- The creator of Raggedy Ann and her brother, Andy, was John “Johnny” Barton Gruelle (1880-1938).
- Gruelle applied for a patent on May 28, 1915. The patent was approved on September 7, 1915 as No. 31,073. The patent was good for 14 years.
- Gruelle and his wife Myrtle had one daughter, Marcella. She was born on August 18, 1902. During 1915, when Marcella was 13-years-old, she received a smallpox vaccine. There is speculation that either the vaccine was administered without her parents’ consent or that a second dose was administered. Marcella suffered consequences from the vaccine. However, the vaccine did not kill her.
- Gruell had already submitted a patent application for the famous rag doll prior to Marcella falling ill. Marcella died on November 8, 1915 in Wilton, Connecticut.
- Despite urban legends, Gruelle did not create the doll after Marcella’s death. Nor did he design the doll in response to her failing health. These are inconvenient coincidences.
- Marcella did not die from the smallpox vaccine. According to her death certificate, she died from heart disease. This could mean several things, and it is possible that the vaccine negatively impacted her heart. However, this will never be known for certain.
- Johnny Gruelle experienced great stress and died from heart failure on January 9, 1938 in Miami Springs, Florida at the age of 57.
- The family is buried together in the Silvermine Cemetery, New Canaan, Fairfield County, Connecticut.
During the Victorian Era, body snatchers dug up recently buried corpses to sell the organs. These people became known as Resurrection Men. They differed from grave robbers, who merely removed valuables from tombs. Resurrection Men stole bodies, and the practice ran rampant as medical studies and schools expanded during this time period. Often families guarded deceased relatives until and after burial. In order to safeguard the human remains, new burial practices were set in place.
Internment methods included burying humans in iron coffins. Almond Dunbar Fisk invented the Fisk Metallic Burial Case in 1844 in Queens, NY. A patent for these air-tight coffins was awarded in 1848. His father-in-law, Harvey Raymond, joined him in business to form Fisk & Raymond. These coffins proved effective against body snatching; however, they came with a high cost.
A cost-effective solution would be the installation of mortsafes across the grave. Invented in 1816, the mortsafe was a contraption of iron plates secured with rods and then padlocked. The grate system would safeguard the gravesite and coffin until the body had begun to decompose, which would make it useless to body snatchers. Churches and cemeteries rented the devises out.
Watchtowers were also built. Residents formed watch groups, known as “watching societies,” that patrolled the cemeteries; however, graves were still desecrated. Many found that a combination of constructed watchtowers and mortsafes protected the recently deceased.
The most famous Resurrection Men were William Burke (1792-1829) and William Hare (dates unknown), who found body snatching quite lucrative. Burke and Hare were accused of murdering 16 people in 1828 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Hare and his wife ran a boarding house. When a customer named Donald died on November 29, 1827, Hare and Burke decided to sell the body to Dr. Robert Knox, who taught anatomy classes. The money was great, and the two conspired to begin killing for profit. It is widely speculated that both spouses knew of and possibly assisted in the murders.
Margaret Docherty was the pair’s last victim. She was lured to her death on October 31, 1828. Ann and James Gray, guests lodging at Hare’s house discovered her body. Hare was offered a plea deal, and he turned on Burke. Interesting enough, the police did not have enough evidence to prosecute either for Docherty’s murder. Instead, they relied on Hare’s confession to press charges against Burke and his second wife Helen “Nelly” McDougal. Hare could not be compelled to testify against his wife, Margaret Laird, who was subsequently released.
Burke was tried for three murders and found guilty of one. He was sentenced to hang. His wife was acquitted, though not formally found not guilty. Burke was hanged on January 28, 1829. Some 25,000 people watched. His corpse was dissected on February 1st. His skeleton remains on display to this day at the Anatomical Museum, Edinburgh. The History of Surgery Museum, housed in the Surgeons’ Hall Museums complex, houses Burke’s written confession, his death mask, and a pocketbook supposedly made from his skin. All can be viewed online, https://museum.rcsed.ac.uk/history-of-surgery-museum.
There are no reports of what happened to Hare; his wife, Margaret; or Helen after they were escorted separately out of Edinburgh.
England passed the Anatomy Act of 1832, which essentially ended the practice of stealing corpses to sell to medical schools in England. However, the lure of stealing bodies and performing experiments still happens—though not nearly as many as back when the Resurrectionists were paid top-dollar and not asked any questions.
