Lew Wallace and the Circassian Girl Hoax

an_odalisque_joseph_douglas

Enlightened 21st-century cruisers and abusers of the internet know the term “gone viral”: a video or tweet, often based on totally bogus handling of the facts, skyrockets to global popularity in days or even hours.

But viral news is as old as news itself.

In the early 1880s, Indiana’s great novelist and war hero, General Lew Wallace, author of the bestselling Ben-Hur, got caught up in one of the more trumped-up tales of nineteenth-century journalism — a story which, it turns out, has an incredibly bizarre “cousin” today, reverberating in the deadly chasms of fantasy that cut through the majestic sierras of the World Wide Web.  So beware, fellow climber: Lady Eros and the Yellow Journalist still get together.

The mildly erotic tale begins around 1883, when Lew Wallace was a well-known American public figure.  To quickly recap his bio: son of Governor David Wallace of Indiana, the “militant romantic” had served in the worst battles of the Civil War; sat on the trials of the Lincoln conspirators and Henry Wirz, the Swiss-born Confederate commander of Andersonville prison; fought as a Juarista general in the Mexican Army during the French invasion of 1865; and as Territorial Governor of New Mexico, helped reign in the outlaw Billy the Kid.

Slowly propelled to greater fame when Ben-Hur came out, Lew Wallace  went to Constantinople in 1881 as U.S. Minister to the Ottoman Empire.  The general and his wife, writer Susan Wallace, were ardent Orientalists. Yet Ben-Hur, set in Palestine, was published a year before they ever saw the Middle East, its description based on research in the Library of Congress.  Now, the couple traveled around the eastern Mediterranean.

During his four years as an American diplomat in Constantinople, the Hoosier writer became close friends with Ottoman Sultan Abdül Hamid II — though Wallace famously became “the first person to demand that the sultan shake his hand.”  When Grover Cleveland was elected U.S. President in 1884, Wallace’s term ended.  Abdül Hamid tried to get his friend to stay on and represent Turkish interests in Europe.  Wallace, instead, came home to Montgomery County.


       feb14lewwallace      Sultan Abdul Hamid II


Lew Wallace Autobiography

(Lew Wallace described watching a Turkish infantry and Circassian cavalry drill with the Ottoman Sultan in his Autobiography, published in 1906.)


The gossip mill, however, was already rolling years before Wallace sailed home to the States.  As early as September 2, 1882, the Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail reprinted a dramatic story from The Wasp, San Francisco’s acerbic satirical weekly perhaps best-known for its lurid political cartoons attacking Chinese immigration to the West Coast.  (The Wasp has been called California’s version of Puck and was staffed by extremely talented, if racist, illustrators.)

“An Unwelcome Present” was syndicated in other papers as far away as New Zealand and often got subtitled along the lines of “What the General’s Wife Thought of the Sultan’s Present.”

As far as I can tell, the tale first originated in the pages of The Wasp on August 5, 1882, where it ran under the title “That Present.”  What I find especially fascinating is that the magazine’s editor from 1881 to 1885 was no less than the sardonic Hoosier cynic Ambrose Bierce, whose Devil’s Dictionary had its genesis as a column in the California weekly.

Ambrose Bierce in Civil War

Like Wallace, Bierce fought at the terrifying Battle of Shiloh in 1862, serving as First Lieutenant in the ranks of the Ninth Indiana Infantry.  During his days as a journalist, Bierce also worked for William Randolph Hearst at The San Francisco Examiner.  To sell papers, the newspaper giant “routinely invented sensational stories, faked interviews, ran phony pictures and distorted real events.”


The Wasp August 2 1882

(Collections of the California State Library at www.archives.org.)


Did Bierce pen some “yellow journalism” about Lew Wallace and a Turkish harem girl?  I wouldn’t put it past him.  The Wasp’s  editor was one of the biggest misogynists of his day and took constant swipes at women.  To me, “An Unwelcome Present” sounds like one of Bierce’s tales or epigrams about the diabolical battle between the sexes, which he always portrayed as just slightly less gory than the bloodbath he and Wallace survived at Shiloh.  In any case, the gossipy piece about his fellow Hoosier got published under Ambrose Bierce’s editorial watch.

Here’s the whole comic tale as it appeared on the front page of the Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail:

An Unwelcome Present (1)

An Unwelcome Present (2)

An Unwelcome Present (3)

Writer and poet Susan Wallace, who grew up in Crawfordsville and married Lew in 1852, had no reason to fear her husband would take up with a concubine.  Yet Circassian beauties were all the rage during the long heyday of Orientalism.

The exotic Circassian mystique had been around for many decades.   Inhabiting the Caucasus Mountains at the eastern end of the Black Sea near Sochi (the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics), Circassians were hailed by 19th-century anthropologists as the apogee of the human form.  “Circassophilia” churned out many exotic myths about these people in Europe and America.  During the Enlightenment, the French writer Voltaire popularized a belief that Circassian women were the most beautiful on earth, “a trait that he linked to their practice of inoculating babies with the smallpox virus.”  In the 1790s, the invention of the so-called “Caucasian” race occurred when Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, one of the founders of physical anthropology, compared the anatomy of the beautiful, martial Circassians of what became North Turkey and southern Russia with the rest of humanity and categorized the mountain folk as the least “degenerate” humans.

Yet by the time of Wallace’s tenure in the Middle East in the 1880s, these tough mountaineers had been subdued by the Russians and Ottomans after long years of bloody warfare.  Legends about dazzling Circassian beauties abounded even as Circassia itself disappeared from the map.  One popular story went that the main source of wealth for fathers in the region was their breathtakingly beautiful daughters, whom they sold off to Turkish slave markets, though as writer in The Penny Magazine thought in 1838, Circassian women were “exceedingly anxious to be sold,” since life in a Turkish harem was “preferable to their own customs.”  In Constantinople, they were highly prized in harems — not to be confused with Western prostitution.  American abolitionist and women’s rights activist Lydia Maria Child devoted a chapter to Circassia in her 1838 History of the Condition of Women.


Circassian Cream

(Women from the Caucasus were known for their luxuriant hair and fueled idealized notions of female beauty in the West.  So-called Circassian hair oils, dyes, and creams were enormously popular at the time of the American Civil War.)


circassian women 2

 (A photo of actual Circassian beauties around 1880.)


The horrible trade in female slaves from the Caucasus was alive and well in the mid-1800s, when an alleged glut in the market led to their devaluation.  Good timing for American circus mogul P.T. Barnum.  In May 1864, he wrote to one of his employees, John Greenwood, who had traveled to Ottoman Cyprus to try to buy a Circassian girl on Barnum’s behalf.  Over a year after the Emancipation Proclamation in America, the circus owner wrote:

I still have faith in a beautiful Circassian girl if you can get one very beautiful. But if they ask $4000 each, probably one would be better than two, for $8000 in gold is worth about $14,500 in U.S. currency. So one of the most beautiful would do. . . But look out that in Paris they don’t try the law and set her free. It must be understood she is free. . .  Yours Truly, P.T. Barnum

Barnum’s fascination with acquiring and exhibiting women in his shows took on the elements of a personal erotic and racial fantasy.  Though most were “local girls,” as newspapers knew, Barnum billed his “Circassians” as escaped sex slaves and “the purest specimens of the white race.”  Figments of Barnum’s imagination, these women joined the ranks of the dime-show freaks, part of the offbeat spectacle of bearded ladies, sword-swallowers, and snake-handlers that drew in paying crowds.  Barnum’s harem girls enhanced their hair with beer to create a farfetched “Afro” look — exterior representations, can we say, of the crazy fantasies in Barnum’s own head?


Circassian Girl - Matthew Brady New York 1861

(Daguerreotype of a “Circassian beauty” by Matthew Brady, New York, circa 1861.  These intentional freaks dressed in the very opposite attire of their modest Central Asian “sisters.”)


Circassian Girl ad

(A major feature of the post-bellum American sideshows, Barnum’s racial and sexual fantasies showed up on postcards, cigarette advertisements, and fliers.  An impressive gallery of “Moss-Haired Girls,” as these women were called, has been collected online at Sideshow World.)


Terre Haute Weekly Express September 22 1869

(A trainload of “freaks” came through Terre Haute in 1869.  The group included the famous Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker, who had once toured the world but finally settled down in North Carolina.  Indiana State Geologist E.T. Cox, who had been hoaxed once, rode with them.  The conjoined twins, who married Southern women and whose sons fought for the Confederacy, did a European tour with P.T. Barnum in 1868.)


Jasper Weekly Courier August 10 1900

(Jasper Weekly Courier, August 12, 1900)


Obviously, this was not the kind of Circassian girl alleged by some gossiper or “yellow journalist” to have been given to Lew Wallace in Turkey.

On the eve of his return to America, the General tried to clear things up with the press.  The Indianapolis Journal carried this twist in the story on June 30, 1884:

Lew Wallace - That Circassian Girl - Indianapolis Journal June 30 1884

The website of the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum in Crawfordsville gives a slightly different perspective altogether:

As his tour of duty as envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to the Ottoman Empire came to an end in 1884, Lew Wallace was offered a number of gifts from his friend, Sultan Abdul Hamid II. These included Arabian horses, jewels, and works of art. As a representative of the government of the United States, Wallace graciously declined these expressions of friendship and gratitude. According to legend, as Wallace closed his office and packed his residence, the Sultan was able to secretly include the painting called The Turkish Princess, some elaborate carpets and a few other items in the shipping crates. The crates were delivered to Crawfordsville before Lew and Susan returned home. These items sent by the Sultan remained undiscovered by Wallace until he was back in Crawfordsville and opened the crates. The Turkish Princess, said to be one of the Sultan’s daughters, remains one of the highlights of the Study.

Wallace’s biographers Robert and Katharine Morsberger add a further footnote: “Malicious gossip-mongers claimed that the sultan had also provided Wallace a Circassian slave girl for his carnal pleasures and commiserated with Susan Wallace on her husband’s alleged concubine.  Both the sultan and the American minister had too much honor and mutual respect for such an arrangement.”


Lew Wallace Stuy

(The Turkish Princess, by Austrian Orientalist painter Leopold Müller, is the real Circassian girl and hangs in Wallace’s study in Crawfordsville to this day.)


Now are you ready for the big twist?

While researching this story, I discovered that “Circassophilia” is alive and well out in cyberspace.

When I stumbled across a striking painting of a Circassian beauty and a couple of attached photos on one website, I read the claim that this was no less than the “Gwaschemasch’e Kadın Efendi,” thirteenth wife of Turkish Sultan Abdül Hamid, friend of our own Lew Wallace.  I would not have blamed the General if he’d taken notice of this great beauty.

Many websites, none of which looked legit, echoed this claim.  If what the anonymous folks who clutter the internet with re-posts wanted to be true was true, this stunning Circassian woman was not just the Sultan’s wife, but an occult priestess who dabbled in fertility rituals.

One photo shows her offering some kind of sacrifice at the Neolithic Mnajdra temple in Malta in 1906.  A documentary (totally fake) gives more alleged footage of “Princess Gwaschemasch’e” sporting pagan symbols painted on her body at this  ancient Maltese fertility temple.  Another photo shows the same woman with her mother in Paris in the 1890s, and a drawing of a Turkish building in flames bears the (highly convenient) caption: “Fire at Çırağan Palace (1910) — Gwaschemasche’s childhood home was completely destroyed, resulting in the loss of many priceless cultural artifacts including Gwaschemasche’s manuscripts.”  The “princess,” we’re told, even contributed to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire a few decades after Wallace came back to the Midwest.


Circassian Girl painting

(The “Mother of Gwaschemash’e,” whose identity is cooked-up in a viral internet hoax, was based on a real 1876 painting by Jean-Léon Gerome, “Veiled Circassian Woman.”)


Turns out this is (or was) one of the biggest cyber hoaxes on the web. Perhaps thousands of internet users have been duped, especially on Tumblr.  A website apparently dedicated to exposing it, Circassian Voices, carries the fantastic title: “The Gwaschemasch’e Hoax: Cult of Circassian Eroticism, Neopaganism, Sisterhood of Jihad, South American Hooligans, and E-manipulation.”  Another supposed watchdog website, Knowing the Junsui, which stopped posting in 2009, will take you deep into the realm of what looks to me like a sprawling internet game, involving fabrication beyond even the usual tampering with Wikipedia and basic Photoshopping.  Circassian Voices points out a YouTube video created by a “hooligan” group in Santiago, Chile, Las Santas Guerreras de Gwaschemasch’e (“Holy Warriors of Gwaschemasch’e” — note the feminine guerreras), then suggests the whole thing might have been deliberately concocted by female Chechen warriors.  Sounds like a Jorge Luis Borges story to me!

