Around two o’clock on the morning of Saturday, September 5, 1891, Crawfordsville ice delivery men Marshall McIntyre and Bill Gray prepared their wagon for morning rounds when suddenly a feeling of “awe and dread” overcame them. Peering heavenward, the men saw a “horrible apparition.” The Crawfordsville Journal described what they witnessed:
[It was] about eighteen feet long and eight feet wide and moved rapidly through the air by means of several pairs of side fins. . . . It was pure white and had no definite shape or form, resembling somewhat a great white shroud fitted with propelling fins. There was no tail or head visible but there was one great flaming eye, and a sort of a wheezing plaintive sound was emitted from a mouth which was invisible. It flapped like a flag in the winds as it came on and frequently gave a great squirm as though suffering unutterable agony.
McIntyre and Gray observed the phenomenon hover three or four hundred feet in the air for nearly an hour before they retreated to the safety of the barn. They then quickly finished harnessing their horses and left the vicinity.
(Crawfordsville Daily Journal, September 5, 1891.)
McIntyre and Gray weren’t the only witnesses that night. Perhaps the most reputable witness was G.W. Switzer, pastor of the First Methodist Church. Shortly after midnight, Rev. Switzer stepped out of his door to retrieve some water from the well when he espied the apparition. He woke his wife and they gawked as the thing “swam through the air in a writhing, twisting manner similar to the glide of some serpents.” As the Switzers watched, the mystery apparition seemed at one point as though it might descend on the lawn of Lane Place — home of late U.S. Senator Henry S. Lane’s widow — before it re-ascended and continued its circuitous route above the city.
(Crawfordsville Daily Journal, September 7, 1891.)
When Crawfordsville residents heard of the sighting, ridicule came quickly to the eyewitnesses. On the heels of Professor Burton, “Keeley’s Institute for inebriates” in Plainfield reportedly wrote to Rev. Switzer and invited him to visit — obviously to seek a cure.
(Crawfordsville Daily Journal, September 9, 1891.)
However, reports of the sightings also generated a number of believers. The Indianapolis Journal picked up the story, as did other newspapers across the country, including the Brooklyn Eagle. Mail regarding the sighting deluged the Crawfordsville postmaster. Some correspondents thought the sighting indicated that Judgment Day was near. A St. Louis woman, fearful of the spook’s western migration, wrote and asked if the apparition could be seen in the daytime, what color was it, and if the apparition had previously been in Ohio?
(Crawfordsville Daily Journal, September 11, 1891.)
So what exactly did people see in the Crawfordsville sky that early September morning in 1891? Was it an apparition? UFO? A “rod,” like a 2008 episode of the History Channel’s Monster Quest implied? Or was it, as many internet sites suggest, an atmospheric beast!?!?
Fortunately, two eyewitnesses tracked the creature. John Hornbeck and Abe Hernley “followed the wraith about town and finally discovered it to be a flock of many hundred killdeer.” The many birds’ wings, white under-feathers, and plaintive cries contributed to the belief of many eyewitnesses that the creature(s) originated from the otherworld. Low visibility due to damp air likely compounded the misidentification. The Crawfordsville Journal hypothesized that the town’s newly installed electric lights caused the birds to become disoriented, hovering and wreathing their way above the city.
(Crawfordsville Daily Journal, September 8, 1891.)
(Killdeer Plover, watercolor by John James Audubon.)
If that explanation does not satisfy, there is an alternative one. During the prior week, newspapers circulated another story from Crawfordsville. This one was about a “balloon parachute craze” taking hold among the town’s boys. While that could explain the billowing, sheet-like apparition, it fails to account for the “wheezing plaintive sound” emitting from the aerial monster. Well, the same report about the parachute craze also mentioned that the boys also liked to send cats up in their balloons. Could this have been what McIntyre, Gray, and the Switzers saw and heard instead?
(Wichita Daily Eagle, Wichita, Kansas, September 4, 1891.)
As anti-climactic as these conclusions will be to modern readers — they’re also, no doubt, disappointing to cryptozoologists and ufologists — it is the complete story of the Crawfordsville monster as the Crawfordsville Journal reported it in early September 1891.
Incidentally, Crawfordsville published three newspapers in addition to the Journal. These were the Review, the Argus, and the Star. None of those papers so much as hinted that anything happened that September morning. This leads one to conclude that while a few citizens likely did see something unusual in the nocturnal sky, the Crawfordsville Journal overstated the incident to make an extra buck. And the nineteenth century was no more “gullible” than our own age. In other places around the world — like Fernvale, Australia, in 1927, and of course Roswell, New Mexico, since 1947 — reports of weird avian or other airborne visitors would pour in during the 20th century.
The Journal’s century old marketing ploy continues to generate lively discussion in the dark recesses of cyberspace and on late night radio talk-shows, where the Crawfordsville monster occasionally still goes out flying through the sky.
In the early 1880s, Indiana’s great novelist and war hero, General Lew Wallace, author of the bestselling Ben-Hur, got caught up in one of the more trumped-up tales of nineteenth-century journalism — a story which, it turns out, has an incredibly bizarre “cousin” today. The mildly erotic tale begins around 1883, when Wallace was a well-known American public figure. To quickly recap his bio: son of Governor David Wallace of Indiana, the “militant romantic” had served in the worst battles of the Civil War; sat on the trials of the Lincoln conspirators and Henry Wirz, the Swiss-born Confederate commander of Andersonville prison; fought as a Juarista general in the Mexican Army during the French invasion of 1865; and as Territorial Governor of New Mexico, he helped reign in the outlaw Billy the Kid.
Slowly propelled to greater fame when the novel Ben-Hur came out, Wallace went to Constantinople in 1881 as U.S. Minister to the Ottoman Empire. The general and his wife, writer Susan Wallace, were ardent Orientalists. Yet Ben-Hur, set in Palestine, was published a year before they ever saw the Middle East, its description based on research in the Library of Congress. The couple traveled around the eastern Mediterranean.
During his four years as an American diplomat in Constantinople, the Hoosier writer became close friends with Ottoman Sultan Abdül Hamid II — though Wallace famously became “the first person to demand that the sultan shake his hand.” When Grover Cleveland was elected U.S. President in 1884, Wallace’s term ended. Abdül Hamid tried to get his friend to stay on and represent Turkish interests in Europe. Wallace, instead, came home to Montgomery County.
(Lew Wallace described watching a Turkish infantry and Circassian cavalry drill with the Ottoman Sultan in his Autobiography, published in 1906.)
The gossip mill, however, was already rolling years before Wallace sailed home to the States. As early as September 2, 1882, the Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail reprinted a dramatic story from The Wasp, San Francisco’s acerbic satirical weekly perhaps best-known for its lurid political cartoons attacking Chinese immigration to the West Coast. (The Wasp has been called California’s version of Puck).
“An Unwelcome Present” was syndicated in other papers as far away as New Zealand and often got subtitled along the lines of “What the General’s Wife Thought of the Sultan’s Present.”
