Friday, March 11, 2011

Fearless Females, March 11, 2011:Tragic Death of Adeline Foss

Thank you to Lisa Alzo, of The Accidental Genealogist , for this always interesting and evocative month long series about the Fearless Females of our past.  The instructions for this day are as follows:
March 11 — Did you have any female ancestors who died young or from tragic or unexpected circumstances? Describe and how did this affect the family?

Adeline Foss, or perhaps she was Magdelena, or Magdelena Adeline, was one of my  Great Grandmothers. In   1882 she emigrated from Germany with her two sons, and presumably her husband - though he might have arrived on American shores at an earlier, or later time.  By 1884 she and her family, which now also included my grandmother, Elizabeth Alfreda Foss.  They purchased, for about $5,  a couple of acres of land which was located only a few blocks from Camp Randall, near what is now Randall Field in Madison, Wisconsin.   According to the letters of my Uncle Ralph, who remembered them from his childhood, his grandparents were a very hard working and frugal couple from the old country and produced almost everything they needed on those few acres.

Adeline and her husband Ferdinand lived on this small acreage for forty years -long after their children had grown up and had homes and families of their own.  In in 1922, with the city of Madison growing up around them, they sold their home and moved out a town to a house on Kendall Ave.  According to a daughter-in-law, Mrs. Charles Foss (Gertrude), the couple desired to have the convenience of a gas stove, so their sons, Charles and Otto were "attentive to the wishes to their parent's wishes, and stove installed."

And so it happened on the night of  June 26, 1924,  the elderly couple who had lived for many years in their old cozy home, content  with its furnishings, went to sleep in their new home with it's new gas stove.  Ferdinand never woke up and died from asphyxiation, and his  wife, Adeline, lay beside him near death.  She was closer to the open window and still breathed with their daughter-in-law found them the next morning.

Adeline was rushed to the General Hospital where heroic attempts were made to save her life, including an emergency blood transfusion from her 17-year-old grandson, William Foss, son of Charles Foss.  Although she reportedly rallied at one point, but succumbed later in the evening.

Evidently, some time in the evening one of the old couple accidently turned  the gas jet partially on and the deadly gas filled the house, snuffing out Ferdinand's life, and ultimately, Adeline's as well.

She was 79 years old and after over 70 years of cutting and hauling wood, cooking and heating by a wood burning stove or fireplace, she had hoped to have a bit of ease in her old age.  Adeline did not live to enjoy the new luxury of a gas stove.


  1. What a touching story. I was picturing my great grandparents in my mind as I read along. They too moved into "town" to enjoy city conveniences when they aged. Luckily they enjoyed many years there. I'm so sorry Ferdinand and Adeline did not.

  2. So sad...especially when the new stove held the promise of easier times for such a hard working couple!

  3. This makes me think of my own grandparents, both sets of whom lived their lives in tiny houses with no amenities; how sad that Adeline and Ferdinand were not able to live their lives out in their new home.

  4. This is so so sad, what a true tragedy.

  5. Lisa, Dorene, Greta & Carol,
    Thank you for stopping by and reading about Adeline. In one of the newspaper accounts of the tragedy, I saw a picture of the couple in front of their old home. It is the only picture that I have ever seen of the couple. I was excited to see this grainy, blurry image of my Foss great grandparents.