Death of James Orville Hale

Orville Hale
Orville Hale

James Orville Hale was the oldest child of my great-grandparents, Effie Allen Rice Hale (1887-1978) and Henry Orville Hale (1882-1966). He was known by his middle name of “Orville” and his younger sister Audrey Vellence Hale Farley (1908-2001) was my grandmother. 

Orville was born in Kentucky (as was my grandmother) on 24 September 1904, probably in Morgan or Grayson County. The family moved to the coal camps of Mingo County, West Virginia when my grandmother in about 1910. The other 8 children were born in this general area and were raised on a farm in Raleigh County, WV.

hale-james-orville-death-articleOn Sunday, 03 June 1923, at the age of 18, Orville tragically drowned. (Side note: I have in my notes that he drowned trying to save another child, but I do not have the source for that detail, and can’t remember where I heard it.) Update 22 March 2016 – This newspaper article from the Beckley Post Herald makes no mention of Orville saving another child, and describes the event as an outing with friends when Orville sank in a deep pool of water, and did not emerge, despite being a good swimmer.

In an audio recording of his sister Audrey many decades later, she recounts this event.

My brother, who was four years older than me, was drowned the week after graduation. My sister and I had gone over to Epperly, a little mining town, to go to church. They sent a classmate to tell us, and we got home, and we heard Mother screaming before we got near the house. There were no doctors; we like to never got her quieted down. It was pure agony. There was nobody to stay with her, everybody was in school. My brother Prune would stay with her, you know, because she couldn’t stay alone, and she would just go to pieces. And he would just appear at the schoolroom, and the teacher would just nod at me, then I’d start and we’d run home. She was shaking like a leaf, her teeth chattering. I would put her feet in a pan of warm water and massage them. The only thing we had was spirits of ammonia, and I’d give her some of that and a little water, and rub her hands, and just whatever I could think of to do. And she’d calm down after awhile. I don’t know how I ever got through school. We took Latin (I still have all my report cards), and of course I couldn’t keep up. The teacher said I could catch up on all the other things and pick up Latin later. I was able to work and pick it up the same year.

Winding Gulf High School
Winding Gulf High School

This photo at Winding Gulf High School shows Orville and Audrey (marked with faint red circles near the center of the photo). It was probably taken his sophomore or junior year. Their sister Edie would likely have been in this photo as well but I’ve not been able to identify her.

Orville Hale Death Certificate
Orville Hale Death Certificate

Some of the language on this death certificate also tells a very sad tale. Henry listed Orville’s occupation as “school boy” and the registrar notes the cause of death is “Drowned – Had no doctor.” His father Henry completed many of these details, which must have been incredibly difficult. In the WV Archives of vital records, his middle name is transcribed as “Oliver” — which is what was written by the registrar on the certificate. Henry and Effie lost two other children in their lifetime (Shelma Doreen in 1924, and Edith Marie in 1959).

Orville Hale Headstone
Orville Hale Headstone

Orville was buried just 2 days later in what is now known as the Ben Meadows Cemetery in Princewick, Raleigh County, WV.  I find it amazing that the photo embedded into this headstone is hardly marred by time or nature. Some Hale cousins located this cemetery and took photos of a number of family graves about 5 years ago.

Leave a Reply