The Eccard Family Tragedy Explained

From The Lima News (Lima, Ohio),
14 Oct 1915, Thu • Pg 10, Col 4


One of the more outrageous family stories I share with my genealogy students is the double suicide of my 3rd great-grandparents, the Eccards, in 1915. I had used their tragic deaths as a way to illustrate how to be prepared for finding sad and unexpected events in your family tree.  But now, in light of new evidence, I can use them to illustrate how family lore can absolutely be wrong and why you need that paper trail to corroborate (or disprove) things you’ve been told.  Such is the case with the Eccards.

When I first found their death certificates in the process of doing my DAR application, I turned to my great Aunt Rosie, the Eccards’ great-granddaughter.  If you’ve read me before, you might remember Aunt Rosie was also interested in genealogy until her death this past year, so I turned to her a lot with questions.  So, when I asked her about the Eccards, she shared that her grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Eccard Jones, was very pregnant at the time so she wasn’t able to attend her parent’s funerals.  She also said that she heard two theories about why they committed suicide – one was that they were swindled out of their farm by a sleazy lawyer and the other was that the wife, Mary Alice Drake Eccard, was terminally ill and her husband Gideon couldn’t bear to live without her and they had a “suicide pact” of sorts.

As part of my regular search, I did check into the land transactions to see if some lawyer did swindle them and I found nothing at all to indicate that they were ever land owners.  In fact, in every census that the Eccards were married, they rented so that theory seemed to be debunked.  As far as Mary Alice being terminally ill, that was harder to discount or disprove but her death certificate gives no mention of a secondary cause or illness – just the carbolic acid caused her sudden death.  Even 103 years later, I think that would be hard to actually disprove with all certainty, but it doesn’t feel like she was suffering from any terminal causes.  (especially in light of my newly found evidence)

In the newspapers online, I found just the tiniest mention of their double suicide.  No details, no motives, and most notably, no obituaries.  I didn’t find that out of place or abnormal really because it wouldn’t be the first time a family has opted not to publish an obituary.  Given the grim circumstances surrounding their deaths, I understood maybe there just wasn’t one out there to be found and let it go at that.  I had a small mention in the paper that corroborated their death certificates, so I was satisfied enough to move on.

However, this past month, I’d been working on “bushing out” my tree branches on the Eccard line and while working on their daughter, Carrie Belle, I couldn’t find her obituary either.  I was in the process of writing to the local library for Carrie Belle’s obituary and while typing the letter, I decided “Heck with it. I’m just going to ask them if they have the parents’ too.”  Happily, the librarian got back to me very quickly!

The librarian had found Carrie’s obituary and even provided me with the death certificates for her and both her parents.  (I was appreciative, of course, but I already had those.)  However, she sent me something so unexpected and amazing!  It completely changed the story as my Aunt Rosie had told me. I feel like I hit the genealogy jackpot.  She sent me the joint obituaries of Gideon and Mary Alice, along with an article about the circumstances of that day.

The Eccard obituaries & sensational details into their deaths.

To summarize the article (and you can click it to enlarge and read more), it appears that Gideon and his wife, Mary Alice, went out that day to town and picked up shoes and peaches.  After they drove their horse and buggy home, a little grandson ran out of the house and startled the horse.  Apparently, there were heated words exchanged between Mary Alice and her daughter-in-law.  Shortly after their argument, Mary Alice went to the barn and drank a vial of carbolic acid and dropped dead.  She was found by Gideon, who called out to his daughter Carrie Belle and the daughter-in-law, who came running to the barn. They found him crying, and in his grief, he ran over and drank a bottle of aconite. The doctor was called and when he arrived, Gideon was still able to talk and was trying to explain what had happened and why.  The doctor administered medicine to make him vomit but unfortunately the poison ended up being too much, and he died anyway.

*BOOM*  Mind completely blown. 

In addition to having this demolish the stories of what my Aunt Rosie had told me, I was also left with a boatload of questions!  I know Gideon was devastated so I get his grief was motivation for drinking aconite but what kinds of harsh and hurtful words were exchanged that day to cause Mary Alice to go and drink poison like that?  That seems so rash of a response.  I can only imagine that there was some other source of contention going on there as well.  Maybe some long standing resentment or problems within the family circle? 

