William Duvol: Chicago’s Only Revolutionary Soldier?

Updated! new info at bottom.

There are a couple of Revolutionary vets buried out in Elk Grove, but only one revolutionary soldier is known to be buried in Chicago proper: William Duvol, who died around the 1830s and whose headstone is at Rosehill Cemetery.  (note:  David Kennison, who is buried in Lincoln Park, claimed to be a vet, but was almost certainly lying).

Duvol was probably originally buried in one of the city’s first two official cemeteries, one of which stood near the water tower site (Chicago and Michigan), and one of which was down around 23rd Street on the lake shore. Neither were in use for long, and he was likely moved to City Cemetery in the 1840s, which stood on the site where Lincoln Park is now, before being moved to Rosehill in the 1860s, when City Cemetery closed. His 1830s-era gravestone remained at Rosehill from the 1860s until 2004, when it was replaced after becoming nearly illegible.  The original stone at Rosehill said “William Duvol: Soldier of the Revolution” and stated that he had died at the age of 75. The new stone identifies him as a Continental Line soldier; I’m not sure what was done with the old stone, or how they determined even that much about his service.

So, who was this guy? Early Chicago history books (which tend to be somewhat exhaustive in giving data about everyone of note who lived in the area) don’t mention Duvol at all, and the main William Duvol who comes up in searches of genealogy sites is an Englishman who was still an Englishman decades after the war.  A 1959 article on the gravestone stated that nothing historical could be found on Duvol at all.

Major William Duval – a false
positive in the case. 

When the new gravestone was dedicated in 2005, it was said in an article or two that he came from Henrico, Virginia, which sent me down a bit of a rabbit hole.

The Virginia “William Duval” (or Du Val) was certainly a revolutionary soldier; in fact, he was quite a prominent citizen around Richmond in the early 19th century; his son went on to serve in congress in the 1830s, as well as serve as the first civilian governor of Florida. The Daughters of the American Revolution has a bit on him, as well, and various sources specifically state that he was from Henrico. I can assume that the articles stating that the William Duvol at Rosehill was a Henrico man were assuming that the man beneath the stone was Major William Duval. But I’m not sure how they determined that, and, if so, they were wrong; Major Duval died at his plantation in Virginia in 1842.

So that takes us back to the drawing board, and the identity and story of William Duvol remains a mystery.

Some of the records may have been lost in the Great Chicago Fire, but some may still be out there, waiting to be discovered.  It may be that he, like Kennison, was simply telling his neighbors that he was a soldier. It may be that when he died, some neighbor who paid for the stone simply had the impression that he’d been a soldier. It may be that he changed his name somewhere along the line. It may be that he was a soldier who didn’t make it into any early records.

One other thing: it’s entirely possible that Duvol isn’t in Rosehill at all. In many cases, when gravestones were moved from City Cemetery to Rosehill or Graceland, the stones were all that were moved, and bodies were left behind. Other bodies couldn’t be moved, because they’d already been stolen by grave robbers working for medical schools (it’s known that this was a problem in the early cemeteries). David Kennison was far more prominent and better known that Duvol seems to have been, and had died more recently when City Cemetery was closed, but his remains were certainly never moved. It’s quite conceivable that Duvol remains at rest in Lincoln Park as well, or even near the Magnificent Mile or the South Loop.

It turned out Ray Johnson was working on this same case! He found a 1929 register of veterans that actually listed Duvol as a Civil War vet, though with no further information to show how they came to think that. He also found some mention of a William Duval in Illinois Civil War muster rolls (who disappears from the record right after the muster), so there’s a chance that this is actually a Civil War vet. This, though, doesn’t explain the “soldier of the revolution” mark on his original tomb.

Ray and I met up at the cemetery today to look things over and compare notes. Right behind his grave is the boulder marking the burial site of Ebenezer Peck, at whose mansion Lincoln decided who would be in his cabinet.  We recorded a short podcast that I hope will tide you over until we can get the Johann Hoch one done!

The Fool Killer Submarine: All We Know!

I tell the story of the Fool Killer, mysterious submarine wreck found in the river in 1915, on almost every one of my tours. “It might have been the first large submarine ever built, if it had worked,” I say. “But apparently it didn’t, because when they raised it up the next month, they found a dead guy and a dead dog onboard the thing.” There’s always an “awwwww” when I mention the dog. By this point in the tour, I’ve told about the gruesome deaths of over 700 people, but you mention a dead dog…..

Tomorrow night (9/5/14) I understand that the episode of Monumental Mysteries I filmed last winter will air on the Travel Channel. You can already see the clip here on travelchannel.com

In the show, we say that the sub was found beneath the Madison Street bridge, though this is actually in question. One of the weirdest aspects of the story is that the newspapers just couldn’t seem to tell where the submarine was found consistently – at various times it was said to be found near the Madison Street bridge, the Rush Street bridge, and the Wells Street bridge.  Some believe that this is evidence that Deneau, the finder, built the thing himself and faked the whole thing. But the Eastland Disaster hearings were still going on; tampering with the river would have been a HUGE legal risk.

