The Mysterious Death of Francis Degen: Part 3

If you haven’t read the previous posts, you might want to go back now and read them. Otherwise, you might be a bit lost here.

When our story ended last time, Francis Degen was dead. His blind wife Helene was given charge over his estate. And his body was exhumed but nothing found.

“Fifty dollars and other valuable considerations. ..”

But what of the faithful servant Hugh McNeil?

Well, shortly after Helene was made administrix of the Degen estate, McNeil had her power of attorney signed over to him. Within twelve days of Francis’ death, Helene sold him the Belmore property for “the sum of fifty-dollars and other considerations.” Between March, 1890 and February 28th, 1891, Helene and Hugh dutifully took care of settling Francis’ estate.

By the time of his burial, the stock Francis held was worth $1,000.00. His land shares and mining shares were worthless. His deposits in Marble Bank amounted to $1,900.00 and he had a note owed him by W. L. Raht for $700.00. Without considering his furniture the estate amounted to $3,600.00. For the time, this was a comfortable sum of money (though not the $22,000.00 quoted by one newspaper of the day). Helene was declared sole heir of the entire amount.

Helene died March 6, 1891 at 91 Guernsey Street in Brooklyn, exactly one week after settling her husband’s estate. Her body was supposed to have been taken back to Florida for burial, but no records exist to indicate such a burial happened.

“Final discharge from said administration…”

According to newspaper reports written after her death, Helene and Hugh had come to New York hoping to get treatment for her lost eyesight. They apparently made several trips between Florida and New York in the months after Francis died. During one November trip Helene had a will drawn up.

This will of course left everything to McNeil. However, Helene never actually signed the will. The will was marked with an “X”. Her nephews, Eric and Frederick Rothgart contested the will in September of 1891. In early 1892, after several delays, witnesses came all the way from Florida to appear in the case.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 4 o’clock Edition, May 25, 1891

The first witness called to the stand was Bernard J. Douras, the attorney for the will. He testified that he drawn up the will for Helene at 195 Guernsey Street. Witnessing the will were George Wilson and Morris Barnett.

Mr. Douras was a friend of Hugh McNeil and met Helene through him. According to his testimony Helene wanted “Mac” to have all her property when she died. The will was signed on November 29, 1890. There is dispute about whether the witnesses actually saw her make her mark or if they were in a separate room at the time.

Mr. Douras further testified that Helene “had told him twenty-five times at least that “Mac” was entitled to her estate.” She also told him that Francis had reletives who accused her of having poisoned Francis. She had no relatives of her own, according to Mr. Douras, and she wanted everything to go to McNeil.

The case was decided in McNeil’s favor and the nephews filed an appeal in Clay County. The attorneys weren’t too interested in fighting hard for Bavarians who were on the other side of the world and the case didn’t make it much further. McNeil was the sole heir of the Degen estate.

Not only do we not know what happened to Helene’s body, we don’t know much about Hugh McNeil after this whole ordeal. The last record I have been able to find is an 1892 census record indicating the he lived in New York with a wife named Anne. No previous records indicate that he was married.

Was Anne a trophy wife for the 54 year old heir to a small fortune? Was Hugh a secret lover to Helene during the year they spent together in Rutland before traveling out to meet Francis in Utah? Did they plot Francis’ death together? Did he betray her and poison her into blindness? Did they poison Francis as is relatives suspected? Did McNeil trick the blind widow into signing her fortune to him, or did she still love him and the mark on the will was truly hers?

There are many unanswered questions. Perhaps some of Joseph Degen’s descendents can answer them. Anyone know a Degen? Maybe they know where Helene is. Maybe they know what happened to McNeil. Maybe they would want to restore the grave of Francis Marion Degen to its former glory.

We can only wonder…

Advertisements

The Mysterious Death of Francis Degen, Part 2

In my previous post I told you about the founding of Belmore City and the promise it gave its many investors, including the retiree Francis Degen. In this post we meet the man who lies in Belmore State Forest.

Francis Marion Degen was born in Bonn, Rhenish Prussia on October 10, 1829 to parents Johann Heinrich (John Henry) and Anna Helena (nee. Hittorff) Degen. He spent his childhood as Franz, Francis would be the name he adopted as a 20 year old immigrant to the United States.

Passenger list of the Isaac Bell

In late June of 1851, Franz and his 23 year old brother Joseph set sail aboard the Isaac Bell from the port in La Harve, France. They arrived in New York City on July 2. Other records indicate that Francis may have come to America in 1847 on the ship Emigrant.

Whether he came as a 20 year old or a 15 year old, in his first years in the United States, Francis moved to High Lake, Pennsylvania, and became a leather merchant. Joseph meanwhile became a dentist and settled in the Bronx, New York.

