Friday, September 20, 2013

The Search for Judy Garland's Aunt Mary

Of all the research work I did while working on Judy Garland's family history, perhaps the most fascinating was trying to find Judy's Aunt Mary. For some time, I had known of the existence of Garland's aunt - her father, Frank Gumm's, elder sister. In fact, I had heard whispers that she killed herself, but, none of the older generation had spoken much about her. Now, the real problem was how to fine her.

Curry Wolfe in Murfreesboro, standing
by the graves of some of her ancestors
Early in my research, Judy's distant cousin, Curry Wolfe, had joined me. Curry is the great grand-daughter of John Mason Marable Baugh, Clemmie Baugh Gumm's brother. For those in the know, Clemmie was Judy's paternal grandmother, Frank Gumm's mother. Clemmie died when Frank was eight years old, which probably why not much has been known about her.

In all the histories written on Judy Garland, you will read about her father, Frank Avent Gumm, but very little is found on his siblings. Frank's family consisted of his sister, Mary, older brother Robert Emmet, and two younger brothers, William Wade and Allie Richardson.

So, the search for Mary began. The census, legal records and property records showed that Mary was around during the early years of Frank's youth. Then, suddenly, she disappeared! Curry and I searched high and low for her, but to no avail. We could not find a death record, marriage record; nothing at all for that matter.

Finally, one day, it hit me. In the early days, when a parent died, their property was left to the children, the records of this included the daughter's spouse. Back to the property records I went. Now I knew why Oscar and Mary McPeak were there! Oscar was Mary's husband. But once again we were stuck. We could not find Mary! The only difference was that I knew I was looking for Oscar and Mary McPeak.

During the spring of 2006, Curry was in Salt Lake City taking a genealogy course. While she was there, she agreed to do some special searches for me. Late one afternoon she called. "I've found Mary!" she said excitedly. "There was a front page story in the Rome, Georgia newspaper." It was a tragic story. A story of a woman so ill, she drowned herself in the river. Now we knew what had happened to Mary, but the story was not over. Where had Mary been for the last 8 years?

In the meantime, I returned to Murfreesboro and connected Joy Nelson, a 2nd cousin of the Frank Gumm. Searching through her grandmother, Nannie Gum Rion's belongings - things her father had kept, she found a post card from Mary. Mary had children! Two little babies, who had been sick. At the same time, another family member shared photos with me of a family reunion that had taken place in Huntsville, Alabama, toward the end of Mary's life.

Rare Unedited photo of Mary and
husband Oscar McPeak around 1918
(c) Gibb Family
As the mystery deepened, Curry discovered another news article about Oscar McPeak. He also had died tragically a few years after Mary's passing. Now, I was on a mission. What had happened to Mary's children and what was she like as a person? She had been as much a mother to Frank and his brothers their mother Clemmie had been. Mary was only fourteen when her mother died, leaving behind children 10, 8, 5 and 2. Was she pretty? Did she sing? Did Frank see a bit of sister Mary in his little daughter, Frances? So many questions, but the biggest one was what happened to those children.

Over the next several years I was able to trace Mary and Oscar's travels - as detailed in my book, "From Tennessee to Oz - The Amazing Saga of Judy Garland's Family History." Mary had traveled from Tullahoma to Michigan and back to Tennessee, to Alabama and finally to Rome, Georgia. Then, in the last hours before finishing my book new papers arrived detailing Mary's husband, Oscar's time in prison. More shock and tragedy.

Still searching for the children, I checked baptismal records, birth records, death records and cemetery records, but I could not find any record of them. It almost seemed as if they had never existed, but that post card was real. Are they buried in Murfreesboro in an unmarked grave? What happened to them? Perhaps someday the truth will come out.

Judy never met her aunt Mary. Mary died in 1919 - although from suicide, all the symptoms found mentioned in the local paper point to cancer. The medical records probably no longer exist Judy's sisters, Mary Jane and Virginia, were taken by their parents to meet Aunt Mary. In fact, they stayed in Alabama at her house for a month.

One of the most painful days of my research was the day I arrived in Rome. Trembling, I did what I knew I must -- I walked in Mary's footsteps; walked her final path to the bridge crossing the river where she had thrown herself in - an act meant to end her terrible pain and to spare others that pain as well. How do you describe such a walk? Now she is buried on a hilltop, just across the way from Mrs.Woodrow Wilson. Another sad day was the day a photo arrived from another family member. The photo had been taken of Mary's grave the day she was buried. One can only imagine how heart sick her brothers were as they stood before her grave that day. Frank Gumm boarded a train and the funeral was held until he arrived.

