Criminals, Pop Culture

“Bonnie & Clyde” Part I

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Original publish date:  May 2014     Reissue date: September 26, 2019

Outlaws Bonnie and Clyde have been in the news again lately, nearly 85 years after they died in dramatic fashion on a dusty backroad in Gibsland, Louisiana. I wrote this 3-part series over 5 years ago and have since added an updated part 4 to the saga. So, here are the first 3 parts as written a hemi-decade ago. Stay tuned for the updates just in time for Halloween Festival weekend.
Bonnie and Clyde. Names that evoke different images to different people. Although their image, like those of Billy the Kid , Jesse James and John Dillinger, have been romanticized over the years; the truth is a little bit more complicated. Without doubt, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are the most famous pair of star crossed outlaws this country has ever seen. On May 23, 1934, 80 years ago this week, they died exactly as they lived: violently. Bonnie was only 23 years old; Clyde a mere 24.

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The Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Spot.

On a dusty, mosquito choked rural road near Gibsland, Louisiana, Bonnie & Clyde were ambushed by a group of six heavily armed hardcore Texas lawmen. The deadly duo never had a chance. When the smoke had cleared, the coroner counted 17 separate entrance wounds on Clyde Barrow’s body and 26 on Bonnie Parker’s. Other accounts say Clyde was shot 23 times and Bonnie 25, either way, they were killed instantly. The wounds included several headshots on each, one bullet snapping Barrow’s spinal column. Undertaker C. F. “Boots” Bailey had difficulty embalming the bodies because of all the bullet holes.
The posse used Browning Automatic Rifles, perhaps better known in gun circles as “BAR’s”, which was ironically also the weapon most favored by the Barrow Gang. The BAR’s were so powerful that some of the bullets went completely through one car door and out the other. A total of 167 bullets were fired, non of which came from either Bonnie or Clyde. The temporarily deafened officers inspected the vehicle and discovered an arsenal of weapons, including stolen automatic rifles, sawed-off semi-automatic shotguns, assorted handguns, and several thousand rounds of ammunition.

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Six-man posse who killed Bonnie & Clyde May 23, 1934. Top row (left to right) Ted Hinton, P. Moakley, B. M. Gault (bottom row), Bob Alcorn, Henderson Jordan, and Frank Hamer

According to statements made by Dallas County Sheriff’s Deputies Ted Hinton and Bob Alcorn (both of whom knew Barrow and Parker by sight): “Each of us six officers had a shotgun and an automatic rifle and pistols. We opened fire with the automatic rifles. They were emptied before the car got even with us. Then we used shotguns … There was smoke coming from the car, and it looked like it was on fire. After shooting the shotguns, we emptied the pistols at the car, which had passed us and ran into a ditch about 50 yards on down the road. It almost turned over. We kept shooting at the car even after it stopped. We weren’t taking any chances.” The lawmen had been hiding in the bushes for a day and a half waiting for the outlaws. They weren’t in a mood to parlay.
z bcdead-car1Word of the ambush quickly spread after the officers drove into town to telephone their respective bosses. A raucous crowd soon flooded the death scene and the car that was still resting there. Two members of the posse were left to guard the bodies, but they quickly lost control of the bloodthirsty souvenir hunters. Locals pushed and shoved their way to the death car; one woman cut off bloody locks of Bonnie’s hair and pieces from her dress. She was later seen back in town selling them as grisly souvenirs. Hinton returned just in time to keep a man from cutting off Clyde’s trigger finger. Arriving at the scene, the coroner observed the following: “nearly everyone had begun collecting souvenirs such as shell casings, slivers of glass from the shattered car windows, and bloody pieces of clothing from the garments of Bonnie and Clyde. One eager man had opened his pocket knife, and was reaching into the car to cut off Clyde’s left ear.” The coroner enlisted Hamer for help in controlling the “circus-like atmosphere” and Clyde’s ear remained intact.

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Texas Ranger inspecting death car with Bonnie’s dead body still inside.

The Ford, with the bodies still inside, was towed to the Conger Furniture Store & funeral parlor located on Railroad Avenue downtown across from the Illinois Central train station (which is now a historical museum containing Bonnie and Clyde artifacts.) The crowds were so unruly, that the caretaker had to squirt embalming fluid on them to keep them back. Preliminary embalming was done by Bailey in a small preparation room in back of the furniture store (it was common for furniture and undertakers to be together back then.) The tiny northwest Louisiana town swelled in population from 2,000 to 12,000 within hours. Curiosity seekers arrived on foot, by train, horseback, buggy, and airplane. Beer, which normally sold for 15 cents a bottle, jumped to 25 cents; ham sandwiches quickly sold out. After identifying his son’s body, Henry Barrow sat in a rocking chair in the furniture section and wept.

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Conger Furniture Store & Funeral Home.

H.D. Darby, a young undertaker who worked for the McClure Funeral Parlor in nearby Ruston, and Sophia Stone, a home demonstration agent also from Ruston, came to Arcadia to identify the bodies. They had been kidnapped by the Barrow gang the previous year in Ruston, on April 27, 1933, and released near Waldo, Arkansas. Bonnie reportedly laughed when she asked Darby his profession and discovered he was an undertaker. She remarked that maybe someday he would be working on her. As fate would have it, Darby assisted Bailey in embalming the outlaws.

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Clyde Barrow in the Conger Funeral Home.

The coroner found $ 500 in cash in Clyde’s pockets and $ 6 and some change in Bonnie’s purse alongside a bullet shattered pocket mirror. All the fingers on Bonnie’s right hand had been shot off, as they laid on a pack of bloody cigarettes. Inside the car, besides the firearms arsenal, other curious items were found, including a saxophone, Hollywood movie magazines, newspapers, a box of fishing tackle and 15 sets of license plates from various states, including Indiana.

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Bonnie Parker

Although Bonnie had famously requested that she and Clyde be buried side by side in her poem “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde”, the Parker family would not allow it. Mrs. Parker was quoted as having said, “Clyde had her for two years and look what he did to her.” Mrs. Parker wanted to grant her daughter’s final wish by bringing the dead outlaw’s body home, but mobs surrounding the Parker house day-and-night made that impossible. Parker’s family used the McKamy-Campbell Funeral Home, located on present day Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd in Dallas, to conduct her funeral. Bonnie’s mutilated hair was waved and curled into its former neatness. Her nails were manicured. More than 20,000 attended Bonnie Parker’s funeral, and her family had to be escorted by lawmen to her grave site.
Bonnie’s brother, Hubert “Buster” Parker, escorted her body from Arcadia to Dallas in the back of an ambulance. Her services were held on Saturday, May 26, 1934, at 2 pm, in the funeral home. Flowers came from everywhere, including some with cards allegedly from Pretty Boy Floyd and John Dillinger, who were still very much alive and on the run themselves. Curiously, the largest floral tribute was sent by a group of Dallas city newsboys. Seems the issue covering the deaths of Bonnie and Clyde sold 500,000 newspapers in Dallas alone. Although initially buried in the Fishtrap Cemetery, Parker was moved in 1945 to the new Crown Hill Cemetery in Dallas.

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The guns of Bonnie and Clyde.

