Boiled, Burned, and Guillotined: The Inventions of Magician Lester “Marvelo” Lake

Business stationary, Lester “Marvelo” Lake, courtesy of London the Mentalist, reproduced in Julie Schlesselman’s Buried Alive Every Afternoon Burned Alive Every Evening, p. 123.

Lester “Marvelo” Lake was born in 1904 in the small town of New Trenton, Indiana, where his father owned a local dry goods store. It was in that store that Lake met a man who would change his life. The man remains unnamed in the story told to a reporter, but Lake recalled “Then came . . . an old timer that kindly showed me some tricks and very nicely ruined me forever.” Magic came to be not only a passion for the outgoing and entertaining young Hoosier. It would become his profession.

Lake’s magic career spanned from 1925 to 1960. He performed shows in theaters, parks, and nightclubs from California to Louisiana, as well as abroad in Europe and Cuba. The changes in his career reflected closely the changes in the entertainment industry. Early in his career, during the tail end of the “Golden Age of Amusement Parks,” Lake was contracted to perform multiple daily shows at Forest Park in Dayton, Ohio. As the Great Depression set in, Lake began travelling more frequently for work, going wherever he could get a gig – mostly in small theatres and nightclubs. However, Lake’s importance comes not from his performances but from his many inventions.

Lake is credited with either inventing or improving upon 300 tricks and illusions during his career. First independently, and later in conjunction with Abbott’s Magic Co. of Colon, Michigan, Lake invented and sold versions of popular illusions such as the Indian rope trick, 3-card monte, and a sword-box. Some of his most notable developments were his spectacular outdoor performance pieces – Boiled Alive and Burned Alive, as well as the Lester Lake Guillotine.

Boiled Alive

Outdoor venues such as amusement parks were the perfect venues for spectacular illusions. Lake’s first large scale outdoor illusion was Buried Alive, versions of which had been performed by the likes of Harry Houdini and Howard Thurston. After gaining some notoriety for his performance of Buried Alive, he began performing a new illusion of his own creation – Boiled Alive. The illusion is described in the Dayton Daily News:

Dayton Daily News, August 12, 1928, 22, Newspapers.com.

“Permitting himself to be bound with chains and shackled, he jumps into a tank of blazing fluid, emerging a few moments later free of all his bounds and seemingly without being any the worse for his experience. That there is not fraud in the manner in which he permits himself to be bound and shackled, he permits personal inspection of his bonds by anyone so desiring, before leaping into the tank.”

Later, Lake described some of the mechanics of the illusion in a magic magazine called The Sphinx:

“Suggested measurements for the props for this effect are a platform five feet wide, twelve feet long, which is raised twelve feet from the ground on four uprights or substantial posts. The platform needs to be braced and to have a trap door in the center four feet by four feet. This trap door has two doors opening down and a release connected with a rope which runs to the edge of the platform and hangs down . . . Around the base of the tank is laid light kindling and brush wood and excelsior . . . I filled the tank practically to the top and poured a quart of gasoline on top of the after . . . After the performer has released himself from the shackles in the water, he stays down as long as he is able in order to heighted the effect.”

Lake preparing to plunge into the Boiled Alive container, courtesy of Ken Klosterman’s Salon de Magie, reproduced in Schlesselman’s Buried Alive, p. 79.

Perhaps due to all of the equipment involved in the production of this illusion, reports of Lake performing it are confined to his time at Forest Park. His next large scale spectacular illusion would become much more wid espread.

Burned Alive

The Richmond Item, July 5, 1929, 15, Newspapers.com.

On Monday, July 1, 1929, Lester Lake unveiled his newest act – Burned Alive. The set-up of the performance was described in The Sphinx:

“A platform was built and covered with sand. Coal oil was poured around and papers scattered about and in the center was a box of zinc construction. Lake was put into it and the lid clamped down. Then someone set4 the oil on fire. The mass burned for seven and one-half minutes, after which Lake was removed from the box, hot but unburned.”

Newspapers reported that there were some adjustments to be made for future performances, noting:

At Monday night’s performance the oven in which Lake allows himself to be placed became ‘a little too hot.’ He emerged from it as per schedule, but a little too warm under the collar. A fire that is not too hot has been ordered by Lake for future performances.

Lake denied all accusations of utilizing an oxygen tank during his performances. He explained in interviews that he employed “self-hypnosis,” a type of meditation, in both his Burned Alive and Buried Alive Acts. After being closed in the coffin (a wooden coffin was used for Buried Alive and a metal coffin was used for Burned Alive), Lake would enter a “catatonic state,” allowing him to survive on a limited amount of oxygen and withstand the high temperatures.

Lake’s Buried Alive Performance, Courtesy of London the Mentalist, Schlesselman’s Buried Alive, p. 131.

Lester Lake Guillotine

Advertisement for the Lester Lake Guillotine, personal collection of Julie Schlesselman, reproduced in Schlesselman’s Buried Alive, p. 110.

Probably Lake’s most recognizable illusion, the Lester Lake Guillotine, improved upon past beheading illusions. The history of decapitation illusions can be traced back to ancient Egypt. Lake’s version of the ancient trick was different in that it was portable. Weighing about 30 lbs. and transported in a briefcase-like package, the Lester Lake Guillotine was much more feasible for a travelling show and small stage than its large, cumbersome forbearers.

The Linking Ring, 10, No. 12 (February 1931): 1557.

Unlike the Boiled Alive and Burned Alive illusions, Lake manufactured and sold the Lester Lake Guillotine, which caused him to be tight lipped on the exact construction. It is clear that, like most decapitation apparatuses that came after it, the Lester Lake Guillotine employed two blades – one above the head and one below the head – and stopper blocks hidden within the neck stock piece to stop the upper blade just before it reached the neck of the “victim.”

Lake manufactured his guillotines independently from 1931 until 1934, when he began working in conjunction with Abbott’s Magic Co. From that time on, the device became more frequently referred to as the “Head Chopper.” Later, Lake produced many similar products for the company, including The Chopper (a smaller, even more portable version of the Guillotine) and The Disecto Illusion (shown below).

The Conjurors’ Magazine, 1 No. 4 (May 1945): 47.

Lester Lake’s contributions to the world of magic are enduring. In the years after his 1977 death, magicians continued to perform and improve illusions pioneered by “Marvelo.”

THH Season 2 Episode 2: Haunted Hoosier History 2018

Transcript of Haunted Hoosier History 2018

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey from Original Research

Produced by Lindsey Beckley and Jill Weiss Simins:

Lindsey Beckley: In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, people lived a lot more closely with death than we do today. Mortality rates were much higher. Wakes were held in the family home. And relics of the dead, such as death photographs and hair jewelry, were kept as prize possessions after the wake had ended. Perhaps it’s not surprising then, that from this time came the religion of spirituality, which was based on the belief that the spirits of the dead were not only here, in this world, but could even communicate with you, if you had the right skill set. Spiritualism was fairly widespread by the late 1800s and interest in the paranormal was at an all-time high. Skepticism was also at an all-time high. Cashing in on this divide, newspapers printed a wide variety of ghost stories and paranormal investigations. On this episode, join me as we explore just a few of these ghastly tales from the pages of historic Indiana newspapers.

[Music]

Beckley: I’m Lindsey Beckley, and this is Talking Hoosier History.

Before we get to the eerie escapades of this episode, I wanted to give a bit of a warning. We’ll be exploring some rather spooky subjects today and there will be violence and there will be murder. If those topics make you uncomfortable, perhaps you should turn back now and join us again next episode. Otherwise…Welcome.

Most ghost stories start with death. And our first terrifying tale is no exception. The Logansport Journal brought us reports of a patricide in Galveston, Cass County on September 9, 1895.

[Gun Shots]

Beckley: The early afternoon calm of Galveston was ripped away in an instant as gunshots emanated from the home of Daniel Kemp, one of the oldest and most well respected men of the small town. Daniel’s son, Frank, who had lost both of his legs in an accident and so used a hand operated tricycle to get around, fetched a doctor. The doctor attended the scene and found not only had Daniel been shot, he had also been bludgeoned in the head. The good doctor did everything he could for the wounded man, but it was in vain. The injury proved to be fatal.

In the meantime, the ugly truth came to light: it had been Frank, Daniels own son, who pulled the trigger after quarrelling with his father over money.

The body was removed and buried. Frank was taken away in chains to be tried for the murder of his father. Time passed. Lives went on. Over a year later, this tragic event reared its head several miles away in Logansport, the county seat of Cass County.  On February 3, 1897, newspaper headlines announced that “A Ghostly Shape Haunts the Catacombs of the Court House.”

In that very courthouse where, a year and a half before, Frank Kemp had been found guilty of murder and sentenced to three years in prison. Two grisly reminders of this case sat in the basement of the court house, forgotten after the trial. The hand operated tricycle which Frank Kemp had used to fetch the doctor that fateful day, and the cudgel he had used to bludgeon his father’s head, still stained with blood.

[Creaking door]

Beckley: The courthouse night watchman had made it his habit to eat lunch in the basement each night. He knew the murderous story behind the relics stashed away in the basement and there’s little doubt that the brutal scene of that September day came to mind every time he saw it, only to be brushed aside as superstition. That is, until one fateful night…he was sitting there, with the bright…

Voice actor reading from newspaper: Sitting there, with the bright glow of an electric lamp over his head, he could hear the footsteps of the janitor. Beyond the bright light of the boiler room, there was darkness, black, impenetrable, save for the feeble ray of light reflected from the windows of the Journal office over the way. The shadows were blackest where reposed the mementoes of murder, and he looked with an apprehensive shiver toward this spot, there appeared to him the moving shape of a human being. Involuntarily he held his breath. With a sharp intake of air, which was more like a gasp, he half rose in his chair…his eyes opened to their widest, and his hair stood out in obstreperous points all over his head. The figure advanced with silent tread, weaving about from side to side as if mortally hurt, and, reaching the dim reflected light from the windows across the way, paused a moment as if for consideration. The figure was that of an old man, his shoulders stooped, his head crowned with silvery locks; his patriarchal beard swept his breast as he moved his head toward the speechless watcher, and his eyes glowed in their sunken sockets with a fire that was supernatural.

Tom could stand no more; with a yell that roused the workers in the room above he dashed for a window to escape from the dreadful shape.

Beckley: Others saw the same figure in the following nights but none were able to explain what they saw. It was widely believed that this was the ghost of Daniel Kemp, haunting the space where these grisly relics of his murder were being stored.

[Door closing]

Beckley: Our next phantom filled fable is from the Logansport Reporter. The Tale begins on February 18, 1899.

