For the next year he was an invalid and was unable to walk. He passed his time by reading and wrote some articles for the local newspaper. It was finally decided that his leg should be amputated and the operation was performed. Whether because of infection or because of an already weakened condition he died in December of 1887, soon after the operation.
After Charley’s death, Dr. and Mrs. Hilligoss put into action a plan they had had for some time. They wanted to commemorate their children’s lives in a way which would cause them to be remembered. They commissioned the statues through an agent in Indianapolis. Photographs of the children were sent to the sculptor in Florence, Italy, so that the statues could be as much like Gertie and Charley as possible.
The statues almost ended up as unfinished work. A lynching of Italian immigrants reputed to be Mafioso in New Orleans outraged the artist and he had to be coaxed into finishing them. They were finally delivered in the spring of 1892 and set above the children’s graves in West Maplewood.
Three years after the statues arrived they were part of a public drama involving their mother. An Elder W. R. Covert, a minister of the Church of God, was conducting a crusade against Spiritualism. Camp Chesterfield was one of his targets, so he brought his message to the local area. Anyone had a right to believe in Spiritualism (he said), but the mediums who conducted séances were either liars, knaves, fools, frauds or ignoramuses. He boasted that he could uncover and unmask any trick of any Spiritualist.
Covert seems to have been a bully who was spoiling for a fight. Caroline Hilligoss took his comments to mean that he was calling her a crook and a cheat. She filed a $10,000 suit for slander against Covert. Whether Covert had targeted Caroline Hilligoss personally at first or not, he got personal right away.