BLITHEWOLD 1898 – 1930

Tragedy and Joy

In the spring of 1898 Bessie and Augustus were overjoyed to find that, after fourteen agonizing years of worrying and waiting, Bessie was pregnant. Their second child was due in November. The Joy, however, was short-lived; on June 8, 1898, while Bessie was packing trunks to move to Bristol for the summer, Augustus went out skeet-shooting with his brother-in-law and close friend, Sandidge “Sandy” Allison. After about an hour of shooting, Augustus stood aside to let Sandy Allison take his turn. What happened next has been the subject of much speculation.  The official version, as related by both the servants present, states that Augustus put his gun own on the ground “The stock resting on the earth and the barrel against his left side, just below his heart” He then leaned over his gun to scratch his score in the sand when the gun accidentally fired, discharging the full load, a shell that contained an ounce and a quarter of No.  8 shot, into his chest.  He threw up his hands and fell backward, mortally wounded. His last words were reportedly “Don’t tell Bessie.” Within the hour he was dead.

Augustus Van Wickle's gravestone, Hazelton, PA

Augustus Van Wickle’s gravestone, Hazelton, PA

The New York Times described Augustus as a true philanthropist — “He was many times a millionaire, and although much of his time was spent on his private yacht or at his Summer residence in Bristol, RI, his attention to the less fortunate people of the mining regions was never overlooked”

The list of Augustus’s achievements and connections in society was lengthy. Besides owning some eight companies, he was a member of the boards of trustees of the Peddie Institute, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Museum of Natural History, New York, He was a member of the New York Yacht Club, the Jekyll Island Club, President of the Bristol Golf Club, and Commodore of the Bristol Yacht Club.

A New Life

The Van Wickles returned to Hazleton in September, as Marjorie turned fifteen, and on November 10, 1898, Bessie gave birth to her second daughter. Several weeks after the birth Marjorie wrote to her Aunt Molly.

“The baby is also doing very well, and is just as sweet as she can possibly be. I think that she will probably be dark like Papa, for her eyes, although blue, are very dark, and her hair is almost black. She measures twenty-one inches exactly, or at least did when she was two weeks old, and weighs about eight pounds… We have not yet decided on the baby’s name but will write you when we do.”

The baby girl was eventually named Augustine after her father Augustus. Augustine was an exceptionally beautiful child, charming and enchanting, and she captivated the whole family.

Learn more about Augustine and the rest of the Van Wickle Family:

Click the images below to purchase Margaret Whitehead’s books. Or download our Audio Tour App on your smartphone or tablet.