The Tigerish Glare: part three

Recap The Tigerish Glare: Part One and Part Two

On the evening of 29 June 1898, Private Sherman Sayles of the 3rd Missouri Regiment complained of a headache to the night nurse, who notified Camp Alger medical attendant Private Lake. While Lake went to the dispensary to mix some morphine, Private Sayles pulled out a penknife and sliced open his left wrist. Fellows in nearby cots yelled, and someone ran to retrieve Private Lake. By the time Lake and the attending surgeon, Major Stunkard, got cot-side, Sherman had lost a great deal of blood.

The wound was tended, and by morning Major Stunkard pronounced the soldier out of danger, physically. Clearly Sherman Sayles needed further care, care that tended to his mental health as well as his physical well being. Stunkard transferred the soldier to the hospital at Fort Myers (Virginia) where further evaluation determined that Sayles required intensive therapy.

As quickly as orders could trickle through bureaucracy Sherman was transferred across the Potomac to the Government Asylum for the Insane, locally known as St. Elizabeths Hospital, in southeast Washington, D.C. 

On 5 July 1898 Sherman Sayles walked across the campus of St. Elizabeths under the shade of red oaks, silver maples and tulip trees, past vegetable and ornamental gardens, and chicken houses and pigeon coops. He climbed up the steps of a three-story brick building, crossed its white-trimmed porch and entered Oak Hall. A nurse guided the 36-year-old to a large room brightly lit by enormous windows. Beds lined the walls, each with its own privacy screen. From this crowded ward Sherman Sayles, my great-granduncle, would begin his treatment for acute suicidal melancholia.

Several months passed before his brother–my great-grandfather–paid the former soldier a visit. It was the week before Thanksgiving, and trees were now bare. Clifton D. Sayles crossed the St. Elizabeth’s campus, leaves crunching underfoot, and climbed the steps to the entrance of Toner Hall, the convalescent residence to which Sherman had been moved. He was shown to a pleasant sitting room, filled with light and plants and rockers. There he met a brother he probably hadn’t seen in years. Clifton had remained on the family farm, raising his own kids in the Mecklenburg County, Virginia community, while Sherman had moved from Virginia to New York to Missouri. The man that sat before him on that November day was not one he remembered. In fact Clifton was alarmed by his brother’s appearance and behavior. Cliff returned home and consulted with his mother, Serena C. Sayles, sitting to pen this letter to Sherman’s attending physician the following Tuesday.

To Dr. George Foster from Clifton D. Sayles, November 22, 1898

As I was compelled to leave Washington without seeing you, I have taken the liberty of writing. 

The second time I went to see my brother he either did not, or would not recognize me; and acted in a very suspicious manner altogether. 

Now I do not claim to understand his mental condition; but I do say this, he acted very  ungratefully to say the least. I have consulted with my mother since my return and we have come to the conclusion that the place for him to remain is right where he is. I would consider it unsafe for him to be here at liberty for years to come. Of course, I am entirely ignorant as to how long the U.S. Government will take care of him. I am also ignorant as to whether or not his regiment has been mustered out of the service: but he was certainly in the performance of military duty at the time of his mental attack.  I do not wish to give you the impression that we are acting in an unnatural manner towards him; but I will never forget to my dying day, the tigerish glare he gave me the second time I went to see him. 

Clifton ended his letter with a plea:

Whenever in your opinion he is sufficiently recovered to rejoin his regiment, we think that is the proper place for him. We would be very grateful indeed to you if you would take the trouble to write occasionally in regard to his condition. Please withhold nothing.


Part Three

I feel such empathy for Clifton, for I have also been in the position of traveling all day to reach a loved one who found themselves in an disconcerting place, with strangers, living with unrelenting need and suffering.

I can vividly imagine Clifton trying to share family news only to be mocked; or suggesting a walk to enjoy the view over the Anacostia River only to be mimicked. I can envision that moment when Cliff gathered his coat to leave that first day, and Sherman melted into his chair, hands covering his face. And weeping.

“I’m sorry.”

His hands brushed the words over his body.

“I’m sorry for ALL of THIS.”

Across the ages I can imagine Clifton’s promise to return, a swirl of questions around family duty and his brother’s needs accompanying him to his night lodgings. And ALL of the queries settled upon his next visit, when Sherman sat as if ready to pounce–shoulders hunched, face contorted, with a fixed tigerish glare.

In that instant there was the heart-rending recognition that he couldn’t care for his brother.

