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Explosion claims the life of young husband, father

This photo, contributed by Linda Thompson, is believed to be Aaron Booth, left, and a step brother, in 1879 in Kansas. Aaron Booth moved to Marion County, Missouri, prior to 1895, and lived in this county for the remainder of his life.


If Aaron Booth could have turned back the hands of time at the beginning of January 1906, he might have chosen to go back to mid August, 1895, when he was managing 120 acres of corn on the Bowles farm near Marion City.

That summer, he brought into town a stalk of corn measuring 15 feet tall, grown in the fertile bottomland near the Mississippi River. That one stalk, which he had on display at the boathouse along Hannibal’s riverfront, hosted two large earns of corn.

He talked of other stalks reaching 17 feet in height. The Hannibal Post told of this bumper crop, and noted that the average yield of corn in Marion County for 1895 was expected to be 65 bushels per acre. The Quincy Daily Herald reprinted the Hannibal story in its Saturday, Aug. 17, 1895 edition.

But his career as a farmer was shortlived. Just two years later, he was living at 521 Bridge St., in Hannibal, and was working as a driver for Louis T. Biethan, agent for Diamond Jo Line Steamers and coal and wood, located at 101 Bird.

What happened to this energetic young farmer?

Life got in the way.

New York native

Aaron Booth was born during the Civil War in Hamden, New York, to John S. Booth and his wife, Elizabeth Booth. After the war, the family moved to Brownville, Neb., where John Booth found work as a carpenter.

The family had resettled in Willow Springs, Kan., by 1880, and in 1885, Aaron, then 21, was working as a farmer, boarding with Reubin and Olie Ely in Centropolis, Kan.

The following year, Aaron Booth, 22, was married to Anna Maylor in Franklin, Kan., where they started a family. They eventually made their way to Marion County, Mo., where Aaron would reside for the remainder of his life.

While his connection with the county continued, his marriage did not.

On the last day of August 1897, he remarried. He and Maggie Shrum exchanged vows at New London, in Ralls County, and started a family of their own. Willie E. Booth, born in 1887, and Roy D. Booth, born in 1893, were joined by a half-sister, Edna Booth, in 1898.

By June 1900, Aaron was farming rented ground in the Bay Mill area, supporting his family by growing corn that was worthy of bragging rights.

Move to town

In the fall of 1905, Aaron Booth sold out of farming and moved the family to town, settling at 351 Palmyra Avenue. He netted $700 from the sale of his farm equipment, which he deposited in the bank, giving him a comfortable financial cushion.

Early January 1906, 19-year-old Willie Booth – Aaron’s son from his first marriage - was working at the Powder Works in LaMotte, a half mile from Ashburn, Mo., situated on the old K railroad line.

Aaron, living on Palmyra Avenue, packed his son’s lunch in the early morning hours of Saturday, Dec. 29, 1905. It wasn’t until 7-year-old Roy awoke that Aaron realized his wife, Maggie, was gone. Also missing was Harvey Skates, their boarder.

The connection was made that the pair had run off together.

Aaron learned that his wife had forged his signature on checks totaling $81, cashed by Ed Palmer, on Palmyra Avenue; Cobb & Co., Clothiers; and the Hannibal National Bank.

Aaron vowed to press charges against Skates. His despondency over the abandonment resulted in suicide attempt in the early morning hours of Thursday, Jan. 4, 1906, which was thwarted by Dr. Edward H. Bounds and Dr. Kabley, who revived Booth from his stupor.

Mrs. Booth was located in St. Louis on Sunday, Jan. 14, and brought back to Hannibal by Sheriff Bowen of Marion County, charged with forgery.

Judge Dent assessed her bond at $50, which her husband promptly paid.

The Quincy Daily Journal of Jan. 17, 1906 reported: “They left the courtroom (together) like two young lovers. The general impression is that Mr. Booth will decline to prosecute his wife and that the case will be dismissed. It is understood that Mr. Booth will pay all costs that have accrued and that the state will not be out a penny. So all’s well that ends well.”

Or so it would seem.

Plant explosion

A month later, Aaron Booth was dead, killed in an explosion at the plant where he and his son were both working. The Quincy Daily Journal of Feb. 19, 1906, reported that the Hercules plant at Ashburn - established circa 1891 - produced one fourth of all the dynamite manufactured in the United States in 1905, an estimated 15,000,000 pounds.

Also killed were Frank Wright of Hannibal, who previously boarded with the Booth family on Palmyra Avenue; and Fred Knorr of Hannibal.

The blast was so great that the following gruesome detail emerged in the Quincy newspaper: Only 45 pounds of remains were recovered from the three men.

Aaron Booth’s survivors included his widow, Maggie; and children, Willie, 19; Roy, 13; Edna, 8; Nick, 4; and Sam Booth, 3.

This family photo was taken after the 1906 death of Aaron Booth. At center is Aaron Booth’s widow, Margaret Shrum Booth. Her son, Nick, is front row, left. Son Sam and daughter Edna are beside Margaret. Photo contributed by Linda Thompson.

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