Given the title of this series, I thought an interesting article would be Clinton in the New York Times. This article is a collection of my favorite stories out of nearly a thousand in the 1851-1980 archives. Frustratingly, many of the Times articles come straight from the local Clinton papers of the time. Thus, some of these stories will leave the reader infuriatingly wanting to know more.
Outside of an obituary in 1856, Clinton received its first press on June 4, 1860. The article detailed the tornado that struck the area on June 3 and caused much destruction of life and property. Just at first report, Camanche saw 32 killed, and Albany had six dead and 50 wounded.
A few days later, H.B. Horton, editor of The Herald, pleaded nationally for aid for the sufferers. He listed that 2,500 were homeless, 200 were “maimed,” and much loss of property. In his Times letter, he asked that “New York respond heartily and liberally to the cry of distress which now comes to them from the Far West.” In another letter, Horton asked for $100,000 for necessities. I haven’t found how much money was raised, but it is clear the pleas were answered to a degree.
In September of 1865, Chicago sources recorded a happier note. Another railroad bridge went over the Mississippi, this one between Fulton and Clinton. Now the Chicago markets, through the Chicago and Northwestern Company, could send goods into the heart of Iowa and continue its goal of connecting with the Pacific Railroad.
An 1871 baseball game saw the Actives of Clinton, Iowa defeat the White Stockings of Chicago 8 to 5. Interestingly, in 1870 the White Stockings visited Clinton and defeated Clinton 96 to 7. A few months after the 1871 defeat, The White Stockings lost their stadium and equipment during the Great Chicago fire and disbanded until 1874- 1875 season. The White Stockings became the Chicago Cubs.
In 1881, W.L. Ainsworth, an alderman, whipped a teamster with the teamster’s own whip. Ainsworth caught the teamster flogging a horse. His Clinton neighbors gave W.L. a gold cane inscribed to him with the note “for humane services, July 3, 1881.” The local papers had the full story. For six weeks the Crawford brothers and their father rode up and down the streets, insulting ladies, exposing themselves, “riding in splendid outfits with low prostitutes,” and at last, wearing down their horse to death. After the public beating, the local paper did have to warn against lynching the Crawfords, but they wished them begone.
In 1882, a national smallpox outbreak occurred with quite a few Clinton cases appearing in the national lists. All told, more Clintonians fell ill from a rogue cook at the Central Hotel. The cook poisoned 12 people by putting arsenic in the milk. The Clinton papers provide little more information on both outbreaks.
Clinton’s saloon problem appears regularly in the local papers, and occasionally made the Times. None more dramatic that when in 1886, Clinton’s drunks made the Times. Saloonists and a drunken mob attacked the jail, wanting to lynch two prohibitionists. Apparently these prohibitionists had started a riot in previous days. The police dispersed the crowd with bullets that wounded four.
A year later at a Sells Brothers’ Circus, the cowboys turned away from shooting Indians to shoot into the crowd. Sadly, some of the blanks were real. It seems one person died and two were seriously injured. Other accounts say all three died. The Times explained the drama in too much detail, as the scene sounded chaotic.
The circus skipped town and avoided Iowa for years. However, a poor employee stayed behind to try to pay the bills. Some accounts have the circus eventually paying $50,000 in damages. For the next few decades, the stories are equally interesting – like Lafayette Lamb surviving a tornado in Louisville, a boiler explosion wrecking the Lyons paper mill, many failures in businesses, Curtis turning down a Presidential appointment, upstanding citizens committing murder, train collisions, lumbermen indicted, an editor robbed with the gun he was sleeping on, railroad bridge drama, and most of all, railroad notes. One cannot overstate news about the railroad.
I have to end with my two favorite stories, as they don’t fit the narrative. In 1932, an Iowa farmer saw men place a bag in his field. The bag had $100,500 in it. The money was stolen from City National Bank of Clinton. The farmer returned the money, and the bank thanked him. However, the farmer knew about an Iowa law that allowed for the finder of lost goods a 10 percent finder’s fee. It went to court, and the bank provided a legal argument against the fee and argued that there should be a cap to the reward.
The bank offered to pay the farmer $25 for his work, as the bank felt the farmer never was in danger. The Iowa Supreme Court found that the farmer should receive $12,148 for his work.
The last story captures my glee for mysteries. In 1897, Adolph Johnson hit a box while digging for worms on Beaver Island. In the box happened to be $50,000 in gold and paper. The Times claimed the loot came from a train robbery or from the estate of a Swedish nobleman who lived on Beaver Island. The local paper interviewed the young boy and at the time the Times had reported what they did, he wisely told the Age the box contained only leaves and sand.
Like many of these stories, I found no record that Adolph confirmed the report; just that the news had confirmed sources who told of gold. What makes history fun is publishing an article like this, and then hearing from the public, the rest of the story.
So please don’t hesitate in reaching out if you know something that the wire missed.