a job with the Kellogg grocery store, delivering groceries, those were the horse and buggy days – he later got a job working in a saw mill at Odanah, 12 miles east of Ashland, later got a job as a night clerk in the Menard Hotel downtown Ashland. As each of our family members got old enough to work they did so. I recall that when I was 11 I got a job driving horse on a farm when they hauled in the hay – also had to help with the milking and chores. Henry was two years older than I and he got a job when about 14 working at Gingles farm, that is after he finished the eighth grade.
Later on I worked on the same farm for board and room while going to high school – in my senior year I got a job for the Molls where they had 125 colonies of bees, a five-acre orchard and a little garden, I stayed there the next two years while attending the Ashland County Normal to become an elementary teacher. Molls also raised about 300 turkeys each year.
We grew up with very little, but appreciated the fact that Mother was able to keep the family together. I recall that many night when we were about the heater stove, she would shed tears, as she didn't know what was in store for her and the 9 children.
In the fall of 1924 we moved to Iron Mountain, MI where the Ford Motor company was paying $5 per day – That was unheard of in our area where many farm workers got $30 a month and board and room and other laborers were earning $2 per day. Our oldest sister, Beatrice, had gone to Detroit to work – Agnes and Mary of the first family were there – so she got a job as a telephone operator – one in awhile we would get a call from her late at night – free to her, I guess. Sister Clarice married and moved to Iron Mountain. Maurice, Clayton and Henry had gone up before we moved there. Maurice and Clayton got work at Ford's – as did Clarice's husband, Ed Olsen. Henry was only 17 and they wouldn't hire him at the plant, but he got a job with the Village of Kingsford as a grader operator. When we moved up there we were able to rent a new house. We paid $55 per month – unheard of is Ashland where houses were renting for about $15 or $20. I entered Iron Mountain high school in October 1924 and stayed the year. In the fall of 1926, the Kingsford High School opened, so we had to go there.
We were all quite happy there as several of our relatives had moved there, also. This was a kind of melting pot – as it were. Many people just build garages, lived in them and then eventually built regular houses. When the Ford models changed the plant would be down for quite some time. In the spring of 1926, they closed for quite some time, so we had to move back to Ashland – so I finished high school there. That fall mother remarried to T.E. Martin and moved to Milwaukee. I didn't want to change schools, so got jobs in the two above mentioned places and never did move to Milwaukee. With the folks in Milwaukee (Mother, Lenore, Ethel, Sadie and Henry) our interests turned there. Henry got a job as a taxi driver (must have been brave, but guess he got a map of the city and took off from there.) Our step-dad Martin was in partnership in a building company. Lenore and Ethel didn't get into school, but got jobs in a laundry near where the folks lived. Lenore eventually got a job at Phoenix Hosiery Co. Both got married shorty after that. Henry got a job with the city as a bus and street car conductor – Henry married Mercedes Mischo – built a home in Granville – later moved to California to run a farm for a brother-in-law – returned to Milwaukee for a short time and then went back to Healdsburg, CA.
Henry, along with a cousin, Ray O'Brien, wrote civil service exams and were awarded jobs with the Wisconsin Correctional Division of Prisons. He moved to DePere, WI where he a guard at the State Reformatory for some time. I recall visiting them at DePere when I was on furlough from the Air Force in WWII – hitchhiked there and then on to Iron Mountain to visit. He later was transferred to Amberg, WI where he was a guard at a stone quarry which employed prisoners. I believe they moved back to Milwaukee – held the afore-mentioned jobs before going to California.
In regard to Maurice's work before going to Iron Mountain, he wrote a civil service exam to become a rural mail carrier on our route. He passed that and held it for a few years. When the time came for the next exam, he passed it with a high score, but at that time ex-service men were given preference and the added points he lost out. Shortly after that he went to Iron Mountain. The rural mail carrier job paid $150 per month, which at that time was a good wage. However, he had to have two driving horses, a wagon for summer and cutter for winter. His route came past our home, south to Sanborn, then east and again north back into Ashland – about 28 miles. While on that route, he bought a 1921 or 22 Ford Touring car. Probably in the range of $300.
