Sunday, October 1, 2017

Illegitimacy and Abortion in 1920s-1930s Grinnell

In the United States today, about forty percent of all births belong to unmarried mothers. Whether you think this a good or bad thing, it's hard to deny that the number reflects a substantial change from the recent past. According to available data, in Iowa of the 1920s and 1930s, for example, single parents accounted for less than three percent of all births. Consequently, if today a single woman in the United States can give birth without incurring a lot of social criticism, single women in early twentieth-century Iowa likely faced a much more censorious world. "Illegitimacy" was a brand that made life onerous for both child and parent.
Sally C. Curtin et al., "Recent Declines in Non-Marital Child-bearing in the United States," National Center for Health Statistics, Data Brief No. 162, August, 2014 (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db162.htm)
Determining exactly how common was illegitimacy and how it affected Grinnell in the past is not easy. Largely because of the negative valence illegitimacy carried, people kept quiet about their situations, and did what they could to hide pregnancies outside marriage. Nevertheless, given the public's concern about illegitimacy, the issue did occasionally surface in the press. In 1925, for example, the Des Moines Tribune published a report based on the findings of the Iowa State Health Commissioner, who announced that the previous year (1924) illegitimate births in Iowa were three times as common as they had been in 1915.
Des Moines Tribune, September 28, 1925

But what about Grinnell? Newspapers here featured no stories announcing a wave of illegitimacy. However, a new source on this question has recently emerged: a complete register of all admissions to Grinnell's St. Francis Hospital between the years 1919 (when the hospital opened its doors) and July, 1935. Identifying more than 4400 hospital admissions, the register provides singular evidence on morbidity and hospital mortality in Grinnell in the 1920s and 1930s. Moreover, the register identifies every baby born at St. Francis, and, where officials deemed it appropriate, the register signified who was "illegitimate."

Of course, St. Francis—a Catholic institution—was one of two hospitals in Grinnell, and births continued to occur at Grinnell Community Hospital as well as at home and at other hospitals. So, it is impossible to know how representative are the data from St. Francis. All the same, the St. Francis register provides vivid insight into "illegitimate births" in Grinnell, and also, surprisingly, a peek at the incidence of abortion, both issues that law and popular morality helped keep out of the published record.
Register of all admissions to St. Francis Hospital, Grinnell, 1919-1935 (Grinnell Historical Museum)
***
For obvious reasons, babies deemed illegitimate when born at St. Francis hospital usually—but not always, interestingly—had unmarried mothers. Most of these mothers came from elsewhere, presumably seeking in Grinnell some privacy from the criticism they might have encountered in their home towns.  So it was that Miss Eleanor Cassilly (the hospital register regularly identified female patients as "Miss" or "Mrs.") of Le Claire, Iowa checked into St. Francis hospital in October, 1923. Just nineteen years old at the time, Eleanor was the younger, unmarried sister of Merle Cassilly—ten years her senior—, who with his wife, lived with their parents in their Le Claire home. Within a day of arriving in Grinnell, Eleanor gave birth to a baby girl whom the register called "illegitimate." Likewise, Ivy Singleton, the oldest child of five in the household of H. A. and Nora Singleton in Chalmers, Illinois, arrived in Grinnell in the last days of December, 1922. Then either nineteen or twenty years of age and pregnant, Ivy soon gave birth to an illegitimate son. More than a decade later, Amelia Reha, a very pregnant and unmarried eighteen-year-old from Iowa City, came to Grinnell for similar reasons. The third child of six born to Frank (a farmer) and Amanda Reha, Amelia delivered a baby boy at St. Francis hospital September 5, 1934. Just two months earlier Margaret Madesen had found her way from McFarland, Wisconsin to Grinnell, where she also gave birth to an illegitimate son.

It is easy to imagine how the staff cosseted these innocent babes, but the hospital register rarely offers any indication of the fates of these children, instead merely attaching the damning adjective "illegitimate" to their arrival. However, the hospital register reports that at least one unwanted child did find adoptive parents. Amanda Reha's little boy, who was born in early September, 1934, became something of a Christmas present to Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Koett of Marshalltown. A cramped note in the margin of the hospital register reports that the Koetts adopted the boy—whom they named William—December 14, 1934, three months after his birth. How the Koetts came to know of the child, and exactly how the adoption was arranged are matters presently-available evidence does not address. One wonders, for example, who kept the baby those few months between his birth and his adoption? Hospital records show that Amanda was discharged shortly after the child's birth, but whether she took the baby home the register does not say. That the hospital reported on the adoption offers reason to think that Amanda left the child in the hospital's care, and that officials undertook to find adoptive parents. Marshalltown newspapers confirm that Veronica Koett was very active in local Catholic organizations, and the Koetts also made sure that William attended Catholic schools, so it seems likely that the adoption took place through Catholic contacts.
Gravestone of Eugene, Veronica, and William Koett, Riverside Cemetery, Marshalltown, Iowa
https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=koett&GSiman=1&GScid=95960&GRid=100616203&
Perhaps other children born at St. Francis and judged "illegitimate" were also given up to be adopted, although the register mentions no others. Alternatively, unwanted little ones might have found their way to a nearby orphanage, such as the one in Toledo (which later became the State Juvenal Home/State Training School for Girls). Another alternative saw the mother keep her baby, and records make clear that at least occasionally this is exactly what happened, despite the opprobrium these births brought their mothers. Take, for instance, Miss Hazel Mintle, born in Malcom township in 1898, the fourth of five children welcomed by Laura Mintle and her farmer husband, Frank. The family soon moved to Grinnell, living at 702 Broad. Hazel told the 1915 Iowa census taker that she had completed two years of high school, but her absence from the high school yearbook suggests that she did not stay in school long enough to graduate. After Frank Mintle died in 1916, Laura remarried in 1919, taking as her husband John Creamer, a Grinnell auctioneer who lived at 423 West Street. Hazel moved with her mother, and by 1920 was employed as a clerk in a department store.

