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.

                                                                                                                                Walt

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: http://tinyurl.com/acc4v24

The Original Flagpole Sitta: http://tinyurl.com/bsptdjx

A Public Service Announcement from 1896: http://tinyurl.com/bzkavtk

The Great New York Shoe Conspiracy: http://tinyurl.com/bpjwnpm  

 

 

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 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mrs._Stewart%27s_Bluing) added a bit of blue dye to white fabric to offset the slight grey or yellow cast white clothes acquire after long usage.

Lillie’s and Ella’s Tragic Lover’s Quarrel

The citizenry of Pocomoke, Maryland, knew Miss Ella Hearn as a quiet, pleasant young woman. While she may not have been beautiful, she struck observers as refined and ladylike.  Her bosom companion, Lillie Duer was the exact opposite; she preferred to dress in men’s clothes, and had “decidedly masculine manners, such as smoking, boxing, climbing trees and jumping posts and fences.”

Pokomoke City

Women of the period regularly embraced, kissed, held hands and expressed their love, so contact of that sort between Lillie and Ella excited little comment, but then the small town did not know of how often the two women disappeared into the wood alone, or locked themselves behind the Hearn’s parlor doors, away from prying eyes.  The girls had been roommates at seminary school, and had become friends.  Ella’s parents suspected nothing of the true nature of the relationship; in fact, Mr. Hearn had encouraged Lillie’s visits.

Ella Hearn

For three or four years, their companionship continued, but both girls were growing into women, and by the time she was 18,  Ella was attracting the attention of several young men about town.  Lillie’s competitors also appeared in female form, Ella Foster, who shared a name and at least a friendship with Lillie’s beloved.  Alarmed by the growing jealousy, Ella called off the relationship, and requested that the daily visits cease.  For a time, Lillie complied and busied herself studying medical textbooks, but soon she was back, begging Ella to relent.

Lillie Duer

Ella agreed and the walks resumed, but things did not smoothly go back to the way they were before.  Lillie was suspicious, Ella standoffish.  In late October, 1878 the two had a falling out while they were out in the woods, ostensibly picking tea-berries.  Ella declared in a huff she was going home; Lillie pleaded with her to wait; Ella refused.  Lillie whipped out her pistol, fired two shots in Ella’s general direction, and then broke down crying.  Ella snatched the gun from her, asking if Lillie had intended to murder her.  “No,” the weeping woman responded, “I only intended to frighten you and make you wait for me.”

The Woods

Lillie had indeed frightened Ella, and the walks in the woods ceased.  As Ella withdrew, Lillie began sending frequent, desperate letters.  She proposed marriage, claiming the thing could be done if Lillie disguised herself in men’s clothing.  There was no response.  On November 4, Lillie sent one of her frequent notes, requesting that Ella pay her a visit.  This time Ella came, accompanied by her younger sister.  Lillie made what seemed on the surface such a simple request, another walk in the wood,s but Ella made no answer. Lillie fell to her knees, grabbing at the hem of Ella’s dress; “Before God Almighty Ella Hearn, if you do go into the woods with me tomorrow I’ll never ask you to go anywhere else.”  Ella left, and Lillie hoped she’d show up the next day.

Ella failed to make an appearance and Lillie went storming to the Hearn house.  She found Ella quietly sewing.  The two fought, Lillie got up to leave, sat down, got up to leave again, then standing over Ella, grabbed her sewing and threw it to the ground.  Lillie started for the door; Ella followed her into the hallway.  Lillie, in tears, asked Ella to take it all back and start fresh, and tried to kiss her.  Ella shoved her away, knocking Lillie to the ground.  Lillie rose, and tried to get her love to listen; but Ella ordered her from the house.  Lillie couldn’t understand; did she love one of the men who’d been calling, did she love Ella Foster?  “Yes,” came the response.

Hallway

Lillie stepped back, “Say that again, and I’ll kill you.”  The look on Ella’s face made no response necessary; the pistol she habitually carried appeared in her hand.  Ella raised her arm to her throat, and started to scream, but the sound of the shot drowned out the cry.  The pistol ball grazed Ella’s wrist, then lodging in her upper jaw, smashing her teeth and knocking her to the floor.

The family came running.  Someone sent for Dr. Truitt, who pronounced the wound as non-life threatening, but he deemed it wise not to extract the ball.  Lillie fled in the commotion, cutting her hair and donning men’s clothes.  She turned up in Philadelphia, but second thoughts sent her back to Pocomoke.  She even visited Ella.  The first time Ella was conscious; she asked Lillie if the shot was intentional.  Lillie shook her head no and collapsed onto Ella’s chest, holding her tight.  Lillie came again two weeks later.  By then the shot, combined with Ella’s nervous disposition, had rendered her delirious.  She screamed at the sight of Lillie, and drew the covers over her head.

The Bedroom

A week later, Ella was dead.  Her father swore out a charge of first degree murder.  Lillie’s defense centered on Ella’s nervous disposition hastened her demise, and even Dr. Truitt conceded that the pistol shot hadn’t been the sole cause of death.  The jury found Lillie guilty only of manslaughter. The court levied a $500 fine and left it at that.  Anonymous friends raised the funds, and Lillie was free.  She announced an intention of going on a lecture tour, to take advantage of her momentary celebrity, but there is no indication it happened.  A few years later, newspapers reported she’d gotten married, and then Lillie disappearedfrom the record.

Duer during the trial

The Tragic Tale of the USS Onieda, Conclusion

For Part Two: http://tinyurl.com/bjpjp7h

For Part One: http://tinyurl.com/aosw6rc 

Oneida’s officers and men sprang into action. Crowninshield’s first thought was for Captain Williams; still unsteady, he climbed over the wreckage to the cabin he shared with Williams. Two other crewmen had already carried Williams on deck. Crowinshield grabbed a cap from his duffel, and put on his warmest coat and boots before heading on deck to receive orders. The officers gathered around Williams on the Bridge  to survey the damage. Yates pointed to the fleeing Bombay, “that steamer ported her helm and cut us down.”

“I know it,” Williams responded, “but let us save the ship.”

Lt. Commander Stewart took charge of the efforts to hail the Bombay. Dressed only in shirt sleeves and without a hat, Stewart sprung onto an arms chest; yelling through cupped hands “Heave to, you have cut us down.” Bombay continued to retreat into the distance. With no help forthcoming, Stewart led an unavailing search for the blue lights and rockets which would signal a ship in distress; they’d been stored carefully in the stern, the very part of the ship which Bombay tore from Oneida.

Desperate now to attract attention, Stewart and Ensign Adams decided to fire the Parrot gun. With the key to the arms locker resting in the pocket of one of the men washed overboard, it took precious minutes to force the door to the arms locker. Stewart and Adams managed to get off three shots in as many minutes before the tilting deck and gravity caused the gun to come loose from its moorings. It crushed Ensign Adams as it careened backwards, killing him instantly.

Muldaur reported to the Captain that the ship would sink in three minutes. Williams turned to him; “Save yourself and all you can; never mind me. This is my place and I will stay here.”  Yates reminded Williams that the ship lacked lifeboats; “I know it but what can I do. I asked for more boats, and they weren’t allowed me.”

Williams on the Bridge

Williams ordered boats that remained filled, and Suddards took charge of the port side cutter. Already it was dangling by its davits. Coal heaver Robert Dyer and Landsmen George W. Kaufman jumped aboard at the last moment, and fastening ropes cut away. In the hurry to get clear, the cutter struck Oneida’s side, severely damaging it. With the cutter in danger of sinking, they pulled for the Western shore.