Clyde Barrow’s family used the Sparkman-Holtz-Brand Morticians in downtown Dallas. Thousands of people gathered outside both Dallas funeral homes hoping for a chance to view the bodies. Barrow’s private funeral was held at sunset on Friday, May 25, in the funeral home’s chapel. He was buried next to his brother Buck on a bare slope in a West Dallas Cemetery. The Barrow brothers share a single granite marker with their names on it and a four-word epitaph previously selected by Clyde: “Gone but not forgotten.” As the crowd dispersed, a low-flying plane dropped a gigantic floral wreath near the gravesite.
The life insurance policies for both Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were paid in full by American National of Galveston. Since then, the policy of pay-outs has changed to exclude pay-outs in cases of deaths caused by any criminal act by the insured. Those original life insurance policies, obtained by the mothers of Bonnie and Clyde, are displayed at the American National Insurance Company Building in Galveston, Tx. It has been reported that the families of the outlaws made more off their death than the deadly duo ever made off of their short lives of crime.
The six men of the posse were each to receive a one-sixth share of the reward money. Dallas Sheriff Schmid had promised Ted Hinton this would total some $26,000, but most of the state, county, and other organizations that had pledged reward funds reneged on their pledges. In the end, each lawman earned just $200.23 for his efforts. Hamer promised his barber a lock of Clyde’s hair and delivered on that promise by picking a lock off of Clyde’s shirt that had been shorn off by a BAR bullet. The posse, including Frank Hamer, took and kept for themselves all of the guns that were found in the death car. Personal items such as Bonnie’s clothing and Clyde’s saxophone were also taken, and when the Parker family asked for them back, they were refused.

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Frank Hamer.

In July, Clyde’s mother wrote to Hamer asking for the guns’ return: “You don’t never want to forget my boy was never tried in no court for murder and no one is guilty until proven guilty by some court so I hope you will answer this letter and also return the guns I am asking for.” The guns were not returned, and remained with the Hamer family. There’s no evidence Hamer ever answered her letter. The guns were later sold as souvenirs.
Bonnie and Clyde are thought of almost exclusively as Southwestern outlaws from the rough-and-tumble areas of Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. But did you know that the Barrow gang had ties to Indiana? One of those ties marries one of the grisliest of all blood relics ever collected with an iconic Circle City department store not far from where you are reading this article right now.
Next Week: Part II of Bonnie & Clyde-The Indiana Connection

Civil War, Gettysburg, John F. Kennedy, National Park Service, Presidents, Travel

Gettysburg’s Bill Frassanito: Father of “Then and Now.”

William A. Frassanito photo
Historian Bill Frassanito and Alan E. Hunter

Original publish date:  September 19, 2019

Over the past decade there has been a subtle yet perceptible shift in historical genre on the Internet (particularly on Facebook) known as the “Then and Now” movement. If you are a fan of historical photography, or of the time and space continuum theory, then no doubt you have noticed these images. They consist of a blended pair of photographs, usually landscapes or buildings, one old, one new, both morphed into a single image for comparison. They are eerie reminders of a shared place and time probably best described by William Faulkner in his classic Requiem for a Nun as “The past is never dead. It’s not even the past.” If, like me, you’re a fan of this genre you need to thank one man: William A. Frassanito of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

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Bill Frassanito posed in the Sniper’s Nest at Devil’d Den.

Mr. Frassanito first popularized the “then and now” movement in his groundbreaking book “Gettysburg. A Journey in Time“. He followed up that classic with two similar books on Antietam, another on Grant and Lee in Virginia and three more on Gettysburg, including his seminal study of Early Photography at Gettysburg. Mr. Frassanito was among the first to conduct a historical comparison based on identifying topographical elements found in archival photographs that remain consistent on the landscape today. Bill’s work sent a shockwave through the historical community that resonates to this day.
I interviewed Mr. Frassanito at the Adams County Historical Society research center (368 Springs Avenue Gettysburg) a couple times during the past few months. I was in Gettysburg looking for information on Osborn Oldroyd, whose father was a one time Adams County resident and former owner of a textile mill in the county. Most of my readers will recognize the Oldroyd name as a near constant in this writer’s work. early-photography-updated_1024x1024Needless to say, I was pleased with my visit to and pleasantly reminded how invaluable places and people like these are to the preservation and education of history. After the ACHS helped fill in some blanks in my research, I turned my attention to author Bill Frassanito. He is intensely private, yet unassuming and modest in demeanor. Although an author by trade and historian by nature, Mr. Frassanito has the soul of a teacher.
When I asked Mr. Frassanito how he developed the concept fot the modern “then and now” movement so prevalent on the Internet nowadays, he modestly answers, “I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of time and that today is tomorrow’s history. What I tried to do in the use of ‘then and now’ was to have the reader experience the photograph, but it’s not just the ‘then and now’, it’s the maps that allow people to go and stand on the spot and experience what the photographer experienced. So it’s a total picture used in a systematic fashion book after book after book. I didn’t invent the concept, but I took it to a level that was completely unprecedented. When my ‘journey’ book came out in 1975, there were about a dozen modern books on the battle of Gettysburg available. Now there are zillions on every aspect of the battle.”Picture106
When asked if there are any more books on the horizon, Bill answers, “My first book came out when I was 28 in 1975 and the last came out in ’97 and I’m through writing. I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do. I was much sharper 20 years ago than I am now. I’m especially pleased that part of my legacy are people like Garry Adleman and Tim Smith, and they constantly mention my work, so I do have a legacy. I’m not going to be around forever but I do know that 100 years from now there will be a group of people that are very familiar with the role my pioneering work played, so the average person probably won’t know about me but the experts will know indefinitely. I laid the foundation so when new stuff surfaces they will know how to fit it in.”
512DBQHBXZL._SX379_BO1,204,203,200_When asked what first drew him to Gettysburg, he explains, “My first trip to Gettysburg was in 1956 when I was nine years old, and I was just awed by all the monuments, cannons and stuff. I started my research when I was a kid and much of the research for Journey in Time was done when I worked it into a Masters thesis (he is a proud Gettysburg College alum). “When you went to Gettysburg College, I was the high school class of ’64, college class of ’68, at that time all the male students had to take either phys ed or ROTC for two years, after that you made the decision whether you continued on to advanced ROTC, then you were a part of the Army and you got paid. From there you are committed to, after graduation, serving for two years as a second lieutenant, then on to grad school.”
Frassanito continues, “I was accepted to Gettysburg College my senior year in high school. I went to high school in Long Island. I spent a weekend at the college as a senior. I had some time off and I visited the Red Patch Antique Shop and I asked if they had any old photos and he (the shop owner) brought out a basket full of cased images. Among the photos was an outdoor daguerreotype, which is very rare. I opened up this quarter plate daguerreotype, it was a farmer sitting on a bench with a horse in front of the barn. I asked how much and he said a $1.50, which doesn’t sound like much, but it was worth more back then. On the inside of the case was the name of the photographer, “G.J. Goodrich York, Pa.” Years later I discovered that Glenalvin J. Goodrich was one of the few black photographers in Pennsylvania. But because of the battle, he moved to Michigan.”

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Glenalvin J.Goodrich photo from the Frassanito Collection.

Glenalvin, son of former-slave, opened his first photo studio at the age of 18 in 1847 and later operated his studio out of the Goodridge residence on East Philadelphia Street. Mr. Frassanito has already allowed the daguerreotype to be used in two different books asking only that credit for the photo be given to the Frassanito collection. “Just last year I was contacted by someone who wanted to purchase the daguerreotype and I said I’m sorry it’s not for sale, I have personal attachment to it. His offer kept going up and up and up. His last offer was $10,000. And I told him, no it’s not for sale, I’m sorry. It’s going to go to the Adams County Historical Society. Now, when it is at the Adams County Historical Society, since it’s not Adams County related, if they wanted to make a deal with the York County historical Society, I would have no problem because technically that would be, probably, the most appropriate place.”
510dSFzAnXLBill’s collecting interests are not solely confined to Gettysburg. “All of my stuff is going to the Adams County Historical Society. It will be called the Frassanito collection. Including all my stuff that goes beyond Gettysburg and Adams County. My interest in military history includes World War I and Franco Prussian war, it’s very expansive.” Mr. Frassanito’s interest in all things military came when he saw the 1956 movie “War and Peace” starring Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda and, he states, “from that time on I’ve been fascinated by Russian history including the Crimean War” (October 1853 to February 1856 in which the Russian Empire lost to an alliance of the Ottoman Empire, France, Britain and Sardinia).
“It was 1968, my senior year, my parents came to visit me from Long Island. We rode around the countryside and stopped at an antique shop in New Oxford. I asked my standard question, do you have any old photographs? The shopowner brought out this brown paper bag full of old photos removed from photo albums. Apparently he would sell the empty albums. There were 130 Carte de Visites, I asked how much and he said a dollar.” Among those CDV’s was a rare photo of an identified Franco-Prussian soldier. But more importantly was the discovery of two photos from a New York City gallery. One signed on front “G.G. Sickles”, the other “Susan M. Sickles.” Frassanito thought no more about the photos until years later when he discovered that these were the parents of the famous Gettysburg General Dan Sickles, who lost a leg in the Peach Orchard during the battle of Gettysburg. “I eventually made a connection with the Sickles family and learned that they had no photographs of these relatives.” says Frassanito, “Turns out I have the only photos. They were just stuck in this old brown paper bag.” he says with a chuckle.

