Labor Day prompted me to think about three tragic workplace deaths suffered by family members I’ve researched. Following the Civil War occupations in Virginia transformed radically. Farming declined and people moved to town looking for work. Lacking skills and education, some found work in dangerous occupations without the protections of today’s labor laws.
Members of the extended Crews family moved from Buckingham County to Richmond around 1920. Several of them became window washers and this occupation can be seen on Julian Hague’s census records for 1930 and 1940. Julian married my husband Jesse’s great aunt Myrtle (Myrtie) Crews in 1920. Myrtle’s sister, Martha (Mattie) married William (Willie) Bixler in 1920. Julian Hague worked washing windows and soon Willie Bixler’s younger brother, Reuther, came to town looking for work. Like many he started working at one of Richmond’s many cigarette mills, but later he decided to try window washing.
Reuther married his Buckingham County sweetheart on 23 July 1924. Just one week late Daisy was a widow. The Richmond Times Dispatch reported the following:
“Losing his balance, while washing windows on the second story of the First National Bank Building, R.E. Bixler of 3810 Lawson Street, South Richmond, plunged to his death yesterday afternoon.
Falling less than fifty feet, Bixler struck his head on an iron spike and his skull was crushed. He was dead when the city ambulances reached the scene.
Hundreds of Richmonders, off for their lunch hour, witnessed the tragedy. Several attempted to render assistance, but Bixler died a few minutes after striking the concrete.”
Julian Hague was supervising Reuther that day at the job site. Years later, on 12 May 1942, Hague was washing windows when he fell from the second floor of a building at Sixth and Cary Streets. He suffered a “fractured pelvis, a concussion of the brain and a punctured bladder. Hague lingered in the hospital until July 12 when he succumbed to heart failure and pneumonia as a result of the injuries he sustained in the accident. His two teen-aged sons were left orphans as his wife, Mattie Crews, had died of TB in 1932.
Tomorrow: Another Workplace Death in the Family