All posts by Justin Clark

The “Black Day” of the General Assembly

The Indiana State House, photograph by Earl Brooks. Indiana Memory.

During intense political battles, particularly in the legislative branches of government, shouting matches sometimes turn into full on fights on the floor. This is especially evident with the intense, but weirdly funny, videos of legislators beating each other up. One from Time magazine, called “Politician Brawls Caught on Tape around the World,” displays this weird juxtaposition of suited politicians acting like completely foolish children. However, it would be naive to think that this type of behavior is limited to the present. In fact, one incident in Indiana’s legislature during the late nineteenth century demonstrates that political brawls go back much further.

Governor Isaac Gray, 1884 engraving, Indiana Memory.

Beginning as an electoral dispute that turned into outright violence, the “Black Day” of the Indiana General Assembly remains one of the darkest moments in Indiana political history. In 1885, Governor Isaac P. Gray, who had recently assumed the office, expressed public interest in an Benjamin Harrison’s U. S. Senate seat when Harrison’s term expired in 1888. The Republican-turned-Democrat Gray’s aspiration hit a snag when his lieutenant governor, Mahlon D. Manson, resigned. Some critics charged that Gray could not vacate the governorship if there was no successor in place. After consulting with Attorney General Francis T. Hord, Hord recommended that the lieutenant governor’s vacancy be filled at the next election in 1886.  Gray trusted that the Democratic nominee for the office, John C. Nelson, would win. Instead, the Republican challenger, Robert S. Robertson, won the election, thereby yoking the Democratic Gray with a Republican successor.

The Republican controlled house recognized the election, but the Democratic controlled senate fought the outcome.  As a countermeasure, Democrats defended their own Senate President, Alonzo Green Smith, and backed his move to be lieutenant governor, instead of Robertson. As the Indiana State Sentinel reported, “Indiana presents the singular spectacle of a State having an acting Democratic Lieutenant-Governor and a claimant for his seat in the person of a gentleman recently elected Lieutenant-Governor by Republican votes.”

Alonzo Green Smith, Indiana State Sentinel, March 2, 1887, Hoosier State Chronicles.
Robert Robertson, Indiana State Sentinel, March 2, 1887, Hoosier State Chronicles.

The 1886 lieutenant governor’s race contentiously pitted Democrats against Republicans. Smith even “appeared in the Circuit Court and instituted proceedings to restrain Robertson from assuming any duties of the office to which he claims to have been elected.” The court ruled against Robertson, but its decision was overturned by the Indiana Supreme Court on February 23, which gave Robertson the impetus to try to take his seat as president of the senate. The situation reached a tipping point on the morning of February 24, 1887. Lieutenant-Governor Elect Robertson tried to be seated in the chamber as president of the senate, but Smith would not allow it. Robertson pushed through the crowd into the chamber and demanded his seat, but Smith again denied him. At this point, according to the Indianapolis Journal, doorkeeper David E. Bulger stopped Robertson, catching him “by the throat, and with the other hand by the shoulder. Holding him thus for an instant, he threw him some fifteen and twenty feet from the steps” of the chamber’s dais. Robertson defended his right to be there, his “position to which the people elected me.” After some more rumblings inside the chamber, Smith declared, “If this man persists in speaking, remove him from the floor.”

Indianapolis Journal, February 25, 1887, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Robertson was forcibly removed from the chamber, and fighting and chaos broke out in the Senate chamber and its nearby hallways. Some legislators were even seriously injured. In regards to one incident, the Indianapolis News reported:

The trouble between Senators McDonald and Johnson occurred in about this way: . . . McDonald took hold of him, probably with no belligerent intention, and he was pushed over the arm of the sofa, near the door, when he got up. McDonald still had hold of him and Johnson struck him between the eyes, and then each man tried to impair the facial beauty of the other, but the crowd prevented. . . .Doorkeeper Pritchett [who] looked like he had been through a thrashing machine.

Indianapolis News, February 24, 1887, Hoosier State Chronicles.

It led to a complete breakdown of the state legislature that lasted throughout the 1887 session. As the Indianapolis News noted, “The one universal comment is that all legislation is now at an end. The two houses are running counter, or at least independent of each other. The house will never recede from the position taken yesterday, and advice is coming in from all directions that there must be no compromise now.”

Terre Haute Weekly Gazette, March 3, 1887, Hoosier State Chronicles.

The next day, Robertson attempted to be seated again but was “denied by the doorkeepers.” Not furthering legal action again Green and the Democrats, Robertson was never seated, and his election as lieutenant governor was never formally recognized. These ruckus machinations ruined Governor Gray’s campaign for the U.S. Senate and even fueled the campaign for the direct election of senators, which became the Seventeenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution in 1912. Overall, the “Black Day” of the General Assembly remains one the darkest and most unsettling moments in Indiana political history. It reminds us that while the rancor and partisanship of our own time is certainly upsetting, historically speaking, it’s been much worse.

Consulted Works

  • Justin E. Walsh, The Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly, 1816-1978 (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1987).
  • Mitchell Walsh, Dennis L. Walsh, and James E. St. Clair, “Isaac P. Gray,” in The Governors of Indiana, ed. Linda C. Gugin and James E. St. Clair (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society and Indiana Historical Bureau, 2006).

Some material for this blog originally appeared on my other historical blog, IGA History: http://bit.ly/2lzzZrJ.

Ray Bronson: “The Indianapolis Pugilist”

Ray Bronson, circa 1911. Library of Congress.

Boxing holds a revered place in the history of American life. From Jack Johnson and Rocky Marciano to Muhammad Ali, the sport has captivated audiences and broken barriers. One boxer who did just that was Ray Bronson, known as the “Indianapolis Pugilist.” Starting his boxing career in his teens, Bronson fought in 104 matches, with 48 wins and 22 Knock-Outs. His skill in the ring took him all over the world, from Sydney to London, where he was one of the first American boxers to fight abroad. Later in life, he cultivated upstart boxers, acting as their manager, and worked to promote the sport. Bronson’s name has largely been forgotten by sports aficionados, but his mark on boxing remains.

Bronson circa 1912, in an article from Horseshoer’s Magazine. Google Books.

Ray Bronson was born on August 2, 1887 in Webster City, Iowa. As an article in the May 1912 issue of Horseshoers’ Magazine wrote, “When Ray was just a little kid he was thrown upon his own resources.” It is unclear as to how he ended up in Indianapolis, but what is clear is his chosen profession before life in the ring: horseshoeing. Working as an apprentice to Indianapolis “horsehoer” (or farrier) Dennis Egan, young Bronson learned his craft as well as built up his physique. Within six months on the job, it was said that “there was never a horse too frisky for Ray to shoe.” He belonged to the International Journeymen Horseshoers and served as the Vice-President of its local lodge 24 until 1906. After that, the boxing gig took off.

Ray Bronson at the age of 18. 1906. Newspapers.com.

