Chocolate Makers and Missionaries
The happiness of every age is chained in mutual dependence upon that of every other.
― John Quincy Adams
John H. Bater arrived in Boston in the 1840s from Devonshire, England. In 1848, he married Sarah Ann B. Williams, originally from Connecticut. Her bloodlines on both sides zigged and zagged back to the Great Puritan Migration. Although she had a number of prosperous ancestors in New England, Sarah’s closest relations were not among them. She and John were on their own. For most of two decades, they lived on farms, first in Bedford and later in Dorchester. She bore John three boys and three girls; one girl died at four years of age and another at 16. John was serving in the U.S. Navy, as a steward aboard a ship, when his youngest son was born in 1862. That son was Herbert Winthrop Bater, my maternal great grandfather.
Herbert’s middle name memorialized John Winthrop Jr., whose patronage facilitated the rise of Sarah Williams’ most famous progenitor: Daniel Cone (1626–1706). Daniel was one of the Scottish Covenanters captured by Cromwell’s army at the battle of Worcester, which ended the Third English Civil War in 1651. Daniel was among the luckier defenders of King Charles I. Thousands of Royalist prisoners died from starvation and abuse inflicted by the righteous Roundheads, the Puritans who had taken control of Parliament. Daniel was banished to a term of indentured servitude in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Thanks to John Winthrop Jr., who spotted his talent and bought his contract, Daniel Cone eventually became an elected freeman and one of the 28 landholders who founded Haddam, Connecticut. Be that as it may, it likely brought little comfort to Daniel’s distant descendant, Sarah Ann B. Williams and her husband. But they were industrious and managed to get by.
By 1870, John Bater, had moved his family to the lovely town of Milton on the Neponset River south of Dorchester, a town that had become, that very year, a neighborhood of Boston. John worked in a planing mill on the banks of the upper or lower falls. He died in 1878 at age 55. Two years later the federal Census recorded that his widow Sarah, then 58, still lived in Milton with her youngest son, Herbert, 18. They shared a house with the family of Frederick Morine, a carpenter. The 1880 Census also identified Herbert as a carpenter, suggesting that the young man was working as Fred’s apprentice. Sarah worked as a seamstress, but she may also have served as a surrogate grandmother for the Morines’ four children, who ranged in age from one to nine.
The household also included Annie Morine, née Swift, Ruth’s sister. Annie worked in a chocolate factory. Herbert’s brother Henry also worked there, at the Walter Baker Chocolate factory in the Lower Mills area of the Neponset River, with Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood on the north side and the town of Milton to the south. Annie and Ruth’s brother was John H. Swift, a foreman at the chocolate factory, known to all in that close-knit community as Uncle John. In 1880, he and his first wife had four children spanning about the same ages as the Morines’ brood, and they had a fifth child on the way. Uncle John’s seven-year-old girl Hattie was destined to become, in 12 years’ time, Herbert Winthrop Bater’s wife, and thus my maternal great grandmother.
How did Herbert manage to remain a bachelor throughout his twenties? The historical record I’ve pieced together from online sources offers too few facts for certainty but more than enough for surmise. Herbert remained employed as both a carpenter and bricklayer and continued to live with his widowed mom Sarah. By 1885, they had moved into their own rented house, not far from Herbert’s oldest brother, William, who had a wife and children, and the middle brother Henry, still a bachelor like Herbert. That same year, as it happened, John Swift’s wife Mary died, leaving five children ranging in age from 5 to 13. Fortunately for Uncle John, his two oldest children were Bertha, 13, and Hattie, 12, and John’s mother, a nurse, was still living in his home. Nevertheless, John Swift didn’t wait long to find another wife, back in Nova Scotia, where he’d grown up. John Swift remarried in 1887, at age 39, his second wife a 20-year-old.
By August of 1892, Uncle John’s new brood numbered two. That was the month Sarah Bater died and also about when Herbert, now 30, hooked up with John Swift’s daughter Hattie, then 18. Herbert and Hattie got married the day after Christmas, and unto them a son was born, five months later. That son was Harold Bater, my maternal grandfather.
Uncle John Swift apparently let bygones be. Herbert and Hattie moved into a house down the street. At some point, Hattie’s older sister Bertha moved in with them, as recorded by the 1900 Census. Thus did Uncle John remove from his house the young adult children of his first wife to make way for the babies of his equally fecund second wife.
The Aztecs, you may recall, considered chocolate a royal aphrodisiac. The Mayans associated it with their fertility god. Herbert may also have worked in the chocolate factory for a time, under the tutelage of his father-in-law John. Herbert and Hattie’s second child Doris arrived in February 1896. She and her brother both received Biblical middle names: Harold Nimrod and Doris Leah. Leah is from the Hebrew word for weary, suggesting Hattie’s choice. Nimrod is more of a mystery. Presumably, whoever chose it would have taken the Bible’s mention of the name literally and thus saw it as a name befitting a skilled and noble hunter. Genesis chapter 10, in verses 8 to 12, describes Nimrod as “the first on earth to be a mighty man.… He was a mighty hunter before the Lord.” However, tradition also credits Nimrod with being the ruler who rebelled against God by ordering his people to build the Tower of Babel. The name Harold has Old English roots and roughly translates to “army power.” Harold Nimrod: I’m guessing Herbert Winthrop liked the he-man sound of it, the full name only to be pronounced on milestone occasions such as graduations, weddings, and funerals. To my ears, of course, Nimrod is pronounced slowly, in Bugs Bunny’s voice, mocking Elmer Fudd, the clumsy Disney hunter.
