Friday, September 11, 2015

Little Ruth Vincent --- and smallpox

The oldest marked graves in Potter's Field are those of William E. Hollensleben, who died Nov. 1, 1867, age about 65 (foreground) and George N. Evans (background), who died Aug. 10, 1865, age 3.

Little Ruth Vincent's name caught my eye yesterday when I was looking through a list forwarded by Melody Wilson of some 100 people buried during 1900 and later in the Potter's Field section of Chariton Cemetery. It's a familiar surname, and I wanted to find out who she was related to and how she came to be there.

Potter's Field (see Matthew 27:3-8 for an explanation of the name) is that big pretty area in the southwest corner of the cemetery that appears to be mostly vacant but actually contains more than 175 graves, most of them unmarked. It was established in 1864, when the cemetery was founded, and the earliest marked grave dates from 1865. Only the poor --- or in some cases strangers among us --- were buried there.

The records show that Ruth (Burial No. 3169), estimated age 1 month, was buried here on April 30, 1902, but nothing more. As it turns out neither little Ruth's age nor date of burial are accurate.

In search of more information, I started looking through back issues of Chariton newspapers and discovered that there had been a smallpox scare in Lucas County during early 1902. Ruth, apparently, was the only fatality, but there had been dozens of cases across the county before the crisis passed, including one of my great-aunts, Minnie (Myers) Johnson, exposed while teaching school; and a cousin, Nellie Redlingshafer, similarly exposed but not infected.

The first reported cases occurred in Russell, but by April there were cases in Chariton, too.

The Chariton Herald of April 17, 1902, reported several in and around town, including Ruth: "The tiny babe of Mr. and Mrs. Venus Vincent, west of the Christian church, is also badly broken out with a disease which the physician pronounced smallpox."

Other victims were Mrs. Sam Martz, of southwest Chariton; John Bennett, of west Chariton; John Logesteen; "the Park baby"; Mrs. Stokesberry; and Isaiah Barger, who lived southwest of town.

The outbreak was of a smallpox variety described as "light" --- rarely fatal to adults otherwise in good health. But infants and small children were especially vulnerable. 

The only way to end the outbreak was strict quarantine of those who were ill. The Methodist preacher, for example --- exposed while visiting parishioners --- had quarantined himself in a room at the parsonage while waiting to see if symptoms would appear.

Little Ruth didn't make it, as the Herald reported in its edition of April 24: "The first death from smallpox in Chariton occurred at the home of Venus Vincent at 7:30 o'clock last evening. Their little six weeks old babe died and the body was buried at 1 o'clock by the father and Marshal Householder."

A more complete obituary was published in The Herald of May 1: "Little Ruth, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Venus Vincent, of Roland avenue, died last Wednesday evening after suffering intensely for twelve days, the victim of smallpox. She was just six weeks old on Wednesday morning at 8:30 and died at 7:30 in the evening. After the fever left her, she seemed too weak to cope with the disease longer, and death ensued. It was necessary, because of the disease, for interment to take place as soon as possible and at 1 o'clock that night the little body was laid away in the Chariton cemetery. Mr. Vincent, wife and daughter are especially thankful to the Epworth League for their manifestation of sympathy expressed by way of a beautiful bouquet of flowers and to the city officers for their kindly assistance during the sickness, death and burial of their loved one."

Ruth was the youngest of Venus and Annie Vincent's eight children, two of whom already had died in infancy.

Some years after Ruth's death, the Vincents moved to a farm in the Lacona area where Annie died during 1911 and Venus, in 1925. Both are buried in the Hendrickson Cemetery, rural Liberty Center, which also was the Vincent family cemetery.


norm prince said...

Interesting stones in your picture this morning. Almost looks as if the old white stones were encased in a rectangular concrete backing ?? If so a rather unique way to help preserve and protect the fragile stones of old.

Frank D. Myers said...

This is a common way in this neck of the woods at least to repair and resurrect stones like these that have broken and fallen. Attempts to restore them without the cement encasement generally do not work well because the old marble has become so brittle that if put back together and stood upright without it, the stones are liable to snap again --- not at the mend --- but on other new fracture lines, compounding the problem. The thing to remember when old marble tablet stones like these are intact --- don't mess with them. Even well-intentioned attempts to straighten crooked stones, without excavation, resetting and the proper equipment, will cause them to snap. They are very fragile.