Whole Number 56
(Editor's note: Pete Sparks of Starke, Florida, has been a member of the Association almost from its founding. In corresponding with him, the editor gradually learned of his interesting life and requested him to prepare an autobiographical sketch to share with our members. Pete consented and we are pleased to present his contribution to our readers.)
We are told that many, many years ago, a great glacier came down over North America, and in the fields in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, where no other stones are to be found, huge boulders, worn smooth by the constant rolling overland by the gradual southern journey of the ice mass, are to be found. Some are as large as a house, while some are much smaller.
And, we are told that the melting of this glacier caused the formation of the Ohio River, when the run of f from the melting ice cut its way through the country-side. And, as the Ohio River wends its way from up near Pittsburgh, Penna., down to its convergence with the Mississippi, alluvial deposits are to be found in each bend of the river.
About ten miles upriver from Maysville, Ky., on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River, is to be found one of these "bottom lands,” and this particular one is known as "Wilson's Bottom.” And, at the upper end of this bottom land, there is a deposit of sand, quite high, called "Sand Hill.” It is rather significant that all the other hills in this area are of clay soil and limestone rocks. No rocks are found on this hill, all sandy soil, supposedly the lastremains of the Great Glacier when the Ohio River carried away the water from the melting ice.
Lt. Col. George Wilson was a brother to James Wilson, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Lt. Col. George Wilson died the hard winter of 1776-7 at Valley Forge. George Washington gave his widow several land grants, one of which was a tract along the Kentucky side of the Ohio River, at this point later to be called "Wilson's Bottom.” It consisted of ten square miles, running along the river and extending back into the hills.
About 1790, or soon thereafter, two of Lt. Col. George Wilson's sons came down the Ohio River on a raft, from up near Pittsburgh, bringing their wives and belongings with them, also, it is thought, some of their neighbors. And, as they settled on this tract of land, they had to establish their own manufacturing of food, clothing materials, raise their own live stock, presumably from stock they brought down with then. Small islands in the middle of the river became their hiding place for their ammunition, to keep it from the Indians.
Maysville was then called Salt Lick, and later Mays Lick, and then it became Maysville. It was here that cattle, horses, and other live stock were unloaded to be taken into the interior, to what later became Lexington, Richmond, etc.
The earliest record of the Sparks tribe in this area is found in an early census report, showing John Alice Sparks, and showing his place of birth as Maryland. Nothing much else is known of him, other than that he is buried in what is known as the old Sparks farm, on "Chalk Ridge” which runs roughly parallel with the river, and back a couple of miles from it.
John Alice Sparks was the father of William Henry Sparks, who in turn was the father of my father, Edwin McMasters Sparks. And, Edwin McMasters Sparks married Mildred Wilson, who was the daughter of Samuel and Alice Wilson. Samuel was a direct descendant of the John Wilson, who was one of the two brothers who came down the river on a flat boat several generations before.
To this couple (Edwin and Mildred) there were three children born, Maria, or rather, Alice Maria, who died at about three, Leslie McKinley, born ca. 1896, and Percival Wilson, born February 21, 1901.
Edwin McMasters Sparks was killed by a train at Red Bank, near Maretta, Ohio, in May of 1903. The elder son, Leslie, was taken to raised by his grandparents, the Wilsons, while Mildred undertook to keep the younger child with her, aided by her married sisters. She remarried about 1906, and kept; the younger child with her. Leslie continued to stay with his maternal grandparents until he married.
"Percy” as he was called, went through the grade school at Sand Hill and neighboring communities, and then went to Berea College, Berea, Ky., where Leslie had preceded him. After a short course there, Percy went to Cincinnati, to work, and in January of 1919, joined the Navy, being shipped to Great Lakes Naval Training Station for training. In June, 1919, he was shipped out to New York City, where the whole troop-train load of trainees were placed on board various ships, Percy going aboard the U.S.S. Leviathan, at that time the largest ship afloat. It was a troop transport, and since the Armistice had been signed by this time, was engaged in carrying troops back home from overseas assignments.
Three such trips were made before the ship was laid up. General Pershing and his staff and his son came back on that last trip of the Leviathan.
Percy's duties during the loading of troops in France, was to stand on the gangway and hand each oncoming soldier a card, which designated where this passenger was to sleep, eat and go for recreation, where he should go for lifeboat drill, etc.
On this last journey, some five thousand second lieutenants were being brought back. Percy recalled that Frank Chas. Martin, a young man who lived on the farm next door to his maternal grandparents' farm, was a second lieutenant, and so he kept; watch, and sure enough Frank Charles came aboard. Glancing down at the cards he was handing out, he made a mental note of the location, and the next day, when time permitted, he went down below decks ahd looked up Frank Charles. Needless to say, it was an unexpected reunion, and the odds of his being on that particular troop ship, and of being spotted by someone who lived so close to home, would probably put a computer to work to solve the problem.
