Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Not Empty

Painful stories aren’t limited to our own day, of course. I was just reviewing some items I had saved from research years ago, trying to organize my findings in a way that will make sense to others. In doing that, I ran across a sad story in a newspaper from over 100 years ago.

Once again, it is the story of a firstborn son. I found it when we traveled to the Fort Wayne, Indiana, library—an excellent resource for genealogy research.

Buried in the back pages of the Fort Wayne Weekly Sentinel was the headline, “The Old Story—A Boy Killed by the Accidental Discharge of a Revolver.”

It was one of those stories people might read over their morning coffee, sadly shake their head and move on. Perhaps, just perhaps, if it were quiet in those breakfast nooks on January 20, 1876, one might hear the slightly disapproving “tsk, tsk” of the reader before the shuffle of turning pages drowned out the noise. But for this boy’s mother, I imagine the scene the night before was not so muffled.

Tim Kelly, employed at the local grocery, had stepped outside his workplace to visit with a few friends circling around the just-arrived newspaper carrier. Much as one would brag about a new “toy,” someone was showing off a revolver. Not to be outdone, the “carrier boy” took his own out of his pocket, and both guns were passed around and admired.

The guns were supposedly unloaded and safe, so the newspaper employee picked one up and did what all boys would naturally do: point it and pull the trigger.

Unfortunately, the gun was not empty. “The revolver snapped twice, but the third time a ball was discharged from one of the chambers.” It made a direct hit in the nearby forehead of Tim Kelly.

The teens were “terribly affrighted” but did everything they could for young Kelly. They picked up his slumped body, washed off the wound, and carried him to his father’s home nearby. There was nothing more that could be done for him. By three o’clock the next morning, Timothy Kelly was gone.

The news article went on for three more paragraphs, briefly mentioning that Tim’s father, John T. Kelly, worked “as foreman in the Toledo, Wabash and Western yard” and that the paper carrier’s father “of course feels terrible over the result of his son's carelessness.” Mostly, the additional column space was devoted to sermonizing about widespread gun ownership among the youth, and speculating about any motive for the killing. No word about the suffering the unexpected incident had inflicted upon the family.

And yet, his mother, Johanna Falvey Kelly, was just about to give birth to another son—the first to be born to the family since their arrival from County Kerry in 1870. Little did this mother know that her eldest daughter, Kate, would a few years later lose her own life shortly after giving birth to my husband’s grandfather. Or that a few years after that, her second daughter’s husband would lose his life in a grotesque workplace mishap. Or that her next child’s oldest son would soon after also die at a young age.

The thought of such a long chain of tragedies leaves me amazed at the stout-heartedness of our predecessors. A life’s list like that would today leave many mothers—and fathers—utterly bereft.

Or was that just the way life was a mere 135 years ago?

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