“The aroma of woodchuck scalps, crow heads and wolf scalps will not be diffused throughout the sacred precincts of the Putnam County temple of justice, and of the office of the auditor, in particular. That will pertain to the year 1941, at least.”
In a meeting that week, Putnam County commissioners finally eliminated payment in cash for the hides of animals deemed “pests of economic life.” On the eve of World War II, this legal relic of pioneer days was still lingering around in the statute books.
In recent years, the expenditure on such bounties has not amounted to much, but the bounty offer was still in effect and occasionally some claimant for such payments would go to the auditor’s office to file claims for payments, and would bring along tangible proof. Out of which arose the odor.
The statutes of Indiana in 1875 [it was actually much earlier than this] provided that county commissioners “may” offer a bounty of $20 for wolf scalps, with a $3 bounty of wolves under 6 months of age; also, $5 for each fox scalp; or $1.50 when under 6 months. A year or two ago, Putnam County commissioners were called upon to pay a bounty for a wolf scalp.
In a later law, a bounty was provided for wood chuck (or ground hog) scalps, and owl or hawk heads, but with screech owls and sparrow hawks excepted. That was in the year 1883.
In 1911, crow heads and eggs were added to the list of outlaws, and a bounty was provided of 10 cents for each crow head and 5 cents for each crow egg, the eggs to be in lots of 10 or more.
(American hunters with wolf hides, Northern Rockies, circa 1920.)
In 2011, no less a paper than The New York Times reported on Terre Haute’s recurring crow problem — a major ornithological nightmare that migrated down to Bloomington early in 2015. For months, urban crows left the Monroe County courthouse, downtown parking meters, and city sidewalks soaked in bird droppings. Surely this was avian revenge for the county commissioner’s bounties placed against their ancestors?
The interesting story of animal bounties goes back deep into Indiana history — as do the wolf terror tales that go along with it.
When Indiana became a state just two-hundred years ago, the area bounded by the Ohio River, Lake Michigan, and the Illinois prairies was one of the wildest spots on earth, full of buffalo, black bears, and cougars. (Abraham Lincoln wrote a ballad about a bear hunt.) Old-growth timber could still be found in most Hoosier counties at the time of the Civil War. Though fur-bearing animals had been the main lure for French explorers, one of the French nuns who founded St. Mary-of-the-Woods in the 1840s wrote that “wood is commoner than dust.” In northwest Indiana, parts of the Kankakee Swamp — formerly one of the biggest wetlands in North America — weren’t drained until the 1920s. Modern agriculture in some northern Indiana townships is less than a hundred years old.
At the start of the Jazz Age, the Kankakee’s ancient but dying wilderness was still a hideout for wolves. In 1918, the Lake County Times reminded readers about their fanged and rarely-seen neighbors on the far outskirts of Chicagoland. Gray wolves, Canada lynxes and possibly even massive timber wolves also occasionally migrated down from the wilder parts of northern Michigan. While these creatures tried to avoid human beings, swamp fires sometimes drove them out onto the farms encroaching on the ragged edge of the marshland.
The bounty on hides that Putnam County eliminated in 1940 originated in pioneer days, when Hoosiers could actually pay their taxes with animal hides. Meant to encourage the war on the wilderness, bounties figured into state budgets as early as 1817. State funds forked out in exchange for this “public service” sometimes amounted to more than the dollar amount spent on road improvements, presidential elections, the state prison — and even our own State Library:
The Indiana State Sentinel carried one colorful story in 1881 — entitled “Early Times” — about how wolf scalps were used literally as dollar bills. Signed “M.F.H.,” the author recalled a conversation with a man in Columbus, Indiana, a Kentuckian who — if the date of his birth is correct — would have been 102 years old at the time this story was printed. The frontiersman, who came north in 1826, once served as Bartholomew County treasurer:
By the early 1900s, the misunderstood canine specter peering out of Indiana’s diminishing forests and swamps was a rare sight — as were the mangled carcasses of farm animals that wolves were known to attack. Yet the morbid imagination spawned by European folklore was brought into play to defend farmer’s property, as the war on wolves continued unabated in the American West.
Hoosiers heard wolf tales stretching back hundreds of years — from the Grimm Brothers’ gory version of the old Black Forest tale Rotkäppchen (“Little Red Riding Hood,” later bowdlerized and Disneyfied for delicate audiences) to the quintessentially Russian tale of a pack of wolves that killed and ate a wedding party traveling by sleigh at night. That story was told in the pages of Willa Cather’s great novel My Ántonia (1918), set in Nebraska. In the early 1980s, Paul Schach of the University of Nebraska collected wolf stories brought to the Great Plains by German immigrants whose families had lived in Russia for a few generations before coming to America. Russian-German tales almost definitely inspired Cather’s miniature horror story in My Ántonia. Yet American newspapers were already carrying chilling wolf tales long before Cather’s novel.
(Edmund Spenser, “Nocturnal Battle with Wolves” in Russia, 1855. Most fatal wolf attacks still take place in the Caucasus and Central Asia. The words volk [male wolf] and volchitsa [female] cause a shiver in Russian spines yet.)
(“The Wolf of Ansbach” was a nightmarish creature said to have terrorized part of Germany in 1685, when it carried off and ate several children. Villagers believed it was either a werewolf or the reincarnation of their local burgomaster, “whose death had gone unlamented.” The animal was eventually driven into a well, killed, and dressed in human clothing — including a wig and mask — then hung on a gibbet. France’s Beast of Gévaudan, killed in 1767, was even scarier.)
In the winter of 1880, Willa Cather’s old Russian “wedding” story found an echo in Terre Haute’s Daily News, which printed a pioneer’s reminiscence entitled “A Night with Wolves.” The tale, told in first person, sounds like non-fiction but the dialogue is dramatized. Set around 1845, the hair-raising event took place one frozen, snowy night in the Upper Midwestern wilds a few miles outside the young town of Lansing, Michigan, where the author claimed that a hungry pack of wolves attacked a stagecoach he was traveling in by moonlight. As the terrified horses race away in a panic, dragging the coach and passengers behind them, the driver — his father — climbs out on the reins to cut part of his team loose, letting them drop as sacrificial victims to the bloodthirsty wilderness. With their flanks and throats ripped open by the wolves’ teeth, the horses collapse and are devoured, until one horse makes it into Lansing and spreads the news.
Long, scary and possibly fictional stories like these became rare over the years. Bears are usually the protagonist now, as in Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild. But even today, headlines still announce occasional sightings of and attacks by potentially dangerous animals in the rural Midwest. Early 20th-century readers encountered plenty of these headlines.
In October 1922, seven wild wolves were reported attacking livestock on a farm near Warsaw, Indiana. Farmers there were scared enough to keep their children away from school for a few days.
(U.S. Army officers hunting a wolf on the ice of the Upper Mississippi River, 1843. The story was that the clever wolf would race toward an air hole in the ice, spin around quickly, and leave the hounds to fall in. American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine.)
Tall tales often bleed over into news reportage. But fact and fiction can be hard to separate. In 1920, the South Bend paper carried the story of one Kansas farmer’s desperate battle with three wolves trying to break into his farmhouse.
Horace E. Jackson, “a wealthy Chicago board of trade broker,” was allegedly stalked by “skulking wolves” in Minnesota’s North Woods in 1916, though exposure to the cold was an even bigger danger.
Fear-mongering news stories about wolves were partly discredited by a writer — possibly a naturalist — in the Greencastle Herald in 1913. Wolves, he reminded readers, usually fear men more than men fear them.
The Indiana DNR still gets plenty of crazy phone calls about unusual animal sightings. One recent report that turned out to be true was the migratory mountain lion that was stalking parts of Greene County near Bloomfield in 2010 and has also been reported near Brazil, Greencastle, and Bloomington. The lion was photographed by one of the DNR’s motion-sensitive cameras and was originally thought to have been a tiger escaped from the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in nearby Center Point, Indiana.
What the DNR shouldn’t take seriously is any reports about the Wolf family, who once lived on Notre Dame Avenue in South Bend. This 1920 headline sounds like another one of those grisly folktales.
What do folklore, lemon juice, Amelia Earhart and Calvin Coolidge all have in common? They all battled freckles.
As summertime dwindles to a close, you might have developed some of these kisses of the sun yourself, especially if you’re fair-skinned and female. Though scientists have determined that susceptibility to freckles depends on genes — most famously as a result of Irish DNA — anyone can get these marks, which are concentrations of melanin brought about by exposure to UV rays.
Today, definitions of male and female beauty actively embrace what was once considered a serious physical blemish. Many even think a superficially bespeckled face is a mark of character deep-down. One beauty commentator considers freckles helpful in building up women’s self-confidence. “Outside the realm of ‘normal’ beauty,” she writes, “we freckled ladies have had to go against the grain and build our self-esteem without the help of the media.”
A hundred years ago, things were different. Anti-freckle cream was a commonly advertised beauty product. (It’s still sold today.) Mostly directed toward women, nothing, however, prevented men from trying out this solution for “blemished” skin. As you’ll see below, one man died trying to get “beautified.”
For generations, folklore and popular medicine provided alternatives to commercial freckle cream. American newspapers promoted a variety of cures both from folk practice and the chemist’s lab.
(Wilson’s Freckle Cream was manufactured in Charleston, South Carolina, but sold nationally. Brazil Daily Times, October 25, 1912.)
In the early years of the twentieth century, Hoosiers read about some of these popular remedies.
