Finding Laura (my search for The Cougar)


* (Updates at the bottom of the blog)

After finishing my blog on Mary C Dolencie I was restless and searched for another subject to research. I stumbled upon Laura G Slocum’s story at an interesting blog about unusual old newspaper stories. The blog is appropriately called Weird Shit in Historic Newspapers and unfortunately the author quit writing the blog in April of 2016. Regardless, this is the story I came across that got me interested in Laura.


Nowadays this isn’t such an unusual story, but it was definitely unusual for its time. I began researching her more out of curiosity than the idea of a blog, and mostly to see if the marriage had lasted and what had brought this marriage on. During this time though I decided she was going to be my next blog. With that being said, let’s begin. 

Since I’m going to write this one as a timeline, let’s begin with her birth. Laura Geraldine Slocum was born in August of 1879 in New York, and most likely in Madison or Yates counties. Her father was Alfred Woodcock Slocum, who was a dry goods merchant at the time of her birth. He was born in Hamilton (Madison County) New York in 1852. Laura’s mother was Katherine Alida Thompson, who was born in New York in 1854. Alfred and Kate had gotten married in Madison County in 1876 and by June of 1880 were living in Yates County. This is where we end up finding them in the 1880 Census done on 9 June. In this census we see Alfred, Kate and Laura beginning on line 22. Alfred is a clerk in the dry goods business, Kate is a housewife, and next to Laura’s age it shows her birth month during the previous year as August. 1880 Census

I later found that Alfred began taking classes at Cornell University in the late 1870s up through the late 1880s. By the time of the 1892 New York State Census he had become an engineer. State censuses tend to be a bit sparse on the information but we see that they are living in Geneva (Ontario County) and that they have added a son to the family. His name was Charles Alfred Slocum and he was born 10 June 1881, probably in Yates County. You’ll find the family at the top of the left side of the page. 1892 Census

Laura’s father died in January of 1899 but I was never able to find out how. Around this time Laura began attending Cornell and I found her in two of the 1900 U.S. Censuses. The first was done on 2 June in Ithaca (Tompkins County). In this one, she is boarding with a widow named Sarah Rice. It shows Laura as a student. You’ll find her at line 40. 1st 1900 Census    Laura@Cornell

It’s pure luck she was caught in two different censuses for 1900. This was right about the time the school would have closed for the summer. It’s just two days later when Laura appears in the census again, this time back home with her mother. In this one, Kate is now living in Syracuse (Onondaga County). It shows her as having no occupation. Her son Charles is there and he is now a tailor for ladies clothing. Laura is now there and listed as a student. Lastly is the late Alfred’s sister, Susie. This Susie never married and died in 1916. You’ll find them beginning at line 12. 2nd 1900 Census

On this exact same day, Laura’s future first husband, Roger Allen Spencer, is living in New Haven, Connecticut and is a student at Yale University, along with his younger brother. He is at line 13. 1900 Census. Roger was born 28 July 1874 in Jasper (Steuben County) New York and was the son of Adonirum Judson Spencer and Hannah A Simpson. After completing two years at Yale he transferred to and graduated from Cornell in 1902. Roger@Cornell. I assume this is where he and Laura met. 

Supposedly Roger and Laura got married on 28 August 1900, at least based on what other family trees said on Ancestry.Com, but not a single one of them had any proof. As much as I hate using information from other trees (they are notoriously wrong), I’ll have to say that in this case it might be right. Based on the birth of their first child (Hannah Katherine) on 3 May 1901 and assuming Laura got pregnant while standing at the altar, or very shortly thereafter, then the August date makes sense. 

