The World War II Homefront: A December test

While researching an upcoming blog, we came upon a reminder of life during World War II in Scott County we wanted to share with you.

The evening of December 14, 1942 was important for people living in the State of Iowa along with North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Missouri, Wyoming, Colorado, and Kansas (nine states encompassing the Office of Civilian Defense’s Seventh Service Command Area). All persons living in these states were to participate in a 20 minute mandatory test blackout of all lights starting at 10:00 p.m.

Blackout and Air Raid protection fell under the Office of Civilian Defense, an emergency war agency, which was created by Executive Order on May 21, 1941. Locally, the City of Davenport passed Ordinance 7832 on September 2, 1942:

An Ordinance authorizing blackout and air raid protection orders, rules and regulations: prescribing penalties for violation thereof: and declaring an emergency.

The Daily Times, December 14, 1942. Pg. 22

This first blackout was promoted as an official practice. All further test blackouts held would be a surprise to the community.

Newspapers outline what individuals were to do if they were driving or at a place of business instead of home. The War Production board had already asked citizens to not use outdoor Christmas lights to conserve materials and energy so there was no worry about turning off outdoor decorations.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader, November 8, 1942.

Boy Scouts and civilian volunteers practiced and participated in the blackout when the air raid sirens began at 10:00 p.m. Police, fire, and hospital personnel were in place and any non-emergency vehicle pulled to the side of the road and turned off all lights as only emergency vehicles were allowed to drive. Even coasting on designated streets was cancelled by the city that night as it was too dangerous for children to be sledding as cars were driving with no lights.

The next day, newspapers reported the blackout test was a great success. In downtown Davenport the only mishap was an electric sign that had not been turned off when the business closed earlier in the evening.

The Daily Times, December 15, 1942. Pg. 15

There was one sign of normalcy we noted from the newspapers on December 14th. The Capitol Theater informed local citizens that business for them would go on as usual, but to make sure they prepared their homes for the blackout before coming to the movies. 

The Daily Times, December 14, 1942. Pg. 5

(posted by Amy D.)

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Davenport’s Mary Solbrig: Believed to Be the Nation’s First Female Airplane Mechanic

In the early 20th century, The Pioneer Era of aviation began. The first powered airplanes were taking off, and men and women wowed large crowds at fair exhibitions with their flying machines.

Sunday Times-Democrat, 7 Aug. 1960, p. 40.

Among them was Davenport’s very own Oscar Solbrig. A German immigrant and bicycle shop owner, his first forays into flight involved “powered balloon experiments” and were performed around 1900. Solbrig then attended flight school and began constructing his own planes. After winding up in the Mississippi river while testing a “flying boat” (a craft that was meant to take off and land on the water), Solbrig turned to building land-based planes only. With the salvaged engine and other parts from the flying boat, a plane took shape in the attic of the Solbrig home.

According to several clippings from the Davenport Democrat and Leader, between 1913 and ‘14 he made a flight over the city that was witnessed by many awestruck spectators. From then on, the plane was used for fair exhibitions from 1914 to 1916. Solbrig’s flights were so popular that the Democrat and Leader quoted him as saying, “At the What Cheer Fair … the crowd of 10,000 was so anxious to see the machine and the flying that they crowded around the aeroplane so close it took us about 30 minutes coaxing to get the people back far enough to give me room to start.” Many had never seen such an invention before and fewer understood its mechanics.

Flying was also a dangerous business. Many aviators were killed or seriously injured in their efforts to take to the sky. Solbrig himself had several close calls; besides his aforementioned swim in the river, he also once became entangled in a willow tree and fell over 100 feet. But he only ever sustained severe bruising from these accidents, retiring from flight before the 1920’s. He lived to be 71, and over the course of the years, several articles were run about his “barnstorming days” and the preservation of his plane in Midwest museums.

Mary Solbrig upon her election as president of the Mothers’ club. The Daily Times, 5 Jun. 1936, p. 10.

But this is not the full story of Oscar Solbrig. Behind his success– every step of the way– was his wife, Mary, the woman known to be the first female airplane mechanic. She was not entirely erased from the picture while Solbrig was performing at fairgrounds, appearing momentarily in several articles during that period. Solbrig always managed to keep the press informed that Mary was instrumental in his flights, but the focus was always on the person in the cockpit.

Mary’s history as a mechanic began when Solbrig owned his bicycle shop. In her memoir about her parents, her daughter, Hope, recalls the prejudices her mother faced as a woman interested in a predominantly male trade. While Oscar was out for the day, Mary would would stay to watch the business. Hope recounts one interaction with a customer as follows: “A man came in to have a saw filed. He didn’t want to leave the saw when he saw [Mary] was alone. He wanted ‘the man’ to do the job. She told him he would get a good job or he didn’t have to pay. Well, my mother did the filing.” But Mary often rose far above expectations. Hope states that, “Somehow, he found out that she did it and after that, every time he came, he asked for ‘the lady saw filer’ to do it because he liked the job.”

