Another sad story, I’m afraid; can’t seem to get away from them. This one dates back to July 4, 1899, a day that was surely a celebratory one for most Americans. But, sadly, injuries that day from toy pistols and firecrackers left a trail of misery for many families whose young boys died or were near death from tetanus within the subsequent two weeks. The area in and around the south shore of Long Island experienced an unprecedented number of cases of tetanus that July, circumstances that were widely reported upon in the NY/NJ newspapers.
Tetanus, a dangerous bacterial infection commonly referred to as ‘lockjaw’, can lead to an excruciatingly painful death if left untreated. It was only in 1924 that a vaccine appeared. Coincidentally the cause of tetanus was identified in 1899, and it was around that time that a treatment was developed whereby serum was injected directly into the brain to relieve symptoms. Today we take tetanus shots for granted, often forgetting our booster shots every 10 years. But tetanus was once a real killer.
One of the boys affected was Charles Reginald Brodhead, the 13-year-old son of Daniel Dingman Brodhead Jr. and Leonora Hubbard, and brother of Clement P., Maude, Mary Ann, and Lenore. (Daniel Dingman Brodhead Jr.’s dad, also named Daniel Dingman Brodhead, was my 2nd great grandfather‘s brother; Daniel Dingman Brodhead Jr.’s brother was the Wm H. Brodhead whose elopement was the topic of a recent post). There are some photos of Daniel and Leonora Brodhead with their three daughters on Ancestry dot com. I have not come across any of their two boys (the oldest son, Clement, died in 1968).
At the time of the incident, Charles and his family were living at La Tourette Place, Bergen Point, Hudson Co., New Jersey. Charles was injured slightly by a blank cartridge. His wound healed, and he felt well enough to take a steamboat excursion on the Long Island Sound on Friday, July 7. However, lockjaw set in soon thereafter and he was admitted to Bayonne Hospital where he experienced convulsions for several days and was treated with serum, before succumbing to tetanus on Thursday, July 13. He was buried in the Moravian Cemetery in New Dorp, Staten Island, two days later. Note: Anyone researching this family will find Charles’ father Daniel D. Brodhead buried here as well.
Some of the other boys lost to tetanus that summer included: Joseph Rezhofsky, 13; Martin Breen, 10; Wm. McNulty, 12; Joseph Lavinsky; Samuel Greenburg, 14; Charles Roth, 12; Christian Wm. Ritachel, 15; Gustavus Salinski, 16; Harry Morrisey, 11; Harry W. Squier, 11; Giuseppe Consumanno, 14; Lionel Briggs; Samuel Charles, 15; John Dowd, 11; and Dominick Stanton, 12.
Sometimes I get the impression that those who die young and/or childless tend to get short shrift when it comes to genealogical research. So I am glad I came upon this information on Charles Reginald Brodhead. The family trees I have seen that include him only contain a date and/or place of birth. It’s good to know what happened to him even if it was tragic. I think it’s important to remember these individuals; their lives were extremely precious to those closest to them; their presence in a family even for a brief time would have created a dynamic unlikely ever to have been forgotten.
- July 14, 1899: New York Times, “Death from Lockjaw in Bayonne“.
- July 14, 1899: New York Tribune, “Lockjaw Baffles Skill. Boys Die in Agony in Spite of Serum Treatment. Doctors Cannot Cope With the Terrible Disease”.
- July 15, 1899: The Jersey Journal, obit.