One gold mine for these columns has been the excellent collection of community photos housed at the Knox Time page of Facebook.
This strange photo captures a moment from a Halloween party 99 years ago and is equal parts amusing and creepy. The photo was provided to Knox Time by Richard Morey who picked it up at a garage sale in Brinkhaven in the 1970s.
At the time, he was assured that the pictures were local people, but the only photograph that had any names on the back was this one, which gives the year 1920 on the front and lists names — some partial — on the back along with the phrase, “This party was at Anna Ringers.”
Loving a mystery, I decided I would try to track down who these people were. What I found, however, leads away from Knox County and into our neighbor to the southeast, Coshocton County, so please share this column with folks over in that neck of the woods, for they may know these people well.
The logical starting place was Anna Ringer. I started searching through genealogical resources, and couldn't find anything when I searched for someone of this name connected to Knox County. When I widened the search, a few Anna Ringers turned up in Ohio in the early 20th century. One was as close as Coshocton, which was a plausible connection.
At first glance, I thought she might be too old, for I assumed at first that anyone throwing a Halloween costume party was probably pretty young, and this Anna was 30.
But that wasn't a fair assumption. Anyone of any age can enjoy a costume party, right? When I dove into the 1920 census, not only did I find Anna in Coshocton, I found Grant and Emma Howell living next door. According to the notes on the back of the photo, Anna is the fourth from the left on the couch, wearing a cloth mask, apparently homemade.
She was either a very petite woman, or else she is somewhat hunched over, for she appears nearly child sized. Census reports show that Anna never married, working in a glove factory in the 1920s, then retiring and taking in lodgers in the 1930s and 40s.
The neighbors were older than Anna. Grant Howell (wearing the peaked wizard hat) was 51 and had just the year before this married his second wife, Emma Duve, who was a little closer to Anna's age at 32. Emma was born in New York City and lived out her golden years in Riverside, California, so it's unknown what brought her to Coshocton, unless it was Grant himself with his professional connections. Grant worked as an ad designer in Coshocton.
Both the Howells and Anna Ringer lived in Roscoe Village on the edge of Coshocton.
In the back row, past Grant and Emma, is Howard Wills in the white cloth mask. Forty years old at the time of this party, Howard worked as a coal miner in Coshocton County. His World War I draft card identifies him as being of medium height and build, with gray eyes and light brown hair. Unfortunately, the mask obscures his features.
His wife Susie (maiden name Pepper) is dressed up in what might be a man's military suit, sitting between Anna Ringer and the clown on the right end of the couch, her face obscured by a similar white cloth mask to her husband's.
The only one with his face exposed in the photo is standing in the middle of the back row, and on the photo he is only identified as “Sherman.”
A little digging through Coshocton newspaper social columns at the time turned up a Sherman listed as attending a birthday party in 1919 for Charles Lepley, one of the others in this photo. That Sherman's last name is Suntimer (a German name that probably used to be Suntheimer before it was Anglicized), and, sure enough, his wife was named Bessie, the name on the photo identifying the clown in the store-bought costume at the right end of the couch.
Sherman Suntimer ends up being our fleeting connection to Knox County, because he worked on the railroad, presumably all the live-long day, at Cavallo for a number of years, later living in Tiverton. By 1920, he had moved closer to Coshocton, working as the section foreman on the railroad there.
The last man standing, just right of the black cat decoration, is Charles Lepley, who worked as a weighman at the Conesville Power Company, a coal-fired electric plant south of Coshocton, and was about 45 at the time of this party. His wife Laura (born Smith) was from Indiana originally, and sits on the couch in a rather spectacular bearded costume (perhaps a rival Merlin to Grant's costume?).
Charles is too obscured by the couch to see if his build matches the World War I draft card, which describes Lepley as “slender.”
The tramp sitting in front of the couch is identified as Emery Spurr. He had a wife named Norah, which is very close to the name Norma given on the photo for the seated woman dressed all in white. The photo says “Norma & daughter Bella Katherine,” referring to the girl sitting on the arm of the couch.
Emery and Norah Spurr had a daughter named Zella. Perhaps a misreading of the cursive handwriting on the back of the photo? Originally from Illinois, the Spurrs also lived in Coshocton.
In the end, these names fit together quite neatly to match families living in or near Coshocton in 1920. So let's let their long-forgotten party flare up for a moment as the official kickoff to our fall season.
Imagine for a moment the fun they had that night, little dreaming that a century later, people would examine their party in a public forum like this.