Family stories. Many families have tales that are passed down from one generation to another. As with any oral tradition though, the accuracy of these events is always in question. Especially when the questioner (me) is a few generations removed from the actual event. One such story passed down in my family is about the death of Frank Loescher.
Francois Loescher is my great great grandfather. He was born in Alsace in October 1848 (1). Sometime around 1870 or 1871 he left France which was at war with Germany and came to the United States. I will write in a future post about his immigration. He made his way to Peoria, Illinois and through city directories we can trace his path around town as he worked in one brewery or pub after another. As part of his integration into the culture of his new home he began going by the name “Frank”. In November 1879, he married Rosa Nufer at Joseph’s Church in Peoria. (2) After their third child, Lucy, was born the family of five moved to Kickapoo, Illinois in the spring of 1886 and took up residence there. Lucy Loescher is my maternal great grandmother. From this point the family began to grow in size and also in property. Frank acquired a number of blocks in the small town west of the Kickapoo-Edwards Road. (See links below for other relevant posts about this family.)
Figure 1- Francois (Frank) Loescher
The family story that has come down to me is that Frank died from a fall down the basement steps of his home. He was not found for some time and eventually died. His death occurred on 1 May 1902 making him just 53 years old. (3) His youngest child, Veronica, was only four and a half years old. No doubt Rose and his children and people in town were all shocked by this turn of events. His family must have been stunned as well as scared about how they were going to get along without the head of the house.
I realize now that in hearing this story several times growing up I added some assumptions to it. Now I have tried to turn those “extra” parts of the story into questions to determine what is the truth and what is not. The first assumption I made was that he must have tripped as he was going down steps. But hadn’t he walked those same steps many times before? Could this be accurate? Another addition to the story I surmised was that he must have been found dead. But was that really the case? What other bits and pieces of the story were left out or lost in time? Here we go….back in time!
I have been able to acquire several documents and newspaper articles about Frank’s injury and death which have been very helpful in putting a more robust story together. First off was a search for a death certificate. In 1902, birth and death certificates were not required by the state of Illinois. So the records that do exist in Peoria County prior to 1916 when the state requirement went into effect are spotty at best. But there is a county death certificate for him. (3) It is signed by the county coroner who I believe was summoned to Kickapoo because of the fall down the stairs. The death certificate says that there was an “injury right side of head. Skull cracked.” But what happened and when did the injury take place. Newspaper articles would help with this.
A news article in the Brimfield (Illinois) News provides some information about the circumstances of the injury. (4)
“Frank Loescher, the saloon keeper at Kickapoo, met with a serious accident Saturday evening. He in some way fell down a stair way and fractured his skull. Physicians from Peoria were summoned and made him as comfortable as possible. At last accounts he was resting well and it was thought he would recover.”
But recovery was not to be. The next edition of the Brimfield (Illinois) News contains Frank’s obituary.
There are several articles from the Peoria (Illinois) Star about Frank and his fall. (5)
“Mr. Louscher fell down cellar and received a severe wound on his head. Dr. Bradley assisted, by his father, Sunday, performed an operation and reports are favorable for his recovery.”
“Accidental Death. At Kickapoo yesterday Coroner Harper held an inquest on the body of Frank Loescher, the saloonkeeper who died early yesterday morning from the effects of a fall down a stairway where his skull was fractured. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death.
“FRANK LOESCHER DEAD. Kickapoo Man, Whose Skull Was Fractured Passes Away. Frank Loescher, Sr., who fell and fractured his skull at Kickapoo as stated in The Star yesterday, died this morning at 5 o’clock. Night before last he fell while going into the cellar of his saloon and crushed his skull, not being found for an hour after the accident. The deceased was 53 years old and had resided in Kickapoo for sixteen years. Previous to that he was an employe of the old Huber brewery of this city. He leaves a wife, one son and seven daughters. The funeral will be held at the house Saturday morning at 9:30, thence to St. Mary’s church in Kickapoo and interment will be in St. Patrick’s cemetery.
Coroner Harper was notified of the death and drove out to Kickapoo this morning to hold an inquest.”
My first thought when reading these articles is for my great grandmother Lucy and her mother Rose. What a horror it must have been to have all of the doctors and investigation officials hanging around the house. Oh how I wish I had been able to talk to Lucy about this and get her thoughts before she died. Also, the idea of surgery in 1902 would not have been pleasant. The operation was performed at the family home which by today’s standards is just awful. I guess it was thought that to move him to Peoria for a better treatment environment would have been fatal.
All of these details from the newspaper and death certificate put substance to the story of how Frank died. But it does not really set out a good timeline of events because the way that these newspaper editions were published had several of these articles in the same edition….just on different pages. Where could I get a better idea of a timeline of events?
