Editor’s Note: Imagine Nashua: Then & Now is a weekly photo column by Don Himsel. Each week, he will feature an old photo within a more recent photo and an explanation of how he got the shot.
I found this story at Lowell’s Textile History Museum. Some may find it uncomfortable to read, so be forewarned. Such is life – and death.
It appeared as part of a small poster, called a broadside, measuring about 6 inches wide by 12 inches deep. At the top is an illustration of the young Mr. Ball in period clothes and holding a walking stick.
“Lines written on the death of Thomas B. Ball
A young man from Athens, VT, who was sudenly (sic) killed while employed in a cotton factory in Nashua, NH
An awful providence has sent
A young man to his last account;
This young man’s age was twenty-five,
But yesterday he was alive.
His health was good, his prospects bright,
and in this world he took delight.
God has in awful justice come,
And sent his body to the tomb.
And where’s his soul? oh tell me where!
Did he on earth for heaven prepare?
Alas! he did not fear his God,
But in the path of folly trod!
May this a warning be to all.
To be prepared when God shall call –
To shun the broad frequented road,
And seek the way that leads to God.
He was employed in a certain mill,
When God for him aloud did call;
His limb under the belt was caught,
And round the drum his body brought.
His brains were scattered on the floor,
The room besmeared with bones and gore:
A hundred times the wheel went round,
Before the gate they could shut down.
His body all to pieces torn,
An awful sight to look upon.
This young man he was far from home,
No parents to his burial come.
Brothers and sisters far away,
And know not of his dying day:
May this a warning be to them,
To be prepared when death shall come.
– Mrs. Eliza Holt
Sold at No. 9 Commercial sq. (sic) over Patch’s Auct’n Room, Lowell.”
Ball died his awful death in a Nashua mill on July 11, 1839.
His parents were Abraham Ball of Townsend, Mass., and Hannah Edwards of Leyden, Mass. (She died Oct. 8 of the same year.)
They were still living in Athens, Vt., when he died. Thomas Ball had 13 siblings.
I don’t know if the Nashua Manufacturing Co. is the “cotton mill” referenced in the poem. Anyone who has had casual contact with any remnant of New England’s mill machinery (you can see some of that stuff in the Technology Park) may have remarked at the weight and size of a wheel or old leather belt or rod, and perhaps what it could all do to a worker, a person who happened by accident to get caught up in it.
I was talking with librarian Jane Ward at the museum.
She and I discussed that the poem is less about presenting a gruesome story as it is a call to be vigilant. Be prepared – “to be prepared when death shall come,” wherever on the spiritual spectrum you may find yourself.
Don Himsel can be reached at 594-6590 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, follow Himsel on Twitter (@Telegraph_DonH).