PROFILE: Historic tragedy still resonates for many
Even her statue looks tragic. That delicate face chiseled in limestone with its sightless eyes rests like a crown of innocence upon a small fragile body. A body that reaches out with hands mangled by the cruel act of unknown vandals years ago.
For almost 100 years that statue in Woodland Cemetery has marked the final resting place of Osa Drummond Wilson, a mother of six, who died too young, and under circumstances that may or may not have been sinister.
The truth of her death seems not to matter as much as the legend that has grown around it, a legend that believers say is manifested often upon that statue on her grave.
Whether it is apocryphal or not, the story that has haunted Osa is that pregnant with her seventh child she was brutally knocked down a flight of stairs at her home at 130 Chestnut St. in Ironton. There she lingered for about a month before dying at the age of 34.
It was a story of spousal abuse that tragically is heard all too often. But that tale is what has captured the imagination of many around the county.
Rather what they see as proof of the brutal demise is in a hand print on the side of the face and the marks on the throat of the statue that seem to come out of nowhere. So much so that to this day the allegations surrounding Osa’s death have given her the soubriquet of the “Slapped Lady.”
Just as bizarre are more otherworldly occurrences around the statue where her belly supposedly stays warm even in the coldest days of winter, as if the life Osa was carrying at her death has followed her to the grave.
Nancy Livingston has portrayed Osa many times during the Lawrence County Historical Society’s annual Ghost Walk, where the famous and infamous buried in Woodland Cemetery come back to life for an evening to tell their stories.
“I was very dramatic,” Livingston said. “I would just be sitting there talking and then would fake the slap and fall off the tombstone.”
But is Livingston a believer in the statue’s powers?
“There can be explanations for this that some don’t want to hear,” she said. “Where they say there is a handprint, it is vague. If you want to make it into a handprint you can see. Everything I have read says he was a very good husband. There is rumor and fact. You really don’t know.”
But what we do know is that Osa Wilson was born in April 1877 in Gallia County, the daughter of James T. Drummond and Missouri Neal. On Sept. 12, 1894, she married Scott William Wilson, an insurance and real estate agent who worked out of their home at First and Chestnut streets.
Today that stretch of Chestnut is vacant land. But once there were a half-dozen houses near the river’s edge before the land was turned over in the 1920s to the Ironton Stove Manufacturing Co. There it built a factory that produced ranges and heating stoves through part of the Depression.
On Jan. 26, 1911, Osa fell ill and went under the care of Dr. O.U. O’Neill, who treated the young women until her death about a month later on Feb. 25, 1911.
“The spirit of Mrs. Scott W. Wilson was called from the weary struggles of this world to receive its heavenly reward early Saturday morning, after a four weeks’ illness from a complication of diseases,” her death notice stated.
“No hope of her recovery had been entertained the past week, but the knowledge could not soften the blow when it finally fell,” according to the notice. “Her life can well be cited as an example of the highest type of the home-loving wife and mother. Ever a faithful, loving helpmate and the most devoted of mothers, her loss is almost unbearable to the sorrowing husband and the six little children who have lost their best earthly friend.”
Her funeral was two days later at the Pine Street Methodist Church where she had regularly worshipped with the pastor, the Rev. A.R. Henderson, officiating.
There are no records or public accounts of Scott ever questioned in any manner about his wife’s death. In fact, her death certificate lists the primary cause for her demise as neuritis with colitis as the contributing factor.
Could these be the ailments that result from the fall? There is nothing definitive in any of the evidence to prove a case one way or the other.
“Neuritis is a catchall term,” according to Dr. John Walden of the Marshall University Medical School. “It really doesn’t say a whole lot.”
The term, which was used in the early 1900s in basically the same way as it is today, means an inflammation of a nerve accompanied by pain and loss of function, Walden said. It can be a single nerve or large number of nerves.
“It would be an unlikely thing to describe someone with an injury and describe neuritis,” he said. “I don’t think there would be any reason to tie these two diagnoses to that event. But I wasn’t there. I don’t know what the doctor was thinking when he wrote those diagnoses. I don’t think without any other information, you can’t draw any conclusions.”
A little bit more is known about Scott, who lived 18 years longer than his first wife. Much of that is thanks to the genealogical research done by Carolyn Marie Hines of Leesville, S.C., who is related to Scott through his mother’s side, the Foldens.
Hines has posted much of her research on the standard genealogical Web sites as well as on her own Web site
Scott was four years older than Osa, born in Lawrence County on Feb. 5, 1873. His parents were James H. and Malissa Folden. Like Osa, Malissa Folden was born in Gallia County and married Scott’s father two days before Christmas in 1866.
The couple took up residence in the Ironton area and are both buried at Mt. Hermon United Brethren Cemetery. James died in 1891, but Malissa lived just a few months shy of her son’s death.
The couple had four children, three sons and a daughter, with Scott the oldest.
He became one of the leading businessmen in Ironton, with his offices at his new home at Fifth Street and Park Avenue, across from where Christ Episcopal Church is today.
“He was a builder in all senses of the word,” a newspaper account of his death stated. “He was active in the incorporation, platting and growth of the village of Melrose, below the C. and O. workings at Raceland. He carried on an extensive insurance business in addition to his countless real estate transactions.”
He was a leader in his church, the First Methodist Episcopal where he was a trustee. He was also a member of the Elks Lodge.
On Nov. 6, 1929, Scott Wilson succumbed to the illness that had caused failing health for six weeks. The last two weeks of his life he spent in the Marting Hospital. The death certificate states the cause was septicemia, or blood poisoning.
“Mr. Wilson was a man with courage in his convictions and he was beloved by his family, admired by his friends and highly regarded by all with whom he came in connection. His death comes as a bolt to both city and county residents,” his obit states.
A little over a year after Osa’s death, Scott remarried, to a Louisa, Ky., widow, Lou Price Wilson. He left the new Mrs. Wilson their house on Park Avenue as long as she did not remarry, $3,500 from the sale of the Rucker Farm in Mason Township, all the household goods coming from the marriage; and 50 percent of a life insurance policy. The children he had with Osa would inherit the other half, which would give each $5,000. This is according to his will filed in Lawrence County Probate Court on Nov. 12, 1929, before Judge Helen P. Clarke.
His diamond stick pin went to his son, Hollis, and his diamond ring was to be sold with the proceeds going into the estate, unless any child wanted to buy it for $800.
Those children of Osa have passed on and their descendants scattered. If any knew of the legend about their mother and grandmother, they have kept their counsel.
Now all that remains are a legend and a statue that may or may not speak the truth.