Below, under the “read more,” I’m gonna go ahead and republish the whole three part article I posted on it back in 2008.  Since then, we’ve found some new information, including a new “last known location;” I found some ads from June, 1916 saying that it was on display at Riverview, the amusement park that stood near Western and Addison, a month after its appearance at a fair in Iowa.

Here’s our original three part post; click the “read more” button to see the whole thing if you don’t see it all at once. This is just about everything we know about this ship!

THE FOOL KILLER (from the Weird Chicago book I co-wrote)

In the days following the Eastland Disaster, a diver named William “Frenchy” Deneau was responsible for recovering around 250 bodies from the murky water. Four months later, in November, he was back in the river, working to lay cables beneath the Rush Street bridge. While he worked, his shovel hit upon a large metallic object which turned out to be the wreck of a forty-foot long iron submarine. Deneau announced to the newspapers that he had found The Fool Killer, and “ancient, primitive submarine” that had been lost for at least eighteen years – and possibly much longer!

At the time, submarines were in the papers almost daily. While attempts at submarine warfare had been made in both the Civil War and the American Revolution, using submarines as weapons had only recently become practical. Half a world away, Europe was in the grip of the world’s first submarine warfare, one of the deadly new types of battle introduced to the world in the first world war. The discovery of the wreck of an old submarine in the Chicago River was an event noted by several regional papers throughout the country.

Initially, it was expected that the sub would be raised by the Chicago Historical Society, but Deneau obtained permission from the federal government to raise the ship for “exhibition purposes.” The next month, after boat traffic died down for the winter, he arranged to raise it up from the murky depths. Once it was ashore, a startling discovery was made: inside of the ship were several bones – including the skulls of a man and a dog!

While police combed their records to identity the body, Deneau made preparations to put the odd craft on display. He appears to have enlisted the Skee Ball company as investors – it seems that they planned to tour the submarine around the country along with their games as a special promotion (imagine the slogan: “Come for the the Fool Killer, Stay for the Skee Ball!”)
By the end of February, the ship was on display at 208 South State Street. For a dime, customers see the remains of the old ship — and the remains of the dead guy and the dead dog! Admission also included a lecture and question-and-answer session by Deneau, a presentation on the history of submarines, and a chance to examine the interior of the Fool Killer itself (at the attendees’ own risk). On Saturday mornings, groups of ten or more children could get in for half of the usual price.

The exact location where Deneau found the wreck is a bit of a mystery – the newspapers first said it was near the Rush Street Bridge, then said it was at the Wells street bridge. A year or so later, while he was in World War I as a doughboy and speaking to reporters, Deneau said “remember that old submarine, the Foolkiller, I found? I found it over by the Madison Street bridge!” It also seems that in the process of raising it, workers had to drag it through the river a couple of miles to the Fullerton bridge.

And the location of the wreck is only one of the mysteries; the list of unanswered questions about the submarine is a long one. Who built it? How long had it been in the river? Who the heck was the dead guy inside of it, and what in the world possessed him to take his dog out on a submarine trip in the river? And whatever happened to the thing?

Research into these questions has proved frustrating – stories and theories abound, but none can really be verified, and the newspaper reports seem to be full of mistakes and contradictions.

Peter Nissen made three crafts called The
Fool Killer
, but this wasn’t one of them.
See him on film

Initially, the Tribune reported that the ship had been first launched in 1870 as a floating craft and sank to the bottom of the lake the first time it was submerged. According to their first article on the sub’s re-discovery, it was believed to have been bought and raised by Peter Nissen, the accountant-turned-daredevil, around 1890, who sank it the first time he tried to use it. The next month, when the skulls were found, the Tribune reported that the ship had been purchased and raised in the 1890s by a man named WILLIAM Nissen – since then, most people have assumed that the skeleton onboard was his that of William Nissen.

However, this is hard to verify – census records indicate that there WAS a William Nissen in Chicago in the 1890s, but he was still alive as of the 1920 census, five years after the bones were discovered! This William Nissen seems to be no relation to Peter Nissen, leaving one to speculate that the report had been a typo, and that the reporter meant to say “Peter,” not “William.”

The fact that they called it The Foolkiller at all may indicate that they – or Deneau – had simply mistaken it for one of Peter Nissen’s boats, which was an easy enough mistake to make. Nissen did build three experimental crafts, named the Fool Killer 1, Fool Killer 2, and Fool Killer 3 (see Peter Nissen: Chicago’s Forgotten Hero), and, though none of those were submarines, buying, raising and testing a dangerous homemade sub sure seemed like the kind of thing Nissen WOULD have done!

Further complicating the matter is the Tribune’s statement that the ship had first sunk in 1870, then raised again and sunk in either 1890 or 1897 (the date seems to change from report to report). One report in the Washington Post even said that it had claimed a number of victims around the time of the World’s Fair. However, if in fact the ship had sailed before, the paper saw no reason to mention it at the time, even though the launch of a submarine in the great lakes in 1870 would probably have been an event noticed by papers all over the world, as later submarine launches in the lake were. Furthermore, if the submarine had sunk in 1870 on the first time out and raised after twenty years, who would be crazy enough to go sailing in it?

Baker’s boat, from an 1892 Trib article. 

