Death by Railroad Car

new-york-central-railroad

KILLED AT HUDSON. [1911]

Charles Brooks, a former resident of Cherry Valley, was killed by the cars at Hudson, Sunday [February 26th]. Particulars of his death have not been received. He was in the employ of the Western Union Telegraph company and was one of the most valued of its employees. Mr. Brooks was born in Cherry Valley about fifty years ago, and his boyhood and early manhood were passed there. He was a pleasant, companionable man and had many warm friends here, who will feel deep sorrow at his loss. He leaves a widow and one child, as well as one sister, Mrs. Samuel Millson [Eliza Jane or Jennie], of North Adams, Mass. and two brothers, Andrew of this village, and Benjamin of Hawthorne.1

Charles Brooks was the youngest known child of David Brooks (brother of my ggg-grandfather John Brooks). His sister Sarah, who married a Woodward, was actually still alive but not mentioned in the obituary. She was living in Rochester, New York with one of her daughters.

According to his wife’s obituary from 1953:

Her husband, who was an employee of the New York Central railroad, was killed in a rail accident on February 26, 1911. An only son of the couple met with accidental death while with the Armed Forces in [Delhamps, Mobile County] Alabama on January 5, 1917.2

Unfortunately, I have been unable to find out anymore on their only child’s death. I can only assume it was a military training accident. A sad end to this Brooks line.


1. The Otsego Farmer, Vol. XXV, No. 13, (Cooperstown, New York), March 3, 1911, page 1; http://fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html.

2. The Freeman’s Journal (Cooperstown, New York), January 14, 1953, page 6; http://fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html.

Source for image: https://ssl.bing.com/images/search?q=New+York+Central+Railroad&form=RESTAB&first=1&cw=2007&ch=1219

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Love at first sight?

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Clarence John and Myrtle Hamm, newlyweds.

My father remembers being told, when he was younger, that his parents had met when Clarence was injured in a train accident and Myrtle was taking care of him at a hospital in Marshfield where she was working as a nurse.

He didn’t have any more details than that. So for the past 15+ years I have waited patiently to find the newspaper article that would mention this accident and give me more details. Thankfully, the Oconto County Historical Society is currently making great efforts to digitize the Oconto County newspapers, and I have found some great articles in the past. A recent check of their progress gave me the answer I have been seeking:

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The Gillett Times, v27n50, Gillett, Wisconsin, Thursday, August 4, 1927, page 1.

The article certainly confirms that Clarence was in a train accident, and he was sent to the Marshfield hospital, where Mrytle would have been working at the time, (she had graduated from nursing school in May of that same year.)

It is believed that Clarence received a pretty hefty settlement from the railroad and this is probably the money he used to start his own business. A bowling alley.

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The Gillett Times, v28n15, Gillett, Wisconsin, Thursday, November 29, 1928, page 1.

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Here is a matchbook saved by the family from the bowling alley.

It is said that because Clarence’s venture started not long before the crash of 1929 and folks no longer had extra money to spend on luxury outings, such as bowling, the business didn’t last very long. But, I have no proof of that yet. I guess I will have to dig a little deeper.

In 1931, a little over 3 years after they met, Clarence and Myrtle ran away to Illinois and were married at the court house. Was it love at first sight? Only they know, and they aren’t talking.

Carrie Sues the Railroad…

Carrie8 (Kari7, Kari6, Ingeborg5, Kari4, Agnete3, Auslauf2, Kari1 Persdotter Finneid) Amundson Hamm who married Frederick Hamm sometime around 1903, had had a child with a gentleman by the name of John Gustafson in 1900. It is currently unknown as to whether or not they were actually married. This child was named John C. Gustafson, (the initial ‘C’ is said to stand for Cornelius). We know very little about John’s childhood, other than the fact that in 1908, when Carrie took Fred to court for non-support of his family (which consisted of her and my grandmother Myrtle at the time), it was mentioned by Fred that her 8 year old son John was living with his grandparents Amund and Jorgina Amundson. Nothing is known about John’s father.

