Friday, February 21, 2003

The Old Gent

Get yourself a copy of coffee. I'm going to tell you about my great grandpa.

My dad never talked much about his family- truth is he didn't have one really. His mother must have died soon after he was born. To this day I don't even know what her name was. He had two older sisters but his dad (my grandpa) put them in "service" as soon as they were big enough to make a bed.
We were all named Ned -- my grandpa, my dad and me in fact my legal name is "Ned C. ..... III)
I went out to California when I was seventeen. I'd planned for almost a year- working in a factory double shifts (13 hours a night, 6 nights a week )
One night, my dad and I had one of our usual imbroglios and I terminated it with "OK, I've had it - I'm getting out of here"
My dad; "And where do you think you're going?"
Me: "As far away from here as I can get - California"

So a couple of days later, I was on a "Flying Irishman" unscheduled flight to San Francisco. It took close to 24 hours and we made about 15 stops enroute.

I stayed with my father's sister Aunt Helen for the first six months she was a great gal and had a daughter who was just a year older than me and a Freshman at San Jose State.
Shortly after I moved in and we'd gotten acquainted (I"d never even seen either Helen or her daughter Susan before) Aunt Helen started telling me about the family - things my dad had never even mentioned.
One night she told me about "The old Gent"
"That was what we called hime" she said "Not Grandad or Grandpa, and we never referred to him by his name, which was 'C.C.' just "The Old Gent".
She went on "You know my sister, Polly, is very interested in family history and geneology - she even managed somehow to join the DAR. So she kept trying to find out about "The Old Gent"- who his family was, where he came from before he had the feed business in Ohio. . Finally in desperation she hired private detectives to check records back there. After about a month they came back to her with nothing. There wasn't a trace of "The Old Gent"before he owned the feed business- not even a marriage certificate or any recording of your grandfather's birth. Christopher Columbus Smith just materialized in that small town in western Ohio a full grown man with no past"

When I told the story to a buddy of mine, he thought about it for a few minutes and then he said:
"Man, I got it- your great grandpa was Jack the Ripper, Christopher Columbus Smith ? Man that's bogus"
That shook me a little but later, when I checked dates and calculated when my Great Grand "materialized' in Ohio, it didn't check out at all with Jack the Ripper's history.

So he wasn't Jack the Ripper but who the hell was he?
A fugitive or an ex-con?
Black Sheep of a wealthy eastern family (He did have money)
Native American or half breed who wanted to live as a white man?

One of the few things I do know about him is that he knew Abe Lincoln pretty well. I've got a walking stick with the inscription "A. Lincoln to C.C. Smith-1860" on the gold handle.
"The Old Gent" made a lot of money in the feed and seed business. Then he went back to Chicago and bought some land there. They call it the Chicago Loop now.

After "The Old Gent" died (must have been right around the turn of the twentieth century) My Grandfather (Ned C no. 1) Sold most of the Chicago land and lived off the proceeds until he died in the early nineteen forties. He left each one of his grandchildren a $10,000.00 Savings Bond

My dad had gotten and spent his share of the family fortune about 10 years before I was born.

1 comment:

Anna said...

have you continued to look up cc smith? the whole geneology thing has changed with the internet.

i have a mystery in my family, too. everyone on my father's side is very secretive, taciturn and unforthcoming. who knows where the blighters came from. no one's talking. secret immigrant from europe begets mining official by day, OSS operator by night who marries american blue blood gal descended from robert morris (allegedly).

my dad thinks there's a bad family secret.

i think it goes back to the middle ages when someone with his surname was persecuted as a heretic and tortured by the inquisition. temperment and outlook runs in families and i suspect being a waldensian was enough to create generations who play their cards close to the chest.

but, then again, maybe there's a bad family secret.