The Woman at the Window PART II

This post is part of series on recent family history research I’ve been working on and some of the methods that family historians and genealogists use. If you’d like to learn more about your own family history but don’t know where to start, you can find out more here.

In Part I of this story, I explained finding an unexpected and puzzling mystery in my family tree. The story continues here!

In the early morning hours of August 14, 1911, Katie Seitter woke from sleep to a room stifling in the heat and humidity of a Cape Fear summer. She walked across to the windows that overlooked Princess Street and raised the sash. What happened next is a mystery. Perhaps in her tiredness she sat on the windowsill and dozed, or maybe she lost her balance with the opening of the window. In a moment of terror, she fell twenty-five feet to the pavement below. Her screams alerted the clerks across the street at the New York Cafe, a young man at the livery stables next door on the corner of Third and Princess, as well as the Assistant Chief of Police, C. W. Woolard, who happened to be patrolling the area.

Katie was carried upstairs to the apartment where George and the children were still sleeping, the Assistant Chief having to knock loudly to rouse him from his slumber. Her wrists were broken and she lay unconscious. The party assembled called up an ambulance and Mrs. Seitter was rushed off to James Walker Memorial Hospital as quickly as possible. 

In the next few days, Katie Seitter showed some signs of improvement even amidst the fears of incredible damage to her spine. She was allowed to return home to convalesce, with the belief that she might even make a full recovery. However, within a few days, her condition worsened and declined rapidly until she departed this life on the afternoon of August 23.

***

We now had the basic facts of the event, but another question remained: where exactly had this happened? Was the building still standing? One article had referenced a burglary at a Second Street building where the tailoring shop of George Seitter was located. Using Sanborn Fire Insurance maps from 1910, I found that this shop was in the vicinity of the back lot of the US Postal Service building on Front Street in Wilmington. The business had moved in the coming months.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map (1910), Wilmington NC — block bounded by Second, Princess, Third, and Market streets

With this in mind, I hunted through a few more databases until I found Katie Seitter’s death certificate. These short forms are often incredibly helpful for anyone interested in linking together their family history. Katie’s included some personal information, including the names of her parents and husband, the cause of her death, and the undertaker who would carry out her burial. The most important information I was looking for: her residential address. The Seitters lived on the second floor of 202 Princess Street.

North Carolina Death Certificate for Katie Lorena Seitter

A chill came over me when I realized how much time I spent at that address. It happens to be where one of my favorite local coffee shops operates. The building is certainly old, but I did not know for sure if it was erected before 1911. Back into the online databases I plunged — this time, I was on the visual lookout for this iconic building. It took some time, but my search came to an end when I pulled up a postcard, illustrated from a photograph, and printed in 1910. The postcard positions the viewer in the center of Princess Street, looking west toward the Cape Fear River. To the left are a number of buildings, including a red brick structure of the same iconic shape that 202 Princess Street remains in today (though sans the current sandy-colored stucco). 

1910 postcard of Wilmington, NC with vantage point of Princess Street facing west with arrow indicating 202 Princess Street; New Hanover County Public Library.

It still felt unreal that this story had brought me somewhere I have spent so much of my time and have enjoyed as a space for writing. Little did I know, there were still things to discover about Katie and her family.

Having felt drawn to Bellevue Cemetery in the previous months, it was no surprise to me that the Findagrave.org database recorded her burial there. I noted the lot number and my mom and I trekked out to the site on a cold and windy morning in late January. I knew that Katie’s husband had been buried along with a son or two at Oakdale Cemetery only a few blocks northwest, so I expected that Katie might actually be buried with her parents. We located the lot, walked over to it, and stood puzzled once again. 

The lot was where Mary James Fulcher Seitter had been buried in October 1911. It is sizable and her headstone lies on its eastern-most edge. I knew that a few infants might have been buried in the lot as well. The records had led us here, but no headstone or marker denoted that the lot was occupied by anyone other than Mary James. Only a crumbling concrete step at the front of the lot was marked “G. F. Seitter.”

A sadness, a sinking feeling drifted over us as we looked around the lot. Here was Mary, buried several miles away from the rest of her family, who at least had a headstone. Had George placed a headstone or wooden marker for Katie and the test of time had found it wanting? He didn’t seem to have been as well-off as his older brother, but records revealed that he purchased the lot where his wife was buried. What about the number of young children, whom we found had belonged to both Katie and Mary James, as well as their sister-in-law Martha? We left Bellevue with a mission that day, the Seitter ladies and their children would not be forgotten.

***

Sometimes when you are a historian, you track down the history. Sometimes history finds you. Studying the history of families alongside my own family history has been a fascinating look into the intersection of the personal and the historical. It’s just one more reminder that we all have stories to tell.

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