And so, this is Mary's story. Her death was tragic, but not shameful. She grew up in a difficult home, took care of her brothers and her father who was deeply troubled. She laughed and sang and, finally, when some might consider her an old maid, she married and had two little boys. Her husband went to prison, she lost her children, and then her health. I do have a special place in my heart for Mary. I wonder if Judy ever learned the story of her aunt. If her father had lived longer, she certainly would have.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Old Jefferson, Tennessee and The Gum Family

A home in Old Jefferson back in the 1890s.
Early in my journey to discover the truth about the Gumm family, to my surprise I learned that they had not always lived in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Prior to 1876, the Gums lived in a town known as “Jefferson,” (and later "Old Jefferson). Originally, the town had been named for President Thomas Jefferson.

While this fact surprised me, the real shock was that Jefferson was gone. I would never be able to follow the trail of her history by walking down her streets or looking into her buildings. No, like Camelot, she was only a legend no. Her physical being had was covered by the waters of the Stones River and had been covered sing 1968 when the Tennessee Valley Authority created Percy Priest Lake in hopes of preventing the future flooding of Nashville.

Knowing the Jefferson was only a legend now led me on another journey -- to discover the story of Jefferson. There was little written about the town founded in 1805 by Thomas Bedford with the hope of creating a great inland port. It would be a port that connected with the mighty Mississippi River.

My journey to learn more about Jefferson was interesting, but barely informative until one day while  visiting the home of a woman whose family came from Old Jefferson, While studying the photos on her wall and asking about them, she told me,
“Call Toby Francis, he knows all about it.”

Old Jefferson is a passion for Mr. Frances. His family owned a farm there, and having to leave that land broke their hearts. When I explained to Toby why I wanted to go Jefferson – that the Gum family had lived from 1804 to 1876-- he asked me a question that struck me like lightening.

The path to Old Jefferson
“Would you like to go there?”

“What? I thought it was under water.”

“We all thought that, but mound of the hill where the town was is not under water.  It’s still there. If you go at
a certain time of year, right about now, actually, you can walk across the river to where the town was.”

So we agreed to meet. Toby advised me to wear heavy shoes and casual clothes as it was going to be a hike. We drove up the Murfreesboro Pike, and turn off just past the cemetery. Then we drove along a winding road, back to a public park area. From here, it was a hike. We walked through woods, and past the high piles of dirt the Park Service had built to prevent drivers from going down the old town road.

Because of the lake, the water is now still, but
at this spot a prosperous mill once ran.
Along the way, we passed hunters, the spot where the old mill was, and then walked down to the river where indeed the river had gone down, leaving a muddy path to walk across. Slowly ascending up the muddy narrow road, I thought the place must have looked something like this when the settlers came, or when the Indians roamed these hills. I was out of shape, and the hike took my breath away.

Finally, Toby said, “This is it. This is the crest of hill where the main square of the town sat in 1804.”

I had to stop and sit on the ground for a moment to absorb it. This was where Norton Gum walked… but not just him, there were men like Andrew Jackson and other important persons of the time. This had once been a bustling town. Now, it's goning back to nature.

Toby and I climbed through the woods, and along the way, he pointed out, here and there, a cistern and other things that proved another civilization had once stood here. The Park Service had removed the homes before the waters of Percy Priest Lake were let loose to flood the land. Yet as the Park Service removed buildings they made a few discoveries. While removing the boards off one of the old houses they learned that beneath those boards (the siding) was a much older building, a building thought to be the original courthouse.

Here I stand, on the edge of the Stones River fork,
Holding the stop of a carriage.
While we were there on my first visit, Toby and I went down to the water, to the very point where the East and West branches of the Stones River divide. The river is much calmer now. Walking along the waterfront I discovered a piece of metal which Toby said it was a step for an old carriage. Frequently, Toby told me, there are historic items washed up along the shore here.

This point of the Stones River once had wharves with river boats coming and going, delivering and taking goods off to distant ports. It was once thought that this town, Jefferson, would become a great port in the middle of the United States. Oh, but to walk on this last of history.

The Crosthwaits, Ridleys and The Civil War

For those who have read my book, you'll know that
in the early years of Jefferson's existence, a man named
Shelton Crosthwait moved to Jefferson from Virginia. A very cultured, well-educated young man, some say that Shelton is the son of William Crosthwait, the man who helped Benjamin Franklin set up the first library in Philadelphia. In any case, Shelton Crosthwait was extremely ambitious and soon had built a grand plantation on both sides of the Stones River and a lovely mansion called "Fairmont" on the hill overlooking Jefferson and surrounding area.

You may wonder what this Mr. Crosthwait has to do with the Gum family. As it turns out, besides the fact that they both lived in this historic area, quite a bit. During my research - research that took me over a year - I learned that after the death of Sheldon Crosthwait's brother, he raised his brother's son, William. This same William would one day marry Alexander Gum's mother, Melinda (her second marriage). Alexander Gum was Judy Garland's great grandfather and the grandson of one of Jefferson's earliest residents, Norton Gum.

In my search to find more about Jefferson, I also learned that Shelton Crosthwait's granddaughter, Bettie Ridley Blackmore, who lived at Fairmont during the Civil War, kept a diary which was published in part by the Tennessee Historical Society in the late 1950s. One year after discovering this fact, I finally obtained a copy of this historical work.