He began his boxing career in 1905, as a seventeen-year-old kid, and racked up wins almost immediately. As the Indianapolis News wrote on February 21, 1905, “Young Bronson made a splendid showing in the first preliminary of four rounds. His opponent was Billy Hinkle. Bronson had the better of each of the rounds, in which there was hardly an idle moment, and easily won the decision.” A month later he fought Jimmy Casey to a draw, where he was willing to “rough it with his smaller opponent” but couldn’t secure a clear victory.

Indianapolis News, January 25, 1906, Newspapers.com.

Nevertheless, Bronson was on his way to becoming one of the country’s most capable fighters. About a year later, in another article in the Indianapolis News, Bronson’s budding prowess was described in detail:

Bronson apparently has all the requisites of a successful fighter. He has appeared in almost every boxing entertainment held in this city during the last two years, and has nearly always won by the knockout route. He can weigh in at 120 pounds. A blacksmith by profession, he is as strong as a bull and has hands like a heavyweight. Although there has been a great deal of boxing in this city, the good fighters that have been developed are extremely rare.

Bronson’s victory against Willie Riley in 1906 at the Empire Theater in Indianapolis cemented the newspaper’s opinion of the upstart boxer. In another editorial, Bronson was described as “all muscle and bone” and lauded for his defeat of Tommy Grant, which took him only “one minute and fifty seconds.” He “appears to be most promising candidate for high pugilistic honors this city [Indianapolis] has produced in a long time.”

Hammond Times, May 9 1907, Hoosier State Chronicles.

After continued success in the ring, Bronson went professional in 1909. When he didn’t knock them out or win by points, Bronson came out of matches with a draw. On January 22, 1909, Bronson fought Jimmy Dunn in ten rounds that resulted in said draw. “Dunn seemed heavier and his work in the earlier rounds gave promise . . .,” reported the Hammond Times, “. . . But Bronson was the aggressor all the way.” A match later that month caused a stir among the boxing world. Ollie Chill, “an ex-prize fighter and umpire[],” posed as “Julius Stein” and let Bronson knock him out in one round in exchange for “considerable money” in Atlanta, Georgia. While evidence suggests that Bronson was aware of Chill’s motives, since he fought to a draw against the real Julius Stein in three separate matches, it nonetheless gave the young Indianapolis fighter one of his more peculiar wins.

Hammond Times, February 2, 1909, Hoosier State Chronicles.

In February of 1909, Bronson suffered one of his first major defeats, when he was knocked out by Freddie Welsh in the thirteenth round of “what was to have been a twenty round bout before the West Side Athletic Club” in New Orleans. However, he bounced back with a victory against Jack Redmond and a strong bout against Packey McFarland that ended in a draw decision. As the Hammond Times concluded, “For fifteen rounds, Bronson had a shade the better of the bout, and had it ended at the close of the tenth victory would have gone to the Indianapolis man.” Over the next year, Bronson continued to rack up victories, including a knock-out victory against Tommy O’Keefe, and even opened his own boxing club in Indianapolis.

Hammond Times, August 2, 1910, Hoosier State Chronicles.

While Ray Bronson enjoyed success in boxing here at home, it was his fights abroad that gave him his renowned reputation as well as his legacy. In the fall of 1910, boxing promoter Hugh D. McIntosh organized a group of boxers to travel to Australia for an extended campaign. Bronson was one of these boxers, alongside such well-known names as Packey McFarland, Jimmy Clabby (also from Indiana—Hammond), and Billy Papke. They left for Australia in September on the steamer Zealandia, arriving in Honolulu, Hawaii for a brief resupply, before their final leg to the land down under. They landed in Brisbane, Australia on October 2, 1910. Upon his arrival, the Sydney Sun declared Bronson the “most promising of the coming lightweights.”

The group of boxers who traveled to Australia with promoter Hugh McIntosh, 1910. Bronson is in the front row, first on the right. Terapeak.

In many respects, they would be quite right. Of the six bouts during his 1910-11 Australian tour, Bronson only lost one. Of the other five, there were three knock-outs and two won on points. His first match against Tommy Jones ended with a points victory, with Bronson doing “most of the forcing, using the right hand mainly to the body.” His next victory came via points against Sydney’s Sid Sullivan. The Sydney Referee referred to the match’s attendance as “possibly the biggest crowd attracted to the Stadium so far this season” and that Bronson’s style was “high-pressure,” but “chivalrous.” He secured his first knock-out win against Frank Thorn, in a match so intense, that Thorn actually broke his arm in the third round.

Sydney Referee, November 23, 1910, National Library of Australia.

His only defeat came at the hands of Hughie Mehegan, then lightweight champion of Australia, likely the result of his physical condition, which was described by the press as “drawn and pocky around the face, his eyes [were] sunk deeply, and a plainly visible black ring [shown] under both ribs.” Nevertheless, he “staved off serious trouble, and remained on his feet until the end,” losing only by points. His final two bouts, against Arthur Douglas and Jim Armstrong, ended with knock-out victories for the Indianapolis lightweight. Before returning home, he had a final overseas bout in London, England, fighting against Sid Burns at the Olympia. He would have won this fight had it not been for a foul called in the eighteenth round against him. Nevertheless, he returned home to a hero’s welcome, having cemented his place in the boxing world.

Hammond Times, April 19, 1911, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Within a year after coming home from Australia, Bronson achieved his greatest triumph when he won the welterweight championship against “Young” Erne in Indianapolis on February 24, 1912. As the Hammond Times reported, the two “battled ten furious rounds” and while “No decision was rendered by the referee, [but] on points Bronson had the lead and earned the unanimous newspaper verdict.” That same year, he fought career rival Packey McFarland again, to a capacity crowd during the week of the Indianapolis 500. While they fought to what amounted to a draw, McFarland was given a slight points edge and awarded the victory. The Indianapolis News reported that Bronson “did not put up his usual exhibition of good boxing, and about his only damage was done at infighting and at close range.”

Hammond Times, May 29, 1912, Hoosier State Chronicles.
Packey McFarland, circa 1910. Library of Congress.

This was the beginning of Bronson’s decline as a professional boxer; he would never again stack up wins as he did before he held the championship. He lost the welterweight title on January 13, 1913 against Spike Kelly in Memphis, Tennessee and continued to have lackluster showings against Tommy Howell and Hillard Lang, despite Bronson holding his own in the latter match until the eighth round. He even returned to Australia in 1914 to try recapture his former edge, but to no avail. His first match against Waldemar Holberg on New Year’s Day 1914 in Melbourne ended in defeat, with Bronson taking most of the damage during twenty rounds. His second match against Frank Picato was especially disappointing. As the Sydney Referee reported, “Neither Ray Bronson nor Frank Picato was in condition to do justice to his reputation,” and “at one stay the galleryites counted both men out.” His final match in Australia against Matt Wells on February 28, 1914 ended in defeat, with Wells knocking him out in the seventh round. His days as a prime boxer were over.

