News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 26, 2014

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: Sarah Ferry sold screenplays to motion picture companies, at 30 had given birth to 16 children

Mike McCormick
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Sarah Perrault, a woman of French parentage, might have concluded she had lived a full life by the time she was 30 years old.

By that time, Sarah had married at age 13 and given birth to 16 children, including four sets of twins.

“The French,” Sarah told a Terre Haute newspaper reporter in 1914, “believe in early marriages.” Seven of her children were still living in 1914, 100 years ago.

Sarah’s father, an expert glassblower in France, encouraged his daughter to move to the U.S. Through her father she met husband Charles Ferry, also a glassblower, and the couple started a family while residing in Newark, Ohio.

Charles Ferry held a good job with the now famous Heisey Glass Co. of Newark beginning in 1895. But the glass business in Newark became cyclical early in the 20th Century so Sarah secured a job as manager of Mound Builders Park, which included the  Newark Earthworks, the largest prehistoric complex in the Ohio River Valley.

People now known as the Hopewell culture built mounds and other ceremonial monuments on the land nearly 2,000 years ago.

In his book “Seventy Wonders of the Ancient World,” published in 1999, Oxford University archaeologist Chris Scarre listed the Newark earthworks as one of only three sites in North America north of Mexico that qualifies as “a wonder of the world.”

When Daniel Webster, a member of the American Antiquity Society, visited Newark in the early 19th Century, he was so impressed that he urged Congress “to preserve the property in perpetuity at the national charge.”

At the time Sarah Ferry worked at the amusement park, the importance of the earthworks was not appreciated. For several years she was the only full-time employee. Even today details of the prehistoric occupation there are not fully understood.

While she worked, Sarah kept her children busy, playing musical instruments, singing and dancing. They also helped her at the park after school hours.

In her “spare time,” Sarah began writing scripts and screenplays. Very few were accepted. However, once she received an acceptance, screen writing became a passion.

“The first fifty dollars I earned writing scripts looked mighty fine to me, like several hundred dollars,” she said with a smile.

With the Newark glass business struggling, the Ferrys located to Terre Haute, the home of three prominent glass factories. The family resided at 1132 S. Fourth St.

For several years Sarah sent her scripts to the Bison Movie Company, which relocated from New York to Santa Ynez Canyon, near Santa Monica, California in 1910.

By 1914, Photo Play Clearing House of New York was accepting every screenplay she sent. She specialized in crime, mystery and detective stories.

Scripts accepted and presumably filmed were “Love and War,” “Awake At Last,” “Mad Rose,” “Ashamed of Their Mother,” “Who Won” and “The Evils of Divorce.”

Sarah was notified in April 1914 that “The Evils of Divorce” – a “thrilling” film involving the smuggling of uncut diamonds, illicit love, the destruction of a happy home and the eventual imprisonment of two smugglers – was scheduled for release in June.

From all accounts, the movie became a box office success, bettering “Love and War” as the most popular motion picture she had written prior to 1914.

June was a busy month. Sadie, the Ferrys’ 20-year-old daughter, was scheduled to marry Albert “Ollie” Pennington, a 25-year-old glass worker, on June 30 at St. Joseph’s Church. According to county marriage records, the joyous event occurred as scheduled.

Sadie was the Ferrys’ second daughter to marry. The first daughter gave Charles and Sarah their first grandchild.    

Sarah saw unlimited possibilities in the motion picture business. She even considered acting before the camera and had received a flattering offer from a motion picture company. Until 1927, all films were silent.

According to Vigo County records, the Ferrys were residing at 2450 Wabash Ave. on Dec. 30, 1928 when Helen L. Ferry, their 22-year old daughter, married Guy M. Hippleheuser of Brazil.

Research has not revealed any further motion pictures scripts written by Mrs. Ferry.

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Acquitted by a Parke County jury of the May 27, 1913 murder of Edwin Wade, Emil Ehrmann began advertising his Fort Harrison property, consisting of 41 acres overlooking the Wabash River, for sale on May 1, 1914.

“I am offering Fort Harrison for sale because I need the money,” Ehrmann said. “I do not have enough ready cash to hold Fort Harrison. I have put $35,000 in the property in the last nine years, not including the months of time spent developing and beautifying the grounds.”

Previous efforts to have the property named a state or national historic site were unsuccessful.

In 1913 the Terre Haute Park Board – consisting of George Schaal, Wood Posey, Lee Goodman and William H. Duncan – unanimously agreed to acquire the property for use as a public park. But before condemnation proceedings were initiated, new Mayor Donn M. Roberts fired the board members and their successors refused to proceed.

The acquisition was opposed by Crawford Fairbanks, who sought to sell his property at the foot of Park St., the site of the old Wabash Distillery, for a riverside park.

•••

Former Mayor Louis Gerhardt announced plans to establish a Half Century Resident Club in Terre Haute. Any man who was a Terre Haute resident for 50 years could join. There were no dues. Michael Deasee, George H. Hebb, Charles T. Nehf and George M. Stewart joined Gerhardt on the organizing committee.

The club’s first dinner was scheduled to be held at the new Hotel Deming, when it opened.