“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

Sunday, February 1, 2015

What happened to Harry L. Beazley?

Over the years there have been more than a few debates and discussions of my great grandfather Harry L Beazley's demise. He entered Jennie Bryant's life, gave her two children, and was dead and gone, all in less than five years.

Harry even tried to re-enlist
from the mental hospital.
As noted previously, Harry had a hard time finding a job upon his arrival in North Carolina. When he did finally secure employment it only lasted about five months. Less than one week after leaving Erwin, Plant No. 2, Harry Beazley was hospitalized and would remain so until his death 26 months later.

Captain Beazley went insane, that much is undisputed. What we don't know for certain is why, but there are a number of possibilities worth considering.

We know Harry spent approximately ten years living in the Philippines, a tropical climate. We also know that Harry suffered repeated bouts of tropical sprue, a particularly nasty little disorder that causes malabsorbtion of nutrients from the gastrointestinal tract. There are several known causes of tropical sprue, but one, a protist indigenous to the Philippines was only discovered in the 1980s.  One of the less common symptoms of a long term case of sprue is, apparently, a form of dementia. Could that have been a contributing factor or even a primary cause?

The cause of death listed on the only document we have says simply, "paresis". Paresis of the insane was, in 1921, an incurable illness usually associated with syphilis. A treatment using penicillin was discovered less than five years after Harry's death. Had that treatment been discovered just a few years earlier, my family history would be a much different story.

Jennie Beazley with her children and
members of their families, about 1960.
Unfortunately, medical science of the early twentieth century was still light years behind our current knowledge. Maybe Harry had syphilis? Or maybe his dementia was a complication of his long battle with sprue? Or maybe it was something else entirely; early onset Alzheimer's anyone? PTSD? We will never know, but one thing is certain; Harry Beazley met a horrific and unfortunate end.

Harry and Jennie's second child, Lillian Maria Beazley, was born on July 8, 1921. If Harry was hospitalized in a mental institution from September, 1919 onward, how and when did Jennie become pregnant? Did this happen at the hospital during a visit? Were conjugal visits allowed? Was any sexual activity between Harry and Jennie mutually consensual? Was Lillian Beazley's conception an act of rape?

We will probably never have definitive answers for these and many other questions; all of the primary actors are long dead and gone now. Harry and Jennie Beazley's children grew up and married, producing six grandchildren and numerous great- and great-great grandchildren between them.

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