By Bill Miller
Normally, when we talk about our ancestors we are talking about very old people. Many of them have great stories to tell. However, sometimes we find a child in our family tree that really gets our attention. Among my first cousins is a young boy with a tragic story. His name is Robert Kenneth Biggart. He is one generation before me. His grandmother, Caroline Morse Biggart, was my great-grandmother.
Bobby, as he was called by his family, was born March 12, 1928 in Adams, MA. I was born on March 14, twelve years later, at the same place. In fact, we lived on the same street, Columbia Street, so I know where he played. A rail line of the Boston and Maine Railroad ran right behind the blocks where we lived. I would sneak out and put pennies on those tracks and hunt them after the train had past, and when my parents weren’t looking. I imagine him doing the same thing. But he did one thing I never tried. By the age of nine, his parents had moved farther up the rail line, to Dalton, MA. Bobby and two friends were out playing near the tracks. They yielded to the temptation to “hop” a moving freight train in the Boston and Albany railroad yard. He lost his footing and fell on the track. He lost both legs in the accident.
For weeks he laid in the Pittsfield hospital in critical condition. He eventually was released to begin the long, slow path to recovery. During his rehabilitation, he heard a rumor that by saving match covers one could win a financial reward, which he could use to buy artificial limbs. After gathering a large collection of the covers he found out that the report was a hoax. His disappointment made the news. Soon, a campaign was started by friends and admirers across the nation to raise the money for his new limbs. Over $2,000 was raised. He was fitted with artificial legs, and $2,000 was set aside to purchase new ones as he grew older.
Bobby adjusted beautifully to his new legs. (See the photo below.) He learned to skate, ride his bicycle and swam regularly. He joined the Boys Club and Troop 16 Boy Scouts of America. He was a good student in Dalton Central elementary school, and seemed to be a well-adjusted teenager. The picture of Bobby and his father show a handsome, happy child of 14.
On Monday, March 30, 1942, Bobby’s brother, William, came to awaken him, probably for school. He entered the bedroom and discovered the lifeless body of Bobby. He somehow had a belt wrapped around his neck and a bedpost. He had a toy pistol in a holster around his waist. His family believed that he had been playing and had some kind of accident. The doctors agreed that his death appeared to be accidental. It was a tragic and sad ending for a 15 year-old boy acquainted with suffering. He made a permanent mark on the extended family. In our childhood we were all reminded about young Bobby Biggart, who had lost his legs trying to hop a train. He is probably the reason I never tried it.
One of the special joys of doing genealogy is that it does rise up the dead and bring new life to the long departed. Some of the stories and memories are happy, others sad. Like young Bobby Biggart, many of our ancestors came to tragic endings, but it is all part of our story and it helped to shape us. To discover new family stories or to share them, go to a genealogy center near you.