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Where is Grandpa? Oral History Interview of Ellis McClure

There is no one left, but Ellis to tell the stories as he remembers going for visits to his grandpa and grandma's farm. I remember asking Archie, his dad, the basic questions about grandparents on both sides. I had to get out my pedigree charts because he related so much I knew I would need to remember it, so I wrote it down in 1993.

I knew I would not get the chance to have these conversations, and I knew one day that my daughter, Adrianne, would want to know. From 1993 to 2020 is a long time. Now, I feel I must do these oral history interviews with Ellis because he remembers some great and tragic events and one day his descendants might want to know. The one thing I am impressed by is that this was the first generation out of enslavement, and they were producing everything they needed.

This is the second interview of Ellis McClure entitled "Where is Grandpa?" Ellis traveled again to Birmingham, Alabama from Chicago, Illinois with his father, Archie, on a summer vacation. He tells of being able to work with his grandmother one day doing chores on the farm. 

He also tells what was told to him about what happened to his grandpa. Then he walks us through how he tried to solve his own questions about it. Finally, he reveals at last when he get confirmation about what the death certificate said.


Hello. This is the second interview of Ellis McClure when he went to Birmingham, Alabama on a summer vacation. The name of this one is "Where is Grandpa?"


Well hello. My name is Ellis McClure. This is my second interview, and it is intriguing and it's exciting. I want to tell you a little bit more about my grandparents on my father's side.

My dad was born in Birmingham, Alabama. His father, my grandfather lived in Birmingham, Alabama also. My main question that I had most of my life was "How did grandpa die?" Now I was a young teenager during the time I was going to Birmingham, Alabama to stay on my grandmother's farm. I always wanted to know, "How did grandfather die?"

So I went in the summer of 1957 down to Birmingham. I stayed about a month there with my grandmother. I recall one day when we got up I had asked grandma after breakfast, "Grandma, where is grandpa?"

She said, "He died."

I asked, "Okay. Grandma, how did he die?"

She said, "He died by a train accident."

And I said, "How did it happen?" My curiosity was built. I asked, "How did it happen, Grandma?"

She said, "It's okay. It's okay. It is fine. He is with Heavenly Father now."

That was all she said. She wouldn't go any further with that.

Coreain McClure, my grandma

That was not enough for me. Anyway, we had chores to do on the farm. It was time to go into milk the cows, and get prepared for the rest of the day.

Milking Cows

So after we milked the cow, Grandma and I, she tried to teach me to milk the cow, and I had a big problem like trying to hold the cow's area that you can milk. I forgot what you call it. Anyway, you can tell I am not a farmer. I am a city boy.

And I really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed it a lot going down to my grandmother's farm. It was a big place. Lots of lands. Beautiful. The air was nice. The house that my grandfather built for my grandmother was on a farmer and it was made out of wood. It was I think a two to three bedroom house because she had two boys.

And the thing of it is that house did not have any window panes so and it didn't have the screen like you have in the city. Our houses you had screens on the window, but you didn't have a screen on the window. But it was okay because the fresh air came through the house at night which was comfortable. You could sleep well, and I enjoyed that.

But anyway going back to where we were milking the cows area. After we milked the cows, there is a big metal container that you put the milk in. And my grandfather had also built this little house. The floor was dirt. It didn't have a wood floor. It had a dirt floor.

Making Buttermilk

It the center of the house a small trench was built ... was made. Water from the brook would run through there constantly down the hill. The water was constantly running because the house was on a hill or in the middle of the hill I should say. But anyway, it was nice and cool in the little house. It didn't have any windows on it, but it had a large door that you could ... a large door that you could walk in ... the entrance, and large front door and a large rear door.

In the middle of the house like I said there was a stream or water. Like a little brook of water would constantly run through the middle of the house. So as grandmother would churn the milk, she taught me how to churn. She put the metal container in the water, and the water would run around it and keep the milk cool. So she would churn the milk, and she taught me how to make the butter milk. She would churn the milk, and she taught me how to make the butter milk. You made the butter. You scrapped the butter. You would get the butter. You get buttermilk out of it, and you get the cream out of it. She would put in metal containers, and their was a little box that the water would run around. And she would sit the milk and the butter, and the products that she made in the box that that was made that the water would go around and keep it cool until she could take it up to the house and put it in the ice box which I though was cool. But anyway, we learned to do that, and we were having such great fun.

