The Fall of the House of Ford

lincoln indiana

Exactly 150 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln, who spent part of his rail-splitting boyhood in Spencer County in southern Indiana, fell victim to the bullet of the 26-year-old actor John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater.  Soon, the president’s body headed west by train, stopping in Richmond, Indiana, for a public viewing at 2:00 in the morning on April 30, then on to Indianapolis and Michigan City, with short stopovers at small Hoosier train stations along the way.

In a downpour, possibly fifty thousand Hoosiers viewed Lincoln’s open casket in the rotunda of the old State House.  (At a time when the population of the capitol city was less than 40,000, the crowd of black-draped mourners must have been a spectacle in itself.  Many were African Americans clutching copies of the Emancipation Proclamation.)  Just before midnight, a carriage brought the president’s coffin through the rainy streets of Indianapolis, lit by torches and bonfires, to Union Depot, where it departed north by train for the south shore of Lake Michigan, en route to Chicago and eventually to Springfield, Illinois.


lincoln funeral michigan city
Lincoln funeral cortege in Michigan City, 8:00 a.m., May 1, 1865.

An exhibit running through July 7 at the Indiana State Museum, So Costly a Sacrifice: Lincoln and Loss, includes some actual “relics” of that fateful Good Friday in 1865 when Booth shot Indiana’s favorite son.  Among the artifacts are a few that seem like medieval religious relics:  clothing with spots alleged to be the blood of Honest Abe, and  a piece of the burning barn in Port Royal, Virginia, where the assassin met his own fate at the hands of a Union soldier, the eccentric street-preacher Boston Corbett.

One of the most interesting things to me about the Lincoln assassination and the funeral that came after is the apparent curse on the people and even the physical things involved in it.  Poe’s Raven could be telling the story, and the bird of death keeps on talking, quawking not “Nevermore” — just “More.”

What happened to Booth and Corbett is pretty bizarre and appalling.  Basil Moxley, a doorman at Ford’s Theater who claimed that he served as one of Booth’s pallbearers in Baltimore in 1865, fed a conspiracy theory in 1903 when he asserted that another man is buried in the plot and that Lincoln’s murderer actually escaped to Oklahoma or Texas.  A mummy hoax brought the assassin back to life as a sideshow attraction in the 1920s.  But perhaps the moody English-American actor would have been thrilled to know that the morbid tragedy he let loose wasn’t over yet.

For instance, Booth’s own killer probably went down surrounded by flames.  It is thought that Boston Corbett died in the massive forest fire that consumed Hinckley, Minnesota, in 1894.  And oddly enough, the very train car that carried Lincoln’s corpse west to Illinois from Washington also burned in Minnesota.  In March 1911, while in storage in the northeastern outskirts of Minneapolis, the historic Lincoln funeral car perished in a “spectacular prairie fire.”


lincoln funeral car
Minneapolis Sunday Journal, March 19, 1911.

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This decorative fan now on display at the Indiana State Museum commemorates the Lincoln assassination. John Wilkes Booth goes down in smoke on the far right.

In 1893, a year before the inferno in the North Woods probably claimed Corbett’s life, news readers followed the ghastly story of Ford’s Theater’s own doom.  On June 10, the Indianapolis Journal ran this especially sentimental, tear-jerking news piece on the front-page:

fords theater collapse - indianapolis journal june 10 1893

As the Journal tells it:

Hundreds of men carried down by the floors of a falling building which was notoriously insecure; human lives crushed out by tons of brick and iron and sent unheralded to the throne of their Maker; men by the score maimed and disfigured for life; happy families hurled into the depths of despair. . . Words cannot picture the awfulness of the accident.  Its horrors will never be fully told.  Its suddenness was almost the chief terror. . . Women who kissed their loved ones as they separated will have but the cold, bruised faces to kiss to-night. . . In the national capitol of the proudest nation on earth there has been a catastrophe unparalleled in the annals of history, and in every mind there is the horrible conviction that its genesis is to be found in the criminal negligence of a government too parsimonious to provide for the safety of its loyal servants by protecting its property for their accommodation.

At 9:30 a.m. on June 9, the front part of Ford’s Theater, a notoriously rickety and rotten old structure then being used as a government office building, collapsed, sending beams, iron, and over a hundred employees plummeting toward the basement.  Twenty-eight years after Abraham Lincoln was shot here, twenty-two men were killed and sixty-eight injured in one of the deadliest disasters in Washington, D.C.’s, history.  (In a twist of irony, the same day the theater collapse made national headlines, John Wilkes Booth’s brother, the great American actor Edwin Booth, was laid to rest at the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Many said that Edwin Booth’s life and death were overshadowed by two different tragedies and the curse of Ford’s Theater.)


fords theater collapse june 10 1893


fords theater draped
Ford’s Theater draped in mourning for President Lincoln.

Collapsing structures were a major news item in the 1890s.  Almost every week, American papers reported mass casualties at overcrowded factories and apartment buildings, especially in Chicago and cities back on the East Coast, where poor construction and dry rot led to the deaths of thousands of industrial workers and tenants — often women and children.  During the Progressive Era, such tragedies inspired reformers like the photographers Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine (who documented child workers in Indianapolis in 1908) to illustrate the real peril of shoddy, dilapidated buildings in the workplace and at home.

In 1893, Ford’s Theater was probably one of the most dangerous structures in America.  Built in 1863 by the 34-year-old entrepreneur John T. Ford, the building occupied the site of a Baptist Church-turned-theater that had burned down a year earlier.  John Ford’s business was a victim of Booth, too.  After the Lincoln assassination, public opinion and the U.S. government both decided that it was inappropriate to use the site of the nation’s great tragedy for entertainment.  Ford wanted to re-open his theater, but received arson threats from at least one Lincoln mourner.  The Federal government appropriated the playhouse, compensating its owner with $88,000 in July 1866.

Even before the government actually paid for the building, renovations were underway.  In December 1865, the suitably morbid Army Medical Museum moved onto the third floor.  “A far cry from the once jovial theater,” the famous local landmark now housed an array of skeletons in glass cases, body parts, surgical tools, and other gory reminders of military medicine.  The Library of the Surgeon General’s Office soon occupied the second floor.


fords theater medical museum
From 1866 to 1887, Ford’s Theater housed medical exhibits. An active theater for just two years, the place was a literal showcase of death for more than twenty. The museum later moved to a new location at 7th & Independence. A section of John Wilkes Booth’s vertebrae was on display here for years.

fords theater medical museum 2


guiteau
The Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail reprinted an incorrect rumor that the skull of Charles Guiteau, assassin of President James Garfield, was on display at Ford’s Theater when the building collapsed in 1893. Guiteau’s skeleton did go on exhibit there, but had been moved to the new museum at 7th & Independence, where his brain and partial skeleton are still in the collections of the National Museum of Health and Medicine. Guiteau’s head was also reported to be touring southern Indiana during World War I.

The other floors of the former theater housed the War Department’s Office of Records and Pensions.  The unstable, visibly bulging building was the workplace of several hundred employees and was further imperiled by probably a few tons of heavy paperwork, the red tape of veterans’ pensions.

After the building succumbed to gravity and rot in 1893, American public opinion was almost as outraged as at the assassination of Lincoln.  The Indianapolis Journal wrote:

As long ago as 1885, this building. . .  was officially proclaimed by Congress an unsafe depository for even the inanimate skeletons, mummies and books of the army medical museum, for which a safer place of storage was provided by an act of Congress.  But notwithstanding the fact that in the public press, and in Congress, also, continued attention was called to the bulging walls of the building, its darkness and its general unsuitability and unsafety, it continued to be used for the daily employment of nearly five-hundred government clerks of the pension record division of the War Office.

According to a riveting coroner’s inquest that whipped up public excitement, workers at what the Indianapolis Journal dubbed “Ford’s death trap” had been intimidated and cowed into silence by their tyrannical boss, former army surgeon Col. Fred Ainsworth.  Afraid of being fired, the endangered clerks didn’t protest the condition of the building and later testified that Ainsworth’s assistants had told them to tip-toe on the stairway to keep from falling through.  Investigators determined that the “old ruin’s” collapse finally came while a low-bidding contractor, George W. Dant, was making repairs to the building.  (A support in the basement gave way.)

