Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Final Escape

While John Hogue—if it was, indeed, our John Hogue—may have survived the blast from the 1944 mining disaster up in Shinnston, West Virginia, chances were against him for long term survival in his chosen profession. Most coal miners who survived the more immediate occupational hazards of their trade would eventually succumb, likely from a more insidious and slow-acting threat to their health, whether from Black Lung disease or from other coal mining-related respiratory diseases. Even after concerted effort to improve working conditions for coal miners later in the twentieth century, the sad statistic was that, for career coal miners working more than twenty five years, prevalence of Black Lung disease was still at thirty two percent. In John Hogue's day, it was likely worse.

While I have no way yet to determine what finally claimed the man's life, the Hogue obituary, published in the Charleston Daily Mail on August 16, 1956, mentioned he died at his home—then in Ridgeview, just south of Charleston—"after a long illness."

Perhaps, given John Hogue's life story, for him to have attained the age of seventy one may have been considered sufficient. Remembering he, at one point, was not slated to have lived beyond his thirties, it may have been an outright blessing. Added to the hazards of his most recent occupation would have been the baggage of a fugitive's lifestyle and youthful indiscretions with unnamed addictive substances, all potentially detrimental to one's lifespan.

Whether seventy one—or ninety one—it is never enough for the one who is living it. Nor is it sufficient for the family members that person leaves behind. In Hogue's case, considering his 1940 marriage, you know he had to have left a young wife, and possibly also children. That, in fact, was confirmed in his obituary, noting three daughters, "all at home."

Left behind, in addition to his immediate family, was his brother Andrew, who with his wife had moved from the Hogues' hometown of Charleston to Beckley. Another brother, a military man then living in southern California, and a married sister still in Charleston, also survived him. Both his half-brothers and his unmarried half-sister from his mother's first marriage were all gone now.

With his late-life marriage and his children still living at home in the mid 1950s, the likelihood of that next generation still being with us—somewhere—sets me wondering. Do those children even know about the tumultuous past of their father? Was that reprieve and narrow escape from dying the death of a condemned man now a family legacy to be passed down through the generations? Or, like many men of that era, did John Hogue simply put all that unfortunate experience behind him—and behind the closed lips of family members who would prefer not to relive the trauma by repeating the tale?

Then, too, with a story so unusual, so incredible, I feel the pull to pursue additional contemporaneous documentation to glean every detail of the full story. Some of that would entail pulling records from archives in Manitoba and Ontario, as well as stateside in West Virginia. And, as the story itself became embedded within a larger social context of not only fading public support for capital punishment, but the escalation of concurrent war-time involvement both in Canada and the United States, it would reflect the interwoven aspects of such impacts as these.

The tragedy of the rise and fall of dynasties is usually reserved for the sagas of the famous and the powerful, but in an ancestral trajectory that arced with the pinnacle of America's first Supreme Court Chief Justice and maintained its dignity through the respected men and women taking their place in the subsequent generations of the Hogue and Patrick families, the same dynamics play themselves out in the microcosm of John Syme Hogue's lifespan. As much as he descended from a "well respected" and "long prominent" family in the Kanawha Valley region, the final token representing his life remembered was nothing more than a humble stone marking his existence in the family plot back home in Charleston. From the looks of it, one would never have guessed what that dash between the 1885 and the 1956 entailed.

Above: Photograph of the stone marking the grave of John Syme Hogue at Spring Hill Cemetery in Charleston, West Virginia. Photograph courtesy of Find A Grave volunteer Pj; used by permission.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

All in a Day's Work

Coal mining has to be an occupation that is not only physically demanding, but rife with hazards. In the United States alone, coal mining has historically been considered a dangerous occupation, with over one hundred thousand coal miners killed in accidents in the twentieth century, alone. Even more sobering is the statistic that ninety percent of that century's fatalities occurred in the first fifty years.

