Title: Army, rank unknown, Civil War; city council member, coal dealer
Birthdate: September 30, 1839
Death Date: February 28, 1888
Plot Location: Section 133, Lot 50
The Charltons, Francis and Mary, arrived in Philadelphia from Ireland in 1838 with an infant daughter, welcoming their first son a year later. That was William, who would later have two brothers and a younger sister. Francis and all of his sons were eventually employed by the Luther Martin Lampblack Company. Lampblack is a type of carbon black, the fine soot from oil lamps that is sold for use in pigments and printer inks. Francis only held a laborer’s position but he also made some wise real estate purchases, a talent passed down to his sons.
William spent some time in the Army during the Civil War, but nothing else is known of his service, and there were several others with that name that served. He returned to his work at Luther Martin and married Margaret Jane Pollock in 1866. Family life had its troubles; four of their seven children lived less than six months.
William won election to the city’s Common Council, serving from 1871-73. He ventured into real estate, became a building contractor to develop his properties, and was named by the Council to serve on the Board of Port Wardens from 1878-84. Information from his descendants show his public life also had its troubles, as public officials often come under sharp scrutiny. In the early 1880s there was a bribery investigation from which William was exonerated, then a corruption inquiry into whether he was paid twice by the city for a road-building contract.
His legacy business, however, was the Charlton Coal & Ice Company, which he opened in 1876 at 28th and Pennsylvania Avenue. It was a strategic location because it included a rail spur for easy delivery of the coal. And coal was king in that era for heating, particularly in Pennsylvania. Ice, of course, was in year-round demand and counter-balanced the seasonality of coal sales.
William’s troubles continued in 1884 when his home was burglarized. Then he suffered a serious head injury in 1886 when he was thrown from his carriage by a runaway horse.
He spent the next winter in Florida but did not seem to fully recover. When he returned in April, 1887, newspapers reported he was demented after a public outburst where he threatened to kill an ex-mayor. When his father’s will was opened and showed William was a co-executor, papers were filed to bar him from serving due to mental incompetence.
His family filed a petition to have him declared insane and he spent a short time in an asylum. When he died in February of 1888 the official cause of death was paralysis but newspaper accounts referenced the effects of his accident, which today might be identified as traumatic brain injury.
As this obituary shows, attendance at his funeral reflected his widespread popularity. He was heavily involved in at least eight fraternal societies, from several Masonic lodges, International Order of Odd Fellows, and the Grand Army of the Republic to the Ancient Order of United Workmen that offered insurance benefits for members. Mourners included city highway officials, former council members, magistrates, and business associates.
The family plot in Section 133, Lot 50 was already the resting place of William’s four infant children. This monolith topped with a statue was added after his death to commemorate William, Margaret, and the children. His parents and a brother were buried just to the east in Lot 48. The Charlton Coal Company remained in operation under his two sons until William Jr. died in 1894 and Frank died in 1908. Frank outdid his other family members at the cemetery, using his wealth (which was largely inherited) to erect this mausoleum for himself and his wife, located on Mausoleum Hill.
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