The Black Stork: Eugenics Goes to the Movies

The Black Stork 4

From 1917 into the 1920s, Hoosier movie-goers had a chance to see one of the most controversial — and arguably infamous — silent films ever produced, The Black Stork, later renamed Are You Fit To Marry?  Identified by one film historian as among the earliest horror movies, The Black Stork was based on a real and gut-wrenching medical drama from 1915.

Billed as a “eugenics love story,” the movie’s script was authored by Chicago journalist, muckraker and theater critic Jack Lait.  Lait worked for news mogul William Randolph Hearst, the very man who inspired the lead figure in Orson Welles’ great 1941 movie Citizen Kane.  Hearst, king of American “yellow journalism,” relished controversies, which sold newspapers and theater tickets. His film company, International Film Service, produced The Black Stork.

Most Americans today have never heard the word eugenics, a once-popular scientific theory spawned by Victorian understandings of evolution and heredity in the wake of Charles Darwin.  The word eugenics comes from the Greek for “well-born” or “good stock” and refers to the social interpretation of scientific discoveries purporting to show how harmful genetic traits are passed on from parents to children — and how healthy children could be bred. Eugenics wasn’t strictly the same as science itself, but a social philosophy based on the discoveries of Darwin, the monk-botanist Gregor Mendel, and Darwin’s nephew, geneticist Francis Galton. Yet many scientists and doctors got involved with this social philosophy.

Once very mainstream, support for eugenic theories plummeted after the defeat of Hitler, its most notorious advocate. Aspects of eugenics — like the forced sterilization of repeat criminals, rapists, epileptics, the poor, and some African Americans — continued in twenty-seven American states into the 1950s and even later in a few.  The last forced sterilization in the U.S. was performed in Oregon in 1981.


U.S. Eugenics Advocacy Poster, 1926

(U.S. eugenics advocacy poster, 1926.  The authors ranked just 4% of Americans as “high-grade” and “fit” for creative work and leadership.)


Most scientists today would probably consider the social application of genetics to be outside their own realm, but that wasn’t always the case.  Indiana played an enormous role in the history of eugenics when the Hoosier State became the first to enact a compulsory sterilization law in 1907 — a law that lumped the mentally handicapped in with sex offenders, made it virtually illegal for whole classes deemed “unfit” to reproduce, segregated many of the disabled into mental hospitals, and enshrined white supremacy. Though the Indiana law was struck down in 1921, those ideas were hugely popular with many academics and activists all across the political spectrum.


Murder rankings

(American eugenic “scientists” blamed murder rates on heredity, ethnicity, and imaginary racial types like “Dinaric” and “Alpine.” “Pure Nordic,” the type idealized by Hitler, was deemed the least prone to criminal activity.  Time would prove that theory wrong.)


What’s especially disturbing is that the Indiana Eugenics Law wasn’t pushed by stereotypical white racist “hillbillies.” “Poor white” Indianapolis slum-dwellers, in fact, were very much targeted by the eugenicists of the early 20th century.  Promoters of these spurious theories included mainstream biologists, doctors, many reform-minded Progressives, women’s rights advocates, college presidents, even a few Christian ministers and Socialists. The list of widely-admired people who spoke out in favor of simplistic eugenic proposals included Helen Keller, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Sir Winston Churchill, Planned Parenthood’s founder Margaret Sanger, author Jack London, IU and Stanford University president David Starr Jordan, Alexander Graham Bell, and the civil rights activist W.E.B. DuBois.  One of the only well-known anti-eugenics crusaders was Senator William Jennings Bryan, a Christian Fundamentalist who lost caste with Progressives in the 1920s for opposing the teaching of evolution.

Eugenics, however, was neither “liberal” nor “conservative.” Americans of all political stripes upheld its basic premise — the preservation of social order and the engineering of more a “humane” society.  Strong support for eugenics came from Americans concerned about the proliferation of poverty and urban crime and who sought a reason to keep certain nationalities from entering the U.S.  Eugenics did not begin to go out of favor until 1935, when scientists from the Carnegie Institute in Washington demonstrated the flimsiness of other scientists’ work at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island.  Yet even as eugenicists placed human reproduction on the level of horse- and livestock-breeding, the genetic abolition of any individual deemed “feeble-minded” — and the destruction of hereditary and sexually-transmitted diseases — was packaged as a positive goal, a social benefit to all, even to those who underwent involuntary sterilization and were occasionally killed.


Better Baby Contest, Indiana State Fair, 1931

(Better Baby contest, Indiana State Fair, 1931.  Eugenicists put reproduction and marriage on the level of agriculture and sought to manage human beings like a farm.  Better Baby contests began at the Iowa State Fair in 1911.)


Euthanasia was one component of eugenics.  Alongside the “positive eugenics” campaign for “Better Babies and Fitter Families,” “negative eugenics” partly revolved around the controversial view that infants born with severe disabilities should be left to die or killed outright.  In 1915, a case in Chicago plunged Americans into a heated debate about medical ethics.

That November, Dr. Harry J. Haiselden, chief surgeon at the German-American Hospital in Chicago, was faced with a tough dilemma.  A woman named Anna Bollinger had just given birth to a child, John, who suffered from severe birth defects.  John had no neck or right ear and suffered from a serious skin ailment, all judged to be the result of syphilis likely passed on by his father. Dr. Haiselden knew that he could save the child’s life through a surgical procedure.  But since he was familiar with the conditions into which Illinois’ “feeble-minded” were thrown after birth, he convinced the child’s parents to let John die at the hospital.  When the news came out that the doctor wasn’t going to perform the necessary surgery, an unknown person tried to kidnap the child and take it to another hospital.  The kidnapping attempt failed and John Bollinger died.


South Bend News-Times, November 18, 1915

(The South Bend News-Times called “Baby Bollinger” a martyr, but later carried advertisements for the doctor’s film.)


While the Catholic Church, one of the few vocal critics of eugenics, was the only major group to initially protest the surgeon’s decision, Haiselden was soon called before a medical ethics board in Chicago. He nearly lost his medical license, but managed to hang onto it.  Public opinion was sharply divided.  Chicago social worker and suffragette Jane Addams came out against Haiselden.  Short of the death penalty for murder, Addams said, no doctor had the right to be an unwilling person’s executioner.  “It is not for me to decide whether a child should be put to death. If it is a defective, it should be treated as such, and be taught all it can learn,” she added.

Many of Haiselden’s critics, such as Addams, pointed out that if eugenicists had had their way, they would have killed some of the great “defectives” in history, like Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevksy, French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, children’s writer Edward Lear, and even the eugenicist Harry Laughlin himself — all of them epileptics.  (Biologist Laughlin, Superintendent of the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor and one of the science’s greatest advocates, had suffered from epilepsy since childhood.)

Support for Dr. Haiselden, however, came from many famous social activists.  Among them was Helen Keller — advocate for the disabled, a Socialist, and a eugenics supporter (at least in 1915.) Keller, who was blind and deaf since the age of one but thrived against all odds, published her views on the Haiselden case in The New Republic. She thought that children proven to be “idiots” by a “jury of expert physicians” could and perhaps should be put to death. (Keller was an amazing woman, but it’s hard not to view her trust in the opinions of “unprejudiced” medical “experts” as naive.) Chicago lawyer and civil liberties crusader Clarence Darrow — who famously went up against eugenics critic William Jennings Bryan at the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial — made no bones about his support for the surgeon: “Chloroform unfit children,” Darrow said.  “Show them the same mercy that is shown beasts that are no longer fit to live.” Indiana Socialist Eugene V. Debs also supported Haiselden’s decision.

Clarence Darrow    Helen Keller
(Clarence Darrow and Helen Keller supported Haiselden.)


Harry Haiselden held onto his job, but bolstered his position and kept the firestorm of public discussion brewing by starring as himself in a silent film based on the Bollinger case.  The Black Stork was produced with the help of William Randolph Heart’s International Film Service. Scriptwriter Jack Lait would go on to edit the New York Daily Mirror and write several plays and novels.

The Black Stork came to hundreds of American theaters, including many Hoosier ones.  Because public health workers and eugenicists often gave admonitory lectures before and after the movie, separate showings were offered for men and women.  Young children weren’t allowed to attend, but a South Carolina minister encouraged parents to bring their teenage children — so they could see what might come from sexual promiscuity, criminality, drinking and “race mixing.”  Some theater bills added the catchy subtitle: “The Scourge of Humanity.”


South Bend News-Times, November 9, 1917

(The Black Stork enjoyed several screenings at the Oliver Theater in South Bend.  South Bend News-Times, November 9, 1917.)


The movie’s plot was partly fictional and not entirely based on the 1915 Bollinger euthanasia case.  The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette gave its readers the basic story line, which came with an interesting twist near the end:

The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August 12, 1917 (1)The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August 12, 1917 (2)

(The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August 12, 1917.)


The “taint of the Black Stork” was obviously bad genes and heritable diseases. Haiselden’s silent film has been called one of the earliest horror movies, though its promoters billed it as educational and even romantic in nature. It fueled the eugenics movement’s fear campaign about defectives but also tackled an ethical dilemma that’s still alive today:  is it ever humane to kill a person without their permission, on the grounds that the victim is doomed to live a miserable life and be only a “burden on society”?


The Black Stork 5


Since American eugenics was definitely supported by known racists and would later be directly cited by the Nazis as inspiration for their bogus “racial science,” it’s uncomfortable to look deeper into it and realize how much turf it shares with Progressivists’ real concern for the treatment of the poor — and of mothers, some of whom would have been forced to raise severely disabled children.  The problem is that some Americans thought the best way to eradicate poverty and disease was to eradicate the poor themselves by restricting their right to pass on the human “germ plasm” to the next generation.  Eugenics and even euthanasia became, for some, a way to avoid social reforms.  “Nurture vs. nature” lost out to inescapable hereditary destiny.

The Black Stork’s title was eventually changed to Are You Fit To Marry?  It ran in theaters and roadshows well into the Roaring Twenties.  It’s hard to believe that eugenicists begged Americans to ask themselves honestly if they were “fit to marry.”  One wonders how many Americans voluntarily abstained from having children after deeming themselves “unfit”?

Ads show that the film was screened at at least three theaters in Indianapolis (including English’s Theatre on Monument Circle) as well as at movie halls in Fort Wayne, East Chicago, Whiting, Hammond, Evansville, Richmond and probably many other Hoosier towns.


The Fort Wayne Sentinel, January 27, 1920

(The Fort Wayne Sentinel, January 27, 1920.)


The Black Stork 6


The “eugenics photo-drama” reminded Americans of the dangers that bad heredity posed not only to their own families, but to the nation.  When The Black Stork showed in Elyria, Ohio, just a few months into America’s involvement in World War I, it clearly drew from the well of fear-mongering that linked crime and disease to alcohol, immigration, prostitution and rumors about German traitors and saboteurs — all clear threats to Anglo-Saxon ideals. Eugenics and euthanasia, by “saving our nation from misery and decay,” clearly got hitched to the wagon of nationalist politics. Viewing The Black Stork, like supporting the war effort, became “a solemn duty.”


The Chronicle-Telegram (Elyria, Ohio), December 17, 1917

(The Chronicle-Telegram, Elyria, Ohio, December 17, 1917.)


German scientists were promoting “racial hygiene” long before the Nazis came to power in the 1930s.  Fascism’s scientists and propagandists would also draw heavily on the work of British and American eugenicists — and point out laws like Indiana’s when opponents criticized them.  Racial Hygiene, in fact, was the title of an influential textbook by Hoosier doctor Thurman B. Rice, a professor at IU-Bloomington, a colleague of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, and one of the founders of IU Medical School in Indianapolis.  In April 1929, Rice wrote an editorial in the Indiana State Board of Health’s monthly bulletin, entitled “If I Were Mussolini,” where he supported compulsory sterilization of “defectives.”


Thurman B. Rice 2

(“If I Were Mussolini,” Monthly Bulletin of the Indiana State Board of Health, April 1929.)


The Black Stork wasn’t the last film about euthanasia and eugenics. In 1941, Hitler’s Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, commissioned one of the classics of Nazi cinema, Ich klage an (I Accuse).  The plot revolves around a husband who learns that his wife has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  He gives her a drug that causes her death, then undergoes a trial for murder.  The film’s producers argued that death was not only a right but a social duty.  A tearjerker, Ich klage an was created to soften up the German public for the Nazis’ T4 euthanasia campaign, which led to the deaths of as many as 200,000 adults and children deemed a burden to the nation. (There’s some further irony that Ich klage an’s cinematic parent, The Black Stork, was based on events at Chicago’s German-American Hospital.)

The charms of eugenics bewitched Americans and Europeans for a few more decades after the Bollinger case. British writer G.K. Chesterton, a Catholic convert and a fierce opponent of eugenics, probably deserves the last word here. Chesterton called eugenics “terrorism by tenth-rate professors.”


Chesterton at Notre Dame, 1930

(G.K. Chesterton in South Bend, Indiana, October 1930, when he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Notre Dame.  Dr. Harry Haiselden himself once gave an address to South Bend’s Fork and Knife Club in May 1916.)


In his 1922 book Eugenics and Other Evils: An Argument Against the Scientifically Organized State, Chesterton quipped that society has never really had all that much to fear from the “feeble-minded.” Rather, it’s the “strong-minded” who hurt society the most.  Tearing into eugenics advocates in Britain, Germany and America, Chesterton spotlighted their frequent class prejudices — then skewered them brilliantly:

Why do not the promoters of the Feeble-Minded Bill call at the many grand houses in town and country where such nightmares notoriously are?  Why do they not knock at the door and take the bad squire away?  Why do they not ring the bell and remove the dipsomaniac prize-fighter?  I do not know;  and there is only one reason I can think of, which must remain a matter of speculation. When I was at school, the kind of boy who liked teasing half-wits was not the sort that stood up to bullies.

