The place where I work is currently indexing Ouachita Parish newspapers for deaths and marriages. Over the years, I’ve seen hundreds of causes of death, some gruesome, some peaceful. This particular death has stuck with me through the years as one of the most unusual ways to enter the great beyond that I have ever read about. Apparently, this poor man died after drinking gasoline. I felt so sorry for this gentleman who died so horribly! Where did he come from? Who were the members of his family? I began to research.
Walter J. Masling was born September 4, 1871 in the small town of Delhi, LA. His father William George and his mother Martha Miggs Masling were British immigrants from London and Liverpool respectively. His father died in the late 1870’s leaving a widow with four sons to rear. The little family scratched out a living, and when Walter got old enough, he and his brother Frank learned carpentry skills and worked on their own.
Walter soon met and fell in love with a beautiful Arkansas lass named Cordelia. The two lovebirds were wed around 1900. Their lives were blessed with ten children according to Walter’s obituary, but only eight are listed on the census: Eva May, Katie May, Evelina, Walter J. Jr., Clifford, Edith G., Martha E. and Frank. Things were going quite well for the little family; then came the events of Thursday, December 3, 1925.
Walter had been hired to do work on the state Baptist orphanage in Monroe. We now know it as the Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home. Six months before, the orphanage had moved from its Lake Charles home to permanently settle in Monroe. One hundred twenty-five children and the entire staff had made the move. All that remained to be done were some finishing touches on some of the buildings. Walter was just the man for the job. Carpentry was thirsty work, and Walter kept a mason jar nearby full of cool water. Not even thinking to look, he grabbed the nearest jar, thinking it was his water and took a large gulp. Instead of water, it was a jar of gasoline. The article about his death reported that he suffered “great distress”, but reported for work the next day. His family had begged him not to go. Several hours later, his stomach hemorrhaged. Walter was quickly taken to Riverview Sanitarium for treatment. After growing weaker and weaker day by day, Walter lost his fight for life at 1pm on December 8, 1925. Peters Funeral Home handled arrangements. His body was taken to his home at 2711 Lee Avenue where services were held by Rev. L.T. Hastings of the First Baptist Church of Monroe. The body was then taken to the Old City Cemetery and buried in the Masling family plot. Thirteen years later, his beloved wife Cordelia would be buried beside him. Their soldier son Clifford would also be buried with them in 1942. Walter’s parents William and Martha are here too, buried in unmarked graves. May Walter’s sleep be more peaceful than his life!