Mayhem, Mishaps, Murders, and Misdeeds

Whenever the modern world seems unprincipled and bleak, take comfort. It ran amok in the old days, too, as these Victorian news clippings attest.

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York, Pennsylvania Gazette, Sunday, 5 December, 1897

“Looks Like Attempted Revenge”

“Hazelton, Pa., Dec. 4.—An attempt was made last night to blow up the residence of A. P. Platt, one of Sheriff Martin’s deputies. This morning, two sticks of dynamite, one of which was broken, were found on the steps of Mr. Platt’s residence. The explosive was carried to police headquarters and it was found that the piece which had been broken must have been thrown against the porch by someone. Had the dynamite exploded, the house would have been wrecked and Mr. Platt and family probably killed. There is no clue to the guilty parties.

“Mr. Platt is the manager of the A. Pardee & Company store in Hazelton, and is a prominent Hazletonian. He has offered a reward of $100 for the apprehension of the parties who placed the dynamite on the doorstep.”

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Ottawa, Kansas Daily Republic, Monday, 4 October, 1886

“A Narrow Escape”

“Chicago, Oct. 2.—A number of very narrow escapes from death by fire occurred at No. 90 East Chicago avenue early this morning. The building is a two-story frame owned by John Johnson and occupied in the basement by Miss Julia Hogan as a restaurant; first floor as a saloon kept by Roose & Steuberg, and the second floor by John Johnson and family. Officer Moore saw the flames leaping from of the rear of the building, turned in the alarm and then ran to the scene to arouse the inmates. He rushed to Johnson’s rooms and seized two of the children, who were in a back room, and were nearly suffocated. In coming downstairs, he fell and injured his left hand and arm, but the children were not injured. Mrs. Johnson caught up the baby and escaped in her night dress, followed by her sister and husband. In Miss Hogan’s restaurant, in the basement, were sleeping Julia Hogan and Mary Esperson, Helen Larsel and Louise Norin. The last named, the cook, was aroused by the heat and smoke, which came from the kitchen. She called the proprietress, and they tried to gather some valuables, but the flames spread so rapidly that a retreat was necessary. Miss Hogan was compelled to run through the flames, and her arms were severely burned in attempting to save a dress, in the pocket of which was $56. The damage to the building was slight.”

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Frederick, Maryland News, Wednesday, 31 October, 1883

“Body Snatching in Richmond”

“Richmond, Va., Oct. 30—Chris. Baker and Wm. Burnett, colored men and professional resurrectionists, were arrested this morning while moving the body [of] a dead pauper through the streets on a wheelbarrow. The body had been stolen from the morgue at the city alm-house. David Parker, the keeper of the morgue, was arrested on a charge of complicity, but has been bailed. Barker and Burnett were sent to jail.”

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Hagerstown, Maryland Free Press, Thursday, 18 June, 1868

“A Tale of Bigamy, Murder, Lynch Law, and Female Devotion”

“A man calling himself Captain Hutton settled a year ago in Sarcoxie, Missouri, courted and married a Miss Fullerton, daughter of a respectable widow lady of that village. He had with him a sickly looking boy called Tommy, for whom he manifested great attachment. They lived in the village—Hutton, his young wife, and Tommy, until about a month ago, when at the request of Hutton, Mrs. Fullerton and Tommy started on a trip to Ohio with him on business.

“Arriving at Sedalia, Hutton procured a power of attorney, with which he returned alone to Sarcoxie, and by virtue of the writing took possession of Mrs. Fullerton’s property, and commenced to selling the same. Suspicion was excited. His answers to questions about Mrs. Fullerton’s whereabouts were unsatisfactory. He was arrested after an exciting chase, and through letters found on his person, attention was directed to a certain house in St. Louis. There the officers found Tommy in the person of a young woman, who confessed that she was Hutton’s wife and that she had consented to his fraudulent marriage of Miss Furguson [sic]. She had been drugged during the journey, and Miss Ferguson [sic] had disappeared, and, she had no doubt was murdered.

