This, my friends, is Cannonball Dick Redding‘s death certificate. I finally have it, courtesy of Jim Overmyer (many, many thanks to him, btw).
Or it’s most of a death certificate. While it pretty much confirms that Dick Redding was a patient at the notorious Pligrim State Hospital — which is a step toward the truth — the actual cause of death is blanked out on the document, as was the case for Sol White, who died in neighboring Central Islip State Hospital, another psychiatric center.
The certificate does, however, include some interesting stuff. It notes that he was a veteran of WWI, but it doesn’t include an eact date of birth, stating only that it was “about 1889.” The certificate says he was 59.
A few of the entry blanks are filled out with “unknown” — the birth place of both of his parents, as well as his widow, Edna’s age. But through other research, we are able to show that both of Dick’s parents, Richard Sr. and the former Laura Ford, were born in Washington County, Georgia. We also know that Edna was about 60 when she died in 1951.
Moving on, we see Dick’s date an time of death: 11:45 a.m. on Oct. 31, 1948 (Halloween!). His occupation is listed as “odd jobs.”
To me at least, the most interesting facet of it is that it states how long Cannonball had been in Pilgrim — eight months and 26 days. So, the question remains: Why was he put there?
When I talked to Jim Overmyer yesterday, he offered a few thoughts. He said commitment to a mental hospital was often “the default action for someone having [any] mental problems, which could include dementia.”
In the certificate, his listed regular address is 99 W. 138th Street in Harlem. That address doesn’t show up on any other documents that I have, but I’ll do some more digging.
So, in all, we have some answers — how long Dick Redding was in Pilgrim and that he WAS there, date of death confirmed, etc.
But those answers only lead to more questions.
Will it ever be possible to secure an uncensored death certificate or, alternately, Cannonball’s hospital records? Jim Overmyer isn’t optimistic.
“New York State has very strict laws about that,” he says. “You just can’t get at those hospital files. Believe me, I’ve tried. It’s really hard, almost impossible.”