Thursday, June 25, 2020

HGB Ep. 342 - Mad Doctor McDowell and his Medical College

Moment in Oddity - The Talking Stove of Spain
Suggested by: John Michaels

When we first heard the story of the talking stove from Zaragoza, Spain, we figured it had to be a work of fiction. But after researching and finding that many people witnessed this talking stove from neighbors to journalists to police officers, we had to look at this seriously. The Palazons family had been living peacefully in their home until September of 1934. At that time, they heard a strange maniacal laugh coming from the chimney and their stove, which were connected to each other. They lived in a duplex apartment, so they naturally assumed it was a neighbor. Later that month, they became more concerned when their maid heard her voice called out from stove and then a sinister laugh. The family asked their neighbors to come listen and they heard the voice coming from the chimney and stove too and since they were in the room, they knew that it wasn't them making the sounds. Soon the town was talking about the haunting. Many believed that this was a Duende, which is a supernatural goblin-like creature in Spanish folklore. The voice seemed to know the names of everyone who came to visit, even the police officers who were called in to investigate. They had the family move out while they gave the place a thorough going over. The London Times filed daily updates on the case. Architects inspected the building and when they went to measure the chimney opening, the voice said, "The diameter is 6 inches." And that is what it was, clearly not big enough for a person to fit. Priests blessed the place and the Parazons moved back in, only to leave the next day when the voice returned and threatened to kill them. They never returned. The Governor got involved and an official statement was released explaining the origin of the voice. The statement claimed that the maid was unknowingly throwing her voice by "unconscious ventriloquism." Was this really just a hoax? The maid was rarely around when the voice was heard, but blame was placed firmly on her. Eventually, the building was torn down and another apartment building was built in its place and given the name Edificio Duende or Goblin Building and that, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Frank Hayes Dies of Heart Attack During Belmont Stakes
Suggested by: Chelsea Flowers

In the month of June, on the 4th, in 1923, Jockey Frank Hayes suffered a fatal heart attack while riding in a race at Belmont Park in New York City, USA. The Belmont Stakes is a horse race that is held every June at Belmont Park and started in 1867. This is known as "The Test of the Champion" and is the final and longest leg of the United States Triple Crown. Becoming a jockey at this level is quite the feat and grueling on the body as jockeys have to maintain a very low weight. Frank Hayes was not actually a jockey, but a horse trainer. So when he decided to ride in this race, he had to do some pretty drastic stuff to make weight. And that could be why, along with the excitement of the race, be why he had the fatal heart attack at some point in the middle of the race. He was locked in tight to the saddle, so he remained atop his horse, Sweet Kiss, who was a 20-1 long shot to win. And despite the fact that he was no longer kicking and guiding Sweet Kiss to victory, the horse crossed the finish line in first place. This made Hayes the first and only jockey to win a race while dead.

McDowell Medical College

Stories connected to the McDowell Medical College cover all the bases for a good ghost tale. There was the unusual construction of the building, medical experiments, grave robbing, mental illness, Spiritualism, a Civil War prison and lots of death. The only thing missing in this story is the actual building. The former Ralston-Purina Company owns the land today, but tales of supernatural happenings persist. Join us as we share the history and hauntings of the McDowell Medical College!

The Nestle Purina PetCare Company, or the former Ralston-Purina Company, owns the property at Ninth and Gratiot (Grass shut) Street. The company was started by William Danforth in 1894 as Purina Mills with its headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri. This is now the Nestle Purina Campus and the main building was constructed in 1969. When Purina started, they mainly processed animal feed, but it eventually got into breakfast cereal, which is when it added Ralston to the name. The corporate parking lot takes up the space at 9th and Gratiot, but this had been the Gratiot Prison and even before that it was the McDowell Medical College.

