On a darkening California highway one September evening in 1955, Indiana native son James Dean careened to his death in a Porsche 550 Spyder nicknamed “Little Bastard.” Speeding to an auto race in Salinas and riding with a former Luftwaffe pilot and Porsche mechanic named Rolf Wüterich, Dean tried desperately to avoid a crash as a 23-year-old Cal Poly student, Donald Turnupseed, turned onto the highway. Sometimes ironically misspelled”Turnupspeed,” the other driver was judged not at fault, but Dean was severely mangled and died before arrival at the emergency room.
Less than a month before the release of his greatest film, Rebel Without a Cause, the 24-year-old actor was being readied at a morgue out West for his last trip home to the Hoosier State.
The date of his death was September 30 — sixty years ago tonight.
Hoosier State Chronicles has recently digitized seventy-five years of James Dean’s hometown newspaper, The Fairmount News, which will be going up on Newspapers.com this November. All Indiana residents can access over 1.25 million pages of Hoosier newspapers for free through the State Library’s INSPIRE portal.
A town of about 3,000 in Grant County, an hour northeast of Indianapolis, Fairmount was shocked by Dean’s horrific death. He’s still the town’s greatest attraction today, and the onslaught of tourists and movie buffs visiting Fairmount’s Park Cemetery has hardly slackened since 1955. One biographer has even referred to the hometown actor as an “industry” and “one of Fairmount’s most lucrative commodities.” Doubly lucky, the community is also the childhood home of Garfield cartoonist Jim Davis, born in 1945.
The Fairmount News will be a boon to researchers trying to put together a fuller picture of the actor’s youth and background in this Indiana farm town.
The Fairmount News will also undoubtedly give insight into Grant County’s not always flattering history, especially in the 1920’s. Dean’s biographers have been quick to point out the actor’s feelings about the area’s history as a major base for the Ku Klux Klan a century ago. (He wrote a negative poem about his hometown when he lived in New York.) Times have changed in Grant County, but the past is never truly dead. As William Faulkner said, it’s not even past.
(Grant County history was tarnished by the most famous photo of an American lynching in 1930, just one year before Dean’s birth, but its past is more complicated. Under the subtitles “We Want Justice, Not Charity” and “Liberty for the Masses–Not the Classes,” Freedom’s Banner, a short-lived Socialist newspaper, was once printed at 120 East Fourth Street in Marion, the county seat, back in 1910. A selection of Indiana Socialist papers also goes online this fall.)
One looming figure is Fairmount’s history is a woman alleged by Jack Shuler, a historian of lynching, to have been the Hollywood star’s great-aunt. This was the little-known “Quaker Klucker,” Daisy Douglass Barr, mentioned on Hoosier State Chronicleslast week and in an article on HistoricIndianapolis.com.
A reformer gone astray, Barr died in 1938 when Dean was seven and she is buried just a few rows away from him at Park Cemetery. In the mid-1920’s, she served as head of the women’s auxiliary of the powerful Indiana Ku Klux Klan. Barr was also an influential evangelical Quaker minister, having taken to the pulpit at age 16 and led revivals and tent meetings all over the state — one of the few women to preach and lead congregations in those days.
From 1903 to 1910, Barr had been pastor of the Fairmount Friends church, the same church James Dean grew up attending and where his funeral was held in 1955. Though Daisy Douglass Barr moved to Indianapolis around 1917 and died in a car wreck near Jeffersonville in 1938, the future star of East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause almost certainly met her. He was born in 1931. It’s tempting to think he may have attended her funeral in Fairmount.
Another “specter” from Dean’s past will likely surface in The Fairmount News. This was a minister, close friend and mentor of the young Dean’s who gave a eulogy as his funeral.
The Reverend James A. DeWeerd, a Methodist preacher educated at Taylor University, Marion College, and Ball State was at the time of the actor’s death the pastor of Indy’s influential Cadle Tabernacle. By some accounts the largest church in America, Cadle Tabernacle, too, had a dark history dating back to the 1920s, when the Invisible Empire held many rallies there. Its founder, evangelist Howard Cadle, had allegedly lost control of the place, but managed to turn it around. Cadle Tabernacle became the base of a popular evangelical radio ministry in the ’30s and James DeWeerd preached there in the 1950’s — as did Civil Rights heroes Martin Luther King and Billy Graham, for the record.
Here are a few other historic clips from The Fairmount News from the fateful year 1955. Look for more on Newspapers.com when the paper goes live this November.
The Lusitania disaster seems impossibly remote to some, but the great maritime tragedy occurred just a hundred years ago — within the living memory of our oldest citizens.
Photography was unable to capture the sinking itself. Torpedoed by a German submarine eleven miles off the south coast of Ireland on a beautiful May afternoon in 1915, the ship went to the bottom in just fifteen minutes, with the loss of 1,200 lives. Many still believe the ship’s unusually fast demise was caused by contraband explosives it carried in its hold, en route from the U.S. to Britain. If true, the Germans would still be guilty of a war crime, having fired the torpedo that ignited the illegal cargo, though the behavior of the British government, smuggling weapons on a passenger liner, would be hard to excuse.
While the meticulous, body-by-body photographic record of the drowned victims is stashed away in the Cunard Line Archives in Liverpool, hundreds of the dead were never recovered at all. Others remained unidentified. A series of stark photos documented their burial in a mass grave in the town of Cobh (formerly called Queenstown) on Ireland’s south coast. Remarkably few American newspapers ever reprinted these somber photographs, which show a pile of old-fashioned “pincher coffins,” the kind that was beginning to go out of style in favor of modern, less “haunted-looking” caskets.
An exception was the Lake County Times in Hammond, Indiana, which published one of the gloomy images on May 25, 1915, almost three weeks after the sinking.
(Old Church Cemetery, Cobh, County Cork, Ireland, where 169 bodies from the Lusitania were buried.)
One of the anonymous victims who might lie in the Irish earth — but who probably went to the bottom of the sea — was a Hoosier man sailing aboard the doomed vessel.
Elbridge Blish Thompson was a promising 32-year-old sales manager from Seymour, Indiana, traveling to Holland with his wife Maude. Though Maude survived and went on to have a remarkable, unusual life, Thompson drowned and his body was never officially recovered.
Born in southern Indiana in 1882, Thompson came from a family of prominent millers who ran the Blish Milling Company, one of the main businesses in Seymour. Educated in Illinois and at the prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, Thompson went on to study at Yale, then metallurgy at the Sheffield Scientific School in New Haven. Popular at Yale, he defended his home state by saying “A man from Indiana can do no wrong.” In 1904, he married Maude Robinson of Long Branch, New Jersey. Thompson’s work as a metallurgist took the couple out to Breckenridge, Colorado, but after a few years, they came back to Seymour, where he took charge of the Blish Milling Company and the Seymour Water Company. It was the flour milling business that eventually led him to embark on a fateful trip to Holland in May 1915.
In 1914, a strange instance of what the Indianapolis News called “kismet” (fate) led Thompson to disguise one of his cars in a strange costume — as a German U-boat. The automobile was a blue National roadster built at the National Motor Vehicle Company in Indianapolis, a company headed by Arthur C. Newby, one of the founders of the Indianapolis 500. Three days after the Lusitania was torpedoed by a real U-boat, the News carried an almost eerie story about the “mimic submarine” that Thompson once drove through a parade in Seymour:
Mr. Thompson is of an adventurous disposition and prolific with original ideas. He was impressed with the work of submarines in the European war, and decided to imitate one in decorating this auto for the parade. His submarine attracted much attention, and he was complimented for his originality. When he started for Europe with his wife on the Lusitania May 1, his friends warned him he might learn what a real submarine could accomplish, but he ridiculed the idea of danger. Now that he has felt the effects of a submarine’s torpedo, his friends are saying it was a “case of fate.”
The News incorrectly reported that Blish Thompson had been saved. On the morning of May 15, he and Maude rose at 4:30 to watch the sunrise. That afternoon, they were in the first class dining room when the torpedo struck, signaled by a thud, then followed by a huge explosion that was either a coal bunker or a cache of illegal ammunition going off, the alleged contraband being smuggled to the Western Front which had led the Germans to target the ship to begin with. On deck, Blish gave his lifebelt to a woman. Unable to get into lifeboats as the ship lurched almost perpendicular, the Thompsons were swept down the deck and sucked into the water. Then the couple’s grasp was torn apart by the suction of the plunging vessel.
While a memorial service was held for Thompson in Seymour on June 18, his body never turned up. The stone monument in Seymour’s Riverview Cemetery was erected over an empty grave.
A more interesting fate than “Blish” Thompson’s is that of his wife. By the end of World War I, Maude Thompson had remarried, becoming one of that fascinating bunch of Americans who joined the European aristocracy. For years, Seymour — a humble Hoosier farm town — had a direct connection to France’s old nobility.
Widowed by the Lusitania disaster, Maude Thompson went back to Europe to volunteer with the Red Cross in France. On the boat with her this time, she brought not her husband, but Blish Thompson’s two automobiles — the National roadster he had disguised as a “mimic submarine” for the parade through Seymour and a National touring car. Maude donated these Indianapolis-built vehicles to the French cause. The re-outfitted roadster served as a scout car on the Western Front. The touring car was given to the Red Cross. During World War I, Maude met and fell in love with an ace French fighter pilot, Count Jean de Gennes (pronounced “Zhen.”) Although she was twelve years his senior, the two were married in Paris in November 1917.
