When I first started documenting my Stewart grandparents, I didn’t realize how much of their story would occupy a space in my brain. Some people might have found a murder/suicide in their family, noted its tragedy, and moved on but for me, for whatever reason, I have been particularly haunted and captivated by the murder of my grandmother Esther and the subsequent suicide of my grandfather William. (Seriously, I know you’re all probably tired of reading about them already.) There is just something in me that wants to understand why things escalated to that extreme that fateful day in January 1914. So I’ve kept looking and searching…
Now, I have searched every variation of Stewart and William H Stewart to find any scrap of information in the newspapers online, even searching his known alias of “Thomas” (which I’ve never found the reasoning behind that name choice). I’ve searched in every town they lived in, in every county they or their parents lived in, and even searching in adjacent counties in the off-chance they spent time there as well in-between census dates and city directory entries. But as you know, they’re constantly updating newspapers online and adding more all the time and so when I returned to my Stewart research, I found this tiny snippet from August 25, 1904, in The Times Recorder newspaper in Zanesville, Ohio.
While it might not seem staggering news for some, for me, it gave me a HUGE glimpse into their marriage ten years before their murder/suicide. Noting that this was the “third occasion” since their 1902 marriage (that was known), what more happened that wasn’t documented? I also find it boggling that she assaulted him first but yet he was the one charged and fined. It sounds like she got the worst of it as she still had marks, but weren’t women culpable of assault too?
Also, their first child, Frances, was still alive and while she is not named outright, she is still mentioned in the article. She would sadly die the following month in September of cholera infantum. (Which is an interesting disease to read about if you haven’t – it differs from cholera that we know of in that the mother can actually over-feed and be a cause of the child’s demise. It’s fascinating to read.)
In a news article following their deaths, her brother Asbury gives an example of how Esther and William fought all the time about the silliest, smallest things including an argument over the placement of a knife in the kitchen to where they didn’t speak for two weeks following. Another article eluded to how they fought quite a bit and always made up quickly afterward. Asbury admitted his sister (and William, too) had a hot temper, and this article just confirms everything Asbury stated and more. They seemed to be ready to fight over every little thing.
So while this would just seem a boring article to some, to me, it’s like cracking the door open just a bit wider into their marriage seeing just how volatile it really must have been from the very beginning. When I first visited William’s grave a couple years ago, I stood there for the longest time feeling very sour towards him for the way he affected so many people that day. His bullets in 1914 would ripple down and cause damage in his family through his sons’ suicides in 1943 and 1958 and truthfully, even beyond that in the way their son Glenn would treat his wife/children by being so aloof and uncaring before his 1958 death. (My mom just recently told me that her father had positively NO good memories of his father Glenn at all and was bitter towards him, even long past his death.)
With this article now though, I somehow have shifted some of the blame towards Esther, too. I had always felt she was just a victim, but it looks now like she was an instigator and perpetrator, as well. While she doesn’t have a stone currently, I know where she’s buried, and I wonder how I will feel when I go back. Will I feel sympathy again, or perhaps something different knowing she was part of the mayhem and destruction that followed? Funny how your family’s narrative can change with just a newspaper snippet.