Tag Archives: Eugene V. Debs

Theodore Roosevelt and the 1912 Campaign: A Complicated Candidacy

Theodore Roosevelt at his desk, 1912. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Theodore Roosevelt at his desk, 1912. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

This election year, there has been a lot of talk of third-party candidates, like Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. However, this election cycle is hardly the first to celebrate third-party candidates for President. American presidential history is rich with third-party candidates, such as Ross Perot’s 1992 campaign against Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush or Ralph Nader’s Green Party candidacy in 2000. From the Hoosier state there was Eugene V. Debs, the Socialist Party candidate who received nearly a million votes in the 1912 election. Yet, it is arguable that the most successful third-party run for the presidency was by someone who had already been president.

Theodore Roosevelt in Hackensack, New Jersey, 1912. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Theodore Roosevelt in Hackensack, New Jersey, 1912. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president, mounted an unprecedented third-term campaign for the office on the Progressive Party ticket in 1912. Known colloquially as the “Bull Moose Party,” Roosevelt’s campaign for the office was heavily chronicled by progressive newspapers here in Indiana, particularly the Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram. From August 5-7 1912, the Progressive Party met in Chicago to both nominate Roosevelt for the presidency and establish a new political party, one founded on what Roosevelt called the “Square Deal.” As historian Lewis L. Gould explained, Roosevelt believed that, “that the federal government must do more to supervise large corporations, improve the lot of women and children who worked long hours for low wages in industry, and conserve natural resources.”

President William Howard Taft, circa 1909. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
President William Howard Taft, circa 1909. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Roosevelt’s decision to run stemmed from his disappointment at the cautiousness and conservatism of his former cabinet member and hand-picked successor, William Howard Taft. Taft came into office in 1909 arguing for Roosevelt’s ideals, but had since moved towards to the limited government and pro-business attitudes of Republican Party insiders, or so Roosevelt believed. It was this disappointment which motivated Roosevelt to usurp the Republican nomination from Taft and reassert his influence on the party. When the Republicans rejected him in favor of Taft in June of 1912, Roosevelt vowed to begin a new party. Thus, the Progressive Party was born.

Rudolph G. Leeds, editor and publisher of the Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram. He was an ethusiastic supporter of Roosevelt's 1912 campaign. Courtesy of harfam.org.
Rudolph G. Leeds, editor and publisher of the Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram. He was an enthusiastic supporter of Roosevelt’s 1912 campaign. Courtesy of harfam.org.

The convention began on August 5, and the Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram wrote about the party’s platform, which, among other proposals, demanded “that the light publicity be thrown upon scales of wages and other labor matters” as well as “old-age pensions.” Rudolph G. Leeds, long-time owner and editor of the Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, enthusiastically supported Roosevelt and was elected “national committeeman…by the Indiana progressive delegation.” Roosevelt himself arrived to Chicago on that day and reportedly received “the greatest reception any man ever received in Windy City.” When asked to speak, the former president spoke of the “birth of a new party” and that “the day of the boss, of crooked politicians behind the boss and people who are owned by the boss and crooked politicians has passed forever.”

A crowd listening to Roosevelt speak in Chicago, 1912. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
A crowd listening to Roosevelt speak in Chicago, 1912. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The next day, August 6, Roosevelt announced his contention for the party’s presidential nomination. His running mate was Hiram W. Johnson, senator from California and one of the Progressive Party’s founders. In his speech, known as the “Confession of Faith,” Roosevelt reiterated his position from his remarks the day before. “Our fight,” Roosevelt declared, “is a fundamental fight against both of the old corrupt party machines, for both are under the dominion of the plunder league of the professional politicians who are controlled and sustained by the great beneficiaries of privilege and reaction.” In terms of policy Roosevelt argued for more workplace and wage protections for labor, further regulations of trusts and large corporations, assistance to farmers, and wilderness conservation.

Theodore Roosevelt speaking to Progressive Party delegates at their national convention, August 1912. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Theodore Roosevelt speaking to Progressive Party delegates at their national convention, August 1912. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

To Roosevelt, his nomination was bigger than just one election. It was a “crusade” against the forces of graft and corruption and in favor of the people. “Now, friends, this is my confession of faith,” clamored Roosevelt among the packed crowd in Chicago:

Now to you men, who, in your turn, have come together to spend and be spent in the endless crusade against wrong, to you who face the future resolute and confident, to you who strive in a spirit of brotherhood for the betterment of our nation, to you who gird yourselves for this great new fight in the never-ending warfare for the good of humankind, I say in closing…We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord.

