• Brook Laguana

How often are you aware, while it's happening, that this is the moment that will change the rest of your life? For Harry Cross, that moment happened 113 years ago, at 12:19 pm, when Mrs. Walsh gave her daughter a penny.

The Boston Globe Tue Oct 9, 1906

October 6, 1906: Things were going well for twenty-four year old Harry. He married an Irish gal who was, by all accounts, very beautiful and they had an infant son together. Harry worked as a motorman and drove a street car through the hectic roadways of Boston. In an instant, everything changed.

Postcard showing a 1906 streetcar in Boston. Published by J. Valentine, New York. Image from Wikipedia.

There were people everywhere, hurrying to lunch or to run errands. Boston's West Broadway was full of street cars, horse-drawn wagons, and a few automobiles. There were no cross walks, no street lights, and no stop signs. His street car was full, and the conductor was ringing the bell when he pulled up to the stop on B Street.

However on this day, four year old Helen Walsh was gleefully rushing down the sidewalk with her new penny on her way to buy a piece of candy. At the corner of B street and Broadway, little Helen ran out into the road.

Harry didn't see her until she was right in front of the car. He yelled for her to stop, he reversed the power and the street car rolled to a standstill, but not before Helen was struck and run over by the front wheels. Her little body was crushed and Helen was killed.

The Boston Globe Sat Oct 6, 1906

There were several witnesses, including two policemen, but it was a statement made by passenger, Frank Parisi, that resulted in the arrest of Harry Cross. "He was going at a high rate of speed," Parisi said. Harry was arrested and charged with manslaughter.

At the trial four witnesses, including two police officers, testified that Harry had done everything he could to stop his street car before it hit Helen. The charges were dropped. It wasn't his fault, but the damage was done. A little girl had lost her life and a man with a promising career could no longer stomach the work.

A person's entire life can change directions in a moment. Sometimes it's a big event, like a wedding, but sometimes all it takes it a penny.

All stories in the On My Desk blog are posted with the permission of my clients.

What will I find in YOUR family tree?

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  • Brook Laguana

"I found this in Mom's things," Eileen wrote to her brother. "I thought you would want it." Included with the letter was a hand written obituary for Stella Mae Jones who had died about a year past. Eileen was busy cleaning out her mother's house. There was a lot to go through, so it's no wonder that Stella's final words weren't found until it was too late.

Wedding Photo
Sam and Stella Jones- 1904

Stella came from a long line of hoarders, a trait that was passed down through her descendants as well. There were boxes of recipes and poems clipped from the newspaper. There were years of cards, saved because of the love they held inside. There were rolls of bank receipts, report cards, nail files, a piece of leather marked with a tag that said "Grandpa's razor strap," and a small box of tiny baby teeth. These were her treasures, and the treasures of several of her ancestors passed down to generations who had too much heart to throw them away. Myself included.

One thing is clear, as I sit here surrounded by Stella's things, many of them over 100 years old, is that Stella was a proud, Romantic with a flair for the dramatic. She wrote her own obituary. It was probably to save her children the anguish of writing one in the midst of their grief and to make sure that all of the facts were straight.

What a wonderful idea she had. Writing an obituary is a heart wrenching process. How do you wrap up the years lived, the personality, the love for your family member in just a few short paragraphs. It's the very last way to honor them. And unlike a eulogy that is said in one moment, gone in the next, an obituary lasts the ages, poured over by genealogists like myself.

In Stella's obituary, she included the things that were important to her. She brags about her family, her accomplishments and even includes a poem on her children's behalf expressing their deep grief over her loss. Truth be told, it makes me chuckle. It's very long and would have cost a fortune in newspaper space.

After spending hours looking through Stella's treasures, and reading her letters, and newspaper clippings, I feel like I know her, this proud, eccentric woman, this devoted mother, this adoring grandmother, who died before I was born. I can't think of anyone better to write her obituary than Stella, herself.

What would you include in your obituary? Would you be modest? Would you be honest? Will you start writing yours today?

#obituaries #2minuteread #familystories #behindthename #brooksbranches

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