Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Further Adventures of Louis Neid!

So, how 'bout that Louis Neid? Louis has quickly become my favorite great-great-grand uncle, because I was the one that re-discovered him after he had been forgotten by generations of his family. (You know, not bragging or anything.) And he was a bachelor, with no offspring of his own, so I feel responsible for him.

To recap from last time: Louis (or Lewis) Neid is Christian Neid's brother. Louis immigrated from Mühlhausen, Prussia, around 1870 and joined the United States Army. He was stationed at West Point Academy from 1870-1897, at which time he retired. During his military service, I am happy to report that Louis' character was consistently rated as "good" to "excellent." By 1899, he was enjoying his retirement in San Diego, California. His address in the city directory is variously listed as "water front foot of 8th," "N. Bay Front Street #1717," and "756 State." These streets all point to the Marina neighborhood of San Diego, which is on San Diego Bay. And, on 23 March 1907, Louis Neid died at age 80. He is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, Grand Army of the Republic Section 2, Lot 59, Grave 2-A. It is an unmarked grave.

This is all interesting information, but a bit dry. Here's a little more to spice it up: in the 1900 census, Louis is listed as being a divorced locksmith. There's no mention of a wife in any of the records from his army years, so exactly who he was divorced from, and the details of their relationship, is unknown at this time.

But here's for the really exciting stuff. Louis made the New York Herald newspaper on 16 Jan 1882 (he'd been in the military about 12 years):

His face bearing "marks of violence," Louis Neid "presented a sorry appearance" in Essex Market Police Court on 15 Jan 1882, appearing against one John Wilson. To begin the article, it was noted that Louis had claimed to be an officer in the engineering department at West Point Military Academy, but was actually only a private soldier. That clarification has absolutely nothing to do with the story that is then related, however. They just wanted you to know.

The actual action started when Louis had come into the city on Saturday while on furlough and bought some jewelry at various stores, paying $175 in all. And then he met up with a man and shared some drinks with him at a bar. That always ends well.

Later, all Louis could recall was someone striking him and inflicting the wounds that were obvious when he was in court; he lost consciousness and the next thing he knew is that he was waking up in an alley, robbed! But at least he had his greatcoat. More on that in a moment.

Fortunately for Louis, Mrs. Mary Brennan of No. 5 Forsyth Street had been on the scene. Mrs. Brennan testified that about four o'clock on Saturday afternoon, she had seen Wilson dragging Louis into the alley adjoining her house; she said Wilson had stripped Louis of his overcoat and then left. Mrs. Brennan had run after Wilson and demanded that he return the greatcoat, to which Wilson replied "that he was going for a carriage to take his friend home."

Mrs. Brennan sent two boys (street urchins, I presume, who were standing by for just such a task) to follow the man; he was seen entering a pawnshop and, a few minutes later, came out (still with the coat). Wilson returned to Louis, who remained unconscious on the ground, and set the coat on the ground next to him.

The police had been notified by this point and arrested Wilson, who was found in possession of jewelry and pocketbooks belonging to Louis. The police took him to the stationhouse, where an officer had to prevent the prisoner from swallowing a ten dollar bill.

In court, Wilson denied the charge (and claimed to be a real estate agent), but the "evidence was committed in default of $1,500 bail."

And that's the end of the story. The biggest question remains... why was Louis in New York City buying $175 worth of jewelry?

Moving right along to sunny California...

I must quote the following headline from 16 Nov 1906 in its entirety, because they really knew how to write headlines back then:


Girl Babe Lives Hours After Arm and Leg Are Cut Off; Mangled Woman Dies Instantly

Child Calmly Contemplates Stumps of Limbs While Doctors Vainly Strive to Save Life

JIMINY CRICKETS. That requires no commentary. But let me give you the back story anyway.

First, let me introduce you to Cosette. Cosette is referred to in the article variously as "child," "girl baby," "little girl," etc., so I named her Cosette and started comparing everyone in this story to characters in Les Miserables. (Lewis Neid is Jean Valjean, of course.)

Anyway, Cosette was a "girl baby of about eighteen months," the daughter of Alice Gunter, a demimondaine. Alice was one of three women that had recently moved into No. 59 waterfront, near the foot of Eight street. One of Alice's housemates was Clara Jennie Wright, a fifty-three year old native of England. Mrs. Wright was a widow with one son, George D. Wright. The third housemate is never named.

I didn't know off the top of my head what a demimondaine was, but since it's French, it must have to do with either sex or fashion. Surely a newspaper in the much more conservative early twentieth century wouldn't be talking about the former; maybe a demimondaine was a... lady's maid? I had to turn to that source of infinite knowledge, Wikipedia:

"Demi-monde refers to a group of people who live hedonistic lifestyles, usually in a flagrant and conspicuous manner... behaviors often included drinking or drug use, gambling, high spending... and sexual promiscuity. The term demimondaine... became a euphemism for a courtesan or prostitute."