Voice actor reading from Newspaper:  Thornhope, a little village north-west of Logansport…is all agog over a emarkable ghost story, the details of which were made public but yesterday.”

Beckley: On February 16, 1868, John Baer set out, on foot, from Thornhope, Cass County, to Star City, in Pulaski County to purchase several head of cattle. In order to conduct his business, he was carrying $3,000, – that’s nearly $90,000 today. Somewhere between his home and that of a friend, where he was planning to stop on his way out of town, Baer disappeared without a trace. That is, until exactly 30 years later, when Gabriel Fickle was walking along the same path that John Baer had 3 traveled decades before.

Voice actor reading from newspaper: As he was returning from Royal Center to his home via the railroad he dimly decried a form approaching as he neared the old water tank. The figure was walking slowly and as Fickle approached it stopped in front of him. Fickle crossed to the other side of the track and the figure did likewise at the same time extending a hand and exclaiming, ‘Why Gabe, don’t you know me.’ Fickle replied negatively, but put forth his hand to shake hands with the friendly stranger when to his horror he found himself grasping thin air, although in other respects the apparition was life like. Before Fickle could make an effort to speak the specter further frightened him by continuing, ‘I am the ghost of John Baer, murdered on this spot thirty years ago tonight.’ Fickle declares he was seized with the most abject fear. His hair stood on end, his throat was parched and strive as he would not a sound came from his lips. He tottered past the vision of the dead, but the latter followed.

Beckley: Fickle screwed up his courage and asked the entity how he met his death. The ghost confirmed that he had been murdered for the money he carried and stated that those guilty of the egregious crime were still living in the area. The specter then demanded that Fickle not speak a word of this encounter for exactly one year. Fickle, eager to be gone, gave his word and fled the site. One year later, his account was published by the Reporter, lacking one important detail – the identity of the murderers. Fickle explained that the ghost had not yet given the names of the guilty parties but he assured them that he would attempt to meet the spirit again, and this time he would demand to know who among the towns’ people had murder in their hearts.

Before that could happen, though, the apparition appeared in front of a railroad worker and said,

Voice actor reading from newspaper: Tell Thornhope people that my bones are crying out for vengeance and they are the instruments through which my murderers are to be brought to justice.

Beckley: However, the ghost must not have been too keen for justice because even after several conversations with Fickle, spanning the next year, Baer still refused to reveal the names to him. Yet, even as late as April of 1900, newspapers report that the truth was forthcoming.

Voice actor reading from newspaper: Gabe Fickle of Thornhope claims to have had another visit from John Baer’s ghost, warning him to keep a compact to meet the specter at an old well, at midnight, when the names of Baer’s murderers would be divulged. Fickle hesitates about going to the well alone, and can induce no one to go with him. The ghost threatens to haunt him all his life if he does not keep the appointment.

Beckley: Whether or not he attended that last meeting, we will never know as the Thornhope ghost – or indeed the names of Gabe Fickle or John Bear – never appear in the pages of newspapers after that.

Beckley: Our next tale is about another justice seeking shade, only this time, he’s not in pursuit of those who caused his death…rather, he’s looking to safeguard his legacy. The story can be found in the July 19, 1914 issue of The Indianapolis Star.

[Music]

Beckley: James Whitcomb served as Governor of Indiana from 1843-1848. He was once described as “one of the most cautious and timid men in the world.” The same could not be said of his ghost.

Upon his death in 1852, Whitcomb left his large, eclectic library to DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. He apparently put little faith in the security of the library because, instead of spending his afterlife in paradise or roaming the halls of his home or tormenting his enemies, he took to haunting the stacks. His will had specified that the books in his collection were strictly for reference and were not to go into circulation. But mistakes were made and on a few occasions a book was allowed to leave the doors of that stately institution.

Each bible-transgression incurred the wrath of the wraith. The governor’s ghost hunted down each tome like a hound. The article says there were several different instances of book related hauntings on campus but one in particular stood out among the others.

A freshman, browsing the books of the Whitcomb collection, happened across one in particular that caught his eye. A rather old volume with a faded cover bearing the name “The Poems of Ossian.” The book, written in the mid-1760s, is purportedly a collection of ancient Scottish folklore, collected by James Macphereson. It was also Governor Whitcomb’s favorite tome.

Voice actor reading from newspaper: This book the freshman carefully slipped into his pocket and carried away. That night the freshman buried himself in the weird lore of this eighteenth century poet until long past the midnight hour. Before retiring he carefully concealed the stolen treasure beneath his pillow. He turned out the light, retired and for a considerable time lay listening to the intermittent noises of the night, made vastly weird by the thoughts his reading had induced… A midnight visitor suddenly stood at the foot of the startled student’s bed. Although no door hinge had squeaked, the vapor figure in the habiliments of the coffin loomed gigantic against the black background of the room. A menacing arm protruded from the shroud and pointed at the student, who, moved by fright, crowded against the headboard and imagined he felt the fingertips of the uncanny intruder brush his face. He threw his arm over his head as if to ward off the blow. Fright had paralyzed his tongue. Then in cavernous voice spoke the ghost: ‘Osion, Osion! Who stole Osion?’

Beckley: The words were repeated again and again as the young man lay frozen in fear. After some time, the apparition, along with its accusing words, faded into the darkness. He spent a sleepless night waiting for the library to open its doors the following morning and was the first patron of the day.

[Owls hooting]

Beckley: Not all ghosts have such a specific purpose behind their ghastly wanderings. Take for example this account from the Muncie Evening Press from July 31, 1905.

[Train whistle]

Beckley: Residents of Flaherty’s Siding, near LaPorte, upon arriving at the nearby train station would see nothing out of the ordinary…unless, that is, they were arriving after sunset. Then they would see…well…a ghost, of course.

Voice actor reading from newspaper:  Headless, and acting for all the world like an animate thing, the apparition occurs intermittently. It makes its appearance with unfailing regularity, and standing on the platform with dinner pail in hand, it swings its arms back and forth as if it were flagging an approaching train. Then it disappears, and, in disappearing, frequently gives unearthly shrieks, as though suffering terrible pain.

Beckley: It was widely believed that the phantom was the spirit of Columbus Cole.

Voice actor reading from Newspaper: Cole, who was a well-known and popular resident of the vicinity of Flaherity’s, was run over by an engine within a few feet of the spot where the water tank stands. In the accident his head was completely severed from his body.

Beckley: Some of the young men of the town, dubious of the claims, set off to reveal the ghost as some sort of hoax, or trick of the imagination. Their first night of investigation resulted in nothing but lack of sleep – nary the shadow of a ghost was glimpsed. The second night, however, was a different story, as one of the young men reported,

Voice actor reading from newspaper: Reaching the station early in the evening, we prepared to take things easy, for we felt sure no ghost would be seen. However, we had hardly been there an hour when one of the boys raised his hand and cried: ‘Hush!’

We looked, and right before us, and but a short distance from the old water tank, we saw a strange apparition – a form, headless and carrying a dinner pail. It was the ghost and not a delusion of the eyesight. We would plainly see the real, clear outline of Columbus Cole as we knew him in life, and it was even the same dinner pail that he invariably carried to and from his work.

For 5 minutes or more we watched the apparition as its arms swung back and forth…Presently, as if spurred on by one united impulse, we rushed to the spot where we had seen the headless figure. But upon reaching the spot nothing but vacancy greeted us. Cole’s ghost had entirely disappeared and we stood and looked at one another in silence, marveling at the supernatural incident. But our curiosity had been satisfied and we were no longer skeptics, but believers.

Beckley: This apparition, unlike others we have covered, seemed to not realize it had passed from the realm of the living. Columbus Cole was there, waving down the train that would kill him, for years after his death.

That’s all the time we have for ghost stories. We’ll be back next month with more Hoosier History, this time without the haunts.

[Talking Hoosier History Theme Song]

Beckley: I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. Talking Hoosier History is a product of the Indiana Historical Bureau, a division of the Indiana State Library. Talking Hoosier History is written by me, Lindsey Beckley. Production and sound engineering by Jill Weiss Simins. The voice of newspapers on the show is Justin Clark, project assistant for Hoosier State Chronicles, Indiana’s digital historic newspaper program. Find more alarming anecdotes of the supernatural from the pages of historic newspapers at newspapers.library.in.gov. To see the sources for this episode, and all of our episodes, go to blog.history.in.gov and click on Talking Hoosier History at the top. Keep up with us on Facebook at Talking Hoosier History or on Twitter at @TalkHoosierHist. Subscribe, rate, and review us wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening!

Season Two Episode Two Show Notes

                “A Ghostly Shape.” The Logansport Journal, February 3, 1897. Accessed Newspapers.com.

“Farm Boiler Explodes.” The Indianapolis Journal, November 15, 1903. Accessed Newspapers.com.

“Frank Kemp’s Awful Crime.” The Logansport Journal, September 10, 1895. Accessed Newspapers.com.

“Ghost Walks Again.” Logansport Reporter, February 26, 1899. Accessed Newspapers.com.

“Ghost Will Not Lie.” The Hamilton County Ledger, April 27, 1900. Accessed Newspapers.com.

“Headless Ghost Grows Uneasy.” Muncie Evening Press, July 31, 1905. Accessed Newspapers.com.

“Kemp Sentenced.” The Logansport Daily Reporter, September 23, 1895. Accessed Newspapers.com.

“Shade of Baer.” Logansport Reporter, June 17, 1899. Accessed Newspapers.com.

“Talked With a Ghost.” Logansport Reporter, February 18, 1899. Accessed Newspapers.com.

“Governor’s Ghost Guards Library.” The Indianapolis Star, July 19, 1914. Accessed Newspapers.com.

