Tag Archives: Chicago

The Conspirators: Eugene V. Debs, Clarence Darrow, and the ARU Trials of 1894-95

Indiana history is replete with trailblazers, those who stood against the norm and fought for what they believed in. One such trailblazer was Eugene Victor Debs, founder of the American Railway Union (ARU) and perennial candidate for president of the United States under the Socialist Party banner. Before his presidential runs, before the “legend” of Debs took hold in the American psyche, a series of events in 1894-95 catapulted Debs’ status from obscure labor leader to “the ideal of the workingmen of America.”

Greencastle Daily Banner Times, December 15, 1894. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Another seminal character in Debs’ rise was Clarence Darrow, the famed litigator and labor supporter who used his considerable legal talents to defend Debs and the ARU. Coincidentally, Darrow’s rise to American consciousness, in some measure, parallels Debs’ own emerging prominence. They both supported and emboldened each other during an era of immense fortunes for those at the top and very little for those at the bottom. This blog details their partnership during one of organized labor’s most trying times and how these two men facilitated each other’s mythos during America’s Gilded Age.

Richmond Palladium, November 13, 1917. Hoosier State Chronicles.

It all began with a labor strike. On May 11, 1894, 2,000 employees walked out of their jobs at the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago. While the press concluded that the exact nature of the walk out was unknown, the strike had been brewing for months. The economic Panic of 1893 left hundreds of thousands unemployed or underpaid. As the New York Evening World wrote in their report on the initial walk out, “Trouble had been brewing for some time, the men demanding the restoration of a 33 1/3 per cent cut in the wages made last year.” Conditions worsened when the majority of Pullman workers, living in a company town established by the eponymous owner, found rent, food, and other goods too expensive for their slashed wages. The Pullman Company refused to lower prices, despite the wage decreases. These, among other factors, led to the walkout.

New York Evening World. May 11, 1894. Chronicling America.
Pullman workers walking off the job, 1894. Wikispaces.

Within days, the American Railway Union became involved. Founded in Chicago on June 20, 1893, the ARU “very quickly became the nation’s largest organized union.” Debs served as the union’s president. When the Pullman strike erupted in May, the ARU fended off accusations of trying “to stop the Pullman car service throughout the country in an effort to win the strike at Pullman.” However, that didn’t stop the ARU from creating “assemblies of A.R.U. at Wilmington, Del[aware], Ludlow, “K[entuck]y, and St. Louis among the Pullman employe[e]s at those points.”

Indianapolis Journal, May 13, 1894. Hoosier State Chronicles.

In May, the ARU were merely facilitators for the workers; by June, they had taken over the strike. On June 26, 1894, the ARU “began to fight against the Pullman Palace Car Company. Orders for the boycott have issued to all local branches of the organization and preparations are not complete for what it is said may be the greatest railway fight in history.” ARU Vice President George W. Howard expressed his intent in the Indianapolis News:

We are going to bankrupt George M. Pullman, and we are going to do it in a short space of time. We have shut up his works at Ludlow and St. Louis and we shall be able to close his last door at Wilmington by next week. He will be rendered completely helpless inside of ten days unless he comes to terms before that time.

Chicago Police Chief Michael Brennan. History of the Chicago Police, Internet Archive.

Despite walkouts, threats, and the boycott, the General Managers Association decided to keep the Pullman cars running, including “twenty-two Chicago terminal lines.” The company wouldn’t budge on its commitment to lower wages. A police presence, led by Chief Michael Brennan, was asked for by Pullman “in case of trouble as a result of the boycott by the American Railway Union.” Strikers in St. Louis spoke with its police chief in an effort to stave off violence that might “throw discredit on them.” Things were heating up.

Indianapolis News, July 6, 1894. Hoosier State Chronicles.

By early July, Chicago erupted in a fury. The Indianapolis News reported that “two strikers were killed outright and others injured in a riot in the Illinois Central yards at Kensington.” Meanwhile, some “five hundred men were rushing up and down the yards, overturning freight cars and blocking the tracks in every possible manner.” Law enforcement descended on the mob, “150 United States Marshalls and Cook County deputies,” using everything at their disposal to quell the melee. This resulted in gunshots rippling through the crowd, a short stammering by the mob, and then a full-on retreat by police forces as the hordes of laborers charged at them. This continued well into the afternoon, with hundreds of freight cards either ripped from the tracks or burned to the ground. In all, six men died and the railways suffered roughly $2,000,000 worth of damage (over $56,000,000 in 2016 dollars).

Indianapolis News, July 7, 1894. Hoosier State Chronicles.

In the middle of all this carnage, both physical and political, was ARU founder and President Eugene V. Debs. During the July 6 riots, Debs released a statement that rankled the capitalists as well as the public, subtly acknowledging the chaos. “If the corporations refuse to yield, and stubbornly maintain that there is ‘nothing to arbitrate,’ the responsibility for what may ensue will be upon their heads and they can not escape the penalties,” Debs declared. However, his tune changed slightly the next day, telling the strikers that “I deem it my duty to caution you against being a party to any violation of law” and “those who engage in force and violence are our real enemies.” Despite his pleas for peace, the ARU’s boycott and ensuing violence animated the United States Court in Chicago to file an injunction against Debs and the ARU. “The injunction was served as Debs was leaving the Sherman House this morning,” the News wrote.

Indianapolis Journal, July 11, 1894. Chronicling America.

The injunction proved fatal to the strike and to Debs’ hopes of representing the workers in their negotiations with the Pullman Company. On July 10, Debs, ARU Vice President Howard, and two other ARU representatives were arrested in Chicago under alleged violation of the US Court’s injunction. “They are charged with conspiracy to commit an unlawful act—that is, to block the progress of the United States mails,” the Indianapolis Journal reported. The men were arraigned in front of a grand jury and ordered to jail unless they posted bond at “$10,000 each.” Debs’ mail and other ARU materials were seized by the government, as potential evidence in the trial. Debs appeared particularly upset about this action. “…I cannot understand under what law the postoffice [sic] authorities are a party to the seizure of my private mail,” Debs barked, “It is an outrage and you call this a free county? It seems to me not to be compatible with the stars and stripes.” Despite his anger, Debs reached out to his fellow laborers and told them to stay vigilant, refrain from violence, and “maintain law and order.”

Clarence Darrow, circa 1900. Library of Congress.

The attorney who defended Debs and the ARU was none other than Clarence S. Darrow. Before his legendary status in American life as one of the country’s greatest litigators, Darrow was a young attorney making a career for himself in Chicago. After leaving a lucrative practice representing the Chicago and North Western Railway Company, Darrow rose to prominence as the public defender of Patrick Eugene Prendergast, the man who murdered Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison during the 1893 World’s Fair. Darrow toiled well over a year to get Prendergast an insanity plea, and when that failed, he diligently worked with state government to stay his client’s execution. Darrow, who sternly against capital punishment, felt it his duty to stand against its use in such a unfortunate case. Sadly, Darrow’s crusade was unsuccessful and the state executed Prendergast by hanging on July 13, 1894, three days after Debs faced arrest in Chicago.

