Friday, March 20, 2015


Readers of the Chicago Daily Tribune from August 3, 1906 were shocked to read the following:

Shoots Himself in Hotel Tourist in Seattle, Wash.
Mother and Wife There.
Cannot Locate Him, So Set Detectives to Hunting for Him.

Seattle, Wash., Aug. 2. - [Special] - Eli A. Gage, son of Lyman J. Gage of Chicago, former secretary of the United States Treasury, committed suicide in his room in the Tourist hotel this afternoon by shooting himself through the heart.  Death was instantaneous.

Gage registered at the Tourist hotel, which is a third-class house on Saturday afternoon, under the name of J.W. Gorst.  He had no baggage with him.  He lived at the hotel without his identity being known.  He appeared to be in the best of spirits, according to the clerk of the hotel.

Mother and Wife Hunt Him.

Gage's wife and his mother came to Seattle on Sunday to join him. They were unable to locate him and accordingly asked the Pinkertons to find him.  The detectives were searching for Gage when he was found dead. His mother is prostrated.

Gage came to Seattle three weeks ago and stopped at the Greystone, a fashionable boarding house,  He left on July 18.

The Los Angeles Herald account contained a few additional details:

The only cause for the shooting which can be assigned is that he was temporarily insane from drinking.  His wife came (to Seattle) last Monday and employed detectives to locate her husband.  Friends of Gage believe he learned of her presence and, fearing to meet her, decided to end his life.  Gage evidently knew the detectives were on his track...

Wow!  What a shocking tale.  The Gage family was known nationwide but especially in the Chicago area and Evanston where members of the Gage family had lived for years.  Before we look into the events which drove Eli Gage to suicide, let's take a look at his notable family.

Eli Alexander Gage was born in Chicago on July 28, 1867, to Lyman Judson Gage (1836-1927) and Sarah B, nee Etheridge (1840-1874). He was the second of four children born to Lyman and Sarah Gage. The others were:  Lock Etheridge Gage (1865-1869), Fanny Gage (1869-1880) and Mary Gage (1869-1869).  Lyman Gage was a banker by trade, and was Secretary of the US Treasury under Presidents McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.

The 1870 US Census finds the Gages living in Evanston.  Eli is three years old.  The household consist of Eli and his parents and three live-in servants.

Eli's mother, Sarah Etheridge Gage died on September 12, 1874, when Eli was seven years old.  It is never easy to lose one's mother, but to a young boy of 7 it must have been devastating.

The 1880 US Census finds twelve year old Eli living with his father and sister Fanny, who would die later that same year on October 23rd.  For the second time in his young life Eli Gage has lost a member of his immediate family.

The 1890 US Census for this area is lost, but on October 9, 1893, twenty six year old Eli Gage married twenty two year old Sophia Rogers Weare (1871-1950) in Des Moines, Iowa.  They met when Eli was working for a railroad and was stationed in Des Monies.

Eli and Sophia Gage were blessed with two sons: Lyman Judson Gage II (1896-1954), and John Weare Gage (1900-1962).

Gold was discovered in the Klondike on August 16, 1896 and shortly thereafter Eli Gage caught the "gold bug,", left his wife and family and headed North.  On February 26, 1897 the Chicago Daily Tribune reported that "Eli Gage, son of Lyman J. Gage who is to be Secretary of the Treasury has been seen on the Upper Yukon and he sends word to P.B. Weare of Chicago, of the North American Trading and Transportation Company that "the richest discoveries ever made on earth are now being worked at Klondike."  The North American Trading and Transportation Company was owned by the Weare family, the family of Eli Gage's wife Sophia.  In addition, Eli Gage's father Lyman Gage was a stockholder in the NAT&T Co.

"Young Mr. Gage did not learn of his father's selection for Secretary of the Treasury until his arrival at the coast of February 20."

The herd of prospectors who flocked to Alaska was so large, that the Tribune noted on October 19, 1897 that Eli Gage warned of a coming famine if food was not shipped in before the winter freeze:

The Tribune reported on November 13, 1897, that Eli Gage had returned from his Yukon adventure:

The 1900 US Census finds the Eli Gage family living at 1814 Wesley in Evanston:

1814 Wesley, Evanston

Thirty one year old Eli reported his occupation as "Furnace Manufacturer."  Also listed were his wife Sophie, their two boys and two live-in servants - one a nurse.  At the time of his death Eli Gage was reported to be employed by the James B. Clow & Sons Plumbing Supply Company - perhaps that's what he meant by "furnace manufacturer."

