Tragic Accidents

(Note: I’ve missed a few weeks in the series. The prompt for the first week in April was “The Maiden Aunt,” but I wrote about my only maiden aunt in week four. For the last two weeks, “Storms” and “Taxes,” I didn’t have anyone who fit into these prompts individually. However, combined with this week’s prompt, “Cemetery,” two candidates presented themselves.)

Arnold and Milton

Two of my uncles, each a brother of my paternal grandparents, died tragically at a young age. Those deaths sent these young men to an early grave, and created taxing times and emotional storms for their survivors. My grandparents named their second son after them: Milton Arnold Rohleder.

Arnold H. Primm

The eighth child of James Alexander Primm (1856-1934) and Martha Ann Virginia Deaton (1860-1932), Arnold was born 4 August 1898 in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. At eighteen years younger than his eldest sibling, Arnold became the baby of the family at age three when his younger brother died.

Children of Jim and Virginia Deaton:

  • Margaret Jane Primm (1880-1969)
  • Joseph Parks Primm (1882-1945)
  • Ada Estelle Primm (1884-1965)
  • Arthur Leroy Primm (1886-1970)
  • William Frederick Primm (1889-1935)
  • Oliver E. Primm (1893-1894)
  • Myrtle Odessa Primm, my paternal grandmother (1897-1959)
  • Arnold H. Primm (1898-1915)
  • Ralph W. Primm (1899-1901)

Arnold Primm is second from the left on the first row. His brother Arthur is at the top right. (Click on the picture for a larger view.)

Not much is known about Arnold’s early life. The family lived on West Montgomery Street in the Seversville neighborhood of Charlotte, and also had a farm outside of town. There were lots of children in the neighborhood and Arnold was well-liked. He worked for a time, along with his brother Arthur, at Mecklenburg Iron Works. (The Federal Child Labor Law passed on 1 September 1916, a year after Arnold died.) It’s unclear whether he had completed school, dropped out, or just worked part-time when not in school.

A few weeks after his 17th birthday, a group of boys from the neighborhood wanted to go camping on the Catawba River, located at the western boundary of Mecklenburg County. Arnold’s parents didn’t want him to go, but Arnold’s persistence won out, and he headed out with his friends and two chaperones on 30 August, a Monday. The next day, tragedy struck. An article in the Charlotte Observer, dated 1 September 1915, describes the event:

The accident occurred between 12 and 1 o’clock yesterday on the banks of the Catawba River where the party of young men from Seversville were in camp. According to the best information procurable yesterday, young [Jack] Gregory was engaged in target practice and was in his tent, which opened out facing the river. He had his rifle, a 32-caliber, resting on the tent pole and was in the act of firing just as Arnold Primm came running across the sand in direct range of the bullet. The young man was out of view until he appeared around the tent and the sand was such that his steps could not be heard. The bullet entered his eye and lodged in the brain and death followed in about 15 minutes.

The funeral was held at the family’s home the day after the accident; Arnold is buried in Trinity United Methodist Church Cemetery in Charlotte. Arnold’s father almost lost his mind the grief was so deep. The rest of the family continued with their lives, keeping their feelings and stories to themselves.

Milton Earl Rohleder

Milton Rohleder as a toddler.

The second child and eldest son of Andrew Hamilton Rohleder, Sr. (1870-1950) and Lillian Cordelia “Lillie” Ford (1873-1941), Milton was born 5 Apr 1894 in Richmond, Virginia.

Children of A. H. and Lillie Rohleder:

  • Susie Dallas Rohleder (1892-1976)
  • Milton Earl Rohleder (1894-1917)
  • Eugene Carlyle Rohleder (1896-1981)
  • Grace Mae Rohleder (1898-1934)
  • Andrew Hamilton Rohleder, Jr., my grandfather (1900-1974)
  • Frank Elwood Rohleder (1902-1967)

Milton attended Highland Springs School in Richmond, where he was an honor student in 1904. Some family information indicates he also attended St. Mary’s Catholic School in Richmond. When he was 18 years old, the family moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, after his father was transferred there (he was a clerk for the railroad). They settled in a house on Sumter Avenue (about three blocks from the James Primm family), and by 1913, Milton had a job as a stenographer in the law building in Charlotte. This was a time when prospective lawyers would “read law” with a licensed lawyer rather than go to law school. A person could then take the bar exam and practice law. Also, schools offered a Bachelor of Laws degree, which prepared a person for taking the bar exam and ultimately practicing law. Milton’s Uncle Dick was a lawyer, so maybe he got the bug from him. Whatever the inspiration, Milton enrolled in Belmont Abbey College near Charlotte and began his studies. In 1914 he transferred to the law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1915, at the tender age of 21, Milton passed the bar exam and was licensed to practice law in North Carolina, though some family stories say he was too young to practice. He stayed in school as a special student for the following academic year.

In June of 1917, Milton and his brother Carlyle went together to the local selection board and registered. Milton stated he was of medium height and build, with light hair and black eyes, which were defective. Must have been from reading all those law books! Before heading back to Chapel Hill for another year of law school, Milton and his brothers decided to join some friends at the Catawba River (yes, the same Catawba River where Arnold died) for some fun and swimming on a hot August Sunday. But again, tragedy struck. The Richmond Times-Dispatch of 13 August 1917 describes the incident:

According to information from Charlotte, Mr. Rohleder was drowned in the Catawba River while bathing with three brothers and several friends. He became exhausted while swimming and was unable to reach the river bank, thirty feet away. A brother went to his assistance and carried him nearly to the bank, when he, too, became exhausted, and the young lawyer sank in twelve feet of water. His body was recovered two hours later, but all efforts to resuscitate him failed, although the pulmotor was used. [A pulmotor used heavy tanks of oxygen to power a device that forced air into the patient’s lungs.]

Milton died on 12 August 1917 in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, at the age of 23. He’s buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Charlotte.

A. H. and Lillie’s marriage didn’t survive this tragedy, though it took about 15 years for it to legally end. Carlyle joined the Navy and served aboard a ship during the end of World War I. He thought the sun rose out of the top of Milton’s head. Frank later warned his children to fear the water. And, of course, Andrew named his son after Milton. I don’t know which brother tried to carry Milton to shore, but I expect it may have been Carlyle. Milton was a rising star in the eyes of his family, and the ramifications of his death were deep-seeded if not outwardly visible.

This entry was posted in 52Ancestors, Deaton, Ford, Primm, Rohleder. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Tragic Accidents

  1. Pingback: My Immigrant Ancestor | Leafy Vines

  2. Pingback: The Black Sheep | Leafy Vines

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