Benjamin Whitman.

Nelson's biographical dictionary and historical reference book of Erie County, Pennsylvania : containing a condensed history of Pennsylvania, of Erie County, and of the several cities, boroughs and townships in the county also portraits and biographies of the governor's since 1790, and of numerous r online

. (page 99 of 192)
Online LibraryBenjamin WhitmanNelson's biographical dictionary and historical reference book of Erie County, Pennsylvania : containing a condensed history of Pennsylvania, of Erie County, and of the several cities, boroughs and townships in the county also portraits and biographies of the governor's since 1790, and of numerous r → online text (page 99 of 192)
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tirement from active efforts in these lines has in no
wise prevented him from holding to his old loves for
the more private entertainment of his friends on suita-
ble occasions. As a Shakesperian reader he has fre-
quently appeared before appreciative gatherings dur-
ing his customary outings, and his hearers have in-
cluded the intelligent and cultivated from nearly all
the cities round about. In reference to this edifying
penchant and the difficulties that must necessarily lie
in the way of its successful accomplishment, Mr.
Reed said: "I suppose I have been asked an easy
thousand times how it was possible for a blind man to
accomplish such seemingly impossible memory feats.
Say, for instance, the learning of a Shakesperian
monologue. A monologue usually runs about an hour
and a half in the delivery (anywhere from ten to
twelve thousand words), and my perennial, but always
mystifying, reply has been — punctograph. The process
is very simple. I set a reader on the play I propose
to monologue, having a pencil in his hand. As he
reads along he is directed to mark the parts intended
to be used. This done, the marked passages are re-
read to me, having my kleidograph before me, and in
due course of time the punctograph transcription, ex-
actly as I intend to memorize and deliver it, is ready
for studying. In this manner monologues of the
length described, of Richard II., Richard III., Mac-
beth and Troilus and Cressida, have been transcribed
and mastered, while one of Hamlet has been for some
time in readiness for perusal. In addition to poetical
transcriptions of a strictly business kind, I have many
old favorites in prose and verse, extending from the

Gospel of Matthew and the Enchiridion of Epictetus,
to the latest contemporary literary excerpt that chances
to please me. In short, whatever happens to take my
fancy is marked and laid away to be transcribed at
leisure. At present rate of accumulation there is not
the slightest danger of running out of new matter for
an indefinite period."

As to the typewriter, an equally creditable record
was made out. " I have never ceased to be thankful," he
continued, "that these great boons were, seemingly,
thrown in my way by blind chance. During a summer
outing early in my blind experience I happened to
encounter Prof. A. L. Bohrer, of the Columbus, O.,
Institude for the Blind. He forthwith called my at-
tention to these assistants to such defectives, and it
was entirely due to his urging that I lost no time, upon
my return home, in essaymg their mastery. How long
did it take me to become proficient with either or both ?
There, I confess, you touch me on a tender point.
Frankly, I suspect I would have stood precious near
the foot of the class, had there been more of me. As
it was, I had only myself to compete with, and I can
assure you he proved about all I could stand. The
typewriter turned out to be no very tough nut to crack,
but punctograph, whew! Time aud again I was upon
the point of giving it up. Recollect, I was no chicken
when I got into this boat. And maturity of powers in
other directions does not count in one's hnger-tip. Do
not ask me to confess how long it took me to become
proficient in point. It wearies me to recall those
struggles. The authorities all agree, however, that
children brought up on it cry for it, as against the old
embossed letters. Suffice, that to me, despite the test
it put me to to learn it, it has repaid me a thousand

" Now, for the story of the typewriter.

" The sine qua non to a happy blind life, is never to
be idle. No matter what you do, do something. The
thing that an eccentric fate tossed in my path was, to
say the least, unique. I fell to writing tragedies. I
chanced, not long before, to have read an historical
novel touching on life in Athens in the fourth century.
Its dramatic possibilities struck me at that time, and,
recurred to me again in my dilemma. I recalled
enough of it for a ground work and the composition
was forthwith begun. In process of time ' Chrysanteus
of Athens ' had bloomed into a full-fledged MSS. The
prologue and some short extracts have only appeared
in print. Its completion by natural transition led to a
second similar diversion, and after due gestation
•Julian' made its unheralded entrance into this vale
of tears. A third plunge, this time into the Mantuan
terror of our school days, and /Eneas and Dido flitted
into esse. Of these, so far as I recollect, only one
soliloquy from the first named has glittered in the
public prints. Another gyration into comparatively
modern times, and 'Marie Antoinette' (of which I
believe but one short piece of queenly rhetoric was
betimes published) was reeled off. This, in turn, was
the literary foster parent of that even bloodier effusion
entitled ' Robespierre.' These topped off with a
rather mild pouse cafe, bearing the title ' The The-
orist.' The dramatic oUa podrida boiled over at the
conclusion of the first act of ' Lycurgus," and like that
truly great but greatly misunderstood law-giver and
hero, disappeared into impenetrable gloom, but the
typewriter was mastered.

