First post – birth; second post – marriage (proposal); so, yes, this third post is about death. More specifically, it’s about sharing news of death. Yet in sending this card, Angus M. Baker memorialized his late wife Rosa E. Merly/Merley/Mesley Baker–and tells us quite a bit about life, death, and postcards.
Let’s start with the card itself. Angus Baker provided his wife’s vital dates: birth, marriage, and death. Rosa married at age 28 and died seven years later. He doesn’t tell us what she died of, merely that it was “[a]fter a short illness.” This information survives by way of a Real Photo Post Card (RPPC) which presumably shows Rosa and Angus in happier times. Perhaps on their engagement or marriage–at any rate on a sunny day when they stood outside a house (with a woman–one of their mothers perhaps?) in the background on the porch. While we can only speculate as to the day, they’re both wearing very nice clothing (he’s got a white vest on under his coat).
RPPC’s could be obtained in sizable quantities. We don’t know how many the Bakers ordered, or how many they had left when Rosa died and Angus decided to use one to write to his cousin John Heighway.
John surely already knew about Rosa’s death. The postcard bears a stamp and two postmarks. The first postmark is from Mentone, Indiana, and dated 17 May, nearly two months later. The second postmark is from Athens, Indiana, on the 18th, when the card was redirected to John’s new address in Rochester, Indiana. All three are in northeastern Indiana. Mentone is about 12-13 miles from Athens and 15 from Rochester. According to Google Maps, these trips would take under 20 minutes in 2020–while it would have been a longer drive over a century ago, they were close enough for news to travel, and even visitation, depending on available resources and time.
Indeed, on the reverse Angus indicates he may not see his relatives soon but won’t forget them. We can’t know what other contacts they had, but the overall impression is of kin close enough for Angus to mention–on a postcard that anyone could read–his loneliness.
What can we learn from the card? Angus had enough RPPC of himself and his wife to send one two months after her death. He sent it to a cousin for whom he had affection and was willing to admit emotional loss–but also for whom he did not have the most recent postal address. The image suggests a couple with ample resources. They’re well dressed, whether or not this was their wedding photo, and were able to order the cards. Moreover they’re standing in front of what appears to be a sizable house.
Note also that we have names and dates connected to the deceased and the sender as well as recipient. That’s enough to consult other resources for more information, such as the U.S. Census for 1900 and 1910–sadly, Rosa and Angus’s marriage didn’t last long enough to be noted in the Census but he included her maiden name.
According to the 1900 Census,* Rosie E. Merley (or Mesley), born April 1874, lived in Union, Indiana, with her brother George, his wife Nora, and her younger sisters Ora and Nellie. George was a farmer and owned his house outright. The Merley’s parents immigrated from Germany. Rosa could read, write, and her occupation was listed as “Farmer store” so perhaps she helped on the farm or sold farm produce.
Without a birthdate, Angus Baker is harder to identify in the Censuses. There are just enough of that name to raise questions, and none located in Mentone although at least one other in Indiana. Further, the top of the card reads “Angus Barber” or “Angus Baber” raising questions as to his name.
The inscription at the top of the card was likely done by someone in John Heighway’s family. This particular card was part of an album with 96 postcards. Many were addressed to John, but the majority to his young daughter Lucile. It was likely her album. At some point over the intervening century, someone wrote on the front of most cards the identities of the sender(s)–perhaps so that people flipping through the album did not have to remove the cards.
I could write more about the Heighway family here, but I’ll save them for another day (or year). It is oddly appropriate that the postcard Angus wrote at least in part to memorialize Rosa contributes to our knowing more basic information about her (at least after a brief dip into research) than him.
- Heritagequest, Year: 1900; Census Place: Union, Miami, Indiana; Page: 1; Enumeration District: 0110; FHL microfilm: 1240393.
“Remembered Love: Death and Real Photo Post Cards,” copyright 2021, A.R. Henle.