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Let evening come…Letters from the passing of Stephen Mather’s brother, Josie.

In Robert Shankland’s book, Steve Mather of the National Parks, Stephen’s younger brother is mentioned only three times, all in the context of his father’s (Joseph Wakeman Mather) decision to move back east after Josie’s death from spinal meningitis at the age of nineteen.


We recently found three letters that shed more light on Josie’s passing.


Ralph Anderson, an NPS Information Specialist, interviewed a Mrs. Janet Leigh.  As a young girl, her parents ran a boarding house in San Francisco where Joseph Mather stayed for a time with his two sons.  According to Anderson, ”…Joseph W. Mather was overwhelmed by the loss of his son and begged to see Janet.  Janet was taken to their home and Mr. Mather scooped her up in his arms.  He was reported to have said, ‘Why oh why didn’t I take Janet’s advice.  More than once she said, ‘Why don’t you treat Joseph like you treat Steven (sic).”


The second letter was to Joseph W. Mather from N. L. Powell, the pastor who conducted the funeral and enclosed some lines from the eulogy…


“As his Bible class teacher, I gladly testify to his intelligence, his manliness, his genial disposition, and his true worth.  No one was more attentive, devout, and thoughtful.  The boy was loved by all.”


The third letter was also to Joseph W. Mather and from the boys’ mother.  She addresses Mr. Mather as “My dear Josie’s Papa.”  In part she writes…


“…It was kind and thoughtful to send your letter to the house, so we could read together about our dear son and brother’s last illness—The blow came sharp and sudden to us, our dear Stephen tried his best to soften the blow by telling me so gently that our dear Josie was in Heaven…


…We have his different pictures all in sight.  We try to find comfort in them, but for one touch of that dear vanished hand, one mutual word of farewell…”


Different observations…remorse, remembrance, bereft sadness…each conveying the depth of loss for one loved and lost before his time.


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