Resurrecting Forgotten News
My world explorer+ ancestry.com membership includes, among other things, a subscription to newspapers.com. Newspapers.com has searchable, digitized articles from 3,600 newspapers that date back to the 1700’s and span into the 21st century. I am amazed at the navigation and intuitiveness of the application and the variety of manipulation techniques and output available.
Amidst my searches today, I happened upon a female author of short stories whose articles appeared in various newspapers across the country from as early as 1846 and into the 1900’s. I really had to do my homework because when I searched for a biography of the author it wasn’t easy to find. Turns out, she had published her articles using a couple of pseudonyms, and it appears, she and her family never made much of her talents and skills during her life or even in her obituary.
Lucy Ann Randall – This is Her Story
Born February 23, 1836, in Norwich, New York, Lucy Ann Randall was the daughter of Samuel Sidwell Randall (1809-1881) and Sarah Bassett Hubbell–the second of five children. Her father, an educator, served from about 1848 to 1870 as superintendent of several school systems in and around New York City. It must have been his editor’s role from 1845-1852 for the District School Journal that encouraged Lucy to become a writer. Her earliest work, a poem, “The Consumptive,” appeared in the August 1849 issue of District School Journal, and several of her stories and poems were published in the 1850 volume.
Within the next few years, Lucy’s poems and stories appeared in several publications including Moore’s Rural New-Yorker, Knickerbocker, and The Olive Branch. Short pieces also appeared in Street & Smith’s columns in the New York Weekly. In 1860, they purchased her serial “Amy Rayner; or, The Tangled Path” and advertised it in newspapers across the country. They also outed two of her pseudonyms “Helen Forrest Graves,” which she had used for Weekly sketches, and “Mrs. George Washington Willis,” in an unidentified “contemporary journal.” Besides her work for the Weekly, during the 1860s, she also wrote for Robert Bonner’s New York Ledger and for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly.
On 23 May 1867, she married John Elijah Comfort (1837-1901), a doctor and health officer, but continued writing — all that changed was her name on the stories, now Lucy Randall Comfort. In 1868, she published her only children’s book, Folks and Fairies: Stories for Little Children.
The 1870 census showed Lucy and her husband living with her parents. She was also writing stories for George Munro’s Fireside Companion. In the early 1870s, her serials were nearly regular features in the paper.
In the midst of her writing, Lucy gave birth to son Randall on 27 April 1871. She had a second son, Frank, in 1878 but he died before 1900.
The 1880 census showed Lucy, John, Randall, and Frank together with three servants, living next-door to her parents and two of her siblings. Her brother Sidwell was an attorney; her father had retired. Lucy’s occupation was shown as “keeping house.”
Twenty years later, the 1900 census indicated the couple were still enjoying prosperity: they now shared their home with their son Randall and with Lucy’s sister Martha (erroneously labeled a step-daughter by the census taker), as well as two servants and a coachman. John was a doctor; Randall, a lawyer; and the space for Lucy’s occupation was left blank. By then, she was contributing to few, if any, periodicals — though her serials were being reprinted as paperback novels by Street & Smith and F. M. Lupton.
John Comfort died on May 29, 1901. Lucy continued to share her home with her son and her sister; the three of them, along with one servant, are recorded there in the 1910 census.
On 11 December 1914, Lucy Ann Randall Comfort died at her home in Pleasantville, New York. Her New York Times obituary noted that she “had lived in [that house] since the beginning of the civil war.”
One of Helen Forrest Graves stories that appeared in the Thursday, February 7, 1895 edition of The Chatham Record Newspaper caught my eye: A Righteous Retribution for four reasons: 1) it included a name of more than one of my family members; i.e., John Ford, and; 2) it was based in North Carolina from which our Ford family came, and; 3) I used to climb apple and peach trees and get caught by my grandmother, Loretta Ford; and, I still love writing short stories. I hope you like Helen’s:
A Righteous Retribution
“Miriam Green, I am astonished!” said Aunt Jane.
“Oh, but, Aunt Jane, I couldn’t help it!” said Miriam laughing. But at the same time she colored very red and hung down her pretty head.
