Abe Lincoln, Presidents

Robert Todd Lincoln checks in.

Robert Todd Lincoln ‎February ‎25, ‎2011 photo

Original publish date:  February 25, 2011  /  Reissue date June 13, 2019

Anyone who reads my column regularly knows that I have a love of odd, unusual history relics, ghost stories and collectibles. I spend a lot of time at antique shows, flea markets, libraries and historic buildings and about once a year, I stumble across something that speaks to me and ultimately reveals a deeper story than I ever imagined. I recently acquired an item, and a story, that I’d like to share with you. It is a personal check dated December 17, 1920 from the New York City bank account of Robert Todd Lincoln, the only surviving child of our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln.
Finding a cancelled check from a long forgotten bank account of a dead celebrity is not as rare as it sounds. There exists a thriving underground market of dealers in checks and official documents from famous, or infamous, personalities from every field you can imagine. Think of it, most people save their old checks and if you’re a collector, what better way to authenticate a signature than on a check?
As with most Hoosiers, I share a certain fascination with Abraham Lincoln and the many sites, stories and memorabilia associated with him. I have long tried to decipher the complicated relationship between Robert Todd Lincoln and his parents. Aside from being Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln’s oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln (August 1, 1843 – July 26, 1926) was an accomplished lawyer, US Ambassador and Secretary of War for Presidents Garfield and Arthur. In fact, most historians consider Lincoln to be our country’s second most effective Secretary of War behind only Jefferson Davis. Yes the same Jefferson Davis who opposed his father during the American Civil War as President of the Confederacy.
Robert Lincoln studied at Harvard University from 1861 to 1864 and much to the embarrassment of his father, Mary Lincoln prevented her son from joining the Union Army until shortly before the war’s conclusion in 1865. He briefly held the rank of captain, serving in the last weeks as part of General Ulysses S. Grant’s immediate staff and never saw actual combat. He was in the room at Appomattox when Lee surrendered.
Lincoln’s distant relationship with his father was due in part to the fact that Abraham Lincoln spent months on the judicial circuit during Robert’s formative years growing up in Springfield and later Robert was away at college when his father attained the White House. Although Abe was proud of Robert and thought him bright, the two lacked the same strong bond Father Abraham had with Bob’s younger brothers, Willie and Tad. There can be no doubt that Robert deeply admired his father and he wept openly at his deathbed.

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Mary, Robert, Abraham and Tad Lincoln.

Following his father’s assassination, in April 1865, Robert moved with his mother and brother Tad to Chicago, where Robert completed his law studies at the University of Chicago. Robert was admitted to the bar on February 25, 1867. In 1868, Robert Lincoln married Mary Eunice Harlan, the daughter of Iowa Senator James Harlan, a close friend of Abraham Lincoln. Senator Harlan is perhaps remembered for an 1865 incident as Secretary of the Interior under President Andrew Johnson, when he found a copy of Leaves of Grass on Clerk Walt Whitman’s desk (left there as the poet was making revisions) and found it to be morally offensive. “I will not have the author of that book in this Department”, he said. “If the President of the United States should order his reinstatement, I would resign sooner than I would put him back.” Robert and Mary had two daughters and one son: Mary “Mamie” Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln II (nicknamed “Jack”) and Jessie Harlan Lincoln.
After his father’s assassination, Robert’s life continued to be connected to sadness and tragedy. After all, Robert was invited to accompany his parents to the Ford’s Theatre but declined (citing what we would today call “Jet Lag” from his trip home from the war front) and instead he went to bed early at the White House. He was informed of the shooting just before midnight and was at his father’s bedside when he died. No doubt, the decision not to accompany his parents haunted him for the rest of his life. Not only for the supposed inability to protect his father, but also for the prospect that he too might have died in the attack.

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Mary, Willie, Robert, Tad and Abraham Lincoln.

In 1875, perhaps rashly and ill-advised, Robert had his mother Mary committed to a psychiatric hospital in Batavia, Illinois. Mary’s eccentric behavior has been well documented. Nevertheless, Robert tasted the sting of public criticism and rebuke for the first time in his young life. The incident led to a profound estrangement between Bob and his mother and the two never fully reconciled.
Coincidentally Robert was was just a few feet away when President James Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau at the Sixth Street Train Station in Washington, D.C. on July 2, 1881. Lincoln was serving as Garfield’s Secretary of War at the time and cradled the President’s body on the railroad platform as medical personnel arrived on scene. Later, on September 6, 1901, at President William McKinley’s invitation, Lincoln was at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, where the President was shot by Leon Czolgosz. From then on, Lincoln would politely refuse all Presidential invitations with the comment “No, I’m not going, and they’d better not ask me, because there is a certain fatality about presidential functions when I am present.” However, he did attend the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922 in the presence of President Warren G. Harding. Harding was dead within a year.
Lincoln’s son Abraham Lincoln II , aka “Jack”, died in London at the age of 16 from blood poisoning after a freak infection set in following surgery to lance a boil under his arm. Jack was originally buried in the Lincoln Tomb in Springfield, Ill. but his mother (coincidentally named Mary) had Jack’s remains dug up and re-interred at Arlington National Cemetery after her husband Robert died in 1926. The cycle of sadness followed Robert after his death as Jack’s body was removed from the President’s tomb, where it had rested near his illustrious grandfather for 40 years, and removed to Arlington. Robert himself had expressed his intentions to be buried next to his father and son in Springfield, but for unknown reasons, his wife changed the plans. The empty crypts of both men can be found in the President’s tomb in Springfield to this very day. As a final irony, Jack’s name was not added to his father’s Arlington memorial until 1976.

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Lincoln’s great-grandchildren Robert Todd Lincoln (Bud) Beckwith and Mary “Peggy Lincoln Beckwith.

Of Robert’s remaining children, Jessie Harlan Lincoln Beckwith (1875–1948) had two children, Mary (“Peggy”) Lincoln Beckwith [1898 – 1975] and Robert (“Bud”) Todd Lincoln Beckwith (1904–1985). Robert’s other daughter, Mary (“Mamie”)Todd Lincoln (1869–1938) had one son, Lincoln Isham (1892–1971). Isham married but never had children. Peggy, who was rumored to be a lesbian because she smoked cigars and wore men’s pants, also never married or had children. Her brother Bud married three times but had no heirs.
That is where my personal story begins. As it happens, the 1920 Robert Todd Lincoln check that I purchased was also signed by Bud. This intrigued me as I knew little or nothing of Bud Beckwith and wondered why the check would be signed by both men.
Bud was an attorney and self described “playboy” who often listed his profession as “gentleman farmer of independent means” rather than lawyer. He served in the Coast Guard during World War II, which resulted in a lasting hobby of boating and sailing. To say that “Bud” Beckwith was eccentric is like saying water is wet.
At some point, Bud Beckwith realized that he was the last heir to the Lincoln name, the last direct link to the martyred President. In this role, he realized he was now the repository of the everyday Lincoln papers and mundane family belongings perhaps unworthy of museum stewardship but valuable just the same. Among those were the cancelled checks of his grandfather. Bud decided to forever link his name with that of his illustrious namesake by counter signing some of the checks that were left to him with his full name, “Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith” beside the fountain pen signature of “Robert Todd Lincoln”. He would sometimes send these checks out to autograph collectors who wrote asking for signed mementos from Bud or his family.

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Brentano’s Bookstore as Robert Todd Lincoln would have known it.

