The Crawfordsville Monster

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


(Crawfordsville Daily Journal, September 9, 1891.)


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


(Crawfordsville Daily Journal, September 11, 1891.)


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

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


(Crawfordsville Daily Journal, September 8, 1891.)


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


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


Wichita Daily Eagle, September 4, 1891

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


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

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

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

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

Flora M Hill 2

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

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

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

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


Dahlia

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


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

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

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


The Inter Ocean, August 12, 1910

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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


The Inter Ocean, March 12, 1912 (10)

(The Inter Ocean, March 12, 1912.)


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

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

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

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


Lake County Times, April 22, 1912

Lake County Times, April 22, 1912 (3)

Lake County Times, April 22, 1912 (4)

Lake County Times, April 22, 1912 (5)

(Lake County Times, April 22, 1912.)

“No Venus Needed”: Lonesome Hearts, Vintage Edition

Women 2

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

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

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

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

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


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


Vincennes Western Sun & General Advertiser, May 29, 1824

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


The New York Times, May 28, 1860

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


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


Lake County Times, March 6, 1914


Sam Crow, March 6, 1914


Lake County Times, March 6, 1914 (3)


Lake County Times, March 6, 1914 (4)


Lake County Times, March 6, 1914 (5)


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

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

John Brown gravestie

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

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

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


John Brown
John Brown in Springfield, Massachusetts, 1846.

Watson Brown 2
Watson Brown, circa 1859.

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


Harpers Ferry
Harpers Ferry, Virginia, now West Virginia.

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


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

John Brown raid
Brown’s son Oliver was also killed in the raid, while Watson lay in agony. “With one son dead by his side, and another dying, he felt the pulse of his dying son with one hand and held his rifle with the other.” (James Redpath, The Public Life of Capt. John Brown, 1860)

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

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

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

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


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


This wasn’t the first time, however, that a box of old bones was brought to North Elba, New York, to lie next to John Brown’s. Two of his followers were never initially buried at all.  One of them was his son Watson.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Indianapolis Journal, September 11, 1882

Indianapolis Journal, September 11, 1882 (2)
Indianapolis Journal, September 11, 1882.

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

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


John Brown, Jr.
John Brown, Jr.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Indianapolis Journal, September 11, 1882 (3)


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

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


The Inter Ocean, September 14, 1882 (2)
The Inter Ocean, Chicago, September 14, 1882.

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

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

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


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

Who was this doctor, then?

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

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

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

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


Faculty of Winchester Medical College


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

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


John Brown's body 2


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

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

Books vs. Candy

Curious Cabbage vs. Fighting Tailor

Nineteenth-century American newspapers overflowed with medical ads.  Many touted quack panaceas, remedies for everything from dropsy and tuberculosis to STDs and impotence.  At a time when even “scientific” medicine was often little better than the variety promoted by “snake doctors,” folk medicine and spurious innovators actually helped keep newspapers afloat — as underwriters paying for ad space.

Six years before the Civil War broke out, the editors of the Brookville Indiana American put in some clever medical commentary.  Rather than feed your kids candy — a potential medical and dental no-no — why not buy them “toy books,” ancestor of the “pop-up” book?


Indiana American (Brookville), August 31, 1855

(Brookville Indiana American, August 31, 1855.)


A few months later, candy sales must have still been trumping sales of movable toy books at Dr. Keely’s.  The editors reissued their advice:  buy your kids candy for the brain, not sugary venom that “injures the health.”


Indiana American (Brookville), February 8, 1856(Brookville Indiana American, February 8, 1856.)


Was this the dry, brutal utilitarianism of Charles Dickens’ Thomas Gradgrind?  (The satiric Hard Times, which included an overbearing schoolteacher named M’Choakumchild, came out in 1854.)

Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them.

What were these “toy books,” competitors of the sugary destroyer?

Modern readers might imagine that the movable revolution in children’s literature is a new phenomenon. Yet the earliest books incorporating retractable parts date back to the 13th century.  Spanish philosopher Ramón Llull, who tried to demonstrate God’s existence through numerology, put spinning paper wheels in his books.  These helped the reader understand the mathematical charts illustrating Llull’s theories about the universe as a thinking machine.

Cosmologists’ use of movable book parts was complemented by Renaissance-era medical men.  One example was Dutch doctor Andreas Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica (On the Structure of the Human Body), printed in Switzerland in 1543.  Readers of this anatomical manual could lift flaps covering Vesalius’ illustrations to get a peak at the human innards and even watch a child being born.