Dr. Harry J. Haiselden was involved in the deaths of at least three more disabled infants.  He died of a cerebral hemorrhage while on vacation in Havana, Cuba, in 1919.

“The Notorious and Diamond-Bedecked Dr. Lighthall”

Dr. J.I. Lighthall (2)

Today, rural towns often have doctors with Indian surnames.  But in the 1800s, an “Indian doctor” meant something totally different.

For decades after the Civil War, so-called “Indian medicine shows” rolled through cities and country towns across the U.S.  These shows were something like the medical version of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. Leading them, there was usually a wild-looking doctor — typically a white man claiming to be Native American or at least to have studied herbal healing with “Indian medicine men.”  What the shows really dispensed was exotic flare: banjo-playing minstrels, brass bands, even freak shows.

The traveling outfits also raked in thousands of dollars by touting medicinal cure-alls for common ailments, as Indian doctors announced their ability to cure practically all known ills — from dysentery, headaches and “private diseases” (venereal in nature) to dreaded cases of tuberculosis, cholera, and cancer.  Elixirs were only part of the lure. These doctors often doubled as dentists and yanked rotten teeth by the thousands.  In the days before anesthetics, brass bands covered up patients’ screams inside the wagon.  Music and entertainment also helped drown out the protests of local doctors and dentists, whose business these shows cut in on.

While the heyday of the Indian medicine shows came after the Civil War, the “Indian doctor” phenomenon goes back farther than that, piggy-backing off the dearth of professional doctors in pioneer settlements and the primitive state of “scientific” medicine itself.  Southerners who moved to the Midwestern frontier had often lived for a while in Appalachia, where white settlers took an interest in traditional medicine practiced by the Cherokee and Choctaw.  German and Scots-Irish settlers also had a medical heritage of their own going back to medieval Europe.


Indian Guide to Health

(This early Indian Guide to Health [1836] contains some of the often bizarre knowledge gleaned from medicine on the Appalachian frontier. The author was an early Hoosier doctor, Squire H. Selman — alias “Pocahontus Nonoquet” — who studied with the Kentucky doctor-adventurer Richard Carter.  Son of an English physician and a métis woman, Carter enjoyed one of the most thriving medical practices on the Ohio Valley frontier.  Selman went on to practice medicine in Columbus, Indiana.)


It’s a curious fact that one of the first doctors in Indianapolis was a 24-year-old “Indian doctor” from North Carolina.  The man also had an unforgettable name:  Dr. William Kelley Frohawk Fryer.  (In 1851, the Indiana State Sentinel thought his initials stood for “Dr. William Kellogg Francis Fryer,” but we sincerely hope that it really was “Frohawk.” That name appears on the cover of his own book.)

Dr. Fryer claimed to have studied medicine with Native Americans and was remembered by Indianapolis historians as an Indian doctor “of ancient memory.”  Some of his repertory of cures, however, apparently came from “pow-wow,” an old form of Pennsylvania German faith healing.  That practice was known as Braucherei or Spielwerk (spell-work) in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, and pow-wow practitioners (Brauchers or Hexenmeisters) drew on spells and folk remedies that probably go back to the world of Roman Catholic folk healing, forced underground in Germany after the Reformation. (The word pow-wow was either of Algonquin origin or a mispronunciation of the English “power” but had nothing to do with Native American medicine.)  The first book on pow-wow, published by German immigrant Johann Georg Hohman in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1820, anthologized many of these magical healings, talismans, and charms, based partly on occult “white magic” meant to ward off “black magic” or witchcraft. Pow-wow used esoteric words, sometimes from the Bible, as a form of healing and was explicitly Christian in nature, even reminding some of Jesus’ miracles accomplished via saliva.  Brauchers allegedly cured livestock by putting magical words into their feeding troughs.


powwow_3

(From John George Hohman’s Der Verborgene Freund [The Long-Lost Friend], 1820.  The book is still in print.)


Pow-wow, which claimed to cure “both men and animals,” became an unorthodox form of spiritual medicine among Lutherans, Amish, Mennonites and Dunkers at a time when university-trained doctors were hard to come by even on the East Coast. Sometimes called “Christian voodoo,” pow-wow might even figure into the origin of the hex signs you can still see on barns.  (It led to a “Hex Murder Trial” in 1929.)  As a form of medical treatment, pow-wow’s heyday is long-gone, but it is still practiced on the sly in rural eastern Pennsylvania and was probably once part of folk medicine in the rural Midwest, wherever Pennsylvania Germans settled.


hex postcard

(Some scholars believe the hex tradition came out of pow-wow.)


In 1839, the year Dr. William Kelley Frohawk Fryer published his own Indian Guide to Health in Indianapolis, the Hoosier capitol city was just a few steps out of the wilderness.  Fryer believed in “vegetable medicine.”  He would probably have been able to find most of the roots and herbs he needed for medications in the swamps, bottomlands, and woodlands that still covered Marion County.  There’s even some evidence that he provided medical treatment in exchange for plants.  A clip from the Indiana State Sentinel in June 1886 states that he ran a place called “The Sanative House,” probably near his home on “South Illinois Street, near the Catholic school on Georgia.”  But Dr. Fryer was long gone by 1886. In the late 1840s, the young doctor moved down to Mobile, Alabama, then to New Orleans, where he advertised his manual on health (printed in Indianapolis) for sale nationwide.  Early front-page ads in the New Orleans Daily Crescent also carry glowing testimonials (maybe fictional) from his former patients back in central Indiana.


The Daily Crescent (New Orleans), July 25, 1850 (4)

(W.K.F. Fryer claimed to have relieved more than 100,000 patients from ailments as diverse as stuttering, yellow fever, and cancer.  He was still in business in New Orleans in the 1870s, when his name appears in the city directory on a list of physicians.  This ad appeared on the front page of The Daily Crescent, July 25, 1850.)


As the number of college-trained doctors and dentists back East grew after the Civil War, “Indian doctors” were squeezed out to the West and Midwest — where many claimed to have learned their trade in the first place, straight from Native American healers and shamans.  (It’s hard to say how many of these claims are true, but a few of them probably are.)  Yet “folk doctors” weren’t necessarily bad and provided the rudiments of medical care to some patients who couldn’t afford a university-trained physician, who simply had no access to one, or who (like African Americans) were even cruelly experimented on by the medical establishment.

J.P. Dunn, an early Indianapolis historian, wrote that Indiana was a “free-for-all medical state” until 1885.  During the 1800s, American doctors and state and local officials gradually began driving “quack” doctors out of business (or at least out of town) by requiring all practitioners to hold medical licenses.  The establishment didn’t always succeed at this. As early as 1831, legislators in remote Arkansas Territory tried to outlaw quackery.  Their law, known popularly as the “Medical Aristocracy Bill,” was vetoed by the territory’s one-armed governor John Pope, a former Kentucky senator.  Pope objected to it on the grounds that it violated “the spirit of liberty” and said: “Let every man be free to employ whom he pleases where he alone is concerned.”  The governor also took a swipe at college-trained “professionals,” pointing out that

many who have gone through a regular course in the medical schools are grossly ignorant of the theory or practice of medicine. They are mere smatterers in the science. With a piece of parchment in their pocket, and a little superficial learning, they are arrogant, rash and more dangerous quacks than those who adopt the profession from a sort of instinct, or a little practical observation.

Pope may have been right.  Whether educated or not, pioneer doctors sometimes killed whole families by accident.  (My great-grandmother’s grandfather, one of the first settlers of Rosedale, Indiana, was orphaned in 1846 by a doctor who prescribed a deadly concoction of some sort to his parents and one of his brothers.  As late as 1992, then, there was a Hoosier woman still living who had actually been raised by a man victimized as a young boy by pioneer medicine.)


Williams gravestone

(“All died September 15, 1846.”  Boatman Cemetery, Parke County, Indiana.)


In 1885, Indiana finally passed a law requiring doctors either to show that they had studied at “some reputable medical college” or had practiced medicine in the Hoosier State continuously for ten years preceding the date of the act.  In April 1885, the Indiana Medical Journal endorsed this new law, saying: “It will probably make a few of the hundreds of quacks who now infest Indiana seek more congenial climes, and if enforced will prevent quacks from other states from settling within our borders.”

Yet the number of known Indian doctors operating in the state that year was low:


The Waterloo Press, June 12, 1884

(The Waterloo Press, Waterloo, Indiana, June 12, 1884.  “Accouchar” was a misspelling of accoucheur, a male midwife or obstetrician.)


As J.P. Dunn pointed out, the tough question became: what was a “reputable medical college?”  County clerks, not medical organizations, issued doctor’s licenses.  Dunn wrote that since a county clerk only got paid if he issued a license, “he was usually liberal in his views” about the meaning of the word “reputable.”  A state examination board for licensing doctors wasn’t set up in Indiana until 1897.

By then, one of the most outrageously colorful Indian doctors had already had his day in the Hoosier State and gone to his own grave.

For a few summers in the early 1880s, Dr. J.I. Lighthall, “King of Diamonds,” crisscrossed the Midwest sporting a flashy, diamond-studded suit, selling his herbal remedies and often giving them away to the poor, while also earning notoriety as a “tooth-yanker.” Lighthall caught the interest of the press and annoyed local doctors in Terre Haute, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Richmond, Seymour and Columbus.


The Indian Household Medicine Guide, 1883

(Dr. Lighthall’s Indian Household Medicine Guide was published from his home base of Peoria, Illinois, in 1883.)


At the beginning of his Indian Household Medicine Guide, Lighthall claimed he was born in 1856 in Tiskilwa, a small Illinois River town north of Peoria. He announced that he was of one-eighth Wyandot heritage on his father’s side and had left home at age eleven to go out West to study botany with the Indians. If that’s true, in the 1870s the teenage Lighthall lived with tribes in Minnesota, Wyoming, Kansas and Oklahoma, picking up ethnobotanical knowledge on the Plains.  He also grew out his hair, cultivating a look that some women, at least, found sultry and exotic.


Dr. J.I. Lighthall

(This poster was printed by Cullaton & Co., Richmond, Indiana, where the twenty-something Dr. Lighthall was “Curing hundreds of people daily, at his Camp on Main St.”)


By around 1880, Lighthall had set up shop in Peoria, Illinois.  His mother apparently cooked barrels-full of his herb-, root-, and bark-based medicaments, then bottled them and shipped them by railroad or wagon.  When it came to naming his drugs, he skipped the big Latin and Greek words of modern pharmacology and came up with picturesque names like “King of Pain” and “Spanish Oil.”  Some were probably cut with whiskey, cocaine, opium, and morphine. Lighthall also offered an array of 19th-century popular medicine’s omnipresent “blood purifiers” and “liver regulators,” miracle liquids commonly advertised in mainstream newspapers — partly to keep journalism itself afloat when subscriptions lagged.

As his business picked up, the Doc put together a brass band and went into makeshift dentistry on the street.


Indiana State Sentinel, February 3, 1886

(Indiana State Sentinel, February 3, 1886.)


Educated skeptics abounded, but some of his herbal medications might actually have proven beneficial as “home remedies” for less serious ailments.  The official medical view is that some patients were probably cured by the “placebo effect” (i.e., a belief in a cure led to a real improvement due to reduced stress about the illness). Curiously, one of the real health benefits of Lighthall’s medicine shows was that he got sick people to laugh.

Although the “doc” gave off an aura of the Wild West, most of his short career as an Indian doctor was spent in Indiana and Illinois. Lighthall typically rolled into a town and stayed for a few weeks or months, long enough to garner local notoriety.  Like a well-known politician in 2016 who shall go unnamed, he probably did and said outrageous things in public on purpose to augment his fame — few of which ever seemed to hurt him. However angry the doctors and medical establishment got, “common folk” kept flocking to his medicine wagon. Dr. Lighthall’s entertainment troupe, newspapers reported, resembled a circus and was made up of about 60 “Spaniards,” “Mexicans” and “half-breeds” — and some Hoosiers from Fort Wayne.

Cleverly, Lighthall sympathized with the poor, sometimes handing out free medicine bottles wrapped in $10 and $20 bills to customers who couldn’t afford them.  While the doctor won fame for such “charity,” thousands of others forked out their nickels and dimes for entertainment — money Lighthall would throw into the air to attract an even bigger crowd.  Others came to have their teeth rapidly yanked, often for “free.”  Yet in spite of all the freebies, within a year or two, Lighthall was rumored to be worth about $150,000 (maybe ten times that much in today’s money.)  He wore clothes and a hat studded with valuable diamonds and cut an impressive appearance in public.  Women were attracted to him.  He put his gems on display at a Louisville jewel shop.  A Kentucky hat store sold a line of Lighthall-inspired Texas hats.

Lawmen and doctors tried to do him in, but usually failed.  A court in Decatur, Illinois, summoned him to appear in October 1883 for illegally practicing medicine there.  Ironically, he had just come back to Decatur from Terre Haute, where “the Philistines” and Indiana’s “sun of civilization” drove him back over the state line.


Decatur Daily Republican, July 27, 1883

(Decatur Daily Republican, July 27, 1883.)


Decatur Daily Republican, August 23, 1883

(Decatur Daily Republican, August 23, 1883.)


The Daily Review (Decatur, IL), October 17, 1883

(The Daily Review, Decatur, Illinois, October 17, 1883.  Though the doc was fined, he later produced a bogus diploma from the “University of Tennessee at Clarksville.”)


The following summer, July 1884, Dr. Lighthall’s show rolled into Fort Wayne and camped out for a few months “near the baseball park. . . The joint resembles a circus.”


The Fort Wayne Sentinel, July 25, 1884

(The Fort Wayne Sentinel, July 25, 1884.)


The Fort Wayne Sentinel, July 28, 1884

(The Fort Wayne Sentinel, July 28, 1884.)


His tooth-yanking sometimes got him into legal trouble, as when he got sued for allegedly breaking a man’s jaw in Indianapolis during a complicated dental extraction.  Lighthall’s apparent love for the ladies also turned public opinion against him.  While camped out along East Washington Street in Indianapolis in 1885, he got booked by the cops for being “rowdy” at a “house of ill fame.”  Locals accused him of trying to get two young girls near Fountain Square to run away with his troupe and “go on the stage.”

