Great Grandpa Harry Dougherty…the little winemaker

Why is it we only remember the truly outstanding Characters from our family tree? Their tales are more than twice told, thousands of times I’ve heard of Harry “The Winemaker”, living by the side of the road and being a friend to man, and child. Buying many a old moldy selection of Grapes and mashing them and putting them up for wine himself.  He had a tiny stand by the side of the road out in Rural Ashtabula and sold his wine there.

 Made my Dad laugh, but this guy pretty much took care of himself.  My cousin Judy still tells the story of visiting him in his little shack of a place and being amazed to see that the chickens had as much right and welcome to his place as she did, she LOVED it.  Even as a tiny child Judy was a great judge of character and she found her Grandpa Harry to be pretty wonderful and understanding. Not like other adults, barking out orders all the time and always correcting you. Harry’s specialty was just being responsible for “Harry”, a trial to his only daughter and constant abrasive to his ex wife Myrtle (the ex-Circus bareback rider), who he eloped with at the age of 28 and her only 13.  I was pondering this the other evening. Out of a cast of fairly responsible Family Characters we have a Pharmacist, a Engineer, a Surgeon, a Plumber, a Railroad workers Judges of every court and a veritable cornucopia of relations with Academic accomplishments, but who stand’s out in this staid crowd?

   Myrtle the  Circus performer (bareback rider) and her exhusband Harry, a Circus Teamster who handled literally 20 to 40 horses at a go

 and claimed to have been orphaned by the Johnstown Flood, with the original name “Harry O’Connor”. Harry Lewis Dougherty died the year before I was born, so all I have to go on is the stories, pictures and newspaper articles. The stories supplied by my Grandmother his daughter, (his attempted kidnapping of her), my Father (Harry’s winemaking skills and sales) , my Mother his granddaughter( how the undertaker asked his profession as his upper body was so strongly developed for a man of 88 years old)  my cousins and siblings tales.

  1st the world according to Harry, he claimed he was a survivor ‘orphaned” by the Johnstown Flood, if that was the case he was the oldest living orphan of it. As his obituary states he was born on July 28,1865 (two years after the battle of Gettysburg), in Alexandria, Pennsylvania which while being near Johnstown it’s hardly next door. The flood happened May31st, 1889. He would have been 24 years old. Yet according to family stories, he claimed to have survived the flood and that he was taken in by his maternal Grandparents the “Dougherty’s”.  And four years later was working in the “Walter Main Circus” and met my Great-GreatGrandmother Myrtle duBois who at the ripe old age of 13 had yet to stop growing. This ongoing growth would prove to be a challenge to her because when she ran away to join the circus at 13 (and from my understanding she had an Maternal Aunt who was Married into the Main Family)  she met and married Harry and took up riding bareback as she continued to grow and then she became pregnant with my Grandmother Winifred (Nell) Dougherty Brown Karnes, now there’s a mouthful. No wonder she just liked to be called “Nell”. Well by the time Myrtle’s daughter as 2 years old, Myrt was closing in on 6 foot. She had returned to her Mother’s (Urena Tichnor Babcock) home either before Nell was born or shortly after. There’s a picture of Both Myrtle and Grandma Urena standing holding babies almost the same age, Myrtle had a sister Althea who had had a baby about the same time. I never occurred to me before now but can you imagine how Grandma Urena must have felt, both her girls (young adolescents) out there and pregnant? But they both got through it Thank God and well, she’s beaming in this picture,

standing beside her daughter who’s holding her child while Urena happily holds her other grandchild. Anyway, Myrtle looks like she’s finally reached her full growth.   Harry was by then a memory…out of the picture except for an occasional feeble attempt to kidnap his daughter usually spurred on by the drink, he soon found work in Conneaut then onto Willoughby and finally settled in Elyria working at  “Coleson Bicycle Shop” and as for longevity, his membership at the Eagle Aerie No 431 in Elyria was for 42 years, then he retired to his shack by the side of the road in rural Ashtabula. He lasted 12 years then passed on with a combo of Congestive Heart Failure and Prostate Surgery. Poor soul. But I like to remember him as that handsome Teamster Driver for the Walter L. Main Circus Wagon twentysomething with a team’s rein wound around each finger and a boy on the brakes leading the Parade into town. The kind of man that makes young girls fall in love, perhaps there’s no other time in your life when your so alive, so willing to risk what you can’t even understand, I always see Myrtle, little and dancing on the back of those horses circling in the Center Ring. Amazing.


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