Strange Tales of Cottey College

Miss Grace Takes Own Life

In the fall of 1915, Virginia Alice Cottey Stockard was asked to admit an atypical student. Myrtle Grace Innis (called "Grace Innis" in the Daily Mail) had been ill for eight years when she applied to Cottey.3 She lived at 717 East Ashland Street in Nevada, but asked to board at Cottey because she could not walk that far. Although Grace was considered a great responsibility, Alice admitted her.2 She seemed to be doing well and in good spirits, at least until December.

Grace was home for the holidays on December 20th.3 Her mother went Christmas shopping in town that afternoon, leaving Grace at home. Around 4:00 p.m., Grace phoned Howard & Cress Garage for a car to take her to the square. She was driven to Miller & Hopkins Drug Store, where she bought bottles of carbolic acid, ether, and milk of magnesia. Miss Grace then directed the driver to drop her off a Cottey, where she began to walk the eight blocks to Radio Springs Park.

Lake Park Springs, c. 1906
The lake (c. 1906) where Grace Innis drowned at Radio Springs Park.
Grace Innis commits suicide newspaper article, 1915
Newspaper article on Grace Innis's death, 1915.3 Click to read.
Grace Innis death certificate, 1915
Grace's death certificate, 1915.1

Miss Uhler, a young lady on her way home from school, spotted Grace going down the East Hill (present-day BIL Hill) toward the lake.3 Some minutes later, Miss Uhler and her mother heard screams coming from the park. They ran out of their home by the lake to find Grace wringing her hands and crying that she had taken carbolic acid. It was speculated that Grace drank the acid and then waded into the lake, where the cold water shocked her back to her senses. The two Uhler ladies helped Grace to their cottage and called for a doctor at the Vernon Sanitarium. When Drs. Yater and Williams arrived, they quickly realized that little could be done for the girl. Although "Everything was done not only to save her life but to relieve her sufferings which were terrible," Grace Innis passed away in the cottage at 7:30 p.m.3

Grace's hat and muff were later found on the ground by the springboard.3 While it is not known why she took her life, the stress of her long illness likely played a part.

Main Hall Fire

On the afternoon of November 15th, 1900, fire broke out in one of the hospital rooms on the fourth floor of Main Hall.4 This was also the room of teacher Vesta Harding, who discovered the blaze. There were 120 students in the building that afternoon.4 When shouts of fire rang out, some young ladies panicked and began dragging their belongings outside. V.A.C. Stockard calmed them down and sent everyone to the first floor in case the fire spread. The alarm was "turned in" at 2:00 p.m. (likely through a fire alarm box that would telegraph the fire department when triggered).

Main Hall, c. 1900
Main Hall (c. 1900) where the 1900 fire and 1888 phosphorous leak occurred.
Main Hall fire newspaper article, 1900
Newspaper article on the Main Hall fire, 1900.4 Click to read.
Phosphorous explosion at Cottey, 1888
Newspaper article on the phosphorus explosion in Main Hall, 1888.5 Click to read or read the transcription in the Archive.

Smoke rose from the building's roof by the time the firefighters arrived. They threaded a hose through the north entrance up to the fourth floor, where the "fire boys" waded through dense smoke before finding the flames. The fire did not spread rapidly and was quickly put out. Everything in the room was destroyed, though, the woodwork and walls scorched. The water damage caused plaster to fall from the ceilings of that room and the room below. The loss was estimated between $150 and $200, which insurance covered. The cause of the fire remained a mystery, although there were rumors that a towel was left on a radiator.

Phosphorus Explosion

On June 8th, 1888, the beginning of Cottey’s commencement week, a concert was held in the Main Hall auditorium.2 During the evening performance, a loud noise was heard from the basement. V.A.C. Stockard, Sam Stockard, and his son John rushed into the hallway to find it filled with smoke and fumes. Upon hearing cries of fire, "the audience rose en mass animated with a common impulse to get outside someway or somehow. Only the calm self possession exhibited by the Misses Cottey and the reassuring words spoken by them averted a panic which might have resulted disastrously."5

John Stockard sounded the fire alarm and within 20 minutes, "five hundred men were inside the college grounds."5 They were not needed, though, as it was soon discovered that there was no fire. The trouble had instead been caused by an exploding bottle of phosphorus in the chemistry lab.2 Needless to say, the visitors were quite shook up, so the concert was canceled.

Works Cited:

  1. "Missouri Death Certificates, 1910-1957." Missouri Digital Heritage. Web.
  2. Troesch, Helen DeRusha. The Life of Virginia Alice Cottey Stockard. Wayside Press, Inc., 1955. Print.
  3. "Miss Grace Innis Takes Her Own Life." Nevada Daily Mail [Nevada, MO] 21 Dec. 1915: 1. Google news. Web.
  4. "Fire At Cottey College." The Daily Mail [Nevada, MO] 15 Nov. 1900: 1. Google news. Web.
  5. "A False Alarm." The Daily Mail. [Nevada, MO] 9 June 1888: 2. Google news. Web.
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