In Memoriam: Eldon Leroy Baxter of Davenport, Survivor of the Attack on Pearl Harbor

Eldon Leroy Baxter was born on August 22, 1920 in Buffalo, Scott County, Iowa, to Jesse Burton Baxter and Mable Laura Porter.  He attended the Davenport schools. As a teenager, he worked as a newspaper carrier for the Davenport Democrat, a batboy for the Davenport Blue Sox, and both a player and a coach for the W.G. Block Co. baseball team of the Davenport Park Board’s twilight league.

Mr. Baxter enlisted in the Navy on September 17, 1940 when he was twenty-one years old. He was working as a storekeeper aboard the U.S.S. West Virginia on the fateful day — December 7, 1941 — when the Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor.

On December 16th , Mr. and Mrs. Baxter received a telegram from Rear Admiral C.M. Nimitz, informing them that their son had been killed in action.

Imagine the expressions of surprise and delight at 1301 Arlington Avenue, just before Christmas, when the Baxters opened this letter:

“Dear Folks:–

Yes, I still have my skin unpunctured.

I could probably write one of the greatest adventure books ever written if it were allowed.

I drove a truck for a little over a week, and yesterday I was called to take temporary duty on a new ship.

I am in G.S.K. which is like a hardware store, and I am working with a brand new bunch of swell storekeepers.

I (several words censored) I had except for a (one word censored), but I drew some clothing and things I needed yesterday.

Your son,

Eldon” [1]

Eldon Baxter returned from foreign service on October 23, 1945. He married Wilma Joyce Helbling on November 23, 1946. He was a member of the Naval Reserve and also served during the Korean War. He worked for Iowan Dairy Co., International Harvester, The Times Co., and Roederer Transfer and Storage.

Over the next 70 years, Eldon Baxter would share his firsthand account of the bombing of Pearl Harbor with other members of the Mississippi Valley chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.

Eldon Leroy Baxter died on Monday, December 4, 2017 in Davenport. [2]

[3]

  (posted by Cristina) 

—————————————————————————————————-

1.”Happy Day! Davenporters Reported Killed in Action Now Revealed Safe,” Democrat and Leader (Davenport, IA), Dec. 25, 1941.

2. Ickes, Barb,”Q-C’s Last Known ‘Pearl’ Survivor Dies,” Quad-City Times (Davenport, IA), Dec. 5, 2017.

3. Image accompanying newspaper article: Hoffman, Harvey, “It Happened 10 Years Ago, But Vets Remember Pearl Harbor,” Daily Times (Davenport, IA), Dec. 6, 1951.

 

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Don’t forget to purchase your 2018 Special Collections Calendar!

The Davenport Public Library’s Main Street building in downtown Davenport celebrates it’s 50th anniversary in 2018. The mid-century modern “Library of Tomorrow” was designed by renowned architect Edward Durrell Stone, who also designed the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. 

Staff at the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center compiled historic photographs and facts about Davenport to create a fundraising calendar for 2018. Calendars are available for purchase at all Davenport Public Library locations. We are currently running a special promotion for the holidays: purchase a calendar for $10 and receive a Library tote for free from December 1 – December 15!

Check out this Historypin​ tour featuring photographs published in our new 2018 calendar. Click on the Street View guy to see what they look like now!

Click here to take a virtual tour!

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Turkey Notes: A Living Memory View

It’s time! It’s time!

It is Turkey Note time!

Yes, we get very excited in the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center right before Thanksgiving as we prepare for our annual Turkey Note blog.

If you haven’t heard about this fun Quad City tradition, please read about the history of Turkey Notes here.

For many individuals growing up in the Quad Cities, writing Turkey Notes may have been a tradition in school or at home.

I have memories of writing Turkey Notes on Thanksgiving Eve or Thanksgiving Day with my siblings. Thinking back as an adult, it was a wonderful way for us to keep busy while parents or relatives prepared for the big Thanksgiving meal.

The rules for Turkey Notes were (and still are) simple:

  • Write a short, three- or four-line poem, using “Turkey” as the first word of the first two lines.
  • Originally, we were taught to use colors for the second word of the first two lines. Some Turkey Note writers stick to this premise while others now use words outside of the color box.
  • After the poem was completed, Turkey Notes were rolled in colorful tissue paper and tied at the ends with ribbon with the person’s name written on it. Fringing the ends of the tissue always looked nice.
  • The main thing about the Turkey Note is how it is written. If you want to decorate it, roll it in tissue, hand it out flat, or anything else, that is up to the author.

