Thursday, February 2, 2017

At the Gates of Her Home

Step by step, we're picking up clues that help build a composite sketch of just who were the family members related to the people we found in a discarded photo album, here in northern California. Because our task seems to be such a merry divertissement, it takes on the aspect of a treasure hunt. Because these are people we don't really know—certainly not anyone we are related to—it becomes a trivial pursuit. Entertaining, and not much more than that.

Even in the context of a story of strangers, though, there are some occurrences entering the narrative that are so dreadful, it is hard to continue the pursuit without being drawn further into the realm of personal concern. What happened to Alice Hawkes Robinson only a few years after the death of her husband was one of those points.

We learned, after the March, 1948, passing of Edward H. Robinson, that it was not in Canada that Alice's husband had died, but in Florida. While news reports indicated that he "had been vacationing," those articles also revealed that Alice's brother—Samuel Hawkes, by then owner of the successful cut glass manufacturer in Corning, New York, which bore their father's name—maintained a residence in Daytona Beach, a four hour drive to the north of the Florida city where Dr. Robinson had succumbed to a heart problem.

Perhaps this small detail provides a hint as to why Alice was in Florida during the month of March once again, five years later. Having spent much of the winter of 1953 down in Florida, Alice—by then just turned sixty eight—had that day completed the long drive northward to return to the family home near Newmarket, just outside Toronto, Canada.

As a reunion celebration, along with her son and his bride of only two years, she had gone out to dinner. Returning to Inniscara—named after the old Hawkes family estate in County Cork, Ireland—they had paused on the highway to await a safe moment to turn into their long driveway when a car approaching from behind them struck their vehicle, puncturing the gas tank in the rear. The force of the collision overturned the Robinson vehicle, trapping the three passengers inside.

The incident occurred at "the height of the Friday night traffic." Though "dozens...raced to the rescue," yanking on door handles to no avail—the handles were actually pulled off by their efforts, yet with no success—no one was able to extract any of the passengers in the Robinson vehicle. The two men in the other vehicle were dragged from their car just moments before it exploded, showering the area with flaming gasoline. In a horrific finale no one would ever want to observe, witnesses said they "heard the trapped victims moaning and screaming inside," but there was nothing that could be done.

News of the tragedy was reported back in Corning, Alice's hometown, as well as in the Syracuse, New York, Post-Standard, the Robinsons' former residence and current home of Alice's brother-in-law. A week later, a front page article in The Newmarket Era and Express declared,
The community has still not recovered from the shock of a tragic accident which took the lives of three well-known residents of the Newmarket district last Friday the gates of her home.

Having not only completed the long journey from Miami to Toronto, but a life's journey taking her through service in two World Wars, Alice met an unexpected end which literally took the breath away from all who heard of it. The only one left to her family, besides her brother Samuel and his wife and children, was the Robinsons' daughter—also named Alice.

The one gleam in this tragic episode—at least for us as genealogical interlopers in this family's difficult moments—was that the many news reports provided one additional family clue: the younger Alice, now long past her wartime Canadian Air Force duties, had married and was now the mother of at least two of the grandchildren of Alice Hawkes Robinson.

While I still have reservations as to whether this unfortunate Alice Hawkes Robinson was part of the couple who signed their names as "Harry and Alice" in the photo album I found, this small detail provides a clue to help examine whether this was the route bringing the photo album west to California. Yet, whether that route proves correct or not, the episode reminds us to tread circumspectly as we unfold the stories of unknown others in our research. We can barely imagine the anguish which such stories brought to those for whom these subjects were so much more than mere players in an entertaining puzzle.  


  1. Wow. Wasn't expecting THAT . . . and I share an office with you!

    1. Yeah, it took my breath away, too—and I was just reading about it!

  2. Oh so sad, what a tragic end to her life:(

    1. So true. It hurt to read that news report--and I don't even know her!

  3. Ghastly way to die. I wonder if they charged the person that hit the car with manslaughter?


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