Wordless Wednesday: Twinnie

Ilene “Twinnie” (née White) Audette
ca the 1930s, Burlington, Vermont


The Unintentional Bachelor

On June 22, 1941, a massive invasion on the Soviet Union was launched by, Adolf Hitler. Nearly 150 divisions of armed troops totaling around three million German soldiers, came smashing across the borderlines, with about 3,000 tanks, onto Soviet grounds. The invasion encompassed roughly a 1,500-mile region from the Northern Baltic Sea, near Leningrad to the southern Black Sea, Kiev territory.

Clayton Gravelle at Battery Park, Burlington, Vermont

Meanwhile the day before some three thousand plus miles across the North Atlantic Ocean a handsome young man clocked out from his shift at the bake shop and headed home for a quick shower. He gave his ma a peck on the cheek and was out the door.

Clayton Gravelle slid into the driver seat of his convertible, started up the engine, and sped off to pick up his buddy Jim McMillan. It was Saturday night, the warm wind slapped their bangs across their foreheads, as they went for a drive.

With the onset of the peacetime draft that selective services enacted in 1940, it is possible that Clayton had already filed his obligatory draft papers upon his 18th birthday. If a draft card exists it has not been discovered. However, he probably wouldn’t have been selected by June 22nd, because it wasn’t until later in the year that men of the age of 18 were required to put in a service period. Nonetheless, it is probable that friends of Clayton did get selected, and he was aware of the atrocities happening across the world, making this June evening in Vermont, a perfect time to cut loose with a good friend, have a little fun, be carefree–while they could.

a friend, (possibly James McMillan) and Clayton Gravelle
approximately summer 1941

A few years before this night, Clayton laced up his ice skates and raced in the Winter Carnival. This feat got his name printed in The Burlington Free Press. Did the local girls look on as Clayton whisked by, cheering for him? Had one of them kept a crush right up to the night he and Jimmy went out for their ride? With all the family members from his generation now deceased, there is no help to fill in this part of the story; we are left to wonder which young lady was going to own the heart of this dashing Gravelle man and cause him to give up his bachelor status.

If Clayton had any fear of being drafted into the war, it all ended in front of the Webster residence in Georgia Center, around 12:30 am June 22, 1941, on the day that would be made known throughout history as Operation Barbarossa. However, to Mary Gravelle, it would forever be known as the horrific morning that would entitle her to receive a $500 indemnity check made payable upon death owing to an automobile accident.

The Burlington Free Press, 8 Jul 1941, p. 8, col. 6.

Mary Gravelle’s last born child was believed to be the one behind the wheel on his way home back to Burlington. Crushed were all her hopes and dreams for her baby boy. The weight of grief trampling over her felt like a tanker, going back and forth, back and forth.

“The car left the cement on the left side of the road, bent one culvert pole, tore off another and traveled across a ditch near the Webster driveway.

Turning completely over, the auto landed with its four wheels in the air and was headed in a northerly direction. It is believed that McMillan was thrown from the car, while Gravelle was pinned beneath it.”

“Lad Is Fatally Injured When Car Overturns,” The Burlington Free Press, 23 Jun 1941, p. 2, col. 8.

The immediate cause on, Clayton’s certificate of death states, “pending further study by pathologist.” Then box 22 asks, “If death was due to external causes, fill in the following:” Dr. H. H. Johnson writes the word “accident.” The newspaper article (mentioned above) reported Dr. C. F. Whitney, state pathologist performed an autopsy, and that the results of the autopsy were not made public.

Jimmy and Clayton thought they had the world before them. They were just two easygoing guys living a perfect Vermont summer night, and in a split second, Clayton became the eternal unintentional bachelor.

Clayton Gravelle
approximately summer 1941

Clayton Wilfred Jerome Gravelle

BIRTH 8 JANUARY 1923¹ • Burlington, Vermont
DEATH 22 JUNE 1941² • St. Albans, Vermont
PARENTS: Joseph August Gravel (1887–1951) and Mary Dumas (1886–1959)

Relationship to me: great-uncle

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks 2019: Week 10 Bachelor Uncle


1 Franklin, Vermont, Town Clerks Office, Vital and Town Records, 1732-2005, database, Family Search (FamilySearch.com : accessed 8 Mar 2019), entry for death certificate no 73, p. 78, image 389, 22 June 1941.

