Criminals, Indianapolis, Wild West

The National Horse Thief Detective Association.

PART I

Original publish date:  November 5, 2020

I’ve spent the past month talking about the past. Relics from the past. Some good. Some bad. One of those relics has an unusually ancient sounding name: The National Horse Thief Detective Association. Sounds like something from an old B-western movie right? Visions of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry on horseback riding hell bent for leather immediately gallop through our minds. Truth is, the NHTDA is not as ancient as you might think. And of course, it has ties to Irvington.
The National Horse Thief Detective Association was sort of a nineteenth-century rural neighborhood crime watch, aimed not only at prevention but also apprehension and the execution of justice. And it wasn’t just looking for horse thieves. The NHTDA was as much a civic organization as a law enforcement agency — largely composed of white, property owning men wealthy enough to pay the dues. The NHTDA was well organized. It had branches (or companies) in 92 counties of Indiana. Delegates attended annual regional meetings to swap stories, catch up on NHTDA news and share the latest law enforcement techniques.


According to the Indiana Historical Society, the horse thief detectives were Hoosier-based from the beginning, with the first official company, the Council Grove Minute Men, formed in 1845 near Wingate, Ind. In the 1840s, Indiana was literally a wild frontier and these companies were created to police rural areas and track down criminals where law enforcement (principally enforced by US Marshals) might be days, or weeks, away. The main focus was on horse thieves but soon expanded into tracking down any “evildoers” who brought crime to an area.
Expanded duties required expanded membership and soon companies were popping up all over the state, eventually spreading to Ohio and Illinois. The NHTDA itself was founded in 1860 as an umbrella group to organize the hundreds of individual detective companies among the three states. The Hoosier countryside was riddled with bandits, outlaws and horse thieves who preyed on the people living and farming in rural communities with little established law enforcement. Stealing horses, which were crucial for farming and transportation of people and goods before the arrival of the railroad and the automobile, was crucial to survival on the frontier. Many times, these thieves were better organized than the residents themselves.


These bands of marauding bandits, rustlers and gypsies were sophisticated, with established “stations” where stolen horses could be stashed to rest during the day and moved to the next station by cover of night. These horses stolen from Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Illinois were transported to Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska, where they were quickly sold. To combat these professional horse thieves, during the 1850s, Hoosier lawmakers passed legislation officially appointing association members as constables, granting them the authority to arrest and jail criminals and recover stolen goods. This legislation allowed them to cross county lines to track and apprehend thieves – something county sheriff’s couldn’t do.
Horses and livestock were one of the most vital resources a pioneering family had in those days of early westward expansion. Without horses travel was slow, plowing impossible and getting perishable goods to market a hopeless proposition. Horse thievery in antebellum Indiana resulted in crops being abandoned and farms being lost. Indiana winters are harsh and a stolen horse was no laughing matter. Failure to locate and prosecute horse thieves by US Marshals and local law enforcement often led to vigilante justice.


In most cases, horse thieves were transient and almost impossible to locate having crossed state lines in the blink of an eye. Brands were disguised, herds were split and mixed, and apprehension, let alone prosecution, was rare. However the operators of the safehouse stations were locals and word soon circulated that some neighbors were being paid by the gangs for tips on who had the fattest, fittest herds that could be easily stolen. To make matters worse, due to the sparse rural population, these operations were conducted quite brazenly during the day. It was this environment of widespread horse thievery that led to the first horse thief detective agencies being founded in Indiana.
The citizenry’s earliest attempt to tame the wild regions of rural Indiana were called the “Minute Men.” According to an association pamphlet, that membership included “only the best men in the community” and represented all the “vocations in pioneer life.” There were secret passwords and signs, and strict standards of behavior; Any member who played cards, gambled, or “used liquor to excess” was expelled. A registered member paid dues and became a constable with police powers. Operational enforcement was pretty straight forward.


If a horse was suspected as stolen (and not just a stray) the owner would go to a neighbor and ask them to notify the local association, passing along identifying information about the stolen horse (color, breed, type of shoe, height, etc.). Then, association members would call in other members who would ride immediately to a designated secret meeting place nearby. Once organized, the duly notarized constables would fan out individually, inquiring at toll booths, homes, farms, and stores in an effort to track the culprits down. The more people they notified, the more likely a horse could be found before the trail ran cold.
National Horse Thief Detective Association ledgers digitized and found on the internet, libraries and various private collections detail the lengths to which a particular chapter would go to retrieve a stolen horse. The October 1867 Warren Township HTDA Ledger, which included the Irvington area, reports of HTDA agents hunting for the horse of Mr. George White, who resided just off Brookville Road, east of Arlington Avenue.