Most likely, all of the contemporary reports on the history of the craft were mistakes – no sources were ever given, and they seem to be the result of half-remembered stories of news items from decades before. Perhaps they were mistaking it for the submarine tested in Lake Michigan in 1892 by George C. Baker, which was about forty feet long – roughly the length of the Foolkiller – or the model Louis Gatham tested in the lake the next year. The Tribune also initially said that it was built to be floated, but pictures of the Fool Killer make it clear that it was never built to be a floating vessel.

But the Tribune also once reported that it was first owned by an “eastern man,” and some have speculated that this might refer to Lodner Darvantis Phillips, a shoemaker from Michigan City, Indiana, who also happened to be a submarine pioneer. There were only a very small handful of submarines ever known to be in the Great Lakes in the 19th century- and Phillips just happened to build a few of them, including perhaps the only successful submarine built in its time.

Phillips appears to have designed at least four submarines in his lifetime – according to his descendants, his third model, built in 1851 and known as the Marine Cigar, was stable enough that he was able to take his family on fantastic underwater picnics (this was probably the one he lost in 1853 while trying to salvage the wreck of The Atlantic in Lake Erie – it’s still lost in the lake today). A fourth model had torpedo mechanisms added. These third and fourth models were improvements of his earlier, less successful boats; the first, built in 1845, was a fish-shaped apparatus that sank in Trail Creek near Michigan City. The second just may have been the Fool Killer.

While actual details are scarce, family legend has it that Phillips’ second model was a forty-foot cigar-shaped submarine that was built in the late 1840s (in an 1853 letter to the Navy, Phillips did mention building a sub in 1847). According to these family stories, the machine lacked a decent mechanism for propulsion and sank on a test run in the Chicago River. Phillips’ family said, decades later, that the submarine found in the river was undoubtedly one of his.

That the Fool Killer was a Lodner Phillips creation seems to be backed up mainly by family legend, which is not always reliable; another Phillips family legend states than when Phillips refused to sell one of his boats to the British Navy, they sank it, a story that is almost certainly not true. And the letter Phillips wrote to the Navy in 1853 indicates that the submarine he built in 1847 was a success – no mention is made of it sinking (though the letter was an attempt to sell his latest boat to the Navy, and talking about failed models wouldn’t have been much of a selling point).

A rendering of one of Phillips’ later models. Submarine
designs did not commonly resemble this shape at the time;
most were rounder or more fish-like in appearance, so the
similarity may be a clue.  

But that the Fool Killer was one of Phillips’ subs is still the best explanation that has yet been offered for the origin of the mysterious submarine. No drawings or diagrams for his second submarine survive, but drawings of Philips’ subs from the 1850s do strongly resemble the pictures of the Fool Killer that eventually came to light.  (update: in articles discovered after this was written, it was mentioned by people “in the know” that a couple of military test subs had been sunk in the river at one point. No further details are yet known, though this would be a strong “alternate” theory). 

So, could the submarine have been beneath the river since the 1840s? It’s entirely possible, especially if the reports about the ship being from 1870 are incorrect, as has been suggested. Some recent articles have stated that Phillips sold the submarine in 1871 to a man who promptly sunk it, explaining the early newspaper reports of the sub being from that era, but Phillips was busy being dead by this time.

Who, then, was the poor man who died onboard? Since Peter Nissen died onboard a different ship, not a submarine, and William Nissen seems to have been alive when the sub was raised, the identity of the ship’s poor victim remains a mystery.

It’s possible that the bones were planted on the submarine when it was raised in 1915 as a publicity stunt to get more people to come see it on exhibition. After all, complete skeletons were not found – just skulls and a few other bones. What happened to the rest of them? The Phillips’ family legend about the sub sinking in the river don’t include anything about anyone being onboard at the time. Also, Phillips first and third sub models were known to have escape hatches – why wouldn’t the second one have had one?

William Deneau does seem to have been a bit of a showman – in 1958, on the anniversary of the Eastland Disaster, Deneau told reporters that he had just been onboard the repaired Eastland – which, he said, was still sailing under another name – for a cruise from California to Catalina the year before. In fact, the ship had been scrapped years before. Like most great showmen, Deneau may have been willing to fudge the facts a bit in the name of a great story.

While it’s likely that we’ll never know the truth about the bones, many of the questions about the submarine and its origins could surely be answered today if anyone knew where the submarine was now – but unfortunately, this is another mystery.

In May of 1916, the submarine was listed in newspapers among the attractions at Parker’s Greatest Shows, a traveling carnival run by Charles W. Parker, which had arrived for a weeklong engagement in Oelwein, Iowa. It was listed as “The Submarine or Fool Killer, the first submarine ever built,” being exhibited along with “skee ball, a new amusement device,” but it was merely listed among other top draws, including “The Electric Girl, The Vegetable King, Snooks, the smallest monkey in the world (the paper was especially enchanted with the monkey, who delighted crowds by sucking his thumb), the fat girl, and the Homeliest Woman in the World.” The Fool Killer was mentioned in the papers almost daily, though one can imagine that it didn’t take much to make the papers in the town of Oelwein in 1916. In any case, it does not seem to have been as big a draw as the monkey. No mention was made of the bones, which may not have traveled on with the submarine.

A June 27, 1916 ad from the Chicago Examiner showing
that  Riverview now had the Fool Killer AND
a Monkey Speedway! 

