He died among strangers; the sad tale of a 1915 suicide

Gravestones are typically vague beyond name and date of birth and death, but if they include and an editorial flourish, most are laudatory. This can come in the form of a familial platitude: Loving husband and father; a religious bent: Asleep in Jesus; or an indication of virtue: Generous of Heart, Constant of Faith.

A few, however, reflect mystery, sadness or even both.

In Newberry, S.C.’s Rosemont Cemetery is an aging tombstone for one G.W. Dunn. It reads:

“Died in Union Station June 21, 1915 / He Died A Stranger Among Strangers”

The search of old newspapers turned up some background on G.W. Dunn, and it is indeed a forlorn story.

Under the headline “Man Suicides in Newberry,” The Newberry Herald and News reported on June 25, 1915, that Dunn killed himself in the city’s train station by drinking carbolic acid. He was subsequently buried in the city, even though he hailed from several hours away.

“(Dunn) had written a note, which he put on his hat, and then stretched himself on the floor with his head on a bench. It was so clear a case of suicide Coroner Lindsay held no inquest,” according to the paper. “Several passengers saw the man lying in the waiting room, but thought nothing of it, until a drummer (salesman) examined the body, having noticed something wrong.”

Being a different era, the contents of the note were released to the press, and detailed in the Herald and News:

Gravestone of G.W. Dunn, buried in Rosemont Cemetery, Newberry, S.C.

“To the City Authorities of Newberry: I am going to kill myself – and there will not be any use in notifying my people, as I would rather they not know anything about this. I want the city to bury me, and after that you can write to A.B. Dunn, Round, S.C. My name is G.W. Dunn.”

Round, S.C., today known as Round O, is located in Colleton County, not too far from Charleston. It was several hours travel from Newberry in 1915, even by train.

The man’s family was contacted, but, according to the story, “the police chief at Walterboro phoned that the man’s people were not able to look after him. They requested that he be buried here.”

He was interred in Rosemont Cemetery the day following his death, with a local minister conducting the service.

That Dunn was down on his luck is apparent. The paper noted that he was about 35 years old, had one leg and went about on crutches.

It didn’t appear Dunn had come to Newberry to end his life. He arrived in town earlier on the day of his death, from Columbia, about 30 miles south, and spent the day looking for work. He had eaten lunch at a downtown restaurant and left a bundle of clothes, saying he would probably return for supper.

“It appears that the unfortunate man had tried to get work here,” according to the paper. “Mr. W.H. Hardeman of the Newbery Cotton Mill says he applied to him for a job, but there was nothing or him to do there, as machinery has supplanted the hand labor the man had been used to. He tried elsewhere for work, but failed.

“In his despondency, lonely and friendless, the crippled stranger within our gates, with poverty and no work staring him in the face, perhaps without a home fit to be called a home, drank poison and died. He was given a decent burial,” the story concluded.

Dunn had 40 cents in pocket when he was found.

More than a century later, one cannot read of Dunn’s death without feeling a twinge of sadness. To end one’s days in a distant town, with one’s family unable or unwilling to foot the expense to have your body returned home inspires melancholy.

G.W. Dunn rests today on knoll in one of the lonelier parts of the cemetery, the heartrending words on his tombstone faded by time. One can only hope that this “stranger” found some measure of peace in the hereafter.

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Smartphone technology drags Luddite into 21st century

While I may not have been the last able-bodied adult in the Western world to switch from flip phone to smartphone, it certainly seemed that way at times.

Mind you, this generally wasn’t perceived as a negative, at least by me, particularly when watching hordes of students wandering across streets oblivious to everything but the little toy in their hands, or witnessing families in restaurants silently engrossed in their individual phones rather than talking with one another.

But with a passel of children who don’t do email and prefer instead to text, it was becoming increasingly obvious that I would have to make the move at some point.

An example: in the time it would take me to poke out a finger-by-finger response to one of my daughters’ texts, three more would arrived. Recognizing that, due to some sort of logarithmic progression, I could only fall further and further behind, I would at that point simply pick up the phone to stop the madness.

But what finally convinced me to make the jump a couple of months back was the incredible quality of smartphone cameras.