Roosevelt’s “crusade” was taken to heart by the Palladium and Sun-Telegram, who wrote glowing editorials about Roosevelt and the Progressive Party. “The Progressive party,” declared one editorial, “is the moving, leading, inspiring force in the nation today. It is advancing as no other movement ever advanced in American politics.”

A positive editorial on the Progressive Party by the Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, August 7, 1912. Courtesy of the Indiana State Library.
A positive editorial on the Progressive Party by the Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, August 7, 1912. Courtesy of the Indiana State Library.
Theodore Roosevelt and his Progressive Party running mate, Hiram Johnson, 1912. Courtesy of the New York Times.
Theodore Roosevelt and his Progressive Party running mate, Hiram Johnson, 1912. Courtesy of the New York Times.

On August 7, the party formally nominated Roosevelt and Johnson. In his nominating speech, William A. Prendergast, comptroller of the city of New York, remarked that “He [Roosevelt] has fought the most vicious forces in American life and has conquered them…To such a leader the hearts of millions of American people are turning in this national crisis.” It was with this nomination that Roosevelt was given the chance to fulfill the remainder of his life’s work, to finally give the American people a “square deal.”

However, Roosevelt’s dedication to a “square deal” under the Progressive Party banner left a key demographic from being at the table: African Americans. As historian Eric J. Yellin observed, Roosevelt staked his political future on alienating the African American voters in the south, who he thought he had already lost to Taft. Due to this misnomer, Roosevelt sought to create a “shadow Republican Party in the south made up of lily-white organizations.” This resulted in the rejection of southern African American delegates from the Progressive Party convention.

An editorial in the Indianapolis Recorder, August 24, 1912. It linked Roosevelt's alienation of black voters with the segregationist policies of Senator Benjamin Tillman. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.
An editorial in the Indianapolis Recorder, August 24, 1912. It linked Roosevelt’s alienation of black voters with the segregationist policies of Senator Benjamin Tillman (even though Roosevelt disliked him). Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.
A scathing editorial of Roosevelt's "southern strategy" by the Indianapolis Recorder. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.
A scathing editorial of Roosevelt’s “southern strategy” by the Indianapolis Recorder. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.

Locally, the Indianapolis Recorder, a black owned and published newspaper, wrote scathing editorials in response to Roosevelt’s actions. As an August 10, 1912 editorial declared, “To the Colored men who can find it possible, after denouncing President Theodore Roosevelt as a despot, demagogue, lyncher and betrayer of the confiding Colored race, to now support him even when he leaves his own party and help him to be the founder of a new party, we say that the white world is looking on with a contemptuous smile.” Another column on August 24 noted that, “the position of Mr. Roosevelt, disfranchising the Negroes of the South in his party is a virtual indorsement [sic] of the unconstitutional disfranchising laws of the South, and we believe that he has forfeited all right of respect or support from Afro-Americans.” A minister of the AME Church and long-time Roosevelt supporter, Dr. Reverdy C. Ransom, even left the Progressive Party and publicly criticized Roosevelt’s “Negro policy and…urge[d] the Republican party to improve the situation which the Colonel has created.”

Bishop Reverdy C. Ransom. The AME leader left Roosevelt and the Progressive Party after their disenfanchisement of southern African-American. Courtesy of blackpast.org.
Bishop Reverdy C. Ransom. The AME leader left Roosevelt and the Progressive Party after their disenfanchisement of southern African-Americans. Courtesy of blackpast.org.

Other Indiana newspapers joined the Recorder in its criticism of Roosevelt’s “southern strategy.” The Greenfield Republican wrote:

The Progressive Party decided against the colored delegates of the South, but are in favor of the colored people of the North. Theodore Roosevelt, as we understand, is in favor of a “Lily White” Government in the South, but in favor of the colored man’s recognition in the North. The trouble with his idea is that it is in the South that the colored people are complaining about the denial of political rights.

The Greenfield Republican, August 8, 1912. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.
The Greenfield Republican, August 8, 1912. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.

