Sunday, April 6, 2014

A very strange house indeed - Clara Comstock Swank

I mentioned in an earlier post that there was bad blood between my great grandmother Minnie Comstock Swank and her brother Charles.  From what I can tell 36 years later it all hinged on two burglaries at Clara's home at 4145 Shaffer SE in Kentwood MI.
Clara Barbara Comstock was born August 26th, 1889 at Grand Rapids, Kent Co MI,  the eldest child of G.D. and Augusta Muche Comstock.  My mom said she wouldn't talk about her age and I can't find a birth record for her (or her brothers Charles and William).  She had a baby brother David Muche Comstock that lived from July 21st - September 21st, 1892 and a younger sister Minnie (she'll be in another post).
Clara, Charles, Minnie and William

Clara married February 2nd, 1932 at Fort Wayne IN to William Swank, a brother of George Swank (who took Minnie as his 2nd wife).  William was 18 years her senior having been born November 9th, 1871 at Paris Twp, Kent Co MI and on his 3rd marriage.  William's 1st wife Laura Hindenach died April 7th, 1900 after having given birth to an unnamed boy April 1st (that died on April 2nd).  William's 2nd wife Carrie Squires died January 19th, 1931 and suffered greatly from mental problems.  William died October 8th, 1943 at Grand Rapids and Clara lived as a widow for 34 years.

My uncle Craig told me that the home that Clara and William lived in was delivered by train from Sears.  It was quite the stately home in it's time, complete with servant quarters and a separate entrance and walkway behind the walls for them to get to their room.  My dad remembers the room as having a light bulb hanging from the ceiling as lighting.  Carrie Swank went insane and tried to kill herself and set the house on fire.  My dad recalls that the rafters in the attic were still charred when he was at the house.   
Adrian Daily Telegram January 10th, 1916

My uncle remembers that the house was haunted and that my great grandmother Minnie wouldn't stay overnight in the house.  He remembers Clara staring out the back window and asking her what she was looking at and her pointing at a Civil War soldier on post in the backyard.  Given the deaths of his 1st 2 wives and young baby and his 2nd wife's mental state it doesn't surprise me that strange things happened in the house.  Apparently none of this bothered Clara. 

I digress............Clara was always rather well off, telling my grandma that she'd "never want for anything" after she died.  The Swank family owned fairly large tracts of land in Paris Township including the land that Centerpointe Mall currently sits on.  My mom said that when Clara agreed to sell the land she did it under the agreement that they would name a street after the family.  Swank Dr SE, Kentwood Michigan

Clara went into the Springbrook Manor nursing home after being struck by a car while getting her mail.  She had a broken hip and never recovered to go home.  Her house was burglarized twice, was ransacked and her will went missing.  There were fingers pointed between Minnie and Charles and from what I gather their relationship was never good again.  My mom told me that Charles and his wife hadn't had anything to do with Clara for years before that so perhaps the relationship was already strained.  It makes me sad to think that something could come between the last remaining siblings, especially given that nobody knows what happened. 

My dad drove me by the home about 10 years ago and it looked like it was being renovated.  There was a brand new roof on it (that couldn't have been cheap!) and new doors.  It wasn't long after that it was torn down and a new subdivision built.  Were the new owners being tormented by spirits and gave up on remodeling or did they simply get an offer they couldn't refuse for the land?

I was one when Clara passed away and don't have any pictures with her but I do have this picture of her at her old roll-top desk with a clock that is now in my possession.

 The clock holds a place on the buffet that was made by her father G.D. Comstock that is in my living room.  There is a date written on the back that doesn't correspond to anything in my family tree.  It looks to me like it could be my grandma's handwriting but my grandma wasn't born until 1923.  There is nobody left alive that can tell me why the date is written there.

Another find that came from Clara's house is the stack of postcards pictured.  I was contacted several years ago by a woman who found a post I put on a Rootsweb message board about my Swank and Comstock families.  She told me she had these postcards and asked if I'd like to buy them.  They are all from the 20s to the 60s written between Clara, Charles and Minnie.  I told her I'd like to see them but that I probably couldn't buy them.  She emailed me months later that she was on her way to Grand Rapids to bring them to me and got in a horrible car accident so she couldn't bring them down.  I had forgotten about them until she made the trip to Grand Rapids and dropped them off to my work for me years later (unannounced - it was a pleasant surprise as I had forgotten about them).  I contacted her and thanked her immensely and asked where she got them.  She said she got them from an abandoned home she was digging through in the 70s and described them as being on the floor in an upstairs room that had newspapers covering the floor.  My mom told me that Clara used to line her upstairs floors with newspaper to try to help insulate the lower level.

***I am in no way suggesting a correlation between the burglary and these postcards - just noting that I'm sure they came from Clara's home and found their way back to family after 30+ years***

Clara died at Springbrook Manor in Grand Rapids May 1st, 1978 and is buried with her parents, husband William and her bachelor brother William at Grandville Cemetery.  Although I never met her I can honestly say she was a great woman who was loved by all.  I have never heard an ill word spoken of her and know she was deeply involved in the lives of her nieces and nephews.  

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