What do you write about in a Turkey Note? In one word – anything.

My siblings and I were always told to write a compliment or something positive about a person (they were relatives, teachers, and friends after all). We always worked to focus on a positive character trait, accomplishments, or a hobby that was enjoyed.

We have read other Turkey Notes that focus on school or sports rivalries, the turkey’s opinion on the holiday, things that have happened during the year, and even insults.

Our family tradition held that Turkey Notes were read aloud after Thanksgiving dinner started. Depending on the year, Turkey Notes were handed out by children to adults after everyone was seated or the Turkey Notes were put out beforehand as creative place cards.

We do add one word of warning about Turkey Notes. Depending on your guests’ sense of humor, handing out insulting Turkey Notes may create a very long (and uncomfortable) Thanksgiving gathering.

Now once again, Special Collections staff have created a few Turkey Notes for you to enjoy.

Turkey Red,                                                                                                                                    Turkey Blue,                                                                                                                                  Turkey says,                                                                                                                                              “I love you!”

Turkey Oak,                                                                                                                                    Turkey Birch,                                                                                                                                Turkey says,                                                                                                                                        “Come to Special Collections for family research!”

Turkey Go,                                                                                                                                      Turkey Come,                                                                                                                                Turkey says,”Where are you from?”

Turkey Yellows,                                                                                                                              Turkey Greens,                                                                                                                                          Turkey says,                                                                                                                              “Wouldn’t you rather eat more beans?”

Turkey Turquoise,                                                                                                                                Turkey Teal,                                                                                                                                    Turkey says,                                                                                                                                              “Don’t eat to much of your Thanksgiving meal.”

Turkey Pie,                                                                                                                                            Turkey Square,                                                                                                                              Turkey says,                                                                                                                                      “Run, there’s a bear!” 

Turkey Work,                                                                                                                                  Turkey Play,                                                                                                                                      Turkey says,                                                                                                                                “Welcome Kathryn K.!”*

And one last special Turkey Note to Bill Wundram at the Quad-City Times for keeping the Turkey Note tradition alive each year in his column:

Turkey Health,                                                                                                                              Turkey Thrive,                                                                                                                              Turkey says,                                                                                                                                  “Thank you for keeping my tradition alive!”

We wonder if anyone in recent years has passed down this tradition? We would love to hear from you! Write your own Turkey Note in the comments!

Happy Thanksgiving.

(posted by Amy D.)

*The Davenport Public Library and Richardson-Sloane Special Collections staff welcome new Supervisor Kathryn Kuntz. We are excited to have her join our team!

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In Her Own Words: Red Cross nurse Grace Van Evera

Grace Van Evera was born January 9, 1877 in Davenport, Iowa to Charles and Henrietta Kepler. The family lived on Utica Ridge Rd. and were prominent residents of the county. 

Family of Charles Van Evera, photographed by J.B. Hostetler, ca. 1910. From our Hostetler Studio Collection.

Ms. Van Evera received her education from Davenport High School, the Deaconess Training school in Chicago, and Asbury Hospital in Minneapolis. She worked in Settlements in Chicago and Girardeau, Missouri, and was in charge of the hospital in Brookings, South Dakota. After graduation, she returned home to care for her father, Charles, who had been suffering from heart disease.

Grace Van Evera joined Unit R of the hospital corps out of Fairfield, Iowa as a Red Cross nurse. In January of 1918, she left for New York, where she received training at Ellis Island, before departing to U.S. Army Base Hospital 32 in Contrexeville, France.

Grace wrote letters home to her parents, including one published in the Davenport Democrat and Leader on July 7, 1918. She reassured her parents that the nurses were “comfortable”, had “plenty to eat” and that “Uncle Sam is paying us more than living wages”

The Davenport Democrat and Leader, 07 July 1918, page 8

Upon her return from France, Grace told her story to numerous groups and organizations, including her Summit Presbyterian church, the Lend-a-Hand club, and the colored league of the Community Service Federation. 

The Daily Times, 08 April 1919, p. 8

After the war, Miss Van Evera joined the staff of Davenport Visiting Nurse Association. She was appointed county nurse in charge of the Scott County Schools in October 1919 and continued until the post was abolished by the County Board of Supervisors in 1930. Her dedication to the health of the children of rural Scott County was recognized by the Iowa State Health Education Secretary in November of 1922. 

