Thursday, December 31, 2009

Two Lives for Five Dollars (Part 2)

(Continued from Part 1)

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This aerial view, taken in 1938 or '39, shows the area east of Ainsworth, with its 1934 residents marked.

On the morning of December 31, Ed Davis, the young hired hand, showed up at Henry Nolte's farm to help with the morning chores. He found no one stirring, which was odd — Henry was not the type of man to lie abed when the cows needed milking. Ed wandered around to the back of the house. There he noticed a trail of blood over the frozen ground, as if Henry had slaughtered a pig just outside the back porch and then dragged its carcass across the back yard. Out of curiosity, Ed followed the trail to an unfinished cellar entrance. He peered down the incline and saw a crumpled form at its base.

History does not record how young Ed felt when he realized that he was looking at the bloody corpse of Henry Nolte. It records only what he did: he lit out for home to tell his folks. On hearing his story, they telephoned the Hobart police and the Lake County sheriff.

Hobart Police Chief Fred Rose was the first to arrive at the scene of the crime. Soon he was joined by Lake County Sheriff Carroll Holley and his deputies.

They examined the body. Henry had been struck by two shotgun blasts: one in the abdomen, the other in the head — the latter blasting away half his skull. Either shot would have been fatal. The officers found a shotgun, both shells fired, tossed down a cellar stairway. The blood on the ground outside, and the lack of blood anywhere else, evidenced that Henry had been gunned down near his own back porch.

Inside the house, a litter of cigarette butts on the kitchen floor suggested that someone had lain in wait for several hours, smoking to pass the time or steady his nerves. The way the house had been ransacked made the officers think that the killer or killers (they weren't sure how many people had been involved) were familiar with the house — in particular, someone had found and rifled a little hiding-place under a stair-step where Henry kept important papers and, perhaps, cash. And his car was missing from its usual storage spot in the barn.

The investigation spread into the surrounding area. Officers questioned the neighbors, trying to find someone who had seen or heard anything, or who knew of any enemies Henry might have had.

The neighbors were universally shocked by the murder. They may have considered Henry slightly eccentric, for he had never married, and since the death of his younger brother Louis almost two years ago, he had lived completely alone — a bit of an oddity in that time and place. But everyone liked him and respected him as a hard-working farmer and a good manager; his dairy farm was reputed to turn a profit even in the midst of the Depression. Nor did they know of any enemies, or any reason for his having any.

In the course of this questioning, the police came across the child described in the newspaper accounts as the "young Harms boy" — his first name is never given, but based on the 1930 census we can guess that he was Eldon Harms, about 10 years of age. He told police about the incident on the previous afternoon, when he'd been in Mr. Nolte's yard and Richard Chapman had stopped by.

That name set off an alarm bell in Chief Rose's mind. He knew Richard Chapman and had no high opinion of him. Richard had grown up in Hobart as the foster son of Louis and Gertrude Dunham. While still in his teens, he'd served at least two terms in a reformatory for crimes involving mail fraud or the outright robbing of the Hobart post office, or perhaps both. Since leaving his foster parents' home, Richard had drifted around Hobart, Valparaiso and nearby towns, mostly working as a farm hand. The previous summer he had worked on a farm adjoining Henry's. He'd probably heard the rumors that Henry had money.

None of the neighbors had seen Richard since the previous afternoon. He no longer lived in the area. Chief Rose figured he'd better find out where that young man was now.

(To be continued)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Two Lives for Five Dollars (Part 1)

On December 30, 1934 — the last night of his life — Henry Nolte went to a party.

He'd been out most of the day. In mid-afternoon, when a young acquaintance named Richard Chapman stopped by the Nolte farmhouse, Henry wasn't home, and a neighbor kid hanging around the yard had no idea where he'd gone. A 45-year-old bachelor, Henry lived entirely alone, and came and went as he pleased.

If he returned to his house at all that afternoon, no one saw him. His dairy cows would have needed tending, of course, but another neighbor boy, 14-year-old Ed Davis, always helped with the morning and evening chores, and may have been able to handle them on his own once in a while.

The evening found Henry at a party in the home of some friends in Miller. The visit went on until nearly midnight, when Henry decided he'd better get going. He had a problem, though — the headlights on his Ford wouldn't come on. That would make for dangerous driving on the dark country roads in Ainsworth. Someone at the party volunteered to drive another car ahead of the Ford, lighting the way, so Henry could at least get back home. He'd have plenty of time when daylight came to get his headlights fixed.

The little convoy arrived safely at the entrance to the Nolte farm. The friend did not get out of his car or even pull into the yard. The two men might have paused to call out a few parting words through rolled-down windows — thanks and goodnight and have a happy New Year! breaking the silence of the frozen countryside. The farmhouse was dark and quiet.

Then they parted. Henry drove into the yard, toward the barn that doubled as a garage. The friend drove off, back toward Miller; anyone inside the house would have heard the crunch of his tires fade down the gravel road.

That helpful friend was the second-to-last person to see Henry Nolte alive.

