Forgotten Man O. Puren, of Seattle

On occasion, we touch on those men and women of the past who appear for but a brief moment on the world stage, before sinking once more into obscurity.  Today’s Forgotten Person is O. Puren of Seattle, Washington.

Puren was apparently a large fellow; at least according to the Prosecutor who called the twenty-year old a “big hulking brute,” when he appeared before Judge Gordon on a charge of disorderly conduct.  His crime was breaking into a boxcar that lay on a siding near the Seattle waterfront on the morning of April 6, 1908.

Puren had been out of work, and as a consequence was hungry. He’d last eaten on the morning of April 4, and when he saw the refrigerated boxcar, knew it contained food of some sort. He broke the car’s seal, and downed four cans of condensed milk. But then Puren did a strange thing, which we confess we might not have done in his shoes. He left a note behind:

 “Dear Sir,

This burglary have been made by me, O. Puren, because I was near to the starvation. I am voluntary to give myself up and pay for it by such act. I am courageous to give myself up because I am unequal to do wrong. I was broke and nothing to eat since 10 a. m. yesterday. I guess you will be very satisfied because that is not so many thieves in the country confess their crime. I drunk four of the cans of milk that were in the box present here.

Yours Truly,

O. Puren

Puren then marched out, found Patrolman Jennings of the Seattle Police Department, and placed himself in the officer’s custody. Taken before Judge Gordon the next morning, Puren received the maximum sentence; 30 days in jail and a $100 fine. Unable to pay the fine, Gordon added another 33 days of hard labor on the chain gang.

Compared to the other sentences handed down by the same Judge, Puren’s sentence seems unduly harsh:

  • On March 27, thirty Chinese workers were arrested for gambling, and had the charges against them dropped;
  • On that same date, George Baldwin was apprehended with a loaded gun, and charged with carrying a concealed weapon. He was fined $20;
  • J. Hong was convicted of operating a boiler without a license, and forfeited his bail and went free.
  • Several men were charged with selling milk that didn’t come up to the standards of the health code, and fined $15 each.

There ends the story of poor, but honest O. Puren, who leaves behind a question for us some 105 years later. Would you have turned yourself in?


The Tragic Tale of Alice Bowlsby

Alice Bowlsby

Had it not been for the foul stench, Robert Vandervort, baggage master of the Hudson River Railroad, would never have opened the trunk labeled as freight to Chicago on the hot afternoon of August 27, 1871.  Inside was the naked corpse of a young woman, bloody and rotting.  Dr. Cushman, who performed the autopsy, could still tell that the nameless victim had been comely, with blond hair, blue eyes, and skin “as white as Parian marble.”  Cushman discovered she’d had an abortion; whoever had performed it had botched the job, and she’d died in excruciating pain.  Cushman noted that her mouth still bore the marks of an agonizing death scream.

Even before the police ascertained the victim’s identity, they had a suspect.  Through the cartman who’d delivered it to the station, the police tied the trunk to Dr. Jacob Rosenzweig.  He did not look the part of a doctor; one reporter noted Rosenzweig was “a fat, sensual looking fellow, without any trace of refinement in person or manners, and does not bear the faintest appearance of the educated physician.”  Appearance matched reality.  The “Dr.” before Rosenzweig’s name was little more than an honorific, purchased for $40.00 from a Philadelphia medical institution, and costing nary a minute of study.  Before setting himself up as a doctor, Rosenzweig tended bar in a dive saloon and worked a brief stint as a butcher, which provided a cursory understanding of anatomy and little else.

As if being one faux doctor wasn’t enough, the police discovered that Rosenzweig ran an abortion parlor on South Fifth Avenue under the name Dr. Ascher.  Further victims turned: Mary Carroll, true name unknown; Rosenzweig had convinced the undertaker to list dropsy as the cause of death; Agneta Dumague, who had come to the city and promptly disappeared.  A gentleman who preferred to remain anonymous identified Rosenzweig as the man he’d kicked down the stairs after he’d almost killed the gentleman’s wife through medical ignorance.  The police suspected Rosenzweig in the death of his young cousin Figa, who’d disappeared.  Rosenzweig swore she’d moved back to Europe, but rumor had it he’d impregnated her, then killed her while performing the abortion.

For the New York Times, the discovery of the mysterious woman in the trunk could not have come at a more fortuitous time.  At the time, abortion before the first quickening was legal, and for months the paper had crusaded for an outright ban on the practice.  The Times considered abortion barbaric, likely to lead to feminine licentiousness, and most importantly, to demographic displacement; since the Irish eschewed abortion Protestants would soon be eclipsed.  The Times was not completely altruistic.  Abortionists, including Dr. Ascher, regularly advertised in the rival New York Herald, and the Times were not one to miss the opportunity to goad a rival.

It took until Wednesday, August 30, for the corpse to be named.  The body had already been dead a few days before Vandervort opened the trunk, and even though Dr. Cushman had ordered the body packed in ice, the sickly sweet stench of death lingered in the broiling summer air around Bellevue Hospital.  Theodore G. Kimmel and Joseph Parker, both real medical professionals and both of Paterson, New Jersey, identified the body as Alice A. Bowlsby.  Kimmel recognized an odd vaccination mark on her forearm, and Parker, her dentist, recognized his handiwork on two fillings.

Only 20-years-old, friends knew Alice as a sweet, gentle, innocent girl, who taught Sunday School and worked in the family’s dress shop.  Alice and her mother had been staying with Alice’s aunt in Newark, and she’d left to return to their empty home in Paterson after a brief shopping trip in Manhattan, or so she told her mother and aunt.  Bowlsby disappeared into the metropolis in a white lawn dress, tucked and ruffled, with a blue sash and ribbons about her waist.