The October 6, 1867 ledger entry reports: At 7:00 a.m. Leander White notified me that his father’s bay horse had been stolen the night before. I proceeded immediately to select men to hunt said horse. I selected 10 men to meet at George White’s house as soon as they could get there by 9:00 p.m. The men reported ready as soon as I could get a description of the horse and the direction he had started. I started 4 men to Indianapolis and Wilson, George Butcher, Henry Wilberg and Alonzo Snider to inquire at the toll gates and see if they could find any track in that dirt road. I went with the others to the National Road and there we found by the track, that he had crossed the road and went south towards McClain’s Gate; not finding any track where he had come back. I was satisfied that he had gone in a southern direction. I then sent Mr. McClain and Mr. White to Indianapolis to search the gates south and I went with the rest of the men Hiram Morehouse, John Wagoner, Conrad Reah; Thomas Cammel and Chris Wilder to the Brookville Road and started 2 men on that road and 2 south to go in a southern direction and Thomas Cammel to go on the Lawrenceburg Road and to get Jacob M. Springer to go with him. I then went to Indianapolis to meet the other men and did meet them at 12:00. M. Lonzo Snider reported that he had seen a horse pass where he had camped near Cumberland that morning about daylight that suited the description of the one he was hunting. I then sent Alfred Wilson and George Butcher east on the National Road and Lonzo Snider and Henry Wilberg south on the Bluff Road. McClain and White came home. I gave out word for the company to meet at the town house the next evening at 5:00 and ordered all the men that went to hunt to return by the next night if they got no track and if they got track, to keep on and not come back as long as there was any chance of getting him. Company met Monday evening; no word from the men exception Morehouse and his partner. They reported no track. Meeting approved for next morning at 7:00 a.m.
Oct 8, 1867: Company met all the men had returned. Cammel Springer reported. Heard of the horse at Shelbyville. Followed the tracks a few miles lost it; and could not find the track any more. Company agreed to send 6 men back to hunt said horse and called on me to select the men. I did select 6 men: Alfred Wilson, John Wagoner, Hiram Morehouse, Thomas Cammel, John Shearer, and Conrad Rahl to start immediately and if they made any discoveries, they were telegraph to George Parker. On Thursday we received a dispatch from Morehouse; they had heard of the horse. Friday evening, company met and the men all reporting no further track could be found. Company agreed to send 12 men to hunt said horse and ordered me to select the men. I did select Daniel Sharer, George Askren, Henry Wilberg, Isaac Wheatley, John Buchanon, Henry Jorger, Peter Kissel, Fred Brady, Conrad Gemmer, David Springer, Gorden Shimer, and Chris Raseno to meet at the townhouse Saturday morning at 7:00 a.m. Company met Sat morning; the men all reporting for duty. On motion, it was agreed to send one man by rail to the Ohio River to examine the ferries and towns along the river between Lawrenceberg and Vevey. On motion of A. Parker, it was agreed to send the Captain. I did start the same evening at 6:00 (the first train I could get on) went to Lawrenceberg. From there, walked to Aurora thence by boat to the bay making thorough inquiries at all towns and ferries. I then went back to Aurora and took the train to Osgood thence to Versailes by hack. Soon after I got to Versailes, William Wheatly, Conrad Grammer and Peter Kissel came into the Versailes and reported no track found by them and that 7 of the company had started that morning to Lawrenceberg together. After dinner I took William Wheatly and Peter Kissel and hired a man by the name of Stevens to go along. We left Gemmer at the hotel and I road his horse. We went about 4 miles from Versailes to a place noted as a horse thief harbor, it is in the hills and about 5 or 6 miles square we rode in and thru those hills and hollows but made no discoveries. We returned to Versailes that night. Shortly after we got back George Askren and John Buchanon came in and reported no track of horse found by them.


Although the culprit (or culprits) were never found or prosecuted, this particular case shows the lengths that the HTDA in Indianapolis would go to solve a case. Apparently, even though this caper almost bankrupted the group, similar associations continued to be formed throughout the city, eventually resulting in 16 chapters in Marion County alone. Eventually, the National Horse Thief Detective Association was formed to bring them all together. State laws were passed giving NHTDA members authority to arrest and detain, granting members extraordinary policing powers. While sheriffs and deputies could not cross county lines to apprehend lawbreakers, NHTDA deputies could. Justice was swift and often judgement was enforced at the end of a rope.
In time, chapters broadened their jurisdiction to include not only horses but also carriages, cows, poultry and other livestock. By the turn of the 21st Century, NHTDA were primarily tasked with looking for car thieves, home invaders… and people. It was the twisting of that last pursuit that would see the demise of the National Horse Thief Detective Association.

Abe Lincoln, Ghosts, Indianapolis, Irvington Ghost Tours, Museums, Politics, Presidents, Weekly Column

Abraham Lincoln & James Whitcomb Riley on Halloween!

