A note beside Ossie Caler’s name on the 1913 records at Mt. Olivet Cemetery serves to raise more questions than it answers.
A note beside Ossie Caler’s name on the 1913 records at Mt. Olivet Cemetery serves to raise more questions than it answers:
Cause of death: “Folding bed accident.”
That’s a curious plight for a 53-year-old woman, the wife of a well-known Hannibal businessman, the mother of two sons, and the daughter of a Marion County man and woman who settled in Hannibal in the early 1850s.
Ossie (Oselia Mead) Caler was among the youngest of John A. and Deborah Mead’s nine children, her birth coming circa 1868, after the family had moved from Pennsylvania and resettled in Marion County.
In 1880, when Ossie was 12, her father was operating a produce and grocery store at the corner of Market and Lindell Ave., in Hannibal, and resided on the north side on Turn Street, west of London Road.
Ossie married Charles H. Caler in 1887 and they made their home in Hannibal. For most of his career he supported his family by working as an expressman, in the early days operating a team-driven express wagon.
An untimely death
Ossie and her husband had retired for the night on Friday, Nov. 6, 1903, when a castor under their folding bed gave way. The Palmyra Spectator, on Nov. 11, 1903, reported that the top half of their bed — which converted into a dresser — was very heavy, and when the castor broke, the jolt caused the headboard to fall on top of the sleeping pair.
“Mr. Caler tried to extricate himself, but found it impossible, and began calling for help. The children, who were sleeping in an upper story, awakened and heard the muffled cries and went to their assistance.
“Roy Caler, the eldest son, tried to lift the heavy top, but could not, and called the assistance of his grandmother, who was sleeping in an upper story. She came down and the two lifted up the corner of the bed and let Mr. Caler out, and he lifted the bed and found Mrs. Caler in a critical condition.
“Drs. Goodier and Baskett were summoned and upon examination found the lady’s neck to be dislocated and fractured. The pressure on the spinal cord had caused a total paralysis of the body but the speech remains. The attending physicians give but faint hope of her recovery.”
She died on Nov. 16, 1903, after lingering for ten days, and was buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery.
At the time of their mother’s death, Roy Thomas Caler was 13, and his brother Carl O. Caler was 7. In 1911, Carl O. Caler was working as a clerk for his father, and four years later, he worked as a clerk for the MK&T Railroad. In 1918, Roy T. Caler was living in Piedmont, Calif., was married, and worked as an accountant.
By 1909, Charles H. Caler was married to Maude E. Thompson, 20 years his junior, daughter of Mary Pratt and Clark Thompson of Palmyra. The Calers would live in the house at 306 Chestnut (where Ossie died) until circa 1919, when they moved their residence to 310 N. Third Street, and Mr. Caler’s transport business to the adjoining property at 319 N. Main Street. (In 2017 the properties are owned by Richard and Patricia Garey. The old stone barn that Mr. Caler used for his transport business was built in 1849, is the current site of the Planters Barn theater and Mississippi River Gallery, fine art and framing. The Third Street property is the Parrott House Guest Cottage.)
The Quincy Daily Journal of March 15, 1904, named Charles as a member of a quartet at the Congregational Church in Hannibal. Members were: James Piper, first tenor; O.M. Steers, second tenor; Willard K. Gibbs, baritone; and Charles Caler, basso. What was unique about the singers is that together, they tipped the scales at 1,000 pounds. “They make heavy music, too,” the newspaper reported.
Charles Caler was working at John J. Crukshank Jr.’s lumber yard in Hannibal in 1888. Thomas Biddle was a teamster for Cruikshank, working with Caler, who was standing atop a 15-foot tall pile of lumber. A cross piece fell from the pile, striking Biddle, 22, in the head. Dr. Yancey was summoned, and determined that Biddle’s fate was set. The young man was loaded upon a sofa in a spring wagon, and died just before he arrived at his father’s home, located on Palmyra Avenue near the Baptist Cemetery.
“Mr. Caler was in no wise to blame,” according to a report in the Oct. 18, 1833 edition of the Quincy Whig, “as the cross piece on the lumber piles frequently fall while the wagons are being loaded, and as he was not within sight of Biddle, he had no means of knowing that Biddle was in danger.”
The Marion County Herald reported on an accident that took place in January 1917. Five Hannibal men, including Charles Caler, escaped serious injury in the accident, which occurred by the Ray residence on the Hannibal road.
“It is reported the car was going so fast that one of the men asked them to stop and let him out, saying he would rather walk to Hannibal, but they laughed at him. The place where the accident occurred is a perfectly safe piece of road.”
Caler was joined in the automobile by Tom Lamey, Clyde Foster, Jack Lower and Jim Mackey.
During the early 1920s, Charles and Maud Caler moved to Palmyra, where her sister lived. Charles operated a poultry and cream station for a few months, then closed the business and undertook a new venture.
He purchased a 16-seat orange bus, with the intention of driving Palmyra men to and from work in Hannibal each week day. The bed of the bus was made in Hannibal. Caler told the Marion County Herald that he estimated that there were 125 people who lived in Palmyra and worked in Hannibal.
The business launched successfully, but he wasn’t able to enjoy the fruits of his labor for long.
His wife was granted a divorce in May 1924, and soon thereafter married Bennett F. Hargrove. In September 1925, Charles Caler underwent two unsuccessful surgeries for kidney trouble.
He died in October 1925.
Mary Lou Montgomery is a writer, speaker and researcher with a specialty in history. She is the former editor of the Courier-Post.