The Midshipman Who Wasn’t There – Thomas Theodore Turner

The Midshipman Who Wasn’t There T T Turner

I have researched 400 plus candidates who came to the Naval Academy between the years of 1857 and 1861, (both those who were accepted and those who failed either the academic or the medical exam).

In the course of running down what had happened afterwards to the successful candidates, I ran into numerous instances of obits and histories (family ones, written years later) that claimed such and such an individual graduated from the USNA. But according to government records, he hadn’t. Assumptions had been made that since ‘he’ was there – ‘he’ was a graduate.

The instances are almost too numerous to tally (a project for another day, perhaps). I was surprised then to come across a claim by an historian that one midshipman had not been there, whom I knew to have been there.

It happened early on when I was trying to winnow down the details behind the life of Thomas Theodore Turner.  Turner was appointed to the US Naval Academy from the first congressional district of Missouri in 1859.

One of my online researches turned up a reference in a book edited by Terry L Jones – “Campbell Brown’s Civil War: With Ewell and the Army of Northern Virginia.” The explanatory footnote for the individual mentioned in the diary on page 63 reads:

“Thomas Theodore Turner, of Baltimore, was eighteen years old and had received some military training in European schools and the Virginia Military Institute.  He accepted an appointment to the US Naval Academy when the war began but never attended. Turner also refused an offer by Brigadier General William T Sherman, a close friend of Turner’s father, to secure him a lieutenant’s commission in the 7th US Cavalry.  Instead, Turner apparently joined the Confederate navy but then resigned his naval commission and joined Ewell’s staff in the fall of 1861 as a volunteer aide.  Upon the recommendation of Ewell, Johnston, and Stuart, Turner was appointed first lieutenant on April 29, 1862, and was assigned to Ewell as aide-de-camp.  He stayed with Ewell for most of the war, was wounded at Spotsylvania in 1864, and was captured along with Ewell and Campbell at Sayler’s Creek on April 6, 1865.  In October 1865, Turner married Campbell’s sister, Hattie.”

This flummoxed me. The only detail that appeared correct was his age when examined. Through further research I was able to ascertain that most of the information could be tied back to my T. T. Turner from Missouri, but not the Baltimore reference, nor the statement that he did not attend.

What I could tell for sure, Thomas Theodore Turner of St Louis MO was at the USNA. I have the date that he appeared before the examination boards and was accepted (11/24/1859), and the pages from the Register of Demerits for 1859-1860 in which his infractions are listed. Then there was all that correspondence from Superintendent Blake about Turner’s dabbling in alcohol in the spring of 1860. The first instance was overlooked and not reported to Isaac Toucey, the Secretary of the Navy, predicated upon a promise from the guilty middie that he would not touch it again. The second time he crossed the line, the report went all the way to the top with details about the first, and much details about the second (which was tied to a third). Evidently Thomas sought to excuse his behavior (to Superintendent Blake’s obvious annoyance) in a sea lawyer fashion by claiming that he had not broken his promise.

“I once gave you my word of honor Sir, that I would never have any thing more to do with liquor on board the ‘Plymouth’ & I have not-“

To his thinking, since he had been found drunk on a cutter “stowed away in her sails,” just hoisted from the water, and NOT on the schoolship Plymouth, his honor was intact.

A subsequent search gave me the answer to the confusion of identity in the Jones book footnote. Here another diary (In the Shadow of the Enemy: The Civil War Journal of Ida Powell Dulany) contained a footnote about the cousins Turner, all with the given name of Thomas (to honor their mutual grandfather). To distinguish them within the family, each one’s locale was appended to their names – ‘Baltimore’ Tom, ‘Kinloch’ Tom (the Virginia family plantation), and our middie – ‘St Louis’ Tom.

Originally Blake had recommended ‘St Louis’ Tom’s dismissal based on his flagrant disregard for the regulations – and for the fact that he should have known better given his age – (at 18 he was one of the oldest members of the plebe class).

Turner had two uncles, both holding the rank of commander in the Navy. One Charles Cocke Turner then posted to the Washington Navy Yard may have lobbied Toucey upon his nephew’s behalf. Toucey wrote Blake and instructed him to supply a fuller explanation about the matter, Thus prompted to take a closer look Blake uncovered a possibility that Turner had not been intoxicated in the first instance.

