East Brimfield native the subject of Georgia Cracker Barrel mystery

Cousin of rocketry legend Goddard lived to age 79, had no children

BRIMFIELD — A mystery was put forth on social media on Tuesday evening, and The Citizen Chronicle quickly filled in a number of the details.

The Hitchcock Free Academy posted a photo on Tuesday night of a more than 100-year-old diploma that had been spotted hanging on the wall of a Cracker Barrel restaurant more than 1,000 miles away in Newnan, Georgia. The diploma had been given to Herman Harold Spratt in 1911, and spurred Hitchcock Free Academy’s Facebook page to note: “We’d love to hear what happened to Mr. Spratt.”

The Citizen Chronicle decided to make that happen, though the information provided was quite minimal: one man’s full name, the date of his graduation, and the possibility of a red herring that he may have settled in the general vicinity of Atlanta.

The working assumption was that Herman would have been born somewhere in the early-to-mid-1890s, quite possibly in or around Brimfield. A look at historic vital records quickly confirmed this notion by uncovering a birth record showing that Herman Harold Spratt had been born in Brimfield on August 22, 1894 to Hugh and Lottie Ada (Ward) Spratt. Herman was born several weeks after the tumultuous Pullman Strike came to an end in Chicago, months before France’s infamous Dreyfus Affair, and while Grover Cleveland was in the middle of his second (non-consecutive) term as President of the United States.

Herman’s father, Hugh, had been born in Canada in 1862, immigrating to the United States through Rhode Island as a toddler. Hugh was a mechanic at the time of Herman’s birth, worked as a machinist in 1900, and a machinist die maker in an auger shop in 1910. Lottie was born in nearby Sturbridge on March 29, 1871, to Warren Woodward Ward and Elizabeth Rosa (Hawkes).

Herman was one of two children born in Hugh and Lottie, the younger brother of William W. Spratt, who had been born in February 1893. After his parents had moved to Grafton, records suggest William moved to the vicinity of Pittsburgh, with Hugh and Lottie following him to western Pennsylvania. Hugh passed away in Pennsylvania on February 14, 1934, while the widowed Lottie lived on for nearly 30 more years before passing away in a nursing home due to cardiovascular disease in Pittsburgh on April 12, 1963. Though they died in Pennsylvania, it appears Hugh and Lottie are buried in Southbridge’s Oak Ridge Cemetery.

While his brother and parents moved west some 500 miles, Herman appears to have lived most of his adult life in Worcester. A few years after graduating from Hitchcock Free Academy, he had settled in Worcester and worked as a machinist. According to his World War I draft registration card, dated May 29, 1917, 22-year-old Herman resided at 4 Lewis Street, a three story multi-family dwelling that still sits off of Southbridge Street. According to his draft card, Herman was temporarily unemployed, but was able to claim a draft exemption as he was slated to begin a new job on June 1 at a naval torpedo station in Newport, Rhode Island. The draft card described Herman as tall and slender with blue eyes and brown hair.

Herman Harold Spratt’s signature on his World War I draft registration card, dated May 29, 1917, when he was 22-years-old.

Though Herman was single in late May of 1917, it would not remain that way for long. Though the exact date is not clear, it was later in 1917 that Herman would marry a 28-year-old woman named Elizabeth G. Houston, the daughter of an Irish immigrant. According to the 1930 U.S. Census, in that year Herman and Elizabeth resided at 264 Chandler Street in Worcester, a dwelling that has since been torn down and replaced by commercial property, possibly a bank. While living on Chandler Street, one of three families listed at that address, Herman worked as a tool shop foreman while Elizabeth was a housewife.

Herman and Elizabeth Pratt’s gravestone at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Southbridge. www.findagrave.com photo.

One decade later, according to the 1940 U.S. Census, the Spratts had moved to nearby 13 Chicopee Street in Worcester, just the other side of Worcester State University from Chandler Street. At this time, 45-year-old Herman worked as a machine shop supervisor while Elizabeth remained at home. Herman reported an income of $2,900, a fairly modest living at the time.

By the end of the decade, the Spratts had moved once again. According to Worcester’s 1949 city directory, the couple had settled into a single-family home at 21 Beaconsfield Road in Worcester, off of Pleasant Street. Herman continued to work as a machinist at that time.

Records show Herman and Elizabeth had no children. He passed away in Worcester County, presumably the city itself, on June 16, 1974, at the age of 79. Elizabeth followed nearly a decade later, passing away on November 21, 1982. Like Herman’s parents, it appears the Spratts are buried in Southbridge’s Oak Ridge Cemetery.

Cousin of the father of modern rocketry

Dr. Goddard with his 1926 rocket, the first liquid-fueled rocket. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Herman Harold Spratt appears to have lived a largely unremarkable, but relatively stable and comfortable life. A cousin of his, however, is a bit better known—Robert Hutchings Goddard. Spratt and Goddard are both descendants of Nathan and Dorothy (Stevens) Goddard, making them fourth cousins.

Nathan and Dorothy are the maternal 3rd great-grandparents of Herman, and the paternal 4th great-grandparents of Robert. Nathan had been born in Shrewsbury on January 18, 1725, while Dorothy was born in Rutland on March 20, 1717. The couple settled in Orange, where they passed away in 1806 and 1808, respectively.

On Herman’s paternal side, the Spratt family had originated in Ireland before immigrating to Canada at some point in the first half of the nineteenth century, and eventually the United States. His paternal great-grandfather was Christopher Spratt, who had been born in Enniskillen, a town in County Fermanagh in what is today Northern Ireland. About 100 miles northwest of Dublin, Enniskillen is the hometown of famed writer Oscar Wilde. The Spratt line dates back to at least the early-to-mid 18th century in Enniskillen.

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