An advertising card for the Bronson-Wells match featuring Ray Bronson, 1914. National Museum of Australia.
An advertising card for the Bronson-Wells match featuring Matt Wells, 1914. National Museum of Australia.

However, with endings come beginnings, and Bronson reconfigured his career with the same determination outside of the ring as he had shown in. On a personal level, he finally settled down. Bronson married Marguerite Ryan on June 26, 1913, and as the Hammond Times noted, “Bronson has done well financially in the fighting game and will probably devote himself to business interests with which he is now connected.” In 1914, he began devoting more of his energies to managing boxers. As the Tacoma Times reported, “Ray Bronson, Indianapolis welterweight champion, [is] now managing Milburn Saylor. . . and has a number of crack battlers under his wing. . . .” Saylor became one of Bronson’s key fighters during his years as a manager. Under Bronson’s wing, Saylor had many victories, including a knockout of New York fighter Leach Cross and a ten round romp against Jimmy Murphy.

Tacoma Times, July 18, 1914, Chronicling America.
Ray Bronson and protege Milburn Saylor. Indianapolis News, February 24, 1916, Hoosier State Chronicles.

In 1916, Bronson started managing young Philadelphian Jack McCarron, a middleweight who “started fighting in 1909 and has never been knocked out.” McCarron also had a slew of wins under Bronson’s management, including his “lacing” of Joe Borrell, noted as “one of the fastest bouts ever staged here” by the Indianapolis News. He also gained victories against Silent Martin and Tommy Burke, with the latter bout being “the worst lacing that the blond haired boy [Burke] ever received.” Managing and promoting boxers became Bronson’s second life within the sport and continued to provide him with a generous income. However, as the Indianapolis News editorialized, Bronson “believes the boxing game is getting into the seer and yellow,” and that boxing’s key fighters should treat it as a “business” rather than “side-show attractions.” It is interesting to contemplate what Bronson would have thought of the sport’s big-time spectacle today, given his opinion in 1916.

Indianapolis News, September 7, 1920, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Despite all his success as a manager, he wanted to try fighting one more time. On September 7, 1920, after nearly six years out of the ring, Bronson fought Jack Britton in Cedar Point, Ohio. The Indianapolis News’s coverage of the bout wasn’t kind to the veteran boxer:

Jack Britton, welterweight champion, jogged along to an easy victory over Ray Bronson who essayed a comeback after six years out of the ring.

Bronson apparently lasted the full ten rounds through generosity of Britton, who toyed with his opponent throughout the fight and never appeared to be in danger. In a statement, the champion claimed he could have knocked Bronson out in the first round, had he been so disposed.

His comeback was short-lived. Within a month, Bronson announced his formal retirement from boxing. As the Collyer’s Eye in Chicago reported, “Ray Bronson, welterweight, has retired from boxing to devote his time to managing football and basketball teams and promoting bouts.” While his name did appear on a boxing card in 1922, according to the Richmond Palladium, it is unclear whether he was there as a manager or fighter. Either way, Ray Bronson’s boxing career was finally done.

Collyer’s Eye, October 16, 1920, Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections.

After his retirement, Bronson’s story is rather difficult to piece together. By the 1920s, he was living in Portage, Ohio in a boarding house with his wife, according to Census Records. He then apparently moved to Jacksonville, Florida by 1935; he also applied for Social Security in 1942. Based on secondary sources, as well as a listing in the Florida death index, Ray Bronson died in 1948. His cause of death or exact date are currently unknown. For a man so widely covered in the national and international press, his death is ironically elusive.

With a “young man’s clean-cut face” and a “horseshoe punch,” Ray Bronson rocked the boxing world during the early 20th century. His considerable wins, international bouts, and successful management of other boxers put him a cut above most fighters. He was also a Hoosier, with a Midwestern work ethic and dedication to clean living, that buttressed his success in and out of the ring. As the Horseshoer’s Magazine wrote in 1912, “The Horseshoer’s Union may well be proud of this boy, for every one [sic] in Indianapolis is.”

Ray Bronson, 1921 Exhibit Card, BoxRec.com.

New Issues Available!

Greetings chroniclers!

To ring in the new year, we have more issues available for you. We have added issues from the Richmond Weekly Palladium (1875) and the Richmond Daily Palladium (1898-1902, 1904-1907).  With these new additions, nearly 9,000 news pages are made available.

With them, you can read about the Spanish-American War, the Roosevelt era, as well as local issues during the period.

As always, happy searching!

A Hoosier Shackleton: Julius Frederick and the Greely Expedition

Julius R. Frederick, courtesy of NOAA.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, expeditions from multiple nations took on one of the most dangerous, treacherous parts of the globe: the north and south poles. The most well-known example is Irish explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. His expedition to Antarctica in 1915 became world-famous for his actions to save all 22 men of his crew from extreme cold for 105 days. Biographies of this journey became best-sellers, inspiring many on-screen adaptations, most notably 2002’s Shackleton, starring Kenneth Branagh. However, Shackleton wasn’t the only artic explorer to receive accolades for his endurance and bravery. Julius Frederick, Indiana resident and survivor of the Lady Franklin Bay expedition, also endured harsh temperatures, food shortages, and crew disruptions while stranded in the arctic.

The crew of the Lady Franklin Bay expedition. Frederick is fifth from the left in the back row. Courtesy of NARA/Glenn Stein.

According to the Indianapolis News, Frederick was born in Dayton, Ohio on July 21, 1852. He spent most of his early years in St. Mary’s, Ohio before his mother died when he was thirteen. Without much keeping him in Ohio, Frederick moved to Chicago, taking odd jobs as a messenger boy and railroad worker before he enlisted in the US army in 1876. For many years, Frederick was a soldier in military campaigns against Native Americans, fighting the Sioux and Nez Pierce. Specifically, he fought in the battle of Muddy Creek against the Sioux on May 7, 1877.

Adolphus Greely, leader of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition. Courtesy of Google Books.

By 1879, Frederick was interested in a different course and signed up to join the Howgate expedition to the North Pole. However, the unstable condition of the ship stranded Frederick in Montana for another two years. Finally, in 1881, Frederick joined the Lady Franklin Bay expedition led by Adolphus Greely, a then-First Lieutenant of the Army’s 5th Cavalry Regiment. Lady Franklin Bay is by Ellesmere Island, Nanavut, Canada, making it one of the most northern spots on the globe to be explored. The expedition’s task, in Frederick’s words, was to “take scientific observations within the Arctic Circle.” This came in the form of weather recording devices and other techniques used to understand the intense climate of the arctic region. In August of 1881, the 21 person crew set course on the ship Proteus, a “steam whaler” that carried them from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Lady Franklin Bay. As historian Glenn Stein noted, Frederick’s “nick­name among his Arctic comrades was “Shorty” because of his five-foot, two-inch stature” and he “did little hunt­ing during the LFBE, but performed the various duties of a cook, steam-launch engineer, and shoemaker.”

