Grounds: Open everyday
of the year Dawn to Dusk 

Office: 9am-12pm  1pm-4pm
Monday - Friday 

Oakwood Cemetery 

763 Portage Road
Niagara Falls, NY 14301 

Office/Fax: 716.284.5131 



A Plague Upon Us; the Niagara Falls Smallpox Epidemic of 1914

By Michelle Ann Kratts  

It must have seemed like the end of the world--the Apocalypse--when smallpox came to Niagara Falls, New York, in January of 1914.  Luckily, the city pulled through...although it was quite a harrowing journey to the end. 

It wasn't exactly a topic I wanted to dive into after a refreshing vacation at Saranac Lake, but there it was on my desk:  a dusty, decrepit scrapbook filled with tattered news clippings on one subject, smallpox.


I try and imagine the person who cut these news articles from the Niagara Falls Gazette and Buffalo News.  Each day the paper arrived he (I am "assuming" our smallpox enthusiast was a "he") would sit at his reading desk, scissors in hand.  He would look at the glaring headlines and wonder… who would be next?  What would become of the city?


Newspapers around the state issued warnings.  The Buffalo health authorities suggested that "the entire city of Niagara Falls be quarantined against the world."  Sixteen cases of smallpox in the town of Holland were traced to Niagara Falls, thanks to a “Holy Roller,” or religious zealot who had visited Niagara Falls and did not believe in doctors, modern medicine or vaccination.  With the onset of the new year, 1914, 223 cities and towns throughout the United States were infected. For Niagara Falls was not the only city to suffer through this epidemic.  There were other cities inflicted, as well—although most not as severely as our city.   

In Niagara Falls, the plague began in the spring of 1913.    Libraries, theaters, churches, and places of business were shut down until further notice by order of the Health Department.  The New York Sun reported on February 15, 1914, that the city of Niagara Falls was experiencing such a virulent outbreak of the disease because so few of its citizens were vaccinated.  In fact, Niagara Falls was said to be "an anti-vaccination center"--which, unfortunately resulted in 200 official cases of smallpox and 79 house quarantines at one time. In January of 1914, there were only three cities in the state of New York that did not require vaccination:  Olean, Newburg and Niagara Falls.    The situation at Niagara  was so grim that the Dominion of Canada Department of Public Works "instructed its inspectors to prevent any resident of this city (Niagara Falls, NY) boarding a train for Canada unless he is able to show a certificate of recent vaccination."  

Throughout the articles I looked upon, one thing became very clear.  The city of Niagara Falls had been very lax concerning vaccination.   Perhaps much of the blame could be levied at the Board of Education.  However, the Board of Education in the city of Niagara Falls explained that its attitude merely "reflected the sentiment of the people of the city."  Dr. Linsley R. Williams, State Department of Health and Dr. Edward Clark, of Buffalo, consulted with the city health officer, Dr. Gillick, before confronting the Board of Education.  Their conclusion was that the schools must comply with the State law which requires "the vaccination of all children before they are admitted to the public schools."  Unfortunately, the Board "tabled any action relative to enforcing the vaccination law as related to the public schools."  Even as the epidemic raged—there were those who were very fearful of vaccination and felt it was their personal right to vaccinate or not. 

Throughout the month of January the city of Niagara Falls was on the brink of devastation.  Each new day brought forth fresh cases.  Hotels were shut down.   When smallpox was found in a location all known residents were supposed to comply with quarantine rules and become vaccinated immediately.   But this was not always the case.   In the North End two Polish servant girls disappeared out the back door of a hotel after someone on the premises was taken to the quarantine hospital.    John Scarupa, the proprietor of the location, was told he must remain closed until he could produce the “girls” for vaccination.  Here is an example of the extent of the work of the Health Department:

Fifteen persons were found in the hotel and were immediately vaccinated by Dr. McDowell.  A laborer dropped in for a drink just before the arrival of the health authorities.  He was standing at the bar when Dr. McDowell entered the place and ordered everyone to bare his left arm.  The laborer protested, but he was made to submit to the vaccination with the others in the place.

Niagara Falls Gazette

January 28, 1914

According to Dr. Clark, the dim truth was that there were most likely hundreds of smallpox cases in Niagara Falls that were NOT reported.  

"I went to the Dotter home at 346 Sixth Street this morning to inquire into the case of Alice Dotter, one of four children.  Alice was sent home from the Third Street School by a nurse today when smallpox developed in her.  I found that the other five members of the family had had the disease and recovered without even calling a physician.  This same state of affairs has likely existed in many more homes...Everyone in this city needs to be vaccinated."

A terrible situation arose when a small boy, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Pendergast, of 2305 Highland Avenue, was diagnosed with smallpox.  The city health officials demanded that the child be placed immediately at the city quarantine hospital (in a building located at the corner of Sugar Street and Niagara).  As was the case in some other households, Mr. and Mrs. Pendergast refused to allow their child to be taken away.  Police Chief Lyons was called upon to assist in forcibly removing the child to the quarantine hospital...but he refused.  When asked how many of his officers had been vaccinated, he answered: none that I know of.  


On January 26, 1914, the only reported death due to smallpox occurred at the quarantine hospital in Niagara Falls.  Philip Wagner, age 55, had first taken ill on January 6th.  He remained at his home on Pierce Avenue until the rash appeared on January 12th and was removed to the quarantine hospital where he remained until his death.  Ultimately, the cause of death was blood poisoning, or strepticosis.  Apparently smallpox causes holes to open in your skin and scab over.  However the holes that form in the mouth and throat do not scab over.  Mr. Wagner developed large holes in the inside of his mouth and throat "and through them the poisoning was undoubtedly received into his system which caused his death."  Poor Mr. Wagner was not even allowed the luxury of a proper funeral.  Due to his diagnosis of smallpox, his body was immediately removed from the hospital and hermetically sealed in a steel coffin which was transported to Oakwood Cemetery and deposited into the vault.  Following this unfortunate death Dr. Gillick and Dr. Clark declared two new rules of quarantine.  One made it mandatory for every person contracting the disease to be taken to the quarantine hospitals instead of being quarantined in their homes.  The other new regulation provided that no one be released from a quarantine house until three weeks after the last case of smallpox therein has been pronounced cured and the place fumigated. 