This observation highlighted Roosevelt’s central electoral gamble. By alienating southern African Americans, Roosevelt could have lost a key Republican voting bloc sympathetic to his run, all in an effort to court populist white southerners, who largely voted Democrat. In the general election in November, his calculation went exactly opposite.

The front page of the Lake County Times, November 6, 1912. Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson and his running mate, Indiana Governor Thomas Marshall, won the election in an electoral landslide. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.
The front page of the Lake County Times, November 6, 1912. Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson and his running mate, Indiana Governor Thomas Marshall, won the election in an electoral landslide. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.
Woodrow Wilson (Left) and Thomas Marshall (Right). Courtesy of the New York Public Library.
Woodrow Wilson (Left) and Thomas Marshall (Right). Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

In the 1912 general election on November 5, Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic nominee, won the election in a landslide, with 435 electoral votes and 41.8% of the popular vote. (Wilson’s running mate was Indiana Governor Thomas Marshall; they won the state with 43.1 percent.) Now, you may wonder: how was this a landslide? It came down to split of the Republican voting base. Roosevelt won 27.4 percent of the popular vote and 88 electoral votes while Taft won 23.2 percent of the popular vote and eight electoral votes. However, Roosevelt did end up winning a plurality of the African American voting base, but did not win the southern populist whites he had courted during the election. Wilson garnered their vote, and in turn, won the election with a clear victory.

A rather sardonic editorial in the Lake County Times on Roosevelt's loss. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.
A rather sardonic editorial in the Lake County Times on Roosevelt’s loss. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.

Roosevelt’s defeat was not ignored easily. The Lake County Times, in a rather sardonic editorial, wrote that:

Amid the toppling wreckage of the republican party [sic], with its historic pile crumbled into unrecognizable fragments there strides the Modern Apostle of Discontent the Arch-Egoist Theodore Roosevelt. He gazes around him on the debris with a grin and with triumphant staccato simply says—DEE-LIGHTED! ! !

This sentiment underlined what many Republican voters felt about Roosevelt’s decision to run under the Progressive banner: it had only split the party in his vain attempt to take back the reins of power.

The front page of the Indianapolis News on the day Theodore Roosevelt died. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.
The front page of the Indianapolis News on the day Theodore Roosevelt died. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.

Roosevelt’s chances for a third-term never materialized again, despite his continued political ambitions. He died in his sleep on January 6, 1919, likely from a pulmonary embolism. Vice-President Thomas Marshall was once quoted as saying that, “Death had to take him sleeping…if Roosevelt had been awake, there would have been a fight.” Marshall also attended Roosevelt’s funeral, and many positive reflections were published in the Indianapolis News.

Roosevelt’s political gamble against southern African-Americans cost him both the chance at the election and diminished his reputation as a champion of progressive ideals. Nevertheless, as Gould as argued, his third-party candidacy helped realign the political forces of the country, solidifying the Republican Party towards a more business-centric conservatism while the Democratic Party moved towards a progressivism that culminated in Theodore’s cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his “New Deal.” So, beyond just the electoral success, Roosevelt’s complicated third-party challenge influenced the political landscape for decades.

“No Imported Patriots”: James Whitcomb Riley, the Irish, and the Klan

Riley stamp 1940

For most Americans, the Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley is no longer a household name.  He’s mostly remembered for “Little Orphant Annie,” an 1885 poem about an Indiana girl who warns children against misbehaving, scaring them with the refrain: “The gobble-uns’ll get you Ef you don’t watch out!”

Riley died a hundred years ago this July.  When President Woodrow Wilson got the news at the White House, he is said to have broken down in tears, then sent an express telegram to the poet’s family in Indianapolis.  As Riley’s body lay in state at the Indiana Capitol in July 1916, thirty-five thousand people filed past.  American children, who adored the old man, were devastated.  The press overflowed with eulogies.  Novelist Booth Tarkington, another once-famous Hoosier name in American letters, eulogized Riley in the Indiana Daily Times, calling him “the first and foremost distinctively American poet, and at the time of his death… the greatest American.”  The New York Sun mourned: “The Hoosier Poet blew heart bubbles… In his verses Indiana spoke to the world.”  And the Philadelphia Inquirer noted: “There is no doubt that he was the most popular poet of this generation in America… If there is a child today that is not regaled with ‘Orphant Annie’ that child is to be pitied.”


Riley and Children

(Riley with children and a puppy, circa 1915.  Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis was named in his honor.)