Meanwhile, I became fascinated by Fairmont and the Crosthwaits. Despite the fact that the home was burnt by the "Yankees" during the war, I thought something of the place must be left. Some people told me they had ideas about it and one day Ernie Johns and I climbed through brush and rought terrain. It's a wonder we didn't meet a rattle snake!

On the road to Fairmont.
Finally, Toby Frances took me back to Jefferson, and led me up a hill which he believed was the old road to "Fairmont." Once again, Toby and I set off to find it. The photo to the left reveals the road we traveled on, and in my book there is a photo of Toby standing against an ancient tree. 

The day we traveled to Fairmont was sunny and quite warm. I was in better shape than on my first trip to Old Jefferson and walking up the slope toward the crest of the hill I thought saw evidence of ancient paving and side stones along the edge of the road. As we traveled along, I could almost hear the sound of the horse’s hooves pulling a carriage of guests along and the clip of the reins as they sped on to the mansion.. Strange how time can change things…

So that is my story for now.  Maybe one day more will be learned.

For more information on Old Jefferson, the Crosthwaits and Ridleys may be found in my book, From Tennessee to Oz, Part 1.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

January 1863 Part 2 Judy Garland's Family in the Civil War

This photo of John A. Gum, Jr.
may give us some idea of his
father's appearance.

Up in Jefferson, John Alexander Gum (grandfather of Frank Gumm and great grandfather of Judy Garland) had finally joined the war as a Confederate scout. Left at home was his wife, Martha Wade Gum, and their four children: Will, 8 (Frank’s father), John, 5, Laura, 2, and baby Lucy, four months old.

While Martha had quite a few members of her family living nearly, Jefferson was a frightening place to live during the period 1862-1864. While the Battle of Stones River raged, there were numerous skirmishes in town and just across the river. The sound of shots, galloping horses, cries, curses and yells were deafening at times.

Those in Jefferson would soon learn that no one was safe in this war. Their relative, via John Alexander Gumm’s step-father and half-siblings, was Rebecca Crosthwait, who was married to Judge Bromfield Ridley. The Ridleys lived in a beautiful old house on the hill overlooking Jefferson, known as Fairmont. The plantation, founded by Rebecca’s father, Sheldon, consisted of over 3,000 acres, and was run by 100 slaves. The estate was legendary to those in the area, within a month of the battle, Union soldiers, bent on revenge, set out to destroy it.

The family felt blessed that Rebecca’s old mother, Elizabeth Thompson Crosthwait, died two weeks after the Battle of Stones River, before she could experience the worst. Rebecca’s husband, Bromfield Ridley came home, and fearing for the safety of their thirteen year-old daughter in the midst of rampaging soldiers, took her away. But Rebecca, nursing her seriously ill daughter, Bettie, refused to leave.

Murfreesboro, TN sunset   (c) Michelle Russell
One night, as the family slept, the Union soldiers set their home ablaze. Everything was lost, but with the help of the remaining servants, all persons in the home survived.  

We can imagine the shock and horror of the residents of Jefferson, especially the Gums, waking to see the house on the hill ablaze, while the “Yankee” soldiers fired guns and laughed gleefully. Later, these same soldiers would come to town and threaten to burn the rented cottage where the Ridleys were staying. Certainly, Rebecca Ridley was not perfect. Throughout her life, she continued feel she had a right to own the persons who worked on her plantation. Nevertheless, one can sympathize with the pain she suffered. Her daughter Bettie died in 1864 due to illness and the trauma of the war. Rebecca herself died five years later, followed by her husband a year after that. Though not killed in battle, many persons died young as a result of the war.


The Gresham mansion, of which parts were begun in 1812,
still stood when I first arrived in Mufreesboro.
Although the Battle of Stones River was fought in
every direction around this hill, the hill itself became
an oasis of peace. Many wounded man came here to
seek help and without a doubt, some are buried here.
Around 2007, the owner decided the land was worth more
without the mansion and despite all protest, one night
he had it razed.
All of Judy Garland’s immediate family member survived the Battle of Stones River, but the loss of lives during those few days was terrible: 12,800 Union soldiers, and 10,306 Confederate soldiers. The amount of wounded men was far greater. It is said that the wounded and dead lay side by side, in the streets, in churches, schools, people’s homes and front yards. There were so many wounded men, they could not be treated. As a result, they were put on trains and sent to other towns like Tullahoma. Murfreesboro simply could not hold them.

Frank Gumm’s two uncles, (Clemmie’s elder brothers) John and Joe Baugh took part in the final battle along the Stones River in which thousands of troops entered an area without seeing the fifty-eight canons lined up on the hill above them. In one hour, 1,800 Confederate men lay dead and the waters of the Stones River ran red with blood. It was here that the Battle of Stones River concluded.


