Tag Archives: military history

The Sultana: Titanic of the Mississippi

Sultana Explosion

When the “Grand Arsonist of the Republic,” General William Tecumseh Sherman, addressed a room full of cadets at Michigan Military Academy in 1879, he coined a famous anti-war quote. There are different versions of Sherman’s speech, where he chides young soldiers eager to find “glory” in carnage.  One goes like this:

I’ve been where you are now and I know just how you feel. It’s entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that some day you can use the skill you have acquired here.  Suppress it!  You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. I’ve been through two wars [the Mexican and the Civil] and I know. I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes.  I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies.  I tell you, war is Hell!

Like Hoosier writers Ambrose Bierce, who survived Shiloh, and Kurt Vonnegut, who witnessed the Dresden firebombing as a POW and helped pile civilian corpses onto crematory pyres in its aftermath, Sherman despised romantic images of war — written, he knew, by fools.  With his Catholic religious faith destroyed by what he’d seen in the Civil War, the general would have relished such anti-war movie classics as Cold MountainApocalypse Now, The English Patient and even (yes!) Jaws.  (Spielberg’s first major hit came out in June 1975, just two months after the Fall of Saigon brought the Vietnam War to a close, and carried a subtle anti-war message.)

History repeats itself in strange ways.  Take the famous, eerie monologue of Quint, the professional shark-hunter played by Robert Shaw in Jaws and partly modeled on the obsessed Captain Ahab. Quint’s chilling monologue, sometimes called “The Indianapolis Speech,” tells of how he sailed aboard the doomed USS Indianapolis in the last days of World War II.  On July 30, 1945, just after the vessel delivered the components of Little Boy — the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima — a Japanese torpedo sent the Indianapolis to the blue depths.  Out of 880 sailors who went into the water, over 500 died of hypothermia, starvation, dehydration and the scariest death of all: shark attacks.  World War II came to an end just two weeks later.


USS Indianapolis Survivor

(A USS Indianapolis survivor covered in oil and burns.)


Horrible as the loss of the Indianapolis was, it wasn’t the worst tragedy in American maritime history.  That event happened after a war was over, at 2:00 a.m. on April 27, 1865, when the wooden steamboat Sultana — loaded with exhausted, traumatized ex-POWs, many of them headed home to Indiana — exploded on the Mississippi River seven miles north of Memphis.  Most investigators and historians blame overheated boilers for the blast, but one tantalizing theory has it that the real culprit was a Confederate terrorist.  Other strange parallels evoke the loss of both the ill-fated Titanic and the Indianapolis.

The Sultana, built at John Litherbury’s boatyard in Cincinnati and launched on January 3, 1863, plied the Ohio and Mississippi during the worst days of the Civil War.  At a time when steamboats carried cargo and passengers faster and more comfortably than slow-moving trains, the Daily Evansville Journal kept track of riverboat passages.  Though Midwestern river towns feel abandoned today, in the 1860s they were teeming with life and activity.


Daily Evansville Journal, March 19, 1863

(Daily Evansville Journal, Evansville, Indiana, March 19, 1863.)


The Sultana mostly transported passengers and agricultural wares. Yet travel on the Mississippi River past Memphis had been cut off by the Civil War. Only when U.S. Navy gunboats helped capture that city in June 1862 did river travel start up again, finally brought back to life by the fall of Vicksburg on the Fourth of July, 1863, after an epic siege. That August, the Sultana carried furloughed soldiers north from Vicksburg.  But the wartime dangers of river travel weren’t over yet.  Nocturnal Confederate guerrillas shot at the steamboat near Waterproof, Louisiana, in December 1863.  Another boat traveling alongside it was hit with artillery shells and musket fire, provoking a Federal gunboat to fire indiscriminately into the dark woods.

On April 15, 1865, just days after the Civil War ended, the Sultana was docked in Cairo, Illinois.  Telegraph wires that morning were shooting out news from Washington, D.C. — Abraham Lincoln had died from a gunman’s wound at 7:22 a.m.  The Sultana’s captain, J. Cass Mason of St. Louis, knew that since wires had been cut all over the South, Southerners wouldn’t get the news of the assassination quickly, so he grabbed an armload of newspapers and headed for Vicksburg, arriving downstream a few days later.


Sultana at Helena, Arkansas, April 26, 1865

(English photographer T.W. Bankes took this photo of the overloaded Sultana when it docked near his portrait studio at Helena, Arkansas, on April 26, 1865.)


Vicksburg’s corrupt Union quartermaster, Lt. Col. Reuben Hatch, wanted to make Captain Mason a deal.  With the war over, the Federal government was offering steamboat captains $5 for each enlisted man and $10 per officer they agreed to take back north. With the South in ruins, even former Confederate soldiers from Kentucky and Tennessee found it easier to get home by going up the Mississippi to the Cumberland River, which flows into the Ohio across from southern Illinois.  Hatch and Mason agreed on a deal, whereby over 2,000 soldiers — mostly former Union POWs staying at a Vicksburg parole camp — would be carried back to their homes in the Midwest.  About two-thirds of them were from Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois, though others had served in Union regiments from Kentucky.  Captain Mason would have netted about $10,000, a small fortune.  Mason agreed to give Quartermaster Hatch a kickback.

The freed POWs waiting to go home had already experienced some of the worst conditions war can offer.  Most had been incarcerated at the notoriously cruel and unsanitary Confederate camps at Andersonville, Georgia, and Cahaba, Alabama, where Union POWs regularly suffered and died from diarrhea, exposure, scurvy, frostbite, dysentery, hookworm, and had to contend with abuse by prison guards and even dog attacks.  By the time they made it west to Vicksburg and onto the Sultana, many ex-POWs were still recovering from hunger, disease, PTSD, and physical exhaustion — and surely excruciating homesickness, as well.  Yet the worst was still to come.


Jackson Broshears, 65th Indiana Infanty

(Private Jackson Broshears, 65th Indiana Mounted Infantry, was the son of a French immigrant father and a mother from Tennessee. Imprisoned at Belle Isle POW camp in Richmond, Virginia, 20-year-old Private Broshears was nearly dead of starvation at his release in 1864.  He died that October and was buried at Newtonville in Spencer County.)


The Sultana had paddled down to New Orleans before returning to Vicksburg on April 24.  When it backed out of port, it carried about 2,100 ex-soldiers and civilians, alongside a few women and children traveling on the river.  Some of the women were serving with the United States Christian Commission, a medical relief organization that also provided religious literature to Union troops and helped army chaplains.

Passengers were crammed into virtually every open space on the boat, whose legal carrying capacity was just 376. Decks sagging under the weight even of emaciated men had to be supported with emergency beams.  Yet if Captain Mason could get his boat upriver safely, he was bound to strike it rich.

As the over-burdened boat chugged desperately north, it had to fight a huge spring flood on the Mississippi, which had burst the levees and spilled out for as much as five or six miles in some spots. The river, always treacherous to steamboats, had reached the canopy of trees along the banks and ran icy cold with snowmelt.  The weight  of the passengers caused the Sultana to roll from side to side, which probably caused hot spots in its boilers, as the water that produced steam to power the paddles and keep the boilers from exploding under heat and pressure sloshed back and forth and spilled out. Sudden pressure surges were probably the culprit of the explosion that came at 2:00 a.m. on April 27.


Lexington

(Steamboat fires and boiler explosions were the plane crashes of the 19th century.  The Lexington caught fire while crossing Long Island Sound in 1840, killing all but four of 143 people on board. Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow missed the boat in New York.)


The steamboat had just passed Memphis that night, where it unloaded a cargo of sugar.  Seven miles farther upriver, still fighting the massive current, the enormous blast occurred, followed by a fire that hit the coal and wood furnace boxes and rapidly turned the wooden Sultana into a blazing inferno.  Some thought lightning had struck the boat.

Passengers who weren’t thrown into the river were faced with a horrible choice:  burn to death, or fight for their lives in the frigid, raging Mississippi.

