One of the most interesting aspects of genealogical research is that you never know exactly where the bits and pieces of information you run across will take you. One of my favorite parts of the process is the research itself, and the thrill of following obscure clues until a story reveals itself through various historical documents. It’s a bit like an Easter egg hunt for me, and I’m the tenacious kid who won’t leave the party until the very last egg is found.
Over the last twenty years, my research has waxed and waned, but it never actually stopped. Two years ago, I committed myself to writing a book about my great great grandmother, and I threw myself into learning everything I could about her life. I’m lucky in the fact that Helen and her seven children did a lot during their lives and left a considerable amount of material behind. But, there are others—even within her own family—who did not, and that makes researching them much more difficult.
But for someone like me, the search for information on these comparatively lesser-known family members is even more exciting. Nabbing the Easter Egg that’s sitting in the open field isn’t as thrilling or as fulfilling as finding the one that is hidden in a spot in which none of the other hunters thinks to look.
For me, the best part of digging into family history is finding an interesting story about someone I’d only previously seen as a name and a date on a chart. That’s what keeps me going, and it’s what makes the whole process so much fun. And an added bonus is that I get to share a story that otherwise might go untold.
This is one of those stories.
The Ekin Family
My great great grandmother, Helen Martha Ekin Starrett was the oldest of six children. Her parents, Esther Fell Lee Ekin and Rev John Ekin DD had five daughters and one son, all of whom survived to adulthood, a rarity in families of this era. (n.b.: Esther and John actually had seven children, but their first child, a (possibly unnamed) daughter born before Helen, was either stillborn or died shortly after birth. No record of her birth or burial has yet been located. The six Ekin children, grew up, married, and started lives of their own.
Before I start this story, I want to comment on something. Their mother, Esther Fell Lee Ekin, is a bit of a conundrum. Although a detailed obituary was published shortly after her death, I’ve been unable to verify most of its contents. Esther is never mentioned in newspaper articles about her husband or any of her children, and the location of her gravesite is recorded at the cemetery, yet no headstone was ever placed there. In her father’s obituary, she is a footnote. In her children’s obituaries, she is a footnote (if she is mentioned at all). In her husband’s death notice, she is not even mentioned. This is a subject I plan on revisiting, but I wanted to preface the following story with this information because in some instances, it is obvious that she is inexplicably absent.
This is the story of Annie Warden Ekin Pattengill, the youngest of the Ekin sisters; the fifth of the six Ekin children.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Nestled snugly in the center of Ann Arbor—almost completely encircled by the University of Michigan— lies historic Forest Hill Cemetery. At the time it was established, the 65-acre plot of hilly land was on the outskirts of town, south of the University’s Observatory. In 1856, a Cemetery Company was formed, and chose to create Forest Hill in the new “romantic” landscape style of cemetery design—a layout that was more park-like, artistic, scenic, and inviting, rather than simple lines of headstones adjacent to community churches.
In the middle of this historic cemetery is one of the oldest sections: Block 35. Within Block 35 are nine individuals bearing the name Pattengill. Also in Block 35 are names like Knowlton, Brusley, and Kleen— all members of the extended Pattengill family— all descended in some way from John Scott Pattengill and Abigail Gregory Pattengill. Since Forest Hill is an active cemetery, descendants of this family are still being buried in this section.
Among the headstones in Block 35 is a simple stone with raised lettering reading “Annie E. Pattengill 1850-1879.” At the bottom of the same stone, in the same raised lettering, is the name “Philip 1878-1879.”
Who was Annie E. Pattengill? In the 19th Century, the death of a 29 year old woman and a young child wasn’t as rare as it is in the 21st Century, but it was still a heart wrenching thing to have happen. When I see headstones such as Annie’s, I can’t help but wonder what happened.
Dear Twenty-first Century: I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce you to Annie. It’s been a long time since anyone has talked about you, but I think it’s time someone did.
Anna Warden Ekin
Anna Warden Ekin was born on Monday, January 28, 1850 in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Her name was Anna, but noe one ever called her that. She was Annie right from the start. At the time of her birth, her father, the Rev John Ekin DD was the pastor of the Union Congregation in Robinson Township, and later became the pastor of the First Associate Reformed Church in Pittsburgh. For a short time around 1859, he served as a pastor and conducted a small ladies seminary in Le Claire, Iowa, but, for health reasons, then took his family to the more favorable southern climate of Monroe, Louisiana. At the outbreak of the Civil War, the entire family relocated to Xenia, Ohio, where Rev Ekin and his oldest daughters opened and ran a seminary for girls for the duration of the war. Annie completed her early education under the supervision of her father and older sisters.
