Thursday 19 January 2012: Kate's Soapy Dream
This little article appeared in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin on Saturday, January 10, 1914, page 11.
Mrs. Vannatter lived about a mile from where I now live, and the place where she washed the dishes is a mile in the opposite direction. Typical of the times, her first name escapes mention.
I had forgotten this item, but from its date I can see that I came across it while looking for news coverage of a local speaking engagement by Emma Goldman. I saved it in order to send it to my friend Pete Jordan, the world's most famous dishwasher. I've been re-arranging furniture and straightening out a few rooms in the house lately, and there it was again. As it happens, Vannatter is not a common name, so I looked the lady up. Here's what I found.
Born Kate Taylor on August 2, 1877 (or possibly 1879) in Philadelphia, her Dad was born in England and she had two older brothers. She married John Ellis Vannatter in 1891 and gave birth to Joseph, her only child, in 1895. Husband John worked as a fireman early in the marriage, then as an engineer in factories. At the time when she wandered away from home to have her week-long tryst with the soap suds, Kate was about 34, living with her 44-year old husband and 18-year old son in a working class neighborhood.
Aside from what you see in the news report, I found nothing on line about the incident. Three years later young Joe left his job as a railroad clerk and registered for the draft, listing his Mom as his dependant. He served in WW1 with the US Army. Twelve years after the war, all three Vannaters are still living together next door to a nursing school in West Philly, and when the US entered WW2, Kate is growing old with her 41-year old son, but I don't know what's become of her husband.
Joseph Vannatter died on January 19, 1962 and was buried in a veterans' cemetery near Philadelphia. Kate Vannatter followed her son six months later in Florida. She was past eighty when she died.
Why did Kate leave her home and family to earn a modest living washing dishes such a short distance away? It's extremely unlikely that we'll ever know, so the best we can do is invent all the missing pieces of her life. It seems to me that the whole "blank mind" angle might be bogus; sanitized for public consumption. was it just a rough patch in the marriage after she'd finished raising her boy? Had she gotten involved in a new activity, finding friends and interests not shared with her spouse? Did she have a lover? There is no mention of Kate living on the street, so where was she living? How did the private eye find her?
Well that's all I can squeeze oout of this blip, but I think it's got all the essential ingredients for a mystery novel. Good Night (actually four in the morning)!