Onieda Going Down

The Captain ordered Copp to the berth deck to help the wounded top side. Copp quickly completed the assignment, but refused to abandon his post, even when a fellow officer shouted down to him that Oneida would sink in a few moments. Copp responded “I will stay until relieved.” Orders relieving him from his post never arrived, and Copp died where he stood.

After doing all he could, Frothingham raced below deck, searching desperately for the Japanese orphan whose care had been entrusted to him. Their last moments are unknown, one hopes that Frothingham found and comforted him as the icy water poured into the ship. Frothingham had not yet had time to add his ward’s name to the ship’s roll; the orphan son of a Samurai perished anonymously. The casualty list simply called him “a Japanese boy.”

Among the officers, Yates alone managed to make it to the starboard side cutter; leaping aboard as the men lowered the boat into the water. They could hear Williams give out his last order; “All men to the rigging.” Yates stared aghast at his crewmates climbing the rigging in a final desperate attempt at life. “Every part was black with the poor fellows, who like so many wingless, helpless birds, perched and clung to it and on the yards, hoping to thereby lift themselves above the profound abyss of the waters.” Yates described,  “As the surging waters parted to receive and engulf her, one concentrated piercing shriek from every line and mast and spar went up to heaven, then all was silent.”

Onieda after the Col.

Moments before Crowinshield hit the water he shed his overcoat, a desperate struggle against the Oneida’s vortex brought him to the surface directly besides Yates’ cutter. The men hauled him aboard, sputtering and chilled. Yates spotted Stewart as well, from across the water Stewart appealed in desperation; “Yates, for God’s sake save me.” Yates ordered the men to row backwards to reach Stewart, they were only a few feet from him when he sank beneath the waves. Other sailors managed to come alongside, and the boat filled rapidly. Aided by their crewmates, men who could not fit into the overloaded cutter tied handkerchiefs to the gunwale and hung on with fingers rapidly stiffening in the frigid air.

Designed for only twenty-five but with forty aboard, the cutter rode low and took in water. Yates ordered the men to bail with boots, hats, and whatever else came to hand. With his cutter in dire straits, Yates overcame his desire to keep searching for survivors. Reluctantly he ordered the men to row for the lights of a small Japanese village on the Eastern shore. It took them over an hour to make the trip. Grounding the cutter, the survivors stumbled to ashore beneath the village; Yates and his men collapsed in exhaustion.

Suddards’ trip proved easier, the Western shore was closer to Oneida and his cutter carried fewer men.  Clinging to the hope that Oneida may have grounded in water shallow enough that some of the crew might survive, Suddards and Ensign Anderson began walking towards Yokohama. Neither of the two men wore enough clothing for an eight hour hike over three mountains in below freezing temperatures. Benumbed by cold and barely able to stand, they arrived in Yokohama at 3:00AM. Suddards pounded on the door of an American merchant whom he considered a friend, Mr. Carroll. Once inside, Anderson collapsed, but Suddards mustered his last reserves of strength and escorted by Carroll, took a boat out to Idaho. They reported the collision to Captain Muller, and then steered to the Ocean. Ocean’s crew helped Suddards aboard, and he passed out in the Captain’s quarters.

Less than an hour after the collision, Bombay arrived in Yokohama Harbor. She behaved suspiciously. Her captain, Arthur Wellesley Eyre, anchored far out in the Bay, and away from the prying eyes of those aboard the various merchant and naval vessels closer to shore. One of Ocean’s lieutenants, aboard Bombay to pick up the mail, heard Eyre state,  “I have cut the quarter off a damned Yankee frigate. Serves her bloody well right, she crossed my bows with a starboard helm.” A few of Bombay’s officers, over brandies at the International Hotel, let slip word of the collision, and were overheard stating that not stopping to verify that Oneida was not sinking was a mistake.  

Not until Suddards arrived did Yokohama begin to stir itself. Bombay was the only ship in the harbor with her steam up, but Eyre refused to sail. Only when dual orders from the Pearl and Orient offices and the British Navy arrived did Eyre agree return to the scene of the collision. Eyre’s efforts and those of the Sylvia, Ocean, and Vsadnick could not help Oneida’s crew. The few survivors not fortunate enough to find a spot on board the cutters perished hours before any of the erstwhile rescuers arrived.

*****

            Back in the United States, details trickled in slowly with the arrival of each ship from the Orient. Newspapers splashed accusations across their headlines. The Washington Star accused Eyre of running so as not to get into to trouble. Another paper contended that abandoning Oneida to her fate “fixes a stain and a crime on Captain Arthur W. Eyre that will forever damn him before the civilized world as an inhuman wretch.” The Saturday Evening Post drew a lesson from the bravery of Oneida’s crew:

How can we despair of a country that can breed such sons? The brave old blood of the sea kings still runs in our veins. The calm courage of our grand Celtic Saxon race, which has looked death proudly in the face so many thousand times since our wandering sires left the great plains of Central Asia, still when the occasion comes gleams out of our eyes. We may make mistakes on our political theories and policies, but while that indomitable spirit still runs in the blood of the race, who can despair of the Republic?

The rumor went out that Eyre was merely to be suspended from duty. Out of distant Tucson in the Arizona Territory, the Weekly Arizonian had a different type of suspension in mind, “Suspension may mean hanging, and if just were done would so in the present instance. To suspend Capt. Eyre and not to hang him is an outrage as well as a paradox.”

In Yokohama too people talked of lynching Eyre; to forestall mob justice the Peninsular & Orient Company requested an immediate Court of Inquiry. Two questions were before the court; 1) Was the collision between Bombay and Oneida occasioned by any fault of Mr. Eyre or his officers? and 2) After the collision had taken place did Mr. Eyre do his duty? At the outset, the Court warned Eyre anything he said could be used against him in a prosecution for murder. Wisely, Eyre stuck to his story and kept it short: He had been following the rules of the road; the collision was not his fault; he did not think the collision was serious; and had no reason to believe that the Oneida in danger of sinking. He had seen no lights, and knew of no hail from the Oneida.

The testimony of the rest of the Bombay’s crew and the pilot contradicted Eyre’s carefully crafted story. Eyre testified that the Oneida was travelling at a speed of fifteen knots. Each of the Bombay’s officers named her correct speed; eight knots. Eyre stated he knew of no hail from the Oneida, each of the Bombay’s officers heard a hail, two of them reported it to Eyre, who ignored them. Eyre claimed he did not think the Oneida was in trouble, the pilot contended that Eyre asked him if the water in Yokohama Bay was deep enough that the Oneida could rest on the bottom without fear of danger. Eyre stated a lookout had been posted to keep an eye out for signs of distress from the Oneida; her crew reported Eyre ordered no lookout. Eyre claimed he stopped the ship for an extended period, the ship’s log reported the engines set at full stop for approximately three and one half minutes, not even long enough for the ship to cease forward movement. Eyre stated he had heard none of the four guns fired by the Oneida. Residents of Yokohama, miles away heard them, as did at least two of the crewmen aboard the Vsadnick in Yokohama Harbor.  Even a navigation expert contradicted Eyre’s testimony regarding the rules of the road when entering a bay. In the face of an oncoming ship, Eyre followed the common law for navigation on the Thames River by helming hard a port; the written rules of the road stated otherwise. By helming hard to port, Eyre violated at least three separate naval regulations. According to the expert, the entirety of the fault lay on Eyre.

