RICHMOND – The juicy, blueberries gloriously weighted down every branch from which they hung. Thirteen-year-old Ray Allen Collins grabbed handful after handful, certain he had discovered the best berrying spot anyone could possibly find. He returned home to Wood River Junction after his successful morning jaunt and bragged to his older brother Nathan about his discovery.
“Where?” Nathan asked.
“It is a secret,” Ray replied, “Between me and the place.”
But later, Ray would reveal to his beloved mother where the abundance of blueberries could be found. His parents, Mary Emma Allen and Nathan Alfred Collins had been married since 1876 and Mary had given birth to five children, with Ray being the baby of the family. The oldest child, Elva was a public school teacher and daughter Edith would go on to become a teacher as well.
The children were born on the Tyler Collins farm in Hopkinton, the family relocating to Wood River Junction in 1900, when Ray was four. Nathan Sr. owned a local grocery store for several decades. Ray attended Westerly Grammar School and graduated on June 24, 1909. After passing the necessary exams, he planned to attend the high school the following fall. He was a fun-loving kid with a lot of friends, loved for his playful nature by peers and teachers alike.
Since he was little more than 11 years old, Ray had been employed as a distributor for a local newspaper. The papers would arrive on the 5:10 train and he would go pick them up and make his deliveries. On Tuesday, July 20, 1909, he would complete his last route. After work, he conversed with a friend about meeting up to go berrying the following day. Undoubtedly he had planned to show his pal the secret berry patch he had discovered earlier that morning.
When he arrived home, he went into the house for a short time then ventured back out. Soon after, he was discovered hanging in the barn nearly unconscious, his head secured into a halter. What made little sense was that the halter hung so close to the ground, his body was partly reclined upon it. The only logical answer seemed to be that he had fallen from some height and his head became caught in the suspended halter.
Ray was extricated and taken into the house. Doctors Knerr, Duckworth and Briggs were summoned. The boy was still alive, his heartbeat evident and his breathing continuous up until 11:25 p.m. As he expired, the doctors made every attempt to revive him but were unsuccessful. He would have turned 14 in just three weeks.
It was learned that, in the months preceding his death, Ray and some of his friends had engaged in a game they called “hanging,” where each boy would suspend himself by the neck and see how long he could endure it before breathing became difficult. As this was a game basically designed to outlast and impress peers, it was thought strange that Ray would play such a dangerous game alone. But the most logical solution as to how Ray Collins became hanged in the barn was that he placed his own neck in the halter and lifted his feet off the ground until he collapsed insensible.
Shortly after losing their youngest son, Nathan and Mary were divorced. She continued living in Richmond with her surviving son while Nathan removed to Providence and married Artimisse Beaulieu, 24 years his junior, in 1917. Mary died in 1928 and Nathan in 1933.
Kelly Sullivan is a freelance features and history writer for Southern Rhode Island Newspapers.