John Prescott Forrest (1884-1947)

My great-grandfather John Prescott “Jack” Forrest (1884-1947) was, for a long time, arguably the biggest enigma in my immediate family tree.  He was born into a wealthy and influential family, the Forrests of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada (about whom I’ve already written several blogs) on 4 Sept 1884, the youngest child of John Forrest and Annie Prescott Duff.  He lived in Halifax until about 1903, when he immigrated to the US at the age of 19.  Jack began working for the Remington Typewriter Company in October of 1905 cleaning typewriters, and quickly worked his way up the corporate ladder as a mechanic and salesman, first in New York, then in New Jersey, then in Montreal, Canada.

Interestingly, Jack’s brother Archie Forrest married the daughter of the founder of the Remington Typewriter Company, Helen Benedict.  Archie and their other brother George Munro Forrest seem to both have gotten cushy executive positions with Remington as a result of this nepotism.  This does not seem to have been the case for my great-grandfather.  All indications are that he worked his way up from the bottom hitting every rung along the way.

John Prescott Forrest, about 1930.

It was in Montreal where he met my great-grandmother Lulu Maria Cairns (1888-1975), and they were married at the American Presbyterian Church in Montréal on 4 Dec 1912.

Forrest / Cairns Marriage record, 1912

Forrest / Cairns Marriage record, 1912

Shortly after that, Jack was named the district manager of the Richmond sub-branch of Remington Typewriter Co, and the family relocated briefly to Norfolk, Massachusetts.  About a year after that, in November of 1913, Jack was appointed manager of the New Haven, Connecticut office.  An article about his appointment (which appeared in the November, 1913 issue of “The Remington Budget”) praised him as having “a well rounded-out record, without a single link missing in the chain of experience”.

Jack and Lulu had three girls around this time, Helen Duff Forrest (1913-1992), Mildred Jean Forrest (1915-2006), Elizabeth Cairns “Betty” Forrest (1918-1988).  Mildred (or Jean, as she preferred to be called) was my paternal grandmother.

My great-grandfather was naturalized a US citizen in 1913, and in 1918 the family moved again, this time to a home on 21 Alexander Avenue in Madison, New Jersey. Jack had accepted a promotion to become the State Manager for Remington in New Jersey.  His office was at 20 Clinton Street in Newark.

John & Lulu Forrest with daughters Helen and Mlidred and an unknown blonde friend, c1920.

John & Lulu Forrest with daughters Helen and Mlidred and an unknown blonde friend, c1920.

Two years later, Jack’s beloved and renowned father John Forrest passed away.  I’ve already posted the letter John wrote his son only weeks before his death.  On 23 Jun 1920, Jack received a telegram from his brother Archie informing him of his father’s passing.  It was short and to the point:

Telegram sent by Archie Forrest to his brother Jack informing him of the death of their father.

Jack went home to Halifax, leaving his wife Lulu and their three daughters at home.  The funeral was, by all accounts, quite a grand affair.  John Forrest was the former President of Dalhousie University, and he was widely respected and beloved.  My great-aunt (and his grand-daughter) Helen Forrest had a very large collection of newspaper clippings about his funeral.  Noteworthy people sent letters of condolence.  He was described as “one of Nova Scotia’s most distinguished and venerable sons”, and “a familiar and beloved figure”.  The pulpit and pew in the church where the family worshiped was draped in mourning.  University members “lined the street from the house to the church”.  When the funeral was over, Jack took a moment to write a letter back home to his wife.

By all accounts, behind the scenes there was trouble at home.  My grandmother said that Lulu had been having affairs with other men, which drove Jack to drink.  Then she became angry with him for drinking.  The letter, preserved by Helen Forrest and passing to her nephew Tom Forrest, shows the strain and the desperate emotion that Jack must have been feeling about his marriage.  It’s a very rare and intimate look into his mind.  The letter reads:

Dear Lou: The funeral is over and we are all back at the house.  The streets were lined all the way from the house to the cemetery and there were hundreds of people more there.  I will not try to tell you about it as I have all the papers to bring back with me, and I will get tomorrow’s with the report of the funeral in it.  The North British Society pipers were there and played all the time.  I only wish that you were with me too.  I feel this very much, and it only goes to show that you never know what people are to you until something happens.  I am not sure when we will start for home, but it will be around the first of the week.  I will write again in the morning.  I sure will be glad to get back to you again and tell you how much I love you.  All my love and kisses to you and the children, ever dear Lou.  Your loving husband, Jack.

