Sunday, February 4, 2018

Funeral for a Bluestocking

Portrait of Rebecca “Robina” Napier
McRuer, 1833-1866
Rebecca “Robina” Napier McRuer was a Bangor bluestocking and socialite.  Intellectually active and politically aware, Robina recognized the social inequity affecting the lives of poor Irish immigrants in her home town. An abolitionist and Union patriot, she was equally aware of her own socially-defined place as a woman in Bangor’s upper class and mastered her role as a doctor’s daughter and potential wife. She did not marry until nearly 30 years of age and then to a man 18-years her senior.  Only three years later, in July 1866, Robina died from complications following childbirth. 

The daughter of Scottish immigrant Dr. Daniel McRuer and Mary Ann Wright, Robina was one of nine children. She graduated Bangor Girl’s High School around June 1851 and with her best friends Marion (May) Lunt, Celia Frances (Fanny) Dwinel, and Ada Josephine Hortense Pierce, according to the recollections of John Edwards Godfrey, Esq., passed a week as the guests of he and his wife, Elizabeth Angela Stackpole Godfrey at Cliff Cottage in Bangor. The week, described by Godfrey in his journal as “one of unqualified pleasure” made such an impression on the man that he recalled it 20 years later following the death of Ada [Pierce] Williamson in March 1872.

Aside from the occasional, brief mention of Miss R. McRuer entering floral arrangements in the Bangor Horticultural Society show, the woman’s name only once appeared prominently in the pages of the Bangor Whig & Courier when she was selected by her peers to present the men of Maine’s Second Civil War Regiment with a silk American flag sewn “by the ladies of Bangor.” In the company of Mayor Charles Stetson and Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, the formal presentation took place on Broadway as citizens of the region waved their sons off to war on Tuesday, May 14, 1861.

Maine’s Second Regiment including officers, soldiers, and military band
standing on a snow-covered field at Camp Jameson on the grounds of
Mt. Vernon, Virginia. Above the assembly waves the American flag—
very possibly, the same flag made by the ladies of Bangor and presented to
the Regiment prior to their departure from Bangor. Library of Congress Prints
and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
LCCN 2009632246 LC-DIG-ppmsc-03307
From the porch of James Crosby’s home on Broadway, the Mayor introduced Robina to the men of Maine’s Second Regiment and the crowd. The speech she authored and spoke, was recorded in the Whig & Courier:

Soldiers of the Second Regiment—Colonel Jameson: On behalf of the ladies of Bangor, I present this flag: the pride of our nation, the guardian of its institutions, the symbol of its liberty. You are called upon to vindicate its insulted honor and re-establish its supremacy over the fortunes of a now divided people. From a distant part of our land, from those who should have been our friends and brothers, the sharp cry of disunion has risen; but the sole response echoed back by millions in an undivided and enthusiastic North has been—“Union.”

This flag has been consecrated by the women’s prayers to the defense of the Union, and to your honor and bravery it is now entrusted. It were easier to bear it against a foreign foe, alien in language and ignorant of the blessing of freedom; it were better that its sacred folds should be stained by a stranger’s than a brother’s blood, but let not this thought dishearten you.
Remember that you have that which alone can ennoble war—a noble cause—and go forward to battle for the right, secure of victory. Our hopes, our prayers are with you in your sacred work

               “Yes, let all good things away.
                Him who cares not to be great
                But as he saves or serves the State.”

Take then this ensign of the Free! Under its folds let no coward or traitor to his country lurk! Eager eyes will watch its progress amid the vicissitudes of war, and joyous hearts will exult when it leads you to glory and victory. —And when you return to the peace of your Northern homes, (God grant it may be soon,) bring back this flag and we will cherish it as a priceless memento of the bravery of the soldiers of Maine.

On August 1, 1861, following the shock of the Union’s loss at the First Battle of Bull Run and reports about the catastrophic number of casualties occurring on both sides, Robina penned the abolitionist poem, “Let Us Hear No More of Sending Back the Slave” published in both the New York Independent and The Liberator out of Boston. Though published anonymously, John Godfrey, with a father’s pride, attributes the work to Robina, transcribing the poem in his journal along with the comment that she was “too modest” to allow the work to be published locally. The poem, both eloquent and terse, takes politicians to task for the cretinously continued enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act as Northern volunteers died in a war to preserve the Union. Even as she penned these words, Robina could not predict that little more than a week later, her own father would be called to serve as surgeon to Maine’s Second.

Let Us Hear No More of Sending Back the Slave

Stand up in the Capitol and proclaim
To wondering nations the fearful game
Which the soldiers play for us, North and South,
At the bayonet’s point and the cannon’s mouth—
Count up the stakes and reckon the chances;
Say, as each bristling column advances, —
                “So we contend against slavery,
                Lying and cheating and knavery” —
                                And then send back the slave.

