Creepy history, Criminals, Ghosts, Health & Medicine, Indianapolis, Irvington Ghost Tours, Medicine

“Bloody Mary Brown. An Irvington Tale”

 

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Original publish date: 2004 Irvington Haunts. Haunted and Infamous Irvington.  Weekly View publish date: October 24, 2019

Fifteen years ago, Russ Simnick and I published our first book, “Irvington Haunts. Haunted and Infamous Irvington.” That first volume was a collection of fourteen different ghost stories gathered from the pages of Irvington’s haunted history. A few of those stories have fallen off the radar screen over the years. Since it is Halloween time in Irvington, I have decided to revisit a couple of those stories in the spirit of the season.
This story, chapter two from that first volume, is titled “Bloody Mary Brown and the Ghost Horse. South Irvington Farm.” I wish that I could take full credit for this particular tale, but I must admit that this particular story was written by Russ and my role in it’s publication was minimal at best. The imagery of this spooky tale is a feast for the senses. So, tuck the paper under your arm, take it home with you, turn down the lights and pull down the window shades. For tales like this are best read in the dark. Not all the hauntings in Irvington confine themselves to homes. The streets of South Irvington are home to the spirit of a phantom horse and buggy searching for its owner who was brutally murdered.z5f
On the evening of Friday, February 6, 1880, an area farmer named P.H. Fatout found a horse and phaeton buggy plodding along the Brookville Pike with no rider. On that blustery night, Fatout secured the rig and led it to his stable. What he didn’t know was that his find would turn into key evidence in one of the day’s most sensational murder stories. Once inside his barn, Fatout inspected the buggy with a lantern. He discovered its cushions were soaked in blood. The boards of the seats, under the cushions, were broken and the dashboard was heavily scratched, apparent signs of a struggle.
Shortly before daylight, travelers on Michigan Road, near the place it crossed the Belt Railroad, discovered a more gruesome scene– the lifeless body of Irvington Farmer John G.F. Brown. The cause of death for the 52-year-old farmer was first thought to be a bullet wound, but Farmer Brown turned out to be the victim of a brutal ax murder. Indianapolis police Captains Splann and Williamson began investigating the body at 9:30 that morning. They soon concluded that it had been dragged from the buggy and disposed of at the scene of its finding. Buggy tracks led to Irvington butcher Jacob Geis, but he was soon ruled out as a suspect as police correctly surmised that the tracks were a ruse designed to frame Geis.
Brown had just returned from prison to his forty-acre farm, located a half mile south of Brookville Road. As his one-year sentence for receiving stolen goods ended, he returned home to find a man living in his house with Brown’s wife. The man, recent divorcee Joseph Wade, ran a saloon on Virginia Avenue in Indianapolis. He was described as a “fighting man” to Brown by local attorney Nicholas Van Horn.
pic4193-1If he was fearful, Joseph Brown did not show it as he sat down for what would be his last meal. At 5:30 PM, Mary Brown sent her two older children to the Smith’s, neighbors whose home was frequently visited by Wade, the children and Mary Brown. Mary instructed the children that she would come to get them after dinner and that Wade would play fiddle that evening to entertain at the Smith home. During the course of the evening, Wade asked Brown to borrow his buggy. He stated that he wanted to sell a horse to Irvington’s Dr. long. Brown agreed. As dinner ended, Brown went into the front yard to work on an ax handle. Wade was hitching the horse to the buggy.
According to testimony by Mary Brown, as published in “The Indianapolis News” on February 12, 1880, the next events unfolded like this: “I went around the east end of the house to the front to see if Wade was gone. Then is when I heard a noise. I heard no words but a dull sound as if from a gun a long way off or a dull heavy blow. When I heard this I had just passed the southeast corner of the kitchen with my child in my arms. I heard no additional noise. The buggy stood nearby opposite of the gate.”
She soon saw the body of her husband. According to her testimony, she said, “My God, Joe, what have you done?” Wade replied, “I love every hair of your head better than my own life.” He added, “this will be all right. I will prove myself clear.” “It is a horrible picture of depravity and utterly inhumane heartlessness, when it is brought to mind that Mrs. Brown and Wade (who, if they did not both actually commit the murder, contrived it) should have so coolly eaten supper with their victim, and then so soon after dispatched him,” stated a local newspaper of the day.
Panicking, Wade had a body, but no place to dump it. Thinking quickly, he headed to butcher Geis’ home to “throw suspicion under the butcher.” This plan was foiled as Geis’ dogs began barking at the killer. He quickly changed plans. This time, he would make it appear as if Brown was hit by a train and proceeded to take the buggy to the Belt Railroad. “The Indianapolis Journal” (Feb. 11, 1880) reported that Wade intended to “leave the buggy with the body and it up on the railroad track, loosing the traces so the horse could walk out unharmed when the Belt train came along. The locomotive would strike the vehicle and it might be made to appear that Brown had been killed by the cars.” Apparently, there was an unusual amount of travel that night and approaching people did not allow him the privacy to stage the scene. He threw the body out and let the horse go.
46052174_137701834512The investigation by Coroner George Wishard, namesake of today’s Wishard Hospital, was thorough and damning to Wade. During his investigation at the Brown farm, Wishard “found a board, probably a small kneading tray, hidden away under the shed… Which is bespattered with blood.” Signs of a violent struggle and blood were found in the yard. The mountain of evidence was building against Wade. But did he act alone? Or was “Bloody Mary” Brown, as one of the contemporary newspapers dubbed her, more involved than she claimed?
News of the murder was watched with great intensity. The “Indianapolis Journal” declared in February 1880, “Every scrap of gossip, every item of information is readily devoured by eager listeners, all of whom, with varying comment, now look upon the unfaithful wife and her Paramore as the guilty ones.” One enterprising paint dealer, located on Meridian Street in Indianapolis, covered all the roads connected to the murder with signs advertising his business-360 in all-so that the steady stream of travelers and ghoulish thrill seekers from Indianapolis would see his advertisements.
Bloody Mary Brown was shown at trial to have more involvement than she claimed. She and Joseph Wade were both convicted of John Brown’s murder and sentenced to hang. But this was not their last day in court. At a retrial for Bloody Mary in January 1881, a jury once again found her guilty of murder but sentenced her to life in prison at the Indiana Reformatory Institution for Women and Girls in Indianapolis. Upon the result of this trial, the public grew to believe that Wade should not suffer a harsher punishment than Brown. Dozens of men petitioned the governor to commute Wade sentenced to life in prison. Eventually, his sentence was changed to life.
The tragedy that befell Brown was not the end to this story. Many strange events occurred after the murder. Mary’s mother was placed in an insane asylum, and even though she had no involvement with the murder. Wade’s ex-wife, who he had divorced just prior to moving in with Mary, died days after the murder of an apparent heart attack. One of the oddest twists in this case involved the body of John Brown. While his corpse was taken to Kregelo’s undertaking establishment for examination by Coroner Wishard, his skull was taken to the Medical College of Indiana, located at the corner of Pennsylvania and Market streets.

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The Medical College of Indiana.

Ominously, one of the largest fires in the history of Indianapolis ripped through the Medical College on February 9, 1880, just three days after the murder. Not only was Brown’s skull lost, but so were several of the corpses in the college’s dissecting room. “The stiffs were frying and frizzling in there,” said patrolman E. B. Clark to the “Indianapolis Sentinel.”
Even in this day of auto travel, Irvingtonians claim to have heard the clumps of horse hooves plodding and the screech of ancient buggy wheels turning on the southern streets of Irvington, just north of Brookville Road. This testimony can only be assigned to John Brown’s riderless horse, endlessly looking for its owner who was viciously murdered and whose body was left cold and stiff beside the railroad tracks just before Valentine’s Day more than a century before.
After all these years, Russ’s story, appearing here just as he wrote it back in the day, still holds up. Over the last 17 years of ghost tours, I have, more than a few times, encountered guests who have themselves witnessed the spiritual echoes of clip clops from long ago. That is the magic of Irvington at Halloween.

Abe Lincoln, Creepy history, Gettysburg, Ghosts

Harry Houdini and Abraham Lincoln.

