Henri Marion, Naval Interpreter and Pigeon Expert, Dead at Culver, Indiana

Culver Postcard 1906

You can thank Jonathan Jennings for making the Hoosier State a Great Lakes State two-hundred years ago, when he got Congress to nudge the border with Michigan a few miles north.  But even with our gorgeous sand dunes stretched out under the shadow of the steel mills, Indiana hardly jumps to mind when it comes to maritime history.

That didn’t stop me from fishing for some home-grown Hoosier connections to the Life Aquatic.  (Did you know that even far-inland parts of the state, like Leavenworth down on the Ohio River, once had thriving boatbuilding enterprises, with craftsmen turning out graceful wooden skiffs shipped around the U.S.?)

One of Indiana’s surprising links to the sea was Professor Henri Marion, whose obituary ran in the South Bend News-Times on August 15, 1913.

Marion was born in Tours, France, in 1857, and emigrated with his wife Jeanne Marie to America around 1883, when the couple were still in their twenties.  The Marions lived briefly in Charleston, South Carolina, where their son Paul Henry Marion, who later served in the Navy, was born in 1884.  In 1886, Henri Marion was a language teacher at the Norwood Institute on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, D.C.  An ad for the school listed him as a graduate of the prestigious Sorbonne in Paris.

By 1891, though, Marion had become a French professor at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

An esteemed instructor there, Henri Marion may have been involved in the early use of the phonograph in teaching languages to naval cadets.   Curiously, the French professor also got involved in another “linguistic” innovation involving technology — not “pidgin” English, but another kind of “pigeon” entirely.


Outing October 1894

(A pigeon-cote on the armored cruiser Constellation around 1894.)


The instructor was at the forefront of a U.S. Navy effort to improve the sending of messages via homing pigeon.     An issue of Outing in October 1894 has this to say about it:

The military use of messenger pigeons has grown up since the Franco-Prussian war, when pigeons were first extensively used during the siege of Paris.  In France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain and Portugal, the organization of military pigeon posts is now very complete, some of the nations owning upwards of six-hundred thousand birds.  As homing pigeons are of no use as bearers of messages except after long and careful training, a service of messenger pigeons for naval or military use could not be improvised at short notice.

The United States messenger pigeon service has now been in existence for three years, under the charge of Prof. Henri Marion, United States Naval Academy, who has frequently urged that a permanent service be established along the Atlantic coast, from Portland, Maine, to Galveston, Texas. . .

In peace, the birds would be useful in giving notice of wrecks, fire at sea, lack of food, water or coal, or of any accident to vessels or machinery, if happening near the coast, and could frequently relieve the anxiety of friends of passengers on vessels overdue. . . When in October 1883 a light-ship broke from her moorings twenty-two miles from Tornung, off the mouth of the Eider, four pigeons were liberated from the ship and brought the news in fifty-eight minutes.

In 1896, Professor Marion filed a patent for a new watertight aluminum message holder that would be attached to the bird’s legs.  Scientific American reported that Marion’s improved “quill” weighed “less than eight grains” and can “be fastened to the pigeon in an instant.”


Henri Marion Homing Pigeon Patent 1896

(Marion’s patent for a message holder, October 1896.)


Around 1905, before he began spending his summers as a language teacher in northern Indiana, Henri Marion got involved with another strange naval odyssey:  the discovery of the remains of John Paul Jones.

The Scottish-born Revolutionary War hero was most famous for captaining the Bonhomme Richard in a famous battle against the British vessel Serapis, fought off Flamborough Head in Yorkshire in 1779.  Though hailed as the “Father of the U.S. Navy,” John Paul Jones fell from grace and entered the service of Catherine the Great’s Russian Navy in 1787, battling the Turks on the Black Sea, then wandered around Poland and Sweden, desperately looking for a country to serve.  Jones ended up in Paris in 1790 in the early days of the French Revolution.  Sick and miserably lonely, the 45-year-old hero died of a kidney ailment at his apartment in Paris in 1792.  One of the captain’s few friends found him dead, kneeling face-down at the edge of his bed, apparently in prayer before his spirit took flight (or set sail?)