By the time of the 1905 state census they were living in Covert (Seneca County) New York. In this census she and her husband are both teachers and they still have only one child. You’ll find them at line 28. 1905 Census

On 12 March 1907 their daughter Henrietta Flora was born in Unadilla (Otsego County) New York. Sometime between then and when their son Roger Allen Jr was born on 22 January 1910 in Rochester (Monroe County) New York, the elder Roger had accepted a job to be a school principal. This is where we find them in the 1910 U.S. Census, done on 20 April. They are living at 8 Daisy Street. In this one it shows that Roger and Laura have been married about 9 years and that Laura has borne 3 children, all of whom are living. Roger is now a school principal but Laura is no longer teaching. They begin on line 27. 1910 Census

Over the next five years Laura gave birth to the last two of her five children. This would be Charles Slocum on 1 March 1911 and Laura Geraldine on 24 April 1915. Two months after little Laura’s birth they were all caught in the 1915 New York State Census. They are now living at 1361 Dewey Avenue. In this one, Roger is now an instructor, Laura is a housewife and the children are all students. They begin on line 7. 1915 Census

I found them living at that 1361 Dewey Avenue address from the 1911 city directory up through the 1920 Census, which was done on 3 January. There’s isn’t much to note on it though. Roger is again a principal and everyone else is there but with nothing in particular standing out. They are at line 39. 1920 Census. After Christmas of 1920, Roger had packed his bags for a trip to Syracuse but suddenly died at home from a heart attack in the evening of the 27th. Roger’s Death1  Roger’s Death2

Let’s straighten out something before we continue. When Laura is listed in the news stories as a preceptress, keep in mind that the word can mean a principal or a teacher. I found conflicting versions in the stories. Some said teacher, some said principal and some said preceptress. I even found one story that had a man named Nathaniel G West taking Roger’s place in September of 1921, so who knows what the truth is. Regardless, Laura was an educator at the school in some shape, form or fashion. Here is the one about Nathaniel West. 24 Sep 1921. Although this story is from September, West had actually been appointed back in January, not long after Roger’s death.

Now for the introduction of our second main player, Neil Thomas Cushing. At some point in 1921, Laura had gotten young Neil (supposedly one of her students) to teach her how to drive her late husband’s car. During this time they were seen a lot together and obviously became quite close. By 1 October 1921 they had driven down to Tioga County in Pennsylvania and gotten married. This has to be the oddest marriage document I think I’ve ever seen. The groom is on one page and the bride on the other. Plus, the first letter of each person’s first name is in a separate box. Why anyone would design it this way is beyond me. Have a look for yourself. Neil is in page one and Laura in page two. Marriage Page 1   Marriage Page 2

Once the news of their marriage got out a few months later, the story went nationwide. This even resulted in many of the students threatening a strike to quit coming to school if she stayed. Fairly quickly she ended up having to resign. Here are several examples. 24 Feb 1922  26 Feb 1922 (A)  26 Feb 1922 (B)  27 Feb 1922 (A)  27 Feb 1922 (B)  8 Mar 1922  27 Jul 1922

So we now need to cover Neil’s backstory. Neil’s parents were Michael Thomas Cushing and Lee Etta White. Michael had been born in Pennsylvania on 9 May 1868 and worked for the railroad. Lee Etta was born 24 November 1874 in Painted Post (Steuben County) New York. They got married around 1893 or so and then had their first child, William Edward, on 3 June 1894 in Painted Post. Next came Charles Willard, on 26 July 1897, also in Painted Post. By 1900 they had moved to Avon (Livingston County) New York. This is where Michael and Lee Etta would live for the rest of their lives. It’s also where their last child, Neil, was born. This was on 1 December 1902. Not one tree out there had their 1900 U.S. Census or the New York 1905 one. It was a tough search but I was able to find the one for 1900. Unfortunately the one for 1905 does not exist anymore. I’m providing a link to the 1900 census here, not for the story, but for any family members who may wish to have it. They begin on line 45. 1900 Census.  And here is the link to the record up on Ancestry. Ancestry Link

The next place to find Neil is the 1910 census. In this one, from 19 April, they are living on Wadsworth Avenue. His parents show as having been married now for about 17 years and that Lee Etta has borne three children, all of whom are living. Neil’s father also shows that both of his parents were from Ireland and that he is a flagman for the railroad. 1910 Census

We find them all again for the 1915 state census done in June. They are living at 7 Clinton Street in Avon. Michael is now a baggage man for the railroad and Etta is still a housewife. William is now a machinist. Notice that he is married. He had married Hillma Ruth Craig a few months earlier and she is there also. Young Charles and Neil are students. 1915 Census

