Joseph Hooker Boorem



Joseph Hooker Boorem was born on the family farm in Mountainhome, Barrett township, Monroe County, Pennsylvania on 9 January 1872. He was the third child and the first born son of John Boorem and his first wife Jane. Jane's mother was Mary Van Horn Starner, although at this point it is not clear who Jane's father was. Joseph Hooker, or Hooker Boorem, as he was commonly called, was named for the popular Civil War general "Fightin Joe" Hooker, who had commanded John Boorem's Civil War regiment during the Battle of Antietam in 1862. While we can assume that as a young boy Hooker attended local schools and was a member of the Mountainhome Methodist church, which his father helped build, hard facts regarding this period of his life have proved elusive.

Hooker's mother Jane died in 1874 when he was only three years old, from childbirth complications associated with the birth of her daughter Laura. The story goes that Laura was the surviving daughter of twins born to her mother in 1874 and it was Laura's stillborn twin that caused her mother's death. Apparently those attending the birth were unaware of the second child. Jane and her stillborn infant were buried at the nearby Methodist church cemetery in Mountainhome. With their mother dead and young Hooker and Agnes to raise, oldest daughter Susie Boorem assumed many of her mother's duties is raising her younger siblings. In 1879 John Boorem remarried Emma Bond, a neighbor some 30 years his junior. John. In the 1880 census we see John and Emma along with John's children Agnes and Hooker. Susie was living with the family of Joseph and Emeline Carlton working in the "shoe peg factory," while Laura was sent by her father to be raised by her uncle Joseph Starner, shortly after Jane Boorem's death.

Below: Hooker Boorem and sister Laura, circa 1878.

Celestia Catherine Christman, or Celeste" was the 4th child of Aaron and Anna Kresge Christman. She was born 25 February 1872 in Cresco, a small village near Mountainhome. Like Hooker, little is known about her early life, although we know that before she was married she worked as a Salvation Army "Lassie" and attended local schools.

On the eve of their wedding, Hooker spent the night at the home of his future father-in-law and bride to be. There must have some doubt as to Hooker's resolve to go through with the marriage, as Hooker's shoes were conveniently confiscated during the night to make sure he was still there in the morning! (It was wintertime.) Hooker was still there the next morning, and the wedding ceremony took place as scheduled. The pastor of the local church officiated at the ceremony that took place in the home of Aaron and Anna Christman. In those days engagement and wedding rings were luxuries few could afford; they were often replaced by the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition of "jumping over the broomstick" to seal wedding vows, and this is how Hooker and Celeste sealed their wedding vows on that day. Officially Hooker and Celeste were married on 12 May 1893, as evidenced by their marriage certificate on file at the county courthouse in Stroudsburg.

Below: Celestia C. Christman as a teenager.

After their marriage Hooker and Celeste remained in Mountainhome, although we don't know if they had their own home or whether they lived with family. Their first and only son John was born on 1 November 1893, however the infant died three months later from meningitis, and was buried in the family plot at the Mountainhome Methodist Church (where Hooker's mother was buried in 1874). Although they had lost their first child, Celeste would give birth to six more children, all girls.

Shortly after the death of their son, Hooker and Celeste moved from Mountainhome to Kushequa, a small town in northern McKean County, Pennsylvania. It is thought that the Boorems moved to Kushequa to find work, possibly at the local cloths pin factory, or in the area's thriving lumber industry. There are indications that Celeste's brother Burlington Christman, and perhaps their mother and father Aaron and Anna Christman, accompanied or preceded the Boorems to Kushequa. The winters in McKean County were harsher than those in Mountainhome, and daughter Anne remembers her mother and father burning rejected cloths pins during the winter to help heat the house!

Hooker & Celeste's first daughter Ina was born in 1895, followed by Anna in 1896. Family tradition says that while Celeste was in very late term with Anna, she slipped and fell on the ice at home and the child was delivered prematurely. Unfortunately Anna died shortly thereafter. This child was thought to be unnamed until a recent examination of Hooker's bible revealed both her name and date of birth. Another daughter was born to Hooker and Celeste in 1898, and they chose to name this daughter Annie Laura. My grandmother Dorothy Ellen was born 10 November 1906, and was the last Boorem daughter born in Kushequa.

Below: The Boorem family in Kushequa ca. 1900: L-R Annie, Celeste, Hooker & Ina Boorem

Daughter Anne remembers that at first the family lived in a small house, but later moved to a larger one "at the end of the road." This house had a large front porch, and inside muslin cloth covered the ceiling rather than plaster. The family's prized possession was an organ that stood in the living room. Both Ina and Anne attended church and school in Kushequa and I have one photograph of Ina and her classmates. There is also one family photograph from around this time; it shows Hooker, Celeste, Ina and Annie, looking handsome, seated on the front porch of their house.

