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Hoosier History Live is an independently produced new media project about Indiana history, integrating podcasts, website, newsletter, and social media, created and produced by Molly Head. Its original content comes initially from a live with call in weekly talk radio show hosted by author and historian Nelson Price. You can hear the show live Saturdays from noon to 1 pm ET. It’s over the air in Central Indiana at WICR 88.7 fm, or you can stream at the WICR HD1 app on your phone.

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October 07, 2023

Graverobbing conspiracies of early 1900s

It's a creepy chapter of Indiana's history, but probably appropriate to explore during the season known for all things ghastly. Graverobbing in central Indiana had been an "open secret" for decades before several arrests in 1902 and subsequent trials drew national attention, according to Chris Flook, a public historian and senior lecturer at Ball State University's department of media.

Rings of graverobbers in Indianapolis and Hamilton County had been plundering small cemeteries in the Hoosier capital city and rural cemeteries. They sold corpses to various medical schools that were desperate for cadavers. (These medical schools predated the formation of – and were unaffiliated with – the I.U School of Medicine.) Chris Flook, who will be Nelson's studio guest, describes the grisly conspiracies in a new book, "Indianapolis Graverobbing: A Syndicate of Death".

Key figures in the graverobbing rings included Rufus Cantrell, an itinerant African American preacher known as the "King of the Ghouls", and his competitor, Hampton West, a white, former Confederate soldier who was based in Hamilton County. They were hired to ransack cemeteries by the medical schools, including the Central College of Physicians and Surgeons, that sought cadavers to use in training students. In his book, Chris Flook describes the impact of racism in the arrests and trials of the conspirators.

"Racism played a decisive role in how the participants were adjudicated", Chris notes. "The Black graverobbers received a disproportionate amount of blame and punishment for a criminal conspiracy created, managed and maintained by white doctors at some of the medical schools."

Chris, who writes a column titled "Bygone Muncie History" for the Muncie Star-Press and produces award-winning documentaries, has been a guest on previous "Hoosier History Live" shows. They have included two shows in 2014: a program about county courthouse squares across Indiana and a show about the state's Lenape (Delaware) Indian heritage in connection with a documentary that he produced, "The Lenape on the Wapahani River".

In "Indianapolis Graverobbing", Chris describes how some large cemeteries were able to ward off "ghouls" (as the graverobbers were called by the public and the press) by hiring armed, night watchmen. He also notes that graverobbing ended in central Indiana after the sensational arrests and the trials in 1903 of several participants.

"Body snatching did eventually die out in Indiana after the trials, but not because of them", Chris writes. "Modern embalming methods allowed medical schools to stockpile cadavers."


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- Tom Cochrun, former news anchor, WTHR-TV Channel 13 Indianapolis

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Roadtrip: 1825 Log Inn near Evansville  

Guest Roadtripper and author and travel writer Jane Ammeson tells us that "When Abraham Lincoln supped at the Noon Day Stagecoach Stop and Trading Post on October 31, 1844, the stagecoach stop in Haubstadt, 12 miles north of Evansville, had already been serving travelers for almost two decades. Now called the Log Inn, the former stagecoach stop had opened in 1825, and has been in continuous operation as a restaurant since that time.

Now expanded many times over, the interiors' original hewn log walls and chinking still remain much as it was when Lincoln came to dine and where drivers changed horses on the 21-hour run (if the weather was good) between Evansville and Vincennes. It continues to serve family style meals.

Lincoln had returned to Southwest Indiana for the first time since leaving the state to move to Illinois a quarter-of-a-century before. He was back, campaigning for Henry Clay, a man he had long admired, who was again running for president. Lincoln gave speeches promoting Clay's candidacy in Bruceville, Vincennes, Washington, Boonville and other towns and cities in Southern Indiana. He spoke in front of the spoke in Rockport standing in front of the county and the next day he stopped at what is now the Log Inn, one of the main stagecoach stops on the road between Evansville and Vincennes, Indiana."

Hoosier History Live looks back

 Click here to listen to the podcast from our show "Civil War generals in Indiana" recorded earlier this year with guest Dr. Carl Kramer.

 There were nearly 120 Indiana Civil War generals! One of the generals, Solomon Meredith, was a Quaker who commanded the legendary Iron Brigade during the bloody Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. Another general, Jefferson Columbus Davis from Clark County in southern Indiana, murdered his commanding officer at a hotel in Louisville!

Yet another general, Ambrose Burnside, a native of Union County in eastern Indiana, oversaw the capture of Confederate raider John Hunt Morgan, who had led Southern troops on a rampage through Indiana. Despite some successes as a commander, Burnside's leadership was disastrous during the Battle of Fredericksburg in Virginia.

You can always enjoy our past show enewsletters and podcasts (audio copies of our live shows) by going to ARCHIVES on our website. 


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We'd like to thank the following recent individual contributors who make this show possible. For a full list of contributors over the years, visit  Support the Show on our website.

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Facebook logo links to the Hoosier History Live! page.Twitter logo for Hoosier History Live.Acknowledgements to WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Monomedia, Henri Pensis, Maddie Fisher, Austin Cook, and many other individuals and organizations. We are independently produced and are self-supporting through organizational sponsorship and through individual contribution, either online at our yellow button on our newsletter or website, or by U.S. mail. For organizational sponsorship, which includes logos, links, and voiced credits in our podcasts and in our show, please contact Molly Head at (317) 506-7164 or email her at molly@hoosierhistorylive.org.

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