Everything is connected.
What I like to do for these History Knox columns is to find unexpected, forgotten threads and then follow them to see what connections can be discovered. This week's adventure will take us from an armed insurrection during the Civil War to a mysterious murder in Depression-era Cleveland, by way of the Mount Vernon telephone switchboard.
First, the most innocuous piece of information: On Jan. 16, 1914, according to the social column in The Democratic Banner the following Tuesday, Eunice Mitchart and several of her co-workers from the Central Union Telephone Company in Mount Vernon got together to share a pork roast dinner at Irene DeBrocque's home on North McKenzie Street.
The ladies included Eva Swingle, Izetta Waddell, Hazel Graff, Alice Rockwell, Jane Glore, Edna Vanasdale, Violet Miller, Ethel Roby, Alice DeBrocque, Laura Veatch, and Laverna Elder of Mount Vernon, and Mrs. Carl Critchfield of Bangs.
It must have been a slow news day.
Now the two dramatic pieces of information: A) On June 7, 1863, Federal soldiers marched up to a lonely ridge just across the Knox County line in Holmes County and broke up an armed rebellion. And,
B) On March 3, 1930, someone walked into the combined office and living quarters of Dr. Alfred P. Scully on West 25th Street in Cleveland and shot him to death.
The roots of a rebellion
To connect these items, we must go back a couple weeks before the first event. According to an interview with one of the key instigators, conducted many years later and published in the book Holmes County Historical Sketches, compiled by Brooks F. Harris, the Holmes County Draft Riots began with a misunderstanding that took place on the road to Killbuck.
“On the fifth of June, 1863, I chanced to be at a neighbor's house from which I observed two men who were on horseback,” Peter Stuber said in an interview with Rev. John P. Hentz in the late 1890s. “I followed them with my eyes, wondering what they were about.”
The strangers stopped in front of Stuber's Uncle Jacob's house, so Stuber began walking in that direction. Soon he could hear his uncle raise his voice. Getting closer, Stuber recognized one of the men as a neighbor Uncle Jacob didn't get along with, so Stuber shouted at the men to leave.
The two men ignored Stuber, so he picked up a stone and pitched it at them, hitting the unknown man.
The men took off running and carpenters and stonemasons working on Uncle Jacob's farm jeered at the men as they skedaddled down the road. One of the farm workers even shot a pistol into the air, speeding up the interlopers' retreat.
Turns out the rock and the pistol shot weren't such a good idea. The stranger was the enlisting officer charged with conscripting draft-age young men to join the Union Army because Holmes County hadn't met its quota of soldiers for the ongoing Civil War.
Regular readers of this column will recall that central Ohio wasn't exactly a pillar of support for Abraham Lincoln's war to end slavery. The infamous anti-war politician Clement Vallandigham was arrested on Public Square in Mount Vernon for speaking against Lincoln and the Civil War.
The region was known as a hotbed of Southern sympathizers, nicknamed Copperheads after the deadly copperhead rattlesnake which keeps coiled and hidden until it suddenly strikes.
Some of the farmers of rural Knox, Holmes, and Coshocton Counties may have been secessionists because of family roots in the south or simply because of their philosophical beliefs. It is also likely that some weren't in favor of the South seceding from the Union, but weren't ready to take up arms about it and simply wanted to be left alone on their back-country farms.
Whatever the case, once word quickly spread that a government official had been prevented from doing his duty, the farmers knew that things would get ugly. Anti-draft farmers from all over Holmes, Knox, and Coshocton Counties started gathering, some of them bringing family members along, at a central location, offered by farmer Laurent Blanchat (or Blanchard, as the name was Americanized).
Blanchard was one of a movement of Swiss and French settlers who moved into the Holmes County back country in the 1830s and 40s, setting up farms on steep fields earlier settlers had avoided. So many of these French families settled on one ridge in southern Richland Township of Holmes County, it became known as French Ridge.
These settlers populated the ridges in this hilly area, then laid out a town in the glen beneath the mountains. At first it was given the name of a French hero, Napoleon. But after the U.S. post office complained that there was already another Napoleon in Ohio, the village was renamed Glenmont, after its location.
French Ridge is the high ground a couple of miles south of town.
After the incident, Peter Stuber and three of the farm workers were arrested, and then broken free from jail by armed neighbors, upping the ante. The rebellious farmers gathered in large numbers — 900 to 1,000, sources say — on Blanchard's farm, and attempted to form themselves into military companies and drill over the next week.