My check was written by the son of President Abraham Lincoln on December 17, 1920. It was made out to “Brentano’s” bookstore in New York City for nine dollars and seventy cents. It is easy to imagine Secretary Lincoln walking into Brentano’s on that Friday evening one week before Christmas before heading back to his estate, “Hildene”, in Manchester Center, Vermont. Was he buying books to give away as Christmas presents or to read on the 4 hour train ride home to Hildene? Perhaps he was buying books about his father?

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Brentano’s Bookstore Scene from Seinfeld

And Brentano’s? Well, if you are a fan of the “Seinfeld” TV show, you know Brentano’s. It was the setting for the 1998 episode titled, “The Bookstore” in which George is accused of taking an expensive art book into the bathroom causing the book to become forever “flagged” as unreturnable. Jerry also catches his Uncle Leo shoplifting in the store. As you can imagine, pop culture fanatic that I am, I was thrilled to establish my own personal link between Abe Lincoln and the iconic computer age television sitcom.

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Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower and Robert Todd Lincoln “Bud” Beckwith.

The last living person with a direct link to President Abraham Lincoln, Robert’s namesake grandson Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, aka “Bud”, died alone in a nursing home in Saluda, Virginia (about 45 miles from the Confederate Capitol of Richmond) at the age of 81 on December 24, 1985 at around 6:05 pm. Nearly 65 years to the day after my check was signed. History lives my friends. You can touch it, dream about it and in many cases buy it and make it your own. My suggestion? Go and visit your local antique store, there are many fine shops and malls around Irvington, the Indianapolis eastside and all the way out to Greenfield and beyond on the Historic National Road. You just never know what you might find. History awaits you.

Creepy history, Criminals

The life (and death) of John Dillinger’s Red Hamilton. Part II

Red Hamilton 2
John “Red” Hamilton

Original publish date:  May 23, 2019

The Dillinger gang was speeding towards Chicago underworld “fixer”, Dr. Joseph Moran. During World War I, Moran served honorably as a pilot in the Army Signal Corps raising to the rank of lieutenant. His addiction to alcohol eventually gained him an unscrupulous reputation as the windy city’s best “pin artist” (someone who performed illegal abortions). In 1928 he was sentenced to 10 years in prison after one of his patients died. He lost his medical license and was released after serving only two years. He became well known for his plastic surgery skills, particularly for his ability to obliterate fingerprints, and was most often associated with the Ma Barker and Dillinger gangs. It was Moran who removed five bullets and stitched up Red Hamilton after a previous shootout, hitting Dillinger up for a cool $ 5,000 for his handiwork.
But now, the silver dollar sized wound in Red’s back was festering and oozing. The bullet had lodged in Red’s lung and was already stinking of gangrene. The shady Moran refused to treat Hamilton at any price, likely because he knew that Hamilton’s wound was mortal. Moran directed the gang to take their dying compadre to Elmer’s Tavern in Bensenville and let him die there. Before the year is out Doc Moran will mysteriously vanish from the face of the earth.

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Hamilton spent a few days at Elmer’s, every hour in excruciating pain, but he simply refused to die. Finally, Dillinger took him to a Barker-Karpis gang safe house in Aurora that was being rented by Dillinger / Barker gang associate Volney Davis and his girlfriend, Edna “Rabbits” Murray. For the next three days, Dillinger, Van Meter, Davis, and Doc Barker stood watch as Hamilton slowly died. Edna took care of Red as best she could, but, ravaged with gangrene, Hamilton finally died on Thursday, April 26. On Friday night, the men took the body to a gravel pit in Oswego, Illinois, for disposal. Laid in a shallow grave, to hinder identification by the authorities, Hamilton’s right hand is cut off (presumably discarded elsewhere) and ten cans of lye are poured over his face and body by Dillinger who reportedly said, “Red, old pal, I hate to do this, but I know you’d do the same for me” as he emptied each can of it’s contents. After the grave was filled in, a roll of rusted barb wire was placed over it as a makeshift marker. Red Hamilton was left there to rest in peace – but not for long.
On May 19th authorities, unaware that Hamilton had died almost three weeks prior, indicted him on charges of harboring fugitives. Hamilton’s sister was convicted of the same charge, and served a short prison stint. Since Hamilton had been reported killed on other occasions, the FBI continued searching, refusing to believe reports of Red’s demise until the body was found. When Red’s grave was discovered on August 28, 1935, there wasn’t much left of him. The corpse was missing a hand and was so damaged by the lye that it could only be identified by some strands of hair and a belt size. Ultimately, only Hamilton’s dental records from the Indiana state penitentiary confirmed the identity. The FBI claimed that a couple of molars with distinct fillings matched Red’s prison x-rays.

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Volney Davis

It was not until Volney Davis was arrested, escaped, and rearrested that FBI agents learned the fate of Red Hamilton. At least, Red’s demise from the outlaw perspective. However, legend tells many different tales about the fate of Red Hamilton. What was left of the body that was removed from the gravel pit and reburied in the Oswego cemetery. The funeral service was paid for by Hamilton’s sister from Michigan. Like many fellow outlaws (John Dillinger, Billy the Kid, John Wilkes Booth, Butch and Sundance) most of the rumors claimed that Red was not dead, while other rumors never questioned Red’s fate, but rather the disposition of his mortal remains. One rumor claimed that he had been buried in the sand of the Indiana dunes. Another that he had been dropped into an abandoned mine shaft in Wisconsin.
Red’s fate remained in question long after Dillinger’s death in an alley outside the Biograph theatre in Chicago on July 22. Even before the body was found, the FBI had been receiving reports from police and public claiming that Hamilton was still alive and hiding out in northern Indiana. When interrogated by the FBI, Dillinger’s girlfriend Polly Hamilton (no relation to Red) claimed that Anna Sage told her that Red was alive and being treated for a “badly infected wound” by Dr. Harold Cassidy.
Dr. Harold Bernard Cassidy was the plastic surgeon who had famously performed surgery on John Dillinger’s face. It was Cassidy who injected the overdose of anesthetic which nearly killed Dillinger, who swallowed his tongue. However, the surgery was a success and Dillinger gave him $500 for his troubles. In 1933 Cassidy was arrested and charged with harboring a fugitive. He was given a suspended sentence in exchange for testimony against Dillinger. He served as a physician on Indian reservations and during World War II rose to the rank of Major in the Pacific. After the war he came back to Chicago, suffered a nervous breakdown, and shot himself in the head in front of his sister and mother on July 30, 1946.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES, August 29, 1935

Over the years, the FBI received numerous tips from people claiming to have seen or heard from Hamilton. Red’s nephew Bruce swore that he had visited his uncle in Ontario, Canada (Red’s birthplace) long after Red’s reported death. Nevertheless, no hard evidence for Hamilton’s survival has ever been discovered. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover officially marked Red’s fate as “case closed” in 1935. In typical Hoover style, the Director trumpeted the belated discovery of the last member of the Dillinger gang to every newspaper in the country. However, underworld rumors persisted that Red had recovered from his wound and was alive and well and living north of border after retiring from a life of crime. Supposedly, Red outlived John Dillinger, Homer Van Meter, and Baby Face Nelson (all killed in violent shootouts) and lived out his life working as an electrician and handy man.