Map of Fort Conger and Lady Franklin Bay. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Once they arrived at Lady Franklin Bay, Greely and his team began their months-long investigation of the region, complete with recordings of the climate and natives. This was all in accordance with a multinational project called the International Polar Year that, according to historian C. J. Taylor, sought to establish “14 research stations” to “study the geophysics and geodesy of the polar region.” Among these stations, they resided at Fort Conger, an outpost a few miles inland from the bay. During these investigations, Sergeants David Brainard and James Lockwood confirmed the “farthest north” record up to that time. Things were going well until the supply ship Neptune failed to reach Lady Franklin Bay and returned to the United States. With its failure went the expedition’s resupply of food and other necessities. Subsequently, the expedition went from a mission of knowledge to one of survival.

Fort Conger, the headquarters of the Greely Expedition. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Another image of their headquarters, Indianapolis Journal, January 7, 1904, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Greely and his men began to face intense supply shortages which ravaged the crew, leading many to die from the lack of food and the harsh temperatures. A first rescue attempt in 1883 had failed, when the ship Proteus had been sunk by ice collisions, permanently shifting the crew southward from Fort Conger. It was in this dire situation that Julius Frederick endured his most painful experience of the expedition. In April of 1884, only a few months before the party was rescued, Frederick and Sergeant George W. Rice trekked to Cape Isabella, Baird Inlet, “to attempt the recovery of the hundred pounds of English beef which had been abandoned in November, 1883.” As a profile in Scribner’s magazine wrote, Frederick and Rice risked “their lives at almost every step of the way . . . only to find, after hours of searching among the floes, that their triumph was a barren one. . . .” The meat “had drifted from the shore” and was not salvageable. Rice’s condition worsened dramatically and he asked Frederick to leave him to die. Frederick refused and stayed with Rice until the very end, wrapping Rice’s “frozen feet with the temiak, or fur-lined jacket taken from his [Frederick’s] own back for this purpose, and then sat and held his unfortunate comrade till the latter’s pain was relieved by death.” Frederick initially yearned to die but, dedicated to his mission, saved Rice’s food ration, laid Rice’s body to rest, gathered up their supplies, and returned to camp so his colleagues wouldn’t suffer during a search attempt. As Scribner’s wrote, “He would use what was his own, but would not rob the living or the dead.”

Sergeant George W. Rice. Frederick comforted him during his final minutes while there were on a supply run. Courtesy of Internet Archive.
Julius Frederick (right) helping comrade George Rice (left) stay comfortable before he died in April, 1884. Courtesy of Internet Archive.

While many died from malnutrition, immense cold, and sheer exhaustion during the Greely expedition, only one was executed for insubordination. Private Charles B. Henry was caught stealing food in excess of his ration and summarily punished for his crimes. As the Fort Wayne Sunday Gazette noted, Frederick recalled that Private Henry was shot in the back with “two balls taking effect and producing instant death.” The Gazette shared more details from Frederick about the grisly conditions:

He said further there may have been cannibalism, but of this he has no personal knowledge. Henry had been warned several times about stealing food, but he repeated the offense and finally Greely issued the order for his execution.

Private Charles B. Henry. He was executed for stealing food and supplies. Courtesy of NARA/Daily Mail.

Frederick’s account was also published in the New York Times. However, the Indianapolis News reported that survivor Maurice Connell claimed Henry had been falsely accused and that Greely had actually stolen food. “To these charges,” the News wrote, “Sergeant Frederichs [sic], of this city, gives an emphatic denial, claiming that he himself saw Henry commit the theft. . . .” Greely also defended his decision to the New York Times, exclaiming that “it was discovered that, with other articles [food], Henry had stolen and secreted the sealskin boots of the hunter of the expedition.” The execution of Private Henry was one of the more inhumane moments of the Greely expedition, an acknowledgement of the harsh environment encompassing the men.

The six survivors of the LFB expedition. Frederick is the first on the left, back row. Courtesy of Corbis/Getty Images.

On June 23, 1884, after three long and suffering years, the survivors of the Greely expedition were rescued by a slew of ships led by Commander Winfield Schley. When all was said and done, there were only six survivors: Frederick, Brainard, Biederbick, Connell, Long, and Greely himself. Frederick was promoted to Second Lieutenant for his service during the expedition. The rest had perished during the years-long process to resupply and then rescue the expedition party. Greely, as quoted in the Indianapolis Journal, lamented that “six out of twenty-five were brought home. Nineteen brave men remain in that land of desolation.” When the crew docked at Portsmouth, New Hampshire on August 4, 1884, the New York Times wrote:

Never before in the history of Portsmouth has there been so grand and imposing an event as the celebration of the return of Lieut. Greely and the survivors of the expedition. . . . They were enthusiastically greeted as they landed, and the crowd pressed forward to shake their hands.

New York Times, August 5, 1884, Historic New York Times.

The hero’s welcome they received from their fellow citizens underscored the almost unthinkable hardships these men faced while in the arctic.

After a few other postings, Frederick moved to Indianapolis in February 1885, on assignment for the federal Signal and Weather Bureau Services. His move back to the US required some adjustment, especially in regards to the climate. “Sergeant Frederick[s],” the Indianapolis Journal wrote on January 13, 1887, “was about, yesterday, in his shirtsleeves complaining that the weather was much too warm.” The article further quoted him:

“I suppose an Esquimau [sic],” said the Sergeant, “couldn’t be made to understand that heat, no matter how strong it might be, could under any circumstances, occasion suffering. A hereafter of unquenchable fire would have no terrors for him, and when missionaries are sent to the ever-frozen north, they will have to preach a future for the wicked of even more intense cold.”

Indianapolis Journal, January 13, 1887, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Despite his acclimation to the cold, Frederick never fully recovered from his expedition. In an interview with the Indianapolis News, when asked of why he chose to live more inland in Indiana, he cited “rheumatism” as a motivator.

Indianapolis News, June 10, 1902, Hoosier State Chronicles.

In 1902, after many years of lobbying by the state legislature, Julius Frederick received a final promotion, first-class Sergeant of the signal corps of the army, as well as a retirement with pension. Biederbick, Long, and Connell also received the same commendation. The measure was passed by the Congress and signed by President Theodore Roosevelt on June 12, 1902. This final tribute, explained by Indiana Congressman Jesse W. Overstreet in an article in the Indianapolis News, was to “give to these men the only recognition which it remains for a grateful nation to bestow upon those who have imperiled their lives in war or in pursuit of science. This expedition carried the American flag to the northernmost point it has ever been planted by any scientific expedition.” Frederick’s contributions to exploration were finally recognized by the United States and he could finally retire to focus on his health.

