Postscripts: After 150 years, another spoke on the bicycle innovator’s wheel is revealed | Guest columns

Responses from readers, for or against, are invariably welcome, and I must say this particularly with regard to stories published in the past, in this case, three years ago.

Kira Bricknell, who lives in San Francisco, wrote the other day about my article that appeared in The Westerly Sun in May 2019 about Herbert S. “Bert” Owen, who spent his last years in Stonington, dying in 1931 at age 73 .

By the end of the 19th century, while living in Washington, D.C., Owen was renowned for the early days of cycling and an actor, if not the actor, as he boasted, in the development of the women’s bicycle.

What Kira Bricknell, a professional genetic genealogist, wanted to add to Bert Owen’s story was a rather juicy, if somewhat dated, hitherto unknown gossip, probably by anyone outside of the long-deceased family members. .

“The reason for my interest in Bert Owen is that he is my second great-grandfather,” she wrote in an email. “You also seem to be interested in him and have spoken about his family, including his feminist wife Edna and his pioneer, pilot and independent musician daughter, Elise, whom I both admire.

“He had a son John who died in infancy in 1900 and is buried in the family plot, but I thought you would like to know there is a secret son he had much earlier.

“My second great-grandmother Addie Chapman lived in Ledyard (and New London) and met 22-year-old Charles Herbert Sumner Owen sometime before or about his 18th birthday in February 1881. She must have been very impressed with the dashing Bert… New London birth records show she had her ‘illegitimate’ son Charles Wilson Chapman in November 1881, who was adopted and brought up by his widowed grandmother. (Addie got married and lived next door with her husband and two other children, so she also helped raise him.)”

Those familiar with the playing fields adjacent to the viaduct leading into Stonington Borough will be familiar with Owen’s Field, part of the donation and sale of land to the Stonington Community Center in the 1950s by Bert Owen’s daughter Elise, who became the site of the current COMO building as well as the football pitch.

Bert Owen, born in Hartford in 1858 to a family close to the Denisons, moved to Washington, D.C., in his early twenties, took up bicycle manufacturing, and as founder and leader of the Capital Bicycle Club, he was the first man to ride. down the steps of the United States Capitol on one of those unsightly and precarious big-wheeled, ordinary small-wheeled or Penny Farthing contraptions.

He was a successful and enterprising businessman who claimed to adapt – with the help of his mechanic, Charles Duryea – a “safety” type bicycle (two wheels of equal size) with a drop or loop frame at the use by women, “thus inventing” a bicycle for women.

This claim did not go unchallenged, but Owen managed to patent a bottom bracket on this bike which was copied by other manufacturers who were later sued by Owen. He prospered through his business and litigation, married a woman from a prominent New York family who campaigned for women’s suffrage and ran women’s radio classes at Hunter College, and after bought a substantial house in New London, he ended up living at Linden Hall in Stonington.

Linden Hall, purchased by Owen’s brother, Frederick Owen, is an Italianate mansion on North Main Street, one of several in the neighborhood designed by New York architect Gamaliel King.

The thing is, Owen, his wife and daughter were among the Stonington greats for a time – Owen eventually went bankrupt – and the fact that he fathered a child out of wedlock in his youth is too wealthy to ignore. not be made public.

Bricknell, the genealogist who, as it happens, is fluent in Japanese among other languages ​​and works as a pediatric immunology research analyst, wrote: “When my great-grandfather Charles Chapman ran away to Westerly, Rhode Island , to marry, he told the Registrar his parents were ‘Herbert Owen’ and ‘Addie Chapman’, so by age 21 in 1903 he had already been informed of the identity of his biological parents.

“After a life as a self-employed farmer, in 1938 Charles Chapman died at Ledyard…leaving his wife and two sons, one of whom was my maternal grandfather.”

She wrote that she discovered many descendants of Denison and Owen closely related to her, including the 1842 marriage of Betsy Denison and Galusha Owen of Hartford, Bert Owen’s parents. While doing this research, she unearthed the birth certificate of a son born to Addie Chapman and, she would learn, fathered by Owen.

“Everyone assumed that Addie was his sister to this day. Eventually I located in an obscure digital archive of Westerly in the 1903 marriage book which contained the marriage of Charles Chapman and Grace Crouch with the name of family of an Owen father who matched the name of one of my genetic ancestral families that I had researched.

“Unfortunately, the story ends there. Addie and Bert left no physical traces of how and when they met, what their relationship was, no letters or ephemera of how they existed together in the world. space between meeting and parting. We know they had procreation, so it was an intimate relationship however brief.

Addie Chapman, she said, at age 17 in 1880, was supporting her 35-year-old widowed mother and 13-year-old brother at Ledyard with a teaching position. “Eight months later, at the time of her birthday in February 1881 (assuming a pregnancy of nine months), she became pregnant and gave birth on November 20, 1881.”

After giving birth, Addie married Eben Clarke, a single harness maker who was 10 years older than her. At age 22, she had her only other biological child, Frelie Clarke, born in April 1885. In 1900, the couple was living in Bristol, Connecticut, with their 15-year-old daughter who was in school.

“Addie died in 1949 in Plainville, Conn. at the age of 85 after being widowed for the past 32 years,” she wrote.

Kira Bricknell has yet to visit Stonington Cemetery where Bert Owen and his family members are buried, and also wants to see the Ledyard/Groton area of ​​Quakertown “where I have hundreds of years of history”.

Steven Slosberg lives in Stonington and can be reached at [email protected]

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