North, East and West have poured out their treasures,
Doubled their tithes, and heaped up their measures—
Called to strong men, “Now arm for the fight,
Crush the proud traitor, and strike for the Right!”
Into the ranks slip young men and bold men—
Into the ranks step wise men and old men—
And the mothers kiss and caress them,
And the maidens cheer them and bless them,
                And you send back the slave.

 “Forward!” they march at the President’s call
Through Baltimore’s streets to the Capital.
“Forward!” where foes are entrenched in their might,
(Now God be with them, and favor the Right!)
And they see the hard battle before them,
And they think of the mothers who bore them,
                And the maidens’ cheers and flatteries—
                March up to the murderous batteries—
                                While you send back the slave.

Weary and thirsty, they strike for the Right—
New men, but true men, they gallantly fight;
Bravely resisting, they stand by their flags
Till their gay colors are torn into rags.
They are falling, the young men and bold men,
They are falling, the wise men and old men—
                And the cannon-ball leaps and whistles,
                And cuts down the shamrocks and thistles—
                                And you send back the slave.

Ay, weep for the soldiers who lie there dead,
And weep for the soldiers who turned and fled!
Send to the Northland, and gather a host,
Fill up the places of those you have lost.
Cry to the nations, “Come now and aid us
Crush out the wrong for which you upbraid us.”
                Then call upon God for assistance,
                For strength in your holy resistance
                                And then you send back the slave.

My countrymen, can you not understand
‘Tis a “holy war,” which the Lord hath planned;
That Justice and Vengeance shall make you strong
When you throw in the scales the pond’rous wrong?
They have hated you, scorned you, scouted you,
And now from the field they have routed you,
                While you with clinging humility
                Kiss their soft hands in servility—
                                And you send back the slave.

Through reading Robina’s own words, one is able to gain a better perspective on Godfrey’s ardent pride in Robina as “no ordinary woman.” A year after her December 1863 marriage to New York merchant Gilbert Howell, Godfrey compared Robina favorably with his own wife, Angela, stating, “They both, when young, were of the independent rompish kind, such as most girls are who amount to anything.” 
Mary C. (McRuer) Clark (1828-1904),
Sarah “Sally” Russ (McRuer) Field (1824-1900), and
Rebecca “Robina” Napier (McRuer) Howell (1833-1866). 
From the collection of Richard R. Shaw.

Upon learning of Robina's death in July 1866, a clearly heart-broken Godfrey wrote, “Though of beautiful person, she possessed a superior mind. She had great versatility of talent, excellent judgement, great wit, a vast fund of humor, a big heart, a forgiving disposition, and exquisite taste. Take her all in all, I never saw her superior—in some points never her equal. She possessed remarkable conversational powers. She was passionately fond of the fine arts. Kept up her reading and her studies. A year ago, when I left her house in Brooklyn, she was talking French with a Frenchwoman, and it seemed to me that she was quite at home...Probably never has there been a happier wife than she. Her husband is a wealthy merchant, and toward her his conduct has been that of a lover, during her whole connection with him. No wish of hers was left ungratified ... Like a devoted wife she did all in her power to return his kindness.”

“It is with great grief to us all, her death. [Mrs. Godfrey] has done nothing but mourn since she heard of it. Dr. McRuer will be inconsolable. He thought there was no one to compare with her—and her husband will never get over it,” Godfrey wrote.

Grave marker of Robina McRuer Howell, Mount
Hope Cemetery, Bangor, Maine.
Author photo, 2016.
While Godfrey noted multiple local deaths in the first volume of his published journals, it is his report of Robina’s funeral, as well as that of his wife, Angela in May 1868 that gives a glimpse into the community’s mid-19th Century funerary practices. Robina’s body was returned to Maine from New York and laid out for the viewing at her father’s home on State Street on August 5, sixteen days following her death. Godfrey stated he would “not have known the person, had I seen the body elsewhere. It looked 10 years older than Robina,” though his wife assessed the face as natural in appearance.

As was fashionable during the Victorian-age, and likely due to Robina’s involvement in the Bangor Horticultural Society, the McRuer house “was filled with flowers,” Godfrey reported. “The attendance at the funeral was very large. Mr. [Rev. George W.] Field’s prayer at the house was eloquent.” As with Angela Godfrey two years later, Robina was likely dressed in a white silk or satin burial robe. Her hair would have been fashionably styled and her cheeks lightly rouged to relieve the pallor of death. Those assembled would have said prayers and heard the Reverend read from the scriptures.

Noting that Robina, “had a great many friends among the lowly,” Godfrey reported that a large number of people he believed to be the city’s poor Irish immigrants assembled along the perimeter of Dr. McRuer’s property. This group followed the funeral procession to Mount Hope Cemetery, where they continued to pay their respects while keeping at a distance from the Protestant funeral party.

Once the procession reached the cemetery, a second lengthier service was held graveside with an assembled choir. The casket would have been opened to accept offerings of flowers—both wreathes and bouquets—and religious items, such as Christian crosses—from friends and family.  “At the grave the services were very interesting,” Godfrey wrote. “The grave was lined with evergreens, as is the custom here, and all through these evergreens, the friends had woven white flowers and her last resting place was literally a bed of roses, and death in one sense had lost its victory.”