As far as I can tell, the tale first originated in the pages of The Wasp on August 5, 1882, where it ran under the title “That Present.” What I find especially fascinating is that the magazine’s editor from 1881 to 1885 was no less than the sardonic Hoosier cynic Ambrose Bierce, whose Devil’s Dictionary had its genesis as a column in the California weekly.
Like Wallace, Bierce fought at the terrifying Battle of Shiloh in 1862, serving as First Lieutenant in the ranks of the Ninth Indiana Infantry. During his days as a journalist, Bierce also worked for William Randolph Hearst at The San Francisco Examiner. To sell papers, the newspaper giant “routinely invented sensational stories, faked interviews, ran phony pictures and distorted real events.”
Did Bierce pen some “yellow journalism” about Lew Wallace and a Turkish harem girl? I wouldn’t put it past him. The Wasp’s editor was one of the biggest misogynists of his day and took constant swipes at women. To me, “An Unwelcome Present” sounds like one of Bierce’s tales or epigrams about the diabolical battle between the sexes, which he always portrayed as just slightly less gory than the bloodbath he and Wallace survived at Shiloh. In any case, the gossipy piece about his fellow Hoosier got published on Ambrose Bierce’s editorial watch.
Writer and poet Susan Wallace, who grew up in Crawfordsville and married Lew in 1852, had no reason to fear her husband would take up with a concubine. Yet Circassian beauties were all the rage during the long heyday of Orientalism.
The exotic Circassian mystique had been around for many decades. Inhabiting the Caucasus Mountains at the eastern end of the Black Sea near Sochi (the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics), Circassians were hailed by 19th-century anthropologists as the apogee of the human form. “Circassophilia” churned out many exotic myths about these people in Europe and America. During the Enlightenment, the French writer Voltaire popularized a belief that Circassian women were the most beautiful on earth, “a trait that he linked to their practice of inoculating babies with the smallpox virus.” In the 1790s, the invention of the so-called “Caucasian” race occurred when Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, one of the founders of physical anthropology, compared the anatomy of the beautiful, martial Circassians of what became North Turkey and southern Russia with the rest of humanity and categorized the mountain folk as the least “degenerate” humans.
Yet by the time of Wallace’s tenure in the Middle East in the 1880s, these tough mountaineers had been subdued by the Russians and Ottomans after long years of bloody warfare. Legends about dazzling Circassian beauties abounded even as Circassia itself disappeared from the map. One popular story went that the main source of wealth for fathers in the region was their breathtakingly beautiful daughters, whom they sold off to Turkish slave markets, though as writer in The Penny Magazine thought in 1838, Circassian women were “exceedingly anxious to be sold,” since life in a Turkish harem was “preferable to their own customs.” In Constantinople, they were highly prized in harems — not to be confused with Western prostitution. American abolitionist and women’s rights activist Lydia Maria Child devoted a chapter to Circassia in her 1838 History of the Condition of Women.
The horrible trade in female slaves from the Caucasus was alive and well in the mid-1800s, when an alleged glut in the market led to their devaluation. Good timing for American circus mogul P.T. Barnum. In May 1864, he wrote to one of his employees, John Greenwood, who had traveled to Ottoman Cyprus to try to buy a Circassian girl on Barnum’s behalf. Over a year after the Emancipation Proclamation in America, the circus owner wrote:
I still have faith in a beautiful Circassian girl if you can get one very beautiful. But if they ask $4000 each, probably one would be better than two, for $8000 in gold is worth about $14,500 in U.S. currency. So one of the most beautiful would do. . . But look out that in Paris they don’t try the law and set her free. It must be understood she is free. . . Yours Truly, P.T. Barnum
Barnum’s fascination with acquiring and exhibiting women in his shows took on the elements of a personal erotic and racial fantasy. Though most were “local girls,” as newspapers knew, Barnum billed his “Circassians” as escaped sex slaves and “the purest specimens of the white race.” Figments of Barnum’s imagination, these women joined the ranks of the dime-show freaks, part of the offbeat spectacle of bearded ladies, sword-swallowers, and snake-handlers that drew in paying crowds. Barnum’s harem girls enhanced their hair with beer to create a farfetched “Afro” look.
This was not the kind of Circassian girl alleged by a “yellow journalist” to have been bestowed to Lew Wallace in Turkey. On the eve of his return to America, the General tried to clear things up with the press. The Indianapolis Journal carried this twist in the story on June 30, 1884:
The website of the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum in Crawfordsville gives a slightly different perspective altogether:
As his tour of duty as envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to the Ottoman Empire came to an end in 1884, Lew Wallace was offered a number of gifts from his friend, Sultan Abdul Hamid II. These included Arabian horses, jewels, and works of art. As a representative of the government of the United States, Wallace graciously declined these expressions of friendship and gratitude. According to legend, as Wallace closed his office and packed his residence, the Sultan was able to secretly include the painting called The Turkish Princess, some elaborate carpets and a few other items in the shipping crates. The crates were delivered to Crawfordsville before Lew and Susan returned home. These items sent by the Sultan remained undiscovered by Wallace until he was back in Crawfordsville and opened the crates. The Turkish Princess, said to be one of the Sultan’s daughters, remains one of the highlights of the Study.
Wallace’s biographers Robert and Katharine Morsberger add a further note: “Malicious gossip-mongers claimed that the sultan had also provided Wallace a Circassian slave girl for his carnal pleasures and commiserated with Susan Wallace on her husband’s alleged concubine. Both the sultan and the American minister had too much honor and mutual respect for such an arrangement.”
Nature lover, friend of dogs and underdogs, journalistic joker, and shooter-up of men he considered his enemies, George C. Harding once edited newspapers from Cincinnati to Houston but was always most connected with the Indianapolis Journal and the Indianapolis Herald, which he edited in the 1870’s. Part Mark Twain, part Ambrose Bierce, part proverbial “man gone postal,” Harding was called “the most picturesque man in Indianapolis journalism” by city historian J.P. Dunn.
Since he wielded a pistol several times in the capitol city and may have suffered from a mental illness, it’s hard to know exactly how to see him today. But since he’s also been mostly forgotten, here’s a bit of his story.
Born in Clinton, Tennessee, in 1830 to a family of thirteen kids, the future editor of the Indianapolis Journal lived in Knoxville until age seven. In 1837, the family moved to Edgar County, Illinois, where his father, Jacob J. Harding, eventually edited the Prairie Beacon in Paris, twenty miles west of Terre Haute, Indiana. At fourteen, Harding ran away to St. Louis, but came back “penniless and disheartened” and probably worked in a brick factory.
A long obituary published in the Indiana State Sentinel in 1881 says that “When about fifteen or sixteen years of age [Harding] went to Terre Haute and learned the printing art in the office of the Terre Haute Express.” When the Mexican War broke out, he enlisted as a private but got sick (either in St. Louis or New Orleans) and never made it to Mexico. Around 1848, he was co-editing his father’s paper just over the Illinois state line.