The above photo was taken recently by Daughter No. 1 at sunset in Lexington County, SC. I have used a Kodak EX with optical zoom for the past 10 years and even compensating for operator error, there is no way my camera could have managed a photo as stunning as that above.

Even more remarkable is that she doesn’t have a state-of-the-art 2017 model, but one that is somewhere between three and five years old.

The technological advances made in smartphone cameras have been nothing short of remarkable over the past 10 years.

“The main technical difference between smartphone cameras and standalone digital cameras is that smartphones use tiny lenses and tiny sensors. The smartphone’s results ought to be much worse. They are not,” according to The Guardian. “Smartphones produce high-quality results by using their powerful processors and built-in graphics engines to process the image data and compensate for their technical limitations.”

Best of all, phones with high-quality cameras that were quite pricey two or three years ago are now very affordable. The same will almost certainly be the case two or three years down the road with what is cutting-edge today.

One supposes it has never been easier or more convenient to take high-quality images at any time in history.

Jesus: Apostles needed; Goliath need not apply

the last supper

I’ve occasionally pondered a blog dedicated solely to the religious adventures of Daughter No. 3. For one, there’s definitely no lack of material. She’s the one who most recently expressed interest in looking into the church role of “crucifier” (rather than “crucifer,” the individual who carries the processional cross into and out of church at the beginning and end of mass).

But as much as I chortle at some of her misguided answers to basic Christian history, I often find even better her attempts to explain her lack of knowledge.

Last week, for some reason (perhaps simply because I decided it was time for a little levity), I asked Daughter No. 3 what term was used to refer to the men closest to Jesus.

“UH, UH, UH, I KNOW THIS! I KNOW THIS! – The Twelve Disciples!” she shouted, proud as a peacock.

“No, not quite,” I replied. “You got the number right, but you missed on the title.”

“What?!? 12 Disciples! It’s disciples, I know it’s disciples!”

“No, I’m sorry, it’s not,” I stated. Then, looking at her siblings, I asked, “Anyone else?”

In unison I heard, “The Twelve Apostles!”

Daughter No. 3 was less than impressed. “Disciples, apostles, what’s the difference?”

After explaining that any follower can be considered a disciple, but the 12 specific individuals who were Jesus’ closest followers were his apostles, she seemed less than convinced.

So I followed up with, “All right, how many of the Twelve Apostles can you name?”

This, of course, is where the fun began; Daughter No. 3 began racking her brain for biblical names.

“David … Jonah … Adam … Abraham; how about those?” she asks.

“Well, you seem to be on a decidedly Old Testament bent, sweetheart,” I told her. “Think New Testament.”

She paused, then blurted out, “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John!”

“I’ll give you credit for two,” I replied, figuring that then was not the time for a discourse on who the actual authors of the books of Matthew or John might have been, or that the authors of Mark and Luke are not known. “That means you’ve got four more to go to get to 12.”

She paused, then reverted back to the Old Testament: Daniel? … Noah? … Moses? …. Did I already say David?”

“Yes. You need one more.”

“Uh, Joseph,” she said.

“Which Joseph,” I asked. “There are several in the bible.

Goliath, who didn't make Daughter No. 3's list as one of the Twelve Apostles.

Goliath, center left, who didn’t make Daughter No. 3’s list as one of the Twelve Apostles.

She stared blankly back at me in the rearview mirror. I tossed out a name: “How about Joseph, Jesus’ father?”

“Yeah, that’s a good one.”

I looked at her incredulously. “If your brother was, heaven help us, a religious figure of some stature, do you think he would want me as one of his apostles?”

That brought a round of laughs.

Still, she wasn’t budging from Joseph, the father of Jesus.

“Congratulations,” I said in my best game show host’s voice. “You just named two out of 12 of the apostles. And to think you completed a two-year confirmation course just two weeks ago.”

“They didn’t teach us anything,” she blurted out in semi-disgust.

“Oh, I have a feeling they taught you plenty, you just weren’t learning,” I told her.

With that, I got a wave of the hand and a laugh. She knows that since I teach in the same faith formation program, I have at least a slight idea what was going on in her class.

