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Love Under Electric Lights

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Love Under Electric Lights

“A Woman Just Divorced, Weds Her First Love Beneath the Glare of an Electric Light,” read the headline.  If they had had clickbait back in 1890, this would have been good fodder.  It certainly caught my attention scrolling through the November 1st edition of the Oregon Statesman.  It led to an interesting and somewhat tragic love story (tis the season after all) and a good example of how seemingly trivial stories sometimes get randomly preserved in newsprint.

If the Statesman reporter had not been walking down the street at a quarter past 8 P.M. on a November Saturday night, this story likely would have faded away into obscurity.  But the pacing of Justice Myron E. Goodell up and down the sidewalk in outside the Courthouse on the corner of Court and Church Streets caught the unnamed reporter’s eye.

East Facade of the Marion County Courthouse. In the foreground is Church Street. Court Street runs to the far right of the image. State Street runs to the far left of the image. Salem, Oregon. WHC Photos: 1999.016.0001.

“Suddenly,” he writes, “a carriage containing the [couple] and the witnesses drove hurriedly up and the ceremony was hastily preformed…[it] was brief and impressive, the justice asking the leading questions just as a STATESMAN representative brushed passed, but before he could understand what it all meant, there beneath the glare of the unsteady arc light shooting its flickering rays vast to heaven, the tying of the knot had been completed and the carriage with its happy occupants, whisked away…The wedding was so quiet that even the unsuspecting passerby knew not what was being enacted before their very eyes.”[1]

The reporter, being a reporter, sussed out the identity of the couple – Francis Wyland Hunsaker and Ellura “Lulu” Winifred Bleakney[2].  Hunsaker was the son of a Baptist Preacher (Andrew Jackson Hunsaker) in McMinnville.[3]  She was the daughter of civil war veteran turned hardware store merchant turned one-term state legislator Lewis Bleakney.[4]  The bride had been granted a divorce by Judge Reuben P. Boise just two weeks prior to the marriage witnessed by the reporter.[5]  Lulu had married James G. Martin when she was just 17 years old.[6]  In testimony given during the divorce suit, she described an intolerable marriage in which her husband threatened her verbally and with weapons.  “He cussed me and told me to go to hell, and go home and stay there.”  Two years into the marriage, Lulu had to move back in with her parents because her husband had deserted her and left her with no means of support.

Ellura “Lulu” Bleakney Martin Hunsaker Evens signature as it appeared in her divorce papers, 1890. Closest thing to a picture of her we have been able to find.
Photo Source: Oregon State Archives, Marion County Circuit Court Files, Divorce Records Subset. Case No. 4796. Martin Lulu vs. James G. 1890.

The unusual wedding provided a presumably happier period of Lulu’s life.  After being whisked away from the glare of the electric lights the couple made their home in McMinnville for almost 20 years, where Francis worked as a day laborer and Lulu as a dressmaker.[7]

Portrait of Wayland C. Hunsaker by Sperry the Artist (a Salem-based photographer). Portrait entitled “Mrs. F. W. Hunsaker’s Baby.” Photo Source: Oregon Historical Society. Click to access OHS catalog record.

Although the records are spotty, it is easy to extrapolate that the love story was also filled with many sorrows.  A gravestone in the Masonic Cemetery in McMinnville bears the name of their son, Wayland C. Hunsaker, who died at age 6 in 1898.  The inscription reads “Our darling.  Sweet little blossom, too pure for earthly strife.  Now blooming in Heaven with eternal life.”[8]  By 1909, a Portland City Directory lists Lulu as Winifred Hunsaker, widow of Francis W.[9]  Francis does not appear to be dead, however.  Maybe it was easier than explaining.

Ironically, it is marriage records that help us learn a bit more about the couples’ story later in life. Lulu married William R. Evans/Evens a merchant in the St. Johns area in 1909.  Francis married Jessie A. Reid in 1911.[10]

Despite its outcome, the Hunsakers’ wedding was so unusual it made the rounds of syndication throughout Oregon’s various newspapers.  The Lebanon Express reported that the couple “were married on the street at Salem Nov. 1,” sandwiched between stories of a German man being killed deer hunting outside of Eugene and five carloads of raisins arriving in Chicago.[11]

Electric lights in Salem was still a relatively new phenom in 1890. The first successful lighting of streetlights happened just four years earlier.[12]  The flickering described in the article was normal with the early forms of arc lamps used in the area.  There likely would have been a loud buzzing sound as well to accentuate the mood on that probably cold November evening.[13]

What the significance was of the street lights or location to the couple is as much a mystery today as it was then to the reporter.  Having written a full column on wedding, he resigns himself the mystery around it: “No reason could be learned why the ceremony was performed in the middle of the street under the electric light, rather than at the home of the bride’s parents in Yew park.  But it is said the groom was the bride’s first and only love, and also that his love of her mother was not great.  Anyway it was at their request that the ceremony was performed thus romantically.”

Feel like more love stories?  Check out the WHC’s newest exhibit Romance: Stories of Love and Passion in the Mid-Willamette Valley. On display through April 20, 2019.

By Kylie Pine.  This article was written for the Statesman Journal and published February 3, 2019.  It is reproduced here with citations and extra information for reference purposes.

