Embra Scott Watson’s Deadly Descent

These images were taken in the fall of 2012 in the Watson family’s area in Green Hill Cemetery. The stones were still in disarray on my last visit in March 2013, so it’s likely that they’ll look the same the next time I visit. Whether the stones were knocked over by falling tree limbs, heavy wind, or vandals I’m not sure, but it’s sad, especially in a city-maintained cemetery.
However, the focus of this post is the man buried in the grave marked by the upright tombstone, Embra Scott Watson. He was born January 12, 1868 to John Thomas and Sarah Edmunds Read Watson in Danville, Virginia. The 1870 census lists his name as “Henry E.S. Watson,” so either Henry was his first given name or the enumerator made a mistake. In addition to E. Scott, there were four other children in the home. Embra and the youngest child, Clement, were from John’s second marriage to Sarah. The other three children were from John’s marriage to his first wife, Nannie (Anne?) Green Read, who died in 1863. His father’s occupation on the 1870 census was “lawyer” but by 1880 John was in the insurance business.
Roanoke Daily Times [VA] 6 May 1890

E. Scott, referred to in some of the news articles about his death as only “Scott,” attended Hampton-Sydney College, an all-male liberal arts school in Virginia. His interest must have been in journalism, because he worked at a Lynchburg newspaper and was the editor of a paper in Glasgow. He was described as having above-average intelligence and had a “firm athletic stride.” In 1897 he married Maria Selden, who died in 1900. Her bright grave marker is seen in the first photo, having fallen off its base.

The Times, 7 Jan. 1900
New York Tribune, 5 May 1902

From Maria’s obituary we learn that she and E. Scott had lived in New York City at least since 1897. At some point he was hired as a manager for the society paper “Town Topics,” which was more like a gossip paper than an actual news source. Scott was living on West Twenty-Sixth Street in May 1902 when he had the accident that cost him his life. Around midnight on the 5th, he pressed the elevator button wanting to go from the fourth floor to the first floor. In the dimly lit, or perhaps even completely dark hall, he didn’t notice when the elevator doors opened that the elevator hadn’t moved from its position three floors below. Stepping forward, he had nowhere to go but down, landing on top of the elevator car. Both of his legs were broken and he also sustained internal injuries. At least one of his legs may have been amputated while he was in the hospital.

Scott’s brother, John, who was living in Richmond, Virginia, went to his brother’s side upon hearing about the fall and was in New York on May 7 when he died. Scott’s body was back in Danville by the 8th, where he was buried in the family square.

Richmond Dispatch
The Times [Richmond, VA] 8 May 1902
The Times [Richmond] 11 May 1902

Death by Patriotic Tetanus

While collecting clippings from historic newspapers about Fourth of July tragedies I noticed an interesting trend in the late 1800s-early 1900s: an alarming number of deaths attributed to tetanus from Independence Day injuries. In fact, there were so many lockjaw fatalities after that particular holiday that the condition became known as “Patriotic Tetanus.”

Tetanus or lockjaw is something that we rarely hear about these days with the availability of the tetanus toxoid vaccine, which  wasn’t developed until 1924. However, people living in the very dark ages of medicine who were exposed to the tetanus-causing bacteria through flesh wounds were pretty much at the mercy of the infection if the available antitoxin serums failed. Taking into account how many people celebrated (and still celebrate) July 4 with firecrackers, reckless pistol-firing, and other potentially bloody activities, it makes sense that “Patriotic Tetanus” was a real problem back in the day. After July 4 festivities in 1903 alone 415 lives were lost to the condition.

The good news in modern times is that you’re less likely to find yourself with lockjaw after Independence Day, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to go out and act a fool. Safety first, people. Even if you’re not at high risk for tetanus you can still learn something from this small sampling of Independence Day death.

Public Ledger 13 July  1882


The Big Stone Gap Post, 20 July 1899
Perrysburg Journal, 17 July 1903


The St. Louis Journal, 16 July 1903


The Daily Journal, 13 July 1903
Daily Public Ledger, 13 July 1909
The St. Louis Republic, 11 July 1905

*Originally posted in July 2014.

The Body of Captain Ward Comes Ashore

The Minneapolis Journal, 23 Feb. 1901

It was the inscription on Capt. William Charles Ward’s simple grave marker at Raleigh’s Oakwood Cemetery that caught my attention:

Went Down With His Ship
City Of Rio De Janeiro
San Francisco Bay

Continue reading “The Body of Captain Ward Comes Ashore”

Kate Swann: Accidental Burning

I took this photo at least three years ago, knowing the young child’s cause of death but postponed writing about her in hopes of finding more details.

According to Green Hill’s mortuary reports Kate Swann died at age two from an “accidental burning.”

Continue reading “Kate Swann: Accidental Burning”

Descriptions of the Valencia’s Unknown Dead

As much as I love oceans lakes, and rivers one of my biggest fears is being sucked underneath its fierce waves knowing that I’m virtually powerless if the roaring sea decides to claim these mortal remains.

Even so, I find maritime disasters and water-related tragedies fascinating and have written about unfortunates who fell victim to deathly shipwrecks or were otherwise lost at sea: Capt. Ward of the City of Rio de Janeiro, Dr. Reuben Knox, the Flagg family, and the Titanic casualties.

This episode of Lore Podcast left me hungry for more of the 1906 Valencia wreck, which claimed around 136 lives (sources vary) and sparked  a few ghostly yarns.

One of the most commonly quoted accounts from survivor Chief Freight Clerk Frank Lehn is as follows:

“Screams of women and children mingled in an awful chorus with the shrieking of the wind, the dash of rain, and the roar of the breakers. As the passengers rushed on deck they were carried away in bunches by the huge waves that seemed as high as the ship’s mastheads. The ship began to break up almost at once and the women and children were lashed to the rigging above the reach of the sea. It was a pitiful sight to see frail women, wearing only night dresses, with bare feet on the freezing ratlines, trying to shield children in their arms from the icy wind and rain.”