By 1917, Parker’s Greatest Shows had replaced the sub with a new submarine that could demonstrate manuevers in a giant glass tank (and replaced Snooks with a “monkey speedway”), leaving historians to speculate Parker sold the old submarine for scrap, but no one really knows what happened to it – it could still be out there someplace today, as far as anyone knows! (update: shortly after its Iowa appearance, it’s now known to have been on display at Riverview, so Chicago is once again its last known location). 

The Fool Killer Submarine – our first post on the subject!

The Fool Killer Ad our post featuring the Tribune ad (from back when this was the Weird Chicago blog)

The Fool Killer: More Evidence – a post comparing a drawing of one of Phillips’ subs to photos of the foolkiller

Fool Killer Clue? – speculating that newspaper reports dating the sub to the 1870s might have been mistaking it for OTHER experimental subs.

Finding the Fool Killer – a newly-unearthed account of the submarine’s discovery, with an early guess as to its origin.

My New Favorite Vintage Ad

So, last month I was finishing up a book on Abraham Lincoln ghostlore, and found myself in the old familiar microfilm room at the Harold Washington library, digging through old issues of the Chicago Times, the Copperhead anti-Lincoln paper whose editor, Wilbur F. Storey, would have made a great cable news loudmouth.  While combing through the April, 1865 issues from the time when Richmond was taken back from the rebels, I found this fantastic ad for a clothing store. It’s like something you’d see on The Simpsons.

Also of note above the ad is a bit of song lyrics – the Times liked to publish song lyrics, some of which were just horrific – after General Burnside briefly shut the paper down and Lincoln himself canceled the order, Storey put out a triumphant song about “white rights.” 
In this one, up above the ad is a song called “Now That Richmond Has Fallen.” Here, Storey (of whoever was working for him) tries to see the upside: now that the war is about to end, the USA and CSA armies can be combined into one big super-army. He had always insisted that the war was unwinnable, was a big hawk for slavery, and said that the Emancipation proclamation would go down in history as one of the vilest of all acts. But in early April of 1865, he was calming down, saying nice things about Lincoln now and then, and glad that the war was over. The last verse goes:
Here’s peace to the country, and union at last
more firmly entrenched by the fire of the past
Here’s to the continent, God’s gift to the free!
here’s defiance to tyrants across the blue sea!
They shall quake at the names of Grant, Sherman and Lee!
now that Richmond has fallen!

H.H. Holmes: The Truth About Dr. Holton

When H.H. Holmes first came to Chicago, circa 1885-7 (depending which source you’re using), he took over Dr. E.S. Holton’s pharmacy at 63rd and Wallace, across the street from the spot where he’d one day build his famous castle. The commonly-told version of the story is that Dr. E.S. Holton was an old man, dying of cancer. When he died (or perhaps was killed), Holmes took over the store, buying it from the over-burdened Mrs. Holton, who was in over her head trying to run the drug store herself. She eventually tried to sue for non-payment, but eventually dropped the suit and moved to California. Practically everyone has assumed that Holmes actually killed her.

Or, anyway, this is the story as it appears in most modern Holmes books, such as Depraved and Devil in the White City. The source of it is tough to determine.

In 1894, when papers were publishing breathless accounts of Holmes, the Master Swindler, the Tribune mentioned that he had come to Chicago in 1887 and bought a pharmacy from a “Mrs. Dr. Holden” in Englegood, and suggested that local gossip had it that he had been sued for nonpayment, though the story had fizzled out after a while. The Chicago Mail said that Dr. Holton had trouble getting the money from Holmes, but eventually did so. Then again, the Chicago Mail was the sort of five page tabloid that ran a lot of stories about sea serpents, naked corpses, and people who found amusing ways to kill themselves. Not exactly the most reliable of sources (though it’s darn entertaining to read now).

Speaking of unreliable sources, Holmes himself said that when he came to Chicago he bought a pharmacy from an unnamed physician who badly wanted to sell it due to ill health. In 1895, Roger Corbitt specified that the druggist was named EH Holton in his self-published book on the Holmes Castle.

By 1898, people were telling the story that he’d swindled the old woman out of the place and that she’d afterwards disappeared. This is about all of the early data I could ever find on the story. The exact date at which this all happened is variously given from 1885-87.

Later writers, including Erik Larson in his Devil in the White City and back as far as the 1970s, have generally pieced the story together from this data and told a lurid tale of Holmes arriving in Chicago, where Mrs. Holton was in over her head trying to run a pharmacy on 63rd while her sick husband, the doctor, was an invalid, slowly dying of cancer. In most books on Holmes, he takes over the management of the place, and Mrs. Holton eventually sues for nonpayment, but then abruptly drops the suit and disappears. Holmes, in most versions, tells curious neighbors that the Holtons have gone on a trip to California. Most broadly hint that Holmes probably killed them, and his killing of the Holtons is now a pretty standard part of Holmes-lore.

Lacking any death certificates or anything, and with little about E.S. Holton available besides a listing in a couple of city directories establishing that there really was an E.S. Holton’s Pharmacy at 63rd and Wallace in 1885, it’s been tough to judge one way or the other how true the story was. But an 1880s national medical directory today gave me a first name, and that’s sent me down a little rabbit hole.

