The Courtship of Taylor and Virginia, Including the Story of Elsa Wood

That [the Navy] is where I met my husband, Taylor.

[Barbara]: We’re all interested. Tell me how it happened.

Well, he said to me. Well, first I went down there and he was working down there [96th Street and the North River or the Hudson River]. And so he said, “You know the war’s about over. We think that it’ll be over in a day or two.” He said, “I’ll be working here a little while. Then,” he said, “I’m going to go to Philadelphia. If you feel like you want to leave this job and go to Philadelphia, I’ll see if I can get you a job down there.”

[Barbara]: Now were you dating? Was it romance?

Taylor Albert Duncan in Uniform, courtesy of Virginia GormanOh, yes. He liked me right away. He asked me if I would go out with him and, you know, he was an attractive man and in uniform he was superb! [Sighs.]

[Barbara]: I’m sure.

So, when he. . . .

[Barbara]: He wasn’t a captain? When he died he was. At that point. . . .

No, he was just second lieutenant. Then first lieutenant. That’s the way it is in the Navy. He was first lieutenant at that time. So then he still stayed in the service for a while. He should never have left. If he’d have never left, I’d have a good pension. But he couldn’t wait to get out.

[Barbara]: Now he was still in the Navy in Philadelphia.

Oh, yeah.

Springfield Avenue, Philadelphia, PA, courtesy of Google Maps[Barbara]: And you did go. You told me before that you decided to go and find, to take the job in Philly.

Bob's birthplace, 5101 Springfield Avenue, Philadelphia, PA, courtesy of Colin DuncanIn Philly, yeah. Well, I mean, all these were interwoven. I went from New York to Philadelphia and when I got down there, you know he asked me. . . . He lived in 5101 Springfield Avenue. That’s the house we eventually bought, but I lived in 5103 Springfield Avenue, the house right next door. See? And he still stayed in that boarding house. That’s what that was in those days. And I used to come to the boarding house to get my meals, but I would go home to 5103 at night, see?

Birdie Wyler, Taylor's first wife, (m. 1906), she remarried in 1943, courtesy of Virginia GormanThen, we got. . . . Well, we went around, we went together for nearly four years before we were married. Yeah. So I mention the fact he had married before [Birdie Elizabeth Weyler, 1906; she remarried in 1943], you know, after Kathryn and Paul. Well, he divorced that wife. Then he was unmarried for a while. Then he married my girlfriend [ca. 1919]. Elsa Wood was her name. They only were married, I think it was a year and a half. She had died in childbirth [ca. 1921]. I know that my family don’t know anything about this.

[Barbara] Well, Wally told me that. He knew that.

Well, anyway, she died in childbirth. And then we got engaged in a spell of time. I mean it wasn’t right on top of it.

[Barbara] You knew, did you know, you knew him married to your friend Elsa?

Yeah. I knew, yeah, but I didn’t have anything to do with it.

[Barbara] Yeah, I know.

Taylor Albert Duncan and Elsa Wood, 2d wife, ca. 1919-1921, courtesy of Virginia Gorman

See, I went to see. I got this notice she was going with him. And then I got this notice that they were married and that they had this baby. I sent her a pair of little baby shoes as a gift. I always loved to give shoes to new babies. And so the shoes arrived the day she died, if you can imagine that. And the baby died, too. She was buried with the baby in her arms.

That was from Philadelphia, but this was before I lived there. I didn’t go there until he kept coming to see me, you know. It was a space of time, of course. Nothing was happening right then. He was very lonesome. He would write to me. The writing was thick and fast. He used to write long, long letters. In later years, you couldn’t get him to write a letter to save his soul. You know, when we got married, he just didn’t want to write. But at any rate, we got along very well together.

People in the boarding house never knew Elsa at all. That was her name: Elsa Wood. She was a lovely girl. When I did get married to my husband, why he always, he had nothing but the highest praise to say for her. Well I knew her because I worked with her when I was in the Navy. It was only when I got notice that the baby had died and that she had died and that the shoes arrived and I never knew what he did with them, but he must have given them to someone.

[Barbara]: Let’s get closer to wedding time and dates, so that, just so our kids will know.

In 19. . . . We were married in 19. . . .

[Barbara]: Well, ‘25.

1925, I guess it was. July 26, 1925.

[Barbara]: Well, I know that because this week we celebrated that, didn’t we?

Yeah, that’s right.

[Barbara]: That was two days after Dad’s birthday or before?

That’s right.

[Barbara]: And your sister’s birthday was the same time.

Yeah, my sister’s [Ella] was the 27th and my husband’s was the 23d. They all came in there together.

Virginia Mary White Duncan and Katheryn Duncan Ramey, 1920, courtesy of Virginia GormanWell, when the time came, as I went with Daddy for four years, and we had a lot of fun together after so long, after the mourning period was over. The lady of the house, Mrs. Armor, her name was, she was very congenial, very understanding, the lady of the boarding house. After so long a time, we got married. We considered it was sufficient time after she died, four years.

[Barbara]: Now where did you get married?

We got married in Weymouth Baptist Church in Philadelphia.

[Barbara]: Oh. OK. Well, Dad was a Southern Baptist.

He was a Southern Baptist and I was an Episcopalian. You know, he wanted to be married by the Baptist church. Well, that was better that it happened that way.

[Barbara]: What did you wear?

I wore a white dress and a white veil.

[Barbara]: You don’t have pictures?

No. He would not let me get pictures. He did not believe in white, I guess because of his background.

[Barbara]: Maybe.

At any rate, we were very happy. When we were married, we went to Downingtown [PA], a little resort that was used by young people. Oh, what would you say? I can’t think of what you would call it. Well, anyway it was a young people’s camp, like. We spent two weeks there. That was where we went on our wedding trip with a whole lot of other young people. We were old enough that they didn’t realize that we were just bride and groom. We had a very nice time.

partial transcription of Virginia’s life story as told to Barbara Duncan (Wally’s wife) in the summer of 1987, courtesy of Barbara Duncan

Can you add to the story? Please do. Write in the box below (You may need to click “Leave a Reply” above to make the box, name, and address fields appear.).

  • Do you recall other stories of Grandma’s time in the Navy?
  • Do you recall stories of Grandpa’s first wife? What was her full name/maiden name? Can you tell the story of their circumstances and what led to the divorce?
  • Did Grandma ever meet her?
  • Where were Kathryn and Paul during this time? Did Grandma know them? What did they think of Elsa?
  • I cannot locate a Weymouth Baptist Church in Philadelphia. Does anyone have more information on it? A marriage license?
  • Can you confirm the dates that I’ve placed in brackets in this transcription? Can you add month and day? Where does your information come from?
  • I know there’s a photo of Grandpa in his uniform somewhere. I’ve seen it, but I’d appreciate some direction from, perhaps, Virginia or Colin, as to where I might find it. Thanks.


1 thought on “The Courtship of Taylor and Virginia, Including the Story of Elsa Wood

  1. Bertrand S.(Steve) Duncan

    The only thing I (Steve Duncan #8) recall of Birdie was, as I was told many years after by Mom (Virginia) Duncan that Birdie had gone to Washington State with another man, Dad (Taylor) had pursued her and tried to have her “come back” but to no avail. Obviously this is second or third hand information and thus, subject to modifications etc. but what I was told perhaps about 1957.

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