But I’ll let you unravel all that.  Too bad Lew Wallace isn’t around to clear things up.  Alas, even the General might not be much help:

Indianapolis Journal June 30 1884

(Indianapolis Journal, June 30, 1884.)

America’s First Shot

Alexander Arch SB News Times September 9 1919 (2)

A century ago, American journalism was buzzing with news of the First World War, which the United States had still not entered.  Though jingoistic newspapermen and politicians of different stripes eventually swayed public opinion toward support for the “war against Kaiser Bill,” in 1915 sending American soldiers to Europe was still controversial.

Across the country, but especially in states with a large number of German-American voters, there was opposition to entering the war.  Isolationists and Socialists were of a similar mind, though often for different reasons.  Wisconsin’s Progressive U.S. Senator Robert LaFollette spoke out passionately against U.S. involvement, earning the ire of ex-President Theodore Roosevelt, who delivered a speech in Racine, Wisconsin, in 1917 where he called the senator a “shadow Hun” — the pejorative nickname for German soldiers.  Roosevelt toured the Upper Midwest to lash out at U.S. Representative Ernest Lundeen of Minnesota and North Dakota’s Senator Asle Gronna, both of whom later cast their votes against making a declaration of war.  (Lundeen was later accused of being a Nazi sympathizer and investigated by the FBI.)

Indiana’s own native son, Socialist presidential candidate and labor leader Eugene V. Debs, also spoke out against what he saw as America’s own involvement in militarism.  In 1918, on charges of sedition, President Wilson imprisoned Debs for his vocal opposition to the military draft during a speech in Canton, Ohio.

(If you’re a Newspapers.com subscriber, one of the more fascinating and hilarious journals from the World War I era is The Fool-Killera satirical “newspaper” published in the Brushy Mountains of Wilkes County, North Carolina, by James Larkin Pearson.  Pearson later became the Tar Heel State’s Poet Laureate.)


Fool Killer June 1 1916

(Lampooning the war-hawks “Toothadore Specksvelt” and Woodrow “Woodpile” in the June 1916 issue of his eccentric Fool Killer, James Larkin Pearson perfected the art of satire in this early forerunner of The Onion.)


Hoosier history is full of strange ironies.  One of them is this:  early on the morning of October 23, 1917, in the Luneville sector of eastern France, the first American soldier to fire an artillery shot against the “Huns” was a 24-year-old sergeant from South Bend, Alexander Arch,  a Hungarian.

Honored in newspapers in 1917 and again in 1919, after he returned from Europe and appeared in a parade with General Pershing, Arch was an emigrant from Sopron, on Hungary’s western border with Austria.  When he was born in 1894, his birth village was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which as an American soldier he was now at war with.

Arch’s parents emigrated to the U.S. in 1899, their children following in 1903, when Alexander was eight.  (They may have Anglicized their names.  His father appears on the 1910 U.S. census as “Steve Arch,” probably István in Hungarian.  Arch might have been spelled “Arcs” or “Arcz”.)  Steve Arch worked as a clerk at George Toth’s bookstore in South Bend.  Alexander’s mother, Theresa, died in 1910.


Alexander Arch SB News Times September 29 1919 (2)

(Arch with his Hungarian relatives at 239 N. Sadie Street.  South Bend News-Times, September 29, 1919.)


Alexander Arch SB News Times September 29 1919 (1)

(The photo appeared on the front page of the paper during the infamous Omaha Race Riot in Nebraska.)


In 1910, when he was 16 years old, Alexander Arch was employed at the Oliver Chilled Plough Works, one of South Bend’s major industries.  After Our Lady of Hungary Catholic Church was founded in 1916, the family were parishioners there.  Before heading to Europe, Arch was briefly stationed on the Mexican border during General John Pershing’s expedition against Pancho Villa.

A 1919 News-Times article on South Bend’s efforts to get the cannon that fired the first American artillery shell in World War I included this clip from Stars and Stripes, the official publication of the U.S. Expeditionary Force:

The first American artillery shot of the war was fired at five minutes after 6 o’clock the morning of Oct. 23, 1917, from a position about 400 meters east of Bathlemont, in the Luneville sector.

A French 75, dragged by the hands of American artillerymen over 800 meters of rough roads on a pitch black night, roared America’s artillery prelude at daybreak.  A heavy fog flashed into flame, a shrapnel shell coursed over the woods and valleys of Meurthe-et-Moselle, crossed a boundary line and fell somewhere in Lorraine.

Battery C of the sixth field artillery is so positive that this shell was America’s first shot that it has just prepared a sworn statement signed by an officer and four enlisted men who were in on the event, telling all the circumstances leading up to it.  The statement reveals, incidentally, that the original shell casing is now in Chicago, and that 18 other casings of that first morning’s firing were distributed among Pres’t Wilson, Gen. Pershing, Gen. Sibert, then commanding the first division, and others.

The gun is now at the United States Military Academy at West Point with other newly transported war trophies.   Before it left France, though, it had fired 20,000 rounds in action, and none of the gun crew serving it had been wounded.

The firing of the first shot was ceremonial, according to the signed statement, each man in the gun crew performing some task.  One soldier set the sights, another the elevation of the range, another the angle of site and another cut the fuse.  Twenty men were gathered about the gun when the command “Fire!” was given.  Because of the fog it was impossible to observe the effect of the first shot, but at 7 a.m., when the fog lifted, the firing was directed from an observation post to Haut Rioville farm in No-Man’s Land.

Sgt. Arch was chief of the gun crew, and at least one other man, Corporal Lewis Varady, a fellow Hungarian, also came from South Bend.

America’s direct involvement in World War I lasted barely a year and Arch was back in the U.S. in mid-1919.  In September, “Thunderous cheers followed by loud applause greeted Sgt. Alexander Arch, South Bend’s history maker, upon his visit to the House of Representatives. . .”  Arch and Varady received a three-minute standing ovation before heading on to Camp Zachary Taylor near Louisville, Kentucky, but not before receiving a triumphal welcome home in Indiana.

After the acclaimed veteran was mustered out of the army at Camp Taylor, he worked as a machinist and auto worker, probably at the Studebaker plant.  Arch married Julia Rebics in 1924 and the couple had four children.  He died in 1979.


Alexander Arch September 17 1919


During a victory parade in 1919, the Hoosier soldier was literally “profiled” in The Washington Times.  The newspaper thought he had a heroic face and a good jaw line, and used his experience as an exhortation to rise and shine, since “there are a good many victories won before breakfast”:

Alexander Arch Washington Times September 17 1919 (3)


Alexander Arch SB News Times September 28 1919

(South Bend News-Times, September 28, 1919.)


The News-Times had some of the best illustrators in Hoosier journalism.  Here are some other historic ads, cartoons, and flashy martial cries — most of it blatantly Germanophobic — published in the South Bend paper around the fateful year 1918.

SB News Times September 26 1918 (3)


SB News Times September 26 1918 (6)


SB News Times May 9 1918


SB News Times September 26 1918 (5)


SB News Times September 28 1918 (1)


SB News Times Sept 9 1917

That Foulsome Air May Do No Harm

vajen mask

An entry in Hyman’s Handbook to Indianapolis recently caught my eye.  A strange masked man stalks this great guide to the old and now mostly vanished architecture of the city in 1909.

My thoughts raced to Jules Verne’s deep-sea divers, Renaissance plague doctors dressed like bizarre birds, steampunk fashion designers, and of course the epic villain, Darth Vader.

Even the name of the company that once manufactured this pioneer fireman’s oxygen mask in the Hoosier State had a science-fiction ring to it: the Vajen-Bader Company.

Smoke, sulphur, and ammonia pose problems similar to those faced by divers and even doctors wading into disease-ridden “miasmas” (the “bad air” mentioned in old medical manuals).  So it should come as no surprise that the invention of smoke helmets is part of a much bigger history.  The tragedy is that the protective devices used by groundbreaking medical men, underwater explorers, and firefighters evolved into the gas masks used in the chemical warfare that made World War I so uniquely terrifying at the time.

In 1893, Indianapolis hardware salesman and inventor Willis C. Vajen earned his place in the history of masks and life-saving.


Salt Lake Herald August 10 1896 (2)

(Salt Lake Herald, Salt Lake City, Utah, August 10, 1896.)


Vajen (whose name, I believe, is pronounced “Vie-en”) came from one of the capitol city’s most prominent and wealthy families.  His father, John Henry Vajen, emigrated from Bremen, Germany, to Baltimore with his parents in 1836, then moved west with them to Cincinnati, Ohio, and eventually Jackson County, Indiana.  (John Vajen, Sr., had been a professor in Germany, a talented organist, and a Lutheran minister, and served as pastor of a large log church near Seymour.)  Vajen, Jr., went into the hardware business and made a small fortune in trading and banking.  During the Civil War, J.H. Vajen became the thrifty Quartermaster General of Indiana and was known as Governor Oliver P. Morton’s right-hand man.  He died in 1917.

Willis Vajen ultimately followed in his father’s footsteps.  After attending a seminary in Hamburg, Germany, Earlham College in Richmond, and Wittenburg College in Ohio, he, too, went into the hardware business.  His sales knack probably had something to do with his skill in design.  (Vajen filed patents for tools and machinery, like this plumb bob and a rein support for horses.)  “Vajen & New” was located at 64 E. Washington St., offering Indianapolitans the best selection of lawn mowers, saw vises, rubber hoses, fishing tackle, fly-screen doors, White Mountain Ice Cream freezers, garden rakes, rubber hoses, and roller skates.


indianapolis news april 13 1886

(Indianapolis News, April 13, 1886.)

Indianapolis Journal October 9 1884

(Indianapolis Journal, October 9, 1884.)


No mere humble merchants of garden tools and sporting goods, the Vajens married into great families.  Willis Vajen was wed to Anna Claypool, daughter of the wealthy Connersville businessman Edward F. Claypool.  (Ironically, the majestic Claypool Hotel, named for the inventor’s father-in-law and once one of the great landmarks of the city, was destroyed by arson in 1967.)  Vajen’s sister Fannie Belle married Charles Stewart Voorhees, son of Senator Daniel Voorhees.  (Charles Voorhees represented Washington Territory in Congress.)  The Vajens often vacationed at their summer cottage on Lake Maxincuckee in northern Indiana, loaning it to the Hoosier novelist Booth Tarkington and his wife Laurel Fletcher in 1902.

Yet Willis Vajen’s claim to fame is the “smoke protector” that he perfected with William Bader in 1893.  Apparently one or both of these men had witnessed a tragic hotel fire where rescuers were unable to reach the fourth floor due to smoke, the inspiration for their efforts at invention.  A German immigrant, Bader was a piano maker by profession and may have come up with the idea first.  Testimony from a lawsuit filed in U.S. Court in 1899 has it that Vajen first saw a photograph of the device in the music store where Bader worked, and the  two worked together to improve efficacy of the mask, meanwhile helped along by Dennis Swenie, Chicago’s fire chief.  A clip in the Los Angeles Herald suggests that “William Baders” was the real genius, Vajen only “furnishing the capital for the enterprise.”  The court’s verdict, however, was that Vajen deserved most of the credit.


hyman's handbook 2

(Hyman’s Handbook to Indianapolis, 1909.)


The struggle to perfect a mask that can ward off the assault of smoke, water, noxious fumes, and even the plague goes back centuries.  News articles heralding the Vajen-Bader Patent Smoke Protector often remarked that it looked like a sea-diver’s helmet.  This, too, was a new invention.  English brothers Charles and John Deane had been inspired to invent their famous copper diving helmet in the 1820s after witnessing a fire at a smoke-filled horse stable.  When the Deanes attached a leather hose to pump fresh oxygen into their firefighting helmet, scuba-diving took a great leap forward.  (While wearing such an outfit in 1836, John Deane discovered Henry VIII’s long-lost warship Mary Rose, sunk off the Isle of Wight three-hundred years before.)


Deane Helmet

(English underwater explorers John and Charles Deane invented the diver’s helmet in 1823 while figuring out a better way to fight fires.  In 1893, French marine scientist Louis Boutan wore a similar diver’s suit and became the world’s first underwater photographer.)