“In compliance with Hutton’s demand, she had personated [sic] Mrs. F. at Sedalia, in signing a false power of attorney, under which he returned and took possession of her property. He had then sent her to St. Louis where she was employed as a maid of all work in the house where she was arrested. A mob took Hutton from jail and hung him. He has passed by different names—‘Dan Springer,’ ‘Joseph Lee,’ ‘A. G. Hutton,’ and many others. The frail woman whose devotion to him led her to the committal of such revolting crimes is in jail in at Carthage. She says her maiden name was Mary Williams. She was born in Scioto County, Ohio; went to Oxford to school; became infatuated with [Hutton], ran away with him, and they were married in Ironton, in 1866. Afterward she went with him to Kansas, often dressing in male attire at his request, and in that garb was present when he married Miss Fullerton.”

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Franklin, Pennsylvania News-Herald, Thursday, 23 September, 1886

“Judge Thayer Again Sick”

“Warren, O., Sept. 23—The Webster murder trial is again fated with ill-luck. Judge Thayer, at the close of court Tuesday was taken with another fainting fit, and afterwards announced he would be unable to go farther with the case. Judge Nichols, of Columbiana, was telegraphed for, but he has announced his inability to come. The future course which will be pursed is not at this time known. The suspense and outlook is most discouraging to those interested.”

[Judge Thayer was eventually replaced by Court of Common Pleas Judge William Day of Canton, Ohio, in the trial of Lewis Webster, who was accused of killing elderly farmer Perry Harrington. This was Webster’s second retrial on the murder charge; he had been found guilty and sentenced to hang in both previous trials. According to Mrs. Harrington, Webster, wearing a mask, had burst into the couple’s farmhouse, demanded money, and then shot her in the side and arm when, after his mask slipped, she cried out that she knew who he was. Mrs. Harrington ran out of the house to a neighbor’s and upon return, found her husband dead, a bullet hole in his forehead. Astonishingly, Webster was acquitted at the third trial and went on to marry his then-fiancée and live in the town where his claims of innocence where finally vindicated.]

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Alexandria, Virginia Gazette, Friday, 4 June, 1858

“A Fatal Result”

“A fatal result from a common practice of school children is noticed in the papers. A little girl was going down the stairs some days ago, at a public school in New York, when she and some of her companions, taking hold of the banisters, proceeded to slide down. She struck her spine upon the point of a stick used to reach down bonnets and cloaks from the hooks. She was taken home, and died after lingering two days in intense agony.”

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Johnstown, Pennsylvania Weekly Democrat, Friday, 2 August, 1889

“Committed Suicide”

“John Snyder Ends His Life in Bantley & Fronheiser’s Store.”

“He Lost His Wife and Children in the Flood and Became Temporarily Insane—Four Shots Fired, Only One of Which Takes Effect.”

“John Snyder, aged about thirty-five years, son of Joseph Snyder, Sr., of Conemaug [sic] borough, suicided at noon Saturday, in the hardware store of Bantley & Fronheiser on Clifton Street. He went into the store and purchased a 38-caliber revolver from one of the clerks, who loaded it for him. There were quite a number of people in the store at the time, and after a short conversation with Mr. Ed. Fronheiser and Mr. J. L. Foust, the clerk who sold him the revolver, he turned as if to leave the store, and no further attention was paid to him. In a moment after he left the counter a shot was heard, and everyone turning around saw Snyder with the smoking revolver in his hand. He instantly fired three more shots, the last one taking effect in the right temple.

“The people gathered around the prostrate form but life was already extinct.

“Mr. Snyder lost his wife and four children in the flood [This refers to the Johnstown Flood, 31 May 1889, in which the insufficiently built South Fork Dam collapsed after days of heavy rainfaill, sending a literal tidalwave down the valley into the town, killing an estimated 2,209 people.], and did not recover from the excitement sustained by his great loss.

“He obtained work after the flood at Moxham, and attended to his duties for several weeks, but ultimately left and went to Ohio. He returned about a week ago, but still mourned for his wife and children. No cause is assigned for the rash act, other than temporary insanity.

“The body was removed to the home of his parents in Conemaugh borough, and Coronor Evans was notified. The coroner, however, decided an inquest unnecessary, as the case was one of plain suicide.

“The funeral took place yesterday afternoon at 2 o’clock from the Old American House at Conemaugh, where his parents live, and was private.

“The deceased was a wire drawer by trade, and worked in the Gautier works. He was a member of the Conemaugh borough Fire Company. He was much Esteemed by all who knew him, and great regret is expressed that he should so suddenly end his life.”

