Believe It or Not …

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

You probably recognize that tagline from the many Ripley’s Believe It or Not! attractions, and the phrase has come into common parlance. I’m going to introduce you to the former Koreshan Unity society, and you’ll soon see why I chose this title.

1. David Koresh

Headshot of David Koresh, n.d. Source:

First, let’s clarify that name—it has absolutely no relationship to David Koresh and the Branch Davidians of Waco, TX fame/infamy. Koresh is Hebrew for the name Cyrus and was taken by Cyrus Reed Teed, a very interesting man born in New York state in 1839. He studied medicine with his uncle, and after serving in the Civil War, completed his studies at the Eclectic Medical College in New York. There were numerous such medical colleges currently. “In nineteenth century America, a number of what today are called “alternative” medical practices—“magnetic healing” (hypnosis), homeopathy, and eclecticism, among others—vied with each other and with regular or “old school” medicine—i.e., allopathy, today’s science-based medicine.” Teed seems to have taken eclectic medicine to new heights by studying alchemy (an ancient belief/study of turning base metals into gold) and conducting electromagnetic experiments. Some sources claim his divine revelation was the result of a severe shock incurred during these experiments.

3. Globe Inside Globe

“Cellular Cosmogony” theory, n.d. Source:

One night in 1869, working late in his laboratory, Teed had a mystical “illumination” that set the course for the rest of his life. A beautiful woman appeared to him and filled him with a profound spiritual understanding, through which he came to realize that he was the new messiah. Teed renamed himself Koresh, the Hebrew translation of his name, and began to gather around him a group of converts to his way of thinking (Carmer 1949; Mackle 89 1971; Michel [1975]; Landing 1997). After failing to win large numbers of converts in New York state, he moved to Chicago in 1886 and there continued his ministry, eventually establishing the Koreshan Unity, a community of Koreshans devoted to putting Teed’s social and religious philosophy into practice.” The newly named Koresh developed a bizzare theory he called “cellular cosmogony.” It seems that “the Earth is a hollow spinning sphere and that we inhabit the inside held to the inner walls by centrifugal force. Actually, Teed went beyond just a run-of-the-mill Hollow Earth theory, he hypothesized that the entire universe was contained inside a super-size womb, called Earth, with the planets and sun suspended in the center, except the moon, which Teed said was just an illusion. Teed’s theory was appealing to many religious fundamentalists because no longer was the Earth just another tiny speck in the Universe, it was important because it contained the whole works inside and absolutely nothing on the outside.

2. The Koreshan Unity Button

“The Koreshan Unity” button, n.d. Source:

Tarlow, in her more scholarly resource, says that “the earth could be understood as being like a giant tennis ball, with the inhabited surface on the inside. The sun, moon, and astral bodies hung suspended in the center (Koresh 1905). For him, it was more than a differently shaped world; it was the foundation for a whole new and better society, which was inseparable from a new theology and a new social order. If humans live on the inside, that meant to Koresh that the human universe is knowable, finite, and ordered. Gone were the uncertainties of infinite space (Koresh 1905:97-101; Hume 1928:170; Gardner 1992:19). Moreover, the universe was now focused on a center, rather than expanding outward.

4. Damkohler

Headshot of Gustave Damkohler, n.d. Source:

The Koreshan Unity was ready to move on from Chicago, and settled in 1894 in Estero, Florida, just south of Ft. Myers. An old German immigrant by the name of Gustave Damkohler who had long homesteaded in this area encountered some of Teed’s writings and was impressed. “Damkohler liked what the pamphlets said and thought it to be a good idea to sell or even give his property to Cyrus Teed and join the Koreshan Unity commune, so he and his son would be taken care of for the rest of their lives. After Damkohler wrote to Dr. Teed, Teed and an entourage of his closest followers came to Estero to look at the property. Damkohler and Teed came to an agreement where Teed would purchase 300 acres from Damkohler for $200. Damkohler’s son, Elwin, did not trust the Koreshans or Teed, and refused to join the Unity with his father. Elwin believed Teed tricked his father into disinheriting him and was angry with him for selling the family property to Teed. After Damkohler grew disenchanted with the deal, Elwin convinced him to sue the Koreshans to get their property back and eventually settled with Teed out of court the return of 160 acres. The big winner, however, was Louis A. Hendry, Gustave’s lawyer, who kept 80 acres as his fee. Damkohler sold his 80 acres for $1,000 and moved to Alaska with his son to mine for gold. Damkohler died in Alaska at age 90, and Elwin returned to Florida and became a charter fishing boat captain.

Here’s the thing—yes, Teed’s beliefs were outré. It boggles the mind that he could convince as many as 200 followers that they were living “inside” the earth. But, to give credit where it is due, the Koreshan Unity had some laudable goals and achievements. “Women at the Unity Settlement enjoyed a level of equality, leadership and self-empowerment long before women had even earned the right to vote.” Alcohol, tobacco, and profanity were forbidden, and excavations show that the settlers largely followed this dictum.


Cyrus Teed house at Estero Koreshan Unity, 1995. Source: CS 662-069sc-0042.

Their community was one of the first in western Florida to have electric lighting, supplied on-site by their own generator, for the Koreshans, unlike some other members of Utopian communities, embraced recent technological developments (Koresh [1900]b; Herbert and Reeves 1977:73). …[Teed had specified that the community] would have underground tunnels (wide enough to carry all the wires, cables, and pipes necessary to an efficient, hygienic, and modern world, as well as carrying a garbage disposal system that would remove all waste.” (The tunnel system was unfortunately never established.) Community members lived well—some 20 buildings, most still standing, were built and the land cleared for habitation. The community supported itself by operating a printing press along with a store and gas station for travelers to the area, produced enough food to sell the excess, and operated manufacturing plants. Among the first buildings built in Estero was the Arts Hall where members enjoyed a wide variety of musical and theatrical performances.


