Charles Gordone: Finding His Place to Be Somebody

Charles Gordone
Charles Gordone, accessed Blackpast.org.

The unified efforts of the Civil Rights Movement began to fracture when in 1966 a new strategy and ideology emerged, known as the Black Power Movement.  This new movement also influenced the development of the Black Arts Movement.  According to historian Ann Chambers, the Black Arts Movement did not speak for the entire black community; however, the movement gave a “new sense of racial pride to many young African-American artists.” One African-American writer and actor who opposed the Black Arts Movement was Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, Charles Gordone.

Gordone was born Charles Fleming in Cleveland, Ohio, on October 12, 1925.  In 1927, his mother moved with her children to Elkhart, Indiana.  By 1931, she married, changing Charles Fleming’s name to Charles Gordon.  He attended Elkhart High School and, although popular at school, faced racial discrimination while living in Indiana because of the divide between white and African-American children.  According to Gordon, both races rejected him.  White children avoided him because he was black, and the town’s African-American community shunned him because his family “lived on the other side of the tracks and . . . thought we [the Gordons] were trying to be white.”

After serving in the US Army Air Corps, he enrolled in Los Angeles City College, and graduated in 1952. Gordon stated that he majored in performing arts because “I couldn’t keep myself away from the drama department.”  His experiences in college influenced his outlook on race in America.  Gordon stated “I was always cast in subservient or stereotypical roles,” and he began wondering why he was not given prominent parts in Shakespeare, Ibsen, Strindberg, Pirandello plays. After graduation, Gordon moved to New York City. Once on the east-coast, Charles Gordon added an “e” to the end of his name, and became Charles Gordone when he joined Actor’s Equity Association; a labor union for theater actors and stage managers.

Supporters of the Committee for the Employment of Negro Performers picketing a theater in New York City, 1962, courtesy of gettyimages.co.uk.

Two months after Gordone’s arrival in New York, he performed in Moss Hart’s Broadway play, The Climate of Eden, the “first of many Broadway and off-Broadway productions” for Gordone. He soon realized that black actors had a hard time earning a living in the entertainment business, and he claimed he “began to get really intense” about the lack of acting jobs for African Americans.  He started conversing with many “young black actors,” and soon started picketing theaters on Broadway for better job opportunities. Similarly, fellow Hoosier actor William Walker, who portrayed Reverend Sykes in the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird, became a fierce civil rights advocate in Hollywood after being relegated to roles as a domestic servant because of his race. Walker worked with actor and future president Ronald Reagan to obtain more roles for African Americans.

Around 1963, Gordone became the chairman of the Committee for Employment of Negro Performers (CENP). Gordone claimed in 1962 and 1963 that television producers feared the withdrawal of corporate sponsorship if they “put Negroes in their shows” and that “discrimination took more forms in the entertainment field than in any other industry.”

Although the Civil Rights Movement had made extensive strides toward improving equality among the races, civil rights laws did not deter de facto segregation, or forms of segregation not “codified in law but practiced through unwritten custom.” In most of America, social norms excluded African Americans from decent schools, exclusive clubs, suburban housing divisions, and “all but the most menial jobs.”  Federal laws also did not address the various factors causing urban black poverty. As racial tension mounted throughout the United States, Gordone struggled to survive in New York City.  During the last half of the 1950s, out of work and broke, Gordone took a job as a waiter for Johnny Romero in the first African-American owned bar in Greenwich Village.  His experiences there inspired his play No Place to Be Somebody, which he began scripting in 1960.

During the next seven years writing his play, Gordone sporadically worked in the theater industry.  He was an original member of the cast for Jean Genet’s The Blacks: A Clown Show.  The playwright, a white man, intended the play for an all African-American cast and a white audience.  He states in his script that “One evening an actor asked me to write a play for an all-black cast.  But what exactly is a black?  First of all, what’s his color?”

In The Blacks: A Clown Show, African Americans wage war against the “white power structure,” and the oppressed evolve into the oppressor. Warner noted that Genet’s play put Gordone “in touch with his black anger.”  In 1969, Gordone claimed that his experience as part of the cast changed his life because the play dealt with problems about race, enabled him to confront the “hatred and fear I [Gordone] had inside me about being black,” and introduced a talented group of African-American actors to the entertainment media including James Earl Jones and Maya Angelou.

