Friday, April 02, 2021

Edwin Swanson & the story behind a tombstone

Coal mining in Lucas County was a dangerous business from the start --- during the 1870s --- until its end about a century later when the Big Ben mine closed during 1978.

Claus Edwin Swanson, in his early 50s when he died on March 27, 1941, of injuries sustained at the No. 3 Mine northeast of Williamson, was one of many although there are a few twists and turns to his story, or what we know of it, that intrigued me.

Among the most notable --- The Chariton Leader of April 1, 1941, got his name wrong when reporting the death on its front page under the headline, "Rites Held for Mine Accident Victim Sunday." Here's the report:


Ernest Swanson, 54, of Williamson, died Thursday evening at the Miners' Hospital in Albia.

He was injured Monday forenoon, March 24, in a fall of slate at Mine No. 3 at Williamson, operated by the Consolidated Indiana Coal Company.

He suffered a broken leg, a fractured pelvic bone and abdominal and other injuries. He had to be dug out by fellow workmen from the debris.

Mr. Swanson was a single man and so far as known had no living relatives in this country. He was born in Sweden but had been in America many years.

Funeral services were held Sunday afternoon at two o'clock at the Beardsley funeral home in Chariton, conducted by Student O. Rolander of Augustana College, Rock Island, Ill., and burial was in the Chariton Cemetery.


It's not clear when Edwin arrived in the United States, but he was working as a miner and living at Williamson by 1930 when he was enumerated in the federal census of that year, sharing a home with Axel F. Pearson, a year older and also a native of Sweden, identified by the census-taker as his "partner." Most likely that means only that the two men were sharing a home and splitting the cost equally. Ten years later, in 1940, Edwin still was a resident of Williamson, enumerated as a boarder in the home of Sunny and Mary Wilson, proprietors of a cafe.

As an employee of Mine No. 3, Edwin would have been a member of United Mine Workers Local 300 and it's likely that in the absence of family, the union took charge of making the arrangements for his funeral. He also left behind a large enough estate to require probate and Raymond Allen, who had held various offices in the union local, was appointed to administer it.

Edwin has quite a nice tombstone in the Chariton Cemetery and it seems likely that this was purchased and placed with the proceeds of his estate.

The executor's final report was published in The Leader of Sept. 1, 1942, and Edwin is identified in it as "Klaus Edwin Swenson" and his heirs as "Otto Svenson, father, Fritz Svenson, brother, and a sister whose name is unknown." So that tells us a little more. Most likely all three were residents of Sweden.

As an interesting (to me) side note, Virgil E. Meyer served as the executor's attorney, so this would have been among the first cases in Lucas County handled by the fledgling lawyer. Mr. Meyer arrived in Chariton during early 1942 to take over the case work of Leo Hoegh, who had recently been called to active duty.

The Allen family left Chariton during 1942 after both Raymond and his son, Marshall, enlisted to serve during World War II, Raymond in the U.S. Army, Marshall in the U.S. Navy. Mrs. Allen and daughter Betty moved to Ankeny and went to work in an ordnance plant there for the duration.

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