Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Long Way Down-- The Story of Elna Zimmerman

R.A. Long Building
She stood there for a moment, pausing to take it all in, and then after the moment had passed she took one last breath, clasped her hands together and dove headfirst as if diving into a swimming pool. Sadly, it was not a pool that she was diving into. No, on February 10, 1914, Miss Elna Zimmerman had just committed suicide, by jumping off the northwest corner of the R.A. Long building near the fire escape into the alleyway below.

Leaped To Her Death

The newspapers were quick to grab the story, literally detailing the moments leading up to and after Elna's fatal last steps. According to eye witnesses, she was a beautiful woman, dressed in very "fashionable" attire. The newspaper reported that she paid the head elevator man 10 cents to take her to the roof. Why on earth he left her there we'll never know. It makes you wonder if he was fired for that horrible lapse in judgment. 

After getting off the elevator, Elna had made her way to the rooftop on the northwest corner of the R.A. Long building, located at 928 Grand Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri. With $6.75 tucked away in the pocket of her overcoat, a very well dressed Elna made her way to the parapet. Inching along to the edge she stopped to remove her plumed hat, as witnesses across the way in the building next door screamed in horror as they watched her plunge to her death. 

The Topeka State Journal read,

Plumed Hat, Model 1914
 "The body was identified as that of Miss Elna Zimmerman, a stenographer, employed by an implement company. The cashier of the company made the identification. At the house where Miss Zimmerman roomed it was said that she had shown despondency for weeks but had confided in no one. She had attempted to take her life before by swallowing acid, it was said.

So carefully did the woman choose the point from which to leap, few persons passing in the street knew of the suicide until long after the mangled body had been taken away....The woman removed her hat, a black beaver affair with two plumes, before she climbed over the parapet and leaped.

L.L. Adams, with office in a neighboring office building, saw the woman climb over the parapet. The woman evidently made a premeditated dive for death. She struck headfirst and that part of the body was badly mangled. She wore a gray overcoat, black gloves, a grayish silk waist, and had dark brown hair. Dr. Fritz Moeninghoff, deputy coroner, said death was instantaneous. Several telephone linemen were working the alley. As the woman jumped they saw her and screamed. A clerk in the New York Central offices in the R.A. Long building, heard the scream and ran into the alley."--

So what caused Miss Zimmerman to feel that suicide was her only way out? 

According to the newspapers, her roommates stated that they could tell she had been depressed and had not spoken to anyone about it.

But why was she depressed? 

Quickly rumors started to spread that she may have killed herself over an ended love affair, but this idea was quickly dismissed by Elna's friends.  "She had many friends..but I never knew of her going out with young men," a friend, Mary Lamb stated.

So if it wasn't a love affair gone wrong, why then was Elna in such a volatile state of mind that day? After digging deeper into her background the pieces of the puzzle started to make a little more sense. 

Family History

Elna was born in August of 1883, in the state of Kansas, to parents Isaac and Flora Zimmerman. She had two older brothers, Walter and Miles.  According to accounts I found, Elna's mother was very ill for many years and was considered an invalid.  In August of 1901, after a severe heat wave, it seemed that mental state of 45 year-old Flora had been affected. Perhaps she was tired of feeling like a burden to her family, not being able to care for them but instead needing them to take care of her. 

After Elna had went to bed for the night, Flora knew that it was her only chance to make a move. You see, Elna took care of her every single moment she could, literally staying by her mother's side to care for her every need. Obviously, Elna didn't see that taking care of her mother was a burden at all, but instead lovingly accepted the task to show her mother the same care she had once received from her. Sadly, once Elna had went to bed there was no telling to what Flora had in mind. 

After fashioning for herself a makeshift noose, Flora attempted to hang herself. Succeeding only in the sense that she was dangling by the neck, but not well enough to cause sudden death, she hanged there until she was discovered by a family member. Although not dead when she was finally cut down, she expired shortly thereafter.

One can only imagine the terrible loss that Elna must have felt, especially since she had taken it upon herself to care for her mother. It is only natural to wonder if Elna had some feelings of guilt, although it was beyond her control what happened to her mother.

The tragedies didn't stop there.  The newspapers mentioned that her older brother Miles had passed away, along with mentioning another very sad story about Elna's father.  In May of 1908, Isaac Zimmerman shot himself in the head in his hotel room for reasons unknown. After that, the only family Elna had left were her grandparents in Oberlin, Kansas, where she was originally from, and her brother, Walter in California. At one point Elna moved out to California to live with Walter for an undisclosed amount of time, only returning to Kansas City, Missouri, about a year prior to her suicide. 

In concluding this story, it is obvious that Elna had seen her fair share of death. Perhaps she felt its sting swarming around her at every turn. Maybe, just maybe she felt that she could not bear one more loss, deciding that her own demise would be the only peace she could find. Due to so many suicides in her family, I wonder if both of her parents suffered from some sort of  mental illness, or perhaps severe melancholia. One can only speculate since we have no further information.

c/o Sherry @ Findagrave
In the end, Elna chose to take that tragic leap over the edge, to the darkness of death that waited for her below. The sadness and pain she must have felt inside had to have overwhelmed her to the point she couldn't stand one more moment on this earth. It saddens me that she was unable to reach out, or be reached by someone that could have possibly made the difference between her life and death. Maybe then that terrible tragedy could have been averted that day on Grand Avenue.

Elna is buried at Mount Washington Cemetery in Independece, Missouri at Plot: River Terrace 72-3834.  To visit her Findagrave memorial CLICK HERE! 



(Copyright, 2015- J'aime Rubio)

Photo Credit for Elna's grave : Sherry on Findagrave

Topeka State Journal, Feb 11, 1914
The Guthrie daily leader. (Guthrie, Okla.) 1893-1996, February 11, 1914
The Day Book, February 11, 1914
The Daily Ardmoreite. (Ardmore, Okla.) 1893-current, February 10, 1914, 
Omaha Daily Bee., February 11, 1914, 
The Guthrie daily leader. (Guthrie, Okla.) 1893-1996, August 10, 1901, 
Topeka Daily Capital, Feb 11,1914 
Hopkinsville Kentuckian, Feb 14,1914
1900 Census Records

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