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 John “Red” Hamilton and his girlfriend Patricia Cherrington

Reports claiming that Hamilton was still alive continued flowing in to the FBI on the regular, but, by Hoover’s directive, they were disregarded. Most were written off as mistaken identity. However, one survives that sounds particularly convincing. The letter, found in the files of the FBI, is dated August 24, 1936, a year after Red’s body was found. It was sent by a former inmate known as “Happy” who knew some of the gang members, as well as Dillinger’s attorney, Louis Piquett. It is believed that “Happy” may have been an associate of Dillinger named Fred Meyers, from Chicago.
The letter read: “Dear Sir: Will you kindly advise how much you will guarantee in cash for secret and confidential information about the movements of John Hamilton? There are three people who know that he is still living and happen to know the details concerning him. If interested please make offer through personal column of Chicago Tribune as follows, HAP * Will buy ,000 bushels, meaning of course that many thousand dollars for this information and place ED after the word bushels. If this offer is OK you will be supplied with an amazing detail report on his present physical condition and movements. Money must be on deposit at your Chicago Office but will not have to be paid until this man is captured or killed or both. This information must be kept strictly confidential between you and I and must be kept out of the newspapers except code transmissions between you and I. I am a hardworking electrician and took considerable time and money to get this data and do not want to risk my life for the deal. Everything will be handled by correspondence and code in the Chicago Tribune. If your offer is accepted, I will make you proposals which must be guaranteed by you as a strictly gentlemen’s agreement.”

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THE NEW YORK TIMES, August 29, 1935

There is no evidence that J. Edgar Hoover ever saw it or whether there was ever a follow-up. By then, the FBI claimed that Hamilton’s dead body had been found and identified and that Hoover had won the national “War on Crime”, thereby securing his position as Director for the next four decades. But could the letter have been true? Red’s nephew, Bruce Hamilton certainly believed it was. Years later, he described a family trip to Michigan to visit his “dead” uncle Red in 1945. The trip took the family to Sault Sainte Marie on the Canadian border to the home of John Hamilton’s sister, Anna. Wilton and his wife, Harriet, their older son Douglas, their daughter, Jane Margaret, and 15-year-old Bruce, all met the man known as John “Red” Hamilton. Wilton told his wife and children not to discuss the trip with anyone.
The trip to the Upper P resulted in the collection of a large amount of money that had been stashed away by the Dillinger gang. The loot’s whereabouts were known only by the gang’s last surviving member: Red Hamilton. As evidence, crime buffs and conspiracy theorists note that the impoverished Hamilton family suddenly came into thousands of dollars in cash years after Red’s “death”. After that 1945 trip, Bruce’s father Wilton paid off the mortgage on the family home in South Bend, bought a new house, and purchased the family’s first new car. Around this same time, Hamilton’s brother, Foye, recently released from prison, also came into a great deal of money. He used it to build a machine shop in Rockford, Illinois, and he also purchased Turtle Island in the Great Lakes area near Sault Sainte Marie, as well as boats and a seaplane to get to and from the island. Bruce suspected that a large cabin on the island provided a hiding place for his uncle John. The family claimed that the outlaw survived into the 1970s, vacationing numerous times with his family over the years.
According to a March, 2007 article in the South Bend Tribune, Bruce (then living in Shiprock,N.M.) believed “the wounded Hamilton, after stopping in Aurora and then Chicago (where the FBI originally believed he had died), was patched up by Dr. Cassidy and then went into hiding with his brother, Sylvester, in East Gary, Indiana. Dillinger then returned to Aurora, while Sylvester took Red to the home of William Hamilton, Bruce’s grandfather, in South Bend. William helped get him to a hideout previously used by the Dillinger gang, a nearby place called Rum Village Woods. Hamilton recuperated well enough to go to work as an electrician at a family-owned bowling alley in South Bend in 1936 and 1937.” Bruce also said that over the years, his great-uncle Red occasionally slipped over the border to rob a bank or two until he “got tired of being shot at.” According to Bruce’s elderly aunt, Red later moved to Canada and died in the 1970s.
But if Red Hamilton didn’t die in Aurora in 1934, then whose body was found in that barbed wire covered grave in 1935? Rumor says it was Dr. Joseph Moran, who disappeared shortly after refusing to treat Red’s wound in Chicago. Hoover directed his agents to continue searching for Moran for months after he vanished. Hoover eventually declared that Moran had been killed and dumped in Lake Michigan. Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, of the Ma Barker gang admitted that Moran had been murdered and his body buried, but he never said where.

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Author Stephen King.

In 2001, Jack “Red” Hamilton rocketed to pop culture immortality when he became the subject of a short story by horror author Stephen King. “The Death of Jack Hamilton” was originally published in the 2001 Christmas issue of The New Yorker magazine. In 2002, it was published in King’s collection Everything’s Eventual. The true crime story is based on the death of Red Hamilton and is written as a first-person narrative, told by Homer Van Meter, who relays the slow, painful death of his fellow gangmember. In King’s story, Van Meter spares no detail in relating how Red lapsed into dementia before his agonizing, but merciful death.
Yet another account can be found that ties the mysterious Red Hamilton to Irvington while at the same time claiming John Dillinger survived as well. The anonymous writer relates, “I knew the remaining members of the White Cap Gang in Indianapolis. In the late fifties I was told the same story you have from his nephew. He recuperated in South Bend and went to his sister in Sault Sainte Marie. Later Red moved to a new place on the Canadian side. The fellows I knew had regular communication with him. Dillinger was still sending him letters and current photos of himself. As far as I know these are the only two members of the gang to have survived. I did see such a letter and photo that Tubby Toms brought to the house for verification after Dillinger had sent it to the Indianapolis Star. They told Toms that they weren’t sure of the ID of the man in the picture but laughed like crazy when he left. They knew both Dillinger and Hamilton where alive at that time and their respective location. Toms showed me the rabbits foot Dillinger gave him. It was small. Every one was so crooked that none of the official stories was true.” In June of 1933, John Dillinger and the White Cap gang robbed the Haag’s drug store / soda fountain on the Northwest corner of Washington and Audubon in Irvington. You can’t make this stuff up folks.

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Dufours restaurant site of former Haag’s drug store / soda fountain.
Creepy history, Criminals

The life (and death) of John Dillinger’s Red Hamilton. Part I

Red Hamilton 1
John “Red” Hamilton

Original publish date:  May 16, 2019

The Dillinger Gang: Baby Face Nelson, Handsome Harry Pierpont, Red Hamilton and of course, public enemy number one, John Dillinger himself. All wickedly infamous names from the annals of crime. But, only one of them was memorialized by the master of American horror Stephen King. That distinction goes to John “Red” Hamilton, the gang member more remembered for the way he died than the way he lived. And of course, he has Indiana ties that stretch all the way to Irvington.

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From top left, are Harry Pierpont (11014), Charles Makley (12636), John Dillinger (13225), and Russell Clark (12261).

Like most gangsters, little is known about the early life of Red Hamilton. He was born on January 27, 1899 to an Irish-Canadian father from Ontario and a German-American mother from New York. He earned the nickname “Three-Finger Jack” after the loss of two fingers on his right hand in a sledding accident after the budding outlaw came too close to a passing train as a youngster. He really doesn’t appear on the radar screen until, at the age of 28, he lucked into meeting John Dillinger while serving time at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City. On March 16, 1927, he had been convicted of robbing a gas station in St. Joseph, Indiana, and sentenced to 25 years. While incarcerated, Hamilton became friends with a bevy of bank robbers, including John Dillinger, Russell Clark, Charles Makley, Harry Pierpont, and Homer Van Meter – the men who would go on to comprise the original Dillinger gang.

