Thursday, December 26, 2019

HGB Ep. 320 - General Dodge House

Moment in Oddity - Kitty Cat Gods

Is there any doubt that cats think they are gods? This is their world and we just live in it. And that living, is to serve them. But there are humans who have thought of cats as gods too.  Sephardic Jews had ancient myths about Lilith that claimed she roamed the Earth as a black vampire cat named El Broosha and that she sucked the blood of newborn babies. Matagots are a cat god from European folklore that are magical. People claimed that Dick Whittington was able to attain his position of mayor of London in the 15th century because of his matagot. The French believed that once a matagot was lured into the house, perhaps by way of a plump mouse, that their home would have good luck. Li Shou was an ancient fertility cat goddess to the Chinese and it was believed that she brought rain and protected crops. The Chinese also believed that the ability for humans to talk was given to them by cats who could once speak. And then there is the ancient Egyptian goddess Bastet who had a cat head. Her name meant devouring lady and her feast day was October 31st. She was associated with music, dancing, motherhood and vengeance. She would destroy the bodies of the dead with her flame if they failed a test to enter the underworld. For this reason, the Egyptians would hold big funerals for dead cats and bury them with riches and gem-studded cat figurines. We like cats, but to treat them like gods, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Joyce Kilmer Born

In the month of December, on the 6th, in 1886, American journalist and poet Joyce Kilmer was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Kilmer had graduated from Rutgers College and Columbia University and became a literary editor and worked on the staff of the New York Times. He was known for his poetry that celebrated the beauty of the natural world and he was best known for his poem "Trees." This poem was published in 1914 and was unique in that it personified trees in the poem. Even though he was not required to enlist when World War I started, he did and requested a transfer to the infantry and was deployed to Europe. He rose to the rank of Sergeant and served as an intelligence officer. He was killed by a sniper's bullet on July 30, 1918 in France. His poem "Trees" became very popular after that. The French awarded him the prestigious Croix de Guerre (War Cross) for his bravery. In 1938, the U.S. government named a 3,800 acres section of old growth forest in North Carolina for him. A park in the Bronx is also named for him.

General Dodge House (Suggested by: Jessica Garcia)

When one thinks of the state of Iowa, they probably just envision fields of corn. While there definitely are fields of soybeans and corn here, this state is also a hotbed of paranormal activity. We visited and investigated several haunted locations while in Iowa and the General Dodge House is one of them. The man who built the home has a fascinating history, as does his wife, and the house he had constructed is one of the most beautiful Victorians I have ever seen. The inside is incredible and the historical society has done a beautiful renovation and upkeep of the structure. And while people probably expect to find interest accoutrements and antiques inside, they probably don't expect to run into ghosts. The house is reputedly haunted. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the General Dodge House!

We met up with listeners Jessica and Erina Garcia in Council Bluffs, Iowa in September and much to our surprise, they took us on a tour of the place zipping us from the Fairview Cemetery to see the Black Angel to the General Dodge House to the Squirrel Cage Jail to Malvern Manor, which we will bring to you early next year. When visiting the General Dodge House you get two houses. The August Beresheim House is right next door and we started our tour at that house. This house has been through several changes over the years. (Beresheim 1) This house was built for August Beresheim, who was a banker and a state legislator. The construction was completed in 1899. The house is a three-story frame house that is hard to pinpoint to a style. There are many different designs and it is definitely not as beautifully Victorian as the General Dodge House. There is a wonderful wrap-around porch. The things I liked about the interior of this house was the wrap-around staircase, the gaslights that were also electric lights once they were converted and the transom windows above the doors. One of our fun finds was among the antiques downstairs. It was an old hotel register that had been transformed into a scrapbook full of old newspaper articles. (Beresheim 2)So yeah, articles in there from 1889. So cool to see something like that! Then we made our way over to the Dodge House.

General Grenville Dodge was born Grenville Mellen Dodge in Danvers, Massachusetts in 1831. He came through the Council Bluffs area when he was 22-years-old as part of the Trans Iowa Railroad Route. He was doing the survey work and fell in love with Council Bluffs. He decided to make it his home. When the Civil War broke out, he joined the Union and worked his way up to Major General. He was the youngest man to be a General until World War II. He also founded the first military spy system during the war and used information from unionists living in Confederate territory, female spies and runaway slaves and this information helped win the war. Dodge became friends with Generals Logan, Black, Sherman, Sheridan, Rawlins and Grant and they would visit him often after the war. A fun fact for us is that his troupe built a bridge over the Chattahoochee in Roswell, Georgia before the Atlanta campaign. We were in Roswell in October. The bridge was 710 feet long and 14 feet above the water. It took them only three days to complete. In the Battle of Atlanta, a bullet grazed his skull and he was lucky to come away with only a concussion.

