Friday, November 16, 2018

Edna Bell Seward (1877-1963)

Aka Edna Bell Case
Journalist, Author, Poet, Lyricist
Born May 5, 1877, Maine
Died July 22, 1963, Alameda County, California

Edna L. Bell was born on May 5, 1877, in Maine to Richard and Mary J. Bell. She lived with her family in Springfield, Maine, in 1880. In about 1887, the family moved from Gardiner, Maine, to northern Wisconsin. They moved again, to North Carolina, sometime after that, perhaps in the 1890s.

When she was still a teenager (a word that didn't exist then), Edna Bell married a man named Elmer L. Case (1870-1935). She lived with him in Louisiana, and that's where her two daughters were born. First came Evern C. Case, born exactly a week after Edna's sixteenth birthday. Next came Veva B. Case, who was born in April 1895.

If the young Case family had any kind of happy life at all, it didn't last long. According to a contemporaneous article in the Greensboro, North Carolina, Patriot:
Mrs. E.L. Case, on account of mistreatment, separated from her husband, who resides at Ocean Springs, Miss., with his father, and came with her two little girls, Evern and Veva, [. . .], to live with her father near town. (1)
Edna's estranged husband wanted the girls for a two-month visit, and so he took them to Mississippi with him in the spring of 1899. Edna was supposed to have them back by Evern's sixth birthday. Instead Case kept them, and so Edna's sister, Elvia M. Bell, then just twenty-five or twenty-six years old, resolved to go after the girls and fetch them back to their mother.

What followed is enough for the plot of an exciting movie: Elvia took a train to Ocean Springs and, enlisting the sympathy and aid of a hotel keeper and a local newspaper reporter, got Evern and Veva back from their father. Elvia and her nieces were going to try to evade him by way of a riverboat, but that plan was blocked, so they rode in a carriage to a local railroad station. "[T]hrough Mississippi mud and water" they rode, dodging a town quarantined for smallpox along the way. They made it to the train but were confronted there by Case's father, who had gotten on board and threatened to have Elvia arrested for kidnapping. He was put off, but a number of police officers got on at the next station and began a search for the fugitive party. Failing in that, the men left the train, but more police officers got on in Mobile, Alabama. After battering open the door behind which Elvia and the children were hiding, then chasing them through the train, these men took Elvia, Evern, and Veva into custody. A quick trial followed. Elvia M. Bell, described as "a brunette of distinguished appearance and [. . .] considerable intelligence," was awarded the children and returned to Greensboro with them in happiness and triumph. The Greensboro Patriot called her "a heroine" for her actions.

Edna Bell Case lived with her parents outside Greensboro after the adventure. She also began calling herself a journalist. In 1900, she won a second-place prize of $5 in gold for her essay on roads, printed in the Greensboro Patriot. Later that year, she wrote an account of her meeting the former Confederate spy Belle Boyd (1844-1900) in Louisiana and of Belle's exploits during the late war. This account also appeared in the Greensboro Patriot. (2)

In 1905, Richard Bell moved his family to Wisconsin, where his son, Merton J. Bell, was in the logging and milling business. Father and son worked side by side in building up the business. They also founded two towns, at least one of which, Bellwood, Wisconsin, is a thing of the past. Then came more marriages for Edna Bell. First was to a man named Galle, who resided in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I have found a name, E.E. Galle, head of a cranberry-growing operation based in Minneapolis. I can't say for sure whether he was Edna's husband. Whoever that husband might have been, Edna's younger daughter Veva began using his last name. When Veva married in June 1918, her mother's name was given as Mrs. George M. Seward of Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis. That means that sometime in 1917 or 1918, Edna L. Bell Case Galle married George Morton Seward (1856-1926), originally from Bloomington, Indiana, and later of Chicago, Illinois.

Seward was in accounting and real estate. He may have gotten himself caught up in some financial shenanigans in the early part of the century. If so, maybe the scandal attached to him equalled or exceeded any scandal involving his wife because of her first husband or her now multiple marriages. Maybe they formed a kind of bond between them as a result. Maybe I'm speculating too much. In any case, Edna Bell Seward may have enjoyed some amount of happiness with Seward. She became associated with the Indiana Club of Chicago and the annual Hoosier Salon art exhibit in that same city. In 1922, she composed the lyric for the song "Indiana, We're Coming Home." The music was by Captain W.J. O'Callaghan, director of music at Culver Military Academy in Indiana. (3) In 1923, Edna's poem "To 'Laddie Boy'," composed upon the death of Warren G. Harding, appeared in the Wausau (WI) Daily Herald. (4) She had a letter in "The Eyrie," the letters column of Weird Tales, in March 1924. In May and June 1924, her serial "The Lacquer Dressing Case" was in Real Detective Tales. (The May issue was the last published by Rural Publishing Corp, also publisher of Weird Tales.) She capped all of that off with her lone story for the magazine, "The Land of Creeping Death," in June 1927.

In the meantime, her husband died, in 1926. After that, she went from place to place. In 1930, she was in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her daughter Evern and Evern's husband Ashton K. Smith. In 1940, the three resided in Queens, New York. Late in life, Edna Bell Seward wrote scads of letters to the editors of the Oakland Tribune, San Francisco Examiner, and other California newspapers. She was at the time living in California, and that's where she died, on July 22, 1963, in Alameda County, at age eighty-six.

And what of the others who were part of the adventure of 1899? Well, Elvia Bell married her college sweetheart, John M. Graham, and lived in Duluth, Minnesota, for many years. For part of that time her niece Veva lived with her. Evern Case, who married Ashton K. Smith, also lived in California late in life. She died there like her mother before her, in 1981. As for Veva, she married Ensign Allen Baker of the U.S. Navy in Philadelphia in June 1918. They were divorced in Dade County, Florida, in 1927, but not before they had had a son, Welles A. Baker. He had seven children. We can only hope that the story of the kidnapping from 1899 survives among his progeny . . .

But there's one more thing. Both Evern and Veva went by the last name Foley at some point in their lives. That makes me wonder whether Edna Bell Case married someone by that name, after Elmer Case but before the mysterious Mr. Galle.

I guess we should remember that not every question can be answered.

Edna Bell Seward's Letter and Story in Weird Tales
Letter to "The Eyrie" (Mar. 1924)
"The Land of Creeping Death" (June 1927)

(1) From "A Thrilling Adventure: The Kidnapping Expedition of Miss Elvia M. Bell." Greensboro Patriot, Greensboro, NC, June 29, 1899, p. 1. Reprinted in: "A Tarheel Heroism: Extraordinary Case of Successful Kidnapping." Henderson Gold Leaf, Henderson, NC, July 20, 1899, page 1.
(2) "Stories Told of Belle Boyd" by Edna Bell Case. Greensboro Telegram, Greensboro, NC, Nov. 17, 1900, p. 2.
(3) "New Song for Hoosier Expatriates." Star Press, Muncie, IN, December 10, 1922, p. 26.
(4) "To 'Laddie Boy'" by Edna Bell Seward. Wausau Daily Herald, Wausau, WI, Aug. 31, 1923, p. 6. Edna submitted her poem from Highland Park, Illinois.

Text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley 

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