Thinking (wrongly) that the U.S. government would be interested in repatriating the hero’s remains for an honorable burial in America, a French admirer sought to preserve his body, even as the American ambassador, Gouverneur Morris, refused to help give Jones a proper burial in Paris.  (“I had no right to spend money on such follies,” Morris wrote.)  Like his contemporary Mozart, who was chucked into a mass grave in Vienna just six months earlier, only a few servants and friends attended Jones’ burial in the St. Louis Cemetery, which was set aside for “foreign Protestants.”   The body was stuck in a lead-lined coffin filled with alcohol to aid preservation in case the American government ever ordered an exhumation.  Just a few weeks later, after 600 Swiss Guards died defending King Louis XVI at his palace and were tossed in a mass grave next to Jones’ new coffin, the exact site of his burial became more and more mysterious.

The horrible burying ground later became a garden, then a refuse dump covered by a midden full of animal bones and kitchen waste.  According to rumor, the neighbors held cock fights and dog fights at the site of the forgotten cemetery where America’s greatest naval hero lay.  Over the course of the 1800s, a grocery store, laundry, and apartment house had also been built on top of it.


John Paul Jones Last Cruise 1


In 1899, General Horace Porter, U.S. Ambassador to France from 1897 to 1905, began an amazing six-year search for Jones that culminated in the discovery, photography, and repatriation of his remains.  (I won’t spoil your lunch by posting the photos here, but I’ll just say he looks like King Tut.  You can see them here.)

Professor Henri Marion — of homing-pigeon fame — was Ambassador Porter’s interpreter in France.  Marion helped translate old documents and went on the archaeological digs that led to the discovery of John Paul Jones’ coffin.  Porter’s team battled worms, stench, and fetid water along the way.  His interpreter later wrote the definitive account of this search through subterranean Paris, a book published in 1906 as John Paul Jones’ Last Cruise and Final Resting Place at the United States Naval Academy.

Henri Marion accompanied the Revolutionary War hero as he sailed on his “final cruise” to Annapolis, Maryland, departing from Cherbourg, France, in July 1905, after lavish services at the American Church in Paris.   A 13-day crossing brought  Jones “home” to a ceremony presided over by President Theodore Roosevelt.  Jones’ bones were then laid to rest in a temporary vault at the Naval Academy on the shores of Chesapeake Bay.


Coffin of JPJ

(The coffin of John Paul Jones is lowered to the deck of the USS Standish off Annapolis Roads, July 23, 1905.  U.S. Naval Historical Center.)


Within a summer or two, the French interpreter who was so instrumental in the hunt for Captain Jones was in Marshall County, Indiana.  By about 1907, Henri Marion was serving as a French and Spanish instructor at the Culver Military Academy’s Summer Naval School, a preparatory program for teenagers interested in enrolling in the U.S. Navy.

Founded on the shores of Lake Maxinkuckee in 1894, the Culver Academy began its unique summer naval program, hailed as “the only naval school west of the Atlantic Coast,” in 1902.  Three years later, it had “125 students from twenty different states” (Plymouth Tribune).

An article in the nearby Plymouth newspaper reported on the mustering-in of a battalion of “Indiana state sailors” in 1909.  “A ship will be provided for them,” it said.

The naval instruction on Lake Maxinkuckee covers all the elementary work done by naval reserves and by the government naval training stations.  In addition, the formation of this battalion entitles Indiana to receive from the navy department a vessel for more extended drills and work in navigation on the Great Lakes.

Illinois has recently received the gunboat Nashville for this purpose and by next summer these Hoosier middies will probably receive a similar vessel.

A writer for the Indianapolis Journal in 1902 told potential tourists that “Visitors to Maxinkuckee during these months [July and August] will find the lake with quite a nautical appearance, the only feature lacking being the smell of the salt sea air.”