(To be continued)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Wildflowers in Winter

Foreground: small white asters. Middleground: chicory. Background: intersection of Ainsworth Road and Grand Boulevard.
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Foreground: toadflax. Middleground: idiot dog. Background: Grand Trunk Railroad.

Foreground: out-of-focus icicles. Middleground: Queen Anne's lace. Background: Shilo Ranch.

I could continue, but I think we're all sufficiently depressed at this point.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Season's Greetings!

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From the Valparaiso Vidette-Messenger of December 17, 1934.

Monday, December 21, 2009

BNSF on the Grand Trunk Tracks

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Every day an eastbound train goes through Ainsworth consisting of two BNSF units pulling a long line of hopper cars brimming with coal, followed by one BNSF unit pushing the train.

This wasn't that train. These BNSF units were pulling auto carriers.

Here the train is passing through Deep River County Park on a high grade.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Train in Snow

What is it about a snowy landscape that makes every idiot want to go out and shoot pictures? And by "every idiot," I mean this idiot.

Signals on, gate down:
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Train coming:

Train going:

...Train gone.

By the way, I took those shots standing approximately where the Ainsworth station used to be.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"Grand Trunk Hot Spot"

Here's an article from the December 1945 issue of Trains magazine about the Grand Trunk depot in Durand, Michigan. Nothing to do with Ainsworth, of course, but some interesting photos.

"Grand Trunk Hot Spot": Durand, MI 1945

It really makes me want to put on my good traveling suit, pack an overnight bag and walk over to the Ainsworth station to wait for the next eastbound passenger train.

♦    ♦    ♦

When I started this thing I thought that blogging was a good platform for this project. Not only would the immediate gratification of seeing my words on the internet keep me motivated to work, but the episodic nature of a blog perfectly reflected the fragmentary and disjointed way information about Ainsworth was coming into my hands. However, the information I've blogged remains pretty disorganized, and I have a naturally disorganized mind, so this is reinforcing my weakness. On the other hand, it's the best I've got. There is a (brief) history of Ainsworth from the beginning to the present day that could be written, and maybe the Hobart Historical Society would print it up just like the other helpful history booklets they've prepared — but I'm not the person to write it. I have to do episodes: I can't concentrate long enough on one impersonal topic, like the history of a town (as opposed to the history of a family, or one memorable event in a person's life), to bring together a coherent synopsis.

Now I'm finding that even researching one memorable event in a person's life, or at the end of it as in this murder case, takes so much time that it interferes with my blogging. If you blog, you're supposed to update frequently. But I'm spending so much time and energy comparing newspaper reports to reconcile their inconsistent statements, poring over old plat books to figure out where things happened, speculating over census reports to guess at a first name where only a surname was reported, that I just can't produce something on the side to put into the blog while I'm working on another story in the background.

All of this just to explain to you thousands of adoring Ainsworth fans out there why I'm not updating very often.

It's going to keep on that way, too, because I've got two more research-intensive stories I want to work on after the present one — I'd like to educate myself about the Indians who lived in this area, and then there seems to have been some big guy on the Chicago labor-union scene in the 1920s-30s, with a shady history and dubious friends, who bought a dairy farm out here in the mid-1930s, and I'd like to look into that whole thing.

So, in sum, sorry about the infrequent updates. Now back to work.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Grand Trunk Western: Accident, 1963

Continuing on the theme of stuff that relates to Ainsworth only because it relates to the Grand Trunk Railroad, which passes through Ainsworth, here's an ICC report on an accident that happened near Charlotte, Michigan, in April 1963.

ICC Re GTW Charlotte 1963

And I've updated my images map with this, as well as with a few more images.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Grand Trunk 1890s freight waybill form

Grand Trunk Railroad freight waybill form - 1890s

Thank God I only paid $0.99 for these. I've got seven six of them and they're all the same. Want one? — drop me a line.

Someday I'm going to look back at this blog and ask, "What was I thinking?"

Friday, December 11, 2009

And Now for Something Corny

Here we have the love child of Santa Claus and the Grim Reaper:

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Trains, Plains and Automobiles

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All right, it's not so much a "plain" as a shorn soybean field, but try making a pun out of that.

This field used to belong to Henry Nolte, the "Ainsworth bachelor farmer," as a newspaper described him. We shall hear more about him later.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sign-Eating Trees of Deep River

This sign used to say "NO HUNTING." Now it just says "HUNT." Give that tree a few more years, and the sign won't say anything at all.
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Photographed along Ainsworth Road at the entrance to Deep River County Park.

Nothing Much, Just an Update

Another day, another update to my Historical Images map.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Garbage Dumps of Ainsworth: The Gruesome Remains

After I bought my house, I discovered, 'way out in a corner of my field, the partial remains of a dismembered car.

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I wonder, did they drive the car out there and then take off the axle? Then how did they get the car away from the scene of the crime? Or did they take the axle off somewhere else, and then carry it out to the field where nobody would think to look for it? — in which case, we've got two crime scenes, one here and one unknown.

