When Indiana Banned German in 1919

Warren Times Mirror (Warren, PA), February 26, 1919(Warren Times Mirror, Warren, Pennsylvania, February 26, 1919.)


Several posts on Hoosier State Chronicles have focused on Indiana’s German heritage.  We would be remiss, then, not to do one on our legislature’s attempt to eradicate the teaching of German in Indiana schools.

On February 17, 1919, three months after the armistice that ended World War I, the Hoosier State became one of fourteen states to ban the teaching of German to children, a crime punishable by fines and imprisonment.  At least one other Midwestern state, Iowa, went even farther than that.

A great introduction to the mass hysteria and bitterness launched at German-Americans during the war and into the 1920s is Ali Selim’s incredible movie Sweet Land (2005).  Since this post is about xenophobia — and since xenophobia hasn’t gone away — it’s worth stating that Selim is an American filmmaker of Egyptian and German heritage and was raised in St. Paul, Minnesota.  You can view the trailer here.


Elizabeth Reaser

(Actress Elizabeth Reaser in Sweet Land, a movie about anti-German bigotry in a small Midwestern town.)


Based on writer Will Weaver’s short story “A Gravestone Made of Wheat,” Sweet Land, set around 1920, is a complicated love story.  Inge Altenberg, an “orphan” who has been living in Norway, immigrates to rural Minnesota, where just a few hours after her arrival, she is due to marry Norwegian farmer Olaf Torvik — whom she has never met.  At the start of the wedding ceremony, however, it becomes clear that Inge isn’t Norwegian, but German — and a Socialist.  “There will be no wedding today,” says the Lutheran minister, standing in a church founded by a German (Martin Luther).  Inge quickly discovers the townspeople’s hostility toward everything German, an animosity that survived World War I.  Germans, she hears, engage in prostitution, polygamy, and everything bad.


Anti-German propaganda

(Devils and their master, the Kaiser. )


From 1914 to 1918, the U.S. and its allies in Britain, France and Italy took dehumanizing propaganda to new heights.  Cartoonists, U.S. Army posters, and newspapers stoked up bizarre, irrational hysteria that engulfed America.  The results were sometimes just petty, like renaming sauerkraut “liberty cabbage” and German measles “liberty measles.”  But the U.S. and Britain could also engage in acts of nauseating brutality.

One of the cruelest and weirdest phenomena to come out of First World War propaganda was the war on dachshunds — considered a German breed.  At the time German was being driven out of schools, in England and the U.S. dachshunds were sometimes stoned or stomped to death in front of their owners.  (Novelist Graham Greene remembered this in his autobiography.)   When “patriots” harassed a Chicago dog breeder, he shot every dachshund in his kennels. Bulldogs, a symbol of Britain and the mascot of the U.S. Marines, were turned loose to attack and kill the “German” pets.  The Jasper Weekly Courier, printed in a heavily German town in southern Indiana, carried a syndicated story about this.  Apparently the citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio, who didn’t get to fight on the Western Front had nothing better to do than to kill dogs:

Jasper Weekly Courier, August 30, 1918(Jasper Weekly Courier, August 30, 1918. The U.S. Marines recruiting poster is here.)


Help Your Uncle Sam Do This(A website on pet health claims that “In the United States the poor Dachshund went from one of the ten most popular breeds in 1913 to being represented by 12 survivors in 1919.”  A “lonely dachshund” showed up in Topeka, Kansas, that year in search of a home.)


With Allied print media insisting that the Kaiser’s soldiers were bayoneting and eating babies and committing other outrages, it’s easy to see how hysteria got out of hand, even in areas like Pennsylvania and the Midwest, which had large German-American populations.

Indiana’s 1919 anti-German law wasn’t the first of its kind.  Parents and school boards had already been striking German classes out of school curricula before the U.S. even entered the war.  And devaluing the German language was a coast-to-coast phenomenon. The City University of New York reduced the value of its own German courses by one academic credit.   Evanston, Illinois, banned the language in its schools in 1918.  California kept up a ban on high-school German into the 1920s.  (In 1941, California banned it in churches.)  At a speech on Long Island in 1917, Theodore Roosevelt urged Americans to rid the country of German, otherwise America risked becoming “a polyglot counting house for dollar chasers.”

A sign painter in Indianapolis who opposed Gothic lettering mentioned that Americans were already burning German textbooks.  At Indy’s Shortridge High School, one of the best in the country, a newspaperwoman connected to the Red Cross was applauded during a speech when she criticized the administration for not canceling German classes there.  The German teachers switched to teaching Latin.  Meanwhile, a new course — on “contemporary war history” — was started.  A hundred students enrolled.  At a time when the U.S. was claiming to oppose German militarism, Shortridge considered its military history course to be the first ever offered at an American public high school.


Lake County Times -- September 10, 1918 (2)(Hammond High School was already planning to phase out German by 1919 and was just waiting for the legislature to catch up.  Lake County Times, September 10, 1918.)


On the eve of the vote in Indianapolis, a visitor from Iowa spoke at the Statehouse.  Iowa’s Governor William L. Harding was one of the most dishonest and opportunistic politicians in American history.  Though he had curried favor with Iowa’s foreign-born citizens during his election campaign, when the war broke out he turned against them. Proponents of Indiana’s German-language ban were later accused of the same kind of hypocrisy.


WIlliam L. Harding(Iowa’s William L. Harding in 1915.)


Harding’s 1918 “Babel Proclamation” in Iowa did more than simply ban German instruction, though.  The infamous law banned the speaking of all foreign languages in public, including Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch and Czech, which were still common in the Midwest.  Fearing “spies,” Harding made having a foreign-language conversation on the telephone, on street corners, and in churches and schools a criminal offense.  Iowa’s law was no empty threat. Violators were arrested and jailed.

Harding had plenty of admirers.  “Liberty Leagues” and “councils of defense” wanted laws to keep German off the streets and even ban it in private homes.  The author of the “Babel Proclamation” spoke in Indianapolis on February 13, 1919, a few days before Indiana outlawed the teaching of German in Hoosier elementary schools.


The Call-Leader (Elwood, IN), February 13, 1919

(The Call-Leader, Elwood, Indiana, February 13, 1919.)


The main proponent of Indiana’s bill was State Senator Franklin McCray of Indianapolis.  As Lieutenant Governor Edgar Bush reminded the General Assembly, this bill would overturn a long-standing law dating back to the 1860s.  Bush told the Senate:

Journal of the Indiana State Senate 1919(Journal of the Indiana State Senate, January 1919.)


Indiana’s 1869 law likely had to do with teacher shortages — and the fact that in German communities, it just made sense.

Though the German army committed real outrages in World War I and the bill’s proponents mentioned fear of “future German propaganda” aimed at American children, focusing on the atrocities of “Huns” was a sly way to pass a law that was actually deeply entangled with immigration, prohibition and labor unrest.  As 1919 dawned — one of the most turbulent years in American history — “wet” and “dry” advocates, capitalists and socialists, anarchists, pacifists and suffragettes battled for the “soul” of the country.

Most German-Americans were farmers or industrial laborers and had a history of being Socialists, pacifists and isolationists.  When the Socialist Party tried to steer America away from entering World War I, arguing that American entry would play into the hands of wealthy industrialists and bankers, pro-war advocates countered that anyone who opposed the war supported the Kaiser.  In 1924, Progressivist presidential candidate Robert LaFollette carried Wisconsin, a heavily-German state, partly as a result of his anti-war record.

