Ghost stories from where I grew up, Part III
Ladies and gentlemen, around noon on Saturday, Aug. 4, 1888, John Brown was sitting in front of the Parker House Hotel in uptown Hillsboro. He was talking to a friend.
Marion Britton was in the hotel barbershop getting a shave. After receiving his shave, Britton walked out of the Parker House front door and passed where Brown was sitting, but according to reports, it was not certain that the two saw each other.
In the 1899 account by S.J. Hatfield, Britton “went up the street about half a square.”
At that point, he was reminded by his son of something that was needed by the family at the west end grocery, so Britton turned and started back toward the Parker House. When Britton was within 20 or 25 feet of where Brown sat, he “walked to the outer edge of the sidewalk, and when nearly opposite, drew his pistol and fired at Brown, who was sitting in a chair.”
According to the 2000 book “Lynchburg, Ohio: A Large Story About a Small Town,” written by Hugh Isma Troth, the great grandson of Marion Britton and Susan E. “Betty” Brown Britton, Marion Britton walked out toward the curbing opposite where John Brown was sitting. Wheeling around and drawing his pistol, Britton took a step or two toward Brown and fired.
In the 1899 account, the “ball made a flesh wound and Brown ran into the office of the hotel in a stooping position, holding his head, the entrance door being four or five feet west of where he had been sitting.” Britton followed him, and as Brown was trying to get behind the door, Britton fired another shot, which “entered the neck, severing the spinal cord, resulting
in speedy death.”
As I walk through the Hillsboro Cemetery on a sunny afternoon, I see a tall monument with a “weeping woman” perched atop the tombstone. John C. Brown: Born Dec. 29, 1851; Died Aug. 21, 1888.
Speedy death? Aug. 4, 1888, by all accounts, was the day of the shooting, but according to John Brown’s tombstone, he died on Aug. 21 – which was 17 days later.
According to Troth’s book, “The second shot by Britton was the fatal shot. It struck Brown in the neck and severed his spinal cord. He lived about a week with his mind alert until the very end.”
Doesn’t sound speedy, and it doesn’t sound like a pleasant way to “fly away,” for that matter.
In an Aug. 23, 1888 newspaper edition, a Page 5 headline simply read, “John Brown Dead.”
The story began, “After a heroic struggle of nearly three weeks against the hand of death, John Brown breathed his last on Tuesday morning about two o’clock. It had become known to all that his death was merely a question of time. From the first, the physicians knew that there was no chance for his recovery. An examination of the wounds produced by the pistol shots was made by Drs. Brown, B.F. Holmes and Sigel Roush…”
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s that Dr. Sigel Roush, 26 years old at the time, who is the younger brother of Wesley T. Roush, who married Sarah Brown, the sister of John Brown. The same Sigel Roush who, nearly six decades after his death, had two columns published in this fine Highland County newspaper this year. My great-great-great uncle Sigel, a man who
traveled the world.
A small world, indeed…
The story on the death of John Brown continued, “The wound in the side proved to be a slight one and would not have caused Mr. Brown much inconvenience, but the wound in the neck was the cause of his death. The bullet passed through the vertebra, entirely severing the spinal cord. The most remarkable thing is that Brown lived so long after receiving such a wound and that he was rational up to the last moments of his life. His bereaved mother, brothers and sisters have the sympathy of the whole community in this sad calamity, the untimely death of a son and brother. The funeral of the deceased will take place on Thursday, Aug. 23, at 10 o’clock from the residence of his mother near Fairview. The remains will be interred in the Hillsboro Cemetery.”
The funeral of John Brown was held in the house where he grew up – and the house where I grew up.
As I look at the old family portrait and the two-story farmhouse, I close my eyes and can picture the family solemnly carrying John Brown’s casket out the front door and past the tall oak trees and the white picket fence on a summer day. I can picture the sadness, grief and tears…
John Brown lived 36 summers. He’s been gone for more than 125 years.
We’ll talk more about the death of John Brown and trial of Marion Britton and delve into more ghost stories from the place where I grew up next week.
Steve Roush is a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press.[[In-content Ad]]