A timeline, based on newspaper snippets, of how one great-grandson of William and Cassie Riley—my own third great-grandparents—came to be known as "Junkman Froggett" of Decatur, Illinois:
March 3, 1930, down on his luck and taking a nighttime walk along the railroad tracks, Henry Froggett is not only held up at knife point for his money—which amounted to only $2 in change in his pocket—but the pants in which pockets the money was found.
January 3, 1935, charged with the theft of a garbage can, Henry is held at the city jail, where he explains he thought it had a hole and "was just a piece of junk." While police felt this was a lead that might link Froggett to other recent garbage can thefts, Henry hoped he could be released from jail before that Friday, when he was supposed to report for work at a new work-relief program.
January 4, 1935, "Junkman Froggett" is released from jail, as no formal complaint was filed against him when the owner of the missing garbage can came to retrieve his property.
May 4, 1937, two Decatur men—yes, including our Henry—are held in the county jail, charged with petit larceny for stealing fifteen chickens from a local woman's home.
November 26, 1940, two men—and Henry remains the only constant in this duo—plead guilty in county court for petit larceny of an inlet grating from the city, and are sentenced to six months at the state farm. Apparently, the strategy of switching from chickens back to scrap metal didn't work for Henry.
July 14, 1943, struck by a freight train at a railroad crossing at 10:00 p.m. the previous night, Henry Froggett was found the following noon by a passerby, and is now recuperating at the local hospital from injuries to his back and arm.
October 14, 1943, while walking uptown from his step-daughter's home at 8:30 p.m., Henry Froggett is struck by a passing automobile, an apparent hit-and-run incident. His body slumps in the darkness, and he sustains injuries to his shoulder and head. A local hospital confirms that he also received internal injuries.
October 16, 1943, Decatur police learn that the driver of a Model A Ford had swerved at the scene of the hit and run incident, realizing in the darkness that there was a body in the road. The driver had gotten out of his car and directed traffic around the slumped body so as to avoid any further injury before an ambulance could arrive.
October 16, 1943, funeral services are held at the Moran & Sons Chapel at 10:30 a.m. for Henry Froggett, with burial at Greenwood Cemetery.
November 12, 1943, the coroner's jury returns the verdict that Henry Froggett, aged 61, died as a result of injuries when struck by a hit-and-run driver. The driver has not yet been found.
Whether Henry Froggett—whom Decatur residents once knew as "Junkman Froggett"—was perpetually down on his luck, or just had a maddening knack for getting things wrong, is hard to tell from this brief litany of his appearances in the local news. Perhaps his was a life doomed from the beginning. Or perhaps we need to consider his shortened and struggling lifespan in parallel with history's own timeline of bad luck episodes in the 1930s and 1940s.
Regardless of the truth of the matter, finding these vignettes of his life's struggles evokes a pathos I couldn't escape. While citizens of one 1940s city in Illinois may have rolled their eyes in impatience at yet another of Henry Froggett's antics, I imagine it might have been hard to be the one living the life of Decatur's Junkman.