Tag Archives: Paranormal

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

Players Cigarettes Bulldog 2

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

Having grown up in the Wabash Valley, I’d heard the strange story of John Heinl and his constant canine companion — the emerald-eyed phantom bulldog, “Stiffy Green.”  Even as an occasional believer in the paranormal, I knew the legend wasn’t true.  Yet, like most Terre Hauteans, I also knew literally nothing about the famous dog’s owner. As usual, fact sometimes outdoes fiction.  Here’s a bit about the real John Heinl, master of the green-eyed ghost hound, and an interesting Hoosier family.

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


Heinl Florist - Terre Haute Daily News November 30 1889
Terre Haute Daily News, November 30, 1889. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail - November 10 1894
Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail , November 10, 1894.

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

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

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

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


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

John G. Heinl -- Terre Haute Daily News 11-30-1889
Terre Haute Daily News, November 30, 1889. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail - March 23 1895
Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail, March 23, 1895. Hoosier State Chronicles.

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

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

Now for the ghostly legend.

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

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

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


Stiffy Green
Wabash Valley Visions & Voices.

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

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

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

Check out more spectral stories:

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

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

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


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

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

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

The Intriguing Tale of Pogue’s Run: A Civil War “Battle,” Ghosts, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Ghost 2

When you dig through old newspapers for a living, you find out pretty fast that almost every street corner has an entertaining story and sometimes a haunt or two.  Like the once-wild Pogue’s Run, a harnessed underwater ghost that trickles through subterranean Indianapolis, most of these stories are “out of sight, out of mind.”

Here’s a glimpse of the spectral history of the capitol city’s Near East Side.

Pogue’s Run, which in 1914 was re-channeled underground just north of New York Street before it flowed through downtown in tunnels, owes its name to a man who also vanished from sight.   Generally considered the first permanent white settler in Marion County, George Pogue, a “broad-shouldered,” dark-haired South Carolinian and blacksmith, was also, according to some accounts, the first recorded murder victim and the only man ever killed by American Indians in Indianapolis.

Settling in this isolated part of the new Hoosier state in March 1819, Pogue built a cabin for his family of seven, roughly where Pogue’s Run goes underneath today’s Michigan and Market Streets.  The family’s cabin sat near the old swamp that used to occupy most of the northeast outskirts of downtown.  Also called Perkins Run after another early settler who left the area “on account of loneliness,” the old stream in 1819 was wild and often flooded, not the sad open ditch and sewage channel it had become just a few decades later.


Indianapolis Journal January 5 1890


As an Indianapolis Journal article from January 5, 1890, reported, around the first of April, 1821, a Delaware or Wyandotte Indian known to whites as “Wyandot John” showed up at the Pogue family’s cabin.  Rumor had it that the wanderer was an outlaw among the Delawares.  He was probably also a horse thief — one of the worst offenses in those days.

Mrs. Pogue objected to Wyandot John being around the cabin, but the blacksmith gave him breakfast.  Some of Pogue’s horses had gone missing, and the visitor told him to go over to a Delaware  camp on Buck Creek twelve miles away.

Striking out into the woods, George Pogue, like the creek that still bears his name, never came back.  His murdered body may have been sent floating downstream.  (In 2013, a jaw bone showed up at Garfield Park, prompting investigators to ask if it was George Pogue’s.)

Indianapolis Journal January 5 1890 (2)

As the young city grew, the often rampaging creek rapidly came to be considered a “source of pestilence.”  Before legislators moved the Indiana capitol north from Corydon in 1825, they allotted $50 to rid Pogue’s Run of mosquitoes, which bred the malaria that killed off many infant towns on the Midwestern frontier.  Even as late as the Civil War, what became the Near East Side was thought of as remote from downtown and practically wild country.

***

On May 20, 1863, the creek became the site of the so-called “Battle of Pogue’s Run.”  At the Indiana State House, approximately 10,000 Democrats — including Copperheads and suspected members of the pro-Confederate Knights of the Golden Circle — gathered to protest the Lincoln administration.  Two months before the Battle of Gettysburg, the war was going badly for the Union, and Lincoln had just passed the Emancipation Proclamation, which angered Southern sympathizers.  With tensions running high, a large military force kept an eye on the Democrats downtown.  (Under the leadership of Dr. Thomas Bowles, the founder of French Lick, Indiana, the Knights eventually plotted to kidnap Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton and violently overthrow the state government).