October 17, 1921, however, Hazel Mintle entered St. Francis hospital where she promptly gave birth to a little boy whom the hospital register judged "illegitimate." I found no evidence of how Hazel's delivery was received locally, but it is hard to imagine that she and her newborn were received enthusiastically, either within the Mintle clan—whose numerous branches were well-known and well-regarded in Grinnell—or more broadly. Nevertheless, as additional documentation proves, Hazel did indeed keep her baby, naming him Keith Lavelle Mintle. For reasons not spelled out in hospital records, Hazel and her newborn were not released until after Halloween. But soon she and her baby took up residence with Mr. and Mrs. William Sears at 1122 Ann Street.
1921 Death Certificate of Keith Lavelle Mintle (1921-1921)
Sadly, misfortune soon followed this brave course: little Keith grew very ill (perhaps he was already under treatment when born, helping explain the delayed release from hospital), and before he was two months old the child died. The death certificate identified the cause of death as syphilis, which indicates that the baby had contracted the disease from his mother while still in her womb. And this fact, in turn, indicates that Hazel had had at least one sex partner—either the child's father or someone else—who himself was infected; Hazel then transmitted the disease to her fetus.  Whatever people may have thought of this short-lived little boy, Hazel herself must have endured a double dose of criticism, having not only violated accepted morality in conceiving a child outside marriage but also having gained a sexually transmitted disease that she visited upon her unborn son. So far as the baby's grave can contribute to the story, Hazel's family (or some part of it) at some point absorbed the child into the family—at least that is what is implied by Keith's burial in Hazelwood, adjacent to his grandparents and other members of the Mintle family (although the misspelling of the boy's middle name indicates some distance from the child and his mother).
Gravestone for Keith Lavelle Mintle, Hazelwood Cemetery (West Hazelwood 976) (2017 photo)
Hazel herself, however, soon left Grinnell behind, never to return. Des Moines city directories from the early 1920s find her living in Des Moines and working at the new Hotel Savery, opened there in 1919. Also living in Des Moines at this time was Paul Seeburger, identified as a "battery expert" at Iowa Storage Battery Company. How and when the two met I could not learn, but I wondered whether Paul might not have been the baby's father. In any case, in 1926 or 1927 Hazel and Paul Seeburger married and moved to California. The 1930 census found them in Los Angeles; Paul was a clerk in a drug store whereas Hazel was employed in sales at a department store. Evidently the pair never generated any children, as the 1940 census found them still childless in Los Angeles where Paul worked as apartment manager in the building in which they lived. Hazel died in Los Angeles in July, 1963, and was buried half a continent away from her only child; Paul survived Hazel for some years, dying in March, 1971.
***
A happier, if more confusing, narrative came to the baby born to Mrs. William A. Flanagan at St. Francis Hospital June 14, 1935. Helena A. Jones had married William Flanagan September 15, 1930, and they soon set up house in Grinnell. April, 1932 saw the couple welcome their first child, Joanne, and in May 1933 a second child, William, joined the family. Then in June 1935, Helena was admitted to St. Francis where on the 14th she give birth to a little girl. For reasons that I can only guess about, the hospital register clearly labeled the baby "illegitimate." None of the persons whose admission notice is near Helena's gave birth to a child, so the entry cannot be an obvious, clerical mistake, transferring to Mrs. Flanagan the birth of a single woman admitted with her. But how can a married woman have given birth to an "illegitimate" child? Had Helena confessed a sin to one of the nuns who worked there, and she felt obliged to record this failing? Had Helena perhaps earlier decided to unburden herself of a secret to her husband, who then reported this news to his wife's doctor? Neither course seems especially likely, if not impossible. But answers to these questions cannot be expected ever to appear, since matters like this are communicated orally and in privacy—if indeed they were communicated at all.

Once Helena delivered the baby, the Flanagans faced some hard choices. If resentment and regret accompanied the new arrival, should the Flanagans perhaps give the child up for adoption, removing from their household the living evidence of Helena's extra-marital adventure? Or, whether Helena's misstep was forgiven or not, should Helena and William welcome the baby into their home like any other offspring, since there was no reason for anyone to suspect anything in the arrival of a third child to a married woman? The hospital register cannot answer these questions, but other documents about the family reveal that the Flanagans did take the baby home, and raised her as their own. The 1940 US Census identified four Flanagan children, including their third child, Marguerite, who was said to have been 4 in 1940, which would point to a birth in 1936. In fact, however, as Social Security records and other documents confirm, Marguerite Flanagan was born June 14, 1935, the exact date entered in the St. Francis Hospital register when Helena Flanagan gave birth to an illegitimate girl. Marguerite was that "illegitimate" child.
Marguerite Flanagan (1935-2006), 1952 Grinnell High School Yearbook
So far as I could learn, Marguerite enjoyed a normal childhood, passing through the Grinnell schools and graduating from Grinnell High School in 1952. She married Richard Owens, moved to Omaha, and there gave birth to two children of her own. When she died in 2006, she had already been widowed for several years, but there is no evidence that the one damning word attached to her 1935 birth ever brought her any unwanted consequences.
***
So far we have been discussing mothers who, however reluctantly, brought their children full-term, and delivered babies. At least some women, however, must have considered how they might avoid the scorn that an illegitimate birth would bring. Despite its Catholic commitment, St. Francis Hospital offers some evidence on these cases, too, periodically noting in the hospital register that a patient had had an abortion.

When I first encountered this term in the hospital records, I doubted that the word denoted the termination of pregnancy, as we understand that term now. But as I saw the term repeated, along with other expressions ("miscarriage," "uterine hemorrhage," etc.) which might have hidden abortions, had the physicians wished to do so, I became convinced that Grinnell doctors had indeed performed abortions in St. Francis hospital.
http://ir.uiowa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=9376&context=annals-of-iowa
But wasn't abortion illegal? Indeed it was, as James C. Mohr convincingly argues ("Iowa's Abortion Battles of the late 1960s and Early 1970s: Long-term Perspective and Short-Term Analysis," The Annals of Iowa 50[1989]:63-89). In the last years of the nineteenth century, Mohr points out, the Iowa legislature and courts gradually tightened laws aimed at abortionists, so that by 1886 the death of a woman as a result of an abortion could be prosecuted as second-degree murder. Nevertheless, Mohr contends, "substantial evidence suggests that abortion remained a reasonably wide-spread practice in Iowa, just as it did in other states...." Mohr read decisions of Iowa's Supreme Court as admitting "that the death or even the presumed death of an unborn fetus was considered a threat to the life of the woman carrying it and therefore justified an abortion; that anyone could attempt an abortion as long as the life of the woman appeared to be at stake; and, most importantly, that the state had the burden of proof to demonstrate that the abortion was not necessary." The result, Mohr argues, was that performing an abortion, especially if done by a physician, rarely attracted prosecution. Survey data collected in 1931 from more than eighty rural Iowa physicians seems to support his contention: inquiry of more than eighty rural Iowa physicians revealed more than 6600 abortions alongside some 51,000 deliveries.

Accepting this argument does nothing to undermine the Catholic church's own opposition to abortion, a force of considerable power within a Catholic hospital like Grinnell's St. Francis. And yet the hospital register identifies at least seven abortions, all carried out in the 1920s (for unknown reasons, not a single abortion can be found in the register's records from the 1930s). Who were the women at St. Francis who underwent abortions?
St. Francis Hospital, Grinnell, Iowa (1920?) (Digital Grinnell)
Only once does the hospital register report that the abortion was self-induced, and that description was attached to Mrs. Philip Thomas, who was admitted to St. Francis February 3, 1924. Philip Thomas and Mildred Halstead had married in Newton in December, 1920. The Grinnell city directory of that year reported that the couple lived at 1507 Summer, and that Phillip was a "meat cutter." Later evidence indicates that Phillip took up farming, as his death certificate confirmed that he had died unexpectedly in 1928: he suffered a lightning strike as he planted corn on their farm. Available records indicate that Phillip and Mildred Thomas had no other children after the 1924 abortion. Although a self-induced abortion might have damaged Mildred's reproductive organs, she gave birth to a son in 1930 after Phillip's death and her remarriage, so the failure to add children was not a biological consequence of her abortion. But why did she try to abort her 1924 pregnancy? And did that abortion somehow interfere with her relation to her husband?