With the grounds illumined by Japanese lanterns, a ball was held at Culver that August.  By 1910, a floating dance pavilion called “The White Swan enticed local dancers at the popular lake resort to come enjoy the summer nights along Aubeenaubee Bay.  Guests sometimes arrived on the steamers that once plied Lake Maxinkuckee.  In 1903, Civil War naval veteran (and native Hoosier) Admiral George Brown came to visit the Culver cadets.


Culver Naval School Catalog 1904 (5)

(Naval students learn to dance at the Culver Summer Naval School.  This photo is from the institute’s debut 1902 catalog.  The cost of the 8-week program that year was $110, “including room, board, tuition and laundry.”)


Culver Naval School Catalog 1904 (3)

(“Marlinspike Seamanship,” as taught in the northern Indiana flatlands.  Students “will all be taught ship nomenclature, and the general principles which govern the building of wooden and iron ships.  They will be instructed in the use of the compass, and the lead-line and the log.  In connection with their work in seamanship, they will also be instructed in the courtesies and customs of the United States Naval Service. . . Cadets in the upper class will be taught the laws of gyratory storms. . . and will be required to learn thoroughly the ‘Rules of the Road’ for avoiding collisions at sea.”)


Country Life in America May 1907

(In May 1907, Henri Marion was mentioned in this ad from Country Life in America.  “Expert tutoring is given in any study; also a special course in modern languages, with the phonograph, under Professor Henri Marion, of the United States Naval Academy, and laboratory and other interesting special courses.”)


Culver Naval School Catalog 1904 (4)


Culver Naval School Catalog 1902 (7)


South Bend News-Times August 15 1913 (1)

South Bend News-Times August 15 1913 (2)

Possibly dealing with the effects of typhoid fever he contracted in Maryland in 1910, Henri Marion died in the hospital at Culver, Indiana, in August 1913 “after a general decline” — and not long after a fierce windstorm cut through the school and did huge damage.

The French instructor, interpreter, and pigeon-pioneer was buried at the Naval Academy’s cemetery in Annapolis.  The Culver Military Academy continues its summer naval school to this day.


Scene on Lake Maxinkuckee

(Culver-Union Township Public Library.)


Do you have a photo of Professor Marion?  I’m at staylor336 [at] gmail.com.  And take your own dive into history at Hoosier State Chronicles.

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Harry L. Kramer and the Candy Cathartic

Cascarets ad 2

In the sometimes not-so-good old days, Hoosier newspapers were overflowing with ads for what today we’d call snake oil.  Before the Civil War, when these papers typically only ran to four pages and often lacked enough subscribers to stay afloat, vast amounts of newsprint went to work advertising spurious quack panaceas.  As late as 1900, editors in need of underwriters for the news had no qualms about giving ad space to “doctors” who thought that cocaine could cure a sore throat or that an effervescent ginger “summer drink” could get rid of your cholera.

Nor did the amount of medical ads diminish after the war.

From the turn of the century until World War I, a massive national advertising campaign directed at mothers and kids touted a tasty cure-all with roots in the Wabash Valley:  Kramer’s Cascarets, “The Candy Cathartic.”

Born in Keokuk, Iowa, in 1861, to parents who hailed from Richmond, Indiana, Harry Lewis Kramer was a clever businessman and one of the most energetic and revolutionary advertisers of his day.

In 1890, the 29-year-old entrepreneur, who lived in Attica in Fountain County, attracted investors and started up a health resort at a spot near the spectacular Fall Creek Gorge in neighboring Warren County.

Built around a mineral spring discovered in 1884 by Civil War veteran Samuel Story (a victim of severe arthritis who noticed his ailment getting better when he sloshed around in the mud), the lavish hotel Kramer constructed first went by the name Indiana Mineral Springs, then as the Hotel Mudlavia, after the soothing mud-baths offered there.  A service town that popped up next door to the resort took the name of its postmaster, Kramer, and is still on the map, though the hotel has faded into legend.


