Thursday, May 24, 2018

Harry Thomas - Man of Mystery

The small, plain monument marking his grave in Fernwood Cemetery gives no clue to the life - or death - of Harry Thomas. Born 28 December 1859 and died 30 October 1930 in Henderson, Kentucky.[1] His death certificate gives "heart trouble" as his cause of death, but the circumstances of his death are a bit  unusual.

Let's back up, though, and talk about the circumstances of his life.  Born in Illinois, he was the son of James N. Thomas and Lizzie Johnston.[2]  Harry Thomas had an artificial leg; he had it when he came to Henderson in 1898 from Chicago.  It is said he lost the leg when he fell under a train while working as a railroader. Engaged to be married, he sent his bride-to-be away, saying he didn't want her to be a nurse to him. He remained single the rest of his life. [3]  

Harry Thomas opened a store at 236 N. Main Street in Henderson  and supported himself  buying and selling junk. He lived in the rear of his store and above his store lived the William Christ family, who looked out for Harry.

Harry Thomas was last seen on the streets several days before his death became known. When he had not checked in with the Christ family, they began a search for him. One of the Christ daughters looked out an upstairs window in the rear of the building and saw his artificial leg protruding out the back door into the alley. Friends were called to retrieve his body, but it was too late to save him.

It is supposed he fell and "his head had struck hard upon the floor.  A mass of blood surrounded his head."[4]  The coroner was called to the scene and "in examining the body discovered three diamond rings, several pearl stick pins and money amounting to $36 in his pockets. The valuables were placed in a vault in a local bank."[5]

Harry Thomas was an interesting man.  Periodically, he would embark on a trip to a far-off land.  When he was ready to leave, he would tell Mrs. Christ and give her the keys to his store.   When he ran short of money in his travels, "he would take off his wooden leg, hobble to a corner in whatever city or country he might be and count the coins as they fell into his hat. He would collect enough for another hop, and then again stop to collect more coins."[6] Harry's last trip was after the  world war (World War I), when he went to China, the land that he loved.

There was a bit of mystery surrounding Harry Thomas. He is gone now and he carried to the graves the secrets of his life and his travels.

[1] Kentucky Death Certificate #24739 (1930), Harry Thomas, Henderson County ,
[2] Ibid.
[3] "Cheap John, Junk Dealer de luxe, Takes Secrets to Tomb," Evansville Journal, Mon., 3 November 1930, pp 1, 10.
[4] Ibid.
[5] "Harry Thomas Is Found Dead, Cold Body of Business Man Is Discovered" Henderson Sunday Gleaner and Journal, Sun., 2 November 1930.
[6] "Cheap John, Junk Dealer de luxe, Takes Secrets to Tomb," Evansville Journal.

Published 24 May 2018, Western Kentucky Genealogy Blog,

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