In 1866, Dr Ekin was installed as the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Topeka Kansas. By then, the older girls had all married and gone off on their own. Annie relocated to Topeka with her father, her younger brother, William, and her mother, Esther. In 1866, Annie and her sister Mary took teaching jobs at a newly formed Episcopal Female Seminary in Topeka. At a time when girls and women weren’t “supposed” to be physical and interested in sports and fitness, Annie taught calisthenics and physical culture. Her interest in physical fitness and (possibly) sports may have played a role in the coming years of her short life.
It was while in Topeka that Annie’s story began to emerge separately from her parents. Throughout her late teens, Annie taught music lessons in both Lawrence and Topeka, and she taught at the Episcopal Seminary for at least one year. She was well liked by everyone in both communities. Her father was a well-respected pastor, but he was also an influential speaker against slavery, an active proponent of the universal (and later, women’s) suffrage movement, a staunch supporter of temperance, and an enthusiastic member of the Board of Regents at the University of Kansas. As Rev Dr Ekin’s daughter, she was extraordinarily well educated and well spoken. She was also a gifted pianist, and shared her love of music whenever she was able.
In 1869, Rev John Ekin DD passed away unexpectedly at the age of 65 in Topeka. Annie was 19, but, as was characteristic of all of the Ekin women, she stayed busy teaching physical education and music, singing and playing piano concerts, and selling Chickering pianos at her sister’s shop in Lawrence. Both Annie and her mother are listed among the founders of the Topeka Public Library, and Annie is credited as a member of the Library’s Board of Directors in its founding year.
In almost everything written about Dr Ekin and his daughters, their intellect and passion for education is emphasized. Annie most definitely inherited her father’s intelligence and love of learning.
In 1872, Annie was accepted to the Literary department at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. In her freshman year, she rose to the top of her class, where she remained throughout her four years at the university. She was honored for her excellence in the classroom, and she was known among her peers as a warm and kind friend. She was a vivacious conversationalist, and her unselfish nature and kind and generous disposition made her the friend everyone looked to when they needed a shoulder to cry on, a voice of reason in trying times, or a confidant when they needed one. She was that friend.
In 1876, Annie graduated from the University of Michigan at the top of her class. She was elected by the faculty as one of seven graduates to speak at the June commencement ceremonies. As a graduate of the Literary department, Annie gave a speech on the English author, George Eliot. The Chicago Tribune reported on her address: “In telling of George Eliot, Miss Ekin said that twenty years ago, Lord Macaulay announced that a star of the first magnitude had been discovered, and this was George Eliot. The speaker paid a worthy tribute to the literary ability of the subject of her address.” After reading a little about George Eliot, it’s no surprise that Annie was intrigued by the author. (George Eliot was the pen name of Mary Ann Evans, a Victorian novelist who published her works under the male pen-name to escape the stereotype that women of the time only wrote simple, carefree novels.) The Daily Commonwealth from Topeka, Kansas announced her graduation with great enthusiasm: “All Topekans will rejoice at her success.”
At the University of Michigan, Annie was able to stretch her wings academically, but it was also the place where she met the man who would make her happy for the rest of her life.
Albert Henderson Pattengill was a great match for Annie. He was tall, attractive, smart, athletic— and he spoke Greek and French (très romantique!). Albert was born on a farm in central New York in 1842 and came to the University of Michigan in 1865 as a sophomore. In his junior year, he was a starter on university’s baseball team—one of the first organized collegiate varsity sports teams in the country. That year, he was chosen by the Literary department to sit on a committee chosen to pick the official colors for the university. In February of 1867, his committee submitted their report stating that they unanimously agreed that the emblematic colors of the University of Michigan would be Azure Blue and Maize and the resolution was adopted.
Albert received his bachelor’s degree in 1868, and soon thereafter, joined the faculty as an assistant professor of Greek and French. In 1871, he earned his master of arts from the university. As a language professor, he was well-respected and much admired; as an athlete and former member of the university’s baseball team, he was a legend. For decades, students told stories of one of his legendary, super-humanly impossible, homeruns.
On February 20, 1878, Albert H. Pattengill and Annie Warden Ekin were married in the Ekin family home in Xenia, Ohio. A week later, the newlyweds set to sail to Europe for a wedding trip. Albert had been given a yearlong sabbatical to study in Liepzig, Germany, but a misunderstanding with the board—and Annie’s declining heath—forced an early return to Michigan. In June, the University Board had met to readjust faculty salaries, and with Albert on a year’s leave of absence, he had been inadvertently left off the payroll (but it was fixed ASAP!).