Omaha Daily Bee, July 11, 1894. Chronicling America.

Darrow, disappointed in the state’s decision in the Prendergast case but emboldened in his desire to defend those deemed indefensible, took on the Debs case right away, according to the Indianapolis News and the Omaha Daily Bee. The Bee also reported that a “large number of telegrams sent by Debs from his headquarters” provided “directions which extended the blockade of trains. . . .” Western Union initially withheld the telegrams from the United States Court, but Judge Peter S. Grosscup issued a subpoena and the company relented. To make things worse, the press wrote scurrilous descriptions of Darrow and Debs. The Wichita Daily Eagle called Darrow “an outspoken Anarchist and no party has the courage to nominate him for any position. His political feelings are dangerous.” As for Debs, the Eagle painted him as the “most indignant citizen . . . the dictator of his union and the regulator of the commerce of the country.” Darrow knew as much as Debs that this case could upend their careers – or gain them the public support they craved.

Judge Peter S. Grosscup. Google Books.

The first trial against Debs and the ARU began in Chicago on July 23, 1894. As biographer John A. Farrell noted, the Feds “launched a two-track legal defense on Debs and his men: the contempt proceeding in which there were accused of violating the federal court’s injunction banning anyone from ‘inciting’ workers to strike, and a criminal case that charged the union with conspiring to stop the mails and to interfere with interstate commerce.” Darrow led a defense team with attorneys William W. Erwin and Stephen S. Gregory. They intended to dismiss the charges against Debs and the alleged conspirators by challenging the legality of the federal injunction. “It will be contended that what the court has done amounts to a usurpation of power not given to the federal judiciary [by] either constitution or law,” the Topeka State Journal wrote. The defendants also denied that Debs and the ARU directed the strikers to leave their posts, but rather its members voted in favor to strike. As for the telegrams, the only approved communication between Debs and the strikers came on July 6, when Debs counseled “every one to stand firm,” not to use violence or to block rail lines. Defense attorney Gregory reiterated this point in a passage from the Indianapolis Journal: “The attorney contended that as long as people obeyed the laws they could not be held responsible for the lawlessness of others.” Each defendant consulted extensively with Darrow and his team before their case was filed.

William W. Erwin. Saint Paul Historical.
Indianapolis Journal, July 24, 1894. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Chicago District Attorney Thomas E. Milchrist, Assistant-District Attorney John P. Hand, and special counsel Edwin Walker represented the prosecution, with attorneys for the Santa Fe Railroad assisting. Walker spoke for the state on the first day and argued that, “All the strike orders which had resulted in the stoppage of commerce and mails came from the office of the union in Chicago, and they were responsible for everything that happened in consequence, even to the loss of life.” Walker, by offering evidence against Debs in the criminal case regarding blocking the U. S. Mail, indirectly affirmed the injunction against ARU. This appeared strong enough in the eyes of presiding Judges William A. Woods and Peter S. Grosscup (he advised Woods), who threw out the defense’s plea to drop the contempt charges on July 25. Two days later, Judge Woods postponed further arguments in the trial until September, so the court could accrue evidence under the assistance of a master of chancery. Debs and the other defendants posted bail and awaited the continuation of their case. The ARU was dealt a serious blow, but the fight was only beginning.

Judge William Allen Woods. Google Books.
Chicago District Attorney Thomas Milchrist. Google Books.

On September 26, 1894, arguments were continued in the Seventh Circuit Court in Chicago under presiding Judge Woods. In his four and a half hours of arguments, Clarence Darrow’s defense of Debs became legendary. The Chicago Tribune published a piece the next day entitled, “Darrow Hurts Debs: Counsel for the Ex-Dictator Flies into a Rage,” where Darrow “was credited with having made an exceedingly able argument.” (The article’s splashy title doesn’t match what is said of Darrow; in that regard, it’s a 1890s version of “clickbait.”) Darrow’s argument was twofold. First, the ARU did direct strikers via telegram after the injunction, “but had a perfect right to do so . . . .” Second, the prosecution’s basis for the injunction, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890, was legally unfounded. “He argued at length,” the Tribune reported, “to prove the act had no reference to strikes, but was designed exclusively to correct the outrages of the railroad companies. He thought it a shame the railroads should use it against other people.” Darrow also went after prosecuting attorney Milchrist, saying that “I never knew a man who had more abused an office in which chance placed him . . . .” Milchrist was incensed, and fired back with, “I am responsible for my words. I will not take lessons from you in professional ethics.” To which Darrow snapped, “You ought to take lessons from some one [sic].”

Chicago Tribune, September 27, 1894. Chicago Tribune Archives.

Darrow’s strident defense of Deb’s found coverage throughout the nations newspapers, including the Crawfordsville Journal, the Indianapolis Journal, and the San Francisco Morning Call. The Call’s write up was particularly insightful; Darrow’s reasoning on the right of workers to strike found clearer elucidation than had been in the Tribune. “He said the defendants had not committed any wrong and declared that every man had the right to abandon his position either for a good or bad reason. No court could put a citizen into a condition of servitude,” the Call wrote.

San Francisco Morning Call, September 27, 1894. Chronicling America.

Despite Darrow’s passionate and astute defense of his clients, Judge Woods ruled against Debs and the ARU. On December 15, 1894, Eugene V. Debs was sentenced to six months in prison for violating the federal injunction against the ARU. Seven others, including ARU Vice President Howard, received 3 month sentences. In his ruling, Judge Woods declared: “I think there is no doubt these defendants had power to make the men who looked up to them do as they pleased and that they continued to violate this injunction.” As Darrow feared, Judge Woods sentenced them under his reading of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The act was created to protect the laboring classes, instead Woods applied the law as a weapon against them. “The decision is bad law,” Darrow said, “but the sentence is remarkably lenient.” As for Debs, he was quoted in the Greencastle Daily Banner Times, saying:

I am a law abiding man and I will abide by the law as construed by the judges. But if Judge Woods’ decision is law, all labor organizations may as well disband. According to him, every strike is a conspiracy and unlawful. . . . In the strike of last summer every effort was made by the leaders to prevent violence. Judge Woods intimates that this advice was given to the effect it would have on the public and that the strikers were not expected to heed it. What right has he to draw such an inference? There is nothing in the evidence to support it.

Greencastle Daily Banner Times, December 15, 1894. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Judge Woods gave Darrow and the ARU ten days to develop a strategy to keep them out of jail. Darrow’s plan consisted of the defendants calling for a writ of habeas corpus in front of the US Supreme Court, bypassing the appeals court process altogether. However, Darrow had to be admitted to the Supreme Court bar and meet with the necessary people to begin the process. This delayed Debs’ and the others’ chances of staying out of prison, and while Darrow did all he could to get them freed, Debs and the others began serving their prison terms.

