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The Suburbanite
  • The Monday After: Aultman widow defends sanity

  • Cornelius Aultman’s widow, Katherine, was not crazy. The community was sure of it and the court ruled she was sane. But, the fact that she had to go on trial in 1896 to prove her sanity incensed the people of Canton and made voices cry out in her defense.

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  • Cornelius Aultman’s widow, Katherine, was not crazy. The community was sure of it and the court ruled she was sane.
    But, the fact that she had to go on trial in 1896 to prove her sanity incensed the people of Canton and made voices cry out in her defense.
    “All the major people in Canton got on the witness stand and testified on her behalf,” said Richard Haldi, author of the recently published historical text, “Cornelius Aultman: Ohio’s Great Civil-War-Era Industrialist.”
    Ironically, the legal matter that The Evening Repository called “Stark County’s Trial of the Century” has had precious little said about it since it occurred more than a century ago. Generally ignored by historians, details of Katherine Aultman’s insanity trail have remained buried on the pages of old  Repositories — albeit the front pages of the papers of its time.
    Haldi stumbled upon articles about the trial while doing research for his book.
    “If we didn’t have The Repository on microfilm, we wouldn’t have any of it. Every day The Repository had stories about it,” said Haldi. “I copied it off — 45 pages.  Not a word of it made the history books.”
    In the end, the insanity trial became a chapter in Haldi’s book. And, the historian lectures on the trial. His next talk will be at the annual meeting of Canton Preservation Society at 4:30 p.m. May 17 at the Hartung House at 131 Wertz Ave. NW in Canton.
    “I wasn’t originally going to put it in the book,” said Haldi. “It was the grandson (of Katherine Aultman) who wanted it in. He insisted. He said, ‘That’s history.’ ”
    FAMILY MATTER
    So hushed was the secret that none of the currently living descendants of Aultman that Haldi talked to had heard of the trial. It was family, however, at least an in-law, who stood on the other side of the courtroom from one of Canton’s richest and most favored women in 1896.
    “It was the remarkable
    trial between Cornelius Aultman‘s revered widow, Mrs. Katherine Barron Aultman, and Mr. Aultman’s youngest brother, Mr. Levi L. Miller,” writes Haldi his book. “Mr. Miller, as the appointed financial overseer of his deceased brother’s fortune, had not only secretly put Katherine Aultman under guardianship control, but also had her declared insane, with plans already underway to have her confined to the Ohio Lunatic Asylum in Toledo.”
    Why? Aultman had given money to Aultman Hospital — a medical facility she and her daughter already had established in her late husband’s name in 1892.
    “Because Cornelius had talked about starting a hospital, after his death on Christmas of 1884 she thought this would be a great way to memorialize him,” said Haldi. “Then in 1896 she was trying to give another $100,000 — which would be millions today — so it would have operating
    Page 2 of 2 - expenses.”
    The family thought the 68-year-old woman, still depressed from her husband’s death and the belief that she could have prevented it, was abusing her husband’s fortune, Haldi said.
    “This was the Victorian Age,” noted Haldi, “and depression was looked upon as insanity.”
    THE TRIAL
    Upon learning “she no longer had any legal control over her own life, she immediately began to make plans to go to trial,” wrote Haldi.
    That courtroom drama unfolded over a month. Haldi offers details of the trial in his lecture.
    “There was a theater-like rush for seats when court room No. 3 opened for the hearing in the remarkable Aultman case,” reported The Repository on Jan. 9, 1896. “Attorneys, physicians, businessmen and even ministers somehow found the time to be there and hear the testimony.”
    Haldi said he believes Miller acted from good intentions.
    “His motives were righteous. He was a religious man,” said Haldi. “I think they were concerned over her willingness to share so much money. And he saw her as a woman. ... It’s a window into the Victorian era, when women were suspect in so many areas. It shows how far we’ve come.”
    Aultman’s community, already beneficiaries of her generosity, saw her life laid embarrassingly bare in the courtroom, Haldi notes in his book.
    “No possible incident in Mrs. Aultman’s life that might be a breeding ground for rumor and gossip was left unaddressed,” he wrote.
    Still, Aultman was able to prove her sanity in court. She lived six more years, until 1902. Miller, while ostracized in Canton at first, was able to “slowly gain the appreciation of the community” before he died in 1931.
    “It’s a delicious story,” said Haldi, “that ended well.”