Urban Archeologist: An Invitation to Learn More

A little digging and the help of a friendly neighborhood historian paint the picture behind the find.

I ended with a find that almost slipped through my shredder. The item was an odd wedding invitation addressed to Florence Sagendorf, the owner of the 44 Connecticut post cards (see image) found from 1904-07. With no date and taking place out of state, the invitation really didn’t have much interest. However, seeing that the groom was serving in the military as a Cavalryman piqued my curiosity. I wondered what luck I would have if I just Googled the groom’s name?

It turns out that Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright, who was about to be wed to Adele Howard Holley in 1911, was more than just a regular soldier serving his country. JMW was following in his father’s, grandfather’s and uncle’s (namesakes) footsteps. He would go on to serve in several battles, in two wars, reaching the pinnacle of his military career serving as a Lieutenant General and a POW in the Pacific during WWII. He can be seen standing in attendance as the Japanese surrendered to U.S. forces on the USS Missouri. He retired from the military in 1947 a full General and received the Medal of Honor as well as many other decorations for service to his country.

I had just one question: What was the connection between this famous military leader and some simple country folks back in Brookfield, CT?

My best recommendation for research is to start locally, if you aren’t familiar with your local historical society, it is an important resource in your community that needs your support. I arranged a meeting with Bob Brown, vice-president of the and he happily sat down with me and assembled everything he could on General Wainwright, the Sagendorfs and, maybe most importantly, the connection to answering my question — Adele Howard Holley.

It turns out that the owner of the post cards, Florence Sagendorf, was the daughter of Florence Williams Sagendorf (pictured above). The Williams were a prominent family in Brookfield who owned and donated the property that is now the site of Williams Park on Route 25. In the Williams family tree, Bob Brown and I were able to find evidence of the Holley family, also of Brookfield. There was a time when General Wainwright came to Brookfield to meet with his relatives and Florence Sagendorf was likely one of the reasons for that visit.

Had I just let that invitation go, I would have never known about a famous military leader, whose nickname was “Skinny.” He was the highest-ranking officer ever held as a POW, and he had roots right here in my town. I am sure there is more to know about all these families and I look forward to spending more time discovering what the local historical societies in Connecticut have to offer.

On the blog: I am currently looking at Barnum’s latest exhibit from 1861 Danbury — step right up.

Greg Van Antwerp is a Brookfield resident and blogger, who can be found on the weekends in search of a good “dig” or a good story.  You can read more about his adventures by visiting his blog.

Jaimie Cura January 05, 2012 at 09:53 AM
Wow Greg, that is way cool - what a find! Thanks for the tips on how to research connections.
barb January 06, 2012 at 05:04 AM
Jim Krul January 06, 2012 at 12:05 PM
Greg...just another little known historical moment uncovered by the master.


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