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Indiana State Prison in Michigan City.

Michigan City might as well have been called “Bank Robber’s University” as these young outlaws studied at the feet of fellow inmates like Herman “Baron” Lamm, the bank robber who came up with the idea of meticulously casing a bank before robbing it. a method that became known as the “Lamm Technique” and inspiration for the term “on the Lamm.” Dillinger was paroled in May 1933 and, using a list that had been compiled by Hamilton and Pierpont, he began robbing banks to finance the escape. In September of that same year, fulfilling a promise to his “cellies”, he managed to get a barrel filled with guns smuggled into the penitentiary and a total of 10 armed men, including z lammHamilton, escaped out the main gate of Indiana State Prison.
Soon afterwards, Dillinger was arrested for bank robbery and was being held at the Allen County jail in Lima, Ohio. Determined to free Dillinger, on October 3, 1933, the gang robbed the First National Bank of St. Mary’s, Ohio, escaping with $14,000 to fund the escape. Nine days later, Hamilton, Makley, Pierpont, Clark, and Ed Shouse walked into the Lima jail to “spring” their pal John Dillinger. Red Hamilton remained outside as lookout and did not enter the building and did not participate in Makley and Pierpont’s murder of Sheriff Jess Sarber.
z The Notorious John Dillinger (2)On December 13, 1933, the Dillinger gang robbed a Chicago bank, netting a reported $50,000. Afterwards, the gang went down to Daytona Beach, Florida for a time and then went west to Tucson. Hamilton, however, decided to go to Chicago instead, where, on December 13, 1933, he took part in the robbery of a local bank. The next day, Hamilton left his car at a Chicago garage for some body work, the garage’s mechanic called police reporting it as a “gangster car”. Hamilton returned to pick up the car and found police detective, William Shanley and two other officers waiting for him. He opened fire, killing Shanley, and escaped from the other two officers. Red’s incident led to the Chicago Police Department forming a special forty man “Dillinger Squad”. A month later, on January 15, 1934, Hamilton and Dillinger robbed the First National Bank in East Chicago, Indiana, for $20,376. During the heist, police officer William O’Malley was shot dead. Dillinger was officially charged with the murder, but several witnesses ID’d Hamilton as the shooter. By the end of the year, Hamilton found himself ranked third on Indiana’s list of “public enemies”, behind circle-city natives Dillinger and Pierpont.
john-hamilton-2During the robbery, Hamilton was shot twice and left in the care of his girlfriend Pat Cherrington and underworld physician Joseph Moran, while Dillinger and the others headed to Tucson where they were apprehended by the authorities. Afterwards, for a short time, the fugitive Hamilton shot to the top of the public enemies list. There he remained until Dillinger, using a wooden gun, escaped from the Crown Point jail. Afterwards, Dillinger formed a new gang consisting of Hamilton, Homer Van Meter, Tommy Carroll, Eddie Green, and Baby Face Nelson.
On March 6, three days after Dillinger’s Crown Point escape, the gang robbed the Security National Bank & Trust Company in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. In the chaotic robbery, motorcycle cop Hale Keith was severely wounded after Nelson maniacally shot him down through a plate glass window.
A week later, on March 13, 1934. the gang robbed the First National Bank in Mason City, Iowa, which allegedly had over $240,000 in its vault. During the robbery, Baby Face Nelson stayed with the getaway car while the rest of the gang ran into one problem after another inside the bank. When the bank president saw Van Meter walk in carrying a machine gun, he thought that a “crazy man was on the loose.” He ran into his office and bolted the door. Van Meter fired a number of shots through the door to no avail. He soon turned his attention to helping his cohorts clean out the teller drawers.

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First National Bank in Mason City, Iowa in 1934.

A guard in a special steel cage above the lobby fired a tear gas shell at the bandits which was answered by a machine gun blast of several bullets, a few of which clipped the retreating guard. Meantime, a female customer ran out of the bank and down the alley outside, where she ran directly into lookout Baby Face Nelson, who promptly sent her back into the bank. Red Hamilton was dealing with problems of his own. The bank’s cashier had locked himself in the vault. Hamilton ordered the cashier to start passing money through a slot in the door and the cashier began passing out stacks of one-dollar bills.
An elderly judge spotted the bandits on the street below from his third-floor office and took a shot at John Dillinger, winging him on the arm, Dillinger whirled around and fired a burst from his Tommy gun. The bullets bounced off the front of the building and the old judge ducked away unhurt. Dillinger decided it was time to skedaddle and he sent Van Meter inside to get the others. Hamilton was still dealing with the cashier. Red could see the stacks of larger bills on the shelves inside the vault but the cashier continued to load stacks of one-dollar bills into the bandit’s bag. When Van Meter told him to scram, the enraged Hamilton complained that the take was only about $20,000 and that there was over $200,000 still sitting on the shelves! Later, Hamilton said he should have shot the man just for spite.

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First National Bank in Mason City, Iowa

As Hamilton ran out of the bank, the officer in the gun cage started shooting again, wounding Hamilton in the shoulder. The gang forced 20 hostages to stand on the running boards, fenders and hood of the getaway car, serving as human shields and drove slowly away. The police were unable to shoot, so they followed at a distance. Once out of town, Baby Face Nelson jumped out of the car and fired his Tommy gun towards the cop car, finally forcing them to turn back. Eventually, Dillinger dropped off the hostages unharmed. What should have been a prosperous raid had netted the outlaws a disappointing $52,000.

 

After first stopping in St. Paul, Minnesota, the Dillinger gang fled to the Little Bohemia resort near Rhinelander, Wisconsin to nurse their wounds and lay low. It was a remote fishing camp that was not due to open until May and would make the perfect place to hide out for a time. On April 22, Melvin Purvis’ FBI, tipped off by a friend of Little Bohemia’s owner, raided the place. Purvis moved dozens of agents from Chicago and St. Paul to the forests of Wisconsin. Unfortunately, all did not go as planned: the agents mistakenly opened fire on a car containing three innocent CCC workers, thinking they were outlaws. The gang escaped by jumping from a second floor window in the back of the lodge onto a mound of frozen snow, before Dillinger, Hamilton and Van Meter eventually stole a car and drove away.

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Little Bohemia Lodge Manitowish Wisconsin.

Van Meter was driving, Dillinger in the center and Red Hamilton in the passenger seat. The rumble seat was empty and, using a crafty outlaw tactic, the gang left the seat back open to block the aim of any pursuing lawmen. The car raced down Wisconsin Route 46, across the Mississippi River, and into Minnesota back towards St. Paul. Minnesota law enforcement spotted their Wisconsin license plates on a bridge at Hastings, 15 miles out of St. Paul. One of the deputies leaned out the window with a .30-30 rifle and fired at one of the car’s rear tires. The slug tore through the rear seat, narrowly missed Dillinger, and plowed into Hamilton’s back. Red screamed in agony and slammed against the car’s dashboard.
z carDillinger smashed out the window and returned fire with his .45, shattering the windshield of the police car and nearly killing the pursuing officer. A running gun battle ensued as the two cars traded 40 or 50 rounds for the next 50 miles or so, before the outlaws finally losing the pursuing patrolmen. With Hamilton losing blood from the massive hole in his back, Dillinger told Van Meter to head to Chicago and find a doctor for his friend. But first, they needed a faster, less bullet-riddled car. Van Meter cut off a 1934 Ford V8 Deluxe containing power company manager Roy Francis, his wife, Sybil, and their 19-month-old son, Robert.
The family was ordered out of the car to watch as the bandits tossed their arsenal into the Francis family vehicle. While the bloodied Hamilton limped painfully inside, Dillinger ordered the Francis family to pile in as well. Sybil Francis recognized Public Enemy Number One right away, but Dillinger flashed that famous smile and said, “Don’t worry about the kid. We like kids.” The outlaws even treat the couple to a soda pop when a stop is made to fill up the Ford. The family was dropped off safely a few miles outside of Mendota, Minnesota with one whale of a story to tell. The outlaws continued on toward Chicago in search of a “friendly” doctor to fix Red Hamilton. And here is where the story gets interesting.

