"Flung Himself From a Tower" (1894)

On the morning of August 23, 1894 banker Col. James Monroe Winstead sedately climbed the stairs to a balcony tower at Richmond’s City Hall, “threw his cane and shoes down” and then jumped to his death, landing on the iron fence over 90 feet below.

As I dug deeper into the circumstances surrounding this gruesome death, I found two additional pieces of information that in some ways shed more light on what happened that day and other ways only open up more questions.

Continue reading “"Flung Himself From a Tower" (1894)”

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From the Mortuary Mysteries: Tired of Life

I first mentioned Josie Wheeler in August 2013’s “Misc. Mortuary Mysteries.” Much of Josie’s biography remains shrouded in secrecy but in the months since originally conjuring Josie’s name from obscurity I’ve uncovered new information that sheds more light on her life and her tragic final hours on this mortal coil. Sadly I don’t have a tombstone or grave location and based on new evidence I’m not even certain that she’s buried in Danville anymore.

Continue reading “From the Mortuary Mysteries: Tired of Life”

James Henderson

The photo you see here was taken in Danville’s Green Hill Cemetery on a soggy afternoon in late 2012. The man buried below this vaulted obelisk is James Allen Henderson, Jr. and because he died during the time frame listed in my copy of the mortuary reports, I had a cause of death to use as a springboard for my investigation.

Jas. A. Henderson Jr. age 22 years died from Laudanum at Rocky Mount, NC, Ferrell & Co.” (Ferrell & Co. was the name of the undertaking firm which handled his funerary preparations.)

When I read about someone dying young from unusual or mysterious circumstances I do as much digging as possible in order to piece together what happened during the person’s final moments in addition to creating an overall biographical sketch. Each marker in a cemetery represents a person’s life, not just a death, and my thirst for the hows and the whys often causes me to put off posting until I’m sure I’ve exhausted my resources. This morning I decided to try a different combination of keywords and localities in the newspaper archives and luckily it produced a few more details from April 1, 1895 when he “died from laudanum.” (We’ll get to that later.)

There are still many gaps in James’ story and unfortunately those might never be filled. We often take for granted that our inner monologues and sometimes mundane snapshots of daily life are documented through the magic of the Interwebs. There was no Instagram to document what James ate for dinner or Facebook if he wanted to declare how much he fancied his new velocipede.

So we begin at Mr. Henderson’s beginning.

James  Jr. was born on June 6, 1872 in Caswell County, North Carolina to James A. Sr. and Rebecca Johnston Henderson. I’ve noticed his parent’s names while researching other families as they are biologically linked to prominent Caswell County families. James Sr. was descended from some of Yanceyville, North Carolina’s founding citizens, notably his great-grandfather Bartlett T. Yancey. Rebecca Lea Johnston was a daughter of Thomas Donoho Johnston, the President of the Bank of Yanceyville.

In 1880 the Hendersons lived in the “Village of Yanceyville.” In addition to James Jr. and his parents, other family members included three living siblings Addie (1869-1958), Bessie (1874-1896), and Frank Hurst Henderson (1877-1956). Sometime after the census they moved to 921 Main Street in Danville, Virginia. That address is where the First Presbyterian Church now stands, beside the Sutherlin Mansion. James Sr. was a merchant, tobacconist, and founder of J.A. Henderson & Co., a leaf tobacco firm located at 400 Craghead Street. It’s highly likely that James grew up in some affluence, possibly running in some of the same social circles with other current Green Hill residents from his age group.

The next bit of information about James Jr. comes from the 1890-1891 city directory. He still resided at the Main Street home with his parents and sister “Miss Addie D. Henderson.” Other siblings probably also lived there but not listed separately in the directory due to their age. At that time James was employed as a bank runner, or courier. By 1892 he earned his wages as a tobacconist, suggesting that he intended to follow in his father’s footsteps in an industry that was then booming in the area.

Between 1892 and the date of his expiration on April 1, 1895 he relocated to Rocky Mount, North Carolina after spending some time in Henderson. I couldn’t determine where he worked during those years, but one of the articles printed after his death suggested that he held a job as a tobacco buyer in Rocky Mount.