Though Riley was mostly known for his folksy childhood lyrics, he was also a civic-minded poet, fierce in his defense of the downtrodden.

In 1898, during one of those periodic battles over immigration that heat up American politics and pour scorn on newcomers, the “Poet of Childhood” grappled with anti-Irish prejudice — though it wasn’t personally directed against him. Riley, whose own grandparents came from Ireland to Pennsylvania before moving to the Midwest, defended the valor and patriotism of the “Sons of Erin” who fought in the Civil War and Mexican War.  In so doing, he took aim at the religious and ethnic hostility of nativist groups like the American Protective Association, a cousin of the Ku Klux Klan.

In many ways, the Irish, especially Irish Catholics, were the Syrian refugees of the 1800s, frequently misunderstood and feared as disruptors of society.  Long before the Civil War, American nativists like the Know-Nothings had been actively exploiting fears about the Irish and “Rome,” alien forces ready to undermine American democracy and Anglo-Saxon values.  Though some of those fears may sound downright bizarre today, Irish immigrants were often mired in poverty, violence and alcoholism, facts that scared their neighbors. While the brutal living conditions of many Irish were no myth, catastrophic events like the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s were partly to blame.  With their situation made worse by the greed of landowners and brutal utilitarian social theories, many of Ireland’s sons and daughters were reduced to sub-human conditions. Millions  went overseas or found themselves driven into the arms of death.

The Irish had been targeted by some of the worst 19th-century science and philosophy.  Racialized by other whites during the early days of Darwinism, the “native” Irish in particular were type-cast as little better than apes, doomed by biology itself to crime, degradation and — some theorists hoped — gradual extinction.  One famous drawing compares the “Anglo-Saxon” features of English nurse Florence Nightingale to the ape-like face of “Bridget McBruiser” across the Irish Channel.

That drawing, however, was an American drawing, published in Samuel R. Wells’ New Physiognomy (New York, 1866).  Wells was one of the foremost American phrenologists of his time, studying “character” as he imagined it to be written on the human face and skull.  It took decades for the science of head bumps and nose shapes to be debunked as nonsense, but the fallout proved catastrophic for many immigrants.


Contrasted Faces

(Books like Wells’ New Physiognomy gave rise to even more damaging scientific theories about racial types — strange fantasies that fed the growth of American eugenics, the Second Ku Klux Klan, and even Progressivism.  Wells also authored books about farm animals, gardening and witchcraft.)


Bad science and hyper-patriotic conspiracy theories were the target of one of James Whitcomb Riley’s lesser-known poems, “Brother Jonathan Lectures His Adopted.”  That poem appeared in Songs of Two Peoples, an 1898 collection set partly in New England, partly in Ireland.

Originally written in broad New England dialect, “Brother Jonathan” recounts the anti-Catholic ravings of a recent Northern Irish immigrant voting for “the fust time” at a small-town polling booth in America. Jonathan showed himself an eager campaigner against foreign influence, “tearin’ up an’ deown’ on platforms,” lashing out at Rome’s priests who “eat heretics at feasts” — dark tales from European history carried by folklore and immigrant ships into American election booths well into the 1960s and even beyond. Catholics, Jonathan warns, were gearing up to crush the American public school system and democracy.  He gets a stinging rebuke from the embodiment of Uncle Sam, “His Adopted.”


Brother Jonathan

(Songs of Two Peoples, Boston, 1898.  Like Brother Jonathan, many popular anti-Catholic lecturers who touted Americanism a hundred years ago were recent immigrants or not even citizens.  Several wrote books that were later promoted by the Klan.)


Though Riley’s poem is set just after the Civil War, it spoke to the issues of 1898, when America’s generously open door did bring many problems. Yet the looming figure of “Brother Jonathan” was still fresh decades later when George R. Dale, the brave editor of the Muncie Post-Democrat, reprinted it as part of his long battle against the powerful Hoosier Klan.  Sadly, the fear-mongering of the 1880s and 1920s remains a factor in American politics today — in ways that are, as always, frightening to consider.

In 1924, Dale found Riley’s poem as apt as ever.  Dale was at the start of a practically one-man battle against the KKK in his town, using humor to transform the Muncie Post-Democrat into a rollicking 1920s version of The Onion.  Though Dale faced routine death threats and assaults from Klansmen, the Muncie editor bravely tore into chauvinism at a time when the Klan was as much against new waves of Eastern and Southern European immigration as it was opposed to African Americans coming up from the South.  Dale slightly abbreviated Riley’s poem — missing the fact that Brother Jonathan was an immigrant himself and had brought Old World animosities across the Atlantic, a prelude to the Irish “Troubles.”