For reasons unknown to me, and not fully understood by Hattie, Harold, and Doris, in 1905 Herbert Bater moved his family from the leafy river town of Milton smack dab into Manhattan’s gritty, teeming Chelsea area. Beatrice Hope Bater was born there in 1906. According to the 1910 Census, Herbert Bater’s household of five occupied an apartment at 157 Seventh Avenue. That was about a 10 minute walk from 290 Eighth Avenue, a former saloon that housed one of the many rescue missions in the city. The Eighth Avenue Mission offered a range of social and health services along with its primary product, that old time religion. A 1921 directory of New York City’s social agencies neglects to mention religious aims in its description of the Eighth Avenue Mission: “Ministers to the needs of the neighborhood; maintains a trained nurse and friendly visitors who relieve distress, visit the sick in their homes, in prisons and hospitals. Reading room for enlisted men. Supported by voluntary contributions.”
The Eighth Avenue Mission published a monthly newsletter, sundry digital copies of which have preserved the “how I got saved” testimonies of Hattie, Doris, and Harold Bater. Like everything printed in the Mission Tidings newsletter, their essays were probably edited by the Mission’s indefatigable and exigent superintendent and treasurer, Sara Wray, an English immigrant who treasured the British spelling of certain words, like Saviour. A 1922 issue of Mission Tidings published Doris’s personal testimony:
When I was ten years old, our family moved from the beautiful town of Milton, Mass., to this city (New York). The idea of living in a large city fascinated me, but I never quite could understand why we had to give up our home in the country, with the numerous means of entertainment it afforded children and live in a city without even a yard to play in. Perhaps I had imbibed this idea from my mother, who was most unhappy in her new home and bitterly opposed to living in a city. But this matter has long since been settled to both mother’s and my satisfaction.
Forced to seek refuge from a storm, while walking down Eighth Avenue one night with my father, we found ourselves in the Eighth Avenue Mission. I did not like it a bit; somehow I connected missions with the Salvation Army, and although not knowing a thing about them, I had the idea that they were only for drunkards and bad folks.
After much persuasion my mother attended a meeting at the Mission, and it wasn’t very long before she accepted the Gospel message and became a Christian, simply by believing on the Son of God. I shall never forget my mother’s first spiritual birthday. I was seated on the front row of the Mission, listening intently while mother gave her testimony and told how she found the Lord Jesus Christ as her Saviour, and how He found her.
As I sat there listening, there began running through my mind the realization that I had a new mother. Why, many times during the past year I found her reading her Bible; and I hadn’t heard her complain at all about having to live in a city. There seemed to be something in her life which made her happy. I was only a little girl, but it dawned upon me for the first time that I had something that the Lord Jesus Christ wanted. You may ask, what did I have that He wanted? He wanted my little heart. God, Himself, in the person of the Holy Spirit, wanted to come into my life and make me a new girl. How eager I was to give it to Him, and how happy I was to know that the very Son of God dwells in me. My God of fear had become a God of love.
Every New Year’s Day, Hattie and Doris celebrated their “spiritual birthday” at the Eighth Avenue Mission, until Doris went off to join brother Harold at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. While Doris’s path to higher education in evangelism was straight and narrow, her brother’s was a long and winding road.
The 1910 federal Census is the last record I could find showing all five members of the Herbert Bater family living together. The 1915 New York Census lists the household minus Harold as residing at 229 West 16th Street. According to the Newton, Massachusetts, directory for that same year, 22-year-old Harold was living there and working as a roofer. Harold’s testimony in the November 1917 issue of Mission Tidings suggests he lived in the Boston area from about 1910 until he returned to New York in 1916 to take up residence in White Plains.
The Bater testimonies in Mission Tidings never so much as hint that Herbert and Hattie Bater began to keep separate households in 1916 after Harold moved back to the area. The July 1916 Mission Tidings mentions that Mrs. Bater’s family had moved to White Plains, lamenting that she and Doris would not be as constant a presence at the Mission as previously.
We shall miss our dear sister, Mrs. Bater, and her family, who are moving from the City to White Plains. We are hoping they will be able to carry on the work of the Sunday school in which they have had so large a part and which needs them so much. Mrs. Bater is one of our most faithful and consecrated workers, and we shall miss her and her family. God will surely make them a blessing wherever they go.
