Jarvis Rogers Loper and the Bad Soap

Born in Saratoga, New York on February 26, 1835 and baptized in Hempstead at Christ’s Church. Jarvis‘ father Isaac was a tallow chandler (candlemaker), a profession that Jarvis would follow.

The Loper family lived in Saratoga Springs until around 1862, when they moved to Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

by 1865, the Loper family operated a soap and candle factory in Oshkosh at the corner of Market and Marion Streets near the Fox River. The soap was made in a large vat on a platform 16 feet from the ground. The process generally started with boiling lye and then slowly mixing in other ingredients. Lye is, of course, a corrosive alkaline and an incredibly dangerous substance considering the final product.

While it was a profitable business, it seems it may have taken awhile to really get huge. In 1870, Jarvis and his wife Julia Lamont were boarding in the house of lumberman John Rich. By 1875, he had his own house, and the census shows he had three white women living there. Two were his wife and daughter. The third is unknown – perhaps a domestic servant?

Circa 1881, Loper married his second wife and they lived in a residence described as “elegant” at the corner of Church and Division.

On July 11, 1883, all the other employees went home for the day, but Loper stayed after to personally finish the final batch. The lye was already boiling, so he climbed up to the second floor to stir in a barrel of resin. He apparently lost his balance, because Loper and the barrel fell into the vat.

Loper’s assistant John Bingen had left but stopped back at the factory to bring dinner for Loper. Loper’s coat was still on a hook, so he was in the building somewhere. The assistant became concerned that the worst had happened and looked in the vat.

Bingen took a long pole and run it down into the boiling soap and felt something at the bottom. He then ran up to Loper’s house and found that he had not been at home. He told the servant girl of his suspicious and they were communicated to Ed Cole, next door, whereupon Cole went back with him to the factory. An alarm was given and, in a twinkle, W.T. Ellsworth and several others arrived at the factory.

“A long pole with a hook on it was procured and the body was hooked up and brought to the surface of the soap. The steam had gone down and the boiling had ceased, leaving the soap eight feet deep in the vat. When the body was brought to the surface it was seen that most of the flesh had been eaten off, and great care had to be taken to prevent the bones from falling apart. The trunk was got out and laid upon a board and carried to the yard below.

The sight of the remains was sickening in the extreme. The flesh had been boiled and eaten off the arms, legs and head, and just enough remained about the loins to hold the pelvis and adjacent bones together. The bones of the arms and legs were partially unjointed, and one wrist was entirely unjointed and the shriveled hand been drawn down by the ligaments and stuck to the elbow. The bones of the forearm and legs below the knee were as white and clean as bones could possibly be. The feet were shriveled up and eaten away so that mere stubs remained. Part of the bowels had broken through the soft parts as the remains were taken out of the vat. The clothes he had on were almost entirely eaten away, a few threads embedded in the little remaining flesh about the chest being the only evidence of clothing existing. Of course, the remains were wholly unrecognizable and other evidences had to be looked for to make a proper identification. Dr. Decker, the dentist, was summoned and positively identified a toot which he had filled. (Dentistry in the 1880s was before laughing gas or X-rays, so getting a tooth filled was probably not pleasant.) A coroner’s jury was at once summoned and after viewing the remains, adjourned until nine o’clock this morning to hear further evidence.

In the meantime, a metallic casket had been ordered from the undertaker, and the remains were placed in it and sealed up tightly, and removed to the residence of the mourning family, corner of Church and Light streets.