Another fascinating European forerunner of the Vajen-Bader mask was the plague doctor’s costume.  While these seem like creatures of the fantastic imagination to us today, in the 17th century doctors venturing into epidemic-ridden cities sported masks resembling bird beaks, along with heavy protective suits that they believed gave protection from “miasmatic air.”  Filled with scented herbs and spices like ambergris, myrrh, mint, cloves, and rose petals, the doctor’s elongated “beak” was designed as a kind of air filter.   Credited to the Parisian doctor Charles de l’Orme, these ornithologically-inspired plague garments were in use as early as 1619 and later became a feature in the Venetian carnival.


plague doctors mask 2

(The crystal eyeballs and Moroccan leather in this 17th-century doctor’s get-up were oddly echoed by Hoosier innovator Willis C. Vajen, who outfitted his smoke helmets with delicate mica ear pieces to allow firefighters to hear and used sturdy leather that protected the neck and head against falling incendiary debris.)


plague doctors mask

(Doktor Schnabel von Rom, a.k.a. “Doctor Beak of Rome,” wears Kleidung wider den Tod — “clothing against death” — in this 1656 broadside.  The engraving is written in “macaronic language,” a mix of German and Latin.  Bilingualism was also common in Hoosier newspapers.)


When Willis Vajen and William Bader undertook work on their smoke helmet, other innovators had already tried out an array of devices, ranging from primitive sponges and lightweight “respiratory veils” to more sophisticated contraptions, like the one invented in the 1870’s by Irish physicist John Tyndall, who incorporated a cotton filter saturated with lime, charcoal,  and glycerin.  A different device was the respirator pioneered by Bernhard Loeb, who attached metal air canisters to the mask’s mouth.

Chicago’s Fire Chief Dennis J. Swenie endorsed Vajen and Bader’s invention early on — although as he wrote in a letter reprinted in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette in May 1897, a few technical snags stood in the way:

Some two years ago Willis C. Vajen, an Indianapolis inventor, brought me a smoke helmet or protector and asked me what I thought of it.  He will himself, no doubt, admit that it was a crude and cumbersome affair.  The principle material in its construction was sole leather, and its window was of a single thickness or pane of glass.  It did not have facilities for enabling the wearer to hear, and the tank for the compressed air was fully six times larger than was necessary.

However, it was clear that the inventor was on the right track. . .  As it stands now, the weight of the helmet is practically nothing, resting upon the shoulders.  The protector is made of asbestus tanned horsehide and is securely fastened by means of two straps which pass from the back under the arms and snap into rings in front.  Its top is padded and is also re-enforced with transverse seams of the hard leather, which stand up to the height of about an inch.  This makes it capable of withstanding a very heavy blow and forms an almost perfect protection against falling bricks and small stones.

Directly at the back of the neck is a small air tank, which can be filled by means of an ordinary force pump such as the bicyclists use for inflating their pneumatic tires.  It will hold 100 pounds of compressed air and has a tiny gauge attached which registers the pressure of air within.  The first five or ten minutes at a fire generally determines the result, and the total capacity of the air tank is sufficient to last a man for 40 minutes.

“Delicate mica diaphragms” for the ears and eyes helped with vision and hearing, as a did a double-paned window.  “Both eye and ear pieces are protected by strong wire guards. . .  On the front exterior, where it may be easily reached, is a signal whistle, which does not consume any of the pure air from the reservoir.  The operation of the signal, which is loud and sharp, makes no drain upon the breathing resources of the fireman.”

An article in Fire & Water Engineering in 1906 adds:  “It is neat; it weighs only six pounds; it can be put on as easily as a coat. . . There is no hose attachment which is liable to kink or break and thus impede the movements of the wearer.”


vajen mask 3


patent-vajen1


The Vajen-Bader Company’s life-saving invention caught on fast.  Praise came not only from American fire chiefs, but from international clients.  Operating out of a space on the second floor of the old Indianapolis Public Library a block north of Monument Circle (and later at a factory in Richmond, Indiana), the company filled orders from customers as diverse as meatpackers, mining and gas companies, breweries, and the British and Chilean navies.  Overseas agents in Johannesburg, London, and Yokohama marketed the smoke protector around the globe.  In 1897, fire fighters from Dublin, Ireland, to Wellington, New Zealand were “using them with entire satisfaction.”

The masks sold for $100, a large investment for some municipal fire departments, but Hyman’s Handbook claimed that “during the first year an estimated $3,000,000 worth of property was saved by the use of this new device.”


old indianapolis public library 1896

(A small team of workers made Vajen-Bader smoke protectors on the second floor of the old Indianapolis Public Library at the corner of Ohio and Meridian streets.  Demolished in the 1960s during the horrors of urban renewal, the library also once housed the Board of Public School Commissioners, at a site now occupied by the downtown Sheraton Hotel.  www.whatwasthere.com)


A contemporary article from the Los Angeles Herald touts the value of the smoke helmet in preventing minor fires from turning into major ones.

Often a fire of insignificant proportions causes such a dense volume of smoke that it is quite impossible for its location to be discovered, and it smoulders thus until it has gained such headway that it is impossible to extinguish it. 

When Willis Vajen attended a firefighters’ convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1896, his cutting-edge device was the star of the show.  The Salt Lake Herald reprinted testimony from the fire department in Kansas City, Missouri, which had already put the mask to a rigorous test.  As KC’s Fire Chief George C. Hale (a great innovator himself) wrote, firemen found a house “which had a cellar underneath, with no ventilation whatsoever.”

In the cellar was dug a hole, in which was placed one of the worst smelling conglomerations of combustibles ever heaped together — sulphur, feathers, tar, wooden and cotton rags and burlap sacks.  Hardly had the match been touched to the pile, until a dense volume of smoke began to roll up out of the single trap door that led down into the cellar.  When the penetrating fumes of sulphur set everyone to coughing, there were many who shook their heads and said no one could possibly live five minutes in the cellar.  The smoke pushed its way up the brick wall and was coming out at the crevices.

Second Assistant Chief Henderson was selected to wear the helmet.  The cylinder was filled with air until there was a 100-pound pressure.  The whistle was tested to see if it would sound.  The helmet was dropped over Henderson’s head and strapped around his body.

“If you grow weak or begin to suffocate,” said Chief Hale, “blow your whistle vigorously and we will come after you.”

The rap door was then raised and the fireman disappeared into the sickening, penetrating smoke.  The door was shut tightly.  Not a breath of pure air could reach the man in the helmet.

Then the crowd began to wait.  Watches were looked at and after a couple of minutes had elapsed without hearing any sound from the fireman, several began to grow nervous, thinking that the sulphur fumes might have gotten in quick work and strangled him.  The door was partly raised and Chief Hale called to Henderson to blow his whistle.  A far-off sound came from the cellar, telling that Henderson was in good shape. . .

The smoke continued to grow denser and blacker, and the odor more vile.  Henderson’s whistle sounded frequently and no uneasiness was felt.  Eighteen minutes had elapsed from the time when he had gone into the cellar, when he knocked on the door. . .

“How did you stand it, Alec?” queried everybody.

“Stand it!  Why, I could have stayed down there all day.  It was dark as midnight, but I could breathe as easily as I do now. . .”

When the pressure gauge of the air cylinder was examined it was found that only ten pounds of air had been used, ninety pounds being left.


Squad 52 Cincinnati

(Two of this team of firefighters of Squad 52 in Cincinnati, Ohio, wear Vajen-Bader smoke protectors, circa 1920.)


Salt Lake Herald August 10 1896

(Salt Lake Herald, August 10, 1896.)


Indianapolis News October 1 1896

Firemen wearing the novel smoke helmets came to the rescue after an ammonia explosion at Schmidt’s Brewery, a subsidiary of the Indianapolis Brewing Company, nearly killed a number of workers on the night of September 31, 1896.  The Indianapolis News reported:

The fire that started in the second story of the building in the malt mill was subdued by the fire department.  It was a hard fire to reach as the fumes of ammonia were strong, and it was almost impossible for a man to get near the building.  The firemen say that this is the first difficult fire they have had since the Vajen-Bader smoke protector was adopted by the department, and that these helmets made it possible for the men to enter the building and reach the fire with the chemical engines.  They say that although the fumes of ammonia were strong enough to render an unprotected fireman unconscious, the men wearing the helmets suffered no inconvenience from the fumes.


willis c vajen obit 1900


Aged 49, Willis Vajen, who suffered from life-long anemia, died at his home at 23 E. Vermont St. on July 22, 1900 and was buried at Crown Hill.  In one of history’s bizarre twists, all the houses on Vajen’s block were demolished around 1921 to make way for the mammoth Indiana World War Memorial, the city’s enormous Egyptian-inspired temple to the veterans of World War I.

These soldiers, of course, were the first to use the terrifying invention whose evolution was partly due to the Vajen-Bader smoke protector.  When the 20th century was still young, the gas mask wove its way into sickening nightmares, both dreamed and awake, as Europe — and then the whole world — caught on fire.


Altoona Tribune March 26 1918

(Altoona Tribune, Altoona, Pennsylvania, March 26, 1918.)


german soldiers in gas masks

(German soldiers and a mule wear gas masks on the Western Front during World War I.  Spike-helmeted firemen in Berlin’s Fire Department had already supplanted the mule and the horse with the bicycle as early as 1899, as shown in this issue of the Louisville Courier-Journal.)


Victor_Bulla_-_Young_Pioneers_Defence - Leningrad 1937

(Young Pioneers Defense, Leningrad, Russia, 1937, by photographer and early filmmaker Viktor Bulla.)


tobruk onions

(American soldiers peel onions while wearing gas masks in Tobruk, Libya, during World War II.)


Plunge headfirst into history at Hoosier State Chronicles.  Have any feedback or follow-ups?  I’m waiting with bated breath:  staylor336 [AT] gmail.com.

The Fall of the House of Ford

lincoln indiana

Exactly 150 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln, who spent part of his rail-splitting boyhood in Spencer County in southern Indiana, fell victim to the bullet of the 26-year-old actor John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater.  Soon, the president’s body headed west by train, stopping in Richmond, Indiana, for a public viewing at 2:00 in the morning on April 30, then on to Indianapolis and Michigan City, with short stopovers at small Hoosier train stations along the way.

In a downpour, possibly fifty thousand Hoosiers viewed Lincoln’s open casket in the rotunda of the old State House.  (At a time when the population of the capitol city was less than 40,000, the crowd of black-draped mourners must have been a spectacle in itself.  Many were African Americans clutching copies of the Emancipation Proclamation.)  Just before midnight, a carriage brought the president’s coffin through the rainy streets of Indianapolis, lit by torches and bonfires, to Union Depot, where it departed north by train for the south shore of Lake Michigan, en route to Chicago and eventually to Springfield, Illinois.


lincoln funeral michigan city

(Lincoln funeral cortege in Michigan City, 8:00 a.m., May 1, 1865.)


An exhibit running through July 7 at the Indiana State Museum, So Costly a Sacrifice: Lincoln and Loss, includes some actual “relics” of that fateful Good Friday in 1865 when Booth shot Indiana’s favorite son.  Among the artifacts are a few that seem like medieval religious relics:  clothing with spots alleged to be the blood of Honest Abe, and  a piece of the burning barn in Port Royal, Virginia, where the assassin met his own fate at the hands of a Union soldier, the eccentric street-preacher Boston Corbett.

One of the most interesting things to me about the Lincoln assassination and the funeral that came after is the apparent curse on the people and even the physical things involved in it.  Poe’s Raven could be telling the story, and the bird of death keeps on talking, quawking not “Nevermore” — just “More.”

What happened to Booth and Corbett is pretty bizarre and appalling.  Basil Moxley, a doorman at Ford’s Theater who claimed that he served as one of Booth’s pallbearers in Baltimore in 1865, fed a conspiracy theory in 1903 when he asserted that another man is buried in the plot and that Lincoln’s murderer actually escaped to Oklahoma or Texas.  A mummy hoax brought the assassin back to life as a sideshow attraction in the 1920s.  But perhaps the moody English-American actor would have been thrilled to know that the morbid tragedy he let loose wasn’t over yet.

For instance, Booth’s own killer probably went down surrounded by flames.  It is thought that Boston Corbett died in the massive forest fire that consumed Hinckley, Minnesota, in 1894.  And oddly enough, the very train car that carried Lincoln’s corpse west to Illinois from Washington also burned in Minnesota.  In March 1911, while in storage in the northeastern outskirts of Minneapolis, the historic Lincoln funeral car perished in a “spectacular prairie fire.”


lincoln funeral car

(Minneapolis Sunday Journal, March 19, 1911.)


photo

(This decorative fan now on display at the Indiana State Museum commemorates the Lincoln assassination.  John Wilkes Booth goes down in smoke on the far right.)