Entrance to the Gresham Mansion.
Through these doors, (as with many nearby homes,
the wounded\were taken and operated on.
In later years, the home was used
for weddings.
Prior to my time in Murfreesboro, I did not have knowledge of this battle nor the fact that Judy Garland’s family had fought in the Civil War. In times past, being a westerner and then a “northern girl” as some in the south called me; I did not understand how people could speak about the Civil War with such immediacy.

After living in Murfreesboro, I understand it better. When you live on land where a battle took place, when you dig and find bones and buttons and bullets, when the homes you enter have bloodstains on the floor because a surgeon stood there and severed limbs, when the portraits on the wall have been slashed by sabers, then it is real. When your ancestor shed blood on the land, right or wrong, it is real, it’s not a story in a history book. In part, I think this is why northern children can read about the Civil War and see it in the past. But in the south, you can touch the past.

There are many more photos and stories I’d like to share on the Civil War some day. I would also like to state that it has not been my purpose to defend the war one way or the other. My purpose has been to bring more understanding to Judy Garland’s family-- who represent a lot of other families -- and to show what they experienced during the Civil War.

For further information, please visit

Saturday, December 29, 2012

December 1862 Judy's Family in the Civil War Part 1

      THINKING OF JUDY GARLAND and her sisters at this time of year, one pictures three little girls standing in the wings of a theater, giggling and getting ready to perform. This was a part of young Frances (Judy) Gumm’s life. Yet, only 70 years earlier, Judy Garland’s paternal grandparents—children at the time—found themselves in the midst of one of the most devastating and historically important battles of the Civil War, The Battle of Murfreesboro, or as it is known today, The Battle of Stones River.


The Christmas of 1862 was a wonderful time for Murfreesboro. The Union soldiers, who had occupied the area on and off between February and autumn, were gone and the Confederate troops, which included many local men, had come in large numbers to winter there. This brought a great deal of comfort and cheer to the residents. It was thought the men would not fight again until spring.

In the town of Murfreesboro, General John Hunt Morgan was celebrating his marriage to a local girl, Mattie Ready. Even Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, was in town for the event. Meanwhile, most people were unaware of the fact that Davis was also there to discuss war strategies with General Braxton Bragg. Shortly after his arrival, Davis was apprised of the fact that Union troops were moving south from Nashville in large numbers. Some were coming down Wilkerson Pike, near the home of Benjamin Marable (Frank Gumm’s great grandfather); others were coming down the Nashville Pike, near Jefferson, where the Gum family lived.

A lady of the period.  Photo taken
at a living history presentation,
Fort Rosecranz in Murfreesboro
Mary Ann Marable Baugh, Judy Garland’s great grandmother, lived in Old Millersburg on a farm at the time. This property was southwest of Mufreesboro and at least ten miles directly south of her father, Benjamin Marable’s property. Mary Ann’s husband, John Baugh, and three of her sons were away at war. Unbeknownst to her, all would take part in the Battle of Stones River.

At home with Mary Ann were five of her ten children: Fredonia, 17, Mary, 15, Eliza, 13, Charlie, 11, and Clemmie, 7. Clemmie would one day be the mother of Frank Gumm. In addition, there were still a few servants living with the family, and three year old Rollie Howland, Mary Ann’s grandson, whose mother, Mattie Baugh Howland, had died two months earlier. Although Mary Ann and the children were not in the line of battle at this point, they were certain to have heard the booming of the cannon and gunshot. During this battle, these sounds were said to have been heard over 100 miles away.


Christmas of 1862 had been warmer than usual, but on December 30th, the night before the battle, the weather turned bitterly cold. That night, in preparation for the coming battle, the men, including John Baugh and son, Benjamin, tried to sleep while they shivered on the frozen ground. Late in the evening, suddenly, there was music in the air. The Union soldiers were singing:

    Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
    Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home!

     Home, home, sweet home.
     There’s no place like home.

As Union men continued with the son, one by one, the Confederate boys and men joined in. It is said that when the song ended and for a long while afterwards there was a lingering vibration of music in the air.


Stones River Battlefield, Murfreesboro, TN
(c) Michelle Russell
The battle began on the last day of 1862, early in the morning. Fought in cornfields and against hedges, many were slaughtered when they could not escape either the canons or the volley of the iron rifle balls with metal spikes. Those could tear a man apart.

The battle went on for three days, with a short break in-between. There are many accounts of it, and you may read more details in Part 1 of From Tennessee to Oz or in the books carried by The Stones River Battlefield National Park museum shop.

Re-enactment of Rebel Soldiers
After the first full day and night of battle, the “Federals” fell back two miles and the wounded were gathered. Two more days of battle followed, until the Confederates conceded defeat and retreated. 

Whatever your view, you can imagine how heartsick the men from the area were as they marched south, leaving behind their parents, siblings, wives and children. By the same token, the people who lived in the area were just as sick to see them march away. It is said that at least one woman ran out and yelled at them for deserting those at home.