The upshot was Turner remained in the class completing his plebe year in June, and went on the summer cruise as a member of the Third class. But almost immediately upon his return from the cruise – with the permission of his father, ’St Louis’ Tom Turner tendered his resignation from the naval academy – almost a year after his entrance.

Adventures Along the Rabbit Trail

Adventures along the Rabbit Trail

Research is always fun (for me). Especially when I find what I set out to discover. But sometimes it becomes a delight when something I was not looking for falls under my purview.

Such is the case recently when I was looking into the family background of Adolphus Dexter, a midshipman who had been appointed from the state of Ohio in 1857.
Adolphus was a first generation American. His father Edmond Dexter, had emigrated from England through Philadelphia in 1823. And soon found his way to Cincinnati where over the next quarter century he built a very successful business rectifying and selling whiskey. Trade was good, helped greatly via the nearby Ohio river, which extended his reach all the way down to New Orleans.

One of my web searches turned up a diary by someone who had worked for Adolphus’s father. Joseph J Mersman was the whiskey maker’s apprentice. He was an immigrant too, who went to work for Mr Dexter at the age of 15 for a total of ten years, during which he learned everything he needed to know to go out on his own. This journal which he kept between 1848 and 1862, was unearthed by Linda A Fisher. (She was researching a cholera outbreak in St Louis to which Joseph had moved when he went into business for himself). She found more than she was looking for. It was a treasure trove of daily life in Cincinnati and St Louis for that epoch in American history. Ms Fisher ended up transcribing the entire diary for publication, and copiously and in great depth annotated the text as an aid for the reader, creating a who’s who of the people therein and explanations for the customs etc. alluded to.

And here’s where I branched out once again on a rabbit trail. Joseph had a younger sister, Maria Agnes Mersman. She lived an unconventional life. A young girl with an affinity for horses, by age 16 (1842) she was performing as an equestrian. She ran off and joined the circus that headquartered near Cincinnati and exercised her equine gifts in the ring. While in their employ, she added to her repertoire – high wire and slack wire walking, and lion taming, and married the star (and clown) of the troop, William Lake Thatcher (stage name Bill Lake), eloping with him when they were performing down in Louisiana.

I was carried further afield, following what happened later in her life. She and her husband acquired their own circus company in 1861 (the year that Adolphus graduated from the Academy and went to war). Tragedy struck in 1869 when a bully at one of the performances in Granby Missouri shot and killed Bill Lake. She assumed control of their troop at the loss of her husband.

It was in this capacity that she met her future husband in Abilene Kansas in 1871. The town marshal, James Butler ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok took an interest in the vivacious widow. And the interest was mutual. They kept up a romantic correspondence over the next five years, which culminated in their marriage in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

She was a widow again only five months later, when Hickok was murdered in that infamous incident in Deadwood.

There were more rabbit trails branching out from here, but I’ll let you pursue those if you’ve a mind to.

Now I just want to circle back to my midshipman Adolphus Dexter and indulge in a rabbit trail of a purely imaginary kind (but not implausible). Maria’s brother Joseph mentions that he gave Christmas presents to the Dexter children in 1847, and I can’t help but wonder if he could have taken young Adolphus to see his sister that next spring when she debuted her new act as a rope walker somewhere out on the outskirts of Cincinnati – a decade before he would climb the rigging in a warship of the US Navy.

Day Five Hundred Eighty Three #DiaryoftheEndoftheWorld

Another surprise has surfaced after the Captain broached the topic of the global transport service. The port authority here has not even heard of it, and were at a loss how to advise him what he should do next. They promised to look into the problem.

So we may be here well after the unloading is finished.

The Captain handed the payments to Tomas for research.

He was astonished to discover that the monies were due Mr. Kagi.

Tomas informed the Captain, who turned the funds over to our passenger with an explanation. Mr. Kagi was bowled over. And greatly amused. For he was sure it all would have been confiscated by Stan in his take over of the islands.

Before the Wind Came

before-the-wind-came

In writing my most recent Memories post (The SoCal Trip 1975), I was curious about one of the sites we visited on that particular vacation, so I did a little research.

The site was (and is) the Selznick Studio, which is wedged away in a small enclave in Culver City, California. (It still does business but now under the name of the Culver Studios). Formed in 1919 when Thomas Ince broke away from Triangle Pictures (whose other two partners of the troika were D. W. Griffith and Hal Roach), it has changed hands a number of times over the years. After the mysterious death of Mr. Ince in 1924, Cecil B. DeMille moved into the lot. He merged the concern with the Pathe company in 1926, which in turn was acquired by RKO in 1932. Selznick leased the lot from RKO in 1936.

