Tuesday, June 25, 2019

"A Mother's Love ..... or Something Else" by Peter E. Small: Part VIII

Genea-Musings reader Peter E. Small solved a family genealogical mystery and wrote a report about it, and I offered to publish his work on my blog.

This will be a multi-part series posted over several weeks - probably on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Earlier parts were published in:

*  Prologue:  https://www.geneamusings.com/2019/05/a-mothers-love-or-something-else-by.html
*  Part I:  https://www.geneamusings.com/2019/05/a-mothers-love-or-something-else-by_30.html
*  Part II:  https://www.geneamusings.com/2019/06/a-mothers-love-or-something-else-by.html
*  Part III: https://www.geneamusings.com/2019/06/a-mothers-love-or-something-else-by_6.html
*  Part IV:  https://www.geneamusings.com/2019/06/a-mothers-love-or-something-else-by_11.html
*  Part V:  https://www.geneamusings.com/2019/06/a-mothers-love-or-something-else-by_13.html

*  Part VI:  https://www.geneamusings.com/2019/06/a-mothers-love-or-something-else-by_18.html

*  Part VII:  https://www.geneamusings.com/2019/06/a-mothers-love-or-something-else-by_19.html


A Mother’s Love…..or something else?
 A True Genealogical Mystery Solved

 Copyright © 2019 Peter E. Small, All Rights Reserved


“This above all: to thine own self be true…” Hamlet act 1. scene iii Polonius to Laertes

The first and less than half of the second page of his autobiography, Personal File, describes Paul
Clifford Smith’s birth and almost everything else he claims to know about himself and his family.
The first sentence begins “As midnight forced their hands straight up, the clocks of Seattle struck twelve while I lay there in the gutter, stark naked and howling my head off”. The second paragraph is devoted to describing the actual events preceding and after his birth. The third paragraph begins “So far as I am concerned, this view of my birth is based upon pure hearsay…..” and ends with the sentence “There is nothing in my personal file to document the event except the date - November 24, 1908”. What document was in his personal file that contained that fabricated date?

There are eight major factual errors on the first page alone. The man he identifies, mistakenly, as his
deceased father, Wallace Bruce Smith, is actually Wallace Burdick Smith who was very much alive. I say mistakenly because it is now clear, after reading his book, that Paul Clifford Smith is, with out a doubt, Paul Clifford Dormitzer.

Was it his mother, Carrie Mason, who concocted this fairly complex deception? It is almost an absolute certainty that Carrie’s eldest son, Joseph Shuter Smith, would have known the truth. It was he who was charged with the unenviable job that was more guardian than brother to Paul C. Smith. Was it purely a mother’s love trying to shield her son and her reputation or was it a collaborative effort? 

There is an interesting sentence on page 351 of his book. The page describes his first days in Marine boot camp. The recruits were taken for an “information test” which he failed miserably by not allowing enough time to complete the last 17 questions of the test. He said he never hear anymore about it fortunately and “I can only hope that it is not in my FBI file somewhere.” The FBI had investigated him and didn’t bother to verify his identity? The first half of the twentieth century was a curious time in the U.S. of A., to say the least.

Through the years, as Paul C. Smith’s notoriety increased, his personal history was detailed and
celebrated in print by several local and possibly a few national publications. His obituary appeared in the New York Times.

One lengthy article dated September 1946 that began on page 179 of the San Francisco City-County
Record was written by a William Flynn. Mr. Flynn states that “there are many conflicting biographical rumors floating about him” (Paul Clifford Smith). So, Mr. Flynn was determined to straighten things out single-handedly. He declared, “Sifting fact from rumor, it is found: Smith was born in Seattle, Washington, November 24, 1908, the son of Wallace B. and Carrie Auguta (Mason) Smith.” If it wasn’t so sad, it would be laughable. He could have personally written Paul C.’s biography 18 years before the actual book was published.

In 1988 Suzanne B Riess of the Regional Oral History Office of The Bancroft Library, a part of UC
Berkeley, conducted an interview with Scott Newhall. Mr. Newhall was one of the successors to Paul C. Smith after he had resigned his position as Editor and General Manager of The San Francisco Chronicle.  The two were extremely close friends. Mr. Newhall had built a second house on his property for his ailing mother. After his mother’s passing he let Paul C. Smith, who was at this time sick and broke, occupy the house and write his autobiography. On page 90 of the interview Mr. Newhall stated “….his father died or something, who knows. It was a very hazy background and he always made quite a point of that.” And then on page 93, as part of a longer answer to a question from the interviewer, he stated “He came from nowhere.  He didn’t know what his parentage really was, no matter what the legalities of the matter were.

He didn’t know his real father’s identity. Does it follow that he knew Wallace B. Smith was not his real father?

It is reassuring to know that someone, outside the Smith and Dormitzer families, recognized that there are legalities involved.

And he always made quite a point of keeping everything very hazy. It was this hazy aloofness that kept people from questioning him further about his parentage, for what ever reason.

The Rootsweb website has a section dedicated to “San Francisco Biographies.” Paul Clifford Smith is the subject of one such biography.  It was transcribed by Cecelia M. Setty. Her source was Eminent Californians 1953 by Lee E. Johnson & C.W. Taylor (pg. 296) (C.W. Publ., Palo Alto, California 1953). One can only speculate about the source(s) of Mr. Johnson and Mr. Taylor’s biographical information.  The biography was, of course, a carbon copy of all the other biographies previously published.


Randy's NOTE:  Stay tuned for the next installment of this multi-chapter report.  I will add all of the chapters to this post, and the other chapter posts, as they are published. The chapters to date are:

My thanks to Peter for sharing this mystery and its' solution with me and the Genea-Musings readers.

The URL for this post is:  https://www.geneamusings.com/2019/06/a-mothers-love-or-something-else-by_25.html

Copyright (c) 2019, Peter E. Small

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