© 2007 Utah Humanities Council
In 1894, a young Pleasant Grove mother named Mary Cook swallowed a bottle of strychnine, and according to a description printed in the Salt Lake Tribune, “died in terrible convulsions.” It turns out Cook had forged a check for a little more than $10 at a local millinery store a few days earlier, signing the name of O. E. Carey. The check passed from one bank to another for payment, until the forgery was discovered and the check was sent back to Pleasant Grove. Local businessman Frank Beers zeroed in on Cook as the forger and when he confronted her with his theory, she admitted the bad check was hers, paid Beers $5 on it, and then returned home to take her life.
Cook’s suicide seems extremely rash in proportion to the rather petty crime of writing a bad check. We can never know exactly what she was thinking at the time she took her life, but it’s easy to imagine that the disgrace she felt at having her misdemeanor revealed in public had something to do with it.
There is, however, more to the story, details that shed more light on Cook’s decision to end her life. It turns out that she and her child had been abandoned by her husband when he up and joined a splinter group of the national movement called the Industrial Army. Elements of the Army, under the command of Ohio businessman Jacob Coxey, had blown into Utah on their way to Washington, D.C. where they planned to put pressure on the federal government to end the rampant unemployment caused by the deep economic depression of the 1890s. While here, the Army won some new recruits, including Mary Cook’s husband. Then they moved on.
Deserted at the height of a severe depression, without money or a job, Cook made the desperate decision to forge a small check in order to help make ends meet. When the plan backfired, and she lost face in her small town, she must have felt trapped, with no other choice but to swallow the strychnine and end both her humiliation and her poverty.
See the Salt Lake Tribune, June 23, 1894. Also see the December 1996 collection of the History Blazer, a joint project of the Utah State Historical Society and the Utah State Centennial Commission.