When one finds a death certificate with a death date as recent as 1915 one would think finding an obituary in a city with several contemporary newspapers would be easy. Had it been death from an illness or old age, it might have been easy. But this was an accidental death by fire. Still, one would think there would be an obituary that would recount dates of birth, marriage, death; give the names of wife, children, parents; and, hopefully, name the best qualities of the deceased. But not so for Henry Kropp. But to be honest, by the time I found the last article, the one at the end of this post, I had no desire to search further. Below is Henry's death certificate and four news articles.
Henry's death certificate gives the following information. (As always, you can click on any image to enlarge it.)
Marital status: Married
Date of Birth: December 24, 1869
Father: Carl Kropp, born Germany
Mother: Sophia "Don't Know", born Germany
Informant: Mrs. H. Kropp, Steubenville, Ohio
Date of Death: December 20, 1915
Cause of Death: "He came to his death from burns. Accidental."
Signed: William G. Herb, [Jefferson County] Cor[oner]
With microfilm roll numbers in hand I headed to the Ohio State Archives at the Ohio History Center to search for an obituary in several contemporary Steubenville, Ohio, newspapers. Below are the articles I found in the order I found them -- which is not chronological to the events.
First I searched The Steubenville Weekly Herald beginning December 20, 1915. It wasn't until I reached page 8 of the January 27, 1916, issue that I found Henry's name in a tiny article, "Coroner's Inquests."
Coroner Herb has rendered the following verdicts of recent deaths: Henry Kropp met death Dec. 20, 1915 from burns sustained in a fire....
On page 10 of the same issue I found another article about Henry.
IN RUINS OF FIRE CLAIMED
Mrs. Henry Kropp, Believing Them
to be Her Husband's Remains,
Gives them Interment.
Mrs. Henry Kropp, of West Mar-
ket street, has at last come to the
decision that the box full of charred
bones which were found in the ruins
of the fire that destroyed the Wig-
gington storage house are the remains
of her husband, who has been miss-
ing for the past two months, and to-
day claimed them as such. The
bones, which have been held at Met-
tenberger's morgue by Coroner Herb,
were turned over to the widow and
she had them buried in the family lot
in the Union cemetery this afternoon.
Mrs. Kropp's action in finally ac-
cepting the remains as those of her
husband clears up as far as the au-
thorities are concerned one of the
most perplexing mysteries in the
history of the city. The authorities
have been convinced for some time
that Kropp was the man who per-
ished in the big fire on the Wigging-
ton place and produced conclusive
evidence to his widow who however
was loath to believe that her husband
was dead and wished to wait for
further developments before claim-
ing the remains. Her failure to hear
anything from the missing man cou-
pled with the evidence gathered by
the Coroner, finally convinced her.
I searched that newspaper further but did not find an obituary. I next moved to the Steubenville Weekly Gazette. Speeding through the microfilm roll, by happenstance I stopped on Thursday, December 16, 1915, and found the following article on page 3.
HOUSE IS BADLY
DAMAGED BY FIRE
Fire of unknown origin Friday
night damaged the home of Henry
Kropp, located on the West Market
street road, just beyond the city lim-
its, to the extent of $2,000. The
members of the family had no diffi-
culty in getting to safety, but the
greater part of the household goods
Investigation by the Steubenville
fire department, which was called to
the scene, indicates that the blaze
started from the outside and may
have been of incendiary origin. The
house is constructed partly of brick
and partly of frame. The blaze start-
ed in the rear, which was built of
wood. The fire spread rapidly and
the house was a mass of flames when
the fire department arrived on the
scene. That the house was not com-
pletely destroyed was due to the good
work of the department.
The last article I found was on page 5 of the Thursday, December 30, 1915, issue of Steubenville Weekly Gazette.
CHARRED BODY OF MAN FOUND
IN FIRE RUINS; IS NOT KNOWN
The badly charred body of a man
supposed to be that of Henry Kropp,
the well known West Market street
gardner [sic], was found in the debris of
the fire-gutted ice house and slaught-
er house on the Wigginton farm
shortly after noon Monday by Edward
Wigginton, who was engaged in
cleaning up the place after the recent
fire. The authorities were led to be-
lieve that the body is that of Kropp
by the finding of cuff buttons and a
watch identified as those belonging
The mystery of the burning of the
Kropp home two weeks ago, and one
week later the Wigginton slaughter
house has been puzzling the authori-
ties. The Kropp home is said to
have been set on fire from the out-
side. It was destroyed. Kropp, who
had been abusing his family, was
thought to have committed the crime.
He disappeared after the fire, but was
seen later several times in the vicin-
ity. The Wigginton family, it is said,
cared for his family after the home
was destroyed, and it is also said that
Kropp had words with the Wiggin-
tons over the matter, and Kropp
again disappeared. On Dec. 17, the
Wigginton slaughter house and ice
house was almost totally destroyed by
fire. A man was seen running from
the fire that night, but the authorities
have been unable to make any head-
way in that direction.
Wigginton, upon finding the body,
at once notified the county authori-
ties, who notified Coroner Herb, and
an investigation was started at once.
While no statement was made offi-
cially, it is said that the body is that
of Kropp. Kropp, it is said, worked
for the Wiggintons.
Mrs. Kropp, when called in an at-
tempt to identify the watch, ring
and cuff buttons, stated that while
Kropp had the above articles, she
could not identify them because of
ttheir [sic] badly burned condition. The
authorities in investigating the af-
fair could find only a few bones scat-
tered about. It is said that the bones
scattered when the loft in which the
man is thought to have been hiding
A man who knows Kropp, said
Monday afternoon that he saw Kropp
Monday morning in this city.
Thoughts, Comments, Observations
I love family history research but a little less so when I find a gruesome story like this.
Finding news articles out of sequence and with somewhat conflicting information make it challenging to put the story together coherently, especially when each article presents only small parts of the whole story. Whenever I find a newspaper article I always wonder how much of it is true and how much is hearsay, opinion, rumor, and/or gossip.
Brief chronology of events based on information in news articles
- Friday, December 10: The Kropp home was damaged by fire. The house was not completely destroyed but there was $2000.00's worth of damage. The fire may have been set with the intention of damage.
- Friday, December 17: Wigginton slaughter house and ice house were burned.
- Monday, December 27: Wigginton found body of man while cleaning up after fire in slaughter house and ice house.
- Thursday, January 27: Coroner ruled Henry Kropp died Monday, December 20, from burns. (Date of ruling not noted.)
- Thursday, January 27: Mrs. Kropp had bones of her husband buried at Union Cemetery.
There are more details in the articles and possibly more articles to be found but I don't feel the need to spend more time discovering and organizing those details. Henry Kropp is a possible collateral relative and I doubt that further research will produce the information I originally hoped to find in his obituary: his mother's maiden surname.
A house fire is one of those catastrophes one hopes never to experience. It's sad the fire happened at all but worse that it occurred just before Christmas, leaving Katherine/Katie (Spahn) Kropp a widow so suddenly (and with uncertainty during the first days and weeks) and in such a horrific way. Even sadder is the possibility that her husband set the fire. I do not know if there were children in the family.
This is the end of my research on Henry W. Kropp (unless I feel a strong tug to find more about his wife and children).
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