Death In the Family

When Arizona White’s father George L. White died at Scandia in 1906, the announcement of his death published in local papers reads very much like a modern-day obituary.  Even the cause of death seems modern.  

The papers refer to him as “Captain” White, perhaps a mere honorific, though it may been justly earned.  During the Civil War, George White was an Ohio volunteer in the 185th Regiment of Infantry, entering the service as a first lieutenant in February 1865, and mustered out with the same rank that September.  However, if he had been breveted a captain at some point, the temporary title could have stuck with him, as it did with George A. Custer, who ended his career as a Lt. Colonel but was forever “The General” to his wife and his devoted troopers.   

During its brief moment in the limelight George White’s regiment engaged in a single skirmish, fought in Kentucky, where it routinely served garrison duty.  Despite leaving a humdrum service record, during a mere seven months in the field the regiment managed to lose 35 men, all felled by disease, a reminder that a Civil War soldier’s greatest threat was not enemy fire.  If the size of the 185th was typical for the era, it was being whittled away by disease at a rate of 6% of unit strength per year.  George White survived the perils of war and the threat of the 19th century’s twin killers, typhoid and cholera, living long enough to fall prey to a scourge from our own time - heart disease.  The mention of this news in a headline should have served as a warning to his son Arizona, to take better care of himself.  Of course, in 1906, no one knew the regimen of diet and exercise such advice could  entail.  If local papers seemed to feel that George White’s life had been cut short at 73, Arizona’s was practically nipped in the bud at 63.

Arizona White passed away in August 1924, only three months before mourners assembled for a group photograph on the lawn of the Stofer residence, as they prepared to bury Arizona’s father-in-law and travelling companion, Jacob G. Stofer.  Thus, while most of the others in the photo might have had to get their mourning weeds out of mothballs, White’s widow Mary Belle would have been wearing hers already when her father died suddenly from an attack of gallstones.  He was said to be a remarkably robust 81, and his death, even at that advanced age, took many by surprise.  

Emma Inset

This sort of double death-knell would strike the family again six years later, when Nancy Stofer’s ebbing health gave out in February of 1930.  Theodore Granstedt made the trip from Mountain View, California, to Scandia, Kansas, to pay final respects to his mother-in-law, though still hobbled by injuries suffered in the wreck of the steamer San Juan in August.  The catastrophe also claimed his wife Emma Granstedt (the Stofers’ daughter) and three members of the Olson family, friends of the Granstedts who had moved with them to Mountain View from Scandia ten years earlier.

The Granstedts and Olsons may have been only weeks away from walking up the gangway of the San Juan together when Emma Granstedt posed for a snapshot in her garden, seated between Mrs. Olson and another neighbor.  Since standing among her siblings after the death of her father in 1924, Emma has slimmed down and has gotten her hair styled.

After seeing a minuscule icon of the photo (shown full scale at bottom left), which had survived on the Internet from a blog about the San Juan, I had some doubts that I could be looking at the same woman last seen garbed in white among black-clad family members on the Stofer lawn in Scandia (see “Standing Out From the Crowd”).  

This is the third photo of Emma we’ve seen lately from various stages of her life.  Strangely, the first two were connected with a recent death in the family.  It’s also hard to look at this one without thinking that two of the three ladies pictured will soon drown at sea when their ship is rammed by a tanker.

It appears that the chief reason for going to the bother of having a portrait made in bygone days was a family reunion, and what is a funeral if not an unexpected but mandatory family reunion?  In the group picture taken around the time Ben and Mary Stofer lost one of their infants (see “Grief Encounter”), Emma is a poised young woman with a broad, appealing face.  Standing rather self-consciously with her mother and siblings after her father’s funeral, she’s a slightly stocky housewife and mother of four.  In the picture above, surely one of the last taken of her, she seems ready to slip gracefully into middle age, relaxing in her garden with neighbors and looking forward to reconciling with her headstrong daughter Irene, soon to be known to the world as a screen actress named “Greta.”

Photo courtesy Patrick Moore

© Dale Switzer 2023