James was just a few months shy of his 23rd birthday in late March/early April, living at the “Woodard hotel” in Rocky Mount. This might have been more of a boarding house than a typical hotel owned by someone named Mr. Woodard. James had lost his job, fallen behind on his boarding fees, and “for some time had been drinking excessively” to cope with his financial woes and employment status. I wonder if James tried to drown other demons in the depths of the bottle, but I have no evidence to support any other circumstances affecting his state of mind. Because he died from a laudanum overdose we know that he used the drug at least once, but we can’t assume that he had ever previously experimented with it. (In an earlier post I wrote briefly about laudanum use during the 19th century in case you’re not familiar.)

For nearly two years I wasn’t sure if James’ death was accidental or if he’d taken his own life. Every time I visited Green Hill, his monument reminded me of my unsolved mystery, and every few months I opened his case to no avail. Then I located this short piece in The Progressive Farmer: “News from Rocky Mount Monday states that Mr. James Henderson, of that place committed suicide that night by taking laudanum. He was about 21 years of age. No reason was assigned for such a rash act, other than that he had been drinking for some days, says the Wilson Mirror.”

The Progressive Farmer 9 April 1895

James’ untimely death was already unfortunate, but knowing he’d died at his own hands made it that much more heartbreaking. Those of you reading who aren’t invested in historical research might find my sympathy towards unrelated people who died over a century ago a bit odd. I suppose I’d compare my feelings to the manner in which a reader or viewer feels about a character in a book or a television show. The difference is that these characters were real people and I’ve stood at their real graves, with just a few feet of dirt and a metal or wooden coffin separating the living body and the decomposing corpse. (Before you gasp at my ghoulish phrasing, remember that in the end, we’re all just worm food, unless you go with cremation or some other non-traditional burial.)

But getting back to James, the other source of information about his last day was entitled, “Strange Suicide: A Man Attempts to Take the Life of Three People-Then Kills Himself.”

The Caucasian 11April 1895

“A singular case of suicide is reported from Rocky Mount, N.C.. Mr. James A. Henderson, a tobacco buyer, staying at the Woodard hotel, had become despondent, ostensibly in consequence of his inability to pay a board bill which he had contracted at that hotel. While in this melancholy state of mind he made out an insurance policy, which he handed to Mr. Woodard, remarking that he (Henderson) might soon be missing. Then to the great astonishment of his host, he suddenly drew a revolver, and pointed it at Mr. Woodard’s heart. Being foiled in his evident intention to shoot, the unfortunate hypochondriac endeavored to slash the alarmed proprietor with a butcher knife, but was again prevented from carrying his murderous purpose into effect.
Henderson next started to kill a young man whom he accused of causing him to lose his position. While on his bloody-minded errand he met the porter of the hotel, whom he also attempted to dispatch, but who luckily escaped.
Nothing more was seen of Henderson until about midnight last night, when he was discovered, gasping for breath, upon the bed in his room. A physician was summoned, who, upon examination, found that the suicide had swallowed four ounces of laudanum. Death ensued soon afterwards. Deceased came to Rocky Mount from Henderson and for some time had been drinking excessively which seemed to have turned his brain on the night of his death.”

After reflecting on James’ financial problems and his family connections I was curious as to why he didn’t go to his parents for help: was it pride or was there a rift in the Henderson clan that prevented them from communicating? There’s also the possibility that his judgement was so clouded by liquor that he chose to off himself before thinking his options through clearly.

I’m not advocating suicide by any means, but we can’t judge James for his hastening his journey on the pale horse with a few ounces of laudanum. The silver lining about his “strange suicide” is that no one else was killed that night. We can only hope that in death he found the peace of mind that evaded him towards the end of his short life.

I decided to revisit James’ grave this afternoon in light of this new information because it felt like the right thing to do.

 

James’ sister Bessie’s grave is to his left; their parents are in the background

 

Their monuments are being uprooted by the nearby tree.

Evergreen Memorial Park & Crematory in Photos and Clippings

As part of my wonderful experience Death Salon last weekend I attended a tour of Evergreen Memorial Park and Crematory led by Atlas Obscura’s Matthew Blitz. I took quite a few pictures and it was really difficult for me to not do my normal graveyard wandering because there were so many interesting markers not included in the tour. I could have easily spent a day just touring the grounds, but time didn’t allow for much exploration. Here are just a few of the photos and clippings from my “collection.” I’ll save the rest for individual posts here and on Misc. Tidings of Yore.

