Header Graphic
Stanley Tribe of Gypsies Articles
Four articles on the Stanley tribe of gypsies appeared in January 4, 11, 18 and 25, 1997. All are reprinted here.
This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on January 4, 1997
King bought farmland, cemetery plots here
By Roz Young
               lma J. Reichbauer wrote: `I think there is a fascinating story of gypsies in this area that is untold.
               `I can remember many years ago reading about the big gypsy funeral at Woodland. Horse and buggies were lined up from the courthouse to Woodland Cemetery. The gypsies came from far and near. That has always fascinated me, as does the idea that their burial ground would be here in Dayton.'
            Jim Sandegren, curator of the Woodland Cemetery Arboretum, had a letter from Sherry Stanley of Englewood, who has been researching her husband's relationship to the gypsies of Dayton, saying that she would like to know more about the Stanleys.
            The Dayton gypsy story is indeed a fascinating chapter in Dayton history.
It began in England with the Stanley tribe of gypsies, a large family and the most prominent and influential of the gypsy tribes in that country.
            In 1856, Owen Stanley, commonly recognized as the king of the gypsy tribes, and his wife Harriet Worden, his son Levi and his wife Matilda Joles, and many of their tribe came to the United States because the tight little island of England had become so densely populated that living there was becoming impossible for the free-spirited and free roving gypsies.
            Shortly after arriving in this country, the Stanleys arrived in the Miami Valley. Owen called together his followers and told them that he had chosen Dayton as his permanent home. He would invest money in farmland so that his children, their wives and husbands and their children would have houses to live in during the cold winter months. Owen Stanley also purchased a large lot in Woodland Cemetery where all the tribesmen and women could be buried when the time came.
            He bought a small farm northeast of Dayton, and there he lived with his wife Harriet. They pastured their horses there during the winter, and although they had somewhat peculiar lifestyles in the opinion of their neighbors, they never gave offense.
            Others of the tribe bought land in Dayton, Harrison, Wayne, Mad River and Butler townships. They wintered here and rented out their farms when they took to the road as soon as the weather began to get warm. The men were horse traders and did some metal work. The women told fortunes.
            The Rev. Daniel Berger, a United Brethren minister and editor for the U.B. Publishing Co., first learned of the gypsies in Dayton when Owen Stanley knocked on his door one day and asked him to conduct a funeral for a four-year-old boy who had died in Mississippi. His family had brought the body to Dayton for burial on the Stanley plot.
            Berger was hesitant at first, supposing that perhaps the gypsies had rites he would not be familiar with. Stanley assured him that the family wished a service the same as for any other person, and Berger agreed to perform the rites.
            `The burial was not attended by any unusual character,' Berger later said, `but I was impressed by the evident and deep sorrow for the loss of their child and the generous sympathy of the large group of relatives and friends .
            `The service rendered on this occasion was the beginning of a long and friendly relationship with these people. ... I have been with them at the burial of their dead and occasionally visiting their sick during the period of a full quarter of a century, sharing in a good degree their confidences and, in some instances, their real affection. I have served them on more than 20 different funeral occasions, assisting them in burying their dead from the young infant to the more than centenarian, and from ordinary folk in the presence of a dozen or two immediate friends to royalty in the presence of thronging thousands.'
            He performed the rites for Harriet Stanley in 1857. On her monument is the epitaph:
Harriet Stanley was her name,
            England was her nation;
            In any wood her dwelling place,
            In God was her salvation.
            Owen Stanley died in 1860. Owen's son Levi became king and his wife Matilda became queen. Levi inherited his father's title, although there was no law, written or otherwise, that established his rank.
            `There is nothing more than a good man and a good woman,' he explained to a reporter. `Our people trust me and love me as they did my father and mother before me; that is all. They do pretty much as I tell them and we all work together, and that is all there is to it.'
            Next week: The kidnapping of Lillie Bowers.