Clifton had to leave him, there, helpless to escape his condition. To be tended by strangers who may or may not have cared. But there, where he would be fed, and clothed, and washed, and watched over–where he would be safe.


The Sunday after his brother’s visit, Sherman packed his belongings and followed an attendant from the second-story ward in Toner Hall to one of the Oaks buildings, to yet another ward chock-a-block with beds.

In spite of the hydrotherapy, music and art opportunities, and the beauty of the grounds, Sherman continued to have suicidal thoughts and delusions that someone was out to hurt him. He frequently refused to eat his meals, for fear that they contained poison. Sometimes he would eat, only to purge immediately afterward.

By September of 1900, Sherman was emaciated, weighing in at only 110 pounds. Still the staff kept encouraging him to eat, dodging his verbal assaults and the occasional thrown glass.

This was an era of immense overcrowding at St. Elizabeths Hospital. In spite of the efforts to treat patients for recovery, many remained institutionalized, unable to recapture their ability to live on their own. And the acute cases continued to be admitted.

The need for caregivers far outstripped the supply of trained nurses and attendants. The bare minimum was probably all that each patient could be assured of–clean clothes, clean linens, three meals a day, and assistance with morning and evening ablutions.

There was no extra time to make sure that patients kept in touch with families, or that families were kept apprised of their loved one’s condition. Nothing in the patient record indicates that Clifton was ever made aware of his brother’s disordered eating or suicidal ideation; or that family news of the deaths of their mother and Cliff’s wife, Anna, reached Sherman. And with Washington, D.C. a series of train rides away, Clifton and his kids were not able to just drop by.

Sherman lived without a strong social support network, in wards intended to hold 18 beds and bedside tables but kitted out at the turn of the century with 30 to 40 beds; and 30 to 40 men’s perspiration, farts, snores, grunts, mutterings, sneezes and coughs, guffaws and shouts.

Sherman was surly when interacting with staff or other patients, and prone to withdraw from the hospital’s social life. Nurses would find him sitting on the side of his bed with his face buried in his hands, or haunched in a corner.

Month after month passed. As more patients were admitted, chronic patients like Sherman were moved from one building to another. After one such relocation Sherman appeared to improve a bit, taking his restless agitation out for long walks most every day. His thinking seemed more rational, his cooperation more consistent.

But the contrary behavior reappeared, with Sherman loudly refusing to cooperate in treatment “considered beneficial for his condition.” Occasionally he threw his food and dishes across the dining hall. He deliberately provoked his fellow patients. His language was often profane and vulgar. When the former private was “high-tempered” he beat himself on the face and body and claimed that his attendants struck him. Other times Sherman stole out of bed when he thought the attendant wasn’t watching and “slyly struck other patients who were unable to defend themselves.”

And always the food or the medications were suspected of containing poison. Only certain doctors and nurses could successfully cajole Sherman into consuming them.

In June of 1903 Sherman developed chronic diarrhea. Bedridden he also developed pressure sores.

As the Thanksgiving holiday approached, the diarrhea suddenly stopped, replaced by intermittent nausea and vomiting. Though increasingly debilitated, Sherman managed to vigorously refuse any attempts to take his temperature, or to give him hypodermic or oral medications. In the evening of 18 November, Sherman’s speech was reduced to a whisper; he grew still, only his chest moved with shallow, rapid breaths.

There was no last visit from Clifton, no one to sit bedside, to keep final watch over Sherman. Only a nurse bore witness to his final exhale.

A headstone in St. Elizabeths East Cemetery marks the grave of Private Christopher Sherman Sayles.

St. Elizabeths Hospital East Cemetery, photo by Historical Congressional Cemetery Archivist: accessed on Find A Grave (findagrave.com).


Source:

Christopher Sherman Sayles, QO1-563669951, St. Elizabeths Hospital (Washington, D.C.) patient record, Case number 10778, created 1898-1903; copy from National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C., received February 2020.

On This Date: 28 February 1883

On this date, 28 February 1883, my great-grandmother Kathryn Elizabeth Roahrig was born in Linton Township, Ohio.

Her son, Carlos, was interviewed by the Coshocton Tribune (Coshocton, OH) the summer of 1985 and gave these details about her life.

Kathryn Elizabeth Roahrig Bradford, 102, of South Seventh Street, was the oldest resident found by the committee.

Coshocton Tribune, 26 July 1985

History contest winners named

Coshocton County’s oldest native resident and longest held parcel of land have been named by the Coshocton County History Book Committee.