Re-enactment of a Union Camp and Hospital on
the Battlefield at Stones River, Murfreesboro
(c) Michelle Russell
Meanwhile, somehow Mary Ann Baugh learned the facts of the battle and was desperate to reach her eighty-three year-old father. She arrived at the Shelbyville Pike in a buggy, but was not allowed by the “Yankee” soldier to pass, likely on pain of death. The Federal soldiers had been ordered to close down the roads. After this brutal battle, all activity by the Southerners was considered suspect; hearts had hardened in the face of such carnage.

Why her father left his home in the dead of winter during battle is unknown. Possibly there was a skirmish on his property, or his home was set ablaze by soldiers, which happened to many. I tried in vain to find the facts. Perhaps someday, someone will. What is known is that he was taken in by a Mr. Hunt and died there.

Bettie Baugh White,
Clemmie's eldest sister.
This photo has been cut down
for this blog, but I am including it
to show the great pain which she
obviously suffered in the war.
Taken shortly after the end
of the Civil War.
(courtesy Sherry White)
During the next months of war, Mary Ann Baugh and her family suffered the deprivation of food and other necessities. Children in the area no longer went to school and people did not attend church. It was dangerous to leave their homes; they might find themselves in the midst of a battle. They might also return to find their home gone, burnt to the ground. In many cases, soldiers from both sides came into homes and took food, goods, livestock and horses. Women also had to fear for their safety. It was not an easy time.

In the months that followed, the Baugh family would find that war came literally to their doorstep, with battles being fought in the yard, in front of their home. The children must have been terribly frightened. In Judy Garland's family, with the exception of one brother, Benjamin Baugh who eventually went mad from what he witnessed as a soldier in the war while still in his teens, the women and children at home were the ones who suffered the most.

Tomorrow, Part 2.


For information on From Tennessee to Oz, visit:

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Visit to Lancaster, California

In December of 2004, while living in Murfreesboro and working on From Tennessee to Oz, I decided to take a quick trip to visit my family in California. During the time I was there, I made my first real trip to Lancaster, home of the Gumm family from 1926 – 1932.

For those of us who are fans of Judy Garland and have read some of the books the books about her, we recall descriptions of the family moving to a small, hot, dusty town, 80 miles or so from Los Angeles. They moved there because this was the only place Judy’s father, Frank Gumm, could find a theater, and because, it was not far from the Mecca of entertainment, Hollywood. Meanwhile, the town was really the opposite of the very green, well irrigated and wooded town of Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
For my trip, I rented a small ‘rent a wreck’ can and, unaccustomed to freeways, decided to take the back route up to Lancaster. It was a route that was likely the one Ethel frequented in the old days with the three Gumm sisters. Traveling through Pasadena, I then got on a mountainous path through a flat wilderness, looking not much different than it did 100 years ago.

So what is this land that we’ve all read about really like? In 2004, the two lane highway traveled through a nearly flat desert of tumbleweeds and dry vegetation. Still considered Los Angeles County, it rests on the edge of the Mojave Desert (pronounced Mo-hah-ve) and is surrounded by the Tehachapi and San Gabriel Mountains If you’ve ever watched an old Hollywood western about settlers, cowboys and outlaws, this is it.

Mountains, barely visible here, appear as part of the clouds.
Sometimes if it difficult to tell thedifference between the two.
In 2004, the land had not changed much in the last eighty years. In recent years, I believe it has changed as the population rises and more people move to less desirable locations where it is cheaper to live. In 2004, one met a gas station, an old shack or a road winding into the hills only once in a while.

Joshua Tree
All photos here (c) Michelle Russell
As I neared Lancaster, I realized what Joshua trees are. They were something I had seen before, and read about, but didn’t connect. As ugly as the desert might seem to some, it does have a grandeur and beauty of its own.

In 2004, the town of Lancaster still had a dusty highway, with old buildings and a two-lane street. All this has also been changed recently as the mayor attempted to tear down most of the town (including one the last Gumm home there, a real artisan home).

One of my most important goals on this trip was to meet Glen Settle. Settle was a few years older than Mary Jane Gumm, remembered a great deal about the history of the town and the Gumm family. He had known Mr. and Mrs. Gumm, and gone to school with the older girls. In fact, his brother, Irving, had dated Jimmy for a while. At the time I created my “Made in America – Vaudeville Songs” CD, Glen had been able to describe to what the Gumm family, including young Frances, did on the state of The Valley Theater. When we spoke on the phone, as I prepared for this trip, Glen told me he had some pictures to show me as well.

In 2004, Glen Settle was in his 90s and still fit. Recently, he’d moved in with a nephew because he was completely blind due to macular degeneration. Other than that, his mind was very keen. I parked outside a nice condo and Glen welcomed me in. We went into a large library where he had everything laid out for me. What a lovely man, with so many stories to tell.

With all the good one might say about Glen Settle, to be honest, many might find some resentment of him. It was he who broke the story about Frank Gumm getting into trouble with some of the boys visiting the theater. If it hadn’t been him, someone else might have broke it. Glen knew the story because he went to school with some of those boys and he played on the basket ball team with them. His opinion in the 1930s about what he heard against Frank Gumm was that he considered who the stories he came. To learn more about this, you will have to read my book.

