A Creepy Weird Family Story


Every October I like to blog about a family story passed down to me that I consider spooky. The odd thing about the story I’m about to tell is that I can find NO DOCUMENTATION to support the facts. Zero – Nada – Zilch! Since this occurred in my lifetime I find the lack of proof frustrating and a little strange. You’ll see why at the end of the tale.

I come from a large extended family on my maternal side. My grandmother, Mary Kos Koss, was the family matriarch who loved to entertain which greatly contributed to people keeping in close contact with each other. After her death on 5 Jun 1985, the relatives, for the most part, lost touch with each other. I witnessed the retelling of this story in the presence of my mother and grandmother from the individual it happened to and they are all now deceased. One of my aunts also had knowledge of the event, along with two of my cousins. My aunt is deceased and I have lost touch with my two cousins.

Here’s what I recall…

On school days as a child, I awoke every morning at 7 AM so that I wouldn’t be tardy to school which began at 8 AM. I lived a block from my elementary school and about 6 blocks from my high school so the walk was quick unless the snow was deep. During my late middle and high school years, my mother worked a few blocks from our home and also had to be at work at 8 AM. She liked to listen to the radio and catch the 7 AM news report that included the weather report because weather was fickle in our area; a warm morning could change to snow dusting by afternoon.

While mom was listening to the radio in her bedroom I was getting dressed in mine. I heard her shriek and I quickly came out to find out what was the matter. She was running down the stairs to the first floor, something I rarely witnessed, so I ran after her. My grandmother was in the kitchen enjoying a cup of coffee and toast. Mom ordered my grandmother to turn on the kitchen radio. Mom never ordered anyone to do anything so this was strange, indeed.

Grandma got up from the table and turned the radio on but all that played was big band music. My mother reached over and changed channels but my mom couldn’t find whatever she was looking for. After stopping at several stations she turned the dial off and told my grandmother that the news reported that there had been a plane crash at the home of George Kos. My grandmother paled.

George was my grandmother’s only son. He lived a short distance from us in a small home he had purchased after his second divorce. At the time, Uncle George worked for US Steel as a laborer. As was typical, his work schedule varied; days, nights or midnights as the three shifts were commonly called. We didn’t know what shift he had been assigned so we didn’t know if he had been in the house when the plane hit.

Grandma immediately dialed his landline phone number but it was out of service. I suggested we call the news room for further information. While I looked up the number in the phone book, my grandmother tried to reach another of her daughters who lived in the area. No one answered. My mother called the radio station but no one answered, probably because the office didn’t open until 8 AM. My grandmother then called the police station; she was informed that there was no information to disclose. I remember thinking we should call the hospitals but I kept that thought to myself. Grandma called my aunt again and still there was no answer. It was now about 7:25 AM and the adults decided they would drive to George’s home to see if he was there. My mother told me to get my shoes on and as we were heading out the door, the phone rang. My aunt told my grandmother they had just been awoken by the phone and figured we had called. George was safe and had slept the night at her house.

I was glad Uncle George was fine but certainly disappointed I had to go to school that day. My aunt told my grandmother George was going to sleep in and meet with the insurance agent that afternoon but they’d all be over for dinner that evening.

Over dinner that night, Uncle George said he after he had gotten home from the day shift, he showered and turned the television on. He had fallen asleep in the living room and was dreaming that his grandmother, Anna Grdenic Kos, was shaking him. Anna had died on 14 Feb 1966 and had doted on George in his youth. Granny, as we called her, was whispering in his ear and shaking him to get up and get out of the house right away. In his dream, George told Granny he was tired and needed to sleep but she was insistent that he rise and leave. He awoke, startled. The dream had seemed so real. As he sat in the armchair, he could still hear her voice in his head telling him to go now. He arose, grabbed his truck keys and wallet and decided he needed a drink at the local bar. He was there when the plane crashed into his home. The living room had been destroyed. He believed Granny had saved his life. We all believed it, too.

I’m foggy about the exact time period the event occurred. It happened after Granny’s death in early 1966 and before I met my husband in 1972. A cousin had lived in George’s home after her marriage and at the time of my grandfather’s death in 1970 as I stayed with her while my grandfather was dying. I don’t recall my grandfather being at the dinner table when Uncle George told us his dream so I’m inclined to think this happened in 1971 or early 1972 as my cousin had relocated from the area and George would have returned to the house. But if Gramps had been there, it could have occurred between 1967-1969.

