Mary, this may or may not be relevant to what you have been describing here and then below in a previous message that Richard Kurish has responded to.However, I think it might be worth your while to look into this family further.I'll briefly describe... and then that's just about as far as I can go.I'm sorry I could not help you more.
First, you have probably already done this, but at http://www.USGenWeb.nethttp://www.USGenWeb.net > Ohio > Lorain County, search for "DOWDELL" (this is how I found the photograph).Also you will find Joseph and Julia Dowdell and a Murphy family at rest in St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery, Eaton Twp, Lorain County, next to each other.Although this in and of itself will not answer any questions, it set off a little hunch...
Richard T., 1850-1908, GAR
Ellen M., 1857-1910
James W., 1886-1902
Gladys HOSKINS, 1896-1928
I looked into this family in the 1900 US Census, Eaton Twp, Lorain County, Ohio, not able to find "your" John Dowdell, railroad worker... but then with the "hunch" from the Cemetery, I was curious:
Joseph Dowdell 46, b. Ireland
Julia Dowdell 43, b. (and all children b.) Ohio
Hugh Dowdell 22
Anna Dowdell 19
Robert Dowdell 17
Mary Dowdell 10
Kate Dowdell 8
Joseph Dowdell 5
John Dowdell 3
William Dowdell 1.12
(Notice no "James" -- and this was before your James was born in 1904/5).
Two doors away, is Richard Murphy 56, b. Ireland living with Ellen 46 (wife) b. Ireland, and children (all b. Ohio) Edward 18, Richard 16, and James 14.Also living here is Ella Harkins [Hoskins] daughter 20, and Gladys Harkins [Hoskins - as spelled in the Cemetery] granddaughter age 3.
Stay with me here...These are the same families next to each other in the St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery.I have a hunch that they were more than just friendly neighbors.
Additionally, two "obituaries."The first is about Joseph Dowdell.I find in 1904 Newspapers where a person has been appointed trustee to the estate of Joseph Dowdell, and the date of death (which was apparently actually in 1903) is in disagreement with the date of death in the cemetery transcription, possibly human error -- possibly a headstone that is wearning away.I then find in a November 20, 1903 Weekly Chronicle (Elyria, Ohio) the following notation:(Occuring in Grafton) "...Another dreadful accident happened just before noon last Tuesday Joe Dowdell was crossing the Big Four track and didn't see the fast train coming.It struck him and he was instantly killed."
Another account:Grafton, Nov. 17 - "Joseph Dowdle (notice spelling) an old resident of Grafton, was instantly killed in front of the Big Four depot by the Exposition Flyer about 12:30 Tuesday afternoon.[pp] Mr. Dowdle was on his way home and was crossing the tracks when struck by the Flyer.There was a freight train on the east-bound track which obstructed his view so that he did not see the Flyer's approach on the west bound track.He attempted to cross and was struck by the Flyer.His head was badly crushed and his body cut in two.[pp] Mr. Dowdle leaves a wife and a large family of children."
Earlier that same year...June 29, 1903, Marion OH, newspaper, "...Lorain... John Dowdell, aged 20, quit his job on the Baltimore & Ohio as boiler washer, three days ago.He spent $80, then pawned his watch and finished his career with carbolic acid."Another account in a Lorain county newspaper notes that his death was a suicide.Not sure of the relationship of this John Dowdell to the above.
All of these in and of themselves do not lend to another possibility of a set of circumstances, but the names Murphy and Dowdell, the close relationship of the two families in the Cemetery and US Census, the story of a "Train Accident" (albeit not a "train wreck") are all very coincidental, even though the dates with your story are not exact, they are fairly close.
I thought you would like to have this information in the back of your mind, should you ever decide to travel to Lorain County for purposes of research... which I have done twice from Arizona... each time learning something new.
When I bring up "Dowdell" in the newspaper search, an number of articles appear, and the time to spend on looking down through each one would be extensive, but I did also see that young John Dowdell (the child in the US Census above) broke his arm in about 1908, and another Dowdell was a umpire to local baseball games, referred to as "Umpire Dowdell."So, intereting stories, lots of Murphy references also, lots of Murphys and Dowdells in the US Census (although difficult to find "your" John).Abundant "train accidents" and so on.
You can sign up for a one-month subscription at Ancestry.com, first sign up for free... it takes a credit card... but then you can call (they give you a number) and a one-month subscription would be well worth the time.Then you can search the US Census and the local newspapers at your leisure.
Those are my thoughts and recommendations.I probably cannot help you any further... tried to find a definitive answer, and as Richard Kurish did a while back, am coming to a brick wall trying to fit the dates exactly with the dates that you mention with the specific details.