Criminals, Indianapolis, Irvington Ghost Tours

IRVINGTON’S LINK TO THE FORMATION OF THE F.B.I.

Holmes-Dillinger

Original publish date:  January 19, 2009

Reissue date: June 6, 2019

This article originally ran in the January 19, 2009 edition of the Eastside Voice. I spent this past weekend with the Great-great-grandson of H.H. Holmes, “Bloodstains” author Jeff Mudgett, and the film crew from Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures” series. We gathered to tape a show inside the home where Holmes committed one of his most heinous crimes: the murder of 10-year-old Howard Pitezel. For that reason, I thought this might be a perfect time to revisit one of the few positive aspects of that crime and highlight Irvington’s role in the saga of Federal law enforcement in this country. While the society has faded away, the meeting place has closed its doors and the article’s agent provocateur has become a fellow columnist, the subject matter retains its relevance a decade later.

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H.H. Holmes murdering 10-year-old Howard Pitezel in Irvington.

During the inaugural meeting of the “Ichabod Crane Society of things that go bump in the night” at Book Mamas in Irvington held Saturday January 17 2009, I learned something interesting I’d like to share with you. One of the guests, Irvingtonian Steve Nicewanger asked me if I was aware that Irvington had a connection to the formation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Steve informed me that the F.B.I. had been formed to track down one of Irvington’s most infamous figures, America’s first serial killer Dr. H.H. Holmes. Holmes was alleged to have killed over 200 people in Chicago in 1893. His story is well documented and his spirit is rumored to still haunt the Irvington bungalow where he murdered and desecrated the body of a 10 year old boy named Howard Pitezel. Holmes came through Irvington in the autumn of 1894 while being chased by a dogged Pinkerton Detective named Frank Geyer. I thought I had researched the Holmes saga pretty thoroughly, but I must admit that I had never heard of this possible connection. I was intrigued by the thought of it.
z john-dillinger-wanted-posteI have always attributed the genesis of the F.B.I. to another infamous Hoosier with Irvington ties, John Dillinger, who robbed an Irvington drug store and soda fountain in the summer of 1933. The building still stands and is home today to DuFours restaurant on the northwest corner of Washington and Audubon (now the Lincoln Square Pancake House). At the time, Dillinger allegedly lived on a property known as “Rickett’s Farm” near the Kile Oak in Irvington. I knew that J. Edgar Hoover, the man most people credit with forming the present day F.B.I., was a little known Washington D.C. bureaucrat until Dillinger came along. Hoover made his reputation by expanding the law enforcement powers of his obscure bureau to track down Dillinger. Dillinger became the bureau’s first “Public Enemy # 1” on June 22,1934, which ironically was John’s 31st birthday. Hoover’s G-men would kill Dillinger barely a month later outside of Chicago’s Biograph Theatre on July 23, 1934. Hoover would display Dillinger’s death mask on the wall outside of his office for the next 40 years.
Intrigued by Mr. Nicewanger’s statement, I immediately began research to see if indeed this connection could be made. Sure enough, it’s true…at least in theory. Quoting the Bureau’s official website; “The FBI originated from a force of Special Agents created in 1908 by Attorney General Charles Bonaparte during the Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. The two men first met when they both spoke at a meeting of the Baltimore Civil Service Reform Association. Roosevelt, then Civil Service Commissioner, boasted of his reforms in federal law enforcement. It was 1892, a time when law enforcement was often political rather than professional…Roosevelt and Bonaparte both were “Progressives.” They shared the conviction that efficiency and expertise, not political connections, should determine who could best serve in government.”

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Benjamin Harrison

A young Teddy Roosevelt campaigned in the Midwest for Benjamin Harrison in the 1888 presidential election, including many stump speeches here in the Hoosier state. As a reward, President Harrison appointed Roosevelt to the United States Civil Service Commission, where he served until 1895. It was during this time that H.H.Holmes was fast becoming America’s version of “Jack the Ripper”. As he fled Chicago in 1894, Holmes used the inability of local law enforcement agencies to communicate with each other to evade prosecution. During this period, the Bureau was a branch of the “Secret Service” staffed by former “Pinkertons” from the legendary detective agency founded by Allen Pinkerton. Upon Pinkerton’s death in 1884, the Pinkertons were mostly known as thugs whose job it was to break up early labor union rallies and for their role in the hounding of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch. Holmes would be captured and hung in Philadelphia on May 7, 1896. The ability of Holmes to evade capture while his heinous crimes were reported on the front pages of newspapers across America would lead to the conversation of a unified national law enforcement reporting and evidence gathering agency by Roosevelt and others.

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Benjamin Harrison

Harrison’s career ended with his defeat to Grover Cleveland in 1892. Ironically, one of the first things he did after leaving office was to visit the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in June 1893, an event closely associated with H.H. Holmes. As Harrison’s career waned, Roosevelt’s career was catching fire. From his post on the US Civil Service Commission, Teddy became President of the New York City Board of Police Commissioners, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York and Vice-President of the United States. Theodore Roosevelt became President of the United States in 1901, five years later, Teddy dedicated Fort Benjamin Harrison in the former president’s honor in 1906.
Shortly before Fort Ben’s dedication, Roosevelt appointed Bonaparte Attorney General.

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Teddy Roosevelt and Attorney General Charles Bonaparte

In 1908, Bonaparte applied their shared philosophy from 1892 to form the Department of Justice by creating a corps of Special Agents. It had neither a name nor an officially designated leader other than the Attorney General. Yet, these former detectives and Secret Service men were the forerunners of the FBI. In the forty years between Holmes in 1893 and Dillinger in 1933, the bureau would slowly expand it’s law enforcement responsibilities. If the 1893 Bureau had encountered the evil Dr. Holmes, the best they could do would have been to gather information to assist in his arrest. In 1933, the Bureau’s powers had been expanded to the point of using deadly force upon first contact with John Dillinger.

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J. Edgar Hoover

So an insightful comment by Irvingtonian Steve Nicewanger provoked research that would once again perfectly illustrate the uniqueness of the Eastside Indianapolis community known as Irvington. Reminding us that three separate personalities with fleeting ties to the Irvington community; a serial killer, a bank robber and a U.S. President would contribute to the founding of the most powerful law enforcement agency the world has ever known. Today’s F.B.I.

Civil War, Creepy history, Medicine

Coughing up Bullets-A Civil War Tale for the Ages.