Iron County Register, December 20, 1894. Chronicling America.

And this was only the contempt trial. The criminal trial charging the ARU with blocking the passage of U. S. Mail also plagued Debs, and its decision would be made by a jury rather than a judge. It began on January 27, 1895, with Judge Grosscup, who assisted Woods in the injunction trial, presiding. Edwin Walker, continuing his work for the prosecution, asked the ARU to produce its meeting minutes from the previous summer. This plan backfired, according to Darrow biographer John A. Farrell, because the ARU made its proceedings public months before and had nothing to hide. Darrow, sensing a good strategy, asked for the prosecution to produce the minutes of the General Managers Association. This proved fatal to the prosecution, for it necessitated railway owner George Pullman to testify. He evaded a subpoena and, ironically, faced possible contempt charges. Once Debs, released on bail just days before, took the stand and testified against the charges, the trial fell apart. What happened next can only be described as serendipitous. One of the jurors, a man named “Coe,” fell ill and the jury was discharged. The trial lingered on a continuance but was eventually dropped. Debs, Darrow, and the defense felt certain that if the trial continued, and Pullman was asked to testify, they would’ve won. As one juror said to Debs on his way out, “when this trial opened I was in favor of giving you a 5-year sentence, but now I am anxious to see you free.”

Indianapolis News, February 12, 1895. Hoosier State Chronicles.

One trial down, one to go. Debs, Darrow, and the ARU were off to Washington. Darrow presented his petitions for a writ of error and a writ of habeas corpus to the Supreme Court; Chief Justice Melville Fuller asked for the legality of each petition to be considered. The justices agreed to hear the case and oral arguments were scheduled for March. The first day of arguments began at 12:40pm on March 25, with Darrow, Gregory, and Lyman Trumbull representing Debs. Walker, Attorney General Richard Olney, and Assistant-Attorney General Edward B. Whitney represented the government. As the Indianapolis Journal reported, Darrow and his team sought to reaffirm their position that the Sherman Anti-Trust Act did not grant courts the authority to issue an injunction against the ARU. Furthermore, Trumbull argued that if the lower court had only used the newspaper as a means of disseminating the injunction, “it was in defiance of Congress, and it was not to be supposed that everybody was to be compelled to read the newspapers.” He further “urged . . . that Debs and his associated were illegally imprisoned, and asked for their release.”

Indianapolis News, May 27, 1895. Hoosier State Chronicles.

After two days of intense oral arguments, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against Debs and the ARU’s application for a writ of habeas corpus. In the court’s opinion, Justice David Brewer wrote: “The strong arm of the national Government may be put forth to brush away all obstructions to the freedom of interstate commerce or the transportation of the mails. If the emergency arises, the army of the Nation, and all its militia, are at the service of the Nation to compel obedience to its laws.” Debs was devastated by the decision and shared his disgust with a local reporter:

I think it [Supreme Court] is one of the worst demoralized organizations in the country. When the law in the Debs case was made it was intended to apply to check the greed of corporations. No one ever thought it would be twisted to apply to labor organizations. The decision will be a great blow to railroad labor organization. Railroad men will hardly dare to act, under this interpretation.

Darrow and Trumbull also lambasted the decision, calling it “a sort of double barreled shotgun justice—punishing a man for a crime for which he had been indicted but before he was tried.” Not able to accrue time served, Debs began his six-month jail sentence for contempt of the federal injunction; he served out his time in Woodstock, Illinois.

Indianapolis News, November 14, 1895. Hoosier State Chronicles.

While Debs served out his sentence, Darrow, Trumbull, and scores of labor organizers worked on a big reception for the ARU leader upon his release. They rented out Battery D in Chicago, a venue of 6,000 seats. In a subtle bit of goading, they even invited Judge Woods to attend. On November 22, 1895, Eugene V. Debs was released from jail. A throng of supporters rushed from the train depot to pick up their embattled leader and escort him to the reception awaiting in Chicago. The Greencastle Democrat reported that nearly 4,000 attendees crowded into Battery D to hear Debs speak “for about two hours on topics which have become familiar to all labor advocates.” “I have had time for meditation and reflection,” Debs said among his supporters, “and I have no hesitancy in declaring that under the same circumstances I would pursue precisely the same policy. So for as my acts are concerned I have neither apology nor regret.” That night, Debs evolved from regional labor leader into emerging legend in radical politics.

Greencastle Democrat, November 30, 1895. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Eugene V. Debs and Clarence Darrow used the Pullman strike a means for empowering the working man and precipitating their influence in American life. Debs went on to become one of America’s most successful third-party politicians, running for president under the Socialist Party banner five times (1900, 1904, 1908, 1912, 1920). In his final presidential run, he won nearly a million votes while in a jail cell for violating the Sedition Act. He also co-founded one of America’s most influential unions, the International Workers of the World—known colloquially as the “Wobblies.” He died in 1926.

Debs at Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, circa 1920. California Literary Review.

As for Darrow, he became one of America’s celebrated, as well as infamous, lawyers. He set up a law practice (with aspiring poet Edgar Lee Masters) that helped the poor, immigrants, labor activists. In particular, he represented the McNamara brothers in the Llewellyn Iron Works explosion trial and saved Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb from execution in their 1924 trial for murder. However, the trial he is best remember for is the Scopes “Monkey Trial” of 1925. Darrow defended schoolteacher John T. Scopes, on trial for the teaching of evolution. This led to his legendary court battles with William Jennings Bryan, who led the prosecution. Despite Scopes’ conviction, which was later overturned on a technicality, Darrow’s defense of science, secularism, and freedom of thought still resonates today. Darrow died in 1936, at the age of 80.

Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan during the Scopes Trial, 1925. Chicago Tribune.

Both of these men forged indispensable paths during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The eight-hour work day, child labor laws, and workplace protections; all these rights were defended, and often won, as a result of their efforts. The ARU trials of 1894-95 propelled their lives into the national conversation and supplied them a platform for their crusades. So while Debs didn’t win the battle in the courts, he often won in the war of ideas. As a result, Debs’ fight became Darrow’s. Reflecting in his memoir years later, Darrow wrote:

Eugene V. Debs has always been one of my heroes . . . . There may have lived some time, some where, a kindlier, gentler, more generous man than Eugene V. Debs, but I have never known him. Nor have I ever read or heard of another. Mr. Debs at once became the head of the Socialist party of America. I never followed him politically. I never could believe that man was so constructed as to make Socialism possible; but I watched him and his cause with great interest. He was not only all that I have said, but he was the bravest man I ever knew. He never felt fear. He had the courage of the babe who has no conception of the word or its meaning.