I would’ve been fine with that ice cream truck coming through the graveyard. Ice cream socials are my favorite.
The Japanese American War Memorial
One of several headless angels.
There were certain places where the grass was greener than that of the surrounding space. I noticed several people (not employees) watering the plots of their buried friends/family. This was the grave of William Seymour, called “the most influential black leader in American religious history.”
Palm trees in a cemetery!
The Atlas cat
“Ladies Auxiliary Pacific Coast Showmen’s Assn. Organized 1930”
Across from the previous marker was this one: “Pacific Coast Showmen’s Association Organized 1922” Between these two areas over 400 carnival workers and performers are buried. The area is referred to as “Showmen’s Rest.”
This tree was beside the Ladies Auxiliary monument.
This was near the end of the tour, when time was running out. I didn’t have time to explore this area.
This is the marker for industrialist Charles Canfield and his wife Chloe. I’ll be writing more about them later.
According to the guide, this was the chapel in the movie, “Mask.” I don’t remember that film well enough to recognize it.
I had to throw at least one filtered picture into the mix.

From the San Francisco Call’s June 1, 1894 issue is this article about Delia Moody, who was so distraught over her husband’s death that she went to his grave not long after the funeral and shot herself. She left instructions that she be buried facing her husband.

Los Angeles Herald 6 Oct. 1909
Los Angeles Herald 19 Aug. 1908
The San Francisco Call 28 Aug. 1909

"Kills Man, Commits Suicide" (1923)

The man buried underneath this flat lawn marker in Green Hill was only 40 years old when he died in a bloody murder-suicide that played out in a Main Street boarding house almost 90 years ago. His is one of the many tragic stories that lies six feet under the soil on the cemetery’s quiet grounds.

Before we get to that part, let’s start with the little background that we know about this man. Benjamin Cabell Coleman was born in Aug. 1884, one of several children belonging to John Alexander Coleman and Ann Cabell Coleman, who are buried nearby. The Colemans and Cabells were well-known in Virginia and he was also reportedly related to Mayor Harry Wooding.

Benjamin’s mother died when he was 9 of typhoid fever and his father died when he was about 15 years old. This could explain why in the 1900 census he was listed as a “boarder” at the Collie home in Pittsylvania County although none of his siblings are in that household. In 1908 Ben married Fannie Lou (or Lew) Moseley.  They had one child, Joseph Cabell Coleman, born in 1909 and who died in 1910. There was no record of any other children.

Ben would hold several different occupations over the years. He was a “combination man” in 1908 for “So. Bell Tel. & Tel. Co.” In the 1917 directory he was a justice of the peace, living at 935 Green Street. In 1920 he was an electrician, in business for himself. He and Fannie rented a room at 724 Main Street, which from descriptions, sounded like a multi-family dwelling owned by the Stranges with some shared spaces between the tennants.

By 1923 he’d secured a position as a State License Inspector and he and his wife still lived at the Strange home. I couldn’t find a photo of Coleman, but according to his draft card he was tall, medium-built, with dark hair and blue eyes. Coleman had a good reputation within the city both personally and professionally, which is why his death came as such a shock to the community.

The Bee 17 Feb. 1923

While Ben’s death made the headlines in October 1923, he was in the local news earlier that year as well for non-work-related issues. In February he was shot through his ring finger, even though his friends were initially led to believe he’d injured it while working on a car. Whether the accidental shooting was at his own hand or someone else’s was never reported. The next month that finger was amputated after he developed blood poisoning. It seemed a little odd that after reporting the sketchy details of the shooting, there wasn’t further investigation into whether Coleman had shot himself or if someone else had done it.

Then in October:

This headline spanned the entire width of The Bee‘s front page. After researching the murder-suicide I was left with more questions than answers. The key to trying to understand Ben’s motivations would be in a letter found on his body. The contents of this letter were never fully divulged, thanks to the authorities.

The man that Ben murdered, William Overton Williams, and his wife Nannie Thomas Williams (who was also shot), boarded next door at 716 Main Street but ate their meals at the Strange home. This seems to be the connection between the Colemans and the Williams. Nannie had been back and forth between Danville and Richmond for two years assisting with the car of her mother, so it’s likely that William spent some of his time during her absence with the residents at the Stranges’.