Unfortunately, by the fall of 1903, Frederick’s health steadily declined. As the Indianapolis Journal reported, Frederick was “lying in a critical condition at his home on Center Drive, Woodruff place. Acute gastritis, brought on by exposure while with the General A. W. Greely expedition to the North Pole nineteen years ago, is the cause of Sergeant Frederick’s illness.” Frederick died on January 6, 1904 from complications from stomach cancer. He was only 51 years old. Upon his death, the Monthly Weather Review applauded his work in meteorology and noted that he died “enjoying the respect and esteem of all who knew him.” His friend and fellow Greely expedition survivor, Henry Biederbick, traveled all the way from New Jersey to attend his funeral. Frederick was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.

Indianapolis Journal, January 7, 1904, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Reflecting on the expedition, Frederick said to the Indianapolis News that:

The Greely expedition was most unfortunate. I am not going to criticise [sic]. It was a horrible experience. I think, however that the success of polar expeditions is largely a question of equipping well. My expedition for the most part had only the rigors of the climate to contend against.

Frederick’s humility and perseverance, in the face of unparalleled challenges, speaks to the importance of exploration. As astronomer Carl Sagan once wrote, “We have always been explorers. It is part of our nature. Since we first evolved a million years or so ago in Africa, we have wandered and explored our way across the planet.” Frederick was one of those explorers, a brave soul who dared to face the elements and survived. In his success the world grew more connected, more understood. Upon Frederick’s death, a friend recalled a motto that he had “made a precept throughout his life: ‘Nothing is impossible to him that does.” If that is the case, then Frederick thoroughly achieved the impossible.

LFB expedition memorial plaque, Pim Island, 2005. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

New Issues Available!

new-issues-1-4-2017

Greetings Chroniclers!

To ring in the new year, we’ve added another 10,000 pages to Hoosier State Chronicles. Our collection of the Richmond Palladium (Daily) has grown to 1928 issues, encompassing most of 1920-1922. You can learn more about Indiana’s place within the early years of the “Roaring Twenties.”

Happy new year and, as always, happy searching!

“The Best of the Season:” Mark Twain’s Indiana Lectures

"America's Best Humorist," Mark Twain. Lithograph by Joseph F. Keppler, 1885. Library of Congress.
“America’s Best Humorist,” Mark Twain. Lithograph by Joseph F. Keppler, 1885. Library of Congress.

From James Whitcomb Riley to Kurt Vonnegut, Indiana is well-known for its literary heritage. This heritage developed, in-part, through personal appearances, where authors read from their works and shared new material with audiences. Of the lecturers, one of the most successful during the Gilded Age was Mark Twain. Born in Missouri as Samuel L. Clemens, Mark Twain became one of the late-19th century’s most popular and acclaimed authors. Alongside his successful career as a novelist and cultural critic, Twain crisscrossed the country, regaling packed theaters with stories, readings from new written material, and plain-old good jokes.

Map highlighting Mark Twain's lectures in the Midwest. Mark Twain Project.
Map highlighting Mark Twain’s lectures in the Midwest. Mark Twain Project.

One of his first visits to Indiana as a lecturer was January 4, 1869, when he performed a reading of “The American Vandal Abroad.”  As reported by the Indianapolis Daily Sentinel:

We caution our readers not to forget the treat prepared for them this evening by the Library Association. Mark Twain, one of the real humorists of the day, will deliver his lecture entitled “The American Vandal Abroad,” and his merits entitle him to a large audience. The lecture will be delivered at Metropolitan Hall, and reserved seats may be secured without extra charge at Bonham’s Music Store.

Mark Twain, circa 1860-1880. Indiana Memory,
Mark Twain, circa 1860-1880. Indiana Memory,

While the exact content of his performance from that night was not reported, he had repeatedly given the lecture through 1868-69, and a compiled version was published by literature scholar Paul Fatout, in his book, Mark Twain Speaking. In this lecture, Twain referred to the “American Vandal” as someone who “goes everywhere and is always at home everywhere . . . His is proud and looks proud. His countenance is beaming. He does not fail to let the public know that he is an American.” Twain’s lecture, like his broader work, represents an American voice that spoke to the Midwest, especially places like Indiana.

Indianapolis News, January 1, 1872. From Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis News, January 1, 1872. From Hoosier State Chronicles.

In 1872, Twain returned to Indiana and gave a lecture sharing snippets from his then-upcoming work, Roughing It. According to the Indianapolis News, Mark Twain gave his lecture at the Y.M.C.A. Association hall on January 1, 1872, at a cost of 50 cents at the door, 75 cents for reserved seats (what a bargain!).  As the News reported:

Mark Twain, the noted humorist and author, lectures here to-night [sic] on “Passages from Roughing It.” Mr. Twain has a national reputation and should appear before a hall of people; besides the Y. M. C. A., under whose auspices he lectures, are in absolute want through lack of means. Let Association Hall be crowded to-night [sic].

This lecture was a marked departure from “Vandal,” both in style and in subject. Twain shared with audiences his experiences out west, from camping in the outskirts of Carson City, Nevada to riding colt horses and getting in duels.

Terre Haute Evening Mail, January 6, 1872. From Hoosier State Chronicles.
Terre Haute Evening Mail, January 6, 1872. From Hoosier State Chronicles.

Twain’s stories were printed in newspapers during his time in Indiana in 1872 as well. For example, the Terre Haute Evening Mail published an article entitled “Mark Twain on His Travels.” Among the witty stories than were shared by the Mail, this one is golden:

When we got to Rochester I called for a bowl of bean soup. I send you the receipt for making it: “Take a lot of water, wash it well, boil it until it is brown on both sides; then very carefully pour one bean into it and let it simmer. When the bean begins to get restless sweeten with salt, then put it in air-tight cans, hitch each can to a brick, and chuck them overboard, and the soup is done.”

The above receipt originated with a man in Iowa, who gets up suppers on odd occasions for Odd Fellows. He has a receipt for oyster soup of the same kind, only using twice as much water to the oyster and leaving out the salt.

However, not everyone was taken with Twain’s sardonic lectures. The Indianapolis People wrote that “It is the decided opinion of all we heard speak of Mark Twain’s lecture that it read better than it was spoken.”

George W. Cable. Library of Congress.
George W. Cable. Library of Congress.

When Twain returned to Indiana in 1885, he came with a traveling lecture partner. George W. Cable, novelist of the southern-creole experience and an influence on William Faulkner, shared selections from his novels while Twain shared early pages from Huckleberry Finn as well as stories like “The Golden Arm.” Twain and Cable couldn’t have been more different. Twain was described by the Indianapolis Sentinel as “awkward and lanky” whereas Cable was more reserved. As Fatout observed, Twain often bristled as Cable’s religiosity and rigorous commitment to formality while Cable scoffed at Twain’s unorthodox and scattered disposition. To get a sense of their differences, review this blurb from the Indianapolis News: “Mr. Cable eats chocolate ice cream at midnight, after his readings, and still lives. His yoke-fellow, Mark Twain, hurls his bootjack at St. John, and uncorks a bottle or so of pale ale.”

Indianapolis Daily Sentinel, January 7, 1885. From Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis Daily Sentinel, January 7, 1885. From Hoosier State Chronicles.

