Sunday, September 7, 2008

Lady of the House - Part 2

In Part 2, I’ll touch on the death of Laura Hawkins in 1928.

Below, Laura Hawkins' death certificate lists cause of death as “Senility”. Senility? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. While growing up, it was not uncommon to be told someone died of “old age”. I suppose we can view Victorian age's “senility” as the grammatical equivalent of “old age” used in the latter part of the 20th century.

In researching certificates of 19th century deaths, a definite pattern follows…

Infants died of ''convulsions,'' ''fits'' or ''failure to thrive.'' Seniors dropped dead of ''dropsy'' or ''senility'' or simple ''old age.'' People got tired of ploughing fields, or working in sooty factories, or spending their rare free moments in a drafty church with a bad toothache, and died of '' exhaustion.'' Any number of pulmonary disorders were listed as ''tuberculosis'' or ''consumption'' or the dangerously over-consonanted ''phthisis'' (TIE-sis). (Source: New York Times, Article, March 25, 2004)

Based on some of my sources, the funeral of Laura Hawkins began at the house. Many visitors came to pay their last respects before the funeral ended at her current grave in the Rensselaer, next to her husband who preceded her in death over 50 years ago. Incidentally, Laura was often seen wearing the customary black gown expected of widows in her day.

Laura & James Hawkins Tombstone in Big Creek Cemetery in
Rensselaer, Missouri (7 miles north of Hannibal).

Source: Find A Grave Website:

Here is a shot of the cemetery itself...

Source: Find A Grave Website

There is a mystery connected with Laura's casket being on view at home. How did they get it through the front door and into the house? The width of the existing door (approximately 36 inches) could not have accommodated a casket, assuming it had all of its decorative handles and moldings. The front door frame appears to be original, and the foyer area that awaits a visitor is small.

Welcome to 210 North 5th Street.
You are looking from inside the house. The door is standard width.
I'm glad the etched glass house number sign is intact.

I'm sure these entry tiles were not original to the house.

Other entrances into the house – back porch, basement door – are of similar size.

Here's the back of the house.
Note the standard width porch and basement doors.
Can you imagine anything larger than a bathtub being brought in?

Up the porch and to your left is the door to the kitchen
(interior view shown).
I can't imagine maneuvering a casket up the stairs,
through the porch door and then through this door.

I suppose discovering mysteries such as how a casket could be brought into a house with standard sized doors will solve itself during our restoration journey.

In Part 3, I’ll share my interpretations of what Laura Hawkins was like and how we’d like to do the house.

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