Harry L Kramer - Fair Play Sainte Genevieve Missouri September 17 1904

(Kramer made sure his face was all over small-town American newspapers.  This clip appeared in Fair Play in Sainte Genevieve, Missouri, on September 17, 1904.  Printer’s Ink hailed Kramer as “a man of almost superhuman energy — a new Napoleon, perhaps. . . He writes his own advertisements, all of which are characterized by wonderful originality and a desire to get out of the beaten track.”)


Mudlavia Hotel 1

(Hotel Mudlavia near Williamsport, Indiana, around 1917.  This photo was taken by Anna Marie Landis, who worked at the famous resort.  Williamsport-Washington Township Public Library.)


Kramer’s sprawling Mudlavia health spa attracted the rich and famous — including boxing champion John L. Sullivan, Indianapolis poet James Whitcomb Riley, and Hoosier songwriter Paul Dresser. Papers lauded it at as “one of the finest sanatariums in the United States.”  Mudlavia ranked with the great mineral baths at French Lick, Indiana; Bedford, Pennsylvania; and Hot Springs, Arkansas.

The lure?  Not just nature — or the elaborate Chinese garden out back.  Pure mineral waters bubbling out of the Warren County hills offered relief from a vast array of bodily ailments.  Infusing water with mud, doctors and their assistants at Kramer’s resort offered a therapeutic “Magno-Mud” cure (sometimes misspelled “mango mud” in the papers), giving blissful relief to aching joints and muscles.  Kidneys and livers also went away from Mudlavia feeling much happier.


Mudlavia Hotel 2

(A guest at Mudlavia gets a mud bath, circa 1917.  An ad for Kramer’s chewing gum, “No-To-Bac,” hangs on the wall behind him.  Click to enlarge.  Williamsport-Washington Township Public Library.)


Closely tied to Kramer’s investment in this tranquil health spa in the luscious Hoosier woods was his other main business interest: a sugary substitute for the dreaded dose of castor oil once administered by American mothers everywhere.  This was Kramer’s nationally-famous “candy cathartic,” Cascarets.

Dozens of speedy and sure-fire purgatives feature in the annals of 19th-century medicine and journalism.  From a spoonful of old-fashioned castor oil itself to a gentler “Castoria” and a wide variety of sarsaparillas and “fig liver syrups,” our ancestors knew plenty of ways to achieve what they rightly saw as the highly-desirable result of these over-the-counter drugs:  a vigorous flush of the intestines.


warner's log cabin sarsaparilla

(Hoosiers William Henry Harrison and his grandson Benjamin Harrison appeared on this 1880’s ad for a cure-all wonderworker.)


I’m not sure if Kramer ever studied chemistry and medicine or just stuck to the business end of things.  But in the 1890s he made a fortune selling laxatives.  (The Attica entrepreneur also marketed a chewing gum called No-To-Bac, which claimed to help smokers kick the habit.)  Pioneered at a lab in Attica, by 1899 five million boxes of octagonal, chocolaty-tasting Cascarets were pouring out of Kramer’s factories in Chicago and New York.

“Cascaret Kramer” revolutionized American advertising, but he was no medical Napoleon.  Plant-based laxatives, used to flush out the bowels, had figured for millennia into folk medical practice.  The jolt to the nether regions customers got from these candy cathartics came from the drug’s most potent ingredient, the bark of a species of buckthorn tree — the cascara, native to the Pacific Northwest, northern California, and Idaho.  Early Spanish explorers called this diminutive tree the cascara sagrada (“sacred bark”).  Mixed with aloe and the roots of rhubarb, Native Americans on the Pacific Coast and in the Northern Rockies used it as a natural purgative.