I’m also left with a puzzle.  I had no idea that Gideon witnessed the events at Gettysburg but I’m oddly not sure how he did.  His parents were both from Maryland and lived there their entire lives.  I did not find any service records for Gideon nor his father Noah. Gideon’s grandfather Peter did serve in the War of 1812 but I think he was old at the start of the Civil War. Gideon was there in Maryland all his life, still in 1870 even, years after the war and then suddenly, he pops into Ohio by 1880.  So how would he have seen Gettysburg?  Where does that fit in?  Accompanied uncles maybe?  I have yet to branch up and out that that far yet.  It’s an interesting detail for later research to be sure. 

I’m truly happy though now. I have a new way to talk about the Eccards in my teaching aside from using them as examples of what sad things can possibly crop up.  Now I can talk about them in regard to disregarding assumptions, continually looking for that paper trail, and how you still REALLY do need to do some old-fashioned letter writing to find things that aren’t online.  I stress it enough to them already, but now I have an even better example to show them of why you still have to do offline legwork as well. 

Long Sought After Info Found on Emma Drake Herman

Ever have that one relative whose story that you just can’t get out of your mind?  I have several of those relatives like that but one that stands out for me is my 4th great aunt, Emma Drake Leist Herman.  February of last year, I wrote about what I knew of her story which included the suicide of her last husband, Henry Herman, who drank carbolic acid they morning after they had a fight.  As incredible as that tidbit was, Emma’s story continued to be fascinating as her death certificate revealed she died at 8 pm on 2 June 1916 at age 39 from shock with a contributory cause as lightning.  What was she doing outside in a storm at 8 pm?  Color me fascinated!

A Glimpse into 1930

Glenn & Rosa (Jones) Stewart with their son Glenn “Archie” Jr. and his daughter, Lisa.

Last year, I went home to Ohio to visit for my grand-baby’s first birthday and while at my mom’s, we were going through her photo album and behind a big 8×10 picture, there was this letter hidden.  I wrote about it before when talking about how this letter helped me learn more about the mysterious life of my great-uncle Dale.  From the hint in this letter, I was able to find his mug shot in the Montana State Prison.

The letter was written November 28, 1930 and was from my great-grandfather Glenn Archer Stewart, Sr. in Pickaway County, Ohio, to his uncle Asbury Archer in Noble County, Ohio.  If you don’t know the story of the Glenn and Dale Stewart (and you can read here if you’d like), but quickly I will say that their dad murdered their mom in 1914 and Asbury was not allowed to raise them, being a single man.  The boys were placed in the children’s home system and moved around several times.  Glenn eventually made his way to Pickaway County, I think to work on the farm of Lewis Edward Jones’ farm, where he met Rosa Jones.  They married May 6, 1927 and their first child, Glenn “Archie” Stewart, was born shortly thereafter November 13, 1927.  (You do the math! *wink*)  Their second child, Rose Mary Stewart, was born October 1, 1930 and this letter was written when she was nearly two months old.

From the Circleville Herald, 14 July 1945.

Recently, I went back and re-read this letter and this glimpse into my great-grandparent’s life in 1930 was stunning and revealing to say the least.  I had heard that their relationship was difficult and that Glenn was hard to deal with.  His son, my grandpa Archie, did not particularly care for his dad and spent much of his time at the Jones’ farm with his maternal grandparents.  I had previously found a scandalous newspaper article from July 1945 where my great-grandma Rosa filed for divorce while Glenn was overseas, calling him and his “lady” out for a supposed affair.  When I asked my great-aunt Rosie (Glenn and Rosa’s daughter) about it, she had no knowledge of this affair nor the divorce filing, and she was actually quite defensive about it until I showed her the article.  I’m sure it wasn’t a pleasant thing to read.  This letter, however, reaffirmed the marriage was strained to the point HE thought about leaving in 1930, way before she ever filed for divorce.  They stayed together but not happily as Glenn ended up in a mental health facility and later shot himself in June 1954.  Dale, his brother, killed himself in Los Angeles in a mental facility by eating poisonous ant paste.