I next went to the Peoria County Coroner’s office to see if I could get a copy of the Coroner’s inquest file. The newspaper articles indicate the coroner came to town and held one. But, sadly, to date I have not been able to get anybody at the Coroner’s office to help me with this. They do not seem to be interested in looking to see if inquest files from 1902 actually still exist. But periodically I keep asking. Maybe one day I will find somebody at the office who will take this on.
This research was all done more than ten years ago and I was beginning to think that unless I could get the inquest file that I may have had all the information and documents there were on this subject. But that thinking was thankfully wrong!
In 2015 I got Frank Loescher’s probate file. (6) At the time I was more interested in finding out what the property was that Frank and Rose had at the time of Frank’s death. (There is another family story about this that I will write about in a future post.) When I was told by the Peoria County Circuit Clerk what the charge was to get a copy of the entire probate file I knew it was going to be large. There are all of the normal items in the file including tax records and a property inventory that helped answer the questions for my original intention.
Figure 2 - Doctor Bill from Frank Loescher Probate File
“May 26th 1902
Mrs. Rosa Loescher
Dr. R. C. Bradley
Dec 21 Med. Frank 75 [$0.75]
24 Extracting Tooth 50 [$0.50]
Jan. 1 Med. Frank 75 [$0.75]
28 Headach capsules 30 [$0.30]
Feb 19 Med. Frank 75 [$0.75]
Mch 1 Med. Frank 75 [$0.75]
9 “ “ 75 [$0.75]
26 “ Frankie 50 [$0.50]
Apr 16 Horse Medicine 1.00 [$1.00]
“ 26 2 Visits Franks 2.00 [$2.00]
“ 27 Assisting in Surg att 5.00 [$5.00)
“ 28 Visit 1.00 [$1.00]
Extra Med .75 [$0.75]
“ 29 3 Visits 3.00 [$3.00]
“ 30 “ 3.00 [$3.00]
May 2 Med. Frankie .30 [$0.30]
21 10 [$21.10]
[Along Right Hand Side of document; written top to bottom]
May 27 ?? Cash $10.00
June 14 ?? Cash 10.00
[In Center of document; written from top to bottom]
Paid in full
Oct. 21st 1902
R. C. Bradley”
Who knew that doctors dispensed horse medicine?? Based on all of the information I have gathered to date, here is my timeline of events for the death of Frank Loescher.
Saturday, April 26, 1902
Frank Loescher falls down the stairs of his saloon. He is not found for an hour.
Sunday, April 27, 1902
Surgery is performed on Frank Loescher for his skull fracture at his home in Kickapoo, Illinois.
Monday – Wednesday, April 28 – 30, 1902
Doctors monitor Frank’s condition at home.
Thursday, May 1, 1902 at 5 am
Frank Loescher dies at his home in Kickapoo, Illinois.
But, as is usually the case, I have new questions. What caused the fall to occur in the first place? I had originally thought he just tripped but after seeing this doctor bill I am not so sure. There are several entries for headache and other medicine for Frank from January through March 1902. What was this medicine and what was he being treated for? Was there some condition he had that could have caused him to fall? Could the medicine he was being given caused him to fall?
More so than ever I want to get a copy of the Coroner’s Inquest file. Likely his family and doctors would have testified and may have provided some insight into his health and the circumstances surrounding the fall. So I have been able to confirm some parts of the family story but new questions have arisen. Up Next – More Research!!
Links to related posts -
(1) Copy of Civil birth registration for “Loescher, Francois” from the Counsel General of Bas-Rhin. This was obtained by a French cousin for me in 2014.
(2) Peoria County, Illinois, marriage certificate, Frank Loescher and Rosa Nufer, date of marriage 2 Nov 1879, Peoria County Clerk, Peoria.
(3) Peoria County, Illinois, death certificate no. not given (1 May 1902), Frank Loescher, Peoria County Clerk, Peoria.
(4) "Frank Loescher," Brimfield (Illinois) News, 1 May 1902; microfilm, Brimfield Public Library.
(5) "Kickapoo," Peoria (Illinois) Star, ca. late April 1902; microfilm, Peoria Public Library, 2005. "Accidental Death," Peoria (Illinois) Star, May 1902; microfilm, Peoria Public Library, 2005. "Frank Loescher Dead; Kickapoo Man, Whose Skull Was Fractured Passes Away," Peoria (Illinois) Star, 1 May 1902; microfilm, Peoria Public Library, 2005.
(6) Peoria County Circuit Court, Peoria County, Illinois, Probate Files, probate file no. 5941, Frank Loescher; Peoria County Circuit Clerk.
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