Houdini & Lincoln

Original publish date:  June 8, 2017

Magician Harry Houdini had a very unlikely boyhood hero. A hero adored by a generation before Houdini’s 1874 birth and a hero worshiped by generations hence. Harry Houdini’s hero was Abraham Lincoln. Houdini’s devotion to Lincoln could be found on stage during his shows. He traveled with a pet eagle named ‘Josephus Daniel Abraham Lincoln’ or ‘Abe Lincoln’ for short. Houdini’s eagle would materialize at the end of his Whirlwind of Colors routine culminating in a wild frenzy of scarves and other fabric pulled from a small container.
Houdini & birdIn Kenneth Silverman’s 1996 Biography “Houdini!!!: The Career of Ehrich Weiss : American Self-Liberator, Europe’s Eclipsing Sensation, World’s Handcuff King & Prison Breaker”, the author relays how Houdini referred to Lincoln as “my hero of heroes.” Houdini claimed to have read every book about Lincoln by the time he was a teenager. In William Kalush’s 2006 biography “The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero”, there is a story of young Houdini attending a seance where the medium produced a message from our 16th President. Houdini, Lincoln expert that he was, then asked a question to Lincoln via the medium and was puzzled when the answer that came back was not correct. This encounter led to Houdini’s early discovery that most Spiritualists were fake.
amd_houdini_originalAs he grew older and more financially secure, Houdini began to amass a personal collection of Lincoln memorabilia, particularly letters and autographs of the Great Emancipator. He also collected handwritten letters of every member of the assassin John Wilkes Booths family, several in response to letters sent by Houdini himself. Spending much of his adult life on the road, in hotels and traveling for days on ships and trains, Houdini became a prolific man of letters. One such letter survives that illustrates his desire and devotion to add to his Lincoln collection, despite the constraints of his vagabond lifestyle.
The letter is written on the magician’s personal “Lettergram” form that featured two portraits of Harry at the top. It was written in Milwaukee on September 20, 1923. Houdini’s pictorial Lettergram began with a printed message reading, “Please pardon any incivility in this letter. It has been rushed to you under stress of business and written in the dressing room. Therefore all formalities like Dear Sir, Dear Madame. etc. have been omitted, not to be curt or brusque; but that it is deemed better to let you hear from me in a lettergram of a few words than not at all.” The Lettergram was sent to Anton Heitmuller, a Washington businessman who billed himself as “Specializing in Selling Collections of Autographs, Manuscripts, Historical Broadsides and Curios”.

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Houdini lettergram to Anton Heitmuller.

Heitmuller was peddling artifacts related to John Wilkes Booth along with a collection of items of Dr. Samuel Mudd, who was imprisoned for treating Booth’s broken leg after the assassination. Heitmuller saw a promotional opportunity for both he and Houdini in showing these materials; Houdini showed some interest but being at the height of his career, found it hard to find time to get to Washington to see the artifacts. Houdini’s typed letter reads, “I am on the road for the next four months, and there is a possibility of my reaching Washington about March or April. It all depends upon booking possibilities. Just rushing this to you to give you an outline of my route.” The note was signed in pencil by Houdini. Whether or not the meeting, let alone a purchase, ever took place is unknown, but the lettergram illustrates Houdini’s desire to acquire Lincolnania and the lengths he would go to find it.
Houdini became a friendly acquaintance of Abraham Lincoln’s son Robert Todd Lincoln. In one instance, a spirit medium claimed to possess authentic spirit photographs of Abraham Lincoln. Houdini sent copies of the photos to Robert Todd Lincoln and debunked them by proving that the images were manipulated from known photos of his father taken while Mr. Lincoln was still very much alive. To further prove his point, Houdini produced photos of himself alongside Mr. Lincoln.
houdini-lincolnOn Feb. 13, 1924, a day after the 115th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, Houdini typed out a letter to Mary Edwards Lincoln Brown, the grand-daughter of Ninian and Elizabeth Edwards, Mary Lincoln’s sister. The letter, written from the dressing room of the State Lake Theatre in Chicago, Illinois, reads: “My dear Mrs. Brown: Enclosed you will find a Spirit Photograph of your renowned ancestor, and although the Theomonistic Society in Washington, D.C. claim that it is a genuine spirit photograph, as I made this one, you have my word for it, that it is only a trick effect. Mrs. Houdini joins me in sending you kindest regards, Sincerely yours, Houdini.”
M2014.128.703.27_150415-P1Furthermore, Houdini also produced ‘fake spirit messages’ from Lincoln during his lectures to debunk spiritualism. Many spiritualists attempted to back up their fake photos and messages by claiming that Abraham Lincoln himself was a devoted spiritualist who had held seances in the White House. As proof, they cited a piece of British sheet music, published while Lincoln was President, which portrayed Honest Abe holding a candle while violins and tambourines flew about his head. The piece of music was called The Dark Séance Polka and the caption below the illustration of the president read “Abraham Lincoln and the Spiritualists”.
Actually it was Mary Lincoln who consulted a series of mediums in a desperate attempt to contact their dead son Willie, who died in the White House. Houdini naturally pointed out that President Lincoln was in attendance for only one such “call to the dead” and then solely to support his grieving wife. After the seance, Lincoln gently guided Mary over to a window that looked out over Washington and pointed to the lunatic asylum with a warning that if she didn’t stop this foolishness, she would end up there.

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Houdini and Magician Harry Cooke.

Clues to Houdini’s admiration of Abraham Lincoln can also be found in a couple of the magicians he associated with. One was a former Civil War veteran named Harry Cooke who first took up magic as a means to entertain his fellow soldiers in camp. Legend claims that Cooke once showed Lincoln an escape from a piece of rope and the president was so impressed he put him to work as a Spy for the Union Army. Cooke kept a two dollar bill given him by Mr. Lincoln on another occasion when he was performing before the president and his cabinet. Amazingly Cooke was also present in Ford’s Theatre the night Lincoln was assassinated. Harry Cooke and Harry Houdini knew each other well and Houdini considered the elder magician as an early mentor. Many historians credit Cooke as being the first escape artist in America. Houdini, of course, became America’s greatest escape artist.

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Magician Signor Biltz and Harry Houdini.

One final connection between Houdini and Lincoln is magician Signor Blitz. During the Civil War, Blitz performed at hundreds of Union Army Hospitals. His act was made up of several parts, including magic, ventriloquism, plate spinning and the command of trained birds. Blitz was apparently one of the first performers to use a dummy during his ventriloquism thereby setting the stage for future generations. His favorite trick was the Bullet Catching act (snaring a gun fired bullet between his teeth). However, a number of close calls persuaded the magician to remove it from his show. The final straw was when an audience member took out a six shooter and yelled “if you can catch one, you can call all of them!”. Fortunately, Blitz was able to stop the man from shooting.

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Mary Lincoln with her sons Willie (left) and Tad (right).

Blitz once performed at a July 4th function where Lincoln and his son Tad were present. The incident took place near the Summer White House on the grounds of the Old Soldier’s Home in the Rock Creek section of DC, today it is known as Lincoln’s Cottage. Lincoln often used the cottage during the summer months to escape the brutal foggy bottom heat of the Executive Mansion. In early July of 1863, President Lincoln took a break from his duties to watch a rehearsal of the upcoming July 4th parade. Numerous people stood along the street watching the rehearsal, among them Signor Blitz.
The sly magician reached out and produced a bird from the hair of one of the girls in the parade. The rehearsal parade came to a sudden stop and now all eyes were on Blitz. Thinking fast on his feet, the magician quickly produced an egg from the mouth of a child standing nearby. Blitz had no idea that the child was none other than the President’s son, Tad Lincoln. Blitz was soon formally introduced to the President and one of the most remarkable impromptu conversations of the Civil War ensued. Lincoln surprised the magician by saying,”Why, of course, it’s Signor Blitz, one of the most famous men in America. How many children have you made happy, Signor Blitz?” The magician answered “Thousands and tens of thousands”. The President then dolefully replied, “While I fear that I have made thousands and tens of thousands unhappy. But it is for each of us to do his duty in this world and I am trying to do mine.”

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Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg.

This exchange took place just as the Battle of Gettysburg was winding down. Lincoln had not yet heard news about the outcome of the battle. What neither knew was the Union victory at Gettysburg, combined with the siege conclusion at Vicksburg, had just turned the tide of the war for the Union. Of course, Houdini was keenly aware of the connection between Blitz and Lincoln. After Harry Houdini died on October 31, 1926 in Detroit, Michigan, he was buried in Machpelah Cemetery in New York City. About a hundred yards away is the grave of Signor Blitz.