Many unscrupulous and dangerous happenings occurred during the outbreak.  The quarantine rules were often broken.   Complaints were made against a business man, a resident of Chilton Avenue, whose son was ill with smallpox.  It was said that "he had gone in and out of the house unmolested, though a quarantine guard stood in front of the place."      

The only way to eliminate smallpox and to end this plague upon the city of Niagara Falls was to vaccinate every single person.  During an emergency meeting, Rev. David Weeks, pastor of the Church of the Epiphany, stated that vaccination should have been insisted upon last October when there were only sixteen cases of smallpox in the quarantine hospital.  The Niagara Falls Business Men's Association adopted special resolutions in support of the local and state authorities in their efforts to stamp out the epidemic.  Fred Mason of the Shredded Wheat Company announced that they would employ only vaccinated persons.  Things began to brighten as the Board of Education resolved that as of February 2, 1914, "the schools of our city will be directed to refuse admission to all un-vaccinated persons unless they have had smallpox."

Finally by the middle of March, after the vaccination of thousands of Niagarans, the smallpox epidemic was over...and the plague, otherwise known as smallpox, never returned to this city. 


Hopefully, our friend, the newspaper clipper was finally able to set his mind at ease when the Niagara Gazette reported:  




Hearts of War Part One: The War of 1812 at Oakwood Cemetery

By Michelle Ann Kratts


[1814] Plan of Niagara Frontier 

 Showing the portage and Fort Schlosser
Map source: Library and Archives Canada, NMC 26862.

Oakwood Cemetery’s brush with the War of 1812 is manifold.  First of all, located alongside the famous Portage Road, Oakwood lies on a path of historical significance.  The ancient portage, a route between the lower and upper Niagara River, had first been laid out by the Native Americans as a clearing through the woods.  The French found it a very convenient route to utilize for their fur trading operations.  John Stedman enlarged the clearing at the upper end and made another clearing on the mainland opposite Goat Island.  The English built blockade houses along the pathway and enlarged the road which allowed for their wagons to get through.  Many famous men and women from our history have gone down this road.  They often ended up at the Stedman house—warming their hands before the Old Stone Chimney.  Soldiers came through this road quite often as it linked up Fort Niagara and Fort Schlosser—two very important sites during the War of 1812. 


Sketch by Col. Peter A. Porter  of the Old Stone Chimney, one of the only structures to remain after the burning of Manchester and Schlosser


And, of course, Oakwood carries the remains of many veterans of the War of 1812, including the man who reported the actual resolutions for the declaration of war to Congress, General Peter B. Porter.    But also entombed within Oakwood’s gates are the souls of countless individuals who experienced the great suffering of this period first-hand—men and women from both sides of the conflict.  Oakwood will celebrate the lives of these men and women in a series of stories beginning this week with the commemoration of the burning of the Niagara frontier which began on December 19, 1813.  This year marks two hundred years since one of the most violent assaults upon this area was delivered. 



General Peter B. Porter

The present city of Niagara Falls was along the path of destruction—which passed right before what is now Oakwood Cemetery.  It is unknown if there was any sort of structure during this time on the cemetery grounds—however it is undeniable that the road outside the gates was much travelled upon during the war.   Most of the area from the top of the mountain (which is now the borderlands of Niagara Falls and Lewiston) from the area known as Manchester to the upper landing at Fort Schlosser was devastated.  Dozens of buildings were razed and men, women and children left to flee the fires and the violence in the bitter winter elements.  The following list contains “the sufferers” or those who lost property or family members on the Niagara Frontier during the War and filed claims with the government.  Many fled to Genesee County or other areas close-by. Some returned around 1816 to rebuild.  This list provides names of individuals and families as well as a description of dwellings that had been standing prior to the burning.  These are the losses experienced in the present city of Niagara Falls—when all of the world seemed to be on fire.  Many of these individuals are buried in Oakwood Cemetery. 



List of Sufferers on the Niagara Frontier from Fort Niagara to the Tonewanta Creek
and from Lewiston on the Ridge Road to the Widow Forsythe’s

Courtesy Buffalo History Museum

New York Heritage Digital Collections


From the top of the mountain to Manchester

Abiather Buck—Himself a prisoner; wife and child on the road for Ontario; no property; they are objects of prudent charity

Joseph Hewitt—House and barn burnt, not in want

Mrs. March-- Hired house burnt; husband killed; herself and family on the way to Ontario; poor; objects of prudent charity

Isaac Colt—Innkeeper; house, shed and barn burnt; not in want

Henry Brother—Himself absent; family in Ontario and in want

Benjamin Hopkins—Hired house burnt and with it his whole property destroyed; himself and wife in a sad state of health; two small children; in Seneca County, in urgent want

Silas Hopkins—House and barn burnt; not in want

Ephraim Hopkins—Hired house burnt; supposed to have lost nothing; not in want

Dr. Park—Elderly infirm man; large family; house and barn burnt; himself and family now in Newtown; supposed to be in urgent want

James Murray—Hired house burnt; wife and small family in Utica, himself in Niagara County; supposed to be in want

Jacob Hovey—Small family; house, etc. burnt; carpenter

Ebenezer Hovey—House etc. burnt; also carpenter; both with their families supposed to be in Canandaigua; present circumstances not actually known; worthy men

Gad Pierce—House etc. burnt; large family in Genesee County; not in want



Mrs. Armington—House burnt; husband died about a year since; in Ontario presumed to be in want

--Raymond—Blacksmith; lived in part of a hired house; had been there but a short time, could not have lost much; present circumstances and residence unknown; family himself and wife

John Davids—Wheelwright; hired house etc. burnt; circumstances as to residence etc. much the same as Raymond’s

Ralph Coffin—Lost everything or nearly so; respectable family, five children; moved two or three times in consequence of the war; now near Batavia; people that have seen better times; presumed to be in urgent want (a bookkeeper for Judge Porter)

Joshua Fairchild—Innkeeper; house etc. burnt; residence unknown; an object of prudent charity

Oliver Udall—Hired house burnt; saved all his property—so much so as to be supposed not to have lost a dollar’s worth; in Ontario County

Parkhurst Whitney—Hired house burnt; small family presumed to be in want; residence Cayuga or Seneca County