Now here’s the frustrating part with the records. We used to get the local newspaper, the Gary [Indiana] Post Tribune but I don’t recall an article about the crash. My family were newspaper clippers so I would think I would have inherited the story but I have not. Sometime during this time period, we did purchase the Chicago Tribune instead so that could be why I don’t have a clipping. I wanted to check the Gary Post but those years are not online. The newspaper had changed ownership and those years are missing. The local library has been closed due to funding cuts. On to the next record –

I know my Uncle’s address as I do have a US Public Records Index from 1987 listing it. (The house was rebuilt and he continued to live there until he retired and moved from the area.) I tried to search property records but the city claims they have given the records to the county who claims the city did not do so. I was hoping the property records could show when my uncle purchased it to narrow the earlier dates and possibly, to show when permits were pulled to rebuild. Onward with the search –

I have no relatives to help me recall the dates further. Next –

Could not find the event online, although there are several websites that record plane crashes in Indiana. Some do not go back into the 1970’s; those that do have missed it.

Trying to think outside the box, I thought of possibly contacting the present owners but the street view of Google from 2013 (above) shows the house was abandoned. The living room was the front window on the right.

For now, I have no proof of the event. As the only surviving witness to the story, I wanted to record it. Perhaps someday the missing records and newspaper story will surface to add support to the my tale. Even if documents are never found, I will continue to take heed of dreams involving my ancestors. I just wish they’d tell me the winning lottery numbers!

The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree – The Real Life of Johnny Appleseed

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 16 Oct 2015.

When I think of fall I don’t think about pumpkins and leaves like most.  Instead, I think of apples.  I loved apple picking as a child and I knew what would come soon after, my grandma’s apple strudel. We bobbed them, tried to bite chunks out that were dangling from the ceiling and dunked them in caramel.  My neighbor, Carol, and I would twist the core while reciting the alphabet to determine the initials of who we would marry someday. Sweet or tart, there’s an apple for every one’s taste.

When my in-laws moved to a rural part of northeastern Indiana in the 1980’s, hubby and I always knew where to turn on the unmarked road – just look for the old abandoned apple orchard on the corner.  The trees were gnarly and the fruit small and withered.  It always looked creepy to me, even on a bright sunny summertime day.  I remarked to my father-in-law that it was a shame the trees were neglected.  He said that he had heard that they were once owned by Johnny Appleseed.  Little did I know how right he was.

I knew Johnny Appleseed was a real person named John Chapman.  With a romantic notion of him traveling the west to plant apple seedlings so that pioneers could benefit from the delicious fruit on their journey, I knew little else about him.

I passed on the story of Johnny Appleseed to my children every fall when I made my mother’s apple salad. They wanted us to plant an apple tree but in our part of Florida, that wouldn’t work.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered this newspaper clipping with my father’s papers after his death in the late 1990’s:

Like most everything my family has left me, I have no idea of the source.  Grrr-no newspaper name or date. Did Dad save it because the name Leininger was mentioned or was he, too, related somehow to Johnny Appleseed?  Dad and I weren’t close but there was an apple tree on my grandparent’s farm in Hobart, Indiana that I used to climb.  Wouldn’t someone have told me if Johnny Appleseed was a relation?

John and George Leininger are common names in the family – I’ve got 19 John’s and 18 George’s. In addition, I’ve got combined John George and George John.  I knew John Chapman never married and I had no Chapman’s in my tree so I assumed the clipping was because of seeing the Leininger name. Yet, there was some other oddities that made me wonder.  My step-grandmother was from Michigan, close to Hastings, and the Leininger family first settled in Ohio, though it was not Ashtabula.  My aunt’s name was Bonita and she once lived near Columbia City, Indiana.  Hmmm.

It wasn’t until a distant cousin emailed me his Leininger records that I learned that John Chapman was involved with the Leininger family and that spooky old orchard did in fact once belong to him.

