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Hidden Heroes - Is It or Is It Not?

There are no Hidden Heroes in this story or are there? You be the judge!

The year is 1877 and, yet again, a Union Springs resident has made national news including even the New York Times. the story, as it appears in their August 8th issue, reads as follows:

“The murderess Cora Young was the mistress of John Barrett, the keeper of a clubhouse in Auburn, who was ten years her junior. She is believed to be the wife of a wealthy Vermont gentleman, the name she is living under being assumed. Last spring she became jealous of Barrett’s attentions to another woman, and one night in the early part of June, she visited Barrett’s clubhouse and compelled him at the point of a pistol to renounce all future intimacy with her rival. That night Barrett accompanied Cora Young to her apartments.

About 6 o’clock next morning, the reports of three pistol shots were heard proceeding from her sleeping room. It was entered by force, and a ghastly sight was presented to those who had gained entrance. Barrett lay in the bed, apparently dead with streams of blood pouring from his head. The woman lay by his side, with his right arm about her neck, blood flowing from her temple. Barrett was alive but unconscious and died in a few minutes. Cora Young, who still held a small revolver in her hand, was half conscious. She had shot herself twice. One ball entered near her temple but had not penetrated the skull. The other ball had penetrated the skull just above the right ear and a probe that was inserted two inches in the brain failed to find it. The ball is still in her brain but she complains of no ill effects from her wounds. She makes no statement in regard to the murder. It is supposed that she had no faith in the promises of Barrett and determined to kill him and herself.”

The scenario would lead one to think this an open and shut case however…….

To the amazement of physicians, Cora, who attempted suicide twice, recovered from her injuries. She was arrested and placed on trial for murder. Of the twelve men chosen as jurors, one was Morton Durkee of Union Springs. Morton, described as a well-respected man of means, was a Civil War veteran having served two years in Company F of the 109th Infantry. An injury received during the Wilderness Campaign left him blind in one eye. His was married to the former Emma Chapman and they resided in the home still located at the intersection of Route 90, then known as Lake Road, and present-day Creager Rd. which, at that time, was known as Durkee Avenue. They had no children.

Newspaper coverage of the murder trial was widespread. Large crowds were in attendance daily and the excitement was reported to be “intense.” Cora was described by one paper as “not a handsome woman but wantonly voluptuous and gushing.” During the trial, outbursts from the defendant were loud and frequent, with threats of suicide often voiced. Witnesses for the prosecution were contradicted while salty tears poured forth from Cora. In the end, the jurors believed her story stamping the reputable witnesses as liars and returning a verdict of not guilty! As the words Not Guilty were spoken, Cora swayed to one side, slid out of her chair and pitched forward striking her head on the floor. Another paper reported: “She was at once taken up and removed to the jury room, where a physician attended her. Her pulse had ceased to beat and it was found that she had fainted from the revulsion of feeling. Her long taxed energies had given way under the mental excitement, the fear of death so suddenly relieved by the certainty of life and liberty, gave too great a shock – even though of joy, for her overstrained nerves to bear up under.”

In the ensuing days, Cora made vows of good conduct and leading a new life in the future but wisely, not all believed her. At a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Home (still in operation today in Auburn) called by the ladies of the Board of Managers, asking advice as to the admission of Cora Youngs to the Home, it was resolved that the Home could not agreeably, within their by-laws, advise her admission to the Home. Smart women!!

Following this refusal, Cora continued to appear as being changed from the vile and totally abandoned woman she had seemed to glory in being and indicated a desire for a thorough change of life. She was frequently visited by a number of kind-hearted women who took an interest in her welfare and sought ways to find her a home in which to lead her new life.

In addition to Morton, his wife Emma had also succumbed to the charms of this courtesan, volunteering to take Cora to their home in Union Springs to try and reform her. Mr. Durkee went to Auburn to retrieve Cora and Mrs. Durkee to the Union Springs depot platform to await their arrival. The train, however, failed to stop.

Newspapers across the country, including the New York Tribune, reported that Durkee had succumbed to the penitent woman’s charms, eloping with her to Ithaca and were now residing in a bordello there. No word was heard of their whereabouts for over a week. Family members searched for Durkee who did eventually return to Union Springs. In an interview with the Auburn Morning News, Durkee expressed innocence of the charges against him and presented a story quite different than the version being given by the residents of Union Springs.

After his return and during an interview with the newspaper The Auburn Morning News during which his wife was present, Durkee maintained that his wife had never met Cora Youngs and that he had been requested by the Sheriff to take Cora out of the county. He did so out of kindness. Durkee asserted that reports of his wife waiting at the train station were entirely untrue and that he passed through Ithaca on his way to Allegheny City, PA where he left Cora in the care of her aunt, whom he had paid two weeks board in advance and had given Cora $10. Reports contradicting his story and of his wife’s distress continued to be provided by residents of Union Springs well after his return.

In the end newspapers reported these outcomes:

Durkee signed an affidavit that whatever he said in relation to his being authorized by the Sheriff to take away the acquitted murderess was false in every particular and wholly untrue. Durkee swore that he lied and thus there was little doubt that all he had been accused of was true.

Cora Youngs, the "infatuator" of Durkee, returned to Auburn and to the scene of her former exploits becoming the “leading star” in a house of ill-fame in Auburn.

As evidenced in census records, the Durkees remained together for their remaining years with Morton dying in Union Springs in 1896.

Emma died in 1911, a resident of the Oxford NY Home for Veterans, a facility provided by New York State in response to the efforts of the Woman's Relief Corps, the auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic.

Emma Chapman Durkee Obituary

"On Monday occurred the death of Mrs. Emma Chapman Durkee, widow to the late Morton Durkee of this village. For a number of years she had been an inmate of the Oxford Home at Oxford, NY and for a number of weeks she had been in failing health, so the end was not unexpected.

Mrs. Durkee was for many years a resident of this village where she had many friends. She is survived by a brother who resides in Genoa and a niece living in Ithaca.

Services were held at the Home in Oxford on Tuesday afternoon, and the concluding services were held in Grace Episcopal church in this village of which Mrs. Durkee was for many years a member. Rev. William Henry Casey officiated. The burial was in Chestnut Hill cemetery."

Admission Request of Emma to Oxford Home

Before the establishment of this home, veterans could be admitted to the New York State Soldiers and Sailors Home at Bath, New York, but no provision had ever been made for the wives of such veterans and they were left to care for themselves the best they could. Upon their deaths, a mere three line announcement of Morton's death was reported in the Union Springs Advertiser which was in contrast to Emma's warm and extensive obituary reported 15 years later.

Where the real truth of this story lies no one really knows so we will let you be the judge!

And so we come to the end of our Hidden Heroes. We hope you have enjoyed all 25 articles and have learned a little bit more of the rich history of this area. We will return next year with another series on the interesting places in the areas served by the Frontenac Historical Society and Museum. We hope to see you when the museum re-opens Saturdays and Sundays from 1-4pm beginning on July 17, 2021.

Happy summer from your friends at the Frontenac!


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