Wednesday, July 18, 2018

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

Ed Wood's uncle Burton (not pictured here) was a dairy farmer until the 1940s.

A one-quart milk bottle
from Moon's Dairy (1950s)
Every now and then, I find myself delving so far into Ed Wood-related ephemera that I forget how I got there. At times like these, it's good to level-set and return to Poughkeepsie, New York, the city of Eddie's youth, where he grew up just a stone's throw east of the Hudson River. And from there we can travel back a generation to Ulster County across the Hudson and visit his father's large family.

I've been to the Hudson Valley before on these research jaunts, but this time I came across a figure who was utterly new to me: Burton Wood. Naturally, I wanted to learn more.

The list of Ed Wood's paternal aunts and uncles varies a bit, depending on the source. Burton is not included among them in the 1905 US Census, for instance, but he is buried at the Wood family plot in Fairview Cemetery in Stone Ridge, on the west side of the Hudson, 25 miles northwest of Poughkeepsie. 

It was in this general area—the farms and quarries of Ulster County—that Eddie's father and namesake grew up. Burton, his older sibling and Eddie's uncle, left his hometown in Ulster County sometime just after the turn of the century. Perhaps barely out his teens at the time, Burton traveled nearly 50 miles west toward more remote farmlands in Catskill. Here, he ran a dairy farm—Moon's Dairy, seemingly no longer in existence—for four decades.

Burton would return home to Poughkeepsie on occasion to visit his mother, but Eddie's uncle largely remains a mystery. He passed on February 3, 1946, at the age of 61. This obituary from the February 5, 1946 edition of The Poughkeepsie Journal matter of factly notes that he was "sitting at the dinner table" at the time. Note that Edward, Sr.'s involvement in the local VFW merits a mention here, too. Meanwhile, Ed, Jr. is dubiously listed as "Captain Edward Wood, United States Marines." The highest rank Eddie achieved while in the service was that of corporal.

Ed Wood's uncle buys the farm.

A judgmental farmer from Glen or Glenda
Edward Davis Wood, Jr., was just a little over three months from being discharged from the Marines when Burton died. What impact, if any, this dairy farmer uncle may have had on young Eddie remains unknown. When farm folk are depicted in Ed Wood's movies, it is usually as unsophisticated bumpkins. Think of Farmer Caulder (Karl Johnson), the man with the "spirits" on his breath, in Plan 9 from Outer Space. Then there's the straw-hatted rube in Glen or Glenda who worries that those newfangled automobiles will "scare the hosses."

Burton was preceded in death by his mother, Emily "Emma" Wood née Bunten, who passed in 1940. Emily married Eddie's grandfather Byron, who was also a farmer. And, as it turns out, she also had a half-brother named Edward Davis. 

Clearly it was this intriguing half-brother who inspired the first and middle names of Ed, Sr. and Jr. We'll visit him in a future installment of Ed Wood Wednesdays.