It appears that like my grandmother Myrtle, her half-brother John spent very little time living with their mother Carrie, certainly not when the census takers came around.1 The reason for Carrie’s abdication of her motherly duties is never made clear to us, so any reasons we would give would be mere speculation. I believe that she was simply incapable of doing so due to mental health.

Because Carrie’s mother Jorgina had died in 1907 and her father Amund in 1917, John was now no longer living with his grandparents, and likely on his own at the age of about 17 working to feed himself and possibly helping his mother out. We do not know how close their relationship was, or even if they had one. But in 1920 when he was injured on the job Carrie stepped up to the plate to help him get monetary compensation from his employers:

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News-Tribune newspaper article about the court case. His mother Carrie is on the left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John’s grandfather Amund, and step-father Fred, had both worked at the ore-docks of the Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railroad company in Duluth’s harbor in the early 1900s, information which is found in the city directories. John most likely got the job because his grandfather had been there for many years, so he had an ‘in’. The image below is what the docks looked like at the time of his accident.

 

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Ore docks of the Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railroad where John was injured.

 

According to the personal injury case (#43788) dated September 4th of 1920, Carrie was filing as John’s guardian against the DM&NRR railroad because of permanent injuries he had suffered while working at the ore-dock. Carrie brought the suit as John’s guardian because he was only 19 years old and therefore still considered a minor, as such he was unable to bring a lawsuit on his own. If indeed that was what he wanted.

The complaint stated that John had been working for DM&NRR for some time on the ore-docks, performing duties related to unloading the vessels. A description of how the unloading of the ore was also provided in the record as follows.

Ore-Dock-Duluth

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The ships containing the ore in which John worked were unloaded with complicated machinery. This type of vessel had a number of large compartments each separated by large beams running across from side to side. Each compartment was equipped with a large hatchway that ran across the deck of the ship and allowed access to the hold. Hoisting rigs were arranged along the dock so that they could be moved to a point above any of the hatchways. These rigs consisted of a horizontal track suspended at a great height above the ship and ran from a point above the hatchway back over and upon the dock. Attached to the rig is a carriage which moves back and forth carrying a heavy steel cable from which a clam shell bucket was hung, this bucket was dropped down into the hold to grabbed the coal and pull it up to the dock where is was then deposited into a big pile.

The people who operated the rigs were called hoisters. The rate of speed with which these rigs ran was ‘terrific’, and the speed also caused the clam shells to swing and sway from one side to another striking against walls of the hold, which made it pretty dangerous for the employees who were working in the hold where the ore was being removed.

On this particular day John’s job was as one of the ‘cleaners up.’ They shoveled the coal left in the hold, that the rigs couldn’t reach, in a pile to the center where it could then be lifted out. This work was tiring and required undivided attention of the ‘cleaners up’ to avoid getting ‘eaten’ by the clam shells. It was while one of these clam shells was being carelessly manipulated by a hoister, according to the complaint, that John was struck by the device and injured. In fact he was injured so badly that his right foot had to eventually be amputated above the ankle.

Of course, the railroad answered that they were not responsible for his loss and a court date was set. Unfortunately, I don’t know what happened with the case from there, as there is nothing further in the records regarding its progress.  I will assume that the parties settled, but the case could have been dismissed too. John was now a 20  year old young man out of a job and disabled.  I can only imagine how long it must’ve taken him to recover from having his foot amputated and then trying to find work after that.

By 1923/4 John was married a woman slightly older than himself, by the name of Lillian Jarvella (or Lania/Lavis/Lavia, records are quite varied regarding her last name). They eventually had 9 children together*, some I am sure who are still around as they were born in the 30s and 40s. According to census records John was working as a farmer in the 1930s and a paper hanger in the 1940s. He died in 1985 in Minneapolis.

* John and Lillian named one of their sons Clarence and one of their daughters Myrtle. After his half-sister and her soon to be husband? Hmmm.

1 Myrtle did live with her mother from birth, 1906, to at least 1908. But by the 1910 census and thereafter, until her marriage, she was permanently residing with her Hamm grandparents in Wisconsin.