Clarence Anderson (1894-1953)

The story of Clarence Anderson’s life is filled with holes, gaps, and questions. His parents were both dead before my mom and her brothers and sisters were old enough to ask or remember their stories. A vindictive in-law, Anne Finlan, disliked the Andersens intensely (why?) and destroyed boxes of papers and keepsakes when Karl Andersen died in 1930. Those papers–letters, documents, photos, and personal keepsakes—would have told us a lot about his parents and their lives, and young Clarence’s early life. They are gone, and the only way I can write about Clarence Anderson is to stitch together stories from my mother, the one document she had (a copy of his marriage certificate), federal and New Jersey census documents and draft cards.

People often don’t talk about trauma. Clarence Anderson experienced a lot of trauma and very little love in his young life. One of the ways he managed it was to say very little about his mother, and even less about his father and his upbringing.

Clarence Anderson was born on March 20 or 21, 1894 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. His mother was Johanna Maria Hansen Andersen. She was born in Norway and was half Danish. His father, Karl Andersen, was also born in Norway. They lived at 13 Atlantic Street in Elizabeth. There were some Norwegian relatives close by when Clarence was a boy, including one of his father’s brothers, his sisters, and their children. I assume he was bi-lingual in Norwegian and English, although it seems that he didn’t speak any Norwegian with his children, unlike his wife, Anna Paloske Anderson, who spoke a little German with her children. 

Clarence must have been a cherished child. His mother appears loving and protective in the only photo I have of them together. She was a constant presence, since his father was often at sea. “Always remember we are descended from kings,” Clarence told my mother. He must have had his mother and her family in mind. Carl Anderson persuaded his wife to donate her family silver to a museum (where?). The silver was several hundred years old and included the family crest. I don’t know what part of his mother’s heritage was royal, but it may have been the Danish side. Norwegian and Danish monarchies were intertwined for several hundred years starting in the 1500s.

His parents tried for over a decade to have other children. Two girls were born – one before and one after Clarence—and they both died early—one a few months after birth and one at about age two. The death of a baby sister may have been Clarence’s first experience of loss and grief.

My mother told me her that father had been baptized Episcopalian. I always thought that was odd—most Norwegians were Lutheran. His mother, Johanna, may have gone to Anglican churches during her sojourn in England. At her death in 1901, she was a member of the Greystone Presbyterian Church. I don’t know if her son or husband accompanied her to services. My mother was baptized Episcopalian but attended a Lutheran Sunday school. It’s an interesting jumble.

In the 1900 census, Clarence, age six, was in school. His father, Carl Anderson was 43, his mother, Joanna, was 36. They had three boarders living with them at 13 Atlantic Street – Jonas Petersen, 25, Oscar Hansen, 22, and Martin Hansen, 12. The Hansens may have been relatives, but they probably were Norwegian shipmates or sailors known or referred to Carl Anderson for a place to stay in America.

Elizabeth, New Jersey, in the late 19th, early 20th century was a bustling, colorful place, growing rapidly as immigrants and rural people poured into industrializing cities. In 1890 the population was 37,000 and by 1910 it almost doubled to 74,000. Singer Manufacturing Company, generally known as Singer Sewing Machine Co., was in Elizabeth and employed thousands of people. Mom said Clarence and his parents lived in “The Port” so Carl Anderson could be close to his ship and seagoing trade. Carl Anderson may have brought young Clarence down to the wharves to see the ships and to meet his friend, John Holland. He worked on his submarine models at the Crescent Shipyard in Elizabeth.

Clarence’s mother died in childbirth in May 1901. He was seven years old.  The death of his mother began the trauma that shaped the rest of his life.

Since his father’s livelihood was the sea, he looked around for a housekeeper who could take care of his son while we was away. Carl hired a Norwegian woman named Lina Holst. Mom said he sent to Norway for her, but I think she was already in the U.S. when she took up residence at 13 Atlantic Street. Clarence was severely mistreated by her, and perhaps by his father, too. Mom said he was locked out of the house in winter, and often fed by neighbors. He was beaten. What must have been a happy, secure childhood turned into a misery.

In the 1910 census, Clarence at age 16 was no longer in school but a laborer at Singer Sewing Machine Co. His father was listed as “Charles Anderson,” age 53. Lina Holst, 47, was listed as “Servant” and Edward Holst, 24, was listed as a “Boarder.” Once Lina Holst’s life was settled, she sent for her son who was in Norway. Carl and Lina became lovers. I’m sure in addition to his maltreatment, Clarence resented the woman who took his mother’s place with his father. Mother called her, “his concubine.”

