David's Reformed Church Congregation

David's Reformed Church Congregation
Congregation of David's Reformed Church, Montgomery Co, Ohio, Circa, 1900

Friday, February 5, 2010

Solving the Mystery of August Hellmund

A few posts ago, I talked about my husband's great great grandfather, Ernest Hellmund, who immigrated to the United States from Saxony in what we believe to be September, 1860. Today, I'm writing about his eldest son, August Ernest.

August was born either "at sea" on the voyage to America, or in Scales Mound, Illinois. It all depends upon which account one reads. He was the only one of Ernest's children not to move to Miami County, Ohio with him when he left Illinois sometime after his first wife, Maria, and two of their children died, in 1872.

On 1 October, 1882, August married Matilda Sophia White and they eventually had 11 children. During my research I discovered that from 1900 through 1910, the family lived in Gratiot, Lafayette County, Wisconsin, but sometime before 1915, they had moved to Waterloo, Iowa.

I was shocked when I discovered this entry in the 1915 Iowa State Census collection that states August was living in an asylum and lists him as "insane". I had no idea why he was there or what had happened between the time he had lived in Wisconsin and the time he had moved to Iowa.

I also had discovered August's gravesite in Elmwood Cemetery, Waterloo, Iowa, where he was buried along with his wife and son. (His daughter, Caroline is named on the stone, but she is not buried here.) However, there is no date on the stone and the cemetery has no record of when he was buried. No further clues there.
August's story threatened to be a lifelong mystery to me until another resource became available to me. This time I found WorldVitalRecords.com, and they had a list of publications that until now I had not seen before and I was eager to search. Once again, I took advantage of the "free trial" subscription to see if there was anything on the site that might be helpful to me. Luckily, one of the cities included in their list of newspaper resources was Waterloo, Iowa. I did a quick search on "Hellmund" not expecting to find too much, but I was in for quite a surprise.

On 8 January, 1913, August had been electrocuted in a freak accident in the power station where he worked. The fact that he even lived was a miracle. But, he was badly burned.

A subsequent article from The Waterloo Reporter on 7 March, 1913 stated, "Yesterday afternoon at the Presbyterian Hospital, August Hellmund underwent an operation in which sixty inches of skin were grafted onto his left arm. The operation was performed by local physicians. Hellmund was nearly electrocuted six weeks ago at the W.C. F. & N. powerhouse while showing a friend through the building. The skin was taken from the patient's thigh and grafted onto his arm. He is now recovering. Few instances are on record in the city where more than this amount of skin was grafted. It was removed in strips about a half inch wide and four inches long leaving spaces between the wounds that may heal rapidly. Only the epidermist with a little of the true skin was taken. The high voltage of electricity burned the tendon's in the victims hand and he will never have complete control of the member. His mind is said to also have been slightly affected by the shock."

Then, in a further article, this one dated 22 October, 1914, and titled "Unfortunate Victims Taken to Asylum", I read "A.E. Hellmund, whose pitiable case of brain affection attracted much attention at police headquarters, was taken to Independence last evening for treatment. His mind disintegrated following an electrical shock of 22,000 volts."

So, there was the answer to why he was living in the asylum in 1915. However, according to the 1930 United States Census, he was at that time living with his daughter, Evalina Hellmund Morgan and her family in Waterloo. Therefore, I know that his death date came sometime after 1930, and thankfully, I don't believe he died while he was institutionalized.

The solving of the mystery of August Hellund is a good example why you have to search many different venues. No one resource can possibly hold all the information you can find on your family. Your family history is a living thing; constantly changing and growing. That's what makes it so wonderful!


  1. What a terrible label to put on a person - 'INSANE'! I realize 'his mind was affected' but there should be some other word to use for it. It's like calling austic or special needs children retarded.

    Interesting info though Lori...I enjoyed reading it.

  2. I agree completely with Mary! August had brain damage from an injury. They must not have been able to deal with it at the time. I would like to know what the "incident at the police station" was. I guess I still have some mysteries to solve.

  3. Lori,
    What a good job of research on this one. congratulations!

  4. Lori,
    Enjoyed this story. Kudos on a research job well done!!

  5. good research! Thanks for posting - my grandfather's brother was in an "insane" asylum & that's how he was referred to by my grandfather & my mom - come to find out he had epilepsy & couldn't control his actions at certain times so he went to the Ft Wayne School for The Feeble Minded