1970 play bill, accessed hollywoodmemorabilia.com

Gordone finished his own play, No Place to Be Somebody, in 1967. The plot of the play revolves around an African-American bar owner named Johnny Williams.  Other characters include a mixed-race actor, a black homosexual dancer, a Jewish strumpet, a black prostitute, an Irish hipster, an aging black hustler, a member of the Italian mafia, an influential white judge, and the judge’s idealistic daughter. Johnny Williams, is a tavern-owner, pimp and wannabe racketeer.  His foil, Gabriel, also an African-American, is an intellectual struggling to be accepted as a legitimate actor.

According to a New York Times reviewer, the characters are forced to try and survive in a society controlled by white standards.  Johnny Williams possesses a desire to become “somebody” in Italian-run organized crime; Gabriel fails in his attempts to be cast in African American roles because he is light-skinned. The characters’ actions in No Place to Be Somebody are influenced by racial and cultural pressures directed towards characters of opposing races.  According to Gordone, “It [the play] is the story of power, about somebody who is stifled who was born in a subculture and feels the only out is through the subculture.”  By the end of the play, most of the characters fail in obtaining their goals because they have all set their “ambitions in excess of their immediate limitations.”

Gordone originally offered the play to the Negro Ensemble Company (NEC); an acting group rooted in the Black Arts Movement. He claimed the co-founder, Robert Hooks, turned it down because the NEC did not allow white actors in their theater troupe. Gordone and Warner produced a “showcase version” of the play at the Sheridan Square Playhouse in 1967, but “the response wasn’t too good.”  Gordone and Warner lost all their money in the venture. But in 1969, the play was accepted for the “Other Stage Workshop,” in Joseph Papp’s Public Theater, at the New York Shakespeare Festival.

Charles Gordone
Gordone directing his Pulitzer Prize-winning play at Joe Papp’s Public Theatre in New York, courtesy of Ebony.com.

No Place to Be Somebody opened on May 4, 1969 to mixed reviews.  New York Times reviewer, Walter Kerr, compared Gordone’s work to Edward Albee’s masterpiece, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  Other reviews called the play “engrossing,” “powerful,” and hailed it as one of the “unique” plays of 1969.  On the contrary, influential African-American critic, Clayton Riley, blasted the play’s poor production and directorial choices.  Riley also questioned Gordone’s “incomprehensible” dialogue, depiction of “self-hatred,” “contempt for Black people,” and his “desire to say too much.”  Yet, Riley did state that Gordone possessed “splendid talents.”  According to Gordone, Riley’s review “hurt Riley more than me [Gordone] … brother Clayton is uptight.  He can’t face it that The [white] Man is helping one of his brothers.”

Headline from The [Arkansas] Hope Star, May 6, 1970, 5, accessed Newspapers.com.
After the play’s opening, No Place to Be Somebody quickly moved to the Anspacher Theater for an extended period of time and opened for a limited run on Broadway in the ANTA Theater. Exactly one year after the play opened at the Shakespeare Festival, May 4, 1970, Gordone won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  The play was the first off-Broadway winner, and Gordone became known as the first African-American playwright to win the award.  Yet he did not appreciate being categorized as a member of “black theater” or the Black Arts Movement, unlike Indianapolis poet Etheridge Knight.

According to a 1982 interview, Gordone’s views on race “alienated many blacks.” Gordone argued, in a 1970 New York Times editorial piece, that writers like LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) should write about more than “how badly the black man is treated and how angry he is.”  Gordone believed such theater intensified the split amongst the races, and he questioned “Is black really ‘beautiful’?  Or is that beauty always hidden underneath the anger and resentment?”  According to Gordone, Jones’ writing was “egotistical, smug, angry (never violent), frightened, and damning of every white man in the world,” and Gordone took offense that Jones was “attempting to speak for all people of color in this country.”

According to Mance Williams, Gordone opposed the Black Arts Movement’s notion that the “Black Experience is a singular and unique phenomenon.”  Gordone believed that African-American culture was one part of the larger American Culture, reasoning that without the “white experience,” there cannot be a “black experience.” Williams states that Gordone believed the races were interrelated, and helped create the unique qualities that defined the “white” and “black” races. In a 1992 interview, Gordone said “We need to redefine multiculturalism.  There’s only one culture—the American culture, and we have many ethnic groups who contribute.”

