Wednesday, May 4, 2016

What Happened to Henry?

It's interesting, the things you dig out when you are looking up people in your family tree. Those census records are a gold mine!

Take, for example, Henry Leatherman, J.P.'s dad.

What do we know about him? He was a farmer and was born in Guilford Township, Medina County, Ohio in 1937. Eventually he moved to Michigan and somewhere along the way, met Angeline Bendler, a Canadian. (Angeline is often referred to in records as Beutler or Bentler but Bendler is most frequent)

Henry was from a very long line of Mennonite farmers and took a great interest in singing. He and Angeline had six children. J.P. was the youngest and his mother died when he was only four.

But what happened to Henry?

The 1900 census lists him as being an inmate in the Northern Michigan Asylum, later known as the Traverse City State Hospital, which was for mentally ill and wards of the state.

Wikipedia says it was initially established (1881) as a psychiatric hospital. Under Dr. James Decker Munson, it expanded to include housing cottages and two infirmaries, one for male and the other for female. The building itself is quite historical and there are photos HERE.

Munson believed in the "beauty is therapy" philosophy and patients were treated through kindness, comfort, pleasure and year-round flowers from the asylum's greenhouses. Restraints were forbidden. He also subscribed to the "work is therapy" philosophy and residence worked in farming, furniture construction, fruit canning and other trades, keeping the institution fully self-sufficient.

The asylum handled all sorts of cases, ranging from melancholia to epilepsy, dementia to alcoholism. During outbreaks of TB, typhoid, diphtheria, influenza and polio, the hospital was expanded, also caring for the elderly and rehab for drug addicts.

The institution eventually closed section by section and in full by 1989. Here's kind of a creepy video.

So, what was Henry doing there? We have his death certificate, signed by J.P., indicating he died on March 10, 1913. He is buried in Bowne Cemetery, Clarksville, MI, according to the death certificate but there is no marked grave or cemetery record.

To put it in context, that would be a little over a year since J.P. and Minnie were married and the year Iris was born -- or to be specific, ten days after Iris was born on March 1, 1913. Talk about a month of ups and downs.

All the dates synch up (birthdate, death date, census information). There is a gap -- In 1880, he was living in Michigan (Campbell Township, Ionia County) with Angeline and his children. He is not listed in the 1890 census. So, sometime between 1891 and 1900 he probably landed in Traverse City.

The census information does not indicate why he was there -- most likely, at that time, he was there for mental illness, particularly if he was there for any length of time and we know he was there for thirteen years after 1900.

There is also the possibility that he was there for alcoholism-related issues. There is a long-time apocryphal story from the sisters about J.P. and alcohol. They seemed to think it might be because his parents drank and that was why he was so vehement in his opposition. But they really didn't know -- they were just guessing. Finding this info certainly makes it a possibility, although the contrasting argument might be his Mennonite faith, which in the 1800s was more rigid than some of today's Mennonites.

More research is required -- that will involve seeing if I can obtain court records to indicate why he was committed -- and going back that far might be difficult if not impossible.

It is well known from all the sisters that J.P. never really talked about his family, apart from his sister, Ida. It couldn't have been terribly happy -- his mom died when he was so young and then sometime, at least by the time he was 22 and probably before, his father was in the asylum.

That explains a lot.

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