July Snow Storms?

My Aunt Doris wrote the following story about my great-grandparents Newman and my grandmother Edith Newman Campbell in the Campbell Family History she compiled:

“…they had a new little brother, James, born in late July [1932].

Grandpa Newman died that winter and Edith went to New York City in the dead of winter taking Alice and James with her. The decision was made that Grandma Newman should come home with them and that Uncle Arthur would drive them all back to ARK. Before they got back to ARK., a snow storm blew in. Visibility was almost impossible with no defroster or heater in the car, Edith held candles up to the windshield to keep it from frosting over. Grandma [Newman] sat in the back with the little ones wrapped in blankets.”

I’d really like to know the true story behind this. It’s so dramatic—surely it happened!* But it didn’t happen when my great-grandfather Algernon Newman died.

His death occurred on Sunday, the 31st of July, ten days after my Uncle James was born. Snow storms in July are highly unlikely even in the northern most regions of the United States. Algernon Newman’s death certificate confirms his death date, as does this notice published in the New York Times on August 2, 1932:

NEWMAN—On July 31, 1932, Algernon George, beloved husband of Sophie Newman and beloved father of Cyril, Edith, Alice, Phillip, and Arthur. Funeral services at the St. Luke’s Hospital Chapel, 113th St. and Amsterdam Av., on Tuesday, at 8:15 P. M.

The letter Alice Newman Collins wrote to her sister Edith about their father’s death closes with a reference to “the baby.”  I can only imagine what my grandmother was feeling having given birth to her fourth child just days before, and to be so far away from her mother and siblings at that time.

Tuesday A.M.

Dear Edith and Charles,

We have indeed had a great shock in loosing father but I think when you know as we do that he did not suffer much and died very peacefully you will feel that God has been good to us.

We came back from the country Monday evening and Mother came up to see me Tuesday morning. She said father did not feel well and would I go home with her that afternoon to see him. He used to get home at 3 but he came him at 12 that day. He was so tired. He told me his arm felt very bad. I cleaned and dressed it for him and said he ought to go to the Dr. but he did not want to. He was just all in so I stayed there with him and finally got him to go to the Dr. with me at 5 P.M. The journey was too much for him. I should not have let him go on the trains. The Dr. examined him thoroughly and said the arm should be opened it was infected (father had squeezed a boil) and that he had a mild pneumonia so we took him right to St. Lukes that night. Father was willing and he never realized he was so sick. He kept saying he would be home in a week. We saw him each night and Friday afternoon. Friday they operated on his arm and found that a germ had entered through the boil into the blood stream. The common term would be blood poisoning and what with his diabetes he had a hard fight. The Drs really did not think he would go so quickly. Saturday morning 9 A.M., they transferred him from Uncle John (sic) and for a little while he was very bright and cheerful. Saturday afternoon they sent for us to stay with him. He knew us all and saw all of the family during that last day. I was with him until 9 P. M. And he smiled at me a good deal. He was delirious off and on. Cyril and Philip stayed all night. He knew every thing until about 3 A.M.  Poor father was just all tired out and had no strength to fight but I am glad the good Lord took him with so little suffering. I am sure he would have lost his left arm if had lived and that would have been terrible for him.

He looks very nice now. He has his tuxedo on. Mother did not want flowers so we just have 3 small sprays. Lillies from Mother, Gladiolas from us and red roses from the grandchildren. The sum was very small $5.25 for ours. Mother paid $6 for you so do not bother about that now.

We thought it best to leave father at the  hospital. They have a room and very nice chapel. Mr. Wammersley will have the service to-night and to-morrow. The organist from my church will play and Edna Hill will sing “Peace I leave with you” and “The Strife is o’er.” James will also play “Open The Gates” if you know that one.

Then to-morrow morning at 10 A.M. just the family will go to the cemetery. Mother and Philip have bought very nice plot at Woodlawn. It is in a lovely spot.

We are not going into heavy mourning. I hope you will not. Mother and father never liked it. We bought plain black for now and then we will wear black and white for a while.

We are thinking now of having Mother either rent her place or put the things in storage and go out to you for as long as she would like to stay. Arthur has no work and he can stay here until he gets something and then they will get an apartment in the Bronx near me.

Aunt Daisy telephoned us when father was sick. Somebody had to call Uncle Arthur on business so they heard the news. I think Uncle Chris is coming to-day. Mother really did not want anybody to come from out of town. Money is so scarce these days.

Mother is keeping up fine. I have been with her until to-day. Clara and Cyril are with her for now. To-night she will come here so we can go to-gether in the morning. We will miss our father terrible. He was so jolly and sociable with all of us. If we can all live as good lives we needn’t worry.

Be brave and take good care of yourself and the baby. Maybe Mother will be with you next month. Love to all of you from us.


And Algernon’s widow, Sophie Newman, did indeed go to Arkansas shortly after his death.

Sophie Newman with four Campbell grandchildren1932 September – Sophie Newman and grandchildren Robert, John, Alice, and baby James

For my sibs: Algernon George Newman and Sophia Amelia (Larson) Newman were our great-grandparents on our father’s side.

*It’s possible that great-grandmother Newman returned to New York in the winter, and that the snow storm story is true…


Beginnings are difficult. My ancestors made hard choices, sometimes with few options in front of them, that started their journeys to new lands. All, at one point or another, crossed an ocean to come to America. (We do, like so many others, have that family story that says g-g grandmother was Native American. At this point–not proven.)

On my mother’s side, my great grandmother was Norwegian. On my father’s side, my great-grandmother was Swedish. On both sides, there are Germans and Scots and Irish. And on my father’s side, we have the English.

On both my mother’s and my father’s sides, I have recent immigrants–family who came to the United States around the mid-1800’s and later. On both my mother’s and my father’s sides, I have ancestors who are listed as patriots in the American Revolution. Both sides had family who fought in the Civil War–some on the Confederate side and some who fought for the Union. Our family includes farmers, musicians, housekeepers, butlers, preachers, book keepers, educators, and chefs. We have our share of black sheep and skeletons.

The stories that were woven in their lives have become a thread that weaves through mine. Some stories have drawn me closer, and some have made me grateful that our lives are distant. Every story has given me insight into a life at a different time, in a different place. All the stories help me see the humanity in each of us. And the stories all tell of new beginnings…

baby Shirley and big sister EvelynShirley Patterson, born 10 May 1910, and big sister Ann Evelyn, born 31 July 1914