Season Two Episode Two Audio Credits

Music:

Ross Bugden, “Scary Horror Music – Haunted,” (Copyright and Royalty Free), accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOrxwqvfD2E

Mattia Cupelli, “Dark Choir Music,” (Download and Royalty Free), accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-GuD1rs9Z5I

Kevin MacLeod, “Horrorific,” FreePD, accessed https://freepd.com/horror.php

Kevin MacLeod, “Creepy Haunted House Music / This House / Ambient Dark Creepy Music,” Soul Candle – Relaxing Music, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCKQgJ0Eqlg

Kevin MacLeod, “Deep Horrors,” (No Copyright Music), Audio Library, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7URbQvJzztI

GoSoundtrack, “Mystery,” [No Copyright Music], Audio Library, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TKy9bzrk24

Alexander Nakarada, “Hor Hor,” FreePD, accessed https://freepd.com/horror.php

Rafael Krux, “Lonely Mountain,” FreePD, accessed https://freepd.com/epic.php

Syd Valentine’s Patent Leather Kids, “Rock and Gravel,” PublicDomain4U, accessed publicdomain4u.com

Sound Effects:

OXMUSEXO, “DoorCreak,” File: 168650_0xmusex0_doorcreak, FreeSound, https://freesound.org/people/0XMUSEX0/sounds/168650/

FunWithSound, “Door Slam,” File: 361167_funwithsound_door-slam, FreeSound, accessed https://freesound.org/people/FunWithSound/sounds/361167/

Nura Studio, Scary Footsteps sound effect free download, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spDzJCAL5lk

Topschool, “Gasp,” File: 360469_topschool_gasp, FreeSound, accessed https://freesound.org/people/Topschool/sounds/360469/

Epicdude959, “Creepy Ghost Scream,” File: 352508_epicdude_959_creepy-ghost-scream, FreeSound, accessed https://freesound.org/people/epicdude959/sounds/352508/

Jaredi, “Rattling Locks,” File: 215312__jaredi__rattling-locks, FreeSound, accessed https://freesound.org/people/jaredi/sounds/215312/

Xdrav, “Frozen Window Opening,” File: 112841__xdrav__frozen-window-opening, FreeSound, accessed https://freesound.org/people/xdrav/sounds/112841/

Benboncan, “Tawny Owls,” File: 64544__benboncan__tawny-owls-2, FreeSound, accessed https://freesound.org/people/Benboncan/sounds/63842/

KRC Videos, “TRAIN Sound Effects – Steam Train Start and Whistle,” accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1oJAVJPX0YY

HaraldDeLuca, “Horror Ghost,” File: 380510__haralddeluca__horror-ghost-sound, FreeSound, accessed https://freesound.org/people/HaraldDeLuca/sounds/380510/

 

The Underground Railroad at Slavery’s Banks: An Unlikely Alliance

Wilson Armistead, “The friends of humanity laying the axe to the upas tree of slavery, which is ever loaded with the sum of all villanies,” (1853), courtesy of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, accessed via The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

In 1833, an enslaved African American man named Samuel Barkshire received his freedom in Boone County, Kentucky, manumitted (or legally freed) by slaveholder Joseph Hawkins for the cost of one dollar.  He would go on to become the patriarch of a group of Underground Railroad (UGRR) activists who helped freedom seekers along the Ohio River for over thirty years.  What makes his story distinctive, is that he was joined in this cause by his family and their own former slaveholder.

The Ohio River acted as a boundary between slavery and freedom.  For nearly 40 miles, it forms the northern border of Boone County, separating it from neighbors in Indiana and Ohio. This proximity to freedom caused local slaveholders to become hyper-vigilant for signs of pending escapes.  The county’s riverfront was under near-constant scrutiny of patrollers and slave hunters. In the event of an escape, the first to come under suspicion were any free African Americans living in the area. With the exception of the elderly and infirm, most formerly enslaved people left for friendlier communities immediately after manumission.

Deed of Manumission for Samuel Barkshire, Boone County Deeds, Book I, p. 28.

Samuel Barkshire chose to stay in Boone County, perhaps because his family was still enslaved there.  He bought a 100-acre farm bordering the land of his former slaveholder, Joseph Hawkins.  The land once owned by Samuel’s first slaveholder, Dickey Barkshire, was also nearby. Part of the land Samuel once owned runs along a ridgeline overlooking the Ohio River.  The ridges near the river were often used by freedom seekers as safe routes leading to several crossing points from Boone County to free states.  In addition to the heirs of slaveholders Joseph Hawkins and Dickey Barkshire, Samuel’s neighbors also included the Universalist Church and some of its anti-slavery members.  This placement put Samuel in a position to help freedom seekers while still living in a slave state.  This was a dangerous endeavor, but a strong possibility, considering his level of involvement in the UGRR in Rising Sun.

R.G. Williams for the American Anti-Slavery Society, “Cruelties of Slavery,” (1835), courtesy of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, accessed via The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

When Joseph Hawkins died in 1836, his widow Nancy was his only heir. Little is known about Nancy’s early life, but she appeared in Joseph’s life sometime around 1817, and they had no children. Hawkins’ will is a simple document; he left all of his land and property to Nancy.  There was no inventory taken of the estate, but tax lists of the year of his death show he was the owner of ten enslaved people and about two hundred acres of land.

Before her marriage to Joseph, Nancy was the consort of Dickey Barkshire for a period of years following his first wife’s death.  Though this relationship is referenced in her probate, no marriage document has surfaced; she may have been Dickey’s wife in name only. This connection to the Barkshires indicates she knew Samuel Barkshire for years before marrying Joseph. Nancy’s relationship with Samuel and his family was very close, so it’s likely she asked her new husband to acquire ownership of the man, in order to free him.   This also may have been the case with Violet, a woman once listed as a slave of Hawkins, who was later freed. Violet and Nancy were baptized together upon joining Middle Creek Baptist Church, and lived either in the same home or nearby one another until Nancy’s death in 1854.

Nancy Hawkins’s Rising Sun house, which was owned by Barkshire’s sons after her death. Photo courtesy of the author, taken January 2017.

Two days after the probate of Joseph Hawkins’ estate, Nancy purchased a home in Rising Sun. The Barkshire family, Violet and several other bondsmen moved across the river at the same time.  Nancy, now living in a free state, began to manumit the enslaved people she had brought from Kentucky. Nancy seemed cognizant of the dangers faced by African Americans, even those legally manumitted and living on free soil. They could be kidnapped and sold back into slavery, or bound as an indentured servant, if debt or need came into play. If the former slave was not yet of age, and had no guardian, one would be assigned by the courts, without consent of the minor. In order to avoid these pitfalls, Nancy Hawkins filed manumissions only after there was some sort of protection in place, should something happen either to her or to Samuel and his wife.

This fall marks the 180th and 170th anniversaries of two rounds of manumissions filed by Nancy Hawkins in Indiana.  In August, 1838, the first group: Harriet Frances Barkshire (Samuel’s wife), a man named Sandy and Mariah Hawkins (listed together), and a woman named Catherine were manumitted by deed.  All were adults, but the manumission did not get filed until after Catherine was married in Dearborn County.  This is important, a single woman would have been more vulnerable than the married women in the group.  The second round of manumissions was filed in September of 1848, and included the Barkshire children:  Arthur, Garrett, Matilda, Emily, Woodford and Minerva.  One curious detail of their manumission papers was that each person’s exact birthdate was given. At the time of their manumissions, the two eldest boys, Arthur and Garrett, were both over 21 years old, and could therefore act as guardians for the younger children if something were to happen to their parents or to Nancy Hawkins.  This was no light concern, considering the involvement of the family in UGRR activity in the area.

Levi Coffin, courtesy of the National Park Service.

Samuel Barkshire acted as a coordinator and point of contact for Rising Sun’s UGRR network. He was well-known to local anti-slavery activists, and was acquainted with Levi Coffin, the “President of the Underground Railroad.” His participation is also mentioned in the memoirs of abolitionist Laura Smith Haviland, who sought his help in freeing a Boone County family who were enslaved in Rabbit Hash.

The three Barkshire sons acted as conductors, both on the river and over land.  Their reach stretched from New Orleans all the way to Ontario, with Rising Sun serving as their base of operations.  The three daughters’ involvement is not clear, but their parents and Nancy Hawkins, (with whom they sometimes lived), ran “stations” or temporary hiding places. The clandestine nature of this work would require both the help and complicity of the three girls.

The Journal-Courier (Louisville, Kentucky), March 18, 1837, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.

Though Nancy’s involvement was not discovered during her lifetime, it was later revealed in a remembrance printed in the newspaper. As a well-heeled widow and former slaveholder herself, it was likely she wasn’t suspected by slave hunters.  The author of the newspaper piece written in the 1880s, describes in great detail an episode in which five freedom seekers were kept hidden in Nancy’s home for days on end, unbeknownst to their Boone County slaveholders just across the river. It’s probable that this event was not an anomaly; she may have helped many times over.

Violet’s participation may have been comparable to that of the Barkshire daughters.  She lived either with or next door to Nancy in Rising Sun over the years. Sandy Hawkins, who was freed along with Mariah, moved to New Orleans after his manumission. In 1851, he was accused of harboring a fugitive slave in his New Orleans home.  Like many UGRR conductors, he also worked on riverboats, traveling from slave territory to free states regularly.  Joseph Edrington, the man Catherine married in Rising Sun shortly before her manumission, was also named in Laura Smith Haviland’s memoir, as an agent of the UGRR.

The relationship between Nancy Hawkins, her friend Violet and the Barkshire family is clear in the will she left in 1854.  The entirety of her household possessions were divided between the three Barkshire girls, and Violet received personal items and money. The three Barkshire sons were to share in the profit from the sale of her house, which they promptly bought back at auction. Though an unusual group, these Rising Sun activists did much to further the cause of freedom from bondage.

The Politics of Pollution in “The Region”

The Times (Munster), August 13, 1970, accessed Newspapers.com.

* See Part I to learn about the origins of Federated Metals’ Indiana plant and community protest to its pollutants.

Carl Weigand, acting chief of air pollution control, reported in 1969 that Federated Metals’s Hammond-Whiting smelting plant “has a hell of [a] stink problem” (Munster Times). He worked untiringly to combat air pollution generated by “The Region‘s” industries. Weigand’s description of his professional obstacles mirrored the conflicting financial and environmental interests enmeshed in the plant: “Sometimes all a company has to do is call up a councilman or city hall to mention, ‘we could move this operation'” and pollution policies would go unenforced. “But,” Weigand countered, “‘I’m a stubborn German.'”

That year, the Munster Times noted that the Calumet Region was 11th in air pollution in the U.S. When including the Chicago area, it was the second or third highest. Nationally, Americans turned their attention to the impact of industry on the environment, especially following the Santa Barbara oil spill. In 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson created the first Earth Day, and throughout Indiana Hoosiers acted to raise awareness about the imminent pollution crisis. In addition to general clean up campaigns, panel discussions, and seminars, students built monuments made of trash and participated in marches. The constituent support for Earth Day encouraged Congress to enact a swell of landmark environmental legislation, including the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in December 1970, the Clean Air Act amendments of 1970, and the Clean Water Act in 1972.

Christy Miller, a student at Northwestern High School in Kokomo, stands among trash picked up around the school and asks other students to sign a petition against pollution, Kokomo Tribune, April 23, 1970, accessed newspapers.com.

