Mount Mitchell State Park

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Uncle Sid - Charles Watson Sidney

*Charles Watson Sidney (to friends, Sid; to family, Uncle Sid)

*Birth: August 23, 1894

*Hometown: Brooklyn, New York

*Education: Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute

Sid is in the back row, right in the center. It looks like this would have been middle school age.
 



*WWI Veteran: Prior to the war Sid served in the U.S. Coast Artillery and later became the radio operator on the merchant ship Aztec that in 1917 was torpedoed by the Germans in the first few weeks of the U.S. involvement in the war. Later he served as a gunner's mate in the U.S. Navy.

*Occupation: Electrical Engineer, Marconi Wireless Tel Co., 233 Broadway, NYC


*Sid met Sarah Frances Espy in Florida; they married about 1925. He was 31; she was 22.

*A census conducted in 1930 showed that Uncle Sid and Aunt Frances were living in a home on Franklin Street in Bloomfield, New Jersey. Click here to view it.

*Uncle Sid also began working at RCA in helping develop television. He had been good friends with and had worked with David Sarnoff, who became the first general manager of RCA, and who some people credit with having invented television. Ironically, although TV had become in vogue in part to Uncle Sid, he personally never owned one.



*While living up North, Uncle Sid was diagnosed with bladder cancer, requiring numerous operations and frequent visits to hospitals and doctors.

*Around 1946, Uncle Sid and Aunt Frances, boarded a train in New Jersey, passed thru the Atlanta train terminal and made their way to the Wiregrass. They decided that the Espy family home on Church Street was where they desired to live. They bought the Espy Home from Granny Espy and began remodeling it. Granny Espy lived there with them up until her death. Interestingly enough, family historian Watty Espy believes the renovation of the old Espy home actually prolonged Uncle Sid's own life. Apparently, Uncle Sid had been told he had only months to live. Defying all odds, once in Headland he lived six more years. And, Watty believes the "home project" was something that truly motivated and inspired him. Uncle Sid and a "negro" worker tackled that huge project. An example of Uncle Sid's skill: he used his engineering expertise to reconfigure the electrical wiring so he could turn off all the lights in the house using the one light switch by the front door.

*Cousin Beverly Dayries heard the story that "some busybody in Headland, noticing that Uncle Sid was not "going to work," asked him what he did for a living. Uncle Sid, sharp as a tack, said, "I’m a minder - someone who minds his own business."

*Uncle Sid had quite the reputation for being intelligent. Beverly said she was told that J.J. Espy, Sr., the family patriarch, remarked, "Uncle Sid is one of the smartest men I’ve ever met." Watty concurred. "He was the most brilliant man I had ever seen. He spoke several languages. He had a number of patents. He could talk about almost anything and I could listen to him for hours. His curiosity was wide spread."
*An interesting hobby Uncle Sid had was raising turkeys behind the Espy House. Beverly remembers that he even once shipped a live turkey to her family home in Atlanta.

*Uncle Sid’s struggle with bladder cancer eventually caused his death. For awhile, just to get through the day, he had started injecting himself with morphine every four hours. Beverly recalls, "Aunt Frances’ part of the house included the front bedroom downstairs, and that is where Uncle Sid was when he could no longer maneuver the steps to go upstairs. Uncle Roby, then the minister at the Headland Baptist Church, helped Aunt Frances with Uncle Sid - lifting him, etc. Clarence Mixon also helped out. I understand that Uncle Sid died in the bed in the front downstairs bedroom."
*Charles Watson Sidney died on June 27, 1952, at the Espy house in Headland, AL. Beverly remembers, "As was still sometimes the custom in Headland, his body was laid out in his coffin in the bay window of the living room. I went to Headland right after his death and stayed with Aunt Frances at the house. We slept upstairs. I still remember how creepy I felt sleeping upstairs knowing his body was in the house. After his death, when I visited Headland, I always slept at Aunt Frances' house, and I was always placed in that same downstairs front bedroom where he died - same bed, etc., I don't know if she later changed the bed, mattress, etc., but it was something I was always aware of when I visited her."

*Watty stated, "Uncle Sid was not very religious and he didn’t belong to any formal church, although he attended services at the Baptist church with Aunt Frances from time-to-time." He is buried in the First Baptist Church cemetery in Headland. Watty further stated, "Uncle Sid was a very, very good man."
 


This historical sketch of the life of Charles Watson Sidney was jointly created by Beverly Dayries and me. Beverly provided the bulk of the research by scanning and e-mailing historical documents and family photographs, which did nothing but make me more and more enthusiastic about learning who this man was. All I had previously known was that Charles Watson Sidney was the first husband of our precious aunt, Frances Espy. I had taken the photograph of his tombstone and then one thing led to another. First, it was going to Uncle Watty, our family historian. Then, it was cousin Beverly who completed the story and satisfied my curiosity. I must also give credit to Beverly’s husband, Bud, who helped double-check our facts and proof our writings.

