Last week, I shared some of the stories I discovered while researching the Clarinda Treatment Complex Cemetery in Iowa. Today I’ve got some more for you that reflect the different people that found themselves there over the years.

This is the stone for a young woman named Goldie Brown. I don’t have all the pieces to her story, but what I found made me sad.

Goldie’s stone is worn but you can still make out her name.

Blind From Birth

Goldie was born to Thomas Brown and Phylena Conn Brown on Jan. 29, 1903 in Iowa. She and her family were living in Tilden, Kansas according to the 1910 Census. Goldie is listed as being blind, the only record where I found this fact mentioned. An Ancestry member noted she was blind from birth. In no records did I ever find her listed as insane.

By 1920, Goldie had moved to Glenwood to the Iowa Institution for Feeble-Minded Children (IIFMC). In March 1876, the Iowa legislature designated the grounds of the former Glenwood Orphan’s Home as the location for the first Iowa Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children. The 1877 Annual Report listed 85 children and already crowded conditions. It was eventually renamed the IIFMC.

Goldie Brown spent at least 10 years living at the Iowa Institution for Feeble-Minded Children in Glenwood, Iowa. The architecture was much like the Kirkbride plan at Clarinda State Hospital. Photo is from 1904. (Photo source: Robert Elliott Flickinger – The pioneer history of Pocahontas County, Iowa)

The IIFMC expanded to over 1,000 acres as it became its own self-contained community, isolated from the rest of Glenwood by a wrought iron fence. By 1908, the resident population numbered 1,100 people overseen by a staff of 175. The IIFMC is now known as the Glenwood Resource Center and provides mental health services to about 400 people.

Goldie was 27 when she left the IIFMC and arrived at the Clarinda State Hospital in April 1930. She died on Feb. 11, 1937. Her death record states that she died of bronchopneumonia and had epilepsy. Her mother had already had passed away in 1931 of tuberculosis. Her father, Timothy, died in 1938 from angina. Goldie was 34 at the time of her death.

The Sad End of Mary Lewis Freno

When I began researching the life of Mary Freno, I only knew she was 34 at the time of her death, which seemed quite young. I thought because she had a nice marker and not the plain one provided by the CSH, she had family that cared about her. It turned out things were not as I supposed.

Abandoned by her husband, Mary Freno found herself at the Clarinda State Hospital. Who provided the stone for her?

Born in Kansas City, Mo. around 1886, Mary Lewis was the only child of Italian immigrants Samuel and Mary Lewis. In August 1908, she married Italian native Louis Freno in Wapello, Iowa. Born in 1889, his real name was Luigi Fiorini and he came to America in 1902. Later, he had another alias, Tom Davis. Mary was 24 at the time.

The 1910 U.S. Census lists the couple as living in Ottumwa with Mary’s widowed mother and Louis working for the railroad. I found a clipping announcing the death of Mary’s mother, Mary Lewis, who died at the age of 71 on Sept. 13, 1910.

By 1920, everything had changed. Mary was living in Indianola with her four children, ranging in age from 9 years to 18 months. Louis was not living with them. I found him in a Des Moines directory listed as a miner in 1916 and 1917. His World War I draft card claimed he was supporting “mother, father, wife and three children.” He does not appear again until 1940 when he was living in California with his father and going by his original name, Luigi Fiorini.

Luigi Fiorini aka Louis Freno aka Tom Davis is buried in Italian Cemetery in Alamadea, Calif. He vanished from the lives of his first wife and children, yet his gravestone says “Dear Husband” on it. (Photo source: Find a Grave)

I don’t know if Mary knew she how ill she was when she went to live at CSH not long after that. She died on Oct. 14, 1921 and her cause of death is listed as tuberculosis. Also written on her death record is “deserted by husband”. I can only guess that with four children and no family left to help her, Mary didn’t know where to turn. A sadder end I cannot picture.

The Fate of the Freno Children

So what happened to the Freno children? Eldest son Joseph spent time at the Iowa Soldier’s Orphans Home in Davenport, Iowa until enlisting in the U.S. Cavalry. Ida eventually married. Frank and Guy were adopted by different families. All of them spent most of their lives in Iowa.