Soon, Mary was assisting with the construction of Oscar’s first plane, which would eventually have to be disassembled, shipped in boxes via train, and reassembled by Mary at various fairgrounds. She became so familiar with the machine that, with her son, Alfred, helping with the heavy pieces, she could reassemble it in four hours. Besides performing any repairs to the machine, Mary faced the dangers of guarding it from eager spectators who had never seen a plane before. She recalls getting only four hours of sleep during fair season, and none at all the night before an exhibition. She and her son often camped out in the shipping boxes that housed the plane’s parts.

The Daily Times, 28 December 1954, p. 1.

The flimsy wire that was set up to keep the crowd at bay was often useless. Hope recalls a moment in the dead of night when a man ducked under it, only to be interfered by Mary brandishing a hammer. In Hope’s words, “He scrammed fast.” Her duties also included negotiating with fairground managers who were ignorant about the plane’s mechanics and often neglected to provide enough space for the plane to take off (some expected the craft to rise directly off the ground). Mary was often seen filling in rough patches on the runway with dirt she kept in her apron, and it was she who signalled to Oscar with a white handkerchief that the plane had enough power to take off. She knew it so well that she could judge by the sound of the engine.

The Des Moines Register, 23 May 1948, p. 31.

In 1948, several years after Oscar’s death, an article in the Des Moines Register discussed Mary’s role in his success. It highlighted some of the more dangerous elements of aviation in the early 20th century and showed Mary’s keen awareness of the crowd’s darker desires. “‘They didn’t come to see the airplane fly,’ she asserted in this article. “‘They came to see the flier killed.’” And there is evidence to attest to this: people often attempted to tamper with the craft before its flight, and once, someone succeeded in cutting a cable attached to the tail unnoticed. Although the pilot escaped unhurt, it cost the mechanics over a month of repairs.

Mary herself was a victim of the crowd’s wish to witness injury. During one landing, she noticed the wind directing the plane into a terrace and hurried to get a hold on part of one wing to redirect it. She reflects that “one of the spectators protested to the fair superintendent’” about her competence. “‘He said he had come “to see the airplane drag the woman” and felt shorted on his entertainment.’”

But while she actively participated in this risky lifestyle, Mary was also a wife and mother of three children. In addition to all the housework and cooking, she was elected president of the Mother’s club in 1936.

When she passed away on December 28, 1954 at the age of 85, she had seen many advances in aviation. She was honored at her funeral by local aviators, who tossed flowers from their planes.

(posted by Nikki)

Sources:

“‘Barnstorming’ In The Good Old Days.” Quad-City Times (Davenport, IA), Aug. 7 1960, p. 40.

“Mrs. Solbrig, Davenport Aviation Pioneer, 85, Dies.” The Daily Times (Davenport, IA), Dec. 28 1954, p. 1.

Shane, George. “Recalls When Fair Crowds Came ‘to See Pilot Killed’”. The Des Moines Register (Des Moines, IA) ,May 23 1948, p. 31.

Solbrig-Keller, Hope. An Early Bird’s Flying as Described by His Daughter. San Jose, CA: CollectAir Air Age Gallery, 1991. 

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Turkey Notes 2018

We cannot believe it was ten years ago on this date that we published our first Turkey Note blog!

Our blog, and many Thanksgiving tables, would not be complete without this local tradition.

Our co-worker, Sarah, gave the best explanation for Turkey Notes way back in 2008. We invite you to read that original blog here.

Ten years later and the origin of Turkey Notes are still a mystery to us. We think that might just be part of the fun.

To look at more Turkey Note blogs, we invite you to search using the Keywords: Turkey Notes or Thanksgiving in our search box.

We hope you enjoy our staff donations this year and, as always, we love to hear your family traditions with Turkey Notes.

Turkey dance                                                                                                                                            Turkey clog                                                                                                                                              Turkey says                                                                                                                                “Thanks for reading this blog!”

 

 

 

 

 

Submitted by Pat:

Turkey red
Turkey blue
Turkey says
“I’ll get you!” 

Turkey up
Turkey down
Turkey’s eaten
all over town  

Turkey smile
Turkey frown
Turkey running
all over town

Turkey red
Turkey blue
Turkey says
“glad I’m not glue”  

Turkey frown
Turkey smile
Turkey is running
the last mile

Turkey two step
Turkey trot
Turkey’s trying
to avoid the pot

Submitted by Jill Jensen:

NATIONAL TURKEY
Turkey Chosen
And Inspected
Plumpest Turkey
Is Selected
Turkey Crated
Turkey Sent
To White House
To President
Turkey Struts
In Rose Garden
Lucky Turkey
Gets a Pardon
Poultry Lobby
Gets Some Press
Turkey Goes
To Gobbler’s Rest

Submitted by Amber: 

Turkey Agatha
Turkey Christie
Turkey says I love a good mystery.