German fondness for beer and liquor also earned the hostility of many Prohibition advocates, who had spent decades slowly “shutting off the tap.”  A nationwide ban on booze was just around the corner, coming in January 1920.  Yet as Chicago’s Lager Beer Riot back in 1855 proved, the history of Prohibition was closely tied to anti-labor attitudes.  Squelching the German language was part of the process of extinguishing German sociability at a time when workers got together in pubs and beer gardens to talk about labor grievances and organize.


Hun Rule Association

(A World War I-era cartoon slanders “Huns” — Germans — as booze-lovers who cause crime, poverty and waste.)


Kaiser Wilson, 1916

(An American woman sends a message to “Kaiser Wilson” in 1916 — four years before women were given the right to vote.)


While fear of “Huns” and “traitors” got anti-German bills going, America’s huge social problems were reflected in the Indiana bill. That year, Gary would be shut down by a national steel strike, a Federal raid on Communists led to the deportation of hundreds of European immigrants (including Hoosiers), and an anarchist bomb plot nearly killed several major U.S. officials.

Although the formal language of the Indiana law would be more elevated, a state senator named Duffey, speaking on the Senate floor, lashed out at the “stupid heads” of Germany and their sympathizers in America, who threatened to strangle education and spread disloyalty.  Duffey finished off with a call for deporting traitors.  He didn’t know it yet, but he was sounding the keynote of 1919:

Journal of the Indiana State Senate 1919 (2)As revolutions and radicalism reared their head, the anti-German bill was about more than bigotry against German culture.  Many people who supported the law had German last names, after all, like Speaker of the House Jesse Eschbach.  Lieutenant Governor Bush read a letter at the Statehouse from “150 residents of Seymour of German extraction” who favored the language ban and asked why it was taking so long.  The Germans of Seymour probably didn’t want to be associated with “subversives,” “traitors” and “terrorists.”

The 1919 law completely banned German-language instruction up to the eighth grade.  It was followed by a further law prohibiting high-school German courses.  Fortunately, the men who wrote these bills recognized that at the college level, “the contributions of Germany in literature were too great to be ignored.”  (Indiana University President William L. Bryan, who criticized the bills, agreed.)  The penalty for instructing children in German?  A fine of $25 to $100, or a jail sentence of up to six months — or both.

Urged by the Lieutenant Governor to enact “100 percent American” legislation, the House and Senate put the elementary-school bill up for a vote on February 13, 1919.  It passed in fifteen minutes.  Only one legislator — Senator Charles A. Hagerty of South Bend — voted against it.  Yet even Hagerty’s opposition seems to have been against the political opportunism of the bill’s promoters, not a real concern for education.  The legislation was signed into law by Governor James P. Goodrich, who had already signed Indiana up for early Prohibition in 1917.

The South Bend News-Times, a liberal paper, thought the bill a classic case of legislative overreach, since most German-Americans were already trying hard to adopt English in their churches and schools.  McCray had insisted that it would not interfere with the use of foreign languages in religious worship.  (Many Lutheran churches still used German, and it was the main language of instruction at a few major Catholic seminaries.)

Ironically, the anti-German bills were overturned in 1923 by another man named McCray — Governor William Terry McCray, who also butted heads with the Klan.


Indianapolis Star, May 5, 1919(Indianapolis Star, May 5, 1919.)


A few months after Governor Goodrich signed Indiana’s law, an anti-German bill passed through Pennsylvania’s legislature, also by a large margin.  Pennsylvania Governor William C. Sproul, however, vetoed it.  Sproul’s remarks to the press were probably the most intelligent words to come out of the whole debate.

Mount Carmel Item (Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania), May 6, 1919 (1)Mount Carmel Item (Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania), May 6, 1919 (2)Mount Carmel Item (Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania), May 6, 1919 (3)Mount Carmel Item (Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania), May 6, 1919 (4)

(Mount Carmel Item, Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, May 6, 1919.)


Durham Morning Herald (Durham, NC), April 7, 1922

(Durham Morning Herald, Durham, North Carolina, April 7, 1922.)


Hoosier State Chronicles has digitized over 8,000 issues of the Indiana Tribüne, once a major German-language newspaper. Published by The Gutenberg Company in Indianapolis, the Tribüne was silenced on June 1, 1918.

The Hoosier Actress — and Spy? — Who Became a German Silent Film Sensation

Fern Andra 3

“Eine der beliebtesten und bekanntesten Schauspielerinnen des deutschen Stummfilms… One of the most beloved and best-known actresses of the German silent movie industry.”

That’s the verdict of Die freie Enzyklopädie, Germany’s homegrown Wikipedia.  Yet this actress who skyrocketed to about a decade of European fame wasn’t German.

In the days when German Expressionism was pushing cinema forward — Fritz Lang’s Metropolis was probably the greatest film of the 1920s, alongside the silent horror classics Nosferatu by F.W. Murnau and Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari — Fern Andra was almost a household name in Germany.   Yet her roots were deep in the American Midwest.   In addition to acting in bloody horror flicks, Fern worked as an American spy, married a German baron and a boxing champion, fell from the sky almost to her death with one of Germany’s great fighter pilots, and even tangled with one of the most evil men in history.


Fritz Lang 1

(Weimar-era German cinema was known for its revolutionary costume artistry, stage design, and the creative genius of its women.  One of the great characters of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis was a “gynoid” robot called Maschinenmensch. C-3PO’s cinematic grandmother was played by actress Brigitte Helm, who died in 1996.  Lang’s movie was based on a novel by his wife, Thea von Harbou.)


Fern Andra was born Vernal Edna Andrews in 1894 in Watseka, Illinois, a small Kankakee Valley farm town about fifteen miles west of Kentland, Indiana.  Her parents were William P. Andrews and Sarah Emily Evett, also known as Sadie.  When Fern’s father died in 1898, Sadie remarried Frank St. Clair, a vaudeville actor, circus performer, and tight-rope walker.

Learning stunts from her stepfather, Fern began her stage career at the Stephens Brothers Opera House in Watseka.  Aged ten or eleven, she headed to Chicago with a theatrical troupe, performing at the Globe Theatre.  Between about 1905 and 1913, Fern went to school in Hammond, Indiana, where her mother and stepfather had relocated.  Sadie St. Clair owned or rented a house at 184 State Street and later lived in Gary.  Her daughter was remembered as a “Hammond girl” and would often come back and visit her family in northwest Indiana.

It’s not clear how she evaded her classes in Hammond, but by age fifteen she was part of the Millman Trio.  Headed by the famous high-wire walker Bird Millman, the trio performed for President Taft at the White House in 1909.  (Born Jennadean Engleman, Bird later became a dancer in the great “theatrical juggernaut,” the Ziegfeld Follies.)

By 1914, when World War I broke out, 20-year-old Fern had gone to Europe, where she was a popular stunt performer and minor stage actress.  That year, she found herself trapped in Germany.  But since the U.S. didn’t go to war against the Kaiser’s armies until 1917, she wasn’t considered an enemy alien and was even offered movie contracts. As “Fern Andrée,” she had already appeared in silent short films called Das Ave Maria (1913) and Mondfischerin (“The Fisher of the Moon,” 1914).  During World War I, the Midwestern actress starred in over twenty German films.  She had probably become fluent in the language by then, but since these movies were all silent, her nationality wasn’t important. . .  until she was accused of being an American spy.

Fern Andra -- Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah), November 27, 1927

(Ogden Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah, November 27, 1927.)


