Wednesday, November 11, 2015

John August Johnson - Part 3 - A Terrible Accident

Their second child, John Wilhelm, was born in the summer of 1886. He was weak and lived only five days. Their third son, Carl Emil, was born the following summer and another son in Dec of 1889; both were healthy and strong. John and Ida were active in the community and were members of the Swedish New Gottland Lutheran Church.
Sometimes hard times can mold and define a family. For John and Ida, the date was May 14, 1889. You can't always tell what will happen on any given day but looking into their abandoned home, I can imagine how the day might have started.
"Will you stay at home today or go with Arthur and I to take the wheat into town?" John asked Ida as he opened the back door of their wood-frame house, 5 year-old Arthur squeezed between him and the door to enter the kitchen at a run. He slowed down as he caught a brief look from his mother and a quiet "Artur..." from his father.
Then Ida smiled at him as she finished wiping left-over breakfast from Carl Emil's face. She glanced at the list of needed supplies on the kitchen table. With harvest in full swing, they had all been busy and that list was growing.
It was a nice day for a trip into town. "I'll get the baby ready and we'll all go! It would be a good time to get some supplies." 
Soon John and Ida were on their way to McPherson with their young family.  My grandpa, just half a year old, sitting in his mother's lap and Carl Emil sandwiched safely between his parents on the wagon bench. Arthur, sat just behind the bench in the soft wheat. His parents’ instructions still hung in the air. "Stay in the front of the wagon where we can see you. Hold on to the bench so you won't fall." What a fun place to ride! Sitting on the hill of shifting, shiny wheat kernels that filled the wagon bed was going to be fun and he was excited!
It was about an hour from the farm to McPherson by wagon. John and Ida passed the time discussing their neighbors' fields, as all farmers do, and keeping wiggly Emil safely on the seat. Ida bounced the baby on her lap, and glanced back at Arthur to make sure he was obeying, as they made their way down the bumpy roads.
Five year-old boys are curious and can get in trouble when they find themselves with a few minutes of time behind their parents' backs. Arthur was no different. He let go of the seat with one hand and dug it down into the warm, slippery wheat. Before long he was busy letting wheat sift through his fingers to land at his sides.
There was the rhythmic clop of the horses’ hooves as they pulled the wheat laden lumber wagon; the wheels jarringly finding the deepest ruts in the old Kansas road south of their farm.
There is no way of knowing what alerted the parents that something was wrong. Maybe it was a noise or the lack of noise behind her that made Ida glance back again. The wheat still filled the bed of the wagon but the empty space behind the seat dropped her into a heart stopping panic that all mothers recognize. Arthur was gone! Where was he?
"Arthur!! Stop the wagon, John! Arthur is gone!" His wife's panicked cries had John yanking on the reigns to stop the horses and pulling on the brake.
The space around the wagon that had been so full of noise a second before turned sickeningly quiet. John jumped down, staring at the empty space. Then, he leaped into the back of the wagon, digging his hands into the golden grains, searching for his son. Nothing. Now his fear-blinded eyes searched the area as he and Ida yelled Arthur's name. Then, John's eyes fell on something lying in the road in the distance. He knew immediately that it was their precious, firstborn son. Arthur's young life was gone before John could reach him. The fall from the wagon had broken his neck.
McPherson Daily Republican, May 15, 1890
The emotions surrounding that small piece of road were agonizing; John and Ida wailing in their grief while Emil and baby brother looked on in confusion. They were too young to realize that their lives had changed forever in the few moments since Arthur was found missing. How could they comprehend their mother as she cried for her eldest son? Did this anguish mingle with the sadness over losing her second son a few years before? One son dead, and now another!
The scene is unimaginable and yet, in the next few minutes, it would get worse. The child lay, now wrapped in his parents' arms, in front of a neighbor's farm at their driveway. Soon that family entered the scene, alerted by the cries. 
The farmer, a long-time friend, ran to help. When he heard the story, he proceeded to berate the heartbroken father for being so careless with his boy. How could he put his small son in such a dangerous place? He should have known this could happen! Hurtful words saturated the heavy air and did nothing to comfort the couple.
The little boy was carried to the neighbor's barn, cleaned up by the farmer's wife and placed in a safe place until arrangements could be made with the town mortuary.  
I've been told by John's grandsons that he never fully recovered from the words of his neighbor. They are quietly repeated, three generations later, as part of the sad story. The pain of those words ruined a friendship and contributory to John and Ida leaving the fellowship of the Swedish Lutheran Church that they had been a part of for many years. 

Their first born son, Arthur, was buried in the cemetery behind the Swedish Lutheran Church outside of McPherson, Kansas. No one knows exactly where as there is no longer a stone to mark it.
A simple trip to town had turned a family's life on its head. It threw Carl Emil into his brother's place as "the eldest child"; cementing the scene in his mind and leaving an invisible scar that would stay with him for 70 years.
My grandfather, the baby brother, received a new name. No one knows what he was called before that day, but he became Arthur Theodore in honor of his brother.
Somehow, the family survived. During the next twelve years, their household grew from four to nine. Albin, Martin, Edith, Mabel and Reuben graced the family between 1892 and 1903.

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