Eighteenth-century London publisher Robert Sayer made a different kind of “interactive book.”  Around 1765, Sayer was making books with movable flaps revealing the “inside story” of everything from children’s tales and folk ballads to the story of Adam and Eve and the metamorphoses of Harlequin, a stock character in Italian comic theater.  Sayer’s “Harlequinades” were hugely popular in England and Europe.  Some must have showed up in colonial America.


Harlequinade of Adam and Eve, circa 1770

(Robert Sayer, Harlequinade of Adam & Eve, circa 1770.  A short history of the origins of death.)


By the 19th century, book makers were taking movable illustrations even further.  In England, Stacey and William Grimaldi published a title in 1821 called The Toilet Book or just The Toilet.  The Grimaldis — father and son — promoted the traditional idea that feminine beauty was a mark of virtue.  (“Toilet” referred to beautification, washing, and maintaining one’s health at a time when poet John Keats emphasized that “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”)  The Grimaldis’ illustrations of mirrors, perfume bottles, etc., could be lifted up to reveal fortune-teller-like revelations.

In addition to “peep show” and “tunnel” books — paper cut-outs depicting theater scenes — some of the best-known and most successful examples of the “interactive book” before the Civil War were those of Dean & Son, English publishers.  These were probably available at Hoosier bookstores before the Civil War — copies were advertised for sale in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1860.  Paper images were connected to paper tabs that, when levered back and forth, moved the cut-out characters around the page or flipped the entire illustration over to reveal a development in the story.

One of the Deans’ most popular titles was Dissolving Views.  A kind of 3-D forerunner to the stereoscope, which allowed readers to travel to places they would never see in person, some of its illustrations showed exotic landscapes, such as volcanoes erupting — succeeded by fire’s elemental opposite, cascading water.  Others depicted folktales or comic scenes with a didactic message.


Sausage Meat 1Sausage Meat 2(Dissolving Views, publishing house of George Dean, London, 1862.)


With the invention of cameras, improvements in optics, and the advent of more sophisticated magic-lantern projectors (first developed in the 1650s), “dissolving views” became a synonym for early, “phantasmagoric” versions of the cinema.  During the days of Dickens, these motion pictures were big entertainment.  Eventually, they evolved into silent film.


The Times-Picayune, February 21, 1841(The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, Louisiana, February 21, 1841.)


Indianapolis News, November 2, 1870

(Indianapolis News, November 2, 1870.)


Contemporary newspaper advertisements show that several Hoosier booksellers stocked “toy books” in the mid-1800s. Unfortunately, they don’t list the titles.  Yet as Brookville’s Indiana American shows, as early as 1831, just fifteen years after Indiana achieved statehood and with much of it still wilderness, even small country towns had access to these children’s books.

In Lawrenceburg on the Ohio River, toy books were sold alongside such things as thermometers, spy glasses, tooth picks, mustard seed, cough drops, and… tweezers:

Western Statesman, January 7, 1831

(Lawrenceburg Western Statesman, January 7, 1831.)


The Indiana Whig, January 25, 1844(Lawrenceburg Indiana Whig, January 25, 1844.)


Brookville American, December 24, 1858(Brookville American, December 24, 1858.)


Evansville Daily Journal, December 18, 1852

(Evansville Daily Journal, December 18, 1852.)


Richmond Dispatch, December 23, 1859

(Richmond Dispatch, Richmond, Virginia, December 23, 1859.)


Daily Evansville Journal, December 25, 1862(Daily Evansville Journal, December 25, 1862.)


In December 1868, a weary Indianapolis father trudging home in “a half dreamy state” after fifteen hours “at the office” was surprised by a man standing on his roof when he got home.  Santa Claus, whom he insulted as “You confounded Dutch idiot,” was greeting him with a “Hi! Hello! Stop! Hold on!”

Santa showed the man a sneak preview of what he was bringing his children.  This windy story — in reality, an ad for Indianapolis’ Bowen, Stewart & Co. — might rank as one of the longest ads for a bookstore in the annals of American journalism. Fortunately, Santa wasn’t hauling around a bag-load of candy:

Daily State Sentinel, December 23, 1868 (1)Daily State Sentinel, December 23, 1868 (3)(Daily State Sentinel, December 23, 1868.)

