Jennifer DeFusco, of Orange, Calif., has never been to North Dakota. But it’s thanks to her that Neighbors today carries a story about a North Dakota doctor and his family of years ago.
Jennifer was browsing in an antique shop in Orange when she came across a letter dated Dec. 29, 1915. It was addressed to Mrs. Mertie Alexander, Page, N.D. But “Page” had been crossed out and “Hope” was written next to it.
It was sent by K. Daniels with a 2-cent stamp on Jan. 1, 1916, and with an arrival date of Jan. 4, 1916. There was no return address.
The letter expressed condolences about a death without mentioning names.
Out of curiosity, Jennifer did research online and found information about Mertie and her husband.
She sent this to her aunt, LaVonne Rustad, in Fargo, who suggested she send it to Neighbors, which she did. So here is what the website reported:
The former Mertie Carnihan, who the article said was “a beautiful schoolteacher,” was born in Benson, Minn., in 1878, where her father was the first sheriff in Swift County.
Mertie taught school in Benson for several years, then decided to join the Ringling Brothers Circus; the article doesn’t say what she did with it.
But there she met John “Clate” Alexander, a native of Spring Valley, Ohio. Clate played a cornet for the circus band, then was a clown and finally became the band’s conductor.
He didn’t enjoy being a circus wanderer, so he went to college and became a pharmacist. But he and Mertie couldn’t forget each other. So, sure enough, they were married in 1902 in Benson.
They then moved to Page, where Clate was a pharmacist;
After the birth of their daughter Bertha, who went by Maxine, in 1904, Clate decided to return to college and earn a medical degree. He did just that, and in 1907, when he was 41, he graduated from the Chicago College of Medicine and Surgery.
The family then settled in Tower City, N.D., where Clate treated every illness or injury that came along. And he delivered babies. Did he ever: 263 of them between 1901 and 1915.
In 1913, Clate bought the larger practice of Dr. C. H. Harwood in Hope and the family moved there.
The article says he had a kerosene lamp to light his way home after making house calls at night.
“Life was busy and happy in Hope,” the article says. “Mrs. Alexander sang in the choir and formed a lasting friendship with the minister and his wife, Dr. and Mrs. Samuel Hitchcock. She (Mertie) decorated her home in the latest style and was an excellent housekeeper and cook. Her daughter had memories of the cakes, candies and a special ice cream she would bury in the snow to freeze. Once Mertie did it so well that it couldn’t be found until spring. They loved to play bridge, and there were many parties in their big house.”
Even though Clate’s practice grew, cash in those days often was in short supply, and the doctor was sometimes the last to be paid. Would you believe that many accounts were still open after 65 years?
Some paid their doctor bills with something other than cash, such as a stack of hay.
On Nov. 6, 1915, Clate set off to visit an ill patient, wearing his seal-skin coat and driving his big Buick Runabout. An hour later, he was found lying beside the road dead, his car badly damaged on one side and headed in the wrong direction. It had all the signs of a hit and run accident.
His funeral was held in the family’s home parlor.
The next spring, Mertie and her daughter moved to Los Angeles, where Mertie resumed teaching, specializing in teaching reading to the seemingly unteachable.
After graduating from a Los Angeles high school, young Maxine traveled for two seasons with her uncle, James Alexander, who was a skilled musician touring with a chautauqua company. In 1927, she married William Murchison in Los Angeles, in a ceremony conducted by Dr. Hitchcock, the old family friend from Hope. The following year Pastor Hitchcock christened Carolyn, the only child of Maxine and William.
“The property bought by Dr. and Mrs. Alexander in Tower City had been mortgaged to buy the house in Hope,” the article says. “Mrs. Alexander managed to pay it off.
“For as long as Mertie lived, she kept the tie, those roots in North Dakota, paying the taxes through three wars and the Depression, until she died May 15, 1956. Maxine inherited the property and she kept up that tie with the old days until she passed away on July 4, 1973. Today that property is part of Alexander Park in Tower City, which was named in their memory.”
And there you have it; the story of a family who made Page, Hope and Tower City their home years ago.
If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107, fax it to 701-241-5487 or email email@example.com.