Hoosier State Chronicles Back Up and Running

Dear folks,

We had some technical issues recently with Hoosier State Chronicles.  With it being Thanksgiving Eve, it was kind of hard finding someone to fix it!

Anyway, HSC is back-up and running now!  Sorry for the delay, but at least you can now get back to searching historic newspapers between food, football, family, and shopping.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Indiana’s Earliest Known Basketball Games

On this day in history, one of the earliest mentions of basketball appeared in Indiana newspapers.  This was a momentous occasion for a sport that would become so important to Indiana culture.

Despite popular belief, Indiana’s first basketball game did not take place in Crawfordsville.  In fact, Evansville newspapers reported on basketball being played in their city nearly sixteen months before the Crawfordsville game occurred.  Evansville even played an inter-city game against Terre Haute seven weeks before the Crawfordsville-Lafayette game on March 16, 1894.  I made these discovery using digitized newspapers, and published my findings last December in the Indiana Magazine of History.

Here are a few newspaper clippings from Indiana basketball’s beginnings in Evansville.

Indianapolis Sun
Indianapolis Sun, 23 November 1892
Evansville Courier, 24 November 1892


Evansville Courier, 25 November 1892. Foreshadowing holidays to come, a sports contest was the feature of this Thanksgiving Day’s entertainment.
Evansville Journal, 14 February 1893
Evansville Journal, 14 February 1893
Evansville Journal, 18 March 1893
Evansville Journal, 18 March 1893. The business men, in protest of rough play, refused to finish the game.
Evansville Journal, 20 January 1894.  The Stars and Crescents played a game of "science and muscle."
Evansville Journal, 20 January 1894. The Stars and Crescents played a game of “science and muscle.”
Evansville Journal, 28 January 1894.  In what is currently the earliest known inter-city basketball game in Indiana, the Evansville YMCA team defeated the visiting Terre Haute YMCA team, 26-15.
Evansville Journal, 28 January 1894. In what is currently the earliest known inter-city basketball game in Indiana, the Evansville YMCA team defeated the visiting Terre Haute YMCA team.

Note: Because most of these newspapers were digitized by a commercial firm for the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library (EVPL), they are not freely available through Hoosier State Chronicles.  However, EVPL resident cardholders can access the content for free.  Visitors to EVPL can also access the digitized newspaper collection on-site.


The Black Hole of Indiana

Muncie Post-Democrat, July 14, 1933

“The most damnable spot in America.”  “A disgrace to civilization.”  “Filth and abomination.”  “Indiana’s Black of Hole of Calcutta.”

The Hoosier State sometimes get bad national press.  But in 1923 the criticism was homegrown.  True to a common stereotype about Indiana, the alleged horrors took place on a farm — the state penal farm — and involved the abuse of prisoners.

On the eve of World War I, a new, “open-air” penitentiary opened about an hour west of Indianapolis.  Overcrowding at the major state prisons in Michigan City and Jeffersonville, as well as at county jails all over Indiana, led the legislature to pursue a “progressive” alternative to mere incarceration.  Many prisoners, after all, were behind bars for minor crimes like theft and assault and battery.  That changed in 1917, when Indiana Governor James Goodrich initiated statewide Prohibition, two years in advance of the Federal liquor ban that came with the Volstead Act in 1919.

Since some Indiana counties and towns had already passed local dry laws, by 1915 sheriffs were cracking down on operators of illegal saloons, moonshine distillers, and town drunks.  While most violators were never tossed in the clinker for more than a few weeks or months, as the war on alcohol got more serious, Hoosier jails began to fill up fast.  The temptation to make a profit off jails was a further problem — a situation that still exists today, when the number of Americans behind bars is bigger than ever.

Indiana prohibition act, 1917

(Governor James Goodrich signs Indiana up for early Prohibition in 1917.)

Prohibition laws are a fascinating glimpse into the dark side of reform movements.  As one Hoosier editor, Muncie’s George R. Dale, discovered while investigating allegations of prisoner abuse at the State Farm in Putnamville, punitive social reform — including the ban on alcohol sales — had scarcely hidden undertones of racism and class operating behind it.  Working-class Americans, blacks, and Catholics bore the brunt of laws framed mostly by women’s rights advocates and middle-class white Protestants.  Liquor laws, oddly enough, turned out to be a major milepost on the intellectual superhighway that led to the resurrection of the Ku Klux Klan in 1915 — coincidentally, the year of the penal farm’s founding.  The original Klan had died off in the 1870s.  Revived just before Word War I, it found its highest membership not among stereotypical rural Southerners and defeated Confederates, but among white middle-class Midwesterners.  The ideology of “the second Klan,” moreover, wasn’t totally foreign to the reform movements of the 1910s.

In 1922, Muncie’s George Dale, a civil liberties maverick, joined the campaign to investigate the penal farm — then went there twice as a prisoner, sentenced to hard labor for criticizing a Delaware County judge with Klan connections.

Though the farm would soon fall under suspicion, the plans behind its creation were full of good intentions.  Jailers and prison reformers had always been vexed by the failure of jail sentences to cure some criminals of their attraction to lawbreaking.  The theory was that inmates were bonding behind bars while living in “idleness.”  As a Hoosier paper, The Hagerstown Record, put it in 1916, “Jails are simply breeding places for vice.  Lawbreakers thrown together in sheer idleness day after day have opportunity and incentive for devising more lawlessness.  The hardened men create an atmosphere of viciousness that influences the less hardened, while the shiftless vagrant finds very little punishment in free board and no work.”

The Fort Wayne News, November 2, 1914(The Fort Wayne News, November 2, 1914.)

Penal labor, though not wrong in itself, had an enormously dark history — from Charles Dickens’ hellish “workhouses” in David Copperfield, the British convict colonies in Australia where Irish revolutionaries and “habitual” lawbreakers were sent, and the Siberian gulags of Tsarist and Soviet Russia.

A 1913 law passed by the Indiana legislature made possible the establishment of a pioneering state penal farm.  That law appropriated $60,000 for the purchase of at least 500 acres of land.  To help prevent party control and graft, the bipartisan committee, like the prisoners themselves, would receive no salary for their work.

The committee eventually bought 1,600 acres around Putnamville, five miles south of Greencastle, in a hilly, rocky part of Putnam County.  Much of this acreage was considered “too broken for agriculture.”  Yet this didn’t put a halt to plans, since the penal farm would include several industries besides farming.  Underlain by Mitchell limestone, prisoners were put work breaking rock in quarries, used for road building and the production of crushed limestone fertilizer used on fields.  Prisoners also sawed lumber from a neighboring forest reserve.  Additionally, the farm kept a dairy herd, apple and peach trees, and fields that grew corn, hay, soybeans, sorghum, pumpkins, and tobacco (a crop now practically extinct in Indiana).  In 1916, the prison kept 190 “fat and sleek” hogs.  Most of this produce went to fed patients and staff at state hospitals.

A brick plant came in 1918, with prisoners turning out 30,000 bricks a day.  The bricks were used in the construction of a new medical college and a military warehouse in Indianapolis and of the Indiana Village for Epileptics, later renamed the New Castle State Hospital.  (This happened at a time when epileptics were considered a menace to society and segregated.  Indiana’s 1907 eugenics laws forbade epileptics to get married, putting them virtually in the same class with criminals subjected to forced sterilization.)

The monkey-making possibilities of the state farm were already stirring up buzz among citizens of Putnamville, an old pioneer town on the National Road that nearly became a ghost town when the Putnam County seat was moved to Greencastle.  The Indianapolis News reported that rumor of the farm’s coming “spread over the hills and valleys like wildfire” and that residents believed it would “make the old village glow with new life.”  “Friends of prisoners” and “sightseers” will “come and go and Putnamville will thrive on the nickels and dimes they spend.”

Locals didn’t seem worried about having prisoners as neighbors, though the penal farm was barely guarded at all.  Punishment for escaping was apparently considered enough of a threat to deter the attempt.  Fugitives from the law would find their sentences, sometimes a mere 90 days, extended to two years in a state prison if caught.

Newspapers give insight into the type of criminal sent to the State Farm.  After Indiana’s prohibition law was ratified in 1917, more than half of the prisoners here came on liquor-related offenses — whether running a  “blind tiger,” a rural whiskey still, or being drunk in public.  Although bootleg whiskey could be very deadly, other prisoners were jailed for the slimmest of crimes.  One was an 18-year-old from Indianapolis who stole a penknife.

The Fort Wayne Sentinel, May 13, 1915

(The Fort Wayne Sentinel, May 13, 1915.)

Brazil Daily Times, June 18, 1915(Brazil Daily Times, June 18, 1915.)

The Indiana State Penal Farm’s bleak reputation wasn’t long coming.  Less than a year after its founding, John Albright, a bootlegger from Terre Haute, actually requested deportation to his native Germany during the height of World War I rather than serve 90 days at the farm.

Brazil Daily Times, June 22, 1915(Brazil Daily Times, June 22, 1915.)

Newspapers also documented escapes from the farm, a few of them dramatic.  In 1916, two prisoners who drove farm horses ran away with their steeds.  They tied them to trees in the woods around Greencastle, where the animals were later found starved to death, “tethered a few paces from an abundance of grass and water.”   A year earlier, two Indianapolis youths escaped, went on a burglary and horse-stealing spree near Terre Haute, and were then hunted down by a posse of Vigo County farmers.  When four men escaped in 1917, including an African American from Lake County,  a “sensational gun fight” ensued.  The African American, a man named Hall, was shot dead.

In May 1915, just a month after opening, there were 217 prisoners living at the farm, including 30 African Americans.  The total number that skyrocketed to almost 1,200 within a year.  In its first decade, the farm “entertained” about 25,000 prisoners.

The Huntington Press, July 30, 1921 (2)(The Huntington Press, July 30, 1921.)

In 1920, a controversy broke out over allegations of cruelty at Putnamville.  Charles McNulty, an Indianapolis saloon keeper let out on parole, filed a complaint with the State Board of Health. McNulty’s claims about unsanitary conditions and violence were backed up a year later when Oscar Knight, a prisoner, filed a further complaint with a judge.  Knight claimed that jailers served inmates food that “is not fit for hogs.”

