Henry Snyder

Henry SnyderFollowing his appointment in 1885, Professor of Chemistry Henry Snyder became one of Miami's most popular faculty members. Undistinguished in either appearance or demeanor, Professor Snyder owed his notoriety in no small part to his wife Minnie. Minnie was his total opposite, a slender, seductive woman who delighted in exotic, gypsy dress and fancied herself a great singer. To display Minnie's talents to the fullest, the Snyders hit upon the device of the "Lecture-Recital," in which a lecture by the Professor would be followed by a musical performance by his wife. Minnie also performed her classical and gypsy repertoire without her husband, sometimes accompanied by her own band.

For many years, the Snyders seemed to be enjoying a happy existence. But in August 1898 Henry Snyder fell ill with what was called "heat prostration," and when he returned to campus the following month, he was clearly not himself. On September 14, Professor Snyder ingested a fatal dose of potassium cyanide in his Brice Hall laboratory. Most observers at the time felt the Professor had committed suicide. Later, Minnie would assert that her husband's health and mental equilibrium had been broken by overwork. But there is more to the Snyder story.

Some time after Henry's death, Minnie remarried, tying the knot with young William Pugh. Pugh had frequently accompanied Minnie's gypsy numbers on his guitar. He had also been Professor Snyder's laboratory assistant and possessed, like the Professor, a background in chemistry and knowledge of poisons. The Pughs moved to Columbus, Ohio, apparently set to live happily ever after. But in a rambling 1926 letter to Miami President Raymond Hughes, Mrs. Pugh stated that William had walked away, being tired of married life in June 1919, and left her virtually destitute. From all indications, William Pugh was never seen nor heard from again after June 1919.

Was Henry Snyder's death the suicide of a despondent man, an accidental self-poisoning by a stressed-out scholar, or do circumstances suggest something more sinister? Did Minnie know, or suspect, more than she was willing to tell? And what about the mysterious Mr. Pugh? We will probably never be able to answer these questions with complete certainty. Henry Snyder's death will thus remain one of Miami's mysteries.



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