Dorothy Walsh and Glen Settle in the 1920s
(Courtesy Glen Settle)
Meanwhile, Glen was a lovely man to know and I greatly appreciated his friendship. He and Dorothy Walsh, the Gumm’s friend and neighbor, had a very deep friendship throughout their school years. After I found Dorothy living in Hawaii I was able to reconnect them. What a happy day that was for both of them. In turn, when Dorothy passed away a few years ago, her family asked me to let Glen know and I had that sad task. Glen did not live more than a year after Dorothy passed on. He told me one of the last times I spoke to him, “I’m failing. I don’t think I’ll be around much longer.” He had a good life though, able to do most of what he wanted until the very end. People called him from all over to find out historic facts about Antelope Valley and Lancaster.

The day I met him, we got in my car and he said he’d direct me over to see the last Gumm home, which had originally been Dorothy Walsh’s home. Now, remember Glen was totally blind, but gave me directions as I was driving. ‘Now, you’ll come up to a big 4-way light. Turn left there. Now, two blocks, do you see this…. Turn left again’ and so on. Amazing!

One of Glen's nephews (Dick White?) who was
also a classmate of young Frances Gumm
The home was used as a sort of group home for a while and in 2004 it had caught fire and sustained terrible damage. While we were there, the men were working on the house, so I couldn’t get very close to look into the windows or anything. It appeared that the home had been burnt mostly at the back.

A couple later bought the home and intended to turn it into a museum. They were fighting the mayor not to have the entire block razed. The home two doors down, not next door, was the Gumm’s second home in Lancaster.

Museum where the cement block
with Babe and Muggs' footprints
My trip to Lancaster was wonderful and I was so sorry that, due to finances, that I could not get back again. Glen was going to take me out to the family’s old gold or silver mine and give me some of the original chairs from the Valley Theater. In addition, there were others still in the town who remembered the Gumms. Some had good memories and some not as nice. Some had pictures as well. Unfortunately, I lost track as people passed away. And I missed meeting Judy’s best friend, Muggs. By the time I found her brother, she had passed on just a few months earlier.

So the story goes. I was able to connect just at the very end and come just to entrance of that door into the past.

Side view of the building
on the Sierra Highway where
Ethel Gumm taught dancing
For front view, see From
Tennessee to Oz, Part 2
While I was in Lancaster, I attempted to see Muggs and Babe's footprints in the cement block that had been moved to this museum, but unfortunately, it was closed.

I also went out to the highway and found the Quansit hut looking building where Ethel Gumm once taught dance. I was in a strange mood though, not wanting to talk to anyone, so I didn't go inside. I wish I had.

The years in Lancaster were formative years for young Frances Gumm and important years in the Gumm family's live. The girls were here for their formative years and at the same time, they were often taken away to study dance and perform. During these years, young Frances crossed the line from little girl with a big voice to a young girl with great power and artistry growing within her. The time of Lancaster was also one of sorrow and difficulty for Mr. and Mrs. Gumm. The things which took place nearly ripped their marriage apart and caused Ethel to push harder for Hollywood. This tale is told with a great deal of detail of  the book "Young Judy," co-authored by David Dahl and Barry Kehoe.

For more information on the Gumm’s life in Lancaster and the people they knew, please see From Tennessee to Oz, Part 2:

I hope you have enjoyed some of the color views here which could only be shown in black and white in the book.

Coming Next: Remembering one of the most important battles of the Civil War – The Battle of Murfreesboro, otherwise known as The Battle of Stones River. This was a battle which Judy Garland's paternal side all took part in.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Wild and Crazy Stories

When I returned to Tennessee in 2004, it was not for a week. This time I was going to stay and dig deep into Judy Garland’s family history. Her father, Frank Gumm, was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee and lived there until 1910 or so. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Frank never lost his connections to Murfreesboro. He visited the town numerous times, bringing his wife and three little girls back to meet the relatives and see where he had grown up. Yes, Judy Garland, Baby Frances Gumm visited Murfreesboro. In fact, she sang there at the age of two and a half.

C.B. Arnette
When I arrived in Murfreesboro this time, I settled with my computer and three cats in the Knights Inn, a small hotel on the highway just down the road from the old part of town. My acquaintance, C.B. Arnette, a man in his eighties who once ran an auction house, was known by everyone and knew everyone, had offered to help me find an apartment and find my way around.

A day or so after arriving, C.B. came over to my motel and said, “I’d like to take you for a ride.” After a big breakfast where I learned that people in Tennessee ate grits and gravy for breakfast, we headed out in C.B.’s truck on one of the highways leading out of town. Suddenly, C.B. swerved and we were riding across a field. Whoa!

Less than ten years ago, you could go to Murfreesboro and, with a little help, find areas that had not changed in 100 or even 200 years. Since then, much of the land has been sold; old roads are gone and so are many of the ancient trees and houses. In any case, C.B. was taking me into the past.

