Mabel In the Market: The Search for the 1920’s Doughnut Shop {Part 2}

I’ve never played hide and seek with a city or a ghost before. But that’s exactly what I did with Mabel in Seattle. I was on a mission to find my great-grandmother’s doughnut shop, which according to family lore, was located in Pike Place Market sometime between the years of 1922 and 1940.

Mabel in 1907; Pike Place Market sign in 2017

If this were a movie, I’d find her by doughnut crumb trail.  I’d hop off the plane with weeks of research in hand, pop over to the market and seek out the very spot where Mabel,  my school teacher-trained, Iowa native, Seattle transplant great-grandmother would have rolled out daily stacks of doughnuts during the early 20th century.

I’d scurry through market hallways and stallways…

Pike Place Market Stairs

passing sign after sign…

until I reached my moment of satisfaction. The final destination…

… actual proof, at long-last,  that my Mabel’s place of productivity was here and that her baking legacy survived in these doughnuts still being prepared and displayed in the same way she would have made them 100 years ago…

But this is not a movie and the trail of this baking mystery did not roll out so smoothly. I did go to Seattle and I did go to the market. And I did discover Mabel. Just not exactly the way I thought I would.

As it turns out Mabel just might be the biggest fan of hide and seek I’ve ever known.  She popped in and out of this whole adventure playing her game of come find me in the most superlative of ways.

Before I left for Seattle I had trouble locating any supporting documents that would pin Mabel down in the market. I searched for weeks, trying all sorts of different avenues leading from Seattle to Iowa and back to Seattle again, hoping for a picture, a newspaper article, a copy of a market receipt, a letter home to her family… any small detail that would mention a doughnut or a day stall.   I came up empty handed on all fronts except for a picture I found of her sister Katie with whom Mabel was close…

Hello to Katie!

Taken around 1900, this was a great new addition to the family photo collection. We don’t have any pictures of Mabel’s seven sisters taken while they were young. Katie has no connection to Seattle or to the market that I know of yet but it was encouraging, a good luck sign, perhaps to see the sisterly face of someone who was so important and so close to Mabel.

Back to the market mission,  I was hoping that research helpers at pikeplacemarket.org would be more successful combing their city directories and market archives. They too tried all possible avenues on their end. Had there been a shop name or a specific date things would have been, could have been easier.  Working on it up until the eleventh hour we were communicating back and forth about potential scenarios and information but valid, concrete documentation would elude us both in the end. Mentions of Mabel in the market were nowhere to be found.

It wasn’t all disappointment at this stage though. Mabel came through in another way. A better way actually then documents and even doughnuts. She came to me in the form of dishes…

Dating to early 1900, this is Mabel’s antique flow blue china made by W.H. Grindley in the Portman pattern which had been stacked away, unbeknownst to me, in my sister’s house for years.  How exciting! Dishes that Mabel actually touched in her daily life and that survived her 1,800 mile journey from Iowa to Washington. I could just imagine one of her lovely little doughnuts sitting on this plate. Like her sister’s portrait this was a more delicate and intimate side of Mabel then I ever hoped for. A tangible piece of history and a part of her that I could carry with me back home.

Even though there was no factual info to be had about Mabel’s market days my sisters and I  headed to Pike Place anyway to see if some visual clues might strike us.

We saw fish and flowers, pigs and produce, wall murals and a great busker band. We even saw a real-life Hobart, an invention we blogged about back in May. ( I think I was the only one standing in line at this vendor that was more excited about seeing the mixer then the menu offerings).

But there were no signs of Mabel.  We commiserated over grilled cheese sandwiches and doughnuts on the wharf and talked over the possibility that perhaps Mabel just worked at a doughnut shop instead of owned one. Maybe the family story got muddled and misdirected over time. Maybe Mabel was a cog in the wheel instead of the actual wheel.

We left the farmers market feeling satisfied with food but not with family history. The search continued. Questions were still unanswered.

Further investigations led us out to the suburbs where Mabel popped up again. This time in the form of a house with a big garden yard – the place where she lived for a time in the 1950’s.  And we saw her again in two churches that were built by her only child Philip, just outside of Seattle…

Those three places didn’t provide any new clues but they did suggest a new possibility. What if Mabel made so many doughnuts at the market and on such a large scale that she never wanted to look or think or talk about another doughnut again? What if, when she moved out to the suburbs in 1940, she was done with doughnuts completely? What if that is the reason the family stories never stretched farther than the market mention?