Court testimony relayed in the Journal resonated with public opinion.  “The government did not want skilled men to execute its contracts, and it would not pay fair prices for good work. . .” the paper claimed.  “An architect testified that the cement used in underpinning the piers supporting the old building was ‘little better than mud.’  A builder said the manner of the work was suicidal.”  Another report said that for years the decaying structure also suffered from “defective sanitary conditions.”

One of the public figures who weighed in on the federal investigation was Indiana Congressman William S. Holman.  A Dearborn County native, Holman sat in Congress from 1859 to 1897 and was  once ranked as the longest-serving U.S. Representative.  He was also a notoriously frugal hawk on government spending.  (Yet far from being a total naysayer, Holman passionately advocated the Homestead Act that tried to break up the domination of Western public lands by big railroads.  He also indirectly helped establish the U.S. Forest Service by providing for Federal timber reserves.)


william s. holman 2
U.S. Representative William Steele Holman of Aurora, Indiana, kept a famously tight wallet but was a great opponent of land monopolies and unregulated corporations after the Civil War. He helped establish Yellowstone National Park and was described as “a botanist of no mean ability” and a friend of public forests.

mr holman talks - jasper weekly courier june 1893


As chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, the curmudgeonly Holman oversaw a lot of government funding.  On June 23, 1893, the Jasper Weekly Courier reported that after Ford’s Theater collapsed, even the arch-fiscal conservative was ready to “deal liberally in the matter of providing safe public buildings, and enact such legislation as would look to the preservation of human life.”  The Indiana Congressman supported moving the U.S. Government Printing Office — ranked with the old theater as one of the worst potential death traps in Washington, D.C. — to a new location.  (The weight of printing equipment housed on upper stories was part of the problem.)

Yet once it was rebuilt after the 1893 collapse, Ford’s Theater returned to government use — oddly enough, as a storage warehouse for the Government Printing Office.  The building narrowly survived being condemned for demolition by President Taft in 1912.  From 1931 until renovations in the mid-1960s, the historic structure housed a government annex and a first-floor Lincoln museum.  Restored to its 1865 appearance and now run by the National Park Service, it opened as a public museum in 1968.


liberty express
Liberty Express, Liberty, Indiana, February 11, 1921.

fords theater 1900s
Ford’s Theater in an early 20th-century stereograph.

edwin booth
The Indianapolis Journal took note of the strange coincidence that Ford’s Theater crumbled on the very day that Edwin Booth was buried in Massachusetts. Edgar Allan Poe, author of “The Fall of the House of Usher,” would have appreciated the irony.

Contact:  staylor336 [AT] gmail.com

The Where and the What of The When

THE WHEN (3)

Hoosier State Chronicles is getting ready to upload a large run of issues of the Indianapolis Journal from the mid-1890s.  Dominating the front page of Sunday editions in those days are massive, elephantine ads for one of the most colorful clothing stores ever to exist anywhere in the U.S.  This was downtown Indy’s great shopping emporium, The When.

In the days before parking garages and flight to the suburbs plunged downtowns into decline, urban cores all over America were a fascinating architectural wonderland. Panoramic images of Indianapolis 120 years ago often leave me wondering if I live in the same town, so devastating has been the toll of the wrecking ball, the termite, and (yes) bad urban planning.  Before the auto, pedestrians walked or were funneled down to the business district on trolleys or carriages from neighborhoods not very far out.  And amid the amazing visual spectacle that met shoppers’ eyes at the turn of the century, there stands the ingenuity, humor, and incredible marketing smarts of John Tomlinson Brush.

Born in upstate New York in 1845 and orphaned at age four, Brush was raised by his grandfather, went to business college, then served in the 1st New York Artillery during the Civil War.  Moving from Troy to Indianapolis in 1875 at age thirty, he purchased a brand new, Napoleon the Third-style building at 36 N. Pennsylvania St. and planned to open a branch store of a New York City clothing wholesaler there.

Brush kept changing the opening date.  Probably as a tease to drum up interest, in February 1875 he hung a huge sign outside the store with the simple word (more an exclamation than a question) “WHEN?”  Advertisements in the local newspapers also carried just that one-word tease.  The name stuck, and the lavishly decorated clothing outlet became an instant consumer hit, soon ranked as the biggest of its kind in Indiana.


When Building
Bass Photo Company.

the when November 23 1890
Ads for The When dominated the front page of the Indianapolis Sunday Journal for over two decades.

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New York native John Tomlinson Brush, 1845-1912, was a savvy salesman, razor-sharp humorist, and baseball magnate.

John T. Brush (some thought his name was John “Tooth” Brush) was gifted with an ample sense of humor and, I hear, was also a clever cartoonist, though I haven’t seen any of his illustrations.  His knack for marketing was far-reaching.  Not only did he see The When “elegantly appointed” with iron balustrades, gas lighting, and a courtyard, he also outfitted it with an array of unusual attractions meant to lure shoppers.  The When had a baseball team, called The When Store team, and a resident brass band, The When Band. Brush’s musicians played in a second-floor band shell and gave Saturday evening concerts outside on the street and even up on the roof.  As we’ll see below, other colorful attractions also greeted shoppers.

Brush got rich quick in Indianapolis, but unlike many capitalists with Eastern roots, he stuck around for good.  And in the 1880s, The When’s owner became a prominent pioneer of baseball both in the Hoosier State and around the country.

Originally conceived to drum up business for the store, the Indianapolis Hoosiers were a short-lived local baseball team bankrolled by the clothing merchant.  In 1882, he financed the creation of a ball park, Seventh Street Park, also called Tinker Park, at a site now occupied by Methodist Hospital.  The Hoosiers played in the National League from about 1885 to 1889, when they folded.  Brush later bought the St. Louis Maroons, the Cincinnati Reds, and eventually the great New York Giants, which he owned from 1902 until his death in 1912.

Baseball historian Bill Lamb writes:

Local legend has it that Brush first became enthusiastic about the game after reading a Spalding Guide confiscated from an idle store clerk. Or that Brush’s interest stemmed from acceptance of stock in an Indianapolis ball club as payment for a debt. The facts are more prosaic. Brush was first exposed to baseball while working at company stores in upstate New York, a hotbed of the early game. Later he seized upon baseball as a vehicle for advertising The When Store. In 1882 Brush organized a municipal baseball league, building a diamond with a grandstand in northwestern Indianapolis for league games and engaging Jack Kerins as player-manager of the When Store team.


1888_Indianapolis_Hoosiers
The Indianapolis Hoosiers at Tinker Park, 1888. I assume Jack Kerins is the man in the center.

hoosiers 1


As a kind of New Year’s gift to his loyal shoppers in 1895, Brush helped bring a clever attraction to downtown Indy:  a pair of leopard cubs.  The adorable creatures, named Carl and Amanda, were loaned from the great Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, which wintered in its home base of Peru, Indiana.  The cubs spent about a week as a window attraction at Brush’s store while the circus performed at English’s Opera House nearby.


the when january 6 1895


the when january 8 1895


On January 9, the baby leopards got a letter from a bear — and from their mother down the street.  (Mrs. Puss Leopard was quite the gossiper.) The feline correspondence was featured on the front page, in The When’s usual space:

the when january 10 1895


the when january 11 1895


the when january 12 1895


chad ballard
Chad Ballard, son of Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus owner Ed Ballard, around 1915, possibly in French Lick, Indiana. French Lick West Baden Museum.

john t. brush (2)

John Brush lived to see the New York Giants play in three World Series and was married to stage actress Elsie Lombard. Suffering from a nerve ailment after 1902, he died in his private railroad car near Louisiana, Missouri, in 1912.  He came home to a lavish funeral in Indianapolis, attended by many of the greats of the baseball world.

