Thursday, October 31, 2013

I Call The Ghost of Elva Zona Haester Shue To The Stand!

As you can see this post is published on October 31st and that means only one thing, its time for a creepy story about American History. No, I will not be talking about the 2000 Presidential election, but rather of an eerie yet interesting event that took place in West Virginia around the turn of the century. Everyone has watched a TV show that featured a climax in the courtroom, so one can picture all the crazy defenses and unexpected surprise witnesses. But this 1897 murder mystery takes the cake and no writer today could even imagine handing this type of story over to a publisher, well unless they work for the Fox Network. To most, it has been forgotten, but lets revisit the ever-so-spooky case of the Greenbrier Ghost.

The above photo is of Elva Zona Haester Shue. Not much is know about her except that she born in about 1873, lived in Richlands, West Virginia, had a child out of wedlock in 1895, married a drifter by the name of Erasmus Stribbling Trout Shue in 1896. Her mother hated Erasmus and then in 1897 Elva is killed. So pretty easy case to close right? Wrong, see late 19th century police work in West Virginia wasn't top notch. The way it was recorded is that Elva's body was found by a boy, who sent to the Shue home by Edward. Upon discovery, the boy freaked out and ran to tell his mother. The mother then alerted the officials which then took well over an hour to arrive at the Shue home.  By then, Edward had moved Elva's body, cleaned her and dressed her. Now if you know anything about turn of the century funeral practices, this job mainly was done by women, so this was considered odd by the coroner. The coroner also noted that there was bruising around the neck but, due to the husband's "grief", he had to cut his examination short. The official report states Elva's cause of death as "everlasting faint" which was then changed to "childbirth" as a local doctor had been treating her for pregnancy. When the news reached her parents, her mother stated, "that devil killed her!"

Although the story can be considered weird and it seems almost like Edward committed the murder, he wasn't charged with anything. At the funeral, he started to lay it on really thick. He refused to leave the coffin, and acted with extreme sadness and then extreme happiness. He also did everything he could to cover her neck. First, he wrapped a scarf around Elva's neck claiming it was her favorite scarf. Second, he placed a pillow and rolled up sheet next to her head, and said it would help her rest easier. Finally, people paying their respects commented on a looseness in Elva's neck. It is pretty apparent to everyone that some type of foul play was involved in Elva's death, especially to her mother, Mary Jane Haester. She was convinced that Edward had killed her daughter. Supposedly, Mary Jane found a bloody sheet and saw this as a sign that her daughter was murdered.

Mary Jane did what any grieving mother would do, she prayed. She prayed asking for Elva to give her a sign that proved she was murdered, and after four weeks she got her sign. According to Mary Jane, Elva appeared in a dream and told her what a horrible man Edward was. He was abusive, a drunk and would attack her when he believed that Elva hadn't cooked meat for dinner. Now here is where the real evidence comes into play. Elva's ghost said Edward had snapped her neck, and to prove it,  she spun her head a complete 360 degrees. The ghost visited Mary Jane for four nights in a row and every time, she'd appear as bright as the sun and then eventually had away leaving the room in a freezing chill. Now, with the truth from beyond the grave, Mary Jane went to the authorities and demanded her daughter's body exhumed and reexamined. Edward tried everything he could to stop it but on February 22, 1897 Elva was dug up, examined and was found to be murdered by having her neck broken and windpipe crushed.

Cue the theme from "Night Court!" Get me the detectives from Law & Order! Send in the Perry Mason and Matlock and lets get this case under way! After the autopsy of Elva was published, Edward was quickly arrested and held in custody at the Lewisburg town jail. It was at this time that Edward's past came to light. He was married twice before, having his first marriage end in divorce due to extreme cruelty and his second ending with the mysterious death of his wife. The case got underway in June of 1897 and the star witness was the ghost of Elva...via Mary Jane of course. As the defense cross examined Mary Jane, she never faltered and ultimately cost the defense the case. They tried to have her testimony stricken from the record, but the jury and town seemed to believe in the ghostly evidence from the great beyond. In the end, Edward was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Edward died a few years later in prison from an "unknown" epidemic.
Today, the legend of Elva Zona Haester Shue lives on. The state of West Virginia has placed a historical marker in the cemetery which she is buried in, Sam Black Church in Lewisburg. There have also been, plays, musicals and books all covering the story of the Greenbrier Ghost. The legend of Elva is a great piece of American History. The first and only time a ghost was used as any kind of witness in a legal proceeding. Aside from that, it is a pretty cool ghost story, as it has everything a ghost story needs and more. So, I hope you enjoyed the read and please feel free to share it at anytime, especially at night and preferably on a creepy or spooky one.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

How A Russian Czar Saved America

That's right America, if it wasn't for Russia we might not be a county today. Ok, so that statement isn't entirely true, but Russia played a key role in American sovereignty during the bloodiest time in American History. When the Civil War is discussed, as it will be as this year marks the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg, little is discussed about the global impact the American Civil War had. That said, the world had a lot to gain form a divided America and some nations wished to exploit that, I am looking at you England and France. But one man in a far away land, who was very much like President Lincoln, came to America's protection. Today we as Americans, some of us were brought up to fear this nation and others now see this nation as a threat on the horizon, but back in 1863, Russia came as a guardian angel of sorts to American shores.