“The choir sang, “Unveil thy bosom faithful tomb,” and Rev. George W. Field made one of the most eloquent affecting and still consoling prayers I ever heard. People were standing and sitting about in all directions and many were the mourners for Mrs. Gilbert Howell.”

Sic transit, the beauty, the glory, the excellence of the world. With good reason may her husband be inconsolable.”
Monument memorializing five of the nine children
born to Dr. Daniel McRuer and Mary Ann
Wright McRuer. Author photo, 2016.

Following her burial, Gilbert Howell employed the company of S. P. Bradbury to mark Robina’s grave with a white marble Victorian-pedestal monument topped with an urn and shroud and draped with carved garlands of ribbons and cabbage roses. The pedestal is edged with acanthus leaves. The stone is simply inscribed: “My dear wife. Robina N. McR. Howell.”  

Nearby, in the center of the double-lot, stands a large white marble monument featuring a fluted column that was erected by Dr. and Mrs. McRuer to memorialize five of their nine children: infants Walter and James and six-year-old Ellen as well as Robina and her sister Lucretia, who experienced brain damage in adulthood as the result of epileptic seizures. Godfrey described her as “a beautiful child, but her mind at the age of 26 was almost gone by reason of fits.”

Unlike so many of Bangor’s fashionable young women, Robina McRuer Howell’s public identity has been preserved in the published journals of John Edward Godfrey. Godfrey’s insight, supplemented by two examples of Robina’s own writing, gives the modern researcher a view to the person whose identity and relationships are also represented in the marble monument that marks her grave.

The urn and shroud topping the monument are traditional symbols of death. These are accompanied by the high-relief carving of cabbage rose garlands, representing Robina’s own love of flowers as well as her husband’s deep, passionate love for his youthful wife. Acanthus leaves surrounding the pedestal base represent the heavenly garden and eternal Christian afterlife. Knowing the woman’s life, reputation, and own words, provides the viewer a deeper understanding of the monument’s meaning to the survivors who accompanied her memory to her grave over 150 years ago.

Departure of the Second Regiment. (15 May 1861) Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, p. 3.
Died. (28 July 1866). Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, p. 3.
Died. (31 July 1866). Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, p. 3.
Godfrey, John Edwards. (1979). The Journals of John Edwards Godfrey: Bangor, Maine 1863-1869, Vol. 1. James B. Vickery, ed. Courier-Gazette, Inc.: Rockland, ME.
Kelly, Howard Atwood, & Walter Lincoln Burrage. (1920). American Medical Biographies. The Norman, Remington Company: Baltimore, MD.
McRuer, Robina. (13 September 1861). Let Us Hear No More of Sending Back the Slave. The Liberator, p. 148.
Peters, Hayden. (12 May 2010). “Symbolism Sunday: The Acanthus,” from Art of Mourning. Retrieved from
Pierce, Frederick Clifton (1901). Field Genealogy: Being the Record of All the Field Family in America, Whose Ancestors Were in this Country Prior to 1700. Emigrant Ancestors Located in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Virginia. All Descendants of the Fields of England, Whose Ancestor, Hurbutus de la Field, was from Alsace-Lorraine, Vol. 2. Hammond Press: Chicago, IL.
Porter, Joseph W., ed. (1888). Bangor Historical Magazine Jul, 1887-June 1888, Vol. III. Benjamin A. Burr: Bangor, ME.
Shaw, Richard R. (1994). Images of America: Bangor. Arcadia Publishing: Charleston, S.C.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Killed by the Hand of an Assassin

Gravestone of William Elliot
Gravestone of William B. Elliot located in South Branch
Cemetery, Levant, Maine. The misspelling of Elliot’s last
name, capital L's, and backward “b” in the abbreviation for
February, suggests the carver possessed a limited level of
literacy and was copying the letter shapes.  The epitaph reads: 
A Member of  Co. C. 11 Me. Regiment. Was Killed by the
hand of an assassin, Fed. [sic] 5, 1879. AE 36 yrs. 11 mos.
A couple years ago, I heard a story telling of a murderer who’d been hung and buried in a swamp behind South Branch Cemetery in Levant, Maine.  The legend of the swamp-mired murder’s grave originated in connection to the gravestone of William B. Elliot, a member of Company C of the 11th Maine (Civil War) Regiment who—as is inscribed on his gravestone— “was killed by the hand of an assassin, Feb. 5, 1879” at age 36 years, 11 months.  The chilling epitaph commemorates what may well be the state of Maine’s second oldest murder cold case.

The following account includes a summary of information about the murder published in the Bangor Daily Whig & Courier in the year following the murder.

Bangor, Maine — February 5, 1879.