Nevertheless, their joint appearance at Plymouth Church in Indianapolis, Indiana on January 7, 1885 was greatly lauded. The Indianapolis Sentinel reported that their performances was “the best of the season” and the Indianapolis News wrote that it was “one of the finest audiences that could be gathered.” The Greencastle Times even reported that efforts were underway to bring the two over to Greencastle to perform (alas, it was not to be).

Indianapolis Daily Sentinel, January 8, 1885. From Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis Daily Sentinel, January 8, 1885. From Hoosier State Chronicles.

That evening, Twain shared with the audience his short story, “Dick Baker’s Cat,” a short tale about a special cat who had a propensity for mining. Here’s a short snippet from the story:

‘Gentlemen, I used to have a cat here, by the name of Tom Quartz, which you’d ‘a’ took an interest in, I reckon—, most anybody would. I had him here eight year—and he was the remarkablest cat I ever see. He was a large grey one of the Tom specie, an’ he had more hard, natchral sense than any man in this camp—’n’ a power of dignity—he wouldn’t let the Gov’ner of Californy be familiar with him. He never ketched a rat in his life—’peared to be above it. He never cared for nothing but mining. He knowed more about mining, that cat did, than any man I ever, ever see. You couldn’t tell him noth’n’ ’bout placer-diggin’s—’n’ as for pocketmining, why he was just born for it.’

The rest of story involves a hilarious scenario where the mining-savvy cat gets stuck in a quartz shaft, which explodes, and he flies out of there all covered in soot and his whiskers burned off. It was exactly the kind of zany, improbable yarn that Twain was so gifted at and the audience at Plymouth Church agreed.

Twain’s and Cable’s appearance would be the last time they would appear together in Indiana and Twain’s last lecture in the state. Over the next 20 years, Twain continued to travel the county and the world, going so far as India and New Zealand, to share his lectures and stories. His last known lecture, according to the Mark Twain Project, was a reading for Mary Allen Hulbert Peck on the Island of Bermuda on March 27, 1908. Mark Twain died on April 24, 1910 at the age of 74 from heart failure, at his home near Redding, Connecticut. An obituary in the Plymouth Tribune complimented Twain’s success as a novelist, humorist, and lecturer. It also cited the loss of much of his family, particularly his daughter, and friends as one of the main reasons for his passing.

Plymouth Tribune, April 28 1910. From Hoosier State Chronicles.
Plymouth Tribune, April 28 1910. From Hoosier State Chronicles.

Reflecting on what was referred to as the “American style” of humor, Mark Twain shared his thoughts to a reporter from the Detroit Post, later reprinted in the Terre Haute Express:

“Is the American taste for humor still growing, in your opinion?”

“Yes, I think so. Humor is always popular, and especially so with Americans. It is born in every American, and he can’t help liking it.”

“Is it true that the American style of humor is becoming very popular in England?”

“Yes, the liking of American humor over there has become immense. It wakens [sic] the people to new life, and is supplanting the dry wit which formerly passes for humor. American humor wins its own way, and does not need to be cultivated. The English come to like it naturally”

In his lectures in Indiana and elsewhere, Twain exhibited the type of natural humor “born in every American” that characterizes the American cultural identity.

Mark Twain, 1907. Library of Congress.
Mark Twain, 1907. Library of Congress.

More New Issues Available!

Fellow Chroniclers!

We’re back with new additions to Hoosier State Chronicles. Here are the new  issues and titles available to you.

Indianapolis Journal, January 2, 1888. From Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis Journal, January 2, 1888. From Hoosier State Chronicles.

Indianapolis Journal

We have added issues from 1887-1888, bringing the total available issue count to 6,267 issues.

Richmond Daily Palladium, July 15, 1882. From Hoosier State Chronicles.
Richmond Daily Palladium, July 15, 1882. From Hoosier State Chronicles.

Richmond Palladium (Daily)

We have added issues from 1877-1898, giving you 1,211 total issues to check out.

Richmond Palladium (Weekly), April 21, 1865. From Hoosier State Chronicles.
Richmond Palladium (Weekly), April 21, 1865. From Hoosier State Chronicles. A common practice during the mid-nineteenth century, black lines around newspaper columns signified the death of a major political or social figure. In this issue’s case, it was the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

Richmond Palladium (Weekly)

This a whole new title available to you! It covers 1837-1890 and provides 1,260 issues.

Overall, this is an addition of nearly 10,000 news pages for you to explore! Hopefully this will keep you busy over the Thanksgiving weekend.

As always, happy searching!

 

New Issues Available!

richmond-palladium-feb-1916
Richmond Palladium, February 1, 1916, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Attention all chroniclers!

There are some new additions to Hoosier State Chronicles. The Richmond Daily Palladium, from 1916-1923, is now available, encompassing 1093 issues and over 10,000 pages!

richmond-palladium-feb-1923
Richmond Palladium, February 10, 1923, Hoosier State Chronicles.

From these issues, learn more about the Indiana’s impact on World War I and the early days of the roaring twenties. More issues will be added in the coming weeks.

As always, happy searching!

 

 

Hoosiers Lost and Found at Sea: The Sinking of the Tuscania

The Tuscania, circa 1914, WikiCommons.
The Tuscania, circa 1914, WikiCommons.

Despite overcoming many close calls at sea, the Tuscania eventually met a tragic fate.

Shipwrecks have held an enduring fascination with both historians and the general public, from the 1912 sinking of the Titanic to the 1915 sinking of the Lusitania, which arguably precipitated American involvement in World War I. However, there is a lesser-known shipwreck that has an Indiana connection: the sinking of the Tuscania.

Built in 1914 by Alexander Stephen & Sons, Limited, in the Linthouse district of Glasgow, Scotland, the Tuscania originally served as a passenger ship. With a length of 567 feet and weight of 14, 348 gross tons, the Tuscania carried passengers between New York City and Glasgow for roughly a year before it was repurposed as a wartime ship.

One of its earliest successes during World War I occurred on September 20, 1915. Anthinai, a “Greek steamer” ship that took off from New York harbor on September 16, caught fire off the coast of Halifax, Nova Scotia. As reported by the South Bend News-Times, the passengers were taken to safety by the Tuscania, “summoned by wireless to the doomed vessel’s aid and are being brought to this port.” Whether or not the “fire” was caused by enemy forces is unclear, but the Tuscania’s valor during the episode earned it notoriety.

South Bend News-Times, September 20, 2015, Hoosier State Chronicles.
South Bend News-Times, September 20, 2015, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Nearly two years later, the Tuscania faced its first major crisis, and succeeded. On March 12, 1917, the Tuscania dodged an oncoming German submarine near the coast of Ireland. According to the Bridgeport Evening Farmer, the Tuscania moved away from the supposed submarine at “high speed, zigzagging in her course.” Even though Captain P. MacLean “denied that he had seen any submarine on the trip,” he did indicate that a foreign body was close the Tuscania and acted accordingly. The Tuscania’s first potential brush with destruction was not its last.