Dr. Joseph Nash McDowell was born in 1805 in Kentucky. He became interested in medicine early, perhaps inspired by the work of his uncle Dr. Ephraim McDowell who made history in the state by removing a tumor from a female patient without using any anesthesia. Troy Taylor describes this in his book, Haunted St. Louis, "Ephraim recited a special prayer that had been written for the occasion and then made a nine-inch incision in her abdomen. The tumor was too large to remove with scalpels, so he pressed on it to remove the 'noxious fluids' and bring it down to a more manageable size - of 22 pounds. The woman survived the surgery and lived another 32 years." Joseph had trained under his uncle and this is when he would start his grave robbing ways. Things between the men were great until they had a falling out over a relationship Joseph had wanted to kindle with Ephraim's daughter, his cousin. Joseph would leave and never talk to Ephraim again. He decided to attend Transylvania University in Kentucky and would flourish there taking on a mentor named Dr. Daniel Drake whose sister he would marry. He then went on to work at hospitals in Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania. In 1839, he moved to St. Louis, Missouri.

Joseph McDowell was a peculiar man with crazy hair who had a temper, carried lifelong grudges and was described as unstable. He would rail on street corners against medical institutes and then eventually set up his own. Before that though, he got a job teaching at Kemper College and he helped organize the medical department. That department thrived under McDowell and was known for its anatomical studies. The finances just weren't there and the college faltered, so McDowell took on the reorganizing and gave it his name, McDowell Medical College. He decided to build a new building and began construction at the 9th and Gratiot Street location in 1848. This was a unique building with an octagonal tower in the center of two wings, with niches in the tower meant to hold the future remains of the McDowell family. The architectural style was Greek Revival with large Gothic windows. The tower had a deck with six cannons around it to provide protection. This was a medical school, not a fort, but apparently the cannons were needed. Legend claimed that one cannon had belonged to Jean Lafitte. The school was also stockpiled with muskets.

Dr. McDowell wanted to get medicine away from the old way of doing things followed by the old men of medicine. Luke Ritter writes in his paper Anatomy, Grave Robbing and Spiritualism in Antebellum St. Louis, "Dr. McDowell thought the old men lowered the overall reputation of the medical profession and made it harder for him to legitimate his cause. He told one story about an 'old doctor' who mixed tobacco spit into his homemade pills. When McDowell asked him about it, the old doctor replied: 'Oh, I am just making some pills for a lady across the street, and as there isn’t any water handy, I just do this way.'" The medical school had everything it needed from laboratories to lecture halls to chemical rooms to dissecting rooms. This was the first medical school west of the Mississippi and many medical graduates would come just to attend lectures by McDowell who was flamboyant, loud and very skilled, especially in surgery. But in order to do these lectures, bodies were needed. As we've discussed on previous episodes, for a while, the bodies of executed criminals would be "donated" to science. That did not usually provide enough cadavers, but only five states allowed the use of bodies of non-criminals. McDowell made it a rule that no one could graduate without dissecting at least one body. And he had a point because it really is impossible to know anatomy without studying the actual body. Many medical schools were graduating students who only had a year of study and many had never dissected a body. Dr. McDowell did an outreach to the poor community and would offer care for free and the medical students would have people to practice on. But that still wasn't enough. And thus, rumors started floating that the medical students were robbing graves. Dr. McDowell had done it with his uncle, so why wouldn't he teach his students to do the same? And grave robbing back at this time was pretty rampant in some places. In New York alone, 600 to 700 bodies were being snatched annually.

The people of St. Louis didn't do anything about the grave robbing from their cemeteries, but they were not happy. They didn't have any real proof anyway. But when a young female German immigrant named Mrs. Malter went missing, people began to think that the medical school had kidnapped her to use for dissection. She was later found living with another man in Alton, Illinois. But the distrust of the school continued and there were several movements against the school by mobs of people. Part of the reason people were so quick to blame Dr. McDowell for the girl's disappearance was because he was known for his hatred of immigrants. He was part of the "Know Nothing Party," which was a cover name for the Native American Party. This was not an indigineous group of people, but rather a group of Protestant men of British descent. They couldn't stand Germans or the Irish Catholics. This was just another facet of McDowell's erratic temperament. McDowell had also started a museum with rare specimens and animals and he once set a bear loose on a mob. The doctor also made sure that residents knew he had guns as he would occasionally send his students out to fire the muskets in a nearby park.

