WASHINGTON – Former Sen. Arthur Brown of Utah is a footnote to history — more interesting than most, though, because a woman claiming he had fathered two of her children gunned him down in a hotel room in 1906.
Brown's entry is among the 12,000 or so — from Aandahl to Zwach — in the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-2005, the definitive reference book about federal lawmakers, now online for the first time.
The entries in the directory's 16th edition, the first update since 1989, were written by congressional historians to provide basic information — dates, places and positions — rather than personal stories. Occasionally, though, startling tales appear amid the plain facts.
Jeremiah Haralson, once an Alabama representative, is listed as having been killed by "wild beasts" near Denver around 1916. He was one of at least six former slaves who served in either the House or the Senate.
Michigan Rep. William Wedemeyer drowned in 1913 after he fell into a harbor while on an official visit to Panama. His body was never found. A former representative from Indiana, Joseph L. White, was shot to death while on a business trip to Nicaragua in 1861. He was buried there.
An air of mystery surrounds some members of Congress because so little is known about them. Congressional historians aren't sure when more than 100 of them were born and when at least 49 of them died.
"For me personally, some of the mysteries often center on their burial places," said Betty Koed, the assistant Senate historian and co-editor of the directory with House historical publications specialist Andrew Dodge.
"We have a few members that we think were buried in one place, but they had been disinterred at some point and the body was lost," Koed said, "and we don't know where they are now."
First published in 1859, the directory has long been a boon to historians and genealogists. What makes this edition worth noting is its electronic format.
Official congressional biographies have been online for years. Now, all the information in the new directory, including Cabinet officials and lists of lawmakers by state and session, is searchable online.
Those who want their congressional trivia on paper can still pay for it, at $99 a copy, but it's free to those who want to download its 2,218 pages from http://www.gpoaccess.gov.
Searching the electronic version for specific words reveals other unusual facts:
— Caleb Powers was convicted of complicity in the assassination of Kentucky Gov. William Goebel in 1900. He was pardoned in 1908 — and two years later elected to the first of four terms as a Kentucky representative to Congress.
— Two former representatives, Melville Kelly of Pennsylvania in 1935 and Paul Greever of Wyoming in 1943, died after accidentally shooting themselves while cleaning firearms.
— Gunfire ended the lives of no fewer than a dozen others. One, former South Carolina delegate David Ramsay, was shot "by a maniac" in Charleston in 1815. William P. Taulbee, once a representative from Kentucky, was shot in 1890 in the Capitol itself.
— At least nine former representatives are listed as drowning victims.
— A total of 134 Smiths have served in Congress, but just 57 Joneses.
— Histrionics for C-SPAN aside, only a handful of lawmakers have been professional actors. Best known, thanks to their TV series, may be former Iowa Rep. Fred Grandy ("The Love Boat") and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson ("Law & Order").
— A Depression-era representative from Nebraska, Terry M. Carpenter, ran unsuccessfully for statewide office 11 times and changed his political affiliation five times.
But why? That's a question seldom answered in the directory's brief entries.
"It's very bare-bones in its text, and that's the way it's been since 1859," Koed said. "It's never been particularly wordy."
Only a peek at newspapers of the period reveals that Arthur Brown's mother of his two children fired her revolver twice when the former senator ignored her pleas to "do the right thing by me."
Brown died four days later. Almost a year to the day of the shooting, a jury acquitted the woman of murder.