"Wishing You All Good Things Until We Meet": Daniel Coxon

In Merrill, Wisconsin, there once lived an Englishman, and they called him Popcorn Dan.

Daniel Coxon was beloved. He was genial and bright and the precise definition of “a character.”

In a small, dirt-road town such as Merrill, Dan was a delightful sight to behold. Because—as you may have deduced from his nickname—Dan Coxon was a popcorn vendor.

Every day, he walked the dusty streets of Merrill, with his pretty red-and-yellow popcorn cart, pulled along by his white horse. It was a noticeable spectacle, for sure. Add to that the steam ever whistling from the boiler and Dan’s renowned conviviality, and he never seemed to want for patrons.

Popcorn Dan most often set up shop on the corner of Poplar Street and East Main Street. Along with popcorn, he also sold freshly roasted peanuts.

But Dan did more than popcorn.

He took a lot of odd jobs around town, primarily manual labor and painting. He offered hauling services thanks to his horse and wagon. He even worked for a time as the live-in caretaker of a haunted house: a Queen Anne mansion, perched eerily on the banks of the Wisconsin River.

One might think that odd jobs and a popcorn cart wouldn’t pay out much in dividends. But one would be wrong.

On his varied income, Dan was the proud owner of a rare and pricey phonograph. His horse and popcorn cart, of course. And he was even able to purchase TWO houses. One, he paid $400.00 for; the other, $1,000.00. And being a savvy gentleman, he resided in the former, while leasing out the grander.

His tenant was Harry Krom, who had emigrated from Russia and opened the fanciest men’s dress shop in Merrill, called Krom Clothing & Co.

And industrious individuals are always impressive, sure. But Dan Coxon was particularly so. And this was because he worked all his many labor-intensive jobs with a physical handicap.  Specifically, Dan’s left arm was shriveled from birth.

Dan Coxon had emigrated from London to Canada sometime in the 1870s, and then Wisconsin sometime in the 1880s. He wasn’t married and was in no rush to do so; his brother said he “made a laugh out of it.”

By 1911, Dan was in his early 50s. He was well-established in Merrill and successful—and he wanted to open the first movie theater in northern Wisconsin.

And so, Popcorn Dan traveled back to the UK to learn more about the movie-theater business, and to visit with his family for the holidays.

But before he did, he had to get snazzy.

Just a few days before Thanksgiving, Dan went to Krom Clothing and dropped $15 on a new suit—as well as $115 on a proper fur coat. Today, that coat would cost approximately $3,000.00.

Dan arrived in London on December 23, stayed through Christmas, and then through the winter months into the springtime with his sights on Easter. He wrote the following to his friend on April 1, 1912.

I am now writing to let you know that I am coming back. I have already booked my passage back by the “Titanic,” which will leave Southampton on the Wednesday after Easter… I have had a pretty good time on the whole but am getting rather tired now of holiday making and shall be very glad to get back again and settle down once more.

As cited in "The Last Night on the Titanic," by Veronica Hinke, 2019.

Dan also ribbed his friend for some lazy and imprecise addressing.

I was very delighted to receive your letter. It was quite a wonder though that I did get it as the envelope was only addressed “Mr. Daniel Coxon London, England” which of course is not sufficient for a place like London. Anyway, I was glad to get it (thanks to the post office people here).

As cited in "The Last Night on the Titanic," by Veronica Hinke, 2019.

Popcorn Dan delayed his departure past Easter in order to sail on Titanic. He could easily have afforded a Second-Class ticket, but elected instead to only purchase steerage accommodation.

Dan left his brother Alfred’s house to reach Waterloo station at 7am and headed out from there to Southampton, which was over an hour away. Alfred accompanied them, as well as their nephew John, who was the son of their sister Elizabeth.

According to Alfred Coxon, Dan had a particularly difficult time trying to board Titanic because of his withered arm. The overseeing officers, Alfred said, subjected Dan to an inordinate amount of scrutiny and were extraordinarily suspicious of him. Dan even had to produce paperwork to prove that he was, in fact, a naturalized US citizen.

Once he was finally permitted to board, Dan, Alfred, and John spent about an hour and fifteen minutes exploring the ship. Once Alfred and John disembarked, they stayed on the dock and “waved [their] hands to him as far as [they] could see him.”

Like so many steerage passengers, we know comparatively little to absolutely nothing about Dan's time on board Titanic.

On the morning of April 15—the very same morning of Titanic's sinking—a letter written by Dan was delivered to Hans van Kaltenborn, a friend and newspaper editor in Brooklyn, NY.

If you happen to have the time I should, of course, be only too pleased if you could manage to come and meet me on the arrival of the boat. I have had a very good time, but now feel that I should be glad to get back and return to work, for I am getting a little tired of fooling around. I should think that by the time I get back the weather will be settling for the better, and the rougher kind will, I hope, be all over. It is growing pleasant over here now, and spring here, as you may know, is very delightful. Wishing you all good things until we meet.

Popcorn Dan died in the sinking. His body was never found.

His wallet, however, has been recovered from the wreck. It has been determined that the wallet was Dan's because the $10 and $15 bills within bore stamps from Merrill, Wisconsin.


Hinke, Veronica. "The Last Night on the Titanic: Unsinkable Drinking, Dining, & Style." Regnery History, 2019.



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