Posts tagged St. John

Selling points of St. John, Kansas

You just never know what you will find when going through old correspondence and other memorabilia.  God bless the pack rats but someone has to make sense of things and I guess it might as well be me.  I enjoy reading through yellowed newspaper clippings and also trying to decipher people’s penmanship.  I can say this from all the letters and diaries I’ve looked at, my ancestors from the Norwegian side of the family had very good hand writing.  (I wish I had much better penmanship, the computer is partly to blame for my scrawl!)

Looking over my husband’s grandmother letters, who probably had so much work to do that she dashed it off quickly, it takes longer to read her writing.  I only saw one letter dated in 1919 from my husband’s GREAT grandmother and she had terrible spelling and grammar.  Again, my Norwegian ancestors cared about how they wrote even if English was their second language.  I may have to type up an example showing a bad example from a person who had English ancestry.  Better yet, I’ll try to scan the 1919 lined paper that is very aged and yellowed.

For now, I want to share what was written up in a St. John, Kansas newspaper about my husband’s grandfather W.R. Gray.  It was a kind of promotional to get people to live in the town of St. John.  The businesses were trying to promote what an amazing little town they had by listing all the different industrial and businesses that were already established by 1921.  Here’s what was written about W.R. Gray:

“…Last, but by no means least, isthe St. John Art Gallery, owned and managed by W.R. Gray.  Mr. Gray has the reputation of being one of the very best photographers in Central Kansas and always keeps abreast of the times in photography.  People come from far out of hte St. John trade territory to have their photo work done in Mr. Gray’s studio.

So, as we said before in this article, the publication of our long list of industrial articles was made possible by the patronage of the wide-awake firms mentioned above and the News, on behalf of both ourselves and Mr. Evans, desires to publicly thank them.

During the publication of the series, Mr. Evans touched upon county resources in general, also education, churches and commercial life, real estate, etc. Mr. Evans has showed quite clearly that real estate in the vicinity of St. John is much cheaper considering the price, than in the older agricultural states of Illinois, Iowa and Indiana…”

So, one last poem I had to share that might have been an original with W.R. Gray but I doubt it.  I think it is cute and was in a little notebook where you have to flip the pages to get the next answer.  The title is: “Such is Life” by Jessie Gray, she was a single woman all her life in the small town of St. John, Kansas and kept her father’s photography business going after his death in 1947.

They were out upon a picnic, and were sitting on the sand.

The moon was shining brightly, and he held her little ______?


As he held her little shawl, how fast the time did fly,

His eyes were filled with longing, as he looked into her _______?

…lunch basket.

As he looked into her lunch basket, and wished he had a taste.

He seemed supremely happy, his arms around her________?


With his arms around her parasol, fortunate for this young chap,

With happiness she trembled, as she sat upon his_______?


She sat upon his handkerchief, this charming sweet young miss

Her lips an invitation, he slyly stole a _______???


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Obituary for a frontier photographer in Kansas

Okay, so what does Kansas have to do with Kazakhstan besides sharing some of the same letters? Yes, glad you asked. While going through old letters, I came across some interesting things about my husband’s grandfather who went by the name of W.R. Gray.  There’s renewed interest in our family because this dignified Kansas gentleman has a great, great grandson going by the same name. Kazakhstan is interested in babies but also in their ancestors  (to know seven generations back, means you are a good Kazakh) so that’s where I can make the tie in.  Just to give you an idea how obituaries were written in newspapers over sixty years ago, I’ll retype for you just the first part of it:

“William Rossetter Gray was born in Greentown, Howard county, Indiana, March 22, 1865, and departed this life at Bethel hospital in Newton, Kansas at 12:15 the morning of August 2, 1947.  At the time of his death he had reached the age of 82 years, 4 months, and 11 days.

Mr. Gray went to Newton to get medical advice concerning his failing health May 23rd and remained there until the end.  There it was found, he had a malignancy too far advanced for treatment.  At the time he left, he was still serving the public through the studio and felt he could hardly neglect his work to take time for sickness.  Although never ill enough to go to bed, he often worked when he should have rested.

