TL;DR: My grandfather’s cousin, Beatrice Patrick of Indiana married Wilbur Shaw but died in childbirth along with the child. She died the October after he placed 4th in his first Indianapolis 500 race. She may have been there to see the win, according to Shaw’s autobiography.
I wrote the following about ten years ago. I just found how I am related to Wilbur Shaw’s first wife, Beatrice Patrick. As I suspected she was my grandpa Patrick’s first cousin.
My grandfather, James Frank Patrick, was one of nine children. His older brother Wilbur Manville** Patrick had a daughter named Beatrice who died in Michigan at age 18. Her death certificate states she died of embolism following childbirth and her name was Beatrice Shaw and her husband was Wilbur Shaw. The parents’ names match up to my grandfather’s brother and his wife.
For the past few days I’ve been doing some research on automobile racing, especially Indianapolis 500 kind of racing. I’m not interested in the sport. I don’t really have an opinion about it except that it seems dangerous and loud. I’ve been researching automobile racing because of something my father told me and probably everyone he knew at some time or another. His father’s cousin married one of the more famous winners of the Indianapolis 500 — Wilbur Shaw.
I can see my dad talking about this. He would also mention a book called Gentlemen, Start Your Engines. At the time it didn’t really mean anything to me. I’d never heard of Wilbur Shaw. I didn’t like racing. I didn’t know anyone who liked racing, although when I did occasionally meet someone who liked car racing, I did mention the Wilbur Shaw connection and they were usually impressed.
Last week I found out that my sister-in-law’s daughter was going to be married in Kokomo, Indiana. I remembered that some of the Patrick family lived there — I remembered visiting it as a child and I have vivid memories of a girl about my age — I’ll save that for another blog post. So I tried to find some information on the Patricks in Kokomo, but didn’t get anywhere. Maybe I had the city wrong. Maybe it was Muncie.
Then I remembered the Wilbur Shaw connection and thought perhaps I could find out where the cousin was from by searching the Internet. I’d actually forgotten Wilbur Shaw’s name, but recalled the name of the book, so searched “gentlemen start your engines book” and found that for less than $25 I could own a copy of “Gentlemen Start Your Engines” by Wilbur Shaw. So I ordered it. It arrived yesterday and I’ve skimmed it. I don’t think I’ll actually read this book — in fact I’m sending it to Dad for Father’s Day, but I found some interesting bits about Wilbur Shaw’s first wife, Beatrice, who was my father’s cousin (although now, doing the math, I think she may have been his father’s cousin).
In Chapter 7 of “Gentlemen Start Your Engines” Wilbur Shaw writes:
Living dangerously, no matter how you do it, has a certain amount of romance and fascination which appeals to the girls. I don’t ever recall being hungry for feminine companionship after becoming a race driver. Even though they occasionally infringed on the amount of time necessary to get my car ready for a race, it was nice to have them around when the pressure was off. You can’t beat them for a pleasant change of pace and an outlet for the pent-up energy untapped by the thrills experienced on the track.
No one girl, however, had occupied my attention for any length of time until a few weeks before the end of that 1926 season. Then I met Beatrice Patrick while I was back in Indianapolis to repair an engine I had torn up in a race at Akron, Ohio. It was the night of the first Dempsey-Tunney title fight. Ted Elliot, my close friend and ex-mechanic, had invited a bunch of us out to his home to listen to the radio account of the battle. But I don’t remember anything about the battle — except that Tunney won — because another friend of Ted’s waled in at about that time with a girl who took my mind completely off the fight and racing and everything else. If you can imagine a blond Irish Madonna, she was it. Five feet and five inches tall, weighting 115 pounds and built like a Greek goddess. If I had been struck by lightning, the effect wouldn’t have been more devastating than my fist glimpse of her. Every time she looked at me and smiled, I felt like a helpless puppy caught near a wet spot on a new carpet.
