Update on the Death of Norman Schoenthal and Why I Love Libraries and Librarians

I never really realized all the things that librarians do until I starting doing genealogy research.  I’ve loved libraries ever since my mother first took us to the local public library as small children on her first driving experience after she received her driver’s license. Those trips became a weekly adventure, and I remember the long, winding road that brought us to the library and the smell of the new books on display in the children’s room, which was on the lower level.  And I remember how we each could pick a few books to check out and take home for the week to be returned the following week.

In my professional career, I also encountered amazing help from law libraries and librarians.  They seemed able to find resources and books I’d never be able to find on my own.  The librarians where I worked could find something in a few keystrokes that might take me hours to find, if I found it at all.

My latest experience with a librarian has reinforced my appreciation and gratitude for all that librarians do. In my last post, I wrote about the sad death of Norman Schoenthal at age 41 as recorded on his death certificate.

Delaware Death Records, 1855-1961," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KX3F-P3J : accessed 14 January 2016), Norman C Schoenthal, 15 Sep 1955; citing Wilmington, New Castle, Delaware, United States, Hall of Records, Dover; FHL microfilm .

Delaware Death Records, 1855-1961,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KX3F-P3J : accessed 14 January 2016), Norman C Schoenthal, 15 Sep 1955; citing Wilmington, New Castle, Delaware, United States, Hall of Records, Dover; FHL microfilm .

I had wondered what Norman was doing in Delaware, why he was residing in Washington, DC, and whether or not his death was accidental, as originally reported, or a suicide, as the amended certificate indicates.  I had written to the Wilmington Public Library to see if there was a news article about the incident, and a reference librarian there responded in less than 24 hours and sent me an article that addressed my question.  For free! I am very grateful to Ben, that librarian, for helping me to solve the mystery of Norman Schoenthal.

Here is the article he sent, which is from the September 16, 1955, issue of the Wilmington Morning News (p.4):

NOrman Schoenthal death story part 1

Wilmington (DE) Morning News, September 16, 1955

Wilmington (DE) Morning News, September 16, 1955, p.4



Man Dies Under Truck Wheels

Norman C. Schoenthal, 41-year old Washington, D.C., hotel man, became Delaware’s 74th highway fatality victim yesterday, when he was killed instantly by a truck on Fairview Avenue, just off the DuPont Highway at Farnhurst.

State troopers said the victim either slipped, fell or dived from the side of the road and was run over by the four tandem wheels of a 20-ton tractor trailer operated by George R. Lammy, 32, of near West Chester.  The vehicle is owned by Trans Materials Company, Berwyn, Pa.

Troopers said Schoenthal was standing on the south side of Fairview Avenue near the Farnhurst Post Office, about 60 feet west of the DuPont Parkway.  The driver told police he saw the man at the edge of the road as he drove past and declared the latter seemed to jump under the four wheels of the trailer.

Investigation showed that Schoenthal was engaged in the hotel business and had spent Wednesday night at the Twin Willows Tourist Home, just in the rear of the post office.  His car was found at the tourist home.  Police said he apparently was traveling alone.

Lammy was driving the gravel-filled truck into the Petrillo Brothers gravel pit, where hot mix asphaltic road surfacing material was being prepared.

The truck driver was arrested on a charge of manslaughter and held in $2000 bail by Magistrate Samuel J. Hatton of New Castle.

Troopers are continuing their investigation. [The remainder of the article is about an unrelated matter.]

The article answered some of my questions.  It does not appear that Norman was a patient at the nearby state hospital.  It does confirm that he was living in Washington, contrary to the burial card from Mt. Sinai cemetery where Norman was buried, which said he was residing in Atlantic City at the time of his death.  The news article also suggests that Norman was still in the hotel business and was perhaps in Wilmington on business.

I also was able to find where the accident occurred, assuming that the post office is still in the same general location in Farnhurst.  Du Pont Parkway still exists and runs north-south in Delaware (also known as Route 13), and the post office is located right off the parkway south of where the parkway now intersects with Interstate 295.  Interestate 295 runs east-west and crosses into Delaware from New Jersey over the Delaware Memorial Bridge and runs west to connect with Interstate 95.  According to Wikipedia, construction of the Farnhurst interchange on Interstate 295 was not completed until 1961; my guess is that the road that was Fairview Avenue in Farnhurst disappeared at some point after Norman’s death as part of the construction of this interchange.  Probably the Two Willows Motel disappeared around that time as well.


But there are so many unanswered questions.  Did Norman jump in front of the truck as the driver asserted and as the coroner apparently concluded? He had been recently divorced, had lost his father, and had sold his business in Florida. He could certainly have been depressed.

What happened to the driver, who had been arrested on manslaughter charges? Certainly if the death was ruled a suicide, the charges should have been dismissed, I would think.  I asked  Ben, the reference librarian in Wilmington,  whether there were any follow-up stories about the investigation that had still been pending at the time this article was published, but he wrote back to say he’d been unable to find any.  I guess the legal niceties were not as important to report as the gruesome death itself.

What a terribly sad way to die, whether it was accidental or intentional.

Thank you again, Ben and the Wilmington, Delaware, public library for your kind and generous assistance.  And thank you to all librarians everywhere.