However dangerous and perhaps lecherous he might have been, Lighthall provided heavy doses of entertainment.  On a trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee, in early 1885, the Doc got into a bloody tooth-yanking feud with a Frenchwoman engaged “in a similar line of business.”  She was dressed as an “Indian princess.” The bizarre fight that followed deserves to be restored to the annals of history.  (We also find it amazingly allegorical this election year.)


The Daily Gazette (Fort Wayne, Indiana), March 31, 1885

The Daily Gazette (Fort Wayne, Indiana), March 31, 1885 (2)

(The Daily Gazette, Fort Wayne, Indiana, March 31, 1885.)


Lighthall may have engaged in just such a “contest” in Indianapolis:

Decatur Daily Republican, July 14, 1885 (2)

(Decatur Daily Republican, July 14, 1885.)


After he left Louisville and the Jeffersonville area one summer, moving north to Seymour and Columbus, the Jefferonsville News reported that local dentists were busy repairing the damage Doc Lighthall had done to Hoosier jaws.

For better or worse, the Indian doctor’s (and yanker’s) own days were numbered.  By January 1886, he had headed south for the winter, encamping in San Antonio, where he was reported to be successfully filching Texas greenhorns of their greenbacks. Tragically, a smallpox epidemic broke out in un-vaccinated San Antonio that month.  The 30-year-old’s medical knowledge couldn’t save him.  He “died in his tent” on January 25, 1886.  Several men from Fort Wayne who were performing with his troupe might also have succumbed to small pox.


The Fort Wayne Sentinel, January 27, 1886

(The Fort Wayne Sentinel, January 27, 1886.)


News of his demise quickly flashed over Midwestern newspapers, in towns where he had become well-known in days just gone by:

Decatur Daily Republican, January 26, 1886

(Decatur Daily Republican, Decatur, Illinois, January 26, 1886.)


Though rumor had it that Lighthall owned an expensive mansion and a medicine factory back in Peoria, he was buried at San Antonio’s City Cemetery #3, not far from The Alamo.  Fittingly, there are bellflowers carved onto his gravestone:


Lighthall grave

(Findagrave.com)


He’s been forgotten today, but Dr. J.I. Lighthall’s fame briefly lived on, with at least one Hoosier writing to ask if he was alive or dead in 1888:

Indianapolis News, March 5, 1888

(Indianapolis News, March 5, 1888.)


“Indian doctors” weren’t even on their way out the door when Lighthall died in Texas in 1886.  In 1900, in spite of efforts to regulate the practice of medicine, the patent medicine business was still reckoned to be worth about $80 million a year.  Several major traveling shows thrived into the 1950s.  By then, industrial pharmaceuticals and the discovery of antibiotics had launched medicine into a new era, but the entertainment aspect of the business kept it alive until radio and television killed it off.

Whatever the medicine shows did for the human body, they were definitely good for the soul, as the early 20th-century troupes helped fuel the rise of jazz, blues and country.  In 1983, folklorist Steve Zeitlin and filmmaker Paul Wagner were still able to find some old medicine show performers in a rural North Carolina town — the subject of their documentary Free Show Tonight.

New Titles Uploaded — 27,000 New Pages!

The Fiery Cross, June 29, 1923

Hoosier State Chronicles has just uploaded several brand new titles into our online search engine.

Historians, genealogists and other curious researchers can now dig into some historic newspapers from Bloomington, Indianapolis, Bedford, Hammond, New Richmond, Sullivan, Smithville, and tiny Orland up in Steuben County.  While our available run of Hammond’s Lake County Times currently includes just three years (1920-22), we’ll add issues of that great paper back to its start in 1906 in coming months.

Our newest batch also includes a controversial choice for Hoosier State Chronicles, but one which is of enormous historical value:  the Ku Klux Klan’s Fiery Cross.  From the early to mid-1920s, the Klan edited and printed its influential Indiana State edition from the Century Building in downtown Indianapolis at a time when the Invisible Empire was largely headquartered in Indy.  Although HSC and the Indiana State Library in no way endorse the views of the KKK, we trust you’ll find The Fiery Cross a fascinating read.  The paper is an integral part of the history of radical right-wing politics, nativism, anti-Catholicism, anti-Semitism, white supremacy, the battle over religion in public schools, and American attitudes toward immigration.  Cast a glance at American politics today and what seems like old 1920s news is still hugely relevant.

We expect that some members of the public might be offended by our making The Fiery Cross available on the web, but we stand by its value as a historic document.  If you’re looking for a strong anti-Klan perspective, many Hoosier editors took a stand against the group in the 1920s.  We recommend several papers available in Hoosier State Chronicles:  the African American Indianapolis Recorder, George R. Dale’s ferocious (and humorous) Muncie Post-Democrat, and the great Indianapolis News.  The microfilm collections of the Indiana State Library also contain two other notable Indianapolis newspapers that opposed the KKK.  These are the Pulitzer Prize-winning Indianapolis Times and the Indiana Catholic & Record, forerunner of the Catholic archdiocese’s current newsletter, The Criterion.

Although the Indiana Klan’s heyday ended in the late 1920s, we would also like to point out that Hoosier State Chronicles makes available the Jewish Post & Opinion from the date of its inception in Indianapolis in 1933 all the way up to 2005 — a paper that has fought for many decades to raise awareness of racism in the U.S. and abroad.

Here’s a full list of what’s new on HSC this month:

Onions vs. Cancer

anti-onion gas mask

What’s the connection between Quakers, whalers, cancer and onions?  Here’s some unexpected medical history from the Hoosier State.

While flipping through a few of the oldest Indiana newspapers, we ran across several “vintage cures” — including a couple of surprising ones for cancer, a disease that was as feared in 1816 as it is now, though the pioneers suffered from exponentially lower rates of it.

Oddly enough, the first remedy here, which claims to be able to treat cancer with onions, might not be bogus.

Modern medical research agrees with “folk” doctors on one thing, at least:  regardless of the real havoc wreaked on your breath, garlic and onions are potent cancer-fighting foods.  These veggies rank up there with broccoli, wild berries, ginger, olive oil, and a daily glass of wine as one of nature’s best weapons against tumors.

Onions have figured into medical practice for far longer than chemotherapy and radiation.  Alternative practitioners and cancer patients often claim that vegetable-based remedies are at least as effective as chemo and radiation therapy — and they avoid the psychological side effects.  Red onions, containing high amounts of a “flavonoid” called quercetin, are a strong antioxidant, antihistamine, and natural antibiotic.  Quercetin helps protect cells and DNA against damage and reduces cholesterol and inflammation. Not only do onions lend a hand in preventing cancer to begin with, they seem to help rid the body of it.


onions 2


Believe it or not, an onion remedy for cancer appears (as a reprint) in Indiana’s oldest newspaper, the Vincennes Western Sun.  This 1811 remedy — published when Vincennes was still the capital of Indiana Territory and just a few months before the Battle of Tippecanoe — isn’t too far off from the “onion juice therapy” still touted in alternative medicine.

It’s doubly interesting that the list of “signers” who vouched for the cure is headed by a woman, Jane Starbuck.


starbuck

(Western Sun, Vincennes, Indiana, June 29, 1811.)


Genealogical records indicate that the Jane Starbuck who had apparently gotten involved in “folk medicine” and tried to help cancer patients was probably a Quaker named Jane Taylor Starbuck (1755-1834).   Her “receipt” (i.e., recipe) for an onion-based cure made its way into the Vincennes Western Sun by way of a copy of the Raleigh Star that was brought from North Carolina to the Wabash Valley and read by editor Elihu Stout.  (The Western Sun contains almost no local news, which would have traveled by word of mouth in a small place like Vincennes.  Stout, however, was always eager to pass on news from back East and down South.)

Jane Taylor Starbuck lived in Guilford County, North Carolina, birthplace of several thousand Quakers who began moving north to Indiana just before the War of 1812.  Most came for new land, but many came to get away from slavery, which most — not all — Quakers opposed.  Jane Taylor Starbuck seems to have stayed in the South, but her son Edward Starbuck, who also endorsed the cancer cure, joined the Quaker exodus to the Midwest.  Edward, born in 1777, settled just east of Fountain City in Wayne County.  His brother William Starbuck, another Quaker pioneer, is thought to have bought twenty-one slaves in North Carolina before he came north — a clever move against slavery, perhaps, since he set them all free when they got to Indiana.  (Even free African Americans moving north often traveled with and settled near Quakers for protection.)

If the name “Starbuck” means more to you than coffee, you’ve probably read Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.  The Starbuck family, into which Jane Taylor married in 1776, were prominent whalers on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts.  While the Starbuck who served as chief mate of Captain Ahab’s doomed Pequod — sunk by the white whale in the South Seas — was a fictional cousin of these Hoosier pioneers, Melville’s story was based on the very real fate of the Essex, a Nantucket whaling ship that was crushed and sunk by a sperm whale in 1820.  The Essex’s crew, floating around the Pacific Ocean on rowboats, were reduced to cannibalism and drew lots to see who would die next.  One of the unlucky victims was a teenage sailor from Nantucket, Owen Coffin.


moby dick 2


Now if the name “Coffin” means more to you than a casket, maybe you’ve visited the home of the “President” of the Underground Railroad, Levi Coffin, in Fountain City, Indiana.  Coffin’s house is just a few miles from Edward Starbuck’s farm.  One of the bravest men in Hoosier history, Levi Coffin was another ardent Quaker from Guilford County, North Carolina.  He moved to Indiana in 1826 and began funneling escaped slaves toward Canada almost as soon as he arrived.

Like the Starbucks, Levi Coffin was originally from New Garden, North Carolina, but had Nantucket family roots. He almost definitely knew Jane Taylor Starbuck and her son Edward. (Both families belonged to the New Garden Quaker Meeting.) Coffin himself was a cousin of Jane Starbuck’s husband, William, who was a Nantucket native, reared among the whalers and seafarers of colonial Massachusetts.  From his Indiana farmhouse, Levi Coffin showed as much fearlessness as his New England cousins and grandparents did sailing the remote seas.


Levi Coffin

(Levi Coffin, 1798-1877, who with his wife Catherine fought the cancer of slavery and survived to see its death, lived just north of Richmond. Their Indiana home has been called the “Grand Central Station” of the Underground Railroad.  They helped thousands evade slave catchers.)


In his memoirs, Coffin mentions an Edward Starbuck.  He and the man who offered a cancer remedy in 1811 appear to be one and the same. (Coffin wrote that an Edward Starbuck also helped him found an anti-liquor society in Fountain City — then called Newport — in 1830, when the fugitive slave conductor was also beginning a “War on King Alcohol.”)  Edward Starbuck himself lived on a farm between Whitewater and Fountain City, a few miles from Ohio.  At some point, Starbuck apparently left the Quakers to become a Methodist minister.

Here’s the onion cure — which called for more than onions, by the way.  It also required puccoon root (blood root), used in both European and American Indian pharmacology for generations as an antibiotic.  (American Indians also used it as a dye.) The Western Sun of Vincennes printed this alleged cure on June 9, 1811.


Western Sun, June 29, 1811 (1)

Western Sun, June 29, 1811 (2)

Western Sun, June 29, 1811 (3)

Western Sun, June 29, 1811 (4)

(Western Sun, Vincennes, Indiana, June 29, 1811.)


A decade later, “cures for cancer” were still coming out in American newspapers.  The 19th century turned out to be a golden age of questionable — if not downright dangerous — panaceas, some of them offered by doctors, some by quacks.  Even some university-trained practitioners swore they could make a patient cancer-free.

It’s hard to blame anybody for trying, but this cure, reprinted in the Richmond Weekly Intelligencer in 1822 and which seems to recommend some kind of cauterization, would be impossible to vouch for.


Richmond Weekly Intelligencer, August 28, 1822 (1)

Richmond Weekly Intelligencer, August 28, 1822 (2)

(Richmond Weekly Intelligencer, August 28, 1822.)

Jewels & Starvation

Goodrich on Relief Commission, February 1922 (1)

What is Indiana’s connection to one of Europe’s greatest unsolved mysteries:  the whereabouts of Russia’s lost crown jewels?   While some of the historic diadems are now back on display in Moscow, in the 1920s many were considered missing.  Some are still unaccounted for.  (One of the most credible stories claims that these gems lie buried in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia.)

In 1922, former Indiana governor James P. Goodrich was allowed to take an unexpected peek at the elusive Romanov treasures when he went to the Soviet Union on a humanitarian aid mission.  And what he saw in Moscow bedazzled him.

Goodrich, a native of Winchester, Indiana, was governor during World War I. A lifelong Republican, he is best known for signing statewide Prohibition into law in 1917.  (He was also governor when women won the right to vote and when Indiana’s state park system was founded.) As a banker with a knack for investments, Goodrich was well-known for his success at marketing war bonds in Indiana, where sales skyrocketed.  Yet the governor himself barely the survived the war years.  In 1917, he contracted typhoid fever while visiting a northern Indiana prison. Then, a year later, Goodrich — like Theodore Roosevelt in 1902 — was struck by a streetcar, an accident that nearly killed him and left him walking with a cane for the rest of his life.


Goodrich with Theodore Roosevelt, 1918

 (Goodrich, right, with Theodore Roosevelt in 1918.)


The Hoosier governor ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1920, losing to Warren Harding.  Yet once Goodrich was out of the governor’s office in 1921, President Harding persuaded the banker to accept a humanitarian post in the new Soviet Union.

Tsarist Russia had collapsed during World War I.  During the Russian Revolution, Tsar Nicholas and his family were executed — reportedly while wearing hidden gems sown into their clothing — and the country fell into a bloody civil war.  Vladimir Lenin’s Bolsheviks came out on top in 1922, the year Goodrich arrived in Russia.  Yet by then, the combined effects of war, revolution, and famine had killed, and were still killing, millions.