That May, as Union soldiers confiscated pistols from Democrats at the Legislature, the crowd boarded trains to get out of the city.  Stopped on the tracks, one train car was raided for weapons.  On another, passengers (including many women, whom the Democrats believed wouldn’t be searched) threw somewhere between 500 and 2,000 pistols, rifles, and knives out the train window into the creek.  Republicans lampooned it as the “Battle of Pogue’s Run.”

A ghost story from the era appeared in the Indianapolis News on January 29, 1889:

Pogues Run Elm - Indianapolis News January 29 1889 (2)

Traditions of a Haunted Elm Tree in the Pogue’s Run Bottoms.

Nowhere on Hoosier soil has nature nourished such giant trees as in the Pogue’s Run bottoms.  In the days when trees were not appreciated the hand of the destroyer felled nearly all the great elm, walnut and sycamore peculiar to this district, but here and there a few remain, stately testimonials of the old-time forest grandeur.  There are elm trees here and there along the run that are wonders in this day.  On East Michigan street, beyond the creek, is one monarch whose branches have a diameter of over a hundred feet, and close to this one is the stump of a burnt-out sycamore, still showing signs of life, in which a family could comfortably live.  The interior of the hollow tree is eight feet across in the clear.

But one tree belonging to this group is better known than all the rest.  It is sometimes called “hangman’s elm,” sometimes “the gallows tree,” and occasionally the boys of the neighborhood speak of it as “the home of the ghost.”

The neighbors don’t believe in spooks, but somehow or other tradition has handed down a ghost story that will not die.  The public records and the memory of the “oldest inhabitant” furnish no evidence on this point, but there is a story in the air to this effect:  During the war, one day when there was bloody news from the front, and when human life was cheap, the body of an unknown man was found hanging from this particular tree.  Soldiers who climbed the tree to cut down the body found a curiously concealed opening in the tree.  It was instantly concluded that the hollow interior of the elm should be the place of sepulture.  The body was lowered into the hollow tree, but apparently it struck no bottom.  Certainly it gave forth no sound in falling.

It may have been that the dust and accumulation of rotted particles of the tree’s heart had made a soft, deep bed within so that no sound of the falling body came forth.  Or was it possible that the spreading roots of the elm walled in a deep “cave of the winds” or well?  At any rate nothing was heard when the body tumbled to its uncertain grave.

The spot where the supposed burial tree stood long ago became part of the city.  The site is beautiful.  Lots have been sold and houses built all about it.  A stranger bought the lot on which the tree stands.  But he will never build there.  One of the neighbors says:

‘From the swaying branches of the old elm come mournful sounds of distress, and many a man passing that way has been horrified at the footfalls of invisible pursuers.  Dim figures are sometimes seen in the neighborhood, but these always retrace their cloudy way to the tree and are, as it were, swallowed up by it . . .’


elm tree


By the 1890s, much of the eleven-mile course of Pogue’s Run was an open, festering sewer pit, clogged with industrial, animal and human waste.  Newspaper accounts from the time suggest that one of the most polluted sections of the creek was in the Cottage Home neighborhood just west of the federal arsenal (the building later became Arsenal Tech High School.) In 1897, Indianapolis city commissioners were already considering turning the de facto sewer into a controlled sewage conduit, as the creek “pulled pranks” in the form of deadly floods, doubly disastrous considering the amount of bacterial waste in the water.  In 1890, the Journal spoke of its appalling and unsanitary “odoriferous waters,” which boys who “Worked Like Beavers”  dammed up to make a swimming hole in 1903 — “for bathing purposes.”

The idyllic landscapes painted by pioneer Hoosier artists Jacob Cox and Christian Schrader show the creek before it was fouled up in the late 1800s.


pogue's run swimming hole - jacob cox 1840

(Pogue’s Run Swimming Hole by Jacob Cox, 1840s.  This spot is now the site of Indianapolis Union Station.)


Pogue's Run Covered Bridge 1850s Christian Schrader

(This drawing by Christian Schrader shows the Pogue’s Run Covered Bridge, which once sat on the National Road near the intersection of College Avenue and East Washington St.)


Several old-fashioned bridges, made of stone and wood, crossed Pogue’s Run  in the 1890s.  Stories circulated that at least one of these, at the intersection of Highland Avenue and what used to be called Campbell Street, had a ghost.

The Indianapolis Journal ran the story in 1896.  (Campbell was renamed East North Street that September, three months before “The Pogue’s Run Ghost” came out on December 11.)  This Gilded-Age paranormal site is at 603 N. Highland Ave., less than a block west of Arsenal Tech’s tennis court.