In 1893, a year before the inferno in the North Woods probably claimed Corbett’s life, news readers followed the ghastly story of Ford’s Theater’s own doom.  On June 10, the Indianapolis Journal ran this especially sentimental, tear-jerking news piece on the front-page:

fords theater collapse - indianapolis journal june 10 1893

As the Journal tells it:

Hundreds of men carried down by the floors of a falling building which was notoriously insecure; human lives crushed out by tons of brick and iron and sent unheralded to the throne of their Maker; men by the score maimed and disfigured for life; happy families hurled into the depths of despair. . . Words cannot picture the awfulness of the accident.  Its horrors will never be fully told.  Its suddenness was almost the chief terror. . . Women who kissed their loved ones as they separated will have but the cold, bruised faces to kiss to-night. . . In the national capitol of the proudest nation on earth there has been a catastrophe unparalleled in the annals of history, and in every mind there is the horrible conviction that its genesis is to be found in the criminal negligence of a government too parsimonious to provide for the safety of its loyal servants by protecting its property for their accommodation.

At 9:30 a.m. on June 9, the front part of Ford’s Theater, a notoriously rickety and rotten old structure then being used as a government office building, collapsed, sending beams, iron, and over a hundred employees plummeting toward the basement.  Twenty-eight years after Abraham Lincoln was shot here, twenty-two men were killed and sixty-eight injured in one of the deadliest disasters in Washington, D.C.’s, history.  (In a twist of irony, the same day the theater collapse made national headlines, John Wilkes Booth’s brother, the great American actor Edwin Booth, was laid to rest at the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Many said that Edwin Booth’s life and death were overshadowed by two different tragedies and the curse of Ford’s Theater.)


fords theater collapse june 10 1893


fords theater draped

(Ford’s Theater draped in mourning for President Lincoln.)


Collapsing structures were a major news item in the 1890s.  Almost every week, American papers reported mass casualties at overcrowded factories and apartment buildings, especially in Chicago and cities back on the East Coast, where poor construction and dry rot led to the deaths of thousands of industrial workers and tenants — often women and children.  During the Progressive era, such tragedies inspired reformers like the photographers Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine (who documented child workers in Indianapolis in 1908) to illustrate the real peril of shoddy, dilapidated buildings in the workplace and at home.

In 1893, Ford’s Theater was probably one of the most dangerous structures in America.  Built in 1863 by the 34-year-old entrepreneur John T. Ford, the building occupied the site of a Baptist Church-turned-theater that had burned down a year earlier.  John Ford’s business was a victim of Booth, too.  After the Lincoln assassination, public opinion and the U.S. government both decided that it was inappropriate to use the site of the nation’s great tragedy for entertainment.  Ford wanted to re-open his theater, but received arson threats from at least one Lincoln mourner.  The Federal government appropriated the playhouse, compensating its owner with $88,000 in July 1866.

Even before the government actually paid for the building, renovations were underway.  In December 1865, the suitably morbid Army Medical Museum moved onto the third floor.  “A far cry from the once jovial theater,” the famous local landmark now housed an array of skeletons in glass cases, body parts, surgical tools, and other gory reminders of military medicine.  The Library of the Surgeon General’s Office soon occupied the second floor.


fords theater medical museum

(From 1866 to 1887,  Ford’s Theater housed medical exhibits.  An active theater for just two years, the place was a literal showcase of death for more than twenty.  The museum later moved to a new location at 7th & Independence.  A section of John Wilkes Booth’s vertebrae was on display here for years.)


fords theater medical museum 2


guiteau

(The Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail reprinted an incorrect rumor that the skull of Charles Guiteau, assassin of President James Garfield, was on display at Ford’s Theater when the building collapsed in 1893.  Guiteau’s skeleton did go on exhibit there, but had been moved to the new museum at 7th & Independence, where his brain and partial skeleton are still in the collections of the National Museum of Health and Medicine.  Guiteau’s head was also reported to be touring southern Indiana during World War I.)


The other floors of the former theater housed the War Department’s Office of Records and Pensions.  The unstable, visibly bulging building was the workplace of several hundred employees and was further imperiled by probably a few tons of heavy paperwork, the red tape of veterans’ pensions.

After the building succumbed to gravity and rot in 1893, American public opinion was almost as outraged as at the assassination of Lincoln.  The Indianapolis Journal wrote:

As long ago as 1885, this building. . .  was officially proclaimed by Congress an unsafe depository for even the inanimate skeletons, mummies and books of the army medical museum, for which a safer place of storage was provided by an act of Congress.  But notwithstanding the fact that in the public press, and in Congress, also, continued attention was called to the bulging walls of the building, its darkness and its general unsuitability and unsafety, it continued to be used for the daily employment of nearly five-hundred government clerks of the pension record division of the War Office.

According to a riveting coroner’s inquest that whipped up public excitement, workers at what the Indianapolis Journal dubbed “Ford’s death trap” had been intimidated and cowed into silence by their tyrannical boss, former army surgeon Col. Fred Ainsworth.  Afraid of being fired, the endangered clerks didn’t protest the condition of the building and later testified that Ainsworth’s assistants had told them to tip-toe on the stairway to keep from falling through.  Investigators determined that the “old ruin’s” collapse finally came while a low-bidding contractor, George W. Dant, was making repairs to the building.  (A support in the basement gave way.)

Court testimony relayed in the Journal resonated with public opinion.  “The government did not want skilled men to execute its contracts, and it would not pay fair prices for good work. . .” the paper claimed.  “An architect testified that the cement used in underpinning the piers supporting the old building was ‘little better than mud.’  A builder said the manner of the work was suicidal.”  Another report said that for years the decaying structure also suffered from “defective sanitary conditions.”

One of the public figures who weighed in on the federal investigation was Indiana Congressman William S. Holman.  A Dearborn County native, Holman sat in Congress from 1859 to 1897 and was  once ranked as the longest-serving U.S. Representative.  He was also a notoriously frugal hawk on government spending.  (Yet far from being a total naysayer, Holman passionately advocated the Homestead Act that tried to break up the domination of Western public lands by big railroads.  He also indirectly helped establish the U.S. Forest Service by providing for Federal timber reserves.)


william s. holman 2

(U.S. Representative William Steele Holman of Aurora, Indiana, kept a famously tight wallet but was a great opponent of land monopolies and unregulated corporations after the Civil War.  He helped establish Yellowstone National Park and was described as “a botanist of no mean ability” and a friend of public forests.)


mr holman talks - jasper weekly courier june 1893


As chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, the curmudgeonly Holman oversaw a lot of government funding.  On June 23, 1893, the Jasper Weekly Courier reported that after Ford’s Theater collapsed, even the arch-fiscal conservative was ready to “deal liberally in the matter of providing safe public buildings, and enact such legislation as would look to the preservation of human life.”  The Indiana Congressman supported moving the U.S. Government Printing Office — ranked with the old theater as one of the worst potential death traps in Washington, D.C. — to a new location.  (The weight of printing equipment housed on upper stories was part of the problem.)

Yet once it was rebuilt after the 1893 collapse, Ford’s Theater returned to government use — oddly enough, as a storage warehouse for the Government Printing Office.  The building narrowly survived being condemned for demolition by President Taft in 1912.  From 1931 until renovations in the mid-1960s, the historic structure housed a government annex and a first-floor Lincoln museum.  Restored to its 1865 appearance and now run by the National Park Service, it opened as a public museum in 1968.


liberty express

(Liberty Express, Liberty, Indiana, February 11, 1921.)


fords theater 1900s

(Ford’s Theater in an early 20th-century stereograph.)


edwin booth

(The Indianapolis Journal took note of the strange coincidence that Ford’s Theater crumbled on the very day that Edwin Booth was buried in Massachusetts.  Edgar Allan Poe, author of “The Fall of the House of Usher,” would have appreciated the irony.)


Explore other strange tales of yesteryear at Hoosier State Chronicles.  And feel free to fire off a round or two at me at staylor336 [AT] gmail.com

The Where and the What of The When

THE WHEN (3)

Hoosier State Chronicles is getting ready to upload a large run of issues of the Indianapolis Journal from the mid-1890s.  Dominating the front page of Sunday editions in those days are massive, elephantine ads for one of the most colorful clothing stores ever to exist anywhere in the U.S.  This was downtown Indy’s great shopping emporium, The When.

In the days before parking garages and flight to the suburbs plunged downtowns into decline, urban cores all over America were a fascinating architectural wonderland.  Panoramic images of Indianapolis 120 years ago often leave me wondering if I live in the same town, so devastating has been the toll of the wrecking ball, the termite, and (yes) bad urban planning.  Before the auto, pedestrians walked or were funneled down to the business district on trolleys or carriages from neighborhoods not very far out.  And amid the amazing visual spectacle that met shoppers’ eyes at the turn of the century, there stands the ingenuity, humor, and incredible marketing smarts of John Tomlinson Brush.

Born in upstate New York in 1845 and orphaned at age four, Brush was raised by his grandfather, went to business college, then served in the 1st New York Artillery during the Civil War.  Moving from Troy to Indianapolis in 1875 at age thirty, he purchased a brand new, Napoleon the Third-style building at 36 N. Pennsylvania St. and planned to open a branch store of a New York City clothing wholesaler there.

Brush kept changing the opening date.  Probably as a tease to drum up interest, in February 1875 he hung a huge sign outside the store with the simple word (more an exclamation than a question) “WHEN?”  Advertisements in the local newspapers also carried just that one-word tease.  The name stuck, and the lavishly decorated clothing outlet became an instant consumer hit, soon ranked as the biggest of its kind in Indiana.


WHEN building 2


the when November 23 1890

(Ads for The When dominated the front page of the Indianapolis Sunday Journal for over two decades.)


2163764238_f458a71d30_o

(New York native John Tomlinson Brush, 1845-1912, was a savvy salesman, razor-sharp humorist, and baseball magnate.)


John T. Brush (some thought his name was John “Tooth” Brush) was gifted with an ample sense of humor and, I hear, was also a clever cartoonist, though I haven’t seen any of his illustrations.  His knack for marketing was far-reaching.  Not only did he see The When “elegantly appointed” with iron balustrades, gas lighting, and a courtyard, he also outfitted it with an array of unusual attractions meant to lure shoppers.  The When had a baseball team, called The When Store team, and a resident brass band, The When Band.  Brush’s musicians played in a second-floor band shell and gave Saturday evening concerts outside on the street and even up on the roof.  As we’ll see below, other colorful attractions also greeted shoppers.

Brush got rich quick in Indianapolis, but unlike many capitalists with Eastern roots, he stuck around for good.  And in the 1880s, The When’s owner became a prominent pioneer of baseball both in the Hoosier State and around the country.

Originally conceived to drum up business for the store, the Indianapolis Hoosiers were a short-lived local baseball team bankrolled by the clothing merchant.  In 1882, he financed the creation of a ball park, Seventh Street Park, also called Tinker Park, at a site now occupied by Methodist Hospital.  The Hoosiers played in the National League from about 1885 to 1889, when they folded.  Brush later bought the St. Louis Maroons, the Cincinnati Reds, and eventually the great New York Giants, which he owned from 1902 until his death in 1912.

Baseball historian Bill Lamb writes:

Local legend has it that Brush first became enthusiastic about the game after reading a Spalding Guide confiscated from an idle store clerk. Or that Brush’s interest stemmed from acceptance of stock in an Indianapolis ball club as payment for a debt. The facts are more prosaic. Brush was first exposed to baseball while working at company stores in upstate New York, a hotbed of the early game. Later he seized upon baseball as a vehicle for advertising The When Store. In 1882 Brush organized a municipal baseball league, building a diamond with a grandstand in northwestern Indianapolis for league games and engaging Jack Kerins as player-manager of the When Store team.


1888_Indianapolis_Hoosiers

(The Indianapolis Hoosiers at Tinker Park, 1888.  I assume Jack Kerins is the man in the center.)


hoosiers 1


As a kind of New Year’s gift to his loyal shoppers in 1895, Brush helped bring a clever attraction to downtown Indy:  a pair of leopard cubs.  The adorable creatures, named Carl and Amanda, were loaned from the great Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, which wintered in its home base of Peru, Indiana.  The cubs spent about a week as a window attraction at Brush’s store while the circus performed at English’s Opera House nearby.


the when january 6 1895


the when january 8 1895


On January 9, the baby leopards got a letter from a bear — and from their mother down the street.  (Mrs. Puss Leopard was quite the gossiper.) The feline correspondence was featured on the front page, in The When’s usual space:

the when january 10 1895


the when january 11 1895


the when january 12 1895


chad ballard

(Chad Ballard, son of Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus owner Ed Ballard, around 1915, possibly in French Lick, Indiana.  French Lick West Baden Museum.)


john t. brush (2)

John Brush lived to see the New York Giants play in three World Series and was married to stage actress Elsie Lombard. Suffering from a nerve ailment after 1902, he died in his private railroad car near Louisiana, Missouri, in 1912.  He came home to a lavish funeral in Indianapolis, attended by many of the greats of the baseball world.