There was no denying this offense. It was patent to all the world–or at least to all that part of it who might happen to be on the edge of Raven Woods.
There was Miriam Green up atop of the old oak tree, which reared its proud crest, an Absalom among its gold-leaved brethren, her curls all tangled, her apron filled with treasures of dark green mistletoe. There was Aunt Jane standing in the little open clearing, hands uplifted, eyes opened in the widest of disapproving glares, and sun bonnet fallen over backward on her shoulders.
“Your frock’it all torn!” enunciated the old lady”
“I can easily mend it again.”
“And, your hair blown into a tangle.”
“Oh, Aunt Jane, it is nothing!” pleaded Miriam.
“And your bonnet hanging half way down the tree!” gasped Aunt Jane, growing more indignant as the ful weight and extent of Miriam’s enormities dawned upon her mind.
“When you knew I forbade you to think of such a thing as climbing a tree!
“Dear Aunt Jane–” began the offender.
But the old lady would listen to no argument.
“You were seventeen yesterday said she. You are old enough to know better and you shall be made to know better! I will punish you for this inexcusable hoydenism!”
Miriam’s blue eyes grew big. Surely Aunt Jane couldn’t shake her or shut her up in the garret with a page of “Watt’s Hymns” to learn, or–worst alternative of all–put her on a short allowance of applie pie at dinner.
For pretty Miriam was still child enough to regard any of these occurences as a serious misfortunate and one to be greatly deprecated.
But, while she was yet in the agonies of apprehension, the question was definitely determined by Aunt Jane’s advancing to the foot of the oak tree and pulling away the ladder that had served as a means to reach the first bough, a ragged mass of foilage some 20 feet up from the roots. Below that, the trunk extended down as perpendicular, and free of side growth as a telegraph pole.
“There!” said Aunt Jane. “Since you were so anxious to climb the tree after mistletoe, you may remain there and think it over at your leisure. I will come back this evening and put back the ladder.”
Miriam uttered a little cry.
“Please, Aunt Jane, don’t go off!” she appealed. “I’ll never do so anymore. Please forgive me just this once!”
But, Aunt Jane was exorable. With slow majesty she strode out of the opening and was gone, even while Miriam’s piteous voice quivered on the air.
“Oh dear–oh dear, what am I to do?” said Miriam to herself. I couldn’t jump down without breaking my arm, or ankle, or something; and here I am alone in this wilderness!”
There she sat, perched on a horizontal bough, clinging to the taper trunk of the tree, and swayed to and fro’ in the gentle breezes. It had been a most fascinating position a few minutes ago; now it was frightful and perilous in the extremist degree.
Was it an hour, 10 hours, or possibly only 15 minutes? Like the Prisoner of Chillon, the poor little captive lost all power of calculating time.
But just as the round sun hung like a ball or orange-flame above the western woods, there was the sound of quick footsteps crashing over fallen twigs and crips leaves below.
“It’s John Ford, coming home from hunting!” Miriam said to herself with a quick breath. “Oh, I do hope he won’t see me!”
She shrank close to the trunk of the tree, and tried to seem as much like a bunch of mistletoe as possible.
But it was useless. John Ford’s keen eyes were too well used for woodcraft and all pertaining to it to overlook her. He stopped short at the entrance to the glade.
“Miriam Green!” he exclaimed.
“Yes!” said the girl, laughing a little hysterically. Zaccheus he–“
“Did climb down a tree.”
“And I am Zaccheus and now I can’t get down.”
“Oh!” said Mr. Ford. “The ladder fell, did it?”
“Y-yes” said Miriam turning very red. “The ladder fell down.”
“I’ll put it up for you” said Ford.
“Do!” said Miriam laughing to herself as should thought of Aunt Jane.
He sung the ladder promptly up against the trunk of the tree.
“Now, it’s alright,” said he. “I’ll just go over to see that the dogs haven’t frightened Mrs. Morey’s young turkeys, and wait for you outside the woods.”
In five minutes, Miriam Green was by his side, rosy and breathless, still clinging to her apron full of mistletoe.
“Oh, I am so much obliged to you,” she said earnestly.
