Abe Lincoln, Creepy history, Ghosts, Politics, Presidents

The Mumler Abraham Lincoln Ghost Photo.

Original publish date:  October 22, 2020

Last Saturday before the Irvington ghost tours, one of our volunteers, Alex McFarland, initiated a conversation that seemed to be a perfect topic for the evening: the Abraham Lincoln ghost photo. Known officially as the “Mumler photos”, these were a series of posed studio photographs, not unlike any old time photo, usually in Carte de Visite (or CDV) form, that can be found at any antique show, shop or mall today. The difference is, Mumler’s photos had the visual image of a ghost in them. The most famous of the Mumler photos features widowed First Lady Mary Lincoln with her deceased husband, President Abraham Lincoln.


William H. Mumler

William H. Mumler (1832-1884) was a well-known Boston photographer who claimed to be a “medium for taking spirit photographs.” Mumler was part of the growing phenomenon of spiritual manifestations introduced in 1848 by the Fox sisters of Hydesville, N.Y. The three sisters held séances at their home (near Newark, N.J.), that featured spirit rappings and table tippings in response to their queries. Their amazing “abilities” caused a sensation that spread across the country. With its long history of highly intelligent, intellectually curious populace, Boston became an epicenter for the movement attracting spiritualists, mediums and psychics from all over to the mysterious world of the “higher plane.”
In 1871, the camera was still in its infancy. The technology had graduated from metal to glass to paper photos readily available and affordable to the general public like never before. The country was still mourning from Civil War losses, in some cases having lost entire male lines of families and large portions of towns and communities. The loss of loved ones was still fresh and many turned to any means necessary to see and talk to their loved ones one last time. Mumler’s promise of contact in the form of visual evidence drew flocks of true believers to his studio at 170 West Springfield Street in this city historians called the “Cradle of Liberty.”


In February of 1872, seven years after Lincoln’s assassination, a still grieving Mary Lincoln arrived at William Mumler’s Boston Studio to have her picture made. Dressed in mourning, she gave the photographer a false name (‘Mrs. Lindall”) and kept her face concealed behind a black veil. In 1875, Mumler recalled in his autobiography, “I requested her to be seated, went into my darkroom and coated a plate. When I came out I found her seated with her veil still over her face. I asked if she intended to have her picture taken with her veil. She replied, ‘When you are ready, I will remove it.’” The widow Lincoln was used to dealing with charlatans and knew how to prevent their tricks.

The reason she landed at Mumler’s studio was because her dead husband had appeared to her at a séance earlier in Boston. The medium told her she should visit Mumler’s studio because the photographer had the ability to capture the shadows of the dead on photographic negatives. Mumler always claimed that he did not recognize his subject until the after he developed the negative. And then only after he recognized the image of the martyred President did he realize it was Mary Todd Lincoln. His visitor just may have been the most vulnerable woman in America, shattered by death and loss for the past two decades.
Mary never recovered from her husband’s assassination six years before and the loss of three of her four sons, all dead before their 18th birthdays. Even before her husband’s death, Mary Lincoln had embraced spiritualism, the belief that spirits of the dead can be contacted through mediums. Reputedly going so far as hosting seances in the White House and visiting mediums in Georgetown and D.C., sometimes accompanied by the President himself. So her visit to the studio, today located near historic Frederick Douglass square in Boston, was unsurprising and predictable. It should also come as no surprise that the photo, the greatest presidential ghost photo ever known, is a fake.


Mary’s visit to William Mumler’s studio (one of five Boston studio locations he occupied during the 1860s-70s and 80s) stands out as one of the grand hoaxes of the Spiritualist period. The distraught first lady must have been satisfied, even consoled by the image, but to our practiced modern eyes, this photograph of Mary Lincoln remains a touching, if sadly preposterous, fake. Nonetheless, it was Mumler’s most famous portrait. Mumler’s Lincoln image is his most reproduced photograph, and it is believed to be the last photo ever taken of Mary before her death in 1882.
The story of Mumler’s spirit photography began as an accident and turned into a joke. In 1861 the 29-year-old jewelry engraver was living in Boston and experimenting with the new art of photography as a hobby. In his autobiography, The Personal Experiences of William H. Mumler in Spirit Photography , Mumler claimed his discovery was made while developing a self-portrait. While the plate was soaking in the tray of toxic chemicals, he noticed the mysterious form of a young girl slowly materialize on the negative. Amused and mystified, Mumler printed this curiosity and showed it around to friends, claiming that it was the ghost of a dead cousin. Mumler, a man of “a jovial disposition, always ready for a joke,” decided to show the photo to his spiritualist friends, pretending that his picture was a genuine impression from beyond the grave.