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General Dan Sickles.

Bill then details a chance meeting he had with Pres. Dwight D Eisenhower while serving in advanced ROTC as a junior at Gettysburg College. “As fate would have it, they lined us up by size, and as I was the shortest cadet in the unit, I was positioned at the far left of the line, which turned out to be the sweet spot where all the cameras and newspapermen were positioned. Much to my surprise, Ike stopped in front of me and we had a short conversation while the cameras clicked away. It was not a substantive talk and you could of knocked me over with a feather.” That photo can be found in Mr. Frassanito’s updated Gettysburg Bicentennial Album book available for sale at the Adams County Historical Society.

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President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Cadet Wm. Frassanito.

“I’m the definition of a baby boomer.” Bill reveals, “The war ended in ’45 and the millions of serviceman came home and the boom started in ’46. My pop was in the Navy and he got back from the Pacific in December of ’45 and I arrived exactly 9 months later to join my older brother and my parents. I was born in September 1946. The neat piece of trivia of here is that three months before I was born in June 1946, President Donald Trump was born. Two months before I was born in July 1946 President George W. Bush was born. And one month before I was born in August 1946, President Bill Clinton was born. It’s the first time in American history that we have three presidents not only born in the same year, but born in successive months.” Then, Bill says with a wink, “June, July and August and I’m September, so I’m technically the next president. But I haven’t made my final decision yet.”
51ZBRZ32XXL._SX372_BO1,204,203,200_Bill continued, “I fortunately survived Vietnam and I put it (his book research) all together when I got out of the Army. I tried to get a job in the museum field but the book took off when I signed with one of the top publishers, Charles Scribner’s. It was later picked up for the Book-of-the-Month club. That became the first of seven books on Civil War photography. I spent eight years and eight months on that project.” One of Bill’s most important discoveries was the “Slaughter Pen” near Devil’s Den. Bill’s book included detailed maps. Bill explains, “The whole purpose of the book was to enable people to re-experience standing where the photographer was. One of the questions I often get is why I don’t update the modern photographs. I’ll never do that as I see them as sort of a time capsule in themselves and I want people to know what the battlefield looked like when I spent five years looking for these spots.”
Another of Mr. Frassanito’s photographic discoveries was to identify the family of General John Reynolds pictured in Devil’s Den on the battlefield. When asked if there have been any more discoveries of historical photography at Gettysburg, Bill states, “As far as early photography of Gettysburg is concerned, the last major discovery were those photos of the posed soldiers in Devil’s Den (made by Frassanito). The hunt for the “Harvest of Death” is still going on. Those are the photos of the union dead. I established that these two camera angles showed the same group of bodies looking at a different direction.” Mr. Frassanito has not been able to pinpoint the exact location for this famous photograph, although many others have approached him with locational suggestions over the years.
4824523984Frassanito notes that the publication of that photo started a search that is still going on 44 years later. There have been two dozen sites that have been suggested as the site of the photograph. “When people make their discoveries it becomes a religious experience. Every one of those sites has major problems. As far as I’m concerned I don’t want to see a faulty location declared the site and have the search end. That’s the biggest mystery for Civil War photography at Gettysburg. And I’m hoping that one day a pristine 1863 version of the original stereoview or negative surfaces.”
Previous to my April visit, I shared, as part of my research at the Adams County Historical Society, the fact that I had just come from researching at the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress and the House Where Lincoln Died. While in Washington, my steward for the day was a young woman named Janet Folkerts who had just learned that she was now the curator in charge of the Vietnam War Memorial wall museum. I was aware that Bill had served (with distinction) during the Vietnam War, so I asked him about his service. He detailed his term of service in Vietnam and shared his story about the wall.
Bill was discharged in August of 1971 and upon returning to Gettysburg in November, Bill began taking all of his “modern” photographs used in his groundbreaking book. “I was there (Vietnam) in ’70 and ’71. I was assigned to the 525 military intelligence group in Saigon. I worked at MACV (aka ‘Mac-Vee’) headquarters (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) which was the nerve center for all of Indochina. I worked at the highest level of military intelligence, so we knew what was really going on. We knew that the war was a lost cause once the US troops left. We had very little faith in the South Vietnamese, there was corruption from the top down. So anyway, I worked in the safest place in Vietnam.” However, once Bill’s work shift was over and he departed, he was on his own.
grant-lee-william-frassanito-1st-ed_1_edb0ce335255c79d8238032d9886a873“I lived about 2 miles away in kind of a slum area of Saigon, it was a hotel we rented from the Vietnamese called Horn Hall. On the main floor was a narrow lobby, and there were two shifts requiring a duty officer, you had to spend six hours just sitting there. You had a pistol and if anything happened, you were in charge. One of the shifts was midnight to six. On the 16th of December 1970 I was assigned night duty at MACV headquarters so my name was removed from the night duty at Horne Hall. Later, we got a phone call that a bomb had gone off that night at Horne Hall and the Lieutenant on duty was instantly killed. And I realized that had I been sitting there, all of my discoveries would have gone with me. And these classic photos of the 24th Michigan and 1st Minnesota would still be misidentified.”
At this point, Bill slides over to the computer and, in somewhat surreal fashion, Googles his own name to find the photo online showing the devastation that may have been his own fate. “It was a 35 pound satchel charge and that’s the seat I could’ve been sitting in. It blew out both walls of this narrow hall and that’s where they found the body of the Lieutenant.” I asked if he knew the Lieutenant, “No, I socialized with the people I worked with, but the officers quarters (where the bomb exploded) you just slept there basically. I knew my roommate but I didn’t know the name of the Lieutenant and I didn’t want it bouncing around in my head for the rest of my life so I made no effort to remember it. Years later, I visited the wall down in Washington and I found out that the 58,000+ names are in chronological order. So I was curious to see, if I had died, where my name would be. There was only one 1st Lieutenant killed in military region three on the night of December 16th, so I found the spot and wrote the name of the officer down. I started wondering what it would have been like for people visiting the wall to see my name there.”

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The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Unsurprisingly, Bill researched the soldier (Gary J. Faculak) and contacted his family to learn more about the man; his hopes, aspirations and goals. Turns out the dead soldier was from Boyne City, Michigan and aspired to own a tour boat and lead tours on Lake Charlevoix (Michigan’s third largest lake) when he got out of the Army. Lt. Faculak is buried in Maple Lawn cemetery in Boyne City. Ironically, the cemetery made headlines in May of 2011 when two special Civil War veterans were honored not far from Lt. Faculak’s grave, thanks to the Robert Finch Camp No. 14 of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. Two Native American Indian sharpshooters (John Jacko and William Isaacs), buried a century ago in unmarked graves, finally received their long overdue headstones. Both soldiers were members of Co. K of the Michigan 1st Sharpshooters, the only all-Indian unit in the Union Army east of the Mississippi. Both men were also members of the G.A.R.

