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The census killed him (full article)




When He Read that He Was Liable to a $500 Fine He Swallowed Rat Poison. All the Other Enumerators Reported Safe Last Night, Though One Was Assaulted With Beer Bottles.

Census Enumerator Frank Lorgue committed suicide yesterday by swallowing rat poison. Lorgue lived at No. 165 East Twenty-seventh street. After seven hours of agony he died at 9 o'clock last night. He did not feel well enough to go to work yesterday morning, and when he read in an afternoon newspaper that he, with other absent enumerators, was liable to a $500 fine, he took the poison.

Nine hundred and ninety-two young men who had sworn to ask Uncle Sam's questions faithfully began taking the census in this city yesterday morning at 8 o'clock. Eight more who had promised to do the same thing came down to the office of Census Supervisor Charles H. Murray, at No. 135 Eighth street, and begged off. One had got a regular job at something else that paid better, another explained that an old bullet wound he had acquired at Antietam had broken out afresh, a third shamefacedly sent word he had sprained his ankle on a "chowder excursion," and the remaining five frankly confessed that they had read the newspapers and were afraid to go around asking impudent questions.

In spite of all their fears, however, the vast majority of census-takers were neither maimed nor killed. Enumerator Louis Marks was shot at -but missed- with a few empty beer glasses, but beyond a bad fright he was uninjured.

THE WORLD'S advice to citizens generally was followed with regard to the impudent and irrelevant questions. Three reporters of THE WORLD were unable to find a citizen who had answered any of the questions about their chronic diseases, or their mortgages. Neither could any one be found who had resented the senseless questions with anything more vigorous than "I refuse to answer." Bernhard Schmidt, of No. 135 East Forty-fifth street, shied a few beer glasses at his impolite interrogator, but they were thrown more in sorrow than in anger.

When the eight "quitters" withdrew from service yesterday morning Census Supervisor Murray sent men from his reserve force of 350 In their places. So he kept an even thousand question-putters at work without intermission. Their assignments must be finished in two weeks, and they are paid $50 apiece by the job. If any man can get through his district sooner than two weeks he is welcome to do so. But the work must be thorough. Supervisor Murray would not say yesterday how its thoroughness would be guaranteed, save by the sending of a postal-card daily by each enumerator to headquarters. On this card the questionputter shall recite just how many men, women and children have been asked his impudent questions. No enumerator is expected to come around and bother the force at headquarters, save in case of serious trouble.


The reporter of THE WORLD assigned to watch the Murray Hill district found only two enumerators. One was at the corner of Fifth avenue and Thirty-third street. His pasteboard-covered portfolio and look of great fear betrayed him. The reporter offered to go around and lend him moral support so long as he asked proper questions. The enumerator timidly refused and explained that it was "strictly against the rules" to allow a reporter to go about with him. So THE WORLD man walked along and watched him.

The enumerator rang the door bell at the corner of Thirty-second street and Fifth avenue. A maid answered his ring, and after a brief conversation he handed her a large sheet of paper with printing on it. The enumerator trotted down the steps and fled.

THE WORLD reporter rang the door bell and the same maid answered it. She said the visitor with the portfolio had told her that he was the census enumerator, that he was in a great hurry, and that he would come back some time when the master of the house was not in. She brought out the paper he had handed her. Its title was: "Family Schedule-1 to 16.Persons. [7-556 a.] Eleventh Census of the United States." The paper was ruled and divided into many oblong sections. It bore the thirty questions THE WORLD has printed as a warning. On the bottom of the page was this mysterious and terrifying inscription: " (19279-18,000,000) 1 a 27." The maid said the enumerator had asked her to have the blank nicely filled out for him when he returned for it.

A census-taking expert climbed the front stoop of Chauncey M. Depew's home, at No. 45 West Fifty-fourth street, at 7 o'clock in the morning. He handed a census blank, marked "Schedule No. 1, Population and Social Statistics," to the young man who answered his ring. Then he trotted gayly down the steps and disappeared. "The census man got after me quite early," said Mr. Depew to a WORLD reporter afterwards. "I had census for breakfast. I took it with my egg and coffee. Perhaps I took it with a grain of salt, too. The young man who owned the important-looking document, left it at the door and ran away. He said: 'I'll call around again when the family isn't home.' Then he disappeared. He had nothing to fear. I don't think anybody would hurt a census enumerator. He is simply doing his duty. I haven't filled out my blank yet. Let me see."

"'Whether a soldier, sailor or marine during the civil war (U. S. or Conf.), or widow of such person?' Well, I was thirty days in the army."

"'Whether white, black, mulatto, quadroon, octoroon, Chinese, Japanese or Indian?' I should say pure Anglo-Saxon, with a strong dash of Celtic."

Mr. Depew wisely refrained from bothering about the question as to who was the head of his family. His age was fifty-six on April 23.

"'Mother of how many children?' None."

"'Profession, trade or occupation?' That rather gets me. I'm a lawyer, railroad man, trustee and I don't know how many other things. Ought I write it all down and bore the Government officials?"

"'Months unemployed during the census year?' Why don't they say minutes? I could answer that."

"'Able to speak English ?' I wonder how many of us really do speak English. I should say, maybe one in a thousand. Do I? I guess we'll let that stand awhile and think about it."

