The Strange Death of Vincent Hudson

Vincent Hudson, St. John’s Cemetery, Altoona

Driving slowly along Altoona’s First Avenue, we could see the grave of Vincent Hudson a short distance off the road, but that was the closest we could get to it from this street due to the iron fencing. Turning onto Tenth Street, I carefully maneuvered the vehicle through the narrow entrance and onto the sacred grounds of Saint John’s Cemetery.

Stepping out of the vehicle, I was taken in by the view of the city from the hilltop. After a couple minutes of enjoying the view, Zech, Jen and I walked carefully across the historic burial grounds toward the Hudson family stone, pausing along the way to read the stones of others buried there.

Approaching the stone, we could see the name Vincent on the side closest to us and beneath it his age of 36. Note: Hudson’s exact age is a source of debate. According to newspapers from the time of his death he was thirty-six, which matches the age on his stone. However, most sources list him as being born in 1858, which would have made him thirty-nine at the time of his death.

“Who are you after?” Zech called out as he and Jen circled the memorial, scanning the names.

“Vincent,” I replied as I joined them.

“Here he is,” Jen announced and we joined her to face the eastern side of the monument.

“Who was he?” Zech asked we stood at his stone.

“A baseball umpire,” I answered. “However, it wasn’t his umpiring that grabbed the headlines of local newspapers – it was his strange cause of death.”

Vincent Demetrius Hudson was born June 11, 1858 to William and Esther Hudson in Summerhill in Cambria County, but at the age of four, he arrived in Altoona when his parents moved there.

Hudson was involved in the local theaters, having first worked with the Henshaw and Tenbrook Opera Company. Hudson would begin working for the Eleventh Avenue Opera House in 1892.

Note: I believe this is the same Vincent Hudson: The Altoona Times (Altoona, Pa) lists a Vincent Hudson of Altoona, as narrowly escaping major injury in the March 3, 1881 edition. He was in Johnstown to assist with the entertainment at Union Hall when the accident occurred. An assistant was pulling the trapeze out of the way when the metal bar of the trapeze struck Mr. Hudson in the back of the head “rendering him senseless.” Hudson fell to the floor, landing on a violin case. He regained consciousness and only suffered from a sprained wrist.

In addition to theater work, Hudson was an umpire for the Pennsylvania State Baseball League. On May 27, 1884, Hudson would make one appearance as an umpire in the United Association, a league that lasted only for the 1884 season. The game which Hudson umpired was one of the last games played by the Altoona team as the league disbanded at the end of the month.

Hudson continued to make appearances in local games and was listed as a substitute in the Interstate League in 1890. However, it does not appear that he ever officially umpired a game in the league.

Note: In the June 11, 1888 edition of the Altoona Times, it is mentioned that a Vincent Hudson of Altoona was the current catcher for the Mahoney City team of the Central State League. Outside of this very brief mention, I have not found any more to suggest this was the same Vincent Hudson.

In the early morning hours of March 22, 1898, Hudson would have a strange, unfortunate accident at his apartment on Green Avenue in Altoona. At one in the morning, Hudson got out of bed, opened the window of his second-floor room, climbed out onto the roof and walked off of it.

Policeman Heddinger, who was making his rounds at the time, had witnessed Hudson’s eighteen-foot fall and immediately called for an ambulance to help the dazed man. Despite having suffered a broken arm and back injuries from his fall, in the aftermath of the accident it was believed he would survive. However, Hudson never recovered from the fall and on March 25 he passed. He would be interred in the family plot in St. John’s Cemetery, overlooking the town he called home.

A careful examination of Hudson’s room revealed it to be locked at the time of the accident. Authorities, with the testimony of Officer Heddinger, came to the conclusion that Hudson’s death was due to somnambulism – or as it is more commonly known – sleepwalking. In his sleep, Hudson had managed to open the window, crawl out it and fell to his death.

The three of us finished remembering the baseball umpire before we left the cemetery, leaving him and his family members to slumber under the monument overlooking the city he called home.

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