Kathryn Elizabeth Roahrig Bradford, 102, of South Seventh Street, was the oldest resident found by the committee… Mrs. Bradford was born Feb. 28, 1883, in Linton Township, the daughter of John and Matilda (Klein) Roahrig. On Oct. 16, 1904, she married the late Charles Ross Bradford.

She had three children: Thelma, wife of H. Paul Joseph, is deceased; Kerma, widow of Donald Minor and of Albert Hoge; and Carlos. She has seven grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren and 3 great-great-grandchildren.

She resides with Carlos and his wife Betty on South Seventh Street in Coshocton.

She has always lived in town and is a member of Grace United Methodist Church. She worked for a short period of time, when her children were small, at the Old Glove Factory.

Bradford is not in good health and was unable to be interviewed; however, her son’s reply, when asked to what he attributes his mother’s longevity was, “It runs in the family.”


History contest winners named, Coshocton Tribune (Coshocton, OH), 26 July 1985; newspaper clipping a part of D Kay Strickland Family Collection, 2021.

Recipes and receipts: A 1970(ish) Texas Sheet of Chocolate Deliciousness

Our dinner table in southwest Virginia was always full. Mother and Daddy at either end, us four kids seated two across from two on each side. In the center, sat two vegetables, a starch, a meat dish or casserole, to be passed to the left until all were served. At each place was a glass of milk and a small bowl of canned fruit, preferably fruit cocktail with maraschino cherries which had to be equitably divided among the four of us.

The highlight of every meal, though, was dessert. My mother was a terrific cook; her baked goods, however, were whole-other-level fantastic. Homemade cookies or brownies or cakes of all sorts were a daily staple of my childhood memories.

Among the recipes in my mother’s Recipe Accordion File was a hand-written page of directions from her sister’s mother-in-law, Cora Carroll of Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. This Texas Sheet Cake is one of the most sweet-tooth-satisfying cakes I have ever bitten into.

Try it. You’ll like it, I’m sure!


Texas Sheet Cake

Sift altogether in large bowl:

         2 cups granulated sugar               ½ teaspoon salt

         2 cups all-purpose flour                1 t baking soda

Saucepan:

         Melt 2 sticks of margarine [or butter], 1 cup water, ¼ cup cocoa. Bring to a full rolling boil.

Small Bowl:

         2 eggs (beaten)           1 teaspoon vanilla      

         ½ cup buttermilk         1 Tablespoon vinegar

Add everything to large bowl. Mix lightly. Pour into greased jelly-roll pan (15 ½ x 10 ½ inch)

Bake 20 minutes at 400°.

Ice while warm with Chocolate Icing:

         [Mix together] 1 pound confectioners’ sugar, 1 egg (beaten), ½ cup melted butter, 2 squares melted unsweetened chocolate, 1 teaspoon lemon juice. [spread over warm cake]


I transcribed the recipe as Cora wrote it out for my mother, baker to baker. I made sure to translate anything that seemed confusing, like measuring abbreviations, but other than that this is how the recipe was handed down.

I have another recipe for this cake from a 1980 edition of A Heritage of Good Tastes from Historic Alexandria, Virginia that uses a mix of shortening and butter instead of margarine in the cake. And in that version the Icing recipe substitutes 6 tablespoons of milk for the egg.

And you, my reader. Do you have variations of this Sheet Cake? What are your favorite childhood dessert memories?

Weekly Scribe: Ira Sayles to E.B. Hall, 9 October 1884

This letter was sent to Ira Sayles’ pharmacist buddy, E.B. Hall, during the USGS employee’s field work several months after the June correspondence. Though Ira does not name the son who is traveling with him through the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, it can be deduced. Ira and estranged-wife Serena lost their daughter, Florette, in 1858 and son, Merlin, in 1877. Clifton, Ira’s oldest boy, was farming Mecklenburg County (VA) soil by the 1880s, and raising three young kids, Alice, Harold, and Jennie Belle, with wife Anna and mother Serena. That leaves only one child able to be the son referenced in this letter, their youngest child, Christopher Sherman, born in 1862 shortly before Ira enlisted in the Union Army. Apparently the boy was close to Ira, leaving Virginia to live with Ira in New York by 1880. And then, as mentioned here, traveling with his father as Ira conducted specimen-collecting fieldwork for the United States Geological Survey.


Whitesburg, Hamblen Co., Tenn.,

Thursday Morning, October 9, 1884

Friend Hall,

I send enclosed a Post Office Money Order for $20. Out of this pay yourself what I have so long owed you, and send to my address, as above, the balance in Lactopeptine, same as hitherto.

