Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.

LEVI S. WILD, TELEGRAPH OPERATOR

Morning Star, April 22, 2012, pg. 7

We were sorry to learn of the closing of Clark's Flowers at the end of March. This business dated back to 1893 when Arthur Dew opened Dew's Flowers on the site. He was the father of the famous reporter-photographer Gwen Dew (1903-1993). In 1946 Arthur sold the business to Stanley and Mark Sargent. It was known as Sargent Flowers through the late 1950s, when it was sold to Frank Clark. At that time it became Clark's Flowers.

Continuing with our look at the Wild family from last week, before the telephone was invented, a major way of communication was the telegraph. The first telegraph operator in Albion was Phoebe (Cornell) Wood, sister of Ezra Cornell, the founder of Western Union. Phoebe operated the local telegraph office out of her home on N. Superior St. near the railroad tracks from 1849 to 1856, at which time Western Union took over. It was in 1856 that the Michigan Central Railroad had Western Union Telegraphy install their line across the state. Another local woman, Octavia Bradbury, taught telegraphy to numerous young men in the community.

One such young man was Levi S. Wild (1846-1928), son of Albion's 4th Village President, John E. Wild. As we mentioned last week, the Wild family were pioneers of Sheridan Township, arriving in 1836. Wild St. in Albion is named after the family. Levi was educated locally in the "Little Red Schoolhouse," and also attended Albion College.

Upon leaving the College, Levi took up telegraphy at our local Michigan Central Railroad depot. There he learned to recognize the dots and dashes of the Morse Code. He was first known as the "kid operator." When the Civil War broke out, Levi was hired as a regular operator and subsequently became an expert at his trade. On July 4, 1863, the first sound telegraph machine was installed in Albion, with Levi being at his station. Just moments after its installation, the news of the evacuation of Vicksburg came over the wire, and it was Levi who brought the news to Albion as it was being received.

In 1863 he was hired by Western Union to work at its Chicago office on the corner of Lake and Clark Sts. At the time there were only 10 telegraph operators in the city. As fate would have it, it was Levi S. Wild who was at his station in Chicago when the news of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln came over the wire on April 14, 1865. In a 1920s interview, Levi recalled: "The news of the president's assassination spread quickly, and within a few minutes the streets were crowded with men, women and children making their way to the telegraph office at Lake and Clark Sts. to confirm their hopes or their fears. In a little while the office was surrounded by thousands, the major portion of which was keyed up to the highest pitch of excitement. They were boiling with indignation and burning with a desire to give expression to their resentment against those they deemed responsible for the dastardly crime."

Following the War Levi traveled to the western states. He became the first man to operate a telegraph in the state of Montana, in November, 1867. He spent the next two decades traveling across the country, leading an adventurous life. It included meeting BrighamYoung in Salt Lake City and dancing with one of his daughters, becoming a paymaster for the pony express, and being present at the driving of the "golden spike" at Promontory, Utah.

Levi finally settled in Butte, Montana in 1886 where he became manager of the local Western Union office for forty years until his retirement. Levi married Pauline Bryan in Butte in December, 1886. The couple had two boys: Bryan Wild (1890-1899) who died at the age of 8, and John Edgerton Wild (1888-1957), named after his grandfather. John's wife was Carrie Wharton, and that couple had three children. The Silver Bow Club in Butte held a special dinner in honor of Levi's 80th birthday in March, 1926, and this event was reported on the front page of the Albion Evening Recorder.

Levi didn't forget his hometown, however. He made an occasional visit to our community, and kept in touch via childhood classmates and the Albion Mirror newspaper. He is discussed in Dr. Elmore Palmer's "Biographical Sketches," sketch No. 14. Levi S. Wild died on May 23, 1928 in Butte, several weeks after being injured by a hit-and-run driver. Burial was in Butte's Mt. Moriah Cemetery. From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph of Albion native Levi S. Wild.


Levi S. Wild (1846-1928)


Levi S. Wild


Tombstone of Levi S. Wild

Next: Albion 100 Years Ago, May 1912


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