I have a few different Fuller branches in my family tree. In the course of looking for connections between them, I came upon one Aimee Martha Fuller and her husband, Wilfred Edwin Thomas, aka "Fred." The first clue to their sad story was when I found the grave of Carroll, their son who died young, on findagrave.com:
Four young brothers, all drowned in a flood one stormy November in Vermont. Was there any warning? Were the children home alone while the parents were at work? Did the flood surprise the family as they slept? How long did they look for the missing boy before they gave up? And what happened to the survivors in the Thomas family in the aftermath of this tragic disaster?
Information about the flood wasn't hard to find; it's a major event in Vermont history.
The heaviest rainfall ever known in New England fell on November third and fourth, the flood carrying away trees, logs, and houses and these served as battering rams of destruction.
October 1927 was a wet month in Vermont. When torrential rains came the first week of November, remnants of a tropical storm hitting a cold front low pressure system, the ground was already saturated and the streams rose quickly. The flooding was not unlike what was seen two years ago when Hurricane Irene hit. 1927 was worse, both in terms of the volume of the flooding, and also the warnings and infrastructure able to provide protection and relief. Amongst other things, the 1927 flood shifted the economy of Vermont due to extensive washouts of railroad tracks and bridges which were never replaced.
The flood was heaviest in the Winsooki River valley, which flows from the Vermont capitol of Montpelier to the state's largest city, Burlington, where it empties into Lake Champlain. Upstream is the town of Barre (pronounced "berry"), which was home to the Thomas family.
In Barre, whose thriving granite industry had drawn an ethnically mixed and fractious work force unusual in Vermont, the Stevens and Jail branches [of the Winooski] (which, as one writer put it, usually held hardly enough water to float a row boat) turned into torrents by Thursday afternoon.The parents and their two daughters, Thelma (4) and Veda (2), did survive. How could Aimee and Fred not have been tortured with the memory of losing their sons, agonizingly wishing they'd never put the boys in that boat? But in the aftermath of the flood, they had their two daughters to think of. And Aimee was pregnant, giving birth to Betty Jean five months later on April 13, who died that same day. There's only so much suffering the heart can bear. In the 1930 Census, Fred and Aimee are no longer living together; by 1940, they are divorced.
Down on Webster Avenue, near the confluence of the Stevens and Jail branches, the collapse of a dam at a woolen mill brought a sudden torrent through the street, and though some had already fled, others took to their attics, waving lighted newspapers in the night to show rescuers - police, firemen and National Guardsmen - where they were. Two men, Helge Carlson and Sarsfield McNulty - the latter a mail carrier and sergeant in the National Guard - succeeded in getting a boat to the home of Fred Thomas and his family. They were able to take off four small boys, then to the horror of the onlookers, the boat overturned and the boys were lost. McNulty and Carlson managed to swim to safety, though the latter was swept down over a dam, saving himself by reaching a stoneshed and hauling himself onto the roof. The exact sequence of events remains unclear, and the accounts of McNulty and Carlson, set down many years later, contradict one another. Memories differ of course, and it is impossible to reconstruct the exact order of events, or even to speculate on whether the Thomas family might have survived if the rescue had not been attempted. It was the worst tragedy in Barre that night, and many years later, a marble memorial to the four boys was erected in the Hope Cemetery.
from The Troubled Roar of the Waters: Vermont in Flood and Recovery, 1927-1931 by Deborah Pickman Clifford, Nicholas Rowland Clifford, page 16
Vermont birth and marriage records include the parents' occupations, so I found a lot about Fred's work history. From the Census, I found he was one of three children, with younger twin sisters. His father was an only child, the son of a cobbler and a shoemaker himself. Shoe manufacturing was a major industry in New England in the 1800s, evolving from piecework in home workshops to factory processes in the 1880s.
