Friday, May 30, 2014

Crown Hill Cemetery Celebrates 150 Years

New Crown Hill Book
This Sunday, June 1st Crown Hill Cemetery will celebrate 150 years! In celebration of the sesquicentennial, the Crown Hill Heritage Foundation and Indiana Historical Society Press have published a 380-page book entitled “Crown Hill: History, Spirit, Sanctuary”.

View of the Cemetery
The Indianapolis Indiana cemetery was dedicated June 1, 1864 and the first interment was held the next day. Today, over 200,000 people rest among 555 rolling, tree-covered acres, making it the third largest non-government cemetery in the U.S.

View from the Crown
The park-like setting is home to thousands of stories, many of which the book shares, along with photos. The history of, and in, this cemetery is interesting and informative. 

Grave of Lucy Ann Seaton
The first burial at Crown Hill was held one day after the dedication ceremony, on June 2nd. Lucy Ann Seaton, a 33 year-old mother had died of consumption (tuberculosis.)  Her husband John, a Union Captain serving in the Civil War, had inscribed on her stone, “Lucy, God grant that I can meet you in heaven.”

Through a Gravestone
Crown Hill: History, Spirit, Sanctuary
Crown Hill has thousands of statues, markers and gravesites. The Crown Hill book features over 600 color photographs from stunning monuments and mausoleums to seasonal vignettes to detailed close-ups of symbols and epitaphs to a bird’s eye view of the “City on the Hill.”

Crown Hill: History, Spirit, Sanctuary
The photos provide intricate and often over-looked details in the cemetery whether depicting chiseled mausoleums, abundant wildlife, or deeply etched shadows on a statue’s face: The fascinating photographic angles give the reader an even greater feel for the subject.

John Dillinger's Grave
Crown Hill: History, Spirit, Sanctuary
Crown Hill is the final resting place of numerous famous and notorious people from politicians to artists, actors, community and state leaders, automotive manufacturers, musicians, and countless others. Many of their stories are captured upon the pages of the Crown Hill anniversary book.

James Whitcomb Riley's Monument
Hoosier Poet James Whitcomb Riley was the first person to be buried on top of the crown in 1917 – 18 months after his death.  From the top or the crown of the hill, you can see downtown Indianapolis, almost 3 miles away.

Eli Lilly Mausoleum
Other well-known people interred in the cemetery include Lyman Ayres, founder of L.S. Ayres Department stores.  Colonel Eli Lilly, Civil War Commander and pioneer pharmacist, who founded Eli Lilly Laboratory in Indianapolis.  Dr. Richard Gatlin, inventor of the Gatlin gun, along with John Dillinger, the infamous 1930’s bank robber.

Graves in National Cemetery
Crown Hill is also home to a National Cemetery. It was 1866 when the U.S. Government purchased 1.4 acres of land within Crown Hill to construct a military cemetery for Civil War soldiers.  Over 700 soldiers were interred by November of that year.  In all, 2,135 soldiers are now buried here, representing every war in which the United States has taken part in up to and including the Viet Nam War.  The last burial was for Air Force Major Robert W Hayes in 1969.

Confederate Mound
There is also another military burial ground in Crown Hill: The Confederate Mound is the final resting place of 1,616 Confederate Prisoners of the Civil War.  These southern soldiers died while being detained at Camp Morton from 1862 through 1865.  Most were originally buried at the City Cemetery, but were moved in 1931 by the War Department.

June Tour Schedule
Public and private tours of the cemetery are offered throughout the year. There are four different tours scheduled during the anniversary month. Tours will be held on each Saturday this month and include: Angels of Crown Hill (June 7), Heritage Tour, which includes a visit to over 40 graves and monuments of well-known and notable people (June 14), Private Family Mausoleums (June 21), and Skeletons in the Closet, Part 1 (June 28). All tours begin at 7:30 p.m. except June 21 when the mausoleum tour is held at 9:30 a.m.

U.S. Colored Troops Burial Grounds
The “Spirit of Freedom” event, celebrating the African Americans who fought and died during the Civil War, will be held June 5th, 10:45 to 1 p.m.

Cemetery Honey
Crown Hill is alive with nature from Monarch butterflies covering a gravestone to deer grazing peacefully under the trees. The cemetery is also home to over 4,000 inventoried trees; many uncommon to the region, and many that are very old. The cemetery is a-buzz with thousands of bees, which have hives on top of the Art Deco Community Mausoleum. Beekeepers from England’s Apiary of Indianapolis gather the honey a couple of times a year to sell. It has been called, “Gravely delicious.”