Debs and Darrow used their Midwestern smarts, guff, and gumption to take on the biggest powers of their time, from the railroad barons to the Supreme Court. In doing so, their battles changed each other—and changed America.

“King Debs,” Harper’s Weekly, July 14, 1894. Library of Congress.

The Black Stork: Eugenics Goes to the Movies

The Black Stork 4

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

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

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

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


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

Indiana played an enormous role in the history of eugenics when the Hoosier State became the first to enact a compulsory sterilization law in 1907 — a law that lumped the mentally handicapped in with sex offenders, made it virtually illegal for whole classes deemed “unfit” to reproduce, segregated many of the disabled into mental hospitals, and enshrined white supremacy. Though the Indiana law was struck down in 1921, those ideas were hugely popular with many academics and activists all across the political spectrum.

Indiana Historical Bureau state historical marker.

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


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

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


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

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

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


South Bend News-Times, November 18, 1915
The South Bend News-Times called “Baby Bollinger” a martyr, but later carried advertisements for the doctor’s film. South Bend News-Times, November 18, 1915. Hoosier State Chronicles.

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

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

Support for Dr. Haiselden, however, came from many famous social activists.  Among them was Helen Keller — advocate for the disabled, a Socialist, and a eugenics supporter (at least in 1915.) Keller, who was blind and deaf since the age of one but thrived against all odds, published her views on the Haiselden case in The New Republic. She thought that children proven to be “idiots” by a “jury of expert physicians” could and perhaps should be put to death. Chicago lawyer and civil liberties crusader Clarence Darrow — who famously went up against eugenics critic William Jennings Bryan at the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial — made no bones about his support for the surgeon: “Chloroform unfit children,” Darrow said.  “Show them the same mercy that is shown beasts that are no longer fit to live.” Indiana Socialist Eugene V. Debs also supported Haiselden’s decision.


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


Harry Haiselden held onto his job, but bolstered his position and kept the firestorm of public discussion brewing by starring as himself in a silent film based on the Bollinger case.  The Black Stork came to hundreds of American theaters, including many Hoosier ones.  Because public health workers and eugenicists often gave admonitory lectures before and after the movie, separate showings were offered for men and women.  Young children weren’t allowed to attend, but a South Carolina minister encouraged parents to bring their teenage children — so they could see what might come from sexual promiscuity, criminality, drinking and “race mixing.”  Some theater bills added the catchy subtitle: “The Scourge of Humanity.”


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

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

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

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

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


The Black Stork 5


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

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

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


The Fort Wayne Sentinel, January 27, 1920.

The Black Stork 6


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


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

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


Thurman B. Rice 2
“If I Were Mussolini,” Monthly Bulletin of the Indiana State Board of Health, April 1929.

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

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


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

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

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

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


Contact:  staylor336 [AT] gmail.com

“Gary Camel Caravan Alarms”

In the wake of one presidential hopeful’s recent call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., we thought it appropriate to share a humorous anecdote about Muslim immigrants in Hoosier history. This story also evokes a mostly-forgotten episode that saw Chicago’s great film companies use the Indiana Dunes as a stand-in for Mexico and the Sahara Desert.

The story came out in both the Gary Daily Tribune and Chicago Record-Tribune.  In the summer of 1910, if we can trust the Chicago reporter, some Muslim steel workers shouted excitedly, and maybe even suffered a bit of homesickness when the following scene played out in the streets of the new town of Gary.


Gary Camel Caravan -- Chicago Record-Herald, June 14, 1910

(Chicago Record-Tribune, June 14, 1910.)


The Gary Daily Tribune had a different take:

Gary Daily Tribune June 13, 1910 (4)

Gary Daily Tribune June 13, 1910 (6)(Gary Daily Tribune, June 13, 1910.)


In the early days of the silent movie industry, Chicago’s Essanay Studios predominated.  Not until the 1920s did the big film producers relocate to Hollywood.  Founded in 1907, Essenay’s headquarters were located in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. While best known for producing a series of fourteen Charlie Chaplin comedies in 1915 (The Tramp is the most famous), the company also turned out a few American movie “firsts” — including the first American Sherlock Holmes movie (1916) and the first American film version of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol (1908).  This producer of silent films also scored hits with actor Francis X. Bushman (1883-1966), once hailed as “the handsomest man in the world.”  One website calls him the “Brad Pitt of his day.”


bushman -- ben-hur 2jpg

(Bushman played the corrupt Roman tribune Messala in director Fred Niblo’s 1925 adaptation of another Middle Eastern tale with Hoosier connections.  Ben-Hur, A Tale of the Christ was based on the 1880 novel by Indiana author Lew Wallace, who served as U.S. Minister to Turkey from 1881-1884.)


Chicago’s own sand dunes had mostly been destroyed by 1910, though just a hundred years earlier, they had been the scene of the dramatic beheading of frontier Hoosier soldier and Indian agent William Wells.  (Wells, a white captive from Kentucky after whom Wells County was later named, was killed on the beach during the Battle of Fort Dearborn in 1812.)  With the growing city looming up on Lake Michigan’s western shore, historic films set in exotic or far-away places had to be filmed across the lake in Indiana.  In spite of its proximity to Chicago, swampy northwest Indiana was the last part of the state to be settled and was still largely undeveloped in 1900.

Some of the films Essenay at least partially shot in the area that became Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore include one called Lost in the Desert.  That movie seems to have gotten lost itself, but it was apparently part of a series of films by American actor William V. Mong.  (Two of his earlier films are entitled Lost in the Jungle and Lost in the Arctic.)

According to an article in The Times of Northwest Indiana, Mong played a “British officer who escapes from Bedouin bandits and wanders aimlessly in the desert until the cavalry rescues him. . .”

In a strange tale of life imitating art, [Mong] became lost in the Dunes after he fell asleep under a tree and the crew left without him. Mong was made up for his role, his clothing in tatters and a leopard skin covering his shoulders.

When he awoke, Mong couldn’t find his way out of the Dunes and was forced to spend the night, suffering from a lack of water and tormented by mosquitoes.

The next morning a trapper from the village of Crisman, making his way through the marshes, was startled to see a ragged, unkempt, half-naked man with long hair and a beard.  The strange figure was stumbling through the sand, carrying a club.  At times it paused, tried to shout, then moaned inarticulately, and went on his way.  The frightened trapper hurried back to Crisman to tell what he had seen. A sheriff’s posse tracked down and rescued the lost man about sunset.

The trapper might have been even more scared if he’d come across Mong in the costume he wore in a 1921 film adaptation of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.  Mong appeared as the wizard Merlin.

A similar film was made in the Dunes in June 1910, Lost in the Soudan, by the Selig Polyscope Company.  This was definitely the film that brought an unusual camel caravan parading through the streets of Gary, Indiana — to great acclaim from a segment of the town’s Muslim steelworkers.  Lost in the Soudan starred the great cowboy actor Tom Mix, an early predecessor of John Wayne.


