Death in Panama

In the course of making revision to this little project, I came across the entry in the 62nd Congress for William W. Wedemeyer, who represented Michigan’s 2nd district. The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress says of Wedemeyer, that he “was accidentally drowned” in the harbor at Colón, Panama during an official visit to the Canal Zone. The full truth is less mysterious but sadder.

William Wedemeyer was born in 1873 near Ann Arbor, was educated at the University of Michigan and held official positions in his native Washtenaw County as well as the state of Michigan, also serving as American consul in British Guiana in 1905. Active in the Republican party, he was a member of the state party’s central committee for four years.

Wedemeyer was elected to Congress in 1910, succeeding Charles E. Townsend, who moved to the Senate. With his experience in the Carribean, he sat on the Committee for Territories; the governement of the Canal Zone was of particular interest to him. In the election of 1912, the Democrats swept to power in both the White House and the Capitol. Wedemeyer was one of those who went down to defeat, losing to Democrat Samuel W. Beeks.

During the long lame duck session, a congressional party including Wedemeyer sailed on a junket to Panama to inspect progress on the Panama Canal, then nearing completion. On the voyage Wedemeyer suffered a severe nervous breakdown, violently raving that President Taft had a hand in his electoral reverses. On arriving in Panama, Wedemeyer was committed to a secure room in sanatarium under a suicide watch. Several days later, the delegation departed from Colón on the steamer Panama.

Wedemeyer, accompanied by two male nurses, was with them, his condition not improved. He was consigned to a cabin under watch. His guards, who thought he was asleep, left Wedemeyer’s care to friends while they went to supper. He escaped his cabin and ran up to the deck, where many of the congressional party were taking the evening air. The insane man ran to the railing and, to the horror of those watching, leaped overboard.

The ship stopped and spent two hours searching for him, to no avail. His body was never found.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.