Continue reading “Descriptions of the Valencia’s Unknown Dead”

“Men Blown To Pieces” During Target Practice

Alexander N. Dossett was a 26-year-old seaman in the United States Navy when he sustained fatal burns from a powder explosion during target practice aboard the U.S.S. Massachusetts. He was buried in Durham, North Carolina’s Old Maplewood Cemetery.

Below the photos is a newspaper article from 1903 describing the accident and listing  other casualties. The explosion occurred on January 16 and Alexander died January 22, so when the article was published he was still alive.

IMG_0084 Continue reading ““Men Blown To Pieces” During Target Practice”

Showmen’s Rest: Evelyn Marrion’s Fatal Plunge

The Dead Bell

From the Morning Star, Rockford, Illinois

Daisy “Evelyn” Marrion is buried in “Showmen’s Rest,” an area of Los Angeles’ Evergreen Memorial Park and Crematory, among the graves of over 400 former carnival and circus workers. Until I heard about this plot, I never really thought about where circus performers were buried which is alarming since I’m so fascinated by circus and carnival culture. It makes sense that graveyards around the world have special plots for “carnies;” most people are buried with their families and for this particular nomadic population, their fellow circus folk are family.

I regret not getting a better photo of Evelyn’s marker.

Evelyn, who was 38 when she died, was one of the unfortunate souls who died during a performance with “The Four Sky Devils,” an aerial act. Evelyn had  28 years of experience in the circus business as an aerialist according to the Dixon…

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Man and Dog Perish Fighting Fire; Buried Together (1880)

On the second and final overcast morning of my Wilmington trip I returned to Oakdale Cemetery armed with a map in hopes of locating Capt. William Ellerbrock’s grave. (His surname is sometimes spelled Ellerbrook but his marker and cemetery records list the former.)

What makes this grave particularly of interest to me is the tragic story of how Ellerbrock and his dog Boss were buried together, making them as inseparable in death as they had been in life.

“Faithful Unto Death”

Continue reading “Man and Dog Perish Fighting Fire; Buried Together (1880)”

Showmen’s Rest: Evelyn Marrion’s Fatal Plunge

From the Morning Star, Rockford, Illinois

Daisy “Evelyn” Marrion is buried in “Showmen’s Rest,” an area of Los Angeles’ Evergreen Memorial Park and Crematory, among the graves of over 400 former carnival and circus workers. Until I heard about this plot, I never really thought about where circus performers were buried which is alarming since I’m so fascinated by circus and carnival culture. It makes sense that graveyards around the world have special plots for “carnies;” most people are buried with their families and for this particular nomadic population, their fellow circus folk are family.

Continue reading “Showmen’s Rest: Evelyn Marrion’s Fatal Plunge”

Anna Anderson: Sad Tragedy in Clinton Orphanage

The Laurens Advertiser [SC] 20 May 1903

I read about Anna Theresa Anderson’s unfortunate death in the laundry room of a South Carolina orphanage while researching a different orphanage tragedy. The details of her life are few and far between, but there were accounts of her death in various 1903 newspapers. Descriptions of the accident was quite graphic. “Anna Anderson, aged 15, a native of Sweden, and a protege of Mrs. Cyrus McCormick, the wealthy Chicago lady, was accidentally killed this morning by the explosion of a piece of laundry machinery. She was almost completely disemboweled, besides having the right arm almost severed from the body.

The Pickens Sentinal-Journal 28 May 1903

The piece of steel broke both her arms and dreadfully mangled her body. The child died a few minutes after the accident.

The Watchman & Southron 27 May 1903

 “When one of the girls was passing by the wringer in the steam laundry it suddenly went to pieces with the noise of a pistol explosion. Miss Anna Anderson was struck by a flying piece and was dead within 20 minutes.

Thanks to Find a Grave, I learned that Anna was buried in Clinton Cemetery in Clinton, South Carolina. There’s no picture of a headstone*, but the person who created the memorial made a note that the inscription read, “Born in Konsor, Sweden.” From there we have Anna’s birthdate as well, April 27, 1887.

The big piece of the puzzle stems from how and when Anna and her sister, listed on the 1900 Census as Hedvig ended up in South Carolina’s Thornwell Orphanage after being born in Sweden.

Based on these newspaper clippings, they’d been pupils at the orphanage for “a number of years”, so there are still many unanswered questions about Anna’s early life.

Anna was well-liked by the other children in the orphanage and apparently a talented musician, playing the organ in the Presbyterian-affiliated institution’s chapel services. Mrs. Cyrus McCormick, mentioned in one of the articles, was Nettie Fowler McCormick. Her husband was the inventor of the horse-drawn reaper and built his fortune with the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company. One of Nettie’s philanthropic endeavors was supporting the Thornwell Orphanage, explaining the link between the wealthy Chicago woman and the Swedish-born orphan. 

With musical talent and a connection to a prominent woman, Anna could have gone on to become a great musician, or at least found a way to get past the hurdle of orphanage life.

UPDATE (3/10/14):
I submitted a photo request through Find a Grave when I originally wrote this post and today one of the volunteers added her headstone.

photo courtesy of Charles Hawkins, Find a Grave volunteer

The inscription from “Away” by James Whitcomb Riley reads:

“I cannot say and I will not say
That she is dead, she is just away.
With a cheery smile and a wave of hand
She has wandered into an unknone
[unknown] land;
And left us dreaming how very fair
Its needs must be, since she lingers there.”