[Check out this history, that chronicles some of the films (and TV shows) done on the lot. Of particular note were the old sets on the lot (i.e. ones for King Kong, etc.) that were torched for the burning of Atlanta sequence for GWTW.]

When doing some research for another project, I came across this brief article in Variety for October 30, 1935 p 7.

Shearer-Garbo in with Selznick-Whitney Prods.

Norma Shearer and Greta Garbo are among those who are reported tied in financially with the new Dave Selznick producing firm in which Jock Whitney is also concerned.

I realized this article heralded the genesis of Selznick’s involvement at the Culver Studio (then RKO). Shearer and Garbo disappear from any connection to Selznick, in so far as any corporate involvement is concerned. He had been pursuing Garbo prior to this for the role that finally went to Bette Davis in “Dark Victory” when the rights were sold to WB. Instead Garbo chose to do “Anna Karenina” as one of Selznick’s last projects as a producer in the employ of MGM. Garbo was close to Shearer and her husband Irving Thalberg, so this conjunction of their names is not unusual. The untimely death of Thalberg the following year and the subsequent turmoil may explain their absence from the concern going forward.

This article also set me off on another “rabbit trail,” in so far GWTW was involved.

The name in the last phrase, Jock Whitney, was completely new to me, and it proved fascinating to learn more about him.

Whitney was the young well-to-do scion of an East Coast family (who inherited 20 million from his father after 1927, and 80 million from his mother after 1944). His full name – John Hay Whitney gave the first clue to his family history. To anyone who has read about Abraham Lincoln, John Hay is a familiar name. He was one of Lincoln’s secretaries during his time in office. Later he was appointed ambassador to London, and later still served as Secretary of State under both McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt. And Jock Whitney is his grandson and namesake. His other grandfather, served as Naval Secretary under Cleveland.

  Whitney graduated from Yale, and was a member of the Scroll & Key secret society while there, (his father also was an alumnus, but a member of the Skull & Crossbones secret society). He started as a clerk in a banking house. But once he came into money, he invested in personal interests. He was a major “angel” for Broadway productions during the 1930s. – “Here Goes the Bride,” “Life with Father,” and “Jumbo.” From there it was short hop to film.

He had been brought into the film business by Merian C. (“King Kong”) Cooper, then a producer and head of production at RKO. By 1933, Jock founded his own production company, Pioneer Films.  And around the same time he acquired a 15% interest in Technicolor. He used the process in making a musical short “La Cucaracha,” and later the first technicolor (three strip process) feature “Becky Sharp.” Pioneer was merged with Selznick Int’l Pictures in 1936, and Whitney ended up as chairman of the board of the new company.

Together on the Culver lot they were responsible for such films as “A Star is Born,” “Nothing Sacred,” “Rebecca,” and “Gone with the Wind.” In fact, it was through Whitney’s direct investment that Selznick acquired the rights to the Margaret Mitchell novel, which laid the foundation for what would be Selznick’s “signature” film.

In the Yale yearbook for 1926, in its write up about Whitney it noted that his future plans looked to an occupation in either the field of literature or diplomacy. Actually he “checked off both boxes.” The thirties and forties mark his time of involvement with literature as literary projects were translated to the stage and to the screen (in the 1940 census he lists himself as an executive in the Motion Picture Industry). He was an Eisenhower supporter in the fifties, and was consequently appointed the US ambassador to London, following in the footsteps of his maternal grandfather.

Filling in the Gaps about Bayard and Alice Hand

Filling in the Gaps about Bayard and Alice Hand

My request for scans of the letters and other documents in the Alice Whitfield Hand collection at the University of the South has been filled. I have read through the biographical information and the letters for 1858 and 1859. And I now have some answers for some of my questions. Along the way, I have learned a few more things. And, yes, I even have more questions.

My guess about the vessel that Bayard Hand shipped out on for the expedition to Paraguay was indeed correct. He served on the U.S.S. Southern Star. He postmarks a letter to her from almost all the ports they stopped in on the way down – Barbados, Pernambuco, and Rosario. His brother in law C. T. Quintard dropped her a line and kidded Alice about Bayard’s role in the expedition by comparing him to a sailor in a cartoon in Harper’s Weekly, who is shown poking a pistol in the face of the Paraguayan dictator Carlos Antonio Lopez.