George Orwell famously said in 1946 that “Bad writers – especially scientific, political, and sociological writers – are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones.” When the Indiana State Sentinel published a piece that praised Harding for shooting the alleged seducer of his teenage daughter Flora in 1874, the paper curried public sympathy by praising everything about the man. “His letters at this time, written in strong, sensible, and positive Anglo Saxon,” it said, reminiscing on Harding’s early days in the news business, “without redundancy, attracted considerable attention among readers of the Beacon.”
In the 1850s, he grew restless and floated down the Mississippi to New Orleans, where he may have gotten work as a newspaper correspondent for the Cincinnati Commercial. Before the Civil War, Harding also edited the Courier in Charleston, Illinois, founded the Coles County Ledger in Mattoon, and did editorial work for papers in Louisville, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Houston.
During the Civil War, the itinerant news man served as Lieutenant in the 1st Indiana Heavy Artillery, the so-called “Jackass Regiment.” (The name came from the Hoosier regiment’s use of mules to haul cannon and supplies.) He saw action at the Battle of Baton Rouge and Port Hudson, Louisiana, before being captured by Confederate cavalry, allegedly while stumbling drunk over a fence. While held as a POW at New Iberia, Louisiana, Harding and two other Indiana captives drank from gourd cups and used ox-shoulders as silverware. Because he had given his word of honor not to attempt an escape, he was freed during a prisoner exchange at Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1863.
(Harding served with “The Jackass Regiment” in Louisiana.)
Harding’s knife-sharp prose is best when he’s telling the hard truth, though he could occasionally flip on the sentimentality switch if he had to, to sell papers.
One of the best things to come from his pen is this priceless description of U.S. Grant reviewing new recruits in Mattoon, Illinois, in 1861. Watching Grant inspect the dirty “ragamuffins,” who “looked as if they had been run down with hounds in the wilds of Effingham County,” Harding found it hard to escape “the infernal odor of cabbage [wafting] right into my face” as the slovenly, smelly commander (not yet a famous general) smoked a cigar. Originally published in the Indianapolis Mirror, the passage was syndicated in the Memphis Public Ledger in 1869, a paper Harding had connections with. The passage reads like something his fellow Hoosier, the cynical skeptic of war Ambrose Bierce, might have written. (Bierce grew up in Warsaw and Elkhart.)
Resigning his lieutenancy in 1864, Harding took an editorial position for six months on the New Orleans Times and the True Delta. Some of what he wrote down South was reprinted after his death, including a humorous piece called “Duck Shooting in Louisiana.” At war’s end, he came north to Cincinnati to work on the staff of the Commercial, then moved to Indianapolis. Several dailies and weeklies that he wrote for or edited after the war include the Mirror, the Journal, the Saturday Herald, and the Sentinel.
Historian J.P. Dunn said that “Harding’s great forte was as a paragrapher. . . The public really enjoyed seeing a victim squirm when he gigged him.” He often attacked public figures whom he considered a fraud. The Rev. Myron Reed, who delivered his eulogy at Central Avenue Methodist Church in 1881, said: “Every abuser of money or official power, every masked man, every man who writes anonymous letters, will sleep more peacefully tonight because George Harding is dead.”
Yet the popular editor published several fraudulent stories on purpose as practical jokes, as George S. Cottman remembered in a 1922 op-ed piece on famous Hoosier hoaxes.
“Many remember the Charley Ross abduction, which took place on July 1, 1874,” Cottman wrote, referring to a famous Philadelphia kidnapping that was never solved. (Dunn called the ensuing hoax Harding pulled off “a very plausibly written story.”)
Nearly two years later, or, to be exact, on April 1, 1876, there appeared in the Indianapolis Saturday Herald, edited by George C. Harding, a three-column article with this heading sensationally arranged in display type:
Charley Ross, the long lost boy, recovered at last. He is found with Italian organ grinders on Potomac alley [in Indianapolis], dressed as a girl and called Telsla. How Detective Hollywood worked up the case. The father and the child at the Grand Hotel.
. . . As a consequence, within half an hour after the Herald appeared on the street, people began to throng the lobby of the Grand Hotel. The hotel clerks, overwhelmed with questions, were at first bewildered, then “tumbling” to the situation, hung a few placards about, displaying the simple legend, “April fool!”
(The Grand Hotel at the corner of Maryland and Illinois Streets, seen in 1889, witnessed one of the city’s great April Fool’s jokes. Today, this is the site of Circle Centre Mall. )
Harding himself was hoaxed by a fake space rock in 1879, as told in Wednesday’s post.
Whether the meteorite really killed a farmer named Grover or not, Harding himself tried to kill several men in the 1870s.
In 1879, he got into a hot mudslinging dispute with Calvin A. Light, a radical leader of the Knights of Labor and editor of a rival newspaper called The Democrat. (Light had played a big role in the Railroad Strike of 1877.) As Dunn put it, “Harding took an intense dislike to Light, and on one occasion ordered him out of the Herald office — with variations. . . On May 4, he went to Light’s house and tried to shoot him, but after one ineffective shot, was dragged away by neighbors. The next day he went to The Democrat office and shot at Light three times, but only succeeded in wounding a printer named Lizius. He was duly arrested and tried, and got off on a plea of insanity.“
In 1917, a writer named David Gibson remembered another shooting, or mixed up two shootings entirely, claiming that Harding also once shot at Sol Hathaway, editor of the “spicy”Independent. In the midst of a raving editorial feud, “Harding printed an item in the paper alluding to Hathaway as ‘the long-nosed dead beat editor that loafed about hotel lobbies and slipped into the dining room when the manager was not looking.'” As Gibson narrated it in a trade magazine, The Inland Printer:
Hathaway responded with a series of buck type interrogations, for in those days you could evade libel in Indiana by putting a charge in the form of a question. . .
The following Friday, Hathway was seated in his office at an old cherry desk with a flap that let down in front, with his back to the door, which certainly was a breach of the most ordinary editorial precaution.
Suddenly the door opened. Harding appeared in a “beastly state of intoxication” and began showering the place with bullets as big as birds’ eggs from an army horse-pistol. Hathaway jumped under the imposing table at the first shot. Two printers, setting type at the front of the room, leaped out the open windows at their sides, lit on an awning over an undertaking establishment and rolled off onto the roof of a hearse that was standing at the curb. The horses of the hearse proceeded to run away and started a stampede of other horses.
Gibson made the claim (I haven’t been able to verify this) that one of Harding’s bullets grazed a printing machine with type ready to go to press. Later on, Hathaway “set up in large Gothic type an account of the affray, tore out a lot of type paralleling the furrow and set in two brass rules and a line of type: ‘The track of the would-be assassin’s bullet!'” Harding kicked the Independent’s editor down the stairs, but Hathaway survived. He committed suicide in 1911, aged eighty-two.
Five years before his assault on labor leader Calvin Light, a tragic suicide had driven George Harding to his most celebrated shooting. Perhaps he was, in fact, mentally insane, but the family tragedy that drove him to seek revenge was very real, and his gun was aimed at another man named Sol.
