A Village Tragedy

This cemetery is located on the southwest corner of Woolbright Road and Seacrest Blvd. The red X indicates the approximate location of Albert P. Bowens marker.

This cemetery is located on the southwest corner of Woolbright Road and Seacrest Blvd. The red X indicates the approximate location of Albert P. Bowens marker.

Boynton Memorial Park and Mausoleum, Ca. 2013.

Boynton Memorial Park and Mausoleum, Ca. 2013.

For nearly 20 years, I lived almost directly across the street from Boynton Memorial Park and Mausoleum, commonly called the Boynton Cemetery. The cemetery is the resting place for a number of my family members. I visit there fairly often, and find myself drawn to the old section.

Due to my ties to the community, the Boynton Beach Historical Society, and my propensity for historical research, many of the old family names greet me like old friends.




At some point, I found myself especially drawn to a rather lovely marker engraved with the name Albert J. Bowen. The dates on the monument indicate Bowen was born in 1865 and died in 1903. It dawned on me that his may be the earliest recorded death in this cemetery. Sure enough, according to Palm Beach County genealogist Marjorie Watts Nelson, Albert Bowen’s 1903 tombstone is the earliest legible marker in the cemetery.

When I realized this Boynton pioneer had lived less than 38 full years, I couldn’t help but wonder who this man had been and why his life had been cut short. What I found shocked and rocked me to the core! Poor Mr. Bowen suffered from a poisoning, a lethal poisoning!

Born in Ontario, Canada, in 1865 to Thomas Bowen and Tabitha Filmore Bowen, Albert J. was the fourth of six children, all boys. In 1878, the family immigrated to northern Michigan, where Albert J. Bowen and several of his brothers worked on the river as log drivers.

1900 Census Record

1900 Census Record

When he was 26 years old, Albert married Flora B. Ackley, then age 16, in Sheridan, Michigan. Flora was the daughter of George W. Ackley and Lucy Hall.

The family moved to Florida sometime in late 1900 or early 1901. How they ended up in Boynton remains a mystery. It is possible they heard about the farming opportunities in the Boynton area through Major Boynton’s Michigan Home Colonization project or they heard about the area from friends or relatives. As did many young families in Boynton at the time, the Bowen’s and their little daughters, Rosa (born around 1893) and Ruth (born about 1897) boarded at a rooming house. In this case, Flora Bowen helped with the housekeeping at the Freedlund House, operated by Joseph Freedlund. Albert worked as a truck farmer, planting fruits and vegetables for export to northern markets via Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway. I can only imagine how hard both worked in the tropical frontier without the comforts afforded by our generations. Still, perhaps to them this was paradise, a land of romance…

Their idyllic Florida dream came to a choking halt when Albert, only 37, met an untimely death from ingesting poison. The August 22, 1903 issue of Guy Metcalf’s newspaper, the Tropical Sun, bore the headline “Took Strychnine and Died in Agony: Tragic End of A.J. Bowen, of Boynton.”

died in agony

Took Strytocide and died in agonyAccording to the news article, Albert Bowen had worked hard all day in the fields, planting pineapple slips and came home tired and achy. He took some medicine and what he thought was quinine. Shortly after supper, he retired to his bedroom. Another boarder heard a disturbance and upon investigation found Bowen writhing in agony, screaming and convulsing. Joseph Freedlund went to West Palm Beach on the first train out and summoned Dr. Merrill, who rode back in a carriage driven by Richard Gardner, only to find Bowen’s soul had long left his body. His heart-broken wife and neighbors said Bowen made a mistake and took strychnine instead of quinine.

After the tragedy, Flora and the children, who were only nine and sixteen years old, must have left town. Losing Albert and staying in Boynton likely was too much to bear. The 1910 census shows Flora, Rosa and Ruth living with relatives in Pennsylvania. In 1917, 40 year-old Flora (occupation listed as dressmaker) married Ivan E. Smith, four years her junior, in Flint, Michigan. By then Flora and Alberts’ daughters would be grown women, probably with families of their own.

1917 Marriage Record - Flora Bowen and Ivan Smith

1917 Marriage Record – Flora Bowen and Ivan Smith

Albert Bowen’s headstone is engraved with the following words: “To Live in Hearts We Leave Behind is Not to Die.” At first I wondered why I was drawn to this marker and was compelled to research Albert Bowen 110 years after his death. I needed to tell his story, to make sure he is not forgotten.