Statue in Cemetery
Plan a trip to Crown Hill Cemetery to explore the art, sculptures, history and more. The cemetery is located at 700 West 38th Street in Indianapolis, Indiana. For more information, visit their web page at Or check out the Crown Hill Facebook page at

If you can’t make it for a visit, or would like a beautiful keepsake, consider a copy of the 150th anniversary book, Crown Hill: History, Spirit, Sanctuary. To order visit

Crown Hill is a true Rural Cemetery offering something for everyone; history, architecture, art, walking tours and nature, all in a serene and beautiful setting.

Happy 150th Anniversary to this magnificent City on the Hill!

~ Joy

Friday, May 23, 2014

The 169th Anniversary of the First Woman Executed by Hanging

It was 169 years ago today that Elizabeth Reed was taken from the Lawrence County jail, riding on top of her coffin, to be hanged for the murder of her husband. And her story remains one of questions, conflict, and mystery almost 170 years later. 

Elizabeth (Betsey) Reed was a frontier wife from the tiny Illinois town of Heathsville. She and her husband Leonard resided quietly in their home just outside of town.

But Betsey was not well liked in the tiny village. Many of the local women found her to be coldhearted, uncaring and too eccentric for their tastes.  However, men appeared to be fascinated by her, observing none of the traits that the women did.

Public opinion of Leonard wasn’t much better.  Some viewed him as a calculated businessman who made ruthless decisions. Others said he was a failure who was unwilling to try and fit into society. 

Then, in May 1844, Betsey Reed was accused of giving her husband Leonard, a cup of arsenic-laced sassafras tea (or some said, squirrel soup). He died the next day and she was charged with murder based on a relative’s accusation.

Reed was arrested, taken to Palestine, Illinois and placed in the Crawford County jail. The building was reportedly built from oak trees with walls that were three feet thick. Then the unthinkable happened - a fire, reportedly started by Betsey Reed, burned down the building. 

Officials said that Betsey had had nothing in her possession that could have been used to start the blaze, but the story spread like wildfire across the prairie. Soon insinuations were made that she was a witch and spread around the community, titillating resident. 

Reed was moved to the Lawrence County jail in Lawrenceville, Illinois, about 25 miles away.  The change of venue did nothing to assist in her defense.  The story was so horrifying for the time that it was being covered by newspapers from around the state, and around the country, some as far away as New York City.

Augustus French
Usher Linder
Two well-known attorneys, Augustus French and Usher Linder, prepared Betsey’s defense. The only witness to the supposed poisoning was a relative, 16-year-old Evelyn Deal.  Evelyn said that she saw Betsey pour a white powder into Leonard’s tea and then serve it to him. No other evidence was given. 

William Wilson
Betsey’s trial lasted for three days. During that time, she was never allowed to take the stand in her own defense.  Illinois State Supreme Court Justice William Wilson, after hearing the evidence, pronounced her guilty of murder and sentenced her to be hanged.

Lawrence County Courhouse
On the morning of May 23, 1845, thousands of people lined the streets of the small town of Lawrenceville.  Crowd estimates ranged from 8,000 to 20,000 people, all on hand to witness the first woman to ever be hanged. 

It was rumored that Betsey Reed ‘found God’ in the eleventh hour and had been baptized in the Embarras River the night before.  Newspaper reports said that she went to the gallows, riding on top of her coffin, singing hymns and chanting religious verses.  The minister who presided, Reverend John Seed, preached a long sermon to the crowd while Betsey continued to sing and chant. 

Ninety minutes after the event began, Elizabeth (Betsey) Reed became the first woman in the U.S. ever publicly executed, and the only woman executed by hanging in the state of Illinois.

According to the New York Daily Tribune, Betsey’s body was taken down and dissected.  It was discovered that she had swallowed tiny pieces of brick and pulverized glass in an attempt to kill herself and escape the hangman’s noose.

Betsey Reed was buried outside of the local town cemetery, in an unmarked grave.  But family members, who did not believe she was guilt, demanded she be given a proper burial.  After waiting what they considered “long enough” for her exhumation, relatives stole into town at night and dug up her remains, taking them by river through the "Dark Bend" and across the prairie back to Heathsville.

Betsey was re-interred in the tiny local cemetery called Baker, just outside of Heathsville.  Up a narrow country lane, surrounded by crops and woods, the cemetery has a gloomy feel, even during the day. 

Elizabeth is buried next to Leonard, the husband she was found guilty of murdering, at the back of Baker cemetery.  A simple stone marked E.R. can be found in the grass.  Along side it is a replacement gravestone that simply lists their names, dates, and how they died.  Under Leonard’s name it says “Death by murder.”  Under Betsey’s name it reads “Death by hanging.”

Two Orbs on Cemetery Road
But according to the Crawford County Illinois Ghost Hunters, it appears that Betsey Reed did not go ‘quietly into that good night.’  After exploring this cemetery they have reported paranormal activity around her and Leonard’s graves including this EVP where a woman’s voice states, “I’m innocent.”