Rule of the Road at Sea

Aided by skilled trial counsel, Court gave Eyre a light sentence. On the first count, the collision’s fault, the Court found that Eyre had been in violation of the rules of the road, but that Oneida deserved the blame. Oneida should have followed longstanding custom rather than naval regulations. On the second count, the Court found Eyre guilty of leaving the Oneida, but gave him a light sentence, six month’s suspension of his captain’s license. The American Minister demanded that Eyre be held for extradition to the United States, his British counterpart dithered. One step ahead of the slow moving minister, Eyre took the next ship out of Yokohama; it happened to be the Bombay. He shipped as titular first mate.

*****

            A few days later, Japanese fishermen found Captain Williams’ body floating out to sea, naked except for his shirt collar. De Long arranged a burial with all due honor, the American, Prussian, French, and English Ministers, an English Admiral, a large concourse of civilians, a firing party of U.S. Marines in full dress uniform, and the Japanese Governor escorted Williams’ body to Yokohama’s foreign cemetery. The Band of the 1st Battalion, 10th Regiment of Her Majesty’s Army played the Dead March from Saul. British and American troops fired volleys over the grave, and the ships in the harbor dipped their flags in tribute.

Minister De Long turned to the assembled crowd, and in a wavering voice concluded the services, “Gentlemen, in the name of the United States Government, the Army and Navy of the United States, the relatives of the deceased, and in my own, I beg to thank you most dearly and most kindly for your courtesy on this sad occasion.”

*****

Epilogue

            The wife of John C. Fremont announced that the Union Home and School for Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphans would educate the children of those lost on the Oneida. A Mr. Forbes in London raised $2,700 for the benefit of Captain Williams’ four orphan children. Many of the home towns of Oneida’s crew raised monuments to the individual dead in local cemeteries. One of those lost on board the Oneida remained nameless, Frothingham’s protégé was simply listed as “an unknown Japanese boy.”

Eyre appealed to a British Admiralty Court in London for reinstatement of his Captain’s license. The Court refused to listen to the case, if anything, they contended, the Yokohama Court of Inquiry had been too lenient. Eyre’s fate is uncertain. One source has him dying a few months after the Admiralty Court’s refusal to hear the case, but there is a record of an Arthur W. Eyre being married in Tasmania in 1881. The Bombay ran as a mail steamer between Yokohama and Hong Kong for a few more years, before being retired and used as a tea hulk. On Christmas Eve, 1880, fire accidently destroyed her while she lay at Woosing.

Japanese fisherman found two other bodies, the American  Minister  interred them on either side of Williams. The foreign residents contributed funds for a monument to the men of the Oneida, it still stands today over the three men’s graves. In the 1890’s, the Japanese cleared the Oneida’s wreck while constructing fortifications on Saratoga Spit. They found a number of bones. One of the survivors of the Oneida, his name lost to history, attended the ceremony burying them in a common grave. A monument stood over the grave, a copper plate attached to it identified the remains, until the Japanese removed it in World War Two to melt down for shell casings. It has not been replaced. DeLong returned to the United States, settling in Virginia City, Nevada, where he died of typhoid fever in 1876.Suddards stayed in the Navy, serving as Chief Medical Officer for the entire branch at the time of his death in the 1880’s. Yates too remained in the Navy. Promoted immediately on his return to American soil, he faded into history. For years, the photograph of the Oneida’s officers with their counterparts of the Vsadnick hung in the later ship’s ward room, surrounded by black crepe.

Reflecting on the disaster, the loss of Frothingham, Copp, and 118 other men, in distant Yankton, Dakota Territory, the Union and Dakotian published an obituary on the Oneida’s crew.

Their memory will live in the hearts of their countryman. It is not difficult to exhibit gallantry, courage, and lofty determination in the shock of battle, when the blood is stirred, and the feelings raised to their highest point. But in the midst of a quiet, peaceful scene, while indulging in the most pleasing anticipations, when suddenly called on to confront death, without the opportunity of escape or resistance, the heroism of these brave men is something indeed for the nation to glory in. 

The Tragic Tale of the USS Oneida, Part Two

For Part One: http://tinyurl.com/aosw6rc 

After a brief stop in Hong Kong, where the Navy rotated Captain Creighton home and placed Captain E. H. Williams in charge, Oneida returned to Japan. Only a typhoon marred the good weather Oneida enjoyed during her three years in the Orient. It destroyed two of her longboats, but otherwise did little damage.  By November of 1869, she received orders to begin preparations for the return trip back to New York City, and the Navy dispatched her to Yokohama to have her boilers refitted. Captain Williams also tried to purchase replacement longboats, but they proved too expensive. He hoped to procure some in Hong Kong when Oneida stopped there on her way home.

Commander Williams

Her crew said last goodbyes to their friends aboard the various warships in Yokohama. The Ocean’s crew wished them an especially fond farewell, a shared battlefield experience made the two crews close. The Russian cruiser Vsadnick’s officers invited their counterparts aboard the Oneida to join them at a local photography studio; each crew hung a copy of the picture in their respective wardrooms.

Frothingham gathered up some books to enjoy on the journey, including a volume of Confucius’ teachings. He’d also brought aboard a Japanese orphan, the son of a Samurai killed in the Boshin War. It took some doing to convince the boy’s guardians to allow him to educate the boy in New York City at Frothingham’s expense; but they had eventually relented.

In addition to Frothingham’s ward several men from USS Idaho came aboard. Scheduled to depart the previous November, a typhoon caught Idaho when only one day out of Yokohama. Idaho managed to limp back to port, but she was no longer seaworthy. Those of her crew whose enlistments were schedule to return to the United States joined Oneida’s crew.

Homeward Bound

Ensign Charles Copp was among the Idaho crew transferred to Oneida. Copp was tall and good looking, with a muscular build. He possessed an indomitable will; while working as a newsboy in his native Troy, New York, Copp successfully resisted his compatriots’ inducements to smoke, drink, and gamble. With the money he saved hawking newspapers, Copp left school at age 14, and moved to New York, taking a job as a clerk. Two years later, in the midst of the Civil War, Copp joined the Navy. He proved himself quickly, earned a promotion and his senior office Commander Joseph Miller’s recommendation to the U.S. Naval Academy. Although inclined to refuse, Copp found himself persuaded when Miller threatened to strip his promotion if he refused to take the entrance exam.

Although Copp’s examination was lackluster at best, he found himself admitted. While faring poorly on the academic pursuits, Copp’s impressive build brought with it athletic achievement; Copp was a champion boxer, expert sportsmen, and earned high marks in practical seamanship. The consummate Christian gentlemen, Copp neither swore, used tobacco, nor drank. The beau ideal persona matched well with Copp’s willingness to defend his Naval Academy classmates when upperclassmen attempted to haze them; several fights resulted, which Copp won.

After graduation, the Navy assigned Copp to USS Decatur, the Asiatic Squadron Flagship. In late 1869, the Navy ordered Copp to return home aboard Idaho to take the examination for promotion. After the typhoon disabled Idaho, Copp found himself aboard Oneida.

Oneida’s executive officers, Lt. Commanders Muldaur and Stewart, oversaw departure preparations. Illness kept Williams ashore under the care of Frothingham’s superior, Doctor James Suddards. Williams did make an effort to find replacement longboats, they proved expensive, and headquarters ordered him to wait until the Oneida arrived in Hong Kong. At the last possible moment, Williams and Suddards boarded ship. The Oneida weighed anchor.