“According to a deed signed by President Martin Van Buren, John Chapman owned 74.04 acres in the South 1/2 of the N.W. 1/4 Sec. 3 Twp 24 Range 15.  The deed was dated March 11, 1836. This land is located in the far northeast corner of Jay County, on the Wabash River.  It was on this land that he planted a nursery of appletree seedlings…. John Leininger purchased through a deed, entered July 1, 1839, 128.60 acres of the S.E. fraction of Sec. 15 of the same township. This land was located about two miles south of Chapman’s land.  John Leininger also purchased eight acres of land in Mercer Co., Ohio, on the other side of the State Line from his larger purchase.  He built his house and buildings on the eight acres, so that he could send his children to Ohio schools, which were better at the time than Indiana’s.  Please realize that this area was practically wilderness at this time.”1  My dear readers know I’ve written earlier about my family’s interesting ways to get their children into the best school districts – see blog of 20 August 2015 Education Across State Lines.

Map of Johnny Appleseed's farm (John Chapman) and John George Leininger's farm
The John Chapman and John Leininger Farms – Map courtesy of Robert LeRoy Leininger in his book, Leininger Family History and Genealogy (1970) p. 7F

So here’s how John Chapman is connected to the Leininger Family.  John’s step-sister, Percis Chapman (15 Nov 1793-28 Jun 1859), married William Broom (1792-1 Mar 1848).  Percis was known as John’s favorite sibling so he remained close to her, even after her marriage to William. Percis and William had 4 daughters, Mary, Lucy, Elizabeth and Harriet.  Elizabeth (10 Sep 1829-2 Jun 1863) married John George Leininger (7 Feb 1826-31 Mar 1917).

Elizabeth Broom
Elizabeth Broom Leininger Photo courtesy of Jill on Find-a-Grave

John George and Elizabeth had 6 children before her death.  He remarried to Sarah Hough in 1864

Sarah Hough and John George Leininger Photo courtesy of  Robert LeRoy Leininger

and had 5 more children.  John George is my 2nd great uncle, sibling to my 2nd great grandfather Jacob Leininger.

Henry Leininger and Jacob Leininger
John George’s brothers Henry (left) and Jacob (my 2nd Great Grandfather-right)  Photo courtesy of Robert LeRoy Leininger

I’ve written about John George in a previous blog (see 26 June 2015 Planes, Trains, Automobiles & Barges, Oh My!) and how difficult it must have been for my 3rd great grandmother, Marie Gasse Leininger, to have to journey to America with young children.

Marie Margaretha Gasse Leininger Photo courtesy of Robert LeRoy Leininger

According to family recollections, Johnny Appleseed lived with Percis and William when he came back to Indiana.  William tended Johnny’s land in his absence and when Johnny died in 1845, Percis inherited Johnny’s 1200 acre nursery.2  Johnny was a wealthy man at the time of his death.

I don’t know what religion Percis and William followed but their daughter, Elizabeth, married into a Lutheran family.  Johnny, however, followed the tenets of theologian Emmanuel Swedenborg.  At the end of his days, Johnny was a barefoot vegetarian who preferred to treat everyone and everything with respect.  Since that included Native Americans, animals and insects, Johnny was viewed as eccentric.

Here’s some things I bet you didn’t know about Johnny:

  • Johnny’s dad was one of the Minute Men in Boston during the American Revolution.  When Johnny’s mom and brother Nathaniel died in 1776, his dad returned home from the war.  Johnny was raised by his step-mom.
  • If you were a Girl Scout and sang the Johnny Appleseed blessing you really were singing Johnny’s favorite traveling song. (Ohh, the Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord, for giving me, the things I need, the sun, the moon and the apple seed, the Lord is good to me.)
  • The trees he planted weren’t designed for eating – they were designed for drinking.  Yep, Johnny was helping the settlers produce hard apple cider.  No wonder they loved him! Johnny didn’t believe in grafting which is the only way you can get an edible apple.  Planting apple seeds produces a fruit that may be just plain awful (but not if you’re going to use it for an alcoholic drink).  Apple liquor was easier to make than corn liquor and cured quicker.
  • He didn’t just sell apple trees – he also had a business selling herbs.  Native Americans purchased their herbs from Johnny.
  • Johnny was the “Paul Revere of the Western Frontier.”  During the War of 1812 he warned settlers in Mount Vernon, Ohio that the Native Americans were planning an attack by racing 30 miles through dense forest.  His actions saved the entire town.
  • His pet was a wolf that he once freed from a trap.
  • The west that Johnny ventured to was what we consider the midwest.  He planted in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana.  There is some who think he went as far south as northwestern West Virginia, then known as Virginia, but that hasn’t be authenticated.
  • Johnny was the first person to travel between nursery sites.  He’d plant, stay a bit, then travel back to nurture a site he previously planted, move to a new site to plant and then move on to visit one he already planted.  This enabled him to have supplies in various places and not lose a crop due to poor weather conditions.
  • He’d rip out pages of his Bible to give to settlers and the remains of the last one he wore stuck in his belt was last known in 1970 to be in the possession of Waldo Dock, a descendant, in Celina, Ohio.

