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  • Last modified 71 days ago (Sept. 5, 2018)

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MEMORIES IN FOCUS: The best of times, the worst of times years ago

Although segregation reigned throughout most of the nation, Marion appeared to be a more tolerant society in the 1890s, with pictures from that era frequently showing interactions like this casual moment in a photo studio between toddlers Ruth Bowron and Nellie Young.

African Americans were considered valued members of the community who worked alongside others and organized a wide array of activities ranging from a dynamic local church to a literary book club.

All was not idyllic, however, as accidents and health often claimed children’s lives far too early.

On March 9, 1900, young Ruth, described in the Record of the time as “the bright and beautiful daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Charley Bowron,” died at age 6.

“A year or so ago,” the Record reported, “she suffered a partial stroke of paralysis but seemed to have recovered. Last week, however, she was taken seriously ill with a complication of diseases, and the greatest skill and tenderest care availed not to arrest the progress of the diseases.

“She was an unusually bright, sweet child, 6 years old. She seemed to realize the approach of death and in childish simplicity talked of dying in a very touching way.

“The bereaved loved ones have the profound sympathy of the community.”

Ruth’s parents, part of the extended family that built the Bowron Building that still survives at 3rd and Main Sts., eventually moved to Kansas City, where their remains are buried. Ruth’s solitary grave is here in Marion.

Not much is known about Nellie except that a young man thought to be her brother was a local hero — until his own untimely death a year later.

On May 12, 1899, the Record reported:

“Even Kansas children seem to have lately imbibed the spirit of courage and daring, which is making the state famous at home and abroad. We read some days ago of a little 8-year-old boy who fell into a well and managed to keep himself above the water until help arrived.

“But Marion goes this exhibition of grit several better. A little 2-year-old daughter of Mr. House, living in the west part of town, fell into a 25-foot well last Saturday, and though the water was deep enough to cover her, she hung on to the wall stones until another little hero, Charley Young, a colored boy only 11 years old, climbed down and held her out of the water until older help arrived.”

Less than two years later, young Charley was dead, too, of reasons not reported at the time. Like Ruth, the photo studio companion of his apparent sister Nellie, he is buried in a solitary grave at Marion Cemetery.

Last modified Sept. 5, 2018

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