Letter to Lulu Cairns from John P. Forrest, June 1920.

Jean, Betty, and Helen Forrest c1923

Jean, Betty, and Helen Forrest c1923

Jack and Lulu did have another child, their only boy.  John Prescott Forrest Jr. (“Red”), was born 27 May 1923 in Newark, New Jersey.

Helen, John Jr, and Jack Forrest, c1926

Helen, John Jr, and Jack Forrest, c1926

After that, things become less clear.  His mother Annie Duff’s obituary says that Jack was still living in New Jersey in 1930, but Lulu and the girls had moved to Bethel, Vermont.  Lulu married her second husband, Lou Whitney, in 1939.

I have had no luck finding my great-grandfather in the 1930 or 1940 census reports.  One of the last records we have for him is from 1942.  He filled out a WWII Draft Registration Card which says he was working as a “Partner of Gerald Liebow” in Vineland, New Jersey.  He was living on South Brewster Road, and he was 57 years old.

John P. Forrest’s WWII Draft Card from 1942.

In fact, Jack was living with Gerald Liebow, whose own WWII Draft Card shows the same address.  Gerald was a 51-year-old from Stryj, Austria, and according to the 1941 City Directory for Vineland, New Jersey he ran the “Brewster Poultry Farm”.  It seems possible that Jack had been asked to be a partner in that business.  The back of the draft card has a physical description, which is very interesting.  It describes him as 5″11″ and 140 pounds [VERY thin!] with blue eyes, gray hair, and a ruddy complexion.

Back of WWII Draft Card

Back of WWII Draft Card

When his brother, Archie Forrest, died in 1946 his obituary mentioned that Jack was still living in Vineland, NJ.  My father had always heard that Lulu divorced him for drinking, and that Jack died from the effects of alcohol.

Then, finally, in September of 2013, I managed to locate my great-grandfather’s death record with the help of a kind woman I recruited on the Ancestry.com forums:

John Prescott Forrest, d. 4 May 1947; Place of death, Pittsgrove Twp., Salem Co. [New Jersey]; Residence, R.D. #1 Elmer, Pittsgrove Twp., Salem Co. [New Jersey]; SS 155-18-3559; Divorced; b. 4 September 1884; Birthplace, Nova Scotia; Occupation, Retired Salesman; Father, John Forrest, b. Nova Scotia; Mother, Annie Duff, b. Nova Scotia; Cause of death, Possible Coronary Occlusion; Burial, Silver Brook Crematory, Wil. Del. [Wilmington, Delaware]; Informant, George M. Forrest, 250 Post Rd., Rye, NY.  Source:  1947 NJ Death Certificates, Microfilm 972 (Trenton, NJ:  State Archives)

So at the age of only 62 years my great-grandfather died in the town of Elmer, New Jersey from a likely heart-attack.  He appears to have been cremated and the document indicates he was interred at Silverbrook in Wilmington, Delaware.  However, the curator there has written to me to say that his remains are not there:  “I was unable to locate him at this time.  There is a possibility the cremains were turned over to a family member.”

So the most likely scenario is that his brother George spread his ashes somewhere or kept them in an urn.

The last 25 years of his life remain shrouded in mystery at this point, but at least now his descendants can know his fate.

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About cthomas1967

Seeking to bring my ancestors out of the shadows of history and into the light. I have always been interested in history, and at a few different times I tried to do a family tree, but wasn't able to do it with the technology that was available then. On a business trip I visited the World War I Museum in Kansas City, MO and it was a very impressive establishment. While I was there I remember thinking, "Didn't my great-grandfather father fight in World War I? And wasn't his brother killed alongside him in some famous battle? I wonder if I can find out where he died." That's what started it all. View all posts by cthomas1967

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