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Scoping the Viva (Riley) Goldsmith/Paon Saga

 

The following summarizes efforts over the past decade and a half to improve my understanding of the life of my Great Aunt, Viva Riley:

 

§  Viva was born in Bear River East, Nova Scotia, on January 5, 1890, the youngest daughter and second youngest child of Timothy W Riley Junior and Mary Jane Cress. We know little of her upbringing in a direct way, but suspect it must have been somewhat difficult as her father during the last decade of the 19th century became more possessed of ill health and obsessed with his quest for a US Civil War pension, and the relationship between her parents continued to deteriorate.

 

§  The 1910 and 1920 US census both indicate that she had immigrated to the US in 1900, making her 10 years of age at the time. No record of her presence in Massachusetts has been located in the 1900 US census which may signify that she arrived in the US after the census was taken that year, or she is simply not available in the index, or that perhaps her immigration date was simply incorrect. Sisters Lottie and Margaret had both been working for a few months in the Boston area as domestics prior to the June, 1900 census so it may be that she had good accompaniment to get there. They may have convinced their mother of the wisdom of sending Viva to the US as a means of protecting her from the deteriorating domestic situation in the Riley household in Bear River East.

 

§  If in the US, she would have been living with other adults, perhaps family friends from the Bear River East area; it is difficult to see her being placed in a formal domestic position at 10 years of age. There is no indication in the record or in oral history of any connection to her Grandmother Honora Vickery, or Honora’s second family, living at that time in Plymouth County in southeast Massachusetts.

 

§  Research to date has her first appearing in the US records in Boston in1906 when she, at 16 years of age, gave premature birth to a child in early November of that year; the child lived for only 10 days. The child’s father was one Edwin Reynolds who was listed as a member of the US Navy Marines; his presence does not occur in association with Viva in subsequent records.

 

§  In 1909, at age 19, she married 28 year old Herbert A. Goldsmith on March 28 in Wakefield, MA. The 1900 census indicates Herbert to have been the eldest living son of 74 year old Asa Goldsmith and 47 year old Anna (S. Potter) Goldsmith with four (of an original five) siblings.  Viva’s occupation is given as housekeeper on her marriage documentation so it may be possible she had been working as a domestic over the latter years of the decade. Herbert had been previously married in 1903 to an Ella Berry and the couple had a child, Kenneth Frank, in 1904 but sometime in the intervening period the couple had divorced.

 

§  Interestingly, Viva’s sister Margaret and husband Fred were in 1909 living literally across the street (at 143 Pleasant) from the Goldsmith’s, including Herbert (and presumably recently-married Viva). This proximity allows one to speculate that as a young teenager Viva had probably been residing with sister ‘Maggie’ which facilitated interaction with neighbor Herbert, leading to eventual marriage.

 

§  Viva and Herbert are found in the 1910 census living 140 Pleasant Street in Wakefield, the Goldsmith’s family home. The couple had two children, 2 year old Frances (b Mar. 1908) and one month old Milton (b Mar. 1910). Herbert is listed as head of the household. Also living in the residence are Herbert’s mother, 54 (should have been 57; her age returned to 67 in the 1920 census) year old Anna, and his brothers, 20 year old Leon, and 12 year old Ernest. It might be suggested that this domestic situation may not have created the best atmosphere for a relationship to thrive and grow. But at least there was some growth because we note from a birth record that the couple had a daughter Nina May in 1912 who apparently died c 1917 and the 1920 census shows that Viva and Herbert had two more boys, Lloyd A. in May of 1913 and Ernest C. in December of 1914. However, the marriage floundered later during the decade.

 

§  Although Herbert’s 1917 draft registration and the 1917 directory for Wakefield would indicate that the couple were still together in that year, the 1920 census tells us that in 1920 Herbert was living alone with the four boys at 9 Central Street (where from the draft registration the couple appears to have moved in 1917), only a few blocks from the Pleasant Street address where his mother and two brothers continued to reside.

 

§  Some time before the 1920 census Viva had entered a relationship with Lawrence T Paon, a 29 year old Massachusetts-born of Nova Scotian French extraction, the eldest of a family of 8 children of Thomas and Eugenie Paon. Interestingly, Viva and Lawrence’s marriage record has not come to light through two record searches, suggesting indeed that Viva and Lawrence may not have been formally married. Also of interest is the fact that Lawrence and Viva (?) were interviewed for the census on January 8, 1920; their son Arnold was born on January 9, 1920, the following day. At the time of the 1920 census the family was residing at 531 Main Street, ward 5, Malden. They were listed in the same residence in the 1919 Malden directory as Viva and Lawrence Goldsmith.

 

§  In Lawrence’s 1917 draft registration he noted he was short and stout, with brown eyes and dark hair and no distinguishing marks. He also noted he was single, that he was a milk man working for his father, living with his parents in Wakefield whom he gave as next of kin.

