17 January, 2010

The Mysteries of Duquesne

As I noted in the previous post, the Hawkins Strongbox was discovered on Ocotber 17, 2003 in the cellar of my grandfather's former home. So this begs the question, what is my family's connection to this Victorian era scientist, inventor, writer and adventurer?

Quite simply, Geoffrey Hawkins is my great-great grandfather. He was born in London, England** in the year 1850. The date of his death remains unrecorded as he disappeared under mysterious circumstances during the summer of 1911. Although my family surname is Pepper, I am in fact a Hawkins by bloodline. Brent Hawkins Pepper, my great grandfather, was born out of wedlock in 1877 to parents Geoffrey Hawkins and Shannon Kennicot. When Brent was two years old, his mother married Roderick Pepper. Both mother and son had been estranged from Hawkins since Brent's birth, and Pepper subsequently adopted the lad on the occasion of Brent's fifth birthday. Despite bearing continued animosity toward Hawkins, Shannon insisted that Brent retain his father's name in some fashion. As an adult, Brent would enjoy a cordial relationship with Hawkins, but still always retained his adopted surname.

Brent Hawkins Pepper married Orphelia Burby in 1899. Their son Cedric, the first of three children, was born in January of 1900. Following service in the British army during World War I, Cedric Pepper emigrated to America in 1920. He married another English immigrant, Esme Sigismund in 1922. Cedric and Esme settled in the small western Pennsylvania steel town of Duquesne, a few miles up the Monongahela River from Pittsburgh. In November of 1928, Esme gave birth to my father William, their third child.

It remains a mystery how a strongbox belonging to Geoffrey Hawkins came to be buried in a dark corner of his grandson's coal cellar. Cedric and Esme Pepper built their Duquesne home in 1946, some thirty-five years after Geoffrey Hawkins vanished from history. My father William Pepper has no recollection of his father ever speaking about Hawkins; the strongbox was a secret buried both literally and figuratively. As yet, nothing found within the Hawkins Strongbox has provided any explanation as to how it journeyed from Victorian England to mid-2oth century western Pennsylvania.

*The spot illustration shown above was originally published in the winter 1885 issue of the Hawkins Journal of Advance Science and Industry.  It is likely that the artist used a 1884 cabinet card (HS Item 254) as his reference.

**CORRECTION:  Geoffrey Hawkins was born in Dixton near the town of Monmouth in south Wales.  See Correspondences: A Long Term Venture, Max Planck and More (4 February, 2010) for complete details.

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