Click here to listen to some short audio bits of me discussing my latest book, “Wicked Columbus, Indiana,” as well as my upcoming presentation as part of Ivy Tech-Columbus’ Columbus Past, Present and Future series during an interview with John Clark of 1010 WCSI radio in Columbus. The whole interview can be found here.
My talk is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Thursday, October 25 at the Columbus Learning Center lecture hall, 4555 N. Central Ave., between Ivy Tech and IUPU-Columbus. We’ll talk all about some of the wickedness, villainy and mayhem that inhabited Columbus many years ago, as well as how some of it got rectified. Special guests will read short selections from the book on Thursday.
The Columbus Past, Present and Future series is an annual event sponsored by Ivy Tech Community College and Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. The Present part of the series will be on Food & Drink Indiana (Jan. 31) and the Future portion is titled Indiana Hoosiers (March 7).
Below is a brief synopsis of each chapter in “Wicked Columbus, Indiana.”
On a cold December day in 1877, the youngest mayor in Indiana and the oldest newspaper editor in the state engaged in a bloody fight on a downtown Columbus street.
Mayor George W. Cooper was 26 years old and Daily Evening Republic Editor Isaac M. Brown was 56 when the fight took place. Both men ended up with superior reputations in their chosen fields. But events in the fall of 1877 seemed to bring out the worst in both of them.
As with most cities, Columbus has had its share of downtrodden neighborhoods over the years. For most of its history, the areas that housed the poorest residents and were plagued by higher crime rates than other parts of the city were situated along the west and south sides of Columbus.
Smoky Row, Jug Row, Happy Hollow and Death Valley all pretty much fell into this pattern of substandard housing and higher crime rates.
3-Ralph Drake and Ida Ward
When Ralph Drake was sober, he was by all accounts an engaging young man, well-liked and respected by nearly everyone he came in contact with. But when he was on the bottle, he was a completely different person.
Ida Ward got to know both sides of Ralph Drake. She fell in love with the sober side; she lost her life to the intoxicated side, when Drake shot her on May 27, 1893, in the Plymate Rooming House on Seventh Street.
In Indiana, the Ku Klux Klan wielded a great deal of political power in the 1920s. A “kinder and gentler” Klan, as some members touted it in the 1960s and ’70s, caused quite a stir locally by starting a Columbus chapter and marching around the county courthouse in 1977.
But before this area experienced the white hoods of the KKK, there was another group of hooded individuals that dispensed its own brand of justice during the second half of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth: Whitecappers, or Whitecaps.
5-McKinney and Bell Brothers
The McKinney and Bell brothers terrorized Columbus during its early days. Theft, gambling and violence, often mixed with alcohol, were hallmarks of these men.
The McKinneys arrived on the scene in 1819 with the Bells operating late in the 19th century.
Reports of houses of ill repute in Columbus have been made since well before the start of the twentieth century. A woman on Mulberry Street (now First Street) was accused of keeping a house of ill fame in August 1872.
But it wasn’t until the late 1870s that the city featured more than a smattering of these types of houses. The arrest of two women on July 31, 1877, confirmed that supposition.
Several arrests were made over the next four years or so in connection with houses of ill fame. Many times, these houses were in one of the city’s slum areas. Occasionally, the illegal activity was held elsewhere.
But the most famous madam of them all was Lillian “Todie” Tull. [Todie or Toadie?] She began operating brothels in Columbus in the mid-1890s and spent roughly twenty years in the business here. Her houses were at Fourth and Sycamore Streets, Sixth and Wilson Streets, Union Street and Second Street, 538 Jackson Street, just south of the Pennsylvania Railroad Depot, and finally 910 North Jackson.
7-William Schreiber robs First National Bank
Nobody knew how William Henry Schreiber could afford the life of luxury he was living in Columbus in the late 1880s. The twenty-two-year-old teller and bookkeeper at First National Bank was earning a modest sixty-two dollars per month in 1888.
Yet he lived much richer.
Schreiber’s need for extravagance ate away at him until it culminated in his robbing his own employer. On the night before Thanksgiving 1888, November 28, Schreiber ripped off First National Bank at the southeast corner of Fourth and Washington Streets and skipped town.
The day of the robbery, Schreiber put some personal papers in the supposedly burglar-proof safe, where the money was kept. Just before closing, he asked to retrieve his papers. He did, but he also took $8,500 in cash (well over $200,000 in today’s dollars) and $300,000 in nonnegotiable securities from the safe, walked out of the safe into the vault area, dropped everything on the floor and kicked it under some furniture without anyone else noticing.
Even during times of legal liquor here, some skirted the law, and the saloons and taverns were bastions of filth, ne’er-do-wells and other vices.
The Indiana arm of the Anti-Saloon League of America formed in 1898, and it worked with both political parties to achieve some of the driest legislation in the country. Indiana’s legislature continued to pass increasingly restrictive prohibition laws. The blind tiger law, passed in 1907, allowed for the search and seizure of suspected illegal saloons. If convicted of operating a blind tiger, the defendant would receive a mandatory jail sentence, making this one of the strictest laws in the country.
The appeal of liquor was too much for many people to resist, even if it was illegal to make it, sell it, transport it and buy it. And Prohibition brought with it some unique events in Columbus and nearby areas.
9-The poisoning of Dr. Griffith Marr
Dr. Griffith Marr had just finished assisting in morning surgery at Bartholomew County Hospital on Friday, February 4, 1977. The anesthesiologist opened up his dish of fish and peas, and noticed a white powdery substance on his peas. It turned out to be a deadly poison not stocked at the hospital or used in medical practice. He spent two days in the hospital.
It was the second poisoning of a doctor in recent months.
As the investigation into the poisonings, especially the Marr incident, proceeded, officials uncovered a tangled mess with bizarre tangents. Among the discoveries were a nasty rift among the surgical staff, threats made to officers, an alleged murder plot stemming from an affair between a nurse and doctor and a lawsuit filed for defamation of character.