William Bernard Taylor’s Accidental 1900 Death

This is the last in my Labor Day series on the occupational deaths of family members.

It was cloudy and cold in Richmond on Monday, February 19, 1900. William Bernard Taylor (my first cousin 3x removed) was still at work at 5 pm. He worked for a wholesale grocery store, Christian & Winfree, at 15 South 14th Street in the Shockoe Slip area of Richmond. His parents, Joseph and Betty Taylor, had moved to Richmond from Powhatan County around 1883, along with most of William’s many siblings. Like many others after the Civil War, they left the land their families had been farming for over 150 years and moved to Richmond hoping for more economic opportunities. And things did seem to be working out for the family. The girls made successful marriages, and their two sons had good steady jobs.

William may have felt lucky to have his job. The president of his firm, H.L. Denoon, was also a Taylor cousin with ties to Powhatan County. William would be 35 years old in March and had never married. He needed his earnings to help support his widowed mother and planned to move in with her shortly.

Around 5 o’clock that February 19, cousin William got into an elevator at work. screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-6-23-31-pmHe rode to the fourth floor where a terrible tragedy ended his life. The cable carrying the elevator snapped and William plunged four floors to his death. You can read the gruesome details in the accompanying articles below. Christian & Winfree were exonerated, but it appears William’s death prompted Richmond to enact elevator safety regulations. The firm paid for William’s burial and he is among my few relatives buried in Richmond’s famed Hollywood Cemetery. Rest in Peace, cousin William.

I learned the story of William’s untimely death (and even the weather that day) using a totally free website sponsored by the Library of Congress, Chronicling America. Millions of pages of local newspapers are digitized and searchable at Chronicling America. Give it a try with your family members and see what you can learn.

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