At right is the tombstone of Joseph Browning, my g-g-grandfather. Joseph was one of the sons of James Browning and Jane Nevitt (See "The Browning Series: Pt. 1 - James and Jane" in my sidebar for his parents.) I've written about Joseph before; I wrote about his Civil War heroics in this post. I own his original discharge papers and his original National Guard papers as well as a picture taken of him around 1864 when he was in the war. I have all his pension papers and even the pocket watch he used to carry.
Tonight, though, I've chosen not to speak of his interesting life. I'm sure I'll get around to that at some point since he was such a fascinating man and there's always more to say than I have room to! No, tonight I speak of his equally interesting death and how it eerily parallels another of my ancestor's deaths, the death of Robert Elbert Garrard. My grandparents were Virgil Joseph Browning and Beulah Ethel Garrard. Joseph is my grandfather Virgil's grandfather. Robert was my grandma Beulah's father.
The year was 1916. Joseph was 74 years old and living in Palestine, Illinois with his third wife, Francis "Fanny" (Daugherty) Higgins Seaney Browning. According to family tradition he had decided that afternoon to go pick up some things at the local grocery. Palestine is a tiny town now, so I can only imagine its size then. Joseph hopped on his bicycle and began to pedal into downtown. Now I don't know exactly how many cars there were on the road in 1916, but I can't imagine there were enough to put a body in too much danger in a place my dad calls a 'poke and plumb' town -- poke your head out the window and you're plumb out of town. So what were the odds that on this afternoon, Joseph would climb on his bike and get himself struck down in the street by a passing car?
Apparently pretty good. He did exactly that. A young man of 18 named Miles Hughes ran him over but it doesn't appear to have been the young man's fault. It appears that my aged g-g-grandfather turned himself into the path of the vehicle and was struck, breaking his leg and doing enough internal damage that he died 5 hours later of a cerebral hemorrhage. The article about his death was given to me by a cousin whose great-grandfather had saved it all these years. It is shown to the left; click to read!
Fast forward. The year is now 1938. We move to the town of Robinson, about 10 miles west of Palestine. After a leisurely afternoon meal over at her parent's house, my grandma Beulah begins to help her 78-yr old mother Louisa Adaline (Eagleton) Garrard clean up in preparation for a night of visiting. Her 85-year old father Robert Elbert steps out of the house and crosses his front yard to attend to his business in the outhouse.
He is on his way back when tragedy strikes. Across the street a little girl about five or six years old is sitting in the front seat of her father's car, waiting for her daddy to 'wind up' the car. Back then, grandma said, many cars had a crank that you had to wind to get it to go. Her father was cranking up the car and somehow that little girl pushed or pulled or knocked the car out of whatever the old term for 'park' was. It shot out across the street and over the curb and hit Robert as he was re-crossing his lawn to go back inside. He didn't die instantly but he was as internally damaged as Joseph had been. He lasted a few hours before finally passing away.
Now what are the odds of THAT?
Oh, it gets better. When I was 13 I was riding my bicycle home from school. You see where this is going, don't you......?
Yes, I got hit. A man driving a pickup hit me in the middle of the road. I looked both ways that day -- I remember doing so very well, because that was what I always did on that corner. The police said later that he was going about 45 mph and it was lucky I saw him in time to leap off my bike or I might've met the same fate as my two grandfathers. As it was, I suffered a broken wrist and a broken leg. My bike was mush of course. And oh yes, the guy who hit me? His name was Elvis.....
You can't make this stuff up.
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