13 July 2016

Inquest into Death of W. Arthur Whittle

William Arthur Whittle was born 12 June 1855 in Macon, Bibb County, Georgia.  He was one of twelve children born to Sarah Powers and Lewis Neale Whittle.  In a late night hour on 3 February 1879, the eighth anniversary of his mother's death, Arthur Whittle ended his own life with an accidental pistol shot.  He was laid to rest in the Central Avenue Division of Rose Hill Cemetery.  Arthur and his brother Abner are memorialized on the same tombstone.  Abner died four years later of consumption.

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The following is a report of the inquest into Arthur's death.  It's a bit long, but nonetheless an interesting read.

Macon Weekly Telegraph (Georgia)
Tuesday, 11 February 1879, pg. 1 [Online at GenealogyBank.]

SUDDEN DEATH OF ARTHUR WHITTLE.

One of the saddest deaths that has occurred in Macon, and one which has created a greater shock on the community than any since the death of Mr. Edgar Collins, was the death of Mr. W. Arthur Whittle.  The city was startled by the announcement, and  a shade of sadness spread over its face.  At ten o'clock on Sunday night Mr. Whittle was at the Lanier House joining in the conversation of quite a coterie of friends.  Soon after he left.

About a quarter of twelve he went home, carefully removing his shoes before entering the house for fear of disturbing the inmates.  His room was on the second floor.  He entered it and almost immediately a pistol shot was heard.

The rest of the melancholly [sic] circumstances can be learned from the evidence of the coroner's jury.

Dr. C. H. Hall, sworn, said I have examined the body of deceased, Mr. W. A. Whittle; I find but one wound upon the body, that caused by a pistol shot, the ball entering the right side of his head just above the right ear, going directly through the cerebrum and lodging just under the scalp of the temple on the left side of his head about one and a half inches above the left ear; I consider the one wound sufficient to produce immediate death.

Mr. A. P. Whittle, sworn, said:  I think at a quarter after twelve last night, the deceased, my brother, Mr. W. A. Whittle, came into this room; I was asleep in the bed on the side nearest the fireplace, and the opening of the door awakened me; I said, "Hello, Arthur, is that you?" he replied, "Yes," in his usual tone of voice; I think then he must have sat down upon the trunk to the left of the fireplace; I think so from the fact that when he got up again I heard the sound of the trunk top as it sprang back into position; there was no light in the room; a very short time after I heard this sound made by the trunk, I heard the crack of a pistol and the fall of the body; just as the pistol fired I was about to address him again, but I don't recollect what about; so soon as I could get a match from the mantelpiece, I lit the gas, rushed up to him and found him dead; as soon as I saw that he was dead I went to arouse my father, down stairs, and other members of the family; when my father came in, after looking at the body, he asked me if I had seen any pistol; I told him no, and began to look for one; I found one on the left side of his body, down near his feet, and one chamber exploded; I recognized it as my pistol, which I kept in the drawer of a dressing case on the corner of the mantelpiece; I had not seen the pistol for several days, having had no occasion to look in the drawer; this pistol had been in his possession several times; in the same drawer I had a pair of kid gloves, which I found in my brother's pocket after his death; I had been absent from the city that day, and my brother had told my sister that he would wear my gloves that day as they were better than his, or some such expression; it was my brother's custom, when he came in after the light in his room had been extinguished, to go to bed without a light; the drawer to which I referred was about as high above the floor as my brother's chin, and his body lies just where it fell directly in front of that drawer, as if he was standing with his head directly at the drawer when the pistol exploded; did not hear any sound such as always accompanies the act of cocking a pistol; if such a noise had been made I would have heard it.  The drawer was nearly filled with papers, and, realizing whenever I went to replace the pistol in it that some danger of exploding existed, I always used great care.  He was always of a cheerful frame of mind, and I have not heard of, nor do I know of anything which would induce me to think that he contemplated taking his own life.  He and I had a positive engagement, at his suggestion, to meet at my office and transact some business this morning.  He removed his shoes before he came into the house, leaving them on the back porch, where they were this morning early; this was a custom with him and a precaution he took to keep from waking the family when he came in late.  I have searched his pockets and have not found any preparation for or consideration of death.

Mr. R. A. Nisbet, sworn, said:  About half past twelve o'clock last night, Mr. A. B. Whittle came to my house, awoke me, and I went with him at once to his home and to the room where we now are.  I saw the body of deceased, Mr. W. A. Whittle, lying as it does now just in front of the dressing case on the mantelpiece.  It now lies as i[t] did then.  The only change in his attire is, that I, with the assistance of Mr. J. P. Fort, placed on his hands a pair of kid gloves which we found in deceased's pockets…[Went on to say he found no suicide note on the deceased.]

Here, at the request of a member of the jury, Mr. Nisbet cocked the pistol and it made two distinct clicks, loud enough to be heard all over the room and to attract the attention of anyone in the room.

Mr. N. M. Hodgkins, sworn, said:  Having had considerable experience in the handling of firearms, having been a dealer in them for fifteen or twenty years, he stated that he could easily see how the discharge of the weapon shown him could have occurred by striking the hammer against the corner of the drawer or otherwise…

After duly considering the foregoing evidence the jury arrived at the following verdict:

Upon considering the testimony, and after a careful examination of the body of deceased, and of the premises, we, the jury of inquest, find that W. A. Whittle came to his death by the accidental discharge of a pistol, which, in the dark, he was attempting to place in the drawer of a dressing case on the end of the mantelpiece in his room, near the height of his head…[Names of jury members listed.]

Mr. Whittle would have been twenty-four years of age in June.  He was born and reared in Macon, graduated at the State University, and has, for the past two years, been farming near Bolingbroke.  He had just removed to the city to commence the study of law in his father's office.  He was well known and very popular with his young friends and companions.  His impulses were those of a thorough gentleman, and in his nature was much of true nobility.

The casket which held the spirit was like it, and a more symetric [sic] physique could hardly be found.  He has died in the very bloom of magnificent manhood, and his young life has gone out "while it was yet morning." His nature was impulsive and his bravery was almost a fault.  With his family, whose hearts are almost crushed under this weight of sorrow, the entire city sympathize.

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