Sunday, October 20, 2013

Tick, Tick, Tick

Not a word appeared regarding the outcome of the Phillips case for over a year after The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette mentioned the change of venue to Wells County, Indiana, in March, 1913.

Presumably, during that time, Mary Kelly Phillips was somehow finding a way to travel twenty five miles from her home in Fort Wayne to follow the proceedings in her lawsuit against the Wabash Railroad.

Meanwhile, her adversaries—the “receivers” for the railroad company—existed in an entirely different universe. Theirs was a world of high finance, business deals and lofty goals. Frederick Delano, of whom many digital resources now leave testimony, was busy tap-dancing on behalf of the nation’s railroads. Whether his high profile attempts at swaying public and—more importantly—governmental opinion concerning further regulation of railroads were having any effects, he certainly couldn’t be faulted for lack of effort.

One particular appearance for the railroad president included a speech at the Economic Club of New York. On the night of April 29 of that same year in which Mary Phillips began her struggle to receive what she saw as justice in her case, her opponent was presenting a speech to the distinguished members of this New York City gathering—an address from which he would be quoted and paraphrased for years. Three dinner speakers—with “F. A. Delano of the Wabash” sandwiched right in the middle of the presentation—joined to answer the question for this organization: “Are Our Railroads Fairly Treated?”

Never mind the irony of such a topic as Mary Phillips—had she known about the occasion—would have decried as hypocrisy in excluding the fair treatment of those men on whose backs those railroad businesses were built. Seeing a man like Frederic Delano speaking on such lofty topics while putting a court case on hold back in the humble environs of Bluffton, Indiana, tells me the man had bigger things on his mind. Much bigger things.

Meanwhile, back home in Indiana, the situation may have begun to overwhelm the resources of tiny Wells County, site of the Phillips case after its change of venue from Allen County. Such changes of venue are not always welcomed by the locality now tasked with conducting the legal duties of another jurisdiction. Bluffton, county seat of Wells County, was certainly a much smaller town than Fort Wayne, where the case originated. Depending on the way such governmental responsibilities were mandated, the local county might have had to assume costs for which it, in the end, was unprepared. While the county would not have incurred any costs for criminal defendants in this case, there were most likely several witnesses to be called to the stand—all of whom had to make that twenty five mile trip, including expenses, to appear in court in Wells County.

When news of the case finally made the Fort Wayne papers again, it was not to mention any verdict—and certainly not to divulge any details that might exacerbate public sentiment any further. It did, however, tip the county’s hand in the understated mention that the case “continues to occupy the circuit court here.”

Occupy, indeed. I bet they were quite ready to be done with the issue and get back to the quiet, uneventful business-as-usual routine they were accustomed to.

Even though it was The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, again, reporting the news on May 7, 1914, it was possibly a separate Bluffton correspondent passing along the story. The brief note showed on page 23 under the column heading, “Bluffton News.”  In the article, Mary was misidentified as “Mrs. Patrick.”

And there was another curious note. Perhaps error, perhaps sign of some strategizing on the part of Mary’s attorneys, the news pinned the amount she was seeking not as $10,000, as had been reported when the news initially broke over a year before, but as $20,000.
…The damage suit of Mrs. Mary Phillips, administratrix of the estate of her husband, Patrick Phillips, against the Wabash Railroad company, continues to occupy the circuit court here, and probably two or three more days will be necessary to complete the case. Mrs. Patrick [sic] is demanding damages in the sum of $20,000, from the railroad company for the death of her husband, who was killed in Fort Wayne, May 17, 1912. The case came here on change of venue from Allen county.


  1. I love how "inept" the reporters are -- goodness - do they ever check things like spelling of names and such?

    1. I'm sure this is a case of "too many cooks spoil the broth." It can't just be the actions of a lone writer. There ought to be an editor or two willing to step up and take it for the team here...

  2. That should have been big news in Bluffton..we have friends that live in that area.:)

    1. I'm guessing back then, it was a quiet rural place...not exactly the stage set for any kind of railroad or courtroom drama.


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