Art Hall at Estero Koreshan Unity in Lee County, Florida, 1995. Source: CS 662-069sc-0006.

The remains of a tennis court have been found, so evidently Koreshans also enjoyed recreation.

The beginning of the end came on December 22, 1908 with Teed’s death. He and his followers believed he was immortal, so this came as somewhat of a shock. Loyal Koreshans waited by his body for 5 days for his resurrection, desisting only when state officials insisted that the body be buried. In a particularly ironic twist of fate, his grave no longer exists—in 1921 a hurricane swept his tomb out to sea. Not surprisingly membership dwindled, although the community continued for some years until in 1961 the 4 remaining members deeded their land to the state of Florida as a park and memorial. The last Koreshan died in 1982. In 2016, the Southwest Florida Television channel posted at aerial video of Koreshan State Historic Site in Estero, Florida. To check out this video, go to:

Koreshans gathered around tomb of Dr. Cyrus Reed Teed at Ft. Myers Beach on Estero Island, Florida, n.d. Source:

Koreshans gathered around tomb of Dr. Cyrus Reed Teed at Ft. Myers Beach on Estero Island, Florida, n.d. Source:

Information for this blog initially came from Rice Library’s Communal Studies Collection. The Center for Communal Studies promotes the study of contemporary and historic communal groups, intentional communities and utopias. Established in 1976 at the University of Southern Indiana, the Center encourages and facilitates meetings, classes, scholarship, publications, networking and public interest in communal groups past and present, here and abroad. The rich research resources of the Center are housed in the University Archives and Special Collections in the David L. Rice Library. The Center archives hold primary and secondary materials on more than one hundred historic communes and several hundred collective, cooperative and co-housing communities founded since 1965. Noted communal scholars have donated their private collections and their extensive research notes and papers to the Center archives. In many ways, intentional communities are natural laboratories for understanding and addressing some of the contemporary challenges facing humanity: conflict resolution, sustainable living, land reform, and relations between individuals and society. The Center For Communal Studies offers unmatched resources for sociologists, anthropologists, economists and others, including active communitarians, interested in the lessons — both successes and failures — that intentional communities can offer to the larger world. These collections highlight documents and photographs of intentional communities in the United States and around the world. New material is continuously being added to these collections, so come back and check often.

Resources Consulted:

Brown, Elisabeth. “Koreshan State Park Celebrates Women’s History Month.” Friends of Koreshan State Park, February 28, 2019.

Cyrus Teed’s Shocking Revelation and Hollow Earth Settlement. Weird U.S.

Florida Memory and the State Archives of Florida. Koreshan Unity [photographic] Collection.

Koreshan State Park. Florida State Parks.

Koreshan State Park History. Friends of Koreshan State Park.

Nickell, Joe. “Eclectic Medicine.” Center for Inquiry, July 7, 2017.

Parlin, Roger. “Gustav Damkohler, Florida Pioneer.” Friends of Koreshan State Park.

Tarlow, Sarah A. “Representing Utopia: The Case of Cyrus Teed’s Koreshan Unity Settlement. Historical Archaeology, v. 40, no. 1 (2006), pp. 89-99. Access provided by JSTOR database.




Posted in Communal Studies, history | Leave a comment

Hot! Hot! Hot!

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

Evansville faced a number of devastating fires in the 20th century … let’s take a peek at some of these.

La Fendrich Cigar Box, n.d. Source:

La Fendrich Cigar Box, n.d. Source:

The Fendrich family — a father, mother, and four brothers named Joseph, Charles, Francis and Herrmann — immigrated to the United States in 1833 from what is now Germany. A fifth brother, John, was born in the U.S. The brothers apprenticed in the several aspects of the Maryland tobacco trade and opened their first cigar shop, Francis Fendrich and Brothers Cigar Company, in Baltimore in 1850. Having found success, they opened a production facility in Pennsylvania. In 1855, the company expanded west, opening a shop and wholesaler on Main Street in Evansville to be closer to the tobacco trade in Kentucky, with river transportation allowing them to ship along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The family found great success in Evansville, expanding to a nearby five-story building also on Main Street. The company became one of Evansville’s largest employers, hiring mostly women in an era when female employment was uncommon. Fendrich competed with other local cigar manufacturers for workers. They advertised that all cigars were hand rolled, not with machinery, making the job safe for women.” Not only were women skilled in this work, but they were cheaper to employ than men, so by 1910, Fendrich was the largest manufacturer in Evansville, turning out 100,000 cigars a day.

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Hermann Fendrich, Harry Wright, and John Hermann Fendrich in front of the Old Fendrich Cigar Factory in Evansville, Indiana, 1885. Source: MSS 157-0506.

Hermann Fendrich, Harry Wright, and John Hermann Fendrich in front of the Old Fendrich Cigar Factory in Evansville, Indiana. This is the original store at 105 Main Street. Because the business was so successful, it moved into a much larger facility in the next block. It is that building (seen below) which burned, 1885. Source: MSS 157-0506.

Sketch of the old Fendrich Cigar Factory, n.d. Source:

Sketch of the old Fendrich Cigar Factory, n.d. Source:

The old Fendrich Cigar Factory, at 105 Main Street, burned to the ground December 6, 1910, taking many nearby buildings with it. No lives were lost, but all of the company’s equipment and stock was destroyed. Perhaps the biggest issue was that the fire left more than 700 people out of work for nearly 2 years. Some of these buildings were rebuilt, but Fendrich moved its factory to 101 Oakley Street, the current site of Berry Plastics/Berry Global. It would take two years before a new factory was operational. “In the new factory, once machines were installed, four girls working one machine turned out 4,400 perfect cigars each ten-hour shift.” Fendrich stayed in operation for many more years, finally leaving Evansville/going out of business in 1969.