The 1916 White Plains directory gives the same address for Harold, Hattie, and Doris, even though the New York City directory for that year also lists Doris as residing at the address on West 16th along with her father Herbert. The Baters’ sojourn in the suburbs did not last long. Sometime later that year, or early the next, Hattie, Harold, Doris, and Hope moved to 369 West 23rd Street. In June 1917, Harold gave that as his home address when he filled out his draft registration card. He wrote that his occupation was machinist, his employer an auto shop located three blocks from where he lived, an upscale neighborhood that was even closer to the Eighth Avenue Mission than the family’s former address on West 16th. On his registration card, he claimed an exemption from the draft because he was a “Religious Baptist,” and he noted that his mother partially depended on him for financial support.
Toward the end of June, Harold enlisted in the Army’s Reserve Corps and shortly thereafter got called to active duty, assigned to the medical detachment at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island. Early in August, he was transferred to Camp Little Silver, named after the nearest train station on the Hoboken line in coastal New Jersey. A month later the Army renamed it Camp Alfred Vail, after Morse’s key partner in developing telegraphy. Within a decade it would merit a change of status and be renamed Fort Monmouth, but to call it a “camp” at the time was apt: It consisted mostly of canvas teepee-like tents engulfed by “a jungle of weeds, poison ivy, briars, and underbrush,” as one of its first occupants wrote. The site also had some potato fields and the sprawling, decrepit, overgrown remnants of a once-famous racetrack, including abandoned railroad tracks linked to the Hoboken line, the one feature of the place that the Army found advantageous. Hoboken would become a major port of embarkation for troops being shipped to France.
The Army’s immediate goal at Camp Alfred Vail was to build a training center that would enable the Signal Corps to achieve an incredibly ambitious mission: to construct and maintain in France a vast telephone and telegraph system that War Department leaders considered essential if the American Expeditionary Forces were to succeed in rescuing the Allied armies from a seemingly endless war of attrition. Initially, the Army relied on volunteers from the Bell companies to rapidly expand the Signal Corps. The camp’s curriculum included instruction in Signal Corps and Army basic subjects ranging from cryptography and semaphore to tent pitching, map reading, first aid, and camp sanitation. The first contingent of troops had to spend most of their time clearing fields, repairing and extending roads, and digging drainage ditches. During July 1917, 129 soldiers at the camp developed such severe reactions to poison ivy that they had to be hospitalized. They were among the first patients Harold Bater helped to treat when he joined the medical detachment at the camp in early August. While he was there, he wrote the following for Mission Tidings. I have rearranged a few paragraphs to undo what I suspect was a well-intentioned structural edit by Sarah Wray.
A PERSONAL TESTIMONY
I was brought up in Milton, Massachusetts, and my boyhood days were similar to those of countless other boys. I was inclined to be lazy and this trait of mine made me grow to fear my father as he was a very energetic and righteous man and could not quite realize that I was just a mere boy with only boyish thoughts, and chuck full of mischief. When I was about 12 years old, we came to New York city to live, and it was here that my playmates taught me several bad habits, that a strict father and a watchful mother had failed to keep me from, or warn me against.
I gradually began to lose interest in my studies and finally school became a bore to me, and without consulting my parents I left high school and spent my time at the 23rd street YMCA, where I was a member. The crisis came, however, when I got in some trouble at the YMCA, and fearing that my father would hear of my many escapades, and being too much of a coward to face my just punishment, I packed my suitcase and went to Boston. How true God’s word is that man can only look on the outward appearance and only God sees the heart. Although I was living with relatives, who thought that I was alright, how little they really knew about me. I was never a criminal or down in the mire of sin, for which I want to thank God, but I associated with a bunch of wealthy young men whose only aim was pleasure, worldly pleasure, to have a so-called good time, never giving God a thought or stopping to think about an eternity.
Sunday was a day to be spent in amusement; and God and religion had very little place in my life during those years. I was free to do as I chose and go where I pleased. (But now I look back and see the many times that I could not go where I chose and do as I pleased like the rest of the fellows, not that I wanted to be any better than they, but it seemed as if something was pulling me just the other way and for the life of me I could not understand it, and I used to wonder how it was and why I could not go the pace with the rest of the boys.) Little did I realize that my mother in New York city had found Christ to be her personal Saviour and knew a God who heard and answered prayer. Those prayers were the root of the influence that kept me in check. Her letters to me were full of this wonderful Christ, and as I read them I thought that she was religiously insane. I had had enough religion when I was at home and I figured that when I settled down it would be time enough to take it up, and then I was going to go in for Christian Science. Man proposes, but God disposes, for which I thank Him.
One day I received a lengthy epistle from my oldest sister, telling of the wonderful change that had taken place in her life, since she had let Jesus come into her heart and had believed on His finished work. Of course, I did not understand it, for God says, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14), and I thought that she also had gone crazy over religion. How thankful I am that God does answer prayer and although our way is not always His way, His way is always best.