McNulty’s alleged that prisoners were routinely underfed and worked ten hours a day at hard labor.  Meat was only served once a week, “one slice of fat bacon,” less than what prisoners at other jails got while merely sitting in a cell.

Musty meal was used for making corn bread three times a week until Putnam County health officers forbade the use of it. . . On Sunday, five crackers is the substitute for the dry bread of weekdays.  Some of the paid guards are insulting and cruel and inhuman, especially to cripples and weaklings, using a loaded cane to beat them.

There were further allegations that Governor Goodrich’s family and “hirelings” of his administration profited from unpaid labor, since inmates at Putnamville were “farmed out” to the Globe Mining Company, partly run by the governor’s son.  Charles E. Talkington, superintendent of the penal farm, blew these charges off by claiming that Charles McNulty was a member of the I.W.W. (International Workers of the World, or “Wobblies.”)  Talkington had previously been head of the Farm Colony for the Feeble-Minded in Butlerville and Bartholomew County’s school superintendent.  The “Feeble-Minded Farm” — also called the Muscatatuck Colony — was, like the epileptic “village” in New Castle, part of Indiana’s dark eugenics campaign, which blamed crime on mental retardation and figured into a backlash against immigrants and the poor.

The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, April 19, 1920

(Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, April 19, 1920.)

Yet early charges made about the farm were tame compared to those reported in one of the most fiery and flamboyant Hoosier newspapers, George R. Dale’s Muncie Post-Democrat.

Dale had just begun a landmark battle against the Ku Klux Klan. Though the Klan almost took over Indiana government in the 1920s, it was rooted in years of corrupt politics and arguably even social reform movements like Prohibition and eugenics.  During his long battle to expose the Muncie Klan, Dale would be attacked gunmen who tried to shoot him and his son.  Yet the white-haired editor took on the Klan with humor, writing outrageous lampoons about “Koo-Koos” and “Kluxerdom” in his weekly paper, which was almost wholly dedicated to ridiculing the Invisible Empire.  Dale published lists of known or suspected Klan members.  He also grappled with the KKK’s powerful women’s auxiliary at a time when thousands of Hoosier Klanswomen spread hatred through families in ways that their male counterparts actually had less success at in their public roles.  Dale vocal supported blacks, Jews, Catholics, and immigrants, and anybody else targeted by the Klan.

George R. Dale(Muncie Post-Democrat editor George R. Dale, anti-Klansman extraordinaire.)

Muncie Post Democrat, August 18, 1922

(Muncie Post-Democrat, August 18, 1922.)

In August 1922, Dale also came to the defense of prisoners at the State Farm.  The battle would go on for years.  Before it was over, he got a chance to see the terrors of the “Black Hole of Indiana” up close.  For criticizing a Muncie judge with links to the Klan — Clarence Dearth, a man he called “the most contemptible chunk of human carrion that ever disgraced the circuit bench in the state of Indiana” — Dale was sentenced for contempt of court and libel, fighting a four-year-long legal battle to stay out of the farm himself.  Dale’s campaign is an overlooked part of the history of freedom of speech in Indiana.

His first jab came on August 4, 1922.  That story was based on the accusations of “a man from Muncie” who had just visited Putnamville.  (Dale, unfortunately, doesn’t give his name.)

Muncie Post Democrat, August 4, 1922

Muncie Post Democrat, August 4, 1922 (2)Muncie Post Democrat, August 4, 1922 (3)Muncie Post Democrat, August 4, 1922 (4)Muncie Post Democrat, August 4, 1922 (5)(Muncie Post-Democrat, August 4, 1922.)

When Dale criticized a libel ruling Dearth, the judge handed him a 90-day sentence at Putnamville.  After eleven days in a Muncie jail, the editor entered the State Farm’s gates as “Convict 14,378.”  Partly through the efforts of his wife Lena, the Indiana Supreme Court ordered Dale’s release after just three days.

Fortunately, he now had a chance to write “from actual experience”, not the reports of others.  Dale immediately set to work “serving notice on the Ku Klux Klan and its miserable tools in office.”

While wealthy bootleggers and Prohibition violators with connections in government often got off scot-free, Dale wrote that when he went to Putnamville, he stood in line with working-class men.

Muncie Post Democrat, March 23, 1923

Stepping into the prison barber’s, “in exactly ten seconds my head looked like a billiard ball.”  The 56-year-old and father of seven claimed he was then forced to strip down and shower in public, received filthy clothes that “smelled like sin,” got sprayed down by a fruit-tree sprayer, and was vaccinated by a veterinarian.  Of the eight meals he ate in the mess hall in the course of three days, he never got any meat.  He slept in a miserable, freezing dormitory with 204 other inmates, most of them sick and packed in “like sardines in a can.”

Muncie Post Democrat, March 23, 1923 (2)

Dale insisted that many of these inmates were jailed on trivial liquor charges.  He described one man whose family was left subsisting on charity while he rotted at the farm for almost two years, “having no money to pay his fine,” though prisoners were supposed to receive $1.00 a day for their labor.  Always keen to publish news about the discrepancies in punishment meted out to African Americans versus whites, Dale mentioned black teens at the penal farm sentenced for bicycle theft and other minor offenses.

Muncie Post-Democrat, April 13, 1923

(Muncie Post-Democrat, April 13, 1923.)

The editor put out an appeal to Governor Warren Terry McCray to investigate the “Putnamville Disgrace.”  While he commended the governor for investigating similar jail horrors in Marion County and at the new Indiana Reformatory in Pendleton, Dale insisted on “The Difference Between Men and Bulls.”  Cattle on McCray’s bull farm near Kentland lived better lives than prisoners at Putnamville, he announced.  Taking heed of these accusations, Dr. James Wilson, mayor of Wabash, Indiana, refused to send any further offenders to Putnam County “until that place of horror is changed from a torture pen into a place of punishment where convicts are treated like human beings instead of dumb brutes.”

Muncie Post-Democrat, September 1, 1922

(Muncie Post-Democrat, September 1, 1922.)

In 1926, two years after Ed Jackson, a Klansman, became Governor of Indiana, Judge Dearth and editor Dale were still fighting.  Dearth sent the newspaperman back to the penal farm once more when Dale continued to ridicule him.  Dale was also found guilty on a “trumped up” charge of liquor possession and of libeling George Roeger, a Muncie distributor of D.C. Stephenson’s newspaper, The Fiery Cross (printed in Indianapolis).  Dale had accused him of being a “Ku Klux draft dodger.”)  A jury allegedly packed with Klansmen also declared him guilty of carrying a concealed weapon.  Dale appealed the case to the Indiana Supreme Court but lost.  Judge Julius C. Travis wrote the opinion that “the truth is no defense” and that Dale had held the law up to ridicule.  Newspapers in Chicago and elsewhere started a defense fund to support freedom of speech.

In July 1926, Dale spent a further nine days at Putnamville, digging a tile ditch.  He was released — strangely enough — by order of Governor Jackson himself.  He got another sentence in August 1927, but spent just half an hour there.  It was enough time, however, for him to be fingerprinted and booked as a convict.  He also described a conversation with a young African American, James Martin, sentenced to six months for stealing $5.00.  Martin had a wife and three children.

Judge Clarence Dearth of Muncie was later impeached.  George Dale went on to become Muncie’s mayor from 1930 to 1935.  As editor and mayor, he kept an eye on corrupt judges and police.

Muncie Post-Democrat, September 20, 1929 (2)

(“The Police Carefully Pick Their Victims,” Muncie Post-Democrat, September 20, 1929.)

The Indianapolis Times began a series of articles about abuse allegations that continued to come out of the Indiana State Penal Farm.  Yet the farm survived, receiving many inmates throughout the Depression.  Most came on charges of larceny, liquor offenses and issuing fraudulent checks.  Some, though, were guilty of more serious crimes, like drunk driving and child molestation.  Still others came for downright strange reasons, like a Kendallville man arrested for selling “fake radium belts” for which he claimed curative powers. Then there were the sentences that now seem downright cruel.

The Evening Republican (Columbus, Indiana), January 2, 1930(The Evening Republican, Columbus, IN, January 2, 1930.  A destitute, poorly-dressed Chicago man stole an overcoat from a car in Greencastle and got three months on the farm.)

Heavy drinkers were packed off to Putnamville into the 1950s. Through the 1960s, inmates milked cows, tended an orchard, and grew vegetables, also raising 18 acres of tobacco.  About 40 convicts a year escaped in the 1970s and ’80s.  Staff and guards were unarmed.

In 1977, the farm was reclassified as a medium-security prison and began receiving convicted felons, which partly contributed to the decline of farming there in the 1980s.  The state of Indiana later tried to revive dairy farming at Putnamville in the 1990s.  In 1995, the prison was operating the largest dairy farm in the county.  Yet of the farm’s 1,600 inmates that year, less than 100 were working in agriculture.

Conditions in the mid-’90s had definitely improved since the days of Prohibition.  The Kokomo Tribune reported in 1994 that 900 gallons of food scraps a day were being taken from the dining hall, mixed with cow manure, and used in a composting initiative.  That project cut the prison’s garbage bill in half.

Kokomo Tribune, December 28, 1994(Kokomo Tribune, December 28, 1994.)

Now called the Putnamville Correctional Facility, the institution survives.  Almost 2,500 prisoners are there today, more than at any time in its history.

“Koo Koo Side Lights”: George Dale vs. the Klan

Dale obit

If you enjoy today’s “farcical newspaper” The Onion, in 1922 you might have sent in two dollars for a subscription to George R. Dale’s eccentric and fascinating Muncie Post-Democrat.

While The Onion lampoons everything from politicians to microwaves to bad tippers, George Dale — Indiana’s Jazz Age version of a Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart — focused his ridicule on a powerful group famous for wearing nighties and “mother goose caps” around cornfields at night.  That group, of course, was the Ku Klux Klan, whose grip on big cities and small towns alike led to its near-domination of state politics in the 1920s.

Muncie and neighboring towns like Marion, Elwood, Fairmount and New Castle were once a stronghold of the Klan.  Warding off physical assaults and threats on his life, Dale fought in the belly of the beast, bravely using humor to expose a group that lured in tens of thousands of Hoosiers, many from the middle class, under the banner of “100% Americanism.”

