Burial plans arranged
Editor’s note: This is part two of a three-part series. The conclusion will be published in Saturday’s edition.
For five days thousands of people viewed the body of “Somebody’s Boy” found on the Santa Fe tracks north of El Dorado, where he had been killed when a train struck him and severed his right arm and leg.
Frank Byrd, manager of the Byrd Brothers Funeral Home, 200 S. Star St., estimated a steady stream of at least 1,500 visitors viewed the body in just one day.
The body was not in good condition. It had been touched by so many - the lips had been moved in order to see his teeth and his eye lids had been moved in hopes of identification.
The bruises on the head were becoming brown and the entire color of the body was changing. However, Byrd advised the body was keeping “remarkably well” in view of the way the youth was killed and the circumstances of being touched by hundreds of people attempting to identify him.
The authorities spoke with a psychic named Eugenie Dennis concerning his family’s whereabouts. Her advice was to look in Omaha, but no records indicate any inquiries were made there. Miss Dennis, of Atchison, Kan., later moving to New York City, made national headlines throughout the 1920s and 1930s for her psychic detective abilities.
Byrd stated he did not believe the body would be identified and if it was not in the next couple of days, it would most likely be buried at the county farm.
Efforts to identify the body ceased several days later and it was time to make funeral and burial arrangements.
J.H. Sandifer, a member of the board of directors of the West Cemetery (Sunset Lawns) Association, informed Byrd a lot would be furnished at no charge.
Byrd advised the body would be dressed properly and buried in a coffin valued at over $100. He told reporters, “I will stand the entire expense myself, unless someone offers to assist with the burial. I believe the boy should be given a proper burial, despite the fact efforts to identify the body have been in vain.”
Civic clubs and citizens were calling the funeral home seeking to assist with expenses - mostly small sums. The Rotary and Kiwanis Club raised around $40. The total expense of the burial would be around $150.
Flowers were arriving at the funeral home, including a large bouquet of roses. The community opened its heart and became the boy’s family.
One young girl had visited the funeral home each day for a week fearing the young man was her cousin, but failing to confirm his identity. She seemed to be having a difficult time of letting go of the possibility.
The newspapers carried a story of a mother who had not slept since the body was found on the track, because her own son was missing. She was overjoyed when her son returned after seven months of being gone. She brought him to the funeral home and told Mr. Byrd, “I just wanted you to see that my boy is alive.”
People in Butler County and throughout the state had been captivated by the story of the unknown boy for over a week. Don’t miss the conclusion in Saturday’s edition.
Sources: The El Dorado Times, September 1923, The Augusta Daily Gazette, September 1923, the Kansas Historical Society, Carol Turner, and Carlson Funeral Home, El Dorado, Kansas City Star archives.
Belinda Larsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.