The Boston psychics fell for the gag and soon Mumler’s ghost photos were circulating around the city. It became an instant sensation and once Mumler’s photo was published in The Banner of Light and other spiritualist newspapers, he became an instant celebrity. The “spirit cousin” was nothing more than the transfer residue of an earlier negative made with the same plate, but it was declared a miracle and Mumler the jeweler became heralded as the “oracle of the camera”. Mumler soon left his job as a jewelry engraver and opened his own photography business full time.

Here’s the scam. On arrival, the subject of the photo was greeted by William’s wife Hannah, she would chat up the client who would invariably reveal who the spirits were that they wished to appear in their sitting. Hannah had some clairvoyant abilities of her own and she often offered her own intuitions about the spirits surrounding her husband’s clients, resulting in the client’s unwittingly revealing more precise information. All while William Mumler was eavesdropping from the adjoining room. Part of his con included a “vacuum tube” that glowed as an electrical current was run through it which he claimed was a special force he then channeled into the camera. It was P.T. Barnum style showmanship pure and simple.

For this special ability, Mumler’s fees were extravagant. At the height of his fame, Mumler charged $10 for a dozen photographs, roughly five times the average rate. Worse, there was no guarantee that any spirits would appear. If Mumler or his wife sensed a particular vulnerability in their subject, the spirits would not appear in the photos. And clients were encouraged to make repeated trips to Mumler’s studio before they were blessed with a true spirit photograph. If the high fee was ever questioned, “The spirits,” Mumler answered, “did not like the throng.”


Boston’s other photographers were not impressed by Mumler’s ghost photos. James Black, one of Boston’s premiere photographers famous for his aerial views of the city taken from the perspective of a hot air balloon, was convinced that Mumler was cheating. He set out to catch him at it. Black bet Mumler $50 that he could discover his secret. Black examined Mum­ler’s camera, plate and processing system, and even went into the darkroom with him. In his auto­biography, Mumler described Black’s reaction when a ghostlike image emerged on the negative right before the doubter’s eyes as, “Mr. B., watching with wonderstricken eyes…exclaimed, ‘My God! Is it possible?’”

P.T. Barnum.

Of the incident, Mumler later recalled, “Another form became apparent, growing plainer and plainer each moment, until a man appeared, leaning his arm upon Mr. Black’s shoulder.” The man later eulogized as “an authority in the science and chemistry of his profession” then watched “with wonder-stricken eyes” as the two forms took on a clarity unsettling in its intimacy. Despite the best efforts of countless investigators, no one was able to determine exactly how Mumler created his apparitions. With the photographic elite unable to debunk Mumler’s ghost photos, hoards of desperate souls flocked to Mumler’s studio-including a grieving Mary Lincoln and the master of all hoaxes, P.T. Barnum himself.
Soon Mumler’s pictures became the subject of great speculation among his peers from all over the country. In 1863 noted Boston scientist, physician and avid photographer Oliver Wendell Holmes not only gave step-by-step instructions on how to obtain a double exposure in an essay for the Atlantic Monthly , but he also contemplated the popularity of Mumler’s pictures. “Mrs. Brown, for instance, has lost her infant, and wishes to have its spirit-portrait taken,” Holmes wrote. “It is enough for the poor mother, whose eyes are blinded with tears, that she sees a print of drapery like an infant’s dress, and a rounded something, like a foggy dumpling, which will stand for a face…An appropriate background for these pictures is a view of the asylum for feeble-minded persons…and possibly, if the penitentiary could be introduced, the hint would be salutary”
Further confounding the experts was the fact that the apparitions seen in a Mumler photograph had human features, lifelike gestures and filmy interactive forms. They are translucent spirits, not hard edge ghosts. That was the secret of a Mumler ghost photo. To mediums, psychics and spiritualists, Mumler’s photos depicted what they believed: that the afterlife was a paradise, simply the next step in human existence, albeit on a higher plain. All questions of process and motives aside, Mumler’s subjects were satisfied with the results. Distraught parents saw visions of children gone for years. Grieving widows saw husbands one more time and widowers looked into the eyes of deceased wives once again.
Eventually, Mumler was a victim of his own vanity and the third deadly sin of avarice: aka Greed. The more people that showed up, the more Mumler had to perform. Some prominent Boston spiritualists, once avid supporters of Mumler’s ability, began to examine the ghost photos more closely only to discover that some of the “spirits” in the images were still quite alive. The ragman, the butcher, the schoolteacher, the cop. These were normal people walking the streets of Boston, all past subjects of Mumler’s “straight” photo studio sessions utilized by Mumler in the photographs of strangers. Eventually, Mumler’s business in Boston fell off.