The details are sketchy, but sources agree that Fern — who now went under the sultrier stage name “Andra” or even “The Andra” — was at least detained by German police.  In the 1950s, she claimed that her personal acquaintance with Kaiser Wilhelm himself saved her.  “I was accused of spying for the Allies,” she remarked.

“It was true, but not for the reasons they thought. Actually, I was a courier, memorizing coded messages and repeating them to American contacts in Copenhagen…  I was lucky. I was a movie star at the time, living in Berlin and a friend of the royal family.  To save me, it was arranged for me to marry Baron Frederick von und zu Weichs, a member of the Hohenzollern family.”

The rumor in America, however, was that Fern had been condemned to death by a firing squad.  Gossip about her death came out in the Hammond paper just three days before the war ended.


Fern Andra - LC Times, November 8, 1918(Lake County Times, November 8, 1918)


Bavarian Baron Friedrich von und zu Weichs was said to be a nephew of Zita, the last Empress of Austria.  Fern and Friedrich were married September 28, 1918, and the “Hammond girl” immediately became Baroness Weichs.  About a month later, just a few weeks before the war ended, her husband was killed on the Western Front.

Fortunately, she’d come into some money.  By 1919, when the former Hoosier girl made the front page of the Lake County Times, Baroness Fern, who had briefly been detained as a P.O.W., was running her own film company in Berlin.


Fern Andra -- LC Times, May 3, 1919(Lake County Times, May 3, 1919.)


Fern Andra -- LC Times, May 3, 1919 (2)(Lake County Times, May 3, 1919.)


Though its military was banned and its economy was in shambles, as the Jazz Age dawned, Germany entered a period of cultural brilliance known as the “Weimar Era.”  Berlin in the 1920s was chaotic but saw the rise of iconic German geniuses like the Bauhaus architects, Expressionist filmmakers and painters, and some of the best-known German philosophers and writers.  Fern Andra was part of this incredible, if often bizarre, cultural cocktail.

In 1920, she played a leading role in a new Stummfilm (silent film) called Genuine: A Tale of a Vampire.  Made by filmmaker Robert Wiene, Genuine was filmed in the same vein, part-horror/part-fantasy, of Murnau’s vampiric Nosferatu.  Fern plays a high priestess, named “Genuine,” who steps out of a painting and comes to life, then turns to bloodsucking.  In one scene, Andra caused a sensation by appearing in an outfit that had merely been painted onto her body.  Yet though it starred the actress hailed by many as “the most beautiful girl in Europe,” Wiene’s film wasn’t well-liked and critics called it a failure.  Twenty-first-century moviegoers would like it even less, but its stage design and outrageous costumes are still interesting — if only for the background, which evokes the kind of graffiti you could see sprayed on the side of a Burlington Northern freight car.


Fern Andra in Genuine

(Fern Andra played a painting come to life in the 1920 film Genuine.)


 Genuine(Genuine played at the Marmorhaus on the Kurfürstendamm in 1920.)


Fern Andra 1(Fern in a characteristic Weimar-era outfit.)


When Genuine hit the silver screen, World War I was over.  But in 1921, Fern Andra was involved in a famous accident that cost the life of one of Germany’s greatest fighter pilots.

Lothar von Richthofen was the younger brother of Manfred van Richthofen, best-known to Americans as the “Red Baron,” Germany’s ace warrior of the sky.  Manfred was shot down and killed over France in April 1918, but Lothar was almost as famous.  After the war, he worked as an airmail pilot and taxied passengers between Hamburg and Berlin.

On July 4, 1922, while flying Fern Andra and her director Georg Bluen into Hamburg’s Fuhlsbüttel Airport, Richthofen’s engine gave out and the plane crashed.  The great pilot was killed, but Andra and Bluen, though injured, survived.


Lothar von Richthofen(Lothar von Richthofen died while flying Fern Andra to Hamburg in 1922.)


In 1923, the Hoosier beauty married German middleweight boxing champion Kurt Prenzel, who had been interned as a POW at Knockaloe on the Isle of Man.  In 1925, Prenzel saved his wife from being bitten by a supposedly rabid dog and suffered a bite that kept him from boxing for about a year, a fact that supposedly figured into their divorce around the time he emigrated to New York City in 1928.


Fern Andra and Kurt Prenzel

(Fern and her second husband, German boxing champion Kurt Prenzel, circa 1925.  He had fought African American boxer Jimmy Lyggett, Sr., around 1920.)


Ogden Standard-Examienr, Ogden UT, November 27, 1927(Ogden Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah, November 27, 1927.)


In addition to acting, Fern wrote or directed about twenty German films, but called her German film career quits in 1927.  Her last movie made there was Funkzauber (Radio Magic).   Until about 1930, she remained active in the Hollywood film business, and even married actor Ian Keith in Tijuana, Mexico, in 1934.  Keith would star as Octavian in Cecil B. DeMille’s Cleopatra and as Bill Thorpe, a Louisiana gambler, in the John Wayne film The Big Trail.  Andra and Keith divorced in Chicago a year after their wedding.

Meanwhile, she was paying visits to her mother, Sadie St. Clair.  In the 1930s, Sadie was living at 636 Washington Street in Gary, Indiana, in “a crowded flat over a furniture store.”  The address is right across the street from one of Gary’s most iconic and photographed ruins, the abandoned City United Methodist Church.  Though it has sat empty and gutted since the late 1970s, plans are on the table to transform the old church into a European-style “ruin garden.”  The German Expressionists would have been the first to use this gloomy Rust Belt ruin in their films.  One can easily imagine the specters of F.W. Murnau and Robert Wiene creeping out of the choir stalls, and Fritz Lang would have been fascinated by the fiery steel mills and modernist clamor of Gary before the city slipped into decline.


Lincoln Evening Journal, Lincoln, Nebraska, December 22, 1923

(Lincoln Evening Journal, Lincoln, Nebraska, December 22, 1923)


Fern Andra with Mother

(Fern with her mother on board a steamship, circa 1930.  Sadie St. Clair, daughter of Midwestern pioneers, died in Hessen, Germany, in 1955.  Her ashes were scattered in the Iroquois River in northern Illinois.)


Springfield Republican, Springfield, MO, February 28, 1924

(Springfield Republican, Springfield, MO, February 28, 1924)


Ferna Andra passport photo 1921 (5)(Andra’s emergency passport application, 1921.)


Though she was spending most of her time in California now, Fern’s involvement with Germany wasn’t over.  In the early 1930’s, she challenged the rise of Nazism.  The militaristic party of thugs opposed almost everything Weimar culture stood for, to the point of burning its books and destroying its art.

There had once been unconfirmed rumors that Fern had had a love affair with Adolf Hitler’s “Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.”  Andra apparently knew the bloodcurdling villian Joseph Goebbels before his rise to power, and she remembered him later as a “mousy tutor.” (Goebbels had studied philosophy at the University of Heidelberg and was the perfect example of a good education gone awry.)  In 1937, Andra and Goebbels clashed over the freedom of foreign artists to be active in Nazi Germany.  She had even testified before the U.S. Congress about the Third Reich’s discrimination against non-Aryan artists.

Engaging in a “verbal fusillade,” according to one account, Goebbels and Andra got into a fight during which the Propaganda Minister threatened to imprison her.  He then systematically went about trashing her reputation, even claiming that she was a Hungarian impostor, not an American.  If sources are correct (and there’s a chance they’re exaggerated) Fern escaped by plane into Romania, then headed back to the United States.  Since she spoke fluent German, she aided the Allies during World War II by broadcasting radio messages into Germany.  Her enemy Goebbels, Hitler’s master of lies, committed suicide in 1945 — after murdering his own children.