Bullet in eye

Original publish date:  April 4, 2019

So you say you have a scratchy throat? Runny nose? Nagging cough? Blaming all those hugs, handshakes and office hours for catching a bug? Well here’s a reminder that it could be worse. This reminder reaches all the way back to the Civil War and comes with a twist that extends to the present day.
Private Willis V. Meadors (erroneously identified as W.V. Meadows for decades) was a Confederate Veteran who served alongside his brothers and cousins in Company G of the 37th Alabama Volunteer Infantry. The 37th was involved in nearly every campaign of the western theater of the war between the states. Meadors was a sharpshooter with the Rebel army commanded by Lt. General John C. Pemberton posted at Vicksburg, the last major Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River. General Ulysses S. Grant’s army had besieged the city since May 25.
Z MEADOWSIt was July 1st, 1863, the day before the pivitol battle of Gettysburg commenced. After holding out for more than forty days, with no reinforcements and supplies nearly gone, things were getting desperate. While languishing in the trenches, Pvt. Meadors cobbled together a shield made of pig-iron. His crudely constructed armored bulwark had one hole to see through and another to fire his weapon. The shield worked well at first, allowing the Rebel sharpshooter to fire with impunity and relative security. Then, like a scene from a Hollywood movie, as the sharpshooter lined up his next shot, he was shot in the eye through his very own peephole. Miraculously, he survived.
Meadors was found and brought to a field hospital where Union surgeons probed for the bullet, but were unable to locate it. The bullet was resting perilously close to the soldier’s brain and the doctors didn’t feel it was safe to perform an operation. He was put aboard a POW ship and transported to a Union hospital. Later, he was paroled to a Confederate hospital, where he spent the rest of the war. In time, Meadors recoved well enough to serve as an aide at the Rebel hospital. His official medical records confirm that he’d been “severely wounded” in the head by a minie ball.
After the war, Meadors returned to his farm in Lanett, Ala., just east of the Georgia state line. The bullet cost Meadors his right eye and would remain lodged in his head for the next 57 years. He married, but had no children. He probably would have died in obscurity had it not been for a coughing fit in March of 1920. 78-year-old Willis Meadows had been steadily coughing all day long. His coughs soon turned to violent spasms. To Meadors, it felt like something was caught in his throat. Finally, with one great whoop, that something flew out of Meadors’ mouth and landed with a clatter on the floor a few feet away. It was the one-ounce bullet, trapped in Meadors’ head for over two generations.
Instantly, the “Coughs Up Bullet” story became headline news. It ran in every major newspaper in the U.S. When the story made it into Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Meador’s story got even more unbelievable. Union veteran Peter Jones Knapp, who served at Vicksburg and Shiloh, saw the story and realized he was the one who fired the bullet that lodged near Meadors’ brain. In 1863, 21-year-old Knapp was serving with the 5th Iowa Volunteer Infantry. On July 1st, Knapp and three other Union soldiers of his Company were approaching from the east with specific orders to kill Confederate snipers. Knapp spotted Meadors, aimed his rifle at the boiler plate peephole and fired. Meadors fell to the side, blood running from his right eye. Knapp was sure his man was dead and the trio moved on.

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Peter Jones Knapp

Knapp was captured a few months later at the Battle of Missionary Ridge and was held in a number of Confederate prisons, including the notorious Andersonville in Southern Georgia, where almost 13,000 Union soldiers died. After the war, he farmed in Michigan, married, and in 1887, moved to Kelso, Washington. Knapp contacted Meadors and when the two old soldiers compared notes, they made the connection. Once mortal enemies sworn to kill each other, now, the aging veterans would spend their last few years as friends, exchanging letters, photographs and wishing each other good health.
Willis V. Meadors died at his home on October 10, 1927. His obituary stated that his health had been exceptionally good until the past few months except for a cancer on his face, which caused his death. He is buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Lanett, Alabama. Peter Knapp, the man who’d made that incredible shot at Vicksburg so many years before, preceded his target in death on April 13, 1924. His obituary states he died peacefully in the arms of his wife on April 13, 1924. His remains were sent to the Old Portland Crematorium. When Knapp’s wife Georgianna died in 1930, her remains also were cremated in Portland and placed next to those of her husband.

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Peter Jones Knapp

You’d think, that was the end of this fascinating story. But it turns out that in 1990, the story takes an even more bizarre turn. A man named Henry Kilburn was doing some genealogy research. Mr. Kilburn has the personal diary of Peter Knapp. Kilburn circulates a photograph of the coughed-up bullet flanked by photographs of Willis Meadows and Peter Knapp, which rekindles interest in the story. Kilburn admits that he is no blood relative of Peter Knapp, which prompts the question, how did Henry Kilburn end up with those items?
Turns out, Peter Knapp and his wife, who were childless, adopted Henry Kilburn’s younger sister, Minnie Mae. Their mother had been divorced and abandoned by her husband. She must have decided that adoption by the Knapps would provide her daughter with a better life. It was Mae who gave the items to Henry. The story fades from the pages of history once again for another generation. In 2012, Alice Knapp, the wife of the 3rd great nephew of Peter Knapp is researching the Knapp family history. In particular, she was searching for the burial site of Peter and Georgianna Knapp. She finds an obituary for Peter stating he had been cremated but it made no ,mention of the final resting place. Fortunately, the Old Portland Crematorium is still in business as Wilhelm’s Funeral Home in Portland, Washington.

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Peter Jones Knapp’s ashes

Alice contacted the crematorium and was told no one had ever claimed the cremains of Mr. & Mrs. Knapp. She was told that the couple’s ashes were still on a shelf in the back room where they had been resting for decades. Astonished at the news, she then made contact with the Oregon Military Department of Veteran’s Affairs. She reasoned that because Peter Knapp was a Veteran of the U.S. Army he deserved a military funeral. On April 13, 2012 he got it.
Peter Knapp was laid to rest in Willamette National Cemetery, the first Civil War veteran to be buried in Oregon’s largest military graveyard. Knapp received full military honors from the Oregon National Guard 88 years to the day of his 1924 death. The funeral also fell on the 151st anniversary of the Confederate victory at Fort Sumter, S.C., which ignited the Civil War.

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Peter Jones Knapp’s ashes

The burial attracted a mix of veterans, historians, Civil War re-enactors and people who were simply curious. Eras collided as cellphone and digital cameras recorded men and women dressed as Union soldiers and civilians marching alongside Patriot Riders holding 50-star American flags perched on shiny Harley Davidson motorcycles. The hearse carrying the twin gold boxes containing the ashes led the procession. The speakers largely focused on what Peter Knapp endured as a soldier, his incredible reunion with the man he shot and his commitment to his wife of more than 53 years.
The Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War performed a ritual for the dead based on a Grand Army of the Republic ceremony from 1873. The funeral also included a bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace,” a bugler who performed “Taps,” and culminated with the laying of wreaths. Following a musket salute, a folded U.S. flag was presented to Alice Knapp. And, despite his connection to one of the strangest incidents of the Civil War, there was not a Confederate in sight.z knapp stone