He went on to even bigger things after the war. Dodge became Chief Engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad and supervised the construction of the first Transcontinental Railroad, which was completed in 1869. And the railroad would really be his thing. He would continue as a railroad builder, financier, director and lobbyist and other countries would have him visit to advise on railroad construction. These countries included Cuba, France and Russia. He would get into politics too and he represented Iowa in the 40th U.S. Congress. Republican presidents who served between the Civil War and World War I would seek his advise. Dodge would also get involved in the mercantile business and organized a bank. This all made him a very wealthy man and he built himself a magnificent home in 1869 for $35,000.

The General Dodge House was designed by Chicago architect William Boyington with heavy supervision by the General. He insisted on upgrades like central heating and hot and cold running water and most importantly, closets! There were also telephones in various parts of the house like the library and kitchen. The General spared no expense. For those of you familiar with the awesome gothic water tower in Chicago, Boyington designed that. It was one of the only structures to survive the Chicago Fire. The exterior is just gorgeous done in the Second Empire style with a mansard roof with modillioned eave. There are many dormers with eared and rounded tops and lots of windows, many which are tall and narrow,. Some have segmented-arch tops and others have decorative stone hoods. The house stands three stories with a basement.

The interior of the house is spectacular. After entering the front door, you find yourself standing in a foyer that branches off into rooms with this amazing ending into a staircase at the end that is almost impossible to describe. The wall and stairs curve around and there is a niche in the staircase wall that displays an 1806 Simon Willard banjo clock, that Dodge was given by his parents. On top of the base of the staircase banister, or what is referred to as the newel post, is a very unique lamp. Once a kid was sliding down the banister and knocked it off so there is a rod going through it now. This and the chandelier were original pieces for the house. The wallpaper is similar to what was originally in the house and follows the style that was prevalent during the Victorian era with the ceiling being wallpapered as well. Another original piece found in this entrance hall was this beautiful etagere, or fancy bookshelf, that was inlaid with mother-of-pearl. An elk head is mounted on the wall as well. We want to share this sound bite (Dodge House 1) So this naming contest took place in 2014. It was hard to understand the names the guide said. One kid wanted to name it Elkon John, which won most creative. The third place name was Spike, Second Place was Sherman for General Sherman and the winning name was actually Arbor, not Alder.

One of the rooms the hall opens into is the library, which houses the original black walnut and butternut bookcases. This was clearly a room that General Dodge spent much of his time writing and pondering life. Some of his treasures still remain here including sabers, a Tiffany bronze inkwell. bison horn candlesticks, a Winchester Saddle-ring carbine, a Turkish-style table and books, some of which he wrote about his personal adventures. A solarium branches off of this and we found an old wheelchair out there.The door to it was actually a window and there was an old wheelchair out there. There were so many interesting details here: The walls were a foot thick and the smaller doorways indicated a private space in the house. The shutters from the windows folded up into the walls. You history nerds are probably familiar with the practice during the Victorian era of taxing houses according to how many doors there were. This is why many balconies were accessed through long windows. There were 7 fireplaces in the house and all had marble mantle pieces marble. I commented that someone should make a coffee book table of mantle pieces. Kathy, who did the investigation of Villisca with us, had posted a bunch of mantle pieces in the Crew that she had taken pictures of and it just solidified to us that there is a real need for this out there! LOL! Imagine how gorgeous the house must be at this time decorated for Christmas.

