Love Letters, Lies, Half-Truths – Who Knows?
Nancy Ames, twenty-one, was dressed beautifully on her wedding day. A broche with Lou’s picture graced her left shoulder. Full eyebrows, hazel eyes, and dark brown curly hair were piled on top of her head. Lou Hansen, twenty-five, wore a black silk suit, a top hat, and a diamond stickpin in his lapel. His salary was $ 90.00 a month and he owned a 1903 Oldsmobile, a well-to-do gentleman by any standards.
“I do,” said Lou as he slipped the one-carat ruby ring, engraved with “Nancy 1906” on Nancy’s finger. Nancy placed a matching eighteen-carat gold ring inscribed “Ludwig 1906” on Lou’s finger.
They moved into a Queen Ann-style house, lavishly decorated in romantic and feminine décor with a green Persian rug in the center of the drawing room. Palm trees adorned the rooms. The wood, marble and brass were highly polished.
My grandmother, Nancy Ames Hansen Worthing, was nothing more to me than a name on a family tree before I took on the task of writing about her. I was always curious about the grandmother for whom I was named. That curiosity leads me to find out more about her. I know a little about her from Mom’s faded recollections, census records, newspaper articles, divorce papers, pictures and a death certificate. Nancy died from a brain tumor when Mom was twelve years old. My mom, Grace’s memories faded throughout the years. Mom remembered her walking her to school and as the mother who held her close, hugged her a lot, and read stories to her in bed on rainy days. To honor and remember her, Mom and her cousin Margaret named their daughters Nancy.
Nancy grew up in a one-room shack on Lake Koshkonong, Wisconsin. They lived a hardscrabble life. She was born in 1883, the eighth of twelve children, three living older brothers and three living younger brothers. Her father, Ira, was a Civil War veteran who suffered from alcoholism, PTSD, and chronic pain from measles pneumonia. Newspaper accounts stated, he sold his wife’s garden for booty. Ira started out married life as a farm owner, then laborer, then a fisherman living five miles from his nearest neighbor.
Nancy’s mother, Cornelia, died from pneumonia and starvation in childbirth when Nancy was nine years old. Her three older brothers were sent out on their own and she and her three younger brothers lived with their father for three years. Ira died when she was twelve. Nancy was sent to the Sparta Orphanage until age seventeen. After discharge from the orphanage she worked as a servant in Wisconsin and Illinois. I think she met her first husband, Lou (Ludwig Hansen) while living in Illinois.
Lou lived next door to Nancy’s brother, Hiram. Lou, too, was orphaned at age twelve in New York City. I have no information on how Lou ended up in Illinois or where he met Nancy.
Blanche was born in 1908. Soon after, the marriage deteriorated. Nancy and Lou divorced in 1913. After the divorce, Lou publicly humiliated Nancy accusing her of having an affair with a man named, J.P. Glass. Lou published accusations in the newspapers with contents of letters Glass had sent to her.
The newspapers throughout the Midwest carried headlines:
Values wife’s love at $ 10,000. L. Hansen
claims former spouse’s affection alienated
by J. P. Glass of Plainfield. Plethora of burning
love letters claimed as evidence by plaintiff
against former clergyman.
The article went on to say:
Mrs. Hansen got a divorce in Wheaton, September 10, 1913.
Her present address is unknown. She is said to be living in Chicago . . . .
Hansen said that Glass convinced Mrs. Hansen that he was her soul mate.
Hansen says in his bill that that he told Glass’ wife
that her husband was not faithful but he admits that he could not
convince her that he was telling the truth. Mrs. Glass took in Mrs.
Hansen as a [domestic] servant after she left her husband.
My mother died not knowing about these published letters. Our neighbor, Mrs. Hamer once told my mother that there was a scandal about her mother’s first marriage but would not give Mom any details. It was only while I was doing genealogy research that I stumbled on to the newspaper articles.
On the envelopes of a letter postmarked Joliet is: “Nancy, read this when you are all alone. Be sure no one sees you. Then destroy.” Obviously, Glass did not want Lou to find the letters. Nancy did not destroy the letters. I picture her feeling infatuated with Glass and possibly thriving on the attention. If her marriage was in trouble the attention by Glass must have boostered her ego and made her feel desirable
Excerpts of a letter bearing the date of September 18, 1912: “I am sending you $2—am sorry it is not more—will probably make up some day. I received your letter and card O.K. It is always safe to write in care of J. & S. at Joliet, for no one else will see any letter that comes there. [Glass was working as a railroad conductor at this time.] Of course we could not do any talking when you were over: for there were too many ears and eyes. But I want to give you credit for being close mouthed. You are all right, kid. No one will ever learn anything from you.” This leads me to believe that Nancy answered Glass’ letters and that while she was working as a domestic servant at the Glass household, Mrs. Glass and the children were around so she and Glass could not talk. I am not privy to what she may have written but I hope she asked Glass to stop.