Night watchman, Amos Colson, walked along the Washington Street side of the Maine Central Railroad station between 7:30 and 7:40 p.m. the evening of Wednesday, February 5, 1879 when a stranger—a man about 5 feet 5 inches in height with dark whiskers and complexion—drove a sled drawn by a two-horse hitch, rapidly west down Washington Street from Exchange in Bangor, Maine.  The swarthy man, wearing a long dark coat and cloth cap, stopped the sled just short of the station. Jumping down, the stranger ran past Colson, telling him to watch the horses, “saying something about getting over before the train left,” Colson reported.

Unimpressed but sympathetic to the horses’ needs, Colson tended the animals that he reported were “wet from fast driving,” stabling them across the street from the station. At 9:45 p.m., the train having rolled out of the station approximately 7:45 p.m. and the man failing to return, Colson went back to the sheds to cover the horses for the night. Colson was pulling a horse blanket from under some bags of meal in the back of the sled when, by the light of his lantern, he discovered the blanket and bags were saturated with fresh blood.

Sensing foul play, Colson mounted the sled and drove toward the police station. En route, he crossed paths with Bangor Police Officers Thomas F. Allen and Patrick J. Dougherty.  After hearing Colson’s story, Officer Allen took the sled to the station where the three men used additional lanterns to more fully examine the vehicle. It was then that the group discovered an axe covered with clotted blood and clumps of human hair. Marshal Alvin Reed was summoned and arrived at the police station at 10 p.m., just as young William Graffam showed up to report the discovery of a murder on Valley Avenue, only a couple miles from where Colson met the stranger at the train station.

A short time earlier, Graffam and a friend were walking on Harlow Street toward Valley Avenue, near the establishment of Merrill & Stiles, and found a man lying on the side of the road. Thinking the man was passed out drunk, they stopped to roust him rather than leave him to freeze in the snow. That’s when they discovered the man’s head was “horribly mangled.”  

Arriving at the scene, police found the man—later identified as William B. Elliot of Glenburn—lying just off the road, his feet toward the road. He was partially rolled in a horse blanket and tracks in the drifted snow showed where he’d first fallen, staggered, and fallen again at the point where he was discovered. As police examined the body, William issued a small moan.

Shocked that, as badly injured as he was, William clung to life, the men loaded him into a pung and delivered him to the police station. The rescuers sent for doctors but the medical evaluation was that the man was “beyond aid” and at 11:40 p.m., “the last spark of vitality left” his body.

The Victim

Portrait of William Elliot in a Union Army uniform
Portrait of William B. Elliot, ca. 1863,
Company C, 11th Maine Regiment.
Photo courtesy of Wayne Hoar.

The son of Calvin Elliot and Susannah E. Barrett Elliot, William was the oldest of eight children. Blonde and blue-eyed with a strong chin but boyish good looks, William Elliot served in the Union Army between August 1863 and February 1866, surviving the Civil War. In 1868, he married his brother-in-law’s sister, Joanna B. Lake.

William was well-known and respected in Bangor having lived in town for a period of time, working in the office of Provost Marshal Low before taking a job driving a milk cart for S. F. Fuller. By 1870, the U. S. Federal Census, noted that William was a farmer living in Glenburn, with a value of $1,530 including 98 acres of land, 78 of which were wooded, and various livestock. Seven years later, William served a single year as Constable and Tax Collector for the town of Glenburn.

The Investigation

The doctors’ examination after his death revealed that William Elliot suffered four, massive head wounds.  He received two blows to the back of his head with the butt of the axe, crushing his skull; a gaping wound caused by the axe bit on the right forehead that cut through the skull; and a final blow with the flat side of the axe  to the right temple that did additional crushing damage.

William was dressed for outdoor labor, wearing two coats, denim overalls, white, wool mittens, a wool scarf, and moccasins. Though he was carrying a pocket book containing various paperwork and 16 3-cent stamps, the only money found was 12 cents on the body and 42 cents in change found in the sled. Aside from the two sacks of meal, police found two pounds of coffee, a box of savory, two lemons, and some peanuts in the bed of the sled.

When interviewed, William Elliot’s wife, Joanna, indicated that her husband and their hired hand, Tozier Sproul, a 19-year-old orphan from Montville, left the Glenburn home about 8 o’clock that morning. Elliot told Joanna that he and Sproul would be working at a woodlot in the morning and that, later in the day, he planned to go to Bangor to look for work hauling ice for a day or two. This being the case, she did not expect him home. Neither did she know how much money William carried with him.

Sometime after the men departed, Randall Goodwin pulled up to the house in a sled saying he wanted to buy a load of seasoned firewood. Joanna Elliot explained where her husband could be found and Goodwin followed the sled tracks to the wood lot.

At about noon, Sproul returned to the Elliot house on foot, explaining that Goodwin found them and purchased a load of firewood for his neighbor, the widow Jameson, paying William $1.50 in cash. Sproul remained at the home, tending to chores the rest of the day and evening. According to Sproul, William headed to Bangor alone to look for work hauling ice.

