Copyright 2014 © Elijah Solomon Hurwitz
Evanston, Wyoming - The temperature bottomed out at 10 degrees on the night of Dec. 28th, 2012, though the town was no stranger to brutal winters. The next day, a 13 year old boy and his younger sister trudged through a Dollar Store parking lot to a favorite sledding hill, near an overpass above a railroad spur. Hiking up the slope they noticed a man sleeping between the graffitied pillars. They'd seen people like that here before, but something felt different this time. It was around 1pm, the bright sun reflecting off untouched snow. They called out instinctively to the man several times. No response. They approached bravely and poked his shoulder. No movement. They ran home to tell their single mom that they'd found a dead man.
When police arrived, they found him in a few layers of light clothing, carrying only a tattered wallet. Inside were an ID, a crumpled piece of paper with a California phone number, and a cashier's check. The phone number belonged to his brother, who hadn't heard from him since their mother's funeral over twenty years ago. The coroner said all signs pointed to hypothermia. The departed was 60 years old, and his name was Timothy Henry Gray. He was the great-grandson of William A. Clark, Gilded Age copper baron and US Senator, of whom Mark Twain said, "he is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag; he is a shame to the American nation, and no one has helped to send him to the Senate who did not know that his proper place was the penitentiary, with a ball and chain on his legs." Headlines the next day on NBC and NY Post would read, "Potential heir to $300 million Clark copper fortune found dead, homeless." The check in his wallet was for $54,000.
A few weeks after reading those headlines I found myself snowed in at a Motel 6 in Evanston, bumbling around the hard up cowboy town looking for clues. The local cops and resource-starved newspaper were dead ends, but inquiries led me to a modest apartment complex named "The Classic Lodge", where Timothy had lived almost ten years. I wanted to understand, how had a man of apparent means ended up on the streets? What was he doing under that bridge on a cold freezing night? Why had he left everything behind one day and never returned? How does someone just...fall through the cracks?