The Tuscania, in Nova Scotia, 1917, Forum Eerste Wereldoorlog.
The Tuscania, in Nova Scotia, 1917, Forum Eerste Wereldoorlog.

During a routine  voyage on February 5, 1918, the Tuscania, carrying 2,179 American soldiers, was attacked between the Irish and Scottish coast by German submarine UB-77. Once it was reportedly hit by two torpedoes, it stayed afloat for nearly two hours, during which time over 200 people had initially drowned or went missing. By the time the story went to press, however, the official number of American casualties was 147; the number of British casualties was 166.

A map of where the Tuscania went down. Indianapolis News, February 7, 1918, Hoosier State Chronicles.
A map of where the Tuscania went down; the “X” between Ireland and Scotland indicates its location. Indianapolis News, February 7, 1918, Hoosier State Chronicles.

A first-hand account of the attack by an “American officer on board” was reported by the Indianapolis Times:

Monday was a wild night. Had the disaster occurred during a gale I don’t like to think of what would never happened. But Tuesday evening was calm.

The first intimation we had of possible danger was an order for all men to go on deck with life belts. It was about 4;30 o’clock. At the same time we sharply altered our course. At 5 o’clock, just as the darkness was setting well in, we got the blow. Nobody saw the periscope nor could one have been seen well. Some soldiers described having heard a hissing sound immediately before the torpedo struck us in the engine room.

We were instantly disabled. All the lights went out. An order rang out sending the troops to their boat stations and to get the lifeboats out. The shock was not severe. It was more of a crunching-in felling [sic] that went through the ship than of a direct blow. There naturally was a good deal of confusion. You can not [sic] lower a score of lifeboats from the hight [sic] of an upper deck in the darkness without some confusion, but at no time was there a panic.

From there, the officer stayed with the Tuscania as long as he could before another torpedo was launched (that fortunately missed) and the ship started to sink.

Indianapolis News, February 8, 1918, Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis News, February 8, 1918, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Indiana newspapers quickly covered the story to see if any Indiana residents were aboard. According to the Indianapolis News and the South-Bend News-Times, a former Muncie resident named Max Lipshitz was supposedly aboard the Tuscania with the 107th engineers when it went down. When his brother, Abram Lipshitz, asked the US state department whether Max was safe, they gave him little information. Another Indiana native, Maurice Nesbit, was also considered missing from the Tuscania. Described as the “leader of regimental band with the Michigan national guard,” Nesbit had not been identified within the first 24 hours of the attack. W.R. Nesbit, Maurice’s father, tried to ascertain whether his son was safe or not. Fortunately for W.R., his son was safe and sound in New Jersey, having not been on the Tuscania at all. He informed his father of the news via letter, which was reported by the Indianapolis News. It was also reported that Lipshitz had also not been on board.

While these two men had not been on board, there were many Hoosiers who were. Some survived while others perished. Of those that survived, three particular stories are worth recounting. As noted in the March 4, 1918 issue of the Indianapolis News, a survivor named Grover J. Rademaker of the 20th United States Foresters had written to his parents that he was safe. “I am here, and feeling fine,” wrote Rademaker, “and we are treated royally. I suppose you have read in the papers of our accident. I sure am a lucky boy, for I got out all right; didn’t even get my feet wet.” Another survivor from Indiana, aviator Joseph McKee from the 123rd aero squadron, was the only one from Lake County to come home. When news of his safety was given to his parents, the Lake County Times wrote that, “It is a happy day at the McKee home.” Finally, a young man named Archie Q. McCracken of New Albany weathered the attack and recuperated in an Irish hospital after sustaining minor injuries.

Tuscania survivor Joseph McKee, Lake County Times, February 11, 1918, Hoosier State Chronicles.
Tuscania survivor Joseph McKee, Lake County Times, February 11, 1918, Hoosier State Chronicles.
South Bend News-Times, February 19, 1918, Hoosier State Chronicles.
South Bend News-Times, February 19, 1918, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Many aboard the Tuscania were not as lucky as Rademaker, McKee, and McCracken. Within a week of the sinking, the American casualty rate grew to 164, whose remains were subsequently buried in Scotland. Among the lost was James Logan, a former Indiana mail carrier turned seaman whose family hadn’t heard from him in two years. They unfortunately never received the news of his safety. His name appeared on a list of the dead published in the February 13, 1918 issue of the Indianapolis News. Logan’s disappearance and death underscored the human cost of war and its impact on local communities in Indiana.

A memorial ceremony for those lost on the Tuscania, isle of Islay, Memorial Day 1920. From the New York Tribune, June 20, 1920, Chronicling America.
A memorial ceremony for those lost on the Tuscania, isle of Islay, Memorial Day 1920. From the New York Tribune, June 20, 1920, Chronicling America.
The monument at Mull, isle of Islay, Greencastle Herald, September 10, 1919, Hoosier State Chronicles.
The monument at Mull, isle of Islay, Greencastle Herald, September 10, 1919, Hoosier State Chronicles.

After the dust settled, preparations for a memorial to those who died commenced. The South Bend News-Times reported on March 5, 1918 that an, “American Red Cross contingent will arrive here [Port Ellen, Scotland] in a few days from London for the purpose of selecting a site for a monument to the American soldiers who perished in the Tuscania disaster.” Within a year, the monument at Mull on the island of Islay was dedicated to the American soldiers who died and the Glasgow Islay Association published a photographic book of the graves of Tuscania victims. This book was compiled as a “labor of love” by the association and offered to any family member of a lost loved one. On Memorial Day 1920, “Natives [sic] from miles around” Scotland gathered “about the simple graves of those several hundred fighting men, victims of the ill-fated transports Otranto and Tuscania” to pay their final respects on the isle of Islay.

Graves of American soldiers that died in the sinking of the Tuscania, at Port Charlotte, Island of Islay, Scotland, Islay History.
Graves of American soldiers that died in the sinking of the Tuscania, at Port Charlotte, Island of Islay, Scotland, Islay History.
tuscania-american-plaque
A plaque at the Tuscania and Ortranto memorial, isle of Islay,  Armin Grewe.

Today, the memorial on the isle of Islay is still standing, a fitting tribute to the resolve of those brave individuals who helped save lives, sadly went missing, or perished in the waters. The Tuscania bombing and its aftermath serve as a reminder that war carries a deep human cost, not only to those who die but to those who live with the grief of the loss of a son, father, brother, or friend. It also highlights the ways in which those from the Hoosier state find themselves halfway across the world, risking life and limb for their country during some of humanity’s darkest hours.

 

Tonight, there’s going to be a (Rotary) Jail Break!

A birds-eye view of the rotary jail from its original patent. Courtesy of Google Books.
A birds-eye view of the rotary jail from its original patent. Courtesy of Google Books.