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Lt. Gary J. Faculak.

What’s more, Bill learned that he was not the only one to narrowly escape death that day. Turns out another young officer (Van Buchanan) had switched shifts with Lt. Faculak that night. “If it hadn’t been for the Internet, I would never have been able to make the connection,” says Bill. Well, Mr. Frassanito, if it hadn’t been for your dogged detective work for a group of dusty, old, mislabeled, long-forgotten photographs, we would have never made the connection either. Well done, soldier, well done.

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Alan E. Hunter delivering Bill Frassanito his Weekly View article.
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Bill Frassanito & Alan E. Hunter at the Reliance Mine Saloon in Gettysburg. You may visit Bill there every Monday, Wednesday or Friday night from 10:15 pm into the wee hours.
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, Creepy history, Gettysburg, Ghosts

Harry Houdini and Abraham Lincoln.

Houdini & Lincoln

Original publish date:  June 8, 2017

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

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Houdini lettergram to Anton Heitmuller.

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

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Houdini and Magician Harry Cooke.

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

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Magician Signor Biltz and Harry Houdini.

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

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

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

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Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg.

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

 

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Harry Houdini grave at Machpelah Cemetery in New York City.
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Signor Biltz grave at Machpelah Cemetery in New York City.
Civil War, Gettysburg, John F. Kennedy, National Park Service, Presidents, Travel

Gettysburg’s Lost Avenue.

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Original publish date:  September 12, 2019

Rhonda and I are celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary this week. One of the constants over those three blissful decades has been our shared love of Gettysburg Pennsylvania. It was one of the first places we visited as a married couple and has remained a favorite “haunt” of ours ever since. We visit the famous battlefield site 3 to 4 times per year, which may sound excessive to some, but it’s really not that unusual for fans of the area. The great thing about Gettysburg is that no matter how many times you visit, you can always find things you’ve never seen before.
That edict held true this past June when we visited an area of the Gettysburg National Military Park known as “Lost Avenue.” The National Park Service maintains this 6,000 acre battlefield and has continued to update the park in many ways since the Federal Government first began acquiring land back in June 1893. Over those years roads have been updated, changed and rerouted using various configurations designed for maximum ease of access by visitors. However, there is one area in the park that has remained unchanged for well over a century. Officially, it is known as “Neill Avenue”; colloquially it is called “Lost Avenue.” It was named to honor General Thomas Neill and his Sixth Corps brigade.

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The author and Dean Shultz.

For the soldiers positioned here, on the Confederate left flank and the Union right flank, July 3rd was not about the famous Pickett’s Charge. This was the end of the line. Lost Avenue was about skirmishing in the woods, snipers in the shadows, and withering gunfire from the fields, trees and stone walls on Wolf Hill that killed or wounded more than twenty of their Union comrades. No one knows how many Rebels died here. For these soldiers, both blue and gray, this was their Battle of Gettysburg. Billy Yank and Johnny Reb alike on Wolf Hill could hear (and likely feel) the immense bombardment that preceded Pickett’s Charge from roughly 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. For these soldiers, Gettysburg was about survival, pure and simple.

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Barb Adams of Gettysburg.

Although located on National Park Service land, due to its remote location and rough terrain, Lost Avenue is one of the most difficult spots to find on the entire battlefield. Luckily, my Gettysburg battlefield buddy Barb Adams put me in touch with a man who knows Lost Avenue like the back of his hand. Readers will remember Barb from past columns. Barb is the busiest, most dedicated person on the field in my opinion. As an unpaid volunteer, she paints, repairs and cares after every cannon on the Gettysburg battlefield. As if that weren’t enough, she also cleans and repaints all of the markers on the field. And those are legion. Barb introduced me to Dean Shultz, Gettysburg engineer and battlefield legend.

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L.-R.-Dean Shultz, Roger Branch, Jim Floyd, Alan E. Hunter touring Lost Avenue.

