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Monday, October 27, 2014

The Mysterious Death of Lake Ransom : Murder or Suicide?

Daily Inter Ocean, Chicago, 13 Feb 1882

The Chicago Evening Journal reported the Hinsdale tragedy...Mr. Lake Ransom, resident of 428 South Lincoln Street, was found dead by the side of the street on the morning of February 11, 1882 at the intersection of First and Lincoln Street.  Did he commit suicide, or was he the victim of a brutal murder?  The case has never been solved.  Let's look at the facts and review the investigation.

Lake Ransom was born on 5 June 1844 in Windsor City, Vermont, to Daniel and Lucy Edson (Lake) Ransom.  He was the descendant of Richard Ransom who served as Captain of the Connecticut Militia under Lt. Col. E. Storrs during the Revolutionary War.  Lake Ransom was a member of the Sons of the American Revolution.

Daniel and Lucy Ransom had moved their family to Jo Davies County, Illinois by 1860.

Lake Ransom had served his country in the Union Army during the Civil War, in the 12th Vermont Company B unit.  He was discharged in 1863., Ramsom, Lake; 12 Regt. Vermont Infantry

He and Lucy Jane Bacon were married in Boston, Massachusetts on 25 December 1866., Massachusetts Marriages; Lake Ransom, Boston, 25 Dec. 1866

Lake was a General Sales Agent for a reaper company, the D. M. Osborne Company, which had a branch sales office and warehouse in Chicago after the Civil War.  According to the Western Massachusetts History , Volume 4, 1636-1925,  Lake Ransom was born in South Woodstock, Vermont, and he moved West.  He was a manager of the western division of the Osborne Harvester Company, in which he spent the majority of his career., Chicago City Directory, 1867; Lake Ransom, D. M. Osborne & Co.

Mr. and Mrs. Ransom had moved their familly to Hinsdale, Illinois, and took up residence at a fine home located at 428 South Lincoln Street.  The family appears in the 1870 and 1880 US Federal Census, at this address., Ransom, Lake, Hinsdale, Illinois, 1870

The Ransom family grew, and by 1880, consisted of five children : Albert, Charles, Clara, William and Louis.

FRIDAY EVENING, 10 February 1882

 Two shots were heard in the evening by a resident of Hinsdale, Mrs. J. W. Webster, who was waiting for her children to arrive home after spending the evening with neighbors.  She estimates it was about the time that the 10:30 p.m. train from Chicago had arrived at the Hinsdale depot. Charles Hinds said the he also heard a shot coming from the area in the evening as he was standing in front of the residence of Mr. Clark, who lived on First Street.

 Mr. Ransom was in the habit of riding the train to and from Chicago. He had been employed as bookkeeper for the Osborne Company for eighteen years until a month before the incident.   He usually rode the late train daily, and his family expected him home shortly after that time.  According to the Chicago Inter Ocean, the train conductor did not recollect him, nor did the other riders remember him leaving the train at the depot.  He could have rode in the smoking car, and departed the train at Lincoln Street, where the head of the train stops, to be nearer his home and he  could reach it sooner.   His wife waited for him until midnight, never to see him walk through the door of their home.


The body of Lake Ransom was found just before 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, at the corner of First and Lincoln Streets, just two blocks from his residence, and one block from the train depot.   Mr. Shannon, Mr.  A. M. Weir and Mr. J. W. Russell  take the morning train to Chicago. On their walk to the depot, they had observed the body, cold and rigid, laying on the back, next to a tree and the boarded sidewalk.  A hat was laying on the sidewalk, near the feet of the victim.  A revolver was found laying on the sidewalk, with two of the chambers empty. There was also a bag of shot found on the street near the body. The head was laying in a pool of blood, with a bullet hole to back of the skull.  Blood was trickling from the ears and nose. Part of the clothing near the arm and chest was smoldering.  As a crowd of residents surrounded the corpse, a neighbor hustled to the home of the victim and had broken the news  to Mrs. Ransom, who rushed to the scene and she was horrified at the state of her husband.  The body was removed by the police magistrate and officers to the Town Hall. Cornoner Cotton, of Turner Junction, was summoned by telegraph.