Original publish date:  October 29 2020

In 1988, a survey was taken in conjunction with the “Hoosier Celebration” during Governor Robert Orr’s administration ranking the best known Hoosiers. Abraham Lincoln was number one and James Whitcomb Riley was number two followed (in descending order) by Benjamin and William Henry Harrison and explorers Lewis and Clark, who tied with former Governor Otis Bowen. And, because everybody loves a list, others making the cut included Larry Bird, John Cougar Mellencamp, Red Skelton, Florence Henderson, Jane Pauley, Michael Jackson and Bobby Knight. Don’t remember the “Hoosier Celebration”? Neither do I.

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This Saturday (Yay! On Halloween!) October 31st, I will be visiting the James Whitcomb Riley boyhood home in Greenfield to talk about both Lincoln and Riley. That day will be the official book reveal for my newest book, “The Petersen House, The Oldroyd Museum and The House Where Lincoln Died”. Thanks to the courtesy of former Indiana National Road Board member and Director of the Riley Boyhood Home and Museum Stacey Poe, you are invited to come out at 2:00 pm and experience the Riley home and their new “Lizabuth Ann’s Kitchen” facility located at 250 W. Main Street on the historic National Road. I will be bringing some Lincoln props, signing books, sharing stories about the Washington DC building Lincoln died in (and it’s Indiana connection) and, in the “spirit” of the season, spinning a few ghost stories too.

z jws-l400Although Lincoln and Riley died a half-century apart, the men had much in common. The two were considered the state’s most famous Hoosiers (that is until John Dillinger died in 1934) and their names were often linked in speeches, newspaper articles, books and periodicals in the first fifty years of the 20th century. One of my favorite quotes found while searching the virtual stacks of old newspapers comes from the July 20, 1941 Manhattan Kansas Morning Chronicle: “If you want to succeed in life, you might run a better chance if you live in a house with green shutters. Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain and James Whitcomb Riley all lived in such houses.” Lincoln and Riley epitomized everything that was good about being a Hoosier, right down to the color of their green window shutters.

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Lizabuth Ann’s Kitchen

The comparison was not unfounded. Both men were born in a log cabin. Both came from humble origins. Both were unevenly educated and both men never stopped learning. Both studied law-Lincoln with borrowed law books, Riley doodling poetry in the margins of his father’s law books. Both men were poets and both were considered among the greatest speakers of their generation. And both men had problematic relationships with women. Lincoln once said that he could “never be satisfied with anyone who would be blockhead enough to have me” and Riley famously said “the highest compliment I could pay to a woman is to not marry her.”

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Reuben Alexander Riley (1819-1893)

For the poet, his admiration began with his father, Reuben Riley. The senior Riley was a state legislator and among the first central Indiana politicians to embrace the railsplitter as a national figure and presidential candidate. Riley was considered by many to be the best political orator of his day. He traveled the Hoosier state stumping for Lincoln in 1860 and continued his support until the day that Lincoln died. Because of this young J.W. Riley could not remember a time when he did not admire Lincoln.
When the Lincoln funeral train came through Indiana on April 30, 1865, the official “Travel Log” notes that it arrived in Greenfield at 5:48 a.m., Philadelphia at 5:57 a.m., Cumberland at 6:30 a.m., the Engine House (identified as “Thorne” in Irvington) at 6:45 a.m. before finally arriving in Indianapolis at 7:00 a.m. In Greenfield, the depot was choked with people wishing to gaze upon the face of the departed leader one last time. The train was not officially scheduled to stop in Greenfield, but the mood among the citizens was that perhaps the engineer might be persuaded to stop when he witnessed the tremendous outpouring of trackside emotion at the Greenfield depot.

Lincoln train
The local newspaper described “a knot of three boys, hands in pockets chattering back and forth with each other while pacing up and down the railroad tracks. Two older fellows were standing together, each arm around the other, probably soldiers remembering what it means to be a comrade.” The depot porch was filled to overflowing with women in their long dresses, old soldiers in their Union uniforms and a sea of men dressed entirely in black. The telegraph operator in Charlottesville wired that the train had just passed and was heading towards the neighboring town. A sentinel was perched atop the station to alert the citizens below of the train’s approach.
In a few moments, a cloud of silver phosphorescent smoke appeared above the tree tops along the route of today’s Pennsy trail. “Here it Comes” was the cry from above and immediately the crowd below hushed and gazed eastward expectantly. For several moments, the only sound that could be heard on the platform was the muffled weeping of the gathered mourners. As the train slowly approached, Captain Reuben Riley read aloud excerpts from Lincoln’s second Inaugural address at the close of which he sat down and wept uncontrollably. The train paused briefly at the station and the engineer removed his cap in respect to reverent gathering. Fortuitously, Reverend Manners stepped from the crowd and led the group in a prayer that began, “Thank God for the life of Abraham Lincoln.” The people now openly wept as the train slowly departed westward towards Indianapolis. It is likely that 16-year-old James Whitcomb Riley was present that day.

