Recently my friend Amy Crow, who writes No Story Too Small, challenged others to join her in writing about our ancestors each week. This is week 4 of the challenge and I’m going to share some stories of my maternal grandfather, Edward Herbert Morse. I do not have many personal stories of him, but my grandmother wrote a lot about him so I will rely on her to share stories of his life.
Edward Herbert Morse was the 5th child (3rd son) of Zuma Butts and Edward Babe Morse. Born on 4 March 1918 in Michigan City, Indiana. His father worked for the Michigan Central Railroad as a Switchman.1 They lived on Erie Street at the time of the 1920 census. By 1930 the family was living on Cleveland Ave and his father was working odd jobs. The Morse men were all seafaring folk and so the boys of the family continued that tradition throughout their lives. Even to this day, my great uncle Bruce fishes on Lake Michigan when the weather allows. Unfortunately Ed’s boat “The Helen Taylor” met with a sad fate. It was left unattended and became loose from its moorings and was wrecked.
Ed attended Elston High School, but didn’t start dating my grandmother, Shirley, until 1936. Thanks to my grandma’s biography I know a little bit of their dating at the time. She shares,
“1936 High school graduation was in sight, and Edward Morse and I had just met. We began to see each other as much as Mother would allow us. With no car available to him, occasionally I would use ours, but usually we walked all over.
On Saturday night the Oasis, local dance hall at the park, was our destination. We danced all dances and stared at each other daring the other to look away. To me he was the most romantic, good-looking man I had ever gone with in Michigan City.
He was very attentive and fun to be with too. At the dance we met Ross Mayer, a friend of my cousin from Chicago, and a friend of his. I did dance with Ross, but I did not want to dance with his friend and Ed stepped in and said, “She does not want to dance with you and she does not have to do it… get lost, fella.” This man was older and rough–a butcher by trade.
After the dance, we began our mile or so walk to my house. We were holding hands and walking over the bridge and suddenly someone yanked at Ed’s arm and turned him around and hit him in the mouth. A shuffle went on and Ross finally separated the butcher from Ed, who had gotten in a few hits of his own. We went on to get our usual hamburger at the Horseshoe Restaurant.
Ed was wiping his mouth with his handkerchief and tried to stop the blood flow. I felt so sorry for him, yet so proud, too. We did have our hamburgers and cokes–the burgers were a bit rare and along with Ed’s bleeding, neither of us wanted to eat.
Ed, my future husband, fought for me, so of course, I had to marry him four and a half years later.”2
When Shirley went off to college they continued to see each other in secret. She describes the efforts they made to get together,
“Ed was the first boy to finish high school in his family- all the others went to work or married early. When I was in school at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ed would borrow his brother Frank’s Pierce Arrow–an old one. Or he would get Eileen’s car that they called Josephine. By that time, Ed was living with Eileen and Elmo Verdeyen, his sister and husband in Gary, Indiana, while he worked at American Bridge Company. One time the Pierce Arrow had a short in it so that when he put on the brakes, the lights went out. He had a harrowing trip trying to keep from braking so a fuse would not blowout. I tried to come home once a month and we did write a lot. I had some uncomfortable rides home with a man who went home each weekend to visit his family–a wife and two children. He charged us each $4.00 round trip, but he would take 6 of us, and we were packed in like sardines. We would stop at a chili diner at Crawfordsville where the chili really burned our insides.”3
Eventually Shirley and Ed married in secret up in Madison, Wisconsin by a Lutheran minister on August 3, 1940. When Shirley’s family found out she had to promise to finish college or her mom would stop sending money. She finished her degree in Speech and Journalism and then moved with Ed to Gary, Indiana and had a small apartment together. Ed worked for the American Bridge Company as an electrician and when World War II began he was deemed necessary for the war effort and was not sent away. Their first child, Brett, was born in 1942 and by 1947 the family moved to South Bend and bought their own home. Their second child was born in 1947. In 1950 they started their own business, Morse Electric. Grandma describes,
“As of 1950, Ed decided to start his own business, and my father’s money and Mom’s investments helped us to start it and put the down payment on our home. Ed was still working for others, but he bought our truck for his moonlighting for only a short time. I used the truck for transportation in the daytime.
We had letterheads made and I typed out letters to anyone we knew to tell of our work. The first month grossed us $900.00, but that went for payments we had, expenses and equipment. Both of us tried to make our business a success and even dressed up, we drove the truck everywhere … all we had. Ed did very well for never having been a businessman, but he was a fine electrician and did make our customers feel confidence in him. Our business grew and we found our little house too small and the garage not satisfactory for materials. We found a house Ed had rewired was up for sale.”4
Their house at 1614 McKinley was soon their home and they decided to have one more child, my mom, born in 1956. Grandma describes life as time progressed,
“Our lives had changed quite a bit as our children and business grew. When Brett went into business with Ed, we needed more room to conduct our business. We found that the former Hickey Construction Company had vacated their place, and we bought the building with the Cab Company on one side, and the Highway Department on the other. Our land went back to the hill.
Brett bought new ideas and more jobs to our company, growing takes money and help. We added many men and women secretaries to run everything. The office was enlarged and when the Highway Department moved, we bought their land, Quonset huts and tore down their small office and built onto our building. Jobs were coming in from all around the state and neighboring ones too. We were into highway signals and fences, and guardrails. Changes came too quickly and it was hard to cover all bases. Ed turned too much over to Brett too quickly. He would try to steady everyone, but had less say and did drink more making himself scarcer at the office.”5
By this time Ed had quite the drinking problem and his health deteriorated to the point where he had colon cancer and eventually passed away on 25 May 1981. I was just 6 years old and barely remember Grandpa. I wrote about the memories of his funeral here. One thing I do remember quite fondly… Grandpa used to wear these rainbow suspenders all the time…
1920 U.S. census, La Porte County, Indiana, population schedule, Michigan City, Enumeration District 104, p. 1 (penned), dwelling 115, family 3, Edward H Morse: digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 1 February 2014); from FamilySearch Roll: T624_363, Image: 562. ↩
Shirley Morse, “Krueger-Engel-Morse Family History” (South Bend, Indiana, 1989, p. 22-23; privately held by Jennifer Alford, ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE, Utica, Ohio, 1 February 2014). Received on August 2008 from Jana Morse. Original copy was scanned to pdf. ↩
Shirley Morse, “Krueger-Engel-Morse Family History”, South Bend, Indiana, 1989, p. 23-24. ↩
Shirley Morse, “Krueger-Engel-Morse Family History”, South Bend, Indiana, 1989, p. 29. ↩
Shirley Morse, “Krueger-Engel-Morse Family History”, South Bend, Indiana, 1989, p. 32-33. ↩