Things came to a head when a German girl died and McDowell and his students hid her body in the college. Her death had been unusual and they wanted to investigate. The locals got word of this and they planned to break into the school and find the body. McDowell received a letter warning him of the coming invasion. He grabbed the girl's body and headed for the attic with it over his shoulder. He was ascending when his lamp blew out. He re-lit it and started to climb again when it blew out a second time. He eventually got the body up the stairs when he was startled by a figure he saw at the end of the attic. It was his mother. Only his mother was dead. He would tell people that the spirit of his mother had come to warn him and protect him. And it seemed that she might have. Dr. McDowell was shaken by seeing the spirit of his mother who had disappeared once he recognized her, but he set the girl's body down and made his way back down the stairs. He saw that several residents had entered the school and were lighting lamps. They had weapons. He was trapped.

He glanced into the room from where he had removed the girl's body and his mother's spirit was standing next to the table, beckoning him. McDowell got on top of the table and covered himself with a sheet, hoping that no one would dare uncover a corpse. Several minutes passed as he listened to the men scurrying about the building looking for him and the girl's body. They came into the room and started lifting sheets off of bodies. One man commented that McDowell's corpse died with his boots on and McDowell braced himself for discovery. He then heard his mother whisper into his ear to keep completely still. He never knew if the men just decided not to look at his corpse or if his mother had done something to get them to leave, but he always attributed her with his escape. And it was at this time that he started to seek out the spirit world.

The story is the same for most of us. We have that first supernatural experience and we need to find out more. McDowell began to study electromagnetism because he understood that there had to be a relationship between the supernatural and electricity and magnetism. He always considered the afterlife consequences when making decisions and he became keenly concerned with preserving the body and he detested normal burial customs. His first foray into something different in this way was to bury his first wife atop the Cahokian burial mounds in Illinois. He would use a telescope to keep an eye on her burial, which he could see from the top of the college tower. He also decided that when any of his family members died, including himself, that they should be encased in copper tubes filled with alcohol. And remember those niches in the tower? Dr. McDowell wanted to put the tubes in those niches. But this was not feasible, so he was on the hunt for a cave to store bodies. The Doctor at first chose the Mammoth Caves, but these were all the way in Kentucky, so he found a more suitable location in Hannibal, Missouri.

The first person to be stored in a copper tube in that cave would be his fourteen-year-old daughter, Amanda. The copper tube was suspended from the ceiling of the cave. People started calling him Mad Doctor McDowell and perhaps he was a little mad as he believed that he was more able to communicate with his daughter in the afterlife because of this set-up. Before long, people were claiming that Amanda haunted the cave. Today, the cave offers tours and is known as Mark Twain Cave. Many tour guides claim sudden chills that completely envelope them and they also say they see the apparition of a young girl that they believe is Amanda. She is smiling and wearing a white gown that is styled from a different period. She usually disappears into restricted areas of the cave. *Fun Fact: Dr. McDowell visited Mammoth Caves once and scratched his signature into a large rock called "Giant's Coffin," which you can still see today.*

Amanda would not remain here for the long term as the Doctor started hearing rumors that teenagers were daring each other to go inside the haunted cave and yank the head of Amanda out of her copper tube. A young Samuel Clemens may even have visited the Hannibal cave as he once wrote, "There is an interesting cave a mile or two below Hannibal. In my time, the person who then owned it turned it into a mausoleum for his daughter, age 14. The body was put into a copper cylinder filled with alcohol and this was suspended in one of the dismal avenues of the cave. The top of the cylinder was removable, and it was a common thing for the baser order of tourists to drag the dead face into view and examine it and comment upon it." The Doctor decided to move her to the family vault behind the college. There are those who think much of McDowell's beliefs on burial not really being a sacred thing came from his years of grave robbing and dissecting dead bodies. These just became objects to him and there was no such thing as "rest-in-peace."