Will, as he was called, was the tenth of fifteen children born to his Christian parents, Luther S. and Rebecca Gray. In early life he confessed his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and joined the Methodist church.  During his illness he often assured those about his sick bed of his hope of eternity.

In 1883, he moved with his parental family to a farm new McPherson, Kansas.  Here he met Mary Catharine Tipton, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Tipton, to whom he was married April 6, 1898. To this union five children were born.

In 1905 he purchased the studio in St. John and moved his family with three children in March of that year.  He was a pioneer in the field of photography and continued in the profession through the many scientific advancements to the present day methods.  He attended all conventions possible to progress in his work and became a member of the Photographers Association of America, as well as the Kansas Professional Photographers Association and Southwest Kansas Photo Club.  He served his territory with untiring efforts in a pleasant, friendly manner.

He was a member of the First Methodist church and the men’s Bible class, the Chamber of Commerce and Odd Fellow Lodge No. 539 to which he was especially devoted.  Two years ago he received his 40 year Odd Fellow Membership pin.  He led an unusually clean, highly principled life and had a keen sense of humor.  His leisure time included much reading, writing of poetry, working with tools, listening to the radio and visiting with friends around town.”

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Heartwarming story from a 1940 Kansas newspaper

I ran across an interesting story from about a century ago as I was going through old letters and other memorabilia from my husband’s side of the family.  I believe the older the information, the better it is. I especially like reading about the 1930s and have unearthed some interesting material which I’ll post later.

The following was typed up from the 1940s newspaper. I suppose the little girl’s photograph is in a Stafford, Kansas museum where much of my husband’s grandfather’s photography things were taken. W.R. Gray died seven years later on Aug. 2, 1947. Read on, this might warm your heart if not bring a lump to your throat.  I wish I knew who the author of this article was, another “anonymous.”

Taken from the St. John News, Sixieth Edition, 1940

“In the Same Location”

W.R. Gray, Photographer, started with 5×8 camera in 1887

Ten cents spent by a former lad for a circular of bargains resulted in the establishment of three photo businesses, and a life work for six people, one of them holding a Ph.D. degree.

In August, 1887, W.R. Gray asked for his wages a few days in advance so that he might buy a 5×8 camera advertised in a circular for which he had spent a dime.  1940 finds W.R. Gray in a studio he has had in the same location since 1905, and which has outlived all competitors who have attempted to establish studios in St. John. Two brothers, a son and a daughter became photographers. One son is a chemist for the Eastman Kodak company, due to the influence of Mr. Gray and his little 5X8 camera.

Mr. Gray has had his home and studio in the present location all through the years.  He has acquired new equipment and is well informed in the new development of photographs. Miss Jessie Gray has devoted much time and study in the art of tinting. Her work on landscapes is unusually fine.  The colors are natural and because the scenes are “real” they have true worth.  Her portraits are life-like and artistic.

Upon being asked for a special result from his photography, Mr. Gray immediately responded with a story about a little girl who was brought to him in the days before he had established his studio in St. John.  He traveled as a overland-photographer for a period of time. The incident occurred at Fall River, Kansas.

A mother and an aunt brought a dark-haired, timid little girl of about four years to the gallery.  The child, although willing to have her picture taken, was so self-conscious that she could not pose with her mouth closed. She could not smile with a natural smile but held her mouth open in an unnatural manner.

After being discouraged, and putting the child’s wraps on, the mother and aunt lingered to look at some photographs near the door.  The little girl quietly remained near the cameras looking at some button photos.  Mr. Gray leaned down to her and told her if she would allow him to, they would surprise her mother by taking her picture now, and he would reward her by giving her one of the buttons she was admiring.  The child entered into the conspiracy with Mr. Gray, and posed with shy confidence, her lips closed, but with a half-smile on them. The picture, one of them still in the possession of Mr. Gray, is truly appealing.

A few days later, the child took measles and whooping cough.  She died soon afterward.  Mr. Gray can never forget how thankful he was that he was able to present a photograph of the little girl to her family.”

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