Thursday, June 7, 2012

HE DESERVED BETTER - Frank Robert Giroux

Sometimes when I am wandering through a cemetery I am drawn toward a particular tombstone.  It's almost as if the deceased was reaching out to me from the beyond to tell their story.  Such was the case on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend when I was wandering around (where else?) Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago.  A descendant of Axel A. Strom asked me to photograph their very distinct family mausoleum at Rosehill.  Here it is, so you can see for yourself:

Well, I can't let a beautiful day at Rosehill pass without wandering around to see what I can "dig up".  I was strolling around Section Y when I saw this monument belonging to the Giroux family:

The first inscription caught my eye:

Sacred to the Memory of  Our Son
October 28, 1890 - November 15, 1909

Little did I know that I had stumbled upon a case of political corruption and cronyism that would even outdo the Illinois politicians of today.  

NOTE:  In quoting from newspaper accounts from the day, I may use terms which people find offensive today.  To change these terms to be more "politically correct" would not only be an incorrect reporting of the events, it might change the facts altogether.  When reading these articles, remember that you are reading historical documents that are over 100 years old.

Frank Robert Giroux was born October 28, 1890 to Ida Fredricka Giroux (nee Gronquist) and  Benjamin M. Giroux.  Young Frank had some health and behavioral problems, and was at the very least an epileptic.  Some time prior to 1908 Frank's parents had him committed to the Illinois Asylum for Feeble Minded Children at Lincoln, Illinois.  

There did not seem to be any complaint with the treatment Frank had been receiving until late in 1907 when he was severely burned by falling on an open radiator, reportedly while having an epileptic seizure.  A newspaper report from February 12, 1908 reported it as follows:

"Case of Frank Robert Giroux, December 23, 1907, burned about the left side of neck and ear upon an insufficiently protected radiator during an epileptic seizure:  The accident happened while the attendant was temporarily absent from the room in violation of the rules.  The case immediately received proper medical attention and the attendant was asked to make a written statement concerning the injury.  This he refused to do and resigned.  The State Board of Charities, Civil Service Commission and Board of Trustees investigated this case and placed the blame where it belonged:  upon the attendant."

Illinois' "reform" governor (we've had quite a few of those...) Republican Charles S. Deneen (nicknamed "The Bulldog")

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

was called to task for the abominable conditions at Lincoln.  His response:  The problems at Lincoln were something he inherited from a previous administration (where have we heard that before???). Deneen also laid the blame squarely at the feet of the (Democratically controlled) State Legislature, who Deneen said failed to appropriate the necessary funds to provide good care to the patients at the Lincoln asylum.

The State Legislature's response was to launch a massive investigation of the conditions throughout the state mental health system - and the report, when published put all the blame for conditions at Lincoln on Deneen and his appointed superintendent.

But it also turns out that Frank Giroux's injury was more than a simple burn.  From the report:

"It would seem to the most casual visitor that in wards where epileptics are kept, and persons of low mentality, every precaution should be taken.  Admittedly it was not taken in this case, and the terrible injury to Frank Giroux followed, maiming him for life.  The custom of having but a single attendant in the room at a time, which has since been corrected, made such a fearful injury possible, when the only attendant was called out of the room by his duties for a few moments.

The deception practiced in taking the boy to the infirmary on a stretcher, which was undoubtedly necessary because of his condition, and, upon hearing of his father's presence, dressing him and obliging him to walk from the infirmary to the main building and back again, with snow on the ground, is, to say the least, most reprehensible, and the careless and unprofessional treatment given to the wound by the doctor in charge is not only reprehensible but, in the opinion of the committee, calls for severest criticism."

Deneen's response to the report was swift:  "The governor sets forth that the financial administration of the public institutions has been of such a nature that in spite of the scanty appropriations great improvements have been started.  After referring briefly to the unfortunate accident to Frank Giroux, in the Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children, and the passage of the resolution providing for the appointment of an investigating committee January 14, 1908, the governor calls attention to the fact that prior to the passage of the resolution no discussion had arisen in the general assembly or elsewhere in regard to the general merit or demerit of the present system of administering the charity service of this state.  Long before the hearing at the asylum was ended, it was plain that the purpose of the investigation was the defamation of the state institutions."

The governor decided, in true political fashion, to appoint his own committee a "new board of charities" with Dr. Frank Billings, the most eminent physician in Illinois, at its head, and this board looked into the physical condition of the asylums.  They found that $2,500,000 would be needed to put them in good shape, physically.  "For years, each governor had cut the asylum appropriations," Deneen said, "We asked for $600,000 to begin on.  The legislature cut it in two."

"Then when Frank Giroux was burned on a radiator at Lincoln, they said the radiator should not have been there.  So I say, if the money had been appropriated for these buildings which should have been appropriated the radiator would not have been there - it would have been up near the ceiling."