One of the least-scientifically credible cures was, needless to say, superstition, but it peaked the interest of the American Folklore Society, whose findings were syndicated in a Wayne County, Indiana, newspaper in 1928. Even if this cure had worked, it was far more time-consuming than daubing cream on your face. Yet Hoosier youth probably gave it a shot.
(Cambridge City Tribune, March 15, 1928)
Twenty-five years earlier, a more plausible-sounding all-natural freckle cure had come out in the Indianapolis News at summer’s end:
Before going out in the sun it is advisable to rub on a little cucumber balm or any good old cream. At night the face should be bathed with elderflower water, which cools and benefits the skin.
Never bathe the face while it is hot. Wait until night, then touch up the freckles with a lotion.
One cure is a lotion made by adding half an ounce of lemon juice to half a pint of rosewater, and adding two drams of powdered alum. Apply with a camels-hair brush.
Another remedy is to wash the face, neck and arms, and hands, too, if necessary, with elderflower water, and apply an ointment made by simmering gently together one ounce of venise soap and one dram each of deliquated oil of tartar and oil of bitter almonds. When the mixture acquires consistency, two drops of rhodium may be added. Wash the emollient off in the morning with elderflower water. (Indianapolis News, September 3, 1903)
One common commercial anti-freckle ointment was called Othine, sometimes sold “double-strength” at drug stores. Yet the beauty columnist Lucille Daudet, syndicated in the columns of the Fort Wayne Sentinel in 1916, was concerned about the potentially damaging effects of this kind of patent medicine. A forerunner to today’s “pro-freckle” approach to beauty, Daudet spoke up against the very need for such products:
Just why these light brown marks of health should be so scorned is an open question, as they are usually more becoming than not. But the fact is that most girls look upon freckles as the greatest bar between them and good looks. In their anxiety to rid themselves of these brown “beauty marks” they go to the most ridiculous and often dangerous extremes — dangerous indeed in many cases, for scores of lovely skins have been ruined by the use of so-called freckle removers. . .
A great many of the patent removers contain either bismuth, which is apt to blacken the skin, or mercury or lead, which are active mineral poisons. (Fort Wayne Sentinel, August 12, 1916)
Daudet recommended, instead, a concoction of horseradish root mixed with buttermilk and strained through a fine cheesecloth.
(Huntington Herald, Huntington, Indiana, August 2, 1923)
One of the potentially “ridiculous and often dangerous extremes” Daudet decried was mentioned in a 1921 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. The journal isn’t specific about what went wrong, but the incident concerned an apparently quack “naturopath” in Venice, California. (For the record, laser treatment and cryosurgery — “a light freeze with liquid nitrogen” –are the more extreme procedures today.)
(Journal of the American Medical Association, April 16, 1921)
Two well-known Americans of the Jazz Age had a reputation for their freckles. One case was slightly mythic — and a Hoosier woman tried to sleuth her way to the bottom of it.
In 1923, Clara C. Gilbert, a Republican women’s organizer in Kendallville, Indiana, traveled to Washington, D.C., partly to discover if President Calvin Coolidge’s freckles, accentuated in news films, were as “real” in life as they looked on “reels.” “People have brought reasons and reasons for wanting to see President Coolidge,” quipped the Fort Wayne Daily News, “but no one before had ever seemed interested in the freckle question.”
“Cal” Coolidge had, in fact, been a red-headed, freckle-faced kid back in Vermont, but his hair turned a sandy brown as a teenager and most of the spots on his face went away. The silver screen’s lighting effects apparently brought them back.
(“Also, I want to see you because I want to see you…” Fort Wayne Daily News, September 15, 1923. Click to enlarge.)
A more famous example of sun-kisses was aviator Amelia Earhart, whose battle against freckles might have gone with her to own mysterious death.
The dominant theory that Earhart’s plane ran out of gas and crashed into the Pacific was already called into question in 1940, when the skeletal remains of a castaway turned up on the remote island. That the famous aviator was also known to have hated her own mild case of freckles provides a tantalizing link to researchers intent on establishing forensic evidence about her demise. And as Lucille Daudet warned women two decades before, the cream found on Nikumaroro was found to contain mercury.
Though the theory has its critics, it’s fascinating to think that Earhart’s pointillistic sun-kisses might ultimately shine a light on her last voyage — and her still unknown whereabouts.
(Amelia Earhart’s flight license, 1923.)
(Joe Zucco, freckle contender of Fort Wayne. Fort Wayne Sentinel, September 16, 1922.)
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 Indiana 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.
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:
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:
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!
That was good news for the Netherlands, which wanted to get rid of them:
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.
In fact, the tiny foe looks disturbing enough:
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:
Even venomous snakes, it was believed, got laid low by the dreaded bug:
The New York Tribune thought these lice should have figured into the staggering death toll of the so-called “War to End All Wars.”
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.”
The Cootie Game was offered for sale at George H. Wheelock’s department store in South Bend in 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.
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.
Newspaper history is full of myths, “viral” stories, and tall tales. Folklore and journalism are often close cousins, especially the colorful “yellow journalism” that sold outright lies to rake in subscriptions. In the annals of Hoosier and American journalism, one persistent, tantalizing tale continues to baffle the sleuths at the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.
Who wrote the famous slogan “Go west, young man, and grow up with the country”? It’s one of the great catch phrases of Manifest Destiny, an exhortation that echoes deep in the soul of Americans long after the closing of the frontier. But when you try to pin down where it came from, it’s suddenly like holding a fistful of water (slight variation on a Clint Eastwood theme) or uncovering the genesis of an ancient religious text — especially since nobody has ever found the exact phrase in the writings of either of the men who might have authored it.
“Go west, young man” has usually been credited to influential New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley. A New Englander, Greeley was one of the most vocal opponents of slavery. Antebellum Americans’ take on “liberal” and “conservative” politics would probably confuse today’s voters: a radical, Greeley famously opposed divorce, sparring with Hoosier social reformer Robert Dale Owen over the loose divorce laws that made Indiana the Reno of the nineteenth century. A religious man, he also promoted banning liquor — not a cause “liberal” politicians would probably take up today. Greeley helped promote the writings of Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau and even took on Karl Marx as a European correspondent in the 1850s. (Imagine Abraham Lincoln the lawyer reading the author of The Communist Manifesto in the Tribune!) In 1872, the famously eccentric New York editor ran for President against Ulysses S. Grant, lost, and died before the electoral vote officially came in. Greeley won just three electoral votes but was a widely admired man.
Though Greeley was always interested in Western emigration, he only went out west once, in 1859 during the Colorado Gold Rush. Originally a utopian experimental community, Greeley, Colorado, fifty miles north of Denver, was named after him in 1869. The newspaperman often published advice urging Americans to shout “Westward, ho!” if they couldn’t make it on the East Coast. Yet his own trip through Kansas and over the Rockies to California showed him not just the glories of the West (like Yosemite) but some of the darker side of settlement.
“Fly, scatter through the country — go to the Great West,” he wrote in 1837. Years later, in 1872, he was still editorializing: “I hold that tens of thousands, who are now barely holding on at the East, might thus place themselves on the high road to competence and ultimate independence at the West.”
“At the West” included the Midwest. Before the Civil War, Indiana was a popular destination for Easterners “barely holding on.”
A major cradle of Midwestern settlement was Maine, birthplace of John Soule, Greeley’s competitor for authorship of the mystery slogan. As the logger, writer, and popular historian Stuart Holbrook wrote in his 1950 book Yankee Exodus, Maine’s stony soil and the decline of its shipping trade pushed thousands of Mainers to get out just after it achieved statehood in 1820. The exodus was so bad that many newspaper editors in Maine wrote about the fear that the new state would actually be depopulated by “Illinois Fever” and the rush to lumbering towns along the Great Lakes — and then Oregon.
One Mainer who headed to the Midwest in the 1840s was John Babson Lane Soule, later editor of The Wabash Express. Born in 1815 in Freeport, Maine — best known today as the home of L.L. Bean — Soule came from a prominent local family. His brother Gideon Lane Soule went on to serve as president of Phillips Exeter Academy, the prestigious prep school in New Hampshire. Though the Soules were Congregationalists, a likely relative of theirs, Gertrude M. Soule, born in nearby Topsham, Maine, in 1894, was one of the last two Shakers in New Hampshire. (She died in 1988.)
J.B.L. Soule — whom an 1890 column in the Chicago Mail claimed was the man who actually coined the phrase “Go west, young man” in 1851 — was educated at Bowdoin College, just down the road from Freeport. Soule became an accomplished master of Latin and Greek and for decades after his move west published poems in New England literary magazines like The Bowdoin Poets and Northern Monthly. A poem of his called “The Wabash” came out in Bowdoin’s poetry journal in August 1840, so it’s safe to assume that Soule had moved to Terre Haute by then. By 1864, he was still writing poems with titles like “The Prairie Grave.”
While Soule’s conventional, classical poetry might be hard to appreciate today, he was hailed as “a writer of no ordinary ability” by the Terre Haute Journal in 1853. Additionally, Soule and his brother Moses helped pioneer education in Terre Haute, helping to establish the Vigo County Seminary and the Indiana Normal School (precursor of Indiana State University) in the 1840s. J.B.L. Soule taught at the Terre Haute Female College, a boarding school for girls. The Soule brothers were also affiliated with the Baldwin Presbyterian Church, Terre Haute’s second house of worship.
John Soule later served as a Presbyterian minister in Plymouth, Indiana; preached at Elkhorn, Wisconsin, during the Civil War; taught ancient languages at Blackburn University in Carlinville, Illinois; then finished his career as a Presbyterian pastor in Highland Park, Chicago. He died in 1891.