Dr. E.S. Holton was neither old nor a man. The E. stood for Elizabeth, and she was only a year or so older than Holmes himself.  Not a great deal is known about her, but we can piece together quite a bit from census forms, her appearances in city directories, etc.

Elizabeth Sarah Holton (nee Sanders) was born in Illinois in 1859. In 1879 and 80, she attended college in Ann Arbor  for a couple of years; she appears in several Michigan alumnae books under the name “Lizzie Sanders.” This would put her in Ann Arbor just shortly before Holmes arrived there to study medicine himself. To complete her degree, she studied Woman’s Medical College of Chicago, the first medical college of its kind in the West, graduating in 1883.

She married William J. Holton in 1882, while still a student in Chicago. Their first daughter, Abbie Marie, was born in July, 1883, just after her graduation (Dr. Holton, age 24, is listed as “Elizabeth Sarah Holton, M.D.” on the form).  Their second daughter, Frances, was born in October, 1887. William worked as a dispatcher on the railroad between stints as a telegraph operator and banker.  So when Holmes arrived, Dr. Holton would have been running the store with a baby, and perhaps another one on the way (depending on just when he arrived).

An 1896 alumnae book lists Elizabeth as “not in practice” by that time, and census records confirm this (her profession is generally listed as “none), though she’s still listed as a licensed physician in Illinois in directories going well into the 20th century. From other records we see her serving in such groups as the Englewood Woman’s Club and the South Side Parents’ School Club, of which she was the secretary. She may have gone back to school again; she appears as “Elizabeth Sanders Holton” in a list of 1893 graduates of Hahnehmann Medical College, which held its commencement exercises in the opera house in May of that year (a couple of years later, that same school would be denying that it bought skeletons from M.G. Chappel, who claimed to have sold them one made from a body that Holmes killed).

It’s possible that she gave up the drug store to Holmes in early 1887 around the time she became pregnant with Frances, giving up her career to go have a baby (it was the 1880s, after all), but Holmes certainly didn’t kill her.  She was still on 63rd street, about a block away from the old pharmacy and “castle,” in 1892, when a city voter list has her living at 800 63rd Street. That she was on the voter list at all is somewhat notable – under “remarks,” a section usually left blank, the registrar wrote in “woman.” Another record from as late as May, 1895 has her at the same address, so she was on 63rd longer than Holmes was. It’s probably worth noting that this means that Abbie presumably knew her neighbor, Pearl Conner, who lived in the castle until her 1891 disappearance. They were the same age and lived down the block from each other.

After 1896, Elizabeth continues to appear in directories and census lists, generally living at 6157 Honore with Frances and William (Abbie died young), for several years, until William’s death (due to a short illness, according to the Englewood Economoist) in 1910.

One part of the story is correct – she did move to California with Frances at some point between 1913 and 1920. She died there in 1933. Frances, who became a schoolteacher, lived until 1972. She was single and had no children of her own as of 1940, the last publicly-available census that lists her.

Elizabeth, William and Abigail’s graves at Oak Woods
Cemetery, near the World’s Fair grounds.

So,  Holmes certainly didn’t kill Dr. E.S. Holton or her spouse; Mr. Holton outlived Holmes by nearly fifteen years, and Dr. Holton herself outlived Holmes by more than twenty more years beyond that.

The exact nature of Holmes taking over the practice is still certainly a question mark here – my guess is that she decided to give it up early in 1887 when she became pregnant with her second child and sold it to Holmes (though him not paying her would be about par for the course) – he was getting his IL pharmacy license in Springfield in Fall, 1886, so the timeline works out perfectly.  That Holmes may have tried to sleep with her is absolutely not out of the question (and, frankly, when you get pregnant shortly after HH Holmes shows up, tongues are gonna wag), but there’s no indication that his relationship with her was at all inappropriate, and he certainly didn’t kill her.

How she never became involved in the Holmes story in the 1890s is a mystery to me – she was living right down the block the whole time. Police and reporters were talking to just about everyone who’d ever met him in the summer of 1895, and she still lived in the neighborhood, but I’ve never found an instance of reporters seeking her out.  It’s possible that police left her alone because she was in mourning – Abbie had died, aged 11, in May of 1895 after a brief bout with gastritis. Holmes had been safely locked up for some time by then, so there’s no reason to suspect him here, either.

Still, the fact that she attended the University of Michigan for awhile is a fascinating little piece of the puzzle. Holmes and Holton may well have had mutual acquaintances in Ann Arbor, and perhaps it was one of them who suggested that if Holmes was going to Chicago, he should look to Lizzie Sanders for a job, which would have lead him right to the intersection of 63rd and Wallace, across the street from the site where he’d build his famous castle.

Thanks to Cynthia at ChicagoGenealogy.com for finding birth and death certificates for Abbie Marie!

Inside the Couch Tomb: Pictures!

The Couch Tomb at the south end of Lincoln Park has been sealed for at least a century. We’ve spent a few previous posts going over what might be inside, including:

Who’s Buried in Ira Couch’s Tomb? New Info
Some More Couch Tomb Data (Couch family probate and death records)

The short version is this: at the south end of Lincoln Park stands the tomb of Ira Couch, the last major relic of the days when the park grounds were City Cemetery. Couch died in 1857, and
may have been joined in the tomb by as many as seven other people, ranging from family members to family friends and perhaps a stranger who died in the Tremont House, the hotel Ira owned at Dearborn and Lake (where the parking garage is now). Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth both stayed there after Ira’s death.