I did give her credit, though. For once she didn’t go to her safety answer for all bible questions. Typically, the first name blurted out, no matter what the question, is “Goliath.”

Progress is coming in very, very small baby steps, but it is progress nonetheless.

(Top: Leonardo’s Last Supper, showing Jesus and the Twelve Apostles.)

Remembering the Boykin Mill Pond tragedy, 150+ years later

boykin mill pond

Boykin, SC, a rural community of 100 people located east of Columbia, is known for an eclectic Christmas parade, a grist mill that began operation in the 18th century, a skirmish that took place in the waning days of the War Between the States, a shop that sells handmade brooms and a handful of small restaurants housed in 19th century structures.

It’s also the site of the Boykin Mill Pond tragedy, which occurred on May 5, 1860, when at least two dozen individuals drowned while on a pleasure cruise.

More than 50 people, including several young children, set out on a flatboat on the 400-acre pond. The disaster began when the boat was said to have struck a stump.

Ralph Leland Goodrich, a New Yorker teaching in Camden in the early months of 1860, detailed the events in his diary: “No immediate danger was apprehended, but then the boat began to take on water. Watching from shore, their friends gradually stopped laughing and eating and then began to panic. Some few tried to swim out to them but it was too late. Most of those on the boat were young women and girls, whose skirts became extremely heavy as the boat began to sink. The boys on board tried to help, but most went down in a single mass, clinging to each other as drowning victims do.”

It’s possible the disaster might have been averted had the passengers not panicked, but when they noticed the flatboat taking on water, everyone moved en masse to one end and the boat tipped, dumping all into the water.

Gravestone of Mary Ann Young, which details her death at Boykin Mill Pond, May 6, 1860.

Gravestone of Mary Ann Young in Rembert Methodist Church cemetery, which details her death at Boykin Mill Pond, May 5, 1860.

Rembert Methodist Church

The names of the individuals who lost their lives in the Boykin Mill Pond tragedy as well as Goodrich’s details are part of CSI: Dixie, a project of the Center for Virtual History at the University of Georgia, which collected 1,582 coroners’ reports from six Upstate South Carolina counties for the years 1800-1900.

The findings of the coroners’ inquest for the victims of the Boykin Mill Pond tragedy is short, if not sweet.

For Amelia A. Alexander, 20, of Camden, SC, it reads: “… upon their oaths do say that the said Amelia A. Alexander came to her death by accidental drowning in the millpond of A.H. Boykin … by sinking of a Flat caused by the weight of between fifty-three & fifty-six persons.”

At least four sets of siblings lost their lives in the tragedy, including Samuel Young, 7; Mary Ann Young, 11; and Hollie Young, who would have turned 19 the following day.

Goodrich wrote of following a wagon-load of four bodies that “all went to the same house,” according to CSI: Dixie.

He helped dress the corpses as the mother “whose almost every child was gone,” wailed ‘“& these too, & these too?’” over and over. Her “grief could not be measured,” he later wrote.

Several of the victims are buried in Camden’s Quaker Cemetery while a handful of others are buried in the graveyard at Rembert Methodist Church, in neighboring Lee County. Others were buried in family plots whose location is unknown at present.

The number of deaths isn’t definitive; while at least one slave was among the dead in the coroner’s report, it is believed others may have been onboard and lost their lives, as well, but gone uncounted.

(HT: Waldo Lydecker’s Journal)

(Top: View of Boykin Mill Pond; below: grist mill that gets power from Boykin Mill Pond.)

boykin-mill-farm

The journey of a lifetime, more than a lifetime ago

HJSmith

Nearly a century ago, as World War I was entering its final stages, a couple from South Carolina made a journey north to perhaps put to rest a ghost of another bloody conflict, one that had ended more than five decades prior.

Mr. and Mrs. Wattie Gaillard Smith of Columbia traveled to Shepherdstown, WV, to visit sisters Annie Licklider and Bettie Licklider Rentch, and to pay their respects at the grave of Smith’s father, Capt. Henry Julius Smith, who had fallen at the Battle of Antietam in September 1862.