In 1874, Solomon Moritz was a 36-year-old merchant tailor in Indianapolis. Born in Germany, he emigrated to Cincinnati at about age fifteen, then moved to Indiana in 1868. The Sentinel wrote that “Mr. Moritz is well known in the city, and is one of the most prominent of the Jewish citizens of Indianapolis.”
A version of the events published in the Daily Record of the Times in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, says of Harding and Moritz:
These gentlemen have been warm friends and very intimate in their social relations. Moritz, who is a Hebrew, aged about forty years and married, took advantage of this intimacy and succeeded in seducing Harding’s daughter, who is about eighteen years of age. This was accomplished last March, and improper relations have been maintained by the parties since that time. . . Mrs. Harding, [the girl’s stepmother] has stated that Moritz had also made improper proposals to her.
Flora Harding, the editor’s eighteen-year-old daughter, was a talented writer and translator who taught German in the Seventh Ward district school. “During the absence of her father to the Hot Springs [Arkansas?], she filled the editorial chair and most ably,” said the Sentinel.
Flora probably also suffered from lifelong depression and feared the ruin of her reputation. If Moritz had in fact taken advantage of her, she would likely have become an outcast in those days of a strict female “honor” code.
On August 20, Harding’s daughter poisoned herself by taking “twenty-four grains of opium.” Death was a few hours coming, and her father discovered her in her bedroom before she died. She confessed to him that she had been having sex with Solomon Moritz. Then, as he wrote in a tribute in his newspaper, “two great tears came from the filmy eyes and rolled over the face, across which was stealing the shadow of the Death Angel.”
She often jested on the subject of suicide, and, on one occasion, being reproved and told that God frowned on self-murder, she said, “Papa, I am not afraid of God.”
While walking to get a doctor, at about 1:30 in the afternoon Harding met Moritz “at the junction of New Jersey and Vermont Streets with Massachusetts Avenue.”
“Mr. Moritz’s first exclamation was ‘George, what are you doing here?’ Mr. Harding made no answer, but pulling out a pistol, began firing at Mr. Moritz.”
Harding chased Moritz up Vermont Street, toward an alley behind Roberts Park Methodist Church, sinking two bullets into him, and tried to get in two more, “the blood meanwhile flowing from [Moritz’s] mouth and nose.” Luckily for his target, Harding’s fourth shot jammed his revolver and the alleged seducer escaped by hailing a wagon. (Moritz supposedly lost an arm, but lived to see Harding go on trial. When questioned by police, he denied that he had seduced Flora, instead blaming “a Jew liquor dealer on South Meridian.”)
Though the bereaved gunman was taken to jail that night, public opinion was overwhelmingly in his favor. When Harding went to trial, one of his lawyers, Major Jonathan W. Gordon (profiled on this blog during his grave-robbing days), defended Harding on the basis of common law.
The whole community have fully approved and justified the act for which my friend Harding stands indicted. . . It is the common law of the West, and, indeed of the whole country, that he who seduces an innocent female
MAY BE SLAIN
by her father, brother, or husband with impunity, and in the case at bar the grand jury have, in effect, already said so by returning a bill of indictment for a simple assault and battery.
Harding was acquitted, and as the judge announced the verdict, “the pent up feeling of the large crowd broke forth in applause, which was both loud and protracted.” Perhaps this free pass from the state criminal court made the editor consider other public shootings in the future.
In 1880, Harding moved to Minnesota, where he had bought the Lanesboro Journal. But “his active brain required more scope,” says the Fillmore County history. Tragically, in May 1881 George C. Harding had an odd death back in Indianapolis.
Dead! How suddenly he went out! Two weeks ago last Wednesday, he was walking along a street in Indianapolis, and stepped aside to allow some ladies to pass. He stepped on a cellar grating, just as a man was raising it. His right foot went into the opening, and the flesh of his leg was cut to the bone. He died at six o’clock last Sunday morning, of congestion of the brain and blood poisoning, resulting from the accident.
In the death of George C. Harding, Indiana journalism has lost one of its oldest, most familiar and rarely original characters. . . We know of no one who can take up the pen which Harding has dropped, never to pick up again. . .
Dying at the age of 51, his life was cut off in the very midst of his powers. . . there is not another George C. Harding any more than there is another Charles Dickens.
While tucked away virtuously in bed at his farmhouse one winter night, according to a hair-raising story from 1879, an old man in the Wabash Valley was literally blown to pieces by a cascading meteorite.
Twelve years later, the editors of the Indianapolis Journal were still getting mail about this widely-syndicated news piece, so they decided to publish a flashback. Here’s an excerpt from the 1891 article:
It was in January 1879 that a special telegraphic dispatch came to the Indianapolis Journal describing the fall of a meteorite near Attica, Fountain County, a large stone of unknown composition that, whirling through space, came crashing through the roof of the farmhouse of Leonidas Glover, a widower, who lived alone. The meteorite [struck Glover], who was in bed, supposedly asleep, and horribly mutilating him, continued its course and buried itself in the earth beneath the house. Of course the lonely widower was instantly killed, and when the neighbors the following morning discovered the remains, there was great excitement, all of which was given in harrowing detail in the dispatch.
Due to the juiciness of the 1879 storyteller’s technique, let’s look at the original tale itself.
The killer Fountain County meteorite made the rounds of many American newspapers, going viral in those early days of syndication. A “Covington special” to the Indianapolis Journal relayed the original claim, but here’s a version as it appeared in the Tiffin Tribune of Tiffin, Ohio, on January 30, 1879.
Covington, Ind., Jan. 15. On Tuesday night last, Leonidas Grover, who resided in the vicinity of Newtown, Fountain county, met his death in a way that is probably without parallel in this or any other country. Mr. Grover was a widower living on his farm with a married daughter and her husband. On the evening referred to, the married couple had been absent on a visit to some neighbors, and upon returning at a late hour, entered the house, finding everything, to all appearances, in usual order, and supposing that Mr. Grover had already retired, went to bed themselves.
Next morning the daughter arose, and having prepared breakfast, went to the adjoining room to call her father, and was horrified to find him lying upon his shattered bed, a mutilated corpse. Her screams brought the husband quickly to the bedroom and an inspection disclosed a ragged opening in the roof, directly over the breast of the unfortunate man, which was torn through as if by a cannon-shot, and extending downward through the bedding and floor: other holes showing the direction taken by the deadly missile. Subsequent search revealed the fact that the awful calamity was caused by the fall of a meteoric stone, and the stone itself pyramidal in shape and weighing twenty-two pounds and a few ounces, avoirdupois, and stained with blood, was unearthed from a depth of nearly five feet, thus showing the fearful impetus with which it struck the dwelling. The position of the corpse, with other surroundings, when found showed that the victim was asleep when stricken and that death, to him, was painless.