Ira died in 1857, and was interred in the tomb when it was built the next year. Why the crypty remained on the grounds after the rest of the cemetery was moved is something of a mystery itself, but the mystery that occupies us the most is whether Ira (or anyone else) is still in the tomb. The are no markings on the tomb saying who might be in there other than the name COUCH up at the top.  Ira’s grandson estimated that about 8 people were in there as of 1911, but there are reasons both to doubt him and to believe him.

The front is covered by a large metal door that is very well attached to the stone – if you think I’ve never had a drunk on the tour hop the fence and try to open it, you’d be wrong. Plenty of people who grew up in the city, especially in the 90-or-so year period when there was no fence around the mausoleum, have stories of trying to break in; there’s even a nick near the door handle where it looks as though someone tried to crowbar their way in. But it’s stayed sealed.

The door is not really a door at all – it’s a metal slab with a handle that’s probably just for decoration. There’s no keyhole, no latching or locking mechanism, and no hinges. It appears to be welded to some L brackets on the inside. But on a tour last winter, I noticed a bug crawling underneath it and realized that there was a crack under the “door” about the size of one’s pinky finger.

A thorough check of the Cemetery Care Act didn’t make me think it was illegal to take pictures of the inside of a tomb, so, using some very high tech equipment that I call The Tomb Snooper 500 (an iPhone taped to a wire hanger), I’ve been able to get some photos of the inside of the tomb, one of which will be published in GHOSTS OF CHICAGO, my new book on Chicago ghostlore.

   I was going to hold off on publishing the photos until the book came out, but I’m scheduled to sign advance copies at the Llewellyn booth at the ALA (American Library Association) conference here in Chicago on Sunday, June 30 at 1pm. So the cat’ll be out of the bag as of then, and I might as well publish here, for the first time, photos of the inside of the Couch Tomb.

What’s behind the door is…. another door. Behind the slab/door is a small antechamber headed off by a larger, more impressive door.

It’s so covered in dust and grime that it’s difficult to tell what it’s made of; there are some early references to the tomb having a marble door or slab behind the front door, but there are some spots that might be rust. On the right is a shot of the stone wall on the left, and the door (with a knob of some sort visible) on the right.

It’s a pretty large and impressive door, with a rounded protrusion on the right on which the door probably pivots when opened.  These are the two best shots that I could get; getting a good picture in such a small, enclosed place is difficult even when you can focus properly. 

This door may have once been the front door, really. Some early drawings show a sort of gate where the front “door” is now. THis might have been visible through the gate for the first 50 odd years of the tomb’s existence.

Cool as this is, it gets us no closer to determining who is or isn’t inside of the tomb.  I feel as though I’ve gotten past level one, but I’m stuck on level two. There are times when my job is not unlike being stuck inside of one of those “interactive fiction” text adventure computer games from the 80s. Interactive nonfiction!  Hector and Erin joked on our last podcast that if we ever see inside of door #2, there’ll be a person inside saying “sorry, Mario, but our princess is in another tomb.”

As we’ve seen in previous posts, no one is sure who is/isn’t in the tomb anymore. Rose Hill says Ira is there, but have nothing more than his name on a family plot to back it up. There’s no record one way or the other regarding IRa, or any of the others entombed here, being moved.

Of course, anyone who wants to learn more about the tomb and City Cemetery should peruse Pamela Bannos’ Hidden Truths. I called Pamela and sent her the “door” pictures a few months ago; Pamela is reasonably sure Ira is in the tomb, and probably in one of those Fisk Patent Metallica Burial Cases, the really ornate metal coffins with viewing windows over the face that were all the rage when Ira died. He had to be transported back from Cuba, necessitating a good casket, and, anyway, if you’re springing for a $7000 tomb, why not pay the extra hundred for the best coffin on the market at the time? If he is in there, and in one of those cases, there’s a chance that he could even still be recognizable. I run into stories of Fisk cases being dug up fairly often; the corpse seems to be in good shape about half the time.

My new GHOSTS OF CHICAGO book covers the ghosts that have been reported in Lincoln Park since the very early days of the park, when police officers there were more apt to blame the ghosts on the suicides that often occurred in the park in those days. It’s out in September, but up for pre-order now, and will be officially released in September. On Sunday, June 30th, I’ll be signing copies (presumably the typo-laden advance proofs!) at ALA at 1pm at the Llewellyn booth.

More pics:

Here’s a small shot of the back side of the front door (well, mostly the wall next to it), showing what appears to be the metal to which the front door/slab is attached:

And here’s a shot of the lower left portion of the interior door, showing the ground in front of it. There doesn’t seem to be a crack under this one. There appears to be some metal hooks at various points around the edges of the door.

And one more shot showing the door and the ceiling above it, view a view of the doorknob:

Julia Buccola: The Italian Bride – new findings, photos, and podcast!

