Will's Childhood: Scenes from a Southern Illinois Parsonage 1880-1900

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Year range
1880 - 1900

“In Ashley our house was very small. There was what seemed to me a very long yard leading right down to the railroad tracks,” wrote Edith Laura Thrall, oldest child of Leonidas Thrall and Edith Flint, in a 1940s typescript about her brother Will’s growing-up years. “The trains were a very disturbing element in our lives there.

"Mother [Edith Flint Thrall 1845-1898] nearly lost her life when Will was born — blood poisoning I think. We children were not allowed in her room for a long time. I remember it especially because I had an abcessed ear and when I cried to go to her I was not allowed. I had to sleep with the 'hired girl' because of the scarcity of bedrooms.

"All the time in Ashley Mother suffered greatly with asthma. At one time she sat on the floor for four days and nights for she could breath more easily there with her head leaned forward on a chair. She couldn’t eat or drink during that time except by a teaspoonful fed to her.

"As a baby Will was not well and was fretful. My father [Leonidas Worthy Thrall 1850-1918] took a good deal of the care of him because mother was unable to do it. He would quiet him often by taking him over his shoulder so that his little tummy rested on Father’s shoulder and he would softly sing to him, 'Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing' to the tune of Greenville. That you remember is a very sleepy tune.

"When he was a very little baby he was taken to the church to be baptized but he cried so hard that it wasn’t done then. Father often teased him and called him his little Campbellite. The Campbellites made lots of trouble there by persistent proselyting.

"During Will’s first or second summer I was ill and very puny. They sent me to Bone Gap for the country air and milk. While I was there they wrote that the baby was very ill. I was homesick enough any way but that was almost too much. But the worst was when Cousin Cretie [Maria Lucretia Morgan, daughter of Mary Elizabeth Thrall and Amos Morgan] play the organ and sing 'Then scatter the seeds of kindness.' I didn’t have any feelings of a bad conscience but the verse that floored me went -

If we knew the baby fingers

Pressed against the window pane

Would be cold and stiff tomorrow

Never trouble us again,

Would the bright eyes of our darling

Catch the frown upon our brow?

Would the dainty baby fingers

Vex us then as they do now?

"Our next home was in Grayville. The parsonage there was smaller than the one in Ashley. The baby was just beginning to talk and he was homesick. My mother was sick here too and besides that she fell and broke several ribs. Will kept begging to go back to Ashley saying with his sobs: 'Take Lilly home.' My father sympathized with him so that he never forgot that and used often to refer to it.

"We had there too a long back yard and garden running back quite a bit. One day Will went down a walk to the garden and fell off into some tall weeds. Mother heard him crying and when she found him he said, 'Your booful darling’s falled down in all these old wows (Flowers).'

"Once while in Grayville he visited the folks in Bone Gap. When he came home Mother asked him, “And what did Aunt Laura [Laura Lucina Thrall Gould 1835-1898] say to you?” He answered 'She said, "I guess I Yash (Wash) you."’ I suppose he was dirty from the trip.

"Grandma Flint [Mary Gedney Flint 1815-1898] visited us while we were in Grayville. She had some lovely ginger cookies in her pocket. He would follow her around and beg for the cookies. He seemed to think she always had them. Maybe she did.

"We moved to Metropolis where we had an upstairs - the first I can remember in our home. Some time while we lived there (It was winter I know) Mother took the youngest boys and visited in Lebanon. Uncle Will [William Winterton Flint 1858-1896, Edith Flint Thrall’s younger brother] took a great fancy to Will and bought him his first suit with pants. Not only his first with pants but his first store bought suit. It was dark blue and very pretty. He was a beautiful child as the picture I gave Rosalie [Rosalie Thrall Carmichael, Will’s daughter] will show. It was while in Metropolis that Will and Victor [Victor Worthy Thrall 1877-1963] went swimming and Will was almost drowned. I am sure you remember Will telling about that.

"The boys played in the big yard but sometimes they quarrelled as boys will. Father divided the yard into fourths and each had his own little corner to play in. That settled things for a while.

"Will started in School in Metropolis. When we had moved there Victor was tormented by the boys asking him his name and he finally told them, 'Puddin Tame, Ask me again and I’ll tell you the same.' So they nicknamed him Puddin. When Will started to school he was 'Little Puddin.' Sometimes Will had to be punished alone. Once he was required to sit on the floor in the corner. Charlie [Charles Haven Thrall 1883-1968] came and sat beside him. We never quite knew whether he was sympathizing or teasing but he sang to him, 'Oh, wait, meekly wait and murmur not.'