The Daily Times, 07 Oct 1919, p. 8

Grace Van Evera died on May 8, 1980 in Davenport and is buried at Summit Cemetery.

 

(posted by Cristina)

Works Cited

n.d. Contrexeville – AEF 1917-1919. http://mollydaniel.net/contrexeville/people.html.

Davenport Democrat and Leader. 1918. “Miss Grace Van Evera Goes to France and Red Cross Nurse.” February 1: 10.

Davenport Morning Democrat. 1960. “Former County Nurse, 83, Dies.” May 10: 10.

The Daily Times. 1919. “”Yum Yum!” Says Nurse When She Sees Ice Cream.” April 8: 8.

The Daily Times. 1918. “Davenport Girl on Active Duty.” February 1: 7.

The Daily Times. 1918. “Goes to France With Red Cross.” February 2: 6.

The Daily Times. 1918. “Miss Van Evera Nurse At Front.” July 6: 6.

The Daily Times. 1960. “Miss Van Evera, Former Scott Nurse, Dies at 83.” May 9: 22.

The Daily Times. 1919. “They Hold Clinics, Make Personal Calls and Promote Public Health in the City of Davenport.” October 7: 8.

The Daily Times. 1919. “‘Yankee Graves Are Well Kept’ States Nurse.” April 25: 17.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader. 1922. “”Health Education in Schools Will Conquer Tuberculosis”, Says Iowa State Health Worker.” November 24: 4.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader. 1919. “Appointed Nurse of County Schools.” October 10: 5.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader. 1922. “Central Figure in the County Nurse Row Before Board.” February 20: 13.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader. 1918. “Davenport Nurse Writes of Her Duties Serving in France.” jULY 7: 8.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader. 1919. “Miss Van Evera Gives Talk to Colored League.” July 27: 12.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader. 1922. “Nurse Travels 405 Miles During Month Spite of Bad Roads.” April 7.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader. 1918. “Three Nurses of Davenport Safe in France.” March 10: 11.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader. 1919. “Wartime Tales Were Told to Girls of City.” April 25: 11.

United State of America, Bureau of the Census. 1900. “Twelfth Census of the United States.” Ancestry.com.

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In Memoriam: John Willard

Retired Quad-City Times local history columnist John Willard passed away on October 30th, 2017 at the age of 74. Mr. Willard frequently used our resources to do research for his weekly column, “Backward Glances” and other features.

John Michael Willard was born on March 29, 1943 in Oak Park, Illinois and grew up in Chicago. He graduated from Lyons Township High School (La Grange, IL) in 1961. After high school, John attended the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, where he majored in English and participated in ROTC.

Second Lieutenant Willard served 22 months in Korea, writing intelligence and propaganda stories. He volunteered for Vietnam, arriving just before the Tet Offensive of 1968.

Ancestry.com. U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880-2012 [database on-line]; Tabulae 1961, Lyons Township High School, La Grange, IL

Upon his return from the war in 1969, he began his newspaper career working for UPI in Des Moines. John was then hired by the Quad-City Times in November 1970.

Willard started out as a general assignment reporter, covering Davenport Police, City Hall and Scott County government. He was soon writing feature stories on local historical figures, events and landmarks. His favorite topics to write about were historic buildings, musicians, veterans, and minorities. 

John Willard retired from the Quad-City Times in 2007 after 34 years of service. Over the last ten years he continued to write guest columns for the newspaper.

“[…] history in the news, history in the familiar (such as a local landmark), history that touches lives and triggers memories.”

 

(posted by Cristina)

 

Works Cited

Gaul, A. (2007, February 13). ‘The complete reporter’: Willard to retire after 36 years at Q-C Times. Quad-City Times, p. D1.

Gaul, A. (2017, November 2). Reporter told stories of Q-C people, places. Quad-City Times, p. A3.

John M. Willard. (2017, November 2). Quad-City Times, p. A8.

U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880-2012 [database online]; Tabulae. (1961). Retrieved from Ancestry.com.

US Army Military Registers, 1798-1969. (1969). Retrieved from Fold3.

