Friday, July 31, 2015

Annie Pearl Update

Annie Pearl Nace

Back in 2010, I posted about Annie Pearl Nace's mysterious death on July 30, 1911. The circumstances surrounding Pearl's death were a big family secret—her sisters apparently didn't want to talk about it, and my mother (Pearl's sister Blanche's daughter) was adamant that no one know. In her old age, Mama was angry that a cousin had asked her about it on more than one occasion.

When I was about eight or nine, I'd asked about what happened to my great aunt. I remember Mama telling me that Pearl's boyfriend "Otha" might have poisoned her. In her 80s, when I asked for more details, Mama denied ever telling me that. But lately, thanks to the Internet and Facebook, I've learned more of Pearl's story.

Otha was actually Otho Wilson Young, born in 1883, so he was seven years older than Pearl. His parents were Samuel and Rebecca Young. His family, like hers, lived in Botetourt County, Virginia.

He must have been serious about Pearl to pose for a picture with her at a Roanoke photographer's studio. I'm guessing the picture was taken prior to 1910, or certainly no later than very early 1910.

He and Pearl must have been sweethearts for a while. Besides the photo of them together, she had a picture of a much younger Otho Young that he had likely given her when they first became interested in each other. 

 I know that after Pearl's sister Blanche married Howard Ruble on June 11, 1909, and moved to Roanoke, Pearl sometimes visited her sister's home on Rorer Avenue. In fact, when the 1910 Roanoke census was taken, 19-year-old Pearl was staying with them:

The census had to have been taken very early in 1910, because Blanche gave birth to her son Howard Lawrence on March 3 of that year. The baby isn't listed on the census. Since Howard was a fireman on the railroad and would often be gone overnight, it must have been a comfort to Blanche to have her sister stay with her. It's uncertain how long Pearl stayed, but when the Buchanan Census 0056 was taken in mid-April, she was listed as living with her parents and her younger sisters Ossie (age 16) and Zora (age 6). Her sister Cora (21), married for three years to T.O. Hunt and the mother of a two-year-old and a newborn, lived in the same neighborhood.

But what about Otho? What was happening in his life in 1910? According to the census, he was living with his widowed mother and younger sister in Buchanan district 0056 (same district as the Naces) and working as a laborer at a sawmill.

So—what happened between Pearl and Otho? Obviously there was a break-up. But who broke up with whom, and why? We'll likely never know for sure, but it didn't take Otho long to find a new love interest. On December 22, 1910, Otho Wilson Young married Annie May Haymaker.

Look back at the picture of Pearl and Otha together. Notice how serious—maybe sad—she looks. Her eyes seem blank.  Her left hand has the fingers curled under—almost like a fist. Otho looks smug. Shouldn't the two of them seem happier if they indeed were a happy couple. Notice the photo of the younger Otho. Someone has made deep scratches across his throat. I used to think that maybe one of her sisters did that, but maybe Pearl did it herself. Was she so angry she wanted to cut his throat? And why did she keep the picture?

When Pearl died on July 30, 1911, Otho's new wife was seven months pregnant with their son Homer Godwin Young. Her three older sisters were all married—they'd been her current age or younger when they married—and they all had children. Did Pearl feel like an old maid? Did she have any marriage prospects or even any beaux?  What happened on the last Saturday of July? Her obituary gives few clues:


The "very bright, cheerful girl" who was in excellent health took sick at noon on Saturday, July 29, and was dead by 8 AM Sunday of "cholera morbus," which we'd now call gastroenteritis. From "best of health" to dead in less than 24 hours seems suspicious.

Were the two doctors correct in their diagnosis? Sometimes distinguishing cholera morbus from poisoning could be difficult in the old days. From Robert Amory's old book Poisons:

Cholera morbus, the book points out, is one of the disorders that might be confused with poisoning, but cholera morbus is "seldom fatal" and, if it is, death takes place "several days" later.

Another source notes that cholera morbus occurs in hot weather:
 It especially occurs in extreme hot weather in temperate climates, is usually endemic, but is often epidemic, and is caused by the absorption of toxins elaborated by bacterial activity within the gastrointestinal tract. The ingestion of decomposing food, unripe fruit, raw vegetables and large quantities of ice water and alcoholic beverages in seasons of great heat are predisposing factors.
 It would likely have been hot that July day, and fruit would have been in season. But why had no other family members been taken ill? Surely they ate the same things she did. The source mentions that the prognosis for recovery is good if the disease is "seen in the early stages." Two doctors were summoned less than 24 hours after her symptoms began.

If Pearl had indeed succumbed to cholera morbus, why was discussion of her death so hush-hush through the years? Was Pearl really poisoned? And if so, by whom? If so, why was the crime concealed and not investigated? Why would the family never want it mentioned? We can speculate, but we'll never know for sure. . . .

As for Otho, he and his family eventually left the county, and he worked in Covington at the paper mill, as did one of his sons.  The 1930 census gives details:

According to his death certificate, Otho died in Alleghany Memorial Hospital of granulocytic leukopenia on March 5, 1952. He was buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery in Covington on March 7.

We will likely never know all the details about the real story of Pearl's death. If there is a secret to her death, she has taken it to her grave. But let's remember her as the "very bright, cheerful girl" she must have once been.

Rest in peace, Annie Pearl Nace.
Thanks to members of the Facebook Botetourt County Genealogy group for finding the obituary pointing me in the direction of where to look for info.

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