McDowell had a son who had become a doctor as well and his name was Drake. When the Civil War broke out, both men pledged their support for the Confederacy. Drake took two cannons from the school and joined a regiment under General Meriwether Thompson. Dr. McDowell took on the commission to serve as the Surgeon General for the Confederate Army of the West. This left the medical college abandoned. The abandoned college was soon seized by Provost Marshall George E. Leighton for the Union and used for recruitment, but that would eventually change when General Henry Halleck transformed the hospital into a prison. During that renovation it was said that soldiers and several former slaves removed three carts full of human and animal bones. Many soldiers were superstitious and this lead them to believe that the college was haunted. And perhaps it was because those bones belonged to disinterred and thus, disturbed remains. There were many Confederate prisoners who claimed to feel as if they were not alone and they heard weird things.

Life in the prison was harsh. It was overcrowded and filthy. This was not only full of Confederate prisoners, but also Union deserters and criminals, spies, bush whackers and women who helped the Confederacy. Prison guards were described as pure devils and one inmate said that the jail was hell on earth. The sick and dying were just left on the floor and food rations were very low. Many people died inside the jail. Despite reports of the horrible conditions and calls to close the prison, it remained open until the end of the Civil War. Doctor McDowell returned to his former medical school and was devastated to find its condition. The stone floors were so dirty that they appeared to be dirt covered floors. The gallows were located in his gardens. He was committed to fixing things and asked several doctors for help and eventually the place was cleaned up for reopening. He didn't live long after that, dying from pneumonia in 1868. He was buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery with his first wife and daughter who were moved to be next to him.

The school was then left abandoned until the Terminal Railroad Association demolished it and built their new rail yard in 1882. Workers on the railway claimed to have haunting experiences. They would say they saw the spirits of Confederate soldiers. The same is said of the parking lot at the Ralston Purina headquarters when it comes to the ghosts of Confederate soldiers. But the reports of hauntings started even before the medical school was torn down. Neighbors would cross themselves when they passed the college because they feared the place and were superstitious. There was the sound of disembodied screams and cries coming from the abandoned building. Ghosts appeared in the windows. When people would go to investigate, they would find no one inside.

Troy Taylor shares a story he was told in his book Haunted St. Louis, "The descendant of a German man who once lived nearby told me a story that had been passed down in his family. As a boy, his ancestor had played inside of the building with his friends on several occasions. An acquaintance claimed that he had come face-to-face with a ghost inside - and would never return - but the other boys didn't let this stop them, especially on a warm summer afternoon. But they soon found that the bright sunshine outside was not enough to penetrate the darkness of the building. The gloomy, thick atmosphere made them realize they might have made a mistake by going inside. They wandered about, though, poking into rooms and walking up and down the dusty corridors - and then they heard the sound. It seemed to be coming from the octagonal tower. As my witness told me, his great-grandfather had recalled the sound as 'loud, screeching, banging and yelling that made the blood curdle.' It echoed through the whole structure. The boys had no idea where it was coming from - or what it was - but it sent them running out of the building. Many years later, he swore that he never went into that building again."

For as out there as Dr. McDowell seemed to be, he was integral in changing the American way of thinking about doctors in his time. People were very skeptical of the medical profession and there were very few skilled doctors. He changed that with his teaching and his school. He was also a very complicated man being a professional doctor on one hand and a man deeply intrigued with Spiritualism and a highly respected man even though he had xenophobic ideals and dug up dead bodies in his free time. Was his former college haunted. Is the parking lot where it used to stand haunted? That is for you to decide!

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