The firm that I worked for moved to White Plains, February 24th, 1916. I came with them. I was very anxious to see my folks, but a little uncertain as to the kind of reception my father would give me. However, the first Sunday found me in New York City. If I had known God then as I do now, I would have known that he would have interceded for me, and everything would work out alright, as it did, and that Sunday evening we all went to the Eighth Avenue Mission, the dearest spot on earth. There I heard from one and another the old, old story of God’s grace, the gift of His son and the glorious life that those who accepted Him received, but I figured that I was alright and that I was able to work out my own salvation apart from Christ.
I spent all the time I could at home, and I was a very happy fellow, and my visits during the next two weeks were all characterized by the earnest and continual urging by my folks and their friends that I accept their Saviour as my Saviour. My self-righteousness kept me from doing so, although I realized that they had a reality, a foundation, and assurance in their lives, which they said came only by faith in Christ.
Saturday, the 4th of March, I was detained at my work, so I went direct to the Mission in order to walk home with my mother and sister; it was closing time so I sat in the back seat. Miss Wray was giving the final invitation as she walked down the aisle speaking to this one and that one and urging them to take their stand for Christ. I knew that as God counts man I was a sinner, so when she asked me if I was a Christian I said, “No.” I do not know what I said when she invited me to accept Jesus. I was so filled with the desire to have what my folks had and the assurance that my sins were forgiven, that at her request I went down the aisle and knelt at the mercy seat.
My mother, who did not know until that moment that I was in the room, came and knelt by my side, her joy, which filled her eyes with tears, and put a catch in her voice, and made her face to fairly shine, made my head go round, and as she prayed for her boy the verse that started this testimony rang through my mind and I made it my prayer.
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer” (Psalms 19:14).
As I arose from my knees, the above verse kept going through my mind over and over again, and I pray that those who read this testimony, may taste as I did then, the inexpressible joy and reality that takes place when one accepts Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour.
When Uncle Sam asked for young men to serve Old Glory I enlisted, and let me tell you when a fellow has crowned Christ captain of his life, and is mustered in the army of the Lord, he is bound to serve his country better. Oh, the satisfaction and joy of knowing that your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, “That the eternal God is thy refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms.” And though my days on this earth be numbered, I go to a mansion, not built by hands, eternal in the heavens.
You that know Him, pray for me that I may be true to Him, and a willing and serviceable instrument in His hands. You who have not accepted Him, and have not this blessed assurance that your sins are forgiven, and that someday you too will see Him face to face — “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31).
Private Harold N. Bater, Medical Department, Camp Alfred Vail, Little Silver, N.J.
Harold was at Camp Vail for three months before being shipped off to France. From November 1917 until his honorable discharge in May 1919, he served with the 408th Telegraph Battalion, which was among the first to arrive. The battalion’s initial assignment was to construct telephone and telegraph lines from Tours to Paris and then on to Chaumont, where General Pershing had established the headquarters of the American Expeditionary Forces. As the 408th was far from the Western Front during most of 1917 and 1918, I assume its members suffered occasional work accidents but few if any were combat casualties. One member of the unit in a letter to a friend wrote, “We move often, and we see a great deal of France. We have been in at least 100 cities of different sizes, and I’ve had an opportunity to see and mingle with every class of the French people.”
Harold’s own letters home were occasionally mentioned in Mission Tidings, and in the first one he reported many opportunities for “personal work.” That was the Mission’s phrase for what most evangelicals refer to as “witnessing to others”: publicly sharing one’s conversion experience, often in earnest one-on-one or small group conversations. The February 1918 Mission Tidings printed a fairly long letter from Harold, from somewhere in France.
My dear Miss Wray:
We are just getting settled after our trip over. I am fine. I am writing this letter by candle light. My desk was made out of a packing case and my chair is an empty box.
I spend a lot of my time in thinking of you and the home folks and the grand meetings. All of which I certainly do miss and the songs. I would like to hear the Mission songs sung by the Mission folks, rather than have anything in France.
The Lord is blessing me. I thank Him for your prayers. I have had some wonderful talks with a lot of different men. How I praise the Lord that I was able to tell them of Christ and God’s love.
Christmas Day was made extra bright for me by the receipt of a letter from mother and one from Mr. Huston. The one thing that I wished for was a copy of Mission Tidings with its account of the anniversary week.
The Lord is continually giving me golden opportunities to tell different men whom I meet from day to day what the Lord did for me, and I have the joy of knowing that if they will accept Christ as a personal Saviour that they will have the same joy in their lives.
I went to a lovely little French church last Sunday. How it made my heart rejoice when I read in my testament First Timothy 2:5, the verse that was engraved on an open stone Bible over the door. The YMCA man here is a fine Christian, and five or six of us had a lovely Bible class meeting Sunday night. The subject was conversion, and it was a blessing to meet and talk with some boys who were converted, saved by faith.
I am very glad that I have my Scofield Bible with me. It is a source of uncounted blessings. It is great to take the different subjects and trace them through the word. I miss the Mission meetings and Fulton Street and Dr. Haldeman’s sermons. They all were so full of hidden wonders in God’s Word. And the Men’s Bible Class, how I did enjoy the Sunday morning service under Mr. Ball. The simple way he brought out some deep truth so that the babes in Christ could grasp and understand it. And Mr. Cooper’s prayers, they were so big and yet so simple and sincere.