For 1920, they were caught in the census on 7 January. They are still living on Clinton Street but now William and Hillma have moved out. Michael is now a brakeman for the railroad and Charles is a 22 year old draftsman. The odd thing is that Neil is 17 and it says that he is a railroad detective. Notice that their next door neighbor is one also. Was this an enumerator mistake or had their neighbor taken young Neil under his wing? They’re at the bottom of the page. 1920 Census

Starting with the 1923 city directory (1922 wasn’t available) I found Neil and Laura living at 110 Raeburn Avenue in Rochester. This was the same address in their 1925 state census. In this one (they’re at the bottom of the page), Neil is in college and Laura is now an office stenographer. Laura’s daughter Hannah is now a school teacher and Henrietta is attending college. The youngest two are still in school. 1925 Census. Neil went on to graduate from Syracuse University in 1927 with a degree in business administration. Neil College

They were in the 1930 census on 7 April. They are still at the same address as before. Neil is now an assistant superintendent for an oil company and Laura is back to teaching. Hannah is now gone. She had married a Paul Lyman Welton in 1926 and was living in another town in Monroe County. Henrietta is still there though and is now a stenographer for a publishing company. Charles is now a gas station attendant and young  Laura is still in school. 1930 Census

In the 1940 census, they are living at 23 East Main Street in Avon and state that they lived here in 1935 also. I backed this up by verifying they had disappeared from the Rochester city directories right at 1935. Neil is now in the wholesale candy and tobacco business. You’ll see an ‘x’ by Laura’s name. For those new to genealogy this means she was the person that gave the info to the enumerator. It also shows her as not working at this time. Next up is Henrietta. She had married a Wolfgang Alfred Feeser in 1931 and the following year they were divorced. Seven months after getting married, she gave birth to Gerald Feeser Cushing. This was on 23 October 1931. More on all of this later. In this census, she is the production manager of an advertising agency. Then comes young Laura, who is a stenographer at a distillation company. Lastly is the aforementioned Gerald. 1940 Census. I have to wonder why they moved to Avon. Was it the work? His father died in 1937 so maybe he had been ill for some time and Neil moved home to help his mother through this. Maybe some family out there knows the answer. I do know that by 1947 they were back in Rochester living at 735 Harvard Street and continued to do so until at least 1962. 

We’re at the point where I need to catch you up on the rest of their immediate families. I’ll cover Laura’s family first. We’ll cover her children’s lives a bit later. You already know about her father dying back in 1899 so here is a synopsis of the rest.

  • Her mother ended up living in Dix (Schuyler County) New York, where she passed away on 2 December 1919.
  • Laura’s only sibling, her brother Charles Alfred, continued on in the ladies apparel business. Beating his sister to the punch (but in the opposite direction), he married a woman who was 19 years older than him. She was Adah V Gulick and was a 44 year old spinster when they got married in about 1906. They built a dressmaking business together and lived their lives out in Schuyler County. Charles died from pneumonia 24 March 1927 and his wife died there too in 1932.

As for Neil’s family, you already know about his father passing away in 1937. For the rest:

  • His mother, Lee Etta, stayed on in Avon and died there at age 90 on 21 April 1965.
  • Neil’s eldest brother, William Edward, was a machinist for a good part of his life before becoming the owner of his own gas station. He and his wife Hillma raised their three children in Avon. He and his wife passed away closely together, him on 19 November 1962 and her on 22 August 1963.
  • For Neil’s brother, Charles Willard, he continued being a draftsman until about the time William got his gas station. At about this point Charles had opened his own candy and cigar store or was working in the same one that Neil worked at. He never married as far as I could tell and he died in Avon on 31 December 1965.