The When Building, which also housed Indianapolis Business College, was sold off to C.S. Ober in the 1940s and came to be known as the Ober Building.  Like much of the city’s former architectural splendor, it was demolished by a wrecking ball and is now the site of a parking garage.


WHEN building


30 N. Pennsylvania St


When Building 2
Bass Photo Company.

Though the When is “Gone With the When,” it’s worthy of our deepest praise.  Here are some of my favorite advertisements from Way Back When.


the when December 25 1892 (2)


the when November 9 1890


the When November 22 1891


the when May 20 1888


the when january 14 1895


the when january 22 1895


THE WHEN (4)
The When Clothing Store stands in the right foreground in this panoramic image of Indianapolis  from 1907.

Contact:  staylor336 [AT] gmail.com

A Skirt Divided

two women on cycle

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:

He Favors Bloomers - Indianapolis Journal April 28 1895


awful effects of velocipeding
A Victorian cartoonist satirized “The Awful Effects of Velocipeding” in the New Comic Times, a British magazine from the mid-1800s. Men feared that in addition to going down the slippery slope of cycling, women would adopt another “vice” from Asia: smoking cheroots.

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.”


bicycle built for two (2)
A couple rides an early tandem bike outside the White House, circa 1890.

bloomers
Wearing bloomers, she was a daredevil in more ways than one.

ariel cycling manufacturing co 1895
An 1895 trade catalog of the Ariel Cycle Manufacturing Company in Goshen, Indiana. The Hoosier bicycle industry was centered mostly in Indianapolis and the northeastern part of the state.

New Ulm Review July 8 1896
New Ulm Review, New Ulm, Minnesota, July 8, 1896.

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.”

Jack the Whipper

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.


rubber tires


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.”


bike livery stable


bicycle hospital


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.”)


hearsey ad -- Indiana Tribune July 27 1896


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.


ben hur bicycle


ben hur bicycle 5


ben hur bicycle 1
The Central Cycling Company of Indianapolis built the once-popular “Ben-Hur Bicycle,” named for the novel written by Hoosier literary giant Lew Wallace.

bicycling in fort wayne (2)
These wheelmen in Fort Wayne, Indiana, were some of the last aficionados of the highwheeler, old-fashioned even in 1900.

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.


ariel cycling manufacturing co 1896


bloomers basketball chicago 1097
Women in Chicago play basketball in 1906.

star bloomers ca 1900
The Star Bloomer Girls were an Indianapolis baseball team that toured the country around 1914. The pitcher and catcher, far right, were male but the whole team wore the same outfit.

women fencers
Women of the Indianapolis Socialer Turnverein appear at a fencing match in Fort Wayne in the 1920’s. Athenaeum Turners Collection, IUPUI.

Indiana newspapers are full of stories about women, cycling, and sports.  Do a search at Hoosier State Chronicles to unearth more tales like these.  Contact:  staylor336 [at] gmail.com

George C. Harding: Editor, Prankster, Gunman

george c harding

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.


Indiana_Artillery_Port_Hudson_LA_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.


george harding - dogs


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!”


grand hotel indianapolis 1889

(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.


george harding - mental condition


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.


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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.”


george harding - indianapolis horror


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.


george harding - indianapolis horror 3


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.

The Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail picked up the story:

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.

Killed by a Meteorite

meteorite lancashire

While tucked away virtuously in bed at his farmhouse one winter night, according to a hair-raising story from 1879, an old man in the Wabash Valley was literally blown to pieces by a cascading meteorite.

Twelve years later, the editors of the Indianapolis Journal were still getting mail about this widely-syndicated news piece, so they decided to publish a flashback.  Here’s an excerpt from the 1891 article:

It was in January 1879 that a special telegraphic dispatch came to the Indianapolis Journal describing the fall of a meteorite near Attica, Fountain County, a large stone of unknown composition that, whirling through space, came crashing through the roof of the farmhouse of Leonidas Glover, a widower, who lived alone.  The meteorite [struck Glover], who was in bed, supposedly asleep, and horribly mutilating him, continued its course and buried itself in the earth beneath the house.  Of course the lonely widower was instantly killed, and when the neighbors the following morning discovered the remains, there was great excitement, all of which was given in harrowing detail in the dispatch.

Due to the juiciness of the 1879 storyteller’s technique, let’s look at the original tale itself.

The killer Fountain County meteorite made the rounds of many American newspapers, going viral in those early days of syndication.  A “Covington special” to the Indianapolis Journal relayed the original claim, but here’s a version as it appeared in the Tiffin Tribune of Tiffin, Ohio, on January 30, 1879.

Covington, Ind., Jan. 15. On Tuesday night last, Leonidas Grover, who resided in the vicinity of Newtown, Fountain county, met his death in a way that is probably without parallel in this or any other country. Mr. Grover was a widower living on his farm with a married daughter and her husband. On the evening referred to, the married couple had been absent on a visit to some neighbors, and upon  returning at a late hour, entered the house, finding everything, to all appearances, in usual order, and supposing that Mr. Grover had already retired, went to bed themselves.

Next morning the daughter arose, and having prepared breakfast, went to the adjoining room to call her father, and was horrified to find him lying upon his shattered bed, a mutilated corpse. Her screams brought the husband quickly to the bedroom and an inspection disclosed a ragged opening in the roof, directly over the breast of the unfortunate man, which was torn through as if by a cannon-shot, and extending downward through the bedding and floor: other holes showing the direction taken by the deadly missile. Subsequent search revealed the fact that the awful calamity was caused by the fall of a meteoric stone, and the stone itself pyramidal in shape and weighing twenty-two pounds and a few ounces, avoirdupois, and stained with blood, was unearthed from a depth of nearly five feet, thus showing the fearful impetus with which it struck the dwelling. The position of the corpse, with other surroundings, when found showed that the victim was asleep when stricken and that death, to him, was painless.


meteorite indiana


Despite the blatant tragedy of the scene, Hoosier scientists, especially geologists and sky-watchers, were enthralled and pounced on the report from Covington.  But in 1891, the Indianapolis Journal had to tell the story all over again.  The State Geologists in question here are Edward Travers Cox (1821-1907) and John Collett (1828-1899).  Cox, who was educated in the communal school at New Harmony in his youth, was especially eager to verify the tale.  (And with a name like “E.T.,” you’d expect him to be interested in things falling out of the sky)  Collett, who grew up in the Wabash Valley and “probably [knew] more about Indiana than anybody within her borders,” was also extremely curious.

The Journal recalled:

The news stirred all the local scientists, and the State Geologist, Professor Cox, at once took measures to secure the meteorite.  Maj. J.J. Palmer was dispatched to Fountain County with instructions to buy the stone, no matter what it might cost.  Meantime the State Geologist was overwhelmed with letters inquiring about the meteorite and asking for all information possible regarding it.

The State Geologist wrote an exhaustive article on meteorites, leaving a hole in which to place the heavenly bowlder when Major Palmer should return with it.  Professor J. Lawrence Smith was greatly interested in the matter, and it was understood that he was willing to give $500 for it.


increase lapham meteorite 3
Though I haven’t seen a picture of Cox or Collett examining a meteorite, here’s an image of the great Wisconsin geologist, Increase Lapham, looking at a 33-pound aerolite found in Washington County, Wisconsin, in 1871. Lapham was one of the founders of science in the Badger State.

Were E.T. Cox and John Collett aware of earlier claims about celestial debris causing human fatalities?  Before brushing all this off as hare-brained folklore, there were plenty of such stories.

A study by students at Oberlin College has turned up reports from many centuries about deadly stones dropping down from space and striking humans dead.  In China in the year 588, there were “10 deaths; siege towers destroyed.”  The study’s website, should we be able to trust it, also mentions this phenomenally horrible event:

The most incredible Chinese report is that of the Chiing-yang Meteorite Shower of 1490.  Supposedly, tens of thousands of people were killed during the shower in the Shansi province.  Yau, et al., tell us that ‘[t]he Chíing-yang incident seems rather implausible in terms of the total number of casualties and the narrow size distribution of the meteorite fragments,’ but they also point out its similarities to the Tunguska event, which would have devastated a populated area. [This was the asteroid that devastated Siberia in 1908.  If it had struck a more settled area, millions of people might have been killed.]

