On Sunday, the 14th of April, our house was the scene of the most terrible calamity that has ever befallen our family. Miss Hattie M. Beebe, eldest daughter of G. J. Beebe, and grand-daughter of the Editor of this paper, came to her death by a pistol shot by her own hands, at about five o’clock in the afternoon. She was aged 22 years and 4 months.
The circumstances relating to and resulting in this appalling calamity, so far as known to us, are briefly these: she had been laboring under a mental malady, producing frequent and excessive alternations of extreme hilarity and gloomy depression of mind, more or less marked at times for several years past, with intervals of apparent composure, at which no one unacquainted with her would suspect her of insanity.
In childhood she was uncommonly intelligent and promising, and her talents were cultivated by the most careful parental attention, at the best educational institutions in the country. Her progress and improvement was all that could be desired. After several years attendance at the excellent school of Mrs. Houston, in this village, and at our village Academy, she was sent to the celebrated institutions at Pittsfield, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. No pains nor expense were spared by her father, in furnishing the means for a thorough education.
At the outbreak of war in 1861, she was brought home from Washington in the midst of a session of her school, but one day before the interruption of traveling communication by a riot at Baltimore. While at the latter place, her mental malady began to assume an unmistakable form, so much so as to elicit remark. During the year following, while at home, its development continued until in the spring of 1862, by advice of eminent physicians, she was taken to the Bloomingdale Asylum for treatment. While there, which was about six months, her improvement was not such as had been hoped for. At her own wish, her father removed her from Bloomingdale, N.Y., to the Asylum at Brattleboro, Vt., where she remained nearly a year, when it was thought she had so much improved that she could be safely discharged. She was then taken home in the fall of 1863, where she remained until the following Christmas, when she was taken to visit her aunt at Cannel, N.Y, and subsequently arrangements were made for her to remain and board there. She continued there until the following September, when she went to visit another relative at Norwick, Conn., and was boarded there by her father until she left there of her own accord, with a view of endeavoring to support herself. Having engaged with some young ladies of her acquaintance in some employment in Newark, N.J. a few weeks, her mind again yielding to mental depression, she left Newark and came to our house, where she received a cordial welcome to make her home as long as she pleased. During that time she has been alternately subject to extravagant hilarity and most gloomy depression of mind, with lucid intervals of cheerfulness and seeming sanity. Her spells of depression sometimes came on suddenly, and at other times more gradually; but in all of them she invariably sought seclusion, especially when there was any company visiting the house. Even her most cherished friends were avoided by her at such times, and it annoyed her to be urged to greater cheerfulness or sociability. Her temperament was naturally gentle and agreeable, and when relieved from her unbalanced state of mind, she seemed remarkably intelligent, chaste, and refined in her manners and deportment. Outbreaks of severe ravings were not frequent, but sometimes clearly demonstrative of serious alienation of reason. Such marked developments were carefully concealed as far as possible from the observation of all except those of our household, in the hope she might ultimately overcome them, and to prevent any from alluding to them in her calmer moments, which to one of her sensitiveness was very annoying.
At about the first of March last, she made a visit to our daughter, Mrs. F. C. Tuthill, in New York City, for whom she entertained a great partiality, and as Mrs. Beebe was going to visit our son, Elder William L. Beebe, in Georgia for a few weeks, arrangements were made for her to remain with her aunt during the absence of her grand-mother. During her stay in the city she continued as usual, and on Mrs. Beebe’s return from Georgia, she called for her, and brought her home with her. They both arrived here on Friday evening, April 12. She was on her arrival apparently somewhat depressed in her mind. On Saturday, the 13th, her appearance was very sad, yet very gentle and affectionate. We observed an unusual melancholy expression in her countenance as she came to her meals, and we spake of it to the family after she had retired to her room; but we observed no other mark of unusual agitation than that sad expression; her eyes looked as though she had been weeping. We all tried to cheer her, but as she often told us, she could not control or prevent those blues, as she called them. On Sunday morning, and at dinner at noon, which was the last time we saw her alive, she seemed much improved in her appearance, inspiring the hope that her depression was abating. She had frequently said to her aunt that she did not fear death as she had formerly. And on the fly-leaf of her Bible, which she had with her on the fatal day, was found written in her handwriting, “God forgive me; I am sorely tempted.” While ourself and some of the family were at meeting in the Hall, our daughter, Mrs. Carmichael, who had remained at home, went into the room where Hattie was sitting on a chair and reclining on the bed, and urged her to come into the diving room and sit with her by the fire, as she was alone. But she replied, “O, I can’t, I can’t.” This was at about 4 o’clock p.m. This is the last time she was seen alive by any one. A few minutes later, as nearly as we can judge, our grand-son, Otis Carmichael, was in the wood house and heard something fall, and at the same time an exclamation, but not loud or startling, “Oh!” Thinking that the noise proceeded from his mother’s room, he ran up stairs to see if she was hurt; saw nothing wrong there, and listened a moment, and heard nothing more; concluded no one was hurt, and thought no more of the noise until the dreadful reality was realized.
Our meeting at the Hall was dismissed at 5 p.m., and some company came with us into the house, and we were engaged in conversation until nearly seven o’clock, when the company retired and the family went down into the dining room to tea, which was waiting for us. As we took our seats at the table, a messenger was sent by Mrs. Beebe to call Hattie to her tea. The girl returned, and said Hattie was not there. She was immediately sent again, as we were sure she must be there. She then renewed her pursuit, and in a few moments reported that Hattie was on the floor in Benton L. Beebe’s room, between the bed and the partition, and would not answer her. This report alarmed us all, and we left the table. Mrs. Carmichael being in advance as we approached, we heard her exclaim, “0 God! she is dead.” Immediately we were on the spot, and found it evidently true. Her body filled the whole space between the bed and the partition and we tried to draw her body out to examine whether there were any signs of life, but we failed. Dr. John Taylor was called in, and was immediately on the spot, and with his assistance we removed her into an adjoining room. As we were doing this, Mrs. Carmichael found the pistol on the side of the bed. We then examined, but could find no mark of violence, until her dress was opened, when the wound was discovered immediately over her heart, where the ball had entered. No noise like the report of a pistol had been heard, the pistol found by her was not more than four inches long, a mere toy, and it is presumed she deadened its sound by pressing its muzzle against her breast. She undoubtedly died instantly as the ball must have entered her heart. She had probably been dead about two hours when discovered. The overwhelming horror of the scene when the discovery was made we cannot describe, nor will we attempt it. The whole community was startled, and the unrestrained sympathy of the whole village was most kindly expressed without distinction of party or sects. The coroner’s inquest was held on Monday, and the verdict was given, in substantially these words: Hattie M. Beebe came to her death by a pistol shot by her own hand while laboring under great depression of mind.
The funeral took place on Tuesday, and although the day was very rainy, the assembly was very large, and as probably not a fourth part of them could be seated in our Hall, the trustees of the Second Presbyterian Church of this village kindly tendered the use of their house which was greatly accepted, where Elder William L. Benedict of Warwick preached to us a comforting discourse from the words, “Be still and know that I am God,” after which the body was conveyed to the cemetery at New Vernon, and laid in a grave by the side of her deceased mother.
At some subsequent period, if spared, when our own mind shall more fully recover from the shock which has fallen so heavily upon us, we propose to give our views on the subject, of what this inscrutable providence suggests to our mind. We desire the prayers of our kindred in Christ that God may sanctify this severe stroke to the stricken and afflicted parent, grand-parents and their families, sustain us in our deep affliction, and teach us by his Spirit to be still and know that he is God.
May 1, 1867.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 7
Pages 13 – 16