November 9, 1923(Muncie Post-Democrat, November 9, 1923.)

December 15, 1922(Muncie Post-Democrat, December 15, 1922.  The “ten bucks” was for a Klan robe, which made millions of dollars for the Klan’s hierarchy.)

Hoosier State Chronicles, in cooperation with Ball State University Libraries’ Digital Media Repository, is proud to bring a long run of Dale’s Muncie Post-Democrat online, from 1921 through 1950. Here’s a brief bio of the man whose war on the Klan is still little-known outside Muncie, where he served as mayor from 1930 to 1935.  We’re including some of his best comic barbs here, lobbed at the not-so-Invisible Empire.

In 1930, a writer named W.A.S. Douglas wrote a long piece in The American Mercury, a magazine edited by the acerbic literary critic H.L. Mencken.  (Mencken was a famous enemy of the Klan, though his own views bordered on anti-Semitism.)  Douglas recalled that he first met George Dale during the 1925 trial of D.C. Stephenson, Grand Dragon of the Klan in Indiana and many other Northern states.  Though Stephenson was indicted for the kidnap, rape and murder of an Indianapolis stenographer, a crime that involved her near-cannibalization while he was raping her, since the trial was held in Klan-dominated Noblesville, the Klansman seemed confident that his political machine could get him off the hook.  Stephenson, still in his thirties, was their “Old Man.”

Stephenson and Jackson

(D.C. Stephenson and Indiana’s Klansman governor, Ed Jackson.)

“There were Klansmen all around [Stephenson],” Douglas wrote about the courtroom in Hamilton County, “at the counsel-table, in the jury box, in the audience, and guarding the doors of the courtroom.  All were brothers in the secret bond.”  Then Stephenson looked over and saw a “shabby little old man,” scribbling with a pencil while casting a look that seemed to bore its “right into his brain.”

This was George Dale, “a white-haired little man, well into his sixties and with the seat worn out of his pants — a man who had become a joke all over the state because alone, broke, and kicked from pillar to post, he dared to fight. . .”

George R. Dale and Family

(George R. Dale and family, circa 1925.)

Born in 1867 in Monticello, Indiana, Dale — son of a Civil War veteran — was orphaned by age 18.  He moved to Hartford City around 1885, where he worked for an uncle who owned the town’s first electric power plant.  In his twenties, Dale founded the Hartford City Times, then the Montpelier Call.  He married Lena Mohler in 1900 and the couple had seven children.  Around 1920, the Dales came to Muncie on the eve of the Klan’s takeover there.

In a study conducted by Hoosier-born sociologist Robert Staughton Lynd and his wife Helen, Muncie became the first American town to ever be systematically dissected on a sociologist’s “operating table.”  The Lynds chose Muncie mostly for its averageness.  Their 1929 book Middletown wasn’t flattering.  Nor was the description that W.A.S. Douglas left:  “I well remember this Indiana city when it weltered in starkness; when it tucked its tail between its legs and ran from the sound and the smell of cowshed-perfumed klansmen…”

Douglas’ stereotype wasn’t totally accurate.  Muncie wasn’t all Klan.  And the most influential Klansmen weren’t farmers.  Klan influence was strong in big cities, too, with large membership in Detroit, Chicago, and Indianapolis, where D.C. Stephenson turned out his own newspaper, The Fiery Cross.  And in the ’20s, the Klan had more support in the Midwest than in the Deep South.

Klansman at Union Station(“Klansman at Union Station,” Indiana, circa 1930.  Courtesy Indiana Memory/Ball State University Libraries.)

Klan ideology in the ’20s also differed from its focus during the Civil Rights Movement in the ’50s and ’60s. While never friendly to African Americans, the “second wave” of the Klan was mostly interested in halting immigration, undermining perceived Catholic and Jewish influence in American politics and schools, enforcing Prohibition, and in protecting the “purity of American womanhood.”  A new religious movement, Protestant fundamentalism, also fueled the Klan’s rise, with ideologues hijacking religion to stir up nativism.  It’s no coincidence that 1925 was the year both of Stephenson’s trial in Indiana and the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee.

George Dale and others went to work documenting the hypocrisy of the Klan’s basic principles — from “100% Americanism” to a ludicrous KKK resolution passed in Muncie proclaiming that Jesus Christ was a white Protestant native-born American and not a Jew.

March 28, 1924

(Muncie Post-Democrat, March 28, 1924.)

The Klan didn’t invent nativism.  Wave of immigrants like the Germans, Irish, Italians and Eastern European Jews all suffered the slander of earlier settlers. Anti-Semitism came into the mix whenever Jews joined labor unions, the Socialist Party, and supported the Russian Revolution.  (D.C. Stephenson himself, however, had briefly been a Socialist in Oklahoma.)

When Dale turned the spotlight on anti-Catholicism, he had to deal with fears going back decades, all the way back to the Reformation and the roots of the war in Northern Ireland.  As late as the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, many Americans feared that Catholics would take over American politics and schools, then hand the country over to the Pope.  For decades, Catholics occupied a position similar to that of American Muslims today.

Dale thought the Northern Irish roots of bigotry worth pointing out, especially when it turned out that a busy anti-Catholic editor had never bothered to become an American citizen, something prized by the Klan.

April 11, 1924

(Muncie Post-Democrat, April 11, 1924.  Dale noticed that many professional anti-Catholics, like the editor of the The American Citizen, had serious moral failings.)

Anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, and anti-immigrant fears sometimes stepped into the realm of folk belief, with Jewish revolutionaries and crocodile-shaped “Papist” boogeymen joining the ranks of the Chinese, the Irish, and the Mexicans, all conspiring to undermine American values.

These beliefs had a huge impact on daily life.  Some of Dale’s stories from Newark, Ohio, a Klan stronghold and a sort of “sister city” to Muncie, bear this out.  When Dale took jabs at the shady goings-on in Newark, he was criticizing his own town on the sly.  It’s hard to say how truthful Dale’s “reportage” was, but his satire cut to the bone.

May 16, 1924 (2)(Muncie Post-Democrat, May 16, 1924.)

(Muncie Post-Democrat, May 4, 1923.)

 Helen Jackson -- January 4, 1924

(Muncie Post-Democrat, January 4, 1924.  Anti-Catholicism was probably stronger in parts of the Midwest than in the Deep South. At the height of Klan influence in 1928, Al Smith, the first Catholic and Italian-American to run for president on a major party ticket, carried six states in the Deep South.  He won just two in the North and none in the West, losing to Herbert Hoover.)

Dale was no “respecter of persons,” not even women.  When it came to mocking the thousands of women who got involved with the KKK, conventions regarding the treatment of “ladies” didn’t hold him back.  Dale even used two prominent “Camelias” — as the Women of the Ku Klux Klan were known — as journalistic target practice.

One was the infamous Helen Jackson (mentioned above), a bogus “escaped nun” who helped spread Klan propaganda around the Midwest.  Jackson, daughter of Polish immigrants, had actually been a teenage prostitute who was sent to a Catholic reform school for “wayward” girls in Detroit.  In fairness, her experience there was probably harsh, but her stories of escaping from a convent — stories she told in a book called Convent Cruelties — drew on generations of anti-Catholic fiction and folklore.

In the 1920s, Helen Jackson and a sidekick “ex-priest” — a French-Canadian Holiness preacher, L.J. King — gave lectures in American auditoriums and churches, where they mocked Catholic religious practices, spread fear about priestly tortures and Vatican takeover of the U.S., and incited riots, some of them deadly.  Jackson and King were busy stirring up religious hatred in Indiana just before the crucial 1924 election, when Hoosiers put a Klansman, Ed Jackson — no relation to Helen — in the governor’s seat.

Dale lampooned her as just another fraudulent “Koo Koo klucker” interested in profiting off the sale of hate.  He was eager to announce her arrival in Muncie in November 1922, when he could debunk her.  The “ex-nun” Helen Jackson actually visited Muncie several times, causing so much trouble there that she eventually got kicked even by Muncie’s Klan-friendly police.  Her companion, L.J. King, was also well-known to cops.  When he started charging extra admission rates for “men’s only” lectures — where he made lurid allegations about sex in confessionals — a few towns, like Phoenix, drove him out for insulting women and for spreading “verbal filth.” George Dale, who wasn’t even Catholic, relished the rumor that King had once had links to  an “Indian medicine show” and that his mother in Canada thought “he had always been a bad boy.”  Jackson and King were on the road throughout the 1920s, critical operatives of the Klan.

Helen Jackson -- November 10, 1922

(Muncie Post-Democrat, November 10, 1922.)

May 16, 1924(Muncie Post-Democrat, May 16, 1924.)

A favorite target for Dale, however, was the influential Hoosier Quaker minister Daisy Douglass Barr, who headed the women’s auxiliary of the KKK.  Barr had once been a well-known reformer in central Indiana, espousing Prohibition, shutting down red-light districts, and reforming prostitutes.  Well-meaning reformers like her often had their dark side, however, as the history of the Indiana Women’s Prison shows.  In theory, Klan rhetoric supported the banning of booze and “womanly purity,” though a plethora of sex abusers, bootleggers, and rapists joined the rank and file of the Klan, including Stephenson, its leader.  (W.S.A. Douglass referred to Indiana’s Grand Dragon as a “booze-soaked printer.”)

George Dale despised Daisy Barr, who lived in Indianapolis for years but was influential in Muncie politics and in her native Grant County next door.  Dale put some of his best comic language to work to help take down Barr.  Mocking the Klan’s absurd titles, he called her the “Quakeress Fakeress,” “Daisy Doodle Barr,” “champion Kluxerino of Indiana,” and “prize gold digger of the Klan.”

December 7, 1923

(Muncie Post-Democrat, December 7, 1923.)

(Women of the KKK — known as “Camelias” or “Kamelias” — attend a funeral in Muncie, circa 1923.  They flew the Stars & Stripes, not the Confederate flag.  Courtesy Indiana Memory/Ball State University Libraries.)

Investigations eventually exposed the Reverend Barr’s greed.  The influential Quaker minister had pocketed a fortune from the sale of Klan robes to women.  George Dale was quick to argue that the business of the KKK’s leadership, in fact, was just that — a business, one that fleeced “suckers” out of their “boob money.”  Members got “nighties” in return.

