The pursuit by Stray Leaves of Mack Henry James began in 1999. What happened to Mack Henry James, after he abandoned his wife and children?
Following Mack from his ancestral home in Kentucky to his new home in Bloomington in McLean County, Illinois, the chase to learn more about Mack Henry James has continued since.
The Other Woman
It’s known that a third woman was involved with Mack Henry James.
First, there was Dorinda “Dora” Phelps-James, the wife Mack abandoned around 1916. The death of Millie Mae Scanlon, Mack’s second wife or partner, occurred in 1934. Millie died of cerebral syphilis.
Flora Audra Spencer is the third woman in the life of Mack Henry James. Mack and Flora married in 1935, a year after Millie Mae died. Mack then died tragically in 1945. Flora followed, dying in 1968. Like Millie Mae, Flora died of a severe brain disease. The implication beneath these facts is that Mack may have been the source of infection.
Email from Rebecca Spencer-Landis
In January of 2016, contact was made with Rebecca Spencer-Landis. As Becky writes in the following email, she is a granddaughter of Flora and a partner whom Flora never would identify. With some minor editing, Becky offers the following particulars about her grandmother and her relationship with Mack Henry James.
Hello. It’s nice to meet you. So many questions! Questions are good. I will try to answer them for you as best I can.
First – Flora Audra Spencer was my grandmother. I am the youngest of her son Olin’s four children.
About Flora Audra Spencer
She was a school teacher most of the year, which must have been difficult when she was pregnant. During the summer months, she was the housekeeper on a farm (not her parents’ farm) She had my father at her parents’ farm outside Stanford, IL. They cared for him during the week when she was teaching and she returned each weekend when she would take over the childcare and – from everything I was told – pretty much the running of the farm. She died when I was 2 years old so I don’t have any direct memories of her.
From what I was told, she was very strict – to the point that her parents allowed her to run everything when she came home. (According to my father, they hated to see her come home and could not wait for her to leave.)
The Father of Flora’s Son Olin B. Spencer 1921-1994
She never revealed the man who got her pregnant, although according to her sister Alta, the family believed it to be the hired hand who worked at the farm she worked on during the summer. We had always heard he was married with children. Census records list my father’s birth father to have been from Ohio, but no one knows for certain.
While no one ever knew who my father’s birth father was, one thing was maintained by everyone – Mac James was not the man who fathered Olin Spencer. I asked – numerous times. I asked my father, his aunt, some of his cousins, all said the same – Mac and my father were not related by blood. (To be 100% honest, I still kind of have my questions on that.) I had thought they were blood related when I was small because I saw a picture of Mac’s son Omar (sic) in an army uniform and thought it was my father in his army uniform. When I got older, I could tell the difference, but they looked very alike when I was young. I don’t know where the photo is now.
Olin, Mac, and Omar
My father told a few stories about going fishing with Mac. I know that Dad and Omar sometimes visited each other, and Dad always spoke fondly of Omar. Don’t recall hearing much of anything about other children Mac had, or even why he was no longer married to their mother. I didn’t even know until now that Flora was his third wife. Either my father didn’t know or it wasn’t talked about. My father usually referred to Mac as “My old man” a phrase he used when talking about his grandfather as well.
The Marriage of Flora and Mac
I am not sure how Flora and Mac met, but my father did work for a time at Tick’s Junk Yard but I don’t know if that was before WWII or after. I would guess – and it’s just a guess – that if Mac was working for Tick’s at the right time, he could well have met her while handling something for the farmer she worked for or for her father’s farm. Tick’s was, and still is, a place most people in McLean County go to get rid of scrap or junk. They may even have met at church.
Flora left teaching after she married Mac. They were married Feb 20, 1935 in Carlock, McLean County, IL. Rev. E. Troyer was listed as the man who married them. They lived outside of Bloomington in an area known as Bloomington Heights. The house as far as I know is still there.
For all accounts Flora was truly happy for the first time in her life after she married Mac. She supposedly became a different person. He ran the house more than she did. She cared for him after he lost his legs and was horribly upset when he died.
She had lost her mother in 1936 and her father in 1944. My father who had been in the army was discharged to help her care for her father and for Mac, as both were ill at the same time and she was trying to take care of both. My father was just as upset at Mac’s death as his mother, perhaps a bit more as he had been the only real ‘father’ he had known outside of his grandfather.
After Mac’s Death
After Mac’s death…I think she did laundry, sewing, odd job types of things. When my parents bought a very small farm outside of Danvers, IL in Dec 1966 and moved in, they had both grandmothers move in as well.
I was told Flora began acting differently in the last few years of her life; sometimes forgetting things like she had experienced a stroke. This is why Dad wanted her living with us. My mother said – a few months after moving in – she began to forget who my father was and simply called him “that man.” She sometimes acted like she was a child, and sometimes as if I – the baby – was a dolly to play with. Many years later my mother would realize that she had what we now know as Alzheimer’s, which was not very well researched in the 1960’s.
The last few months of her life, Flora would hide from my father and only respond to my mother, telling my mother in a childlike voice “That man was here. He was looking for me. He hates me.” She died in Jan 1969 and was buried on my sister’s birthday.
I have seen a picture or two of Flora and Mac but it has been a long time. I will have to see if I have any or if my sister does. She may be able to provide more information too. She and my oldest brother live in Kentucky in the Cambridge Shores Subdivision on Kentucky Lake. It may take some time to do some digging but I promise I will get anything I find to you. I hope that what I have put into this has helped somewhat.