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Multiple men leave wives, children penniless

120 Years ago, 1899

A case of cruel desertion of a wife and her baby by their husband and father was poured into the ears of City Mission Superintendent Haines. Mrs. Annie McLain, her husband Harry, and 2-month-old child arrived in Youngstown about six months prior from Pittsburgh after Harry secured employment at the Republic Iron and Steel Co.’s Valley Works. The family acquired a shared portion of a home on Andrews Avenue and neighbors found them living together happily.

On Nov. 2, 1899, Harry left for work as usual, he said or did nothing that indicated he would not return home at his usual hour. That hour came and passed with no Harry in sight. Annie hadn’t seen or heard from him in the five days following and had no idea where he went. When Harry left home, he left his wife only pennies and very little to eat. She managed to get along without appealing for charity but after five days she sought assistance from the City Mission. The township trustees were informed of her condition and it was thought that they would arrange for her and her child to return to Pittsburgh where her parents lived.

The McLain family was just one of many families going through this horrible situation. Nearly every day, City Mission authorities, infirmary directors, township trustees, or the Humane Society were appealed to for assistance by one or more victims of such men. The Vindicator reported, “there is not a more despicable class of men on earth than that which brings large families into the world and then, that an appetite for strong drink may be satisfied, cruelly neglect or desert them, leaving the unfortunate wives and little ones at the mercy of charity.” Agencies were working around the clock to help the victims of desertion, often with more than a dozen cases each week, but the miserable practice continued.

110 Years Ago, 1909

Martin Schuller nearly lost his life chasing after a dropped penny. Schuller, 8 years old at the time, was with a number of schoolmates on his way home from the SS. Cyril and Methodius School when he was injured. While crossing East Federal Street, the penny, which he had in his hand to buy candy, fell from his grasp and rolled onto a street car track. The little lad, not wishing to lose the coin, ran after it. He didn’t notice the approach of a South Side car and was struck. The fender of the car scooped him up and carried him for several feet before stopping. In his fall, he suffered a bruised forehead and a cut on his left jaw. He was taken to a nearby store and was later transported to City Hospital by Gillen and McVean’s ambulance. In the days following the accident, it was reported that he was in good condition and while his injuries were not serious they were extremely painful.

75 Years Ago, 1944

A local fighter pilot took down several Nazi planes. Lt. James C. Wright, 21 years old at the time, flew 76 missions over Europe, destroying three Nazi planes and damaging five others. Wright had nearly 275 combat flying hours over Poland, Czechoslovakia, Berlin, Schweinfort and other points in Europe. He stated that many of those missions were met with no opposition. There were times, though, that they saw enemy planes on the ground but they were never sent into the air.

Wright noted that while escorting the heavy bombers was an important part of a fighter pilot’s work, dive-bombing and strafing have their places, too. During the invasion, the flyer’s main responsibility was bombing and strafing to cut off railroad communications. Wright found the task the most dangerous after bombing 45 locomotives in addition to tanks, barges, trains, one troop train and air fields. On D-Day, he was all over the beachhead and followed all the way through during the invasion. He said, “when you are dive-bombing and strafing and they are shooting at you, you get scared.” Bombing a truck was the most dangerous thing he ever did. He lost part of the tail from his plane and parts of the truck were embedded in his plane from the impact of the explosion. “I don’t know what the truck was carrying, but it was something stronger than ammunition.”

Wright was overseas for a year and received campaign stars for air war over Germany and during the invasion. While on leave, one of the things he loved about being home was seeing the shelves lined with all sorts of items and not having to pay his ration points for everything. He said the first thing he and his squadron did was buy their fill of Cokes and ice cream. Wright was a graduate of South High School and was employed by General Fireproofing before enlisting in 1942. After his short visit home, he returned to Atlantic City for reassignment. His brother, Guy Dick Wright, also served in England with an air corps ground crew.

60 Years Ago, 1959

The heroic efforts of their big brother saved five younger siblings from a house fire. Robert Williams Jr., 15, a sophomore at East High at the time, was babysitting his brothers and sisters, 4-year-old Norman, 3-year-old Jesse, 21-month-olds Sylvia and Cynthia, and 1-year-old James; another brother, Millard, 7, was playing outside. Their parents and older sister were visiting their grandmother when the fire broke out.

Robert was sitting with the four youngest children in his parents’ second floor bedroom watching a portable TV set when Norman started the fire in an adjoining bedroom. He had thrown a candle onto the bedspread and became terrified when it caught fire. He ran to where the others were watching TV but didn’t tell them about the fire (Robert had told Norman to stop playing with matches and the candle before the fire started). A few minutes later, Robert smelled the smoke and found the bedroom ablaze. He gathered the four youngest children in his arms and carried them down the stairs with Norman following.

A neighbor saw the smoke and brought all six children into his home. When the firefighters arrived, they found that Robert had put a ladder up to the bedroom window and attempted to put the fire out himself. He later said that he was unable to go back up the stairs because of the smoke. It took the firefighters about 30 minutes to put out the blaze with only moderate damage to the home.