The History Center of Olmsted County (Rochester, MN) held a Creepy Doll 2019 Contest last year. The “contestants” were vintage, old, and well-worn. The contest was very popular, with a circa 1850’s handmade doll missing her right arm winning. (See https://thehauntedlibrarian.com/2019/10/25/creepy-doll-contest/) All nine dolls were placed on exhibit. This year offers nine new—well, technically old—dolls for consideration. In-person voting started on October 1st, and virtual voting runs October 14-24 (links below). The winning doll will be announced on October 28th and will be crowned on Halloween. Learn more about the dolls Thursday, October 22nd when Dan Nowakowski, Curator at the History Center, joins me on The Haunted Librarian Show.
Doll 1: Arsenic and Old Lace; Doll 2: Squeaks; and Doll 3: Stanley Kubrick are displayed above.
Doll 4: Bela Lugosi; Doll 5: Frankenstein; and Doll 6: Shirley Jackson are displayed above.
Doll 7: Victorian; Doll 8: Lady MacBeth; and Doll 9: Mrs. Danvers are displayed above.
Each doll sits in themed vignettes with information regarding provenance, materials, and information regarding the doll. It is quite exciting to see these dolls on display! The center has come up with a clever way to pass down stories of former residents while exposing the collection to a wider audience.
Toy dolls remain popular. According to The Toy Association, retail sales of dolls in the U.S. in 2019 topped $3.22 billion dollars and accounted for nearly 12% of the $27 billion dollar industry. Unfortunately, most dolls don’t make their way into historical centers. That’s why this collection is important. It chronologizes the history of the county.
Although last year, I had a clear favorite, this year is a challenge. I’m leaning toward one of the porcelain beauties. I look forward to voting!
Tune in every Thursday at 9 PM EST on Midnight.FM as I chat with people who are working in the strange and unique.
For more information and to vote, visit:
The Winchester Mystery House (WMH) is presently closed for tours while we isolate for COVID-19; however, you can watch a 41-minute tour of the property. The video is entertaining with lots of historical perspective and facts woven into the story.
Sarah Lockwood Pardee Winchester (1840-1922) was a wealthy woman known for continually renovating her home in San Jose, California. Back East, Sarah was known as the “Belle of New Haven” and was a desirable—and wealthy—woman in New Haven, Connecticut. On 1862, she married William Wirt Winchester (1837-1881), the only son of Oliver Winchester, owner of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Tragedy befell the young couple. Four years into marriage, the couple welcomed Annie Pardee Winchester into the world on June 15, 1866. Forty days later, on July 25, Annie succumbed from marasmus. The couple would not have any more children.
Sarah and William’s marriage struggled. Sarah’s father-in-law Oliver died, leaving William to handle the entire business. Within a year after Oliver’s death, William died from TB at the age of 44. Sarah inherited $20 million dollars in cash, plus 3,000 shares in the business. Her daily income was $1,000, which would be roughly $26,000 per day. Sarah was a very wealthy woman.
Sarah sought to live near Pardee family members, choosing to move to California. The young widow, presumably age 41, purchased an 8-room farmhouse that sat on 161 acres in California. Sarah worked every day hiring contractors, employees, and gardeners to fashion one of the largest and most mysterious homes in America.
The Winchester Mystery House documentary does a decent job guiding virtual tourists around the property. An interesting fact: Sarah stood 4 feet 10 inches tall. Therefore, some of the strange or odd building features are built for a woman of her size.
Sarah had the financial ability to indulge in extravagances. She loved to garden; therefore, it seems reasonable that she would have 2 conservatories: One to the North and the other to the South.
She had 6 kitchens. However, a couple were used for her large staff. Between 41-43 people worked and lived on the property. It is said that Sarah paid her employees well above minimum wages.
The video exaggerates a few items. The series could have gone into the more plausible theories about Sarah’s fascination on renovating the house. For instance, there isn’t any historical record of Sarah being a member of an occult group or visiting a psychic who supposedly told her to build a house across the country to confuse the spirits of people killed by the Winchester guns. These are merely anecdotes.
The question people want answered is: Why? Why did she keep on building? We will never know. Nor will we know if the “Séance Room” (as it is called in the documentary) was actually used for seances. Only one person—Sarah—had access to the room. She sat alone in the room. Sure, the room is designed a bit odd, that doesn’t mean that she held seances there. In fact, it shows she wouldn’t. Instead, I proffer that the room was more for meditation and prayer.