They quickly built a fortified structure out of field stone, calling it “Fort Freedom.” Unfortunately, there was infighting about who was in charge of the troops, and organization was lacking.
The Battle of Fort Fizzle
That certainly was not the case for the Union Army. By June 17, Colonel Wallace mobilized over 400 soldiers from Camp Chase, Camp Dennison, the Governor's Guard, and Captain Neil's Battery, and brought them by train to Lake Station (today Lakeville), and marched them south through Nashville to Napoleon.
About a mile and a half south of Napoleon, the Federal troops were fired upon by bushwhackers, who retreated when the Union forces charged, capturing two of the farmers.
At the crossroads two miles south of Napoleon — today the intersection of County Roads 25 and 6 — Wallace set up his headquarters on the Workman farm (today the site of Wilson's Country Creations, which makes and sells concrete statues) and had his soldiers quickly establish camp.
Without further ado, they marched down the road the half mile or so to the Blanchard farm and attacked the hastily built fort.
Though the Army force was outnumbered, the fierce coordination of their attack must have hit the rebellious farmers like a gust front, for one ferocious volley broke the rebels' nerve, and they scattered into the woods, suffering a couple casualties who fell in Fort Freedom. The army pursued the farmers, capturing 43 of them in the woods on French Ridge.
In the end, the Federal display of force was the main reason for this whole misadventure. Though many of the rebels were declared in open treason and slated for trial, only one of the conspirators, Laurent Blanchard himself, was tried, convicted, and sentenced to do six months of hard labor at the Ohio Penitentiary.
President Lincoln, having made his point, soon pardoned Blanchard and sent him home to his farm.
People nationwide began mocking the fort where the rebellion crumpled as “Fort Fizzle.” The name has stuck, and today an Ohio historical marker is posted along Holmes County Road 6 at the site of Blanchard's farm. No walls of the fort are still standing today, though the original rocks are strewn about the hilly property.
Meet Ulysses Mitchart
But our connection point comes as the Union army men were capturing the rebels fleeing from Fort Fizzle. As some of the soldiers charged through the woods on French Ridge, they came across a man carrying a rifle. They grilled him with questions about who he was and what his connection was with the anti-draft rebellion.
The man seemed startled and shrugged his shoulders. When they asked him again, he responded in French. After all, they were on French Ridge.
The most they could get out of the jabbering fellow was that his name was Ulysses Mitchart. They arrested him and confined him with the other prisoners. Once a translator was found, the Swiss immigrant — who didn't speak a word of English — stoutly declared that he had nothing to do with any rebellion and had simply been out squirrel hunting when he was arrested.
Whether or not this was true, Ohio attorney general Lyman R. Critchfield — himself born in Danville and grew up in Holmes County — quickly accepted it as a valid excuse and immediately released Mitchart.
The Mitcharts appear to have been latecomers in the wave of French and Swiss settlement in central Ohio, and they were probably poor to start with, because they've been difficult to pin down in early records. This is also possibly because of variable spellings of their surname.
Other than this story about Ulysses, more Mitcharts don't show up until 1907, when a Catherine Mitchart is shown as a property owner on Bell Ridge in Knox Township of Holmes County, which is the high land overlooking the north side of Napoleon, which by this time had been renamed Glenmont.
If that was the place where the Mitcharts lived, they must have rented in earlier years, but by 1907, Catherine is shown owning 50 acres.
Eunice goes to town
The 1910 census identifies Catherine as having an 18-year old daughter, Eunice (and spells the surname “Michhart”). Catherine is listed as “widowed,” while Eunice is single. At some point soon after this, Eunice decided to quit country life and move into the big city: Mount Vernon.
There she got a job working as a telephone operator for the Central Union Telephone Company, Knox County's first telephone service. It was while Eunice was working there that she joined coworkers at the dinner party reported on by the newspaper in 1914.
Interestingly, one of her friends at that party was Mrs. Carl Critchfield, perhaps suggesting a continuing association between the Mitchart and Critchfield families.
But whatever social delight that party may have brought, it clearly wasn't enough for Eunice Mitchart. She must have longed for a greater change in lifestyle, a bigger future, for in 1915, she left Mount Vernon for good and enrolled at Baldwin-Wallace College in Cleveland, studying in the nursing program.
