Wednesday, August 15, 2012

For Richer or Poorhouse

Detroit Free Press, December 19, 1905

Old age is rarely kind and in the case of Capt. Isaac Mathews and his wife it was exceedingly less than affable. The well-to-do boat captain became sick in the winter of 1904 and his wife and he were forced to sell much of their belongings just to subsist. What little money they were receiving from the Poor Commission was exhausted when the board decided that his health would not return and the funds cut off. 

Forced into shambled conditions in a rooming house the Captain's health slowly returned but with his prosperity long expended and his body feeble from age and disease he resigned himself to County House at Eloise. His wife was to join him but having been taught at an early age to despise the connotations of what the poorhouse meant and refused to go. 

With 40 years of marriage between them the separation proved quite difficult for the pair. Mrs. Mathews spent her time worrying about the forthcoming rent and the Captain, missing his former life. Their anguish became more bearable when the story hit the presses and many donors came forth with offers of housing, eats and more importantly much needed funds.

First a messenger boy dropped off $8 from an anonymous well-wisher and many others followed. Mrs. Lewis B. Clark, wife of a restaurant owner on Fort Street, offered the couple free food for life if they could find accommodations closer to the business. Finally, William Hurst, a lawyer who was renting a home in Detroit to be closer to his practice offered up his Dexter residence as a permanent solution to their need. Equipped with a dairy cow, chickens, fresh vegetables and plenty of land the offer seemed idyllic. Mrs. Mathews even had a plan in place to make some spending money selling her home-churned butter to a local grocer.

The fairy tale ending, as it turned out, was too good to be true. After the Hurst offer the donations ceased due to the perception that the couple would be provided for. However, the upkeep of the farmhouse proved too hefty for the aged duo and they were once again back in the boarding house at 652 Twenty-fourth Street.

Once word leaked out of their returned plight the donations rolled in anew. One benefactor offered $2 per month for rent towards the goal set up by Mrs. Clark to feed them for the remainder of their days. The kindly lady who provided the $2 stipend urged the Free Press to secure a subscription list for further aid. I've been unable to ascertain whether they did or not.

Detroit Free Press, July 20, 1906

Detroit Free Press, July 21, 1906

Detroit Free Press, July 23, 1906

Detroit Free Press, July 24, 1906

Detroit Free Press, August 5, 1906

Detroit Free Press, August 8, 1906

Detroit Free Press, August 12, 1906

No comments: