The Tragic Life and Death of Emma Drake

“Deserted by Wife,” Lancaster Eagle-Gazette, 18 Feb 1815, p. 5, col. 1; digital images, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 15 February 2017).

Growing up in Pickaway County, Ohio, it felt like it was all just farm and field.  The Circleville Pumpkin Show and the Ashville Fourth of July celebrations are about as exciting as it gets during the year and life is fairly quiet there, generally speaking. When I describe my hometown, the words I use are: quaint, charming, old fashioned and family friendly.  Sure, it’s a great place to raise kids or live out your golden years since there’s not a bunch of crime or the likes but as a young girl, all I could think about was getting out, finding excitement and leaving those corn fields behind.  Not that I’m full of wanderlust but I just knew there had to be “more” out there beyond those county lines.

As I recently began working farther into my maternal line, I discovered my 4th aunt, Emma Drake. She was born 9 September 1876 in Washington Township in Pickaway County, the youngest child of Jesse Drake and Elizabeth Valentine.¹ Emma married a George Leist in 1897 but the 1900 census puts her back at home with her widowed father and some siblings.  Whether they were just separated or not, I can’t tell as George escapes me on the 1900 census but if there was a rift, it must have been shortly repaired because Emma eventually has four children by George: Robert, Georgia, Catherine, and Florence.  She is found listed in the 1910 census as divorced and living alone with her four children in Circleville, Ohio, working as a laundress.²

On the 18th of July 1914, Emma marries a German man named Henry Herman and here’s where everything goes… strangely wrong for poor Emma. According to a newspaper article in the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette, Henry had been out of work since the time he and Emma married.  Apparently, being out of work and other family issues troubled Henry and he began drinking.  So it happened on the night of the 16th of February 1915, Henry again was drinking, came home and fought with Emma, who left him.  Two mornings later, on Thursday, the 18th, Henry went around town looking for his wife and knocked on the door of one of her friends.  When he inquired if Emma was there, the friend replied “no.”  Henry popped open a bottle of liquor laced with carbolic acid and drank it, hurled it against a fence and staggered before he fell over dead.  As awful of an ending as poor Henry had, Emma’s was equally horrible; she died of shock after being struck by lightning, the circumstances of which, I’ve not yet found reported anywhere, but how random.³

As I worked through her records, I felt such a bond with her as so much of my early years mimicked hers – early marriage, moving home at one point and being a young, single mother.  I wonder if she, too, didn’t look at those same cornfields and desire “more” out of life.  Just seems she got the short end of the stick all the way around, you know? Made me remember that saying – “If I didn’t have bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all?”  I feel like that sums up Emma and I to a tee.


Sources:

¹”Ohio, County Births, 1841-2003,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/X634-J3L : 22 December 2016), Emma Drake, 09 Sep 1876; citing Birth, Washington, Pickaway, Ohio, United States, county courthouses, Ohio; FHL microfilm 288,391.

² 1910 U.S. census, Pickaway County, Ohio, population schedule, Circleville Ward 3, Enumeration District (ED) 6-145, sheet 5-A, p. 79 (stamped), dwelling 338, family 108, Emma Leist; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 15 February 2017), citing National Archives microfilm publication T624, roll 1223.

³ “Ohio Deaths, 1908-1953,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GPK3-JLN?cc=1307272&wc=MD9X-YTL%3A287599001%2C294557301 : 21 May 2014), 1916 > image 2387 of 3301.

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