" You have spoken of readers and reading. What is



the nature of your reading?" we next ventured to ask.
" It is of all sorts," was the reply. " Books, magazines,
newspapers, what not. In the main, however, I think
I may claim to be a book reader. One of my severest
self restraints is moderation in the matter of book buy-
ing. True, I buy few works of a purely entertaining
nature, though no one enjoys a good novel more than
myself. Fortunately, my wife has the same infirmity,
and she can be relied upon to keep me well up in con-
temporaneous fiction. The ISorth American Review,
The Forum and The Arena, I usually make it a point
to thoroughly read, year in and year out. As to the
other magazines, aside from the serials, they have to
take their chance with the newspapers and other lit-
erary flotsam. A batch of metropolitan weeklies from
different sections keep me in touch with the trend of
public thought throughout the country. Still, books
are my chief intellectual food. And right here, let me
say, that not the least of my many blessings is my
wife's aunt, Miss Adelia Barnhart, my fides Achates,
to the last ditch. Aside from my regularly retained
readers there is no one to whom I owe such perennial
thanks as to this faithful and devoted woman. No mat-
ter what I want, from the dryest and most intermina-
ble statistical table to the gloomiest treatise on meta-
physics, she stands ready to tackle with the same
cheerful patience. As to reeders, e.xperience soon
taught me that the most satisfactory was an ambitious
boy or young man, with a professional career in view.
By the aid of such an one, and by observing regular
hours, it is truly astonishing the amount of serious
reading that can be accomplished within a given time.
Through all this, however, two particular themes may
be said to be kept pretty well to the fore. From ear-
liest manhood the studies of government and of ethics
have had peculiar charm for me. Everything written
upon either of these is speedily perused. American
political and Constitutional history— everything from
the Federalist to The American Commonwealth, and
from the Constitution itself to the latest income tax
decision by the Federal Supreme Court, comes in for
regular exploitation. I have a copy of the Constitu-
tion and the great Declaration in punctograph, and
have memorized both times without number. Of this
study I hope never to tire. As to the other specialty,
ethics, truly herein is my soul's delight. If you would
save your ears intact, I advise you to beat a retreat be-
fore tapping me upon this subject.

"None but the stupidest can escape observing that
all the great political and social issues of the future are
to be formulated along ethical lines. The man who is
not keenly alive to this all-important premise were
better out of the world than in it, so far as his future
intellectual and moral growth are concerned. Not even
electricity itself is destined to cut a more important
figure in the material world than is the serious ex-
ploitation and application of the moral law to all the
relations of human life. The very slums are teeming
with it, and as to the intellectual classes, little as they
may in some cases suspect it, they are fairly permeated
with it, and all that is to make life worth living to any
stratum of society, will depend entirely upon their rel-
ative appreciation of the importance of understanding
what morality is and living up to that knowledge.
Philosophy henceforth must cease to be the province
of the dreamer and the seer. Skepticism and the luke-
warm fads that pass for piety or its reverse, must wax
into convictions strong and deep. This ' mighty maze,