Americans had already gotten involved in bringing humanitarian relief to hungry, war-ravaged Europe.  In addition to the work of American Mennonites, Jews, and Quakers, future U.S. president Herbert Hoover was directing the new American Relief Association (ARA).

Hoover, a geologist and Quaker from Iowa who had spent years living overseas, where he managed mining operations in Australia, China and Russia, was also a successful businessman.  During World War I, he managed food drives to help war-torn Belgium.  As director of various food initiatives, Hoover — known as “The Great Humanitarian” and “Master of Emergencies” — worked with the American Friends Service Committee and other groups to bring aid to millions of desperately hungry Europeans, including Russians, who soon found themselves caught in one of the deadliest famines in human history.


ARA poster(“Gift of the American People,” a poster advertising the American Relief Administration’s efforts against famine in Russia during the early 1920s.)


Herbert Hoover was a friend to Russians, but not to communism. He wanted Russians to see Americans’ generosity, and America to see the results of communist cruelty.  When James Goodrich and his wife Cora left Winchester, Indiana, in 1921, sailing aboard the SS Kroonland for Europe, this was partly so that the former Hoosier governor could witness “what the real difficulties of this foolish economic system [Communism] are.”  Goodrich agreed to come and learn “the truth about Russia,” which turned out to be more horrifying than he bargained for.  He would spend two years there, off and on, as an ARA commissioner.  Yet ten years before the U.S. finally recognized the Soviet Union in 1933, Goodrich urged opening up diplomatic relations — partly because he saw the USSR as an unavoidable fact, partly because the survival of millions of humans might be found to rely on American aid.


James and Cora Goodrich 1921(James and Cora Goodrich’s passport application, 1921.)


South Bend News-Times, September 18, 1921

(South Bend News-Times, September 18, 1921.)


Almost as soon as Goodrich got to Russia, he began to witness signs of a massive, mostly man-made disaster.  Like most famines, the one that killed six million Russians in the early 1920s was almost completely avoidable.  Nature wasn’t the biggest culprit.  The real killers were politics, greed, war, and deliberate human cruelty.

As early as 1919, Hoover’s food administration had offered help to Russia on the condition that Western relief agencies be given control of Russian railroads.  This was to make sure that food reached the people who needed it.  Lenin turned down that offer. During the Russian Civil War, armies used food as a weapon, stealing it from peasant farmers.  Russian peasants didn’t often support the Communists, and when they saw their food being stolen, many farmers cut their production back.  Other peasants, especially wealthier ones, were accused of hoarding food.  By 1921, Lenin — whom Governor Goodrich met — was ordering that food be deliberately taken away from peasants to crush their resistance to the revolution.

As he toured parts of the rural Volga region, Goodrich saw almost no dogs.  Dogs had been turned into sausages.  He found small children shivering and crying in sheds, abandoned or orphaned and living off cabbage leaves.  Many Russians were on the edge of death.  One winter, he saw a man eating green bread.  Asked what it was, the man told him this was “camel’s dung mixed with grass.”


Russian famine 1921(Starving children in Russia’s Volga region, 1921.)


Though Goodrich saw mass graves, he was spared some of the worst sights, which involved cannibalism.  Yet his testimony about the Russian famine helped double the amount of relief authorized by Congress. He encouraged American cooperation in rebuilding Russia, which, he suggested, would partly require the export of American tractors.

At the height of the famine, it is estimated that the American Relief Administration was feeding about 10 million people a day.  This was only possible after Lenin finally agreed to let Western aid groups feed his own people.


Goodrich during Russian Famine

(Goodrich, second from left, in Russia, February 1922.)


So where do the crown jewels come in?

Although the Bolshevik government rejected capitalism, it needed more than just Western food.  It needed Western money.  As in Ireland during the Famine of the 1840s, Lenin’s government was exporting grain for cash while millions starved at home.  Money from abroad was to be used to build up Soviet industry.  Yet in addition to money from grain, the Bolsheviks also looked for outright loans from the West.

As collateral, Lenin was willing to use the most valuable items the Communists could get their hands on — the imperial Russian crown jewels.

The American press was full of wild stories about these gems in the 1920s.  As the South Bend News-Times told Hoosiers — with disgust — the Romanov dynasty’s orbs, scepters, crowns, and dazzling pearls were thought to be worth about 60 billion dollars, “equal to all the money that will be earned this year by all Americans combined,” the editors thought.  The Hoosier paper considered the allure and value attached to those fabled gemstones “preposterously ridiculous” — especially when so many humans were dead or dying of hunger.


South Bend News-Times, September 21, 1922

(South Bend News-Times, September 21, 1922.)


To keep their treasures safe, the Romanov family had broken up the jewel collection, sending some of it to a monastery in Siberia. According to a 2009 story in the Los Angeles Times, another pile of the gems was clandestinely buried in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert when a Russian aristocrat who was hauling them to China got attacked by bandits.  He later fled to America, married an American silver heiress, and never made it back to dig up the jewels.

Though Lenin’s government had confiscated some of the stones and was offering them as collateral on foreign loans, the only Western country that took up the offer was the new Republic of Ireland. After photographs were taken in Moscow in 1922, the Russian imperial crown traveled to New York City, where it was given to Irish revolutionaries in exchange for a loan of just $25,000.  Almost forgotten, the Tsars’ crown stayed in Dublin until 1950, when the Soviet government under Joseph Stalin finally repaid the loan and got the crown back.


Soviets examing Russian crown jewels

(Soviets examining the crown jewels, 1922.)


USGS -- Russian crown jewels

(In 2012, some previously undiscovered photos of the jewels that James Goodrich may have seen in Moscow turned up in the library of the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Virginia.   Courtesy U.S. Geological Survey.)


On a trip to Russia in June 1922, Goodrich had an unusual experience.  One morning he was approached by a Soviet official and asked if he wanted to see some unnamed government property. Goodrich was annoyed, thinking this was probably going to be a pile of furs in a warehouse.  When he and his wife Cora arrived, however, they were introduced to a jeweler, who started showing them a book full of photos of rare gems.

To the Goodriches’ surprise, the jeweler then had three iron chests brought out.  Once the latches were broken open in the presence of “Red Guards,” the former Hoosier governor and first lady found themselves staring directly at the dazzling Russian crown jewels.

On June 14, 1922, Goodrich recorded in his diary:

“It was a perfectly marvelous collection.  The old Czar’s crown, the crowns of the Czarina and the various members of the royal family, with diamonds varying from one to 200 carats, all of the purest water, and wonderful color. Crowns of diamonds, of diamonds and pearls, emeralds, rubies and amethysts; collars, bracelets, necklaces. The scene beggared description. I never saw anything like it; it did not seem possible there could be so many jewels in the world.”

He looked at the gems “until my eyes were weary with the blaze of light.”


St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 3, 1922(St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 3, 1922.)


When this news got back to America, the press jumped on the story about the Hoosier governor’s encounter with the “royal toys.”

The South Bend News-Times stated that “Mrs. Goodrich wore a crown worth $4,000,000 which had belonged to the Empress Elizabeth. . . The governor remarked he didn’t want to see Mrs. Goodrich become accustomed to wearing $4,000,000 hats.”

Details about which jewels they saw are sketchy, but the crowns may have once been owned by Peter the Great and Catherine the Great.  Among the greatest gems in the collection is the famous Orloff diamond.  An ancient stone first mentioned almost 2,000 years ago in India, that diamond had been stolen from a Hindu temple in the 1700s by a French soldier and later came into the hands of Catherine the Great as a gift from her lover.


South Bend News-Times, August 25, 1922

(South Bend News-Times, August 25, 1922.)


Governor Goodrich wasn’t entirely sure why Lenin’s representatives showed him the crown jewels.  He guessed it was so he could go home and assure the U.S. government that the Soviets hadn’t broken up the hugely valuable collection.  Even Communist countries needed capital, yet diamonds and pearls were useless to the Communists unless they could be exchanged for money.  Used as a guarantee on loans, the Romanov gems would, it was hoped, help the USSR develop industrially.

The American government wasn’t interested in the jewels, but the press and public definitely were.  Stories started to crop up.  In January 1923, a special agent from the U.S. Treasury Department told the New York Times that the crown jewels are “hardy perennials and bloom the year round.  We count the day lost when we don’t get a report about them.”

In Brooklyn that month, a rumor was going around that James Jones, an African American seaman who had sailed on a vessel out of Vladivostok, Siberia, was actively smuggling jewels for Soviet agents.  In 1920, Jones mysteriously died at sea off the coast of Gibraltar.  His embalmed body was sealed up in a metal coffin — alongside the crown jewels, so the story went.

Federal officials from the Treasury Department blew the tale off at first.  But by February 1923, reports of suspicious activity around Jones’ grave at a military cemetery in Brooklyn forced the War Department to station an armed guard there.  To save expense on the guard, the coffin was exhumed, as heavily-armed soldiers stood by.  No crown jewels were found inside, but “reports” continued to come in.


Richmond Palladium, February 2, 1923 (2)

(Richmond Palladium, Richmond, Indiana, February 2, 1923.)


Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 14, 1923

(Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 14, 1923.)


James Goodrich lived in Winchester until his death in 1940.  Though he never approved of Communism and insisted that Russia’s new government was no better than “cheap east side politicians and shopkeepers,” it was said that the only time he ever approved of a Democratic politician’s actions was when Franklin Roosevelt recognized the USSR in 1933.

As for absolute power, it corrupts absolutely.  In June 1923, when the news came out that Lenin’s government was still exporting grain — even as millions of tons of it came in from American farmers — Herbert Hoover’s ARA shut down its aid operations in Russia.  The Soviet government took over the feeding of its own people, but had to work for years to undermine the good impressions that American relief workers had made.  Yet when Stalin came to power in the 1930s, “execution by hunger” continued. In 1932-33, a decade after the first famine, another six million people in the USSR were starved to death in the name of revolution.

Real wealth will always be measured in good deeds.


South Bend News-Times, September 2, 1922

(South Bend News-Times, September 2, 1922.)

Junk, “Jap Students” and Dr. Seuss

Dale News, September 11, 1942 (1)

A few weeks ago, we ran a post on how peach stones, chestnuts, and coconut shells got enlisted into World War I.  In 1917, the U.S. government began a campaign to gather fruit pits and other agricultural waste that could be used in manufacturing charcoal filters for army gas masks — a life-saving device partly invented by Hoosier chemical engineer James Bert Garner.

The “war to end all wars,” of course, failed to do so.  Twenty years later, America was on the verge of an even worse conflict. And in 1942, the familiar specter of junk rallies and war-bond drives returned to American newspapers.

Across the U.S., papers advertised the army and navy’s dire need for rubber, scrap iron, and “anything made of metal.”  Most of the ads were nationally syndicated, and no one local newspaper can take credit for these darkly comic illustrations of ordinary domestic items turned into deadly weapons.

Like a scene from Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, old radiators, lawn-mowers and worn-out tires were turned into instruments of fighting and killing, from rifles and shells to grim-looking gas masks and hand grenades.


Dale News, August 28, 1942 (1)

(The Dale News, August 28, 1942.)


The government’s scrap conservation campaign broke down the math.  This ad comes from Dale in Spencer County, Indiana, just down the road from Lincoln’s boyhood home and the small town of Santa Claus.


Dale News, August 21, 1942 (1)

(The Dale News, Spencer County, Indiana, August 21, 1942.)


Drawn by an illustrator for the Conservation Division of the War Production Board, the illustrations were taken out and paid for by the American Industries Salvage Committee.  Business at local scrap yards was booming in 1942.  The ads stated that scrap material would be purchased at government-controlled prices.

In what was actually one of America’s first recycling programs, the call went out for refrigerators, garbage pails, broken garden tools, lengths of pipe, burlap bags, manila bags, copper wires, zinc, lead, tin, and any kind of old rubber.  Rusty scrap metal, the committee reminded Americans, was “actually refined steel, with most impurities removed — and can be quickly melted with new metal in the form of pig iron to produce highest quality steel for our war machines.”  In 1942, the U.S. armed forces — just months after Pearl Harbor — needed an additional six million tons of scrap steel for weapons production.

The government also encouraged “good Americans” to give up something else:  Sunday country drives and “joy-riding.” Unnecessary shopping trips to town and failure to use public transportation sapped gasoline at a time when Nazi submarines were torpedoing hundreds of oil tankers off the Atlantic Coast. Unnecessary driving and fast driving also added to the rubber shortage by wearing down tires.  So did driving with the wrong tire pressure, as a Phillips 66 ad informed the patriotic public.

If only that conservation effort could have carried over into peace time. . . no matter how restless the joy-riding doggies got:


National Road Traveler, September 3, 1942

(National Road Traveler, Cambridge City, Indiana, September 3, 1942.)


Since farmers were likely to have plenty of scrap metal hanging around their property, the salvage committee’s ads tended to target rural areas and small towns.  Dale, Indiana, was one, but the illustrations appeared nationwide.


Dale News, September 11, 1942 (2)

(The Dale News, September 11, 1942.)


Beneath the dark humor of seeing a “Jap” knocked on the head with grandma’s laundry iron or her kitchen teapot, some of these cartoons were fairly racist.  Though cartoonists are usually allowed to take liberties to provoke discussion, artists at all times –especially in war time — have sometimes helped destroy innocent lives.

The hysteria that targeted German Americans during World War I — when Indiana and many other states went so far as to criminalize teaching German to children — rarely occurred during World War II, though about 11,000 German nationals were detained.  The same can’t be said of the fate of Japanese Americans, over 100,000 of whom were herded up and imprisoned in detention camps out West.


Nisei Students


Yet as always, some Americans rose above hysteria and fear.  In 1942, Quaker-led Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, became one of the few U.S. schools to allow Japanese Americans to continue their education during the war.  The decision of Earlham’s President William Cullen Dennis, who cooperated with the Japanese American Student Relocation Council to admit six students from the newly-militarized West Coast, was controversial.


