On that otherwise uneventful Friday morning, Catherine Shields rented a horse from the J.A. Nelson livery stable located at 104-112 South Fourth Street, a block to the north of the downtown Hannibal fire station.
In 1889, Hannibal’s dominant corridor — Broadway — was paved with rock and dirt; and the automobile was but a fantasy in the future. City dwellers often turned to horses-for-rent from the nearby livery stable in order to facilitate social, business and shopping outings.
And that’s exactly what happened in Hannibal on the 157th anniversary of George Washington’s birth, Friday, Feb. 22, 1889, as 41-year-old Mrs. Dr. D.H. (Catherine Hanson Alexander) Shields prepared for her morning outing.
Shields had lived in Hannibal since her girlhood; she and her widowed mother, Alice (Mrs. Dr. George) Alexander, had boarded from time to time with relatives in the area.
On that otherwise uneventful Friday morning, she rented a horse from the J.A. Nelson livery stable located at 104-112 South Fourth Street, a block to the north of the downtown Hannibal fire station. Nelson had been in the livery business at Hannibal since the early 1870s, and was considered to be a reliable and reputable businessman. The horse he selected for Shields that morning was believed to be gentle, but — after all — a horse is still an animal, and all animals can behave in unpredictable ways.
Shields’ journey that morning took her out on Broadway extension, to a primarily residential neighborhood building up to the west of downtown. Maybe she was headed out to the old orchard near Griffith Street, or was paying a wellness visit to a friend living on Grace Street to the north of Broadway, or Chestnut, to the south.
She — like many women of her era — was accustomed to driving a one-horse carriage. Few would have given her decision to take a morning jaunt alone a second thought, including her husband — a physician and staunch Democrat — who was in Jefferson City at the time on political business.
At noontime, she headed back toward her home: the western half of a duplex located at 914 Lyon St. As her horse embarked on the downhill slope of Broadway extension, west of the wedge, the horse became startled, perhaps by a stray dog or an unexpected snake in the road. Despite her efforts to control the horse, she did not have sufficient arm strength to stop the frightened animal. The horse galloped ahead, past barber shops, saloons and grocery stores on the West End, through the junction at Maple Avenue, in front of the St. Joseph Deaf Mute Institute, past the Christian Church (under construction), and on to the corner where Daniel Dulany built his palatial home. Finally, she managed to turn the runaway horse as she entered the intersection of South Tenth and Broadway.
The speed and momentum thrust her buggy sideways, however, causing it to overturn. Consequently, Shields was thrown into the air, and she landed in an open stairway leading to the basement of a second hand store operated by Hannibal painter, and English-born John Parker, which was located at 921-23 Broadway — on the southeast corner with Tenth Street.
John M. Patton, who operated a planning mill and sash shop on Lyon, directly across the street from the Shields’ residence, was en route between his home, 1046 Broadway, and his shop. He was the first to arrive at the scene and offer assistance. He helped Shields up from the stairwell, and assisted her to the office of Dr. John A. Primm, a homeopathic physician and surgeon, at 714 Broadway. Unfortunately, Primm was not in his office during the lunch hour, so Patton helped Shields to her home on Lyon Street, where Dr. William A. Gordon, with an office in the Opera House block, was summoned.
The Hannibal Courier of the day reported the astonishment that Shields’ injuries were not fatal.
Quite miraculously, the extent of injuries to Shields was limited to a broken nose and wrist, gashes to her face and ear, and painful and serious bruises. At home to provide extended care were her 19-year-old daughter, Alice, and her 68-year-old mother-in-law, Martha A. Shields. A telegraph was sent to Dr. Shields — a medial doctor by profession — in Jefferson City, to apprise him of his wife’s accident and subsequent injuries.
Mrs. Shields noted family
Shields was of a prominent family in Hannibal — the Leverings. It would be her first cousin, Aaron R. Levering, who would ultimately provide the seed money for construction of the hospital on Market Street named in his honor.
Aaron Levering’s father was Franklin Levering, brother of Shields’ mother, Alice Riggs Levering Alexander, and they were all natives of Baltimore, Md.
Alice and several of her siblings migrated to Missouri and settled in Clark County, Mo., in 1839. From there, some moved on to Hannibal.
Mrs. Alexander was married to George Alexander, M.D., who died prior to 1850. Mrs. Alexander and their daughter, Catherine, were reported as living with the Palmer family of Clark County, Mo., in the 1850 census. Mrs. Palmer (Mercy Ann Levering Palmer) was Mrs. Alexander’s sister. In 1860, the mother and daughter were in Hannibal, living with her brother, Franklin Levering.
Mrs. Alexander’s daughter, Catherine Hanson Alexander, married Dr. D.H Shields in 1877.
Dr. D.H. Shields died at midnight May 15, 1907, at the age of 61. He was the brother to George Shields, a prominent state politician.
Following her husband’s death, Shields went to Salida, Colo., to live with her daughter.
She died there in 1910, and was brought back to Hannibal for burial beside her husband in Riverside Cemetery.
Shields’ daughter, Alice S. Shields, married James C. Howell, a Hannibal druggist, in 1894. Before the turn of the century, Mr. and Mrs. Howell moved to Salida, Colo., where Mr. Howell continued in the drug business. Mrs. Howell died Aug. 4, 1933, and is buried at Fairview Cemetery in Salida.
Mary Lou Montgomery is a writer, speaker and researcher with a specialty in history. She is the former editor of the Courier-Post.