Wednesday, March 15, 2017

An unfortunate end at Iowa's Hospital for Inebriates

I wrote Monday about the poetic prank played by fellow Chariton newspapermen on Evan Lewis, then acting as editor of The Chariton Patriot in the absence of his elder brother, Elijah, during 1887.

What I didn't mention at the time was the fact that Evan was only "acting" editor because his siblings Elijah and Lucretia, owners of The Patriot Publishing Co., knew that their brother was not sufficiently reliable to entrust with the business unsupervised. 

The youngest of the Lewis siblings was afflicted by what at the time was called dipsomania --- today, we call it alocholism. By all accounts he was a very nice man --- never mean --- and talented. But an alcoholic who, in the absence of 12-step programs and understanding of how addiction worked, never could be fully trusted.


Elijah, Joseph and Evan Lewis --- younger sons of a Quaker family --- arrived in Chariton from Pennsylvania during 1867, immediately after the Civil War, and were joined by their parents, Thomas and Susanna, and sisters, Lucretia and Hettie, during 1873. Another brother, Enos Montgomery --- Elijah's twin, had died during 1872 in Philadelphia.

Joseph eventually moved to Mexico, married and had a family there. Of the Chariton family, only Evan married --- to Corilla Copeland --- and they became the parents of four children.

During 1882, Elijah and Lucretia purchased The Patriot and operated in jointly, with Evan working for them in various positions, until Lucretia's death during 1899. Evan then inherited her interest, but that interest was managed by his son, Elijah Jr. --- named for his uncle. Elijah Jr. became editor after his uncle accepted a political appointment in Washington, D.C., living there when Congress was in session but returning to Chariton to assist with the news operation when it wasn't.

Finally, during 1908, Evan's addiction killed him while confined to Iowa's State Hospital for Inebriates, then occupying some of the buildings in Knoxville that in 1920 became a state home for disabled veterans, then a Veterans Administration Medical Center.

At the time, newspapers sometimes looked upon death as an opportunity to teach a moral lesson and that certainly was true of Evan's, which received front-page coverage not only in his own Patriot, but in The Herald and The Leader as well.


Elijah Lewis Sr. wrote his brother's obituary for The Patriot, noting among the details of his life that, "Held fast in the merciless grasp of a disease which broke down his will power, ruined his life, and filled the hearts of those who loved him with unspeakable sorrow, he has gone to his final rest."

The Leader was considerably more forthcoming, noting under the headline "Passing of Evan Lewis" that "Evan Lewis, of this city, died at the state hospital at Knoxville at 4 a.m. Tuesday.

"He had been taken there for treatment, on Friday, of last week. For months his condition was such that his friends feared results, but of late his vitality seemed so much impaired that the step as above recorded was taken, but too late. Perhaps, though, had the move been earlier, the result would have been the same. The delay was in the hope that it were best. There is no place for regret for the things that were or were not done.

"Mr. Lewis was a victim to an insatiable desire for that which destroyed his manhood in the end. Whatever were his powers of resistance they were not strong enough to turn against the enemy and he fell its victim.

"These are the facts, loth as we are to record them, but let us forget the weaknesses of men, and remember them for their better qualities.

"We choose to remember Evan Lewis as he really was --- in the days of his mental activity and energetic manhood --- when he had a kindly word for everyone and a hand grasp --- a true incentive to the heart within. His aim was to trespass upon no one's rights and he was considerate and obliging to all with whom he came in contact in a business or social way. And so much was this trait a part of his nature that it asserted itself, to the close of his career and while friends distrusted his businesss judgments he never lost that respect so essential in life's affairs.

"For several years he had been assisting in the conduct of the Chariton Patriot, his son Elijah Jr. having its direct management. His brother Elijah spent the summers with them here, but during the sessions of congress resided in Washington, D.C., where he has an appointment. These were his only relatives here, his wife having passed beyond several years since. They feel keenly his death and never were men more loyal and true than this brother and son. They were silent but met every obligation of kinship manfully, hoping against hope that strength might assert itself and the restoration come. But this was not realized and the end is here."

Evan was buried in the Chariton Cemetery after a Quaker service at the family home on North Main Street, then the following year, Elijah Sr. and Elijah Jr. sold The Patriot to Sam M. Green, who already owned The Herald. It was Greene who, as of Oct. 1, 1909, consolidated The Herald and The Patriot into today's Herald-Patriot.

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