On the evening of October 10, six or so people were having dinner at the boarding house, probably like any other night, only their meal would be disrupted by the sound of gunshots coming from the front foyer. One witness, Mr. McMakin, turned to see William falling to the floor and Ben holding a large revolver. He also claimed Ben was shooting in Nannie’s direction. After the shots ended, Ben walked out onto the porch for a moment before re-entering the home and starting towards his room. Those in the home probably rushed to the aide of the victims without paying much attention to Coleman. (Or maybe they ran the other way, I don’t know.) Shortly after Coleman locked himself in his room from the inside, another gunshot was heard by neighbors. In the foyer there was one pool of blood by the piano bench where William had been shot and another pool across the room. It was said that the room was “blood spattered” and bullet holes pierced walls and furniture.

When police forced the door open, Coleman’s body was found “…lying in a crouched position behind the bed, heaped on a lot of papers and documents. He had sent a bullet from his .38 calibre Smith & Wesson, the same weapon with which he had fired five times into the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Williams, through his head from the right temple side. A large pool of blood surrounded his body.” The description of the way papers were scattered suggested that he had been extremely agitated during his final moments and before sitting on the bed to shoot himself, he’d torn the room apart. (His body had fallen to the crouched position described earlier.)

The shootings left the community in a state of disbelief and of course, curiosity. Nannie, who’d only been shot once while trying to protect her husband, was taken to the hospital.  Henry McMakin, who’d gone to Coleman’s room with a few other people, claimed that a note found in Coleman’s pocket by a police officer was the key to Ben’s murderous rampage. “…O.W. Bates read a few lines of it aloud in the presence of horrified persons who had gone into the room. The word ‘betrayed’ was contained in the missive together with the name of Mrs. Ben Coleman. It was generally understood that the paper was a confession made by Williams and bearing his signature.

The Bee 10 Oct. 1923

The coroner, who kept Bates from reading the whole letter out loud, later refused to divulge the letter’s contents in detail. Police Secretary J.C. Elliott also declined to discuss the letter except to say that “it explained everything.” Witnesses who saw the letter while it was in Bates’ hands said that the paper on which it was written contained writing about half the way down, followed by a blank area, then more writing at the bottom which looked like a different handwriting from above. The whole letter was supposedly written by Coleman, with the gibberish at the bottom most likely written after the first shootings when he was in a panicked state. Mr. Williams’ associates insisted that whatever the letter was, Coleman had forced him to sign it the Monday before the slaughter.

In an effort to try to understand Coleman’s frame of mind on the 10th, people recalled his behavior that day and the final conversations they’d had with him. Some people saw Coleman carrying out his work duties until an hour before the shootings, seeming normal and cordial. One person said that a couple of hours before the murder when he saw Coleman, his eyes looked glassy as he inquired about other boarding houses. McMakin, who seemed eager to talk to journalists, claimed that Coleman had confided in him just before dinner that he was going to kill Williams, but McMakin thought he’d talked him out of it (he might have thought he was just blowing off steam or maybe that conversation never happened). Apparently just before he killed Williams, Coleman walked outside to the porch where two men were seated, said, “I forgot,” and then went back into the house.

The Bee 11 Oct. 1923

While no one ever came out and explicitly said that Coleman had murdered Williams  because he found out Fannie was having an affair with him, it was heavily implied. The word “betrayal” allegedly mentioned in the letter could’ve referred to any number of things (real or imagined), and what happened to trigger Coleman’s violent actions on October 10 might never be fully explained.

William Williams was buried in Richmond.

Ben’s wife, Fannie, later remarried Charles Dearheart. When she died in 1979 she was buried with Dearheart and members of the Moseley family in Green Hill. The area where she was buried is across the cemetery from the graves of Ben and her first child.

"Drowning…at the Hands of an Insane Mother"

This week I started reading the Coroner’s Inquests from Summit County, Ohio for the late 19th to the early 20th centuries. This has proven to be an extremely interesting collection despite the fact that I will probably never visit the graves of any of the people within its pages. There are hundreds (maybe thousands) of murders, suicides, and weird accidents to read about but one set of entries for an inquest in October 1901 in particular caught my eye.

pg 30

p 31

There are four entries on pages 30-31 for people who drowned “at the hands of an insane mother” and one entry for Rose Curtis who also drowned  “at her own hands with suicidal intent while insane.”