He seems like a great candidate to be the author of “Go west, young man,” since he did exactly that. But it’s hard to prove that Soule, not Horace Greeley, coined the famous appeal.
Four decades later, in October 1891, an anonymous writer in the Chicago Mail reported a tale from an equally anonymous “old-timer,” told in an anonymous Chicago bar. The “Dick Thompson” of this story is Richard Wigginton Thompson. Originally from Culpeper, Virginia, Thompson moved out to Bedford, Indiana, to practice law, and settled in Terre Haute in 1843. During the Civil War, Dick Thompson commanded Camp Dick Thompson, a training base in Vigo County. Oddly for a man from almost-landlocked Indiana, he served as Secretary of the Navy under President Rutherford B. Hayes from 1877 to 1880. He died in Terre Haute in 1900.
“Do you know,” said an old–timer at the Chicago club, “that that epigrammatic bit of advice to young men, ‘Go west,’ so generally attributed to Horace Greeley, was not original with him? No? Well, it wasn’t. It all came about this way: John L.B. Soule was the editor of the Terre Haute Express back in the 50’s, and one day in ’51, if I remember right, he and Dick Thompson were conversing in the former’s sanctum. Thompson had just finished advising Soule to go west and grow up with the country and was praising his talents as a writer.
“‘Why, John,’ he said, ‘you could write an article that would be attributed to Horace Greeley if you tried.’
“‘No, I couldn’t,’ responded Mr. Soule, modestly, ‘I’ll bet I couldn’t.’
“‘I’ll bet a barrel of flour you can if you’ll promise to try your best, the flour to go to some deserving poor person.’
“‘All right. I’ll try,’ responded Soule.
“He did try, writing a column editorial on the subject of discussion—the opportunities offered to young men by the west. He started in by saying that Horace Greeley could never have given a young man better advice than that contained in the words, ‘Go West, young man.’
“Of course, the advice wasn’t quoted from Greeley, merely compared to what he might have said. But in a few weeks the exchanges began coming into the Express office with the epigram reprinted and accredited to Greeley almost universally. So wide a circulation did it obtain that at last the New York Tribune came out editorially, reprinted the Express article, and said in a foot note:
“‘The expression of this sentiment has been attributed to the editor of the Tribune erroneously. But so heartily does he concur in the advice it gives that he endorses most heartily the epigrammatic advice of the Terre Haute Express and joins in saying, ‘Go west, young man, go west.'”
Though the story shook the foundations of the slogan’s attribution to Greeley, even on the surface the Chicago Mail piece is doubtful. What would Dick Thompson — no literary man — have to get J.B.L. Soule (a graduate of Phillips Exeter and Bowdoin College and one of the best writers in Terre Haute) to get over his modesty? The story also makes Thompson out to be a patriarch giving advice to the young. In fact, he was only six years older than Soule. It’s hard to imagine Thompson acting the father figure and “advising Soule to go west and grow up with the country” while they sat in a “sanctum” in Terre Haute — which was the West in 1851. Soule, from Maine, had already come farther than Thompson, from Virginia. And he kept on going.
The bigger problem is that there’s only a few surviving copies of the Terre Haute Express from 1851, and nobody has ever actually found the exact phrase “Go west, young man, and grow up with the country” in its pages or in any of Horace Greeley’s extensive writings. It would be understandable if the “old-timer” of the Chicago Mail or Richard W. Thompson got the date wrong after forty years, but researchers who have scoured all extant copies of the Terre Haute papers and Horace Greeley’s works have never found a single trace of the famous slogan in its exact wording.
The exact phrase probably never got written down at all, but entered popular memory as short-hand for Greeley’s exhortations to migrate. Iowa Congressman Josiah B. Grinnell, a Vermont expatriate, used to be identified as the “young man” whom Greeley urged to get out of New York City and go west in 1853. But Grinnell himself debunked claims that he got that advice from Greeley in a letter. Even the oral advice Greeley gave Grinnell wasn’t the precise phrase we remember him for. Instead, he said “Go West; this is not the place for a young man.”
Wherever the phrase originated, as late as 1871, a year before his death, Greeley was still urging New Englanders and down-and-out men tired of Washington, D.C. to hit the western trails. However, the editor himself mostly stuck close to the Big Apple, venturing only as far as his Chappaqua Farm in Westchester County, New York during the summertime. While only at the big city’s edge, Greeley continued to play the role of western pioneer.
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.)
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.”
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 . . .’
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.
(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.
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:
(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’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.”
In the early 1880s, Indiana’s great novelist and war hero, General Lew Wallace, author of the bestselling Ben-Hur, got caught up in one of the more trumped-up tales of nineteenth-century journalism — a story which, it turns out, has an incredibly bizarre “cousin” today. The mildly erotic tale begins around 1883, when Wallace was a well-known American public figure. To quickly recap his bio: son of Governor David Wallace of Indiana, the “militant romantic” had served in the worst battles of the Civil War; sat on the trials of the Lincoln conspirators and Henry Wirz, the Swiss-born Confederate commander of Andersonville prison; fought as a Juarista general in the Mexican Army during the French invasion of 1865; and as Territorial Governor of New Mexico, he helped reign in the outlaw Billy the Kid.
Slowly propelled to greater fame when the novel Ben-Hur came out, Wallace went to Constantinople in 1881 as U.S. Minister to the Ottoman Empire. The general and his wife, writer Susan Wallace, were ardent Orientalists. Yet Ben-Hur, set in Palestine, was published a year before they ever saw the Middle East, its description based on research in the Library of Congress. The couple traveled around the eastern Mediterranean.
During his four years as an American diplomat in Constantinople, the Hoosier writer became close friends with Ottoman Sultan Abdül Hamid II — though Wallace famously became “the first person to demand that the sultan shake his hand.” When Grover Cleveland was elected U.S. President in 1884, Wallace’s term ended. Abdül Hamid tried to get his friend to stay on and represent Turkish interests in Europe. Wallace, instead, came home to Montgomery County.
(Lew Wallace described watching a Turkish infantry and Circassian cavalry drill with the Ottoman Sultan in his Autobiography, published in 1906.)
The gossip mill, however, was already rolling years before Wallace sailed home to the States. As early as September 2, 1882, the Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail reprinted a dramatic story from The Wasp, San Francisco’s acerbic satirical weekly perhaps best-known for its lurid political cartoons attacking Chinese immigration to the West Coast. (The Wasp has been called California’s version of Puck).
“An Unwelcome Present” was syndicated in other papers as far away as New Zealand and often got subtitled along the lines of “What the General’s Wife Thought of the Sultan’s Present.”
As far as I can tell, the tale first originated in the pages of The Wasp on August 5, 1882, where it ran under the title “That Present.” What I find especially fascinating is that the magazine’s editor from 1881 to 1885 was no less than the sardonic Hoosier cynic Ambrose Bierce, whose Devil’s Dictionary had its genesis as a column in the California weekly.
Like Wallace, Bierce fought at the terrifying Battle of Shiloh in 1862, serving as First Lieutenant in the ranks of the Ninth Indiana Infantry. During his days as a journalist, Bierce also worked for William Randolph Hearst at The San Francisco Examiner. To sell papers, the newspaper giant “routinely invented sensational stories, faked interviews, ran phony pictures and distorted real events.”
Did Bierce pen some “yellow journalism” about Lew Wallace and a Turkish harem girl? I wouldn’t put it past him. The Wasp’s editor was one of the biggest misogynists of his day and took constant swipes at women. To me, “An Unwelcome Present” sounds like one of Bierce’s tales or epigrams about the diabolical battle between the sexes, which he always portrayed as just slightly less gory than the bloodbath he and Wallace survived at Shiloh. In any case, the gossipy piece about his fellow Hoosier got published on Ambrose Bierce’s editorial watch.
Writer and poet Susan Wallace, who grew up in Crawfordsville and married Lew in 1852, had no reason to fear her husband would take up with a concubine. Yet Circassian beauties were all the rage during the long heyday of Orientalism.
The exotic Circassian mystique had been around for many decades. Inhabiting the Caucasus Mountains at the eastern end of the Black Sea near Sochi (the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics), Circassians were hailed by 19th-century anthropologists as the apogee of the human form. “Circassophilia” churned out many exotic myths about these people in Europe and America. During the Enlightenment, the French writer Voltaire popularized a belief that Circassian women were the most beautiful on earth, “a trait that he linked to their practice of inoculating babies with the smallpox virus.” In the 1790s, the invention of the so-called “Caucasian” race occurred when Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, one of the founders of physical anthropology, compared the anatomy of the beautiful, martial Circassians of what became North Turkey and southern Russia with the rest of humanity and categorized the mountain folk as the least “degenerate” humans.
Yet by the time of Wallace’s tenure in the Middle East in the 1880s, these tough mountaineers had been subdued by the Russians and Ottomans after long years of bloody warfare. Legends about dazzling Circassian beauties abounded even as Circassia itself disappeared from the map. One popular story went that the main source of wealth for fathers in the region was their breathtakingly beautiful daughters, whom they sold off to Turkish slave markets, though as writer in The Penny Magazine thought in 1838, Circassian women were “exceedingly anxious to be sold,” since life in a Turkish harem was “preferable to their own customs.” In Constantinople, they were highly prized in harems — not to be confused with Western prostitution. American abolitionist and women’s rights activist Lydia Maria Child devoted a chapter to Circassia in her 1838 History of the Condition of Women.