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The next big fire to discuss was that of the H. A. Woods Drug Store at 1022 SE 2nd Street (at the time the address was 1144 Upper 2nd Street). “[George Washington] Haynie (1857-1939) was a well-known and respected business owner, public servant, and family man…. In addition to running his drug store from the late 1800s to 1928, he served as the commissioner of police, a board member of water works and safety, and president of the Indiana Druggist Association. President Grover Cleveland even appointed Haynie as surveyor of customs for the city. The local leader also was dubbed with the unique nickname, Mayor of Goosetown, in reference to the neighborhood’s large population of geese. Haynie’s drug store was situated on the first floor of a Second Street building designed by Weiss & Harris Architects, with his family home on the second floor above, where he lived with his wife Emma and their son Gilmore. Neighbors became Haynie’s longtime customers, calling him by name, and vice versa. But after his retirement in 1928, he sold the business to fellow Evansville druggist H.A. Woods.” This neighborhood is commonly called Haynie’s Corner in his memory.

MSS 287-014

Postcard of Haynie’s Drug Store in Evansville, Indiana, n.d. Source: MSS 287-014.

This building may have proved a bit unlucky … it was destroyed in the 1937 flood, rebuilt, and then destroyed again by fire which broke out early in the morning of March 26, 1944. Newspaper delivery boys discovered the fire and alerted the building’s residents shortly before an explosion was heard in the basement. The drug store occupied the ground floor and basement, while there were apartments above. Fortunately, everyone was able to evacuate without injury.

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Before malls became meccas of consumerism, a city’s downtown was the heart of its shopping district. So, it was for Evansville, and one of its largest stores was the Economy Store, housed in the Arcade building at 316-326 Main Street. Built around 1895, here’s an early 1900’s view of the building.

Central business district along Main Street in Evansville, Indiana, c. 1900. Source: MSS 264-0205.

Central business district along Main Street in Evansville, Indiana, c. 1900. Source: MSS 264-0205.

Most of Evansville was asleep at 1:30 a.m. when the fire department alarms began to sound around the city as a bright orange blaze was spotted Downtown. By the time the first engines arrived a few minutes later, almost half the block of Main Street between Third and Fourth streets was ablaze and the fire was quickly spreading. The city Christmas wreaths were still on the double-acorn top streetlights and the entire area was as bright as morning. Newspaper reporters and photographers raced to the rooftops of the tallest buildings to watch in horror what was happening below. … The fire started in the rear of the Economy Store and quickly spread to the adjoining Walgreens Drugs on the corner (where the closed Roger’s Jewelry store now stands) then south across the alley to Reed’s Shoes and the Bon Marche. Nearly all of the fire department’s 180-man force, plus an additional 20 or so firemen from outlying towns, eventually were on the scene of the conflagration which by 2 a.m. had jumped across Main and set Hoffman’s clothing store ablaze and threatened the Citizens Bank tower (now Kunkel Square), set the Evansville Federal building alight, and threatened the Hulman Building. Fast acting firefighters created a “firewall” to protect both high rises. After several hours the fire was finally under control, but the central retail area of the city was in ruins and insurance estimators put the damage at $6 million ($58 million today). The fire destroyed or damaged 11 stores and six office buildings, and more than 200 people were unemployed as the large retail establishments were rebuilt. Some never re-opened and others took their place, like the Evansville Store. Several firefighters were injured and all suffered from the cold night air when temperatures fell to below freezing.

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3. Evansville Furniture Company

Sketch of Evansville Furniture Company, n.d. Source:

In the mid to late 1800’s, Evansville had more than 40 furniture companies. The availability of a wide variety of hardwoods nearby, along with an influx of German immigrants skilled in the lumber and furniture trade, contributed to this bounty. One of these businesses was the Evansville Furniture Company, at 1419 Pennsylvania Street (the original address was 301-305 West Pennsylvania Street), founded in 1870. There was a fire early in its history—in 1879—but the business was rebuilt. It was successful enough to warrant the construction of additional showroom space nearby. In the 1950’s, the business was sold to Universal Furniture Company; although it razed the extra showrooms, it operated until 1985. At that time, Corporate Design, Inc. moved in and is still in business there today.

On February 24, 1975, a four-alarm fire did massive damage to the structure.

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Today you would drive by this building as you head west on the Lloyd Expressway—it’s just east of the Pigeon Creek bridge, the 4-story red brick structure on your right.

Later that same year, right before Christmas, Inland Marina on Waterworks Rd. suffered from a massive fire. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, $850,000 worth of pleasure boats were destroyed. At least 19 boats were involved.

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You might know Inland Marina as the site where LST 325 is currently docked, until it moves to a new location on the downtown riverfront.

The last conflagration is that of the Upstage Dinner Theatre on January 16, 1977. The building itself was the former Elks Home/Club at 100 SE 1st Street. The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (a fraternal organization) built this building 1904-1906. A hotel had previously been at this location, but after it was razed, another nearby hotel owner offered the Elks some funding to build on this spot and thus eliminate the competition from another hotel. Over the years, membership dwindled, and in 1974, the Upstage Dinner Theatre took over this facility. It quickly became a popular entertainment venue, with the Stage Door Night Club operating out of the basement.

Elks Club in Evansville, Indiana, c. 1909. Source: RH 033-204.

