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In the Shadow of Contempt (The story of Nevada Taylor)

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At twenty-three years old, Nevada Taylor died 112 years ago on Sunday, May 12th, 1907 at 4:20 AM with her family at her side in a farmhouse in Liberty Township, Ohio.

It had only been a little over a year after she was attacked and raped while walking home from St. Elmo’s Cemetery Station to her family’s residence on the edge of Forest Hills Cemetery in the early rainy evening of January 23, 1906. Ed Johnson would be later accused, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for that crime. Johnson was brutally murdered on March 19, 1906, by an angry mob of Chattanoogans on the Walnut Street Bridge in retaliation to US Supreme Court awarding a stay of his execution. Ninety-four years later, in February of 2000, Hamilton County Criminal Judge Doug Meyer overturned Johnson’s conviction.

(Ed Johnson)

Last year I spent a few months researching Nevada Taylor and her family. Much has been discussed about Johnson’s story, but little about Taylor and her life and death after the attack. My research only uncovered one significant detail that leaves this story open with more mystery and speculation than before.

William Taylor brought his family to St. Elmo from Findlay, Ohio in 1898 to serve as the new Superintendent and Groundskeeper at the Forest Hills Cemetery. His wife had died five years prior. Of Nevada’s four siblings, at least two would follow and make their home in Chattanooga. One sister, Jeannette, was a nurse and cared for Nevada up until her death. Jeannette was unmarried and remained in Chattanooga until her death in 1955.

There’s evidence that the Taylor family often visited the Findlay area for extended periods of time between 1898 and 1906. Another sister, Mary, and her husband kept a farmhouse outside of town and probably provided the family lodging.

Nevada was educated and attended business college in Findlay while her father and other family resided in St. Elmo. Her education would eventually lead to her employment as a bookkeeper and stenographer at the W. W. Brooks grocery store located at Sixth and Market Streets in downtown Chattanooga.

Through some internet sleuthing and help from an article published in Findlay’s local newspaper, The Courier, I was able to contact immediate family members of the Taylors with hopes to learn a bit more about Nevada and their family. Not much about the attack or rape was openly discussed. And no new family photos, or a photo of Nevada, could be located. The only photograph I could find of the family was of brother Dwight Taylor in 1902, as part of the St. Elmo Boy’s Brigade. It’s published in Chattanooga’s St. Elmo, by Gay Morgan Moore.

(The Fry House and family in St. Elmo. Later home to the Taylor’s. Courtesy of Jim Doughat)

William and Nevada Taylor returned to Ohio a few weeks before her death, to honor his daughter’s request to die at home. It was reported at one point, she rallied but quickly lost strength and succumb to her illness.

In her hometown obituary, Nevada was described as “pretty, blonde, and with winning ways.” The cause of death states “nervous prostration incidental of the crime committed under the very shadow of historic Lookout Mountain.” Nervous prostration was a widely used and generically stated cause of death at the time. The State of Ohio was still a year away from mandating death certificates and no autopsy was required.

Nevada Taylor’s unmarked grave is in a family plot in the old section of Maple Grove Cemetery in Findlay, Ohio, where her father was once the Sexton before moving to St. Elmo. Her family still owns the farm and house where she died.

Special thanks to Jeannie Wolf with The Courier, The Taylor family, Employees of Maple Grove Cemetery, and helpers on Findagrave for the photographs on Nevada’s listing and everything you do.

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