What has happened since the Coronavirus (COVID-19) reached the United States has been nothing short of bizarre and unbelievable. As far as I can tell, this virus is no worse than H1N1, SARS, Ebolola, and others, but the response has been a thousand times greater. It feels like the beginning of the Apocalypse.
I think the craziness in the United States started a little over a week ago when I read that people were hording toilet paper. That surprised me and still does because what is it about this virus that makes people think that toilet paper will suddenly stop being produced. After toilet paper, paper towels disappeared from store shelves. Again, I don’t get the logic. Will a virus prevent the manufacture or delivery of paper towels?
I can understand the disappearance of things like hand sanitizer, disinfectants and even isopropyl alcohol, but when the potato chip isle is ransacked it means we have all gone crazy. I guess nobody can survive an apocalypse without their chips.
I think it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. People think there will be a shortage of certain items so they stock up and create that shortage. The shortage then scares everyone else into stocking up.
The funny thing is, the produce section is pretty much untouched. I would think boosting your immune system with healthy, whole foods would be a top priority, but not so. Instead, people are buying up meats and canned soup, neither of which will help fight off a virus. I guess I could understand soup but not in a can.
The closing of businesses are what really bother me because it will be a huge burden on our economy and will increase our national debt beyond belief. Or should I say even more beyond belief? Some of the closings I agree with. Places where large groups of people crowd together should be closed, such as movie theaters, sporting events and the like, but closing retail stores and restaurants seem like overkill. Yes, there is a risk, but grocery stores are open and how is shopping at Macy’s more of a risk than the supermarket? I think if the stores are proactive with cleaning and people are diligent about washing their hands then that risk is minimal.
Restaurants are another place that should stay open. I think if each group of people are separated from other groups by six feet or more, and the staff practice good cleaning techniques, than it would probably be safer to eat out than to go to the grocery store.
So far, this is the worst mass panic that I have seen in my lifetime. As of now, I worry more about the response to the virus than I do about the virus. I will admit, though, that the possibility that this panic is justified has crossed my mind. Hopefully, the worst case scenario won’t come to pass and this will all go away soon. In the meantime, we should all try not to worry too much but also try not to take this too lightly. A little caution and some soap never hurt anyone.
My great, great grandfather, Patrick Blake, was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1833 and was brought to Ontario, Canada when he was about a year old. This is when details get murky. As I mentioned in my last post, historical records tend to be conflicting which is the case here. According to my research, he left Ireland with both his mother and father, John and Catherine Blake. My research also says John Blake died in 1842 in Ontario but I recently read an obituary for Patrick that says his father died when he was an infant and his mother brought him to Canada shortly thereafter. I did find a John Blake in the 1842 Canadian census for Quebec but the census is practically worthless since it did not list ages or the names of family members. John Blake is not exactly an uncommon name.
Patrick Blake moved to Detroit when he was young. Again, the records are conflicting but he arrived somewhere between the ages 12 and 20, possibly earlier. If my records are correct, he came there with his mother some time after his father died in 1842 which would make the obituary partially true. In another publication about the Blake family, Patrick was said to have come to Detroit with his mother and Father, which doesn’t match my records for opposite reasons. This information is not very important but it illustrates the difficulties in historical research.
At a young age, Patrick learned the art of shoemaking and opened a shoe store in Detroit. His shoemaking skills were exceptional and he even earned first prize for a pair of shoes he made for the first Michigan State Fair.
In 1855, Patrick married Eliza O’Rafferty. Eliza left Ireland with her family during the Irish Potato Famine. I wrote about her in another post that you can read here. Together they had nine or ten children. I will explain the uncertainty later.
In 1862, Patrick opened a furniture store after giving up the shoe business. By 1865 he was selling caskets as well as furniture in his store. In those days, funeral homes did not exist like they do today. People just bought caskets and buried their dead.
Patrick, like many others, lost money after the Panic of 1873 and gave up the furniture business. He then conceived the idea of devoting his time to directing funerals. He thought the casket business lacked the compassion needed at times of death and originated many ideas that are now common in the funeral home business.
Patrick’s funeral business became very successful in Detroit and the man himself was well regarded in the city. In a 1914 publication titled Successful Men of Michigan, Patrick’s business, which was later called P. Blake and Sons after the addition of his sons William and Charles, was touted as “the ﬁrst to furnish their establishment with a morgue of modern construction and equipment. They were ﬁrst to introduce the process of embalming in this part of the country; ﬁrst to use black covered caskets; ﬁrst to establish a chapel in connection with their undertaking rooms; and ﬁrst to introduce the modern square funeral car or hearse.”
Patrick was also a charitable man. He took a special interest in St. Vincent’s orphan asylum, of Detroit, He was also a member of the city’s poor commission, and a member of the board of superintendents of the poor of Wayne county. This will be ironic years later when one of his own sons will end up poor and destitute.
Patrick died in 1893 and had a very thorough obituary in The Detroit Free Press. They mentioned nine children, eight of whom were living at the time and listed seven of them. They did not list my great grandfather, Nelson Blake. He was also not listed in other publications about the Blake family at the time. Nelson was the youngest of Patrick’s children, born in 1875.
A second cousin of mine found evidence that Nelson might have been the illegitimate child of Patrick’s oldest son, Harry, and Nellie Palmer, who were unmarried at the time. Patrick and Eliza may have adopted the child but no other evidence has been found to support that. I did find an 1880 census that shows Nelson listed as a 5 year old son to Patrick and Eliza along with eight other children in the household. I believe there was another child that had died by this time which may explain why he was said to have nine children in publications that I have read.
There is far less information about Nelson than Patrick but I know he ends up in Chicago and marries Matilda Williams (or Bouer). In the 1930 census he is listed as a gardener. Also in that census, he lists his father as being from Ireland. So if he is really Harry’s son then he either doesn’t know it or doesn’t acknowledge it.
From what I picked up over the years, Nelson and Matilda didn’t get along very well. I believe Matilda would complain often about Nelson’s behavior, in particular about his drinking. I don’t know if it was the drinking that was the problem or if going out to drink was the issue. My grandfather didn’t say much about it but it seemed he felt his mother drove his father away.
Whatever the reason, Nelson left Matilda and had a very hard life afterwards. The 1930 census has him living in a place called “Old Ironsides Hotel.” I looked it up but could find no information about it except one reference to it in a book called Murder City: The Bloody History of Chicago in the Twenties by Michael Lesy. In the book he says “The Ironsides was a skid row flophouse.”
Things hadn’t improved for Nelson ten years later when he was listed as a patient at Oak Forest Infirmary in 1940. It was a place for the sick and disadvantaged. It was also known as the Cook County Poor House. Nelson died that same year.
I can’t help wonder where his family was during those years he was poor and destitute. His parents were dead but he did have eight brothers and sisters, some of whom were probably well off considering the success of the undertaking business. Granted, I don’t know what happened to the business. It doesn’t exist today, at least not by that name, but I would think at least one of his siblings could have helped him at the time. Also, if Harry truly was his father, why didn’t he help? I guess I’ll never know.
Matilda lived in the same house in Chicago for the rest of her life. She died 13 years after Nelson in 1953. My mother visited her sometimes as a child and thought that she may have been waiting for her husband to come home. I wonder if she ever knew of his death.