Dunes camels

(Filmmakers on the set of Lost in the Soudan, partly filmed in the dunes near Miller Beach, Indiana, in the summer of 1910.  Other films made there include The Fall of Montezuma, set during the Spanish Conquest of Mexico, and The Plum Tree, a tale of the Mexican Revolution. The Plum Tree used a regiment of the Illinois National Guard, who impersonated “Revolutionists” and “Federals” in a pitched battle filmed in an Indiana ravine.)


Theodore Roosevelt riding a Camel, Khartoum, Sudan

(Ex-president Theodore Roosevelt, left, riding a camel in Egypt or the Sudan, 1910.  The man riding the other camel is the English-Austrian soldier, General Rudolf Carl von Slatin, who publicly converted to Islam to win the support of his soldiers.)


We take the Chicago Record-Herald’s statement on faith that the crowd who encountered a film company’s camel caravan in Gary in 1910 were actually Muslim.  While some of the first immigrants ever to come over the Atlantic were Muslim — including an estimated 15-30% of the slaves carried here from Africa — the great wave of voluntary Muslim immigration to the U.S. didn’t really begin until just before World War I.

Yet according to a recent history of Islam in America,  Bosnian Muslims had settled in Chicago and Gary, Indiana, by 1906, and they may have been the group that shouted “Allah! R-r-r-uum!” at the movie camels on Broadway in Gary.  In the 1910s, Bosnians were also working in the copper mines around Butte, Montana, in and played a role in the labor struggles there. In 1906, Bosnian Muslims established a Dzemijetul Hajrije (Benevolent Society) in Chicago to provide mutual aid and help pay for funerals and healthcare.  That society soon had a branch in Gary.  By 2007, it was estimated that three-quarters of Bosnian Muslims in the U.S. lived in the Chicago-Milwaukee-Gary area.

As the Ottoman Empire collapsed, Muslim immigration picked up after 1918.  It’s an interesting fact that one of the first mosques and Muslim cemeteries in the U.S. was founded by Syrian Muslims in Ross, North Dakota, in 1929.  (Ross, a town in North Dakota’s remote Badlands, had a population of just 97 in 2010, though those numbers were much higher a hundred years ago.)  Another mosque was soon built in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1934.  Contrary to popular images, the Midwest has long been one of the cradles of Islam in America, with large numbers of Muslims, for example, settling around the auto factories of Dearborn, Michigan.

Several hundred thousand Middle Eastern Christians, mostly from Syria and Lebanon, also came to the U.S. in those years.  (Famous Syrian Americans include former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, tech wizard Steve Jobs, filmmaker Terrence Malick, and actor F. Murray Abraham, who played composer Antonio Salieri in Miloš Forman’s Amadeus.)

As for camels in the U.S., their history, too, goes back farther than you might think.

In a 1909 article in Popular Science Monthly, Walter Fleming, who taught at Louisiana State University, claimed that the Spanish had brought camels to Cuba for work in mines and that the English had unsuccessfully tried out the use of dromedaries in Virginia in 1701. Fleming wrote that the English also gave camels a go in Jamaica, but the beasts were rendered useless when their feet got infested by Caribbean “chiggers” — a bug well-known to anybody who has hiked around grassy Hoosier fields in the summer.

In the wake of the Mexican War, the U.S. Army experimented with a short-lived camel corps in the 1850s.  During Franklin Pierce’s administration, the War Department — then headed by Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis — tried out the practicability of using camels in the arid Southwest, which prior to exploration Americans still thought of as mostly a barren, useless desert.  Under the command of U.S. Admiral David Dixon Porter, who had previously served in the Mexican Navy, the navy vessel USS Supply sailed to the Mediterranean and picked up thirty-three camels in North Africa, Turkey, Malta and Greece.


Camel corps 2

(An awful drawing from the Report of the U.S. Secretary of War, 1857, showing the transport of Middle Eastern camels on a ship bound for Texas.)


Jefferson Davis

(U.S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis helped start the Camel Corps.  The experiment led to the arrival of a group of Muslim caretakers for the camels.)


Jefferson Davis had seen Texas and the Southwest himself as a colonel in the Mexican War.  Fleming wrote:

Davis, late colonel of the Mississippi Rifles, made extensive studies in regard to the different breeds of the animal, its habitat, the proper care of it, and its adaptability to the arid plains of Texas, New Mexico and California. . . In March, 1851, he proposed to insert in the army appropriation bill an amendment providing the sum of $30,000 for the purchase of fifty camels, the hire of ten Arabs, and other expenses. In support of his measure he made a speech reviewing the history of the camel as a servant of man and explaining the need for the animals in the west.

According to a correspondent for the Times-Picayune, “three Arabs and two Turks” landed with the USS Supply in New Orleans in 1856. They traveled with the camels on to Matagorda Bay, Texas, and beyond “to attend to their wants.”  Some sources claim these men were actually Greek.


Raftsman's Journal, July 2, 1856

(Raftsman’s Journal, Clearfield, Pennsylvania, July 2, 1856.)


These Middle Eastern dromedaries were used in the Federal government’s war against the Mormons in Utah in the 1850s.  While they came to be well-liked by some soldiers, the advent of train transportation made them impractical.  The U.S. Army tried using camels to carry the mail between New Mexico Territory and California during the Civil War, though the camels were based primarily out of Camp Verde in the Texas Hill Country.

Lincoln’s war secretary Edwin Stanton ordered the beasts to be auctioned off in September 1863, yet sixty-six of them were still in army possession at war’s end.  A few had fallen into the hands of Confederates during a raid on Camp Verde.  One camel was said to have been at Vicksburg, Mississippi — in Jeff Davis’ home state — when that town was under siege in 1863.

Walter Fleming also reports that in the 1870s, miners were using some of the ex-army camels to transport salt and cord-wood between California and Nevada silver mines.  Others figured into a popular camel race in Sacramento just after the Civil War.  Like those who remained in Texas, however, these may have been interbred with commercially-imported animals brought in at a later date by speculators in San Francisco who thought the animals would prove popular in mining, logging, and perhaps even agriculture.  By 1910, however, the only industries that found camels especially useful were the Ringling Brothers Circus and Chicago’s film industry.


Ukiah Daily Journal (Ukiah, CA), May 9, 1968

(Ukiah Daily Journal, Ukiah, California, May 9, 1968.)


Most of the beasts brought over from the Mediterranean aboard the USS Supply — or their descendants — had apparently vanished by the early 1890s, when the last of them was reported to have been seen in Arizona.  That one might have been shot.  In fact, strange, scary stories had begun to circulate about the creatures.

By 1890, “ghost camels” had entered the folklore of the desert Southwest.  At least one of these tales about the feral descendants of Jefferson Davis’ Army Camel Corps followed an old trajectory of Irish and American folklore.  The humped creature carried around a headless rider.  In another version, the devilish-looking beast carried the full skeleton of a rider who had died atop its back.   Still another tale involved a Southwestern camel that was seen eating a bear.