Kokomo Tribune, September 30, 1942

(Kokomo Tribune, September 30, 1942.)


In September 1942, the local branch of the Junior Order of American Mechanics, a youth group, sent Earlham’s president  a resolution protesting the students’ presence on campus.  The OAM was originally an anti-Catholic and nativist fraternal group organized in Philadelphia in 1844 to resist the hiring of “cheap foreign labor” (i.e., Irish).  Richmond’s Junior OAM captured a lot of local sentiment and tried to encourage other “patriotic and fraternal orders” in town to follow suit.  Richmond Mayor John Britten was forced to advise the FBI of the “hostile attitude of the community toward the students.”


Rushville Republican, September 30, 1942

(Rushville Republican, September 30, 1942.)


Dennis stood by his decision, citing that the move was in accordance with the school’s Quaker religious principles and “the ideals for which we are fighting.”  Yet he refused to denounce the Federal government’s original decision to move them off the West Coast. The “Jap pupils” — along with about 1,900 others now scattered across the Midwest and East — were kept under FBI surveillance.

Earlham wasn’t alone.  A total of eight Indiana schools, all but one of them religious, admitted displaced Japanese Americans.  These were DePauw, Valparaiso, Hanover, Franklin, Manchester, St. Mary’s (Notre Dame), Indiana Technical College, and Earlham.  The Indianapolis-based Disciples of Christ also led a campaign critical of the West Coast interment camps and issued a resolution condemning the incarceration of 100,000 Americans without fair trial, calling it a mockery of American principles.  That church was active in helping resettled families find jobs and housing across the Midwest.


Corvallis Gazette-Times, April 3, 1942

(Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt, head of the Western Defense Command in San Francisco, issued orders forbidding Japanese American students at Oregon State University from using the library after 8:00 p.m.  Corvallis Gazette-Times, April 3, 1942.)


Corvallis Gazette-Times, April 2, 1942

(Corvallis Gazette-Times, April 2, 1942.)


Edward T. Uyesugi was one of the students who came to Earlham in 1942.  Born in 1922 and raised in Portland, Oregon, he was one of the ten students forced to leave Willamette University in Salem after the Federal “evacuation” of April 1942.  In Richmond, Uyesugi studied biology.  He also met Paoli native Ruth Farlow, who was studying Latin, English and journalism.  Ruth, a Quaker, wrote for the Richmond Palladium (currently being digitized by Hoosier State Chronicles.)  The couple went on to get married in Washington State in 1946.

Farlow had gotten her first teaching job in Oregon, but was fired after one semester for her marriage to a Japanese American. (“Interracial marriage” was frowned on in every state and was still illegal in many.)  The Uyesugis eventually came back to Indiana, raising three children in Ruth’s native Orange County, where he worked as an eye doctor and she taught journalism at Paoli High School.  In 1999, Ruth Uyesugi was inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.  She’s also the author of a 1977 autobiographical novel, Don’t Cry, Chiisai, Don’t Cry, a war-time love story set in Indiana and Oregon.


Earlham Post, 1944

(Ruth Farlow, seated center, and Edward Uyesugi, right, both served on the editorial staff of the Earlham Post in 1944.  Uyesugi wrote a sports column and also played on the football team.)


Dale News, December 18, 1942

(S.J. Ray, illustrator.  Reprinted in The Dale News, December 18, 1942.)


In 1942, Hoosier readers may have had their first encounter with a rising star in the world of illustration — Theodor Seuss Geisel, a third-generation German American originally from Springfield, Massachusetts.  Geisel studied at Dartmouth and Oxford before joining the staff of the humor magazine Judge in New York City in the 1920s.  His first published cartoon came out in the Saturday Evening Post in July 1927.   Surviving the lean times of the Great Depression by drawing ads and logos for companies like General Electric, Standard Oil, and the Narragansett Brewing Company, Geisel got his first major national exposure during a Standard Oil campaign to market motor boat lubricants.

Nearly expelled from Dartmouth as an undergrad for drinking gin during Prohibition, the quirky illustrator had been banned from publishing cartoons in the college’s writing magazine.  He got around it by signing himself “Dr. Seuss,” his middle name.  (The name is actually pronounced “Soiss,” but the illustrator gave in to the American pronunciation.)

By 1942, Dr. Seuss — a fervent, scathing opponent of isolationists and pacifists who wanted to keep America out of World War II — was busy trying to lubricate public opinion instead of motor boats. Though frequently mistaken as a Jew because of his name and his appearance, Dr. Seuss was a German Lutheran.


Dr. Seuss 1941

(An anti-isolationist cartoon published in 1941, before America went to war against Germany, Italy and Japan.)


In the wake of American entry into the war — and before he was ever at work on The Grinch and The Cat in the Hat — Dr. Seuss drew cartoons for the U.S. Treasury Department as part of a war-bond drive.  Roundly criticized since the 1940s, his drawings of “Japs” with buck teeth, pig noses and insect bodies came out in many American newspapers, including the tiny Dale News.  Though Dr. Seuss deserves credit for apologizing for these cartoons after the war, the dehumanization of Asians may have influenced the U.S. decision to drop nuclear bombs on Japan in 1945, an event that was less likely to befall a Western European nation.


Dale News, July 31, 1942

(The Dale News, July 31, 1942.)


Dale News, June 12, 1942

(The Dale News, June 12, 1942.)


Dale News, June 5, 1942 (3)

(The Dale News, June 5, 1942.)


While “Dr. Seuss” also depicted Hitler with a pig snout and animal body, Geisel’s 1942 cartoon of Japanese Americans receiving TNT and awaiting orders from Japan put him squarely in the tradition of fearing immigrants as “enemy aliens” — the long list of newcomers accused of undermining American safety and values.  In the century before World War II, American periodicals were full of this material, some of it drawn by reformers like German American immigrant Thomas Nast.  Only the characters changed — from Catholics, Jews, and Chinese to Germans, Japanese and Muslims.


Waiting for the Signal from Home

(“Waiting for the Signal from Home,” Dr. Seuss, 1942.)


The “Tokio Kid” series, commissioned by the Douglass Aircraft Company and subsidized by the War Commissions Board,  joined in on the recycling campaign.  Posters showing the Japanese Emperor thrilled by Americans’ waste of items like scrap metal were little different from equally demonic depictions of the German Kaiser during World War I, but both episodes played off ethnic and racial prejudice.  (Reform politics and bogus science were as guilty as everyday racism here.  During World War I, “progressive” advocates of Prohibition had made identical charges against German American beer-lovers — for unpatriotically wasting grain.  Dr. Seuss’ own father, brew master at the family-owned Highland Brewery in Springfield, Massachusetts, was driven out of his job when Prohibition shut the place down in 1919.)


Tokio Kid


As for social reform, that would have to wait for peacetime.  It’s not clear who exactly cartoonist Nate Collier was satirizing when this illustration came out in the Dale News in February 1942, three months after Pearl Harbor.  But we think we can guess.


Dale News, February 27, 1942

(Nate Collier, illustrator.  The Dale News, February 27, 1942.)

Ku Klux U: How the Klan Almost Bought a University

Hagerstown Exponent, October 4, 1923

When the Hagerstown Exponent published this headline in October 1923, the editor had gotten the facts wrong.  The Ku Klux Klan’s powerful “Indiana Realm” had not bought itself a venerable institution of higher learning that summer.  But it had come close. For a few weeks, Valparaiso University — sixty miles from downtown Chicago, and formerly one of the largest private schools in the U.S. — teetered on the brink of becoming a “Ku Klux Kollege.” Once praised as the “Poor Man’s Harvard,” in 1923 many feared the university was about to become a “hooded Harvard.”

“Valpo” is a thriving university today, with some of the best programs in Indiana.  But a century ago, after its rapid rise to national fame, the highly-respected school was caught up in hard times. Yet its sudden nose-dive after World War I took many alumni and faculty by surprise.

Founded by Methodists in 1859, the original school — Valparaiso Male and Female College — took in students of all levels, from elementary to college age.  The pioneer school was also one of the few co-educational institutions in America before the Civil War. That war wreaked havoc on enrollment, leading the college to close its doors in 1871.  Two years later, it came back as a teacher’s college.  Until 1900, the school went under the name Northern Indiana Normal School and Business Institute.

Renowned for its economical tuition and low cost of living — as well as for admitting women and students from overseas — by 1905 “Old Valpo” enjoyed one of the highest enrollments of any private university in the U.S.  With over 5,000 students that year, the school ranked just behind Harvard.  Its affordability to working-class Americans led many to praise it as the “Poor Man’s Harvard.” (Harvard itself was sometimes jokingly called “The Rich Man’s Valpo.”)


Valparaiso University circa 1915

(Valparaiso University, circa 1915.)


Students from all over the U.S. and the world trained to be public school teachers here.  Some were busy teaching English to immigrants employed at Gary’s new steel mills.  Valpo’s programs in law, engineering, medicine, and dentistry were well-regarded. Its College of Medicine and Surgery had been brought over from Northwestern University in Chicago.  When the college moved back to the Windy City in 1926, it formed the nucleus of Loyola’s medical program.

Harvard and Yale might have been too good to take out ads in Chicago newspapers.  But this ad from 1905 appeared next to one for another great school on the rise, the University of Notre Dame.


The Inter Ocean, August 1, 1905

(The Inter Ocean, Chicago, August 1, 1905.)


Yet once enrollment peaked in 1907, venerable Valpo plunged into an unexpected, two-decade-long decline.  After accreditation of American colleges and universities began at the turn of the century  — partly driven by a desire to standardize high-school education and thereby “unify” the country — Valparaiso failed to win accreditation. Suddenly unable to transfer their credits, current and prospective students found the school a harder sell, especially as affordable new state universities, teachers’ colleges, and urban night schools entered the competition.  Valpo’s lack of a football team and Greek life were another stumbling block, though it hurriedly scraped together a football program in the early 1920s and even played Harvard.  (It lost 22-0 in its first game.)


VU


World War I brought another blow.  The famously affordable university had always attracted international students — one of the more unusual of them was future Soviet Comintern agent Mikhail Borodin, “Stalin’s Man in China,” who would die in a Siberian gulag in 1951.  But after 1914, many left to fight for their European homelands.  When America entered the war against Germany in 1917, student military enlistment left Valpo’s academic and residence halls almost empty.  And with plenty of war-related jobs now available to women, female students also tended to skip out on college for the duration of the war.


Journal Gazette (Mattoon, IL), July 17, 1923

(Journal Gazette, Mattoon, IL, July 17, 1923.)


In 1919, Indiana passed a new law requiring private colleges to maintain a half-million dollar endowment.  Cash-strapped Valparaiso University, burdened with a $350,000 debt (almost $5 million in today’s money) faced the real prospect of bankruptcy.  The school’s trustees even tried to sell it to the state that year for use as a public teacher’s college, but the Indiana legislature turned that offer down.

With its life hanging by a thread — and led by controversial president Robert Hodgdon, who turned out to hold fake medical degrees — desperate trustees and the equally-desperate citizens of Valparaiso sought new owners.  That list of potential “saviors” grew to include the Presbyterian Church, the International Order of the Moose, and the owner of Cook Laboratories in Chicago, who wanted to turn the campus into a syringe factory and provide 1,000 jobs to townsfolk. (Their prosperity would have been shattered by the school’s demise.)

Then, in July 1923, a new bidder — kraziest of kourtiers — expressed interest.


Daily Republican (Rushville, IN), August 16, 1923

(Daily Republican, Rushville, Indiana, August 16, 1923.)


For some residents of Valparaiso — which hosted a parade of at least 5,000 Klansmen in May 1923, an event that attracted 30,000 visitors from around the Midwest — the offer to take over the struggling school seemed like a God-send.  Academics, alumni, and many students, especially “undesirable” Catholics and Jews, thought differently. Many teachers and students were ready to pack up and leave.

But incredibly, as far as the trustees were concerned, the question of selling Valparaiso University to the Ku Klux Klan mostly came down to whether that organization itself had the “kash” to made good on its own offer.

Contrary to stereotypes, the “Second KKK” wasn’t a group of Confederate flag-waving “rebels,” “hillbillies” or “white trash.”  In the Roaring Twenties, the revived Klan — resurrected after it had died out in the 1870s — took up arms from sea to sea.  Klan rallies and parades occurred all over the North and West, from Chicago to L.A., from Oregon to Maine.  And the flag they waved wasn’t the rebel flag.  KKK membership in those years peaked in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio, “ground zero” for some of the biggest Klan activity.  D.C. Stephenson, the “Grand Old Man of the Klan,” operated mostly out of his headquarters in Indianapolis, a city that was almost taken over by Klansmen (and Klanswomen) but that also fought a valiant battle in the press, courts, and churches to discredit the “Invisible Empire.”


KKK Members, Valparaiso, 1923

(Klansmen on Franklin Street, Valparaiso, Indiana, 1923.)


The Fiery Cross, May 11, 1923

(The Fiery Cross, May 11, 1923.)


The “Second” Klan defined itself as a hyper-patriotic organization of white Protestant Americans and was more mainstream than at any other point in its history.  During the ’20s, the Klan was less concerned with keeping down African Americans than with stemming the tide of new immigration coming from Southern and Eastern Europe — including immigration to heavily-industrial towns like Gary, just thirty miles from Valparaiso.  The Klan sought to cripple an imaginary conspiracy by Catholics to destroy American public schools and hand the U.S. government over to the Pope, and also warned of the activities of “Jewish Communists” and anarchists in the wake of the Russian Revolution and the 1919 Red Scare. (The fear provoked by deadly bombings wasn’t entirely groundless.) Prohibition of alcohol, another cause taken up by the KKK, was a barely concealed way to crack down on immigrant culture.

