Updated: Jan 16, 2020
One day I’d like to write a book or booklet about the lost bullion of Slocan Lake, one of our region’s most enduring treasure stories.
On Dec. 22, 1903, a boxcar went off the transfer slip at Slocan City into the lake, carrying brakeman Edward O. Connolly (or Conley) to his death along with about 700 lead bars from the Trail smelter.
Most of the shipment was recovered right away, but what was left inspired a who’s who of BC divers to go looking for it — based at least partly on the erroneous belief that the bars were actually silver.
This photo shows either a 1904 or 1929 effort to recover bars from a boxcar that went into Slocan Lake in 1903. It was published for the first time on the 100th anniversary of the original incident. Courtesy Arrow Lakes Historical Society
In 1929, Fred Maddison recovered 57 bars, worth about $5,000 ($73,000 today). In the 1970s, Roy Ganderton and Jim Roberts brought up another 19 bars, some of which are now in private collections and others in the Rossland Museum and J.B. Fletcher Store in Ainsworth.
There are probably no further bars to be found, although divers can still visit what’s left of the boxcar.
Fascinating as the treasure hunts are, I’ve long wondered about the brakeman, whose body was never recovered.
Connolly was said to be 24 and from Marshalltown, Iowa. In 2000, I asked the Marshalltown library to see if they could find his obituary, but they had no luck. And there things stood — until last week.
On ancestry.com, I found a pretty good candidate for Connolly. I can’t say for certain it’s him, but everything seems to fit. This Edward O. Connolly was born in Iowa in February 1879 to Edward A. Connolley and Ellen (Nellie) K. Hoolihan. That’s the right name, age, and state. The O probably stood for Owen, which was his paternal grandfather’s name. Edward Jr. had five sisters and a brother, who all apparently dropped the E from their surname and went by Connolly.
The family was not from Marshalltown, but rather Mason City, 92 miles to the northwest. While the two aren’t super close, they are close enough that it’s not inconceivable that Edward Jr. may have lived there immediately prior to coming to BC. Indeed, one of his sisters was a Marshalltown resident.
Here are some other clues that suggest it’s the same guy:
• The 1900 US census listed Edward Sr. as a railway engineer and Edward Jr. as a day labourer. The 1901 civic directory for Mason City showed Edward Sr. as a hostler for the Illinois Central Railway (which is apparently another word for “stableman”). Edward Jr. was listed as a “carrepr” for the same railway. Car repairman, I assume?
• The 1903 Mason City directory lists Edward Sr. as a railway engineer, but Edward Jr. is not listed.
• The ancestry profile does not show a date or place of death for Edward Jr. However, when his mother died in 1926, her will bequeathed her estate to four surviving children — Edward was not among them. Likewise, when his sister Ida died in 1938, her obituary did not list Edward as a survivor.
One thing I can’t explain is what prompted Edward to move to BC to work for the CPR on its Slocan line. It was not really in the family’s character to leave Iowa, although brother Maurice did end up in Los Angeles.
The ancestry.com profile didn’t have dates or places of death for Edward’s siblings except one: Regina B. Kramer, who only died in 1993 — age 107. It’s incredible to think that we could have spoken to her that recently.
An update: I asked the Mason City library if they could find an obituary for either Edward or his father (who died in 1905), which might further verify I have the right family. Katrina Bowen kindly checked, but could not find one for Edward Jr. in 1903 or 1904. She did find one for Edward Sr., published in the Mason City Times Herald of May 10, 1905, and seen below.
Notice Edward Jr. is listed as a survivor!
So that throws a bit of a wrench in the works. A couple of possibilities: one, I have the wrong family despite all of the other evidence. Or two, Edward’s family was unaware of his death until years after the fact. Possibly his employer and co-workers, though they knew he was from Iowa, didn’t have an address for his family.
Still, you’d think at some point, after not hearing from him, Edward’s parents or siblings would have inquired about his whereabouts — unless he didn’t keep in touch with them anyway and they had no idea where he was. Which sounds all the more tragic.
Updated on Jan. 16, 2020 with Edward Connolley Sr.’s obituary