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The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
July 2007

An immigrant Scottish family finds help

In October 1923, a man by the name of George Sivewright emigrated from Glasgow, Scotland to the United States with his wife and five children. The oldest girl, with long black hair was seventeen. The youngest boy was five. George Sivewright brought letters of introduction from Neilson, Shaw & MacGregor where he had been employed as a buyer in the Hosiery and Glove Department for nearly seven years. Like so many others arriving in Chicago, he found immediate employment at Marshall Field’s. The family lived at 59th and Michigan Avenue. Eleven months later, September 4, 1924, this loving father was dead from cancer.

The family had no money and no burial plot. Someone notified the Saint Andrew Society and under the direction of Dr. William Ferguson Dickson, who was President at the time, the family was offered assistance with the funeral and burial. Arrangements were made at Rosehill Cemetery and Rev. James McLagan, Society chaplain, performed the service. The oldest girl, Betty would later recall seeing an open hole in the ground and a deep sense of embarrassment that the family needed charity for the funeral. Neither the mother, nor any of the children ever returned to Rosehill.

The mother never worked, but the rent was always paid. There was always food with enough for the neighbors. The children all finished school. The oldest son, Joseph, would obtain a job as a bellhop at the Stevens Hotel, where the Society held its Annual Dinner on St. Andrew’s Day. Joseph would later attend Northwestern University. He was said to be an excellent math student. Thirty-five years later, he was a senior vice president with the Hilton Hotel Corporation. How did all this happen with no apparent family income? One wonders about the continued role of our Society but the records are silent and Betty Priest, the oldest child, didn’t know.

At 18 Betty joined the Daughters of Scotia and began attending events at the Scottish Home. Scots on the South side of Chicago would regularly charter a bus and visit the Home on special occasions, especially the annual picnic. Betty, would later say that some inner urge was present to repay the Society, but she never understood why until later. She participated in Tag Days where women would stand on street corners in Chicago and raise money for the Scottish Home. When she retired in 1969, she became a full time volunteer at the Home. She served eight years as the President of the Ladies Auxiliary and was also a member of the Home Committee. In 1979 she was honored as Clanswoman of the Year, the highest honor our Society pays to its volunteers. In 1993, at the age of 92, she became a resident of the Scottish Home.

One day, she visited my office and told me her story and said that she and her brother David would like to visit Rosehill where the father was buried. We made immediate arrangements to go and after so many years the two of them returned for the first time to visit their father’s grave. At the 1995 Anniversary Dinner, Betty Priest, then 95 years old, allowed “George Anderson” to publicly tell her story for the first time.

This is only one of a thousand stories that illustrate the work of our Society since its beginnings on December 1, 1845. The charitable work continues. The Illinois Saint Andrew’s Society has earned, and deserves, your support as a charitable institution.

Pictured first:  Betty and Joseph Sivewright as children, standing
Pictured second:  Betty Priest, Wayne Rethford and David Sivewright at Rosehill

An immigrant Scottish boy finds success

Joseph Sivewright was the older brother of Betty Priest whose story is told in this issue. He died in January 1981, and his obituary was printed in the Cincinnati Post Times Star. Please note that like his sister, Betty Priest, Joseph also repaid his debt because it says he was “a friend to those in need...”

“Joseph Sivewright, hotel manager, baseball fan and a friend to those in need, died Thursday at Naples Community Hospital, Naples, Florida. Mr. Sivewright, 67, was an assistant vice-president of the Hilton Hotels Corporation and managed Cincinnati’s Netherland Hilton from August 1963 and Terrace Hilton from November 1964 until January 1968. An avid Reds fan, Mr. Sivewright continued to attend games even after leaving Cincinnati. His family’s apartment in the Netherland Hilton was a sports headquarters and after-game congregating spot for ballplayers, managers and sports writers. Pat Harmon, sports columnist for The Post, interviewed Leo Durocher, Jim Murray, Fred Chaus, Larry MacPhail, Bill Veeck, Bill Shoemaker and many others in Mr. Sivewright’s apartment and would use his friend’s typewriter after every opening baseball game.

“Mr. Sivewright helped many friends through difficult times. After the death of one friend, he and his French wife, Olliette, took the new widow into their home and helped her through the months of grief. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Mr. Sivewright came to this country when he was 12 years old. At 15, he found a job as a bellhop at the Stevens Hotel, now the Conrad Hilton, in Chicago. A mathematics whiz and respected for his knowledge of the hotel business, he rose to general manager and then transferred to the Hilton corporate office in 1950 as assistant to the executive vice-president. He became an assistant vice-president in 1955.

“After leaving Cincinnati, Mr. Sivewright managed the Hilton Inn in New Orleans and then became south-south-west division vice-president for Hilton Hotels. He had lived in Naples for 13 years. Mr. Sivewright leaves his wife, Olliette, and two sons, Richard J. of Louisville and Baron of Naples. Services will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Pittman Funeral Home, 850 Sixth Ave., Naples.”

Additional information was obtained from his obituary in the Naples paper. He lived at 2080 Sheepshead Drive in Naples and had been retired three years. Rev. Larry G. Smellie, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church officiated with burial in Memorial Gardens Cemetery, Naples. Fla.

After writing the above article, I began to wonder if any of the descendants were still alive. A search of the white pages in Naples did not show any listing for Baron and the same for Richard J. in Louisville. So, I purchased the services of a program called Intelius which showed a Richard J. living in Port Charlotte, Fl. I called the number listed and found that it was indeed the son of Joseph Sivewright. We had a conversation lasting at least an hour. He is retired after serving as a vice-president of Kentucky Fried Chicken. He and his wife of 50 years have four children who are all quite successful and live in various parts of the United States. We will continue to exchange information.

