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.

Indianapolis, Irvington Ghost Tours, Witches

The Black Hat Society Calendar Release Friday the 13th.

Witches

Original publish date:  October 12, 2017

A dark cave. In the middle, a boiling cauldron. Thunder. Enter the three Witches. “Round about the cauldron go; In the poison’d entrails throw…Eye of newt and toe of frog, Wool of bat and tongue of dog,..Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf, Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf…Ditch-deliver’d by a drab, Make the gruel thick and slab: Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron, For the ingredients of our cauldron…Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble.” Witches Chant Macbeth by William Shakespeare .

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The Three Witches from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” (1827) by Alexandre-Marie Colin. 

The coolest thing to come to Irvington in a very long time has arrived. The Black Hat Society has taken the eastside of Indianapolis by storm. Since their debut at the 2016 Historic Irvington Halloween Festival, their membership has grown as fast as their popularity. The coven of friendly witches was the brainchild of Karin Mullens. In the summer of 2016, Karin saw a video of German witches on facebook and immediately thought of her Irvington neighborhood.

Irvington has long been home to spooky stories, legends and tales of ghosts and goblins. Why not witches too? After all, Irvington is home to the countries longest running Halloween festival, which this year celebrates its 71st annual street festival and costume parade along the Historic National Road. The tradition of the Black Hat Society kicks off this Friday the 13th (would you expect anything less?) with a calendar release at the Irving Theatre at 7:00 pm.

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Parade photo by Michael Sullivan Photography.

The public is cordially invited to attend this first ever event free of charge. The Black Hat Society will be out in all their glory to greet fans, well-wishers and friends. The calendar will be available for purchase for $ 20 and if you are lucky, you can get the members to autograph your calendar up close and in person. Dont miss your chance to obtain your very own treasure that is destined to become a cherished memento of Irvington lore in the years to come. Oh, and by the way, you’ll be helping out some local charities at the same time.

The calendar features images of the Black Hat Society witches posed in settings and scenes in and around Irvington. The images, created by photographer Michael Sullivan, are fantastic and each month captures the whimsy of the witches posed in seasonal themes and familiar Irvington businesses. Settings include The Irving Theatre, Jockamos Upper Crust Pizza, Snips Salon & Spa, Lincoln Square Pancake House, Black Sheep Gifts, Artisan Realtors, Irvington Insurance, Coal Yard Coffee, Two Poodles and a Cake, the Irvington Wellness Center, 10 South Johnson Coffee House and of course, the Oakley-Hammond Funeral Home. They are all represented in this debut calendar. What makes the calendar even more fun is the way photographer Sullivan has posed his coven. But you’ll have to discover that on your own because I’m sworn to secrecy and even I know that a promise to a witch is one that should not be broken.

59f611740231b.imageThe charities involved are the Diabetes Youth Foundation summer camp in Noblesville, Helping Paws Pet Rescue and The PourHouse Street Outreach Center. The Black Hat Society hopes to raise $ 10,000 for these worthy charities. In addition, there will be a donation box placed at the entrance of the Irving Theatre during the event. The Black Hat Society requests donations of men’s socks, pet food and cleaning supplies, all of which are in almost constant need by these institutions. Karin informs me that Eric Wilson at Irvington Insurance has helped mightily in spearheading the group’s donation efforts.

Weekly View readers will not be surprised that the ranks of the Black Hat Society are populated by Irvingtonians and east-siders. Karin informs, “We are about 30% Irvingtonians, 20% east-siders (Little Flower, Emerson Heights, Bosart Brown) and the remaining 50% come from nearby communities like Carmel, Greenfield, Franklin, Greenwood and the West side.” The group started out with about 50-60 members, “But we’re up to over 100 members now.” says Karin. “We practiced two times a week for six weeks before we marched in the parade but had out debut at last year’s Spooky Stories on the Circle.”

5bd9b509c774e.imageFrom there, the Black Hat Society marched in the Indy St. Patrick’s Day parade, Pride parade and they recently won a $ 100 prize in a parade in Fountain Square. Should you miss the releases party, never fear, the witches will have their calendars for sale at their booth at the Halloween Festival. The calendars can be ordered on line at theblackhatsociety.org and on their facebook page.

