Thomas Clark Sr. had done well for himself since bringing his family from England to America in 1883. As a professional gardener and florist, his property at 13 Dyerville Avenue in the Manton section …
Thomas Clark Sr. had done well for himself since bringing his family from England to America in 1883. As a professional gardener and florist, his property at 13 Dyerville Avenue in the Manton section of Johnston contained the family home as well as the greenhouses that provided a comfortable livelihood. A 35-foot windmill reached up into the sky. Its arms, propelled by the breezes that rushed across the village, powered the cool, clear water to the greenhouses where plants and flowers thrived. The picture had once been that of rural tranquility. But nothing about the site would ever denote peace again.
Thomas and his wife, Jane (Illingsworth), had seven children. Their son, Thomas Jr., ran a grocery & meat market in Providence while continuing to live at home with his parents. The last week of 1907, 40-year-old Thomas went about his business although it was obvious he wasn’t feeling well. On the first day of 1908, Jane urged him to go see the doctor and he agreed that he would if he didn’t feel any improvements by the next day.
Thomas later decided not to wait until the next day to take action, though he made no plans to see a doctor. That evening, carrying a razor, he climbed to the top of the windmill, made a superficial wound on his neck with the blade and then either jumped or fell to the ground.
Family members later stumbled across him lying in the yard at the foot of the windmill and carried him into the house. With an altered state of consciousness, he told them what he had done and a doctor was summoned. The doctor, after an examination, determined that Thomas needed to get to the hospital quickly. As he was taken away in the ambulance, Thomas Sr. and Jane stood watching in a state of hysterics.
Thomas arrived at Rhode Island Hospital in critical condition. He sustained a fractured sternum, dislocated shoulder, fractured skull, fractured ribs, injuries to the head and chest, cuts and bruises. Hospital physicians didn’t believe there was much chance of survival.
As word of the suicide attempt spread, friends, family and business acquaintances had no idea what to make of it. Thomas had always been a mentally stable and well-liked man with much to be grateful for. No one could find any reason for him to have committed such an act other than to blame his recent bout of not feeling well as being some illness which must have caused temporary derangement.
Thomas died of his injuries at the hospital at 10:45 on the morning of Jan. 3. The windmill, which could be seen for miles around, now stood like a beacon of hopelessness against each sunset-painted sky.
Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.
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