05 July, 2015

Two Tragic Aunts

This evening I would like to write about two great-aunts of mine and their sad stories. These aunts have no one to remember them, as they both passed away in their youth and never had children to pass on their stories. I will remember them here by relating as much as I know about them and their fates.

The first of these two lovely young ladies is my great-great aunt Lena Thacher. Lena was the daughter of my great-great grandfather George Engs Thacher and his wife Paulina Baxter Thacher. George and Paulina lived on Main Street in South Dennis (now part of Old Bass River Road) and raised seven children.


George Engs and Paulina Baxter Thacher & Family circa 1867
(Lena seated front)

They had a set of identical twins, delightfully named Amelia and Cecelia, born the same year as their marriage in 1851. Their sons George and Charles (my great-grandfather) followed in 1854 and 1856. Then was Lena in 1860, Peleg in 1861 and Willie, a "late" baby, in 1872 (not in photograph).

The father, George Engs Thacher, was a master mariner and he ran his schooner, the G.E. Thacher, to many ports, far and near.

The story of "Little Lena", as she was called due to her petite stature, goes that she fell in love with a young man at the age of 19. Who this person was has been lost to time, but apparently she was quite besotted and the couple wished to marry. For whatever reason, her father did not care for the young man and he forbade Lena to marry him.

According to family lore, Little Lena was so distraught that she began to make herself ill with her grief. Her mother was very concerned for her health. So, her father proposed that he take Lena along with him on his next voyage, which included a stop in Mobile, Alabama. Perhaps he thought that the warm climate would do her health good and that the trip would help her to get past her bitter disappointment.


Lighthouse Mobile Harbor
Sadly, Lena's health did not rally on the voyage. She sickened and died while in Mobile on 16 December 1879, and her body was brought back to her grief-stricken family to be buried in South Dennis. It was always said in the family that Little Lena Thacher died of a broken heart. I suppose her father felt some remorse and probably experienced some guilt about denying her the man she had wanted to wed. In truth, Lena's cause of death was listed as "consumption", the term used for tuberculosis, so her fate was no doubt sealed whether or not she had achieved her heart's desire.

The story of the second aunt is just as tragic. This was a great-aunt from the generation after Lena's. Her brother Charles Lincoln Thacher, my great-grandfather, also dwelt in South Dennis in the area that is now the intersection of High Bank Road and Rt. 134. He and his wife, Alice Sears Hall Thacher, raised their family of six children there.

Their first child, Charles Jr., died at just under a year old. But their second son, my grandfather, Freeman Gibbs Thacher, born in 1892, thrived, as did the second son William who came along two years later. Three girls followed; Edith in 1898, Alice in 1901 and Cynthia Hallett Thacher in 1905. 

Little Cynthia, the baby of the family, was a bright, happy child with "a laugh for everyone" as the papers would report. She was often mentioned in the paper as being on the honor roll at school and having perfect attendance. She was a child with a bright future.


Bass River
On 16 August 1916, Cynthia, aged 11 and sister Alice, 15, headed for Bass river for a picnic in the shade of the trees on the banks of the river on that hot summer day. They met their cousin, Malcolm Thacher, aged 13, there and proceeded to enjoy the humid afternoon.

At some point, Cynthia decided to wade in the cool river, then she began to swim. Bass river still has a good strong current through that area, and possibly it was stronger back in 1916. At any rate, Cynthia was caught in the force of the current and pulled away from her frightened sister and cousin on the shore. Despite her cries for help, neither Alice nor Malcolm could go to her aid, as neither of them knew how to swim! 

A call of alarm went out to nearby homes and people came scurrying down to the beach from all sides. Cynthia was pulled from the water and, though there were four doctors among those who responded, they were unable to revive the eleven year old girl.
Bass River Today

The entire Thacher family was, naturally, devastated by the loss. 

As a side note, when my mother was born (Cynthia's older brother Freeman's child), they had thought to name her Cynthia after the lost little sister. But, Cynthia's mother, the new baby's grandmother, thought it would be bad luck to name her after her drowned child. She spread the word as quickly as she could that the baby was named Nancy. When my grandmother realized that everyone already thought she was Nancy, she decided to abandon plans to name her Cynthia and my mother was named Nancy Thacher.

I have no photograph of Cynthia, but one may yet surface. If it does, I'll be sure to add it to her story.

To both of my lost aunts, may you know that you were terribly missed in this life and that you are not forgotten.