When I think about my genealogy subjects — my dead people — I like to amuse myself by picturing a waiting room. By that I mean an actual modern waiting room, full of non-modern people.
Genealogy sometimes feels like quicksand.
Instead of writing a blog post this weekend, I spent far too much time listening to Adele and creating a photo album for a past vacation. I knew perfectly well that I was stalling. I was operating in the nostalgia I could handle, rather than the uncomfortable one that actually needed my attention.
Anastasis: Noun, from Greek. 1. A recovery from a debilitating condition. 2. Rebirth. 3. Resurrection.
I wish I could tell you that Cora Stallman’s inquest led to a dramatic court case, full of more characters, searing accusations, and great and deep revelations about the people around her.
I don’t have a good ending to recount because, frankly, there wasn’t one. That’s not what Cora got in the end.
Aug. 31, 1925. Humboldt, IL.
“…[I]t further developed that neither Mrs. Anna Seaman nor Tom Seaman, her husband, knew of the many secret things of Miss Stallman’s life.” — Mattoon Daily Journal-Gazette, Sept. 1, 1925
Late in the last hot afternoon of August 1925, Thomas Seaman stood up from the witness chair and signaled the end of testimony in Cora Stallman’s inquest. Thomas had provided his contradictory, flawed account. His wife Anna, Cora’s sister, had revealed as little as possible. Neighbors and friends told their own stories about the ex-teacher who amused their children and gave gifts unasked. This version of Cora, true and untrue, had all been committed to paper. And now it was done.
A crowd of 300 people waited anxiously for the verdict, peeking in the town hall windows and adjusting their chairs impatiently. But before Coroner Frank Schilling could hand the case to the inquest jury, he had one last matter to discuss.
I have had a long time to think about Cora Stallman.
Over years, whether during the periods of all-consuming research, or the lapses when I put her away, I’ve been turning this case over in my head. I’ve asked myself every what-if imaginable — even the unimaginable ones. I’ve considered the people, the town, and the fields that stretched around them.
Mostly, I’ve treated this story like a kaleidoscope, twisting it this way and that, watching all its many elements fall into new patterns and form new theories.
All of this is a long-winded way to say: Despite everything I know, I’m still unsure how Cora died.
I don’t think Thomas Seaman killed her. I think it was an accident…for reasons we will unpack down the road.