Tag Archives: trapnell

Henry Felix Kloman — to have known good people

Reverend Henry Felix KlomanGathering data online is my primary research activity these days, but there’s something special about holding a historic book, letter or photograph in your hands. This was brought home to me recently when I revisited a stash of letters from my grandparents and great grandparents.  I had glanced at them several years ago, but never read through them, let alone transcribed any.

Among the various old professional and personal letters was a manila envelope with a short note on it, written in my great-grandmother Edna Valentine’s handwriting. It said simply, “I have known good people.” Inside was a collection of letters from family and friends, stretching from 1900 into the 1960s, covering a wide variety of topics.  Reading through them, it was easy to understand why they were special to Edna, for each letter had some unique element that communicated the writer’s humanity and connection with her.  They made for several hours of fascinating reading.

While nearly all of these letters might warrant it’s own essay, one that stands out is from Edna’s brother in-law, Henry “Harry” Felix Kloman, written from the front lines of World War I in November, 1918.  The Reverend Henry Kloman was born in Warrenton, VA, in 1870.  In 1895 he was ordained by the Episcopal church, and in 1900 married Eleanor “Nell” Marshall Trapnell of Charles Town, WV.

By the time the US entered World War I in 1917, Kloman had risen to become dean of the Cathedral in Fargo, ND.  Having also become a military chaplain in 1912, he was called into service in 1918, and was shipped over to France as a major to become chaplain of Mobile Hospital #1.  It’s from here that he wrote to Edna on December 10, 1918, describing what must have been a distressing and horrific scene:

The last month of the war we operated on 1077 cases & I had 227 burials… We were & are yet constantly in wind & rain. We wade in mud, sleep in mud, eat in mud. There is no escape. We were always within range of the enemy guns & frequently shelled & bombed…as I went over the battlefield we saw most awful sights, many of our own boys…were lying unburied where they had fallen two & three weeks before, some bodies only in part & no possible way of identification. I buried all we found.

While Kloman goes on to describe further scenes of battle and death, he does so with no comment about what, if any, emotional toll this is taking on him.  At one point he does say that if he’s going to be in this war, he’s glad to be at the front lines, indicating he was rather alright with the whole thing, or at least wanting to be in a place where he could be of greatest service.

After the war, Kloman returned to Fargo, and then to a number of parishes in the mid-Atlantic region.  He died of a stroke in 1942 at the age of 72, a year after his wife.

You can read the full text of the letter here.

 

Reuniting with Thomas Tidball Trapnell

An afternoon of downtime in Washington DC a few weeks back afforded me an opportunity to visit Arlington Cemetery, and the grave of my great grandfather, Major Thomas Tidball Trapnell. It was a chance to get a few moments of peace in an otherwise hectic week, and to forge a connection with a man I never knew, and who was rarely spoken of in my family.

When I last visited Arlington in 2000, on a side trip during a wonderful vacation with my daughter, Zoë, I had no idea I had a relative buried there, much less someone as close as my great-grandfather. That’s probably because since 1940, when Thomas Trapnell died at age 56, his grave had only been visited once or twice by any of his descendants, and certainly none within the past half-century. It seems great grandfather wasn’t terribly popular among his offspring.

Tom Trapnell, springtime in West Virginia, about 1900

Thomas Tidball Trapnell was the 10th of 11 children born to Joseph Trapnell III and Rebecca Holmes White. He attended Annapolis, joined the Navy (which his father managed to reverse through an action by Theodore Roosevelt), and later attended NYU, where he earned a law degree (following in the footsteps of both his father and brothers).  Tom initially practiced corporate law, but following the outbreak of World War I, joined the military, where he remained the rest of his life.  An attorney in the Judge Advocate General’s Corp, Tom was somewhat unremarkable amongst his accomplished brothers, and unique among his sibling in divorcing his spouse, my great grandmother Edna Valentine. His letters to her while still married are typically aloof, written in an irritated voice, and often complaining about either her, money, or both.

Their divorce was a family affair, with Tom’s brother, Ben, providing counsel to Edna, and everyone apparently trying to make the best of it during a time when getting a divorce was challenging, even in New York state, where Edna resided. Following the divorce, Tom and his son, Coles, didn’t get along so well, and letters from father to son are mainly directive, with little affection or indication he had much insight into my grandfather’s nature. My grandfather grew to be rebellious towards his father, and the two had a volcanic fallout shortly before Tom’s death in 1940.

Family baggage aside, finding Thomas Tidball Trapnell’s grave was important for me. For someone so close in my family tree, I know very little about him, and though he had been dead for twenty years when I was born, his strained relationship with my grandfather had kept him off the radar screen. Learning more about his history has recently become a higher priority research task for me.

Thomas Tidball Trapnell / Winifred Pattishall Trapnell headstone, Arlington Cemetery

The visit to Arlington and Tom’s grave couldn’t have been more poignant. It was a cool March day, with a light rain falling on the cherry blossoms that were just beginning to bloom. As I walked past rows and rows of graves, off in the distance a full military burial was underway, complete with horse-drawn carriage and 3-volley salute. With good directions from the staff at the office, I was able to locate the grave of Tom and Winn (his second wife) without too much wandering, and snapped a couple of photos. It was a small, quiet family reunion, but after more than 50 years without a visitor, at least one of us enjoyed it very much.