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December 26, 1995

More interesting facts continue to surface concerning Buster Keaton and his family's connection with Perry some 95 years ago. So many, in fact, that it is going to require at least two of these columns to cover them adequately. Buster's centennial birth year is about to end, so perhaps most of his fascinating background has been covered by now.

Today I want to mention briefly a new Buster Keaton biography that has just been published. More on that will follow in a day or so. The book, "Buster Keaton: Cut to the Chase," is described by Time magazine as thorough and poignant. It arrived only last week at Perry Carnegie Library, but don't look for it there for a day or so. I was lucky enough to be first in line to check it out. Soon as the time on my library card expires, you can borrow it from the library. Suggestion: Get on the waiting list. I guarantee you'll find it interesting.

But for today's column I want to follow up on some questions that were asked here recently concerning the Keaton house in Perry. Our dedicated Noble county clerk, Ronita Coldiron, has come through again with the missing information.

The other day I wrote about Bill Urban's father, Carl Urban, who once owned the former home of Buster and his family at 610 Grove street. Bill knew his parents owned the home in 1917 because that's the year he was born there, but he did not know exactly when his parents bought it. The house now is owned by Marvin and Shirley Beier, and Mrs. Julius Beier, Marvin's mother, lives there.

"They say curiosity killed the cat," Mrs. Coldiron writes. "Well, I must have some feline blood as I could not resist researching the 'Keaton' property." She attached a detailed table of information extracted from Noble county property records. It shows how, and when, the Keatons originally got the property. Ronita adds: "I found it very interesting that the name of Joseph Z. Keaton (Buster's grandfather) on the deed when he originally acquired the property was spelled 'Keyton.' However, on the next document the last name is spelled 'Keaton. Whether this was a clerical error or the Keatons changed the spelling is unknown."

My own guess is that it was a clerical error, but perhaps it was changed at some point. This is the first reference I've seen to the "Keyton" spelling. However, Meade's biography does state that the name was sometimes spelled "Keton." The middle initial in Joseph Z. Keaton's name stood for Zachariah.

Ronita's search shows that Bill's father, Carl Urban, acquired the property in 1914 and sold it in 1936. The Beiers acquired it in 1974 and it has remained in their family since then. Joseph Zachariah Keyton (that's the spelling on the document) acquired it by general warranty deed on Jan. 29, 1900. After the death of Joseph Z. in 1912, the property was deeded to his widow, Lydia J. Keaton; two daughters, Rosa K. Jones and Birdie Bradford, and two sons, Joseph Keaton (father of Buster) and Jesse B. (Bert) Keaton. By tradition, all the firstborn sons in the Keaton family were named Joseph. Buster's real name was Joseph Francis Keaton.

On May 29, 1913, Joseph Z. Keaton's widow, Lydia, received quit claim deeds to the property from her two daughters and from son Joseph H. Keaton, Buster's father; and on Aug. 16 that year she passed title to her son, Jesse B. Keaton, better known to Buster as Uncle Bert. He transferred the dead to W. H. Stewart nine days later. On Oct. 25, 1913, Stewart conveyed ownership to L. R. Swartz, and Carl Urban bought it from Mr. Swartz on April 8,1914. Successive owners were Homer B. Matthews on July 11, 1936; Nellie Matthews on Dec. 8, 1938; John P. Henry and others on Oct. 9, 1973; Julius and Alice Beier on July 15, 1974; and Marvin Beier and others on Dec. 14, 1992. And that's the genealogy of the Buster Keaton family home at 610 Grove street.

As an interesting sidelight, Ronita notes that P. W. Cress was the attorney who settled the Keaton estate in 1912. Also, the final decree mentions some Keaton family ownership in Lot 43, Block 12, Original Perry. This lot is on the north side of the square and is now owned by Jack Dorl.

I greatly appreciate Ronita's research on this subject. It adds interesting documentation to the Keaton family lore in Perry. Several of you called about the Buster Keaton biography on the A&E television network the night of Dec. 13. I wasn't home when it was telecast, but I taped it for posterity.