It is now one hundred sixty nine years later and questions still exist as to her guilt or innocence.  Regardless, Elizabeth Reed has gone down in the annals of U.S. history as the first women to be hanged in the state, and the country … a sad legacy, indeed.

~ Joy

Friday, May 16, 2014

Untouchable Eliot Ness: The Man, The Myth, The Legacy

Eliot Ness
He was America’s Number One Prohibition Agent, famous for nabbing gangster Al Capone on tax evasion and enforcing the anti-alcohol laws of Prohibition. But was he really responsible for Capone’s arrest? And how true was his autobiography, “The Untouchables”?

Eliot Ness was born in Chicago in 1903. He graduated from the University of Chicago in 1925 with a degree in economics, but returned to pursue a degree in criminology. His brother-in-law, a Bureau of Investigation (forerunner of the FBI) agent, helped get Ness hired, and by 1927, Ness was working with the Bureau of Prohibition in Chicago.

Busting Stills
These "Prohibition agents" were to stop people from selling or drinking alcohol and that was usually done by breaking up illegal bootlegging rings and raiding stills, breweries, and popular nightclubs around Chicago.

Al Capone
This put Ness head-to-head with gangster Al Capone who ran most of the speakeasies and breweries in the “Crime Capital of the World.” After refusing bribes from Capone, Ness and his 8-man team, dubbed “The Untouchables” (for refusing bribes) were prepared to bring Capone in on over 5,000 provable charges of bootlegging.

Capone in Court
But prosecutors knew the charges wouldn’t stick; the public loved drinking but not tax cheats, so Capone was prosecuted on charges of tax evasion, an area Ness had not been involved in.

Eliot Ness
Capone was tried and sentenced to 11 years in prison
while Ness was promoted to Chief Investigator of the Prohibition Bureau for Chicago. When Prohibition ended in 1933, Ness worked as an alcohol tax agent in the “Moonshine Mountains” of Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio. By 1935, Ness was working as the safety director in Cleveland, vowing to end police corruption in the city.

Ness and the Cleveland Police Force
Ness spent seven years in Cleveland, cleaning up the 2,000-man police force by ferreting out corrupt police officials and battling against local Mafia and crime lords. It was during this time that he began to develop his style of policing with science: what today we consider a part of forensic science. He also created a professional police force that served under rigorous moral codes. Ness also helped improve conditions for the Cleveland Fire Department, and promoted traffic safety.

Torso Killer Victim Found
But then Ness began to falter: a serial killer known as the Cleveland Torso Murderer was loose in the city; at least a dozen people had died. Ness indicated in his journal that he knew who the murderer was but could never get him convicted. Personal problems also took a toll and he began to drink and carouse. His first marriage ended in divorce.

In 1942, he resigned his position as Public Safety Director, remarried and moved to Washington D.C. to work for the federal government in the battle against prostitution and vice. By 1947, he was remarried and was living back in Cleveland where he ran for the office of Mayor. He lost the election, sank into debt, and started drinking heavily. In 1953, he took a job with North Ridge Industrial Corporation, a paper company from Cleveland, and moved his family to the new headquarters in rural Pennsylvania.

Oscar Fraley
It Never Happened
Ness decided to write his autobiography but soon realized he needed a ghostwriter. He hired Oscar Fraley, a reporter, to collaborate with him. Fraley ended up writing the book, creating events and characters that were totally fictitious. Fraley painted Ness and his men as fearless agents who were mysteriously ‘untouchable,’ when in fact it was the careful, methodical planning on Ness’s part, the integrity of his team, and sheer gut instinct that kept most of the men from being gunned down.

Eliot Ness's Grave
The book, “The Untouchables” was published in June 1957. Ness never knew that his myth and legend had been secured: Eliot Ness died of a massive heart attack on May 16, 1957, one month before the book came out. He was 54 years old. Eliot Ness was buried at Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.

1960's TV Show
But the Capone/Ness crime-fighting legacy continued. Several television programs, movies, novels, and comic books (Dick Tracy was said to have been modeled after Eliot Ness.) have been made about Elliot Ness’s life as an American hero. 

The Untouchables Movie
Eliot Ness
But what is the true story? Fifty-seven years after Ness’s death, it’s hard to decipher between what he really said and did, and the Hollywood version: a highly fictionalized story of a super-hero lawman.

ATF Building
In January, it was proposed that the headquarters of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Washington D.C. be named after Ness. But several authors and a Chicago Alderman opposed the resolution, inferring that Ness's legacy was not representative of who the man really was.

Now, almost 60 years later, it appears that Eliot Ness has indeed become “untouchable” but not in the way he had hoped …

~ Joy