The Scars of Loss

In a St. Louis hotel room in 1912, Mabel Moore was distraught. Her and her husband of only about three months, Arthur, and her had an argument.

Those early days of a relationship can be difficult sometimes. Sharing living space with a new person is hard enough, but when it’s a significant other, there’s an added dimension of intimacy that can change the situation somewhat.

You’re supposed to spend time with that person. You’re supposed to happily share the same space. I mean, you always used to when you were out on a date. There, things came naturally and easily. That close personal contact was great. Although you never really thought about it, you always knew that if you were living together, things would continue just like that.

When we’re young and have never been in a relationship like that before, it’s easy to tell ourselves these things. You’re caught up in the newness of your love and affection for one another. When you’re on a date, you generally see one another on your best behavior and your most hygienic.

Then you share living space.

You’re grumpy and moody sometimes. You wake up and your breath smells bad and it looks like you’ve been run over by a train. You get sick and spend what seems like hours in the bathroom, or huddled up in a ball in bed, unable to get warm enough to stop shivering. In other words, you don’t always act or feel very pretty.

At the same time, your partner is doing the same thing. You see each other in a new light. I mean, you always knew this was going to happen, but, like so many things in life, it’s different when it actually does happen.

For many of us, we work it out. We find a way to overcome our differences and, in the process, forge a stronger relationship. For those others, however, the relationship can end.

We don’t know what happened with the Moore’s exactly. We know that they had some kind of argument, and it must have been a bad one. Bad enough that Arthur packed up his belongings, got in his car, and drove back to his home in Chicago.

Sometimes, couples fight. For many, it’s part of their process. They have differences, tempers flare. Sometimes one even walks out. Usually all they need to do is cool down a little, think things through, and then go back and talk things out. The relationship is healed, and life goes on.

Maybe that’s what Mabel thought as she sat alone in the hotel room where they had spent the first few days of their marriage together. On one hand, she probably wanted him to come back because she was madly in love with him. On the other, Arthur had left her with no food or money to buy it with.

Just a few weeks prior, she had been Mabel Piersoll, a young woman living in Springfield, Illinois. Her father, W.R. Piersoll, was a veterinarian and able to provide fairly well for his family.

In about 1904, the Piersoll’s were living in Billings, Missouri, near Springfield. It was here that Moore first came into contact with the family while working as a travelling salesman. Approaching her father, Arthur wanted to begin courting Mabel. Piersoll refused.

Mabel was fourteen at the time, while Arthur was twenty-four. There was no way that Piersoll was going to let the two see each other. Time passed, and he assumed that Mabel had long-since given up any notion of seeing the much older man. He had assumed wrong.

Earlier that week in 1912, Moore came to the Piersoll residence to see Mabel. Before he left that night, he told her parents that they were going to regret the way they had treated him. He was going to marry Mabel in spite of them, and he would find a way to get back at them for their slight. He then said that he was leaving town and travelling to St. Louis later that evening.

The following day, Mabel left. Her parents thought that she was going to visit her aunt and uncle in Kansas City, and possibly take a trip to California with them. They had no idea what was really going on.

Three months prior, Arthur and Mabel had eloped together. Now it was time to finally be together. Instead of Kansas, she headed to St. Louis to meet her husband. At the time, it must have seemed so adventurous, so romantic.

Now, with it seeming like Arthur was never coming back to her, it must have seemed the most foolish thing in the world. Gradually, her sadness, anger, and hurt must have given way to despair.

With no one to really talk to, she allowed her thoughts to go where ever they would. Already on a grim path, her mind led Mabel further and further down a shadowy trail. Eventually, she came to a decision.

Leaving her room, she approached a chambermaid and asked for thirty cents so that she could have breakfast. The maid took pity on her and gave her the money. Later, Mabel asked a bellhop for another 10 cents, which he was more than happy to lend her. Thanking him, she went to a drug store and used it to buy a bottle of chloroform.

