We are used to seeing and hearing sensationalized headlines designed to make us click a link, pick up a magazine, or “come back after the commercial break.” The stories rarely live up to the hype of the headline, present outright falsehoods, or tell a completely different story than the headline would have you assume. Perhaps the headline to this post did just that, and that was the entire point. What happened to Thomas K. Addy in 1920 likely sold a lot of newspapers when the headline announcing his death was printed, but his death was a tragic accident.
Residents of New Philadelphia picked up their local newspaper on Wednesday, October 20, 1920 to a startling headline. “Death Veiled in Mystery”, “Find Headless Body Along Track”, “Money Untouched”, and “Victim’s Head Could Not Be Located” were emblazoned in the far right column of the paper, above the fold. The victim’s name was Thomas K. Addy (1864-1920) and his headless, but apparently otherwise unharmed, body had been discovered by two railroad employees.
Thomas was the son of Guernsey County farmer Hugh Addy (1821-1903) and his wife Margaret Warden (1832-1898). Thomas came from a very large family and, along with his siblings, was working on his father’s farm by the age of fifteen. After his own marriage to Ida Hutchison (1869-1963) in 1891, he was farming and raising his own family in Guernsey County. Farming must not have suited Thomas because, in 1910, his household lived in Oxford Township, Tuscarawas County and Thomas worked in a local brickworks.
Thomas and his family lived about two miles south of Newcomerstown, close to a tunnel on the Cleveland & Marietta railroad line, in 1920. Thomas had returned to farming, but also worked as the tunnel’s night watchman. This job required him to make sure that the tracks in the tunnel were free of any debris, as well as to prevent potential collisions between trains. It was likely that his duties as the watchman placed him near the tracks the evening before his body was found.
It was around 1 am on Wednesday morning and two Cleveland & Marietta railroad employees were walking along the tracks near the tunnel south of Newcomerstown. The two men noticed a body a short distance away from the tunnel entrance and tracks. As the men approached the body, they saw that the head was completely gone. The men searched the dead man’s pockets and discovered that nothing had been stolen; his pocket watch and wallet, containing $150.00, were intact. They also claimed that the body had no other apparent, visible injuries.
The newspaper did a very nice job in shrouding what happened to Thomas Addy in as much mystery as possible. Careful readers though would have noticed that the answer was likely very simple. If it was foul-play, why was Thomas’s watch and cash not stolen? How could the men who found Thomas tell if a fully-clothed man had no other injuries? It did not take long for the authorities to solve the “mystery” of Thomas Addy’s death.
Only a few hours after the newspaper was printed, men working on a Cleveland & Marietta locomotive found something shocking: Thomas Addy’s head. The mystery was solved, and how Thomas died became clearer. Thomas Addy, according to his family, suffered from a chronic heart condition. The investigation into his death concluded that, while Thomas was working as tunnel warden that night, he suffered some kind of heart episode. That episode caused Thomas to stumble into, and then be struck by, the oncoming locomotive. His head was severed and his body was thrown some distance from the tracks. A tragic accident.
When Thomas’s body was found, the newspaper placed that announcement at the top of the page one, with a flurry of sensational headlines. After the cause, and circumstances, of Thomas’s death were determined it warranted two short paragraphs at the bottom of page one. One New Philadelphia newspaper placed it at the bottom of page six. Thomas was more than just a sensational headline; he was a husband, and father to eight children. Thomas Addy is buried in Saint Jacobs Lutheran Cemetery in Newcomerstown.
© Noel B. Poirier, 2021.