Oscar Neal was born on January 24, 1844, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the son of Carlton (1820-1896) and Anna M. (1823-1856).
His father settled in Grand Rapids in 1841 (see Carlton’s biography above), and his parents were married, possibly in New York sometime before 1844. By 1850 Oscar was living with his family and attending school with his brother Orrin in Grand Rapids.
Oscar stood 5’6” with blue eyes, black hair and a dark complexion and was an 18-year-old farmer probably living in Kent County when he enlisted in Company B on May 13, 1861. (At the same time his father Carlton joined Company K, and he may have been related to Lucius Neal who also enlisted in Company B.) Oscar was discharged on August 7, 1862, at a camp near Harrison’s Landing, Virginia, for chronic diarrhea and a scrotal hernia.
In 1863 he applied for and received a pension (no. 562602).
Following his discharge Oscar returned to his home in Grand Rapids. By 1880 he was reported a pauper in the Kent County Poor House where he lived until he was admitted to the hospital at the Michigan Soldiers’ Home (no. 312) on May 11, 1886. He was discharged from the Home on July 10, 1886, in order to be transferred to the Kalamazoo Insane Asylum (no. 4345), where he was admitted on July 13 diagnosed as “dementia chronic,” cause unknown.
It is said that he was at one time insane and confined in the County house. He was noticed to be insane shortly after his admission to the [Michigan] Soldiers’ Home, and very soon developed delusions of suspicion and apprehension. He thinks he is having a personal contest with Gov. Crapo [of Michigan], and is constantly watching for him; not infrequently he sees the governor coming in the person of some of his comrades, and attacks them. He says he is on guard duty all the time and is constantly carrying a heavy musket. He is in poor health, is rather pale and emaciated. His appetite is poor, his tongue coated and his bowels irregular. He is excitable, and irritable, and has delusions as before noted. He is brought to the Asylum by Sheriff John Platte and is received by Dr. Edwards on the directions of Dr. Palmer and sent to hall F.
By January of 1893 Neal’s “chief symptoms remain unmodified. Although his health is never vigorous, it appears to be very well sustained. He does a little work at the farm but is inclined to indolence. He is easily managed and seems to be contented.” By the end of April Neal was reported “to be as ordinary both in mind and body,” and he was discharged into his father’s care on May 31, 1893. However, he was returned to the Asylum on November 14. According to his readmission notes, “It seems he became uncontrollable at home.” He disappeared on June 3, 1894, but was returned four days later on June 7. He had apparently walked to Grand Rapids (perhaps trying to return home).
Oscar escaped from the Asylum again on April 22, 1896. He had been working the laundry and went outside for a pail of coal and did not return. According to his hospital record, “He was not missed, however, till dinner time and. . . .” He was found in Martin, Kalamazoo County, and was returned on April 24 (again possibly trying to get to Grand Rapids). His father died in July of the same year, and one Henry Mitchell (perhaps the brother of Virtue, Oscar’s stepmother) of Grand Rapids was appointed his guardian, at a date now unknown. Henry visited him quite regularly over the years, although it appears that Virtue came to see him but once.
In April of 1899 Oscar was reported as feeling “well, is active, and never sick although he has the appearance of being a rather frail man and is anemic and thin. He is quite talkative, but is confused and rather incoherent with a general expression or feeling of being persecuted and frequently asks if he is not soon to be sent home.” By mid-1900 there was “no change” in his condition. “His mental action is maniacal and he asks over the same questions concerning his return home, makes incoherent inquiries concerning his property and moves about in an aimless fashion. . . . Patient works as actively as ever and seems to take a great interest in the management of livestock. He is always rather irritable and boyish toward his fellow patients and requires constant supervision to prevent him from interfering with the rights of other. He is impatient and peevish and very apt to think that everyone is trying to annoy him.”
Oscar remained generally delusional and confused, and was often noisy in his conversation, although he worked well in the Asylum laundry for some years. On July 2, 1900 his guardian Henry Mitchell, with the consent of the hospital staff, took Oscar home to Grand Rapids. On September 12 Oscar was brought back to Kalamazoo by his guardian and readmitted “as an indigent patient.” He was removed again on June 8, 1901 by his guardian and returned on August 20.
In January of 1902 he became ill with pneumonia but was relatively healthy again by the end of March. On June 14, 1902, it was reported that Neal was “exceedingly delusional & talks a great deal in an incoherent manner about getting a good poor-master so that he may again go home.” By the middle of June 1903 his condition still had not changed. On June he was reported “as noisy and delusional as ever. He is almost constantly talking about returning to Kent County and about the need of going to the poor master. His language is always quite confused and very delusional. he still assists with the work at the laundry and is a very efficient helper.”
In early February of 1904 he was sick again with pneumonia, and his conditioned worsened steadily. He died at the Asylum of pneumonia at 2:30 p.m. on February 11, 1904, and his remains were sent to Grand Rapids where the funeral was held at D. & McInnes funeral home. He was buried alongside his parents in Fulton cemetery: section 5 lot 23.