John W. Stoughton—House, tailor’s-shop, fulling-mill and carding machine burnt; lost his all; a worthy man, presumed to be in want; residence Batavia

John Sims—Hired house burn; poor and presumed to be in want; residence in Genesee county

Augustus Porter—A great sufferer

William Chapman—Rope maker; house burnt, lost his all; worthy man, formerly of New York; present residence of himself and family unknown



Asa Fuller—Innkeeper; hired house etc., burnt; small family; presumed not to be in want

Warren Sadler—Loss unknown; presumed not to be in want


From Schlosser to Tonewanta

Mrs. Evingham—Lost her husband about a year since; house and barn burnt; three children; presumed to be in want

James Field—Innkeeper; house and barn burnt; a large family; presumed to be in want; residence Genesee County

Jacob Gilbert—House etc. burnt; not in want

--Hayford, --Rogers—Loss unknown, wants and residence unknown; had lately come from Canada

George Burgar—House etc. burnt; presumed to be in want

--Vanslyck—At Tonewanta Bridge; log house, etc. destroyed 


“If it Doesn’t look like a duck. . .” or there’s no “linkin” Lolly and Mary

Despite the many fascinating nuances of documentable history, would-be researchers still need to be extremely wary of skewing their research, consciously or unconsciously, to fit a conclusion they wish to be true.  And when it comes to topics which are near and dear to one’s interests—or worse yet, one’s family—this can be very difficult indeed.  Yet the serious historian must strive to be objective in their research, regardless of their personal connection to any topic.

Such is the case with the story of one “Lolly” (or Lowly) “Todd” Childs—or whatever her maiden name really was.  The nation’s century-and-a-half obsession with Lincolniana makes the temptation to believe a series of tertiary source newspaper articles from the early 20th century almost overpowering.  Those articles—seemingly instigated by her 60- to 70-something-year-old granddaughter, Ann Jane (“Jennie”) Elshiemer—claim that “Lolly” was, in fact, the aunt of Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.

Cherished pieces of folklore and family history are very delicate things indeed, and historians take them on at their peril.  The fact is that people want to believe the things which have been passed down over and over, and often take very personally any attempt to debunk them.  Historians often get a very negative reputation while simply trying to ferret out myth from verifiable fact.  To be true to their profession, however, it is important for historians to not be swayed by the “slings and arrows” of folklore’s caretakers, nor by the tendency to “want” something to be true, but rather to attempt, as much as possible, to base their conclusions on reliable—and verifiable—evidence.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the historical craft for professional historians is the fact that it is often very difficult to prove that something is incontrovertibly true or false.  That being said, in spite of this difficulty, it is often possible to make one’s point through, shall we say, the “back door.”  In other words, instead of proving something is absolutely true or false, one sets about proving that it is either very likely false, or that the opposite is very likely true.  It has been said that “if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is probably a duck.”  By extension, then, the opposite should be true: if it does NOT look, swim, nor quack like a duck, chances are it IS NOT a duck.  Sadly, I believe such to be the case with “Lolly” Childs.


The Claim

            Perhaps the best place to begin a discussion of Mrs. Childs is with the claim itself.  The claim is that “Lolly” (Todd?) Childs (1776-1854), wife of one Stephen Childs and grandmother to Ann Jane (“Jennie”) Ortt Elsheimer, was an aunt to Mary Ann Todd Lincoln. For this to be true, this would logically make her a sister to Robert Smith Todd, Mary’s father. It would also make her (presumably) the child, like Robert Smith, of Levi Todd and Jane Briggs.

            Now let’s look at the evidence supporting that claim.  With all due respect to those who hold this claim dear, from a professional historian’s point of view, the evidence is virtually transparent.  In essence there are but two sets of “documentation” for this claim:

            1)-A series of three (3) brief newspaper articles, which appeared in the Niagara Gazette on April 7, 1924, July 28, 1926 and February 12, 1935, respectively.  All of these make casual mention of one Jennie Elsheimer being the descendant of a Lolly Todd Childs, who was, in turn, purported to be an aunt of Mary Todd Lincoln. The dates, I think, are not coincidental.  The first article appeared on the occasion of the Presbyterian Church completing their centennial celebration.  Included in this celebration, not surprisingly, was a retrospective profile of notable members over the years, including one Mrs. Stephen Childs.  The second article appeared only two days following the death of Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln.  And the third appeared on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, 70 years following his assassination.  It is not surprising that such occasions would result in the “digging up” of bits of folklore, particularly stories that tied local residents—accurately or not—to the great and famous.  As noted above, each of these articles took pains to mention that one Jennie Elsheimer, of 1018 South Avenue in Niagara Falls, NY, was a descendant of Mrs. Stephen Childs, and thus a relative of Mary Todd Lincoln.


            2)-As our second piece of documentation we have a handwritten “family tree” from the Elsheimer family, brought to Oakwood Cemetery by a family member in 2013, in response to a call for information regarding the claim.  The chart traces “Jennie” Elsheimer to a Steven [sic] and Lola [sic] Childs.  “Lola,” in turn, is listed as the daughter simply of “Mr. Todd” and “Mrs. Todd.”  A line suggests a sibling of “Mr. Robert Todd” who is shown as the father of Mary Todd Lincoln.  There is no further documentation accompanying this family tree whatsoever.  This includes any specific details about the individuals listed on it, such as place of birth (though birth and death years are often shown elsewhere on the tree, though not in every case).


            These two sets of “evidence” (the 3 newspaper stories and the handwritten genealogy), along with a few likewise undocumented oral accounts of similar family histories, conclude the materials bolstering the argument that “Lolly” Childs was the aunt of Mary Todd Lincoln.  Taken together, there is not a shred of primary documentation shown in these documents, or accompanying them, to verify any of the statements or relationships, relative to Mrs. Childs and Mrs. Lincoln.

            Despite the lack of any verifiable documentation to support this purported relationship, as mentioned above it may be possible to prove that one conclusion or another is “plausible,” by examining what verifiable information does exist regarding these two women.  So let’s take a look at what we “know” to be true and see where it leads:


What we KNOW to be true, part I- The Childs Family


-One “Lolly” (actually listed as “Loly”) Childs was buried in lot 231 at Oakwood Cemetery, NF,

NY on November 26, 1854.[1] 

-The same “Lolly” Childs is the grandmother of one Ann Jane (“Jennie”) Ortt Elsheimer.  So far,

so good…..


