A Death Greatly Exaggerated, part 1


Warning—the conclusion of this post is now known to be incorrect.  See the “He’s dead, Jim (or, Down a blind alley)” post for details.


My grandfather, Vernon Curtis Black, was named Vernon Cornelius Shearer at birth. I don’t know why he stopped using Cornelius (his maternal grandfather’s name), but I have a fairly clear understanding of why he changed his last name. When Vernon was only five years old, his biological father, Ray Shearer (born Zyonia Ray Shearer), was given an ultimatum by Vernon’s mother Catalina: he could sober up and stay with the family, or he could continue to go out drinking with his friends and flirting with women. Ray chose the latter option, and Vernon never saw his biological father again.

As the ancient proverb states, however, there are always two sides to every story. Ray was apparently a friendly, outgoing man who had his own childhood scars—he also lost his father, Gilbert Michael Scherer, when he was only about five years old. According to Vernon’s younger sister Anna Cornelia (“Anelia”) Hayes,

“Gilbert Shearer was building a home in Missouri.  He was working on the roof when he fell off across a tree stump, bursting his abdomen open.  He fell from his house while shingling his roof.  He was taken to a sanatorium, but died four days later. He was buried in Edmond Cemetery, 4 miles north of Powersville, MO.”

Such a sad ending to a young life. Gilbert would have only been 21 or 22 years old at the time he died (about 1898-1900). Although sad, it’s good to have such specific details about his traumatic accident and subsequent death and burial.

As this is my male line (Gilbert was my father’s father’s father’s father), it holds a special interest for me. Despite my best efforts, I had been unable to glean further details concerning Gilbert’s death, or about his life, for that matter. And then last summer, I made a startling breakthrough—Gilbert didn’t die as a result of a traumatic accident before 1900, as the family stories told; in fact, he lived to the ripe old age of 87, passing away in Denver, Colorado, of coronary heart disease after spending more than three decades living in New York City and working as an inventor. It seems that one of the first things he invented was his own death….

The story of Gilbert’s life after death will be continued in part 2.

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