Temporary Derangement

Laura Joslin went up the walk to her home at 117 Main Street, Norwalk, Ohio, after running errands uptown on a chilly Monday afternoon, April 23, 1906. Everyone uptown, it seemed, was still talking about the earthquake that had struck San Francisco last week. Fires still burned in that city, and the toll of death and injured continued to mount. Survivors, including some citizens of Norwalk, had been evacuated to Colorado Springs and Denver, Colorado.

It is likely that Laura’s thoughts were not on that tragedy as she mounted the porch steps, but were on her mother Calista Harris. Ever since her mother had arrived from Clyde last year, Laura had not thought of much else. Although Calista was only sixty-eight years old, she had had a rough life, growing up on a farm, raising two children, and then losing her first husband. All that had taken a toll on her health, and she now suffered from various aliments, including blinding headaches. Last year she had come to Norwalk so Laura, her eldest daughter, could nurse her.

Laura’s life had not been a bed of roses, either. She had suffered the loss of her first husband at an even a younger age than her mother. Faced with raising two young girls on her own after his death, she had married Augustus Joslin, a well-off widower over thirty years her senior. Although that marriage had given her the financial security she needed, it also saddled her with the responsibility of nursing him as his health became progressively worse. Augustus had died last year, relieving Laura of that responsibility. But soon after he passed, her mother came to live with her–and forced her once again into the role of a nurse.

She crossed the porch and went in the front door. Quiet met her. Where was her mother? Laura passed through the front room to the kitchen  and stopped short. A knife and a length of clothesline lay on the table.

The image of the outhouse came into her mind.¬† She darted out the back door and ran across the yard to the little building, jerked open the door–and screamed. Her mother dangled from the rafter, a noose tight around her neck.

Laura grew faint, and, as the ground seemed to rise to greet her, the whole world went dark.

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calista-harris-obituary

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Is this little story an accurate account of what happened that April afternoon in 1906? I believe it is close to the mark, and will tell you why I think that in a post next week. But next up–New Year’s Eve, 1906 in Norwalk, Ohio.

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4 Responses

  1. […] By 1902, Augustus’s health began to fail, and after suffering for two years, nursed by his young wife, no doubt, he passed away the day after New Year’s, 1906. Laura now had a nice home at 117 West Main Street for herself and her girls, and, one would think, sufficient means to last her the rest of her life. Fortune had smiled on her, but soon she would have another ailing elder relative to care for, and in a little over a year, she would be shocked by a terrible tragedy, right in her own home. We’ll learn about that in my next post, titled “Temporary Derangement.” […]

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  2. Wow! What a tragic, sad end for Calista, and a nightmare for Laura to cope with the rest of her life.

    I’m from Denver and never knew about evacuees from the San Francisco earthquake arriving in Colorado. Fascinating.

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  3. […] I have used this genre (although not as skillfully as Doris Kearns Goodwin, of course) in the “Sufferers’ Land” story on this website, and more recently in last week’s post “Temporary Derangement.” […]

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  4. I’ve been enjoying your chronicling of Norwalk’s Class of 1907. What came to mind was the term “life expectancy” as it relates to ‘only sixty-eight years old.’ I believe life expectancy is tied in to mortality rates, thus high infant death rates drive down overall expected life spans. If a child made it to age 10 or 15 they would be expected to live quite a bit longer than they would have at the time of their birth.

    Not meant to be callous, for Calista’s was certainly a tragic death, it’s very sad it came at her own hand, and I think most would want life to reach a natural end, but for 1906 it might have been thought that she had a long run.

    D. Jenkins

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