Over 175,000 More Pages

The Butcher Knife 2

It’s been a couple months since our last project update.  We’ve just uploaded a ton of new titles for you.  These include a few major newspapers, like the Indianapolis News; a few “niche” titles from the Indiana Socialist press; and a plethora of small-town journals dating from 1804 up to the 1960s — some with colorful titles, but one of which may have the most boring title of any newspaper in American history.  (We hope that makes us famous.)  Scroll down to see what it is.

At the end of July, Hoosier State Chronicles had brought 362,926 pages online.  Ten weeks later, we now have 541,618 — an increase of 49%. . .  with another 100,000+ to be added in a fortnight.

Check out our additions over the last two months.  And enjoy.

The Science of the Headless Horseman

Der Kopfloser Reiter

Yesterday’s post sent a few heads rolling, but we can’t get enough this October.  Here’s a follow-up from medical science.

Contrary to popular belief, Washington Irving didn’t invent the tale of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman from scratch.  Said to have been a Hessian mercenary decapitated by a cannonball during the American Revolution, the dark rider was left to roam the Catskill Mountains near a Dutch settlement in New York called Sleepy Hollow.

Written while Irving was living in Europe, the story actually drew on German and Irish folklore, where similar specters haunt the realm of the living.  There’s also a long list of early Christian saints (known as cephalophores) who according to hagiographic legends, picked up their own heads after execution and walked away — or at least uttered an important message before going silent at last.  Saint Gemolo, who probably came from Germany or Scandinavia, was even said to have grabbed his head in his hands and ridden away on horseback.

Germans told of Der Kopfloser Reiter, a shadow figure that rides out of the forest, hunts down malefactors, warns the living, and — like his cousin the Irish banshee — announces the approach of death.  Irish folklore includes reports of the dulachán or dullahan, a specter that also rides a dark horse, but he comes with some frightening accouterments:  a whip made from a human spinal cord, a funereal bone cart. . .  Like the screaming banshee, the apparition of a dullahan portends encroaching death.  And like Washington Irving’s horrid creature, the dullahan carries its own severed head, believed to look like moldy cheese.  Don’t look at the specter to find out:  he’ll throw blood in your face.


The Dublin Penny Journal, November 22, 1834
The Dublin Penny Journal, November 22, 1834.

Terre Haute Tribune, April 11, 1948
Terre Haute Tribune, April 11, 1948.

The Gazette (Stevens Point, Wisconsin), March 25, 1908
The Gazette, Stevens Point, Wisconsin, March 25, 1908.

The Gazette and Daily (York, Pennsylvania), December 25, 1939
Amazingly, Dullahan is also an Irish surname. The Gazette and Daily, York, Pennsylvania, December 25, 1939.

With the mass emigration of Irish peasants overseas, especially after the brutal Famine of the 1840s, these stories got carried to the U.S.  Some were twisted into hyper-literary forms.  But apparently the actual banshees didn’t care for transatlantic sea voyages and stayed home in their native terrain.  Headless horsemen, though, weren’t totally fictional.

In 1870, doctors in England offered a rational explanation for what were actually real sightings of decapitated equestrians.  These sightings, of course, occurred in war zones.

Readers of the Terre Haute Weekly Gazette encountered the following clip from The Lancet, a famous London medical journal.  Founded in 1828, just nine years after Irving’s Sleepy Hollow came out, The Lancet was the brainchild of Thomas Wakley, a crusader against “incompetence, privilege, and nepotism” in British society — and flogging.  The doctor was also a radical Member of Parliament.  Wakley’s sons edited The Lancet until 1909.

The medical clip sought to explain a bizarre event during the Franco-Prussian War.  On August 6, 1870, at the Battle of Wörth in the Rhine Valley, a headless French horseman was spotted “going at full speed” across the battlefield.  The Lancet’s explanation came out a month later on September 3.


Terre Haute Daily Gazette, September 29, 1870 (1)
Terre Haute Daily Gazette, September 29, 1870 (2) Terre Haute Daily Gazette, September 29, 1870.

A letter to the editor sent as a follow-up and signed by Logan D.H. Russell appeared in the British magazine in January 1871.  Dr. Russell gave a few examples of “life-like” rigidity in death witnessed by doctors, nurses, and soldiers during the American Civil War.