Also included on the study’s list:  “01/14/1879, Newtown, Indiana, USA – Man killed in bed.”

A more recent story about a meteorite strike comes from the American South, where stars really did fall on Alabama.  On November 30, 1954, Ann E. Hodges was napping on the couch when she thought a gas heater exploded in her house, then saw a grapefruit-sized rock on the floor, a busted radio, and a bad mark on her hip.  Her neighbors reported a fireball and thought an airplane had crashed.  The eight-pound rock that careened into her living room in Sylacauga, Alabama, was later examined by Air Force Intelligence and confirmed as a meteorite.  Hodges was profiled in Life Magazine that year.  According to the Decatur (Tenn.) Daily News, a lawyer from Indianapolis purchased the “Hodges Meteorite” and sold it to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., where it still resides, the only space rock ever confirmed to have hit a human.


alabama meteorite 1


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E.T. Cox and John Collett would have been thrilled to have something like the Hodges Meteorite housed at the Indiana State Museum.

Unfortunately, as far as anyone can tell, the whole Fountain County tragedy was a big hoax and Indiana’s best scientists were put on a wild-goose chase.

The Journal wrote in 1891:

When [Major Palmer] returned [to Indianapolis] he reported that he could find no one in Fountain County who knew Leonidas Glover, widower;  there was no demolished roof, no desolated household, no hole in the ground.

A demand went up from the scientific world for the impious wretch or wretches who had hoaxed them.  But the practical jokers took council of their fears and kept quiet until the storm of scientific wrath had passed by.  It then leaked out that the hoaxers were two young men of Crawfordsville, one of them a newspaper man.  It may be said that one of these, the newspaper man, was sufficiently punished for his connection with the affair.  He lost caste in his profession, and it took him several years to regain the confidence he had lost as an honest chronicler of the news.


meteorite indianapolis journal nov 30 1891


et cox
Indiana State Geologist E.T. Cox was duped by a fake extraterrestrial killer.

I’m indebted to Chris Woodyard over in Dayton, Ohio, whose amazing Haunted Ohio blog first brought this story to my attention.  Woodyard cites the historian Jacob Piatt Dunn, who was accused of concocting the hoax himself.  Dunn recalled that when Major Palmer realized the Glover/Grover meteorite was a myth, he decided to “keep up the joke” at the expense of E.T. Cox and John Collett.  Dunn wrote:

[Palmer] secured a cobble-stone of appropriate size and colored it with black and red ink [to simulate blood]; also a rustic photograph which served for a portrait of the mythical Grover; and prepared plans of the non-existent house showing the course of the imaginary aerolite; all of which he put on exhibition in Joe Perry’s drugstore, then at the northwest corner of Pennsylvania and Washington streets, where they were viewed by wondering hundreds.  Perhaps the most notable result was that the story was reproduced by Alexander Winchell, the noted geologist, in one of his scientific works.

Woodyard added that “In 1880 John Collett, who had succeeded Cox as State Geologist, was besieged by people asking to see the meteor.  So he asked Palmer to bring the stone to the state museum where it was displayed for many years as a genuine man-killing meteor. It seems to have been quietly taken off exhibition after Collett left office.”

George S. Cottman wrote about the bogus shooting star in the Indianapolis News on August 19, 1922.  He agreed that Major Palmer put it “on exhibition in the window of a Washington Street store, where thousands gaped at it and felt impressed by the strange fate of Leonidas Grover.”

Chris Woodyard doesn’t know the whereabouts of Palmer’s fake stone, and neither do I.  But George C. Harding, editor of the Indianapolis Journal in 1879, probably wanted to know more about the location of the man who gave him the false news to begin with.

Harding (called “the most picturesque character that ever appeared in Indianapolis journalism”) had concocted a couple of false stories for the Journal himself, including one that very month about a hanged murderer who was revived from the dead at a medical college.  But if he didn’t invent Farmer Leonidas Grover outright, Harding got his comeuppance.  After putting a moralizing editorial in his newspaper about  how death may strike us at any moment, he was forced to admit his own gullibility, writing this follow-up once he knew he’d been hoaxed:

We take it back in its totality.  The death was not a phenomenal one.  The aerolite did not come hurtling from the infinite depths of space.  It did not tear a ragged opening through the roof of Mr. Grover’s house, nor did it crash through his breast. * * * He didn’t die.  He didn’t get hurt.  He didn’t even get frightened.  He wasn’t there;  he isn’t anywhere now, durn him!  If Mr. Leonidas Grover ever should come into existence and get killed by an aerolite he will have to get someone else to write his obituary. . . We have precious little faith in thunderstones, anyhow.  The audacious villain who invented the canard is an unmeasured fraud and an infinite liar.  Hell gapes for him.  The devil beckons to him with his hands and horns and tail.  Eternal cremation with a brimstone accompaniment is his doom.


meteorite strathmore 1


Contact:  staylor336 [AT] gmail.com

Fletcher’s Swamp and Bacon’s Swamp

ethel miller

Spring is here, which means it’s getting muddy.  Check out these stories from the soggier part of town:

You might never guess that several parts of Indianapolis lying well inside the city limits are built on old swamp lands.  Turn back the clock to the 1940s and new homes and roads in southeast Broad Ripple are literally sinking into the earth.  Turn it back another century still, and the hoot-owls and swamp creatures who easily outnumber humans in Marion County are living practically downtown.  (In fact, the whole county was named for Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox” of Revolutionary South Carolina.)

Two old wetlands, sometimes called bogs or sloughs, played a fascinating part in the capitol city’s history.

Fletcher’s Swamp is long gone but used to sit just east of the Old North Side, between Cottage Home and Martindale-Brightwood.  A couple of hundred acres in size, the swamp occupied an area more or less centered around the future I-65/I-70 interchange.  Pogue’s Run flowed just to the south.

An article in the Indianapolis Journal on December 15, 1889, describes the setting.  The author, probably the young journalist and historian Jacob Piatt Dunn, writes about an area northeast of Ninth Street and College Avenue:

To the boys of twenty-five years ago [circa 1864] this area was known as Fletcher’s swamp, and was a famous place for black and red haws, fox grapes and other wild fruits that only a youngster would think of eating.  Fifty years ago [the 1830’s] this place was a verible dismal swamp, impenetrable even to the hunter except in the coldest winter, for it was a rare thing for the frost to penetrate the thick layer of moss and fallen leaves that covered the accumulated mass of centuries, and which was constantly warmed by the living springs beneath.

Today the old swamp area is within easy walking distance of Massachusetts Avenue, but you won’t find a trace of it.  “About on a line with Twelfth Street” near the center of the swamp “was an acre, more or less, of high land,” a spot “lifted about the surrounding morass.”  The writer — again, probably J.P. Dunn — thought that this high, dry spot had once been a “sanctuary” for “desperadoes and thieves who preyed upon the early settlers.”  (Northern Indiana swamps, like the one around Bogus Island in Newton County, were notorious hideouts for counterfeiters and horse thieves.  Elaborate hidden causeways were said to give entrance to remote islands on the edge of the vast Kankakee Swamp, the “Everglades of the North.”)

In the 1830s, Fletcher’s Swamp became one of the slushier stops on the Underground Railroad. Calvin Fletcher, a Vermont-born lawyer and farmer whose 1,600-acre farm once included most of the Near East Side, was an active lawbreaker during the days of the Fugitive Slave Act.  For several decades, many Hoosier opponents of slavery, primarily Quakers, funneled hundreds if not thousands of African American fugitives toward Westfield in neighboring Hamilton County.  (Westfield was a major Quaker settlement before the Civil War, and other “stations” around Indianapolis focused on getting fugitives there.)  Wetlands, usually hard to penetrate, were an ideal hideout, since the bloodhounds that bounty-hunters used to track fugitives lost their scent here.  And like the counterfeiters on Bogus Island, refugees from slavery used retractable wooden “steps” across the swamp to help avoid detection.