James Whitcomb Riley -- April 25, 1924

(Muncie Post-Democrat, April 25, 1924.  The A.P.A. was the American Protective Association, an anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic secret society founded in Iowa in 1887.  It had a membership of over two million in the 1890s and was a forerunner of the Second Klan. A.P.A.-affiliated newspapers like The Menace and The Yellow Jacket landed on millions of American doorsteps.)


Though many Irish immigrants were racists themselves, stirring up some of the worst race riots of the 1800s, George Dale found an ally in both history and the Catholic Church.  Virtually every issue of Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson’s Klan paper The Fiery Cross contained attacks on the church, sharpest during the Indiana gubernatorial election of 1924, the year Dale reprinted “Brother Jonathan” in Muncie.  It’s not surprising that, since they were long targeted by nativists, Catholics became a major force in undermining the Klan and helped hobble half-baked social and medical theories like eugenics. (The barely-concealed “science” of white supremacy, eugenics had deep roots in Indiana.  That history isn’t over yet:  an alternative band called The IshmaeLites recently made an interesting album about the days of the 1907 Indiana sterilization law, released by Weirdo Records in 2009.)

While Riley was of Irish descent, he wasn’t Catholic himself — in fact he wasn’t much of a church-goer at all.  Yet Riley knew plenty of immigrants: they were his neighbors in Lockerbie, an Indianapolis neighborhood first called “Germantown” and settled partly by refugees from Europe’s 1848 revolutions.

But even Riley’s support had a dark irony in it.  A frequent visitor at his house in Lockerbie was Indiana Socialist leader Eugene V. Debs. The son of French immigrants, Debs was a champion of the working class but often hostile to the new wave of immigration, which he thought undermined American labor and played into the hands of big business.  Debs may have been right about the effect of cheap labor on the American workers’ movement, but history repeated itself in a sad way when even the great Socialist leader made disparaging remarks in 1891 about Chinese and “Dagos” (Italians). They “fatten on garbage,” Debs said, live “more like a savage or a wild beast,” and “are able to underbid an American workingman.”  It took years for Debs to temper those views, as even the Socialist Party succumbed to nativism and fear of the “degraded foreigner.”


Riley house

(Riley’s house in Indianapolis around 1960.   During the gloomy days of urban renewal, the Lockerbie neighborhood fell into bad shape, but fortunately its decline was turned around by the 1990s. The green ivy that once covered the poet’s house, though, is long gone.)

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 digging out of 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 “WWJD?” 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 1The 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.)


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.)

The Specter Bulldog. . . and the Real John G. Heinl

Players Cigarettes Bulldog 2

This week, Hoosier State Chronicles is uploading a large run of Terre Haute newspapers from 1880 to 1903, digitized by the Vigo County Public Library.  While peering through a few issues, I ran across ads from a man who shows up in a bizarre Hoosier folktale.

Having grown up in the Wabash Valley, I’d heard the strange story of John Heinl and his constant canine companion — the emerald-eyed phantom bulldog, “Stiffy Green.”  Even as an occasional believer in the paranormal, I knew the legend wasn’t true.  Yet, like most Terre Hauteans, I also knew literally nothing about the famous dog’s owner.

As usual, fact sometimes outdoes fiction.  Here’s a bit about the real John Heinl, master of the green-eyed ghost hound, and an interesting Hoosier family.

John was his Americanized name.  According to his 1894 application for a U.S. passport, the man whose life story got lost in the “Stiffy Green” legend was born Johann Gradl Heinl on September 7, 1844, in the Bohemian town of Eger, today called Cheb, about a hundred miles west of Prague.  Until age twelve, Heinl was a subject of the Austrian Empire.

In 1856, with his parents and three brothers, Heinl boarded the Augusta Emma, bound out of the German port of Bremen for New York City.  The vessel’s passenger list shows that his parents traveled first class, while their four sons sailed in steerage below.   (It’s interesting that at age fourteen, John’s brother Lorenz, later a pioneer Hoosier florist, was already listed as a butcher.)