The London Lancet, January 1871 (2)
The Lancet, January 1871.
The London Lancet, January 1871 (1)
The Lancet, January 1871.

Scientific investigation into these aspects of post-mortem physiology continued during the 20th century.  Though farmers and any homeowner with poultry in the back yard knew that “headless chickens” were no myth — the skeletal anatomy of chickens really do allow them to live briefly after decapitation — newspaper readers in 1912 were surely surprised to hear that a French surgeon in New York City had successfully performed experiments allowing headless cats to survive for another three days.


Marion Weekly Star (Marion, Ohio), December 7, 1912
The Marion Weekly Star, Marion, Ohio, December 7, 1912.

This surgical revolution was the work of Alexis Carrel (1873-1944), one of the more unusual and forgotten pioneers of surgery.  Oddly, before he began experimenting on cats, Carrel’s scientific work took him into the realm of what most scientists consider superstition and folklore:  divine healing.

Raised in a devout Catholic family, Alexis Carrel fell away from religion as a young medical student.  In 1902, however, pressured by a colleague, he traveled to Lourdes in southwestern France to see something unusual.

Lourdes was a mountain town in the Pyrenees made famous in the 1850s by apparitions of the Virgin Mary, who allegedly came and spoke to a French shepherd girl there for weeks on end.  French scientists and secularists, calling it a fraud, tried to have Lourdes shut down under public hygiene laws after thousands of suffering believers came in search of a cure — which, incredibly, they often found.  For decades, reports of miraculous healings attributed to mineral waters from the caves and to divine intervention plagued, even embarrassed, European doctors and intellectuals.

In 1902, Alexis Carrel saw one of these miracles as it was happening:  the sudden and complete healing of a tubercular patient given up for dead.  Decades before the discovery of antibiotics, Marie Bailly, the patient, was soon declared totally free of her disease, which she was expected to die of at any moment.  She became a nun and lived for another thirty years.  Carrel, an agnostic, claimed that he actually watched her body undergo a healing transformation at Lourdes.


Alexis Carrel
Alexis Carrel, 1912.

The young doctor delivered some of the main eyewitness testimony about the miracle — which led to his being banned from working in French hospitals and universities.  With his reputation destroyed, Carrel emigrated to Canada, where he became a cattle rancher and farmer.  Later coming to the U.S., he taught at the University of Chicago and the Rockefeller Institute in New York.  Over the next few decades, Carrel became a pioneer in the field of vascular suturing techniques.  Helped by aviator Charles Lindbergh, he invented the perfusion pump, used to preserve organs during transplantation.

For his work in human physiology — partly involving experiments on headless cats — Carrel won a Nobel Prize in 1912.  Still baffled by the bizarre cure he witnessed at Lourdes, Carrel never retracted his belief that Marie Bailly was healed by a supernatural force, an event so strange that one writer believed it drove him mad.  His book about the Lourdes miracle, written in 1903, was only published in 1949, five years after his death.


Lourdes grotto
Lourdes Grotto, scene of some mysterious medical phenomena.

Science and religion both have their dark sides.  Tragically, Carrel’s went beyond cutting up cats.  By the 1930s, the French-American surgeon had become a major proponent of eugenics, the forced sterilization of “inferior” human beings and the poor.  (Carrel was no pioneer here. Back in 1907, the Indiana Legislature instituted the world’s first eugenics law.  Over 2,300 Hoosiers were sterilized in an effort to eliminate “degeneracy,” under a law only repealed in 1974.)

As a prelude to the Nazis’ perversion of science, Dr. Alexis Carrel went on to publish a bestselling book, Man, the Unknown (1935).  The Nobel Laureate even joined an anti-Semitic French fascist party, the PPF.  During Hitler’s occupation of France, Carrel helped put eugenics laws into place under the Vichy collaborators.  If he hadn’t died in 1944, the doctor would probably have been put on trial as a traitor or war criminal.

All of which is further proof that scientists — like Hessian horsemen and everybody else — can lose their head.


The Fort Wayne News (Fort Wayne, Indiana), December 6, 1912
The Fort Wayne News, Fort Wayne, Indiana, December 6, 1912.

Terre Haute Tribune, January 6, 1951.

The House of Gibbering Ghosts

Indianapolis News, November 2, 1901

Here’s a tale about Native American gold, the botched suicide of a pioneer medical man, things that scurry through the attic, and a horseman riding up out of the ground.