The Di Rocco Wieler Private Collection

This imperial dressed fellow is Alexander II of Russia, better known as the Czar Alexander ruled over Russia from 1855 until 1881 and during that time he was quite the liberator, so much so he was dubbed Alexander the Liberator. Alexander took power in 1855, after his father Nicholas I, who died of pneumonia during the Crimean War. The Crimean War fits into why Alexander wanted to help out America, as the war was fought between Russia and an alliance of England, France and Turkey. Russia had lost the war and the country was on the verge of crumbling under the rule of Alexander. So he grab the reigns of the country and straightened them out how only a Russia Czar could, radical social reforms and a rebuilding the nation from within and being pretty much an awesome dude. During this time Alexander passed the Крестьянская реформа 1861 года, or for my none Russian readers, The Peasant Reform of 1861. In short he eliminated serfdom, or a version of Russian slavery, in which people were sold with the land and forced to work it by new owners for the bare minimum to survive.

The Di Rocco Wieler Private Collection

So we can see the Czar was a pretty stand up guy, he was no Stalin and he always had a pretty bad ass handle bar mustache side burn combo going on. But how does Czar Alexander, who was practically on the other side of the world, fit into the American Civil War? It is very rarely talked about but the American Civil War was somewhat of a global event. How is it a global event? Well, European governments and industries were very invested in the United States. Some saw the Civil War as a gateway to immense gains, both economically and politically. For instance, the French and English governments were officially neutral during the war. However, member's of those governments favored the Confederacy. Along with the government official's personal views, the social elites and business tycoons of the day also favored the Confederacy. The Confederates knew they had support from the two nations and actually was hoping for them to intervene in the war in their favor. But why? Well, cheap goods and a starving population that's why. The southern states supplied everything a growing French/English boy needed. And with the war raging production slowed and costs doubled. Not to mention, the southern ports were so heavily blockaded trans Atlantic shipping from the states was near impossible. So we can see it was simple economics that made these two nations favor the south and hope for a southern victory.

Enter the Russians. Fearing that their fellow European neighbors would stick their noses into the American Civil War, Czar Alexander sent both the Russian Atlantic and Pacific Fleets to winter in Union ports in 1863. Now this happened for two reason. First, the Czar dug Abe Lincoln's style. Remember Alexander was had freed the serfs and he saw Lincoln in the same light he held himself. Second, Alexander was gearing up for a possible war with France and England. The war brewing in Europe would have been set off had France or England intervened in the Civil War. With the Russian Fleet station off the shores of the United States, in New York and San Francisco, it offered a distraction from the war for some Americans, but mainly served as a warning to the world. At the same time it gave the Russians an advantage to attack both British and French ships on the Atlantic and not leaving them trapped in the Baltic Sea. So as we know from history, France and England never entered the war. France and English companies did support the Confederates very nominally, the north won and the Union was preserved. But do we owe a debt of gratitude to the Russians and Czar Alexander?

Did the Russians really save America? I think they did. Remember in 1861, the Trent Affair almost brought England into the war. The English sent diplomats to the south to establish ties. And it should be no surprise, that the English did have an attack and invasion plan if they ever decided to enter the war. As for the French, the blockades severely hurt their major industries. A French military force landed in Mexico in 1861, as a "peace keeping" force. And like the British, France also hosted Confederate diplomats and sent their own to the Confederacy. So even though the Russian Fleet was sent on its own agenda, it could have been the deterrent that France and England needed to stay out of the war. So a nod should be given to Czar Alexander for making a tactical move which may have ultimately stopped the first world war. I mean the Russian sailors on those ships sure must have enjoyed wintering in the states instead of some God forsaken, frozen, snow cover port in Russia. But whether we wish to give him credit or not Czar Alexander did send his fleets here to the United States, and they may have been the reason, or at least part of it, the British and French never entered the American Civil War.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Plot To Kill Lincoln, No Not That One, The Other One.

Now everyone knows about the Lincoln assassination. We all know the story of John Wilkes Booth along with Samuel Arnold, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Michael O'Laughlen, Lewis Powell and John Surratt. The plans they hatched and acted out that fatefully April night in 1865. But what a lot of people don't know about is about the 1861 plot to assassinate Lincoln, The Baltimore Plot. Now of course, no one really talks about this because, first, it never happened and second, no one is really sure how much of a threat the plot was to Lincoln. However, what it did do was give critics of Lincoln a good amount of .

Now I don't know about you but this is exactly how I picture a Presidential assassination plotting session to look like in the 1860s. Now the plan was simply, Lincoln would hop on a train in his home state of Illinois, get to D.C and then deliver a kick ass inaugural speech. But there were others who had an alternate plan, a more sinister plan. Lets go back a bit before  all this came to light. Right before the Civil War broke out Maryland was an iffy border state. At the time it was still a slave state and home to many southern sympathizers. The state was also a hot bed of activity being stuck literally in the middle of a dividing nation. Due to this uncertainty of the President's safety the railroad company hired Allan Pinkerton, of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency to provide security before and during the trip. As Pinkerton began his study of the train route he became increasingly convinced an attack on the train would happen. He felt the attack would come between the Northern Central Railway's Calvert Street Station and the B&O Railroad's Camden Street Station as the train passed through Baltimore on February 23, 1861.

So, Pinkerton went to Lincoln and his people and pleaded his case. He claimed that when the President stopped at, oddly enough, at the President Street Station, several armed assassins would be able to get close enough to the train to attack the President as he did his wave by. Of course due to lack of solid evidence, the President really didn't see a need for worry, but after much discussion, and the disapproval of Ward Hill Lamon, a plan was hatched as a safety precaution. On a side note though Lamon wanted to arm Lincoln, with a revolver and knife but Pinkerton was much against the idea of an armed President on the eve of a Civil War entering the capital. So the night before Lincoln's train reached Baltimore, all the telegraph lines to the city were cut, while at the same time Lincoln switched trains in Harrisburg and arrived in Baltimore in the middle of the night. this was the tricky part and most unsettling for Lincoln. Due to a city ordinance, trains had to be pulled through the city after dark by horse, Lincoln's train would be no exception. As we know, Lincoln made it through the city that February night. To let those in D.C. know everything went according to plan, Pinkerton sent a one line telegram, "Plums delivered nuts safely."

The next morning Baltimoreans crowded the train stations only to be disappointing to find there was no Presidential train passing through town, or at least learned they missed it while it secretly crept through town while they were asleep. So, was there a reason to disappoint all these 1860s Lincoln-manics, even though they were most likely there to boo him. Looking back not really. There was never any actually evidence and most believe it was Pinkerton's fear of something bad happening on his watch. However, this overprotective move caused President Lincoln's image to take a serious blow. Papers on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line blasted Lincoln. Papers ran wild stories about how Lincoln slipped through the city, all exaggerated of course. From the President wearing numerous disguises to him hiding under seats or in trunks. In short the Lincoln was painted as a coward, and in most parts of the country he was the butt of many jokes.

When we look back at this decision it seems like it made sense to do it. Think about the way the President has traveled since WWII, always private and always under strict security. I know in my life time when Preseident have visited New York City it is a nightmare to get around, if a President visits the Empire State Building, don't even think of getting anywhere in midtown, let alone downtown or well any other part of the city in a reasonable time. Ok, I got a little off track there, but you get my point. Sure, now we know Pinkerton was wrong, but at the time he was convinced something would happen to the President and made a call to protect Lincoln. Not a lot of people know about what happened that February, like I said before, because nothing happened. Lincoln went on to become President with no assassination attempt, well at least that night in 1861. He led the country through the Civil War, perhaps the greatest threat to the United States in history. Cemented himself in the Top 5, maybe Top 3 POTUS of all time. The event was such an at the moment event, that top when Lincoln is discussed it is never even brought up, but now you can bring it up next time you talk about President Lincoln's presidency. Yet in defense of Pinkerton, when we look at Baltimore during the Civil War, we have the Pratt Street Riots, the constant argument of secession, the imposing of martial law on the city, Union Troops occupying the city and southern sympathizers, Baltimore was basically a city on a hot plate. So when looking back at the event, Pinkerton should not be viewed as an overcautious hired gun, but as a hero, a man who saw a city that was ripe for trouble and knew that with Lincoln passing through, it could have been the spark that ignited the city, with the President of the United States trip within in.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Yo-Ho-Ho, And A Bottle a Rum! Albert W. Hicks, The Last American Pirate

When we think of pirates, we think of peg legged bearded men, swashbuckling on the decks of ships, drinking rum, sailing the seven seas and plundering what ever they like. Or we think of pirates in a more modern day version, as men who attack ships and kid nap the sailors on board and hold them hostage. Either way, or era, we think about them they are one in the same. Pirates have a glorified place in history, even though they don't necessarily deserve it. We've all heard stories about Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, Davey Jones, Francois l'Olannais, Jean Lafitte, Stephan Decatur, Black Bart and so on. These men today are viewed as rebellious outlaws who showed no mercy to anyone who got in their ways and for some reason have turned into heroes. But what is often highlighted is the fate of most pirates, death. Such is the case of one Albert W. Hicks. Sure, the name doesn't sound like a cool pirate name, but Hicks is an important figure in pirate history. How? Well, Hicks was the last person executed in the United States for piracy.


Now Albert W. Hicks was your average 19th century Joe Schmo. Born around 1820, Hicks was a life long sailor. He worked different ships and acted in many roles. However, all that would change in 1860. According to Hicks, he was out pounding some grog, you know a real all bender in the making kind of night. It was during that night he believes he was drugged. The reason? Well, he woke up on a ship the next day. Now this isn't an uncommon event to happen to men of the sea. During the 19th century, and even the early 20th century, there was a technique in which men was drugged, put on ships and forced to work for little or no money at all. This was done because, well lets face it, who wanted to be a sailor in the middle of the 19th century? This way of "recruiting" was known as shanghaiing and was quite affective, but this time they messed with the wrong sea dog.
So the following day, Hicks wakes up on board the A.E. Johnson. She was a small sloop heading down to Virginia. The ship would then pick up a shipment of oysters and head back up to New York City. However, Hicks had another idea. Once out of New York Harbor, Hicks was ready to enact his plan of escape. In the middle of the night, Hicks was given the wheel as the captain, Captain George H. Burr and an other mate, Oliver Watts caught some shut eye. While on at the helm, Hicks was accompanied by Oliver's brother, Smith, the acting look out. It was then that Hicks attacked Smith with a club, killing him. The noise awoke Oliver, who then met the same fate. Hicks then went down to the captain's quarters to finish Burr. However, Burr was a big guy, strong as all hell and probably beat up men tougher then Hicks in the past. Unfortunately for Burr, Hicks got the better of him and killed him after fighting for his life. Hicks then went through the captain's room in search of anything of value. He found about $500 (in 1860 money that's a boat load of cash...get it boat load?) and then dumped his victims bodies overboard about 50 miles out to sea. After all this Hicks then turned the ship around and headed back to New York. The ship was found several days later, and was the scene of a gruesome murder. The man hunt for the killer was on.

As officials searched for the killer, Hicks had made his way to Providence, Rhode Island. When the authorities caught up with him and arrested him, on his person Hicks was wearing Captain Burr's watch, a coat of one of the Watt's brothers and in the coat a photo of Oliver Watt. Once in custody, Hicks was questioned about the murders. Hicks admitted to not just those three murders, but close to one hundred others out in California at various mining camps, as well as killing men and stealing from ships in ports across South America. So needless to say this was pretty much a shut and close case, but not without one final twist. Hicks went for, what we'd call today, an insanity defense. Hicks claimed that the time of every murder he even committed he was possessed by, none other than, the devil himself. The trial was a real 1860s media circus. Newspapers ran stories of Hicks crimes, the police chase, the trial and the resulting punishment, which is when this case get a little weird.
Hicks' execution was set for  July 13, 1860. The execution would take place at Fort Wood, located on Bedloe's Island in New York Harbor. For some this may be ringing a bell, the reason is Fort Wood is the base for the Statue of Liberty and Bedloe's Island is now called Liberty Island. But, back to Hicks. Since his actions and case received so much publicity, it is estimated that somewhere between ten and twelve thousand people surrounded the island, all in hopes of catching a glimpse of Hicks' last moments on this earth. Now I don't know about you, but people's fascination with watch executions has never made sense to me, seems like it's a morbid part of human nature, like slowing down to look at a car wreck today. Now, it was reported that the crowds watching the execution set a carnival like atmosphere, live bands were present, refreshment vendors and even beer stands, as if it were a Yankees or Knicks game. My thoughts are that the Civil War was right around the corner, starting in April of 1861, and people were looking for an outlet. Oddly enough their outlet was a mans execution, but to each their own I guess. The reason is, the Hicks trial pushed the news of war and secession off the front pages of the paper and out of the minds on New Yorkers. And as if this story couldn't take another turn, the day after Hicks was buried his body was stolen from his grave. This led to wild speculations that Hicks had fooled everyone and somehow survived the hanging. However, that was not the case. In fact, the truth is his body was dug up and then sold to a medical school. When looking back Hicks goes down as the last man tried and executed for piracy in America. But in reality Hicks was no pirate, just a guy who was drugged by a rival gang on the docks of 19th century New York City, but he will forever be remembered in American History as Hicks the Pirate, last pirate executed in the states.