June 6, 1924

(Muncie Post-Democrat, June 6, 1924. “Hi” was Imperial Wizard Hiram Wesley Evans of Atlanta.)

March 28, 1924 (5)(Muncie Post-Democrat, March 28, 1924.)

The editor of the Muncie Post-Democrat wasn’t making millions from his poetry.  Nor did exposing the “Ku Klux Quaker” or anybody else help ensure his personal safety.   Yet in spite of death threats made against him and his family — with Klansmen shooting at him and attacking his home — Dale had the courage to continue publishing the names of Klansfolk in Ohio and Indiana as soon as he got his hands on membership lists.  For all their parading through the streets, many members still wanted their involvement with the Invisible Empire kept secret — including gubernatorial candidate Ed Jackson himself.  When the extent of Daisy Barr’s business with the Klan came out, she was forced to step down as chaplain of the Indiana War Mothers.

May 2, 1924(Muncie Post-Democrat, May 2, 1924.)

Muncie Post-Democrat, August 1, 1924

(Muncie Post-Democrat, August 1, 1924.)

May 9, 1924

(Muncie Post-Democrat, May 29, 1924.)

June 13, 1924

(Muncie Post-Democrat, June 13, 1924.)

George Dale’s campaign against the KKK was part of a national movement to discredit it.  Newspapers and religious leaders led the campaign.  While religion had played a disturbing role in fueling the Klan’s growth, it also played a major role in debunking it.  Over the next few decades, the opposition of Protestant ministers like Reinhold Niebuhr — not to mention Martin Luther King — helped erode support for the Klan, though the organization survives.

In 1923, Catholic members of the Indianapolis police force did their own part, breaking into a Klan office on College Avenue, stealing a membership list, and publishing it in Tolerance, an anti-KKK paper in Chicago.  (In light of the deadly Paris attacks in November 2015, the activist group Anonymous is doing something similar, hacking websites and publishing the personal details, addresses and Twitter handles of suspected ISIS extremists.)   Other Hoosier newspapers, including the Indiana Jewish Chronicle, the Indianapolis Freeman, the Indiana Catholic & Record, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Indianapolis Times all attacked the misinformation and bigotry spouted by the Klan.  D.C. Stephenson’s murder trial, which exposed the organization’s hypocrisy at its worst, also helped debunk the Klan credo.

Even in Muncie, the tide had begun to turn.  Embattled and in fear of his life in the mid-1920s, George R. Dale won the 1929 mayor’s race. His first action was to fire the forty-two members of the Muncie police force.

An indictment for violating Prohibition laws in 1932 overshadowed Dale’s mayoral career.  When Franklin Roosevelt repealed Prohibition soon after coming into office, he issued Dale a presidential pardon on Christmas Eve 1933.

The editor’s journalistic battle for civil decency had taken a toll on his health and finances.  He had also gone blind in one eye.  Yet Dale was at work at a typewriter right up to the moment of his death.  Surrounded by his family, and having just typed out one last editorial, George Dale died of a cerebral hemorrhage on March 27, 1936, at his home in Muncie.

Dale obit 2

(Muncie Post-Democrat, March 27, 1936.)

Movember: A Medical Moment

The Greencastle Democrat, January 26, 1900(The Greencastle Democrat, January 26, 1900.)

“Movember” or “No-Shave November” is a new tradition dating only back to 2003, when a group of Australians started growing “Mos” (Australian slang for “‘stache”) to raise awareness of men’s health issues, especially prostate cancer and depression.  As many cancer patients lose their hair, some men this season are paying homage to the golden days when spectacular whiskers grew wild and free.

There’s more than a little five-o’clock foreshadowing, then, in that mustachioed dandy from 1900 pictured above.  “Nervita pills” were  one of many old-time panaceas that purported to relieve some of the more difficult masculine ailments, though this one, of course, wouldn’t cure one of the worst, cancer.  Contrary to the cartoon version of history, the American public really did talk about sex-related issues back then — not necessarily on the front page, but certainly in the ads section, which was often full of treatments from doctors and drug store owners.

Since Hoosier State Chronicles often highlights episodes of American medical history,  here’s our tribute to “No-Shave November.”  We waded through a plethora of debonair mustachios and culled some worthy ones.  Many yet remain for your discovery.

Amazingly, as an Indianapolis barber feared in November 1902, these bold bristles would soon enough go out of style.  The Hoosier State’s own Benjamin Harrison was among the last generation of unshorn presidents.  Since William Howard Taft in 1913, no president has sported facial hair, with the possible exception of Richard Nixon, whose disastrous five-o’clock shadow contributed to his loss to JFK in 1960.  Even the boldest and most unconventional candidates in the coming election year don’t appear prepared to change this.

It was good business for the barber, at least.

Indianapolis Journal, November 16, 1902Indianapolis Journal, November 16, 1902 (2)Indianapolis Journal, November 16, 1902 (3)

(Indianapolis Journal, November 16, 1902.)

Indianapolis Recorder, January 15, 1910(Indianapolis Recorder, January 15, 1910.)

The Greencastle Democrat, October 30, 1903 (2)(The Greencastle Democrat, October 30, 1903.)

The Greencastle Democrat, January 16, 1897(The Greencastle Democrat, January 16, 1897.)

Indianapolis Recorder, February 19, 1910(Indianapolis Recorder, February 19, 1910.)

Indianapolis Recorder, July 30, 1910(Indianapolis Recorder, July 30, 1910.)

Indianapolis Journal, July 7, 1891(Indianapolis Journal, July 7, 1891.)

The following image from the cover of The Jewish Post (a national paper first printed in Indianapolis in 1933) isn’t Santa Claus, but a rabbi.  The paper’s Rosh Hashanah or Jewish New Years’ edition came out in September 1939, just a few weeks into World War II.

Jewish Post, September 14, 1939

(The Jewish Post, September 14, 1939.)

Indianapolis Journal, May 3, 1892

(Indianapolis Journal, May 3, 1892.)

Fort Wayne Daily News, August 29, 1896

(“A mix-up in bicycle polo,” Fort Wayne Daily News, August 29, 1896.)

Some native Hoosiers were known to sport impressive facial — or overgrowth, depending on your point of view.  Lew Wallace, the Crawfordsville native who became colonel of the 11th Indiana Infantry (a Zouave regiment), Civil War general, territorial governor of New Mexico, author of the novel Ben Hur, and U.S. Minister to Turkey.  Wallace’s Ben Hur came out on “this day in history,” November 12, 1880.

Lew Wallace(Major General Lew Wallace.)

Benjamin Harrison(A younger Benjamin Harrison, Indiana’s only president.)

Lawrenceburg’s James Henry “Jim” Lane became one of the most famous Jayhawk border fighters in Kansas during the run-up to the Civil War.  A fiery abolitionist, Lane served as Lieutenant Governor of Indiana before he became a U.S. Senator from Kansas and a Civil War general.  Wracked by depression, the famous wild and unkempt Hoosier Plainsman committed suicide in 1866 by shooting himself in the head while jumping out of a carriage.

Jim Lane(Jim Lane, Hoosier native and Kansas “Jayhawk.”)

In 1852, Lane was part of the welcoming committee at the State House when one of the most famously hairy men of his time, Hungarian revolutionary Lajos Kossuth, paid a visit to Indianapolis.  Kossuth — after whom a town in Washington County, Indiana, and a county in Iowa was named — had just escaped from Hungary via Turkey, been carried into exile on the USS Mississippi, and was touring the U.S., where crowds hailed him as a hero of democracy. Kossuth also inspired some Indianapolis men to become “hairy-faced bipeds.”

Kossuth in Washington D.C.(Lajos Kossuth, photographed in Washington, D.C., before he traveled west to Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and St. Louis in early 1852.)

Madison Daily Banner, March 3, 1852 (4)

(Madison Daily Banner, Madison, Indiana, March 3, 1852.)

One famous mustachioed American who often showed up in Indiana was the great boxing champion John L. Sullivan.  Sullivan was from Boston but often came to the small-town Midwest for championship matches and general showmanship.  He and his whiskers showed up in Logansport, Fort Wayne, and other towns in 1896.

Yet even the athletic Sullivan could have paid more attention to his own health.  A heavy drinker for most of his life, the boxer later gave up the bottle and turned Prohibitionist  Yet his overindulgence in food and booze led Sullivan to an early death at the age of just 59.  It was said he died with “barely ten dollars in his pocket.”

John L Sullivan(John L. Sullivan, 1858-1918.)

The Fort Wayne News, August 22, 1896 (The Fort Wayne News, August 22, 1896.)

Here’s another wild but lesser known visitor to the state.  The famous shagginess of Polish pianist and composer Ignaz Jan Paderewski, “Wizard of the Keys,” was something that newspapers often noticed and editorialized.

In April 1902, Paderewski performed at Tomlinson Hall (above the “city catacombs”) in Indianapolis.  This performer led a life as wild and varied as the direction of his hair.  In addition to his global career as a concert artist, Paderewski later become a wine-grower in California and a politician who helped re-establish Polish independence after World War I.  After Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1940, he became the head of the Polish parliament exiled in London. Paderewski died in New York in 1941.

Indianapolis Journal, April 6, 1902 (2)

(Indianapolis Journal, April 6, 1902.)

Indianapolis News, November 6, 1900(Indianapolis News, November 6, 1900.)

One last forgotten visitor worthy of note for his ‘stache was the spectacular Captain Jack Bonavita (real name John F. Gentner). The Indiana Tribüne announced Bonavita’s visit to “the Zoo” in 1901.  This wasn’t the Indianapolis Zoo, but the old Zoo Theater, a vaudeville venue that once sat next to the Cyclorama across from the State House.

A famous animal trainer in New York and Hollywood, Captain Bonavita also worked with the silent film industry.  Not long after this photo was taken, he was bitten by one of his trained lions in Indianapolis and spent some time at the City Hospital.  He recovered from that bite in 1901.  Tragically, in 1917, Bonavita was killed by a polar bear he was training.

Indiana Tribune, January 13, 1901

(Indiana Tribüne, January 13, 1901.)

While ladies are often divided on the virtues of male facial hair. . .