Lt. Commander Muldaur

Captain Williams conducted a brief inspection of the ship before Suddards sent him below decks to the cabin the Captain shared with his clerk, William Crowninshield. Williams barely managed to light a candle before sinking down into a sleeping chair. Stewart ordered sails set, arranged lookouts, and set the course south by east, one quarter east. Secured for sea, he turned the deck over to Master Isaac Yates.

Lt. Commander Sterwart

With the exception of those on duty, most of the officers and crew relaxed. Captain’s Clerk William Crowninshield lay down for a nap; he found a perch on the starboard transom and dozed. The officers made their way to the wardroom. In the absence of Captain Williams, Lt. Commander Stewart presided over the meal. Newcomers like Copp sat cheek by jowl with old Oneida hands such as Frothingham. Indeed, the men probably swapped stories of life in the Orient, or told tales of home, excited over the prospect of seeing loved ones left behind some three years before.

Yates disturbed the ship’s officers at dinner to ask Lt. Commander Muldaur, the navigation officer, to verify Oneida’s course. Muldaur’s lone concern was the Saratoga Spit, a small piece of land jutting into Yokohama Bay from the East. If she kept to her present course, Oneida would be safe. Off to West, the distant lights of an approaching ship glimmered on the water, but Muldaur saw no need to worry. “That steamer will pass to the starboard of us,” he told Yates then headed  back down to dinner.

Yet, with each passing minute, the steamer drew closer. Her green starboard light could be seen clearly now, and in an profusion of caution, Yates ordered Oneida’s helm to starboard; turning the ship to port. He again called for Mulduar, who insisted Saratoga Spit posed a threat, not the approaching steamer. The bay was three and a half miles wide, more than enough room for both ships. Besides, Naval Rule 14 stated that if two ships saw each others’ green starboard lights, they were to remain well clear of each other by helming to starboard. Oneida already had helmed to starboard as far as was safe, were the distant steamer to do the same, all would be well. Muldaur ordered the course resumed, and joined Frothingham, Copp and the rest at dinner.

Bombay drew closer. Inexplicably, she seemed to be recklessly attempting to round Oneida and get on her port side, in between Oneida and the western shore. With only a few feet between the ships, Yates ordered helm hard starboard. For the briefest of moments, it seemed the steamer would go around Oneida’s stern. It was not to be. On January 23, 1870, at 6:50 PM, the Peninsular and Orient steamship Bombay collided with the USS Oneida.

Bombay’s iron hull sliced off the entire rear quarter of Oneida just aft of her mizzen chains. Steaming away into the distance, Bombay carried with her Oneida’s spanker book and gaff. In the steamer’s guest dining room, two female passengers barely felt the collision, looked up momentarily, then resumed their game of bezique.

The Collision

Frothingham, Copp, and their fellow officers, relaxing in the wardroom with the solid contentment of men who’d enjoyed a good meal; in mere seconds the hull of the ship came bodily across the dinner table with a sickening sound of crushing timber and shrieking metal. In his cabin, the crash knocked Captain Williams to the floor. Crowninshield, moments before asleep in the transom, fell to the deck, stunned. As his head cleared, he stared, mouth gaping. Where before there had been the ship’s hull, know he looked out at the sea and stars. On deck, Alfred Ruggert fell to his knees, aided by his grip on the weather wheel. Fortune favored him; he’d seen two of his crewmates sent overboard into the icy water.

The Tragic Tale of the USS Oneida, Part One

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In the cool, clear evening of January 23, 1870, USS Oneida bobbed gently in the rolling swell inside of Yokohama Bay. Her less than graceful lines earned her the sobriquet “The Ugly Duckling” and she deserved it. She lacked berths for the enlisted men, and many of them spent their nights in the open air, sheltered only by the boom cover. They may have preferred sleeping in outside; the berth deck also housed the galley, and smoke from the cooking fires blew back into the men’s quarters where it mixed with the smell of a hundred unwashed bodies.

Many of the crew had been aboard Oneida for three years, and had grown to love the cramped vessel. Dr. Edward Frothingham signed on in January 1867 as a Surgeon’s Assistant. Only 27 when he came aboard, Frothingham had already served with the 44th New York Regiment in the Peninsular Campaign, transferred to the Medical Corps for the duration of the Civil War, entered Columbia University Medical School, earned his medical certificate, and applied for a position in the Navy; he alone among the seventeen applicants passed the Navy’s entrance examination. As a man of letters, he supplemented his meager Navy pay by agreeing to write columns to the New York Times each time Oneida docked.

Oneida spent three years wandering from one port to another, and Frothingham enjoyed himself capitally. He toured the Cape Verde Islands, and visited the American cemetery there; an American midshipman who’d lost his life to fever years before was its only inhabitant. Under the lights of a full Rio de Janeiro moon, he’d danced with dark skinned Portuguese girls at a ball thrown by Brazilian Emperor Pedro II in honor of the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Alfred.

Prince Alfred was Queen Victoria’s son, his mother sent him around the world on a goodwill tour, in command of the HMS Galatea. Oneida met Galatea again in Cape Town. By the time Oneida arrived,  Prince Alfred already had departed upcountry to hunt elephants. On his return, Oneida’s commanding officer, Captain Creighton, invited him to dinner, where the Prince regaled Frothingham and the rest of Oneida’s crew with the story of his hunt.

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Like all good hunting stories, they were mixed with a healthy dose of hyperbole; local scuttlebutt had it that it was the Prince’s escort who really killed two elephants for which the Prince received credit. The Oneida’s officers must have hidden any  incredulous smiles well; for the Prince reciprocated the dinner with an invitation to a Royal Ball on shore.

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Frothingham and Captain Creighton must have been on good terms, for each time Oneida docked, Creighton granted him leave to tour the sites. Cape Town’s hustle and bustle reminded him of Scranton. The local museum boasted stuffed lions, giraffes, birds and elephants, as well as a myriad of African weapons and examples of tribal dress, and relaxation came by watching cricket matches, or listening to the regimental bands play in the botanical gardens. Frothingham even attempted to climb Table Rock, making it nearly to the top before high winds forced his party to call off the ascent. The 99th British Regiment treated Frothingham to dinner at their mess, where they ate off plates looted from the Emperor’s Summer Palace in Peking.

Stepping off the ship in Singapore, dozens of Malays clad only in red loincloths surrounded Frothingham begging for grain. Chinese merchants, propelled about by bald slaves, plied their trade between the various ships anchored in the harbor. He saw his first Indian, a “barefooted Hindoo in white, with a turban and a caste mark on his forehead,” and delighted in finding himself “an old world, an old language, and an old religion is before us, yet old as they may be, they are new to us.”

Attending Singapore’s local Anglican church brought a touch of home, but exotic elements pervaded even the familiar service; servants operated “punkas,” wooden fans attached to the roof and moved backwards and forwards with ropes. The minister had a punka all his own as a special sign of distinction. Frothingham spent most of his time in Singapore’s Chinese district, there the plaintive cries of fruit vendors and water carriers mingled in the air with the heavy perfume of joss sticks, which the Chinese burned in honor of their ancestors. Frothingham “went local” setting aside his uniform for a loose cotton robe and white shoes purchased from one of the Chinese merchants using Mexican dollars.

Oneida was a warship, and in Japan, the internecine Boshin War raged; fought by forces loyal to the Emperor and those supporting the Tokugawa Shogunate. To show the flag and protect American interests, Asiatic Squadron headquarters dispatched Oneida to Kobe,  Japan.