Besides describing family matters, this letter also was an interesting peek into what life was like in 1930 Pickaway County, Ohio, and how the people were struggling with their farms, their finances, and to find work/ways to provide for their families.

 

November 28, 1930
Duvall, Ohio

 

Dear Uncle,
Received your letter a couple of days ago and was glad to hear from you.  It has been a good bit since I heard from you.  Well, we have been having some awful weather this week.  Snowed and has been down below zero for the past three nights.  I certainly hate to see it get bad weather because I don’t know what we will do down here.

 

The corn is all husked down here and we have been trying to make a living by trapping and hunting and it is going to be a darn slim one too.  Fur is not worth half as much this year as it has been.  Rats are only worth 50 cents apiece.  Skunks $1.25 and coons $4.00.  We used to get $1.50 to $2.00 for rats and $9.00 for coon.  We can’t catch them now because the streams are all frozen over.

 

 Boy, I’ll tell you I don’t know what we will do till spring.  I never seen a time in my life that a fellow could not find something to do in the country.

 

I had a field of corn to husk and got done last Thursday.  So I started out to find something else to do, and everybody that is not done husking will be done in a couple of days.  Most of them shredded their corn because the did not have any hay.

 

About the only thing that we can do now is to make wood and a fellow cannot eat that.  I have never been able to buy a load of coal this fall, just 3 or 4 bushels at a time.  A fellow has to have a little coal to burn with the wood.

 

Rosa wanted to read your letter tonight and she said that you need never worry about who is going to take care of you when you get older, that you was welcome to come and live with us when ever you wanted to.  Our baby girl sure is getting nice.  She is getting old enough to laugh now and she is sure cute.  I don’t know what we would do without her.

 

I don’t know just how to say it, but there was a time last summer that I had a notion to pull out and leave but since the baby has come it seemed to make us both realize more that it was not right to separate. 

 

Yes, Azza, I get a letter from Dale every week.  His address is Deer Lodge, Montana, Box 7.  I wish you would drop him a line or two.  I know he would be glad to hear from you.

 

Azza, I would like awful well to have a fat hog to butcher this year because we are out of lard and meat and have not got the money to buy more.  My father-in-law is going to butcher in a few days and I could get a nice hog off him for $20.00 if I had the money.  I have been to buy our meat every other year and had enough lard to do till next butchering but I have not got the money now.  I hate to ask you for it because you have been so good to me, but I tell you Azza, I have not got a thing to do, and not only me but nearly every body else down here.  I told Ed I would see if I could get money enough to buy one and then kill it when he butchered.  Well, it is nearly mail time so I’ll have to close.  Write soon.

 

Your nephew,

Glenn

 

 

NEVER give up searching!

My 3rd great grandfather, William L. Peters, died 6 Feb 1887 in Pickaway County, Ohio, but his death record had long eluded being found in popular online resources.  I learned that it became an Ohio statewide law to record deaths in 1867 and that each county’s probate court was responsible for recording the death as a single line entry in a register between 1867-1908. Deaths that occurred after December 19, 1908 are recorded by the Ohio Department of Health in a certificate format.¹  So, William’s death should have been recorded at the courthouse.  I wrote to the probate clerk to see if it was there.  In February, I received an email and was told it was not there.  How depressing.

William’s relapse as published in the 21 Jan 1887 edition of the Circleville Democrat and Watchman.

Still, it bugged me and sat in the back of my mind for months.  I knew it just had to exist!  I had found multiple news articles online detailing his sickness, the doctor being called in from another bigger city, and his sons being called to his side in his final days.  I even found his obituary but I desperately wanted his actual death record in hopes that it would give me more clues to solving where the Peters originated from. 

Bittersweet Photographs

Glenn Archer Stewart Sr. (left) and son, Archie Stewart.

This past week, my mom sent me the very first pictures I’ve ever seen of my great-grandfather, Glenn Archer Stewart, Sr.  I’ve written briefly about Glenn… he was one of the two young boys who were orphaned when their father, William Stewart killed their mother, Esther, and then himself at the the Columbia Hotel in Caldwell, Ohio, in 1913.  Glenn, and his younger brother Dale (who I’ve also written about), both committed suicide as well – Dale in 1943 and Glenn in 1958.