Turkey Hogwarts
Turkey Feast
Turkey says I’m a fantastic beast!

Turkey scissors
Turkey glue
Turkey says I make do.

Turkey fold
Turkey earmark
Turkey can’t find her bookmark.

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National History Day Lab

Our first National History Day Lab is this Saturday, November 17th from 10:00am until 3:00pm. 

Students, teachers, and parents participating in the 2019 National History Day contest are invited to discover the primary and secondary research materials available at the Davenport Public Library’s Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center.

We will provide an orientation to our collection and help you get a jump start on your project for this year’s theme: Triumph & Tragedy in History.

Bring your topic ideas and explore with us!

Facebook Event

Library Calendar

National History Day in Iowa

posted by Cristina

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The 100th Anniversary of the Armistice to End the Great War

We would like to take a moment on this Veterans Day to remember the 100th Anniversary of the end of the Great War.

If you would like to read more about the local celebrations following the news of an Armistice, please visit A Moment to Remember – Armistice Day 1918.

More information on the war may be found by searching the term Great War or WWI in our blog search engine.

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Enroll in the Winter Book Arts Academy!

Our first Summer Book Arts Academy this year was so popular, we decided to offer more workshops this holiday season!

Winter Book Arts Academy is a hands-on workshop series offering community members an opportunity to learn more about book arts and how to create them. Each workshop will cover a different type of book arts spanning from making simple book plates to making zines.

Registration required as space is limited. Sign up for one or all four! To register, click on the links in the workshop names below or call us at (563) 326-7902.

Book Plates – Thursday, November 15, 4:30 pm at Main
Screen Printing – Thursday, December 13, 4:30 pm at Main
Zines – Thursday, January 10, 4:30 pm at Main
Paper Cutting: Hearts – Thursday, February 14, 4:30 pm at Main

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The Death of Claus Behrens: Whispers of Murder Part II

Please see Part I for the beginning of this story.

After the Coroner’s Inquest declared Claus Behrens had died due to poisoning his wife, Christine Behrens, and their daughter’s new father-in-law Henry Bendt remained in jail.

Both Christine and Henry found lawyers to represent their individual cases and work began on all sides to prepare for the Preliminary Trial. Henry remained quiet, but Christine continued to defend herself against the charges.

On July 29, 1897 The Rock Island Argus printed an accusation from Christine Behrens that Henry Bendt had killed his first wife, Marguerite, with poison in 1892 for her $2,000 life insurance policy. Police in Davenport and Rock Island were quick to investigate the new accusation.  

The Davenport Morning Star reported on July 31st that the accusation proved to be false. A Dr. Ludewig attended Mrs. Bendt during her two-day illness and she had died from peritonitis, not poison. She also did not have a $2,000 life insurance policy. Only a $1,000 policy.

During this time, Christine’s past was also brought into the newspapers. Many remembered that Christine had been married before Claus Behrens and her divorce made headlines. On October 13, 1875 Christine married her first husband, Hans Hagge, in Rock Island. In January 1876, Hans filed for divorce. As the newspaper stated the bride of three months “is now engaged in buying little rufflings, and flannels, and white goods, to make up into clothes which she will never wear herself, and she doesn’t go out into society as much as she used to. And that’s what’s the matter with Hans Hagge, for he says it isn’t his fault that things are thusly so soon”.

It would appear that Christine was pregnant at the time of her marriage to Hans and he divorced her as the child was not his. We do not know the official date of the divorce or what happened to the child. All we know is Christine married Claus on April 20, 1876. Her census record from 1900 is marked that she only had given birth to two children – Hulda in 1878 and Paula in 1884.

August 17, 1897 was a day filled with excitement as individuals crowded into the court room at City Hall for the Preliminary Hearing of Christine Behrens on charges she poisoned her husband causing his death.  

Witnesses were brought forth to answer questions including John Porth who had rented rooms to Claus and Paula until early July. He gave descriptive testimony of his three visits to see Claus the day he died. Of the pain and vomiting Claus was experiencing and Christine making Porth leave as she said Claus became angry when people saw him sick. Paula Behrens, 12 years old, testified on her parents’ marriage, the argument over the slippers (Paula said her father asked her mother to ask before purchases like that, but no one argued), and how it was strange the day before Claus died that the coffee was already poured for dinner when they sat down. Her father did not drink much of his as he said it was bitter tasting. Her mother blamed sour milk and said she would talk to the milkman about better delivery.

Paula also reported that shortly before her father died, her mother had gone off to visit Henry Bendt. Paula had seen Henry drop her off in his cart near their home. She also admitted that she had signed Frank Moeller’s name as the witness on the insurance papers at her father’s request.

The Preliminary Trial took longer than expected when Christine’s attorney, N. D. Ely, was placed on the stand for two days and questioned for refusing to present or admit he had the life insurance policy in his possession. He refused as it was no one’s business he said and he had to look after his client. The judge told him it was his business and Ely finally broke and presented it to court.