Poet Amiri Baraka, a major figure in the Black Arts Movement, courtesy of Amherstmedia.org.

One possible explanation for Gordone’s belief in multiculturalism is the fact that he claimed his ancestral makeup consisted of “part Indian, part French, part Irish, and part nigger,” and he jokingly called himself “a North American mestizo.” Williams claims the playwright deemed the “color problem” could only be resolved through cooperation between the races, and that is why Gordone shied away from any radical political movements that could further divide the races.  However, according to Gordone, his exclusion from the Black Arts Movement left him “Dazed, hurt, confused, and filled with self-pity.”

Gordone claimed his professional success put tremendous pressure on him. Winning the Pulitzer Prize made Gordone unhappy because he was acclaimed as a writer, rather than a director. According to Gordone, “every time you sit down at a typewriter, you’re writing a Pulitzer Prize. You’re always competing with yourself and you have to write something that’s as good or better.” In 1969, he began drinking heavily, hoping “get the muse out of the bottle” after the “long struggle.” During Gordone’s battle with alcoholism, he still worked in the theater industry.  He got involved with a group called Cell Block Theater, which used theater as therapy as part of an inmate rehabilitation program.

In 1981, Gordone met Susan Kouyomjian and in 1982 they founded The American Stage, an organization devoted to casting minorities into non-traditional roles, in Berkeley, California.  The American Stage productions included A Streetcar Named Desire with a Creole actor playing Stanley; Of Mice and Men with two Mexican-American actors playing George and Lenny; and The Night of the Iguana with an African American actor in the lead role of Shannon.  According to Gordone, he and Kouyomjian never overtly wanted to provide more opportunities for “black, Hispanic and Asian actors,” but Gordone said “it is now very much my thing.”  Their goal was to logically cast actors “so that you don’t insult the work’s integrity.”  Gordone believed “innovative casting enhances the plays,” and makes them so exciting that “it’s almost like you’re seeing them for the first time.”

Charles Gordone, photo by Susan Kouyomjian Gordone, accessed African American Registry.

In a 1988 interview, Gordone continued commenting about the portrayal of race in contemporary literature and theater.  Susan Harris Smith asked if theater critics viewed Gordone as “black first and a writer second?”  He replied “Yes” and commented the practice was “racist.”  He claimed he was a playwright trying to “write about all people . . . and to say I [Gordone] have a black point of view is putting me in a corner.” He believed African-American critics finally reached a “significant realization” about the theme of No Place to Be Somebody, that “if blacks walk willingly into the mainstream without scrutiny their identity will die or they will go mad.”

In 1987, Texas A&M University hired Gordone to teach in the English and Speech Communications Department. There, Gordone began embracing the American-western lifestyle or “cowboy culture.”  The playwright stated, “The West had always represented a welcoming place for those in search of a new life,” and he found a “spirit of newfound personal freedom” within the American West.  Gordone remained in Texas until his death on November 16, 1995.  Friends and family scattered his ashes in a “traditional cowboy ceremony, with a riderless horse” near Spring Creek Ranch, Texas.

Learn more about Gordone via the Indiana Historical Bureau’s historical marker.

Emmett Forest Branch: Short Term Governor, Long Term Proponent for the People

 

Governor Emmett F. Branch, Governors’ Portrait Collection, accessed Indiana Historical Bureau.

Emmett Forest Branch may have only completed part of a term as Governor of Indiana, but he worked continuously for the people of the state. He constantly urged them to have faith in the Republican policy of “expansion of the agencies of government necessary to meet the requirements of the population.” By this, he meant improving schools, roads, and care of the state’s wards. As lieutenant governor and governor, Branch advocated specifically for these reforms.

Born in Martinsville to Elliott Branch and Alice Parks in 1874, Branch attended Martinsville High School and graduated from Indiana University in 1896. Branch’s father possessed a unique sense of humor, naming his children Olive, Leafy, Emmett Forest, and Frank Oak, to create his own family “tree.” Branch inherited this humor, inserting jokes into stories he shared. One story in particular went the twentieth-century version of “viral,” and was printed in newspapers across the country. In this story, Branch recalled one of his walks while in cadet school. He came across a man in need of money. Sure that he did not have a cent on him, Branch told the man he could have any money found while turning his pockets inside out. A silver dollar fell out, and Branch returned to his room confused. He later found out that he had worn his roommate’s pants by mistake.