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Riley wrote two poems dedicated to Abraham Lincoln. in a letter to Edward W. Bok dated October 23, 1890, Riley said this of the sixteenth President; “I think of what a child Lincoln must have been-and the same child-heart at home within his breast when death came by.” Along with all the shared common traits mentioned above, Lincoln and Riley were, and still remain, perhaps foremost, the idol of children everywhere.
Three days after Riley died on July 22, 1916, the Morning Call newspaper in Allentown, Pennsylvania eulogized the poet by saying: “The country has produced poets of more creative power and commanding genius, but none- not even Longfellow, beloved as he was- ever came quite so close to the heart of the mass of the people as the Hoosier Poet, James Whitcomb Riley, who died at Indianapolis on Sunday. He was truly from and of the people as was Lincoln, and in their way, his personality and career are almost as interesting and picturesque as those of the immortal emancipator.”
Elbert Hubbard, founder of the Roycrofters Arts & Crafts community in Aurora, New York, said “Who taught Abraham Lincoln and James Whitcomb Riley how to throw the lariat of their imagination over us, rope us hand and foot and put their brand upon us? God educated them. Yes, that is what I mean, and that is why the American people love them.” Hubbard was a contemporary of Riley’s who, along with his wife, died when the Germans sunk the RMS Lusitania leading to our entry into World War I a year before Riley passed.
However, in my view, what links both men in perpetuity is a shared language. Both men spoke fluent Hoosier. All his life, Lincoln and Riley tended to swallow the ‘g’ sound on words ending with ‘ing’, so a Walking Talking Traveling man become Walkin’, Talken’, Travelin’, man. Lincoln said “warsh” for wash, “poosh” for push, “kin” for can, “airth” for earth, “heered” for for heard, “sot” for sat, “thar” for there, “oral” for oil, “hunnert” for hundred, “feesh” for fish and “Mr. Cheerman” for Mr. Chairman. Likewise, Riley practiced the Hoosier dialect in his printed work, saying “punkin'” for pumpkin, “skwarsh” for squash, “iffin'” for if then and “tarlet” for toilet. Both men peppered their speech with distinctive words like yonder and for schoolin’ both “larned” their lessons and got their “eddication” in fits and spurts.
Both men’s lives came to an end in private houses, not in hospitals. Riley in the Nickum House in Indianapolis’ Lockerbie Square and Lincoln in the Petersen House in Washington, D.C. This Saturday, I will share my favorite ghost story about J.W. Riley (in the Lockerbie house) and while I have no ghost stories to share about The House Where Lincoln Died, I will detail a connection between the two. I will introduce you to the three families who resided there, the last of whom, Osborn Oldroyd, displayed his Lincoln collection of relics and objects for over thirty years before selling it to the United States Government in 1926. That collection is now on display in the basement of Ford’s Theatre.
Riley Lincoln poemOldroyd, a thrice-wounded Civil War veteran, collector, curator and author, is perhaps the father of the house museum in America. One of Oldroyd’s books, a compilation of poems entitled, “The Poets’ Lincoln— Tributes In Verse To The Martyred President”, was published in 1915. James Whitcomb Riley’s poem, A Peaceful Life with the name “Lincoln” in parenthesis as a sub-title can be found there on page 31. In Oldroyd’s version, the first line differs from Riley’s original version. Riley’s handwritten original (found today in the archives of the Lilly Library on the Bloomington campus of Indiana University) begins: “Peaceful Life:-toil, duty, rest-“. Oldroyd’s book version begins; “A peaceful life —just toil and rest—.” Interestingly, the Oldroyd version has become the standard. And there you have it. Oldroyd’s influence is subtle, his name largely unknown, yet he stays with us to this day.

Indianapolis, Pop Culture

“Monopoly: the Hoosier Connection. Part II”

Lizzie Magie.

Original publish date:  July 26, 2013 Reissue date: September 17, 2020

The game of Monopoly was patented 80 years ago this week on July 30, 1933. The official Parker Brothers line is that the popular board game was solely created by an unemployed salesman and heating engineer named Charles Darrow. Last week in part I, we learned that Hoosier Dan Layman claimed to have developed the game in the late 1920s while a student at Williams College in Reading, Pennsylvania. From Indianapolis the game traveled back to the East Coast through friends of Layman.
Ruth Hoskins brought the monopoly folk game to the Atlantic City after taking a teaching job at the Friends School. Although contrary to the “Monopoly” legend, she and Layman never met, Ruth was introduced to it by one of his friends. In 1929 Ruth Hoskins began playing Monopoly in Indianapolis with her brother James and his friend Robert Frost “Pete” Daggett Jr., who was a close friend of Dan Layman. Her story is appealing if only for the sweet religious reasoning that may have cost her a fortune.

