Of all the people who attended the viewing of Ernest B. Kruttschnitt’s corpse, none was more shaken than an unknown woman, bent with age, who sobbed uncontrollably at his casket.
A report in the Daily Picayune on April 18th, 1906, failed to identify this woman, though it did say she had acted as his mentor. “She stood at the foot of the bier, and her slight form was shaken by the sobs which she could not restrain. During his illness she was a daily visitor at his office to inquire for his condition.” According to another report, Ernest, the older brother of Julius Kruttschnitt, Jr., died of cirrhosis of the liver and associated maladies.
Adding to the mystery surrounding the woman’s identity, Ernest B. Kruttschnitt (1852-1906), one of the greatest lawyers in the history of the Louisianna Bar, never married. The article on the Kruttschnitt obsequies intimates that the woman may have been a teacher. Kruttschnitt, who was involved in the development and expansion of the New Orleans public school system, served for 14 years as president of the Orleans Parish School Board.
Twelve days later the Daily Picayune revealed the identity of the poor little frail woman “weeping as though her heart would break.” Miss M.E. Lyons had been his instructress for nearly seven of his boyhood years.
As the story goes, Ernest’s father, Johannes (John) Kruttschnitt (1812-1892), was looking for an intelligent woman, “someone of fine social standing and ability,” to serve as a governess for his children. “Miss Lyons, then a young girl in her teens, came with the highest recommendations from his partner, General Augustus Reichard, as one of the smartest and best women of New Orleans, and was at once employed.”
The children took to Miss Lyons right away; she was respected and obeyed. This was especially true of Ernest, who “anticipated her every wish and would smilingly tell her parents what a smart little teacher he had and how much she appreciated any attention shown her. Indeed, one of the most beautiful traits in his character was the love and veneration he always manifested toward her, and she on her part was equally as proud of her gifted pupil, ‘her boy,’ as she loved to call him.”
According to the hyperbolic account, these were among the happiest years in the “little teacher’s life.” When it came time to leave for Washington & Lee, it says, Ernest was well-prepared to be a leader in his class. Miss Lyons went on to become “one of the most brillant” teachers in the public schools. When Ernest came home for the holidays, he would always pay his former teacher a visit.
Later on, when Kruttschnitt became president of the school board, he would lay out the “hand of friendship to her in all her trials and sorrows.” When an attack of typhoid fever laid her low, Ernest and his sisters constantly visited her at the Hotel Dieu, which is now the Univeristy (LSU) Hospital in New Orleans.
“Many a time during his illness did she pray for God to spare so useful a life and to take her instead,” reads the report, “and when death came and ruthlessly tore her friend away the grief of the poor stricken teacher was pitiful to behold.”