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Delaware County NY Genealogy and History Site

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Comments upon reading the Coroner's Reports
by Cheryl Jablonsky

This very interesting e-mail written to me by Cheryl Jablonsky is published here on the dcnyhistory.org website with her permission.-- September 28, 2018

I'm a nurse from Jordan, Minnesota who somehow accidentally stumbled across the Coroner's Reports from the Delaware County Board of Supervisors books. The page says the reports were transcribed by Linda Ogborn, in February of 2002.  

As a registered nurse, I found the records fascinating. One Timothy Campbell, for instance, was reported to have died of "acute indigestion". Another death was due to "overindulgence in Jamaican Ginger" which is usually a non-alcoholic drink.  Although I doubt either of those two causes of death would be found in a coroner's report today, I wonder what the similar, or equivalent condition would be.

I read about a wife who was having an affair and poisoned her husband with arsenic. In another case death of a woman and a man was caused by gunshot... the gun being wielded by the woman's husband. After shooting his wife and (I assume) lover, he shot himself.   Those causes of homicide and suicide are still seen today.

Elsewhere in the report, I  noted that the coroners of the late 1800's and early 1900's were nothing if not direct.  There is, for example,  a record of a man  whose death came from being hit by a train at a railroad crossing, but an inquest was not held. The coroner concluded it was unnecessary, as the accident was "plainly due to his carelessness". I wonder what might be written today about such a situation.

You will find interesting things, and sad things, and occasionally, some very funny things. And you will see, as I did, that some things, it appears, have been the same since time immemorial. 

Here's wording that made me grin: one man was found to have died of Senile Decay.  A couple of others died "under peculiar circumstances."  And in the case of one Dennis Bice, he was "found dead at Roods Creek. Found on his person one jacknife, $1.31 in money, one open faced watch. Turned over to his friends, they being but of little value."  lol!!  You made do with whatever quality friends were around, apparently! 

There are sad accounts of infants possibly suffocating in bed linens. It's possible some of those were actually S.I.D.S. deaths And there is one account of a very unfortunate situation where a mother wrapped her deceased brand new infant in "newspapers and an old shawl" and hid it on a shelf at the local general store. Even today we hear accounts in the news of new mothers ( likely mentally unwell) who have placed deceased babies in strange places. 

Then, as now, there were murders: in one case in 1909, the coroner was called upon to hand deliver "portions of the viscera" of an arsenic poisoning victim, Peter Morette to the "State Chemist at Albany, NY".  Interviews determined that the victim had displayed signs and symptoms of arsenic poisoning prior to his death. This gave me pause... I wondered about the availability of medical care then as compared to now, and if it would have made a difference. I thought about Google, and the common practice of googling one's own symptoms for diagnostic purposes. Would that have helped Mr. Morette?  But I did note one person for whom the lack of technology made no difference: Mrs. Hattie Morette. In the coroner's record, it is noted that "arsenic was purchased for one Hattie Morette at the H. C. Welder drugstore.  Apparently online credit card statements and in-store security camera footage weren't needed to track down the perpetrator. Further, it was determined that her motive involved a man not her husband. No high tech text-gossip needed to learn about her dalliance. -Although that brings to mind a question: Does the speed at which gossip travels exceed the speed of light?  Don't laugh. It may.  

The manner of suicides in the early 1900's was sometimes different than it is today: using carbolic acid or aconite, for instance. Some, of course, used rope or guns, as is common nowadays. Very sad, any which way about it. I didn't often see ages for those who suicided, but I did find one listing of someone who was 24. There are few details about that death, but the age is consistent with current belief that certain mental illnesses with a higher mortality rate often manifest in the late teens and early twenties.

I read about gun accidents, just as we have gun accidents now. In one unfortunate case a son mistook his father for a woodchuck. I was left to imagine Daniel Boone style fur hats with a tail hanging down, and wondered if...?  And then there was the case of the woman who "was accidentally shot while picking strawberries."   Seems like an innocuous pastime to me. Who knew?

There were car accidents- but since there were only 86 cars per 1,000 people in the U.S. by 1920 (The Fastest Cars in History: 1894 to 1914, Mike Hanlon, January 23, 2017. New Atlas.  Sorry not MLA format. Go ahead and fix it. ?), I'm imagining there were not as many ambulance chasing lawyers around. But few cars may mean fewer people involved in the accidents that do occur. To wit:

One Arthur Fink was driver of an automobile that hit and killed a child named Ella Cohalan in 1923.There was an inquest, and it was determined "Mr Fink had done all in his power to avoid the accident."  He was exonerated. Then in 1924 the vehicle he drove struck and killed Marcia Goss, age 4. Her mother and other witnesses said she ran directly into the road in front of Mr. Fink's car. The accident was unavoidable. Mr. Arthur Fink suicided six years later in 1931. I can't help wondering if the deaths of those two children played any part at all in the loss of his life by his own hand. There was the stock market crash of 1929- was that a factor? And I've read that by 1933 unemployment was at an almost unimaginably high rate, nearing 30 percent. Perhaps higher.  When I put the whole picture together I admit to feeling some tugging at the heartstrings. It may be that none of the above affected this man such that he was unable to stay alive, but who knows?

That story reminded me of something, though: it is known that at present, May is one of the months with the highest suicide rates. I think I will review this coroner's records to see if  suicide rates and late Spring were correlated in the late 1800's and early 1900's as well.  

Do you see, Joyce, how many stories are in those simply worded, concise reports? How much information can be extrapolated? How many questions are raised? It's amazing.  Now, if you want to read a record that will touch your heart, look at that of of James Nutt, 1922. The coroner evidenced himself as a man of great compassion. It wasn't simply "business as usual."  Read it and you will see that just when we begin to despair of the lack of goodness in humanity, an account will pop up that shows us that goodness. (I believe it is prompted by God, but there it is, nonetheless.) In this story, I think you will agree with me there are two heroes.  

I'm not sure why I began typing all of the above to you when you can read it all for yourself, lol! Maybe it's because I feel fortunate to have stumbled across the reports, and thankful for your work, and because somehow I think you might find it all just as interesting as I did. Oh, and there is this: I'm so sorry to hear of the loss of your friend and colleague Linda Ogborn, and that I'm too late to thank her- but even though it's not 4:00 a.m., I wanted to send you an email like she used to do!  I'm sure she employed a bit more brevity. Lol!

In a nutshell, I am finding the Coroner's reports to be a snapshot of human nature, and I'm seeing that some things don't ever seem to really change. Thank you, Linda Ogden, and all who made the website available.

Oh, and absolutely- use whatever portions of my email or emails that might be useful in whatever way you see fit.

All best,
Cheryl Jablonsky

To all visitors to this website, go to the Miscellaneous County Wide Data page of links to reach the Board of Supervisors books plus much else of interest. --Joyce Riedinger, Manager; dcnyhistory.org



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