 A large hole was found in the left arm of the garments, which still smoldered as if burned.  The flesh underneath the layers of clothing was blackened and blistered, as if burned. Perhaps that was a point of contact with a gunshot, however, no bullet or wound had been found.  The neck tie was still around the neck, but the collar had been pulled from the shirt.  The vest had been unbuttoned, and the familiar gold watch on a chain was missing from the body.  The watch had been presented to the victim by the employees of D. M. Osborne, and he never seemed to be without it, until now.  The pants pockets had been turned inside out, and the wallet of the victim was not on the body.

A bullet hole to the head, just behind the left ear, appears to have been the fatal shot that ended the life of Lake Ransom.  A large amount of blood and brain matter had come from the wound.

 The Hinsdale police officers searched the general perimeter of the incident and found cards and letters from the deceased strewn across the railroad track area.  The wallet of the victim was found nearby on the railroad track about a block away, completely empty.  Other cards belonging Mr. Ransom were found near the train depot.

Was the bag of shot used to knock Mr. Ransom senseless?  Or thrown to distract him while he was attacked and murdered?  Did he shoot himself once, unsuccessfully in the torso, and then again, successfully in the back of the head?  Would he have emptied his own pockets and tossed his personal papers and empty wallet?

Detectives Wiley and Elliott were hard at work trying to solve the tragic event.  Several tramps were found in the vicinity of the train depot, and they were arrested for questioning, but to no avail.


During the investigation, many people were interviewed :

Charles Cook, while visiting Western Springs on Friday afternoon, noticed vagrants shuffling along the railroad tracks headed for Hinsdale.

There were rumors, but no concrete evidence, that the tramps were actually at, or near,  the train depot in Hinsdale at the time of the arrival of the 10:30 p.m. train.

It was thought by the Coroner, that Mr. Ransom most certainly would have had some money on him on his way home from Chicago that Friday evening.  However, when the body was found on Saturday morning, there was no money or valuables on him. And, his watch and chain were missing. The Coroner also raised the thought that Mr. Ransom could have killed himself, and the tramps could have taken his valuables when they found his body in the late evening.

Dr. Fitch, brother-in-law of the Mr. Ransom, said he refused to believe that it was a case of suicide.  He believes that there was no reason for his relative to end his life, stating that he had been an honorable character in the community. His family relations were perfect. Though he severed his employment with D. M. Osborne company the month prior, he had ample resources, and he spoke of starting a business for himself in short order. Dr. Fitch also stated that finding the body in the way that it was, without valuables, most certainly points to foul murder.


Many facts were brought to light as the investigation moves to Mr. Ransom's business life:

Mr. Ransom quit his job at the D. M. Osborne Company early in January.

It was rumored that he gambled a bit, and lost heavily.  On the Tuesday before his death, his wife testified that she had given $1,500 to her husband, which he had gambled away in an attempt to win back his previous losses. He may have planned to kill himself so as not to disgrace his family.
His losses on the Board of Trade were estimated to be about $50,000 to $60,000.

It was revealed that he may have embezzled money from the D. M. Osborne Company, as he held a top position in the financial department.  He was being investigated by the detectives of the Osborne's insurance company in December of the previous year 1881, when the main warehouse in Chicago was destroyed by fire.   Fire investigators found that the supposed story of the incident being caused by burglars was not viable...the vault was broken out of, and not into.  The financial books were destroyed, and the company owner came to Chicago to investigate. Mr. Ransom had been suspected of being behind the incident, but they had no proof as of yet.