How can this procedure go wrong? Let me count the ways. Besides vehicle collisions or mine wall failures, there is the possibility of roof failure, gas poisoning, coal dust explosions or gas explosions.

When something did go wrong, it often could cost the lives of many. Take just one year in that century as an example. In 1944, from a total 453, 937 miners employed in the entire United States, nearly thirteen hundred of them died on the job. Anyone studying the bigger picture of their family history in those coal mining states of Ohio, Kentucky or West Virginia—as our family had in researching my husband's maternal line in Perry County, Ohio—will recall the newspaper headlines and accompanying photographs of somber-faced family members awaiting news of the fate of loved ones trapped down below after yet another mining tragedy.

One such example was the March, 1944, disaster at the number four mine of the Katherine Coal Company in Shinnston, West Virginia. Opened only six months prior to the incident, the mine employed about one hundred fifty men.

What was described as "a violent underground blaze" caused, in turn, "a blast so terrific that it tore up a surface area of half an acre" in the early morning hours of March 25, 1944. It all started with a spark from a machine cable, which ignited a wall of coal.

The front page of the March 26 edition of The Charleston Gazette described the unfolding story. At the point at which the explosion occurred,
One of the dead men—no one yet knows who—was piloting a motor into the mine. Tiny pieces of the motor were found, but no trace of the motorman.

Other factors complicated any hope of rescue attempts. For one, the ventilating system for the mine "was completely wrecked," while a makeshift replacement, hastily set up, was no match against danger of further methane gas leaks. A greater problem than that, though, was
the fact that the explosion, in tearing up the earth, left a giant hole through which air rushed in to feed the underground flames.

It was reckoned that the explosion "eventually reached every section of the mine." Because of the now out-of-control situation, the state Mines Chief and a special state inspector-at-large were called in, as well as representatives from the United States bureau of mines. Crack safety teams and rescue crews from surrounding areas—even from neighboring states—arrived to render aid.

Still, contingencies led to the decision that the only thing left to do was to "push the broken earth back into the hole and seal up the enormous air vent." It was estimated that it would take five to six weeks for the flames to be fully extinguished, at which time crews could be sent in to recover the bodies.

It was reported that sixteen men had lost their lives on the job that day at the number four mine of the Katherine Coal Company—about ten percent of the entire work force assigned to that location.

It was interesting to note, in reading the account of the disaster, that one of the employees mentioned in the article was named John Hogue. Whether that Mine Superintendent was the same as the John Hogue whose life story we've been following, it is hard to say. But I'd consider it a possibility.

The outcome for Hogue, unlike those sixteen others, was different but unexpected. According to The Charleston Gazette,
     Mine Superintendent John Hogue narrowly escaped with his life, through the lucky break that he had returned to the toolhouse for some equipment just as the blast let go. Hogue had been in the mine superintending salvage efforts.
     Hogue was standing with John Crock and John Earnest near a stove when the explosion occurred. All were thrown about thirty feet but escaped with bruises.

If this was, indeed, the same John Hogue as the coal mining engineer we know, it wouldn't have been the first time he had narrowly escaped with his life.

Friday, February 5, 2016

"And That's the Real McCoy"

Some wedding announcements may be more remarkable than others. In the case of the marriage of forty five year old John Syme Hogue and his seventeen year old bride, Lucille Epling, one couldn't help also notice—if one were familiar with the now twenty-five-year-long saga of John Hogue's history—his employment as a mining engineer at his new home in Mahan, West Virginia.

For those with patience to read the fine print at the back end of local newspapers, under such headings as "Notice of Judicial Sale," there is a way to reconstruct the twisted trail of purchases, leases assigned, re-sales and other hallmarks of high finance and real estate. But for those of us with less patience to learn about Mr. Hogue's employer—the Christian Colliery Coal Company—let me introduce the Reader's Digest version of the story.

However, I warn you: this detour comes with a high risk of rabbit trail sightings.