Despite the blatant tragedy of the scene, Hoosier scientists, especially geologists and sky-watchers, were enthralled and pounced on the report from Covington. But in 1891, the Indianapolis Journal had to tell the story all over again. The State Geologists in question here are Edward Travers Cox (1821-1907) and John Collett (1828-1899). Cox, who was educated in the communal school at New Harmony in his youth, was especially eager to verify the tale. (And with a name like “E.T.,” you’d expect him to be interested in things falling out of the sky) Collett, who grew up in the Wabash Valley and “probably [knew] more about Indiana than anybody within her borders,” was also extremely curious.
The Journal recalled:
The news stirred all the local scientists, and the State Geologist, Professor Cox, at once took measures to secure the meteorite. Maj. J.J. Palmer was dispatched to Fountain County with instructions to buy the stone, no matter what it might cost. Meantime the State Geologist was overwhelmed with letters inquiring about the meteorite and asking for all information possible regarding it.
The State Geologist wrote an exhaustive article on meteorites, leaving a hole in which to place the heavenly bowlder when Major Palmer should return with it. Professor J. Lawrence Smith was greatly interested in the matter, and it was understood that he was willing to give $500 for it.
Were E.T. Cox and John Collett aware of earlier claims about celestial debris causing human fatalities? Before brushing all this off as hare-brained folklore, there were plenty of such stories.
A study by students at Oberlin College has turned up reports from many centuries about deadly stones dropping down from space and striking humans dead. In China in the year 588, there were “10 deaths; siege towers destroyed.” The study’s website, should we be able to trust it, also mentions this phenomenally horrible event:
The most incredible Chinese report is that of the Chiing-yang Meteorite Shower of 1490. Supposedly, tens of thousands of people were killed during the shower in the Shansi province. Yau, et al., tell us that ‘[t]he Chíing-yang incident seems rather implausible in terms of the total number of casualties and the narrow size distribution of the meteorite fragments,’ but they also point out its similarities to the Tunguska event, which would have devastated a populated area. [This was the asteroid that devastated Siberia in 1908. If it had struck a more settled area, millions of people might have been killed.]
Also included on the study’s list: “01/14/1879, Newtown, Indiana, USA – Man killed in bed.”
A more recent story about a meteorite strike comes from the American South, where stars really did fall on Alabama. On November 30, 1954, Ann E. Hodges was napping on the couch when she thought a gas heater exploded in her house, then saw a grapefruit-sized rock on the floor, a busted radio, and a bad mark on her hip. Her neighbors reported a fireball and thought an airplane had crashed. The eight-pound rock that careened into her living room in Sylacauga, Alabama, was later examined by Air Force Intelligence and confirmed as a meteorite. Hodges was profiled in Life Magazine that year. According to the Decatur (Tenn.) Daily News, a lawyer from Indianapolis purchased the “Hodges Meteorite” and sold it to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., where it still resides, the only space rock ever confirmed to have hit a human.
Unfortunately, as far as anyone can tell, the whole Fountain County tragedy was a big hoax and Indiana’s best scientists were put on a wild-goose chase.
When [Major Palmer] returned [to Indianapolis] he reported that he could find no one in Fountain County who knew Leonidas Glover, widower; there was no demolished roof, no desolated household, no hole in the ground.
A demand went up from the scientific world for the impious wretch or wretches who had hoaxed them. But the practical jokers took council of their fears and kept quiet until the storm of scientific wrath had passed by. It then leaked out that the hoaxers were two young men of Crawfordsville, one of them a newspaper man. It may be said that one of these, the newspaper man, was sufficiently punished for his connection with the affair. He lost caste in his profession, and it took him several years to regain the confidence he had lost as an honest chronicler of the news.
I’m indebted to Chris Woodyard over in Dayton, Ohio, whose amazing Haunted Ohio blog first brought this story to my attention. Woodyard cites the historian Jacob Piatt Dunn, who was accused of concocting the hoax himself. Dunn recalled that when Major Palmer realized the Glover/Grover meteorite was a myth, he decided to “keep up the joke” at the expense of E.T. Cox and John Collett. Dunn wrote:
[Palmer] secured a cobble-stone of appropriate size and colored it with black and red ink [to simulate blood]; also a rustic photograph which served for a portrait of the mythical Grover; and prepared plans of the non-existent house showing the course of the imaginary aerolite; all of which he put on exhibition in Joe Perry’s drugstore, then at the northwest corner of Pennsylvania and Washington streets, where they were viewed by wondering hundreds. Perhaps the most notable result was that the story was reproduced by Alexander Winchell, the noted geologist, in one of his scientific works.
Woodyard added that “In 1880 John Collett, who had succeeded Cox as State Geologist, was besieged by people asking to see the meteor. So he asked Palmer to bring the stone to the state museum where it was displayed for many years as a genuine man-killing meteor. It seems to have been quietly taken off exhibition after Collett left office.”
George S. Cottman wrote about the bogus shooting star in the Indianapolis News on August 19, 1922. He agreed that Major Palmer put it “on exhibition in the window of a Washington Street store, where thousands gaped at it and felt impressed by the strange fate of Leonidas Grover.”
Chris Woodyard doesn’t know the whereabouts of Palmer’s fake stone, and neither do I. But George C. Harding, editor of the Indianapolis Journal in 1879, probably wanted to know more about the location of the man who gave him the false news to begin with.
Harding (called “the most picturesque character that ever appeared in Indianapolis journalism”) had concocted a couple of false stories for the Journal himself, including one that very month about a hanged murderer who was revived from the dead at a medical college. But if he didn’t invent Farmer Leonidas Grover outright, Harding got his comeuppance. After putting a moralizing editorial in his newspaper about how death may strike us at any moment, he was forced to admit his own gullibility, writing this follow-up once he knew he’d been hoaxed:
We take it back in its totality. The death was not a phenomenal one. The aerolite did not come hurtling from the infinite depths of space. It did not tear a ragged opening through the roof of Mr. Grover’s house, nor did it crash through his breast. * * * He didn’t die. He didn’t get hurt. He didn’t even get frightened. He wasn’t there; he isn’t anywhere now, durn him! If Mr. Leonidas Grover ever should come into existence and get killed by an aerolite he will have to get someone else to write his obituary. . . We have precious little faith in thunderstones, anyhow. The audacious villain who invented the canard is an unmeasured fraud and an infinite liar. Hell gapes for him. The devil beckons to him with his hands and horns and tail. Eternal cremation with a brimstone accompaniment is his doom.
Four years after the end of the Civil War, Indianapolis, Indiana, was the unlikely destination of one of the nineteenth century’s most famous and daring archaeologists. Though he didn’t come here for a dig.
In 1869, just before setting off for Turkey, where he astounded the world by excavating the long-lost city of Troy (so lost that most experts thought it was mythic), Heinrich Schliemann came to Indiana’s capitol city with an unusual goal: to get a divorce from his Russian wife, who lived on the other side of the globe.