Mr. Shultz has spent the last eight decades roaming the property surrounding Lost Avenue. He fairly grew up on this land and in its houses listening to stories relayed to him by members of the Baker family as told them by veterans of the battle and survivors of the aftermath. Our little group included my wife Rhonda, Kris and Roger Branch and Jim and Linda Floyd when we visited on Friday June 28th. Mr. Shultz met us in the driveway and immediately began detailing the history of the buildings standing around us.
Dean pointed out each building, detailing their significance, “That red barn is part of the Musser farm,” he explains. Musser farm was where Evergreen cemetery hero Elizabeth Thorn visited during the battle and witnessed dead soldiers “stacked like cord-wood and the front porch full of amputated arms and legs.” He points out the Hoke toll house “built around 1814 where General Zook (wounded at the wheatfield) was taken, according to Dean, “his wounds were such that you could look into his chest and see his organs. The night of July 2nd, 20 soldiers were buried in the field there.” Yes, it is immediately apparent that Mr. Shultz is an expert storyteller.
Dean points to the house used as a hospital, then pivots and aims towards the remnants of a dried up well used by the soldiers during the battle. The house was a log cabin, built about 1760, owned by Peter Baker at the time of the battle. Dean relates that the “farmhouse was built in 3 stages over 3 different time periods, the first section started out as a one room log cabin with a loft that is still inside. In 1820 another room was added on. After the battle, it was raised to 2 stories and the balcony was added.” The house still has blood stains on the floors and Dean points to a bench on the porch where many soldiers rested back in 1863. Dean points to the barn and explains that it’s siding is more contemporary because the original boards were removed and used to make coffins and grave markers.
20190628_150658Our tour guide explains, “The house had been in the Peter Baker family since 1847.” As a youngster, Dean listened to stories under the old tree that is still there near the house. He continues, “This is where the original guides used to gather under the tree and smoke cigars and drink a little whiskey. The Baker boys were bachelors and always had time to tell stories.” Dean has an encyclopedic knowledge of the battle, but also has personal stories told to him by the legendary figures of this battlefield town. As a youngster, Dean recalls visits by “Pappy Rosensteel who had a huge collection of battlefield relics that he took me to on many occasions.” George D. Rosensteel (1884-1971) had a fantastic lifetime collection of battle relics and displays, including the interpretive Battle of Gettysburg map, acquired by the National Park Service for use in the Gettysburg National Military Park museum and visitor center from 1974-2008. “But they didn’t get it all,” Dean says, “They didn’t get it all.”
Dean wears a safari hat, khaki vest and smokes a pipe, which simply lends to the historical provenance of the moment. Mr. Shultz is pure Pennsylvania. He speaks with an intriguing accent unfamiliar to our group of Midwestern ears, pronouncing regiments as “regga-mints” and Gettysburg as “Get-ahs-burg”, Baltimore as “Ball-er-mer.” In short, he could read the phone book and draw a crowd. No doubt about it, Dean Shultz is an unsung treasure of Gettysburg. His modesty is amazing. He seeks no personal publicity, really doesn’t care to have his picture taken and treats every visitor he encounters with respect and kindness.
20190628_143719We are standing at the base of Wolf Hill near Rock Creek on the far right of the Union Army infantry line; the sounds of traffic whizzing by us on the Baltimore Pike, but it feels like we have traveled back in time. Dean leads us up the slope, we walk about a football field’s length away as he stops in some shady spot, relights his pipe, and explains about cattle grazing in the woods or points out where soldiers were once temporarily buried. This amazing octogenarian halts often, not for his sake but for ours. He climbs these slopes with the agility of a man half his age. He is not winded, but we are.
Dean explains that the soldiers considered Powers Hill, just a short distance away, as the true end of the Union Line. “They called it a muleshoe.” He stresses the importance of the Baltimore Pike both during and after the battle. “Thousands of Rebel prisoners were marched right past this spot to the railroad to be shipped off to POW camps.” Then jokes that the debarkation point then is now “the spot where the outlet mall now stands.” He smiles with a wink towards Rhonda and says, “You look like you know where the outlet mall is, right?” With a giggle she replies in the affirmative and admits that she was just there last night. Now how did he know that? Dean Shultz knows everything. His cultural knowledge is not only limited to the battle, “There were 183 African Americans in Gettysburg at time of the battle. Only 60 some of them returned, probably property owners,” Dean says.
20190628_145528As we reach the entrance to Lost Avenue, Dean explains with a sweep of his hand, “This was an orchard at the time of the battle, the bodies of many soldiers were buried in rows right over there.” Former resident Cora Baker’s (1890-1977) grandmother told how, after the battle as the bodies were picked up for reburial, “the grass just quivered with lice and bugs where they laid and when the soldiers would roll up their bedrolls in the morning, the grass was alive with lice and bugs from the bodies of the living soldiers as well.”
Until recently, Dean had a dozen cows but is now down to just one. His cattle dutifully kept the grass down and ate the lowest leaves off the trees “as high as they could reach”, which made it easy to see through. Important historically because it helped maintain the look of the woods as the soldiers would have known it. “They could easily fight in here and could shoot 100 yards through those trees,” he says. Dean jokingly recalls that the only problem was that his cows left many “Confederate Land Mines” behind (what we Hoosiers commonly call cow-pies).
20190628_144938Upon entering Lost Avenue, Dean explains that General Neill was sent here to guard the rear flank of the Union Army and, most importantly, to protect the Baltimore Pike. Dean states, “When I was a boy I used to visit Lost Avenue with Arthur Baker (1893-1970), who as a lad had walked the fields with the old soldiers that visited the property and actually fought over this ground. Arthur would go and grab a bayonet, left here after the battle, from one of the farm buildings. He’d attach it to his walking stick, hide behind the stone wall and charge out screaming the Rebel Yell.”
20190628_150637Dean maintains the avenue. “The park service never comes out here. Most of the guides have never been out here. The only one I’ve ever seen up here was Barb Adams.” Lost Avenue is the last section of the battlefield that looks exactly as it did when the soldiers fought, and died, here. Dean further explains, “Monuments were set on grass lined strips with no thought of ever paving them. The roads you know now were paved much later. Lost Avenue is the last “pristine section” of unpaved roadway. The 40 foot wide strip is lined by the original stone fence that the 2nd Virginians & 1st North Carolinians fought behind. It was made of field stones picked up by farmers over the years and predates the battle. The second stone wall, the 1895 section, was built later after Sickles took over.”
Dean knows ever inch of Lost Avenue and rattles off stats and battle information the way others might recite the names of relatives: 43rd New York, 49th New York, 61st Pennsylvania & 7th Maine, they were all here. “Neill’s brigade stayed on the spot until the night of July 5th.” Dean says, while noting that “the reason the markers in Lost Avenue are slanted is because they were designed to be read from horseback”, which was the preferred method of touring the battlefield when they were first erected. Dean also points out that the monuments here are pristine and shiny because there is no car exhaust or pollution to dull or damage them. The pinnacle of any visit to Lost Avenue is finding the marker at the end of the Union line. It reads “Right of the infantry of the Army of the Potomac” Dean Shultz states, “There are a lot of historians who would like to see that marker but have no idea where it is. There is no “Left of the infantry” marker that I know of.”
Mr. Shultz is a co-founder of the Adams County Land Conservancy, which, with other organizations, has preserved more than 500 acres in and around the battlefield. Originally, Dean inherited 30 acres and now he and his wife Judy own over a hundred acres of battlefield ground. The couple are serious about battlefield preservation. They don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk. Dean’s engineering company office is located across the Baltimore Pike on battlefield ground, and it’s portable. As Dean states, the mobile home office is temporary, “and when I don’t need it anymore, it will be hauled away and the ground returned to the deer.”

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Jackie Kennedy, Col. Jacob Sheads & John F. Kennedy touring Gettysburg 1963.

My favorite anecdotes shared that day revolved around stories of Dean’s friendship with the legendary Jacob Sheads. Colonel Jake Sheads is perhaps best remembered as the park ranger who escorted John F. Kennedy and wife Jacqueline on their tour of the battlefield shortly before JFK’s tragic assassination in Dallas. Legend claims that it was on this field, while viewing the Eternal Peace Light Memorial with Col. Sheads that the idea for JFK’s eternal flame grave marker found root. Dean once asked Col. Sheads how Neill Avenue got the name “Lost Avenue.”

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JFK, Col. Sheads (back to camera) & Jackie at Little Round Top.

Sheads, who was also a Gettysburg High School history teacher, responded, “Well, Dean, it was me, I named it.” Sheads explained that he needed a way to get lovestruck students interested in history. The teacher told his students that they needed to get out and live, touch and feel history to understand it, particularly those living on the most famous battlefield in the country. Col. Sheads developed Neill Ave. as a lonely, secluded “lover’s lane” destination to entice these young students to visit there. Sheads told Dean, “I don’t think it worked though because, after all these years. there were probably more people conceived than killed there.”

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John F. Kennedy & Col. Jacob Sheads at Gettysburg.

“Col. Sheads was the Borrough’s biggest Democrat”, said Dean. “I recently visited Col. Sheads’ tombstone and you know what it reads? ‘Husband. Historian. Democrat.’ Showing the Kennedy’s around the battlefield was the highlight of his life.” Well, Mr. Shultz, I think I can safely speak for our group and say that your tour was certainly one of the highlights of our lives as well.

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The author at the end of the Union Army line on Lost Avenue.
Creepy history, National Park Service, Pop Culture

Floyd Collins-Legendary Spelunker. PART III

Floyd Collins part 3 picture

Original publish date:  September 5, 2019

After 230 hours trapped in a Central Kentucky 55 feet underground, Floyd Collins was no closer to rescue than he had been when he first entered Sand Cave on January 30, 1925. The previous 10 days were a media circus: reporters, photographers, sketch artists, telegraph operators, and radio operators from all over the country stormed Cave City. By now, Floyd’s makeshift grave was shielded by a large white tarpaulin hung over the opening with “country gutters” ringing its edges, but these makeshift rigging’s were not enough to stop the pools of frigid water from soaking the men working at the bottom. The sound of gas powered generators shook the earth as pumps struggled to keep the water from trickling down on the now world-famous spelunker.

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The tarped entrance to Sand Cave during the rescue attempt.

On Wednesday, February 11, 1925, those rain showers turned into snow flurries. Now fingers, toes, noses and cave-trickle froze solid, only to thaw in time, turning the shaft, boulders and cave walls into a slimy death chute. Above ground, Lee Collins wandered through the crowd aimlessly, begging visitors for donations, which only sparked conspiratorial theories that the whole thing was a hoax. Reporters crowded the barbed wire fence surrounding Sand Cave. Over two dozens telegraph operators stood by as did seven in a nearby pasture, ready to transport dispatches and photographs to distant newsrooms.

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Carnival atmosphere outside of Sand Cave.

After seventeen days trapped in the shaft, twelve without food or water, rescuers finally broke through. It was 1:30 p.m. on Monday February 16, 411 hour after Floyd Collins became trapped. Cave rescuer Ed Brenner flashed his lantern into the darkness and carefully eased himself into the cave. Skeets Miller later reported, “For the next five minutes those remaining in the shaft proper watched that hole without blinking.” Once inside, Brenner aimed his light at the trapped man and saw a glimmer. A glimmer much different from the cave crickets and crystals all Central Kentucky cavers were used to seeing. It was Floyd Collins’ gold tooth shimmering in the light, and it was not moving. Brenner turned his head back to his fellow rescuers, shook his head, and hollered “Dead.” Floyd had lost his battle with Sand Cave.

