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Mason County Memories

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History Columns are arranged by year of publication in the Ludington Daily News

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One of the valuable resources that Genealogists have at their disposal in their quest to unearth the mysteries of their family tree is the humble obituary. Writing a good obituary is a skill and one that had been lost but in recent years has begun to come back into it's own. This has happened in part because of the growth of genealogy as a hobby and the increased awareness of people as to the importance of leaving a written record that goes beyond "Joe was born, married, had two kids and then he died." A lot of life happens between the dashes you see on the gravestone separating the date of birth and death and the writing of a good obituary helps to bring some happier memories and life back into a time of grieving and loss. The move by funeral homes to place obituaries online and also to provide an interactive forum for friends and families to leave messages and memories such as we find with the http://www.lifestorynet.com website is a valuable extension of the obituary placed in the newspaper. The website provides more space to celebrate the life of the person who has passed on.

Captain Robert Caswell

In looking through an old scrapbook I purchased last year I ran across an obituary for Captain Robert Caswell that ran in the May 9th 1889 edition of the Ludington Record. I think any one of us would be honored had such an obituary been written about our life, and since Robert Caswell was an early pioneer in Ludington we'll review the highlights. Robert Caswell was born in the village of Chippewa Canada May 26th 1834 and was one of 5 children. In 1839 the family moved to Buffalo New York and from there in 1841 to a farm just three miles outside of Milwaukee Wisconsin. In 1857 when Robert decided he wished to find a new way to make a living his father provided the capital that allowed him to enter into a partnership with Timothy O'Brien in a Hardware store in Columbus Wisconsin. Due to the failure of the wheat crop two years later the store which had extensive outstanding credit to customers closed. Robert at age 25 was ill for a year and upon recovering went to work on the lakes first commanding a boat owned by his father and brother. In 1864 he married Miss Elizabeth Daly and 3 children were born during this marriage. Two of his children died in early childhood and infancy, and short time after the loss of two of his children his wife succumbed to "that insidious disease consumption".

Ludington Michigan

In 1867 Captain Caswell brought up from Chicago to Ludington a Tug named the Cyclone for harbor towing. This tug owned jointly by Captain Caswell and James Ludington was built in Vermillion Ohio in 1866. After purchasing Ludington's share of the Tug Cyclone Caswell formed a partnership with Captain Amos Breinig and his Tug Aldrich [built 1868 in Milwaukee] which lasted until Caswell's death in 1889.

Ludington Michigan

Captain Caswell was wed again in December of 1872 to Charlotte Harbaugh of Ludington and to this union 6 children were born, four of which survived. Robert Caswell served as Supervisor, Alderman, Mayor of Ludington in 1885 and 1886 and at the time of his death was a member of the Board of Education. These are the basic facts gleaned from the obituary but this testimony goes much farther then that and illustrates for us the depth of the man that Robert Caswell was. We quote the May 9th 1889 Ludington Record here. "Had the news that President Harrison had died, been announced in Ludington Friday morning there would not have been a more general feeling of sympathy and bereavement than there was when it passed in suppressed voice from mouth to month that in the thickened shadows of night the soul of Captain Robert Caswell had left its earthly casement and gone out into the vague forevermore. Buoyed with good deeds, expanded with kind acts, emblazoned with love and good will, the spirit of this man leaves a halo of light in its immortal course that touches the hearts of all men." "When you did not dream that he knew of your trouble, he would suddenly appear as a ministering angel, and shadows of gloom would disappear before him as night fades before sunshine. But the plans of his generous mind, the warm impulse of his great heart, were in excess of his general system. Under the continual strain of the nervous energy of his intense nature, his heart ceased to vibrate, the brittle thread of life snapped suddenly, and Ludington's most loved pioneer, the father of much of its history, and the friend of every man who ever set foot on its streets, passed quietly away, peacefully, contentedly, and "like one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him and lies down to pleasant dreams." "The Captain had a spell of coughing before retiring, and another more severe about 11 o'clock. Mrs. Caswell became anxious and sent one of the children to a neighbor's after assistance, but before their arrival Captain Caswell dropped back into the arms of his wife, and while a slight trembling shook his frame the spark of life took it's flight, and he was no more." On May 4th 1889 the city council passed a resolution of respect in Honor of Robert Caswell.

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