Saturday, May 20, 2017

Unwitting Drink of Death

On January 18, 1888, Civil War veteran Albert Benedick's wife Anna (Dornon) Benedick gave birth to their last child, Ernest George.

Ernest George Benedick

According to text drafted for Ernest's obituary, my second great-grandfather "was the youngest son of Albert and Annie Benedick and was born on the old Benedick Homestead 4 1/2 miles east and 1/2 mile north of Plainville [Kansas] where he has made his home practically all his life..."

Text drafted for Ernest's obituary by his wife following his 1946 death

The January 19, 1888 issue of the Plainville Times announced that, "There was a bran (sic.) new boy appeared at the home of Albert Benedick on last Wednesday morning. The fat little fellow was taken in and it is more than probal (sic.) that he will [unintelligible] the republican ticket as soon as possible."

Ernest Benedick birth announcement - January 19, 1888 Plainville Times

The birth announcement strongly hinted at Albert's politics. Having served with the Union Army, he clearly felt strong loyalty to the party of Lincoln.

He Farmed Extensively
Ernest married Bessie Bair on May 18, 1910 at the courthouse in Stockton, Kansas. The Plainville Times wrote that, "The bride was dressed in white Mohair trimmed in white ribbon and the groom wore the usual black suit."

The young couple had three children: Della, born in 1911; Alice Aretta, born and died in 1913; and, my great-grandmother, Hazel Nevella, born in 1917.

Up until his last year of life, Ernest "farmed extensively" according to his death notice.

Ernest Benedick's family (left to right): Della, Nevella, Ernest, and Bessie.

Ernest Benedick with a crop of corn

In an oral history interview, my grandmother Marilyn remembered, "Everybody loved grandpa. He was loving and giving. He loved kids. He was a good grandpa. Kids and people loved him. They all called him Ernie."

Ernest and Bessie "moved to town [Plainville] within a year or two of his dying," Marilyn added.

It Was A Terrible Death
My Aunt Diane asked her grandmother, Nevella, about the circumstance of Ernest's death.

Diane shared that, "There was always people coming in the house [homestead]. They always had company and I guess there was a bunch of them in the living room or kitchen area. One of the aunts - a sister to Grandma [Bessie] Benedick - said, 'Hey Ernie, look what I found,' and she grabbed a bottle out from under the sink and tossed it to him. And him, just being silly, he uncorked it and took a big old drink."

"It was a bottle of lye."

"I don't think it came on immediately. It was a period of some time before the cancer overtook. It was esophageal. Grandma [Nevella] told me he wasn't able to eat or drink. He would sometimes have a little bit of whisky in a dish with milk, and I'm pretty certain the whisky was to dull the pain. He wouldn't eat at the table with any of them after that illness progressed," Diane added.

Marilyn said, "He must have known he was dying [from] cancer of the esophagus."

In the February 7, 1946 issue of the Plainville Times, the society pages wrote, "Ernest Benedick who has been seriously ill the past few weeks has been much worse the past few days."

Diane added, "Close to the end of his life he was talking to [his daughter]. He told her, 'Nevella, I've seen the green river. It's beautiful. Do you want to go with me?' She said, 'No, dad, I want to stay here and take care of my kids.'"

On February 10, 1946, Ernest Benedick passed away. Marilyn remembered, "It was a terrible death. He was still a young man. He was only in his fifties when he died."

He was interred in the Plainville Cemetery. A year later, Ernie's family penned a poem that was published in the Plainville Times:

Ernest and Bessie (Bair) Benedick's grave
In Remembrance of Dad
T'was just a year ago today,
Our dear Old Dad was called away,
To dwell upon that Heavenly shore,
And walk with God forevermore.
His kindness now is missed by all,
But when we hear our Master's call,
We'll meet again on that bright shore
Where pain and suffering is no more.


  1. How sad. Grandma didn't live to be very old either. It's odd how often our ancestors had peculiar deaths in the early days.

    1. It certainly gives one a greater appreciation for safety caps and warning labels!

  2. Very intresting to me, because a step-grandfather of my husband died in a similar way in the 40's or 50's. He stored his home-made hooch in bottles in the barn where he would sneak a drink. One time he grabbed the wrong bottle and poisoned himself. Sad.

    1. That's terrible. It makes me wonder - between our two stories - if this was a common occurrence that prompted greater regulations for bottling, sealing, and placing warning labels on dangerous household products.

  3. I think the illegible word in that news item is "vote." What an awful, awful way to die...

    1. Ah, I think you're right, Amy. Thanks for helping decipher that. I appreciate it.

  4. How tragic! and the poor woman who threw him the bottle - how did she ever forgive herself?

    1. That's a part of the story that I'm very curious about, but that wasn't passed down to future retellings. I'm thinking that was on purpose.