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Was My Grandpa Murdered in the Insane Asylum?

Preview: My Grandpa on my Mother’s side was a successful dairy farmer in the Midwest. When the stock market crash occurred in 1929, he lost all his money that was in the bank. It hit him hard, and he sunk into depression and had to go to a state mental institution. Back in that day, it was termed melancholy and there were ineffective treatments. No medicines had been invented that really worked and there was a social stigma attached. The conditions within a mental institution were notoriously substandard and oppressive. He died when my Mom was 15 in the institution and the death certificate said he died of blunt head trauma. I have often wondered what happened. It’s not something my family talked about. It was like the elephant in the room. This blog will be my account of investigating this incident and his life through discussion with family and authorities. So much time has passed, I wonder whether I will ever find out. I will let you know. It is on my to do list. If I give other blogs priority, it is not meant to diminish the importance of this task. Again, I am asking patience from you. Please check back for further development. Be sure to sign up to follow my blog.


I decided I would ask my relatives what they knew about Grandpa. First I talked to my first cousin, Joyce, whose Mom was the family genealogist. She had an entire 10×12 guestroom filled with binders from research of family history. My cousin said she was curious about Grandpa when she was 10 years old. She said Grandpa was musical, played the piano and liked to sing. I knew he also played the violin and my sister Mary has it in her home. Now I know why my Mom and Great Aunt Addie played the piano, with my Grandpa either teaching them or making them take an interest in playing. I took piano lessons from age 5 until 8th grade, when I became more interested in boys and school activities. Joyce’s Mom, my Aunt Mary Jane, would go with Grandpa to make sure he would get home okay. That tells me he may have had dementia or Alzheimer’s, which my Mom had in her latter years. My Aunt would have been pretty young because Grandpa died when she was only 10. Maybe Mary Jane became a nurse as a result of her caregiving experience. Otherwise, my Aunt didn’t talk about her Dad very much. In fact, I don’t remember my Mom or my other Aunts talking about him. There was a stigma about having a relative in the mental institution, especially in those days.


This morning I decided to talk to my brother, Phil, about him. He remembers he would go to Kansas City every spring and buy two to three rail cars full of steers and unload them at the railroad depot in Springfield. Then the entire herd would be prodded together down Route 125 to their home in Newsmansville. In the fall, he would make the same trip to purchase mules. That was one way Grandpa made an income, other than farming crops and managing a dairy farm.

My brother had not heard a story about Grandpa I told him about. Newsmansville is close to New Salem State Park. Grandpa was fortunate to afford a Model T Ford. The landscape is hilly and he would coast down the hill without putting his foot on the brake. I was thinking it was for fun, but my brother said he was probably trying to save on the brakes being worn. And he didn’t know about the death certificate stating he died of blunt head trauma. He said he may have suffered from an accident on the farm, which caused head injury and possibly cognitive defects. I had always heard he was admitted to the mental institution due to depression. This information only added to the mystery about my Grandpa. I will talk to other relatives to find out more. And the plot thickens.

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