Circumstances justified Oneida’s presence when soldiers attached to Daimyo Bezen’s rebel band fired on Commander English of the USS Idaho, the Prussian Minister Baron von Brandt, and Commander Creighton as they crossed Kobe’s foreign concession. The attack appeared to be little more than a few potshots fired in the general direction of the strolling foreigners, but to the Western powers it called for a strong reaction. The American and British resident ministers called out the Marines of their respective navies, included the men on the Oneida. Moving quickly, the joint force pursued Bezen’s forces into the Japanese countryside. When they failed to catch up with Bezen, and contented themselves with laying siege to the rest of Kobe.

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Deployment provided a festive change of pace from life aboard ship. British troops constructed a wall from whatever materials lay close at hand; the American troops spurred built a bigger one, on which they placed one of the Oneida’s howitzers. Britons and Americans bivouacked around campfires; perhaps the Marines told stories of Civil War battles, while their British counterparts recounted adventures in the Crimea, in India, or during the Opium War. The men of the ad hoc Expeditionary Force had little to fear from Bezen’s soldiers, armed only with swords. The occupation of the remainder of Kobe was a fait accompli, and Frothingham told the folks at home that. “All the circumstance of the case justified the military occupation of the town, and it was unanimously decided by the combined ministerial powers that the lives of the foreign residents should not be endangered by passing bodies of troops until satisfaction should be obtained for this past offense, and some assurance of protection for the future.” Frothingham looked up from his letter when a sentry sighted Bezen’s men. Orders rang out; “Turn out the guard! Fall in blue jackets! Right Face! Double quick! Ma-a arch.”

To light the scene, the British troops fired a rocket, the hasty shot went directly into a nearby tree, provoking laughter from American and Briton alike. A second shot, better aimed, lit the Expeditionary Force tramped into the woods after Bezen’s men. Left behind to man the hospital tent, Frothingham rolled up in a great coat to gather what sleep he could. What fighting there was  ended before he awoke. The rebel forces melted into the pre-dawn mist, and inflicted only two injuries; Walter G. Clark, apprentice boy, received a flesh wound to the shoulder, and Marine Michael J. DeWire lost a portion of his right hand warding off a samurai sword with the butt of his gun. By February 9th, 1868, an emissary from the Mikado arrived, bearing the Emperor’s apologies for the conduct of his adversaries and promising that foreigners would be protected.

Everywhere Frothingham travelled, a crowd of Japanese soldiers, sailors, and civilians followed him, begging for cigars and tobacco, and confessing their predilection for champagne and ale. An insatiable appetite for anything Western characterized the Japanese; they had no hesitation to ask for the smallest trifle, even the very buttons on the men’s coats. “Anyone fortunate to possess himself of a coat, or a European hat, or a pair of shoes, regardless of style, color or size,” Frothingham wrote home, “will strut through the streets proud of his newly acquired garments, unconscious of the ludicrous figure presented.” Frothingham enjoyed Japanese customs as well; off hours were spent in Japanese tea houses.

Tea House

Orders interrupted Frothingham’s idyll, Asiatic Squadron Headquarters sent Oneida to Siam with letters of congratulations for the new King of the Rear Palace, Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramintharamaha Chulalongkorn Phra Chunla Chom Klao Chao Yu Hua. With a deep draught, the Oneida could not sail up the Maenam Chao Phraya River; so the King obliged the visiting Americans by dispatching a royal steamer to carry Creighton, Frothingham, and a few other officers upriver to Bangkok. The trip began at dusk; betel palms lined the shore, blocking any sound from the surrounding jungle. Millions of fireflies lit their branches, flashing synchronously. They, and the full moon shimmering on the river’s black water, made up only light. As Bangkok hove in to view, Frothingham the palms gave way to low huts, built on rafts anchored thirty feet out in the river. Curious families stared wide-eyed from small verandahs at the strangers on the royal steamer.

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Diplomatic protocal required a visit to the King of the Front Palace as well, a task accomplished the next morning when the American emissaries presented themselves to Phra Ong Chao Yodying Prayurayot Bovorn Rachorod Rattan Rachakumarn. He too bore a nickname; his father’s affinity for Washington led to the appellation Prince George.

King of Siam

Duty done, Frothingham found himself free to enjoy Bangkok. During the afternoons, temperatures regularly reached 95˚ in the shade; escape could be had by sipping on coconut milk and eating mangoes. Donning local dress helped too. Frothingham put aside his uniform for a loose shirt of white muslin, and baggy pants to match, purchased from a Siamese merchant who’s shorn head bore testament to Chulalongkorn’s deceased father.  Frothingham made the most of the temperate mornings and evenings. Strolling the streets he saw yellow robed Buddhist priests going door to door begging their rice allotment from the populace. He took the steep path to Wat Sekat; its soaring minaret reminded him of the Tower of Babel. At the summit, circling vultures were at eye level, tracing their way through air over the bodies of criminals thrown from Wat Sekat’s path after their execution.

Executions were commonplace, and Frothingham attended the beheading of a Chinese merchant convicted of theft and murder. Two executioners carried out the sentence. The first partially severed the prisoner’s neck with a sword, and the second finished the work. Superstition dictated that insanity would result if only a single executioner did the job. Work completed, the executioners repaired to the nearest temple, where a sprinkling of holy water prevented the newly deceased from haunting them.

Through the good offices of a resident American, Frothingham received permission to tour the Rear Palace. The King’s temple, Wat Phra Kaew housed a giant Buddha cut from a single piece of jade, and decorated with diamond eyes. Although not surprised when his guide went prostrate three times before it, Frothingham doubted the man’s devotion; he’d failed to remove his cigarette before paying homage. The guide escorted him into the King’s Reception Hall. Among the Western pictures which lined the Hall, Frothingham recognized portraits of George Washington and Franklin Pierce. The King’s Menagerie concluded the tour, where his guide showed Frothingham the King’s collection of elephants, Chulalongkorn had granted many of the prized specimens rank on par with a noble of the fifth class. The most famous pachyderm, the Sacred White Elephant of Siam, proved not to be rather white, but only a disappointing dingy brown. Frothingham was only slightly mollified when the guide presented a white monkey.

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The World’s Worst Divorce Attorney

On the afternoon of July 7, 1914, Mrs. John W. Nelms of Atlanta, Georgia eagerly tore open the envelope bearing a San Francisco postmark. Although the handwriting on the envelope was unfamiliar, she presumed the letter was from her son Marshall, who’d recently moved to California for his health.  It wasn’t. Instead, the typewritten note bore the signature of her daughter, Eloise Nelms Dennis, and its contents sent her scrambling for the police. Eloise claimed she’d killed her sister Beatrice, and that she was in San Francisco to kill Marshall, after which she would take her own life.

Eloise Dennis

Eloise Dennis

After insisting that Marshall be warned via telegram, Mrs. Nelms told the police everything she knew. Eloise had been divorced a year ago in Reno, and she suspected her daughter of being in love with her divorce attorney, Victor Innes, who’d visited her in Atlanta and professed to be unmarried. Eloise was the mother of a little boy, and both Eloise and Beatrice were active women. After her divorce Eloise had served as postmistress at East Point, Georgia, and Beatrice was a successful investor. The sisters had been en route to Houston to look into some potential land acquisitions that Beatrice thought might suit her growing real estate portfolio. Eloise had left Atlanta on June 10, and met up with Beatrice on June 13 in New Orleans. Mrs. Nelms had received a telegram on June 14, confirming their safe arrival in New Orleans, another a week later, signed “E and B” and advising her they were in Houston, and then one final dispatch on the June 28, to tell their mother that they were back in New Orleans, but planning on travelling further west, and asking her to send a skirt Beatrice particularly liked to the San Antonio post office, care of Margaret Mims. Mrs. Nelms knew little else.