Weakened by incarceration, trauma and disease, many soldiers stood no chance.  They drowned or burned, or gave out to hypothermia while clinging to debris and fighting a brief struggle in the water.  The Tennessee and Arkansas riverbanks were hard to find, shrouded in darkness and high floodwaters. Survivors told of the stench of burning flesh coming off the boat.  Decomposing corpses would be found along more than a hundred miles of the river for months — including Captain Mason’s, who never made his fortune.  Bodies had to be picked out of trees as far south as Vicksburg.  Many victims were never found.


Evansville Daily Journal, May 11, 1865

(Evansville Daily Journal, May 11, 1865.)


When survivors and the dead began to float past Memphis, citizens and riverboat crews hurriedly paddled out in skiffs and recovered as many as they could.  (It is fascinating to reflect that labor activist Mother Jones, who lived in Memphis during the war, was probably a witness.)  The city hospitals filled up with men and the few women and children who were on board, victims of severe burns from steam and fire, exposure and hypothermia.  A large number of Hoosiers were among the wounded and dead.


Evansville Daily Journal, May 5, 1865 (7)

(The list of men admitted to Memphis’ Gayoso General Hospital included a long list of soldiers from Indiana and Kentucky.  Evansville Daily Journal, May 5, 1865.)


Around 1,800 people died, a bigger toll than the Titanic. Yet newspaper accounts of the horrors on the river gave surprisingly few details.  Like another devastating blast — the Allegheny Arsenal explosion in Pittsburgh, which blew up 78 ammunition workers, mostly young women, on the day of the Battle of Antietam in 1862 –and like the USS Indianapolis sinking in 1945, which was overshadowed by the atomic bomb, the news got drowned out by bigger events:  the end of the Civil War, coverage of Lincoln’s funeral train, and the death of John Wilkes Booth, who was shot to death in a burning barn in Virginia the night before the Sultana exploded. (Those who live by fire die by fire, they say:  soldier Boston Corbett, who shot Booth, allegedly died in a forest fire in Minnesota in 1894.)

The St. Louis Republican — a river-town paper, like the Evansville Daily Journal — provided some of the scanty coverage that made it into the press. The stories are hair-raising and gloomy.


Evansville Daily Journal, May 5, 1865

Evansville Daily Journal, May 5, 1865 (2)

Evansville Daily Journal, May 5, 1865 (3)

Evansville Daily Journal, May 5, 1865 (4)

Evansville Daily Journal, May 5, 1865 (5)

(Evansville Daily Journal, May 5, 1865.)


William D. Snow, U.S. Senator-elect from Arkansas, had been awakened by the boiler explosion.  Opening his door, he was confronted by “a large volume of steam” careening through the cabin and many scalded passengers.  Snow said that as he prepared to jump ship and swim almost a mile to the Arkansas shore, the river presented itself as “a sea of heads, so close together that it was impossible to leap without killing one or more.”  Amazingly, in those days before government safety regulations, Snow saw “several husbands fasten life-preservers to their wives and children, and throw them overboard into the struggling mass below.”  The Senator washed up, alive, among “overflowed cottonwood lands” at about 4:00 in the morning.  He was rescued by a passing steamer.

One of the Hoosier survivors, Uriah J. Maverty, came from Lebanon, Indiana, west of Indianapolis.  Maverty, who survived incarceration at Andersonville and Cahaba, was an invalid in a wheelchair when he wrote a graphic account of the disaster before his death in 1910.  He remembered that “several times was I pulled under water by others drowning,” but a love of his mother in Indiana helped him hang on.  “If you ever longed to see your mother, even in the prison-pen or on the battlefield, you know the feelings which came over me were too deep to be described.”

Maverty watched an Irish soldier, whose face had been crushed by “flying missiles,” cry out in loud prayer, but he died just after they were dragged to shore.  Grown men were seen weeping profusely as they floated among dead comrades and severed body parts. Veterans of Gettysburg and Chickamauga thought the sight was worse than things they had seen on the battlefield.

A number of the victims and survivors came from Henry County, Indiana.  More than a century later, a monument to 55 victims from Delaware County was erected at Muncie’s Beech Grove Cemetery. Most victims, however, were buried in Memphis.

Though no one was ever prosecuted for the disaster and investigations pinned the explosion on carelessness, one theory sprouted up right away:  a coal torpedo or bomb planted by a disgruntled Confederate had destroyed the boat. The website Civil War St. Louis even presents a lengthy, detailed (though skeptical) case for-and-against the sabotage of the Sultana.


Thomas Edgeworth Courtenay

(Irish-born Thomas Edgeworth Courtenay, Confederate Secret Service Agent and bomb-maker.)


Thomas Edgeworth Courtenay, a native of Belfast, Ireland — where the Titanic was built and launched in 1912 — had immigrated to St. Louis in 1844, aged 22, and also lived around Vicksburg.  Ironically, Courtenay sold fire and marine insurance in St. Louis and even served as sheriff of St. Louis County in 1860.  The Irish immigrant’s loyalties were to the Confederacy, and early in the war he joined up with the Confederate Secret Service as a clandestine agent.

In 1863, Courtenay invented the coal torpedo, a hollow iron casting loaded with explosives and disguised inside a clump of hardened coal dust.  Hidden in Union coal piles by Confederate saboteurs, coal torpedoes were meant to be shoveled unsuspectingly into the boilers of vessels, where they would heat up, cause the boiler to burst and lead to a larger, catastrophic secondary explosion. Confederate President Jefferson Davis approved a plan to target Union gunboats with Courtenay’s secret bombs.  Several U.S. Navy vessels were actually blown up by coal torpedoes, including one in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1864.

After the war, Courtenay traveled overseas and tried to sell his deadly invention to foreign governments, with no success.  To protest the British occupation of Ireland, the Fenian Brotherhood, radical Irish nationalists based in the U.S. and Australia, reportedly considered putting coal torpedoes into furnaces in New York City hotels and aboard English transatlantic steamships.  Fenian coal bombs were blamed for the explosion of a British Navy vessel in Patagonia in 1880, which inspired a short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, inventor of Sherlock Holmes.


Coal torpedo, 1865

(This model of a coal torpedo was found by Union General Edward Ripley at Jefferson Davis’ office in Richmond in April 1865, the month the Sultana blew up and after much of Richmond itself was incinerated.)


As bodies started to float in, a mate aboard the Sultana told a writer for the Memphis Argus that he suspected a bomb.  And during a yellow fever epidemic in New Orleans in 1867, Robert Louden, a Confederate agent and “terrorist” who sank several Union vessels on the waterfront in St. Louis, claimed on his deathbed to have planted a bomb on the Sultana — probably while its crew were unloading sugar at Memphis.  Louden may have been bluffing, and the evidence is not totally convincing, especially since some of the passengers aboard the steamboat were ex-Confederates headed home to Kentucky and Tennessee.

The ruins of the Sultana floated downstream a few miles, burned to the waterline, and sank in a mud bank.  In 1982, archaeologists discovered what may be the steamboat’s remains — but they aren’t in the river.  The ever-meandering Mississippi has moved two miles east since 1865, placing the site of the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history square in the middle of an Arkansas soybean field.

Survivors’ reunions were held well into the 20th century.  The last two survivors — one from the North, one from the South — were still alive in the 1930s.  Though the memory of many was consigned forever to the restless river, the lights finally went out on January 9, 1936, with the death of 94-year-old Albert Norris.  A private in the 76th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Norris, aged 23, had been lying directly above the boilers and fell down onto the hot furnace as men came raining down around him from the hurricane deck.  Though he was one of the closest to the blast, he lived the longest to tell the tale.


Albert Norris

(Albert Norris of Ohio, last survivor of the Sultana, died in 1936.)


Contact:  staylor336 [AT] gmail.com

Junk, Japanese Students and Dr. Seuss

Dale News, September 11, 1942 (1)

A few weeks ago, we ran a post on how peach stones, chestnuts, and coconut shells got enlisted into World War I.  In 1917, the U.S. government began a campaign to gather fruit pits and other agricultural waste that could be used in manufacturing charcoal filters for army gas masks — a life-saving device partly invented by Hoosier chemical engineer James Bert Garner.