(Plymouth Tribune, March 5, 1903.)

. . . if you’re sporting any extra growth this season, Hoosier State Chronicles invites you to  take a bow.

Indianapolis Journal, February 2, 1890

(Indianapolis Journal, February 2, 1890.)

73 Years of The Jewish Post

Jewish Post, May 8, 1936 (3)

Hoosier State Chronicles has just uploaded over 3,500 issues of The Jewish Post, a historic weekly (now biweekly) published Indianapolis since 1933.  Here’s a bit of the paper’s history — and of Jewish journalism in the Midwest.

While the center of American Jewish culture has always been identified as New York, the Ohio Valley saw the birth of one of the first Jewish-run periodicals in the U.S..  This was Cincinnati’s The Israelite.

Founded in July 1854, and today printed under the title The American Israelite, this paper is the oldest surviving Jewish news organ in the country.  After the London Jewish Chronicle, begun in 1841, it is the second oldest in the world.  Cincinnati’s The Israelite was the brain child of pioneer Austrian rabbi Dr. Isaac Mayer Wise (1819-1900), who was also one of the founders of Hebrew Union College, the oldest Jewish seminary in the Americas.  During World War II, HUC attracted one of the great Jewish theologians and Civil Rights leaders, Abraham Joshua Heschel, who called the Midwest home for a few years while serving on the school’s faculty.

The Israelite, September 16, 1859

(The Israelite, Cincinnati, Ohio, September 15, 1859.)

Jewist Post, July 16, 1937 (4)(The Jewish Post, July 16, 1937.)

Before 1900, small towns in the Midwest and South were often home to much larger Jewish communities than today.  Even seemingly far-flung rural places like Woodville, Mississippi; Muskogee, Oklahoma; and Harlan, Kentucky, had sizable Jewish populations.  With the plantation economy of the South closely tied to the shipment of products up and down the rivers between New Orleans and the Midwest, Jewish merchants settled all over the Mississippi and Ohio valleys.  Though most Jews later left for opportunities in cities, the Institute of Southern Jewish Life has documented the fascinating of Jews in small-town America.

Some settled to Indiana.  One of the first European Jews to come here was Louis (Ludwig) Dembitz, an immigrant from Prussian Poland who practiced law in the thriving river town of Madison, Indiana, around 1850.  When the great Hungarian revolutionary Lajos Kossuth visited Madison in 1852, Dembitz translated his speech (given in German).  He later edited a German-language newspaper in Louisville, the Beobachter am Ohio.  Louis Dembitz was also the uncle of Louis D. Brandeis, the first Jew to serve on the Supreme Court.  Brandeis, who died in 1941, changed his middle name from David to Dembitz to honor him.  In 1855, the judge’s parents were married at a now-defunct synagogue in Madison, Indiana.

Weekly Reveille (Vevay, Indiana), August 11, 1853

(Weekly Reveille, Vevay, Indiana, August 11, 1853.)

Even tiny towns like Ligonier in Noble County occasionally had small Jewish populations early on in their history.  One of the first Jews in the Wabash Valley was the Vincennes trader Samuel Judah (1798-1869).  Descended from a family of Spanish Jews who moved to Canada and New York, Judah bought land in Terre Haute in the 1820s and went into politics.  In 1840-41, he served as Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives.

Before Chicago grew into a huge metropolis after the Civil War and before trains eclipsed river traffic, life in the Midwest was largely focused on the Ohio Valley.  Indianapolis’ Jewish Post, in fact, began in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1930.

Expanded and printed in several different state editions, this paper was created by long-time owner and editor Gabriel Murrel Cohen (1908-2007).  Born in Louisville, Cohen earned a Bachelor’s at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1930 — the same year he went home to Kentucky to start The Jewish Post at age 22.  Though Cohen moved his editorial offices moved to Indianapolis in 1935, he kept a printing office in Louisville into the 1940s and often carried ads for businesses in “Falls City.

Advertised as “A Journal for Indiana Jewry,” in fact for years this was really a bi-state paper.

Gabriel Murrel Cohen(Kentucky-born, North Carolina-educated Gabriel Murrel Cohen moved the Jewish Post to Indianapolis in 1935, when he was 27.  He died in 2007.)

Jewish Post, September 14, 1939 (2)(The Jewish Post, September 14, 1939.  This issue celebrated the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah.  “Falls City” was one of the Ohio Valley’s most popular brews from the end of Prohibition in 1933 until the original brewery closed down in 1978.)

The year 1933 was a momentous one for beginning a Jewish newspaper in the Midwest.  The state had only recently been freed up from the grip of the powerful Ku Klux Klan, which dominated Hoosier politics until about 1927.  In a battle spearheaded by newspapers like the Indianapolis Times — which urged Hoosiers to remember that “Indiana is not Russia” — the Klan had just fallen from power when the first issue of The Jewish Post came out.  A decade earlier, the KKK’s mouthpiece, The Fiery Cross, was printed in the Century Building, under the editorship of Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson — a professional anti-Semite, anti-Catholic, racist, and one of the most powerful men in America.  A mainstream organization in the Twenties, the KKK touted “100% Americanism,” Protestantism, anti-immigrant attitudes, and female purity, as well as the Federal prohibition of alcohol.

Franklin Roosevelt repealed Prohibition in 1933, the year The Jewish Post was first printed under the editorship of Leonard Rothschild.  In late 1935, Gabriel Cohen’s Spokesman Company bought Rothschild out.  Originally based at 505 West Washington Street, the editorial offices briefly moved to the East Side by 1936, when Cohen was based at 2101 East Washington Street, in a building that later housed the dingy California Nite Club.  Cohen and his staff were back downtown in 1937, operating in the Majestic Building and the Meridian Life Building.

Jewish Post, March 1933

(The Jewish Post, March 1933.)

While the new 4-page paper carried local news of Jewish interest from Indiana, Kentucky and the U.S., during the 1930s and 1940s its front pages focused on the rise of Nazism in Germany and the plight of European Jews.

Yet The Jewish Post didn’t  only announce the perils of anti-Semitism overseas and at home.  The paper also affirmed Jewish identity in Indianapolis and helped Hoosiers get to know themselves and their neighbors better.

A regular feature in early issues of The Jewish Post was a series of biographies of prominent — and promising — Indiana Jews.  The paper typically ran these profiles ran every week.  One focused on Ed Rose, a 20-year-old staff writer on the Indiana Daily Student at IU-Bloomington, in July 1937.

Jewish Post, July 16, 1937

(The Jewish Post, July 23, 1937.)

Jewish Post, August 20, 1937 (2)

(The Jewish Post, August 20, 193.)

Jewish Post, August 20, 1937

(The Jewish Post, August 20, 1937.)

In 1937, Gabriel Cohen also serialized “A History of the Jews of Indianapolis” by Harry Dale, a story that begins in 1856, when fourteen men began looking for a site for a Jewish cemetery.  Split between several local congregations, these officially separate burial grounds are known colloquially as “Kelly Street” and located just off South Meridian in a part of the Old Southside that was once heavily German, with some Hungarian, Polish, Russian and Greek households among them.

Jewish Post, August 13, 1937

(The Jewish Post, August 13, 1937.)

Gabriel Cohen’s Jewish Post also gave attention to the development of Zionism, the effort to set up a homeland for Jews.  After World War II, that place turned out to be Israel, but Zionists once considered spots as far away as Saskatchewan and South America, as well.

Over the years, The Jewish Post took up the cause of interfaith  unity.  In its early days, it also covered the concern loss of Jewish identity in the face not just of the Holocaust, but of Americanization.  Cohen’s paper ran occasional articles that document both the evolution of American Jewish identity and the struggle of Jews to stay true to their historic roots.

One interesting example came with the extremely rare production of a Yiddish play in Indianapolis.  In March 1934, Maurice Schwartz, father of the “Golden Age of Yiddish Theater,” performed on stage at English’s on Monument Circle downtown.  Schwartz was a Ukrainian-born actor raised on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.  In 1918, he founded the Yiddish Art Theatre  At English’s Theater, Schwartz played a lead role in the Yoshe Kalb, which told the story of a Hasidic mystic.  Before Schwartz’s death in 1960, he went on to work with a struggling young Jewish actor named Leonard Nimoy, who came from a Ukrainian Jewish family in Boston spoke Yiddish fluently.  The man who played Star Trek’s Mr. Spock remembered Schwartz as his “theatrical father.”

Jewish Post, May 11, 1934(The Jewish Post, May 11, 1934.)

Jewish Post, May 15, 1936(The Jewish Post, May 15, 1936.)

Jewish Post, May 15, 1936 (2)(The Jewish Post, May 15, 1936.)

Indianapolis didn’t have the only Jewish newspaper in the Midwest in those years.  An even earlier paper, Chicago’s The Sentinel, dated back to 1911.  In 1921, Milwaukee saw the birth of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle (digitized on Newspapers.com).  The Ohio Jewish Chronicle began in Columbus in 1922, followed by the Detroit Jewish News in 1942 and the St. Louis Jewish Light in 1947.

In 1948, Gabriel Cohen expanded his paper nationally.  In addition to the original Indiana edition, he ran a special Missouri edition from 1948 until 1992.  Along with its Indiana edition, the National Jewish Post & Opinion is still in print today.

Jewish Post, June 18, 1937 (2)

(Shapiro’s has long been the cornerstone of Indianapolis delicatessens, though it’s the last of the Jewish businesses of the Old Southside.  The Jewish Post, June 18, 1937.)

Jewish Post, November 2, 1962(The Jewish Post, November 2, 1962.)

Based on West 86th Street in Indianapolis, the newspaper is now a biweekly.  In addition to its longstanding commitment to interfaith dialogue, The Jewish Post & Opinion defines its mission as “To support Israel and to fight anti-Semitism. To heal and repair the world (tikkun olam). To protect, promote, and preserve time-honored Jewish values such as ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

In cooperation with IUPUI’s Center for Digital Scholarship and the staff of The Jewish Post & Opinion, Hoosier State Chronicles has brought 73 years of this historic journal’s Indiana edition online — from the very first issue in 1933 all the way up through 2005.

Jewish Post, November 9, 2005 (3)

(The Jewish Post & Opinion, November 9, 2005.)

