Thriller Thursday: The Great Pigeon Case of 1914

To say that my great-great grandfather, James Thomas Cofer, was somewhat of a character would be an understatement.

I’ll bet you can name a local merchant from your hometown who made a name for himself through some catchy gimmick or nickname.  Whether it’s a car salesman, a used furniture store, or a local diner, many independent merchants rely on funny names or catchphrases to bring in business.  Well, James was no different.  Self-dubbed the Mule King of Kentucky, he made his fortune selling, you guessed it, mules.

cofer mules 3

And he didn’t limit it to Kentucky, either.  Some time between 1880 and 1900, he and his family moved to Indianapolis, which brings us to the Great Pigeon Case of 1914.

cofer pigeeons

The Indianapolis News, July 4, 1914

I highly recommend reading the actual article.  But, in summary, it seems his neighbor’s pigeons were disturbing his sleep.  Upon confronting the neighbor, an argument ensued, prompting James to pull out his revolver and remark, “I’m from Kentucky, where they shoot people for pastime.”

Sounds like a line from a movie, doesn’t it?

In any case, the judge heard the evidence and “took the case under advisement.”  I can’t find anything on the final outcome of the case.

The lesson from this Thriller Thursday: Don’t threaten people from Kentucky!

Ancestor Spotlight: Henry Charles Peachey, 1888-1938

HPeachey1926

Henry was one of my great-grandfathers on my mother’s side.  For being a not-so-distant relative, I knew strikingly little about him before I started my research.  This is mostly due to the fact that he died when my grandma was only a little girl, so there are only so many memories she can share.  Grandma still refers to him as “Daddy” and she has just a few documents on him.  A few examples are love letters from him to my great-grandmother, photos he brought back from business trips, and letters to my great-grandma expressing regret at the sudden passing of such a fine “Christian gentleman.”

I wanted to find more information on Henry to share with my Grandma and the rest of my family.   Henry and his wife, Ida, had 3 children.  Those three children each found spouses and went on to have almost 20 children of their own, and many of Henry and Ida’s grandchildren now have their own grandchildren.  Needless to say, the Peacheys are a large family!   So, I set out on a mission to uncover who our patriarch really was.  I am pleased to report that my research unearthed a charismatic, funny, talented, and kind man who packed a lot of LIVING into his short time here on earth.

Henry Charles Peachey was born on November 24, 1888 in Chicago, Illinois, the son of English immigrants, Henry Daniel Peachey and Mary Ann (Wallace) Peachey, both hailing from London.  I believe they came to the U.S. in 1886, though the family rumor is that Henry Jr. was born “on the boat” or “in the port.”  In any case, he was a natural citizen of America, the first of his family born on U.S. soil.  Henry was the oldest of his 5 siblings: Walter, Clara, Lillian, Annabel, and George.

HPeachey1910census

(click images to enlarge)

I gathered from other census records that Henry Peachey, Sr. was a grocer, Mary Peachey was listed as a grocer as well, and then later as a cleric.  I assume that they were, like many immigrants, of modest means.   Add to that the responsibility of raising 6 children and one can assume that this was a group not unaccustomed to hard work.

The family definitely had their share of grief.   Sibling Clara Peachey died in 1920 at the age of 28, just 3 days after Christmas.   I found this obituary in the Chicago Daily Tribune from December 31, 1920.  I can find no cause of death, but I think consumption (tuberculosis) or Spanish influenza are likely possibilities, given the year.  Your heart almost breaks just reading the words “beloved daughter” and “fond sister.”  I really get the feeling that this was a close-knit bunch, a tradition the family proudly adheres to today.

ClaraPeacheyobit

Another sibling, Lillian Peachey, is listed as an inmate in Illinois’ Kankakee State Hospital in 1920, 1930, and 1940.  Now, Kankakee Hospital’s original name was Illinois Eastern Hospital for the Insane, hence the term “inmate.”  I don’t know the circumstances surrounding her hospitalization, but the family rumor is that it was the untimely death of her fiance that caused her mind to deteriorate.  Since her first listing at the hospital is 1920, the year her sister Clara died, I tend to think the two events are related, though I have no concrete proof.  In any case, it’s pretty horrifying to picture anyone, let alone a relative, squandering in a mental institution for so many years, but the sad reality of mental healthcare in those days was that they basically “locked them up and threw away the key.”  I can’t find much on her after 1940, so I assume she died as an “inmate.”  (Check out the hospital’s Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kankakee_State_Hospital)

Henry Sr. was also listed as an inmate/patient at the Elgin State Hospital in 1910, 1920, and 1930 (now called the Elgin Mental Health Center).  Its original name was the Northern Illinois Hospital and Asylum for the Insane.   I had never heard of him being in a state hospital, so this was news to me.  It appears from my research that this hospital also treated the physically ill, so that’s a possibility as well.  (The hospital’s Wikepedia page can be found here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elgin_Mental_Health_Center#Notable_patients)

***

(I include the above information not to be sensationalist or to spread family gossip, but because I firmly believe that their lives mattered.  Their blood runs through my veins, and I don’t think there is anything to be ashamed of.  I hope and pray they were treated humanely and passed from this life peacefully to find eternal rest in the next.)