So the real Johnny would have fit right in the 1960’s as a hippie type that would have approved of Boone’s Farm Apple Wine with his special herb mixture.

Oh, and that newspaper article – seems that it was from the Ft. Wayne, Indiana newspaper around 1931 when Robert Harris was interested in finding descendants.  So it wasn’t cut out by my dad after all.  Most likely either my grandmother or grandfather clipped the article as that is where they were living at the time. Robert Harris published a book in 1946 about Johnny.

One more mystery remains – that apple tree I used to climb on the family farm.  I wonder if it was one of Johnny’s.  We couldn’t eat the fruit as my mom said it was “bad” and my grandparents were from the Ft. Wayne area so it just might have been one of Johnny’s.  Too bad we’ll never know.  The farm is now a subdivision and the apple tree was cut down in the


1 Leininger, Robert LeRoy Leininger Family History and Genealogy Two Centuries of Leiningers Manchester, IN:  Self Published, 1971, Appendix F.

2 The Straight Dope:  “What’s the story with Johnny Appleseed?” Straightdope.com.  Retrieved. 11 Oct 2015.

Picnics

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 26 Jul 2015.

I have fond memories of picnics – beginning in childhood all the way to last weekend! Picnics today are a relaxed affair, it’s a wear something comfortable, de-stress and enjoy family, friends and nature.  I don’t know about you but I definitely don’t try to make a fashion statement when going on a picnic.  That wasn’t the case, however, back in the day.  I love the picture below showing my grandmother, Non, with the family’s first car in 1923. Nice touch with the American flag on the front since it was Independence Day.  They were on their way to the Croatian Picnic Grounds located between Glen Park and Hobart, Indiana.  A dress, heals and Sunday’s best hat for spending the day in the sticks.

July 4, 1923-on the way to a picnic, L-R Boarder, Mary Koss, Joseph Koss Jr.

Non wasn’t alone in her wearing apparel.  You’d think the family was going to church instead of spending the day in the woods.

Croatian Picnic Grounds 1923 L-R George Kos, Anne Marie Koss, Anna Grdenic Kos, Ivan “John” Koss, Dorothy Koss, Mary Koss and Barbara Kos
Must have been a chore to get the kids’ clothes clean!  The area was heavily wooded with a small clearing that was mostly dirt.  No wonder Non loved her Fels Naptha laundry soap. We had an old Maytag ringer washer in the basement that had to be filled up by hand with hot water.  I can still picture my Gramps hooking up the laundry line around our backyard and adding poles with slits to insure that the line didn’t sag.  Monday was wash day and the picnic sure must have been a distant memory the following day spent cleaning all those dirty garments.

The Croatian picnic grounds were used for at least 50 years.  The picnic grounds were open on Sundays from Memorial Day through Labor Day.  Every Sunday, one of the men would rise early to attend 6 AM Mass and then set off for the grounds to prepare the spit that would roast the lamb.  Families took turns selling plates of food and drinks.  Our shift was usually 1-2 PM once a month.  I wish I had a picture of the building which was just a wooden shack.  The north end was enclosed to hold supplies.  That was attached to a covered bar area.  Since the bar rail was too high for kids, a child who was helping would stand on an overturned wooden “pop” or soda carton or two.  Customers would order plates of roasted lamb, Vienna style bread, Croatian style potato salad or a lettuce salad with oil and vinegar dressing.  Drinks were always Budweiser beer in a bottle or whatever pop was on sale that week – Coke, Pepsi, Fanta, Sprite.  Funny we never had water though there was a spigot that we all used to wash our hands after eating.  Someone would put a bar of soap in a mesh bag on a string around the spigot.  Nature dried our hands. I have no memory of the bathroom facilities, if they even existed.

Some of the ladies brought desserts to sell – pita which is like a fruit filled bar cookie and not the bread sold today, apple or cheese strudel, and cookies.

Both lunch and dinner was served.  Sometimes the menu changed and pork was included, along with hamburgers and hot dogs.  We always got lamb, though, which was heavenly. My father-in-law disliked lamb as he believed it was tough and tasteless.  My last visit to the Croatian picnic grounds was in 1985 when my husband and I returned to visit his family. We brought a takeout container to my in-laws and after one bite, my father-in-law groaned that he had spent his entire life in the area and never knew what he had been missing. The following Sunday he went back for more.

After lunch, as kids, we’d cut through the woods on a well worn trail or crossed the street to visit our school friends and neighbors of other nationalities.  My next door neighbor, Carol Leon, would be at the Spanish picnic grounds right across the street.  There was also Polish, Serbian, Greek, and Italian grounds.  Possibly there was more but I wasn’t allowed to walk that far!  Sometimes we’d play baseball or badminton with our friends but our favorite was cigarette tag – Someone was “it” and “it” chased everyone around.  If you were tagged you had to sing a cigarette jingle (like, Winston, tastes good like a cigarette should or I’d walk a mile for a Camel) or you became “it.”  Funny but none of us grew up to be smokers.  The adults spent the afternoon playing horseshoes or cards.  The women loved to gossip.  There was also singing and dancing (after a couple of beers) as the musically inclined always brought their native instruments.

By the mid 1960’s female children began wearing shorts.  The ladies continued to dress up through the early 1970’s.

pradevic
Prerodevic Picnic L-R Barbara Kos Milosevich, Family Friend Violet Harminsic, Anna Kos, Unknown Friend, Mary Koss Circa 1950

I wish I had the secret lamb recipe, I know it was infused with garlic, probably patted down with salt and pepper but what else I have no idea.  I do make the Croatian potato salad often which is similar to German potato salad. Besides lamb, it’s wonderful with ham, too. Try it and let me know what you think:

Croatian Style Potato Salad

Peel and cube potatoes to bite size (I use red but any kind will do) about 2 potatoes per person.

Add water and cook on stove til tender.

Meanwhile, cut a small sweet onion coarsely.

When potatoes are done, drain and place into a large serving bowl.  Liberally sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper.  With a serving spoon, mix then salt and pepper some more.  Add the onions.  Using a ratio of 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (or regular vinegar) to 2 tablespoons oil (vegetable or light olive) drizzle over the potatoes/onions until the potatoes are well saturated.  Gently stir to make sure that all of the liquid is absorbed.  If you have fresh dill or parsley you can add either.  Put a dinner plate over the serving bowl to maintain the heat and allow the dish to marinate, about 5 minutes.  When ready to serve, stir and enjoy!

The Bank Heist

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 22 Jul 2015.

It was the Great Depression and times were tough as my grandfather, Gramps, had his work hours reduced at the steel mill.  The family took in boarders but as their hours were also cut, money was extremely tight.  One of our family legends takes place in the midst of this difficult period.

Gramps always turned his paycheck over to my grandmother, Non, to cash.  The family had an account at Gary National Bank on Broadway in Gary, Indiana.  The typical routine was Non would cash the check, put a small amount in savings and then on her way home, shop for groceries at a small family run store.  One never knows when a typical day will turn into a major event but that was what was about to happen.

Non stood in line at the bank awaiting her turn with the teller.  Hearing noise, she turned and saw a group of men exiting a car parked at the curb.  What made the scene different was they were waving guns and had their hats pulled down low over their eyes.  Bursting into the bank, the ring leader ordered everyone to get down on the floor.  Non stood still, in shock, clutching Gramps’ check.  Shots were fired at the ceiling. Non continued to stand still.  As one gunman approached the tellers directing them to place money in the bag he carried, another stood guard at the door.  A third man approached Non and again ordered her to get down on the floor.  Non pleaded, “Please, sir, my husband is a cripple and I have 3 small children.  My widowed mother and my sister also live with me.  I need this money. Please don’t take it.”  The gunman replied, “Get down now or I’ll shoot.”  Non got down on the floor. “Put your hands out to the side.” he ordered.  Non complied.

Minutes later the gunman was back and he dropped a stack of bills in Non’s outstretched hand.  She turned her head and saw him wink at her.  The gunmen told the customers to remain on the ground until they counted to 100 aloud. Departing, the robbery was over.

When they got to 75 Non shoved the bills down the top of her dress. Amply endowed, no one would notice.  Non not only could use the money, she feared that the police would think she was an accomplice if she reported what had happened so she said nothing.

After Non got home she hid the money, which amounted to several hundred dollars, fearful that if she used it she would be in trouble.  Years later, after the robbers were convicted, the money was used to partly pay for the  family home being bricked. Non swore that the gunman who gave her the money was John Dillinger, the Indiana farm boy turned bank robber.

Problem is, Dillinger didn’t rob a Gary National Bank.  He robbed a 1st National Bank in East Chicago, Indiana1 but Non would not have gone that far as she would have had to rely on street cars to get there nor was that bank located on Broadway.

Historians dispute some of the bank robberies at the time that were thought to be committed by Dillinger.  A friend of Dillinger’s, John “Red” Hamilton and Baby Face Nelson’s gang has now been credited with some of the robberies initially attributed to Dillinger. Today, 14 robberies are thought to have been the work of Dillinger between 1933-1934.2

Non insisted that Dillinger was the man who gave her the money.  There are many reports of Dillinger’s compassion.    “Dillinger was generous with his ill-gotten gains, leaving $100 bills behind for each member of the family whenever he visited and one time offering to finance Gallagher’s (his niece’s) dream of opening a beauty shop by giving her $5,000. After discussion by the family, it was decided not to accept the money.”3  Another “story told of a farmer who had come to a bank to make a deposit while the gang was robbing the place. Standing at the teller window with his money in front of him, Dillinger asked the farmer if the money was his or the bank’s. The farmer answered it was his and Dillinger told him, “Keep it. We only want the banks’.”4

Was Dillinger involved in the robbery Non remembered or not?  Possibly his role was that of an accomplice and not the leader.  Perhaps Non was mistaken and the robber was not Dillinger.

There were several bank robberies so I can’t pinpoint which robbery Non experienced.  I can understand as an immigrant with a previous arrest (see The KKK Strikes post of  18 July 2015) she would fear further police involvement.  Although I can understand why Non didn’t tell authorities about the money she received it clearly was wrong.  In genealogy, separating our family’s past choices from our present lives can be difficult.  Keeping in mind that we’re all imperfect humans helps.

Mary & Daughter Mary Lou Before Bricking 1943

 

After Bricking. Photo taken Dec 2001

“John Dillinger – List of His Bank Robberies.” AwesomeStories.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2015.

2 Ibid

3 “Dillinger Relatives to Attend New Museum Opening.” Nwitimes.com. N.p., 28 Feb. 2015. Web. 08 July 2015.

4 “John Dillinger.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 08 July 2015.

 

The KKK Strikes – Reasons Behind the Cross Burning in Gary, Indiana

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 18 Jul 2015.

One of my mother’s most frightening memories occurred when she was 6 years old.  It was late autumn and the family had just finished dinner.  Hearing the sounds of cars and voices my grandfather, Gramps, went out to investigate as typically, there was not much traffic at that time of night. Peaking out the window, my mother saw men in white and many cars lining the street.  Gramps soon reappeared and ordered everyone to turn off the lights and to quickly go down into the basement.  My grandmother, Non, asked him what was happening but he just shook his head and grabbed his young son, my Uncle George. The outside noises grew louder – car doors slammed, men spoke loudly and then it became quiet.  The children were told to remain still.  My mother recalled how cold and damp it was in the fruit cellar as the family had not had time to grab a sweater and this part of the house was unheated. My mother didn’t understand what was going on but she knew her parents and grandmother were frightened. Then the sounds of cheering and what sounded like singing, though muffled, was heard. In the dark, mom’s siblings fell asleep but she felt, as the oldest, she needed to remain alert so she pinched herself to stay awake.  After several hours of quiet my grandfather decided to investigate.  He soon returned  and said the Klan had left, the charred cross was not glowing so the fire must be cold. The family could return to their beds for the night.  My mother had a fitful sleep for many nights after as she was sure those bad men were going to return and cause harm.

Why did the Ku Klux Klan choose to burn a cross in front of her home?  Why did they hate her when they didn’t even know her?  Why did they wear hoods and capes?  Where were the police?

My mother went to her grave never knowing for sure why her family was targeted.

I thought I knew the reasons but in researching this family story I discovered I was very, very wrong.

Some background information is necessary to see how my initial reasoning was flawed. I’ll highlight some of the key parts of the saga:

After my grandmother, Non, emigrated to the US in July 1913 with her mother, Granny, and brother, my Great Uncle Joe, the family resided in Glen Park, a suburb of Gary, Indiana, while her father lived in nearby Chicago, Illinois working for the Pullman Company as a laborer.  My great grandfather thought it best if the family lived in a more bucolic setting than the nitty gritty urban environment they weren’t used to.  Non’s first residence was an upstairs apartment on West Ridge Road between Adams and Jefferson Streets.  The building below the apartments held a church and a paint store.  Non and her brother briefly attended school in the neighborhood to perfect their English and she fell in love with the community.  Looking for ways to increase the family income, however, my great grandmother, Granny, decided to apartment hunt in Chicago, locate a larger apartment and then sublease to other immigrants, providing them with room and board.  So off to Chicago the family moved.

In January 1917, my grandparents wed at St. Salomea’s Roman Catholic Church in Chicago and they remained there until after my mom’s birth in April 1918.  The family seriously discussed moving to Bethlehem or Alquippa, Pennsylvania as there was rumors of steady income with the steel mills but they decided to remain in the Chicago area.

Family outside Granny’s Pullman area apartment Left-Right, A neighbor, Great Uncle Joseph Koss, Non, my Mother Dorothy and her Godmother, a friend of Non’s.

My great grandpa did not live long, dying as a result of the Great Flu Epidemic in January 1919. The family unit consisted of widowed Granny, her 3 children – Joseph (who is missing from the 1920 census), Barbara (born in the U.S.) and my Non, Non’s husband, Gramps, and their 2 children, Dorothy, my mom, and Anne Marie with a third, George, on the way.  The only breadwinner became Gramps.  By late 1918, Gramps and my great grandfather were hired as laborers in the steel mill in Gary.  The family rented a house at 2626 Harrison Street, not quite in Glen Park but close.  My mother recalled that the house often flooded from the nearby Calumet River, there was a grape arbor in the back but lots of snakes so the children played on a hill across the street.

Times were tough so Non learned a lot from her neighbors who had moved to Gary from Mexico and Louisiana.  Being a young mother with 3 small children, her Black neighbors, the Gilkeys, taught her the value of Vicks Vaporub and shared a secret family recipe to help the children recover from scarlet fever, sore throats and earaches.  Even though the city had placed the family under quarantine for the scarlet fever, the neighbor woman would sneak in the back door to bring food and the homemade medicine.  Non learned to cook in new ways and corn meal mush, fried chicken, hot sauce and greens became commonplace. The family had a garden with chickens and rabbits.  In the fall, the children would stomp the grapes to a pulp so the family could make vino, a family tradition, which they began to sell locally.

1920-census
1920 Census – Note that one of the “Black” families were of Mexican Hispanic descent

The only problem was that the home was considered so far out from the city limits of Gary that there was no streetcar so my one legged Gramps re-learned how to ride a bike to get to the last stop of the streetcar line on Broadway, about a mile away, to get to work in the mill.Around 1923 another tragedy struck the family.  Breadwinner Gramps had to have his right leg amputated due to a steel mill accident.  With the settlement money they received the family decided to buy a home in Glen Park, 1 block west of the apartment that the family first lived in when they emigrated.  Non wanted her children to attend Glen Park Elementary School that was known for providing a good education and St. Marks, the brand new Roman Catholic Church, was only 1 block away.

The farmhouse was large enough to once again take in boarders for extra cash.  The family continued to raise chickens and rabbits, a vegetable garden and of course, grapes so that they could produce more vino to sell.  My mother recalled that in the fall, her feet were often purple due to the stomping of the grapes.  The fruit cellar where the wine was stored was in the basement, directly under where my mom (Dorothy) was standing:

1926
L-R Anne Marie, Dorothy, Non, Boarder, Friend of Non’s with her son

Shortly before the cross burning, my mother experienced another frightening event.  On Saturday nights, Gramps would play cards with his friends while Non went to the movies with her girlfriends.  Granny remained at home watching the children.  One Saturday night the Gary police arrived at the door inquiring about sales of alcohol.  Granny, with her limited English, had my mother translate.  The officers searched the house, found the vats in the fruit cellar and with backup, removed the wine.  When my grandparents returned home they were questioned and then arrested.  The next morning they appeared before a judge who told them they would be contacted about an upcoming court date.

My grandparents were arrested because of the laws of Prohibition.  “While the manufacture, importation, sale, and transport of alcohol was illegal in the United States, Section 29 of the Volstead Act allowed wine and cider to be made from fruit at home, but not beer. Up to 200 gallons of wine and cider per year could be made, and some vineyards grew grapes for home use.”1  The problem was my grandparents had sold wine.

The court date never occurred as the evidence seemed to have disappeared.  Perhaps the officers lost it, sold it or drank it.  According to the Gary Police Department, there are no records of arrests from that far back.  Searching court records, none could be found since there never was a court date.

Who turned the family in to police?  My mother always thought it was a teacher who had repeatedly questioned her about the purple stains on her hands and feet.  Perhaps it was a card player associate of my Gramps who was disgruntled after a losing game.  Maybe it was a neighbor who witnessed cars coming and going.  Most likely I will never know how the police were tipped off.

In researching this story I also contacted the Gary Health Department for records on the quarantine.  I was informed that there were no records from that time period, however, I did find online that there was a smallpox epidemic in Gary in 1920 but no record of a scarlet fever outbreak.

I also investigated newspapers for records of quarantine, my grandparents’ arrest and cross burning in Glen Park.  Nothing appeared.

For years, I thought the cross burning was because my relatives were the perfect poster family for Klan hatred – as immigrants, these Roman Catholic foreigners who had friends of people of all colors had taken jobs away from the good ole boys and now were living the American Dream by owning a house in the country.  I now believe it is most likely that the cross burning occurred because of the wine arrests.

Recently I learned that “After Prohibition took effect in 1920 until its demise in 1933, it opened up a financial bonanza for criminal activity, especially underground bootlegging and the smuggling of liquor into Chicago, Gary, South Bend, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Evansville and other thirsty cities. Enforcement was haphazard; the Anti-Saloon League was more of a lobbying agency and never rallied community support for enforcement.”2  “The KKK called for punishment of bootleggers and set up the ‘Horse Thief Detective Association’ (HTDA) to make extra-legal raids on speakeasies and gambling joints. It seldom cooperated with law enforcement or the state or federal courts. Instead (it) gave enforcement a bad name. Arthur Gillom, a Republican elected state attorney general over Klan opposition in 1924, did not tolerate its extra-legal operations. Instead, ‘He stressed the dangers of citizens relinquishing their constitutional rights and personal freedoms, and emphasized the importance of representative government (at all levels), states’ rights, and the concept of separation of church and state.’ When Rev. Shumaker proposed that ‘personal liberty had to be sacrificed in order to save people,’ Gilliom replied that surrendering power and individual freedoms was a slippery slope to centralized government and tyranny.”3

The arrest may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back with the Klan – we put up with you and now you’re making wine.  Enough already!  Perhaps because the police didn’t press charges, the Klan used the event to make a point to law enforcement – we know you didn’t pursue the case because you “lost” the evidence.  Who knows what the real reason was.  Unless a diary of an officer or Klansman involved miraculously appears mentioning these occurrences I probably will never know for sure.

This is one reason that I love genealogy, the unexpected discoveries!  I attended 12 years of schooling in Gary and never once did I hear about the Klan going after bootleggers and gamblers in the area. Although as vigilantes they were wrong to take the law into their hands, ironically, they were right in making a point that a crime had been committed and the enforcers of the law ignored it.

I realize my grandparents were the guilty ones in this story – they broke the law by selling wine and should have paid the price for their actions.  They got lucky in getting off – no evidence, no proof of sales, no case.

Unfortunately, it was an innocent victim, my mother, that was most affected.  I do know that the cross burning left an indelible mark on her


  1.  Prohibition in the United States Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 05 July 2015.
  2. Thomas R. Pegram, “Hoodwinked: The Anti-Saloon League and the Ku Klux Klan in 1920s Prohibition Enforcement,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era(2008) 7#1 pp 89-119
  3. Ann Gilliom Verbeek, “The League and the Law: Arthur L. Gillom and the Problem of Due Process in Prohibition-Era Indiana,” Indiana Magazine of History(2011) 107#4 pp 289-326, quotes at p 297 online