The Death of Mary Wagner (nee Staebler)

Rev. Louis Henry Wagner, my wife Ellen’s great grandfather, maintained a diary, off and on, for several years covering the time he was 15 years old until well into his 30’s. Louis’ diaries are significant in offering a glimpse of life into not just the family’s history but also 19th century Ontario, Canada.

Louis’ father, Rev. Jacob Wagner died only a week after Louis’ first birthday. Subsequently, Louis was raised by his mother Margaret Wagner (nee Hailer) and later, by agreement following his mother’s marriage to Daniel Bean, his uncle and aunt Louis Breithaupt and Catherine Breithaupt (nee Hailer). In 1884, at the age of 27, Louis married Mary Staebler, the daughter of Jacob Staebler and Anna Muerner. On May 10th, 1886, their only child, Louis Jacob Gordon Wagner was born in Hespeler, Ontario.

In great detail, Louis describes in his diary that at the beginning of May 1887, Mary wasn’t well. She had experienced a deal of fatigue and some dizziness. On May 1st, Louis sent for Dr. Brown who provided Mary with some medicine. When her condition worsened, Louis gave Mary “3 drops each of Landinnin and Digitalis in a teaspoonful of Glycerene and went and reported to the Doctor. He was very indignant at me interfering with his patient, called it a “terrible blunder;” but I believe, what I gave her, did her good for it relieved her.” Dr. Brown’s opinion was that Mary had “inhaled a strong dose of poison somewhere.”

Louis’ diary account of the illness, of Mary’s fever and high pulse rate, of Dr. Brown’s vagueness in diagnosing what the illness was, is filled with the frustration of a young husband becoming more concerned and helpless to the events unfolding around him. On May 5th, Mary told him that “I am so glad that I attended to my soul long ago. If I would have to do it now it would make me crazy.” Dr. Brown “wanted to make out it is a severe case of dissentary. Dave [Mary’s brother Dr. David Staebler] refutes that and still believes it to be Typhoid fever.” In Dr. Brown’s absence, Dr. Whiteman from Shakespeare, Ontario attended to Mary and expressed his opinion that Mary indeed had typhoid fever. Louis noted in his diary, “My opinion of Dr. B[rown] is that he is neither a gentleman nor a physician and not near what some people think him to be.”

Tuesday, May 10, 1887

“Last night between 12:00 and 1:00 Mary got such a weak spell that we thought she would pass away. Dave had just gone to bed, so we called him. Mary revived again, but began to rave and talk worse than ever. We had quit giving her medicine but we thought we should not let her quite alone. There might be a chance yet, so we began to give her tonic (Brandy and water) and medicine through the night with no seeming effect however…. Her breathing has been quite irregular – heart beat strong and good. Hands quite cold and feet getting cold at 4:00 a.m. Expect death at any time. May the Lord relieve her some way.

11:45 a.m. – I came down again. Mary much weaker. Eyes starey and getting glassy and she only moans with every breath. Aunt Breithaupt and John just arrived.

12:50 p.m. – My dear Mary just breathed her last. Thank God the struggle is over.”

“Our baby was just one year old this 9:36 a.m. Poor motherless child!”

Mary Wagner (nee Staebler) was just 28 years, 2 months, and 26 days old when she died according to her death registration. Dr. Brown listed the cause of death to be Typhoid fever – 2 weeks.

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