A further examination of the soap vat disclosed the barrel of resin at the bottom which he was about to empty into the vat when the boy last saw him. Inspection of the surroundings leaves no doubt as to the manner of the awful accident. There beside the vat stood the shovel with which he broke up the resin in the barrel. On the spot where he stood beside the vat was grease so slippery that one could hardly stand up on it with nothing else to do. There is only one theory left. He raised the barrel to the edge of the vat about three feet from the floor. He attempted to empty the contents of the barrel into the vat. The barrel of resin was very heavy. Perhaps the resin stuck in the barrel and he shook it to loosen it. The heavy barrel pitched forward likely to fall into the vat. He attempted to hold it, his feet slipped from under him and the weight of the barrel pitched him headlong over the edge of the vat into the boiling cauldron below. And all was still. Not a moment, hardly a second could he have lived in that awful sea of boiling, surging soap, lie and acids. There was nothing left to mark the spot when he went down to a terrible death. The steam plunged in from below and the great sea of soap kept on foaming, hissing and heaving in greasy billows, with a human form in its depths ten or twelve feet below the surface, being cooked and boiled and eaten to pieces. And this went on one hour, and then two hours before the fire went down and the boiling ceased and the terrible discovery was made and the fleshless bones were dragged from their awful hiding place.

As was Mr. Loper’s custom when working in the factory, he had removed his clothes and hung them up in a room below, having put on an old working suit. The clothes were subsequently found hanging in the room, where they had been left, intact.

Loper had an insurance on his life of $13,000 in the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, and growing out of some transactions about this insurance arose the rumor Wednesday that Mr. Loper had made his will that afternoon. This is not true, and the simple explanation of the transaction is as follows: Some premiums of his insurance were due on the 29th of this month and the agent, Mr. O.E. Carrier, went to Mr. Loper to arrange with him for the payment of the premiums when they came due, and renewal of the insurance. Among the policies was one for $3,000, which he had carried many years, and which was still made payable to Mr. Loper’s first wife. Mr. Carrier suggested it be changed, as Mr. Loper’s first wife had been dead some years. Mr. Loper therefore went to Gary & Berry’s office about three o’clock in the afternoon and made a codicil to his will, so as to make the amount payable to his present wife, a thing which had been before neglected. This was all there was to it.
It transpired also that Mr. Loper had a policy of $5,000 in the New York Life. The premium was due on the 9th but as policy holders have 30 days of grace in which to pay premiums, the agent, Mr. James, says the policy is in full force. This makes in all, $18,000 of insurance Mr. Loper had on his life.

Jarvis Roger Loper was 48 years of age at the time of his death. He was born at Hemsted, Long Island, and came west to Chicago in 1862. He subsequently returned east and enlisted in the army. He was in the Second Rhode Island Infantry, Sixth Corps, Army of the Potomac. After the war closed in 1865, he came to Oshkosh and succeeded his brothers Edward and John in the soap business. He was a hard worker, and although burnt out, four or five times, his business continued to proper and increase until the enjoyed a large and profitable business. His present large factory was built since the great fire of 1875.
Mr. Loper was a man most highly esteemed by everybody. He was quiet and unobtrusive, always kind in his intercourse with people in business and otherwise. His first wife died several years ago and he married his present wife some two years ago. Mr. Loper had but recently finished his elegant new residence, corner of Church and Light streets, and was just in a position to enjoy life probably better than ever before. His sad and terrible death is mourned by the entire community.
Mr. Loper was a Mason, being a member of Oshkosh Lodge No. 27, A.F. and A.M.

The coroner’s inquest was concluded shortly after noon Thursday and the jury returned a verdict that the body was that of J.R. Loper and that he came to his death by accidentally falling into a soap vat.

The funeral of the late J.R. Loper took place at the residence last Friday afternoon. There was a very large concourse of people present but a small portion of whom could be accommodated in the house. The floral tributes were very fine. The funeral services were conducted by Rev. K.C. Anderson, pastor of the Congregational church, assisted by Rev. S.F. Bacon, pastor of the First Presbyterian church. Mr. Anderson’s address was very touching. The singing was by the Congregational church choir. The pall bearers were S.P. Gary, D.H. Forbes, Ed Cole, J.R. Morgan, C.W. Davis, E.N. Conlee.

One loose end remained: the soap. It was decided that if Loper had been pulled out in one piece, the soap could still be used even though a man died in there. However, because he was not in one piece and his blood had mixed in to the product, they dug a ditch along Marion Road and dumped the soap in there.

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