By the late 1800s, trainloads of buckthorn bark were being shipped out of the Northwest to pharmaceutical companies around the world in quantities that endangered the tree’s survival.  Much of the bark went to the factories of the Sterling Remedy Company, Kramer’s wildly successful over-the-counter pharmaceutical enterprise.

Like other Americans,  Hoosiers were wild for a good clean-out.  Kramer helped create the craze.  On April 25, 1907, the Indianapolis News ran a full page-length ad (really a medical manifesto). “The Curse of Constipation” was almost certainly written by Harry Kramer.


Indianapolis News April 25 1907


Often Caused by Castor Oil and Salts

A Warning That All Should Read and Heed

Constipation is indeed the curse of mankind.  From a simple bit of carelessness this dreadful destroyer of life gets a hold on its victim and slowly but surely tortures him to a horrible death.

It is a fact that all people at some time or other become constipated, and if the warning be not instantly heeded, and the system put back into working order without delay, the victim is marked for death — a long, lingering one, often so disguised that no one would dream of its original cause.

It is also true that nearly every disease recorded by medical science has its beginning in constipation.  Yes, great learned men have said that if people would learn to keep their bowels in order there would be no disease.  Professor B. Howard Rand, the great professor of chemistry in the famous Jefferson Medical College, as a farewell advice to the newly graduating class of young doctors, always said “Trust in God and keep your patients’ bowels open!”

Going into amazing detail in the pages of the News, Kramer went on to describe how Cascarets “begin to cure the moment you begin to chew them.”  These buckthorn candies give “tone and strength” to the walls of the intestines and (so the ad went) help purify the blood, give “a ruddy complexion; bright eyes; clear, active brain; everything that makes life worth living.”  Kramer promoted his tablets as useful against ills far beyond those affecting the intestines.  Children’s diseases, headaches, nervous ailments, female complaints, skin diseases, appendicitis, oral thrush, and worms could all be kept in check or cured.

Some of the drug’s benefits were almost certainly mythic.  One of many printed endorsements ran: “After taking Cascarets for a few nights before writing, I was able to pass a tape-worm 24 feet in length.  Cascarets have our praise. . . — Mrs. Harry Wood, Kenneth, Indiana.”

Kramer sold his candy cathartic for a dime in handy, pocket-sized metal boxes.  “You don’t know until you try how much good is crowded into a little 10-cent box.”


Gunters Magazine Advertiser

(“Grandfather’s Cure for Constipation,” one of Kramer’s humorous ads, appeared in Gunter’s Magazine Advertiser in 1906.)


Cascarets - South Bend News Times November 20 1918

(Kramer’s clever marketing extended to kids, who often didn’t realize they were taking “medication” when they downed a sweet Cascaret.  “They are harmless and safe for the little folks.”  This ad from the South Bend News-Times on November 20, 1918, shows a “Kid’s Indignation Meeting.”  A marketing genius, Kramer often paid to have his ads run in the regular news columns of papers.)


South Bend News Times November 19 1918 (3)

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


Cascarets - South Bend News Times November 30 1918

(South Bend News-Times, November 30, 1918.)


Cascarets - Plymouth Tribune January 16 1908

(Plymouth Tribune, January 16, 1908.)


The name and popularity of the sugar-coated laxative became so widespread that it entered the popular vocabulary.  A polo team in Anderson, Indiana, took the name “Anderson Cascarets” around 1904.  In New York City, night-workers at banks began to be known as “Cascarets” because they “work while you sleep.”


Cascarets -- Lake County Times, April 5, 1920

(Lake County Times, Hammond, Indiana, April 5, 1920)


Cascarets ad 4


Kramer sold his product rights for the drug to the Sterling Remedy Company around 1918 so that he could focus on his health resort at Mudlavia.  (The company was then based in Wheeling, West Virginia.)

Tragically, on February 29, 1920, a fire in a linen closet reduced the vast wooden hotel to ashes.  Many sick patients at the sanitarium, unable to walk due to rheumatism, were barely able to get out alive.  Some guests jumped from third-story windows, then suffered in the February cold even as Mudlavia smoldered in front of them.  Over fifty-thousand dollars in jewels perished in the flames.

