A Fishy Reunion

When you a family member disappears, you won’t stop until you find them. At least, that was true of Harriet Franklin Nottrott (1850-1930).

At the turn of the century, in 1903, some drunk fish resulted in a family reunion. It all started when Captain John Franklin, a 56-year-old hotel and saloon keeper in Oyster Bay, New York, accidentally got 27 trout in his fish tank drunk after a beer keg leaked into the water.

A Fishy Reunion

Arizona Republic, July 19, 1903

It must have been a slow news day when the story came out because it was covered from coast to coast. One person who read the story in Missouri, thought John sounded familiar. Mrs. Harriet Nottrott wrote a letter to John asking if he could be her brother. They had not seen each other in 40 years. And, as far as I can tell, Harriet and the rest of her siblings all believed their brother John was dead. But something about the story caught her attention and she wrote.

A Fishy Reunion

The Evening World, July, 30, 1903

Miraculously, Harriet learned that John was her long, lost brother. They ended up meeting weeks later in St. Louis for the World’s Fair; later traveling to Charleston, Illinois to visit their brother Charles.

A Fishy Reunion

The Decatur Daily Review, October 16, 1904

When I stumbled on this fishy reunion story, I was amazed. John A. Franklin (1846-1907) was born in New York. For a few years, his family lived in Connecticut but then moved out west to Illinois. John R. Franklin (b. ca 1820) and Harriet Allen Franklin (ca 1820-1883) traveled with their six children (including son John and daughter Harriet) and settled in Ashmore, Coles, Illinois before 1859.

They didn’t live there long before the Civil War began. The Civil War resulted in families breaking apart.The Franklin family was no different. During the war, the father and older sons went off to fight while the youngest children stayed home with their mother. Capt. John, too young to enlist with his brothers and father, ran away to Missouri and joined the Third Regiment of the Missouri State Militia Calvary in June 1863. After the war ended, John returned to Illinois but could not find his family. Instead of staying in Illinois, he headed east and settled in Oyster Bay, New York as a oysterman by 1870. He didn’t return home again until after the story of his intoxicated fish hit the news.

What amazes me is how Harriet knew that Captain John was her brother. John Franklin was a common name, even then. What was it about the story that made her think he was her brother? I believe it was because her brother must have settled in the area of New York where they grew up. People tend to go back to what they know.

When I told this story to my mother, she immediately responded with, “His poor mother. She died never knowing what happened to her son.” But John never forgot his family. In fact, he named his oldest daughter after his mother and a his oldest son after his oldest brother.


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