In 1898, the fresh remains of popular chemistry professor Henry Snyder were discovered in his Brice Hall laboratory. Was it a suicide, an accident or something more sinister?

Miami University chemistry professor Henry Snyder
Henry Snyder

Perhaps he was still indisposed by the heat prostration he’d suffered a month earlier. Maybe he felt fractious, having spent too much summer with his peacockish wife. Whatever the reason, when professor Henry Snyder showed up for his 13th year as Miami University’s head of physics and chemistry, some said his demeanor seemed different.

Regardless, the well-liked scientist with the handlebar mustache was observed “pursuing faithfully the usual round of studies” on that first day of classes Sept. 13, 1898, according to the campus newspaper, The Miami Student.

As a result, the Oxford community was shocked and shaken to its core when his dead body was discovered the next morning in a Brice Hall chemistry laboratory, an empty beaker next to him.

“They were unable to actually analyze the concoction he mixed up, except apparently there was enough to kill an army,” said then-university archivist Bob Schmidt in a fall 2006 Miamian alumni magazine article.

The Oct. 1, 1898, obituary stated that he left a “sorrowful wife to mourn his departure.”

It was referring to Minnie Snyder, as well known around campus as her husband. But where Henry was plain and mild mannered, Minnie was flamboyant. She fancied herself a consummate musician and enjoyed the spotlight.

To keep his wife happy, the professor put together a “lecture concert” series. First, he would deliver an “entertaining discourse.” Then Minnie would come on in her seductive attire and beguile the audience.

It’s said that as time went by, Henry became “peevish” about sharing the stage. Minnie’s melodies were overshadowing his monologues.

His “sudden and unexpected passing” was never explained. The consensus at the time was that he committed suicide. But that conclusion became suspect when shortly afterward, Minnie married William Pugh, the guitarist from her band – the same William Pugh who served as the professor’s lab assistant. The couple immediately moved to Columbus, where William supposedly left Minnie in 1919 and was never heard from again.

This is part one of our three-part series, “Miami Mysteries,” a look at some of the university’s spookiest legends and lore, just in time for Halloween! Be sure to check back Wednesday for part two, a tale of a specter some say still roams the corridors of a campus residence hall.

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