Seven months to the day after their wedding, Professor and Mrs Pattengill stepped off the steamship Schiedam in the port of New York. Once they were back on American soil, they began their return trip to Ann Arbor. But, the journey home was considerably more difficult—Annie was pregnant, and had a lingering and painful cough that would no go away.
The sweet, cherubic Philip Pattengill was born on November 27, 1878. Some sources say that he was born in Xenia, Ohio, others that he was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Although Annie’s health was still declining, the baby was, undoubtedly, the joy of his parents’ lives. Had he been born today, little Philip would’ve come home to a closet filled with azure and maize Wolverine onesies. One can only imagine Albert’s dreams of teaching his son to play baseball and to love the beauty of classical greek literature, and how Annie looked forward to passing on the Ekin family gifts of music and education. But little evidence of Philip’s short life remains. In July of 1879, seven-month old Philip Pattengill died of Cholera Infantum, a non-specific term then used to describe diarrhea/dysentery in children under the age of five. (It was also referred to as “the summer complaint” because it was most common during the warmer months. From 1879-1884, Michigan suffered higher than normal infant mortality rates attributed to cholera infantum due to higher humidity and lower ozone levels during those years.)
Heartbroken, the newlyweds began the journey towards mending their broken hearts. But the heart has trouble healing when the body is already ailing. Illness had begun to settle in while the couple had been in Europe, and Annie’s health began to decline at a quicker pace. Although she had good days in which those around her thought she may recover completely, her daily routine consisted of watching her symptoms. Up until she drew her last breath, she remained positive and optimistic, expressing her desire to live. Annie never gave up. Her sister, Mary, tended to her every need as Helen, Francis, and Dellie made their way to Ann Arbor. When the news came that Annie had passed, it was university of Michigan president James Angell who wrote her death notice for the newspaper.
Annie’s funeral took place on November 6, 1879. She was buried with Philip in Block 35 of the beautiful Forest Hill Cemetery in Ann Arbor. All four of her big sisters were there for the services, touchingly delivered by her pastor, Rev Brown of the Presbyterian Church, and assisted by the Baptist minister, Dr Haskell. The entire Literary Department of the University of Michigan felt the loss of their friend and the spouse of their colleague. Albert’s fellow professors, Charles K. Adams, Martin L. D’Ooge, Elisha Jones, Isaac N. Demmon, Thurlow Weed, and University President James Angel served as pallbearers.
Sadly, her mother, Esther, was unable to make the journey to Michigan. The youngest Ekin sibling, William, had suddenly died two months earlier, leaving his pregnant widow, Katherine, behind. William Lee Ekin Jr was born a week after his father’s death, and his grandmother, Annie’s mother, remained in Xenia.
The Ekin family moved on, but they did not forget their beautiful and vibrant little sister. Helen wrote a piece for the Western Magazine in which she railed against social customs and business practices associated with the funeral industry and called for the public to rally for change. The Western Magazine had a circulation of more than 20,000 at the time, and was a well respected literary journal. On Dec 21, 1879, the Detroit Free Press reviewed Helen’s piece and agreed: “The ostentation, parade, eulogistic fiction, expense and other moral delinquencies in the matter of internments had… transformed the most sacred and solemn scened into a public and vulgar spectacle…” Her ideas the proposed were revolutionary, and most have become common practice today.
Annie’s widower moved on as well. He remained at the University of Michigan for the entire duration of his career. As a professor of Greek, he was a favorite among students, but it was Albert’s work in university athletics that became his legacy. As intercollegiate athletics grew in popularity in the 1890’s, Albert strongly believed that standardization of rules, safety conditions, fairness, good sportsmanship, and ethics were paramount. When the University formed a faculty Board in Control of Athletics in 1894, Albert was a member. In 1898, he became the committee chairman, a position he held until his death. In 1896, Albert was among the leaders in the formation of the Western Inter-Collegiate Athletic Conference— which later became known as the Big Ten Conference. Albert was Michigan’s representative to the conference for several years, serving as the Chairman of the Western Conference for several of them.
Sixteen years after Annie’s death, Albert remarried. On June 26, 1895, Bessie E. West became the second Mrs Albert H Pattengill in a ceremony in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The couple built a house at 1405 Hill Street in Ann Arbor where they lived together until Albert’s sudden death attributed to “heart trouble,” in March of 1906. He was buried in Plot 35 alongside Annie and Philip in Forest Hill Cemetery. (When Bessie died, she joined them.) Albert and Bessie’s home is listed as part of the Washtenaw Hill Historic District. It is currently in use as the Sigma Delta Tau sorority house.