Police detectives think that Mr. Ransom overdid the job.  The bag of shot would have been useless as it would only have been used as a weapon by someone else against him, and hard to use on himself as a weapon.  The revolver was laying where it would have fallen if he used it on himself.  It was a very newly purchased gun, without rust or scratches. Mr. Ransom could have been responsible for emptying his own pockets, throwing his wallet and papers into the wind himself and disposing of his watch. They suspect that he was financially ruined and embarrassed, causing him to become despondent and planned his own demise.


When asked about the speculation of Mr. Ransom having embezzled money from the company, Mr. Osborne stated that the company had completed an investigation of the matter but found no evidence that Mr. Ransom had been dishonest.  He was employed Mr. Ransom for over seventeen years, and felt confident of his abilities.  Mr. Ransom had been the general manager of the Chicago location up to 1 January 1882, and handled over a million dollars each of the nine years in that position.  Mr. Ransom had been investing in produce, and had been losing money on such ventures.  Mr. Osborne felt that it was not to his liking, and asked Mr. Ransom to cease his speculating, or give up his position with the company.  He had showed a desire to stop, and assured the company that he would never engage in another deal on the board.  After a while, it was found that he continued his dealing with the board, and he was asked to submit his resignation.  He did submit his resignation to take affect on 1 January 1882.  It was estimated by the company that Mr. Ransom has lost some $10,000 to $12,000 of his own.  It was felt that he never squandered money belonging to the firm, and was believed to be honest by nature.  He had admitted  that he became infatuated with speculating.

When asked if it was thought that Mr. Ransom was responsible for the fire which destroyed the company  warehouse, Mr. Osborne stated that there was no cause for any such supposition.

Further questioning revealed that Mr. Osborne felt that Ransom had committed suicide, He felt that his demon was the gambling on the Produce Exchange, which produced much remorse.  He reported that his former employee's salary was about $5,000 annually, and then increased to $6,500 when promoted to management.  He felt that Mr. Ransom never used any company funds in his speculating.  He was a very economical man, and he seemed to spend frugally with his personal living expenses.  It could hardly be possible that Mr. Ransom could have taken thousands of dollars from the company without our knowing about it.


The examination was performed by Dr. Skear of Chicago, and under the direction of Dr. J. C. Merrick, of Hinsdale, who was the foreman of the Coroner's Jury. The results were as follows :

The external examination showed that there was burning through the overcoat, undercoat, vest, shirt and undershirt and to the skin on the left side to the skin on the left arm, cooking the flesh in a area of seven by nine inches.  The top of the pants and underpants were slightly burned on  the left side.

Blood was oozing from the left nostril and both ears, more from the left ear.  Skin was burned and charred over the left side of the body, but not blistered.  Rigor mortis was well advanced.  The body looked well nourished.

The bullet wound to the head was one inch above the left ear, large enough to admit the little finger.  On the edges of the scalp near the wound the  bone was driven inward.  The hair was not burned.  There was a bruise on the upper lid of the left eye and lower lid of the right eye.  There were also slight bruises on parts of the body.  When the scalp was removed there was found additional bleeding.  The skull fractures extended from the wound to the area of the eyes.  The bullet was found crushed from end to end.  There was considerable bleeding into the ventricles of the brain, which otherwise looked healthy.

In opening up the chest, the flesh was cooked to the ribs, affecting the lower portion of  the left lung and a portion of the spleen.  All other organs were perfectly healthy.


In the Illinois State Daily Register on 3 March 1882, a reward is posted


The following article was printed in the Daily Inter Ocean, 22 February 1882.  The persons mentioned as Mr. and Mrs. Scott were the sister and brother in law of Lake Ransom : 


News articles appeared through out the nation regarding the mysterious death of Lake Ransom :

Trenton Gazette, 16 Feb 1882

Denver Rocky Mountain News, 14 Feb. 1882

Rockford Daily Register, 13 Feb 1882
More articles were posted in Kentucky, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and many other city newspapers.