I am fortunate, as are many of you, to say that several of the witches are friends of mine. Nancy Tindall-Sponsel, a founding member, may be the most enthusiastic of all the witches. Nancy has her hands full this time of year with her duties as chair of the Halloween Festival, but she always has time to talk about the witches. “It was a big surprise,” she states, “how the group came together so fast. We’re just a group of women that have formed a sisterhood. There are no qualifications for membership, just a willingness to have fun and enjoy.” Nancy states that the group has formed a fellowship that is so close that they can now “haunt” Goodwill stores and thrift shops looking for costume additions. “If we find something for our costume that we already have, we’ll pick it up and share it with other members.” says Nancy.

Dawn Briggs, another founding member, also speaks glowingly of the group. “Most of us are just girls who never got to play dress up,” Dawn says. “We are a Fraternity of friends. There are no cliques. It was instant bonding. We all have fun lifting each other up and raising money for charity.” Dawn continues, “Some of the ladies are shy by nature but when they put on that costume, they change. Even though we’re mostly women, there is no cattiness involved.”

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The author and Jan DeFerbrache of the Magic Candle.

Jan DeFerbrache, owner of the Magic Candle, is the unofficial historian of the group. Jan guides the membership in the do’s and don’t’s of witchcraft and makes sure that the members appearances are accurate. Jan’s knowledge helped out during the St. Patrick’s Day parade when most of the marchers wore “earth witch” costumes to better keep within the theme of the holiday.

Paula Nicewanger, creative director of this newspaper, and her husband Steve, are members of the troupe. During last year’s parade Paula was in the coven, but not as a member. She was taking photos of the witches for her newspaper and was swept up inside of the coven as they marched along Washington Street. She had such a good time that she joined the Black Hat Society shortly afterwards. Paula, an accomplished artist, created an original painting that will be turned into a poster that will also be sold at the witches’ Halloween festival booth. The poster depicts five of the witches (Paula, Dawn Briggs, Renee Cotterman, Karin Mullens & Kitty Fenstermaker) in full costume posed around a cauldron.

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Paula Nicewanger.

Other founding members include Michelle Roberts, Karen Davis, Sue Beecher, and Leslie Walsh. Michelle has just recently been named Vice-President of the group. Molly McPherson is the official choreographer for the group and helps with the music. Nancy Lynch acts as creative director and arranged the sites used for the calendar photos. I’m repeatedly told that Christy Raymer is the witch to seek out and shake hands with. Apparently Christy has an eyeball on the back of her hand that looks so realistic it’s scary.

It may come as a surprise to some that the Black Hat Society is not entirely made up of women. The group includes a few men too. Along with Steve Nicewanger, Tim Lynch, Dylan Roahrig and Craig Rutherford are among the warlocks in the group. Roger Disher, whose wife Kim is a founding member, is described by some of the girls as a coven member too but I’m told he doesn’t dress up. Kim says, “He’s a quiet member. Support system of sorts.” Kim confirms what many of the other witches say by relating that above all else, the group is “FUN!” and loves supporting the neighborhood and the fact that “we welcome ALL!”

While Steve calls himself a warlock, Dylan wears a kilt for his costume, and Kim calls Roger a quiet member, Black Hat Society member Craig Rutherford proudly calls himself a “male witch.” Craig, the unofficial prop maker for nearly every Halloween Festival event including the Black Hat Society, didn’t march with the witches last year but plans on marching in this year’s parade. And about this year’s parade, every Black Hat Society member agrees that something BIG is in the works for this year. What that something big is has become the best kept secret in Irvington. None of the witches are talking but Craig came closer to anyone by admitting that his role this year will be as a witches’ minion.

53778687_1823021094469367_5747701049993461760_nWhen I asked Craig what it is like to be a male witch surrounded by so many women, he answered succinctly, “It’s lonely.” Craig would like to see more guys join the group. “At last year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, I made eight drums for our drum line, but we only had 4 drummers. We need more guys!” Craig is amazed by just how generous the witches in the Black Hat Society are, “If I need something for a prop or help in building a set, I get 30 or 40 responses within minutes.”

I’d suggest you make plans now to attend the Halloween festival parade on October 28th. The route is such that you can stake out your optimal viewing position well before it starts. The parade will commence from the Irvington United Methodist Church and head West on Washington Street, then backtrack to the east on Washington to Audubon. The parade will then head South on Audubon and end at Bonna. So bring a chair, stake out your spot and get ready to enjoy the show. But first, head out to the Irving Theatre Friday the 13th from 7:00 to 9:00 and get your calendar before they sell out. As the witches of Shakespeare’s Macbeth lamented, “By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes. Open locks, Whoever knocks!” The witches will be expecting you.

