Vivian Blanche Martin

Vivian Blanche Martin, third child of Horatio Woodman Martin and Laura Martha Ann Hart and the only daughter of the four children, was born 5 March 1894 in Martintown, Green County, WI. During her early childhood she lived just uphill from the Martin family’s huge sawmill and gristmill, which her father supervised, having assumed the responsbility from his father, Nathaniel Martin, the founder of the village. Horatio and Laura’s home shared a front yard with that of his parents. Vivian attended the Martin school just across the Pecatonica River from the mills, along with her siblings and many cousins. Martintown was at its height of prosperity and activity during the first decade of her life, and Vivian was able to enjoy highly stable circumstances in terms of family life, financial comfort, and companionship, the only fly in the ointment being that she was an “in-betweener” in generational terms. She was part of a generation whose first members had nearly all been born much earlier than she -- the first just shy of a quarter century earlier -- and only the fact that the first few of that generation waited until their mid-twenties or later to start their families prevented Vivian from being younger than the forefront of those cousins once-removed. She was not the very youngest of her generation, but the true tail-enders, her brother Clark and her cousin -- and future step-brother -- Ralph Bucher, were not born until 1900, the year she turned six. When Vivian was a small child, she may well have pined for the company of a playmate her own age.

Her life situation went through some significant transformations during her pre-teen years. Her grandfather Nathaniel passed away in early 1905. Toward the end of that year her father developed tuberculosis -- a disease which was rampant in the community in that part of that decade -- and he died the following spring. Vivian’s mother remarried less than a year later to Elwood Bucher, who had been previously married to Vivian’s late aunt, her father’s sister Mary Lincoln “Tinty” Martin. This resulted in a combined household, though not as thorough a mixture as might have occurred just a few years earlier. Elwood and Tinty’s four older children had all recently spread their wings and only little Ralph was left to join Vivian and her brothers Fay and Clark -- Vivian’s eldest brother Nathaniel having also established his own household.

While still short of seventeen years of age, Vivian married Ray Burnette Smith (shown at right), son of Chester Smith and Diana Brown. (His middle name may have been spelled Burnett rather than Burnette.) The pair were multiply connected in the genealogical sense. On their fathers’ sides they were not actually blood relatives, but Ray was a descendant of individuals who had lived beside Vivian’s forebears in colonial Guilford County, NC, and whose grandfather Miles Smith had purchased part of the Nathaniel Martin estate in 1870. On their mothers’ sides, Vivian and Ray were second cousins -- she was a granddaughter of Wilson Hart, and Ray was a grandson of Wilson’s sister Louisa Hart. The wedding was quite possibly an elopement, the bride and groom choosing to venture some twenty-five miles from home to take care of the matter in Rockford, Winnebago County, IL on the 7th of November, 1910. The hastiness was possibly because Vivian had realized she was pregnant. First child Leon Elton Smith was born less than eight months after the ceremony. The couple went on to have two more children in quick succession. The second was a stillborn child in 1912 whose name and gender went unrecorded. (Because so little is known about that child, no biographical page has been created on this website.) The family was completed with the birth of son Lyle Horatio Smith in 1913.

Vivian and Ray and their offspring lived on Green County acreage just north of Martintown, where Ray attempted to earn a living as a tenant farmer. The 1910s were not a time when American farmers earned much, and the household finances were often precarious. Dissatisfied with his success, Ray tried other things. His draft card, which was filed 12 September 1918, shows him as an “outdoor showman” for a company based in Winslow, Stephenson County, IL, Martintown’s sister village just to the south across the state line. The household was based in Winslow at that point. This venture -- apparently a commission-based arrangement -- and any others undertaken in the late 1910s generated so little lasting income that Vivian and Ray sought refuge by the end of 1919 with his parents on their farm in Green County. The 1 January 1920 census shows them there. It is possible the younger couple tried to reestablish an independent home over the next year or two or three, but in 1923, they gave up this idea indefinitely. Chester and Diana Smith were in their seventies and decided they would retire to Winslow. Vivian and Ray and the boys came along and shared the two-story house. The situation not only helped the younger folk to keep a roof over their heads, but provided the older ones with much-needed assistance. Chester Smith had lost part of a leg to a hay mower in a farm accident years earlier, and at his advanced age was ready to cease hobbling around on his wooden leg. Leon and Lyle were regularly called upon to push Chester’s wheelchair. This continued to be one of their duties for the rest of their childhoods, especially after Diana Brown Smith passed away in 1927. With the farm gone, Ray of course had to find a new occupation. He does not seem to have found anything long-term, getting by as a day laborer taking whatever odd jobs turned up.