(Count Jean de Gennes, second husband of Maude Thompson, served in the French air force and transatlantic air mail service. His son was born in Seymour, Indiana.)
After the Allied victory over the Germans, the new Countess de Gennes moved to her husband’s spectacular Loire Valley estate, the historic Château de Longue Plaine, located 30 miles south of Tours in western France. It was a fairy-tale twist to a marriage due in part to the deadly sinking of the Lusitania. Their son, named after his father, was born in 1919 while his mother was on a visit back home to Seymour, where she served on the board of the Blish Milling Company. The young Indiana-born count would later serve during World War II as a pilot in the French Resistance, also flying in night-time bombing raids over Germany with the R.A.F.’s Bomber Command.
Maude’s husband was often away from home. During the 1920s, Count de Gennes was one of the great pioneer airmail pilots, navigating the dangerous South American and North African routes between France, Casablanca, and Buenos Aires. One of his colleagues at the Compagnie Aéropostale was the great French pilot and novelist Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince and several great early non-fiction classics of flight. Like Saint-Exupéry, who vanished into the Mediterranean during World War II, Count Jean de Gennes — member of the French Legion d’Honneur — died in a plane crash off the coast of Morocco in 1929.
Six years before the count’s death, an unnamed reporter from the Indianapolis News paid a visit to the de Gennes family at their sprawling chateau near the Loire.
As the Hoosier reporter described it, Maude — “a former Indiana woman” — had refurbished much of the old 17th-century castle, which had been revamped in the early 1800s but originally dated back to the Middle Ages. Maude installed its first electric lights, a central heating system to replace “big hungry-mouthed fireplaces,” and put in a power plant out back. She also brought over bits of the Hoosier State with her, incorporated into the house or stowed away.
It was a delightful experience to live in this charming old place in the midst of American furniture — for the complete contents of the Seymour home had been transported to France. . . While it may seem like carrying coals to Newcastle, to take our furniture to a country famous a thousand years for its beautiful cabinet work, the old Indiana bureaus and tables and other pieces fitted admirably into the delightful old French setting. . .
Baby Jean lives in a suite of his own that was all paneled and cupboarded with Indiana wood. Even his furniture was built from Indiana lumber.
Much of this wood from Jackson County is probably still there today.
The reporter also found. . . Indiana newspapers:
(Château de Longue Plaine, where Maude Thompson lived into the 1940s.)
(Hoosier-born French pilot Count Jean de Gennes served as a bombardier in the “Groupe Guyenne,” a segment of the R.A.F.’s Bomber Command that flew out of Tunisia and Britain, carrying out the controversial night-time raids over German cities that killed thousands of civilians. Half of the squadron itself died in action.)
Though she could easily have found refuge in the U.S., the Countess de Gennes stayed in France during the Nazi occupation of her adopted country. In 1946, she moved to New York City with her son, who was working for Air France. Maude lived out her remaining days in Queens. She died on May 17, 1951. According to her last wishes, she was buried in France.
Some people are shocked to find out that Indiana has a coastline, let alone six lighthouses. You might be even more surprised to discover that for over forty years, the keeper of the Old Michigan City Lighthouse was a woman — and that in 1904, she was “the oldest lighthouse keeper in America.”
Harriet Colfax was born in 1824 in Ogdensburg, New York, a town on the St. Lawrence River looking over into Ontario. As a young woman, she taught voice and piano in her hometown. In the early 1850’s, Harriet moved west to Michigan City, Indiana, with her younger brother, Richard Wilson Colfax, who became editor of the Michigan City Transcript, a Whig journal. (Richard died just after his twentieth-sixth birthday in February 1856 and is buried in the town’s Greenwood Cemetery.) Some sources say Harriet worked at her brother’s newspaper as a typesetter, then taught school. She never married, and after her brother’s death had few means of support. So by 1861, when she was thirty-seven, she decided to do something totally different.
And the job would bring a house with it.
Until the 1890s, being a lighthouse keeper was still a political position, relying on appointments and sometimes even corruption. On the Great Lakes and Atlantic Coast, these jobs were scarce and hard to come by. Fortunately, Harriet had a relative who could pull some major political strings.
Her cousin Schuyler Colfax, born and raised in New York City, had also moved out to the promising new Hoosier State, where by age 19 he was editing the South Bend Free Press. (In 1845, as the paper’s new owner, he changed its name to the St. Joseph Valley Register.) In the 1840s, Schuyler Colfax wrote about Indiana politics for the influential editor Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune and as State Senator wrote for the Indiana State Journal. In 1855, he got elected to Congress, where he spoke out against the extension of slavery into the West. Nicknamed “The Smiler” — partly for his affability, partly for his intrigue — he was also one of the few people you ever see grinning in 19th-century photographs!
(Harriet’s cousin, South Bend newspaperman Schuyler Colfax, represented Indiana in the House of Representatives during the Civil War, served as Speaker of the House, then went on to become Ulysses S. Grant’s first Vice-President. The Hoosier V.P. also helped found the Daughters of Rebekah, the women’s auxiliary of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Photo by Matthew Brady, National Archives.)
In March 1861, two years before he became Speaker of the House, Harriet’s cousin got her an appointment as the keeper of the Old Michigan City Lighthouse.
Contemporary accounts constantly referred to Harriet as small in stature and rather frail, so her cousin in Washington, D.C., might have had to exert some pressure — or selectively leave out that information — to get the family favor done. Yet getting a post as lighthouse keeper wasn’t necessarily hard. If we can believe one of his letters, in 1822 the English actor Junius Brutus Booth, father of John Wilkes Booth, was offered the position of lighthouse keeper at Cape Hatteras on North Carolina’s remote Outer Banks — a job he almost accepted.
In the opening year of the Civil War, with her new appointment in hand, Harriet moved into the three-year-old lighthouse built among cottonwoods and willows by the Lifesaving Service just back from the harbor. (The plan was almost identical to two other light stations — Grand Traverse Light on Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula, and the station at Port Washington, Wisconsin, north of Milwaukee.) A new Fresnel lens up top was visible for fifteen miles out on Lake Michigan. Harriet Colfax had become the newest guardian of sailors along the occasionally storm-wracked Hoosier Coast. She kept the difficult job for forty-three years.
Colfax’s most challenging task was getting out to the East and West Pier lights. Until it collapsed in a windstorm in 1886, Colfax reached the West Pier beacon by rowboat. Built in 1871 and situated at the end of a 1,500-foot long breakwater, the East Pier Light was replaced in 1904 and is still standing. This light had to be lit every evening, fair weather or foul. When “The Witch of November” blew in and Lake Michigan’s waves froze solid on top of the causeway, Harriet had her work cut out for her, and she had many harrowing brushes with a frigid death. As the 49-year-old wrote in her logbook on May 28, 1873: “A terrible hurricane to-night at about the time of lighting up. Narrowly escaped being swept into the lake.”
One of her main challenges in the days before kerosene was used to light lamps (a hazard in itself) was keeping oil from freezing while she carried it out to the beacons. The West Pier could only be reached by rowboat. In wintertime, whether she was walking or rowing, Colfax had to heat the lard oil at home, then act fast. As she told the Chicago Daily Tribune in 1904 (the year of her retirement at age eighty):
The lard oil would get hard before I could get the lamp lighted, but once lit it never went out, you may be sure. My lights never went out till I quenched them myself. . . I love the lamps, the old lighthouse, and the work. They are the habit, the home, everything dear I have known for so long. I could not bear to see anyone else light my lamp. I would rather die here than live elsewhere.
(Her cousin, Vice-President “Smiler” Colfax, lacked Harriet’s stamina. He died in 1885, of a heart attack brought on by exposure to extreme cold after walking three-quarters of a mile in January weather in Minnesota.)
Harriet Colfax’s job, of course, wasn’t all hardship. Life on the lake had plenty of attractions. In her journals, she described spectacular rainbows and eclipses of the moon over the water. Winter’s icy grip brought impressive displays of the Northern Lights. And she sometimes got leaves of absence. In 1876, she visited the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.
Nor did she live by herself. In the 1860’s, a friend of Harriet’s named Ann C. Hartwell moved into the station. Born in Ontario in 1828, Ann had known Harriet back in upstate New York as a child and, like her, moved out to Michigan City in the 1850’s. A story, possibly folklore, about a dead lover being the reason why neither of the two women ever married made it into the Indianapolis Journal on December 21, 1884:
Though they lived together as friends, Colfax and Hartwell worked side-by-side to keep the lanterns lit. The bravery of the famous Ida Lewis, who kept Lime Rock Light in Newport, Rhode Island, stirred up a lot of public fascination — some of it annoying — about females in the Lifesaving Service and helped propel the two Michigan City women to local fame. (They weren’t the only women involved with keeping the Hoosier coast safe, by the way. Harriet C. Towner was Colfax’s successor from 1844 to 1853, and Mary Ryan was stationed at Calumet City, Indiana, from 1873 to 1880.)
When Colfax finally retired from her job in October 1904, she and Ann had to move out of the lighthouse, which was owned by the Lifesaving Service. Separated from her old home, Ann’s mental and physical health immediately broke down. On November 4, a report made it into the Jasper Weekly Courier in southern Indiana that she had gone insane from grief — and of course, love:
Ann died just a few months later, on January 22, 1905, aged 77. John Hazen White, the Episcopal Bishop of Indiana, presided at her funeral at Michigan City’s Trinity Cathedral. Harriet, also struck with grief at the loss of her home and long-time companion, passed away on April 16. The two are buried next to each other at the Greenwood Cemetery.
Their names shine bright on the long list of women lighthouse keepers of the Great Lakes. But lest you think that Harriet’s story is impressive, here’s one even better: Kathleen Moore, keeper of the Black Rock Harbor Light on Long Island Sound in Connecticut, was credited with saving twenty-one lives. She retired in 1878. Claims about her age differ, but Moore was born sometime between 1795 and 1812, took up lighthouse keeping before she was a teenager, and died in 1899. You do the math!
You can thank Jonathan Jennings for making the Hoosier State a Great Lakes State two-hundred years ago, when he got Congress to nudge the border with Michigan a few miles north. But even with our gorgeous sand dunes stretched out under the shadow of the steel mills, Indiana hardly jumps to mind when it comes to maritime history.
That didn’t stop me from fishing for some home-grown Hoosier connections to the Life Aquatic. (Did you know that even far-inland parts of the state, like Leavenworth down on the Ohio River, once had thriving boatbuilding enterprises, with craftsmen turning out graceful wooden skiffs shipped around the U.S.?)
Marion was born in Tours, France, in 1857, and emigrated with his wife Jeanne Marie to America around 1883, when the couple were still in their twenties. The Marions lived briefly in Charleston, South Carolina, where their son Paul Henry Marion, who later served in the Navy, was born in 1884. In 1886, Henri Marion was a language teacher at the Norwood Institute on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, D.C. An ad for the school listed him as a graduate of the prestigious Sorbonne in Paris.
By 1891, though, Marion had become a French professor at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
An esteemed instructor there, Henri Marion may have been involved in the early use of the phonograph in teaching languages to naval cadets. Curiously, the French professor also got involved in another “linguistic” innovation involving technology — not “pidgin” English, but another kind of “pigeon” entirely.
(A pigeon-cote on the armored cruiser Constellation around 1894.)
The instructor was at the forefront of a U.S. Navy effort to improve the sending of messages via homing pigeon. An issue of Outing in October 1894 has this to say about it:
The military use of messenger pigeons has grown up since the Franco-Prussian war, when pigeons were first extensively used during the siege of Paris. In France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain and Portugal, the organization of military pigeon posts is now very complete, some of the nations owning upwards of six-hundred thousand birds. As homing pigeons are of no use as bearers of messages except after long and careful training, a service of messenger pigeons for naval or military use could not be improvised at short notice.
The United States messenger pigeon service has now been in existence for three years, under the charge of Prof. Henri Marion, United States Naval Academy, who has frequently urged that a permanent service be established along the Atlantic coast, from Portland, Maine, to Galveston, Texas. . .
In peace, the birds would be useful in giving notice of wrecks, fire at sea, lack of food, water or coal, or of any accident to vessels or machinery, if happening near the coast, and could frequently relieve the anxiety of friends of passengers on vessels overdue. . . When in October 1883 a light-ship broke from her moorings twenty-two miles from Tornung, off the mouth of the Eider, four pigeons were liberated from the ship and brought the news in fifty-eight minutes.
In 1896, Professor Marion filed a patent for a new watertight aluminum message holder that would be attached to the bird’s legs. Scientific Americanreported that Marion’s improved “quill” weighed “less than eight grains” and can “be fastened to the pigeon in an instant.”
(Marion’s patent for a message holder, October 1896.)
Around 1905, before he began spending his summers as a language teacher in northern Indiana, Henri Marion got involved with another strange naval odyssey: the discovery of the remains of John Paul Jones.
The Scottish-born Revolutionary War hero was most famous for captaining the Bonhomme Richard in a famous battle against the British vessel Serapis, fought off Flamborough Head in Yorkshire in 1779. Though hailed as the “Father of the U.S. Navy,” John Paul Jones fell from grace and entered the service of Catherine the Great’s Russian Navy in 1787, battling the Turks on the Black Sea, then wandered around Poland and Sweden, desperately looking for a country to serve. Jones ended up in Paris in 1790 in the early days of the French Revolution. Sick and miserably lonely, the 45-year-old hero died of a kidney ailment at his apartment in Paris in 1792. One of the captain’s few friends found him dead, kneeling face-down at the edge of his bed, apparently in prayer before his spirit took flight (or set sail?)
Thinking (wrongly) that the U.S. government would be interested in repatriating the hero’s remains for an honorable burial in America, a French admirer sought to preserve his body, even as the American ambassador, Gouverneur Morris, refused to help give Jones a proper burial in Paris. (“I had no right to spend money on such follies,” Morris wrote.) Like his contemporary Mozart, who was chucked into a mass grave in Vienna just six months earlier, only a few servants and friends attended Jones’ burial in the St. Louis Cemetery, which was set aside for “foreign Protestants.” The body was stuck in a lead-lined coffin filled with alcohol to aid preservation in case the American government ever ordered an exhumation. Just a few weeks later, after 600 Swiss Guards died defending King Louis XVI at his palace and were tossed in a mass grave next to Jones’ new coffin, the exact site of his burial became more and more mysterious.
The horrible burying ground later became a garden, then a refuse dump covered by a midden full of animal bones and kitchen waste. According to rumor, the neighbors held cock fights and dog fights at the site of the forgotten cemetery where America’s greatest naval hero lay. Over the course of the 1800s, a grocery store, laundry, and apartment house had also been built on top of it.
In 1899, General Horace Porter, U.S. Ambassador to France from 1897 to 1905, began an amazing six-year search for Jones that culminated in the discovery, photography, and repatriation of his remains. (I won’t spoil your lunch by posting the photos here, but I’ll just say he looks like King Tut. You can see them here.)
Professor Henri Marion — of homing-pigeon fame — was Ambassador Porter’s interpreter in France. Marion helped translate old documents and went on the archaeological digs that led to the discovery of John Paul Jones’ coffin. Porter’s team battled worms, stench, and fetid water along the way. His interpreter later wrote the definitive account of this search through subterranean Paris, a book published in 1906 as John Paul Jones’ Last Cruise and Final Resting Place at the United States Naval Academy.
Henri Marion accompanied the Revolutionary War hero as he sailed on his “final cruise” to Annapolis, Maryland, departing from Cherbourg, France, in July 1905, after lavish services at the American Church in Paris. A 13-day crossing brought Jones “home” to a ceremony presided over by President Theodore Roosevelt. Jones’ bones were then laid to rest in a temporary vault at the Naval Academy on the shores of Chesapeake Bay.
(The coffin of John Paul Jones is lowered to the deck of the USS Standish off Annapolis Roads, July 23, 1905. U.S. Naval Historical Center.)
Within a summer or two, the French interpreter who was so instrumental in the hunt for Captain Jones was in Marshall County, Indiana. By about 1907, Henri Marion was serving as a French and Spanish instructor at the Culver Military Academy’s Summer Naval School, a preparatory program for teenagers interested in enrolling in the U.S. Navy.
An article in the nearby Plymouth newspaper reported on the mustering-in of a battalion of “Indiana state sailors” in 1909. “A ship will be provided for them,” it said.
The naval instruction on Lake Maxinkuckee covers all the elementary work done by naval reserves and by the government naval training stations. In addition, the formation of this battalion entitles Indiana to receive from the navy department a vessel for more extended drills and work in navigation on the Great Lakes.
Illinois has recently received the gunboat Nashville for this purpose and by next summer these Hoosier middies will probably receive a similar vessel.
A writer for the Indianapolis Journal in 1902 told potential tourists that “Visitors to Maxinkuckee during these months [July and August] will find the lake with quite a nautical appearance, the only feature lacking being the smell of the salt sea air.”
With the grounds illumined by Japanese lanterns, a ball was held at Culver that August. By 1910, a floating dance pavilion called “The White Swan“ enticed local dancers at the popular lake resort to come enjoy the summer nights along Aubeenaubee Bay. Guests sometimes arrived on the steamers that once plied Lake Maxinkuckee. In 1903, Civil War naval veteran (and native Hoosier) Admiral George Brown came to visit the Culver cadets.
(Naval students learn to dance at the Culver Summer Naval School. This photo is from the institute’s debut 1902 catalog. The cost of the 8-week program that year was $110, “including room, board, tuition and laundry.”)
(“Marlinspike Seamanship,” as taught in the northern Indiana flatlands. Students “will all be taught ship nomenclature, and the general principles which govern the building of wooden and iron ships. They will be instructed in the use of the compass, and the lead-line and the log. In connection with their work in seamanship, they will also be instructed in the courtesies and customs of the United States Naval Service. . . Cadets in the upper class will be taught the laws of gyratory storms. . . and will be required to learn thoroughly the ‘Rules of the Road’ for avoiding collisions at sea.”)
(In May 1907, Henri Marion was mentioned in this ad from Country Life in America. “Expert tutoring is given in any study; also a special course in modern languages, with the phonograph, under Professor Henri Marion, of the United States Naval Academy, and laboratory and other interesting special courses.”)
Possibly dealing with the effects of typhoid fever he contracted in Maryland in 1910, Henri Marion died in the hospital at Culver, Indiana, in August 1913 “after a general decline” — and not long after a fierce windstorm cut through the school and did huge damage.
The French instructor, interpreter, and pigeon-pioneer was buried at the Naval Academy’s cemetery in Annapolis. The Culver Military Academy continues its summer naval school to this day.
An entry in Hyman’s Handbook to Indianapolis recently caught my eye. A strange masked man stalks this great guide to the old and now mostly vanished architecture of the city in 1909.
My thoughts raced to Jules Verne’s deep-sea divers, Renaissance plague doctors dressed like bizarre birds, steampunk fashion designers, and of course the epic villain, Darth Vader. Even the name of the company that once manufactured this pioneer fireman’s oxygen mask in the Hoosier State had a science-fiction ring to it: the Vajen-Bader Company.
Smoke, sulfur, and ammonia pose problems similar to those faced by divers and even doctors wading into disease-ridden “miasmas” (the “bad air” mentioned in old medical manuals). So it should come as no surprise that the invention of smoke helmets is part of a much bigger history. The tragedy is that the protective devices used by groundbreaking medical men, underwater explorers, and firefighters evolved into the gas masks used in the chemical warfare that made World War I so uniquely terrifying at the time.
In 1893, Indianapolis hardware salesman and inventor Willis C. Vajen earned his place in the history of masks and life-saving.
Vajen (whose name, I believe, is pronounced “Vie-en”) came from one of the capitol city’s most prominent and wealthy families. His father, John Henry Vajen, emigrated from Bremen, Germany, to Baltimore with his parents in 1836, then moved west with them to Cincinnati, Ohio, and eventually Jackson County, Indiana. (John Vajen, Sr., had been a professor in Germany, a talented organist, and a Lutheran minister, and served as pastor of a large log church near Seymour.) Vajen, Jr., went into the hardware business and made a small fortune in trading and banking. During the Civil War, J.H. Vajen became the thrifty Quartermaster General of Indiana and was known as Governor Oliver P. Morton’s right-hand man. He died in 1917.
Willis Vajen ultimately followed in his father’s footsteps. After attending a seminary in Hamburg, Germany, Earlham College in Richmond, and Wittenburg College in Ohio, he, too, went into the hardware business. His sales knack probably had something to do with his skill in design. (Vajen filed patents for tools and machinery, like this plumb bob and a rein support for horses.) “Vajen & New” was located at 64 E. Washington St., offering Indianapolitans the best selection of lawn mowers, saw vises, rubber hoses, fishing tackle, fly-screen doors, White Mountain Ice Cream freezers, garden rakes, rubber hoses, and roller skates.
No mere humble merchants of garden tools and sporting goods, the Vajens married into great families. Willis Vajen was wed to Anna Claypool, daughter of the wealthy Connersville businessman Edward F. Claypool. (Ironically, the majestic Claypool Hotel, named for the inventor’s father-in-law and once one of the great landmarks of the city, was destroyed by arson in 1967.) Vajen’s sister Fannie Belle married Charles Stewart Voorhees, son of Senator Daniel Voorhees. (Charles Voorhees represented Washington Territory in Congress.) The Vajens often vacationed at their summer cottage on Lake Maxincuckee in northern Indiana, loaning it to the Hoosier novelist Booth Tarkington and his wife Laurel Fletcher in 1902.
Yet Willis Vajen’s claim to fame is the “smoke protector” that he perfected with William Bader in 1893. Apparently one or both of these men had witnessed a tragic hotel fire where rescuers were unable to reach the fourth floor due to smoke, the inspiration for their efforts at invention. A German immigrant, Bader was a piano maker by profession and may have come up with the idea first. Testimony from a lawsuit filed in U.S. Court in 1899 has it that Vajen first saw a photograph of the device in the music store where Bader worked, and the two worked together to improve efficacy of the mask, meanwhile helped along by Dennis Swenie, Chicago’s fire chief. A clip in the Los Angeles Herald suggests that “William Baders” was the real genius, Vajen only “furnishing the capital for the enterprise.” The court’s verdict, however, was that Vajen deserved most of the credit.
The struggle to perfect a mask that can ward off the assault of smoke, water, noxious fumes, and even the plague goes back centuries. News articles heralding the Vajen-Bader Patent Smoke Protector often remarked that it looked like a sea-diver’s helmet. This, too, was a new invention. English brothers Charles and John Deane had been inspired to invent their famous copper diving helmet in the 1820s after witnessing a fire at a smoke-filled horse stable. When the Deanes attached a leather hose to pump fresh oxygen into their firefighting helmet, scuba-diving took a great leap forward. (While wearing such an outfit in 1836, John Deane discovered Henry VIII’s long-lost warship Mary Rose, sunk off the Isle of Wight three-hundred years before.)
Another fascinating European forerunner of the Vajen-Bader mask was the plague doctor’s costume. While these seem like creatures of the fantastic imagination to us today, in the 17th century doctors venturing into epidemic-ridden cities sported masks resembling bird beaks, along with heavy protective suits that they believed gave protection from “miasmatic air.” Filled with scented herbs and spices like ambergris, myrrh, mint, cloves, and rose petals, the doctor’s elongated “beak” was designed as a kind of air filter. Credited to the Parisian doctor Charles de l’Orme, these ornithologically-inspired plague garments were in use as early as 1619 and later became a feature in the Venetian carnival.
When Willis Vajen and William Bader undertook work on their smoke helmet, other innovators had already tried out an array of devices, ranging from primitive sponges and lightweight “respiratory veils” to more sophisticated contraptions, like the one invented in the 1870’s by Irish physicist John Tyndall, who incorporated a cotton filter saturated with lime, charcoal, and glycerin. A different device was the respirator pioneered by Bernhard Loeb, who attached metal air canisters to the mask’s mouth.
Some two years ago Willis C. Vajen, an Indianapolis inventor, brought me a smoke helmet or protector and asked me what I thought of it. He will himself, no doubt, admit that it was a crude and cumbersome affair. The principle material in its construction was sole leather, and its window was of a single thickness or pane of glass. It did not have facilities for enabling the wearer to hear, and the tank for the compressed air was fully six times larger than was necessary.
However, it was clear that the inventor was on the right track. . . As it stands now, the weight of the helmet is practically nothing, resting upon the shoulders. The protector is made of asbestus tanned horsehide and is securely fastened by means of two straps which pass from the back under the arms and snap into rings in front. Its top is padded and is also re-enforced with transverse seams of the hard leather, which stand up to the height of about an inch. This makes it capable of withstanding a very heavy blow and forms an almost perfect protection against falling bricks and small stones.
Directly at the back of the neck is a small air tank, which can be filled by means of an ordinary force pump such as the bicyclists use for inflating their pneumatic tires. It will hold 100 pounds of compressed air and has a tiny gauge attached which registers the pressure of air within. The first five or ten minutes at a fire generally determines the result, and the total capacity of the air tank is sufficient to last a man for 40 minutes.
“Delicate mica diaphragms” for the ears and eyes helped with vision and hearing, as a did a double-paned window. “Both eye and ear pieces are protected by strong wire guards. . . On the front exterior, where it may be easily reached, is a signal whistle, which does not consume any of the pure air from the reservoir. The operation of the signal, which is loud and sharp, makes no drain upon the breathing resources of the fireman.”
An article in Fire & Water Engineering in 1906 adds: “It is neat; it weighs only six pounds; it can be put on as easily as a coat. . . There is no hose attachment which is liable to kink or break and thus impede the movements of the wearer.”
The Vajen-Bader Company’s life-saving invention caught on fast. Praise came not only from American fire chiefs, but from international clients. Operating out of a space on the second floor of the old Indianapolis Public Library a block north of Monument Circle (and later at a factory in Richmond, Indiana), the company filled orders from customers as diverse as meatpackers, mining and gas companies, breweries, and the British and Chilean navies. Overseas agents in Johannesburg, London, and Yokohama marketed the smoke protector around the globe. In 1897, fire fighters from Dublin, Ireland, to Wellington, New Zealand were “using them with entire satisfaction.”
The masks sold for $100, a large investment for some municipal fire departments, but Hyman’s Handbook claimed that “during the first year an estimated $3,000,000 worth of property was saved by the use of this new device.”
A contemporary article from the Los Angeles Heraldtouts the value of the smoke helmet in preventing minor fires from turning into major ones.
Often a fire of insignificant proportions causes such a dense volume of smoke that it is quite impossible for its location to be discovered, and it smoulders thus until it has gained such headway that it is impossible to extinguish it.
When Willis Vajen attended a firefighters’ convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1896, his cutting-edge device was the star of the show. The Salt Lake Herald reprinted testimony from the fire department in Kansas City, Missouri, which had already put the mask to a rigorous test. As KC’s Fire Chief George C. Hale (a great innovator himself) wrote, firemen found a house “which had a cellar underneath, with no ventilation whatsoever.”
In the cellar was dug a hole, in which was placed one of the worst smelling conglomerations of combustibles ever heaped together — sulphur, feathers, tar, wooden and cotton rags and burlap sacks. Hardly had the match been touched to the pile, until a dense volume of smoke began to roll up out of the single trap door that led down into the cellar. When the penetrating fumes of sulphur set everyone to coughing, there were many who shook their heads and said no one could possibly live five minutes in the cellar. The smoke pushed its way up the brick wall and was coming out at the crevices.
Second Assistant Chief Henderson was selected to wear the helmet. The cylinder was filled with air until there was a 100-pound pressure. The whistle was tested to see if it would sound. The helmet was dropped over Henderson’s head and strapped around his body.
“If you grow weak or begin to suffocate,” said Chief Hale, “blow your whistle vigorously and we will come after you.”
The rap door was then raised and the fireman disappeared into the sickening, penetrating smoke. The door was shut tightly. Not a breath of pure air could reach the man in the helmet.
Then the crowd began to wait. Watches were looked at and after a couple of minutes had elapsed without hearing any sound from the fireman, several began to grow nervous, thinking that the sulphur fumes might have gotten in quick work and strangled him. The door was partly raised and Chief Hale called to Henderson to blow his whistle. A far-off sound came from the cellar, telling that Henderson was in good shape. . .
The smoke continued to grow denser and blacker, and the odor more vile. Henderson’s whistle sounded frequently and no uneasiness was felt. Eighteen minutes had elapsed from the time when he had gone into the cellar, when he knocked on the door. . .
“How did you stand it, Alec?” queried everybody.
“Stand it! Why, I could have stayed down there all day. It was dark as midnight, but I could breathe as easily as I do now. . .”
When the pressure gauge of the air cylinder was examined it was found that only ten pounds of air had been used, ninety pounds being left.
Firemen wearing the novel smoke helmets came to the rescue after an ammonia explosion at Schmidt’s Brewery, a subsidiary of the Indianapolis Brewing Company, nearly killed a number of workers on the night of September 31, 1896. The Indianapolis News reported:
The fire that started in the second story of the building in the malt mill was subdued by the fire department. It was a hard fire to reach as the fumes of ammonia were strong, and it was almost impossible for a man to get near the building. The firemen say that this is the first difficult fire they have had since the Vajen-Bader smoke protector was adopted by the department, and that these helmets made it possible for the men to enter the building and reach the fire with the chemical engines. They say that although the fumes of ammonia were strong enough to render an unprotected fireman unconscious, the men wearing the helmets suffered no inconvenience from the fumes.
Aged 49, Willis Vajen, who suffered from life-long anemia, died at his home at 23 E. Vermont St. on July 22, 1900 and was buried at Crown Hill. In one of history’s bizarre twists, all the houses on Vajen’s block were demolished around 1921 to make way for the mammoth Indiana World War Memorial, the city’s enormous Egyptian-inspired temple to the veterans of World War I.
These soldiers, of course, were the first to use the terrifying invention whose evolution was partly due to the Vajen-Bader smoke protector. Early in the 20th century, the gas mask wove its way into sickening nightmares, both dreamed and awake, as Europe — and then the whole world — caught on fire.
Nature lover, friend of dogs and underdogs, journalistic joker, and shooter-up of men he considered his enemies, George C. Harding once edited newspapers from Cincinnati to Houston but was always most connected with the Indianapolis Journal and the Indianapolis Herald, which he edited in the 1870’s. Part Mark Twain, part Ambrose Bierce, part proverbial “man gone postal,” Harding was called “the most picturesque man in Indianapolis journalism” by city historian J.P. Dunn.
Since he wielded a pistol several times in the capitol city and may have suffered from a mental illness, it’s hard to know exactly how to see him today. But since he’s also been mostly forgotten, here’s a bit of his story.
Born in Clinton, Tennessee, in 1830 to a family of thirteen kids, the future editor of the Indianapolis Journal lived in Knoxville until age seven. In 1837, the family moved to Edgar County, Illinois, where his father, Jacob J. Harding, eventually edited the Prairie Beacon in Paris, twenty miles west of Terre Haute, Indiana. At fourteen, Harding ran away to St. Louis, but came back “penniless and disheartened” and probably worked in a brick factory.
A long obituary published in the Indiana State Sentinel in 1881 says that “When about fifteen or sixteen years of age [Harding] went to Terre Haute and learned the printing art in the office of the Terre Haute Express.” When the Mexican War broke out, he enlisted as a private but got sick (either in St. Louis or New Orleans) and never made it to Mexico. Around 1848, he was co-editing his father’s paper just over the Illinois state line.
George Orwell famously said in 1946 that “Bad writers – especially scientific, political, and sociological writers – are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones.” When the Indiana State Sentinel published a piece that praised Harding for shooting the alleged seducer of his teenage daughter Flora in 1874, the paper curried public sympathy by praising everything about the man. “His letters at this time, written in strong, sensible, and positive Anglo Saxon,” it said, reminiscing on Harding’s early days in the news business, “without redundancy, attracted considerable attention among readers of the Beacon.”
In the 1850s, he grew restless and floated down the Mississippi to New Orleans, where he may have gotten work as a newspaper correspondent for the Cincinnati Commercial. Before the Civil War, Harding also edited the Courier in Charleston, Illinois, founded the Coles County Ledger in Mattoon, and did editorial work for papers in Louisville, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Houston.
During the Civil War, the itinerant news man served as Lieutenant in the 1st Indiana Heavy Artillery, the so-called “Jackass Regiment.” (The name came from the Hoosier regiment’s use of mules to haul cannon and supplies.) He saw action at the Battle of Baton Rouge and Port Hudson, Louisiana, before being captured by Confederate cavalry, allegedly while stumbling drunk over a fence. While held as a POW at New Iberia, Louisiana, Harding and two other Indiana captives drank from gourd cups and used ox-shoulders as silverware. Because he had given his word of honor not to attempt an escape, he was freed during a prisoner exchange at Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1863.
(Harding served with “The Jackass Regiment” in Louisiana.)
Harding’s knife-sharp prose is best when he’s telling the hard truth, though he could occasionally flip on the sentimentality switch if he had to, to sell papers.
One of the best things to come from his pen is this priceless description of U.S. Grant reviewing new recruits in Mattoon, Illinois, in 1861. Watching Grant inspect the dirty “ragamuffins,” who “looked as if they had been run down with hounds in the wilds of Effingham County,” Harding found it hard to escape “the infernal odor of cabbage [wafting] right into my face” as the slovenly, smelly commander (not yet a famous general) smoked a cigar. Originally published in the Indianapolis Mirror, the passage was syndicated in the Memphis Public Ledger in 1869, a paper Harding had connections with. The passage reads like something his fellow Hoosier, the cynical skeptic of war Ambrose Bierce, might have written. (Bierce grew up in Warsaw and Elkhart.)
Resigning his lieutenancy in 1864, Harding took an editorial position for six months on the New Orleans Times and the True Delta. Some of what he wrote down South was reprinted after his death, including a humorous piece called “Duck Shooting in Louisiana.” At war’s end, he came north to Cincinnati to work on the staff of the Commercial, then moved to Indianapolis. Several dailies and weeklies that he wrote for or edited after the war include the Mirror, the Journal, the Saturday Herald, and the Sentinel.
Historian J.P. Dunn said that “Harding’s great forte was as a paragrapher. . . The public really enjoyed seeing a victim squirm when he gigged him.” He often attacked public figures whom he considered a fraud. The Rev. Myron Reed, who delivered his eulogy at Central Avenue Methodist Church in 1881, said: “Every abuser of money or official power, every masked man, every man who writes anonymous letters, will sleep more peacefully tonight because George Harding is dead.”
Yet the popular editor published several fraudulent stories on purpose as practical jokes, as George S. Cottman remembered in a 1922 op-ed piece on famous Hoosier hoaxes.
“Many remember the Charley Ross abduction, which took place on July 1, 1874,” Cottman wrote, referring to a famous Philadelphia kidnapping that was never solved. (Dunn called the ensuing hoax Harding pulled off “a very plausibly written story.”)
Nearly two years later, or, to be exact, on April 1, 1876, there appeared in the Indianapolis Saturday Herald, edited by George C. Harding, a three-column article with this heading sensationally arranged in display type:
Charley Ross, the long lost boy, recovered at last. He is found with Italian organ grinders on Potomac alley [in Indianapolis], dressed as a girl and called Telsla. How Detective Hollywood worked up the case. The father and the child at the Grand Hotel.
. . . As a consequence, within half an hour after the Herald appeared on the street, people began to throng the lobby of the Grand Hotel. The hotel clerks, overwhelmed with questions, were at first bewildered, then “tumbling” to the situation, hung a few placards about, displaying the simple legend, “April fool!”
(The Grand Hotel at the corner of Maryland and Illinois Streets, seen in 1889, witnessed one of the city’s great April Fool’s jokes. Today, this is the site of Circle Centre Mall. )
Harding himself was hoaxed by a fake space rock in 1879, as told in Wednesday’s post.
Whether the meteorite really killed a farmer named Grover or not, Harding himself tried to kill several men in the 1870s.
In 1879, he got into a hot mudslinging dispute with Calvin A. Light, a radical leader of the Knights of Labor and editor of a rival newspaper called The Democrat. (Light had played a big role in the Railroad Strike of 1877.) As Dunn put it, “Harding took an intense dislike to Light, and on one occasion ordered him out of the Herald office — with variations. . . On May 4, he went to Light’s house and tried to shoot him, but after one ineffective shot, was dragged away by neighbors. The next day he went to The Democrat office and shot at Light three times, but only succeeded in wounding a printer named Lizius. He was duly arrested and tried, and got off on a plea of insanity.“
In 1917, a writer named David Gibson remembered another shooting, or mixed up two shootings entirely, claiming that Harding also once shot at Sol Hathaway, editor of the “spicy”Independent. In the midst of a raving editorial feud, “Harding printed an item in the paper alluding to Hathaway as ‘the long-nosed dead beat editor that loafed about hotel lobbies and slipped into the dining room when the manager was not looking.'” As Gibson narrated it in a trade magazine, The Inland Printer:
Hathaway responded with a series of buck type interrogations, for in those days you could evade libel in Indiana by putting a charge in the form of a question. . .
The following Friday, Hathway was seated in his office at an old cherry desk with a flap that let down in front, with his back to the door, which certainly was a breach of the most ordinary editorial precaution.
Suddenly the door opened. Harding appeared in a “beastly state of intoxication” and began showering the place with bullets as big as birds’ eggs from an army horse-pistol. Hathaway jumped under the imposing table at the first shot. Two printers, setting type at the front of the room, leaped out the open windows at their sides, lit on an awning over an undertaking establishment and rolled off onto the roof of a hearse that was standing at the curb. The horses of the hearse proceeded to run away and started a stampede of other horses.
Gibson made the claim (I haven’t been able to verify this) that one of Harding’s bullets grazed a printing machine with type ready to go to press. Later on, Hathaway “set up in large Gothic type an account of the affray, tore out a lot of type paralleling the furrow and set in two brass rules and a line of type: ‘The track of the would-be assassin’s bullet!'” Harding kicked the Independent’s editor down the stairs, but Hathaway survived. He committed suicide in 1911, aged eighty-two.
Five years before his assault on labor leader Calvin Light, a tragic suicide had driven George Harding to his most celebrated shooting. Perhaps he was, in fact, mentally insane, but the family tragedy that drove him to seek revenge was very real, and his gun was aimed at another man named Sol.
In 1874, Solomon Moritz was a 36-year-old merchant tailor in Indianapolis. Born in Germany, he emigrated to Cincinnati at about age fifteen, then moved to Indiana in 1868. The Sentinel wrote that “Mr. Moritz is well known in the city, and is one of the most prominent of the Jewish citizens of Indianapolis.”
A version of the events published in the Daily Record of the Times in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, says of Harding and Moritz:
These gentlemen have been warm friends and very intimate in their social relations. Moritz, who is a Hebrew, aged about forty years and married, took advantage of this intimacy and succeeded in seducing Harding’s daughter, who is about eighteen years of age. This was accomplished last March, and improper relations have been maintained by the parties since that time. . . Mrs. Harding, [the girl’s stepmother] has stated that Moritz had also made improper proposals to her.
Flora Harding, the editor’s eighteen-year-old daughter, was a talented writer and translator who taught German in the Seventh Ward district school. “During the absence of her father to the Hot Springs [Arkansas?], she filled the editorial chair and most ably,” said the Sentinel.
Flora probably also suffered from lifelong depression and feared the ruin of her reputation. If Moritz had in fact taken advantage of her, she would likely have become an outcast in those days of a strict female “honor” code.
On August 20, Harding’s daughter poisoned herself by taking “twenty-four grains of opium.” Death was a few hours coming, and her father discovered her in her bedroom before she died. She confessed to him that she had been having sex with Solomon Moritz. Then, as he wrote in a tribute in his newspaper, “two great tears came from the filmy eyes and rolled over the face, across which was stealing the shadow of the Death Angel.”
She often jested on the subject of suicide, and, on one occasion, being reproved and told that God frowned on self-murder, she said, “Papa, I am not afraid of God.”
While walking to get a doctor, at about 1:30 in the afternoon Harding met Moritz “at the junction of New Jersey and Vermont Streets with Massachusetts Avenue.”
“Mr. Moritz’s first exclamation was ‘George, what are you doing here?’ Mr. Harding made no answer, but pulling out a pistol, began firing at Mr. Moritz.”
Harding chased Moritz up Vermont Street, toward an alley behind Roberts Park Methodist Church, sinking two bullets into him, and tried to get in two more, “the blood meanwhile flowing from [Moritz’s] mouth and nose.” Luckily for his target, Harding’s fourth shot jammed his revolver and the alleged seducer escaped by hailing a wagon. (Moritz supposedly lost an arm, but lived to see Harding go on trial. When questioned by police, he denied that he had seduced Flora, instead blaming “a Jew liquor dealer on South Meridian.”)
Though the bereaved gunman was taken to jail that night, public opinion was overwhelmingly in his favor. When Harding went to trial, one of his lawyers, Major Jonathan W. Gordon (profiled on this blog during his grave-robbing days), defended Harding on the basis of common law.
The whole community have fully approved and justified the act for which my friend Harding stands indicted. . . It is the common law of the West, and, indeed of the whole country, that he who seduces an innocent female
MAY BE SLAIN
by her father, brother, or husband with impunity, and in the case at bar the grand jury have, in effect, already said so by returning a bill of indictment for a simple assault and battery.
Harding was acquitted, and as the judge announced the verdict, “the pent up feeling of the large crowd broke forth in applause, which was both loud and protracted.” Perhaps this free pass from the state criminal court made the editor consider other public shootings in the future.
In 1880, Harding moved to Minnesota, where he had bought the Lanesboro Journal. But “his active brain required more scope,” says the Fillmore County history. Tragically, in May 1881 George C. Harding had an odd death back in Indianapolis.
Dead! How suddenly he went out! Two weeks ago last Wednesday, he was walking along a street in Indianapolis, and stepped aside to allow some ladies to pass. He stepped on a cellar grating, just as a man was raising it. His right foot went into the opening, and the flesh of his leg was cut to the bone. He died at six o’clock last Sunday morning, of congestion of the brain and blood poisoning, resulting from the accident.
In the death of George C. Harding, Indiana journalism has lost one of its oldest, most familiar and rarely original characters. . . We know of no one who can take up the pen which Harding has dropped, never to pick up again. . .
Dying at the age of 51, his life was cut off in the very midst of his powers. . . there is not another George C. Harding any more than there is another Charles Dickens.
Four years after the end of the Civil War, Indianapolis, Indiana, was the unlikely destination of one of the nineteenth century’s most famous and daring archaeologists. Though he didn’t come here for a dig.
In 1869, just before setting off for Turkey, where he astounded the world by excavating the long-lost city of Troy (so lost that most experts thought it was mythic), Heinrich Schliemann came to Indiana’s capitol city with an unusual goal: to get a divorce from his Russian wife, who lived on the other side of the globe.
On December 28, 1890, two days after he died in Naples, Italy, as other papers were running routine obituaries of the now world-famous man, the Indianapolis Journal put together a unique tribute: “Schliemann in This City: The Distinguished Archaeologist Had His Home for a Time on Noble Street.”
The Journal article was based mostly on interviews with two of Indianapolis’ most prominent Germans, who had known Schliemann during his short stay here. Adolph Seidensticker was the well-respected editor of the Indiana Volksblatt, at a time when probably a quarter of the city’s newspaper readers still got their news auf Deutsch. Herman Lieber was a prosperous frame merchant, art dealer, and soon one of the founders of Das Deutsche Haus, the center of German life here in the 1890s. (When the U.S. went to war against Germany in World War I, the unpatriotically-named building was renamed “The Athenaeum.”) Lieber’s nephew, conservationist Richard Lieber, was a reporter for the German-language Indiana Tribüneand later founded the Indiana state park system, saving Turkey Run and McCormick’s Creek from the lumberman’s axe.
When Heinrich Schliemann — obsessed with dreams of Achilles, Agamemnon and the ten-year siege of Troy — showed up in the Greek-sounding town of Indianapolis in April 1869, the place was remarkably German. Lockerbie Square was often called “Germantown.” In that neighborhood especially, Schliemann would have found a thriving cultural mix of radical German freethinkers, refugees from the failed 1848 revolutions, and “confessional” Lutherans who left Germany to avoid government meddling with their worship.
But as Herman Lieber recalled, Schliemann wasn’t yet a famous archaeologist. “He was not then recognized as a great person. He was a very entertaining talker and excellent company. If it had been suspected that he would ever be such a lion he would certainly have received greater attention.”
Schliemann’s unusual and rather odd story up to 1869 is worth a quick retelling:
Born in a port town on the Baltic in 1822, the future archaeologist grew up in the duchy of Mecklenburg, which later became part of East Germany. His father was a Lutheran minister. His mother reviewed books, including Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In his memoirs, Schliemann claimed that his minister father, who was soon chucked out of his church for mishandling funds, read him long passages from Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad as a boy, cultivating a fertile imagination. (Elsewhere he claims that he took an interest in Homer when he heard a drunken man recite part of the Greek epics in a grocer’s store where he worked as a teenager.) If we can trust his memoirs, by age eight Schliemann vowed to find the lost Trojan capital.
But with his family sunk in poverty, the fourteen-year-old was forced to drop out of school. At nineteen, bound for Venezuela as a cabin boy on the German steamer Dorothea, Schliemann was shipwrecked off the Dutch coast. Stranded in Amsterdam, he went to work for an import business, becoming the firm’s agent in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1846. It was then that his renowned aptitude for mastering languages took off.
Adolph Seidensticker, who himself ran a German paper in a mostly English-speaking town and helped found a bilingual school, said of Schliemann: “He spoke when here [in Indianapolis] nine different languages fluently.” (Schliemann claimed to be able to learn a new language in six weeks, eventually learning even Turkish and Arabic.)
Seidensticker also remarked that the man’s amazing linguistic skills helped him rise out of poverty.
His rise to fortune was based to some extent on his knowledge of the Russian language. . . It seems the person having in charge the Russian correspondence of the [merchant house in Holland] having died suddenly, and they were in a quandary as to how to supply his place, Schliemann volunteered his services, but he was looked on with suspicion until he went to work with the correspondence, and showed them that he had really mastered the language.
Hearing of the death of his brother Ludwig, who had struck it rich as a Forty-Niner in the California Gold Rush, he left Russia and sailed for the West Coast. Like his brother, Schliemann made a small fortune speculating in gold dust, enough to open a bank in Sacramento in 1851. Crucially, for the later divorce proceedings that brought him to Indianapolis, Schliemann became an American citizen in California.
