Thursday, April 26, 2012

More About Naomi Harlan and the Stanton PO

At the end of the last post about former Stanton postmistress Naomi Harlan, we didn't really know much about her beyond what was in the short newspaper article. Besides her name and former post, we knew that she was, as of March 1925, awaiting trial for embezzlement. I'm still not aware of exactly how that prosecution went, but thanks to some great work by a reader and frequent contributor, we now know a bit more about Harlan's background. And thanks to another contribution, we have one more mention of her as heading the Stanton Post Office.

Within a day of my publishing the post about Naomi Harlan and saying I didn't know anything more, Donna Peters had in my inbox all the information I couldn't find. I don't know how she did it, but she did. In my defense, and to Donna's great credit, almost every time Naomi is listed in a census she's either very hard to read or is listed -- sometimes comically -- incorrectly.

As it turns out, Naomi was a born and raised Stanton girl. She was born in January 1899 to John F. and Elisa Dennis, who lived in Stanton (on the 1900 Census, they're listed between several Bouldens and two families after Evan Klair). John died of pneumonia in April 1900, when Naomi was only one, and was buried at St. James Episcopal Church. On his death certificate, his occupation is listed as "merchant and milkman". In 1900, Elisa's (or Elsie, or Eliza, or Lydia, as she's variously known) occupation is hard to read, but I think it says "Ice cream" something. This makes sense if her husband was in the dairy business. In the first of many errors, in 1900 the one year old child is listed as "Nioma", and inexplicably as Elisa's son.

The Dennises in the 1900 Census

The Dennises continued to live in Stanton, and in 1910 Naomi's mother, now listed as Lydia, is shown as having her own store. I'm not sure exactly where it was, but it was most likely somewhere on Main Street. They are listed five families after Lewis Dickey, who was operating the Stanton Hotel at the time.

For our story, things get more interesting in the 1920 Census. Here, the mother, now Eliza, is listed as ..... the Post Mistress! Twenty-one year old Naomi is shown as being a clerk at the post office. Actually, I don't think she's listed as "Naomi". I'm not quite sure what the enumerator was trying to write -- it starts with an N, ends in a, and has at least one m in it. If I had to guess, I'd say Namina. Point is, it definitely doesn't look like Naomi. If I didn't know better, with all the mistakes, I'd think they were immigrants speaking to the enumerators through thick accents. And stick around, it gets even better later.

In June 1921, Naomi married Horace Harlan, originally from Pennsylvania, then living in Richardson Park. Horace was a fireman for the railroad, which means he was in charge of tending the fire for the steam engine's boiler. It's not clear where they lived, but since Naomi would soon be the postmistress, I assume at least she stayed in Stanton. The couple would have two children together -- Dorothy and Louise. Sometime in the next few years, Naomi would take her mother's place at the head of the Stanton Post Office.

Marriage certificate for Naomi Dennis and Horace Harlan

The biggest remaining hole in the story is what became of Naomi's embezzlement trial in 1925. If she was convicted (and I have no idea what the sentencing guidelines were then), she was out of prison by 1930. In that year's census, she's living on Seventh Street in Wilmington with her daughters. Although still married, Horace is living in Claymont, and still working for the railroad. And to be precise, "Naomi Harlan" is not listed in Wilmington. This time, she's "Moomia Harlin". I'm not making this up. Moomia is listed as not working at the time. It's possible that Horace's job required him to live in Claymont, away from his family. This was at the height of the Depression, so of course people did what they had to. I just wonder, though, if maybe they were separated, possibly having to do with her legal trouble. If we can find them in the 1940 Census, that might help clear it up.

"Moomia Harlin" in the 1930 Census

As a last treat, I leave you with the article at the top of the post, forwarded by Ken Copeland (you can click on the image for a larger version). It's a story from 1925, the same year as the article in the last post, about the 100th anniversary of the Stanton Post Office. In the list of past postmaster/mistresses, it mentions both Mrs. Lydia V. Dennis and Mrs. Naomi Harlan, although it says nothing about any legal issues. It also answers the question of who took over next -- Mrs. William (Lula) Chambers. Mrs. Chambers was still postmistress in 1930, and her husband owned a garage. Thanks to some great researching by Donna and Ken, we now have a fuller picture of the "notorious" Naomi Harlan.

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