March 1876 – 2 August 1910
Originally posted February 7, 2021; Updated November 22, 2021
My first post on my @PostsInTheGraveyard instagram was of Beulah “Bulah” Corley’s headstone. I wondered what the story behind it was as it seemed lonely and tragic, the inscription protective and a bit defiant, so I decided to revisit it for my 100th Instagram post on the account and do some proper research this time.
What I’ve found could actually be several stories — one story about Beulah’s parents, one about her husband, one about her children, one about her many siblings, one about her husband’s second wife – but I want to talk about Beulah and even though all of my research was fascinating, I’ll try to just add these other bits as spices.
Which is to say I believe I have found Beulah Corley and have run down every lead I could to figure out if the person I was looking at was just a name twin, but I feel 98% certain that the information I’ve gathered is about the Beulah, daughter of Martin who is buried at Concordia.
Beulah Corley was born in March of 1876 to Martin and Margaret Barrett Corley.
Martin, his mother, and siblings emigrated from Ireland when he was twelve. It isn’t clear if they were coming to meet his father or if his mother was a widow, but less than ten years later on 6 July 1861, he’s met and married Margaret Barrett. She was born in New Orleans but her family moved to Illinois when she was quite young.
A year later, their oldest daughter Mary (1862) was born. The couple had twelve more children together, eight surviving childhood.
In 1880, Beulah is the youngest child listed on the census, and it’s all sisters and one brother, Martin Jr. Martin Sr. is listed as a yeast manufacturer and his oldest two daughters — Mary and Annie (1866) work in his factory.
The missing 1890 census again curses us with its absence, but in 1900 Beulah is no longer at home. And from here, things get messy.
Because Martin is also no longer at home with Margaret and the children. At some time, presumably after the birth of his two youngest daughters Edith (1883) and Isabella (1885), he divorces his wife. We know it was Martin’s choice, because Margaret fully refuses to be divorced for the rest of her life, telling the census takers that she is WIDOWED because she is a good Irish Catholic woman and the church says she is married so she is BLEEPING MARRIED, MARTIN F. CORLEY, AND YOU, SIR, ARE DEAD! In 1900, Widow Corley is living with four of her unmarried daughters, and Martin is working as a butcher and living in a rented room listing himself as divorced and that is how we know that story.
And here we back up a bit, because on 28 October 1893, Beulah married George B. McCormack (b on the 6th or 7th of November 1872 — records differ), and by 1900, the McCormacks appear to be a nice little family. They’re living in Racine, Wisconsin, where George works as a machinist, and Beulah looks after little Isabelle (b 15 April 1897) and George (b 10 July 1898). Based on later records, we know that Beulah was very pregnant with their youngest child Elisabeth (b 15 June 1900) at the time of the census.
But then things get weird. On 15 July 1907, George marries Mary D. Moore. I didn’t find a divorce record for Martin and Margaret, nor do I find one for George and Beulah but in their case, I’m not sure there’s one to find.
George traveled a lot all over the world, especially considering the time period. I don’t have any records about this travel that predate his second marriage, but I suspect he may have been traveling even then, perhaps just inside the US. About two years after his second marriage, the first big trip we find is to Yokohama, Japan. His ship arrived on 4 October 1909 and his consulate paperwork is dated 24 March 1910 and this is where my suspicion that he and Beulah were not legally divorced comes in because on his consulate paperwork (which when filed Beulah was still alive) he lists her as his deceased wife. He does not list Mary at all. Just to make sure it’s the right person we’re looking at, again, Beulah is clearly listed as deceased, and his three children are listed with exact birthdates and names on the report.