He died on May 16, 1884 holding patents on a number of innovative photographic techniques, including Mumler’s Process, which allowed publishers to directly reproduce photographic illustrations in newspapers, periodicals, magazines and books. Mumler’s skill as a photographer was only rivaled by his talent as a con artist, but he never really experienced any accumulated wealth from his labors. Mumler maintained to the end that he was “only a humble instrument” for the revelation of a “beautiful truth.” To further confuse matters, Mumler destroyed all of his negatives shortly before he died. William Mumler’s photographs may be products of pure hoaxing, but the question of whether technology is capable of catching spirits on film remains with us to this day. Search the web on any given day and you will see photos of every type captured by cameras of every description. Security cameras, ring doorbells, digital images and cellphones continue to capture photos of mysterious orbs, mists, apparitions, shadows, dancing lights and unexplainable phenomenon of every description. The allure of capturing a ghost on film, especially that which is invisible to the naked eye, may have begun with William Mumler but it continues to this day.

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.

Politics, Pop Culture, Presidents

The 1952 Presidential Conventions Revisited.

Original publish date:  September 3, 2020

Many readers will recall that I have a minor obsession with old paper. Photos, brochures, booklets, newspaper, documents, letters… PAPER! Sometimes I run across an item that illustrates things really haven’t changed that much. During a recent trip to Lexington, Kentucky, I found a box of paper in an antique mall that seemed to be calling my name. It was full of a miscellany of every sort, type & design. Some of which belonged to a woman who, in 1960, had been president of the Lexington women’s club and a delegate to the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles that nominated John F. Kennedy for President.
Hidden among them was a six-page letter about the 1952 Democratic convention in Chicago that nominated Adlai Stevenson for President written by an Eisenhower supporter. As I read the letter, it all sounded very familiar to me. Written on three sheets of stationery from the Warner Hotel in Warren, Ohio on July 25, 1952, it was sent to a couple living in Lexington. The hotel was named after Jonathan Warner, a long forgotten Lake Superior iron ore magnate and leading manufacturer of pig iron. The letterhead touts the hotel as having 150 rooms, all absolutely fireproof, and as being on the “European plan”, which basically means, all you get is the room; no meals included.

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Adlai Stevenson at the 1952 DNC.


The letter reads: “Dear Mother & Daddy. – I surely did not intend to be so long writing you all, but I guess you know that what with cleaning up after our guests, getting Teresa off to camp, and then getting ready to leave myself, that I haven’t had too many spare minutes. And I must admit that what ones I did have were devoted to the Democratic Convention! Have you ever seen or heard such a brawl as was going on yesterday over the seating of the three southern states! We were so glued to the radio, that we forgot every thing else, and ran out of gas!! Did we ever feel silly! It was just at dark, and fortunately we were in town, and some kind soul gave us a push to a gas station. It’s the first time either of us can remember of that ever happening to us! We sure laughed at ourselves! How we wished and wished we had our television set to see that disgusting spectacle! Tom says he would have forgotten to eat!”
The 1952 Democratic National Convention was held at the International Amphitheatre in Chicago from July 21 to July 26. This was the same arena the Republicans had gathered in for their convention (July 7 to July 11). In 1952, the popularity of television was on the rise with 37% of American households owning televisions and both parties recognized the rising importance of television and the impact it would have on the political process. The 1952 Democratic convention was the second political convention to be televised live, coast-to-coast (following the Republicans three weeks earlier). After carefully watching the Republican Convention, the Democrats made last-minute alterations to make its broadcast more appealing to television audiences.

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The Democratic platform for 1952 called for a strong national defense, collective security against the Soviet Union, multilateral disarmament, repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act, equal employment opportunities for minorities and public assistance for the aged, children, blind, and the disabled, expansion of the school lunch program, and continued efforts to fight racial discrimination.
The 1952 Republican platform pledged to end the unpopular war in Korea, supported the development of nuclear weapons as a deterrence strategy, to fire all “the loafers, incompetents and unnecessary employees” at the State Department, condemned the Roosevelt and Truman administrations’ economic policies (Code word: SOCIALISM), supported retention of the Taft–Hartley Act, opposed “discrimination against race, religion or national origin”, supported “Federal action toward the elimination of lynching”, and pledged to bring an end to communist subversion in the United States.
z 18510_detailThe letter continues, ” Gov. Battle has a brother living in Charleston, who goes to our church, + Tom knows him quite well, + we have been in their home, so we were especially interested in what he had to say. We thought the Louisiana Governor was crying, – did you? But I’m a telling you, the more I see of the southern states vs. the northern states, the prouder I am of being a Southerner!” Virginia Governor John Battle, of whom the letter speaks, was a Delegate to the DNC in 1952. When the Virginia delegation was threatened with expulsion at the convention for refusing to sign a loyalty oath (to whomever the party nominated), Battle delivered a speech to the convention preventing their expulsion.
The letter continues: “And I believe that if anything saves this country from socialism and communism, it’s going to be the southern states! I’m sure you must have heard Gov. Dever’s keynote speech, – the best description I have ever heard of the Democratic Party, – pure socialism! And he seemed to be trimmed in a bright shade of pink! Just listen to some of the phrases they use, – they sound exactly like the “Daily Worker”, and the “hate – mongering” they are accusing the Republicans of doing! It’s all certainly very clear, – and they’re quite bold about it this year too!”

