I Found it in the Archives! Contest: Winner of 2012 Contest


While doing standard obituary lookups in the Toledo Blade microfilm at the OHS archives, I was getting to the bottom of my list when I came to Maggie Kohne who died May 17, 1897. She had been on my list for some time and I always resisted looking for her because I already knew when she died and other family relationships and I figured her obit – if it existed — would take too long to find and reveal nothing important. Boy was I wrong!

As I had some extra time that day, I sat down to search for Maggie and found the following in the May 17 issue:

Called the Coroner
Mrs. Fred Kohne, of 1749 Superior street, died very suddenly at 11 o’clock this morning of uterine hemorrhage. Neighbors reported the matter to Coroner Henzler, intimating that there was something wrong. The coroner will investigate the cause of death. He said to The Blade that he believed everything was all straight, but would look into the matter further to satisfy the suspicious ones.

My interest now piqued, I checked subsequent Blades (and other Toledo papers at the archives) and was drawn into a major scandal of the day which was covered for weeks by the Toledo media.  What happened is that Fred and Maggie had had seven kids in about 12 years of marriage. When Maggie became pregnant with their eighth, she and Fred agreed to abort the child which, of course, was illegal. Their family doctor, William Gardiner, provided the services they sought and in the process, Maggie developed blood poisoning and died.

The case included an initial investigation by the coroner and police detectives, a graveside autopsy, a sensational Coroner’s Inquest featuring testimony from Fred Kohne, Dr. Gardiner, Kohne neighbors and others. To add more flavor to this soap opera is the fact that Maggie’s father was a captain in the Police Department who refused to tolerate the coroner’s initial foot-dragging in the case.
Dr. Gardiner was indicted. I have not yet discovered the conclusion to the case.

This sad story impacted my research by giving my subjects a very real human face, real emotions and a compelling – if tragic – story. It also provided a tremendous glimpse into the times in which the Kohnes lived. It also shows that one should NEVER assume that a particular bit of research will glean nothing of importance!

Brian Fox

Posted May 9, 2015

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