On December 28, 1890, two days after he died in Naples, Italy, as other papers were running routine obituaries of the now world-famous man, the Indianapolis Journal put together a unique tribute: “Schliemann in This City: The Distinguished Archaeologist Had His Home for a Time on Noble Street.”
The Journal article was based mostly on interviews with two of Indianapolis’ most prominent Germans, who had known Schliemann during his short stay here. Adolph Seidensticker was the well-respected editor of the Indiana Volksblatt, at a time when probably a quarter of the city’s newspaper readers still got their news auf Deutsch. Herman Lieber was a prosperous frame merchant, art dealer, and soon one of the founders of Das Deutsche Haus, the center of German life here in the 1890s. (When the U.S. went to war against Germany in World War I, the unpatriotically-named building was renamed “The Athenaeum.”) Lieber’s nephew, conservationist Richard Lieber, was a reporter for the German-language Indiana Tribüne and later founded the Indiana state park system, saving Turkey Run and McCormick’s Creek from the lumberman’s axe.
When Heinrich Schliemann — obsessed with dreams of Achilles, Agamemnon and the ten-year siege of Troy — showed up in the Greek-sounding town of Indianapolis in April 1869, the place was remarkably German. Lockerbie Square was often called “Germantown.” In that neighborhood especially, Schliemann would have found a thriving cultural mix of radical German freethinkers, refugees from the failed 1848 revolutions, and “confessional” Lutherans who left Germany to avoid government meddling with their worship.
But as Herman Lieber recalled, Schliemann wasn’t yet a famous archaeologist. “He was not then recognized as a great person. He was a very entertaining talker and excellent company. If it had been suspected that he would ever be such a lion he would certainly have received greater attention.”
Schliemann’s unusual and rather odd story up to 1869 is worth a quick retelling:
Born in a port town on the Baltic in 1822, the future archaeologist grew up in the duchy of Mecklenburg, which later became part of East Germany. His father was a Lutheran minister. His mother reviewed books, including Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In his memoirs, Schliemann claimed that his minister father, who was soon chucked out of his church for mishandling funds, read him long passages from Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad as a boy, cultivating a fertile imagination. (Elsewhere he claims that he took an interest in Homer when he heard a drunken man recite part of the Greek epics in a grocer’s store where he worked as a teenager.) If we can trust his memoirs, by age eight Schliemann vowed to find the lost Trojan capital.
But with his family sunk in poverty, the fourteen-year-old was forced to drop out of school. At nineteen, bound for Venezuela as a cabin boy on the German steamer Dorothea, Schliemann was shipwrecked off the Dutch coast. Stranded in Amsterdam, he went to work for an import business, becoming the firm’s agent in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1846. It was then that his renowned aptitude for mastering languages took off.
Adolph Seidensticker, who himself ran a German paper in a mostly English-speaking town and helped found a bilingual school, said of Schliemann: “He spoke when here [in Indianapolis] nine different languages fluently.” (Schliemann claimed to be able to learn a new language in six weeks, eventually learning even Turkish and Arabic.)
Seidensticker also remarked that the man’s amazing linguistic skills helped him rise out of poverty.
His rise to fortune was based to some extent on his knowledge of the Russian language. . . It seems the person having in charge the Russian correspondence of the [merchant house in Holland] having died suddenly, and they were in a quandary as to how to supply his place, Schliemann volunteered his services, but he was looked on with suspicion until he went to work with the correspondence, and showed them that he had really mastered the language.
Hearing of the death of his brother Ludwig, who had struck it rich as a Forty-Niner in the California Gold Rush, he left Russia and sailed for the West Coast. Like his brother, Schliemann made a small fortune speculating in gold dust, enough to open a bank in Sacramento in 1851. Crucially, for the later divorce proceedings that brought him to Indianapolis, Schliemann became an American citizen in California.
Now a wealthy man, in 1852 he abandoned Sacramento and went back to Russia, where he married a woman named Ekaterina Lyschin. The couple eventually had three children. Growing even richer in the indigo and coffee trade, he made enough money to corner the market on ammunition and gunpowder during the Crimean War, selling military goods to the Russian government as it fought against the British, French, and Turks. Schliemann effectively retired from business in 1858, aged only thirty-six.
His trip to Indiana actually begins in Tsarist Russia. His work as a war contractor in the Crimea and a Grand Tour of Asia took him away from his family in St. Petersburg. So did his growing obsession with finding the location of Homer’s Iliad. Ekaterina didn’t share his passion for the Greek epics and refused to uproot her children and move to Paris, where Schliemann was studying at the Sorbonne and speculating in real estate. As Seidensticker told the Journal reporter:
She was a Russian lady. . . He did not, for some reason, feel quite at home in Russia, and endeavored to persuade her to live elsewhere on the continent of Europe, but she would not consent. I think that she had three children by him. She was a devoted member of the Greek Church, and would not leave Russia because she wished to bring them up as orthodox Russians.
The marriage was a failure. Though divorce was occasionally permitted by the Orthodox Church, in Russia it was scandalous and rare. Schliemann, however, had the advantage of being an American citizen. He even took an active role in a bitter debate then raging in the U.S. about legalizing divorce.
Reno, Nevada, is known today as the world capital of the “quickie divorce.” But in 1869, it was Indianapolis. As Glenda Riley writes in her fascinating book Divorce: An American Tradition, Hoosier politicians had unwittingly turned Indiana into a notorious “freewheeling divorce mill” in the 1850s.
When legislators began writing a new state constitution in 1850, Indiana began its quick “rise to notoriety.” As Riley put it, “the state’s divorce laws reportedly attracted huge numbers of migratory divorce seekers. Public alarm became evident as dramatic reports described the Hoosier State as a divorce mecca, churning out easy divorces to people from stricter states with little regard for long-term consequences to spouses and children.”
Though generally treated as anathema by most Americans, divorce had long been permissible under Indiana law, but only in cases of “bigamy, impotency, and adultery” and if a spouse had shown “extreme cruelty.” Yet only about a hundred divorces were prosecuted in Indiana from 1807-1840. The laws of the 1850s caused a drastic spike in the divorce rate, mostly due to out-of-staters coming here to take advantage of the courts.
An 1858 editorial in the Indianapolis Daily Journal lamented that every railroad depot in the state was crowded with “divorce hunting men and women.” A District Recorder wrote to a New Yorker that he feared the new Indiana laws “shall exhaust the marriages of New York and Massachusetts.” William Dean Howells, a bestselling American novelist in the 1870s, spun the plot of his novel A Modern Instance around an out-of-state case rammed through Hoosier divorce court. The villain was a lecherous husband.
In November 1858, the Terre Haute Daily Unionlambasted the divorce reformers. “The members of the Legislature who passed the odious and contemptible divorce law that now stands recorded on our Statute, have certainly procured their divorces long since (for, no doubt, it was intended to especially meet their cases,) and we hope and trust the coming session will blot it out. We do not wish to see Indiana made the rendezvous for libertines from all parts of the Union.”
As proof that Indiana was being made a mockery of, the Daily Union reprinted a clip from the Albany Argus in upstate New York.