14 comments:

Jeffrey said...

Interesting reading, good info. Thanks Allen and Beverly. I must admit I have never even heard of this man before now. Can you and I join the "minders" union Allen?

mike vann said...

Allen-
I have been enjoying your Blog since Bill brought it to my attention not long ago.

I did not know Uncle Sid, but he sure sounds interesting.

Thanks for documenting our family history and for your other good "stuff", as well.



Mike Vann
Madison, MS

Larry Smith said...

Allen,
This is excellent work!
I am glad you are recording the Headland Espy History. I am enjoying absorbing it all. The photos are fantastic. I once toured Mr. Sidney's lab behind the J. J. Espy house while visiting with Bro. Lee. It resembled a college lab. Everything was just as he left it so said Bro. Lee. I'm sure all of that is perhaps gone now. That blew my mind that someone in Headland had such interests. I'm glad to know about him thanks to you. He would make a great subject for my weekly newspaper column. Thanks for what you are doing.

Larry

Major Allen Espy said...

Thanks Larry...and also thanks Jeff and Mike. Larry, when you do that column, please let me know.

Martha Parks said...

I read and enjoyed the blog about the old Espy house and the mention of mother and daddy. When I read further, one correction, fyi, there was mention of Brother Lee helping Sara Frances with Mr. Sidney, which is correct, according to Peggy, but Amelia Lee died in 1953 so Brother Lee wasn't a widower in 1952. Peggy also said that Clarence Mixon also helped her with Mr. Sidney.

Zona Baxter said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Allen, your today's mail is absolutely the greatest tribute! I never knew Mr. Sidney, and I was only in the presence of Sarah Frances after she and Bro. Lee married when I visited Peggy there. But I have learned so much about this amazing and talented couple. Speaking of talents, you have soooooooo many,not the least of which is preserving history that
affects so many!

Thanks so much.....love to you and Kade. Zona

Beverly Dayries said...

Tonight Bud helped me look over some of the materials . He pointed out that one of the most significant aspects of CWS's life was that he had survived a ship that had been torpedoed at night in the North Atlantic shortly after the U.S. entered WWI. This would have made him somewhat of a celebrity and a hero at the time. The event was written up in the New York Times, including Uncle Sid's name.

Also tonight we found the passenger list from the French ship, "La Touraine" which arrived in NY on April 20, 1917, with several survivors of the torpedoed Aztec - including CWS.

Bud pointed out that when CWS was on the torpedoed ship, he was not in the Navy, but he was working for the shipping company and listed among the crew members. As you recall we sent you a scanned copy of the letter from the President & Treasurer of the Oriental Navigation Company stating that Watson Sidney, Wireless operator on board the S.S. Aztec, had been saved. Bud pointed out that in the early part of WWI the U.S. began to put Naval guns on commercial ships. The Aztec was the first ship that they modified like this, and in addition to the regular civilian crew, the information on the ship listed a handful of regular Navy personnel whose sole job was to man the two 5 inch naval guns that they hoped to use to protect the ship. However, Uncle Sid was listed as a crew member - a radio operator, and not a Naval gunner.

On his WWI Draft Registration he showed that he had served six months in the NY Coast Artillery.

We are still looking to see if we can find more info on his service. Another item that we are looking at more carefully is where I thought I found him on the 1920 census - at the Navy Training and Torpedo Stations and Navy Hospital. The name on the census was Charles Sidney. We are now finding that other items of info do not jive with other facts. I do not think this was our Uncle Sid. I must look further to see if I can find Charles Watson Sidney on a 1920 census.

Beverly

Bevery Espy Dayries said...

Today I finally located the letter I told you about which informed Uncle Sid's mother that he had been rescued from the sea after his ship was torpedoed.
It is attached.

Bud was very interested in the letter and looked up on the Internet the ship that was mentioned. He offers the following info:

The U.S. entered WWI on the side of the Allies in early 1917. CWS apparently was the radio operator (in those days called the wireless operator) on a commercial ship called the Aztec. This was a steamship apparently owned by the Oriental Navigation Company out of New York.

In the early days of the U.S. involvement in WWI, dozens of ships were sunk or attacked by German submarines. Later, during the conflict, the attacks diminished as the U.S. Navy used convoys and took other various measures to hunt and chase the submarines.