I recall that when we knew he was bringing the new car home, we got out on the road waiting to see him. He finally appeared weaving from side to side of the road. During the winter, the roads weren't plowed and the car was set up on blocks, drained of water, battery taken in the house and he had to use the horses on the route. I believe it was in December of 1922, we had a real warm spell, so he and Clayton decided to get the car running – guess we had very little snow at that time. When they started the car to let it warm up, they went in the house for awhile and lo and behold the car caught fire and burned out. Almost burned down the shed the car was in. However, later on her took the back seat off the car and put a box on it – that was the car we rode in when us kids and mother were taken to Iron Mountain in. That was the fall of 1924 – Maurice was married in April 1923. He built a two room house, like many of the new workers. Henry and Clayton then went up and got work there. Henry was 17 and got a job for the Village of Kingsford – he was too young to get in Fords where Ed Olsen, Clarice's husband, Maurice and Clayton got jobs – five dollars per day – that wage brought many people to Iron Mountain. We moved there in October 1924 – Clayton and Henry were sleeping in a tent in front of Maurice's house – so I, being in the ninth grade, moved in with them. The first night I found I had a bed partner – a dog came in and slept with us. Don't know who owned it! Shortly after that we got a brand new house on Rexford St. Only two bedrooms, but we managed. Us three boys slept in one bedroom, Mother and Sadie in the other and we had a roll-out davenport that Lenore and Ethel slept on. This house had a nice furnace – which we had never had, so we felt very city-fied in a new house with a furnace.
I attended the Iron Mountain High School in the fall of 1924-25, then the new Kingsford High School opened. I went there until April of 1926, when the Ford plant went down to get ready for new models. We were paying $55 per month rent, and without both boys working we had to return to our old home in Ashland. People were renting houses in Ashland and elsewhere for about $15 or so. I managed to get back into High School and finished in 1928 – as president of our class of 144 – don't know how a bashful country boy got elected by all those city kids. Went to the County Normal in Ashland 1928-29 and got a job teaching grades 4-5-6 out in Sanborn. The County Supt. of Schools took me out to Sanborn and I met the school clerk, a Mr. Lampson – he asked if I was Tom's boy, and I said 'YES' so I had the job.
After we moved back to Ashland, Mother renewed her friendship with Thomas Martin – so happens that she had met him before we went to Iron Mountain. They wrote back and forth (in the meantime, he had gone back to St. Louis) suddenly the letters stopped and Mother didn't know what happened. Later she found out that Martin's daughter in St. Louis, not wanting her dad to remarry, didn't give him Mother's letters. So he thought she wasn't interested and quit writing. When we got back to Ashland he came to visit in Ashland and found that Mother was back there. They renewed their friendship and were married in the fall of 1926. The kids and mother moved to Milwaukee. As time went on Lenore, Ethel and Henry married. Ethel married Eddy Strelka, Lenore married Norert Enders, and Henry married Mercedes Mischo – Norbert and Mercedes were cousins who moved to Milwaukee from Wabeno, WI. The Mischo's managed a rooming house and I think Lenore and maybe [Ethel] roomed there before their marriages. Going back to Mr. Martin, mother met him through Aunt Edna, her younger sister, who lived in the west end of Ashland across the street from where Martin had a cabinet shop. He happened to come over to Aunt Edna's when mother was visiting there – they stuck up a friendship and it ended in marriage.
Tragedy hit in June on 1929 when Dad Martin, who had stepped on a nail, got lock jaw and died within a few days in a Milwaukee hospital. I had gone down to visit for awhile and he was to pick me up at the depot in downtown Milwaukee. He missed me and I took a cab. In the meantime, he returned and I noticed that he was limping and had a bedroom slipper on his foot – kidding him I said, “guess we'll have to take you out and shoot you, like they do with horses who get lame.” He laughed and little later the pain got so bad that Mother and I took him to the hospital, the immediately put him to bed and gave him excessive doses of antitoxin. However, it was in vain, as the poison had gone too far. That was on a Thursday night and the following Monday he passed away. Shortly after the funeral mother and kids moved to another house – later to an apartment house that she and Henry managed – that was on Marshall and Knapp on the east side of Milwaukee.
In the summer of 1931, Grandpa Firmenich was ailing and Mother came up to see him in August. Grandpa died on Sept. 26, 1931 – it was customary in those days that someone sat up all night with people who were ill – it so happened that it was my night to sit up. About 1:30 I heard Grandpa kind of cough and choke – I went into the bedroom and he was breathing his last breath. Grandpa died at 91!
While there, Mother visited several of our former neighbors. She visited with the Molls (Pa and Ma and the Molls were very close and played cards together often.) So happens that Maurice's wife, Agnes, is a half-sister to Mrs. Moll. While at the Moll's one afternoon, a Mr. George Cook, the City Street Commissioner, came there and met mother. Things began to happen and they got friendly – George had lost his wife back some time ago – he had no children – so romance began that ended in marriage in Nov. 1932. Mother then moved back to the home at the Summit – along with Sadie, Ethel and Lenore. Shortly after that Lenore and Ethel went back to Milwaukee and got work and got married. Sadie and Mother rhen moved to town to the big 14-room house that George owned. He had a housekeeper who cooked for him and took care of the many rooms – had about 8 roomers at that time. Sadie then took over helping with the housework – Mother did the cooking. I was teaching Sanborn and boarding and rooming out there.
