The Body Under The Bridge

Who was the mysterious man found fatally injured under the railroad bridge in North Hartland? In September, 1902, a man believed to be between 50 and 60 years old was found beneath the bridge. The doctor called to the scene believed that he may have lain there for up to 48 hours. He died a few hours after being found.

While it was possible that he was crossing the trestle and was hit by a train, knocking him off the tracks, it was unlikely that the engineer didn’t see him before hitting him. It was speculated that he might have been injured elsewhere and brought to the site by boat from somewhere on the Connecticut River.

The physical description has many clues, which would be helpful in today’s standards of communication – dark complexion, hair and moustache, a missing large toe on the left foot and a tattoo on the back of the left hand, between the thumb and first finger, of a star enclosed in a circle. In 1902 it would have been difficult to spread the information of this untimely death to enough places to get an identification and it is quite possible that his family never knew what became of him.

He had a few papers in one of his pockets which led authorities to believe that he was covering the area for a book, “Leaders” or a similar title. A small notebook was water soaked and almost illegible but the name Joe Kelley or Riley and Essex, Mass., was on one of the leaves.

In the Hartland Town Report one finds that the town paid $20 for a casket for the stranger, $9. to W. A. Brady, for medical attendance, $2 to N. Spafford for digging his grave, $2 to W. H. McGee for taking care of the man, $5 to Dr. E. A. Barrows for medical attendance and Rev. F. Daniels, $2 for funeral services. Cash in the victim’s pockets was $2.51.

It is easy to imagine the frustration of family and friends of this stranger when he didn’t arrive home from his trip as well as the frustration of future genealogists who may try to trace this family.

Members of the Hartland Historical Society have been using internet resources to attempt to put the word out in the Essex, Massachusetts, area about this unknown man who died in North Hartland over 100 years ago. It would be nice to have a final chapter to this mystery.

Reprinted from the Hartland Historical Society Newsletter

(See also the article entitled ‘North Hartland Mystery’)

North Hartland Mystery




“North Hartland

An unknown man, fatally injured, was found, Thursday morning of last week, under the railroad bridge across the river near the station at this place. One knee was broken; the left side of his face was crushed, and there were wounds on his body. He died a few hours after he was found beneath the bridge. The deceased was about five feet eight and a half inches high; dark hair, complexion and moustache; age somewhere between 50 and 60 years. A memorandum book on his person had the name of Joe Kelley or Riley written in it, but the writing was almost illegible from water, and an address, Essex, Mass., was on one of the leaves. A few papers also were found in one of his pockets, which lead to the belief that he was canvassing for a book, “Leaders” or some such title. On the back of his left hand, between the thumb and first finger, a star enclosed in a circle is tatooed. The great toe on the left foot is wanting. It is thought the man must have sustained his injuries many hours if not at least a day or two before he was found. How he lived so long is the surprise of all. The cause of his injuries is but conjectures, as no one has been found to explain how he came, where found. Many believe there was foul play, as it does not seem possible that any one could have been knocked from the bridge by a train without the knowledge of the engineer or fireman. Nor is it probable that a man could have lain for hours, where the unfortunate on was found, without having been seen by someone to render assistance. “

Brief research shown that the Town of Hartland paid for a doctor and an undertaker. No proof has been found, yet, that the man was ever identified. There is no record of him being buried in Hartland so does that mean someone claimed the body? Did he have a family waiting somewhere for him to come home? Did they assume that he’d run away? Was he beaten somewhere else and brought to this site, easily accessible from the Connecticut River by boat?

If the man was identified then did someone know a reason for foul play and was the crime solved? Was he walking along the tracks between Windsor and White River Junction and got caught on the trestle when a train came along? Perhaps there is no mystery at all and the information is out there waiting for someone to research this and tell us the next chapter of the story.

Contact the Hartland Historical Society if you have any information on this so-called mystery.

(See also the article entitled ‘The Body Under the Bridge’)

Town Meeting from The Hartland News, March 15, 1955 issue

There were about 185 voters at Town Meeting. A tax rate of $7. 92 was approved, the town manager system was retained, the Australian ballot lost by one vote, and the meeting adjourned around 4:30!!