The Crawfordsville Monster

Around two o’clock on the morning of Saturday, September 5, 1891, Crawfordsville ice delivery men Marshall McIntyre and Bill Gray prepared their wagon for morning rounds when suddenly a feeling of “awe and dread” overcame them.  Peering heavenward, the men saw a “horrible apparition.”  The Crawfordsville Journal described what they witnessed:

[It was] about eighteen feet long and eight feet wide and moved rapidly through the air by means of several pairs of side fins. . . . It was pure white and had no definite shape or form, resembling somewhat a great white shroud fitted with propelling fins.  There was no tail or head visible but there was one great flaming eye, and a sort of a wheezing plaintive sound was emitted from a mouth which was invisible.  It flapped like a flag in the winds as it came on and frequently gave a great squirm as though suffering unutterable agony.

McIntyre and Gray observed the phenomenon hover three or four hundred feet in the air for nearly an hour before they retreated to the safety of the barn.  They then quickly finished harnessing their horses and left the vicinity.

Daily Journal, September 5, 1891Daily Journal, September 5, 1891 (2)Daily Journal, September 5, 1891 (3)(Crawfordsville Daily Journal, September 5, 1891.)

McIntyre and Gray weren’t the only witnesses that night.  Perhaps the most reputable witness was G.W. Switzer, pastor of the First Methodist Church.  Shortly after midnight, Rev. Switzer stepped out of his door to retrieve some water from the well when he espied the apparition.  He woke his wife and they gawked as the thing “swam through the air in a writhing, twisting manner similar to the glide of some serpents.”  As the Switzers watched, the mystery apparition seemed at one point as though it might descend on the lawn of Lane Place — home of late U.S. Senator Henry S. Lane’s widow — before it re-ascended and continued its circuitous route above the city.

Daily Journal, September 7, 1891Daily Journal, September 7, 1891 (2)(Crawfordsville Daily Journal, September 7, 1891.)

When Crawfordsville residents heard of the sighting, ridicule came quickly to the eyewitnesses.  On the heels of Professor Burton, “Keeley’s Institute for inebriates” in Plainfield reportedly wrote to Rev. Switzer and invited him to visit — obviously to seek a cure.

(Crawfordsville Daily Journal, September 9, 1891.)

However, reports of the sightings also generated a number of believers.  The Indianapolis Journal picked up the story, as did other newspapers across the country, including the Brooklyn Eagle.  Mail regarding the sighting deluged the Crawfordsville postmaster.  Some correspondents thought the sighting indicated that Judgment Day was near.  A St. Louis woman, fearful of the spook’s western migration, wrote and asked if the apparition could be seen in the daytime, what color was it, and if the apparition had previously been in Ohio?

(Crawfordsville Daily Journal, September 11, 1891.)

So what exactly did people see in the Crawfordsville sky that early September morning in 1891?  Was it an apparition?  UFO?  A “rod,” like a 2008 episode of the History Channel’s Monster Quest implied?  Or was it, as many internet sites suggest, an atmospheric beast!?!?

Fortunately, two eyewitnesses tracked the creature.  John Hornbeck and Abe Hernley “followed the wraith about town and finally discovered it to be a flock of many hundred killdeer.”  The many birds’ wings, white under-feathers, and plaintive cries contributed to the belief of many eyewitnesses that the creature(s) originated from the otherworld.  Low visibility due to damp air likely compounded the misidentification.  The Crawfordsville Journal hypothesized that the town’s newly installed electric lights caused the birds to become disoriented, hovering and wreathing their way above the city.

(Crawfordsville Daily Journal, September 8, 1891.)

Killdeer Aubudon(Killdeer Plover, watercolor by John James Audubon.)

If that explanation does not satisfy, there is an alternative one. During the prior week, newspapers circulated another story from Crawfordsville.  This one was about a “balloon parachute craze” taking hold among the town’s boys.  While that could explain the billowing, sheet-like apparition, it fails to account for the “wheezing plaintive sound” emitting from the aerial monster.  Well, the same report about the parachute craze also mentioned that the boys also liked to send cats up in their balloons.  Could this have been what McIntyre, Gray, and the Switzers saw and heard instead?

Wichita Daily Eagle, September 4, 1891

(Wichita Daily Eagle, Wichita, Kansas, September 4, 1891.)

As anti-climactic as these conclusions will be to modern readers — they’re also, no doubt, disappointing to cryptozoologists and ufologists — it is the complete story of the Crawfordsville monster as the Crawfordsville Journal reported it in early September 1891.

Incidentally, Crawfordsville published three newspapers in addition to the Journal.  These were the Review, the Argus, and the Star.  None of those papers so much as hinted that anything happened that September morning.  This leads one to conclude that while a few citizens likely did see something unusual in the nocturnal sky, the Crawfordsville Journal overstated the incident to make an extra buck.  And the nineteenth century was no more “gullible” than our own age.  In other places around the world — like Fernvale, Australia, in 1927, and of course Roswell, New Mexico, since 1947 — reports of weird avian or other airborne visitors would pour in during the 20th century.

The Journal’s century old marketing ploy continues to generate lively discussion in the dark recesses of cyberspace and on late night radio talk-shows, where the Crawfordsville monster occasionally still goes out flying through the sky.

An Omen in the Ice: The Fate of the Flora M. Hill

Flora M Hill 2

The best-known maritime disaster of 1912 was obviously the loss of the Titanic.  Yet that winter had been fierce in the Midwest.  From January to March, ice floes and so-called “icebergs” on Lake Michigan caused more than the usual disruption to shipping, and large parts of the lake froze over.

On March 11, with the great passenger liner’s doom still a month out, Chicagoans got something of a comic omen of that disaster. Afterwards, in late April, fishermen on the lakeshore near Gary, Indiana, made a surprise discovery — a find both morbid and funny.

The short-lived cargo freighter Flora M. Hill had been outfitted in 1910 at Kenosha, Wisconsin, just north of Chicago.  Until its demise in March 1912, the ship hauled goods and passengers between Milwaukee, Green Bay and the Windy City.  A steel steamer weighing over four-hundred tons, the vessel belonged to the Hill Steamboat Line of Kenosha and was captained by Wallace W. Hill, son of Ludlow Hill, a commercial fisherman who worked out of Drummond Island, Michigan.

This vessel hadn’t always been a freighter, though.  Originally, the Flora M. Hill was a U.S. government-owned lighthouse tender named the Dahlia.  Built in 1874 by the firm of Neafie & Levy in the Philadelphia shipyards, then put into commission at Detroit, during the 1880s and ’90s the Dahlia was used by the U.S. Lifesaving Service to carry out annual lighthouse inspections up and down Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.  The crew set out iron buoys near the treacherous shoals around the Straits of Mackinac and the rocky reefs off the northern U.P.  They also submitted ice reports.


(The lighthouse tender Dahlia, later re-outfitted as the Flora M. Hill, in Chicago harbor, during the winter of 1891.)

The “ancient” Dahlia wasn’t considered a reliable vessel, though.  Mariners even complained that she had “to run for shelter every time a slight breeze springs up, and is totally unfitted for service in early spring or late in the fall.”  In summer 1903, the Lifesaving Service replaced her with then newer Sumac.  Then in 1909, the Hill Steamboat Company of Kenosha purchased her outright from the government, turned her into a cargo vessel, and gave her a new name.

Almost as soon as she went back into service, as a ferry between Chicago and points north, the Flora M. Hill figured into an unexplained “wireless hoax.”

In August 1910, Chicagoans were thrown into panic by the report of a passenger ship on fire several miles out.  The wireless operator aboard the Christopher Columbus picked up a distress signal sent in Morse Code. With summer vacationers traveling over the lake to Saugatuck, Michigan, and Indiana Dunes, folks ashore feared a passenger liner was going down.  Reports then came in that the former lighthouse ship, the Flora M. Hill, was the burning vessel.  Fire tugs went out to find it.  As the Flora M. Hill cruised into Chicago, however, she reported no mishaps.  The hoax was blamed on a radio prankster in the city.

The Inter Ocean, August 12, 1910

(The Inter Ocean, Chicago, August 12, 1910.)

In January 1912, the freighter had a early foretaste of its icy fate.  She left Waukegan on January 13, then went missing.  Volunteer search crews lined the lakeshore from Grant Park to Evanston to watch out for them, as well as to keep an eye on the tugs Indiana, Alabama, Iowa, Georgia, and Kansas, all of them stranded in the thick ice but within view.  Yet the twenty-five crew members from Kenosha, feared lost, soon showed up at Chicago harbor.

Two months later, however, the Flora M. Hill came to its end.  Sailing from Kenosha with a load of brass bedsteads, automotive supplies, leather goods, and a bunch of ladies’ silk underwear — all produced at Wisconsin factories — the ship got stranded in heavy ice floes just two miles from the Carter H. Harrison crib in Chicago.

Captain Wallace Hill hadn’t judged the floe dangerous.  Yet when jammed a hole through the iron, and with his propeller jammed, he had to send out distress signals.  By noon on March 11, the captain and crew of thirty-one, including a 72-year-old pilot and a female cook, had to abandon ship.

Fortunately, unlike the crew and passengers of the H.M.S. Titanic, they managed to get to safety — by walking, crawling, and jumping over “ice islands.”

The Inter Ocean, March 12, 1912(The Inter Ocean, March 12, 1912.)

Like Ernest Shackleton’s crew after The Endurance was crushed in Antarctic pack ice, the crew of the Flora M. Hill struck out for terra firma.  The water underneath them, in fact, was just thirty-seven feet deep.  The cook, Mrs. Sanville, hadn’t even wanted to leave the ship behind — she loved her stove — and she as the men manned the pumps, she continued cooking food and brewing fresh coffee for them.  Yet as the group headed for shore, they helped protect Sanville and the elderly pilot, Theodore Thompson, from exposure to the wind.  They had been caught in a blinding snowstorm.

Not far out, the crew were met by the tug Indiana, which had sped out as fast as possible to their rescue after getting the distress call.

Tug Indiana with Flora M. Hill Passengers (Library of Congress)

(The tugboat Indiana carried the crew to Chicago’s Dearborn Street landing.)

The Inter Ocean, March 12, 1912 (10)

(The Inter Ocean, March 12, 1912.)