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The Mysterious Death of Fritz Ehrig – Part II

Click Here For Part One

It was on the morning of October 7, 1869 that the body of Friedrich “Fritz” Ehrig was found in the bottom of the cistern in the churchyard of St. Anthony’s Church in Davenport. Mr. Ehrig had been a well-respected and well-known local citizen. He was a married man with five young children, a successful store clerk, retired Secretary of the School Board, and member of several local fraternities.

Even more shocking was the Coroner’s Inquest that concluded Mr. Ehrig been murdered. Struck on the back of the head, rendered most likely unconscious, and then thrown in the cistern where he drowned. Who would do such a horrible thing to such an upstanding man?

It appeared there were no answers to who would murder Fritz Ehrig or why.

Two and a half years later, Davenporters opened their papers to astonishing headlines. A letter had been sent the Davenport Police Department from Sergeant Henry Strecker of the Toledo, Ohio Police Department. The letter was printed in the Davenport Daily Gazette on February 6, 1872 for the public to read.

Sergeant Strecker inquired if a man named Erich (Ehrig) had been murdered and thrown into a well in Davenport about two years ago. Strecker asked if there was a motive or a person who was considered suspicious. He also wondered if the murder was committed by the use of a cane. If yes, to please provide him with the details including information on a reward.

While the letter, of course, was a surprise. What followed in the Davenport Daily Gazette and the Daily Davenport Democrat was probably shocking to many.  

Though the letter provided no names as to who may have spoken to the Toledo, Ohio police about the murder; the Gazette and Democrat provided their own theory on the murder of Fritz Ehrig and the whispers that had apparently been going around Davenport for years.

According to the newspapers, after leaving his friend on the corner of Brady and 5th Streets on the night of his murder Mr. Ehrig may have been going to pay a visit to a widowed woman of “doubtful virtue” (later identified as widow Cora West) who lived with her children and a man named James Alcott*. The couple lived as husband and wife in an apartment on the northwest corner of Brady and 4th Streets neat St. Anthony’s Church.

Mr. Alcott, in 1869, worked for the Davenport Daily Gazette, as a printer. He had met Cora while working for a newspaper in Rock Island and moved in with her. A fight between the couple caused her to move with her children to Davenport where she made the “acquaintance of a number of men” before getting back together with Mr. Alcott and moving into the apartment at Brady and 4th Streets.

James Alcott worked both day and night shifts at the newspaper.

It was theorized that Mr. Alcott had returned home sooner than expected and found Mr. Ehrig visiting Cora. It was thought that he struck Ehrig in the head causing him to fall down a flight of stairs. Thinking he had killed the man, Mr. Alcott and Cora carried the body to the nearby church cistern and threw the body in.

Mr. Alcott continued working at the Gazette, probably printing stories of Mr. Ehrig’s murder and inquest, before suddenly leaving town with Cora and her children about one or two weeks later.

The family eventually moved to Des Moines, Iowa where he was hired by the Des Moines Register newspaper. Nothing more was heard from the couple until the fall of 1871 when Cora suddenly appeared in Davenport looking for James Alcott. She was said to have stated the pair had fought in Des Moines. Mr. Alcott had become drunk and enraged. In the process smashing all of their furniture before leaving town.

Cora left town after finding that Mr. Alcott had not returned to Davenport.

The Gazette stated that many employees had been suspicious of Mr. Alcott after the murder, but declined to say anything for fear of upsetting his family.

As for Mr. Alcott and Cora, it was unknown where they were living. The Gazette assumed that the person who spoke to the Toledo Police Department was the Mrs. West, but rumor had it that Mr. Alcott was still in Des Moines working as a printer.

It was assumed that once they were found, Mr. Alcott and Mrs. West would be arrested for the murder of Mr. Ehrig.

The murder of Mr. Ehrig continued to have unexpected twists and turns as the Davenport Daily Democrat printed on February 9, 1872 that the newspaper reporters had been misled on the case and owed Mr. Alcott an apology. The article even carried an interview from the Des Moines Register in which James Alcott denied being involved in the murder of Fritz Ehrig and he was tired of being followed about the matter.

After that, the case went quite once again.

Until April 1874.

On April 23rd, the Davenport Daily Gazette printed the Ehrig murder was once again being investigated due to the dedication of Mr. Ehrig’s friends who would not let the matter be forgotten. After the articles in February 1872, Mr. Alcott threatened to sue the Gazette for slander. He also indicated Mr. J. W. Hasson from the Gazette and Mr. S. S. Drake from the Democrat had started the stories of his involvement. Mr. Alcott also stated on the night of the murder it was Mr. Hasson who left work early from the Gazette office, not himself.