Upon graduating from IU, Branch returned home to Martinsville to practice law. However, when the Spanish-American War began in 1898, he put his career on hold to enlist. After the war, Branch was elected to three terms in the Indiana House of Representatives in 1903, 1905, and 1907. While serving as representative, Branch worked for reform via the shippers’ railway commission bill, opposing big corporations. He is quoted as saying:

The time is past when the people should be taxed to further the rich corporations because the latter are now in a condition to care for themselves.

He also introduced legislation to make automated voting machines mandatory in an attempt to solve the problem of vote-selling and vote-buying, abolishing election frauds and election contests. During his 1907 term, he served as Speaker of the House. As speaker, Branch supported temperance reform, especially the local county option bill, which allowed each county to choose whether they should be a dry county. After his speakership, Branch continued to practice law in Martinsville. Once the United States entered World War I in 1917, Branch again enlisted, serving as colonel in the 151st United States Infantry.

“Republican Candidates,” Brazil Daily Times (Ind.), October 15, 1920, 4, accessed Newspapers.com.

In 1921, Branch was sworn in as lieutenant governor under Governor Warren McCray. His first act as lieutenant governor was to end the practice of “omnibus bills” in the Indiana legislature. This practice was used to vote on several bills at once. Branch is quoted saying “It is what I would call ‘guessing them off.’ Gentlemen, guessing off law that is to be fastened upon the people of Indiana is not right.” He closed with another statement: “We should first take care of the unfortunates in the institutions and then put Indiana where she belongs in the educational world.” Later in 1924 while discussing taxes, Branch asserted that, “You cannot have better roads, better schools, better teachers and better care of the unfortunates unless you pay the price.” These two statements encapsulate the position that Branch took as a Republican lawmaker toward improvements in the state.

“Memorial Day Bill Defeated,” The Daily Republican (Rushville, Ind.), January 26, 1921, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

Two issues arose in the General Assembly during Branch’s time as lieutenant governor with much debate by the public and the assembly. In 1921 and 1923, a “Memorial Day” bill was introduced that sought to prohibit automobile races, baseball games, and other sports on Memorial Day when admission is charged. This bill would end the Indianapolis 500, an Indianapolis Memorial Day weekend tradition since 1911. The bill was not passed in 1921, but was returned to a vote in 1923, where it then passed. But Governor McCray vetoed the bill, stating that he had “a sacred regard for the traditions and the purpose of Memorial day” and that the bill was “class legislation and therefore unconstitutional.”

The second issue that arose was the repeal of the 1919 anti-German language laws, passed in part because of World War I. Representative Waldemar Eickhoff introduced the bill in an attempt to remove discrimination against the German language. The bill eventually passed, but not without a rider attached to it that prevented “the teaching of any foreign language, including Spanish, Latin, and French.” The discussion of this bill became so intense that Branch broke his gavel on the podium trying to restore order.

The Indianapolis News, April 29, 1924, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

Scandal hit the governor’s office in April 1924, when McCray was convicted on charges of “using the mails in furtherance of a scheme to defraud [his creditors],” and resigned from office. Branch became Governor of Indiana on April 30, 1924 as soon as McCray’s resignation became official. He was the first alum of Indiana University to become governor. With the little time that he did have in office, Branch attempted to build upon McCray’s goals. But before he did this, he had to investigate the administration to ensure that McCray had not involved or compromised the government. He ensured that all departments under the control of McCray were investigated before proceeding as governor.

“Will be Indiana Governor,” The Indianapolis News, April 29, 1924, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

Branch was a firm believer that education was a principal foundation of the government and that Indiana’s education system needed more support from the citizens to improve this system. He believed that better education meant a better citizenry, and that spending more on education would ultimately improve Indiana as a state. Republicans at the time pushed for a “county unit of education,” which would create a county board of education responsible for tasks such as locating schools and appointing teachers. Through this system, supporters hoped that the school system would have a more uniform quality throughout the state and a fair tax rate in the county. True to his Republican ideals, Branch recommended that the county unit of education be implemented via the seventy-fourth general assembly in his speech on January 8, 1925, saying “I think it should be done for I believe it a step for better education and that is one essential we must not lost sight of in building up our government.”