Few spoke in Christine’s defense. One person on her side was Mrs. Emma Runge, a neighbor, who testified Christine told her while Emma visited her in jail that she loved her husband and that Bendt gave her the medicine that killed Claus because Bendt wanted the insurance money.

It seemed like the Preliminary Hearing was drawing to a close when Christine’s defense brought in a shocking piece of evidence. Christine had asked Mrs. Runge to bring in clothes for her to wear in jail from the Behrens’ home. She also asked Mrs. Runge to bring items of her husband’s so she could launder them.

Pinned inside a pair of work pants belonging to Claus was – a suicide note!

Yes, Christine testified she had been forced by Police Chief Henry Martens and Police Matron Sarah Hill to confess to the crime and incriminate Henry Bendt. But really, Claus had committed suicide.

The note, written on paper and ink, stated that Claus was tired of his hard work and he hoped his family would forgive him. On the bottom was written, “I did it myself.” It was signed Klaus behrens.

The Jailer Martens said the note had recently been given to him by Christine. He noted she had asked several neighbor ladies who visited her in jail to please search the bedroom where Claus died as she was sure he would have left her a note of some kind. The ladies always returned with no luck in finding a note.

After that shock, the prosecution called a member of the Davenport Police Department. In their possession was a suicide note – yes, it would appear Claus wrote two suicide notes. This note was found on a bureau the day Christine was arrested. This note, written on paper and in pencil, indicated Claus was tired of feeling sick and was choosing to end his life. It was also signed Klaus behrens.

Hulda Behrens Bendt was called to the stand and given the notes. She stated they appeared to be similar, but not the same as her father’s writing. Hulda also noted her father never signed his name with a “K”, but with a “C” though the small “b” in Behrens was something he did. She also noted ink was not kept in the house, only a pencil.

The notes were placed into evidence. At the close of the Preliminary Hearing, enough evidence was found to charge Christine with murder. Henry Bendt was charged with murder after his Preliminary Hearing largely based on the confession of Christine.

For a while, the Behrens case no longer made front page news. Though stories presented themselves that either Christine spent her time in jail crying and talking to her deceased husband’s clothing or she was relatively upbeat and getting along the best she could. Some said she was trying to act insane. Others thought she clearly was.

The murder hit the front pages again in late September as a request was made from Mrs. Behrens lawyers to exhume the body of Claus Behrens. They felt the Coroner had made mistakes in the autopsy and this would prove Claus actually died from asthma and suicide.

The request was presented to Davenport Mayor Smith who was the president of the board of health. He declined the request first on the grounds West Davenport Cemetery was outside the Davenport City limits and, second, he was uncomfortable giving the body of a potential murder victim to the accused murderer.

The request next went to the Scott County Board who authorized the body of Claus Behrens to be exhumed. Mrs. Behrens lawyers; Dr. Hill, Dr. Allen, and Dr. DeArmand for the estate of Claus Behrens; the prosecuting attorneys, Dr. Radenhausen (Claus Behren’s physician), and Sheriff Kuehl all attended the exhumation.

They found Claus’ body to be in advanced decomposition. The defense asked for his brain, but the doctors present said that would not be altered by poison, asthma, or suicide. They did take samples of Claus’ liver, kidneys, spleen, and intestines. The prosecuting attorneys had samples as well.

Then the defense made a request that seemed to shock everyone present. They asked for the left hand of Claus Behrens to look for ink to prove he wrote the suicide note. The prosecution was stunned according to journalists who were present, but quickly asked for Behrens’ right hand to make sure they too had something to use in court.

The hands were placed in specimen jars and Claus Behrens, or what remained of him, was quickly reburied.

Through all this drama with Christine Behrens, Henry Bendt sat in jail until his Preliminary Hearing. Largely based on the accusations from Christine, he was held over for trial as well in the murder of Claus Behrens.

Jurors in the murder trial of Christine Behrens were sworn in on October 12, 1897. After all the head-turning accusations or surprise evidence, no one knew what to expect and the court room was filled every day with spectators.

Witnesses called to the stand included Attorney Ely who admitted he went into the Behrens’ home and removed the insurance papers and a bottle of brown medicine shortly after the arrest of Christine Behrens. E. H. Hibbeen of the Northern Life Insurance Company discussed the life insurance policy belonging to Claus Behrens and the changes he made to it. Hibbeen also noted that in August 1897, Attorney Ely called him and demanded the insurance policy be paid to Christine Behrens. The company declined based on the question of the witness signature.

Davenport Police Chief Henry Martens testified that Christine had confessed that Henry Bendt gave her a bottle with green medicine to give to Claus. Undertaker Henry Runge described the embalming process and how the chemicals are different from Paris Green. Coroner McCortney testified he found a greenish fluid in Claus’ stomach during the autopsy. He also described fluid in the lungs possibly from vomiting.