Following these truths with a backward lineage, we find the following:

-Ann Jane Ortt Elsheimer (1860-1950) was the 8th child of David Phillip Ortt (1823-1903) and

Mary Ann Tufford (1818-1906)

-Mary Ann Tufford (1818-1906) was the second child of Phillip Tufford (1795-1870) and

Harriet Childs.

-Harriet Childs (1798-1879) was the eldest child of Stephen Childs (1769-?) and “Lolly” (some

say Sally, which would make sense with Lolly/Loly as a nickname) ______(Todd?!?)



This genealogical information also coincides with what is known, independently, about “Lolly,” ie. that she was the wife of one Stephen Childs.  It should be noted, however, that nowhere in any of the above documentation does the maiden name of Todd exist in reference to Lolly.  It is only in the abovementioned newspaper and genealogical accounts that this name appears.


Following, then, the genealogy and travels of Stephen Childs, Lolly’s husband, we find the following:

-Stephen was born in or about 1769 in Woodstock, Windham County, Connecticut[3]

            According to official U.S. Census records, we know the following:

            -By 1800 he had moved to Fairfield, Franklin County, VT, but probably by 1798 or


            -In 1810 he is listed at Stephen “Child” (no “s”) in Montgomery County, NY

            -In 1820, he is listed again as “Childs” in Lewiston, Niagara County, NY

            -In 1830, he is listed as “Child” again, this time in Niagara, Niagara County, NY

            -In 1840, it would seem that he is found in China, Genesee County, NY, as the numbers

match.  Something could be mislabeled here…..

            -In 1850, he is back in Niagara, Niagara County, NY, at age 84, with a wife “Lolly.”

            -In 1860, he is listed in Macoupin County, Illinois at the age of 93, but with no wife.[4]


Following the sparse path of “Lolly” Childs, then, we get the following clues:

-According to the 1850 U.S. Census listing for Stephen Childs, she was born around 1776 in


            -This compares favorably with other indirect evidence:

                        -In the 1860 census she fails to appear—this makes sense since she died in 1854,

according to the burial records at Oakwood.

                        -“Lolly” is listed as being 74 years old in the 1850 census; 1850-74= 1776

                        -the abovementioned 1840 census listing for China, NY has one female

age 60-69 (“Lolly’s” likely age= 64)

                        -the abovementioned 1830 census listing for Niagara Cty. has one female

listed age 50-59 (“Lolly’s” likely age= 54)

                        - the abovementioned 1820 census listing for Lewiston has one female

listed age 26-44. (“Lolly’s” likely age= 44)

                        - the abovementioned 1810 census listing for Mont. Cty., NY has one

female listed age 26-44 (“Lolly’s” likely age= 34)

                        - the abovementioned 1800 census listing for Fairfield, VT has one female

listed age 16-25. (“Lolly’s” likely age= 24)[5]


Due to the nature of the census information gathered during those years, “Lolly” is unfortunately not listed by name in any of the census records from 1800-1840.  However, having her name and age listed in the entry for Stephen Childs in 1850, and following the statistical data for the prior census listings, presents a highly plausible argument for “Lolly’s” nameless presence in these records.

Conclusions for Part I

Thus, based on the above direct and indirect documentation, the following conclusions may be made:

            1)-One Stephen Childs, born about 1769 in Woodstock, CT, married one “Lolly” (maiden

name unconfirmed) prior to the year 1798, when their first child (Harriet) was

born.  The marriage location is unknown, but was likely Fairfield, VT.  All

secondary references to this marriage, show his wife as “Sally (maiden name


2)-This same Stephen Childs, and his wife, “Lolly” were living in Franklin

County, Vermont in 1798 when Harriet was born.

            3)-The movement of the family of Stephen Childs is well-documented through the U.S.

Census returns as having passed from Connecticut to Vermont to New York.

            4) While no independent verification of the place of “Lolly’s” birth has been found,

evidence provided by the census documents regarding Stephen Childs supports

the claim of Connecticut as her birth state and approximately 1776 as her birth

year.  With no evidence to the contrary, it is reasonably safe to take these two

statements as true.

5) Comparing the information on “Lolly” with that known of Mary Todd Lincoln, in the

year of Mrs. Lincoln’s birth (1818) “Lolly” would have been about 42 years old

and living in either Montgomery or Niagara County, New York.  “Lolly’s” age is

thus plausible for an aunt of Mary Todd Lincoln.  This alone, perhaps, makes it

worth the trouble to take the next step in our evaluation, an examination of the family history of Mary Todd Lincoln.

What we KNOW to be true, part II: The Case of Mary Todd Lincoln


Having established, with some degree of certainty, a paper trail for Stephen Childs and his wife, let’s take a look at the other side of things: the paper trail for Mary Ann Todd, better known as Mrs. Abraham Lincoln.  For better or worse, the Todd family from whence Mary Lincoln hailed is considered by most to be one of the First Families of Kentucky, and thus one of the best-documented families in early America.  This makes the task of determining who was where when (and related to whom) a fairly easy task.

The following ancestry of Mary Ann Todd is well known….and well-documented:

            -She was born in 1818 to Robert Smith Todd (1791-1849) and Elizabeth (Eliza) Ann

Parker (1794-1825)

            -Robert Smith Todd, in turn, was the son of Levi David Todd (1756-1807) and Jane

Briggs (1761-1800), who were married on 25 February, 1779 and had 11 children

including, of course, Robert Smith.  When Jane died in 1800, Levi married Jane

Holmes-Tatum (widowed) about 1802, and had one son, James, with this second


            -The typically listed children of Levi Todd are as follows (with their birth dates):

                        Hannah B. (1781)

                        Elizabeth (1782)

                        David (1786)

                        John (1787)

                        Nancy (c. 1788…or 1785??)

                        Ann Maria (1778?!?!?)