The census of 1900 reveals that Hooker and Celeste were not without family in Kushequa. There were in fact 40 family members all living in the same area, almost all of whom were related to Celeste's father and mother Aaron and Anna Kresge Christman. This included the large family of Burlington Christman (Celeste's brother). Living at the Boorem household were Hooker, Celeste, Ina, Anne, Hooker's half-brother Sedgwick Boorem, and two borders who were working at the local cloths pin factory. Hooker's occupation is listed simply as "laborer" although Anne definitely remembers that her father worked as a lumberman (more about that later).

Other details family details from the Kushequa years have been difficult to come uncover, however we do have one story concerning an injury that was to impact the family's fortunes. At the turn of the century McKean County had a thriving lumber industry. Family tradition says that Hooker Boorem worked on the river, rolling logs downstream to the local saw mill, an occupation his father had engaged in following the Civil War. One day Hooker got his leg caught between two logs, suffered a bad break, and had to be carried home on a door that served as a makeshift stretcher. Although his injury was not life-threatening, the broken leg was not properly set, and, as a result, Hooker would walk with a slight limp, or a hitch, for the rest of his life. His lumbering days were over, and once Hooker recovered from his injury he had to find a new line of work in order to support his growing family.

Hooker's sister Agnes married David John and they eventually settled in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where David worked for the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western railroad, or the DL&W. Sometime in 1907 David sent word to Hooker that there was work available there with the railroad. With this encouragement from his brother-in-law, the Boorems packed up and left Kushequa for Scranton. Hooker was hired by the DL&W railroad as a "boiler man". His job consisted primarily of welding and mounting the large onto the locomotives. The work was difficult, but it provided a decent living for the Boorem family for the 15 or so years Hooker worked for the DL&W.


Below: The Boorem family in Scranton ca. 1917: Back row: Celeste, Ina & Hooker.
Front row: Gertrude, Jeanne & Dorothy.


When they first came to Scranton, the Boorem's rented a house at 1201 Stratford Ave in the Hyde Park, and it was here that their next daughter Gertrude was born in 1908. By the 1910 census, however, the family had moved to a house located on Sloan Ave, also in Hyde Park, and it was here that their last daughter Jeanne was born in 1912. Finally around 1920 the Boorems purchased a duplex at 816-818 Archbald Street, where Hooker and Celeste remained for the next two decades.

While on Archibald Street Hooker and Celeste made extra money by letting out rooms in their large duplex (816-818). Times were tough in Scranton, and all of their daughters spent at least some time at their parent's home after they were married. They stayed rent free, while other tenants paid for their rooms, and for use of the facilities. No meals were served to non-family tenants. Hooker ran an above-board operation, so tenants had to be employed and residents of Scranton. In other words, Hooker and Celeste had standards for their tenants, and no transients were allowed. Information from the 1930 census indicates that eventually Hooker and Celeste sold half of the duplex (818) to their son-in-law and daughter Harry and Ina Wagner. In 1930 daughter Jeanne Boorem (not yet married) was living with her mother and father at 816, while Harry and Ina Wagner, sister Gertrude, her husband Jack MacKenzie and their son John, were living next door at 818.

In Hyde Park the Boorem family attended Embury Methodist Church where Hooker served as church custodian for many years. He was also a regular Sunday school leader and especially enjoyed working with children. In those days life revolved around the church and its activities, and the Boorem household was strict in observing the teaching of the church. Hymns were always sung around the organ on Sunday nights, and card playing was not allowed in the house!

Hooker was presented with a special bible on 9 January 1918 (his 46th birthday) by the board of Embury Methodist Church in recognition of his years of service. It is thought that the bible dated from the late 19th century because it was apparently found in the rafters of the old church building. The Boorem family bible eventually passed to daughter Gertrude, and after her death to her daughter Joanne Loesser, who retains possession of this valuable family relic. Unfortunately today the bible is said to be in very poor condition.

Next to his children and his church duties, Hooker's great passion was gardening. The Boorems always had a garden in the spring and summer. Although they grew vegetables, Hooker was particularly fond of flower gardening, and he always had a fresh flower in his buttonhole for Sunday morning church. Dorothy and Anne remember that their father was a cheerful person who was liable to break into a song or dance a jig at any moment. Two of his favorite songs were "Froggie went a courting," and "Little Brown Jug." He often woke his daughters in the morning by shouting. "time's a wasting." He also loved to tell stories about his family's history. In fact, much of our surviving family tradition is the result of Hooker's willingness to share his family's history with his daughters. Hooker was also a hunter and daughter Anne remembers her father bringing home rabbit and deer on numerous occasions.

For the girls birthdays, their mother Celeste always made sure there was cake and cocoa, and for Christmas the Boorems always had a Christmas tree, and the girls had a stocking with at least one nice present. Celeste taught all her daughters how to cook and Ina and Anne often prepared the Sunday night meal.