The Gazette reported it had received a letter from Missouri stating that James Alcott had left Des Moines and Cora during the winter of 1873. He was now deranged and penniless in Missouri. Not everyone believed that letter though. Many felt Mr. Alcott had it sent to throw everyone off his trail.

On April 20, 1874 a Mr. William Poole, a local grocer, was given a warrant to arrest Mr. Alcott and his wife in Des Moines. When he arrived, he found Mrs. West and arrested her, but Mr. Alcott was gone. Once the train arrived in Davenport, Mrs. West placed in jail.

It was learned that Mr. Alcott was in La Salle, Illinois and Police Officer William Niles was sent to arrest him.

And then the case took a turn – again.

The person who spoke to the police in Toledo, Ohio in 1872 was finally identified as Elizabeth Fritzfeldt. As a young German immigrant, she moved to Davenport with her sister and both were hired to work in the household of Dr. Rudolph Alberti and his family.

Now living in Toledo, Ohio and working for a new family, Elizabeth accused Dr. Alberti of the murder of Fritz Ehrig. After speaking with police, detectives were sent to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where they located Dr. Alberti and brought him back to Davenport.

James Alcott was forgotten.

By April 30th, Dr. Alberti was in jail awaiting trial for the murder of Fritz Ehrig in 1869. His family followed him to Davenport and stayed with friends.

The new theory in the murder of Mr. Ehrig was that Dr. Alberti also intended visiting Mrs. West on the night of the murder. He and Ehrig ran into each other and a fight ensued. Dr. Alberti had pushed Mr. Ehrig and he fell down the outer steps of the apartment building hitting his head in the process. Panicking, Dr. Alberti and Cora disposed of the body in the cistern.

Dr. Alberti had been a physician in Davenport in 1869. He left the area soon after the Ehrig murder, sending for his family a few months later. Miss Fritzfeldt stated that the doctor had gone out the night of the murder and returned upset and had thrown a broken cane on top of cabinets in the kitchen. Elizabeth felt something was not right, so she stored the broken cane in her trunk. Elizabeth followed the family, but eventually left them and was hired into a new household in Toledo.

The trial of Dr. Alberti began about April 30, 1874. Dr. Alberti, his wife, and friends testified that Dr. Alberti had planned to leave Davenport several months before the murder. He had even sold items from his medical practice and begun packing before October 1869.  

Testimony during the trial reported that the doctor had been called out on a medical visit the evening of October 6 into October 7, 1869. He was known to carry canes and sometimes they broke. Dr. Alberti was acquainted with Mr. Ehrig and had gone over to the churchyard to offer assistance as he was passing by when the body was removed from the cistern. His offer of help was declined as the coroner had already been summoned.

The most interesting part of the trial was the questioning of William Pool, the grocer who had been allowed to arrest Mrs. West in Des Moines. He stated that on the day of the murder he found hair on the outer steps leading to the Alcott apartment. He collected the hair and compared it to Mr. Ehrig’s and it matched. He said some of the steps looked like they had been cleaned.

Mr. Pool did not testify in front of the Coroner’s Inquest in 1869.

No evidence was presented that Dr. Alberti knew Mrs. West, had fled the city, or knew anything about the murder of Fritz Ehrig.

A verdict of not guilty was quickly pronounced and Dr. Alberti went free.

As an afterthought, Mrs. West was released from prison as well as she was accused of being an accessory in helping Dr. Alberti dispose of Mr. Ehrig’s body. As Dr. Alberti was innocent, she would not be tried for her guilt.

And then, we believe, the case grew cold. Mr. Alcott was never arrested and brought in for questioning. We have not been able to find any evidence anyone was ever charged with the murder of Fritz Ehrig. It is a cold case indeed.

What happened to the people involved with this murder? We have a few answers, but not all.

Mrs. Ehrig lived near Fourth and Warren Streets for many years working as a laundress to support her children. She eventually moved with her children to Council Bluffs, Iowa. She died there, still a widow, on February 8, 1887. She is buried in a local Council Bluffs cemetery.

Dr. Alberti decided Davenport was just the place he wanted to live in after all. He moved back with his family and practiced medicine. He died in Davenport on January 17, 1898. His obituaries do not mention his involvement in the Ehrig case.