 

§  The obvious question in respect to the above circumstances is why would Viva abandon a husband and four young children? There is nothing in the formal record to this point in time that provides any clue. Viva’s niece, Nova Scotia-born Jennie (Riley) Fahie, daughter of Viva’s older brother Bill, remembers Viva on visits to Nova Scotia, and visited Viva and Lawrence in Massachusetts (shortly after her own marriage to Foster Fahie), and likely in mid-summer or fall of 1953 or summer of 1954. According to Jennie, Herbert was somewhat difficult to live with and did not treat Viva very well. The example she remembered was that Herbert would bring home meat for a meal and before it was served he would re-measure it to ensure Viva had not surreptitiously removed any.

 

§  It is apparent from her fragmental descriptions of Viva and Lawrence that Jennie enjoyed her visit to the Paon household, giving the impression that Viva may have been, in contrast to her sisters, somewhat of a free spirit. The following has been extracted from Jennie’s memories, and to a lesser extent the memory of her sister Kathy Bradley:

o   Viva is remembered as a “big lady” (not typical of the Riley’s) who wore “lavish clothes” (Kathy). Jennie remembered Viva arriving home with a likewise-dressed girlfriend (likely the same trip).

o   Viva in later life had a leg removed due to some sort of physical affliction.

o   Viva’s daughter Nina May died c age 5, had been sickly, and there was some problem with her legs.

o   Lawrence’s first memories of Viva were given as hearing her stiletto heels clicking on the pavement as he watched this very attractive, fashionably-dressed, young lady walking down the neighborhood streets to work.

o   Viva and Lawrence apparently operated a banquet (?) hall [probably the Thomas J. Roberts Post 78, American Legion where he was employed as Steward].

o   In the mid ‘50’s they lived in a second story walk-up (over the banquet hall?).

o   Viva was the only one of the Riley girls that Jennie knew who used alcohol; during the visit Viva apparently sent Jennie’s husband Foster out to buy a bottle using $ extracted from the top of her stocking.

o   Family oral history suggests Viva was arrested for being involved in bootlegging. Jennie believed it was between marriages, but prohibition did not really get underway in the US until 1919. As Jennie told it she was involved in a project whereby liquor was being moved in a false gas tank in a motor vehicle of some type. Apparently a heavy fine was the price to have been paid.

o   Jennie remembered seeing a wedding photo(s) of Viva and Lawrence.

o   Viva supposedly stayed and helped with arrangements after her mother’s funeral.

 

§  To date we do not have any record beyond the above of how Lawrence and Viva met. Lawrence and Viva lived in the same general neighborhood, with the Paon family home and Herbert’s Central Street residence being only some 12 to 13 blocks apart. It also appears that Viva had found herself a job after leaving her marriage with Herbert.  

 

§  The story of the bootlegging escapade is most intriguing and while perhaps ‘dressed up’ a bit by embellishment and time, it just may contain some kernels of reality. There is an article in the Boston Herald dated Dec 30, 1924 of the arrest of a well-known “bobbed-haired rum runner”, former waitress Marie Bushway, in Malden, MA for driving when her licence was revoked. The car she was driving was registered to one Vida Goldsmith of 2 Upham Street, Malden. If this was indeed our Viva, and it is not unreasonable to assume that it likely was, the family oral history probably derived from the apparent friendship between the two women. Newspaper reports of Ms. Bushway’s exploits of running alcohol from Montreal into northern New England are quite well documented and involve nighttime car chases, blazing shotguns and handguns, car crashes, fines, and jail time. Other than the above reference our Viva has not yet been singled out as a participant. One has to wonder, however, where our recently divorced, young mother Viva may have acquired the money to purchase a car. Might it have simply have been Marie’s car registered in Viva’s name as a way of laundering money? Or might Viva have actually participated as one of the numerous female friends Marie admitted taking along for company on her successful nighttime ventures across the Canadian border?   

 

§  The 1930 US Census provides some additional interesting information on Viva and her family. Firstly, Viva and Lawrence’s son Arnold is found living with Lawrence’s sister and husband, Evelyn and Peter Bulens in Revere City, MA, and is listed as a 10 year old “Boarder”. The question that comes immediately to mind is where were Viva and Lawrence and why was young Arnold living with his aunt and uncle?

 

§  A search through the 1930 census does not provide for a location of Viva Paon; however, it does provide for the location of a Vera Paon as one of 11 lodgers at a boarding house at 202 Springfield Street in Boston. The only other data provided for Vera is that she is a white female; the rest of the census form contains no specific information. The same circumstance holds for two other residents of the boarding house and it thus appears that these residents were not actually interviewed by the census taker but that their names were provided by the landlord. The likelihood is that Vera Paon of the 1930 census is in reality our Viva Paon.