Fern Andra continued to visit and live in Germany after the war.  In November 1954, she was photographed talking to Baroness Kunigunde von Richthofen, mother of Manfred and Lothar.  They met up at the American Civilian Club in Wiesbaden.


Fern Andra with Richthofen's mother 2

(Fern Andra, right, with “The Red Baron’s” mother, Wiesbaden, Germany, 1954.)


Fern and her fourth husband, a playwright and soldier from Connecticut named General Samuel Edge Dockrell, seem to have lived in Wiesbaden and New England until the early 1970s, but often visited the Midwest.  They eventually moved to South Carolina, where Dockrell died two days after they got there.

Baroness Fern Andra, Hammond girl, succumbed to cancer at Azalea Woods Nursing Home in Aiken, South Carolina, at age 80 on February 8, 1974.

Her fame vanished in the 1940s, and few Americans would know her name today.  But Hoosier State Chronicles would like to put her back out there as one of the most interesting women who has ever lived within the borders of our state.

Trail of the Arch-Fiend

HH Holmes photo

In 1873, Mark Twain coined the term “The Gilded Age” to describe  a superficially prosperous America undergirded with massive social problems, corruption, even deep wells of horror.  One of the more literal terror tales launched onto the front lawns of American newspaper readers in the 1890s was the story of mass murderer H.H. Holmes.

Erik Larson reintroduced us to Holmes in his non-fiction thriller The Devil in the White City in 2003.  Larson’s gripping book is a dual history, partly the story of Chicago architect Daniel Burnham, designer of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, and partly the story of Holmes’ “murder castle,” a kind of dark mirror of the expo. At this specially-designed hotel, the “doctor” may have killed up to two-hundred victims, mostly women.  Replete with hidden soundproof vaults, a gas chamber, an iron-plated room where Holmes torched people to death, a crematorium, a suffocation room, and other gruesome architectural twists, the World’s Fair Hotel on West 63rd Street in Chicago was a demented perversion of the vaunted celebration of “progress.”

Holmes had been trained at the University of Michigan’s renowned but infamous medical school.  Like Indiana medical colleges, Ann Arbor’s was under fire in the late 1800s for supporting the ring of grave-robbers who fed its dissection rooms with corpses ransacked from Midwestern cemeteries.  Allegedly fascinated with death ever since his childhood friends stuck him in a closet with a skeleton in a New England doctor’s office, Holmes continued to dissect the dead in his gory Windy City hotel — though not for the anatomical instruction of future medical professionals.


HH Holmes University of Michigan graduation photo

(Born Herman Webster Mudgett in New Hampshire in 1861, H.H. Holmes, who graduated from med school in Ann Arbor in 1884, was remembered as a “lady killer” in more than one way.  This is his graduation photo.  His third wife, Georgiana Yoke, was from Franklin, Indiana.)


Chicago’s worst serial killer had several Indiana connections.  One of his better-known victims, Emeline Cigrand, was a beautiful 20-something stenographer from Lafayette whose skeleton Holmes may have sold to Rush Medical College.  Nineteenth-century Americans are sometimes called “buttoned up” and guilty of “leaving things in the closet,” but newspapers published details about the doctor’s victims in stories like this one that would probably not be printable in 2015 due to privacy laws.  And the cross-over with medical history is disturbing, to say the least.

What might have been Holmes’ last murder — the dismemberment and burning of young Howard Pitezel, son of his main accomplice, Benjamin Pitezel — occurred in Irvington, the Indianapolis neighborhood now famous for its “paranormal activity.”  As the Indianapolis Star reported last week in a gossipy news piece, there’s a small chance that actor Leonardo DiCaprio will visit Indiana while filming Martin Scorsese’s new film adaption of The Devil in the White City.  The cottage that Holmes briefly rented in the fall of 1894, and where he killed Howard Pitezel before mutilating and burning his body, then sticking part of up it a chimney, sat at the corner of Julian and Bolton Avenues in Irvington.  The original house on that site supposedly burned down in the 1930’s, but the cottage there today looks similar.


HH Holmes site

(The scene of the Pitezel murder in Irvington, where Holmes masqueraded under the name “A.E. Cook.”)


Philadelphia police detective Frank Geyer and Detective David Richards of the IPD were hot on Holmes’ trail in Indy even before he murdered Pitezel in Irvington a couple of weeks before Halloween.  Yet it was three Iocal boys who discovered Howard’s charred bones in the chimney, a find recalled a year later in a long article printed in the Indianapolis Journal called “The Pietzel Bones” (August 22, 1895).  After Holmes was finally apprehended, Howard Pitezel’s mother testified before Marion County Coroner Hiram C. Castor.  Shown some of the “trinkets” found in the flue, Mrs. Pitezel “went into hysterics” in the Indianapolis courtroom.

H.H. Holmes had tried to start up another “death trap” in Fort Worth, Texas, but he was arrested in Boston in November, 1894, just a month after leaving Irvington.  Though put on trial in Philadelphia for killing the Pitezels, he confessed to thirty murders in Chicago, Indianapolis, and Toronto.  Like many criminals with huge, almost unbelievable records, Holmes might have been an accomplished liar — he claimed to have been possessed — but his confession was definitely shocking.

While he sat in jail, a fire consumed the macabre World’s Fair Hotel in August 1895, possibly started by a former accomplice.  On May 7, 1896, the “arch-fiend,” aged 34, was hanged at Philadelphia’s Moyamensing Prison, a place where another master of spectral gloom, Edgar Allan Poe, had once been imprisoned for public drunkenness.


Holmes - Indianapolis Journal, May 8, 1896

(Holmes’ execution was covered in the Indianapolis Journal, May 8, 1896.)


Terre Haute Semi Weekly Express, May 8, 1896

(Terre Haute Semi-Weekly Express, May 8, 1896.)


A few decades after his crimes made it into the press, Chicago’s own Jack the Ripper was slipping out of popular memory.  Yet in 1919, a discovery in Lake County, Indiana, brought him back into the news.

In court twenty-four years earlier, Holmes had mentioned killing two people near Schneider, a tiny town on the outskirts of the old Kankakee Marsh in southern Lake County — Indiana’s doomed “Everglades.”  The remote spot forty miles south of Gary almost exactly straddled the Indiana-Illinois state line.  Back then, it was close to a place called Lineville.

Lineville is obscure, but the papers located it twelve miles east of Momence, Illinois.  It must have been a tiny station or railroad switch right on the state line.  This was probably the kind of place where trains took on duck meat and frog legs hunted in the swamp to be cooked up for breakfast in the dining cars or sold at the Water Street Market in Chicago.  Lineville, Indiana, isn’t on the map today and was apparently “ghosted” more than a century ago.

Who Holmes’ alleged victims were is a more interesting mystery than Lineville’s disappearance.  In October 1919, two skeletons turned up on Ira G. Mansfield’s farm.  This clip, published on October 22 in Hammond’s Lake County Times (currently being digitized by Hoosier State Chronicles) must have reminded many readers of the grisly string of murders that rocked the dark underbelly of the heartland back in the 1890s.

HH Holmes - October 22, 1919


HH Holmes - October 22, 1919 (1)HH Holmes - October 22, 1919 (2)HH Holmes 2HH Holmes 3HH Holmes 4

Kisses of the Sun

Lewis Hine - Freckles (1)

What do folklore, lemon juice, Amelia Earhart and Calvin Coolidge all have in common?  They all battled freckles.