Other abortions identified in the hospital register seem to have originated with the women's doctors. For example, in April 1928, Miss Kathleen Clifford came to Grinnell from West Branch—at least that's what the hospital record says. However, I could find no Cliffords in West Branch, Iowa; the closest family of that name lived in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and their daughter Kathleen would have been about 25 years old in 1928. It could be, therefore, that, like other unmarried pregnant women who wanted to escape the censure of their hometowns, Kathleen made the trip to Grinnell, but, instead of giving birth to an illegitimate child, she underwent an abortion.

Another single woman said to have had an abortion at St. Francis was Wilma Wentzel, whose name readers of this blog might recognize: in a highly-publicized 1923 case, she had run away from home with a married Grinnell man whom newspapers dubbed "Iceman Romeo." Unlike other young women who had journeyed from distant points to Grinnell to resolve their pregnancies, Wilma was a local girl, her family residing at 1016 Center Street. She had been admitted to St. Francis once before—in June, 1921—to be treated for gonorrhea, a sexually-transmitted disease not often met in the St. Francis register. Just fifteen years old at the time, Wilma was evidently sexually active, which may explain how she returned to the hospital in mid-July, 1922 where, according to the register, Dr. Talbott performed an abortion. Medical authorities explain that a pregnant woman infected with gonorrhea is more likely to experience miscarriage or a pre-term birth, and it may be, therefore, that when Wilma Wentzel returned to St. Francis hospital in 1922, she exhibited some signs of these problems, encouraging her doctor to terminate the pregnancy. Evidently there were no complications, and Wilma was promptly released.
Luella Walker Holstrom (1901-1984)
1925 yearbook of Mankato State Teachers College
The case of Mrs. Harry Holstrom was quite different. Luella (Nellie) Rosalina Walker was born in 1901 in Princeton, Iowa. By 1920, her father was dead, and she and a younger brother were living with their widowed mother in Davenport. Nellie decided to pursue an education, focusing upon teacher training. In 1924 she accepted a position at Mankato State Teachers College (today's Minnesota State University, Mankato). At about the same time, she met Harry Kay Holstrom, and in November, 1926 they married and settled in Brooklyn, Iowa. Apparently Nellie promptly conceived, but she entered St. Francis March 13, 1927, her doctor reporting that he had performed an abortion.

What does this mean? Was the conception somehow defective, perhaps putting Nellie's own life at risk? Had there been some other trouble that necessitated terminating the pregnancy? The hospital register has nothing to say about these questions, remarking only that Nellie was dismissed four days later. Whether related to the abortion or not, something did go wrong with Nellie's marriage, even though the next year she gave birth to a daughter, because by the time federal census agents appeared at her door in 1940, she was no longer living in Brooklyn with Harry, but had returned to Davenport where she lived with her daughter, the census describing her as divorced.
Gravestone for Grastina Marchellino, Hazelwood Cemetery (2017 photo)
A similar scenario played out for Mrs. "Geo." Marchellino. Giuseppe ("Joe") Marchellino had immigrated to the United States in 1909, and established a shoemaker's business in Grinnell. By 1920 Joe was living and working in Ottumwa, where in 1922 he married eighteen-year-old Grace Weeks; they both reported that this was their second marriage. Soon thereafter the newlyweds settled in Grinnell. Grace entered St. Francis Hospital May 10, 1923 where Dr. Talbott again reported having performed an abortion. Apparently there were no complications, as Grace was dismissed two  days later. She conceived again very soon, because their son, James, is reported (on a delayed birth record), as having been born November 6, 1923. This date, recalled years later for the substitute birth certificate, seems very unlikely, and St. Francis records do not remember James's birth at all. Nevertheless, November 6, 1923 is what was recorded in numerous later documents, including the report of James's World War II death in New Guinea in 1942. A second child, Grastina, was born in September, 1925, but died the following spring. Francis came in 1927, and LaVena in 1928. For reasons unknown, by 1930 the couple divorced, and in 1931 Grace remarried and left Iowa. Joe remained in Grinnell until 1962 when he returned to Italy, where he died in 1966.

The other abortions listed in the St. Francis register occurred to married women who already had other children. Mrs. Dow Mehaffey, for instance, entered hospital October 16, 1921, and Dr. Talbott reported having performed an abortion. Dow Mehaffey (1879-1950) and Maude Carson (1890-1955) had married December 20, 1909 in Washington, Iowa. Their first child, Lyle, was born in 1910, but died the following year. Lauretta followed in 1914, and Frances in 1916. So, when Maude was admitted to St. Francis in 1921, she had already given birth three times, and two children awaited her at home. It seems likely, therefore, that her abortion had something to do with the child, and that her doctor determined that an abortion was necessary to preserve Maude's own life, especially inasmuch as Maude went on to have two more children: Metta and Martina.

Mrs. Eugene Dewey of Newburg also had an abortion, hers done by Dr. Parish in late April, 1924. In his later years Eugene Dewey (1895-1960) drove a truck for Richardson-Phelps Lumber Company in Grinnell, but he had begun his working life as a farmer in Hamilton, Missouri. In 1915 he married Cora Jane Innis (1899-1943) in Caldwell, Missouri, and they soon moved to Iowa, first living in Newburg, then later in Grinnell. Cora Dewey gave birth to son Walter in 1917, to daughter Francis in 1918, and to a second daughter, Thelma, in 1923. It seems likely, therefore, that the 1924 abortion reported in hospital records, like Maude Mehaffey's, was the result of some irregularity in the pregnancy that threatened Cora's health.
***
The cases pulled from Grinnell's St. Francis Hospital records highlight experience that weighed especially heavily on women: childbirth outside marriage. Still a rarity in the 1920s and 1930s, extra-marital childbirth in Iowa proved resistant to cultural acceptance, so that young women who conceived a child before having married often had to resort to desperate solutions. For many, it meant finding a hospital far from home where they could give birth, and then return home, hoping that neighbors and friends were none the wiser. Occasionally these single mothers elected to keep their children, but this was difficult and, as happened with Hazel Mintle, these women ultimately chose to leave Grinnell—and their babies—behind.

Other unmarried women appear to have elected abortion. The records tell us nothing about how advanced the pregnancies were or whether there might have been medical problems that made abortion necessary. No doubt each case was complicated. Perhaps for some, who even at a young age were accustomed to serial sexual encounters, abortion was no big thing; in and out of the hospital promptly, as Wilma Wentzel was, for example, these women could not allow pregnancy to complicate their lives. Most of the abortions at St. Francis, however, seem to have been performed on married women who already had children. Consequently, their treatment at St. Francis seems to have had nothing to do with avoiding pregnancy and childbirth.

The brief reports of these women's encounters with illegitimacy and abortion, therefore, preserve for us only the dimmest outlines of lives in which pregnancy brought not only medical but also important social consequences that helped define their biographies. These stories were not written into the master narrative of Grinnell's past, and even within the walls of their own homes may not have been much discussed. Yet these stories, too, belong to Grinnell's past.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Grinnell's Potters' Field: Who's Buried There?