At Merrill & Stiles Provisions, Groceries and Ice House, located in the former Stetson Mill on Harlow Street, a short distance from the murder scene, investigators learned from Joseph R. Merrill that William Elliot and a young man—about 18 years old, dressed in dark clothes—stopped at the store around 7 p.m., purchasing the two bags of meal that were found in the sled, and some other small items. William counted out $2.81 to pay for the purchases but Merrill didn’t see any other money. William and his companion loaded the purchases into the sled and drove away together around 7:15 p.m.

During the Coroner’s inquest, witness reports varied. One witness living in the neighborhood reported seeing William stopped on Valley Avenue standing by the sled talking to one man while another man sat in the sled. A married couple also reported seeing William driving the sled as a man dressed in dark clothing was standing in the back of the box.

Newspaper accounts of the time did not indicate whether police interviewed anyone associated with ice merchants: Penobscot River Ice, Co. or J. H. Robinson & Co. both located on Harlow Street or John L. Triggs, on Valley Avenue. The Whig & Courier did, however, publish a second description of the suspect given by James Fickett, as being “about 25-years of age” with red chin whiskers, seeking to leave the team in the shelter of a shed.

Not mentioned during the Coroner’s inquest was the newspaper’s account of two children who allegedly attempted to jump aboard the Elliot sled being driven by a solitary man shortly after the murder was thought to occur. While it was common for children in the city to hop on and off sleds to catch ride or as part of their play, in this instance the driver reportedly swung a whip at the children, yelling that they could not ride with him.

One of the children was alleged to react by grabbing the fall of the whip as it swung toward him, and he yanked the whip handle from the man’s hand. The children, cited in one report to be two boys and cited in a second report to be girls, returned the whip to the police during the investigation, recounting the incident.

1875 Map of Bangor, Maine

Although of dubious scale, this 1875 map illustrates the level of development along  Valley Avenue and Harlow Street around the time of William Elliot’s murder and shows the likely route of the perpetrator’s escape (marked by the author with red arrows), along Harlow Street through East Market Square and down Exchange Street where he turned onto Washington Street en route to the railroad depot.  By modern measurement, this distance is approximately two miles. Unimpeded by traffic, a two-horse team, driven fast,  could cover this distance in five to seven minutes.  Bird’s Eye View of the City of Bangor, Penobscot County, Maine. 

Speculation about the Murder

While physical descriptions vary from witness to witness, William Elliot apparently picked up a stranger somewhere along his drive from Glenburn to Bangor. William stopped at Merrill & Stiles store and ice house to pick up provisions, leaving the establishment at approximately 7:15 p.m.  Around that same time, a witness reported seeing William stopped on Valley Avenue, speaking with another man. The final reported sighting on the Avenue—of a man standing in the back of the sled behind William as he drove—may have been only seconds before the murderer took his first swing with the axe.

The Whig & Courier reported that Officers Allen and Dougherty speculated the attack took place shortly after the pair left Merrill’s store. Due to the amount of blood in the back of the sled, police speculated the perpetrator stowed William in the back of the sled, covered with a horse blanket, to drive to a spot where he could dispose of the body. It is presumed this is why the driver “was so particular to prevent” the children from boarding the sled. Investigators surmised that after discarding of the body, the perpetrator turned the sled and headed toward town and his get-away.

One wonders at this theory, however. How would the perpetrator know of the axe in the bed of the sled? If his intention was robbery and murder, why would the perpetrator wait until after William Elliot made a purchase that reduced the value of his purse by nearly three dollars? Why would the murderer leave the body where it was so easily found, as well as take time to wrap it with a horse blanket? 

Being a snowy February night is it possible instead that, after leaving the store, William suggested his young passenger retrieve the horse blankets for the men to wrap themselves in, to help ward off the cold? Handing the first blanket to William, the stranger may have uncovered the axe and thinking to knock his driver out and stage a robbery, used the butt of the axe to club William twice on the back of the head, cracking open his skull and causing blood from a heavily bleeding wound to saturate the sacks of meal and the second horse blanket.

Injured, William fell from the sled into a snow drift but, at age 36 and in his prime, the former soldier was strong and determined to stand his ground. He managed to stand again. Still in the sled, the murderer swung the axe again, striking William in the forehead with the blade. Panicking, the stranger swung the axe a final time, hitting his victim in the right temple causing the fractured skull to crush inward as William finally collapsed, still wrapped in the horse blanket.

The murderer then secured Williams coin purse or wallet, spilling loose change as he stole the sled. Intent on his get-away, the stranger allegedly lashed out at the children who attempted to jump aboard the sled. Driving the horses hard for the less than two miles to the train station allowed the bewhiskered stranger only moments to abandon the sled and catch the last train out of Bangor for Boston, scheduled to depart at 7:40 p.m.