As summertime dwindles to a close, you might have developed some of these kisses of the sun yourself, especially if you’re fair-skinned and female.  Though scientists have determined that susceptibility to freckles depends on genes — most famously as a result of Irish DNA — anyone can get these marks, which are concentrations of melanin brought about by exposure to UV rays.

Today, definitions of male and female beauty actively embrace what was once considered a serious physical blemish.  Many even think a superficially bespeckled face is a mark of character deep-down.  One beauty commentator considers freckles helpful in building up women’s self-confidence.  “Outside the realm of ‘normal’ beauty,” she writes, “we freckled ladies have had to go against the grain and build our self-esteem without the help of the media.”

A hundred years ago, things were different.  Anti-freckle cream was a commonly advertised beauty product.  (It’s still sold today.)  Mostly directed toward women, nothing, however, prevented men from trying out this solution for “blemished” skin.  As you’ll see below, one man died trying to get “beautified.”

For generations, folklore and popular medicine provided alternatives to commercial freckle cream.  American newspapers promoted a variety of cures both from folk practice and the chemist’s lab.


Brazil Daily Times, October 25, 1912 (1)(Wilson’s Freckle Cream was manufactured in Charleston, South Carolina, but sold nationally.  Brazil Daily Times, October 25, 1912.)


In the early years of the twentieth century, Hoosiers read about some of these popular remedies.

One of the least-scientifically credible cures was, needless to say, superstition, but it peaked the interest of the American Folklore Society, whose findings were syndicated in a Wayne County, Indiana, newspaper in 1928.  Even if this cure had worked, it was far more time-consuming than daubing cream on your face.  Yet Hoosier youth probably gave it a shot.


Cambridge City Tribune, March 15, 1928(Cambridge City Tribune, March 15, 1928)


Twenty-five years earlier, a more plausible-sounding all-natural freckle cure had come out in the Indianapolis News at summer’s end:

Before going out in the sun it is advisable to rub on a little cucumber balm or any good old cream.  At night the face should be bathed with elderflower water, which cools and benefits the skin.

Never bathe the face while it is hot.  Wait until night, then touch up the freckles with a lotion.

One cure is a lotion made by adding half an ounce of lemon juice to half a pint of rosewater, and adding two drams of powdered alum.  Apply with a camels-hair brush.

Another remedy is to wash the face, neck and arms, and hands, too, if necessary, with elderflower water, and apply an ointment made by simmering gently together one ounce of venise soap and one dram each of deliquated oil of tartar and oil of bitter almonds.  When the mixture acquires consistency, two drops of rhodium may be added.  Wash the emollient off in the morning with elderflower water.  (Indianapolis News, September 3, 1903)

In 1916, the South Bend News-Times divulged another solution:


South Bend News-Times, July 24, 1916 (3)South Bend News-Times, July 24, 1916 (2)

(South Bend News-Times, July 24, 1916)


One common commercial anti-freckle ointment was called Othine, sometimes sold “double-strength” at drug stores.  Yet the beauty columnist Lucille Daudet, syndicated in the columns of the Fort Wayne Sentinel in 1916, was concerned about the potentially damaging effects of this kind of patent medicine.  A forerunner to today’s “pro-freckle” approach to beauty, Daudet spoke up against the very need for such products:

Just why these light brown marks of health should be so scorned is an open question, as they are usually more becoming than not.  But the fact is that most girls look upon freckles as the greatest bar between them and good looks.  In their anxiety to rid themselves of these brown “beauty marks” they go to the most ridiculous and often dangerous extremes — dangerous indeed in many cases, for scores of lovely skins have been ruined by the use of so-called freckle removers. . .

A great many of the patent removers contain either bismuth, which is apt to blacken the skin, or mercury or lead, which are active mineral poisons.  (Fort Wayne Sentinel, August 12, 1916)

Daudet recommended, instead, a concoction of horseradish root mixed with buttermilk and strained through a fine cheesecloth.


Huntington Herald, August 2, 1923(Huntington Herald, Huntington, Indiana, August 2, 1923)


One of the potentially “ridiculous and often dangerous extremes” Daudet decried was mentioned in a 1921 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.  The journal isn’t specific about what went wrong, but the incident concerned an apparently quack “naturopath” in Venice, California.  (For the record, laser treatment and cryosurgery — “a light freeze with liquid nitrogen” –are the more extreme procedures today.)


Journal of the American Medical Association, April 16, 1921

(Journal of the American Medical Association, April 16, 1921)


South Bend News-Times, October 31, 1921 (3)(Toots & Casper.  South Bend News-Times, October 31, 1921.)


Two well-known Americans of the Jazz Age had a reputation for their freckles.  One case was slightly mythic — and a Hoosier woman tried to sleuth her way to the bottom of it.

In 1923, Clara C. Gilbert, a Republican women’s organizer in Kendallville, Indiana, traveled to Washington, D.C., partly to discover if President Calvin Coolidge’s freckles, accentuated in news films, were as “real” in life as they looked on “reels.”  “People have brought reasons and reasons for wanting to see President Coolidge,” quipped the Fort Wayne Daily News, “but no one before had ever seemed interested in the freckle question.”

“Cal” Coolidge had, in fact, been a red-headed, freckle-faced kid back in Vermont, but his hair turned a sandy brown as a teenager and most of the spots on his face went away.  The silver screen’s lighting effects apparently brought them back.


Fort Wayne Daily News, September 15, 1923 (1)

(“Also, I want to see you because I want to see you…”  Fort Wayne Daily News, September 15, 1923.  Click to enlarge.)


Calvin Coolidge 3


A more famous example of sun-kisses was aviator Amelia Earhart, whose battle against freckles might have gone with her to own mysterious death.

In 2012, a broken jar of 1930’s freckle-cream was discovered on Nikumaroro Island in the Pacific Ocean.  Some investigators think this jar is a major clue toward unlocking the mystery of Earhart’s disappearance in July 1937 while flying around the world.  (The trip was funded by Purdue University, where she became a visiting faculty member and women’s career counselor in 1935.  She also spoke at DePauw University later that year.)

The dominant theory that Earhart’s plane ran out of gas and crashed into the Pacific was already called into question in 1940, when the skeletal remains of a castaway turned up on the remote island.  That the famous aviator was also known to have hated her own mild case of freckles provides a tantalizing link to researchers intent on establishing forensic evidence about her demise.  And as Lucille Daudet warned women two decades before, the cream found on Nikumaroro was found to contain mercury.

Though the theory has its critics, it’s fascinating to think that Earhart’s pointillistic sun-kisses might ultimately shine a light on her last voyage — and her still unknown whereabouts.


Amelia Earhart 2

(Amelia Earhart’s flight license, 1923.)


Fort Wayne Sentinel, September 16, 1922

(Joe Zucco, freckle contender of Fort Wayne.  Fort Wayne Sentinel, September 16, 1922.)

The Rotgut Record

January 2, 1920 (2-2)

Digitized newspapers provide a rich boon to researchers on American medical history.  From quack medicine ads to stories about diseases, from under-appreciated tales of wartime doctors to a gory list of “1000 Ways to Die,” old papers are gold mines.

Alcohol, of course, is part of medical history.  Prohibition-era journalists were divided on whether America should turn off the tap.  Indiana was one of several states to preempt the Federal ban on booze. the Volstead Act of January 1920, which officially ushered in Prohibition nationwide.  As early as 1855, the Hoosier State tried out a liquor-ban.  That law was repealed in 1858.  Yet agitators kept on fighting against the bottle and the bier stein.  In 1918, Indiana officially went “dry” again.