The When Building, which also housed Indianapolis Business College, was sold off to C.S. Ober in the 1940s and came to be known as the Ober Building.  Like much of the city’s former architectural splendor, it was demolished by a wrecking ball and is now the site of a parking garage.


WHEN building

(www.whatwasthere.com)


30 N. Pennsylvania St

(www.whatwasthere.com)


Though the When is “Gone With the When,” it’s worthy of our deepest praise.  Here’s some of my favorite advertisements from Way Back When.


the when December 25 1892 (2)


the when November 9 1890


the When November 22 1891


the when May 20 1888


the when january 14 1895


the when january 22 1895


THE WHEN (4)

(The When Clothing Store stands in the right foreground in this panoramic image of Indianapolis from 1907.)

A Skirt Divided

two women on cycle

Rummaging through the always-interesting (and sometimes shockingly relevant) news of the 1890s, I recently ran across a Sunday extra in the Indianapolis Journal.  On April 28, 1895, an eight-page supplement — the “Bicycle Edition” — was devoted entirely to the cycling craze that engulfed the Hoosier State and the rest of the country.

Later this spring, we’ll be uploading the “Bicycle Edition” to Hoosier State Chronicles.  Meanwhile, here’s a sneak peek at the early days of folks on spokes.

Bicycles’ huge role in the women’s rights movement was common news a hundred years ago and, in the 1890s, stirred up a ton of buzz in American newspapers.  While our great-grandmothers would not have needed much reminding about how important mobility on wheels had been to achieving equal rights with men, the turn-of-the-century female cycling phenomenon was later mostly forgotten.  (A great book published by National Geographic in 2011 has helped bring it back into the light:  check out Sue Macy’s Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom.)

Every generation has its great social debates, and Indiana was no stranger to hot discussions about women on wheels.

Hostility toward the newfangled bicycle took on many forms: from horse salesmen and carriage drivers who thought it hurt their business, to ministers who complained about cyclists skipping church on Sunday to go out on country rides and break the Sabbath.  But at the center of the debate was women’s dress and embattled notions about female “purity.”

The ample dresses worn by nineteenth-century women made riding around on spokes outright dangerous — as even a sympathetic male, Lieutenant Defrees of the Indiana National Guard, admitted to the Indianapolis Journal in 1895.  As a safety issue, Defrees supported women’s preference for “bloomers,” or “athletic knickerbockers” as they were also called.

A sort of divided skirt that resembled both baggy pants and a dress, bloomers were first adopted in England in the 1850’s, when women rejected Parisian fashions in favor of styles from the Middle East, especially Turkey, where females actually had many surprising freedoms not enjoyed in Europe and America at the time.  (In the U.S., the practical new clothing item was nicknamed bloomers after Amelia Bloomer, a suffragette from Iowa who fought the prejudice against revealing female attire.)

Lieutenant Defrees, too, opposed the endless ridicule directed at this eminently rational item of clothing.  (In fact, some women called them “rationals.”)  He put it this way:

He Favors Bloomers - Indianapolis Journal April 28 1895


awful effects of velocipeding

(A Victorian cartoonist satirized “The Awful Effects of Velocipeding” in the New Comic Times, a British magazine from the mid-1800s.  Men feared that in addition to going down the slippery slope of cycling, women would adopt another “vice” from Asia: smoking cheroots.)


Dr. Henry J. Garrigues, a specialist on women’s health, was another early male who advocated the benefits of bloomers for female riders.  Dr. Garrigues authored a fascinating defense — “Woman and the Bicycle” — originally published in The Forum, one of the great “social issue” magazines of the day.  An excerpt from Garrigues’ piece appeared in the Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail on January 25, 1896.

Touting the many health benefits of cycling, Garrigues writes: “Bicycle-riding has changed the habits of hundreds of thousands who formerly took little or no exercise in the open air.  It has widened the mental horizon for many by inducing them to undertake long rides far away from their homes.”

About bloomers specifically, Garrigues was pretty frank:

The usual long skirt is objectionable in every respect. It impedes the free movement of the legs, pumps air up against the abdomen, and is in great danger of being caught by projecting parts of their own machines or those of other riders, as well as by other obstructions found on the road. To avoid these inconveniences many women have shortened their skirts, and some have done away with them altogether, wearing so-called ” bloomers,” a wide, bifurcated garment extending from the waist to the knee. This garment, combined with a waist and leggings, forms a neat, practical dress for a woman rider. True, it is at present ridiculed and even condemned by some as immodest. However, before men say anything against the decency of bloomers, they had better reform their own trousers, which are not much more decent than becoming. . .

From a medical standpoint bicycling is valuable both as a prophylactic and as a curative agent. Like other outdoor exercises it takes its votaries away from the vitiated air of closed rooms; but it has several advantages peculiarly its own. It is less expensive and safer than horseback-riding. For the female sex it is also healthier, since horseback-riding, if indulged in too much or at too early an age, is apt to produce a funnel-shaped pelvis, which abnormality may prove a serious obstacle to childbirth.

And for an age that seemed leery of even mentioning women’s bodies in so many ways, it’s interesting that Garrigues went into a long, detailed description of what he believed was another benefit of cycling.  The New York doctor claimed that the womb, “being of muscular construction, is, like all other muscles, strengthened by bicycling.”  He also touted the benefits for men and women suffering from an array of ills, including asthma, neuralgia, headache, insomnia, and “diseases of the intestinal canal — such as dyspepsia, constipation, and haemorrhoids.”


bicycle built for two (2)

(A couple rides an early tandem bike outside the White House, circa 1890.)


bloomers

(Wearing bloomers, she was a daredevil in more ways than one.)


ariel cycling manufacturing co 1895

(An 1895 trade catalog of the Ariel Cycle Manufacturing Company in Goshen, Indiana.  The Hoosier bicycle industry was centered mostly in Indianapolis and the northeastern part of the state.)


New Ulm Review July 8 1896

(New Ulm Review, New Ulm, Minnesota, July 8, 1896.)


Though opposition to bloomers (and wheeling in general) often dragged religion into the fray, liberal-minded Christians spoke out against more conservative ones, just as they do today.  But whatever animosity was directed toward pants from the pulpit, preachers could hardly match the sheer weirdness of Chicago’s “Jack the Whipper,” whom the Terre Haute paper thought to be a truly distinguished “crank of the first water.”

Jack the Whipper

But less than a year later, in 1895, bloomers were still new enough to Terre Haute to cause many men there to stretch their necks in wonder and possibly even in admiration, as the Saturday Evening Mail noted:

Bloomers have not come into such general use in this city as to be common, and the sight of a pair of them in broad daylight very frequently causes a great deal of what the small boy calls “rubber necking.”  The other day a young lady was coming up Seventh street on a wheel, and she made quite an attractive figure in her bloomers.  A man walking along the street, going in the opposite direction, evidently had never seen bloomers before, and he stretched his neck in the effort to follow her with his eyes.  He was so much interested that he paid no attention to where he was going, and presently he ran into a tree on the sidewalk with such force as to peel all the skin off one side of his face.

On the topic of rubber. . .  In the 1890s, Indianapolis was especially well-poised to become a bicycle-manufacturing mecca: the capitol city was once a major rubber-producing town.  (The local industry tanked in the 1950s.)  At the turn of the century, Indianapolis could boast of at least nine bicycle manufacturers, and the demand for pneumatic tires was a major spur to the creation of the Indianapolis Rubber Company.


rubber tires


In addition to being able to get a quick local replacement for a bad tire, in 1895 riders who worked in downtown offices could also take advantage of a “bicycle livery and boarding stable” located under the Brunswick Hotel on Monument Circle.  A nearby bike hospital  also offered a cure for “the last stages of consumption.”


bike livery stable


bicycle hospital


Harry T. Hearsey, born in London, England, in 1863, grew up in Boston, then moved to Indianapolis at age 22.  An early Hoosier cycling pioneer, he ran his own manufacturing company, which made not only bikes, but carriages, sleighs, portable heaters, and eventually automobiles.

Hearsey also operated a riding school, which catered in large part to women.  Walter Marshall “Major” Taylor, the great African-American cyclist and Indianapolis native, worked as an instructor at Harry Hearsey’s Riding School, located at 116/118 N. Pennsylvania St.  This ad from the German-language Indiana Tribüne touts Hearsey’s Reitschule (“offen Tag und Abend.”)


hearsey ad -- Indiana Tribune July 27 1896


Though he was a businessman with an obvious profit to turn, Hearsey may have been one of the many Americans who thought that women at the wheel was something to be praised.  Even many who believed in “womanly purity” found something positive in cycling, as a writer in Lincoln, Nebraska, admitted:  “The modern bicycle is one of the modern safeties of womanly purity,” he or she wrote.  “She no longer needs to jostle through a crowd of men on the street corner or in the street car.  The primest little maid of this city wears bloomers, rides a bicycle, and works in a printing office.”

Bike sales in Indiana boomed in the 1890s.  Thomas Hay, of the firm of Hay & Willits at 113 W. Washington St., told the Indianapolis Journal in 1895 that “At the present time about 20 per cent of the wheels sold are for ladies, while two years ago I doubt if the sales of the ladies’ wheels reached 2 percent of the total.”  Hay attributed part of the surge in sales to improvements in the manufacture of women’s bicycles, which had previously been neglected.  In 1897, women were so important to the industry that the Central Cycle Manufacturing Company put them on the cover of their gorgeous trade catalog, designed and printed in “Arts and Crafts” style.  It is a beautiful illustration of the generational gap between the old woman in skirts and the dashing Belle on Wheels.


ben hur bicycle


ben hur bicycle 5


ben hur bicycle 1

(The Central Cycling Company of Indianapolis built the once-popular “Ben-Hur Bicycle,” named for the novel written by Hoosier literary giant Lew Wallace.)


bicycling in fort wayne (2)

(These wheelmen in Fort Wayne, Indiana, were some of the last aficionados of the highwheeler, old-fashioned even in 1900.)


Gradually, of course, the sight of women in bloomers wasn’t shocking to most Americans at all.  Times changed fast, so fast that the great Hoosier songwriter Cole Porter could easily lampoon an earlier generation in the immortal lyrics of “Anything Goes”:

In olden days, a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking.
But now, God knows,
Anything goes. . .
If driving fast cars you like,
If low bars you like,
If old hymns you like,
If bare limbs you like,
If Mae West you like,
Or me undressed you like,
Why, nobody will oppose.

Yet even before the Roaring Twenties and the day in 1934 when Cole Porter penned those lines, the ladies of the 1890s had already paved the way.  Sportswomen in baseball and basketball literally “followed suit.”  We salute them all.


ariel cycling manufacturing co 1896


bloomers basketball chicago 1097

(Women in Chicago play basketball in 1906.)


star bloomers ca 1900

(The Star Bloomer Girls were an Indianapolis baseball team that toured the country around 1914.  The pitcher and catcher, far right, were male but the whole team wore the same outfit.)


women fencers

(Women of the Indianapolis Socialer Turnverein appear at a fencing match in Fort Wayne in the 1920’s.  Athenaeum Turners Collection, IUPUI.)


Indiana newspapers are full of stories about women, cycling, and sports.  Do a search at Hoosier State Chronicles to unearth more tales like these.  And feel free to share anything interesting you find.  I keep it wheel at: staylor336 [at] gmail.com

George C. Harding: Editor, Prankster, Gunman

george c harding

Nature lover, friend of dogs and underdogs, journalistic joker, and shooter-up of men he considered his enemies, George C. Harding once edited newspapers from Cincinnati to Houston but was always most connected with the Indianapolis Journal and the Indianapolis Herald, which he edited in the 1870’s.  Part Mark Twain, part Ambrose Bierce, part proverbial “man gone postal,” Harding was called “the most picturesque man in Indianapolis journalism” by city historian J.P. Dunn.

Since he wielded a pistol several times in the capitol city and may have suffered from a mental illness, it’s hard to know exactly how to see him today.  But since he’s also been mostly forgotten, here’s a bit of his story.