Although not Quakers themselves, Fletcher and his family helped many African Americans flee north to Michigan and Canada.


calvin and sara fletcher
Calvin and Sara Fletcher. This daguerreotype was made at Weeks’ Daguerran Gallery at College Hall downtown, January 1856. Joan Hostettler tells the story here.

Fletcher also owned the swamp the fugitives hid in.  In the language of 1889, the writer for the Journal recalled one story about the place:

Calvin Fletcher, Sr., became the owner of this swamp, or the greater part of it.  Spring, summer, and autumn he was in the habit of riding horseback all around it. . .  Mr. Fletcher delighted in the study of nature, especially in birds (and in the quiet of this swamp was bird life in sufficient variety for an Audubon or a Wilson), and he knew every flier and nest on its borders.

A tenant of a cabin near this swamp told the story that his attention was often attracted to Mr. Fletcher, for the reason that he rode out that way so early, and usually with a sack thrown over the horse’s neck.  The curiosity of the dweller in the cabin was excited to that degree that, one morning, he furtively followed the solitary horseman.  It was about sunrise, and he saw Mr. Fletcher hitch his nag to a sapling, take off the sack (which for some reason the narrator supposed to contain corn-bread and bacon), walk a little way into the covert, and then give a call, as if calling cattle.  There was, in answer, a waving of elders, flags and swamp-grass, with an occasional plash in the water, and finally appeared the form of a tall, muscular negro, with shirt and breeches of coffee-sacking.  He came silently out to the dry land, took the sack from the visitor’s hand, spoke a few words inaudible to the straining ears of the listener and hastily disappeared in the recesses of the swamps.  So, after all, Mr. Fletcher’s favorite bird, and a very unpopular one in that day, too, was the blackbird.

The swamp might have had strange bedfellows during the Civil War.  The dense thickets and morasses here were an ideal hideout for Confederate POW’s who escaped from the Union Army’s Camp Morton, which sat just west of here, near the future intersection of 19th Street and Central Avenue.  Calvin Fletcher’s son, Stephen Keyes Fletcher, claimed in 1892:  “During the war the swamp was this great hiding place for escaped prisoners from Camp Morton.”

The original Butler University, which sat at 13th and College until 1875, was another neighbor of Fletcher’s Swamp.  When a fugitive, aided by local abolitionists, escaped from jail downtown and fled on horseback, trying to get to the swamp, he ended up at Northwestern Christian University, as Butler was called, and was arrested on campus.  “The capture of the negro brought on a heated battle among the students of the university, some of whom were from the South,” the anonymous Journal writer claimed.  “A pitched battle followed between them and the black Republican students, which resulted in nothing more serious than some blackened eyes and ensanguined noses.  The scene of this battle is now the playground for the children of the Indianapolis Orphan Asylum.”

What happened to Fletcher’s Swamp?  Stephen Fletcher, who apparently inherited the property after Calvin’s death in 1866 — he ran a nursery nearby — told some of the story using terminology not employed today.

About this same time the negroes began flocking over from Kentucky and other Southern states.  My father, being a great friend of the colored man, was inclined to provide them with homes and work as far as possible.  After filling up everything in the shape of a house, I then let them build cabins at the edge of the swamp, on high ground, just north of the Belt railroad, and about where Baltimore Avenue now runs.  I soon had quite a settlement, which was named by my brother, Dr. W.B. Fletcher, “Monkey Jungle,” and the location is known to this day [1892] by that name by those familiar with it then.

The 1889 writer for the News concurred:

The clearing of the swamp was an accident of President Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation.  Hundreds of colored men, with their families, came from the South to this city.  It was a class of labor new to Indianapolis, and for a time there was a disinclination to employ them.  Mr. Fletcher, however, gave every man with a family the privilege of taking enough timber to build a cabin, and of having ground for a “truck patch,” besides paying so much a cord for wood delivered on the edge of the swamp.  Quite a number of the negroes availed themselves of this offer of work and opportunity for shelter…

Calvin Fletcher, Jr., drained what was left of his father’s swamp in the 1870s by dredging it and connecting it to the “Old State Ditch.”  Thus it shared the fate of thousands of acres of Hoosier wetlands sacrificed to agriculture and turned into conventional cropland.


bacons swamp - butler herbarium
Fern collected in Bacon’s Swamp, August 1922. Friesner Herbarium Collection, Indiana Memory.

An 1891 Journal article on the “State Ditch” calls Fletcher’s Swamp one of two “bayous” that threatened valuable property on the then-outskirts of Indianapolis.

The other “bayou” was the fascinating Bacon’s Swamp. Today, the area that used to be covered by this large Marion County bog is part of Broad Ripple.  Although Google Maps still shows a lake there called Bacon’s Swamp, this is really just a pond, re-engineered out of what used to be a genuine freshwater wetland.

Like its neighbor a little to the south, Bacon’s Swamp was created by the melting Wisconsin Glacier.  About 20,000 years ago, the ice left an indent on the land that filled with water.  As limnologists (freshwater scientists) describe, the process of swamp formation, lakes age and die like living creatures, filling up with sediment and plant matter and gradually losing the oxygen in their depths.  Bacon’s Swamp evolved into a peat bog, one of the southernmost in the United States.

Like Fletcher’s Swamp, it took its name from a prominent local farmer active as a stationmaster on the Underground Railroad.  A native of Williamstown, Massachusetts, Hiram Bacon moved to this remote spot with his wife Mary Blair in 1821.  (Bacon was 21 years old, had studied law at Williams College, but due to poor health joined a government surveying expedition to the Midwest at age 19.  He liked Indiana and stayed.)  Presbyterians, the Bacons became friends with Henry Ward Beecher, brother of the novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe, when he served as minister of Second Presbyterian Church downtown.  Beecher often came out to Bacon’s Swamp in the 1840s, when this was a remote part of Marion County.


Henry_Ward_Beecher_daguerreotype
This daguerreotype of abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher was probably taken in Indianapolis, where he served as a Presbyterian minister in the early 1840s. Beecher baptized Fanny Vandegrift, Robert Louis Stevenson’s wife, in the White River when she was a child growing up in the Hoosier State.

Hiram and Mary Bacon actively helped fugitive slaves escape through the area.  A 1931 article in the Indianapolis Star claimed that “The Bacon house stands on the east side of the road [now the paved Keystone Avenue], and the large barn was on the west side.  In it was a wheat bin, which could be entered only from outside by a ladder.  It was usually concealed by piles of hay.  Here and in the bin in the cider house, the fugitives were hidden and conveyed after dark to the next depot . . . The matter was never discussed in public.” At night, fugitives hid out in the peat bog across from the Bacon dairy farm.

The 400-acre family farm was located approximately where Glendale Mall sits today.  (Most of east Broad Ripple would have been deep in the morass back in the mid-1800s.)  Empty in the 1930s, the site of the Bacon farmhouse is occupied today by The Donut Shop at 5527 N. Keystone.


hiram bacon house


donut shop - bacon's farm


Around 1900, this area, now considered part of Broad Ripple, was called Malott Park.  Not to be confused with today’s Marott Park, Malott Park was a small railroad town later annexed by Indianapolis.  Barely a century ago, it was one of the last stops on a railroad line that connected northern Marion County with the Circle downtown.  Until World War II, Glendale was a far-flung place out in the country.

Walter C. Kiplinger, a chemistry teacher and tree doctor for Indianapolis public schools, wrote a fascinating article about the peat bog for the Indianapolis News in 1916.  The part of the bog he described was about a mile north of the State Fairgrounds, near 50th Street and Arsenal Park.  Now a major residential neighborhood, a hundred years ago it sounds like GPS coordinates were the only thing we’d recognize about the place:

You can reach it very easily if you have a machine [car] by taking the White River road to Malott Park, but when the spring rambling fever comes it is much more easy to go cross-country.  It is just a pleasant afternoon’s hike there and back. . . If common courtesy is observed in closing gates and keeping off fields where the crops might be injured, the owners of the farm lands usually do not enforce their trespass notices. . .