 

§  OK, but where was Lawrence?  Good question! He was obviously not with Viva, unless he was living under an alias. His presence has not yet been detected by name, or close proximity thereof, in MA, or by any close approximation of Lawrence Paon elsewhere in the US census of 1930. However, there is a Lawrence Penny, boarder, resident at 243 Shawmut Avenue, Boston that fits the some of the necessary criteria – correct first name, Canadian-born parents, born in MA; but, the age is 5 years off (1895) and his occupation is sailor. However, they were almost a year into the Depression and a job at sea would have been better than no job at all. Address-wise, Mr. Penny and Vera Paon were living only a few blocks apart near the center of Boston in 1930.

 

§  There is a chance that Lawrence may have been out of the country, in an institution (jail or hospital), simply missed by the census taker, or for whatever reason intentionally avoiding the census taker. Lawrence’s location in 1930 continues to be something of a mystery, and that mystery, when coupled with the oral history of Viva’s supposed “rum-running” exposure makes for very interesting speculation.   

 

§  The second interesting situation to come from the 1930 census is the circumstance surrounding Viva’s Goldsmith offspring. The April census finds Herbert and eldest son Francis H. still living in the family home at 9 Central Street, Wakefield. However, Viva’s sons Milton (20) and Ernest (16) are both found as reformatory inmates.  Milton was resident in the Massachusetts Reformatory in Concord, MA with an adult prison population ranging upwards from 18 years of age; Ernest was resident in the Lyman School for Boys (Reformatory) in Westborough, MA with an inmate population ranging in age from 11 to 17. Interestingly, Lloyd Goldsmith, Viva’s third son, does not show up in the 1930 or 1940 census records. There are several possible reasons for his absence including his prior death (a search of the MA death records from 1916 to 1935 came up blank), the fact that he may have been involved with his brothers in whatever scheme that landed them in the reformatory and, not being apprehended, was living under an alias or was avoiding being enumerated, or perhaps he had left the country. Hopefully further information on the reason behind the incarceration of Viva’s two sons and Lloyd’s eventual whereabouts will become clear with additional research. The two boys had returned to civilian life by 1931 as they are listed in the 1931 Wakefield directory, Milton a shipper living with his father and brother Francis at 9 Central Avenue, and Ernest a farm hand living at 25 Cordis St.

 

§  In 1940 Milton L and wife Florence M Goldsmith were living in Everett, MA where Milton was employed as an automobile salesman and Florence as a comptometer operator; Francis, a fireman, was single and living with his father in the family home in Wakefield. To date none of Viva’s Goldsmith children are known to have produced offspring.

 

§  Available records indicate that Viva made three trips between Yarmouth and Boston, with returns to Boston recorded as follows: Vera Goldsmith, Oct 2, 1931 on board the Yarmouth; Vera M. Goldsmith on Sept 22, 1935 on board the Yarmouth, and as Vera Goldsmith 17 October 1939, which supports her being in Bear River East at the time of her mother’s death on October 14/39 but that she may have not stayed for the funeral. This matches Jennie Fahie’s memory of her being “home” just before her mother died but does not support her staying for any significant time after the funeral. It is interesting that Viva used the name of Goldsmith on her international trips. One possible explanation is that she had not been divorced from Herbert, or if so, that she had never married Lawrence Paon.

 §  Of interest, Viva was not living with husband Lawrence and son Arnold at 110 Claybourne St, Dorchester, at the time of the 1940 US census; nor has she been found in that census to date. Both Lawrence and son Arnold were attributed to have completed Gr 8.

 

§  The 1947 Boston Directory has Lawrence and Viva living at 110 Claybourne St. in Dorchester. It identifies Lawrence as steward for the Thomas J. Roberts Post 78, American Legion.

 

§  The record shows that that Arnold Paon at 27, after a wartime stint in the US army, married 24 year old Somerville-born divorcee Flora (Combie) Bergeron in Boston on August 8, 1947. Arnold is recorded as being occupied as a machinist at that time and Flora as a dressmaker. The couple we both listed as living at 123 Minden St., Roxbury, at the time of the marriage and that information is confirmed by the entry for that address in the 1947 Boston City Directory. 

 

 

Arnold Paon during WW 2

 

§  Lawrence died on Feb 16, 1958 from a “coronary occlusion”; he also had diabetes. At the time of death he was living in Boston, at 688 Massachusetts Ave but died at 818 Harrison St. Boston, probably the address of the hospital. His occupation was listed on his death certificate as “Custodian”. He was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, Boston, on February 20, 1958.

 

§  Viva died on January 11, 1960, some two years later, with the immediate cause of death being “bronchio-pneumonia”, and the secondary cause “thrombosis of the right artery”. At the time of death Viva’s address was likewise 688 Massachusetts Ave. Like her husband Lawrence, Viva was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, Boston, with interment taking place on January 14, 1960. 

 

§  Arnold Paon died on Apr 30, 1979 in West Roxbury, MA.  At the time he was married to one Marjorie Pender. The couple had been residing at Derry, New Hampshire.  

 

RAR - 31.07.05

Updated - 15.02.13