On Saturday I stood across the street looking at the old red brick mansion that stands at 154 Elgin Street in Almonte. For years I have driven past the former Kerry Funeral home that is now up for sale and had no idea about the history of the house until I read a piece on the *Lanark County Genealogical Society site. Henry Stafford and his wife Mary once owned the grand home while operating a small grocery and liquor store in town at the turn of the century. As I gazed inside the windows; I swore I saw small faces peek at me from behind the sheer curtains trying to tell me about the mysteries of that home that now sits empty.
The Staffords were always said to be a well liked family and were noted around town as God fearing folk. Neighbours had no idea that inside that Elgin Street home they were not the average family that they appeared to be. Like the Schwerdtfeger family in Carleton Place, the stories about the children must have carried gossip for years throughout the town of *Almonte.
There were eight children in the Stafford family, and once again like the Schwerdtfeger sisters, not one of them ever married or had a child legitimate, or illegitimate. The children were born and lived a life of a healthy stature, and also became well-educated. “Bill Stafford, the eldest son, was a successful lawyer. Catherine Teresa, Eugenie and Loretto all graduated from St. Mary’s Hospital in Brooklyn, NY, and established themselves in the nursing profession. Emmett Stafford was also successful in his career. He was the Secretary – Treasurer to the Almonte Knitting Company and was also a member of the Board of Directors of the Rosamond Memorial Hospital. Hanover Stafford worked in his brother Bill’s law firm where he managed the insurance division as well as the office administration”. Eight well-liked, well to do brilliant children—and not one of them chose to marry.
If they chose not to marry, or have children that is their decision, but what makes the story even more incredible is that each and every child came home to die as adults. Every single one of them left the town of Almonte and began new lives elsewhere in places bigger than they came from. The fact they came back home to their small rural town to spend their last days is peculiar– if not even downright strange. In fact three of them even chose to take their very last breaths in that very stately building on Elgin Street.
Another odd fact is that three of the children died in the same year. In 1950 black crepe/crape must have been constantly tied with white ribbon upon the door. That was an indication that the dreaded visitor of death had entered the home, and borne away another prize. It also deterred any callers from ringing the home on Elgin Street. One son, Emmett, died in April of 1950, then another sister died in June, followed by their sister Loretto in September.
It seems unusual that three of the eight children would all die in the very same year. Like the book Flowers in the Attic, were the siblings so emotionally attached— they could not bear the loss of each other? Or was it loneliness after one passed that gave the others no will to live. It is also not uncommon in the weeks or days before death for a dying person to speak of being ‘visited’ by dead relatives, friends, groups of children, religious figures or even favourite pets. They will say these apparitions have come to “collect” them or help them let go. Did the others become lonely for their beloved siblings that had passed on– that they too wanted to join them?
I knew if I entered that home I would long to hear whispers from the children discussing moving in and out of ‘reality’, and describing other-worldly realms. Their shadows might speak of embarking on a journey, or may suddenly stare at a point in the room that reminded them of what once was. What happened to the Stafford children will forever remain a mystery, as the last surviving child Teresa took the only remaining answers to her grave in 1959. She and her siblings are buried together in St. Mary’s cemetery in Almonte. May they all rest in peace. One of the most saddest, yet most intriguing, stories I have ever read and retold.
St. Mary’s Roman Catholic+, Almonte Cemetery
Lanark Co./Reg./Dist., Ontario
Mary Frances Stafford
*THANK YOU’S GO TO—–FILES FROM: THE LANARK COUNTY GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY AND A PIECE WRITTEN BY Arlene Stafford 1999.
Call me stupid but I had NO idea until this morning– that Arlene Stafford is THE Arlene Stafford Wilson who has written books about Lanark County —and her latest one is “Lanark County Connections – Memories Among the Maples” I am hoping she has learned more about the Staffords as I am obsessed now. Well you know me- I am taking “this emotional wagon” on a journey now.
*Almonte is situated on the River Mississippi, in the township of Ramsay, and is quite a manufacturing town. Where it now stands — a local historian tells us — was known as Shepherd’s Falls ; later on it was called Shipman’s Mills, and Shipman’s Falls. Names seem to have been plentiful, for it received another title, Ballygiblin, then Ramsay ville, and Waterford. To obviate this , confusion a public meeting was held, and the question of calling names was discussed. They believed there was “magic in a name.” The name of a Mexican “General, Al-mon-te, then prominent before the public, was chosen —” Almonte.”