 

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Harry Houdini grave at Machpelah Cemetery in New York City.
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Signor Biltz grave at Machpelah Cemetery in New York City.
Ghosts, Museums, Travel

The Perfect Summer Getaway: Chasing Lincoln and Mark Twain. PART II

Part 2

Original publish date:  August 1, 2019

Hannibal, Missouri is an easy 1 1/2 hour drive west of Springfield, Illinois. Rhonda and I stayed at the Wyndham Best Western on the river, located downtown. The hotel is clean and convenient, the staff is friendly, but it may be a bit dated for some people’s taste. If you’re a baby boomer, you’ll recognize the style. Indoor pool, large foyer with ample seating, rattan wallpaper, sliding glass door closets and lightswitches on the outside of the bathrooms. The kind of place that was once considered the swankiest address in town back when Don Knotts, Debbie Reynolds and castoffs from “The Love Boat” might stay while starring in traveling dinner theatre productions. Personally, we loved it because of it was within easy walking distance of the Mississippi River, Mark Twain’s childhood home and historic downtown. Not to mention, Rhonda loved the free chocolate chip cookies, which were hot, soft and plentiful.
img004I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with Hannibal and arrived there hoping to chase Mark Twain’s shadow the same as I had done with Lincoln in Springfield. The town rests in a valley between two large cliffs directly on the Mississippi River. A lighthouse rests atop one cliff and a romantic, jagged crest known as “Lover’s Leap” rests atop the other. While beautiful to look at, the result for today’s visitors is terrible cell phone reception. That is unless you find yourself on top of one of those cliffs, where service zips right along. And, just like the land of Lincoln, Mark Twain casts a large shadow in Hannibal, Missouri.
Located directly across from the hotel is the Mark Twain Diner, famous for its fried chicken and homemade root beer. In fact, the building is crowned by a gigantic root beer stein that spins slowly in the sky beckoning travelers to come in and sample a frosty mug. Also located one street over are the homes of Tom Sawyer, Becky Thatcher and Huck Finn. Although literary characters, all are based on real people from Twain’s childhood. The street, open only to foot traffic, slopes down to the Mississippi River. It is easy to envision what this little stretch of cobblestone road must have looked like in the 1840s when the author and his family lived here.

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My wife Rhonda painting the Tom Sawyer Fence.

In one of the more brilliant uses of tourist object marketing that I have ever seen, outside of the Tom Sawyer house is the famous white picket fence which the young rascal tricked his naïve young friends into painting for him. Bolted to the sidewalk in front of the fence is an old-fashioned wooden bucket containing large wooden paintbrushes tethered by wire ropes to the bottom of the bucket. By my observation, these props are irresistible to every passerby who encounters it. The urge to pick up a brush and pose for a picture is too perfect to pass up. While there, I saw many cars pull up on the street below, jump out for a “pretend paint” picture and jump right back into their car before heading on down the road. This was their chosen Tom Sawyer memory.
67076693_2497587883605793_280778397439754240_nThe Mark Twain House offers an excellent tour for a reasonable $12 per person that encompasses the homes of all of those familiar Tom Sawyer characters found in Mark Twain’s books. The tour concludes in the Mark Twain Museum located in the historic downtown district and features priceless relics, mementos, artwork, furniture and assorted objects once owned by and associated with Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain). After the tour, it is highly recommended that you take the short walk down to the shore of the Mississippi River.
I ventured down to the Big Muddy to skip stones across this legendary river that I daydreamed about as a child. Little did I know that our trip came a mere two weeks after a devastating flood visited Hannibal, destroying much of the riverfront. The backhoes were in place and temporarily idled from their duties of plowing out mud and repairing the riprap. If ever I saw tired looking machines, these were it. However, their presence offered me a unique opportunity. As part of their operation, the machines clawed up about 8 to 12 inches of topsoil in an area that was once home to a Gilded Age amusement park. The result was the accidental unearthing of ancient ink wells, medicine bottles, insulators, crockery and broken china that now rested like ancient talismans there for cultivating.
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64334560_2497259026972012_5793741540333453312_nSuddenly I was a 10-year-old boy joyfully picking up bits of glass, rusted metal and broken crockery all the while convincing myself that any one of which surely belonged to a steamboat captain, riverboat gambler or a pirate. Such are the trinkets that dreams are made of. Should you prefer your treasure of a more cultivated nature, Hannibal has many hole-in-the-wall antique shops featuring more relics from the past. Hannibal is unique among tourist river towns because it has not yet been overtaken by commercialized establishment chain restaurants or stores. Its streets are not overrun by the Harley crowd. Oh, there is an upper-class motorcycle crowd element here, but these riders seem content to park their bikes and walk the town rather than to ride it.
Most importantly, Hannibal, Missouri is home to some of the friendliest people I have ever met. I was met with a friendly greeting by nearly every person I encountered, whether on the street or in a shop. While visiting one such antique shop called “Savannah’s” on Main Street, a wicked storm moved into town. Moments after we completed our purchase, the storm blew in and the power went out. Our hotel was over a mile away and we were on foot.

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The Mississippi River from Lover’s Leap.

Rhonda & I exited the shop, which luckily had a recessed doorway covered by a large tarp to keep us dry and out of the wind. We watched and waited for some 20 minutes to see if the storm would blow over; it didn’t. Rivulets of water filled the street while sizable metal flower stands blew down the darkened roadway like tumbleweeds. When it was apparent that the storm was not going away, the shop’s attendant, a woman named Phyllis who had been checking on us every 5 minutes or so, opened the door and said, “Come on you two sugar babies, I’m driving you back to your hotel.” Turns out that our guardian angel was a retired teacher with over 30 years experience, many of those years teaching special needs students. No wonder, she was our angel.
The next morning, while again scrounging for more waterfront treasures, I met a friendly local who educated me about life on the river, barges and bridges, giving me a general outline of what I was looking at and for. He explained that these floods come about every 10 – 15 years and some are worse than others. Seeing that I was a cigar smoker, he suggested that I go halfway up the cliff where the lighthouse rests for a perfect perch.
67086007_2497118243652757_7486921118473781248_nI took his advice and ventured up the hillside. There I found a quaint little pocket park created from an abandoned roadway and concrete bridge footing of a steel suspension bridge that once spanned the mighty Mississippi to Illinois on the other side. The bridge had been dedicated in the 1930s by Franklin D. Roosevelt himself with then-Senator Harry S Truman assisting. As I sat there puffing and reflecting, an older gentleman, climbing the stairs for exercise, walked by and said good evening. He stopped for a moment and, excited by my discovery, I said something silly like “Cool to think that FDR and Truman were here.” He shook his head and continued with his exercise.
Some 15 minutes later the older gent, retracing his route, remarked, “I walk these steps 2 or 3 times a week and you know most young people don’t bother to talk to me. They don’t even notice me, their faces usually buried in their cell phones. You know, I was here when FDR came. I was 3 years old and my dad put me on his shoulders because he wanted me to see FDR. I didn’t see Truman though.” We talked for a while and he revealed that he had lived in Hannibal all his life, graduated from the local high school in 1950 and was shipped off to Korea in 1951. I asked if he saw active combat and he said “oh yeah.” The admission was no big deal to him, but it floored me. We talked a little bit longer, he told me how much he loved Hannibal and, after I thanked him for his service, he bade me good night.
The next day Rhonda and I went to visit the former home of the Unsinkable Molly Brown, the suffragette heroine who survived the sinking of the Titanic (and several other disasters). It was her 152nd birthday. Margaret “Maggie” Brown (the name Molly was a Hollywood invention) was born in Hannibal in 1867 and lived in the home during her childhood. Later she married a poor Colorado mining engineer who struck it rich in the mines of Leadville which immediately catapulted Ms. Brown into high society. It was well worth the trip.

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The author and wife as tourists.

However, I came to visit Mark Twain’s cave. As many of you know, I collect old paper, particularly old photographs, letters and brochures. I recently ran across an old tourist brochure from the cave, made sometime around World War II, and decided I had to visit. Mark Twain’s cave is purportedly the same literary location featured in his Tom Sawyer book. Here young Sawyer, Huck and Becky chased ghosts, dug for buried treasure and discovered the outlaw “Injun Jim” (or “Injun Joe” depending on who you talk to), who really wasn’t an outlaw at all.

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Norman Rockwell signed photo to the Mark Twain Museum.