One of the nineteenth century’s most idiosyncratic inventions was the rotary jail. Inspired by the utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham, rotary jails were circular enclosures that allowed guards a 360 degree view of inmates through moving cells via a crank.  There was only one access point, making escape more difficult. This type of jail was invented in Indiana by architect William H. Brown and iron industrialist Benjamin F. Haugh.  These Indianapolis-based inventors filed their patent patent in 1881.The design became  popular, largely because it decreased interaction between guard and prisoner. In fact, the prisoner did not even have to be removed from his cell to dispose of waste. In this blog post, we’ll expand our knowledge of these jails through more newspaper accounts from throughout the United States.

A search for "rotary jail" in US News Map. Courtesy of US News Map.
A search for “rotary jail” in US News Map. Courtesy of US News Map.

But how do we start? One great tool for looking for subjects and their relevance to newspapers is usnewsmap.com. A joint venture of the Georgia Tech Research Institute and the University of Georgia, US News Map provides visitors with an easy search tool that show where subjects show up on the map. When I typed in “rotary jail,” I got eleven hits; some were as far east as Vermont and as far west as Utah.

Main street in Burlignton, Vermont, 1893. On this street resided the city's rotary jail. Courtesy of Google Books.
Main street in Burlington, Vermont, 1893. On this street resided the city’s rotary jail. Courtesy of Google Books.

In Burlington, Vermont, a rotary jail was built as early as the late 1880s, with city planners waxing enthusiastic about the invention after their visit to the flagship rotary jail in Crawfordsville, Indiana. “They were most favorably impressed with the new rotary jail at Crawfordsville, Ind., and the probability is that they will decide to erect a similar one in this city,” wrote the Burlington Free Press on March 25, 1887. In Picturesque Burlington, a short history written in 1893 by Joseph Auld, describes the rotary jail in detail:

This “cage” is closely surrounded by a barred iron railing with only one opening. When a prisoner is to be placed in his cell the “cage” is revolved till the proper cell fronts the door; then the prisoner is put in, the cage is turned, and he is secure. The number of prisoners is small and the offences venial, largely violations of the prohibitory law.

Despite the reputation that rotary jails were nearly impossible to break through, escapes occurred periodically throughout the country.

Burlington Weekly Free Press, April 7, 1892. From Chronicling America.
Burlington Weekly Free Press, April 7, 1892. From Chronicling America.

For example, one particular story from the Burlington Free Press comes to mind. As reported on April 7, 1892, a man named John Arthur Simpson, whose aliases included “George Simpson” and “George A. Stillwell,” was accused of murder in Dover, New Hampshire. Simpson, whose past lives included “Baptist minister, later a burglar, horse thief, incendiary, farmer, bigamist, and finally a murderer,” apparently bared a remarkable resemblance to Julius McArthur, who “killed Deputy Sherriff Charles H. Hatch of New Hampshire May 6, 1891 while resisting arrest for stealing a horse and who escaped from the rotary jail of this city Jul 17, 1891.” According to the newspaper report, Simpson likely escaped from jail using a knife “as a wedge to open the cell door” and the authorities searched for a supposed accomplice who gave him said knife. Even though rotary jails garnered a reputation for being tough to escape, Simpson’s story shows they weren’t completely impenetrable.

Salt Lake Herald, February 2, 1907. From Chronicling America.
Salt Lake Herald, February 2, 1907. From Chronicling America.

Another rotary jailbreak occurred in Salt Lake City, Utah. Charles Riis, convicted of larceny under the name “Charles Merritt,” reportedly “went through the bars of the supposedly impregnable steel rotary at the county jail as though they were made of putty,” wrote the Salt Lake Herald on February 2, 1907. Riis was said to have “crawled” through a cell “eight inches wide by fourteen inches and length” after sawing through a bar over a few days, slowly as to not alert the sheriff. He then used the sawed bar as leverage to scale down the side of the jail wall with a blanket. At the time of this article, his whereabouts were unknown. Riis’s clever maneuvering utilized the weaknesses of both the rotary jail as an invention and the law enforcement agency’s inability to anticipate his covert actions.

Carrie Nation. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Carrie Nation. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

However, these stories pale in comparison to what was reported in multiple newspapers in Kansas. Carrie Nation, noted prohibitionist and provocateur, instigated a spat with the Wichita Sheriff’s wife and placed in a rotary jail cell in 1901. From here, we get two different sides of the story. According to the May 3 1901 issue of the Kinsley Graphic, Nation was “placed in the rotary cell at the county jail. She abused the sheriff’s wife, calling her all kind of vile names, the ‘devil’s dam being one.” She also called another woman “two-faced” as she was sitting in the rotary cell. However, the Topeka State Journal quoted Nation directly, painting a contrasting narrative. Nation, quoted in the Journal, wrote:

I was put in this [rotary] cell because I told Mrs. Simmons, the jailor’s wife, that when I was here before she tried to have me adjudged insane. She said I was a woman who used low, obscene language to her husband. I told her she lied and all liars would go to burn in the lake of fire. Her husband told me this morning when he came to remove me that his wife wanted me to be put here. Poor, depraved wretch! What a shame to see a cruel, revengeful woman. John the Baptist lost his head from just such a one. I would rather die in this unwholesome place than be such. I wish she would let Jesus change the bitter to the sweet in her nature. What a miserable woman she is! My poor sisters in this Bastille are trusting in the Lord.

Topeka State Journal, April 27, 1901. From Chronicling America.
Topeka State Journal, April 27, 1901. From Chronicling America.

She then railed against the liquor trade in Wichita, advising all citizens to “avoid getting anything from this cursed Sodom,” and comparing her treatment in the rotary jail to the “cruelty and injustice” of the “Spanish inquisition.” Nation’s brush with rotary jails is one of many legendary stories of the gilded age crusader.

Finally, rotary jails not only dealt with prisoners getting out, but also unintentionally trapped in. The November 10, 1886 issue of the Fairfield News and Herald, out of Winnsboro, South Carolina, reported that the rotary jail in Council Bluffs, Iowa “became locked Monday morning by some disarrangement of the machinery, and no prisoners could be taken out nor any admitted.” The paper further noted that a “large force of men were at work all day on the machinery, but the trouble was not removed until Tuesday morning.” This story was also picked by the Laurens Advertiser, the Manning Times, and the Pickens Sentinel.

Fairfield News and Herald, November 10, 1886. From Chronicling America.
Fairfield News and Herald, November 10, 1886. From Chronicling America.

Between the escapes and the structural failures, you would think that rotary jails would have lost sway with the law enforcement community and the general public. As the previous post mentioned, efforts to stop the use of rotary jails began as early as 1917. By the mid-20th century, many rotary jails were discontinued or the cell blocks were immobilized.  Two former rotary jails served as county jails well into the 20th century, with the Council Bluffs jail closing in 1969 and the Crawfordsville jail in 1973.

Although the rotary jail is no longer used, the seminal Indiana invention left a profound mark on the history of crime and punishment in the United States. Its design really broke the mold, or as you could say, broke (out of) the cell.