We arrived at a grove of trees and an ancient log cabin that likely had stood there since about 1810. My companion was looking for historic doors, furniture etc. The owner of the property had passed away and, soon, the land would be turned into high rise apartments for the students of MTSU.

While we were there, another gentleman pulled up and said he had been promised the old cherry tree; its wood was worth a fortune, but scavengers taken it already. This was my first touch with the past. I could feel it, smell it, touch it. But it was not the last adventure of the day.

Soon, C.B. and I were back on the road. After many miles; once again, he turned off the main road onto land that had no road. It was a shock to my city mind. As we bounced up and down on the furrows of land, I asked him what we were going to see. He said there was a piece of property for sale and he wanted to check on it. Shortly, we pulled up before an ancient iron gate held by two stone pillars. It looked like something from old England, like Miss Havisham’s property in Great Expectations. There was a plaque at the entrance.

“Get out and read what it says,” C.B. told me. I did. The plaque on the stone pillar read:

“This property has been in three states, Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee. The topmost log on the house was placed there by Andrew Jackson.” 

My mind was blown. Yes, before Tennessee was Tennessee – we are talking before 1793- it was the Southeast Territory, held first by Virginia, and then North Carolina. So, Andrew Jackson had been here. Wow! Andrew Jackson was here in Rutherford County and also in Knoxville. Likely, Judy Garland’s great, great, great grandfathers had met him. There weren’t that many people in Rutherford County back then.

The property came with quite a bit of land, a huge log house, some smaller buildings and a church. Driving onto the land, I asked C.B. if I could get out and look into the house. I climbed up onto the porch and looked in the windows. I couldn’t see much. There was no way to get down, no stairs or railing, so while attempting to ease myself off the porch, I fell head first into some stickery bushes. This was rattlesnake territory and I was terrified. There I was, stuck head-first in the bushes at an odd angle, my heart pounding and I could not move. I just prayed there were no snakes nearby. Obviously, I lived!

The view from my apartment.
During the next week, C.B. introduced me to a friend of his who had an apartment building. He said his friend owed him a favor and thus I was able to rent an apartment, despite the three cats. We were ensconced on the edge of town on land that had once been a small estate. Another wards, atmosphere. Now I was ready to get to work.

In October, Curry came for a visit. You may recall that she is a distance cousin of Judy Garland’s and had done years of research of her own, thus giving me a head start. After her arrival, she spent the early morning hours comparing old maps of Murfreesboro to the maps of today and trying to find the family’s old farms. It was not an easy task, but it was still possible because at that point there had only been a few changes to the land.

Early land Curry and I discovered.
One afternoon Curry and I went hunting for Rev. Henry Hartwell Marable’s property. He was the great, great, great grandfather of Judy Garland, the first relative on Frank Gumm’s maternal side to arrive in Rutherford County. Apparently, he had a tremendous voice because until his death at 83, he was a well-known preacher.

Curry and I drove around looking at this and that area. There was one huge tract of land we thought might be part of the old estate. It was becoming more real now. But Curry wanted to see where the house had been, or see if there was another way in. We stopped on a small lane, before a piece of property with a wide green lawn and a pond and got out to go look at it. All of a sudden a woman showed up. “Who are you?” she demanded. “I was just about ready to get my shotgun.”
With Curry on another adventure in
the area known as Christiana / Old
Millersburg. That's Dr. Lyons'
property. You will read about it
in Part2 - where Rollie and his wife
stay on Christmas.

Well, yes, we were in the south. Explaining what we were doing, the woman was very nice to us and suggested people we might contact. However, we learned, they don’t mess around in the south!

In the future, I would meet many wonderful, generous people who were happy to share some of their Tennessee heritage. You see, the names of the people in the town of Murfreesboro then, were the same names there 150-200 years ago and so I was speaking to the descendants of the people who were there with the Gumms, Baughs and Marables.

Coming in DecemberIt seems time that I speak some about the Civil War and there is no better time than Christmas. I did not know it when I first traveled to Rutherford County, but Murfreesboro was the site of one of the worst battles and most significant battles of the Civil War, and it all took place only days after Christmas.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Understanding the Gumm Family

In returning to Murfreesboro, one goal was to try to find some Gumm descendants; I wanted to find someone who had memories of the family, photos, stories and history. The wisest decision seemed to be to go back to Judy Garland’s great grandfather and trace all the descendants from that point in time. Those were the people who lived during the late 1800s and early twentieth century.

Going back in time, we have Judy Garland, her father, Frank Gumm, her grandfather Will T. Gum, and her great grandfather, John Alexander Gum. My plan was to trace all of John Alexander Gum’s children.

I should explain here that until Frank Gumm went to Sewanee and changed the spelling of his last name, all members of the family spelled their name with one ‘m.’