I was hoping there would be more information in the historic newspapers collection about this case and luckily there was.

The Curtis family lived on a leased portion of the Wolcott farm near Town Line Station. The family consisted of patriarch Perry Curtis (38), Rose Angel Struder Curtis (35), Harold Struder (9), Harvey (or Harry) Curtis (5) , Annie Curtis (4), and Helen Curtis (2). Rose, a native Hungarian, had passed along her fair hair and blue eyes to most of her children. (The oldest child’s eyes were brown but his hair was also light.) Also living with the family was Florence Kilner,  20, a housekeeper. Harold was Rose’s child from a previous marriage which ended when Mr. Struder died while the child was in infancy. Perry and Rose became acquainted after she was recommended to him as a housekeeper. The widow and Harold had fallen on hard times after Mr. Struder’s death and had been living in the Bethel Mission, so the opportunity to work for Mr. Curtis gave her a way out of shelter life.2 Around 1895 Perry and Rose were married and since the marriage, the three youngest children had been born.

Akron Daily Democrat, 28 Sept. 1901

On the morning of Friday, September 27,1901 Perry woke up early to transport a load of apples to Cleveland to sell. Before he and Florence left around 3 a.m., the youngest daughter Helen rose in time to give her father a farewell kiss. Rose was also awake and gave both her husband and Florence a kiss, wishing them safe travels.2 Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at that time, although later details would suggest that perhaps Perry shouldn’t have left his wife alone with the children.

G.G. Roberts, a man employed by Mr. Curtis to help at the farm, milked the cows and went to the well around 5 a.m. to wash up. The well was a total of ten feet deep with a diameter of four feet. When he removed the tub that was covering the well’s opening he saw the three youngest children floating near the surface of the water, which was about 5.5 feet deep. Rose’s body was sitting up against the wall at the bottom and Harold was beside her. Horrified, Roberts dashed back to town for help even though he knew everyone in the well was dead. It wasn’t long before a number of neighbors had gathered at the scene of the tragedy to remove the bodies from their watery tomb. The coroner was summoned and around 10:00 that morning he started his investigation. When the coroner arrived all of the bodies were covered by a quilt, the children still in their nightclothes and Rose dressed in a blue wrapper. Later, neighbors helped clean the bodies and prepare them for burial while awaiting an undertaker. Perry’s mother, Mrs. George Sweet, was also at the scene. She had been Helena’s caretaker for the past year up until two weeks prior. To Rose’s corpse she was reported to have said something suggesting that Rose wasn’t really to blame for the deaths of the children.1

Meanwhile, Perry and Florence had finished up at the market and were in a restaurant in Cleveland when they overheard a waiter say, “An insane woman out the A.B.C. line threw her four children into a well and then jumped in and drowned herself.” Immediately the two thought about the situation at the Walcott farm. After all, Rose had only been out of the hospital for the insane at Massillon for two weeks. Following a panicked trip back home, Perry’s suspicion that it was his wife who’d drowned the children and then herself was confirmed. In the parlor of the home, the prostrated father gazed upon the five corpses and fell to the floor between the stretchers holding his wife and one of the boys where he laid for several minutes before asking to be left alone. Others in the room backed towards the door but feared that if left completely alone in the room he might injure himself. Perry uncovered the face of and kissed each child as he murmured a few final words to them. Then he removed the shroud from Rose’s face. He had nothing to say to her, but brushed her hair back from her brow with his hand. Then he sat in a chair with his hands over his head for nearly fifteen minutes, making no noise. His silence was finally broken by his declaration that he had nothing to live for and that he wished to die with his wife and children. He regained his composure enough to talk to authorities and also to insist that photos be taken of the children because he had none.2

The five coffins would be buried together in the Boston township in the Miller’s graveyard on Sunday, two days after the incident. Unfortunately I was unable to locate burial records for any member of the Curtis family in Summit County, Ohio.2

The coroner’s verdict was that Rose was solely responsible for throwing the children into the well in a fit of insanity. Not long after her husband left with Florence she took each child to the well and threw him or her inside to death. The order in which she murdered them wasn’t discovered (or published). Harold’s face was bruised, which the coroner thought was the result of bumping against the sides of the well or that he’d been injured while trying to wrestle away from his mother in a last-ditch effort to save himself. Rose wasn’t much larger in stature than Harold and evidence suggested that they’d struggled at the well before he went over the side. Any discolorations on the other children were explained as being caused by Rose’s shoes hitting them as she fell down the shaft on the way to her own death or from their descent. Leberman, the coroner, stated that Rose’s “…early removal from the asylum is to be greatly deplored.2