Born in Clinton, Tennessee, in 1830 to a family of thirteen kids, the future editor of the Indianapolis Journal lived in Knoxville until age seven.  In 1837, the family moved to Edgar County, Illinois, where his father, Jacob J. Harding, eventually edited the Prairie Beacon in Paris, twenty miles west of Terre Haute, Indiana.  At fourteen, Harding ran away to St. Louis, but came back “penniless and disheartened” and probably worked in a brick factory.

A long obituary published in the Indiana State Sentinel in 1881 says that  “When about fifteen or sixteen years of age [Harding] went to Terre Haute and learned the printing art in the office of the Terre Haute Express.”  When the Mexican War broke out, he enlisted as a private but got sick (either in St. Louis or New Orleans) and never made it to Mexico.  Around 1848, he was co-editing his father’s paper just over the Illinois state line.

George Orwell famously said in 1946 that “Bad writers – especially scientific, political, and sociological writers – are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones.”  When the Indiana State Sentinel published a piece that praised Harding for shooting the alleged seducer of his teenage daughter Flora in 1874, the paper curried public sympathy by praising everything about the man.  “His letters at this time, written in strong, sensible, and positive Anglo Saxon,” it said, reminiscing on Harding’s early days in the news business, “without redundancy, attracted considerable attention among readers of the Beacon.”

In the 1850s, he grew restless and floated down the Mississippi to New Orleans, where he may have gotten work as a newspaper correspondent for the Cincinnati Commercial.  Before the Civil War, Harding also edited the Courier in Charleston, Illinois, founded the Coles County Ledger in Mattoon, and did editorial work for papers in Louisville, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Houston.

During the Civil War, the itinerant news man served as Lieutenant in the 1st Indiana Heavy Artillery, the so-called “Jackass Regiment.”  (The name came from the Hoosier regiment’s use of mules to haul cannon and supplies.)  He saw action at the Battle of Baton Rouge and Port Hudson, Louisiana, before being captured by Confederate cavalry, allegedly while stumbling drunk over a fence.  While held as a POW at New Iberia, Louisiana, Harding and two other Indiana captives drank from gourd cups and used ox-shoulders as silverware.  Because he had given his word of honor not to attempt an escape, he was freed during a prisoner exchange at Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1863.


Indiana_Artillery_Port_Hudson_LA_1863

(Harding served with “The Jackass Regiment” in Louisiana.)


Harding’s knife-sharp prose is best when he’s telling the hard truth, though he could occasionally flip on the sentimentality switch if he had to, to sell papers.

One of the best things to come from his pen is this priceless description of U.S. Grant reviewing new recruits in Mattoon, Illinois, in 1861.  Watching Grant inspect the dirty “ragamuffins,” who “looked as if they had been run down with hounds in the wilds of Effingham County,” Harding found it hard to escape “the infernal odor of cabbage [wafting] right into my face” as the slovenly, smelly commander (not yet a famous general) smoked a cigar.  Originally published in the Indianapolis Mirror, the passage was syndicated in the Memphis Public Ledger in 1869, a paper Harding had connections with.  The passage reads like something his fellow Hoosier, the cynical skeptic of war Ambrose Bierce, might have written.  (Bierce grew up in Warsaw and Elkhart.)

Resigning his lieutenancy in 1864, Harding took an editorial position for six months on the New Orleans Times and the True Delta.  Some of what he wrote down South was reprinted after his death, including a humorous piece called “Duck Shooting in Louisiana.”  At war’s end, he came north to Cincinnati to work on the staff of the Commercial, then moved to Indianapolis.  Several dailies and weeklies that he wrote for or edited after the war include the Mirror, the Journal, the Saturday Herald, and the Sentinel.


george harding - dogs


Historian J.P. Dunn said that “Harding’s great forte was as a paragrapher. . . The public really enjoyed seeing a victim squirm when he gigged him.”  He often attacked public figures whom he considered a fraud.  The Rev. Myron Reed, who delivered his eulogy at Central Avenue Methodist Church in 1881, said: “Every abuser of money or official power, every masked man, every man who writes anonymous letters, will sleep more peacefully tonight because George Harding is dead.”

Yet the popular editor published several fraudulent stories on purpose as practical jokes, as George S. Cottman remembered in a 1922 op-ed piece on famous Hoosier hoaxes.

“Many remember the Charley Ross abduction, which took place on July 1, 1874,” Cottman wrote, referring to a famous Philadelphia kidnapping that was never solved.  (Dunn called the ensuing hoax Harding pulled off “a very plausibly written story.”)

Nearly two years later, or, to be exact, on April 1, 1876, there appeared in the Indianapolis Saturday Herald, edited by George C. Harding, a three-column article with this heading sensationally arranged in display type:

Charley Ross, the long lost boy, recovered at last.  He is found with Italian organ grinders on Potomac alley [in Indianapolis], dressed as a girl and called Telsla.  How Detective Hollywood worked up the case.  The father and the child at the Grand Hotel.

. . . As a consequence, within half an hour after the Herald appeared on the street, people began to throng the lobby of the Grand Hotel.  The hotel clerks, overwhelmed with questions, were at first bewildered, then “tumbling” to the situation, hung a few placards about, displaying the simple legend, “April fool!”


grand hotel indianapolis 1889

(The Grand Hotel at the corner of Maryland and Illinois Streets, seen in 1889, witnessed one of the city’s great April Fool’s jokes.  Today, this is the site of Circle Centre Mall.  www.whatwasthere.com)


Harding himself was hoaxed by a fake space rock in 1879, as told in Wednesday’s post.

Whether the meteorite really killed a farmer named Grover or not, Harding himself tried to kill several men in the 1870s.

In 1879, he got into a hot mudslinging dispute with Calvin A. Light, a radical leader of the Knights of Labor and editor of a rival newspaper called The Democrat.  (Light had played a big role in the Railroad Strike of 1877.)  As Dunn put it, “Harding took an intense dislike to Light, and on one occasion ordered him out of the Herald office — with variations. . . On May 4, he went to Light’s house and tried to shoot him, but after one ineffective shot, was dragged away by neighbors.  The next day he went to The Democrat office and shot at Light three times, but only succeeded in wounding a printer named Lizius.  He was duly arrested and tried, and got off on a plea of insanity.


george harding - mental condition


In 1917, a writer named David Gibson remembered another shooting, or mixed up two shootings entirely, claiming that Harding also once shot at Sol Hathaway, editor of the “spicy” Independent.   In the midst of a raving editorial feud, “Harding printed an item in the paper alluding to Hathaway as ‘the long-nosed dead beat editor that loafed about hotel lobbies and slipped into the dining room when the manager was not looking.'”  As Gibson narrated it in a trade magazine, The Inland Printer:

Hathaway responded with a series of buck type interrogations, for in those days you could evade libel in Indiana by putting a charge in the form of a question. . .

The following Friday, Hathway was seated in his office at an old cherry desk with a flap that let down in front, with his back to the door, which certainly was a breach of the most ordinary editorial precaution.

Suddenly the door opened.  Harding appeared in a “beastly state of intoxication” and began showering the place with bullets as big as birds’ eggs from an army horse-pistol.  Hathaway jumped under the imposing table at the first shot.  Two printers, setting type at the front of the room, leaped out the open windows at their sides, lit on an awning over an undertaking establishment and rolled off onto the roof of a hearse that was standing at the curb.  The horses of the hearse proceeded to run away and started a stampede of other horses.

Gibson made the claim (I haven’t been able to verify this) that one of Harding’s bullets grazed a printing machine with type ready to go to press.  Later on, Hathaway “set up in large Gothic type an account of the affray, tore out a lot of type paralleling the furrow and set in two brass rules and a line of type: ‘The track of the would-be assassin’s bullet!'”  Harding kicked the Independent’s editor down the stairs, but Hathaway survived.  He committed suicide in 1911, aged eighty-two.


inland printer


Five years before his assault on labor leader Calvin Light, a tragic suicide had driven George Harding to his most celebrated shooting.  Perhaps he was, in fact, mentally insane, but the family tragedy that drove him to seek revenge was very real, and his gun was aimed at another man named Sol.

In 1874, Solomon Moritz was a 36-year-old merchant tailor in Indianapolis.  Born in Germany, he emigrated to Cincinnati at about age fifteen, then moved to Indiana in 1868.  The Sentinel wrote that “Mr. Moritz is well known in the city, and is one of the most prominent of the Jewish citizens of Indianapolis.”

A version of the events published in the Daily Record of the Times in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, says of Harding and Moritz:

These gentlemen have been warm friends and very intimate in their social relations.  Moritz, who is a Hebrew, aged about forty years and married, took advantage of this intimacy and succeeded in seducing Harding’s daughter, who is about eighteen years of age.  This was accomplished last March, and improper relations have been maintained by the parties since that time. . . Mrs. Harding, [the girl’s stepmother] has stated that Moritz had also made improper proposals to her.

Flora Harding, the editor’s eighteen-year-old daughter, was a talented writer and translator who taught German in the Seventh Ward district school.  “During the absence of her father to the Hot Springs [Arkansas?], she filled the editorial chair and most ably,” said the Sentinel.

Flora probably also suffered from lifelong depression and feared the ruin of her reputation.  If Moritz had in fact taken advantage of her, she would likely have become an outcast in those days of a strict female “honor” code.

On August 20, Harding’s daughter poisoned herself by taking “twenty-four grains of opium.”  Death was a few hours coming, and her father discovered her in her bedroom before she died.  She confessed to him that she had been having sex with Solomon Moritz.  Then, as he wrote in a tribute in his newspaper, “two great tears came from the filmy eyes and rolled over the face, across which was stealing the shadow of the Death Angel.”

She often jested on the subject of suicide, and, on one occasion, being reproved and told that God frowned on self-murder, she said, “Papa, I am not afraid of God.”

While walking to get a doctor, at about 1:30 in the afternoon Harding met Moritz “at the junction of New Jersey and Vermont Streets with Massachusetts Avenue.”

“Mr. Moritz’s first exclamation was ‘George, what are you doing here?’ Mr. Harding made no answer, but pulling out a pistol, began firing at Mr. Moritz.”


george harding - indianapolis horror


Harding chased Moritz up Vermont Street, toward an alley behind Roberts Park Methodist Church, sinking two bullets into him, and tried to get in two more, “the blood meanwhile flowing from [Moritz’s] mouth and nose.”  Luckily for his target, Harding’s fourth shot jammed his revolver and the alleged seducer escaped by hailing a wagon.  (Moritz supposedly lost an arm, but lived to see Harding go on trial.  When questioned by police, he denied that he had seduced Flora, instead blaming “a Jew liquor dealer on South Meridian.”)

Though the bereaved gunman was taken to jail that night, public opinion was overwhelmingly in his favor.  When Harding went to trial, one of his lawyers, Major Jonathan W. Gordon (profiled on this blog during his grave-robbing days), defended Harding on the basis of common law.

The whole community have fully approved and justified the act for which my friend Harding stands indicted. . . It is the common law of the West, and, indeed of the whole country, that he who seduces an innocent female

MAY BE SLAIN

by her father, brother, or husband with impunity, and in the case at bar the grand jury have, in effect, already said so by returning a bill of indictment for a simple assault and battery.


george harding - indianapolis horror 3


Harding was acquitted, and as the judge announced the verdict, “the pent up feeling of the large crowd broke forth in applause, which was both loud and protracted.”  Perhaps this free pass from the state criminal court made the editor consider other public shootings in the future.

In 1880, Harding moved to Minnesota, where he had bought the Lanesboro Journal.  But “his active brain required more scope,” says the Fillmore County history. Tragically, in May 1881 George C. Harding had an odd death back in Indianapolis.

The Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail picked up the story:

Dead!  How suddenly he went out!  Two weeks ago last Wednesday, he was walking along a street in Indianapolis, and stepped aside to allow some ladies to pass.  He stepped on a cellar grating, just as a man was raising it.  His right foot went into the opening, and the flesh of his leg was cut to the bone.  He died at six o’clock last Sunday morning, of congestion of the brain and blood poisoning, resulting from the accident.

In the death of George C. Harding, Indiana journalism has lost one of its oldest, most familiar and rarely original characters. . .  We know of no one who can take up the pen which Harding has dropped, never to pick up again. . .

Dying at the age of 51, his life was cut off in the very midst of his powers. . .  there is not another George C. Harding any more than there is another Charles Dickens.

Killed by a Meteorite

meteorite lancashire

While tucked away virtuously in bed at his farmhouse one winter night — so a hair-raising story from 1879 runs — an old man in the Wabash Valley was literally blown to pieces by a cascading meteorite.

