88 Years Ago Today

On April 8, 1925, eighty-eight years ago today, William B. Lapham (1838-1925), my 3rd great grandfather, died in Detroit, Wayne Co., Michigan  at the age of 86. According to his death certificate, William died at Delray Industrial Hospital in Detroit from a “laceration of throat,” which was ruled a “suicide due to illness” by the coroner.

Death Certificate of William B. Lapham
Death Certificate of William B. Lapham

From what I have been able to gather from military pension records, William’s health following his discharge from active service during the Civil War was chronically poor. He suffered from illnesses that appear consistent with prolonged exposure to swamps, which he spent a great deal of time in while serving in the 4th Michigan Infantry during their “mud marches” in Virginia. In his pension file, there are several affidavits from doctors and those that knew him testifying to his ill health. According to these records, William chronically suffered from lung disease that causee him to have a severe cough and spit up blood, chronic diarrhea and resulting hemorrhoids, dizziness, numbness of the feet and ankles, and later rheumatism and heart disease. These conditions stayed with him throughout his life after the Civil War and worsened with age.

Reviewing the death certificate does reveal some unexpected facts. First of all, it states that William was “widowed,” instead of married. William was married four times, and at the time of his death he was married to his fourth wife, Clara (Glacklin?) Bernatz (1859-1941), whom he married on September 13, 1911 in Windsor, Essex Co., Ontario, Canada. It is unclear why William’s death certificate states he was widowed, as there is no record of their divorce. In fact, Clara appears on both the 1930 and 1940 U.S. Census as “Clara Lapham” living in Detroit. When she died in 1941, she was buried under the name “Clara Lapham” in the same cemetery as William, with the burial expenses being paid by the military. Perhaps William’s marital status is an error, given the fact that the informant, a Ms. Spier, does not appear to be a relative, but rather a hospital employee. Why wasn’t Clara the informant? Perhaps she was too distort over William’s suicide, or perhaps she was away at the time of his death.

William B. Lapham with his Fourth Wife, Clara.
William B. Lapham with his Fourth Wife, Clara.

Following his death, William was buried in Woodmere Cemetery in Detroit, Wayne Co., Michigan on April 11, 1925. He has a military headstone. Unfortunately, his headstone reads “William A. Lapham” instead of “William B. Lapham.” According to Woodmere, this headstone is for the grave of William B. Lapham who was buried on April 11, 1925. I was told that mistakes frequently occur on headstones, including military ones.

Military Headstone of William B. Lapham, which reads "William A. Lapham," in Woodmere Cemetery
Military Headstone of William B. Lapham, which reads “William A. Lapham,” in Woodmere Cemetery
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4 thoughts on “88 Years Ago Today

    1. It surely must have been truly miserable. It would be interesting to compare veterans of the Civil War with current veterans. I am not too familiar with the level of treatment either have received. I would like to believe, however, that current veterans are receiving better care.

  1. Very sad way to go. I can understand why he would think life was not worth living anymore. I’m not afraid of dying – I’m afraid of living with pain and chronic illness.

    1. Yes it truly was. I cannot imagine how much pain and chronic illness would lead a person to end their life in the manner that William did. I’ve wondered if he was not told some bad news about his health, or something like that.

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