but not without a plan,' must be examined and its
laws explained. Once this is done, the dullest soul
alive will drink in virtue as the sun the dew. This
world, so fitted for the growth of knaves, must come to
be the garden spot for truth. The renaissance of Eden,
close at hand, will differ from the vapid one of yore,
in that the devil will have fled the close. When ignor-
ance is clearly recognized, the sole and only Satan
feared of men will, like the Moor, be occupationless.
All classes from their hearts must hold with Pope:
' The proper study of mankind is man.' God is quite
equal, I suspect, to teach the race of man its duty
toward Himself. Our prime concern is for our fellow
men. To make oneself an all-round worthful man is
no mean aspiration; try it once, and in the end, if God
be not your friend, the times are out of joint for ever-
more. When this is so, vox populi suprema lex shall
stand in nature with the will divine. 'There are,' in-
deed, as Hamlet says, ' more things in Heaven and
earth than are dreampt of in your philosophy.' But
there is precious little that is worth knowing in this
world that philosophy can not cast light upon. And
when the open book of the wondrous past shall cease
to be the practically sealed book that it is today, the
races of these and future times will have begun how
to learn. ' In the corrupted currents of this world,' the
human being whom fate has chanced to maim, is by
its rude, nay, barbarous decrees, condemned to sink,
if he attempt a part. But thanked be God, there is
another sphere — a world within a world — where the
action lies in its true nature. This is the sphere of
ethics. Herein it matters not if one be blind, if one be
lame or halt, or be deprived of half his organs, even
though he be as short of members as an oyster, the
measure of his rights is just the same. All that I have
written of late years has been in the nature of ethical
discussion. I take small interest, and less pleasure, in
aught beside. Here is freedom, or at least the hope
of It, and such poor talent as the Lord has given me I
purpose for the future to employ in doing what I can,
however little, in voicing forth the truth which makes
us whole. One thing I beg of you in parting, this:
However much or little you may choose to say con-
cerning me and my affairs, say what you say in lan-
guage light and gay. The blind are proverbially
cheerful. Our infirmities are always nicely adjusted
to our capacity to bear them. The blindee that is wor-
thy of his state accepts it at its best and is content to
'be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish
day.'"— [Ed.

How. Isaac B. Gara, the veteran journalist and
trusted official, was born at Soudersburg, Lancaster
county. Pa., October '28, 1821. He was the son of Pat-
rick and Mary Gara, respectively of Irish and German
descent. His education was received at the Lancaster
county schools. He entered the office of the Examiner
and Herald in Lancaster, to learn the printing trade, and
remained three years. At the age of 19, he published
a Whig paper in Bellefonte, when Andrew G. Cur-
tin, then a rising young lawyer, became interested
in him, pud his friendship contmued through life. A
few years later he connected himself with a Whig paper
in Lock Haven, Pa., and then going to Galena, 111., he
became editor and part proprietor in a semi-weekly
paper. In September, 1846, he came to Erie, where
he located for life. He purchased an interest in the
Erie Oazelte from Hon. Joseph M, Sterrett, who had



founded the paper in 1820. The firm of Sterrett &
Gara was then formed, with Mr. Gara as writing editor.
As the organ of the Whig and afterwards the Repub-
lican party, the Oazette exercised a great influence in
the county and Northwestern Pennsylvania. This
management continued until 1855, when he assumed
sole proprietorship and editor-in-chief. It not only
gave Mr. Gara a wide influence, but led to a large
acquaintance, especially in Western Pennsylvania and
at the State capital. During several presidential
campaigns, the railroad war and the war of the Re-
bellion, the Oazette exercised a marked influence on
the moulding of public opinion. Mr. Gara filled a
number of offices. He served as enrolling commis-
sioner during the State draft, as trustee of the Marine
Hospital and trustee of the Normal School, and as
trustee of the Erie academy. In January, 1867, he
was appointed by Gov. Geary deputy secretary of the
Commonwealth, a place he resigned after two
years and three months' service to accept from
President Grant the Erie postoffice. He was re-
appointed in 1873. After his official service he
continued to reside in Erie, where his ability as a
writer, indicated by frequent contributions to the
journals, his public spirit as a citizen and his char-
acteristic courtesy, made him a most popular and re-
spected citizen. He was married in October, 1853, to
Miss Calista Ingersoll, of Erie, a lady of fine educa-
tion and of marked artistic and executive ability.
Her zeal and activity in the promotion of charitable
work and the advancement of kindred interests, were
continuous and successful. Perhaps her greatest suc-
cess and most lasting work were in the securing of the
site and the erection of the Home of the Friendless in
Erie. In this her best endeavors were enlisted with
success which will long connect her name with one of
the best organized and well sustained charities of the
city. After Mr. Gara's retirement from the postoffice
his life was a typical one, as showing how usefulness
and ease could be combined with quiet dignity. In
his tasteful home, his days were quietly passed in the
society of his devoted wife and a large circle of friends.
His love for newspaper work kept him in touch with
the current questions of the day. Correspondence, in-
terchange of visits, trips to pleasant resorts, and fre-
quent entertainment of guests, made his latter days
pass pleasantly. About a year ago, Mr. Gara, never
strong, was taken seriously ill. Though attended and
watched with unwearing care, it seemed hard for
him to rally. His strength declined from day to day,
until on the afternoon of June 15, 1895, he quietly sank
to rest. Few persons have been longer conspicuous
to the public eye, fewer still, have passed away with
such general expressions of regard, which will long
indicate the estimation in which Mr. Gara was held by
the people of Erie.

