If you read my very first post here talking about Uncovering Dark Secrets in Your Family Tree, I ended it with “to be continued” and I finally received the paperwork I was waiting for to finish my sorrowful tale of my great-great grandmother Esther (Archer) Stewart and her family.
Esther’s son, Dale Walton Stewart, had been a near ghost on my tree for some time. I couldn’t find hardly anything on him at all. I only had 2 census records, an Ohio birth index listing and a listing from the Ohio Boy’s Industrial School where he was placed after his parent’s murder/suicide in 1914. No phone numbers, no addresses, no military listings that I could positively identify as “him”….just a phantom floating through my tree.
Dale’s brother, my great-grandfather Glenn Stewart, had been institutionalized at one point before he shot himself – it’s even noted on his death certificate. From the little bits of information my aunt was able to recall about her uncle Dale, coupled with information provided by George from the Archer Cousins Association, I just had a suspicion that his fate would mirror his brother and father’s. I just felt it – I don’t know how else to word it.
My aunt had only a few memories of him, noting that he was a handsome man. (she’s trying to find pictures for me) He apparently came to visit them in Ohio a few times and brought her a dolly on one trip. She remembered him being a drinker and thought he had been in jail/trouble at some point. She said that their uncle Asberry Archer, as their last living relative, had signed papers for Dale to join the merchant marines as he was too young. This correlates with his Ohio Boy’s Industrial School record. He was “paroled” in 1923 at a month after turning 14. I can only assume he was shipped out immediately following because there are no census records that I found for him following the 1920 census where he was listed as an “inmate” at the McIntyre Children’s Home in Zanesville, Ohio. After that, zilch. (Merchant Marines are difficult to research but I’m going to give it the old college try!)
I anxiously waited several weeks for his death certificate to arrive from Los Angeles. I held my breath as I opened the envelope. As expected, it was there and my heart broke yet again when I read that he “ingested ant paste” and died of arsenic poisoning 17 hours later at LA County General Hospital. The notation was clear – “suicide”.
His address was listed as the Olive View Sanitarium, which had originally operated as a tuberculosis treatment hospital but later, it became a regular/teaching hospital. It was destroyed in the 1960’s in the fire that destroyed Gene Autry’s ranch. So while he died in 1943, I would guess that any pertinent records were destroyed in that fire.
As much as his death certificate quelled some speculations, it also provided some new mysteries. It notes his occupation as a gardener, which was odd since I knew he had been a mariner. Since his address was listed as the sanitarium’s, was he a patient or an employee living on site? That might make sense if he was a staff gardener and it would explain how he had access to toxic ant paste. However, my friend (and distant cousin) Suzanne from JohnWickham.net couldn’t find any record of him at Olive View. (she apparently found a listing of staff/patients somewhere) He wasn’t listed in the 1940’s census for there either – so he might have came to the sanitarium AFTER the 40’s census and wouldn’t be listed on there.
Furthering my questions though, is that his embalmer and mortician were listed as the LA County General Hospital. This likely meant his body was “unclaimed”. I saw his remains were taken to the Holy Cross Cemetery but no notation as to which one and there was several listed. I can only assume that he was given a pauper’s grave as he had no known spouse or family. From what I know, the family wasn’t Catholic either so for him to be placed in a Catholic cemetery is odd. I have sent a few “feeler” emails out to the Holy Cross cemeteries I found online to discover where he is exactly but have yet to hear back.
After a few days of deliberation over whether to tell her or not, I emailed my aunt to tell her what I had found out about her uncle Dale and while I think she appreciated the information, there seemed to be a subtle sense of sorrow in her words back to me. My family never talked about these things so I’m sure as I’ve dug through these records, it has to have rehashed some hard emotions for her. While she said she was happy to finally know what happened to him, it still be must be harrowing. It’s difficult for me just reading their records. While this chapter is slowly coming to a close for me (and for my aunt), I’m just still left with one persistent question – where was he all those years?
It’s just a very sad ending note for Esther and William’s story. I had hoped Dale went off, saw all the corners of the world in his vast travels at sea, found a pretty girl on an island somewhere and lived happily ever after. Even he couldn’t escape the far reaching effects of that tragedy. I can’t help but wonder how our lives might have been effected had that January day in 1914 never, ever happened.