A Grandmother’s Heroism

Mary Johnson Hemmings died tragically, trying to save a grandchild in a runaway car.

The Mount Airy News of September 1, 1927, reported on page one: “While trying to stop a car from rolling down an embankment with her grandchild in the car, Mrs. J. F. Hemmings dropped dead near the quarry Monday morning. Her son had parked the car near the house and his five year old boy was playing in it when the car was seen to begin rolling down the hill toward the big shed. Mrs. Hemmings managed to reach the car and had taken hold of the rear fender and tried to hold it back, when she suddenly dropped over. Relatives found her unconscious and rushed her to the hospital but she never rallied, and it is thought she died suddenly, either from a weak heart or from a ruptured blood vessel caused by straining to hold the car back.

“The car rolled on down the bank and the child suffered no ill effects, mashing its nose a little as it fell from the seat, and a fender was bruised on the car.”

A photograph made about 1924 of a grand-niece of Mary Hemmings, sitting on a Ford Model “T” touring car of that era. The weight of such a car was about 1200 pounds, and they were made almost entirely of steel.

Mary Frances Johnson was born in 1874 in Surry County, N. C., to Jessie Allen and Elizabeth Gray Johnson. Her mother died in 1876, likely from the same tuberculosis that took her grandmother’s life a few years previous, and also may have taken her grandfather’s life in 1876. In 1881, Mary and her older brother Lindsay were the only surviving children of their parents. Their father remarried in 1877. Records do not show who raised Mary, but she learned to read and write. Lindsay, who was a teenager when their mother died, married about 1880.

Mary was married in 1891, to James Franklin Hemmings of Surry County, son of Washington and Elizabeth Kenner Hemmings. The wedding took place at her father’s home in the Mt. Airy township.

Mary and James lived on the McBride Road near Mt. Airy, where they owned a farm, and raised nine children. They lost one child before the 1900 census. Mary’s father and his wife and his step-son, William Everhart, were their neighbors. Mary’s brother, Lindsay, lived in Mt. Airy with his wife and children and worked in a furniture factory.

Between 1910 and 1920, James Hemmings and at least one of his sons went to work for the North Carolina Granite Corporation, where James was a foreman. Their home apparently was near the quarry. The account of Mary’s death said that the car rolled toward “the big shed,” probably a cutting shed or other work area at the quarry.

Mary was buried in the Midkiff Cemetery on Quaker Road, near her home, the first in a family plot where one of her sons would join her only four years later, and in two more years, her husband.

Copyright 2019, Glenda Alexander. All rights reserved.

Sources:

  1. Estate Settlement Proceedings for Jeremiah Gray, Sept. 8, 1881, Surry County, North Carolina, Estate Records 1771-1943; Ancestry.com; Original data in N. C. Dept. of Archives, Raleigh.
  2. Lorna W. Barrett, Surry County, North Carolina Marriages 1869-1899 (Toast, N. C.: Published by author, 1998.) p. 188.
  3. Census Data: 1880 Census: Westfield, Surry, North Carolina; Roll: T9_983; Enumeration District: 177; p. 12D; 1900 U. S. Census, Mount Airy, Surry County, N. C.; Microfilm Roll: 1219; p. 9B; Enumeration District: 112; 1910 U. S. Census, Mount Airy, Surry County, N. C.; Microfilm Roll: T624_1133; p. 15B; Enumeration District 136; 1920 U. S. Census, Mount Airy, Surry, North Carolina; Roll: T625_1316; pp. 9A-B; Enumeration District: 256.
  4. “Dies While Trying to Save Little Boy,” Mt. Airy News, Mt. Airy, N. C., 1927; “Loses Life to Save Grandson,” Danbury Reporter, Danbury, N. C., 31 Aug. 1927, p. 1. Images on digitalnc.com
  5. Visit to Midkiff Cemetery, Jan. 26, 2019.
  6. “How much does a Ford Model T weigh?, “ The Frontenac Motor Company , Copyright 2016, URL: http://modelt.ca/.

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