I Can’t Believe It Story (Article in The Historical Record)

The following article was published in The Historical Record, a Publication of the Wyoming Historical Society.

Recently, an article written by two antique experts out of Nashville, TN was sent to the Historical Society. How could this possibly tie to Wyoming? It is one of those “I can’t believe it stories.”

A person wrote to antique experts, Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson, for their column for the Tribune News Service. A miniature painting had been purchased in a local thrift shop for a penny. It was an oval-shaped religious painting of Mary holding Jesus encased in an elaborate frame. The buyer wanted to know its history and worth. After research, the experts believed the painting was European in origin probably created in Germany or Italy or perhaps even France around the turn of the 20th century. It was possibly purchased on a European tour as a souvenir at a spiritually significant place.

Luckily, there was a clue written on the back…. “W. H. McCurdy, 206 Worthington, Wyoming.” Their first though was, of course, the state of Wyoming but came to believe it referred to our city.

Photo courtesy of Aliena Ray

So who is McCurdy and how does he tie to Wyoming? William H. McCurdy (1853-1930) was a famous industrialist who moved to Cincinnati in 1889 and became secretary of the Favorite Buggy Company. Previously, McCurdy had met Julius Rosenwald, whose company supplied Sears and Roebuck with men’s clothing. With Rosenwald’s financing, McCurdy founded Hercules Buggy Company which supplied farm wagons and buggies to Sears. The company became so successful that McCurdy, in 1902, moved the company and built a new manufacturing facility in Evansville, IN. With foresight, this modern industrialist, over the next decades, was involved in the manufacturing of truck bodies, gas engines, refrigeration units, tractors, hotels, and trolley companies. He became an integral part of Evansville’s expansion and development. McCurdy was a generous philanthropist notably making significant donations to the struggling Evansville University. The McCurdy Hotel in Evansville, now a national historical landmark, was named after Will MCurdy.

Now to the worth of the anonymous painting – $200 to $300 if it’s not associated with this national figure or double if it is.

This may seem to be the end of the story but there is more “I can’t believe it” associated with this newspaper article. While researching McCurdy, it was learned he married Helen Eliza Hess in 1880. Her parents, Alfred and Jane Mariah Coates, and many relatives lived in Wyoming. Checking the Historical Society genealogical files and checking with family members, McCurdy’s name appears in the RaymondRitchie-Hess family tree. Thus, making this seemingly unconnected newspaper story about a miniature painting a true part of Wyoming history.

We received the article from Ibby Potter Davis, Wyoming High School Class of 1957 who lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming. That Wyoming out west!!!! She received a copy of the article from her nephew who lives in Lake Forest, Ill. Ibby thought the Historical Society would like to know about the painting.

Photo courtesy of Aliena Ray. The miniature painting bought for one penny is 9 inches tall.

Fast-forward two days from our receiving the article and we received an email from the Evansville Museum in Evansville, IN. Attached to the email was the same article…and the question, could we verify that William H McCurdy lived in Wyoming at 206 Worthington? That we could do!

By this time, the story had taken on a life of its own. And that story was begging to be turned into a newsletter article. So we contacted Helaine Fendelman, the appraiser, and through her were put in touch with the owner, Aliena Ray, who provided some of these pictures.

What a story! Don’t you wonder what adventures this little painting had since being acquired by Mr. McCurdy?