                        Robert Smith (1791)

                        Jane Briggs (1796)

                        Margaret (1799)

                        Roger North (1797)

                        Samuel (1793)

James (with second wife) (1802/07)[7]


As an added bit of data, David Levi Todd (father of Levi) was born in Longford County Ireland, and moved to Pennsylvania, where Levi was born.[8]

The life of Levi Todd (son of David Levi Todd and purported father of “Lolly”), a significant pioneer, is also well-documented.  Here are a few of the more relevant factoids: As mentioned above, he was born in 1756 in Lancaster or Montgomery County, Pennsylvania and raised in Louisa County, Virginia.  He followed his brothers to Kentucky in the summer of 1775, and was stationed at St. Asaphs (now Stanford, KY) in 1779 when he married Jane Briggs.  Levi served under George Rogers Clark in the American Revolution in the Illinois Country and went on to an illustrious (and well-documented) career in Kentucky politics, etc.


The Claim and the Conclusions

With the documentable facts and relationships established for both the Childs family and that of Mary Todd Lincoln, we can begin to draw some extremely solid conclusions.  But first let’s review the claim:

The claim is that “Lolly” Childs, wife of Stephen Childs and grandmother to “Jennie” Ortt Elsheimer, was an aunt to Mary Todd Lincoln.  This would logically make “Lolly” the sister of Robert Smith Todd and a daughter of Levi David Todd and Jane Briggs. 

Now, with all due respect to cherished family folklore, let’s take a look at the Swiss-cheese-like holes in that theory:

First, and perhaps foremost, is the rather glaring fact that none of the well-documented children of Levi Todd and Jane Briggs happen to be named “Lolly.”  Obviously Lolly is a nickname, but absent from the list of children is also any name that might possibly take Lolly as a nickname or pet name.  In several genealogies consulted, “Lolly” is listed as “Sally”—a logical possibility, but no Sally exists among the children of Levi Todd either.  Nor do we find a Polly, a Molly, a Laura, a Lillian or any other Christian name with a possible nickname link to “Lolly.”

Sidestepping this rather glaring issue with the claim for the moment, and assuming that one of the children of Levi Todd could have taken the nickname of “Lolly,” we find that all of Levi’s female children are well accounted for in their marriages and subsequent progeny by verifiable sources.  None of these ladies ever married a Stephen Childs—in Vermont or anywhere else.  Strike Two…..

For those who would still not be convinced by these rather large bits of evidence against the claim, there is the issue of geography.  Levi Todd is well-documented as having moved to Kentucky around the year of “Lolly’s” birth (more specifically the summer of 1775).  If Levi was in Kentucky, how was “Lolly” born in Connecticut?  Added to this is the fact that there is absolutely no documentation for Levi (nor his parents) ever residing in Connecticut.  Perhaps the listing of Connecticut on the 1850 census is not accurate, you say?  This is a possibility, but in light of the other verifiable evidence submitted in “what we know to be true, part I” this would seem to be a remote possibility at best.  Connecticut certainly rings true, given the other documentable information we have available, while not being from Connecticut poses more issues with what we know as facts.  But “Aha!!” you say—Kentucky wasn’t a state in 1776, so perhaps the nomenclature is simply wrong.  Not so—the area which became the State of Kentucky was previously claimed by Virginia, not Connecticut (though Connecticut did claim portions of Ohio….but northern Ohio, nowhere near Kentucky).

But to be fair, let’s say “Lolly” and Stephen lied about her birth location on the 1850 census (or that the poor benighted census taker got the information horribly wrong).  This exposes a whole new set of problems with the claim.  If we take the likely birth year of “Lolly” as 1776, then she would have been born about 3 years before Levi Todd was married to Jane Briggs (February 25, 1779) and four to five years before the documented birth of the eldest Todd child, Hannah, in 1780 or 1781.  Before we dismiss the year 1776 as another “mistake,” let’s remember that this year is corroborated by 60 years of official U.S. Census information.  “Lolly” is not only listed as being 74 years old in 1850, she also falls within the appropriate age brackets in the census returns for Stephen Childs from 1800 onward….and disappears in 1860, as she should if she died in 1854, which we know to be true.  No—give or take a year—1776 is very probably correct.

The obvious argument to be made by those still supporting the claim at this point, in the face of the above-listed chronological realities, is that perhaps “Lolly” was mistakenly left off the well-documented lists of Levi Todd’s children—every time. Perhaps, they may say, this was because she was born before his marriage to Jane Briggs.  A reasonably keen viewer of the list of Todd children in “what we know to be true, part II” will notice the highlighted possible birth year of one Ann Maria Todd—1778, one year before Levi’s marriage to Jane Briggs.  Considering where Ann Maria appears in published lists of Levi Todd’s children, it is very possible that the date is a typo or mis-transcription, and should actually read “1788.”   However, if the year 1778 is accurate, it demonstrates that Mr. Todd was capable of having children out of wedlock.  So, if he had one, perhaps there was another.  But if Ann Maria is routinely listed among his children, despite her being born prior to the marriage to Jane Briggs, then why wouldn’t a second pre-marital daughter also find her way onto a list somewhere—at least once??  It has been speculated that Ann Maria may, in fact, be our “Lolly.”  If so, the year is still wrong and the ages don’t match up.  Plus Ann Maria is documented frequently as being born in Kentucky, not Connecticut.  Oh—and there’s also the annoying little fact that she died in the 1860s—in Indiana! (I have a photo of her tombstone.). So much for that theory. Ok, then ….perhaps “Lolly” was born to a mother other than Jane Briggs?  Yeah…..maybe…..but not likely.

Adding to the chronological woes with this claim is the additional fact that, having been born in 1761, Jane Briggs (the wife of Levi Todd and most logical mother for “Lolly” under the claim) would only have been 15 or 16 years old in 1776—the year “Lolly” was born.  Yes, women bore children at a younger age than we typically see today, but even in the late 18th century, a 15-year-old mother would have been unusual.  So ok…..what about a 15-year-old unwed mother?  Sure…..maybe…..but not likely.