The “war to end all wars,” of course, failed to do so.  Twenty years later, America was on the verge of an even worse conflict. And in 1942, the familiar specter of junk rallies and war-bond drives returned to American newspapers.

Across the U.S., papers advertised the army and navy’s dire need for rubber, scrap iron, and “anything made of metal.”  Most of the ads were nationally syndicated, and no one local newspaper can take credit for these darkly comic illustrations of ordinary domestic items turned into deadly weapons.

Like a scene from Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, old radiators, lawn-mowers and worn-out tires were turned into instruments of fighting and killing, from rifles and shells to grim-looking gas masks and hand grenades.


Dale News, August 28, 1942 (1)

(The Dale News, August 28, 1942.)


The government’s scrap conservation campaign broke down the math.  This ad comes from Dale in Spencer County, Indiana, just down the road from Lincoln’s boyhood home and the small town of Santa Claus.


Dale News, August 21, 1942 (1)

(The Dale News, Spencer County, Indiana, August 21, 1942.)


Drawn by an illustrator for the Conservation Division of the War Production Board, the illustrations were taken out and paid for by the American Industries Salvage Committee.  Business at local scrap yards was booming in 1942.  The ads stated that scrap material would be purchased at government-controlled prices.

In what was actually one of America’s first recycling programs, the call went out for refrigerators, garbage pails, broken garden tools, lengths of pipe, burlap bags, manila bags, copper wires, zinc, lead, tin, and any kind of old rubber.  Rusty scrap metal, the committee reminded Americans, was “actually refined steel, with most impurities removed — and can be quickly melted with new metal in the form of pig iron to produce highest quality steel for our war machines.”  In 1942, the U.S. armed forces — just months after Pearl Harbor — needed an additional six million tons of scrap steel for weapons production.

The government also encouraged “good Americans” to give up something else:  Sunday country drives and “joy-riding.” Unnecessary shopping trips to town and failure to use public transportation sapped gasoline at a time when Nazi submarines were torpedoing hundreds of oil tankers off the Atlantic Coast. Unnecessary driving and fast driving also added to the rubber shortage by wearing down tires.  So did driving with the wrong tire pressure, as a Phillips 66 ad informed the patriotic public.

If only that conservation effort could have carried over into peace time. . . no matter how restless the joy-riding doggies got:


National Road Traveler, September 3, 1942

(National Road Traveler, Cambridge City, Indiana, September 3, 1942.)


Since farmers were likely to have plenty of scrap metal hanging around their property, the salvage committee’s ads tended to target rural areas and small towns.  Dale, Indiana, was one, but the illustrations appeared nationwide.


Dale News, September 11, 1942 (2)

(The Dale News, September 11, 1942.)


Beneath the dark humor of seeing a Japanese soldier knocked on the head with grandma’s laundry iron or her kitchen teapot, some of these cartoons were fairly racist.  Though cartoonists are usually allowed to take liberties to provoke discussion, artists at all times –especially in war time — have sometimes helped destroy innocent lives.

The hysteria that targeted German Americans during World War I — when Indiana and many other states went so far as to criminalize teaching German to children — rarely occurred during World War II, though about 11,000 German nationals were detained.  The same can’t be said of the fate of Japanese Americans, over 100,000 of whom were herded up and imprisoned in detention camps out West.


Nisei Students


Yet as always, some Americans rose above hysteria and fear.  In 1942, Quaker-led Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, became one of the few U.S. schools to allow Japanese Americans to continue their education during the war.  The decision of Earlham’s President William Cullen Dennis, who cooperated with the Japanese American Student Relocation Council to admit six students from the newly-militarized West Coast, was controversial.


Kokomo Tribune, September 30, 1942

(Kokomo Tribune, September 30, 1942.)


In September 1942, the local branch of the Junior Order of American Mechanics, a youth group, sent Earlham’s president  a resolution protesting the students’ presence on campus.  The OAM was originally an anti-Catholic and nativist fraternal group organized in Philadelphia in 1844 to resist the hiring of “cheap foreign labor” (i.e., Irish).  Richmond’s Junior OAM captured a lot of local sentiment and tried to encourage other “patriotic and fraternal orders” in town to follow suit.  Richmond Mayor John Britten was forced to advise the FBI of the “hostile attitude of the community toward the students.”


Rushville Republican, September 30, 1942

(Rushville Republican, September 30, 1942.)


Dennis stood by his decision, citing that the move was in accordance with the school’s Quaker religious principles and “the ideals for which we are fighting.”  Yet he refused to denounce the Federal government’s original decision to move them off the West Coast. The Japanese pupils — along with about 1,900 others now scattered across the Midwest and East — were kept under FBI surveillance.

Earlham wasn’t alone.  A total of eight Indiana schools, all but one of them religious, admitted displaced Japanese Americans.  These were DePauw, Valparaiso, Hanover, Franklin, Manchester, St. Mary’s (Notre Dame), Indiana Technical College, and Earlham.  The Indianapolis-based Disciples of Christ also led a campaign critical of the West Coast interment camps and issued a resolution condemning the incarceration of 100,000 Americans without fair trial, calling it a mockery of American principles.  That church was active in helping resettled families find jobs and housing across the Midwest.


Corvallis Gazette-Times, April 3, 1942

(Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt, head of the Western Defense Command in San Francisco, issued orders forbidding Japanese American students at Oregon State University from using the library after 8:00 p.m.  Corvallis Gazette-Times, April 3, 1942.)


Corvallis Gazette-Times, April 2, 1942

(Corvallis Gazette-Times, April 2, 1942.)


Edward T. Uyesugi was one of the students who came to Earlham in 1942.  Born in 1922 and raised in Portland, Oregon, he was one of the ten students forced to leave Willamette University in Salem after the Federal “evacuation” of April 1942.  In Richmond, Uyesugi studied biology.  He also met Paoli native Ruth Farlow, who was studying Latin, English and journalism.  Ruth, a Quaker, wrote for the Richmond Palladium (currently being digitized by Hoosier State Chronicles.)  The couple went on to get married in Washington State in 1946.

Farlow had gotten her first teaching job in Oregon, but was fired after one semester for her marriage to a Japanese American. (“Interracial marriage” was frowned on in every state and was still illegal in many.)  The Uyesugis eventually came back to Indiana, raising three children in Ruth’s native Orange County, where he worked as an eye doctor and she taught journalism at Paoli High School.  In 1999, Ruth Uyesugi was inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.  She’s also the author of a 1977 autobiographical novel, Don’t Cry, Chiisai, Don’t Cry, a war-time love story set in Indiana and Oregon.


Earlham Post, 1944

(Ruth Farlow, seated center, and Edward Uyesugi, right, both served on the editorial staff of the Earlham Post in 1944.  Uyesugi wrote a sports column and also played on the football team.)


Dale News, December 18, 1942

(S.J. Ray, illustrator.  Reprinted in The Dale News, December 18, 1942.)


In 1942, Hoosier readers may have had their first encounter with a rising star in the world of illustration — Theodor Seuss Geisel, a third-generation German American originally from Springfield, Massachusetts.  Geisel studied at Dartmouth and Oxford before joining the staff of the humor magazine Judge in New York City in the 1920s.  His first published cartoon came out in the Saturday Evening Post in July 1927.   Surviving the lean times of the Great Depression by drawing ads and logos for companies like General Electric, Standard Oil, and the Narragansett Brewing Company, Geisel got his first major national exposure during a Standard Oil campaign to market motor boat lubricants.

Nearly expelled from Dartmouth as an undergrad for drinking gin during Prohibition, the quirky illustrator had been banned from publishing cartoons in the college’s writing magazine.  He got around it by signing himself “Dr. Seuss,” his middle name.  (The name is actually pronounced “Soiss,” but the illustrator gave in to the American pronunciation.)

By 1942, Dr. Seuss — a fervent, scathing opponent of isolationists and pacifists who wanted to keep America out of World War II — was busy trying to lubricate public opinion instead of motor boats. Though frequently mistaken as a Jew because of his name and his appearance, Dr. Seuss was a German Lutheran.