Elks Club in Evansville, Indiana, c. 1909. Source: RH 033-204.

The winter of 1977 was brutally cold—the Ohio River froze, and the temperature was below freezing for 26 days in a row. For one 58-hour period, the temperature stayed below zero. On January 16 the overnight temperature dropped to 21 degrees below zero. It was COLD! Firefighters had a terrible battle after the fire broke out. “Water used to fight the fire froze quickly and encased the remains of the building in a sheet of ice, causing a delay in the investigation as to the cause of the fire. It was eventually determined that the fire started in the liquor store room of the Stage Door Night Club and declared an arson. Almost $1,000 in cash was found to be missing from a cash box in the store room, leading investigators to believe that the fire was started to cover up a burglary. In January 1978, just ahead of the one-year anniversary of the fire, the Vanderburgh Prosecutors Office announced that they would renew the investigation into the arson and determine if sufficient evidence existed to bring charges, but no charges were ever filed in the case.

In the photographs below, note the snow the firemen are standing in, the frozen hydrant and pumper truck, and the fire set by the hydrant to keep the water flowing.

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Amazingly, there were no casualties in all these fires. This blog utilizes a lot of UASC digital collections and highlights some of the “hidden” riches. Take a look and see what you can discover!

Resources Consulted:

Digital collections from David L. Rice Library, University Archives/Special Collections:

RH 033: Evansville Postcards Collection

MSS 034: Greg Smith Collection

MSS 157: Schlamp-Meyer Collection

MSS 183: Hammond-Awe Collection

MSS 184: Brad Awe Collection

MSS 205: Anna Orr Collection

MSS 264: Thomas Mueller Collection

MSS 287: Bob Haynie Collection

Coures, Kelley. “The Main Street Fire.” Evansville Living Magazine, May/June 2014.

Evans, Zach. “Haynie family pushes for plaque at historic corner.” Evansville Courier and Press, February 1, 2017.

Hyman, Tony. “Herrmann & John Fendrich/La Fendrich & Charles Denby.” A Cigar History Museum Exclusive, July 12, 2012.

Nay, Brittany. “The Name Behind The Corner.” Evansville Living Magazine, July/August 2017.

Smith, Daniel. “History Lesson: Elks Home, Upstage Dinner Theater.” Evansville Courier and Press, January 16, 2018.

Smith, Daniel. “History Lesson: Evansville’s Arcade Building fire in 1951.” Evansville Courier and Press, June 20, 2016.

Smith, Daniel. “History Lesson: Fendrich Cigar Company.” Evansville Courier and Press, April 28, 2018.

Posted in Evansville, Indiana, Local history, Natural Disasters | Leave a comment

Delving Deep into the Past

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

You can learn a lot about history by visiting cemeteries. With apologies for the pun in the title, let’s head over to Evansville’s Oak Hill Cemetery.

Oak Hill was the second of Evansville’s platted, public burying grounds and succeeded a small 2 ½ -grave yard opened in the 1830s on the southeast edge of the young village. By mid-century, however, there evidently arose a need for a new public Cemetery and, in a Common Council meeting of 12 August 1850, a committee was appointed to reconnoiter the surrounding countryside for the purpose of finding a new Cemetery site. Within two years, 56 acres had been acquired 1 ½ miles northeast of the town, and by February 1853 lots were offered for sale. The first interment occurred on the 18th of February, and later land purchases (up until 1924) gave the Cemetery its present acreage.

First, we need a bit of background about the time period. For the Victorians, death was a very real and ever-present threat. Diseases like smallpox, cholera, and tuberculosis (called consumption) ran rampant. Sanitation and hygiene, especially the understanding of their importance, were virtually non-existent. Your very surroundings could kill you: “The floral wallpapers in prosperous parlours, and the brilliant leaves on fashionable hats, could kill the workers who had close contact with the arsenic in the green dye. … There was arsenic everywhere in the home – in the bathroom, to remove superfluous hair, in the garden to kill rats, in the kitchen to kill flies.” The average middle-class gentleman might hope to live to 45, but those in the working class had a life expectation of half that. A child living until his/her 5th birthday was the happy exception. Childbirth was a risky business. For a woman, who could find herself pregnant nearly constantly given the lack of contraceptive options, death in childbirth (often due to infection introduced by the birth attendant) was a very likely outcome.

In the Victorian era when men, women, children, and the elderly were dying at an unprecedented rate, people didn’t want to be reminded of death and damnation when they buried their dead. They wanted to mourn in peace.   The architect Sir Islington Wren had introduced the idea of a garden-like cemetery on the edge of town as early as 1711, but it wasn’t until the 19th century that rural cemeteries caught on. When they did though, everything about death changed. With names like “Green-Wood” and “Forest Lawn,” graveyards came off as places of natural respite, not of decay and foreboding. Grassy lawns, flowering trees, and reflective ponds made them as much a place of repose for the living as for the dead. The skulls and crossbones of 16th century grave markers were replaced by more artistic, interpretive symbols like lambs, lilies, and open books. And unlike the restrictive religious burying grounds, in these new rural cemeteries of the 19th century, municipally operated and religiously unaffiliated, anyone was welcome to be interred. The living flocked to rural cemeteries in droves. In some places these were among the first parks open to the public, and when they opened Victorians would take day outings to the new cemeteries. Celebrity corpses were a draw, but so were those who became famous in death—tragic young women who threw themselves into rivers and pioneering balloonists who fell from the sky. Memorials, too, gave sculptors and artists a place to showcase their work, some of which became famous in its own right. Death was never more present than in the Victorian era. But rather than pretend it wasn’t there, people living in the 19th century got cozy with their final fate in bucolic grounds where the notion of beauty in death was celebrated.