This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on January 11, 1997
               One day in 1866 in Sandusky, Lillie Bowers failed to come home from elementary school. As the hours passed, her parents searched the neighborhood and enlisted help of friends, relatives and the police. But day after day passed with no trace of the missing child.
            At the time a group of gypsies was camping in Sandusky. Many a distraught mother in those days threatened her children for misbehavior with the threat: `You'd better behave yourself or the gypsies will steal you.'
            Police searched the gypsy encampment, but did not find Lillie Bowers.
            Since Dayton at that time was the national headquarters of the numerous Stanley tribe, police called on the king, Levi Stanley, for help. He sent out word through his subjects for all gypsies to be on the lookout for the little girl.
            Two years passed without finding any evidence of the missing child. On the morning of Dec. 8, 1868, on the front page of the Journal, Dayton readers were given a summary of the Bowers kidnapping and the many false clues the police had investigated during the previous two years.
            `Recently, however, the case has been revived,' said the Journal story, `by the editor of the Sandusky Register, whose editor states that on hearing the report that Lillie had been returned to her parents, called at the residence the other day and learned it was not true.'
            The editor had called at the Bowers residence and found there a child who had been brought from Dayton by some friends of the Bowers family who hoped that she might be the missing Bowers child.
            The story in the Register said, `About a year before, a disabled soldier named Francisco appeared at the Soldiers' Home in Dayton for admission, having with him a wife and one child, a little girl. The wife was an Irish woman, dissolute, of an abandoned character, and they had been married within two weeks of the time Francisco appeared at the Home. ...
            `He was admitted, but his wife and child were not entitled to any allowance, and he let them go.
            `The woman wandered about Dayton for two weeks, drunk most of the time ... when the authorities took the matter in hand. The mayor of Dayton obtained a written statement from the woman.'
            She said that in Schenectady a man named Heath had left his wife and three children. The mother said she could not keep all of them, so she gave the little girl to the Irish woman, who took the child to Buffalo, where she met Francisco and married him.
            When Bowers in Sandusky received word from authorities in Dayton that a little girl who was about the age and description of Lillie had been found in Dayton, he sent a photographer to take her picture and, on the basis of the picture, determined the little girl was not Lillie.
            A Mrs. Benjamin Spittle of Dayton, however, brought the girl to Sandusky to the Bowers home, but she recognized no one nor the house nor her school.
            The little girl was later adopted by a Dayton family and was named Ida Murray. `Mrs. Murray took her to a sociable not very long ago,' said the Journal, `and a lady with black hair, black eyes and somewhat sharp features said to her, `Ida, come and see me,' and the child replied, `No, I will not. You stole me from my good mamma ... and gave me candy if I wouldn't cry, but I did cry.' And nothing would induce the child to go with this lady. If this should fall under the eye of someone who recognizes the little wanderer, it may lead to the detection of the perpetrators of this child theft.
            `This is a strange story. The little one is not Lillie Bowers. Then who is she? She retains the remembrance of being stolen by a woman with black hair, piercing black eyes and sharp complexion. Some people think this puts the abduction on our peregrinating friends, the Gypsies. But there are other people than the Gypsies who answer this description. Can anyone give any information concerning this case?'
            No trace of Lillie Bowers was ever found, nor was the mystery of Ida Murray ever solved.
            Next week: A royal funeral.
This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on January 18, 1997
               To help prepare his paper on the Dayton gypsies for the Dayton Historical Society, Dr. Daniel Berger looked up the subject in his Encyclopaedia Britannica. `They have rulers,' he read, `whose decisions and mandates are respected and adopted. The rulers acquire their authority either by inheritance from their fathers or by the choice of the clan. The government is sometimes administered by women, as that of Deborah among the judges of ancient Israel. ... With British gypsies one is bewildered by the host of kings and queen, from King John Bucelle, laid side by side with Athelstan in Malonsburg Abbey in 1657, down to the Gypsy Queen of the United States, Matilda Stanley, royally buried at Dayton, Ohio, in 1878.