Muncie Evening Press, December 12, 1925, 10, accessed Newspapers.com.

In October 1924, Governor Branch called a statewide safety conference to see what could be done to lessen the number of people being killed at railroad grade crossings. He hoped that in doing so it would save lives. Branch ensured that all delegates at the conference represented all interests in the subject—railroads, automobile clubs, etc. In his message to the Indiana General Assembly in 1925, he reported the solutions found by the conference members. Branch suggested creating a department of safety. The public service commission should be given the “power to require railroad companies to install and operate flash-light signals, signs, or other modern signal devices at railroad crossings over highways in the country.” Other suggestions included enacting a safety zone and a “Stop, Look, Listen” law to be enacted. Along with this, he was actively involved in extending the state highway system, believing, like many Republicans, that improved transportation would improve the economy.

“Branch Issues May Day Proclamation,” The Indianapolis Star, May 1, 1924, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

Further advocating for the “unfortunates,” Branch’s first official statement as governor urged people to observe May Day as “Child Health Day” for the improvement of the health and happiness of children. He further supported healthcare for children by dedicating the new Riley Hospital for Children on October 7, 1924, the birthday of James Whitcomb Riley and namesake of the hospital. As lieutenant governor, Branch oversaw a law passed providing for the establishment of the hospital. In a letter to Hugh M. Landon, president of the Riley Memorial Association, Branch wrote, “I earnestly recommend that the citizens observe the week of October 1 to 7 as ‘Riley Hospital Week’ and make such plans to further aid this institution as their voluntary judgement and good faith in childhood may justify.” In January 1925, Branch boasted to the Indiana General Assembly that “the work being done there for the unfortunate little folks is of the highest quality.”

Support of children’s health was not his only concern—he also continued McCray’s efforts for a new state reformatory at Pendleton and relocation of the Indiana School for the Blind. He defended both of these decisions in his speech at the Republican Convention in May 1924. He encapsulated the speech in a pamphlet titled “The Truth About Your State Government,” in which he discussed the purchasing power of the currency and what taxes pay for in the state. He asserted that the Republicans took over the reins of government from “the most incompetent, inefficient and costly” Democrats in Washington and had been working to reverse the problems they caused. While this seems rather blunt, Branch explained how money was being spent and where in terms that non-politicians could understand. He ended his pamphlet on a good note by stating why he has faith in the people and in his party.

Indiana Bell Telephone Company Equipment Truck No. 467B, 1923, courtesy Bass Photo Collection, Indiana Historical Society.

Unlike his predecessor, the most scandalous thing that Branch dealt with was the Indiana Bell Telephone Company’s attempt to force higher rates on customers without the approval of the public service commission. Branch “demonstrated his willingness to ‘go to battle’ for the rights of the people,” gaining more support as governor from the citizens of Indiana. During a speech before the Indiana Republican Editorial Association, Branch asserted that “as long as he was Governor the Governor’s office and all other state departments would be found fighting for the interests of the people ‘against this monopoly.’” In 1925, this issue gained the majority of attention in discussing the high points of his term.

A fan of Abraham Lincoln and proud Republican, he often reminded people that the former president once contended “The Republican party is good enough for me” and that “What was good enough for Lincoln is good enough for me.” In an article published upon his death, Branch is described as “austere and dignified, with a Lincolnesque face,” a description he would have loved.

After leaving office, Branch retired with his wife, Katherine Bain Branch, to their home of more than twenty years at 510 E. Washington Street in Martinsville. He practiced law and continued to serve as president of the Branch Grain and Seed Company. Branch died unexpectedly on February 23, 1932 at the age of 57 in Martinsville.

THH Episode 8: Haunted Hoosier History: Ghost Stories for the Pages of History


Transcript for Haunted Hoosier History: Ghost Stories from the Pages of History

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley from original research

Produced by Lindsey Beckley and Jill Weiss:

[Wind howling, fire crackling]

Lindsey Beckley: Ghost stories go back…way way back into the depths of history. All the way back through oral traditions and to ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. In the Torah, King Saul has the witch of Endor summon the ghost of the prophet Samuel. And Roman Author Pliny the Younger of the first century A.D. penned one of the earliest widely known ghost stories.

