Saturday, June 28, 2014

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: #26 Because The "Joe Kerr" Was His Cousin

Young William from Crawford in Pennsy,
Was clever with words very crazy.
He moved on to New York
And made writing his work.
Now "Joe Kerr" is pushing up daisies.
It's a good thing I'm not trying to make a living as a poet! However, one family member did so. My great-grandfather Clark's first cousin was a mystery when researching the Kerr branch of the family. How did the son of a Pennsylvania cabinet maker meet and marry a member of a wealthy New England family?

Through the power of the internet, I connected with distant cousins and his history was revealed. That history even explained the mystery of  the magazine Clark was shown reading in the 1930s -- he was looking for his cousin Joe's work.

Born William Melville Kerr, he took the pen name "Joe Kerr" when he began his writing career. Many of his poems and books today would be considered politically incorrect or even offensive. He used ethnic stereotypes as the basis for some of the pieces. He also wrote political humor and was published in political humor magazines such as Judge, which Clark was reading.

Quick drop page from Sorrento digital kit, Club Scrap

William Melville Kerr was born on August 13, 1859, the first child of Johnston Williams Kerr and Sarah Jane Watson. His birth year varies in records, but he was shown as 10/12 years of age in the 1860 census of Southwest Township, Warren County, Pennsylvania, setting his birth year as 1859. The Oil City Derrick listed his birthplace as Enterprise, in a biographical sketch published on March 27, 1893.

The family moved by 1870 to Conneautville in Crawford County, where Melville attended school and became a bookkeeper by 1880. He must have worked on his writing while working at other jobs. By 1888, Joe Kerr was being mentioned in the press, with coast-to-coast mentions by 1892.

On December 2, 1893, the VENANGO COUNTY NEWS HERALD informed us that:
Mel KERR, well-known humorist in New York is here on a visit to his parents. 
He married Mary Adeline Puffer in Boston, Massachusetts, on November 1, 1894. By 1900, the couple was living in Westchester County, New York and had one son, Joseph Derry Kerr. Daughter Anita was born shortly after the census.

The books Mel authored include: Joe Kerr's Jests, Jingles and Jottings; The World Over; The Cheery Book; and Mr. Sharptooth (a children's book). His political writings appeared in Puck, Judge and The Yellow Kid. His poetry, often doggerel, appeared in newspapers all over the world, including The New York Times. He also wrote jingles for advertising.

In his later years he was an entrepreneur in New York and lived briefly in England, where the family appeared in Middlesex on the 1911 census. By 1920 he was an orange grower in California and had become a real estate broker by 1930. He died on February 7, 1941, in Los Angeles County, California. My cousin who helped unravel Mel's story believes that he was buried in Oil City, Pennsylvania, near other members of the Kerr family.

Several years ago, before her death, Joseph Derry Kerr's daughter graciously allowed me to look through Joe Kerr's fascinating scrapbook of press clippings. She also shared with me a few of her family photos and allowed me to scan them and she granted me permission to use one of Joe's poems in my writings. This poem captures for me the journey we all must travel.

LET us linger here on the mountain lee
And gaze on the Stream of Life,
As it flows from the cradle of Infancy,
Thro' the magical meadows of Youth and strife,
O'er the rocks of Misfortune, with roughness rife,
Till it enters the Old Age sea!

How it murmurs along, as a babe new-born,
This beautiful stream – care free!
How it merrily glides thro' childhood's bourne,
With never a thought of the morrow's morn,
Laughing the sorrowful world to scorn
And singing a ringing glee!

How it surges and pours thro' the shoals of Youth,
This turbulent Human Stream!
How it reaches the Manhood stage, forsooth,
How it broadens and grows, in its search for truth,
And awakes to the horrible fact, uncouth,
That life is no heavenborn dream!

How it rants and raves! How it twists and curves
This marvelous stream, sublime!
How it sullenly swings and sways and swerves,
How its good behavior it ill preserves
'Neath the hand of the Masterful One it serves
On its way to the Ocean of Time!

Serene at last – to the Land of Nod
The River of Life flows on.
Subdued by the chastening Hand of God—
Purified, clear and deep and broad
It peacefully flows 'neath the magic rod
That opens the Gates of Dawn.
 - Joe Kerr, The Cheery Book (New York: G.W. Dillingham Co., 1898), 175-6

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