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Ruth Hoskins was a core member of Quaker “Friends” meeting group which changed Layman’s capitalistic folk game to a Quaker based game she too called “Monopoly.” In October of 1929, ironically very near the date of the “Black Sunday” stock market crash, Ruth Hoskins began teaching her version of Monopoly to other teachers, students, and Quaker acquaintances. Layman’s manufactured game, Finance, was not yet on the market and certainly not available on the East Coast at that time. Though slight differences appeared in her regional version of the game, Ruth’s game was remarkably similar to the modern incarnation of Monopoly.
Ruth first change to Layman’s game was to purchase properties rather than auctioning them, as the Quakers did not believe in auctions. Apparently the Quakers, who, according to their original tenant, were required to avoid “impudent noisy indecent behaviour in Markets and other publick” simply didn’t like the noise of the auctioneering. Ruth’s most significant claim to authorship of Monopoly as we know it today is that after she relocated to her seaside New Jersey home, she changed Layman’s Indianapolis street names (one of which was “LaSalle Street”) to those of streets found in her adopted Atlantic City hometown. Eugene and Ruth Raiford, friends of Hoskins, showed the game to Charles E. Todd, a hotel manager in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Todd introduced Charles and Esther Darrow to the game. The Darrows were occasional hotel guests; Esther was Todd’s former neighbor.
Charles Todd claims that sometimes in 1931: “The first people we taught it to after learning it from the Raifords was Darrow and his wife Esther … It was entirely new to them. They had never seen anything like it before and showed a great deal of interest in it… Darrow asked me if I would write up the rules and regulations and I wrote them up and checked with Raiford to see if they were right and gave them to Darrow – he wanted two or three copies of the rules, which I gave him and gave Raiford and kept some myself.”

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Ruth Hoskins said, while testifying during the same 1974 trial as Dan Layman, in her pretrial deposition. “To the Harveys [Cyril and his wife Dorothy], who introduced it to the Raifords [Eugene and his wife Ruth, Jesse and his wife Dorothea] … Everybody made their own [board] … We asked everybody we knew that could to come play it, because it was such fun.” Since Ruth’s entire circle of friends consisted mainly of scrupulously moral Quakers, whenever the subject of commercializing the game arose, it was rejected.
“We weren’t business people,” Hoskins explained. “We were school teachers. It was a good game the way it was.” She went on to say that since the game was being played in Atlantic City, it no longer made any sense to have properties named after places in Indianapolis or parts of Pennsylvania. The discussion came up that the names were for the most part unknown to us … Why not use Atlantic City names? … We named them out in honor of people who belonged to our group. For instance, well, Boardwalk was first. Everybody knows that, Boardwalk. But the Jones’s were living on Park Place and the Claridge was being built across the street and the Marlborough Blenheim was right there. That was obviously a very expensive part of the town and one that we wanted to honor.

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“We were living on Pennsylvania Avenue … The Copes lived on Virginia Avenue at the Morton Hotel … So it developed gradually. “… I know that there were the utilities and I know that the four railroads were there … We had ‘Free Parking’ and we had ‘Go to Jail’ and we had tickets to get out of jail and you got $200 as you passed ‘Go’.” The lawyers made a point to meticulously document Ruth’s story, street-by-street, because Parker Brothers’ last defense is that Charles Darrow put the Atlantic City streets on the board and therefore his game is different from other versions of Monopoly. Hoskins also suggested Connecticut, Vermont and Oriental Avenues. “All these I made up and then we discussed it with the group.” Other members of the group added New York Ave., Community Chest and Marven Gardens “because although it wasn’t a street, there was somebody living there”.
In spite of this evidence, Parker Brothers chose to promote the Charles Darrow version of the game, even though they knew that it was not Mr. Darrow’s creation. Parker Brothers officially sanctioned story claimed that “Charles Darrow as an unemployed salesman and inventor living in Germantown, Pennsylvania, who was struggling with odd jobs to support his family in the years following the great stock market crash of 1929. Charles Darrow remembering his summers spent in Atlantic City, New Jersey, spent his spare time drawing the streets of Atlantic City on his kitchen tablecloth, and using pieces of material and bits of paints, wood etc. contributed by local merchants for game pieces. A game was already forming in his mind as he built little hotels, houses and other tokens to go along with his painted streets.”
One glaring mistake pointed to as evidence of the theft of intellectual property can be seen in Darrow’s version to this day. Ruth’s original Marven Gardens designation, named for a residential area near Atlantic City, was misspelled by Darrow as Marvin Gardens. This, combined with the other similarities mentioned above, make it highly unlikely that Darrow’s claim to authorship of Monopoly is authentic. He seems to have simply been in the right place at the right time.
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Charles Darrow.