It has been snowing all day and everything is covered with a beautiful white mantle and to think that we are to have robes of even greater whiteness and our dirt and sin is not just going to be covered over but we will be bright and shining all the way through.
I pray that the Lord will bless you and use you in the salvation of unnumbered souls in the Mission. Give my love to my brothers and sisters in Christ in the Mission. I long to see you all and pray that peace may come soon so that I can return home, God willing. However, I am ready, and I pray that I may be watching when Christ comes for His own and the signs all point to imminent coming of the Lord. So mayhaps we next may meet in the air with the Lord.
The 408th Telegraph Battalion is not listed by official military histories as having participated in any named battles or campaigns during the Great War. It seems, then, that Harold was an ambulance driver and stretcher carrier for a unit that didn’t participate in combat operations. What routine tasks would have kept him from dying of boredom? Like his father Herbert, Harold was a jack of all building trades in addition to being an experienced auto mechanic. Once his skills became known, I can well imagine that his unit’s officers put him to work as a carpenter, mason, mechanic, and all-around Mr. Fixit. Whatever his contributions to the war effort, he must have impressed someone, for the Army promoted him from Private First Class to Sergeant in August of 1918.
Soon after the Armistice was signed on November 11th that year, the 408th Telegraph Battalion was absorbed into the American Third Army, which marched off to occupy Germany. Most men in the 408th did not return home until the fall of 1919, but Harold, in the unit’s no-longer needed medical detachment, left Marseille in late April aboard the Sofia and arrived in Brooklyn on May 9. Fun fact: The ship’s original name was Sofia Hohenburg, after the Duchess whose assassination, along with her husband, set off the chain of seemingly foreordained events resulting in the prolonged mass lunacy that was the First World War.
The June 1919 Mission Tidings mentioned Harold’s homecoming: “Harold’s mother and sisters, of course, were radiant with joy to have their dear one safely home. It was in answer to the prayers of his mother and sister, both of whom were saved at the Mission, that this boy found the Lord Jesus.” The September issue announced that the Bible Class would be supporting three of its members as they attended Moody Bible Institute in Chicago: Harold Bater, Harold Wentworth, and Barnabas Ramnaway, “a young hindoo.” “God bless, anoint, and equip our three dear brothers for the glorious service of our Lord Jesus Christ. The October newsletter featured an article about the Mission’s farewell ceremony for its three “ambassadors.” The November issue included a brief progress report from Harold Wentworth, who had become, it seems, best buddies with Harold Bater:
It is wonderful out here and God has been good to us. Remember us when you pray, that our eyes may be fixed on Jesus and that we may see only Him. The Indian is getting on splendidly. He seems to grow stronger in the Lord every day and certainly loves this place. We believe God will make him a power in India some day. We have had some wonderful open-air meetings and souls have been saved. Bater stopped a man in a taxi and won him to Jesus. Continue to pray for us.
That first term at Moody Bible Institute, Harold met Frances Willard Stewart, a dark-haired beauty fresh out of high school. Her father, Charles Martin Stewart, was the product of a long Scot-Irish bloodline whose first American progenitor arrived from Londonderry, Northern Ireland, early in the 18th century. Charles had come to Flint, Michigan, early in its rise to acclaim as the car-manufacturing capital of the world. He retired over 30 years later as Chief of Police of the General Motors factory in Flint. His wife, Ellen “Nellie” Robbins, arrived in Flint with her family when she was six years old from Framingham, Devonshire, England. She was 20 when they married, and Charles was 19. They named their second child and only daughter after the founder of the World Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, Frances Willard.
The Stewarts’ 26-year-old son William died in 1913 of tuberculosis; Frances was 13 that year. She graduated from Flint High School in June 1919 and went to work as an inspector in the auto factory where her father was a truck driver. In September 1920, she entered Moody Bible Institute, and less than two months later she married Harold Bater in Chicago. Finding an online a copy of their Cook County marriage certificate gave me pause: Did they meet in a class studying St. Paul’s epistles? I knew from her high school yearbook that Frances was a looker and the class poet. When she arrived at Moody Bible Institute, she was 20 years old and on her own in the big city. Harold was a few years older, a brash big talker from New York City who had war stories galore. What was they teaching in that class? Maybe First Corinthians 7:9?
After graduating from Moody in 1921, Harold finagled an ordination from an association of Baptist churches in Michigan. By 1922, he was the pastor of a Free Will Baptist Church in Saginaw. And that same year Frances was first diagnosed with the disease that had killed her brother about nine years before. Also that year, she must have had a miscarriage, for a newspaper recorded a surprise baby shower for her, but no child was born to them that year or the next or the next, and in 1924 Harold and Frances moved back East. Harold rented a building in Hyde Park, the southernmost part of Boston at that time, adjacent to Milton, Harold’s old stamping grounds. The second floor of the building they rented in the town center was a meeting hall; Harold and Frances had living quarters on the first floor. I would have learned none of this had not Harold’s evangelism made the news. On September 25, 1924, the Boston Globe published an article under the headline “18 Men and a Dog.” The subhead read, “Rev Harold Bater Speaks at Hyde Park.”
