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Hugh Alexander

This is one of three tales shared in the video on the left, titled "3 Tales of Lives Cut Short". The video was inspired originally by the tale of Hugh Alexander that I discovered in an old newspaper while doing research for another video. This story was not one that I could find any references to anywhere outside of a few papers from the time and reminded me of the reason I started Legends and Tales in the first place - to share lesser-known stories in addition to the well-known legends. Each tale will have its own page here, but the video and intro paragraph will be the same for each.

Hugh Alexander was born on September 21, 1889 to Frank and Hulda Alexander in Indiana. Frank Alexander would pass away on August 28, 1895 from what appeared to be blood poisoning, leaving Hulda alone to care for Hugh. She would remarry at some point in the following years to a Mr. James Quinn and the family would move to Etna, Pennsylvania.


As Hugh became a young adult, he would begin looking for work, and in 1908 or 1909 he would be hired onto the Atlantic Refining Company as a messenger clerk. This job would see him attending to the mail, passing out packages and ensuring letters made it where they needed to go within the office. Hugh excelled in this and would quickly become known as a hard and reliable worker among his coworkers and superiors.

Over the course of a few months, Hugh would save up a decent amount of money, using a small amount to purchase himself a new automatic revolver and a small barge that was being offered for sale with only a few minor repairs needed to make it seaworthy. He wouldn't say exactly what his plans for the boat were, but he must have had something in mind as he spent time working on fixing it up and sailing up and down the Ohio River.

Photo of Hugh as a b_edited.jpg

A Young Hugh Alexander,

The Pittsburgh Press,

April 3, 1909

On April 1, 1909, Hugh would leave work at his usual time and head to the bank to withdraw $50. What he did after that is not known for sure, even to this day, but at some point, he would go to the dock where his boat was located and set off down the Ohio River. Later that evening, he was spotted by a local, A.G. Bone, standing on the front of the boat and firing rounds into the water. Mr. Bone noted that the boat looked a little unsteady, but otherwise there wasn't anything wrong.

Late in the evening, two men who were sailing down the river near Merrill, Pennsylvania spotted what appeared to be an empty boat floating with the current. Sailing over the investigate, they climbed aboard and found the body of a young man, laying on his back, with a gun in his hand and a bullet wound in his right temple. He appeared to have only just passed away and the men hurried back to shore to alert authorities.

The body would be removed from the boat and taken to the coroner's office to be identified. Police would find his shirt pocket had the initials "H.M.A." embroidered on it and there was a letter with The Atlantic Refining Company's letterhead on it addressed to Hugh M. Alexander. Using this information, they were able to visit his employer and get his home address, tracking down his mother to verify what they already suspected.

Hugh Alexander Death Cert.png

Hulda Alexander (now Mrs. James Quinn) was able to confirm, first over the phone and then in person, that the body was that of her son. The police and the coroner both agreed that the most likely cause of death was suicide, but Hulda vehemently disagreed, pointing out that her son was seemingly very happy and had even made plans for that summer. Her theory was that he had fallen down while handling the revolver and accidentally shot himself. She said he was not yet familiar with the way the gun worked and would have been more likely to accidentally fire it then to turn it on himself.

Hulda would also state that her son had been paid just before he had died and had taken out $50 that would have been on him. When his body was found, there was only 35 cents in his pocket. This adds the possibility of robbery to the mix as the money was never accounted for.


Mrs. Quinn would have her son's body taken back to be buried next to his father in Farmer Cemetery, near the small town of Farmer, Ohio. Whatever truly happened to him has been lost to time, but one thing that is certain is that his life was ended far too soon.

Reporting from The Pittsburgh Press on April 2, 1909 about the apparent suicide of Hugh Alexander.
A clipping from The Pittsburgh Press on April 3, 1909 discussing the mother of Hugh Alexander saying her son did not kill himself.
A news story from The Tribune in Hicksville, Ohio on April 8, 1909 discussing the possible murder of Hugh Alexander.

Newspapers ran several different stories, with speculation about what happened ranging from suicide to murder to Hugh's mother's explanation that it was an accident. It is definitely interesting to read the different thoughts from the time and speculate as to what actually happened on that day.

The "SUICIDE" headline is from the Pittsburgh Press on April 2, 1909.

"APPARENT MURDER" is the headline in The Tribune, out of Hicksville, Ohio on April 8, 1909.

"She Still Maintains" was another headline from The Pittsburgh Press, this one on April 3, 1909.

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