Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The SNIAPH Strange Deaths List.....

   After noticing that I have had over 370 + views on the site here since July, I've decided to do something a little different today (just to keep things a bit interesting.) Some time ago I started compiling a companion list to the "Strangest Names In American Political History" list that is the cornerstone of the site here. This companion list centers around strangely named politicians who have met unfortunate ends, either by accident or by their own hand. When this list was started, it contained only three or four politicians, but has since grown to include a great deal more. This list will be continually added to when a new discovery is made, so keep checking back for more updates.

 This interestingly named character is Xenophon Overton Pindall (1873-1935), an Arkansas State representative and senator from Arkansas who later became the Acting Governor of his state from 1907-1909. Pindall was also a highly regarded criminal attorney in Little Rock, and returned to this line of work after leaving the governorship in 1909. His life came to an end in rather odd circumstances in 1935 when he accidentely fell from a railroad embankment while taking a walk near the Arkansas River. He subsequently struck his head on a pile of rocks during the course of the fall and then had the bad luck of landing in a  "steam exhaust pool near a power plant." Truly a case of a sad and strange demise! The former Governor was 61 years old at the time and a write up on the accident appeared in the Sarasota Florida Tribune a few days following his death and is shown below.

                                           A sad demise for a great man with a great name.

  You can read more about the life of Xenophon O. Pindall (and several other politicians with that same odd first name) in the following article which appeared on the site in July 2011.

  Reverdy Johnson (May 21, 1796-February 9, 1876) was a prominent Maryland resident who served as Zachary Taylor's Attorney General, a U.S. Senator from Maryland and U.S. Minister to England.  
  A statesman known throughout the United States, Johnson suffered a rather inglorious end in February 1876 while a guest at the Governor's Mansion in Annapolis, Maryland. At some point in the evening he either tripped over a piece of coal or suffered an attack of some sort, which caused the 79 year old to lose his balance. As he fell, Johnson's head struck a sharp granite corner of the base course of the mansion and then struck the cobblestone pavement. The New York Times coverage of the incident states that "death must have resulted almost instantly". Johnson was given a lavish funeral (deserving of a statesman) and was buried in Baltimore.

                                             Part of the NY Times article on Johnson's death.

Fairchild Andrus (1814-1897) of New York also suffered an odd death at an advanced age, albeit a bit more inglorious than Reverdy Johnson. Andrus served as a New York State Assemblyman from 1863-1865. On May 17, 1897 at age 83, the retired politician was milking a cow when it kicked him, causing injuries that proved instantly fatal.


Ximenas Philbrick  (May 25, 1808-September 13, 1863) was a prominent resident of Woodland, Maine who served in the State House of Representatives from 1847 to 1849. In 1863, he was struck by a falling tree and killed outright. No picture of him is known to exist, and a newspaper article concerning his demise couldn't be found to post here.

The man above, Athelston Gaston (April 24, 1838-September 23, 1907) served as Mayor of Meadville, PA as well as a U.S. Representative from Pennsylvania from 1899-1901. While on a moose hunting trip in Canada in 1907 Gaston was accidently shot and killed by a companion while making his way through the dense underbrush. The news clipping below appeared a few days after the event. Strangely enough, it makes no mention of Gaston being a former Mayor or Congressman.....

Balfour Bowen Thorn Lord (1906-June 16, 1965) pictured above in a 1965 edition of the Utica Observer, served in a variety of public offices throughout his native New Jersey, including: U.S. Attorney for New Jersey from 1943-45; delegate to the New Jersey State Constitutional Convention, 1947; chair of the Mercer County Democratic Party, 1949-65; a delegate to the Democratic National Convention from New Jersey, 1956; the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senator from New Jersey, 1960 and the New Jersey Democratic state chair, 1961-65. Lord committed suicide in June 1965 by strangling himself with an electric shaver cord at the home of a friend of his in Princeton, New Jersey.

Hiester Clymer (November 3, 1827-June 12, 1884) was a four term congressman from Pennsylvania who served as the Chairman of the Committee on Expenditures in the War Department during his service. Clymer was also an unsuccessful candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania in 1866. He committed suicide in 1884 by taking a massive overdose of morphine due to what the New York Times called "financial embarrassment." A snippet of that obituary is shown below.