Twelve years later, the editors of the Indianapolis Journal were still getting mail about this widely-syndicated news piece, so they decided to publish a flashback.  Here’s an excerpt from the 1891 article:

It was in January 1879 that a special telegraphic dispatch came to the Indianapolis Journal describing the fall of a meteorite near Attica, Fountain County, a large stone of unknown composition that, whirling through space, came crashing through the roof of the farmhouse of Leonidas Glover, a widower, who lived alone.  The meteorite [struck Glover], who was in bed, supposedly asleep, and horribly mutilating him, continued its course and buried itself in the earth beneath the house.  Of course the lonely widower was instantly killed, and when the neighbors the following morning discovered the remains, there was great excitement, all of which was given in harrowing detail in the dispatch.

Due to the juiciness of the 1879 storyteller’s technique, let’s look at the original tale itself.

The killer Fountain County meteorite made the rounds of many American newspapers, going viral in those early days of syndication.  A “Covington special” to the Indianapolis Journal relayed the original claim, but here’s a version as it appeared in the Tiffin Tribune of Tiffin, Ohio, on January 30, 1879.

Covington, Ind., Jan. 15. On Tuesday night last, Leonidas Grover, who resided in the vicinity of Newtown, Fountain county, met his death in a way that is probably without parallel in this or any other country. Mr. Grover was a widower living on his farm with a married daughter and her husband. On the evening referred to, the married couple had been absent on a visit to some neighbors, and upon  returning at a late hour, entered the house, finding everything, to all appearances, in usual order, and supposing that Mr. Grover had already retired, went to bed themselves.

Next morning the daughter arose, and having prepared breakfast, went to the adjoining room to call her father, and was horrified to find him lying upon his shattered bed, a mutilated corpse. Her screams brought the husband quickly to the bedroom and an inspection disclosed a ragged opening in the roof, directly over the breast of the unfortunate man, which was torn through as if by a cannon-shot, and extending downward through the bedding and floor: other holes showing the direction taken by the deadly missile. Subsequent search revealed the fact that the awful calamity was caused by the fall of a meteoric stone, and the stone itself pyramidal in shape and weighing twenty-two pounds and a few ounces, avoirdupois, and stained with blood, was unearthed from a depth of nearly five feet, thus showing the fearful impetus with which it struck the dwelling. The position of the corpse, with other surroundings, when found showed that the victim was asleep when stricken and that death, to him, was painless.


meteorite indiana


Despite the blatant tragedy of the scene, Hoosier scientists, especially geologists and sky-watchers, were thrilled and pounced on the report from Covington.  But in 1891, the Indianapolis Journal had to tell the story all over again.  The State Geologists in question here are Edward Travers Cox (1821-1907) and John Collett (1828-1899).  Cox, who was educated in the communal school at New Harmony in his youth, was especially eager to verify the tale.  (And with a name like “E.T.,” you’d expect him to be interested in things falling out of the sky. . .)  Collett, who grew up in the Wabash Valley and “probably [knew] more about Indiana than anybody within her borders,” was also extremely curious.

The Journal recalled:

The news stirred all the local scientists, and the State Geologist, Professor Cox, at once took measures to secure the meteorite.  Maj. J.J. Palmer was dispatched to Fountain County with instructions to buy the stone, no matter what it might cost.  Meantime the State Geologist was overwhelmed with letters inquiring about the meteorite and asking for all information possible regarding it.

The State Geologist wrote an exhaustive article on meteorites, leaving a hole in which to place the heavenly bowlder when Major Palmer should return with it.  Professor J. Lawrence Smith was greatly interested in the matter, and it was understood that he was willing to give $500 for it.


increase lapham meteorite 3

(Though I haven’t seen a picture of Cox or Collett examining a meteorite, here’s an image of the great Wisconsin geologist, Increase Lapham, looking at a 33-pound aerolite found in Washington County, Wisconsin, in 1871.  Lapham was one of the founders of science in the Badger State.)


Were E.T. Cox and John Collett aware of earlier claims about celestial debris causing human fatalities?  Before brushing all this off as hare-brained folklore, there were plenty of such stories.

A study by students at Oberlin College has turned up reports from many centuries about deadly stones dropping down from space and striking humans dead.  In China in the year 588, there were “10 deaths; siege towers destroyed.”  The study’s website (can we trust it?) also mentions this phenomenally horrible event:

The most incredible Chinese report is that of the Chiing-yang Meteorite Shower of 1490.  Supposedly, tens of thousands of people were killed during the shower in the Shansi province.  Yau, et al., tell us that ‘[t]he Chíing-yang incident seems rather implausible in terms of the total number of casualties and the narrow size distribution of the meteorite fragments,’ but they also point out its similarities to the Tunguska event, which would have devastated a populated area. [This was the asteroid that devastated Siberia in 1908.  If it had struck a more settled area, millions of people might have been killed.]

Also included on the study’s list:  “01/14/1879, Newtown, Indiana, USA – Man killed in bed.”

A more recent story about a meteorite strike comes from the American South, where stars really did fall on Alabama.  On November 30, 1954, Ann E. Hodges was napping on the couch when she thought a gas heater exploded in her house, then saw a grapefruit-sized rock on the floor, a busted radio, and a bad mark on her hip.  Her neighbors reported a fireball and thought an airplane had crashed.  The eight-pound rock that careened into her living room in Sylacauga, Alabama, was later examined by Air Force Intelligence and confirmed as a meteorite.  Hodges was profiled in Life Magazine that year.  According to the Decatur (Tenn.) Daily News, a lawyer from Indianapolis purchased the “Hodges Meteorite” and sold it to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., where it still resides, the only space rock ever confirmed to have hit a human.


alabama meteorite 1


alabama meteorite 2


E.T. Cox and John Collett would have been thrilled to have something like the Hodges Meteorite housed at the Indiana State Museum.

Unfortunately, as far as anyone can tell, the whole Fountain County tragedy was a big hoax and Indiana’s best scientists were put on a wild-goose chase.

The Journal wrote in 1891:

When [Major Palmer] returned [to Indianapolis] he reported that he could find no one in Fountain County who knew Leonidas Glover, widower;  there was no demolished roof, no desolated household, no hole in the ground.

A demand went up from the scientific world for the impious wretch or wretches who had hoaxed them.  But the practical jokers took council of their fears and kept quiet until the storm of scientific wrath had passed by.  It then leaked out that the hoaxers were two young men of Crawfordsville, one of them a newspaper man.  It may be said that one of these, the newspaper man, was sufficiently punished for his connection with the affair.  He lost caste in his profession, and it took him several years to regain the confidence he had lost as an honest chronicler of the news.


meteorite indianapolis journal nov 30 1891


et cox

(Indiana State Geologist E.T. Cox was duped by a fake extraterrestrial killer.)


I’m indebted to Chris Woodyard over in Dayton, Ohio, whose amazing Haunted Ohio blog first brought this story to my attention.  Woodyard cites the historian Jacob Piatt Dunn, who was accused of concocting the hoax himself.  Dunn recalled that when Major Palmer realized the Glover/Grover meteorite was a myth, he decided to “keep up the joke” — at the expense of E.T. Cox and John Collett.  Dunn wrote:

[Palmer] secured a cobble-stone of appropriate size and colored it with black and red ink [to simulate blood]; also a rustic photograph which served for a portrait of the mythical Grover; and prepared plans of the non-existent house showing the course of the imaginary aerolite; all of which he put on exhibition in Joe Perry’s drugstore, then at the northwest corner of Pennsylvania and Washington streets, where they were viewed by wondering hundreds.  Perhaps the most notable result was that the story was reproduced by Alexander Winchell, the noted geologist, in one of his scientific works.

Woodyard added that “In 1880 John Collett, who had succeeded Cox as State Geologist, was besieged by people asking to see the meteor.  So he asked Palmer to bring the stone to the state museum where it was displayed for many years as a genuine man-killing meteor. It seems to have been quietly taken off exhibition after Collett left office.”

George S. Cottman wrote about the bogus shooting star in the Indianapolis News on August 19, 1922.  He agreed that Major Palmer put it “on exhibition in the window of a Washington Street store, where thousands gaped at it and felt impressed by the strange fate of Leonidas Grover.”

Chris Woodyard doesn’t know the whereabouts of Palmer’s fake stone, and neither do I.  But George C. Harding, editor of the Indianapolis Journal in 1879, probably wanted to know more about the location of the man who gave him the false news to begin with.

Harding (called “the most picturesque character that ever appeared in Indianapolis journalism”) had concocted a couple of false stories for the Journal himself, including one that very month about a hanged murderer who was revived from the dead at a medical college.  But if he didn’t invent Farmer Leonidas Grover outright, Harding got his comeuppance.  After putting a moralizing editorial in his newspaper about  how death may strike us at any moment, he was forced to admit his own gullibility, writing this follow-up once he knew he’d been hoaxed:

We take it back in its totality.  The death was not a phenomenal one.  The aerolite did not come hurtling from the infinite depths of space.  It did not tear a ragged opening through the roof of Mr. Grover’s house, nor did it crash through his breast. * * * He didn’t die.  He didn’t get hurt.  He didn’t even get frightened.  He wasn’t there;  he isn’t anywhere now, durn him!  If Mr. Leonidas Grover ever should come into existence and get killed by an aerolite he will have to get someone else to write his obituary. . . We have precious little faith in thunderstones, anyhow.  The audacious villain who invented the canard is an unmeasured fraud and an infinite liar.  Hell gapes for him.  The devil beckons to him with his hands and horns and tail.  Eternal cremation with a brimstone accompaniment is his doom.


meteorite strathmore 1


If you think you can April Fool me, know what happened to John Palmer’s cobblestone, or have any other windy tales to share, shoot an e-mail through my roof:   staylor336 [AT] gmail.com

Fletcher’s Swamp and Bacon’s Swamp

ethel miller

Spring is here, which means it’s getting muddy.  Here’s a few stories from the soggier part of town.

You might never guess that several parts of Indianapolis lying well inside the city limits are built on old swamp lands.  Turn back the clock to the 1940s and new homes and roads in southeast Broad Ripple are literally sinking into the earth.  Turn it back another century, and the hoot-owls and swamp creatures who easily outnumber humans in Marion County are living practically downtown.  (In fact, the whole county was named for Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox” of Revolutionary South Carolina.)

Two old wetlands, sometimes called bogs or sloughs, played a fascinating part in the capitol city’s history.

Fletcher’s Swamp is long gone but used to sit just east of the Old North Side, between Cottage Home and Martindale-Brightwood.  A couple of hundred acres in size, the swamp occupied an area more or less centered around the future I-65/I-70 interchange.  Pogue’s Run flowed just to the south.

An article in the Indianapolis Journal on December 15, 1889, describes the setting.  The author, probably the young journalist and historian Jacob Piatt Dunn, writes about an area northeast of Ninth Street and College Avenue:

To the boys of twenty-five years ago [circa 1864] this area was known as Fletcher’s swamp, and was a famous place for black and red haws, fox grapes and other wild fruits that only a youngster would think of eating.  Fifty years ago [the 1830’s] this place was a verible dismal swamp, impenetrable even to the hunter except in the coldest winter, for it was a rare thing for the frost to penetrate the thick layer of moss and fallen leaves that covered the accumulated mass of centuries, and which was constantly warmed by the living springs beneath.

Today the old swamp area is within easy walking distance of Massachusetts Avenue, but you won’t find a trace of it.  “About on a line with Twelfth Street” near the center of the swamp “was an acre, more or less, of high land,” a spot “lifted about the surrounding morass.”  The writer (again, probably J.P. Dunn) thought that this high, dry spot had once been a “sanctuary” for “desperadoes and thieves who preyed upon the early settlers.”  (Northern Indiana swamps, like the one around Bogus Island in Newton County, were notorious hideouts for counterfeiters and horse thieves.  Elaborate hidden causeways were said to give entrance to remote islands on the edge of the vast Kankakee Swamp, the “Everglades of the North.”)

In the 1830s, Fletcher’s Swamp became one of the slushier stops on the Underground Railroad.

Calvin Fletcher, a Vermont-born lawyer and farmer whose 1,600-acre farm once included most of the Near East Side, was an active lawbreaker during the days of the Fugitive Slave Act.  For several decades, many Hoosier opponents of slavery, primarily Quakers, funneled hundreds if not thousands of African American fugitives toward Westfield in neighboring Hamilton County.  (Westfield was a major Quaker settlement before the Civil War, and other “stations” around Indianapolis focused on getting fugitives there.)  Wetlands, usually hard to penetrate, were an ideal hideout, since the bloodhounds that bounty-hunters used to track fugitives lost their scent here.  (Like the counterfeiters on Bogus Island, refugees from slavery used retractable wooden “steps” across the swamp to help avoid detection.)

