Thursday, November 10, 2005

Coolidge Murder Ballad and more!

Well, I did a little poking around online, and found some information about the case.

Presumably the Maine Historical Society will have clippings giving a more detailed account, and the Bangor Library has a Boston Daily Times article from 1848 in their Special Collections department (cage 343.1.C779t). There is also a broadside by Dr. O. Drake titled "The Waterville Tragedy: Or, Death of Edward Mathews by Dr. Valorus P. Coolidge" that a few Maine libraries also have.

But in the meantime, here is what I dug up on-line:

"Mathews refused to lend money to the over-extended doctor, but then invited his victim to his office for a drink. Brandy laced with prussic acid did the job, but Coolidge panicked and attempted first to make the death appear as murder by violence, then to hide the body. Neither was successfu, despite Coolidge acting as coroner, performing the autopsy, and trying to hide the stomach."

Tried to hide the guy's stomach, huh? Wow! Just as an abstract fact (not even taking into account the whole escape/faked-suicide thingie), this alone is worth mentioning.

After the murder, the town of Waterville voted "to establish a night watch to consist of fourteen sober, temperate, and moral men who shall be voters of the town."

Later, according to Olive Woolly Burt's American Murder Ballads & Their Stories (1958), a ballad was made of the account, including the lyrics "Poor Edward Mathews, where is he? Sent headlong to eternity. O! V.P. Coolidge, how could you So black a deed of murder do?" The rest of the info included the book seems to have a garbled account of the murder, changing the story to that of Coolidge trying to steal a load of hay from Mathews. I'll research this firsthand once I get the book from interlibrary loan, and report back with the full lyrics and anything else I find.

Another article, which recounts the history of the Somerset County Press, mentions that a small publication, Mann's Physician and Down East Screamer (!!), "occasioned much comment by its position on the murder of Edward Matthews at Waterville in the autumn of 1848, for which Dr. V.P. Coolidge was tried and convicted, the incidents of which are still fresh in the minds of most readers. It will be remembered that the public excitement concerning events subsequent to the conviction and imprisonment of Dr. Coolidge, was for a long time intense, and entered to some extent into the political campaign of 1849."

So there you have it folks. It doesn't really top the tale of missing bodies or mysterious reappearances near the border, but it does give a wider view of some of the effects the murder had in the area.

1 comment:

Chris said...

The History of Augusta (1870) gives additional details of the crime and trial. Coolidge's office in Waterville was located in a store "in the center of the village, adjoining the principal hotel of the place." (The Centennial History of Waterville (1902) further identifies the store as "Shorey's clothing store, now Learned & Brown's shop." Could it still be standing?)

Also this:

"A post mortem examination of the body was proposed and made, at which Dr. Coolidge used the dissecting knife and took out the stomach, in which the smell of brandy was plainly perceived. The doctor passed it with the contents in a wash-bowl to be thrown out; but it was put in a place of safety and afterwards sent to Prof. Cleveland to be analyzed, who found prussic acid in considerable quantity in the contents."

Just before the inquest, Coolidge handed Flint some money, "remarking that they might ask him for his pocket-book, and he had too much money." This account says that Mathews had promised to lend Coolidge money, but that Coolidge had decided to, so to speak, avoid paying interest.

It also says that Coolidge's death sentence was commuted on Feb. 12, 1849, to life in prison.

Coolidge was tried by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, sitting in Augusta. The records of the trial should be at the State Archives, if anyone is interested in exploring more deeply.