A tour of Mark Twain’s cave, while a feast for the imagination for any Samuel Clemens fan, is probably the most commercial experience you are likely to encounter in Hannibal. The tour guide walks guests briskly through the cave while reciting a very mechanical script committed to memory for 6 tours a day. The well rehearsed stories of Tom Sawyer characters mingle with tales of dead bodies, Wild West outlaw Jesse James, young Sam Clemens and even artist Norman Rockwell, to make for an enjoyable experience, but it does not leave much room for discussion, discovery or exploration.
Luckily, we also toured Cameron Cave, resting nearby on the same property, but separate (both in location and admission) from Mark Twain’s cave. Unlike the more commercial Twain cave, discovered in 1819, the lesser-known Cameron Cave was first discovered in 1925 and remained a closely guarded family secret until the early 1970s. The family offered limited tours over the years, mostly for special events and visiting dignitaries, but nothing like Twain’s cave. Our tour of Mark Twain’s cave featured some 20 guests, but our tour of Cameron Cave was just Rhonda, myself and our young guide Nathan. Now THAT was a cave.
Nathan was able to guide us through the cave at an easy pace affording us plenty of time to explain each and every aspect, formation, discovery and historical anecdote along the way. Cameron Cave rests below an Irish Catholic cemetery which led to stories of ghosts in the cave. Nathan stopped at the entrance and demonstrated what the old cave guides used to call a “spook horn”. It consisted of a rock ledge outcropping that, when banged on with a closed fist, emits an echoing sound like a musical instrument. 3 bangs on the spook horn chased the ghosts away, 2 bangs invited them back at the conclusion of the tour. How can you not love folklore like that?
This trip, when carefully considered, is perfect for Hoosiers because of its relatively short travel time (you can make it back from Hannibal in less than five hours), its Midwestern familiarity, rich history and friendly people. it seems fitting that when you visit Springfield and Hannibal, you lose an hour. Because, one thing is for certain, visiting these places sure feels like you are stepping back in time.

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Front & back of the older brochure.
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Inside of the older brochure.
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Front & back of a newer brochure.
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Inside panel of a newer brochure.
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Inside panel of a newer brochure.

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Ghosts, Indianapolis

The Ghost of old George Pogue.

george pogue ghost photo

Original publish date:  November 1, 2018

Halloween is over and once again, it is time to box up the decorations and compost the jack-o’-lanterns to get ready for the next holiday season. This October I spent some time tracking an old muse from my childhood, George Pogue. Not only is Pogue Indy’s oldest cold case, he is also the Circle City’s oldest ghost story. Over the past few weeks I have re-shared past stories on Pogue’s run and the story of his disappearance. This week I’ll talk about his legacy.
The city of Indianapolis owes George Pogue a debt of gratitude. It was Pogue whom most historians credit as being our city’s first white settler. In 1819 Pogue followed a meandering narrow deerpath paralleling the banks of a pristine little stream that eventually fed into the West Fork of the White River. The Genesis of this once craggy little creek can be found near the intersection of Massachusetts and Ritter avenues on the east side. It spills into the White River south of the Kentucky Avenue bridge in the shadow of Lucas Oil Stadium.

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Pogues-Run-Covered-Bridge-1850s-Etching by Christian-Schrader

