Clara Simpson

Tom Ralphs contacted the blog wondering if we had any records indicating that his grandfather, Tom Shea, was at Morningside. When I wrote back that I didn’t find anything, he mentioned that his grandmother, Clara Simpson, was sent there in the 1940’s, and he had information on her life that he was willing to share. Here’s Clara’s story…

Clara Halferty Shea and Thomas Robert Shea, about 1907Clara Halferty was born in March 1887 in Brighton, Iowa. She married Tom Shea in 1907 and they adopted a daughter, Myrtle. In 1915, the family moved to Alaska where Tom took a job working on the construction of the Alaska Railroad. Clara immediately fell in love with Alaska.

(Photo Right: Clara and Tom Shea, circa 1907)

Tom and Clara divorced in 1916 and, over the next 20 years, she worked as a prospector and mail carrier, and she married three more times (including once more to Tom Shea). In May 1929, she visited family in Iowa and regaled family and friends with stories about her life in Alaska. A story about her in The Newton Daily News illustrates her adventurous spirit and self-reliance:

“My first experience driving a dog team turned out badly. I hitched 7 dogs to a sled. A quarter of a mile later, the dogs, sled and myself rolled 150 feet off the side hill. I attempted to straighten the tangled harness when the dogs broke loose and headed to camp.”

(Photo Left: Clara with Humpback Grizzly, Alaska)

Clara's Cache and Cabin, Alaska, 1917“At one time I was out on a prospecting trip which took seven months five of which I spent alone. I saw few men and no women during these months. One always finds gold. Sometimes it is a paying prospect but more often not. The largest nugget I ever found was worth $42.”

(Photo Right: Clara's Cache and Cabin, 1917)

Clara married a man named Simpson in the 1930’s and was sent to Morningside Hospital in December 1941. I found two records relating to her:

1943 List of Patients with No Assets:
"1958 (the patient number) Simpson, Clara. Aged 54. Fairbanks. U.S. White. Comm. 12-5-41 at Fairbanks. No property listed. Myrtle Ralphs, 130 N. Olive St., Glendale, Cal. (D)" (I think D stands for divorced)

1948 March Quarterly Report:
"1958 SIMPSON, Clara - Admitted Jan.8, 1942. Fairbanks. White. Female. Age 54. American born. Resident of Alaska. Separated. Laundress. Moderately alcoholic. Committed for delusions. Positive blood and spinal Wasserman. Confused, delusional. Diagnosis: General Paresis, advanced. Receiving tryparsamide, malaria. Prognosis: guarded.

It's interesting that her age is listed as 54 in both documents, even though they are five years apart. She was actually 61 in 1948. She had a positive Wasserman test indicating that she had syphilis, which can cause mental illness when not treated. Clara died at Morningside Hospital on June 17, 1949 due to bronchopneumonia, cerebral sortening and general peresis.

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