Our Times

Brian Spangle

The 20th century saw the deaths of three local men who were the last survivors of their respective 19th century wars. John Glass, who died in 1908, was the last Knox County survivor of the Mexican War of 1846-48. When he died in 1941, Alexander Bowen was the last local survivor of the Civil War. The stories of these two men have previously been told in this column. This week’s column focuses on a third man, Charles Stanley Bartholomai, who, by all accounts, was the last local survivor of the Spanish-American War of 1898.

Charles Bartholomai was born in California, Ohio (a neighborhood of Cincinnati) on May 26, 1884, to Henry and May Baker Bartholomai.

Bartholomai lied about his age in order to join the navy in 1898 (without his parents’ knowledge), claiming a birth year of 1879, thus tacking on the years needed to make him of legal age. He was all of 14-years-old when he enlisted.

America’s brief war with Spain began in late April 1898, initially over the goal of Cuban independence, and as a result of the sinking of the American battleship USS Maine in Havana harbor on Feb. 15. The war ended on July 17, with the surrender of the Spanish Caribbean fleet and, although it had lasted less than three months, it had immense consequences. The conflict resulted in Spain ceding Guam and Puerto Rico to the U.S. and granting the United States sovereignty over the Philippines. The Spanish also gave up their claim to Cuba.

Bartholomai served from Ohio and became a Master-at-Arms Navy Specialist. He was on a number of different ships in both the waters of the Caribbean and the Philippines, the last being the USS Texas. The ships he was aboard never took part in direct battle with the enemy.

After his return home from service, Bartholomai settled in Vincennes and married Luella McWilliams. The couple had three children, Stanley, Ruth, and Ralph. He would hold many different jobs in the city over the next decades. He was first a pipe man for Hose Co. No. 1 and later Assistant Vincennes Fire Chief. For many years he worked as an auto mechanic and ambulance driver for Dexter Gardner & Son Funeral Home and for a time was an elevator operator at the Oliphant Building on Main Street. Finally, through most of the 1940s and early 1950s, he was employed as a driver for the Tip Top Creamery. He would retire from the latter position.

Bartholomai’s family suffered a tragedy in late 1948. After the Second World War, their son Stanley, who had also entered the military and achieved the rank of captain, was serving as part of the Army of Occupation in Japan. Stanley died in an accident on the island of Okinawa on Dec. 4, 1948. He was only 38 years old.

Bartholomai was a member of the Charles D. McCoy Camp No. 28 for Spanish-American War Veterans. In 1924 this group purchased the building at Seventh and Seminary streets, across from the public library, for their hall and met there until 1954, when, due to dwindling ranks, the building was put up for sale.

By 1965, Bartholomai was the last surviving veteran of the war living in the county. That autumn, he was recognized by the National Headquarters of the United Spanish American War Veterans, which named him National Aide.

Charles Bartholomai’s died at Jeffersonville on Jan 14, 1967 at the age of 83. He and Luella had moved there to be with their son, Ralph.

Bartholomai’s body was returned to Vincennes for burial in Greenlawn Cemetery, with VFW Post 1157 in charge of the graveside service. Oddly enough, his monument shows the correct 1884 birth date, but his accompanying military marker gives the false 1879 date, which is what would have appeared on navy records.

Luella died at Jeffersonville at the age of 83 just over a year later on Jan. 27, 1968. Son Stanley rests in Greenlawn Cemetery alongside his parents.

Brian Spangle can be reached at brianrspangle60@outlook.com.

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