a story to warm the heart
ABOUT the love of a father & a son
a layden family story
In 2020, Larry Layden passed on this wonderful family story. He referred to a picture of Elizabeth Layden posted on Facebook by great great granddaughter Debbie Evans. Larry told a family story involving Elizabeth's husband James and their son Raleigh. Larry's father J. C. Layden was one of Raleigh's children
Above, cousins Ken Kolodzie & Larry Layden at a Historical Society banquet in 2016. Larry tells this story and Ken saved a copy of the special letter that is at the heart of the story. Both Ken and Larry are lifetime members of the Historical Society.
"to son in love"
This is the story of the love between James Layden and his son Raleigh.
Elizabeth died March 3, 1885, at the age of 38 and left her farm and eight children to her husband, James. This was in Indiana. One of her sons, Raleigh, was nine years old at the time of her death.
In 1890, Raleigh, by then 14, had left home to become a lumberjack in Michigan. He was paid one dollar a week, from which was held fifty cents for room and board.
The next year, Raleigh received the following letter from his father. It was postmarked Nov. 3, 1891. It was written on the back of another letter, showing his father's poverty. The following is a transcript of that letter:
"Son I received your note and was glad to hear from you. I am well son want you to meet me at Kokomo the first day of December certain for I want you there certain and we live at home and have a good time.
Come certain one the first day of December. I meet you at depot. I want you to stay with me. Write me soon and tell me if you will come or not so I can make some arrangements for you.
Write soon. You shall have a home with me.
J W Layden
To son in love"
Raleigh, we assume, returned home that December of 1891.
Eight years after Elizabeth's death came the "Panic of 1893," a national financial crisis that lasted four years. (The word "panic" was later changed to "depression" by the government.) During this time, 500 banks closed, meaning farmers lost their life saving and could not meet their mortgage obligations or pay their taxes. 15,000 businesses went bankrupt in the first year, 1893, unemployment hit 43% in Michigan and 18.4% nationwide. The price of a bushel of wheat dropped to $.70 a bushel, about half the cost of production.
James was unable to take care of his children at home and had to parcel them out to relatives and friends. The older children were told to find a life of their own. Two daughters became "mail order brides." One ended up in Omaha and the other, Estella, the wife of a prosperous farmer near Westboro, Missouri.
Raleigh's sister Estella, who had married the Missouri farmer, asked Raleigh to join her and work as a farm hand for her husband.
Around 1896, Raleigh lost touch with his father, who was still back in Indiana. His father simply disappeared.
Raleigh's new life in Missouri otherwise went well. He eventually bought a farm from his brother-in-law and raised a family, including a son James, after his father. James, who went by J. C., was my father.
In 1939, my father took his parents back to his father Raleigh's old home in Indiana, where they searched for the reason James had disappeared and for his grave. They found the grave of Raleigh's mother, but not of Raleigh's father. There was a plot next to his mother's grave but that plot had no headstone and there was no evidence of occupancy. They could find no one who knew why James had disappeared.
My father and his parents returned home without answers.
In 1978, my dad, J. C., and I visited New Hope Cemetery near Raleigh's old family home in Indiana. We searched again but found nothing more about where Raleigh's grave was than my father and his own father had almost 40 years before. However, we did find out where James' grave was not. He did not lie in rest in the grave next to Elizabeth.
When my dad and I pulled out of the cemetery (as so often happens) a farmer in a pickup truck stopped us and asked if we need help. We told him our problem and he said he was the sexton for the cemetery and to follow him back to his house. He showed us the record book of burials and found the grave of Elizabeth and the plot next to her was empty. So now we knew where James wasn't.
My father and grandfather would go to their graves without closure. My great grandfather James Layden had disappeared so many years ago. They never knew what had happened.
It would take the work of Raleigh's grandchildren to solve the mystery, Through their work we now have a copy of Elizabeth's will, James's death certificate, and the letter received by Raleigh from his father. All of this and other accounts given by Raleigh and other family members provide the basis of this story.
James death certificate, along with other key documents was found on the Internet by grandson Gary Layden and show that James was buried at the cemetery of the County Poor Farm, Union Township of Madison county, Indiana. James' grave is unmarked at an unknown location in potters field, a paupers grave without a headstone.
We believe that James was too ashamed to inform his family of his plight because he had lost the family farm and couldn't provide for his children, ending up requiring the charity of a poor farm for board and room
But wait, there's more.....
Upon Raleigh's death there was a final task to be performed for a father by a son, that of searching through the father's billfold.
In Raleigh's billfold, his son Russel found a heavy piece of paper which had been unfolded many times. This paper was the envelope showing Raleigh's father's request of his son which Raleigh had received in 1891.
Raleigh had carried this last connection to his father, on his person, for 77 years.
One wonders how many times it was looked at, how many unseen tears were shed and how many times a heart was broken.
Russell showed the letter to Ken Kolodzie, one of Raleigh's grandchildren, who made a copy of it and shared it with other family members. After Russell's death, the letter went to his son Rodney.
In 1945, J. C. Layden and family
J. C. and Dorothy Layden and their children Betty, Lois, Larry, and Beverly. Six years before, in 1939, J. C. had gone to Indiana with his father Raleigh to try to find out what had happened to Raleigh when he disappeared in the 1890s. Then over years after this photograph, J. C. and Larry, now grown, would make the same trip for the same reason. Photo 3586, shared by Larry Layden.
Raleigh, wife Amy, and three of their grandchildren
Here is Raleigh, at the far right, with his wife Amy. In front are grandchildren Larry and Lois Layden and Karen Kolodzie. Photo 3954, shared by Larry Layden.