Mary Freno’s son, Frank, was adopted by Joseph and Emma Bechtel. He became the leader of a popular local band, Frank Bechtel’s Orchestra. That’s him on the far right end. Photo is from 1940. (Photo source: IAGenWeb)

I found a 1940 photo of Frank as an adult, leading his orchestra in the 1930s and 40s. He played the guitar and banjo. They were a popular group that played at many ballrooms around the area.

Meanwhile, Louis Freno married a woman named Josephine in 1941 and worked as a machinist. He became a naturalized citizen in 1943. He died in 1951 in Colma, Calif. and is buried in the Italian Cemetery there. His marker says “Dear Husband” on it.

I admit, I have some not so kind thoughts for Louis/Luigi/Tom. The evidence points to him abandoning his wife when she needed him most and leaving his four young children fatherless. Perhaps there is more to the story that I don’t know. But she did not deserve the fate handed to her.

Descent into Schizophrenia

Joseph Thorp’s story is another tragedy. Born in Canada in 1898, he was the son of George and Martha Larabee Thorp. By 1920, they were farming in Missouri. Joseph, at age 21, married Edith Elsie Gigler, who was 20, on Oct. 4, 1923 in Lamoni, Iowa.

Joseph’s death was a tragic end for a young man battling schizophrenia.

The 1930 U.S. Census lists Joseph and Edith living with Joseph’s parents in Burrell, Iowa. By that time, they had three children, James, Josephine, and Mildred.

Joseph Thorp’s descent into schizophrenia must had been frightening for both him and his family. There were no drugs to combat it then. In 1933, Joseph was sent to live at CSH and on On Oct. 30 of that year, Joseph committed suicide by hanging himself with his bedsheet. His death record notes that he suffered from “dementia praecox”, a term that’s been replaced by schizophrenia. By this time, another son, Leo, had joined the family.

The 1940 U.S. Census lists Edith and her four children living with her parents and bachelor brother, Arthur, in Hamilton, Iowa. She never remarried. She died in 1994 and is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Lamoni, Iowa, sharing a gravestone with Arthur.

A Mother and Her Sons

Finally, here’s an unusual story of a mother and two of her sons that all died at CSH. This was the last stone I photographed the day we were there.

Elizabeth Leigh spent the last few years of her life with her eldest son, Vinton, at Clarinda State Hospital.

Born in Ohio, Elizabeth Jacque married Daniel Leigh in Knox, Ill. in 1859. They had three sons, Vinton, Willard and Al. Four other children died in infancy/childhood. In 1885, Daniel Leigh died and was buried in West Jersey Cemetery in Illinois. That same year, Elizabeth moved with her sons to Locust Grove, Iowa.

By 1893, Elizabeth, with sons Willard and Al, had moved to Clarinda. Vinton was now living at CSH. I suspect Elizabeth wanted to be close enough to visit him as often as she could. According to a newspaper article, she asked to join him at CSH in the last years of her life. She died there on March 6, 1915. The Iowa state census records for that year list her as insane, but it’s possible she just wanted to be near her son. Vinton died on May 3, 1928 at the age of 50.

After living at the county farm (which often meant “poor house”) for several years, son Willard entered CSH in 1919. So he spent his last years with Vinton. From the sound of his obituary, Willard was allowed to come and go as he pleased:

Willard Leigh, resident of the state hospital since 1919, and well known about Clarinda by his frequent visits to church and about town, passed away last Tuesday morning. He had been failing for several months and friends had missed him. He had a stroke several nights before his death and never regained consciousness. Burial will be made at the hospital cemetery.

Willard died on April 30, 1934 at the age of 73. He is listed as being buried at Clarinda City Cemetery, which is just down the road from the CTC Cemetery, but there is no photograph of his grave. Al, the last son of the family, moved back to West Jersey, Ill. to farm. He died there in 1940 and is buried in the same cemetery as his father.

Leaving this cemetery was hard because there were a lot of stones I didn’t have time to photograph. I hope to go back someday and finish what I started. So many stories there I would like to write. So many lives unknown.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this Hawkeye state adventure, a part of the country I’d never experienced before. It featured many moments I will always treasure.