How much peat there is in Bacon’s slough or how thick the bed is, no one seems to know. . . Whatever the average depth, it is as truly a peat bog as any in Ireland.

Serious proposals to harvest peat in Indianapolis were mentioned in the press from 1905 until the 1920’s, when the idea was apparently dropped.  Other parts of Indiana, especially up north, also explored the possibility of using peat as a substitute for coal.  During World War I, the U.S. and Canada exported sphagnum moss from North American peat bogs to Europe, where a cotton shortage had led army doctors to experiment with peat bandages on the Western Front.  The moss served as a kind of natural antibiotic and was a success when used to dress wounds.  (The story made it into the South Bend News-Times in 1918.)


peat - south bend news times 1918


Use of peat has always been widespread in Europe.  Not a fossil fuel, it emits an odorless, smokeless heat and an “incredible ambiance.”  For millennia, it has served as a cheap heat source in rural Ireland and Britain (where it also gives the “smoky” flavor to Scotch whisky.)  The Indianapolis News ran an article about “inexhaustible” Irish peat in 1916, informing Hoosiers that “Mixed with crude molasses from sugar mills it is also used as a forage for cattle, while semi-successful efforts have been made to convert the vegetable fibers into a cheap grade of paper.”  In 1929, a massive 40% of the Soviet Union’s energy came from peat, but today, large-scale industrial harvesting is only common in Ireland and Finland.


Peat stacks and cutting Yorkshire 1905
Peat stacks and cutting, Yorkshire, England, 1905. Alexander Eric Hasse, photographer.

peat indianapolis 1905 2


As an alternative fuel source, peat nearly became a reality in central Indiana in the early 1900s.  E.H. Collins, a “scientific” farmer from Hamilton County, touted that the “earth that would burn” in the summer of 1905.

Collins owned a farm a mile north of the State Fairgrounds, in the vicinity of Bacon’s Swamp.  An article on August 19 in the Indianapolis News refers to the 30-acre peat bog he “discovered” as the “Collins Bog.”  The farmer estimated that it held about 400,000 tons of the fuzzy stuff.

The 1905 article is a strange flashback, envisioning a grand future that never really came about.

The announcement that a good fuel deposit has been found at the city limits and can be drawn on in case Indianapolis gets into a fuel pinch is of great importance to a city that, thus far, has been left out of practically every fuel belt in Indiana in recent years — in fact, since she was the very center of the stove wood belt.  Too far west to be in the gas belt, too far east to be in the coal fields and outside of the oil territory, Indianapolis, since the old cordwood days, has been a negative quantity in the state’s fuel supply. . .

The discovery of good peat deposits around Indianapolis calls attention to the fact that Indiana sooner or later is to come to the front as a peat-producing state.

Obviously, this never happened.  Peat was briefly harvested in Bacon’s Swamp in the mid-20th century, as it was in a few other spots throughout northern Indiana, but the resource was mostly used for gardening, not as a rival to coal.

As Indianapolis’ economic downturn and white flight led to the explosion of Broad Ripple as a suburb in the 1950s, the swamp was more and more threatened.  Conservationists were mostly ignored when they argued that the swamp protected creatures who keep insect populations in check and therefore help farmers and gardeners.  In February 1956, three children drowned trying to save a puppy who had fallen through the ice in one of the lakes here, prompting residents in the area to push for “condemning” and obliterating the “deadly swamp.”

While the squishy, “bottomless” ground was a constant problem for developers — devouring roads in 1914 and 1937 — gradually only a tiny remnant pond was left, just west of Keystone Ave and a block south of Bishop Chatard High School. Yet the tree doctor Walter Kiplinger did remember one man who kept himself warm with a satisfying peat fire in Indianapolis back in the day.

“There used to be one from the ‘ould sod’ [Ireland] who lived in a shack near the hog pens east of the slough,” Kiplinger remembered during World War I.

His name was Michael O’Something-or-other, I’m not certain what, but he was a gentleman in the highest sense of the word.  There was nothing hyphenated about his Americanism, but is a man any the worse American for having a bit of sentimental feeling for the old country in his makeup?  Surely when one has a bit of Ireland’s own bog land in his own back yard, you might say, he has a perfect right to dig and use the peat for fuel. . .

Bacon’s Slough will probably go the way of similar places;  but one should not be too pessimistic.  The Irish may mobilize some St. Patrick’s Day, and go out and save it just for the sake of that peat bog.  You can never tell.


peat scotland


Contact:  staylor336 [at] gmail.com

Digitized Newspapers and the Origins of Hoosier Hysteria

With Indianapolis hosting the Final Four next weekend, I thought I’d share this.  I have another blog where I recently posted about how digitized newspapers have uncovered new sources about how basketball arrived in Indiana.  These new sources have also dispelled the standard narrative of Indiana basketball starting in Crawfordsville.  If you want to read the full post, follow this link to my “Center of the Sport: Origins of Hoosier Hysteria” blog at Digitized Newspapers Prompt Re-Examination of Basketball’s Origins in Indiana.

Bringt die Babies! “Denglish” in Indianapolis’ German Newspapers

Indiana tribune January 1 1893 (1)

In a previous post, I featured an example of “text speak” published in the Vincennes Western Sun way back in 1849.  Here’s a few more linguistic oddities from early Hoosier newspapers.

If you drink German beer from a bottle, you might have seen a label on the side saying something like “Brewed according to the German purity law of 1516,” a reference to the famous “Reinheitsgebot” that regulated the brewing of beer (i.e., only water, barley and hops could go into it.)  But since 2016 marks the 500th anniversary of the German beer law, in the meantime let’s talk about a different kind of “purity.”

Denglish is a term used today in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria to refer to the mixing of “Deutsch” with “English.”  Globalization has made English the dominant language on earth, and it’s not at all uncommon in Germany to hear things like ich habe den File downgeloadet (I downloaded the file) or catch someone ordering ein Double Whopper mit Bacon und Cheddar Cheese.  Why?  German certainly has perfectly good words for bacon and cheese.  Maybe since McDonald’s isn’t German and is even an exotic novelty for some Europeans, asking for ein Doppelwhopper mit Speck und Cheddar-Käse just sounds too traditional or even too strange.  Better to just leave it in English.  (And, by the way, we don’t always translate, either:  look at sauerkraut, apple strudel, bratwurst. . .)

Though English and German are related, outside the realm of food, not many words have ever come from modern German into modern English.  Linguistic purists in Europe, on the other hand, go through “periodic bouts of angst (a German word!) about the influx coming from the other direction.  (I wonder if this kind of angst exists in Sweden, where Paul Dresser’s On the Banks of the Wabash Far Away became a very popular song when it was translated into Swedish as early as 1919. You can listen to Barndomshemmet — a.k.a., “Childhood Home” — over on YouTube.)

The influx is nothing new.  In Indianapolis, Indiana, just after the Civil War, the town had a large German population and several important German-language newspapers — the Täglicher Telegraph (the weekly edition was called the Indiana Volksblatt und wöchentlicher Telegraph) and the Indiana Tribüne.

The Tribüne survived until World War I, when anti-German feeling helped silence it in June 1918.  An advertisement in the Indianapolis Star on May 31, 1918, called on American boys to ““Kill Germans – kill them early, late and all the time but kill them sure.”  Even Hoosiers with German names joined in the irrational hatred of everything German, like William Leib of Elkhart.  Others supported the war against the Kaiser, like Richard Lieber — an immigrant from Düsseldorf, the founder of Indiana’s state park system, and a reporter for the Tribüne.

At one time, the Hoosier State also had a small number of other newspapers published in languages besides English.  (The Macedonian Tribune began in Indianapolis in 1927 and is still published today in Fort Wayne.  South Bend once had papers in Hungarian and Polish.)  Today, La Voz de Indiana, a Spanish-language paper, is printed in the capitol city.

