When I notice an early death in family history records, I’m always saddened. But I’m always curious, too.
When I saw that my first cousin, thrice-removed, James C. “Jim” GRIFFIN (1895-1922) died from a boiler explosion I looked for a newspaper article, and I found one. I found something unexpected, too.
Jim’s Early Life
Jim. GRIFFIN was the son of Henry David GRIFFIN (1858-1920) and Annie WATTS GRIFFIN (1862-1938). He was born in Platt Springs, Lexington County, South Carolina. Henry’s sister was Flora Ann GRIFFIN GRANT (1851-1930), and she was my 2nd great-grandmother.
Henry and Annie likely married in Marlboro County, South Carolina. Soon after marrying they moved to Columbia, Richland County, South Carolina. The 1880 U.S. Census shows them in Columbia, and Henry is a teamster which was a horse team driver or a stableman.
In 1900, Henry and Annie lived in Lexington County where Henry was a farmer. Jim was the youngest of their eight children, though another child would be born in 1903. In 1910, the family continued living and farming in Lexington County.
In 1920, Jim is married according to the census. His wife’s name is Mabel. I don’t know her maiden name. They lived in Conagree, Lexington County, South Carolina and Jim is a farmer.
The Explosion and The Surprise
In 1922, Jim worked at a sawmill in Gaston, Lexington, South Carolina. This is where the accident happened.
The headline in the 14 February 1922 edition of The State newspaper reads: BOILER EXPLODES, KILLING TWO MEN – Barnett Griffin Dies at Hospital in Columbia – BROTHER ALSO KILLED.
I was confused at this point, so I read on. The article described how Barnett GRIFFIN, a young man of about 15, was struck in the head by a piece of flying debris which fractured his skull and severely lacerated his left arm. He was rushed to the hospital where an operation was performed in hopes of saving his life, but it was unsuccessful.
Then the article goes on to tell about Barnett’s brother, a James GRIFFIN, who ‘was almost instantly killed by the explosion’. There was also a third man who escaped with minor injuries.
You know about the explosion. Want to know what the surprise is?
Jim didn’t have a brother named Barnett.
Clarity Comes The Next Day
I figured there would have another newspaper article about this incident, and I was right. The 15 Feb 1922 article from The State reads: UNCLE AND NEPHEW DIED FROM EXPLOSION.
Burnett (not Barnett) GRIFFIN was the son of Jim’s brother, Bogan M. GRIFFIN (1886-1948). He was Jim’s nephew, and he was 14 years old.
When Bogan came to collect Burnett’s body, he gave details of the tragedy to the newspaper which he was able to do since he was the third man who escaped with minor injuries. He said that ‘he himself was 20 feet and covered with ashes and debris but strangely escaped unhurt.’ He said Jim died almost instantly, and Burnett was taken to the hospital.
The cause of the explosion wasn’t known at that time. It was reported that ‘the boiler was blown about 100 yards and about 50 feet in the air by the explosion.’
The funerals for Jim and Burnett were held one day apart at Sandy Run Church in Gaston. There was widespread grief in the Gaston community as the Griffins where well known and well liked.
Jim was survived by wife, Mabel, and a child. I’ve since found out the child was a daughter named Velma. Burnett was survived by his parents and several siblings.
Another of the Griffin family died in an explosion, too, but in 1887 in Lexington County. Tom GRIFFIN, brother of Henry and uncle of Jim and Bogan, was killed in an explosion at a turpentine distillery.
When Jim and Burnett died, several of their Griffin aunts and uncles were alive. I imagine that the boiler explosion brought back memories of losing their brother, Tom, in a similar way.
What surprises have you come across when doing newspaper research? Please comment and tell about it.
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