On the last day of my trip, after I made peace with the fact that I would not discover any new information about this family story for the immediate time being,  Mabel sent out a consolation prize.  While doing a little antique shopping, my sister found an old cookbook from 1902 with a woman who looked a little like Mabel on the cover…

Flipping through it look what recipe I found on page 256…

Iowa doughnuts! A recipe from Mabel’s home state nestled in with a whopping 13 other recipes for the willing doughnut maker.  What are the chances of finding such a time appropriate cookbook with such a specific and applicable recipe?  To make this find even more Mabel-fied the inside cover of the cookbook was stamped with the name and address of the previous owner. And guess, dear readers, where that previous owner lived?

The small town where Mabel had her big garden yard and where her son built two churches!

What, really, are the chances of that? Seattle is a big city and the suburbs are dense and bubbling places. The antique shop where we found the cookbook was far from the town where Mabel lived and where her son built the churches. Not every state in the cookbook got its own doughnut recipe (only Iowa and Nebraska). And after almost fifteen years of antique collecting I’ve never come across this specific cookbook before. All signs pointed to Mabel and the magically meant to be.

So even though I didn’t exactly find out all the information I was looking for heading into this trip, I feel like I got to know Mabel so much more than just being able to reiterate some facts and dates. I touched (and took home!) dishes that she herself touched.  I saw the first-time face of her sister.  I saw the house of her senior years and I stood before two big buildings that her son built. And the icing on the doughnut is the found cookbook; owned by a person who lived in the same town as her; and that contains an obscure recipe from her home state for a sweet treat that eventually bore her business. That’s a tidy little package.

The hunt for her market days info is far from over and this story doesn’t yet come full circle but it does come full-spirit. When we eventually solve this mystery of Mabel in the market there might just be a movie style ending. Stay tuned for new updates as the research continues. In the meantime if you missed Part One of this post catch up here.

Cheers to all the “spirited” storytellers out there.

Passion Flower: Discovering the 20th Century’s Most Popular Female Writer

As you know from Ms. Jeannie’s previous posts – she’s got gardening on her mind. So she thought this would be an appropriate time to do a little further sleuthing on one of the flower themed items in her Etsy shop…

The 1930’s era women’s fiction book, Passion Flower.

Passion Flower book from msjeannieology

Written by Kathleen Thompson Norris, one of the highest paid literary writers of her time, her books mostly told stories of the women of upper-class society. Passion Flower in keeping with that theme, details the story of an elite women who falls in love with her chauffeur.

Kathleen Norris in 1925

Kathleen was born July 16th, 1880 in San Francisco, married fellow writer Charles Norris (1881-1945) and published over  80 novels in her lifetime. She also wrote four collections of short stories, one play and 10 non-fiction books. Goodness gracious, she was one busy lady!

Author Ann Douglas, in her book Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhatten in  the 1920’s described Kathleen’s work …

“Kathleen Norris was the most interesting novelist of feminine and matriarchal sentimentalist essentialism in the 1910s and 1920s; vastly popular, with a curious literary style that seems to owe a good deal to Henry  James, she developed the themes that would dominate the soaps of early radio, aroused the ire (and perhaps envy) of Dorothy Parker, was adored by Alexander Wollcott (always a fan of the matriarch), and took acre of Elinor Wylie’s stepchildren (they were related by marriage; forgotten today, she is well worth in-depth study. “

In addition to being a writer, she was also a strong feminist, promoter of women’s rights, joined Charles Lindbergh in the 1930’s to oppose US ships carrying supplies to the British, called for capital punishment and campaigned for the outlaw of nuclear rights.

Kathleen Thomson Norris – photo courtesy of Garver Graver

Kathleen spoke sensibly about following dreams and achieving goals. Clearly this philosphy was working for her!