2 Chittenden, Vermont, Town Clerks Office, Vital and Town Records, 1732-2005, database, Family Search (FamilySearch.com : accessed 8 Mar 2019), entry for birth certificate no 049 register no 1211, image 1437, 8 Jan 1923.

A special thank you to Donna Nicholas for letting my scan photos two and four.

Holding James Johns at the Library

James Johns; my 5th great-uncle

Spring was making its slow entrance into Vermont, and we were excited to escape from the confines of the house. Although too soon for butterflies to be out, they made their presence inside me. This day was going to be my first trip to the Special Collections Library. I had done my research and knew that my 5th great-uncle was about to be found within their acquisitions, but timid I remained as I walked up to the desk and ask for what I wanted.

Still recovering from a full knee replacement, my husband found something he could research and joined me at the library. Our requested documents retrieved, we took them to a large wooden table.

The most extensive collection of Johns’ work is in three archival-quality boxes at the Vermont Historical Society. However, one gray document box is at the University of Vermont, Bailey/Howe Library, Special Collections. It is this box lid that I slowly opened and saw several folders. I pulled out the first one and began examining the contents — I was holding my great-uncle’s creative works…now over one hundred and fifty years old.

Before this research trip

I discovered that my great-uncle was a pen writer. He published The Vermont Autograph and Remarker, which I found samples of online. But now I was holding an original piece of his masterful work. I could see the effort he took in handwriting to mimic mechanical printing. This publication was distributed by himself from 1834 to 1873. The Gazette kept the locals engaged with short stories, obituaries, poetry, and other essays including local history.

Take a look at this handwritten paper and imagine no typesetting
he printed it all by hand!

examples of Johns’ pen-printed newspaper

A goose-quill pen, about four hours, and a few sheets of paper measuring slightly larger than the palm of one’s hand (4½” x 6½”) and Johns’ was ready to head into town to post his offering (which he did five days a week) for anyone to read. In his early days, he wrote from his hometown of Huntington, Vermont but eventually moved to the abutting town of Starksboro sometime after the 1860 U.S. Federal Census — where he remained until he died.

In reading what people had to say about Johns’ words like “A remarkable Fellow,” “eccentric,” and “The compulsive journalist” stand out. Others wrote —

“Even after newspapers were printed regularly, a few of these news-sheets were still circulated, the last survivor probably being the Vermont Autograph and Remarker, which was issued regularly at Huntington, Vt., for many years by one James Johns, and was in existence as late as the year 1847. This page was elegantly printed with pen and ink upon commercial note paper, and is described as a wonder of patient industry and perfect penmanship”.

Charles F. Adams

I held a photograph of Uncle James and then a picture was taken of me gingerly cradling his book A Brief Sketch or Outline of the History of the Town of Huntington. This book was published one hundred years before my birth.

Valarie holding her 5th great-uncle’s hand-penned book

Although I couldn’t possibly read the entire collection in one sitting, my jitters of researching at the Special Collections Library melted like the snow piles evaporating just beyond the windows from where I sat. I took notes and used the excellent professional scanner to capture the documents that most spoke to me. All the while a kindred spirit was developing between Uncle James and me. He documented information that I crave to find, such as the local town obituaries. He was known for his quirkiness in keeping his pen writing alive, and often times my role of keeping my families history thriving is perceived as an odd pastime with my people.

Thanks for paving the weirdness factor, Uncle James!


Inventory of the James Johns Papers, 1812-1873 mss.702; James Johns Papers Collection, Special Collections, University of Vermont Library.

Johns, James pg 57, (1890). Newsdealer, Volume 1; University of Minnesota; Google Books; Digitized May 18, 2011

The Autograph & The Gazetteer, pp. 3-8; Citro, Joseph A. (2001). Green Mountains, Dark Tales; University Press of New England

Johns, James; pp. 75-6, Sifakis, Carl (2013). American Eccentrice; London: Forgotten Books

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks 2019: Week 5 At the Library