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Alexandria, Virginia Local News, Tuesday, 22 October, 1861

“Contraband Given Wages ”

“General Wool [John Ellis Wool (20 Feb., 1784-10 Nov., 1869)] has issued an order giving the ‘contraband’ employed in Fortress Monroe wages at the rate of $8 per month for the men, and $4 per month for the females.”

[The term “contraband” was applied to escaped African-American slaves who, after fleeing their owners, affiliated themselves with the Union Army. In this same year, the Contraband Act of 1861 stated that any Confederate military property, including slaves, would be confiscated. The 1862 Act Prohibiting the Return of  Slaves made sure that no escapee who made it to contraband camps would ever be returned to their masters.] Ω

Witness to Disaster

William Parry Rees was a man who died too young, but lived long enough to view an American tragedy.

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Funeral arrangement for William P. Rees, photographed by Edwards Brothers, 162 and 164 Main Street, Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

This wonderful funeral cabinet card includes a photograph of the deceased William P. Rees, as well as date of his death (4 March, 1891) and his age (“23 years and 4 months”). It also features the interesting inscription “A.O. of K.M.C and K. of G.E.” The first denotes the deceased’s membership in the fraternal society Ancient Order of Knights of the Mystic Chain. The second refers to his membership in the Knights of the Golden Eagle, a fraternal organization founded in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1872. The orders’ original objectives were to help its members find employment and aid them while unemployed. Membership was open to white males over 18, without physical or mental handicaps, who were able to write and to support themselves, were law-abiding of sound moral character, and of the Christian faith. There was a female auxiliary called the Ladies of the Golden Eagle.

A splinter group of the Knights of Pythias, the AO of KMC was founded in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1870. According to a website about the order, “Though it seems to have been quite popular in PA, it doesn’t seem to have made much headway outside of that state—it is not listed among the top forty fraternal orders in the world almanac of 1896 and probably had no more than 10,000-15,000 members at its peak. Like most small orders, it did not survive the Great Depression of the 1930s.”

Another site about the AO of KMC states that “This group was founded in 1871 in the traditions of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Amongst the founders were freemasons and Knights of Pythias. Some of the characteristics of this order can be traced to these two groups. The Knights of the Mystic Chain has three degrees: Knighthood, Mystery and Chivalry…. There was also a separate paramilitary uniform-rank and a degree for women: Naomi or the Daughters of Ruth. In 1889, the order started to work in insurance, however it never grew larger. At its top it had around 40,000 members. It disappeared in the first half of the 20th century.”

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William Parry Rees

William Parry Rees, the deceased young man who belonged to both of these groups and from whom these flowers—and possibly funeral expenses—presumably came, was born in Cefn Bychan, Denbighshire, Wales, in about 1866. He was the son of Baptist minister Llewellyn Rees (b. October 1835, Glyntawe, Breconshire, Wales) and his wife Elizabeth Edwards (b. 7 June 1839, Ystradgunlais, Breconshire, Wales, daughter of Edward Edwards and Elizabeth Parry), who wed in 1861. His elder brother Henry E. had been born in August 1863 in Carmarthenshire; his younger sister, Kate W., was born in Cefn Bychan in 1869.

The 1871 Wales Census places Elizabeth Rees alone at the address 1 Cefn Bychan, with her young children. The enumerator names her as head of household, but also notes in a scribble that the missing Reverent Rees “is abroad.” Cefn Bychan (“Little Ridge” in Welsh) is part of the larger community of Cefn within the County Borough of Wrexham. The area was heavy with iron, coal, and sandstone—therefore quite industrialized, with mining, blast furnaces, forges, and stone cutting aplenty.

The Rees family had crossed the Atlantic to the United States by the early 1870s. This is made clear by the 1880 census of Millville, Cambria County, Pennsylvania, which recorded the birth another son, Llewellyn, Jr., in Texas about seven years before. Further evidence in the 1900 census narrows the emigration year to 1871, probably just after the Welsh census indicated the Reverend Rees was abroad. Chances are that he was already in America and that his wife and children followed when the way had been prepared.