When Vivian and Ray’s youngsters came of age in the 1930s, they were not alone among their peers in realizing that Martintown’s heyday had passed, and they chose to look for opportunities elsewhere. Leon joined his uncle Clark Martin and step-great-uncle Charles Bucher in Colfax, Whitman County, WA, where the two men had operated a creamery since 1922. Soon Lyle also moved to the Pacific Northwest. This ultimately led to Vivian choosing to relocate as well. Her marriage to Ray had been on the rocks for some time -- family gossip attributing the tensions to Ray’s propensity for alcohol and women. Finally Vivian decided she had had enough, and in 1942 (or about then), she went to Port Angeles, Clallam County, WA so as to be near Lyle. Her boy had joined the U.S. Army in early 1941, and until 1942 was stationed in or near Port Angeles, manning a searchlight installation on the coast of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. (By then, Lyle was Vivian’s only surviving child. Leon, plagued by persistent headaches, had committed suicide in 1936.) Ray, whose father had died in 1938, lingered in Rockford -- the same town where he and Vivian had become husband and wife three decades earlier. Employed there at Watkins Nursery, he boarded in the home of an acquaintance named Frank Kelley. By 1943, he headed west, but he did not go as far as Vivian. Instead he became temporarily based near Missoula, MT.

Vivian obtained a job as a live-in housekeeper for the Frank Robinson family. When Lyle headed off to war as a member of the 82nd Airborne, Vivian stayed in Port Angeles. She did not keep the position as housekeeper for long. It is unclear what other employment she may have procured, but she did continue to live with the Robinsons, helping with errands and helping keep an eye on the children in return for cheap rent. She may have felt she had nowhere else to go, short of showing up on one of her brothers’ doorsteps as a charity case.

Vivian passed away of what appears to have been suicide. During the early afternoon of 25 September 1943, she escorted the Robinson children into downtown Port Angeles, then was not seen alive again by anyone who knew her. Her body was found floating in the city log dump along the shore of Juan de Fuca Strait just after noon on the 26th. The remains showed no marks of violence or other indication of cause of death except by drowning. The medical examiner determined that she had only been in the water a matter of hours, but guessed she had succumbed before midnight. Accordingly the 25th is her official date of death, though it could actually have been the 26th. No suicide note was found, but she was known to have been despondent. (Given her general circumstances, how could she not be?) Murder was not considered likely as she did not have any hint of wealth on her person and the only individual likely to have had a motive was Ray, but he was not a suspect because there was no indication he had left Montana and come all the way out to the Olympic Peninsula.

(Hauntingly, the one image of Vivian in adulthood that has been found is the one shown in the upper left corner of this biography, a view which seems to have been captured outside the Robinson home in Port Angeles. It is from a photo Lyle kept with him overseas during World War II. Other surviving photos show her in childhood -- examples appear on the pages devoted to Martintown and to her father, though unfortunately they show her from a distance, and out of focus. The only quality photo of her available is the baby photo shown at left.)

Vivian’s body was interred 9 October 1943 in Lot 8B, Block 22, Section L of Ocean View Cemetery in Port Angeles, with graveside services at ten in the morning. No headstone was placed at the grave.

Ray Burnette Smith survived Vivian by nearly thirty years. It is no surprise that the suicide left him estranged from his surviving son, who blamed him for having driven her to it. The tension went on for a quarter of a century. Perhaps it would not have been so lasting under normal circumstances, but in addition to the emotional rift was a geographical one. At the time of his mother’s death, Lyle was overseas enmeshed in the fighting in Italy. He could not come back for the funeral and by the time the war was over, did not feel like coming back, period. Marrying an English girl, he lived in England in the post-war period, then in Australia from 1949 to 1960. After five years back in England, he and his family decided to return to Australia. As part of the journey, they passed through the United States, and Lyle at last was willing to sit down face-to-face with his father. The two reconciled, remaining on speaking terms for the final fragment of Ray’s life. It was not a substantial fragment -- only another eight years. Ray expired 19 May 1973 in Sterling, Whiteside County, IL. His grave is at Staver Cemetery near Martintown.

Children of Vivian Blanche Martin with Ray Burnette Smith

Leon Elton Smith

Lyle Horatio Smith

For genealogical details, click on the names.

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