The horrible trade in female slaves from the Caucasus was alive and well in the mid-1800s, when an alleged glut in the market led to their devaluation. Good timing for American circus mogul P.T. Barnum. In May 1864, he wrote to one of his employees, John Greenwood, who had traveled to Ottoman Cyprus to try to buy a Circassian girl on Barnum’s behalf. Over a year after the Emancipation Proclamation in America, the circus owner wrote:
I still have faith in a beautiful Circassian girl if you can get one very beautiful. But if they ask $4000 each, probably one would be better than two, for $8000 in gold is worth about $14,500 in U.S. currency. So one of the most beautiful would do. . . But look out that in Paris they don’t try the law and set her free. It must be understood she is free. . . Yours Truly, P.T. Barnum
Barnum’s fascination with acquiring and exhibiting women in his shows took on the elements of a personal erotic and racial fantasy. Though most were “local girls,” as newspapers knew, Barnum billed his “Circassians” as escaped sex slaves and “the purest specimens of the white race.” Figments of Barnum’s imagination, these women joined the ranks of the dime-show freaks, part of the offbeat spectacle of bearded ladies, sword-swallowers, and snake-handlers that drew in paying crowds. Barnum’s harem girls enhanced their hair with beer to create a farfetched “Afro” look.
This was not the kind of Circassian girl alleged by a “yellow journalist” to have been bestowed to Lew Wallace in Turkey. On the eve of his return to America, the General tried to clear things up with the press. The Indianapolis Journal carried this twist in the story on June 30, 1884:
The website of the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum in Crawfordsville gives a slightly different perspective altogether:
As his tour of duty as envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to the Ottoman Empire came to an end in 1884, Lew Wallace was offered a number of gifts from his friend, Sultan Abdul Hamid II. These included Arabian horses, jewels, and works of art. As a representative of the government of the United States, Wallace graciously declined these expressions of friendship and gratitude. According to legend, as Wallace closed his office and packed his residence, the Sultan was able to secretly include the painting called The Turkish Princess, some elaborate carpets and a few other items in the shipping crates. The crates were delivered to Crawfordsville before Lew and Susan returned home. These items sent by the Sultan remained undiscovered by Wallace until he was back in Crawfordsville and opened the crates. The Turkish Princess, said to be one of the Sultan’s daughters, remains one of the highlights of the Study.
Wallace’s biographers Robert and Katharine Morsberger add a further note: “Malicious gossip-mongers claimed that the sultan had also provided Wallace a Circassian slave girl for his carnal pleasures and commiserated with Susan Wallace on her husband’s alleged concubine. Both the sultan and the American minister had too much honor and mutual respect for such an arrangement.”
While tucked away virtuously in bed at his farmhouse one winter night, according to a hair-raising story from 1879, an old man in the Wabash Valley was literally blown to pieces by a cascading meteorite.
Twelve years later, the editors of the Indianapolis Journal were still getting mail about this widely-syndicated news piece, so they decided to publish a flashback. Here’s an excerpt from the 1891 article:
It was in January 1879 that a special telegraphic dispatch came to the Indianapolis Journal describing the fall of a meteorite near Attica, Fountain County, a large stone of unknown composition that, whirling through space, came crashing through the roof of the farmhouse of Leonidas Glover, a widower, who lived alone. The meteorite [struck Glover], who was in bed, supposedly asleep, and horribly mutilating him, continued its course and buried itself in the earth beneath the house. Of course the lonely widower was instantly killed, and when the neighbors the following morning discovered the remains, there was great excitement, all of which was given in harrowing detail in the dispatch.
Due to the juiciness of the 1879 storyteller’s technique, let’s look at the original tale itself.
The killer Fountain County meteorite made the rounds of many American newspapers, going viral in those early days of syndication. A “Covington special” to the Indianapolis Journal relayed the original claim, but here’s a version as it appeared in the Tiffin Tribune of Tiffin, Ohio, on January 30, 1879.
Covington, Ind., Jan. 15. On Tuesday night last, Leonidas Grover, who resided in the vicinity of Newtown, Fountain county, met his death in a way that is probably without parallel in this or any other country. Mr. Grover was a widower living on his farm with a married daughter and her husband. On the evening referred to, the married couple had been absent on a visit to some neighbors, and upon returning at a late hour, entered the house, finding everything, to all appearances, in usual order, and supposing that Mr. Grover had already retired, went to bed themselves.
Next morning the daughter arose, and having prepared breakfast, went to the adjoining room to call her father, and was horrified to find him lying upon his shattered bed, a mutilated corpse. Her screams brought the husband quickly to the bedroom and an inspection disclosed a ragged opening in the roof, directly over the breast of the unfortunate man, which was torn through as if by a cannon-shot, and extending downward through the bedding and floor: other holes showing the direction taken by the deadly missile. Subsequent search revealed the fact that the awful calamity was caused by the fall of a meteoric stone, and the stone itself pyramidal in shape and weighing twenty-two pounds and a few ounces, avoirdupois, and stained with blood, was unearthed from a depth of nearly five feet, thus showing the fearful impetus with which it struck the dwelling. The position of the corpse, with other surroundings, when found showed that the victim was asleep when stricken and that death, to him, was painless.
Despite the blatant tragedy of the scene, Hoosier scientists, especially geologists and sky-watchers, were enthralled and pounced on the report from Covington. But in 1891, the Indianapolis Journal had to tell the story all over again. The State Geologists in question here are Edward Travers Cox (1821-1907) and John Collett (1828-1899). Cox, who was educated in the communal school at New Harmony in his youth, was especially eager to verify the tale. (And with a name like “E.T.,” you’d expect him to be interested in things falling out of the sky) Collett, who grew up in the Wabash Valley and “probably [knew] more about Indiana than anybody within her borders,” was also extremely curious.
The Journal recalled:
The news stirred all the local scientists, and the State Geologist, Professor Cox, at once took measures to secure the meteorite. Maj. J.J. Palmer was dispatched to Fountain County with instructions to buy the stone, no matter what it might cost. Meantime the State Geologist was overwhelmed with letters inquiring about the meteorite and asking for all information possible regarding it.
The State Geologist wrote an exhaustive article on meteorites, leaving a hole in which to place the heavenly bowlder when Major Palmer should return with it. Professor J. Lawrence Smith was greatly interested in the matter, and it was understood that he was willing to give $500 for it.
Were E.T. Cox and John Collett aware of earlier claims about celestial debris causing human fatalities? Before brushing all this off as hare-brained folklore, there were plenty of such stories.
A study by students at Oberlin College has turned up reports from many centuries about deadly stones dropping down from space and striking humans dead. In China in the year 588, there were “10 deaths; siege towers destroyed.” The study’s website, should we be able to trust it, also mentions this phenomenally horrible event:
The most incredible Chinese report is that of the Chiing-yang Meteorite Shower of 1490. Supposedly, tens of thousands of people were killed during the shower in the Shansi province. Yau, et al., tell us that ‘[t]he Chíing-yang incident seems rather implausible in terms of the total number of casualties and the narrow size distribution of the meteorite fragments,’ but they also point out its similarities to the Tunguska event, which would have devastated a populated area. [This was the asteroid that devastated Siberia in 1908. If it had struck a more settled area, millions of people might have been killed.]
Also included on the study’s list: “01/14/1879, Newtown, Indiana, USA – Man killed in bed.”
A more recent story about a meteorite strike comes from the American South, where stars really did fall on Alabama. On November 30, 1954, Ann E. Hodges was napping on the couch when she thought a gas heater exploded in her house, then saw a grapefruit-sized rock on the floor, a busted radio, and a bad mark on her hip. Her neighbors reported a fireball and thought an airplane had crashed. The eight-pound rock that careened into her living room in Sylacauga, Alabama, was later examined by Air Force Intelligence and confirmed as a meteorite. Hodges was profiled in Life Magazine that year. According to the Decatur (Tenn.) Daily News, a lawyer from Indianapolis purchased the “Hodges Meteorite” and sold it to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., where it still resides, the only space rock ever confirmed to have hit a human.
Unfortunately, as far as anyone can tell, the whole Fountain County tragedy was a big hoax and Indiana’s best scientists were put on a wild-goose chase.
When [Major Palmer] returned [to Indianapolis] he reported that he could find no one in Fountain County who knew Leonidas Glover, widower; there was no demolished roof, no desolated household, no hole in the ground.
A demand went up from the scientific world for the impious wretch or wretches who had hoaxed them. But the practical jokers took council of their fears and kept quiet until the storm of scientific wrath had passed by. It then leaked out that the hoaxers were two young men of Crawfordsville, one of them a newspaper man. It may be said that one of these, the newspaper man, was sufficiently punished for his connection with the affair. He lost caste in his profession, and it took him several years to regain the confidence he had lost as an honest chronicler of the news.
I’m indebted to Chris Woodyard over in Dayton, Ohio, whose amazing Haunted Ohio blog first brought this story to my attention. Woodyard cites the historian Jacob Piatt Dunn, who was accused of concocting the hoax himself. Dunn recalled that when Major Palmer realized the Glover/Grover meteorite was a myth, he decided to “keep up the joke” at the expense of E.T. Cox and John Collett. Dunn wrote:
[Palmer] secured a cobble-stone of appropriate size and colored it with black and red ink [to simulate blood]; also a rustic photograph which served for a portrait of the mythical Grover; and prepared plans of the non-existent house showing the course of the imaginary aerolite; all of which he put on exhibition in Joe Perry’s drugstore, then at the northwest corner of Pennsylvania and Washington streets, where they were viewed by wondering hundreds. Perhaps the most notable result was that the story was reproduced by Alexander Winchell, the noted geologist, in one of his scientific works.