We owe this one to W.H. Blodgett, a veteran writer for the Indianapolis News, who published the piece on November 2, 1901. Blodgett typically covered politics and was the News‘ correspondent in California during the sensational trial of John and James McNamara, union men who dynamited the Los Angeles Times in October 1910.  He also took an interest in Hoosier folklore, traveling around the state looking for its spectral, mysterious past.

In October 1901, the Indianapolis News correspondent showed up on the 160-acre farm of “Gus” and Mollie Burgess along what he calls the “National Road” between Yorktown and Daleville, Indiana.  (This must be State Road 32, which runs along the White River west of Muncie.)  Blodgett had been playing cards with another reporter in Indianapolis and talking about an old haunted house that once sat on “old Mississippi Street” (Senate Avenue) when they decided to drive up to Delaware County and try to see some paranormal activity firsthand.

Charles Augustus and Mollie Burgess, both in their twenties, lived in the old farmhouse with their six-year-old son, Payton Burgess.  They told Blodgett they’d been living there for six years.  Two earlier tenants hadn’t stuck around, including one “who moved into the house one day and got out the next.”  The house sat back from the road a little and was “partly hidden by a small grove of locust trees. . . It was a lonesome-looking place on the outside, in spite of the bright lights that shone out from the windows. . . The whole place seemed to be cut off from the outer world by an invisible wall.”  The location was near a spot called “the Kilgore neighborhood, a half a mile, perhaps, from the Pike’s Peak schoolhouse, where many a good citizen of Delaware County received his early training.”

A Native American graveyard was also located “close by.”  “Even to this day, bones, arrows and crude implements of the chase are plowed up,” wrote Blodgett.  Central Indiana farmers back then sometimes kept barrels full of bones that cropped up in their fields, tumbled out of decaying burial mounds, or even showed up in the hollows of ancient trees.


Indianapolis News, November 2, 1901 (2)
“Tenants of the haunted house,” Indianapolis News, November 2, 1901.

As Blodgett told it, two legends converged on the Burgess’ White River Valley farm.   The first involved a “famous Indian chief known as Wa-Sa He-To — The Fox.”  Wa-Sa He-To, according to this story, had traded with white pioneers and “in his wigwam he had $5,000 in gold.”  After The Fox died in a wolf hunt, his gold disappeared.

By the 1890s, Spiritualists from nearby Camp Chesterfield — ground zero for paranormal investigation in the Hoosier State — were said to be conducting seances to locate the lost gold, thought to be cached near a great rock along the White River.  Blodgett never mentioned how “The Fox” died — was he eaten by a wolf? — only that his spirit might have found a new home in the “boggy swamp”  next to the river.  At some point in fact or fable, The Fox turned into a headless horseman, riding out over area farms, out of barn doors, and even straight up from the soil.

The other ghost lurking around the Burgess property — “this house of gibbering ghosts” — was rumored to be the phantom of Dr. George Washington Slack, a former inhabitant.  Slack had come to Delaware County from Pennsylvania in the 1830s as a 12-year-old settler with his parents.  After studying at Rush Medical College in Chicago, Dr. Slack went on to practice medicine in Yorktown and apparently became well known in central Indiana.  His eight children probably lived in the house with him — which might have been the original log cabin his parents built.  Slack died in January 1886, aged sixty.  Burgess misidentifies him as “Cyrus Slack,” then tells the story (perhaps imaginary) of his botched attempt to end his life.

Here’s the tale.


Indianapolis News, November 2, 1901 (4)

Indianapolis News, November 2, 1901 (5)

Indianapolis News, November 2, 1901 (6)

Indianapolis News, November 2, 1901 (14)

Indianapolis News, November 2, 1901 (7)

Indianapolis News, November 2, 1901 (8)

Indianapolis News, November 2, 1901 (9)

Indianapolis News, November 2, 1901 (10)


An article from the Indiana Herald in Huntington suggests that Dr. Slack died of apoplexy.   Yet it’s always possible that folklore got the facts correct, since in the case of the suicide of a respectable country doctor, the family might not have shared the full tale with the press and neighbors.  The truth about the doctor’s demise remains a mystery.  But it seems that like Wa-Sa He-To, he, too, was a candidate for the status of “Headless Horseman.”