In this framework, Federated Metals found itself on the periphery of a heated public debate about the fate of Lake George in the late 1970s. The Times reported in 1979 that silt containing toxic metals, like arsenic and mercury, was found at the bottom of the “‘decaying lake,'” potentially making fish dangerous to eat. This complicated Calumet College‘s proposal to deepen the lake, and resulted in a “turbulent hearing involving debates over private vs. public rights, hazardous waste and legislative intent.” The college owned the title to the lake, except for the section belonging to Federated Metals. College president Rev. James F. McCabe petitioned to drain the lake and remove sand, which would then be sold, generating approximately $1.5 million for the struggling school.

Rev. McCabe contended “If you force us to preserve a decaying lake, it will be an infringement on the rights of private ownership.” But the U.S. Corps of Engineers advised against dredging because it could stir up pollutants. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources, however, thought the petition should be approved, with conditions, because “The proposed project would increase the recreational potential and desirability of the lake, and would preserve the existing wildlife habitat.”

In 1981, “emotional tension” arose when senators debated a bill allowing Calumet College to sandmine Lake George, despite the city having an ordinance against sand-mining. The Times reported on a skirmish on the Senate floor between bill sponsor Senator Ralph Potesta (R) and opponent Senator Frank Mrvan (D). The legislators argued over ownership of the lake, control of which would be taken from the DNR with passage of the bill. Senator Mrvan opposed this, as well as the potential for property damage caused by sand-mining. He was accompanied by women from the Robertsdale neighborhood, who protested “the most lobbyed [sic] bill to be considered this session” in the Senate chambers. State policemen manned the chambers after one woman reportedly threatened to shoot Senator Potesta if the bill passed. When it did, the Times noted “tiny pieces of a printed copy of the bill flurried to the floor of the Senate from where the women were seated. One began to cry.” The project was expected to generate $38 million ($2-$3 million allocated to the college) and some of the sand would be used to fill the Cline Avenue extension. The debate about dredging the lake was for naught. Calumet College scrapped the idea in 1989, stating “Calumet College has no interest—long-term—in being in the lake business, the park business, the sand business, the real estate business or any related business” (Times).

Senator Mrvan had earlier opposed Federated Metal’s 1977 expansion, which involved building a “sludge treatment plant designed to extract nickel compounds used for nickel-plating steel.” He exclaimed, in response to the City Council’s approval of municipal-rate bonding for the plant, “‘I don’t believe this. Here are nine councilmen just coming in and we’re expected to pass this thing in one night when we’ve never seen it before.'” Mrvan also took issue with the unannounced caucuses that took place prior to the vote and influenced councilmen.

Although it had closed its Indiana plant in 1983, Federated Metals found itself in hot water in 1985, when it had to pay civil penalties to the Indiana Environmental Management Special Fund for permit violations. The Times stated that the company “failed to provide groundwater monitoring equipment on its property where hazardous waste was treated and stored.” In December of that year, HBR Partners, Inc. purchased the former plant.

“Appeal Goes Out to Study Dumps, The Times (Munster), February 21, 1988, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

Federated’s troubles deepened in 1986, when Councilman Gerald Bobos requested an investigation into possible contamination of Lake George by dump sites owned by Federated and the former Amoco facility. Preliminary studies conducted in 1984 indicated that “‘at one time there were 50,000 cubic yards of persistent toxic substances—picking liquors, degreasers and fine heavy metal powders—on the site that could be filtered into the lake'” (Times, March 1986). The study also noted that a child sustained third-degree burns while playing at the dump in 1978.

“Innuendos” and “allegations” is how Councilman Edward Repay described Bobos’s presentation of the surveys, which he used to convince the council of the need for an official investigation. Repay, who sponsored the lake dredging, contended that “we’ve got studies from last year from the Robertsdale Foundation that show the sand is clean. I’ll go along with those studies.” Ultimately, Repay voted to investigate the dump sites, but not before accusing opponents of the dredging as guilty of “‘rotten, no-good, uncitizenlike behavior'” for presenting the studies.

Feeling the need to explain himself, Repay wrote to the Munster Times that his anger towards a Hammond councilman, presumably Bobos, was deserved. Repay leveled that his ire was not because the councilman and United Citizens Association (UCA) brought up the alleged toxic state of the Federated site, but “that they waited to use it as a ‘trump card’ against possible improvements to George Lake.” (Bobos had earlier mentioned that he requested the 1984 studies months prior, but the state board’s delay meant he was unable to use them in the decision to issue a dredging permit). Repay maintained “This is ‘one-upsmanship,’ not statesmanship or an act of a responsible civic organization.” Repay agreed that action should have been taken when the child was exposed in 1978, but the “inaction of a councilman and the leaders of the UCA is reprehensible and deserving of angry criticism.”

The Times (Munster), April 30, 1991, 12, accessed Newspapers.com.

Ultimately, the EPA  planned to investigate, which site inspection official Harry Atkinson considered crucial because there were over 800 alleged dump sites in the state, but Lake County has “‘tons’ of such alleged sites.” The Times reported that federal inspectors tried to examine the former site of Federated Metals in 1985, but the property owners denied access.

In 1990, the U.S. Justice Department sued Federated Metals, Inland Steel, and Bethlehem Steel, jewels in The Region’s industrial crown. According to the Logansport Pharos-Tribune, the Justice Department sued for violation of pollution laws, which threatened Lake Michigan by “‘creating fish too contaminated to eat, forcing frequent beach closings, harming wildlife living along the shore, and depositing toxins in lake bottom sediment.'” The Northwest Indiana Times reported that at the time Indiana was one of seven U.S. states without air pollution control laws and relied on federal regulations that only limited small amount of emissions. Increased enforcement of pollution laws through heavy fines, a Justice Department official contended, “would teach industrial polluters that befouling the air and waterways can cost more than spending to control hazardous wastes.” The director of the Grand Cal Task Force, a citizens environmental group, approved of the “aggressive plan,” stating “In the past, smoke has meant jobs. . . . People were afraid to put pressure on the companies. Now there aren’t as many jobs and pollution is just as bad.”

The Tribune (Seymour), October 17, 1990, accessed Newspapers.com.

The following year, Federated Metals and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) came to an agreement to make the site safer. The Munster Times reported that within a year the smelting company would place a “sophisticated clay cap” over nineteen acres of contaminated slag in Lake George and install monitoring wells. Federated’s residual heavy metals had been linked with “mental retardation in children and high blood pressure in adults.” Preventing these health effects, an IDEM official said, “has been a thorn in our side for quite a long period of time.”

The Times credited citizens living in the Robertsdale neighborhood for the remediation. The paper stated that the group had worked for years to “get the site cleaned up and fenced off from unsuspecting children who enjoyed riding their bikes on the lead, zinc and copper dust piles because they were soft to land in.” Kids also scavenged for metal to sell at the former site. By 1991, Federated Metals, a subsidiary of Asarco Inc., installed a security guard and fence to prevent this from reoccurring.

Federated Metals
The Times (Munster), November 11, 2003, 9, accessed Newspapers.com.

But hazards posed by the former Federated Metals site endured into 21st century. The Times reported in 2003 that the “hazardous waste dump” had “never been closed or capped, allowing the release of toxins into the air and the contamination of water that runs into the lake [George].” That year, environmental consulting and remediation company ENACT began a “long-awaited cleanup” of the former Federated site.

To David Dabertin, a now retired EPA official and Hammond resident, history repeated itself in 2017. IDEM renewed Whiting Metals’s permit (which operates at the former Federated site), despite the EPA investigating off-site soil contamination in residential areas. This area included the St. Adalbert Catholic Church, which complained in 1939 that Federated’s noxious fumes kept students home. According to the Northwest Indiana Times, IDEM renewed the permit without a public hearing or meeting. Dabertin, one of the local children that had ridden his bike through the piles of metal dust, railed that issuing the permit in

an area where lead may be an issue without obtaining the test results is foolish and bordering on the negligent . . . The refusal to hold a public hearing is plain cowardice. And IDEM’s attempt to address my concerns about the prior ownership of the facility by relying on the unintelligible correspondence of its prior director is so nonresponsive it is insulting.

In April 2018, Dabertin introduced himself to Governor Eric Holcomb near the former Federated site and calmly informed him, “You are telling these people there is lead in their backyard, but [the state environmental agency] just permitted that facility to produce lead . . . That’s a disconnect.” Former U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt quietly accompanied Governor Holcomb on his visit to the EPA Superfund site and the following day authorized $1.7 million to remove contaminated soil. According to the Northwest Indiana Times, soil sampling detected the presence of lead above the EPA’s designated level. Removal of contaminated soil was slated to start the following week, beginning with properties inhabited by “sensitive populations,” such as pregnant women and children under the age of seven. But remediation costs at $50,000 per property, and the bankruptcy of Federated Metals, left no “responsible party” to replace the homeowner’s soil. It remains to be seen who will bear the financial burden of restoring the yards.

Will these efforts satisfy the community’s concerns about Federated Metal’s impact on their health? Or will they fall short, like Federated’s attempt to quell citizen protest in 1939 by replacing a problematic smokestack? That history is yet to be written.

Pride and Pollutants: Federated Metals

On April 19, 2018, over a chain link fence Hammond resident and former EPA attorney David Dabertin voiced his concerns about the former site of Federated Metals to Governor Eric Holcomb. East Chicago environmental activist Thomas Frank told Mother Jones weeks after the visit “’We’d known for quite some time that there was some contamination there,’” but the Indiana Department of Environmental Management allowed plants at the site to keep polluting. For decades, industry was the region’s bread and butter and often the corporation’s and community’s financial well-being was prioritized over health or environmental concerns. Frank noted that older generations viewed the plants with “a sense of pride as it provided jobs and stability” and do not “‘want to look at what they’re so proud of and see that it’s harming them.'”

The EPA’s 2018 investigation of Hammond’s soil lead levels, a response to the “national criticism of its slow reaction to polluted water in Flint, Mich., and lead-contaminated housing in East Chicago,” (Chicago Tribune) inspired us to take a look at Federated Metal’s origins. In 1937, the Chicago-based company announced it would establish a plant in the Whiting-Hammond area. By 1939, hundreds of workers produced non-ferrous metals used in automobile, housing, and oil drilling industries. Almost immediately after production began, the community voiced complaints about the effects on their health.

In the spring, a citizens committee decried the fumes and smoke being expelled by the new smelting and refining plant—so noxious that students at St. Adalbert Catholic parochial school had to miss class due to illness—and pressed city officials to intervene. That year, resident Frank Rydzewski wrote to the Munster Times that Federated Metals foisted upon the Hammond community a “generous sample of sickening odors which emit from its midget—partially concealed smoke stacks and which have already showed its ill-effects on pupils of a school situated not a block distant.”

