#17. The Olive Poisoning Kills Seven
Col. Charles C. Weybrecht was a big man physically with a warm and winning personality to match. He was liked by all who knew him and one could not imagine his having an enemy. From an early age, the military had a strong appeal to him. He was a student of military history and joined the Ohio National Guard. During the Spanish American War he served as a Major in the 8th Ohio Regiment. By 1916, he was a Lt. Col. and called into service with the Ohio National Guard to New Mexico to fight against Pancho Villa. In 1917, he was a full Colonel, serving with the 146th Ohio Regiment and deployed to France to lead his troops in World War I.
When he returned from France in August 1919, Mrs. Helen Sebring Gahris planned a party to celebrate his return. The most prominent families from Alliance were invited to a dinner at the Lakeside Country Club in Canton, Ohio. On the way, Mrs. Gahris stopped at a store in Alliance to purchase candy, nuts, and a jar of ripe olives. She gave the items to the waiter and told him they were to only be served at her table. The waiter and the chef sampled the olives before serving them. Some of the guests sampled the olives and some were told by others to not eat them because they didn’t taste right.
After the party, Col. Weybrecht and the waiter were terribly nauseous. Several guests had double vision the next day and then became deathly ill. Many theories surfaced – was it the turkey served at the dinner? Was it the mushrooms that Mr. Sharer and Col. Morgan had picked? No. It was the olives, which were tainted with botulism.
Over the course of one week after the dinner, a total of seven people died from the poisoning. The victims were: John Sharer, Katherine Sharer, Helen Gahris, Frank McAvoy (the chef), Robert Jennings (the waiter), Col. Charles Weybrecht, and Jessie Sanford.
The full story can be read on our blog at https://alliancehistory.org/great-olive-poisoning-of-1919-part-1 or, watch the story from our 2019 annual meeting on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/alliancehistory/videos/2451608141822101/