A friend and I went to lunch yesterday. Our birthdays are two weeks apart so we meet half way on the calendar and take each other to lunch. Except yesterday, she insisted that she would pay for both lunches that day. I arrived with a stack of books as I often do as I know she is a good reader and will accept my already-read books. She said that it is impossible to think of anything to buy for me (and she’s right) so she would buy lunch. Okay. She was one of the few people who had sent me a birthday card last week. I delivered her card with the books as it was one of those that takes extra postage (it sings a crazy little diddy).
After I got home from lunch I received a phone call from a friend who knows both of us August birthday girls. We had mentioned her at lunch so I was surprised to see her name pop up on my phone. She was calling about a request that had come into the church office where we were members for 40 years and where I had diligently worked on the church’s 130-year history. She thought it best to ask me some of the questions from this request since I knew the archives so well. No one has worked much with the archives since I left, 4 years ago. Heck, I figure they would like to clear out 135 years of records and make room for something else. The new pastor is not inclined to care about history.
Turns out, the questions go back to 1890 (the church started in 1882), and asks questions about member records for the time period. The man asking the questions is a writer, director, producer in New York City who is tying up lose ends to a murder case from 1890. A prominent Fresnan was murdered in a shoot-out in downtown Fresno. His murderer was found guilty and spent the rest of his life (only 5 more years) in San Quentin Prison. The murderer’s wife died only days after the murder as she was ill at the time. There were three small children and it’s those children that the writer is trying to trace. What happened to them after they were basically orphaned? His questions included ones about what the church did to help the indigent back then. Are there any records?
I’m not too sure we can help. We don’t even know if this family were members or attended church. The newspaper articles that the writer forwarded to me tell that the philanthropic ladies of the city collected funds and paid for the woman’s casket and burial. They also attended her funeral. She is in an unmarked grave in a local cemetery.
Could those ladies have been part of a group of such women from the church, The Welcome Class? I suggested to the friend who called me to look through those records to see if they went back that far. I know The Welcome Class was active in the early 1900s, delivering milk to poor families, taking bread to the homeless who were living in a park, making Christmas stockings for orphaned children. Would there even be a record of something like this?
Fascinating story, with not many leads for us to go on. If you want to know more about the actual murder, read here.