Indianapolis News correspondent W.H. Blodgett slept easy that night, at least until he was awakened by an “unearthly noise” in the neighboring bed.  His traveling companion and fellow ghost-hunter, “Dick,” had started choking, gurgling, and gasping,  “a muffled call for help.”

“Guess I had the nightmare,” said Dick, finally awakened.  Had the horse come after all? “Nightmare” is partly related to Old Norse words for a “night ride,” a “night horse,” or a “mare dream” — and the demon that rides them.

I thought a ghost without a head on a headless horse was chasing me and made me jump over a high cliff, and just as I struck, a fellow all in white was trying to crowd three fingers down my throat.  Have you heard any ghosts?


Indianapolis News, November 2, 1901 (11)


Nightmare -- Fuseli
The Night Mare, based on a painting by Henry Fuseli, 1781.

“Gus” Burgess later became the postmaster of Yorktown.  His brother Clyde — a spitting image — ran a Shell Station there in the 1930s or ’40s.

Inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame, William H. Blodgett, born in Illinois in 1857, died in 1924.  He is buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.

Hunt for Hoosier ghost tales and more on our search engine.

Mike Inik the Monomaniac

Mike Inik -- Winnipeg Tribune, December 21, 1916In a certain town in Indiana, whose name I don’t wish to recall, there lived a gentleman with a lance in the rack and an old suit of armor . .”

Not exactly the canonical opening of Don Quixote.  Cervantes’ classic Spanish novel told of the comic adventures of an old man of La Mancha whose brain had dried up reading books about knights-errant and who went to war on windmills, thinking they were giants.  What happened to Mike Inik, “just a U.S. lunatic,” is a little less clear.

On December 4, 1916, while wearing a bizarre homemade suit made out of iron armor and kitchen pans, 49-year-old Inik shot up the Lake County Superior Court in Hammond, Indiana.  His grievance?  The disputed decimal value of a disability check he’d hung onto for seven years.

Inik’s origins are obscure.  A Google search for the last name turns up just a couple of examples, most of them in Turkey.  The Lake County Times says he was an immigrant from the Balkans, which used to be part of the Ottoman Empire.  Mike, however, had been the town “character” in Whiting, Indiana, as far back as 1889, when he was injured by a piece of pipe that hit him in the back or head while working at a Rockefeller-owned oil refinery.  Another account said he fell off a scaffold.  At that time, the Whiting Refinery on Lake Michigan, founded the year of Mike’s injury, was the largest in the United States.  Today it’s owned by BP.

Doctors judged that Inik suffered from “monomania.”  No longer used as a psychiatric term, in the 1800s it denoted a form of pathological obsession with one thing — yet an otherwise sound mind.  On the 1880 U.S. Census, monomania was listed as one of just seven recognized categories of mental illness.  Monomaniacs ranged from misers like Ebenezer Scrooge in his counting-house, to Poe’s madman fixated on an old man’s “vulture eye,” to the criminal in a Sherlock Holmes story hell-bent on smashing busts of Napoleon. Maybe the gold-obsessed Spanish conquistadors could be thrown in there, too.

Inik, who dressed like a conquistador, directed his “monomania” at John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil.


Mike Inik -- Lake County Times, December 5, 1916 (12)
Lake County Times, December 5, 1916. Hoosier State Chronicles.

In 1913, Inik even allegedly traveled to Washington, D.C., to take up his case with the President.

Escanaba Morning Press (Escanaba, Michigan), February 13, 1913
Escanaba Morning Press, Escanaba, Michigan, February 13, 1913.

The Lake County Times account gives the impression that this “lunatic” touted his suit of armor around town for a long time — perhaps to protect himself from falling pipes?


Lake County Superior Court
Lake County Superior Court, Hammond, Indiana.

When he came to court on December 4 to hear another trial about the status of his disability settlement, Inik was wearing his protective covering and arsenal.  Oddly, it seems nobody noticed the weapons.  He even spoke with a county prosecutor in his office beforehand while wearing full battle regalia under his clothes.  The gear Inik carried consisted of four .38-caliber revolvers, clubs, and “hatchets galore” — including a saber, hammer, butcher knife, and blackjack, plus 165 rounds of ammunition.  Somehow concealed from view, Inik’s bizarre get-up was put together out of bits of galvanized iron, dishpans and washboilers.

