A Story Strange and Sad

A Story Strange and Sad

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     If you peruse old issues of "Chess Review," you will probably encounter the name Catherine Nye.  You will mostly likely notice one of these photos of the pretty 34 year old lady from Syracuse, N.Y.


     Catherine Nye enjoyed some unprecedented off-the-board chess success and suffered some unimaginable heartbreaks.

     But in 1942 she was just beginning to make her mark:
     Catherine Bernice Nye (née Sharkey) was born in Syracuse on Nov. 9, 1907.  I really don't know much about her non-newsworthy personal life other than she seemed to have borne four children, two boys and two girls and she died on Dec. 6, 1980.

     She must have had good leadership qualities and a strong work ethic. In 1941 she founded and headed a consumer group called "Organized Housewives,"  protesting the rising price of milk.  Early in 1943 Catherine Nye had become Secretary of the New York Chess Association:

...and, according to the following article in the "Birmingham Press" on Dec. 10, 1943, Nye had soon attained the position of President of the New York Chess Association - the first woman to achieve this and quite possibly the first women to become president of any state chess association. 

    But her life was heading into an unexpected collision with fate. Her son, Donald, like many American men of that time, served in the Army. After the war, Donald was stationed in Frankfurt Germany. Having a son fresh out of high school fighting in a war must have caused enough anxiety, but in 1946 he was arrested, and in the summer of 1947, he was tried and convicted of strangling to death a German lady, a so-called prostitute named Maria Scherer.   At first he received life imprisonment, but due to the rules of court-martial proceedings the action falling under the guidelines of "crimes of passion" his conviction was reduced from murder to manslaughter and his term was reduced to the 10 years maximum. 
     Trying to deal with the Army consumed much of Catherine's and her husband, Carl's time and energy.    

"The Post-Standard"  Nov. 5, 1946
The "Syracuse Post-Standard" of April 24, 1947 wrote:  Through the past few months, hundreds of letters of sympathy and encouragement have been sent to the Nyes from all over the country, urging that the parents continue their efforts to have the case thoroughly aired.
     But life does go on. 1945 had found Catherine reelected President of the NY State Chess Association

     ...a position she would retain for several years more.

"Chess Review"   Nov. 1947

     Then in 1949, lightning struck twice in the same place. 

from "The Circleville Herald"  Feb. 17, 1949:

FORT MEADE, Md., Feb. 17 —Two Army prisoners, one a convicted murderer, shot their way to freedom at Fort Meade early today and a guard was seriously wounded shortly after the daring break. An 11-state alarm was broadcast for the escaped men, Robert Nelson, 22, of Rome, Ga., and Donald Nye, 21, of Syracuse, N. Y. An hour after Nelson and Nye, court martial witnesses who were being held in the post fire station, clubbed one guard and stripped another of his .45-caliber revolver a third sentry was shot in the face. The wounded man is Sgt. Miton Morris. He was on duty near the post medical laboratory, about a mile north of the fire station, when he heard a noise and started to investigate. As he approached the laboratory, he was shot from ambush, presumably by one of the escapees. Morris, taken to the post hospital, said he did not see his assailant. Nelson and Nye, both convicted of offenses overseas, were being held as witnesses in the court martial of Lt. Col. George Pinard, accused of brutality to GI prisoners at the Army rehabilitation center in Wurtzburg, Germany.

     At any rate, Donald Nye seems to have been released sometime prior to 1956 and living "in the West."   I determined this through exploring yet a third traumatic incident in Catherine's life. 
     On April 27, 1956 Catherine Nye vanished for 13 days.  According to the Troy "Times-Record," She took a bus to N.Y.C. on April 27 "to attend her weekly class at the New School For Social Research, an adult educational center" where she was studying for her master's degree.  She never reported at the school. The next day checked herself into the mental ward of Bellevue Hospital, giving her correct name but no address, saying "she was 'mentally sick.'"

     But it all worked out.

"Plattsburgh Press-Republican"  May 10, 1956

NEW YORK, May 9 (AP)   A Syracuse housewife, missing 13 days and the object of a police search throughout the East, was reunited with her family today - in a mental ward at Bellevue Hospital.
      Her husband and daughter arrived together and paid separate visits to Mrs. Catherine Nye in the ward.  She remained in the hospital when they left.
     The tall titian-haired 48 year-old woman entered the hospital voluntarily and under her own name April 28, saying she felt "mentally sick."
     An old family friend, Leighton Frooks, a lawyer, paid her a visit May 3 after she telephoned him.  But he assumed her family knew where she was.  He was unaware until today that she was being sought.
     A 14-state missing persons alarm was issued for her May 7 after her husband, Carl, became alarmed at her prolonged absence.
     A Bellevue employee, Mrs. Christine Rogers, recognized Mrs. Nye from a newspaper picture.  The patient readily admitted she was the woman sought. Her husband satisfied himself on her identity in a telephone talk with Mrs. Nye.
     A chess expert, Mrs. Nye is a former president of the State Chess Assn.
     Mrs. Nye disappeared April 27 after taking a bus from Syracuse to New York to attend her weekly class at the New School for Social Research, an adult education center.  The next morning she walked into Bellevue and asked to be admitted.  She gave her right name but listed no address.

Here is where Catherine Nye once again vanishes, but this time from the news.  
                            She most definitely earned the break.

     The Syracuse "Post-Standard" (August 15, 1954) informs us that Mrs. Nye was selected  unanimously to be the guest of honor at the banquet in Birmingham during their annual congress (state championship) on Aug. 28-Sept. 5, 1954.

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