Co-workers from the Brammer Company testified on how healthy and strong Claus was until days before his death. A witness testified on seeing Christine and Henry together on the afternoon of Claus’ death. John Porth testified that on his deathbed Claus Behrens told him someone had given him something to kill him that morning.

Davenport police detectives were brought in to review the evidence they found in the bedroom. The paper with green residue and the suicide note written in pencil. Neighbor O.A. Artz who shared a common wall with the Behrens home testified he heard the loud groans and cries of pain before Claus died. He also testified that for several days before his death he heard Mr. Behrens coughing loudly as though he had trouble breathing at night. Co.Workers from Brammer testified he never coughed or had labored breathing at work. Mr. Artz also testified when he and his wife heard the loud groans and screams they went over to offer assistance, but Mrs. Behrens declined any help.

The defense presented Dr. P. Radenhausen who testified he had found a thumbprint on one of the suicide notes and he matched to the left thumb of Claus Behrens, which was in the defense’s possession. He said it was a perfect match after scrapping away the mold from decay. In the process, some of the flesh had fallen off too, but he was convinced the thumbprint was that of Claus and not Christine Behrens.

To prove his point, the left hand of Claus Behrens, soaking in an alcohol solution, was presented to the court and passed to the jurors to view.

The prosecution responded by calling Jailor Martens to the stand who testified Mrs. Behrens had asked for paper and ink in her cell and frequently wrote letters and notes. After the suicide note was found in the pants, Christine was asked for the paper and ink back to be studied by the police. She told them it had disappeared and she did not know where it was.

The prosecution called a Professor Andrews from the University of Iowa to testify on fingerprints. He found the fingerprint on the suicide note was not of a clear quality and no fingerprint could be retrieved from the hand of Claus Behrens that he had seen.

By November 1, 1897 the jurors were deciding the fate of Mrs. Christine Behrens. They could not make a decision for guilty or not guilty. A second trial was called.

A new trial began on November 12, 1897 with many of the same witnesses called.

Hulda Behrens Bendt testified that she had searched through all her father’s pants the day of his death for money and belongings. She never found a suicide note in his work pants nor sitting on a bureau. Paula Behrens discussed how there was not real quarrels between her parents, but there was a great age difference. She seemed to think that her mother had left Henry Bendt on good terms.

The prosecution called several witnesses during this trial who had evidence of Claus Behrens signatures from various documents. They all agreed that they felt someone else wrote the signatures on the suicide note to look similar to Claus’ signature, but it was not the same. The signatures produced on official documents by the prosecution show Claus signed his name with a “C” and not a “K”.

The prosecution finished their presentation at trial with various letters written by Christine Behrens after her arrest. In them, her story changes many times. Her final story being Claus wanted the separation in December 1896 because they were having issues in their marriage. He was a good husband, but they disagreed. Claus suggested she stay with Henry Bendt and help with the children. She wanted to return to Claus as she found Henry to be mean and disagreeable. She finally reconciled with Claus in July and was devastated when he suddenly died. In fact, Claus suggested she meet with Henry to work out their differences. He suggested she and Henry go for a beer and make amends. She also said any confession previously in which she said Henry gave her a bottle of green medicine was false. Claus, sadly, committed suicide she said.

The jury received the case on November 30th and on December 2nd found her guilty in the murder of her husband and sent to jail in Anamosa, Iowa.

Even in Anamosa, Christine continued to now say Henry Bendt was innocent and that she had lied about his involvement during her trial. Bendt’s attorney, Rock Island major J. M. Beardsley, showed up drunk to one of the court dates and was jailed for contempt. With no real case against him, Henry was released from jail in February 1898.

Paula Behrens was left without either parent at age 14 years old. Her sister said she was unable to care for her and no one wanted the child of a murderess living with them. Mrs. Emma Runge, the neighbor who visited Christine in jail and testified at both trials, took her in according to newspaper reports.

Claus Behrens remains buried at Fairmount Cemetery. We have no knowledge of what happened to his hands.

Christine Behrens died June 13, 1903 in Anamosa Prison while her case was being appealed. She had been caught eating lye soap in an attempt to kill herself. The soap was taken away and she was in a hospital unit of the prison. While there she was a given a bolt of fabric to make new undergarments. Christine hung herself with the fabric. Her daughters were offered the body for burial, but they decline. An autopsy was done. Her stomach, it was found, was being poisoned from the lye. She was slowly dying a painful death before she hung herself. We do not know where she was buried, but possibly in Anamosa, Iowa.

Henry Bendt never remarried. As he grew older he lived with different family members. He died on April 29, 1939. He also hung himself after suffering from a severe throat condition that prevented him from eating. He was 87 years old and was buried in the Immanuel Lutheran Cemetery in Rock Island next to his wife, Marguerite.

As for the life insurance policy. It was finally given to Hulda and Paula in 1901. They each received $740 a piece. The rest of the money taken by taxes and attorney fees to settle the dispute with the insurance company.