Nineteenth-century Americans were far heavier drinkers than today, and alcohol percentages tended to be higher.  On-the-job drinking was allowed, sometimes even encouraged.  Prohibitionists might seem prim today, but attempts to abolish beer and liquor were often tied to some real public health concerns.  “Liberal” and “conservative” politics have changed over the last century.  Many, perhaps most, anti-alcohol crusaders were progressivists who also spearheaded the movement for women’s rights and child labor reform — and whose public health campaigns were frequently inspired by religious belief.  Patriot Phalanx, a Prohibition Party newspaper started by Quaker Sylvester Johnson in Indianapolis,  was a prominent mouthpiece.


Beer suicide

(Singer and comedian Ernie Hare wasn’t happy about beer’s demise.)


Unfortunately, shutting down saloons, etc., often had as much to do with racial, ethnic, and religious tension as it did with health concerns, and the whole law was primarily directed at the poor.  Indiana’s powerful Ku Klux Klan was, at least officially, anti-liquor — partly because of booze’s association with German and Irish Catholics, whose leader at the Vatican the Hoosier KKK was virtually at war with during the 1920s, over issues like public schools.  And the urban poor were very often Catholic.

One of the real perils of Prohibition was this:  heavy drinkers and alcoholics still had a huge thirst to quench.  Chronic tipplers had a few legal sources, like medicinal alcohol — and communion wine.  Yet they often had fatal recourse to intoxicating liquids that nobody, of course, would normally drink.  A fascinating if sober aspect of Prohibition lies in the story of the “beverages” they sometimes resorted to.

“Rotgut,” cheap, low-quality, potentially toxic liquor, was a common news headline even before 1920.

Wood Alcohol

The “detox” problem — how to help out alcoholics — must have crossed the minds of Prohibitionists.  But where alcohol was banned, death began to follow in its wake.  And toxic liquor had become a global problem.

In 1914, Tsarist Russia banned the sale of alcohol except in restaurants, partly as a war measure to keep soldiers from getting drunk.  Throughout the Russian Revolution — until 1924, in fact — the ban survived.  But Russians’ sudden inability to get their famous national drink, vodka, led to many deaths.  The Jasper Weekly Courier reprinted a litany of shocking tales about the lengths to which Russians would go to get a stiff drink during World War I.  Forlorn men turned to guzzling perfume, cologne, khanza (red pepper mixed with spices and wood alcohol), and kvasok (a concoction of cider, yeast, wild hops, and snuff).  Kvasok, incidentally, is the Czech word for “sourdough.”


Jasper Weekly Courier, September 3, 1915

(Jasper Weekly Courier, September 3, 1915)


American newspapers had been advertising the dangers of wood alcohol for years.  Called methanol by chemists (not to be confused with methamphetamine), wood alcohol traditionally was produced like other spirits, through distillation.  Ancient Egyptians had figured out the process and often used the resulting spirit — called the “simplest alcohol” — in embalming the dead.  In the West, methanol was employed in a variety of industrial and other trades as a cleaner, in photography studios, and in tin and brass works.  Around 1914, barbers were using it in a lotion called bay rum.  Baltimore physician Dr. Leonard K. Hirshberg warned Americans that year about the danger of their barber causing them to lose their eyesight, since imbibing or inhaling wood alcohol could lead to blindness, even death.


Wood alcohol -- Indianapolis Star, October 19, 1914

(Indianapolis Star, October 19, 1914)


Industrially, methanol is used as a feedstock in making other chemicals.  Changed into formaldehyde, it is converted for products as diverse as paints, plastics, explosives, deicing fluid for airplanes, and copy-machine fluid.  As the automobile age dawned, methanol came to be a component of antifreeze.  Doctors as well as newspaper reporters were keen on reminding drivers and mechanics that too much exposure to the chemical, whether through breathing or touching, could cause blindness or worse.  At the time Dr. Hirshberg was writing, there was probably a lot of wood alcohol around Indianapolis and South Bend, pioneer towns of the auto industry.  Today, methanol is used as fuel in dirt trucks and Monster trucks.  It’s also the required fuel of all race cars at the Indianapolis 500, adopted as a safety feature after a deadly crash and explosion at the Hoosier track in 1964.

You can imagine the perils of chugging the stuff.  Yet back in 1903, a couple in Columbus, Indiana, drank a deadly wood alcohol toddy, either by accident or through fatal ignorance of its effects.  A year later, three artillerymen, thinking wood alcohol was a joke, died at Fort Terry in New London, Connecticut.  In Philadelphia, the proprietor of a hat-cleaning shop who used the liquid in his trade had to mix red dye in it to try to deter his employees from stealing and drinking the stuff out back.  The trick didn’t work, and he claimed “they’re used to it” now.  Suicides found it handy, too — like an 18-year-old girl in South Bend who fell in love with a high school teacher.


Wood Alcohol -- Indianapolis Star, November 12, 1910(Indianapolis Star, November 12, 1910)


Some people said that refined wood alcohol smelled like old Kentucky rye.  The toxic effects usually took a few hours to kick in, so group deaths often occurred after bottles of it were passed around among chums having a “drink orgy.”

After Congress passed the Volstead Act on January 17, 1920, the news was soon full of stories about desperate attempts to quench the literally killing thirst — and of unscrupulous efforts to profit off drinkers’ desperation.

A Brooklyn undertaker, John Romanelli, and four other men were indicted in 1920 on charges on selling wood alcohol mixed with “water, burned sugar and flavoring extracts.”   They had sold the batch for $23,000 and the resultant “whiskey” caused “scores of deaths” in New England around Christmas-time and New Years’.  In St. Paul, Minnesota, in March 1920, nine imbibers died in a 24-hour period.

Just two weeks before the new law went into effect, a Gary, Indiana, woman, Ella Curza, got a 60-day prison sentence and a $50 fine for possession of eighteen bottles of wood alcohol that she was allegedly peddling as an intoxicant.  Hammond’s Lake County Times was already covering glimmers of the story — including the sale of methanol cocktails to unwitting men and U.S. soldiers stationed in Gary during the 1919 national steel strike.


January 2, 1920

(Lake County Times, Hammond, Indiana, January 2, 1920)


January 3, 1920 (6)(Lake County Times, January 3, 1920)


By 1922, with the crackdown on hootch in full swing, the editors of the South Bend News-Times — a liberal-minded paper — issued figures on the estimated toll of wood spirits.  “Wood alcohol is now killing 260 and blinding 44 Americans a year… In Pennsylvania the known deaths due to wood alcohol poisoning last year totaled 61… Including unreported cases, wood alcohol’s death toll probably exceeds 1,500 a year.”


Wood Alcohol -- South Bend News-Times, August 29, 1922

(South Bend News-Times, August 29, 1922)


In New York, in the first six months of 1922 alone, 130 deaths and 22 cases of blindness were reported, a figure some officials thought “incomplete.”

Future Hollywood comedic actor Charles Butterworth, who was a reporter in his hometown of South Bend in 1922, penned a story about a certain medical claim:  that alcohol-related deaths were actually higher after the Volstead Act came into effect than before.  The St. Joseph County Coroner, Dr. C.L. Crumpacker, and other local medical men thought this statement was preposterous, however:


Wood Alcohol -- South Bend News-Times, July 2, 1922

Wood Alcohol -- South Bend News-Times, July 2, 1922 (2)

(South Bend News Times, July 2, 1922)


Prohibition clearly failed and would be lifted by Franklin Roosevelt in December 1933.  Yet as one latter-day journalist, Pulitzer Prize-winner Deborah Blum, has discovered, the U.S. government — faced with the continuing thirst that led some Americans to crime and the more ignorant to varnish and perfume — decided to try out a different tactic.

