Audrey Runkel, oldest daughter of Mabel Shaw Runkel, dies 16 Jan 2009 leaving a box of photos that her family had never seen before.
Who was this lady with my grandfather William Runkel? My aunt DeeDee (Mabel's youngest daughter) said it was her mother Mabel Shaw.
Why did my mom, Audrey, tell us that her mother (Mabel Shaw) had died?
When in college, my aunt told me that Mabel might still be living - BIG SURPRISE!
AND....she likely was a paranoid schitzophrenic
So one Christmas, standing in my mom's (Audrey) kitchen in Andover, MA, I asked her about Mabel. She said she didn't remember much (Really??) and I tried to pry out some bits of information but she wasn't forthcoming.
I then asked her about an event that occurred when I was about 7 years old living in our split level house in Illinois. People came to our front door and mom rushed me and my 3 brothers down to the lower level, stood there holding baby Tombo and didn't answer the door. The door bell was ringing, I was peeking out through the curtains, mom didn't want me looking.
We were told to run into the house if we ever saw these people again!!
That day in the kitchen, she finally cleared up this mystery. It was her mom (Mabel) and other relatives who came to the door. She (Audrey) was scared and didn't know what to do. She didn't know why they (Mabel and relatives) were at her home and she thought they might try to take us children.
What could I learn about Mabel's life that might put these two mysteries into context?
Why didn't mom remember much or why didn't she want to talk about her mother? What happened that she was so secretive about her mom?
What caused her to be so afraid of her mom when she came to visit that day in Illinois?
So I decided to see what I could find out about Mabel Shaw by searching for her on google
I didn't find much about Mabel but I did find genealogy sites. I signed on to Ancestry.com's free 14 day trial and became hooked! It was like a drug, I worked into the wee hours night after night hunting down the family tree
Mabel Shaw was born in Dover, New Jersey. She was the 2nd of 6 six children and the oldest girl.
When she was 18, she lived with her parents and worked as a clerk at the Picatinny government arsenal where her father was a laborer. Her soon-to-be husband, William Runkel, after joining the army, was stationed at Picatinny Arsenal working as an engineer on smokeless ammunition.
Mabel and William were married in the summer of 1920 in Dover, New Jersey.
At some point after they were married, William's work work took them to the Chicago area of Illinois.
Family members of Mabel relayed to me some 70 years later, that this move to Chicago was quite a significant event for Mabel moving so far from home and to a colder climate. They've hypothesized it contributed to her future mental illness.
While in Oak Park, Illinois her first child, Audrey was born 6 years after she was married, when Mabel was 25 years old.
Dorothy followed about 7.5 years later and was born when Mabel was 33 years old.
Did you notice Mabel's frizzy hair. Many in her family had frizzy hair too. Now we know where brother Tom got his "fro"
At some point after Dorothy was born, Mabel's life began to unravel if it weren't falling apart before then. Schitzophrenia usually occurs around age 25 in women.
For some reason, maybe from paranoid thoughts, Mabel left her husband and two children. She went back to her NJ family for about two years when the two girls were 3 and 11 years old. Imagine how traumatic for your mom to leave.
Shortly after Mabel returned to Illinois, she was placed in Dr. Sandler's Sanitorium and later in the Elgin State Hospital when she exhibited unstable behavior.
Ultimately when Mabel was 40, she and William were divorced. Mabel went back to New Jersey and lived with her sisters or in Graystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in Morris County, NJ.
After the divorce, contact was severed with the Shaws and William raised his two daughters by himself and with the aid of Mrs. Ash, their housekeeper.
Audrey must've found it easier to say her mom was dead instead of dealing with the stigma of a divorce and a mentally ill mom. Her sister told people that her mom had a nervous breakdown.
DeeDee remembers her mother, Mabel, had an area of the house reserved for sewing. Mabel is wearing a seal fur coat that she likely made.
This coat was discoverd wrapped in tissue paper and hidden under Audrey's bed. Tom found it when we were donating Audrey and Frank's furniture when Dad (Frank) had become a resident in the Glenmore nursing home.
Her daughter Audrey had kept a remembrance of her mother all these years
One of Mabel's nieces, remembers that Mabel would go in and out of Greystone. Mabel would come home and boil her clothes to get out the Greystone smell...Mabel would stay home awhile but would then stop taking her medicine and be sent back to Greystone.
For family get togethers, Mabel would bring a shopping bag full of canned goods with her. She would sit peacefully on the sofa until it was time to go. She'd then take her bag full of canned goods home with her. The neice never remembered Mabel smiling.
Mabel's death certificate confirmed she was schitzophrenic and lived to 91 years.
Sadly, we also learned that she was living in a NJ nursing home only 30 min away and neither her daughter or granddaughter knew of her existence.
Her daughter, Audrey, made a visit to Green Pond where the Shaw family had had a dude ranch. She spoke to a Shaw but never let them know who she was.
Other than the seal cape, there are two pieces of jewelry existing that belonged to Mabel.
One a gold victorian pendant with 2 diamonds and a necklace with 3 European diamonds. DeeDee had the round pendant made from a Victorian pin that contained the 3 diamonds.
William's brother and sister were in the Jewelry business in NYC so may have been involved in the purchase
The photo's in the box that Audrey left enabled us to glimpse a small portion of Mabel and William's life. This box also started a quest to learn and preserve our family history.
So while Mom never spoke about Mabel, she left us a wonderful resource and priceless pictures that helped us fill in some of the gaps. For that I'm eternally grateful.
The Next few pages contain some photos taken of Mabel from the box of photos
Note the detail on the clothing
Was this a graduation or her wedding dress?
Mabel with her father
"Hey!... enough already...stop with the photos!"