***

Now, back to Henry, my great-grandfather.  I don’t know how or why he ended up in Indianapolis, but the Wikepedia page on Chicago’s history sheds a little light on the climate of the time:

“By 1900,  Progressive Era political and legal reformers initiated far-ranging changes in the American criminal justice system, with Chicago taking the lead….The city became notorious worldwide for its rate of murders in the early 20th century, yet the courts failed to convict the killers. More than three-fourths of cases were not closed. Even when the police made arrests in cases where killers’ identities were known, jurors typically exonerated or acquitted them….During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, rates of domestic murder tripled in Chicago.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Chicago)

The last record of Henry living in Chicago is in this 1910 Census:

HPeachey1910census

Whatever his reasons for relocating, Henry landed in Indianapolis.   The first records I have of him there are his marriage to my great-grandmother on December 31, 1917 in Indianapolis, and his draft registration card.

HPeacheymarriage

He also registered for the draft for World War I in Indianapolis around that time.

HPeacheyWWIdraftcard

(He is listed as single here, so this was right before his marriage to Ida.)

Now, some of what genealogists and family historians uncover is unpleasant or hard to process.  On the other hand, some items are incredibly fascinating and exciting.   Henry is a fantastic example of the latter.   As it turns out, he was a world-class bowler.   As in, he actually broke a world record!  How had I never heard of this??  The meet where he broke the record was held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I have stayed before.  I wandered the streets of a city in which my great-grandfather broke a world record, and I had no idea.

HPeacheyworldrecordpic

(Click to enlarge.  Article from the Fort Wayne News March 29, 1917)

HPeacheyrecord2

  (This article is a fantastic summary of the record-winning game.)

There are several other articles/blurbs about the world record, two of them I found in the Washington Post.  In addition, he was in the Indianapolis Star frequently from 1917 through the 1930’s in the sports page, under the bowling section.  I had no idea bowling was such a big deal back then!

I also love this article, which showcases his sense of humor.  This is a quote from him about his performance in a match:

HPeacheysublime

It’s hilarious to me the way he describes how he played, and I love that the paper added the details of the alley being packed and noisy.  You can almost feel yourself there, watching, wondering if Henry Peachey is going to pick up his “ridiculous” game.

HPeachey1920

(I have several more articles on his bowling feats, please email me if you are interested.)

By 1920, Henry and Ida were living with Ida’s uncle, Hardin Cofer, and her sister Fannie Dudley (who my grandma Frances was named after).   It’s so interesting to me that here Henry was, this mini-celebrity due to his bowling fame, a world-record holder, but he lived a simple life with his wife’s family and worked at a canning factory.

HPeachey1920census

On this handwritten version of that same census, Henry is listed as working as the manager of a canning factory.  That would be Van Camp Canning, later named Stokely Van-Camp.  He later moved into a kind of sales position (as I understand it), which allowed him to travel across the globe.  My grandma has some neat framed photos of Italy that he brought back from a business trip.  I doubt that many jobs in the 1920’s required international travel, so that is another really unique aspect about Henry.

Peachey

(Here is a link to an article by the Indianapolis Star, which includes a photo and short write-up on the old Van-Camp building: http://www.indystar.com/story/news/history/retroindy/2014/01/13/van-camp/4455441/.)

In 1920, their first child, Dorothy Jean, was born.  (Sadly, she passed away in 1963, so I never got to meet her.)  In 1923, Henry and Ida had their first boy, named James Henry Peachey.  I knew him as Uncle Jimmy.  I did get to meet him, and I always enjoyed his visits to his sister, my Grandma, in Camby.

HPeacheyJame

The Indianapolis News, March 10, 1923

By 1930, they had 3 children, now including my grandma, Mildred Frances.  She is listed incorrectly on this census as Mary.  It also incorrectly lists Henry’s birthplace as New York.  Every other source I have found on him says he was born in Chicago.

HPeachey1930census

I don’t have many records from 1930-1938, but Grandma says she had a great childhood and that Henry was a wonderful father.  I believe she has some letters he sent her while he was away on his trips, and they mention how much he misses her and can’t wait to see his family again.  I gather from his letters to my great grandmother that he was a loving and committed husband and family man.

Now comes the part I hate.  Unfortunately, Henry passed away suddenly in 1938 while on his way home from a business trip to Ohio.  The cause of death is listed as acute cardiac failure.  I can tell from pictures that he was a slim man, though that’s not always a necessary indicator of heart health.

 HPeacheydeathcert

In any case, Henry was taken too soon.  My great grandmother and her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren (myself included) if given the choice, would have preferred that this very interesting man lived to be 100, to share his stories, wisdom, and love with us.  However, I think there is yet something we can learn from the life of Henry Charles Peachey:  In his 50 years, he LIVED.    He traveled, he worked hard, he was witty, he found something he was good at and kept at it, and he loved his family dearly.   Henry died young, yes, but he only died once.  His was not a life lived passively.  No, Henry firmly grasped the reins of life with both hands and a smile on his face.  We honor his memory best by doing the same.

In Loving Memory.

HPeachey1926