Sarasota Times Used Poetic Terms to Detail Resident's Deaths
Articles: Sarasota History
The antiseptic tone of today’s obituaries is a far cry from the finely crafted, inspirational prose that documented the deaths of Sarasota’s early residents.
C.V.S. Wilson, editor and publisher of the Sarasota Times, our first newspaper, informed readers of the passing of the community’s members in heartfelt terms with heavy doses of sentiment and an eye toward the Good Book.
These were the days after the turn of the 20th century when no one in Sarasota was a stranger. Each death was felt personally by all members of the community.
When the Reverend R.A. Seal died, Sarasota was reminded by the newspaper of the impact of his family’s loss. His obituary stated, “The old minister has fallen asleep after a long and useful life, leaving an aged wife, four children and several grandchildren to mourn his departure.”
Similarly, Mrs. Harry Rigby left “a heart-broken husband, and a grief-stricken mother and father.”
After Asa Chapline died of typhoid in 1911, the Times tried to soften the loss by assuring, “Although death was present, the calm serenity of his face robbed death of its terrors and he seemed to be at rest in peaceful sleep.”
Asa’s death was soon followed by Judge J.B. Chapline and Sarasotans were told of the judge’s final hours: “As he felt life’s declining days drawing to a close, he expressed himself ready to go and left for each of his family, fatherly counsel of Christian admonition.” Shortly thereafter, “Like a shadow, softly and sweetly…Death fell upon him and the Judge was at rest.”
Rose Wilson had taken over the Sarasota Times upon the death of her husband, C.V.S., and wrote of pioneer F.B. Hagan, “His only fault – if he had faults – was a failure properly appreciate his own worth and merit.” She further noted, “He leaves the memory of an honored name – a monument more priceless than gold.”
Metaphors for death in the Times obituaries included the coming of the messenger, the final summons, the dreamless night of long repose, passing away, crossing over and passing into the other world.
Citizens were said to be of sterling worth, indulgent disposition, estimable gentleman or kindly gentlewoman, earnest Christian worker and a splendid young woman or an aged matron.
Few get to write their own obituary, but C.V.S. Wilson’s “goodbye” after he became too ill to run the paper could have served as his.
He wrote, “Now, with life’s duties finished and only awaiting the call to pass over the River, I lay down my pen and pencil, put aside my stick and rule, vacate the editorial chair and walk out of the sanctum, with honor, unsullied, aged seventy-three.” He died 18 days later.