A Scottish immigrant drowns in the Chicago River

The story of Alexander Fraser has occupied my mind for many years. The haunting letter from his parents written to George Anderson has long been a prized possession. Who was Alexander and how did he drown? Was it a warm September day swimming with friends in the Chicago river? The ability to search the Chicago Tribune using ProQuest, would bring the answer. However, after many hours of searching, I found nothing. I decided to search using the word “coroner” and there was the story. The newspaper had misspelled his last name! Alexander is buried in the Old Grounds.

The date is September 6, 1870 and the Tribune reports: “About 1 o’clock yesterday Alexander Frazer, who was employed on the tug-boat Messenger, in endeavoring to step from a boat lying alongside the Messenger to the latter, missed his footing, fell into the river and was drowned. The body was recovered and the Coroner held an inquest. A verdict of ‘accidental drowning’ was rendered by the jury. The deceased was about 30 years of age, and has a family residing somewhere near New Rochelle, Illinois.” Here is the parents’ letter:

Mr. George Anderson
Chairman Board of Managers
Illinois St. Andrews’ Society

Dear Sir:

We received your kind and sympathizing note, informing and condoling with us at the awful, sudden and untimely death of our son on the 7th day of September, by drowning. While the news, so sudden and unexpected to us, has almost broken our hearts, yet we are consoled in our great grief by the kindness your Society has shown to our poor boy in having him decently buried in the Society’s grounds.

May the blessing of Almighty God be with you in your Charitable and
Benevolent Institution for this kindness to us and to our son, a stranger in a strange land. Please, Sir, convey to your Society our undying thanks, and those of our family; and we hope that your Society will prosper in all its Benevolent Intentions.

If there are any letters or papers of Alexander’s in your hands, please be so kind as to forward them to us, with the amount spent by the Society on our Son’s funeral and it will be promptly forwarded. And now may God bless you and the Society with which you are connected, in your work of love and mercy, and make you a blessing to the poor and needy, is the sincere prayer of:

Alexander & Margaret Fraser
No. 464 Dumbarton Road
Glasgow, September 30, 1870


Rosehill Cemetery

Rosehill is a Victorian-era cemetery on the North side of Chicago. It is the third largest cemetery in the world and the largest non-sectarian cemetery in Chicago. It has a long and continuing history with the Illinois Saint Andrew Society and our members. Rosehill was established in 1859 by Major John H. Kinzie and William B. Ogden. The Society purchased the “old grounds” in 1858 a full year before the cemetery was open. This may have been due to the influence of John Kinzie or William Saunders, both of Scottish heritage, or, perhaps, they bought at a reduced rate!

The Society owns two large plots of land. The “Old Grounds” are located near the entrance in section D. This prime location indicates that they purchased early in the process. The first burial appears to be Robert Osborne who died, Oct. 10, 1861. Sixty-three people appear to be buried in this area. The largest section is called the “New Ground” and is located in Section 5. This section was purchased in 1871. 403 people are buried in Section 5. The last burial was Jessie A. Watson, a resident of the Scottish Home who died October 7, 1982. In total the Society owns 602 lots of which 444 are occupied.

Seventeen presidents of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society are buried at Rosehill. We will not be able to visit all the graves on our tour in July, but all their graves have been located and visited numerous times. Gus Noble and I made our last visit to each of them in 2005. This list will be included in the tour notebook, as well as those who are buried in the Society plots.

“Rosehill Cemetery is the sacred resting place for the largest number of Civil War soldiers and veterans in the Midwest.” Six drummer boys, including Frank McLean, three buglers, three chaplains and three nurses all of whom served in the Civil War are buried here. One of the nurses was Marion McClintock.

Other familiar Scots in our history at Rosehill are: John L. Beveridge, General John McArthur (see Index), Major George Mason, William Harrison Fetridge, William Bryce Mundie, Rev. James Maclaughlan and John Williamson (see Index) all lie at peace in this beautiful cemetery.

Pictured: Betty and David Priest and Wayne Rethford

From the Editor

I hope many of you will go with us on our tour of Rosehill Cemetery. The plot in Section D was the first property owned by the Society. It was an effort to fulfill their mission that no deserving Scot would ever be buried in a Potter’s field. It was a major undertaking, but for almost a hundred years, they labored to fulfill this pledge. There was always a Cemetery Committee which reported at each meeting to the Board of Governors. The cemetery committee was composed of some of the most important people in our history. Through the years they tried various ways to mark the graves, but none were very successful. They purchased a contract for perpetual care and carefully watched over the property. Realizing that the original plot would not be large enough to meet their needs, they purchased the large plot in Section 5 in 1871. I am told that the Saint Andrew Society is the largest land owner, with the exception of the cemetery itself.

It is my privilege to serve on the Rosehill Cemetery Reserve Fund. When the cemetery opened each person purchasing a grave was required to place a certain amount of money into the Reserve Fund. The interest from this fund was to be used for upkeep and beautification of the cemetery. Society member, Jim Alexander, serves as the Chairman of this fund, as did his father and his grandfather before him. We meet at the cemetery several times each year and decide how the interest money is to be spent. Lately, the money has been spent in the Mausoleum which is the largest in Chicago. Learn more about Rosehill’s great Scottish heritage on July 21.

Mark your calendar for History Club meetings
10:00 a.m.
Heritage Hall

July — No meeting
July 21 — Rosehill Cemetery tour
August — No Meeting
September 8 — Early leaders of our society
October 6 — The Columbian Exposition of 1893
November 3 — Scots in the world of business
December — No meeting

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
Scottish-American History Club
2800 Des Plaines Avenue
North Riverside, IL 60546