Groves of Trees

As we finished churning she took me over oh about 300 or 400 feet. I don't know exactly, but some distance to another little house that he built. This house only had one door as you go in. It did not have any windows on it. You could tell the wood was real thick,

and in it there was a pig hanging. It was Smokie. She said, "That's my smoke house. This is where I smoke the meat at after the butcher comes, and kill's the animals for me, and we put them in here and we smoke them. We smoke the meat. It stays here for a certain length of time." So I am learning, and I am taking it all in.

Grandma and I we were having a good time. We went to the house after we finished, and we had lunch. As we were going to the house what I was really excited about was I seen all these trees. There was a pecan tree, pecans, acorns, walnuts, and almonds. There was a lot of nut trees. "You called it a grove," she said. There was a lot of them.

Then she had apple trees. She had peach trees. Oh boy. She could live a real nice life. She could live a good life, and I really enjoyed that. And she grew corn. She grew tomatoes. She grew watermelon. She had a lot of products that she grew.

She had pigs. She had chickens. She had cows. She had a mule. She didn't have a horse. Her nephew next door had the horses on his part of the farm. So she did not have horses herself because of her age.


So we had such a great time so we go to the house. We had lunch. We were enjoying one another. I was really excited. I was having a ball just me and my grandmother. And so I asked again, "Grandma, what happened to grandpa? How did grandpa get killed?"

She said, "Oh he got ... I already explained to you. I told you once. He was killed by a train. It was a accident by a train and that's it. Please, please do not ask me that again. That should be enough of that question that you have."

But that curiosity stayed on my mind. So after we finished, Grandmother had some sewing to do in the house, pick some other item in the house. She had house chores to do I should say so I had some free time. So I said to myself, "Okay. I got some free time I am going to go down to the bottom of the hill where the farm is on. And her farm is large. The train would run between the farm on both sides of the tracks were her property. Train would run to the center of her property at the bottom of the hill.

My Investigation

So I went down to the bottom of the hill and I walked on the tracks. And I am real curious. I said, "How can Grandfather...I trying to figure this out. I am doing some investigating. I am trying to figure out this investigation that I am doing, how did Grandpa die? And I am walking down the tracks. And I am saying, "Wow," as I am walking, you know I am having a nice little time, and I am trying to figure this out. I am saying, "I don't see how Grandpa got killed by a train... how an accident of a train killed Grandpa. I really don't believe this. I don't understand how he...he had to be familiar with it. He grew up in the area. He lived here all his life. He walked into town on the tracks. He should be familiar with the trains."

As I was walking, I am thinking this to myself and all of a sudden I hear a horn repeating and repeating. I look up, and I saw a train, and I say, "That train is a long ways away from me. What is he blowing for? What is he making all that noise for?"

He kept on blowing. He kept on blowing so I jumped off the tracks. A few minutes later, the train comes pass me and as the train comes pass me the conductor on the train he waved to me, and I waved back. And then the train passed. So after the train passed I said, "Okay. That doesn't answer my question. That doesn't clear things up." If he lives here all his life, he had to be familiar with the trains. That train driver blew his horn several times. Okay? So I jumped off the track, and it took a little while before the train got anywhere near me. So how could grandpa really get killed on the railroad tracks. I don't understand it.

Questioning Dad

Okay so I left grandma's farm. I did say anything else about it, but I asked my dad. He said, "Ellis, we have already discussed this before that grandpa was killed by a train."

But I said, "Dad, how did he get killed by a train?"

He said, "I really do not want to talk about it. That just it. You shouldn't ask this question again. He is in heaven, and everything is okay now." But I couldn't figure it out because number one grandma was on the farm by herself. The only work that she could get was that she had people that would come by that would help her that she would hire to come by on the farm. Her nephew that lived next door her. He would help her once in a while. But why would she want to live on a farm and her sons live in Chicago, Illinois?

Something just doesn't make sense to me. I said why would they leave their mother leave their home with their mother by herself on a big farm all alone. Something just did not add up to me. I dropped it for a long time. For years. Because I was in my teenage years at that time. So I dropped it for years and I thought no more about it.

The Death Certificate

And boy in 2018 (really 2006), my wife is doing her genealogy work, and she is working on my family tree. And she is doing research work, and she is searching. She searched and found through the death certificates she found out that Columbus McClure was killed by a train on the railroad tracks...crossing the railroad tracks at 5:00 in the morning (really 9:30 am).

Columbus McClure, death certificate no. 6113, (1930), Alabama Department of Public Health, Montgomery.


August 13, 2020

This morning I saw Columbus, Coreain, and Archie appear before me. It was the first time since death that I saw them. They thanked me. I told Ellis he could ask them about the whole story now they were before him. He got the impression that Columbus was in a train accident. He had tried to beat the train.


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