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THE MILL CHILDREN STORIES
by JOE MANNING


This material may not be published, broadcast or redistributed. All Rights Reserved.

JOSEPH CREPEAU

When Joseph met up with Lewis Hine while standing on what used to be the trolley tracks on Union Street, he was probably thinking about going home to his house across the river on Front Street (not Fruit Street, as Hine stated). I found him in eight of the nine Hine photos taken at the Eclipse.

When I searched genealogy records for him, no one by that name turned up. But I found a Joe Crapo listed in the 1917 city directory. After that, he disappeared from the directories. I went to the city clerk's office and discovered that he died on February 20, 1918. Then I found his obituary in the Transcript. He left a widow and three daughters. The obituary described him as a well-known New England professional baseball player. He died at the age of 22, which meant that he would have been about 15 when Hine took the pictures, not 13.

Thus began a long search for descendants, and ultimately one of the great wild goose chases of my Lewis Hine Project. You can read the entire story of the search at the website link at the end of this story. Ultimately, it turned out that he wasn't Joe Crapo, but a different person, Idas Joseph Crepeau, who was born in Quebec on November 15, 1898, to Hormidas and Emelie Crepeau. I tracked down and interviewed his only child, Rita Brown, who lives in Pennsylvania. She had no idea about the photos of her father.

Her father was known as Paul. He was a barber, first in North Adams, then Greenfield, and finally Boston. He was married once, to Alice Mildred Smith, in 1944, but only briefly, and had little contact with his daughter the rest of his life. The daughter described her father as an eccentric and stubborn character for whom she had little affection. He passed away on July 6, 1992, at the age of 93.

The following are some excerpts from my interview with the daughter.

My mother left my father when I was four. He was drinking then. Once I got in high school, I saw him maybe twice a year. I was living in Athol then. I think he came up to harass us. When we went to church, he wouldn't wear his teeth. I hated that.

He was an oddball. But now that I know that he worked as a child, perhaps he was acting like a big shot because he actually felt just the opposite. I went to Boston one time to visit him. He was managing the Prudential Center barber shop. There was hardly anyone in there, except a friend of his. He stood there and talked to him, and never even introduced me. I thought that was very odd.

The last time I saw my father, he was in a rest home in Roxbury. They had asked me to cut his hair, because it was down to his shoulders. When I walked in, he said, "Why in the hell don't you get a haircut?" He always needled me about my hair.

My mother made me respect him. If I started to say something bad, she would say, "You don't talk about him that way; he's still your father." When I got married, I asked him if he would give me away, and he said he was booked up with appointments that day. But he showed up that night to visit my mother. My aunt threw him out.

When he was 79, he got hit by a truck. He was going to sue, but he didn't trust lawyers, so he ended up with only $3,000. It took him three months to even say that he had a daughter, and for the hospital to find me. When he was in rehab, I went up to see him. He was able to speak and walk at that time, but then he decided to just get in bed and give up. When he was 93, the doctor called and said that his cancer had returned and they needed to do dialysis, and he asked me what he should do. I asked the doctor, "What did my father say?" And he said, "If you can't cure me, don't do it." And I said, "Well, I don't believe in prolonging death."

Hospice got involved. I talked to their minister and told her the situation and how he treated me every time I saw him. I said, "I feel horribly guilty, but I don't want to see him." So they suggested I write him a letter, so I did. I just told him that I didn't hold him responsible for anything and that my mother did a good job raising me. I kind of let him off the hook.






RICHARD FITZGERALD

When I look at the boys in Lewis Hine's nine photographs in North Adams, I think about the fact that in six years, their country will enter WWI, and many of them will no longer be working at the mill. Instead, they will be heading out of the city on troop trains, leaving their lively and mostly French-Canadian neighborhood along the Hoosic River. Some may never return. Those who do will face the Great Depression in another 10 years, when most will struggle to support a wife and young children, the youngest (boys) of which will reach draft age about the time the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor.

Hine shows us 14-year-old Richard Fitzgerald in several pictures, each time for one moment in his life, that's all. Other than the date and the place he was photographed, we know virtually nothing about him. We don't know what he is thinking and what his life has been like up to that time. Richard doesn't know what he is destined to face in adulthood, though he may have already made some assumptions about that.

