Thursday, February 28, 2013

Stories from Bovina's Cemeteries - The Disappearance of Frederick McFarland

During the third week of February 1889, Bovina farmer Frederick McFarland was spending a few days in Delhi at the Edgerton House Hotel while serving on a grand jury at the county courthouse.  Frederick was 52 years old, with a wife and two children.  He owned with his wife, the former Phoebe Reynolds, what was her family farm on Cape Horn Road (the farm was known more recently as the old Ganger Farm).  The fact that he stayed in Delhi all week while on jury duty was not at all unusual in the days before automobiles and trains.  He appeared to be handling his duties on the grand jury with no problem.  The District Attorney was considering making him foreman of the jury.  Around mid-week, however, something seemed to change.  One juror smelled liquor on McFarland’s breath on Tuesday evening and saw him throw an empty bottle into the hotel fireplace the next morning.  That same morning, McFarland asked to meet with the Edgerton House proprietor, F.H. Griffis, about his behavior and said “I was full [drunk] last night and raised thunder in your house…”  He was concerned that the jury would find out and that he would get into trouble with them.  He asked Griffis for advice, thinking that maybe he should go home.  McFarland went ahead and attended jury on Wednesday, however, and no one seemed to notice any problems.  That evening, he took a walk with another juror, George Munson.  When Munson asked him if he smoked and would like a cigar, Frederick responded “Yes, I smoke and drink, too.  I got a drink last night and it nearly made me crazy.”  If McFarland hadn’t said this, Munson later noted, he would have noticed nothing strange in McFarland’s demeanor.  And if Frederick did drink, it was not in his room.  The hotel chambermaid, Bridget Mehan, saw that his room was in excellent order and there was no appearance of any liquor. 

McFarland stayed in his hotel room Wednesday night and was seen on Thursday morning.  The last person to see Frederick was a stage driver, Peter Fero, who saw a man on the turnpike that matched McFarland’s description.   After that, McFarland disappeared.  His disappearance was noted on Friday morning when his room was checked and not only was he not in it, but it seemed the room had not been used the previous night.  His friends were worried as soon as they heard the news because Frederick had been suffering a great anxiety over the health of his wife. They started a diligent search that took almost a month. 

Weekly reports appeared not only in the Delhi newspapers but in several newspapers from around the state concerning Frederick’s disappearance.  His family was offering $250 for any information about him, describing him as being of medium size, with light hair, red whiskers and a mustache mixed with gray.  About two weeks after he disappeared, his family got word that a stranger had been found in Cortland that seemed to match Frederick’s description.  Two of his brothers made a trip there only to discover that it was not their missing brother.  One of the brothers, J. Milton,  also made a trip to Kingston when the sheriff there reported a stranger that seemed to match Frederick’s description.  Again, it was not him.
On March 17, James W. Jobson, who had been looking for his friend ever since his disappearance, went along the east bank of the Delaware River, starting downstream from the Kingston Street Bridge in Delhi.  Near the Meeker District school house, below the bridge at Sherwoods, he found his friend’s body.  McFarland was laying facedown with his hat floating on some wood near-by.  Jobson pulled the body out of the water and flagged down a passerby, who happened to be someone from Bovina, asking him to get the coroner.  The coroner took charge of the situation and examined the body.  It was easily recognized as that of Frederick McFarland.  He had no overcoat, but was wearing light gloves and new rubbers on his shoes.  He had $1.53 in his wallet.  Except for a post-mortem injury to his eye, there were no other marks on the body, either before or after his death.  The coroner noted that the body likely did not float very far from where it went into the water.  Though there was not much water in the lungs, the chest cavity contained a considerable quantity as did the stomach. 

A coroner’s inquest was started the next day.  Over several days, the jury heard testimony from a doctor who did the autopsy, from some of the jurymen with whom Frederick was serving when he disappeared, the district attorney, the proprietor of the Edgerton House, the stage driver who was the last person to see him alive and the hotel chambermaid.  The jury came back with a verdict that McFarland “voluntarily drown[ed] himself while temporarily insane into the Delaware River about one mile below the Village of Delhi.” 

McFarland was buried in the Bovina cemetery.  Note that his tombstone reflects the circumstances of his death with the statement 'Died on or near Feb. 21, 1889."  He left his ailing widow, Phoebe, and two young sons, Robert, age 14 and Wilson, age 7.  Phoebe died within a couple of years of her husband, likely of the illness that may have driven Frederick to take his own life.  Their sons both lived into adulthood.  Robert died in 1949 and Wilson in 1966.

1 comment:

  1. Life in "the old days" wasn't the proverbial bed-of-roses, was it?