            `This reference to the burial of Queen Matilda,' Dr. Berger wrote in his paper, `recalls an event in Dayton history of singularly unique and interesting character. It can but rarely occur that royalty finds sepulture in republican American soil, or that an American clergyman is called to officiate at the funeral of a queen.'
            Although he wasn't mentioned by name, Dr. Berger was the American clergyman who was called to officiate at the burial of Queen Matilda mentioned in the Britannica article.
            In 1877-78, the gypsies spent the winter in the vicinity of Vicksburg, Miss. While they were there, Queen Matilda, who had been in declining health for some time, died of cancer in February. Her husband, Levi Stanley, sent to Philadelphia for the finest casket available and, on its arrival, her body was placed in it and shipped by express to Woodland Cemetery to be kept in a vault for later burial.
            Sept. 15 was the date Levi chose for the funeral. `So great was in the interest aroused in anticipation of this event,' said Dr. Berger in his paper, `that only the burial of some of the highest officials of the state could attract a greater multitude to witness the funeral obsequies. The daily newspapers of the city for some weeks beforehand had fully advertised the approaching burial, and public interest was stirred even to distant cities. A number of the great metropolitan newspapers, east and west, sent special correspondents to make reports for their columns, while others telegraphed open orders for lengthy dispatches. The Cincinnati, Chicago, St. Louis, New York, Boston and Philadelphia newspapers teemed with elaborate reports, while the great New York Herald, in addition to its long dispatches, further emphasized the event by a leading article in its editorial columns. Our local Dayton newspapers printed long columns of accounts both before and after the funeral.
            `The time set for the burial was the afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 15, 1878. The day was a most beautiful one and many thousands from surrounding places, brought in by special trains, found their way to the cemetery. The beautiful grounds everywhere swarmed with a great mass of humanity, the number of people being variously estimated from 15,000 to 25,000. So great was the throng in the avenues and approaches to the grave, that at the service a strong body of police was required to open the way for the passage of the funeral cortege.'
            A report in the newspaper said that the funeral procession formed at the Mad and Miami rivers and so great was its length that more than 1,000 carriages had to be stopped at the cemetery gates and refused admission. The newspaper estimated that 45,000 crowded into the cemetery.
            `About the grave the mass became so dense that the work of sepulture was seriously impeded,' wrote Berger. `The grave was a double one, a daughter of Queen Matilda who had died some years before, being re-interred by her side. A narrow plank was laid across the wide receptacle, and on this slender pulpit, your essayist found a secure standing place while delivering the funeral sermon.'
            A light rain began during the service, and one of the family members put up an umbrella over the head of Dr. Berger as he stood on the plank across the open grave.
            Samuel E. Kumler, who worked at the David L. Rike Co. and lived at 216 S. Jefferson St., provided the music at the services for Matilda Stanley, queen of the gypsies. A double quartet, consisting of Kumler and his wife; Annie Miller, a teacher; Clara Schenck, whose husband owned a tailoring and men's clothing shop; Martha Engle, 5 Tecumseh St.; Eugene Shinn, a clerk; A.B. Schauck, a teacher, and H. M. Appenzeller, a printer who lived at 19 Tecumseh, sang three hymns. They were Only Thee, The Sweet By and By and Come, Ye Disconsolate.
            Pall-bearers were the Messrs. Andrew Hasenstab; Michael Hark, a baker; George Dollar; Henry Amend, a painter; Louis Haas, a grocer; and Michael Shaeffer, a clerk.
            Next week: The queen rest.
This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on January 25, 1997
Queen's death left band heartbroken
               At the funeral, Dr. Daniel Berger, recalled that at other gypsy funerals Queen Matilda was one of the most attentive listeners. 'She also had the Bible read to her daily and was frequently found in the act of prayer. She gave other evidences of a devout faith and I have good reason for believing that she died in full hope of eternal life,' Dr. Berger said.