Lydia Helene Rothgart was born around 1834 in Alsen, Schleswig Holstein. She came to America around 1854 and soon became acquainted with Francis. They married in 1857. Because Francis was an engineer, the couple moved to West Rutland, Vermont, to get involved in the marble mining industry.

There is one record of a Francis M Degen joining the Navy late in the Civil War. The enlistment record shows him enlisting in November of 1864. Whether or not he saw action in the final months of the war, or even if this is the same Francis M Degen remains unknown.

Francis M Degen, Stone Cutter

While in Rutland, the Degens met Hugh McNeil, an Irish immigrant and marble stone cutter. McNeil would become a trusted confidant of the Degens until the end of both their lives.

Francis was a successful engineer in the Rutland mines. In 1880 he decided to take his mining knowledge out west to the silver mines of Frisco, Utah. Helene and McNeil stayed behind in Rutland until Francis had set up a home in Utah.

William Raht’s Patent

While in Frisco, Francis became friends with William Raht, a patent holder for a process to treat ores. Raht would later be a witness to Degen’s will, drawn up in 1887.

The Degens enjoyed their time in the rough town of Frisco. Francis joined the Freemasons there, along with McNeil, and became the Junior Warden of the number eight St. John’s lodge. Interestingly, for reasons not recorded, Hugh McNeil was dimitted from the lodge in 1882.

Francis worked as an engineer in the Horn mine and accumulated quite a bit of wealth as well as stock in the Globe Mining Company. He already had several deposits with the Marble Bank in Rutland, he added more money to his estate in Utah.

The mines of Frisco suffered a massive collapse in 1885. While they recovered in late 1886 and early 1887, Francis decided it was time to move on. He decided that Belmore City, Florida was the place he wanted to retire.

Hugh was sent to the Degen’s lot in early 1889 to set up a homestead and plant an orange grove. Francis and Helene came to the property late that year but their retirement was short lived.

In December of 1889, Helene went blind, whether from illness or stroke or something more sinister, we will never know. Six weeks after her blindness struck, on February 12th, 1890, Francis dropped dead in the family garden. He was laid to rest on the homestead.

In his will, Francis left his entire estate to Helene, “in consideration of the faithful service (she had given him) in accumulating (his) property”. Despite her blindness she was naned admininistrix of the estate.

Given the sudden nature of his death, his brother Joseph asked for an examination of the body for signs of foul play. Six weeks after Francis died his body was exhumed and an autopsy performed. Records indicate that chemists found nothing amiss and Francis was decided to have died of heart failure.

Stay tuned for the real crazy story…

The Beautiful Life

“Expedition Happiness” Watch on Netflix. Or don’t.

Sometimes when I read blogs or watch documentaries all I can think is “How do these hipsters make it look so easy?”

I don’t know what kind of world these people live in, they are always young, always attractive, frequently childless, and always seem to have an endless stream of money. They seem more like fictional characters than real people. You have to wonder what they do for a living, are they ever stressed? Do they get bored? Do they fight? Where is the ugly in their life?

Sure, sometimes the bus breaks down, the visa gets denied, or the cake in the oven falls. But these people always seem to handle it with a smile. Or at the very least they look gorgeous while crying.

Well, that ain’t my life.

I get sick. Nothing productive happens for days at a stretch. My kids make giant messes, animals get into my trash, my trailer sometimes smells like something died in it.

People thrive on positive. We love comedy and run from tragedy. We live vicariously through these adventurers and beautiful hipsters. We don’t like our conventional lives, so we read about theirs and forget our problems for a bit.

But who’s to say your conventional life is ugly? Who’s to say you aren’t living a beautiful life, even if it isn’t quite the adventure these people seem to have? Life is a gift, even with its warts and wrinkles. Life is beautiful even with the sickness and the smells.

You don’t have to read blogs or watch fru-fru documentaries (both of which I do. Too much.) to enjoy a beautiful life. All you have to do is start enjoying yours.

RV Necessities, Or: Trailer Indespensables

First, You need a truck and trailer…

Every once in awhile I decide to make this blog useful to other people. I turn from my usual rants about life and try to provide practical advice. Seeing as I have spent the past three summers in a 27 foot travel trailer, I think I can safely give some advice on a few of the necessities of trailer living.

Here are a few things I absolutely recommend:

Seriously, where do they come from?

A shop vac. Maybe it is just my kids, but our floor seems to be constantly covered in crumbs. Sweeping doesn’t cut it folks, and a dust buster? Ha! Go, buy a $30 one gallon shop vac at Wally World, you’ll thank me.

