A Fine Obituary

The Passing of Kid Sloan

A  little wanderer who knew much of humanity…he “pied his form”

Buried in the jumble of newsworthy events in the Charlotte Daily Observer in May 1903 were a curious and compelling series of articles about Kid Sloan, a compositor for the Presbyterian Standard and for other sundry publications. By May 10, 1903 Kid Sloan lay dying at St. Peter’s Hospital and at least one person at the CDO wanted the town to know about it.

After an illness of several days he lies at the point of death at St. Peter’s  Hospital-Sloan learned his trade at the Concord Sun and he became an unusually swift compositor and later a wanderer on the Face of the Earth-He was a victim of many vices including the use of cocaine from which he was almost miraculously cured-The closing of an unusual life

No one signed their articles in the CDO in 1903, so we don’t know who wrote so passionately and urgently about Kid Sloan. Nevertheless, they wanted everyone to know his story, unvarnished, warts and all. Thanks to this friend, Kid, who traveled through life largely alone and on his own terms, surely drew his last breaths on the prayers and well wishes of people who never knew him.

Kid came into the world as David Wilson Sloan, born in Stanly County. When he was two years of age he was placed in the Oxford Orphan Asylum.* He rebelled against the rules and regimen of the institution and ran away at a young age, somehow navigating his way to an aunt who lived in Concord, NC, a distance of 200 miles +/-. A few days after his arrival in Concord he walked into the offices of the Concord Sun, run by Mr. Wade W. Harris and asked Harris for a job. Harris took him on, nicknamed him Kid, trained him as a printer, and paid him $2 a week.  After a few years, Kid set his sights on grander things and moved to Washington DC to work for the Government Printing Office where he earned ducal wages in the neighborhood of $30-$40 a week. From here, we learn from his anonymous friend, he became tangled with wine, women, and opium, and then began his wanderings over the face of the earth.

His skills allowed him to pull up stakes at will and work anywhere. His skills were good enough that he could command his price. This lasted until he became too drunk or drugged to show up regularly for work, he would get fired, and move on to the next town to start the cycle over again. He freely admitted he tasted of all the sweets the world afforded. He drank whiskey and everything else that came across. Curiosity led him to indulge in every stimulant known including opium smoking and the use of cocaine and kindred drugs. He traveled thousands of miles in freight trains carrying with him a hypodermic needle and a bottle of cocaine which  he used incessantly.

Kid’s flesh was so full of tracks that he allegedly eventually had trouble finding a place to put the needle. In between periods of sobriety and employment he was a denizen of the streets, panhandling and begging for food that he would later sell or trade for drugs or alcohol.

Kid was clearly no saint, but who among us is anyway?

The author of the May 10 article had reason to believe the many Charlotteans would know Kid at least by sight. The population of Charlotte in 1900 was only 18,000 and the majority of people would have routinely conducted their business, shopped, or sought entertainment downtown, the hub of all commercial, retail, cultural,and recreational life. Sooner or later the eccentric Kid would have crossed paths with the downtown regulars. Tiny, stoop shouldered, emaciated, he was the quaintest figure in the place and the most original…Kid played only a small unimportant part in life and yet despite his lack of force he strongly impressed his individuality on every man he met.

For the next few days, brief updates about Kid were embedded in the paper’s social section.

No Hope For Kid Sloan Charlotte Daily Observer May 11, 1903

The condition of Kid Sloan who is in a dying condition at St. Peter’s Hospital remained unchanged yesterday. He was no better, no worse, but his physicians said that his recovery was impossible.

Charlotte Daily Observer May 12, 1903

There is no change in the condition of Kid Sloan. It was said at St. Peter’s Hospital that he was still in a dying condition.

When you are watching the drama of someone’s death unfold, time stretches out and seems to stand still. Your time is not regular people time. Mired in your sadness, it’s difficult to imagine how everyone else’ s lives continue apace following their own paths of fulfillment, amusement, or  descent into their own tragedies. As Kid tended to the business of dying, life outside of St. Peter’s Hospital and outside his circle of friends went on, as it tends to do.