CSI: Ainsworth might be able to get prints off these glass bottles.

Was this mysterious rusted thingy somehow involved?

*   *   *

I've already updated my Grand Trunk Western Historical Images map with a few more scenes, plus a 1948 accident report I stumbled across. That project is useful to while away the time until the newspaper archive gets its search engine updated, and the Hobart Historical Society gets a new toner cartridge for its photocopier. I spent a couple hours there on Saturday and found a lot of detailed stories in the 1935 Hobart paper relating to the murder I'm researching. The Hobart paper is a great resource but it's not searchable. I either have to know what I'm looking for — what happened and when it happened — or just spend hours randomly reading papers on microfilm to see if I can find anything touching on Ainsworth.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Historical Images along the Grand Trunk Line

See the link over there in the sidebar — "Grand Trunk Western Railroad Historical Images"? I just wasted a couple days of my life putting that together. I had to figure out a lot of things that were very taxing on my poor little brain.

It's just an assemblage of old images from places along the Grand Trunk line that goes past Ainsworth, linking them to their place on a map from one of my timetables. This is a work in progress, obviously, since I've got only four images at the moment! I will update it as I manage to track down more. Right now, I'm tired.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Hobart Then and Now: Gas Station, 428 Main

The gas station at 428 Main Street, in 1962 and 2009.

428 Main 1962
428 Main 2009
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The building north of the tracks — to the right of the gas station in the 1962 photo — has been demolished and replaced by the City Hall. In 1962 a gallon of gas cost $0.31.

♦    ♦    ♦

I am researching a murder case in Ainsworth, probably the only murder in Ainsworth's entire history. (The shooting at the Chester home doesn't count — that was self-defense.) I also want to start assembling historic images of railroad depots on the Grand Trunk Railroad between Fort Gratiot, Michigan, and Chicago, Illinois. So much I want to do, so little time!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Autographs of Ainsworth: The Sidewalk

When I said there were no sidewalks in Ainsworth, I meant public sidewalks, that any casual stroller through the town might use. As for private sidewalks … well, children, gather around and I will tell you a story.

The year was 1973. Hemlines were high, heels were clunky, and Tony Orlando was tying a yellow ribbon 'round the old oak tree. The Paris Peace Accord, signed by President Woodrow Wilson in January 1973, signaled the end of the French and Indian War, but not until August would the last Indian troops return to Mumbai. Isaac Newton had rocked the world with his invention of gravity, and the first man had walked upon Mars, but scientists continued to search for an effective vaccine against percussion.

Meanwhile, in a tiny town in Northwest Indiana, somebody was pouring cement. And somebody was writing in it with a nail.

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Ma … Dad … Ron … Tim … Ellen … Lori … they all lived happily ever after.

The End. Storytime is over, children.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Milkweed and Multifloral Rose

Another artsy-fartsy foto. I just can't help myself.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

"The Entire Town Would Have Been Burned"

The Ainsworth-Deep River Fire Department was formed in 1953. Before then, Ainsworth depended on the improvised efforts of its own residents, and on the fire departments of neighboring towns, to deal with any fires.

On August 20, 1933, Ainsworth just escaped being burned off the face of the earth.

About 2:30 on that Sunday afternoon, Henry Sievert put his car away in his garage, next to a car owned by Leonard Lindborg, and then left the garage to go on about his business, never suspecting that anything was amiss.

Somehow, a fire started inside the garage. Later speculation focused on a short-circuit in one of the cars. Whatever the cause, both cars and the garage itself were soon engulfed in flames.

The fire quickly outstripped the amateur fire-fighting of the Ainsworth residents. Someone called the Hobart fire department as the blaze spread south to William Fratzke's chicken coop and barn. Inside the barn were two tons of coal and a large supply of firewood.

The Hobart fire department showed up and began fighting the fire with chemicals. When their chemical supply ran out and the fire still raged, they began pumping water from two neighbors' wells. By then, the fire was threatening the Fratzke home. The Crown Point fire department arrived and joined in the fight. The combined forces got the blaze under control, but it had been a close shave. According to the firemen, "[H]ad the wind been blowing from the opposite direction the entire town would have been burned."

The barn and the chicken coop, the garage and its contents, were all destroyed — about $2,500 worth of property (roughly $41,600 in today's dollars). Mr. Fratzke had no insurance.

♦ "Ainsworth Is Threatened by Sunday Fire." Vidette-Messenger (Valparaiso, Ind.) 22 Aug. 1933. Access Newspaper Archive. Lake County (IN) Public Library 29 Nov. 2009 .
♦ "Databases and Tables: CPI Inflation Calculator." United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. 30 Nov. 2009 .
♦ "Hobart." The Times (Hammond, Ind.) 22 Aug. 1933. Access Newspaper Archive. Lake County (IN) Public Library 29 Nov. 2009 .
Ross Township Fire Service: Ainsworth Deep River Volunteer Fire Department. 30 Nov. 2009 .