The Case Goes Cold

Police in Portland, Maine searched the night train when it arrived in that city at approximately 1:10 a.m. but no one matching Colson’s description of the suspect was found. Two days later, Fickett’s description of a red-whiskered suspect began to circulate.

On February 21, the Whig & Courier reported that a traveling agent stopping at the Smith Hotel in Oxford, New Hampshire recounted seeing a thin, 25-year-old man with a light, blotchy complexion and no whiskers who, according to the Whig & Courier, “answered the description” of the murder suspect. The description, however, constitutes the third version of the suspect’s appearance. 

Nonetheless, the young man who went by the name “Reed” was deemed suspicious for arriving at the Smith Hotel with no baggage and spending the following day attempting to beg a ride to Vershire, Vermont.  He was reported to have secured a ride as far as Orford, New Hampshire and upon arriving there, promptly set off on foot toward Vermont. Aside from the witness description, there is zero evidence the man called Reed had anything to do with William Elliot’s murder. Ultimately, the case went cold and remains unsolved to this day.


Bird’s Eye View of the City of Bangor, Penobscot County, Maine. Madison, Wisconsin: J. J. Stoner, 1875.
Bugbee, David, & Co. Greenough’s Directory of the Inhabitants, Institutions, Manufacturing Establishments, Societies, Business Firms, Etc., Etc. in the City of Bangor for 1879-1880. Boston: Greenough & Co., 1879. Retrieved 21, January 2017 from U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.
 “A Case for Sympathy.” Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, Friday, February 14, 1879; Issue 39, 3.
Historical Data Systems, comp. U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2009.
“A Horrible Murder.” Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, Thursday, February 06, 1879, Issue 32, 3.
“It seems to us.” Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, Thursday, February 07, 1879, Issue 33, 3.
“Local Matters:  The Elliot Murder.” Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, Friday, February 21, 1879; Issue 45, 3.
“One Year Ago Tonight.” Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, Thursday, February 5, 1880; Issue 32, 3.
“The Recent Murder.” Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, Saturday, February 08, 1879; Issue 34, 3.
“The Recent Murder: Coroner’s Inquest—Several Witnesses Examined.” Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, Tuesday, February 11, 1879; Issue 36, 3.
 “The Recent Murder. Great Excitement in the City.” Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, Thursday, February 07, 1879, Issue 33, 3.
 “The Recent Murder: Still a Mystery.” Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, Saturday, February 10, 1879; Issue 35, 3.
 “The Valley Avenue Murder.” Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, Wednesday, February 12, 1879; Issue 37, 3.
U.S. Census Bureau. 1860 United States Federal Census. Levant, Penobscot, Maine; Roll: M653_446; Page: 994; Family History Library Film: 803446.
U.S. Census Bureau. 1870 United States Federal Census. Glenburn, Penobscot, Maine; Roll: M593_554; Page: 21A; Family History Library Film: 552053.
”Valley Avenue Tragedy.” Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, Monday, February 17, 1879; Issue 41, 3.
 “The Valley Avenue Tragedy.” Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, Tuesday, March 4, 1879; Issue 54, 3.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Role of Identity in Gravestones and Grave Goods

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs asserts that once a human’s basic, physiological needs–water, food, sleep—are met, attention shifts to higher needs pertaining to shelter, belonging, esteem and, at the very top of the pyramid, self-actualization. Once basic physical needs are rendered moot by death, the living default to imposing the upper levels of the hierarchy on the deceased.  

Graphic by J. Finkelstein (I created this work using Inkscape.)
GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The funerary process communicates love and belonging through the expression of grief for lost friendship and family connection. It allows the community to express the deceased’s individuality, esteem, and self-actualization by memorializing a lifetime of accomplishments through the process of obituary, eulogy, and funeral offerings such as photographs, models, and mementos that serve as representations of the deceased’s accomplishments, creativity, and morality.  

These acts carry through to the gravesite with the choice of gravestone design, use of epitaph, and the choice of goods left at the gravesite by family and friends. Through this material depiction of identity in the public forum of a cemetery, the living engage the memory of the deceased at the highest levels of Maslow’s hierarchy, communicating to the community at-large proof of social success and achievement beyond the most basic needs.
The grave of Harry "Brusher" Mills. St. Nicholas Cemetery, Lyndhurst, England.
Photograph by Jim Champion [
CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
In the case of Harry Mills, of Lyndhurst, England, “better known as Brusher Mills,” according to his gravestone, epitaph in addition to a relief carving depicting Mill’s in action as a snake catcher, serves the ever-vigilant role of communicating the man’s community status to passers-by. The epitaph symbolizes the esteem—the respect paid to him by others—that Mills garnered during a life spent in the pursuit of living in “the primitive way...[that]…caused him to be an object of interest to many.”
Close up of relief carving on the grave of Harry "Brusher" Mills.
St. Nicholas Cemetery, Lyndhurst, England.
Photograph by Jim Champion [
CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Mills' epitaph reads as follows: “This stone marks the grave of Harry Mills, (better known as “Brusher Mills,”) who for a long number of years followed the occupation of snake catcher, in the New Forest. His pursuit and the primitive way in which he lived, caused him to be an object of interest to many. He died suddenly July 1st 1905, aged 65 years. D. Banks. Lymington.” 

