The Missing Postmaster
Who was Edward Dwight Gilbert? Gilbert was born in Hartford and later moved to Middletown where he enlisted at the age 19 in the Union Army. He came to Higganum around the time the Valley Railroad was built in the early 1870s when he was employed as a collector of the one of the large contractors. He was described as a hearty fellow and well liked and made many local friends. He met a local girl, Jennie Brainerd, married her 1871 and decided to stay in town. He started a visiting card business on a small foot press and worked around the clock to make his business successful. It was rumored he got rheumatism by working his card press day and night.
Gilbert built the Second Empire style house at 429 Saybrook Road with his wife, Jennie (Jane Jerusha Brainerd). Not only was he a merchant, but Gilbert was employed as secretary of the Higganum Savings Bank and later became the treasurer. He was also the postmaster of Higganum for many years and considered an upstanding citizen.
In early January of 1888, Edward Dwight Gilbert disappeared without a trace. He just vanished into thin air. Immediately the police searched for Gilbert but no trace was found. Bank officials looked at the Bank books but could not find a penny missing. The store books were also carefully examined and were found to be in good order...nothing fishy. The entire town of Haddam and village of Higganum were very upset and the missing man was the topic of conversation for days and weeks, particularly since another Higganum merchant, L. Barry had disappeared from town a year earlier.
It was said that Gilbert did not drink and was a devout family man with wife and children. He was a very hard worker and built his own business from the ground up. Many speculated that he had been tricked into leaving town and was drugged or over indulged in drink and was too embarrassed to return to town. Other friends were concerned he might be suffering from mental trouble.
Upon further investigation, it appeared that Gilbert’s finances were in turmoil and that he was insolvent. Friends noted that prior to his disappearance he had been “melancholy” and would not engage with customers or partake in conversation. It was written that he suffered from debilitating rheumatism and was frequently laid up. It was also reported that his money woes were so serious that he tried to sell his $2000 mineral collection for only $200.
Gilbert’s disappearance and bankruptcy took its toll on his wife who became “deranged” and had to be watched around the clock.
Creditors attached Gilbert’s property and the sheriff closed the store and cleaned out the shelves to repay the wholesale dealers. Within a week of his disappearance the creditors met and a receiver was appointed to the insolvent estate. By now most people in town thought Gilbert had fled to Canada.
A few weeks after Gilbert’s disappearance a livery driver claimed he drove Gilbert from Middletown to Higganum in the middle of the night. The driver swore it was Gilbert and later picked him and another man up to bring to Meriden to take the midnight express. The driver again claimed this was Edward Gilbert who was accompanied by no other than Leveritt Barry the merchant who disappeared a year earlier.
Suddenly a month after disappearing, Edward Gilbert returned to Higganum and home and stated that he was ready to resume his grocery business. He absolutely refused to divulge his whereabouts during his disappearance. Gilbert returned to the post office and remained here until his death in 1914.