As mentioned above, Eli Gage's father, Lyman Judson Gage was the US Secretary of the Treasury under President William McKinley.  On September 6, 1901, President McKinley was shot by an assassin in Buffalo, New York.    There was a very interesting article in the Chicago Daily Tribune of September 7, 1901 detailing the reaction of the Gage family to the news that McKinley had been shot.  Here are excerpts from that article:

Secretary Lyman J. Gage, who was visiting his son, Eli Gage, in Evanston was seated on the porch when the tidings from Buffalo were brought him by a neighbor.  He seemed dazed by the news and with bowed head walked slowly into the house.  The dining hour was nearly at hand, but he declined food and went to his room.

Soon the bad news was known throughout the suburb and many friends of Mr. Gage hurried to the house to express their sympathy, but the Secretary declined to see anyone.  Caller after caller was told that Mr. Gage could see no one and they left after expressing their condolence.

Mr. Eli Gage ordered a carriage, and with his father drove through the quiet streets for over an hour.  During all that time the Secretary spoke hardly a word.  The drive in the cool evening air benefited him, however, and he seemed to have rallied from the shock when he returned to his son's dwelling.

Preparations were made at once for the Secretary to go to Buffalo, accompanied by his son.  The callers continued to stream in, being received by Mr. Eli Gage, who said his father was nearly prostrated and could see no one.  Shortly before 7 o'clock, Secretary Gage and his son hurried to a telegraph office and after sending a message boarded the 7:10 o'clock train for Chicago.

"The Secretary is now on his way to Buffalo," said Mr. Eli Gage.  "We will make as quick a run as possible, reaching there early tomorrow morning.  We hope to find the President less seriously wounded than these first, hurried reports have made him." 

President McKinley died as a result of his wounds on September 14, 1901.

Eli Gage's name was not in the newspapers very often from 1901-1906, and when it was, it usually concerned a social occasion.

That brings us up to his suicide on Thursday August 2, 1906.

What happened to cause Eli A. Gage to take his own life that afternoon in Seattle?  What was so bad that facing his wife was worse than ending his life?  Let's first look at what we do know:

  • He was working for the Clow & Sons Plumbing Supply Company.
  • He had been in Seattle "several months."
  • He was applying for a job with the Northwestern Steamship Company.
  • He had many friends in Seattle but none of them had seen him for a week.
  • His wife and child arrived in Seattle on Sunday and were searching for him.
  • His wife hired Pinkerton detectives to find Gage.
  • He was registered at a 3rd rate hotel under an assumed name "J.W. Gorst."
  • He went to his room at 3:00 pm "feeling very well," according to the desk clerk.
  • He shot himself through the heart about 3:30.
  • He was in his shirtsleeves and had taken off his shoes.
  • A new revolver and a Bowie knife lay on the floor beside him.
  • In addition there were four empty whiskey bottles and a quart flask which was half full of liquor.
  • He left no suicide note.

Several news accounts, including the one at the beginning of this article relate that his "wife and his mother" had come to Seattle to look for him.  Who was the woman who was passing herself off as his mother?  His natural mother Sarah, died in 1874.  His father's second wife Cornelia, had died in 1901.  His father did not marry his third wife Frances, until 1909.  Perhaps Sophie Weare Gage's mother accompanied her, but there was no "Mrs. Lyman J. Gage" at that time.

Eli Gage's death was officially ruled a suicide and that was that.  If the family ever found out what drove young Eli Gage to suicide, they kept it to themselves.

There was no notification in the newspapers of a public funeral for Eli Gage.  He was buried in the family plot in Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago:

Genealogy research can be very rewarding as family myths are confirmed or debunked and newly discovered ancestors are "dug up." But there is another, more frustrating fact that one must face from the beginning - some mysteries will remain just that - mysteries, no matter how much they are investigated.  So today, over 100 years after the events in Seattle, I can still call it the "mysterious" death of Eli A. Gage.

May he rest in peace.  

No comments:

Post a Comment