Posts Tagged ‘murder’

Today is the anniversary of the Ashtabula Bridge Disaster. On this date in 1876, a train plummeted into a ravine outside Ashtabula, Ohio, after the bridge it was traveling on collapsed. In the Cleveland area, you can visit a trio of gravesites related to this tragedy.

The bridge that collapsed was the creation of two men, both of whom were implicated as negligent in the tragedy but never faced any legal consequences. Amasa Stone was the architect. His own suicide several years after the accident has been attributed to it, but it is not clear what precipitated his actions. He rests in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland.



Charles Collins was the engineer. Officially, the story is that he committed suicide after testifying about the accident, but evidence pointed to his death being a homicide. His family mausoleum is within site of the marker for the unidentified victims of the disaster.


Those victims of the tragedy who could not be identified (the train cars plunged into icy water from significant height, and then caught fire from the lamps and stove inside) lie under this monument in Chestnut Grove Cemetery.



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Fate, they say, is a cruel mistress. The ghost of Charles Collins may be more acutely aware of that than most. Charles Collins was the chief engineer for the Lake Shore and Michigan Railway – the man who helped Amasa Stone design the fatal bridge and who inspected it very soon before the accident. In the ensuing investigation, he was heavily interrogated about his role in failing to prevent the disaster. And, the newspapers reported, one day after testifying, Charles Collins returned to his room and put a gun to his head. And that is how the story has come down to us. One of the two primary villains of the Horror was conveniently dead, and the public seemed to feel that his blood was some small payment for the destruction he caused.


In fact, investigators at the time saw all the signs of a homicide rather than a self-inflicted gunshot wound. But at the time, allowing Collins’ death to go down on the books as a suicide resulting from his feelings of guilt was the more politically expedient choice than attempting to identify the murderer of a highly unpopular man.


Collins’ family laid him to rest in the mausoleum in quiet Chestnut Grove Cemetery, mere miles from the disaster that seems to have precipitated his death. And then in 1895, the monument to the unrecognized dead was placed in the cemetery in the exact same section, almost next door to the Collins’ mausoleum. Cemetery visitors occasionally report a repentant, weeping man wandering that section. If ghosts do exist, it appears that Charles Collins can never escape his culpability for what happened outside Ashtabula in that gorge on a freezing December night. He and those who his negligence killed seem destined to haunt the same piece of hallowed ground, their fates permanently entwined.

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I hope I can do this topic justice – I don’t know much about Chinese history.

Over the course of the 19th century, foreign powers controlled more and more of China. They carved the country into “spheres of influence” and claimed exclusive trading rights in regions. The interests of the Chinese were largely ignored as countries like Russia, Italy, Japan, and the United States argued amongst themselves about China’s future. Simultaneously, a significant population of Christian missionaries attempted to convert the Chinese people. Olivia and Per Alfred Ogren, a young Swedish couple, were part of the Chinese Inland Mission.

In 1898, a group of Chinese peasants organized into an organization called I-ho ch’üan (“Righteous and Harmonious Fists,” called “Boxers” by the Europeans and Americans). They were opposed to the foreign involvement in China and the ruling Dynasty, fearing that Chinese culture was being lost due to imperialism. Beginning in Shanxi (Shantung) province, they killed Westerners and Chinese Christian converts and destroyed their institutions and businesses. They gained even more power when the Empress Dowager endorsed their movement and condoned the killing and expulsion of foreigners. By 1900, the uprising had reached Beijing, and the foreign powers sent troops to quell it.


Unfortunately for the Ogrens, the intervention came too late. According to accounts of their experience, the local magistrate initially helped the Ogrens escape by the river, but they were captured and sold to the Boxers when they docked. Alfred escaped and Olivia and baby Samuel were released (possibly through bribery or a kindly official). The magistrate’s secretary found them hiding in caves and brought them (and a few other surviving missionaries) to the local jail for their own safety, where Alfred died of starvation or his wounds or both. Olivia gave birth to a baby girl named Ruth while in the jail. Olivia and her babies finally departed China by way of the port city of Hankou in February of 1901. Mrs. Ogren write a book about their ordeal, and son Samuel edited it. This story is pieced together from multiple Google books that mention the subject, none of which fully agree with one another.

