Rachael mentioned in a recent post that I had several articles in the planning stage for the blog. This is true and they will eventually cover what I hope others may find profitable lines of research.
However, this is not one of them. This is just an incidental post covering some material uncovered when researching Basil Stephanoff. It will not have a place in the forthcoming book, because it is irrelevant to the religious history. But still - I, at least, found some of it fun.
Many early associates of CTR, like people in general today, had what can only be called “feet of clay.” Lapses from moral grace don’t have to be the exclusive preserve of religious people, but the contrast between theory and practice is often fodder for the tabloid press. And this is history - these people aren’t our relatives to cause us any embarrassment today, so that is Okay.
Quoting from an earlier post by Rachael, “Basil Stephanoff gets short mention in Proclaimers. He was active in Macedonia (European Turkey and Bulgaria in the late 1880s. He was imprisoned because (he claimed) false testimony at the hands of false brethren. He escaped to America, settling in Michigan. He was still a Watch Tower adherent in 1894.”
The 1894 reference is to a letter of support he sent CTR as published in the special Conspiracy Exposed and Harvest Siftings Watch Tower extra.
Basil’s personal history has its mysteries. At one point in researching this article, I rather gleefully assumed we had a case of bigamy here, but alas, a discovery of not one but two divorces settled that in Basil’s favor - if that is the right expression to use. But I am getting ahead of myself.
The fuller chronicle of Basil that makes the history book explains he was in the United States in the 1880s, although on census returns he only ever admits to entering the country in 1891 or 1892. We know from passenger lists that he travelled from England to the States in January 1892, giving his occupation as laborer.
Within a short space of time Basil gets married to Annie Brook, on April 12, 1892, in the Children of Zion Church, and his marriage certificate (registered in Kent County, Michigan) gives his occupation as minister of the gospel. The officiating minister at his wedding is H A Olmstead, Pastor Children of Zion Church. Annie is a dress maker and comes from England. A 1900 census return says she came to America in 1886, six years before Basil, and a 1920 census return says she became a US citizen in 1892.
At the time of the marriage Basil is 31 and Annie is 28. His father’s name is down as Stephan Boginoff, which suggests the registrar had a silly moment, since the correct name in all other documents is Bogin Stephanoff. Basil’s mother’s name is Mona. Annie conceives almost immediately and their only son, John Basil Stephanoff is born on January 26, 1893 (information from John B’s WW1 draft card). John B becomes a judo instructor during WW2 and lives until 1976. John B married and had one daughter, whose married name was Jean Schmit, and who died in 1980, but there the trail ran cold for this researcher.
In trade directories for the late 1890s through to 1901 the family are in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Basil is listed under Boots and Shoes, or shoe dealer in the 1900 census.
But all is not well in the Stephanoff household. On November 5, 1900, Annie files for divorce on the grounds of Basil’s cruelty and the uncontested divorce is granted on June 18, 1901. Annie will stay in Grand Rapids. In quite short order, and while still giving his residence in Grand Rapids, Basil ties the knot again, this time marrying Alvesta S Nagle of Bellevue, Ohio, on October 8, 1902. The marriage is registered in Kent County, Michigan. Basil is still a shoe dealer, Alvesta has no profession, and Basil’s parents are down as Stephanoff and Mona. But just four months later there are divorce proceedings again. This time the uncontested charge is cruelty plus fraud, and the decree absolute is granted on June 30, 1903.
Alvesta disappears from the record, but first wife Annie with son John B continue to appear in Grand Rapids directories, she as a dress maker and John B when he leaves education as a salesman.
Basil then reappears in Marion County, Indiana, in the 1910 census. The age, place of origin, and year of immigration show it is our man. He has now become a lawyer. And the census specifically asks him whether he is single, married, widowed or divorced. His answer is plain - SINGLE.
Whereas Annie in the Grand Rapids trade directories for 1915 and surrounding years puts herself down as the widow of Basil.
Basil dies of nephritis in Marion County, Indianapolis, on May 19, 1925. He must have kept certain documents with him because his death certificate lists his parents as Bogin and Mona. But he is now listed as a widower, with the name of his former partner unknown.
Basically Basil dies alone, and out of touch with his son.
I suppose I was looking for a “bad boy” in Basil, and these snippets from records show someone who could bend the truth at times, along with two failed marriages and the accusation of cruelty.
It makes me think of another “bad boy” who lived at the same time and who also associated for a while with the Bible Student movement. That was Albert Royal Delmont Jones, who was the editor of Zion’s Day Star before his fall from grace. Jones deserted his first wife, the mother of his children, and married a society beauty. She in turn dumped him when he lost his fortune, and his third attempt at matrimony was to someone later convicted of bigamy, who featured in the Fatty Arbuckle scandal. If that wasn’t enough excitement for one life, somewhere along the line there is a possible fourth marriage, which if true, suggests a less than truthful response to the registrar. All of this can be read by newer readers if you track back on this blog to when Albert was dissected a few years back.
There are some similarities in the stories of former Watch Tower adherents, Albert and Basil, although Albert wins the prize for major league “bad boy”. But with their tangled personal histories, there is one thing they do both have in common. Both had family who survived them. Both died alone. Maybe they deserved it, but I still find that rather sad.