The newspaper reporters got to Bowlsby’s aunt quickly, and she identified the putative father, Walter F. Conkling; bookkeeper at the Dale Silk Mill, and son of a Newark alderman.  By the time Conkling showed up for work the next morning, the entire Silk Mill knew of the accusations, and co-workers gossiped amongst themselves whether a diamond stick pin, which he usually wore but which was now absent, had been used to pay for Rosenzweig’s services.  Conkling refused to discuss the matter.  He looked nervous and pale as he balanced his books, and refused to join his friends for lunch.  While the office was empty, Conkling tore a page from his ledger and scribbled:

I have long had a morbid idea of the worthlessness of life, and now to be obliged to testify in this affair and cause unpleasantness in my family is more than life is worth.  Good by dear father, mother, brother and sister.


Putting the note in his pocket, Conkling went to the fireproof room where the company stored finished silks, put the barrel of a revolver behind his left ear, and pulled the trigger.

A few months later, the state tried Rosenzweig for manslaughter.  The state’s key pieces of evidence were a handkerchief with “Bowlsby” inscribed with indelible ink, the cartman’s testimony, and some scraps of fabric purportedly belonging to Bowlsby’s dress.  His lawyers put up a vehement defense, glossing over the testimony of the cartman, who’d admittedly never seen Rosenzweig, and finding an alternative Mrs. Bowlsby from Brooklyn to testify that the handkerchief belonged to her daughter.  At the close of the case, two jurors held out, and only agreed to a verdict of guilty provided that they jury agreed to request mercy for the accused.  The court ignored the mercy request, sentencing Rosenzweig to seven years in Sing-Sing.  The murder sparked public outcry, leading to the outright abortion ban championed by the New York Times.  Ironically, Rosenzweig’s lawyers managed to use the legal change to free Rosenzweig after a successful appeal.  Released after a year in prison, Rosenzweig went right back to providing backroom abortions, neither chastened nor chagrined.

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Some fun stuff from the archives:

The World’s Worst Divorce Attorney:

The Original Flagpole Sitta:

A Public Service Announcement from 1896:

The Great New York Shoe Conspiracy:  



How to Get Those Washboard Abs

We here at Forgotten Stories are well aware that millions can be made from authoring a successful weight loss book, or by crafting an workout program designed to melt away the excess pounds. Yet, in the interest of the readership, we are going to forego those untold millions, and present gratis our own exercise regimen designed to help you melt away those extra pounds, with a little help from 1912’s foremost exercise guru, Miss Villa Faulkner Page.

Villa Faulkner Page

According to Miss Page, “[h]ousweork is one of the most natural and wholesome of womanly occupations. It offers variety, opportunity for frequent breathing spells, and a chance to develop one’s individuality. It is performed among cheerful surroundings, in good air and with proper hygienic safeguards. Its different phases exercise every muscle in the body, and the mental qualities as well. And it is work done on a schedule and with a definite purpose, not casual calisthenics.”

Better than a Masseuse

The best upper body workout of all…the washtub. Let’s start with figure one. Here, “the young woman is following the example of all good housewives and putting the white clothes to soak in cold water the night before washing day…She wants to be sure that all the garments are completely immersed. Her whole body sways almost imperceptibly following the direction of her arms. The slight sidewise movement at the waist…is the exact exercise recommended by the obesity doctors for the taking off of surplus flesh.  The whole process is a gentle preparation for the more strenuous activities to follow.”

1 - Putting Clothes to Soak

Good, you’ve made it through the warm-up. Now to figure two, scrubbing the clothes along the washboard. “The body moves from the knees, up and down over the board. Then there is the splendid up and down swing of the arms. They go down straight from the shoulder to the very bottom of the board. Then they are drawn back to the top, so that the elbows are bent almost at right angles to the body, and the elbow muscles are brought into play. The motion is very similar to that of the pulley-and-weight machine in the gymnasium.”

2 - Rubbing Garments on Washboard

Now we get a bit of a cool down, as seen in figure three, where the woman daintily rests her hand upon the edge of the washtub.

3 - Rubbing Clothes with One Hand, Resting Other

But, not a long rest mind you, because we can move right on to our next exercise, which works out the forearms. “There are always obstinate spots on tablecloths and napkins. If these are rubbed on the board with the vigor necessary to remove them, a hole in the linen will result. So the young woman at the tub assumes another position in Illustration 4. She straightens up, draws a deep breath, and gives the napkin a gentle but effective rubbing between her closed fists.”

4 - Rubbing Stains out with Hands

Lest you think that the washtub workout ignores the biceps and shoulders, we move to figures five and six. Here, the clothes large and small are wrung out, and “the arms are extended to their full length, and there is a fine straight sweep of the shoulders.”

5 - Wringing out a small article

6 - WRinging out a large article

For our final step, we focus on the torso and pectoral muscles. Here, clothes are dipped in a tub of “blued[1]” water at least twice getting rid of the soap, with “a slow, even up and down movement of the arms and torso.”

7 - Rinsing Garments

“Where will you find a better course in calisthenics than a morning every week at the washtub?  The ‘poor washerwoman’ receives a lot of professional pity, but come to think of it, doesn’t she usually look healthy?” We agree, and hope that you’ll give the washtub workout a try. Let us know your results, won’t you?

Incorrect Way - Correct Way

[1] Before the advent of bleach, a blue-ing agent was used in washing. The agent, such as Mrs. Stewart’s blueing ( added a bit of blue dye to white fabric to offset the slight grey or yellow cast white clothes acquire after long usage.

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