As for Laura’s children: 

  • After Hannah Spencer married Paul Welton, they raised two sons, mostly in the Rochester area. She eventually left teaching (Paul was also a teacher) and became a bookkeeper. Paul died in 1951 in Plainfield (Union County), New Jersey. After his death Hannah ended up becoming the manager of the Rochester Telephone Employees Credit Union. After a heart attack in 1971 she moved to Torrance (Los Angeles County), California and died in Westminster (Orange County), California on 25 September 1984. Their youngest son, Paul Jr, just passed away in California in 2009. 
  • Roger Allen Spencer Jr had died at age 14 on 12 July 1924 in Elmira (Chemung County) due to being kicked in the stomach by a horse.
  • Charles Slocum Spencer married Ethel Marjorie Heise in 1937 and they began raising their family in Rochester. Charles ended up working for Firestone within a few years and was transferred a few times during his career with them. After a few years with Firestone in Liverpool, Ohio they ended up in California. This included Chico, Fresno, and finally San Diego. This was where he passed away on 22 July 1982. His wife died there on 4 August 2009.
  • Laura Geraldine Spencer married Hartwell Burton and they had a son and three daughters. Laura died in Geneva, New York on 27 February 2005 and Hartwell had already died in Philadelphia in 1987.

Now, you may have noticed that I left out Henrietta. Her story is a bit more complex and lengthy so I’ll cover her story separately. As stated earlier, she had married Alfred Feeser on 14 March 1931 in Rochester. Alfred states in the marriage record that he was born in Rochester and that he lives at 110 Raeburn in Rochester so he is apparently staying with Henrietta’s family. Marriage.  

So let’s cover Alfred a little. My later research into him revealed that he was born in Nuremberg, Germany and had just arrived in America a year and a half earlier. In the first page of the passenger list for his arrival in New York on 16 August 1929, it shows him as a 19 year old optician who was born in and currently residing in Nuremberg. Page two says that is father is Adam Feeser. This is different than his marriage record. It also shows that he is heading to Rochester to visit his uncle, Frank Muench. This is who I found him living with for the 1930 Census. Arrival-1  Arrival-2  1930 Census

Continuing with Alfred, because he is a key player in this part of the story, after arriving and staying for a short time with his uncle he moved into his own place in 1930 and consequently shows up in the 1931 city directory there living at 201 Arnett Boulevard. 1931 Dir.  Because he and Henrietta got married in 1931 they show up in the 1932 directory living in a little apartment at 970 Monroe Avenue. 1932 Dir

They split up sometime during 1932 because by the time the 1933 city directory is published they aren’t in it. Also, I found Alfred returning to America on 20 February 1933 from another trip back home to Germany. It shows him as single, had gotten his passport in June of 1932 and that he also left the U.S. in 1932. 1933 Arr-1  1933 Arr-2

What he next did was go back to Rochester, married a lady named Cleora Barney (who was twelve years older than him) and took her back to Germany, where they lived until their arrival back in America in October of 1938. They then moved to Los Angeles, where I found them in the 1940 Census. After this he disappears. I suspect he went back to Germany to fight for the Fatherland in World War II. Clara stayed on in California and died in Los Angeles in 1968.

So why did I bring all this up? Well, early on I had a theory (and keep in mind it is ONLY a theory). First, apparently Henrietta was probably already pregnant when she got married. She married a recent immigrant arrival for a short period of time and then divorced him. The son is named after her step-father, though he does have the immigrant’s surname as part of his name. One possibility for that is that Laura and Neil later adopted him as their own. But why would they need to do that? Especially since she was already living with Neil and her mother. Laura’s obit later calls him her adopted grandson. Neil’s obit says son. My theory is that maybe Neil was the actual father and they had used Alfred for cover. It also helped Alfred by being married to a U.S. Citizen. Now by no means does this mean this is what happened. But it is a definite possibility, especially considering what happens later.

Back to Laura, after being married to Neil for 40 years, she finally passed away on 27 March 1962 in Rochester. She was 82 years old. Laura’s Obit.  Fifteen months later, on 25 May 1963 in Rochester, Neil married his step-daughter Henrietta. They stayed married until his death on 3 January 1985 in Avon and Henrietta a few months later there on 5 September. Neil’s Obit. Neil and Henrietta are buried together in Avon Cemetery.

So what happened to Henrietta’s son, Gerald? Well, he continued to live with Laura, Neil and his mother until he got married to Laura Ann Hutchinson on 27 August 1955 in Rochester and they began living at 226 Columbia Street in Ithaca while he was attending Cornell. His wife was a public health nurse. The following year they had moved to 406 University Avenue.  1957 Dir. They were there the following year when in March of 1958 he was charged with assault for some altercation after an automobile accident. 

