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The lady and the piano man

Stuck in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, Edwin and Susan Worman almost never made it to Medford.

This was Edwin’s second crossing, having already made the treacherous voyage from England in 1865 when he was just 19. After working on the railroad in New Jersey, and saving his money, in 1869 he returned home to England, married his childhood sweetheart, Izzet Susan Hake, and the couple left for America.

The steamship Samaria sailed for New York from Liverpool, Feb. 26, 1870. In mid ocean, days later, the ship’s drive shaft snapped and the propeller was lost. The captain decided to hoist sails and return to port; however, the winds were light and progress was slow.

For three weeks, on both sides of the Atlantic, there was fear that the ship had sunk. By the time the Samaria reached Queenstown (Cobh), Ireland, her food supply was nearly gone and passengers had worried they might starve.

First-class passengers transferred to another New York-bound ship, while Edwin and Susan, along with everyone else, waited for repairs. On April 12, after an 11-day cruise, they safely made it to New York.

Soon, the Wormans were farming along the Missouri River in Nebraska. In March 1872, they welcomed their only child, Laura Louisa Jessie Worman — almost always known as Jessie.

In 1884, the railroad had finally arrived in Southern Oregon with a station in the new town of Medford. Ed saw opportunity and a fresh start.

Within a year of his arrival, he owned a half interest in a Medford livery stable; a stable he would completely own within two years. By 1886, he was also the owner of the Jacksonville-Medford Stage Line.

Ed’s success was tainted by his wife’s mysterious illness that gradually left her bedridden. In March 1887, at age 54, she died. It brought Ed and Jessie even closer together and, for the rest of their lives they were indispensable to each other.

Jessie excelled in school, usually scoring in the high 90s out of 100 on her monthly exams. Even before high school graduation in 1891, and for a few years after, she was off to Eugene to study at the University of Oregon.

When her father sold his business and retired, she returned home and helped with his investments in local businesses, while managing the rooming house that was also their home.

In April 1900, Howard Coss arrived with two daughters and a plan to open a music store, give lessons and sell pianos. He lived next door to Jessie and her father.

In 1872, when he was 10, Howard had come to Washington from Wisconsin. There he married a divorced mother of two daughters. When he divorced her after 10 years of marriage, he received custody of his ex-wife’s daughters.

The Coss Piano House in Medford was a success.

“I was told,” Howard said, “there was not a piano house in Oregon south of Roseburg, so I chose Medford as a good field, free from competition.”

When the woman Howard had hired as a business manager left to work for a competitor, Howard hired Jessie. They married Nov. 14, 1901.

Their first child, a girl, Howards Jessie Coss, was born in February 1903, but died of typhoid fever five months later.

By investing in a number of companies and operating a real estate office, Jessie and Howard began making “a small fortune.” Along with the ever-growing popularity of the Piano House, the couple seemed to have their Southern Oregon world at their feet.

Early in the fall of 1908, 36-year-old Jessie was pregnant again and needed help around the house. She hired a 15-year-old girl as a live-in housekeeper.

That’s when Jessie’s happy world turned dark.

(More next week.)

Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including Silent City on the Hill, Jacksonville’s Historic Cemetery. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.