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Gov. Paul Dever on rostrum placing name of Adlai Stevenson in nomination.

Not only was Massachusetts Governor Paul Dever the keynote speaker at the convention, he also made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, polling eighth out of sixteen hopefuls before dropping out after the third ballot. Both 1952 conventions came in the middle of a four-year period of anticommunist policies and attitudes, championed by Wisconsin Republican Senator Joe McCarthy, which came to be known as McCarthyism or more colloquially as the “Red Scare”. Beginning in February of 1950, McCarthy began denouncing the Truman administration for permitting known communists to remain working in the federal government. The accusations by McCarthy put the administration on the political defensive and led Truman to seek ways in which he might prove he was not “soft on communism.”
The letter continues: “We get a kick out of what they say about Eisenhower, because for months they were beating their brains out trying to get him to be their candidate!”
As early as June of 1943, politicians began suggesting to Eisenhower that he should run for President. Ike believed that a general should not participate in politics, and often told reporters that he did not want any political job “from dogcatcher to Grand High Supreme King of the Universe”. In January 1948, after learning of plans in New Hampshire to elect delegates supporting him for the forthcoming Republican National Convention, Eisenhower stated that he was “not available for and could not accept nomination to high political office”; “life-long professional soldiers”, he wrote, “in the absence of some obvious and overriding reason, [should] abstain from seeking high political office”. Both 1948 candidates, Harry Truman and Thomas E. Dewey, tried to get Ike to run for their respective parties but Ike maintained no political party affiliation during this time. Many believed that Eisenhower was too old to run.

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The letter continues, “Politics is a terrible thing, but thank God we still have it! What must foreign countries think of such behavior as goes on in these conventions! Barkley certainly packed a wallop in his speech, and had the perfectly tremendous over patience, one 35 minutes, the other over 45 minutes! He surely could end up with the nomination!”
After President Harry S Truman announced that he would not seek reelection, his Vice-President Alben Barkley declared his availability to run for president while maintaining he was not actively seeking the office. Barkley’s distant cousin, Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson II had not yet committed to run. When Kentucky’s delegation announced that they would support Barkley, Truman encouraged Missouri’s delegates to do the same. Hoosier DNC chairman Frank E. McKinney and former chairman James Farley also supported him. To dispel concerns about his age, failing eyesight, and heart problems,

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Harry S Truman & Alben Barkley.

Barkley arrived in Chicago for the 1952 DNC and briskly walked seven blocks from the bus station to his campaign headquarters. On July 20 a group of labor leaders, including UAW President Walter Reuther, issued a statement calling Barkley too old and suggested that Democrats nominate someone younger like Stevenson. Barkley was unable to persuade them to retract the statement, which caused delegations from large industrial states like Illinois, Indiana, and Pennsylvania to balk on their commitments to Barkley. On July 21, Barkley withdrew from the race. Invited to make a farewell address on July 22, he received a 35-minute ovation when he took the podium and another 45-minute ovation at the speech’s end. In a show of respect, a Missouri delegate nominated Barkley for president and House Majority Leader John W. McCormack seconded it, but Stevenson was easily nominated.

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The letter continues: “Glad the steel strike is over, but I wonder if there wasn’t a bit of timing involved? So that it would come during the Democratic convention?”
The 1952 United Steelworkers of America strike against U.S. Steel and nine other steelmakers was scheduled to begin on April 9th. President Truman, after being told that supplies of ammunition in Korea were already low and that even a 10-day strike would endanger the war effort, nationalized the American steel industry hours before the workers walked out. On June 2, 1952, in a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the President lacked the authority to seize the steel mills. The strike lasted 53 days and ended on July 24, 1952.
The letter concludes, “It’s 11:30 AM, and I had better be going out for some “brunch,” – slept until after 10. Want to thank you all again for all the food you sent by the kids, including the secondhand olives! – And also for meeting us halfway to take Jeane on. Hope you had a pleasant drive home, – we did, – it cooled off some, + we found we had a storm when we got home. It’s very pleasant here, – in fact, I had to wear a coat last night when we went out for dinner. Expect to leave about 3 o’clock this afternoon for Ashtabula, not very far from here. Then tomorrow afternoon we go to Akron to spend Saturday + Sunday with Ed + Margaret Bruner. Monday, Tom has to go to Cleveland, and we had hoped to spend that night with Mrs. Harrison, but she is visiting in Maine so will work that out later on. Anyhow, will be home Tuesday. Heaps of love – Mary Holley.”
Much in this letter written nearly seventy years ago should sound familiar to readers of today. Seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Abe Lincoln, Civil War, Indianapolis, Politics, Presidents

General Ulysses S. Grant earned his stripes here!