While I haven’t run across any examples of Indiana writers mixing English and German grammar, here are some great examples of Denglish from the early Hoosier newspapers.  I culled these from random issues of the Indiana Tribüne and the Täglicher Telegraph between the years 1866 and 1910.  Any issue from those days will turn up plenty of Denglish.

The old German Fraktur script can be a challenge to read if you’re not familiar with it, but if you can read any German at all, see if you can figure these out!

Meanwhile, enjoy this little bit of  “Deutsches Theater in English’s Opernhaus.”

Indiana tribune November 3 1893 (1)


If you had Durst in Terre Haute in 1866, you might go to ein Saloon.

Taglicher Telegraph January 1 1867 (3)

Habst du Hunger?  (Und by the way, was sind Wahoo Bitters?)

Taglicher Telegraph May 11 1866 (1)

This ad has more English than German in it.  Buy ’em by the bushel crate:

Taglicher Telegraph March 5 1892 (2)

While on Georgia St., you might be interested in grabbing some

Taglicher Telegraph March 5 1892 (3)

Like seafood?  Your slimy lunch was just delivered fresh all the way from Baltimore, even in the 1860s:

Taglicher Telegraph January 1 1867 (1)

For dessert, treat yourself to something sweet.  “All kinds” of this treat are available:

Indiana tribune May 26 1895 (1)

Rauchst du?  It’s a bad habit, but if you’ve got to do it, make it a Hoosier Poet, and make sure it’s a real Havana:

Indiana tribune December 31 1899

Hausjacken on sale right now, $4.75:

Indiana tribune December 23 1893 (1)

Do you give your kids any of these before bed?  Probably shouldn’t.

Taglicher Telegraph January 3 1905 (4)

Und was trinken Sie?  Before Prohibition, hundreds of breweries, many run by Germans and Czechs, dotted the American landscape.  (A lot of these were rural areas, but city folk, of course, drank beer, too.  The 1855 Lager Beer Riots in Chicago erupted partly because Mayor Levi Boone, descendant of Daniel Boone, didn’t like Germans boozing on Sundays.  But he also he hated their radical politics and wanted to keep them from getting together at their watering-holes, where they talked about socialism and Chicago politics.)

At one time, the Terre Haute Brewing Company, founded in 1837 by German immigrant Matthias Mogger, was one of the largest beer-producers in the United States.  The company’s nationally-famous beer “Champagne Velvet,” begun by Bavarian immigrant Anton Meyer, was recently resurrected by Upland Brewing in Bloomington.  Germans enjoyed this and many other local beers on tap over a century ago in the Hoosier State:

Indiana tribune December 21 1900

Indiana tribune November 5 1893 (3)

Taglicher Telegraph January 1 1877 (1)

Wait, too much drinking for you.  Better make a special trip upstairs to see this technological wonder of the nineteenth century:

Indiana tribune November 23 1893 (4)

If you’re ready for another binge, hey, be family-friendly now and take them out on one of these:

Indiana tribune June 10 1894

Yes.  That says “Big Picnic of the German Military Union.”  Sound scary?  Many German immigrants fought in the Civil War while serving in Hoosier regiments.  This 1903 ad announces low rates for a train trip down South to erect the Indiana Monument at the Shiloh Schlachtfeld:

Indiana tribune march 20 1903 (3)

On your stopover in Paducah, grab a bottle of the finest Kentucky whiskey.

Taglicher Telegraph January 25 1907 (1)

Plan on having the family portrait taken?  Take the kids to Cadwallader and Fearnaught, Meisterphotographen, at their studio on Ost Washington Strasse in downtown Indy.  And “bring the babies”:

Indiana tribune July 31 1886

Maybe you need a job.  If you get an office job, you’ll also need some stationery.

Indiana tribune December 21 1900 (2)

Taglicher Telegraph October 25 1866 (1)

(Office tape!  In 1866!)

If you bite down too hard on one of those Star Pencils, or if ein Paper Clip gets stuck in your teeth, here’s a German-speaking Zahnärzte at your service:

Indiana tribune December 21 1900 (3)

There was even a female dentist in Indianapolis back in those days, Mary Lloyd, across from Fletcher’s Bank and the New York Store:

Indiana tribune November 23 1893 (6)

Dentists also dealt with problems caused by this stuff:

Taglicher Telegraph January 1 1867 (4)

Got oil in your headlights?  This brand is geruchlos (odorless):

Taglicher Telegraph March 5 1892 (5)

ACHTUNG!!  Watch out for das Manhole!

Taglicher Telegraph May 28 1872 (3)

Keep your precious treasures safe.  Bank with Mr. Fletcher:

Indiana tribune December 21 1900 (4)

Or keep your fortune safe at home with this hefty beast:

Taglicher Telegraph January 5 1866 (1)

You can also protect your money by doing some bargain-shopping.  Germans are famous for thrift, aren’t they?

Indiana tribune November 5 1893 (2)

Or skip shopping altogether and just take your kids to see Santa Klaus and let him provide the gift.  Hier ist dein Ticket:

Indiana tribune December 23 1893 (2)

If Santa is in the neighborhood, that means it’s getting cold outside.  Get a “honey comb quilt” or some serious old-school heating:

Taglicher Telegraph May 28 1872 (2)

Indiana tribune march 20 1903 (2)

Taglicher Telegraph August 21 1865 (4)

If you do get sick this winter, try one of these handy home remedies:

Indiana tribune November 23 1893 (5)

Taglicher Telegraph January 3 1905 (1)

OK, that’s enough Denglish for me.  I’m off on the Eisenbahn.  And I’ll be traveling in style.

Taglicher Telegraph August 21 1865 (3)

Taglicher Telegraph May 11 1866 (3)


Run across any other great examples of Denglish?  Have any personal stories to share?  Bitte schicken Sie mir eine E-mail:  Stephen Taylor at staylor336 [at] gmail.com

The Terre Haute Madstone

madstone2

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.


terre haute madstone


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.


Try_a_Mad_Stone
Farmer’s Almanac.

woodcut-of-a-rabid-dog-middle-temple-library
On the mad dog. From a Renaissance-era French medical book about poisons.

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.


gravois madstone
“Ernest Gravois, left, owner of the famous ‘madstone’ of Vacherie, [Louisiana], reminisces with his nephew, S. F. Gravois, over some of the miraculous cures credited to the stone which is reported to have saved 2000 persons from death by poison.”

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.”


jincy mccoy

john mccoy


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 [1844].  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.


mccoy madstone


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.


Robert-Todd-Lincoln
Robert Todd Lincoln may have come to Terre Haute for a rabies “cure” in the 1850s.

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.”

A dog bit two children in Sugar Creek Township in 1892.  The child brought to see Mrs. Taylor survived.  As for the other, “death relieved her sufferings.”

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 Journal ran 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.


Middle_Ages_rabid_dog


madstone clip 2


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.


Contact:  staylor336 [at] gmail.com

March Mayhem Closed Out 1895 State House Session

An incident which occurred 120 years ago this month made headlines across the state of Indiana and gained national attention. An obscure reference to the time in 1895 when “Democrats and Republicans fought like beasts of the forest” was included in the chapter on Governor Claude Matthews in the book, The Governors of Indiana, Gugin, 2006, [call number Ind. 923 G721]. A bit more research led to the re-discovery of an epic veto battle between Indiana Governor Claude Matthews and the Speaker of the Indiana House, with the Governor’s private secretary Myron King caught in the middle.

Jasper Weekly Courier

The editorial column on page four of the March 15, 1895 Jasper Weekly Courier informed readers of the assault and battery committed upon Myron King earlier in the week as he tried to deliver a veto of a controversial bill to the Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives by the midnight deadline. The Jasper Weekly Courier, a Democratic leaning newspaper, set the tone with the alliterative editorial section headline, “Rowdy Republican Racket by Loud Legislative Looters,” recounting a laundry list of alleged offenses committed during the previous weeks and in the final minutes leading to the adjournment of the 59th session of General Assembly on March 11, 1895.