Woodyard added that “In 1880 John Collett, who had succeeded Cox as State Geologist, was besieged by people asking to see the meteor. So he asked Palmer to bring the stone to the state museum where it was displayed for many years as a genuine man-killing meteor. It seems to have been quietly taken off exhibition after Collett left office.”
George S. Cottman wrote about the bogus shooting star in the Indianapolis News on August 19, 1922. He agreed that Major Palmer put it “on exhibition in the window of a Washington Street store, where thousands gaped at it and felt impressed by the strange fate of Leonidas Grover.”
Chris Woodyard doesn’t know the whereabouts of Palmer’s fake stone, and neither do I. But George C. Harding, editor of the Indianapolis Journal in 1879, probably wanted to know more about the location of the man who gave him the false news to begin with.
Harding (called “the most picturesque character that ever appeared in Indianapolis journalism”) had concocted a couple of false stories for the Journal himself, including one that very month about a hanged murderer who was revived from the dead at a medical college. But if he didn’t invent Farmer Leonidas Grover outright, Harding got his comeuppance. After putting a moralizing editorial in his newspaper about how death may strike us at any moment, he was forced to admit his own gullibility, writing this follow-up once he knew he’d been hoaxed:
We take it back in its totality. The death was not a phenomenal one. The aerolite did not come hurtling from the infinite depths of space. It did not tear a ragged opening through the roof of Mr. Grover’s house, nor did it crash through his breast. * * * He didn’t die. He didn’t get hurt. He didn’t even get frightened. He wasn’t there; he isn’t anywhere now, durn him! If Mr. Leonidas Grover ever should come into existence and get killed by an aerolite he will have to get someone else to write his obituary. . . We have precious little faith in thunderstones, anyhow. The audacious villain who invented the canard is an unmeasured fraud and an infinite liar. Hell gapes for him. The devil beckons to him with his hands and horns and tail. Eternal cremation with a brimstone accompaniment is his doom.
In 1858, Terre Haute, Indiana, was beginning to have an odd distinction: bite victims from all over the Midwest were coming here for a cure.
That year, Isaac M. Brown, editor of the Terre Haute Daily Union, suggested to the city council that the town purchase for public use a “madstone,” a curious leech-like hair ball found in the guts of deer — preferably an albino buck.
For centuries, folk doctors on both sides of the Atlantic believed such madstones to be helpful in warding off rabies infections and healing poisonous bites. (Queen Elizabeth I of England apparently kept a madstone hanging around her neck.) To back up his support for this public health measure in Terre Haute, Brown quoted a letter from the Mount Pleasant Journal in Iowa, which tells the wild story of one settler there, Seth Stanton, bitten by a rabid feline at his home near the Missouri state line.
On the morning of the 15th of March last I arose early, walked out to the gate in front of my house where I was attacked by a mad animal — a mad cat. It sprang upon me with all the ferocity of a tiger, biting me on both ankles, taking a piece entirely out of my left ankle, clothing flesh and all. [Perhaps it was a wildcat, not a domestic creature. Stanton is not specific.] I saw at once my hopeless condition, for the glairing eyes of the cat told me at once that it was in a fit of hydrophobia. I at once resolved to start forthwith to Terre-Haute, Ind., expecting there to find a mad stone. Accordingly in a few hours, myself and wife were under way, crowding all sail for that port.
Though rabies can take as much as a year to incubate and show any of its awful signs, Stanton wasted no time in traveling by train or river boat back east to Indiana. But when he discovered there was a madstone seventeen miles from Alton, Illinois, just across the Mississippi from St. Louis, he stopped there. Eight days after he was bitten, he wrote, “My leg turned spotted as a leopard to my body, of a dark green color, with twitching of the nerves.”
[I] drank no water for eight days. The stone was promptly applied to the wounds. It stuck fast as a leech until gorged with poison, when it fell off volunteerly [sic]. It was then cleaned with sweet milk, salt and water, and was applied again, and so on, for seven rounds, drawing hard each time, when it refused to take hold any more. — The bad symptoms then all left me, and the cure was complete, and I returned to my family and friends with a heart all overflowing with thanksgiving and praises to God for His goodness and mercy in thus snatching me from the very jaws of death.
American medical history is full of strange tales and oddball personalities. In some cases, medicine and folklore come together.
Though my family has lived in Terre Haute since the mid-1800s, I certainly had never heard anything about a famous “madstone” there. The “Terre Haute madstone,” however, shows up over several decades in American and even Canadian newspapers. At one time, journalists made Terre Haute out to be a virtual “madstone” mecca.
Madstones definitely weren’t Blarney Stones, and people who came looking for them weren’t tourists. Madstones, it turns out, weren’t even rocks at all. Once used as part of a rare but geographically widespread folk medical practice, they are also termed bezoars in both folklore and medical science. Categorized according to the type of material that causes their formation — usually milk, seeds, or plants mixed with an animal’s own hair from licking itself — bezoars are calcareous masses found in the gastrointestinal tracts of deer, sheep, goats, horses and even walruses. In folk usage, these masses were mistaken for actual stones, sometimes polished to look like beautiful grey hen’s eggs, and often thought to have nearly-miraculous properties.
Frontiersmen believed that when applied to the bite of a rabid animal, and in some cases even that of a poisonous snake, madstones could draw out the rabies virus or poison before the tell-tale symptoms set in. Rabies is almost always fatal and one of the worst ways to die. Victims of the infection will suffer from extreme, deathbed-splintering spasms as the virus wreaks havoc on the nervous system. Hydrophobia, characterized by frothing at the mouth and intense fear of water, follows from the inability to swallow. According to Dr. Charles E. Davis in The International Traveler’s Guide to Avoiding Infections, the World Health Organization knows of only one case of a human with rabies escaping an excruciating death once the virus reached the brain.
While the madstone has been thoroughly debunked, one can hardly fault the practitioners of early madstone “medicine” for giving it a go. In some parts of America, use of these stones lingered on into the 1940s.
One of the better pieces of writing about American madstones appeared in the Summer 1983 issue of Bittersweet, a magazine published by high-school students in Lebanon, Missouri. Called the “Foxfire of the Ozarks,” Bittersweet was a spin-off of the hugely popular books written by students in Georgia in the early 1970s. Based on interviews with Appalachian and Ozark old-timers, Foxfire and Bittersweet were a major spur to the countercultural back-to-the-land movement that came about during the days of the Vietnam War.
In “Madstone: Truth or Myth?” student Dena Myers looked at the old folk belief, once common far outside the Ozarks. She tapped into a vast repertory of tales claiming the stone’s effectiveness.
Drawing on interviews, Myers describes the actual use of the madstone:
People using the madstone for treatment boil the stone in sweet milk, or sometimes alcohol. While still hot, they apply the madstone to the wound. If the victim has rabies, the stone will stick to the wound and draw out the poison. Once the stone adheres to the wound, it cannot be pulled off. After the stone is filled with the poison, it drops off by itself. It is then boiled again in the milk which turns green the second time. The process of boiling and applying is repeated until the stone no longer sticks to the wound.
French scientist Louis Pasteur pioneered a rabies vaccine in the 1880s, but its side-effects were so terrible that many people avoided it. (“Some Ozarkians say they would rather use the madstone than take the shots,” Myers wrote.) References to a “Pasteur treatment” or “cure” at the turn of the century are misleading. Once symptoms appear, “treatment” for rabies can do little but lessen the agony of death. Those who “recovered” from rabies after a madstone treatment never had it to begin with.
Fred Gipson’s novel Old Yeller, set in the Texas Hill Country around the time Pasteur was working on the first rabies vaccine, captures the real tragedy of the disease, which was common before vaccines, muzzling and the “destroying” of animals brought it under control in developed countries. In the U.S. today, rabies rarely occurs in dogs and cats, but still occasionally shows up in bats, who transfer it to livestock, pets, and humans, often un-vaccinated spelunkers.
Belief in a madstone remedy for rabies goes back centuries. (Bezoar, in fact, is based on a Persian word, and use of the stone was recommended in Arabic medical manuals in medieval Spain.) Scottish settlers seem to have been mostly responsible for bringing it to the American South, where they met American Indians who also used the rare stones. (A madstone owned by the Fredd family in Virginia allegedly came from Scotland and was mentioned by Sir Walter Scott in his novel The Talisman.)
The Cajuns in Louisiana practiced madstone healings. (Many Cajun folk beliefs came from African Americans and American Indians also inhabiting the bayous.) A stone yanked from the gut of an 18th-century Russian elk ended up in Vernon County, Missouri, on the Kansas state line, sometime before 1899. A madstone used in St. Francis County, Arkansas, in 1913 was dug out of an ancient Indian burial mound.
One of the first European practitioners of madstone healing in Indiana was John McCoy, an early settler of Clark County.
In 1803, McCoy married Jane Collins (known as “Jincy” McCoy) in Shelby County, Kentucky, just east of Louisville. As a wedding gift, or maybe as part of her dowry, Jincy’s family gave her a madstone in preparation for the couples’ move into the dangerous Indiana wilderness. It was “the best insurance they could offer against hydrophobia.” These are the words of Elizabeth Hayward, who edited John McCoy’s diary in 1948. “In giving their daughter the only remedy then known,” Hayward wrote, “the Collins gave her the best gift in their power as well as a rare one.”
