Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Chariton Cemetery tour 2: Deming Jarves Thayer

Blake Yocom portrayed Deming Jarves Thayer Sunday afternoon, second on a program entitled "The Lady in the Iron Fence and Her Neighborhood" during the 17th annual Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour. Mary Finley (Alicia McGee), reinterred in the cemetery soon after it was established in 1864, was the lady in question. You'll find the script of her presentation here.

Deming moved into Mary's "neighborhood" permanently during 1898 and was left behind in 1920 when his widow, Jessie Mallory Thayer, had the remains of her father, Smith H. Mallory, disinterred from an adjoining plot and removed to Florida. The towering family tombstone on the lot was dismantled and shipped to Florida, too, where it stands today in Orlando's Greenwood Cemetery.

Here's the text of Deming's presentation:


If someone asked what the Chariton Cemetery, Cape Cod and Sandwich glass have in common, you’d be hard pressed to find the answer. But if you were knowledgeable, then looked closely at the name on my tombstone, you would have a clue. I’m the link.

My name is Deming Jarves Thayer and I have occupied this high ground at the west end of the cemetery since June 1898 when I fired a pistol shot into my right temple rather than return to Chariton to face my wife, my in-laws --- the Mallorys --- and the people of Lucas County who had followed with relish my descent into madness.

We were at the time one of the most prominent families in the south of Iowa and our personal triumphs and tragedies were fair game, or so it seemed.

I WAS BORN 45 years earlier, during the fall of 1852, in the town of Sandwich, the oldest on Cape Cod, not far from the shoreline and its view across Cape Cod Bay toward the Atlantic. My father was Harlow Hooker Thayer and my mother, Mary.

I was named for my great-uncle, Deming Jarves --- founder and chief executive of the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company and developer of the famed Sandwich glassware.

It was my great-uncle’s practice to employ extended family members and my parents operated a lumber firm he had founded to supply wood to the Sandwich glassworks.

Although I had an idyllic childhood, it ended too soon --- my mother died in childbirth when I was 6 years old, during June of 1859, and I had little to do with my father after that. He moved to Boston, remarried and I was passed from hand to hand by loving but somewhat distant aunts and uncles.

MY ADVANCED education began when I was 13 and enrolled as a boarding student at the Lawrence Academy in Groton, Massachusetts. In 1869, I entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and qualified there as a civil engineer.

My first job was in the Midwest --- for the C.B.&Q. Railroad which was moving into Nebraska, Kansas and points west. That was how I became acquainted with Smith H. Mallory, of Chariton, a builder of railroads himself.

But I wanted a more adventurous life, so during the mid-1870s I joined the staff of Francisco Javier Cisneros, a Cuban revolutionary and civil engineer living in exile in the United States who also was a Latin American railroad pioneer. Beginning in 1878, I served as resident engineer on his Colombian Cauca Railway project, connecting the Pacific coast with the inland Cauca River valley.

In 1883, I went to work as chief engineer for James B. Eads’ Tehuantepec Ship Railway project, a proposed alternative to the Panama Canal that would have moved fully loaded ships between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by rail.

Ten years later, in 1885, I was ready to return to the United States and contacted Mr. Mallory --- then building railroads in Nebraska and Kansas --- to see if his firm, Mallory & Fitzgerald, needed a skilled engineer. It did, and I was appointed chief engineer. Our principal project during the next three years was building what became the main line of the Missouri Pacific Railroad across Kansas to Pueblo, Colorado.

A YEAR LATER, during June of 1886, I married the boss’s daughter --- Jessie O. Mallory, at 22 eleven years my junior. The wedding was a grand affair at the Mallory home in Chariton, the Ilion. The Mallory family and their friends arrived by private rail cars and chartered Pullmans. None of my family or friends were present.

Jessie and I left for Kansas on the night train immediately after the wedding --- it was a working honeymoon and my father-in-law joined us in a few days.

Jessie soon returned to Chariton --- the work in Kansas and Colorado was all-consuming. I joined her in Chariton when I could; Jessie and her mother also traveled now and then to Kansas to visit us.

Our first and only child, a little girl Jessie named Louise Mallory Thayer, was stillborn in Chariton on Feb. 3, 1888. Neither I nor my father-in-law was present. The infant was interred in the Stanton Vault, half a block east of here --- and remains there, buried in vault’s foundations.

MY FATHER-IN-LAW, already rich, consolidated his fortune with the Kansas project and once it was complete, Mallory & Fitzgerald was dissolved and after 35 years of hard work he decided to settle down in Chariton and enjoy the fruits of his labor.

My professional reputation was at its peak and I was offered many positions, but it was Jessie’s wish that we join her parents at the Ilion and make it our permanent home, too. I was made an officer in the various railroad companies in which my father-in-law was an investor and was named superintendent of Brook Farm --- the 1,000-acre agricultural estate attached to the Ilion park and stretching north and west from it.

I was not trained to be a farmer or a businessman, but did the best I could and apparently was well-liked by those I worked with. One of the Chariton newspapers characterized me this way in an 1898 eulogy --- “Mr. Thayer was greatly beloved by those who worked under him. He was a man with an enterprising spirit, having a vast amount of energy, and ‘progression’ was a watch word with him. His disposition was inclined to be retiring and unobtrusive. From choice he had few near friends, but to them he was true and faithful.”

JESSIE WAS CONTENT in her role as a civic and social leader in Chariton and we wanted for nothing during the years that followed, but we never had a home of our own and I could only pretend that I had a fulfilling occupation.

I became increasingly subject to what you might now call clinical depression, something my wife and her parents --- and I --- did not understand. We called in “nerves.”

This came to a head in the fall of 1897 when Jessie and I traveled to a private hospital in Milwaukee where I was to receive treatment. We continued into Chicago for a day or two at the Great Northern Hotel before I entered the hospital and everything boiled over there in a bizarre way --- my violent and uncontrollable outburst as we passed with friends through the buffet line in the hotel restaurant. This was widely reported upon --- the headline in The New York Times of October 30 read, “D. J. Thayer Demented.”

I was taken briefly to the Milwaukee hospital, then transferred --- with my consent --- to the Iowa Hospital for the Insane in Mount Pleasant, where I remained six months. Released in mid-May, 1898, I set off immediately for Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where it was thought the water treatments would speed my recovery.

I was returning to Chariton via St. Louis on Monday, June 20, 1898, when --- having retired to my compartment after supper --- I killed myself. My body was discovered by a porter the next morning. I was buried here after a private funeral at the Ilion.

My father-in-law died during 1903 and joined me here. Soon thereafter Jessie and her mother set about creating a suitable memorial for Chariton’s most prominent family. Matching headstones were ordered and a towering Celtic cross, heavily carved, was erected between our graves. Jessie and my mother-in-law planned to join us eventually.

But the Mallory empire in Lucas County crashed during 1907 and during 1909 Jessie and her mother fled to Orlando, Florida. During June of 1920, Jessie returned to Chariton, had her father’s remains exhumed and cremated and the towering cross disassembled and shipped to Greenwood Cemetery in Orlando, where it still stands.

My remains and those of our daughter were left undisturbed, so I’m still here --- a long way from old Cape Cod.

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