 “Before you begin a thing, remind yourself that difficulties and delays quite impossible to foresee are ahead. If you could see them clearly, naturally you could do a great deal to get rid of them but you can’t. You can only see one thing clearly and that is your goal. Form a mental vision of that and cling to it through thick and thin.” – Kathleen Norris

Charles Gilman Norris – photo courtesy of Garver Graver 

Kathleen’s husband, Charles Norris was a prolific writer as well. Possibly best known for his book, Salt, in which F. Scott Fitzgerald claimed:

“I know Gatsby better than I know my own child.  My first instinct after your letter was to let him go & have Tom Buchanan dominate the book (I suppose he’s the best character I’ve ever done–I think he and the brother in “Salt” & Hurstwood in “Sister Carrie” are the three best characters in American fiction in the last twenty years, perhaps and perhaps not) but Gatsby sticks in my heart.”

Side Note: Ms. Jeannie’s absolute most favorite book in the world is The Great Gatsby, so she is always on the look out for any F. Scott Fitzgerald references!

Kathleen and Charles owned a 200 acre ranch in Santa Clara County, California where, as Kathleen’s novels rose in popularity, they entertained many a celebrity and Hollywood A-lister.   This is a photo of their home, located in Palo Alto.

Kathleen & Charles’ Spanish Colonial style home. Palo Alto, CA.

The house is still there today and  is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You can read more about the property here, as well as see more photos and design plans.

In 1930, Passion Flower was made into a movie starring the beautiful Kay Francis, one of the most popular actresses of  Hollywood’s Golden Era.  Interestingly enough, she had something in common with Kathleen.  Kay was  one of the  highest paid actresses of the 1930’s. Her estimated annual salary was $115,000. As a comparison, Bette Davis’ annual salary at the same time, was $8,000.

Kay Francis

Here’s a photo from the movie featuring Kay and her leading man costar Charles Bickford…

By the end of Kathleen’s career, her books had sold over 10 million copies.  She died in San Francisco in 1966. Her collection of works and papers are stored at the Special Collections Departments of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Stanford University.

She was quoted as saying:

“Life is easier than you’d think; all that is necessary is to accept the impossible, do without the indispensable, and bear the intolerable.”

Interested in who the highest paid author is in our 21st century,  Ms Jeannie was surprised (sort of) to learn that it was Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series, who in 2010 alone earned $40 million. Her series, comprised of four books, has sold over 100 million copies to date.

Stephenie Meyer

In one of those, if you could have lunch with anybody, living or dead scenarios, Ms. Jeannie thinks it would be interesting to sit down with Kathleen Norris and Stephenie Meyer.

Both women, highly successful in their writing careers, both having the luxury of seeing their own success, and both having the ability to connect with their readers on passionate emotional levels, would provide for some thought provoking conversation.

Kathleen prided herself on diligently focusing on goals to achieve success while Stephenie attributes her success to having the confidence to explore her dream state, which was how the plot for Twilight started.  Ms. Jeannie loves that both women achieved successful writing careers using two totally different motivations.

It is always great to have little reminders of our motivations in life. Ms. Jeannie found these two Kathleen/Stephenie approved ones on Etsy…

The Future Belongs To Our Dreams Art Poster by misterio

Goal Without A Plan Plaque from Crestfield

Ms. Jeannie thought it would be fun to imagine the writing spaces of these two very different women with the almost 100 year gap between them.  Using Etsy, as her design shopping center, Ms. Jeannie put together these two worlds… based on the information she just learned about them…

Kathleen Norris’ 1930’s inspired writing niche…

1937 Royal KHM Typewriter from MidMd

Antique 1920’s Secretary Desk from SecondRevival

1930’s Vintage Box of Gladiator Pen Nibs from kelleystreetvintage

1930’s French Writing Paper from the vintagearcade

Art Deco Brass Lamp from VintageLancaster

Vintage 1920s Blotting Papers from LuncheonetteVintage

Antique Oak Captain’s Chair from dajaxsurbanattic

1930s Dictionary Word Bundles from VintageScraps

The New Woman – 1897 Stereoview Photo from NiepceGallery

Stephenie Meyer’s contemporary Twilight inspired office…

Vinyl Decal Kit for Laptops from SkinKits

Ebony Writing Desk by JiriKalina

Twig Pencils by braggingbags

Woodgrain Writing Set by AshleyPahl

Forest Table Lamp from tansyandco

Journal with Eleanor Roosevelt Quote by watermarkbindery

Computer Keyboard Wrist Cushions by HomeGrownPillows

Mod Shimmer Chair by AryCollection

Wall Decal Twilight Quote by InspirationsbyAmelia

Wolf Dog Photograph by EmeraldTownRaven