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St. Patrick’s Day Parade photo by Nancy Ann Tindall-Sponsel 
Abe Lincoln, Civil War, Indianapolis, Irvington Ghost Tours

Sons of Union Veterans Ben Harrison Camp # 356.

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Left to right: Dave Wilson, Bob Winters, Mike Beck, Past Department Commander (PDC); Tim Beckman, PDC; Garry Walls, PCC; Bruce Kolb, PDC; Jim Floyd.

Original publish date:  July 11, 2019

Sometimes you just need to step back, relax, reflect awhile and think about what it means to be a Hoosier. The fourth of July seems a perfect time for such reflections. I was born in Indianapolis, as were my parents, grand parents and great-grand parents. Like many of us, I had forefathers who served in the Civil War. In my case, I had gr-gr-grandfathers serving on both sides of the conflict; my maternal forefather was riding with Morgan’s Raiders while my paternal forefather was chasing him. Had one caught the other, I might not be here.
This past Memorial Day, I finally decided to venture out to Crown Hill Cemetery and attend the official ceremonies hosted by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War-Ben Harrison Camp #356. Dave “The King” Wilson had suggested I join a few years back and I just got around to joining recently. I’ve known Camp Commander Jim Floyd for nearly two decades and was delighted to be present as a spectator while Jim and Dave led the ceremonies. Truth is, I joined not only to honor the veterans in my past family but also to honor my muse of the past decade: Osborn Oldroyd.

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Osborn H. Oldroyd

As many of you know, Oldroyd has been on my mind lately. Not only was he the very first curator of a Lincoln museum, first housed in the Lincoln homestead in Springfield, Illinois for a decade and then in the House Where Lincoln Died in Washington D.C. for over three decades more. Equally importantly, he also served as Assistant Adjutant General of the Grand Army of the Republic in the District for over twenty years. Regardless of how I got there, I got there. And hopefully by the time you’re finished reading this article, you’ll decide you might want to join too.
The Ben Harrison Camp No. 356 SUVCW was originally founded on June 19, 1884 with 46 members, most of whom were “real sons”. After that first camp disbanded, it reorganized on March 8, 1897 with 32 members. It continued meeting into the early 1970’s before it disbanded again. In 1981, the Ben Harrison camp was organized once again and has met continuously ever since. Their mission statement, quite simply, is to “Honor Union Veterans and all who have patriotically served our country in any war, preserving & perpetuating the Grand Army of the Republic, and Patriotic Education.” All with the goal to help America become a better nation by helping to keep the stories and sacrifice of our Civil War ancestors alive.
The Ben Harrison camp “honors the soldiers who fought to preserve the Union and free an enslaved people through activities including: maintaining their graves, teaching patriotism, and ensuring future generations continue to learn from the mistakes of the past.” As for the parent organization, “The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) is the volunteer, non-profit, charitable, fraternal, patriotic and educational organization created by the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), which was the largest Union Civil War veterans’ organization. The SUVCW is officially recognized as the GAR’s legal successor, and received its Congressional Charter in 1954.”