In hindsight, it may not have been the wisest choice for Mr. Curtis to leave his wife at home unsupervised with the children. It was probably an even worse idea for the hospital to released her as they did. Rose knew that she’d have to return to the insane asylum before November 20 because she was still considered to be of “unsound mind.” When Helen was six months old Rose fell ill with pneumonia and “lost her mind.”1 The specific details of her mental breakdown weren’t outlined in the papers, but she was hospitalized in the asylum after recovering from pneumonia and had been institutionalized ever since, meaning she’d been locked away for well over a year. During that time Helen was sent to stay with her grandmother and Florence was hired in September 1900 to assist with the other children and run the household in Rose’s absence. Even though the mother was in an asylum, she was said to be upset about the separation from her family. Her children had grown fond of Florence and accepted her as a type of mother figure, which probably greatly disturbed Mrs. Curtis. Her behavior during the two weeks that she had been home wasn’t unusual. She seemed to get along well with everyone and was enjoying her freedom from the hospital. During that time her mind could have been plagued by the fear of being replaced by a younger woman in the hearts of her children and husband. Did the notion of being separated from her family again madden her to the point of murdering them and then taking her own life? Mr. Curtis said Rose had been writing to her sister in New York, but all of the letters were in Hungarian so he was unable to read them. The last mention of the letters was that Mr. Curtis was going to have them translated. I found no mention after that of a written explanation as to why Rose chose to kill her children and herself, so that part remains a mystery.

After the tragedy various theories about what happened circulated through the town. A detective named James Burlison speculated that Rose had killed the youngest child by hitting them in the face with an axe before dumping him into the well. An axe was recovered from the bottom of the well and Burlison said that because there was very little water in the child’s lungs he must have been unconscious or dead before he reached the water. Another rumor was that Rose and the children were all murdered, but the prevailing belief was that she had acted alone that morning.



1 “An Awful Tragedy! Insane Mother Drowned Herself and Children.” Akron Daily Democrat 27 Sept. 1901.
2 “Five In One Grave.” Akron Daily Democrat 28 Sept. 1901.
3 “Ohio, Summit County, Coroner Inquests, Hospital and Cemetery Records, 1882-1947.” FamilySearch 19 Mar. 2013.

Death Near the Dam

Joy, a recent graduate of Schoolfield High lived at 20 Garden Avenue in 1951 along with her father, A.D., her step-mother Ollie, and her half-siblings Clyde and Helen. The red-haired 18-year-old had gotten a new job at Dan River Mills in its research department. The evening of September 12 would be her last time reporting for work or anywhere else. Joy committed suicide that night.

Around 15 minutes before her father was to take her part of the way to her job, she borrowed a pencil from him which she used to write a brief note to be tucked underneath a small cedar box on top of the bureau in her bedroom. The note, according to the newspaper, instructed her family to wait until the morning to search for her body above the Schoolfield Dam.

Joy arrived at work, but after an hour, at around 5:00 p.m. she left under the premise of not feeling well. Before leaving she asked someone with whom she worked to call her family at 8 asking them to look on her dresser for the note. Then Joy went (probably by foot) to the dam, where she sat took off her rings and her watch, placed them inside her purse, and then put the purse along with her shoes on the embankment.

The co-worker, feeling that something wasn’t right about Joy’s request, tried to get in touch with her father once Joy had left Dan River. Her father, a machinist for the same company but in another division, didn’t receive the message for another hour because he was out on an assignment. He dashed home, read the note, and went to the water to try to find her before contacting the police. Members of a rescue crew took a boat out onto the Dan River to search for any sign of Joy. In the meantime, a crowd of onlookers had gathered at the river’s edge. Some were probably hoping that word would come that she had gone home or elsewhere-anywhere but into the water.