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Original publish date:  April 19, 2009             Reissue date: July 4, 2020

So you think you’re a Civil War buff ? Well, so did I. I’ve read, researched and written about many things connected to the American Civil War most of my life. Yet, I recently found out a factoid from my beloved home state and city of my birth that I had never heard before and I’d like to share it with you here. On Saturday October 17, 1863, Union General Ulysses S. Grant is given orders to travel to Indianapolis from Cairo, Illinois by General Henry Halleck, who also tells the General to bring his staff with him in preparation “for immediate operations in the field.”

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Generals Grant & Halleck

The General, his wife Julia Dent Grant, and his staff arrived in Indianapolis in the early evening and checked into the Bates House Hotel on the old National Road (Present day Washington Street). On the morning of October 18th, the party prepared to leave for Louisville, where Julia Grant expected to meet old friends. The train was just about to roll out of the Indianapolis Union Station when word came to delay it’s departure pending the arrival of an important passenger. It was non other than Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who traveled west from Washington, D.C. to confer with Grant. Secretary Stanton made his way to Grant’s car and seeing a group of officers, strode forward with his hand outstretched and said, “How do you do, General Grant? I recognize you from your pictures.” Unfortunately, the man Stanton greeted so vigorously was not General Grant but his medical director, Dr. Edward Kittoe. The staunch Quaker lawyer was nonplussed by his mistake and as Stanton was pointed in the right direction by Grant’s staff, the General struggled to conceal his amusement. Before this Indianapolis meeting, Stanton had only communicated with Grant via telegraph.

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General U.S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln & Edwin Stanton by sculptor William Rogers.

Stanton handed Grant a telegraph from President Abraham Lincoln that read: ” By direction of the President of the United States, the Departments of the Ohio, of the Cumberland, and of the Tennessee, will constitute the Military Division of the Mississippi. Major General U.S. Grant, United States Army, is placed in command of the Military Division of the Mississippi, with his headquarters in the field.” These orders that Stanton felt necessary to travel the nearly 600 arduous, bone shaking miles by rail in order to hand deliver to a man he had never met, General U.S. Grant, placed Grant in command of three armies that would now be known collectively as “the Military Division of Mississippi.” Grant was thus in charge of all military operations from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River, more or less.
z ChickamaugaGrant immediately relieved Rosecrans in Chattanooga and replaced him with Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, soon to be known as “The Rock of Chickamauga”. Devising a plan known as the “Cracker Line”, Thomas’s chief engineer, William F. “Baldy” Smith opened a new supply route to Chattanooga, helping to feed the starving men and animals of the Union army. Upon re-provisioning and reinforcing, the morale of Union troops lifted and in late November, they went on the offensive. The Battles for Chattanooga ended with the capture of Lookout Mountain, opening the way for the Union Army to invade Atlanta, Georgia, and the heart of the Confederacy.

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U.S.Grant (left corner) atop Lookout Mountain.

Grant’s willingness to fight and his ability to win impressed President Lincoln, who appointed him lieutenant general in the regular army-a rank not awarded since George Washington- which was recently re-authorized by the U.S. Congress with Grant in mind-on March 2, 1864. On March 12, Grant became general-in-chief of all the armies of the United States. The rest is history. It’s also noteworthy to remember that Edwin Stanton was appointed by President Grant to the Supreme Court, but he died four days after he was confirmed by the Senate and never took the oath to become a Justice.
Why is this important? This was the first official step taken by General Ulysses S. Grant on his road to fame that ultimately ended at the White House. In U.S. Grant’s memoirs, the General remembered that the train arrived in Louisville at night in a cold drizzling rain. Secretary Stanton told Grant that he had caught a miserable cold from that trip from which he “never expected to recover from”. Grant believed that Stanton never fully recovered from this cold and that it contributed to Stanton’s death in 1869. The Galt House Hotel in Louisville always takes the credit for this important announcement meeting, although it actually happened right here in Indianapolis on a south bound train leaving Union Station on a crisp Hoosier autumn Sunday morning .

