Sunday, November 3, 2013

Mounting a Steep Learning Curve

Do you know what Paris Green is? Neither did I, before this week.

Researching what became of John Brown—Emma Carle Brown Kelly’s short-lived first husband—became my opportunity to discover what Paris Green is. Before this, I had never heard of it.

After finding two different dates of death given for John Brown’s demise in Cass County, Indiana—those dates being only two days apart—my next challenge was to find an online source for local newspapers of that time period. Thankfully, has a number of publications in Logansport from July, 1897—yielding several detailed reports of what became of our John Brown.

Admittedly, the local newspapers had no qualms about publishing the gory details of John Brown’s unexpected ordeal—something I shouldn’t have been surprised to see, considering what nearby Fort Wayne newspapers had printed when it came to Emma’s future brother in law, Patrick Phillips, and his sudden end. Actually, one newspaper turned out to be quite melodramatic as well as dogmatic in its portrayal of the Brown family crisis.

With a bold headline coming directly to the point, the Monday, July 19, 1897, Logansport Pharos Tribune announced “SUICIDE,” followed by the typical run-on sub-headings of the era:
            “Attempted by John Brown, the Cigarmaker.
            “Badly Effected With the Blues, He Swallowed Two Ounces of Paris Green.
            “The Stomach Pump Applied and He is Now Thought to be Out of Danger.”

The episode was tumultuous, starting with the man’s arrival at work:
            About 1 o’clock this afternoon while laboring under a bad attack of the blues, John Brown, the well known cigar maker, purchased two ounces of paris green at Johnston’s drug store, then proceeding to the court house pump on North street, downed all the stuff at one swallow.
            Shortly after he showed up at Walter Closson’s cigar factory, on Broadway, where he had been employed…
whereupon he proceeded to exhibit symptoms of his body’s attempt to reject the substance. (For those not burdened with weak stomachs, you are welcome to read the description of the scenario here—if you are not a subscriber, continue to scroll down the page anyhow to view the article, for the organization permits one or two complementary views per day.)

Although I could presume from the context of the report what Paris Green might be, just to be sure, I took a look at the Wikipedia entry. Sure enough, Paris Green was the name for a rat poison reported to have once been used in Paris sewers. It has also been used as an insecticide. Despite all this, incredibly, owing to its vivid green color, it was also valued as a pigment by artists. Containing a form of arsenic, among other chemicals, Paris Green is a highly toxic mixture.

Apparently struggling with depression, the young John Brown had been attempting to self-medicate by the use of alcohol which, of course, brings on its own set of problems. Somewhere in the mix, he reached the conclusion that his only way out was to end his own life, which he attempted with this definitive gesture.

Arriving at work upon onset of symptoms, however, became a well-timed move in his benefit, for alarmed fellow workers sent immediately for medical help. It took two doctors and several assistants’ efforts to do quickly what needed to be done.

After the crisis subsided, as the Pharos Tribune concluded for its Logansport readers,
            Upon being pronounced out of danger Brown was taken to his home on Westside.
            It was a narrow escape and the young man ought to profit by the experience. He has everything to live for—a young and devoted wife, and an aged mother and a host of friends to encourage him in all his efforts to do right and live right.

Unfortunately, the Pharos Tribune reported its conclusions a bit too soon.


  1. Glad to read that he survived! Paris green, an interesting term.

    1. Colleen, I thought that was an odd name, myself. My comic husband had a field day cracking jokes about that name. Apparently, though, it is a substance with a long history.

      What strange episodes we encounter when we delve into our families' history!

  2. Never heard of it..poor fellow. It must be hard on your system..usually Rat Poison is. Learn something new everyday:)

    1. It sure sounded dreadful to me. And yes, I learned something new, too...had no idea such a tony sounding name as Paris Green would be associated with something as mundane as rat poison.

  3. I've never heard of "Paris Green" before either.

    I wonder just where that "a host of friends to encourage him" where?


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