Following a long research project, today I’ve published an article on The Order of the Good Death about Julia Buccola-Petta, the “Italian Bride” of Mt. Carmel cemetery.

Most Chicago ghostlore fans know the basics: at Mt. Carmel stands a statue of a woman, Julia Buccola, in her wedding dress. Beneath the life-sized edifice is a photograph of the Julia in her coffin. Though she appears not to have decomposed much, an inscription below states that the photo was taken when she had been dead for six years.

Legend has it that her mother, Filomena, had nightmares in which Julia demanded that her body be disinterred, and, though there are various scientific explanations, some say the well-preserved state of her body is a sign of holiness. I’ve been researching the story heavily for the last few months, including conducting interviews with Filomena’s great grandchildren, who provided a few photographs that have never been in circulation before.  Much of what I found came too late to be added to my new Ghosts of Chicago book, so I’m publishing it online, both here and in a new article for Caitlin Doughty’s Order of the Good Death.

Photo by Hector Reyes


And for you Chicago Unbelievable followers, I’m presenting here a new podcast on the subject (our first in over a year!), and, below, a detailed timeline of the Buccola and Petta families, as pieced together from records and interviews, with never-before-seen photos:



1909 – Enrique (Henry) Buccola arrives in Chicago from Palermo Italy. His brother Giuseppe (Joseph) appears to have already been in Chicago; his widowed mother Filomena and sisters, Rosalia and Guilia (Julia) remain in Palermo, Italy.  
Joseph and Henry Buccola. Henry
paid for Julia’s exhumation and the
new monument. Courtesy of
Antony Edwards, used by permission.

1910 – According to the census, Henry is living in Chicago with Joseph Buccola and his wife Anna in Chicago (per the census). Henry is working as a tailor, Joseph is a designer. Both are going by the “Americanized” versions of their names in records.

1911 – Rosalia Buccola emigrates to Chicago from Italy and marries Mariano Lunetta
1913/01/24 – a Sadie Lunetta is born to Mariano and Rosalia. She appears in some records as Lynn Sadie, and in most census forms under the name Rosaline. 
1913/08 –  Filomena Buccola, (Joseph, Henry and Rosalia’s mother), and Julia Buccola, (their sister), arrive in New York from Palermo en route to Chicago, where they’ll eventually move in with Henry in what is now the West Ukranian village.

1913/09 – The famous “Devil Baby” rumors swirl around Hull House. Filomena and Julia didn’t live in the Hull House neighborhood, but I’ve always liked to imagine that one of Filomena’s first acts as an American might have been to join the crowd of other old world women who went to Hull House demanding to see the (non-existant) devil baby.  
1915/09/15 – Joseph Lunetta is born to Mariano and Rosalia.
1917 – Henry Buccola, working as a tailor and living on the 2200 block of W. Erie, lists Filomena as solely dependent upon him financially in a draft card. Julia presumably lives with them, as well. 
1917 – Joseph’s draft card shows he’s working at the same place as Henry, though living a mile or two north.
1920, May – Julia is licensed to marry Matthew Petta.
1920, June 6 – Julia and Matthew marry at Holy Rosary Parish on Western Avenue (which still stands). They establish a home a couple of blocks away in an apartment building on West Huron Street, a block or two from Henry’s house (it, too, is still standing today). The apartment is pretty much in shouting distance of the house on Erie where Henry and Filomena are probably still living.
Filomena and Flora, her granddaughter,
in Chicago, a year or two before
Julia was exhumed. Courtesy of
Antony Edwards

1921 – March 17 – Julia dies giving birth to a stillborn son, just over nine months after the wedding. Her funeral is held at Rago Brothers, next to the church, and she is buried at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside two days later. 

1922 – Joseph Buccola serves as witness to Mariano Lunetta’s naturalization as a U.S. citizen.
1923/04/08  Henry Buccola marries Anna Covolo in Chicago. Anna was born to Italian parents in Venezula and spoke Spanish.
1924 – Henry and Anna’s daughter, Flora, is born. 
1925 (or so) – Matthew Petta, Julia’s bereaved husband, marries Margaret Collins,  mother of a young boy named Eugene Miles. Eugene’s father is listed in the 1930 census a Missouri man; more info on him is unknown. Margaret is an Iowa woman of Irish descent.
1926/03 – Henry’s son Gaetano (“Guy”) is born in Chicago. Around this time, Henry and Joseph both move to Los Angeles, where the climate is closer to that of their native country. Filomena will spend the rest of her life going back and forth from Henry and Anna’s house in Los Angeles to Rosalia and Mariano’s in Chicago. She appears to have made the move with Henry and his family.