  • A Pleasing Melodrama was presented by the Diatelean Literary Society of Elizabeth College
  • Park Stone, a painter, married Miss Minnie Fuqua (who was also known as Miss Minnie Cannon but we aren’t told why) in a ceremony performed by Squire W.O. Battles, “the South Carolina marriage artist.” (your guess is as good as mine-but read on; it gets better) The marriage was not devoid of romantic features. A year ago  while Stone was at the house of his bride he handled a shotgun in such a careless manner  that it exploded and the load entered the leg of Miss Fuqua. She was taken to St. Peter’s Hospital and the limb was amputated just below the knee. The bride who is opposed to wearing a wooden leg stood on crutches while the ceremony was being performed.
  • The Drum Corps practiced their maneuvers at the Confederate Monument and then marched to the grave of their late drum major Mr. Baxter Todd. They  decorated his plot with flowers and played Taps, after which they resumed their exercises performing a fancy drill at The Square lasting an hour and a half.
  • The Annual Convention of the Funeral Directors Association of North Carolina met that morning
  • Crawford D. Bennett returned from Wadesboro where he spent Sunday with relatives
  • Jeremiah Mills-the oldest man in Charlotte-died at his home at 800 North Brevard Street. He was 98 years of age.
  • John and Maggie Eury were arrested by Detective W.S.Orr on the charge of burning down their own house for the insurance money. Some of the evidence against them was that Detective Orr found most of the Eurys’ possessions stored in the church where Mr. Eury was employed as the Sexton.

Such was a slice of May 12, 1903 and these events were surely just the tip of the iceberg. On this warm spring day Kid Sloan passed from this world into the next. I don’t know if his friends held vigil at his bedside, I’d like to think they did, so Kid Sloan who seemed to be determined to get away from himself in life, did not have to die alone.

His obituary tells us he died at 4:30 in the afternoon and that the cause of his death was alcoholism. His burial card is somewhat more charitable listing the cause of death as Cerebral Softening, which isn’t necessarily caused by alcoholism but can be.

As was the case with the articles preceding his death, the author of Kid’s obituary did not hold back describing Kid’s addictions: As he had anticipated, he passed out the liquor way, and if he had any voice in the matter now he would sneer at an effort to disguise the truth. Nevertheless, the sorrow of loss was palpable.

Kid was a morphine fiend, an opium fiend, and a drunkard, but he never did a mean or malicious thing in his life. He was the sort of man who would pick up a strange and friendless dog and carry it home and give it half of his last crust. He never had much to give, but he was always willing to give all that he had. When his body writhed bitterly with the torture of self punishment, he yet radiated laughter. He was ever the chiefest figure in every group that opened to receive him, and no matter what hell he placed upon his own soul he spent the best part of his 38 years in giving mirth that was so sweet and wholesome by essence and strength. No man who ever met Kid Sloan can forget him-can forget that tiny warped form or the droll incisive speech that fell from the thin, seamed lips…he was out of place here-a weird little personality that understood everything about and was never understood; a pitiful little chap who laughed and made others laugh, harmed no one but himself and died without every having grieved or lost a friend…Kid would have understood this obituary for he liked plain speech and hated “slopping over.” He never lied about anything and he shall not be lied about…To quote Kid’s own use of the vernacular, he had “pied his form.”

Kid was buried in Elmwood Cemetery in section K2, a slender segment of the city cemetery that is owned by three local churches: First Presbyterian Church, Covenant Presbyterian Church (formerly Second Presbyterian), and Memorial United Methodist Church (formerly Brevard Street Methodist). Kid lies in an unmarked grave in the shade of mature trees and in the company of other fellow wanderers on the face of the earth.

Were it not for Kid’s anonymous friend and co-worker, he would have slipped into oblivion completely unnoticed, but the bonds of friendship required the recording of Kid’s reckless life and his subsequent passing. A final act of kindness was to keep him out of the Potters Field.

While in Charlotte, Kid became a project of the Reverend Dr. John W. Stagg, the pastor of Second Presbyterian Church from 1896-1903. Dr. Stagg got Kid a job at the Presbyterian Standard and helped him get off the streets where Kid was a fish out of water. According to this anonymous source, Dr. Stagg was always there for Kid, but regretted he wasn’t there before this last spree got so bad. It was surely Dr. Stagg who saw to Kid’s interment in the church sponsored section K.

Now you know about Kid. Think of him and wish him well in this season when the days grow shorter and it is said the veil between this world and the next grows thinner. And be grateful for your friends who love you in spite of yourself.

*The chronology of this period of Kid’s life seems somewhat inaccurate. Kid was 38 when he died, so he was born in 1865. He was 2 years of age in 1867, at which point the Oxford Orphan Asylum had not yet been organized. Perhaps 2 was a misprint for 12? If Kid had been setting the type for that article, doubtless he would have gotten the facts straight.

From the desk of Paula M. Stathakis

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