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Left to right: Dave Wilson, Jim Floyd,  Bob Winters, Jim Floyd.
These fellows truly practice what they preach. In the past few years of outside observation, I’ve watched from afar as these men have repaired, reset, restored, cleaned and replaced the markers of dozens of Hoosier Civil war soldiers; led the charge by decorating soldier’s graves for memorial day at Crown Hill Cemetery and Remembrance Day every November in Gettysburg as well as protecting a Hoosier monument in distress at Vicksburg. This past effort is of particular interest to me as it was on this field that Osborn Oldroyd was wounded three times in battle. I’ve fairly worn out my family, friends and readers over the past several years by rambling on about Oldroyd, so I’ll spare you any further abuse on the Lincoln collector / curator…for now.
IMG_3521This memorial day, the Ben Harrison camp honored Hoosier Civil War soldier Captain Richard Burns. With temperatures in Indianapolis hovering above or around the 90 degree mark for nearly two months now, Captain Burns’ story seems apropos to the moment. For you see, Captain Richard Burns died of sunstroke. At 5′ 10″ and weighing 143 pounds, Richard Burns was light skinned with piercing blue eyes and prematurely gray hair. Burns first enlisted on September 21, 1861 as a private in Third Battery, Indiana Light Artillery. The unit was organized in Connersville, Indiana, and mustered in at Indianapolis on August 24, 1861. Ironically, the unit would muster out nearly 4 years to the day (August 21, 1865) at the same place.
Within weeks of his enlistment, Burns was appointed corporal on October 1, 1861. From there Burns advanced to squad sergeant then orderly sergeant. On November 25, 1862 he was appointed second lieutenant then rose to first lieutenant on October 25, 1863. On July 25, 1865 Burns was appointed captain, a rank he would retain until his discharge on August 21, 1865. While his rise through the ranks might be described as meteoric, it did not come without cost. During his service, Burns contracted typhoid pneumonia (more commonly known as consumption back then) and was plagued by chronic diarrhea for nearly all of his military service. The latter, while uncomfortable, was temporary. However, the Streptococcus pneumonia remained and slowly invaded and weakened his heart for the remainder of his life.
Before the war, Burns worked in the “burnt district” of Wayne County as a heavy machinist. After his discharge, Burns returned to Cambridge City but was confined to light duty, working as a grocery clerk and a brick mason. Burns relocated to Montana in 1867, presumably chasing gold or cattle alongside other fortune-hunting Civil War veterans, but moved back to Cambridge City the next year. From there, Burns moved to Anderson and finally to Indianapolis.
According to an article titled “THE OPPRESSIVE HEAT” found in the August 16, 1888 Indianapolis Journal newspaper (page 8), “The remarkably cool weather of the first three days of the week was followed by a hot wave yesterday that raised the mercury to 91 degrees at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. The air during the afternoon and early evening, in the absence of any breeze, was very oppressive, and as people were not prepared for the sudden change there was much discomfort. At 5 o’clock in the evening Richard Burns, a brick-mason, living at No. 90 North New Jersey street, was prostrated on Hadley avenue, where he was working. Kregelo’s ambulance was called, and the attendants were taking him to the City Hospital when he died. He was fifty years of age.”

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August 16, 1888 Indianapolis Journal newspaper

The Indianapolis News of that same day, reported “Yesterday afternoon the temperature mounted to an uncomfortable degree, and the heat was very oppressive. Late in the day Captain Richard Burns, residing 90 North New Jersey street and employed on Hadley avenue, was overcome by the heat, and he died while Kregelo’s ambulance was removing him to the hospital. He was aged about fifty, and was a member of Chapman Post, G. A. R., and a pensioner. he leaves a wife, but no children….” He was buried on Lot 49, Section 4 in Crown Hill Cemetery on August 19, 1888 at 2:00.

This memorial day’s ceremony at Crown Hill was solemn, stirring and well organized. However, it wasn’t until afterwards that I learned of a connection between Captain Burns, myself and Irvington. The Third Light Battery was assigned to General John C. Fremont’s Army of the Tennessee and accompanied it in the campaign through southwestern Missouri in the Western Theater. In December, 1863, the battery moved to Columbus, Ky., where it served in the winter campaign through western Tennessee before it moved to Vicksburg and joined Sherman’s army on the expedition to Meridian, Miss., in Feb., 1864. From there, the battery assisted in the storming and capture of Fort De Russy. It then served at Memphis and Tupelo, Miss. In Jan., 1865, the unit moved to New Orleans, where it took part in the siege and capture of Fort Blakely, which resulted in the surrender of Mobile. It next moved to Montgomery, thence to Selma, Ala., where it remained until July 30, 1865, when orders were received to proceed to Indianapolis. It was mustered out Aug. 13, 1865, numbering 3 officers and 71 men, having lost 64 in killed and wounded.

Captain Richard Burns served in in the Third Battery, Indiana Light Artillery alongside fellow Captains James M. Cockefair, Thomas J. Ginn, and Watton W. Frybarger. Capt. Frybarger was promoted major and was wounded in the head during the Battle of Shiloh. After which he was ordered back to Indianapolis to organize all of the state’s artillery units by his pre-war friend, Indiana’s Civil War Governor Oliver P. Morton. It should be noted that Frybarger has the distinction of organizing the Hoosier state’s only artillery battery in place BEFORE the war. Frybarger went to work shoring up the southern border of Indiana by placing guns at several places along the Ohio River. His invasion fears were realized in early July of 1863 when Morgan’s Raiders invaded the state via Kentucky. Yes, Major Frybarger was a born artillerist.