Prior to Pogue’s arrival, native American Indians would often follow Pogue’s Run hunting the wildlife that naturally gathered there. 58-year-old George Pogue, a blacksmith from Connersville, blazed the trail present-day eastsiders know as Brookville Road. Depending on which historian you talk to, on or about March 2, 1819, Pogue built (or occupied) a cabin where Michigan Street currently crosses Pogue’s Run for his family of seven. After Pogue’s mysterious disappearance in April 1821, the creek he followed to arrive in the Whitewater basin became known as Pogue’s Run.
If you Google Alexander Ralston’s original plat map of the city of Indianapolis, you will see Pogue’s run traversing diagonally across the southeast portion of the “Mile Square” area like a giant black snake. Just as Pogue’s mysterious end did not fit the desired narrative put forth by Indianapolis’ founding fathers, Pogue’s run disturbed the orderliness of Ralston’s tidy grid pattern. Before the state government could be moved to Indianapolis from Corydon, fifty dollars was spent to rid swampy Pogue’s Run of the mosquitoes that made it a “source of pestilence”.
Seems that poor old Pogue’s run never had a chance. It was too small to be a canal and too big to be a latrine. So city planners decided that the troublesome trickling waterway needed to be “straight jacketed” once and for all. Pogue’s run was prone to flooding and it had a funky odor hanging over it that wrinkled the tapestry the city’s elite were trying to create. So, beginning in 1914, a year long, million-dollar project variously known as the “Pogue’s Run Drain” and the “Pogue’s Run Improvement” was undertaken to hide the historic waterway. City planners felt that the stream’s submersion beneath downtown Indianapolis (from New York Street on the east side to the White River on the west side) would make the perfect aqueduct to alleviate flooding in the Circle City.
Sounds like a reasonable, viable engineering solution made by concerned public servants to obviate a city eyesore while protecting the citizenry at the same time, right? Well, it may run a little bit deeper than that. A number of factors influenced the decision to “straitjacket” Pogue’s Run, including the economic and human costs from decades of violent flooding, public health risks from diseases, and the stream’s unsightly and unpleasant smell due to years of sewage and industrial pollution. The covering of Pogue’s Run paved the way for the expansion of railroad track elevations, which in turn alleviated congestion on Indianapolis’ busy streets and avenues. It also enabled the city to create Brookside Park in 1898 at the spot where Pogue’s run enters downtown Indianapolis.
Although the legendary waterway now more closely resembles a drainage ditch, make no mistake about it, Pogue’s Run is real. It runs under the city of Indianapolis for nearly two-and-a-half miles, and it’s possible to walk from one end to another. Every underground tunnel presents an irresistible mystery, but Pogue’s Run has a more ghostly history than most. The Pogue’s run tunnels are reportedly home to the spirit of old George Pogue who lords over the dozen or so unfortunate victims of the floods that plagued the city via the waterway for nearly a century before it was covered over.
As detailed in previous articles, one morning George Pogue walked out his front door in search of his lost dog and disappeared forever. He was also trailing a Native American man known as “Wyandotte John” whom he suspected of stealing horses from his farm. Pogue walked over hill and was never seen again. His body was never found. Even though Pogue vanished nearly 200 years ago, his name hits the headlines every few years. It seems that whenever a foundation for a business in downtown Indianapolis is dug and human remains are found, the ghost of George Pogue rises from his unknown grave.
The first widely used cemeteries in Indianapolis didn’t start popping up until long after George Pogue disappeared. While the “City Cemetery”, ironically located on Kentucky Avenue near the White River where George Pogue disappeared, can be traced back to 1821, it was not at all what we would consider a cemetery today. Greenlawn Cemetery was added around 1834 as an 8 acre addition. By 1852 this pioneer cemetery had reached 25 acres and was quickly running out of room. Crown Hill opened in 1864 and Greenlawn quickly fell out of favor. By the 1890s, Greenlawn was gone. In George Pogue’s time, people were often buried where they were found or nearby where they worshiped, worked or lived. Burial records are scarce, wooden markers disintegrate and landmarks disappear. So it is not uncommon for human remains to pop up from time to time even today. So, needless to say, George Pogue does not rest in peace.
When the city of Indianapolis buried their troublesome waterway in 1915, Pogue’s run, like its namesake, disappeared. The trickling little stream is now forever trapped underground. And so is the ghost of George Pogue. Legend claims that Pogue is doomed to walk this underworld purgatory until his remains are found and he is given a proper burial. Pogue leads a small army of ghosts whose souls were lost in the flooding that once plagued the area.
Today, no one thinks much about the creek that runs underneath downtown Indianapolis. True, Hoosiers cling tightly to the White River by naming parks, streets and events in its honor. But unlike other major American cities, the Circle City has very few myths or legends surrounding its chief waterways. That is unless you count the tales of late-night TV host David Letterman and his friends attempting to traverse the central canal via canoe back in the “naptown” days. As a homegrown Hoosier, it has always been a mystery to me why the Pogue’s run waterway has not been more prominently featured in our city’s weird history.
During George Pogue’s era, antebellum times and the years after the Civil War and Reconstruction, flooding was not really a concern in Indianapolis. The Circle City really had no riverfront development to speak of, roads were sparse and unpaved and any excess winter water thaws had plenty of places to go. In past columns I have detailed a few of the many floods that plagued Indy in the years before the Pogue’s run tunnels were created. The Easter Sunday floods in 1913 brought twelve inches of rain in a five day period and the White River crested to 31.5 feet; 19.5 feet above flood stage. No one knows what the true crest was because the city’s measuring equipment and gauges washed away at 29.5 feet. 70,000 cubic feet per second, an amount 50 times greater than normal, sent torrents of water rushing through the city. In Indianapolis, 7000 families lost their homes and over 25 deaths were reported as a result of this flood. Statewide, 200,000 people lost their homes and over 200 lives were lost. More than a few of those bodies were never found and their spirits, like that of its namesake, haunt the Pogue’s run tunnels today.
A couple of Sundays ago I was joined by several Irvington Ghost tour volunteers in a search of the Pogue’s run tunnels. Rhonda and I were joined that day by our daughter Jasmine, friends Elise Remissong and Jada Cox, Kris and Roger Branch, Steve Hunt, Tim Poynter, Christy and Cameron McAbee, Trudy and Steve Rowe and Cindy Adkins. WISH-TV Channel 8 TV’s Joe Melillo also joined us for a pre-Halloween trek in search of the ghost of old George Pogue. The results of our trip can be found on the WISH TV website under Joe’s banner. Joe’s segment captured only a fraction of what took place down there.
That day, the Colts were playing the Buffalo Bills at Lucas oil above us. (the Colts won 37 to 5) Inside the century old pitch-black tunnel the water had slowed to a trickle. The entrance to the Pogue’s run tunnel is hidden in a thickly wooded area within sight of the downtown skyline. The city of Indianapolis maintains Pogue’s run very nicely and has recently constructed a two-story wooden walkway leading down to the tunnel entrance. Upon entering the mouth of the tunnel the original stream can be seen entering the concrete spillway looking much as it has for nearly two centuries.
The concrete walls leading into the tunnel are festooned with spray-painted graffiti indicative of its big city location. The water stream is contained down the center of the trough with dry foot paths on either side. About 100 yards down stream inside the tunnel, a separate parallel tunnel is revealed through large round vents in the walls that are easy to step through. The upper channel is the spillway used for relief of excess water flowing through Pogue’s run when necessary. These walls are also peppered with graffiti as expected. Mostly introspective, sometimes profane, the graffiti is often nonsensical; logical only to whomever placed it there.
There are rats down here along with spiders, snakes and the occasional stranded fish from floods past. There is also evidence that the homeless population of Indianapolis occasionally seek shelter in the tunnels, but most of that evidence gets washed away by the floodwaters on a regular basis. The temperature outside is just above freezing, but it is warm here in the tunnels. So warm that it is easy for our team of urban spelunker’s to feel overdressed. The water can be deep in places depending on the rainfall. The total blackness of the Pogue’s run tunnels cannot be understated. Without the aid of a trusty flashlight or lantern, it is impossible to see your hand held in front of your face.
The ceiling and sidewalls are cracked in places, betraying rushing floodwaters of years gone by. The side tunnels are made of brick and occasionally they branch off the main route to parts unknown. Cell phones are useless in the tunnel; there ain’t no service down here . There are manholes and open grates that I suppose could be accessed to determine one’s location, but thanks to Stephen King’s “It” (and Pennywise the sewer clown) I wouldn’t recommend it. In places, perhaps owing to the day’s Colts Sunday atmosphere, it is possible to hear activity on the streets above including music and conversation. But mostly it is quiet. Occasionally cars passing above make high-pitched traffic sounds that can be confused with the cries of a baby or wounded animal, but the logical mind soon determines the source. Once in a while one of these vehicles will pass directly over a manhole with a thunderous result that echoes through the tunnel and shakes even the most resolute of subterranean urban explorers.
Upon closer examination, evidence remains of those original pre-World War I era tunnels. Brick troughs and well foundations pepper the tunnels as do the rotted remains of wooden trusses and the occasional displaced iron train rail, the presence of which immediately elicits the thought “how did that get down here?” Oddly, there’s not much of an echo down here. The voice carries, but it doesn’t carry far. When the visitor cups the mouth and lets loose a “Hello”, it rolls only a few rods before disappearing into the darkness. But is there anything else down in the old Pogue’s Run tunnels?
As a student of history, I often find myself asking that question. Is there anything else? I rely on a few friends with deeper insight in that department to answer that query. Tim Poynter, founder of the SPIRIT Paranormal team, observed a few spirits lingering in the tunnels of Pogue’s run, “I encountered the spirit of a light-skinned black man dressed in mid 20th century clothing within a few hundred feet of the opening. His attitude seemed to be one of ‘stay back’which is not uncommon. I imagine this was the spirit of a homeless man who passed while living down there in the tunnels.” Intuitive Cindy Adkins echoed Tim’s feelings at the mouth of the tunnel, “I did not see the gentleman until we got into the tunnel. I was not getting a bad feeling at all just that we were invading his space and he did not like that too well.” Cindy would encounter this man further down in the tunnels of Pogue’s run.
WISH-TV Channel 8 TV reporter Joe Melillo segregated three of our number, Cindy Adkins, Christy McAbee and Steve Hunt, deep within the depths of the Pogue’s Run tunnel. Here, light and sound go to die. Joe watched as the trio “spoke” with the dead. Cindy Adkins is a gifted intuitive and the only person I have encountered who has had an actual conversation with a ghost on tape (or EVP). When Joe Melillo turned on his camera, this man’s spirit came out to play.
“The gentleman is over 6 feet tall,” says Cindy. “He told me there was a house fire and his big two-story home was completely engulfed in flames. He told me his family was killed in the fire. His house was near Pogue’s run and he lived down there in the tunnels. He likes it down in the tunnels and he doesn’t want to leave. But while we were down there and Joe was taping, a woman joined us. Her initials were C. L. and I kept getting the date 1964. She was lost down there in the tunnels and said that she died of a drug overdose. Christy, Steve and I managed to clear her spirit and send her on her way to the light. But the man is still down there. He just laughed when I asked him if he wanted to leave too.”
As I write this article, Joe Melillo’s segment has yet to air. His WISH-TV Channel 8 Pogue’s run segment airs on Halloween morning. When asked for his thoughts and impressions on the Pogue’s run adventure, Joe Melillo siad, “I would say the best way to describe the experience for me was stifling… Almost suffocating. Very dense down there and it made me have a headache. Overall I did feel something, but I am more of a history guy so the paranormal things don’t hit me as hard. When we sat with the group of paranormal investigators I was there to document the exercise, but nothing happened to me specifically. I was so ready for someone to touch me or to see a shadow figure, but I got nothing. At least this time. Maybe next time I’ll have better luck.” Yes, Joe, maybe next time. Sounds like the Pogue’s run entities will still be there, waiting for you.

Creepy history, Ghosts, Indianapolis

The Harmonica Playing Ghost of Paul Ruster State Park.

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Original publish date:  October 4, 2018

Relatively speaking, Paul Ruster Memorial Park is one of the newest additions to the Indianapolis Parks system. The park’s trail consists of a 1.2 mile moderately trafficked loop trail that features a river and is rated as moderate. The park is tucked away off of busy Washington Street and the trail is like stepping into a hidden forest. The trail features some steep inclines with several elevation changes and can be very tight in certain areas. It is more of a recreational facility than a park in the traditional sense of the word. Located near the bustling Washington Square Mall shopping complex, the 102-Acre park features a small fishing pond and playground.The Ruster park is bordered by walking trails, defined by Buck Creek that borders the area, that each offer eastsiders a rural setting for jogging, hiking and dog walking. During summer, locals take advantage of the park’s picnic facilities and shelter house. In 2007, the park added two fenced in “Bark Parks” (the third such facility in Indianapolis). During the winter, the park’s many hills are filled with sledders, skaters and tubers.
z 68162236_130289523266Ask any of these visitors about the park’s namesake and you’re likely to catch them at a loss. What’s more, most visitors are unaware that Paul Ruster Park is haunted by a centuries-old ghost. The park, acquired by the Indy Parks system in 1970, is named after a 1964 Warren Central high school graduate, Paul M. Ruster. Paul, the oldest of three sons of Marvin and Marie Ruster, died December 10, 1978 of Hodgkin’s disease. Paul’s brother Bruce was a former Warren Central baseball star and much beloved Phys-Ed teacher at Warren Central for many years. Paul was born on the eastside, attending Eastridge elementary and Woodview Junior High. He graduated from Ball State University and returned to Indy’s eastside to teach Phys-Ed at Lowell in 1969.
During his ten years at Lowell, Mr. Ruster became admired, respected and loved by the people he worked with each day. People remember him for his winning smile and infectious laugh. He always seemed to be giving his time, talents, and energies to and for his pupils. He believed in kids, encouraged them, and was not disappointed in return. While at Lowell, he completed a master’s degree at Butler University. In addition to teaching and studying, he coached girls’ softball at Lowell little league. He later coached girls’ teams affiliated with the Amateur Softball Association.
His teams worked hard for recognition and were able to travel to several neighboring states to compete in various tournaments and playoff games. Paul was able to find time to start a “Dad’s Night” at school for the fathers who had a desire to take part. Mr. Ruster also found time to participate in several basketball leagues in the city. The Lowell PTA and the community honored Mr. Ruster by establishing a scholarship in his name and by starting a petition to have the city park at 11300 East Prospect Street in his honor. The approval for the park to be named after Paul Ruster came through on June 28, 1979.
z kkAlthough the park may have been new to the Indy Parks system, the haunted reputation was well established. Some of the first to report the strange happenings going on within the park were people who were themselves looked upon as strange by casual observers. These were the weekend warrior gatherings of young people dressed as medieval knights wearing full combat regalia while sword fighting and jousting around the green spaces of Ruster Park. These were the early days of the “Dungeons and Dragons” phenomenon in the 1980s involving fantasy role playing groups that met on a regular basis in the park. These groups began to report strange sights and sounds coming from the periphery of the park’s boundaries that would often stop participants in their tracks. Sometimes, these spooky sounds would drive the groups from the park in fear. Soon, the ghostly rumors made the rounds among Indianapolis paranormal groups that Paul Ruster Park was a hot spot for paranormal activity and an allegedly haunted area. Paranormal investigators declared that these unexplained occurrences were emanating from a nearby abandoned family cemetery a mere stone’s throw from the new park.