My son is just recovering from a run of Typhoid Congestive Fever. During its entire course, I have given Lactopeptine after every mouthful of nourishment; and I continue this now, uring his convalescence.

Trade card for Lactopeptine, The New York Pharmacal Association, location and date unknown.
https://www.historicnewengland.org/explore/collections-access/capobject/?refd=EP001.01.076.01.03.041

I proceed on the theory that, if no crude undigested food is permitted to pass out of the stomach into the lower bowels, first, a main cause for irritation of the lower portion is stopped; and secondly, all the secretion into the chylopoietic viscera will be healthy, and as nearly healthy chyle will be formed in its passage into the circulation as it is possible for the chylopoietic glands to form.

I think my reasoning correct; and I know this practice is proving correct. I have thereby prevented the loss of strenght; and, though my patient is quite weak, as compared with the strength of health, yet he is in a better condition than I ever before saw one come out of Typhoid.

The Graphic: An Illustrated Weekly Newspaper (London, England), 26 May 1883; accessed digitally Newspapers dot com, 18 Jan 2021.

Please send the medicine as soon as practicable, and

Great Oblige (sic)

Yours Very Respectfully, Ira Sayles

Weekly Scribe: Ira Sayles to Edwin B Hall, 1884

Today I transcribed this letter posted from my 2x great-grandfather, Ira Sayles, to his long time friend, Edwin B. Hall, at the end of June, 1884. I suspect that the friends first met in the 1860s after Ira’s sister, Rhobe Sayles Crandall, moved with their elderly parents to Wellsville (Allegany County, New York) where Hall ran a drugstore. Ira’s visits to check in on sister and parents would have provided opportunity for the two men to meet, and share their enthusiasm over all things geological. Both men collected rock and fossil specimens as citizen scientists; and Ira parlayed that hobby into a job with the newly developed United States Geological Survey in 1883. The Hall-Sayles friendship continued throughout Ira’s tenure. I am grateful to Jay Woelfle for sharing his 2x great-grandfather’s keepsakes with me.

A few days ago, the Mail Carrier laid on my table a package. On opening it, I might have imagined, but didn’t, that all the Wellsville typeclingers had suddenly fallen in love with me.  Some articles had pencil marks around them. The one from Mr. Rude reveals some curiosities relative to Prof. [J.L.] Burritt, and his management of the Academic Department of Wellsville Graded School. I have known some men similar to the one hinted at by Mr. Rude. Still I have seen the public run gaping after these very men. The truth is, that the general public is utterly unqualified to sit in judgement on really well educated intellect. A man with brass and endless variety of sweetened palaver can talk popular approval of any folly his fancy may choose, into the popular head. In educational matters, as in Religion and Politics, the blind lead the blind, unquestioned, and, even if questioned, the popular shield sufficiently protects the arraigned idol.

I know absolutely nothing of Prof. Burritt; but I suspect that Rude knows his man.

I discover that Wellsville rejoices in a New Light—The Free Press!  Does A.N.C.1 shine through its columns? If it lack his vast illuminating powers, ‘twill, possibly, prove an Ignis Fatuus3. A.N.C. and the great E. B.2 have shed such floods of thin light in Alleghany County that the people ought to erect a rival Washington’s Monument on their highest hill, to commemorate their appreciation of such wondrous services.

By the way and apropos, Washington’s Monument is becoming quite a respectable pillar. It has already attained the height of 470 feet above the foundation. In two months more, it is expected to reach 500 feet, from which point a new slope will bring it to a terminus, at the height of 555feet—the highest work ever erected by man: still how insignificantly small, compared with the huge pyramids of Egypt! The base of this monument is 55 feet: its walls, at the base, are fifteen feet thick, leaving, thus, twenty five feet of open space inside the walls.

In my judgement, its site is most unfortunate. Why it was placed down on that low ground, I can not imagine, nor have I yet found the man wise enough to give me any light on that point. It is there, but why there, nobody seems to know. All admit the blunder, if one can call such the case a blunder. It must have been chosen for some fancied advantage; but what? That’s the question. As an American Citizen, I am ashamed of the location. I don’t suppose my protest will avail anything; but I protest, “all the same!”


1 A.N. Cole, editor locally known as the “Father” of the area’s Republican Party.

2 Perhaps a reference to E B Hall.

3 Noun: 1: a light that sometimes appears in the night over marshy ground and is often attributable to the combustion of gas from decomposed organic matter. 2 : a deceptive goal or hope.