Hon. Gideon J. Ball was the eldest son of Shel-
don and Jane (Sterrett) Ball. He was born in Erie
March 29, 1811. In early life he acquired the art of
the silversmith, and was one of the firm of Ball &
Ford, which did business for some time on French
street in Erie. Part of his early manhood was passed
in Buffalo. He returned to Erie and was about the
year 1836 elected clerk of the town council, which po-
sition he held until he entered public life at Harris-
burg. In 1847 he was elected to the legislature from
Erie county, and re-elected in 1848. The election

in 1848, under the leadership of Taylor as a candidate
for president, caused a Whig majority on joint ballot
in the State Legislature, and led to the election of a
Whig State treasurer by the Legislature. To this re-
sponsible position Mr. Ball was elected in 1849, and
he acceptably filled the place for one year. He was
then appointed chief clerk of the sixth auditor of the
postoffice department at Washington, and during most
of the time was acting auditor. He returned to Erie
and was elected a Representative to the Legislature
from Erie county at the successive elections of 1853-
4-5-6. During this time he changed his residence
from the city to his farm in Mill Creek, to the improve-
ment of which he gave much time and thought, as is
now most pleasingly apparent in the fine appearance
of his farm on the West Eight street road. He re-
turned to the city of Erie, and was again elected to
the legislature in 1860, being his seventh election by
the same constituency; each time with a different col-
league. The questions to come before this Legislature
were of momentous importance. Not only was the
war foreshadowed by the election of Lincoln, but all
the upheaval which would ensue. The repeal of the
tonnage tax, and legislation for the completion of the
Philadelphia R. R. were among the great measures to
be considered. Mr. Ball's experience and parlia-
mentary skill were needed. He obeyed the summons.
At the organization of the Legislature he was offered
the chairmanship of ways and means. He declined
this honor, but took a leading part in the important
legislation in this perhaps most momentous session of
the Legislature since the existence of the Common-
wealth. It was a gratification to himself and friends
at the adjournment to feel that while every assistance
had been furnished by the State in aid of the war,
and, that the completion of the Philadelphia R. R.
seemed so near at hand. After the adjournment of
the Legislature he was appointed paymaster in the
army, with the rank of major, and entered upon his
duties. Having served through the war he returned
to his home, but for some years performed the duties
of an important land agency at Renovo, on the line of
the Philadelphia and Erie R. R. Under the strain of
his service in the war and the important work of his
land office his health gave way. He struggled under
repeated shocks, from each of which he emerged with
less prospects of recuperation. He was most happy
in his domestic relation. In early life he married
Miss Emeline Hallenback. Their family of four
daughters and one son constituted a happy household,
assidious in their devotion to their parents. Of these
Misses Helen and Osie are at home; Mrs. George Bur-
ton resides in Erie, and Charles E., the only son, is a
part of the household. Miss Frank, the youngest
daughter, died some years since. Major Ball was of
commanding form, wiry physique and magnetic pres-
ence. He seemed the beau ideal of a parliamentary
leader; of inspiring presence, versatile in resource, that
by an experience and training was excelled by few in
our State, he possessed many of those qualities that on a
large field gave to Henry Clay so much of fame, and
led many to trace a resemblance between himself and
James G. Blaine. But his keen activities wore upon a
frame, which though dominated with great will power,
was not made of iron. His long battle with infirmity
came to a close and his career ended in death. Few
better understood Erie's interests, fewer still toiled
harder for her advancement ; and now the record of


his life is the pleasing contemplation of his devoted
family, and its retrospect the agreeable study of those
of his surviving friends who understood him.