Another of the rooms off the hallway is the dining room There's a funny story about the picture above the mantle in this room. (Dodge House 2) Five former presidents ate in this room: Grant, McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, Taft and Hoover. Much of what is in here is original including the mahogany server, corner hutch, dining table and eight chairs. There are four massive silver candlesticks from his private railroad car. There is a small butlery opening off the dining room that passes through to the kitchen. On the opposite side of the library and dining room are the front and back parlors that were like similar ones in other Victorians where the owners could close off the parlors from each other to separate the women from the men. The marble fireplace in the front parlor is graced with ear vases Mrs. Dodge brought back from Paris. There is an inlaid fruitwood table with an amethyst Mary Gregory vase displayed on top. Mirrors on the front and back wall are huge and have given the parlors the nickname "The Hall of Mirrors" and they make the rooms feel much larger. The guide said it is breathtaking when the Christmas trees are in here. The Brussels lace curtains were reproductions made in Switzerland. The parquet floors were laid with square nails and our group loved the elaborate door hinges that had intricate designs. We mean, on door hinges?! The back parlor has portraits of the General and Ruth Anne circa the 1870s. There were 6 Victorian parlor chairs in here along with a red arm chair that were all original to the Dodges.

We went upstairs to the bedrooms. As is the case for many couples as they get older the General and
Jenny Lind Bed
Mrs. Dodge did not share a bedroom. The former Master Suite became the General's Den and is painted and decorated in gray, red and gold. Some of his belongings are still here like razors, a walking stick, vest, eyeglasses, black shoes and a paper weight. There is a nursery next to this room that contains a doll house with Victorian furnishings and Anne Dodge's cherry wood Jenny Lind Bed. And we need to go down that rabbit hole for just a minute. *Rabbit Hole: We became familiar with Jenny Lind from watching "The Greatest Showman." She was known as the Swedish Nightingale and P.T. Barnum brought her to America in 1851. He was a big time promoter and one way that he promoted her was to create the "Jenny Lind" brand. Products under this brand included hats and gloves, tobacco and, clearly, furniture. The Jenny Lind bed is a spool bed with square corners on the head and foot boards and the design is still popular today. Supposedly, the singer slept in this style bed during her American tour.* There is also The Gold Room on this floor that was one of the daughter's rooms and a trunk room and bathroom. Strangely, there is a phone in the trunk room. The bathroom had a flush toilet with the tank high up on the wall that used gravity to flush the bowl. There is a marble framed mirror in here and a tub, but the tub was not installed until later. For bathing, servants would take portable tubs into each family member's bedroom.

Pairpoint puffed apple tree table lamp
We went up to the third floor and saw the ballroom, which was being set up for a special tea. The highlight of this room was the rosewood square grand piano that was brought up the Missouri River by steamboat. There were servant bedrooms up here too. We went back down the stairs and saw the servant staircase, which was really narrow and the walls were scarred from years of being banged into. We found Mrs. Dodge's Room here too and it had the unique addition of a marble sink area, kind of like having a vanity in the room. There is a fireplace here with her original sewing basket and a shawl and handbag nearby. The wallpaper in here was really unique. There were these foot wide pieces of wallpaper on the walls and they painted out the edges, so you couldn't see the straight lines. The guide pointed out that in each of these rooms were lights retrofitted to be gas and electric and she pointed up at the medallion and told us something we had never heard before. (Dodge House 3) There was a guest room up here called the Art Nouveau Room because the furnishings inside were of that style including a French brass bed. There are also Pairpoint puffed apple tree table lamps in here.

We continued back down to the main level and got to see the kitchen that had a large all marble sink with a big working slab. The servants had their dining table in here. The General felt that this was the most important room in the house. A pantry branched off of the kitchen and had an icebox and Hoosier style cupboard. Then we went down to the basement, which had mostly just been for storage with a wine cellar, ice room, laundry room and boiler area. This boiler had originally been a coal burning furnace. An interesting feature was the brick flooring, which was not original and was made from Council Bluffs street bricks. The basement is now a place of memorabilia with family photographs, books, a replica of Dodge's Council Bluffs Savings Bank office and a framed newspaper advertising a reward for the capture of the man who killed Lincoln.

We've put pictures up on Instagram and have some here too.