Just before Christmas 1926, Federal agents deliberately began poisoning alcohols typically utilized by bootleggers.  In an attempt to deter the public — even scare them into staying dry — the Feds essentially turned almost all alcohol into undrinkable “industrial” alcohol.  Bootleggers tried to re-distill what the government had actively poisoned, which led to the deaths of (by some estimates) 10,000 people, deaths indirectly caused by the government’s “poisoning program.”

Blum, who has taught journalism at MIT and the University of Wisconsin and is a columnist for the New York Times, is no conspiracy theorist.  This is real history.   In 2010, Blum authored The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York — a book made into a PBS/American Experience documentary in 2014.


PBS(Courtesy Penguin Books/PBS.)


Lake County Times, January 15, 1920(Lake County Times, January 15, 1920)

Got Cooties? Try P.D.Q.

Altoona Tribune, February 13, 1950

Cooties aren’t what they used to be.  When I was a kid growing up in the long-lost 1980’s, cooties were imaginary germs — and not something you usually wanted.  If you accidentally came into exposure with these fictitious microbes, quarantine wasn’t necessary, though you might get socially ostracized for a day or two.  In fact, that was kind of the point.  In the worst-case scenario, however, unless you were a perennial cootie hatching ground, you could just rub the little critters off onto somebody else.  One definition even calls cooties an “infection tag game.”  The dark side, of course, is the mild sexual harassment hovering over elementary school playgrounds.  And yet. . . some cooties you actually want.  Without these benign cousins — love germs — life might not even be worth living.

Early Clinton-era cooties, though, weren’t the kind that an earlier generation of Americans knew.  A senior colleague of mine at the State Library has just testified that the psychological variety of this make-believe organism has been around since at least the 1950s.  Yet its pedigree dates even farther back than that.

Cooties, in fact, were being mentioned in American newspapers as early as 1918.  The ancestral cootie?  Like most of us, it seems to have had immigrant roots.  As far as journalists knew, this was an annoying variety of lice that proliferated in the trenches of Europe during World War I.

South Bend News-Times, July 13, 1918

(South Bend News-Times, July 13, 1918.)


Were cooties immune to warfare?  Maybe, maybe not. The writer was probably joking here, and might have been telling a big tall tale, but it sounds like one way to get rid of the bug was to give it a good jolt:

South Bend News-Times, July 13, 1918 (2)

(South Bend News-Times, July 13, 1918.)


Captain Charles W. Jones, a teacher at Greencastle High School who served on the Western Front, told a Putnam County audience in 1919 about his uncomfortable experiences in France.   Alongside the perils of bombs and poison gas. . .  the little bug called cooties:

Greencastle Heraldn, February 5, 1919

(Greencastle Herald, February 5, 1919)


Etymology meets entomology at the Oxford English Dictionary, whose talented word-sleuths think “cootie” might come from the Malay word kutu, denoting a parasitic biting insect.  Except for one minor naval battle, World War I wasn’t waged in Southeast Asia, so unless Malaysian troops fighting in Europe coined the word, its passage into English is actually quite mysterious.

Yet soon, cooties were coming to America in letters:  literally!

Greencastle Herald, February 21, 1919

(Greencastle Herald, February 21, 1919.)


That was good news for the Netherlands, which wanted to get rid of them:

Jasper Weekly Courier, December 20, 1918

(Jasper Weekly Courier, December 20, 1918)


In the event of the next global war — and in an eerie parallel to chemical warfare — the (perhaps mad) English entomologist Harold Maxwell-Lefroy was actually looking at ways to disseminate deadly diseases behind enemy lines by means of propagating mosquitoes, house flies. . . and — get this! — cooties.

South Bend News-Times, May 19, 1920South Bend News-Times, May 19, 1920 (2)

(South Bend News-Times, May 19, 1920)


In fact, the tiny foe looks disturbing enough:

South Bend News-Times, April 7, 1922

(South Bend News-Times, April 7, 1922)


By the early years of the Jazz Age, these pestiferous creatures had apparently made it “over here” on the backs, in the clothes, and probably in some of the doughboys’ uncomfortable nether regions.

Up in Cadillac, Michigan, folklore, at least, thought the Kaiser’s cooties were refusing to recognize the Armistice and were carrying on the war against American grasshoppers undismayed:

South Bend News-Times, July 2, 1919

(South Bend News-Times, July 2, 1919)


Even venomous snakes, it was believed, got laid low by the dreaded bug:

The Call-Leader (Elwood, Indiana), November 25, 1918(The Call-Leader [Elwood, Indiana], November 25, 1918)


The New York Tribune thought these lice should have figured into the staggering death toll of the so-called “War to End All Wars.”

South Bend News-Times, July 6, 1919

(South Bend News-Times, July 6, 1919)


Around 1919, somebody invented a children’s board game.  I have never played this game, but according to one description, you put two pill-like objects with BB’s inside a box painted like a World War I battlefield.  A cage — sometimes with a fox hole underneath it — sits at one end of the box.  The challenge is to maneuver the “cooties” over the mine-infested field of death and dispose of them inside the cage.

In 1920, this game was being manufactured by the Irvin-Smith Company of Chicago, who touted it as “good for your nerves.”

Cooties Game (3), 1920 -- Anglo Boer War Museum

(Cootie Game, circa 1920.  Courtesy Canadian Anglo-Boer War Museum.)


Cooties Game, 1920 -- Anglo Boer War Museum


The Cootie Game was offered for sale at George H. Wheelock’s department store in South Bend in 1919:

South Bend News-Times, September 27, 1919

(South Bend News-Times, September 27, 1919)


Having cooties on you, however, was no game, and is a genuine part of American medical history.

One solution for the lice was a “liquid fire” called P.D.Q., possibly manufactured at Owl Chemical Company in Terre Haute, Indiana.  The initials were said to stand for “Pesky Devils Quietus.”  Wherever it was made, the squirtable cootie-killer was on sale in Hoosier drug stores not long after the end of World War I.  It sold for the same price as the Cootie Game:  35 cents.

South Bend News-Times, August 1, 1922

(South Bend News-Times, August 1, 1922)


Greencastle Herald, March 30, 1920(Greencastle Herald, March 30, 1920)


What the exact difference is between cooties and the domestic American chiggers, I’m not sure — and nobody seems to have checked into hospitals recently complaining of cooties.  Sometime around 1950, apparently, these bugs evolved into a mildly harmless children’s phobia.

The cootie’s association with war did, however, survive.  In 1920, a service organization affiliated with the VFW was founded in New York City — the Military Order of the Cootie.  Though no World War I vets are around to tell us about scratching and the other horrors of trench warfare, the order — devoted to community service and, just as importantly, to humor — is still active to this day.

We salute the Cooties!

Terre Haute Tribune, June 5, 1958(Terre Haute Tribune, June 5, 1958)

Over 55,000 More Pages

The Rising Sun

Hey, readers.  Just a quick news flash.  Here’s a list of new content added to Hoosier State Chronicles over the last few days.