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The author at Sand Cave holding a return ticket to depot from Floyd Collins’ Cave.
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The author at Sand Cave holding sheet music for song “The Death of Floyd Collins.”

The coroner. Dr. C.C. Howard of Glasgow, declared that Collins had died of thirst and hunger compounded by exposure through hypothermia just three days before the rescue shaft reached his position. Another physician contradicted Dr. Howard by claiming that Floyd had been dead five days and noting that Floyd’s “face was sharp and pointed; he had jaws like a bulldog. A sharp nose, a high forehead. His eyes were sunk and his mouth was open. His hair was black. I took his head in my hands and … washed his face.”
On Tuesday, February 17, newsreel cameras filmed the weary Collins family as it said goodbye to their son and brother. A choir sang “Nearer, My God, To Thee” the very hymn Collins loved playing on his old stalactite xylophone. They left Floyd where he was, buried in the shaft. The people in Cave City figured there’d been sixty thousand tourists. The governor said operations had cost the state over twenty-five thousand dollars. After the reporters and tourists left, the hillside looked like a battlefield as silence returned to the Kentucky hills. After the jaws of the earth finally swallowed her prey, Cave City returned to normal. The name Floyd Collins-front page headlines for two weeks- was pushed out of the public eye by news of a mine explosion in Sullivan, Indiana, barely 200 miles northwest of Sand Cave. It was the Hoosier state’s worst mine disaster ever, killing 51 miners on February 20th, 1925. A mine was like a cave, and apparently, the world had had enough news of death down under.

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Homer Collins being pulled from Sand Cave after trying to rescue his brother.

Bee Doyle, the owner of Sand Cave, erected a sign on the highway proclaiming, “200 YARDS AWAY THE BODY OF FLOYD COLLINS IS IMPRISONED IN SAND CAVE.” For 50 cents, tourists could walk down the muddy path to stare at the gaping hole that swallowed Doyle’s former partner & friend. An agitated Homer Collins signed a vaudeville contract and traveled the country for eight months, regaling packed stages with Floyd’s story. Contrary to what some believed, Homer’s performances were not for personal gain. The sibling used the proceeds to fulfill a vow to get his brother out. “I kept thinking of Floyd lying in the muck where he had suffered beyond our power to imagine,” Homer decreed. “I would never have peace of mind if he remained there.” On April 17, seven local coal miners reopened the shaft and descended into Sand Cave. A week later, on April 25th, they removed the 27-pound rock pinning Floyd’s leg. The next day, Floyd’s casketed body was buried on the Collins farm.
fc-homerAs springtime returned to the Kentucky hills, the Collins family melted back into their rocky, hillside farm; no richer from the limelight. After the crowds departed, locals saw old man Lee scouring the rescue site for glass bottles to return for deposit. Two years later, in 1927, a struggling Lee Collins sold Crystal Cave to a dentist named Dr. Harry B. Thomas. The sale included White Crystal cave and the burial site of Floyd Collins. Lee’s $10,000 deal with Dr. Thomas included a morbid clause: that his son’s body could be exhumed and displayed in a glass-covered coffin inside the cavern. The enterprising country doctor quickly dug the dead man up and placed Floyd’s encased body on display in Crystal Cave. The gimmick worked and, much to the horror of Floyd’s friends and the Collins family, tourists flocked to Crystal Cave to view the embalmed body of the man now known as the “Greatest Cave Explorer Ever Known.”

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Floyd’s body being pulled out of Sand Cave.

ac54471aafc5e4cda072b1789e368cecSometime in the wee hours of March 18-19, 1929, Floyd’s body was stolen. The grave robbers “rescued” Collins’s corpse with the intentions of chucking him into the Green River, but Floyd’s body got tangled in the heavy underbrush and Dr. Thomas recovered the remains from a nearby field, minus his injured left leg. The remains were re-interned in a chained casket and placed in a secluded portion of Crystal Cave dubbed the “Grand Canyon”. A half-a-year later, the Great Depression blanketed the country and Floyd Collins’ saga was now a forgotten footnote. Times in Cave City got tough. Tourism plummeted-the same limelight that drew tourists innumerable to the Kentucky cave region now caused visitors to avoid it. As tourism dollars dried up, the sleazy tricks of local cave owners intensified. That feeling pervades Cave City today.

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Floyd Collins body.

Thirty-two years later, in 1961, the National Park Service purchased the land including the Sand Cave property and, eventually the Collins’ Homestead and Crystal Cave (with Collins still encased inside). The NPS closed the Grand Canyon tomb of the legendary spelunker and choked off public access, although a few enterprising cavers still made their way to Floyd’s casket, now marked with a proper tombstone. In 1989, at the urging of the Collins family, the body was re-interred at Mammoth Cave Baptist Church. There his body rests today under the very same tombstone that once adorned his macabre underground tourist attraction for all those years.

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Floyd Collins in his glass topped casket displayed in the cave.

By that time, a half-century after his death and the end of the Cave Wars, Floyd Collins’ prophecies of underground riches were confirmed. Crystal Cave’s NPS pricetag, $285,000 (more than $2 million today), exceeds Floyd’s wildest dreams. Collins’s hunch that the caves in the region were all inter-connected was also confirmed by professional cavers who discovered 405 miles of passageways making the Mammoth Cave-Flint Ridge-Joppa Ridge System the world’s longest. Floyd Collins’ sand cave, however, remains isolated. Near the Mammoth Cave welcome sign, visitors pass a gravel covered curved pull-off. At the mouth of which exists a winding wooden boardwalk that quickly disappears under a canopy of oak trees. The path, often deserted, dead-ends at an overlook that gazes down into a sinkhole ringed by a conspicuous lip of crescent-shaped rock. Moss covered ledges now disguise the dark chamber that was once Sand Cave. After all these years, Sand Cave remains separate and deserted.

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Author Roger Brucker.

In 1977, legendary caver and author Roger Brucker ventured into Sand Cave. “It was the scariest cave I have ever been in,” he said. Along the way, Roger and his crew found many relics from the Collins tragedy; bottles and cans, pieces of wood shoring, a steel poker, fragments of an army blanket, and a pair of electric wires. In the 1980s, the cave entrance was permanently sealed with a steel gate, bolted and welded shut. Professional cavers continue to explore the 400-plus-mile Mammoth Cave system, sometimes stumbling upon evidence of Floyd Collins’s famous early cave explorations; the letters “FC” can still be found scratched into rocks, a voice from the grave of old Floyd Collins. Although Collins was an unknown figure during his lifetime, the fame he gained by his death led to him being memorialized on his tombstone as the “Greatest Cave Explorer Ever Known”.
Although I have deep admiration for the National Park Service, I must admit that their collective treatment of Floyd Collins leaves much to be desired. On a recent trip to Mammoth Cave, I inquired of the park ranger at the front desk about Floyd Collins, in particular, the location of his grave, former ticket shack and house, all of which are contained within the park. The NPS ranger immediately snapped back the “We don’t do Floyd Collins here. No Floyd Collins” as she looked past me and turned her attention to some hikers and campers behind me in line. It is interesting to note that not 50 feet from where the exchange occurred, there were Floyd Collins books for sale on the shelves at the NPS giftstore. The NPS even offers an occasional driving tour of Collins related sites for visitors, but I suppose these are only available to the well-informed visitor and not promoted actively by the NPS. I’m also told that the 27-pound rock that led to Floyd’s doom is also stored somewhere on the property, out of view of course.

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Author’s Collection.