Bleakney Family Notes

Lulu was the daughter of Lewis Bleakney and Sarah White.  Bleakney, who with his brother were named after Lewis and Clark, was a Civil War Veteran who had served as a Captain of Company H, of the 17th United States Colored Infantry.  The family moved to Turner, Oregon in 1871.  The family eventually moved to Aumsville.  A full biography and a beautiful photograph of Lewis and his wife Sarah White can be found in Joseph Gaston’s Centennial History of Oregon (Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing co, 1912), Volume 3, pg 232.

Lewis and Sarah (White) Bleakney. From Joseph Gaston’s CENTENNIAL HISTORY OF OREGON (Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Co, 1912). Volume 3, pg 232. Willamette Heritage Center Collections 0081.002.0074.0001.

Citations

[1] “Colored with Romance.” Oregon Statesman 2 Nov 1890, pg 8

[2] Lulu’s legal name has been a bit of a question to me throughout the research.  In addition to the multiple marriages (James G. Martin, Francis W. Hunsaker, W.R. Evans/Evens), there are a lot of variations on her first name as well.

-Her divorce papers and signature read Lulu W. Martin (1890)

-1880 Federal Census – L. Freddie Bleakney

-1909 Portland City Directory – Winifred Hunsaker

-Obituary Oregonian 16 Feb 1936 pg 19 “Ellura Winifred Evens”  wife of late William R. Evens

– Gaston, Joseph. “Lewis Bleakney” Centennial History of Oregon, Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1912. Vol. 3, pg 232 – Winifred wife of W.R. Evans.

-Gravestone (Riverview cemetery, Portland)  is inscribed Evens

[3] American Baptist Yearbook. Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1883, page 131. Accessed via GoogleBooks.  Also American Baptist Yearbook. Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1893, pg 105 Accessed via GoogleBooks.

[4] Edwards, Cecil L.  Alphabetical List of Oregon’s Legislators and Related Information. Oregon Historic Services, 1993.  States Lewis Bleakney served in the House for Marion County in the 1885 regular and special sessions.   See also 1880 US Federal Census, Turner, Marion, Oregon, Dwelling 9, Family 9.  Lewis Bleakney, 42, Husband, Hardware Merchant.  Wife Sarah E., 33, L. Freddie 9 Daughter, Jay 8, Son.  See also Gaston, Joseph. “Lewis Bleakney” Centennial History of Oregon, Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1912. Vol. 3, pg 232

[5] “Circuit Court” Capital Journal 20 Oct 1890, pg 3. “Lulu W. Martin vs James G. Martin; Divorce granted”

Marion County Circuit Court Records.  Divorce Records subset.  Oregon State Archives.  Case File #4796 Martin, Lulu vs. James G., 1890.  The ruling by Judge Boise is dated Saturday the 18th Day of October, 1890.  The wedding was preformed November 1, 1890.  See Marion County Marriage Records (Abstracted); “Coast News” Lebanon Express 14 Nov 1890 pg 1. “Married” Albany Democrat.  7 Nov 1890, pg 3.  “Increasing their joy” Weekly Oregon Statesman 5 Dec 1890 pg 12 and “Colored with Romance.” Oregon Statesman 2 Nov 1890 pg 8.

[6] “Married.” Weekly Oregon Statesman. 04 Nov 1887, pg 8.   MARTIN-BLEAKNEY – at the residence of the bride’s parents, near Turner, Sunday, Oct. 30, 1887, James G. Martin and Lulu W. Bleakney, both of Marion County, W.T. Van Scoy officiating.

Marion County Marriage Records (Abstracted).  James G. Martin, over 21 & Lulu Winifred Bleakney, over 17, m Oct 1887 at house of Lewis Bleakney by W.T. Van Scoy, M.G. Aff; R.O Thomas.  Wit: Elmer Barzee & Lewis Bleakney.  Lewis & Sarah Bleakney, as parents, consented.  Lulu was 17 on July 1887 #3418 pg 442

[7] 1900 US Federal Census.  Fairlawn Crescent, Yamhill, Oregon.

[8] Find-a-Grave -MASONIC CEMETERY McMinnville, Oregon

Wayland C. Hunsaker, son of F.W. and L.W. Hunsaker.  Died Aug 31, 1898

Age 6 yrs 10 moths & 15 days  Our darling. Sweet little blossom too pure for earthly strife now blooming in Heaven with eternal life

[9] 1909 Portland City Directory.  Hunsaker, Winifred (wid. Francis W.) res 589 Washington.

[10] Oregon Marriage Records (Familysearch).  Francis W. Hunsaker, Male, 42 birth about 1869.  Marriage Date 11 Oct 1911, Yamhill County, Oregon, USA.  To Jessie Agnes Reid.

1909 Apr 25 Multnomah County Lellura Winifred Bleakney marriage

Gaston, Joseph. “Lewis Bleakney” Centennial History of Oregon, Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1912. Vol. 3, pg 232

[11] “Coast News” Lebanon Express. 14 Nov 1890, pg 1.

A German named Ott was killed for a deer by a boy with whom he had gone hunting twelve miles from Eugene, Or. Oct 30

Francis W. Hunsaker of McMinnville, Or. And Miss Lulu W. Bleakney of Salem were married on the street at Salem Nov. 1.

Five carloads of raisins grown within five miles of Yuba City were shipped to Chicago a fw days ago.  They were pronounced first-class.

[12] Pine, Kylie.  “Electrifying Salem.” Willamette Heritage Center. https://www.willametteheritage.org/electrifying-salem/

[13] http://edisontechcenter.org/ArcLamps.html.

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