Police published a description of the missing women. “Beatrice Nelms is a blonde, 26 years old. She is a self reliant business woman and brusque in manner. She is of medium height and has blue eyes.” In turn, “Eloise Nelms Dennis is a brunette, 30 years old. She is slender and talkative. She is slightly taller than Beatrice.” Their mother offered a $400 reward, $200 per daughter regardless of if they were found dead or alive.

Eloise and Beatrice

Eloise and Beatrice

Inquiries sent to Nevada turned up that Victor Innes, a former assistant district attorney, had left the state with his wife and children, purportedly for Washington State. Finally tracked down in Portland, Innes said he knew nothing of either woman’s whereabouts, would be willing to publish in full their correspondence and business dealings, and had never been to Atlanta.

Police in San Francisco, San Antonio, Houston New Orleans, and Dallas were all baffled; but the Atlanta detectives managed to turn up a few leads. Bank records indicated that both Eloise and Beatrice had cut numerous checks to Innes, totaling some $10,000. Eloise had cashed a check in her own name for $1,400. A Mrs. Margaret Mims had arrived in Atlanta in early June, representing herself as an aunt to Mr. Innes, who’d followed a few days later to discuss some Mexican investments with Mrs. Dennis, flatly contradicting Mrs. Nelms’ statement.

On July 14, Marshall Nelms arrived home to assist his mother. Leads began to pour in. Beatrice and Eloise were sighted at Gulfport and Biloxi. A groundless report from Houston contained word that the Nelms sisters had been kidnapped, and were being held for ransom. Telegrams arrived from Mobile, San Antonio, and Petit Bois Island from persons claiming to have seen the women. None of the leads panned out, although police did find the package Mrs. Nelms had sent to San Antonio lying unclaimed in the post office.

Victor E. Innes

Further background information on Innes turned up. He’d been married at least twice before, to a Mrs. Caroline Green and a Mrs. Clarence Viola Adele Sickles, a cousin of General Sickles of Civil War fame, and who’d been a stenographer in Innes’ office. It wasn’t for a few years after they’d been married that Ms. Sickles discovered that Innes had neglected to divorce his first wife; Innes skipped town and took their four year old son James with him. Sickles hadn’t seen him since.

Marshall Nelms was determined not to let interest wane in his sisters’ disappearance, and in late July he travelled to Washington D.C., in an attempt to interest the fledgling Bureau of Investigation (which would later become the F.B.I.) in the case. With only 40 agents the Bureau’s resources were as limited as its jurisdiction. The Bureau was tasked primarily with investigating violations of the White-Slave Traffic Act, which forbad the interstate transportation of females for immoral purposes; a nice way of saying that one couldn’t bring a prostitute over state lines. The Bureau declined to get involved.

Nelms continued his own investigation, and by mid-August had amassed enough evidence to convince the San Antonio authorities to issue an arrest warrant for Innes and his wife. “Eloise and Beatrice left Atlanta on June 12 for San Antonio…They took dinner in New Orleans with some friends, stopped in Houston and were seen to leave the train in San Antonio and were later seen in company with two others believed to be Mr. and Mrs. Innes,” he told reporters. “In the meantime, Innes, I have learned, rented a cottage at 120 Wilkins avenue in San Antonio, into which he moved. It was discovered that the windows had been nailed down, canvas tacked over them and two stoves in the home were kept going for four days although it was the middle of summer.” Then Nelms revealed the grisly part. “Our theory is that my two sisters were done away with, their bodies cut into pieces, ground in a meat chopper and either burned or buried.”

Mrs. Victor Innes

Up in Portland, Mr. and Mrs. Innes were taken into custody. Ida May Innes was tubercular and weak, but her condition did not assuage Nelms’ desire for vengeance. He himself escorted them from Portland to San Antonio in the company of a deputy sheriff. They also brought along a large meat grinder, which the Portland police had discovered in the Innes’ home.

Nelms and the District Attorney continued to gather evidence; a San Antonio storekeeper recollected selling Innes a large quantity of lye. The remnants of a woman’s shoe were found in a cement cauldron in the backyard of 120 Wilkins Street, as were traces of the lye which they suspected had been used to dissolve the skeletons after the flesh and muscle had been ground into pulp and burned.

On October 12, 1914, the grand jury indicted Mr. and Mrs. Innes for Eloise’s and Beatrice’s murder. The next day Judge Anderson of the Bexar District Court held the couple’s bail hearing. Mrs. Nelms had arrived, and on Innes’ appearance shouted “There he goes, the old ghoul. He’s done that devilment and killed my two daughters.” Despite the strong circumstantial evidence, Innes and his wife were freed upon bail of $4500.  Trial was scheduled for November 15th. On the morning of the 15th, Innes’ lawyer filed a habeas corpus. Under Texas law, the prosecution could not bring the case unless they could produce a witness who’d seen the women’s corpses. Innes and his wife had done their job well, and when the prosecution failed to produce anyone, the judge ordered the jury to acquit the prisoners.

They never got to enjoy their liberty. Back in Georgia, a warrant had been issued for the couple’s arrest for larceny by trust, a rarely used charge that included all the elements of stealing, except for requirement that the prosecution prove that the initial taking was done with unlawful intent.[1] Since they couldn’t be charged with murder in Georgia, the prosecutor planned to charge them with taking Eloise’s and Beatrice’s money for investments which were never made.

Victor Innes and his wife Ida May fought their extradition to Georgia to the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas, insisting that while they may have committed the crime of larceny by trust in Georgia, they had fled to Oregon; thus, their presence in Texas was involuntary and they could not be extradited by the Texas Governor to Georgia. Over a strong dissent from Justice Davidson the Court disagreed. A further appeal to the United States Supreme Court went nowhere, Justice Edward Douglas White wrote the unanimous opinion which supported extradition.

In the middle of 1915, Mr. and Mrs. Innes were extradited to Georgia, after the Georgia governor guaranteed their safety pending trial. It took until May 1916 for Victor Innes to finally come before the court. He defended himself claiming he’d never been in Atlanta, had met Eloise Dennis while serving as her divorce attorney, hadn’t seen her since, and was in Oregon at the time he was purportedly in Atlanta. Completely devoid of funds and thus reliant on the state to provide counsel, Innes requested the Fulton County’s Board of Commissioners appropriate funds to hire a detective to journey to Oregon and establish their alibi. The Board refused.

The trial was a foregone conclusion. Victor Innes’ attorney C. L. Pettigrew introduced no witnesses, and the jury deliberation lasted only 45 minutes, efficiency aided no doubt by the prominent display of the meat grinder. Although Innes begged the judge for leniency, the judge gave him the maximum sentence for larceny by trust, seven years. A motion for new trial was denied, a decision upheld by the Georgia Supreme Court.

Ida May Innes’ lungs were ravaged by tuberculosis, and she was deemed too ill to stand trial until she rallied briefly in February 1917. She was convicted and likely died in jail. Victor Innes lived to be freed in 1922; a brief mention of him in an Oregon newspaper notes that he’d been charged with mail fraud upon release, but nothing more is known. Neither is there any mention of the fate of the Innes children.

Want to charm your friends with scintillating stories of the distant past? Anxious to read entertaining stories of a world gone by? Do yourself (and us) a favor, and follow us on Twitter. Better yet, to be sure not to miss a single post, enter your email address at the top right to receive a copy of each new forgotten story in your inbox.