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The W.W. Frybarger ring on Dave Wilson’s finger.

If you have taken my October tours of Irvington, then you’ve met Major Frybarger. Well, sort of anyway. I conclude every tour of Irvington with a stop at the spot where Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train slowly steamed past in the pre-dawn hours of April 30th, 1865. As I share with my guests, many years ago I was offered some of the personal effects of Major Frybarger. Among those effects were an ancient leather-bound album full of family tintype and CDV photos, a lock of his hair, a large silver platter, and his regimental ring. The platter, which at 21″ tall and 33″ wide, is quite large. It is inscribed “Presented by the 22nd and 23rd Indiana Mounted Artillery to Mrs Major W.W. Frybarger Indianapolis March 1863” and was given to the Major’s wife by grateful soldiers in thanks to the Major securing the southern Indiana border.

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Major W.W. Frybarger

Equally important to the Frybarger saga is his role in the Lincoln funeral here in Indianapolis. As every Hoosier student of Lincoln knows, when the martyred President’s remains arrived in Indianapolis, it arrived in the midst of a torrential downpour so strong that the official public ceremonies had to be cancelled. For that evening of April 30th, 1865 Mr. Lincoln’s body remained in the rotunda of the old statehouse. Who was in charge of the decorating and care of the railsplitter’s body that night? Major W.W. Frybarger. I tell October visitors to Irvington that story while placing the ring on the finger of every guest I approach with the admonition that Frybarger’s regimental ring may well have touched the body of Abraham Lincoln.

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Major W.W. Frybarger.

Now, thanks to the impeccable research of Sons of Union Veterans Camp Commander Jim Floyd and Eliza E. George Auxiliary No. 356 Secretary / Treasurer Jennifer Thompson, I now have another connection to Frybarger. I should note that by the time you read this article, I will have joined the Sons of Union Veterans Ben Harrison Camp No. 356 as an official member. I am sure that the brothers would be happy to have you in their ranks as well. For more information, contact http://benharrisoncamp.org/ Or drop me an e-mail and I’ll steer you towards this fine organization.

 

 

 

 

 

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Rhonda Hunter with flowers at the ceremony.
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Dave Wilson, Rhonda Hunter & Jim Floyd.
Criminals, Indianapolis, Irvington Ghost Tours

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

Holmes-Dillinger

Original publish date:  January 19, 2009

Reissue date: June 6, 2019

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

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

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

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Benjamin Harrison

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

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Benjamin Harrison

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

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Teddy Roosevelt and Attorney General Charles Bonaparte

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

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J. Edgar Hoover

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

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

Whispers from the Grave.

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Original publish date: October 18, 2018

This will be my 16th season of leading October ghost tours in Irvington. Along the way I have made many friends, some of whom return year after year to take a stroll through haunted Irvington. I have been fortunate to meet many talented and famous people who have come on the tours. I have connected with family members of the personalities I talk about on the tours and I have been privileged to hear first-hand accounts and stories that mirror the fun and spooky atmosphere of autumnal Irvington. That is what makes October in Irvington so special to me.
whispersThis coming Saturday, October 20th at 2 PM, several of those famous friends will be here in Irvington at the Irving theater to share their talent with our community in a program I have called, “Whispers from the Grave. Testimony of Irvington’s Most Famous Crimes.” Over the past decade and a half I have gathered testimony, witness accounts, personal statements and personality sketches of the characters, both good and bad, from the stories I share on the tours. This Saturday, local celebrities, journalists and members of the media will lend their talents to the voices of these characters. Much of this spoken word performance will offer accounts that have not been heard for over a century. This testimony, told in its entirety using the words of the subjects themselves, is always poignant, sometimes shocking and often scandalous.
The doors of the Irving theater will open at 1 PM this Saturday and will close promptly at 2 PM for the start of the presentation. No one will be admitted after 2 PM out of respect for the performers and the solemn content. Parental discretion is advised and content may not be suitable for all audiences. This is the real thing in the performance promises to prove the old adage that “truth is stranger than fiction.” The performance is free to the public, but a $ 5.00 minimum donation is requested. The proceeds will benefit the Free Press of Irvington.

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Photo by Lauri Mohr Imaginemohr photography.

