Thursday, May 4, 2017

An Update on The Tragic Family of James Addison Smith

James Addison Smith
Previously, I talked about my 3rd great uncle James Addison Smith and how his family was plagued with tragedy. His wife, Margaret Catherine Peay, and his daughter Marjory both became morphine addicts, his daughter Mary was schizophrenic, his son Olif died in a train accident, and his daughter Madge (who was also in the same train accident but survived) eloped with a man who also later wound up in a mental institution. You may feel sorry for James, but family legend has it that he was very controlling of his daughters, forbidding them from having boyfriends or even leaving the house without their mother. When Madge eloped, he never spoke to or of her ever again.

But let's start with what information can be confirmed with records. I detailed Mary's schizophrenia in the previous post, so now I will detail the tragic and horrific train accident that took many loved ones from this family.

In the summer of 1894, five year old Olif and three year old Madge Smith had gone with their maternal aunts, Sallie and Daisy Peay, to visit their other maternal aunt, Nannie Maddox (nee Peay), and her husband, James P Maddox in Centertown, Kentucky. Back home in Russellville, a good 50 miles south, Olif and Madge's mother, Margaret, was caring for their 6 month old sister Marjory at the time. Caring for an infant with two young children constantly underfoot was likely stressful, so perhaps Margaret sent them off with her sisters to visit family for a brief break.

Headline from newspaper about the accident
On Saturday, the 23rd of June, they set off home with James P Maddox driving them in a two horse wagon to the nearest railroad station, which was likely in McHenry, Kentucky, about 7-8 miles from Centertown. At 12:30 PM, they came upon a railroad crossing just southwest of McHenry known as Frogtown Crossing. What happened next was the result of a combination of poor planning of the junction, and total disregard for public safety. The road leading up to the crossing was on a hill, making it hard to see the crossing until you were only a few feet from it. In addition, there was a sharp curve to the railroad just before the crossing, making it difficult to see if any train was coming. As if that weren't enough, the railroad tracks had no planks at the crossing of the dirt road, meaning wagon wheels had to be pulled up and over each rail. Perhaps the Chesapeake, Ohio, and Southwestern Railway Company felt the area was so rural, the road was unlikely to see much traffic, making an accident unlikely. In any case, the Smith, Peay, and Maddox families would suffer for that negligence.

Maddox seemed to be aware of the dangers of the junction, as he came to a stop just before reaching the top of the hill and the railroad. After a moment's pause, the wagon lurched forward, attempting to cross as quickly as possible, though other reports say the horses were spooked and this is why the wagon jumped forward. Regardless, the wagon suddenly halted on the tracks, the wheels stuck on the rails protruding from the ground, just as the eastbound train No. 6 came roaring around the corner so fast the passengers of the wagon didn't have time to jump out.

The collision was a horrific scene. The wagon was obliterated to pieces while the broken and bleeding bodies of both the horses and the wagon's passengers were thrown to either sides of the tracks. Olif had been thrown so high in the air, it's believed he died upon impact with the ground. The Peay sisters, thrown far from the tracks, were killed almost instantly and gasping their last breaths as help arrived. Maddox was unconscious but alive, barely, and suffered for 33 and a half hours before finally succumbing to his fatal wounds. Little Madge, the sole survivor (even the horses perished), had a broken arm and back, and her injuries were severe enough that many feared she would follow her relatives in death. In fact, one newspaper even falsely reported that she had already died. But she defied all the odds and pulled through, attended by the physicians of McHenry.

Settlement of case
The Maddox, Peay, and Smith families filed a law suit against the Chesapeake, Ohio, and Southwestern Railway Co., asking them for $5,000 for each of the passengers who died in the accident. Originally filed with the Circuit Court of Ohio County, the case was transferred to the Federal Court but dismissed in June of 1895 when the parties came to a settlement outside court. The Railway agreed to pay the families $2,500 for each of the deceased, and another $1,975 to the Smith family for the injured Madge. In 1895, $2,500 would have been the equivalent of about $72,800 today. Madge's share would have been worth about $57,500 today, and according to family legend, it was put into a trust which she didn't receive until she turned 21 in 1911. Assuming she gained interest on her trust fund, the amount she inherited might have been much greater.

In 1913, Madge eloped with Harry J Messmann, a 29 year old salesman from Manhattan, New York who came to her father's clothing store, taking her inheritance with her. According to family stories, her over-protective and controlling father was so infuriated by her elopement that he refused to ever speak to her again and the family was forbidden from even saying her name. She was dead to him, but she did write to her mother and sisters.

Married life was ultimately not to bring Madge any happiness though. Though she had at least one child with Harry, a daughter named after herself and her own mother, Margaret, family lore says that when her money from the accident ran out, her husband left her. However, census reports show that in 1930 and 1940, Harry was a resident in Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital - a mental institute. Just like her sister Mary, Madge's husband suffered from a mental illness severe enough to hospitalize him for the rest of his life. Whether he also left her because her money ran out, before he was hospitalized, is unclear. Maybe Madge, too embarrassed to admit the truth of where her husband disappeared to, put it about that he had left her instead. What became of Madge and her daughter after 1920 remains a mystery - I have not been able to find them in the 1930 or 1940 censuses.

I have also not been able to find any records that verify Madge's sister Marjory and mother Margaret were morphine addicts. It's certainly possible, knowing all that their family was put through (both this and not forgetting the story of Mary's schizophrenia), that they might have turned to a drug which would help them forget it all. However, Margaret's death certificate makes no mention of any drug addiction, and the censuses don't report that kind of thing. What the census does tell us is that Marjory was employed as a filing clerk during each census, and according to directory records, all through the 1940s as well. I am not sure how likely it is that one could hold a job with a morphine addiction, but perhaps she did not start until after 1950.

James Addison Smith's obituary notably does not name his
still living schizophrenic daughter, or the daughter who eloped
As for the rumor that James Addison Smith was so controlling that he never allowed his daughters to leave the house without their mother, it may be true. Madge had to elope, and Marjory, Ella, and Mona never married. While the legend goes that he didn't allow them to have boyfriends, it doesn't necessarily mean they weren't allowed to marry, but it does make marriage much more difficult. Only his youngest daughter, Laura Batsel Smith, was married with his approval in 1935 when she was 26. Her wedding announcement in the paper says her father walked her down the isle and gave her away, evening hosting the wedding at his home. One wonders if this wasn't something of an arranged marriage, since when would Laura ever have had the freedom to get to know her groom, Edwin Chamberlin? Assuming the story is true, of course. It's a nugget of information my grandmother had collected during her own genealogy research. I know she reached out to a lot of relatives and gathered information from them. The Smith sisters would have been my grandmother's 1st cousins once removed, and several of them would have still been alive when my grandmother was researching, so this information could have come straight from the horses mouth. I know as genealogists we are taught to take family stories with a grain of salt, but we are also told to collect as much first-hand information as we can. So far, all the data and stories my grandmother left behind have turned out to be at least partly true.

On a last note, I noticed that James Addison Smith's obituary in 1941 does not mention his daughter Mary even though she outlived him. I guess in spite of all those years of caring for her, he was still embarrassed by his schizophrenic daughter. Madge is also noticeable not mentioned, and although we don't know for sure she was still alive at the time, her husband is listed in 1940 as still married, not widowed. That is suggestive that she was still alive, which lends credit to the story that her father had disowned her, for her to not be mentioned in his obituary. Whatever his reasons, he obviously disapproved of her marriage and never forgave her for it. What a shame, that with all the tragedies in his life, he would add to it by never forgiving the daughter he nearly lost as a child.

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