The first entry for Green Hill’s Mortuary Reports in December 1886 reads, “John Ricks (Supposed) burned to death in the fire that burned R.W. White’s Stable, December 4, 1886 B B Temple, City Phys.” He is indicated as a pauper in the margin, where the burial location of the body is usually written. I was able to find a few blurbs in historic newspapers regarding the fire in which Mr. Ricks “supposedly” perished.
|The Daily Times, Richmond|
“DANVILLE, VA., December 4- A big blaze broke out in this place this morning in the stable of R.W. White, on Bridge street, which destroyed a stable, paintshop, and three small brick houses. Ten horses and sixteen buggies and buses were also burned. The origin of the fire is supposed to have been caused by a party who got into the place under the influence of liquor, with a lighted cigar. His body was found in the ruins, but could not be identified. The loss is about $7,000 with an insurance of $4,200. No Virginia companies are interested.”
|Richmond Dispatch, Dec. 5, 1886|
“R.W. White’s livery-stable was burned this morning, together with ten horses and ten wagons. Loss, about $5,000; insurance, $4,500. A colored man named John Ricks perished in the flames.”
Unfortunately, without knowing John’s age or the names of any of his relatives there isn’t much more that can be added to his story. In online death records his name is spelled Rix, but even searching for John Rix leaves me empty-handed. There are people with his name listed in directories for other cities in Virginia for the years prior to 1886, but it could simply be that someone shared his name.1 It’s also likely that John was new to Danville because there is no evidence of him living in town. Being December he could have been seeking refuge from the elements in the livery stable. It’s possible that he fell asleep while smoking or dropped his cigar, not realizing the hideous horror that would become of his recklessness.
Of course the wording in Green Hill’s burial records casts suspicion as to whether or not John Ricks was the man really buried there at all.
1 Ancestry.com. Virginia, Deaths and Burials Index, 1853-1917 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.↩