Legacy to the University of Michigan
The Ekin family (or at least Annie’s sister, Helen) must have maintained a relationship with Albert Pattengill and the University of Michigan following Annie’s death. Two of Helen’s children attended the University of Michigan: Goldwin (1894) and William (1897) and, several of her grandchildren did as well. My grandfather, Jim Dinwiddie, and his brothers Starrett, John, and Goldwin all attended the University of Michigan in the 19-teens and 1920’s, and I never knew what the connection to Michigan was until now. Their cousins, Cap (Ralph Starrett’s son) and Paul (Paul Starrett’s son) also attended Michigan— including Dellie’s son Andrew Allison Clokey— and I’m sure there are others!. Whether or not is was affiliated with Annie can probably never be confirmed, but it’s nice to think that even those unsentimental Starrett and Dinwiddie boys had a little sentimentality in them that they didn’t even know about that linked them, and the rest of the family, back to Annie.
- * The story behind the photos of Annie: I have an album filled with unlabeled photographs that had belonged to my great grandmother, Helen Starrett Dinwiddie. Before I began publishing It’s a Beautiful Tree, many of these photographs had never been seen by anyone other than my mother, Nancy Dinwiddie Dirkes, or myself, for decades. Once I began “spending time” with the family members who’s lives I research, it was difficult to figure out who the people were in the unlabeled photographs. In researching Annie, I found that the University of Michigan’s Bentley Library had a portrait of Annie in their archives. I requested digitalization of Annie’s portrait, and for a fee of $10, the University emailed me a jpeg file. When I opened it the first time, I was so excited! Not only was I looking into the eyes of the beautiful young woman who’d had such a big impact on me for the preceding few weeks, but I was also able to identify another photograph: one that included baby Philip. To my knowledge, this is the only surviving photograph of Philip Pattengill. The photograph of Annie seemed eerily familiar, and in digging deeper into my archives, I found that I’d had the image all along— but it was unlabeled and undated, so I didn’t know who she was. FAMILY RESEARCHERS: Please contact me before reposting or using these images. They are not in the public domain. Thanks.
© Julie Dirkes Phelps; Photographer, Author, Researcher, Archivist, and Storyteller. © Copyright 2015. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, reposting, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without prior written permission. Be cool, don’t plagiarize. If you want to use something, just ask me first.
“And still the sun shines,” to myself I said,
When walking the next morn from troubled sleep.
The thought came flashing, like a sword thrust deep
Within my heart, that thou, beloved, wert dead
And lying shrouded in thy lonely bed,—
‘Yet earth and life their even tenor keep,
And stars and suns through heavenly spaces sweep
As if no hearts with anguish bled.
Then, as I gazed into the depths above,
I seemed to feel love’s immortality,
And that the great Eternal Heart of Love
Had given thee to us, and had taken thee;
And with that thought a ray of hope was shed,
And my sad heart was somewhat comforted.
After we laid from sight they precious clay,
And gathered sadly in that lovely home
Where thy dear footsteps nevermore should come;
After our tears and grief had had their way,
We strove to cheer each other, and would say:
‘If but could could speak to us those lips now dumb,
They would forbid all thoughts or words of gloom.”
And then, as fell the evening shadows grey,
And we who had loved thee so must once more part,
Go out into our separate ways in life<
Bearing with us bereavement’s bitter smart
The while we mingle in the daily strife;
Oh, then each bore alone the quivering dart,
The solitary anguish of the heart.
Dost though know, darling, how we follow thee
With yearning love into the great Unknown
Where thy bright spirit struggled out alone
From our fond hearts’ detaining ministry?
And how we cherish thy sweet memory,
Recalling all the happy Summers gone?
How thy dear ways and words are dwelt upon,
Until it seems thy spirit hovers nigh?
And then we think thy gentle heart must grieve
For us, though wooed by all the joys of Heaven;
And if the power the invisible veil to cleave
But for a moment unto thee were given,
Thy words from out the dread eternity
Would comfort us, and we would comfort thee.
How do I strive to justify thee, Death,
When thou dost take away the young and fair,
The good and happy, from love’s tenderest care,
Yet shortest not their miserable breath
Whom life with sin and misery burdeneth?
Still, standing in God’s sunlight, who would dare,
With proofs of love and goodness everywhere,
Heed only what unfeeling reason saith?
So, back to this one thought my spirit flies,
When death, pain, mystery my heart appal:
Our human loves have surely had their rise
In some great Heart of Love, and death’s recall
Shall show us, by eternity made wise,
That Love Divine will justify them all.