Saturday, September 21, 2013

The story of John "Frank" Metzner

I am always surprised in the course of my genealogy research when I find a large 19th century family where all the children survive to adulthood.  It happens so rarely, but for William and Barbara Metzner, parents of eleven children, all did survive.  Of course, Barbara may have given birth to others that died in infancy, but there is no record to prove that.

-          William Henry      (1848-1921)
-          James                    (1849-1905)               
-          Washington           (1852-unknown)
-     John                      (1854-1878)
-          Jasper                    (1856-1938)
-          Delana                   (1859-1954)
-          Lafayette               (1862-1947)           
-          Caroline                (1866-1910)
-          Henrietta               (1868-1950)
-          William                 (1870-unknown)
-          Louis                     (1872-1930)          

Over the years I’ve dug into the lineage of each of the children, hoping it would lead to other clues about William and Barbara and also to my great-grandfather Louis N. Metzner (1872-1930), the youngest of the eleven children.  Certainly it did but, in the course of doing research, it also uncovered unanticipated family events.  In the case of this family it was the very sad events surrounding the death of their fourth son, John.    

John was only 23 when he died so we find him in very few public records. He appears in the 1860 and 1870 census and in the city directories of Fort Wayne, Indiana. While those provide bits of important information, it doesn’t really tell us much about his life.

1870 U.S. Census, Licking County, Ohio
What we do know is that by 1870, at 16 years old, John is working as a “common laborer,” probably picking up odd jobs here and there.  But by 1877 he has moved to Ft. Wayne (from Licking County, Ohio) and is working for the railroad (the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad) as a brakeman.  The next year--the year he died--he is listed having the same occupation.  This time his younger brother Jasper has joined him in Ft. Wayne and is also working as a brakeman.  They are 23 and 21, respectively, very young to hold such responsible and dangerous jobs. 

1878 City Directory for Fort Wayne, Indiana

What does the brakeman do?  

According to the B&O Railroad Museum website one of the most dangerous jobs on the early railroads was that of brakeman. It was not a job for the faint of heart. It required strength and coordination, not to mention courage. The brakeman had to climb to the roof of the railcar and turn the wheel that engaged the brakes on each car. The air brake was invented in 1869, but not widely used because it was deemed too expensive.  It was not until the 1880’s when railroads finally began widespread use of air brakes that the job became less hazardous.

The Neversink Valley Museum says that besides the responsibilities of applying and releasing the train’s brakes, the brakeman was also responsible for coupling and uncoupling the train’s cars. In the days of link and pin coupling, switching cars was an inherently dangerous operation where the brakeman had to stand between two cars and attach or detach them. He risked being crushed during this operation or having arms or fingers maimed while lining up the basic link and pin mechanism then is use.

John Metzner was switching cars when he met his end.  The description of the event is difficult to read – one can only imagine how traumatic it must have been for all those involved, especially for his younger brother Jasper.

Four articles were printed in various newspapers and provide some insight into that terrible day.

From the Kalamazoo Gazette, April 1878

When I read about this terrible accident all I could wish was that John was rendered instantly unconscious and did not have to endure the pain of his horrible injuries...and my heart sank for his brother Jasper who rushed to his bedside then accompanied his body home.  What a traumatic family event. 

John's body was taken to Licking County where he was buried in Evans Cemetery on April 3, 1878.  He was the first of William and Barbara Metzner's eleven children to die.

Rest in Peace John.

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