These views were shared by thousands of Americans who didn’t belong to the Klan.  The Invisible Empire even found strange bedfellows in Progressivism — including crusaders for women’s suffrage — who frequently espoused some of the same “reform” ideals promoted by hypocritical and often brutal “kluckers.”

Middle-class membership — as well as sneers from the wealthy, who spurned mob tactics but didn’t necessarily disagree with Klan politics — led it to covet an aura of respectability.  Newspapers, big mansions, and church services gave the “hoodlums” in “nighties,” as a Muncie editor quipped, credentials that midnight lynchings in cornfields didn’t.  In Indianapolis, the organization considered setting up a Klan hospital on North Alabama Street for white Protestants only.  (The hospital was never built.)

While its leaders sorely needed some higher education themselves — D.C. Stephenson had dropped out of elementary school — acquiring a university would help the Klan project a cleaner image. And since Valparaiso was a teacher’s college, the Klan could now propagandize American children from within schools.


Fiery Cross, August 24, 1923

(The Fiery Cross, August 24, 1923.)


Fiery Cross, August 24, 1923 (4)

(The Fiery Cross, August 24, 1923.)


By July of 1923, the trustees of Valparaiso University and the Klan were talking.  Representing the Klan was Milt Elrod, whom Stephenson had recently made editor of The Fiery Cross, the major KKK newspaper, printed at the Century Building on South Pennsylvania Street in downtown Indianapolis. Editor Elrod drove north to meet with the trustees.

Facing obvious concern from much of the faculty and student body, Elrod assured the press that a Ku Klux takeover of the school would change nothing except the trustee board, which was to be packed with Klan appointees.  The school would remain open to women and would be non-sectarian, Elrod insisted — though Catholic students, warned by staff members, were already beginning to drop out and enroll elsewhere.  Ludicrously, Elrod initially claimed that the Klan would admit any applicant who met the proper “educational requirements,” including “Negros,” though he later admitted that the school would not have the “proper” facilities for African Americans.  (The sad irony is that Valparaiso University did not admit African Americans even before the Klan tried to buy it.)


Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August 16, 1923 (2)

(Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August 16, 1923.)


Few people — the trustees excepted, it seems — took Elrod at his word when he said that nothing else would change at the university except skyrocketing enrollment and the return of its once national reputation.  (There were rumors that it would be renamed “National University.”)  Yet Elrod’s enemies had already come out.  In The Fiery Cross, he was busy singling out “un-American” and “alien” opponents. Elrod may have been quick to pick up on campus rumors that Catholic priests from Notre Dame had visited town, spurring the Klan to act soon and not be outbid by the hated “agents of Rome.”


Fiery Cross, August 24, 1923 (3)

(The Fiery Cross, August 24, 1923.)


Heavy opposition came from the press.  Even in Indiana, major urban newspapers tended to be anti-Klan, including the Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis News and most famously the Indianapolis Times, which won a Pulitzer for its battle against the group.  Some of the sharpest wit, however, came from George R. Dale, the wildly colorful and energetic editor of the Muncie Post Democrat.  Dale, who endured death threats and assaults on himself and his family but went on to become mayor of Muncie in 1930, ran a paper that could be called The Onion of its day.  His paper — virtually one long, rambunctious op-ed piece — employed a folksy humor to give sucker-punches to the powerful “Indiana Realm.”


Muncie Post Democrat, August 3, 1923

(Muncie Post Democrat, August 3, 1923.)


Nationwide, editors and cartoonists — including E.H. Pomeroy, an illustrator for the Valparaiso Vidette — tore into Elrod’s proposal once it came out that he might, in fact, get hold of the $350,000 in cash needed to bail the school out of debt.  (Elrod also promised that the Klan would set it up on a million-dollar endowment, twice the amount required by Indiana law.)  As the story spread across the U.S., an illustrator in the New York Call went straight for the jugular, publishing a parody of Dante’s Inferno — “Abandon All Brains Ye Who Enter Here.”  The cartoon depicts book-burning, classes in whipping and tar-and-feathering, a “Klinik” to teach “100% Americanism,” and a commencement day ceremony where students sport an unconventional new style of cap and gown.


Literary Digest, September 15, 1923

(“Abandon All Brains, Ye Who Enter Here.”  Republished in Literary Digest, September 15, 1923.)


Another critical broadside came from Helena, Montana.  The writer in Helena’s Independent Record thought that a bout of education for “kluckers” might at least have a few salutary side-effects.


The Independent Record (Helena, Montana), August 28, 1923

The Independent Record (Helena, Montana), August 28, 1923 (2)

(The Independent Record, Helena, Montana, August 28, 1923.)


One editorial appeared in Robert W. Bingham’s Louisville Courier-Journal.  Bingham fought a crusade against Southern poverty and criticized Fascism before even Franklin Roosevelt had the courage to come out against it.  “Ku Klux and Kolleges” may have been Bingham’s own editorial.  It asks if there is no provision in the Indiana school’s original charter to prevent the sale to the Klan.  The Courier-Journal also pointed out that many teachers in Kentucky  had been trained at Valparaiso in its better days, and that Kentuckians should be concerned about its ultimate fate.


Louisville Courier-Journal, July 27, 1923 (3)

(Louisville Courier-Journal, July 27, 1923.)


Though excitement among some Valparaiso citizens was allegedly running high, Milt Elrod was probably too quick to make blustery promises about the Klan’s own financial strength.  His proposal to buy the school wasn’t a “joke,” but Elrod was a notorious booster, propagandist, and probably a downright liar.

Through the sale of thousands of robes, newspaper subscriptions, and membership fees, the “Imperial hierarchy” of the Klan had amassed huge fortunes for itself.  D.C. Stephenson had gone from being a poor coal dealer in Evansville to a wealthy man by age 33, but he squandered Klan money on liquor, women, cars, and a yacht. Even the $350,000 needed to buy the Valparaiso campus — not to mention the $1,000,000 offered as an endowment — was apparently beyond the ability of bumbling Klan leadership to come up with (or hang onto).

The American press and higher education breathed a sigh of relief when, after just a few weeks, Elrod feebly announced that the Klan had changed its mind due to “legal technicalities.”  Some papers reported that — true to the Louisville Courier-Journal’s suggestion — a clause in the school’s original charter had been discovered, preventing control by any “fraternal, benevolent or charitable order” (a ludicrous description of the Klan, at any rate).


Fort Wayne Daily News, September 5, 1923 (2)

(Fort Wayne Daily News, September 5, 1923.)


“Legal technicalities” caused by the school’s charter might be a myth, a clever way for both the university and the Klan to save face after the embarrassing episode.  Most newspapers ran with it, but there seems to be little evidence that university trustees would have called off the sale if enough “kash” had been put down in front of them.


Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, September 11, 1923

(Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, September 11, 1923.)


Fortunately, Valparaiso University never fell into KKK hands. With the corrupt Klan itself in disarray by 1925, and with Stephenson headed to the nearby state prison at Michigan City for rape and murder, any future Klan bids were out of the question.

In the summer of 1925, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod rescued the run-down, almost abandoned school.  Lutherans at that time had several colleges and seminaries around the U.S., but no university.  They announced vague plans to use it as a theology school or teachers’ college.   Help securing that deal came from the Reverend John C. Baur, a Lutheran minister and noted opponent of the Ku Klux Klan in Fort Wayne, Indiana.


The Republic (Columbus, IN), May 18, 1925

(The Republic, Columbus, Indiana, May 18, 1925.)


Under Lutheran guidance, Valparaiso University’s fortunes gradually turned around, though it barely survived the Great Depression.  By the 1950s, “Old Valpo” once again ranked among Indiana’s and the nation’s best colleges, a reputation it still holds today.


Hoosier State Chronicles provides searchable access to several years of The Fiery Cross on our site.

Indiana’s “Pot of Gold”

Chicago Tribune, March 1, 1903

Though you won’t become a millionaire panning for gold in Indiana, today’s recreational gold hunters have a lot of fun sloshing around Hoosier creeks in search of the shiny metal that led many a conquistador to his doom.  Around 1900, however, Indiana farmers and geologists explored the possibility that the hills of Brown, Monroe, and Morgan counties might become something of a Klondike.

Mining for gold in the Eastern United States might sound far-fetched, but it goes back over two centuries.  While Spanish explorers who crisscrossed parts of the South and Southwest were fooled by El Dorado myths, the soils of the Southeastern U.S. do hold significant quantities of the mineral.  In fact, until the discovery of California’s huge deposits in the 1840s, most domestic gold came from North Carolina, home of America’s “first gold rush.”

The South’s gold industry began in 1799, when a 17-pound nugget turned up on the farm of John Reed, a former Hessian soldier.  An illegal immigrant, Johannes Ried had deserted from the British Army and settled near Charlotte after the war, anglicizing his name. Reed had apparently never seen gold and didn’t know what the shiny yellow rock his son had found was.  For three years, he used it as a door post. Finally asking a jeweler to appraise it, Reed got swindled: he sold the big nugget, actually worth thousands of dollars, for just $3.50.


North Carolina gold


Fortunately, Reed and other North Carolina farmers soon caught on. By the 1830s, placer mines on farms around Charlotte gave way to heavy-duty mining operations.  At their peak, these mines employed about 25,000 people.  With deep-vein mines wreaking havoc on the land and destroying good agricultural sites, Southern gold mining may have played a role in the exodus of Southerners to fertile land in the Midwest.  Yet the mines were a big boon for the U.S. government, which authorized a new branch of the U.S. Mint in Charlotte in 1837.  Although it was still the poorest state in the South, North Carolina produced the first gold coins ever minted in the U.S.  These replaced English and Spanish coins legally used by Americans as currency.

Begun by Germans, the Southern gold industry also attracted thousands of immigrants, mostly from places with a long history of mining, like Cornwall, Wales, and Germany.  Many joined the rush to California in 1849, around the time the Carolina gold rush peaked. Others came to the Midwest, settling in places like Wisconsin, originally a federal lead mining district.

Gold mining never really took off in Brown County, Indiana.  But when Southerners flocked into the uplands in the 1830s, they began finding gold there, too.

The irony is that one of the historically poorest Hoosier counties got an unexpected windfall from the glaciers that stopped on its doorstep and spared most of it from being flattened.  That gift was Canadian gold, originally delivered to Earth — so the theory runs — by asteroid collisions four billion years ago.

While artist colonies found a different sort of gold in Brown County’s rustic hills, farmers — most of them with Southern Appalachian roots — found the allure of gold hidden in creek beds worth pursuing.  By the 1920s, traditional upland farming practices, heavy logging, and hogs wandering loose through the woods had seriously degraded Brown County’s soil.  The situation was so bad that by the time of the Great Depression, much of the county was nearly abandoned.  Conservationists were able to snatch up plenty of cheap land for the new park, created in 1929, plus other degraded land later added to the Hoosier National Forest and Yellowwood State Forest.  Though considered the crown jewel of the state park system today, Brown County was no wilderness a century ago.  And the presence of gold there must have appealed to cash-strapped farmers eking out a basic livelihood.


Indianapolis News, November 4, 1893

(Indianapolis News, November 4, 1893.)


Locals had been panning gold in streams like Bean Blossom Creek, Lick Creek, and Bear Creek since at least the 1840s, often turning up enough of the mineral to supplement their small income from crops and livestock.  In 1897, one prospector told of making as much as $27 a day — over $700 in today’s money — but nobody here was getting filthy rich.  Yet in 1903, Indiana State Geologist Willis S. Blatchley came down from Indianapolis to weigh in on an old debate about whether Brown County could sustain a serious gold mining operation.

Blatchley wrote several reports, intended for a popular audience. He described how the glaciers that once covered Indiana in ice five-hundred feet thick lugged gold-bearing rocks down from Hudson Bay, depositing them in “terminal moraines,” piles of rubble left where the ice sheets stopped.  Water erosion then washed the gold out of the moraines into streams, dispersing it over several counties south of Indianapolis, where it turned up as tiny flakes in creek beds. Primitive panning and placer mines would help sift the gold out from mud and gravel, but more intensive mining to get all the gold wasn’t traditionally considered worth the effort.


Willis S. Blatchley, 1918 (2)

(Geologist and entomologist Willis S. Blatchley, 1918.  He served as State Geologist of Indiana from 1894 to 1910 and was also well-known in Florida.)


Blatchley was one of Indiana’s great naturalists and took a strong interest in mining.  Born in Connecticut, he grew up on farms in Putnam County, whose unusual geology and rich wildlife got him interested in nature, especially rocks, bugs, and butterflies.  At Indiana University in the 1880’s, Blatchley studied with the great ichthyologist David Starr Jordan and geologist John Casper Branner.  Pioneer Hoosier scientists, Jordan and Branner later became the first and second presidents of Stanford University in California.

Ironically, Branner, who served as Arkansas State Geologist while still a faculty member at IU, was famously burned in effigy in 1888 after he exposed bogus gold and silver mines in the Ozarks, dashing the hopes of optimistic capitalists and investors there.  One of Branner’s assistants on the Arkansas surveys turned out to be future U.S. president Herbert Hoover, who majored in geology at Stanford after Branner left his job in Bloomington to head the new department. (Hoover went on to get his first job after college as a gold-mining engineer in Western Australia and later worked for the Chinese Bureau of Mines and in Russia.  Before he went into politics, Hoover was an internationally-recognized mining expert and even published a standard textbook on the subject.  In 1912, he and his wife also made the definitive translation — from Latin — of a 16th-century German mining classic, De re metallica.)


De re metallica

(Herbert Hoover once studied with IU geology professor John C. Branner.)


On the heels of a new hunt for Hoosier gold, Branner’s former student W.S. Blatchley’s trip to southern Indiana in early 1902 was covered by the Indianapolis News.  The News was excited to announce “great gold discoveries,” and the Chicago Tribune reprinted the story almost verbatim the following winter. The exciting gold finds of 1902, however, were on Highland Creek, between Martinsville and Brooklyn in Morgan County.