The Great Depression hit and the fall of the stock market in 1929. The whole country was affected with the loss of jobs and a great drop in the economy of the country. This continued for several years leading to the closing of all the banks in 1933, right after the election of Roosevelt. I was teaching at that time for $100 per month. After paying my board and room. Clayton had gotten laid off at the Ford Plant in the fall of 1932 and came back to Ashland to live in our house at the Summit. When Mother married George Cook, she left all of the furniture in the house, so Clayton moved in. Part of the time we would stay over the weekends with him. Later on he got a job on the WPA project in Ashland and then moved in the big house with Mother. He had gotten to know Lena Raspolic, a pupil who was in the 9th grade in Sanborn when I got there. She chummed some with Sadie and Clayton started dating her. They were married in April 1933 in Iron Mountain. Earlier the Ford Plantcalled back workers, so Clayton went back to work.
I taught in Sanborn for eight years, 1929 to 1937. I continued my college education thru summer schools at Superior State Un. And some night school courses, plus a semester now and then. In the fall of 1937, I was asked by the county superintendent to be the county supervising teacher, which I accepted. I was on that job for a period of 17 years, with time off for some additional college work and three-and a half years in the Air Force in WWII – I got my Bachelor of Education in January of 1942 and entered the service in April 1942 until the war ended. I was discharged on Oct 5, 1945 at Traux Field in Madison, WI. Went back to work as supervising teacher in January of 1946. There were no new cars available, as the government had contracts with auto companies for all cars. In Nov. of 1945, I met one of my former students who was buying old cars and repairing them. So I bought a 1937 Ford V-8 from him. There was no heater in it, but it did get me around. In the summer of 1946, new cars became available, as I was able to get a new Plymouth four-door. The car came minus a speedometer, hub caps, gas gauge, etc. Eventually I was able to get the missing parts. We did have much trouble with flat tires – synthetic rubber tires were subject to splitting. So one never knew when he would have a flat tire. Each morning I held my breath when I went to get my car hoping that all the tires were OK.
I had been instrumental in getting a Boy Scout troop started in Sanborn in 1936 – so in the summer of 1946, one of my former scouts, now grown, decided to take our troop to Yellowstone. He had a car like mine, but it had a gas gauge, etc. In order not to run out of gas, I would stop mine when he did and also keep my speed the same as his. I stayed Scoutmaster until 1954 and then continued in scouting in Glidden and White Pine. I was awarded the Silver Beaver, the highest award to lay people and the Scoutmaster's Key. After 50 years, I was awarded the 50 Year Medallion.
After leaving the supervising teacher job, I was elected to the position of President of the Wood County Teacher's College at Wisconsin Rapids, WI. I had previously gained my Master of Science degree in Education at the University of Wisconsin. We offered a two-year course for elementary teachers, who could teach in the rural schools. We had only five faculty members, so I had to teach several courses each semester – Reading Methods, Psychology, Ecology, and Learning Theories. So I was kept very busy. Esther had a job working in a Ladies Ready-to-Wear shop at that time.
We stayed there only the one year, as the salary was low. So I was invited to come back up north to Glidden to be Superintendent of Schools – stayed there nine years and then found a much better paying position as Elementary School principal at White Pine. So, when I finished my career I had 46 years of public service.
I had known Esther since I was about ten. Her family were originally from Illinois, but had moved out to a ranch at Reeder, North Dakota and then came to Ashland when she was about 10. She attended the Shores Clearing School with our family members. She and Lenore were in the same grade and chummed together for many years. When I was in fifth grade and Ethel in fourth (she was a grade behind me, as she had been sickly and missed a year) we decided to go into St. Agnes School and then make our first Holy Communion. Esther and I were in high school together, she being a grade behind me. However, we did go on a few dates then. She married a Harry Roffers, another country boy, in 1931 and raised two children, Byron and Shirley. Sadly, Harry was killed in a motorcycle accident in the fall of 1945. I was home quote some time before we started going together. We were married on Nov. 11, 1950. Byron was in first year of college and Shirley in 11th grade. I had been rooming in the house on Ellis, so I moved in the apartment Esther and the kids were in. Dad Cook had died in Dec. of 1939 leaving the large house to Mother and Sadie. Mother died in April of 1941, leaving Sadie and me to take care of the house. So in the fall of 1942 when I was home on furlough for Harlingen, Texas, our family met in Iron Mountain and signed the property over to Sadie so she could sell it. We sold the 14-room house for the great sum of $2800 – included most of the furniture, bedding, etc. Sadie then went to Detroit to stay with Beatrice and Harry. She worked in the Federal Tire Company plant.