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.”
Rummaging through the always-interesting (and sometimes shockingly relevant) news of the 1890s, I recently ran across a Sunday extra in the Indianapolis Journal. On April 28, 1895, an eight-page supplement — the “Bicycle Edition” — was devoted entirely to the cycling craze that engulfed the Hoosier State and the rest of the country.
Later this spring, we’ll be uploading the “Bicycle Edition” to Hoosier State Chronicles. Meanwhile, here’s a sneak peek at the early days of folks on spokes.
Bicycles’ huge role in the women’s rights movement was common news a hundred years ago and, in the 1890s, stirred up a ton of buzz in American newspapers. While our great-grandmothers would not have needed much reminding about how important mobility on wheels had been to achieving equal rights with men, the turn-of-the-century female cycling phenomenon was later mostly forgotten. (A great book published by National Geographic in 2011 has helped bring it back into the light: check out Sue Macy’s Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom.)
Every generation has its great social debates, and Indiana was no stranger to hot discussions about women on wheels. Hostility toward the newfangled bicycle took on many forms: from horse salesmen and carriage drivers who thought it hurt their business, to ministers who complained about cyclists skipping church on Sunday to go out on country rides and break the Sabbath. But at the center of the debate was women’s dress and embattled notions about female “purity.”
The ample dresses worn by nineteenth-century women made riding around on spokes outright dangerous — as even a sympathetic male, Lieutenant Defrees of the Indiana National Guard, admitted to the Indianapolis Journal in 1895. As a safety issue, Defrees supported women’s preference for “bloomers,” or “athletic knickerbockers” as they were also called.
A sort of divided skirt that resembled both baggy pants and a dress, bloomers were first adopted in England in the 1850’s, when women rejected Parisian fashions in favor of styles from the Middle East, especially Turkey, where females actually had many surprising freedoms not enjoyed in Europe and America at the time. (In the U.S., the practical new clothing item was nicknamed bloomers after Amelia Bloomer, a suffragette from Iowa who fought the prejudice against revealing female attire.)
Lieutenant Defrees, too, opposed the endless ridicule directed at this eminently rational item of clothing. (In fact, some women called them “rationals.”) He put it this way:
Dr. Henry J. Garrigues, a specialist on women’s health, was another early male who advocated the benefits of bloomers for female riders. Dr. Garrigues authored a fascinating defense — “Woman and the Bicycle” — originally published in The Forum, one of the great “social issue” magazines of the day. An excerpt from Garrigues’ piece appeared in the Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail on January 25, 1896.
Touting the many health benefits of cycling, Garrigues writes: “Bicycle-riding has changed the habits of hundreds of thousands who formerly took little or no exercise in the open air. It has widened the mental horizon for many by inducing them to undertake long rides far away from their homes.”
About bloomers specifically, Garrigues was pretty frank:
The usual long skirt is objectionable in every respect. It impedes the free movement of the legs, pumps air up against the abdomen, and is in great danger of being caught by projecting parts of their own machines or those of other riders, as well as by other obstructions found on the road. To avoid these inconveniences many women have shortened their skirts, and some have done away with them altogether, wearing so-called ” bloomers,” a wide, bifurcated garment extending from the waist to the knee. This garment, combined with a waist and leggings, forms a neat, practical dress for a woman rider. True, it is at present ridiculed and even condemned by some as immodest. However, before men say anything against the decency of bloomers, they had better reform their own trousers, which are not much more decent than becoming. . .
From a medical standpoint bicycling is valuable both as a prophylactic and as a curative agent. Like other outdoor exercises it takes its votaries away from the vitiated air of closed rooms; but it has several advantages peculiarly its own. It is less expensive and safer than horseback-riding. For the female sex it is also healthier, since horseback-riding, if indulged in too much or at too early an age, is apt to produce a funnel-shaped pelvis, which abnormality may prove a serious obstacle to childbirth.
And for an age that seemed leery of even mentioning women’s bodies in so many ways, it’s interesting that Garrigues went into a long, detailed description of what he believed was another benefit of cycling. The New York doctor claimed that the womb, “being of muscular construction, is, like all other muscles, strengthened by bicycling.” He also touted the benefits for men and women suffering from an array of ills, including asthma, neuralgia, headache, insomnia, and “diseases of the intestinal canal — such as dyspepsia, constipation, and haemorrhoids.”
Though opposition to bloomers (and wheeling in general) often dragged religion into the fray, liberal-minded Christians spoke out against more conservative ones. But whatever animosity was directed toward pants from the pulpit, preachers could hardly match the sheer weirdness of Chicago’s “Jack the Whipper,” whom the Terre Haute paper thought to be a truly distinguished “crank of the first water.”
But less than a year later, in 1895, bloomers were still new enough to Terre Haute to cause many men there to stretch their necks in wonder and possibly even in admiration, as the Saturday Evening Mail noted:
Bloomers have not come into such general use in this city as to be common, and the sight of a pair of them in broad daylight very frequently causes a great deal of what the small boy calls “rubber necking.” The other day a young lady was coming up Seventh street on a wheel, and she made quite an attractive figure in her bloomers. A man walking along the street, going in the opposite direction, evidently had never seen bloomers before, and he stretched his neck in the effort to follow her with his eyes. He was so much interested that he paid no attention to where he was going, and presently he ran into a tree on the sidewalk with such force as to peel all the skin off one side of his face.
On the topic of rubber. . . In the 1890s, Indianapolis was especially well-poised to become a bicycle-manufacturing mecca: the capitol city was once a major rubber-producing town. (The local industry tanked in the 1950s.) At the turn of the century, Indianapolis could boast of at least nine bicycle manufacturers, and the demand for pneumatic tires was a major spur to the creation of the Indianapolis Rubber Company.
In addition to being able to get a quick local replacement for a bad tire, in 1895 riders who worked in downtown offices could also take advantage of a “bicycle livery and boarding stable” located under the Brunswick Hotel on Monument Circle. A nearby bike hospital also offered a cure for “the last stages of consumption.”
Harry T. Hearsey, born in London, England, in 1863, grew up in Boston, then moved to Indianapolis at age 22. An early Hoosier cycling pioneer, he ran his own manufacturing company, which made not only bikes, but carriages, sleighs, portable heaters, and eventually automobiles.
Hearsey also operated a riding school, which catered in large part to women. Walter Marshall “Major” Taylor, the great African-American cyclist and Indianapolis native, worked as an instructor at Harry Hearsey’s Riding School, located at 116/118 N. Pennsylvania St. This ad from the German-language Indiana Tribüne touts Hearsey’s Reitschule (“often Tag und Abend.”)
Though he was a businessman with an obvious profit to turn, Hearsey may have been one of the many Americans who thought that women at the wheel was something to be praised. Even many who believed in “womanly purity” found something positive in cycling, as a writer in Lincoln, Nebraska, admitted: “The modern bicycle is one of the modern safeties of womanly purity,” he or she wrote. “She no longer needs to jostle through a crowd of men on the street corner or in the street car. The primest little maid of this city wears bloomers, rides a bicycle, and works in a printing office.”
Bike sales in Indiana boomed in the 1890s. Thomas Hay, of the firm of Hay & Willits at 113 W. Washington St., told the Indianapolis Journal in 1895 that “At the present time about 20 per cent of the wheels sold are for ladies, while two years ago I doubt if the sales of the ladies’ wheels reached 2 percent of the total.” Hay attributed part of the surge in sales to improvements in the manufacture of women’s bicycles, which had previously been neglected. In 1897, women were so important to the industry that the Central Cycle Manufacturing Company put them on the cover of their gorgeous trade catalog, designed and printed in “Arts and Crafts” style. It is a beautiful illustration of the generational gap between the old woman in skirts and the dashing Belle on Wheels.
Gradually, of course, the sight of women in bloomers wasn’t shocking to most Americans at all. Times changed fast, so fast that the great Hoosier songwriter Cole Porter could easily lampoon an earlier generation in the immortal lyrics of “Anything Goes”:
In olden days, a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking.
But now, God knows,
Anything goes. . .
If driving fast cars you like,
If low bars you like,
If old hymns you like,
If bare limbs you like,
If Mae West you like,
Or me undressed you like,
Why, nobody will oppose.
Yet even before the Roaring Twenties and the day in 1934 when Cole Porter penned those lines, the ladies of the 1890s had already paved the way. Sportswomen in baseball and basketball literally “followed suit.” We salute them all.
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.
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.
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.
When one of western Indiana’s most beautiful natural areas was turned into a state park in 1947, conservationists who had fought to protect it were faced by a publicity problem: what to do about its name, the one it had been known by for about a century?
Located along Sugar Creek, 45 miles west of Indianapolis, Shades State Park sits in the “shadow” of its better-known neighbor, Turkey Run in Parke County. But as 19th-century tourists knew, the steep, even vertical scenery in these wild gorges — atypical of Indiana’s landscapes — is a powerful lure.
The canyons and cliffs at Shades and Turkey Run stand out in this part of the Midwest, which was scoured, bulldozed, and mostly flattened by glaciers. Ecologically, too, these unique parks are outliers, reminders of a time when Indiana looked more like Wisconsin or Canada. Pine Hills Nature Preserve, now part of Shades, contains one of the southernmost stands of white pines in America. Other geological vestiges of a “primitive,” ancient Indiana are the fern- and lichen-covered sandstone gorges, strewn with small waterfalls, along Sugar Creek.
In fact, as the founders of the Indiana state park system knew when they created the first parks to commemorate Indiana’s 1916 centennial, Turkey Run and Shades are among the few Hoosier landscapes that pioneers would recognize today.
Yet most pioneers avoided Shades. Mostly because of geology: the steep area was too difficult to farm or even log. But partly, it could be, because of folklore and a name.
From sometime in the mid-1800s until 1947, what we call Shades was almost always known by its old pioneer name, the “Shades of Death.” Although the spot was a popular tourist destination as early as the 1880s, and the name didn’t seem to scare many visitors away, an unknown writer in the July 22, 1888, Indianapolis Journal suggests changing it to something less ominous.
“The popularity of the ‘Shades of Death,'” he wrote, “one of Indiana’s most beautiful summer resorts, would undoubtedly be greatly enhanced by a change of name.”
A man naturally hesitates before saying that he has sent his family to the Shades of Death, and does not find it altogether agreeable to be congratulated on his own safe return from there. It casts a chill over otherwise fascinating society notes to read of distinguished citizens who have gone down to the Shades of Death. To be sure, they are heard of the next week as coming back, but the emotions which arise over their return are of the sympathetic sort that go out to those who have been to the gates of death. . .
The Shades of Death should become the ‘Indiana Eden,’ or ‘Montgomery County Paradise,’ or, being a Crawfordsville adjunct, the ‘Litterateur’s Retreat’ – anything to relieve the gloom.
(A stretch of Sugar Creek near the “Shades of Death” had been a favorite fishing spot of Hoosier literary giant General Lew Wallace, author of Ben-Hur. Wallace lived in nearby Crawfordsville.)
In fact, a quick search through news articles digitized by Hoosier State Chronicles turns up plenty of strange mentions, like these: “This train also available for Shades of Death and Montezuma…” “The Odd Fellows of Indiana will hold a picnic at the Shades of Death…” “Miss Anna Moore will go to the Shades of Death this week to spend the summer…”
What was the origin of this old Indiana place name?
In his Sugar Creek Saga (1959), Montgomery County historian Theodore Gronert thought it came from the pioneers’ morbid associations with danger (Native Americans and animals) lurking in the shades. Few settlers, in fact, came to this part of the county. Yet one of those who did settle in the vicinity, an Irishman named Alexander Weir, reportedly chose the area because of its wild beauty. Weir was said to have named the spot on Sugar Creek where he lived “Balhinch” after his native village in Ireland, which this rugged place supposedly reminded him of.
Others speculate that the name “Shades of Death” actually comes from a lost Native American name for the canyons along the creek. Miami and Shawnee bands are thought to have lived in this area just before European settlement.
Though not well substantiated, there is a Potawatomi legend about a huge pitched battle against the Miami, an event that may have taken place on the steep terrain of Pine Hills and Shades in the 1770s, when these tribes fought each other for control of the Illinois prairies and part of the Wabash Valley. The legend alleges that nearly 600 warriors on both sides were slaughtered in these canyons, with only seven Potawatomi living to tell the tale as the last five Miami scattered into the woods in defeat. The truth of the story is nearly impossible to tell.
What is certain is that in 1836, a frightened woman-or perhaps teenage girl-went to trial in Montgomery County, the first woman ever tried for murder here. Surviving records at the courthouse in Crawfordsville show that she was known only as “Mrs. Rush”. She lived with her husband, a pioneer named Moses Rush, whom folklore claims was also an outlaw, along part of Sugar Creek near what became Shades. H.W. Beckwith’s 1881 history of Montgomery County says the Rush cabin was “just below where Deer and Canine’s Mill now stands.” (This is the Deer Mill covered bridge at the edge of the park near Pine Hills.) The remote spot probably suited Rush, who seems to have been a wild man, a drunk, and a brutal wife beater.
Probably nothing at all is known about Moses Rush except that one night in 1836, according to his wife’s court testimony, he came back to their cabin drunk and threatened to kill her. Fortunately, Rush decided to take a nap first. Fearing for her life, his battered wife took an axe and split his skull open — then went to a neighbor and reported her crime. The trial was short. The judge and jury were sympathetic. Moses Rush’s widow was acquitted and possibly even congratulated for ridding Montgomery County of him.
According to Virginia Banta Sharp’s History of Waveland, “The husband’s body was buried near the house where he had lived and on a tree by the grave was cut the letters, Moses Rush, 1836. For many years the words could be seen and much later, a party of picknickers unearthed the remains and found the skull with a 3-inch deep cut in it.”
Another murder took place right outside the boundaries of what became Shades State Park back in 1865, as the Parke County Republican reported on February 15. This story, too, may have reinforced the murderous association with the name “Shades of Death.”
Fearing he was going to be cheated of his inheritance, a 33-year-old farmer, Milton Wineland, brought a double-barreled shotgun to the farm of his father, Frederick. Frederick Wineland “resided in Montgomery county, about four miles northwest of Waveland, but was murdered in this county [Parke], the county line running between his house and the field in which he was at work.” Milton “inquired of his helpless mother where his father was,” then went out in the field, hid behind a fence row, and shot his father and cousin dead.
The murderer then took off as a fugitive, perhaps finding temporary refuge in the gullies and canyons of Shades and Pine Hills. Wineland’s own mother posted $1000 reward for his capture. But a week later, the Parke County Republican thought he had fled to Canada. “Wineland doubtless imagines that a murderer will be safe within the realms of the Queen’s domains,” it was written from Rockville, “inasmuch as deserters, bounty jumpers, and Copperheads fleeing the draft, there find a place of safety.”
Despite the murders, the future park was a peaceful place, considered wild and romantic. It was probably an early stomping ground of Indiana’s most famous painter. Though best known for his Impressionist paintings of Brown County in southern Indiana, T.C. Steele grew up in Waveland, the closest town to “Shades of Death”. When he was given a box of paints, Steele began his formal art training at the Waveland Collegiate Institute, later called Waveland Academy, then at Asbury College (now DePauw University) thirty miles down the road in Greencastle.
Newspapers digitized by Hoosier State Chronicles show the popularity of Shades long before it became a state park and the words “of Death” were dropped from its name. Visitors from Indianapolis and Terre Haute especially were drawn here. (Two-hundred acres of forest were owned by a Dr. Moore from Irvington, on Indianapolis’ East Side.)
Indianapolis physicians planned to build a sanitarium at the Shades of Death around 1890 and there was even a controversial push to connect it to an electric tram line serviced by the Vandalia Railroad. (Waveland in those days had passenger trains.)
Shades of Death was mostly a happy place, but one last story from the turn of the century nearly led to a student’s tragic end.
In February 1903, a gang of fifteen freshmen at Wabash College “entered the Wells Club at the supper hour” and kidnapped a member of the rival sophomore class, a student from Iowa named Andrew Thornell (some papers call him Thornley.) Thornell was the captain of the Wabash College baseball team.
Handcuffed, blindfolded, and shoved into a buggy waiting in an alleyway, Thornell ended up being taken at night to a lonely hut or solitary farmhouse near the Shades of Death, twenty miles southwest of Crawfordsville. Three freshmen fastened him to a wooden block on the floor and kept watch over him. The freshmen must have fallen asleep, since Thornell broke loose, jumped from a window, and struck out through the woods around Shades and Pine Hills. Exposed to the elements, the “kidnapped” student got lost and “walked many miles” before he found a farmhouse where someone offered him shelter and food.