Although the family didn't take vacations the way we think of them today, they did take trips out of town to visit relatives and attend family reunions. Dorothy and Anne remember attending the Christman family reunions in Sonestown, Sullivan County, Pennsylvania (Celeste's family), and attending Boorem family reunions in Monroe County. Although Hooker's father John Boorem died in 1916, the family still visited the Boorem farm in Mountainhome, now owned by Hooker's half-sister Maud Pace. There were also trips to nearby Gouldsboro in Wayne county to visit with the family of Hooker's sister Susie Surplus. Although Hooker eventually purchased an automobile, most of these trips were made by train. The train was the principal method of travel in those days, and Hooker was fortunate to get discounted tickets while he worked for the DL&W. Relatives also frequently dropped in on the Boorems in Scranton. They included Celeste's sisters Ella and Dollie, and Hooker's half brothers and sister Sedgwick, Ord, Alex, and the aforementioned Maud. Celeste was particularly found of Alex's wife Altie.

Of course Scranton was a coal mining town and consequently almost everybody heated their homes with coal. Anne and Dorothy remember well the coal truck making regular visits to the Boorem house. The coal trucks were equipped with a long chute that extended from the truck to a trap door on the front porch leading to the basement, and the coal was sent down the chute right into the basement. The family couldn't afford the high grade coal, and instead had to settle for the less expensive coal, which produced abundant piles of ash which then had to be removed from the furnace.

Hooker was a member of the local Hyde Park chapter of the Patriotic Order, Sons of America located on Main Street, and he was the first president of the Boorem family reunion society, which began their annual meetings in the early 1920s. After serving as President he became the reunion's recording secretary, and some of his meeting notes have been preserved. The Boorem family reunion is still held today.

Below right: Hooker & Celeste ca. 1938.

By the early 1930s all the Boorem daughters were married. Ina married first Harry Wagner (1895-1951), and secondly Ralph Leber. Ina was the only daughter who remained in Scranton, where she died in 1961, leaving no children. Dorothy and Anne remember Ina as the big sister they often looked to for advise and support, especially after their mother Celeste became ill and died. Anne (1898-1997) married Thomas William "Bill" Dawson (1899-1963) in 1917. Anne gave birth to two sons, one of whom died the day he was born and the other a few days following his birth. Anne and Bill eventually moved to Minnesota, where he died in 1963. Dorothy married Willard Thomas (1902-1953) of Scranton, and they had one son Lee. The family eventually moved to Washington D.C. where Willard was killed in a hit-and-run auto accident. Dorothy married secondly Andrew Kott (1924-1985) and they settled in Wheaton, Maryland. Gertrude (1908-1985) married John (Jack) MacKenzie, and had had three children, Jack, JoAnn & Richard. After the death of her husband she married secondly Cyril Brooks, an abusive man who endeared himself to few family members. Gertrude especially was interested in family and spent many years tracking down information about her ancestors. Jeanne (1912-1990) married Oscar Evans and had two children, Shirley and Lynn. Soon after the birth of Lynn, Oscar would desert the family and never return.

Both Gertrude and Jeanne left Scranton and settled in New Jersey where work was more plentiful. Times were tough. These were the years of the Great Depression and work was very difficult to come by in Scranton. Although Ina remained, all her sisters and their husbands eventually left for better opportunities elsewhere.

Following the Second World War, Hooker and Celeste decided to move from Scranton to New Jersey in order to be closer to their daughters and to help care for Jeanne's children. There they lived with both Gertrude and Jeanne. However, by this time Hooker and Celeste were in their 70s and their health was beginning to fail. Then in 1947 Hooker sustained a broken hip when he fell at Jeanne's home. Celeste was unable to care for her husband, so Hooker and Celeste returned to Scranton and moved in with their daughter and son-in-law Ina and Harry Wagner at their house on Lafayette Avenue. Unfortunately Hooker's hip was slow to heal and pneumonia eventually set it. The strain would prove to be too great for his weakened body.

Joseph Hooker Boorem died on 7 January 1948, two days short of his 76th birthday. Although his death certificate lists the cause of death as pneumonia, his daughters always felt that he was died when a blood clot broke lose (a stroke). Although his father John Boorem had purchased a large family plot in Mountainhome in the hopes that his son would be buried there, Hooker was buried at Abington Hills cemetery in Clark's Summit near Scranton. In what seems like divine intervention, a lone flower (a tulip) has been appearing on Hooker's side of the plot for many, many years. Parthene and I are always very careful not to disturb it.

Celeste's health had been failing for some time. She had been suffering from a series of small strokes for years, and by the 1940s they had begun to take a serious toll on her health and her mental state. Six months following the death of her beloved husband, Celeste died from one of these strokes. Although this was the official cause of death, her daughters have always maintained that she died from a broken heart following the death of her husband. After Hooker died her mind sometimes wandered back to happier days, and she would sit in Ina's house waiting for her husband to come home.

Hooker and Celeste Christman Boorem had been born and had died within six month of each other. They succeeded in raising their children through the difficult years of the Great Depression, and their descendants continue to thrive and prosper today. Just as we remember the first three generations of John Boorems for their pioneering spirit, so too should we remember the life of Hooker Boorem. He was a gentleman in every sense of the word, and his kind nature and optimistic outlook on life served as an inspiration for his family and for his fellow man.


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Text and photographs copyright © 2014 by Jeffrey L. Thomas, with all rights reserved