Dr. Seuss 1941

(An anti-isolationist cartoon published in 1941, before America went to war against Germany, Italy and Japan.)


In the wake of American entry into the war — and before he was ever at work on The Grinch and The Cat in the Hat — Dr. Seuss drew cartoons for the U.S. Treasury Department as part of a war-bond drive.  Roundly criticized since the 1940s, his caricatures of Japanese with buck teeth, pig noses and insect bodies came out in many American newspapers, including the tiny Dale News.  Though Dr. Seuss deserves credit for apologizing for these cartoons after the war, the dehumanization of Asians may have influenced the U.S. decision to drop nuclear bombs on Japan in 1945, an event that was less likely to befall a Western European nation.


Dale News, July 31, 1942

(The Dale News, July 31, 1942.)


Dale News, June 12, 1942

(The Dale News, June 12, 1942.)


Dale News, June 5, 1942 (3)

(The Dale News, June 5, 1942.)


While “Dr. Seuss” also depicted Hitler with a pig snout and animal body, Geisel’s 1942 cartoon of Japanese Americans receiving TNT and awaiting orders from Japan put him squarely in the tradition of fearing immigrants as “enemy aliens” — the long list of newcomers accused of undermining American safety and values.  In the century before World War II, American periodicals were full of this material, some of it drawn by reformers like German American immigrant Thomas Nast.  Only the characters changed — from Catholics, Jews, and Chinese to Germans, Japanese and Muslims.


Waiting for the Signal from Home

(“Waiting for the Signal from Home,” Dr. Seuss, 1942.)


The “Tokio Kid” series, commissioned by the Douglass Aircraft Company and subsidized by the War Commissions Board,  joined in on the recycling campaign.  Posters showing the Japanese Emperor thrilled by Americans’ waste of items like scrap metal were little different from equally demonic depictions of the German Kaiser during World War I, but both episodes played off ethnic and racial prejudice.  (Reform politics and bogus science were as guilty as everyday racism here.  During World War I, “progressive” advocates of Prohibition had made identical charges against German American beer-lovers — for unpatriotically wasting grain.  Dr. Seuss’ own father, brew master at the family-owned Highland Brewery in Springfield, Massachusetts, was driven out of his job when Prohibition shut the place down in 1919.)


Tokio Kid


As for social reform, that would have to wait for peacetime.  It’s not clear who exactly cartoonist Nate Collier was satirizing when this illustration came out in the Dale News in February 1942, three months after Pearl Harbor.  But we think we can guess.


Dale News, February 27, 1942

(Nate Collier, illustrator.  The Dale News, February 27, 1942.)


Contact:  staylor336 [AT] gmail.com

War and Peach

Peach Stones 1

With Christmas Eve approaching, you might have the tune “Chestnuts Roasting Over an Open Fire” playing somewhere. A hundred years ago, chestnuts were actually on the path to becoming a rarity, as a huge blight that was killing off chestnut trees began dramatically reducing their numbers.  The blight got so bad that chestnut trees nearly became extinct in the U.S.  Yet as World War I was still raging in Europe, American chemists found a clever new use for chestnuts — alongside coconut shells, peach stones, and other hard seeds.  Disturbingly enough, this was for use in the gas mask industry.

During the last year of the “War to End All Wars,” the Gas Defense Division of the Chemical Warfare Service of the U.S. Army began issuing calls for Americans to save fruit seeds.  As refuse from kitchens and dining room tables, these would typically have been classified as agricultural waste.  Conscientious Americans began to put out barrels and other depositories for local collection of leftover seed pits.  These came from peaches, apricots, cherries, prunes, plums, olives, and dates, not to mention brazil nuts, hickory nuts, walnuts, chestnuts, and butternuts.  In the rarer instance that Americans had any spare coconut shells left over, these came in handy, too.


Peach Stones 3


How on earth could seeds and shells contribute to the war against Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany?

World War I was the first conflict to involve the use of toxic chemicals meant to incapacitate and kill soldiers.  Death would come at the fourth breath or less, soldiers were warned.  Fritz Haber, a German chemist who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1918 for his research into the creation of synthetic fertilizers, also helped spearhead German use of ammonia and chlorine as poisonous weapons used in trench warfare. (Haber’s wife, also a chemist, committed suicide out of shame at her husband’s promotion of poison gas.)  Haber additionally pioneered a gas mask that would protect German soldiers from their own weapons. Ironically, Frtiz Haber was Jewish.  He later fled Germany in 1933 during the rise of Adolf Hitler, a few years before the poisons he experimented with were used by the Nazis to exterminate Jews and others during World War II.

Haber, however, wasn’t the only chemist at work on a gas mask. One such device was invented by a mostly-forgotten American chemist from the Hoosier State, James Bert Garner.


James Bert Garner

(Hoosier chemist James Bert Garner around 1918.)


Garner was born in Lebanon, Indiana, in 1870, and earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Science at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, where he studied under Scottish-American chemist Dr. Alexander Smith.  (Like many doctors and scientists, Dr. Smith had done his own graduate studies in Munich, Germany, in the 1880s.  He taught chemistry and mineralogy at Wabash for four years until moving to the University of Chicago and Columbia University.)  Dr. Garner served as head of Wabash’s chemistry department from 1901 to 1914, the year World War I erupted. The Hoosier chemist then took a job at the Mellon Institute for Industrial Research at the University of Pittsburgh.

After reading an account of a toxic gas attack on French and Canadian soldiers during the Battle of Ypres in 1915, Garner began working on a more effective respiratory mask than was then available.  Primitive versions of gas masks and protective apparatuses designed to ward off disease had been around for centuries, from 17th-century plague doctor’s outfits to a mask pioneered by the German scientist Alexander von Humboldt in 1799, when Humboldt worked as a mining inspector in Prussia.  In the 1870s, Irish physicist John Tyndall also worked on a breathing device to help filter foul air, as did a little-known Indianapolis inventor, Willis C. Vajen, who patented a “Darth Vader”-like mask for firemen in 1893.  (Vajen’s masks were manufactured in an upper floor of the old Indianapolis Public Library.)


Gas mask diagram

(This diagram of a World War II-era gas mask shows the importance of the charcoal filter “which absorbs the gas and retains the fumes.”


While working at Pittsburgh’s Mellon Institute, Dr. Garner advanced a method for air filtration that he had first experimented with at Wabash College and the University of Chicago.   Garner’s mask, co-designed by his wife Glenna, involved the use of a charcoal filter that absorbed sulphur dioxide and ammonia from the air stream. Garner’s World War I-era invention wouldn’t be his last attempt to reduce the deadly impact on the lungs of dangerous substances.  In 1936, he patented a process to “denicotinize” tobacco.

Manufacturers of Garner’s masks found that coconut shells actually provided one of the most useful materials for filtering toxic poison. With a density greater than most woods, hard fruit seeds and nuts were also found useful in the creation of charcoal filters.  All over the U.S., local Councils of Defense, citizens’ committees (sometimes highly intrusive) were set up to promote production of war materiel and monitor domestic waste.  These committees encouraged Americans to hang onto seed pits for Army use.


Peach Stones 2

(Photo from “peach stone” campaign, 1918.  U.S. National Archives.)


Popular Science Monthly, December 1918

(Popular Science Monthly, December 1918.)


Popular Science Monthly, December 1918 2

(Popular Science Monthly, December 1918.)


“Cleaned, dried, and then subjected to high temperature,” reported Popular Science Monthly, “the stones become carbonized, and the coal, in granulated form, is used as an absorbent in the manufacture of gas-masks.”  Charcoal rendered from fruit seeds, coconut shells, etc., was found to have a “much greater power of absorbing poisonous gases than ordinary charcoal from wood.”

How many seeds were needed?  One source cites a government call for 100 million of them.  In a letter from J.S. Boyd, First Lieutenant in the Chemical Warfare Service of the U.S. Army, which appeared in the Indianapolis News in September 1918, Boyd informed the public that “Two hundred peach stones, or seven pounds of nut shells, will make enough carbon for one mask.  Think of that!  And one mask may save a soldier’s life.”  At this rate, a hundred million peach stones could produce 500,000 gas masks.