Found in a page four column entitled, "Our Neighbors," this snapshot of just what the history of the Christian Colliery Coal Company was had been provided by the June 19, 1940, Charleston Daily Mail—just months before the Epling-Hogue wedding.

The thumbnail sketch:
     The Imperial Colliery company opened Mahan's first mine in 1911 under Judge Lynch Christian and Quinn Morton. Nine years later the Steel and Tube Company of America took over and sold out in 1921 to the Youngstown Sheet and Tube which in turn sold to George Daniels about 1925 or '26.
     Named after Judge Christian of the supreme court of Virginia, the Christian Colliery company today is under the vice presidency and general managership of A. O. B. Hogue.

While even that streamlined description could leave me a person somewhat confused, it does point out a few pertinent details:
  • First, the place where John Hogue was employed as mining engineer was named after a judge of the Virginia state Supreme Court, and
  • Second, the general manager of that mining concern was none other than John's own brother, Andrew O'Beirne Hogue.

What I hadn't bargained for, in that brief tour of the real estate exchanges embedded in the coal mines of this neck o' West Virginia, was the very next sentence in the article.
Mahan's first settlers were the Hatfields and McCoys who followed the trail blazing Daniel Boone across White mountain from Virginia. It is still a much discussed topic that back up in the hills may be found Boone's marks on trees—crudely cut half moon designs with the outline of an axe cut over his initials.

Really? I wasn't sure how reliable it might be to glean my history lessons from the local newspaper, so I took a cursory glance at other resources about both Daniel Boone and the Hatfield-McCoy feud. While Daniel Boone was mostly remembered for his knowledge of land around Kentucky, he did, for a while, move to the region around Point Pleasant (now in West Virginia) and when nearby Kanawha County was first formed, he was appointed lieutenant colonel of its county militia.

That, however, pre-dates the famed Hatfield-McCoy feud by several decades. Yet it could be possible that the predecessors of those ill-fated families had actually been escorted into that then-unknown territory by Boone, himself.

The introduction to that Daily Mail article had quite the way of explaining the county's colorful heritage:
Tales about every phase of the famous Hatfield-McCoy feud are as prevalent on Paint Creek as ants at a picnickers' convention and it has been passed from generation to generation that the private family war had its birth in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia and over, of all things, an old razor-back hog.

Again, I'm not sure about taking one's history lesson from a newspaper article, but when the story continued with some verifiable details, I took the bait and hopped down that rabbit trail.
It is not every person who knows there is a graveyard on Paint creek at Sandy City in which are deposited the remains of three McCoys—once rugged mountain boys—no doubt.

The article included the name and inscription on one headstone—of "Samuel McCoy who died Sept. 16, 1846, aged 60 years, four months and four days"—so I took a look at Find A Grave. Sure enough, there was a photo of the headstone upon which could be seen those very words. See for yourself here.

The cemetery location provided another confirmation—in Kanawha County, West Virginia—as did the fact that not only Samuel but his brother James were among the McCoys listed in the cemetery's burials. (The third mention in the newspaper article described an unmarked grave which gave appearances of being for a child; the third McCoy listed in the Pratt Cemetery is someone who married a Huddleston.)

One more tidbit was shared in the Daily Mail article, a bit of hearsay providing local color:
It is told by Jim Williams, one of the creek's old timers at Mahan, that the time of the extension of the C. and O. line further up the creek (about 1910) several of the surviving McCoys sat with rifles on this small plot and made track surveyors go around the graveyard. The line originally had been right through the cemetery.

"And that's the real McCoy," the article's author concluded.

Just to the other side of this article and its accompanying photographs was another local history feature, "Paint Creek Highlights." In it, one short paragraph mentioned,
John S. Hogue, father of the present vice president and general manager of the Christian Colliery company there, was the civil engineer in charge of the location for the standard gauge railroad running up the creek to Kingston, about 23 miles from the mouth.

