Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"An appalling scene"

Right as the clerk's office was closing after a day of research in Valley Falls, Rhode Island, last summer, I found the death certificate for my great-great grandfather, Ernest Lord Mellor (1832 - 1892). I noted that the cause of death was listed as "gun shot" and knew I had to find out more about it. I had hoped to return to Rhode Island by now to conduct research in the Rhode Island Historical Society library in Providence where they have an extensive collection of Rhode Island newspapers but finally out of curiosity, I requested an obituary look-up from the reference librarian. She found a very short death notice and no obituary, but did find a page 1 account of the death.
I received the article a few days ago and it is rather shocking. (Transcription below)

The Providence Evening Bulletin, 18 May 1892, page 1.
Transcription:                              "HORRIBLE SUICIDE
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BLEW PART OF HIS HEAD OFF WITH A SHOT GUN
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Ernest L Mellor of Valley Falls Cut His Throat and Then Fired a Gun with Fatal Effect.
     Back among the trees at the east of the New York, Providence and Boston Railroad track in Valley Falls, stands the house of Ernest L. Meller, [sic] a life-long resident of the village. For many years Mr. Meller was an overseer in the mills of the Valley Falls Company, but for the past 12 or 13 years he has suffered from dropsy, and within the past year or so complications have arisen in the malady that caused life to become almost unendurable to him. Of late the disease has become more and more painful. At 2:30 o’clock this morning Mr. Meller called to his wife in the next room and asked her to prepare him a lemon so that he might suck the juice. The wife did as requested and that was the last time that she heard her husband’s voice or saw him alive.
     Soon after this Mr. Meller arose and attempted to cut his throat with a jackknife. Although a terrible gash was cut in the fleshy part of the neck, death was not produced, and the unfortunate man went to another room, took down a rusty muzzle loading shot gun from its fastening over the street door, and retraced his steps to his bedroom. Here he stood upright in the centre of the room, placed the muzzle of the weapon upward in line with his chin, and pulled the trigger. Meller fell to the floor with the left side of his head entirely blown off, and it was in that position that his relatives found him. Dr. Haines was immediately summoned and gave it as his opinion that death must have been produced instantly. Medical Examiner Garvin viewed the remains this morning, and said that the death was undoubtedly that of a suicide and deemed an inquest unnecessary. An inspection of the bedroom this morning showed an appalling scene. In one corner of the room, where the suicide fell there was a mass of gore an inch or more in depth, while the bed was covered with blood and pieces of flesh. The ceiling was a covered with spatter of blood and filled with the load of shot that crashed upward through the head of the suicide. Mr. Meller leaves a widow and three married children. He was a member of Good Samaritan Lodge of Pawtucket, and was insured for a considerable amount in the John Hancock Insurance Company of New York."
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I read this obituary with growing disbelief and horror and had to put it down and out of my head for a bit before I was able to re-read it. I cannot imagine what pain could have driven my g-g-grandfather to attempt suicide in this fashion. I also cannot imagine what the effect was on his remaining family.  The gruesome description of the scene is more detailed than what one would read in a modern paper!
No surviving member of my family has ever heard of this suicide before, not even my aunt who was born roughly 30 years after her g-grandfather's death. I would imagine that everyone wanted to forget such a tragedy ever happened in the family.
I have some research to do. I have a general idea where the location of the house must have been but need to look up deeds. I also need to check probate records and tax records. I need to do more research to figure out what kind of Lodge the Good Samaritan Lodge was - many of my ancestors were Masons but I don't recognize this name. It may be another group such as the Odd Fellows.  I am also intrigued by the last line... Do suicide victims collect on insurance? Or is it forfeited? I wonder why it was even mentioned in the article. And lastly, what was sucking on a lemon supposed to do??

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