History of the West Park
Neighborhood

Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio



The Saga of the Nipper Family
By Gary Swilik

    
                


In 1912, Cecelia Nipper, age 46, and her seven children were living on Puritas Avenue in Rockport Village, Ohio – soon to be renamed West Park. From oldest to youngest there was Josephine, Robert, Mary, Rose, Elizabeth, Frances, and Katherine, ranging in age from 19 to 10. The family shared their well-kept little five-room house with a Collie dog, a Maltese cat, and nineteen chickens. Notably absent was the father of the clan, Lawrence Nipper. Nearly a decade earlier he failed to come home and had not been seen since.

His disappearance was not a total surprise. Lawrence had been threatening to leave for a week but Cecelia didn’t believe him. “I didn’t suppose he would leave the children,” she told the newspapers, “our little one, Katherine, was only a tiny baby then but one night he went away and never came back.”

Apparently, the last place anyone saw Lawrence was at a local saloon. Raising a big family on the wages of a day laborer was stressful and he liked to get a glass of beer or whiskey in the evening. Soon one or two glasses was not enough. Although a good worker when sober, the day soon arrived when Lawrence could not find work. On September 26th, 1903, he left and didn’t return. “I sent down to the saloon next morning and had the neighbors hunt for him,” Cecelia remembered, “but we couldn’t find any trace of him.”

Cecelia was left on her own with seven children under ten, the oldest with a lame leg and the youngest still a baby. She worked untiringly to support her family, washing and cleaning six days a week, wherever she could find work to do. The children helped as they grew older but Cecelia insisted they all finish school before finding employment. Josephine and Mary did housework. Robert drove a milk wagon. Rockport Village saw the family’s struggle and contributed a small amount from the treasury.

At first the children missed their father but, as time passed, they became accustomed to depending on each other. Ten years is a lifetime to a child and their father faded into shadowy memory. Then, in April 1912, there was a knock at the door. One of the children opened it to find a stranger there. It was Lawrence Nipper – even the oldest children barely recalled what he looked like.

“You wouldn’t close the door in my face, would you?” he said sullenly to Cecelia. This was not, however, the same Cecelia he had abandoned so many years before. “Yes, I would,” she answered. “You did not care for us when we needed you. You have never cared for us during all these years. The love I had for you is dead. Go away from this house and never come back.” She closed the door, slowly and firmly.

Shortly afterward the local marshal spotted Lawrence in a nearby saloon and arrested him on a charge of child neglect. He pleaded guilty, was sentenced to one year in the county workhouse and ordered to pay a $300 fine. “For the first time in all the years since I went away my mind is at rest,” Lawrence proclaimed. “My conscience has seared and tortured me until I could hardly stand it . . . I did not have to come back, I knew that arrest awaited me . . . When I get out I will try and make amends.”

Cecelia was not impressed. “I don’t know why he came back,” she responded. “I don’t care. I want no more of him, he is nothing to me.” In July 1913, she was quickly granted a divorce and permanent alimony. By that time Lawrence’s whereabouts were again unknown. There is no indication he ever paid his fine or any alimony. He may have been seen one final time. His daughter Mary thought she once saw her father standing across the street from her school. Lawrence’s descendants have tried to learn what became of him but his fate remains unknown.

Cecelia never remarried and continued to live in West Park with her children. Working together they were soon able to buy a new house at 4518 West 172nd Street. The local newspaper described the Nippers as “splendid physical specimens, the handsomest family in the village . . . They are a jolly, happy, laughing brood for Cecelia has the wisdom to mix play and laughter into the somber workaday life.”

All the Nipper children married, and all but one had children of their own. Cecelia lived to be a great-grandmother, dying at the age of 88 in 1952 at the home of one of her daughters in Brooklyn, New York. She was buried in the little cemetery at St. Patrick’s Church on Rocky River Drive where her gravestone can still be seen. The Nipper home on West 172nd Street remained in the family until 1980. The last of Cecelia’s children, Mary Nipper Eisenbeis, died in 1998 in Portland, Oregon, at the age of 101.




     


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24October 2017