The David Burton Family.— David Burton
(deceased), son of John and PhtEbe (Wooster) Burton,
was born in Connecticut, February 16, 1793. He came
about 1811 to Erie county, where he spent his life. He
was active and energetic, successively as wagon
maker, meat dealer, dealer in cattle and coal, and was
widely known. He served in the war of 1812 and
aided in building Perry's fleet. Mr. Burton married
Elizabeth Irvine, born January 1, 1797, who came to
Erie county from Lycoming county, Pennsylvania.
Thev had nine children: Peter E., born March 6,
1816', sheriff of Erie county, who died October 19,
1863; John, born October 19, 1818, died April 23, 1863;
Andrew, born May 26, 1823, died June 19, 1894, treas-
urer of the city of Erie; Wooster, born April 16, 1828,
died October 28, 1856; A. P., funeral director and un-
dertaker, of Erie; Hannah, wife of M. A. Dunning,
born September 16, 1825; Mary Burton, born May 10,
1827, died June 12, 1829; Elsey, born September 19,
1831, died January 15, 18—; Charlotte E., born April
4, 1839, is still living. Mr. Burton died in Erie county,
January 30, 1869, and Mrs. Burton, May 9, 1875. A
number of their grandchildren are in active life and
several in business in the city and county of Erie.
Mr. and Mrs. Burton were two of the original class,
which, fiiriniil in 1826, was the nucleus of the First
M. E. Church in Erie, now the Seventh Street Church.

Alured P. Burton, the leading funeral director of
Erie, was born in Erie, September 4, 1836, and is a son
of David and Elizabeth (Irvine) Burton, natives of
Connecticut and Pennsylvania respectively. His
father and grandfather came to Erie county about
1811, and located in Mill Creek township, .south of
Erie, where his father cleared a large farm. His father
assisted in building Perry's fleet, and was a member of
militia during the war of 1812. Later he took up his
permanent residence in Erie, where for many years
he was engaged in various kinds of business. The
family consisted of ten children, four of whom are
living: Hannah M., Mrs. M. A. Dunning, Erie; Sarah,
Mrs. A. P. Durlin, of Erie; Alured P. and Charlotte
E., widow of the late Dr. J. Pfouts, of Jersey Shore,
Pa., and now residing in Erie. Mr. Burton received
his education in the public schools and academy of
Erie, and at the age of 14 years began to learn the
printing trade, which he followed seven years. He
was for some time engaged with his father and brother,
Andrew, in the coal business, and was assistant post-
master in the Erie postoffice two and a half years dur-
ing the postmastership of Judge Sterrett. In 1876 he
en'gaged in the undertaking business, which he has
since followed, and in which he has been highly suc-
cessful. He is one of the most thorough and compe-
tent funeral directors in Northwestern Pennsylvania,
and his trade is chiefly with the better class of people
in Erie and vicinity. He is fully conversant with all
the latest methods and devices of embalming, and has
the keenest regard for the ethics of the business. He
is past president of the Tri-County and the State Fu-
neral Directors' Association, and is a member of the
National Funeral Directors' Association. In 1895, Mr.
Burton was, without solicitation, appointed by Gov.

Hastings a member of the first State Board of Under-
takers, and at the first meeting of that body, held in
Philadelphia, November 1, he was chosen treasurer.
Mr. Burton was married October 1, 1857, to Miss Susan
M., daughter of George W. Brecht, of East Mill
Creek. This happy union has been blessed with six
children, five of whom are living: Charles H., travel-
ing salesman, with headquarters at Chicago; George
D., clerk in the office of the Jarecki Manufacturing
Company; Lewis E., stenographer in the office of
Jutte & Co., Pittsburg, and Harry and William R.,
who are associated with their father in business. Mr.
and Mrs. Burton are members of the First Methodist
Episcopal Church of Erie, of which they are active
workers and generous supporters. In politics Mr.
Burton is a Republican, and has served his city as a
member of the common council. He is a Knight
Templar and Thirty-third degree Scottish Rite Mason,
and has held nearly all the offices of those degrees.

Spencer S. Burton, coal dealer, Erie, Pa., was
born in Erie, January 19, 1.S46. He is a son of the late
Andrew Burton, whdse [lersonal history is contained
in this volume. S. S. Burton was educated in the pub-
lic schools of Erie, and when but a school boy, in 1862,
went into the naval service on the " Fairplay." After
one year's service on this vessel, one of the " Mosquito
fleet," which plied the waters of the Tennessee, Ohio
and Cumberland rivers, he returned to Erie and en-
listed in the 111th P. V. I. Five months later, while
engaged in breastworks building at Buzzard's Roost,
Ga., he was injured, and was thereafter and until mus-
tered out at the close of the war, on detached duty.

Online LibraryBenjamin WhitmanNelson's biographical dictionary and historical reference book of Erie County, Pennsylvania : containing a condensed history of Pennsylvania, of Erie County, and of the several cities, boroughs and townships in the county also portraits and biographies of the governor's since 1790, and of numerous r → online text (page 99 of 192)