While some believed Christine to be insane, others felt she was a cold-hearted murderess who wanted the insurance money instead of another divorce. Popular opinion, by newspaper accounts, soon described Henry Bendt as a man who was just trying to help his new daughter-in-law’s mother during a difficult time. She became obsessed with him until he forced her to leave. Even after leaving, she still sent him love notes.

Some even believed Christine to be innocent. They believe Claus took her back and killed himself to punish her – and he succeeded.

With all the twists and turns of this case, who knows what might have really happened.

We will leave it up to you to decide.

(posted by Amy D. and Cristina)

Sources

The Rock Island Argus, July 29, 1897. Pg. 3.

Davenport Morning Star, July 31, 1897. Pg. 6.

The Davenport Democrat, January 18, 1876. Pg. 1.

The Davenport Democrat, August 17, 1897. Pg. 1.

The Davenport Democrat, August 20, 1897. Pg. 1

The Davenport Democrat, August 24, 1897. Pg. 1

The Davenport Morning Star, August 29, 1897. Pg. 2.

The Davenport Democrat, September 26, 1897. Pg. 1.

The Davenport Democrat, September 28, 1897. Pg. 5.

The Davenport Democrat, October 15, 1897. Pg. 1

The Davenport Democrat, October 26, 1897. Pg. 1

The Davenport Democrat, November 15, 1897. Pg. 1

The Moline Dispatch, November 23, 1897. Pg. 4

 

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The Death of Claus Behrens: Whispers of murder

The summer heat was already being felt in the early morning hours of July 17, 1897 when Mr. Claus Behrens reported for work at the Brammer Manufacturing Company on Rockingham Road in west Davenport. Mr. Behrens was known as a strong, dependable worker. He worked as a “fireman” for the business. His job was to feed fuel into and maintain the boilers of the factory to keep production going. One can imagine it was a sweltering job in the summer heat.

Claus arrived at about 5:45 a.m. to start his shift. His co-workers had noticed a change in Mr. Behrens over the past few days. He complained of not feeling well, stomach pain, and appeared pale. The pain was even worse this morning. Co-workers encouraged Mr. Behrens to leave about 7:00 a.m. They felt his complaints were probably heat related working close to fire in the summer temperatures. They watched as he left to return home to his wife and younger daughter.

Claus Behrens would never return to the Brammer Manufacturing Company. He died about 11:00 p.m. that night. One hour before his 56th birthday.

His death, and the scandal and mystery that followed, would captivate Davenport and Rock Island citizens for the next six months.

Word of Claus’ death spread quickly through his neighborhood. It was his asthma, his wife Christine (or Christina depending on the document), told everyone. He had suffered for years and finally succumbed to the terrible condition even though she had sought remedies from their doctor that very day.

The devoted wife was distraught as the undertaker arrived to embalm the body a short time later at their new home at 1203 W. 2nd Street. They had only moved into the home about 10 days before the tragic death.

However, some in the neighborhood felt something wasn’t right and whispers of deadly deeds quickly spread. Claus had been so healthy. In a neighborhood where houses sat close together and windows were open to allow a cool breeze to blow in; the man’s agonized groans of pain had been heard throughout the day. Then came evening when Claus had been weak, but strong enough to go across the street to purchase a bucket of beer from the neighborhood saloon.* He did not linger there and quickly returned home about 8:00 p.m.

Around 10:00 p.m., agonized cries filled the air until an hour later when silence fell over the house at 1203 W. 2nd Street and the undertaker was called to come perform his duties.

One co-worker knew for certain something was not right. John F. Moeller, a foreman at Brammer Manufacturing Company and friend of Mr. Behrens, approached the coroner with his concerns immediately. Claus Behrens, he felt, did not die from asthma. Mr. Moeller felt strongly that his friend had been helped into the grave. He told Coroner James McCortney what he knew and asked him to autopsy the body.

It was widely known in the German neighborhood around 2nd Street and at the Brammer factory that Claus and Christine Behrens had separated for many months after being married for 21 years. She had moved to Rock Island and become the housekeeper for Henry Bendt, a widower with five children. The Behrens had met Henry in late 1896 when their daughter Hulda became engaged to Henry Bendt’s son, Otto.

Christine had moved out of the family home on December 15, 1896 while Claus was at work. She took most of the household furniture and supplies along with Hulda and younger daughter Paula. She put the furniture in storage and moved into the Bendt household.

Hulda and Otto married on December 23, 1896. Christine stayed on at the Bendt home while Paula returned to her father. Claus, and Paula, rented rooms with a John Proth and his wife at 234 Howell Street.

After leaving him, Christine accused Claus of being an aggressive drunk. The final action, she said, was buying him a pair of slippers that December. He became enraged when he saw them and threatened to strike her with his fist for not asking him permission to purchase the item.

It was Hulda, she said, who suggested she move into the Bendt home.

