Friday, October 26, 2007

The Ghost Who Haunts Me

Alice Snyder
born March 24, 1864 - died December 1907

I first discovered Alice when I was given an old family bible by my aunt. It was an old Victorian bible, broken backed, and crumbling. In the back of the bible , along with a page of hand written family data, there were pictures of children. Some of them were tintypes, like this one, others were the later "Cartes de Visites" postcard variety. This was the only one with any kind of name on it - the letters "A S" were scratched onto the back in a childish hand. This picture was taken around the time that her older sister, Phoebe, and her younger brother, William, had both died.

It wasn't until I was in a research library last summer, going through obituaries that I found Alice again. There were two newspaper articles about her death, which apparently was a suicide.

I knew next to nothing of this branch of the family - my father's mother's family - my grandmother never knew any of her aunts and uncles. It always struck me weird that there was so little contact, when, according to census records, they were all living right around each other. What had happened that they no longer spoke to each other?

I think it was Alice's death that was the catalyst for their estrangement, but why did she kill herself?

These are the newspaper articles:
Venango Citizens Press
Franklin, PA. Thursday, December 26th, 1907

Suicide Of An Oil City Woman
Maiden Lady Formerly Employed In Franklin Drowns Herself In The Allegheny River At Oil City – Poor Health The Cause

Miss Alice Snyder, a maiden lady formerly employed as a domestic in Franklin, committed suicide in Oil City about 6 o’clock this morning, drowning herself in the Allegheny River. Continued ill health is assigned as the cause, the attempt being the second within the past week.

The woman was 49 years old and for the past year had been making her home with her sister, Mrs. Ed Sheats, in the Third Ward or West Side, Oil City. She had been brooding over her poor health for some time, and last Sunday swallowed carbolic acid and iodine with suicidal intent. She did not take sufficient quantities of the stuff to do her harm, however and was all right the next day.

Ten minutes before 5 o’clock this morning Walter Snyder, a young man employed in Boardman’s blacksmith shop on the West side, no relative of the woman, observed her walk rapidly past the shop, which is back off the street, going toward the river between Relief and Suspension bridges. The incident being unusual, he looked after her and saw that she stopped at the edge of the shore ice about 200 feet from the street car barn. Thinking that the woman was in trouble, Mr. Snyder went up to her and asked her if she were lost. She said she was. Then suddenly the woman turned to him and said:
“I don’t know you; go away and leave me alone.”
Young Snyder never suspected that the woman intended suicide and walked back to the shop to tell his employer of the unusual occurrence. Mr. Boardman at once became suspicious of the woman’s actions and told Snyder to notify the police and he would look after the woman.

On his way to the police station Snyder met Captain Rhines and they walked to the point where the former had left the woman. Mr. Boardman had already arrived and was exploring the footprints of the woman in the snow. They indicated that she had put her foot in the water at one point and found that it was not very deep. Then she went ten feet down the stream and found a deeper place. The edge of the ice indicated that she had deliberately lain down in the water.

The swirling of the water indicated the possible location of the body, and John and Lyman Bowersox, wearing rubber boots, waded into the stream. They had little difficulty in locating the body, but when they brought it to the surface all hope of resuscitating the woman was gone. The water was shallow, not coming to the top of the men’s boots. The body was removed to the Paul morgue, where it was identified.

Mrs. Sheats said her sister had left home early in the morning without letting any person know where she was going. She even went to the trouble of putting on her storm rubbers.
Venango Daily Herald
Thursday, December 19th, 1907

Drowned Herself
Alice Snyder, Oil City Woman, Plunged Into Allegheny This Morning

When found by neighbors, life was extinct – had tried carbolic acid last Sunday.

A plunge into the icy waters of the Allegheny River at 6 o’clock this morning brought death in cruel form to Alice Snyder, an Oil City woman, who for several days has been bent on self-destruction. At that hour the woman was missed from the home of her brother-in-law, Edward Sheets, of Halliday Street, where she had been living, and search was immediately instituted. Upon leaving the house, the unfortunate woman, who was evidently not in her right mind, made for the river in the vicinity of the Traction Company car barns on Reller Street. A man named Snyder, who works at the Boardman shop nearby, saw the woman walking along the bank and going up to her spoke to her, telling her to go into the shop and get warm, as the morning was bitterly cold. This she refused to do, and Snyder, who bears the same name without being related, went back to the shop to attend the boiler, telling Mr. Boardman about the woman. Mr. Boardman started for the river bank, but by that time the woman had disappeared.