1926: According to the family, it was after the move to L.A. that Filomena began to have nightmares about Julia. The exact content of the nightmares is not known, though folklore in Chicago states that Julia was demanding to be dug up, or that Julie was still alive. If nightmares weren’t involved, it may be that Filomena wanted Julia moved out of a Petta family plot (though there’s no evidence that she was ever buried in a spot other than her current one).  In any case, Filomena begins to lobby for Julia to be disinterred. If this is really when the nightmares started, it was a fairly quick process. 
the monument
1927 – Julia is exhumed from her grave (at her brother Henry’s expense). Records do not indicate that she was moved; she seems to have be re-interred in the same plot. No primary sources or records regarding the circumstances of the exhumation have ever been uncovered, or of how in the world they got permission to do it, but a photo of Julia in her coffin is taken, establishing that it happened. Her face is still recognizable.
1927-8? – An elaborate new monument is commissioned at Henry’s expense – the current version with the life-sized statue, two messages from Filomena, two photos of Julia in her wedding dress and the one of her in her coffin, well preserved after six years in the grave. The name Filomena Buccola appears twice on the gravestone: the front reads “Filomena Buccola Remembrance of my Beloved Daughter Julia Age 29 yrs.” An inscription on the back says (in Italian) 
“Filumena (sic) Buccola I offer this Gift to My Dear Daughter Guilia.”

The seldom-noticed inscription on the back

Notably,  Julia’s married name, Julia Petta, appears nowhere on the monument. 

There is no record as to what the original monument (if any) looked like or said.

The immense cost of the new monument (believed to be in the 10k range) creates a great deal of friction in the family – Henry Buccola’s wife is said to be furious, and Henry himself apparently isn’t happy about it, either. But the monument is built. No one knows now what the cost is, but family lore speaks of Henry lamenting that if they just had that ten thousand dollars, they’d be set for life. 

1928: Flora, age 4, is unable to speak. A doctor says it’s merely confusion based on the fact that four languages are spoken in the house  (English, Italian, Spanish, and Filomena’s thick Sicilian dialect). Anna, her mother, decrees that only English will be spoken in the house. Flora will eventually be able to understand Italian as an adult.  
Filomena in the 1930s with Rosalia, her daughter
(Julia’s sister). Courtesy of Antony Edwards

1930 – In the census, Filomena is listed as being back in Chicago, living with Rosalia and Mariano and their children, Rosaline (Lynn Sadie) Lunetta (17) and Joseph Lunetta (14).

The same census shows Henry Buccola  in Los Angeles with his wife and two children, Guy and Flora. He is now working as a designer for women’s clothing. Joseph Buccola is now in LA, as well, doing the same work. 
1932 – Henry’s family (probably including Filomena) move into a new house in L.A. The family still owns the house today.

1930s: In the new house, Flora shares a room with Filomena. Later in life, she’ll tell her children stories about Filomena loudly praying the rosary at all hours, prompting her to shout “Shut up, Nonna!”

1934/06 – A son – with the same name as Julia’s stillborn child – is born to Matthew and Margaret Petta back in Chicago. 
Filomena with grandchildren Gaetano (Guy) and Flora
in California. Courtesy of Antony Edwards.

1940 – The census states that Filomena is now living with Rosalia and Mariano in an apartment just around the corner from Julia’s old place. By now, Rosalia and Mariano’s daughter, Rosaline / Lynn Sadie is in Los Angeles.

Matthew Petta is operating Matty’s Inn, a tavern, on Clark Street, near Division. He and Margaret also have an infant daughter (who passed away in 2013 while this article was being prepared).  Eugene is 16 (his father is now listed as Matthew, not a missouri man), their other son is five.
1943/01/16 Mariano Lunetta dies at 61 – burial at Mt. Carmel.
1943/05  Lynn Sadie Lunetta, age 30, is licensed to wed Arthur Golluscio (b 1891) in Los Angeles.  They are married 5 days later in a ceremony at which the officiant is a minister of the “Temple of Light Institution of the Masters.” Henry Buccola, her uncle, serves as a witness. 
1944/09/23 – Henry Buccola dies in  Los Angeles.
1945/03 – Rosalia Buccola-Lunetta dies in Chicago; Filomena moves in with Jospeh Buccola and his wife in Los Angeles.
1945/05 – Matthew Petta dies in Chicago, aged 55, and is buried at All Saints. His widow moves the children to Iowa.
Filomena’s burial plot (space 8), a few feet to the left
of Julia’s (space 5), at Mt. Carmel Cemetery. 
The Muscato family plot is between the two.

1945/10 Filomena dies in Los Angeles. She is buried in Chicago, a few feet away from her daughter’s grave.  Her space is unmarked, but only a few feet away from the massive monument that bears her full name twice.

2006 – Flora Buccola-Edwards, Julia’s niece and Filomena’s granddaughter, dies in Los Angeles, in the very house where she once shared a room with Filomena.  Described in her obit as a “fierce liberal” and “staunchly pro-labor,” the family suggests donations to the United Farm Workers of America in lieu of flowers.

 note: I’ve left out a handful of exact dates, addresses, and the name of one person still living.

Note: I’m grateful for the family and children of Flora Buccola-Edwards for the photographs and information, especially Antony and Mariana Edwards.

Again, for the full story, see the article on The Order of the Good Death.

Podcast audio with slideshow:



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Coming in September:

The Skull of Del Close at the Goodman Theatre

It’s pretty well established now that the skull in the artistic director’s office at the Goodman wasn’t really the skull of comedian Del Close when he was alive, but it’s his now! He donated his skull to the theatre so that he could play Yorick, and the skull they have serves as his, at least symbolically.  A fundraiser once offered to show it to me if I donated enough cash, and I finally got to see it over the weekend.

 I have an article up today on The Order of the Good Death about it:

“Wanna See a Famous Skull?”
by Adam Selzer