Tolstoy’s classic novel needed a new title: War & Peach.


Variety of gas masks

(Variety of gas masks used on the Western Front during First World War.  Garner’s was just one of them.)


The seed-collection campaign quickly took to American newspapers.

In Indianapolis, the Marion County Council of Defense urged local consumers and businesses not to waste products and labor during Christmas shopping.  (The waste of certain human lives for political ends seemed to bother them less, and the Indiana council worked to censor all criticism of the war from pacifists and socialists.)  At the committee’s urging, local restaurants, hotels, and stores, including L.S. Ayres and the William H. Block Co. — the largest department stores in Indianapolis — collected agricultural leftovers in bins out front.  The Block Co. advertised its support for the peach stone campaign during a September call to “Buy Christmas gifts early.” Fortunately, the war was over by Christmas 1918.


Indianapolis News, September 21, 1918

(Indianapolis News, September 21, 1918.)


Local Councils of Defense chided businesses and Christmas shoppers for wasting labor and even kept up some surveillance on them.  Department stores were forbidden to hire extra help during the 1918 Christmas season, meaning no special workers could carry customers’ purchases back to their homes.  The councils explicitly asked Hoosiers to carry their own packages and urged managers and employees to report any business that was hiring “extra help” for the holiday.


South Bend News-Times, October 19, 1918

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


South Bend News-Times, September 3, 1918

(South Bend News-Times, September 3, 1918.)


Emphasis on gathering peach stones in particular picked up momentum in September 1918, since that month marked the beginning of harvest time.  As for wild nuts, children all over the U.S., including the Boy Scouts, scoured American forests for walnuts, hickories, and butternuts. One photo in Popular Science Monthly showed a “gang bombarding a horse-chestnut tree” and stated that they were “enlisted in war work.”  Children brought nuts and seed pits to 160 army collection centers.


Popular Science Monthly, December 1918 3

(Popular Science Monthly, December 1918.)


A call for peach stones in the film magazine Moving Picture World encouraged movie theater owners to offer special matinées to support seed-gathering.  The magazine suggested keeping admission at the regular price, but with the donation of one peach stone required for entry.  Once inside, moviegoers were likely to see a slideshow from the Army’s Gas Defense Service as a “preview.” One theater owner on Long Island was especially liberal to children. Children, however, apparently took unfair advantage of him:


The Moving Picture World, October 12, 1918

(The Moving Picture World, October 12, 1918.)


The call for seed pits should have come earlier.  Ninety-thousand soldiers died from toxic gas exposure in the First World War, with over a million more suffering debilitating health problems that often lasted for the rest of their lives.  Almost two-thirds of the fatalities were Russian.  And chemical warfare had just begun.

Though propaganda pinned the barbaric use of chemicals squarely on the Kaiser’s armies, the British used toxins during and after the war.  Under Winston Churchill — War Secretary in 1920 — the RAF dropped mustard gas during its attempt to put down Bolshevism in Russia, the same year that Churchill is alleged to have authorized the use of deadly gas in fighting an Iraqi revolt against British rule in the Middle East.  One English entomologist, Harold Maxwell-Lefroy, was allegedly curious about the use of bugs in “the next war” to spread disease behind enemy lines.

During World War II, the U.S. briefly experimented with the creation of biological weapons.  At the Vigo Ordinance Plant, an ammunition facility in Terre Haute, the Army looked into the production of deadly anthrax in 1944 as part of the little-known U.S. biological weapons program.  According to some sources, those chemicals were meant to have been used in proposed British anthrax bombs, which would have killed entire German cities. Fortunately, the end of the war came before any significant amount of the material was ever produced.  The Vigo County plant was later acquired by Pfizer.

As for native Hoosier chemist James Bert Garner, he kept on inventing, attempting to save lives in spite of the brutality of war. Garner lived with his family in Pittsburgh, where he worked as director of research for the Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel Company — the company that built the Gateway Arch in St. Louis starting in 1963.

Garner, however, died in 1960 at age 90.  Sometimes cited as the inventor of the gas mask — though he was really just one of many — he is buried at Pittsburgh’s Homewood Cemetery.

In spite of his efforts, chemical warfare has gone on to kill millions.


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 11, 1919

(Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 11, 1919.)


Contact:  staylor336 [AT] gmail.com

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

John Brown gravestie

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

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

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


John Brown
John Brown in Springfield, Massachusetts, 1846.

Watson Brown 2
Watson Brown, circa 1859.

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


Harpers Ferry
Harpers Ferry, Virginia, now West Virginia.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Indianapolis Journal, September 11, 1882

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

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

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


John Brown, Jr.
John Brown, Jr.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Indianapolis Journal, September 11, 1882 (3)


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Who was this doctor, then?

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

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

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

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


Faculty of Winchester Medical College


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

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


John Brown's body 2


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

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

An Indiana Banned Book List — World War I Comes to the Library

Banned Books Week is here.  We thought we’d take a look at a few volumes of “insidious poison” the Indiana State Council of Defense asked to be withdrawn from Hoosier library shelves in 1918, during the height of America’s involvement in World War I.  Hoosier State Chronicles neither endorses nor criticizes these books, many of which are hard to find and might even have been destroyed.  Some aren’t as interesting as the lives of their fascinating and controversial authors. But we do support your right to read and discuss them — if you ever happen to find a copy.

We focus on three books. A “behind the scenes” look at some of these titles reveal fascinating back stories.


Lake County Times, February 1, 1918
Lake County Times, February 1, 1918.

State and county defense councils emerged after America’s late entry into the war against Germany in 1917.  Indiana’s defense council was organized on May 19.

When it comes to freedom of speech, these groups had a sketchy record.  Though much of what they did was simply ordinary work to contribute to the war effort — arranging food drives, relief for wounded soldiers, the sale of Liberty Loans, and urging Americans to conserve grain — the councils had a dark underbelly.  The conservation of grain, for example, was an underhand way to enforce contentious “dry” laws, since corn and wheat were used in alcohol production — and alcohol was being labeled “German” and “foreign.”  Under the influence of women’s and church groups, Indiana ushered in statewide Prohibition in 1917, three years before the national ban on booze, and at the same time that insidious rumors about spies and terrorists were lurking in the press.  It’s an overlooked fact that the Prohibition movement was often tied at the hip to nativism, and that “unpatriotic” German beer-lovers were accused of wasting grain to undermine the war effort.

In many states, notably Iowa and Nebraska but also in Indiana, defense councils and local “Liberty Leagues” stood behind bans on the German language, an interdict that in some states forbade the speaking of any language other than English.  In 1919, Indiana made it a criminal offense to teach German to children in elementary schools — largely out of concern that militaristic foreign propaganda and love of the “old country” was being spread by German-language textbooks and pamphlets (which were allegedly being burned in Indianapolis.)  In many American schools, German classes weren’t offered again until the 1920s and the subject never recovered its pre-war popularity.  World War I also virtually exterminated the once-flourishing German-language press in the U.S.


Lake County Times, December 19, 1917
Lake County Times, December 19, 1917.

Much American news coverage drew on allegations from the British press, including illustrations and tabloid journalism.  The British had exploited and exaggerated the very real human suffering of the 1914 “Rape of Belgium” for political ends and to encourage the U.S. to enter on the British side.  Soon Hoosiers were reading about the sadistic sexual perversions of German commanders and soldiers, including accusations that the Kaiser’s “book of instructions” to officers authorized the rape and mutilation of children and the elderly.  Many of these events did occur, though reports weren’t rigorously fact-checked.  Yet American feminist writer Susan Brownmiller argues persuasively against the attempt to redeem German honor by downplaying the amount of rape during the war.


Lake County Times, April 8, 1918 (1)
“An official photograph of the club with which the German armies ‘finish off’ wounded soldiers. 32,000 of them were recently captured by the Italians.” Lake County Times, Hammond, April 8, 1918. Whether such atrocities were true or not, graphic depictions influenced American public opinion.