I was surprised to find out that Clarence was influenced by the 19th century food fad promoter and writer, Horace Fletcher. “Chew your food 32 times” was his mantra. Mom said her father made her chew her food until it was totally masticated.  Another practice passed down from his mother was enjoying sandwiches with butter. Growing up I knew most people didn’t butter their sandwich bread, but we always did. During a trip to England in 2018 I ordered a ham sandwich for lunch from a shop in Ludlow. I asked for mustard. Included with the sandwich was butter! Delicious. A culinary mystery solved!

On February 23, 1917, Clarence Anderson married Anna M. Paloske at Grace Church in Elizabeth. Her younger sister, Mary Paloske, was the witness. The groom was 23 and the bride was either 18 or 20 years old. They had their first child, a son, Carl Anderson, nine months later. The man who married them, Rector Harold J. Sweeny, also buried Clarence Anderson 36 years later. According to his World War I draft card, Clarence Anderson and his wife and son lived at 233 Fulton Street in Elizabeth. His physical appearance was “Slender,” and he was tall with blue eyes and blond hair. 

In the 1920 census, Clarence Anderson, 25, and Anna Anderson, 22, lived at 225 Baltic Street. Their baby son, Carl was two. He was joined by his sister, Florence, later that year. Florence was the name of each of the baby girls his mother bore, and the one she delivered stillborn when she died in 1901. Clarence and Anna had nine children together: Carl (1917-1983), Florence (1920-1961), Helen (1923-2011), Ernest (1925-1999), Ruth (1927/28? -2007), David (1930-), Clara (1933-), and twins, Gertrude (1935-1936), and Grace (1935-1999). Interestingly, in a family dominated by family names, none of his children received a Norwegian name. That fact must represent a conscious or unconscious turning away from the past. His oldest son was named after his father, and his first daughter named after his lost sisters. That’s it.

In the 1930 census, Clarence, Anna and family lived at 568 ½ East Jersey Street in Elizabeth. My mother, who hated her father, had few childhood memories of him. He could be an abusive drunk. He also was a hard-working man who made enough during the Depression to have roast chicken for Sunday dinners. He worked as a driver for the Fricke Furniture Company in Elizabeth. He also laid linoleum. Mom said he made furniture. She had a stained pine dresser she said her father made. It lasted a long time. The drawers fit well together with nails or glue. The one happy memory she related to me about her father was seeing him walking up the street toward their home with a bushel of blue crabs for dinner.

1930 was the year his father, Carl, died. Clarence was 36. He inherited his father’s house on Atlantic Street, with the provision Lina Holst continue to reside there. That must have been bitter—to care for his abuser and tormentor and live with her in the same house. His drinking became worse.  In October 1937, his wife, Anna Anderson, passed away unexpectedly from a stroke. Again, he lost the stabilizing influence of a woman who loved him and was left alone. The descent into alcoholism accelerated.

Between 1937 and the 1940 census, Clarence Anderson lost his house and his children. He was 45. The census form indicated he went to school through the 8th grade. He was a truck driver for a furniture company. He lived as a boarder with William Brarcznski, his wife and two sons at 335 Elizabeth Avenue in Elizabeth. There were two other lodgers there besides Clarence, one older man and one younger man. The form indicated he did not work in 1939. 

When my mother was a teenager and working as a car hop her father came and asked her for money. She gave him some money and some stationery.  She said that she did it for her mother, who loved him, but told him not to ask her again. He told her he liked her the least of his children, but that she had turned out well. I know that statement hurt Mom deeply, because she would always mention it when she had too much to drink.

I saw Clarence Anderson’s handwriting on a World War II draft card. It was smooth and clear. In 1943, he was 48 years old and still living at 335 Elizabeth Avenue in Elizabeth. Clarence was “Not Employed.” He gave the name of his eldest son, Carl J. Anderson, 525 Willow Avenue, Roselle Park, NJ as the person “Who Will Always Know Your Address.”

The next five years of his life are a mystery, although I know from photos that he did spend at least one Christmas holiday with several of his children. He was diagnosed with TB in June 1947, age 53, and spent the remaining years of his life at Bonnie Burn Sanitorium in Berkeley Heights, NJ. He died on January 28, 1953; two months short of his 59th birthday. He left eight children, and two great granddaughters. He is buried with his oldest son in Graceland Cemetery in Kenilworth, NJ.

I don’t remember any of my aunts or uncles talking about him, and my mother had very little to say, and most of it was not good. Seemingly, they all followed their father’s pattern of not talking about deep grief and loss.

My first post on Clarence Anderson can be read here.

Add Comment

By Karen