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  • Writer's pictureKyra Mangold-Ostovich

Voices of the Past: Richard Fawcett (January 31, 2022)

Updated: Feb 2, 2022

Richard Fawcett

Born: 1858

Died: May 12, 1897, aged 39

Location: Old Section C, lot 89, unmarked grave

At the time of his death, Richard Fawcett, a former millworker, had been a ward of the Dixmont Insane Asylum, formally known as the Dixon State Hospital, located in the northwest region of Pittsburgh.

Blind, near deaf, and suffering from paralytic and paretic troubles to the point of invalidity, Fawcett had been admitted to Dixmont from the Allegheny County Home in June of 1893. According to the staff of Dixmont, Fawcett had been put to bed on Tuesday evening in his typical state of ill health. The following morning, three large blisters were discovered on his right leg, forming a burn about eight inches long. He died later that afternoon at 2 PM.

According to the Pittsburgh Daily Post, John Harper, President of Dixmont, along with the Deputy Coroner, launched an immediate investigation. Every attendant in the facility was questioned by Harper and Dr. W. K. Walker, the resident physician, but, unsurprisingly, no one could account for the origin of the injuries. What was noted by the inquisition was that Fawcett had been given his usual bath prior to 3 PM on Tuesday afternoon, no fire nor light had been in his room at any point, and his immediate attendant swore that no injury was present on Fawcett's person.

Coroner Herbert McDowell was requested to examine Fawcett's case in an effort to exonerate the staff and the hospital. Deputy Coroner Moreland was advised to examine the same attendants, but could unearth no further useful details. Dr. Walker and his colleague, Dr. H. A. Hutchinson, both testified that the blisters were in fact merely blisters, and not burns as originally thought. It was speculated by the doctors that because of Fawcett's sickly status, the water from the bath may have affected Fawcett's body differently than it would a healthy man.

After a thorough investigation of the grounds for other potentially harmful causes, the Deputy Coroner was unable to find reasoning that would satisfy the cause of Fawcett's injury, and therefore, could not hold any attendant responsible. The inquest was closed, and the cause of Fawcett's death was recorded as "exhaustion."

That same day, it was revealed by the Pittsburgh Press that Fawcett had been in business for 16 years in Homestead and was very well connected. He was married with four children, and his wife was a daughter of Capt. J. B. Jones, Sr., and a sister of J. B. Jones, a councilman of the First Ward. His family was not satisfied with the Coroner's verdict of "exhaustion" as the cause of death. The Press further reported that two years earlier, Fawcett had taken to drink and lost most of his money. His mental and physical health were so affected by the alcohol that he was removed from his home and placed into the care of Dixmont.

His remains were taken to his residence on May 13, 1897, and his burial took place at Homestead Cemetery the following day.

On the day of his burial, May 14, 1897, the Pittsburgh Press and Pittsburgh Daily Post released an update on the investigation. John Harper, the Dixmont President, discharged four attendants, including two nurses and the day and night watchmen, on suspicion of having lied during the inquest. Harper believed that a bath had been given with too hot water. It was also said that J. B. Jones, Fawcett's brother-in-law, was preparing to file a lawsuit against the institution.

Information gathered from:

  • "Death Mystery at Dixmont," Pittsburgh Daily Post, 13 May 1897, Thursday, Page 2.

  • "Four Attendants Dismissed," Pittsburgh Press, 14 May 1897, Page 8.

  • "Trouble at Dixmont," Pittsburgh Daily Post, 14 May, 1897, Page 2.

  • "Will Investigate Further," The Pittsburgh Press, 13 May 1897, Thursday, Page 9.

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