Baseball, Creepy history, Criminals, Pop Culture, Sports

Tito Francona and the Curse of Rocky Colavito. PART II

Curse Part two

Original publish date:  March 28, 2019

During a spring training Cactus League exhibition game on March 26, 1961, Cleveland Indians outfielder Tito Francona hit a 350-foot home run against the Boston Red Sox at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, Arizona. It’s 349 feet to right field, 366 feet to left field, and 410 feet to “dead” center. Unwittingly, when Tito’s homer flew over the right-field fence of paim-fringed Hi Corbett field and finally stopped rolling, it helped solve a murder case. As John Cota, a city parks employee, chased after it, he pulled up short at the edge of a shallow water trench. The ball rolled to a dead stop beside a body, partly covered with a coat, a .22-caliber revolver clutched in his hand. Police identified the body as that of Fred Victor Burden, 50, a house painter from Toronto. Burden was wanted by Tucson police in connection with the shooting death of former prize fighter James Cocio.
z tito_francona_solves_murderThe front page of the Tucson Daily Citizen on March 27, 1961 ran a story headlined, “Practice Homer Leads To Body”. The story detailed, “An over-the-wall smash by Cleveland Indians’ Tito Francona yesterday led to the discovery that Frederick Victor Burden had carried out his threat to commit suicide after killing a man in the home of his estranged wife. Burden’s body, with a bullet in the head, was found by city parks employee John C. Cota, 52, of 238 E. E. 19th St., while he was looking for a ball that had just been knocked over the west wall during the practice at Hi Corbett Field in Randolph Park. The partially concealed body was found lying in a shallow watering trench under low – hanging palm fronds when discovered about 11:30 a m.”
A few days prior, the same paper covered the story about the fatal shooting of 45-year-old James Contreras Cocio. Burden’s body was found lying face up with a .22 automatic pistol clutched in the right hand, his glasses found hanging on a small palm tree nearby. County Pathologist Louis Hirsth said Burden had been dead at least 48 hours. The killer had shot himself in the roof of the mouth, the bullet lodging in the skull. Before the discovery, Burden had been charged in absentia with the first-degree murder of Cocio, a World War II Marine veteran and former three-time Arizona featherweight boxing champion.
Burden, out of the country since January, had returned home from Canada unexpectedly to find his 46-year-old wife Irene and Cocio together in the couple’s home at 2207 E. 20th St. Mrs. Burden told police the two men had argued over her and investigators said it was obvious that the Tuesday night killing was the result of that quarrel. Police said the woman’s husband fired five quick shots at the victim when Cocio opened the rear door of the home and discovered Burden standing outside in his stocking feet. A sixth shot fired at Cocio’s body nearly two hours later wounded Mrs. Burden in the left leg. Burden drove his wife to the home of her employer after discovering the wound, and told her he was going to kill himself. She was taken to St. Mary’s Hospital for treatment of the leg wound and discharged the same day her husband’s body was found. No record survives as to whether parks department employee John Cota retrieved, much less saved, the baseball.
What many might have viewed as a bad omen didn’t derail Tito’s season however. Francona kicked off the season with a Chief Wahoo Indian “Ki Yi Waugh Woop!” He was batting .293 with eleven home runs and 53 RBIs at the All-Star break of the 1961 season and Tito was named to the American League All-Star squad for the only time in his career. He finished the season batting .301 with sixteen home runs, 85 RBIs and he lead American League left fielders in fielding percentage.
z 58558-5FrDespite having emerged as the best defensive left fielder in the league, Francona was shifted to first base during spring training in 1962 and finished the season leading the American League in double plays turned as a first baseman. He finished with 14 homers, 28 doubles and batted .272. When Birdie Tebbetts took over as Indians manager in 1963, Francona was moved back into left, but his numbers fell drastically. His .228 batting average was a career low, and his ten home runs and 41 RBIs were his fewest over a full season. The Indians acquired All-Star Leon “Daddy Wags” Wagner to play left field prior to the 1964 season, so Francona split time between right and first base. After the season, he was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals for a player to be named later and cash.
Tito had quite a career, spanning 15 seasons and including stops with eight other teams, including the Braves, Cardinals, A’s, Orioles, Phillies, Tigers, Brewers and White Sox. He was originally signed by the St. Louis Browns in 1952 but left the game for two years to serve in the U.S. Army, by the time he returned, the team had relocated and was now the Baltimore Orioles. In 1956 upon returning to the O’s, Tito finished tied with the Cleveland Indians’ Rocky Colavito for second place in American League Rookie of the Year balloting behind Chicago White Sox shortstop Luis Aparicio. For his career, Francona hit .272 with 125 homers, 656 RBIs and a .746 OPS in 1,719 games. Francona spent six seasons (’59-64) with the Indians.
z ,logo images 1And what about that curse? The curse of Rocky Colavito? Well, in recent years, it has dampened a little with the Indians “rebuilding years” of the past two decades. But. although they’ve played in three World Series Championships since 1995, they still haven’t won one. Here are just a few of the mishaps blamed on that curse since Colavito’s 1960 trade. September 1961: Fireballer “Sudden Sam” McDowell breaks two ribs throwing a fastball. June 1964: Third Baseman Max Alvis suffers an attack of spinal meningitis on a team flight. January 1965: The Indians reacquire Rocky Colavito from the Kansas City A’s in exchange for Rookie of the Year winner Tommie Agee and future 286-game winner Tommy John. July 1970: Reds star Pete Rose plows over catcher Ray Fosse in the All-Star game, effectively ending Fosse’s career in Cleveland. June 1974: Drunken fans pour onto the Cleveland Stadium field during ten-cent beer night, forcing a forfeit while destroying the diamond. March 1977: 20-game winner Wayne Garland hurts his arm in Spring training, effectively ending his career. March 1978: Indians trade Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley to the Red Sox. July 1981: Cleveland hosts the All-Star game which is delayed until August by the MLB strike. August 1981: 1980 AL Rookie of the Year “Super Joe” Charboneau is sent down to AAA, never to be heard of again. April 1987: Sports Illustrated picks the Indians to win the pennant but they lose 101 games and finish last. March 1993: three Indians pitchers die in car crashes and a fourth is seriously injured. July 1994: Indians are speeding towards the World Series when the season is cancelled by a player’s strike.
It is believed by some that the curse extends to the Indians’ old spring training home in Tucson as well. Hi Corbett Field served as the spring training home of Cleveland from 1947 through 1992. Hi Corbett has not been used for Spring Training games since, but parts of the movie Major League were filmed there which ironically portrayed the Cleveland Indians as the laughing stock of the league.
z 2 dudesThere is so much about Tito Francona that typifies that which makes baseball so interesting. Aside from one of the greatest nicknames in sports history, he was considered a journeyman for most of his career, but a damned good one. Tito Francona was a baseball player, a great husband and father and an even better teammate. When he died at the age of 84 he left a lasting legacy. Tito was there at the beginning of “The Curse” and although he’s gone, he’s likely to be there when the curse ends because “Little Tito” just might lead the Indians to a World Series Championship this season. After all, it was Francona who broke the Boston Red Sox Curse of Babe Ruth by winning two World’s Series titles in four years. Yep, baseball is a funny game.