Even the Indianapolis German newspaper, Indiana Tribune, covered the events throughout the week of March 11th by including an update on Myron King’s condition on page one: March 16, 1895 Indiana Tribune.

HSC - Indiana Tribune

The translation: “Myron King, the Governor’s private secretary, is still confined to bed. To his friends’ worst fears, his condition deteriorated yesterday morning, but last night Dr. Cary said that he was much better. The battle in the state house will remain faithful to him in memory.”

Research Tip: When using the Hoosier State Chronicles with the Google Chrome browser, it can translate the OCR text automatically. As with most automatic translation software, there will be grammatical glitches due to OCR imperfections and language nuances.

Another source to access digitized newspapers is the NewspaperArchive database. This subscription database is available for on-site visitors to use at the Indiana State Library. A search found the April 6, 1909 issue of The Indianapolis Sun which recounted the 1895 incident.

Indy Sun

George W. Stout’s editorial column 14 years after the incident noted that “Democrats were turning back the clock while the Republicans were giving Myron King a free ride on the elevator, much against his will.” While Myron King was carrying the Fee and Salary Law signed by Governor Matthews, he also had in his possession the veto of the bill to take away the governor’s authority to appoint the Custodian of the State House. The bill would create a Board of Public Buildings and Property to appoint a Superintendent of the State House. It would automatically become a law unless the Governor’s veto made it back to the Speaker before the end of the session. House Democrats wanted to give King more time to deliver the veto before the deadline; House Republicans wanted to prevent him from getting into the House chambers.

FW sentinelThe Fort Wayne Sentinel called the previous day’s events a “Disgraceful Scene” in their March 12, 1895 issue. While the Tuesday morning page one headline of the daily Fort Wayne Gazette called the scene a “Mad Riot” and reported that men “fought like tigers.” Click here to view the PDF of page one: The_Fort_Wayne_Journal_Gazette_Tue__Mar_12__1895_.

Research Tip: As previously announced on this blog, Indiana residents can search and view the Fort Wayne papers and other select Indiana papers for free through a partnership between the Indiana State Library and Newspapers.com. via the INSPIRE portal. You will need to register for a free account before clipping, commenting, or saving.

The Fort Wayne Weekly Gazette had a different take on Myron King’s role in the battle as reported and editorialized in their March 21, 1895 issue.

FW Wkly Gazette p2 p4

Newspapers around the country covered the story, most certainly due to the sensational accounts of events that night. In fact, page one of the Tuesday, March 12, 1895 edition of the New York Times carried word of the Monday evening tumult in Indianapolis, with the headline, “King May Die of His Injuries.” While the headline conveyed sympathy for Myron King’s condition, it was also a prime example of the saying, “if it bleeds, it leads.” The local and national media could not resist covering this event, given the public’s appetite for the most fascinating and bizarre stories. These sort of stories sold papers. Telegraph wire services delivered news readily across the nation, but not necessarily accurately or in an unbiased fashion.

IMG_4795

Research Tip: Even without a paid subscription to the historical database, the New York Times archive’s index is a handy and free online tool. After finding an article citation, use the Indiana State Library’s out-of-state newspaper collection which includes the New York Times from May 1852 through December 2007 and the microfilm machines to view the microfilm reels.

NYT page 1

(The scan of the New York Times article shown above was made with one of the six new ViewScan digital microfilm scanners available to use on the second floor of the Indiana State Library.)

The Indiana legislature “Closed with Riots” according to page 3 of the March 12, 1895 San Francisco Call newspaper. The additional information about revolvers being drawn appears in some accounts, but not all reports in the Indiana newspapers.

SF call

Research Tip: The Chronicling America website is a comprehensive resource for discovering pre-1923 news stories in digitized newspapers from around the United States. The Indiana State Library participates in this project and receives grant funding to digitize the Indiana newspapers included.

What became of Myron King and did he recover after the events of March 1895? A jury was called to hear testimony about the fighting, but no charges were pursued against persons involved, according to page two of the Connersville Daily News, May 9, 1895. (Accessed via the library’s subscription to the NewspaperArchive database.)

Connersville

Revisiting post-1895 digital newspapers included in the Hoosier State Chronicles, an editorial column asking “Who broke Myron King’s ribs?” appeared in the September 29, 1914 South Bend News-Times. No one was ever charged with battery in the melee.

South Bend

Research Tip: A great resource for historical biographical information is the Indiana State Library’s Indiana Biography (card) Index. Also available as a free online database, the Indiana Biography Index Published Before 1990 contains images of the original index cards including one for Myron King. Visit the Great Hall of the Indiana State Library to view the card drawers in person!

Bio card index

While the index card above only cited two printed volumes, both are in the Indiana Collection and are also freely available in digital format on Internet Archive. Verifying the complete list of sources cited in the Indiana Biography Index helped to determine that “Memoirs of Indpls.” was the abbreviated title for the book, Pictorial and Biographical Memoirs of Indianapolis and Marion County, 1893, [call number Ind. 977.201 M341].

Memoirs

Since this book was published in 1893, prior to the 1895 incident, the information states that King was then serving as the private secretary to the governor. The sketch wraps up with a prediction that “his career is but fairly begun and his future promises to advance him far up the height of preferment, his talents and great personal popularity giving every assurance of a life in a wider and broader sphere of prominence and distinction.”

Men of Prog

Myron King’s biographical sketch and portrait appeared on pages 320-321 in the book Men of Progress, Indiana, by William Cumback, 1899, [call number Ind. 920 C969]. As was the style of biographical publications from the time period, the entry was most flattering to the subject. While no mention was made of the 1895 incident in the State House, it states that “Mr. King has always been faithful and untiring in the discharge of his duties as an officer, and especially was he attentive and earnest in the performance of his duties as the governor’s secretary.” As far as this limited research has shown, Myron King recovered enough from his injuries to continue serving as Governor Matthews’ private secretary.

Research Tip: A quick check of one of the Indiana Division’s favorite resources, the Indianapolis Newspaper Index, revealed a lone citation. The bulk of the years covered by the index, 1899-1978, are only available by checking the card drawers. Another great reason to visit the Indiana Division at the Indiana State Library for research!

IMG_4792

According to the index card, Myron King died March 21, 1940 having lived to the age of 88, and he also served as secretary to Indianapolis Mayor Thomas Taggart. Further examination of the microfilm holdings of the Indiana Newspaper Collection was the next step. Again, the image below was made from microfilm by using the new ViewScan digital scanners.

indystar1940

King’s obituary from the Indianapolis Star reveals more of his life and career path. However, no mention was made of the State House incident 45 years prior. While King’s obituary stated he died at City Hospital [later known as Wishard, recently renamed Eskenazi Health], his cause of death from arteriosclerosis was reported in the March 25 vital statistics column of the Indianapolis Commercial newspaper.

Indpls Commercial screen shot
Research Tip: The Indianapolis Commercial Newspaper Index is one of the Indiana State Library’s popular and free online resources, but it is not an obituary index, merely a vital statistics listing. This index can help to provide an approximate time in which to search for obituaries in other Indianapolis newspapers such as the Star, News, or Times. If a person died in Marion County and a listing is included in the Commercial, a good rule-of-thumb is to search the regular newspapers in the week before the statistical death entry appeared.

The 1895 Journal of the Indiana House of Representatives recorded nothing of the down-to-the-wire showdown; page 1624 notes that 12 midnight marked the termination of the session.

page 1624 House Journal 1895

Call it a wild brawl or call it politics as usual, the 1895 session ended with a bit of March mayhem. While the tale of Myron King and the veto battle was largely relegated to the cobwebs of history, with digitized newspapers the sensational details of the event can be rediscovered.

This blog post was written by Andrea Glenn, Librarian and State Documents Coordinator, in the Indiana Division of the Indiana State Library. For more information, contact the Indiana Collection Division at (317) 232-3670 or “Ask-A-Librarian” at http://www.in.gov/library/ask.htm.

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