~The Arsenic Laced Shortcake~
[A few years ago, a cousin and I decided to see if we could find the “real story” behind some of the family stories that we had grown up with. This is one of the stories that we researched.]
This Family Story is one that I do not remember hearing as a child, or even as a teen. Perhaps I had heard it, and forgotten, or perhaps blocked it out. Dad was re-telling some of the stories that I love to hear, and he said something to the effect that of course I knew about the Shortcake. . . . . which of course I did not, so, he repeated the story for me. How could I not have known this family tale, or remembered it!
My cousin, Rob, and I began by writing down all that we could recall about this tragic story (with some corrections and direction from Rob’s mom, my Aunt Nancy). The story was about our Grandma (Evelyn, my father’s mother) as a young bride, married just over 1 month. She wanted to fix a nice dessert for the family, and decided upon Strawberry Shortcake. Alas, there was no baking powder to be found in the kitchen. Grandma Caroline (Evelyn’s mother-in-law) went on the search for some baking powder, and she found some in the shed that someone had mistakenly put there, and brought it in for Grandma Evelyn to use so that her shortcakes would rise nicely.
|My Grandparents, Fred and Evelyn Dostal. This photo was taken about a month before "the incident."|
|This is my Great Grandmother, Caroline Meyer Dostal.|
Grandma Evelyn set to making a delicious dinner and lovely dessert. At dinner there was my Grandma Evelyn and Grandpa Fred (Fred was the husband of Evelyn and father of my father), Great Grandma Caroline (Fred’s mother) and Great Uncle John Meyer, Grandma Caroline’s elder brother. The family version of the story related that everyone got extremely sick and Uncle John died! Thankfully, Aunt Helen, the sister of Fred and daughter of Caroline, came by late that evening for something, and she found everyone very ill. Apparently the Sheriff had to come out and do an investigation, and it was decided that no crime had been committed…… I could only imagine my Grandma’s sorrow and humiliation. However, Daddy had told me the story, and I had never heard Grandma speak of the incident.
And so, Rob and I set out to find what was fact, and what was fiction. . . . . . . Through newspaper research online, and Aunt Nancy getting copies made from newspapers on microfilm at the Library, we have the documented story as written in the paper, The Ludington Daily News. Here is a transcribed copy:
Arsenic Is Mistaken for Baking Powder
Arsenic, mistaken for baking powder and used in a strawberry shortcake for supper, caused the death of John Meyer, 80 years, and endangered the lives of his sister, Mrs. Charles Dostal; her son Fred Dostal and his bride of a month, Evelyn Gaffney Dostal, who made the shortcake at the family home in Amber township Monday afternoon.
Mrs. Dostal and her son were critically ill at noon today. Dr. C. M. Spencer of Scottville told The News he is hopeful they will survive. The young wife was almost out of danger, he said.
Search For Baking Powder.
“Mother, where is the baking powder?” the young bride asked. “I’ll make strawberry shortcake for supper.”
A search resulted when the can was not found in its usual place. Finally, an oldish-looking can was located in the woodshed.
“Here’s a can three-quarters full, “said the mother. “It looks kind of old, but I never heard of baking powder spoiling.”
The shortcake was made and all four ate of it. It didn’t taste first-class but Mr. Meyer, a hearty eater, ate all his share. The mother, Fred and his wife left some of theirs.
Cheese Blamed First.
Fifteen minutes later when chores were being done, Mr. Meyer complained of feeling sick. Mrs. Dostal, senior, said her stomach didn’t feel right. The trouble was attributed to cheese they had eaten for supper. This was found to be er- (cont’d. pg. ?, col. 1)
JOHN MEYER VICTIM WITH 3 OTHERS ILL.
(Continued from Page One)
roneous when Fred Dostal recalled he had eaten a cheese sandwich in the afternoon and suffered no ill effects.
Then they spoke of the shortcake not tasting right and an examination was made of the contents of the pan.
Fortunately, when all were becoming very ill Miss Helen Dostal, sister of Fred, arrived home. She had taken some strawberries to Ludington and had remained with her brother, William Dostal of 408 North Gaylord avenue, for supper. She summoned Dr. Spencer. He remained with his patients all night. Mr. Meyer passed away at 4 o’clock this morning.
Bought Seven Years Ago.
“I recall purchasing powdered arsenic seven or eight years ago and having it in a baking powder can,” Will Dostal told the news. “I kept it and paris green in a small shed that adjoined the corn crib. This building has been torn down since I lived on the farm. The can was probably carried into the woodshed at that time. I used an arsenic solution on seed corn to kill crows.”
Prosecutor V. A. Fitch and assistant Coroner George E. Dorrell conducted an investigation. The prosecutor was satisfied that death resulted from an accident.
John Meyer observed his eightieth birthday anniversary on June 2, last. He was a native of Germany and came to Ludington more than 40 years ago. He worked in the saw mills and then bought a farm in Pere Marquette township east of creamery corners. Twenty-two years ago he sold this house and bought another farm in Amber township where he made his home with his youngest son Louis, until his death three years ago. Then he spent some time with his son, Riley, at Kingsley, but came to the home of his sister last September.
Four Sons Survive Him.
Surviving are four sons: Fred and Gust, of Detroit; Herman C., banker and general merchant of Boyne Falls, and Riley of Kingsley. One daughter, Miss Emma Meyer, lives in Chicago. Mrs. Dostal is his only sister.
Fred Dostal and Miss Evelyn Gaffney were married but one month ago. Miss Gaffney was a well known Mason county school teacher.
The Ludington Daily News
Tuesday, July 1, 1924
Page 1; Column 1
Transcribed by D. Biggs on 3 Feb 2011.
So, the story as we had heard, was really an abbreviated version of what happened. It breaks my heart that Grandma lived with that for her whole adult life, I hope that she forgave herself, and knew that everyone else did too. One of my brothers who lives close to the area hopes to find a copy of the police report, if public access.
Bless Their Hearts!!!