A curious discovery, in the aftermath of Patrick Phillips’ sudden and premature workplace death, was a report that seemed to make even the newspapermen who wrote it squirm in discomfort. While the stark details of Patrick’s violent end seemed not to disturb these facts-hardened reporters in the least, the mention of one additional point seemed to compel them to tell the story—yet cloak it in apologetic terms of disbelief.
What can be said of premonition? It always bestows that awkward twilight sense of other-worldliness. People are seldom comfortable in that realm that can be neither seen nor touched.
And yet, enough people talked about it in the early morning hours of May 18, 1912, to compel at least one reporter on this Fort Wayne Sentinel beat to take note of it.
What if Patrick hadn’t gone to work that night? What if he had yielded to that temptation he felt that night to do the 1912 equivalent of calling in sick?
Those are questions with which I’ve heard so many others torment themselves in their own tragic losses. How we try to reconstruct time with that useless attempt. How we only end up attempting to bear the blame ourselves over that which we had, really, no control.
The dumbstruck crew who witnessed the brute force of the machines with which they worked, the city-wide circle of trainmen shocked by the unstoppable demonstration which could in reality have also happened to them, the family who re-enacted all the lines they could have employed to talk a man into a different future course—all these became part of the rehearsal of regrets as they considered what could have been, if only…
A rather pathetic coincidence in connection with the death of Mr. Phillips was the fact that he seemed reluctant to go to work last night, and remarked before leaving his home that he would lay off tonight. He spoke of no presentment as to his fate, but now that he was killed while engaged at his work, the fact that he was undecided whether to report for duty last night causes some comment among the immediate friends.