Thomas Charles Gaffney (1874 – 1937)
Cora Alice (Terrill) Gaffney (1879 – 1951)
Agnes Evelyn (Gaffney) Johnson (1902 – 1977)
Third of a four part series
I have copies of two photographs of my grand aunt and grand uncle, Benita (McGinnis) and Phillip C. McCormick on their engagement day in 1921. The pictures, taken in the back yard of their soon-to-be home, were in Aunt Detty’s scrapbook.
|Clockwise, from left to right: Thomas Charles Gaffney, his daughter Agnes, his wife Cora, Benita McGinnis, Phillip McCormick, Alice McGinnis, unidentified girl,
Mary Jane (Gaffney) and Thomas McGinnis. 1435 Midway Plaisance, Chicago, Illinois, June 1921.
Aunt Detty and Uncle Phil are the handsome couple in the center of the photo in the back row. Her scrapbook page identifies her parents, Thomas Eugene and Mary Jane (Gaffney) McGinnis, seated in front, and Agnes Gaffney, second from the left. Agnes would be about 19 here.
I also recognize my maternal grandmother, Alice McGinnis, second from the right; and my great-grand uncle Thomas “Tommy” Gaffney on the far left, next to his daughter. I do not recognize the little girl next to my grandmother but surmise she could be a cousin. I am also guessing that the woman with her hair piled high may be Cora (Terrill) Gaffney, Tommy’s wife. I base this on the fact that they had been married two years earlier and on the affectionate way Agnes’ arms are draped around her and Tommy.
The next photo was taken in better focus than the first, making it easier to enlarge and see clearly the faces of the family on that happy day. Little did any of them know that Benita and Phil’s marriage would last for 70 years.
|Clockwise, from left to right: Thomas Charles and Cora (Terrill) Gaffney, Phillip McCormick, Benita and Alice McGinnis; middle row: Thomas and Mary Jane (Gaffney) McGinnis; front row, Agnes E. Gaffney and unidentified girl. 1435 Midway Plaisance, Chicago, Illinois, June 1921.
If you compare the photos, you will notice that everyone is looking at the camera in the first one. In the second photo, Tommy stands some distance from his wife. This time he does not look at the camera but seems distracted. Though some may deny that this could be a foreshadowing of things to come, one thing is clear: Unlike Benita and Phillip McCormick, Cora and Tom Gaffney were no longer together by the time the next census taker came to the door.
These photos depict Agnes as a tall and slender beauty, her fashionably short bob and tilted head giving her a look of confidence that must have attracted many a young man. She has her father’s face; maybe she also had his sense of humor.
About six years after this picture was taken, Agnes married Ernest F. W. Johnson of nearby Ashtabula, and they moved into the house next door to hers at 331 Sandusky in Conneaut. By 1930, with the Great Depression in full swing, both were fortunate enough to have jobs, Ernest as a machinist and Agnes as an office clerk for a steam engine railroad. (Had Tommy helped her find that job?) They had no children, but there was a third person living with them: Cora Gaffney, now age 51.
The situation gets even more interesting here, albeit confusing. Cora’s marital status in the 1930 Census was “married.” Tommy, on the other hand, was living with his sisters again, this time in Cleveland. His own marital status on the census sheet is hard to read, but it is not “married.” The letter looks like an “S,” indicating “single,” but it is looped in such a way that it also could stand for “D,” as in “divorced.”
Whichever he considered as his marital status, why did Cora say she was married? Was she still trying to escape the stigmas she had endured as the child of divorce, as an unwed mother some years later, and now as a divorced woman herself? I am inclined to think that “separated” might be the closest answer here, as it validates the status of both sides. That status was not an option in the census, which might explain the difference in Tommy and Cora’s interpretations.
Societal attitudes had begun to change somewhat in 1930s America, yet it still must have been a rough time to live a life that fell outside the norm. Even today, the dissolution of serious relationships, especially marriages, almost always inflicts painful wounds and deep scars. I cannot help but think that Cora, Tommy, and Agnes must have suffered their share of indignity and sorrow.
By 1935, Cora left her daughter’s home and moved back to Monroe, where decades earlier she had raised her sisters. This time she rented a room from a man about ten years her senior named Haltie Eaton. Meanwhile, Tommy, who like his siblings was afflicted with a hardening of the arteries, died of a stroke in a Lakewood, Ohio, hospital, on June 2, 1937. He was 63 years old.