Henry "X" Ackley Sackett

FatherOrsemus Sackett (1826-1896)
MotherGeraldine H Mathews (c 1840-)
Marriage1881, Montclair, Essex County, New JerseyGMary E Sweeney3
Henry "X" Ackley Sackett
Henry "X" Ackley Sackett, son of Orsemus Sackett and Geraldine H Mathews, was born in New York StateG in 1859.1 He died aged 79 in Eastern Oregon State Hospital, Umatilla County, OregonG, on 28 July 19382 and was buried at Pendleton, Umatilla CountyG.4 He married first at the Immaculate Conception Church, Montclair, Essex County, New JerseyG, on 6 October 1881, Mary E Sweeney, daughter of John Sweeney and Elise Courtney.3 Mary was born in New York CityG on 6 June 1857.5 Henry and Mary separated in the early 1890s and probably divorced. She died aged 70 in Harrisburg, Dauphin County, PennsylvaniaG, on 2 April 1928 and was buried at Montclair Heights, Essex CountyG.6 He possibly married second in say 1910, Edith Fetterly.7
     In 1860 Henry was living in Maryland, Otsego County, New York StateG, in the household of his parents Orsemus and Geraldine, and was recorded in the census as Henry Sackett, aged ten months and born in New York.8
Henry, talented silhouette artist
After first working for his father Orsemus in his lecture bureau, Henry made a living from the 1880s as a portrait artist, unusually producing portraits as profile silhouettes of his subjects, working with no more than black paper and a pair of scissors. He worked at speed, travelled widely to reach a large audience, and made silhouettes of many prominent people. He adopted the name 'X' Ackley at the suggestion of the St Paul Daily Globe newspaper, recognising the precision of his work. Henry was in St Paul, Minnesota, in the late 1880s when his half-brother Jacob was operating his theater there. There is no indication from newspaper reports of cooperation between the pair, although Henry's craft would seem to have been a natural fit with Jacob's other bizarre entertainments.
Henry courted publicity for his business of making silhouettes, but also achieved notoriety as an adventurous eloper.
Henry "X" Ackley Sackett newspaper articles (35 items.)

Henry, failed eloper
Although Henry was a talented silhouette artist, able to judge to a nicety the line of a woman's cheekbone, his judgement in other areas was less acute.
     In 1894, he achieved notoriety when caught in Topeka, Kansas, having eloped with a young heiress, with a fortune of $40,000, he had recently met in Elkhart, Indiana. The elopement caused a sensation, at least among the newspapers, which reported every detail with barely concealed excitement.
     Although separated, Henry was a married man, with a wife and two children in Washington, D.C., and there was uncorroborated newspaper speculation that he had two more "wives", in New York and in New Jersey.
     While in jail in Topeka awaiting trial either there or in Chicago, where other charges were being considered, he telegraphed his father for urgent funds to meet his bail. His father, resentful that his son had ignored his plight when he had himself suffered ill health and financial loss years earlier, returned the message with the one-word answer "refused".
     The case, when it came to trial, was dismissed, apparently because it could not be established what, if any, crime had been perpetrated. The heiress had, in the meantime, been reunited with her family in Elkhart.
     Henry, spotting an opportunity, decided to stay in Topeka a while to offer his portraiture services. He opened a stand at Burkhart's cigar store and expected to do good business with a curious clientele. In an extraordinary example of facing both ways, the local paper commented both that Henry had been given too much free advertising and at the same time reported not only the setting up of the portrait stand but, for good measure, added Burkhart cigar store's street address. Despite the case having been dismissed, the newspaper had clearly decided his guilt, complaining of the "addition to the town's criminal element", describing Henry as "a foul scamp", and opining "the sooner he gets out of town the better."
Henry's failed suicide in Salt Lake City
In the event, Henry did get out of town, and next appeared in Salt Lake City. According to a story in the Deseret Evening News in February 1895, Henry had worked much of the previous year in SLC. He had worked hard and played hard, spending his money freely. The spree had ended in late summer with his attempting suicide at a saloon by stabbing himself with a penknife.
     The same newspaper went on to quote a current story from the San Francisco Chronicle which described, with embellishments, the earlier elopement. The Chronicle had somehow doubled Frances Davenport's fortune to $80,000 and, in an interview, Henry had claimed that he had tried to dissuade the girl from following him. Answering the charge that he had two wives, one in Washington and one in New Jersey, he explained that they were the same, and that his wife had moved from Washington and was now selling peanuts on a Jersey ferryboat. He stated that they had separated in 1884 and he was seeking a divorce (according to the Indiana State Sentinel, citing Washington sources at the time of the elopement in February 1894, Henry had left his wife and children just three months earlier.)
Henry resumes trade in California
By the following year, 1895, Henry was focused on his art, cutting portraits in March at a store in Los Angeles where he was described as "the greatest silhouette artist in the world", and in December at a drugstore in San Francisco.9,10
Henry's inheritance
Henry was named in his father Orsemus's will made on 20 May 1896. He and his brothers Jacob and Fitch were left just one dollar each, the residue of their father's reportedly considerable estate being divided among his nieces, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Henry's charitable work
Henry visited Washington, DC, in 1899 and 1900 and made silhouettes at a charity event and in a store there. In 1904 he toured Arizona, making silhouettes in several towns and cities.
     Henry was back in California by 1906, and had a studio and living accommodation at Windward Pier, Venice, CaliforniaG. In May of that year he helped a charity provide school books for needy chiildren by making portraits free of charge of children handing in books for re-use.11,12,13,14
Henry in trouble again
Later the same year, in October, he was in trouble again, falling out with a gang of card sharps who allegedly threatened to tar and feather him for exposing their racket, causing him to flee to Los Angeles.
     He was back in Venice in early November, when he was arrested for throwing a bottle of ink at some people standing outside his studio allegedly making insulting remarks about his morals.15,16
     In 1910 he was living in Washington, DCG, and was recorded as X Ackley Sackett, silhouettist, a lodger in a hotel, aged 50, single.17
     In 1930 he was living at Eastern Oregon State Hospital, Umatilla CountyG, and was recorded as Henry Sackett, an inmate, widowed, aged 70.18
     Henry "X" Ackley's final years are described in an article by his grandson Robert Sackett in Ancestry Magazine.
X. Ackley? Exactly
by Robert I. Sackett

