This past week, my mom sent me the very first pictures I’ve ever seen of my great-grandfather, Glenn Archer Stewart, Sr. I’ve written briefly about Glenn… he was one of the two young boys who were orphaned when their father, William Stewart killed their mother, Esther, and then himself at the the Columbia Hotel in Caldwell, Ohio, in 1913. Glenn, and his younger brother Dale (who I’ve also written about), both committed suicide as well – Dale in 1943 and Glenn in 1958.
Seeing these pictures was a bittersweet thing for me. I have joy, of course, at seeing the youngest picture of my grandpa Archie I’ve ever seen, but I also have a lot of sadness for the entire family. While I was so excited to finally put a face to the stories, censuses and newspaper articles for Glenn, it was also heartbreaking as well. As I was talking to my mom about Glenn, pieces began to fall in place for me. My mom’s dad, Archie, did not have a good relationship with his dad and I guess he told my mom he never had any fond memories of him. Glenn drank a lot and was not always the nicest person to be around. Archie rarely talked about his dad, which might explain why most of what I know about Glenn has been pieced together through scant articles and a few documents from the Boys Industrial School. There are lots of gaps that will likely never be filled in.
I told my mom that I actually got weepy seeing his pictures – and I did, truly. She was baffled almost when I said I would have liked to have known him. She said “You wouldn’t have gotten any closer to him than anyone else did.” It was hard to explain really but maybe because I know so much about his tragic early years, I also have so much compassion for him and Dale. I was telling my mom that as I stood in front of William’s grave, I had mixed feelings there. I was angry with him because his one choice, his one action that day, changed so many lives in the worst of ways. William’s actions robbed us of time and experiences with Esther (and him)… ripped childhood away from Glenn and Dale… and it trickled down to affect Glenn’s family and even into mine. If Glenn wasn’t a great father, was it really his fault or just another by-product of William’s actions in 1913? I imagine being passed between boy’s homes with no solid, stable male father figure was extremely difficult and confusing during his formative years. And not knowing why your father killed your mother had to be maddening. It’s no wonder Glenn and Dale drank the way they did or had the same terrible endings. They were two lost boys who never seemed to have found their way out of 1913 and that’s why seeing these pictures of him are extremely bittersweet.