Rydzewski’s next sentiment encompassed the conflicting priorities related to Federated Metals from the 1930s until its closing in 1983: “Certainly, the value of health impairment to residents in the vicinity far surpasses any questionable tax-able asset this company can create.” Although he bemoaned the fumes plaguing the city’s residents, he also noted that the plant could “boast of its colored personnel; its predominating out-of-state and outside employe[e]s; its labor policies.” Since the 1930s, Federated Metals has served as both the bane and pride of Hammond and Whiting residents. The plant experienced labor strikes, symbolized livelihood and industrial progress, helped the Allies win World War II, and was the site of accidental loss of life.

“Hammond Plant Makes Various Metal Alloys,” The Times (Munster), June 13, 1949, accessed Newspapers.com.

In April, the Munster Times reported that hundreds of residents in the area “revolted” against the plant’s operations at the city council meeting. They charged that “harmful gas discharges from the plant damaged roofs of residences, caused coughing and sneezing that punctuated school studies and prayers in the Whiting church and school and made it virtually impossible to open doors or windows of homes in the neighborhood.”

The paper noted that Mrs. Feliz Niziolkeiwicz wept as she addressed plant manager Max Robbins. She told him “You can live in my home for free rent if you think you can stand the smoke nuisance. The home I built for $10,000 is almost wasted because of the acid from the plant.” Her concerns were shared by Hammond Mayor Frank R. Martin, the city council, the city board of public works and safety, and the health department, whose secretary ordered Federated Metals one month prior to “abate the nuisance” within sixty days. In October, the company was tried in a Hammond city court hearing and found not guilty of criminal liability for the fumes, despite city health inspector Robert Prior testifying that Federated Metals “continued to operate and discharge gasses on the Whiting-Robertsdale community after repeated warnings to abate the alleged nuisance.”

By November, Federated Metals had constructed a $50,000 smoke stack much taller than the previous, offending one, so as to diffuse smoke farther above the Robertsdale neighborhood. In March 1940, Prior stated that citizen protests had ceased with the improvement. Following this remediation, the Munster Times published a smattering of articles throughout the 1940s about health complaints related to plant output. In October 1941, the Times published a short, but eyebrow-raising article regarding allegations that Federated Metals tried to pay Whiting residents in the area as a settlement for property damaged by fumes. Councilman Stanley Shebish shouted “When the people of this community suffer bad health and many can’t go to sleep at night because of this smoke and particles of waste, it is time to stop an underhanded thing like this!” Health officials maintained that the sulphur dioxide fumes were “not a menace to health,” but may be “detrimental to flowers and shrubs.” Whiting’s St. Adalbert’s Church filed a similar complaint about the health of students, teachers, and parishioners in 1944.

Cpl. Glen Kirkman transporting war material from Federated Metals Whiting location on Indianapolis Blvd. to the company’s Chicago headquarters, The Times (Munster), June 19, 1945, accessed Newspapers.com.

While citizens lamented pollutants, the plant churned out “vital war materials” for World War II operations. (The Air Force also awarded the company contracts in the 1950s.) In accordance with the national post-war trend, 1946 ushered in labor strikes at the Hammond-Whiting plant. The Times reported that in January CIO United Steelworkers of America closed down the “Calumet Region’s steel and metal plants,” like Inland Steel Co., Pullman-Stan. Car & Mfg. Co., and Federated Metals. On February 17, Federated Metals agreed to increase the wages of its 350 employees to $32 per month. Labor strikes, such as that which “deprived workers of a living and dampened Calumet Region business,” took place at Federated Metals until at least 1978. This last strike lasted nearly five months and required the service of a federal mediator.

On January 5, 1949, one of the grimmest events in the plant’s history took place at the receiving department. While unloading a shipment from National Lead Co., Federated workers were suddenly overcome by arsenic seeping from rain-sodden drums. The gas, which can also cause paralysis, memory loss, and kidney damage, took the lives of four men and hospitalized eleven. The Times noted that “only the caprice of weather saved scores of Hammond and Whiting residents” from dying while the open freight cars transported the drums from Granite City, Illinois to the Federated Metals plant. The cities’ residents narrowly avoided catastrophe, since rain causes metal dross to generate deadly arsine gas.

Drums at Federated Metals’s Whiting-Hammond plant, The Times (Munster), January 9, 1949, accessed Newspapers.com.

Dr. Richard H. Callahan, East Chicago deputy coroner, probed the deaths and placed the blame primarily on the state board of health. He lamented “‘It is inconceivable that the chemists in the state board did not know that dross used by Federated Metals would poison workmen with arsine. Federated Metals was in the possession of a dangerous toy.” He noted that safeguards against arsenic poisoning had existed for thirty years, ranging from gas masks to the use of caged birds, who fell ill at lower concentrations of gas than humans. The Times noted that Dr. Callahan’s investigation was expected to “foster national and international safeguards against arsine poisoning.”

Deputy Coroner Dr. Richard H. Callahan, The Times (Munster), January 20, 1949, accessed Newspapers.com.

A.J. Kott wrote in the paper that Federated workers’ lives could have been saved had British Anti-Lewisite (BAL) been on hand, “a miracle drug, discovered during World War I in University of Chicago laboratories.” Instead, the drug had to be rushed to St. Catherine Hospital to treat affected workers. While Dr. Callahan identified the state board as the responsible party, questions regarding Federated’s culpability lingered, such as if they violated the state act requiring employees wear gas masks and if they should have had BAL on hand. Following the accident, the company promised to strengthen safety procedures, like employing gas detecting devices when material arrived.

Nearly twenty years later, Federated Metals found itself in the cross-hairs of the environmental movement, which had produced the first Earth Day and the Environmental Protection Agency. Learn about the U.S. Justice Department’s suit against Federated and the politics of pollution in Part II.

Dr. Helene Knabe: Revictimized in Death

J.P. Dunn, Greater Indianapolis: The History, the Industries, the Institutions, and the People of a City (1910).

See Part I to learn about the unparalleled professional accomplishments of Dr. Helene Knabe.

Who entered Dr. Helene Knabe’s rooms at Indianapolis’s Delaware Flats and brutally cut her throat from ear to ear? The killer was skilled enough to cut her on one side first, missing her carotid artery and cutting deep enough to cause her to choke on her blood. The second cut just nicked the carotid artery and cut into the spine.

Officials followed a variety of leads regarding the gruesome crime. The first person on the list, suspiciously, was an African American janitor named Jefferson Haynes, who lived below her. Second on the list was a Greek prince who was seen mailing a letter near her apartment. This absurd line of inquiry continued for months by the very people who should or could have advanced the case more quickly. Police Chief Martin Hyland reasoned that she committed suicide because at 5’6″ and 150 pounds, he believed her strong enough to ward off any attack or to take her own life.

Martin Hyland

Also problematic, evidence was left in a room where anyone could access it. Although fingerprinting was in its infancy, officials ignored a bloody fingerprint, despite Dr. Knabe having no blood on her hands. Police and some physicians believed despondency over her unproven sexual preference or financial situation caused her to take her own life. Even Detective William Burns, known as America’s Sherlock Holmes, publicly stated that based solely on the evidence in the newspapers, he believed she killed herself.

Local, state, national, and even some international press ran stories about Dr. Knabe. Indianapolis newspapers were surprisingly fair in their coverage and published editorial and opinion pieces that were overwhelmingly complementary of Dr. Knabe and her professional achievements. Although these newspapers interviewed people who believed Dr. Knabe got what she deserved, they did not give these sentiments undue attention or sensationalize them.

Thankfully, the coroner, Dr. Charles O. Durham, determined that Dr. Knabe was murdered. Dr. Durham noted she had defense wounds on her arms and he was adamant that she could not have made both cuts. He also noted several factors he considered “strongly presumptive of murder,” including the position of the hands, which had been closed after death; the absence of a plausible suicide weapon; and the fact that many witnesses had seen a man that night around the apartment building.  Dr. Durham’s findings negated rumors regarding Dr. Knabe’s sexuality and finances, which police felt could have contributed to her death by her own hand.

Dr. Knabe’s cousin and assistant, “Scene of Knabe Murder and Principals in Trial,” Palladium Item (Richmond), November 28, 1913, accessed Newspapers.com.

In response to Dr. Durham’s findings, female doctors who were Dr. Knabe’s friends actively tried to help find her killer. They hired private investigator Detective Harry Webster at their own expense, through donations, and at the detective’s own expense. Almost fifteen months after her death, two men were indicted by a grand jury, based on Detective Webster’s findings. The prosecution believed that Dr. William B. Craig was engaged to Dr. Knabe, a fact he vehemently denied, and that he wanted out of the relationship. As Dean of Students, lecturer, and financial stakeholder in the Indiana Veterinary College, he would have been very familiar will zoology and the “sheep’s cut,” which is the type reported to have killed her.

Dr. William B. Craig, Indianapolis News, December 31, 1912, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

Dr. Craig met Dr. Knabe in 1905 and maintained a friendship, at the very least. He recommended her for the position as Chair of Hematology and Parasitology in 1909 at the veterinary college. Shortly before her death, Dr. Craig and Dr. Knabe seemed to be in the middle of an ongoing dispute. Dr. Knabe went to the IVC to see about changing her lecture time with Dr. Craig so that she could attend her course at the Normal College. Dr. Craig became enraged when a colleague asked for his answer and he said “Oh, f—! Tell her to go to hell!” and he stormed out of the room. The night before Dr. Knabe died, Dr. Craig’s housekeeper overheard them arguing and she heard Dr. Knabe say, “But you can continue to practice and so can I!” Police had a letter in their possession in which Dr. Knabe told a friend she was getting married. Dr. Knabe confided to a friend she was getting married to a man with an “ungovernable temper.” At the time of her death, Dr. Knabe, an accomplished seamstress and dressmaker, commissioned a costly dress, indicative that she was getting married.

Alonzo Ragsdale, Indianapolis News, December 31, 1912, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

The second man indicted, Alonzo M. Ragsdale, was an undertaker and Dr. Knabe’s business associate. Dr. Knabe often joked with Ragsdale that when she died, she would be sure to give him her business. And so she did. Augusta appointed Ragsdale undertaker and estate executor. He was accused of concealing evidence against Dr. Craig in the form of the kimono Dr. Knabe was wearing at the time of her death. It was said he had laundered it in an effort to rid it of blood stains.

In the words of Ms. Frances Lee Watson, Clinical Professor of Law at IUPUI, “She was screwed from day one.” Dr. Knabe was never treated as a victim; she was treated as a villain. Society in general could not understand a woman wanting to work in a field that was sometimes unpleasant and coarse. In the media and by some of her peers, Dr. Knabe was chastised for being assertive in her career and pursuing her dreams. Her character was summarily attacked because she expected equality with her peers, male or female. Because she was a 35-year-old woman, who was a physician living in a small apartment—rather than a grand home with a husband and children—Dr. Knabe was automatically judged unhappy. Due to Alonzo Ragsdale, who in addition to being indicted was also an unscrupulous estate executor, the public believed her to be an unsuccessful, pauper physician.