News reports about the survival of these wandering dromedaries, believed to have been the abandoned beasts of the Army Camel Corps, kept on coming in.  In April 1934, one alleged survivor who had been taken to the Los Angeles Zoo was crippled by paralysis and had to be put down by zookeepers there.  Another siting of a “ghost camel” occurred near the ghost town of Douglas, Texas, in 1941. Newspapers were still syndicating these stories in 1968. Smithsonian Magazine even saw fit to re-tell a bit of the story earlier this year.


Anderson Herald (Anderson, IN), April 18, 1968

(Anderson Herald, Anderson, Indiana, April 18, 1968.)


The legend of the “Red Ghost,” in fact, lives on as an “Arizona oddity.”  Likewise, the tomb of Hadji Ali.  A Greek-Syrian born in 1828, Hadji Ali converted from Christianity to Islam, performed the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, and was living in Algeria working for the French Army when the USS Supply came looking for camels.  Hadji Ali joined the U.S. Army service, coming to California as a camel tender in 1857, later becoming an American citizen in Arizona Territory in 1880.  He worked as a scout and mule packer for the army and participated in the campaign against Apache chief Geronimo.

Nicknamed “Hi Jolly” by neighbors who couldn’t pronounce his name, Ali prospected for minerals on the edge of the Mojave Desert near the Colorado River until his death at Quartzsite, Arizona, in 1902. Following his death, the fascinating pyramid that marks his grave site — erected by fond locals — became one of the roadside attractions of the Grand Canyon State.


Hadji Ali and Bride, Tucson

(Hadji Ali, alias “Hi Jolly,” and his bride Gertrudis Serna in Tucson, Arizona, 1880.)


Contact:  staylor336 [AT] gmail.com

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.)

The Anarchist Soup Plot

La Grande Observer (La Grande, OR), November 23, 1916You like alphabet soup?  Well, if an anarchist chef prepared it, you’d better take your spoon and dig out these letters first:  A-R-S-E-N-I-C.

One of the weirdest stories ever to spill out of the annals of Midwestern crime is the tale of a bumbling European anarchist named “Jean Crones” who, at a banquet in Chicago in 1916, attempted to assassinate the city’s Roman Catholic archbishop, the Governor of Illinois, and three-hundred priests, bankers, and city officials — not with bullets, but with bouillon.  The “soup poison plot” belongs in any encyclopedia of infamy but is also a fascinating glimpse into one of American labor’s most turbulent decades.  Yet few have ever heard of it.  As part of our ongoing series on hoaxes, hysteria and rumors in the news, Hoosier State Chronicles wants to resurrect this old, mostly forgotten story.

When modern anarchism came to the U.S. in the late 1800s,  it was closely tied to the struggles of German, Italian, and East European immigrants.  While hurling bombs and bullets was probably ill-considered, the social problems these immigrants faced were dire.  Anarchism’s philosophical roots, however, were among Europe’s elite.  (One early proponent of anarchy was the British philosopher William Godwin, husband of feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft and the father of Frankenstein‘s author, Mary Shelley.)  Iron-fisted reactions to Europe’s 19th-century revolutions spurred philosophers and workers to declare that “Property is Theft” and to strive for the abolition of all governments, including democracies. Because anarchists promoted ideas like “free love” (which critics confused with promiscuity), state and church authorities tried to wipe it out.

While few anarchists ever committed acts of murder and mayhem, extremists occasionally wreaked havoc on American cities and police forces.  By the time of World War I, headlines about real and mythical anarchist bomb plots were common news.

Since most anarchists immigrated from countries with state religions, their animosity toward priestly authority was no surprise.  During the Russian Revolution and on into the 1920s and ’30s, radicals in Russia, Mexico and Spain launched all-out wars on religion — desecrating churches and even “executing” statues of Jesus, not to mention priests and nuns, who often suffered especially macabre fates.

Yet if Chicago’s anarchists had wanted to assassinate any powerful “prince of the Church” in 1916, the worst choice was probably George Mundelein.


George Mundelein, circa 1916
Archbishop, later Cardinal, George W. Mundelein in 1916.

Mundelein was born into a poor working-class immigrant neighborhood, Manhattan’s Lower East Side, in 1872 and grew up in tenement housing.  Son of a German father and Irish mother, his dual ethnic heritage was a major reason why, in 1915, the young Bishop of Brooklyn was chosen to head Chicago’s archdiocese, which was teeming both with diversity and ethnic conflict, even among fellow Catholics.  At age 43, Mundelein was the youngest American archbishop.  Over the years, the head of Chicago’s Catholics turned out to be a major pro-labor voice, an important ally of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, and a staunch enemy of Nazism and anti-Semitism — including that of Father Charles Coughlin, a controversial American priest whose radio show in Detroit often attacked Jews and bankers.  A friend of the Catholic Labor Movement, Mundelein reiterated to American Catholics that “Our place is beside the workingman.”

George Mundelein, then, was a strange target for an aspiring assassin’s vial of poison on February 12, 1916.   The scene of the crime:  Chicago’s prestigious University Club.


South Bend News-Times, February 12, 1916
South Bend News-Times, February 12, 1916.

Dining Room, University Club of Chicago, 1909
Dining room of the University Club, 1909.

Coming to honor both Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and Mundelein’s installment as archbishop, about three-hundred guests attended — from Illinois Governor Edward F. Dunne and ex-Governor Charles Deneen to Chicago’s ex-Mayor Carter Harrison, Jr.  The other guests were mostly Catholic priests from all over the U.S.

As Chicago’s health commissioner, city police investigators, and a chemist from the University of Chicago later determined, someone had slipped enough arsenic into a pot of chicken bouillon to kill two-hundred people or more.  Various accounts were floated around of how the University Club avoided becoming the scene of what would have been Chicago’s worst mass murder — worse even than the crimes of the “arch-fiend” H.H. Holmes back in the 1890s.

One version was that a “miracle” occurred.  Ninety-six unexpected guests came at the last minute, prompting kitchen staff to resort to a time-honored remedy:  watering down the soup.  Yet the real disaster was averted by slow eaters.  As Monsignor Evers, pastor of St. Andrew’s Church in New York, told the Chicago Daily Tribune, some guests were “so engrossed in conversation” that they missed out on the soup altogether or only ate a spoonful or two.  By that time, their neighbors were starting to have stomach cramps.


Chicago Daily Tribune, February 14, 1916
Chicago Daily Tribune, February 14, 1916

With many diners complaining of sudden pains, a doctor at the banquet suspected the animal fat used to prepare the soup stock must have gone sour — normal food-poisoning, that is.  He went back to the kitchen and quickly prepared an “emetic of mustard” to induce vomiting.  It’s unappetizing to consider, but the elegant dining room must have become a surreal, disgusting scene — yet the doctor’s speedy remedy probably saved many lives.  Scores were sickened, some violently, but only one guest, Father John O’Hara of Brooklyn, died.  Although Archbishop Mundelein was unaffected by the lethal soup, Chicago kept him under a guard of 150 mounted police and detectives for the next few days.