Sadly, the Rees’s daughter, Kate was not to long enjoy her new life in America. Eleven-year-old Kate and her seven-year-old brother Llewellyn both died 11 November, 1880, certainly from infectious disease, and were buried in Johnstown’s Grandview Cemetery on 13 November. It must have been a terrible blow to Elizabeth and Reverend Rees. Like many grieving parents, they tried to replace the beloveds they had lost. The following year, 42-year-old Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter they named Edith. Elizabeth fell pregnant again in 1882, but the child died at birth. Grandview cemetery recorded the burial of a “Son of Elizabeth Rees” in the same plot as other Rees family members. Mysteriously, that interment did not take place until 1890, although the death had occurred eight years earlier, suggesting the infant was first laid to rest in another location.

Both Reverend Rees, his eldest son Henry, and second son William (whose professions were listed as railroad engineers), appeared in an 1887 city directory for Johnstown, living in Elk Street, Morrellville, a borough just outside of the town. They and the rest of the Rees clan were shortly to witness one of the most horrific disasters in U.S. history—the apocalyptic flood that devastated Johnstown on 31 May, 1889. The catastrophe resulted from the failure of the South Fork Dam of the Little Conemaugh River, 14 miles upstream from the town, killing 2,209 people.

“The South Fork dam held back Lake Conemaugh, the pleasure lake of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, a prestigious club which included such famed entrepreneurs as Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick on its membership rolls. Officials there feared the dam would fail…. The lake was a little over two miles long, a little over a mile wide at its widest spot, and 60 feet deep at the dam itself,” wrote Edwin Hutcheson in Floods of Johnstown.

The flood was described by Hutcheson as “a body of water which engineers at the time estimated moved into the valley with the force of Niagara Falls. [It] rolled into Johnstown with 14 miles of accumulated debris, which included houses, barns, animals and people, dead and alive.”

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Main Street, Johnstown, Pennsylvania, after the 1889 flood.

There are a number individuals surnamed Rees who died in the Johnstown flood, but none of these were definitively related to the Reverend Llewellyn Rees family. In fact, the 1889 Johnstown directory denoted men killed by crosses typeset beside their names. Reverend Rees is included in that directory—sans cross—as the pastor of the Baptist church in Morrellville. The same directory includes a lengthy news account of the flood and notes that “Morrellville…escaped with slight comparative loss, and the same is true of all towns farther down the river, but the people of these had the exciting and heart-rending experience of rescuing many that had floated down from Johnstown, and of seeing others go by without being able to assist them.” The reverend and his sons would almost certainly have been amongst the rescuers who tried to save people during the flood and who searched for survivors and victims in the aftermath.

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Men removing a body from the debris after the Johnstown Flood.

On 4 March, 1891, less than two years after his town was decimated, railroad engineer William Rees died of as yet undiscovered causes—as young has he was, infectious disease or accident are surely to blame. He was buried several days later in the Grandview Cemetery Rees family plot.

In 1893, the Johnstown directory listed Reverend Rees at 234 Fairfield Avenue. His eldest son Henry, also resided in the house. The reverend and Henry were listed at the same address in 1899. With them was Elizabeth Rees and Edith, still a student.

The 1900 census of Johnstown placed the Reverend Rees and his wife alone in their home. Eldest son Henry was in Johnstown, but had a new home with his wife Esther Cole, whom he had married in 1896. Esther had been born in Wales in December 1871 and had come to America in 1897. If the marriage date of 1896 is correct, it implies that Henry had returned to Wales and there found a bride. Also living with the couple was Esther’s niece, Mary Cole (b. January. 1888, Wales), who had emigrated in 1898 or 1899. In 1901, the couple had a son whom they named Ralph E. Rees. Esther Cole Rees died 27 February, 1908.

The Reverend Rees died 15 March, 1911, and is buried at Grandview. Daughter Edith Rees, became a school teacher at the Bheam School just down the street from the family home, remained with her mother, Elizabeth, until at least 1920, when both women are recorded together on the census. Elizabeth Rees died of a cerebral hemorrhage 3 September, 1922, and was buried at Grandview three days later.

Henry Rees appears on the 1910 census of Wilkensburg, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, as a 47-year-old widower and a laborer at the Westinghouse Air Brake Company. His wife’s niece, Mary, also dwelt with Henry, probably caring for his son, and may have doing so since his birth. Ralph would eventually go west to Billings, Montana, appearing on censuses there after 1930. He married a woman named Beatrice and had at least one son and two daughters.

Daughter Edith also went west to Kirby, Big Horn County, Montana, where she married William H. Furman (24 Nov., 1874-22 May, 1955). Edith died 5 January, 1971. Ω