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Death was no stranger back then

POSTED: June 12, 2013 6:24 p.m.
 

This is the second of a three-part series on the discoveries made after a visit to Charlie Tinker’s grave.

 

Upon discovering Charles Almerin Tinker’s leaf-strewn grave in Green-Wood cemetery in Brooklyn, N.Y., we — one of us more than the other — began to study the names and dates engraved on the towering monument.

Three of his children, all born after the Civil War ended, were named in honor of men that Charlie had apparently held in great esteem — Lincoln, Stanton (Secretary of War, Charlie’s immediate boss) and Grant. That answered a question I had been pondering for some time. My father-in-law carries the family name of Grant.

“Aha!” I exclaimed. “Your father’s name does come from General Grant! I thought it might.” I stopped and smiled. “I still love him, though,” I said matter-of-factly. “It does not sway my adoration of him.”

In an ironic twist of history, I quickly noted that my father-in-law is the link that unites the Civil War general with one of television’s most iconic characters — Lou Grant. My father-in-law was named after Gen. Grant while Mr. Grant was named after my father-in-law. It should be a Jeopardy question. The things you can learn in a graveyard.

 I studied the names of the seven people buried in that plot. Charlie outlived two wives and four children with only Tink’s great-grandfather, Arthur Lincoln, living longer than Charlie. Two sons and one daughter had not lived to age 3. I cannot think of anything much sadder than outliving all those you love, not just for the pain it engraves on your heart but also for the suffocating loneliness it must impart.

“What a sad life,” I commented. “Look. One of his children, Stanton, died on Charlie’s birthday, Jan. 8. How terrible.”

When we returned home, we brought out the diaries and began to read, beginning on Jan. 5, 1875.

“Little Stanton taken with diarrhea and vomiting. Called Dr. Clark. Says he has cholera infantum. Grant ailing also but not serious.”

Charlie, usually one to chronicle his days precisely, continued to record nightly but his words were brief. Heavy-hearted, he feared his baby was dying. He was a praying man. We know that about Charlie Tinker so, without question, he prayed. But he was also pragmatic and I suspect that his faith, though diligently practiced, could not outweigh a doctor’s knowledge.

On Jan. 6, Charlie wrote, “Stanton continued about the same, up and down all day and very fretful but eats a little and tries to play.”

I wonder if there was hope on that day for a child who could eat a bit and play. If so, he never revealed it and quietly held the hope.

The child grew sicker.

Mama would say from time to time, “I’m so sick that I’d have to get better to die” for it’s true, death often follows a rally. 

“Stanton worse. Remained in bed all day. Called in doctor again this evening and watched with him through the night. Very restless till 11 a.m. Quieted down.”

There was no celebration on Jan. 8. “My 37th birthday but spent in sadness — a weary watch over our little darling whose disease changed for the worst around 11 a.m. and he continued to fail, passing away quietly at 8:30 p.m.”

My heart sniffled. I’m surprised that Charlie wrote the next day, but he was a man who wanted his history recorded.

“Very cold. Spent the day preparing for the funeral set for 2 p.m. tomorrow at the house. Many friends called to express sympathy.”

Jan. 10: “Clear and very cold. A day of sadness. We laid the remains of little Stanton away in the vault at the cemetery to await our final selection of a resting place. Funeral largely attended. Rev. Johnson officiated.”

He was no stranger to death. Ten years earlier, Charlie watched an execution that would haunt him until his final days.

To be continued…

 

 

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