This is truly baffling because a mere month later in the US, two separate census reports list his children – one on April 22 lists them as pupils (as all the children are styled) at the Angel Guardian Orphan Asylum; the next on April 30 lists them as living with their stepmother (listed as a teacher) and father (commercial traveler in printing supplies) on Berwyn Avenue. Mary’s census information seems suspect as it’s very unlikely George would be back from Japan yet, but would she go so far as to stuff her step children in an orphanage so she doesn’t have to deal with them and then lie about it? Or was she a teacher at the orphanage and the children were just attending school there for some reason. Perhaps their names were just transcribed along with all the other resident children, but this census is where I first found the children after Wisconsin, and it’s quite a piece of information to come across in this convoluted story. I literally had tears in my eyes when I discovered them there, imagining father dead, mother outcast and unable to care for them, the Corleys unwilling to help…
I don’t want to wander off the path here into Mary and George’s story, but to summarize, he traveled frequently to very far away destinations and for very long periods of time, eventually moving to New York and then New Jersey (where the company he worked for – American Type Founders — was based; his work involved setting up printers and providing training which was apparently a long, involved process), Mary’s age changes pretty drastically on every document related to her, and I suspect she is at least eight years older than she purported to be due to some other records. I say this to support my suspicion that she just flat-out lied on the 1910 census. At that point if George wasn’t legally divorced, she was not legally married to him, he was a literal world away and was gone most of the time, and she had apparently been left in charge of his children while his real wife was out there somewhere and while she herself continued to work at a time married women usually did not do so. What a life!
The children make only a few more appearances and then after 1930 when we last spot Elizabeth, they vanish entirely. George Jr. served overseas in WWI and returned home unwounded, and beyond that I couldn’t find anything concrete about him; Isabelle acted as executrix for her stepmother’s estate when Mary died in 1917 so one must suppose that whatever was going on around the orphanage, it wasn’t something that ruined her relationship with her stepmother so I do hope the “just going to school there” theory is correct.
Where was George when Mary died? Overseas? New York? Who knows, but not at home. The next year he lists a new wife on his draft card, but I find no marriage record, and she’s not listed on the 1920 census even though George styles himself married rather than widowed, so who knows her fate or if perhaps she was actually just a girlfriend. I may be being unjust to the man, but the records paint him as suspect in his truthfulness.
Isabelle died in 1928, never married and younger than her own mother was when she died. Elizabeth apparently married between 1920 and 1930 but in both censuses, she’s living with her father, and I never found a marriage record or anything else about her after that.
Going back to Papa Martin Corley, he remarried as well, a woman named Josephine La Rosa, on 31 July 1903. Martin had been a yeast maker, a butcher, and who knows what else, but by 1910 he has found his calling as a patent medicine manufacturer with his own dedicated shop and is very successful at it going by his last will and testament which lists bequests of money, a successful business, and many properties going to various of his children, friends, and to his widow Josephine (even ex-wife Widow Corley gets a small remembrance). His business is listed in various city directories for several years.
So what became of Beulah? How did a good Catholic daughter of a good Catholic mother; a young woman who had three good Catholic children in a good Catholic marriage end up dead at 34 under shady circumstances and buried in a Lutheran* cemetery?
There are only a few things that reasonably could have happened based on what we know: she could have run off with another man (probably sometime between 1901 and 1906) and left husband and children behind, leading him and her own family to treat her as already dead; or George either caught her having an affair and threw her out or he threw her out because he wanted to marry someone else. She might also have had some personal problem that led to him casting her out as unfit, most likely related to drinking or drugs.
I think Beulah’s story is one of a woman falling out of good society into the shadows. Legally she’d have no claim on her children at the time unless George gave their care to her or he abandoned them. Her mother had already demonstrated an unbending attitude toward the sanctity of marriage. If Beulah was unhappy or abused or if she fell in love with someone else, none of this would excuse leaving her marriage in her mother’s eyes.
This happened between two census years and with no documentation of any day-to-day decisions. She’s invisible here, but I do know this: The man whose last name she’s given on her death certificate — Adolph Muntz, who lived at 4422 Augusta on 15 April 1910 when the census was taken — was an unmarried man. There is no marriage license record that I can find for him at all, let alone between April and August of that year. He was living with his sister and her family along with his mother, still single at 35. He was a man who did hard labor, farm work and that kind of thing. He had moved away to Michigan by 1918 according to his draft card, and he was still there when he died in 1936 at the Cass County Poor Farm, and he was buried in their cemetery, his death certificate still labeling him as single. This is a man who had a good, middle-class family back in Illinois. I suspect perhaps he left because something happened that made the family want him gone.