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Assassinations, Black History, Criminals, Politics, Pop Culture, Presidents

Big Ben Parker: “one quick shift of his clenched fist…”

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Big Ben Parker

Original publish date:  February 20, 2020

Recently, I wrote a two-part series on Carnation Day, the little known holiday created to honor our third assassinated President, William McKinley. While researching that story, I came across a man whose name should rightly echo through the halls of American heroism. Instead, his name is forgotten, his place in history supplanted and his whereabouts remain unknown.
William McKinley’s presence at the the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York was no accident. McKinley loved world’s fairs. The President referred to them as, “the timekeepers of progress. They record the world’s advancement.” He attended the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and the Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta two years later. He did not want to miss the Buffalo Expo, planned for the summer of 1901, his first World’s Fair as President.
On September 6, 1901, President McKinley spent his final hours on earth acting like a regular tourist. He awoke early at 7:15 A.M., dressed for the day in his heavy black frock coat and black silk tophat, and stealthily dodged his Secret Service guards for a solitary stroll down Delaware Avenue. Later that morning, William and Ida McKinley boarded a train for Niagara Falls. They visited the falls, walked along the gorge, and toured the Niagara Falls Power Project, which the President referred to as “the marvel of the Electrical Age.” After returning to Buffalo, Mrs. McKinley went to the Milburn house to rest, the president to the exposition and his date with destiny.
z 58-484-25 2The president was scheduled to meet the thousands of people who, in spite of the oppressive heat, were waiting at the Temple of Music on the north side of the fairgrounds. In that line, no one stood out more than James “Big Ben” Parker, a six-foot six inch, 250 pound “Negro” waiter from Atlanta who has been laid off by the exposition’s Plaza Restaurant only days before. One could conclude that “Big Ben” was the angriest man in the room and the one the Secret Service should be watching. However, that sobriquet would belong to the man standing immediately in front of the gentle giant. A stoop-shouldered, nervous little man whose hand was wrapped in a handkerchief.
Parker had been waiting outside the temple all morning. He wanted to be at the head of the line to meet the president. At 4:00 P.M. the doors of the Temple of Music opened and hundreds of people formed an orderly, single-file line to the front of the auditorium. Once members of the public shook hands with McKinley, they would continue on to exit the building. An American flag was draped behind the President and several potted plants were arrayed around him to create an attractive scene. There President McKinley, flanked by his personal secretary George Cortelyou and Fair organizer John Milburn, stood waiting.
The pipe organ began to play “The Star-Spangled Banner”. The room was over ninety degrees. Everybody was carrying handkerchiefs to wipe their brows or to wave at the president. Anarchist Leon Czolgosz (pronounced “zoll-goss”), although sweating profusely, was doing neither. His handkerchief was wrapped around his right hand like a bandage held tightly to his chest. No one suspected there was a revolver hidden underneath. The usual rule enforced by the Secret Service was that all those who approached the President must do so with their hands open and empty. Likely due to the scorching heat inside the breezeless building, that rule was not being enforced as everyone seemed to be carrying handkerchiefs.
McKinley could shake hands with 50 people per minute by first gripping their hands then guiding them quickly past while preventing his fingers from being squeezed at the same time. McKinley, seeing Czolgosz’s bandaged right hand, instinctively reached for his left hand instead. At 4:07 pm, as the two men’s hands touched, the assassin raised the makeshift sling and fired his hidden .32 Iver Johnson revolver twice.
z mckinley-shotThe first bullet sheared a button off of McKinley’s vest, the second tore into the President’s abdomen. The handkerchief burst into flames and fell to the floor. McKinley lurched forward as Czolgosz took aim for a third shot. Within seconds after the second pistol shot, Big Ben Parker was grappling with the adrenaline charged assassin. Secret service special agent Samuel Ireland described the scene: “Parker struck the assassin in the neck with one hand and with the other reached for the revolver which had been discharged through the handkerchief and the shots had set fire to the linen. While on the floor Czolgosz again tried to discharge the revolver but before he got to the president the Negro knocked it from his hand.” A split second after Parker struck Czolgosz, so did Buffalo detective John Geary and one of the artillerymen, Francis O’Brien. Czolgosz disappeared beneath a pile of men, some of whom were punching or hitting him with rifle butts. The assassin cried out, “I done my duty.”
z tumblr_oe7ao4J07K1ufdl9oo1_400A Los Angeles Times story said that “with one quick shift of his clenched fist, he [Parker] knocked the pistol from the assassin’s hand. With another, he spun the man around like a top and with a third, he broke Czolgosz’s nose. A fourth split the assassin’s lip and knocked out several teeth.” In Parker’s own account, given to a newspaper reporter a few days later, he said, “I heard the shots. I did what every citizen of this country should have done. I am told that I broke his nose—I wish it had been his neck. I am sorry I did not see him four seconds before. I don’t say that I would have thrown myself before the bullets. But I do say that the life of the head of this country is worth more than that of an ordinary citizen and I should have caught the bullets in my body rather than the President should get them.” In a separate interview for the New York Journal, Parker remarked “just think, Father Abe freed me, and now I saved his successor from death, provided that bullet he got into the president don’t kill him.”