Leading the hunt for Highland Creek’s gold was a former California miner, F.F. Taylor, and R.L. Royse, an “Indianapolis gold and diamond prospector.”  Taylor ran a fancy hydraulic operation on the creek, called “The Black Eye Flumes,” a name inspired by all the ridicule heaped on Indiana gold mining. Though most experts remained skeptical, the flamboyant Royse announced his confidence that Indiana was soon destined to become the “richest placer gold state” in the Union.


Terre Haute Daily Tribune, February 22, 1903

(Terre Haute Daily Tribune, February 22, 1903.)


Indianapolis News, March 7, 1903 (2)

(Indianapolis News, March 7, 1903.)


Indianapolis News, March 7, 1903 (4)

(Indianapolis News, March 7, 1903.)


Taylor and Royse tried to disprove what a previous State Geologist, John Collett, had said about Indiana gold.  Collett, who died in 1899, quipped that he thought there was enough gold in Brown County to pay off the national debt, but that it would “take the dollar of gold mined and an extra dollar to mine every dollar of it.”  The brash prospector R.L. Royse, however, insisted that not only was he going to make a fortune in Morgan County:  soon enough, he said, he would come to downtown Indianapolis and “pan some gold out of Washington Street.”  (He had already claimed to have found gold in a North Indianapolis street sewer.)

William E. Stafford, known as “Wild Bill,” was one of the colorful prospectors scouring the creeks of Morgan and Brown counties. The reporter for the News gave Stafford a long write-up in 1902. This “Hercules of the gold diggings” would reappear in the Chicago Tribune a year later.


Indianapolis News, May 31, 1902 (2)

(Indianapolis News, May 31, 1902.)


Indianapolis News, May 31, 1902 (1)

Indianapolis News, May 31, 1902 (3)

(Indianapolis News, May 31, 1902.)


Another man who panned gold on Hoosier streams was “Uncle” John Merriman.  Merriman, who lived until 1906, was the son of Hoosier pioneer William Merriman.  (William was born in Virginia in 1786, just three years after the end of the Revolutionary War.) Originally from Morgan County, John had lived around Ellettsville and Bloomington, then moved over to Fruitdale in Brown County in the 1870s, where he ran an orchard.  Panning gold helped supplement his small income.  In spite of a bad kidney ailment, Merriman took enough interest in gold to venture out to the California gold fields in the 1880s.

Like many men who went west, the Hoosier prospector never struck it rich.  But in 1903, the 69-year-old helped show State Geologist Blatchley around Brown County’s own “gold fields.”


John Merriman panning for gold

(“Uncle” John Merriman panning gold around 1900.  Merriman had been in the papers before.  The Fort Wayne Sentinel reported in 1899 that he lived on “1,000 acres of barren land” and subsisted on brown sugar alone while out searching “for the yellow metal.”)


Indianapolis News, May 31, 1902 (4)

(W.J. Richards panning gold.  Indianapolis News, May 31, 1902.)


Blatchley wrote of men like John Merriman that some “do little else than pan gold along the streams.”  The geologist did some panning himself on Bean Blossom Creek, where children went out looking for gold after floods and snow melts. Merriman came with him. Blatchley wrote that Merriman averaged about $1.25 a day — approximately $30 in today’s money.  Both men thought that modern machinery could increase the yield.

Some panners, like W.W. Young — alias “Old Man” Young — sent their gold off to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia.  “Old Man” Young found fourteen ounces of gold in nine months of panning and got a receipt from the mint for $250.07, equivalent to about $7,000 today. Young was considered “quaint… the most peculiar character in any of the Indiana diggings.  He will not permit anyone to be near him, and will not pan as long as there is anyone in sight.”


Indianapolis News, May 31, 1902 (5)

(Indianapolis News, May 31, 1902.)


Blatchley’s report states that local Indiana “drift gold” averaged 22 carats, compared to 16-18 for California gold and 14-16 for Alaskan Klondike gold.  In other words, Hoosier gold was actually superior to the stuff out West.

Yet he also recognized that shortage of local water sources during the summertime, when many streams ran almost dry, would seriously hamper mining of the mineral.  “By constructing permanent dams in several of the valleys enough water could probably be conserved to tide over the dry season.”  Taylor proposed sluicing water out of the White River, but the plan never really took on.

For a while, rumor even had it that birds had gotten interested in mining.  Gold in duck craws?  The tales you’re about to hear sound like an old St. Nicholas story.  But for now, we’ll assume these aren’t just tall tales.


Indianapolis News, February 21, 1903 (2)

(Indianapolis News, February 21, 1903.)


Ultimately, however, predictions about great yields of gold in southern Indiana weren’t justified.  The slough of excited stories in the Indianapolis press about gold mining going on just “twenty-three miles from the golden dome of the Indiana State House” died out after 1903.  But that didn’t stop two men from Ohio from coming to Brown County, panning the stuff, and buying a farm with their profits in 1908.

Today, gold prospecting is said to be the fastest-growing form of outdoor recreation of Indiana and many other states.  (In 2010, when the price of gold hit almost $1,500 an ounce, the Wall Street Journal hosted a video about the revival of recreational gold-seeking in Vermont, where it’s a great way to get outdoors, but “more about the experience than the riches.”)  Brown, Morgan and Monroe counties are still the most popular places for gold prospecting in the Hoosier State, but Blatchley reported many other counties where the mineral turned up, including a few in northern Indiana like Cass and Warren.

But watch out, Indiana!  Don’t hunt on private property unless you have permission first… even if you think you’re as clever as this guy:

Indiana Jones and Golden Idol

A Short History of Hammond’s Lake County Times

It’s not cold enough in Indiana this year to get your tongue stuck to an icy flagpole.  But every holiday season, we Hoosiers are reminded that the comedy classic A Christmas Story (1983) is set in our fair state.

Though filmed in Cleveland, Ohio — where the original Ralphie Parker residence was sold on eBay in 2004, restored to its 1940 appearance, and turned into a museum — the tale is based on the semi-fictional remembrances of Hoosier writer Jean Shepherd. Born on Chicago’s South Side, Shepherd grew up just over the state line in East Chicago and Hammond, Indiana, where he graduated from high school in 1939.  After serving with the Army Signal Corps in World War II, the future author began his radio broadcast career at WJOB in Hammond before moving to Cincinnati and New York. Many of Shepherd’s stories began as on-the-air reminiscences before they appeared in Playboy.  Some would have been picked up by listeners in the Midwest.

If Ralphie’s dad, played by the late Darren McGavin, read any newspaper by the light of that short-lived leg lamp, it would probably have been the Hammond Times.  Hoosier State Chronicles will soon be uploading a long run of the Lake County Times, renamed the Times in 1933. Meanwhile, here’s a bit of its history. Who knows? It might even turn up some colorful background material on Jean Shepherd’s classic A Christmas Story.


June 12, 1920(Lake County Times, June 12, 1920.)


Seventy years before Ralphie Parker came onto the scene, the young lumber port of State Line, Indiana, wasn’t producing enough news to keep a local newspaper afloat.  Most of its early settlers came from Germany and spoke and read English poorly.  The town’s success — and eventual name change — was overwhelmingly due to George H. Hammond, a Detroit butcher whose 1868 patent for refrigerated rail cars helped him rival Chicago’s great slaughterhouses. Mammoth stockyards along Lake Michigan attracted both immigrants and tourists to the greater Chicago area.  (When Rudyard Kipling visited the Windy City in 1899, he wrote a horrified description of the “disassembly line” at Philip Armour’s slaughterhouse.)  Abundant local lakes and rivers provided the ice that helped meatpacking thrive.

Yet the Hammond Packing Company’s preference for hiring German butchers and sausage-makers indirectly handicapped the development of an English-language press in northern Lake County. Most German residents of the “Hoosier Coast” got their news from thriving German-language newspapers in Chicago and Milwaukee. Even Hammond’s own Deutsche Volks-Zeitung didn’t start publishing until 1891.  It died out sometime before 1911.


Hammond Harbor

(Hammond harbor during its days as a minor lumber port.)


Though northwest Indiana soon became an industrial powerhouse, this was one of the last corners of the state to be settled.  In 1900, lumbermen, farmers, and engineers had barely cleared the forests and drained the swamps that defined the landscape of the Calumet region (or simply “Da Region,” in local parlance.)  Gary, whose steel mills made it Lake County’s most important city, was founded only in 1906.

The Hammond Packing Company burned down in 1901 and was never rebuilt.  Steel, railroads, and retail took over.   Ironically, the rapid development of Lake County led to “Da Region” becoming a cradle of American conservation, as nature enthusiasts and city dwellers successfully fought to save the famous Indiana Dunes — a favorite Chicago playground — from destruction.


April 17, 1920

(Lake County Times, April 17, 1920.)


In 1906, Hammond’s floundering English press got a boost when Sidmon McHie (1863-1944), a wealthy Chicago grain and stock broker, bought the struggling Hammond Times.  The enterprising McHie turned the paper around, using it to promote Lake County’s young industries and businesses.  At that time, the Calumet was fertile ground for venture capitalists like McHie.  As a 1943 tribute to him put it, the energetic owner used the paper to “get Hammond to believe in itself.”


Sidmon and Isabel McHie

(Sidmon and Isabel McHie had a marriage even more colorful and tempestuous than Ralphie’s parents.  U.S. Passport application, 1921.)


Not content with marketing the news only to Hammond, McHie changed the paper’s name to the Lake County Times and pushed sales in Whiting, Gary, Indiana Harbor, and East Chicago. The daily’s circulation, which stood at just 137 when McHie bought it in 1906, jumped to 5,000 within a year and almost exceeded 10,000 in 1920.  As an investment scheme, McHie circulated many copies for free simply to promote the city.  By the time A Christmas Story was set in the early 1940s, the paper was reaching 130,000 readers — probably including “Old Man Parker” himself.

McHie (whose first name is often misspelled Simon and even Sidney) hired Chicago sportswriter Hugh E. Keough to be the Lake County Times’ first editor.  Best known for his Chicago Tribune sports column (“In the Wake of the News”), Keough served as an official at Midwestern and Southern horse-racing tracks, whose decline led him back into newspaper work by 1906.  Keough and the witty Ring Lardner were two of Chicago’s best writers on baseball.  Keough’s tenure on the Lake County Times was short-lived, however.  He was replaced by Percy A. Parry (who had emigrated to the U.S. from Wales at age nine.)  For decades, Parry and his brothers were part of a “dynasty” of Lake County news editors.

While Gary was becoming known for its mills, Sidmon McHie and his editors on the Lake County Times helped transform Hammond into a shopping mecca for northwest Indiana.  It’s no coincidence that the plot of A Christmas Story revolves around one of Hammond’s great department stores — where the line to see a drunken Santa Claus and some evil elves “stretched all the way back to Terre Haute.”


Lake County Times, July 9, 1920

(Lake County Times, July 9, 1920.)


1937 Hammond Indiana directory

(Though Hammond is referred to as “Hohman” in A Christmas Story, this was an avenue named after one of the city’s German founders. 1937 Hammond City Directory.)


With a stock broker and capitalist at the helm, the Lake County Times became a colorful, flamboyant paper and enjoyed strong sales. While not known for deep investigative journalism at the time, the paper does provide a window into the social issues of the 1910s and ’20s – from the scandalous rise in American divorce rates to labor struggles at Indiana’s burgeoning steel mills.  Much of its “reporting,” however, was syndicated — and wasn’t serious news, anyway.


Lake County Times, December 6, 1922

(Lake County Times, December 6, 1922.)


Dick -- Lake County Times, March 25, 1920

(Lake County Times, March 25, 1920.)


The Lake County Times wasn’t especially friendly to labor movements or to socialism.  During the lead-up to America’s entry into World War I in 1917, it also joined in the vilification of Germany.  The Hammond paper helped stoke up public fears during the 1919 “Red Scare,” which involved a crackdown by U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer on anarchists, Communists, and immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, whose politics were suspect in the wake of the Russian Revolution and a wave of anarchist bomb plots.  Gary, which participated in the great steel strike of 1919 and was home to thousands of Eastern Europeans, was deeply involved in the “Red Scare.”


January 3, 1920

(Lake County Times, January 3, 1920.)


Lake County Times, January 16, 1920 (1)(The “Red Raids” took place just a few weeks before Prohibition came into effect nationally.  Though still too early for a Red Ryder BB gun, “Red Rye” and its dangerous bootleg derivatives drove liquor underground until the law’s repeal in 1933.  Lake County Times, January 16, 1920.)


November 22, 1919(Lake County Times, November 22, 1919.)


That last clip reminds us that women were at the forefront of Prohibition.  Yet even during the days of “Saharization,” the Lake County Times published colorful stories about the Jazz Age’s rejection of Victorian norms.  Divorcées, flappers, fast cars, and heartbreaks worthy of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel were often sprawled across the front page.

Publisher Sidmon McHie made national news in 1923 and again in 1935, when aspects of his own tempestuous marriage came to light.

Daughter of a St. Louis multimillionaire and reportedly also a beauty queen at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Isabel Mulhall had briefly been a theater actress, got divorced, and “hastily” married Sidmon McHie in New York in 1906, when he was living at the Waldorf Astoria.  By the 1930s, however, the wealthy couple, who lived in New York and Illinois, ended up estranged.

Part of their divorce proceedings centered on a generous winter-time gift that Isabel had made to farmers near Battle Creek, Michigan, in March 1935.  But long before her flamboyant Depression-era “giveaway,” she had been generous to dogs.

In 1923, Isabel — still very much alive — announced that she was willing her vast fortune to create a hospital for abused animals. While an earlier free animal hospital in New York City actually predated the New York Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children by a good eight years, the American public and press unfairly lampooned Mrs. McHie as a sour old eccentric who hated human beings.


The Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden, UT), February 11, 1923

(The Ogden Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah, February 11, 1923.)