Harry Kramer planned to rebuild the hotel, but never did.  The advent of antibiotics and the coming of the Great Depression effectively ended the heyday of the great American health spas.  (The owners of the French Lick resort in southern Indiana sold it to the Jesuits for use as a school in the 1930s for $1.00.)

Kramer retired to 1012 Ferry Street in Lafayette and died of a heart attack in 1935, apparently while visiting the license branch of the Tippecanoe County DMV.  The inventor of Cascarets is buried at Lafayette’s Greenbush Cemetery.

A retirement home and restaurant were built on the site of Mudlavia.  They, too, burned down in 1974.  (Some ghost hunters claim the site is haunted.)  As late as 2008, the natural spring that once made this place famous was still being tapped by an Indianapolis-based mineral water company.  The FDA banned the use of cascara bark in 2008, when researchers discovered the plant has carcinogenic properties and (ironically enough) may contribute to liver ailments.

Harry L Kramer at Mudlavia

(Kramer in his office at Mudlavia around 1917.)


Mudlavia Hotel 7

(Mudlavia Hotel, Attica, Indiana.  Allen County Public Library.)


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The Intriguing Tale of Pogue’s Run: A Civil War “Battle,” Ghosts, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Ghost 2

When you dig through old newspapers for a living, you find out pretty fast that almost every street corner has an entertaining story and sometimes a haunt or two.  Like the once-wild Pogue’s Run, a harnessed underwater ghost that trickles through subterranean Indianapolis, most of these stories are “out of sight, out of mind.”

Here’s a glimpse of the spectral history of the capitol city’s Near East Side.

Pogue’s Run, which in 1914 was re-channeled underground just north of New York Street before it flowed through downtown in tunnels, owes its name to a man who also vanished from sight.   Generally considered the first permanent white settler in Marion County, George Pogue, a “broad-shouldered,” dark-haired South Carolinian and blacksmith, was also, according to some accounts, the first recorded murder victim and the only man ever killed by American Indians in Indianapolis.

Settling in this isolated part of the new Hoosier state in March 1819, Pogue built a cabin for his family of seven, roughly where Pogue’s Run goes underneath today’s Michigan and Market Streets.  The family’s cabin sat near the old swamp that used to occupy most of the northeast outskirts of downtown.  Also called Perkins Run after another early settler who left the area “on account of loneliness,” the old stream in 1819 was wild and often flooded, not the sad open ditch and sewage channel it had become just a few decades later.


Indianapolis Journal January 5 1890


As an Indianapolis Journal article from January 5, 1890, reported, around the first of April, 1821, a Delaware or Wyandotte Indian known to whites as “Wyandot John” showed up at the Pogue family’s cabin.  Rumor had it that the wanderer was an outlaw among the Delawares.  He was probably also a horse thief — one of the worst offenses in those days.

Mrs. Pogue objected to Wyandot John being around the cabin, but the blacksmith gave him breakfast.  Some of Pogue’s horses had gone missing, and the visitor told him to go over to a Delaware  camp on Buck Creek twelve miles away.

Striking out into the woods, George Pogue, like the creek that still bears his name, never came back.  His murdered body may have been sent floating downstream.  (In 2013, a jaw bone showed up at Garfield Park, prompting investigators to ask if it was George Pogue’s.)

Indianapolis Journal January 5 1890 (2)

As the young city grew, the often rampaging creek rapidly came to be considered a “source of pestilence.”  Before legislators moved the Indiana capitol north from Corydon in 1825, they allotted $50 to rid Pogue’s Run of mosquitoes, which bred the malaria that killed off many infant towns on the Midwestern frontier.  Even as late as the Civil War, what became the Near East Side was thought of as remote from downtown and practically wild country.

