Galesburg's Daily Republican-Register
Monday, January 12, 1903


Horrible Accident to a Prisoner in the Knoxville Jail

His Clothing Was Set on Fire and He Tore It Off—Lay for
Hours in the Cold—Legs Were Frozen Above Ankles

A Wonder if He Survives His
Terrible Injuries.


A horrible thing happened in the old calaboose at Knoxville Saturday night. Ad. Means of that place, who had been placed in an upstairs cell of the ancient structure, in his drunken meandering around the cell knocked over the stove. The coals set fire to his clothes, and before he could pull them off he was fearfully burned. Then the fire being out he froze, and when found Sunday morning late was a fearful sight, his hands, face, and body black and blistered with burns and his feet and lower part of his legs frozen. It is still a question whether he will survive both the burns and freezes.

A Republican-Register representative made a visit to Knoxville and investigated the case.

Means was arrested at ten o'clock Saturday night in Charles Tate's store. He was nearly helplessly drunk on whisky that had been brought from Galesburg that evening, it is said, at his request. Marshall Stinson placed him under arrest and Means went staggering along with him until the calaboose was reached. When Means saw where he was going he showed fight. He is a powerful man, weighing 240 pounds or more and in the prime of life. The marshal is not his equal physically. Charles Whitney, the two Wilt boys, and Bill Peterson assisted the marshal in getting Means to the cell in the second story. While the other four held Means on the bunk in the southeast corner of the room, the marshal built a fire, the room then being very cold. Means soon went to sleep. In the course of twenty minutes the marshal brought up a bucket of coal and threw it on the floor back of the stove. Later he brought another. The fire was then going well, and the room was warming up some. Then the marshall left. Means to all appearances was in a sound, drunken slumber. The marshal says that he covered him up with the three blankets on the bunk and thought he was comfortable.

The Surroundings.

A more dreary place than this cell would be hard to imagine. It has a stone door. A window high in the room contained it is represented no sash, and the northwest wind found free access. The bunk occupied one corner. The stove was but a few feet distance from the bed. The room is a large one and to warm it would take a hot fire. The stove had some brick under it for part of the legs and was not secured in any way.

Heard a Crash.

Mr. and Mrs. Charles Whitney live in the addition at the rear of the jail. Their rooms are down stairs. Mr. Whitney is fireman at the county alms house. About midnight she heard a terrific crash up stairs. She awoke her husband and told him that she believed Means had fallen over the old stove. He said that she was always hearing things. Mrs. Whitney remained awake a long time and was apprehensive.

Means had done exactly what Mrs. Whitney had thought. He evidently got up about that time and in staggering around the room had fallen over the stove and had knocked it entirely over. It was full of hot coals which were scattered over the stone floor. These set fire to his clothing. According to his own story afterward he remained there on the floor with his blazing garments and tried to tear them off. This he succeeded in doing until there was not a stitch of clothing on him. With the fire out and the wind blowing in at the window and exhausted as he was with his burns, it was only a question of time when he would freeze to death unless help came. He says that he was too fagged out to cry for help. According to his own story he lay stretched on the floor there until daylight, when he made his way to the bunk, which he could then see. He crawled on top of this and pulled the blankets over him. But the harm had been done. Both legs and his back were badly burned, his hands were singed and blistered, and his legs were frozen it is said half way to the knees.

Mrs. Whitney Heard Cries.

Mrs. Whitney after being told by her husband that Means had fallen over the coal bucket listened and hearing no further noise concluded that nothing serious had happened. About two o'clock she heard him shouting and howling, but thought that he was simply doing what he and other drunken men often do when under arrest. Then he was quiet a while. At 4 o'clock her husband went to work at the alms house. At 6 o'clock Means again began his shouting. He kept this up for a long time. Mrs. Whitney arose at ? o'clock and ran up stairs to see what he wanted. Peering into the gloomy room through the little opening she could not see the overturned stove.

