Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thriller Thursday - Death in an Elevator Shaft

John Wesley Johnston, son of Irvin and Christina (Nelson) Johnston, was an older brother to my ancestor, Howard Johnston.  Researching the Johnston, Greenawalt, and Rudy lines in Huntingdon Co, Pennsylvania, I found this article on Newspaper Archive: The Daily News, Huntingdon, PA, page 2  - Monday, June 17, 1957's Looking Back section:
50 Years Ago
     "J. Wesley Johnston, formerly of Huntingdon County but for twenty years a resident of Minneapolis, was found dead May 16, in the bottom of the freight elevator shaft in the Andrus building, of which he was superintendent.  He had evidently gone to make repairs.  He lived in Huntingdon from birth to the time he was 27 years of age when he went to war with Company H, 184th Pennsylvania Volunteers from Wells Tannery."

Which led to finding the following articles . . .
The Minneapolis Tribune
May 17, 1907
Page 6
Son Makes Discovery on Investigating Search.
Death is a Mystery and the Coroner is working on the case.
     Searching for his father, who had not returned home, E. T. Johnston, janitor of the Westminister Presbyterian church, last evening, found the body of J. Wesley Johnston, superintendent of the building, lying cold in death, two feet below the freight elevator of the Andrus building.  The death of Mr. Johnston is one of the most mysterious with which Coroner Kistler has had to deal.
     After the examination of the body, Coroner Kistler found no bad bruises or anything which would indicate how Mr. Johnston met his death.  The elevator was at least a foot from the body, so, apparently, it had not been the cause of death.
     It had been Mr. Johnston's daily habit to reach home as soon after 6 o'clock as possible.  But last night he did not arrive at his usual hour.  Mrs. Johnston became worried, and telephoned to her son, asking him to go to the Andrus building and inquire as to his father's whereabouts.


     How long Mr. Johnston had been dead before being discovered, no one knows.  It was his custom, as superintendent of the building, to run the freight elevator, and he may have been dead since early morning.
     Mr. Johnson resided with his wife at 3240 Lyndale avenue south, and leaves three sons, E.T., E.J., and Howard Johnston, all of whom live in this city.
     "Mr. Johnston was one of the most methodical men I have ever known," said S. S. Thorpe, who has charge of the Andrus building.  "He has been with us for the past four years and was well liked by everyone who knew him.  He was a man about 60 years of age and was for ten years janitor of Westminister Presbyterian church, with which his son is now connected."

Followed by the article on May 19, 1907's issue of the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune, p.6:

J. W. Johnston, who was accidentally killed
in the elevator shaft of the Andrus building.

Demise of Elevator Victim Explained
Must Have Fallen from Seventh Floor
Foul Play Theory Disproved - Last Seen By an Employe. [sic]