 The wonderfully named Spurzheim Derby (1856-1930) was a member of the Kansas State House of Representatives in 1915. Fifteen years after his legislative service, Derby was driving his Ford Model T when it was struck by a train. His injuries proved fatal.

  Savillion W. Longley (1841-1912) was a one term member of the Massachusetts State House of Representatives in 1910. Two years after his legislative term he suffered a horrific demise due to burns suffered in a fire in his rooming house on January 3, 1912. Longley got out of bed in order to blow out a kerosene lamp when the flame he tried blowing on became trapped under the burner of the lamp. The flame suddenly grew larger and caught his nightshirt on fire, and within moments the room (as well as Longley) were a flame. 
 Longley survived the initial fire but the prognosis wasn't good. He suffered burns over nearly all his body and lost the majority of his hair to the flame. Longley was kept under the influence of morphine to ease his pain, but died a few hours after the fire on the morning of January 4, 1912.

  American diplomat Rounsevelle Wildman (1864-1901) led a very eventful life in his short 36 years. He was named as U.S. Consul in Bremen. Germany in 1893 and in 1897 was appointed by President McKinley as U.S. Consul General in Hong Kong for a term of four years. In addition to his diplomatic activities, Wildman was also journalist and published author, writing about his experiences in Asia and Indonesia.
 In February 1901, Wildman and his family booked passage back to the United States onboard the steamship City of Rio De Janeiro. This ship would eventually take them to San Francisco, but fate intervened on February 22, 1901 in a very tragic occurrence.
  While steaming into San Francisco Bay, the ship struck a rocky shoal due to dense fog. The ship sank quickly, and it is estimated that more than 120 people perished in the disaster. Rounsevelle Wildman, his wife and two children were among them.

Reading Wood Black (1830-1867) was a Texas resident who served a term in his state's House of Representatives from 1865-1866. Black is considered the founding father of what is now Uvalde, Texas, and is mentioned as a Unionist during his legislative service.
  Black also engaged in business endeavors with a family member, George Washington "Tom" Wall, opening a livestock/mercantile store. Evidently, Black's political stances and the mismanagement of money Wall had put into the store fractured the two's relationship to such an extent that Wall shot and killed Black in his store on October 3, 1867. It is mentioned that there were numerous witnesses to the shooting, but this didn't stop Wall from escaping by horse, and within days was hiding out in Mexico. He eventually made his way back to Texas and then to Canada. Wall's whereabouts after making it to Canada are unknown.

  This bowler hatted fellow is Urban East Hicks (1828-1905) a native Missourian who migrated to the Washington Territory in the 1850s. He served as a member of the Washington Territorial legislature and was later named to the post of Territorial auditor, serving from 1865-1867. In his later years he became a newspaper publisher in the Portland, Oregon area. In 1905, shortly after his 77th birthday, Hicks lost his footing and fell from a railroad car on which he had been traveling. He died of his injuries shortly thereafter in the town of Orting, Washington.

  This obscure politician is Jabez Prior Thompson (1786-1852), a Massachusetts State senator during the early 1850s. On August 10, 1852 Thompson decided to hang himself in a barn located on his property in the town of Plymouth. A newspaper report of the time (shown above) mentions him as being "perfectly sane" at the time of his actions. No picture of him is known to exist at this time.

  An obscure Wisconsin state representative, Alvarus Eleazer Gilbert (1825-1891) also committed suicide by hanging (in similar fashion to Jabez Prior Thompson). Gilbert served as one of Waukesha County's Representatives in the Wisconsin legislature in 1878 and 1879. After an ongoing illness, Gilbert began suffering from a deep depression and hanged himself in a barn on his property with a "rope used in tying stock". His body was subsequently found by a family member a few hours afterwards. Gilbert was profiled here on the site on April 24th, so visit the following link for more information on his life and political career. http://politicalstrangenames.blogspot.com/2012/04/alvarus-eleazer-gilbert-1825-1891.html 

  Next up is oddly named Virginia legislator (and later senator) Waddy Thompson James, who was struck and killed by a train at age 89 in 1926. James (who's first name is also spelled Waddie and was named after strangely named South Carolina Congressman Waddy Thompson) was born in August 1836 and served with distinction in the Confederate Army as a Lt. Colonel. He is also  listed as being wounded/losing his hearing at Seven Pines during the Peninsula Campaign in 1862. James was elected to the Virginia State House of Delegates in 1874 and later served a term in the state senate. The exact lead up to his demise is shrouded in mystery, but he is listed as being struck and killed by a train on May 18, 1926 because he "did not hear it coming". One should note that he was nearly ninety years old at the time, and his loss of hearing certainly was a factor in his demise!