Glass was sneaking around trying to see Nancy. He wrote to her saying: “I will be in Aurora next Tuesday, September 24 and if O.K. will come at 10 in the forenoon or 3 in the afternoon, whichever is best for you. Let me know for I don’t want to take any chances. Write me to the same place as before or if any other day is better for you, I can meet your convenience. Think over that telephone proposition I made you and make the brute treat you right or leave him. You can take care of yourself. You have done it with him thrown in. Besides you know you have friends. Good-bye till I see you. Yours with love. J.P.”
From one of the other letters written by Glass it appears my Grandmother did not have clandestine meetings with him? “Dear Nancy,
Where the Dickens have you been all afternoon? I have been hunting all over h _ _ _ for you since 3 o’clock. I looked for you at the transfer station and when you did not come, I went up to the house twice and found no one at home….”
Some of the neighbors looked me over when I rang the bell, but if anyone says anything just tell them I happened to be in town and came up to pay you for some work you did for us and arrange to have you come and do some more. I don’t want to do anything that will cause talk or make any trouble, but I can’t tell you how disappointed I felt. Now, dearie, let’s not try to make any more dates by mail, but you come over the first chance you have and manage some way to see me on the side and we will talk it over and make arrangements. I am so impatient to see you that I could fight some one. I wish you had a phone – it would make things so much handier.
Hoping for better luck next time, I am your loving affinity. J.P. He sounds like a cad to me and that Nancy was not interested in carrying on with him. She may have been gone that afternoon or just not answered the door, or afraid Lou would come home and find Glass there. I want to believe this was a one-sided affair on Glass’ part.
Glass wrote to her again and again on September 12 1912 he wrote:
“Dear Nancy, I have wanted to talk to you so long and never had a chance, as there was always someone around. Dear girl, you do not know how much you mean to me. I would not say that I love you, for I am not sure that I ever really loved anyone or that I know what real, true love is.
But I will say this much, I think so much of you that if we were both free and you would have me, I would marry you tomorrow…. Yours, J.P.” Neither was free. Just wishful thinking on his part. He was married with three children and Nancy was married with one child.
Nancy’s divorce papers state that Lou beat her and infer that she was in the hospital from the beatings. The papers also stated his affairs with lewd women in Chicago, and that he once held a revolver to his wife and daughter’s heads. Lou was in contempt of court for not paying alimony and child support. During the marriage and the divorce proceedings, Nancy hid her daughter, Blanche, with her brother Marvin in Janesville, Wisconsin, sixty miles away.
Lou responded to the charges by claiming Nancy was out all night with other men and came home intoxicated. After the divorce, Nancy worked as a maid in an affluent Wheaton, Illinois household. There she met and married Charlie Worthing, the chauffer. They married on September 15,1915 and moved to Truro, Iowa. I know when they lived in Truro that they belonged to the Worthing Baptist Church. Nancy was an Eastern Star and Charlie was a mason.
I know a little more about my Grandmother, Nancy’s life. However, much of what I’ve found provokes more questions. Did circumstances turn out the way they did because her role model growing up was a mother aged beyond her years from raising twelve children on the prairie in a one-room shack? Or a father who was an alcoholic? Did being an orphan and working as a servant lead her to marry a young, wealthy man (Lou) who showered her with affection and worldly goods? Was she a distraught wife? Did Lou beat her? Did Lou actually hold a revolver to their heads as the divorce papers state? Was she involved with Mr. Glass romantically or were the Glass’s sheltering her from Lou? Was she infatuated and craved the attention Glass showered her with? Did she marry Charlie for love, security, or escape from publicity? Did Charlie offer her the anonymity of living in Truro, a town of 300?
The discovery of finding these published letters long forgotten, brought sorrow to so many more unanswered questions and me. Of the letters published, there were only the ones written by Glass. Although the newspaper indicates Nancy wrote back, Glass must have destroyed them. The letters only provide a glimpse into my Grandmother’s life. I wonder if my Grandmother ever imagined her granddaughter would find these newspaper articles. I wish to paint a picture of my grandmother being mistreated in her first marriage and living “happily ever after” in her second marriage. However, from my own experience, I know there is always some truth to rumors and innuendos. I want to think my grandmother was not having a clandestine affair with Mr. Glass. I want to believe she was very humiliated and saddened by the exposure of the letters. And that she was infatuated with Glass’ attention since her marriage did not work out. I hope she found some happiness in her Truro life raising her two daughters, Blanche and Grace.
I knew Lou from a child’s view. After Blanche died, Lou came to live with us. He had no relatives. My mother felt sorry for him being alone and elderly. He lived with us for six years until he died. I remember him as a bitter, mean, nasty old man who only loved his mint condition Model T Ford and his parakeet. He always told my sister and I at the dinner table that, “Children should be seen and not heard”. In other words no talking about our day I remember him baby sitting for us one night and chasing us through the house with a razor strap. We hid behind a rocking chair for hours until our parents came home after midnight.