John McCoy is best known for leading the Charlestown militia after the Shawnee attack on settlers at Pigeon Roost in 1812, one of the bloodiest events in Indiana history, which happened near his home. (Ironically, McCoy was the brother of the Rev. Isaac McCoy, a Baptist missionary and land rights advocate for the Potawatomi and Miami. When they were evicted from Indiana in 1838, Rev. McCoy accompanied them to Kansas and Oklahoma.) A deacon in the Baptist Church himself, John McCoy helped found Franklin College at a time when “Baptists were actively opposed” to higher learning, Hayward wrote. What is less well known is his battle against rabies in southern Indiana.
McCoy kept a laconic record of his days. On at least ten occasions recorded in his diary, he was called on to apply his wife Jincy’s madstone to victims of animal bites.
Hayward believes the McCoy madstone might have been the only one in that corner of Indiana at the time. True to a common superstition about proper use of the stone, McCoy “never refused [when asked to use it] and never accepted payment, apparently regarding the possession of the rarity as a trust. The victims were boys and men. Probably the circumscribed lives led by the women of his times, centered on their homes, kept them out of reach of stray animals. And more probably still, the voluminous skirts they wore protected their ankles from being nipped.”
McCoy applied the stone, carried up from Kentucky, long after Clark County, Indiana, had ceased to be a frontier zone. Most of his diary entries related to its use date from the 1840s.
April 9 . Sunday. At sunrise attended prayer meeting. At 11 attended preaching, afternoon detained from church by having to apply the Madstone to a little boy, bitten the day before. At night attended worship, then again attended to the case of the little boy till after 12 o’clock.
Later 19th-century medical investigation into the efficacy of the madstone suggested that while the stone did not actually suck out any of the rabies virus, it acted according to the “placebo effect” (i.e., belief in the cure itself allayed the bite-victim’s mind, which resulted in improvement — provided, of course, that there was not actually any rabies there.)
Yet around the same time John McCoy was practicing his primitive form of medicine near Louisville, Terre Haute was becoming a top destination for those seeking treatment — or at least reassurance.
Mary E. Taylor, almost always referred to in newspapers as “Mrs. Taylor” or “the widow Taylor,” was the owner of the famous “Terre Haute madstone” mentioned in many American newspapers. Her stone’s virus-sucking powers were sought out from possibly the 1840s until as late as 1932.
Local historian Mike McCormick believes that Mrs. Taylor was born Mary E. Murphy, probably in Kentucky. Marriage records show that a Mary E. Murphy wed a Stephen H. Taylor (no relation to the author of this post) in Vigo County in April 1837. An article in the Prairie Farmer of Chicago mentions that she lived at 530 N. Ninth St. (This made her a neighbor of Eugene Debs.)
In 1889, Mrs. Taylor spoke about the provenance of her madstone to a reporter. “My mother’s brother had it in Virginia,” she told the Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail, “and as he had no children gave it to my mother. That is as far back in its history as I can go.” An 1858 letter from Mary “I.” Taylor (possibly a misprint) appeared in the Evansville Daily Journal. She claimed the stone had been in use “for the past thirty years” in Vigo and Sullivan counties. The Terre Haute Weekly Express claimed the madstone came to Indiana via Kentucky, after the Murphys lived there for a while in their move west.
Though Mrs. Taylor might have been widowed as early as the 1840s, hoax-busters who would suggest that she used her family’s madstone to support herself should remember the prominent superstition that warned against accepting payment.
A “widow lady” whom McCormick thinks was Mary Taylor “cured three cases” of hydrophobia in early 1848, according to the Wabash Express.
During the decades when John McCoy and Mrs. Taylor were folk medical practitioners in the Hoosier State, Abraham Lincoln, according to an old claim, brought his son Robert to Terre Haute to be cured of an ominous dog-bite.
Poet and Lincoln biographer Edgar Lee Masters reported this claim in his 1931 Lincoln the Man. (Like the president, Masters was obsessed with melancholy and death. He grew up near Lincoln’s New Salem in Illinois and later set his paranormal masterpiece, Spoon River Anthology, in the old Petersburg cemetery where Lincoln’s first lover, Ann Rutledge, a typhus victim, lies.)
“He believed in the madstone,” Masters wrote, in a section on Lincoln’s superstition, “and one of his sisters-in-law related that Lincoln took one of his boys to Terre Haute, Indiana, to have the stone applied to a wound inflicted by a dog on the boy.”
Max Ehrmann, a once-renowned poet and philosopher who lived in Terre Haute, investigated Masters’ claim in 1936. At the famous hotel called the Terre Haute House, Ehrmann had once heard a similar story from three of Lincoln’s political acquaintances. They told Ehrmann that sometime in the 1850s, Lincoln, then still a lawyer in Springfield, brought Robert to Indiana for a madstone cure. Father and son stayed at The Prairie House at 7th and Wabash, an earlier incarnation of the famous hotel. A sister of Mary Todd Lincoln, Frances Todd Wallace, backed up the story.
“I have never been able to discover who owned the mad-stone,” Ehrmann wrote. “It was a woman, so the story runs.” If true, Robert (the only child of Abraham and Mary Lincoln to survive to adulthood) would have been a young child or teenager. He lived to be 82.
Mrs. Taylor’s “Murphy madstone” was probably just one of three such stones in Terre Haute that offered a rabies cure. Another was owned by Rev. Samuel K. Sparks, and Mary E. Piper’s “Piper madstone” was used until at least 1901.
Though her stone became nationally famous, Mrs. Taylor faced a healthy amount of skepticism. On March 6, 1867, the Weekly Express reprinted this clip from the Indianapolis Herald: “We understand that Mrs. Taylor, of Terre Haute, applied her mad stone to Mr. Pope, who died a few days since of hydrophobia. As it was not applied until after the disease manifested itself, it failed. We fancy, however, it would have failed anyhow.” Herald editor George C. Harding had inadvertently taken a swipe at Terre Haute, which was increasingly proud of Taylor’s madstone. The snub caused the editor of the Weekly Express, Charles Cruft, to retort:
We know it is wicked to do so, but we almost wish our friend Harding would receive a good dog bite, in order that his skepticism as to the efficacy of our madstone might be cured. Although he may have more faith in whisky, which is said to be an antidote for some poisons, we’ll bet the first train would convey him in the direction of Mrs. Taylor’s residence.
A mad dog bit four children in Rush County, Indiana, in March 1889. Their parents brought them to Terre Haute to see Mrs. Taylor. The Montreal Herald in Canada picked up the story. “The Terre Haute madstone has just completed the most thorough test ever given it. . . [Mrs. Taylor] remembers that it was handed down to her from her Kentucky ancestors. . . Physicians and scientifically inclined citizens have overrun her home here since the mad dog scare began in this state, and there is hardly a day that a patient is not brought to her.” A few days afterwards, two Warren County farmers came, “each being apprehensive that some of the saliva of a hog got under the skin of their fingers.”
In 1887, the madstone even ranked among Terre Haute’s “sources of pride.” While singing the praises of a local masonic lodge, the Saturday Evening Mail wrote: “[The lodge] deserves to rank with the Polytechnic, Normal, artesian well, Rose Orphan Home, madstone and Trotting Association.” On April 23, the newspaper added: “Someone has written the old, old story about the Georgia stone. The Terre Haute charmer’s turn will come along soon.”
Though papers reported other Hoosier madstones, like the “Bundy madstone” in New Castle (which stuck to a severely infected woman’s arm for 180 hours in 1903), Terre Haute’s fame spread to faraway Louisiana and Minnesota. But Mrs. Taylor’s cure sometimes disappointed. During the “dog days” of summer (an abbreviation of the “mad dog days” when a higher number of rabies cases usually occurred), the Minneapolis Journalran this story in 1906:
Terre Haute, Ind., August 18 — William Painter, a farmer, died of hydrophobia from a cat bite, and in a moment of consciousness before the final convulsion, caused his attendants to tie him in the bed for fear he would do someone harm in his struggles. The death convulsion was so strong that he tore the bed in pieces, but no one was hurt.
He was bitten June 21 by a cat which had been bitten by a dog eight days before. He called the cat to him and as it sprang at his throat he caught it and was bitten in the thumb. He had the Terre Haute madstone applied, and as it did not adhere he felt that he was not infected with the virus.
A boy who lived east of Bloomington suffered a similar fate in 1890. Bitten by a dog while working in Greene County, 19-year-old Malcolm Lambkins went to Terre Haute to have the madstone applied to his leg, but it didn’t adhere. Though the wound healed, a short time later “the boy took sick, and when he attempted to take a drink of water he went into convulsions. He grew steadily worse and wanted to fight those about him, showing almost inhuman power.” Lambkin died on July 6. “An experienced physician states that he never witnessed death come in such terrible agony.”
Skeptics and scientists, of course, eventually established that saliva is what carries the rabies virus, and that if bitten through clothing, one was far less likely to be infected than if bitten directly on the skin. Also, not all animals thought to be rabid actually were. The mental relief of receiving the “cure” from the likes of Mrs. Taylor probably helped the healing of non-rabid wounds and infections by calming the mind, thereby boosting the immune system. (What the green stuff was that came out of the madstones, I have no idea.) Though mention has been made of bite-victims having recourse to madstones as late as the 1940s, they practically drop out of the newspapers around 1910.