When I began this blog a couple of years ago, I asked the rhetorical question, "Whose stories deserve to be told?" My point was that narratives of our past commonly exclude large swaths of the population: women; members of religious, racial or ethnic minorities; the disabled; and the poor. The resulting stories, therefore, omit a great deal, and often overlook the unhappy and unsuccessful lives that also belong to our past.

Perhaps nothing illustrates so well the difference between stories told and lives forgotten as potter's fields. A term whose precise origins remain obscure, potter's fields have existed since at least biblical times when, according to Christian scriptures, the chief priests took the money returned by Judas Iscariot, and used it to purchase a "potter's field in which to bury strangers." Already excavated for the clay potters used in their craft, potter's fields made for inexpensive burial of the unknown (strangers) and those too poor to acquire their own burial sites. Like many other places, New York City continues to maintain its own potters' field on Hart Island where the unclaimed bodies of the indigent, criminal, and the unidentified continue to take their final resting place. As in most potter's fields, there the dead sleep unidentified, with no markers or gravestones to testify to their once having been part of the human story.
Potter's Field, Hazelwood Cemetery (2017 photo)
It might surprise some to learn that Grinnell's Hazelwood Cemetery also includes a potter's field. Occupying a strip across the southeastern edge of the original cemetery, Grinnell' potter's field provides burial for transients, the poor, and others for whom no one spoke when death claimed them. Seen from the nearby roadway, Hazelwood's potter's field gives the appearance of uninterrupted lawn, a sharp contrast to the rest of the cemetery where stone markers stubbornly poke skyward, announcing the identities of those buried there. In fact, however, Hazelwood's potter's field, for all its apparent anonymity, includes some grave markers—small, modest slabs of cement into which the barest information was inscribed before the cement hardened. This post uses these slabs and other resources to resurrect the stories of some of the people who died in Grinnell and, for lack of means or identity, were buried in Hazelwood's potter's field.

Additional evidence with which to untangle the history of potter's field comes from old cemetery records recently transferred to the Drake Community Library local history room. Among the papers transferred from city provenance is a single page that reported on those—or at least some of those—buried in Hazelwood's potter's field.
Plats, Hazelwood Cemetery, Drake Community Library, Local History Room, Box #6
This single page identifies almost 90 persons, whose deaths stretched from 1885 to 1963. Some names appear with an attempt at localizing the grave ("two feet southeast of tree"), and some appear with numbers whose meaning is unclear. Otherwise, the descriptions are spare (not to mention difficult to make out), and follow no obvious order. Nevertheless, this page provides an introduction to some whose destiny took them to this isolated corner of Hazelwood cemetery. With the help of the occasional grave marker, the potter's field list helps us learn who were the people who ended up there, and perhaps discover what brought them to this destination.
***
Part-way down the first column of the cemetery's list of potter's field burials one finds the following entry: "Anna Coply [sic] April 12, 1920 Strangers Rest." We know little about this woman, except for a brief report published in the Grinnell Herald's listing of local news (April 9, 1920): 
Mrs. Anna Copley died at the Community hospital last night [=8 April]. The body was taken to the Snyder Brothers undertaking parlors this morning to await funeral arrangements. The deceased was about 35 years old.
How or why Copley came to Grinnell remains unknown, but clearly the newspaper did not know her, having misidentified Allie Stepp Copley (1882-1920) as Anna, and able only to guess her age. Apparently no more news arrived before her body was consigned to potter's field, gently titled here as "stranger's rest."

In fact, strangers who died suddenly in town with no kin to help or claim them often found their final rest in Hazelwood's potter's field. I wrote earlier about two Mexicans who came to Grinnell in the 1940s on temporary jobs, and died here suddenly. Both joined Mrs. Copley in "stranger's rest." Manuel Rodriguez Ramos drowned in Arbor Lake in July, 1944, and the following year Melchior Hernandez died in a Grinnell hospital. Local officials were uncertain about exactly where the two men came from, and had no way to contact relatives, no doubt explaining how the Mexicans ended up permanently at rest in Grinnell's potter's field.
Melchior Hernandez, August 17, 1945 (2017 photo)
Potter's Field, Hazelwood Cemetery

Manuel R. Ramos, [July] 20, 194[4] (2017 photo)
Potter's Field, Hazelwood Cemeteery
Another Grinnell transient who ended up in potter's field came from a different continent. In June, 1932, Arthur Borowski, an itinerant interior painter, fell ill in Grinnell, and was admitted to St. Francis Hospital. For almost two months, Borowski remained in hospital, but the hospital register indicated no diagnosis nor treatment. August 5th, Borowski died. When admitted to St. Francis, Borowski had evidently told officials that he had come to town from Omaha, but the published notice of his death observed that the "only known living relative is a sister who lives in Poland," a fact that guaranteed that Borowski would be buried in potter's field.
Grinnell Herald, August 5, 1932
Even those who were familiar to Grinnellians might end up in potter's field. Take the case of "Rusty" Taylor, whom the newspaper described as an "eccentric recluse," and who burned to death in an accident January 13, 1944. The Grinnell Herald-Register (January 13, 1944) reported that Taylor had lived for "many years in a shack near the site of the old tile factory" south of town. Called a "mechanic of exceptional ability, almost a genius," Taylor nevertheless "rarely worked, preferring to live alone in his little shack with his pets," among which he numbered a badger, rats and snakes. Some years earlier Taylor had worked with Billy Robinson on his airplanes, but he had had little regular work for years. Because the McBlain greenhouse on East Street had recently suffered fire damage, Mrs. McBlain had hired Rusty Taylor as night watchman. At some time after 4 o'clock that morning when his employer had checked on him, Taylor fell asleep and "his oil-soaked clothing caught fire." According to a neighbor who was aroused by Taylor's shouts, Rusty threw himself out the door of the greenhouse, and hit the ground, rolling over and over in an attempt to put out the flames. But he was unsuccessful, the coroner reporting that Taylor had third-degree burns over his entire body.

As with transient strangers, no one in Grinnell knew much about Taylor, despite his having lived in Grinnell for decades. The newspaper allowed that he was "about 56 years old and was born in Canada," but there was little else to go on. Officials apparently learned the identity of a brother said to be living in Princeton, Illinois, and a sister who was thought to live in Canada. The newspaper said that officials were trying to contact relatives, but either they failed to reach his siblings or the relatives disassociated themselves from their "eccentric" kinsman, allowing him to take his rest in Hazelwood's potter's field.