New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley fulminated against the reforms in several open letters exchanged with social reformer and Hoosier statesman Robert Dale Owen. Greeley, a liberal and Universalist, opposed divorce on the grounds of protecting women’s rights and Biblical teachings. He called Indiana “a paradise of free-lovers” and published the following anecdote:
The paradise of free-lovers is the State of Indiana, where the lax principles of Robert Dale Owen, and the utter want of principle of John Pettit (leading revisers of the laws), combined to establish, some years since, a state of law which enables men and women to get unmarried nearly at pleasure. A legal friend in that State recently remarked to us, that, at one County Court, he obtained eleven divorces one day before dinner; “and it wasn’t a good morning for divorces either.” In one case within his knowledge, a prominent citizen of an Eastern manufacturing city came to Indiana, went through the usual routine, obtained his divorce about dinner-time, and, in the course of the evening was married to his new inamorata, who had come on for the purpose, and was staying at the same hotel with him. They soon started for home, having no more use for the State of Indiana; and, on arriving, he introduced his new wife to her astonished predecessor, whom he notified that she must pack up and go, as there was no room for her in that house any longer. So she went.
Robert Dale Owen, too, had women’s rights in mind when he advocated for legalizing divorce, arguing the immorality of binding a woman to a “habitual drunkard,” a “miserable loafer and sot,” or a wife-beater merely because of the “vows and promises of a scoundrel.” Of bad husbands, Owen wrote frankly: “He has the command of torments, legally permitted, far beyond those of the lash. That bedchamber is his, and the bed is the beast’s own lair,” presumably a reference to spousal rape. “God forgive you, Horace Greeley, the inhuman sentiment!”
Amazingly, Heinrich Schliemann, who was already digging for Troy in Turkey, took a steamer over the Atlantic in his hunt for an “Indiana copper bottom divorce,” as the Terre Haute Weekly Gazette lampooned in 1877.
Several big reasons probably drove the “Dr.” here. Ekaterina — called “Catherine” in Indiana documents — was still in Russia and wasn’t likely to show up in Indiana to stop him. His American citizenship, acquired in 1851, required that he go to an American court. And he believed, probably rightly, that his work at Troy in the Ottoman Empire (traditional enemy of Russia) would be easier if he wasn’t married to a Russian.
Schliemann checked into an Indianapolis hotel and filed a divorce petition in the Marion County Common Pleas Court, hiring three lawyers. One of his lawyers was Adolph Seidensticker, editor of the Indiana Volksblatt. To convince Judge Solomon Blair of his honorable intention to stay in town, the wealthy Schliemann bought an interest in the Union Starch Company and a small house at 22 N. Noble Street. (Today, this is roughly the site of Harrison College, just west of the railroad bridge that crosses East Washington Street.) The Indianapolis Journal also claims that Schliemann owned a plot of land “on the west side of South Illinois Street, just north of Ray Street.” (Incredibly, this is directly behind the Greek Islands Restaurant on S. Meridian, and may have included the parking lot of Shapiro’s Deli. The naturalist John Muir was temporarily blinded in an accident at a carriage factory two blocks north of here in 1866.)
In a letter to his cousin Adolph, Schliemann wrote on April 11, “I have a black servant and a black cook, half of Indian and half of Negro blood…”
In another letter to his family also dated April 11, he writes: “The cook reads 3 large newspapers daily and is completely versed in the politics, history and geography of the country and may this give you an idea of the education of the people here, when you consider that in the entire state of Indiana there is not yet a single school for colored people (descendants of Negroes)…” About his female cook, though, he complained: “[she] gave away my fine cigars to her lovers and wasted the money I gave her for the little household in the most wanton way.”
Schliemann was impressed with the Indianapolis Germans:
As everywhere in America, so here, too, Germans are greatly respected for their industry and assiduity as well as their solidity, and I cannot think back without alarm of Russia where the foreigner, and the German in particular, is despised because he is not a Russian.
One aspect of life in the city didn’t find favor with him, though. His diary entry for June 1, 1869, reads: “The most disagreeable thing here is the Sabbath-law, by which it is prohibited to grocers, barbers and even to bakers to open their shops on Sundays.”
Probably looked at as an odd character, Schliemann took his early morning baths in the White River: “I have been bathing here in the river for more than a month but it appears there is no other amateur but me for early bathing.” Then he added: “There are no Coffeehouses here.”
He mentioned the effects of the Civil War everywhere: “One meets here at every step men with only one arm or one leg and sometimes even such whose both legs are amputated. I saw even one whose both legs were amputated close to the abdomen. The disabled soldiers of this State come here to the Capital to receive their pensions and this accounts for the numberless lame men.”
Schliemann gave a speech in English at the Indiana Statehouse in support of divorce. Later on, he described the legislature in his diary, “After all I am very glad to have got an insight into the doings of these people’s legislative assemblies, which present Democracy in all its roughness and nudity, with all its party spirit and facility to yield to lateral influences, with all its licentiousness. I often saw them throwing paper-balls at each other and even at the speaker.”
The Marion County court received perjured testimony that Schliemann was a resident of the United States. He also presented letters from his wife, written in Russian, with his divorce petition.
In one letter, Ekaterina wrote from St. Petersburg, “The sole and only reason of all our disagreement is that you desire I should leave Russia and join you in America. But this I most decidedly decline and refuse to do and I assure you with an oath, that for nothing in the world I shall ever leave Russia and that I would sooner die than live together with you in a foreign country.”
In another, dated December 31, 1868, she asserted: “Infinitely better is it that Sergius should finish his education in St. Petersburg. At the age of 13 one cannot send him from one country to the other without doing injury to his whole being; he would thus never get accustomed to one country. Irrevocably he would lose the love for his mother country.”
And on February 16, 1869, she wrote this: “You demand that I should prevail upon my children to [leave my mother country] and that I should deprive them of the great blessing to be educated in the orthodox religion . . . I have [not] sought for pleasure, being always contented with my family circle. Whether my children will be rich heirs or not, that only God knows.”
On June 30, 1869, once Judge Blair was convinced that the petitioner’s wife and young children in Russia were provided for, the marriage of “Henry and Catherine Schliemann” was annulled. Schliemann had tricked the court. Like almost everybody who came out for an “Indiana divorce,” he abandoned the state a few weeks later. (Seidensticker remembered: “He did not seem to be much impressed with Indianapolis.”)
Surprisingly, the case quickly returned to Indiana courts. Ekaterina Schliemann sued from St. Petersburg and tried to nullify the Indiana judge’s ruling. Seidensticker and Schliemann’s other attorneys had a hard time validating their client’s Indiana residency, since he had abandoned the state and moved to Athens, Greece, where he had already taken out a newspaper ad for a new bride. (Schliemann wanted a wife who could serve as an archaeological assistant. He found 17-year-old Sophia Engastromenos, a niece of the Orthodox Archbishop of Athens. Despite a 30-year age difference, the couple were quickly married in September 1869, two months after Schliemann sped away from Indianapolis. They had two children together, Andromache and Agamemnon. Agamemnon Schliemann, who was baptized while his father read from a copy of the Iliad over his head, became the Greek ambassador to the U.S. in 1914.)