As Judge C.E. Greenwald berated the injured man and told him to go home and take a bath, Inik became irate and suddenly opened fire.  He managed to get off seven rounds, injuring a bailiff and a juror, before a group subdued him.

Lake County Times, December 4, 1916. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Mike Inik -- Lake County Times, December 5, 1916 (8)
Did he pose for the press photographer? Lake County Times, December 5, 1916. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Mike Inik -- Lake County Times, December 4, 1916 (4)

Mike Inik -- Lake County Times, December 4, 1916 (5)
Lake County Times, December 4, 1916. Hoosier State Chronicles. 

Mike Inik -- Lake County Times, December 5, 1916 (5)
Lake County Times, December 5, 1916. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Mike Inik -- Lake County Times, December 5, 1916 (6 crop)
Lake County Times, December 5, 1916. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Thrown in jail in Crown Point, Inik quickly went on trial again for his mental health.  This time, Judge Walter Hardy consigned him to the “booby hatch,” the psychiatric ward or “colony for the criminally insane” at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City.

What became of him after 1916 is a mystery.

Mike Inik -- Lake County Times, December 5, 1916 (14)
Lake County Times, December 5, 1916. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Mike Inik -- Lake County Times, December 5, 1916 (1)
Lake County Times, December 5, 1916. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Eugene Debs, Jesus & the “Woman in Scarlet”

Eugene V. Debs

American politics often repeats itself every generation or two.  In light of some of the top stories in the media in 2015 — including Pope Francis’ U.S. visit and the first major candidacy of a Socialist for the White House since 1920, that of Vermont’s Bernie Sanders — one fascinating, overlooked tale from the Indiana press is worth retrieving from the archives.

The story starts in Terre Haute, hometown of Eugene V. Debs, the great American labor leader who, as a Socialist, ran for president not once, but five times.  A passionate leader of railroad strikes — Terre Haute a century ago was one of the major railroad hubs of the nation — Debs was also a founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World and a vocal opponent of American entry into World War I. When he clashed with President Wilson over the military draft in 1918, he was sent to prison under an espionage act.  Debs spent over two years of a ten-year sentence at a federal penitentiary in Atlanta, where he ran for the presidency in 1920 — the only candidate ever to run a campaign from a jail cell.


ireland is free why not debs
“Ireland is Free, Why Not Debs? Bring Debs Home for Christmas.” A scene on Wabash Avenue in Terre Haute, 1921. President Harding commuted his sentence, effective Christmas Day.

In the summer of 1913, however, Eugene Debs came to the defense of a scorned young woman tossed into Terre Haute’s own city jail. Slandered in the press, she’d been called a “woman in scarlet,” a “modern Magdalene” and a street-walker.  Local papers and the American Socialist press jumped on the story of how Debs showed compassion for her, but today the tale is almost unknown.

The alleged prostitute was Helen Hollingsworth Cox (sometimes spelled Hollinsworth in the papers.)  Born in Indiana around 1888, she would have been about 25 when her case electrified the city, including its gossips. Helen was the daughter of the Reverend J.H. Hollingsworth, a Methodist minister in Greencastle, Newport, Terre Haute and probably several other Wabash Valley towns.

As Mont Casey, a writer for the Clinton Clintonian, explained, the Reverend Hollingsworth had angered some of his flock by preaching the gospel of Jesus of Nazareth rather than giving “more attention to society and the golf links.” Though Debs was a famous “non-professor” when it came to religion, he and Hollingsworth saw eye-to-eye on issues like poverty, it seems. (In fact, the agnostic Debs, son of French immigrants, had been given the middle name Victor to honor Victor Hugo, author of Les Misérables, the great novel of the poor.)  Yet Mont Casey wrote that the Socialist and the Methodist were close friends.


Greencastle Herald, July 28, 1913(Greencastle Herald, July 28, 1913.)


Some papers had apparently gotten their version of Helen’s “fall from grace” wrong, prompting Casey to explain her “true history.”  Set among the debauched wine rooms and saloons of Terre Haute, Casey’s version ventures into the city’s once-flourishing red light district near the Wabash River and the world of the “soiled doves,” a popular euphemism for prostitutes.  The scene could have come straight from the urban novels of Terre Haute’s other famous son in those days, Theodore Dreiser, whose Sister Carrie and Jennie Gerhardt were banned for their sexual frankness and honesty.


