We Were Here

Elzie Tolbert
Unknown Publication Date
by Konrad Stump, contributing writer to The Logan Daily News

Ellsworth Harlow “Elzie” Tolbert was born in Ward Twp. on May 1, 1884, the youngest of six children born to Isaac and Martha Ellen (Inboden) Tolbert. His father worked as a clerk in a grocery store, while his mother kept house and raised the children. When Elzie was six months old, his father died from dropsy of the heart; he was found dead in a field where he’d been husking corn. Isaac’s father had also died while he was a child. Isaac was in the 58th O.V.I. during the Civil War, and in January of 1891, almost seven years after his death, Martha was granted a pension of about $1,200. When Isaac’s father died, his mother had to work as a laborer to help support the family. Martha may have had to do the same, undoubtedly causing strains during Elzie’s early years.
On Dec. 2, 1899, Elzie shot 12-year-old Tina Kitchen while playing with a .22-caliber target rifle; Tina died from her wounds the following day. By this time Elzie’s family was living on west Hunter street, and it can be assumed that the Kitchens didn’t live far away. According to testimony given by Elzie’s friend Charles Deischley, Charles had shot a couple a blank cartridges from the gun, then loaded a live cartridge. Charles said he believed Elzie saw him load the live cartridge, but wasn’t completely sure of it. When Elzie shot Tina, he seemed to believe she wasn’t shot, and told her she was just scared. Upon realizing that she was shot, Elzie told Charles it was an accident and that he wouldn’t have done it for $100. Elzie was arrested and taken to jail later that day.
The preliminary hearing for Elzie took place on the afternoon of Monday, Dec. 4, 1899, before Mayor John A. Smith. The Prosecutor’s name was Pettit, and Judge Bright served as the attorney for Elzie. Tina’s doctor was called, and when cross-examined by Judge Bright, said that Tina’s told him Elzie’s shooting of her was an accident. This, however, was dismissed because it did not seem evident she knew she was going to die, and before losing consciousness had asked the doctor if he’d found the bullet. Judge Bright moved to dismiss the case on the ground that there was no testimony that showed it was anything more than an accident. Prosecutor Pettit, however, argued that the gun was pointed and even if the discharge was accident Elzie should be held. Mayor Smith said that there was some evidence that tended to show that the gun was pointed and that he would bind Elzie over to the common pleas court in the sum of $500 bond.
By mid-January, 1900, State of Ohio vs Elzie Tolbert has been settled, with the grand jury recommending that Elzie be sent to the Boy’s Industrial School in Lancaster, and that he be required to stay there until 21 years old unless he was reformed sooner. Accounts of experiences at the industrial school vary, with some people being thankful for being sent there, some describing horrific acts performed on them while there, and a handful of deaths being reported. By 1904 he had been released and was living back in Logan, working as a laborer, and dating Matilda “Tillie” Ghent.
Tillie was born in Greenup, Ky. in March of 1887, the daughter of Edward and Mary (Bush) Ghent. By 1900, her family was living in Scioto County, so she could not have been in Hocking County for very long before she began dating Elzie. Perhaps she’d not heard what he’d done, or where he’d been for the past few years. I wonder what he was like after he got out, how it had changed him; perhaps Tillie could tell there was more to Elzie than what she could see on the surface.
His wreckless nature had not completely subsided after being released from The Boy’s Industrial School. For Labor Day in 1904, Elzie took Tillie to Nelsonville for the festivities going on there. When they were on their way home to Logan, they encountered another horse and buggy, which Elzie apparently thought was going too slow. The night was dark and the road narrow, but Elzie was determined to pass the other wagon. Elzie passed the wagon with no harm to Tillie or himself, but in passing he crowded the other wagon off of the road. The driver of the other wagon discovered that his arm was broken, and called to Elzie, who stopped and took the man in his buggy and took him to a doctor. The headline the story ran under was “It could have been worse.” And it could have. It could have ended just the way Tina’s life had ended, in a moment of Elzie behaving wrecklessly, and perhaps he realized that when he went back to help the man he ran off the road. The incident makes me wonder, too, if he was trying to impress Tilly, and if he’d been playing with Tina because he liked her as more than a friend.
On June 20, 1905, Elzie married Tillie at the home of her parents in the West End by Rev. J.U. Brown. Following the ceremony, an elegant supper was served to the guests, and a large number of beautiful and useful presents were given to the couple. Not only does the article detailing their marriage mention that Elzie’s siblings were present for the ceremony, but it states that he was “well and favorably known as a sober and industrious young man.” The couple made their home on east Hunter Street.
Elzie and Tillie would have three sons together: Ralph Harlow in 1906, Claude Edward in 1908, and Rolland Cherrington in 1909. Like the parents of Tina Kitchen, though, Elzie would come to find out what it was like to lose a child. In February of 1910, Rolland came down with pneumonia, suffering for five weeks before passing away on March 14, 1910.
The poem that ran with Rolland’s obituary read,
“A precious one from us is gone,
A voice we loved is still;
A place is vacant in our home,
Which never can be filled.”
We can only imagine that Elzie thought of Tina and her parents as Rolland was dying, and that they inhabited similar places in his heart. Elzie would outlive his son Claude as well; Claude died in Dayton in June of 1947, and his body was brought home and buried in Oak Grove Cemetery. Elzie would follow seven years later, passing away on Oct. 19, 1954. Tillie outlived him by 11 years, passing away on Sept. 22, 1965.
It seems that after returning from The Boy’s Industrial School, Elzie did try to make the most of his life and be an active member of society. He had a family, provided for them and kept a roof over their heads. When he came back to Logan from Lancaster, he began working for the Hocking Valley and C&O Railway, and worked for them for 32 years. After that, he worked for Logan Clay Products until he retired five years before his death. He was a member of the United Brethren Church.

Ralph, who had moved to Pa. and was Elzie and Tillie’s only son to have children, had two children and five grandchildren at the time of Tillie’s death. I wonder where they are, and if they know of what Elzie had done, and what he had to carry through his life. I do know that Elzie, Tina and their families are all buried in Oak Grove — two families tragically connected by death, lying close to each other in death.
Reprinted here with the permission of the author, Konrad Stump.

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