1921 Ruth Olmstead marriage #1

Walter Gets Married

My aunt and I were searching for my great grandparents’ marriage certificate when we stumbled across this little tidbit:

It’s April 15, 1921 in New York City.  Walter Wiltze Gallagher marries Ruth Jean Arameta Olmstead.  Ruth was born in New York in 1901.  She is the daughter of Charles Olmstead (b. 1878 NY) and Nellie Smith (b. 1879 PA).

1921 Ruth Olmstead marriage #1


They were married at the Church of the Transfiguration in Manhattan. It appears to be the first marriage for both of them.

1921 Marriage record - Transfiguration Church

Aside from being blindsided by this mysterious first marriage that no one had ever mentioned, something seemed weird about this union.  First, it’s in an Episcopal church instead of a Catholic church (even though there is a Roman Catholic church by the same name on the other side of town).  Neither of them were Episcopalian.  She was Presbyterian and he was Catholic.

So I did a little digging.  Walter was technically in the “restaurant business,” but was very closely affiliated with actors, dancers, and other entertainers.  Historically, theater folk were not felt to be worthy of Christian marriages and burials, so many churches turned them away.  But not the Church of the Transfiguration (the “little church around the corner”).  They were always a “church of inclusion.”  Even today, the church maintains close ties with the theatrical community.  Of course, I can only speculate that this has anything to do with the reason they were married there.  It’s still a neat story.

Here is the church today:


Unfortunately (but fortunately for me!), the marriage didn’t last long.  By 1922, Walter had remarried another woman: Ruth Burrows, and would go on to adopt my grandfather.  Ruth Olmstead remarried Joseph Cook in 1923 (and a Mr. Spafford sometime after that).  Locating those divorce records are on my to-do list, for sure.

I also have not found a marriage record for Walter’s marriage to Ruth Burrows, which is another mystery all its own.  This entire episode creates some questions that need answering: (1) was Walter still able to marry Ruth in the Catholic church? (2) since his first marriage (and subsequent apparent divorce) were not in the Catholic church, does that count?  I will have to consult the Catholic experts (my cousin) to see if I can get answers.


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