The truth was Dr. Knabe had many revenue streams from jobs that she loved: practitioner, instructor, and artist. She planned to continue her work and make herself even more financially stable. By looking at her financial records, Dr. Charles Durham proved that she was financially sound, bringing in over $150 per month. The public did not know for many months that Dr. Knabe chose to send most of her disposable income back to her uncle because he was no longer able to work.

Shelby Republican, December 4, 1913.

None of these facts mattered. The defense attacked Dr. Knabe’s personal character in the courtroom, claiming she was an aggressive and masculine woman. The character witnesses, who sought to discredit Dr. Craig, suddenly moved out of state or could not be found. A key witness who positively identified Dr. Craig changed his story, and Dr. Craig’s own housekeeper, who had signed an affidavit stating she saw him return late and leave early with a bundle of clothes the night Dr. Knabe died, refused to come to the courthouse.

Consequently, the state’s case fell apart and after nine days the prosecution could not make a connection between Dr. Craig and the evidence. In an unusual move, the judge stepped in as the thirteenth juror and instructed the jury to acquit Dr. Craig. Normally a judge provided this instruction only when a technical error was committed, which was not the situation in this trial. He did rule that the prosecution had proven Dr. Knabe had been murdered, but that they had no real evidence against Dr. Craig.

Because there was now nothing to be an accessory to, the charges against Ragsdale were dropped. No one was ever convicted of Dr. Knabe’s murder. Oddly enough after the trial, Ragsdale declared Dr. Knabe’s estate insolvent without collecting all debts. Many of her personal items did not sell and their whereabouts were undocumented. The probate records submitted over three years to the courts contained erroneous calculations that went unnoticed and several hundred dollars were not reconciled.

Dr. Knabe was buried in an unmarked grave at Crown Hill. Over the years, newspapers have revisited her case, but in 1977 her case file was destroyed in a flood.  Unfortunately, the sensationalizing of Dr. Knabe’s death has obscured her legacy as a tenacious, committed, and savvy physician in a field dominated by men.

* To learn more about the tragic case of Dr. Knabe, see She Sleeps Well: The Extraordinary Life and Murder of Dr. Helene Elise Hermine Knabe and “She Sleeps Well; Dr. Helene Elise Hermine Knabe.”

Susan Elston Wallace: Forgotten Writer and Early Environmentalist

Susan Wallace, courtesy of the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum.

Along with many of her fellow 19th-Century sisters of the pen, Susan Elston Wallace and her work are little known to us today.  These female authors practiced their craft seriously and sold well, yet were never regarded as important as male writers whose subjects were presumed to be nobler, of higher value.  When fine work by women disappeared and men’s work became classics, an unknown cost fell upon our culture and our vision of ourselves as a nation.

As a writer, Susan Wallace (1830-1907) possessed certain attributes that partially set her apart her from the “female writer” stereotype.   Initially, as a young woman she had more or less lived the stereotype by publishing poetry on domestic subjects. One of those poems was anthologized and widely circulated in a children’s textbook.

Later in life, she was exempted from ordinary critique as a “female writer” because she was the wife of General Lew Wallace, author of Ben-Hur, the best-selling book of the 19th century.  (Only the Bible sold more copies).  Lew was a prolific writer and a man of great personal accomplishment, who, among other distinctions, was a Civil War general, Governor of New Mexico Territory (1878-1881), and an ambassador to Turkey.  Susan, without a doubt, was Lew’s collaborator and co-researcher.  She was fully recognized by him as an intellectual and literary equal.  Given this unusual and little-known partnership, it is no wonder that deep knowledge of the world and of its peoples mark both of their works. Surely both partners strongly influenced the other’s work.  Whether they were living in Crawfordsville, Indiana, or in the New Mexico Territory, or in the Ottoman Empire, both husband and wife engaged in writing projects.

It is the New Mexico piece of Susan’s writing career that I will use to demonstrate Elston Wallace’s talent as a non-fiction writer, whose insights track a line of prescient environmental thinking.  Her writing style is not only alive with ideas, it exhibits a freshness and wit that makes it inviting to contemporary readers.

Courtesy of the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum.

Elston Wallace’s book about her New Mexico sojourn is called The Land of the Pueblos.  It is comprised of twenty-seven essays, first published as “travel pieces” in prestigious national magazines and newspapers like the Atlantic Monthly, the Independent, and the New York Tribune.  Being published in such influential East Coast periodicals speaks of the high regard in which her writing was held at the time. In these essays, Susan did not write a word about the many social duties—the teas, the formal receptions, entertaining visiting dignitaries—she would have performed as the wife of the Governor of New Mexico Territory.  Nor does she write about her husband in his official capacity.  Rather, she applied her excellent educational background and her intellectual curiosity to learning and writing about New Mexican natural history and human history.

Elston Wallace also holds the rare honor of having saved much of New Mexico’s written colonial history, which had been forgotten in an outbuilding adjacent to the Governor’s Palace in Santa Fe.  There, Elston Wallace came upon and then personally helped salvage much of the Territory’s surviving early recorded history, a topic about which she wrote vividly.  These documents tutored her.  They spurred her curiosity and inspired many of her essays.

***

It was New Mexico, though, that made Elston Wallace aware of environmental issues.  She was an astute observer of the natural world, learning names and habits of the plants and animals; she studied landforms and how rivers ran.  Her ability to write about these things gives her work its most notable signature.  Increasingly more knowledgeable about her surroundings and thereby more fully conscious of how human life in New Mexico had been shaped, Elston Wallace soon apprehended how the Spaniards, in particular, had affected the land and its original inhabitants. In her first essay, Elston Wallace makes clear that the “greed of gold and conquest” had despoiled New Mexico.

Image from The Land of the Pueblos (1889), courtesy of Archive.org.

She also proves herself as an able thinker regarding how land and people’s fates are intertwined, such as this example:

Four hundred years ago the Pueblo Indians were freeholders of the vast unmapped domain lying between the Rio Pecos and the Gila, and their separate communities, dense and self-supporting, were dotted over the fertile valleys of Utah and Colorado, and stretch as far south as Chihuahua, Mexico.  Bounded by rigid conservatism as a wall, in all these ages they have undergone slight change by contact with the white race and are yet a peculiar people, distinct from the other aboriginal tribes of this continent as the Jew are from the other races in Christendom.  The story of these least known citizens of the United States takes us back to the days of . . . the . . . great Elizabeth.

Note how in this passage Elston Wallace identifies the “vast unmapped domain” of the Pueblos and identifies their communities as “separate,” “dense,” and “self-supporting.”  She identifies the land as fertile and the Pueblos as having a distinct culture, comparing them favorably to Jews among Christians.  She calls the Pueblos “citizens.”

Image from The Land of the Pueblos (1889), courtesy of Archive.org.

Elston Wallace’s use of the term “conservative” in this passage may be accurately rendered as “stable.”  So, the nature of the Pueblo peoples, she says, have “undergone [only] slight change by contact with the white race.”  By using this terminology, she points toward stabilizing forces that were afoot in 19th-Century America, when colonies promoting shared, stable agrarian living were being intentionally created.  The Shakers, New Harmony, and the Amanas were and are communities so notable that their names and accomplishments come down to us today.  In the previous passage, Elston Wallace describes the Pueblo communities, their governance, and their farming practices with phrases admired by her own culture and era.  New Mexico’s native peoples were freeholders; they were self-supporting; they formed communities; they were citizens.  Few other historians of the period write about the Pueblos at all, let alone view them as central to the history of the land they inhabit, and as admirable people.

It can be argued, of course, that Elston Wallace’s progressive fellow citizens of the period had a habit of idealizing Native Peoples and had a strong aversion (call it prejudice) against Catholic Spain.  That being said, Elston Wallace’s analysis and her rich empathy supported by historical knowledge and argumentation make her work stand apart.  Her brave voice stands in strong contrast to typical histories of her day and those written through the middle of the 20th century. A pertinent example is Paul Horgan’s The Centuries of Santa Fe (1956), which presents the conquest version of New Mexico’s history as thoroughly Eurocentric.  In this version, the Mexicans succeeded the Spanish and the Americans succeeded the Mexicans until the New Mexican piece of America’s Manifest Destiny fell into place in 1846.

Given this widely accepted version of conquest history that Horgan and other historians espouse, it is no wonder that he not only displaces the Pueblos, he displaces Elston Wallace as a New Mexican historian who understands and chronicles their worth and richness.  Ironically, Horgan  credits Governor Lew Wallace, not his wife, as saving “what he could of the collection of [New Mexican historical] documents already scattered, lost, or sold.”

Horgan’s “authoritative” reporting, so common among mainline historians of the 20th century, renders the Pueblo peoples, their land, and the intelligent woman who told their stories in the l880s invisible.  No matter how accurate and astute Elston Wallace’s argument was, it had no efficacy since it was not “remembered” in mainstream histories of New Mexico and the West.  Such an argument, had it been heard and then acted upon, might have reshaped our history.

John Gast/George A. Crofutt, “American Progress,” circa 1873, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In an era of unstoppable exploration and exploitation of the West and its mineral resources, Susan Elston Wallace saw, understood, and wrote about a broader, deeper story, one which speaks of how we as people can best live on the land. She vividly chronicles what happens when natural patterns are disrupted.  In our century, we would regard Elston Wallace’s vision as a strongly environmental one, central to our 21st-Century understanding of essential sustainability.

So, while Elston Wallace certainly did entertain the intellectual readers of the East Coast and Midwest with tales of Montezuma and adventures of travel in the Wild West, in The Land of The Pueblos, she also boldly introduced her readers to what happens when “a native self-sustaining people, independent of the Government, the only aborigines among us not a curse to the soil” are abused along with their land through the claims of colonialism.

During the late 19th century, it was widely assumed that men make history. Elston Wallace challenges that point of view and deserves a place in our history as an excellent non-fiction essayist.  She also deserves a place as a dissenter to colonial history’s single, obliterating story of man as controller of nature.  Susan Wallace was an early environmentalist:  she gave voice to New Mexico’s landscape and to its original peoples.  Researchers have exciting work to undertake in the Susan Elston Wallace archives.

Stuck in the Poorhouse: The Complexity of Poverty

Steuben County Asylum
Steuben County Asylum (author’s photograph).

