Friday, January 31, 2014

Geary’s World Museum

by Carmen Doyle

It isn’t the sort of thing you want to brag about now. But at the end of the 19th century, dime museums were popular entertainment. Known as dime museums because of the admission price, the museums offered all sorts of attractions. According to Fort Wayne's News and Sentinel, Geary’s World Museum featured many unusual “acts”- mainly people who were different due to physical characteristics.

A January 1891 newspaper account in the News and Sentinel contains a notice mentioning “a fat women’s convention” had started at Geary’s. “Some of the biggest women in the U.S. are booked for the exhibit.”

Another popular attraction was Abraham Gump, who was paid $1000 to fast for 30 days. Allowed only water to drink, Gump lost 17 pounds in two weeks. Gump stopped fasting before the 30 days was up, as doctors told him “to eat or die; he chooses the former.” A few months later, History of… A.H. Gump, champion faster of Indiana was published.

Some of the “exhibits” were even more disturbing. Jonathon Bass, an ossified man, was “shown at Geary’s Museum”. An ossified man was a person whose bones had fused together, making it impossible for him to walk or even move on his own. Someone had to feed and move him.

Even more extreme than an ossified man was the “exhibition” of a “two-bodied living baby, with one head, four limbs, and three arms.” The child was less than a year old when exhibited. A notice later in the same month read, “The two-bodied baby at the World’s Museum dies. The baby was born at Winamac, Indiana, June 30, 1890 and was the child of L.C. Hatfield and wife.” Sadly, neither notice mentions the child’s name or even if the child was a boy or girl.

Not everything at Geary’s World Museum was voyeuristic. Peter Carmont Campbell exhibited his airship at the museum. Campbell had received advice and encouragement from Samuel Morse and Horace Greeley. Campbell had recently patented his invention.

Among the congratulatory letters was one from President Cleveland.

In his book Twenty-five years fighting  fate, Samuel Shockey describes his work at the museum as practicing “phrenology and palmistry”. Shockey claims he made “more cash than the entire museum” and that “every morning the different papers would have a very large account” of his “performance” at the museum. Shockey also gave private examinations in his office at the museum. (According to, “phrenology (is) a discipline that involved linking bumps on a person's head to certain aspects of the individual's personality and character.”)

Today we are appalled or amused at some of the exhibits at Geary’s World Museum. But in 1891, Col. James Geary’s museum was one of the most popular activities in Fort Wayne. While there are few mentions in newspapers of the World’s Museum after 1892, it is clear that the museum kept operating, with its exhibitions varying from physically disabled people to inventions and pseudo-science. has drawings from the Geary's World Museum on its website.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Old Council House

by Tom Castaldi 

Near the location of the present-day Museum of Art, the troops of the United States garrison of Fort Wayne built in 1804 a large two-story log building that came to be known as “The Council House.” Miami Indians of the area, under the leadership of Chief Little Turtle and the Indian Agent William Wells, requested that the Council House be built “for hosting the Native leaders.” A two-story log storehouse also was built nearby; however, both structures were destroyed by Indians besieging Fort Wayne in 1812.

In 1817, the commandant for Fort Wayne, Major Josiah N. Vose, ordered a new Council House to be built. This structure served as a school established through the efforts of the Reverend and Mrs. Isaac McCoy, the first Protestant missionaries to the Indians.

Originating in the Terre Haute area, the McCoy party was attacked by Indians on the way to Fort Wayne. Rescued by James Godfrey, the travelers were safely escorted to the Three Rivers region by Chief Richardville. Missionary McCoy wrote in his History of Baptist Indian Missions, “The nearest settlements of white people were in the state of Ohio, and nearly one hundred miles distant. On the 29th of May (1820) our school was opened; I was teacher myself. We commenced with ten English scholars, six French, eight Indians and one Negro."

Discipline was tough, intended to crush overly spirited students, and included the embarrassment of sitting on a high stool in front of the class wearing a dunce cap. Mrs. Lucien P. Ferry remembered one particular room as having cupboards full of tobacco into which unruly boys would be shut inside, “until they were almost suffocated.” Although he grew enrollment to over 40 pupils, McCoy discontinued the school when he was offered a mission school position in Michigan.