"In Metropolis the boys played with kites a great deal. Victor could make his but Will was too little. Still he was determined to have one. Any piece of paper he could get and tie a string to he would try to make it fly and would get so cross because it wouldn’t fly. He would get all worked up over it and cry and cry. Finally Mother had to call it quits for any kind of a kite until he was settled down. He just couldn’t give it up but that his piece of paper should fly as well as the kites the older boys had. When the boys played marbles Will was very accurate in making the mark.

"Oh, yes I remember later when Will was older he made his first kite and it was a tailless kite. Some of the boys had that kind and the only one I remember his ever making was that kind and he laughed and said “Of course mine would be tailless.”

"When we moved to Salem the first time Will became greatly interested with a picture puzzle of the United States. We had one that had each state made into a separate piece. Will became so skillful with it that he could put it together blindfolded.

"It was there too that he became so interested in the statistics of the states and large cities. He learned the population of most of the large cities and could give them so glibly that we were all amused. He was always high strung and had to go to the bottom or to the very end to finish anything. My Father was especially interested in that mental trait and often spoke of it.

"While we were in Salem the first time he had the mumps but was not very ill. It was in March and too damp for him to play outdoors. Mother finally told him he could stay out if he stayed up in the tree. So we often laughed about his having the mumps up in a tree.

"Later when he was nine years old he was very ill with pneumonia. The folks feared he wouldn’t get well and I remember Father’s coming from his room to the dining room and weeping over his condition and praying for him to get well. He was always so thin that I remember from the time he was a very little boy when mother would undress him she called him her 'Little bag of bones.'

"I was away from home much of the time we lived in Greenville. One of his special friends in Greenville was called Kidney Howard. He was at our house all the time it seemed. Another boy was called Fuller. I recall one time when he had stayed too long and Will finally said to him, 'Fuller, we’ll excuse you.' And sent him home.

"In Greenville we had a family in the church named Murdock. One time Mother was out in the yard helping dig up burdocks. A caller came and Will told the caller that mother was out in the yard digging up the murdocks.

"One Christmas Uncle Will sent Will a funny card which deeply offended him. It was a picture of a monkey studying himself in a mirror. There was something I can’t just remember in the comment that offended Will but the others thought it a good joke and teased him. (That was in Metropolis I am sure.)

"When we moved to Salem for the second time we lived in a house down by the railroad. He loved to mess around in the kitchen to try his hand at cooking. Once when he insisted he didn’t want to go church he took his time to bake a cake which he intended as a surprise for the rest of us. But he forgot to dispose of the egg shells and they were a giveaway for they were left in plain sight on the hearth of the little cooking stove we had.

"While we lived there I used to tutor Victor and Will in Latin. Victor had had a bit of Latin in Greenville but my father wanted Will to make a start. So I began with him. He was very young for it but did well when he wanted to. I sometimes had a hard time to keep him at it for he was so little.

"My father’s sister Aunt Lizzie [Mary Elizabeth Thrall Morgan 1833-1903] came to visit us. Father and the boys went to the station to meet her. One of the boys did not go and I think it was Will. When he greeted her at home she said 'Why I kissed four boys down at the station I am sure.' One of the neighbor boys had gone with them.

"Some times the boys thought Will shirked chores they were given but my father always stood up for him and said he hadn’t shirked and he wasn’t lazy. They should just watch him and they would see.

"In Salem the second time he became much interested in a tiny garden he had. He had it closely fenced off and guarded it jealously.

"I well remember when Will got his first long trousers. He was awfully bashful about them and the first Sunday he wore them for they were a Sunday suit he wouldn’t wear them to church. He put them on in the afternoon and ran and hid behind the door whenever any company came.

"Will and Harold [Harold Leonidas Thrall 1885-1966] used to have more disputes than any of the other boys. I think it was because Will loved to tease Harold and Harold was more easily teased. Will would tease H. until he was so exasperated that he wanted to fight. Usually Father wouldn’t let the boys fight but he often said to Will he must watch out or he’d turn Hal loose on him. Sometimes he flew at Will anyway.”

Will was the only one of Leonidas and Edith’s five children to embark on a career not involving the Methodist Church. He became a professor of literature with numerous scholarly publications to his credit, including the Handbook to Literature co-authored with Addison Hibbard. His daughter Rosalie (1907-1999) was a librarian and Thrall family genealogist.


born 15 December 1880, Ashley, Washington County, Illinois

married 6 January 1906 Enola Keisling, daughter of Willard Keisling and Charlotte Jane Carter, born 7 Aug 1878, Sefton, Fayette County, Illinois, died 16 Aug 1950, Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio -- 1 child

died 15 October 1941, Chapel Hill, Orange County, North Carolina

ANCESTORS: We know all eight of his great-grandparents and perhaps as many as 12 of his 16 great-great grandparents, as well as many more distant New Englanders.

COUSINS: Of Will’s four siblings and one half-sibling, four had children.