Building a life
Reading, Pennsylvania native, Osmond Bernard Humma
(1879-1970), was elected valedictorian of his Saint
Louis College of Pharmacy graduation class.* Two
years later found him operating a drug store at 4372 LaClede
Avenue in Saint Louis. He was also working on the
romance side of his life. His lady friend, widow
Martha Ellis Lawrence (1872-), lived in Chicago with
her twelve-year-old daughter, Anita A. Lawrence
(c1891-). Her late husband was Edward Wells
Lawrence (1853-1894), a banker and traveling sales
representative for C. H. Fargo. Edward had
died of typhoid fever after a three-week illness.
It is not known where the party was seated at the
Iroquois but Osmond suffered minor burns. That
suggests they were on the first floor.
Escaping from the fire
When the fire started, Osmond reportedly took one
girl under his arm and put another over his
shoulder. According to his draft card, he was a
slender 142-lb man, 5' 11" tall; presumably the
child was small and young enough to make that
feasible. No mention was made of Martha's escape but
when Osmond, Martha, Anita and one of Anita's
friends got safely to the ground in Couch Place
alley, they realized the third child wasn't with
them. As Osmond searched in the alley for the girl,
a woman was knocked off the fire escape platform
above and landed on Osmond, causing a bruises to his
back. I was not able to learn if the third child
Growing a business and a
family in Sheldon, IL
later, Osmond was managing a drug store in the Gaff
building at the corner of LaSalle and Quincy Avenue
in Chicago. He married Martha that year and during
the next two years Martha bore two daughters, Mary
Catherine and Martha.
In 1909, Osmond and two other
men invested $10,000 in a new creamery company in
Sheldon, naming it the Iroquois Creamery Company.
(Because it was in Iroquois county, Illinois,
nothing to do with the theater fire.) No
evidence that it got far off the launching pad.
Drugstores were the family business. Osmond's brother and nephew,
each named Henry
and nicknamed Harry, owned several stores in
A try at making his own
In 1916 Osmond managed the Evanshire
Drugstore in the Evanshire Hotel in Evanston, IL, as
well as a working to develop O.B. Humma Laboratories Inc.
His lab patented a
powdered product for upset stomachs, named Bismo, as well as a
sugar coated laxative tablet named Laxa-Tabs.
His partners in the corporation were Leonard J.
Grossman and Emil N. Farkas. The lab seems to
have gone no farther than the Iroquois Creamery.
hard time hanging on to her money
In 1918 the Humma family lived in
LaGrange, IL when
Martha's daughter, Anita,
then aged twenty-seven, and two years into her
second marriage, to Henry Hollingsworth Pett, sued
her mother and stepfather.**
Anita accused Martha and Osmond
of having manipulated her into signing off on a
$200,000 inheritance from a granduncle, Albert J.
Averell.*** Anita had married four years
earlier and soon regretted it. Distraught, she
asked her mother and stepfather for help in getting
a divorce. Reading a bit between the lines, it
seems the threesome transferred ownership of her
inheritance to hide it from her husband during the
divorce, but by 1918 Anita was dissatisfied with her
parents handling and accounting of the monies.
Five years later, in 1923,
she was back in court, suing Pett for divorce.
She said he had persuaded her to put $140,000 into a
joint account and that Pett then gave up his acting
job and over the next four years spent $53,000 of
her money. When she refused to continue
supporting him, he left her. It appears she
prevented one man from taking her inheritance only
to give a large portion of it to another man.
Martha and Osmond divorce
In the 1930s Martha and Osmond
lived in Lyons, Illinois, with one of their
daughters (see accompanying photo of their home).
Their marriage ended sometime between 1930 and 1940,
after which time Martha rented a room in a home in
Evanston and Osmond moved to Mesa, Arizona, possibly living with their oldest daughter. Martha
described herself as a widow even though Osmond was
Where did Martha go?
Other than Osmond's name in a
survivor list in his sister's 1947 obituary, Osmond
and Martha disappeared from newspapers after 1918. I
was unable to learn the year of Martha's death or if
Osmond operated a drug store in Arizona. The degree
to which they disappeared is odd but the difficulty
probably lies in faulty information about Martha and
Anita. I was not able to verify birth
information for either of them, or even their 1900
census information. Marta was still alive in
1948, living in an apartment in Evanston.
* Founded in 1864, the Saint
Louis College of Pharmacy is still in operation.
During Osmond Humma's time at the school, it was
located at 2108 Lucas Street. Nine years
earlier it had graduated its first female student,
**In her divorce petition,
Anita gave Pett's name as William Henry Pett rather
than the Henry Hollingsworth Pett on their marriage
certificate but neither name connects to an actor.
Perhaps he had a stage name.
***Albert J. Alverell
After captaining steamships on the Sacramento River
in California in the 1850s (including the McKim, New
World and Senator) much of the time to keep supplies
running during the Gold Rush, Albert returned to
Chicago and made a fortune in real estate. At
his death he left behind an estate valued at
$1,580,000 ($42 million today). The portion
inherited by Anita was that bequeathed to her
father, Edward Wells Lawrence. Albert was
Edward's uncle, the brother of his mother, Mary S. Averell Lawrence.