I don’t know whether it was the home brew or only the way in which she looked at me, but my stomach tied itself in knots and I had the first taste of indigestion in my entire life. I didn’t know whether I’d swallowed a skyrocket or a cannonball, but never have I had a more dreadful feeling. this embarrassing experience, however, turned out to be a blessing in disguise. When she realized I really was ill, she became the most solicitous and sympathetic person in the room. Maybe the pain my tummy didn’t actually stop when she put her cool hands on my forehead, but at least I didn’t feel it anymore. The hands did something that made me forget about everything except her intimate presence.
I had enough presence of mind, however, to continue getting “sicker and sicker”. At the same time, I managed to get the idea across to her — without everyone else knowing it– that the one thing I needed above everything else in my future was to have her around all the time. I probably did it in a stumbling and awkward manner, but I meant it. And the wonderful part about it was that she believed me. She didn’t say so, but I new it by the almost imperceptible little squeeze she gave me with those soft cool hands on my forehead.
Shaw then describes how the wife of his host intervened and gave him some bicarbonate of soda which made him feel better. Just as the party was breaking up Shaw writes:
…I suddenly realized that I didn’t even know the girl’s name. They called her Bea, but I didn’t know her last name or where she lived or anything about her except that she was wonderful.
He then describes how he surreptitiously followed them back to her house, waited for the date to leave then parked the car and knocked on the door.
…but it wasn’t Bea who answered. Instead it was her father who opened the door and I could have sunk straight through a crack in the floor. I was totally unprepared for such a development and he didn’t help matters any by standing there, silently, with an inquiring expression on his face. He didn’t even ask me what I wanted or anything.
“Do you know what time it is?” he asked.
“Yes,” I answered; “but I know she hasn’t had time to get to bed and I’ve got to tell her something tonight.”
“Well, if it’s too important to wait until morning,” he replied, “come right on in and tell us all about it.”
We went on in and when I met Bea’s mother I knew I hadn’t made a mistake. She had the nicest eyes of any I’ve ever looked into. One glance was enough to tell me I was “home free” While Mr. Patrick called upstairs for Bea, I pulled a chair up alongside her mother and started to tell her the full story of what had happened that evening. I didn’t even slow down when Bea’s father came back into he room. He’d be easy, if I could sell myself to Mrs. Patrick, because anyone could tell in a hurry who was boss in that household.
He then describes asking the Patricks if he could date Bea and then how he goes home and tells his mother about his evening. He and Bea were married six weeks later.
I’m not sure how much later this next passage is, but it can’t be more than a year or two. The Shaws were now living in Detroit, at least for the summer.
Bea and I were expecting a son late in the fall. Early in the season she had accompanied me on almost all of our trips, but when traveling began to make her uncomfortable, she’d made up her mind the safest thing to do was to remain at home with Mrs. Smith.
Floyd [Smith] and I were scheduled to race at Milwaukee on Labor Day and everything had been fine when we started the journey. When we registered at the hotel about seven o’clock in the evening, however, there was a message for me to call Detroit. It required almost an hour to get the call through, because of some unexplained delay, and I paced the floor of our room every minute of the time. At last I heard Mrs. Smith’s voice on the phone.
“Don’t be alarmed,” she said. “I’m sure everything is going to all right. But Bea started to hemorrhage this afternoon and I wanted you to know that her doctor has taken her to the hospital so that she’d be sure of getting all of the care she may need.”
She gave me the name of the hospital and I placed another call to check direct with the doctor. The hospital switchboard operator couldn’t locate him immediately. But when I identified myself and asked for news of Bea, she said, “Just a minute, Mr. Shaw.”
Then the voice of a strange nurse came on over the wire.
“We’ve been trying to get you for several minutes, Mr. Shaw,” she exclaimed. “We have some bad news for you, so brace yourself. The baby was born prematurely and — despite everything we could do — it was impossible for us to save Mrs. Shaw.”
Shaw then describes his grief and the ordeal of bringing his wife and son’s bodies back for burial.
*You need to have read the Lemoney Snickett series of Unfortunate Events to understand the title
**My dad’s middle name was supposed to be Manville, but it was accidentally changed to Manuel on his birth certificate.