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March 17, 2017

1892 The Most Unusual Death of State Sen. Samuel P. Sparks - Accidental Suicide

Research and writing from Peggy Nuckles, featured contributor! Peggy has had the very interesting Accidental History blog. http://accidentalhistory.blogspot.se/

There is a street in Warrensburg, Missouri named Sparks Avenue in honor of Samuel P. Sparks, a lawyer, state senator and prominent citizen back in the 1800s. But it is not so much his life, but his unusual death for which he is best remembered. 
On the 14th of May 1892, Sam Sparks bought an Accidental Death Insurance Policy from the National Masonic Accident Association. One night, shortly thereafter, the 48-year-old lawyer got up in the middle of the night, tripped in the darkness and fell face first onto a heating grate in the floor. A sharp piece of metal sticking up from the grate punctured his eye.
Soon infection set in behind his eye and went to his brain, driving him insane. He lingered for several months in this state before taking his own life on Sept. 16, 1892. According to a local newspaper, "...the Senator had been drinking heavily for several days. He laid down on the floor in his night clothes, and, after asking his wife to pray for him, deliberately cut his throat from ear to ear, half severing..." (the rest is unreadable.) His widow, Nannie, tried to collect on the policy, but was told that Sparks didn't die from the accident - he committed suicide.

Nannie took National Masonic to court several times before a sympathetic federal judge ruled that, "his death was the result of a bodily injury, which was effected through external, violent and ACCIDENTAL means..., to wit: the result of a deep gash cut in his throat, with a razor, in his own hands, while he, the said Samuel P. Sparks was insane, mentally deranged and wholly incapable of forming any mental design..."

So it was an accident.

Source: The Sedalia Weekly Bazoo, 20 Sept. 1892 and The Federal Reporter - Vol 79 page 278 and 279.
Here's a little write-up about his first wife Mira.
Close to the entrance of Sunset Hill Cemetery stands a tall, imposing tombstone that tells a story of two young lives that ended much too soon. 
Mira Curtis was the 20-year-old daughter of the Sheriff of Henry county when she married 27-year-old Samuel P. Sparks, the clerk of the neighboring Johnson County on April 6, 1871. 
Nine months and 13 days later she was dead. A small tombstone inches away from hers give evidence of the reason for her death. (Died birthing a child)

A few words and some random letters are visible on the baby's stone, but if the child has a name it is known now only to God. When the main monument was put up, the grieving young husband meant for it to stand forever as evidence of his love for her, but every one's enemy, time, is eroding this neglected structure. Soon all earthly evidence of this story of love, hope, and loss will be gone.
I can't remember where on the Internet I found this biography:
SAMUEL P. SPARKS
Samuel P. entered Chapel Hill college where he continued about one year when the war broke out, and he enlisted in the 5th Missouri cavalry, commanded by Col. Sigel, and served three years, afterwards on a non-commissioned regimental staff, and was in many hotly contested battles, in the Price raid of 1864. He was mustered out of service in May, 1865, and returned home and taught a term of school. In the following fall entered McKendre college, Lebanon, Ill., where he continued to pursue his studies for five years and graduated in the full college classical course in June, 1870. He then returned home and in the fall of the same year was elected to the office of county clerk of Johnson county. In 1874 he entered The St. Louis Law School and graduated in the spring of 1875. Returning home he commenced the practice of law and soon gained the reputation as a trustworthy lawyer. Mr. Sparks’ second marriage occurred April 8, 1874, to Miss Nannie R. Cunningham, daughter of Capt. Anderson Cunningham Little Rock Ark. Mr. Sparks owns a handsome suburban brick residence just north of the city limits. He and his family the attend Episcopal church, where his wife is a leading member. In politics he is a true democrat. In business he is prompt and attentive and among his friends, social, kind and benevolent.

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