Looiking Back

In this photo taken from the Connersville Utilities parking lot on Vine Street, three houses are visible where tragedy struck in 1918. From left: the James McCann home, then the Miller home and the Bragg home. Connersville Utilities is built on the former site of another house where tragedy came that year, the Eskew home.

The year 1918 was a tumultuous one for our country. The city of Connersville was subject to many tragedies of all kinds. One east Connersville junction that today is one of the busiest, was a century ago exposed to many of these devastating events in a one-year period.

The intersection of Vine Street and Pattee Street had seen its share of sadness. Edward Enos, an early eastside businessman, had developed this area. Pattee Street (now named McCann) was given its name in memory of his mother-in-law, who was from France.

In 1901, a Halloween prank gone wrong had seen the death of a local youth playing a game called tick tacking. This prank involved the throwing of corn kernels at windows and annoying the occupants. Roy Williams lost his life as the resident fired a warning shot that Roy jumped into.

The first tragedy of 1918 occurred on the 21st of February at the home on the northwest corner. The Henry Bragg family lost their son George, age 19. George had graduated from CHS in 1917 and was to begin study at Purdue in the field of Pharmacy in the fall of 1918. He was working at the Corner Drug Store and cut his hand in the early part of the month. Over the next week it became infected and he was diagnosed with blood poisoning. Very quickly it became clear he could lose his arm and likely even his life. He was taken to the hospital and emergency surgery was unable to save him. His funeral at First Methodist Church was attended by 700 mourners. It had been moved from Eastside church due to its size.

George was a member of the Liberty Guard. The Liberty Guard was enacted during World War I to protect the homeland during the overseas conflict. Several local companies were formed and he was in Company B. Several hundred Liberty Guardsmen were in attendance, commanded by Frederic Barrows, who led the procession. Also a large delegation of his classmates marched in together, led by pallbearers Louis Heeb and Ben Henry.

The next blows occurred on the northeast corner, where the Connersville Utilities is located. In the spring of 1918 something seemed amiss with Miss Ida Eskew. Her beau, Marion Darnell, had not been seen as often at her home a few doors down from him on Vine Street. Their friends had thought their seven years of keeping company would culminate in marriage but by summer things had gone awry. On July 8th it came to a boiling point. That morning as Mr. Darnell walked by, Ida asked him to come inside. It became obvious to him that something was horribly wrong as she asked him to sit with her for a bit. He summoned the neighbors who found a bottle of carbolic acid nearby. Dr. Mountain was sent for but by the time he could get there she was gone. Ida was 51 years old and was well thought of in eastside. Since the beginning of the war she had been volunteering with the Red Cross and was always the first one to show up for a charity drive or if someone was ill and needed nursing.

Her father, Robert, was devastated by his daughter’s suicide and it soon became obvious that Robert, who was age 79, might not survive the heartbreak. Only three weeks later he passed away. Robert Eskew was described as an agriculturist who was widely known, respected and one in whom men placed their trust.

In early October, Winfield Scott Miller became very ill. The Miller family lived on the southwest corner of the tragic intersection. He had been in failing health for a time but had been holding his own. On the sixth day of the month he died peacefully in the morning.

His son Clyde operated the grocery at the corner of Fifth and Vine streets. In 1918 East Connersville was still a town and separate from the city. Fifth Street at that time in eastside was called Main Street. Clyde’s grocery business put him in contact with hundreds of customers each day. His happy disposition earned the 31-year-old storekeeper many friends and he was widely admired.

By the fall of 1918 the influenza pandemic was ravaging the country. Over 50 million Americans contracted the influenza and over 675,000 died in the U.S. alone. Many locals were ill with this dread illness and by the time of his father’s funeral, Clyde had it too. Through mid-October he was able to work but soon he and his store clerks were all very ill and temporary help had to be brought in. Tragically, on October 21st, young Clyde succumbed and the neighborhood again went to the church for another funeral.

James McCann was a very well known member of the Connersville business community. He had been in the mill business and had produced many products widely used in the area, including flour. He was a member of the board of directors of the Farmers and Merchants Bank and was on various boards and committees. His money and expertise was much desired on local ventures and he was quite wealthy. The 69-year-old businessman had been in failing health for over a year. In several months he had scarcely left his home. A visit from his daughter caused him to rally around the holidays but on December 20th he was taken from life and the fourth corner of the intersection had crepe hung on the door.

Even though his death was not unexpected, this sixth deadly blow to the neighbors was hard to take. He was buried in Dale Cemetery, where he had been a charter member of the board.

His daughter donated a plot of land behind the Utilities office and a playground was constructed there for the children of east Connersville. In July of 1921 McCann Playground was dedicated and it was a fixture in the area for many years. At some point later Pattee Street was also given his name.

Over 100 years have passed since this odd and tragic string of events but, even with the passage of time, it’s not hard to imagine the sorrow and sadness that was felt in this little neighborhood so many years ago.

Brad Colter, who writes Looking Back for the Connersville News-Examiner, is streets and utilities director for the City of Connersville.