In the meantime, some of our all time favorite forgotten stories are:

The Vast New York Shoe Conspiracy: http://tinyurl.com/bpjwnpm 

The Human Rat Eater of Philadelphia: http://tinyurl.com/bwoddgg

and

A Forgotten Stories Buffet: http://tinyurl.com/cftssve 


[1] For our legally inclined friends, an example of larceny after trust would be if A borrows B’s car, with B’s full permission, but then refuses to return it.

The Human Blowtorch

“I have a singular phenomenon in the shape of a young man living here, that I have studied with much interest,” wrote Dr. L.C. Woodman to the Michigan Medical News, “and I am satisfied that his peculiar power demonstrates that electricity of the nerve force beyond dispute. His name is Wm. [William] Underwood, aged 27 years, and his gift is that of generating fire through the medium of his breath, assisted by manipulations of his hands.”

Lest the modern reviewer think that Woodman had stumbled upon an early X-man, the fire-breathing marvel required a long break after his performance “He will take anybody’s handkerchief, and hold it to his mouth, and rub it vigorously with his hands while breathing on it, and immediately it bursts into flames and is consumed…It is impossible to persuade him to do it more than twice in a day, and the effort is attendant with the most extreme exhaustion. He will sink into a chair after doing it.” Having Underwood along could be quite handy. One respectable citizen of Paw Paw, whose name is not preserved, recorded that Underwood joined him on a hunting party, and kindled a fire after matches failed.

Underwood charged  $0.25 per show, good money in 1882, especially for a black man with no literacy skills living in the small town of Paw Paw, Michigan. Of his talent’s origin, reported Woodman “he is ignorant, and says that he first discovered his strange power by inhaling and exhaling on a perfumed handkerchief that suddenly burned while in his hands.”

Reportedly, Underwood passed every test. The Kalamazoo Gazette reported that the clerk of the Paw Paw School Board, Mr. David Fisher, saw the performance and didn’t believe it could be anything but a trick. As the Gazette reported “Mr. Fisher, not being satisfied, went to the fellow’s house in the night, got him out of bed, made him wash his hands and arms, then swabbed out his mouth, gave him a drink of water, and  bid him go own with the show. The result was that the paper (ordinary newspaper brought along for the purpose) was set on fire. Mr. Fisher says there is no humbug about it.”

After the story hit the Michigan Medical News, it was picked up by Scientific American, and from there by newspapers from as far away as Smithville, Texas and Middlebury, Vermont. Woodman asked the reading public, “It is certainly no humbug, but what is it?”

…and for almost a year, there was no response to Dr. Woodman’s question. Underwood continued to draw crowds, and the public was at a complete loss to explain his pyrokinetic abilities. Then, shortly before Underwood, Woodman, and the whole lot disappeared into history, a Dr. R. Thomas of De Pere Wisconsin proposed an explanation, after his son Dr. A. F. Thomas reported seeing Underwood in action.  Underwood, he claimed, used phosphorous.

Indeed, Thomas pere had done just such a trick as a boy. “The way I used to do it was to place a small piece of phosphorus in my mouth…out of sight when the mouth was opened. Then when I wished to perform, I would borrow a handkerchief – seldom my own – hold it to my mouth with both hands, blow hard through it a number of times, but off a little piece of the phosphorus, push it into the handkerchief with my tongue, and rub it vigorously between my hands, when lo! It would burst into a flame, to the astonishment of all present. ” The piece could be minute, smaller than a mustard seed. Thomas used to carry his “between my cheek and gum above the upper teeth, as tobacco chewers carry  their quid, so that what answered for a minute inspection of the mouth and rinsing it with water, would not reveal it.”

Phosophorus, according to Wikipedia, ignites at slightly more than room temperature, and can be induced to ignite by friction. If it is indeed true that Underwood was using phosphorus, which is pretty dangerous stuff to carry in one’s mouth, than we have to acknowledge that Woodman, Fisher, and a whole host of other examiners failed to notice the phosphorus which from what we can gather is yellowish-white and glows when exposed to light. If he wasn’t using phosphoros or some other combustible material, then Underwood had the power of pyrokenisis, which shouldn’t exist outside of a  Stephen King novel.

What do you think?

Post Script – Bryan Eno’s first album, Here Come the Warm Jets, contains a song which dimly references Underwood, titled “The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch.”  The lyrics don’t particularly make much sense given the backstory (“You’ll have to choose between the Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch and Me”), but then not much of the 1970s makes sense anyway.

Thought-Full Voters

History has blessed us with combinations that just seem to work, the Spork for instance, or William Shatner and Ben Folds Five performing “In Love”. Some of these combinations border on the bizarre, like dipping French fries in chocolate milk shakes at Wendy’s. One of the strangest combinations of all took place in Illinois during April of 1908, when temperance met telepathy.

Telepathy and Temperance 1

Americans, then as of now, liked to have a drink. In 1907, the consumption of wines and liquors per capita was 23.53 gallons; it was up from 20.38 gallons in 1905 and 7.7 gallons in 1870. The Anti-Saloon League viewed these statistics with alarm, and deployed a formidable army advocating for Prohibition. With $500,000 in yearly funds available, the League deployed a thousand paid speakers to rail against demon rum and released 35 different publications with a combined circulation of 250,000. They’d had some recent success, with Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and Oklahoma all having just banned liquor sales statewide. Despite pressure on Congress, national success eluded the League. Instead, they focused on what was called the “local option,” a county by county crusade to outlaw saloons.

Anti-prohibitionists fought back with some rhetoric of their own. Charles W. Darr, speaking on behalf of the Personal Liberty League to a group of pro-liquor ministers, told a gathering in Washington D.C. that his organization stood as a bar to “frenzied fanaticism”. Darr claimed “[t]his is not a question of prohibition prohibiting, but an economic one. Prohibition is led by the short-haired women and the long-haired men, 99 per cent of whom do not pay taxes, and will not if they live hundreds of years.” Temperance should begin not at the ballot box, but at home, “where the mother should be, instead of attending congressional meetings, attending women’s club engagements, and up to the House meetings where the short-haired women try to deprive us of our rights.”

If appeals to disregard short haired women didn’t work, there were other reasons to allow a man a drink, as The Spokane Press pointed out: “The Russians who are anarchists are the men who remain sober and brood over the oppression of the masses. The sodden vodka drinkers make no trouble…The Italians who furnish most of our anarchists are one of the most temperate peoples in Europe. Scandinavia, where the increase in drunkenness is looked upon by statesmen as a great national danger, is a land without anarchists.”

At the same time the Prohibitionists were trying to reform men’s palates, others were at work exploring men’s minds. The newspapers of the day were filled with telepathic advice and encounters. A gentleman known only as P.S. wrote to his local paper, “[m]y wife and I were discussing the annoyance caused by cats gathering in our yard of nights. Both of us were at a loss to remedy it. Five minutes later, while upstairs, the thought occurred to me that sprinkling black pepper on the lawn would make the cats seeks some other spot. I said nothing, and as I came downstairs met my wife, who at once said: ‘I have a scheme – what’s the matter with sprinkling black pepper in the yard.’ Neither of us had heard of the black pepper plan before. Why did we both think of it at the same time.” Astounding!

Another writer, who went by the name Inquirer, related “I believe telepathy gave me my wife. I was in Chicago in 1903 on business. While discussing affairs with the purchasing agent of a railroad I happened to look at a young lady who sat at a typewriter. I had never seen her before. She was a pretty woman, but, as she will admit, not dazzling.” Then it happened, and Inquirer was struck, “A strange current seemed to course through my brain. Actually, I lost my words. And as plainly as could be I heard a voice saying: ‘She will be your wife’”.

