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Early in December, Brandon and I met at Pat Haley’s. All of our excitement focused on the upcoming meeting with Owsley’s forensic team, although it wasn’t long until we were in the familiar routine of asking Pat and Mona questions. Mostly they spoke of Ralph, a key player in Ed’s story. It was Ralph who recorded Ed’s and Ella’s music. Pat said Patsy knew a lot about Ralph, so she called her in Cleveland.

Patsy said Ralph was a nice and intelligent person.

“All the kids looked up to him when they were growing up,” she said.

As far as Patsy knew, Ralph never had any contact with his real father but he did take the last name of Payne when he was older.

Around 1936, Ralph married Margaret Ryan, an eighteen- or nineteen-year-old Cincinnati girl. The newlyweds took up residence with Ed and Ella, and Ralph stopped drinking (at his wife’s insistence). Margaret remained living with the Haleys during the war, when Ralph was overseas fighting the Japanese.

During the war, Ralph had an affair with a Filipino woman named Celeste, who Pat said bore him a son. Mona thought he actually married Celeste. According to her, his plan was to “set” Margaret up after the war, divorce her and return to his Filipino bride. He had Celeste’s name tattooed on his body. When he returned home from the war, he told Margaret, when she saw his tattoo, that Celeste had been the name of his ship. Ralph and Margaret soon left Ashland and moved to Cincinnati.

It was around that time that Patsy came into the family. She said she married Jack in California on October 25, 1946 and met Ed the following Thanksgiving in Ashland. She and Jack moved in with him for three months at 105 17th Street. Mona, Wilson Mullins, and little Ralph were also living there at the time. Jack only stayed for about three months because he couldn’t find work. Patsy said they moved out near Ralph in Cincinnati. Ella’s brother Allie Trumbo lived there, as did several of her close friends. Mona and her family soon followed them there and found an apartment in the same building.

Mona said Ralph’s thoughts were with Celeste: he was in the process of getting Margaret “set up” when tragedy intervened.

One Sunday in May of 1947, Jack, Patsy, Ralph, Margaret, Mona, Wilson, and little Ralph went fishing at a park about 25 miles outside of Cincinnati. At some point, Patsy said Ralph and Mona began talking about hanging upside down in a nearby tree. Mona climbed up the tree and Patsy took her picture. Then Ralph got in the tree and fell. As he lay on the ground, he told his family that his neck was broken and requested that they put a board under him until the doctors could arrive. Ralph was taken to a hospital where he told Ella, “When I bite down on the ice it makes a musical tone in my head.”

On Thursday, May 22, 1947, Ralph died at the age of 34. The family was afraid that Ella might hear of his death over the radio. She was staying at Mona’s apartment at the time.

On May 24 — Mona’s birthday — Ralph was buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery near Cincinnati. Patsy said Ed never made it to Ralph’s funeral, nor did Lawrence, who was in the service in Florida but Mona remembered that Lawrence was there on emergency leave. Someone played “Beautiful Isle of Somewhere”, Ralph’s favorite hymn.

Celeste later wrote Ella, mentioning how her son had an ear problem. When the family wrote to tell her of Ralph’s death, she figured they were making it up just so she would stop writing.

We figured that Ralph was Mona’s favorite brother since she had named her oldest son after him, but she said Jack was her favorite brother because he had taken up for her the most. She said Ella had been the one who named her son after Ralph. She also spoke highly of Noah, who contracted malaria and saw a lot of combat during World War II.

“Noah was good to send things home to Mom and Pop during the war,” Mona said. “And when he came home he laid carpet and fixed doorbells did things like that for Mom there at 17th Street.”

Noah went to Cleveland around 1950. Pat said Noah’s wife was a high-strung person. Their daughter Rosemary killed herself when she was eighteen. She wanted to get married but her mother protested, so she went into her brother’s room and shot herself in the head. In later years, Noah and Janet divorced. Pat said Noah’s son Jimmy really did a good job of looking after them. Janet died several years ago.

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