The Albertis of Eureka Springs: A False Peak
A “false peak” is a term used in mountaineering. It describes a peak that appears to be the top of the mountain, but upon reaching that peak, it turns out the summit is actually higher. False peaks can have a serious effect on the psychology of the climber, creating feelings of dashed hopes or even failure.
This is the false peak of the Albert and Laura Alberti story. Honestly, it is a bit difficult to write. I have been holding out hope over the last six months that the path would clear and allow me to stand at the tippy top of this tale and feel victorious. I have learned that genealogy research can move at a snail's pace, but the view is usually worth the slow and arduous climb.
While this doesn’t feel quite like failure, it isn’t the ending I wanted, or the story I was expecting to share. Then again, the most memorable stories never end up the way we expect.
To set the scene and get you reconnected to this tale of insanity and inheritance, let’s travel back to 1944. Laura has been locked up in the Nevada Asylum for the last year. Guy Bowen (her niece's husband and guardian of her estate) has been making quick work of selling off her belongings and liquidating her assets.
While most people were celebrating D Day and the ending of WWII, Guy was busy selling off the majority of the Alberti stocks in 1944, totaling $7,450 in value, over $100,000 today.
The Alberti portfolio consisted of:
40 shares of US Steel
50 shares of Reading Railroad
100 shares of Phelps-Dodge Corporation
50 shares of Atchison, Topeka and Sante Fe Railroad
Guy obviously did not have the same financial mind as Albert. While the stock market took a bit of a dive during the war, the post war boom hit in 1945 and the Dow rose 130%. I will give you a moment to do the math on $7,450 x 130%. It is hard not to imagine what kind of inheritance might have been created if we still owned stock in US Steel, Phelps-Dodge copper mining and a major US railroad, all still active and lucrative companies. I have a feeling that Albert’s only surviving son, Wilford probably had similar sentiments. I also have a feeling that Guy Bowen was kicking himself a year after he dumped all that stock before raking in a potential $17,000 payday.
The next year, the Alberti's 1937 Plymouth Coupe was sold for $340 and $1,500 in Elks Charity Trust bonds were liquidated. Laura’s last remaining household goods and furnishings were sold in a public sale for $607.57 - Guy even sold her fur coat that year for $200. A short note is included in the probate records that states, the cost of storage and care of the coat was “excessive”.
All of these details about her estate still left me with one question. What happened to the Alberti house on 41 Vaughn Street in Eureka Springs?
I’ve been staring at that address on the 1940 census since I started researching the family. I’ve looked at it on Google Maps numerous times and in January, Brant and I visited Eureka Springs to see it in person. I went inside the home where Albert spent his final years. It’s a rental property now and in poor condition, but I could imagine how beautiful it used to be. The current tenant didn’t know anything about the history of the home so I showed her photos of Albert and Charlotte standing outside next to the stone fireplace in 1932.
She said she always felt like the home had “good vibes” and that she has never experienced any supernatural activity. I admit some disappointment at hearing that. I was fully prepared to employ the services of a local medium and attempt to communicate with my mysterious grandfather.
Like any good genealogist I also like to stroll through the local cemeteries while on vacation. No Albertis are buried in Eureka Springs, but it never hurts to convene with the local spirit community right? I sometimes imagine that they are in charge of my research successes and failures, huddling around a tombstone and flipping a spectral coin to determine my investigative fate. During this particular boneyard stroll I had the pleasure of meeting Gloria Stevens, fellow history buff and expert on all things Eureka Springs. She spoke about each person buried there as if they were close personal friends. While she wasn’t familiar with the Alberti surname, she listened to my story and gave me a huge lead on locating the Carroll County land records and hopefully shed some light on what happened to the home after Laura was taken away.
A few keystrokes later, I found a Quit Claim Deed and learned that the house on 41 Vaughn and surrounding six acres of land were auctioned off from the steps of the Carroll County courthouse for $3,117 in 1945 to Britton and Audrey Baker. A quick search on Ancestry.com led me to their closest living relative, a granddaughter named Sheila. She responded quickly to my private message, shared that she was a half-sibling and put me in touch with her brother, Monty Baker. He lives on Holiday Island, just one town over and he agreed to meet with Brant and me the next day.
I know what you’re thinking, Eureka Springs and the surname Baker? Did I just blow the lid off the the theory that Albert sought treatment from Dr.Baker, and somehow his relatives were standing by to swoop in and acquire the homes of deceased cancer patients? While that is a criminal conspiracy worthy of the deplorable Dr.Baker, it isn’t the truth in this story.
Monty Baker was extremely welcoming and generous in the stories he shared with us about his grandfather. He had many fond memories of spending summers with his grandparents at the house on 41 Vaughn Street. The couple that purchased the Alberti home were from one of the original Eureka Springs founding families. Britton and Audrey Baker were a young couple, looking for a post war family home. Brittion Baker ran a gas station in town and they raised their children and grandchildren in the home.
Monty is one of those natural born story tellers. We sat in his modest living room and he shared that he was a Vietnam War Veteran and recent Widower. He lives way back in the Arkansas woods, and honestly I don’t think he gets too many visitors. We exchanged some family stories, I showed him photos of the Albertis and the house. He suddenly remembered always seeing two older Italian men in town when he was a kid. He remembers them because there weren’t a lot of Italians in Arkansas in the 50s. They owned a shoe shop, one of the men wore small round glasses and was always smoking a cigar. Of course I wanted this to be Albert, but the timeline doesn’t add up for Monty to have been alive before Albert died.
I asked Monty if his family might have kept any of the furniture or contents of the house when they bought it. He said that they did and pointed to a small walnut cabinet with a pink marble top that was currently being used as a TV stand. You can imagine my excitement! He told me that a Italian knock-down armoire was buried somewhere in an old shed.
Then he started to slowly nod his head and got a foggy look of recollection in his eyes. He also thought there might be old photographs in a steamer trunk in that same old shed. At this point I was perched on the edge of his couch, chewing my fingernails like an anxious squirrel gnawing on an acorn. I did it! I found the long lost Alberti belongings!
That would have been far too easy. This same old shed, according to Monty, also contained photographs and memorabilia from his past life. Photos of his wife and reminders of a life he lost. While I was laser focused on reconnecting with our missing family ephemera, going through the contents of that shed would have put him face to face with the painful ghosts of his past. He became a bit emotional at my request to see the armoire and steamer trunk, so I let it go on the agreement that we would reconnect in March to give him some time to process and think it over. As Brant and I walked towards his front door, Monty left us with the parting words that he had always wondered why he grew up with Italian furniture in his Arkansas childhood home. That now that he had met me, he knew the right thing to do was reconnect those items with their rightful family.
March came and went, I reached out to Monty numerous times to arrange our second meeting. After months of no response, I messaged his sister again to check-in that all was well with Monty. Perhaps he had just changed his mind. She told me that Monty had been having a hard time of it lately and had returned to living rough, in the Arkansas wilderness. She doubts that he will come back this time. Going totally off-grid is something he has done before. He shared that with me during our visit in January. When his wife died, it was too difficult for him to remain part of the normal world. So he disappeared to the woods and lived alone for two years. It’s hard to imagine that life and honestly sounds a little bit crazy, but who am I to judge? There are probably people who think that me spending all my free time chasing down the life stories of ancestors I’ve never met is a bit nuts too.
So is this failure? Maybe. Maybe not. But here I am standing at my false peak. The trek to this conclusion took me over a year and hours upon hours of research. I can image what the summit looks like. It is a old dusty shed, buried deep somewhere in the Arkansas woods. I will most likely never reach it, but this story and it’s twists and turns was totally worth the climb.