Check out some colorful titles — like Wabash Scratches — and a hilarious and witty antebellum paper from Indianapolis, The Locomotive.  A further decade of this comical weekly, one of the best papers ever published in the Hoosier State, is coming soon.

Additionally, we just added some early titles going back to 1807, when the sun was just rising on printing in Indiana Territory.  A huge run of Greencastle’s Daily Banner, digitized at DePauw University, brings us up to 1968.  Enjoy!

The German & Appalachian Roots of the Brazil Daily Times

Brazil Daily Times, June 30, 1909

Attention Clay County chroniclers and Brazil back-story buffs!  The first batch of the Brazil Daily Times is now going up on Newspapers.com.  (Uploading may take a week or more and will include a run of issues from 1907-1931.)  Indiana residents can access this content for FREE via INSPIRE.  If you need help accessing the content, read our related blog post.

Here’s a short side note on the history of the Daily Times, ancestor of today’s Brazil Times.

Small-town newspapers often have interesting pedigrees.  Brazil’s is no exception.  When the Daily Times’ debut came on December 1, 1888, it was under the editorial leadership of a man named Robert Henkel.

Bob Henkel came from one of the original German families of the American South.  Their involvement in printing, preaching, and pioneering went back many generations.

Though William Travis wrote up the editor’s genealogy in his 1909 History of Clay County, Travis’ version is full of mistakes.  Yet as the chronicler knew, Henkel’s story links Clay County history back to 16th-century Germany.

Bob Henkel’s fascinating family lineage was prestigious, going at least as far back as Johann Henckel, a German Catholic priest at the time of the Protestant Reformation.  While Europe’s spiritual foundations were being shaken up by the monk Martin Luther, Johann Henckel, who served as Hofprediger (court preacher) and spiritual guide to some members of the Hapsburg royal family, was exchanging letters with the Dutch reformer, humanist, and priest Erasmus of Rotterdam.

Mary of Hungary 2

William Travis mistakenly writes that Henckel was Father Confessor to a certain Queen Mary of Norway.  Actually, this was Queen Mary of Hungary, sister of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.  Mary later served as Hapsburg Governor of the Netherlands during the height of the Reformation.  Henckel, while friendly to Protestants calling for reform, ultimately swayed Mary away from becoming a follower of Luther.

That couldn’t be said of the rest of the Henckel family, who emigrated to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley in the early 18th century.  As Appalachian frontier folk, the fervently Lutheran Henckels (later spelled Henkel) also helped settle the “German belt” of North Carolina at a time when English took linguistic third place in the western Piedmont.  Until the early 1800s, German and Scottish Gaelic — not to mention Cherokee — were commonly-spoken languages in backcountry Carolina.


Ambrose Henkel Printing Press(Ambrose Henkel’s printing press, which he set up at age twenty in the mountains of Virginia.)


Printer’s ink must have been mingled with Bob Henkel’s blood. Around 1807, in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley town of New Market, Virginia, the Indiana editor’s great-grand uncles, Ambrose and Solomon Henkel, set up one of the first German-language presses in the American South.  (The Virginia Historical Society has a great webpage showing some of the beautiful work done by these craftsmen.)  From 1807 to 1809, Ambrose published Der Virginische Volksberichter und Neumarketer Wochenschrift, a small, short-lived weekly newspaper printed in the heavily German-speaking area around the famous Luray Caverns.  The Henkel brothers’ press in New Market is considered the oldest Lutheran printing house in America.  The brothers also published educational books, like an 1819 ABC Book in the collections of the College of William and Mary.


Geschichte der Lutherischen Kirche in America(Der Virginische Volksberichter was printed with the motto “Ich bring das Neu’s / So gut ich’s weiss!” — I bring the news, as best I know it!”)


Ambrose and Solomon’s father, the Reverend Paul Henkel, was a celebrated Lutheran minister who preached in both German and English.  One of the pioneers of Lutheranism in America, the North Carolina-born Paul Henkel sowed the seeds of his church in the trans-Appalachian West during travels out to Tennessee, Ohio, and Indiana.  William Travis claims that he served as the first president of Ohio State University in Columbus.  This is wrong, but Henkel did help establish education in the early Midwest.


Rev Paul Hinkel(Reverend Paul Henkel was editor Robert Henkel’s great-grandfather.)


Confirmations-Schein-Amrose Henkel, 1827

(Confirmation certificate printed by Ambrose Henkel in Shenandoah County, Virginia, in 1827.)


Several members of this prominent family of Virginia Germans were drawn into the conflict between North and South. A few trained as doctors at the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious medical school before the Civil War.  Caspar C. Henkel served as an assistant surgeon in Confederate General Stonewall Jackson’s brigade during the 1862 Shenandoah Valley campaign.

It should come as no surprise that the Lutheran minister Paul Henkel’s great-grandson, Brazil Daily Times editor Bob Henkel, was born in apt-sounding Germantown, Ohio, in 1866, just a year after his Confederate relatives back in the Virginia mountains lost the war.  Henkel was raised, however, in Crawfordsville, Indiana, where he became a printer’s apprentice at age sixteen.  Robert eventually bought the Crawfordsville Daily Journal, briefly moved out to Coldwater, Kansas, where he married Josephine Cole, then back east to Rockville and La Porte, Indiana.


Robert Henkel -- Indianapolis News, February 5, 1930(Indianapolis News, February 5, 1930)


In 1888, Robert established the Brazil Daily Times, ancestor of the town’s current paper.  Under the umbrella of the Henkel Publishing Company, he served as its editor until 1912.  William Travis claims that the Clay County paper was established with capital investment amounting to just $1.60, “with no type, paper or any other supplies with which to establish the venture.”  Within a few years, however, Henkel and his partner “had all modern devices known to the printer’s art.”

At a time when most American newspapers were at least loosely affiliated with a political party, the Daily Times‘ editor kept it independent of partisan politics and was much admired for his honesty and support of the best political candidates, regardless of what party they belonged to.

Bob Henkel moved to Indianapolis in 1912.  In 1918, he bought the Indianapolis Daily Live Stock Journal and published it until he died of pneumonia on February 4, 1930.  Henkel was buried at Crown Hill Cemetery.

The Swearing o’ the Green?

Lake County Times, March 8, 1920

Hoosier State Chronicles is about to fix one big gap in our online newspaper archives — the absence of northwestern Indiana, that colorful region of steel mills and dunes beaches and the pulse of Chicago throbbing out there in the distance.  In the next few months, we’ll bring you a long run of Hammond’s Lake County Times from 1906 into the early days of Prohibition.

Hammond’s proximity to the Windy City means that its reporters covered plenty of stories from America’s Jazz Age — the heady days of flappers, gangsters, speakeasies, marriage mills, divorce courts, and the rise and fall of Indiana’s powerful Ku Klux Klan. You’ll see how the Roaring Twenties played out in towns like Hammond, Gary, Crown Point, East Chicago, Hobart and Munster.  But until we’re done digitizing, we’ll just tantalize you with a story here and there.

Here’s a funny clip about the history of impatience… on both ends of the line.  Published in the Lake County Times on February 10, 1923, this story is from Whiting, a Lake Michigan town right on the Illinois state line.

Irish eyes might be smiling.  But you’ve been forewarned: never swear at an Irish “hello girl.”


telephone 1920s 2


Lake County Times, February 10, 1923 (1)

Lake County Times, February 10, 1923 (2)

Lake County Times, February 10, 1923 (3)

Lake County Times, February 10, 1923 (4)


telephone 1920s 4


telephone 1920s 5

%d bloggers like this: