My mom’s paternal grandmother, Martha Maria Tornedde, was born in Steubenville, in Jefferson County, Ohio on April 6, 1884. Her German born parents, Ernst H. Tornedde and Wilhelmina Bremer, immigrated to the United States just a few years before Martha was born. By 1886, the Torneddes had moved to Peoria, Illinois, which would be Martha’s home for the rest of her life.
Martha grew up with her younger brother, Ernest, born in 1886, and her half-sister Helen. (Helen was Wilhelmina’s daughter from a previous marriage. She was about nine years older than Martha, and her shadowy story is for another day.) The Tornedde family lived in a neighborhood of many Irish and German immigrants. Martha spoke fluent German; her parents likely spoke in their native tongue at home. Martha also had an excellent command of the English language. She spoke without an accent and in later years was a stickler about her grandchildren using proper grammar. In her early twenties, she worked as a stenographer for Larkin Soap Company.
Martha’s mother died on March 29, 1907, just before Martha’s 23rd birthday. On June 30, 1907, three months after her mother’s death, Martha married Edward Cabell Cannaday. The Torneddes were “city-folk.” Edward, on the other hand, came from rural Virginia, a family of farmers with colonial roots. Martha had the stern sensibilities of her German culture—she was not overly warm and fuzzy. Edward, by all accounts, had a more devil-may-care demeanor and was a sensitive, artistic type. Theirs was an apparent case of “opposites attract!”
When they met, Edward was an Army recruiter. In March 1908, Edward was discharged from the Army and began working as a streetcar conductor. In June 1908, Martha and Edward welcomed their first child, Edward Ernest. Martha and Edward lived in the house where Martha grew up, on 711 Johnson Street. Martha’s father must have given or sold the house to the couple at some point. Not too long after Martha and Edward married, Ernst traveled to Germany for an extended visit. He returned in August 1908 with a young German bride in tow, and thereafter lived on Steubenville Street. Martha did not approve of her father’s re-marriage and never warmed to her stepmother or her half-sister Hilde, who was born in 1910. Despite that cloud, the next several years were mostly happy ones for Martha and her family. Some lovely photos show the family of three, dressed in their finery, out on the town.
In 1915, Martha gave birth to a second son, Paul Foster Cannaday. In a sad turn of events, Paul died in a tragic accident when he was just 18 months old. Paul was originally buried in the section of Springdale Cemetery called Baby Land. However, the Springdale records show Paul in the same grave as Martha’s mother, Wilhelmina. When I shared this story with my aunt, she remembered Grandma Martha telling her how sad she always felt that Paul was alone and so she had his body moved to be with her mother—such a heartwrenching tale and testament to Martha’s ongoing anguish over Paul’s death.
Little is known of the next decade, but these must have been challenging times for the family. Edward numbed his sorrow over Paul’s death by drinking, gambling and carousing. Martha was left to work through her grief in her own way. In 1917, son Harry Frank was born, followed by Robert Wilson in 1924. The two young boys, rambunctious and mischievous, surely helped Martha through these years. Edward received a disability pension in 1928 for unknown reasons, though we know he suffered from depression and probably alcohol addiction. Around this time, the family moved from their home on Johnson Street to 318 California Avenue. Family lore is that Edward lost the family home—Martha’s childhood home—to a gambling debt. In 1930, Edward took his own life, leaving Martha with her three boys, Edward (21), Frank (12), and Robert (5), to pick up the pieces. She was 45 years old.
For a brief period after Edward died, Martha’s brother Ernest stayed with Martha in the California house. Then in late June, four months after his father’s death, Martha’s son Edward married. He and his wife Ruby lived with Martha and the boys for the next year or so. From around 1938 to 1945, Martha lived at 201 Pennsylvania Avenue, but she still owned the house on California and presumably rented it out for supplemental income. By the mid-1940s, she was again living on California Avenue.
At both her California and Pennsylvania Avenue residences, Martha earned money by taking in foster children and various boarders. Among her favorites were Harold Gorman and William “Billy” Abbott. Harold sometimes babysat for Martha’s granddaughters, Sharon and Carol, and later moved to New York to follow his passion for dance. Billy, sadly, was killed in WWII. In Billy’s honor, Martha displayed a gold star in her window, the symbol of a child lost in service.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Martha’s son Bob and his growing family lived with Martha on California. In the mid-1950s, Bob built a new house on Shenandoah Drive and included an English basement apartment for his mother.
Martha liked her new place and appreciated being surrounded by Bob’s loving, energetic family for many years. One very sad note for Martha in 1956, not long after the move, was her son Edward’s suicide at age 48, history repeating itself in the most tragic way.
Martha enjoyed traveling and over the years took several trips. Sharon accompanied her to Detroit to visit her cousins, Bill and Anna Bremer. Sharon remembers having fun learning to play pinochle and taking the ferry to Toronto. Carol was Martha’s traveling companion on a lively road trip to Ohio with Martha’s friend Amelia and Amelia’s daughter Joan. Carol remembers they religiously followed the lodging and dining recommendations in the Duncan Hines guide. In 1958, Martha took an extended vacation to Anchorage, Alaska to visit her son Frank and his family. Frank was an Air Force captain and was stationed at Elmendorf AFB at the time.
I only met Grandma Martha a handful of times, however she lives large in my mind in the stories passed down by her granddaughters and what I have learned through my research. She had a stern and sometimes intimidating demeanor, but also unexpected moments of vulnerability. She taught her granddaughters the German folk song “Ich binder Doktor Eisenbarth” and how to play Chinese checkers. She took Spanish lessons. She was a shrewd card player and a fan of true crime magazines. She was fond of her smart little dog, Josephine, and she coaxed a neighborhood squirrel into eating peanuts out of her hand. She had beautiful flowers in her yard. She liked being a mom of boys and was exceedingly tolerant of her sons’ shenanigans and pranks.
Martha died in 1972 at age 87. What an interesting woman she was. I wish I had known her!