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Prospect Road elevated entrance to cemetery

Kitley-King cemetery, located at 11000 East Prospect Road just east of German Church Road, is in an area of woods located on the southeastern edge of the soccer field complex located within Paul Ruster Park. Although located on busy Prospect road, the cemetery, located on the site of the old Kitley family farm, is over a century old and only visible when standing directly atop it. Resting across from the point where East Prospect Road is intersected by Touchstone Drive, a set of six broken and weathered steps ascending from the curb is the only clue to the graveyard’s existence. The steps lead up from the road into a stone walled square plot of ground within which rest a smattering of gravestones in varied states of disrepair nestled into what looks like the foundation of a long forgotten house.
Sadly, only two monuments remain intact. They are the John W. King (1806-1893) and Francis Kitley markers. The cemetery is not well maintained and the two remaining stones are severely cracked. The grass around the area is usually overgrown and uncut.
An 1889 Sanborn map of the area shows the presence of two farms at the intersection of German Church and Prospect Roads. The properties were registered to J. and J.N. Kitley and to Francis Kitley. Across the street on this 1889 map is a farm once owned by Andrew King. Francis’ home once rested on what today is the soccer field. Since the Kitleys and Kings were farmers, it was natural to bury their loved ones in the land beside the farms.
County records show that John Kitley recorded an eighty acre farm on this spot on December 16, 1825. Kitley was born in Hamilton County, Ohio on April 15, 1793 and died sometime around February 25, 1865 (based on his will’s probate date). His stone was once within the cemetery but is missing today, as is that of his wife, Anna Fox Kitley. However the couple’s mortal remains undoubtedly rest beneath the soil to this very day. John and Anna were organizers of the Cumberland Baptist Church on the National Road, or present day Washington Street, located a short distance to the north. The Scotch-Irish Kitleys, who were Methodists, intermarried with the neighboring King family, who were members of St. Johns Evangelical Church on German Church Road.
According to county records, also buried in the Kitley-King cemetery plot are John & Anna’s son, Francis Kitley (December 25, 1823-October 16, 1886) and Mary Jane Smithers Kitley, who is listed on the back of Francis’ stone with the dates: Feb. 6, 1841-Aug. 25, 1932. Other “lost” graves may include siblings Sarah King, Elizabeth King, Lillian Hart, Walter S Kitley, John Kitley, Hester Wiese and James Nelson. Still others may include James’ widow, Rose, and their children Floyd and Frank along with their wives, Alma and Anna, respectively. As with many Indiana pioneer cemeteries, records are sketchy and incomplete with graves remaining unmarked and unrecorded.
z istockphoto-181900911-1024x1024Legend claims that many years ago a 12-year-old boy living on the farm was killed while walking along the nearby train tracks. No-one knows if he was struck by a train or whether some other harm befell him. Reportedly, he is now buried in an unmarked grave within the foundation of his old house. Witnesses claim that if you walk the long path leading from the soccer fields through the woods to his grave near Prospect you can hear the boy playing his harmonica. Still other witnesses have reported seeing the ghostly image of a young boy walking down the road and again, he is seen playing a harmonica.
The railroad tracks are long gone, but the wandering spirit of the musical boy remains. His spirit has been witnessed near the large fishing pond located just west of Muessing Road within the heavily wooded area of the park. Fishermen have often reported the plaintive sounds of a ghostly harmonica heard moving through the woods and around the perimeter of the old fishing hole, as if circling them. It is believed that this lonely wanderer is John Kitley, young namesake son of the farm’s owner, who died on April 12, 1864.
What is known is that Paul Ruster State Park, built for the enjoyment of the children of Indianapolis’ east side and named to honor a devoted kid-loving eastsider, is visited by hundreds of joyful children who run and play in its green spaces all year round. Most likely these visitors frolic and play unaware that a sad and lonely Civil War era lad may be watching from afar wishing he could join them, or perhaps just play them a tune.

Creepy history, Criminals, Ghosts, Indianapolis, Medicine

Grave Robbing in Indiana. Part I.

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Original publish date:  July 29, 2011

I speak often about America’s first serial killer, the evil Dr. H.H.Holmes, and his demonic doings in 1894 Irvington including his habit of selling the cadavers of his victims to Chicago area universities for $ 75.00 each. Today, these stories elicit gasps and disbelief from all who hear them. However, there was a time when grave robbing in our capital city was a very real threat indeed.
The act of grave robbing was so common that perpetrators began to look upon themselves as businessmen providing a much needed service rather than the night creeping, gutter crawling slags of humanity that they truly were. Often these ghouls ruled the nightlife scene holding court in local bars and taverns while regaling customers with their tales of dread from the boneyards of our dear city, with no real fear of retribution, much less prosecution, for their dastardly deeds. After all, their skill and services were in demand by uber-educated medical school professors, upper-crust physicians and high-bred college students from all four corners of the city, no questions asked.

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University students working on a cadaver.

In January 1875, a reporter for the Indianapolis Herald newspaper interviewed one such ghoul for an article on grave robbing titled, “How the Business is Managed at Indianapolis. Twelve ‘Resurrectionists’ engaged in it.” Sadly, the name of the intrepid reporter is lost to history, but his words live on and are offered here as proof that this gruesome occupation did in fact exist. Here is the article as it appeared almost a century-and-a-half ago.
A reporter for the Indianapolis Herald recently fell in with a resurrectionist, or body snatcher, who relates the following story: “Yes, I know it’s a shameful business. But I have no longer any capacity for shame. This (holding up his glass) has done the business for me. It has made me what you see me. Once I was a reputable physician with a diploma from ——– College, and a fair practice, and now I am a body snatcher, sneaking through the graveyards by night, and spending the proceeds of grave robbery in low down thief kennels by day. You don’t often see me here. Hunger-hunger for whiskey brought me here tonight, because I am more apt to sponge a drink or two among such tipplers as you than I would be among ruffians of my own sort. As I said, I have no shame, but I know how low it is. I know that a man capable of grave robbing for gain is cutthroat enough at heart to do murder if he were not too cowardly. Why don’t I reform? That’s a good joke. I look like it don’t I? I tell you it’s impossible. There’s no retreat for me. The only road open to me is in front, and it ends in hell. Another drink …..and a big one, to settle these grinning devils that have been dancing around me all night, and I will tell you all about the business. As the season is over and Dr.——– has promised to buy me a ticket to Memphis, I don’t care.”