Melvin Thomas, one of the people on the scene, saw Joy floating in the murky river about 100 yards west of the boat dock, which is a small distance away from the actual dam. He jumped into the water, pulling her out. On land, another volunteer began artificial respiration until the rescue squad reached them. Even with a resuscitator, it was too late to save Joy. For whatever personal reasons she had for wanting to end her life by drowning, she had followed through with her seemingly well thought out plan. And what made her choose drowning? While Wikipedia isn’t always the most reliable source of information, it does have an article on suicide by drowning linked to a source that says that under 2% of suicides are carried out this way.

This postcard shows what the dam looked like in 1955, which is probably similar to how it looked in 1951. This link will take you to a photo of how the same area looked in 2007. Neither of these photos contains the area near the boat dock though.

This photo is a better representation of what the area where Joy drowned herself looked like.

Below is an excerpt from the newspaper with a photo of the people watching Joy’s recovery that night and an officer looking at the items she left on the bank.

A Cautionary Tale About The Effects of Whiskey on a "Good and Popular Citizen"

 I’m easily distracted, I accept that. Usually when I’m chasing down one story, another shiny name or picture catches my attention and down the rabbit hole I go. This was the case earlier while I was perusing the burial records for Raleigh’s City Cemetery trying to match a name to a stone cutter’s tombstone. What caught my eye was the name “Violet Page.” Looking at her cause of death I became even more intrigued: suicide. Suicide is a serious issue and should not be taken lightly. However, it’s rare that I have found suicide as a cause of death in cemetery records even though I’m positive that it’s more pervasive than I’m aware.

There wasn’t much online about Miss Page, but I found out that she committed suicide with W.H. Hood, who happened to be William Henry Hood, son of William H. Hood (Jr.?) and Annie Richardson Hood. From there I found this article about the events surrounding their deaths.


From the Asheboro Courier, January 11, 1906
“Double Suicide. Yesterday (Sunday) there was developed another horrible instance in Raleigh of what whiskey will do for a man who was otherwise a good and popular citizen. William H. Hood, until recently deputy register of deeds of Wake county, and whose father was register of deeds at the time of his death some four or five years ago, was found dead in bed with a disreputable woman in Raleigh’s tenderloin district, locally known as East Raleigh. The woman was also dead and empty laudanum vials in the room revealed the means employed by them to commit the double suicide. Three months ago Hood was treated at an institution in this State for the drinking habit. During the holidays he returned to his cups which fact is said to have caused him to lose hope for the future and on Saturday he deliberately made up his mind to put an end to his existence. According to report he revealed his intention to the woman Saturday night, whereupon the latter told him that if he was determined to kill himself she “would go along with him, wherever it led to.” The woman then, it seems, left the bawdy house in which she was an inmate and accompanied Hood to the house of an old colored woman where they hired a room for the night. The finding of their dead bodies in bed yesterday about noon was the sequel of the horrible that they made and so fatally kept. Mr. Hood leaves a widowed mother, an invalid wife and one or two small children.”

Wow.

I’m not even sure how to follow that up. From reading this, it seems like the newspaper writer is a little more forgiving of William than he or she was of Violet: describing her as “disreputable” and referring to Mr. Hood as “good” and “popular,” even though he and Violet had both committed the same act. We don’t know that Violet was a prostitute even though she was living in a brothel. In those days, if law enforcement deemed a house to be a bawdy house, then anyone living there was considered an inmate whether they were soliciting or not.

Laudanum was a popular cure-all during the Victorian Era which was made of about 90% alcohol and 10% powdered opium. It was often flavored with spices and available without a prescription until the early 20th century, which made it easily accessible to the masses. People used laudanum to relieve pain, to treat insomnia, to cure a cold, or simply to relax. It was even given to infants and small children to quiet them or help them go to sleep, which may have been another contributing factor to the high infant mortality rate during the 1800s/early 1900s.

I found photos I’d taken of some of the Hood graves in City Cemetery: William (his father), Annie, Emma, and Sarah. There are more Hoods listed in the records, so it’s possible that if he has a headstone then I didn’t photograph it. Or perhaps his family decided not to mark his grave. Mr. Hood sounds like he was a troubled man. From this article we can deduce that he was an alcoholic with an invalid wife and probably a mistress. I can’t imagine that anyone would meet someone and immediately enter into a suicide pact, although it’s possible. He had one, maybe two young children, on top of a plethora of other issues. From the phrase “caused him to lose hope for the future” it seems like he might have suffered from depression, if not some other mental disorder.

It’s very unfortunate that the situation ended the way that it did.