Those of you who have taken my tours understand that an Irvington ghost tour is really a history lesson disguised as a ghost story. Over the years proceeds from the tours over the years have helped fund many local philanthropic endeavors including the Irvington food bank at Gaia works, the IHS / Bona Thompson Museum, Halloween festival, the Irvington Council, the children’s Guardian home, the Girl Scouts, and several scholarships for local high school students. This Saturday’s presentation will be an opportunity for guests to better understand the foundation of the ghost tours by hearing accounts from the people who lived it.
daveJoining us Saturday will be long time Q 95 star and stand up comic Dave “the King” Wilson reading the words of DC Stephenson. David Curtis Stephenson was the Grand Dragon of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan who reigned supreme here in central Indiana during The Roaring 20s. Stephenson controlled Indiana politics from the governor’s office to the mayor’s office with Klan money and influence from his University Avenue home here in Irvington. Gathering testimony and statements from Stephenson’s made all the more harder by the fact that after his 1925 trial for murder concluded, the official court papers mysteriously disappeared.
Nicole2 – time Emmy award-winning former WTHR on air personality & meteorologist Nicole Misencik who will be voicing Madge Oberholtzer. Tragically, Madge was the undeserving victim of DC Stephenson’s crime in the spring of 1925. Madge was an Irvingtonian and former student at Butler College whose death at the hands of Stephenson brought down the Ku Klux Klan, which was the most powerful organization in the country at the time. Madge’s testimony was so graphically detailed that when it was read aloud in open court in Noblesville Indiana, women fainted and grown men got up and left the room. Nicole will recount Madge’s 9 – page deathbed declaration and its entirety for the first time in public and nearly a century.
brandonFormer WTHR reporter Brandon Kline will be voicing Pinkerton detective Frank Geyer, the man who brought America’s first serial killer to justice. Brandon will wear the hero cape by voicing this legendary Pinkerton agent who is dogged determination alone solved Irvington’s first murder, that of 10-year-old Howard Pitezel. Brandon’s hero duty will be doubled when he also voices Irvingtonian lawyer Asa J Smith who recorded Madge’s deathbed declaration in what promises to be a most memorable exchange with his wife Nicole.
JulieBoomer TV personality, longtime WZPL radio host and former WISH – TV alumni Julie Patterson will be voicing the last wife of HH Holmes, Georgiana Yoke. Ms. Yoke, a native of Franklin Indiana, is easily the most unknown character in the presentation. Georgiana’s family has deep connections to Indianapolis’east side at both Garfield Park and Holliday Park. Georgiana narrowly escaped death at the hands of her husband and, after his death by hanging, could not escape the cloud of suspicion that hung over her in Indianapolis after her husband’s crimes were revealed. Julie’s interpretation of Georgiana will also include her court testimony, some of which was delivered by her husband HH Holmes while acting as his own counsel.
edEd Wenck, long time local radio host, journalist, author and on-air television personality, will be voicing America’s first serial killer HH Holmes. Allegedly responsible for over 200 murders, Holmes admitted to killing 27. The arch fiend came to Irvington in October 1894 on the heels of the 1893 Chicago world’s fair. His crimes are numerous, gruesome and unspeakable. Ed will voice America’s first serial killer using Holmes’ own words which are guaranteed to make your skin crawl.

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Sgt. Jo Moore

Special guest Jo Moore, retired IMPD Sergeant, will be voicing the unsung hero of the Holmes saga in Irvington, Detective David S Richards. Sgt. Moore will help outline the details of the alleged “Curse of HH Holmes” that lingered for over a quarter century after the serial killer was hanged. Sgt. Moore has been instrumental in meticulously researching the lives and duty roster of Indianapolis policemen whose honorable recognition is long overdue. Jo has also led the charge to create a museum archive honoring fallen members of Indianapolis police departments past and present. Her own son, Officer David Moore, prominent among them.

 

 

 

 

These Circle City personalities, all of which are friends of Irvington, have strong backgrounds with the press and public service. Their individual love of Indianapolis history will shine through during their performances. It promises to be an afternoon to remember. So join us this Saturday, October 20th at 2 PM inside the Irving theater for this unique performance. Remember, parental discretion is advised and the content may not be suitable for all audiences and most importantly, no one will be admitted after 2:00 PM.