Eighteen men and a collie dog were all that remained in Neponset Hall, Hyde Park, last night to attend the much advertised secret session of the B.O.T.W.C, a mysterious organization, believed by some to be a local branch of the K.K.K.
Rev Harold Bater, a Baptist clergyman, is president of the club. He flatly denies his club is affiliated with the Klan. Mayor Curley sent an inspector to his clubroom with orders to close it up if It proved to be a Klan Klavern. But Rev Mr Bater convinced the policeman that all was well, although he did say he believes in the principles of the Klan and would join if there were a local branch. He holds no pastorate.
The public was invited to last night’s meeting, but only 25 men and a dog showed up. Rev Mr Bater delivered an address on “American Laws” and then threw the meeting open for discussion. After a few questions had been asked, he announced the public meeting was concluded and asked representatives of the press to leave, as a secret meeting was to be convened. The reporters left and were accompanied by seven other men, so that the attendance at the secret session numbered only 18 men and the dog.
Three days later, the Globe reported that Mayor Curley had closed Neponset Hall to all public meetings after sending city officials and police to conduct a surprise inspection. They had to force their way in, pushing aside an obstreperous woman who claimed to be the wife of Reverend Bater. The mayor cited fire code and building code violations as reasons for making the building off limits to public meetings, but he made his underlying motive clear, according to the Globe: “The Mayor asserted that this hall was suspected of being a nest for Ku Kluxers.”
The KKK resurgence that began at Stone Mountain, Georgia, in 1915, was reaching its peak by the early 1920s and making inroads in New England. Among the Klan’s foes, none was more ardent and authoritarian than Mayor James Michael Curley, who issued an executive order that the Klan could not hold meetings anywhere in Boston. He may have been particularly incensed to learn that the Klan had held a meeting in Hyde Park, the city neighborhood where the 54th Regiment of Black Union Army volunteers had mustered and trained in 1863.
After being stymied in Hyde Park, Harold Bater found a pastorate at the Free Will Baptist Church in Little Compton, Rhode Island, a sparsely populated town bordering Massachusetts on the Atlantic Coast just east of Newport. The nearest urban center was Tiverton, Rhode Island, where my mother was born in 1925. The city directory lists Harold among the clergy of Little Compton until 1929, but Michigan’s Flint Journal noted that that Harold was leading religious meetings at the Chevrolet factory on various dates in 1927 and 1928, and he was the preacher at Flint’s North Baptist Church one Sunday night in August 1928.
Frances died in 1937 when my mother was 11 going on 12. Ruth remembered hearing her death rattle, those last gasping throat noises, coming from the open door of an upstairs bedroom. The address on the death certificate that Harold signed as “informant” was a house near the old TB sanitorium in Kalamazoo. After Frances died, Harold and Ruth moved to Fenton, Michigan, possibly helped out financially by the Stewarts. Harold worked at the GM factory for a time. Charles Stewart died a little over a year after Frances. His wife Ellen died in Fenton on July 4, 1941, but was buried in Flint, where her other grandchild lived — Ruth’s cousin Edna, who had married an executive in the auto industry.
Given Harold’s peripatetic tendencies, I suppose he may have been traveling regularly between his in-laws’ spacious house in Flint and whatever humble abode he maintained in Little Compton. I hope that’s the case, because it would mean his chronically ill wife and small child were living much of that time apart from him, well cared for by Frances’s parents. The digital trail for Harold goes cold until April 1934 when a Port Huron, Michigan, newspaper names Harold as the pastor officiating at a funeral in the rural village of Melvin. Years later, Harold told a newspaper that he had held six different pastorates in Michigan. By 1936, the Flint city directory lists him as an autoworker and shows that he had moved into a house across the street from the Stewarts. When he was between preaching jobs that paid him, I’m sure he parlayed his skills as a mason, carpenter, roofer, and auto mechanic. One way or another, Harold always seemed to get by.
Frances’s TB must have worsened about this time. She died in 1937 when Ruth was 11. Ruth remembered hearing her death rattle, those last gasping throat noises, coming from the open door of an upstairs bedroom. The address on the death certificate that Harold signed as “informant” was a house near the old TB sanitorium in Kalamazoo. The death certificate notes she was to be buried in Flint, and the likeliest cemetery would be the one less than a mile from the house the Stewarts had lived in since 1884, Glenwood Cemetery, which overlooks the Flint River and the campus of what was the General Motors Institute and is now Kettering University.
Harold and Ruth moved to Fenton, a small town about 20 miles south of Flint. Charles Stewart died a little over a year after Frances passed. I had thought that Harold and Ruth would surely have moved back to Flint at that point to live with Ellen, but they did not. The 1940 federal Census shows that Ellen was still living at 1720 West Court Street in Flint and renting rooms or apartments to two married couples. Perhaps Harold helped her convert her grand house into apartments, a conversion project that he undertook with similarly large old houses in Ocean Grove and Asbury Park in the 1950s.
