Thanks to Centenary University for permission to share these photos. I cannot thank them enough as I know so many of you will be interested in seeing Tillie Smith’s surroundings in 1886.
I hope this gives you a bit more of the flavor of Tillie’s world.
Seeking to establish an “academic institution that shall be an honor to the church and a blessing to future generations,” Centenary Collegiate Institute (C.C.I.) is founded by the Newark Conference of the United Methodist Church in Hackettstown, N.J. Ten prominent citizens of the town donated $10,000 and 10 acres of land to build the Institute.
Tillie Smith began working in this building in January 1886. She was a potato peeler, a step up in her poor existence. She worked in the basement kitchen, and slept in the women’s servant’s quarters above. This is where Tillie Smith lived and worked, and where she was murdered. Her body was found in the early morning of April 8, 1886 in the field behind this building.
This portrait of Tillie Smith is the only “known” photograph of her (courtesy Betty Jo King). Of course in my research I learned differently, as you discover in reading THE CEMETERY KEEPER’S WIFE. Some think she looks much older than 18 or 19. Remember how hard life was, and that you had to be still for a long time when being photographed. I believe this was taken in the year she was murdered.
The sketches of Tillie and James Titus in the NATIONAL POLICE GAZETTE appeared toward the end of the janitor’s trial for her murder, in October 1886. It also speaks to the national interest in a murder in this small town.
Fire destroys the main building of C.C.I., and amazingly, every student and faculty member escapes unharmed. Classes resume at local churches and construction of a new building begins. Centenary’s signature structure, the domed Administration Building, is dedicated in 1901.
The fire of that main building in 1899 has been attributed by some back then to have been caused by Tillie’s ghost on Halloween night.