In the meantime, Edward Sheets, the woman’s brother-in-law, had notified two men, John and L. Bowersock, teamsters, who live next door to his home, and these two, equipped with high-topped rubber boots, started in search of the missing woman.

They made for the river, and at a point some distance below the car barns of the Traction Company they saw the body lying in the water. Wading in, by their united efforts they soon brought the body to hand.

The police were notified and Paul’s ambulance summoned. The body was taken to the undertaking rooms.

Walter Snider, of Boardman’s shop, who was the last one to see and talk to the suicide before she committed the rash act, noticed that she had put a shawl over her head. In the brief conversation with her she asked him his name, which he told her.

Indecision Of Her Movements

From the footprints in the slush along the shore of the river, it was seen that the woman descended the bank and waded out into the water, and then retraced her steps to the bank, which she climbed. She walked along for a further distance of about 15 feet, when she descended again and plunged into the river.

This was the second attempt made by Alice Snyder within a few days. Last Sunday morning she attempted to kill herself by taking carbolic acid. The cold weather had congealed the liquid, however, so that only a small portion of the stuff ran out into her throat. Prompt measures taken by the rest of the family saved her from her purpose. Mr. Sheets had occasion to go to the sink in the kitchen and detected the odor of carbolic acid. At once starting an investigation he found his sister-in-law suffering, and she confessed that she had taken the poison. She had at first taken iodine, drops of which were found upon her nightdress, and when this failed, had tried the carbolic acid. At the time Mr. Sheets called in Mrs. Bowersock, and a physician was summoned, who administered the usual antidotes.

Odor Still Present

While C.A.Grabe, the undertaker, was preparing the body for burial, this morning, he found the throat burned and detected the odor of carbolic acid, which aroused the suspicion that, possibly, the unfortunate woman had tried that means again before taking to the river.

Alice Snyder was unmarried, and her relatives could not tell her exact age, which was somewhere near 45 years. The family and she herself are well known in their neighborhood, and bear only the best of reputations. The woman had been employed as a domestic, had served a number of times in prominent families here and in Franklin, having her last term of service in the latter city. She is highly spoken of as having been a capable domestic servant. She had been ill for several months and had had two or three operations for some catarrhal throat trouble. Her mind was undoubtedly unbalanced.
I went and looked up "catarrh" and it basically is a blanket term for any kind of throat or upper respiratory issue, ranging from something as benign as post-nasal drip, or a sinus infection, to the more severe, such as emphysema, tuberculosis, or throat cancer.

There is no telling what disease it was that drove Alice Snyder to the banks of the Allegheny River on a bitterly cold December morning, but I don't believe that she was deranged. I do believe that she had been, and still was in tremendous pain, without any hope of relief, and it was desperation that drove her to the river's edge.

I stood at that river's edge this past summer, trying to understand. I searched for her grave, which remains un-found, as does the family farm she was interred on. I stand on the riverbank with her, in my dreams, trying to ask her what happened.

Why do I care; why am I haunted by her? I live with chronic sinusitis. There are few days that I don't have a stuffed up head, and winter usually means at least one sinus infection, if not several. If I lived a hundred years ago, there would be no recourse or remedies to cure a sinus infection.

For Alice, whatever it was that afflicted her health, nothing had helped. She had several surgeries, which, most likely, were barbaric and ultimately, useless. She probably used carbolic acid, initially, to cauterize whatever was going on in her throat, but before the end, she was trying to kill herself with it, and failing to do so, lay down in the icy river that December morning and went into the arms of Death.


CresceNet said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Oh, The Joys said...

Wow. What a story. I wonder if you are right.

flutter said...

How sad. How sad that there is just conjecture to draw on. Have you asked her to come visit you in dreams?