Thursday, July 16, 2015

Chapter 14: Tragedy strikes the Fawkner family in Minnesota

Fred Fawkner's older brother was named after the boys' Uncle Cyrus (James C. Fawkner's brother). The younger Cyrus was with his birth family in Coles County, Illinois in 1880 (spelled and indexed "Falkner"), but because of the burned 1890 census, does not appear in another census until 1900, when he was living in Duluth, Minnesota, with George and Julia K. Watson. Cyrus was identified as a brother-in-law of George Watson, suggesting that Julia was Cyrus's sister -- she was. Cyrus was a barber. So was George. Cyrus, like Fred, was deaf, and attended the Illinois Institution for Education of the Deaf and Dumb.

Julia Kemp Fawkner had married George Watson 27 December 1890 in Colorado.  Watson's identity is not certain, but he was likely closely related to the James Watson family living in Arcola, Illinois, in 1880. George's death certificate states his father was James, born in Ohio. The Arcola Watson family had a son Cecil, and George and Julia Watson named a son George Cecil.

By 1910, the Watsons had moved to Mahtowa in Carlton County, where  George had taken up farming, but Cyrus was still barbering in Duluth.

While his first census appearance in Minneapolis is 1920, Cyrus was there by at least the fall of 1913 when tragedy struck. The Watson's home town newspaper (Carlton County Vidette) reported that son Fred died 19 October 1913 at the home of his Uncle, Cyrus, in Minneapolis. Fred had been a student at the "agricultural school at St. Anthony Park" (the agricultural campus of the University of Minnesota). The last line of the three paragraph obituary gave grim detail: Fred was "asphyxiated by gas while taking a bath." The headline of a short story in the Minneapolis Journal was blunt from the get-go: "Gas Heater Kills Bather." The coroner concluded that "the gas heater had exhausted the oxygen from the air and asphyxiated Watson."

Tragedy returned to the Watsons only five years later when, in 1918, Fred's sister Ida died just a few months after marrying Glen Weiher. The headline in the 13 December 1918 issue of the Carlton County Vidette read: "Splendid Young Mahtowa Woman." The subtitle said "Passed Away Last Week, Victim of Flu-Pneumonia." Ida Mae Watson was born 27 November 1893 in Arcola, Illinois, shortly after the Watsons went back east from Colorado. The obituary continued:

She was one of Mahtowa's most noble young women, of exceptionally fine character and an uplift to all with whom she came in contact.

The Watsons lived in Corona Township in 1920. Living with them was Robert G. Fawkner, Julia's brother. Next door was Julia's niece, Carrie, daughter of Frank and Elizabeth Ann Ehlenbach. Carrie had married Aubrey Tidball in 1911

Julia K. (Fawkner) Watson died 7 March 1957 in Milwaukee. George Washington Watson had died 14 April 1932 in Carlton County.

Next week, we will return briefly to Julia's brother, Cyrus. His life took an embarrassing -- almost comic -- turn in 1921 when he placed an ad in the Denver Post.

Lesson: It always pays to follow children and in-laws to their deaths. That is often where the stories are. Sometimes they are tragic.

Newspaper images from Minnesota Historical Society microfilm. Carlton County Vidette, 31 October 1913, p. 1, col. 1, and 13 December 1918, p. 1. Minneapolis coroner statement from "Gas Heater Kills Bather," Minneapolis Journal, 20 October 1913, p. 20, col. 1.

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