HOW STIFFS ARE RAISED: “A ressurectionist’s kit is not very expensive, sir. All he needsz Grave_Robber is a rope with a hook at one end, a short crowbar, and a spade and a pick. He generally has a “pard,” as it is easier to hunt in couples. He is notified of the “plant” (body), and by personal inspection makes himself familiar with all the surroundings, before the attempt is made. The pick and spade remove the earth from the grave as far as the widest part of the coffin, and with the crowbar, the coffin is shattered, and the rope with the hook end fastened around the cadaver’s neck, when it is drawn out through the hole without disturbing the earth elsewhere. As soon as the cadaver is sacked, the earth replaced, and the grave made to look as near like it was as possible. There are some bunglers however, who have been guilty of leaving the grave open, with fragments of the cadaver’s clothing lying around. They are a disgrace to the profession, and have done much to foster an unfriendly public sentiment in this city.”
HOW A SALE IS NEGOTIATED: “No, there’s not as much difficulty in negotiating the sale of a stiff as you would imagine. The resurrectionist has no dealings with any member of the colleges. They are too smart for that. The janitor does the business. A wagon with two men in it drives up in front of a college. Maybe the streets are full of people….maybe not. It makes no difference any way. The wagon barely stops a moment, and one man shoulders the sack containing the stiff and shoots into the college basement, and the wagon drives off. Police? (The resurrectionist here shook like a mass of jelly with inward chuckles.) Why, bless your simple soul, there is no more danger of being interrupted by the police than there is of me dying a sober man. The police on the college beats are friendly to science. They wouldn’t, for two dollars a stiff, make a row about it, you bet. So all the digger has to do is put a mask on his face and slip in to see the janitor, who is provided with funds, and shells out without being too particular about identification.”
THE NUMBER OF RESURRECTIONIST: “There are at least a dozen diggers engaged in anticipating the tooting of Gabriel’s horn in this city. Some of them are working for other cities. There is Mr. ——-, a tall man, with long, dark hair, seedy clothes, and a sinister expression of countenance. He’s a man of education, and has respectable connections in the city. What brought him to it? What brings us all to it? Whiskey, of course. He works with Mr. ——-, a lanky, long haired fellow, with rebel looking clothes, and long, light, lousy looking hair, mustache, and goatee. Yes, it was him that was kicked out of the boarding house for talking “stiff” at the table. Then there is the brother of a well-known doctor, and a doctor out in the country, and others too tedious to mention. Some of the students, too, raise their own stiffs as a matter of economics. Material is getting costlier every year.”
z Milwaukee-Journal-August-3-1903THE MOST FRUITFUL FIELDS: “The most of the stiffs are raised at Greenlawn cemetery (in Franklin, south of the city), at the Mt. Jackson cemetery (on the grounds of Central State hospital), and at the Poor Farm cemetery (Northwest of the city). So far as I know Crown Hill has never been troubled. Many of the village cemeteries in the neighboring counties are also visited, however, and made to contribute their quota to the cause of science. Some of these village cadavers are those of people who moved in the best society, and besides their value in material for dissection, are rich in jewelry, laces, velvets, etc. The hair of a female subject is alone worth $25. Nothing is wasted, you may be sure. Even the ornaments on the coffin lids are used again..”
SMART ALECKS: “There is a good joke on the Marion County Commissioners. You may remember that, on account of so many complaints against body snatchers, these Smart Alecks had a vault built, in which to deposit bodies, and put a padlock on the door. You may believe the resurrectionist didn’t stop long for a common padlock. It didn’t take long to get an impression with a piece of wax, and any darn fool can make a key that will unlock a padlock. And the vault business saves a heap of hard digging. Many a stiff has been cut up in our colleges without having been buried at all. I know of one case where it came pretty near making a rumpus, and there was lively skirmishing for a time, I tell you.”
FURTHUR (sic) PROSPECTS: “Allred? Him? Why he could not stop a worm. He is devoted to science, and if he wasn’t, all we’d have to do would be to get him a bottle of Rolling Mill rot gut, and he would neither see nor hear. Do you s’pose that there could have been so much resurrection in Greenlawn, right in the heart of the city almost, if somebody hadn’t been fixed? I don’t know. Do you?” (Allred was apparently the superindendent of Greenlawn cemetery)
A MEAN TRICK: “Now I’m goin’ to tell you about what I call a mean trick. A stiff had been raised out of grounds supposed to be the peculiar property of one of the colleges, and sold to another. It wasn’t much of a stiff, a poor, miserable, emaciated Negro, that didn’t weigh more’n ninety pounds……but it made the faculty of ——– college madder’n hornets to think that a stiff out of their ground had been sold to a rival college. You know they hate each other like pizen anyhow. Well, Tuesday night of this week they broke into the college vault and stole the stiff, and the next day a Professor of the rival college lectured over it. Go to the law about it? Not much. They know how to leave well enough alone. But they were not about it, you better believe. Goin’, are you? Well, good night. The chances are that we’ll never meet again, an there’s nothing doing here, and I want to get to a warmer climate. Good night, Sir.”
z PhotoDeskThe night was a graverobber’s best friend. He lived in it, worked in it, played in it and hid in it. Late at night, these ghouls would steal into cemeteries where a burial had just taken place. In general, fresh graves were best, since the earth had not yet settled and digging was easy work. Laying a sheet or tarp beside the grave, the dirt was shoveled on top of it so the nearby grounds were undisturbed. Most body snatchers could remove the body in less time than it took most people to saddle a horse. They would carefully cover the telltale hole with dirt again, making sure the grave looked the same as it had before they came. Then hurriedly take the body away via the alleyways and sewers of the city, finally delivering the anonymous dearly departed to the back door of a medical school. In time, several of these ghouls began to furnish fresh corpses for sale by murdering the poor, homeless citizens of the city who once stood silent vigil in the alleys as the graverobbers crept past with their macabre cargo in tow.
Many tactics were employed to protect the bodies of relatives, mostly to no avail. Police were engaged to watch the burying grounds but were often bribed or made drunk. Spring guns, or “booby-traps” were set in the coffins but was an option available only to the wealthier citizens. Poorer families would leave items like a stone or a blade of grass or a shell at the head of the grave to show whether it had been tampered with or not. During this era, “Burglar proof grave vaults made of steel” were sold with the promise that loved ones’ remains would not be one of the 40,000 bodies “mutilated every year on dissecting tables in medical colleges in the United States.” Despite these efforts, body snatchers persisted.
Grave robbers part IIn the late 1800s in Indiana, it has been estimated that between 80 to 120 bodies each year were purchased from grave robbers to be used for medical instruction at medical schools and teaching facilities in Indianapolis. An end to the “big business” of grave robbing came as a result of twentieth-century legislation in Indiana which allowed individuals to donate their bodies for this purpose. In 1903, the Indiana General Assembly enacted legislation that created the state anatomical board that was empowered to receive unclaimed bodies from throughout the state and distribute them to medical schools. The act was “for the promotion of anatomical science and to prevent grave desecration.”
Before that landmark 1903 legislation, Indiana medical schools had access to only one type of corpse for dissection — the bodies of executed criminals, which provided a fairly small pool of available subjects. Only 9 people were executed in Indiana from 1897 to 1903, not nearly enough to supply the medical schools of the city. Strangely, there were 41 lynchings over the same period (26 whites and 15 blacks). As the number of medical students in Indiana grew, the demand for bodies for dissection became greater. As there were simply not enough bodies legally available, medical schools resorted to back door arrangements with resurrectionists. Occasionally, the grave robber was a doctor, teacher or medical student. For the most part, the medical community wrestled with the morality issues surrounding the procurement of corpses for dissection purposes, but it cannot be denied that the practice yielded dividends. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the United States led the world in advances made by anatomical studies through the use of the cadaver appropriation system.
By the way, on special occasions during the Irvington ghost tours, I sometimes bring along a battered, faded sepia-toned cabinet photo from the 1880s. In this photo, several University of Michigan medical students are posed standing around an emaciated, nearly naked corpse splayed out on a wooden table. The students pose somberly for the camera but one of them, a handsome derby hat wearing young man with a large walrus style mustache, stands with one hand behind his back and the other with fingers resting on the table surface near a pocket knife that he has obviously just pulled from his pocket. His expression seems to say, “Hurry up and snap that photo so I can cut into this body.” The subject, Michigan medical student Herman Mudget, better known as H.H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer.
Next week: An Indiana body snatching connection to the United States Presidency and Irvington.

Creepy history, Ghosts, Indianapolis, Irvington Ghost Tours, Pop Culture

The first Irvington Halloween Festival and the law.

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Original 1946 Irvington Halloween Festival Ticket.