Pogue's Run Ghost 1

Pogue's Run Ghost 2 Pogue's Run Ghost 3

Pogue's Run Ghost 4

Could the “specter” have been the fog of the creek — or was it the spooky miasmas of sewage elevating into the air?  (That sounds sinister enough to me)!

As far as I can tell, this piece of ghost-lore never showed up again in the city’s newspapers, and might have dropped out of memory altogether when a modern concrete bridge was put here.  But maybe Google’s Nine-Eyes sees what we can’t see?  Like this blurry spot on the new bridge, captured here in June 2014:

564 N Highland Ave (6)


564 N Highland Ave (5)


Pogues Run Bridges - Indianapolis News May 13 1905

(The Indianapolis News portrayed some of the old stone bridges that once crossed Pogue’s Run in May 1905, on the eve of a dramatic re-engineering project that sent it through tunnels downtown.)


One last, and arguably far more amazing, story :

A few steps south of the “ghost bridge” is a parking lot at 564 N. Highland Avenue.  For decades, this was the site of a small shotgun house owned and occupied by Louisa Magruder, daughter of Thomas Magruder, whom many believe to be the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom.

As Joan Hostetler has shown over at HistoricIndianapolis.com, Louisa Magruder lived next to the so-called ghost bridge from the 1870s until her death in 1900 at age 92.  The elderly woman must have heard these spooky stories, since she was probably the phantom’s closest neighbor.


Louisa Magruder


Louisa’s land along Pogue’s Run had once been part of a farm and orchard owned by Indiana Governor Noah Noble, whose father kept the Magruders in slavery back in Virginia and Kentucky.  The Magruders were freed when the Nobles moved north to Indiana around 1820, though they continued to be employed as servants in the governor’s family.  Louisa, who had been a nanny for the Nobles, lived along the creek for almost thirty years after the Civil War.

What might have been the real inspiration for “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” — her father Thomas’ house at the corner of East Market St. and North College Ave. — sat barely a mile southwest of her house in Cottage Home.  The novelist Harriet Stowe’s brother, abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher, was a Presbyterian minister in Indianapolis in the 1840s and often visited the Magruder cabin, where he must have known her, and Stowe herself lived in Cincinnati.  As pioneer historian J.P. Dunn writes in his 1910 History of Greater Indianapolis: “It is the testimony of the Noble family that ‘Mrs. Stowe was a frequent visitor at Uncle Tom’s cabin, and wrote much of her book there’. . . Uncle Tom had but two children, Moses and his younger sister Louisa, and they were middle-aged people when Mrs. Stowe knew them.”


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Concat: staylor336 [at] gmail.com

Haunted Hoosier History: John Baer’s Ghost, Thornhope, Indiana

On February 16, 1868, John Baer left his home in Thornhope, Pulaski County, Indiana.  He had $3,000 on his person to buy livestock at Star City.  Baer was never seen or heard from again.  Unless, of course, you believe the testimony of one of his neighbors, Gabriel Fickle, who contended that on the 30th anniversary of Baer’s disappearance his ghost appeared to him.  What did Baer’s ghost say?  You can read about the spooky encounter in the Marshall County Independent by clicking below.

Read more about the ghost of John Baer in the Marshall County Independent, February 24, 1899.

Haunted Hoosier History: Gottlieb Haslinger’s Ghost, Marshall County, Indiana

October is here, and soon it will be Halloween.  Halloween celebrants may be interested to discover what can be found in historic newspapers, including tales of ghosts and hauntings.  I stumbled across the following article (see image) yesterday about a haunting near Big Lake, better known as Lake of the Woods, near Bremen in Marshall County.

"The Ghost Will Not Down," Marshall County Independent, 1 August 1895
“The Ghost Will Not Down,” Marshall County Independent, 1 August 1895. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.

As a historian, I immediately wanted to know if there was primary source evidence of the person and event the paper referenced.  I found Gottlieb Haslinger in the 1870 U.S. Census.  He was born about 1826 in Württemberg, Germany.  He immigrated to the United States in 1854.  In the 1870 census, the census taker listed him as a hotel keeper with his brother, William.

Gottlieb Haslinger did in fact exist, but the paper was recounting events from two decades earlier.  Was Haslinger really murdered, or was it local lore that started circulating?  Then I found this article reporting his death in the January 7, 1875 issue of the Marshall County Republican.  The article also recounts another mysterious death that occurred at the same place a year before.

Was the area really haunted or not?  Does Haslinger’s ghost still roam the area?  Only a team of ghost hunters could presume to answer the questions.  As for historical researchers like me, it is interesting to find primary sources for a person and event that might just as well be dismissed as fanciful fiction and folklore concocted to drive newspaper sales.