By 1959 he was the chief engineer with WTKO radio in Ithaca. The following year, in January of 1961, he was indicted along with 51 others on an obscenity charge. I was unable to clip the story from the paper but was able to transcribe it as follows:

The Ithaca Journal – Tuesday, January 17, 1961

Ithacan Named in Obscene Mail Case

Chicago – A federal grand jury has accused 51 men and one woman of sending or conspiring to send obscene material through the mails in connection with their membership in so-called “pen pal” clubs advertised in magazines illustrated with nearly nude musclemen.

Among them is Gerald F Cushing, 29, of Ithaca RD3.

The 52 persons were named in 14 indictments culminating a six-month investigation by postal inspectors and the federal grand jury, U.S. Dist. Atty. Robert Tieken said.

In a joint statement Monday Tieken and post office inspectors said the investigation was aimed at “the Adonis Male Club” and the International Body Culture Association, who solicited members by means of free advertising in the male magazines physique-muscle display type ‘Vim’ and ‘Gym.’”

The 51 men, ranging in age from 18 to 57, live in 24 states and Canada.

“The ‘pen pal’ clubs, “ the statement said, “were operated by Nirvana Walters, the wife of the magazine’s editor and her husband, Jack Walters, who undertook to furnish members monthly with the name of a correspondent with whom they could exchange letters and pictures for a membership fee of $5.

“The Adonis Male Club had approximately 750 members,” the statement said. “The club files indicate 65 are educators and 77 are students. Those remaining come from the professions, the arts, business and government employees.”

All in all, it’s pretty tame stuff compared to today. He was sentenced that June to probation. Can you imagine how much these 52 people would have loved the internet though? 

He and his wife Laura went on to raise two daughters and two sons and ended up in the Detroit area, where Gerald died on 19 October 1989. His wife passed away fairly recently in Niagara Falls, on 12 December 2015.

All in all, Laura and Neil’s story didn’t end like I thought it would. They were in the marriage for the long-haul and disproved any naysayers back in the day. I raise my glass to the both of you.

I thought I’d end this blog with the few pictures I found of some of the participants in this blog. Unfortunately I never found one of Laura. 

Roger Allen Spencer, Laura’s first husband:   RogerSpencer2

Neil Thomas Cushing, her 2nd husband:         NeilCushing

Laura Geraldine Spencer, Laura’s daughter:   LauraGSpencer

Charles Slocum Spencer, Laura’s son:               CharlesSSpencer

Ethel Marjorie Heise, Charles Spencer’s wife: EthelMHeise 

Charles Willard Cushing, Neil’s brother:           CharlesWCushing

Gerald Feeser Cushing, Henrietta’s son:            GeraldFCushing

Laura Ann Hutchinson, Gerald’s wife:                LauraAHutchinson


Update 20 May 2017: I found a better newspaper item about Gerald’s indictment story which provided more info, especially a lead on the club owners, Jack and Nirvana Walters. News Story.  It mentions that Nirvana’s real last name is Zuideveld. Later I did some light digging and found her maiden name was Ward and that her husband was Jack Walter Zuideveld. There is some info on him out there about his early life but nothing much on her. In 1963 she and Jack filed an appeal and much more info is available on the whole story at this law site: Appeal.  I didn’t have the time to go much deeper into the research on them but did find that Nirvana was born in New York in 1925 but grew up in the Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia area. She lived out her the rest of her life using Walters as her last name and later moved back home and died in Virginia Beach in October of 1985. Oddly enough, I had just moved away from there myself. Here is a picture of her. 


As for Jack, he was born in Otsego, Michigan in 1919. He married two or three times and I believe he ended up using the Walters last name so is harder to track. At least we can see a picture of him:


Update 22 Aug 2017:  I was contacted today by a daughter of Jack and Nirvana and she pointed out that the photos I had posted of her parents were not them. She was then kind enough to send me one of each. Their photos have been replaced with those provided. Also, I found a news story about their sentencing:  Sentence News

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Thanks for stopping by! -Ray

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