The meeting started right off with a bang with the election of Moderator. Ogden having been nominated for the office, turned the meeting over to Town Clerk Rogers. There were no further nominations. Woodruff, however asked for the floor and set out to show that Ogden was a poor man for the job. To prove his point he recited a list of incidents from Ogdens school days, such as the fact that he flunked out of college, only won second prize in a declamation contest, once interviewed Norman Thomas, etc. After 5 minutes of this, Moderator pro tem Rogers, with the support of the Selectmen ruled Woodruff out of order with the comment that his charges were of no consequence; that, if he did not care for a certain candidate, all he had to do was vote against him. This stand was hailed by vociferous cheering and clapping and Woodruff resumed his seat. Ogden was then elected unanimously to serve as Moderator.

The Town Report was accepted with very little discussion. Woodruff criticized the Officers for not including , in full the report of the State Auditors. The Selectmen explained they did not think it worth the expense and that the report was in the Clerks office for anyone to read that might want to. The Town Manager system was discussed next. James asked for an opinion from the Selectmen concerning the system. Ginter replied that there are only three problems in Hartland: Roads, Schools and Taxes; that the School Directors attend to the Schools, the Selectmen have charge of the Taxes and that leaves only the Roads ( and the Poor) for any Town manager to contend with. He stated
that the cost figures in the Hartland News , while not absolutely accurate were basic that the Managers salary comes only partly from the road money. In general he stated that the Selectmen did not recommend the system for Hartland. Woodruff gave a speech in favor of the system. In reply to Mrs Alfonse, Blaisdell presented figures to show that the salaries for the old system during its last full year were:

Road Commissioner        $3,216
Overseer of the Poor        315
Selectman – bookkeeper       25

Town Manager salary for the current year was $3,600 , leaving a difference of only $44. The question was settled by ballot, 110 in favor, 50 against. Later in the meeting, Blaisdell received a unanimous vote of confidence.

Town Meetings are known for providing good entertainment, whether that is the intent or not. As for Mr. Ogden, he was certainly qualified for the job, and served for many years as a State Senator. Like Mr. Ruggles, he was a man of many opinions. We’ll visit him more some other time.

Reprinted from the Hartland Historical Society Newsletter, Spring 2005.

Spring days gone by. What were people doing?

Lyndon Shedd March 5, 1904
16 below at village- rehearsal at Kellys paid music 25 ” [Mr. Shedd ran a singing school at what is now the Flower Farm]

Sebastian Cabot Jenne [Clyde’s great grandfather] April 2,3,and 4 1856
I worked on wood A.M. P.M. I went to the sugar place taped 20 trees. I went to the sugar place. Started a fire. I went to the sugar place with oxen broke carried the tubs around saved a little ware.

Mildred Varney [I do love Mildred!] April 1, 1911
I got up about 7 o’clock. I went down and helped Mrs. Backus [This is Mr. Shedd’s daughter, also a musician] and took my music lesson. Had an extraordinary one. I made some little pies for myself. May Fallon came in. She and I went to the L.A. [Ladies Aid] meeting. I rode home with Nora Plumley [Leon Royce and Ginny Dow’s mother]. She and I went down by Martinsville. There were four members present and Miss Nelson [a Hartland teacher for many years] and Miss Sturtevant [Ruth Flanagan’s aunt] was with us today and Mrs. Rogers . I have been “April Fooling” people and got “April Fooled” myself. I got a postal from Allen Rice and a letter and a postal from Flora Blanchard. I have been in Laura”s. She has been in here. Papa had some fish come this morning [Alfred Varney had a fish route]. I have been over to Mrs. Rich’s this evening. I got a library book, Lavender and Old Lace by Myrtle Reed. It is nice and interesting… Not a very good day, snowed some and cold.

Reprinted from the Hartland Historical Society Newsletter, Spring 2005.

Hartland: June 1877

Two women, each with a young child and a man by the name of Shattuck, ran away from the town farm last week.

An eagle, measuring four feet and three inches from tip to tip of wings, was shot by a man in the employ of Cyrus Ayer, last week. The nest was found, which contained besides three young eagles, two squirrels, two chickens and a young woodchuck.

The Universalist society at the Four Corners seems to be in a flourishing condition. Good audiences greet the new preacher from Sunday to Sunday, and the probabilities are that preaching will be sustained through the year. There are fifty scholars in the Sunday school.

Reprinted from the Hartland Historical Society Newsletter, Spring 2005.