So, to be “over-the-top” fair to those who would poke holes in all of this verifiable documentation, or produce counter arguments of “what if this or that information is incorrect?” I should point out that, indeed, there is a possibility (albeit very, very slight) that any of this information could be inaccurate to some degree.  Nonetheless, the only “plausible” story (if it can be called that) we see emerging from all the documented evidence, that would still allow for the truth of the claim—assuming we still want to demonstrate the truth of the claim—is the following ridiculous speculation.  If nothing else, it makes for entertaining reading: 

One Levi Todd, somehow takes an undocumented trip from central Kentucky to some undisclosed location in Connecticut sometime probably in late 1775—perhaps just after he helped found Lexington, KY in June, 1775 (sarcasm, as well as emphasis, added)—and in the middle of the American Revolution, let’s not forget.  And let’s not forget, too, that New York City and nearby Connecticut are on the front lines of that conflict for most of 1775/1776.  However, undaunted by geography, enemy soldiers, and/or his civil and military calendar, Levi makes it to Connecticut, where he meets a woman lost to history and manages to get her pregnant.  Running late for his next documentable date in history, he rushes back from Connecticut in time to be elected as a Gentleman Trustee at a town meeting in Lexington on March 29, 1776. (I am sure there are more documented “Levi sightings” in Kentucky between June ’75 and March ’76, but you get the point.)  The return to Kentucky and his civic and military responsibilities bring young Levi to his senses, and he decides to keep forever secret his illicit foray into New England.  Yet, in spite of his efforts to repress the incident and thus thwart future would-be genealogists, an aging woman in early 20th century Niagara Falls deciphers the truth, and thus the true lineage of the unhappy child born of this ill-advised northern jaunt appears in several small stories in a local newspaper.  But instead of revealing the full facts of the child’s illicit heritage, the stories instead focus on her accidental (and illegitimate) relationship to the wife of the 16th President of the United States…

Given the verifiable facts of Levi Todd’s life, that’s about what would have had to happen to make the claim true.  As fantastic as this story may seem, the alternative path to proving the claim to be true is perhaps even more fantastic.  This second path would have to argue the following, despite significant evidence to the contrary:

            -That the names of Levi Todd’s 11 children, though substantiated by numerous other

documents, are incorrect—or at least incomplete.

            -That the birth year of “Lolly” as 1776, though demonstrated as plausible by other

documents, is incorrect, and perhaps falsified on a government document.

            -That the birthplace of “Lolly” as Connecticut, though demonstrated as plausible by other

documents, is incorrect, and perhaps falsified on a government document.

            -That the documentation for the marriage of Levi Todd to Jane Briggs, though

substantiated by numerous other documents, is likely incorrect, assuming “Lolly”

was born in wedlock.

For ALL of these statements to be false or somehow incorrect seems unlikely in the extreme.  Certainly, historical “facts” can vary from source to source and are sometimes completely erroneous, but for such a string of otherwise-plausible or verifiable statements to be universally false seems to be really stretching things.

Perhaps the final and most damning argument of all against the claim having even a grain of truth to it is the fact that there is absolutely no known documentation, thus far, which states that the maiden name of one “Lolly” Childs was even Todd in the first place!  Most, if not all genealogical records that list this woman at all, list her as either “Lolly,” “Lowly” “Loly” or “Sally” but never with a maiden name.  The exceptions to this are the abovementioned newspaper articles and the Elsheimer family tree, but as mentioned earlier, there is no evidence to support these documents.

But wait!!!!  The Genealogical Society of Utah possesses a roll of microfilm containing marriage records from Vermont during the years 1786-1858.  As it is likely that Stephen Childs was married to “Lolly” in Vermont at some point prior to 1798, it seemed possible that a record of this marriage exists.  Oakwood’s Michelle Kratts ordered a copy of the microfilm in order to investigate this tantalizing big of potential evidence.  Alas, there was no record of the marriage of Stephen Childs, and thus no record of any maiden name attached to our poor Lolly.

Even taking as a given that “Lolly’s” maiden name was Todd, however, this in no way would prove that she was any relation to the wife of the 16th President, given the other glaring flaws in the documentation relative to the claim.  As the saying goes, being born in a stable does not make one a horse.

As mentioned at the very beginning of this piece, it is often very difficult for historians to conclusively prove that anything is 100% true or false.  Be that as it may, as of this writing there is not a shred of known verifiable documentation to support the claim that “Lolly,” Mrs. Stephen Childs, was the aunt of Mary Ann Todd, better known as Mary Todd Lincoln.  By contrast, though there are still many gaps in the documentation that is known, there is an overwhelming amount of plausible, as well as verifiable, evidence that suggests Mrs. “Lolly” Childs was not related to Mary Todd Lincoln.  In light of this overwhelming evidence, it is my considered opinion that the claim of relation to Mrs. Lincoln is but another piece of folklore that has failed to hold up to the test of historic scrutiny:  If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is probably a duck.  But if it does NOT look, swim, nor quack like a duck, chances are it IS NOT a duck.  Simply put, given the evidence available, there is no “linkin” Lolly and Mary Todd.

It should be duly noted, in case some readers would conclude that this exposition is simply out to criticize a cherished family story, that the author is a native of the great state of Illinois-- whose license plates still bear the motto: “Land of Lincoln,” and grew up in the shadow of Lincoln’s home, tomb, law offices and the capitol in which he delivered his “House Divided” speech.  Thus the author would have liked nothing better than to be able to claim yet another connection between his home state and his adopted home of Western New York.  Sadly, the evidence just didn’t turn up.


[1] Oakwood Cemetery burial register.

[2] All of this genealogical information is given on but is also substantiated in the Stephen Childs genealogy on,  and other locations.

[3] Stephen Childs genealogy on and other locations

[4] All census information taken from digitized original U.S. Census return documents, National Archives & Records Administration.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Thomas Marshall Green, Historic Families of Kentucky, 1889

[7] Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine, Vol. 59, No. 5 (May 1925), p. 313

[8] National First Ladies Library,


When there is Hope….

by Michelle Ann Kratts 


We had our lunch under a blazing canopy of oak trees.  It was hot in Rochester, but they spread their wings above us and we were suddenly part of the circle they made around the murky green and ancient kettle lake.  Peter and I were meeting with Marilyn Nolte, a member of the Friends of Mt. Hope Cemetery, tour guide and historian, at noon, and there were a few minutes to waste.  So when we were finished we wandered around the ranks of monuments that filled the grounds.  Unbelievably, our happy steps led us down a path that led directly to the grave of Frederick Douglass. 