Although it is clear Charles Darrow was not the sole inventor of Monopoly, the game he patented was quickly becoming a best seller for Parker Brothers. Within one month of signing an agreement with Darrow in 1935, Parker Brothers started producing over 20,000 copies of the game per week, a game that Charles Darrow claimed was his “brainchild.” Parker Brothers most likely discovered the existence of other Monopoly games after buying the patent from Darrow, but by that time, it was evident that the game was going to be a huge success. According to the Parker Brothers, their best move was “to secure patents and copyrights.” Parker Brothers simply did what Rockefeller, Carnegie, Hearst and Edison did before them, they bought out, developed and published the acknowledged forerunners if Monopoly: The Landlord’s Game, Finance, Fortune, as well as Finance and Fortune.
Much of the true history of “Monopoly” remains a mystery, but what is known for certain is that Charles Darrow sold his ‘rights’ to Parker Brothers at age 46. And that’s a fact. The royalties from Monopoly made Charles Darrow a millionaire, the first game inventor to make that much money. In 1970, a few years after Darrow’s death, Atlantic City erected a commemorative plaque in his honor. It stands on the Boardwalk, near the corner of Park Place.
The city of Indianapolis is a mere footnote in the history of the board game Monopoly. You won’t find the names of Hoosier Dan Layman or Hoosier transplant Ruth Hoskins written in any history of the Parker Brothers company. But the next time you’re cursing the skies for the rotten luck of landing on Boardwalk with four houses AGAIN, you can now shake your fist in the air and personally thank the Hoosier men and women who put you there.

Indianapolis, Pop Culture

“Monopoly: the Hoosier Connection. Part I”

Hoosier Dan Layman with his invention.

Original publish date:  July 19, 2013 Reissue Date September 10, 2020

Last Winter, hundreds of thousands of voters in 180 countries elected a new “Monopoly” token that was added to the game earlier this year. The cat token won the race and replaced the iron, an original piece from 1933. By some estimates, more than 1 billion people have played “Monopoly” since its creation, with more than 275 million copies sold in 111 countries and 43 languages. But while the game’s success is indisputable, its origins are not. What we know is that the game of Monopoly was patented 80 years ago this month on July 30, 1933 by an unemployed salesman and heating engineer named Charles Darrow.
Darrow, reeling from the loss of his career during the Great Depression, enlisted his wife and son to design and hand-produce the very first games eight decades ago. Darrow drew the designs with a drafting pen on round pieces of oilcloth, and then his son and his wife helped fill in the spaces with colors and make the title deed cards and the Chance cards and Community Chest cards. Darrow called his game “Monopoly” and hand-painted one set per day, which he sold for $4.00 each. While Darrow received a copyright on his game in 1933, his original patent model and succeeding specimens have mysteriously disappeared from the files of the United States Copyright Office, though proof of its registration remains.
In 1935, Darrow licensed the game to Parker Brothers and quickly became the first millionaire game designer. When Darrow died in 1967, his New York Times obituary headline read “Charles B. Darrow Dies at 78; Inventor of Game of Monopoly.” That’s the official story line anyway, the real story is quite a bit more complicated.


The Landlord’s Game Board from 1904.

Some say that Lizzie J. Magie’s “The Landlord’s Game”, patented in 1904, was the first real monopoly game. Others claim it was a Reading, Pennsylvania college student, Dan Layman, and his pal, Louis Thun, created a game called “Finance” (that his friends called “Monopoly”) in the late 1920s. Or was it Ruth Hoskins? She learned how to play the game from a friend of Layman’s in Indianapolis. Yes, the game of Monopoly was created here in Indianapolis!
Originally titled “The Fascinating Game of Finance or Finance and Fortune” and later shortened to “Finance” for the sake of brevity, the board game was based on Ms. Magie’s “The Landlord’s Game”. The game featured the now familiar movement of pieces around the handmade board, the use of cards, properties that can be purchased, and houses that can be erected on them. The published board featured four railroads (one per side), Chance and Community Chest cards and spaces, and properties grouped by symbol, rather than color. Sound Familiar?
Hoosier Dan Layman developed his game while a student at Williams College in Reading, Pennsylvania in the late 1920s. In January 1975 during one of the many patent trials challenging the rights to the popular & profitable game, Dan Layman facetiously opined in his deposition that: “They forgot to mention that when Darrow died, he was working on the invention of the wheel.” The deposition insisted that Layman and his college fraternity brothers were playing Monopoly six years before Darrow ever saw it and he had copyrighted and published the first set of rules for the game in its modern form.
In an episode that must’ve foreshadowed the Zuckerberg / Winklevoss facebook controversy of this century, Layman created his version of Monopoly after being introduced to it by two of his Williams College Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity brothers, Frederick and Louis Thun. After leaving college, Layman returned to his hometown of Indianapolis and in his spare time he taught Monopoly to a variety of friends who made their own boards. Eventually Layman got the idea of marketing the game. So, he drew up formal rules (including: “Do not pass Go; do not collect $200.00 dollars, Ownership of a series entitles one to collect double rent on all the properties of that series, paying $50 to the bank, one may leave the jail the first time his turn comes around again…), and got a company called Electronic Laboratories, Inc., to make the board, cards, money and pieces (hotels, houses, markers).