 

Creepy history, Criminals, Indianapolis, Irvington Ghost Tours, Medicine

Grave Robbing in Indiana. John Scott Harrison-The Unquiet Corpse. Part II.

 

Grave robbers part II

Original publish date: August 5, 2011

Last week, I told you a little about the macabre grave robbing profession and subsequent black market medical cadaver trade that once flourished in our capital city. What most Hoosiers don’t know is that Indianapolis has a Presidential connection to the dark art of body snatching. Former Ohio Congressman John Scott Harrison (October 4, 1804 – May 25, 1878) is the only man in American History whose father and son both became President of the United States. A former United States Senator in his own right, John Scott Harrison’s father was our nation’s ninth President William Henry Harrison and his son Benjamin Harrison became the 23rd President of the United States. Harrison was also the grandson of Benjamin Harrison V signer of the Declaration of Independence. Sadly, hardly anyone alive today has ever heard of John Scott Harrison or is aware of the story of his unquiet corpse.

 

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Death of President William Henry Harrison.

On May 25th, 1878 John Scott Harrison died suddenly at his Point Farm estate located near North Bend, Ohio, about 16 miles west of Cincinnati. He was 73 years old. Funeral services were held at the Presbyterian Church in Cleves, Ohio on May 29th. His body was interred in the William Henry Harrison Tomb State Memorial in North Bend with his parents and other family members. The Harrison family plot was located on a hill in the Congress Green Cemetery that featured a commanding, panoramic view of the Ohio River Valley below.

The bereaved family filed past the open coffin to cast a last glance upon the man who had so frequently and so successfully influenced their lives. Among them was his highly successful lawyer / US Senate candidate son from Indianapolis Benjamin Harrison, who was already at the helm of the State’s Republican party and just 19 years away from becoming President.

But far from resting in peace, his corpse became the central figure in one of the most widely heralded and distressing examples of grave-robbery in the history of the United States. During Senator Harrison’s memorial service, as the funeral party walked to John Scott’s grave they could not help but notice that the nearby grave of 23-year-old Augustus Devin, a nephew of Benjamin Harrison who had died suddenly and been buried there just a week before, had been disturbed. Though placed in his grave only the Saturday before, it appeared that young Devin’s grave had been robbed by body snatchers. At first, family members thought that wild hogs had been at work uprooting the earth. However upon closer examination, it was revealed that indeed there had been a theft of the corpse.

z McConnellJGraverobThe first order of business was to hide the fact from Devin’s widowed mother until the body could be recovered, and the second was to take precautions for safeguarding John Scott Harrison’s remains. Benjamin Harrison and his younger brother John carefully supervised the lowering of his father’s body into an eight-foot-long grave. At the bottom, they placed the state-of-the-art metallic casket into a secure brick vault with thick walls and a solid stone bottom. Three flat stones, eight or more inches thick were procured for a cover. With great difficulty the stones were lowered over the casket, the largest at the upper end and the two smaller slabs crosswise at the foot. All three of these slabs were carefully cemented together. The brothers waited patiently beside the open hole for several hours as the cement dried. Finally, with their father’s remains still under guard, a massive amount of dirt was shoveled into the hole and the brothers departed secure in the notion that their father would rest in peace for all eternity.

Benjamin Harrison took a train back to Indianapolis late that day so that he might have a few days to finish his address which would open the Republican State Convention on Wednesday, June 5th. The Harrison family saw Benjamin and his wife off at the depot and then all returned to North Bend except for the younger brother John. He remained in Cincinnati in order that he might begin a search in the morning for Augustus Devin’s body.

In the morning, John Harrison, his cousin George Eaton, and a couple of Cincinnati policemen began their search at the Ohio Medical College on 6th Street between Vine and Race on the city’s south side. It was common knowledge that “Resurrectionists” (the name the public gave to grave robbers) were in collusion with the medical school and routinely supplied research cadavers. A close search of the college was begun led by an obnoxious protesting janitor named A.Q. Marshall who toured the group around the building assuring them that they would find no bodies there. Thrusting their lantern into every dark corner of the building, true to the cranky janitor’s predictions, they found no trace of any body. As they were preparing to exit, one of the policemen noticed a rope stretched tight into a darkened well hole. Immediately he began to haul it up and it soon became evident that there was a heavy weight attached to the end of the rope. The tug-of-war continued until at last there emerged from the darkness a lifeless body with a cloth covering the head and shoulders of what was obviously the body of a very old man.

z grave_robbingJohn Harrison shrugged off the discovery knowing that his cousin Augustus Devin, the subject of their search, was a very young man. Still, the body was lain flat on the floor and the cloth was cast aside with the aid of a nearby stick. As the dead man’s face was revealed, John Harrison gasped in horror that the dead body was none other than that of his father, John Scott Harrison.

