Thursday, July 5, 2018

Jessie Breyman McNary killed 100 Years Ago in Auto Crash

Jessie Breyman McNary
(undated photo, Oregon State Library)

July 4th, 1918
100 years ago Jessie Breyman McNary's death in a crash on July 3rd, 1918  was unusually notable and front page news. She was married to a major Oregon politician and her own family, the Breymans, were important figures also. (See "The Breyman Sisters-in-Law" for some on women in the family.)

Charles McNary driving unidentified passengers
(undated photo, Oregon State Library)
Crashed July 5, 1905
Died a few days later
What I believe was Salem's first auto fatality was also the wife of one of Salem's leaders, John Albert, and mother of artist Myra Albert Wiggins. Mary Holman had suffiered injuries that turned out to be fatal on July 5th in 1905.

It is a question whether female passengers were at greater risk of injury or death during these early days of motoring. Of course most of the drivers were men, and more men died or suffered life-altering injuries. But there were no seatbelts and lady passengers might have been more vulnerable. Dresses and scarves in particular might catch more easily on flying or crushing metal, for example. (There might be literature on this, and we'll update as we find it.) Both of these crashes involved hills and edges of roads. Maybe also these headlines merely represent selection bias by the newspapers, preferring to sensationalize the deaths and injuries of prominent ladies. This is just something to consider and perhaps we'll return to it to see if it is more than just coincidence. But it is interesting that two of the most significant automobile fatalities in early 20th century Salem were wives and passengers rather than drivers.

And on typography: Note the use of Hobo, first released in 1910, and still modern at this time. I think of it as a playful font, sometimes overused or annoying even, in its contemporary usage, but here it is used for a very serious purpose. It makes that headline look like something from The Onion rather than something real. The paper at this time regularly used Hobo for headlines on war updates, and there has been a huge kind of semiotic shift in the "meaning" or mood of the font itself.


A Breyman family plot at City View cemetery
Jessie's marker
I think Jessie is buried in a lovely plot at the crest of the hill in City View. But there is a cryptic note in the records for the Pioneer Cemetery:
Charles McNary is not buried here, contrary to published records, he is buried in Belcrest Memorial Cemetery. We added his biography to point researchers to the correct burial site in Belcrest, where his wife Jessie Breyman McNary was buried in 1918.
Hopefully it's just a scrivener error and it should read "City View" not "Belcrest."

The monument also marks Boise and Snedecor burials, and Dr. Frank Snedecor, who had been a passenger with Jessie, later died in October of 1918. In the crash he sustained an injury to his leg, but a brief article in the paper says the cause of death was more directly related to some surgery several years previous.


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Though it's a little bit of a puff piece, there's a long profile of Charles McNary in a 1940 Life Magazine that's interesting as a contemporary take on him towards the end of his career.)

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Update: Added notes and photos on Jessie's burial.