He continued, “I quickly recovered myself and pursued my interview. Three hours later, on crowded State street, I came face to face with the same young woman. I had not spoken a word to her in the office, and had never expected to see her again. Instantly the strange voice whispered again: ‘She will be your wife.’ I was so impressed that I boldly addressed her. In six weeks we were married, and on our wedding day my wife revealed to me a secret that she had promised to tell me on that date. She said: ‘When I first saw you I felt that a voice was saying to me, ‘That’s your future husband’”. Imagine her amazement then when I returned the compliment by relating the story of my own experience.” Love at first think, methinks.

Dr. Van Eeden, a Dutch sociologist, advised American readers that “Every home should be conducted along the lines of mental suggestion, for it is only then that harmony can exist throughout the household…When the child is drowsy just before retiring is the best time for the mother or father to transmit thought. Its mind is receptive and it responds more easily to ideas. The childish mind is impressionable, and a mother or father by verbal and mental suggestions forms either a worthy or wicked character for the child.”

Telepathy and Temperance 3

The telepathic process itself was simple according to Edward B. Warman, who billed himself as an “Eminent Psychologist and Hygienist”. “If you desire to aid one – mentally, morally, or physically – at home or at a distance, you may readily do so after you retire…just before dropping asleep hold the thought of helpfulness on and for the one whom you wish to benefit. What takes place? Your messages are received by the non-sleeping mind of the one to whom they are sent…the recipient, during his waking hours, will be impressed to follow an impulse coming from he knows not where; an impulse that will be wholly the result of your desire; an impulse to spur himself on to higher aims, greater ambition and the exchange of hope and courage to displace fear and discouragement; an impulse to lay hold of every hygienic measure for the restoration of health; in other words, whatever you desire for him, he will desire for himself, if you hold the though sufficiently strong for him to get it subjectively.”

Mrs. Marvin Miller, of Jacksonville, Illinois, was a passionate Anti-Saloon League member, and a believer in telepathy. To Mrs. Miller’s credit belongs the idea of wedding temperance to telepathy. Mrs. Miller spoke of the idea to her friends, and urged it at several talks to Illinois daughters and mothers. She and her friends even gave a demonstration. According to the Ocala Evening Star of April 3, “[a]t Aurora last week the Rev. William Wasson, rector of the Episcopal church, was scheduled for an address in opposition to the local option. The women…sat in the audience and launched thought waves at him. They say he was so confused that this thoughts became muddled and his language halting.”

With a county by county election on the Prohibition question scheduled for April 7, 1908, the Temperance Thinkers mobilized some 500,000 women to dress all in white and to direct thought waves at voters. “Women arrayed in white will assemble at the polls,” described one paper, “and by concentrated mental effort endeavor to influence the men. The male-citizen will also be subjected to visual influence of an extraordinary character. In order to get to the voting booths he will be compelled to walk between lines of women and girls.” With only a small handful of urban counties dissenting, Illinois barred some 1,500 saloons. Twenty counties voted for an absolute ban on liquor.

The Arizona Republican, reporting on the results, sounded a note of alarm. “We can think of no more powerful influence than the concentrated effort of a half million feminine wills directed towards a certain object. There was nothing unlawful or improper in the exercise of such an influence, provided the thought currents are turned off when the polls closed and were not permitted to play after the counting of the ballots began. In that case, the mental suggestion of the ladies to the election boards would have amounted to hypnotism, which, though not expressly inhibited by the statutes would have been reprehensible.”

As an electoral tool and fad, telepathy seems to have faded after 1908. Prohibition did not. It won the passage of the nationwide ban on alcohol, which was repealed in 1932. Even today, many counties remain “dry”, but perhaps with concerted mental effort, we can make a change. Who thinks so?

 

 Telepathy and Temperance 2

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Forgotten Person Benjamin Zimmerman, Wealthy Mendicant

Benjamin Zimmerman

Benjamin Zimmerman

Benjamin Zimmerman was a common sight on the Southern Pacific train which regularly plied back and forth between San Jose and San Francisco. Conductors and porters saw him board the train three or four times per day for the round trip, a process made more difficult because Zimmerman was missing both an arm and a leg, and got along on crutches. It being February 1903, handicapped accessible railway cars were nonexistent, and during the 90 minute journey, Zimmerman shuffled his way up and down the aisles of the passenger cars carrying in his hand a card that read: “The object of this appeal is to get the bearer an artificial leg and arm by which means he will be enabled to make his own living….Anything you wish to give will be thankfully received.” Dressed in raggedy clothes, and with a haggard appearance, Zimmerman aroused sympathy from most of the passengers who dropped their dimes, nickels and pennies into Zimmerman’s satchel. A few fellow travelers did complain that Zimmerman turned verbally hostile if they refused to turn over coins, but most were generous to the kindly Zimmerman, who explained that he had lost his arm and leg in a railway accident as a boy while selling newspapers on a train.

Zimmerman was no dummy. He always bought tickets for each trip he took, and thus could not be thrown off of the train without the railway inviting a lawsuit for damages. Officials sensed danger in the wind should more beggars discover this particular ploy as an Achilles Heel of the railroad; their respectable line swarming with all manner of roving mendicants.

Frank J. Kelly Esq., did what men of his ilk do and found a loophole. San Francisco’s statute book required the deportation of any “vagrant” found within the City limits. All the railway had to do was to prove that Mr. Zimmerman was in fact a vagrant no employment, and so he wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. If successful, they could prefer charges and have him shipped out of town. Southern Pacific Superintendant B.A. Worthington, with all the weight of the Southern Pacific behind him, requested that Police Chief Wittman dispatch detectives to look into Zimmerman’s activities.

The case fell to detectives Fitzgerald and Graham, and it didn’t take them long to come back with results. It seemed that Zimmerman didn’t really need a new artificial arm and leg; he already had perfectly good ones. They were so good in fact, that he’d regularly placed them in hock to the local pawn shop as security on a short term loan. When his work day on the train was done, Zimmerman typically skedaddled home as fast as a man with one leg could to put on his top-of-the-line artificial limbs, and some fancy duds. He would then step out with the gait of a millionaire and pickup his girlfriend for a fancy dinner and wine at a popular café. In the event the girlfriend was unable to attend, Zimmerman would dine alone, and then spend the remainder of the evening shooting billiards at a local hall where his skill with a cue earned admiration, and even a few extra nickels.

Zimmerman sans artificial arm for some reason

Zimmerman sans artificial arm for some reason

Fitzgerald and Green reported their findings back to Chief Wittman and they picked Zimmerman up on a charge of vagrancy as he walked down Mason Street after a fancy dinner. Lodged in City Prison overnight, Zimmerman awoke from his less than comfortable slumber to appear before the frowning eyes of Police Judge Cabaniss.  Any chance Zimmerman had of escaping the charges faded to nonexistence when the Judge appointed Attorney Frank Kelly of the Southern Pacific as a special prosecutor. Zimmerman’s counsel, Attorney Shortall was quite skilled (he would sit on the bench in just a few years), and managed to get Zimmerman freed provided he stayed away from the Southern Pacific.

But Zimmerman wasn’t quite done with the Southern Pacific yet. With plenty of moxie, and little thought to the young lady who had come to like nice dinners, Zimmerman approached Attorney Kelly and said “Say, if you can get me a pass, I will leave the city.”  Kelly got him his pass, Zimmerman shook the dust of San Francisco off his feet and moved on, Neville St. Clair style, to bother someone else.

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