In 1932, the board game “Finance” was first sold by the L. S. Ayres & Co department store chain. Initially, the game was sold in small black boxes (some of which came with poker chips for money) with four different versions of the rules and properties were auctioned rather than sold. Otherwise, it is almost identical to Monopoly including Chance and Community Chest cards. With L. S. Ayres & Co. and Electronics Laboratories producing and L.S. Ayres selling his version, Lyman published the game for a year before selling it to Knapp Electric for $200. Although Layman first intended to call his new creation “Monopoly”, the name was changed for trademark reasons. Some clarity to the Monopoly rights controversy can be found in the General Mills Fun Group (buyers of Parker Brothers and Monopoly) lawsuit against Ralph Anspach and his Anti-Monopoly® game in 1974. Dan Layman testified: “I understood from various attorney friends of mine that because Monopoly had been used as the name of this exact game, both in Indianapolis and in Reading and in Williamstown, Massachusetts, that it was, therefore, in public domain and that I couldn’t protect it in any way. So, I changed the name in order to have some protection.”
According to a Time Magazine article dated February 17th, 1936: “I wrote the entire rulebook for the game of Finance in 1931 (copyrighted 1932) and simplified the old game of Monopoly for manufacturing purposes…” said Dan Layman, “Almost exactly this same game as played at Williams was put on the market in Indianapolis early in 1932 through L. S. Ayres & Co.” This was the only article published which contradicted what would become Parker Brothers’ assertion that it had published the original Monopoly, and that Layman’s version was a spin-off. Layman had forced the retraction by Time in 1936, when an article two weeks earlier had published an article titled “Monopoly and Politics.”
What was unknown to Time was that Layman had sold the rights to the game to a small games manufacturer, David W. Knapp, the originator of the popular 1930s game “Krazy-Ikes.” Knapp was eventually bought out by Parker Brothers for $10,000- a significant sum at the time. But it was a far cry from the Millions in Royalties that were paid to Charles Darrow. Parker Brothers eventually published the game Finance, after simplifying the rules for easier play and marketing it as a separate entity. So much for Dan Layman’s claims.
Although the game company virtually ignored Hoosier Dan Layman’s virtual paternity claim as the “Father” of Monopoly, in the spring of 1935, Parker Brothers paid Layman’s old college fraternity brother Luis Thun a visit and offered to buy any remaining boards of their Monopoly game for $50 each. Thun said that he told the Parker Brothers representative “…it wasn’t at all clear to me how Mr. Darrow could be the inventor of a game… we’d played since 1925.” But $50 each for an obsolete board game at the height of the Great Depression proved too rich an offer to refuse and Thun caved, thus ending all claims to authorship of Parker Brothers’ best selling board game.
But Hoosier ties to the game of “Monopoly” does not end there. There is another historical footnote that binds Monopoly to our fair city.

Auctions, Creepy history, Health & Medicine, Indianapolis, Medicine, Music, Pop Culture

Elvis Presley — are you kidding?

Elvis Presley Autopsy Tools.

Original publish date August 10, 2010 Reissue date: August 27, 2020

Recently the Leslie Hindman auction house in Chicago caused a flap when it was announced that they would be auctioning off the instruments used to embalm Elvis Presley after his untimely death at the age of 42. The auction house was planning to sell the macabre Elvis relics in two separate lots: one with a pre-sale value of $4,000 to $6,000, and the other estimated at $6,000 to $8,000. Elvis may have left the building, but the man’s ability to get people “all shook up” has not diminished as the announcement sent shock waves through the media and wrought havoc among fans, collectors, historians and auctioneers alike.
The items in question, which included a comb, eye liner, rubber gloves, forceps, needle injectors, an arterial tube, aneurysm hooks, and a toe tag, came from an unidentified former employee who worked for the Memphis funeral home where Elvis’ body was last attended to. They were used only once — to embalm Elvis’ body, apply makeup to his face, and dye his graying hair to the jet-black color his fans knew so well. The replacement toe tag, marked “John Doe,” was attached to the King’s body after an eager fan stole Elvis’s original tag during the chaos at the hospital where he was taken. Other items in the grouping include the coffin shipping invoice, autopsy room preparation paperwork and the hanger that Elvis Presley’s funeral suit and tie arrived on.


Elvis Presley’s last concert at MSA in Indianapolis.

