April 7, 2018

Pages 5003
Whole Number 183

WILLIAM SPARKS, Died December 9, 1893
Prominent Athlete and Circus Star

[Editor's Note:The following obituary was copied by Linda D. Zapp who is a professional record searcher in Indiana and a member of our Association. Ms. Zapp has provided a number of Sparks obituaries that we have published in the Quarterly; she has found these in her research at the Indiana Historical Society at Indianapolis.

The obituary of a William Sparks given here is from the Zionsville Times of December 15, 1893, but it was copied from the Bloomington (Illinois) Pantagraph dated December 9, 1893.

[In the past, we have been able to identify the individuals named Sparks whose obituaries have been found by Ms. Zapp, but we have been unable to learn anything from our files regarding this William Sparks, who died in 1893. We will welcome assistance from our readers, especially those who may live in or near Boone County, Indiana.

[As will be seen, William Sparks died at a hotel in Bloomington, Illinois, on December 9, 1893. His body was sent for burial, however, to Zionsville in Boone County, Indiana, which must mean that he had family connections there. The writer of his obituary noted that he had a brother (unnamed) living in Zionsville.

[If his age at death was given correctly in this obituary, "aged 58," his date of birth must have been ca. 1835. Only one person named Sparks has been found on the 1850 census of Boone County. While his name was William Sparks, his age on that census was given as 24, placing his date of birth in ca. 1826. Either of these ages could be in error, of course. The William Sparks found on the 1850 census of Boone County was living in a house-hold headed by a David Hall, a carpenter, age 28, born in Ohio. The 20-year-old female named Ann Hall shown following that of David was surely his wife; they had a one-year-old son named John Hall. William Sparks and three other young men listed in the Hall household in 1850 were probably boarders; the other three were: Martin Jones, 25; Erastus Johnson, 21; and Ephriam Owen, 16. Whom it was that supplied the census taker with information, gave Indiana as the place of birth of these three, but that for William Sparks was recorded as "unknown." There was also an 8-year-old girl named Katharine Grover, born in Ohio, living in the David Hall household.

[While the following obituary indicates that its subject had a 20-year-old son and a 16-year-old daughter, they were not named.]

DEATH OF WM. SPARKS; Sudden Death at Bloomington, IL. Particulars from Bloomington Pantagraph.

The remains of William Sparks, who died Saturday at Bloomington, Illinois, were brought here Sunday and interred in the Zionsville cemetery Monday afternoon. The Bloomington Pantagraph of December 9th, gives the following particulars:

"Mr. William Sparks, who for many years was one of the most wonderful athletes of the United States, died about midnight last night at the Butler House in this city. He had for two or three decades been one of the stars of circus and variety performances, doing the 'cannon ball act' and other feats of strength, and had traveled through the country and often visited this city with the Barnum, the Sells, the Ringling and other circuses. He was an American, aged 58, and until six yrs ago was phyically perfect.

"Mr. Sparks six years ago was dreadfully burned in the Spanish Fort at New Orleans, where he was performing. His agony was such that it was necessary for weeks to administer morphine. He contracted the habit and could never renounce it. It ultimately led to his downfall and immediately caused or hastened his death.

"With his son, a bright young man of 20, and his daughter, a pretty miss of 16, all of them variety performers, Mr. Sparks had been carrying on a tent show. The party stranded at Ypsilanti, Mich., and it was thought best to raise money and send the father to Dwight for treatment for the morphine habit. This was done and Mr. Sparks and the daughter went to the Keely institute some weeks ago. The Keely people gave the case up as incurable and Mr. Sparks and his daughter came a week ago and stopped at the Butler House. Three days ago Mr. Sparks became worse and his daughter telegraphed for her brother, who came yesterday.

"The old gentleman rallied yesterday and was able to be up. At 11:30 Miss Sparks administered a hypodermic injection of morphine as was the custom, and her father went to bed and to sleep. A few minutes later, the clerk of the hotel found the old man gasping for breath. He sent for Dr. Jordan who, on examining the man, found that he was dying from paralysis. In a quarter of an hour he was dead. An inquest was held and the evidence showed in addition to the facts that Mr. Sparks had received six or seven injections of morphine during the day. The verdict was that death was caused by paralysis.

"The deceased leaves one brother, who lives at Zionsville, Ind. The case is a sad one. The children are destitute almost and they are evidently deserving young people."