***

On May 20, 1863, the creek became the site of the so-called “Battle of Pogue’s Run.”  At the Indiana State House, approximately 10,000 Democrats — including Copperheads and suspected members of the pro-Confederate Knights of the Golden Circle — gathered to protest the Lincoln administration.  Two months before the Battle of Gettysburg, the war was going badly for the Union, and Lincoln had just passed the Emancipation Proclamation, which angered Southern sympathizers.  With tensions running high, a large military force kept an eye on the Democrats downtown.  (Under the leadership of Dr. Thomas Bowles, the founder of French Lick, Indiana, the Knights eventually plotted to kidnap Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton and violently overthrow the state government).

That May, as Union soldiers confiscated pistols from Democrats at the Legislature, the crowd boarded trains to get out of the city.  Stopped on the tracks, one train car was raided for weapons.  On another, passengers (including many women, whom the Democrats believed wouldn’t be searched) threw somewhere between 500 and 2,000 pistols, rifles, and knives out the train window into the creek.  Republicans lampooned it as the “Battle of Pogue’s Run.”

A ghost story from the era appeared in the Indianapolis News on January 29, 1889:

Pogues Run Elm - Indianapolis News January 29 1889 (2)

Traditions of a Haunted Elm Tree in the Pogue’s Run Bottoms.

Nowhere on Hoosier soil has nature nourished such giant trees as in the Pogue’s Run bottoms.  In the days when trees were not appreciated the hand of the destroyer felled nearly all the great elm, walnut and sycamore peculiar to this district, but here and there a few remain, stately testimonials of the old-time forest grandeur.  There are elm trees here and there along the run that are wonders in this day.  On East Michigan street, beyond the creek, is one monarch whose branches have a diameter of over a hundred feet, and close to this one is the stump of a burnt-out sycamore, still showing signs of life, in which a family could comfortably live.  The interior of the hollow tree is eight feet across in the clear.

But one tree belonging to this group is better known than all the rest.  It is sometimes called “hangman’s elm,” sometimes “the gallows tree,” and occasionally the boys of the neighborhood speak of it as “the home of the ghost.”

The neighbors don’t believe in spooks, but somehow or other tradition has handed down a ghost story that will not die.  The public records and the memory of the “oldest inhabitant” furnish no evidence on this point, but there is a story in the air to this effect:  During the war, one day when there was bloody news from the front, and when human life was cheap, the body of an unknown man was found hanging from this particular tree.  Soldiers who climbed the tree to cut down the body found a curiously concealed opening in the tree.  It was instantly concluded that the hollow interior of the elm should be the place of sepulture.  The body was lowered into the hollow tree, but apparently it struck no bottom.  Certainly it gave forth no sound in falling.

It may have been that the dust and accumulation of rotted particles of the tree’s heart had made a soft, deep bed within so that no sound of the falling body came forth.  Or was it possible that the spreading roots of the elm walled in a deep “cave of the winds” or well?  At any rate nothing was heard when the body tumbled to its uncertain grave.

The spot where the supposed burial tree stood long ago became part of the city.  The site is beautiful.  Lots have been sold and houses built all about it.  A stranger bought the lot on which the tree stands.  But he will never build there.  One of the neighbors says:

‘From the swaying branches of the old elm come mournful sounds of distress, and many a man passing that way has been horrified at the footfalls of invisible pursuers.  Dim figures are sometimes seen in the neighborhood, but these always retrace their cloudy way to the tree and are, as it were, swallowed up by it . . .’


elm tree


By the 1890s, much of the eleven-mile course of Pogue’s Run was an open, festering sewer pit, clogged with industrial, animal and human waste.  Newspaper accounts from the time suggest that one of the most polluted sections of the creek was in the Cottage Home neighborhood just west of the federal arsenal (the building later became Arsenal Tech High School.) In 1897, Indianapolis city commissioners were already considering turning the de facto sewer into a controlled sewage conduit, as the creek “pulled pranks” in the form of deadly floods, doubly disastrous considering the amount of bacterial waste in the water.  In 1890, the Journal spoke of its appalling and unsanitary “odoriferous waters,” which boys who “Worked Like Beavers”  dammed up to make a swimming hole in 1903 — “for bathing purposes.”