James W. Alcott was born in Vermont and had been in the Civil War. He lived as a single man, never getting back together with Cora West. He eventually moved into a home for disabled soldiers in Togus, Maine. He died May 1, 1905 and is buried in Togus National Cemetery.

Ellen Cora Carley West is last located in 1880 living in Des Moines, Iowa as a housekeeper in a house of ill-fame. A death record has not been found yet for her.

We will continue to look to see if this case was ever solved, but for now it appears to remain a mystery.

(posted by Amy D.)

*Spellings of the last name varied including Alcott, Olcutt, and Olcott in different newspapers and records.

Sources:

  • com.
  • Daily Davenport Democrat, February 5, 1872. Front Page.
  • Daily Davenport Democrat, February 6, 1872. Front Page.
  • Davenport Daily Gazette, February 6, 1872. Pg. 4.
  • Davenport Daily Gazette, February 7, 1872. Pg. 4.
  • Daily Davenport Democrat, February 9, 1872. Front Page.
  • Davenport Daily Gazette, April 23, 1874. Pg. 4.
  • Daily Davenport Democrat, April 29, 1874. Front Page.
  • Davenport Daily Gazette, April 30, 1874. Pg. 4.
  • Davenport Daily Gazette, May 1, 1874. Pg. 4.
  • Davenport Daily Gazette, May 3, 1874. Pg. 4.
  • Daily Davenport Democrat, May 4, 1874. Front Page.
  • Davenport Democrat, January 18, 1898. Front Page.
  • Davenport Daily Times, January 18, 1898. Pg. 3.

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The Mysterious Death of Fritz Ehrig – Part I

The morning of Thursday, October 7, 1869 probably seemed like a typical fall day to Patrick Higgins, Sexton of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Davenport. The church was (and still is) located on the corner of 4th and Main Streets.

In 1869, the property included the church, school buildings, smaller residences, and an orchard. From Main and 4th Streets, the property extended close to Brady Street to the east and 5th Street to the north. The area surrounding the church property was densely packed with businesses and residences.

About 6:00 a.m., Mr. Higgins headed out to the brick cistern located near the church’s school buildings (on the northeast side of the property). The Sexton noticed the cover he had placed on the cistern the evening before was pushed off to the side, but that was not unusual as the public was allowed to get water from the well pump or cistern as needed. What was unusual that day was the man’s hat laying near the cistern and the water spout that allowed rain water to run into the cistern was broken off.

Mr. Higgins was not overly concerned as he believed local boys had gotten into the apple orchard overnight and done damage to the cistern as well. He placed the hat on his head and began to draw several buckets of water from the cistern.

Soon after, Mr. Higgins showed the hat to Father Morris Flavin and mentioned the damage to the spout at the cistern. Father Flavin asked Mr. Higgins to go back to the cistern to check it. He feared a child may have fallen into the cistern overnight.

At about 9:00 a.m., Mr. Higgins took a rake and began to run it along the bottom of the cistern. He soon bought up the body of a man who was lying face down in the water.

Word quickly spread through the neighborhood and people began to fill the churchyard as the body was removed from the cistern. The man was quickly identified as Mr. Friedrich (Fritz) Wilhelm Ehrig, a well-known German immigrant who lived several blocks west near Fourth and Warren Streets. Everyone wanted to know how Mr. Ehrig ended up in the church’s cistern and was the prominent wound on the back of his head the result of an accident or something far more sinister?

Mr. Ehrig, by newspaper accounts of the time, was an upstanding citizen with many friends. He was born about 1832 in Naumburg, Saxony and immigrated to the United States in 1856. Soon after, he settled in Davenport with his wife Catharina. They had five children: Ottilie, Pauline, Antoinette, Fritz Paul, and Louise. The children in 1869 ranged in age from 11 to 2 years. Mr. Ehrig was a successful store clerk for Kelly & Wood Hardware. He was a Free Mason, an Odd Fellow, and had been Secretary of the School Board for many years before retiring from that position in the spring of 1869.

The coroner was called to the scene and he directed the body of Mr. Ehrig to be taken to the Odd Fellows Hall located on the west side of Brady Street, between 5th and 6th Streets. Several doctors examined the body at the Hall and a Coroner’s inquest began that afternoon into his death.