[Creepy music]

Beckley: In the late 19th and early 20th century, American newspapers were one means of spreading popular ghostly tales. With the rise of spiritualism, which is a belief in the possibility of communication between the world of the living and that of the dead, interest in paranormal activity in general was on the rise, making ghost stories very popular with readers. In this episode of Talking Hoosier History we will share just a few of the many tales of terror hidden in the pages of historical newspapers.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: Hello and welcome to Talking Hoosier History, brought to you by the Indiana Historical Bureau. For over a century, we’ve been marking Hoosier history. Now, it’s time to start Talking Hoosier History. I’m Lindsey Beckley and I’ll be guiding you through some of history’s ghost tales…if you dare…

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: Now, before we get started, I wanted to give a bit of a warning. I’ll be telling some rather spooky stories in this episode and a few do include violence. If you don’t like scary stories, perhaps this episode isn’t for you. If you do like scary stories…well, get some popcorn and shut off the lights and brace yourself for some historical horrors!

[Whispering]

Beckley: Let’s turn the clock back to the late nineteenth century. First, we visit the The Society for the Advancement of the Belief in Ghosts, in Montgomery County, Indiana. Otherwise known as the Crawfordsville Ghost Club. The following account of the club was found in the October 31, 1891 issue of the Sacramento, Record-Union.

The society was founded on All Hallows eve in 1887. Every year, new members were inducted on the anniversary of its founding, and each new member had to meet one qualification: they had to swear to have seen, with their own two eyes, an apparition…a spook…a specter…a haunt…a ghost. At the meetings, held every two weeks, club members gathered to hear a new tale of a spectral encounter recited by one of their fellows. As if the topic of the talks wasn’t eerie enough, the club-room or “ghost lounge” as they called it, was downright spine-chilling. Walls, floors, ceilings, and even windows were covered in white. In contrast, every piece of furniture was “black as midnight.” In each corner of the room there was a skeleton and in the skull of each skeleton, a lamp glowed red. These ghastly watchmen provided the only light of the chamber.

It was in these ominous surroundings that believers shared stories of ghosts and poltergeists. One member shared a story of a haunted mill in Yountsville. Through a series of unfortunate events, a man had been separated from his hunting partners and caught in a storm. He took refuge in an old abandoned mill. The Record-Union relayed what happened next in vivid detail:

Voice actor reading account from Record-Union: “It must have been almost midnight when I was awakened by hearing my horse in the room below give a terrified scream which sounded almost human. Before I was fairly awake I heard him tearing from the mill-room out into the night. The rain had ceased to fall, and the last beams of the declining moon lighted up the large room through its one great window with an unearthly glow. Startled by the commotion made by my horse, I sat up in my corner, and was in the act of raising my hands to rub my eyes when I fell back in a helpless heap, for coming up the stairway from below I saw a ghost!

An old man with a set and care-worn face, a fierce, haunted light shining in the eyes, which seemed to see nothing, a trembling hand which drew tightly around his slight, bent form a bright scarlet cloak – that was a ghost. Overpowered with conflicting emotions I sat breathlessly watching my strange companion from another sphere. He saw me not, but, murmuring and gibbering to himself, began to pace the room. I could not distinguish all his speech, but “ruin! Ruin! Ruin!” was the burden of the self-communication. At first he passed quite close to me as he walked about the musty wareroom but gradually his circle became smaller and smaller as he nearer the center. Finally he paused almost at the edge of the chute and groaned. I was gazing intently at him, when suddenly he took a forward step, and like a flash shot down the chute with a shriek, which still is ringing in my ears. This cry broke the spell which bound me, and leaping to my feet I rushed down the stairs and fled out through the bushes, which were dripping with water, and which cut and chilled me as I brushed them hurriedly aside. I paused not until I reached out camp, and fell almost fainting among my companions, who had been awakened by the arrival of my horse some time before, and who were just preparing to set out in search of me.

Beckley: The next day, the narrator returned to the mill with two companions. Upon examining the room where the episode occurred, they found the scarlet cloak discarded on the floor. One of his companions declared that it had been no ghost but a distraught and deranged man the narrator had encountered. Looking for proof, he prodded a stick down the chute. He encountered an obstruction, which he investigated further by prying open the chute. There, long dead and mummified, they found the corpse of the miller, his skin yellowed and his face still bearing the traces of the agony which filled him in the last moments of his life.