The Steuben County Asylum near I-69 in northeastern Indiana represents two contrasting ideals of poverty care. On the one hand, this imposing building on the rural landscape embodied the modern ideal of an end to poverty through scientific principles. In spite of the U.S. industrial economy of the later 19th century, marked by frequent panics and recessions, a new poor care system held out the hope that all indigent persons could be retrained and readied to work in the modern industrial world.  The new system would provide a safety net supporting those through the hard years and would help impoverished people develop improved habits in a healthy and orderly atmosphere. On the other hand, this building symbolized failure and loss of place in the community. To be a resident of this facility required separation from society and often induced a lifelong stigma of shame.

These institutions represented both a severe solution meant to frighten the “lazy” into working harder and a belief in a safety net to support those living on the margins. [1] This was especially important in an era when layoffs were not supplemented by benefits like workers compensation. Across rural America, there was fear associated with the various names for asylums: almshouses, county farms and infirmaries, poor farms, county homes, workhouses, and “the pogey.”

The Indianapolis Journal, October 19, 1888, accessed Newspapers.com.

Traditional poor relief (after private charities and local churches were exhausted) fell to local government. This was called “outdoor relief” because the poor or destitute were helped where they lived. To contain costs, the sheriff might “warn out” (or throw out) potential pauper residents to discourage poor people from staying there. Officials often employed this method to keep immigrants, especially the Irish, from settling in their town.

If the family could not care for an indigent resident, a landowner might take that person in on the lowest bid for room and board.  By the 1820s, this informal arrangement was rapidly supplanted by an increasingly standardized system recognizing one place as a county poorhouse. The professionalization of these institutions focused on isolating each class of patient from what social reformers thought was the cause of their ailments or bad habits.  The system was intended to instill a culture of order on the disorder of their lives.  The enforced order would help cure the issues they faced. However, most residents used the farm only for periodic stays during times of unemployment and sickness.

In line with the rest of the nation, Indiana initiated its statewide system of county poor asylums.[2] In 1821, the state legislature approved Indiana’s first poorhouse in Knox County.  Following the national standards for poorhouse improvements, promoted in prescriptive literature, many counties built what were called “model homes” by the later nineteenth century.  These were modern buildings constructed to meet the current standards of that time. These asylums even provided libraries for residents to use in preparation for a changed life outside the asylum.[3]

County Poor Farm, Huntington, Indiana, courtesy of the Huntington City-Township Public Library, accessed Indiana Memory Digital Collections.

Many rural almshouses were working farms, providing food for residents and a profit to the county government.  The Democrat newspaper of Huntington County praised its superintendent in 1871 for keeping the farm as an “almost self-sustaining . . . charitable institution.” Efficiency and thrift were valued far higher than any other management trait.[4]  These practices led to abuses of a very vulnerable group in society. To create a more orderly life for their residents, almshouses increased the level of isolation and separation in the homes.  This policy is reflected in the houses’ physical form as it changed during the 19th century.

The Democrat provided a brief glimpse into the Huntington County almshouse during February of 1871.  The paper listed 18 assorted inmates, but ten or twelve more typically resided there during the year.  Most residents were temporally admitted during sicknesses and job slowdowns.  Most poorhouses apparently hosted a few long-term residents and sometimes children were born there too.  The farm around the almshouse provided work for residents capable of manual labor.  One resident at the Huntington Almshouse was the full-time farm hand.  Others worked on the farm or in the almshouse kitchen.[5]

Between 1830 and 1900, four stages in almshouse design demonstrated a stronger commitment to scientific poor care.  The first stage involved converting a portion of a private house to accommodate paupers placed in the home owner’s care. The owners made no effort to separate the residents, and they were assigned farm work, as able, to help earn their keep.  The famous 1872 poem by Will Carleton “Over the Hill to the Poor House” was inspired by his experience at just such a home in Hillsdale, Michigan. The lack of family support, as well as old age temporarily landed elderly mothers in the poor house.[6]

In the second stage, the county purchased a farm to use for the care of the poor.  Other buildings might be constructed for dorm facilities for the majority of the residents.

The next stage was the first real attempt at building a custom facility for poor care.  The Steuben County Asylum, built in 1885, appears to match this third stage.  The strong center area indicates there was a public entrance with rooms for the County Superintendent of the Poor. There is room enough to separate men from women and to create the ordered environment that could be both helpful and oppressive.

Poorhouse in Adams County Indiana, courtesy of http://www.poorhousestory.com.

The fourth stage is the full scale, scientifically approved poor house.  As can be seen in the illustration above this facility is a massive element in the landscape.  The very obvious three-part construction is easy to recognize.  Some of you will have seen buildings like this around rural Indiana. They seem out-of-place among local farms.  They may be marked by a road name such as Asylum Road or County Farm Road.  The well-used 1911 textbook, The Almshouse Construction, and Management (written in Indiana) noted that asylums must be near the center of the region they serve, allow for complete segregation of the sexes, provide an abundance of sunlight and fresh air, and be designed for convenient access for administrators to the whole house. [7]

They are designed to house men and women in completely separate wings with public space in a center section.  Usually, the County Superintendent of the Poor lived in the upstairs of the center section.  Larger homes had infirmaries for men and for women.  This feature became more common in the early 20th century as the almshouse became more of an old age home rather than a place of refuge from destitution.

Jefferson County Poor Farm, circa 1915, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

When I first started researching this theme I interviewed staff at the Steuben County Asylum, which had been completely converted to a senior rest home.  The problem was that many elderly residents refused to consider living there out of the memory of what that building had once meant.[8]  Even in the 1980s, seniors related residency in the poorhouse with a loss of freedom and personal dignity.  The company managing the care facility failed to grasp the public memory of the County Asylum on that generation.  Ironically, the current generation of seniors (Baby Boomers) might laugh at residing in a former poorhouse perhaps as a way of poking fun at their elders’ fears.

County poorhouses should remain a visual reminder of the hazards inherent in reform efforts.  Even with good intentions, abuses of vulnerable people occurred.  The poorhouse had little to regulate it except mixed national ideals and local attitudes.  Torn between purposes of punishment and rescue, poorhouses failed to cure poverty.  The complexity of poverty caused reformers and politicians endless pains.  We might gain some comfort that citizens and politicians before us found poverty as difficult to manage as we do now.

 

[1] David Wagner, The Poorhouse: America’s Forgotten Institution, (Lanham MD: Rowman & Littlefield Pub., 2005), 19.

[2] Kayla Hassett, “The County Home in Indiana: A Forgotten Response to Poverty and Disability,” (Masters Thesis, Ball State University, May 2013), 13.

[3] See report by Henry N. Sanborn, “Institution, Libraries: The Outlook in Indiana” Forty-Third Annual Meeting Conference of Charities and Correction. (Indianapolis, IN 1916), 367-371.

[4] “The County Alms-House Its General Condition-The Number and Character of its Inmates,” The Democrat, (Huntington, Indiana), February 2, 1871, accessed www.poorhousestory.com.

[5] Ibid.

[6] See Jerome A. Fallon, The Will Carleton Poorhouse: A Memorial to a Man, a Dwelling, and a Poem, (Hillsdale: Hillsdale Historical Society, 1989), 22-23.

[7] Alexander Johnson, The Almshouse Construction and Management (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1911), 8.

[8] Staff Steuben County Asylum interview by author, Fall 1994.

 

Further Reading

  1. Hassett, Kayla. “The County Home in Indiana: A Forgotten Response to Poverty and Disability.” Masters Thesis, Ball State University, May 2013.
  2. Katz, Michael B. In the Shadow of the Poorhouse: A Social History of Welfare in America. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1986.
  3. Thomas D. Mackie, “Over the Hill to the Poorhouse: A Glimpse at the County Farms of Southern Michigan, 1850s-1920s.” PAST, 21 (1998).
  4. Rothman, David J. The Discovery of the Asylum: Social Order and Disorder in the New Republic. (Revised Ed) Boston: Backbay Books, 1990.
  5. Wagner, David, The Poorhouse: America’s Forgotten Institution. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Inc.,2005.
  6. A private research web page titled Poorhouse Story provides images, primary sources, and readings for poorhouses and related agencies around the United States. They can be accessed at http://www.poorhousestory.com.

Dr. Helene Knabe: A Vanguard

Graduation Portrait, Medical College of Indiana, 1904, courtesy of the Indiana University School of Medicine Ruth Lilly Special Collections.

The black snake undulated between the two women, winding back and forth, circling overhead. A lascivious leer seemed to be affixed to the snake’s mouth as it weaved, moving the women closer, but then winding between and pulling them apart. Augusta Knabe could not bear to see this horrible apparition between them. She reached for her cousin.

Augusta lost her grip on Helene and sat up in bed, struggling to catch her breath. She pushed her sweat-drenched hair back and collected herself. What a horrible dream! Augusta felt guilty she had not accepted her cousin’s offer of tea the past afternoon. She was sure the dream was her penance for wanting to avoid late afternoon traffic and enjoy the comfort of her home after shopping. Augusta promised herself she would stop by Helene’s flat after school and take her to tea the very next afternoon. Despite this promise, Augusta passed the rest of the night fitfully.


Augusta’s cousin, Helene Elise Hermine Knabe, yearned to be a doctor. In Germany women were not allowed in medical school until 1900 and it would not be allowed for women in the German state of Prussia, where she lived, until 1908. Her father, Otto Windschild, left her mother when Knabe was an infant and she was raised by her uncle after her mother died. Given her humble upbringing, becoming a doctor became more of a dream and less a reality with each passing year.

Augusta Knabe (R), cousin, and Katherine McPherson (L), an office assistant, courtesy of “State’s Most Important Witnesses in Knabe Case,” Indianapolis News, December 6, 1913.

When Augusta informed Helene that women were allowed to attend medical school in America, Helene’s life changed forever and she moved to Indianapolis in 1896.  The motto she heard most often growing up was “You cannot be a master in anything unless you know every detail of the work.” No one applied this maxim more than Knabe.  To prepare for school she worked for four years in domestic and seamstress work in order to learn English from the upper class. She attended Butler University for a term to supplement her self-learning and to prepare her for the rigors of medical school.

In 1900, Knabe entered the co-educational Medical College of Indiana (MCI). She was required to attend classes, dissect every body part of cadavers, maintain a 75% grade in all classes, refrain from drinking, and work fourteen hour days. During this time, she continued as a seamstress to supplement her income. Knabe also used her drawing skills by providing medical textbook illustrations to several books, including detailed sketches for anatomy, surgery, and pathology slides.

Dr. Knabe’s illustration of a neck wound. This would prove foretelling of the doctor’s fate.