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Leon Czolgosz

Parker clearly prevented Czolgosz from firing a third time, thereby saving McKinley’s life. However, poor medical technique would ultimately cause McKinley’s death. The wound was closed without disinfecting (sterilization being a fairly new concept at the time) so McKinley died of gangrene on September 14, 1901. Prior to McKinley’s death, when his outlook for recovery appeared promising, the Savannah Tribune, an African-American newspaper, trumpeted of Parker “the life of our chief magistrate was saved by a Negro. No other class of citizens is more loyal to this country than the Negro.” A Sept. 12 , 1901 Buffalo Times article described “Big Ben” as a “plain, modest, gentlemanly person”.
Later, Parker told a slightly different version of his story to the Buffalo Times. “I went to the Temple of Music to hear what speeches might be made. I got in line and saw the President. I turned to go away as soon as I learned that there was to be only a handshaking. The crowd was so thick that I could not leave. I was startled by the shots. My fist shot out and I hit the man on the nose and fell upon him, grasping him about the throat. I believe that if he had not been suffering pain he would have shot again. I know that his revolver was close to my head. I did not think about that then though. Then came Mr. Foster, Mr. Ireland and Mr. Gallagher. There was that marine, too. I struck the man, threw up his arm and then went for his throat. It all happened so quickly I can hardly say what happened, except that the secret service man came right up.Czolgosz is very strong. I am glad that I am a strong man also or perhaps the result might not have been what it was.”

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James Benjamin “Big Ben” Parker

James Benjamin Parker, an American of African and Spanish descent, was born on July 31, 1857 in Atlanta, Georgia to enslaved parents. Educated in Atlanta schools, he also traveled as far north as Philadelphia, but returned south to live in Savannah. At one time he had been a salesman for the Southern Recorder newspaper. While in Savannah Parker was a well respected constable for a Negro magistrate. Big Ben had the reputation of never returning an unserved warrant. The citizens of the East Side of Savannah also knew that he was man of few words and a command to submit to arrest was always quietly obeyed. For a time, Big Ben lived in Chicago and worked as waiter in the Pullman Car organization. He returned to Atlanta in 1895. When he relocated to New York City, Ben had only one living relative, his mother in Savannah. Prior to coming to Buffalo, he was in Saratoga, New York and came to Buffalo only days before the assassination to work at the Exposition for the Bailey Catering Co.
According to a September 10, 1901 newspaper article, after the incident Parker appeared near the west gate of the Pan American Exposition Mall. As details of his heroism began to circulate through the crowd, a group of people surrounded him and asked the avenger to sell pieces of his waistcoat and other clothing. He recounted the story of the assassination and sold one button off his coat for $1.00 (equivalent to $30 today). After the shooting, Parker was approached with several commercial offers, including one from a company who wanted to sell his photograph. He was asked to work on the Midway at the Exposition recounting his story and signing autographs. He refused, telling the Sept. 13, 1901, Buffalo Commercial newspaper, “I happened to be in a position where I could aid in the capture of the man. I do not think that the American people would like me to make capital out of the unfortunate circumstances. I do not want to be exhibited in all kinds of shows. I am glad that I was able to be of service to the country.”
The Atlanta Constitution ran a story in the September 10 edition relating how the Negroes of Savannah were planning to set up a substantial testimonial for Parker. On September 13 another article ran titled “Negros Applaud Parker. Mass Meeting in Charleston Hears Booker Washington.” Booker T. Washington delivered an address to a mass meeting of 5,000 African Americans including a resolution denouncing the reckless deed of the “red handed anarchist” and rejoiced that a southern Negro “had saved the President McKinley from death.”
z ParkerHistorians agree that Czolgosz’s trial was a sham. Sadly, what should have been Big Ben Parker’s time to shine instead became his disappearing act. Prior to the trial, which began September 23, 1901, Parker was expected to be a major character in the assassination saga. Instead,the trial minimized Parker’s participation in the events of three weeks prior. Parker was never asked to testify and those few participants who did never identified Big Ben as the person who first subdued the assassin. Czolgosz’s sanity was never questioned and the case was closed twenty-four hours after it opened. Newspaper reports after the trial failed to mention Big Ben’s role and witnesses, including lawyers and Secret Service agents, began to enlarge their own roles in the tragedy by going as far as saying they “saw no Negro involved” whatsoever.
The African American community was outraged. Apparently, the Secret Service and the military were embarrassed that a private citizen, a black man at that, essentially brought the assassin down instead of them. When Parker was asked for comment, he said, ” I don’t say it was done with any intent to defraud, but it looks mighty funny, that’s all.” Parker remained humble, telling another reporter, “I am a Negro, and am glad that the Ethiopian race has what ever credit comes with what I did. If I did anything, the colored people should get the credit.”
The African American community of Buffalo held a ceremony to honor Parker at the Vine Street African Methodist Church on September 27, 1901. The church was packed to standing room only and the Buffalo News reported that the audience was incensed that no credit or recognition was given to Parker. The speaker, a church fellow named Shaw, delivered a short testimonial concluding by saying, “The evident attempt to discredit Parker is a sign of conspiracy and should we fail to emphatically resent it, I claim we are a disgrace to our race. ” When Big Ben entered the hall, he refused all demands to make a speech and sat down amidst cheers.