At some point in 1940 or 1941, Ellen must have moved to Fenton to live with Harold and Ruth. The Flint Journal reported that Ellen Stewart died in Fenton on July 4, 1941, leaving an estate valued at $15,000 to be divided evenly between Ruth, then 15, and Harold. The Stewart family home in Flint, said to be valued at $6,000, was bequeathed specifically to Ruth for her education. That joint inheritance, if the estimated values are accurate, would be worth about a quarter of a million dollars today. It may have ensured that Harold would never again need to take work as a roofer or factory hand when he found himself between pastorates. It certainly should have meant that Ruth had her college expenses covered when she started at Bob Jones College in the fall of 1944, and then some — a nice fat nest egg. But how much of her half of the inheritance she actually received is a question that lingers in my mind.
Ruth often spoke nostalgically about life with her grandparents, which made me assume she’d lived with them quite a lot. However, I don’t recall that she ever gave us any specifics. I have no doubt her grandparents doted on her. Their only other grandchild was the daughter born to their dead son’s wife a month after his death. Ruth’s cousin was over a decade older and had grown up with another extended family as the step-daughter of an automotive industry executive who lived in a prosperous suburb of Detroit. Ruth did not share any happy memories of her teen years, although I have photographs and clippings from the Flint Journal indicating she was near the top of her high school class and quite active socially. She portrayed her teen-age self as a Cinderella, trapped in servitude to her demanding and impossible-to-please “Daddy Bater.” She would get steamed up thinking about the money he had wasted or lost in poor real-estate decisions. She hinted that he’d shortchanged her on her inheritance and had bought into some worthless land deal in Florida. She practically hissed and spit when speaking of the way he’d carved up the beautiful Victorian houses his second wife’s money had enabled him to buy in New Jersey. But she had to admit he did have practical skills which her own husband lacked. She put him to work building us a patio roof one summer in the mid-1960s when he came down from New Jersey to stay with us for a bit at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
I don’t recall that Ruth ever spoke of her father’s father, Herbert Winthrop Bater. She didn’t hesitate to mention that her paternal grandmother had worked for several decades at a Salvation-Army type mission in Manhattan. And she spoke with pride of her Aunt Doris, the missionary to the Belgian Congo, who with her husband had adopted an orphaned girl, the child of an African woman and a Belgian man. I honestly don’t think Ruth knew much about Herbert, though, other than that he had grown up in the Boston area and later moved to New York City.
I don’t recall that either of my parents ever so much as hinted that Ruth’s grandparents had split up. I figure that Hattie and Herbert must have separated in 1916 or soon thereafter. The 1920 federal Census lists Hattie as head of the household living in an apartment at 369 West 23rd Street. Living with her are Doris, Hope, and two male lodgers. Hattie is identified as married, 45 years old, with no occupation. Throughout her 30-year-career at the Eighth Avenue Mission, federal and state census records listed Hattie as a housewife or as having no occupation. Was it possible that she received no compensation from the Mission at all?
In any case, rent paid to Hattie by the lodgers in 1920 would likely have been critical income: Her son was away at the Bible institute and her husband was living somewhere else. One of Hattie’s lodgers was a 55-year-old Scottish immigrant working at the YMCA; the other lodger was Welsh, 50 years old, and a plaster worker. Though Harold, presumably, was no longer able to help pay the bills, sister Doris, 23, undoubtedly contributed some of her earnings as a cashier at the Ingersoll Watch factory, over on East 16th. That firm, famous for “the dollar watch,” entered bankruptcy proceedings at the end of 1920, which was about when the global recession hit the U.S. economy, ending the brief economic recovery that followed America’s initial post-war recession.
Herbert W. Bater, the missing husband in the 1920 Census record, presumably would have continued to support his family to some extent, if he could. I have not been able to trace his whereabouts between 1916, when he was working in Manhattan, and 1925, when he shows up in the city directory of Morgantown, West Virginia. He made Morgantown his home, for reasons unknown, until his death — except perhaps for one year, 1931, when he’s listed in the New York City directory as living near Times Square. Herbert is the ghost I’d most like to Ouija-board with. Feared by his son for his righteousness, credited by his wife with encouraging her to become a Mission regular, thanked in Mission Tidings a few times for helping out — for example, when he put up Christmas decorations — but never identified by Mission Tidings or by his family as one of the Mission’s true believers, as having been, like his wife and children, born again.
Herbert Winthrop Bater died in Morgantown on Valentine’s Day 1947. Ten days later, a lawyer and three other witnesses brought two handwritten statements signed by Herbert to the Monongalia County Court. The lawyer testified that these were, respectively, Herbert’s last will and testament and a codicil to it. In the first statement, dated August 21, 1943, Harold bequeathed 42 shares of Macfadden Publications to Edith Pixler. I discovered that she ran the rooming house where Harold lived, across the street from the Wesley Methodist Church. She might also have been providing eldercare services to some extent, as he was 81 years old in 1943. The lawyer and a young woman who worked as a maid, probably for Edith Pixler, gave sworn testimony that they had witnessed Herbert signing the statement, as attested by their own signatures at the time, and the signatures of two others who were not present at court: Dr. and Mrs. Washington Waters Stonestreet. That elderly physician was highly respected in Morgantown and well known for his work on behalf of nearby mining communities and the city’s poor.
