Thursday, January 5, 2012

Spurzheim Derby (1856-1930)

   This obscure individual is Spurzheim Derby, a farmer who served one term in the Kansas State House of Representatives. Nicknamed "Spud", Derby was born in Decatur County, Indiana on December 24, 1856, a son of phrenologist  Daniel Griswold and Mary Ann Whitford Derby. As the son of a phrenologist, Derby received his unusual first name in honor of prominent physician Johann Spurzheim (1776-1832), one of the main movers behind a peculiar pseudoscience called phrenology (a study of cranial bumps and brain mental faculties.) 
   Little could be found on "Spud" Derby's early life, with the exception of him living in Moniteau County, Missouri during the 186os and 70s. It was here he married Mary Catherine "Mollie" Erickson (1861-1930) and they later migrated to Haskell County, Kansas, where he engaged in farming for the majority of his life. Spurzheim and Mary were the parents of several children, including: George Combe (1881-1958), Nellie Ellen (1883-1919), Lillie (1887-1963), Daniel Charles (1889-1975), Mary Ann (1885-1959), Phoebe Olive (1888-1954), Fannie Sophronia (1891-1980), Jean H. (1893-1992) and Doris Mae (1906-1987). 
  In the years following his removal to Kansas Derby occupied several different public posts in his new home state, including that of a schoolteacher, town marshal and postmaster of the town of Jean, occupying the latter office in the early 1900s.
  Derby's inclusion on the "Strangest Names In American Political History List" is due to his short stint in the Kansas State House of Representatives in 1915. He served one term in the state legislature and in 1930 suffered a very tragic demise. A genealogical website mentions that on August 12 of that year, Derby's Model-T was struck by a train and he was killed outright. He was subsequently buried in the Haskell County Cemetery. The picture of Derby shown above was found on the aforementioned website.

                      This portrait of Derby appeared on a 1915 placard of Kansas State Representatives.

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