One wonders whether the railroad company the senior John Hogue represented in his surveying duties might have been the C. and O. I simply will have to polish up my West Virginia geography.

Above: McCoy family nemeses, the Hatfield Clan, shown in an unsourced photograph, circa 1897, courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Wedding Bells . . . Again

Even for someone like John Syme Hogue, with his checkered past, one must assume the possibility of settling down, eventually, to married life. Yes, I know he already had made that momentous "I do" promise back in Michigan before his many crimes caught up with him—and for the outcome of that commitment made back in 1915, I have no further information. One must presume that that bride had seen the handwriting on the wall and had done what she must do to preserve her own peace.

That was then. This is now 1940, and John Hogue has been back home in Charleston, presumably on his best behavior after all the trials he had endured. Likely, his family—what was left of them—made sure to encourage him to remain on the straight and narrow. Perhaps a parole officer stopped by to chime in on the chorus from time to time, although I doubt those Canadian and Michigan officials would be keen on keeping up such a long-distance relationship.

By this point, Hogue would have been gainfully employed, incorporated back into his community, and taking his place as a productive member of society. At least one would presume so, as such a staid lifestyle seldom elicits such blaring newspaper headlines as had followed him nearly twenty years prior. At least, there were no longer any eye-grabbing bulletins that I could find.

Still, although it would not seem out of the ordinary for someone in Hogue's shoes to decide to remarry, the little entry in the Boone County, West Virginia, marriage register caught me by surprise. Dated October 11, 1940, application was made for the forty five year old John S. Hogue of "Kan. Co."—presumably Kanawha County, where his home would have been located—to marry a nearby Boone County resident. The bride's name was Lucille, daughter of George and Ellen Epling of Ridgeview, West Virginia. At the time the license was issued, three days later on October 14, she was seventeen years of age.

After the fact, both The Charleston Gazette and The Charleston Daily Mail made similar note of the event in brief entries on their society pages. According to the Sunday, October 20, Daily Mail in an entry headlined, "Miss Epling and John Hogue Marry,"
     Miss Lucille Epling of Ridgeview, W. Va., and Mr. John S. Hogue of Mahan were married Saturday morning at the First Presbyterian church of Charleston. Rev. J. Blair Morton performed the ceremony.
     Mr. and Mrs. Hogue left for a trip to Washington and other eastern points and on their return in two weeks will make their home in Mahan. The bride wore a blue costume suit, matching accessories and a shoulder corsage of orchids.
     Mr. Hogue is employed as a mining engineer for the Christian Colliery Coal company.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Send No Flowers

It's hard enough for today's ex-convict to complete his prison term and return home as a rehabilitated member of society. As impossible as it might have been, at the time of John Hogue's 1917 trial for murder in Canada, to predict he would at some point see this day, his opportunity to return home came in the late 1920s.

If you are thinking in the historical context of a bigger picture, you are realizing just what type of economy those wings of freedom were escorting him into. Perhaps in the upheaval of the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing depression, life in Charleston, West Virginia, took on a very guarded shade of gray for everyone alike—no matter what role they assumed in the community.

Although no mention could be found concerning John Hogue's first years after returning to civilian life back home in Charleston, hopefully, he found a place to stay, a job and some means of re-integrating into the social fabric of his hometown. In later years, newspaper articles gave the occasional glimpse that John Hogue was still there, taking his place as part of the extended family, thanks to those long litanies of honorary pall bearers at funerals or guest lists for the gala celebrations of golden wedding anniversaries of his elders or exchanges of first vows of his siblings' children.