Several of Mr. Ehrig’s friends were called to testify on the events of October 6th and the early morning hours of October 7th. Mr. Ehrig had gotten off work about 7:30 p.m. the evening before. He and a friend went to the Odd Fellows Hall were they put on their garments and walked with others to hear a lecture at the Burtis Opera House. After the lecture the men walked their Rock Island Odd Fellows associates to the ferry and then returned to the Hall to store their regalia. About six men, including Fritz Ehrig, went on to Thode & Lanfeldt’s at 91 W. 2nd Street for sandwiches, wine, billiards, and conversation. It was about 10:00 p.m. when they arrived.

All those who spoke at the inquest agreed Mr. Ehrig was in fine spirits that night and not inebriated when they left the establishment about 2:00 a.m.

Thode & Landfelt’s was not far from Mr. Ehrig’s home near Fourth and Warren Streets. Mr. John Haley, who was with the group as they left the saloon, reported at the inquest that he had assumed Mr. Ehrig would walk home with him as they lived near each other. He was surprised when Mr. Ehrig not only did not head home, but also did not acknowledge his question about walking together.

Instead of heading west towards his house, Mr. Ehrig continued walking northeast with Odd Fellow members John Gundaker and William Coulter. Soon Mr. Coulter parted ways to head to his residence. Mr. Gundaker spoke with Fritz Ehrig for about five minutes at the corner of Brady and 5th Streets before he, Mr. Gundaker, went into his residence. The last image Mr. Gundaker had of Fritz Ehrig was of Ehrig walking down 5th Street heading towards Main Street.

Mr. Gundaker stated he did not see anyone else about on the street except for he and Mr. Ehrig.

The only unusual thing his friends noted during the inquest was Mr. Ehrig had expressed concern to several of them for three weeks prior to his death that someone did not like him. He even debated carrying a gun. He was about to tell one friend the name of the person when they were interrupted in the hardware store. Mr. Ehrig said he would tell him the name the next time he saw him. That was one week before his death. The friend was a farmer in Scott County and had not been back to town since that last conversation. 

The inquest ended on the evening of October 7th and resumed the next day at 10:00 a.m.

The second day of the inquest brought about further interviews with friends, but also reports from police who examined the scene and doctors asked to examine the body.

It was reported to the inquest that the cistern had about three and a half feet of water in it. It was about 18 inches deep and the opening about 17 inches in diameter. The mortar around the opening was slightly raised and the cover was heavy enough that if someone tripped on it the cover would not easily move. 

As for the body, a crescent shape mark was found on the back of the head. Sawdust was in the wound and some hair was missing. The doctors felt Mr. Ehrig was struck standing up. The blow did not fracture the skull, but could have rendered the man unconscious. There were abrasions about his face and on his knees as if they were scraped. There were also marks on his arms above the elbows that might have been caused by hands carrying him.

The doctors stated there was water in Mr. Ehrig’s lungs indicating he was alive when he entered the cistern. It appeared to the doctors that he drowned after entering the well in an unconscious state. He would have been able to recover from the blow to the head otherwise.

Mr. Ehrig was found wearing his full suit from the evening before. His watch, money, and work keys were still in his pockets. Nothing had been taken.

No blood or signs of a struggle were found in the churchyard. It seemed Mr. Ehrig was knocked unconscious elsewhere and carried into the churchyard.

As the inquest continued, the funeral of Fritz Ehrig took place from his home on October 9th. He was buried with full honors by the Masonry and Odd Fellowship. His funeral was attended by family, friends, members of the school board, Masons, Odd Fellows, Davenport City Council, and the Mayor of Davenport. Fritz Ehrig was buried in Lot 121 in the original section of City Cemetery in a plot owned by the International Order of Odd Fellows.

The Mayor and Davenport City Council posted a $1,000 reward for information on the murderer(s). The Odd Fellows added $500 to that reward.

On October 12, 1869, based on the evidence of those who were with Fritz Ehrig the night before his death, examination of the cistern and churchyard, and medical reports; Mr. J. J. Tomson, Coroner of Scott County, rendered his decision along with three jurors. The men  found that Fritz W. Ehrig was murdered at the hands of some unknown person or persons.

The question remained, who killed Fritz Ehrig and why. Was it the mystery man who Mr. Ehrig feared in his final weeks of life? Could he have encountered robbers on the way home? If robbery was the motive, why was Mr. Ehrig found with money, keys, and his watch still on his person? And finally, why did Mr. Ehrig walk east instead of west when leaving Thode & Landfeldt’s Saloon that night?