We know nothing about Eunice's family life before she left home, but it seems a safe bet that it wasn't all that happy, because Eunice abruptly cuts off contact with her family while she's in Cleveland, and then she abruptly drops out of college and disappears at the end of the 1916 term.
Eunice's family feared she had joined the army as a nurse and went to Europe during the Great War.
After the war ended in 1918, the Mitcharts waited in vain to hear from their long-lost daughter. In 1926, Eunice's brothers petitioned the state to have Eunice legally declared dead, a presumable war fatality. The courts made it so.
The Death of Dr. Scully
Fast forward to March 2, 1930. In his live-in office in the Forest Bank building on West 25th Street in Cleveland, the quiet, stout, 56-year old Dr. Alfred P. Scully has closed up his office for the day. Based on a summary of period news reports in John Stark Bellamy II's Cleveland true crime anthology The Killer in the Attic, Dr. Scully's colleague across the hall, Dr. Frederick J. Wood, heard a faint cry come from Scully's rooms.
After he heard a second cry, Dr. Wood rushed over to Scully's waiting room, where he found the doctor lying on the floor, bleeding heavily. In falling, he had knocked over an ornate screen that separated the reception area from his private living quarters.
Scully was still breathing, but he had gunshot wounds in both his side and his head. Wood had not heard any shots, nor had he seen anyone near Scully's apartment. Scully was soon dead.
The news made for sensational headlines in the Cleveland press, especially because Scully was such a low-key, well-liked figure, no one would have dreamed that there was someone out there who wanted him dead.
The police investigated, but no solid leads emerged. Their initial theory of a robbery lost steam when a search of Dr. Scully's office showed plenty of money and valuables left behind.
When some suggested that it could have been a crime of passion, Scully's friends scoffed. One old acquaintance said, “He liked women collectively and enjoyed their company at a party. But he had no love affairs.”
But Scully's secretary informed the police and the curious press that, in fact, the doctor regularly received telephone calls from an unknown woman whom he refused to talk about, and had even had a woman show up at the office screaming about “another woman.”
Dr. Scully appears not to have been as quiet as everyone thought.
A surprise development in the case
Things really got interesting in May of 1930, when the doctor's estate was being discussed. While not wildly wealthy, Dr. Scully did leave some money behind, but his will was not current. Imagine the shock when a woman by the name of Eunice Rockwell showed up and demanded some of his estate.
“Why?” the authorities asked her.
“Because I am Dr. Scully's wife,” the woman replied.
Having read about the case in the newspaper in Miami, Florida, where she was living, Rockwell recognized the name of Dr. Alfred P. Scully all too well, because when this woman was in nursing college in Cleveland in 1915, she claimed, she was swept off her feet by the older doctor, so worldly and cultured.
According to Rockwell, they secretly married, concealing the union from their families because of their age differences — Scully was 42, while the nursing student was only 17.
The following year, Rockwell dropped out of Baldwin-Wallace College because she had become pregnant. The Cleveland police were initially skeptical when no Eunice Rockwell was found in the records at Baldwin-Wallace. That's when the woman confessed that “Rockwell” was a fake name the doctor suggested.
Her real name was Eunice Mitchart and she had come to Cleveland from Mount Vernon, Ohio.
Before the pregnancy became obvious, Dr. Scully arranged to have the student sent off to a hospital in Toledo to give birth. In 1917, she gave birth to their son Paul.
The paper trail begins
The woman's story seemed improbable, considering the doctor's reputation. But when they checked the records at Baldwin-Wallace, they did find Eunice Mitchart enrolled in 1915 and dropping out in 1916.
They did find the record of Paul Rockwell's birth in 1917 in Toledo. And searching through the doctor's financial records, they found numerous canceled checks that Dr. Scully had written to Eunice Rockwell and sent to her in Florida. They even found that a friend of Scully's had been instructed to send Rockwell $1,000 in the event of his passing, which he apparently had done.
But for Rockwell to receive any of Dr. Scully's $60,000 estate, she was told she'd have to produce a marriage certificate. Rockwell returned to Florida with her 13-year old son Paul in tow to search for the document, but never produced it.
Meanwhile, Eunice Mitchart's brothers spoke with media in Cleveland and confirmed that Ms. Rockwell was their long-lost sister. There is no indication that connection was reestablished between Eunice and her family, who were still living near Nashville in Holmes County.
