Friday, October 11, 2013

A Dead Man’s Watch

The fact that the dead man’s watch had stopped at 2:37 o’clock probably furnishes proof as to the exact time of the accident.

Despite being included in a dry rehearsal of facts in a Fort Wayne newspaper, the details of Patrick Phillips’ sudden end provide a graphic reminder of how—at least for those in such situations—Time seems to stand still in the face of breathtaking tragedy.

How small this man’s world must have been—this man whose stopped watch was noted for all to remember, the exact time duly noted in The Fort Wayne News Sentinel on that day’s edition in May 18, 1912.

His was a life that didn’t wander far from home. While a somber committee must have been assembled to deliver the news back to his sleeping family at home, those very men may have walked, unawares, past the house in which Patrick Phillips was born. While that Dawson Street location cannot be found on any online map now, a 1910 census readout showed it to be just around the corner from the Phillips’ Hoagland Avenue residence back then.
Mr. Phillips was born in this city forty-five years ago on Dawson street, a short distance from his late place of residence at 1919 Hoagland avenue. He attended the parochial schools of the Cathedral congregation and was married about twelve years ago.

His was a tight-knit community. The south-of-downtown area where he lived was home to many of the men he worked with. Likewise, many of those neighbors were the very men whose families his worshiped with at Sunday mass at Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church nearby.

Perhaps the farthest Patrick Phillips traveled from his hometown may have been on the very instrument of his death: the railroads he worked for. And yet, those fellow workers in the railroads’ employ became his circle of friends. More than that, they became a brotherhood of laborers who understood the fraternity of shared challenges faced in that work setting. They were the ones who took seriously the charge to watch over each other, to hold each other up.

While we in genealogy research may look back on these associations with a sense of gratitude for the integral role they played in our ancestors’ lives—not to mention the lasting trail of records they provide us—that interpersonal bond, during those times, was much more enduring than the mere records they might have kept. As we’ll discuss in a few days, it was this lasting commitment that not only led them to attend to such formalities as final farewells at funerals, but one that forged a human chain of mutual support that, ultimately, made their voices heard.
Mr. Phillips was a member of the St. Patrick’s congregation and was also a member of Wayne division, No. 119, O. R. C., and of the Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen, which organizations will probably have charge of the funeral.


  1. He may have lived in a "small world" but is that really a "bad" thing? He was surrounded by friends and people he loved, likely doing a job he enjoyed and found fulfilling. It might be a slight case of "ignorance is bliss," but I think his life (but not his death!) is a likely source of that nostalgia for the "good old days."

    1. Oh, not at all, Iggy. I certainly don't mean to imply that his close-knit world represented a "bad" thing. What I hope to show in a few days is how that close association of workers may have made a difference in securing lasting support for the family so tragically left behind.

      That neighborhood connection held strong in that family and that community for years to come, apparently, as I've been able to trace Patrick's descendants, still in the Fort Wayne area up to the latter part of the twentieth century.


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