As with most older homes a fascinating, connected story involves former inhabitants of a residence. The narrative of how they lived is an important detail, but also of note, is their passing. In many cases, former owners died in their homes. The majestic home at 422 S. Sergeant was, itself, no stranger to death.
The Schifferdecker Family
The year 1915 was both tragic and sad for the Schifferdecker family. Charles Schifferdecker, his wife Wilhelmina, and her mother Frederika Martens, died within a two-month period. All three passed away at their home at 422 Sergeant.
Wilhelmina died first on October 20, 1915. The Joplin Globe reported she died from heart disease, superinduced by cancer. Shortly before her passing, Wilhelmina received several radiation treatments at a Cincinnati, Ohio hospital.
Distraught about his wife’s death, Charles passed away ten days later on October 30. The Joplin Globe reported that Schifferdecker’s death was due to diabetes and Bright’s disease. (Bright’s disease is an historical reference to a kidney disorder, presently referred to as acute or chronic nephritis.)
Frederika Martens, the lesser known of the Schifferdecker family, died at 1:30 pm on December 16, 1915 from a severe attack of “la grippe,” better known as influenza. Prior to the funeral, her body laid in state at the home. On the day of her funeral, a short prayer service was held at the residence before the body was transported to the German Lutheran Church at 9th Street and Moffet. (Martens was born in Germany in 1829 and came to America in 1869 with her husband Johann Wilhelm Theodore Martens. They settled in Iowa until moving to Joplin in 1879.)
Another occupant of 422 Sergeant died unexpectedly on October 19, 1936. At the age of 58, Dr. Leon Hurwitz passed away at 7:45 pm from a heart attack. He was the first occupant other than a relative of the Schifferdecker family to reside at the famed structure—living at 422 Sergeant for more than 16 years. Dr. Hurwitz graduated from Barnes Medical College in St. Louis, and soon thereafter relocated to Joplin. He had a doctor’s office at 419 ½ Main and sold patented medicines throughout the region. The Joplin Globe reported that Dr. Hurwitz “held the formula for the medicines which were manufactured by a large drug company.”
By 1949, the home known for its majestic tower was the final resting place for numerous bodies waiting in state as the former residence was converted into the Hulburt-Glover Mortuary. At the turn of the century, Hulburt Undertaking Company was established by W. K. Hulburt during the days of horse-drawn ambulances and hearses. Following W. K.’s death, his sons Perry and Newell Hurlbut took over the family business. During the late 1940s, Newell sold his business interest to Dale Glover. It was during this time that the Schifferdecker home was purchased and converted from a family residence into a funeral home.
The Freeman Family
The most tragic of deaths in the home came in the early morning of March 4,1991. Gertrude Mary Meredith Freeman and her son William B. Freeman died in a raging fire which engulfed the stately home at 422 Sergeant. The coroner’s autopsies determined the Freemans died from smoke inhalation, as they both failed to safely exit the home.
Gertrude Freeman was born on July 7, 1896 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. As a child, she moved with her family to Joplin. In 1919, she married Paul Freeman—the second son of John W. Freeman. Paul’s older brother, Orley, was stricken with typhoid fever in 1921 and never recovered. In Orley’s name, John W. Freeman established Freeman Hospital, known today as Freeman Health System.
Gertrude’s son, William “Bill” Freeman, was born on July 10, 1920. He was a lifelong Joplin resident and WWII army veteran. For a time, he worked at the Connor Hotel and Christman’s Department Store. The Freemans owned several properties in Joplin including the (next door) Zelleken residence.
On March 5, 1991, The Joplin Globe reported:
“…after an all-day search they [fire investigators] determined the fire started in the kitchen at the back of the house, but do not know how the blaze ignited. Failing to immediately find a natural cause for the fire, it was ruled suspicious, leaving the case open for investigation. . .Investigators believe the heat and the fumes, not the cramped aisles, prohibited the Freemans’ escape. ‘Neither one was burned badly,’ said Jim Austin, district fire chief. ‘But with the temperatures reached, it doesn’t take but one or two breaths of superheated air and you just go down.’”
The Globe article concluded with Fire Chief Austin’s claim—due to the damages—that he did not think the house could ever be restored.
Today, much of the restoration process on the historic Schifferdecker residence is addressing the destructive fire damage that occurred from this 1991 fire.
Gertrude Freeman and her husband Paul owned and managed several properties in the Joplin subdivision known as Oak Ridge. Paul’s dad, John, was a prime developer of a housing tract just inside the Newton County line. For a period of time, the housing development was known as the Freeman Grove addition. During the mid-1920s, lots were laid out and the first homes were constructed. Paul and Gertrude also owned a two-story garage apartment at 34th Street and Oak Ridge Drive. On April 1, 1933, that apartment was rented to five folks from out of town. On April 13 gun shots rang throughout the neighborhood, and when the gun smoke cleared, two local law enforcement officers were dead—fifty-three-year-old Joplin detective, Harry McGinnis, and forty-one-year-old Newton County constable, Wes Harryman. Police authorities investigating the crime scene found incriminating evidence—a roll of Kodak film. When the film was processed, these historic photographs showed the infamous desperadoes of Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow, and William Daniel Jones in various “gangster” poses. These images were invaluable to the police community. For the first time, members of the law enforcement community saw the faces of these notorious criminals.