But I don’t think they were married. I don’t think Beulah and George divorced. I think she ended up outside of good society, perhaps having initially run off with someone or caught having an affair and being thrown out or simply being badly treated by George and cruelly cast out in favor of Mary. Perhaps she found Adolph later and believed he would be her new hope; perhaps she had become a sex worker to survive and something terrible happened at that house. Perhaps they did marry sometime in that four-month gap and for some reason there is no record or remembrance of it.
However it happened, she died at the house where he lived and ended up buried in a Lutheran Cemetery, his name on her death certificate. I imagine some deal was made — the Catholic Church would not take her, at best a divorcee who’d abandoned her children, at worst a fallen woman. She died in the house of Lutherans, and so Martin made certain those Lutherans found her a respectable Lutheran cemetery to rest in, and this is the key to why I think she had been cut loose from good society: if she had been the wronged woman, abandoned by a cruel husband who took her children away from her, I can’t see Widow Corley blaming her (I mean she might have; you never know what hypocrisy will rise up, but, in that case, I don’t think Martin would have left her unprotected). I think whatever happened, Beulah’s mother blamed her for it.
That’s what I think happened. That’s how I see it playing out. And in many ways, this is what I imagined when I first saw the headstone. I imagined domestic abuse or abandonment, her father coming in to protect her for eternity as he could not or did not in life.
Martin himself died ten years later and is buried at Forest Home, still linked via findagrave.com to his first wife as well as to his second and true widow, but Margaret won her fight in some ways for she outlived him by four years and though she was not ever the Widow Corley, she at least now had a properly dead (ex) husband.
Beulah is absent from the records we have of her parent’s deaths. I think I might be the only one who has connected the Beulah at Concordia back to her family buried at Forest Home and Calvary, and I only managed to do it by knowing she was Martin Corley’s daughter and not the other way around.
Martin’s detailed and thoughtful will mentions no McCormacks at all. There are no bequests for his three McCormack grandchildren. It seems clear that whatever happened there, however outcast Beulah was, the ties were broken with George as well (and good because honestly I’m not going into it any more here — I might if I ever find his grave at Graceland — but he seemed like a real piece of work).
But I think what saddens me the most is that Beulah is excised from her mother’s obituary. All her other siblings who survived childhood are mentioned, even those who predeceased their mother, but not Beulah. Her father’s name on her headstone is her only tie to the Corley family.
And now this research ties her.
RIP Beulah Corley. I will never forget you.
*November 2021 Update: Since writing this initially back in February, I’ve learned about the section where Beulah is buried at Concordia, and that information explains better how she ended up there: an Irish Catholic girl in a Lutheran cemetery. Sections A, B, and C were used for 25-year term burials and appear to have been available to anyone interested (that is, not just to Lutheran burials). It’s possible that this was one of the few cemeteries offering such an economical option, but the remaining headstones do have a wider variety of names than in the rest of the cemetery which is so heavily German.
These were simple burials in wooden coffins, intended to decay and disappear over the minimum 25-year period guaranteed to the occupant. Each individual lot was expected to be reused. It’s unclear when Sections A and B stopped being used for new burials, but any headstones that were in those sections are long gone. Only the last thirty-five years or so of interments in Section C are still there, and most of its headstones are broken or gone. Beulah’s stands out because it is both close to the path and still in very good condition.
What is heartbreaking to me is that when her father purchased a short-term grave for her there, he expected her memory to be gone by 1935. I don’t find this painful because I think short-term burials are a bad idea (the standard burial plot in Pere Lachaise to this day is done on very similar terms, and I personally like the idea of a natural burial). I find it painful because even he who took pains to have his name inscribed on her headstone, Martin F. Corley whom I’d imagined as her protector was intending for Beulah’s memory to be lost to time just as her mother was by leaving only Beulah’s name out of the list of children given in her obituary.
It’s literally only due to the changing fashions in burials following WWII and sheer luck that Beulah’s headstone still stands. Eventually, it’s possible the cemetery will need the space, and they’ll clear away the remaining headstones and put permanent graves where Beulah and her fellow temporary occupants now rest. Unlike the embalmed and vaulted, it’s likely Beulah’s bones finished their transition to dust long, long ago, well before the one hundred and eleven years that have passed since her death, but her headstone still stands and so in spite of everything her family might have wanted, her memory lives on.