After the ship was laid up, the sailor boy was transferred to another ship, a Marine transport, the U.S.S. Henderson, and went back over to bring home a detachment of Marines, getting back just before Christmas of 1919.
Upon returning from a short leave home over the Christmas Holidays, he was to be taken on the Henderson on a trip around the CaribbeanIslands, stopping at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Puerto Prince, Haiti and Santo Domingo City, then on to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. Then, back over the same route to Charleston, S.C., to unload and load up for a return trip. This became a regular monthly routine trip for the Henderson, but on the second trip, Percy was transferred to the Governor's station ship, a converted yacht, the U.S.S. Vixen, stationed at St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.
It was here that he married a Virgin Island girl, and remained there until nearing the end of his four year enlistment when the ship was sent back to Norfolk, Va., for decommissioning.
Upon being discharged from the Navy, he went back to the islands and obtained a position with the Navy Department, as Clerk to the Commandant. The Commandant of the Virgin Islands and of that Naval District was an Admiral in the U.S. Navy, but since the islands had only been under U.S. control for about four years, he had a dual role as Governor of the Virgin Islands. The Governor's Chief of Staff was the Captain of the flagship, the Vixen, and when that ship was decommissioned an office was established ashore, and it was here that Percy was employed, in the office of the Commandant.
In October of 1923, he changed jobs and went to work as Chief Writer (comparable to Chief Yeoman in the Navy) on board a U .S. Coast and Geodetic Ship, the Ranger. In 1924 that ship was destined to go to Norfolk, Va., for repairs, and while the ship was in Norfolk he left the ship and went to Miami, Florida, to seek his fortune in real estate, with no funds, and no experience, only the confidence of youth. His wife, Grace, joined him, bringing their eldest daughter and leaving one infant daughter behind with his wife' s folks. Later, his wife went back to the islands to have her third child, and when she again returned, she brought all three, all girls. In due course of time, there was a fourth on the way, and again she returned to the islands for its birth.
About 1929, the depression being what it was, Percy uprooted himself from his holdings in Florida and started north in an old Model T-Ford, looking for employment. Fortune was with him and he came upon the Coast and Geodetic Survey ship the Ranger, in Rivera, Florida, just north of West Palm Beach. No vacacies existed, but he did find employment on a sister ship, the Natoma.
As this was in the sping of the year, the Survey party headed back north, and worked in Chesapeake Bay, and the Great South Bay, in Long Island waters during the summer, and back to South Carolina and Georgia during the winters.
Somewhere along the line, while winter overhaul was in progress, in Norfolk, he met up with some fellows who were lecturing in a museum exhibit of large pythons, and since reptiles were his hobby, whetted by the many snakes he found in Florida during his sojourn there, he left his job on the Survey ship and went out on the road with this reptile exhibit, travelling north in the spring and summer.
After gathering what information he could glean from this source, he soon tired of the long hours and constant moving about, so found his way back to Washington, D.C., where he again gained employment on a small Coast and Geodetic boat which was then operating in the Chesapeake Bay area.
Somewhere along the line, he had found the somewhat effeminate name of "Percy” a handicap and so changed his name to "Peter,” commonly known as "Pete.”
Meanwhile, his wife, now back in the Virgin Islands and deserted by her husband, had obtained a divorce. "Pete” met and married a young widow in Salisbury, Maryland, and she bore him a son, whom they named Richard Lee Sparks.
About the time of the first Roosevelt Administration, he was again out of work and found employment with the Agriculture Department in what was called the "Resettlement Administration” as a payroll clerk. Another clerk working there, (Wiley Buchanan) was later to become Chief of Protocol in the State Department under a later Administration, but Pete never found the key to such success. During a reorganization of that< outfit, he was laid off, and he made a trip to the Virgin Islands to visit his children. It was while on this trip that the King of England made his abdication speech and stepped down to become Duke of Windsor.
Returning to the Washington scene, he gained employment this time with the Treasury Department, operating a blueprint machine in the< Procurement Division. This was when a movement was afoot to build new post offices throughout the nation and the major part of the duties at that assignment was running off blueprints of post office buildings. This was during the Roosevelt Administration, but Hoover started the program.
Along the line, throughout the government jobs, there was this underlying interest in wild animal life. So, in April of 1937, he left this job and went to New York to assist in the unloading of a cargo of wild animals from the Far East and worked there for sometime taking care of the animals until they were sold to zoos, etc. Then back to Washington and to the blueprint machine again. The following summer, he went out on a carnival with a reptilian exhibit, and that fall, when the show closed, he went to work for Frank Buck, who operated a zoo on Long Island. Then, back to the blueprinting machine again.