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Big Ben Parker

Methodist preacher Lena Doolin Mason wrote a poem praising Parker for his actions, “A Negro He Was In It”, casting Parker as the latest in a long line of African Americans who risked their lives in service to their country and admonishing white Americans to recognize that bravery with the cessation of lynchings. To quell the simmering pot of racial tension, the U.S. Government publicly promised a lifetime government job for Big Ben Parker, but no such job ever materialized. James A. Ross, the “colored mason”, Buffalo politician and publisher of the “Gazetteer and Guide” (a magazine for Negro railroad porters and hotel workers), supported Parker’s heroism by hiring him to be a traveling agent (magazine salesman) for his publication. With this, Parker left Buffalo after the trial and dropped from public view.
The April 4, 1908 edition of the Richmond (Virginia) Planet newspaper reported, “Before a class of students at the Jefferson Medical College the body of James B. Parker, colored, was placed upon the dissecting table Thursday. Parker was the man who beat Louis Czolgosz to the ground and disarmed him after the latter had fired two shots into the body of President McKinley at Buffalo on September 6,1901. At the time of the President’s assassination Parker was a Pullman car porter. Like many other heroes of the present day, Parker died penniless, his death came almost two weeks ago at the Philadelphia Hospital, where he was a patient in the insane department. He was moved to the West Philadelphia institution several months ago, after having been picked up by the police. As far as known he had no friends in this city at the time of his death and the body was turned over to the State Anatomical Board. In this way it came into possession of the college authorities. Parker was petted by thousands of persons in Buffalo. Everybody praised him, and it was thought for a time, that his act had saved the President’s life. Senator Mark Hanna, of Ohio, presented Parker with a check for $1,000 in appreciation of his bravery. Parker was well proportioned and was six feet four inches in height. In his earlier days he was employed as a letter carrier in Atlanta, Ga. More than a year ago he came to this city, and the last heard of him before his death was his arrest in West Philadelphia. In speaking of his tussle with Czolgosz, Parker said the assassin fought like a tiger and was one of the most powerful men he had ever tussled with. His brain will be examined by a noted alienist of the city within the next few weeks and it is expected that it will prove one of the most interesting studies ever made in Philadelphia.” His final resting place remains unknown.
z leonJust as Big Ben is the forgotten figure in the McKinley assassination saga, Leon Czolgosz is the least known of all presidential assassins. Prior to his execution Czolgosz met with two priests and said, “No. Damn them. Don’t send them here again. I don’t want them. And don’t you have any praying over me when I’m dead. I don’t want it. I don’t want any of their damned religion.” Czolgosz was electrocuted on October 29, 1901 at Auburn penitentiary. Initially, Czolgosz’s family wanted the body. The warden convinced them that it would be a bad idea, that relic hunters would disturb his grave, or worse, that unscrupulous carnival promoters would want to display the body in traveling sideshows.
z DoDprmvXUAAnGh_His family agreed that the prison should take care of the funeral arrangements by giving the assassin a decent burial within the protection of the prison grounds. When Leon Czolgosz was buried in the Auburn prison cemetery, yards away from where he was executed, unbeknownst to the family, the decision was made to have his body destroyed. The local crematorium refused to undertake the job. So the assassin’s body was placed in a rough pine box and lowered into the ground which had been coated with quicklime. The lid was removed and two barrels of quicklime powder was caked on top of the body. Then sulfuric acid was poured on top of that followed by another two layers of quicklime.
z Prison_card_of_Leon_CzolgoszTheir intention was to make the anarchist’s body dematerialize. What the prison officials did not know was that when quicklime (calcium oxide) and sulfuric acid are combined, a chemical reaction occurs which creates an exterior coating best compared to plaster of paris. Since the shell is insoluble in water, the coating acts as a protective layer thus preventing further attack on the corpse by the acid. It is entirely possible that the body of Czolgosz was preserved in perpetuity accidentally.