Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Poughkeepsie Odyssey, Part Three by Greg Dziawer

In the realm of the census: The 1930 US Census records the details of Ed Wood's life and family.

"S" Is For "Street"
Although October 29, 1929 is historically considered the day of the stock market crash, and a key precipitator of the Great Depression, the US economy had been showing signs of ill health in myriad ways throughout 1929. Ed Wood turned five years old in early October 1929, and six months later, in early April, his residence was hand-recorded by a US census taker, Mrs. Van Etten.

In this week's edition of Ed Wood Wednesdays, we're visiting Ed's home in Poughkeepsie in 1930, a year when this country undertook its fifteenth official census. While the popular record of Ed's life in Poughkeepsie from his birth in 1924 until his enlistment in the military in 1942 locates him at 115 Franklin St, in previous Ed Wood Wednesdays, we've found Ed living at 35 Delano St from at least 1935 to 1940, and at 1 Fountain Place in the early '40s. Did Ed reside at any other residence as a kid growing up in Poughkeepsie? Bet your life on it!

The 1930 US Census Records contain over 2,000 pages for Dutchess County, New York, the vast majority listing residents of Ed's hometown of Poughkeepsie. It took me quite a while—a patient three hours or so scanning through the pages—to finally locate the listing for Ed and his family at the bottom of page 701 in one of the files. Not long before, I had run through the listing of residents at 35 Delano St, where I knew Ed resided as early as 1935. I only found a man and wife there, and knowing it was a multi-unit apartment house, I immediately felt deflated. If Ed was living there in 1930, clearly the census record was incomplete and we'd never know for sure.

Undaunted, I quickly bounced back, and it was only minutes and pages later that I found Ed's family listed at yet another residence: another apartment building at 44 Conklin Street. Conklin, like Delano, is a short L-shaped street on the interior of a larger block, in this case Mansion and Catherine Streets, concentrations of apartment houses and single-family homes on opposite sides of the street. The bottom end of Conklin intersects with the East-West Arterial, which takes you right on and over the Mid-Hudson Bridge a dozen or so blocks to the west. Within a couple of blocks of Conklin, there are three churches today: Baptist, Lutheran and Congregational. The neighborhood was designated entirely "W" for "white" in the records. 

House beautiful?: Some interior shots of 44 Conklin Street.
Scanning the Poughkeepsie records, I noted a number of interesting things. Wood was not a common family name, for instance. Gentrification was in full effect. And the "race" column in the records often referred to persons of African-American descent, direly, as "Nig."  
44 Conklin St. as it appears today.
44 Conklin is, like Ed's residences at Franklin and Delano, another multi-unit apartment house. The building hails from 1910, housing an upstairs and downstairs unit. Still standing, the original look of the building is now hidden beneath cheap vinyl siding. With four beds/two baths and six beds/two baths, respectively, the units at 44 Conklin were far more spacious than Ed's other residences in Poughkeepsie.

The 1930 Census Record lists the head of household at 44 Conklin St as Frances J. Phillips, Ed's maternal grandmother. She was living with her daughter Lillian and son-in-law Edward, and their two young sons Ed Jr. and Howard. A year and half younger than Ed, Howard W. Wood went by William, but the 1930 and 1940 Census Records corroborate his real first name as Howard.

In the spring of 1930, at the dawn of the Great Depression, Ed's dad was working as a factory machinist, common male employ. Less commonly, Ed and Howard's mom worked, too. The immediate aftermath of the crash necessitated change and adaptation. Living with the in-laws. Working moms.

Lillian was a department store "saleslady."  Among the ephemeral details in the record, the residence had (commonly) a "radio set." Rent was thirty bucks a month. Ed's grandma is most likely listed as "W" for "widow," but the recorder clearly first wrote "M" for "married" and then smudged it over with a nebulous correction.

And the whole Phillips' line of Ed's family was born in New York, at least as far back as Ed's matriarchal great-grandparents. The roots of the Wood family lie deep, in Poughkeepsie and beyond. 
We'll go there, and travel back a millennium to Scotland, dissecting the Wood family coat-of-arms, right here in future Ed Wood Wednesdays.

Before we depart, a few bonus items:
  • Additional maps of Conklin Street in Poughkeepsie