Wounded during the bloodiest battle on American soil, Smith, a captain with South Carolina’s Hampton Legion, was evacuated with many other injured men, according to the June 6, 1918, edition of the Shepherdstown Register, in a story titled ‘A Reminder of the Battle of Antietam’.

“Shepherdstown … indeed, was one great hospital, where the churches, public buildings and private homes were thrown open for the care of the suffering soldiers,” according to the publication.

Smith was brought to the home of Grandison T. Licklider, Bettie and Annie’s father, and “he was tenderly cared for and given every attention, but he survived only a few days,” the Register reported.

Henry Julius SmithAfter Smith died, he was interred in Elmwood Cemetery in Shepherdstown, which was still part of Virginia until the following year.

Grandison Licklider sent the captain’s sword, sash and other possessions to Smith’s widow and for some time the two exchanged letters, but with their deaths the connection between the families was lost.

Henry Smith was a 28-year-old attorney when he enlisted on June 15, 1861, as captain of Company D of the Hampton Legion, the unit put together by South Carolina planter and future Army of Northern Virginia cavalry commander Wade Hampton.

National Archives records appear to indicate that Smith, said to have been shot in the heart, died on Sept. 21, 1862, four days after the Battle of Antietam. Smith was one of nearly 23,000 men who were killed, wounded or left missing after the one-day clash.

Wattie Smith was just an infant when his father died, but had always desired to visit Shepherdstown and see his father’s grave, and to thank those who ministered to the soldiers, or the descendants of those who had cared for the fallen.

In the late spring of 1918 he got the opportunity to learn firsthand of his father’s final days.

Wattie G. Smith

Wattie G. Smith

Rentch (1850-1945) and Annie Licklider (1854-1941) were 12 and nearly 8 years old, respectively, when Capt. Smith was brought to their home following the battle, and remembered the Confederate officer very well. They were able to give his son “much acceptable information concerning his father,” according to the Shepherdstown publication.

The Smiths then “visited the grave in the cemetery, and the son expressed great appreciation of the kindness of those who had kept it green all these years,” the Register added.

Smith was a man of some significance in the Palmetto State, having been appointed State Warehouse Commissioner in 1917 by the General Assembly.

Reading this account one is struck by the limitations of travel a century ago. Automobiles were still in their relative infancy and there was no Interstate Highway System; traveling long distances was an iffy proposition given the state of roads. Train travel was more reliable, but it took considerable time to traverse any expanse.

The distance between Orangeburg, SC, and Shepherdstown, WV, was less than 600 miles – a single day’s drive today that requires little more than plugging a destination into a GPS and filling up with gas a couple of times at the innumerable fueling stations along the route – but then was a trek that required serious planning, a good deal of perseverance and no small amount of fortitude.

Near the end of the article, the Register opines that Smith and his wife “were profoundly pleased and impressed with their visit here and we are sure that they will want to come again when they can stay longer.”

It’s unlikely that occurred, though, as Smith died in early 1920, at age 58. Both of the sisters who had been on hand during his father’s final days in their Shepherdstown home outlived him by more than 20 years.

(Top: Grave of Henry J. Smith of South Carolina, among more than 100 wounded Confederate soldiers who were brought to Shepherdstown and later died, and then were buried in the town’s Elmwood Cemetery.)

Daughter No. 3 exhibits extreme fluidity on church roles

hammer nail

Daughter No. 3 – the one who is so adept at (unintentionally) leaving her sisters and I in stitches by recounting such Old Testament narratives as Jonah’s Ark, how Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden for “eating the Poisonous Peach” and Moses’ adventures leading the Hebrews out of Egypt and through the Wilderness while garbed in a “flowing red bathrobe” – has shown an interest in participating in church services.

This not only surprised me but made me swell a bit with pride. Maybe I’m doing something right.

So after a recent mass she approached the parish priest and inquired about if she could assist with mass.

I later asked how it went: “So, are you going to be an altar server?”

“No, not an altar server, but something else,” she replied. “I’m not sure what it’s called exactly. Does ‘crucifier’ sound right?”

I couldn’t help but immediately burst into laughter.

Crucifer leading procession into church. 'Crucifier' not pictured.

Crucifer leading procession into church. ‘Crucifier’ not pictured.

