Winter

“Now is the winter of our discontent.” —William Shakespeare

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Black River, Port Huron, Michigan, 1905. Image posted by u/michaelconfoy on the Reddit site in 2015. Likely not a winter image, but gives a sense of the area.

My husband’s great-grandfather, Patrick Nolan (you met him in On the Farm), died in the winter. Well, not technically winter, but almost. He died 13 November 1904, in Port Huron, St. Clair, Michigan. Born on or before 4 May 1851, he was 53 years old at his death.

Winter doesn’t arrive until 21 December. Even if you go with “meteorological winter,” that doesn’t start until 1 December. However, Port Huron is an hour north of Detroit, so by mid-November, it can start to feel pretty wintry! I’m giving myself little leeway.

Patrick’s death record¹ states his cause of death is “shock by falling in river.” Specifically, it was the Black River, which was listed at the top of the certificate as the place of death. The article in the Port Huron Daily Herald the next day (14 November 1904)² provided more details:

The body . . . was found shortly after seven o’clock this morning floating in Black River in the rear of the Port Huron Light & Power Co’s plant . . . The coroner believes that Nolan’s death by drowning was accidental and the facts of the case all point that way.

The end of the article notes other details from the coroner:

Coroner Falk and Dr. Patrick held a Postmortem over the remains . . . Serious heart trouble was found and Dr. Patrick gave it as his opinion that the man died from the shock of falling into the water as he was dead before the drowning took place. There were no signs whatever of foul play.

The family, however, wasn’t satisfied with that conclusion. In his dealings selling cattle, Patrick frequently carried large amounts of cash with him. His wife, Alice, thought perhaps he’d had cash on him at the time, and had been attacked, robbed, and pushed into the river. According to the 19 November 1904³ paper:

. . . the family has demanded an inquest. This morning Sheriff Davidson, Coroner Falk and Dr. O. H. Patrick went to Smith’s Creek to exhume the body and make an examination.

The results were reported two days later, on 21 November 1904.4 No change to the verdict was made. The three officials mentioned above were

met by Dr. Brock, two sons of the deceased and about 25 friends and neighbors . . . The body was placed on top of the box . . .

Dr. Brock, the local doctor, didn’t want to examine the body, but told them his charges would be $20. The coroner couldn’t authorize an additional expense for the county, so the two sons covered the cost.

Dr. Brock then cut into the scalp and rolled back the flesh, but was unable to find that the bruise on the side of head amounted to anything. He announced himself satisfied without further examination.

WOW! I can’t imagine doing this, in the cemetery, with over two dozen gawkers (not to mention two children of the deceased) watching. The newspaper then gives a detailed description of the entire proceeding! It was a pretty exciting Saturday.

I’m not really sure why the family was so concerned about the cause of death. Was there an insurance policy that would be impacted by those findings? Did they believe law enforcement should investigate and try to recover the cash they felt was stolen? The initial article² reporting his death mentioned he’d been in

. . . Pat Cahill’s saloon at 405 Quay Street. The bartender gave him 30 cents worth of drinks. Nolan had no money but as he was a good customer of the place nothing was said about pay.

When Nolan left Cahill’s he was intoxicated. He went away alone and said that he was looking for a man named Woods.

While he had no money at the bar, if he was transacting business with “Woods,” perhaps money was exchanged then? There are many question that probably will never have satisfactory answers. The person who knew best what happened was the unfortunate victim. 

There is more to Patrick’s story, but that will have to wait until next week . . .

#52Ancestors


¹http://seekingmichigan.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p129401coll7/id/554434/rec/95; accessed 8 December 2018.

²”Paddy Nolan was Drowned,” 14 November 1904, Last Edition, Newspapers.com: accessed 24 August 2018, record number: not given; citing original p. 1, col. 4-5, The Port Huron Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, online archive (http://www.newspapers.com).

³”Exhume Body,” 19 November 1904, Newspapers.com: accessed 24 August 2018, record number: not given; citing original p. 5, The Port Huron Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, online archive (http://www.newspapers.com).

4“Only a Farce,” 21 November 1904, Monday Edition, Newspapers.com: accessed 24 August 2018, record number: not given; citing original p. 1, col. 6, The Port Huron Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, online archive (http://www.newspapers.com).

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