After searching all the available North Adams records, finding several of the houses he lived in, walking through several large cemeteries and spending considerable time on the Internet, I pieced together as much information as I could, starting with the 1860 census record of Richard's paternal grandparents, and ending with his death record in 1967.

Richard A. Fitzgerald's mother, Anna, was born in Ireland, and his father, John, was a second-generation Irish American born in Cambridge, New York, about 35 miles from North Adams. Richard was born in North Adams, on April 13, 1897. He was the youngest of five children, one of whom apparently died very young.

Richard's early life was filled with tragedy. At the time of the photograph, he had already experienced the death of his paternal grandfather in 1900, the death of his 17-year-old brother in a job-related accident in 1901, the suicide of an uncle in 1903, and the death of his mother in 1909. Several months after he was photographed by Hine in August, Richard was confirmed at St. Francis Catholic Church; but two weeks before Christmas, his sister passed away less than three years after her marriage, leaving behind a young husband and two small children. In 1917, Richard's paternal grandmother died; and two years later, his father died.

I found only one living descendant, Mary Cornell, who lives in North Adams. Her grandmother was Alice Fitzgerald, the sister who had died in 1911. Mary had never heard of Richard, who would have been her great uncle. But she was excited when I gave her copies of the photographs and the documents I had obtained. Up to that point, she knew almost nothing about the Fitzgerald side of her family.

Since I was unable to find anyone who remembers him, we may never know what the rest of his life was like, and what kind of a person he turned out to be. I do know that he lived in North Adams until about 1922, and then moved to the Boston area, apparently to live with his older brother John, with whom he was living in 1930, according to the census. At that time, Richard's occupation was given as truck driver. According to military records, he enlisted in the US Army in 1942, in Boston. He was listed as a "semi-skilled route man," with a grammar school education. He passed away in the Boston suburb of Brighton, on March 8, 1967, just a month before his 70th birthday. His obituary listed no survivors.






JOSEPHAT ADAMS

The following appeared in the North Adams Transcript on December 2, 1927:

While they stated this afternoon that something would probably be done within a few days about the situation on Front Street where washouts in the flood of four weeks ago and landslides since have carried away sections of the road and threatened to cause the collapse of houses, city officials had not yet decided just what that something would be. Whatever is done will probably be of a temporary nature to protect the houses that now appear to be endangered, and to stop further sliding away from the land.

Josephat (Joe) Adams lived his whole life at 105-107 Front St., and almost lost his house in one of those floods. He was born in Quebec on May 25, 1901. He was only 10 years old when he was photographed, though he looked several years older. He was the youngest of nine children of Napoleon and Eugenie (Brosseau) Adams. When Joe was a baby, he and his family came to the US, and settled on Front Street. They rented the house from Arnold Print Works. In 1911, the house was purchased by the Hoosac Cotton Mill, which owned it until 1934, when Joe Adams and his wife bought it.

He married Lillian Levesque on June 20, 1932, and did not have any children. He passed away in his Front Street house on February 9, 1984, at the age of 82. Lillian died on October 15, 2001, at the age of 95.

I found his nephew, Peter Levesque, who lives in Adams. He was delighted to see the picture. The following are excerpts from my interview with him.

His parents owned the house and lived at 105. He moved to 107 after he got married. When his parents passed, he remodeled 105 and moved in there. The big flood almost washed the house away. The only thing that held the house up was a large cable that someone brought over and tied around the house, and then he tied the other end to a maple tree in the back.

He worked in the mills, mostly Windsor Print Works, and ended up being a foreman. He worked there until he was about 68. Then he went back to work part time at the Eclipse Mill. Aunt Lillian worked in accounting at Sprague Electric. They never had any children.

He was an easygoing guy. He loved baseball, and he loved the Yankees. He always had a radio in his ear, listening to the baseball games. Later on, he watched the games on television. I can still hear him. If the Yankees screwed up, he'd mumble under his breath, "Those stupid should've been a double play," and stuff like that. He'd be in his recliner with his eyes closed, and I could swear he was sound asleep. But if you asked him the score, he'd tell you.