What we do know is that she liked to build rooms and used the most expensive materials available. Her favorite stained-glass pattern was the Spider’s Web, possibly purchased through Tiffany’s. And, boy, there are a lot of stained-glass windows in the house.
Twenty-two years into the project, and the house was 7 stories high. After the April 18, 1906 San Francisco earthquake, several top floors became unstable and were compromised. Today, the house has 4 stories.
The site offers pre-sale tickets for when the property re-opens on April 7. Take a look, https://winchestermysteryhouse.com/. It was very satisfying.
Looking to own a bit of Abilene (KS) history? The circa 1880 Lebold Mansion is for sale. Listed at $429,069, the house boasts 23 rooms. Banker C.H. Lebold assembled the Bicknell Company of Chicago kit house at a cost of $18,000. The home has had several owners and boarded several dozen more. It’s now owned by the Dickinson County Bank after it was auctioned off in a Sheriff’s sale in 2019. The home has had two extensive renovations; one by Fred and Merle Vansholtz in 1975 and the other in 2010 by Gary Yuschalk and Larkin Mayo. The home is one of 8 architectural wonders in Kansas.
The house is one of the original buildings in Abilene. Timothy Hersey and his family settled in the region in 1858. Hersey constructed a dugout for a home, which is still visible in the basement of the tower. Conrad H. Lebold struggled with financial problems and sold the house to Otis Nelson, who was living in the home by 1887. W.W. Burrell and his family moved into the Victorian mansion in 1888. George Sterl would own and live in the house for 30 years. His estate sold the home to Cleyson L. Brown. Brown never lived in the home. Instead, he turned it into a boarding house for his single female telephone operators. In the 30s, he converted the home into the Children’s Home, an orphanage that housed upwards of 30 children at one time.
The home was sectioned off in the 40s by Jesse Hoover and rooms rented out as apartments. Kathy and Kurt Kessinger purchased the home in the early 70s. In 1975, the Vahsholtz’s purchased the home. Mrs. Vahsholtz restored the home—spending $118,000 to renovate—and gave daily tours until her death in 1999. The home was the subject of the 1997 book, Mansion of Dreams, co-authored by Merle’s son Bob and Carolyn McKinney. Her daughter, Ruth, moved in briefly; however, the family decided to sell the home and listed it for $685,000.
Yuschalk and Mayo discovered the home online and relocated from San Francisco to open a museum. They sold the home in 2010.
The home has several unique architectural features. It sits upon a former mine. Original parquet floors were restored, and a Pennsylvania Dutch-themed ceiling painting was saved. It is the perfect home for someone looking for a classic Victorian home.
There aren’t any reports of the home being haunted; however, the home played host to Halloween events. For more information, view https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/106-N-Vine-St-Abilene-KS-67410/91120914_zpid/
When the Willard Asylum of the Chronic Insane closed in 1995, the staff discovered 400 neatly packed suitcases in the attic. Photographer Jon Crispin was commissioned to create vignettes and photograph each suitcase. To date, 80 have been photographed. Crispin created an art installation titled “The Changing Face of What Is Normal,” which ran through 2014 at the Exploratorium Science Museum in San Francisco. The collection is a chilling reminder of how people deemed “not normal” were treated and how most died within these institutions.
Known locally as the Willard State Hospital, the Willard Asylum of the Chronic Insane opened in 1889. Mary Rote was the first patient. She arrived after spending 10 years at another mental institution chained to a bed. Mary was classified as “demented and deformed.” At Willard, Mary was able to walk about, although she remained confined to the hospital.
Patients arrived with packed suitcases indicating short visits. Most never left. The 400 suitcases were cataloged and stored in the attic and remained untouched until the hospital closed.
Willard campus was comprised of a hospital, cemetery, morgue, crematorium, and bowling alley. Life at Willard was not necessarily pleasant. A lot of patients were chained or placed in cages.
Some of the suitcases profiled by Crispin included:
Flora T. who brought perfume, needles and drug paraphernalia possibly for epilepsy;
Virginia W. brought a clown doll;
Frank C. was an Army veteran from Brooklyn, NY. His items included his military uniform.
Anna brought high heeled shoes, fancy hats, and sequenced belts.
Dmytre arrived in 1953 with personal photographs and a clock. He remained at Willard for 24 years.
