The VA Hospital grounds in Woods has seen many veterans pass through its buildings and grounds, many of whom have stayed for the eternal rest. Many have died of their war-time injuries and others of natural causes but there are those who died of suicide of various means. A popular means of suicide at the turn of the century was by drowning and a pond on the grounds became known as the “Suicide Pond”. This article tells the story of that pond.
Milwaukee Sentinel, October 26, 1901
SUICIDE POND LURES VETERANS
Beautiful Lake at National Home Attracts Weary Ex-Soldiers.
ITS DEATH LIST IS LONG
Two Places on Grounds Noted for the Number of Tragedies – Rachford the Last.
The death of James Rachford, which the coroner yesterday decided was a suicide, adds one more to the long list of old soldiers who have taken their lives in the beautiful and idyllic surroundings of the Soldiers’ home. Within the past eighteen or twenty years many a war-rearred veteran has buried himself in the placid waters of the artificial lakes in these grounds, which at night are so ghoulish and lonely in appearance, and now the veterans of the civil war who are living at this home call one of these lakes “suicide pond.”
By day it is merry and gay, but at night still and dark, and frogs croak and crickets ring. Most of the suicides by drowning have been at night, and it is said that the beauty of the grounds is a thing which attracts men to this place, and some have returned here for the sole purpose of dying in the sentimental surroundings.
“Suicide pond” lies to the west of the path that leads from the street car station to the big buildings which house the 2,000 or more veterans who fought in the civil war and have become disabled therefrom, or have not been over successful in life since. It would take days to go through the records and find the exact number of men who have become tired of continuing in their seemingly useless life, and ended their earthly existence in this beautiful stretch of water – men who with valor faced death by bullet and exposure through the long and weary campaigns of the sixties, but finally saw the futility of their escape in those exciting days.
Favorite Pond for Suicides.
There is another little pond back of the buildings, and over toward the cemetery, which has been the grave of many a disheartened soldier, and several rows of white headstones on the eastern side of the little hillock near Calvary show where the bodies of these unrecognized heroes lie. This is also a pretty little pond, and it is lonely and apart from the scenes of activity around the home. One other pond is in the park surrounding the home, but no cases of suicide have taken place there.
On a summer afternoon when the beauty and the chivalry of all South Side has gathered in the park, the bands playing inspiring military airs, and the surface of the little lake is dotted with graceful white swans and row boats occupied by the languishing swain and his fiancee, there is not the slightest suggestion of the gruesome finds that are made there some mornings. The lake is alive with laughter and fun, and the old soldiers who lie about on the bank and gaze dreamily at the little ripples chasing one another from the prow of a skiff toward the shore, speculate who will be the next to be pulled from the sparkling waters.
Seek Beauty Spot to Die.
The grizzled veterans who live at the retreats provided by the government make up an itinerant body of men, and they go from home to home in search of peace, which is hard to find among so many men who have little to do but talk over their troubles. It is said by men at the home that such a beauty spot is the little lake; that veterans who have searched in vain all over this broad country for peace in life have returned to Milwaukee and sought peace in the ideal little sheet of water, where they bury with them the stories of fortune or misfortune in war and peace.
Governor Wheeler was not at the home yesterday, and figures on the number of veterans who have ended their lives in this pond were not available, but there have been scores of them.
The last man to commit suicide on the grounds was James Rachford, who was a member of Company G of the Twenty-fourth Massachusetts volunteer infantry, and was 86 years old. He selected for his piece of eternal rest the little pond over near Calvary, but his remains will be buried at the angular, black and white plot where his comrades lie.