The terrible sight sickened him physically and tortured him emotionally. He had came looking for a widow’s son, and found instead the corpse of his own father, whom he had personally entombed less than twenty-four hours before. The scene was surreal, his illustrious father’s body hung by a rope around his neck swaying back-and-forth in a black hole in the Medical College of Ohio right in downtown Cincinnati. In his daze the youngest of the Harrison’s thought only of the family and how, above all else, this must be kept secret.

Secrecy proved impossible, then as now, when an event like this took place, word was bound to get out. A Cincinnati Commercial newspaper reporter heard the story from the members of the fire department located next to the medical college. The reporter tracked down Harrison, Eaton, and the two policemen, but they weren’t talking. The undertakers had been sworn to silence and would not even admit that a corpse had been discovered. However, before long the news leaked out from three relatives from North Bend who had visited the Harrison tomb and found that the grave had been disturbed. Apparently, the ghouls had broken the glass seal and unceremoniously dragged the body from the box out feet first.

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Benjamin Harrison

Benjamin Harrison had just arrived in Indianapolis when he was urgently called back to Cincinnati. Before “Lil’ Ben” arrived, his brother Carter swore out a warrant for the arrest of A.Q. Marshall the surly janitor at the Ohio Medical College. The janitor was arrested on the charge of receiving, concealing, and secreting John Scott Harrison’s body which had been unlawfully and maliciously removed from its grave. The medical school posted the $5,000.00 bond for the janitor’s release, andering the citizens of Cincinnati even more. Things went from bad to worse when the Medical College took the position that the adverse attention was hurting the school’s chances of obtaining additional cadavers for dissection. All of which made fantastic headlines for the local press.

Reports of the horrific crime brought out curious crowds who milled about the alley behind the medical school hoping to peer into the macabre cadaver chute. Local reporters interviewed as many people as possible quickly fueling the hysteria among Queen City citizens who wondered, “If this can happen to such an illustrious hero as John Scott Harriosn, what is to become of our loved ones?

Above all else, what became of Augustis Devin’s body? That question would go unanswered for another three weeks. On June 14th a janitor from the nearby Miami Medical School confessed that a notorious resurrectionist named Charles Morton (alias Dr. Gabriel, alias Dr. Morton, alias Dr. Christian, and alias Dr. Gordon) had bribed him to use the medical building basement as headquarters for preparing and shipping bodies to nearby cities. It was an excellent hiding place, for except for two hours each day, no member of the faculty was ever near the school. This veil of secrecy allowed Dr. Morton to work unmolested for nearly a month and in that time Augustus Devin and John Scott Harrison were two of his victims. The janitor’s confession basically indicted the entire medical profession across the United States.

The janitor revealed that most of the misappropriated bodies were shipped from Cincinnati to the Medical College at Ann Arbor, Michigan in barrels reading: “Quimby and Co.” The police left for Ann Arbor immediately and found a vat of brine containing several bodies already prepared for use in the fall and winter school sessions. Soon, the police identified one of the cadaver’s as that of Augustus Devin and a telegram was sent immediately to the family in North Bend. Young Devin’s remains were sent home and the body was reburied. The Harrison’s, including Benjamin, were counted among the one hundred and fifty prominent citizens assembled to pay final tribute to young Devin four weeks to the day after it was buried the first time.

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Herman Webster Mudgett aka H.H. Holmes (far left)

In December, 1879 the body of John Scott Harrison was reburied without fanfare in the Harrison family tomb where he rests peacefully to this very day. Benjamin Harrison never publicly spoke of the incident. However, an interesting footnote to the story with yet another tie-in to Irvington? Remember those bodies packed in pickle barrels from “Quimby & Co.” sent to the University of Michigan Medical School mentioned earlier? One of those Michigan students who undoubtedly participated in the dissection of those wayward cadavers was non-other than Herman Webster Mudgett, a graduate of the school in 1873. You might know Mudgett better by his alias, Dr. H.H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer.

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.