Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


Under the penname "Old Timer," Charlotte Ratcliff of Business Corners wrote weekly columns for the county newspapers and included many stories about her family, pioneering adventures, and her friends. Her parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in June, 1858. "Lottie" told the tale of an interesting event that took place while she waited with her family at Schamps Portrait Studio in Fairfield to have pictures made to commemorate this occasion.

Just as Mr. Schamps was explaining to Lottieís father about his photography procedure process, a man entered the studio carrying an old-fashioned, frayed carpet bag. He was a tall, simply dressed, handsome man in black who appeared very solemn and pale. He carefully placed the bag on a chair and asked Mr. Schamps, "be ye the man who can make likenesses?"

Everyone knew that Mr. Schamps was the best photographer in Fairfield. He modestly replied that he was such a man and suggested that the inquirer examine some of his work displayed along the walls of his shop. The man paid no attention to the exhibits, but tearfully pleaded with Mr. Schamps "My wife and I wanted all summer to bring little Jan to have his likeness made, but there was never time enough for that."

Noting the urgency in the manís voice, Mr. Morrison motioned to the photographer that his family would wait for their photo session, and he took a seat. Schamps turned his attention to the gentleman and asked him to bring the little boy into the studio. "You will be pleased with the results," he assured the man.

Without another word, the gentleman picked up the large bag, placed it on the counter, and with trembling hands took out a bundle wrapped in cloth. He then turned back a piece of folded white muslin revealing the curly head of a dead child. Charlotte and her family watched with open mouth astonishment, and no one breathed a word.

The grieving father said that the boy was three years old but always had been small for his age. Every night since birth he held the child in his arms and rocked him to sleep, and the little fellow had never been sick until the night before, when he seemed to have a fever.

He died that morning. The grief was too much for the mother to bear, but her wish was for the child to be held in his fatherís arms once more for the "likeness making." It would appear that little Jan was asleep, and so it was soon done.

As Mr. Schamp wrapped the finished picture of baby Jan and dad, the man asked him what the charges were and Schamp shook his head. "There will be no charge for this portrait. Give this to your wife. I am so sorry for her!"

The silent group watched as the man placed the little body back into the carpet bag, left the studio, and drove off with two other men, perhaps relatives or neighbors.

William Cohen Morrison was born in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania on March 28, 1812 and died in Iowa on September 27, 1884. On June 27, 1833 he married Charlotte March in Hamilton, Ohio. The Morrisons pioneered to Iowa in 1838 and lived in Jefferson and Van Buren Counties, raising 12 children. Their daughter that became known as "Lottie," Charlotte Aldola Angeline Morrison, was born in Libertyville on August 4, 1843.

Lottie grew up to marry Aaron Ratcliff and in later years penned her stories as "Old Timer." She said that after her family had their "likeness" made that day, she treasured the image as long as she lived, but there was a tug at her heart every time she looked at the picture because she was reminded of the backwoods Jefferson County man, and his baby.

Old Timer Charlotte Morrison Ratcliff was my great-grandmother.

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick