Sunday, June 4, 2017

Who Killed John Paul Busch?

The family story that spurred me to research and write Darkness Visible is a story of industrial sabotage--of radical unionists intentionally causing an explosion around an industrial boiler, an explosion that killed my great-grandfather and two other men. One of the questions I've been asked most often about my research is whether I found any reports of sabotage within the Homestead Works during the strike, that is, during the period from July to November 1892. With the exception of the poisoning case (more about that later), I found nothing about sabotage within the walls of Fort Frick.

Idled workers watching the Works before the Battle, July 1892. Photo: Library of Congress

At the suggestion of researchers with the Battle of Homestead Foundation, I decided to look up the coroner's report on my great-grandfather's death. I have his death certificate, showing his death from burn injuries on September 14, 1892. Would the coroner's report make any mention of sabotage? I had to find out.

The report turned out to be fascinating reading. It consists of three parts: The testimony of mill doctor E.E. Stribler (obviously not a native speaker of English), my grandfather's brother, John Paul Busch, Jr., and "Wm. H. McBroom, Chief of Police for Steel Wrks."

Dr. Stribler says that he was called to attend to John Paul Bush [sic] after he suffered burns in a gas explosion on the afternoon of Sunday, September 4th. Stribler sent John to West Penn Hospital for treatment. For some unknown reason, the family moved John to their home in East Liberty. Stribler concludes, "This was not right, he should have staid [sic] in hospital as moving him in air was bad as skin surface might be exposed." We can only conjecture why the doctor reached this conclusion. Was air quality THAT bad? Or was this an attempt to suggest that John would not have died had the family not taken him home?
Smoke belching from mill stacks.

John's son simply states that John was burned in the Homestead Works and that on the Saturday following the incident,  he was brought home from the hospital to 625 Achilles Street (no longer in existence). John died at 4 p.m. on September 14th, ten days after he sustained the burns.

The sworn statements of  Stribler and John, Jr. are pretty much in line with the family story. However, McBroom's testimony is where the story gets interesting: "deceased told me that he was injured by the gas exploding near the boilers. . . Another man was present but I did not know his name. Dr Wible [the 'Stribler' of the first part?] examined Deceased and sent him to the West Penn Hosp. Gas was turned on and he [John] threw a piece of lighted waste, causing the explosion." End of statement.

I had to read McBroom's statement several times before the full force of his allegations sunk in. McBroom is claiming that the gas was turned on (although we don't know where or by whom) and that John threw a piece of burning trash (although we don't know what it was, why it was on fire, nor why he threw it), and that therefore, John was responsible for his own death.

John Paul Busch, late 1880s
Whoa. Next liar stand up. Would a man who had fired boilers on Union gunboats in the heat of battle be so careless? Would a man who had worked in dangerous conditions all his adult life be so foolish? Why didn't the police get the name of the witness and interview him? Why didn't they investigate why the gas was turned on and escaping into the air around the boiler? This statement clearly consists of "alternative facts," designed to blame the victim. Company man McBroom, Chief of Police for Carnegie Steel, is throwing his own metaphorical piece of waste at the coroner.
McBroom's statement

Let's return now to the only documented incident of sabotage during the strike: the poisoning of non-union workers in the Works. As contemporary chronicler Arthur Gordon Burgoyne reports, the months of September and October 1892, saw an "alarming increase" in deaths of non-union workers  from acute diarrhea and gastric distress inside the mill. "It was not until December that the first intimation of a criminal cause for the species of epidemic which struck down man after man and baffled expert physicians and chemists reached the public. The Carnegie Company concealed the truth as far as possible, endeavoring from the first to counteract the statements sent abroad by the Amalgamated Association to the effect that bad food, bad water, and bad sanitary arrangements were killing off the 'blacksheep.'" (Chapter 19, The Homestead Strike of 1892)

As it turned out, the workers had been indeed been poisoned with croton oil. Robert Beatty, a cook who had been arrested, pointed the finger at "master workman" Hugh Dempsey of the Knights of Labor as the leader of the conspiracy. To make a long and complicated story short, Beatty and Dempsey were indicted, and their separate trials were held in January and February 1893. After days of testimony from poison victims, doctors, company employees, Pinkerton agents, friends of the accused, and the exchange of mutual recriminations by union and company, the trials ended with a swift guilty verdict for both defendants. Dempsey's attorneys fought the verdict all the way to the Supreme Court--and lost. The other two men who had confessed and become witnesses for the prosecution, were sentenced to shorter terms.

The family story blames the explosion on radical Irish unionists. Tales of Irish unionists condoning violence--like the Molly Maguires--are legion. I introduced Irish characters into Darkness Visible to show their perspective on the injustices perpetrated by the company. It struck me that the surnames of the defendants in the poisoning case were all Irish. Who knows that whether this is because they actually belonged to radicalized groups, or if they were targeted as a "problem" faction.
The structural mill at Homestead Works. This photo by Benjamin Lomax Horsley Dabbs was taken shortly after the structural mill was completed in 1893.
So, was John Paul's death the work of union saboteurs, as the family story claims? We'll never know for sure. However, I'd like to note these facts:

--The explosion that killed John-Paul Busch took place in early September, about the time non-union workers began to get sick and die from poisoning.
--Carnegie Steel covered up the poisoning deaths, later claiming that they had checked the water supply and found it pure, and therefore had no need to report them. The deaths were not reported until December, after the Pinkerton investigation and after the cook was arrested. One of  the others arrested turned witness for the prosecution and was allowed to walk free until February 1893--a fact that the defense attorneys brought up during the trial.
--The union tried to spin the reports of sickness inside the Works their way, claiming that the company was serving tainted food and water.
--After the strike, Carnegie Steel bought the local newspaper. So much for a free press.

 Now, 125 years later, as during the turbulent days during and after the Strike, it's been difficult to sort through the testimony of the dissonant voices giving conflicting versions of events. But from what evidence we do have, I must conclude that the official version by the company Chief of Police is ridiculous. The other pieces of the story of what was going on inside the mill in the fall of 1892 fit well into the version told by my grandfather and his brothers.

Who killed John Paul Busch? Did he kill himself in an incredibly stupid move, or was he killed by saboteurs? I know not what course others may take, but as for me, I'm sticking to the family story.

Homestead steel workers, 1890. Photo: Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania.  According to Captain Jones of the Edgar Thomson Works, "Germans, Irish, Swedes, and ‘buckwheats,' [young American country boys] judiciously mixed, make the most effective, tractable force you can find. Scotsmen do very well, are honest and faithful, Welsh can be used in limited quantities. But Englishmen have been the worst class of men–sticklers for high wages, small production and strikes." I love that the Welsh can be used in limited quantities. Too many Welsh spoil the workforce apparently.

Monday, May 29, 2017

In Memoriam

Memorial Day is a day to visit the graves not only of those who served in the military, but of loved ones, a day to place memorial flowers and remember departed ancestors and family members. During my recent visit to Homestead, my friend Joyce and I went to Homestead Cemetery (actually in Munhall), to look for the grave of my cousin Grace's father, whose father took part in the Battle as a striker. The cemetery--the Protestant side on the east, Catholic on the west--is the resting place of six strikers killed in the Battle of Homestead.

The Civil War soldiers' memorial and circle on the rise by the entrance to Homestead Cemetery.
An historical marker on 22nd Street declares:
 'Homestead Strike Victims. In these two adjoining cemeteries are buried six of the seven Carnegie Steel Company workers killed during the "Battle of Homestead" on July 6, 1892. The graves of Peter Ferris, Henry Striegel, and Thomas Weldon are here in St. Mary's Cemetery. The remains of John Morris, Joseph Sotak, and Silas Wain lie in Homestead Cemetery. The seventh victim, George Rutter, is buried in Verona.'

We didn't find Grace's father's marker, but in walking around the hill by the entrance, I accidentally happened upon the grave marker for William Williams, the open hearth superintendent from Wales who is a character in Darkness Visible. 
The south side of the Williams monument

One side of the monument is dedicated to Williams (1840-1905) and his wife, Mary. The west side of the monument bears the names of other members of the Williams family, in particular Lester Fix (Williams' grandson, 1900-1983) and Lester's wife, Tydfil Jones.(1904-1938). I was glad to find this because Lester and Tydfil's son Jack was the source of the stories about his great-grandfather's life and experiences during the Strike. But what took me aback is the name of Jack's mother: Tydfil (pronounced "tud-vil" in Welsh). This struck me because a) it's not a common Welsh name and b) Williams was from Merthyr Tydfil, an old iron and coal city in South Wales. There must be a story here.
The Fix-Jones side

It's a bit weird to see this granite marker to the real flesh-and-blood man who became a character in the book. There's no way of knowing for sure, but I hope the Wm. Williams in the novel is in some important way a reflection of the real Wm. Williams, who, judging by Jack's stories, was both a first-rate engineer and a man of conscience.
Looking down the steep slope on the northeast side of the cemetery to Anne Ashley Church
 If you ask the young people who work in the Waterfront complex today, you'll find that few of them even know that a mammoth steel mill sprawled along the banks of the Monongahela River where the current commercial development stands. But perhaps some have heard in the classroom about that terrible day in American history when a battle raged on the river bank between striking workers and company-hired Pinkerton guards.

"An Awful Battle at Homestead, Pa"  National Police Gazette, 23 July 1892
As we get further removed in time from the events of 1892, we need to keep reminding new generations of  those events. The Homestead Works is gone, but it lives on in the memories of those who worked there and lived in the community. And it lives on in the archives and buildings of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area (Website: 

On Memorial Day 2017, I remember--not from experience, but imagination--all of those who lived through and died during the Homestead Strike, now 125 years in the past. I have to go back two generations to my grandfather, George Washington Busch, to get to a person who actually was witness to the events of that summer and fall. By writing Darkness Visible, incorporating scholarship with stories of and by the workers and townspeople, I have tried to pay tribute to their lives and legacy. May they rest in peace and honor.
Carrie Furnace from Whitaker Hill, 1976 (Photo by Ed Busch) 

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"I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he had stolen a railroad he would be a United States Senator."--Mother Jones

Friday, May 19, 2017

John B.Edwards vs.The Man

My Grandma Busch's father has been an enigmatic figure for me.  He moved away from Pittsburgh before my grandparents were even married, and my father had only fleeting childhood memories of him. But a recent discovery of his lawsuit against Union Mining Company has opened new insights into his life and personality.
The only known photo of John Edwards, taken in Richmond, Virginia, c. 1875, when he was in his mid-20s.

My father recalled hearing that John was the Black Sheep of the family back in his native Wales. A hard-drinking blacksmith, he worked in the slate mines. When he married Ann Jones of Froncysyllte, her family opposed the union. In 1872, the couple emigrated to the U.S., taking their two-year-old son Edward with them. My grandmother was born in 1874, and her brother Jesse in 1877. When Ann died in 1884, John couldn't manage the children and abandoned the two younger ones to the cold care of a Baptist "orphan asylum" in Pittsburgh.

Some time after that, John moved to Frostburg, Maryland, where he married Alice Harriet Mussiter in 1893. The only things that Dad could remember about his grandfather--and these apparently were from John's visits to Pittsburgh in the 1910s--were of John singing "Oh, How I Love Jesus!" on the streetcar and of Dad and Grandpa Busch hauling John drunk out of saloons in Homestead, where he was singing hymns in Welsh and English, sometimes from on top of the bar.
Grandma Annie Edwards Busch with Dad, 1908. John Edwards had a copy of this photo of his daughter and grandson, as I discovered through Ginnie Ganoe of Frostburg.

These stories are the reason that I was taken aback to find that John and his second wife (who is listed as both "Alice" and "Harriet")  had enough gumption to sue the Man, namely Union Mining Company, one of a number of coal mining companies in the Frostburg area. In April 1894, a notice was posted in the Cumberland Times of the initial hearing. (Thanks to Ginnie Ganoe for alerting me to this notice.)
According to affidavits in official records of the case in the Circuit Court of Allegany County, Maryland, this is what happened: 

John B. and Harriet Edwards were living as subtenants in the Varnum House, a 55-room hotel and office building owned by Union Mining in Mt. Savage.  While John was at work, one Daniel Houck, a former sheriff and then-agent for Union, busted into the Edwards's quarters and demanded that Harriet vacate the premises. When she refused, he threatened to arrest her and throw her in jail. He badgered her until her resistance crumbled, and she fled, leaving supper on the table and all of their belongings behind. Houck then locked up their rooms and refused to let them in to retrieve any of their possessions. They were locked out with only the clothes on their backs.

The lockout continued for a couple of weeks, during which time they were forced to find somewhere else to live. When they finally were allowed to take back their belongings, they found that some had been stolen or damaged. Their suit asked for $500 in damages from Union for the expense of having to find new lodgings and replacing household goods and clothing.
The Union Mining office building with the Varnum House at right. (Photo courtesy Dan Whetzel)
The court documents end with a page declaring "case dismissed," meaning that the case never went to trial and Union settled out of court. This outcome is amazing to me. Mining companies in the Appalachian coalfields at this time had extraordinary power and resources, controlling the lives of their workers in so many appalling ways--company-owned houses and stores, extensive political connections, etc.

Union Mine, Mt. Savage, 1841
John Edwards worked as a blacksmith for one of these mining companies in Mt. Savage, possibly Union. Blacksmiths worked in the mines and on the surface, and there's no record of which he did, perhaps both. The 1910 census shows that he was still working as a blacksmith for a coal company, and that his "mother tongue" was Welsh. John and Harriet were subtenants, so we can only speculate why Houck threw them out of Varnum House. If they were behind on their rent, the tenant would be the aggrieved party, not the landlord, Union Mining.

Blacksmiths for a West Virginia coal mining company with their tools (Photo courtesy Rebecca Gaujot)
I recently visited the graves of John and Alice [Harriet] Edwards in Porter Cemetery outside of Frostburg. Simple stone markers note the names and dates of each. It's a lovely, remote site on a hilltop surrounded by the Allegheny Mountains. Someone cares about this old cemetery enough to tend to it and erect a new fence with two hand-painted panels.
The entry gate to Porter Cemetery, Eckhart, Maryland
One of the hand-painted panels on the fence.
The visit to Porter Cemetery occured before I had a chance to look at the court papers from the suit against Union. So I just introduced myself to John, then sang the refrain of his favorite gospel hymn for him--"Oh, How I Love Jesus!"
Warming up to sing for John (grave marker at left font). My dog Viggo was quite alarmed by this unexpected vocalizing.
Singing "Oh, How I Love Jesus" for John

There is a Name I love to hear,
I love to sing its worth;
It sounds like music in my ear,
The sweetest Name on earth.

Oh, how I love Jesus,
Oh, how I love Jesus,
Oh, how I love Jesus,
Because He first loved me!

It tells of One whose loving heart
Can feel my deepest woe;
Who in each sorrow bears a part
That none can bear below.

This Name shall shed its fragrance still
Along this thorny road,
Shall sweetly smooth the rugged hill
That leads me up to God.

 And there with all the blood-bought throng,
From sin and sorrow free,
I’ll sing the new eternal song
Of Jesus’ love for me.

    ---Frederick Whitfield, 1855

Special thanks go to my neighbor Ezra Gray, who went through the court papers and did further research on details of the suit. A fitting postscript is that Ezra found side-by-side articles in The Cumberland Times a year or two previous to the suit:
John B. Edwards arrested for disorderly conduct.
Someone else settling a slander suit against Union Mining.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Freaky Easter Cards: Bizarro Victorian Holiday Greetings II

A couple of years ago, I did a post on Creepy Christmas Cards: Bizarro Victorian Holiday Greetings Well, guess what--the Victorians came up with quite a selection of weird Easter cards as well. While not as creepy as some of the Christmas ones, Victorian Easter greetings could be just as bizarre, and to modern eyes, quite inappropriate. Like the Christmas cards, the Easter cards are overwhelmingly secular and often feature anthropomorphized animals pulling carts, whipping each other, playing instruments, riding each other and other weird activities (for animals).

A boy in a strange outfit plays a flute (chews licorice?) with a pussy willow whip in hand while sitting in a nest of very large eggs. The rabbit, quite wisely, is getting the hell out of there.
Rabbits are attempting to carry a supersized golden egg with pussy willow switches. They aren't having much success. Everything is out of scale in this card set in a huge field.
Easter greetings, military style. Rabbit soldiers fire eggs out of a cannon while an officer riding a chicken brandishes a sword. Note that while the text is in English, the rabbits are wearing Pickelhauben, German army helmets. 
Kittens dressed as children are dyeing a purple egg whence a large "chickee" is hatching. That's why the sender couldn't send eggs. Or is it because the kittens ate the chick as soon as it emerged?
With an ominous sky overhead, chicks carrying baskets wait to board a steamship. From their hats, we can deduce that these are affluent fowl. One can't help but wonder why going on a ship has anything to do with Easter celebrations.
Chicks inexplicably wearing spring bonnets admire the eggshells from which they presumably emerged. Where are the other two chickens?
A sad rabbit quartet wishes us "A Joyful Easter." With a drum, two cornets, and a violin (played on the right-hand side), it's hard to imagine what any tunes coming from this quartet would sound like.
Too cheap to buy different cards for Christmas and Easter? You could scratch out "A Happy Easter" and use this card showing an adult man-rabbit pushing kid-rabbits and eggs through the snow in a sled for Christmas.
Whoa. What the heck is going on here? Maybe the egg was too large to hard boil.

Better watch out, kiddies.
An evil-looking rabbit watches another rabbit with a basket of eggs on its back drown. Happy Easter!
After my German cousin Hanne read this post, she sent me a vintage Easter card that she found in the family home in Wei├čenstadt. It's a post card addressed to Hanne's grandmother Babette, postmarked April 5, 1917--almost exactly 100 years ago. This date is during World War I, and perhaps that explains why the card seems more subdued than festive.  
'Want to see more weird Victorian cards? Check out these sites:
Twenty Bizarre Old Easter Cards
Crazy Website: Happy Easter Earthlings