Chicago Daily Tribune, February 14, 1916 (2)
Chicago Daily Tribune, February 14, 1916

The foiled murder plot was quickly traced to a certain “Jean Crones,” assistant chef at the University Club, who was said to be about 30 years old.  Crones “often inveighed” against social inequality, said the Club’s officials.  When police raided his apartment, the “souper anarchist” was gone, but investigators discovered a stash of anarchist literature (“a library of hatred”), a chemical laboratory, and all the evidence of poison they needed to go after him.

As the manhunt spread out, Jean Crones, or someone masquerading as him, began to tease the police with flippant letters, taunting them for being unable to find him.  These letters and other baffling clues began to pour in from all parts of the country.  As the story made national news the next day, a hotel in Binghamton, New York, reluctantly announced it was confident that Crones had once been their assistant chef.  “Crones was remembered by his fellow workers here as a dabbler in chemistry and photography. . . One day the whim seized him to have his own likeness snapped, and he had one of his kitchen comrades aim the camera.”  The resulting photo and an artist’s sketch were plastered over many American newspapers.

What happened next turned into a comedy of errors that went on for years.


Scranton Republican, February 21, 1916
Scranton Republican, February 21, 1916.

During the run-up to World War I, when the loyalty of German-Americans was constantly under suspicion, unfounded reports came in that Crones was a German immigrant and a saboteur and spy for the Kaiser.  Other reports had it that he was French or Italian.  A biography of the celebrated anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti claims that “Jean Crones” was actually an Italian named Nestor Dondoglio. The Chicago Police Department officially called off its search for the mysterious fugitive in 1919.  But Dondoglio evaded police until 1932, when he died on a farm in Connecticut where an Italian family had given him shelter.

Whoever he was, for several years after the failed “soup plot,” Jean Crones became a sort of bogeyman stalking America from sea to shining sea.  Soup-poisoner spottings occurred all over:  in rural Mt. Airy and Oxford, North Carolina;  the mining town of Leadville, Colorado; and towns so obscure, they weren’t even spelled right in newspapers (like Spalding, Nebraska, and Moberly, Missouri.) Crones — or a clever prankster, or a team of anarchists — harassed the police from New York City to Portland, Oregon.  A chef from Iowa City was arrested simply because he looked like the photograph taken in Binghamton, as was a chef from Chicago while passing through Springfield, Ohio.

Maclay Hoyne, Illinois State Attorney, surmised that the “poison souper” invented the so-called “McKinney-Finn powders,” which Hoyne declared “was given by waiters to non-tipping patrons in local hotels and cafes.”

Most of the so-called “appearances” of Jean Crones, however, are probably imaginary — or even deliberate hoaxes.  Some cases sound like the police might have used the poison-soup scare as an excuse to terrorize workers.  Others had more comic twists.


South Bend News-Times, November 25, 1916
South Bend News-Times, November 25, 1916. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 25, 1916
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 25, 1916

Wilimington Morning Star, February 2, 1916
Wilmington Morning Star, February 2, 1916.

Logansport Pharos-Tribune, February 24, 1916
A watchman in Logansport, Indiana, spotted the “poison souper” at a railroad crossing there less than two weeks after the crime, as did hundreds of other Americans. Logansport Pharos-Tribune, February 24, 1916.

Within a few days of his apparent escape from Chicago, the phantom assassin or his clever doppelgänger was out on the West Coast, teasing Chicago police at a distance, sending his own fingerprints by mail, and threatening to kill “some bishop” out in Oregon:

Fort Wayne Daily News, February 23, 1916 (2)
Fort Wayne Daily News, February 23, 1916.

On St. Patrick’s Day that March, Chicago Catholics were still jittery enough that the Irish Fellowship Club had to appoint an official food taster for its annual banquet.  He tasted every dish for over an hour.

Prank-minded Americans were probably just having some fun with the police and the press.  By the summer of 1916, the spate of “J.C.” sightings was still pouring in:

Chicago Daily Tribune, July 23, 1916
Chicago Daily Tribune, July 23, 1916.

Chicago Daily Tribune, May 14, 1916
Chicago Daily Tribune, May 14, 1916.

Two of the most humorous and unlikely sightings occurred on the East Coast.  In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that May, locals were convinced that Crones had become a nun:

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (Oshkosh, WI), May 15, 1916
Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, May 15, 1916.

Pittsburgh Daily Post, May 15, 1916
Pittsburgh Daily Post, May 15, 1916.

And in Luzon, New York, an undercover sleuth wearing false hair and whiskers was arrested by a town cop, who was confident that he had nabbed the elusive Crones.  The man turned out to be a 26-year-old private eye from New York City who was investigating a theft of $250 from the Hygienic Brush Company.  In spite of his legitimate alibi, county prosecutors charged the man with “masquerading.”

Middletown Times-Press (Middletown, NY), February 28, 1916
Middletown Times-Press, Middletown, NY, February 28, 1916.

The real Jean Crones never surfaced.  Yet the fictional specter he evoked — that of the violent, supposedly illiterate immigrant bent on destroying American institutions and lives — took on a frightening reality of its own at a time when immigrant loyalty was suspect.  It is often forgotten that the Communist witch hunts inaugurated by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s were preceded by a more substantial “Red Scare” after World War I.  Italian anarchists detonated bombs in Washington, D.C., in 1919 — an attack that nearly killed Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt — and possibly carried out the 1920 Wall Street attack, which killed 30 people.  The reaction threatened to close America’s doors to immigrants.

Like most Catholics, Archbishop Mundelein was a staunch supporter of immigration.  He blew off threats of assassination by anarchists and the hostility of anti-Catholics, saying:  “I have come to Chicago to help and bless its people all I can, and I think this is the best way to disarm prejudice.”

A fiery and brilliant editorial in the Kentucky Irish American, a pro-immigrant paper published in Louisville, conjures up the fear that the figure of “Jean Crones” actually created among “nativists.”  For immigration’s enemies, the anarchist threat was reason enough for Congress to all but close down Ellis Island.  Ironically, the Hans Schmidt mentioned in this editorial was a German-American Catholic priest convicted of murder and sent to the electric chair at Sing Sing on February 18, 1916, just a week after the anarchist soup plot in Chicago.

Kentucky Irish American (Louisville, KY), April 15, 1916 (2)
Kentucky Irish American, April 15, 1916.

Kentucky Irish American (Louisville, KY), April 15, 1916 (1)


Cardinal Mundelein, the target of one of those rare immigrants who turned to violence, spent the next few decades speaking out on behalf of the working poor.  Perhaps the shocking event at the start of his days as leader of Chicago’s Catholics brought home the need for justice in his city and elsewhere.

