Monday, November 4, 2013

Not Out of the Kinks

Apparently, the Logansport Pharos Tribune spoke too soon when it concluded on July 19, 1897, that John Brown was “out of danger” after his “narrow escape” from poisoning by Paris Green. Perhaps the editors were feeling good about themselves when they moralized that the young man “ought to profit by the experience.”

By comparison, four days later, the editorial staff at rival Logansport, Indiana, Times newspaper had no qualms about turning the unfortunate incident into a political screed. Predating Prohibition by over twenty years, the Times article ramped up the rhetoric at the unfortunate Brown’s expense, barely waiting until past the headline to rail that his demise was “One of the Natural Results of the Legalized Saloon.

True, the matter wasn’t solely about a suicide attempt involving poison. Two local newspapers, actually, fingered whiskey in the mix. According to the Times,
            Brown had been drunk since Friday of last week, and his employer informed him Saturday that he could not work for him unless he stopped drinking. He in a measure had sobered up Monday morning, and went to the shop to get a dime to get a drink to taper off on. He got the dime, then he got a second dime, and it was with this second dime that he bought the Paris green. He told his employer when he got the money that he would go to work at noon.

Whatever the cause for John Brown’s resolve, he was determined to put himself out of his misery. As the Times article described the scene immediately upon the discovery of his emergent condition,
He was placed on some boxes in the rear room and Drs. Downey and Ballard were called and did what they could to save his life. Brown, however, didn’t propose to let the doctors bring him out of the kinks. He fought them with all the strength he had. He bit Ballard’s hand, chewed the rubber hose to the stomach pump, tried to swallow a cork that his jaws were propped open with, and when they attempted to pour milk down him he spit it out as fast as they poured it in. His mouth had to be pried open with sticks, so obstinate was he.

Despite the monumental battle of wills, it did seem that the efforts of those several well-meaning people held sway in the situation. John Brown was stabilized, and friends were able to return him home. Perhaps it was at this point that the Pharos Tribune went to press with its premature conclusion that John Brown had survived the ordeal. The Times had observed, of the evening’s respite at the Brown home afterwards,
He seemed considerable better after he got home, but he said he wanted to die, and begged his folks not to do anything for him.

For all the heroic action, in the end John H. Brown was granted his earnest wish. The Times concluded its diatribe in the manner in which it began the article:
A young wife is thus made a widow through the effects of licensed murder mills, and yet we are told that if we let the saloon alone it will let us alone.

To set the record straight, the Pharos Tribune went back and amended their original article to reflect the sad reality of John Brown’s demise with a brief—and definitely more understated—update in their July 20, 1897, edition.
            Contrary to expectations, John H. Brown, the cigarmaker, died last evening from the effects of a dose of paris green, taken with suicidal intent. His death occurred at 7:05 o’clock at the home of his mother, Mrs. Ellen Brown, No. 12 Elm street, Westside. He declared that he had taken the poison with the suicidal intent, and fought against the efforts of the physicians to save his life.
            The deceased was 26 years of age. Besides his wife and mother he leaves two brothers and a sister. He was a member of the Cigar Makers Union, which organization will have charge of the funeral to be held at 10 a.m. Thursday from the residence. Interment will be made in Mt. Hope cemetery.


  1. Enough of it was absorbed into his system to kill him. He was so young, depression and alcohol are deadly mix...then add in rat poison. Kind of a gruesome story:(

    1. Yes, it was gruesome. Believe it or not, the newspapers provided much more of the details, and confirmed what you mentioned: his system absorbed so much. Sad.

  2. This brings up a point to me - at what point should (if?) a person's wish to "go" be respected... It is a very complex issue with no simple answer (for me).


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