One last appearance of the madstone in the annals of Hoosier journalism deserves mention. Scientists were justifiably proud of the anti-rabies vaccine, grown in rabbits, that gradually all but wiped out the virus in North America. But in 1907, even the so-called “Pasteur treatment” hadn’t come to Indiana. Just as today we sometimes talk jokingly about “those barbaric Europeans” who enjoy their free medical care, in April 1907 an anonymous doctor wrote this remarkable passage in the monthly bulletin of the Indiana State Board of Health. His (or perhaps her) racism was hopefully tongue-in-cheek:
The Pasteur treatment is the only one for rabies. “Mad stones” are pure folly. Faith in such things does not belong to this century. If a person is bitten by a dog known to be mad we urge such to immediately go to take the Pasteur treatment at Chicago or Ann Arbor. Indiana has no Pasteur Institute, and this reminds us of the admirably equipped and well conducted institute in Mexico City. In the land of the “Greaser,” unlike enlightened and superior Indiana, any person bitten by a mad dog can have scientific treatment for the asking. It is to be hoped that the State having “the best school system” will some day catch up with “the Greasers” in respect to having a free public Pasteur Institute.
In a previous post about “ghoul busters,” I mentioned the body-snatching problem that was a major issue in turn-of-the-century Indianapolis and throughout the U.S. for most of the 1800s. Driven by the need for “fresh material” on dissecting tables at American medical colleges, the longstanding problem of body thievery was widespread and decades-old.
Originally allowed by law to bring only executed felons and the unclaimed poor into the classroom for anatomical study, doctors facing increasing enrollment at nineteenth-century medical schools were forced to prey on ordinary citizens even after “Anatomy Acts” made legal acquisition easier. Though such data hardly show up on the census records, physicians nabbed tens of thousands of bodies from poorly-guarded graves in city and country alike. Tragically, providing bodies for classrooms was a burden that fell disproportionately on African Americans, who play into American medical history both as the robbers and the robbed, the main instruments and victims of grave robbery and desecration into the 1940s.
Ghouls (grave robbers in 19th-century speak) often ignited civil disturbances, like the “Anatomy Riots” that rocked New York City in 1788. (Twenty people were killed on that occasion.) An English robber kept a laconic but harrowing record of his thefts in 1811-12, published in 1896 as The Diary of a Resurrectionist.Often overlooked as a cause of violence on both sides of the Atlantic, the ghouls supposedly unearthed many of the specters that still haunt America.
Indiana was no stranger to this mostly forgotten practice. In the 1860s, well-substantiated fears of the “Resurrection Man” led to the creation of Indianapolis’ Crown Hill Cemetery, now one of the largest in the U.S., designed partly to ward off desecration of the dead by needy medical faculties. Staffed by pistol-toting guards at the turn of the century, Crown Hill ensured that families would no longer have to stand watch over their loved ones’ final resting place until decomposition rendered the remains useless to science.
Further digging into Hoosier newspapers turns up a vast trove of journalism and folklore on this bizarre aspect of medical history. One of the wilder and more entertaining tales from the heyday of the “resurrectionists” comes from Andrew Jackson Grayson, a veteran newspaperman of Madison, Indiana, and is set just before the Mexican War.
In the annals of Hoosier journalism, Grayson had a knack for recognizing a good story. Born at Sandcreek in Decatur County in 1838, at age three he moved sixty miles south with his family to the old Ohio river town of Madison. He later described Madison as a “queer old town. . . the Mecca of Indiana, the gem of the Ohio Valley.” In 1861, the 21-year-old enlisted in the 6th Indiana Infantry and fought in the first land battle of the Civil War at Phillipi, Virginia. (While the war was still on, he published a humorous memoir of the regiment’s role in the Virginia campaign.) Mustered out in 1862 due to varicose veins that developed in his left leg after a forced march to Shiloh, he came back to southern Indiana and at age 22, went to work for the Madison Courier. Grayson worked in the printing trade for the rest of his life.
Like the old river town itself, his grave-robber story comes from before the war and is a sort of “crossroads” of Hoosier history. It also taps into a confusing vein of folklore.
Madison had one of the few medical colleges in antebellum Indiana. Consequently, even small towns nearby often had surprisingly qualified (and interesting) doctors. One of the doctors was Charles Schussler, a German immigrant. Educated at the universities of Tübingen and Vienna, he came to New York in 1828, fought in the Texas Revolution, lived in New Orleans for a while, prospected in California during the Gold Rush, then came back east in the early 1850s to set himself up in medical practice in Madison, where he helped found the Madison Medical Institute. (Though the institute went out of existence long ago, the physician’s house is a bed-and-breakfast today.)
For instruction purposes, Schussler often had to steal bodies. According to one story, on a secret grave-robbing operation he and a band of “ghouls” were forced to contend with a “human icicle” they dug up one frigid winter night, probably in a country graveyard. As the frozen body bounced around the wagon while the team sped away from the cemetery, the stiff smashed into Schussler’s foot. The doctor reportedly cried out in agony, then attacked it in a temporary fit of insanity, screaming “Hurt my foot, will you?!”
One of the protagonists of the anonymous doctor’s tale later recorded by Grayson was thought to be with Schussler that night. Part of a trio of fascinating brothers who practiced medicine in southeastern Indiana in the mid-1800s, Dr. John W. Mullen was born to an Irish family in Pennsylvania. Like Schussler, he went to Texas around 1830, where he served as a page to Sam Houston and almost died of yellow fever. Tiring of Texas, Mullen went back to Philadelphia, trained as a doctor at the University of Pennsylvania, then moved to Madison.
Mullen’s elder brother, Alexander, was also a protagonist in Grayson’s story. Born in Ireland in 1813 but raised near Philadelphia, Alexander Mullen ran away from home to join the American Merchant Marine, first training as a doctor on a ship, then at Louisville Medical College in Kentucky. His Irish pioneer family had moved west to Ripley County, Indiana, in the meantime, hence his own move to the Hoosier State around 1840. Alexander served as Prison Physician at the Indiana State Penitentiary in Michigan City, the regimental surgeon of the 35th Indiana Infantry (the “Irish Regiment”) in the Civil War, and finally moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he died in 1897. In the 1840s, he was practicing medicine in the small town of Napoleon. He also trained country doctors at the nearby Versailles Medical Seminary, which once sat on the courthouse square.
(Irish-born Alexander Mullen, left, gave medical lectures in Versailles. His brother, the pediatrician, soldier, and Irish-American radical B.F. Mullen, right, was also a grave robber.)
The folklore begins to come fast and furious, but around 1846, when Alexander was in his early thirties, his other brother, Bernard Mullen, was either studying medicine or practicing alongside him in Versailles or Napoleon.
If there is anyone who dispels the eerie, Hollywood stock image of a grave robber, it is definitely B.F. Mullen. One of the earliest pediatricians in the Hoosier State, when the Mexican War broke out in 1847, the 22-year-old enlisted in James Henry Lane’s 3rd Indiana Regiment and became the youngest surgeon ever to serve in the U.S. Army, being appointed to that post at the General Hospital in Jalapa, Mexico. (As Grayson’s story will show, Mullen was probably driven into the army to avoid the scandal of being labeled a grave robber back home.) In the 1850s, Mullen, an Irish Catholic, became a vocal opponent of the nativist “Know Nothing” Party, which tried to prevent immigration, especially from Ireland. Acclaimed as an orator, Mullen eventually became active in the Fenian Brotherhood, a fraternal society that was a forerunner to the global Irish Republican Brotherhood whose last leader was Michael Collins.
During the Civil War, B.F. Mullen would serve as Colonel of the 35th Indiana “Irish” Regiment, where his brother Alexander was surgeon. Col. Mullen, former ghoul, led the 35th Indiana into the “Battle Above the Clouds” at Missionary Ridge in Tennessee and helped ward off John Hunt Morgan’s raid on Madison itself. After the war, the colonel practiced medicine in Madison until 1871, then moved to Terre Haute. In January 1879, Mullen was Democratic candidate for Indiana State Librarian, but died of tuberculosis in an Indianapolis hotel a month later.
On to the story.
According to Grayson’s version of the tale in the Indianapolis Journal, Alexander and Bernard Mullen were teaching a medical class at Versailles, probably in 1845. More likely, Bernard was the third student who got entangled with a “posse” at the Cliff Hill Cemetery above Laughery Creek (now Versailles Lake). The other two students were John B. Glass, who may have ended up in Missouri or Colorado, and Jonathan W. Gordon, the eponymous origin of the Versailles landmark called “Gordon’s Leap” since the 1800s. Originally from Pennsylvania, Gordon had come to town in 1844 to practice law. He afterwards fought in the Mexican War, served as a major in the Civil War, entered Hoosier politics, and helped future President Benjamin Harrison get started in the law when Harrison first came to Indianapolis.
But as the story shows, around 1845 the lawyer-doctor was a famous local lawbreaker.
(Major Jonathan W. Gordon, soldier-doctor and occasional “ghoul,” went on to become speaker of the Indiana House, Prosecuting Attorney for Marion County, and the “most prominent criminal lawyer” in the state. He died in 1887 and was buried at Crown Hill. A vintage postcard shows Bluff Springs near the site where Gordon and/or his companion John Glass allegedly jumped to avoid being lynched.)