Although not Quakers themselves, Fletcher and his family helped many African Americans flee north to Michigan and Canada.


calvin and sara fletcher

(Calvin and Sara Fletcher.  This daguerreotype was made at Weeks’ Daguerran Gallery at College Hall downtown, January 1856.  Joan Hostettler tells the story here.)


Fletcher also owned the swamp the fugitives hid in.  In the language of 1889, the writer for the Journal recalled one story about the place:

Calvin Fletcher, Sr., became the owner of this swamp, or the greater part of it.  Spring, summer, and autumn he was in the habit of riding horseback all around it. . .  Mr. Fletcher delighted in the study of nature, especially in birds (and in the quiet of this swamp was bird life in sufficient variety for an Audubon or a Wilson), and he knew every flier and nest on its borders.

A tenant of a cabin near this swamp told the story that his attention was often attracted to Mr. Fletcher, for the reason that he rode out that way so early, and usually with a sack thrown over the horse’s neck.  The curiosity of the dweller in the cabin was excited to that degree that, one morning, he furtively followed the solitary horseman.  It was about sunrise, and he saw Mr. Fletcher hitch his nag to a sapling, take off the sack (which for some reason the narrator supposed to contain corn-bread and bacon), walk a little way into the covert, and then give a call, as if calling cattle.  There was, in answer, a waving of elders, flags and swamp-grass, with an occasional plash in the water, and finally appeared the form of a tall, muscular negro, with shirt and breeches of coffee-sacking.  He came silently out to the dry land, took the sack from the visitor’s hand, spoke a few words inaudible to the straining ears of the listener and hastily disappeared in the recesses of the swamps.  So, after all, Mr. Fletcher’s favorite bird, and a very unpopular one in that day, too, was the blackbird.

The swamp might have had strange bedfellows during the Civil War.  The dense thickets and morasses here were an ideal hideout for Confederate POW’s who escaped from the Union Army’s Camp Morton, which sat just west of here, near the future intersection of 19th Street and Central Avenue.  Calvin Fletcher’s son, Stephen Keyes Fletcher, claimed in 1892:  “During the war the swamp was this great hiding place for escaped prisoners from Camp Morton.”

The original Butler University, which sat at 13th and College until 1875, was another neighbor of Fletcher’s Swamp.  When a fugitive, aided by local abolitionists, escaped from jail downtown and fled on horseback, trying to get to the swamp, he ended up at Northwestern Christian University, as Butler was called, and was arrested on campus.  “The capture of the negro brought on a heated battle among the students of the university, some of whom were from the South,” the anonymous Journal writer claimed.  “A pitched battle followed between them and the black Republican students, which resulted in nothing more serious than some blackened eyes and ensanguined noses.  The scene of this battle is now the playground for the children of the Indianapolis Orphan Asylum.”

What happened to Fletcher’s Swamp?  Stephen Fletcher, who apparently inherited the property after Calvin’s death in 1866 (he ran a nursery nearby), told some of the story.  We cringe at his language today, but this is history in the raw:

About this same time the negroes began flocking over from Kentucky and other Southern states.  My father, being a great friend of the colored man, was inclined to provide them with homes and work as far as possible.  After filling up everything in the shape of a house, I then let them build cabins at the edge of the swamp, on high ground, just north of the Belt railroad, and about where Baltimore Avenue now runs.  I soon had quite a settlement, which was named by my brother, Dr. W.B. Fletcher, “Monkey Jungle,” and the location is known to this day [1892] by that name by those familiar with it then.

The 1889 writer for the News concurred:

The clearing of the swamp was an accident of President Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation.  Hundreds of colored men, with their families, came from the South to this city.  It was a class of labor new to Indianapolis, and for a time there was a disinclination to employ them.  Mr. Fletcher, however, gave every man with a family the privilege of taking enough timber to build a cabin, and of having ground for a “truck patch,” besides paying so much a cord for wood delivered on the edge of the swamp.  Quite a number of the negroes availed themselves of this offer of work and opportunity for shelter…

Calvin Fletcher, Jr., drained what was left of his father’s swamp in the 1870s by dredging it and connecting it to the “Old State Ditch.”  Thus it shared the fate of thousands of acres of Hoosier wetlands sacrificed to agriculture and turned into conventional cropland.


bacons swamp - butler herbarium

(Fern collected in Bacon’s Swamp, August 1922.  Friesner Herbarium Collection, Indiana Memory.)


An 1891 Journal article on the “State Ditch” calls Fletcher’s Swamp one of two “bayous” that threatened valuable property on the then-outskirts of Indianapolis.

The other “bayou” was the fascinating Bacon’s Swamp.

Today, the area that used to be covered by this large Marion County bog is part of Broad Ripple.  Although Google Maps still shows a lake there called Bacon’s Swamp, this is really just a pond, re-engineered out of what used to be a genuine freshwater wetland.

Like its neighbor a little to the south, Bacon’s Swamp was created by the melting Wisconsin Glacier.  About 20,000 years ago, the ice left an indent on the land that filled with water.  As limnologists (freshwater scientists) describe the process of swamp formation, lakes age and die like living creatures, filling up with sediment and plant matter and gradually losing the oxygen in their depths.  Bacon’s Swamp evolved into a peat bog, one of the southernmost in the United States.

Like Fletcher’s Swamp, it took its name from a prominent local farmer active as a stationmaster on the Underground Railroad.  A native of Williamstown, Massachusetts, Hiram Bacon moved to this remote spot with his wife Mary Blair in 1821.  (Bacon was 21 years old, had studied law at Williams College, but then due to poor health joined a government surveying expedition to the Midwest at age 19.  He liked Indiana and stayed.)  Presbyterians, the Bacons became friends with Henry Ward Beecher, brother of the novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe, when he served as minister of Second Presbyterian Church downtown.  Beecher often came out to Bacon’s Swamp in the 1840s, when this was a remote part of Marion County.


Henry_Ward_Beecher_daguerreotype

(This daguerreotype of abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher was probably taken in Indianapolis, where he served as a Presbyterian minister in the early 1840s.  Beecher baptized Fanny Vandegrift, Robert Louis Stevenson’s wife, in the White River when she was a child growing up in the Hoosier State.)


Hiram and Mary Bacon actively helped fugitive slaves escape through the area.  A 1931 article in the Indianapolis Star claimed that “The Bacon house stands on the east side of the road (now the paved Keystone Avenue), and the large barn was on the west side.  In it was a wheat bin, which could be entered only from outside by a ladder.  It was usually concealed by piles of hay.  Here and in the bin in the cider house, the fugitives were hidden and conveyed after dark to the next depot. . . The matter was never discussed in public.” At night, fugitives hid out in the peat bog across from the Bacon dairy farm.

The 400-acre family farm was located approximately where Glendale Mall sits today.  (Most of east Broad Ripple would have been deep in the morass back in the mid-1800s.)  Empty in the 1930s, the site of the Bacon farmhouse is occupied today by The Donut Shop at 5527 N. Keystone.


hiram bacon house


donut shop - bacon's farm


Around 1900, this area, now considered part of Broad Ripple, was called Malott Park.  Not to be confused with today’s Marott Park, Malott Park was a small railroad town later annexed by Indianapolis.  Barely a century ago, it was one of the last stops on a railroad line that connected northern Marion County with the Circle downtown.  Until World War II, Glendale was a far-flung place out in the country.

Walter C. Kiplinger, a chemistry teacher and tree doctor for Indianapolis public schools, wrote a fascinating article about the peat bog for the Indianapolis News in 1916.  The part of the bog he described was about a mile north of the State Fairgrounds, near 50th Street and Arsenal Park.  Now a major residential neighborhood, a hundred years ago it sounds like GPS coordinates were the only thing we’d recognize about the place:

You can reach it very easily if you have a machine [car] by taking the White River road to Malott Park, but when the spring rambling fever comes it is much more easy to go cross-country.  It is just a pleasant afternoon’s hike there and back. . . If common courtesy is observed in closing gates and keeping off fields where the crops might be injured, the owners of the farm lands usually do not enforce their trespass notices. . .

How much peat there is in Bacon’s slough or how thick the bed is, no one seems to know. . . Whatever the average depth, it is as truly a peat bog as any in Ireland.

Serious proposals to harvest peat in Indianapolis were mentioned in the press from 1905 until the 1920’s, when the idea was apparently dropped.  Other parts of Indiana, especially up north, also explored the possibility of using peat as a substitute for coal.  During World War I, the U.S. and Canada exported sphagnum moss from North American peat bogs to Europe, where a cotton shortage had led army doctors to experiment with peat bandages on the Western Front.  The moss served as a kind of natural antibiotic and was a success when used to dress wounds.  (The story made it into the South Bend News-Times in 1918.)


peat - south bend news times 1918


Use of peat has always been widespread in Europe.  Not a fossil fuel, it emits an odorless, smokeless heat and an “incredible ambiance.”  For millennia, it has served as a cheap heat source in rural Ireland and Britain (where it also gives the “smoky” flavor to Scotch whisky.)  The Indianapolis News ran an article about “inexhaustible” Irish peat in 1916, informing Hoosiers that “Mixed with crude molasses from sugar mills it is also used as a forage for cattle, while semi-successful efforts have been made to convert the vegetable fibers into a cheap grade of paper.”  In 1929, a massive 40% of the Soviet Union’s energy came from peat, but today, large-scale industrial harvesting is only common in Ireland and Finland.


Peat stacks and cutting Yorkshire 1905

(Peat stacks and cutting, Yorkshire, England, 1905.  Alexander Eric Hasse, photographer.)


peat indianapolis 1905 2


As an alternative fuel source, peat nearly became a reality in central Indiana in the early 1900s.  E.H. Collins, a “scientific” farmer from Hamilton County, was touting the “earth that would burn” in the summer of 1905.

Collins owned a farm a mile north of the State Fairgrounds, in the vicinity of Bacon’s Swamp.  An article on August 19 in the Indianapolis News refers to the 30-acre peat bog he “discovered” as the “Collins Bog.”  The farmer estimated that it held about four-hundred thousand tons of the fuzzy stuff.

The 1905 article is a strange flashback, envisioning a grand future that never really came about.

The announcement that a good fuel deposit has been found at the city limits and can be drawn on in case Indianapolis gets into a fuel pinch is of great importance to a city that, thus far, has been left out of practically every fuel belt in Indiana in recent years — in fact, since she was the very center of the stove wood belt.  Too far west to be in the gas belt, too far east to be in the coal fields and outside of the oil territory, Indianapolis, since the old cordwood days, has been a negative quantity in the state’s fuel supply. . .

The discovery of good peat deposits around Indianapolis calls attention to the fact that Indiana sooner or later is to come to the front as a peat-producing state.

Obviously, this never happened.  Peat was briefly harvested in Bacon’s Swamp in the mid-20th century, as it was in a few other spots throughout northern Indiana, but the resource was mostly used for gardening, not as a rival to coal.

As Indianapolis’ economic downturn and white flight led to the explosion of Broad Ripple as a suburb in the 1950s, the swamp was more and more threatened.  Conservationists were mostly ignored who argued that the swamp protected creatures who keep insect populations in check and therefore help farmers and gardeners.  In February 1956, three children drowned trying to save a puppy who had fallen through the ice in one of the lakes here, prompting residents in the area to push for “condemning” and obliterating the “deadly swamp.”

While the squishy, “bottomless” ground was a constant problem for developers — devouring roads in 1914 and 1937 — gradually only a tiny remnant pond was left, just west of Keystone Ave and a block south of Bishop Chatard High School.

Yet the tree doctor Walter Kiplinger did remember one man who kept himself warm with a satisfying peat fire in Indianapolis back in the day.

“There used to be one from the ‘ould sod’ [Ireland] who lived in a shack near the hog pens east of the slough,” Kiplinger remembered during World War I.

His name was Michael O’Something-or-other, I’m not certain what, but he was a gentleman in the highest sense of the word.  There was nothing hyphenated about his Americanism, but is a man any the worse American for having a bit of sentimental feeling for the old country in his makeup?  Surely when one has a bit of Ireland’s own bog land in his own back yard, you might say, he has a perfect right to dig and use the peat for fuel. . .

Bacon’s Slough will probably go the way of similar places;  but one should not be too pessimistic.  The Irish may mobilize some St. Patrick’s Day, and go out and save it just for the sake of that peat bog.  You can never tell.


peat scotland


Do you have any stories or photos to share from Soggy City?  Contact Stephen Taylor at  staylor336 [at] gmail.com