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Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Mysterious Death of the Dinsmore Parlor Maid

The untimely death of a young servant at The Locusts, the estate adjacent to Staatsburgh to the north, gives us a small glimpse of the lives and activities of Gilded Age servants in the hamlet of Staatsburg just over 100 years ago.  Recent research by Staatsburgh’s curator, Maria Reynolds, uncovered this slightly mysterious and unfortunate occurrence that resulted in the dismissal of The Locusts’ butler.  Reynolds’ research on Staatsburgh’s servants is now featured in a new exhibit (opened in April 2019) that can be enjoyed during the site’s open hours, normally Thursday through Sunday through late October.

"Girl Dies of Poison," The World headline read on July 20, 1897.  Selma Larson, a maid at the Clarence Dinsmore estate in Staatsburg died after falling suddenly ill on a train that had just departed Poughkeepsie.  There was no prior sign of illness and Miss Larson appeared in fine health to those who worked with her.  The illness was sudden and the death was unexpected.  Naturally, these circumstances raised questions about the cause of death.  It didn't take long for the newspapers to sensationalize the situation.  Was it poison?  Did the butler do it?  Read on to find out...

The World, July 20, 1897