Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Alfred Anderson's bumpy road to eternal rest

Chariton's cemetery is the final resting place for many whose stories have been long forgotten, including a considerable number who died as strangers among us, then had no choice other than to stick around --- permanently.

That was the situation in Alfred Anderson's case, along with a few added complications. The poor guy died tragically, then was misidentified, buried, exhumed, identified correctly and buried again before settling down to eternal rest.


Anderson, an itinerant laborer nearing 60 --- although he apparently appeared to be considerably younger --- arrived in Lucas County during the summer of 1911 with the grading crew of Donald Jeffrey, a sub-contractor on the Rock Island rail line then being constructed to connect existing railheads at Carlisle and Allerton, a project completed during 1913.

His accidental death a few weeks later, on Sept. 14, 1911, was reported in The Herald-Patriot of  Sept. 21 under the headline, "Man Killed in Railroad Work: Trestle Breaks and Andrew Anderson is Killed; Three Other Men Injured."

Note that the victim is identified as "Andrew" Anderson, rather than Alfred. That misidentification was carried forward in future reports, Lucas County death records and Chariton Cemetery burial registers. The misunderstanding may have developed because those who knew him called him "Andy" and there were at the time no driver licenses, databases or other identification tools to consult.

Here's the text of the Sept. 21 article:

While unloading a train of dump cars on a trestle at the first camp of Donald Jeffrey, about five miles northeast of Chariton last Thursday afternoon at two o'clock, part of the trestle collapsed, throwing the cars into the ditch. Andrew Anderson, one of the men working on the trestle was killed, something striking him in the face as he fell. Two other workmen named John Miller, but no relation to each other, were injured, one having his right arm broken and the other his nose and cheek bones broken. Both were brought to Mercy Hospital and are being cared for there. Another man, Andy Horan, was bruised in the face, but did not go to the hospital. Only part of the trestle collapsed, and on the end that did not fall there were six other men working. Had the whole trestle given way there would probably have been others killed or badly injured.

The dead man was taken to Froggat's undertaking rooms where Coroner John Stanton held an inquest over his body on Friday, with Frank Darrah, W.C. Largey and Chester Wilson as the jury. They returned a verdict of accidental death, not placing any blame for carelessness on anyone. The body was interred in the Chariton cemetery on Saturday afternoon, with short services at the grave by Rev. Aszman.

Deceased has no family or relatives, so far as is known, except a son who is either in Alliance, Nebra., or somewhere in South Dakota. He was aged about fifty years.

This is the first accident of the kind that Mr. Jeffrey has ever had in his many years or railroad building. He has always been particularly careful to have his trestles even stronger than seemed necessary, and this trestle was inspected only a couple of days before the accident, and seemed sound and in good condition. What caused its collapse is not known, unless it was a defective timber that looked sound. Mr. Jeffrey is doing everything possible for the comfort of the men who were injured.


Efforts to contact relatives of the deceased continued in the days after his burial and The Leader was able to report on Oct. 5, 1911, that attorney Walter W. Bulman had located the son:

Attorney W.W. Bulman located the son of the gentleman, Anderson by name, who was recently killed on the railroad works out north of Chariton by the falling of a trestle. The young man arrived from a Nebraska point yesterday, and asked to have the body exhumed to see if he could identify the dead man as his father, whom he had not seen for several years. The state board of health was communicated with, who gave the local board authority to act, so the body was exhumed and the young man identified the dead man as his father, after which the remains were reinterred. It seems that the deceased had been divorced from his wife, and had not been with his family for several years.

The Herald-Patriot of the same week identifies the son as H.G. Anderson of Alliance, Nebraska, and correctly identifies the father as "Alfred" Anderson, so that misunderstanding had been cleared up. 


At some point thereafter, the modest tombstone that continues to mark Alfred's grave was erected. It identifies him as "brother" in an eroded line across the top and as "father" in a similar line across the bottom, suggesting that two or more family members helped pay the bill for its placement. 

It's nice to know that Alfred, although at least somewhat estranged from his family, still was mourned and that although it's unlikely flowers will appear on his grave come Memorial Day at least it hasn't been lost.


For those who noticed the reference to Chariton's Mercy Hospital and were puzzled by it --- Mercy Hospital was opened in a converted residence on North Grand Street by nurse Ella Smith during January of 1911 and remained in operation into 1912 before being discontinued. It included six patient rooms, an operating room and related service areas.

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