Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Wheelbarrow Of Broken Dreams - Curwensville

Some say a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. In the case of William Hooven of Curwensville, a journey of 6,240 miles began with one step and a custom crafted wheelbarrow. Some said Mr. Hooven was carrying prohibition in a wheelbarrow, and indeed he did have pamphlets, temperance literature, and other paraphernalia to support his cause... but that wasn't the only reason he took this trip. The husband and father wanted to see new places, meet new people, and write about his experiences along the way. 

William Hooven was born to  Joseph & Sarah (Lucas) Hooven in February 1856. He married Miss Lucinda "Lucy" Shirk in 1877. The couple was not wealthy by any means, but they were happy. They had 8 children: Franklin, Myrtle, Nell, Elmedia, Charles, Steward, Herman, and Margaret. At the time this story began, they were living in Curwensville. 

It was an election year and the great presidential debate was under way. Former President Grover Cleveland and the current President Benjamin Harrison were the most well known candidates, and would be listed on the ballot November 5th. Some of the greatest things weighing on a voters mind at the time were tariffs & prohibition. Many people were inspired to make changes or support their choice for the future president in somewhat creative ways. There were those who wrote songs, some who created posters and attended rallies, and yet others who went above and beyond... making headlines around the world. 


In his extra time Mr. Hooven began to hand craft a custom, extra large wooden wheelbarrow,  which was light weight despite the size, only about 50 lbs. A seat to rest upon was constructed in the rear, and it was topped off with a waterproof cover. As he sanded away at the boards, nailed the pieces together, and painted the frame, Mr. Hooven dreamed of all the places he could travel with his cart. 

In September Mr. Hooven sat down with his wife. Over the course of the previous few months, he had already carefully planned a route that would take him places with this wheelbarrow, and at the same time bring in money. He explained that on this trip he would preach temperance, write about his journey, peddle family photos, and sell his story to the news. Wages earned on the trip would be mailed back to support them all. The trip would cover a distance of 6,240 miles, at a pace of 20 miles per day give or take, and he should return back in 317 days, only stopping on Sundays for rest. He explained the route: There would be many cities in between, but the basic path of travel would be heading south the Birmingham Alabama, West to Denver Colorado, and then North East to Chicago Illinois. May 31st the world fair would be ongoing in Chicago, which he intended to make an appearance, and then start home. At the time, it seemed like an uncertain, somewhat scary, but wonderful idea. 

On the 5th day of October, Mr. Hooven was ready to go with a packed wagon and the bare necessities for survival. By necessities... not cell phones, chargers, stylish clothes, and such. He had a blanket, bread, water, the clothes on his back, and shoes on his feet. The husband and father of 8 children kissed his family goodbye, and they waived until he could no longer be seen in the distance.

On October 16th Mr. Hooven spoke with a reporter in Pittston. He said so far he was a bit behind schedule but trucking along in good spirits. He mentioned spending a cold night or two under the stars but things were going well. On the 27th of October another reporter near Harrisburg caught sight of the traveling man, and Hooven said that most places welcomed him, he had even gained a few pounds! He was then again seen at the post office in Harrisburg around the 29th, but the news report described a man down on his luck barely speaking a word to anyone. In early November things were looking up. Mr. Hooven was said to have received a generous donation from Joseph Leverine, a wealthy prohibitionist from Baltimore Maryland. It seemed whether you loved him or hated him, Mr. Hooven was becoming a celebrity. Everyone was waiting for his next move.

The Hooven family anxiously awaited for word from the head of the house, which never came despite reports that he was finally bringing in money. By November 20th, Mrs. Hooven had sold everything she was able to from their house in order to keep the children fed. As the weather grew colder and bills were hard to pay, the home was sold by the constable in a Sheriff's sale and the Hooven family was forced to move. There was still no word from the loving husband and father. 

Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and soon a year had passed by. There were no more reports on the travels of the man and his wheelbarrow. Mrs. Hooven was sick with worry that her husband may have become ill or been foully dealt with. In December of 1893 the only report on the case was that Mr. Hoovens whereabouts were unknown and his family was still living in Curwensville, but nearly starved to death. In 1894 the couples young son, Steward, was playing with a friend when he fell on a circular saw, completely cutting off his leg at the knee. His injuries were so severe that he passed away. Still.. there was no word from Mr. Hooven. It seemed like he dropped off the face of the earth. Eventually the children grew into adults with family of their own. Mrs. Hooven died on November 22nd, 1914 at the age of 58, and some say it was from worry topped with a broken heart. She is buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery at Curwensville. 

In 1896 Mr. Hooven resurfaced in Baltimore, Maryland. No one knows for sure if he ever left as his trail grew cold right in that city. He married a woman by the name of Dora. The couple had two daughters: Katherine (1901-1995) and Ruth (1904-1993). Whether his intentions were truly to find a way to support his campaign and family or to escape his life, of that I am not sure... but the wheelbarrow of prohibition turned out to be the wheelbarrow of broken dreams, at least for the family left behind in Curwensville. 

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