In the following spring, now it is 1939, the World's Fair had its opening, and the concessionaire who had the Giant Reptile exhibit had, the previous year, committed Pete to come to work for him, in charge of, and lecturing on, the giant Indian Pythons which formed the major part of the exhibit.
Prior to taking on this assignment, he had taken a Civil Service examination for Clerk-Typist in the Government, and while on the World's Fair assignment, a call came to report to the Immigration and Naturalization Department, which was then a part of the Labor Department. So, he< started out at the foot of the ladder as Clerk-Typist at $1260 per annum, but he was now able to work towards permanent status and, eventually, retirement.
When World War II came along, the duties of this job became that of an investigator, checking into the background of persons of foreign birth who were making application for employment in shipyards and other industries engaged in the war effort. Later, he transferred to the War Production Board, where priority ratings were being issued to industry for the procurement of strategic materials. Later, another transfer, with promotion, to the Maritime Commission as Purchasing Officer, buying materials and equipment going into the building of ships used in transporting war materials.
With the end of the war, he was transferred to the War Assets Administration, selling the surplus material, material which he had purchased only months before as an employee of the Procurement Department of the Maritime Commission. When the sale of surplus material caused a cutback in personnel, he found employment in the Office of the Quarter-master General. His experience and background enabled him to qualify as Investigator in the identification of World War II dead. This was a very interesting assignment, having to do with the identification of the remains of plane crash victims usually drowned in enemy territory, and now after the war was over, recovery of the remains had been made and identification was possible through the comparison of field laboratory reports with the service records of the deceased. Positive identification had to be established before it was acceptable.
There again, a cut back in personnel caused a transfer to the Munitions Board, which was just starting a consolidation of the standard stock catalog of all the government materials and supplies. This work was later to become a part of the Department of Defense, with the abolishing of the Munitions Board as such. Here he remained until the day came some ten years later when his boss told him that he was then on the list of those eligible for retirement. He took his retirement at the age of one month short of sixty and worked for private industry for parts of two years on this same cataloging work, then, took full retirement.
And so, as this is being written, Pete Sparks is residing in Starke, Florida, ten miles out of town, in the country, with his beloved dogs which, over a period of better than 25 years of continuous breeding, he has built up to quite a kennel and quite a reputation as a breeder of his favorite dogs, the American pit bull terrier.
From the marriage of Pete Sparks and Grace Joseph, of the Virgin Islands, it might be well to mention the names of the daughters and their families. First on the hit parade was the daughter Grace Itah who married Joseph Rene Dutil, from Fall River, Mass., who met her when he was stationed in the Virgin Islands and Grace was working there with the Government. To this marriage there came three children, Joe, Jr., Marie, and Corinne. After residing in New Jersey for about fifteen years, as this is being written, they are back down in the Virgin Islands. Joseph, Jr., and Marie are in college, stateside, while little Corinne attends school in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.
Second is Corinne, who married Dale Gary from West Virginia, whom she met while he was in the Islands with the Marine Corps. Dale met an untimely death in a truck accident while on maneuvers on the West Coast just three or four months after their marriage. To this marriage Dale, Jr., was born. Corinne returned to the Virgin Islands where she later married Herbert Lockhart, son of a local merchant there in St. Thomas. To this marriage was born Katherine, Herbert, Jr., Ronnie, and Henrik. Dale is in his last year of college in Vermont; Kathy and Herbie are in school in Puerto Rico, while the younger two are in school in the home town, St. Thomas, V.I.
Third comes Yvonne Emilie Rose, who was married to a Marine by the name of Welch. Vernon Welch, believe it was. This was a short marriage, but resulted in one daughter, Yvonne. After Yvonne Emilie Rose was deserted by her husband, she obtained a divorce and married a Marylander by the name of James byers. This ended some five years later in divorce, and she again remarried and lived in Portsmouth, Va., her husband, Will Gray, being in the Coast Guard and stationed in that area. Yvonne, Jr., has also married and has a girl now about three, Elizabeth. Yvonne has also divorced her husband and remarried, her present husband being "Sonny” Howard, and they too reside in St. Thomas, V.I.
Fourth on the hit parade is Cleone, who married William Petz, lived in New Jersey and the Virgin Islands, back and forth and are at present writing, now there in St. Thomas. To them have been born Christopher, Anna, the twins, Bruce and Brad, and little Marie.
Meanwhile, residing in or near Pittsburgh, is Ethel, who married Jack Lloyd. Although they have been residents of New Jersey nearly all of their 15 or more years of married life, they are now living in Allison Park, Pennsylvania, where their little family of Steve, the two girls, and little Philip, go to school.