The biographical information attached to the letters lends support to my surmisal that Bayard and Alice met in Beaufort NC at the time when he was serving with the Coast Survey. Her father had lost his business in Halifax County due to a fire in 1851, and moved the family to Beaufort to build another inn or boarding house. So they were well established there by the time Bayard was back from the Brazil Station, and visiting Beaufort in Coast Survey vessels. Shortly after their wedding in September of 1858, Alice’s father picked up his business and removed back to Halifax County (hence the census entries recorded there for 1860).

It would appear from a number of sources that Bayard Hand had a weak physical constitution. Both times that he was sent to the hospital during his short time at Annapolis, the stays (one in 1852, and the other in 1853) were for longer durations than would be normal for the particular ailments. The year 1858 was marked by at least two serious episodes. In June he was admitted to the naval hospital in New York – not for the fever that he had had when recently down in Florida, but for a nervous condition that the physician said was due to a lack of sleep. It wasn’t until after four days that the doctor noted that Bayard was finally sleeping. He was kept in the hospital a total of seven days. And in November, when the U.S.S. Southern Star left Norfolk, Lt Bayard was in a doctor’s care, unconscious for eight straight days with no other diagnosis. So it does not seem as surprising for him to die a victim to a simple bout of pneumonia.

Alice, as the young widow, inherited from her husband. His family in Rome Georgia saw to it that she received the stock shares that were Bayard’s from his grandfather’s business, the Roswell Manufacturing Company. This would explain the rather large amount listed for her personal estate in the 1860 census. She also received his naval uniform. The uniform was kept in Alice’s family and passed on to her descendants. The cloth has wasted away, but the buttons, the epaulets and the bicorn hat remain.

There was one disturbing missive among the manuscripts. C. T. Quintard had written to Bayard days before the lieutenant’s death (Quintard was not aware of his illness). Evidently, Bayard had confessed a moral struggle to the Episcopal priest at the family home in Rome after his return from Paraguay. Quintard pleads with him in the strongest terms to forsake an unnamed vice. I confess that I became quite concerned for the state of the lieutenant’s soul, knowing the proximity of his death.

And that’s the way with research. You end up knowing some, but never all.

1928 San Francisco Research: Taxis

1928 San Francisco Research Taxis

I was at the point that I needed a character to support my protagonist, to transport him from point A to point B. Besides some unique and interesting qualities – (a) dwarf – and (b) an Italian (of which there were a large number living in sections of 1928 San Francisco, of note the North Beach section of the city, its Little Italy), I wanted him to be a cab driver.

But for what company?

Or for that matter, a more basic consideration, did cabs exist in San Francisco at that time? As it turns out, there was no problem on that score. The answer was yes. In fact, I found mention of taxis as early as 1909. (As elsewhere in the U.S., stables and horse rentals and hackney cabs gave way to garages and car rentals and taxis).

Searches within the Internet Archive turned up ads for many different cab companies:

These first six I show operating in 1928, (I’m not sure how long they’d been in business):

United Cab Company

Union Cab Company

Green Top Cab Company

Cadillac Taxi Cab Company

California Cab Company

Club Limousine Service Company

Then those whose beginnings I can document:

DeSoto Cab Company (founded 1923)

Luxor Cab Company (founded in 1928) [fielded a total of ten cabs, all ordered up from call boxes located on street corners in the city].

And of course the Yellow Cab Company which had been doing business in San Francisco since 1922. When they merged with Checker mid decade, they were the most powerful cab company in town, controlling all the best cabstands, i.e. situated where travelers came into the city – the wharf, rail stations, and the airport; and at the hotels in the city where they stayed.

[Aside – John Hertz (of Hertz-Rent-a-Car fame) was the Chicagoan behind the Yellow Cab company and its subsidiary the Yellow Cab Manufacturing company. He sold the companies in the mid twenties and put his gains to work in other firms, notably Lehman Brothers. Hertz was also a major stockholder in the Paramount-Famous Lasky Corp, and thus was the logical choice for the Lehmans to be their rep at the film company to carry out the reorganization they prescribed in 1931. Hertz was the chair to the finance committee at Paramount and did bring down costs at the studio. But evidently Hertz was better in the car business than the film business, for he was forced to resign when Paramount went into receivership in 1933].

Back to my character.