I’ve had tremendous success uncovering ancestors from my mother’s side of the family, but my father’s family had always been a dead end, so to speak.

My father, Henry Ackley Sackett, who went by the name Harry, died in 1999. We knew his dad’s name was Henry, and his dad’s dad’s name was Orsemus. We knew that Henry had been a silhouette artist and traveled to carnivals with our dad and that Henry had spent his final days in the Oregon State Mental Hospital. We knew my dad was 13 when he and his father were separated, but we didn’t know when Henry died.

Last spring, I found a record for Orsemus in the 1860 census from Otsego County, New York. He had a spouse, Geraldine, two other children (perhaps not his own), and a 10- to 12-month-old son named Henry. But that Henry Sackett never appears in another census.

More searching turned up a death record for a Henry Sackett in eastern Oregon in 1938. I had just enough information to track down a death certificate, which confirmed the names of Henry’s father and mother and revealed that my own father had four much older siblings.

Armed with that death certificate, I got copies of Henry Sackett’s records from the Oregon State Mental Hospital in Salem. I learned that Henry and Harry had gone to Portland in 1925 so Henry could cut silhouettes at Oaks Amusement Park; that Henry was arrested for vagrancy and two months later was committed to the Oregon State Mental Hospital; that both Henry and my father felt this was a great injustice; and that my father ended up with foster parents in Marshfield, Oregon.

Henry spent three years in the hospital before being transferred to another one, this time in Pendleton, Oregon. Records indicated that at this facility, his care and environment were improved—he was said to have spent much of his time reading and playing cards. Henry had a stroke in 1933; by 1936 he was bedridden. He died in 1938.

Last summer, I sat down with my father’s scrapbook/ photo album that was compiled for his 80th birthday. Inside I found my father’s birth certificate, where his father’s full name is noted as Henry Ackley Sackett, Sr. But in a newspaper clipping regarding the funeral of Orsemus, Henry is referred to as X. Ackley. I was puzzled.

A few months later, I was reading some of my father’s old letters when I stumbled upon one in which my dad notes that he met an old acquaintance of Henry’s, the sister of cartoonist Homer Davenport. She also refered to Henry as X. Ackley, convincing me that my grandfather must have used this as a “stage” name. It wasn’t until I read it through many times that I realized its humor: X. Ackley = Exactly. At that moment, I realized X. Ackley Sackett had a twinkle in his eye … just like my father.