Here was poor Frank Giroux being tossed back and forth like a political football.  Well, one day, his Mother had had enough:

Mrs. Ben Giroux Breaks Forth During Governor's Speech in Tent in Fullerton Avenue
Explains How the Radiator Accident Happened to Her Son in the Asylum at Lincoln

Gov. Deneen last night, while making a speech in a tent meeting on Fullerton Avenue near Racine Street, was denounced as a "liar" by Mrs. Benjamin Giroux, the mother of Frank Giroux, the boy who was burned on a radiator in the Lincoln Asylum for Feeble Minded Children last year.  It was the injury to this boy, that brought about the legislative inquiry into the Deneen administration of the state charitable institutions and finally resulted in the state-wide campaign against the governor by Richard Yates.

The incident in the tent last night was the most dramatic of the entire campaign.  It was the first time the governor and Mrs. Giroux have been brought face to face.

The woman called on the governor to explain why the radiator in the asylum upon which her son was burned  was not covered.

Takes Up Giroux Case.

The governor, in the course of his regular speech, had taken up the Giroux incident.  

"It was not this boy's fault that he was burned," he said.  "I feel deeply sorry for the accident.  But see how it happened and who was to blame. Coates, the attendant, was appointed by Gov. Yates.  I never met the man.  It was his duty to watch the ward where the epileptic boy was. He took a  chance and left the room for twenty minutes.  When he came back the boy had fallen in a fit across the radiator and was burned badly.  Coates was discharged at once.  Who was to blame?"

At that moment there was a slight demonstration toward the center of the tent.  It was plain that there was a good deal of feeling on the subject.  The Giroux boy was born and brought up in that north side neighborhood.   Many had known him.  The region also is the home of Representative John W. Hill, chairman of the asylum investigating committee which exploited the Giroux accident and led the controversy into political channels.  Finally the suppressed excitement broke loose.  

Woman's Voice Rings Shrill

 "Why weren't the radiators covered?" asked a woman in a voice shrill and indignant.  The immediate group around her applauded.  The governor looked astonished - then troubled.   He looked pleadingly at the woman.  

"I was just coming to that point," he said.  "If you will give me a chance ---"

"It was my boy", cried the woman, who was Mrs. Giroux.  "You can't say these things to me.  I know better."

"Madam," said the governor, "I will explain to your satisfaction."

"You better," said Mrs. Giroux.  "I am his mother."

"Yes, and I am sorry for you," said the governor.  "This lady's husband", he added, addressing the crowd, "has been employed by Mr. Yates to make speeches against me."

Shouts: "It's a Lie"

"That's a lie - a lie," shrieked Mrs. Giroux.  "He doesn't get any money for it.  Heis doing it for the sake of humanity."

"I will have no discussion with a lady," said the governor, turning in appeal to the committee on the platform.  

"You'd better not", said the woman.

"We will give you a chance later," interrupted the chairman of the meeting.  "The governor has the floor now."

"I am through.  I have nothing more to say."  Mrs. Giroux added hastily.
Chicago Daily Tribune - July 31, 1908

At this point the Giroux family realized that they would never get any satisfaction from the State of Illinois, so they moved their son out of Illinois all together.  They put Frank in the care of the good Sisters of St. Francis at their Institute in Jefferson, Wisconsin. 

Now I wish I could end my tale by saying "And they all lived happily ever after", but alas, that was not the case.  The first one to die was young Frank himself:

Frank Giroux, Whose Injuries in Home for Feeble Minded Caused Legislative Inquiry, Expires in Wisconsin

Frank Giroux, so severely injured while an inmate of the Home for Feeble Minded Children at Lincoln, Ill., as to cause a legislative investigation of state institutions, died Monday at the Sisters of St. Francis Institute, Jefferson, Wis.  He had been in the care of the sisters there for sixteen months.
Chicago Daily Tribune - November 17, 1909

The second casualty was the marriage of Ben and Ida Giroux, Frank's bereaved parents.  The 1910 census show Ben and Ida living together at 3742 Herndon Street in Chicago, but sometime before 1920 the Giroux family fell apart.  

It often happens that when a couple lives through a family tragedy they end up divorced.  It's almost as if their suffering holds the marriage together but when that is gone there is nothing left.  That may have been the case with Ben and Ida Giroux.

The 1920 census shows Ida living as a "Servant" in the home of Richard Plainbeck at 1213 Newport Avenue in Chicago.  Her marital status was "Divorced".  I can't find Ben in the 1920 Census at all.

Ben Giroux does show up in the 1930 Census.  By 1930 Ben has remarried (to "Claire") and is managing a theatre in Marysville, California  which is part of the greater Sacramento area. 

I can't find Ida in the 1930 Census, but she must have relocated to California at some point, because she died in Los Angeles on August 2, 1948.  At her request her body was returned to Chicago where she lies between her parents and her beloved son Frank in Rosehill Cemetery.

Frank's father Ben died in Oakland, California in May of 1934.  His obituary even made the New York Times:

 New York Times - June 1, 1934

So now you know the sad tale of Frank Robert Giroux.  What if the attendant had not left the room at the precise time that Frank had an epileptic seizure?  Would Frank had lived on beyond 1909?  Would his parents have stayed together?  Would they have stayed in Illinois? We will never know.  But we can all agree on one thing - Frank Robert Giroux deserved better than he got.

May he rest in peace. 

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