Johann Heinl - December 1854 Passenger List, Augusta Emma, Steerage

The family first settled in Toledo, Ohio.  On the chilly shores of Lake Erie, John apprenticed in the horticultural trade.  In 1863, aged nineteen, he and Lawrence moved west to the Wabash Valley, where by the end of the Civil War, they were running a greenhouse at 15th & Washington Avenue in Terre Haute.


John Heinl 1865(The specter’s master in 1865.  Wabash Valley Visions & Voices.)


Terre Haute was full of Europeans in the 1860’s.  Sometime before 1870, young John Heinl got to know another immigrant family, the Debses.  Jean-Daniel Debs and his wife Marguerite Marie Bettrich had come to Indiana from Alsace, France.  A literary man, Jean-Daniel named his first son after the French writers Eugène Sue and Victor Hugo.  Eugene V. Debs went on to become one of America’s greatest labor leaders and was the Socialist Party’s candidate for President five times.  In 1870, John Heinl, known to most locals today only as “Stiffy Green’s master,” married Debs’ sister, Marie — who also went by “Mary.”


Mary Debs(Marie Debs Heinl.  Wabash Valley Visions & Voices.)

Marie Heinl Debs(Marie wearing Alsatian costume in Colmar, France, her parents’ hometown.  Wabash Valley Visions & Voices.)


John and Mary Heinl lived at two addresses on North Eighth Street in downtown Terre Haute, just off the campus of Indiana State Normal School, later Indiana State University.  Mary’s brother, Eugene, lived around the corner.  And on the porch of the Heinl residence, there stood the shadow of a future legend:  a sculptured bulldog.

Meanwhile, Heinl’s greenhouses were booming (blooming. . .)  Heinl, his brother Lawrence, and John’s son Fred eventually opened several floral establishments around town, including one called “Floral Hall,” where they raised and sold chrysanthemums, palms, laurels, ferns, Parisian lilacs, African violets, and grapevines.  John also owned a flower plantation and hot houses near Tallahassee, Florida, where he cultivated plants and seeds for export to the Midwest.  Situated at the “Crossroads of America,” Heinl shipped flowers from his Terre Haute greenhouses by rail all over the U.S.


Heinl Florist - Terre Haute Daily News November 30 1889

(Terre Haute Daily News, November 30, 1889.)


Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail - November 10 1894

(Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail , November 10, 1894.)


Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail - May 3 1879

(Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail, May 3, 1879.)


Heinl & Weber Florists

(This greenhouse at 1630 Plum Street was owned by Heinl’s son Fred in 1911.  Wabash Valley Visions & Voices.)


A leading citizen and a Progressive, if not even a Socialist, John Heinl was president of the Rose Dispensary, a clinic and pharmacy offering free medical care to the needy.  He also served as Vice President of the Rose Orphans Home and was active on the boards of several banks as well as the Terre Haute Water Works.  Known for his impeccable honesty, in 1906 Heinl served on an investigative committee that dug into Vigo County’s pervasive political graft.

By the 1890s, he was also operating a travel agency, booking passage for steamships and tours back to his native Europe.  In 1895, John, Mary and their son Robert went on a ten-month European tour.


John G. Heinl - Indianapolis News February 2 1906(Indianapolis News, February 2, 1906.)


John G. Heinl -- Terre Haute Daily News 11-30-1889

(Terre Haute Daily News, November 30, 1889.)


Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail - March 23 1895

(Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail, March 23, 1895.)


There’s always a newspaper man in these stories.  Sure enough, John and Mary’s son, the distinguished journalist Robert Debs Heinl, Sr., born in Terre Haute in 1880, had his first job reporting for the Terre Haute Star.  Robert later worked for the Indianapolis Sentinel before moving to New York City.  A friend of Fiorello LaGuardia and President William H. Taft, Robert Debs Heinl became a nationally-known newspaper and magazine correspondent, traveled around Latin America, and wrote for National Geographic beginning in 1918.  He later became an editor at the Washington Post.

