What would Hattie say?
I’ve mentioned Hattie Potter Chase before if you read my earlier blog post, The Shameful Secret of David Edgar Chase. She was left a widow at age 45 in 1900 when her husband, David, put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger in their upstairs hallway while she was eating breakfast down below.
No one seems to know exactly why.
Oh sure, I’d like to invite David to dinner and ask him that “why” question. Trust me, I would. But I can’t help thinking of Hattie in all of this.
I’d like to have Hattie over for dinner and hope she would open up to me about her life with David. Along with sorrow, I feel certain there was some joy in their life together that maybe she got to never talk about again after he took his life. Suicide can darken even the happiest of memories.
What was it like for her, for example, when David lived in Colorado for over 10 years, away from her and their daughter? Hattie and little Eva were able to keep living in the paternal family home where David’s father and brothers and their families all lived in Haverhill, Massachusetts. But her husband was 2,000 miles away, expanding the Chase family lumber business.
Did she even get along with the other Chase family members? I’d like to ask her that.
How did she feel after she ran upstairs to find her husband? To experience that trauma and shock of what was most definitely a gruesome, bloody scene. And then to see the sensationalized newspapers reports that next day with headlines that shouted, “Fired into his mouth!” and judgement from reporters who wrote simply: “He was undoubtedly insane.”
Maybe in our conversation, Hattie would want a chance to defend David. Or maybe she wouldn’t defend him at all.
I would ask her how Eva, now a grown woman of 18, felt about her father. Was he a stranger to her? She was 6 years old when he left for Colorado. He didn’t return until she was 17. He had missed her entire childhood. Now he was dead.
The newspapers reported that, “He had suffered from nervous trouble all winter, but had been better lately.” He took his life in May. “What was that winter like for you, Hattie,” I would ask her. And for him? And Eva? What was happening in the Chase household during that long winter with David struggling?
In modern day we have labels for things. Depression. Anxiety. Bi-polar. Thankfully, there are now drugs to alleviate and manage these conditions. There is a still a stigma attached to them all, but in 1900 I wonder what it was like for a man to suffer from any of these. I imagine the judgement…even the silent kind…would be a difficult cross to bear for a proud man from such a prominent and well known family like the Chase family of Haverhill were.
I think Hattie would welcome a chance to tell her story in her own words about her life with David. I’m betting it isn’t at all what anyone would assume it was.
Which one of your ancestors would you invite to dinner?