General Dodge married Ruth Anne Browne in May of 1854 in Boston, Massachusetts. They had met in Peru, Illinois and Ruth Anne was quite the catch with violet eyes and tomboy leanings that made her good at horseback riding and handling guns. And while she would eventually end up living her life out in their grand home, the early years were rough as Ruth Anne lived in pioneer conditions as she followed Dodge from camp to camp during the war. When the war first started, she joined a local group of women to form the Soldier’s Aid Society. This society would prepare supplies for the soldiers in the form of food, medical supplies and towels. And when her husband took sick with typhoid, she nursed him back to health out in the field. At one point, the couple were in St. Louis and Ruth Anne witnessed a man beating a female slave. She wrote this letter to the wife of Colonel Woods about the incident on March 31, 1862, "Dear Mrs. Wood, I write this to let you know that old scamp Wheelan had been to work here about the Negroes. Went and got a justice to come and take Louisa away from Mrs. J. Robbins and has taken her off in some slave yard in another part of the city. You have no idea how it made my blood boil to hear how he treated the poor thing. Made her go without bonnet or shawl and struck her with an umbrella to make her go faster and she expecting every moment her child, would be born – I wish you would let Col Wood know all about it. I think it is horrible and outrageous and I hope that Col Wood will catch him and make him suffer for it. How I would like to see him shot. Tell the captain to get some one to call him down to Rolla by some way and then sick his men on him. He then carried Louisa off. She had sent her little boy up to her sister’s and then he beat her till she told him where he was - I felt like crying and was bound to let you know and your husband know how that scamp had been acting and all I ask is Col Wood catch him yet. My husband is quite ill and has not been up at all today. Am in hopes a few weeks rest will restore him. Do you think of leaving Rolla soon and have your husband come back. I shall be glad to hear from you. Truly, Mrs. G. M. Dodge."

Ruth Anne would go on to become part of the Executive Committee for Women's Suffrage. She and her sister-in-law worked to save the library in Council Bluffs as well. Ruth Anne loved art, literature and music and could play both the piano and the guitar. She and Dodge would have three daughters together. In January of 1916, General Dodge died and his wife died 8 months later. She told her daughters about a dream she had prior to her death in which she saw an angel offering her the water of life. Ruth Anne said, "I was not yet ready for this supreme blessing. I felt unworthy, and it seemed to me it would be presumption on my part to partake of anything so wonderfully pure, so heavenly, so spiritual." The angel appeared a second time in a dream and Ruth Anne wouldn't drink again. The angel came a third time in a dream and this time she accepted the offer. After drinking from the bowl, Mrs. Dodge said she had been "transformed into a new and glorious spiritual being. I drank of that wonderful water of life and it gave me immortality." After she died, her daughters commissioned the sculptor who made the Lincoln Monument, Daniel Chester French, to make a memorial for their mother featuring this angel. This is the Ruth Anne Dodge Memorial or more famously, the Black Angel found at Fairview Cemetery. The Dodges are actually buried in the family mausoleum in Walnut Hill Cemetery. The couples youngest daughter Anne, took over the house, but she only used it occasionally throughout the year. She died in 1950 and the Dodge Family Trust sold the house and in 1961 it became a National Historic Landmark. The Historical Society of Pottawatomie County held a public drive to raise funds to buy the house and it did so successfully. The City of Council Bluffs restored the house and made it into a museum.*Fun Fact: Fort Dodge in Kansas is named in his honor as is Dodge City.*

The Dodge family loved this house and some believe that they never left. When we asked our guide about her experiences, she really had not had any yet, but she had only been there for a short time. (Dodge House 4) So our guide believes in this stuff, but the main people in charge shy away from talking about hauntings. We run into this a lot in these homes because they don't want to be known for their hauntings. This usually results in not a lot of ghost stories. So what IS out there?

The main apparition people claim to feel and see here is the man who loved this place the most and had it built to his specifications: General Dodge. Several people have claimed to see his full-bodied apparition sitting in his favorite rocking chair. His shadow is also seen walking the hallways of the house. There are other hauntings here though that are hard to pinpoint as to what is causing them. Light flashes and the smell of smoke are experienced outside the residence on the property. Inside, people have claimed to hear the disembodied voices of two men fighting with each other. There were quite a few political people in the home, so maybe arguments about politics. The spirit of a young girl is seen in the home too particularly in the servant's quarters area, but we don't know of any children that died in the house. People have claimed to take her picture in the small windows of the front door. We never trust window pictures.

The Black Angel
Now considering the nice story behind the creation of the Black Angel Monument in Fairview Cemetery for Ruth Anne Dodge, it's hard to believe that it has malevolent stories about it. The stories are pretty crazy. People scare children by telling them that she shoots lines of fire from her eyes when the clock strikes midnight. Other stories claim that she springs to life after it gets dark and roams among the tombstones. Her stare is said to curse anyone who looks into it too long or if you gaze into her eyes at midnight. And the weirdest story is that children who run behind the statue disappear forever.

We had such a great time touring this house and we never fail to learn new things when visiting these Victorian homes. Is the General Dodge House haunted? That is for you to decide!

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