Claus visited his wife frequently over the next few months asking Christine to return to him. Upon hearing a rumor that Christine had begun to live “as husband and wife” with Henry; Claus did change the beneficiaries on his $2,000 insurance policy he held with the Northern Fraternal Insurance Company as part of the Knights of Pythias from Christine to Hulda and Paula. Even after the rumors started, he still asked Christine to return to their marriage. She always refused.

It was July 4, 1897 when Christine asked Paula to go to Claus’ work and give him a message. She wanted to meet and talk to Claus about returning to their marriage. Christine would return to him immediately with the household items on one condition, Claus had to put his life insurance back in her name as beneficiary.

Claus agreed and they moved in together on July 7th at 1003 W. 2nd Street. According to Mr. Moeller, Claus immediately signed the insurance back to her. Within a week, he began to complain about stomach pains to co-workers.

Mr. Moeller knew so many details about the life insurance policy because Claus had confided in him he felt he must change the beneficiary immediately – so Claus had his daughter Paula sign Mr. Moeller’s name as witness so the documents could be sent to the insurance company immediately.

John Moeller let Claus know he was displeased with having his signature forged and he would be glad to sign anything for Behrens, but not to forge his name again. He said Claus then asked him if he thought Christine would return back to Henry now that the name was changed. He seemed sad, Moeller said. A few days later, Claus was dead.

Coroner McCortney felt the information from John Moeller was enough cause for an autopsy. The embalming had begun, but was stopped. Early the next morning, the coroner, Dr. McCortney, along with Dr. DeArmand and Dr. Braunlich autopsied the body at the house.

It was quickly discovered, once the stomach was examined, that Claus Behrens did not die from asthma. The contents of his stomach had a green color. The doctors knew of only one way for that to happen. Someone had poisoned Claus with Paris Green**.

A Coroner’s Inquest was called for Tuesday, July 20, 1897. Samples from Claus Behrens were given to Druggist Frank Nadler to examine. After the autopsy, embalming was allowed to continue and Claus Behrens was laid to rest at West Davenport Cemetery (now Fairmount Cemetery).

The Davenport Police Department had been notified by Coroner McCortney of the findings, but were not able to proceed with a formal investigation until after the inquest on July 20th. Depending on the findings of the Coroner’s Inquest, the case would move from Scott County jurisdiction to the Davenport Police Department if it was decided a crime had been committed.

The Coroner’s Inquest found that Claus Behrens had died from being poisoned with Paris Green. With that decision, the Davenport Police Department began to investigate a homicide.

Suspicion immediately fell on Christine Behrens. At the inquest, a love letter was presented as evidence. It was written by Christine on July 15, 1897 to Henry Bendt begging him to forgive her for something she had done wrong, declaring her love for him, and begging him to meet her on the bridge on July 17th. She implied that she and Henry were in love and would be together once she divorced Claus.

Henry Bendt was brought to the inquest for questioning as well. He stated he did not respond to the letter, but did meet her on the bridge at the specified time as he was heading into Davenport anyway. He denied any relationship with Christine other than that of a friend trying to be helpful. He also denied having any understanding with Christine that they would be together if she divorced Claus.

After hearing from others about the $2,000 insurance policy, the possible relationship between Christine and Henry Bendt, Paris Green found in the stomach of the victim, and co-workers stating Claus Behrens told them the day before his death “I believe they put something in my coffee”, it was enough for the Coroner’s Inquest to decide there was cause to believe that Claus Behrens was murdered.

The Davenport Police Department immediately took over the investigation. They searched the Behrens’ house and found a piece of white paper with a green residue on the water stand in the bedroom used by Claus and Christine. On Friday, July 23, 1897 they arrested Christine on suspicion of poisoning her husband.

Christine was questioned and repeated her husband died of asthma. She was then moved to the women’s house of detention.

On Saturday, July 24th Christine was willing to talk to the police. It wasn’t her, she stated. She was a victim as well as her husband. The true killer was Henry Bendt!

With that declaration to the Police Chief and Police Matron, she signed a confession telling how Henry had convinced her of his love that day on the bridge. He gave her a medicine bottle filled with a green liquid and told her if she gave it to Claus and he died then they could be together.

Henry Bendt was immediately arrested for the murder of Claus Behrens. When told that Christine had accused him of giving her the poison he simply stated, “Well, I suppose I will have to suffer with her.” according to the Davenport Morning Star.

As evening fell on the night of July 25, 1897, Christine Behrens and Henry Bendt both sat in jail accused of poisoning Claus Behrens.

But did they do it? Might Claus have taken his own life? Was Christine so desperately in love with Henry that she foolishly trusted him and it caused the death of her husband?

The upcoming trials would be filled with scandal; accusations against not only Christine and Henry, but also Claus; early handwriting and fingerprint analysis; surprise plot twists that never seem to end, and a jar with evidence that would make most individuals cringe.

Part II will be published this Friday, November 2, 2018!