Because of the detailed memorial erected at Mills’ grave by his home community, the snake catcher is now recognized worldwide and today inhabits the highest pinnacle of Maslow’s hierarchy as a folk character whose life and contribution to society continues to be recognized to a degree never imagined during his own lifetime.
Grave of Everett N. Sargent, Corinthian Cemetery, East Corinth, Maine.
Photograph by Kimberly Sawtelle, Oct. 2014
The American practice of memorialization through the public placement of grave goods, still allowed in many rural cemeteries but increasingly prohibited in urban settings, provides an opportunity for individuals to express familial ties, love, and belonging in an ongoing, ritual process typically staged on holidays and birthdays, as well as at times of seasonal transition. One such example is the grave site of Everett N. Sargent of East Corinth, Maine, who passed at age 71 after a long illness, according to his obituary published in the Bangor Daily News.

Detail of Everett Sargent gravestone.
Photograph by Kimberly Sawtelle, Oct. 2014
Sargent’s gravestone, though lacking in an expansive epitaph, like that of Mills, depicts an engraved image of a man walking behind a plow drawn by a hitch of draft horses. To one side of the stone stands a cast concrete colt outfitted with a leather halter that may have been hand-stitched. Grave goods placed around the marker include a number of toy tractors, angel figures, a small pumpkin (the month of examination being October 2014), and a variety of faded photographs of draft horses in action.

Cast concrete colt wearing a stitched leather harness.
Photograph by Kimberly Sawtelle, Oct. 2014
Given the assortment of offerings alone, it becomes obvious that the deceased was likely active in farming, if not with the raising of horses and it is within this identity and level of esteem that the family members choose to communicate with and commemorate Sargent in death. The importance of the gentleman to his family comes into even sharper focus when knowledge of the gravesite is juxtaposed with his obituary dated September 25, 2008, in which Sargent is noted as having owned and operated Sargent Riding Stables, specializing in training, working, and competing with draft horses. The simple epitaph in his obituary: “He was a wonderful man and will be sadly missed by his family and friends,” is poignantly reinforced to any observer of his grave.

While for Mills, image and epitaph combine to communicate and commemorate the deceased's degree of self-actualization—his respected ability as a problem-solver in his role as snake catcher—Sargent’s descendants utilize imagery and the offering of grave goods to mark his accomplishments as a horseman and patriarch. In both examples, concern for the upper levels of Maslow’s social hierarchy become superlative in the memorial process.

Creative Commons License
Role of Identity in Gravestones and Grave Goods
by Kimberly J. Sawtelle is licensed under
a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Maine Old Cemetery Week, 2013

Maine Old Cemetery Association (MOCA) has announced attempts to re-establish Maine Old Cemetery Week, May 19-25, 2013, as part of its mission to encourage and support the preservation, maintenance, and study of old cemeteries.  

It has been noted by some members of the organization that the tradition of Maine families tending burial grounds during the Memorial Day weekend has fallen somewhat by the wayside in recent years. MOCA is encouraging local historical organizations, civic associations, Boy and Girl Scouts, Fraternal and Veterans groups to lead community projects to tend local burial grounds in hopes of reigniting interest in protecting and preserving local burial grounds.

While MOCA encourages the tidying of burial grounds, members of the public who lack appropriate training are asked to refrain from undertaking the cleaning of gravestones. Despite being made of stone, many grave markers—particularly early stones—are extremely fragile in nature and once damage is done, it is difficult and expensive to make effective repairs.  

While inappropriate cleaning methods, such as power washing or scrubbing stones with bleach and wire brushes may temporarily yield aesthetically-pleasing effects, these approaches result in irreparable damage to stone surfaces that can result in cracking, flaking, scaling, or granularization ("sugaring") of surfaces. Extensive loss of stone surface, of course, results in illegible inscriptions and the loss of historic information.

In response to a spate of cemetery thefts of tomb doors and metal gravestone fittings from remote Maine cemeteries in late 2012, MOCA instituted a new, online cemetery vandalism reporting tool. If, while participating in Maine Old Cemetery Week, incidents of cemetery vandalism or theft are discovered, people are encouraged to not only make reports to local authorities but to also file a report with MOCA by visiting and selecting the link, “Report Cemetery Vandalism.” Among information MOCA is gathering is locations, descriptions and photos of damage, estimates of damages (if known), and any planned repairs.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Disrepair of Veterans' Graves in Maine

As Americans celebrate the Memorial Day weekend, 2012, it should be remembered that the grave sites of many fallen soldiers have fallen into disrepair as well as being heavily vandalized by youth who lack the maturity to express anger and frustration in a less destructive manner.  Gravestones are smashed or torn out of the ground and stolen or thrown into the bushes in unmaintained areas of remote cemeteries.

