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Tragedy in the Life of Emma (Breeden) Munson

Blog post by Randi Richardson

Irvin Minneman, an IU freshman from Logansport rooming at the Bloomington home of Emma Munson on Fourth Street, awoke on Wednesday, May 24, 1911, not feeling well at all.  For the past few days he had been suffering from a bad cold.  About 8 AM he asked his roommate, Bernice Hutchins, to go to the drug store and buy him some quinine.  Upon receipt of the medicine, Irvin planned to take a nice, long, hot bath.

Bernice returned with the quinine about 9 AM and about 11 AM, Irvin entered the bathroom and began his bath by turning on gas jets to the water heater below the tub and lifting a towel from one of jets on the wall that provided the gas heat that warmed the room.   An hour later, some carpenters who were working in the home complained that they smelled gas.

This advertisement for a folding bathtub with an overhead water heater was published by the Mosely Folding Bath Tub Company in 1901.

Emma went to the bathroom and tapped on the door.  There was no response.  She then called upon the carpenters to break open the door.  It was they who discovered Irvin’s lifeless body in scalding hot water.  According to the coroner’s report, Irvin had died from accidental asphyxiation due to gas escaping from the unlit jet on the wall while the jets under the tub continued to heat the water in the tub ever hotter.

Emma was no doubt crushed.  Her life during the past six years had not been an easy one.  George Munson, her husband and a beloved physician, died on May 10, 1905, at the age of 42 leaving her to care for their four young children.  In 1910, she was living in Van Buren Township and working as a teacher.  What prompted her move to Bloomington and the opening of a boarding house is not known.

Within a few months of Irvin’s tragic death, Emma took her children and moved to Arizona.  In September 1913, Emma died there of tuberculosis leaving her children without a mother or father.  After some discussion, it was decided to transport the body back to Bloomington for burial in Rose Hill Cemetery at the side of her late husband.  Her son, Chester, and one of her three daughters accompanied the body on the long train home across country.

Upon the arrival of the remains, R. P. and Sarah (Sparks) Breeden, Emma’s parents, eagerly looked forward to gaze one last time upon the face of the daughter who they had not seen for some time.  There hopes to do this, however, were dashed by Emma’s brother-in-law, Dr. William Munson, a Chicago physician who ordered the casket be kept closed.  R. P. appealed to Bloomington Circuit Judge Wilson who advised that him that parents had the right of control before the brother-in-law.  Wilson told him to repeat his request one last time, and if the casket was not opened he should take tools and open it himself.  It was then opened.

There was one last tragedy in Emma’s life, one for which she was already gone.  Emma’s 19-year-old daughter, Julia, died in Arizona, in September 1917, the place where she had made her home since the death of her mother.  Although Bloomington relatives anticipated that Julia’s body would be returned to Monroe County for burial at the side of her parents, there is no evidence of her burial in Rose Hill.  Dr. William Munson was in charge of the burial arrangements.  Her final resting place is not known.


Mosely Folding Bathtub from the Late 19th Century

Digital image of George Munson’s death record from the Monroe County, Indiana, Health Department available online at  Document dated May 10, 1905.

Washington (IN) Daviess County Democrat, May 27, 1911, p. 1.  “Tragedy in Emma Munson’s Home”

Logansport (IN) Daily Tribune, May 26, 1911, p. 1.

Indianapolis (IN) Star, May 24, 1911, p. 18.

Bloomfield (IN) News, September 11, 1913, p. 1.

Hammond (IN) Lake County Times, September 17, 1913, p. 3.

Bloomington (IN) Evening World, September 6, 1917, p. 1.