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Night-blooming flower draws attention during river voyage

A night-blooming cereus in full bloom. Wikipedia.


When Bettie (Williams Doxey) Whisler boarded one of the two Quincy, Ill.-bound steamboats docked along Hannibal’s riverfront following the fireworks display on July 4, 1902, she carried with her a bud from a night-blooming cerens, a gift from her mother-in-law, Fannie C. Bivens Whisler, a West End florist.

The swift waters of the Mississippi were illuminated softly by the waning crescent moon. The boat slowly meandered up the Mississippi River. Just as slowly, the flower bud in Mrs. Whisler’s hand opened, exposing - to the amazement of others on board - a rare bloom.

Bettie Whisler’s gift caught the attention of a newspaper reporter, who in turn wrote about the flower in the next day’s edition of the Quincy Daily Herald: “Blossomed on the boat.”

Early florist

The Whisler greenhouse, stretching two lots wide fronting Hope Street, was long attached to the family’s home on the northwest corner of Hope and Griffith. Fannie Whisler’s green thumb helped the small business thrive. Her husband David was a Civil War veteran, Company K, Illinois Cavalry, who conducted a paint business in a small frame building located at 179 Market Street.

The Whislers had two children who lived to adulthood, Harry L., born in 1872, and Maude May, born in 1879.

All in all, a happy West End family, until ….

As a young man, Harry Whisler set out to learn the wallpaper trade. He went to work for Robinson Bros.’ Paint and Wallpaper Co., at 118, 120-122 South Main St.

After a stint working at Robinsons, and later as a street car conductor in Quincy, Ill., Harry Whisler returned to Hannibal early in 1903, and went into business with his father, David Whisler.

For more than two decades, the elder Mr. Whisler’s paint store occupied a a small, frame storefront at 179, on the south side of Market St. When Harry joined his father in business, they decided to expand to include wallpaper. They selected a building at 214 Market, to the southeast of where the new Levering Hospital was under construction. On the fateful day of Thursday, Aug. 6, 1903, the father and son were in the process of moving the old paint store to the new location.

David Whisler contracted with the Rolands, Walter and James D., for the removal of a structure toward the back of his new property. David, in turn, used a brand new two-horse wagon to deliver old blocks and timbers to the new site of the Calvary Baptist Church building, 1732 Hope, still under construction.

At 3 p.m. David Whisler set out with his team and the loaded wagon to take yet another load to Hope Street.

The Friday, Aug. 7, 1903, edition of the Quincy Daily Herald tells what happened next:

“Mr. Whisler was on the wagon and he drove over the alley leading to Hueston street. His horses became unmanageable and ran away. They ran down Hueston street, and in turning the corner of Hueston and Market, Mr. Whisler was thrown out in front and was kicked by one of the horses and one wheel of the heavy wagon passed over his chest, crushing it in a frightful manner and breaking both of his shoulders.”

The hospital was not yet complete, so two men, Frank Gay, driver for the No. 2 hose cart, and William Mangles, a carpenter who resided at 247 Market, carried Mr. Whisler into Joseph M. Ruoff’s Saloon at 200 Market St., the northwest corner of Heuston and Market. Dr. Richard Schmidt was summoned to the scene, but Mr. Whisler had already passed by the time the doctor arrived.

Meanwhile, two more men, J. Turner and J.D. Roland, took out after the horses. They ventured along Heuston Street for a half block, where the men were able to corral them.

Today’s landscape

The only remaining historic building at this accident intersection is the former fire house at 1632 Market. It is owned, and has been renovated, by Brad and Erika Walden. An era-appropriate fire department mural exists upon the building’s western wall, which coincidentally marks the spot on Hueston Street where Mr. Whisler met his ultimate fate, 119 years ago this week.

Ultimate fate

David Whisler, born in 1846, and Fannie E. Bivens, born in 1853, were married at Warren, Ill., in 1872, and not long afterwards moved to Hannibal. She died in 1940 at the age of 87. Mrs. Whisler was able to collect on her husband’s Civil War pension, and continued to operate the greenhouse and florist business for a time. (See attached advertisement.) They are buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery.

Harry Whisler continued to operate the paint and wallpaper business for a few years, but soon abandoned the plan. He ultimately moved to Los Angeles. In May 1936, Harry Whisler attended a reunion of former Marion County residents who had moved to Los Angeles. Bettie died in 1939, and Harry died in 1957, at the age of 85.

Maude Whisler married Jack C. Frew, an electrician, in 1917, and they each lived out their lifetimes in the family home at 300 (later renumbered 1900) Hope Street. Maude and Jack both died in 1957. They are buried together at Mount Olivet Cemetery.

Note: Public documents show two spellings of Whistler, with and without a “t”.

Note: Dr. Richard Schmidt is profiled in this author’s book, “Hannibal’s West End.”

News of the night blooming flower made the news: as published in the July 3, 1902 edition of the Quincy Daily Herald. Accessed via Advantage Archives, via the Quincy public library’s web site.

Fannie Whisler advertised her flower business in the 1903 Hannibal city directory. Later that year, her husband was killed when run over by his own wagon. Ad published in the 1903 Hannibal city directory, accessed via the Hannibal Free Public Library’s web site.

Joe M. Ruoff operated a saloon on the northwest corner of Hueston and Market streets in 1903. David Whisler died in this saloon, after he was run over by his own wagon. Many years later, the building served as home to Leon’s Pizzeria. Ad published in the 1893 Hannibal city directory, accessed via the Hannibal Free Public Library’s web site.

Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on by this author include but are not limited to: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870,” and “Hannibal’s ‘West End,’” 47 stories of the Market Street Wedge and on west to Lindell Avenue. Montgomery can be reached at Her collective works can be found at


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