John Heinl’s grandson, Robert Debs Heinl, Jr., also became a well-respected author.  An officer in the Marine Corps, he was present at Pearl Harbor and fought at Iwo Jima, then in Korea.  A military correspondent for the Detroit News, Col. Heinl also authored an influential history of Haiti, where in the early 1960s he served as a U.S. military liaison and helped trained Haitian dictator “Papa Doc” Duvalier’s troops.  His son, Michael Heinl, great-grandson of “Stiffy Green’s master,” was allegedly almost abducted and tortured in 1962 at the dictator’s palace in Port-au-Prince, when he was twelve years old.  The dictator’s son, “Baby Doc,” one of Michael Heinl’s friends, apparently saved him from his father’s henchmen after he criticized the regime.

Now for the ghostly legend.

Florist John Heinl died at home on New Year’s Eve 1920.  Mourners laid him to rest in a marble mausoleum not far from the Debs family plot at Terre Haute’s Highland Lawn Cemetery, the second largest in Indiana.  Mary Debs Heinl followed him there in 1936, then their son Fred in 1955.

Somehow, the stone bulldog that had stood watch outside their house near the campus of Indiana State got put into the mausoleum with them as decoration.  The dog had faux-emerald eyes that shone in the night.

By 1968, students in the English Department at ISU, where Ron Baker had begun a Folklore program, were already collecting wild tales about “Stiffy Green” (also known as “Stuffy Green”), the “stuffed” hound visible through the window of the Heinl crypt.  A popular thrill for teenagers and even for couples on dates was to jump over the iron gates at Highland Lawn, peer through the mausoleum’s window with flashlights, and mess with Stiffy.


Stiffy Green

(Wabash Valley Visions & Voices.)


The local tale differed with the teller, but it went something like this:  John Heinl was an eccentric, lonely Terre Haute businessman who lived by himself and had only his faithful bulldog (“or wolf”) for a companion.  The two were inseparable and always went out walking together, Heinl typically smoking a big cigar.  As he got older, the strange man put it in his will that when he died, he wanted his pet bulldog stuffed and placed in his tomb.  Like in the ancient practice of horse burial, the two would keep each other company into the afterlife.  Finally, Heinl died and the dog was put to sleep.  The taxidermist’s work done, “Stiffy Green-Eyes” sat guarding his master’s tomb at Highland Lawn, snarling at grave-robbers and vandals.  (Heinl, the tale went, was buried with all his jewels.)

A popular alternative version has it that his master’s death left Stiffy so upset, he wandered away from home and waited at the mausoleum door for Heinl to come out.  Whenever the family brought the bereaved dog back to Eighth Street — did Mary Debs do the fetching?! — he ran off to the cemetery on U.S. 40 again, until finally his shattered heart died of grief.  Ghost-hunters reported seeing master and hound wandering the cemetery grounds at night.  Sometimes, the pooch howled awfully at strangers.

In 1985, when the real nocturnal prowlers started to shoot bullets instead of innocuous flashlights into Stiffy’s verdant eyes, the cemetery caretakers had to remove the statue.  It eventually ended up at the Vigo County Historical Society and was used in a children’s exhibit.  But Stiffy’s new caretakers never really squashed the famous legend.

Will Hoosier State Chronicles?  In case I did what vandals could never do and killed a great dog, here’s a few more stories for you.  Or maybe they’re bull, too:

“Bulldog Stopped a Runaway Horse,” Indianapolis Journal, January 17, 1904.

“Saves Self By Feeding Bull Dog Cuff Button,” South Bend News-Times, December 5, 1913.

“Filling a Bulldog’s Teeth,” Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail, February 6, 1897.


Indianapolis Journal April 12 1892(Indianapolis Journal, April 23, 1892.)


 Bulldog With Hat - Leslie Jones

(Leslie Jones, “Bulldog With Hat.”  Boston Public Library.)


Are you a guardian of truth?  Know more about the Heinl legend?  Bark at me:  staylor336 [at] gmail.com

Today in Indiana History: Wendell Willkie Accepted Republican Nomination for President

August 17, 1940  – Wendell Willkie accepted the Republican nomination to run for President in his hometown of Elwood, Indiana. Over 260,000 were in the crowd.  Willkie became the fourth Hoosier resident to receive a party nomination for President.  Indiana’s other presidential nominees included Benjamin Harrison (Republican, 1888), Eugene V. Debs (Socialist, 1904, 1908, 1912, 1920), and Frank J. Hanly (Prohibition, 1916).  Willkie lost the 1940 election to incumbent Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Willkie received 44.8% of the popular vote, but only won 82 electoral votes to FDR’s 449.  Read about Willkie accepting the nomination in the Hammond Times.

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