Sunday, July 19, 2015

Tragedy at the Grape Hotel

As young proprietors of the Grape Hotel, my 3x great grandparents, John Michael and Elizabeth Dietrich, were involved in quite a sad story in 1820, as described in the following newspaper story fifty years later.

A MYSTERY CLEARED UPTHE REMAINS OF A SUICIDE DISINTERRED – A BULLET RATTLING IN HIS SKULL – SAD STORY OF HIS DEATH. – While a party of workmen were engaged in the removal of some human remains from the south-east corner of the Presbyterian burying ground of this city, to make room for the erection of a dwelling house for the sexton, a skull was exhumed in the empty cavity of which a bullet was heard to rattle, and on examination a bullet hole was discovered in the right temple. This bullet dropped out of one of the eye holes into the hand of the sexton, and the affair led to suspicions that the persons to whom the remains belonged might have been murdered.

It so happens, however, that we are able to clear up this supposed mystery completely, and to the entire satisfaction of all concerned. The skull found with the bullet rattling in it was not the skull of a murdered man, but that of a suicide. The story of his death is full of interest, and the particulars thereof we gather from the recollections of that most estimable lady, Mrs. E. Michael, proprietress of the Grape Hotel, in the month of Oct., in the year 1820, a gentleman named Torrance Marshall, from Wythe county, Va., came to this city with a drove of cattle. He traveled, as was the general custom in those days, upon horseback, and brought with him a drove of cattle, which he sold at a loss to the farmers of Lancaster Co. He was a fine looking man, about forty years of age. His father and his brother had both been among the victims of that terrible calamity, the burning of the old Richmond Theatre. Sometime after that his wife was thrown from a carriage and killed. These things, together with the loss of money on his cattle, so preyed upon his mind that he determined to put an end to an existence that he had become burthensome to him. He went to the store of John F. Steinman and purchased a pistol. He took the weapon to the gun store of Mr. Gibbs, and had it carefully loaded. Returning to the Grape Hotel, then kept by Mr. John Michael, the husband of the lady from whom we learn the particulars of this sad story, he had some conversation with a fellow-drover and merchant from the same county in Virginia. The name of his friend was Zimmerman. Marshall told him that he could not wait until the time they had set for their departure together for Baltimore, where they were both to lay in a supply of goods, each of them being engaged in the mercantile business in Wythe county Virginia. Zimmerman insisted upon Marshall’s waiting, telling him that he would be able to leave with him on the following day, as some farmers were to come in and pay the last of his money due him on the day when the conversation occurred. Mr. Zimmerman stated that he was about writing home, and advised Marshall to do the same, and lie over with him. To this Mr. Marshall seems to assent, and taking pen, ink and paper with him he started up stairs. Going to his room he found the chamber-maid engaged in cleaning it up, both he and his friend having risen at rather a late hour in the morning. The girl did not leave the room, thinking he might wait until she had finished.

Mr. Marshall went out, entered another close by, and placing the pistol he had purchased and had so carefully loaded to his head, fired. The girl heard a report, but thought he had knocked a chair over; Mr. Michael, who was in the room just below that in which the tragedy occurred, heard a noise and thought the chambermaid had knocked down a looking-glass and broken it. He started up to see about the matter, and discovered Mr. Marshall lying upon the floor, life being extinct and the floor flooded with his blood. He bled very profusely, two large earthen crocks of blood being scooped up. The ball and the entire contents of the pistol, entered his skull, but did not emerge therefrom; this accounts for the presence of the bullet in the skull when it was dug up the other day. – The room where the deed was committed is the back room over the store of Mr. Jacob Loeb, that building being then the Grape hotel. The remains were examined by the Coroner, an inquest was held, and a verdict in accordance with the facts rendered. There being some objection to the burial of a suicide in church yards at that day, the body was interred in the family grave-yard on the farm of Mr. Henry Dietrich, the father of Mrs. Michael. The deceased had some twenty-two or three hundred dollars of money in his possession, which, with his other effects were taken charge of by his companion, Mr. Zimmerman. About a year after his death a Mr. Hounsel, from Wythe county Virginia, came to Lancaster, had the body of Marshall disinterred, and buried in the Presbyterian church yard, where it reposed in quiet until disturbed by the spade of those who were engaged in the removal of the remains from that part of the church yard upon which the sexton’s house is to be erected. The story of Mr. Marshall is a sad one, and few have been called upon to bear up under greater afflictions than those which assailed him. His remains, with those of the others which were removed, have been decently interred in another part of the church-yard, where it is to be hoped they will be suffered to rest undisturbed until the dust to which they are fast tending is quickened by the trump of the great archangel.-Intelligencer.[1]

[1] “A Mystery Cleared Up,” The Columbia Spy, Pennsylvania, 25 June 1870, p. 3; digital image online ( : 19 July 2015).

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