-Rest in Peace A.J. Bowen-

Albert P. Bowen - 1865-1903

Albert P. Bowen – 1865-1903

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About Janet DeVries Naughton

Janet DeVries Naughton is the past president of the Boynton Beach Historical Society and an academic librarian and history professor at Palm Beach State College. The intrepid historic researcher has contributed to and published over a dozen local history books. She has over two decades of experience in Florida libraries, museums and archives, and is available as a consultant for family history projects, books and personal archival collections.

24 Responses to A Village Tragedy

  1. jean martinez says:

    I loved reading this! Thank you for sharing.

  2. Jan says:

    My grandmother and aunt are buried there. Also a couple of former classmates. Just wanted to say thanks for sharing this interesting history of Boynton. I have always thought you could learn about a place thru a walk thru the local cemetary. My grandma told me that.

  3. Judith lebrun says:

    It looks like a rather fancy and expensive marker for such a man with a meager income that left a widow with children.

    • Janet DeVries says:

      Thank you for the comment. We noticed the marker is quite expensive looking and echo your sentiments. We will continue to comb through the old newspaper accounts and inquire with the cemetery sexton as to who may have paid for the marker an/or when it was installed.

      At the time of the tragedy, fewer than 100 people were recorded as living year-round in Boynton. There was no organized government, no formal church, no local doctor, and no hospital. A possible explanation is that the townsfolk came together and raised the monies for the marker. Perhaps one of our readers may supply an additional clue as to who funded Albert P. Bowen’s tombstone.

  4. Excellent article, Janet.

  5. Ivy grady says:

    Loved reading this!

  6. bob garbett says:

    Is this the cemetery on the north part of town? I have family buried in both, but I have a brother in that one.

    • Janet DeVries says:

      The cemetery where Albert Bowen is laid to rest is located on the southwest corner of Woolbright and Seacrest. I’m adding a map to the blog so others may reference the location.

  7. Ethel Rasure says:

    Very interesting and well written. Thank you for posting. All of my family is resting in this cemetery………

  8. Dee Smelcer says:

    So tragic, for him, wife, and daughters. Nice of you to take the time to search, and write his story. By doing so, what is printed on his memorial, is true, he’s remembered, again, by everyone reading this.

  9. Joel Sasser says:

    That was fascinating. Thank you for taking the time to publish your research on it. I really enjoyed it.

  10. Rob Bowen says:

    Funny, my grandfather had the same migration to south fla, met his wife in Canada, moved to Detroit, where my father was born, the moved to Ft. Lauderdale to be a lineman for ma Bell… wonder if I’m related somehow…thanks for the interesting story!

    • Janet DeVries says:

      Very interesting Rob! Albert had five brothers – perhaps you are a descendant of one of the brothers or have a common ancestor. Let us know if you find any connections.

  11. Cindy Lyman Jamison says:

    Another fantastic story told because you are so curious about the history of our area. You are a treasure that Boynton Beach is fortunate to have. I am thinking I would love for you to flesh out the untimely deaths of two of my relatives, Nellie Austin Lyman and Fiona Austin. Thanks for all you do. It is fascinating stuff.

    • Janet DeVries says:

      Thanks, Cindy! That’s what we do. Document the undocumented. Share our rich history with future generations. Will work on the others soon. The story about Albert P. Bowen ‘found me.’

  12. Sheila Rousseau Taylor says:

    Great, interesting & sad story. Amazing how much info you are able to find, Janet, once you zero in on a topic! Thank You for providing so much interest on Boynton history for all of us!

    • Janet DeVries says:

      There are so many stories we can learn from. If only we had time to properly document more of them. I have a list of many ‘little known’ people to research. I’d especially like to give a voice to some of our early African-American and Bahamian-American settlers.

      • Nancy R says:

        You should check out the local library, there are a few books that cater to this area and the early settlers. Lots has changed.

  13. Mike says:

    Thanks for this great article about a man who would be forgotten if not for you.

  14. Michelle Davis-White says:

    I enjoyed the article …great account!

  15. Thank you Michelle! We appreciate you and your commentary. Please join us at one of our upcoming meetings and feel free to email us at boyntonhistory@gmail.com.

  16. Ben says:

    How did you find all of this information. Is this available at the Court House? Such a rich history.

  17. Peggy Ocenasek says:

    Really enjoyed your article. Many of my family members are buried there also. It’s wonderful to see all the history that Boynton Beach holds. Thank you for sharing.

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