Greencastle Herald, July 28, 1913 (5)Greencastle Herald, July 28, 1913 (6)Greencastle Herald, July 28, 1913 (7)

(Greencastle Herald, July 28, 1913.)


Helen’s minister father may have been denied a pulpit because of his interpretations of the gospel.  He also may have been living in poverty and unable to help his daughter.  This isn’t clear.

Whatever the truth is, the story went international, perhaps through the efforts of Milwaukee’s Socialist press.  (The Socialist mayor of Milwaukee, Emil Seidel, had been Debs’ vice-presidential running mate in 1912.)  The tale eventually made it overseas, as far away as New Zealand, in fact, where The Maoriland Worker, published out of Wellington or Christchurch, mentions that Debs was a designated “emergency probation officer” in Terre Haute.


Maoriland Worker 2
(New Zealand’s major labor newspaper carried “Did Debs Do Right?” on October 3, 1913.)

The fires were being stoked.  Terre Haute’s well-heeled “Pharisees” — the same type, many pointed out, who had killed “the rebel Jesus,” as Jackson Browne and the Chieftains put it in an Irish Christmas song — apparently weren’t happy about Debs coming to Helen Cox’s defense.  When he took the “modern Magdalene” directly into his home (the phrase refers to Jesus’ female disciple, who was also falsely labeled a prostitute in popular memory),  Debs declared that his “friends must receive her.”

Son of a formerly Catholic French mother but a freethinker himself, this was a remarkable moment for Debs — who famously said that he would rather entrust himself to a saloon keeper than the average preacher but who was anything but hostile to religion at its best.


Lake County Times, June 22, 1913


Lake County Times, June 22, 1913 (2)
Lake County Times, June 22, 1913 (3)Lake County Times, June 22, 1913 (4) (Lake County Times, June 22, 1913. Hoosier State Chronicles recently portrayed Muncie’s Alfaretta Hart, a Catholic reformer and policewoman who would have agreed heartily with Debs’ take on Imitatio Dei.)

A clip from the Washington Post added this excerpt from the labor leader’s remarks to the press:

Washington Post 1

That summer, Debs’ healthy “challenge to the Christianity of Terre Haute” was taken up in the pages of a unique monthly called The Flaming Sword.  Published at a religious commune near Fort Myers, Florida, the periodical was the mouthpiece of the Koreshan Unity, an experimental utopian community based partly on Socialist and Christian principles.  The celibate group living on the outskirts of the Everglades had been founded by Dr. Cyrus Teed (1839-1908), a former Civil War doctor turned alchemist and messiah who came down to Florida from Chicago in the 1890s.  Teed also propounded a curious “Hollow Earth” theory.

Dr. Teed was dead by the time Debs threw down his challenge to the churches, but the Koreshans printed a spirited, sympathetic editorial about it — written by fellow utopian John S. Sargent, a former Civil War soldier and Wabash Valley native.

The Flaming Sword 2
The Flaming Sword, Estero, Florida, August 1913. The Koreshan Unity lingered on until 1961, when Hedwig Michel, a refugee from Nazi Germany who had joined the group, donated the property for use as a Florida state park.

The Flaming Sword 1


Helen Hollingsworth apparently got back on her feet thanks to Debs’ help.  But she did lose her daughter, Dorothy, born in 1908, who was raised by the wealthy Cox family and Helen’s “reprobate betrayer.”  That was Newton Cox, “petted profligate of an aristocratic family,” who died in 1934.  During the Great Depression, Dorothy Cox married a banker named Morris Bobrow.  She died in New York City in 2000.

Helen’s father, Reverend J.H. Hollingsworth, passed away in 1943. The Methodist pastor had followed his daughter up to Michigan, where in the early 1930’s, she was living in Lansing and Grand Rapids, having married a news broadcaster named King Bard.  The 1940 Census shows that the Bards had a 17-year-old “step-daughter” named Joan.  The 1930 Census states that Joan was adopted, and that — confusingly — the married couple’s name was Guerrier, at first.  It’s not clear why they changed their last name to Bard during the Depression.  King’s birth name had been John Clarence Guerrier, the same name on his World War II draft registration card, which lists him as “alias King Bard.”

Eugene V. Debs died in 1926.  Helen Bard retired with her husband to Bradenton, Florida, where she appears to have passed away in May 1974, aged 86.


Indianapolis Star, July 20, 1913
Indianapolis Star, July 20, 1913.