There was, however, one sad note capturing a moment in Hogue's life in the earlier years of his return home: the funeral notices of Susan Harvie Hogue, John's mother. As is often hoped by family historians, I found one of these notices—from The Charleston Daily Mail of Saturday evening, December 30, 1933—to confirm her relationships, along with some pertinent dates for this twice-married widow.
     Funeral services for Mrs. Susan Harvie Hogue, 79 years old, who died unexpectedly at her home in Brooks street Friday afternoon, will be held at the St. John's Episcopal church at 2:30 o'clock Sunday. Rev. John Gass will officiate, and burial will be in Spring Hill cemetery.
     Until a short time before her death at 5 o'clock Friday, Mrs. Hogue had been in her usual good health.
     Although she lived most of her life in Charleston, Mrs. Hogue was a native of Richmond, Va., where she was born in 1854. She was the daughter of Dr. Spicer Patrick and Mrs. Virginia Harvie Patrick.
     In 1872 she was married to Henry Poindexter, who died in 1879. In 1884 she was married to John Syme Hogue, who died in 1917.

The obituary went on to list Susan Harvie Hogue's six surviving children: a son and daughter from her first marriage, and three sons and an additional daughter from her second marriage, including her oldest, the recently-returned junior John Hogue. All were now living in Charleston at the time of her passing, in addition to two grandchildren and three brothers.

The funeral notice went on to conclude, "The family has requested that no flowers be sent," making me wonder whether to take the bait to read between the lines—shock of suddenness? Allergies?—or just be grateful for the written review confirming the family constellation as I presumed it would be.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Relatively Well Off

When Judge North of the Calhoun County, Michigan, Circuit Court sentenced John Hogue on the morning of April 22, 1926, that was the last that was heard in the newspapers of Hogue's fate for quite a while. Though he had been accused of committing the same crime in Madison, Wisconsin, as he had in Battle Creek, Michigan, try as I might, I could locate no further mention in newspapers archived from Madison for the next two years.

That said, do we presume Hogue was free to return home, once he completed his term at the Jackson Prison in Michigan? And if so, what was he to expect, once he materialized after a more than ten year hiatus while engaged in the kind of escapades that would reduce a mother to tears?

Granted, the Marshall Evening Chronicle, at the beginning of Hogue's court hearing in April, had included a parenthetical mention that his parents were "well to do." But just how well were they doing at this point? Back at the stage of the urgent pleading for his life when Hogue was facing the gallows in Windsor, Ontario, a West Virginian newspaper had noted on May 10, 1917,
Hogue's parents are poor but respected residents of Charleston.

Still, that same paper, The Fairmont West Virginian, had earlier put it that Hogue's parents "are well known and respected residents," a somehow different spin than "poor but respected."

That was how the paper put it on May 2. Two days later, the elder Hogues' financial standing was elevated to "one of the leading families of the Kanawha Valley" and
at one time owned considerable property in and about Charleston.

Perhaps the Hogue family fortunes fluctuated, depending on editorial slant—or who was on board to save John Hogue at the moment.

That was back in 1917, that frightful moment when Hogue was about to face the conclusion of the matter in the shooting of a Canadian immigration officer. Now, after serving at least ten months of a year's prison term in Michigan for prior crimes committed there over a decade before, one can presume he was simply released on parole and permitted to return to his home state of West Virginia. What was he about to find there?

It might be reasonable to assume that a homecoming might be an awkward proposition. One wonders what he might find after his embarrassing absence. Still, despite what he had done in those ten-plus years, his return was more likely to be after the manner of a prodigal than an outcast.

For one thing, remember that his younger brother had been the driving force behind his rescue from the gallows. Even in Michigan, a Marshall Evening Chronicle report provided the clue that Andrew Hogue was still very much involved in his wayward brother's well-being.
Andrew Hogue of Charleston, West Va., was here today to see his brother, John Hogue, at the jail. The latter is the man brot [sic] back from Windsor, after serving nine years for murder in Canada on a charge of robbery in Battle Creek.

The awkwardness of showing up on his doorstep, back in Charleston, would have been somewhat defused by the conciliatory gestures extended by his gracious brother, no doubt. But what about the rest of the family?

With the difficulty of obtaining issues online of the local newspaper in Charleston from that time period, it is hard to gauge the reception John Hogue might have received upon his arrival home.

