front page logo

front page logo
John Hilyard Family ca. 1909

Thursday, March 29, 2018

52.12: Misfortune; Catharine Murphy Reck

This post is part of a project called "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks" created by Amy Johnson Crow.

The prompt this week is Misfortune. This dovetails with last week's Lucky story of William Harrison Reck.

As with most women in my family tree, I don't know a great many details about my great-great grandmother Catharine Murphy Reck. She was born on October 3rd, 1838 in Miami County, Ohio to William Henry and Mary (Sipe) Murphy.  She was the oldest in a family of 13 children that all lived to adulthood.

When she was 20, she married William Harrison Reck in Darke County, Ohio. He enlisted in the Civil War a few years later.  After the war, they moved from Darke County, Ohio to Henry County, Missouri for a few years, during which time my great-grandmother was born. I don't know what took them out there or why they returned, but by 1874 they were back in Ohio. In the early 1900s they moved to Riverside County, California with several of their children, where they died and are buried.

I have a letter Catharine wrote to her daughter after the death of William Harrison. I shared that letter in this post. From this, I can tell she was well-educated and had good penmanship. I have a few pictures of her, all with a calm, mild expression. Other than these bare facts, I didn't have a lot.

Catharine and William Harrison Reck had seven children. I knew one had died young but I did not know the circumstances. His name was Charles Edward Reck, born October 16, 1868 and died April 17, 1893 aged 24. He hadn't married or fathered any children.  There are no death records available for this time, so I figured I'd never find out more.

Then in 2007, another researcher sent me a newspaper clipping. The clipping is unsourced but has the date Jan. 29, 1976 written on it. It is a human interest piece about Bertha Mae Marchal and shares some of her memories.
Newspaper Clipping Jan. 29, 1976 Dateline Versailles
Interview with Bertha Marchal
The pertinent part is marked by a pen and reads as follows: 
"Another vivid memory occurred when I was 10. One day an explosion shook the schoolhouse. We thought it might fall down. Charles Haber of Greenville was the teacher. He went out and looked all around. When he came back, he said it had to be a bomb, but there was no damage."
"We found out later it was a boiler exploded at John Kelch's saw mill. Two young men, McClurg and Reck, were eating their lunch nearby. It boiled dry and blew up and they were blown to pieces."
"Again my nosieness got the best of me. I asked my sister to go along with me to see the place.  We walked back the long road to the edge of the woods and there we found Mrs. Reck picking up pieces of the bodies. I'll never forget that."

What a horrific story. 

Steam boiler being installed in a saw mill
Black & white photonegative, 4 x 5 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory
More recently, with the abundance of digitized newspapers, I thought I might find out more about this event online. The story was indeed picked up and ran in newspapers across several states as a small paragraph. Not one paper got the names of the men correct. The earliest one referred to "Charles Peck" and then almost instantly it became "Harry Rex".  The other man was called by McClung and McClerg. If I didn't already know what I was looking for, I probably would not have found them.

The earliest report I found ran two days after the explosion:
Akron Daily Democrat 19 Apr 1893, page 1
As the story traveled, details became more lurid. A New Orleans newspaper reported this:
The Times-Democrat of New Orleans 20 Apr 1893, page 8
I am certain Catharine Reck was out of her mind with grief. But I wondered why this 54-year-old woman was out searching for her son's body, seemingly by herself?

As I learned more about Catharine's husband William Harrison Reck, I began to understand a little. Harrison Reck dislocated his shoulder in a fall from a horse in 1889. The injury plagued him to the point he was unable to get out of bed at times for several days. Also, by the time of their son's death, he was legally blind.

Their older children were married and out of the house. Charles Edward Reck was the oldest unmarried son, and I assume he still lived with his parents, supporting them as they aged and the father was unable to work as much as he used to. There were still three other siblings at home to support: my great-grandmother Jennie age 20, Martha age 18, and Perry age 15.

Catharine's husband was unable to help her find their son's broken body. She most likely wanted to shield the girls and Perry from what she knew would be a terrible sight. But she had to get her son and lay him to rest. I wish I had a picture of Charles to share here. This is Catharine:
Catharine (Murphy) Reck 1838-1915