As for the Cave City community, not much has changed from the cave wars era. The hotels, non Park Service attractions, restaurants and gift shops operate like the old gangster era Las Vegas strip with the obvious intention of “stripping” every visitor of their cash as quickly as possible. On the Mammoth Cave exit are also the horrid tourist attractions known as “Guntown Mountain” and “Dinosaur World.” An old brochure in this author’s collection from the wild west themed Guntown mountain actually invites the visitor to see live hangings and ogle can-can girls. Every hotel room in town reeks of cigarette smoke and the restaurants in the area also encourage smoking. Like many Hoosiers, some of my ancestors hail from this central Kentucky cave region, so I remain… conflicted.

 

 

 

 

 

And now, for the Irvington connection. Weekly View readers know editor Paula Nicewanger. She, along with Ethel Winslow and Judy Crawford, keep the wheels turning at the View. What some of you might not know is that Paula’s maiden name is Collins and that Floyd Collins is a cousin of hers. Paula’s grandfather, Isaiah Dennis “Dan” Collins (1875-1927), was a dead ringer for his cousin Floyd. Paula says that Dan Collins “was a moonshiner / bootlegger to make a living. My dad had to quit school after 2nd grade and go to work when his dad died – there were 8 kids.” As for any Floyd Collins family stories, Paula admits, “Unfortunately my Dad was only 7 in 1927 and his Dad had died when he was 6 so dad didn’t know much. I learned about Floyd Collins in one of my college classes and found out then from other relatives that we were distant cousins. Dad was born in Cave City but they lived in Turkey Neck Bend and Thompkinsville. Dad did work building trails in Mammoth Cave when he was a teenager in the Civilian Conservation Camps (CCC) the government ran in the ’30s.”
Screenshot 2019-09-06 13.18.01However, Paula’s younger sister Gail, (a Harvard graduate and architect who lives in Oakland, CA) caught the Collins’ family fever and is a caver. Paula explains, “she got the spelunking gene – she and her husband belonged to a Spelunking Club when she was in her 20s.” Gail states, “Floyd Collins was in a forbidden “sandstone” cave which is the most fragile of rocks. I only went into Limestone caves which are more stable. The biggest concern about spelunking in Indiana & Kentucky is flash flooding. We only did caving during the dry months and mostly winter, when the ground is frozen for 5-8 weeks at a time. I spent New Yea’s Eve in a cave with Chuck (her husband) and our Spelunking group one year. One of my last spelunking adventures I was pulled out of a very wet cave entry, by a caving buddy, 6’6″, 250 lb former Marine, because the makeshift tree trunk ladder was missing two rungs. He reached into the hole and used one arm to hoist me out. A harrowing adventure indeed.” Seems that Gail narrowly escaped the fate of her long lost cousin Floyd.
Perhaps to honor the Collins family spelunking tradition and to set the record straight, Gail wants to be sure and update the caving avocation by saying, “There is a code of ethics for Spelunkers. Never leave ANYTHING in the cave, and NEVER REMOVE OR DAMAGE ANYTHING in the cave. It was a pact we never broke. It is like Wilderness Camping: PACK IT IN and PACK IT OUT. Green Ethics to protect the natural features of our world…We have come a long way since Floyd Collins, in knowing we have a planet in need. It is important that we drive home the importance of shared planet stewardship.” I’m sure that Paula & Gail’s cousin Floyd would be appreciate that sentiment.
Floyd Collins viewed “cavemanship” as a triple edged sword. It was what he loved to do, it was what he needed to do to survive, and it could kill him at anytime if he failed to remain vigilant. Today’s Cave City is not Floyd’s Cave City. While the National Park Service may remain ambivalent about the contribution of the greatest cave explorer ever known, they most certainly carry on the rich cave tradition the legendary spelunker himself possessed. The NPS protects and preserves the Mammoth Cave region 365 days a year for our enjoyment and education. A trip to Mammoth Cave is worth the 3-hour drive from Indy. Just keep in mind, Cave City operates by its own set of antiquated rules and morays. Guns, hangings and dinosaurs. Even the enterprising Floyd Collins would scratch his head at that. Reminds me of the old wild west admonition, “Beware of pickpockets and loose women.” Rest in peace Floyd Collins. Rest in Peace.

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Roger Brucker’s excellent book is available on Amazon.
Creepy history, National Park Service, Pop Culture, Travel

Floyd Collins-Legendary Spelunker. PART II

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Original publish date:  August 28, 2019

Floyd Collins is likely one of the most famous people you’ve never heard of. But, if you have ever taken a vacation down to Central Kentucky and visited Mammoth Cave, you’ve walked in his footsteps. Although Collins is a local legend, you wouldn’t know it if you asked many of the rangers on duty for the National Park Service there. Depending on which ranger you ask, Floyd Collins is either a rascal or a miscreant even though he is the most famous spelunker in the history of the world. During the roaring 20s, Collins’ story was only dislodged from the headlines by aviator Charles Lindbergh. There was a popular song written about his ordeal underground and President Calvin Coolidge himself followed Floyd’s story daily from the oval office in the White House.

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Floyd Collins

Since the early 1800s, Mammoth Cave has been THE tourist trap of Central Kentucky. The world’s longest cave, spawned a railroad, innumerable hotels, countless souvenir shops and sourced fortunes for many enterprising Kentuckians. When Louisville businessman G. D. Morrison found a new entrance to Mammoth Cave in the early 1920s, it set off a “Cave War” that raged for decades. After Morrison broke through the Earth’s crust to reveal his new entrance to Mammoth Cave, he strung some electric lights inside, built a hotel outside, and opened for business. He called it the “New Entrance to Mammoth Cave” and promoted it in his literature as “a miniature Atlantic City in the heart of Kentucky.” He told visiting reporters that he would build a twenty-thousand-dollar elevator in his hotel lobby so that his guests could comfortably descend to the caverns below.

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2 miniature lapel pennants from the author’s collection.

Morrison’s announcement was followed by a group of Chicago investors who quickly announced that they had purchased three hundred acres of land three miles north of the cave. They planned to construct a private eighteen-hole golf course they would name the “Blue Grass Country Club”. Their intended membership was to be made up of Midwestern businessmen who couldn’t be bothered to travel all the way to Florida for a golf vacation. That is until they discovered that the land was so leached by ground water that any one of their greens could turn into a sinkhole overnight. The cave business got tougher and tougher. One enterprising promoter turned his truck into a billboard, driving it up and down to distraction. Angry competitors put a stop to this by burning it. Floyd Collins, a caver since the age of six, watched patiently while these carpetbaggers battled for position.
Floyd was one of nine children, raised in a log cabin. His father, Lee, was a poor farmer who did a little trapping and kept the family alive by selling eggs to Mammoth Cave hotels. Floyd and his brothers supplemented the family income by cutting timber into railroad ties for the Louisville and Nashville railroad and rafting them down the Green River. In 1917, Floyd discovered his own money pit, which he called “White Crystal Cave.” The cave, although sensational, was only mildly successful due to its location on the tail end of the cave route. Like G.D. Morrison before him, Floyd was determined to find his own “New Entrance to Mammoth Cave.” However, Floyd’s entrance would be at the front of the road.

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Floyd Collins Cave Pennant from the author’s collection.

In mid-January of 1925, Floyd signed a contract with a local landowner to explore a rock overhang called Sand Cave that Collins had known about since childhood. On Friday, January 30, Collins entered the cave. He crawled on his belly down into the dark, narrow passage. He slid fifteen feet straight down, then twisted through a hundred feet of 30 degree slopes before dropping eight feet and crawling another fifty feet more between loose rock walls before reaching a small cavern. Here he gazed down into a fifty-foot pit, twenty-five feet long and ten feet wide. He descended searching for a passage, but it was closed. He scaled the walls and headed back the way he had come. That is until he kicked loose a rock that trapped his foot at the ankle. Floyd was now trapped 125 feet underground, in a coffin like space eight inches high and twelve feet long. The temperature was 16 degrees. He was face up looking in the direction from which he’d come, but there was a seven-ton boulder hopelessly pinning his left foot in the crevice.

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The author with a piece of Floyd Collins memorabilia from his collection.

He lay in mud and black night, with water dripping on his head. Floyd spent that first night alone; terrified, screaming and praying. On Saturday morning, after Floyd had failed to return home, his brother arrived and found him, but was unable to free him. A crowd of men came with blowtorches to heat the rock armed with chisels and hammers to break it. They worked all day to no avail. On Sunday, the story hit the Louisville Courier. Homer Collins told a reporter that he’d spent that night in the tunnel with his brother. “Floyd told me that last night he dreamed of white angels riding in white chariots drawn by white horses … he saw chicken sandwiches [and] a red hot stove … I heard him praying … ‘Oh Lord help me. I’m going home to the angels.’” Homer offered five hundred dollars to any surgeon who could crawl into the passage and cut his brother’s leg off.

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Floyd Collins.

On Monday, February 2, the Herald mistakenly reported that he’d been freed. When it was discovered that the caver was still trapped, more people came, and soon he became a media sensation. Well-meaning Kentuckians arrived from nearby counties and tried to crawl down the tunnel, but only caused more rocks and pebbles to fall in around Floyd. Hundreds of men stood around the hole, drinking whiskey and telling one another what to do. Volunteers crawled into the crevice carrying blankets and gloves, thermoses of coffee, bottles of milk, and cans of soup. Some volunteers made it only halfway down before becoming frightened, ditching their supplies into the nearest crevice, only to emerge to tell everyone how grateful Floyd had been and exactly what he’d said.
The rescue operation to save Collins became headline news all over the country. Floyd’s saga became one of the first major news stories to be reported using the new technology of broadcast radio. The rescue attempt grew to become the third-biggest media event between the world wars, behind only the transatlantic flight of Charles Lindbergh and the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. Soon the Sand Cave Valley was flooded with telegrams of advice. A doctor from Des Moines said he’d amputate Floyd’s leg if they sent an airplane to get him; a man from Detroit suggested a welding torch; another from Kansas City insisted they try an electric drill. The Louisville and Nashville dispatched a special train from Louisville to carry a pneumatic drill and a crew of stonemasons from a monument company. A fire-department lieutenant named Burdon insisted that they strap a harness to Floyd, connect it to an automatic winch, and try to pull him out like a worm from a hole.

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Rescuers during the Floyd Collins rescue attempt.

Floyd’s ex-business partner Johnny Gerald became incensed and chased away the interlopers. At midnight on Monday he crawled in, accompanied by a college president from Bowling Green and an ex-army lieutenant who taught mathematics, and together they cleared rock from Floyd’s body, freed his hands, widened the passage, and fed him coffee, milk, and grape juice. Floyd told Johnny that he’d rather have him do the rescuing than anyone else in the world. The college president crawled out and announced that he was going to have his basketball team come to the rescue. The stonemasons from Louisville left the next morning. They said the rescue camp was a cross between a county fair and a circus. Five hundred men crowded around in front of the cave. People complained about pickpockets and tire thieves. Cave City officials asked the governor to send in the national-guard. Over a period of 17 days, over 10,000 people crowded into the fields surrounding Sand Cave. Many of the local families padded their meager bank accounts by putting up out-of-towners, selling food and moonshine.

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The cave chute as seen from above.

On Wednesday morning Johnny led ten men into the hole and claimed that they had chipped away at the boulder that held Floyd’s foot until Floyd told him he was free. Then, as the crew headed out to get a piece of canvas to drag Floyd out, 50 feet above the trapped spelunker the tunnel collapsed. Five days of digging had loosened the roof and weakened the walls of the tunnel. This, combined with the heat of the work, thawed the frozen mud holding the rocks in place once again trapping Floyd’s foot. By now, Floyd was delirious and dying of pneumonia. A young miner from Central City named Maddox gave him the last food he ever ate. He mumbled and whispered: “Maddox, get me out … why don’t you take me out … kiss me good-bye, I’m going.” Maddox saw purple circles around his eyes and two front teeth made of gold. He kissed Floyd good-bye.

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Kentucky Governor Wm. J. Fields

Kentucky Governor Wm. J. Fields ordered two detachments of soldiers to Cave City. The Red Cross set up a field hospital on the slope overlooking the camp, and the soldiers strung barbed wire in a perimeter fifty yards beyond the rock overhang. Outside the wire, vendors sold hot dogs, sandwiches, and coffee to curious tourists. Inside the wire the experts agreed that the tunnel had become too dangerous and that the safest way to rescue Floyd was to dig a shaft until it reached the boulder that pinned him. None of them believed that they’d find him alive, and most of them thought he was dead already.
During this period of non-communication, the circus continued. Reporters struggled to “dig up” news. They reported that Floyd’s faithful dog Shep hadn’t eaten or slept for eight days; that Floyd had once gone all the way to Louisville to buy his sweetheart, Alma Clark, a box of chocolate-covered cherries; that Floyd had done it all for publicity. Floyd had escaped through a secret tunnel, or worse, he had never been there in the first place. Rumors persisted that Floyd had been murdered by his partner Johnny Gerald who had made a secret deal with Floyd’s father to kill him and take over Crystal Cave. A lady from Chicago claimed that she knew Floyd was alive because her coffee grounds had settled in a heart shape.

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Homer Collins and Floyd’s dog Shep.

The Louisville Automobile Club issued directions on how to drive to Cave City. Twenty thousand came to have a look. They bought souvenirs and posed for photographs in the meadow outside the barbed wire. Lee Collins moved through the crowd, introducing himself and handing out leaflets that advertised White Crystal Cave. By noon the only two restaurants in Cave City had hung out “Bread and Water Only” signs. Louisville papers sold thousands of copies of their Sunday edition to people who couldn’t get close enough to see even the barbed wire. The General gave a Louisville minister permission to hold a service on one of the bluffs overlooking the hole. Five thousand people got down on their knees and prayed.
The nation was starving for news accounts of Floyd’s entrapment in Mammoth Cave. Readers imagined what it would be like if they were caught inside the cold, dark cave, barely able to move. Floyd Collins’ story dominated the nation’s headlines, eclipsing President Coolidge’s economizing, Rudolph Valentino’s movie, the stock market’s gigantic jump in fortunes and whether heavyweight boxer Jack Dempsey would retire. President Calvin Coolidge even asked to be kept up on the story daily.

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Reporter William Burke “Skeets” Miller

One Louisville reporter, a young man named Skeets Miller, would become famous for wriggling down the hole early on in the adventure and becoming the first outsider to contact the trapped caver, wrote. “It would surprise Floyd Collins if he could see the electric lights, where before he has seen only stars…It would astonish him to look in on the hospital, with physicians and nurses waiting patiently, and the derricks, powder magazine, kitchen and mess hall, blacksmith shop, rest tent, lunch and fruit stands, restaurants and a taxicab stand—and all of them busy.”
image016An enterprising local scientist jerry-rigged a wire to a lightbulb that was sent down to not only illuminate the hole, but also to keep Floyd warm. An amplifier on the other end was closely monitored by technicians hunched over an electronic box under the tarp. A cross between a telegraph and a stethoscope, it detected vibrations whenever Collins moved and was viewed as a desperate lifeline. The amplifier crackled 20 times per minute, which the scientist claimed as proof positive that Collins was still alive and breathing. Alive and breathing, but still trapped.
Next Week- Part III- Floyd Collins-Legendary Spelunker