So I had all these taxi companies in San Francisco from which to choose, but couldn’t settle on one. Then I read that San Francisco had gypsy cab drivers, independents that didn’t work for a company. They were allowed to answer calls for service via the telephone, but were unlicensed to cruise the streets for hailing customers.

Perfect for my character – Donatello.

1928 San Francisco Research The Cars

1928 San Francisco The Cars

One piece of advice pitched to writers entails tailoring a character part for a particular actor or star. It indeed can be helpful, especially if you intend to approach that actor later.  But what if you have a comedian in mind for a serious part? It’s hard enough as it is to keep your character reined in to your purposes without losing it all to ensuing wackiness.

But that is not the subject of this post, thankfully, rather I had a different question.

What kind of cars should I include?

This was a question I tackled in my background research for my script set in 1928 San Francisco. I definitely wanted a Duesenberg as one of the “players.” But was it available in San Francisco at this time?

The Internet Archive to the rescue again. A search there turned up scans of a weekly publication that proved helpful – the San Francisco News Letter. In its January 28th edition for 1928 there was an article about the Twelfth Annual Pacific Automobile Show set to run from that date through February 4. It lists what the attendees will see – Haughty limousines – sporty racing models – family cars – roadsters – sedans and sedanettes – coupes and couplets – broughams and landaulets. Or as it more prosaically describes them – “Shining things of steel that are the magic carpets of modern transportation.”

I gleaned some interesting facts from the article. Rather than extolling the virtues of the mechanics of their operation, as had been the past habit, they were now touting the comfort for the people within – seats that conformed to the body’s curvature – lighters, mirrors, match safes, vanity cases – and some items switched from the accessory category to standard – bumpers, shocks and headlights. And San Francisco itself was being praised for its climate as being perfect for year round motoring. It went on to add that a coastline highway from British Columbia to Mexico was then underway, and of particular note – San Francisco was not yet directly connected to Santa Cruz in that manner. A good fact to know.

Flipping through the pages I came upon a Duesenberg. So that was in. The main antagonist gets that one. But what about the rest of the cast?

I’ve always wanted to include a vehicle that had this capability:

1928 San Francisco Research The Cars2

The arsenal behind the front seat back. An online search alerted me to Al Capone’s car of choice, the 1928 Cadillac. Seems like an apropos choice.

(Aside – I was checking on the magazine’s next edition to see if there was any follow up and found this headline – Street Murder – from which I take the following excerpts – “our first taste of the thing which is disgracing Chicago…a man shot in the public streets of San Francisco by an assassin from a closed car…in connection with the liquor trade…the similarity to the Chicago affairs is very marked”).

So I was on the hunt for a Cadillac in San Francisco.

Here is a list, regrouped into their “families” and their points of origin. First, those outside of Detroit and Michigan:

Franklins (of Syracuse NY.  Luxury car. It had a radiator grill that was for looks. It actually was a dummy and functioned as the air intake for its air-cooled engine).

Chandlers (from Cleveland OH, medium priced cars).

Stutz (of Indianapolis, IN).

The Kissel (made in Wisconsin. Amelia Earhart drove one of these).

The Kleiber (of San Francisco, CA. A truck firm that built some passenger cars, a five passenger Brougham went for only $1950. Sold only on the West Coast).

Locomobiles (of Bridgeport CT, originally a steam car, but converted to internal combustion shortly after the turn of the century, at this time part of Durant Motors).

And switching to Michigan, we pick up with the Durant Company again:
The Star
The Durant
(both built by the Durant Company (1922-28). William C. Durant was the founder of the General Motors Holding Company, but at this time was out of GM and looking to duplicate the philosophy he had created there with a range of offerings for various tastes and pocket books).

Hudsons
Essexes
(both by Hudson)

Chryslers
(With some interesting omissions – Plymouths, DeSotos and Dodges. The Plymouths and Desotos were new for 1928, and perhaps not yet available. And the troubled Dodge company was bought by Chrysler this year, so maybe their deal was not yet consummated).

Lincolns
(at this time part of the Ford company, though operating separately. There are no other Fords listed, which I thought odd).

GM products (in order from cheapest to most expensive).
Chevys
Pontiacs
Oakland All-Americans (not from the community across the bay, but of Pontiac MI; bought by GM in 1909; absorbed into Pontiac in 1931)
Oldsmobiles
Buicks
LaSalles (recently introduced to fill the gap between the Buick and the Cadillac).
But NO Cadillacs.

For that matter there are no Packards and Pierce Arrows mentioned either. But my mind is made up, I want a Cadillac, and a Cadillac it will be. So there!