Joseph Lobdell, a transgender female who preferred to live as a male, spent 10 years at Willard before being transferred to another facility. He was never released, dying in care.
Crispin found the suitcases “compelling,” stating that “families largely abandoned them [patients].” The exhibition will be a permanent exhibit at the Museum of disABILITY History in Buffalo, NY. You can find more information about Jon Crispin and the project at https://www.willardsuitcases.com/.
Andry Plantation: 10 Facts Before You View Haunted Towns
Season 2 of Haunted Towns, titled “Voodoo on the Bayou” sends the Tennessee Wraith Chasers to the largest slave revolt in American history. (Note: It’s not the largest on North American soil. That distinction goes to the 1739 Stono Rebellion commencing on September 9, 1739—when America was comprised of 13 colonies). The team heads to the Andry Plantation where the “German Coast Uprising of 1811” began.
10 Facts to Know Before You View:
- Louisiana was not part of the Union at the time of the revolt. It was known as Territory of Orleans. It was admitted to the Union on April 30, 1812.
- The revolt was coordinated by Charles Deslondes (1780-January 15, 1811). He worked at the Andry Plantation.
- Manual Andry built the Andry Plantation in 1793. The main crop was sugar cane. The main house is 3,982 square feet with a separate guest house in back. The plantation is also known as “Woodland.” It makes researching confusing as there is another more well-known and well maintained plantation with the same name.
- The main house was built in the French Creole style. The plantation was abandoned in 2004 and is a fixer upper. It was listed for sale in 2016 for $550,000. The owners at that time had the plantation in their family since the 1920s.
- The revolt lasted 3 days. It commenced on January 8, 1811 and ended on the 10th.
- The path led to New Orleans and included 10 plantations.
- Reports vary as to the number of slaves involved. The number sits between 200-500 joining over the 3-day revolt.
- Again, numbers vary, but records show that between 20-100 slaves were killed. The heads were placed on poles and displayed. Fifty slaves were captured.
- Early Jazz pioneer Edouard (Edward) “Kid” Ory was born in the guest house on Christmas Day 1886.
Enjoy the episode.
Don’t Fear the Opal
As the holiday gift-giving season kicks off, many are fearful of receiving opals. This fear is unsubstantiated. There is no rational reason to fear opals.
Opals were revered through ancient times. The colorful gemstone represented fidelity. The Ancient Greeks believed that the gem bestowed foresight and prophecy to their owners. Equally, it was the number one favorite gemstone in Ancient Roman times, equating to purity and hope. Further, the Ancient Arabs believed the stone came to earth via bolts of lightning and were, therefore, incredibly special. The stone brought good luck to those in possession during the Middle Ages. Today, the stone is lucky for businesses in China and Japan.
However, the opal is thought to bring bad luck. It is said that only those born in October should wear the gem. Opals were the birthstone for the month until 1912 when the listing was changed to favor transparent gemstones. But do not be dissuaded. One may offset the bad luck if one wears the opal with diamonds. Or if one was born during the 6 PM hour. One urban legend states to never gift an opal. Instead, one should exchange money for the pricey stone. Another legend claims that when the owner of the opal dies, the opal loses its shine. These false stories are rooted in fact.
In 1829, Sir Walter Scott published Anne of Geierstein; or the Maiden of the Mist. The character Lady Hermione wore enchanted opals. In her hair, the opals displayed her mood by changing her hair’s appearance. Lady Hermione met an unfortunate end when a drop of holy water fell onto her opal. The story was popular as readers associated death with the stone.
One person failed to believe the hype: Queen Victoria loved her opals. She helped reignite the opal market, which was displaced by the growing popularity of diamonds. Hence, the second source of the myth.
The diamond broker company De Beers, founded by Cecil Rhodes, began spreading lies about opals in order to sell more diamonds. Luckily, the Black Opal was discovered in the Australian opal mines, and the opal regained its place as an expensive, luxurious gemstone. It is also worth noting that Australia mines 95% of all opals. The Australian government gifted Queen Elizabeth II with the exquisite Andamooka Opal for her coronation. The monarchs jewelry collection boasts a lot of opals.
Today, opals appear in fantasy stories. They were called patronus furum in Latin, translating to “patron of thieves,” due to people believing that if they carried opals wrapped in fresh bay leaves, they would be invisible. Although modern magicians probably don’t believe this, they do use opals to assist in astral projection.
Consider purchasing and wearing opals. And if someone warns you to beware, merely educate them on their worth.