“No,” I said after a good 20 seconds of cackling, “that doesn’t sound quite right, Sweetheart. The Church really isn’t into crucifying anyone, especially considering what happened, oh, about 2,000 years ago. ‘Crucifier’ sounds more like a rock band or the name of an enforcer. You could be Caroline the Crucifier.”

“Well,” she replied, waving off my remark, “it’s something like that. Whatever it’s called, they want me to carry the cross into church at the start of mass because I’m tall.”

The word she was searching for was “crucifer” so she really wasn’t too far off. A crucifer carries the processional cross into church at the beginning of mass and out at the end.

Of course, I said I was proud of her for showing an interest in participating, but only Daughter No. 3 would come up with “crucifier” as a potential church duty.

Never a dull moment with my brood.

An unintended foray into falconry proves fulfilling

hawk paint

One of my many blessings is that my children love the outdoors and wildlife as much as I do. They’re always up for wading in a creek, tramping through the woods or driving to some distant unpopulated region for a gander at local fauna. Yesterday, I was rewarded once again for their willingness to abide by their dad’s need to get outside.

While trying to make the best of a wet afternoon we took a drive through rural farmland 15 miles north of home. Along one stretch of rural countryside we saw a red-tailed hawk go hopping across the road. A vehicle came slowly in the other direction and the bird of prey, rather than flying away, bounded off the road and into a ditch.

As the other vehicle passed, I pulled my car over and told my girls to take pictures of the hawk, which was about 15 feet away. I then got out of the car and slowly moved toward it. I could tell something wasn’t right, but I expected it to burrow into the nearby hedgerow and thereby elude me.

Instead, it stayed where it was, eyeing me warily. I got within about three feet and had one of my daughters bring me a sweatshirt. Given the size of the raptor’s beak and talons, I very carefully tried to wrap the sweatshirt around it. The hawk fell back at first, but didn’t put up too much of a fight.

I was able to carefully pick it up and show it to my girls, who, being 15, 14 and 12, were all “oohs” and “ahs.”

Me with somewhat confused red-tailed hawk. No hawks or humans were harmed in the making of this image.

Me with somewhat confused red-tailed hawk. No hawks or humans were harmed in the making of this image.

The hawk was wet and cold. We decided that given the weather – cold and rainy with more of the same expected for the foreseeable future – we would take it to a wildlife rescue shelter about 20 miles away.

One of my girls brought me another sweatshirt, this one pink, so we could make sure his talons were wrapped up and dad didn’t end up with deep lacerations about his body, and I slowly lowered myself into the car holding the hawk. Gently clutching our new companion with my left hand, I started the car and pulled forward, steering with my right hand.

My daughters were transfixed by the bird. Although most of the cinnamon-colored hawk was wrapped up, they could easily see its sharp beak and proud eyes, which gave it a fierce visage.

It was, like most birds, incredibly light for its size, weighing no more than 3 or 4 pounds. But it was two feet tall from head to talons, and its wingspan would likely have been at least four feet, had it had an opportunity to show off its plumage.

Not surprising given the car’s occupants, it was quickly given a series of names: Cooper (we initially thought it was a Cooper’s Hawk); Cosmo and Xenon (being a noble-looking bird, Daughter No. 4 thought it should be named for one of the noble gases and helium, neon, krypton and radon weren’t cutting it.) Ultimately, it ended up with three different names – one from each daughter – none of which, of course, the bird showed any interest in responding to.

A good portion of the trip was on an Interstate, and while I was busy keeping my eyes either on the road or the bird, hoping it wouldn’t decide to crane its neck around and take a nip at my neck or face, I can only image what fellow drivers thought as they passed our car and caught a glimpse of a middle-aged man driving down the road with a fierce-looking raptor sitting on his lap.

We eventually made our way to the Carolina Wildlife Center with neither man nor hawk suffering injury or embarrassment.

As I carried the bird of prey into the center I noticed the other rescued animals on hand, including a baby possum, a squirrel and a blue jay. I somehow resisted the urge to thump my chest, swagger around and crow about how my beast could not only best all the others, but eat each one, as well.

Instead, we filled out an information card, thanked them for taking our hawk and went on our way.