First Baptism

When William and Ellen Krapp baptized baby daughter Hannah, quietly, in a temporary new chapel above a Woodland Avenue store on October 19, 1890, they could have no idea that the brief record of their family event would be the opening line – the first recorded baptism — in the long history of our distinguished parish. Nor could they foresee their own family tragedy just ahead.

Census data suggests that William and Ellen (known also as Ella) may have married the same year that Hannah was born. The son of German immigrants, William was a barber by trade, and a widower with two children, age four and six. We don’t know anything about Ellen, except that her maiden name was McGettigan. They lived at 5210 Woodland Avenue.

         A son named William Jr., known as “Willie,” born a few years later, died at age fifteen months. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported his short sad story in a November 1895 court case: “The mother of the child testified that she took him to the Jefferson Hospital for treatment for teething. She was given a prescription which was put up at the dispensary attached to the hospital, and when she got home she gave the child a tablespoonful of the liquid. Shortly afterwards he began to cry and had difficulty in breathing. The child went into convulsions, and when she took him to the Presbyterian Hospital the doctors said he was suffering from carbolic acid poisoning. Mrs. Krapp also said that when she kissed the child her lips pained her as if they had been burned by poison.” The child died shortly afterwards.

  E. P. Stephens, the druggist at Jefferson, testified in court that the medicine he compounded for the child “was harmless, and was composed of one-half grain of carbolic acid diluted with one ounce of water, and one ounce of peppermint water.” He brought a similar sample of the formula to court, but Deputy Coroner Dugan thought the provided liquid was not “as strong as that which is supposed to have caused the child’s death. ‘You claim that the preparation is harmless,’ continued Mr. Dugan, ‘Wouldn’t you be afraid to drink it?’ ‘Not at all,’ replied Stephens,” swallowing theatrically from the little bottle without any harm.

After this display, the proceedings were put on hold until the baby could be autopsied. Dr. Graham, the physician in charge of the children’s ward at Jefferson, then tried to deflect blame to the mother for the child’s original condition, testifying that “the child had been affected with acute gastritis and catarrh of the stomach, brought on by improper feeding” when he was first brought in. However, Dr. Griggs, of Presbyterian Hospital, who attended the child when he was near death, testified that he “sampled the Jefferson Hospital prescription which had been administered to the little one…It was so strongly carbolic that his lips were burned by a portion, that accidentally ran down.”

On November 7, 1895, after reviewing the evidence, “the Jury rendered a verdict to the effect that the death was due to a mistake made by E. P. Stephens, a drug clerk at the Jefferson Hospital” who used too much carbolic acid in compounding the prescription (1 ounce instead of .5 grain). Stephens was not disciplined: “The jury and Coroner Ashbridge and Deputy Coroner Dugan were very lenient toward Stephens…not even, subjecting him to a censure, for it was shown that, ordinarily, he was very careful in his duties. ‘He has been compounding medicines for the past eighteen years, and it was the first mistake of the kind he has ever made.’”

The mother died three years later in 1898, age 43 years, and was buried from our church.

Whatever became of Baby Hannah, the first baby baptized in our church? Census data suggests she became an artist’s model, downtown, at age 19, before disappearing from the available records.    

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