What was left of the vessel, sunk in shallow water, was dynamited by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1913 as a navigational hazard.  In 1976, a diver rediscovered the wreck’s remains, still used as a “beginner’s dive site” for recreational underwater explorers.  Some divers have even brought up automobile headlamps, vestiges of the early days of Wisconsin’s long-disappeared auto industry.

Not all the wreckage of the Flora M. Hill, however, went to the bottom of Lake Michigan.

On April 21, 1912, a week after the Titanic sank in the North Atlantic, fishermen at Miller Beach, Indiana — now part of Gary — reported some unusual finds there.  Investigators confirmed the identity of this cargo when a couple of life jackets bearing the name Flora M. Hill turned up amid the wreckage.  This story came out in Hammond’s Lake County Times on April 22 — directly beneath a report on the recovery of Titanic victims.

Comically, the morbid coffins — probably empty ones in transport — weren’t the only objects found to have washed up on the Indiana shore.

Lake County Times, April 22, 1912

Lake County Times, April 22, 1912 (3)

Lake County Times, April 22, 1912 (4)

Lake County Times, April 22, 1912 (5)

(Lake County Times, April 22, 1912.)

“No Venus Needed”: Lonesome Hearts, Vintage Edition

Women 2

Taking out an ad to find a marriageable mate long pre-dates (pun intended) the days of the internet.  While American men, especially out West, were more likely to have to resort to “mail-order brides” and the advertising columns of newspapers, a surprising number of women were also willing to do something unconventional to reel in a good husband.  Chicago marriage bureaus in the 1880s had more female clients than male.

In the mid-1800s, before newspapers were able to print photographs alongside “Wife Wanted” or “Husband Wanted” ads, a witty writing style was essential to vintage seekers of Cupid. And while Americans back then certainly ranked each other according to social standing and wealth — as they still do today — money, physical beauty, and professional promise weren’t always absolutely required in a partner.

Some of the most highly valued traits, in fact, were common sense, practicality, and a good sense of humor.  Many prospective spouses — male and female — made no secret about their preference for “no-frills” applicants.  Heart palpitations, “foppery,” “extravagance,” and “a pocket full of musk”?  No, thanks!

Some of what follows was probably meant as a joke, but these caught our eye, anyway.

Here’s some of our favorite historic “lonesome hearts” ads — from the Hoosier State and all over.  If you can find a time machine, this may be your chance.

Weekly Messenger, November 24, 1832(Weekly Messenger, Printer’s Retreat, Indiana, November 24, 1832.)

Vincennes Western Sun & General Advertiser, May 29, 1824

(Western Sun & General Advertiser, Vincennes, Indiana, May 29, 1824.)

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), March 11, 1853

(Evening Star, Washington, D.C., March 11, 1853.)

Nashville Union and American (Nashville, TN), November 23, 1855

(Nashville Union and American, Nashville, Tennnessee, November 23, 1855.)

Pittson Gazette (Pittston, Pennsylvania), August 8, 1856

(Pittson Gazette, Pittston, Pennsylvania, August 8, 1856.)

The Tarborough Southerner (Tarboro, NC), May 5, 1855(The Tarborough Southerner, Tarboro, North Carolina, May 5, 1855.)

(Crawfordsville Record, Crawfordsville, Indiana, June 6, 1835.)

Reading Times (Reading, Pennsylvania), February 26, 1863 (2)

(Reading Times, Reading, Pennsylvania, February 26, 1863 .)

Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail, January 25, 1873(Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail, January 25, 1873.)

Here’s our personal comic favorite, originally printed in a St. Louis, Missouri, newspaper.  The ad even went “viral,” appearing all over the South in 1866.

Staunton Spectator (Staunton, Virginia), April 24, 1866(Staunton Spectator, Staunton, Virginia, April 24, 1866.)

The New York Times, May 28, 1860

(The New York Times, May 28, 1860.)

One of the most long-winded “matrimonials” was actually written up by the staff of the Lake County Times in northwest Indiana.  Sam Crow, who was out looking for a wife on March 6, 1914, brings us up into the twentieth century.

Lake County Times, March 6, 1914

Sam Crow, March 6, 1914

Lake County Times, March 6, 1914 (3)

Lake County Times, March 6, 1914 (4)

Lake County Times, March 6, 1914 (5)

Sadly, Sam Crow never found a wife — and no little crows ever “hopped and skipped over that splendid western land of his.”  He died in Greencastle in January 1916, still unmarried.

A Skeleton’s Odyssey: The Forensic Mystery of Watson Brown

John Brown gravestie

When the fiery abolitionist John Brown, “The Meteor” who tried to ignite a slave rebellion in the South, was hanged for treason, authorities turned the body over to his family.  In December 1859, Brown’s remains traveled north by train from the hanging grounds in Charles Town, Virginia, to the family farm in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. Around Cristmastime, he was laid to rest next to a huge chunk of Appalachian granite.

Twenty-three years later, a Hoosier geologist who studied such rocks for a living helped ensure that one of John Brown’s fellow raiders at Harper’s Ferry — his son Watson, who was gunned down during the raid — would finally be buried next to his father.  In the meantime, Watson’s bones went on a long odyssey out to the Midwest.

Watson Brown was born October 7, 1835, in Franklin Mills, Ohio. His father, the great abolitionist, moved back and forth between northern Ohio and his native New England several times.  After John Brown went out to “Bleeding Kansas” to fight the extension of slavery into the West, Watson left home, too, though he apparently didn’t join in the combat on the Plains.  His father and brothers, however — considered terrorists by some — waged war on pro-slavery factions with guns, fire and on one occasion, with broadswords used to hack their enemies to death.  A letter from Watson to his mother Mary, written in Iowa in 1856, mentions that on his own way west with a team of emigrants — armed with “Sharp’s rifles and cannon” — they met with ex-slave Frederick Douglass and the reformer Gerrit Smith.  Smith, a failed presidential candidate, secretly financed the later raid on Harper’s Ferry.  Watson himself may have helped carry caches of firearms out to the Great Plains, guns paid for by New England anti-slavery committees.

John Brown

(John Brown in Springfield, Massachusetts, 1846.)

Watson Brown 2

(Watson Brown, circa 1859.)

John Brown crisscrossed the Midwest many times on trips back East to win the support of reformers like William Lloyd Garrison, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and even Henry David Thoreau.  In 1859, Brown and a small band of followers — sixteen whites and five blacks in all — tried to pull off their most spectacular assault on slavery yet, an attack on the Federal armory at Harpers Ferry, where the Shenandoah flows into the Potomac.  The target: 100,000 muskets, to be handed over to slaves for use in a massive insurrection.

Harpers Ferry

(Harpers Ferry, Virginia, now West Virginia.)

Optimistic supporters in the U.S. and Canada originally planned for 4,500 men to participate in the raid.  Instead, just twenty-one attacked Harpers Ferry on October 16, 1859.  After cutting telegraph wires and taking hostages on nearby farms, Brown’s band moved into town.  Local militia, farmers and shopkeepers, opening fire, quickly pinned down the abolitionists, driving them into a brick engine house.  Under siege, John Brown sent his son Watson and another man out with a white flag.  The crowd shot them.  Watson, aged twenty-four, with a bullet just below his stomach, struggled back to the engine house, fatally wounded.  He begged his father and comrades to “dash out his brains,” then tried to commit suicide.

The Liberator (Boston, Mass), November 18, 1859

(The Liberator, Boston, Massachusetts, November 18, 1859.)

John Brown raid

(Brown’s son Oliver was also killed in the raid, while Watson lay in agony.  “With one son dead by his side, and another dying, he felt the pulse of his dying son with one hand and held his rifle with the other.”

The outbreak of the Civil War was still a year and a half away.  In fact, the raid was put down by Colonel Robert E. Lee — of the U.S. Army.  John Brown was hanged for treason in December.  Spectators at his execution included Stonewall Jackson, John Wilkes Booth, and the poet Walt Whitman.

Ten of Brown’s men died in the raid, including two sons.  What became of their mortal remains is a fascinating and rarely told part of the tale.

Eight of the bodies were gathered up by townspeople of Harpers Ferry.  The locals, understandably, didn’t want the raiders buried in the town’s cemetery.  They gave a man named James Mansfield five dollars to take care of the corpses.

Packing eight men into two large wooden store boxes, Mansfield buried them along the Shenandoah River about a half-mile from town.  The grave, half forgotten, remained there until 1899, when Dr. Timothy Featherstonehaugh, a Captain E.P. Hall, and Orin Grant Libby, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin, exhumed the corpses for transfer to the Brown family farm in upstate New York.  Professor Libby took femur notes while examining the skeletal remains, comparing them for size against his own leg.  On August 30, 1899, the mingled raiders’ bones were re-interred at the Brown plot — in a single silver-handled casket.

New England Magazine, April 1901(New England Magazine, April 1901.)

This wasn’t the first time, however, that a box of old bones was brought to North Elba, New York, to lie next to John Brown’s.

Two of his followers were never initially buried at all.  One of them was his son Watson.

Remarkably common in the nineteenth century, body-stealing was a feature of reality at a time when medical schools had trouble acquiring corpses for anatomy classes.  Rarely able to do so legally, they had to steal them, giving rise to the “resurrectionists” who nabbed the dead out of fresh graves.

Yet other examples of body-theft involved mere curiosity seekers and bogus scientists.  During the heyday of phrenology — the long-discredited study of bumps on the skull, which, it was believed, actually determined one’s personality, creative genius, or propensity to crime — “cranioklepty” (the theft of skulls) was far from rare.

The more famous the head, the better.  When the composer Joseph Haydn died in Vienna in 1809, wealthy robbers paid a cemetery attendant to open up the new grave and cut off his head.  “Scientists” then boiled off the flesh or used acid to remove the skin and muscle in order to examine Haydn’s cranial bumps.  Until 1954, the famous skull remained on display in a glass case in Vienna, when it was reunited with the rest of Haydn’s bones.   After the coffins of Beethoven and Schubert were exhumed for relocation in the 1860s, their skulls were also examined, as was the entire mummified body of American naval hero John Paul Jones, unearthed in subterranean Paris in 1905 — a hundred-and-thirteen years after he died.