Jiminy crickets. Forget what I said about the staid and proper early twentieth century. There's no such thing.

Neighbors had complained about Mrs. Wright's house, and the fact that Mrs. Wright always appeared to be intoxicated; the police had the house under supervision. Popular belief had it that "a number of dissolute characters were making it a headquarters." The occupants seemed to have sensed trouble and were already packing in preparation for a move--they had only been there a few days.

That fateful day (15 Nov 1906), Cosette was in the care of Mrs. Wright. They went out for a wholesome afternoon walk, and Mrs. Wright visited the saloon at the foot of Fifth street and came away with a pitcher of beer. Then they headed back home by way of the Santa Fe train tracks, Mrs. Wright leading the child by one hand and carrying the pitcher in the other.

As you might have suspected would happen, a train came along, when the woman and child were in front of Standard Iron works and very nearly to their home. The two were walking eastward; and the Santa Fe switch engine, with three box cars in front, came up behind them. Mrs. Wright seemed aware of the train but made no effort to get off the track until the train was almost upon them. Then she turned about, slipped, and fell across the track, pulling the child down with her.

The train was reportedly running "very slowly" and after the woman fell, it stopped within a car length and a half. Conductor B. J. Riley was in charge on the engine; Engineer M. E. Knauss, Fireman C. G. Ferris, and Brakeman F. J. Eaton were also on board. Eaton had shouted out to Mrs. Wright when the train was five to six car lengths away. Mrs. Wright had turned and looked at him, but continued on her path.

A moment later Louis Neid, who lived nearby, arrived on the scene riding his bicycle! He shouted at Mrs. Wright, and it was then that she seemed to realize that the train was dangerously close. Still, rather than getting off, she turned and looked at the train. As full realization came over her, she tripped and fell directly across the rail.

Louis tried to grab Cosette and pull her to safety, but was just too late; the front trucks cut off an arm and a leg before Louis could grab her. Fifty-three year old Mrs. Wright was killed instantly, "torn and mangled almost beyond recognition"; the wheels had passed over her lengthwise and nearly split her body in two.

Cosette was still alive and conscious. It was said that her senses were probably numbed; she did not appear to experience any pain. She "gazed wonderingly at the stumps of her arm and leg. One finger on her left hand had been crushed and this seemed a constant source of surprise to her, for she held it up and looked curiously at it again and again."

Cosette was taken to Agnew sanitarium, where she died early evening of the same day. She had lived for about three hours following the accident--"Everything possible was done for the little one, but without hope of success, and she passed away about 6 o'clock." But Louis tried! He really tried!!

Onlookers quickly gathered as news of the accident spread. Many "were unable to stand the horrible scene and turned away sickened by the sight of the little arm and leg lying by themselves beside the track." Ambulance, physicians, the coroner, and police were immediately summoned by telephone. Coroner Morgan was promptly on the scene, taking names of witnesses. An inquest was thought likely be called the morning of the 16th. The evening of the accident, Coroner Morgan stated that "he did not see how blame for the tragedy could be laid upon anyone except the victims, who apparently had plenty of warning of the approach of the train."

The evening edition on the 16th reported that the coroner's jury (composed of D. W. Frew, C. M. Davis, E. W. Ecker, W. H. Mattax, George B. Chapman and P. Parkhurst) had heard testimony bearing on the accident and decreed that the cause of death of both victims was "being run over by cars and switch engine." No one was held accountable or any blame fixed.

So, what happened?

One possibly considered was that Mrs. Wright had simply thought she had enough time to walk the distance to the house before the train was upon them, and tragically miscalculated.

It was also mentioned that Mrs. Wright had a history of partial paralysis. Did the shock of the train suddenly bearing down on her bring on an attack?

Alcohol was not considered to be a factor, apparently because shards of glass from the pitcher Mrs. Wright had been carrying were found still containing beer. But did they know how much she had had before leaving the saloon?

Questions I'm researching...

Where were Clara Jennie Wright and Cosette Gunter buried?

What happened to Alice? Who was her family? There is an Alice E. Gunter buried in Angelus Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles, born 1884 and died 1967. This Alice's age would work out to allow for having a child in 1906--there is no shortage of the name Alice Gunter, however, in California, so I have plenty of work to do sorting them out. One record that fascinates me is a 1920 census for the Patton State Hospital (a mental hospital) in San Bernardino, California. One Alice Gunther is listed, age 38 (so around 24 years old in 1906). Was the horror of the accident too much for her to handle? Did her life fall to pieces afterwards?

And who was Clara Jennie Wright, for that matter--the widowed native of  England with a son named George?

Who was the third woman that shared a house with Jennie and Alice? What was their true business?

And that's the story of why I'm now looking for an early twentieth century San Diego prostitute.

© 2014 Mary Dutcher Knapp. All rights reserved.