(posted by Amy D. and Cristina)

*A common practice. A person would bring in a small metal bucket from home to a saloon. The bucket was filled with beer, paid for, and the customer returned home with a bucket of beer. Beer and coffee were popular beverages to be consumed at home, as water might cause illness from being contaminated.

** Paris Green is a toxic chemical made with arsenic and copper. Its crystal appearance is a beautiful emerald green. Ground up, it was used to kill insects and animals. Paris Green was also used in paints and dyes. It could be purchased from local druggists in the 1890s. If consumed, it would cause heart palpitations, vomiting, stomach pain, and death.

 

Sources

The Davenport Democrat, July 19, 1897. Pg. 1.

Davenport Morning Star, July 20, 1897. Pg. 2.

The Davenport Democrat, July 22, 1897. Pg. 1.

The Davenport Democrat, July 23, 1897. Pg. 1.

Davenport Morning Star, July 24, 1897. Pg. 6.

Davenport Morning Star, July 25, 1897. Pg. 7.

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Main Street Library’s 50th Anniversary Series: Photo Gallery

Construction and Opening of Davenport Public Library's new building, designed by Edward Durell Stone, 321 Main Street, downtown Davenport [1966-1968]

Picture 1 of 41

26 September 1968. Photograph by Phil Hutchison

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Breaking the Cornerstone: Demolition of the Carnegie Library

Once the largest Carnegie Library west (or north) of the Mississippi River, in the 1960s the Davenport Public Library faced an unsettled future due to developing structural problems. In the early 1960s, the Library Board requested funds to build a new library to meet the growing needs of the community, such as the increasing interest in children’s services. Due to the design and layout of the building, the services of the library were stymied, thus calling for a solution. The request for funding the construction of the new library building was not accepted, but the library board and city council negotiated other plans to assist the library. The first attempt to ameliorate these issues was the construction of the Children’s Library Wing as discussed in our first blog in this series, Main Street Library’s 50th Anniversary Series: The Children’s Library Wing.

Image of the Carnegie Library from DPL Archives.

Images of the Carnegie Library from DPL Archives.

Before, during, and after the construction of the Children’s Wing, the Library sustained several cracks in the walls and along the ceiling joints. Fissures in the walls weren’t the only problems the library had to contend with. Collapsing skylights and severe leaks also plagued this 60-year-old building. This spurred the library board to submit another proposal for a new building. The proposal was accepted, thus plans for a new library were underway.

Phil Hutchison, “Close Part of Library For Repair,” Times-Democrat (Davenport, IA), Jan. 14, 1966.

Over the course of the next two years, the Davenport Public Library vacated its premises to move to its temporary location at the former Hill’s Department Store, underwent a major demolition, and built a new library facility to meet future needs. 

Sharon Proctor, “The Glory That Used To Be…,” Times-Democrat (Davenport, IA), Sept. 19, 1966.

Sharon Proctor, “The Glory That Used To Be…,” Times-Democrat (Davenport, IA), Sept. 19, 1966.

Sharon Proctor, “The Glory That Used To Be…,” Times-Democrat (Davenport, IA), Sept. 19, 1966.

In November of 1966, the demolition of the Carnegie Library began. Removing the library was expected to take about three weeks. Debris from the demolition was used to partly fill the Lindsay Park lagoon in the Village of East Davenport. 

Image of the demolition of old Carnegie Library from the Davenport Chamber of Commerce Photograph Collection at the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center, Davenport Public Library.

In between trying to salvage the library to admitting the building needed to be replaced, a copper box filled with treasures of library history, Davenport city council documents, a 1908 Vogue magazine, and more was found during the demolition process. Some of the items recovered from the copper box are now part of our Library Archives. 

1. Jim Arphy, “Open Library’s Cornerstone: Big Bundle of Booty in a Little Box,” Times-Democrat (Davenport, IA), Nov. 21, 1966.

Similar to other cornerstones, this cornerstone was placed in a cavity in a foundational corner stone of the building. In most cases, cornerstones were not meant to be discovered for many years, but they function as a time capsules capturing the time when the building was under construction.  

 

 

Bibliography

Arpy, Jim. “Open Library’s Cornerstone: Big Bundle of Booty in a Little Box.” Times-Democrat (Davenport, IA), Nov. 21, 1966.

“Cornerstones.” The Edges of Time: Cornerstones & Time Capsules. Victoria’s Victoria. Accessed October 15, 2018. web.uvic.ca/vv/student/edges_of_time/cornerstones.html.

Hutchison, Phil. “Close Part of Library For Repair.” Times-Democrat (Davenport, IA), Jan. 14, 1966.

Proctor, Sharon.  “The Glory That Used To Be….” Times-Democrat (Davenport, IA), Sept. 19, 1966.

“Once Upon a Time, A House was There” Times-Democrat (Davenport, IA), Nov. 11, 1966.

 

 

Posted by Kathryn.

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