In our next story, we visit another hunting party. But unlike the narrator of our last story, this party is hunting not game…but ghosts. But first, let’s take a quick break.

 

[Advertisement music]

Beckley: If you’d like to read stories similar to those we’re sharing today, you can find many many more with Chronicling America, the Historic American newspaper digitization program from the Library of Congress. For example, the article “How We Explored a Haunted House” appears in the October 25, 1919 issue of the Richmond Palladium. This, along with over 12 million pages of newspapers can be keyword searched, online for free at chroniclingamerica.loc.gov. That’s chroniclingamerica.loc.gov. Read yesteryear’s news today.

[Advertisement music]

[Thunder and ominous music]

Beckley: In January, 1909, the town of Goshen, Indiana was plagued by a spectral being, or perhaps even a host of them, as the descriptions of the so called “specter spook” varied wildly in different telling’s. The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette covered the story. First reports described the phantom as a tall woman dressed all in white. Residents claimed that when they addressed the apparition, it would respond in a “subdued and quiet manner.” Later, the wraith returned clad in black with a fashionable head covering upon her head. Many residents claimed to have witnessed her nighttime prowling’s; one newspaper headline even declared “Hundreds Saw the Goshen Ghost.” Two Goshen locals had such a close encounter with the visitor, they were able to describe her to The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette as: “a short woman, heavy set, of dark complexion, with neat-fitting clothing, and prominent nose, with sharp, black eyes.”

Later, the citizens of Goshen banned together for a ghost hunt:

Voice actor reading from the Journal-Gazette: Wednesday night was moonlight and the young men and boys organized for a ghost hunt. They surrounded the district and closed into a common center, a pair travelling through every alley and street. Two saw the ghost…both fired point blank at it. Others drawn by the shots and shouts joined in the pursuit in vain. The ghost led the crowd a chase of five blocks, making no sound, and disappeared.

Beckley: Perhaps the hunt succeeded in driving the ghost away as there were no further reports of ghostly activity in the Journal-Gazette. But the Hoosier hauntings continued elsewhere.

[Whispering]

Beckley: The citizens of Goshen weren’t the only ones who thought gunshots could solve their ghostly problems. Next, we visit a farm on the outskirts of Yorktown in Delaware County where the paranormal activity was a daily occurrence for the 1901 residents.

[Ominous music]

Beckley: That November, two newspapermen from the Indianapolis News were discussing the topic of ghosts. In their conversation, a house where “all kinds of funny things” happen was brought up and decided that that was just the sort of place they needed to visit for their next story.

[Thunder]

Beckley: Upon their arrival at the infamous home, which was located about a mile from the village of Yorktown, they saw one of the handsomest buildings in the area, despite it being rather lonesome looking.  They introduced themselves to the Burgess family, a young couple and their 6 year old son. The family had lived there for over 6 years and had amassed quite the collection of spooky stories in that time.

Long before the young family took up residence in the home, a village doctor named Cyrus Black lived there. The story of the doctor’s death, which was printed in the newspaper, is too graphic for us to share here; it is enough to know that his life came to a tragic end at his own hand in that rather lonesome, yet stately house near Yorktown. However, the doctor never left the home. The Burgesses told reporters,

Voice actor reading from newspaper account: There are a lot of people around here that have seen the ‘haunt’ and they all believe in it. Of course, I don’t know what it is, but some strange things have happened since we have lived here… I have heard groans coming from that room upstairs, and I have heard things rolling over the floor and the sound of music, just like someone was playing the violin. And I have heard people laugh and foot-falls on the stairs as of someone were coming down, but no one ever appeared.

[Violin music and thunder]

Beckley: Aside from these occurrences, there was a more physical reminder of the tragic event which occurred in the home. At the top of the narrow, dark, winding stairway, there was a storeroom. The investigators gathered in the dimly lit room and Mr. Burgess stated that it was in that very room that the tragic events unfolded on that night so long ago, and it was from that room that most of the sounds emanated. Pulling back an old mattress, a large, dark stain was revealed. Burgess claimed that the stain was from the lifeblood of the good doctor pooling on the hardwood floors.