Baseball, Creepy history, Criminals, Sports

Tito Francona and the Curse of Rocky Colavito. PART I

Curse Part one

Original publish date:  March 21, 2019

Spring training baseball is back. I am one of those legion of fans who wait every year to hear the five most beautiful words in the English language: “Pitchers and Catchers Report.” As a kid growing up, spring training baseball was always synonymous with Florida. In the Mid-1970s, my family took our spring break vacations at the Island Towers resort hotel in Fort Myers. It just so happened that the hotel was the spring training headquarters of the Kansas City Royals. So it was no big thing seeing guys like George Brett, Frank White, Freddie Patek, and Cookie Rojas hanging out at the pool or chasing my older sisters on the beach. Years later, I ran into Jamie Quirk at old 16th Street Bush Stadium and he informed me that the Island Towers were owned by Buck Martinez’s parents.
Ruth Jersey AuctionMy grandparents retired to Cape Coral in the late 1970s and I recall one of their oldster neighbors showing me a photo album from the 1930s with pictures of the New York Yankees at Spring Training down there. Turns out his family lived near the facility, Fort Lauderdale if memory serves, where the Yankees trained. I can remember the photos in there of Lou Gehrig in a bathing suit (MAN that dude was HUGE!) and Babe Ruth in full uniform on the beach, two bats resting on his shoulder with his fielder’s glove and cleats hanging from the back like a hobo pouch. In his pin striped uniform! On the Beach! Everything in that photo would be worth a small fortune today, including the photo itself!
z seaver 1Somehow, I became a Blue Jays fan. Probably because I went to their first spring training game in franchise history in Dunedin. March 11, 1977 they beat the Mets 3-1 at Grant Field, which was built in 1930 and looked like it. I went to a few games that year. I distinctly recall sitting on a wooden bleacher seat right next to Tom Seaver who was talking to me like it was no big deal. And he was pitching that day. Within a few weeks, he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds “Big Red Machine.” Florida meant Spring Training, period. Somewhere along the line that changed.
They had spring training games in Arizona, something called the “Cactus League”, but that didn’t count for much back then. Today, more teams call Arizona home for spring training than ever before. The teams that play in Arizona now are the Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs & White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels and Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, and Texas Rangers. More than 100 games are scheduled between Feb. 21 – March 26, 2019. The broadcasters say that the travel in Florida is brutal, sometimes 3-4 hour bus rides, while the travel between stadiums in Arizona is usually less than an hour. When it comes to Arizona baseball, I think of a spring training story from the Cactus League that happened before I was born. The story emanates from Hi Corbett Field in spring training of 1961. But first a little background.
HiCorbett1March of 1961 was a busy time: America’s brand new President John F. Kennedy creates the Peace Corps, The Beatles start performing at the Cavern Club, Nine African-American students from Mississippi’s Tougaloo College made the first peaceful attempt to end segregation by staging a “read-in” at the whites-only main branch of the Jackson municipal public library, NASA launches a Mercury-Redstone BD rocket from Cape Canaveral as one final test flight to certify its safety for human transport. Alan Shepard had volunteered to take the flight and become the first man to travel into outer space, but was stopped by Wernher von Braun from going, Less than three weeks later, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin would, on April 12, would reach the milestone, Actor Ronald Reagan bursts onto the political scene with his speech “Encroaching Control” before the Phoenix chamber of commerce and the Boston Strangler Albert DeSalvo is captured.
Hi Corbett Field is located in Tucson, Arizona. Opened in 1937, it was originally called Randolph Municipal Baseball Park. In 1951, it was renamed in honor of Hiram Stevens Corbett (1886–1967), a former Arizona state senator who was instrumental in bringing spring training to Tucson, specifically by convincing Bill Veeck to bring the Cleveland Indians there in 1947. Veeck owned a ranch in Tucson, and he and players sometimes rode horses there after games. Veeck claimed that he moved the team’s training camp from Florida to Arizona in order to avoid Florida’s Jim Crow laws.

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Bill Veeck

In the mid-1940s, while Veeck was owner of the then-minor league Milwaukee Brewers of the AAA American Association, during one of his team’s spring games in Ocala, Florida, the owner took a bleacher seat and started talking with the fans around him. Veeck had no idea that he had sat in the part of the stadium that was designated for African American fans. That turned out to be a big deal in the segregated “Jim Crow” South of the 1940s. Veeck had no idea that he was breaking a law that kept black fans from mixing with white spectators. In his book, “Veeck as in Wreck”, he wrote, “Within a few minutes, a sheriff came running over to tell me I couldn’t sit there.” The Brewers owner refused to move, and soon the mayor himself was threatening to force him to sit in another section. Veeck countered that if they wanted him to move from his seat, he would would move his team right along with him; to another city. The mayor finally backed down, but Veeck never forgot it.
In time, Veeck sold his stake in the Brewers and bought the Cleveland Indians. Veeck chose Phoenix, Arizona as the Indians’ spring training home for 1947. Veeck convinced the New York Giants to join his Indians so that the two teams could prepare for the season. The next season, Veeck signed Larry Doby to a contract, making him the American League’s first black player. Doby made his major league debut with the Indians on July 5, 1947, about 11 weeks after Robinson’s first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Giants followed by signing Hall of Famer Monte Irvin the next year and the Cactus League was born.
z B99629538Z.1_20180214121756_000_GTU1S68FU.1-0Last year, John Patsy Francona, a Cleveland Indians fan favorite better known as “Tito” died on the eve of spring training. It was the day before Valentine’s Day and the Indians’ pitchers & catchers were just trickling in to their spring training park in Goodyear, Arizona. The passing was made all the more bittersweet when you consider that the team was managed by Tito’s son, Terry Francona. Terry grew up in the Indians dugout where players called him “Little Tito.” As a member of the Montreal Expos, Terry played against our Indians here in Indianapolis at the old 16th street stadium. Before that he played college ball for Arizona State and led his team to the 1980 College World Series Championship. Terry Francona’s dad’s nickname of “Tito” was naturally passed down to his son, and although the broadcasters and news media still call him “Terry”, Tito is what the manager’s friends and players call him.
The elder Francona arrived in Cleveland in 1959 with baby Terry (born April 22 of that year) in tow. That season, Tito was at the top of his game and his presence knocked some all-time Indian greats right off the roster. Francona came to Cleveland in a one-for-one trade that sent Hall of Famer Larry Doby to the White Sox. (Ironically, it was the second time Tito had been traded for Larry Doby after the O’s traded him to the White Sox in 1958) Tito arrived at the “Mistake on the Lake” with big shoes to fill, but Francona, who began the 1959 season as a pinch hitter and utility man, quickly earned a regular place in the lineup. After going five-for-nine with a home run in a June 7 doubleheader against the Yankees, Francona replaced Jim Piersall as Cleveland’s starting center fielder. By the end of the season, he displaced Indians regular first baseman Vic Power, who was shifted to second base.
z AR-304189941That season Tito batted .363 with a career high twenty home runs and 79 RBIs to help the Indians to an 89–65 record and second place in the American League. His .363 average would have led the league, however, he fell 34 at-bats short of the 3.1 per game necessary to qualify. The batting championship went to the Detroit Tigers’ Harvey Kuenn, with a .353 batting average, ten points below Tito. Francona finished fifth in balloting for the AL Most Valuable Player Award that season. He compiled 20 home runs, 17 doubles, 79 RBIs, 68 runs scored, 145 hits, a .414 on-base percentage and a .566 slugging percentage in 122 games.
Ironically, the next season, Francona was shifted to left field when the Indians traded home run leader Rocky Colavito for Kuenn, the same player who edged out Tito for the batting title the year before. With former Indianapolis Indians slugger Colavito gone (Indianapolis was Cleveland’s minor league affiliate from 1952-56), Francona was inserted in the clean-up spot in manager Joe Gordon’s batting order. Tito tallied only six home runs through the All-Star break and was dropped to the number six spot in the batting order for August, and then back up to number two by September. Tito hit eleven home runs over the rest of the season to finish with seventeen overall. He batted ,292 and his 36 doubles led the American League for 1960. The trade of Colavito for Kuenn is considered by longtime Indians’ fans the beginning of the “Curse of Rocky Colavito” and as you might imagine, Tito Francona was right in the thick of it.Francona Tito 2053.68WTC_Bat_NBL