Now a wealthy man, in 1852 he abandoned Sacramento and went back to Russia, where he married a woman named Ekaterina Lyschin. The couple eventually had three children. Growing even richer in the indigo and coffee trade, he made enough money to corner the market on ammunition and gunpowder during the Crimean War, selling military goods to the Russian government as it fought against the British, French, and Turks. Schliemann effectively retired from business in 1858, aged only thirty-six.
His trip to Indiana actually begins in Tsarist Russia. His work as a war contractor in the Crimea and a Grand Tour of Asia took him away from his family in St. Petersburg. So did his growing obsession with finding the location of Homer’s Iliad. Ekaterina didn’t share his passion for the Greek epics and refused to uproot her children and move to Paris, where Schliemann was studying at the Sorbonne and speculating in real estate. As Seidensticker told the Journal reporter:
She was a Russian lady. . . He did not, for some reason, feel quite at home in Russia, and endeavored to persuade her to live elsewhere on the continent of Europe, but she would not consent. I think that she had three children by him. She was a devoted member of the Greek Church, and would not leave Russia because she wished to bring them up as orthodox Russians.
The marriage was a failure. Though divorce was occasionally permitted by the Orthodox Church, in Russia it was scandalous and rare. Schliemann, however, had the advantage of being an American citizen. He even took an active role in a bitter debate then raging in the U.S. about legalizing divorce.
Reno, Nevada, is known today as the world capital of the “quickie divorce.” But in 1869, it was Indianapolis. As Glenda Riley writes in her fascinating book Divorce: An American Tradition, Hoosier politicians had unwittingly turned Indiana into a notorious “freewheeling divorce mill” in the 1850s.
When legislators began writing a new state constitution in 1850, Indiana began its quick “rise to notoriety.” As Riley put it, “the state’s divorce laws reportedly attracted huge numbers of migratory divorce seekers. Public alarm became evident as dramatic reports described the Hoosier State as a divorce mecca, churning out easy divorces to people from stricter states with little regard for long-term consequences to spouses and children.”
Though generally treated as anathema by most Americans, divorce had long been permissible under Indiana law, but only in cases of “bigamy, impotency, and adultery” and if a spouse had shown “extreme cruelty.” Yet only about a hundred divorces were prosecuted in Indiana from 1807-1840. The laws of the 1850s caused a drastic spike in the divorce rate, mostly due to out-of-staters coming here to take advantage of the courts.
An 1858 editorial in the Indianapolis Daily Journal lamented that every railroad depot in the state was crowded with “divorce hunting men and women.” A District Recorder wrote to a New Yorker that he feared the new Indiana laws “shall exhaust the marriages of New York and Massachusetts.” William Dean Howells, a bestselling American novelist in the 1870s, spun the plot of his novel A Modern Instance around an out-of-state case rammed through Hoosier divorce court. The villain was a lecherous husband.
In November 1858, the Terre Haute Daily Unionlambasted the divorce reformers. “The members of the Legislature who passed the odious and contemptible divorce law that now stands recorded on our Statute, have certainly procured their divorces long since (for, no doubt, it was intended to especially meet their cases,) and we hope and trust the coming session will blot it out. We do not wish to see Indiana made the rendezvous for libertines from all parts of the Union.”
As proof that Indiana was being made a mockery of, the Daily Union reprinted a clip from the Albany Argus in upstate New York.
New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley fulminated against the reforms in several open letters exchanged with social reformer and Hoosier statesman Robert Dale Owen. Greeley, a liberal and Universalist, opposed divorce on the grounds of protecting women’s rights and Biblical teachings. He called Indiana “a paradise of free-lovers” and published the following anecdote:
The paradise of free-lovers is the State of Indiana, where the lax principles of Robert Dale Owen, and the utter want of principle of John Pettit (leading revisers of the laws), combined to establish, some years since, a state of law which enables men and women to get unmarried nearly at pleasure. A legal friend in that State recently remarked to us, that, at one County Court, he obtained eleven divorces one day before dinner; “and it wasn’t a good morning for divorces either.” In one case within his knowledge, a prominent citizen of an Eastern manufacturing city came to Indiana, went through the usual routine, obtained his divorce about dinner-time, and, in the course of the evening was married to his new inamorata, who had come on for the purpose, and was staying at the same hotel with him. They soon started for home, having no more use for the State of Indiana; and, on arriving, he introduced his new wife to her astonished predecessor, whom he notified that she must pack up and go, as there was no room for her in that house any longer. So she went.
Robert Dale Owen, too, had women’s rights in mind when he advocated for legalizing divorce, arguing the immorality of binding a woman to a “habitual drunkard,” a “miserable loafer and sot,” or a wife-beater merely because of the “vows and promises of a scoundrel.” Of bad husbands, Owen wrote frankly: “He has the command of torments, legally permitted, far beyond those of the lash. That bedchamber is his, and the bed is the beast’s own lair,” presumably a reference to spousal rape. “God forgive you, Horace Greeley, the inhuman sentiment!”
Several big reasons probably drove the “Dr.” here. Ekaterina — called “Catherine” in Indiana documents — was still in Russia and wasn’t likely to show up in Indiana to stop him. His American citizenship, acquired in 1851, required that he go to an American court. And he believed, probably rightly, that his work at Troy in the Ottoman Empire (traditional enemy of Russia) would be easier if he wasn’t married to a Russian.
Schliemann checked into an Indianapolis hotel and filed a divorce petition in the Marion County Common Pleas Court, hiring three lawyers. One of his lawyers was Adolph Seidensticker, editor of the Indiana Volksblatt. To convince Judge Solomon Blair of his honorable intention to stay in town, the wealthy Schliemann bought an interest in the Union Starch Company and a small house at 22 N. Noble Street. (Today, this is roughly the site of Harrison College, just west of the railroad bridge that crosses East Washington Street.) The Indianapolis Journal also claims that Schliemann owned a plot of land “on the west side of South Illinois Street, just north of Ray Street.” (Incredibly, this is directly behind the Greek Islands Restaurant on S. Meridian, and may have included the parking lot of Shapiro’s Deli. The naturalist John Muir was temporarily blinded in an accident at a carriage factory two blocks north of here in 1866.)
In a letter to his cousin Adolph, Schliemann wrote on April 11, “I have a black servant and a black cook, half of Indian and half of Negro blood…”
In another letter to his family also dated April 11, he writes: “The cook reads 3 large newspapers daily and is completely versed in the politics, history and geography of the country and may this give you an idea of the education of the people here, when you consider that in the entire state of Indiana there is not yet a single school for colored people (descendants of Negroes)…” About his female cook, though, he complained: “[she] gave away my fine cigars to her lovers and wasted the money I gave her for the little household in the most wanton way.”
Schliemann was impressed with the Indianapolis Germans:
As everywhere in America, so here, too, Germans are greatly respected for their industry and assiduity as well as their solidity, and I cannot think back without alarm of Russia where the foreigner, and the German in particular, is despised because he is not a Russian.
One aspect of life in the city didn’t find favor with him, though. His diary entry for June 1, 1869, reads: “The most disagreeable thing here is the Sabbath-law, by which it is prohibited to grocers, barbers and even to bakers to open their shops on Sundays.”
Probably looked at as an odd character, Schliemann took his early morning baths in the White River: “I have been bathing here in the river for more than a month but it appears there is no other amateur but me for early bathing.” Then he added: “There are no Coffeehouses here.”
He mentioned the effects of the Civil War everywhere: “One meets here at every step men with only one arm or one leg and sometimes even such whose both legs are amputated. I saw even one whose both legs were amputated close to the abdomen. The disabled soldiers of this State come here to the Capital to receive their pensions and this accounts for the numberless lame men.”
Schliemann gave a speech in English at the Indiana Statehouse in support of divorce. Later on, he described the legislature in his diary, “After all I am very glad to have got an insight into the doings of these people’s legislative assemblies, which present Democracy in all its roughness and nudity, with all its party spirit and facility to yield to lateral influences, with all its licentiousness. I often saw them throwing paper-balls at each other and even at the speaker.”
The Marion County court received perjured testimony that Schliemann was a resident of the United States. He also presented letters from his wife, written in Russian, with his divorce petition.
In one letter, Ekaterina wrote from St. Petersburg, “The sole and only reason of all our disagreement is that you desire I should leave Russia and join you in America. But this I most decidedly decline and refuse to do and I assure you with an oath, that for nothing in the world I shall ever leave Russia and that I would sooner die than live together with you in a foreign country.”
In another, dated December 31, 1868, she asserted: “Infinitely better is it that Sergius should finish his education in St. Petersburg. At the age of 13 one cannot send him from one country to the other without doing injury to his whole being; he would thus never get accustomed to one country. Irrevocably he would lose the love for his mother country.”
And on February 16, 1869, she wrote this: “You demand that I should prevail upon my children to [leave my mother country] and that I should deprive them of the great blessing to be educated in the orthodox religion . . . I have [not] sought for pleasure, being always contented with my family circle. Whether my children will be rich heirs or not, that only God knows.”
On June 30, 1869, once Judge Blair was convinced that the petitioner’s wife and young children in Russia were provided for, the marriage of “Henry and Catherine Schliemann” was annulled. Schliemann had tricked the court. Like almost everybody who came out for an “Indiana divorce,” he abandoned the state a few weeks later. (Seidensticker remembered: “He did not seem to be much impressed with Indianapolis.”)