Knabe proved a trailblazer with her medical school accomplishments. Dr. Frank B. Wynn, the Director of Pathology at MCI, appointed her curator of the pathology museum. She was consequently placed in charge of the pathology labs at the school.  Much to the chagrin of many of her male peers, Dr. Wynn chose her to be his only preceptee for the year. She began teaching underclassmen, an unheard of honor for a student. On April 22, 1904, Knabe became one of two women to graduate from MCI. She threw herself wholeheartedly into her profession, burning the candle at both ends to gain a foothold in practice, networking, and skills.

Dr. Knabe stayed on in her positions as lab curator and clinical professor—for which she was not paid. Appointed a deputy state health officer in 1905 by Dr. J. N. Hurty, the Secretary of the Indiana State Board of Health (ISBH), Dr. Knabe became the first woman to hold this office in Indiana. Part of her duties involved investigating suspected epidemics, such as typhoid and diphtheria, and making recommendations to reverse unsanitary conditions. Dr. Knabe routinely traveled the state to work with the public and doctors, and processed hundreds of pathological samples.

Despite Dr. Knabe’s expertise, Dr. Hurty did not hire her as superintendent of the lab. Instead, he chose Dr. T. V. Keene, regardless of the fact that he did not apply for the job. As the laboratory grew, Dr. Knabe became Assistant Bacteriologist and was expected to work longer hours and spend more time in the field. During her work at the ISBH, Dr. Knabe presented papers and worked with the public in diagnosis and education. Local papers interviewed her for her thoughts on how to make Indianapolis a more beautiful and clean city.

Indianapolis Star, October 25, 1911, 4.

Dr. Knabe also kept current on new methods, most notably studying with Dr. Anna Wessel Williams of the New York Research Laboratory. Dr. Williams was brilliant in her own right as the originator of the rapid diagnosis of rabies, which was based on research from Negril and the co-developer of the diphtheria antitoxin. Dr. Knabe proved the widespread existence of rabies in Indiana. From this work, she implemented ways to prevent the spread of rabies by educating the public about the disease and its consequences.

Widely accepted as the state expert on rabies, Dr. Knabe was promoted to acting superintendent and paid $1,400 annually. Dr. Hurty promised her the superintendent position and an increase to $1,800 or $2,000. Over a year later Dr. Hurty told Dr. Knabe that there was no money for her salary increase and that because she was a woman she could not command the amount of money the position should pay anyway. Dr. Knabe contacted the newspaper and tendered her resignation, citing discrimination and broken promises.

Dr. Hurty had searched for what he considered “a real capable man” by actively recruiting Dr. Simmonds as the new superintendent. Additionally, although Dr. Hurty told Dr. Knabe the state had no money for her raise, he informed Dr. Simmonds he would pay $2,000 the first year and $3,000 in the second. That was a 47% increase from Dr. Knabe’s salary. The final slap in the face came from Dr. Simmonds himself in the first 1909 Indiana State Board of Health bulletin. He published Dr. Knabe’s findings about rabies in Indiana and elsewhere without crediting her.

Dr. Knabe’s illustration, courtesy of “A Parting Word to the Class of I.M.C 1907,” The Medical Student. (1907) vol. 5, no. 8 (19. 21-25).

Leaving the oppressiveness of state employ could not have been better for Dr. Knabe. Her dedication to medicine was rejuvenated. She opened her own private practice and continued her rabies research at $75 or more per case. While many female physicians shied away from accepting male patients because they may not be taken seriously or feared being attacked by male patients, Dr. Knabe insisted on having a phone installed in her apartment in case a patient needed her. She would always answer a knock or a call, regardless of the hour. Quite often she would treat people for free or accept payments via the barter system. This is how she acquired a piano and the lessons to go with it.

One of her biggest achievements was when she became the first elected female faculty for the Indiana Veterinary College (IVC), where she was the Chair of the Parasitology and Hematology. Dr. Knabe’s tenure at the IVC predates any recognized woman department chair at any veterinary college in the United States prior to 1920.

Demonstrating her willingness to be a social feminist, Dr. Knabe bucked trends at every turn by her work in sex education. She served as the medical director and Associate Professor of Physiology and Hygiene, known today as sex education, at the Normal College of the North American Gymnastics Union in Indianapolis. She also networked with women’s clubs and the Flanner House to create and teach hygiene and sanitation practices to all ethnic groups across the State of Indiana, especially African American communities.


The same night that Augusta dreamt about the black snake, a person entered Dr. Knabe’s rooms at the Delaware Flats and brutally cut her throat from ear to ear. The killer was skilled enough to cut her on one side first, missing her carotid artery and cutting deep enough to cause her to choke on her blood. The second cut just nicked the carotid artery and cut into the spine. See Part II to learn how Dr. Knabe’s non-conformist lifestyle and work as a female physician would be used against her in the bungled pursuit of her killer.

* To learn more about the extraordinary life of Dr. Knabe, see She Sleeps Well: The Extraordinary Life and Murder of Dr. Helene Elise Hermine Knabe.

 

Adam Johnson’s Raid On Newburgh

Brigadier General Adam R. Johnson, 1863,” William J. Davis, ed., The Partisan Rangers of the Confederate States Army: Memoirs of General Adam R. Johnson (Louisville, 1904).

On July 18, 1862, a brash young Kentuckian with aspirations of military advancement, Adam R. “Stovepipe” Johnson, used a rowboat and a small flatboat ferry to lead a group of approximately thirty men across the Ohio River from Kentucky to Newburgh, Indiana. Landing on the waterfront, unoccupied at lunch time, Johnson and his men seized a small store of weapons from a riverside warehouse and bluffed a group of some eighty Union soldiers convalescing in a nearby hotel into surrendering their unloaded muskets. Johnson’s men then looted a few homes and stores, paroled their prisoners, and returned safely across the river with their booty.  The entire action lasted only a few hours.

Johnson recounted the events many times, and eventually published the account in his memoir, Partisan Rangers of the Confederacy.  Filled with enthusiasm, southern chivalry, and name-dropping—although often sparse on corroboration—his memoir placed the Newburgh raid in the context of Confederate movements in Kentucky in the summer of 1862.  If it had no other effect, the Newburgh affair enabled Johnson to raise and arm a number of youthful recruits for what became his 10th Kentucky cavalry (CSA).  He returned to Indiana a year later as a brigade commander in General John Hunt Morgan’s 1863 raid.

Morgan's Raid
Depiction of Morgan’s Raid, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

Johnson’s actions provide an opportunity to consider the role of southern fighters in the Ohio Valley.  Using the language of the 1862 Confederate Partisan Ranger Act, he pictured himself in his later book as part of a military force operating in an irregular manner under the authority of such superiors as General Nathan Bedford Forrest and General John C. Breckenridge.  Yet at the time of the raid, his own account suggests he had no formal appointment as an officer, wore no uniform, and commanded a hastily assembled body of civilians—more guerrillas than soldiers.  Union authorities certainly viewed him as little or nothing more than a brigand, and rejected the authority of the paroles he had issued to his eighty prisoners.

The Newburgh raid may have had greater influence upon Union war activities in Indiana and the Ohio Valley than any results that Johnson claimed for his cause.  The total surprise and the bloodless success was, without doubt, a shock to many Hoosier leaders.  In Newburgh, it embarrassed the local Indiana Legion commander, a merchant with an unusual first name, Union Bethell.  He had been among those lunching while the raiders struck, and had previously enjoyed limited success in raising and training a local company of that state militia.  Accordingly, he had stored the weapons provided for them in his own unguarded riverfront warehouse.  When Bethell arrived on the scene in civilian attire, he refrained from more than verbal protests after Johnson pointed out two cannon emplaced across the river—cannon that were actually dummies made from a blackened log and the piece of stovepipe that gave Johnson his subsequent nickname.

Through chance rather than Confederate action, the telegraph line from Newburgh to Evansville was not in operation. Word of Johnson’s incursion thus took extra hours to reach state and federal military authorities.  When it did become known, the raid set in motion several frantic days of Union responses.  Lieutenant Colonel John Watson Foster, on leave from the 25th Indiana Regiment, took command in Evansville.  He called for volunteers, including local convalescent Union soldiers, assembled a small riverboat flotilla, sailed up the Ohio River to the mouth of the Green River—where Johnson’s raiders had taken their loot—and engaged in skirmishing with a small number of Confederate guerrillas.

Stove-pipe Battery at Capture of Newburg
“Stove-pipe Battery at Capture of Newburg,” William J. Davis, ed., The Partisan Rangers of the Confederate States Army: Memoirs of General Adam R. Johnson (Louisville, 1904), p. 109.

Finding few defenders, Foster then proceeded to Newburgh.  Half a dozen local residents who were perceived as friendly to the rebels were arrested.  One, Andrew Huston, was later tried and acquitted by a federal court jury in Indianapolis on changes of treason and assisting the rebels.  Two other Newburgh residents who had assisted the raiders were slain by members of an angry local crowd before order was restored.

As often happened in military emergencies, Governor Oliver P. Morton soon took a visible hand.  First in Indianapolis and then in Evansville, he issued repeated calls for volunteers, and urged vigorous military responses.  Within three days, state and federal military officers had sent approximately a thousand regulars and volunteers to the scene, occupied Henderson, Kentucky, and sent probes into that city’s countryside.  One of the probes, led by Captain Bethell, recovered a portion of the stolen arms—as well as his local reputation—at a nearby farm.

The occupation of Henderson proved to be a long term consequence of the raid; Newburgh would not again be threatened.  Occurring during a call for large numbers of new volunteers, the raid also proved to be a significant boost for Union recruiting in Indiana.  The July volunteers were formed into a short-lived thirty day unit, the 76th Indiana.  Volunteers of longer service would become parts of the 65thand 78th Indiana regiments.  Several thousand more Indiana volunteers joined the Army in the following days and weeks.  Disappointed with the performance of his militia, Morton returned to Indianapolis and devoted much time to improving militia equipment and training, and extending the telegraph network along the exposed Ohio River.

Bibliography:

Mulesky, Raymond, Jr., Thunder from a Clear Sky: Stovepipe Johnson’s Confederate Raid on Newburgh, Indiana. (Lincoln, Neb.: iUniverse Star, 2006).

Davis, William J., ed., The Partisan Rangers of the Confederate States Army: Memoirs of General Adam R. Johnson. (Austin, Tex.: State House Press, 1995). Reprint of the original edition published by Geo. G. Fetter Company, Louisville, 1904.

Terrell, W. H. H., Indiana in the War of the Rebellion: Report of the Adjutant General. (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1960).  Reprint of volume one of the eight-volume original report, 1869.  See especially pages 181 to 189.