Defense councils typically consisted of ten or fifteen men and one woman, though “Woman’s Sections” were established in many states and counties.  Indiana’s State Council of Defense in Indianapolis was headed by Senator Charles W. Fairbanks, who had been Theodore Roosevelt’s vice-president.  Other male members of the committee included Irish-born former Indianapolis mayor Thomas Taggart (known as a Progressive);  H.R. Kurrie, president of the Monon Railroad;  former IU football coach and U.S. Representative Evans Woolen; and the famous Will Hays, granddaddy of film censorship in America.  Among the officers of the Woman’s Section of the State Council was Anne Studebaker Carlisle of South Bend — daughter of Clement Studebaker of carriage- and auto-manufacturing fame — and Mrs. Samuel L. Ralston, wife of the future governor of Indiana, who also happened to be a Klan favorite in the 1920s.


Time Mag(The much-misunderstood Will H. Hays, from Sullivan, Indiana, served on the State Council of Defense during World War I.  Hays was chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1918 to 1921, then served as U.S. Postmaster General, when he became known for his opposition to sending pornography by mail.  In 1934, he instituted the restrictive Hays Code to regulate the U.S. film industry, but the Hoosier native is also credited with helping the movie business get on its feet and provide truly quality films.  Time Magazine, September 13, 1926.)


The Indiana State Council of Defense was definitely interested in what Hoosiers were reading and took a strong interest in “education.”  In hindsight, its patriotism was part of an undisguised government program to promote optimism and a single view of the war.  In this sense, it was propaganda in the true meaning of the word, which comes from the Latin for “to spread” information — not necessarily the unbiased kind.

The Report of the Woman’s Section, published after the war was over in 1919, demonstrates the interest the Indiana council took in promoting pro-war perspectives and how it went about making sure the government’s view came out on top.  The primary target: pacifists and the “apathetic,” a word typically spelled “slacker” in war-hungry American newspapers like the Lake County Times.


Report of the Indiana Women's Council of Defense


Report of the Indiana Women's Council of Defense 2


Report of the Indiana Women's Council of Defense 3


Report of the Indiana Women's Council of Defense 5

(Excerpts from Report of the Woman’s Section of the Indiana State Council of Defense, Indianapolis, 1919.)


The fiercest opposition to American involvement in World War I hadn’t come from German-Americans or “hyphenated” Americans of any stripe, but from isolationists and Socialists.  Among the most outspoken critics was Indiana native son Eugene V. Debs, who went to prison for protesting the draft, and Wisconsin Senator Robert M. LaFollette.  In the debate over intervention vs. isolation, graphic newspaper illustrations served not only to vilify German militarists — who may have richly deserved such treatment — but also the American labor movement, which criticized the war as a distraction from problems at home.  Socialists and pacifists were labeled enemies and “slackers.”

Thus it comes as no surprise that a number of the books and pamphlets on the 1918 Indiana banned books list weren’t written by German militarists, but by American and British labor activists.


Seymour Daily Republica, Seymour, Indiana, January 30, 1918
Seymour Daily Republican, Seymour, Indiana, January 30, 1918.

One of these books was a pamphlet called Morocco and Armageddon, penned by British pacifist and anti-slavery crusader E.D. Morel.

Anti-slavery?  In 1917?  Morel’s work combating illegal slave trading in the Congo Free State — Belgium’s huge African colony — linked him to British consul Roger Casement.  Their investigations into the atrocities of Belgian King Leopold’s Congo, which shocked the world, figures into the background of Joseph Conrad’s masterpiece Heart of Darkness (1899).  Morel’s investigations into greed and murder were supported by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Mark Twain, among many others.  The equally anti-imperialist Roger Casement was later executed by the British during World War I under allegations of being a German spy after he helped spark the 1916 Easter Rising of Irish Republicans in Dublin.  Casement’s fate was virtually sealed when the British government published excerpts from his diary that suggested he was a homosexual.

Labor leader Morel’s opposition to World War I, which he considered a distraction from the atrocities of colonialism — including Belgium’s, some of the worst — earned him a spot on the Indiana banned books list just about a year after Casement’s execution.  Morel was also severely critical of the harsh Treaty of Versailles, which many argue was an extension of the demonization of Germany and paved the way for the Second World War.


E.D. Morel
British pacifist E.D. Morel, hero of the investigations into King Leopold’s “Heart of Darkness” in the Congo, was one of the targets of the Indiana State Council of Defense.

Another major name on the list is the great anthropologist Franz Boas.  Born in Germany, Boas came to the U.S. and Canada in the 1880s to study the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest and the Arctic North.  His studies of linguistics and culture made him one of the fathers of modern anthropology and folklore studies.  Boas later taught at Columbia University.  Having famously insisted that the origins of racial inequality are social, not biological, he later clashed with Adolf Hitler.  The German-American anthropologist, who died in New York City in 1942, helped many German and Austrian scientists escape from the Nazis.


Franz Boas
Ethnologist Franz Boas, whose anti-war pamphlet was recommended for censorship in Indiana, demonstrates a “Hamatsa’a coming out of a secret room” ritual from Canada’s West Coast, circa 1895. He would have had to jump through other hoops to keep that book on the shelf.

Boas had a different view of World War I though.  His pamphlet “Nationalism and Europe,” printed by the Germanistic Society of Chicago in 1916 — spelled “Germanatic” in the Hammond, Indiana, newspaper — runs to fifteen pages. While he starts with a dispassionate criticism of Slavic nationalism — which threatened to break up the German domination of central Europe and was one of the main causes of the war — Boas rips into American reasons for getting involved, even specifically criticizing American hypocrisy when it came to “making the world safe for democracy.”  After mentioning the sinking of the USS Maine and the famously yellow journalism of William Randolph Hearst that had propelled the U.S. into war against Spain back in 1898, Boas comments:

Boas clip
(From “Nationalism in Europe,” Franz Boas, 1916.)

One of the more disturbing figures to show up on the Indiana list was wrongly identified as “Edward Emerson.”  In fact, this is the controversial and little-known Edwin Emerson, Jr. (1869-1959).  No relation to the American philosopher Ralph Waldo, Edwin Emerson led a strange, complex life, much of it overseas.

Before the Civil War, Emerson’s father had written for Harper’s Magazine and worked with Noah Webster of dictionary fame.  During the war, Emerson, Sr., went to Europe as a secret envoy for Abraham Lincoln, where he tried to prevent England and France from recognizing the Confederacy.  Close to leaders like Otto von Bismarck and William Gladstone, “agent” Emerson was living in Dresden, Germany in 1869, when his son was born there.  Edwin, Jr., seems to have grown up entirely in Germany, but later came to the United States.  He graduated from Harvard in 1891, afterwards writing for the Boston Post and New York Evening Post and Sun as a foreign correspondent.

During the Spanish-American War — the war Franz Boas criticized for being an example of “How Americans Reason” — Emerson served in the Rough Riders with Theodore Roosevelt.  Due to his native fluency in German, however, he posed as a German newspaper correspondent in Puerto Rico.  Actually an American spy, Emerson acquired a critical map and helped spearhead the invasion of the Spanish island.  Colonel Emerson also served as Teddy Roosevelt’s regimental clerk in Cuba.  He then spent some time as a liaison in the Venezuelan army.

After the war, he went to Korea as a war correspondent and was imprisoned by the Japanese during the Russo-Japanese War.  Then in 1906, in the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake, Emerson got married in San Francisco — in the house of Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson (an Indianapolis native).  His new bride had actually declined his offer of marriage.  But he didn’t get her telegram. . . so she married him anyway.


Edwin Emerson, Jr.
Edwin Emerson, Jr., circa 1900. He was also hailed as “one of the world’s most noted fencers — in fact, an outstanding swordsman and international fencing authority.”