When the police followed up with Eunice Rockwell, she said that the court was unable to find a document in St. Petersburg, Florida, where she and Scully wed, and the preacher who conducted the ceremony was deceased. She said she had always assumed Dr. Scully “took care” of all the arrangements, but that she had no paperwork to prove her status, though she felt it qualified as a common-law marriage.
Truths and not-so-truths
Let's pause for a moment and look at a few truths and what we could call “not-so-truths.”
Paperwork proved that there was a relationship between Dr. Scully and Eunice Mitchart. A preponderance of the evidence suggests that he was, in fact, Paul Rockwell's father, and that's why he sent them money over the years. He may have wished to keep it secret because of the age difference, yes, but also because of that jealous other woman that Scully's secretary mentioned. Eunice claimed that the other woman — of whom she was well aware — had made threats against both her and the doctor.
But how crystal clear are Eunice Rockwell's stories?
First of all, she claimed to be an innocent 17 when she and the doctor met, but if that 1910 census is accurate, she was not telling the truth. The census identifies young Eunice J Michhart as 18, suggesting she was born in late 1892 or early 1893. That would make her around 22 or 23 when she met the doctor — younger than him, yes, but hardly in her teens.
Eunice also claimed that Dr. Scully suggested the pseudonym of “Rockwell,” and perhaps he did.
But it's also interesting to note that one of her documented friends in 1914 — at the telephone operators' dinner party — had the Rockwell surname. On later documents, Eunice starts appearing under the name Paula Eunice Rockwell, a name further changed from her original “Eunice J Michhart.”
Add all this to the evidently non-existent marriage certificate and you have quite a loose way with the truth.
Was it simply Dr. Scully's death that motivated her to action to try to get financial security for her son, Paul?
That's certainly possible, for with Scully dead, he obviously wouldn't be sending any more support checks.
Eunice had a secret
But was there any possible further motivation for Eunice Rockwell to go after the doctor's money?
Could there even by some longshot be a possible reason Rockwell herself should have been examined more closely as a suspect? After all, this was a murder which took place in the same office/apartment the young nursing student had presumably visited during her trysts with the doctor, and which therefore she would have known well, well enough to conceal herself in his living quarters and shoot him — with some sort of silencer on a pistol — as he walked out of his waiting room and into his living room.
That's heavy speculation, of course.
Why would she have a desperate need to get hold of his money?
Consider this: just over three years after Dr. Scully's death, a Paula Eunice Rockwell, of St. Petersburg, Florida, passes away on Sept. 19, 1933, in Asheville, North Carolina, where she is visiting her son, Paul Rockwell, a student at the University of North Carolina.
When informing the doctor who fills out the death certificate, Paul says his mother's father was Paul Mitchhart, from Orrville, Ohio. He doesn't even know his mother's mother's name. He lists Eunice's dead husband as “Alfred P. Rockwell.” He gives his mother's birth date as October 16, 1895 — yet another fiction shaving a few years off her real age, which was probably 40 at the time of death.
Dr. Karl Schäffle, the attending physician, filled out Eunice's cause of death as “far-advanced pulmonary tuberculosis.” The date of onset was May of 1929. Dr. Schäffle took an x-ray to confirm the diagnosis.
Tuberculosis was a deadly disease in those days, with no cure. Eunice Rockwell found out that she had this fatal, incurable disease in May of 1929, in effect a death sentence. Less than a year later, her distant lover is mysteriously dead, followed by Rockwell's claim on his estate.
Is it remotely possible that Eunice Rockwell, in a moment of desperation, rocked by a fatal diagnosis, plotted and executed the murder of the lover who kept her and her son at a distance? Is it possible that she was so tired of being treated like a potential embarrassment, that she would murder in order to provide for her son in a way that his father never willingly would?
We may never know.
A closing twist
It is clear that Eunice Rockwell kept fighting for a portion of Scully's estate, though she never had any success in that attempt. In May of 1931, she was helped by an attorney from Wooster, Ohio, who was eager to assist her effort to break Scully's outdated original will, which had been filled out before Paul Rockwell was even born, according to an article in The Coshocton Tribune.
The name of this lawyer wanting to help out a Mitchart in a tough situation?
Lyman R. Critchfield, Jr. He was the son of the Ohio attorney general who helped Eunice's grandfather, Ulysses Mitchart, when he was arrested as part of the Holmes County Draft Riot at Fort Fizzle.
So, there you have the threads intertwining from different events in our history to fill out a tapestry of life stories, strange and sometimes tragic.
The mysteries remain.
It's all connected.