 Next up is oddly named Wisconsin State Insurance Commissioner Zeno Mathias Host, who served in his elected office from 1903-1907. Host was born to German parents in Lyons, Wisconsin on July 1, 1869 and when he was in his twenties helped found the Milwaukee Savings Loan and Building Association. In addition to his tenure as State Insurance Commissioner, Host also served as manager of the insurance department of the Knights of Pythias fraternal organization. 
  In November 1917, Host committed suicide by gunshot at the Hotel Martin in Milwaukee. A revolver is listed as being found near his body, but no available newspaper sources give mention as to why this prominent Wisconsin state official chose to take his own life.

From the 1917 edition of the Indicator.

                                 From the November 20, 1917 La Crosse Tribune and Leader Press.

  Hailing from Decorah, Iowa, Urban F. Hageman represented the county of Winneshiek in the Iowa State House of Representatives for a few months in 1965. Mr. Hageman was born in Winneshiek County in August 1929 and attended school in Calmar, Iowa. Hageman went on to study at the Iowa State University and also served with distinction during the Korean War. He is recorded as engaging in farming for the majority of his life and was elected to the Iowa legislature in November 1964.
  Sadly, a tragic farming accident terminated Hageman's political career in October 1965. A write up on this accident (published in the Mason City Globe Gazette a few days after the accident occurred) makes mention that Hageman was helping a neighbor fill silos when a piece of farming equipment he was adjusting fell on top of him. Hageman was only 36 years old at time of his death and was survived by his wife and six children.

                                       From the Mason City Globe Gazette, October 11, 1965.

  Proving that roadways were dangerous even back in the 1930s, U.S. Representative Harcourt Joseph Pratt died of injuries sustained in a vehicle roll over in 1934. Mr. Pratt was a notable businessman and politician from Ulster County, New York for many years, serving as a member of the NY State Assembly in 1890s and as a U.S. Representative from NY from 1925 until the year before his death. Pratt was driving with his wife in Highland New York on May 21, 1934 when his car either blew a tire or encountered a wet patch on the highway, causing it to spin out of control, overturn twice, and then careen into a nearby telephone pole. Mrs. Pratt survived her injuries but Harcourt himself succumbed to his injuries (a fractured skull and internal damage) a few hours after the accident occurred. He was subsequently buried in the Highland Cemetery in Ulster County, New York.

This obituary for Pratt appeared in an Ulster County newspaper a day after the accident.

 Next up is Mr. Flavillus Sidney Goode (1831-1885) a fairly prominent (as well as mysterious) 19th century Louisiana politician. Born in Alabama, Goode attended the University of North Carolina and relocated to Louisiana in the mid 1850s. He served in the Louisiana State Senate from 1857-1858 and also distinguished himself as a Confederate Army captain during the Peninsula campaign. Goode was elected as Louisiana State Attorney General in 1862 and served three years in this post. He was reelected to the state senate in 1874 (serving until 1878) and also was a circuit court judge from 1879-1885. Goode's life came to end in tragic circumstances in late December 1885, and according to the Louisiana Democrat article above, committed suicide "by blowing his head off with a double barrelled shotgun". Why Goode chose to end his life in this manner is unknown, and a portrait of him could not be found to post here.

  Mayor Archland Miller Best of the city of Hudson is another political figure who met with a tragic demise. Born in 1892, Best served with distinction during the the First World War and was elected as Mayor of Hudson, New York in 1931. His brief term as Mayor came to an abrupt end on July 23, 1933 when he was thrown from his speedboat and drowned in the Hudson River. The Albany Times notes that Best's craft overturned when he rounded a buoy located in the river channel and he was subsequently thrown into the water. "Unable to swim, the mayor drowned before help could reach him. He came up twice for air but then sank from sight". The Times goes on to state that Best's speedboat continued on its course until it became stuck in a mud flat a few hundred yards away.
  His body was discovered five hours after the accident when workmen began dragging the the river in a quest to find him. Best was honored with a military funeral in Hudson a few days following his death. A burial location for him is unknown at this time.