He died quietly in his sleep in October 1939, an honored man.

Mundelein's Body, 1939 (2)
Mundelein during his funeral mass, Holy Name Cathedral, Chicago, October 4, 1939. An impressive Chicago Tribune photo gallery celebrates his life.

Mundelein 1
Cardinal Mundelein in 1933.

Trail of the Arch-Fiend: H.H. Holmes

HH Holmes photo

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

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

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


HH Holmes University of Michigan graduation photo
Born Herman Webster Mudgett in New Hampshire in 1861, H.H. Holmes, graduated from med school in Ann Arbor in 1884. This is his graduation photo. His third wife, Georgiana Yoke, was from Franklin, Indiana.

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

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


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

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

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

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


Holmes - Indianapolis Journal, May 8, 1896
Holmes’ execution was covered in the Indianapolis Journal, May 8, 1896. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Terre Haute Semi Weekly Express, May 8, 1896
Terre Haute Semi-Weekly Express, May 8, 1896. Hoosier State Chronicles.

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

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

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

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

HH Holmes - October 22, 1919
Lake County Times, October 22, 1919. Hoosier State Chronicles.

HH Holmes 4

HH Holmes 3

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

The Swimsuit Civil War

South Bend News Times June 15 1914

Summer heat wave?  One-hundred and one years ago in the Windy City, women would have had to tough it out,  wind or no wind,  due to living in “the most  censored city in the United States.”

Actually, while Chicago, Illinois, pioneered many forms of public censorship — legislators there passed the first movie censorship law in America in 1907 — the swimsuit civil war was a widespread American phenomenon.  Yet even as newspapers like the Chicago Daily Tribune protested wartime censorship in Parisonly French over the phone, s’il vous plait! (the paper called this “a form of censorship that was hard on Americans”) — as well as government ownership of telegraph wires in the United States, police officers on Chicago’s Lake Michigan beaches were on the prowl.

The above newspaper clip appeared on June 15, 1914, in the South Bend News-Times in South Bend, Indiana.  It referred to a new “Paris bathing suit” that had been called immodest over in Chicago.  Police officers were enforcing strict codes on the length of skirts allowed on Chicago public beaches.  These fashions are hardly considered risqué today.  It also seems like the Hoosier paper, by boldly publishing an image of the offending bathing suit on page 2, had different views altogether about ladies’ swimwear from the folks in charge over in the big city.

As Ragtime fashion took hold, America’s testy swimwear situation continued well into the 1920s.  Yet it’s an interesting fact that many officers who served in urban swimwear patrols were women.  This fabulous photo, taken on a Chicago beach in April 1922, speaks volumes about the complex fashion dilemmas that have always caused an uproar in America.  The figure in the straw hat, wearing pants and a jacket and hauling off two offending bathers, is a woman.  A generation earlier, in such an outfit, she herself might have been hauled off as a public offender and a threat to decency:


Swimwear Civil War -- Chicago 1920s
Mashable: 1920s: The Swimwear Police

The South Bend News-Times was a fairly modern paper.  Its editors had a sense of humor, and as they followed the fashion trends of the World War I era into the Jazz Age, they often took the side of the “modern girl.”   Though the late Victorian Age — and what Mark Twain satirized as the Gilded Age, a time period he thought incredibly corrupt — could be far racier than it usually gets credit for, the News-Times offers some pretty good documentation of American public opinion as social mores began to change faster than ever.

The News-Times stands out for one other reason:  it had a regular women’s page and was one of the first Hoosier newspapers to publish an abundance of photographs, a tactic largely intended to drive up sales.  (The News-Times often struggled to stay in business and folded for good in 1938.)

On August 15, 1920, in the section “Camera News,” the editors printed this photo of San Francisco police “claiming war” on the one-piece bathing suit out West.  “The girls insist that they are both sensible and artistic,” the caption read, “but the police are hard-hearted.”  It’s hard not to believe the editors in South Bend sided with the bathers.


SB News Times - Camera News - August 15, 1920
South Bend News-Times, August 15, 1920.

Back in 1913, the News-Times published a photo of Mrs. Charles Lanning of Burlington, New Jersey.  This case was more sobering.

In September 1913, Lanning was beaten by a mob on the Jersey Shore for wearing a “short vivid purple affair.”  The caption reads: “An extreme slit on one side of the skirt is what started the trouble.”  The New York Times carried the further information that Mrs. Lanning, who was married to a hotel proprietor, “was beset by 200 men at Atlantic City.”  Lifeguards managed to break through the crowd and get her away from the “rowdies” who had apparently pelted her unconscious with sand and their fists.  The crowd then followed her to the hospital “to get another glimpse at the suit.”  When she got out of the hospital, some of her assailants were still standing there and Mrs. Lanning fainted.


SB News Times - September 12, 1913
Mrs. Charles Lanning was assaulted on the Jersey Shore in 1913. South Bend News-Times, September 12, 1913.

American bathing suit ordinances, of course, met plenty of resistance.  In March 1922, Norma Mayo, a 17-year-old girl living on Long Island, was already getting ready to  commit civil disobedience the next summer against a New York judge, who had barely let her off the hook the previous summer for wearing an illegal swimsuit on the beach.  Fittingly, the Norma Mayo clip appeared right next to an article about Mohandas Gandhi, “chief leader of the Indian non-conformists” against British control of his country.


SB News Times - March 19, 1922
South Bend News-Times, March 19, 1922.

Here’s a few more colorful stories from the annals of Hoosier State Chronicles about the Battle of the Beaches.  Enjoy.   And remember, suits may be getting smaller, but we’re a-growin’.

Woman’s Sports Change Fashion” (December 4, 1921)

Statuesque Dancer Won Health By Dancing in Bathing Suit on Shore” (November 27, 1921)

Hawaiian Solons Debate Bathing Suit Legislation” (May 1, 1921)

With Hands and Feet Bound She Swam 600 Yards Across a River” (August 11, 1913)

Whether There Shall Be A Double Standard of Bathing Suits. . .” I’ll (July 29, 1913)


SB News Times - September 7 1921(South Bend News-Times, September 7, 1921)


John Dillinger -- Bathing Suits - 1934

Betty Nelson and Rosella Nelson, dressed in bathing suits, view the body of Indianapolis gangster John Dillinger, aged 32, at the Cook County Morgue, Chicago, Illinois.  Dillinger was killed outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago, July 22, 1934 — the height of the summer bathing season.  (Chicago Tribune historical photo.)

OK, now TAKE TWO:

John Dillinger -- Bathing Suits - 1934 (2)

(Chicago Tribune historical photo.)


Bathing Beauty - UNT

(She likes newspapers!  University of North Texas Libraries/Austin Public Library.)