If anyone complains, I can always build a backstory.

1928 San Francisco Stage Screen and Radio

San Francisco 1928

1928 San Francisco Stage Screen and Radio

Sometimes when you research you come up with more than you were looking for; some little fact that is odd or interesting and usually completely off topic.

Recently I was trying to find out what film titles were gracing the marquees of the movie theaters in 1928 San Francisco. I found a San Francisco publication that covered the weekly cultural events in the city. A treasure trove.

Garbo, Jolson, and Barrymore (Lionel) were some of the big names on the marquees in that time period. Jolson was in the Jazz Singer, of course. Vitaphone is listed prominently for it, so you knew it was a sound picture (the first as you may know). Gloria Swanson was in Sadie Thompson (try saying that three times fast, and try not to say that Sadie Thompson was in Gloria Swanson). And Rin Tin Tin was starring in the film “Dog of the Regiment,” and also making a personal appearance with his trainer Lee Duncan.

And speaking of personal appearances I was blown away to see that Fanny Brice was performing on stage in San Francisco that year. (Barbra Streisand portrayed the entertainer twice, once in Funny Girl [1968] and the other time in Funny Lady [1975]). And I was amused to see that the Marx Brothers were on the boards, cutting up in their play Cocoanuts.

But there I’ve went and gone off-off topic.

What I wanted to get around to was this, the publication included schedules for the radio stations broadcasting in the area. So I have a list of these stations and their call letters [KFRC, KPO, KFWI, and KJBS] should I need them for my writing project. But what was really surprising were the two radio stations that were completely out of the area, yet received in San Francisco.

They were KJR in Seattle, Washington, and KGW in Portland, Oregon. I knew KJR as a Top 40 station from my high school and college days. Back in 1928 it carried dance orchestras and concert music. I am familiar with the KGW call letters as I live near Portland. Its call letters have disappeared from the radio scene, having morphed into KPOJ (operating now as a sports radio station, a fate that KJR has also suffered).

I am wondering if the denizens of 1928 San Francisco tuned in to KGW Portland to catch Mel Blanc on air in those days before Warner Brothers snatched him up to do voices for their Looney Tunes (Bugs, Daffy, et al).

Naval Research

The Curious Case of L B Foster (pt 1)

I have been doing research on the ante bellum era Naval Academy in Annapolis for over a decade now. I keep databases of the individuals who were at the Academy compiled from various sources.

Recently I have been entering the data from the Naval Academy hospital records – recording the name of the individual – the date and reason for admittance – and the date for his discharge. I was working on the page of 1857 entries with names beginning with “F,” and came down to “Foster, L. B”. Midshipman Lyman Beecher Foster is an interesting individual, but I’ll cover more details on him later.

I had already made several entries for Midshipman Foster for the following ailments: Odontalgia, Constipation, Intermittent Fever, and now a curious entry on May 21st 1857 for Cephalalgia.  By this time the term was not unfamiliar to me, as I had to look it up when working on the “A”s. (It’s a headache, by the way). What was odd, however, there was no discharge date. There was a month – May, but no date. Now the thought occurred to me that maybe there was a missing ditto mark on Foster’s line to an ailment listed for the individual on the line above – but the line above also was missing the date. On the line below (for May 29th), Foster’s name again is recorded for another bout of Cephalalgia. He was discharged the next day for this instance, so one day, like we should expect, would be a normal turn around for this ailment. I could surmise then, that the May 21st admittance was followed by a discharge on the 22nd.

I decided to look up Foster in some other records with dates. It’s nice to compare or rather conflate records from other sources to get a better picture of what may have happened. In the register of delinquencies, an incident is recorded for May 29th 1857, Dr Sharp gave Foster six demerits for “Carelessly setting fire to bedding in Hospital.”

Was the headache that bad?

That wasn’t my first thought though. Knowing that a good proportion of demerits were given for tobacco use (forbidden according to the regulations), I thought a lit pipe may have been the culprit. But then again if it had, Foster would have gotten demerits for tobacco too. An accident with a kerosene lamp? Most likely not. The Academy was fitted out for gas lighting back then. Foster would have had to have held up his bedding at a good height to catch it on fire. A dropped match? Definitely careless. But what would he have been trying to light? Tobacco that he had successfully hidden from the doctor? The gas lamp? Or…

Proving that sometimes answers to questions lead to more questions.