"Oh, for God's sake bring me some water."

She told him that he had better get up and build a fire. He answered tnat he could not; he was paralyzed. Mrs. Whitney kindly thrust kindling and matches through the opening. She then made him a cup of coffee. By this time Means managed to get on the edge of the bed, and by the two reaching she managed to convey the coffee to him. She also procured the desired water and he drank two great measures.

Saw he Was Injured.

Mrs. Whitney by this time saw clearly that something serious was the matter with the man. She summoned John Wolf and when Wolf looked in he saw the stove overturned. A key to the door was near by, but the two thought best to summon the marshal first. Mr Stinson was called by Mr. Wolf.

When the marshal entered the freezing cell he saw something that horrified him. Means was lying on the high bunk. When the blankets wert pulled aside, not a stitch of clothes was on him. He was black and blistered with burns and his feet were turning black from the effects of the freezing.

"I am freezing to death, and I am burning to death," said Means, who was suffering agonies. Mr. Stinson's firs proposition was to remove him to the adjacent cell, and build a fire in the stove of that room. Mrs. Whitney would not listen to this and insisted on his being carried down stairs into the sitting room, where it was good and warm.

"He cannot walk," said Mrs. Whitney to Stinson. Means was carried down several assisting. Dr. Becker was summoned and made an examination. The brother, George Means, was also called and the wife and children were summoned. The physician found the man in a precarious condition, and would hold out but little hope. It was thought his legs at least would have to be amputated, above the frozen part. The burn of the left leg were the more severe.  Those in the back were extensive.

Called for his wife.

Means early called for his wife and six children.  She and George Means were with him during Sunday and Sunday night. This morning the aged mother came in with all the children, and quite a pathetic sight ensued.  Means was weak. He had not a very distinct recollection of what had occurred. He remembered about fighting with the fire until he was completely exhausted and then freezing.

The cell presented a frightful appearance this morning. Inside it was as cold as Greenland. The window had been stopped up with a sash.  Parts of the stove and joints of the stove pipe were scattered on the floor. The brick under the base of the stove could be seen. Soot blackened the flagstones. Parts of Mean's clothing which he had torn off from his burning flesh were scattered about. The fragments showed that his clothes had been ablaze. His undershirt was badly burned. His coat and trousers showed holes burned in them. His shoes were badly burned. Everything indicated that the man had a frightful experience.

Locks of the Cell.

According to Mrs. Whitney not much official interest was shown. The marshal up to 10 o'clock had made but one inquiry this morning and no other city official had made inquiries there regarding the case, up to that time. The news had created a sensation in that city, but Means' reputation had been such that there was evidently not much sympathy. He has often been drunk and when drunk was ugly. This was not the first time he was in the calaboose.

Still the question of whether even a drunken man ought to be put in such a room on such a night, is bound to be debated. Citizens were heard wondering whether a damage case against the city would grow out of the case. The worst element appears to be the fact that the stove was not secured and a drunken man running against it would be likely to knock it over.

Marshall Stinson said that he did all he could to make the prisoner comfortable before he left.

The patient was brought here in the ambulance this morning and taken to the hospital.

Dr. Becker called Dr. Percy in the case this afternoon. To just what extent there will be amputation is not yet decided.

************ Follow-up article on January, 13, 1903 ************

Condition is Precarious

The condition of Ad. Means of Knoxville, who is at the hospital, and who was burned and frozen by turns in the old jail at Knoxville, Saturday night, is still precarious.   He is kept quiet by means of opiates.  The feet are still in a terrible condition and whether they can be saved is still problematical.  They are still cold as ice, the blood not yet circulating through their veins and arteries.  The freeze extends above the ankles.  The burns are even more extensive than first reported.   The family came over this afternoon to visit him.  Mention should have been made of the fact that Dr. Giles was called in the case with Dr. Becker, and Dr. Perry is now interested.  All agree that Means is in a terrible plight.

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