Surprisingly, the case quickly returned to Indiana courts. Ekaterina Schliemann sued from St. Petersburg and tried to nullify the Indiana judge’s ruling. Seidensticker and Schliemann’s other attorneys had a hard time validating their client’s Indiana residency, since he had abandoned the state and moved to Athens, Greece, where he had already taken out a newspaper ad for a new bride. (Schliemann wanted a wife who could serve as an archaeological assistant. He found 17-year-old Sophia Engastromenos, a niece of the Orthodox Archbishop of Athens. Despite a 30-year age difference, the couple were quickly married in September 1869, two months after Schliemann sped away from Indianapolis. They had two children together, Andromache and Agamemnon. Agamemnon Schliemann, who was baptized while his father read from a copy of the Iliad over his head, became the Greek ambassador to the U.S. in 1914.)
Partly freeloading off the archaeological digs of Frank Calvert, U.S. consul in Turkey and the real discoverer of Troy, Schliemann began his rise to fame in 1871. He later unearthed Mycenae in the Peloponnesus. (The finds at Hissarlik, reputed to be Troy, were both disputed and celebrated in Indiana papers.) Schliemann smuggled a load of ancient Trojan gold out of Turkey in 1874. “Priam’s Gold” was first housed in Berlin, then stolen by the Red Army in 1945. Today it is in Russia. A 1902 article in The Philistine regretted that “His Trojan treasures were presented to Berlin. Had Schliemann given his priceless finds to Indianapolis, it would have made that city a Sacred Mecca.”
In 1889, a year before his death, the archaeologist drew up a will. Called the “Last Testament of a Millionaire savant” by the Indianapolis Journal in September 1891, it was sent to C.E. Coffin & Co. from Odessa, Russia. Written in Greek, an original copy of Schliemann’s certified will is on file at the Marion County Probate Court in the basement of the City-County Building in Indianapolis, where, twenty years after his only known visit to the city, he still claimed legal residency.
A typed translation can be found at the State Library. To his Russian daughter Nadezhda, the archaeologist left property at 161 Buchanan Street. The address no longer exists, but was just north of what is now I-70 and is part of Eli Lilly’s downtown campus near Fountain Square. Nadezhda also got a house at “No. 6 Rue de Calais near Rue Blanche in Paris” and fifty-thousand francs in gold.
Schliemann hurriedly married his second wife, 17-year-old Sophia Engastromenos, in Athens, just months after his divorce was finalized in Indianapolis. Around 1874, she was photographed wearing the “Jewels of Helen,” which her husband claimed to have discovered in the ruins of Troy. Sophia died in 1932.
Just like any quick exploration of Hoosier State Chronicles turns up exciting history hidden in dusty newspapers, Hoosier farmers were unearthing plenty of odd finds in their fields in days gone by.
Often, they had recourse to the expertise of John Collett, Indiana’s venerable and fascinating State Geologist. A writer for the Indianapolis Journal in March 1890 remarks (in an article on celery farms) that the Santa-like John Collett “probably knows more about Indiana than anybody within her borders.”
Collett’s own story is as interesting as any of the geological and paleontological finds he studied. He was born in 1828 on the 5,000-acre farm of his father, Stephen Stevenson Collett, near Eugene in Vermillion County. The Colletts had founded that small western Indiana town and also helped lay out Newport on the Wabash River, still the county seat.
Collett’s father and grandfather were major government surveyors in the Maumee and Wabash valleys, going back to the time when Indiana Territory stretched as far north as Lake Superior. During the waning days of the fur trade in the Midwest, Stephen S. Collett even conducted business with the famous John Jacob Astor when Astor was still based at Mackinac Island, Michigan. Later a Terre Haute merchant, John Collett’s father also served as an early state legislator for Parke and Vermillion counties.
One explanation of how the future State Geologist grew to be 6′ 2″ (a huge stature for the time) comes from the 1888 History of Vermillion County. Of his grandfather, Revolutionary War veteran John Collett, Sr., the history says: “One good characteristic he exhibited in the training of his children, was that he never allowed them to sleep in bed with their limbs ‘cuddled up;’ and the result was a peculiarly soldier-like erectness of stature enjoyed by his descendants.”
“Straight as a plumb line,” young John Collett had an early aptitude for mapmaking and geology, and grew up surrounded by the raw beauty of pioneer Indiana, a place that would be hardly recognizable to Hoosiers today.
Though he was a widely-renowned expert on rocks, fossils, and Hoosier landforms, Collett wasn’t appointed State Geologist until 1879. (That position was first held by David Dale Owen, son of the famous New Harmony utopian socialist, Robert Owen, and then by David’s brother Richard, professor of geology at Indiana University. Richard Owen was eventually replaced by Collett’s friend E.T. Cox. Cox was educated in the communal school at New Harmony, a place that is not only the birthplace of American socialism, but in some ways the cradle of American geology.)
Though Collett helped Cox on several geological ventures (they mapped the recently-discovered Wyandotte Cave together in 1878), he also farmed, not dedicating himself entirely to geology until the 1880s. While serving as Assistant State Geologist, he also represented Parke and Vermillion counties in the State Senate. Senator Collett spearheaded a bill to make public drunkenness a crime, supported holding livestock owners responsible for their cattle and pigs running loose, and promoted gravel roads when many of Indiana’s roadways were still morasses of mud in the winter and spring.
Collett also strove to make children’s education mandatory, build a state mental hospital, and provide homes for orphans. In fact, the 6′ 2″, 200-pound Senator-Geologist, who had “piercing grey eyes” and a “snow white beard of patriarchal length,” was once hailed as “Patron Saint of the Children of Vermillion County.” At Christmastime, back home on his 75-acre farm, “Uncle John” always sent a wagon-load of candy to kids in Eugene and another wagon-load to a Sunday school in Newport. “You may well believe that he stands in higher estimation with the youngsters of Vermillion County than any other man on earth.” Did he send them a wagon full of “rock candy”?
Taking over from E.T. Cox as Indiana State Geologist in 1879, Collett ended up writing some of the standard books of the day on Midwestern geology and paleontology. He produced the first geological map of Indiana ever published, in 1883. He often spent money from his own pocket to keep geologists out in the field. Collett’s scientific investigations helped Indiana become the greatest limestone-producing state in the U.S. and were also useful to coal miners and engineers.
Prehistoric animal bones were especially prone to turning up in the 1800s, as settlers literally cut their way into landscapes that had been left intact since the last Ice Age. The draining of wetlands for agriculture — one of the biggest engineering projects of the 19th century — turned up remains of long-dead creatures, including ancient horses and giant beavers. Railroad construction and mining also unearthed old relics.
One of the most interesting parts of that talk was when Collett remembered a man named Perrin Kent. Like’s Collett’s own father and grandfather, Kent was an early surveyor and settler. Kent lived in Warren County, just north of where the geologist himself grew up. He laid out Williamsport and Attica and lived near the boom town of State Line City.
The Warren County surveyor was also an ardent campaigner for Abraham Lincoln and a good friend of the “Prairie Lawyer.” There is an interesting story here. In February 1861, his 8-year-old grandson, William H. Kent, who later became a reporter for the Omaha World News, took a train ride with President-Elect Lincoln as he crossed over into the Hoosier State at State Line City, en route to Washington. Years later, in a news article published in Omaha in 1911, Kent remembered a melancholy Lincoln looking back down the tracks in a “long and silent reverie” as they left for Williamsport, the next stop on the line. This was the last time Lincoln ever saw Illinois — a surveyor’s line, a war, and eventually an assassin’s bullet all came between him and his home.
Collett, too, recalled a “strong story,” told to him by Perrin Kent. In 1842, Kent was working as a surveyor on part of the Wabash & Erie Canal near Covington, Indiana. Most of the actual digging of the canal was done by Irish laborers (who were typically paid in whiskey and added many of their own bones to Indiana soil.)
This stretch of the canal was cut through a virtual swamp. Grubbing around in “miry peat,” the Irish must have felt like they were back home in Ireland. Collett had to preface the anecdote he was about to tell by stating that Perrin Kent was always known as “a man of unimpeachable veracity, and the story [was] vouched for by others who saw the same thing.” As the geologist told his audience:
The route of the old canal there was a swamp, the old riverbed of the Wabash, twenty-five or thirty feet above the present bed of the river, and the old bed was filled with miry peat. Here were found the huge bones of the lower jaw and the teeth [of a mastodon]. . .
Mr. Kent told me that the Irishmen working in the swamp split open the leg bones of the monster animal and extracted the marrow, which had changed to adipocere [“grave wax” formed from fatty tissues], and they used it as an excellent grease for their boots. Think of it: those fellows greasing their boots with the marrow of animals that were perhaps contemporaries of Noah. Using ex-mummies as fuel on an Egyptian railroad is not near as shocking to the mind of the archaeologist.
With his store of fascinating anecdotes from a lifetime in the field, it’s not hard to imagine how Indiana’s great geologist became one of the most popular men in Indianapolis. (He lived at 116 N. Illinois St., a block west of Monument Circle, at the site of today’s downtown Hilton Hotel.) When he died of pneumonia in Indianapolis on March 15, 1899, at the age of 71, it was reported that he had lived modestly but “leaves a fortune” ($75,000).
Collett never married and was buried in Terre Haute, where his family had gone into business. (His brother Josephus served as President of the Board of Directors at Rose Polytechnic, later Rose-Hulman.) Terre Haute’s Collett Park bears the family name.
This clip from the Indianapolis Journal on December 14, 1884, offers one explanation for how Collett’s hair turned white: