Henry S. Lane: Architect of Indiana’s Republican Party

Henry S. Lane was the consummate politician for the turbulent times that spurred him into action. He regularly put party before personal ambition and was modest enough to affect change from behind the scenes with little glory. He was, perhaps more than any of the other political players involved, the prescient architect responsible for creating the Indiana Republican Party in the 1850s. But he is often overlooked and overshadowed by more dramatic characters. He did not make bold and controversial decisions like Oliver P. Morton. He did not bravely stand in opposition to slavery like George Washington Julian. Instead, he was a discerning compromiser and a shrewd political operative, essential qualities in a period marked by division and the gathering clouds of Civil War. Perhaps no man except Lane could have united the disparate factions squabbling over an array of issues to create a stalwart party able to challenge the Southern-sympathizing Indiana Democrats.

Henry S. Lane, circa 1850. Image accessed from Crawfordsville District Public Library Image Database, Montgomery Count Historical Society Collection.

From such a grand description, one might picture Lane as a stately figure in the vein of peers such as Thomas A. Hendricks or Schuyler Colfax. However, Lane’s outward appearance did not reflect his astute political brain. He was tall, skinny, and pale. He was missing his front teeth and, in donning a blue denim suit, he did nothing to craft the appearance of a statesman. On top of everything, he chewed tobacco, a custom associated with the antebellum South.

Geo. A. Ogle & Co., Standard Atlas of Montgomery County, Indiana, 1917, Indiana Historic Atlases Collection, Ball State University Digital Media Repository.

This seemingly unimpressive figure, however, delivered some of the finest speeches ever orated by a Hoosier politician. For example, the Fort Wayne Standard described his 1854 keynote address at the People’s Party Convention as “soul-stirring and eloquent” and lamented their inability to describe his language sufficiently. His political savvy and oratory skills played no small part during one of the most exciting and tempestuous periods of Indiana political history.

Henry Smith Lane was born February 24, 1811 in Kentucky. By 1834, he settled in Crawfordsville, Montgomery County, Indiana, where he would maintain his permanent residence for the rest of his life. He quickly rose to prominence in Crawfordsville. He gained admission to the Indiana bar soon after arriving in the community. In 1837, at the age of twenty-six, he won a seat in the Indiana House of Representatives as a member of the Whig Party.

“Henry Clay”  New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed June 2, 2017. digitalcollections.nypl.org

On August 3, 1840, as the result of a special election, Lane won an open seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. In Congress, he caucused with fellow Whigs such as former President John Quincy Adams, future president Millard Fillmore, fellow Hoosiers Richard W. Thompson, and ex-governor David Wallace. Lane won re-election to a full term on May 3, 1841 and served until August 6, 1843. Historian Walter Rice Sharp described Lane’s time in the U.S. House: “He delivered few speeches and introduced no measures of his own. But upon occasion he would launch forth with an impromptu outburst of feeling which indicated a depth of conviction.” Apparently, Lane’s limited but impassioned participation was enough to earn the respect of his idol and Whig Party leader Henry Clay.

Evansville Journal, June 6, 1844, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles

When Clay won the Whig Party’s presidential nomination in 1844, Lane took to the campaign trail. Although he recently considered dropping out of politics due to a personal tragedy, Lane consented to be named as a candidate for state elector on the Whig ticket. He traveled across Indiana, and delivered public speeches in support of Clay for president. For example, the Evansville Journal reported on a June meeting to ratify Clay’s nomination at Tippecanoe Battle Ground: “Hon. Henry S. Lane of Montgomery, being loudly called for, took the stand and addressed the immense multitude in exposition of the principles and aims of the Whig party.” After Lane enthusiastically praised Clay and the party, the Indiana Whigs heartily ratified the nomination. He increased his efforts on behalf of Clay in the fall and one can follow his speaking trail through the newspapers using Hoosier State Chronicles. From August through October the (Brookville) Indiana American reported on Lane’s appearances at “Whig Mass Meetings” in Rockville, Lafayette, Logansport, Goshen, Fort Wayne, LaPorte, and Terre Haute.

The Democratic Party, however, was re-gaining dominance in Hoosier politics. The Whigs lost major ground in the 1844 state elections. In the presidential election, Hoosiers reflected the national choice of Democrat James K. Polk over Clay. Among other issues, the Whig Party failed to sense a changing economic climate. The country was in an expansionist mindset and the Democrats catered to this hunger for land and the imagined opportunities associated with it. Polk advocated for the addition of Texas and Oregon into the Union, satisfying the public’s desire for expansion, but also rocking the delicate balance of Slave and Free states that would soon lead to the Civil War. Lane had thought little about slavery thus far, and it would have been hard to imagine at this point in time, that he would one day unite the anti-slavery factions in Indiana.

Frank M. Hohenberger, “Lane Place, 212 South Water Street, Crawfordsville, Indiana,” Frank M. Hohenberger Collection, Lilly Library, Indiana University.
Mexican War Broadside,1846-1848, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution,

Clay’s defeat reinforced Lane’s earlier desire to withdraw from politics. In 1845, he re-married (after being widowed) and focused his efforts on building a large white house in Crawfordsville which he named Lane Place. It was built to last – it still stands – and to serve as a quiet retreat from the national stage. His country, however, soon needed him. According to Lane biographer Michael Hall, Lane objected to Polk’s declaration of war on Mexico in 1846 on partisan political grounds. Yet as a patriot, he felt called to serve. He organized a group of volunteers who assembled outside Lane Place in June of 1846 and left home for war.

Over a month later, Major Lane and the First Infantry Regiment of Indiana Volunteers arrived at the Texas-Mexico border. The camp they found there was “hell upon earth,” according to Lane. The regiment waited in vain for months to be ordered into battle. Meanwhile, Lane and the other officers watched as their troops contracted and succumbed to malaria, dysentery, yellow fever, and other diseases. Lane wrote in his journal, “We shall bury a great many of our best men before we leave this miserable camp.” Despite repeated requests for an active assignment, Lane (now a lieutenant colonel) and his men returned to Indiana after ten months of inaction, disillusioned by their experiences. According to Hall, this event also embittered Lane to both the Whig and Democratic parties and “the bureaucratic bungling that caused the inefficiency he witnessed and had contributed to the war’s cause.” By 1847, Henry S. Lane anticipated the need for a new political party, but the climate would not be ripe for another seven years.

Zachary Taylor was the last Whig to win the presidency when he defeated Democrat Lewis Cass in the 1848 election. The new president was also a slaveholder. Hall claims that Lane “constantly criticized” Taylor, and thus further distanced himself from the Whig Party. However, a search through Indiana newspapers using Hoosier State Chronicles shows that Lane, putting party before personal sentiment, offered half-hearted support for Taylor. For example, the Indiana State Sentinel reported in February 1848, that Lane spoke to an audience of “Taylorites” in Crawfordsville. Lane described Taylor as “an American of capacity, of honesty, and merit” and reported that he offered his support for the obscure reason that “as the people are all going for him, I wish to keep out of the crowd.” However, Lane seemed more enthusiastic about his party that fall. The (Brookville) Indiana American reported on a gathering of many leading Midwestern Whigs and a large audience “who had left their shops, farms, and daily occupations to spend a day of two in honor of Zachary Taylor – the people’s candidate for the Presidency.” The paper described Lane, one of the main speakers at the event: “[T]hat gallant Whig champion and eloquent orator of our own State, Henry S. Lane, of Montgomery [County], was called for, and mounting a table at the door, he poured forth a flood of political truths which elicited shouts of applause! The old Whig fire seemed to be rekindled anew upon every altar, and not until a late hour, was he permitted to leave the stand.”

“Fort Harrison Meeting,” (Brookville) Indiana American, September 15, 1848, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Political defeat, however, soon doused Lane’s fire. His 1848 loss to Joseph E. McDonald for the U.S. House of Representatives made clear that, much like the Whig Party itself, his political and moral stances were in flux. He was a Whig “in name only,” according Hall, but newspapers such as the Indiana State Sentinel recognized him as “the most prominent member of that body.” More importantly, he had yet to take a clear position on slavery. While the Montgomery (County) Journal called him a “champion of human rights and freedom” who would check the expansion of slavery, the Sentinel noted that he had made no anti-slavery promises on the campaign trail. The paper reported that they hoped he would “define his position . . . and . . . openly declare whether he will support Taylor’s bidding or not.” Lane lost the election, and by this point in history, Indiana was solidly Democratic.

Clay Defending the Compromise of 1850, New York Public Library Digital Collections. 

Lane’s response to the Compromise of 1850 epitomized his ambivalent stance on slavery. Like most Whigs, Lane supported this set of bills that temporarily eased tensions between pro and anti-slavery interests at the expense of actually solving the problem of slavery. Like Clay, Lane was morally opposed to the institution of slavery but politically only opposed the extension of slavery into new U.S. states and territories. (This is a marked contrast to George Washington Julian, for example, a staunch abolitionist who fought to rid the nation of slavery completely.) Also like Clay, Lane did not imagine the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which put limits on slavery’s expansion in the U.S. Territories, would ever be repealed. All Whigs, however, did not see the issues the same way as Lane and Clay. The Compromise of 1850 highlighted the sectional divisions in the Whig Party, while at the same time creating an uneasy peace. Henry Clay’s death in 1852 served as a harbinger of the Whig Party’s fate. A few short years thereafter, the party membership fractured over a piece of legislation that destroyed the tentative sectional truce.

 

“A New Map of Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico, and Indian Territories,” 1856, Digital Commonwealth Massachusetts Collections Online.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act which repealed the Missouri Compromise. The bill was sponsored by Illinois Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas (who would later run for president against Abraham Lincoln) and signed into law by Democratic President Franklin Pierce. While initially a huge setback for the anti-slavery movement, opposition to this law and to the Democratic administration worked to mobilize disparate political groups against a common cause. This was the perfect climate to organize the new party that Lane and others had envisioned years earlier.

Among those Americans who were united against the extension of slavery into new territories their opinions on slavery itself varied widely. Many anti-slavery adherents opposed the western spread of slavery, but had little interest in the fate of enslaved peoples in the South. Whites who worked in agriculture and industry opposed slavery’s expansion because they did not want to compete with slave labor in the North or in new territories. For the anti-slavery politicians and electorate who favored emancipation, there were debates on how to accomplish this. Some groups favored emancipation only over an extended period of time. Even within this “gradual emancipation” position there were debates as to whether or not slaveholders should be compensated or not as a result of their loss of “property.” Even if an anti-slavery faction favored emancipation they often advocated that the freed African Americans should be removed from America and colonized in Africa. Only a small percentage of anti-slavery supporters abhorred the institution as an affront to God and labored for its immediate abolition and citizenship rights for African Americans. Despite these sometimes vastly different positions, the desire to stop slavery’s spread was a unifying aim, and in July 1854, former Whigs, anti-slavery Democrats, Free Soilers, and others organized to form a new national party: the Republican Party.

“The People’s Convention,” Indiana Journal, reprinted in Evansville Daily Journal, July 15, 1854, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

In Indiana, Lane and other prominent ex-Whigs called for a state convention to be held July 13, 1854 for the purpose of organizing a new party. Historian Walter Sharp wrote that “Lane, with his wealth of persuasive eloquence and his unblemished character, was clearly the prime mover of this inner council.” That day, ten thousand people reportedly rallied at Indianapolis to protest the Kansas-Nebraska Act. These included Hoosiers favoring political issues that ranged from alcohol-adverse temperance advocates to anti-Catholic, xenophobic Know-Nothings to defecting Democrats to staunch abolitionists. It was clear to Lane that the new party must include all of these diverse political voices, and unite them against slavery’s expansion. Thus, Indiana’s arm of what would in ensuing years become the Republican Party, had to be more moderate in order to be more inclusive. Lane and other leaders chose to call it the People’s Party. They reasoned that by avoiding the name “Republican” they could avoid the association with the eastern abolition movement that many Hoosiers saw as too radical.

“Preliminary Meeting of the Great Mongrel Convention,” (Indianapolis) Indiana State Sentinel, July 15, 1854, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Democratic newspapers had their own, more colorful names, for the new party. The Indiana State Sentinel referred to the July meeting as the “Isms Convention” and the “Great Mongrel Convention,” criticizing the sheer number of different ideologies that the party was attempting to reconcile. Another Democratic paper, the Worcester (Massachusetts) Transcript, called it “a Free Soil Convention in disguise.” The Sentinel also hyperbolized, calling the People’s Party the “Abolition Free Soil Party” in an attempt to scare off the conservative Know-Nothings and defecting Democrats.

Despite the efforts of detractors, the convention was a success. This was due in large part to Lane’s unifying speech where he outlined the platform of the new party. He appeased the prohibitionists by calling for a liquor ban and the Know-Nothings by calling for a “lengthy citizenship” process, all without offending the German immigrant members in their midst. Mostly, however, he set the party in opposition to the detested Kansas-Nebraska Act and the expansion of slavery into the territories. Lane biographer Hall explained that his speech, “Molded the various confederations of political doctrine into one shaky, but significant movement.” The (Huntington) Indiana Herald praised Lane’s speech and delighted over his criticism of Democratic U.S. Senator John Pettit who recently spoke in Indianapolis in support of the reviled Kansas-Nebraska Act and famously stated during the Senate debate on the act that Jefferson’s statement included in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” was “a self-evident lie.” The paper reported:

[Lane’s] address was of the most soul-stirring and eloquent character. We cannot pretend to give his language, and if we could, no one, unless they heard him, could form an idea of his style oratory. His defense of the glorious Declaration of Independence from the foul aspirations of Petit [sic], was the finest specimen of terrible denunciations that we have listened to for many years. Had that individual been present, as brazenfaced as he is, he must have wilted down under the Atlas load of scorn piled upon him by the eloquent Lane.

Of course, the Democratic Indiana State Sentinel had a different view of Lane’s speech. The paper complained that Lane’s stance was simply to oppose anything the Democrats advocated. The Sentinel also made fun of Lane’s folksy, rustic manner of speaking:

If a set of Democratic resolutions were to embody the Ten Commandments, Henry S. Lane would be “agin ’em”. . . If he knows which side the Democrats are on, he is always on the other side, and his only guide has ever been opposition to Democracy.

“Preliminary Meeting of the Great Mongrel Convention,” (Indianapolis) Indiana State Sentinel, July 15, 1854, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

In a way, the Sentinel was right. Lane knew that perhaps the only thing this heterogeneous group of Hoosiers had in common, was opposition to the Democratic Party and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The official platform set forth by the People’s Party was simple. First, they opposed the extension of slavery. Second, they advocated for laws to “suppress the traffic in ardent spirits as a beverage.” And third, they opposed everything laid out by the Indiana Democratic Party during their recent convention. One example of the platform’s moderation was seen when the abolitionist George Washington Julian introduced a minority report calling for a stronger stance against slavery and the Fugitive Slave Law. The convention quickly tabled Julian’s request. Nonetheless, the Indiana People’s Party rode their non-traditional platform to success in the 1854 elections statewide; they took nine out of eleven congressional races and gained a majority in the lower house of the Indiana General Assembly.

“Hon. Henry S. Lane,” Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, National Archives.

Lane exerted great influential in steering the new party toward a moderate stance on slavery. He recognized that most of Indiana’s electorate saw the abolition movement as too radical. At this delicate time, he was careful to speak only against the extension of slavery, and did not advocate for its abolition. In 1855, he wrote to Indiana Congressman Schuyler Colfax, “We must resist the encroachment of Slavery, if we would preserve the rights of Freedom.” Despite his moderation, Democratic papers charged Lane with being an abolitionist. While Lane was certainly not an abolitionist, his views on slavery were shifting towards opposing the institution itself, not just its extension.

During the 1856 election year Lane remained a key figure in the Indiana party and began making waves nationally as well. In 1856, Lane chaired the People’s Party Convention in Indianapolis and the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia that nominated John C. Frémont for president (and had the crafty campaign slogan: “Free labor, free soil, free men, Frémont”). In his 1856, Lane addressed the Republican National Convention, and reiterated that the party opposed only extension of slavery, not its abolition, but added that he believed the Declaration of Independence to be “an anti-slavery document.” He described the Republican Party as representing “every shade of Anti-slavery sentiment in the United States” and that the party hoped to see a time when God would “look upon no slave North or South.” He continued:

Freedom is national. Freedom is the general rule. Slavery is the exception. It exists by sufferance. Where it does exist under the sanction of the law, we make no war upon it. Does that constitute us Abolitionists, simply because we are opposed to the extension of slavery? If that makes an Abolitionist, write ‘Abolitionist’ all over me.

The Crawfordsville Journal reprinted Lane’s speech. The only editorial comment the Journal provided was this: “We give it to our readers without note of comment, as it was reported for that paper. We consider it, however, a master stroke of Western eloquence. Let everybody read it.”

“Col. H. S. Lane’s Speech at the Philadelphia Convention,” Crawfordsville Weekly Journal, July 3, 1856, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Back home in Indiana, Lane again demonstrated his political savvy and ability to put party before personal ambitions in an attempt to strengthen it for the 1856 election. Lane was the preferred pick for gubernatorial nominee among some party leaders for his skill, experience, and unifying effect. However, Lane knew Oliver P. Morton would be the candidate with a better chance of winning. Morton had been a Democrat until just before the People’s Party’s organization and had no record of anti-slavery rhetoric. A former Democrat was likely to draw the support moderate and disillusioned Democrats as well as former Know-Nothings, who were not thrilled with the participation of Lane and others in the Republican National Convention (as they still considered the national party too radical). Despite this creative maneuver, Morton lost the election. Democrats won the state and the national election making James Buchanan, supporter of strict fugitive slave laws and the rights of states to decide the slavery issue, the leader of a divided nation.

Over the next four years, the People’s Party aligned itself with the national platform and adopted the name “Republican.” As the Indiana party looked toward the 1860 election year, Lane looked toward Washington and a Senate seat. He also applied what he knew about offering the voters moderate candidates who could appeal to various factions. He used this knowledge when he threw the Indiana delegation’s support behind Abraham Lincoln’s nomination at the 1860 Republican National Convention. Check back for a second post on Lane and his role in Lincoln’s 1860 presidential nomination and scheme to win both the governorship and a Senate seat for his party.

For more information see:

Michael Hall, The Road to Washington: Henry S. Lane, The Rise of an Indiana Politician, 1842-1860 (Crawfordsville: Montgomery County Historical Society, 1990).

Walter Rice Sharp, “Henry S. Lane and the Formation of the Republican Party in Indiana,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review 7:2 (September 1920): 93-112.

Visiting Nurses, Tuberculosis Assailants, and their Ball Family Champions

As the United States exited the Gay Nineties and entered the 20th century, an increased concern for better systems of disease control and education swept the nation. As industry boomed, more and more people crowded into cities, both large and small. With crowds came germs and disease. Soon tuberculosis ranked as the leading cause of death in the country.

In Muncie, Indiana anxiety over bacterial diseases loomed just as large as in major cities like New York and Chicago. To combat these and other public health issues of the time, individuals stepped up to the plate and played vital roles in getting new organizations off the ground.

Fruit jar made by Ball Brothers Manufacturing Company, 1910-1920
Fruit jar made by Ball Brothers Manufacturing Company, 1910-1920, courtesy of the Minnetrista Heritage Collection.

By the early 1900s the term “Ball jar” had become a household phrase, and Ball Brothers Manufacturing Company distinguished themselves as the largest producer of canning jars in the world. In addition to the successful business bearing their name, the Ball family also left their mark on Muncie through civic work and philanthropy. During the first decades of the 20th century two notable women of the Ball family worked to improve public health in their region, and personally invested time and energy into advancing sanitation, hygiene, and medical access.

Bertha Crosley Ball, around 1900 and Sarah Rogers Ball, around 1890
Bertha Crosley Ball, around 1900 (left) and Sarah Rogers Ball, around 1890 (right), courtesy of the Minnetrista Heritage Collection

Bertha Crosley Ball was the wife of Edmund Burke Ball – the middle son of the Ball brothers. Born in 1875 in Terre Haute, she was the daughter of a well-known Universalist minister and had familial roots stretching back to the American Revolution. Her advantaged upbringing left her wanting for very little in her youth. After graduating high school she began her collegial studies at Vassar College where she received a degree in Social Work in 1898.

Cincinnati Enquirer, September 2, 1903, courtesy of the Minnetrista Heritage Collection

After completing her studies, Bertha moved with her parents to Indianapolis where her father served as state superintendent of the Universalist Church of Indiana. Shortly after, Bertha made a visit to her friend Bessie Ball in Muncie. There, Bertha was introduced to Bessie’s brother-in-law, Edmund. Despite a twenty year age difference the two hit it off right away and in 1903 the couple married. Edmund’s distinction as the wealthiest man in Indiana, led to many headlines stretching from Indianapolis to Muncie, and even into Cincinnati.

Contrasted with Bertha’s advantaged upbringing is that of her sister-in-law, Sarah Rogers Ball. Nearly twenty years older than Bertha, Sarah married Edmund’s older brother, Dr. Lucius Ball in 1893. Born in upstate New York, Sarah was the daughter of immigrants. With six siblings, Sarah’s childhood home grew crowded and did not come with many opportunities. By the age of 16 she had moved into the home of her older sister and brother-in-law. For Sarah this move opened up doors that had been previously closed. Her brother-in-law, himself the son of immigrants, made a name as a ship captain and built up a very profitable shipping fleet. When Sarah began studies at the Buffalo General Hospital School of Nursing in 1885 her sister and brother-in-law likely paid the tuition.

Dr. Lucius and Sarah Rogers Ball in Japan, 1917, courtesy of the Minnetrista Heritage Collection.

While Bertha and Sarah could not be more different on the surface, their interest in public health and service to their community tied them together. In the 1880s the discovery of natural gas created a boom of industry in the Muncie area. This development led to a period of growth and an expanding population that required social amenities and services, such as health care. Over the next few decades small hospitals came and went until Ball Memorial Hospital opened its modern facility in 1929. In the meantime, it became obvious that the industrial town not only needed reliable hospitals, but also advocates for improving the overall public health of the community.

Two such promoters came in the form of Muncie’s Visiting Nurses Association and the Delaware County Tuberculosis Association. Both organizations tackled issues of public health, and felt the influence of Bertha and Sarah Ball.

Formed in 1916, the Visiting Nurses Association existed “for the benefit and assistance of those otherwise unable to secure skilled assistance in times of illness; to promote cleanliness and prevent sickness by the teaching of hygiene, sanitation and the science of domestic management.” To accomplish these feats they provided general nursing, maternity service, child welfare service, nurses training, and a mental hygiene program.

Among those involved with the organization of the association was Sarah. As a former nurse it comes as no surprise that she had an interest in seeing the group established. When living in Buffalo, she had been involved in organizing a local Visiting Nurses Association as well.

Muncie Visiting Nurses Association staff, 1932
Muncie Visiting Nurses Association staff, 1932, courtesy of the Minnetrista Heritage Collection.

While Sarah’s role with the Visiting Nurses was low-profile, Bertha’s involvement was not. At the time of the group’s founding, the organization elected Bertha to serve as second vice president and she continued to actively serve on the board of directors into the mid-1930s; serving as president in the 1920s. Between 1922 and 1932 the association experienced rapid growth. Under Bertha’s leadership nursing staff expanded, the numbers of patients served grew, and community health rapidly improved.

Modern Health Crusade pamphlet. In the mid-1920s, the Delaware County Tuberculosis Association won the state award for the highest percentage of student participants in the program
Modern Health Crusade pamphlet. In the mid-1920s, the Delaware County Tuberculosis Association won the state award for the highest percentage of student participants in the program, courtesy of the Minnetrista Heritage Collection

Three years after the founding of the Visiting Nurses, the Delaware County Tuberculosis Association began to develop. With tuberculosis-related deaths on the rise, the group hoped to spread knowledge concerning the disease’s cause and treatment, and to take steps towards preventing its spread. Through lectures, anti-spitting campaigns, advertisements, tuberculin testing of cattle, and instructive visits from nurses, the association tackled its goals head on. Over time their work paid off and by the 1940s tuberculosis-related deaths in the county had almost completely disappeared.

In the association’s first years, Bertha and Sarah again found themselves highly involved. Both women helped incorporate the organization and were also among the first board members. Sarah personally offered up the use of her automobile to the organization, and Bertha regularly gave monetary gifts to the group when they struggled financially.

Bertha Crosley Ball, mid-1930s and Sarah Rogers Ball, around 1917
Bertha Crosley Ball, mid-1930s (left) and Sarah Rogers Ball, around 1917 (right), courtesy of the Minnetrista Heritage Collection.

A scan of both organizations’ records show Bertha and Sarah’s names regularly mentioned in formative years. Through their labor, a strong foundation was established for both organizations, cooperative relationships developed between the boards, and both associations experienced rapid growth. With backgrounds in social work and nursing, Bertha and Sarah each possessed an understanding of society’s larger public needs and desired to improve the well-being of all people. Through their work, public health efforts in the Muncie area improved, leading to an established concern with human and community health that continues today.

Push and Pull of the Hoosier Partisans and Cleveland Clique: Consolidation of the Bee Line Railroads

See Part VI to learn how the Hoosier Partisans moved for autonomy as the Cleveland Clique tightened its grip on the Bee Line railroad.

image of Steam Locomotive Explosion, 19th century
Steam Locomotive Explosion, 19th century, courtesy of Martin F. Wintermute.

In the summer of 1859, the Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Cleveland’s (IP&C’s) Madison locomotive exploded near Kilgore Station in Yorktown, Indiana – killing the engineer and fireman. A month later, near the same location, an intoxicated man fell from the station’s platform and was killed by a passing train.

These tragic events occurred just weeks after the Hoosier Partisans’ scheme to achieve their independence, by leveraging on the IP&C’s strategic position as a funnel to the West, had failed. The accidents seemed eerily suggestive of the Hoosier Partisans’ plight in the face of the Cleveland Clique’s mustered financial power.

Map of the Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Cleveland Railroad (formerly the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad), ca. 1855
Route of the Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Cleveland Railroad (formerly the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad), ca. 1855. (Reprinted from Map of Indiana. New York: J. H. Colton & Co., 1855. Courtesy of Ball State University Libraries, Map Collections. Annotated by Erin Greb Cartography.)

By the IP&C’s May 1860 board meeting the Partisans were resigned to their fate: “we know of no other means by which we can extricate ourselves from our monetary difficulties and save the road . . . We deem it best to extend and continue said [joint operating] contract with said Bellefontaine and Indiana Railroad (B&I).”

Indiana board members had again faced the reality that the railroad business, on many levels, could be a perilous endeavor. The push and pull of the Hoosier Partisans and Cleveland Clique would ultimately result in the legal consolidation of the Bee Line Railroad components roads.

Map of the Bee Line’s Bellefontaine Line joint operating railroads and the Columbus, Piqua and Indiana Railroad
Map of the Bee Line’s Bellefontaine Line joint operating railroads (Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Cleveland [blue], Bellefontaine and Indiana [red]), and the Columbus, Piqua and Indiana Railroad [brown], courtesy of Erin Greb Cartography.
Clearly sensing the IP&C would be reluctantly compelled to extend its joint operating agreement with the B&I, John Brady, the receiver for the Columbus, Piqua and Indiana Railroad (CP&I), demanded that the IP&C honor its 1852 through-line agreement with them. He recited the agreement’s language regarding freight and passenger traffic between Columbus, Ohio and Indianapolis, which mandated “sending any/all east/west traffic which can be done” over this connection.

Incredibly, Brady was able to pull off what the Hoosier Partisans had been unable to accomplish in their effort to effect a divorce from the Cleveland Clique – at least until 1863 when the CP&I was once again reorganized.

Ironically, the advent of the Civil War in 1861 would bring prosperity to the anemic component roads of the Bee Line – now operating jointly as the Bellefontaine Line. The combination of enhanced demand for grain to feed the troops and bolster poor harvests on the European continent spelled profits for the railroads.

Map of the Eastern trunk line railroads, c1855
Map of the Eastern trunk lines, c1855 (Baltimore and Ohio Rail Road, Pennsylvania Railroad, Erie Railway [New York and Erie Rail Road 1832-1861], New York Central Railroad), courtesy of Erin Greb Cartography.
During this time, frustrations had mounted among East Coast merchants and the railroad trunk lines that served them. West of the Appalachians they were dealing with a fractured network of independent short lines and their inefficient freight handling between lines. Add to this the further stress of moving troops and supplies quickly, and something had to be done.

The demands of war pushed operational efficiency forward – driven by the trunk lines.  The resulting more integrated rail networks also led to enhanced profitability, and opened the door for the Eastern trunk lines to expand their footprint west.

The Bee Line roads finally got their financial houses in order. By June 1863 the IP&C declared its first dividend in years—3 percent. Taking advantage of newfound prosperity, it declared another 3 percent dividend in December and voted to increase capital stock by $300,000.

Ostensibly this was done to pay for new equipment, new terminals, and road improvements. In reality it provided a convenient opportunity for the Cleveland Clique to increase their stock position and thereby dominate upcoming shareholder votes. To that end they determined, once and for all, to quell the IP&C board’s irritating Hoosier independence.

images of John Brough, Thomas A. Morris, Alfred Kilgore
(L to R): John Brough, courtesy of the Ohio History Connection; Thomas A. Morris, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society; Alfred Kilgore, author’s personal collection.

Courtesy of the Clique’s voting block, John Brough returned as IP&C president at the February 1863 annual meeting – following Hoosier figurehead Thomas A. Morris’ 3½-year tenure. In a last-ditch effort to stem the Clique’s board dominance, Alfred Kilgore—Yorktown’s first station agent, son of director David Kilgore, and an Indiana state legislator— introduced a House bill in January 1863. Had it passed, all Indiana railroad corporations would have been required to elect three-quarters of their board from stockholders resident in the state. It died in committee.

image of State Flag of Ohio
State Flag of Ohio, officially adopted 1902.

Beyond Brough’s return to the IP&C’s presidency, he emerged as the front-runner in Ohio’s governor’s race in the summer of 1863. Orchestrated by the Cleveland Clique, Brough’s candidacy leveraged on his earlier but noteworthy Ohio political career and effective pro-Union speechmaking style. The War Democrats and Republican Union parties joined forces to secure his nomination. He was overwhelmingly
elected in October 1863.

image of Stillman Witt
Stillman Witt (J. Fletcher Brennan, ed., Biographical Cyclopedia and Portrait Gallery of the State of Ohio, Vol. 2 Cincinnati: John C. Yorston & Co., 1880.)

Stillman Witt, Cleveland Clique heavyweight and by then the second-largest individual holder of Bee Line roads stock, had encouraged and supported his close friend’s candidacy. On Brough’s election as governor Witt volunteered to fulfill his duties as president of the Bee Line roads. He insisted Brough draw his IP&C presidential salary while serving as governor.

During 1864 Witt steered the Bee Line roads toward a brisk legal consolidation. At the IP&C’s June board meeting a committee was appointed “to agree upon mutual and just terms for consolidating the capital stock of this company with that of the B&I.” Reprising its once central role in the history of both the IP&C and B&I, Union and its Branham House was chosen as the site for the decisive shareholder consolidation vote.

image of Branham House Hotel, Union, Indiana.
Branham House Hotel in Union, Indiana, courtesy of the Preservation Society of Union City.

Finally, after years of Hoosier Partisan and Cleveland Clique push and pull, the two lines were legally consolidated on November 24, 1864 – emerging as the Bellefontaine Railway Company. For the first time since its inception in 1848, the railroad extending from Indianapolis to Union failed to exist as a stand-alone Hoosier-based—if not completely controlled—entity.

Brough was elected the new entity’s first president at its inaugural meeting in Union on December 22nd. It would be a short tenure, however, as Brough died in office on August 29, 1865 while also serving as Ohio’s last wartime governor.

After Brough’s death, Witt officially assumed the role he had been occupying as Brough’s proxy. His style was businesslike and close to the vest. Board minutes reflected meetings run with a limited agenda, focused on few topics, and with little discussion noted.

Witt saw to it that the Cleveland Clique began to recoup investments made in the road’s predecessor lines. Hardly a board meeting would go by over the next three years in which a dividend was not declared. And there were up to three board meetings a year.

The Cleveland Clique was not done tightening its grip on the Bee Line. In addition to Brough’s election as president in December 1864, a landslide of Cleveland Clique members took eight of eleven seats on the Bellefontaine Railway’s board. Included among this number was an individual destined to alter the Bee Line’s future trajectory: Hinman B. Hurlbut.

Hoosier David Kilgore, the only surviving original director from the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad (I&B) days, assumed one of the three crucial executive committee positions.

images of Hinman B. Hurlbut and David Kilgore
(L to R): Hinman B. Hurlbut (J. Fletcher Brennan, ed., Biographical Cyclopedia and Portrait Gallery of the State of Ohio, Vol. 1. Cincinnati: John C. Yorston & Co., 1880.); David Kilgore, author’s personal collection.

By the spring of 1868 the Cleveland Clique decided to finally consolidate all three of the original Bee Line component roads – then comprised of the Bellefontaine Railway and the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad (CC&C). The need for additional monies to restructure debt and fund an expanding footprint was justification enough to tap the CC&C’s solid financial underpinnings.

In reality the freed and raised cash by the consolidation would be spent on both business expansion and personal enrichment. To a greater extent than marketed to the public the new road was being recast, like many others in the post-Civil War era, as a “financiers’” railroad.

Leander M. Hubby, First Annual Report Cover, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Indianapolis Railway
Leander M. Hubby (Biographical Cyclopedia and Portrait Gallery of the State of Ohio, Vol. 4. Cincinnati: Western Biographical Publishing Company, 1887.); First Annual Report Cover, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Indianapolis Railway, books.google.com.

On May 13, 1868, the Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Indianapolis Railway (CCC&I) sprung to life under the leadership of former CC&C president Leander M. Hubby. Hubby had established a long, profitable, and almost patriarchal reputation among his management team over the course of more than a decade at the helm of the CC&C. He and the newly recast Bee Line faced two immediate and significant obstacles to their future viability.

One challenge was to finally complete and/or control a rail line between Indianapolis and St. Louis. By 1867, the Cleveland Clique had assembled what it thought was a consortium of six similarly-interested rail lines to sign an expensive long-term lease of a road between Terre Haute and St. Louis. It proved to be otherwise.

The poorly engineered, indirect, and financially tenuous St. Louis, Alton and Terre Haute Railroad (StLA&TH) was its only option. And by the time the lease was signed the original consortium had essentially dwindled to two: the Bee Line and another Clique-affiliated railroad.

Annotated Map of the routes of the St. Louis, Alton and Terre Haute; St. Louis, Vandalia and Terre Haute; Indianapolis and St. Louis; Terre Haute and Indianapolis; Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Cleveland railroads
Routes of the Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Indianapolis (partial; blue), St. Louis, Alton and Terre Haute (green), Indianapolis and St. Louis (red), Terre Haute and Indianapolis (purple), St. Louis, Vandalia and Terre Haute (“Vandalia Line”, brown), courtesy of Erin Greb Cartography.

More to the point, as the consortium disintegrated, the road between Indianapolis and Terre Haute – by then called the Terre Haute and Indianapolis Railroad (TH&I) – backed out. Instead, it would align with Pennsylvania Railroad interests to complete John Brough’s dream of a direct line to St. Louis, under the colloquial Vandalia Line moniker. As a result, consortium participation with competitors made no sense.

However, the TH&I’s realignment with Pennsylvania Railroad interests meant the Bee Line was left without a link between Indianapolis and Terre Haute. And the TH&I would not entertain an arrangement to let the Bee Line utilize its tracks.

By the fall of 1867 the Clique’s Bee Line board made the financially difficult decision to build its own parallel line between Indianapolis and Terre Haute. The Indianapolis and St. Louis Railroad (I&StL), headed by Thomas A. Morris, would be built in less than three years. And soon, it would fold and operate the StLA&TH under its banner. But it had been a costly decision.

Hubby’s other immediate Bee Line challenge was more sinister in its design. And, at least initially, Hubby would be unaware of its existence. But, in fact, it would threaten the Bee Line’s very survival and that of its Cleveland Clique benefactor.

Check back for Part VIII, the final blog in the Bee Line series, to learn more about how the national aspirations of other railroads, and their financial chicanery, recast the Bee Line Railroad’s ultimate destiny.

Interested in the Bee Line?

Click on the Bee Line book Cover to LEARN MORE

image of Forging the Bee Line Railroad book cover

Mermaids, Giant Turtles, and Wild Men…Oh My!

EDITOR’S NOTE: While the Indiana Historical Bureau does not research folklore and cryptozoology, in the course of doing historical research in newspapers about other topics, we sometimes come across odd stories like we have collected here. We thought some people would find these strange accounts from historical records interesting.

A cryptid is defined as “An animal whose existence or survival is disputed or unsubstantiated.” The most famous cryptids include Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster, the Pacific Northwest’s Bigfoot, and the Chupacabra of Central and North America. These mysterious animals tend to inhabit mysterious places; deep, dark lakes, impenetrable forests, and wide open desserts. It’s a bit surprising, then, that there is such a long and rich history of Hoosier cryptids. From Ohio River “mud mermaids” in southern Indiana to a Michigan City “wild child” up north, historic newspapers are riddled with reports of unexplained (and mostly unconfirmed) creatures in the wilds of Indiana.

Some of the most commonly reported sightings fall into the category of humanoid creatures. The most widely known of these is Bigfoot and while they’re most often associated with the Pacific Northwest, there have been some sightings here in the Hoosier State. Stories of Bigfoot have their roots in the legends of Native Americans and predate the arrival of Europeans to the continent. These stories existed long before there was one single term to describe all large, hairy, humanoid creatures, making it difficult to suss out reports of early sightings in newspapers. Reports of “wild men,” are probably the predecessors to modern Bigfoot sightings. Here, we will examine four of these reports which span over a century.

The Adams Sentinel, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 30 Dec 1839, pg 1. Accessed Newspapers.com.

In late 1839, a Pennsylvania newspaper picked up the story of a “Wild Child” sighting in Michigan City, Indiana. About four feet tall and covered in light brown hair, the child apparently was a very fast runner and swimmer and very fond of water. The report theorizes that the “creature” may have been the child of immigrants who wandered too far from camp and, left to his own devices, grew wild and (apparently) very hairy. The report concludes by declaring “It would be nothing but an act of Humanity on the part of our young men to turn out and help to capture it.”

 

 

 

The Weekly Republican, Plymouth Indiana. June 14, 1860, p1. Accessed Newspapers.com

Twenty-one years later, in 1860, the young men of Carroll County had
turned out to help capture another “Wild Child.” This article from The Weekly Republican in Plymouth, Indiana reports that a search party of 300 has formed to help look for a male child between the ages of 7 and 10 who had been sighted several times. Since this is the only account of the sightings found in newspapers and there are no reports indicating that this child had an unusual amount of hair, it’s quite possible that this was nothing but a lost child rather than a small Bigfoot. Even the newspaper expresses doubts, saying “we think we smell a rat.”

The Daily Reporter, Boonville IN, Aug 16, 1937, p.2. Accessed Newspapers.com.

 

It was suggested that the Boonville monster was actually a giant sloth, or Megatherium, pictured here.

In 1937, an animal alternately described as a “monster hairy ape,” a “giant sloth,” a “cross between an ape and a sloth,” and simply a “monster” was reported in Boonville, Indiana. In some articles, the beast was described as harmless but in one article, it was said that the beast “mauled a police dog so bad it had to be shot.” Community members banded together to search for the beast, mothers kept their children inside, and traps with raw meat in them were laid with hopes of luring the creature in. All was for naught as on August 19 newspapers announced that the search was being “temporarily abandoned” and no mentions of resuming search was found in the following months. One article, written about a month later, points out that the rumors began to spread just as blackberry season started and suggests that “Boonville folk” spread the tale to keep people away from their blackberry patches.

Linton Daily Citizen, Linton, IN July 18, 1949, pg 3. Accessed Newspapers.com.

Twelve years later, there was a rash of sightings of a large, hairy, humanoid animal around Thorntown, in Boone County. The papers
reported nearly 30 and claim the town was so terrorized that residents weren’t venturing out at night. An article ran on June 22, 1949 in the Lafayette Journal and Courier reporting that the “Thorntown Gorilla,” as it was being called, was nothing more than a hoax planned by members of the Sportsmen and Wild Life club. The mystery apparently persisted because on July 17, the Richmond Palladium headline read “Safari Seeks ‘gorilla’ at Thorntown.” This “safari” consisted of four posses, including State Conservation officers and nearly 30 Thorntown residents. What they found wasn’t a gorilla. Nor was it a hoax. What they found was much more tragic; a woman described as “deranged” and “mentally ill.”

Big Foot-like creatures aren’t the only kind of humanoids in the cryptozoology field. Mermaids also fit into the subdivision. It may seem unlikely for a land locked state like Indiana to have produced mermaid stories, but in late 1894 Ohio newspapers reported that a pair of “mud mermaids” had taken up residence on a sand bar in the Ohio River near Vevay, Indiana. The Cincinnati Enquirer gave a very detailed description of the rather monstrous sounding creature:

Artist rendering from the description given of the Mud Mermaids, from “Weird Indiana: Your Travel Guide to Indiana’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets.”

“The beast is about five feet in length…Its (sic) general color is yellowish. The body between the four legs resembles that of a human being. Back of the hind legs it tapers to a point…The extremities resemble hands and are webbed and furnished with sharp claws…it is devoid of hair…Its (sic) ears are sharp-pointed and stand up like those of a dog…”

While newspapers report that sightings of the duo had started four year earlier, no newspaper reports can be found recounting earlier sightings and the mermaid craze ends as quickly as it began, with the first report in September and the last just under two months later in November.

The Telegraph, Logansport, IN, August 11, 1838 pg 1. Indiana State Library microfilm.

Of course, humanoid creatures aren’t the only kind of cryptid that has been reported to dwell in Indiana. Eye witness reports of a lake monster have been coming out of Lake Manitou, near present day Rochester, for many years. In an 1838 article, the Logansport Telegraph described a “well known tradition of the Indians respecting the Monster in the ‘Devil’s Lake.'” Witnesses estimated the monster “measured sixty feet” and described the Lake Manitou monster as having a head about three feet across with the contour of a cow’s head, a tapering neck, and being “dingy” colored with large bright yellow spots. Below is a depiction of the terror of Manitou Lake, published August 11, 1838 in the Logansport Telegraph.

Welcome to Churubusco sign, still taken from youtube.com video “Churubusco, Indiana”

Perhaps the most famous Indiana cryptid, definitely the one most thoroughly covered by newspapers, is a giant turtle called the “Beast of Busco” which was reported to live in a 10 acre lake near Churubusco, Indiana. Also called Oscar, the turtle’s shell was said to be as big around as a dining room table. Gale Harris, the owner of the lake Oscar called home, first saw the beast a year after purchasing the farmland the lake sat on, 1948. In early March 1949 the Columbia City Commercial Mail demanded a hunt for the reptile, running headlines like “Five Hundred Pound Turtle Would Make Lots of Good Turtle Soup.” The residents of the small town turned into turtle hunters; they proposed building a turtle house in the middle of town to display him in if they caught him. They tried everything to get the turtle out of the lake including using a crane, bringing in divers, draining most of the water from the lake, and using a female turtle to lure it out. They even offered a $1,800 reward for the capture of the beast, all to no avail. Eventually, it was concluded that the Beast of Busco either never existed or escaped to another lake. Dubbed “Turtle Town USA,” Churubusco still celebrates its famous reptilian resident with the annual Churubusco Turtle Days festival. 

These are just a few of the many unexplainable creatures that have been sighted in Indiana. So, the next time you’re hiking in the woods or swimming in the Ohio River, keep your eyes open. You never know what you might find.

The Underground Railroad in Montgomery County: An Annotated Letter

Researching the Underground Railroad (UGRR) is a difficult task. One must remember that the activities of UGRR participants was illegal according to Section 7 of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Consequently, primary source evidence of UGRRs is often scarce. In rare instances, someone like prominent Hoosier abolitionist Levi Coffin might leave a record of their involvement. Some times there may be court cases that document UGRR activity. Yet, in most cases, knowledge of UGRR participation passes into memory and tradition, which is less reliable than contemporary documentary records.

The Indiana Historical Bureau placed the Speed Cabin marker in Crawfordsville in 1995. Due to the tenuous nature of finding primary source evidence of Underground Railroad activity, the marker text is qualified with the word “reputed.”

In 1958, Wabash College history professor and Montgomery County, Indiana historian Theodore G. Gronert made the following assessment of the historical records:

The Wabash Valley members of the Underground left no detailed records such as those made by . . . the Whitewater Valley antislavery group. When participants and observers, some years after the event, told the story of the Underground Railroad, there was a natural tendency to embroider the story with fanciful details or even to recall events that never happened. . . . Unfortunately our source material for the contribution of Montgomery County to the Underground Railroad is limited. Only a few scattered reminiscences, some vague references in contemporary newspapers . . . are available to those who desire a record of the county’s part in this dramatic episode in the nation’s history.

In the late nineteenth century, Ohio State University professor Wilbur H. Siebert embarked on a remarkable project to collect reminiscences of UGRR activity from a decreasing pool of living participants and their descendants. He wrote to residents all over the county in an attempt to document UGRR routes, participants, and incidents. When he identified informants who could give him first or second-hand information, he mailed questionnaires asking seven basic questions regarding: 1) the route through the area; 2) the years of activity; 3) the system of communication between conductors; 4) memorable incidents; 5) the informant’s personal connection with the UGRR; 6) names and addresses of any potential additional informants; 7) a biographical sketch of the correspondent or the chief UGRR participant in the area.

Accessed archive.org.

Siebert’s research culminated in The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom published in 1898. Among the thousands of letters he collected, he deemed one incident that occurred in Montgomery County, Indiana to be especially noteworthy, and he included an extract of the letter in his book. The critical reader is always interested in an author’s sources. Fortunately, Siebert’s research archive survives today at the Ohio History Connection. Within that archive is a typescript of the entire letter that Siebert quoted in his book. Written by Sidney Speed in 1896, the letter is the most interesting, detailed, and closest thing to an extant primary source concerning UGRR activity in Montgomery County. A transcript of the letter with added annotations and commentary is below.

EDITOR’S NOTE: As a word of caution to readers, Speed uses a racial slur to describe African Americans several times in his letter. While the Indiana Historical Bureau does not condone the use of this word, it is part of the historical record.

Sidney Speed. Image from Crawfordsville District Public Library Reference Department’s Image Database of Montgomery County.

Letter from Sidney Speed[1] to Wilbur H. Siebert

Crawfordsville, Ind. March 6, 1896

W. H. Siebert

Cambridge, Mass.

Dear Sir:

Replying to your circular[2] of March 1. The old time abolitionists of this section are now all, or nearly all, dead.  Twenty years ago it would have been easy to gather the information you want, but now I am afraid you are everlastingly too late.  I was only a boy and do not remember much of interest.

Map used as an illustration in Siebert’s Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom (1898)

The route traveled by the fugitive slaves and those conducting them was from Annapolis (now Bloomingdale), a Quaker settlement in the north western part of Parke Co. to this place and for sometime [sic] this place was the terminus of the Underground proper, as at this place the fugitives were supplied with money, and put on board the car of the old L. N.A. & C. road[3] (now the “Monon”)[4] whose Management was then friendly, and were safely run through to Detroit,[5] and over the river.[6]  Afterward however the conditions were much changed on account of the great number of spies and nigger catchers that sprung up for the rewards to be earned.  Then the line of the Underground railroad was extended from this place through the Quaker settlement near Thorntown, Boone Co., and had its terminus at or near Noblesville in Hamilton Co. and it may have been extended farther than that afterward.[7]  But of that I do not know.

Crawfordsville’s Democrat newspaper, the Review, regularly took aim at Fisher Doherty’s political stances, as exemplified by this statement in the January 23, 1858 issue.

The main men connected with the road here [in Crawfordsville] was Mr. Fisher Doherty,[8] and my father John Speed.[9]  They were often assisted financially and personally by others who were never known as abolitionists.  Notable among these was Major I. C. Elston[10] a banker of this place and a staunch and life long democrat who always contributed something and would say “I don’t want to know what you are doing” “go away.”  An old Virginia slave named Patterson[11] was also of great service.  His wife[12] had bought him in Virginia.  She was born free, and I remember that when she would become angry at “old Pat” as we all called him, she would threaten to take him back south and sell him.  Calling him at the same time her “old pumpkin colored nigger.”  She was black herself. [13]  I think he was used as a guide, and watchman.

Nelson Patterson, junior, and his wife, Mariah, both registered in Montgomery County’s Register of Negroes and Mulattoes in 1853. According to Indiana’s Constitution of 1851, which prohibited African American immigration into the state, blacks who were Indiana residents before the Constitution went into effect had to appear before the county circuit court clerks to verify their pre-1851 residency in the state, usually with the help of a white witness. Search and view the entire Montgomery County register at the Crawfordsville District Public Library’s Local History Database.

Sometimes the fugitive negroes were brought to this place, in the night generally, by a man named Elmore, who lived between this place and Annapolis – (near Alamo this county) [14]  and sometimes Mr. Doherty or my father would go and bring them.  Sometimes Mr. Doherty or my father would go on from here to the next stopping place with them, but often an old Quaker named Emmons[15] who lived six or eight miles north east of here would come after them.  I remember yet his kind old solemn face, and his old farm wagon covered with black oil cloth with some old hickory bottomed chairs, and pots tied on the feed box behind, and a brindle bull dog under the wagon, just behind the driver’s seat a sheet was drawn across and in the interior was seats down the sides that would accommodate [sic] ten or twelve nicely.  He usually came to our house soon after dark, and at once taking in his cargo sometimes from the house, and sometimes from the cornfields or woods, he would start out for the next station. Somewhere near Thorntown, which he would reach and return to his own home before daylight.[16]

In 1844, the Sugar River Monthly Meeting of Friends, where Joseph Emmons belonged, censured him for co-publishing an article that the meeting deemed excited “disunity and discord.”  In the article, he and his co-authors criticized Friends (Quakers) who by “recognizing and supporting those political movements [which support or legislate slavery] and laws , they are actively countenancing and supporting Slave-holders, Slave-holding and Slavery.” Image from Indiana Yearly Meeting Minutes. Earlham College Friends Collection & College Archives, Richmond, Indiana, accessed via Ancestry.com.
The fugitives were not always attended.  They would sometimes come in singly or two or three together on foot traveling generally by night and being safely hidden during the day.[17]  These were sometimes accompanied by one of their own race, who had gone over the rout [sic] before.  The fugitives were usualy [sic] men in the prime of life there were exceptions however.

  1. My recollections of the period of activity of the road was from about 1854, when I was eight years old to 1863,[18] when I was sixteen years old, and enlisted in the 18th Ind. Battery.[19]
  2. I have no knowledge of the system of communication between members.[20]
  3. At one time in 1858, or 1859, a mulatto girl, about eighteen or twenty years old, and very good looking and with some education had reached our house, when the nigger catcher became so watchful that she could not be moved for several days.[21] In fact for some days some of them were nearly always at the house either on some pretended business or making social visits.  I do not think that the house was searched, or they would surely have found her, as during all this time she remained in the garret over the old log kitchen, where the fugitives were usually kept, if there
    The Speed’s home was located on the southwest corner lot of North Street and West Street (today Grant Street) in Crawfordsville. Although the home no longer stands, the log kitchen that Sidney Speed describes is on the right end of the photo. The Speed Cabin, as the kitchen portion is known today in Crawfordsville, is preserved on the grounds of the Montgomery County Historical Society’s Lane Place. Image from Crawfordsville District Public Library Reference Department Image Database.

    was danger.  Her owner, a man from New Orleans, had just bought her in Louisville, and he had traced her surely to this place she had not struck the Underground before, but had made her way alone this far, and as they got no trace of her beyond here they returned here and doubled the watches on Doherty and my father, but at length a day came, or a night rather, when she was gotten safely and through the gardens to Nigger Patterson.  Then she was rigged out in as fine a costume of silk and ribbons as it was possible to procure at that time, and was furnished with a white baby borrowed for the occasion, and accompanied by one of the Patterson girls (Mariah I think was her name)[22] as a servant and nurse, she boldly boarded the train at the station and got safely through to Detroit.  But what must her feeling have been when she board the train to find that her master or owner had already got on the same car.  However she kept her courage and [he] did not discover her identity until the gang plank of the ferry boat at Detroit was being hauled aboard, and the Patterson girl with the borrowed baby had returned to the shore when she removed her veil that he might see her and bade her owner goodbye.  That this parting was affecting you can imagine.  He tried to wreck his vengeance on the Patterson girl, but was restrained by strong hands.  There were usually plenty at Detroit.

  4. My own connection with the Underground Railroad consisted in trying in common with the other members of the family to get enough victuals into the house to feed the hungry without creating suspicion.[23]

    Indiana Centennial Celebration Pageant in 1916 in Montgomery County where the citizens re-enacted the incident with Allred the butcher. Photo from Crawfordsville District Public Library Reference Department.
  5. Mr. T. D. Brown[24] of this place, who was a contributor to the cause can tell you a good story of how the Allens of Browns Valley,[25] once caught a fugitive slave and brought him to town for identification, and stopping in front of the hotel, they went in to examine the “runaway nigger notices” leaving the negro holding the horse, and how old man Alred,[26] who had a butcher shop next door, picked up a dornick[27] or two from the street and ordered the nigger to “git.” (and he got, and to a place of safety too) and how Alred threw a rock into the hotel after the Allens and following it in himself was soon in a fine quarrel with them, which continued only until the nigger was safe.[28] (Make Brown tell you the story.)

Mr. Doherty’s wife Isabel Doherty is living,[29] and could likely help you [with more information].

John and Margaret Speed. Photo published in the Crawfordsville Journal and Review, October 21, 1931.
  1. My father John Speed was born in 1801. He was the twelfth and youngest child of his father’s family who was a small land owner and miller in Perthshire, Scotland.  My father came to America in 1823, and was employed at his trade, Stone cutter and Mason in building dry docks, and other government work at or near Washington D. C.  He came to Indiana with a contract to build the first state house at Indianapolis, Ind.,[30] but subsequently threw up the contract because the commissioners would not use stone that he thought suitable, but persisted in using a species of shale, which is abundant there, and which soon giving way caused no end of trouble[31] until the building was finally replaced by our present Magnificent structure.[32] He shortly after this contracted to build the part of the National Wagon road from Indianapolis to St. Louis.[33] During the building of the road [P]resident Jackson “busted the banks”[34] and the contract fell through, and “busted father” because the government had no money with which to either pay or continue.  He then returned to the east on foot, going by the way of Cumberland Gap – leaving his family here.  He built the present State House at Raleigh North Carolina[35] – returning here he ended his days living true to his conception of right.  He was elected twice Mayor of this place,[36] and died in 1873 universally respected for his honesty and integrity.

Hoping that you may find something in this that may assist you, but fearing that it will all be useless I am.

Yours Very Truly

Sidney Speed.

 

[1] Sidney Allen Speed (1846-1923) was the son of John and Margaret Speed. He attended Wabash College for a few years before the Civil War, served in the 18th Indiana Artillery, and later became a stone mason. Some of his stonework includes Lew Wallace’s  grave obelisk, which measures 30 feet in height, located in Oak Hill Cemetery North in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

[2] The circular is in reference to Siebert’s seven-question survey.

[3] The Louisville, New Albany, & Chicago Railroad originally started as the New Albany and Salem in 1847. By 1854, the line extended from the Ohio River to Lake Michigan and Chicago.

[4] The railway became popularly known as the Monon after the L. N. A. & C. consolidated with Chicago and Indianapolis Airline Railroad Company in 1881. The junction of these two routes in White County was near two creeks named the Big Monon and the Little Monon. The extant town at the junction, New Bradford or Bradford, was renamed Monon.

[5] The Monon did not run to Detroit, so freedom seekers would need to transfer at some point in northern Indiana or go into southern Michigan.

[6] The Detroit River which is part of the border between the United States and Canada.

[7] The map published in Siebert’s Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom differs from Speed’s recollection the Wabash Valley route heading northwest from Thorntown to Lafayette and northerly from there. The map traces a central route through Indiana from Madison to Columbus to Indianapolis through Westfield in Hamilton County, and through Noblesville and points north.

[8] Fisher Doherty (1817-1890) according to his obituary in the Crawfordsville Weekly Journal settled in Crawfordsville in 1844. He is listed in the 1850 U.S. Census as a carpenter, and in the censuses thereafter as a wagon or carriage maker. His obituary stated, “He was one of the original and most uncompromising Abolitionists all over the State. Crawfordsville became one of the main stations of the underground railway and Mr. Daugherty’s [sic] house was the stopping place of all runaway slaves struggling toward Canada. He is said to have assisted hundreds on their way and spent much time and money most cheerfully in this manner.”

[9] John Speed (1801-1873) was a native of Scotland and a stone mason by profession. He served as mayor of Crawfordsville from 1868-1870. Sidney Speed gives a fuller biography of his father later in this letter.

[10] Isaac Compton Elston (1794-1867) was a merchant and banker. He was by most accounts the wealthiest man in Crawfordsville. He had a large family, and his daughter Joanna and Susan were married to U.S. Senator Henry S. Lane and Ben-Hur author Lew Wallace, respectively.

[11] Based upon Speed’s description, this was Nelson Patterson, senior. Patterson (1786/90-?) was born in Virginia. The 1850 U.S. Census recorded him as a laborer, and the 1860 census listed him as a brewer. The Patterson family is listed in the 1850 census as living next to the Speeds. Among the seven children listed with him in the 1850 U.S. Census was a son also named Nelson (circa 1828-1873). The son served in the 28th U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War.

[12] Martha Patterson is listed in the 1850 and 1860 censuses as being born in either 1797 or 1790. Her place of birth is recorded as Virginia.

[13] Both the 1850 and 1860 censuses described Nelson Patterson as a mulatto. Martha Patterson is described as black in the 1850 census.

[14] According to the 1903 book, Twenty-five Years in Jackville: A Romance in the Days of the Golden Circle by James Buchanan Elmore, the author identifies Thomas Elmore as being involved in Underground Railroad activities in and around Alamo. Thomas was the uncle of the book’s author. Thomas Elmore (1816-1879) was an Ohio-born farmer. In 1856, he served on a Ripley Township Republican committee in Alamo that called slavery “the greatest evil of the nation.” The committee also resolved to make no compromises with the South on the slavery question.

Although Twenty-five Years in Jackville contains some historical and factual errors, James B. Elmore does list several other UGRR operatives in and around Alamo and Ripley Township. Among the names he associates with UGRR activity are: Hiram Powell, Joab Elliott, William Gilkey, Dr. Iral Brown, and Abijah O’Neall at Yountsville.

[15] Joseph Emmons (1812-1880) was a physician, and an active member of the Sugar River Monthly Friends Meeting. He lived in rural Montgomery County near Binford, which is currently the unincorporated community of Garfield.

Emmons’ involvement in the UGRR was also attested to by Siebert correspondents in Bloomingdale and Darlington, which were on both ends of the line through Montgomery County. Because Emmons’ involvement in the UGRR was so widely acknowledged by Siebert’s informants in the area, it suggests that he was a central actor in ferrying African Americans through Montgomery County.

[16] In 1896, long-time Darlington physician Isaac E. G. Naylor wrote to Siebert that “Alexander Hoover a Methodist, Joseph Emmons and Hudson Middleton – Quakers” were the principal “superintendents” along the branch passing through Franklin Township area including Binford, Darlington, and through to Thorntown.

Emmons’ medical profession could have presumably given him a plausible pretense for traveling at dusk or night if stopped by authorities or bounty hunters.

[17] As for contemporary evidence of African American freedom seekers traveling through the county solo: On August 16, 1855, the Crawfordsville Journal reported on an incident when a couple of hunters stumbled across a black man along a creek in the southern part of the county. After questioning the man, the hunters threatened to apprehend him as a fugitive. The man tried to escape, but ended up drowning.

[18] This statement is in response to Siebert’s second question on the questionnaire regarding the period of activity.

[19] The 18th Indiana Battery of Light Artillery was also known as Lilly’s Battery after their commanding officer Eli Lilly, who later founded a pharmaceutical company. The battery participated in battles at Hoover’s Gap, Chickamauga, and General William T. Sherman’s campaign against Atlanta.

[20] This statement is in response to Siebert’s third question about how Underground Railroad conductors communicated with each other.

[21] Here Speed related this memorable incident in response to another Siebert query.

[22] Mariah is likely one of two people. The Pattersons’ daughter, Almira, would have been in her late-teens or early twenties around this time. Another possibility is Mariah Patterson, who was married to Nelson Patterson, junior. Mariah would have been about twenty-seven or twenty-eight at the time, but she also had several young children, which makes her participation in the escape less likely.

[23] In a biographical sketch about John Speed, presumably provided by Sidney or another child, printed in Hiram Beckwith’s History of Montgomery County offers a few more details regarding this activity: “At one time the garret [of the house] was so full [of freedom seekers] that to prevent suspicion that he [John Speed] was harboring anyone he bought twenty-five cents’ worth of bread, then required his children to purchase a like amount each, until he obtained sufficient food for his attic visitors.”

[24] Theodore Darwin Brown (1830-1916), according to his obituary, settled in Crawfordsville in 1844, and worked for decades as a druggist. He also served as county clerk. Also according to his obituary, Brown was “an uncompromising Republican” who inherited his political views from his father, Dr. Ryland T. Brown, “one of the early abolition leaders of the state.”

[25] Enough information is not given to conclusively identify the Allens. According to the U.S. censuses, there were several Allen families residing in Brown Township in the 1850s.

[26] This probably refers to James Allred or Alred (1784-?). Allred, a native of North Carolina, appears in the 1840 and 1850 censuses as residing in Montgomery County. In the 1860 census, he is listed in Marion County.

[27] “Dornick” is an arcane word meaning a small pebble or stone.

[28] According to an 1898 article in the Crawfordsville Review the incident described took place in 1848. The article also offers some other particulars, like Allred’s first name.

[29] Whether Speed wrote the name wrong, or Siebert transcribed it incorrectly, Fisher Doherty’s wife was Sarah Owen Doherty (1820-1901). Her obituary notes Fisher Doherty as “a prominent promoter of the underground railroad, harboring many a runaway negro in his home. Mrs. Doherty was devoted to him thoroughly in his work and was a woman liberally endowed by nature of a great force of character.”

[30] Indiana’s first state house in Indianapolis opened in 1835.

[31] The construction of the building was problematic, and included the collapse of the House Chamber ceiling in 1867. A legislative committee began studying replacing the building in 1873, with a plan finalized in 1878.

[32] Construction on a new state house began in 1878, and continued until 1887/88. This building still serves the Indiana State Capitol.

[33] The National Road was the first interstate highway built with federal funds. Construction began in Cumberland, Maryland in 1811. Federal funds for the road ended in 1838 while construction was still being done in Indiana.

[34] President Andrew Jackson vetoed a bill in 1832 to re-charter the First Bank of the United States. Jackson reasoned that the Bank was not authorized by the Constitution, and “subversive to the rights of States, and dangerous to the liberties of the people.” Jackson took further steps to weaken the Bank when he decided to place federal funds on deposit in state banks. The Bank’s charter expired in 1836, and contributed to a major economic recession (some sources say depression) that lasted until the mid-1840s.

[35] The North Carolina State Capitol was completed in 1840.

[36] Speed was Crawfordsville’s second mayor. He served from 1868-1870.

The Long-Suppressed Story of One Woman’s Discoveries & the Man Who Stole Credit for Them

When retired University of Evansville professor Mary Ellingson passed away in 1993, people remembered her as a much-beloved teacher, a mother, and a friend.  Few knew she had played one other role as an archaeologist working on one of the most important excavations in Greece between the World Wars (Fig. 1).  While Ellingson told few people about her adventures abroad she did make a scrapbook filled with nearly 100 photographs, many letters, some news clippings, and other papers all of which documented her time as an archaeologist.  After her death, Ellingson’s daughter donated the scrapbook to the Department of Archaeology and Art History at the University of Evansville where I stumbled across it a decade later.  I never met Ellingson, but I got to know her through the scrapbook.  In that scrapbook I found clues she had left to an even more surprising secret she had kept from everyone.

Fig. 1 Mary Ellingson in Athens, 1931 (courtesy of the University of Evansville Library Archives).

Ellingson wanted to become a classical archaeologist.  According to a biographical statement attached to her dissertation, she was born H. M. Mary Ross and received her BA in classics from the University of Alberta.  In 1930 she went to Baltimore to attend graduate school at Johns Hopkins University.  What drew her there was David Moore Robinson, a well-known expert in the field.  Only two years earlier Robinson had begun a new project, the one that would cement his reputation as one of the great classical archaeologists.  According to Nicholas Cahill in his book Household and City Organization at Olynthus, Robinson began excavating houses at the site of Olynthus in northeastern Greece, a revolutionary idea at the time as archaeologists interested in ancient Greece normally sought temples, theaters, and other public architecture (Fig. 2).  Over the 24 years he published the results of his excavations, Robinson convinced his colleagues that houses could provide them with important information about daily life among the ancient Greeks.  His 14 volume Excavations at Olynthus published between 1928 and 1952 is still considered the cornerstone of ancient Greek domestic studies and as a graduate student and aspiring archaeologist I had to read every volume.  Ellingson could not have had a better guide than Robinson to help her enter the field.

Fig. 2 Ellingson (left) standing among house foundations at Olynthus that she helped excavate (courtesy of the University of Evansville Library Archives).

The normal practice at the time was for male graduate students to supervise Greek workmen excavating in the field while female graduate students cleaned and catalogued finds in the dig house, a practice Robinson followed at Olynthus in 1928 according to Raymond Dessy, author of Exile from Olynthus.  Ellingson’s letters make it clear that when she went to Olynthus in 1931, Robinson decided to experiment with not dividing these tasks along gendered lines and instead had all of the students both supervise workmen and catalog finds (Fig. 3).  Ellingson’s abilities in the field quickly impressed Robinson.  In a letter dated March 15, 1939 now housed in the archives at the University of Evansville Robinson states that Ellingson, “…showed remarkable executive ability and was able to superintend the Greek workmen in a very efficient way, a thing that is very unusual for a woman and which quite surprised the Greeks themselves.”  He added, “She is an excellent field archaeologist.”  (Fig. 4)

Fig. 3 Ellingson (left) on a lunchbreak while excavating at Olynthus in 1931 (courtesy of the University of Evansville Library Archives).
Fig. 4 One of Ellingson’s crews of Greek workmen (courtesy of the University of Evansville Library Archives).

Robinson divided the artifacts by category and put one graduate student in charge of cataloguing pottery, another coins, another metal objects, while he assigned Ellingson terracotta figurines (Fig. 5).  These artifacts stood 6-12 inches tall and depict deities, animals, and theater masks as well as standing, sitting, and dancing women.  Ellingson eventually wrote her master’s thesis and dissertation about these figurines.  The big question of the day was how the ancient Greeks used these figurines.  It was widely assumed they had only religious significance since excavators found them only in temples and graves.  When Robinson published Excavations at Olynthus volume IV on the figurines he had excavated in 1928, other archaeologists were curious to know if he had found them in houses.  His records from that season were so poorly kept that he could not explain where he had uncovered each of the figurines he catalogued in the volume.  In 1931 respected archaeologists published scathing reviews of Robinson’s work, among them Edith Dohan, publishing in the American Journal of Archaeology, Alan Wace in Classical Review, and Winifred Lamb in the Journal of Hellenic Studies.  All pilloried Robinson for poor record-keeping and a missed opportunity to weigh in on a central question.

Fig. 5 Study photo Ellingson took showing some of the terracotta figurines she had excavated at Olynthus (courtesy of the University of Evansville Library Archives).

This is what makes Ellingson’s thesis and dissertation so significant.  She not only catalogued the figurines but she offered interpretations of their use.  She found some of the figurines on household shrines, indicating a religious function, but others she uncovered had once been suspended from walls or placed on display, suggesting a decorative function.  She also excavated figurines made from the same mold in houses and in graves indicating that their use changed over the lifetime of the figurine.  Finally, Ellingson realized that when she found animal figurines in graves, those graves belonged only to children.  She argued they had no religious or decorative function; they were toys.  These were radical and exciting new interpretations for their day.

After her season at Olynthus, Ellingson returned to Johns Hopkins to write her master’s thesis.  In her free time she made the scrapbook commemorating her time at the excavation.  Johns Hopkins awarded her a PhD in classical archaeology in 1939.  According to Ellingson’s daughter Barbara Petersen, a few months later she married Rudolph Ellingson and moved to Evansville where he had found a job.  She raised two daughters and once they left for college in the early 1960s the University of Evansville hired Ellingson to teach Latin, Greek, and English courses.  She retired in 1974 and upon her death in 1993 her daughter donated the scrapbook to my department where someone put it on a storage shelf and everyone forgot about it.  A decade later I rediscovered it.  It now resides in the university’s archives.

Along with the scrapbook was a copy of Ellingson’s thesis and dissertation.  As soon as I started to read these, I recognized them immediately even though I had never heard of Ellingson.  On a hunch I consulted Excavations at Olynthus volumes VII sand XIV.  These are the only two volumes other than IV which mention terracotta figurines.  I placed her thesis and Olynthus VII  side by side and began to read.  The texts were identical.  The same was true for her dissertation and Olynthus XIV, yet Robinson put his name on the cover page of each as the sole author.  He did thank Ellingson in a general way in the introduction to each volume but in no way did he indicate that Ellingson was the actual author.  Robinson plagiarized his graduate student Ellingson.  We cannot know why he did it, but I suspect it was because what she wrote about terracotta figurines was so much better than what he had written in volume IV.  Scholars such as Valentin Müller agreed, praising volume VII in particular in his 1936 review in Classical Philology.

We cannot know how Ellingson reacted to Robinson’s publication of her thesis, no record remains, but among Robinson’s papers now housed in the archive at the University of Mississippi is a letter dated Oct. 6, 1952 which Ellingson sent to him expressing her surprise and discovering her dissertation in print.  The archive preserves a copy of his response, sent a week later, in which he states that he “…probably should have given you more credit.”  It was the closest thing to an apology Ellingson would ever receive.  She only told one of her daughters once about what happened to her, otherwise she shared the story with no one.

The description above is only a very brief summary of Ellingson’s story.  To learn more, see For Further Reading below.  Nonetheless her story matters because she left behind enough documentation to tell it.  Other women in archaeology and the sciences did not receive the credit they deserve for their work, but we may never hear about them as they did not make a scrapbook as evidence of their accomplishments.  Mary Ellingson, therefore, must stand as a proxy for other women about whom we will never learn.

For Further Reading:

Kaiser, A.  2015.  Archaeology, Sexism, and Scandal.  The Long-Suppressed Story of One Woman’s Discoveries and the Man Who Took Credit for Them.  Rowman and Littlefield:  Lanham, Maryland.

Philo T. Farnsworth: Conversing with Einstein & Achieving Fusion in Fort Wayne

See PART I for Philo Farnsworth’s struggle to commercialize the
television and his involvement in the 1935 patent suit against RCA.

Engineers and office personnel at Farnsworth TV and Radio Corporation, Fort Wayne, Indiana, 1940, courtesy of the J. Willard Marriott Digital Library, University of Utah.

In 1938, investors in the Farnsworth Television and Radio Corporation (FTRC) scoured the nation for a manufacturing plant that would allow them to profit from Farnsworth’s invention: the television. They selected the former Capehart Phonograph Company building in Fort Wayne, Indiana because, according to biographer Paul Schatzkin, the “company’s plant was an ideal facility, and the name ‘Capehart’ was expected to lend a certain cachet to the eventual Farnsworth product line.”

The FTRC plant opened in 1939, stimulating the city’s economy with the production of radios, phonographs and television equipment. Not only did Farnsworth oversee production, but continued his scientific endeavors with a research department that, according to his wife Pem, operated at “high efficiency.” She noted that Farnsworth’s “input breathed energy into the men, and in turn their reciprocation kept him on his toes.” The plant’s opening coincided with the outbreak of World War II and Fort Wayne would experience the same economic revival as the nation through the manufacture of war goods.

Mark III, installed on vacuum system of television set, ca. 1930s-1940s, courtesy of the J. Willard Marriott Digital Library, University of Utah.

Shortly after the FTRC began operations in Fort Wayne, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt required all television and radio materials be converted to the production of military equipment. With America’s involvement in World War II, the FTRC expanded throughout Indiana, culminating in a total of seven factories in the state during the war years, including those in Marion, Huntington and Bluffton. Donald Sinish, who worked with Farnsworth at the FTRC Research Department, recalled that the Ft. Wayne facilities were “rapidly converted to production of military equipment and engineering channeled to development of radio communication, missile guidance and radar systems.”

Despite the company’s expansion, Farnsworth’s quest to commercialize television was halted by the production of war materials and the FCC’s hesitation to establish broadcasting channels and standards, narrowing the period in which he could benefit from his patents, which expired in 1947. Disheartened by the obstacles preventing him from capitalizing on his invention, Farnsworth moved to Maine and vowed never to return to Fort Wayne.

Farnsworth (far right) with “Fusor” and engineers, ca. 1930s-1940s, courtesy of the J. Willard Marriott Digital Library, University of Utah.

But when the company struggled to repay war loans that allowed for expansion, Farnsworth returned to Fort Wayne and reluctantly convinced investors to sell FTRC to International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT). The Fort Wayne company continued to produce televisions and Farnsworth researched and experimented in his lab. Pem stated that the Fort Wayne lab “developed a device for the United States early-warning system” that could detect and destroy missiles and planes in the early atomic era. Farnsworth’s primary post-war research interests centered around developing a low cost form of fusion. Creating self-sustaining fusion is equivalent to bottling a star, a nearly impossible task that has yet to be conquered.

Farnsworth hoped to usher in the “high-energy era” with fusion, as a minuscule amount could power a whole city without the pollution of fossil fuels. Pem stated that Farnsworth’s fusion idea “gained solidarity early in 1947,” when a mutual friend set up a phone call between him and Albert Einstein. After discussing scientific theories for about an hour, Pem recalled “Phil reappeared, his face aglow from the excitement of finding someone who understood what he was talking about.”

Albert Einstein with J. Robert Oppenheimer, scientists whose work contributed to invention of the atomic bomb used in World War II.

Allegedly, Einstein had developed similar theories, but “was so shocked that his work had been used to produce the atomic bombs dropped on Japan that he vowed never to contribute further.” However, he encouraged Farnsworth to pursue the fusion work for “peaceful” purposes and requested Farnsworth contact him once he worked out the mathematics. Pem contended that “it was a great psychological relief to find another human being who shared his increasingly unique perspective” and that he found Einstein to be a “fellow traveler in the rarefied regions of the physical universe where his mind now dwelt.”

Encouraged, Farnsworth established a basement laboratory in Fort Wayne and devised a “fusion reaction tube” called the Fusor, which he patented in 1968. He reportedly achieved fusion in Fort Wayne, but it is unclear whether or not he generated self-sustaining fusion. Unfortunately, Einstein died before Farnsworth could share his mathematics with him and, upon his passing, Farnsworth felt more alone than ever. The burden of his genius again overwhelmed him when he collaborated with employees to finalize his second fusion patent. According to Pem, upon realizing that they too did not grasp the “vital point of his concept” he closed his briefcase and informed them “’I have given you all the material you need to finish this patent. Now I am going home and get drunk!’”

Farnsworth with “Fusor,” 1960, courtesy of the J. Willard Marriott Digital Library, University of Utah.

After self-imposed isolation, he moved to Provo, Utah with Fort Wayne employees to pursue fusion away from ITT’s influence. In 1966, he established Philo T. Farnsworth Associates and collaborated with Brigham Young University on sustaining fusion. Eventually, Farnsworth’s health failed and he cancelled the fusion project. According to Schatzkin, family members suspected he carried the secret of fusion to his grave out of concern that humanity was not spiritually prepared for it.

Farnsworth was reportedly disgusted with television programming for its failure to facilitate his noble goals of exchanging cultures and educating viewers. Pem stated that while watching the 1969 moon landing Farnsworth professed “this has made it all worthwhile.” Ironically, Farnsworth himself appeared only once on the medium he invented on the program I’ve Got a Secret. Farnsworth passed away March 11, 1971 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Philo T. Farnsworth kept a plaque on his desk that read “MEN AND TREES DIE—IDEAS LIVE ON FOR THE AGES.” Farnsworth’s life serves as a testament to this. Schatzkin eloquently summarized his contributions, stating “There are only a few noble spirits like Philo T. Farnsworth . . . who can alter the course of history without commanding great armies.”

“THE DAMNED THING WORKS!:” Philo T. Farnsworth & the Invention of Television

Philo T. Farnsworth with early television camera, 1930s
Philo T. Farnsworth with early television camera, 1930s, courtesy of the J. Willard Marriott Digital Library, University of Utah.

It is notable that in this age of celebrity worship, most people cannot name the inventor of the television. Even the meticulous Aaron Sorkin confused the details of Farnsworth’s life in his stage play. Woefully unrecognized, Farnsworth conceived of the idea for electronic television at the age of 14 and brought his conception to fruition in 1927 with his first electronic transmission.

Like Apple founder Steve Jobs, Farnsworth nurtured a broad, idealistic vision of how his invention would change the world, envisioning how television might increase literacy, facilitate the sharing of cultures and even prevent wars through global discourse. Farnsworth’s greatest resource, much like Jobs’, was unconventional thinking and an ability to assemble a small team of determined ingénues like himself. Farnsworth’s wife, Elma “Pem” Farnsworth, attributed her husband’s success to “intuitive thinking, logic, and hard work,” as well as his ability to combine “seemingly unrelated elements into new instruments of amazing effectiveness.”

Farnsworth's childhood home in Indian Springs Utah
Farnsworth’s childhood home in Indian Springs Utah, courtesy of The Philo T. Farnsworth Archives.

The inventor of television grew up in Utah prior to the existence of power lines, making his radical electronic concepts all the more remarkable. Farnsworth’s family moved to a farm in Rigby, Idaho, where Farnsworth delighted at the sight of a Delco power system, immersed himself in scientific magazines and invented tools that facilitated household chores. While working on the farm, a teenaged Farnsworth observed the straight rows created by the horses as he plowed, and abruptly thought “he could build the image like a page of print and paint the image line after line . . . with the speed of the electron, this could be done so rapidly the eye would view it as a solid picture.”

According to Pem, Farnsworth reasoned that by using an image dissector tube, he could manipulate electrons to “change a visual image into a stream of electrical current, transmit that to another vacuum tube at the receiver, and on a fluorescent screen turn the current back into the visual image again.” Farnsworth sketched his idea on the blackboard of his high school chemistry teacher, Justin Tolman, and presented him with a drawing of it, which would prove invaluable years later during a 1935 patent suit ruling.

Philo T. Farnsworth's sketch for teacher Justin Tolman
Philo T. Farnsworth’s sketch for teacher Justin Tolman, courtesy of philointhehall.com.

In 1923, Farnsworth moved to Provo, Utah and pursued formal education, enrolling at Brigham Young University (BYU) to study mathematics and physics, although, like Jobs, never graduated. Ironically, his lack of formal training contributed to his success, as fundraiser George Everson recalled that Farnsworth “attacked the whole assignment with no engineering experience and little engineering knowledge, but to compensate for these inadequacies he had courage and genius.” After leaving BYU, Farnsworth worked for Everson as an organizer at the Community Chest Campaign, who, along with fundraiser Leslie Gorrell, funded Farnsworth’s electronic television idea. With this financial backing, Farnsworth moved to California, eventually establishing a lab on Green Street in San Francisco and hand-picking a team of scientists and innovators.

In the team’s early days, engineers shuffled in and out of the lab with various instruments, a “glittering array of crystals, prisms, and lenses.” This activity attracted the attention of police in the Prohibition era and Pem stated “it’s not hard to imagine how suspicious our operation must have looked to an outsider. Strange packages were being brought in, and the curtains were drawn for demonstrating the light relay.” Pem reassured two policemen, who came to investigate the lab, that she and her husband were not operating a still and continued their electronic experiments.

Farnsworth’s 202 Green Street lab in San Fransisco, courtesy of The Philo T. Farnsworth Archives.

Farnsworth focused on perfecting the image dissector tube with the help of Pem’s glassblowing brother, Cliff Gardner. The scientific team constructed numerous models before developing a bulb that was delicate, yet strong enough to transmit an image electronically. After years of failed experiments and twelve hour work days, on September 27, 1927 Farnsworth transmitted the first “electronic television image.” With Farnsworth and his staff at the receiver, Cliff inserted the slide into the Dissector and a small line materialized in the receiver room, ushering in the television age. Farnsworth wired Gorrell a simple message: “THE DAMNED THING WORKS!” and applied for his first television patent on January 7, 1927.

Farnsworth was “the first to form and manipulate an electron beam” and according to his biographer Paul Schatzkin “that accomplishment represents a quantum leap in human knowledge that is still in use today.” Farnsworth’s ability to harness electrons negated the need for mechanical objects to transmit images and later contributed to breakthroughs in radar and electron microscopy.

Farnsworth Television Model, 1936, courtesy of the J. Willard Marriott Digital Library at the University of Utah.

However, transforming his historic achievement into a commercial product involved years of financial and legal problems. Farnsworth struggled to maintain a balance between scientific experimentation and his financial backers’ desire for a return on investment. In 1928, Farnsworth met with impatient investors who demanded to see “some dollars” in his invention, and stunned them when an image of a dollar sign materialized in the screen before them. This presentation bought Farnsworth more time, but later that year the backers repealed their support, forcing Farnsworth to rally his team to continue with the development of television.

In the period between his first transmission and first public demonstration of the television in 1934, Farnsworth continued to navigate around financial problems, company reorganization, and protests by radio and film actors fearing the new medium could jeopardize their jobs. The primary obstacle to commercialization was RCA’s lawsuit regarding his 1927 television system patent. Russian scientist Dr. Vladimir Zworykin attempted to devise an electronic television system and applied for a patent in 1923, despite lacking proof of its feasibility. Farnsworth invited Zworykin, a former employee of Westinghouse, to see his San Francisco lab in 1930 in hopes that Westinghouse might fund his invention. Unbeknownst to Farnsworth, Zworykin no longer worked for the company and his visit to the lab was motivated by personal objectives.

Farnsworth’s television system patent, contested over in the 1935 patent suit against RCA, accessed Google Patents.

Farnsworth demonstrated how to construct an Image Dissector for Zworykin, who later replicated the tube and presented it to RCA. Farnsworth’s refusal to sell his patents to RCA prompted the company to sue for priority of invention, so as to introduce commercial television to the public. The U.S. Patent Office settled the “David and Goliath confrontation,” as described by Farnsworth’s wife Pem, when it ruled in Farnsworth’s favor based on Justin Tolman’s presentation of Farnsworth’s high school Image Dissector sketch. For the first time in RCA’s history, the company had to pay patent royalties, rather than receive them. The ruling also established Farnsworth as the inventor of television, despite ongoing debate and distortions to the historical record like Aaron Sorkin’s stage play proclaiming RCA the victor of the suit. Schatzkin provides a superb synopsis of the debate about the inventor of television and errors punctuating the narrative in The Boy Who Invented Television.

Farnsworth continued to fight against RCA’s appeals and his refusal to bow to the corporation taxed his mental and physical health. While struggling with depression, exhaustion and a dependence on liquor to cope with the stress, Farnsworth vowed to bring television from conception to commercialization. He aimed to get into broadcasting, but because the FCC would not yet allocate spectrum space for television, Farnsworth decided to enter into manufacturing, which would lead him to Fort Wayne, Indiana.

According to the J. Willard Marriott Digital Library at the University of Utah, in 1938 the Farnsworth television show was taken on a country- wide tour and was very well received.

Stayed tuned to learn about Farnsworth’s Hoosier television manufacturing plant.

Etheridge Knight: “can there anything good come out of prison”

A sketch of Etheridge Knight in prison by Terrance Hayes, accessed theparisreview.org.

“I died in 1960 from a prison sentence and poetry brought me back to life.” This is how poet Etheridge Knight Jr. described his experience at the Indiana State Prison, where he served eight years for armed robbery. This post focuses on the years 1960-1968, in which the man “with something to say” began sharing his voice through poetry.

Born in 1931 in Corinth, Mississippi, Knight’s family moved to Paducah, Kentucky before moving to Indianapolis. He dropped out of school as a teenager and enlisted in the army in 1947. Knight served as a medical technician in the Korean War until 1950, when a serious injury would indirectly serve as a catalyst for his revolutionary Poems from Prison. His wounds proved so physically and psychologically traumatic that Knight soon developed an addiction to morphine. Or as Knight put it, “I died in Korea from a shrapnel wound and narcotics resurrected me.” Following his army discharge, Knight supported his habit by dealing drugs and stealing, which led to his sentence in the Michigan City, Indiana prison.

Betty De Ramus wrote in the Detroit Free Press that black poets of the 1960s, including those writing behind bars, were not trying to

pass civil rights laws or integrate bathrooms or even to trouble America’s conscience. They were battling for the minds of blacks, bent on persuading them of their potential and power, trying to open them, layer by layer, to their own lost beauty.

She argued that this movement, comprised also of African American music, theater, films, and novels were black artists’ way of “lighting candles in the darkness.” Knight would become a quintessential voice of the Black Arts Movement, described by Larry Neal as “’radically opposed to any concept of the artist that alienates him from his community. Black Arts is the aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept. As such, it envisions art that speaks directly to the needs and aspirations of Black America.’”

Knight did not immediately illuminate the darkness at the Indiana State Prison, where he became embittered by “racist guards and racist parole boards.” According to a 1972 Baltimore Sun article, he began writing poetry 18 months into his sentence, inspired by other black poets like Gwendolyn Brooks (who later visited him in prison) and Langston Hughes. He recalled “I read Walt Whitman and the European poets, too . . . I could never really get to them as I got to Hughes and Brooks.”

According to the Poetry Foundation, Knight “was already an accomplished reciter of “‘toasts'” before he entered the penitentiary. These toasts were long, narrative poems spoken from memory that related to “‘sexual exploits, drug activities, and violent aggressive conflicts involving a cast of familiar folk . . . using street slang, drug and other specialized argot, and often obscenities.'” At the Indiana State Prison, he “toasted,” amidst cell doors slamming and prisoners shouting. Other times, Knight recalled, “Sometimes in the joint . . . I’d back people up against the wall and say, ‘Here, you want to hear this?’ After all budding poets do need an audience, and where better to find one with time to listen?”

Knight later stated that “Poetry and a few people in there trying to stay human saved me . . . I knew that I couldn’t just deaden all my feeling the way some people did.” This poetry explored themes like “suffering and survival, trial and tribute, loss and love.” The Richmond Palladium-Item reported that through his words he “lashed out at the power brokers in prison and in literature with equal intensity and humor.” At first the budding poet encountered no trouble mailing out his poetry in an attempt to get published. The authorities did not resist, he recalled, because they considered James Whitcomb Riley to be a poet and “they didn’t understand what I was all about.”

His first published piece, a tribute to Dinah Washington, appeared in the Negro Digest about a year after he started writing from prison. Once published, prison officials began censoring his mail and prohibited him from mailing out his poetry. Knight responded by “smuggling material out to friends . . . who worked on the outside.” This resistance to prison life manifested not only in words, but in behavior and he spent time in solitary confinement, or, as he termed it the “hole” and “on the rock.”

Courtesy of The Paris Review article “Terence Hayes Brings Etheridge Knight Into Focus”

“The more oppressive the system you live under, the louder the poets scream,” Knight contended in 1989. And scream he did. His short stories and verses written in the penitentiary, were published in periodicals, anthologies, and the Journal of Black Poetry. Most famously, he published his book Poems from Prison, which included poems like “Cell Song” and “A Wasp Woman Visits a Black Junkie in Prison.” When he left prison in 1968 he worked as a punch press operator at a factory in Indianapolis. By 1972 his scream had been heard across the country and he had taught students creative writing at the University of Hartford in Connecticut and the University of Pittsburgh, and served as poet-in-residence at Lincoln University in Springfield, MO. He alleged that year that “There is more creativity going on in college campuses and prisons than any other places in the country.”

Knight assessed his years in prison, “My time made me see that prisons don’t rehabilitate. If you come out with any degree of sanity at all, you’re lucky. Prison is inhuman. It kills you.”

But poetry brought him back to life. Knight went on to establish Free People’s Poetry Workshops to counteract the “domination of the publishing industry by moneyed white males.” His books and spoken word garnered popular and critical acclaim and he received a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation, won the American Book Award, and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Knight at typewriter, ca. 1960s, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

The poet, described by modern African American poet Terrence Hayes, as a “talented, ex-con, con man, blues-blooded rambling romantic” died in 1991 and is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery. For an in-depth examination of Knight’s works, see thepoetryfoundation.org.

 

Material for this post was derived from:
“Poet Gains Worldwide Acclaim,” Indianapolis Recorder, July 27, 1968, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Helen Fogel, Detroit Free Press, February 22, 1969, accessed Newspapers.com.

Randi M. Pollack, “Etheridge Knight Talks on Prison,” The Baltimore Sun, February 18, 1972, accessed Newspapers.com.

Mike Fitzgerald, Palladium-Item (Richmond, Indiana), March 18, 1984, accessed Newspapers.com.

“Etheridge Knight: Going Against Safe Literary Doctrine,” The Indianapolis Star, March 12, 1989, accessed Newspapers.com.

The Midwestern Making of Kenneth Rexroth: Robbing Cash Registers and Reading the Classics

At times described as cantankerous, paranoid, and bitter, Kenneth Rexroth, the trail-blazing Hoosier poet, cajoled and harangued some of the best poets of the Beat Generation. At the same time, he worked tirelessly to promote their work. Rexroth’s own radical poetry both preceded and inspired the Beats, though at times he refused to be associated with the movement that he thought had lost its meaning by the late 1950s, and especially that “hipster” Jack Kerouac.

Kenneth Rexroth, accessed via Poetry Foundation.

As important as Rexroth’s poetry is to American literature, his life story is perhaps even more fascinating. And while much has been written about his years in San Francisco laying the groundwork for a literary renaissance in that city that grew into the larger Beat movement, little has been written about his time in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio – a period when the budding poet rubbed elbows with anarchists, burlesque dancers, criminals, and the artistic and literary elite of the Midwest and the world.

Kenneth Rexroth Home, South Bend, Indiana, 2016, accessed Google Maps

Kenneth Rexroth was born on December 22, 1905 in South Bend, Indiana. Young Rexroth’s first residence was a house at 828 Park Avenue in South Bend which still stands and will soon be the site of an Indiana State Historical Marker commemorating his life and career. In Kenneth Rexroth: An Autobiographical Novel, he described the house as “substantial and comfortable,” near to the Oliver Hotel and Mr. Eliel’s drug store. According to a 1905 article in the Elkhart Daily Review, Rexroth’s father was working as a traveling pharmaceutical salesman.

In 1908, the Rexroth family moved to a home on East Beardsley Avenue in Elkhart, Indiana, a relocation that made the local newspaper.

Elkhart Daily Review, June 29, 1908, 1, accessed NewspaperArchive.com
“Surface Car Terminal, Elkhart, Indiana,” photograph, ca. 1910, The Indiana Album.

Rexroth wrote a description of the Elkhart home as well:

This was a quiet residential street above the river where all the best homes in the town were in those days, where the patent-medicine people, the musical-instrument people, the buggy-works people, the corset people, and all the other leading citizens of the town lived in their wooden, sometimes Palladian or Romanesque mansions, and we had our own little Palladian house.

While Rexroth was born into a comfortable life, his family’s circumstances soon deteriorated. His parents, Charles Marion and Delia Rexroth, had difficulties with alcohol, chronic illness, and each other. Rexroth wrote that his mother was drinking champagne when she went into labor and bluntly called his father a “drunk” and a “constant gambler.” When he was five, circa 1910, they left the lovely house on East Beardsley due to his father’s diminishing finances. The family moved more often then, mostly renting, but Rexroth remembers living in a “run-down Victorian house” on Second Street that he believed they owned. Despite setbacks, he remembered his childhood in Elkhart fondly. His mother taught him to read early and immersed him in classical literature. He spent time at the library, learned French, explored the neighborhood, and fell in love with Helen, “the little girl next door,” when they were just six or seven. His parents were able to afford a family tour of Europe, which made quite an impression on young Rexroth.

However, his mother continued to succumb to a chronic illness that multiple doctors were unable to diagnose, and his father intensified his drinking and gambling. Sometime around 1914, when Rexroth was nine, the family moved briefly to Battle Creek, Michigan, and then to Chicago the following year, where they lived with relatives. Rexroth’s father’s alcoholism put him near death on at least one occasion and he left the family, likely for some sort of sanitarium. Rexroth moved with his mother into a small apartment and they rarely saw his father. After a painful period fighting what was likely tuberculosis, Delia Rexroth died in 1916. Eleven-year-old Rexroth went to live with his father and grandmother in Toledo, Ohio. Here, Rexroth began to seek and find trouble.

Photograph, 1916, accessed Linda Hamalian, A Life of Kenneth Rexroth (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1991), 120.

Rexroth had little supervision in Toledo. He began running around town with a gang of boys who would rob cash registers and, despite his young age, he ran various money-making hustles that involved running errands for “brothels, cardrooms, and burlesque shows.” He also witnessed the Willys-Overland labor strike that turned riotous. Rexroth wrote that this was a significant moment in his youth and he “started off in the labor movement.” In 1919, at this uncertain juncture in Rexroth’s early adolescence, his father also died.

Rexroth’s aunt, Minnie Monaham, retrieved the thirteen-year-old trouble maker and brought him back to Chicago to live with the rest of the Monahams. The 1920 U.S. Census shows that the nine person household was located on Indiana Avenue, but they soon moved to an apartment on South Michigan Avenue in the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. Rexroth enrolled in the nearby Englewood High School. School administrators quickly expelled him for his poor attitude and attendance. It was outside of the Chicago public school system, however, that Rexroth pursued a more profound education.

Carl Sandburg, “Chicago,” 1916, Chicago Historical Society, accessed via Encyclopedia of Chicago.

Perhaps in the same manner he was able to gain access to the burlesque theaters of Toledo, Rexroth found access to the clubs of the poets and writers gathered in this Midwest city during the second wave of the Chicago Literary Renaissance. Among these were important local poets such as Carl Sandburg and Harriet Monroe, writers and intellectuals such as Hoosier-born Theodore Dreiser, and political thinkers such as famous Hoosier socialist, Eugene Debs, as well as the “big names” of the international art and literature worlds. This intellectual elite met at formal and informal clubs and locations around the city.

Rexroth also explored the radical political movements of the period at venues such as the Washington Park Bug Club, also known as Bughouse Square, which met in a “a shallow grassy amphitheater beside a lagoon off in the middle of the park,” according to Rexroth. Bughouse Square was, for a time, “the most celebrated outdoor free-speech center in the nation and a popular Chicago tourist attraction,” according to the Chicago Historical Society. Here, people with a host of different ideas would get on their soapboxes (sometimes literally) and orate to the crowds that would gather. Rexroth wrote that “here, every night until midnight could be heard passionate exponents of every variety of human lunacy” such as:

“Anarchist-Single-Taxers, British-Israelites [or Anglo-Israelite], sell-anointed archbishops of the American Catholic Church, Druids, Anthroposophists, mad geologists who had proven the world was flat or that the surface of the earth was the inside of a hollow sphere, and people who were in communication with the inhabitants of Mars, Atlantis, and Tibet, severally and sometimes simultaneously. Besides, struggling for a hearing was the whole body of orthodox heterodoxy — Socialists, communists (still with a small “c”), IWWs [International Workers of the World], De Leonites, Anarchists, Single Taxers (separately, not in contradictory combination), Catholic Guild Socialists, Schopenhauerians, Nietzscheans — of whom there were quite a few — Stirnerites, and what later were to be called Fascists.”

“Dill Pickle Club Entrance,” photograph, n.d., Newberry Library, Dill Pickle, Box 2, Folder 32, Chicago Historical Society, accessed via Encyclopedia of Chicago.

Another inspiring haunt for Rexroth was the Dill Pickle Club, not far from Bughouse Square, where artists and writers along with socialists and anarchists gathered for social and artistic experimentation. Rexroth wrote that there were independent theater productions Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. On Sunday night, there were lectures on various topics. On Saturday nights “the chairs were cleared away and the Chicago jazzmen of the early Twenties played for a dance which lasted all night.” Rexroth remembered the actors and sets as being awful but somehow they produced plays that were “the very best.” Lectures were given by “every important scholar who came through the town, and all those who were attached to the universities.”

Most significantly, however, Rexroth gained entrée to the salon at the home of Jake Loeb, where he encountered the leaders of the local literary movement, international visitors such as D. H. Lawrence, and access to books of artists and writers who would greatly influence him, such as Gertrude Stein. In his autobiography, Rexroth referred to Loeb’s home as “a more important Middle Western cultural institution in 1923 than the University of Chicago, the Art Institute, the Symphony, and the Chicago Tribune put together.” He wrote that he met “everybody who was anybody in the Chicago of the Twenties and everybody who was anybody who was passing through town.” He continued:

“Besides the famous transients, many of whom stayed in the place, the house was full every night of the cream of Chicago’s intellectuals in the brief postwar period of Chicago’s second renaissance. It seems rather pointless even to list them — any of them — because they were all there. . . It is not that I met famous people — it is that I learned by listening to impassioned discussion among mature people, all of whom were out in the world putting their ideas into effect.”

Rexroth was also starting to put his ideas into effect. Although he had shown little academic or literary promise thus far, Rexroth became “a prolific painter and poet by age seventeen,” according to the Poetry Foundation. By this point he was running from one cultural hot-spot to another, performing the poetry to which he was being exposed. He wrote in his autobiography that if he hustled he could make over fifty dollars in a weekend. He continued, “Thus began my career as a boy soapboxer, bringing poetry to the masses.”

“Self Portrait” by Kenneth Rexroth, published in Chicago Review 55.2/¾, accessed via Chicago Review tumblr.

He began working a number of odd jobs, and in his free time, experimenting with oil paints and piano. One such job was at the Green Mask on Grand Avenue and State Street. Rexroth referred to the Green Mask as a “tearoom,” but it was probably more accurately a cabaret, and it was located in the basement of a brothel. Rexroth wrote, “The place was a hangout for bona-fide artists, writers, musicians, and people from show business.” He continued, “In the Mask there gradually formed a small, permanent family of oddities who were there every night and never paid for their coffee.” Here Rexroth was able to see and perform poetry with some of the era’s best poets and musicians, both black and white, local and national. These included the “seclusive and asocial” poet Edgar Lee Masters, local African American poet Fenton Johnson, nationally-acclaimed black poet and playwright Langston Hughes, the local jazz drummer Dave Tough (who Rexroth called Dick Rough in his autobiography), and an assortment of dancers, singers, and drag queens. This group held weekly poetry readings and lectures and jazz performances. Rexroth and others began combining jazz and poetry, a technique he would become known for by the time he headed out west and one that would greatly influence the Beat Generation. He wrote that here, at the Green Mask, “happened the first reading of poetry to jazz that I know of.” About this early Chicago jazz scene, he wrote:

“I’m afraid that I can’t provide any inside information about the formative years of jazz, for the simple reason that none of us knew that this was what was happening. We didn’t know we were making history and we didn’t think we were important. . . Jazz was pretty hot and made a lot of noise. People talked loud to be heard above it, got thirsty and drank too much and made trouble, so we tried to keep the jazz small and cool . . . I remember many nights going over to the piano and saying, ‘For Christ’s sake, cool it or you’ll get us all busted!'”

Chicago Tribune, January 11, 1923, 1, accessed Chicago Tribune Archives.

As he predicted, the Green Mask did get busted. In 1923, the Chicago Tribune reported that thirty-five “Bohemians” were arrested in a raid at the Green Mask. The Tribune article stated: “The police entered the place after standing outside for some time listening to what they say was the reading of indecent poetry by George Lexington.” The owner was booked as “keeper of a disorderly house.” Rexroth was also arrested because he was considered part owner for investing some small amount of money into the place. He was sentenced to a year in jail.

Photograph, 1922, in G. A. Claussenius, The House of Correction of the City of Chicago : a retrospect covering a half century of endeavor from the founding of the institution to the present time, 1871-1921 (City of Chicago, 1922), 7, accessed via Internet Archive.

He described the conditions on his arrival to the Chicago House of Corrections, or the “Bandhouse” as it was called:

This was quite a place. It had been built back in the Seventies or Eighties, with long, narrow windows like the archers’ slots in medieval castles, and a warped and muddy stone floor where the water oozed up in winter between the paving blocks. This was the only running water in the place. Each cell was given a one-gallon pail of water once a day and provided with a battered old bucket for a privy. It was a cage-type cell house. The cells were all in the center about thirty feet away from the walls, so the only view was through the heavy iron grilles and door which looked out on brick walls and filthy windows through which it was impossible to see anything. The inner cells looked out on the tier opposite. The whole thing was built of iron, and any movement in it resounded as though it had happened inside a bell; any cough or groan or cry was magnified as if by an immense megaphone. In each cell there were four iron-slatted bunks that folded up against the wall. There were no mattresses, and each fish [inmate] was provided, along with his slops, with a filthy khaki Army blanket full of holes.

Rexroth spent the winter in these circumstances and explained that he “got a little closer to the underworld.” When he got out of the Bandhouse, he spent most of his time pursuing various young women, two of whom lived in the same building, and writing them poetry. He became more involved in local theater productions and continued pursuing radical social theories and chasing down works of avant-garde literature. He began reading more spiritual works and even spent a few months in a monastery. He also began a period of traveling and recording his observations of nature in his poetry – something else he would become known as a master of in later life.

Photo accessed Linda Hamalian, A Life of Kenneth Rexroth (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1991), 120.

In late December 1926, Rexroth met the artist Andrée Schafer through friends, just briefly outside their door. When his friends asked him what he thought about her, Rexroth replied, “I intend to marry her.” They began working on paintings together, both of them working on the same canvas, “like one person,” according to Rexroth. They married a few weeks later in January 1927 and left for a new life on the West Coast that spring. In San Francisco, instead of experiencing a cultural Renaissance, Rexroth would create one.

Check back next week for more about this Hoosier rebel in part two of this story: Kenneth Rexroth: Poet, Pacifist, Radical, and Reluctant Father of the Beat Generation

For more information:

Kenneth Rexroth, An Autobiographical Novel (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1966).

Linda Hamalian, A Life of Kenneth Rexroth (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1991).