Emerson was one of just a handful of American journalists to report on the German side of the struggle during World War I, at a time when he wrote for the Chicago Daily News and other major papers.  In “The Destruction of Louvain,” the pro-German reporter downplayed the horrors of the Rape of Belgium.  As early as 1915, the New York Times had run an article on a speech Emerson was said to have given in Berlin.  The German press quoted him as saying that under similar circumstances, American soldiers would have committed the same outrages on civilians as German troops did at Louvain.  Understandably, this view did not win Emerson friends in America.  His pamphlet explaining his purportedly eyewitness perspective on the Belgian atrocities was banned in Indiana.


Destruction of Louvain


Just after the November 1918 armistice, the news correspondent was in Guatemala, where that country’s president accused him of being a German spy.  In the early 1920’s, he also got expelled from Austria and Switzerland as an undesirable alien and subversive.

Unfortunately, Edwin Emerson Jr.’s, politics soon took a turn for the worse.  By the early 1930’s, this friend of Germany had become one of the most outspoken advocates of Nazism.  In 1933 and 1934, on East 92nd Street in New York City, he helped found the Society of American Friends of Germany.  This group quickly merged with the Chicago-born Friends of the New Germany (Bund der Freunden des Neuen Deutschland), an organization of American Nazis also known as FONG.  The Friends later became the German American Bund, founded in Buffalo, which under police guard paraded through the streets of New York in 1937.  A pro-Aryan organization, forty percent of their membership was allegedly Irish.

The Dresden-born newspaperman, who now edited the first pro-Nazi newspaper in America — Amerikas Deutsches Post — met with the German Führer himself in February 1934.  The monthly paper had an English-language supplement, American Observer.  The German American Bund also published a bilingual weekly, Deutscher Weckruf und Beobachter (Wake-Up Call and Observer.)  In 1937, that paper became a youth magazine, but stopped publishing after Pearl Harbor.


Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle (Milwaukee, WI), September 22, 1933
(Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, Milwaukee, Wis., September 22, 1933.) Emerson was placed on a list of suspected Nazi spies submitted to Congress in 1937 by Samuel Dickstein, a Jewish Congressman from New York. In 2000, Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States, uncovered Soviet documents suggesting that Dickstein himself may have been a spy for the NKVD, Stalin’s secret police.

The homegrown National Socialist groups that Emerson supported held multiple rallies at Madison Square Garden, events estimated to have drawn crowds of up to 50,000.  Just like during the First World War, individuals who opposed entry into the Second had complicated reasons that often strayed far from mere pacifism.  The controversial and probably anti-Semitic Charles Lindbergh, “fallen hero,” was among them.  Whether he deserved it or not, Lindbergh’s career was destroyed.

An author of books on Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Halley’s Comet and the Gutenberg Bible, Edwin Emerson, Jr., died in 1959 in San Francisco, California.  He was buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery — under a Rough Rider’s tombstone.

Got Cooties? Try P.D.Q.

Altoona Tribune, February 13, 1950

Cooties aren’t what they used to be.  When I was a kid growing up in the long-lost 1980’s, cooties were imaginary germs — and not something you usually wanted.  If you accidentally came into exposure with these fictitious microbes, quarantine wasn’t necessary, though you might get socially ostracized for a day or two.  In fact, that was kind of the point.  In the worst-case scenario, however, unless you were a perennial cootie hatching ground, you could just rub the little critters off onto somebody else.  One definition even calls cooties an “infection tag game.”  The dark side, of course, is the mild sexual harassment hovering over elementary school playgrounds.  And yet. . . some cooties you actually want.  Without these benign cousins — love germs — life might not even be worth living.

Early Clinton-era cooties, though, weren’t the kind that an earlier generation of Americans knew.  A senior colleague of mine at the State Library has just testified that the psychological variety of this make-believe organism has been around since at least the 1950s.  Yet its pedigree dates even farther back than that.

Cooties, in fact, were being mentioned in American newspapers as early as 1918.  The ancestral cootie?  Like most of us, it seems to have had immigrant roots.  As far as journalists knew, this was an annoying variety of lice that proliferated in the trenches of Europe during World War I.

South Bend News-Times, July 13, 1918

(South Bend News-Times, July 13, 1918.)


Were cooties immune to warfare?  Maybe, maybe not. The writer was probably joking here, and might have been telling a big tall tale, but it sounds like one way to get rid of the bug was to give it a good jolt:

South Bend News-Times, July 13, 1918 (2)

(South Bend News-Times, July 13, 1918.)


Captain Charles W. Jones, a teacher at Greencastle High School who served on the Western Front, told a Putnam County audience in 1919 about his uncomfortable experiences in France.   Alongside the perils of bombs and poison gas. . .  the little bug called cooties:

Greencastle Heraldn, February 5, 1919

(Greencastle Herald, February 5, 1919)


Etymology meets entomology at the Oxford English Dictionary, whose talented word-sleuths think “cootie” might come from the Malay word kutu, denoting a parasitic biting insect.  Except for one minor naval battle, World War I wasn’t waged in Southeast Asia, so unless Malaysian troops fighting in Europe coined the word, its passage into English is actually quite mysterious.

Yet soon, cooties were coming to America in letters:  literally!

Greencastle Herald, February 21, 1919

(Greencastle Herald, February 21, 1919.)


That was good news for the Netherlands, which wanted to get rid of them:

Jasper Weekly Courier, December 20, 1918

(Jasper Weekly Courier, December 20, 1918)


In the event of the next global war — and in an eerie parallel to chemical warfare — the (perhaps mad) English entomologist Harold Maxwell-Lefroy was actually looking at ways to disseminate deadly diseases behind enemy lines by means of propagating mosquitoes, house flies. . . and — get this! — cooties.

South Bend News-Times, May 19, 1920South Bend News-Times, May 19, 1920 (2)

(South Bend News-Times, May 19, 1920)


In fact, the tiny foe looks disturbing enough:

South Bend News-Times, April 7, 1922

(South Bend News-Times, April 7, 1922)


By the early years of the Jazz Age, these pestiferous creatures had apparently made it “over here” on the backs, in the clothes, and probably in some of the doughboys’ uncomfortable nether regions.

Up in Cadillac, Michigan, folklore, at least, thought the Kaiser’s cooties were refusing to recognize the Armistice and were carrying on the war against American grasshoppers undismayed:

South Bend News-Times, July 2, 1919

(South Bend News-Times, July 2, 1919)


Even venomous snakes, it was believed, got laid low by the dreaded bug:

The Call-Leader (Elwood, Indiana), November 25, 1918(The Call-Leader [Elwood, Indiana], November 25, 1918)


The New York Tribune thought these lice should have figured into the staggering death toll of the so-called “War to End All Wars.”

South Bend News-Times, July 6, 1919

(South Bend News-Times, July 6, 1919)


Around 1919, somebody invented a children’s board game.  I have never played this game, but according to one description, you put two pill-like objects with BB’s inside a box painted like a World War I battlefield.  A cage — sometimes with a fox hole underneath it — sits at one end of the box.  The challenge is to maneuver the “cooties” over the mine-infested field of death and dispose of them inside the cage.

In 1920, this game was being manufactured by the Irvin-Smith Company of Chicago, who touted it as “good for your nerves.”

Cooties Game (3), 1920 -- Anglo Boer War Museum

(Cootie Game, circa 1920.  Courtesy Canadian Anglo-Boer War Museum.)


Cooties Game, 1920 -- Anglo Boer War Museum


The Cootie Game was offered for sale at George H. Wheelock’s department store in South Bend in 1919:

South Bend News-Times, September 27, 1919

(South Bend News-Times, September 27, 1919)


Having cooties on you, however, was no game, and is a genuine part of American medical history.

One solution for the lice was a “liquid fire” called P.D.Q., possibly manufactured at Owl Chemical Company in Terre Haute, Indiana.  The initials were said to stand for “Pesky Devils Quietus.”  Wherever it was made, the squirtable cootie-killer was on sale in Hoosier drug stores not long after the end of World War I.  It sold for the same price as the Cootie Game:  35 cents.

South Bend News-Times, August 1, 1922

(South Bend News-Times, August 1, 1922)


Greencastle Herald, March 30, 1920(Greencastle Herald, March 30, 1920)


What the exact difference is between cooties and the domestic American chiggers, I’m not sure — and nobody seems to have checked into hospitals recently complaining of cooties.  Sometime around 1950, apparently, these bugs evolved into a mildly harmless children’s phobia.