I have found two Chicago Evening Journal funeral notices for Lake Ransom, as follows:


Mrs. Lucy Ransom did not apply for the Civil War Widow's Pension until 1908.  Notice that she filed for the pension when living in Massachusetts, not Illinois.  The life insurance policy that her husband had for $27,000 probably supported her until this time...., Ransom, Lake, widow's pension file card


What do you think?  Who was the person to have met with Lake Ransom at the Sherman House?  What happened to the $1,500 that Mr. Ransom was to have withdrawn from the bank....remember his wife said that she gave him the money.  What happened to his gold watch?  Was he really innocent of being involved with the warehouse fire?  

My question : Was Lake Ransom left or right handed?  If he was right handed, it would have been hard for him to shoot himself behind the left ear.  But, it would have been easier for him to shoot himself in the left side.  

The case is still unsolved.....over one hundred years later.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Research Strategies and Stories : The Wisconsin African-American Genealogy Conference

Strategies and Stories: 
African-American Genealogy Conference
Saturday, October 18, 2014
8 am-5 pm

This weekend, I attended the 2nd Annual African-American Genealogy Conference in Madison, Wisconsin.  Remember, I am researching the life of Civil War veteran, Corporal Thomas Nelson, who enlisted in the ranks of the Union Army in 1864 while he lived in Rock County, Wisconsin.  I thought perhaps I would learn a bit more about research techniques and strategies that would be useful to me in my project.  I did not leave Madison disappointed.

Conference speakers, Janis Minor Forte', Carolyn Mattern and Lori Bessler, shared their knowledge and experiences with a room full of conference participants.  Ms. Forte' reviewed the research she had done on her ancestor, Sallie Campbell Driver.  She had developed her research question : How many children did Sallie have?...14, 15, 16,....  We listened intently as she showed us her research plan and rode along with her as she guided us on the trail to review the smallest items of information on the census sheets.  Comparing the details of vital records, historical reports and genealogies, she determined, at the end of her presentation, that Sallie was the mother of 16 children.

Ms. Forte' gave a second presentation about the World War I draft registration in the United States. She entitled her program, "Even Gangsters Had to Register".  Why name it that?  Well, you see, she just happened to have an ancestor who had a rather interesting a gangster.  And, yes, she did show his draft registration form, and highlighted the wonderful personal information that could be gleaned from it.  She also added the draft registrations of several notorious mob figures, noting that every man had to register, regardless of who you were or what you did.  We talked briefly about non citizens who were not required to serve in the armed forces.  Of course, I had to pipe up and tell my story of my grandfather, a non citizen, who was drafted.  He told the members of the draft board that he was an alien, and furthermore, he had a brother serving in the army of the Kaiser in Austria.  They still sent him to boot camp in New Jersey.  However, when they asked the new recruits to write a letter to their families, telling how they would be leaving to go to grandfather wrote a letter in German and his family members living in the Austo-Hungarian empire.  The government needed no more convincing.  Grandpa was discharged as an enemy alien and sent home with what pay he had earned from the US Army.
Frank J. Bognar, Sr., orders to return home, labeled as an enemy alien.  From the personal papers of F J Bognar, Sr.

Carolyn Mattern gave a wonderful presentation about collecting information, forms and packets regarding the Civil War service of African-Americans.  This was of special interest to me.  Remember that Corp. Thomas Nelson served in the Union Army, 1864-1865.  Carolyn reviewed my collection of information on Mr. Nelson, and suggested that I write to the National Archives for the complete pension file for him.  She promised that it would be chocked full of wonderful family information....something that I need more of for my file.  Recently I found a photograph of the members of the GAR of Hinsdale, Illinois, taken in the early 1900s.  Mr. Nelson can be found in the middle of the back row, proudly standing with his fellow veterans.

"Village on the County Line" by Hugh Dugan

Lori Bessler, of the Wisconsin Historical Society reference librarian, followed up with two presentations.  The first was to give advice on organizing research materials and data...something that we all need to review from time to time.  The second presentation was the discussion of resources available to those who wish to research African-American heritage and genealogy.  Most of the nationally known websites were mentioned.  In addition, some of the more specialized websites were reviewed.  Afrigeneas, found at , is a good resource to help those researching their ancestry. Another that I have recently found is BlackRefer, found at , which is a portal for sites.  The Center for African-American Genealogical Research, found at, is another well-respected website.  Don't forget the the Freedmen's Bank Records, and many of the others listed on Ancestry, found at

Sunday, October 12, 2014

County Namesakes : Knox, Mercer and Schuyler Counties of Illinois

Have you ever wondered how counties are named?  Apparently it takes a local, state or national hero's story or a legacy to be broadcast over the area to make way for the nomination.  Political figures and other legislators discuss amongst themselves probable names for counties and their townships.  Agreements and handshakes were exchanged in the distance past, and a new county was born.

Knox County in Illinois was named after General Henry Knox, an adviser to General George Washington.  He was also the first United States Secretary of War. Actually, a great number of towns, cities, townships and counties across the nation are named for General Knox.

General Henry Knox,
General Knox was born in Boston in 1750.  He attended school until, at the age of 12, his father passed away.  Henry left school and took a job in a book store to help his mother with expenses.  In 1771 he went into business for himself, and had much success.  His future wife, Lucy, was a frequent shopper in his bookstore.  Henry joined the fight for freedom from English rule with his fellow Bostonians.  He rose through the ranks from colonel to brigadier general in 1776.  After George Washington was inaugurated as the first president of the United States, Knox became the Secretary of War, and held that office until the end of 1794.  He passed away in 1806 in Maine. Rumor has it he swallowed a chicken bone and suffered an infection that caused his death.

Mercer County in Illinois was named for General Hugh Mercer, He gained favoritism of George Washington from his participation in the Revolutionary War, and earlier in the French and Indian War.  Many counties and towns across the nation are named for this military hero.

General Hugh W. Mercer,

General Mercer was born in 1726 in Scotland.  There, he had trained as a physician and began his career in America in Pennsylvania, until the beginning of the French and Indian War.  He volunteered for the unfortunate expedition of General Braddock to Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh).  He was wounded in 1755 and unable to keep up with the other soldiers.  He wandered alone through forests until he reached Fort Cumberland.  After being presented with a medal for bravery and endurance, he was promoted to the rank of captain, and later lieutenant colonel.  After the war, he resumed his profession as a physician in Virginia, marrying Isabella Gordon in Fredericksburg. In 1775 he began to drill the minute men of Viriginia.  He was placed in command of the patriots called the Flying Camp.  General Mercer was badly wounded in the Battle of Princeton, and died from his wounds in January of 1777.

Schuyler County, of Illinois, is named for General Philip Schuyler.  Schuyler County in New York is also named for him.  General Schuyler is noted for his leadership in the French and Indian War, as well as the Revolutionary War.  

General Philip Schuyler,

General Schuyler was born in Albany, New York in 1733, His father, owner of several thousand acres in New York, died in 1741, leaving Philip all of his estate.  Philip divided the estate among his siblings, as he later inherited an estate from his uncle in Saratoga County.  When the French and Indian County was underway, he organized a group of his neighbors and joined the fight, gaining some military experience.  Later, he became an assistant to George Washington in the Revolutionary War.  Philip married Catherine Van Rensselaer in 1775.  He aided in the organization of the Sons of Liberty.  He was elected to become a member of Congress in 1779, as a senator for the State of New York, and held that post for several years.  General Schuyler died in 1804.    

Who's name provided the inspiration for your county name?  You might be surprised when you uncover the answer.  And, you'll get a refresher course on American history at the same time.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Lucy Page Gaston 1860-1924 : Her Anti-Tobacco Campaign

How many of you readers smoke cigars and cigarettes? I am sure that you have been made aware of the health risks of such habits.  There is substantial medical evidence of such.   You might think that during the years before the building of the Panama Canal through the years following World War I there were not many persons who knew of such health risks regarding the use of these products.  Maybe you haven't heard of Lucy Page Gaston.
Lucy Gaston was born in Ohio in 1860.  She grew up to become a teacher after attending Illinois State University. It was reported in several publications that she participated in smashing several saloons in the early 1880s.  She joined the Christian Woman's Temperance Union, along with her mother, Henrietta Page Gaston.   During the 1890s, she held the position of managing editor of the newspaper, The Harvey Citizen.  This allowed her to proclaim her beliefs for all to read.  She even had a paper called The Boywhere she published articles about behavior that was brought on by tobacco use.

She spent more that twenty-five years campaigning against the use of tobacco, in addition to prohibition and woman suffrage.  Lucy organized the National Anti-Cigarette League.  She lobbied before state legislatures and even the Chicago city council.  She also appeared before the National Congress in Washington, D.C., trying to convince legislators that it was their job to outlaw the use of tobacco.  She even wrote a letter to President Warren G. Harding.  He was an avid smoker, and she felt that he was setting a bad example by his habit of tobacco use.

Lucy did become successful in pushing through a law in Illinois that prohibited minors from being able to obtain and smoke cigarettes.  Chief of Police McWeeney deputized Lucy, which enabled her to enforce this law.  She personally arrested a handful of 16 year old boys when she saw them smoking.  Lucy termed the cigarette as a "Coffin Nail".  In 1907, Lucy was instrumental with the law put forth by the Chicago City Council where it was deemed illegal to make, sell or give away cigarettes in the State of Illinois. The law was challenged and defeated on a technicality, otherwise those choosing to disregard the rule would have been fined $100 and jailed for up to 30 days.

Lucy and her family lived in Marshall County, Illinois during her formative years.  She attended and graduated from Lacon High School, and was the valedictorian at her commencement exercises.

Add caption
Lacon School 1877 Commencement brochure, paperchase-LucyPageGaston

Lucy taught at a few schools in the Richland Township area of Marshall County, Illinois, after receiving her teaching certificate, the first schools being the Strawn School and the Monahan School.  She and her family were well respected local figures and members of the First Presbyterian Church of Henry, Illinois.

map of the location of the first schools where Miss Gaston taught from 1876-1879, paperchase-LucyPageGaston

Miss Gaston met with her largest opposition when sending boxes of cigarettes to soldiers during World War I became a well received gesture of troop support.  Nevertheless, she continued her anti tobacco campaigns through personal appearances and literature.

page 1 Lucy Page Gaston obit August 28, 1924 Lacon Home Journal, paperchase-LucyPageGaston

Miss Gaston was buried in the Lacon Cemetery. Lucy died of cancer of the throat, in addition to injuries sustained in a street car accident months before, while being cared for in the Hinsdale sanitarium, in Hinsdale, Illinois on August 20, 1924.  Her obituary is written in the Illinois State Historical Society Journal, Vol. XVII, No. 3 editorials October 1924.

In Your Backyard
by david dellinger
Lacon,, IL January 2011
Lucy Page Gaston campaigned as a candidate for the presidency of the United States in 1920.  Obviously her campaign was not successful, as she was not elected.  However, she had a good platform : "Clean morals, clean food and fearless law enforcement."  She filed in the primary of South Dakota, but dropped out of the race before the election.  She could not support Warren G. Harding because he was an avid smoker, even stating that he had a smoker's face which was unbecoming to her.  She attended the convention of the Prohibition Party, and supported the candidate William Jennings Bryan.

Further information about Lucy P. Gaston can be found in the following publications, as taken from

Cigarette Wars, The Triumph of the “Little White Slaver” by Cassandra Tate
For Your own Good by Jacob Sullum
Thank You For Not Smoking by Gordon Dillow
The Little White Slaver in Kansas by R. Alton Lee
The Smoking Gun by Robert Loerzel
Lost Cause by Frances Warfield
Women Building Chicago 1790-1990 by Schultz & Hast
Readin’ and Ritin’ and Rithmetic Through The Years; Education in Marshall County, Illinois
by B.K. Doxhelmer