He liked to fish. He used to go up to Lake Champlain and fish for wall-eyes. He and my aunt would stay up there in a cabin for a couple of weeks. He'd drag me along sometimes. I was young, and they'd spoil the daylights out of me. He would teach me about geography. He knew all the names of the presidents and where they came from. He read the newspaper every day from cover to cover, and did the crossword puzzles. He was an avid cribbage player. He also played poker. He went to church faithfully. He enjoyed going out and having a good time. He liked to have a snort or two, but he wasn't a big drinker. There wasn't anybody that didn't like Joe.

Aunt Lillian was a very nice lady, very classy. She always kept him well dressed. He always wore a suit and tie. They were pretty well off financially. He owned the house free and clear. They would always have a new car, and they paid cash for it.

There used to be this clambake near my house. I invited Aunt Lillian and Uncle Joe. At the clambakes, they'd always have a poker game going. A couple of guys said to me, "Hey, why don't you come over and play?" And I said, "I don't know anything about poker." And one of the guys said, "What about that old man sitting there?" They meant Uncle Joe. So I told him they were playing poker. Uncle Joe says to them, "What are you guys playing, Rummy?"They say, "No, poker." So he goes over and says, "You'll have to explain the rules to me." You know what? He cleaned them out. He took them really bad. He could play poker better than anyone there.






ARTHUR CHALIFOUX

Several weeks before this photo was taken, the Chalifoux family might have taken note of two front-page stories in the North Adams Transcript. According to the articles, the Hoosac Mills Corporation, owners of the Eclipse Mill and the nearby Beaver Mill, announced plans for a million dollar addition to the Eclipse. To help finance their plans, the company intended to abandon the Beaver Mill, removing its machinery and equipment to the new Eclipse plant.

Arthur had turned 14 about a week before Hine photographed him, making him a legal employee for the first time, according to Massachusetts child labor laws. It is likely that he started working in the mill several years before, since his grandson recalls him stating many times that he had to quit school at a very young age in order to work full time.

Arthur was born in North Adams on August 19, 1897, to Theophile Chalifoux and his second wife, Rose De Lima Leclerc. They had been married in Quebec in 1893, after Theophile's first wife passed away. The first marriage had produced a son, Maximillien Thomas Chalifoux, born in 1874. He was known commonly as Thomas.

In 1901, Theophile's second wife died, leaving Arthur and two siblings without their mother. She was buried in a pauper's grave at St. Joseph's Cemetery in North Adams. Arthur moved in with his half-brother Thomas, 23 years his senior. Theophile married for a third time later that year.

Arthur lived with Thomas at 319 Beaver Street, a row of small apartments near the Beaver Mill. In 1911, they moved to 3 Rand Street, a two-story house which was likely a duplex. Both places are still standing. The Beaver Street apartment house appears unchanged, but the Rand Street house is now a single-family residence renumbered 45 Rand St.

It is not known what kind of relationship Arthur had with his absent father, but a 1906 article in the Transcript states that Theophile was sentenced to 60 days in prison for not paying child support. Around 1915, Thomas and his family moved to Holyoke, widely known for its paper mills, which provided career jobs for both Thomas and Arthur. In 1922, Arthur married Oliva Ladouceur. They had three children. Arthur's father, Theophile, died in Quebec in 1937, at the age of 90. It is not known if Arthur ever saw him after he moved to Holyoke. Arthur died in 1991, at the age of 93. His wife, Oliva, died in 1987, at the age of 84.

I interviewed one of Arthur's grandsons, David Cronkright, who lives in Hampshire County. The following are some excerpts from that interview.

I grew up five doors from him and saw him just about every day. He talked a lot about growing up in North Adams. He probably didn't think he would amount to anything, but the picture shows that he was an important part of history. If he was alive today and saw this picture, he would be tickled.

My grandparents never had anything. He said he made $25 a week when they were raising three kids. When he left the paper mill, his pension was $25 a month. When they died, they had insurance policies that were enough to bury them and that's about all. He always seemed like he thought he was nobody, that he never achieved anything in life. But he had a lot to offer.