She walked back and stopped at the front desk. Mabel handed the clerk there a letter for her mother, and asked them to mail it the next day. The clerk took it and said that they would, and Mabel went back to her room.

A short time later, a servant who was going past Mabel’s room smelled chloroform. She went and told the management, who went and broke down the door. Inside, they found Mabel unconscious on the bed, having just drank the chloroform.

Thanks to their actions, Mabel Moore was saved. A few hours later, she woke up at the hospital and told her side of the story. When the manager of the car dealership that Arthur Moore supposedly worked at was contacted, he said that he had never heard of anyone by that name.

Even though Mabel had seemingly been lied to from the very beginning, the loss of a spouse is still a hard thing. From the moment that we decide that they’re the ones for us, we dream our future lives together. We start building our futures with that person, sharing the triumphs and the tragedies.

To some extent, their lives are intertwined with our own, and we weave our hopes and plans for the future with theirs. This is especially true when it comes to a significant other.

We share so much with them, from the mundane to the truly intimate. They are our companions, our support, and our guides. When they go, it can leave us a little – lost. While some people are able to move on, others, for various reasons, can have a harder time. Often, these individuals sink into depression.

In the modern world, depression is recognized as a mental illness. We can effectively treat it with professional therapy and medications. However, this hasn’t always been the case.

Although it’s very possible, and even likely, that human beings have suffered from this illness from the beginning, the first written accounts appear thousands of years ago in ancient Mesopotamia. As time passed, other cultures all over the world wrote down accounts of their own.

Beliefs in the cause of depression varied. Some people thought that it was a form of spiritual affliction, or demonic possession. This was the case for other forms of mental illnesses, as well. Others believed that it was caused by biological imbalances or psychological stressors.

While beliefs in the exact causes varied, beliefs generally continued along these two lines of thinking: physical or spiritual.

By the early 19th Century, beliefs about depression had largely shifted toward a kind of pre-destination. Many doctors believed that clinical depression was an inherited, incurable condition. As such, they suggested that people suffering from it be locked away.

Doctors and scientists continued to theorize and debate about mental illness, however, and the possible causes continued to change. Along the way, a virtual cornucopia of treatments was suggested and utilized. Unfortunately, these often bordered on torture, sometimes crossing the line outright.

One method was spinning, where a patient sat on a spinning stool and twirled around and around, all in the hope that the action would force the different parts of their brain back into proper alignment. Other treatments that were used at the time included induced vomiting and enemas, because, why not?

By the very late 19th century, the science of psychoanalysis had begun to make actual breakthroughs in the area of the human mind. In 1920, they were still a long way away. While treatment was possible better than it had been in the past, lobotomies were still begin given to people who suffered from some of the most serious forms of the condition.

William Stewart, who had just lost his beloved wife, Mary, might have considered that option to make his pain go away. Still only in his early 40’s, he was a still a relatively young man. William had loved her and she had loved him. They had built a life together, and they were supposed to watch their two children, Pearl and William, grow up.

But now she was gone forever.

William was wounded to his very soul. He couldn’t imagine life without his beloved Mary. His sorrow seemingly knew no bounds. Barely able to care for himself, let alone his children, he sent them to live with his brother on his farm near Charlotte, Iowa. He loved them dearly, but he just couldn’t bring himself to take care of them.

Stewart began having dark thoughts soon after his wife’s death. In the beginning, he might have been able to push them aside. It probably started small, creeping into his mind when he was reading a book, or sitting at the dinner table.

Most people could probably understand William being sad. After all, his wife had just died; it was almost expected. But as the days turned into weeks, and then months, William began to sink deeper and deeper into the depths of his depression.

Nearly every night, he would dream of Mary, who seemed to be calling him to join her in death.

There may have been people he could have talked to. Perhaps he would have been able to work out his depression to a point where it was manageable and he was able to recover. The sad truth is, if he did try, we’ll never know now. Even if he had, the person he spoke to might not have really understood his condition, let alone understood how to help him deal with it.

