by Debi Curry
While strolling through Gray Village Cemetery to provide photo documentation of burials for the Find a Grave website, a I recently came across this simple marker for a Mr. & Mrs. Stanton Bannister who died on the same day in early December, 1948. Curiosity required additional research... and resulted with this "Stones with Stories" post.
Stanton Dorey Bannister was born on 1 Jul 1910 in Weybridge, Addison, Vermont to George O. and Mary E. [Bullock] Bannister. He married Lillian Irene Morin in Maine on 19 Jun 1930.
The couple settled in Portland. City directories reveal a number of residence addresses, suggesting that the couple rented as opposed to owned. Interestingly, Lillian Irene is not listed with Stanton in the early 1940’s Portland City directories.
- 1930 – Stanton D. (driver 30 A ) & Lillian I., 21 Chestnut
- 1931 – No listing, Portland
- 1932 – Stanton D. (driver) & Lillian I., 241 Congress
- 1933 – Stanton D. (salesman) & Lillian I. 25 Myrtle
- 1934 – Stanton D. (assembler at 70 Free) & Lillian I. 11 Henry
- 1935 – No listing, Portland
- 1935 – No listing, Portland
- 1936 – No listing, Portland
- 1937 – Stanton (Irene) chauffeur 11 Royce Rd. Allston (Boston), MA
- 1938 – Stanton (Irene) chauffeur 11 Royce Rd. Allston (Boston), MA
- 1939 – No listing, Boston; no listing, Portland
- 1941 – Stanton D. (driver 353 Cumberland Av); residence at Gray
- 1942 – Stanton D. Bannister (laborer TBI) residence at Gray
- 1944 – Stanton D. (driver 155 High Street); res. 49 Walnut
- 1947 – Stanton (driver) 151 High, 87 Pleasant
- 1947 – Stanton (janitor) & Lillian I., 610 Congress, Apt 4
A quick peek at the 1940 Gray, Cumberland, ME U.S. Census shows Stanton D. Bannister living in the home of Mae E. Atwood with a relationship of “son”. He reports as “married”, but the M is stricken, perhaps indicating a separation or other circumstance.
At any rate, we again find Stanton and Lillian Irene together in Portland in 1947, shortly before their untimely deaths in early December 1948.
The front page of the December 4, 1948 Portland Press Herald reported two bodies found in a Portland flat on Grant Street under “puzzling” circumstances. Detective Captain Edward Kochian identified the man as Stanton D. Bannister, 38 and a woman who was presumably his wife, Lillian Irene, also 38.
The two were found to have no marks on their bodies and had apparently been dead for several days. Mr. Bannister was absent from his usual work at Town Taxi since the previous Tuesday.
Police reported windows in the apartment were open and a dog was running through the rooms. An unidentified white powder and two empty beer glasses were taken for analysis.
As the story unfolds in the Portland Press Herald over the following days, police were “baffled” by several aspects of these mysterious deaths. Early analysis pointed to the likelihood that the couple were overcome with gas poisoning. However, none of the jets in the apartment’s gas stove were open and the kitchen window allowed fresh air into the unit. The obvious question: If the couple died by inhaling gas, who turned the gas jets on and off? Other questions such as “How did the kitchen window get open?” and “Why was the couple’s dog, Skippy, not affected?” remained unanswered. Some speculated that the dog was closer to the floor and may have had comparatively fresh air at that level.
Questioning those closest to the couple revealed that Stanton Bannister had been “brooding” over the loss of a half-sister who had committed suicide the previous summer. Neighbors reported hearing a “thud” on the floor the Thursday prior to discovery of the bodies. Police later established that the couple had been dead about 48 hours when their bodies were found.
A final Portland Press Herald headline declares, “Evidence Indicates Gas Jet Accident” and offers the following explanation of the odd circumstances surrounding the deaths:
- Some time early Thursday morning, December 2, Mr. Bannister put on a pot of water with tea leaves on the stove, turned on the gas, but forgot to light it. The stove had no pilot light. An open gas jet can fill an apartment with gas in just a few minutes.
- After putting on the tea, he likely went into the bathroom, where he was overcome by the fumes and fell to the floor, where his body was later found.
- Mrs. Bannister was likely in bed and noticed the smell of gas, put on a bathrobe and immediately went to the kitchen to shut off the gas and open the kitchen window. Her body was found just a few feet from the window, so she apparently collapsed shortly after opening the window. The medical examiner, Dr. Porter, speculated that cold, clear air from the opened window may have been the final death blow for Mrs. Bannister, as gas utility workers are sometimes knocked unconscious by clear air after coming away from work in a gas-filled area.
- The dog probably lived because it was closer to the door and would have inhaled less.
Thus ends the story of Stanton D. and Lillian Irene Bannister, who now rest in Gray Village Cemetery. Note that the marker on their burial plot lists the date of death as December 4, 1948. However, according to the medical examiner reports, they died on Thursday, December 2, 1948.
Vermont State Archives and Records Administration; Montpelier, Vermont; Vermont Birth Records, 1909-2008; User Box Number: PR-01560; Roll Number: S-30651; Archive Number: M-1953857.
Ancestry.com. Maine, Marriages, 1892-1996 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2003. Original data: Maine State Archives. Maine Marriages 1892-1996 (except 1967 to 1976). Maine. Index obtained from Maine Department of the Secretary of State, Maine State Archives, http://www.state.me.us/sos/arc/files/dbinfo.htm
Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data: Original sources vary according to directory. The title of the specific directory being viewed is listed at the top of the image viewer page. Check the directory title page image for full title and publication information.
Ancestry.com U.S. Federal Census; 1940; Census Place: Gray, Cumberland, Maine; Roll: T627_1474; Page: 13B; Enumeration District: 3-29.
Ancestry.com. Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine) [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006. Original data: Portland Press Herald. Portland, ME, USA. Database created from microfilm copies of the newspaper.