Luke W. Taylor, Jan[uary] 13, 1944 (2017 photo)
Potter's Field, Hazelwood Cemetery
A similar destiny befell Everett Fulton, who was "about 65 years old" when he "dropped dead about 4 o'clock Friday afternoon in the Rex cigar store" on Fourth Avenue. Apparently Fulton had just come from a doctor's office, bringing a prescription to have the pharmacy fill. But death caught him unawares as he sat in a chair, awaiting the medicine that might have saved him. Reporting on the man's demise, the newspaper (Grinnell Herald-Register, January 16, 1950) admitted that, although Fulton "had been around Grinnell for a good many years and had been employed as a hired hand by several farmers," little was known about Everett Fulton except that he had previously worked as a coal miner in Kansas. A subsequent report (January 19) indicated that officials had reached two sons—one in Kansas and the other in Texas. Both expressed an intention to come to Grinnell, but apparently without taking responsibility for their father's burial, as Fulton entered Hazelwood's potter's field soon thereafter.
Everett Fulton, Jan[uary] 20, 1950 (2017 photo)
Potter's Field, Hazelwood Cemetery
Likewise, when Martin Parse (1883-1930) of 1527 Davis Avenue died, the brief newspaper account admitted that, although the man had lived in Grinnell "most of his life," he had lived largely out of sight to most of the town. The published report claimed that Parse had a son, but his death certificate, reporting that he had died of carcinoma of the prostate, identified him as "single." In any case, if any kin survived Parse, none arrived to claim his body, so that Martin Parse soon joined other "strangers" in potter's field.
Martin Parse, May 5, 1930 (2017 photo)
Potter's Field, Hazelwood Cemetery
Even when survivors were known and close by, the deceased might nevertheless be left to join the penurious and unknown in potter's field—which is what happened to Arthur Tompkins (1887-1933), who died of injuries incurred in an automobile accident. His skull fractured, Tompkins died soon after admission to hospital, but, as the newspaper confirmed (Grinnell Herald, March 24, 1933), he was survived by his wife and several children. Indeed, his wife, Helen, when reached at their Des Moines home, served as informant for officials who completed the death certificate. Nevertheless, for reasons unknown, Tompkins joined the others in potter's field.

***
One fairly obvious contributor to the potter's field was the railroad. J. B. Grinnell is famous for having selected a site for his new town based upon the coming of the railroads, and, of course, the railroads did come, and they contributed mightily to the town's well-being. But less often remarked upon is the fact that the railroads also played their part in helping populate Hazelwood's potter's field. Of the several persons to have been killed at the railroad one of the most pathetic was never identified, and therefore the small cement marker embedded in the grass over his potter's field grave describes him only as "unknown man railroad victim." According to news reports (Grinnell Herald, November 6, 1931), an elderly man with a wooden leg had stepped in front of the Rock Island Train No. 9 at 9:15 in the morning of November 4, 1931. The train severed the man's head and one arm, killing him instantly. No identification was found in the dead man's clothing, and, despite the dispatch of fingerprints to Washington, DC, the victim was never identified, and his body was buried at Hazelwood, November 10, 1931.
"Unknown Man," November 10, 1931  (2017 photo)
Potter's Field, Hazelwood Cemetery
Another occupant of Potter's field owes the railroad for his permanent resting place. James O'Malley, who earlier had lived and worked in Grinnell for some years, on June 7, 1933 rode a freight train from Des Moines where he had looked for a job. As the train approached Grinnell's Railway Express office at Park and Third, O'Malley tried to jump off. But something caught, and, instead of landing on his feet away from the train, he fell beneath it. "One leg was badly crushed, and O'Malley died from shock and loss of blood," the newspaper reported (Grinnell Herald, June 9, 1933). Authorities attempted to contact O'Malley's wife in Newburg, Oregon, but either these efforts did not succeed or the woman declined to accept her husband's body. As a result, James O'Malley was put to rest in Hazelwood's potter's field June 10, 1933.
James P. O'Malloy [sic] (1873?-1933), June 10, 1933 (2017 photo)
Potter's Field, Hazelwood Cemetery 
In October, 1940 yet another freight train generated a potter's field burial. The Grinnell Herald (October 31, 1940) reported that a "Negro hobo reached the end of the trail" when a Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway "southbound freight severed his body at the waist after he fell from a carload of poles." According to an acquaintance who was riding the freight with him, both men had been drinking alcohol on the ride down from Marshalltown. When the train stopped at the Grinnell depot, William Hart (as he was later identified) awoke to vomit, and when the train jerked to a start, he "fell off between the cars." Apparently at first unharmed, Hart tried to make his way across the rails to escape, but the moving freight caught him and cut him in two. Like O'Malley, Hart was known in town. The newspaper said that since Hart often stopped in Grinnell, many would have recognized him, "a rather stooped man who always used a cane because of an impediment in his walk." But local familiarity with Hart was only superficial, since no friends or kin asked for his body, leading to his burial in potter's field.
William Hart (1900?-1940), October 30, 1940 (2017 photo)
Potter's Field, Hazelwood Cemetery 
Perhaps the most wrenching tale of railroad death belongs to Velma Marie Davis. The June 2nd, 1933 issue of the Grinnell Herald reported that the little girl (whom the paper misidentified as "Vivian" Davis), left in the care of her invalid father in their home on the west edge of town, had wandered out of the house and through the fence. For reasons known only to her, little Velma started walking the tracks with her dog. Unfortunately, at just that time a freight train was headed west out of Grinnell, and began to pick up steam as it left town. Before the engineer noticed the tyke the train had run over both dog and child. The train screeched to a stop, but too late to help the girl or dog. Extracted from between the cars, some ten cars back of the engine, little Velma Marie was rushed to the hospital where she died an hour later.

Although numerous infants and children are buried in Hazelwood's potter's field, why Velma Marie ended up here is not clear. Unlike the transients described above, the little girl lived in town with her family, although apparently they had moved to Grinnell only a few months prior to the accident. But why would their brief residence in Grinnell leave her to join the unknown in potter's field? Perhaps the father's disability meant that the family had few resources and none to invest in a burial plot, and therefore acceded to the option of burying their daughter in potter's field. Or were there other reasons behind the abandonment of this little girl?
Velma Marie Davis (1931-1933), June 5, 1933 (2017 photo)
Potter's Field, Hazelwood Cemetery
***
The death of Velma Davis highlights the fact that many of the graves in Hazelwood's potter's field belong to infants and children. At least twenty-two names on the cemetery list identify infants or children consigned to potter's field. As many readers will know, Hazelwood Cemetery includes "Baby Land," a section dedicated to the burial of children. Moreover, the graves of numerous infants and children can be found throughout the cemetery, often in proximity to parents and family. How did these little ones find their way to potter's field instead? Careful examination of some babies buried here offers possible explanations.

Part way down the second column of the hand-written list of those buried in potter's field, one finds reference to an "unnamed infant of F. H. Lagrange." Floyd LaGrange (1900-1969) was well-known in Grinnell where he lived all his life. In 1918 he married Vera Martin, and the 1930 census found them living at 1217 First Avenue, along with their three children: Colleen who was 9; Lorita, almost 5; and Judd, who was almost three. Their next child, who was born and died on the same day, May 3, 1935, ended up in Grinnell's potter's field. Records from that time, including the potter's field list, describe the child as unnamed, but Floyd's 1969 obituary identified the baby as Bernard Dean. Had the little baby boy, so long ago abandoned in potter's field, somehow remained alive in the memory of his parents and family?