            'The final parting at the grave was a scene of the most pathetic character,' he continued. 'King Levi Stanley and his people were thoroughly heartbroken and lingered long by the still open grave after the great crowd had begun to melt away. The two younger daughters, Missouri and Matilda, like the children of nature that they were, cast off all restraints of conventionalism and, leaping down into the grave, remained for some time upon the great marble slab which hid their dear ones from them, pouring forth a prolonged torrent of affectionate and tender expression. With much difficulty they were at last persuaded to come up out of the grave.
            'An expensive granite monument, surmounted by a statue of the queen, marks the place where her body rests. The monument was cut out of a great granite boulder which Levi found at the entrance to the George W. Smith farm at Lockville, Wayne Twp. The owner made Levi a gift of the boulder.'
            Dr. Berger, speaking to the historical society, recalled some of the other gypsy funerals he had conducted. On Palm Sunday in 1877 he held a triple funeral. After a brief illness, Mrs. Amelia Jeffrey died at her farm home just north of Dayton. Her husband, Thomas, who was in perfect health, was so grief-stricken that he simply went to bed and died within two days. The family ordered two expensive caskets and the baby, whose birth was the cause of the mother's death, was laid beside her in the casket.
            On Aug. 1, 1879, Mrs. Mary Stanley Smith died at the age of 110 or perhaps even older. She had been born in England and lived there under the reigns of four different sovereigns: The first was George III and the last was Queen Victoria.
            'No one who saw this venerable woman in her later years,' wrote Berger, 'could be disposed to doubt the fact of her extraordinary age, so deeply marked was she in all her lineaments by the hand of the great sculptor Time.
            'Funerals among the Stanley gypsies are usually made a kind of state occasion. No expense is spared to give them suitable dignity and make them a proper expression of regard for their dead. The familiar funeral coaches, the undertaker's hearse, a long procession, a rich casket, the greatest profusion of flowers, all form a part of the event.
            'The women appear dressed in their best, frequently in silks, satins and velvets, the garment often severely wrinkled from packing away in boxes and trunks. Jewelry in greatest abundance is worn, fingers and hands being adorned with massive gold. The gypsy woman who possesses money does not hesitate to purchase costly things, especially things of ornament, when she has set her heart on them.'
            Many visitors to Woodland Cemetery seek out the graves of the gypsies with their carvings and expressions of sentiment.
            Over the graves of the first king and queen to be buried there are two slabs, called ledgers in burial parlance, and visitors often pause to read the verses on them. The carving on Owen Stanley's ledger reads:
Our father has gone to a mansion of rest
            From a region of sorrow and pain
            To the glorious land of the blest
            Where he never will suffer again.
            Whilst in this tomb our father lies,
            His spirit rests above,
            In realms of bliss it never dies
            But knows a Savior's love.
            Sleep on, father. the work is done,
            The mortal pang is past,
            Jesus has come and borne thee home,
            Beyond the stormy blast.
            Owen Stanley was his name,
            England was his nation.
            Any wood was his dwelling place
            And Christ his salvation.
Over Owen Stanley's wife's grave is carved:
Alas! I have left you
            My spirit has fled,
            My body now slumbers along with the dead,
            My Savior has called me, to him I have gone.
            Then farewell my husband and children all
            From you a mother's Christ doth call
            Mourn not for me, dear wanderers, tis vain,
            To call me to your sight again.
            Farewell, dear wife, a short farewell,
            We at your loss do mourn.
            Oh, may we meet in heaven to dwell
            With our wandering children, now forlorn.
            Our Mother
            Harriet Stanley was her name
            England was her nation,
            Any wood her dwelling place.
            In God was her salvation.
            She was a tender mother here,
            And in her life the Lord did fear;
            We trust our loss will be her gain,
            And that with Christ she's gone to reign.
There have been no gypsy funerals in Woodland for half a century. The citizens with Romany blood in their inheritance have long ago integrated into society.
            As for the many whose colorful lives ended in Woodland, they sleep in peace.