I fell for this cabinet card the second I saw it in The Wurdeman Studio shop. The matching dresses, the doll, the girl pointing towards the sky, combined with the fact that the sitters were identified, pushed me to hit the add to cart button.
The Frey sisters, Leah Adda (10) and Bessie J. (8), sat for this photo on June 25, 1894 in Green Springs, Ohio. I believe it is Bessie who is pointing, as she looks younger than the girl seated. If we look to Victorian cemetery symbolism, an index finger pointing upwards represents the hope of heaven. Considering the fates that awaited the sisters, this pose seems eerily ominous.
Just five years after this photo was taken, Leah fell ill with tuberculosis, and succumbed to the disease on June 23, 1901. The family was living in Battle Creek, Michigan at the time.
In 1903, Bessie married George F. Drolet. Soon after, the couple moved to California, but in 1906, Bessie vanished.
After finding the above mentioned article, I focused my search for Bessie in New York City records, but found nothing. It was while searching for a death record for Bessie’s mother and father, Charles M. and Minnie (nee Sharp) Frey, that I stumbled upon a marriage record for a Bessie Drolette. It was her!
Bessie married Edward Thomas Barry in Stockton, California on May 13, 1918. I wonder how long the marriage lasted. By September of that year, Edward reported no nearest living relative on his WWI Draft Card. And Bessie’s trail went cold.
I returned to my research of Charles and Minnie, and once again, I happened upon a record for Bessie. This time, unfortunately, it was a death record. She died on May 7, 1924, in the Stockton State Hospital, as Mrs. Bessie Goodyear. Her husband’s name was not listed. She had been a patient at the mental hospital for 7 months, and her cause of death was general paralysis of the insane (GPI). This was a medical term for late stage syphilis.
In addition to the physical symptoms of her disease, Bessie would have experienced depression, memory, and thought impairment. Most likely, she would have exhibited personality changes, loss of her inhibitions, mania, and possibly delusions of grandeur.
It’s painful to think about how, at the time these girls sat for this photo, they would have been full of dreams of a bright future, and instead, each of their lives were cut terribly short.