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Memorials hint of romance between Hannibal residents

Work was started on the “new” Eugene Field school in 1925. The building, still in use as an elementary school, displays this tribute plaque to Myrtle Ledford, a Eugene Field teacher who died in 1924. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY


Frank Johann was a life-long bachelor, and Myrtle Ledford was likewise a single woman. Each born in 1873, they likely knew each other during many of their mutual Hannibal years. And if inscriptions serve as an indicator, they were close friends until the end.

Miss Ledford, a school teacher, taught in the Hannibal-area schools from as early as 1893 until 1924, when ill health forced her early retirement at the age of 50.

Mr. Johann, for many years a Hannibal butcher, lived his lifetime on the family’s home place, located at 1921 Pleasant St.

Miss Ledford taught at South and Washington elementary schools in Hannibal, and her last teaching assignment was at Eugene Field.

After her resignation during the summer of 1924, and her death the following October, Frank Johann commissioned at least two lasting memorials.

A plaque is attached to the wall near the main entrance of Eugene Field school, dedicating a water fountain in Miss Ledford’s honor.

“This fountain has been erected in memory of Myrtle F. Ledford a faithful teacher who died Oct. 6, 1924. Installed by her friend Frank Johann.”

A tombstone marks the gravesite of both Miss Ledford and her father, Watson A. Ledford, in Mt. Olivet cemetery.

The gravestone is engraved: “Tis hard to break the tender cord when love has bound the heart. Tis hard, so hard to speak the word we must part. Frank Johann”

(Johann died in 1953, and is buried at Holy Family Cemetery.)

Miss Ledford

Myrtle F. Ledford was Watson A. Ledford’s oldest child and only daughter. Born circa 1840, he grew to adulthood in Hannibal, and was listed on the Hannibal registry for Civil War draftees. An entry hints that he may have been married to Nancy Groves (possibly born in Ohio) on Aug. 16, 1868, in Adams County, Ill.

Records also suggest that Myrtle was a toddler when he was married a second time, to Margurite Troutman. Throughout his life he worked as a laborer, carpenter and ultimately a bridge builder for the railroads, sometimes living in Hannibal, and other times living in mid and western Missouri.

Near fatal accident

Watson Ledford nearly lost his life in a railroad accident. While working on the O.K. (Quincy, Omaha and Kansas City Railroad) Bridge at Trenton, Mo., during mid August 1898, the 58-year-old bridge builder fell, breaking two ribs, dislocating his hip, and receiving internal injuries. The Quincy Daily Whig reported on Aug. 19, 1898, that the injuries may be fatal, but ultimately they weren’t.

Ledford brothers

Myrtle Ledford had three brothers, Joel (sometimes went by Joseph) Edward Ledford (1876-1952); Bonnard Ledford, (1878-1953); and a half brother, De Losse Crandall Ledford (1884-1939).

During 1885-1892, the family lived at 103 Munger, Hannibal. In 1895, the family lived at 207 Summit. In 1897, Miss Ledford was a teacher at West School (later renamed Eugene Field) and lived with her family at 121 Lindell. In November 1899, she was teaching at South School. A.D. Stowell was the principal.

School teacher

At the age of 20, Myrtle Ledford attended a teacher’s institute in Palmyra, and was the recipient of a second-grade teaching certificate. Others in her teaching class included: Second grade: Misses Rozella Samms, Birdie Potter, Mable Fookes, Sadie Foreman, Marion Comer, Belle Rhodes, Kate Shultz, Anna Leake, Lucy Spence, Nettie Burkholder, Callie Taylor, Felicia Smith, Fannie Freeman, Lena Taylor, Sophia Tittle, Lena Coons, Pearl Leeds, Messrs. Eugene Nelson, Fred Brunk.

At the end of the 1900 teachers’ institute, Miss Ledford received a certificate to teach third grade. There were 65 teachers enrolled in the summer program.

At the time of the 1910 census, Miss Ledford was living in Sullivan County with her family, and teaching school. A year later, she was living back in Hannibal, and in 1912, her father died at Milam, Mo. He was brought back to Hannibal for burial.

War years

During the years leading up to the first World War, Myrtle’s brother Joel was working as a foreman for the Duffy Trowbridge stove foundry. In January 1914, he and his wife, Mary, bought a new two-bedroom, one-bath house at 2600 West Hill, located on the southwest corner of Hill and Central Avenue. They purchased it from the subdivision developer, Walter E. McFarland and his wife, Maud S. McFarland.

In 1916, Joel’s sister, Myrtle, was working as principal and teacher at Washington School. Joel and Mary had an addition built on to their house, adding a third bedroom, a half bath and a separate entrance, to accommodate Myrtle, who moved in with the family.

In August 1919, Joel and Mary Ledford sold the house to Zelma C. Shelburne for $3,500. The Ledfords moved with their daughter, Rowena, to California. Myrtle Ledford remained in Hannibal where she continued to teach.

Summer of 1924

Her health began to deteriorate during the summer of 1924.

Before the start of the next school year, Hannibal – and no doubt Miss Ledford - was shocked at the news of a fire in the building where she had taught. Hannibal’s fire department responded immediately and was able to contain the fire to a few classrooms and the roof.

Myrtle Ledford’s death came on Oct. 6, 1924, while she was a patient at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. Mitral insufficiency was given as the cause of death.

Repairs to the school building were made, but the lifespan of the old building was nearing its end. In 1925 work began on the building that currently houses Eugene Field School.

In Miss Ledford’s honor, Frank Johann had a drinking fountain installed in the new building, and supplied a memorial plaque, which is still prominently displayed near the school’s entrance.

Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Her collective works can be found at

Myrtle Ledford, a long-time Hannibal school teacher, and her father, Watson A. Ledford, are buried side by side in Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Hannibal.

An inscription on this headstone in Mt. Olivet Cemetery indicates that it was erected by Frank Johann, a close friend of Myrtle Ledford. “Tis hard to break the tender cord when love has bound the heart. Tis hard, so hard to speak the word we must part.”

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