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Even though this particular photographs are from a different cemetery, things were little different at Oak Hill. “As the product of mid-Victorian impulses, the grounds and other improvements of the site reflected the values and frame of mind of 19th-century Evansville. Its designers and superintendents captured the romantic moods important to city-dwellers in a total environment of greenery, walks, buildings, and grave markings. Popular local architects created buildings and mausoleums which were both functional and sublime, underscoring the Victorian’s urge to get the maximum benefit from their public works. More than simply the final resting place of prominent and not-so-prominent Evansville citizens, the Cemetery served as a vehicle for a wide range of cultural and urban events essential to an understanding of life in 19th-century America cities. … Oak Hill was there when citizens “became wearied with the sight of human faces, when the noise and bustle of the city grate harshly on the ear, when we feel an inward yearning for some quiet spot where we may rest in seclusion, undisturbed and alone.”” The following photographs display the pastoral beauty of this cemetery.

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Both the administration building (1899) and the entrance gate (1901)were designed by the local architectural firm of Harris and Shopbell (see February 4, 2019 blog for more on this firm.)


Grave at Oak Hill Cemetery in Evansville, Indiana, 1890. Source: MSS 264-2891.

One of the most touching memorials is this grave. Katie Sawyer was born in 1862, the daughter of a local doctor, and married a Louisville man in 1883. In May 1884, she delivered a baby girl but died in childbirth. The child was to have been named Elizabeth in honor of Katie’s mother, but in view of the circumstances, was named Katie for her late mother. Three months later, the infant Katie also died.

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This is the Viele monument. Charles Viele came to Evansville in the 1830s and made his fortune in the wholesale grocery and liquor business. His fortune is evident in the house he built for his family at 400 SE Riverside Drive, pictured here circa 1977. It was built in 1855, remodeled in 1873, and still stands today across from the Evansville Museum of Arts, History, and Science, although the family has died out.

Possible Civil War section at Oak Hill Cemetery in Evansville, Indiana, c. 1900. MSS 264-1237.

Possible Civil War section at Oak Hill Cemetery in Evansville, Indiana, c. 1900. MSS 264-1237.

John W. Messick of Evansville, Indiana (youngest Union soldier in the Civil War), c. 1865. Source: MSS 264-0960.

John W. Messick of Evansville, Indiana (youngest Union soldier in the Civil War), c. 1865. Source: MSS 264-0960.

The cemetery also pays tribute to the Civil War dead, on both sides of the conflict. Both Union and Confederate soldiers, many of whom died in the Marine Hospital here (there will be a blog on this hospital posted the first week in November—be sure to look for it), lie under the same sod. The young boy is John W. Messick, a Civil War drummer boy, one of the youngest Union soldiers when he enlisted with his father in Company A, 42nd Indiana Volunteer Infantry, on September 3, 1861 at the age of 9 years, 2 months, and 2 days. He was honorably discharged in October 1864, died in 1892, and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.

Drawing of General and Mrs. Robert Morgan Evans, n.d. Source: MSS 157-0757.

Drawing of General and Mrs. Robert Morgan Evans, n.d. Source: MSS 157-0757.

This portrait is of General and Mrs. Robert M. Evans, for whom the city of Evansville was named. According to information from the cemetery, they are in vaults with chains around them, and the top slabs of the stone are painted black.

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William Heilman was a German immigrant and founder of Heilman Machine Works and a plow company (later known as Vulcan Plow under Major Albert C. Rosencranz who married Heilman’s daughter; Rosencranz is also buried at Oak Hill). Heilman was a member of Congress from 1879-1883 and died in 1890. His son, Charles F., was mayor of Evansville during 1910 to 1914. The life-sized statue of St. John atop this monument was erected in 1892. The photograph of the building located at 611 North First Avenue is now St. Vincent’s Daycare, but it was originally the William Heilman home.

Other prominent Evansvillians interred at Oak Hill Cemetery:

Mead Johnson, founder of the Mead Johnson Nutrition company at the corner of the Lloyd Expressway and St. Joseph Avenue.

Albion Fellows Bacon (early 1900s housing reformer and for whom the local domestic abuse organization/shelter is named), her sister Annie Fellows Johnson (author of the Little Colonel books), and their parents, Rev. and Mrs. Albion Fellows (he was the pastor of the current Trinity United Methodist Church at 216 SE 3rd Street.)

Willard Carpenter, for whom Willard Library is named—his home at 405 Carpenter Street is the former home of WNIN (NPR/PBS affiliate) and was once an Underground Railroad station. (There will be a blog on the Underground Railroad coming out in late October—be sure to look for it.)

Isaac and Elizabeth Harrison, king and queen of the gypsies—see April 29, 2019 blog for more details

Orr family, founders of the Orr Iron Company, which stood at the corner of the Lloyd Expressway and Fulton Ave. until it was razed in 2008. The doorway of that building can currently be seen in the University Center. The Orr Center building on campus is named for family descendent Robert D. Orr, former governor of Indiana. According to Oak Hill Cemetery’s website, the Orr monument was erected in 1884 and is made of blue crystal granite. The oak and laurel wreath that adorn it symbolize strength and victory. The monument weighs some 30 tons. Robert D. Orr is buried in Indianapolis at Crown Hill Cemetery.

Karl Kae Knecht, noted local and American cartoonist. Knecht went to work as the cartoonist at the Evansville Courier where his first cartoon appeared in September 1906. In addition to drawing cartoons for the paper, Knecht became staff photographer in 1917 when the newspaper bought its first camera and also wrote columns and reviews. His “Say, Kay! What of Folks, Shows, Animals N’ Such” column appeared weekly from 1919 until 1954. Knecht was named director of the paper and served as vice president from 1952 to 1960. For most of Knecht’s career, his cartoons appeared seven days a week on the front page until 1954 when they were moved to the editorial page. Knecht worked for the Courier for so long that he came to be known as the dean of editorial cartoonists. He retired from the Courier in May 1960 and died in Evansville, Indiana on July 28, 1972.

This blog could go on and on, but I suggest you consult the “Here Lies Evansville” Oak Hill Cemetery & Arboretum Walking Tour available online and/or look for a guided tour. Not all prominent Evansvillians are buried at Oak Hill, of course. The city’s other public cemetery is Locust Hill Cemetery. You can search both of these cemeteries online. Others are buried at private cemeteries.

Sources Consulted:

Jacobson, Molly McBride. “The 10 Iconic Cemeteries That Made Death Beautiful.” Atlas Obscura, October 6, 2013.

Oak Hill Cemetery & Arboretum Walking Tour

Oak Hill Cemetery History

Picard, Liza. “Health and hygiene in the 19th century.” Victorian Britain (published by the British Library), October 14, 2009.

Posted in Evansville, Indiana, Indiana history, Local history | Leave a comment

Back Home Again …

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

… in Indiana—let’s learn a bit more about your home state/your adopted state/where you’re currently living while at USI. First, just a bit of clarification….that song lyric I quoted in the title is NOT from the official state song (which is “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away,” written by Paul Dresser).

Statistically speaking:

Indiana entered the Union on December 11, 1816, becoming the 19th state. It has 92 counties. Knox County (Vincennes) was organized April 20, 1790, making it the oldest county; Newton County (on the Illinois border in northwestern Indiana) is the newest, organized December 8, 1859. Vanderburgh County was organized February 1, 1818.

Marion County (Indianapolis) is the largest by population, with 950,082 in the 2017 estimate. Ohio County, with only 5828 residents, is the state’s smallest. It is on the Kentucky border in the southeastern part of the state, part of the Cincinnati MSA (metropolitan statistical area). Vanderburgh County’s population in that same estimate was 181,616, ranking it 7th in the state.

Allen County (Ft. Wayne) is the largest county in terms of area, encompassing 657.31 square miles. Ohio County is the smallest, only 86.14 sq. mi. Vanderburgh County ranks 85th with 233.48 sq. miles.

In a 2017 estimate of the population for Indiana’s towns and cities, the top five were:

  • Indianapolis: 863, 002
  • Ft. Wayne: 265, 904
  • Evansville: 118, 930
  • South Bend: 102, 245
  • Carmel: 92, 198
Map of Indiana, 1822. Source: Rose Pearl collection, MSS 146.

Map of Indiana, 1822. Source: Rose Pearl collection, MSS 146.

Getting to the Indiana territory, and later the state of Indiana, was no easy task in its early settlement days. “Transportation in Indiana during the late 1700s and early 1800s was mainly done by river. Many early settlers to Indiana traveled by floating down the Ohio River. Products and crops were sent by flatboat to be sold at market. The most common boats used during this time were flatboats. A group of men could construct a flatboat in about 30 days. If they were transporting products and crops they would load them onto the flatboat and float down the Ohio River.” The state was thus settled, at least roughly, from south to north. This also explains why Corydon served as the first state capital from 1816-1825—at that time it was central to the population base. The 1822 map shown above illustrates this south to north migration. Text that accompanies it notes that “the northern part of the state is still occupied by Indians and has been very imperfectly explored. The southern part is inhabited by whites….” At this time, only 35 of Indiana’s 92 counties were established.

Grave headstone of Judge Henry Vanderburgh, n.d. Source:

Grave headstone of Judge Henry Vanderburgh, n.d. Source:

Let’s take a closer look at 6 of those first counties, the ones closest to our current location, and see how they got their names. Vanderburgh County, organized February 1, 1818, was named for Henry Vanderburgh (occasionally seen as VanderBurgh), a territorial judge. “Vanderburgh was born in Troy, New York, in 1760. On November 21, 1776, at age 16, John Jay appointed Vanderburgh Lieutenant in the Fifth New York Regiment of the Continental Army. John Hancock re-appointed him, and later he was commissioned Captain in the Second Regiment. He served until the close of the Revolutionary War in 1783. Vanderburgh was a territorial judge [appointed by President John Adams] during the organization of the Indiana Territory, a position he occupied until his death April 12, 1812.” NOTE: Although the gravestone shows a death date of April 5, every other source consulted had April 12.

Gibson County, organized April 1, 1813, was named for John Gibson, a governor of the Indiana Territory. Gibson was born May 23, 1740, in Lancaster, Pennsyvlania and saw military action in the French and Indian War. He later acted as a translator and negotiator with Native Americans. Although he is credited with being the 2nd Indiana territorial governor, he was acting governor when Governor William Henry Harrison was away. He served in this capacity July 4, 1800 to January 10, 1801 and June 1812 to May 1813. His true role was secretary of the Indiana Territory 1800-1816. Upon Indiana statehood, Gibson returned to Pennsylvania where he died April 12, 1822. Here’s a view of what the Indiana territory looked like circa 1812.

3. Indiana Map

Indiana Territory at it existed in 1812, n.d. Source:

The final governor of the Indiana Territory was Thomas Posey, for whom Posey County (organized November 11, 1814) is named. He was born in Fairfax County, VA, July 9, 1750 and served in the Revolutionary War–he was appointed captain in a Virginia regiment, promoted to the rank of major in 1778 and the following year made colonel, and was present at the surrender of Yorktown in 1781. He moved to Kentucky in 1794 and served in various positions in its state government until he moved to Louisiana, where he was appointed to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of John N. Destrehan and served from October 8, 1812, to February 4, 1813. Posey then was appointed and served as governor of the Indiana Territory March 3, 1813 to November 7, 1816. He died on March 19, 1818.

4. John Bayless Hill

Portrait of Thomas Posey, n.d. Source:

Pike County, organized February 1, 1817, was named for Zebulon Montgomery Pike (1779-1813), for whom Pike’s Peak is named. Born in New Jersey, Pike was the son of a Continental Army officer and grew up at various military posts. A fervent nationalist, Pike joined the army himself at the age of 15. After the Louisiana Purchase and the trek of Lewis and Clark, Pike was delighted to be ordered to first explore the upper Mississippi River valley, and in 1806-1807, the southwestern part of the Louisiana Purchase, of which Colorado was a part. “On November 15, west of present-day Lamar, Pike spied what he described as a small blue cloud on the horizon. It turned out to be a mountain. A few days later, with three of his sixteen men, he left the river to climb to the summit of what he called the Grand Peak. Later, that peak would bear his name, Pikes Peak. Slowed by rough terrain and inadequate supplies, the climbers never reached the top.”  Pike went on to fight in the War of 1812 and was killed in action at the battle of York (today’s Toronto, Canada) on April 27, 1813.

Spencer County (organized February 1, 1818) is named in honor of Spier Spencer. Spencer was born in Virginia (the year is uncertain, but somewhere between 1770-1776) and moved with his family to Kentucky, where he later married. In 1809 Spencer was appointed by Indiana Territorial Governor William Henry Harrison as the first sheriff of Harrison County. Spencer headed a Harrison County militia group called the Yellow Jackets (after the color of their uniforms); this group fought in the Battle of Tippecanoe. Spencer was mortally wounded there November 7, 1811. According to a dispatch sent from Governor Harrison to the Secretary of War, “Spencer was wounded in the head. He exhorted his men to fight valiantly. He was shot through both thighs and fell; still continuing to encourage them, he was raised up, and received a ball through his body, which put an immediate end to his existence…” Spencer County, Kentucky, as well as the town of Spencer, Indiana, are also named in his memory.

Grave headstone of Captain Spier Spencer, n.d. Source:

Grave headstone of Captain Spier Spencer, n.d. Source:

Another casualty of the Battle of Tippecanoe was Jacob Warrick. Born in Virginia in 1773, he moved with his family to Kentucky, where he married, and later moved to Indiana. He served as a militia captain in the Battle of Tippecanoe. According to General Harrison’s official report of the battle, “Captain Warrick was shot immediately through the body and taken to the surgery to be dressed. As soon as it was over, being a man of great bodily vigor and able to walk, he insisted on going back to the head of his company, although it was evident that he had but a few hours to live.” Warrick County might be called the “Mother County” of southern Indiana as it originally encompassed all of Perry, Posey, Spencer and Vanderburgh counties, as well as a portion of Crawford County.

7. Jacob Warrick Headstone

Grave headstone of Captain Jacob Warrick, n.d. Source:

We think of Indiana as a solidly midwestern state, but this brief glimpse into its history shows it played its part, on what was once the western frontier, in the expansion of the United States from “sea to shining sea.” Whether you are a Hoosier born, have adopted Indiana as your own, or hail from near or far away, you now know a little bit more about the place where you currently find yourself.

NOTE: if you would like to know more about your own county, just click on the “Leave a Comment” link at the end of this blog and let me know where you’re from. If there is enough interest, I’ll write another blog, but will respond to you individually if you provide your e-mail. This offer is good for any U.S. state/county.

Resources Consulted:

Captain Henry Vanderburgh Chapter, Evansville, Indiana. National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR).

Captain Spier Spencer.” Spencer County Historical Society.

Carden, Dan. “John Gibson.” Times of Northwest Indiana, February 8, 2016.

Dictionary of American Biography; Posey, John Thornton. General Thomas Posey: Son of the American Revolution. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1992; Posey, John Thornton. “Governor Thomas Posey: The Son of George Washington?” Indiana Magazine of History 86 (March 1990): 28-49. (made available online through Biographical Directory of the United States Congress 1774-Present)

Find-a-Grave database

“Jacob Warrick.”

MSS 147 Rose Pearl collection of historic Indiana maps (1795-1846)

“Origin of Indiana County Names.” Indiana Historical Bureau.

Orsi, Jared. “Zebulon Montgomery Pike.” Colorado Encyclopedia online.

Pioneer Settlement in Indiana (1790-1849). The History Museum (South Bend, IN)

Population Estimates for Indiana Counties, 2010-2017

Population Estimates for Indiana’s Incorporated Places, 2010-2017

Posted in American history, history, Indiana, Indiana history, Indiana Legends, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Elvis is IN the building!

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

The King performed in Evansville for the second and last time, at the now demolished Roberts Stadium, on October 24, 1976. People camped out/stood in line for 2 days to get a ticket.

Fans waiting to buy tickets for Elvis Presley at Roberts Stadium, 1976. Source: Gregory Smith collection, MSS 034-0672.

Fans waiting to buy tickets for Elvis Presley at Roberts Stadium, 1976. Source: Gregory Smith collection, MSS 034-0672.

Fans waiting to buy tickets for Elvis Presley at Roberts Stadium, 1976. Source: Gregory Smith collection, MSS 034-0674.

Fans waiting to buy tickets for Elvis Presley at Roberts Stadium, 1976. Source: Gregory Smith collection, MSS 034-0674.