Louis T. Bourie, Fort Wayne’s first fire chief, was born in this building in 1828, which was then owned by Captain John B. Bourie. Later, “Squire” John B. DuBois, well known and for many years active in community affairs serving as justice of the peace for Wayne Township, lived in the historic building. Having served its purpose for nearly forty years, the old Council House was torn down in 1856.

This article originally appeared in Fort Wayne Magazine
 “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – July 2007

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast at 6:35 a.m., 8:35 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on WLYV-1450 AM and WRRO 89.9 FM. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at history

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Fighting It Out Along the Wabash--Part Two

by Harry Tunnell

Two decades after St. Clair’s Defeat, General William Henry Harrison, the Governor of the Indiana Territory, led an expedition against a Shawnee-led Indian Confederacy. Tecumseh was the political and military leader of the confederacy and his brother Tenskwatawa, known as the Shawnee Prophet, the spiritual leader.  Prophet’s Town was the headquarters of the Indian Confederacy.  It was located near the confluence of the Wabash and Tippecanoe rivers.  The town sat on a bluff overlooking the Wabash River about 130 miles, as the crow flies, NE of the territorial capital at Vincennes, IN.  One of the main factors that precipitated the battle was the 1809 Treaty of Fort Wayne that Harrison negotiated with the Delaware, Potawatomie, Miami, and Eel River Miami.  In the treaty, the Indians ceded 3,000,000 acres to the United States.  Tecumseh disputed the legitimacy of the treaty, setting the stage for conflict between the confederacy and United States.  Without any resolution in sight, Harrison decided to organize a military expedition of regulars and militia.  Harrison’s expedition would ultimately engage the Indian Confederacy in battle 1 ½ miles NW of the Wabash River (near present-day Battle Ground, IN) and Prophet’s Town.  Harrison and the expedition departed Fort Knox (present-day Vincennes, IN) on September 26, 1811 enroute to a battlefield legacy of hardship, endurance, and close combat.
Harrison and the army arrived at the outskirts of Prophet’s Town on November 6, 1811.  Surprised by the army’s advance on their headquarters, the Indians asked for a conference the next day in an attempt to buy time.  Harrison agreed and the expedition established camp and posted a strong guard force on a small bit of high ground not far from Prophet’s Town.  Having learned the lessons of Indian warfare well enough, and fearing a surprise attack, soldiers and militiamen, slept “on their arms,” meaning fully dressed, weapons loaded, and bayonets fixed—ready to fight at a moment’s notice.  The Indians did not disappoint.  During the early morning hours of November 7, 1811, with the crack of rifle fire and “an awful Indian yell” emanating from every corner of the encampment, the fight was on.  In a hard-fought battle, the Americans persevered, repulsing the attack after several hours of close combat, sometimes hand-to-hand.  The Americans advanced on the abandoned Indian headquarters the next day and destroyed Prophet’s Town.  The army returned to Vincennes on November 18, 1811 and disbanded, having reduced the threat of Tecumseh’s Indian Confederacy in the Indiana Territory.  The battle, known as the Battle of Tippecanoe, takes its name from the lesser river near Prophet’s Town.
Tecumseh was not at the battle or Prophet’s Town.  His brother—far less skilled as a military leader—was the one to commit Indian forces to combat with the American force.  Tecumseh had gone south (to present-day Alabama) to recruit more allies for his confederacy.  Harrison, through his spy network, learned that Tecumseh was planning something more sinister than political networking even though he could not determine precisely what was planned.  In an act of pure military brilliance, Harrison decided to seize the initiative and take an expedition north while the confederacy’s most celebrated and effective military leader was absent.  Tecumseh returned to Prophet’s Town in February or March 1812 to find the confederacy in shambles.  He was subsequently forced to seek an alliance with the British during the War of 1812.  Forces commanded by Harrison and Tecumseh would meet on several battlefields during the war.  Tecumseh was killed at the Battle of the Thames (present-day Chatham-Kent, Ontario), by members of Harrison’s command.  Harrison survived the war and by its end was a national hero.  However, he remained most famous for his combat leadership near Prophet’s Town.  After his military career ended, he used the sobriquet “Old Tippecanoe,” to great effect on the political battlefield—eventually becoming the ninth President of the United States, dying in office on April 4, 1841.