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Another case of one story leading to another … and another

East Main Street, Richmond, as it would have looked in 1926, the year featured here. (Photo courtesy of Linda Emley)

East Main Street, Richmond, as it would have looked in 1926, the year featured here. (Photo courtesy of Linda Emley)

By Linda Emley

I’m always working on several different stories at the same time, so it’s hard to decide which story I can get finished before my weekly deadline.

If I had my way, I would spend all my time researching stories, but I do have a real life some days.

As I was sitting at my computer and feeling lost, my phone rang and it was Carol Proffitt. She was looking through an old box of newspaper clippings and found a story I had been talking to her about. I’ve been working on the story of Major R. J. Williams for several years and every time I think I have the whole story, we find another newspaper article from the past that has one more clue about the Major and his mule.

Carol told me to look up the Richmond News from June 11, 1926. I pulled out the old newspaper and found the article and then spent the next two hours reading the 1926 newspaper. Every page had another small piece of local history. I copied the major’s story and added it to his file, but I did see a common theme in some of the other articles that I found.

I’ve always been amazed how old newspapers report a tragic death, so I wasn’t shocked by the article I found in the Richmond News for June 25, 1926: “Killed By Lightning. The body of William Robinson, colored, was found at 2 o’clock this afternoon lying under a tree at the edge of a field on the H.M. Davis farm, north of town. He had been missing since 2 o’clock the day before, when he left his home here to go fishing.

“Death was due to a bolt of lighting which must have struck him during yesterday’s storm. His arm was seared and the clothes were torn off his back. Bits of clothing were scattered around for ten feet or more. The band of his hat was in the tree above the body.”

In the next newspaper, I found his funeral notice. “Funeral of Wm. Robinson. The funeral of William Robinson who was struck by lighting was held at the C.M.E. Church Sunday afternoon. Burial at Sunny Slope cemetery under auspices of the colored Masons.”

William’s grave has not yet been found, but his death certificate had some details of his life. He was born Dec 25, 1878, in Liberty. He was a coal miner and had a wife but her name is not listed. The information on his death certificate was given by his wife, but she did not know the names of his parents.

The next story I found was, “Ray County’s Oldest Women ill. Mrs. Susan Bernard, oldest Ray Countian, 102 at her last birthday, is critically ill.” It didn’t’ take long to find the rest of her story. On July 7, the headlines read, “County’s Oldest Women is Dead.” Her story took up one whole column on the front page and carried over to the next page. “Mrs. Susan Bowman Bernard, one of the few centenarians in the state of Missouri, died at her home on South College Street at 11:30 o’clock Saturday night at the remarkable age of 102 years, three months and 25 days. She had been ill for just a few days.”

Susan Bernard was born in Ohio in 1824 and married C. B. Scott in 1841. He died in 1850. In 1855, she moved to Richmond with her three small children. They took a steamboat down the Ohio River and up the Missouri River to get to Ray County. In 1856 she married Valentine Bernard of Richmond, who died in 1887. At the time of her death, she was survived by one child from her first marriage and two by her second husband.

The next paragraph said she led a quiet uneventful life and devoted all her time to her family and her religion. I liked the closing line in this paragraph:“She never failed to keep posted on the events of the day by reading the newspaper.” She was my kind of lady because she always read her newspaper.

Her life was far from uneventful, as the story continues. “Each time a death of one of her friends was recorded she would say, ‘the circle is growing smaller.’ A few months ago the passing of Uncle Billy Ringo removed the last person who was in Richmond at the time of her arrival. He was a small boy when she came here.

“Frequently in the case of events of great historical importance, Mrs Bernard would lay aside the copies of the daily papers, and remark that she was helping to preserve a historical record.

“There were three events which Mrs. Bernard said she especially wished to see come to pass: Women suffrage, prohibition, and the union of the two branches of Methodism. The third was denied her, but she lived to vote in a general election in 1920 and to see liquor outlawed by the 18th Amendment. She was a member of the Methodist church before the separation in 1841.

“Many changes were witnessed in the city of Richmond during Mrs. Bernard’s many years here. When she arrived there were no brick buildings on the square, just a few frame stores. She saw the present courthouse and it’s predecessor erected. The courthouse when she arrived was a log cabin.”

Mrs. Susan Bernard was buried in the Richmond City Cemetery as four generations of her family stood by. Now I must try to find the gave of Mrs Susan.

According to the Missouri Death Certificates, 246 people died in Ray County in 1926. We could call this story “17 days in Ray,” because I found three more people that had an interesting story of their final days in this Richmond News.

This next one is very personal to me because it was my grandmother’s first husband. “J.W. Sanders recived a telegram last night announcing the death by drowning of his son Everett, at Herman, Mo, on the Gasconade River. Everett was 19 years old. He had been in Herman for 7 months working as an electrician for the Gasconade Power and Light Co. The tragedy occurred, according to Mr. Sanders, about 11 o’clock Sunday morning at a picnic. The body was not recovered until 5 o’clock. Only meager particulars of the drowning had been received this morning by the father of the young man. He was a native of Lawson.”

His funeral was under the auspices of the order of DeMolay and he was buried in the Lawson Cemetery. Did you notice there was no mention of him being married? I found his death certificate and was happy to see that he was married to Elizabeth Sanders. Many years ago, I took both of my grandmothers to Lawson Cemetery to visit Everett’s grave and a couple of friends of my other grandmother.

I remember the three of us standing there over Everett’s grave. My grandmother Schooler and I expected it to be painful for my grandmother Martin, but I guess it had been too many years and she did have two more husbands after him. It was an emotional event for me because I was thinking that I could have been Linda Sanders if Everett hadn’t drowned on that Sunday morning picnic in 1926. Is this where I say, “Everything happens for a reason?”

Now on to the next person. “Camper Dies in Park Here. John Greene, who had been with a party of campers in Zuklin Park for two weeks, died early yesterday morning, at the age of 75. Death was due to uremic poisoning. He was a native of Yorkshire, England, born in 1854.”

My first thought was if he was buried here or somewhere else so I looked up his death certificate. He was buried in the Richmond City Cemetery. He was listed as widowed. I was amazed to see that the occupation on his death certificate was listed as a tourist. Does this mean if you were camping at the Zuklin Park in Richmond, you were on vacation?

The last chapter of this story is one that I’ve heard before from my friend Milford Wyss. Richmond News, July 12, 1926, had this: “Death Follows Operation. Following an operation in removing her tonsils and adenoids at the Kansas City hospital Wednesday, Judith, the 5-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Ashley, of Orrick, died from hemorrhages. She is survived by her parents and Mr. and Mrs. H. L. Elliott. Her grandparents, of this city and numerous other relatives in the county. Funeral services were held at Orrick Friday.”

Judith Maxine Ashley’s death certificate mentions her birthday was on Jan 13, 1921, and she was buried at South Point Cemetery.

There are more details about Judith that weren’t mentined. Her other grandfather was Dr. Ashley and he was with her when she died. They rode the train home from Kansas City because a car would have taken too long in 1926. She started bleeding on the train ride home and her grandfather, the doctor, wasn’t able to save her. I’m sure this was one of the hardest things Doc Ashley had to endure in his lifetime. Judith was a sister of Clara Ann Ashley Wyss, so Judith would have been Milford’s sister-in-law had she lived.

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