Thundering before us, there he stood.  His grave is not very modest.  In fact he has two monuments;  one upright and one lying down (placed there after Douglass’s children found a more accurate year for his birth—being born into slavery, Douglass, himself, was never quite sure of the date).  There were many stones and little planters left behind and young flowers reaching toward heaven on top of his memorial.  We stood in awe before this great American and probably both of us couldn’t help but wonder if Frederick Douglass, himself, had stood before the modest grave we had come to Rochester to see—the grave of Niagara’s own soldier for human rights, John Morrison. 

John Morrison’s name, though not well known, should be mentioned alongside men like Frederick Douglass.  He was one of the unsung heroes who vanished with time.  There were probably many other African American men and women who did the kinds of things that John Morrison did—and they, too have been forgotten.   In Niagara Falls, careful research turned the name of John Morrison up over and over again.  Finally it became quite apparent that he was someone special.  For the longest time we knew of his deeds, but we did not know what had become of the man.  It wasn’t until a few months ago that Peter Ames tracked him down in Rochester.  He found this brave warrior’s last stop…an unmarked grave at Rochester’s, Mt. Hope Cemetery.  And we planned a trip as soon as was possible.    

There was some new information that popped up, too.  Information that continued to lead us to the probability that both John and his wife, Flora, were indeed active in the Underground Railroad movement.  Flora A. Morrison died in 1900 and left an estate worth a whopping $20,000.  It is hard to believe that an African American woman, who had worked in Rochester as a nurse, could have amassed such an incredible sum of money at the turn of the century.   This is yet another mystery to be solved.  Interestingly enough the executor of Flora’s will was Henry Quinby—a relation of Rev. Henry Quinby, a Hicksite Quaker who was also a founder of the Rochester Anti-Slavery Society.  The Quinby’s were also personally attached to Frederick Douglass.  

We finally met up with Marilyn, who was a beacon of historical knowledge concerning the residents of Mt. Hope Cemetery, and she proceeded to take us on a private tour of the grounds.  Mount Hope is a gigantic cemetery, one of the original cemeteries created during the period of the Rural Cemetery Movement.  There are up to 375,000 residents lying beneath the beautiful romantic and hilly grounds.  There are angels reaching toward heaven, giant obelisks, over eighty private mausoleums.  There are gardens, fountains and gazebos.  Gorgeous Victorian chapels and a bell tower.  Unfortunately, Marilyn had forgotten her key, or we may have been able to go into the bell tower.  How wonderful it would have been to ring the bell! 

Finally we came to Morrison’s grave.  It was quite a walk on a hot spring day.  Marilyn led us to the open site that held three graves:  John W. Morrison, Flora A. Morrison and Flora’s brother, John Peiper.  

Marilyn and Peter on the site of the Morrison burials

Excited to finally be at the final resting spot, Peter went ahead, while Marilyn and I lingered over another grave.  But I could see from Peter’s expression that something incredible was just ahead of me.  He only smiled and said that I would not believe what I would see when I made it to the site.  So I walked toward him and there it was.

Beside him was another grave, one that, for over one hundred years, has looked down upon the Morrison site.  I was struck as if by lightening when I saw the words that were etched upon the stone:  BARTHEL. 


That was all the front of the stone read but a part of me shivered.   Barthel is my maiden name, my father’s name passed down to me.  As far as I know, this is the only site in the cemetery with that name and it stands before the grave we had come many miles to see.  I looked at the backside and there were two names clearly etched:  Emilie and Bernhardt Barthel. 


Even more stunned, I stood there and wondered what the chances could be that my great great grandmother’s exact name would be etched upon this grave.  This was not the site of my ancestors’ graves (they are buried in Wheeling, West Virginia) but my great great grandmother (who died at a tragically young age) was also named Emilie Barthel and her husband named a similar, Reinhardt.  They had emigrated from Switzerland during the early 1880’s.  According to their passenger list, their first stop was somewhere in New York.  Perhaps it was Rochester?  Perhaps they came here before they went their merry way?  Perhaps they visited or lived with these relatives?    My Barthel ancestors, Emilie and Reinhardt, were of the same generation as these Barthels.  Later on, I researched these people and found that they were two of only a handful of Barthels in Rochester during this time period.  Bernhardt was a fresco painter.  Perhaps, one day I will have enough evidence to prove a family relation.  But for now, it is just a name that I call my own—a name, inextricably attached to the man that I have marveled at for so many years. 

Our day was not over.  There was still so much to see and one last little stop I needed to make.  Mt. Hope also contains the grave of yet another American hero, actually, heroine—Susan B. Anthony.  Her grave is located in one of the most beautiful sections of the cemetery.  We found her in a little row of whitewashed stones.  Very austere, Marilyn announced…for the Anthony’s were Quakers.  I stood so close beside her and touched the simple stone—imagining the wonderful woman who made so many of us free.  She stood for equality and human rights for each and every American. 


 Visitors had planted flowers to honor this simple spot and laid little stones on top of the grave—that typical calling card.  I did nothing but marveled at the woman who slept below me.  I wanted to stay there the rest of the day.  I wanted to sit down and to tell her a few things.  And I wanted to listen to what she would have to say to me.     





Bringing Lost Souls Home: John Morrison, a hero of Niagara

by Michelle Ann Kratts

There are men who part the wildest waters.  Waters that rush like Niagara.  They are awake when we are asleep.  Rowing modest crafts through the blackest of nights.  Under moon and stars.  Bringing light and life to the hopeless.  Bringing lost souls home.


The Greeks first called them “hērōs.”  We define them as “ones who show great courage.”  We admire them for their achievements and noble qualities.  They usually do their work secretly, quietly, modestly.  They seek nothing in return.  Unfortunately, these are the ones who disappear into the nothingness of time. 

John Morrison-- a man of color, a warrior during the Underground Railroad days in Niagara Falls, a hero in every sense of the word-- had virtually disappeared.   Little bits and pieces left behind have resurfaced through the years like sparkling shards of sea glass.  Stories of courageous death-defying acts.  Brief mentions in books and newspapers. 

We have collected what we have found.  Stored them and labeled them in folders.  We have waited for the day the story would become more complete.  Hoping it would come.  And it did come.  It broke with spring.  It was a gray and miserable day in Niagara Falls.  Snow fell from unrelenting skies.  I opened an email and there it was…

I may have found John W. Morrison. I will let you know once I get the details.