The idyllic landscapes painted by pioneer Hoosier artists Jacob Cox and Christian Schrader show the creek before it was fouled up in the late 1800s.


pogue's run swimming hole - jacob cox 1840

(Pogue’s Run Swimming Hole by Jacob Cox, 1840s.  This spot is now the site of Indianapolis Union Station.)


Pogue's Run Covered Bridge 1850s Christian Schrader

(This drawing by Christian Schrader shows the Pogue’s Run Covered Bridge, which once sat on the National Road near the intersection of College Avenue and East Washington St.)


Several old-fashioned bridges, made of stone and wood, crossed Pogue’s Run  in the 1890s.  Stories circulated that at least one of these, at the intersection of Highland Avenue and what used to be called Campbell Street, had a ghost.

The Indianapolis Journal ran the story in 1896.  (Campbell was renamed East North Street that September, three months before “The Pogue’s Run Ghost” came out on December 11.)  This Gilded-Age paranormal site is at 603 N. Highland Ave., less than a block west of Arsenal Tech’s tennis court.

Pogue's Run Ghost 1

Pogue's Run Ghost 2 Pogue's Run Ghost 3

Pogue's Run Ghost 4

Could the “specter” have been the fog of the creek — or was it the spooky miasmas of sewage elevating into the air?  (That sounds sinister enough to me)!

As far as I can tell, this piece of ghost-lore never showed up again in the city’s newspapers, and might have dropped out of memory altogether when a modern concrete bridge was put here.  But maybe Google’s Nine-Eyes sees what we can’t see?  Like this blurry spot on the new bridge, captured here in June 2014:

564 N Highland Ave (6)


564 N Highland Ave (5)


Pogues Run Bridges - Indianapolis News May 13 1905

(The Indianapolis News portrayed some of the old stone bridges that once crossed Pogue’s Run in May 1905, on the eve of a dramatic re-engineering project that sent it through tunnels downtown.)


One last, and arguably far more amazing, story :

A few steps south of the “ghost bridge” is a parking lot at 564 N. Highland Avenue.  For decades, this was the site of a small shotgun house owned and occupied by Louisa Magruder, daughter of Thomas Magruder, whom many believe to be the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom.

As Joan Hostetler has shown over at HistoricIndianapolis.com, Louisa Magruder lived next to the so-called ghost bridge from the 1870s until her death in 1900 at age 92.  The elderly woman must have heard these spooky stories, since she was probably the phantom’s closest neighbor.


Louisa Magruder


Louisa’s land along Pogue’s Run had once been part of a farm and orchard owned by Indiana Governor Noah Noble, whose father kept the Magruders in slavery back in Virginia and Kentucky.  The Magruders were freed when the Nobles moved north to Indiana around 1820, though they continued to be employed as servants in the governor’s family.  Louisa, who had been a nanny for the Nobles, lived along the creek for almost thirty years after the Civil War.

What might have been the real inspiration for “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” — her father Thomas’ house at the corner of East Market St. and North College Ave. — sat barely a mile southwest of her house in Cottage Home.  The novelist Harriet Stowe’s brother, abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher, was a Presbyterian minister in Indianapolis in the 1840s and often visited the Magruder cabin, where he must have known her, and Stowe herself lived in Cincinnati.  As pioneer historian J.P. Dunn writes in his 1910 History of Greater Indianapolis: “It is the testimony of the Noble family that ‘Mrs. Stowe was a frequent visitor at Uncle Tom’s cabin, and wrote much of her book there’. . . Uncle Tom had but two children, Moses and his younger sister Louisa, and they were middle-aged people when Mrs. Stowe knew them.”


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