Former renter in Greenwich Village, waiting out the turnaround in Manhattan's midtown. Working on a blog-to-book project about my NYC/NJ ancestors. Everyday I'm amazed by what I find with Ancestry and in old newspapers.

April 4, 2021

Grandpa Charley, which Foo are you?

 "Why would you want to live on Waverly Place? It's so old."

My realtor wouldn't be getting her commission. I'd found this apartment on my own. I had told her I liked downtown. I missed my quirky tenement apartment in Soho with the exposed brick and pipes, the view of backyard gardens and old houses, but construction drove me out and I ended up in Murray Hill for three years. It was the end of February when I moved there, to 38th Street. A monster wisteria vine in full bloom filled the picture window. It snaked up a tree in the townhouse garden across the way and was nearly as high as the house. But as time went on, life in my building turned into a co-ed dorm with thirty-somethings who didn't belong in Manhattan. Some say "You can do anything in New York." No, you can't. 

I escaped twice a day downtown to bookstores and my favorite restaurant, Caffe Pane e Cioccolato on Waverly Place. Across the street was a massive apartment building, no. 11. It would be convenient to live there but it too was filled students. I learned that the same landlord had a studio available in a West Village walkup a few blocks over and around the bend at Waverly and 10th Street, on a tree-lined lane catty-corner from a bookstore.

I'd always lived on streets with traffic. It felt safer at night, but the restaurants at the other two corners of this intersection meant late night foot traffic so it was safe. The super and his wife, a hip couple from another country dressed in leather jackets, showed it to me one evening at 5:00. Only a few short steps up, a half floor above the street, I entered an apartment that would be my home for the next ten years, a parlor studio dating back to the 1870s. There was a working fireplace that was pretty but I had to ask them to seal it off my first winter, and big windows on either end that faced Waverly Place at the front and a garden and townhouse out back.

Waverly Place parlor studio with sofabed. I moved 
the boxes and books behind me to take this picture.

I knew immediately it was the place for me, even though I had to downsize from four closets in my Murray Hill apartment to one. I had many exciting encounters there but I needed more space. I could no longer stand the mess I'd made with books and papers and clothes, plus two guitars and gear from a life in music I had to give up, and I moved. After years of working on my music, I was surprised when I stopped but I didn't have time to pursue all my interests.

In prior posts I've hinted at the Chinese gg-grandfather I discovered after a DNA test ("A Chinese divorce" and "Walking in their footsteps"). He married the sister of Minnie Kiersted of the infamous Chinese divorce case and most likely was a friend of her husband, Wong Sing Bow. Both Kiersted women were employed as seamstresses in laundries in Paterson when they met their future husbands, and double-dated in opium dens on Pell Street. Both were pregnant brides and for that reason I'm more interested in their husbands who made the extraordinary journey from China and showed up in my DNA, a surprising discovery. And while Minnie and Wong Sing Bow were married in Paterson where they lived, my gg-grandparents married in Manhattan. Their minister, the well-known John Q. Adams, an itinerant preacher, lived at 156 Waverly Place.

Charley Foo's marriage certificate, 1878

Located at the corner of Waverly and Waverly, a yellow brick road into my past, sits the three-story brick house where he had an apartment.

156 Waverly Place, at the
corner of Waverly and Waverly

156 Waverly Place

Only two short blocks from my old apartment, it's one of many places in New York where I've crossed paths with ancestors without realizing it. 

It's likely they were married at Berean Baptist Church where Rev. Adams was assigned that year.

Berean Baptist Church in 1890, 
at the corner of Bedford and Downing, demolished.
The congregation moved to the Judson Memorial Church
at Fifth Avenue and lower Washington Square in 1893.

But they divorced sometime before Bella's second marriage in 1897 and my family never talked about him. I suspected my grandfather was Chinese but my mother said no, he was English. This was after my father had died. Even he didn't know.

How did you get to New York, Charley Foo? I can't find your passenger or immigration records. If you arrived at Angel Island then your records were lost in a fire. The death of your infant son Frank was disappointing, but your daughter Lulu was born a year later and became my connection to you. She was in and out of foster care and she listed a foster father on her marriage certificate, not you. I wonder what happened. Divorce is a chronic event on my father's side of the family. Do you know that I'm looking for you? I wish my grandfather had said something.

Frank Carter, still single at 28, on a Brooklyn street,
Easter 1929

I've found some things about you, and despite the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, I was happy to find a census from 1892 that showed you living with Bella and Lulu as a family in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I also saw ads in the newspaper for your laundries in Newark.

Passaic Daily News, 1892

Why did you divorce? Did you gamble? Were you a trainer of fighting sparrows in Chinatown?

"Fight of Birds" 
courtesy of RAMÓN PORTUONDO 

"New York Sparrows Win"
New York Star, reprint: Kansas City Times
10 Apr 1886
Link to PDF

After the divorce, there were robberies at your stores. Maybe more crimes that weren't written about.

20 Oct 1899

It says you were murdered but you weren't murdered, and maybe Hop Sing was a relative of Sam Sing, the laundryman you called a leper. Another robbery was reported in 1905 and the perp kept coming back. So much turmoil!

18 Jan 1907

The Chinese laundries of Paterson organized a union in 1885. Did you become a leader? Were you the Charley Foo, Grand Master of the huge Chinese Masonic lodge who spoke at the funeral of Ching Sing in New Orleans, one of the wealthiest Celestials in the South?

"Chinese Mason Buried With Fantastic Rites"
The Times-Democrat (New Orleans), July 31, 1911
Link to PDF of full page article

"Chinese Masons Have Weird Funeral"
Southern Aegis (Ashville, AL)
6 Sep 1911, link to pdf

I found more articles about Charley Foos out West but they're turning out to be different people, not you. Did you marry again or move to another country in Central or South America, the Caribbean or Europe? I wish I knew what happened to you. I'm hoping that whatever pulled me to Waverly Place will guide me to energies of the past. Unorthodox and extraordinary measures and powers. Traces of you must be out there somewhere.

Contact: Debbie Carter, (212) 925-3721, VillagerExpat@aol.com

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