According to the auction house, the items were used to prepare the King’s body for a private viewing for family and friends only in the morning after his death. Presley died August 16, 1977, in the bathroom of his Graceland estate of an irregular heartbeat. “The senior embalmer at the Memphis Funeral Home at the time of Presley’s death saved the items for the last 33 years and decided to sell them after he realized someone might value them,” said Mary Williams, director of books and manuscripts for Leslie Hindman Auctioneers.
Presley’s autopsy involved draining all body fluids and removal of all vital organs which were then sent to a pathology lab for testing to ascertain the cause of death. The coroner, Dr. Jerry Francisco, along with Dr. Eric Muirhead and Dr. Noel Florredo, presided over the autopsy of Presley. The trio initially concealed the facts by attributing the cause of death to a massive heart attack. They later claimed their motive “was not to tarnish the image by a scandal of a drug habit.” For decades, when asked about the rumors that Elvis is not dead, Francisco consistently replied, “If Elvis is NOT dead, he’s walking around without his major organs as Elvis’ brain and heart are still in storage at Memphis Memorial Hospital.”
When the sale was announced, a spokesman for the auction house admitted the auction may be controversial as some people “are going to be disappointed” by the sale of these items. However, Elvis memorabilia remains in strong demand with a lock of his hair selling for $18,300, a red ultra-suede shirt worn by Elvis in publicity photos garnering a $34,000 bid, and an inscribed record sleeve selling for $10,370 at a Hindman’s auction in October 2009. The proposed sale of these creepy collectibles combined with the fact that he’s been dead for 33 years, keeps Presley intact as one of the highest grossing celebrities, bringing in $55 million in 2009 according to Forbes.com. Presley’s posthumous popularity notwithstanding, why would anyone want to buy these things?


Luckily, that question will remain unanswered because these sad rock-n-roll souvenirs were removed from the August 12th auction after doubts were raised about their provenance and authenticity. According to the auction house, the items have been given back to the Memphis Funeral Home, following a dispute between the home and the potential consignor. “Due to questions of ownership, the retired embalmer and his son have decided to turn over the property to the Memphis Funeral Home and its parent company, Service Corporation International, with the intention of donation,” Hindman said in a post on their Web site.
Shortly after the auction was announced, the Memphis Funeral Home claimed that those tools were taken without the home’s consent. The funeral home thought the embalmer was dead, but he’s not. He’s in his 80s. The funeral home contacted the elderly man and told him he can’t sell the items and if they were not returned, legal steps would be taken to reclaim them. According to funeral home president E.C. Daves, “We are awaiting word from the Elvis Presley estate on its preferences for the items. The items could be donated to a funeral history museum in Houston or they could be destroyed. Either way, the funeral home is not going to do anything until the Presley estate agrees with it.”


Now, maybe you’re thinking, “But you never answered the question, who would buy this stuff?” Well, before the items were pulled from the sale, Hindman’s auction house specialist Williams explained, “It’s really about owning a piece of the celebrity themselves… and how much closer can you get than the actual embalming instruments?” Okay that’s a creepy statement. However, I can help add some clarity to the issue for you. If you’ve been paying attention to past columns, you’ve learned that I’ve been an antique dealer for 30 years and a memorabilia collector for even longer than that. As with many collectors, I’ve bought, traded and sold many collections over the years.


One of those collections was a group of crime related autographs, artwork and paintings featuring infamous names like serial killers John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy, Manson family members Charles Manson, Tex Watson and Squeaky Fromme and political assassins James Earl Ray, Jack Ruby, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Charles Guiteau. I have owned signatures of Bob Ford, the “dirty little coward” who killed Jesse James and a personal check signed and written out by Bruce Lee made payable to and endorsed by his hairstylist Jay Sebring, who died alongside Sharon Tate in the Manson family massacre. Most of these items lost their appeal to me as I grew older but the urge of the infamous and their misdeeds never fully went away, for I still own a signed photo of John Wilkes Booth and a few other assorted macabre mementos from our country’s history.
I have seen many similar grisly relics offered for sale in the past, and held many of these macabre items in my hands including several items connected to the Lincoln assassination conspirators, the blood stained glasses that John Lennon wore the night he was murdered, the “Double Fantasy” record album Lennon signed for Mark David Chapman just a short time before Chapman killed Lennon, the watch that was in Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne’s pocket when he died in a plane crash, the watch Buddy Holly wore on his wrist when he likewise perished in a plane crash, and countless locks of hair and death masks from celebrities in every field across the board. Within the “hobby” they are commonly known as “blood relics” and they are in high demand. Whether you agree or disagree with their relevance, there exists a lucrative market for these sad souvenirs.
Collecting is an addiction. There is the thrill of the chase, the negotiation for acquisition, the elaborate planning for display and the final realization that you now possess the object of your desired search. For those collectors whose fandom goes beyond collecting rare records, signed merchandise and other conventional methods of capturing a performer’s essence, it’s only natural that they would be interested in something that would bring them a little closer to the performer. And friends, it doesn’t get much “closer” than this. So ask yourself: if you had the chance to own, possess or simply handle one of these unique items, what would you do?