Maine Statute provides for the maintenance and preservation of Veterans' graves but as we all know, funding is scarce in these difficult economic times.  The least expensive form of maintenance is prevention of cemetery vandalism.

§1101. Maintenance and repairs; municipality
In any ancient burying ground, as referenced in Title 30-A, section 5723, or public burying ground in which any Revolutionary soldiers or sailors or veterans of the Armed Forces of the United State of America who served in any war are buried, the municipality in which said burying ground is located shall keep in good condition and repair all graves, headstones, monuments or markers designating the burial place of said Revolutionary soldiers or sailors or veterans of the Armed Forces of the United States of America who served in any war and shall keep the grass suitably cut and trimmed on those graves from May 1st to September 30th of each year. [1999, c. 700, §1 (AMD).]

1977, c. 255, §1 (AMD). 1999, c. 700, §1 (AMD).

The following are a small sampling of poorly maintained or vandalized Veteran's gravestones found in the Central Maine region.

Mills Cemetery, Bradford, ME. Cast iron marker with zinc plaque.  Heavily rust.

Henry H. Rice
Feb 21st 1877
42 years and 4 months

Henry H. Rice served as a private in Co. B,  5th Maine Infantry

Photo taken 2008
Photo taken 2012

Eugene Lord
wounded in the assault
before Petersburg, VA. June
18.  Died at City Point June
25, 1864.  AE. 19 years.
2 mos. & 6 days.

Son of Augustus &
Hannah Lord

Eugene Lord enlisted Nov 30, 186 as a private in Co. F., Maine 1st Heavy Artillery Regiment.  According to Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Maine, Lord died June 23, 1864.

South Branch Cemetery (formerly Fiske Cemetery), Levant, ME
Levi Corson, Jr.
Co. F
1st Me.

Neglected graves of Levi Corson, Jr, who served in Co. F., Maine 1st Heavy Artillery Regiment and his son, Charles
South Branch Cemetery (formerly Fiske Cemetery), Levant, ME

William B. Elliott
A Member of Co. C.
11 Me. Regiment
Was KiLLed by the
hand of an assassin
Fed. 5, 1879
AE. 36 yrs. 11 mos.

Poorly cleaned stones in the heavily vandalized South Branch Cemetery, Levant.

South Branch Cemetery (formerly Fiske Cemetery), Levant, ME

C.H. Staples
Co. H.
22d Me.

Charles H. Staples enlisted as a private, Oct. 10, 1862 in Company H, Maine 22nd Maine Regiment.  Died May 5, 1863.
South Branch Cemetery (formerly Fiske Cemetery), Levant, ME

Gravestones were smashed and tossed into the brush where they have become overgrown.

The remote location of South Branch Cemetery makes it a favorite spot for teenage vandals to desecrate graves.  This scattering of ruined stones extends for several yards into the brush.  A broken United States flag what once marked a Veteran's grave lays discarded in the foreground.
Vandalized Marker
Hillside Cemetery, Bradford, ME
of pure affections...
He meekly gave up all for Christ
And felt to die was gain.

Jumbled stones in the woods beside Hillside Cemetery, Bradford, ME.  Vandalized and discarded stones include those of Civil War Veterans. 

Corner Cemetery, Bradford, ME

Charles A. Edgerly
Son of Eben &
Bashaba Edgerly,
died at Washington, D.C.
Aug. 9, 1861,
AE. 25 yrs. & 4 mos.

To live in hearts of those we love
Is not to die.

South Dover Cemetery, Route 15

In memory of
John F. Bryant
a member of Co. I. 5
Regt. Me. Vols. killed in
battle at South Mountain, Va.
Sept. 14, 1862
AE. 38 yrs. 6 ms. ---

South Dover Cemetery, Route 15
Charles D.
Son of James R. & Betsey B. Crommett,
A member of Co. K. 31 Reg
Me. Volunteers who died May 21, 1864,
AE 17 yrs. 6 mos & 6 days

How we have loved thee!
A father's anguish hath revealed full well,
A mother's gentler sorrow long will show,
And  tears that in thy sister's eyes yet swell,
And brother's sighs and friends that mourn thee now,
Speak how we loved thee.

North Dixmont Cemetery

The sunken, unmarked grave of Captain Samuel Getchell lays beside the marked grave of his wife, Sarah, beside which the local Veteran's leave a flag.

North Dixmont Cemetery

Wm. T. Gray
Feb. 21, 1864
1st Regt Heavy Artillery

Cummings Cemetery, Parkman

John R. Sprague
2nd Lieut. of Co. D.
8th Regt. Maine Vols
died July 15, 1862,
AE. 22 yrs. & 8 mos.

Henry H. [son of]
Orrin & Mary A. Sprague
died June 22,  -----
AE 15 yrs. & 2 -----

South Levant Cemetery

For more information about how to help preserve Maine's cemeteries, visit the Maine Old Cemetery Association Web site at: