Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Jessie: The Early Years, 1863-85

Jessie Ogden Mallory

Jessie Ogden Mallory, photographed as a young adult, appears serene and lovely, exquisitely dressed with brown hair upswept, looking directly into the camera with large and intelligent eyes framed by spectacles. She looks as you’d expect a privileged, accomplished and widely-traveled young woman to look during the last quarter of the 19th century.

But privilege does not ensure happiness, and Jessie had her share of troubles during a relatively short life of 60 years.

Jessie was born on the 26th of September, 1863, in Naperville, Illinois, during a period when her father, Smith Henderson Mallory, was engineer on the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad from Chicago to Aurora, Illinois, headquartered in Chicago. Her mother was Annie Louise (Ogden) Mallory. Jessie would be their only child.

During 1867, when Jessie was four, the family moved to Chariton. They had camped comfortably in rented quarters in Ottumwa and Albia as the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad grade and tracks pushed west toward Lucas County with Jessie’s father as contractor for bridges on the line. The first train arrived in Chariton on July 4, 1867, but the Mallorys seem to have arrived a little earlier.

They moved into a new but modest story-and-a-half frame house on several lots at the south end of the block between North Grand and North Main streets where Chariton High School now is located. A barn was added to the property as well as an orchard and gardens.

Although Smith, Annie and their daughter would become Chariton’s informal first family, there is no indication that Jessie was raised in a manner that differed significantly from the way other children were in the small town planted on land that had passed from Meskwaki and Sauk ownership only 21 years earlier.

Their neighbors included several contemporaries of Smith and Annie who would become lifelong friends, most notably the McCormick sisters, Miss Maggie and Miss Emily, and Edward Ames Temple, who went on to found the Bankers Life Association, now Principal Financial Group.

The family traveled occasionally, most often to Batavia, Illinois, where most of the extended Mallory family lived, but elsewhere, too. The Chariton Patriot of Aug. 18, 1873, reported, for example, that the Mallorys and Miss Maggie McCormick “leave this week for Clear Lake, the new and popular resort of northern Iowa.”

A year later, Jessie, then almost 11, appeared in the offices of The Chariton Leader bearing a peach, an event considered significant enough to be reported upon.

“Miss Jessie Mallory,” the editor wrote on Sept. 12, 1874, “presented us the other day with a splendid, large sized free stone peach, which grew on her father’s lot in this city. Seven years ago she planted the seed that produced the tree that bore this peach, and informs us that the tree bore several of the same quality this year. If the proper care was taken of peach trees, this county could raise all of this excellent fruit that the people need for home consumption.”

Among the elaborate embroidery applied to Jessie’s 1923 obituary is the statement that she was “educated entirely abroad, chiefly in Germany.”

That is for the most part nonsense. Jessie was educated in Chariton’s public schools and was an 1879 graduate of Chariton High School — the same year construction of the family’s new home, the Ilion, began on Chariton’s north edge.

The Leader of June 7, 1879, reported that “last Friday evening the annual commencement of our city High School came off in the Opera Hall. A large crowd was in attendance, notwithstanding the threatening weather. There were ten pupils in the graduating class, consisting of Misses Lydia Hollinger, Lillian Brant, Clara Hollinger, Nellie McCormick, Helen A. Temple, Jessie Mallory, Bertha Martin and Jessie St. John; and Messrs. Charley Thorpe and B.H. Wilson.”

Jessie, not quite 16, apparently had not excelled academically since “the Salutatory was delivered by Lydia Hollinger and the Valedictory by Mr. Wilson.”

The Opera Hall, where commencement exercises were held, was in the Mallory Opera Block on the northwest corner of the square, the first major building project of Jessie’s father, completed during 1874. The high school at that time was located on the current site of Columbus elementary school in south Chariton.

During the spring of 1880, as work continued on their new home, the Mallorys embarked on a grand tour of Europe that, for Jessie and her mother, would last nearly a year. They were accompanied by Jessie’s first-cousin, Elinor Smith, of Batavia.

Jessie and Annie left Chariton by train on May 20, 1880, perhaps to visit family in upstate New York before proceeding to New York City. Smith followed on June 1 to meet his wife and daughter.

On June 5, the reunited family left New York City aboard the steamer Britannica of the White Star Line, arriving in England on June 13 after an eight-day journey.

After touring England, the Mallorys traveled slowly by train across Europe to Germany where Jessie, Elinor and Annie settled in. Smith sailed home from Liverpool on the 17th of July, arriving in Chariton late in the month.

In was during this period that Jessie received her “European education,” primarily it appears in music --- she was an accomplished musician before leaving Iowa and returned home more accomplished.

During early January of 1881, after spending the rest of 1880 supervising rail construction projects, Smith embarked again for Europe and joined his family in Germany. They continued the grand tour until early April, when they arrived in London. Smith, Annie, Jessie and Elinor sailed home aboard the Germanic, arriving in New York on April 25.

The Mallorys returned to Chariton just in time to move into the now-complete Ilion. By this time, Smith Mallory’s increasing wealth and influence --- and his castle --- had cemented the family’s position in not only his hometown but across the Midwest.

The next five years would be filled, for Jessie, with socializing, travel  --- and romance, or so it would seem.

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