The Ogden Standard-Examiner was one of the few papers to treat her with any kind of fairness.  Speaking to a reporter, she told about a cruel child that had mercilessly tortured a puppy, a scene that could have come straight out of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.    As she began to think about her own mortality and draw up a will, Isabel McHie considered leaving a large bequest to a “home for incurable children.”  But if the newspapers are correct, the hideous “screechings” of an Episcopal boy’s choir in New York put an end to that — or was it the child that broke a puppy’s leg on purpose?  (The McHies had no children of their own.)


Oakland Tribune (Oakland, CA), May 1, 1923

(Oakland Tribune, Oakland, California, May 1, 1923.)


Though it never came into being, rumors had it that this would have been the largest animal hospital in the world.  A provision in the will specified that McHie’s own ashes be placed next to a marble bust of herself, carved by an Italian sculptor, and that the honored bust and ashes would sit in the entrance to the animal hospital.

In return for her generosity, she got hate mail.  Letters accused Isabel McHie of being “wicked” and that the money could have done more good for humans.   Why give money to “dumb animals”?  Some critics speculated that her motives came from a desire to have “revenge on mankind.”  McHie’s response?  Animals taught humans to be more humane.  (It’s ironic, however, that some of her fortune probably derived from the prosperity of Hammond, named for a butcher.)


Lenoir News-Topic (Lenoir, NC), February 27, 1923

(Lenoir News-Topic, Lenoir, North Carolina, February 27, 1923.)


Decatur Herald (Decatur, IL), January 16, 1923

(Decatur Herald, Decatur, Illinois, January 16, 1923.)


The Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden, UT), February 11, 1923 (5)The Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden, UT), February 11, 1923 (6)

(The Ogden Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah, February 11, 1923.)


Maybe the sneering news stories had an effect on her.  Maybe it was her pending divorce suit or ill health.  Or maybe she was just tired of being rich.  In any case, in March 1935, the 60-year-old Isabel McHie decided to dispose of a large amount of her wealth — before anybody else criticized her will.

On March 20, she withdrew $175,000 of her own or her husband’s money and boarded a passenger train from Chicago’s Dearborn Street Station to Montreal.  She was also carrying about $500,000 worth of jewels with her in a bag.

Somewhere outside Battle Creek, Michigan, a conductor noticed Mrs. McHie feeding unbelievably large bills through a ventilator — in currency denominations “as high as $10,000.”  This, after all, was one of the worst years of the Great Depression, and the wealthy philanthropist was literally throwing a fortune out the window. Reporters wrote that she also tossed $100 bills into the aisle of a Pullman car.  Most of the money seems to have been recovered, but farmers along the railroad tracks in southern Michigan eagerly joined the search for anything left of the money-throwing spree.


Marshall Evening Chronicle (Marshall, Michigan), March 21, 1935

(Marshall Evening Chronicle, Marshall, Michigan, March 21, 1935.)


Decatur Herald (Decatur, IL), March 21, 1935(Decatur Herald, Decatur, Illinois, March 21, 1935.)


Arrested as “hysterical,” Isabel McHie was taken to a hotel in Hammond, where police wanted to investigate hospital records that she tried to withhold.  She later sued the Grand Trunk Western Railway for physical assault and false imprisonment — for a million dollars...  Sidmon McHie was vacationing at the mineral springs in French Lick, Indiana, when his wife started throwing money away.  Their divorce was soon finalized.  Isabel McHie died in New York City on April 25, 1939. Contrary to the belief that she hated human beings, most of her estate went to Seeing Eye, Inc., an organization that trained guide dogs for the blind.

The Hammond Times’ owner didn’t survive his ex-wife by long. Sidmon McHie owned a vast stock farm and golf course on the Kankakee River near Momence, Illinois.  His obituary notes that “McHie, despite his advanced age, insisted on driving his own automobile because he said that to employ a private chauffeur would remove a man from an essential occupation.”  (World War II was still on.)  On August 25, 1944, the 81-year-old McHie was hit by a train while driving his car.  He died five days later.  McHie’s nephew, James S. DeLaurier, took control of the Hammond Times.

The Times dropped Hammond from its name in 1967 and began representing all of northwestern Indiana.  It moved its offices to Munster in 1989. Today, the Times of Northwest Indiana is the second-largest newspaper in the state, ranking only behind the Indianapolis Star. Local editions cover Munster, Crown Point, and Valparaiso.

Hoosier State Chronicles expects to have almost two decades of the Lake County Times uploaded and searchable on our website by mid-January 2016.

War and Peach

Peach Stones 1

With Christmas Eve approaching, you might have the tune “Chestnuts Roasting Over an Open Fire” playing somewhere. A hundred years ago, chestnuts were actually on the path to becoming a rarity, as a huge blight that was killing off chestnut trees began dramatically reducing their numbers.  The blight got so bad that chestnut trees nearly became extinct in the U.S.  Yet as World War I was still raging in Europe, American chemists found a clever new use for chestnuts — alongside coconut shells, peach stones, and other hard seeds.  Disturbingly enough, this was for use in the gas mask industry.

During the last year of the “War to End All Wars,” the Gas Defense Division of the Chemical Warfare Service of the U.S. Army began issuing calls for Americans to save fruit seeds.  As refuse from kitchens and dining room tables, these would typically have been classified as agricultural waste.  Conscientious Americans began to put out barrels and other depositories for local collection of leftover seed pits.  These came from peaches, apricots, cherries, prunes, plums, olives, and dates, not to mention brazil nuts, hickory nuts, walnuts, chestnuts, and butternuts.  In the rarer instance that Americans had any spare coconut shells left over, these came in handy, too.


Peach Stones 3


How on earth could seeds and shells contribute to the war against Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany?

World War I was the first conflict to involve the use of toxic chemicals meant to incapacitate and kill soldiers.  Death would come at the fourth breath or less, soldiers were warned.  Fritz Haber, a German chemist who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1918 for his research into the creation of synthetic fertilizers, also helped spearhead German use of ammonia and chlorine as poisonous weapons used in trench warfare. (Haber’s wife, also a chemist, committed suicide out of shame at her husband’s promotion of poison gas.)  Haber additionally pioneered a gas mask that would protect German soldiers from their own weapons. Ironically, Frtiz Haber was Jewish.  He later fled Germany in 1933 during the rise of Adolf Hitler, a few years before the poisons he experimented with were used by the Nazis to exterminate Jews and others during World War II.

Haber, however, wasn’t the only chemist at work on a gas mask. One such device was invented by a mostly-forgotten American chemist from the Hoosier State, James Bert Garner.


James Bert Garner

(Hoosier chemist James Bert Garner around 1918.)


Garner was born in Lebanon, Indiana, in 1870, and earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Science at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, where he studied under Scottish-American chemist Dr. Alexander Smith.  (Like many doctors and scientists, Dr. Smith had done his own graduate studies in Munich, Germany, in the 1880s.  He taught chemistry and mineralogy at Wabash for four years until moving to the University of Chicago and Columbia University.)  Dr. Garner served as head of Wabash’s chemistry department from 1901 to 1914, the year World War I erupted. The Hoosier chemist then took a job at the Mellon Institute for Industrial Research at the University of Pittsburgh.

After reading an account of a toxic gas attack on French and Canadian soldiers during the Battle of Ypres in 1915, Garner began working on a more effective respiratory mask than was then available.  Primitive versions of gas masks and protective apparatuses designed to ward off disease had been around for centuries, from 17th-century plague doctor’s outfits to a mask pioneered by the German scientist Alexander von Humboldt in 1799, when Humboldt worked as a mining inspector in Prussia.  In the 1870s, Irish physicist John Tyndall also worked on a breathing device to help filter foul air, as did a little-known Indianapolis inventor, Willis C. Vajen, who patented a “Darth Vader”-like mask for firemen in 1893.  (Vajen’s masks were manufactured in an upper floor of the old Indianapolis Public Library.)


Gas mask diagram

(This diagram of a World War II-era gas mask shows the importance of the charcoal filter “which absorbs the gas and retains the fumes.”


While working at Pittsburgh’s Mellon Institute, Dr. Garner advanced a method for air filtration that he had first experimented with at Wabash College and the University of Chicago.   Garner’s mask, co-designed by his wife Glenna, involved the use of a charcoal filter that absorbed sulphur dioxide and ammonia from the air stream. Garner’s World War I-era invention wouldn’t be his last attempt to reduce the deadly impact on the lungs of dangerous substances.  In 1936, he patented a process to “denicotinize” tobacco.

Manufacturers of Garner’s masks found that coconut shells actually provided one of the most useful materials for filtering toxic poison. With a density greater than most woods, hard fruit seeds and nuts were also found useful in the creation of charcoal filters.  All over the U.S., local Councils of Defense, citizens’ committees (sometimes highly intrusive) were set up to promote production of war materiel and monitor domestic waste.  These committees encouraged Americans to hang onto seed pits for Army use.


Peach Stones 2

(Photo from “peach stone” campaign, 1918.  U.S. National Archives.)


Popular Science Monthly, December 1918

(Popular Science Monthly, December 1918.)


Popular Science Monthly, December 1918 2

(Popular Science Monthly, December 1918.)


“Cleaned, dried, and then subjected to high temperature,” reported Popular Science Monthly, “the stones become carbonized, and the coal, in granulated form, is used as an absorbent in the manufacture of gas-masks.”  Charcoal rendered from fruit seeds, coconut shells, etc., was found to have a “much greater power of absorbing poisonous gases than ordinary charcoal from wood.”

How many seeds were needed?  One source cites a government call for 100 million of them.  In a letter from J.S. Boyd, First Lieutenant in the Chemical Warfare Service of the U.S. Army, which appeared in the Indianapolis News in September 1918, Boyd informed the public that “Two hundred peach stones, or seven pounds of nut shells, will make enough carbon for one mask.  Think of that!  And one mask may save a soldier’s life.”  At this rate, a hundred million peach stones could produce 500,000 gas masks.

Tolstoy’s classic novel needed a new title: War & Peach.


Variety of gas masks

(Variety of gas masks used on the Western Front during First World War.  Garner’s was just one of them.)


The seed-collection campaign quickly took to American newspapers.

In Indianapolis, the Marion County Council of Defense urged local consumers and businesses not to waste products and labor during Christmas shopping.  (The waste of certain human lives for political ends seemed to bother them less, and the Indiana council worked to censor all criticism of the war from pacifists and socialists.)  At the committee’s urging, local restaurants, hotels, and stores, including L.S. Ayres and the William H. Block Co. — the largest department stores in Indianapolis — collected agricultural leftovers in bins out front.  The Block Co. advertised its support for the peach stone campaign during a September call to “Buy Christmas gifts early.” Fortunately, the war was over by Christmas 1918.


Indianapolis News, September 21, 1918

(Indianapolis News, September 21, 1918.)


Local Councils of Defense chided businesses and Christmas shoppers for wasting labor and even kept up some surveillance on them.  Department stores were forbidden to hire extra help during the 1918 Christmas season, meaning no special workers could carry customers’ purchases back to their homes.  The councils explicitly asked Hoosiers to carry their own packages and urged managers and employees to report any business that was hiring “extra help” for the holiday.


South Bend News-Times, October 19, 1918

(South Bend News-Times, October 19, 1918.)


South Bend News-Times, September 3, 1918

(South Bend News-Times, September 3, 1918.)


Emphasis on gathering peach stones in particular picked up momentum in September 1918, since that month marked the beginning of harvest time.  As for wild nuts, children all over the U.S., including the Boy Scouts, scoured American forests for walnuts, hickories, and butternuts. One photo in Popular Science Monthly showed a “gang bombarding a horse-chestnut tree” and stated that they were “enlisted in war work.”  Children brought nuts and seed pits to 160 army collection centers.


Popular Science Monthly, December 1918 3

(Popular Science Monthly, December 1918.)


A call for peach stones in the film magazine Moving Picture World encouraged movie theater owners to offer special matinées to support seed-gathering.  The magazine suggested keeping admission at the regular price, but with the donation of one peach stone required for entry.  Once inside, moviegoers were likely to see a slideshow from the Army’s Gas Defense Service as a “preview.” One theater owner on Long Island was especially liberal to children. Children, however, apparently took unfair advantage of him:


The Moving Picture World, October 12, 1918

(The Moving Picture World, October 12, 1918.)


The call for seed pits should have come earlier.  Ninety-thousand soldiers died from toxic gas exposure in the First World War, with over a million more suffering debilitating health problems that often lasted for the rest of their lives.  Almost two-thirds of the fatalities were Russian.  And chemical warfare had just begun.

Though propaganda pinned the barbaric use of chemicals squarely on the Kaiser’s armies, the British used toxins during and after the war.  Under Winston Churchill — War Secretary in 1920 — the RAF dropped mustard gas during its attempt to put down Bolshevism in Russia, the same year that Churchill is alleged to have authorized the use of deadly gas in fighting an Iraqi revolt against British rule in the Middle East.  One English entomologist, Harold Maxwell-Lefroy, was allegedly curious about the use of bugs in “the next war” to spread disease behind enemy lines.

During World War II, the U.S. briefly experimented with the creation of biological weapons.  At the Vigo Ordinance Plant, an ammunition facility in Terre Haute, the Army looked into the production of deadly anthrax in 1944 as part of the little-known U.S. biological weapons program.  According to some sources, those chemicals were meant to have been used in proposed British anthrax bombs, which would have killed entire German cities. Fortunately, the end of the war came before any significant amount of the material was ever produced.  The Vigo County plant was later acquired by Pfizer.

As for native Hoosier chemist James Bert Garner, he kept on inventing, attempting to save lives in spite of the brutality of war. Garner lived with his family in Pittsburgh, where he worked as director of research for the Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel Company — the company that built the Gateway Arch in St. Louis starting in 1963.

Garner, however, died in 1960 at age 90.  Sometimes cited as the inventor of the gas mask — though he was really just one of many — he is buried at Pittsburgh’s Homewood Cemetery.

In spite of his efforts, chemical warfare has gone on to kill millions.


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 11, 1919

(Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 11, 1919.)

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