Partly freeloading off the archaeological digs of Frank Calvert, U.S. consul in Turkey and the real discoverer of Troy, Schliemann began his rise to fame in 1871. He later unearthed Mycenae in the Peloponnesus. (The finds at Hissarlik, reputed to be Troy, were both disputed and celebrated in Indiana papers.) Schliemann smuggled a load of ancient Trojan gold out of Turkey in 1874. “Priam’s Gold” was first housed in Berlin, then stolen by the Red Army in 1945. Today it is in Russia. A 1902 article in The Philistine regretted that “His Trojan treasures were presented to Berlin. Had Schliemann given his priceless finds to Indianapolis, it would have made that city a Sacred Mecca.”
In 1889, a year before his death, the archaeologist drew up a will. Called the “Last Testament of a Millionaire savant” by the Indianapolis Journal in September 1891, it was sent to C.E. Coffin & Co. from Odessa, Russia. Written in Greek, an original copy of Schliemann’s certified will is on file at the Marion County Probate Court in the basement of the City-County Building in Indianapolis, where, twenty years after his only known visit to the city, he still claimed legal residency.
A typed translation can be found at the State Library. To his Russian daughter Nadezhda, the archaeologist left property at 161 Buchanan Street. The address no longer exists, but was just north of what is now I-70 and is part of Eli Lilly’s downtown campus near Fountain Square. Nadezhda also got a house at “No. 6 Rue de Calais near Rue Blanche in Paris” and fifty-thousand francs in gold.
Schliemann hurriedly married his second wife, 17-year-old Sophia Engastromenos, in Athens, just months after his divorce was finalized in Indianapolis. Around 1874, she was photographed wearing the “Jewels of Helen,” which her husband claimed to have discovered in the ruins of Troy. Sophia died in 1932.
In 1825, Indiana state printer John Douglass relocated with the state capital from Corydon to Indianapolis, then a town with less than 1,000 residents. Douglass had previously published the short-lived Madison (IN) Western Clarion, and upon arriving in Indianapolis purchased a share of the Western Censor and Emigrants Guide. Douglass and his partner, Douglass Maguire, changed the name to the Indiana Journal, and produced their first issue on January 11, 1825. The anti-Jacksonian publishers advocated for government sponsored internal improvements and protective tariffs that would aid Indiana’s agricultural economy. These political positions led the Journal to align with the emerging Whig Party in the 1830s.
Beginning in 1839 the publishers increased and varied the Journal’spublication frequency based upon when the Indiana General Assembly convened; what had hitherto been a weekly edition, became semi-weekly, tri-weekly, and daily at different times from 1839-1851 to accommodate more state legislative news. In 1840, Douglass and his new partner, Samuel V. B. Noel, also issued a campaign newspaper, the Spirit of ’76, which supported former Indiana Territorial Governor William Henry Harrison’s Whig candidacy for President of the United States. After eighteen years operating the Journal, Douglass sold his interest to Noel in 1843. Noel only maintained sole ownership of the paper for two years, but during that time he changed the name of the paper to the Indiana State Journal, and he allowed Henry Ward Beecher to edit and issue the Indiana Farmer from the Journal’s presses.
John D. Defrees, former publisher of the Northwestern Pioneer and St. Joseph Intelligencer in South Bend, acquired the Journal in 1845 and operated it until 1854. Defrees continued the Journal as a Whig organ, and the paper’s editorials criticizing the Democratic administration’s conduct of the Mexican-American War echoed Whig rhetoric heard around the country. Defrees’s use of the Journal to spread Whig ideas made him an important Indiana political voice, and when the Whig Party collapsed in the early 1850s Defrees became an important leader in the fusionist movement that established the Republican Party in Indiana. Defrees also made several important changes to the Journal and Indiana journalism. He installed the city’s first steam driven printing press, expanded the page format from four to six columns, and introduced better quality illustrations. Defrees also conducted a fierce rivalry with the Democratic Indiana State Sentinel, and introduced Indianapolis’s first permanent daily, the Daily Indiana State Journal, one week before the Sentinel’s daily premieredin April 1851. The daily edition’s title changed to Indianapolis Morning Journal in 1853, the Indianapolis Daily Journal in 1854, and simply the Indianapolis Journal in 1867. The fledgling Indianapolis Locomotive, the brain-child of some Journal apprentices in 1845,demonstrated the reading public’s appetite for more local and society news. The Journal’s daily production schedule created room for local stories, and next day reporting.
One of the most important nineteenth-century Indiana journalists, Berry R. Sulgrove, joined the Journal in 1854 as editor. Sulgrove also wrote much local news copy. He acquired controlling interest in the Journal by 1856, and transitioned the Journal from Whig into the Republican camp. During the Civil War, Sulgrove penned strong Unionist editorials that supported the policies of President Abraham Lincoln and Governor Oliver P. Morton. During the war, the Journal’s daily circulation reached 6,000; for comparison the city’s pre-war population was 18,611.
Indiana had a bustling literary scene in the late 1800s, which was due in part to the Journal’s managing editor Elijah W. Halford’s advocacy and support of Hoosier authors. James Whitcomb Riley, the “Hoosier Poet,” greatly benefitted from Halford’s patronage. Riley published hundreds of poems and humor pieces in the Journal from 1877-1901, and also worked as a Journal reporter for few years.
In 1880, John C. New became Indiana’s Republican Party Chairman, and purchased the Journal. New’s greatest success as a political operative and a newspaper publisher was his advocacy of Benjamin Harrison for the Republican presidential nomination in 1888. New first suggested Harrison for president in 1884, and redoubled his efforts in 1888. He avidly promoted Harrison’s candidacy in Journal editorials, and distributed thousands of Journal issues among delegates at the Republican National Convention that subsequently nominated Harrison. The Journal’s role in Harrison’s nomination and subsequent election to the presidency elevated the newspaper’s national profile.
The increased profile, however, did not translate to better sales. In 1890, the Journal’s daily circulation of 8,263 was paltry compared to its competitors the Indianapolis News with 21,468 and the Sentinel with 15,800. In the late 1890s the Journal faced even more competition from yellow journalism that used sensational headlines to drive sales. The ever respectable Journal editors explained, “The Journal refuses to put itself on a level with the cheap papers flooding the country, and therefore appeals only to that class of reading public which wants the news presented in a decent and dignified manner.” The Journal managed to boost its daily circulation to a high in 1901 with 22,320, but in a city of 170,000 the News remained the leader with almost 50,000 daily issues in circulation. Three years later in June 1904, George McCulloch, publisher of the recently established Indianapolis Morning Star, purchased the Journal. McCulloch issued the paper as the Indianapolis Morning Star and Journal until October 26, 1904 when he dropped Journal from the title.