Jan Matzeliger of Lynn changed the shoe industry by coming up with a method of making the shoes entirely by machine. Other inventors had made machines to cut parts of the shoes, or to sew some parts. Matzeligers machine made from 150 to 700 pairs of shoes a day, and it was patented in 1883. Men were hired to man the machines in large factories that supplied the entire country with footwear.Fred Thomas was born in 1883, in Amesbury, MA, the same year that patent was issued. While father and grandfather spent their entire working lives making shoes, Fred did not. At the tender age of 16, the 1900 Census reports his occupation as teamster, residing in Northfield, VT. Northfield is close to Barre, near the heart of the granite quarry region. Here's a summary of Fred's work history:
- 1 Jun 1900 - Northfield, VT - teamster - residing w/parents & grandparents
- 15 Apr 1910 - Northfield, VT - stone cutter, granite - residing w/parents
- 13 Dec 1914 - Northfield, VT - shoemaker - marriage to Aimee Fuller, 12 years younger
- 16 Jul 1916 - Northfield, VT - shoemaker
- 12 Sep 1918 - Northfield, VT - shoe repairer (WWI draft registration)
- 1 Jan 1910 - Northfield, VT - shoemaker
- 14 Jun 1920 - Northfield, VT - shoemaker
- 16 Nov 1921 - Barre, VT - carpenter
- 18 Aug 1923 - Barre, VT - carpenter
- 15 Dec 1924 - Barre, VT - laborer
- 1926 - Fred's father died, Aimee bore a child who died in infancy
- 13 Apr 1928 - Barre, VT - granite cutter
- 1 Apr 1930 - Northfield, VT - no occupation - living with mother, still married
- 1 Apr 1935 - Northfield, VT
- 1 Apr 1940 - Northfield, VT - granite cutter - divorced, living with mother, sister & sister's husband
- 1942 - Northfield, VT - self-employed - living alone, mother died in 1941
Fred died in 1953 at the aged of 69. He never remarried. Meanwhile, Aimee in 1930 is 34 years old. Only two of the eight children she bore are still alive. She is listed on the Census that year as widowed. She is a live-in servant with a family in Barre, and her daughters are living with her. Aimee died in Florida in 1981, outliving Fred by nearly 40 years. She never remarried either.
I've not found Aimee or Veda in the 1940 Census, but Thelma, 16, is resident at the Kinstead Clearinghouse for Children in Montpelier, as a ward of the state. Thelma married in 1947, and lived out her life in New Hampshire, dying at the age of 67 in 1881.
Veda had one child, born out of wedlock in March 1945. She was 20 years old. Six months later, she married the girl's father, Kermit Cullum. Kermit had problems of his own. The sixth of eight children, his parents divorced when he was young. At age 11 in the 1930 Census, he was an inmate at the Kurn Hattin Home for Children in Westminster, VT, "a place where children could find a secure and supportive haven during a troubled period in their families' lives." In 1936, he and his next older sister lived with their father. He was still there in 1939. In 1940, he joined the Army, with an honorable discharge in 1949.
I've not found anything about Kermit's military service except that upon enrollment, he was assigned to the Quartermasters Corps, Hawaiian Division, which likely put him in the Pacific theater of WWII. Two days after Sheila was born, the Americans took Iwo Jima; no matter Kermit's precise role in military operations, he was likely very busy. He probably married his wartime sweetheart as soon as he could. Kermit lived only 13 years after being discharged, dying at the young age of 44, most likely in New Hampshire. Sheila was only 17 when she lost her father. Veda outlived her husband by half a century, never remarrying. Sheila was her only child. Veda died in Florida just last year, outliving daughter Sheila, also a Florida resident, by over a decade. Veda's mother Aimee also died in Florida in 1981, in the same town where Sheila died two decades later.
Sheila's daughter, still living, has a family tree on ancestry.com. She's listed her grandmother, Veda, as the only one of seven Thomas children who lived to adulthood. Veda's sister Thelma, who married a man called Frank Taylor, lived out her life in New Hampshire and died in 1991, is not listed at all, despite readily available public records.
Sheila may have never known her Taylor cousins, and they may have never known Aimee, their maternal grandmother. Sheila's daughter either doesn't know of their existence, or at least doesn't acknowledge them in her family tree. I dropped her a note a couple months back to ask if any stories about the flood had been handed down to her, but received no reply.
And so it would seem, not only the lives of the four boys were lost. So too, over the years and decades that followed, were their parents' marriage and the ties between their two surviving sisters lost in the flood.