Saturday, January 1, 2011

Whipple Bartlett

I just received my e-newsletter from the Association for Gravestone Studies and it included the story behind the mysterious marker above, which I summarize for you here:

Located on private property in North Brookfield, Massachusetts, is a rather tall (5'), crudely carved marker. The stone - with its “S” in reverse - memorializes the puzzling actions of 28-year-old Whipple Bartlett. Bartlett was a miser by disposition and was finding it impossible to collect on loans he had made to Nathaniel Snow (about $25) and Asher Rice ($2 or $3). To make a point, he decided to take their lives and his own. He bought a load of seasoned wood in nearby New Braintree and had it delivered to a neighbor's pasture under the pretense that he was unable to store it elsewhere because his rental of a house had fallen through. He then packed up his belongings, hired a horse and wagon, and proceeded to a neighborhood tavern. On the way, he sold his ax and fishing spear to his brother, insisting that he receive payment on the spot. At the tavern, he fed the horse and himself, and insisted on the return of a watch he had loaned his sister, who resided at the establishment, and she obliged.

The following night - April 4th, 1840 - Bartlett called at Mr. Rice's house to ask for the money due him. Rice was unable to pay, but managed to push Bartlett out the door when he pulled a pistol. Following the same scenario at Mr. Snow's house, Bartlett did get off a shot and fled when he saw the man fall and heard him groan. Bartlett drove the wagon to the woodpile he had prepared, and unhitched and covered the horse. He added all his previously packed worldly possessions to what would become his funeral pyre. He set the wood alight, positioned himself above it, and shot himself in the head. Bartlett succeeded in killing but not burning himself, as his body fell to the side of the pile rather than squarely on it. As a correspondent described in the Boston Mercantile Journal a week later, "In this situation he was found next day, with one hand burnt off and one side of his face burnt to a coal. It appears that he was to have destroyed himself and all his property, even to the last cent. And as his axe and spear would not burn, he sold them for money. In the ashes of the fire were found about 14 oz. of melted silver, and in his pockets 70 or 80 dollars in bills, and his two watches....Of course, I cannot detail to you all the circumstances of this strange affair, which has broken in upon our quiet town, like a thunder clap from a clear sky."

Bartlett's subsequent funeral was attended by his 2nd intended victim, who had survived when the bullet deflected off a metal button on his vest. Though Bartlett was known to love only money and was never seen to smile, his actions were not attributed to insanity or inebriation. His choice of the pasture of James Abbott to end his life may have been due to a rumored affair with Abbott's wife Azubah. It was she who, a year after her husband's death in 1864, compelled young returning Civil War veteran George Avery Tucker to carve and erect a memorial to Bartlett on the farm. There Azubah lived until her own death in 1871. The following year, her daughter sold the land, with this addition to the deed on file: “Always reserving the right for a stone monument to stand as now erected on the northeasterly part of said premises and marked — Bartlett Suicide 1840 no person is to remove said stone.” And although the farm has changed hands several times, no one has.

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