Nothing survives to answer this question, nor does the available evidence explain why this baby was laid to rest in potter's field. The 1930 census reported that Floyd worked as a mechanic for the washing machine company, perhaps Maytag in Newton for whom he is said to have worked many years. His later employment—for Winpower, then Solar Aircraft in Des Moines, and finally for Berman Brothers Salvage Yard in Grinnell—gives little indication of his pay, but Floyd seems to have worked steadily and presumably, therefore, he maintained reasonable income. Nevertheless, his unnamed baby found permanent rest far from Floyd's and Vera's own graves in Hazelwood. Why?
Gravestones of Floyd and Vera LaGrange, West Hazelwood plot 467 (2017 photo)
The baby's death certificate cites as cause of death "prematurity," without any specifics. It may be, therefore, that the brevity of the baby's life—"ten minutes," according to the death certificate—coupled with the child's incomplete fetal development allowed the LaGrange family to separate themselves emotionally and physically from the newborn, and accede to the child's burial among the unknown. But then one wonders when and how this infant, unnamed when buried, came to have a name that remained in family consciousness at least until Floyd LaGrange's death in 1969.

Several other infants, whose circumstances we know less about, joined the LaGrange baby in potter's field. Guy Ewing, for example, was born September 13, 1932, but died in a few days, and was buried in potter's field September 17.
Guy L. Ewing, Infant, September 17, 1932 (2017 photo)
Potter's Field, Hazelwood Cemetery
Richard Leroy Stanley was born October 23, 1934, but died the next day; he was buried a week later, not far from Guy Ewing. Nearby lay the unnamed child of Luther and Anna Mae Troxler, who was born premature (about six months, according to the death certificate) on January 21, 1934 and died on the same day.
Richard Leroy Stanley, October 30, 1934 (2017 photo)
Potter's Field, Hazelwood Cemetery
One of the earliest potter's field burials commemorated with a stone was James Snyder, who joined the others in Hazelwood mid-September, 1903, several months before he could celebrate his second birthday.
The infants committed to potter's field make one wonder what explains their seemingly uncaring abandonment. If some, like the premature La Grange baby, barely lived and may not even have been fully formed, we can perhaps more readily understand their parents' distance. The same might be said about infants whose lives were measured in days or weeks—although Hazelwood is filled with graves of infants and children whose parents claimed them and buried them near themselves, no matter how brief the children's lives. Hardest of all to internalize are cases like James Snyder's—a child who had already spent a year in his parents' care before he succumbed. How did he earn their inattention when death called him?
***
Hazel Haines (1920-1936)
Potter's Field, Hazelwood Cemetery
A very different story surrounds the grave of Hazel Mary Haines, above which stands a relatively new and handsome gravestone that provides the girl's full name (although apparently in mistaken order) and dates of birth and death. How this marker got there I don't know; perhaps one of her relatives took pity and later added this stone to her grave. But apparently at the time of her death her family abandoned her, like any stranger, to potter's field.

As the newspaper reports, Hazel was a suicide. Her death certificate confirms that Hazel Haines, when only sixteen years of age, shot herself in the left breast with a 22-calibre gun at 2:45 in the afternoon. What led this teenager to extinguish her own life may never be known, but how did a teenager with family in town end up buried in potter's field?

Born in Brooklyn, Iowa in 1920 and one of ten children to whom Pearl Otto Haines gave birth, Hazel had moved to Grinnell only three years previous to her death, the family taking up residence on north Summer Street. "A bright and intelligent young girl," the newspaper said (Grinnell Herald-Register, December 17, 1936), remarking that she "had promise of developing into a fine woman." Her father, Andrew Jackson Haines, who lived into his eighties (died in 1964), was a graduate of the Brooklyn schools, although his signature indicates that he might not have been fluidly literate. Hazel's mother also lived a long life filled with the labors of a farm and a large flock of offspring. None of this information, regrettably, casts much light on why a young, promising woman fired a gun into her chest.
Undated Photo of Hazel Haines
https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=haines&GSiman=1&GScid=95027&GRid=138619173&
Although her parents and several family members lived in Grinnell a long time, both Andrew and Pearl Haines were buried in Brooklyn Memorial Cemetery. Why did they not choose to bury Hazel near their own plots, and why did they allow her to go to Grinnell's potter's field? I could discover nothing that answered this question, leading me to wonder whether Hazel's suicide had generated an emotional barrier that Mr. and Mrs. Haines, reportedly long-time members of the Church of Christ, could not scale. It is worth noting that Hazel's funeral took place not in her parents' church but rather in the Northside Friends church. The newspaper notice published no word on the ceremonies, named no pallbearers nor kin, making the young girl seem very much like the strangers buried near her in potter's field. Perhaps—and this is only a guess—after the parents' deaths a sibling or some other relative sought to dignify Hazel's grave with a more expensive marker and added to her on-line grave memorial a fetching photograph of a smiling, energetic young woman.
***
No doubt many other stories lay undiscovered in the graves of Hazelwood's potter's field. Even this small selection, however, reminds us that the physical separation denoted by potter's field is but symbolic of the separation that Grinnell felt from those buried there. Many of those who ended up in potter's field were in fact transients—people like Arthur Borowski or Manuel Ramos—whose brief appearance in town provided no opportunity for them to be better known or for their distant kin to claim them. Some others who lived here longer nevertheless occupied a space distant from most of the town. People like Luke Taylor, regarded as "eccentric" and different, never joined the warp and weft of greater Grinnell, so that when dead, they remained, as they had been in life, objects of interest rather than members of a social body. Hazel Haines, who took her own life, had to succumb to a similar distance, presumably because of the manner of her death.

And what about the infants and children who occupy space in Hazelwood's potter's field? At least some of these children arrived prematurely and lived so briefly that not even their parents could think of them as whole persons. Others who lived longer, like James Snyder, present a situation harder to understand. Something unknown to us allowed his parents and family to consign him to permanent rest alongside the others who remained strangers to living Grinnell.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

"Boy Burglars" in Grinnell

People living in eastern and central Iowa may have heard of the recent robbery of a Grinnell Casey's, allegedly the work of a seventeen-year-old. As it happens, I had been working on a story about "boy burglars," a term that appeared with some frequency in early twentieth-century Iowa. A search of newspapers.com for this expression in Iowa newspapers between the years 1910 and 1919 got more than thirty hits, which surprised me; the term did not seem familiar, and I could not recall when—or if—I had encountered it in contemporary reporting. But there they were: a ten-year-old "boy burglar" in Des Moines (1912); two eleven-year-olds in Newton (1910); two eleven-year-olds in Davenport (1918); a twelve- and fourteen-year-old in Logan (1910); a thirteen-year-old in Sioux City (1912); and so on. Just as surprising, other news reports affixed the same label to young men in their late 'teens, or even to twenty-year-olds—like Curtis Kile, who was 20 when arrested in Davenport in 1919 with his accomplice, Ed Burke, aged 18.