This hole is smaller than it appears

A funnel. Our first summer was spent boondocking on the Kaibab National Forest. This meant all our water had to be brought in via five gallon water bladder and dumped in manually into our freshwater tank. It took us well over a month to figure out we needed a funnel to get that water into that tiny hole. Don’t buy those fancy special hose looking ones at Camping World, just get a simple collapsable one from the auto parts store.

A diffuser. I won’t harp on essential oils here, but if you want to have a fresh smelling rv I highly recommend you get a diffuser and a few of your favorite scents. Pro tip: Get some lavender and knock out the kids.

Did I say a couple oils? Mwahahaha!

Multi-plugs. Unless you’re living in some new fancy rv, you probably don’t have enough outlets to charge all your devices. Way back in 2005, phone batteries lasted millions of hours apparently. Or maybe they just think you don’t need your tablet while camping. Well, I’m not recreating. So, to charge all my stuff (and the kids) I got some power strips.

Sleeping mask. Even with aluminum blinds (that can slice and dice through any fingers) our trailer is still blindingly bright at 6 am. This is not ideal and the best way we have found to circumvent this is a sleeping mask. Not only will it keep you from ride awakenings, it’s super fashionable.

Bins of various sizes. Trailer space is fairly limited, and what little storage they give you tends to be impractically designed. Basically they give you large spaces with no shelves. Instead of shoving everything loose into these cavernous cavities, I recommend getting plastic tubs and bins to keep your items organized. It’s quicker and easier than trying to build shelves. And less weighty.

That little cutting board that fits perfectly over your sink. I do not know if these come standard in all rvs, but that little cutting board makes a huge difference when you only have 3 square feet of counter space.

Cell booster. Now, this one doesn’t work as well as it ought. Our service where we are is pretty limited depending on the wind. But if you are somewhere that actually has a weak signal a booster is usually enough to push it into usefulness. Be sure you are getting an actual booster though, and not just something which takes a signal from one area to another.

I’m sure I will think of some more as the months go by, but for now I’ll leave you with those. Feel free to comment with anything you’ve found to be particularly useful in your rv.

Tight Spaces

A trip to get internet…

When you live in a tiny space, you tend to know well your living partners.

Every cough, every fart, every bump into the wall. Every single time they go to the bathroom (where is that WD-40?). You hear all the quarrels, all the laughs, all the times they play a little too rough with the cat.

There is a certain level of intimacy that you simply don’t get in a sticks and bricks house. There are no rooms to lock yourself up in, nowhere for the kids to hide. You go outside for alone time, or you kick them out. Or you simply hide in the van. Or you get over it and accept that these are in fact your children and you will never escape them. Much of the time though, someone’s going outside.

You get creative in the marital department. It’s really not much different from when we were co-sleeping with toddlers and newborns. We have curtains and did I mention that van? We even have a tent if we need a “night out”.

Tight knit spaces seem to make for tight knit families, at least at the ages they are at. We’ll see how it goes in later years…

Not That Sacramento

We made it!!

Not much of an exciting last day. The roof stayed on, after I applied nine more strips to it.

Overkill? I think not.

There honestly isn’t much to say except that it is great to be back in familiar territory, even if I’m in a new position…

Tomorrow (today I suppose) is unpacking and repacking day. Let’s see if we forgot anything 🙂

Texas. Just Texas

Houston

Texas is huge. Too huge. If Texas wasn’t so huge we’d be in New Mexico by now.

I kid. But only slightly. Seriously, why is this state so large?

Day four began with an exorbitant expense. Roof repair tape is not cheap at the only open place in town (no one buys rvs on weekends?).

I patched the roof, got the horde rounded up and fed, cleaned up some of the accumulated trash out of the vehicles, and hit the road around noon.

The roof patch worked for about… 20 miles. Thanks to the blazing hot sun the goo of the tape just kinda melted and the tape began to slide. So much for having a “wide temperature range”. Grr.

I added a few more layers of tape and we proceeded with caution.

Then the license plate began to slip. I swear, everything melts in Texas! Now our plate is tied to the ladder of the trailer with a zip tie and a couple of pieces of clothesline. We look classy.

Texas is not only huge, it’s also humid. And with no ac, it is a sweaty drive. I hung out in a gas station just to soak up the air. A sunset and the cooling of the air it brings has never been more welcome.

Also Houston. Lol no, it’s not THAT big.

We made it to Junction, a town with no phone service. That might be the only notable thing about Junction. The roof needed a bit more rubber cement and a push on the tape. I think it will hold up. I hope.

It’s day five. Lord willing, this is the last day of driving. By tonight our smelly, dirty, bloodshot-eyed, little wagon train should be in New Mexico!