  Hailing from the county of Blackhawk in Iowa, Cicero Close served two terms in his state's House of Representatives from 1866-68 and again from 1872-74. In addition to his political service, Close was also a prominent farmer in the area, holding the office of trustee of the Agricultural College in Ames, Iowa as well as serving as a  past Director of the State Agricultural Society.
   Close met his end in a rather odd fashion on June 1, 1883. The Waterloo Courier notes that Close and two of his farm hands were readying a team of horses for loading hay at his farm. The team was eventually hitched and Close gave orders to his workmen for the day, whereafter he began venturing towards his house......then tragedy struck. The horse team lurched forward and began galloping towards Close, who then unwisely tried to grab onto their bridles in an attempt to slow them down. 
  The Courier goes on to state that Close hung onto the tongue of the horse bridle and was dragged about twenty feet. The wagon behind the horses eventually stuck a water trough and Close was "thrown violently to the ground,  one of the horses striking him on the head, behind one of his ears, and one of the wheels passing over his head and fracturing the skull, death resulting almost instantaneously."
  Close's funeral was held a few days later and was reported to have had "one hundred and thirty-two vehicles in the funeral procession", a testament to his popularity in Blackhawk County.

  Wyoming resident Hysler Hayden Runyan (1927-1963) represented Fremont County in the Wyoming Legislature from 1959-1960. In 1963 he and friend Floyd Richardson drowned when their fishing boat capsized at the Worth Meadows Reservoir. Runyan was only 35 years old at the time of his death.

   Solider, politician and publisher Datus Ensign Coon (1831-1893) was born in New York in 1831 and later migrated to Iowa, where he became a distinguished figure in newspaper publishing. During the late 1850s and early 1860s he established a number of Democratic-leaning newspapers in Iowa, including the Cerro Gordo Press in 1858.
   At the dawn of the Civil War, Coon raised a company of men which joined the Second Iowa Calvary and in the succeeding years was promoted to major, colonel and finally, Brigadier General in March 1865. After leaving the military Coon relocated to Alabama, and in 1867 served as a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention and soon after was elected to that states provisional legislature during the days of Reconstruction.  In 1878 President Rutherford Hayes appointed Coon as U.S. Consul in Babaca, Cuba and several years later was serving as a U.S. Consular agent in Baracoa, Cuba. 
    Following his return to the United States, Coon resided in San Diego, California and on December 15, 1893 was accidentally killed in that city. As the San Francisco Morning Call relates, Coon and a friend, J.B. Grovesteen, had just started out on a horse and buggy ride when Grovesteen's pistol accidentally discharged, hitting Coon in the stomach. Coon (who had been seated in the buggy) was returned home and received prompt medical attention, but succumbed to his wound shortly thereafter. Following his death he was interred with military honors at the Mount Hope Cemetery in San Diego.

From the San Francisco Morning Call, December 17, 1893.

   New York state assemblyman Clellan Scales Forsythe served in the New York legislature from 1944-48, representing Onondaga County. Forsythe had earlier gained prominence as an auto dealer in Syracuse, being the owner and operator of the Clellan Forsythe Motors Inc. Forsythe lost his life in an unusual hunting accident that occurred in September 1953. 
  As the Syracuse Times related in its September 19, 1953 edition (shown above), Forsythe had gone hunting at his private hunting area on Fox Island in Lake Ontario near Watertown, N.Y., and while seated in his jeep suffered a heart attack. Sometime during the initial heart attack Forsythe ended up slumping over in his seat, causing his shotgun to accidentally discharge into his chest. Forsythe had died by the time medical attention was administered and was later interred at the Oakwood Cemetery in Syracuse.

  Born in Washington D.C. in 1881, Southard Parker Warner was a Dartmouth College graduate and joined the U.S. Consular service at a young age, first holding a post as U.S. Consular agent in Gera, Saxony,Germany. He would later be named as U.S. Consul at Leipzig, Germany, serving here from 1904-09. At age 27 he was transferred to the consulship at Bahia, Brazil (serving from 1909-11) and beginning in 1912 would serve as Consul at Harbin, China. Sadly, Warner would take his own life via gunshot while still serving as consul, his death occurring at Harbin on May 9, 1914. Just 32 years of age at the time of his passing, Warner would later be interred at Washington D.C.'s famed Oak Hill Cemetery.