[Creepy sound effects]

Reports of a headless horseman in Yorktown were also connected with the death of good doctor Black, although he was buried with his head still attached so it’s unclear how he came to be a headless haunt, so perhaps the rider was a different spirit altogether. When asked if he had ever seen the headless horseman, Mr. Burgess replied

Voice actor reading newspaper account: A number of times…I have shot at him often, but I never have been able to hit him. He rides a sort of dark horse, just like the doctor used to ride, and he is sort of thin and misty like, and has no head. He generally starts at the barn, but I have seen him out in the road there in front of the house.

Beckley: When the newspapermen asked if he or his family are afraid of the ghostly entities he answered:

Voice actor reading newspaper account: Not a little bit. A ghost can’t hurt anyone, and as long as I know it can’t hurt anyone I am not afraid of it.

Beckley: It seems to me, though, that a man so confident that a spirit cannot hurt him would not waste good bullets shooting after a galloping ghost.

Another haunting that originated with a tragic death can be found in the pages of The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette in 1907.

Well known Hartford city farmer Edward Preston Sanderson went missing on October 22, 1904. Nine days later, on October 31st, fittingly enough, his body was found in a nearby pond, weighed down with stones. Several people were arrested, charged, and convicted of his murder, but that’s not where his story ended. Over 2 years after his untimely death, reports of a haunting began to surface.

Voice actor reading from newspaper: Sunday night at about 1:30 George Upton… and a young lady were returning in a buggy from a visit to friends in the country. When they reached the place, near the water street bridge, where shortly after the finding of Sanderson’s body in the Croninger pond spots of blood showed the body had been dragged in order to reach the pond, Upton saw what seemed to be a man crouching down by the fence at the side of the road. Before he reached the bridge he saw the man standing erect at the roadside but as he came opposite the figure it crouched down as if to escape observation.

Beckley: He may have thought nothing of the incident, except for the fact that his companion, sitting right next to him, saw nothing of the figure lurking in the dark.

Voice actor reading from newspaper fades in: Upton was positive that he saw it and the more he thought of it, the more mysterious it seemed. What made him the more confident that his eyes had not deceived him was that his horse shied at the object and came near running away.

Beckley: Once Upton came told of his experiences, several other residents came forward with similar stories; they were riding at night and passed a lurking figure that seemingly only one person in the group could see. Two different theories were put forward to explain these experiences. One, the restless spirit of Edward Sanderson was returning to the place his body was dragged across the road. And two, the figure was actually a human being, Sanderson’s murderer who escaped justice while others were tried for his crimes. He was returning to the scene of the crime either in remorse or in order to relive his crime. Either way, I’d certainly stay off that stretch of road in the wee hours of the morning.

[Creepy music]

That’s all the time we have today for spooky stories; remember, you can read more ghost stories from the pages of history with the newspaper digitization program Chronicling America at chroniclingamerica.loc.gov.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. As always, thanks to Jill Weiss, our sound engineer extraordinaire, and to Justin Clark, the voice of all newspapers here on the podcast. If you want to stay connected, you can find us on facebook at Talking Hoosier History and on twitter at @TalkHoosierHist that’s H-I-S-T. And if you want to help us grow, please subscribe, rate and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts! Thanks for listening!

Show Notes for Haunted Hoosier History: Chost Stories from the Pages of History

Newspapers

                “Body Found in Pond and Weighted Down.” The Star Press, November 1, 1904.

“Death Frees Cook From Reformatory.” Muncie Evening Press, April 6, 1907.

“Tale of a Hoosier Haunted House.” Indianapolis News, November 2, 1901.

“The Ghost Club.” The Record-Union, October 31, 1891.

“The Haunted Farm-House.” The Indianapolis Journal, July 24, 1892.

“Hundreds Saw The Goshen Ghost.” The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, February 7, 1909.

“See Pres Sanderson’s Ghost?” The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, March 3, 1907.

Special Thanks

Jill Weiss

                                Jill is the outstanding sound engineer for Talking Hoosier History. From selecting awesome music and sound effects to setting up equipment to uploading content, Jill is a Jack of all trades!

Justin Clark

                                Justin is a project assistant with the Hoosier State Chronicles newspaper digitization project. Justin is the voice of newspapers here on Talking Hoosier History. In this episode, you heard his very best Vincent Price impression! If you’re interested in reading historical newspaper articles, visit Hoosier State Chronicles online.