One thing was certain, though: there was one member of his family he would never see again. If information given on Find A Grave is correct (and sometimes there are mistakes provided on some memorials), John's sixty seven year old father—the man for whom he had been named—made it just long enough to learn that his son's life had been spared, but not long enough for the wayward child to have returned home. John Syme Hogue senior apparently passed away in Charleston on September 16, 1917.

Perhaps the elder Hogue's demise partially explains those family descriptions as "poor but respected." It would be unbearable to think that his son's escapades had contributed to his relatively early death. Then again, about the only mentions of the Hogue family I could find—other than the news of the John Hogue court case—were often linked to sales of property on the steps of the county courthouse. These, likely, provide the back story to The Fairmont West Virginian's characterization of the family as "at one time" owning "considerable property" in the Charleston area. Though possible loss of his son likely weighed heavily on the elder John Hogue, it seems it may have come on the heels of bad news of an entirely different type.


Monday, February 1, 2016

Life on the Installment Plan

Just think of this as the story of one man's life sentence on the installment plan.

John Hogue, the convicted murderer in Ontario whose life was spared in an eleventh-hour reprieve by the Canadian government, may have seen his life sentence in Canada eventually reduced to a mere ten years, but that wasn't the end of his debt to society. Apparently, there were more charges to face.

Battle Creek, Michigan, for instance, wasn't about to give up on seeing justice served in the March, 1916, safe-cracking case at the Arthur B. Mitchell Billiard Hall—although authorities even ten years later still insisted that the crook's real name was James Gordon. That little event had netted John Hogue a cool $422 on his way to Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Back in 1916, it was Battle Creek's detective G. W. Colby who, in vain, had chased the suspect all the way to Toledo, Ohio, only to find he had just been released after questioning by authorities there. Now, on April 1, 1926, it was Sheriff G. W. Colby, accompanied by Calhoun County prosecutor Cortwright, who finally got his man when he traveled to Detroit to meet up with the Ontario provincial police escorting Hogue across the border. A lot had happened back in Michigan since Hogue last blew through town.

Marshall, the county seat of Calhoun County, in which Battle Creek was situated, was the scene of the trial in circuit court the morning of April 22. Since officials at the Kingston penitentiary where Hogue had been incarcerated in Canada had reported that he had been "a model prisoner," perhaps he had shown some signs of reform. In his own mind, apparently, he believed himself to be a much different man than the one who had last darkened the doors of Battle Creek, for in this case, he had "hoped for release on probation."

Authorities in Calhoun County saw otherwise for, according to that day's Marshall Evening Chronicle, Hogue was duly reminded that
the crime for which he stood charged in Calhoun County is a serious one.

Somehow, the incongruity of all that had transpired in the past ten years of Hogue's life suddenly slapped me in the face. Here, after narrowly escaping the death sentence for murder, the man has been retrieved to stand trial for a theft of less than five hundred dollars—admittedly of much more worth then than it is today, but still of no comparison to the value of a life lost—and the court chooses to remind him that the crime "is a serious one."

In the end, the judge turned out to be quite lenient, even in this "serious" case. He chose to give the minimum sentence—one year—and then was quoted in the newspaper as commenting,
With your good time you'll have to serve only about ten months. Furthermore I am going to recommend that when you are released on parole that you may live outside the state.

That, essentially, provided the green light, after serving his sentence, for Hogue to return home to live near his parents in West Virginia, "who are well to do."

What a fortunate turn of events and best-hoped-for outcome for Hogue—except for one thing. According to The Escanaba Daily Press—that spot as far away from Battle Creek as one could get and still be in Michigan—their April 1, 1926 report mentioned one other point of business:
A message today was received from Sheriff Thomas Shaugancy [sic] of Madison, Wis., indicating Stewart or Hogue is wanted there for blowing two safes in February, 1916.

If Michigan never forgets the wrongs committed against them, why would Wisconsin?

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