It was hard to focus on other things when I realized that I would soon know the fate of someone who had been lost for over 150 years.  I waited and in a few days Peter Ames, historian for Oakwood Cemetery and inveterate researcher, was sitting at my desk with a pile of papers.  In a few moments time he laid out his discoveries.  Unfolding before my eyes was a veritable treasure map of the story of one man’s life.

Of course, Peter had things well organized.    My mind filled the empty spaces with these new puzzle pieces.  In the end a more substantial picture emerged of the man, himself.  The research is far from complete, but John Morrison is more real than he ever was thanks to Peter’s relentless research.

So who was this new-found man…this John Morrison?  Why is he so important? 

As historians are finding that the true heroes of the Underground Railroad in Niagara Falls were more than likely not benevolent white individuals but the black and mulatto cooks and waiters at the local hotels (especially the beautiful Cataract House that stood perilously close to the river’s edge and the brink of the falls)—John Morrison is being revealed as the possible leader of the movement.



The southerners who visited Niagara Falls in large numbers often brought along their servants/slaves.  Inevitably, this led to various situations.  Some stories mention that the hotel employees regularly enticed these slaves to run to Canada and to freedom.  Other stories claim that the hotel employees “abducted” and “forcibly” removed the “southerner’s rightful property” to Canada.  Regardless, the stories implicate the workers—specifically at the Cataract House—and their part in releasing slaves from bondage.  Of course, the southern slave owners were not too fond of this practice and on one occasion one gentleman wrote about it in New Orleans’ Picayune.


John Morrison was head waiter at the Cataract House in Niagara Falls during the most turbulent years of the Underground Railroad.  Stories abound of his selfless acts of heroism.  One exciting account of his escapades was written in a History of the Underground railroad in Chester and the neighboring counties of Pennsylvania," by Robert Clemens Smedley, in 1883.  John Morrison’s activities were immortalized in a few lines concerning a trip the daughter of a well-known abolitionist made to the Cataract House back in October of 1859.  The following is taken directly from the book:






We found the actual reference to this encounter in the Cataract Register.  Rachael Smith was indeed a guest at the Cataract House in October of 1859.  This is the where Rachel signed her name and where Morrison noted that she may be connected to the Underground Railroad.

Courtesy Niagara Falls Public Library


 This is below the American Falls where John Morrison may have kept his boat docked.   John Bornet. "Niagara Falls, American Side." New York: Goupil & Co., 1855.


His works did not go unnoticed.  On August 5, 1856 he was presented with a gold headed cane upon the anniversary of the emancipation of the slaves in the West Indies, denoting a “mark of respect from his associates.” This Emancipation day was very meaningful to the former slaves in our area.  It is still celebrated in Canada. 



Niagara Falls Gazette


So our question has been--whatever became of this mythical man?  Still so many mysteries remain.   However, we are closer to the truth now that Peter has finally tracked the final years of his life.  Although he shows up intermittently between the Niagara Falls and Rochester, New York, censuses, he has finally been located and some interesting facts added to his story.  The 1850 Federal Census of Niagara Falls is quite meager—but it was all we had for the longest time.  There he was a 40 year old black waiter at the Cataract House. According to Peter, John Morrison shows up in both Rochester and Niagara Falls sporadically.  The African-American Head of Household census reveals that from 1851-1852 our Mr. Morrison was a table waiter who lived at 32 Vine in Rochester.  The 1865 census of Rochester, New York, (recently uncovered by Peter) reveals that, though living in Rochester, Morrison was a waiter at the Cataract House in Niagara Falls. So through the first half of the 1860’s, he was still at the Cataract House. The railroad made it quite easy for swift travel even during these times.    The 1865 census also says he was born around 1819 in Illinois and that he was half-Cherokee.  This is most interesting as a drawing of the head waiter of the Cataract House from 1853 was recently discovered by the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Commission and was described as being “full blood Indian.” Perhaps if a photograph ever surfaces we will be able to ascertain if this pencil drawing is actually John Morrison.  It does make more sense now that Peter found him listed as “1/2 Cherokee” on the census record.   



Could this be an impression of John Morrison?



From the censuses, Peter ventured into Rochester’s old directories and found John W. Morrison during the 1850’s as a waiter, a butler and a barber at 32 Vine Street.  During the 1860’s--1864, 1865 1866, 1868 and 1869, he is living at 8 Vine Street in the city of Rochester. In 1863, John Morrison had registered for the draft out of Monroe County, New York.  There is no further evidence that he fought during the war, but he did register. 

There were more intriguing pieces of information that Peter dug up during his search to find John Morrison.   According to the Rochester directories (by 1863) he is employed as a “nurse” and that is his occupation for the rest of his short life.  How John Morrison came to work as a nurse may be a story in itself (that is yet to be discovered).  Peter also found that he was married to Flora A. Morrison, who was also a nurse, and a feisty one at that!  In 1897, she happened to notice that the adults who lived in the rear of her home on Vine Street were abusive to their children.  She reported their crimes to the authorities and explained that these people “were not proper guardians for their children” and the “little ones were committed to the care of the Children’s Aid Society.” Apparently she looked out for the helpless, as did her husband. 

Unfortunately the trail ends quite suddenly with John Morrison’s death, from paralysis, on November 21, 1869, in Rochester, New York.  He was only in his fifties.  He was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery.  Although we had hoped he had been in Oakwood Cemetery (in Niagara Falls), as so much of his work was accomplished here, we were happy to learn of the location of his final resting place.  Incidentally, it is the burial ground for some of our greatest American heroes as this cemetery also contains the remains of Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. We are planning on taking a trip there, soon.   



Mount Hope Cemetery, Rochester

Courtesy:  Anne Supsic’s Blog

Although Peter has found from John Morrison’s will that there were no children that survived him, some family members were listed as survivors in his wife, Flora’s, will.  That research is ongoing and hopefully he can find some living family members.  How exciting it will be to tell them of their family and what went on in Niagara Falls—if they don’t know!  And how exciting--if it is possible--that more of the story of John Morrison will unfold for all of us through family members (and through further research)!  What about his earliest years?  What brought him to Rochester?  Did he ever work alongside Frederick Douglass? Still so many questions.  Always questions, but thanks to Peter Ames we finally have some answers.  And thanks to Peter another lost soul is home. 


John Morrison’s obituary

Niagara Falls Gazette

November 24, 1869