Tick Tock: A timeline for Ira Sayles, 1884-1894

In 1884 letters to his buddy, Edwin B Hall in Wellsville (NY), Ira set out his specs for what sounded like a utopian “home”, where fellow believers of THE WAY OF IRA would live in harmony.  Clearly, the estrangement with Serena and his sons ruled out Virginia as a potential location. 


Ira went on to state that he intended to head out west and carve from the Public Domain land that he can call home.  Buoyed by the steady income from his employment with the United States Geological Survey, Ira seemed keen on making the move in the next couple of years.  

However


Records show Ira hopscotching from town to town, collecting fossil specimens in Appalachian strata, and residing in either Washington, D.C. or Ithaca, NY (Cornell connection) while labeling and organizing the collections for the National Museum for the best part of a decade.


Ira did go west, eventually.

The 75 year old suffered a stroke in November 1891 while in Ithaca, that reduced the capacity of his right arm. Another life-threatening “attack” forced his hospitalization while in Washington, D.C. the following February. Just weeks after the second illness, a Greensburg (KS) newspaper reported that Captain Ira Sayles had arrived to make his home with his brother Loren, the city’s water engineer. But that experiment out west ended in July 1892.


Ira returned to Washington, D.C., where he applied for a pension on August 2 based on his military service in 1862-1863 . Later that week Ira collapsed at the Pennsylvania Railroad Depot and was whisked away while unconscious to the Emergency Hospital. 


A former colleague, Dr. R. R. Gurley saw a notice of the hospitalization in the paper and went to visit the elderly friend. Seeing that Ira was intent on leaving the hospital though weak and confused, Dr. Gurley persuaded Ira to spend a few days at his home in Carlins (now in Alexandria) before continuing his travels.


Ira remained in DC until at least October when he was examined by pension board of examiners’ doctors, Little and Davis. Their report indicated that an inguinal hernia (completely returnable and held in by truss!) and some heart disease limited his ability to do manual labor, and therefore qualified him for a disability pension.

 
Later that fall, the patriarch traveled to his son’s home, where he remained confined and totally dependent on family formerly estranged. 


The pension was approved in June 1893, and payments sent to Chase City, where he died a year later. 


Without his home. 


"…the small still voice spoke to the soul, and the soul listened, bowed and received the instruction given it. So shall my labor be. I will speak to those only that wish to hear, and hear but to obey. Every principle I teach, shall become an active element in the lives of them that hear. Whoever hears but refuses to practice, will hear no more. He cannot live with me; and so shall it be with them that follow me. My home shall be the home of such and of such only as wish to live the life that I teach and… (missing)”
~~Ira Sayles in a letter to EB Hall, 1884 

I find this man and his life struggles fascinating. 

Wealth and the Ideal Man: An Epistle from Ira Sayles to EB Hall, 1885

Ira Sayles, assistant geologist with United States Geological Survey. 
Photograph taken about 1885 at age 68.

Ira Sayles.

Had I nothing but historical documents, I would have but a simplistic notion of who my great-great-grandfather was.  A self-taught student who rose to be a college student, teacher and founding school administrator of Alfred Academy; Principal of Rushford Academy; Captain of Company H, 130th Regiment of the New York Volunteers in the Union Army; assistant geologist to Charles D. Walcott with the United States Geological Survey. 

A son, brother, husband, father.

But I have letters. And poems. And journal articles. And more letters. 

Clearly, Ira Sayles was a complicated man, with a rich interior life.  His core identity was constructed from his intellectual activities, not his familial relationships.  He harbored ambitions for his poetry, teaching methods, and scientific observations, and nursed grudges with a world that failed to recognize his brilliance. 

In an undated letter to his friend, EB Hall, a druggest and amateur paleontologist in Wellsville, New York, Ira Sayles declares:

People may not be willing to accredit me with being their
Ideal Man. I have never striven to be their Ideal Man; but I do strive to be my own Ideal Man. I am no social puppet. The Ideal Man of Society is but a puppet. He must attitude, and bob, and bow, according to the notions of a silly mob, for whose good opinion I will not turn on my heel. 

Apparently Ira and EB Hall had been discussing the notion of wealth, how the great entrepreneurs of the age–Vanderbilt, Cornell, Rothschild–had used their money to endow public institutions.  Ira took issue with the social standing that these men accrued because of their riches and legacies.

  I know the power of wealth. I acknowledge its good, and I deplore its evils. I can say, too, I have felt its evils. I do not care to rehearse my experiences; nor will I enter into any explanations why I have been so long a homeless wanderer over this beautiful Earth. The story shall remain untold. 

No man can win through the ordinary course of business, a large fortune, but that every dollar is cursed with the tears of the hungry, the naked, the shelterless! 

Ira’s disdain for capitalistic success was connected to his concern about the changing aspirations of women.  In fact, in this letter, Ira predicted a total breakdown of the social order.  Because of financial expectations men, the natural providers for women, would not be able to afford the trappings of success needed to be married.  Wealth among the few would contribute to women not getting married and having children, and men frequenting houses of ill repute because they could not afford wives.  

Ira’s legacy, however, would not be appraised in terms of the dollar.

Instead of making Wealth an object of Life—the object of Life—I will make, as I have long been making, complete fullness of manhood and womanhood, in all its richness, not the chief
but the only end of Life. 

Perhaps you, like others, will call me a dreamer, indulging in an illusive (sic) fancy that will forever mock my hope. Be it so. I have the satisfaction and the joy of living that life myself; I will build myself a home where whoever will, may come and partake with me freely, on the same conditions as I impose on myself, viz. Living up to the Complete Laws of Human Nature. That and that only. 

Living up to the Complete Laws of Human Nature. 

Where the ideal man provided for the ideal woman who remained at home and became mothers.  Where everyone had enough to eat, a safe place to sleep, and honorable work to complete.  

Ira’s utopia. Did he ever discover the wealth inside his own ideal? 

Source

Letter from Ira Sayles to EB Hall of Wellsville, New York, ca. 1885; Hall Family Documents, privately held by Jay Woelfle [address for private use,] 2018. Transcribed by D. Kay Strickland, 2018.