Longtime local physician Henry Taphorn was not an Effingham native. Originally from the Carlyle area, he was born on a farm there on Aug. 1, 1871. He was one of the seven children of John Gerhard Taphorn. John and his wife came to Illinois around 1855 to settle in Clinton County, intending to engage in agriculture, and raise a family.
Henry Taphorn received his early schooling in Carlyle and worked on the family farm, but he left for college when he was 23. His first choice was Shurtleff College in Upper Alton, where he enrolled for three terms. At that point, he made the decision to go into medicine, and journeyed to St. Louis, where he enrolled in St. Louis University. He earned a medical degree there in 1896.
By 1900, he had taken a position at the St. Mary's Hospital, with the title of First Assistant Physician. After this four-year intern and residency experience, he left St. Mary's to go into private practice in St. Louis and Alton. He married Genevieve Morrissey in 1902, and they had a daughter, who was given the name Genevieve as well. They moved to Effingham in 1903. After Mrs. Genevieve Taphorn died, he married Elizabeth Eversman in 1908, and they had five daughters.
Dr. Taphorn served the Effingham community in a multitude of ways. He was the Railroad Surgeon for the Illinois Central and the Pennsylvania Railroads in Effingham, as well as the Commissioner of Health and Safety from 1923 to 1931. The doctor was a member of the Effingham Draft Board during World War II. But it was his two stints as Effingham County Coroner that was the most dramatic representation of early 20th century medical practice, marked by violent and tragic events in turn.
During his initial period as coroner, he was called to a 1919 Effingham wedding celebration. Many weddings were marked by a chivari (several spellings), during which the newly wedded couple was visited by friends on their wedding night, with boisterous demands for a party or dance. In this case, the bride's father thought the visitors were making too much noise, and he struck a guest over the head with a blunt instrument. The young man stayed for the party, but his parents found him unresponsive in bed the next morning. Then he died. Dr. Taphorn's jury of six determined that death was due to a clot on the victim's brain under the site of the blow. The bride's father was arrested for murder.
Early in his second stint in the early 1940s, he managed an inquiry into the death of 18-year-old Harlan Darnell, who went swimming in the Little Wabash, only to dive down 12 feet, develop cramps, and drown in the interim. Then in 1947, he was called to the site of a pedestrian death in Teutopolis. The unfortunate victim, Edward Quatman, was trying to cross the road near his home and got trapped between two cars.
One 1948 auto accident case was complicated. Frank Fleming, the mayor of Arthur, Illinois, drove to the Illinois State Police Station near Effingham to have the two-way radio checked on the city's new police car. The vehicle had been gifted to the city by Arthur's business and professional men. On the way home, Mr. Fleming took Route 45 north. Three miles south of Neoga, he hit another car head on. The other driver had cuts and bruises, but Mr. Fleming died of massive injuries on the way to St. Anthony Hospital. The people of Arthur lost their mayor of 32 years, and their new police car was badly damaged.
Some of the coroner's cases involved children. A 14-year-old committed suicide by hanging himself in the Hill School yard south of Effingham around the time the fall session began in 1947, with a follow-up investigation noting "school difficulties" of an unspecified nature. In 1948, one Teutopolis mother's worst nightmare came true when her 3 1/2-year-old son choked on the balloon he was trying to inflate. He was taken to St. Anthony Hospital, but attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.
Dr. Taphorn was still in charge of the coroner's office during the aftermath of the St. Anthony Hospital Fire of 1949. This event was the only mass causality in his long career. There were 76 deaths, and Taphorn led the inquest that handled the majority of them. The only exceptions were victims who died in another county. All of the deaths were attributed to burns, although the state Fire Marshal maintained that some of the victims died of asphyxiation before the flames reached them.
Most of the victims were claimed and buried within a few days. However, the end of the salvage operation for fire victims trailed on in early May. The last unidentified skull and some ribs were found in a load of discarded bricks on a farm near Altamont. They were buried with the other unidentified bodies at St. Anthony Parish Cemetery.
Taphorn did not affix his signature to any of the death certificates. His name is listed as coroner, but he did not sign any of them. It is clear that Taphorn did customarily handwrite and sign coroner's death certificates, as demonstrated by an example from a 1941 car crash. The 1949 experience must have been physically exhausting and emotionally devastating. The right half of each fire death certificate was typed by a clerk. The identity of the person who collected the information entered on the left side of the certificate in unknown.
Fifty-one death certificates of adult fire victims are currently available for examination as part of the 1949 hospital fire exhibit on the second floor at the Effingham County Museum. The 1949 hospital fire exhibit will be on display through the end of 2019.
Shortly after the fire, Taphorn faced more sadness at home. His wife, Elizabeth Eversman Taphorn, died in June of 1949, just a few weeks after the hospital fire. Dr. Taphorn himself died on Jan. 14, 1954, in St. Anthony's Emergency Center, less than four months before the new St. Anthony's Memorial Hospital was ready to open. He is buried with Elizabeth in St. Anthony Parish Cemetery.
Sources: Newton Bateman & Paul Selby (Eds.), Illinois Historical and Effingham County Biographical, (Chicago, Munsell Publishing, 1910) p. 862; Hilda Engbring Feldhake, St. Anthony's Century 1958-1958, (Effingham, privately published, 1958), p. 248; "Fatal Assault at Charivari Party," Mattoon Journal Gazette, 2/6/1919; "Youth Drown in Little Wabash," Mattoon Journal Gazette, 7/25/1941; "Man Killed at Teutopolis," Mattoon Journal Gazette, 2/21/ 1947; "Frank Fleming, Arthur Mayor, Killed in Crash," Decatur Daily Review, 4/24/1948; "School Boy, 14, Found Hanged," Mattoon Journal Gazette, 9/11/1947; "Balloon Lodges in Throat, Boy Strangles to Death," Effingham Daily News, 11/15/1948; "Find Missing Body of Fire Victim," Mattoon Journal Gazette, 5/5/1949; Dead Book, fire death adult coroner's death certificates at Effingham County Museum; "Funeral Services for Coroner's Wife Saturday," Effingham Daily News, 6/30/1949; "Dr. H. Taphorn, Ex-Coroner Dies", Effingham Daily News, 1/14/1954; "Henry Taphorn", findagrave.com.