The codicil statement presented to the court was similarly penned in Herbert’s inelegant but quite readable handwriting and arranged with centered alignment, like a wedding announcement.
To the First National Bank.
Morgantown, West Virginia
After I Kick the Bucket.
Please pay all monies due me on acct.
To Mrs. Edith Pixler.
July 7th, 1944
Herbert W. Bater (signed)
The witnesses’ signatures are mostly indecipherable, but the court’s typed record gives their names as D.R. Richards and Elizabeth Richards. They were, respectively, the vice-president of the First National Bank and his assistant and cashier. Their sworn testimony at the probate proceeding sealed the deal: The two statements together were declared to be Herbert’s last will and testament. Edith Pixler, presumably, finally received some of the money that Herbert no doubt promised would cover some portion of the debt he had incurred. I estimate that his 42 shares of Macfadden Publications might have been worth about $70 when he died, but that would equal the purchasing power of a little over $1,000 in 2022.
I am haunted by questions about my great grandfather Herbert. Why did he move to Morgantown sometime after 1916? When exactly, and under what circumstances? How extreme was the estrangement from Hattie and his children, and what caused their falling out? Did Herbert, in the lingo of youth today, “ghost” them? When he returned to Manhattan to live in 1931, did he try to reconcile with Hattie? He was 69 years old that year and had probably decided that his working days were done, but without Social Security, did he have enough savings to quit working? Maybe he decided that if he was destined to live out his final years as a lonely old man, living as cheaply as possible, he’d be better off in Morgantown. And maybe Manhattan evoked too many memories, its familiar haunts ambushing him daily with pangs of regret and recrimination. In addition, of course, he might happen upon his wife or some friend of hers from the Mission.
Morgantown probably brought back memories, too, but happier ones — memories of the idyllic life that he’d left behind in Milton, Massachusetts, for reasons his wife and children claimed not to know. Like Milton, Morgantown has a river running through it, and back then, before the massive expansion of West Virginia University, Morgantown must have been quaintly picturesque. Did Herbert ever try to persuade Hattie to join him there? She had been miserable about being forced to trade the pleasures of suburban Milton for the noisy, crowded hubbub of a city that never slept. And yet she ended up living and working for 40 years in the heart of the Chelsea district between Lower and Midtown Manhattan.
I was mystified when I first learned, searching at the website Findagrave.com, that to visit Herbert Winthrop Bater’s final resting place, I’d have to go to a cemetery in Pittsburgh. Not a cemetery near Boston, or New York, or Morgantown, but Homewood Cemetery, famous in Pittsburgh, where — so far as I knew — my great grandfather never lived.
The Homewood Cemetery’s records show that it received the corpse of Herbert Winthrop Bater from a funeral home in Morgantown. Herbert’s earthly remains were cremated on February 17, 1947, three days after he died at a Morgantown hospital. According to the registry of deaths kept by the Monongalia County Clerk, Herbert’s demise was attributed to “cerebral hemorrhage due to accident” by Dr. French R. Miller, who was in private practice that year in an office only two minutes from Edith Pixler’s rooming house. There is no marked grave for Herbert at Homewood Cemetery. His ashes were placed with the cremains of others in a vault that was buried in a section of the cemetery set aside for that purpose. It’s called “The Garden of Rest.” The information given by the Morgantown funeral home to Homewood Cemetery did not include information about Herbert’s next of kin. Monongalia County’s record of his death likewise notes simply “unknown” in the space for naming a spouse or other family member.
When did anyone in Herbert’s family first learn that he had died? Did they ever find out where his ashes were buried? He had lived in Morgantown for over two decades, and yet no one knew that he had a wife and children? How is that possible? At the time of his death, Hattie was living with Doris and Harold Wentworth in Bloomfield, New Jersey, and Hope, still unmarried, was likely living with them. Harold was still in Michigan in 1947, but he made trips to New Jersey to visit his mother and sisters, which is probably how he met his second wife, Ettie Aff, the widow of a successful lawyer, whose considerable wealth Harold was happy to help her enjoy. They eventually purchased two lovely homes on the New Jersey coast, one in Asbury Park, the other in Ocean Grove. Today, each house is valued at over a million dollars, despite the wretched remodeling into apartments that Harold subjected them to in the 1950s.
I really am tempted to hold a Ouija board séance and plead for Herbert’s ghost to testify. But then I think: What if Harold or Hattie or Doris show up, or all three, and suddenly the dysfunctional family dynamic explodes into a heated argument, revisiting, rehashing, reinventing, each in their own world without end. And all of them quoting scripture!
I can just see the heart-shaped planchette verily flying like a devil out of hell back and forth across the Ouija board.