There was some dispute about whether tickets were sold fairly. “Frances Smith was staked out for 17 hours to be the first in line to purchases tickets but found that the best seat available was in row 12. The local papers fielded numerous complaints from purchasers. Some fans believed that tickets were withheld or sold early to local businesses and the local police. Stadium officials denied that any seats were held, sighting confusion over the seating sections as well as the great demand due to a large number of fans purchasing tickets. Despite the ticketing controversy, the concert sold out. More than 13,600 tickets were sold, the largest paid concert crowd in Roberts Stadium history to that point.

Performing for about an hour, Elvis thrilled the audience by singing all his old favorites.

Elvis Presley in concert on October 24, 1976 at Roberts Municipal Stadium. Source: Gregory Smith collection, MSS 037-0737.

Elvis Presley in concert on October 24, 1976 at Roberts Municipal Stadium. Source: Gregory Smith collection, MSS 037-0737.

Elvis Presley in concert on October 24, 1976 at Roberts Municipal Stadium. Source: Gregory Smith collection, MSS 037-0767.

Elvis Presley in concert on October 24, 1976 at Roberts Municipal Stadium. Source: Gregory Smith collection, MSS 037-0767.

Fans clamored for one of his sweaty scarves, worn during the concert.

Elvis Presley in concert on October 24, 1976 at Roberts Municipal Stadium. Source: Gregory Smith collection, MSS 034-0739.

Elvis Presley in concert on October 24, 1976 at Roberts Municipal Stadium. Source: Gregory Smith collection, MSS 034-0739.

Before he was ELVIS the star, he was born into a poor family in Tupelo, Mississippi on January 8, 1935. His mother gave birth to twin boys, but the first was stillborn. Times were hard for the close-knit, deeply religious family. They moved from house to house, and at the tender age of 10, Elvis gave his first public musical performance by winning 5th place in a youth talent contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show.

Family picture of Gladys (left), Elvis (middle), and Vernon (right), n.d. Source:

Family picture of Gladys (left), Elvis (middle), and Vernon (right), n.d. Source:

Most young boys want bicycles, and Elvis was no exception. Unable to afford this, his mother talked him into getting a $12.95 guitar at the Tupelo Hardware Company. He now had his first performance, his first guitar, and the beginnings of country, gospel, and blues music influences that would lead him to stardom. In 1948 the family, in search of a better life, moved to Memphis, where the young boy was exposed to even more musical influences. “Elvis and his parents live in public housing or low rent homes in the poor neighborhoods of north Memphis. Life continues to be hard. Vernon and Gladys go from job to job and Elvis attends L.C. Humes High School. Elvis works at various jobs to help support himself and his parents. The Presley-Smith family remains close-knit, and Elvis and his family attend the Assembly of God Church. The teenage Elvis continues to be known for singing with his guitar. He buys his clothes on Beale Street and he absorbs the black blues and gospel he hears there. He’s also a regular audience member at the all-night, white and black, gospel sings that are held downtown. He wears his hair long (compared to the day’s standards) and slick, and lets his sideburns grow. He’s really different from the other kids, a good-natured misfit. While at Humes High, Elvis nervously sings with his guitar at a student talent show. Much to his own amazement, he gets more applause than anyone else and wins, then performs an encore. The acceptance feels good.

Elvis (center) performing on-stage, n.d. Source:

Elvis (center) performing on-stage, n.d. Source:

In the 1950s, Elvis made several demo records at the legendary Sun Studios and began to attract attention. He was teamed with a couple of local musicians, and by 1954, they enjoyed sufficient success to quit their day jobs. In 1956 Elvis held his first of many recording sessions with RCA, including a rendition of “Heartbreak Hotel.” ““Heartbreak Hotel” b/w “I Was the One” is released on vinyl by RCA and sells over 300,000 copies in its first three weeks on the market. It is soon to go to #1 on Billboard’s pop singles chart for eight weeks and hits #1 on the country chart and #5 on the R&B chart. It becomes the first Elvis single to sell over one million copies, thus earning Elvis his very first gold record award.” More recordings, live television performances, and Hollywood movies followed, further propelling Elvis into superstardom.

His trajectory was temporarily slowed when he was inducted into the Army in 1958, serving for 2 years. Upon his return to civilian life, it quickly became apparent that this hiatus did nothing to diminish Elvis mania. His fame only increased and he toured and recorded continuously. “This pace—as well as growing issues with prescription drugs—took a toll on his health. On August 16, 1977, while at home in his mansion, Graceland, he died of a heart attack.

In 42 short years, Elvis rose from poor Mississippi boy to the top of the entertainment world. Although he “left the building” 42 years ago this year, it’s probably safe to say that nearly everyone, including those born since 1977, recognizes the name of Elvis Presley. His home, Graceland, receives up to 750,000 visitors annually, making it second only to the White House in terms of famous homes visited. In 2015, he “earned” (Graceland visits, promotions and memorabilia sales, etc.) $55 million. “Presley also continues to be a staple of terrestrial radio and oldies stations, while Sirius XM’s Elvis Radio — launched in 2004 and broadcasting live from Graceland — remains one of the company’s most listened to channels and the top-rated artist-branded station.

Vive le roi! Long live the king!

Sources Consulted:

Graceland webpage (—About Elvis

Mehr, Bob. “40 years after Elvis’ death, the King still dominates tourism, TV, charts.” USA Today Network

MSS 034 Gregory Smith photographic collection/David L. Rice Library, University Archives and Special Collections

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Elvis Presley

Smith, Daniel. “Here’s the history behind Elvis Presley’s 1976 concert at Roberts Stadium.” Evansville Courier and Press, June 24, 2018.

Posted in Evansville, Indiana, Local history, music, rock music | Leave a comment