From the June 9, 1941 edition of the Bismarck Tribune.

    A one term representative to the North Dakota State Assembly in the late 1930s, Romanus James Downey attained further public prominence in that state in 1937 when he appointed as Commissioner of Veterans Affairs for North Dakota. His life ended under peculiar circumstances in April 1947 as the result of an "elevator mishap" (more on that later.)
   Born in Barnesville Minnesota in 1897, Romanus Downey resided in that state until his removal to Devil's Lake, North Dakota with his family in 1909.  He attended high school in that town and later studied at the University of North Dakota, putting his studies on hold to serve overseas during WWI as a member of Co. D. of the 2nd North Dakota Infantry.   Following his return stateside in 1919 he recommenced with his studies and in 1924 graduated from the Georgetown Law School in Washington, D.C.
   Downey practiced law in Devil's Lake until 1935 when he began service in the North Dakota State House of Representatives, being elected from Ramsey County. He would serve here until 1937, when he was appointed as State Commissioner of Veterans Affairs by then Governor William Langer. Downey would serve in this capacity until his death in 1947. On April 21 of that year he had entered an elevator to ride to his room on the fourth floor of the Gardner Hotel when he suffered a "dizzy spell or heart attack", which in turn caused him to "fall against a floor as it was being passed by the elevator." Downey died as the result of a "crushed skull" received from the accident and was survived by his wife.

                                                                    From the Bismarck Tribune, April 23, 1947.

   Two-term Indiana state senator Thollie Wilbur Druley (1879-1952)  received a substantial write-up here in October 2014 and while his time in state government is worth note, his unusual demise in 1952 is also worth mentioning. A long-time farmer in Boston Township in Wayne County, the retired ex-senator was killed on the afternoon of March 27, 1952 when a tractor he was using to remove boulders from a field overturned, pinning him underneath it. His son Byron found him later that day, and Duley's death is recorded as being the result of a "crushed chest."

   Distiniguished Vermont attorney Columbus Floyd Clough is yet another odd named political figure who lost his life as the result of a train accident (see Waddy T. James' bio above.) Born in Stowe, Vermont on June 28, 1833, Columbus Clough studied law under Paul Dillingham (1799-1891), a prominent lawyer and former Congressman, Lieutenant Governor and Governor of Vermont. Admitted to the state bar in 1856, Clough built up a substantial law practice in Waterbury, Vermont, where he practice from 1867-1899.
  Clough was a candidate for public office on two occasions. In 1880 he ran as the Greenback candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Vermont (garnering only 1,580 votes) and in 1896 was the People's Party nominee for State Auditor (polling only 597 votes.) Two years following his candidacy for auditor Clough died in unusual circumstances as the result of being struck by a train.
   As the Vermont Phoenix reported in its July 28, 1899 edition, Clough and a friend were traveling in a horse-drawn carriage when they came upon a rapidly approaching train. The horse became frightened and Clough jumped from the buggy, only to be struck by a train car and ran over. The Phoenix reported that "had Clough remained in the buggy he would not have been injured." The passenger in the buggy, a Mr. G.B. Evans, appears to not have been injured.

From the July 28, 1899 Vermont Phoenix.

 Ruluff White Hollembeak (1851-1911).

    Two term Iowa state representative Ruluff W. Hollembeak was recently featured in an article here (Sept. 5, 2015), a brief part of which centered on his death, which occurred as the result of a train collision in February 1911. A representative from Adair County to the Iowa state house beginning in 1904, Hollombeak served as chairman of the house committee on Horticulture during his terms in office. One February 27, 1911 Hollembeak was driving (presumably a horse and buggy) across the tracks at Casey, Iowa when he was struck and killed instantly by a "Rock Island train." The 59 year old former legislator was survived by a wife and son and was interred at the Oakwood Cemetery at Casey.

1 comment:

  1. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9C01E4DF173AE533A25755C2A9639C94609ED7CF