Engulfed in Sawdust

William H. Vitt was born in Mount Healthy, Ohio on October 13, 1896 to Katherine Vitt. His short life involves a few mysteries. Katherine, a single mother, was 34 years old at the time of the birth.

Mystery #1: Who is the Father

I haven’t been able to find a birth certificate to check if any name was given for the father. Katherine is listed as single in the 1900 census, which likely means she had never been married. If she had been widowed the census would have listed “W” or “Wd” rather than “S”. It also would have been unusual for a widowed woman to return to her maiden name. His death certificate lists his mother as Catherine Vitt. It’s not uncommon for small name spelling differences like this. The “Name of Father” line is struck through, indicating it was not provided.

Mystery #2: Where did live from 1896-1909

In 1900, Katherine was living with her mother and two siblings on Post Street in Mt. Healthy. William is not listed at the residence on the census. It’s not clear where he was living. I checked at houses of married relatives, thinking maybe he was sent away to hide the unmarried pregnancy but didn’t find him. I’ve never seen a case where someone is left off a census. It’s possible he was briefly sent to an orphanage.

Not a Mystery: How did he die?

By 1910, William and Kate were living together in a home with Kate’s sister, Genovefa and three niblets*. The niblets were the children of Rosa Vitt, sister to Katherine and Genovefa, and Emil Bonapfel. Rosa died in 1902 and the children were sent to live with relatives. Both Catherine and Genovefa worked as Seamstresses in a clothing factory.

The U.S. City Directory for Cincinnati 1915 tells us that William was working as a laborer and was still living with his mother and aunt. We know from the Cincinnati Enquirer article detailing his death that he died while working at Farrin Lumber Company. His job was as a laborer and mill hand. On October 27, 1916, William was working at the top of a container, lost his footing, and fell. According to the Enquirer:

“He was engulfed in sawdust and shavings and died of suffocation before he could be extricated”.

William died two weeks after his twentieth birthday. The cause of death is listed as “Suffocated in saw-dust bin.” And then below that “Accident”.

William is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery next to his mother. Katherine, who went by Kate according to her obituary, died of natural causes in 1934. She was 70 and outlived her son by almost 20 years.

*plural of nephews and nieces put together

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