Breaking into hardware stores and barber shops, grocery stores and ticket offices, the youthful villains often got away with pathetically small sums. For example, a 1913 Davenport robbery believed to be the work of "boy burglars" netted a box of cigars "and a small amount of money in pennies" (Quad-City Times, November 9, 1913). When Louis Arnold and Frederic Engler, whom the newspaper called "chronic store breakers," were arrested in Keokuk in 1918 for robbing a grocery store, the boys had made off with "some cigars, candy, cookies and chewing gum" (Daily Gate City and Constitution-Democrat, November 11, 1918). Yet, by combining their work in a series of thefts, junior criminals sometimes accumulated serious cash: when police descended upon a trio of boy burglars in 1919 Davenport, they "found merchandise valued at several hundred dollars," the result of a string of robberies of Rock Island merchants (Daily Times, June 5, 1919).

Occasionally, a young burglar was found attempting a very adult burglary, as happened in July, 1912 Des Moines when police captured ten-year-old Nash Allinkov "in the act of tapping the safe of the Siegel Bottling works." According to the newspaper, the boy "had in his possession a kit of tools of the kind usually carried by a professional safe-cracker" (Quad-City Times, July 18, 1912). Similarly, when 16-year-old Tony Nikalaski was captured in Fairfax in 1917, "he was in the act of burglarizing the office safe" of the Northwestern Railroad ticket agent.

Grinnell was not exempt from boy burglars, including, it seems, even the safe-cracking type. This Grinnell story looks at two "boy burglars" from Grinnell, and how their early criminality affected their later lives.
***
Undated Photograph of Alvin H. Case (1897-1945)
(https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=case&GSiman=1&GScid=2189044&GRid=20429362&)
Grinnell's safe-cracking "boy burglar" was named Alvin Case, the second son of George and Louella Case who in 1900 lived at 538 Spring Street. George was a day laborer and his wife worked as a "washer woman." Before the 1910 census came to Grinnell, the Case family had moved to 207 Second Avenue. The census identified George as a "factory laborer," but by this time Ella had no job outside the home where she cared for Alvin (then 12 years old) and a younger brother, Virgil, who had not yet observed his first birthday. Harry Case, twelve years older than Alvin, had married in 1908 and moved out of his parents' home.

Soon after this census was taken young Alvin Case became the subject of newspaper reports. In its September 12, 1911 edition the Des Moines Register announced that Grinnell police had arrested 14-year-old Alvin (the Register misspelled his name: "Aluni") Case, whom they accused of having robbed safes and cash drawers in Grinnell. Upon being captured, Case reportedly confessed "that he knew the combination to every safe in town." The story "had legs," as reporters like to say, and newspapers across the state published news of this safe-cracking wunderkind. The Davenport Daily Times (September 12, 1911), for instance, noted that Case, despite being "born of respectable parents," admitted being responsible for as many as ten other thefts, whose total take exceeded $200. Newspapers as far away as Boyden (near Sioux Falls) and Humeston (due south of Des Moines) also carried the story.
Grinnell Herald, September 12, 1911, p.1
Local reporting, however, provided the most detail (although it made no mention of the young man's memory of safe combinations). Apparently Grinnell police had long suspected Alvin of robbery, and therefore had hidden a policeman and one of the affected merchants in businesses that had been robbed. The planned ambush did not materialize, however, because when yet another merchant—A. J. Hockett—reported a theft from his cash drawer, police hastened to arrest Alvin. When taken into custody, the boy was found to be in possession of several one-dollar bills in his pockets, and a silver dollar in his socks. Cash on his person added up to $9.40, almost the precise sum that Hockett had reported missing. Since he was not caught in the act and police had no witnesses to the theft, Alvin might well have escaped this accusation. But for whatever reason, young Alvin then confessed to numerous robberies whose take, the Herald announced primly, the lad had spent "in gay and riotous living." What did this phrase mean in 1911 Grinnell?
He would go to Des Moines [the newspaper asserted] and spend two or three dollars [at] a time for rides on the roller coaster at Ingersoll Park, and at the Malcom and Grinnell fairs he was a liberal spender (Grinnell Herald, September 12, 1911).
After his arrest, however, Alvin would ride no more roller coasters or blow money at local fairs, since authorities immediately dispatched the boy to the Iowa State Training Institute for Boys in Eldora. Curiously, on-line records of Iowa convictions do not mention Alvin Case. How his name escaped entry into the records is not known, but there can be little doubt that Alvin spent two or three years in the care of state officials, as indirect evidence confirms.

The 1915 Iowa census—taken more than three years after the 1911 arrest—notes that Alvin, at age 17, was back home and "at school" in Chester (where his parents had moved), and therefore no longer a resident of the Eldora reformatory. However, the census also reported that in 1915 Alvin had completed only "7 years" of school, putting him at least three years behind his coevals, most of whom would have been in eleventh grade if they remained in school. It seems likely, therefore, that his 1911 exile to Eldora cost him two or three years in the school sequence.
Iowa Training School for Boys, Eldora, Iowa (undated postcard)
Perhaps this single encounter with law enforcement was enough to change his life, because Alvin evidently had no future encounters with law enforcement. Sometime after his 1918 registration for military service, Alvin entered the army, where he prospered, reaching the rank of Sergeant in Iowa's 109th Infantry. By the time federal census officials arrived in Grinnell in January, 1920, and inventoried the Case household, then residing at 705 Fourth Avenue, Alvin was back home, driving a taxicab.

By all outward signs, therefore, Alvin seems to have turned his life around. Indeed, the boy burglar seems to have transformed himself into a law-abiding worker and family man. We know that in February 1920 before an Indianola Justice of the Peace, Alvin married Irene Rogers, a Newton girl. How they met the record does not say, but their first child, Norman, was born in 1917, several years before they married and before Alvin left army duties behind. Presumably, therefore, Irene managed to care for the child without Alvin's help until their marriage. After the wedding Alvin and family set up house in Jasper county, where the 1930 census found them, Alvin working as an electrician wiring houses. The household grew rapidly, as Irene gave birth to four more sons: Keith; Kenneth; Victor, and Richard. When census officials next visited the Cases in 1940, they were still living in the same place, although by this time Alvin was said to be farming. Apparently, however, he was not well (his father's 1929 obituary had observed that Alvin was unable to attend the funeral, since he was then hospitalized in Arizona). What his illness was I did not learn, but records confirm that by 1945 Alvin Case died from cancer and was buried in the Colfax cemetery. Except for that brief period in his early teens, Alvin Case's life followed a fairly routine course that centered on family and work.
***
The situation was different for Lester Lamb, who was one of a small gang of boy burglars arrested in October, 1917. A notice in the October 26, 1917 issue of the Des Moines Register announced that two teenagers had been arrested in Grinnell for burglary and had been sentenced to the state reformatory at Eldora. George Lewis, 16, and Lester Lamb, 14, reportedly confessed to numerous break-ins over the previous four months, most recently at Hockett and Elliott hardware store in Grinnell where, the paper alleged, they had stolen "a large sum of money." In their confession, the boys took credit for a string of robberies: a lumber yard in Vinton; two garages and a filling station in Iowa City;  three garages and the American Express company at Grinnell; and two other garages in Rock Island. "We stole for the love of it," the boys reportedly told detectives.
Des Moines Register, October 26, 1917
Lester Lamb was the third of four sons born to Ralph (1874-1952) and Maggie Lamb (1878-1961) who in 1905 were residing in Bear Creek, near Malcom. By 1910 the Lambs had moved to Grinnell, the oldest boys having begun school there. In his turn, Lester followed them to school; he had completed fourth grade when George Murray filled out Lester's card for the 1915 Iowa census. Consequently, when authorities arrested him and George Lewis in October, 1917, Lester was probably only a sixth-grader.