According to the Internet, on April 1, 1917 ( only a few months after the U.S. entered the war) the steamship Aztec, weighing 3,727 tons, was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat, off of Quessant Island, on the northwest coast of France. Twenty-eight crew members were killed.

Sidney's mother, Mrs. Helen Sidney, received a letter, copy attached, from the president of the Oriental Navigation Co. dated April 4, 1917, stating that Watson Sidney had been saved and was safe at Brest, a port on the Atlantic coast of France.

Bud was very interested in the letter. For one thing, Bud had served in the Navy and the Naval Reserves totaling 17 years. For another, his maternal grandfather, Gabriel Filleul, had been put in charge of the Port of Brest to handle the ships coming in from the U.S. bringing the men and materials to fight the war in Europe. Prior to the war his grandfather had had extensive experience in shipping in both the U.S. and in Europe. He was inducted into the U. S. Army as a colonel in the early days of the war to handle this job. Brest was one of the major ports that was used by the U.S. to bring the troops into France.

(Bud is laughing right now, saying his grandfather could also speak French fluently - that his grandfather's mother, who lived in New Orleans, preferred to speak only French.)

I think I failed to mention to you that on the 1920 census, I located CWS at the Navy Training and Torpedo Stations and Navy Hospital - Newport, Rhode Island. The census showed that CWS was born in Brooklyn, NY. His father was born in Rochester, NY, and his mother was born in New Jersey.

This letter is one of my most valued treasures. I hope you keep a copy just in case anything ever happens to mine.

Beverly

Beverly Espy Dayries said...

When Daddy was still living with us, Aunt Frances and Uncle Sid sent us a turkey for one Thanksgiving or Christmas - a live one. I remember the trauma I felt when Daddy chopped off its head, and it was still running around the backyard for awhile with its head chopped off.

I do remember Aunt Frances and Uncle Sid visiting our house one time. I recall that before they left our house, Uncle Sid got out a road map and was tracing his planned route on the map with pen or pencil (before the days of highlighters).

Beverly

Beverly Espy Dayries said...

He was one of several who were rescued by the French and returned to the U.S. on the French ship La Touraine with other survivors of the Aztec's sinking. Many had died in the attack. It was after his rescue and return to the U.S. that he registered for the WWI draft and ended up in the U.S. Navy.

Anonymous said...

Beverly and Watty have done a great favor to your family. You know, we don't listen and take in much of what our parents and grandparents tell us along the way. Suddenly, it's too late
to ask those who know. When I was
with Mother before she died, I asked her a lots of things about the past but not nearly enough. Now there is no one to ask. Jack remembered a lots about his & our childhoods as well as the Solomons and the Vanns (older
generation). Sam says Jack didn't necessarily remember correctly all of the time!! Who does? I think of your Deedie so many times and the things she told about all of her grand-
children. She thought all of you were so precious, and, of course, your granddad absolutely knew yall were the most precious things in this world.

Thank you SO much for thinking of me and letting me read of your Uncle Sid. I knew he was as smart as a whip and a gentleman in every respect. I had not heard of his early life, but it was a joy to read and re-read it!!

Love,

Aunt Kate Helen (July 2008)

Anonymous said...

Beverly and Watty have done a great favor to your family. You know, we don't listen and take in much of what our parents and grandparents tell us along the way. Suddenly, it's too late to ask those who know. When I was with Mother before she died, I asked her a lots of things about the past but not nearly enough. Now there is no one to ask. Jack remembered a lots about his & our childhoods as well as the Solomons and the Vanns (older generation). Sam says Jack didn't necessarily remember correctly all of the time!! Who does? I think of your Deedie so many times and the things she told about all of her grandchildren. She thought all of you were so precious, and, of course, your granddad absolutely knew yall were the most precious things in this world.

Thank you SO much for thinking of me and letting me read of your Uncle Sid. I knew he was as smart as a whip and a gentleman in every respect. I had not heard of his early life, but it was joy to read and re-read it!!

Love,

Aunt Kate Helen (July 2008)

Beverly Espy Dayries said...

Last night on the Internet I came across a listing of Aunt Frances and Uncle Sid when they were living in Jacksonville, FL - very early days of their marriage.

The info was on a Jacksonville, FL City directory. I will have to return to the site to see the year, but it was in the late 1920's. I was dumbfounded and in disbelief to see that Uncle Sid had listed as his profession "Naturepath" or whatever the correct wording would be.

I told Bud about this, and he thinks there has to be a mistake. Maybe Uncle Sid said it as a joke with the thought in mind that it was nobody's business what he did. Then again, since the man connected with Nature pathology (sp?) was from New York and was in Florida at the same time as Uncle Sid - maybe it was something Uncle Sid was actually looking into. I wonder. What do you make of it?

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