Arriving back in Murfreesboro, I knew via Gum relatives Ralph Puckett and Albert Gumm Wilson that all the Gums in Rutherford County were descendants of the same family. Some have suggested this is not true, including writer Rita Piro, who did wonderful research on Judy’s maternal side. Rita told me she had had no luck with finding any relatives of Judy in Murfreesboro and said that anyone who thought they were related to Judy were probably wrong. I decided to ignore all talk and look at everything freshly.

Curry and I had many conversations online with Alberta Wilson’s son, Guy. Guy had done quite a bit of research on his own. We knew that everyone descended from Norton Gum, but there were some missing links in between Norton and John Alexander. It would take several years for me to find the missing link and prove that, indeed, everyone was related. One big missing link involved John Alexander Gum. I’m getting ahead of myself here, but I will leave you with that.

In his young adulthood, John Alexander Gum went by the name ‘Alexander.’ In 1851, at the age of twenty-four, he married sixteen-year-old Martha Wade in Old Jefferson. Their first child, Judy’s grandfather, William Tecumseh Gum was not born until 1854.Three years later, they had another son, John Alexander Gum, Jr. It was a family tradition to name at a son William, and it seems this tradition had taken precedence with their first son.

Following the birth of their sons, the Gums had a daughter, Laura in 1860. Laura never married and later appears to have had mental problems. For a while, she was employed in a store in Murfreesboro, not a usual situation  for a woman at that time. Perhaps this indicates just how tight the family’s financial conditions were. Laura even helped her parents out in time of trouble.

Two years after Laura’s birth, another baby girl arrived whom the Gumms named Lucy. (Except for one grandson-in-law, I was unable to find any descendants for Lucy. They had moved a great deal.)

Now in the midst of the Civil War, and with John Alexander away, working as a scout or spy, no more children would arrive until 1865, when their daughter, Mollie was born. Mollie is a tragic figure in the family. She died suddenly at the age of nineteen. Much later, finally, after connecting with  some Gum descendants, I learned that a portrait of Mollie exists. This portrait appears in my book, From Tennessee to Oz, Part 2.

Lovely photo of a younger
Nannie Gum Rion

Two years after Mollie’s birth, another daughter arrived. She was no doubt named for her grandmother Nancy Wade, but has always been referred to Nannie. Nannie married a man who is said to be a descendant of French royalty, Edwin Rion. They lived in a lovely home in
Murfreesboro, which  Frank and Ethel Gumm and their two oldest girls visited in the 1920s. Nannie’s granddaughters, Claire, Joy, Wanda and Nancy, as well as a grandson, Lee, were all extremely generous with their help on this book and in sharing photos. In fact, Joy and Wanda met their cousin, Judy Garland, as children.

Bettie Gum Fox
Courtesy Aaron Todd

Bettie was the next daughter. Born in 1872, she is said to be Tennessee’s first female social worker. She married Henry Lee Fox, the brother of Walter D. Fox, who would hire Frank Gumm to work for him at Ovoca. Betty’s family stayed in Murfreesboro and also remained in touch with Frank Gumm and his children. When Judy agreed to call in for a local radio interview after her stupendous success at Carnegie Hall, the first thing she said was to ask about the Fox cousins. Ethel Gumm and the girls stayed with Betty’s daughter, Anna Lee, in Chicago before they went to work at the Chicago World’s Fair. Tracing all these people took time, but it was my great joy to get to know them. All of the Fox family did very well. One, Aaron Todd, was a highly respected professor at MTSU. Another, Van Fox, became a well-known television and radio producer.

Susie Gum Finlayson
(courtesy John von Rosen)

Susie Gum was born in 1874. She was a beautiful girl with creamy skin, black hair and blue eyes. She married E.V. Finlayson of North Carolina and had two girls. Finding this family was not easy, but eventually, with the help of genealogy boards and generous individuals, I was able to make that connection, and was given some photos by them.

John Alexander Gum and Martha Wade’s final child was a boy known as John H or “Johnny.” I must confess that I often wondered if this boy was not the result of one of the girls’ having an unfortunate liaison. He was born in 1877 and had a sad life. After the Spanish American War, Johnny returned. Addicted to alcohol, he had a troubled life and did not live long. He died in 1913 at the age of twenty-six and is buried next to his parents and older brother, Will T. at
Evergreen Cemetery in Murfreesboro.

Descendants of the Gum family at a special gather
Linebaugh Library in Murfreesboro, TN
l. to r. Ralph Puckett (descendant Robert E Gum), Bill Gibb (grandson
Alle Gumm), Virginia Puckett (wife of Ralph), front Claire Rion Weber
with her son and grandson. Claire is the granddaughter of
Nannie Gum Rion.
Hopefully, you have found this article interesting and it has helped you to have a greater understanding of Judy Garland’s ancestors. Until now, there has been little information on this line of the family. On occasion, I have witnessed persons claiming to be Judy’s relatives who, knowing her ancestry, probably, are not. Perhaps now we can begin to have a clear idea of who these ancestors and their descendants are.