Years later, the mysterious death of Fritz Ehrig would once again make Davenport newspaper headlines. Only this time some secrets would be revealed. But would they be enough to bring a murder or murderers to justice?

Please visit our blog on October 31, 2017 for Part II.

(posted by Amy D.)

Sources:
1868 – 1869 Root’s Davenport City Directory
– Ancestry.com
Daily Gazette, October 7, 1869. Front Page.
Daily Davenport Democrat, October 8, 1869. Front Page.
Daily Gazette, October 8, 1869. Pg. 4.
Daily Gazette, October 9, 1869. Pg. 4.
Daily Davenport Democrat, October 11, 1869. Front Page.
Daily Gazette, October 11, 1869. Pg. 4.
Daily Gazette, October 13, 1869. Pg. 4.

© The Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center of the Davenport Public Library, 2007-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to The Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center of the Davenport Public Library with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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A Friday the 13th in October…1916

101 years ago today, in 1916, Friday the 13th also fell in the month of October.

The evening issue of the Davenport Democrat and Leader listed several unlucky ocurrences of the day under the following heading on page 6:

For one, the resignation of Victor L. Littig as coach of the Davenport Athletic Club football team over a disagreement with players “brought sorrow to his many friends and club associates.” According to a separate article in the same day’s paper, Littig felt members of the team were too anxious to be taught “shift formations and trick plays” while the coach preferred to “give the men a thorough course of football principles, keeping them to the simple style…”(p. 19).

Sadness over another sport led local Army recruiter Sergeant James Hutcheson to lose  “…money and hope because of the world’s baseball series.” He must have bet on the Brooklyn Robins, beaten 1-4 by the Boston Red Sox in the final game the day before. The World Series is also on the minds of area Cubs fans this Friday, October 13th!

The Democrat also reported transportation troubles: “Two traveling men missed trains and were compelled to postpone engagements in other cities,”and rain forced gubernatorial candidate Edwin T. Meredith and his entourage to ride the train to campaign stops rather than “make the jaunt by automobile.”

Automobiles were the cause of misfortunes on any day in Davenport, the same day’s paper said elsewhere (p. 4):

Politicians other than Meredith did not fare well that day, either. Workmen at the Bettendorf [railroad car] shops had been waiting for Republican speaker John H. Shirley to address them on the issue of the 8-hour workday. However, he was late, and congressional candidate M.F. Cronin, who was traveling through Bettendorf by train, assumed the crowd had gathered to hear a Democrat’s thoughts on the topic. He began to speak to the increasingly enthusiastic group of workers. Once Shirley finally appeared, Cronin stepped down, but the audience did not like what Shirley had to say and shouted for Cronin to continue instead! (p. 6)

Among other bad news in the Friday the 13th, 1916 paper was the opening announcement of this advertisement:

And the death of “one of the oldest residents of the city,” Mrs. Fredericka Kletty, at age 91:

Only Mr. Rice seemed to have had good luck that day:

Fortunately for everyone else, the following day promised this in Davenport:

We’ll have to wait until November 4th of this year for National Candy Day. In the meantime, the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center wishes you the very best of luck this Friday the 13th of October, 2017!

(posted by Katie)

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#familyhistorymonth at the RSSC Center

October is #familyhistorymonth!

One of our eagle-eyed volunteers spotted these photographs taken by the Gustav Dahms studio in Davenport (218 Brady Street from 1the 1870’s to approx. 1915) at an antiques store in Illinois. Although she purchased and donated them to the RSSC Center’s collection because they represent the work of a local photographer, we are also quite curious about the subjects of the portraits!

Can you help us find families for these young Davenporters?

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Genealogy Night at Davenport Public Library

October is National Family History Month.

We are kicking off the festivities with our semi annual Genealogy Night!

The Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center will be open after hours on Sunday, October 1st to give genealogy researchers uninterrupted research time. It is an opportunity to take advantage of library, staff, and each other for hints and tricks.

Meet us at the 4th Street entrance (by the drive-up book return) at 3:00 pm. The rest of the library will be closed, but the Special Collections Center will stay open until 8:00pm

Food is provided. Cost is $10. Please call us at (563) 326-7902 so we know you are coming. We want to have enough food for everyone!

(posted by Cristina)

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