Original publish date:  October 16 2011

Next week, once again, Irvington will celebrate “All Hallows Eve” better than anyplace else in the Hoosier state by hosting the 65th annual Halloween Festival. Trick-or-treating, window painting, house decorating, and a costume parade down the middle of Washington Street are all cherished traditions eagerly anticipated by the participants involved. But what about that first Halloween festival back in 1946? What was that like? And most importantly, were Irvingtonians breaking the law by hosting it?
Disney Trick or treatWe’ve all heard the stories, legends and rumors surrounding that now legendary first event. It was sponsored by the Walt Disney company featuring costumed characters with a Disney based theme. The Disney folks gave away potentially priceless hand painted film production cels right here on the streets of old Irvington town. Walt Disney himself was seen walking down Audubon with Mickey Mouse at his side. It’s hard to separate fact from fiction nowadays.
However, a good place to start would be the history books. What was going on in the world back in October of 1946? Mensa was founded in Great Britain and the United Nations held its first meeting on Long Island. World War II ended a year before, yet the Nuremberg War trials concluded with the execution of ten German war criminals just two weeks before the festival. Among the adolescent ghosts and goblins wandering the streets of Irvington 65 years ago was a spectral leftover from the second world war looming menacingly over the costumed treat seekers. The specter of Sugar rationing. Really? Sugar rationing on Halloween?
When the empire of Japan conquered the Philippine Islands in the early months of 1942 the United States lost a major source of it’s national sugar imports. Sugar shipments from Hawaii had already been curtailed by fifty percent when cargo vessels typically used for transporting sugar from the islands to the mainland were diverted for use by the military. Seemingly overnight, U.S. sugar supply fell by more than one-third. To ensure adequate supplies for manufacturers, the military, and civilians, sugar became the first food item to be rationed during the war. Manufacturers’ supplies were reduced to 80 percent of pre-war levels and that percentage was further reduced over time.
On April 27, 1942, Irvington families registered for ration books at the local elementary schools. One book was issued for each family member. To prove they were serious about wartime rationing, the US Government required that these books were to be surrendered upon death of the recipient. In a drastic move that harkens back to FDR’s closure of the banks and financial institutions during the Great Depression, the sale of sugar was halted for one week to prepare for the program. During that sugarless week, to discourage hoarding, each family was required to report how much sugar they had on hand and a corresponding number of stamps were removed from the ration book.
z WWII OPA Rationing BookletA week later on May 5, 1942, every United States citizen received their much anticipated “War Ration Book Number One”, good for a 56-week supply of sugar. Initially, each stamp was good for one pound of sugar and could be redeemed over a specified two-week period. Later on, as other items such as coffee and shoes were rationed, each stamp became good for two pounds of sugar over a four-week period. The ration book bore the recipient’s name and could only be used by household members. Stamps had to be torn off in the presence of the grocer. If the book was lost, stolen, or destroyed, an application had to be submitted to the Ration Board for a new copy. If the ration book holder entered the hospital for greater than a 10-day stay, the ration book had to be brought along with them. Talk about your red tape!

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World War II War Sugar Ration Stamp.

Housewives learned to be creative, using saccharine, corn syrup, and even packets of Jell-O as sugar substitutes. Sugar beets became a staple of nearly every American dinner table. Women’s magazines featured recipes with reduced sugar or creative ingredient substitutes. “Victory Gardens” sprung up all over the cities and home canning was strongly encouraged during the war. However, canning requires sugar and to provide for this patriotic need, each person could apply for a one time only 25-pound allotment of lower grade canning sugar each year. Each local war ration board determined the quantity and season of availability based on the local harvest. A special canning sugar stamp was issued and included in the ration book. This special “spare canning sugar stamp 37” had to be attached to the government application. Problem was, that they looked exactly like the household sugar stamp and confusion reigned as many people mistakenly used the regular sugar stamp 37 in it’s place, invalidating it for normal household purchases. Did I mention the red tape?
z photo-1127-2013-conserve-sugar-posterTo make matters worse, just because you had a sugar stamp didn’t mean sugar was available for purchase. Shortages occurred often throughout the war, and in early 1945 sugar became nearly impossible to find in any quantity. As Europe was liberated from the grip of Nazi Germany, the United States took on the main responsibility for providing food to those war ravaged countries. On May 1, 1945, the sugar ration for American families was slashed to 15 pounds per year for household use and 15 pounds per year for canning – roughly eight ounces per week per household. Sugar supplies remained scarce and, just as sugar had the distinction of being the first product rationed at the start of the war, sugar was the last product to be rationed after the war. Sugar rationing continued until June of 1947, over six months after the first Irvington Halloween festival in October of 1946.
So, knowing this, can it be said that every sugary sweet handed out to euphoric trick-or-treaters in Irvington during that first festival was a violation of Federal law? Technically yes, but in reality, it might best be compared to ripping the tag off of your mattress today. Never fear, Irvington is not Australia and you are not descended from a colony of law breakers and felons. By the time of that first Irvington Halloween Festival, war time rationing was on the wane and most Americans were eager to celebrate after a long, hard fought war, too enraptured with the outcome, and their personal survival, to care much about wartime shortages. As evidence, one need look no further than the baby boomer generation, a direct bi-product of that euphoria.
z Halloween Festival (2)An argument can be made that it was events like the First Irvington Halloween Festival that kicked off the tradition of trick-or-treating as we know it today. Although the Halloween holiday was certainly well known in America before that first Irvington celebration, it was predominantly a holiday for adult costume parties and a chance to cut loose with friends playing party games while consuming hard cider. Early national attention to trick-or-treating in popular culture really began a year later in October of 1947. That’s when the custom of passing out the playful “candy bribes” began to appear in issues of children’s magazines like Jack and Jill and Children’s Activities, and in Halloween episodes of network radio programs like The Baby Snooks Show, The Jack Benny Show and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Trick-or-treating was first depicted in a Peanuts comic strip in 1951, perhaps the image most identified with the children’s holiday in the hearts and minds of baby boomers today. The custom had become firmly established in popular culture by 1952, when Walt Disney debuted his Donald Duck movie “Trick or Treat”, and again when Ozzie and Harriet were besieged by trick-or-treaters on an episode of their popular television show. In 1953, less than a decade after that first festival in Irvington, the tradition of Halloween as a children’s holiday was fully accepted when UNICEF conducted it’s first national children’s charity fund raising campaign centered around trick-or-treaters.
z s-l640Most of this column’s readers are aware that part of my passion for history revolves around collecting, cataloging, displaying and observing antiques and collectibles. There exists in the collecting world a strong group of enthusiasts devoted to the pursuit and preservation of Halloween memorabilia of all types. Costumes, decorations, photographs, publications and postcards in particular. The origins of Halloween as we now know it might best be traced in the postcards issued to celebrate the tradition. The thousands of Halloween postcards produced between the turn of the 20th century and the 1920s commonly show costumed children, but do not depict trick-or-treating. It is believed that the pranks associated with early Halloween were perpetrated by unattended children left to their own devices while their parents caroused and partied without them. Some have characterized Halloween trick-or-treating as an adult invention to curtail vandalism previously associated with the holiday. Halloween was not widely accepted and many adults, as reported in newspapers from the 1930s and 1940s, typically saw it as a form of extortion, with reactions ranging from bemused indulgence to anger. Sometimes, even the children protested. As late as Halloween of 1948, members of the Madison Square Boys Club in New York City carried a parade banner that read “American Boys Don’t Beg.” Times have certainly changed since that first Halloween festival 65 years ago.
z 58bdce96102ac.imageA 2005 study by the National Confectioners Association reported that 80 percent of American households gave out candy to trick-or-treaters, and that 93 percent of children, teenagers, and young adults planned to either venture out trick-or-treating or to participate in other Halloween associated activities. In 2008, Halloween candy, costumes and other related products accounted for $5.77 billion in revenue. An estimated $2 billion worth of candy will be passed out during this Halloween season and one study claims that “an average Jack-O-Lantern bucket carries about 250 pieces of candy amounting to about 9,000 calories and containing three pounds of sugar.” Yes, 65-years ago, Halloween looked quite different than it does today. Next week, doorbells all over Irvington will ring, doors will be opened and wide-eyed gaggles of eager children will unanimously cry out “Trick-or-Treat” from Oak Avenue to Pleasant Run Parkway.
z halloween festivalCostumed kids will be rewarded for their efforts with all sorts of tribute in the form of coins, nuts, popcorn balls, fruit, cookies, cakes, and toys. As a casual observer born long after that first Irvington Halloween Festival and an active participant in the festivities that will begin next week, I’m glad that our Irvington forefathers skirted government regulations all those years ago. In fact, as a fan of all things Irvington, I’d go so far as to say that this community has played a big part in the Halloween holiday as we know it today. Because, grammar notwithstanding, nobody does Halloween like Irvington do.