"'Whether suffering from acute or chronic disease, with name of disease and length of time afllicted?' H'm! Well, what should a man say to that. What would they think of a bad attack of presidency on the brain, eh? Do you know what proportion of us may have chronic diseases? That question will do much harm if it's pressed. I had a friend whose family doctor had been restricting his diet for years and making him regulate his life so as to postpone death from Bright's disease of the kidneys. He had everything to live for - charming wife, fortune, friends, was a man of cultivated tastes. One day he consulted a specialist, who told him conscientiously all about his disease. That man immediately put his estate in such shape that it could be settled in a few hours, resigned from all his clubs, made his will and sat down and waited. At the end of six months he was dead. If the doctor had left him in ignorance of his condition, it is not extravagant to suppose he might be alive now. The Governement had better be careful.' I think I shall answer the question: 'I don't know.'"

"'Whether defective in mind, sight, hearing or speech, or whether crippled, maimed or deformed, with name of defect?' What a treasure I would have been to the searcher for statistics if he had called while I was wearing my glass leg. My mind? To oblige the statistics man I called to-day on an alienist of great fame and asked him whether I was defective in mind. He examined it carefully for some time and then said in a cautious way: "Well, you're sane enough on an average number of topics. That is commonly known as a condition of sanity.' I believe the expert thinks all men more or less insane and that while we may be sane enough to go around and attend to business every day, still we are not without 'defective' minds."

"'If the home you live in is owned by head or member of family, is the home free from mortgage incumbrance?' H'm! A man will cheerfully acknowledge that he has a wart on his nose, but a mortgage on his house, never."

"How would I advise people to answer these important questions ? Well, that's hard. They are all statutory. I suppose Congress voted for them in a confiding way without asking questions. Any one who refuses to answer them may - mind vou, I say may - be punished by fine. Possibly he might sue and get his money back, but then the courts are generally on the side of the statutes."


"Don't you think," concluded Mr. Depew, "that a man might truthfully answer 'I don't know' to the questions? That would be safe, and, I imagine, satisfactory to the inquisitors."

The census inquisitors visited neither Jay Gould's nor any of the Vanderbilts' houses. Jay Gould is out of town and the yellow curtains of his house are drawn down at each window. All the Vanderbilts are out of town, most of them in Europe. A census blank was left at the home of Mrs. Lloyd Aspinwall, No. 25 East Tenth street. None of the big hotels in Fifth avenue has been visited yet by the census man. Neither have any of the Fifth avenue apartment-houses. The east-side enumerators who were seen yesterday afternoon reported that they were meeting with little or no trouble on their rounds. In the foreign quarters interpreters were found, and the work in these sections was much easier than was anticipated. In families where the parents could not speak English, children were generally on hand who could interpret the questions. One enumerator was found in the kitchen on the top floor of a tenement-house in Division street. The reporter sat at the table while the enumerator asked his questions and wrote down the answers. The family consisted of father, mother and seven children; one bright little fellow, eight years old, answering for the whole family.

At 9.30 o'clock in the morning the first complaint from an enumerator was received at headquarters. It stated that Bernard Smith, of No. 235 East Forty-fifth street had refused to answer any of the questions, and came from the unfortunate Louis Marks, in the Tenth Election District of the Twentieth Assembly District. When Marks reached Smith's saloon for the purpose of taking the pedigree of the family he was thirsty and called for a drink. He asked Smith and some others standing about to join him. Marks drank and, supposing that he had made himself "solid," spread out his portfolio on the counter and proceeded to business. He only got as far as the first question, however, when he was told to get out by Smith who also began swearing at him. Marks started to find a policeman and was followed by a shower of beer glasses. Marks ran and Smith and his wife after him. The frightened enumerator finally found a policeman at the corner of Second avenue and Forty-sixth street, who accompanied him back to the saloon. Smith was induced by the policeman to answer the questions and Marks reported the matter to Supervisor Murray. Subsequently Mrs. Smith called at the census office to collect the 40 cents which she said Marks had failed to pay for the drinks he ordered before he began taking the census statistics of the family. Mr. Murray informed her that the United States Government was engaged just now in collecting the census and not other peoples' debts.


Census enumerators were hard to find on the extreme west side. In a saloon at the corner of Twentieth street and Tenth avenue, a WORLD reporter was told that a man had been in there, but no one in any of the adjacent houses or stores on any of the four blocks had seen him. Another one was heard of in a tenement house in West Thirtieth street, and again at a saloon in the same block, but no one else in the neighborhood had been favored with a visit. At last a pleasant-looking young man was seen on Fortieth street, between Seventh and Eighth avenues, with a portfolio under his arm. He proved to be an enumerator, who had spent the whole day in the block between Fortieth and Forty-first streets and Seventh and Eighth avenues. He had not met with a single refusal to answer his questions, but some of the replies, he said, were palpable falsehoods. Further down Seventh avenue another enumerator was met. He was on his way home after a hard day's work and reported having had absolutely no difficulty. "No one," said he, "objected to answering any of the questions when once they understood what my business was. I had to do a little explaining in one or two instances, but had no difficulty of any sort. I can't say that I am 'stuck' on the job, however."

this article was first published on the 3rd of June 1890 in the New York World (New York, NY)