The cootie’s association with war did, however, survive.  In 1920, a service organization affiliated with the VFW was founded in New York City — the Military Order of the Cootie.  Though no World War I vets are around to tell us about scratching and the other horrors of trench warfare, the order — devoted to community service and, just as importantly, to humor — is still active to this day.

We salute the Cooties!

Terre Haute Tribune, June 5, 1958(Terre Haute Tribune, June 5, 1958)

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

Culver Postcard 1906

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

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

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

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

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

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


Outing October 1894

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


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

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

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

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

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


Henri Marion Homing Pigeon Patent 1896

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


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

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

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

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


John Paul Jones Last Cruise 1


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

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

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


Coffin of JPJ

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Culver Naval School Catalog 1904 (5)

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


Culver Naval School Catalog 1904 (3)

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


Country Life in America May 1907

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


Culver Naval School Catalog 1904 (4)


Culver Naval School Catalog 1902 (7)


South Bend News-Times August 15 1913 (1)

South Bend News-Times August 15 1913 (2)

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

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


Scene on Lake Maxinkuckee

(Culver-Union Township Public Library.)


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

America’s First Shot

Alexander Arch SB News Times September 9 1919 (2)

A century ago, American journalism was buzzing with news of the First World War, which the United States had still not entered.  Though jingoistic newspapermen and politicians of different stripes eventually swayed public opinion toward support for the “war against Kaiser Bill,” in 1915 sending American soldiers to Europe was still controversial.

Across the country, but especially in states with a large number of German-American voters, there was opposition to entering the war.  Isolationists and Socialists were of a similar mind, though often for different reasons.  Wisconsin’s Progressive U.S. Senator Robert LaFollette spoke out passionately against U.S. involvement, earning the ire of ex-President Theodore Roosevelt, who delivered a speech in Racine, Wisconsin, in 1917 where he called the senator a “shadow Hun” — the pejorative nickname for German soldiers.  Roosevelt toured the Upper Midwest to lash out at U.S. Representative Ernest Lundeen of Minnesota and North Dakota’s Senator Asle Gronna, both of whom later cast their votes against making a declaration of war.  (Lundeen was later accused of being a Nazi sympathizer and investigated by the FBI.)

Indiana’s own native son, Socialist presidential candidate and labor leader Eugene V. Debs, also spoke out against what he saw as America’s own involvement in militarism.  In 1918, on charges of sedition, President Wilson imprisoned Debs for his vocal opposition to the military draft during a speech in Canton, Ohio.

(If you’re a Newspapers.com subscriber, one of the more fascinating and hilarious journals from the World War I era is The Fool-Killera satirical “newspaper” published in the Brushy Mountains of Wilkes County, North Carolina, by James Larkin Pearson.  Pearson later became the Tar Heel State’s Poet Laureate.)


Fool Killer June 1 1916

(Lampooning the war-hawks “Toothadore Specksvelt” and Woodrow “Woodpile” in the June 1916 issue of his eccentric Fool Killer, James Larkin Pearson perfected the art of satire in this early forerunner of The Onion.)


Hoosier history is full of strange ironies.  One of them is this:  early on the morning of October 23, 1917, in the Luneville sector of eastern France, the first American soldier to fire an artillery shot against the “Huns” was a 24-year-old sergeant from South Bend, Alexander Arch,  a Hungarian.

Honored in newspapers in 1917 and again in 1919, after he returned from Europe and appeared in a parade with General Pershing, Arch was an emigrant from Sopron, on Hungary’s western border with Austria.  When he was born in 1894, his birth village was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which as an American soldier he was now at war with.

Arch’s parents emigrated to the U.S. in 1899, their children following in 1903, when Alexander was eight.  (They may have Anglicized their names.  His father appears on the 1910 U.S. census as “Steve Arch,” probably István in Hungarian.  Arch might have been spelled “Arcs” or “Arcz”.)  Steve Arch worked as a clerk at George Toth’s bookstore in South Bend.  Alexander’s mother, Theresa, died in 1910.


Alexander Arch SB News Times September 29 1919 (2)

(Arch with his Hungarian relatives at 239 N. Sadie Street.  South Bend News-Times, September 29, 1919.)


Alexander Arch SB News Times September 29 1919 (1)

(The photo appeared on the front page of the paper during the infamous Omaha Race Riot in Nebraska.)


In 1910, when he was 16 years old, Alexander Arch was employed at the Oliver Chilled Plough Works, one of South Bend’s major industries.  After Our Lady of Hungary Catholic Church was founded in 1916, the family were parishioners there.  Before heading to Europe, Arch was briefly stationed on the Mexican border during General John Pershing’s expedition against Pancho Villa.

A 1919 News-Times article on South Bend’s efforts to get the cannon that fired the first American artillery shell in World War I included this clip from Stars and Stripes, the official publication of the U.S. Expeditionary Force:

The first American artillery shot of the war was fired at five minutes after 6 o’clock the morning of Oct. 23, 1917, from a position about 400 meters east of Bathlemont, in the Luneville sector.

A French 75, dragged by the hands of American artillerymen over 800 meters of rough roads on a pitch black night, roared America’s artillery prelude at daybreak.  A heavy fog flashed into flame, a shrapnel shell coursed over the woods and valleys of Meurthe-et-Moselle, crossed a boundary line and fell somewhere in Lorraine.

Battery C of the sixth field artillery is so positive that this shell was America’s first shot that it has just prepared a sworn statement signed by an officer and four enlisted men who were in on the event, telling all the circumstances leading up to it.  The statement reveals, incidentally, that the original shell casing is now in Chicago, and that 18 other casings of that first morning’s firing were distributed among Pres’t Wilson, Gen. Pershing, Gen. Sibert, then commanding the first division, and others.

The gun is now at the United States Military Academy at West Point with other newly transported war trophies.   Before it left France, though, it had fired 20,000 rounds in action, and none of the gun crew serving it had been wounded.

The firing of the first shot was ceremonial, according to the signed statement, each man in the gun crew performing some task.  One soldier set the sights, another the elevation of the range, another the angle of site and another cut the fuse.  Twenty men were gathered about the gun when the command “Fire!” was given.  Because of the fog it was impossible to observe the effect of the first shot, but at 7 a.m., when the fog lifted, the firing was directed from an observation post to Haut Rioville farm in No-Man’s Land.

Sgt. Arch was chief of the gun crew, and at least one other man, Corporal Lewis Varady, a fellow Hungarian, also came from South Bend.

America’s direct involvement in World War I lasted barely a year and Arch was back in the U.S. in mid-1919.  In September, “Thunderous cheers followed by loud applause greeted Sgt. Alexander Arch, South Bend’s history maker, upon his visit to the House of Representatives. . .”  Arch and Varady received a three-minute standing ovation before heading on to Camp Zachary Taylor near Louisville, Kentucky, but not before receiving a triumphal welcome home in Indiana.

After the acclaimed veteran was mustered out of the army at Camp Taylor, he worked as a machinist and auto worker, probably at the Studebaker plant.  Arch married Julia Rebics in 1924 and the couple had four children.  He died in 1979.


Alexander Arch September 17 1919


During a victory parade in 1919, the Hoosier soldier was literally “profiled” in The Washington Times.  The newspaper thought he had a heroic face and a good jaw line, and used his experience as an exhortation to rise and shine, since “there are a good many victories won before breakfast”:

Alexander Arch Washington Times September 17 1919 (3)


Alexander Arch SB News Times September 28 1919

(South Bend News-Times, September 28, 1919.)


The News-Times had some of the best illustrators in Hoosier journalism.  Here are some other historic ads, cartoons, and flashy martial cries — most of it blatantly Germanophobic — published in the South Bend paper around the fateful year 1918.

SB News Times September 26 1918 (3)


SB News Times September 26 1918 (6)


SB News Times May 9 1918


SB News Times September 26 1918 (5)


SB News Times September 28 1918 (1)


SB News Times Sept 9 1917


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