From the Waterbury Republican Friday, July 13, 1923
Bethlehem Wonders What Became of the Man Who Went Into His House 20 Years Ago Never to Reappear.
This town is suffering from a severe shock. Here, where the entire community is one big law-abiding peace-loving family, the tranquility of its normal, even existence has been completely shattered by the discovery of a most tragic, and perhaps the most perplexing mystery ever record in the police annals of Connecticut. Whispered between the older townspeople for 20 years, the question now being asked throughout the town is: What became of Elias Booth?
In the very heart of the town, less than 10 feet from the tree that for many years has marked the exact center of Bethlehem, attends an old fashioned frame dwelling. Setting back a short distance from Main Street, directly opposite the Historic Green, it was, in its early days most likely, a handsome structure then, deserving in its old age to be looked upon with veneration and respected for its resolute determination to stand proudly in the midst of a new and critical generation. But today the older people pass it by glancing curiously at its closed shutters, with its sealed doors. Its aged shingle roof and its cement covered chimney that surmounts the center ridge like a handle inviting some giant of justice to lift the building from the ground and divulge the secret that it is hiding.
Home of Elias Booth
It 1903 this edifice of other years was occupied by Elias Booth, his wife and a son. Elias was an old man as nearly as those who knew him can estimate, about 70 years old, and sufferer from rheumatism. Broken by his years, the old man was so twisted and enfeebled by the disease that he managed to walk only by hobbling painfully along with the aid of a sturdy cane. In this fashion he slowly passed along the streets of the town carrying on one arm a basket filled with bottles of "Five Drops", a patent medicine supposed to relieve rheumatism by the sale of which he succeeded in earning a few cents a week for his meager necessities.
Every day that the weather permitted Elias Booth was seen limping from one house to another, vending his wares and in time he became a village character worthy of special attention at the hands of his neighbors. To his friends he was an amiable old fellow with little time for nonsense and to those who cared less for him, he was but a "harmless old man living beyond his time." But the home life of Elias Booth was something of an enigma. No one could quite make out what the trouble was, but that all was not well was obvious to the nearest neighbors. Mrs. Booth, now dead, was an uncertain quantity and a more questionable quality. Older Folk who still live within a stone's throw of the quondam Booth home say that they could often hear the woman scolding the old man.
Old Man Disappears
Then, in the spring of 1903, Elias Booth suddenly ceased to walk the streets of Bethlehem. Several days passed and the familiar figure that had for years half-dragged, half-walked the dusty paths did not appear. The townspeople began to wonder if their old neighbor had been confined to his bed with illness; but questions at his home were ignored. Weeks went by, and the neighbors watched the somber, sullen front of the Booth home to see the figure of the rheumatic cripple again, but the old man did not appear. Weeks grew into months and months into years, and Elias Booth was not seen by anyone. And the same strange reticence continued to prevail at his home where an occasional bold friend ventured to stop and inquire after the old fellow. He was not there; that was all, and no amount of questions drew any further information.
Elias Booth had disappeared, snuffed out of the town's life like a candle flame between closing fingers. If he was ill, he was never carried away to a hospital. If he departed for some other part of the world he made his departure at night, alone and in a vehicle that was not his own. If he died of an illness, or simply gave up his life as full run, as he surely would have done in the course of a few years, he was not given a funeral, nor was his body laid to rest in the little cemetery where it was entitled to lie.
And the little town lived on day after day, month after month, year after year, until the name of Elias Booth was seldom spoken, and then only in whispers, as if an insidious dragon had suddenly snapped the old man from the face of the globe and lay in wait for those who should dare to question the action.
Old House Sold
"Twenty years have rolled quietly by... The name of Elias Booth was fast becoming nothing more than the appellation of a dead institution, but to paraphrase a bit , mystery will out. The old Booth home had come recently into the possession of a prominent Waterbury man who be it understood, is connected with the story of Elias Booth only in that he now owns the old home and is desirous of seeing one old relic metamorphose into a respectable summer home.
In the past dozen months steps were taken to renovate the house. Workmen evidently unfamiliar with the tale attached to the structure, thought little of their discovery in the basement of the building of an oblong of loose dirt that resembled the earth that is removed in the practice of digging a grave, and then replaced without strenuous packing. Casually the find was mentioned on the outside. Immediately the town was thrown into a fever of speculation. But when all is said and done, the mystery is as deep, as intricate, and as tragic as it was the day that Elias Booth disappeared.
Back to Early Bethlehem Index