     It has been definitely decided by relatives of the late J. Wesley Johnston, who was found dead at the bottom of the freight elevator shaft of the Andrus building last Thursday night, that contrary to the first reports, Mr. Johnston did not meet his death as the result of foul play, but that it was accidental.
     Those who have been looking into the facts of the case have come to the conclusion that Mr. Johnston either came to his untimely death while he was in the act of reaching for the elevator cable or else that he walked into the open shaft supposing that the elevator was in the same place where he left it a few moments before.  It had also been definitely established that he fell from the seventh floor.
     The most mysterious thing in connection with the accident, and one which for a time lead the relatives and authorities to believe that there had been some foul play, was the fact that Mr. Johnston's pocketbook, which was known to have contained $45 and his bunch of keys, which he always carried in one of his trousers' pockets, were found to be missing.
     No one has been able to account for the mysterious disappearance of these articles.
     The accident in all probability occurred in the neighborhood of 6:30 o'clock, as the watch which Mr. Johnston carried and which was broken to pieces was found and it had stopped at about that time.  The last person who saw him alive was a woman who was at work on the seventh floor about 6:05 and talked with him at that time.  It was about ten minutes later that the accident happened.
     E. P. Johnston, a son, who is sexton at Westminister church, started in search for his father after receiving a telephone message from Mrs. Johnston at 9 p.m. saying that her husband had not returned home.
     The elevator shaft, which is in the rear of the building, and which has always been looked upon as a dangerous place by the son, was the first place examined, and it was here that the dead body of the unfortunate man was discovered.
     The coroner was immediately notified and after viewing the body it was removed to the morgue and later to the home.
     The fact that the morgue keeper and the coroner both examined the body and say that there was not a cent of money and but one bunch of keys among the belongings makes the case a more mysterious one.
     Two facts which show that the death was purely accidental are the badly torn glove on one of the hands, indicative of the fact that Mr. Johnston had made a vain attempt to cling to one of the cables or the electric wires, and also that the wires were found in the bottom of the shaft, completely torn from the fixtures, and wrapped about his hands.
     Mr. Johnston is survived by his widow, Mrs. Mary E. Johnston, three sons, E.P., J.E., and W.H., and one daughter, Mrs. Ida M. Rolfe, of Chicago, who arrived in the city Saturday.
     One brother, W. A. Johnston, of Streetor, Ill., and a sister, Mrs. Mollie Baumgardner, Wells Lammery, Pa., also survive.
     He was a member of Company H, 184th Pennsylvania Volunteers, of the First Brigade, Second division, Second Army Corps, and was a member of Well's Tannery post, G. A. R., at Fulton county, Pa.  He was nearly 62 years old.
     The funeral will be held from the residence, 3240 Lyndale avenue south, on Monday at 2:30 p. m.  Rev. Dr. J.E. Bushnell will preside at the services.  The interment will be at Lakewood.

and . . .

The Minneapolis Tribune
May 21, 1907
Page 6

J. W. Johnston, Victim of Elevator Accident, Is Buried - Beautiful Floral Tributes Cover Casket.
     Fully two score friends of the Johnston family gathered at the residence, 3240 Lyndale avenue south, Monday afternoon to pay the last tribute to J.W. Johnston, who met his death last Thursday night at the bottom of the elevator shaft in the Andrus building.
     The funeral services began at 2:30 o'clock and were solemn and impressive in their character, the sermon being preached by Rev. J. E. Bushnell of Westminister church.
     Dr. Bushnell paid glowing tributes to the sturdy character of Mr. Johnston, which had so endeared him to all who knew him, and told of his ever faithful service in whatever occupation he was engaged.  A short review of his life was given, and from the time of his early conversion back in Pennsylvania, down to the hour when he met his death he was shown to have been honest, upright, and thoroughly honored and respected by all who came in contact with him.  In closing Dr. Bushnell paid glowing tributes to his parishioner, telling of his connection with Westminister church and of his loyal and steadfast support of all religious work.
     During the services O. P. Hand sang two baritone solos, "Face to Face," by Herbert Johnson, and "One Sweetly Solemn Thought," by P. S. Ambrose, accompanied by Miss Condon.  Floral offerings completely covered the casket, and lay at the foot of the casket supports.  One exceptionally elaborate one was a pillow, bearing the word "Father," formed of roses.
     The pall bearers were L.K. Thompson, Nathaniel McCarthy, J.M. Martin, J.R. Lewis, J.S. Porteus, and S.S. Thorpe.
     Mr. Johnston is survived by his widow, Mrs. Mary E. Johnston, three sons, E.P., J.E., and W.H., and one daughter, Mrs. Ida M. Rolfe, of Chicago.  A brother, W.A. Johnston, of Streator, Ill., and a sister, Mrs. Molly Baumgardner of Wells Lammery, Pa., also survive.
     Short and impressive services were held at Lakewood cemetery where the body was interred.

Andrus Building Post Card
Minneapolis, Minn.
circa 1910
The Andrus Building was, and is, a stolid resident of the corner of Nicollet and Fifth. By the time it was built in 1898, the retail and office core had moved from Washington Avenue up the street, and this was prime real estate. It has the feel of a Class-A pricey office block, even though the exterior decoration was done entirely in brick. No fancy terracotta for these lads; sturdy honest brick was sufficient.
The airy lower floors almost makes the building look as if it floats, no?
Andrus (Renaissance Square), 511 Nicollet.  Built 1898.  Architects:  Long & Long


  1. Very interesting. I'm not buying the accident theory. Is it possible that it was an accident and some sick sod took his wallet and left the body there? Very curious...