“‘The sensational instances of grave-robbing that have just come to light in Indianapolis remind me of a similar event in which the late Maj. Jonathan W. Gordon figured when he was a young man,” said Andrew J. Grayson, of Madison. “The incident occurred near Versailles in Ripley County, the place made famous in recent years by the lynching of five men simultaneously. [Five “desperadoes” were killed just outside the Cliff Hill Cemetery in 1897 at a spot called “The Hanging Tree.”] Oddly enough, Major Gordon and his companions came near figuring in a lynching bee themselves. They only escaped an untimely and shameful death at the rope’s end by making one of the most thrilling leaps ever attempted by a human being. The spot at which the perilous jump was made by the young men in question is known to this day as ‘Gordon’s Leap.’
“I obtained the full particulars of the grave-robbery in which young Gordon participated from a veteran physician of Madison,” continued Mr. Grayson. “I was sitting in the old doctor’s office one day chatting pleasantly with him when I asked him suddenly if he had not in his long career had some experiences that were of more than passing interest. ‘I have had quite a few,’ he replied, with a smile.
“Upon being pressed to narrate some of his experiences he consented, and the first story he told was that of ‘Gordon’s Leap.’ ‘Nearly fifty years ago,’ said the veteran physician, ‘the town of Madison could boast a medical institute. I was a student in the school, together with a number of other young sprigs that were desirous of receiving their initial instruction in that primitive academy of science.
“‘About that time Jonathan W. Gordon, who afterwards turned to the law and became one of the most brilliant advocates of the Indiana bar, was a medical student. He and a young man named John Glass attended a course of private medical lectures given by Drs. B.F. and A.J. Mullen at their office in the town of Napoleon, not far from Versailles, in which Gordon resided.
“‘Dr. J.W. Mullen, a brother of the Napoleon physicians of the same name, came one summer from a Philadelphia medical college, in which he was taking a course of instruction, to visit his brothers. He met and formed a close friendship with young Gordon. One day he received from Gordon a note saying that a body that would be an excellent subject for dissection had just been buried in the cemetery near Versailles and proposing that the trio, Gordon, Mullen, and Glass, make arrangements to lift the corpse from its resting place. The recipient of the note entered heartily into the ghoulish scheme and arrangements were made to carry it out.
“‘It seemed, however, that a Dr. [William] Anderson of Versailles was suspected of entertaining body-snatching proclivities and the people residing in the vicinity of the cemetery made preparations to give him a warm reception if he should make an attempt to secure the subject in question.
“‘At the appointed time Gordon, Mullen and Glass set out for the lonely burial ground, and when they reached the place they began without hesitation the work of disinterring the coffin containing the coveted body. They had dug clear down to the box and were raining blows on that with a pick in order to force it open when the enraged citizens in ambush descended upon them with a fierce rush. The young fellows knew well that to be caught meant nothing short of lynching. There was but one way of escape.
“‘A few yards away was a precipice about one hundred and twenty feet in height, the top of which looked down upon Laughery Creek. Fully fifty feet of the cliff was a perpendicular wall. To the young men was presented the alternative of dying surely, but disgracefully, at the hands of the mob or of risking a less shameful death and possibly gaining liberty by leaping over the frowning precipice. With Gordon to think was to act. Hurling himself like a cannonball towards the precipice and shouting to his comrades to follow, the daring youth leaped without hesitation over the face of the cliff. Fired by their leader’s amazing courage, Glass and Mullen jumped after him. Down the trio plunged for, it seemed, an interminable length of time, clutching frantically at branches of trees projecting from ledges, until at last they fell in one quivering, panting heap of humanity into a tangled mass of brush at the bottom, which served to prevent them from being instantly killed.
“The leap would have been pronounced suicidal by anyone not under the stress that weighed on these young men. They, however, escaped serious injuries and what was better still, vengeance of the mob. Young Glass sustained a dislocation of an arm, while Gordon and Mullen were simply shaken up and bruised.
“The trio of daredevils were afterward arrested and brought to trial on a charge of grave-robbing, but fortunately made good their escape through the astuteness of Judge Miles Eggleston, father of the famous author [Edward Eggleston], who discovered a flaw in the indictment against the young men. . .”
The doctor’s version of “Gordon’s Leap” that Grayson heard probably had a couple of serious errors. The Mullen brother who accompanied Gordon and Glass to the graveside was almost definitely Bernard, who would have been about twenty if the jump happened in 1845. (Gordon was about twenty-five.) Several sources suggest that both Bernard Mullen and Jonathan Gordon were forced to run away and join the army during the Mexican War due to the fallout from their “ghoulish scheme.”
As long ago as 1884, the truth or falsehood of the leap was hotly debated. On May 15, a piece appeared in the Versailles Republican. The writer said that he had asked Gordon himself about the location of the famous jump:
We asked him if we had been correctly informed as to the locality. As he had visited the spot the day before, he was certain as to the place from which he leaped. But he says he jumped from a tree that stood upon the verge of the bluff and now that tree is not only gone but ten or more feet of the bank is gone. At all events, it was a fearful leap. One of the men, who was with him, also jumped and received severe injuries…
As to the identity of the coveted corpse that night, the Versailles Republican claimed: “A black man had just been buried there, and it was his body the students were after.”
The story of the leap stayed alive in folklore but varied from telling to telling. The location became a famous Ripley County landmark. In 1941, the WPA’s travel guide to Indiana mentioned it. (WPA writers collected a large amount of Hoosier folklore during the Great Depression, though sadly not much of it made it into the WPA guides.) The author makes no mention of any of the Irish Mullen brothers, claiming instead that Gordon and Glass were studying with the Dublin-trained physician Dr. William Anderson — who was, in fact, practicing in Versailles around that time. In the WPA writer’s abbreviated telling, when the lynch mob showed up, Glass escaped through the foliage, while Gordon jumped over the cliff, broke a leg, and dragged himself to a cabin, where he got hold of a horse and fled the county.
More variations are told. Ripley County in Vintage Postcards states that “Glass ran the wrong direction and fell over the precipice.” Alan F. Smith, author of Tales of Versailles, insists that the “leaper” was John Glass. Smith also adds: “Dr. Gordon lost a patient and could not understand why. He was quite interested in performing an autopsy on the body, but the family of the deceased would have nothing to do with the desecration. . . In the darkness, Glass ran over the cliff. . . but, perhaps because Gordon was the dead patient’s doctor, the general public always held the belief that it was he who had jumped.”
Folkorist Ron Baker caught one more elaboration of the tale, which shows up in his classic anthology Hoosier Folk Legends (1982).As someone told Baker: “There was a Dr. Gordon in Versailles. There had been a strange death. Gordon thought an old man’s wife had poisoned him and wanted an autopsy. The family wouldn’t let him. One night real late, he dug up the body. When he got the casket open, the cops and the family came out. Gordon took off running. There’s a 200-250 foot drop cliff at the edge of the cemetery. At the foot of the cliff is Versailles Lake. Gordon fell off and broke a leg. He swam away, and no one ever saw him after that. Now this is called Gordon’s Leap.” (This is certainly false. Versailles Lake, a reservoir, was constructed by damming Laughery Creek in the 1950s.)
Unfortunately, the story wouldn’t be complete without the harrowingly sad coda Grayson appended to it in 1901.
Lest Gordon be considered a hero rather than a grave robber, it’s important to remember that the bodies stolen from rural and urban cemeteries by “resurrection men” were, more often than not, African American. (So were many of the resurrectionists themselves.) White doctors were rarely prosecuted for theft, however, especially if the body was black, whereas African American “ghouls” in their employ often went to court and were sometimes shot and killed by police on the spot.
At one time (1884) the Versailles Republican mentioned that the town’s citizens were considering putting up a monument to Gordon “the leaper.” (In fact, the Ripley County Historical Society erected a historical marker at the Cliff Hill Cemetery in 2013). It is worth noting that no such marker exists to memorialize the thousands of African American bodies robbed from Indiana cemeteries over at least a century.
But I’ll leave it to the doctor from Madison to tell this tale. The date isn’t mentioned, but he claims the event happened before the Civil War:
There is but one authenticated instance of body-snatching in the Madison cemetery, the body taken being that of an old colored man named Taylor. The reason body-snatching was rare in Madison was that we usually got our subjects from rural graveyards. But to return to the Taylor case: A son of the old man was employed as a messenger in the office of Dr. H., in Madison, and after his father died the lad suspected his employer of having stolen the remains. This suspicion, I remember, was aroused by a remark the youth overheard Dr. H. make. The poor boy suffered intensely from his suspicions of his employer, for in those days a negro’s word was worthless against that of a white.
One day, when the doctor was out of his office, the boy decided to put into effect a plan he had evolved. He knew that the doctor had in his closet a skeleton that he used for purposes of study and demonstration. He also knew that his father, when living, had struck himself on the ankle bone with an ax, chipping off a piece of the bone.
Gaining entrance to the closet, the youth peered long and earnestly at the grewsome object suspended therein. Oddly enough one ankle bone of the skeleton had had a piece chipped from it. To the mind of the imaginative young darky the skeleton of his father, as he verily believed it to be, seemed to curse the ruthless hand that had dragged it from its peaceful place in the City of the Dead.
Years rolled by and the doctor disappeared from our midst, entering the Confederate army and becoming a surgeon in the Civil War. The colored office boy grew to manhood, married and had offspring gathered about him. Death visited his little home one day and took from him one of the little ones. The hideous vision he had had in the doctor’s office before came back to him suddenly and with wonderful distinctness. Here was his opportunity to satisfy himself as to the truth of his surmise formed at that time. Accordingly he requested the sexton of the cemetery to permit the body of the child to be buried in the grave of its grandfather. The official assented and the old grave was re-opened. When the bottom was reached there was found, true to the long-entertained belief, the remnants of a coffin, but no trace of the body it once contained.