He was like a father to me. My mom got married when she was 16, and she was divorced when I was less than two years old. When my mom worked, my grandparents would take care of me. They took me lots of places, like Lake Champlain, where they rented cabins, and we would stay with them as long as a month.

He used to say: "You people have it easy today. You don't know what I went through as a little boy. You don't know how lucky you are. You've got everything; it's all handed to you. I didn't have that." I look today at my life, and it's not easy. I struggle day to day, but I'm comfortable. I look back at him and know that he had it worse, so I've learned from him to be happy with what I have.

I'm a grandfather, and I wish I could be the grandfather to my grandchildren that he was to me. It was a real blow when he died. I saw him that morning waving at me through the window, and then I got a call at work that he was gone. He was a fantastic man. I loved him dearly.






ALBERT DUQUETTE

"Eddie Leonard of this city waded after Young Rogers of Schenectady in biff bang style and won the decision by a shade despite the fact that he was rather tired at the finish. He established quite a lead in the early rounds but his opponent was doing better at the conclusion. They boxed six rounds. A large crowd attended the smoker." -December 12, 1919, North Adams Transcript

The increasing availability of digitized historic photographs on the Internet has created a new life for this Lewis Hine picture of Albert Duquette and his friends. For obvious reasons, the diminutive boy with the pipe is often referred to as Popeye, despite the fact that the boy's pose predated the famous comic strip character by 18 years.

Less than a decade after Albert was photographed at the age of 15, he was a professional boxer, known as Young Eddie Leonard. In 1935, he died suddenly of an apparent heart attack, leaving a wife, but no children. Despite my best efforts, I was unable to find anyone who remembers Albert, or knows anything about him. About a year ago, the Transcript ran my brief article about him, along with his photo, but no one contacted me. But using city records, old newspaper articles and the Internet, I managed to collect enough information to paste together an interesting story of a colorful man who was immortalized by Hine's camera, robbed of a full life, and is now apparently forgotten in his home town.

Joseph Albert Duquette was born in Connecticut, in May of 1896, the first of five children born to Joseph and Regina Duquette, who married about 1895. The family moved to North Adams around 1900. According to the 1900 census, Albert's father was a spinner in a cotton mill, and they were living at 569 West Main Street, currently the location of a gas station. In 1910, they were living at 54 Reed Street, a street near the Eclipse Mill, but now just a foot path. When Albert was photographed, he lived at 183 Union Street, along the Hoosic River. There are no houses there now. The site is currently near a parking lot for the Eclipse Mill.

Albert, known locally as Puggy, served in the Army during WWI. But he was back in North Adams, living with his parents, in 1920, at 15 Eagle Street, a building that is now Persnickety, the toy store. At that time, his occupation was listed as athletic trainer. Shortly after, he moved to New York City, in an attempt to advance his boxing career. He married Celina Irene Monette on May 29, 1922, and gave up boxing about 1925. In the 1930 census, he and Celina are listed as living at 21 Eagle Street. The building still stands. Albert's parents and sister were living with him, and Albert was working again at a cotton mill, probably the Eclipse.

On September 30, 1935, at the age of 39, Albert died suddenly at his North Adams home at 5 Grant Street, an area that was completely changed in the 1960s when the city built the Greylock Housing complex. His wife Celina died in 1967, at the age of 53.

Here are excerpts from several other articles from the Transcript about Albert's boxing exploits:

"The preliminary was halted in the second stanza, referee Shotsy Shannahan declaring Eddie Leonard the winner over Young Kippy. Both are North Adams boys. Kippy was not badly hurt, but in the case of the youngsters, it is just as well to take every precaution, particularly in curtain raisers. Eddie Leonard appeared to have a little something on Kippy from the start and he floored him in the second. Kippy was on his feet in a few seconds, but apparently, Shotsy detected a funny look in his eye, for he promptly sent the boys to their corners." - November 26, 1919

"Puggy Duquette of this city is meeting with considerable success boxing in the featherweight class under the name of Young Eddie Leonard at New York City." - April 25, 1924

"Puggy Duquette, who had done considerable boxing in New York City under the name of Eddie Leonard, plans to return to the ring and he has issued a challenge to Frankie Duhois of Adams." - February 10, 1925



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