“It was rather an awkward predicament, wasn’t it?” smiled he.
“What will Aunt Jane say?” Miriam said involuntarily?
“She’ll be very much alarmed, what she?”
“No,” confessed Miriam. “She–that is– Oh, Mr. Ford, I can’t deceive you about it!”
And, she told him all.
“Of course it was very wrong to disobey her,” she added.
“My poor little Miriam! My sweet, frightened darling,” cried John Ford passing his strong arm around her waist. “She was a perfect dragoness to torment you so!”
“But, I belong to her said the girl, innocently. I have no other home but her house.”
“Then, belong to me henceforward,” he said, tenderly looking down into her blue limpid eyes. “Surely, you cannot have failed to discover how deeply I love you! Hereafter, you are mine!”
Miriam Green, young as she was, had often dreamed of the pathway in which love should come to her, but it had never seemed like this.
“But,” she stammered. “What will your uncle say?”
“What should he say?” calmly retorted her lover. “Ford Court is mine. My uncle is only my beloved and honored guest. Besides, he loves me so genuinely that my happiness cannot be but his. And–but what is this?”
They had by this time, reached the solid stone wall which divided the grounds of Ford Court from the woods, and, there, perched up on its height–a feminine Stylites–was Aunt Jane, with a basket in her hand, half full of the barberries which she had gathered from the huge bushes that made a scarlet-dotted screen inside, while stretched prone on the grass at the foot of the wall lay old Major Ford’s monster bloodhound, Gelert. He looked around and wagged his tail slowly at the sight of John, but did not stir otherwise.
“Aunt Jane,” said Miriam. “What are you doing on top of the wall, there?”
“I-I only wanted a few barberries to put in my cucumber pickles,” stammered Aunt Jane, ready to burst into tears. “And–and, I didn’t suppose there was any harm in gathering them here. I’ve picked pecks and pecks of barberries off of them very bushes, and nobody said a word. And, I was just reaching up for the finest when up comes a cross old savage and asks me what I mean by stealing fruit, and leaves me here with this horrid brute to watch me–just as if I was a tramp–while he goes for a constable! I never was so treated in my life! And, the more I try to jump off, the more the dog shows his teeth at me, and growls. He’d tear me in pieces if I stirred a foot in any direction, I do believe!”
“My Uncle Ford, whispered John to Miriam. “He is a positive monomaniac on the subject of fruit thieves! The park bristles with man-traps and there is a dog chained under every apple tree on the premises. But, it’s too bad that he should have taken your aunt for one of the village purloiners! Gelert! Come here this instant, sir! I assure you, Miss Green” (to Aunt Jane who between her terror and fatigue was on the verge of fainting) “my uncle will be the most grieved on any one, when he learns of what a misapprehension he has been laboring under. Allow me to help you down. Take care, don’t spill the barberries!”
“Dear Aunt Jane!” soothed Miriam, receiving the old lady in her arms, “how frightened you must have been!”
“Oh, Miriam, forgive me!” sobbed the old lady, behind her sun bonnet. “I didn’t know how dreadful it was, or I never, never would have pulled the ladder down and left you there! It’s a righteous retribution on me, that’s what it is!”
“Oh, Aunty, don’t fret about it,” said Miriam, radiantly. “It’s all right now.” “Mr. Ford came along at put up the ladder again and–and, I’m engaged to be married to him! Don’t look so surprised, Aunt Jane! I know I have told it in a jerky sort of way, but it all happened as naturally as possible. Didn’t it, John?”
And then followed congratulations and explanations, and finally, the humble apologies of Major Ford, a testy old gentleman of 60 odd years, who just then arrive on the scene, accompanied by the village constable. “I’m sure I beg a thousand pardons!” said Major Ford. “But how was I to know? I’m a stranger in these parts, you know, and half the fruit trees were stripped last night!”
And, Aunt Jane received his acknowledgment in frigid silence.
“A lady is a lady, she said to her niece, afterword, even if she has climbed on a stone wall to gather barberries! And, no one but a semi-barbarian could mistake her for anything else!”
And, Miriam Green was too happy in her own newborn felicity to argue the question with her aunt.