Watson Brown and Jeremiah Anderson — two Midwesterners gunned down at Harpers Ferry — were considered “fine physical specimens.”  Southern doctors took them to Winchester Medical College in Virginia, where, like Joseph Haydn, they had (most of) the flesh stripped off them.  John Brown’s 24-year-old son, who had left behind a widow, Isabella, and a young child who died in 1863, was turned into a model skeleton for the instruction of future Southern medical men.

Dr. Jarvis Johnson(Dr. Jarvis Johnson, surgeon of the 27th Indiana Volunteers.)

Yet Winchester, Virginia, just thirty miles from Harper’s Ferry and the Potomac River, changed hands several times during the Civil War.

In the spring of 1862, two and a half years after Watson Brown’s death, the 27th Regiment of Indiana Volunteers marched into town with the Union Army.  Among them was regimental surgeon Dr. Jarvis Jackson Johnson.  Born in Bedford, Indiana, in 1828, Johnson practiced medicine in Martinsville, half way between Indianapolis and Bloomington.  He would have been 34 when he walked into Winchester Medical College and found out what doctors had done to the remains of Watson Brown — an action for which, Virginians believed, Union troops burned down the college, the only case of arson during Winchester’s military occupation.

In 1882, the Indianapolis Journal printed the most widely-accepted version of the tale.  It came in the aftermath of a visit by John Brown, Jr., who visited Morgan County, Indiana, with several other investigators to examine a set of human remains there.

Dr. Johnson had stated that while serving as commander of a military hospital in Winchester, he acquired Watson Brown’s body from the museum of the medical college — then shipped it on a train to Franklin, Indiana, the nearest railroad depot to his home in Martinsville.  Like the Virginia doctors, Johnson kept the body in a case at his medical office.  For twenty years, the raider’s bones were a strange part of the life of a Hoosier country town.

Indianapolis Journal, September 11, 1882

Indianapolis Journal, September 11, 1882 (2)

(Indianapolis Journal, September 11, 1882.)

In 1882, word of the skeleton’s whereabouts came to John Brown, Jr., Watson’s elder brother and the abolitionist’s oldest son, after Jarvis Johnson put a notice in the Chicago Tribune looking for family members.  The doctor claimed, probably disingenuously, that he hadn’t realized any of the Brown brothers were still living, and he hadn’t wanted to upset Watson Brown’s mother.  Though John Brown, Jr., had fought in “Bleeding Kansas,” he in fact wasn’t part of the raid on Harpers Ferry.  During the Civil War, he helped recruit troops for the famous “Jayhawk” border fighter James H. Lane. (Before Lane became an anti-slavery senator from Kansas and a famous target for Confederates, he had been the lieutenant governor of Indiana.)

Brown, Jr., visited Indiana in September 1882, having already moved back east to Ohio, where he grew grapes for the wine business on South Bass Island in Lake Erie and took an interest in geology.

John Brown, Jr.(John Brown, Jr., the skeleton’s brother.)

The other main forensic investigator to come to Martinsville that September was one of Indiana’s most prominent scientists, the impressively-bearded State Geologist John Collett.  Remembered as a beloved “Santa Claus” figure, Collett was a Wabash Valley native who lived in Indianapolis and often weighed in on scientific and agricultural questions — from the study of caves and killer meteorite hoaxes to how to improve celery crops.  Collett traveled to Martinsville with several doctors to look over the badly-treated remains of the bygone Harpers Ferry raider.

John Collett(Hoosier geologist John Collett, who drew the first maps of Wyandotte Cave, helped Watson Brown get back to New York.)

The Indianapolis Journal printed this description of the scene at Dr. Johnson’s office:

The body has received careless treatment during the last few years. It has been carted about from place to place, and has been doing duty in all the anatomical exhibitions about town. During the first few years it was in the possession of Dr. Johnson it was in a remarkably fine state of preservation, but ill usage has ruined it. For several years, it has been lying in the Knights of Pythias hall, and, it is whispered, was used in the mystic ceremonies of the order. The best of care had not been bestowed upon it, and it was infested with worms and insects. Knowledge of its ill-usage was sedulously kept from Mr. Brown. When he intimated that he would like to see the body, he was considerately kept in waiting until it could be removed from the lodge-hall to the residence by way of a back street, and there placed in better condition for the examination.

At the time, it wasn’t clear whether the skeleton was that of Watson or 22-year-old Oliver, John Brown’s other son killed in October 1859.  Watson and Oliver looked alike.  Both stood six feet tall.

An office assistant of Dr. Jarvis’ showed John Brown, Jr., a “coffin-shaped box standing against the wall.”  Then he removed a cloth covering, exposing “a bare and hideous skeleton.”

“Gentlemen, if it is either of my brothers, I am now inclined to think that it is Oliver,” Brown exclaimed after picking up and poring over skeletal fragments and examining the shape of a half-missing skull.   Yet the more he looked, the more he came to think he was looking at his other brother, Watson.

Indianapolis Journal, September 11, 1882 (3)

Geologist John Collett wasn’t a qualified expert in forensic facial reconstruction, a process that would actually be pioneered in the next decade.  (When Johann Sebastian Bach’s bones showed up at a church in Leipzig, Germany, in 1894, Swiss anatomist Wilhelm His reconstructed a face from the skull, which resembled an old painting of Bach — who became an unwitting helper in the baby science of crime-scene forensics.) After comparing all the forensic evidence available, however, including written descriptions of Watson Brown’s gun wound, it was John Collett’s opinion that the cadaver standing before him in Martinsville, Indiana, was, in fact, the man in question.

True to the often bogus science of the time, though, some of the “professor’s” statements expose how ludicrous phrenology was.

The Inter Ocean, September 14, 1882 (2)

(The Inter Ocean, Chicago, September 14, 1882.)

Then came a fascinating insight.  Dr. Jarvis Johnson’s written affidavit, notarized by Morgan County lawyers, also shed light on why doctors in Virginia wanted to preserve Brown’s corpse in the first place.

When he was put in charge of local Union Army medical operations, “A number of the prominent citizens of Winchester called upon me at the hospital, and each and all declared that [these were] the remains of a son of John Brown.”  Amazingly, the doctor who “prepared” the body, whom Johnson never identifies by name, also stopped by — and pleaded with Johnson to give him back this “exceedingly valuable piece of property.”

Like the medieval Europeans who condemned criminals to be drawn-and-quartered, Virginia doctors held up the illustrious corpse — like slave bodies, considered property — as a warning to  their state’s enemies.  Sic semper tyrannis?

The Inter Ocean, September 14, 1882

(The Inter Ocean, Chicago, September 14, 1882.)

Who was this doctor, then?

He was surely on the faculty list — and it’s a small one.  Founded by Dr. Hugh Holmes McGuire, Winchester Medical College had only four instructors in 1859, including the founder’s son, Hunter Holmes McGuire (1835-1900).  At age 24, Hunter McGuire, already a professor anatomy at his father’s school, would have been an exact contemporary of the “fine specimen” killed at Harpers Ferry.

Hunter McGuire, however, was probably not the culprit. In late 1859, he was studying medicine in Philadelphia.  The young doctor was even there during the famous walk-out of Southern medical students, which occurred after John Brown’s body was paraded through the streets by Northern admirers.  Insulted, McGuire led an exodus of about three-hundred Southern students from Jefferson Medical College, who dropped out, went down to Richmond, and re-enrolled at the Medical College of Virginia.  Some sources say that he financed the trip of all these students with his own savings.

Dr. Hunter McGuire later enlisted in the Confederate Army and even served as Stonewall Jackson’s personal surgeon, amputating the general’s arm after Chancellorsville.  He went on to become the president of the American Medical Association.  In the 1890s, McGuire would contribute to the debate over eugenics, racial purity, and the castration of rapists, especially African Americans — arguments that eventually led to Virginia’s “Racial Integrity Act” of 1924, a major victory for the controversial eugenics movement and one of the worst misapplications of science in history.  He also strove to ensure that Southern school textbooks “would not poison the minds of Virginia schoolchildren” by teaching a northern revisionist history of the Civil War.

The Medical Pickwick (1918) states that Watson Brown was “dissected by students.”  McGuire, as stated, was in Pennsylvania in the aftermath of Harper’s Ferry.  But did he have anything at all to do with this man’s bizarre fate?

Faculty of Winchester Medical College(Faculty of Winchester Medical College, 1858-89.)

It seems that he did.  Mary Greenhow Lee, a famous diarist in Winchester during the Civil War, wrote — with sick pleasure — that when Union soldiers torched the medical school on May 16, 1862, “They buried in the yard what they supposed were [Oliver Brown’s] bones, but the genuine ones had been removed by Hunter McGuire, thus foiling their malicious designs.”  Were the bones buried those of Jeremiah Anderson, a native of Wisconsin who fought with John Brown?  Lee might have been mistaken about the identity of the bones.  It’s harder to believe she was mistaken about Dr. McGuire.  After all, he was fighting in northern Virginia and may have been the doctor who approached Jarvis Johnson.

Twenty years later, Johnson willingly handed over to the Brown family the cadaver he claimed to have shipped by train from the Shenandoah Valley to the Midwest.  In October 1882, Watson Brown’s strange post-mortem odyssey finally came to an end.  On an autumn day in the Adirondacks, he was laid to rest in a patch of soil near his famous father, who — as the old Union song put it — had long lain “mouldering in the grave.”

John Brown's body 2

Isabella Thompson, aged just 22 when the Harpers Ferry raid left her a widow, married Watson’s cousin, Salmon Brown.  For decades, the couple lived in Kilbourn City, Wisconsin — later renamed Wisconsin Dells.  Isabella may have died near Traverse City in northern Michigan in 1907.  Her second husband died in neighboring Antrim County, Michigan, in 1921.  “Bella” was buried at North Elba, New York, near her first husband, his final whereabouts pinned down at last.

John Collett passed away in March 1899 and was buried in Terre Haute.  Dr. Johnson died that September, just a few weeks after the mass re-interment of Brown’s other missing men, among whom was his son Oliver, who had lain in a merchant’s box on the Shenandoah for forty years.  Johnson rests at East Hill Cemetery in Morgantown, Indiana.

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