Ma Truby, Ma Mullen, & My 3-G Grandma Harrington Were the Ladies Who Lunch (allegedly)
Apollo farmer Simon Truby was married to his second wife Elizabeth Hill Truby (1826-1901) for more than 35 years, until his death in 1886. After Simon’s death, Elizabeth – known to her friends as Betsy or “Ma Truby”– found herself in her big rambling brick farmhouse, living with her eldest son Henry and his family, including 8 of Betsy’s grandchildren (see photo at end of article). Meanwhile, all around her, the Truby farm was being subdivided into hundreds of lots. New homes and streets were being built, and new families moving in.
With Simon gone, Betsy surely needed a friend to socialize with and confide in; son Henry Truby and his wife Sarah Belle Whitlinger were busy raising their children and managing what remained of the dwindling farm. Fortunately, Ma Truby seems to have found such a friend—a woman around the same age who had moved into a sprawling new house on N 7th Street, diagonally behind the Truby farmhouse. That woman—Ma Truby’s new friend—was my great-great-great grandma Mary E (Ryan) Harrington (1838-1922).
And similar to Ma Truby, Ma Harrington was living with one of her grown sons (Alfred) and his wife (Margaret Cora Leslie) and their children.
The duo were soon joined by a third news-loving lady, Mrs Rebecca Mullen (1835-1925), who in the late 1890s had built the beautiful Victorian across from the Truby farmhouse. By 1910, Ma Mullen was living in that house with her grown daughter Agnes and 9-year-old niece Amy Snyder, who would grow up to become Apollo’s beloved librarian and who would eventually own the house.
These three ladies—in their 60s & 70s at the turn of the century—became something of a gossip-sharing power triangle at the corner of Terrace Ave & N 7th Street in Apollo.
Reportedly, Ma Harrington would excitedly don her dainty white cap each morning and scoot out her 7th Street door to rendezvous with her lady friends. They exchanged the latest tales of who was doing what with whom, who was purchasing property where, whose homes could certainly use some attention, and who tended to get sozzled a little too often. Ma Harrington sometimes told tales of the old country—Ireland—where she was born. For all three friends, the daily gab session was a highlight of the day.
Sadly, we have no physical records regarding the friendship between Betsy Truby, Mary Harrington, and Rebecca Mullen, so we can’t be certain if they actually had tea for three or lunch or simply chatted on their respective shady porches. But they certainly were dear friends who met up daily, according to Mary Harrington’s granddaughter Catherine Alma Harrington Bruce (who was my great-grandma). And fortunately, Catherine Harrington Bruce shared her memories of the chatty trio with her daughter Carol Bruce Segina, who shared the tales with me (thank you Great-Aunt Carol!). And now you, dear reader, know the tale as well.
It’s exciting to uncover unexpected connections between families we know today and our past generations. Physical records can have major gaps if you’re trying to uncover family histories. Important events and relationships—like the Truby-Harrington-Mullen triumvirate—can become unknowable decades later, unless details are shared and passed along to others.
So in a sense, the tale of the talkative trio actually makes a case for the value of gabbiness—having conversations with each other about family histories and personalities, so ephemeral details about the past can be shared and known into the future. And it’s important to somehow preserve these verbal stories—or oral histories—via recordings or even note-taking.
Want to know more about Ma Truby and other awesome personalities from Apollo’s past? Then join the Apollo Area Historical Society and other history-lovers TOMORROW (Saturday April 28) from 2-4pm at the old Apollo Cemetery and Riverview Cemetery, and stop by the grave sites of some of Apollo’s notable citizens. Re-enactors will bring these people to life as they tell the stories of their contribution to Apollo’s history.
I’ll be portraying Simon Truby’s wife Betsy in a riveting performance that you’ll never forget. Just be sure to keep your expectations low.
The Apollo Area Historical Society Cemetery Tour promises to be another fun and informative event organized by AAHS. We hope to see you there!
-by Vicki Contie