I found X. Ackley Sackett in the 1910 census in Washington, D.C., with his profession listed as “Silhouettist.” And last week, I acquired two silhouettes from eBay: profiles of two women with hats. On the back of each is stamped X. Ackley Sackett. My grandfather has finally come home.

Robert I Sackett 'X. Ackley? Exactly', Ancestry Magazine, May/June 2008, 51.
The Daily Northwestern, Oshkosh, WI, 16 Sep 1896
(Src: John H Sackett)
The Evening Times, Washington, DC, 11 Oct 1899
(Src: Library of Congress, Chronicling America)
Silhouette made by X Ackley Sackett
(Src: Robert Sackett)
Photograph by Don Hertzler

Children of Henry "X" Ackley Sackett and Mary E Sweeney

Child of Henry "X" Ackley Sackett and Edith Fetterly

 Notes & Citations

  1. Census.
  2. Robert I Sackett 'X. Ackley? Exactly', Ancestry Magazine, May/June 2008, 51.
  3. "New Jersey Marriages, 1678–1985" (FamilySearch transcript), "Immaculate Conception, Montclair, Essex, New Jersey, 6 Oct 1881, Henry A Sackett, 22, father O Sackett, mother Geraldine H Mathews; to Mary Sweeney, 20, father John Sweeney, mother Elise Courtney."
  4. Copy death certificate of Henry Sackett, died 28 July 1938, registered 3 Aug 1938 in Umatilla County, Oregon, "Henry Sackett, d. at Eastern Oregon State Hospital, Umatilla County, 28 Jul 1938, b. New York, date unknown, age 79, widowed, artist, father Orsemus Sackett b. NY, mother Geraldine H Mathews b. Iowa, informant Hospital Records, cause cerebral hemorrhage left hemisphere, bur. Pendleton, Oregon, 30 Jul 1938."
  5. Death record.
  6. "Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906–1967" (Ancestry image), "Mrs Mary E Sackett, d. Harrisburg, Dauphin County, PA, 2 Apr 1928, res. 1810 Chestnut St, 9th Ward, widowed, b. New York City, 6 Jun 1857, 70-9-26, occ. at home, husband Henry A Sackett, father John Sweeney b. Ireland, mother Elizabeth Courtney b. Ireland, informant Mrs E Kraemer, 1810 Chestnut St, cause sarcoma of liver, bur. Mont Clair Heights, NJ, 4 Apr 1928."
  7. Information supplied by Robert Sackett to Thurmon King, 2010.
  8. 1860 United States Federal Census, Maryland, Otsego County, New York
    Orsemus Sackett, 34, m, laborer, personal estate $200, b. NY
    Geraldine Sackett, 19, f, b. Iowa
    Althear Sackett, 12, f, b. NY
    Edwin Sackett, 10, m, b. NY
    Henry Sackett, 10/12, m, b. NY.
  9. Los Angeles Herald (California), digital image, Library of Congress, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, 30 Mar 1895, p. 7.
  10. The San Francisco Call (California), digital image, Library of Congress, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, 5 Dec 1895, p. 10.
  11. Evening Star (Washington, DC), digital image, Library of Congress, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, 2 Nov 1899, p. 3.
  12. The Times (Washington, DC), digital image, Library of Congress, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, 15 Oct 1900, p. 2.
  13. Weekly Arizona Journal-Miner (Prescott, Arizona), digital image, Library of Congress, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, 13 Apr 1904.
  14. Los Angeles Herald, 14 May 1906, p. 8.
  15. Los Angeles Herald, 31 Oct 1906, p. 5.
  16. Los Angeles Herald, 5 Nov 1906, p. 10.
  17. 1910 United States Federal Census, Roll T624_149, p. 4A, Enumeration District 0240, FHL microfilm 1374162
    Precinct 1, Washington, District of Columbia
    Sackett, X Ackley, lodger [in hotel], 50, single, b. NY, father b. NY, mother b. IA, silhouettist.
  18. 1930 United States Federal Census, Roll 1956, p. 6B, Enumeration District 0056, Image 434.0, FHL microfilm 2341690
    Eastern Oregon State Hospital, Precinct 45, Umatilla, Oregon, Apr 1930
    Sackett, Henry, inmate, 70, wd, b. NY, father b. US, mother b. US.
Appears inNotable Sacketts
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Molly Sackett.
Last Edited31 Jan 2023

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