Mary had been his life, his one and only. William didn’t want to go on without her. He wanted more than anything to be with her. Eventually, he began to think more and more about killing himself.

Still, William tried moving on. He tried dating, if that’s what you want to call it. But the sex wasn’t enough to keep those thoughts from leaking in. He still loved Mary, and missed her terribly.

At some point, whatever barriers that were keeping that leak at bay started to break down. From there, it was a gradual, downhill process.

Over the next several months, William allowed himself to sink lower into his despair. But, at the same time, he also began to plan. And to prepare. William Stewart had decided that it was time for him to die.

William knew that he loved his children, and didn’t want to leave them behind. In his mental state, he reasoned that he would simply take them with him. Perhaps he thought that way the entire family would be reunited in death, and be happy again.

He decided that he would shoot the children first, and then commit suicide. He would wait until they were sleeping, because he didn’t want them to suffer. As for himself, at this point he might have even seen death as a release from his constant mental torment.

On May 27, 1920, William drove to Charlotte and picked up Pearl and William.

They loved their father, and were probably happy to see him. They went back to Davenport, where William had made his preparations. He had already bought a revolver and ammunition that same day. He also wrote letters explaining his actions. He had even made plans to put aside some money with the suicide note so that his brother could pay to have him and the children buried properly.

At some point during what he had determined was going to be his last day on earth, William ran into a neighbor. They began talking, and, for whatever reason, William mentioned that he was going to kill his children that night. Perhaps it was at the forefront of his thoughts, and so it slipped out.

William finished the conversation, and then went back into his apartment.

Needless to say, the neighbor was extremely concerned. They went to the police and reported what William had told them and where he lived.

Three officers were sent to William’s residence on West Sixth Street. With two young children in what could very well imminent danger, they forced their way into the apartment.

William, who was sitting alone in the living room, was a little surprised to see three policemen come crashing through his front door. One officer stayed with him while the other two began to search the rest of the house for the children.

Thankfully, Pearl and young William were found upstairs, sound asleep and unharmed. Once they knew the children were safe, the policeman began to question William about the neighbor’s allegations.

At first, William was very open about the whole thing. He admitted his plan, and freely answered any questions. But after a bit, he stopped talking, especially when the officers asked him where the gun was.

They took William upstairs with them as they continued to search for the would-be murder weapon. He wouldn’t talk about it, but kept looking toward a corner of the ceiling in one room every time the gun was mentioned. The officers noticed, and found the revolver sitting on top of a rafter.

William was taken to jail while the children were taken into protective custody.

Thankfully, a horrific tragedy was avoided that night.

Depression is a still very much an issue in modern society.

In 1912, Mabel Moore almost succeeded in committing suicide after her husband left her. Eight years later, William Stewart’s illness led him to believe that murder and suicide was an acceptable answer. He travelled a dark and lonely road, and it almost cost two children their lives.

But today, there is light in the darkness. There is help for people like William and Mabel who, for whatever causes and reasons, suffer from depression. If you are one of them, then take him as a cautionary tale of where the road you are on can take you. Know that you’re not alone, and that there is help.

History doesn’t always have to repeat itself.

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Police Block Father’s Plot to Slay Babes.’ The Davenport Democrat and Leader, 5/28/1920

Buys Gun to Kill Himself and Children.’ The Daily Times, 5/28/1920

Stewart Says He Wouldn’t Kill Children.’ The Daily Times, 5/29/1920

Drops Suicide and Pleads for His Children.’ The Davenport Democrat and Leader, 5/29/1920

Beckons From Dreamland the Husband Avers. Davenport Democrat and Leader, 6/4/1920

Girl, Deserted by Chicagoan, Tries Suicide in St. Louis. Chicago Tribune, 8/31/1912 p. 5

Deserted By Man, Mabel Piersoll Attempts Life. The Springfield News-Leader, 8/31/1912

Nemade, Rashmi Ph.D. Historical Understandings of Depression.

Schimelpfenig, Nancy. The History of Depression.


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