As news stories reported, the "boy burglars" were sent off to the reformatory at Eldora where the 1920 census found Lester, then reported to be 15 years of age and occupied as a "butter maker." Soon thereafter Lester obtained his release and returned to Grinnell where the 1921 high school yearbook complimented him and his two older brothers—Gar and Raymond—for their football skills. Lester was then a ninth-grader, who, the yearbook explained, "On account of his weight and speed...was a tackle that instilled fear into the hearts of his opponents" (1921 Grinnellian, p. 65).
1920 Grinnell High School Football Team; Lester Lamb, front row, 2nd from right (1921 Grinnellian)
No Grinnell high school yearbook includes him among the graduating class, so Lester must have quit school sometime after 1921. He next appears in the public record in August, 1922, when a Marshalltown newspaper reported that Lester had broken his arm when trying to crank his father's car. In October, 1923 Lester married Minnie York, a 21-year old woman from Clarinda. According to the marriage certificate, Minnie had been married once before, but what happened to her previous husband the record does not say. Whatever its merits, marriage did nothing to settle Lester's life and get him on the right side of the law, because in July, 1924 his name surfaced again; newspapers reported that he was arrested in Arnold's Park, accused of attempted rape. In the absence of the $1000 bond, he was jailed (Emmetsburg Democrat, August 6, 1924).
Mark Blair (aka Lester Lamb) (California Prison and Correctional Records, 1851-1950)
I failed to find the outcome of this charge, but future developments indicate that the young man continued his wayward path. At some point, Lester abandoned the midwest, and settled in Los Angeles, California. Using the alias Mark Blair and giving his occupation as "musician," Lamb was arrested in 1932 in Los Angeles on a charge of forgery, and was sentenced to one to fourteen years in San Quentin. He was paroled in March, 1935, but was returned to prison in 1941 for a parole violation. In June, 1942 he received another parole, and was finally discharged September, 1943.
Mark Blair (1922 Grinnellian)
How did this "boy burglar," first arrested at age 14, become habituated to a life of crime that saw him graduate to one of California's most infamous prisons? Since Lamb died in 1969 in Oakland, California, we can learn nothing more from him. How then might we explain his life path?

One key to Lamb's criminal hankerings comes from the alias he used in California. Originally I had assumed that Lamb had simply invented the alias, but, when reading an Iowa City newspaper report of a 1922 basketball game with Grinnell, I noticed a short note that reported that one of the Grinnell players—Mark Blair—could not play because of a diphtheria quarantine.
Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 30, 1922
Of course, the two young men knew one another from their high school athletics (both played football, for instance), and Iowa was a long ways from Los Angeles, making the choice of the name seem safe. But why use Blair rather than some other name—any other name? We will never receive a definitive answer to that question, but it bears observing that Blair was a very successful high schooler: president of the high school athletic club and vice-president of his class, he played varsity basketball and football; he'd been treasurer of the YMCA, and had taken part in the class play.
Garland Lamb (1922 Grinnellian)
Lester Lamb's own biography, which included his sojourn at the Eldora Reformatory, could not match Blair's, but the high school resumes of his two older brothers—whom the Iowa City news article described as "stars"—bear a distinct resemblance to Blair's. Garland Lamb—who went on to a career as school teacher and coach—had also been president of the Honor G club, had taken part in the class play, had played football all four years of high school and been named captain of the football squad in 1921; he also had played varsity basketball for four years, and was named basketball team captain in 1921. Raymond Lamb, who went on to a successful medical career in Des Moines, had played varsity football for three years, and varsity basketball for four years, and was made basketball captain in 1922. He, too, had had a part in the class play, and had participated in YMCA.
Raymond Lamb (1922 Grinnellian)
Since Lester never graduated from high school, the yearbook capsule of his high school activities was never publishedbut his brushes with the law make it difficult to believe that his record could have stood comparison with these men's. And in that difference we may understand some of the vectors that pushed Lester Lamb deeper into a life of crime from that original 1917 encounter with the police. Standing adjacent to two brothers who had blazed paths through school, just like their teammate, Mark Blair, Lester Lamb might easily have felt that too little light shone on his own head, and that the world was unfairly organized. Barely into his teens when he joined his fate to some young men who stole "for the love of it," Lester soon carved out a biography that sharply contrasted him with his brothers.

Indeed, when the boys' father, Ralph Lamb, died in April, 1952 in Des Moines at the home of his doctor-son (who took him in for his final illness), Ralph's obituary noted that he was very proud of his "fine sons": "Dr. Raymond Lamb of Des Moines, Garland Lamb, superintendent of Urbana High School, [and] Lester E. Lamb of Oakland, California." The fact that no profession or accomplishment attached to Lester's name is telling: unlike his older brothers who had succeeded in their professions without crossing swords with the law, Lester had achieved very little. And although his parents might well have told him that they were no less proud of him than they were of his brothers, the pledge must have sounded hollow to the young man who, even as a boy, lived for the thrill of breaking the law.
***
Summarizing these two lives, one wonders what distinguished them, one from the other. How did Alvin Case manage to straighten out his life trajectory while Lester Lamb seemed to sink deeper into criminality?

Perhaps, as I've argued above, Lester never escaped the shadow of his all-star brothers, and set off determinedly on a different path. Of course, Alvin Case had siblings, too, although they seem not to have led lives quite so sterling as the two older Lamb boys. Harry Case, for instance, was twelve years older than Alvin, and, in effect, belonged to an entirely different generation. He married the former Ethel Bailey in February, 1908, and the couple soon welcomed several children to their home in Grinnell where they seem to have lived quietly.  According to the 1920 city directory, Harry operated a taxi service from 810 Park Street, while living at 207 Main.

Alvin's younger brother, Virgil, also seems to have passed into adulthood without having attracted much attention, and went on to a series of jobs in Grinnell and volunteered for the Grinnell Fire Department for 50 years. Closer to Alvin's age than was Harry, Virgil might have had a closer relationship as well, although nothing survives to confirm the connection. Neither of Alvin's brothers, however, lit up the grandstand quite so brightly as did Lester Lamb's brothers.

Such a hypothetical explanation can only raise questions that available evidence simply cannot answer. Other would-be explanations are no easier to trace: Did Alvin's parents, for example, do a better job of including all their children in their affections and in helping them scale the problems of childhood? Or did Alvin, on returning home from Eldora, develop friendships that kept him away from the sort of trouble that had sent him to Eldora in the first place? Perhaps Lester was not so fortunate, falling back into the same circles that had so stoked his enthusiasm as a fourteen-year-old boy burglar.

No document can be expected to answer these questions, leaving us to wonder at Grinnell's "boy burglars" and how their lives played out after they, while still children, first collided with the law.