But all of the stories end with Olivia Ogren returning to Sweden, two small children in tow. None of them give any hint that her grave would be found in Ashtabula, Ohio, in the United States.

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Today’s post is a quick hit of the most interesting epitaph I found on a grave marker this weekend in Woodland Cemetery. I first took a walk over to this grave marker because of the intact porcelain portrait on the front.


The portrait is a little worn with time, but looks pretty good for something over 100 years old.

Albert Sluka

Then I read unfortunate Albert Sluka’s epitaph – “stabbed to death.” I need to get to a library with newspaper access to see if I can find out more about his murder.

Albert Sluka

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Sometimes, the interesting thing about cemeteries is knowing the what the tombstone doesn’t say.  In the summer of 2001 as part of a college course, I visited Fall River, Massachusetts, and stayed overnight in the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast and Museum. (Apologies to those who would like photographs – the roll of film containing the Lizzie Borden house and cemetery plot photos disappeared. )  For those unfamiliar with the story, in 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden were murdered in their home at 92 Second Street in Fall River, Massachusetts. Andrew’s eldest daughter Emma Borden was visiting friends at the time, and his youngest daughter Lizzie was tried for the murders.

Even before the murders, all was not sweetness and light in the Borden household.  Andrew’s first wife Sarah died in 1863,  and Emma considered caring for young Lizzie to be her duty to her deceased mother.  When Andrew remarried Abby, Lizzie had two competing mother figures in her sister and stepmother, and testimony at the  trial indicated that Emma had won that conflict.  Exacerbating those tensions was Andrew’s control over family finances and property – at the time of the murder, Andrew was dividing up family property in ways that Emma and Lizzie were unlikely to appreciate.  Some scholars of the case have also implied that Andrew could have been abusive to Lizzie.  Just before the murders, the entire family had come down with a mysterious illness that Mrs. Borden had feared was malicious poisoning, but the doctor attributed it to simply food poisoning. And then one hot summer day, August 4, 1892, Andrew was struck down with so many hatchet swings as he lay on a couch in the parlor.  Lizzie found (or “found” him) and called for the maid, Bridget Sullivan.  Soon after, Bridget found Abby Borden bludgeoned in the guest room just to the left at the top of the main staircase.

Suspicion immediately fell on Lizzie, and she was arrested 7 days later.  Lizzie Borden was acquitted  for the murder of her father and stepmother, but the court of public opinion judged her differently. Even though a number of other suspects for the Borden murders have been suggested over the years, Lizzie has always been primary, because it simply seems impossible that she could have been in the house and not been aware of her stepmother and father being killed with a hatchet.  Many residents of Fall River were convinced that Lizzie had gotten away with murder.  One worker at the Bed and Breakfast and Museum said that his grandmother used to cross the street to walk on the other sidewalk if she saw Lizzie Borden coming towards her.  Plenty of people I meet still know the childhood jump-rope rhyme:

Lizzie Borden took an axe, Gave her mother forty whacks When she saw what she had done Gave her father forty-one.

(The pedants among us will now note that the likely murder weapon was a hatchet rather than an axe.  And it was her stepmother.  And both combined weren’t hit 40 times.)

But neither Lizzie nor or Emma left Fall River.  They bought a bigger house called Maplecroft in the ritzier section of town and then had their own falling out in 1905.  Although Emma retained ownership of half the house, the two sisters lived apart.  But when they died just 9 days apart in 1927, Lizzie and Emma were buried up in the family plot in Oak Grove Cemetery. And to this day, the family is all together again in the cemetery.  Lizzie, Emma, and their sister Alice who died a toddler are buried their with their father, mother, and stepmother in a comfortable little family plot.  Their small, uniform individual footstones sit in a neat row in front of the family monument, belying the chaos and strife that marked their lives and deaths.

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