Thursday, March 22, 2018

Dillinger's Hometown Holdup

Everybody has heard about John Dillinger, the famous American bank robber of the early 1930s.  Many people know that he lived for many years in Mooresville, Indiana.  But did you know that Dillinger's "first" holdup (or, at least, the first for which he was arrested) occurred in 1924 next to the First Christian Church on South Jefferson Street?

Our local history video elaborates.

John Dillinger's Hometown Holdup
(Mooresville Moments #7)
by Mooresville Public Library

Frank Morgan Holdup
Mooresville Times
September 12, 1924

John Dillinger's sentencing
Mooresville Times
September 19, 1924

Ed Singleton's sentencing
Mooresville Times
October 17, 1924

Frank Morgan owned and operated the West End Grocery at 135 West High Street in Mooresville.  On Saturday, September 6, 1924, Morgan went home for dinner and took the bulk of the day's cash receipts with him; then he returned to the store, staying open until around 10-11 p.m.  After closing, he was walking down South Jefferson Street when Dillinger jumped him from behind the First Christian Church, striking Morgan over the head with a metal rod.  Dillinger pulled a gun on Morgan, but the two struggled, and the gun fell to the ground, discharging.  When neighbors began to respond to the noise, Dillinger fled east down Broad Alley.

Many people maintain that Dillinger was goaded into attempting to rob Frank Morgan by Edgar Singleton, roughly ten years Dillinger's senior.  Dillinger knew Singleton from playing semi-professional baseball in Martinsville (Singleton was an umpire--see clipping below).  Singleton worked at the Mooresville light power plant.  While drinking at a pool room (in the basement of the Bass Building in downtown Mooresville), Singleton plied Dillinger with enough alcohol to persuade the younger man to stick-up Morgan, thinking the elderly grocer would be carrying cash from his store's Saturday sales.  They didn't know that Morgan had taken the money home earlier and had little cash on his person at the time of the robbery attempt.  Purportedly, Singleton awaited in a getaway car further down South Jefferson from the church (closer to West High Street), but when the revolver went off, Singleton apparently panicked and drove away, leaving Dillinger behind.

Some accounts have Singleton struggling and striking Morgan and dropping the revolver, but it appears that Dillinger's confession admitted that he was the party responsible for the fracas.

Umpire Ed Singleton
Mooresville Times
Thursday, October 8, 1964

Dillinger loitered around the pool room afterwards, asking others there if Morgan was all right (before it became commonly known that Morgan had been attacked, taken home, and stitched up by a local physician).  Dillinger returned home, finally admitting to his father what he had done, and his father encouraged him to turn himself in, thinking John would be shown clemency (it was, after all, his first arrest) that would result in a relatively short jail term.  Dillinger senior expected this episode to scare John straight, but no one anticipated that the Morgan County judge who sentenced Dillinger would invoke the heaviest penalties possible to make an example of him.  Likely, the judge was mindful of Dillinger's having committed battery (grievous bodily harm) upon Morgan and had used a firearm in the crime's commission, both aggravating circumstances necessitating sterner sentencing.  Spending years behind bars with hardened criminals, however, embittered Dillinger and placed him in the ideal environment from which to learn serious larceny skills.  When he finally was released, he was ready to "get even" by robbing banks.  Certainly, Dillinger's father blamed the judge for turning his son toward a life of crime.

What might have happened if Dillinger had received a lighter sentence?  Nobody can know for certain, but he might very well have been "scared straight," perhaps ending up pursuing his semi-professional baseball career at a higher level.  Or perhaps he might have become an ordinary, regular "working Joe."  One thing's for certain:  he would not now be a world-famous bank robber, entering the American folklore of the Great Depression.

Mooresville citizens are proud of their community and the many other people (well-known or otherwise) who have lived here over the years.  But Dillinger still captivates public interest.  He was a bad dude, but he is part of our history.  For better or worse, Dillinger is the town's most famous person.  That remains a sore spot with many longtime locals, many of whom knew the Dillinger family personally and, to spare them heartache and embarrassment, went to great lengths to avoid publicity about the famed criminal.  In 1973, when the local McDonald's franchise decorated the restaurant with Dillinger photos, a contingent of prominent local citizens protested, suggesting that McDonald's could sell its food elsewhere if it insisted upon glorifying Dillinger's unlawful career.  The restaurant took down the decorations in favor of more neutral images.

If we are faithful to local history, we can't ignore John Dillinger, but we needn't sensationalize him, either.  He is just another person in the tapestry of Mooresville's past, available to those interested who wish to learn about his story, one among many, many other stories that are equally worth telling.

Friday, March 16, 2018

McCracken House (1870-1951)

In this installment of Mooresville Moments, our local history video series, we learn about McCracken House, once a popular downtown destination for 80 years.

Click Above to Play Video

McCracken House was originally numbered as 23 West Main Street (in the late 1890s-early 1900s). This designation was subsequently changed to 25 West Main Street. McCrackens owned land surrounding their hotel/restaurant, leasing a building (just to the east of their hotel/restaurant) that was designated 23 West Main Street.  This became Dorsett Insurance Agency in the 1950s. After McCracken House was demolished in 1951, the lot remained vacant for a few years, becoming Worrall Propane Company in the early 1960s (see the 1962 Robinson's Mooresville, Indiana City Directory).

To watch other videos in this series, please visit our YouTube channel local history playlist.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Mooresville's First Police Car

Local history quiz:

1.  When did the Mooresville Police Department (MPD) purchase its first patrol car?
  1. 1919
  2. 1932
  3. 1953
  4. 1965
2.  In the law enforcement time trials at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the year that MPD purchased its first patrol car, in what position did Mooresville Police finish?
  1. First
  2. Last
  3. 23rd
  4. The car was black-flagged before the end of the race
Click Image to Enlarge

3.  In the photo of MPD's first police car, who's standing next to the car?
Did you guess the right answers?  Find out by watching the video below.

Mooresville's First Police Car, by Mooresville Public Library
(Mooresville Moments video series #5)

There's also a "treasure trove" handout and a digital flashcard about the patrol car available on Mooresville Public Library's website.

Final question:  Why was Elmer Poe nicknamed "Beans"?  Just curious.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

March is Women's History Month

March is Women's History Month, so we are featuring relevant books (as well as audiobooks and movies) on our display "rounder" in the library's grand hall, across from the circulation and adult information desks.  Any of the items displayed may be checked-out using your Evergreen Indiana library card.

Click Photos to Enlarge

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Perce Building (Mooresville Moments #4)

Did you know that famous Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916) was a sign painter in Mooresville during the mid-1870s?  Here's where he worked.

The Perce Building (Mooresville Moments #4)
by Mooresville Public Library
(click video to play)

The building at 25 South Indiana Street in downtown Mooresville was built around 1865 by Dr. B. H. Perce.  It is the oldest business structure still standing.  Originally two stories, a third floor was added in 1869.

From the time of its construction until about 1900, the first floor of the Perce Building was used as a carriage and paint shop.  It was at this location that the famous Hoosier poet, James Whitcomb Riley, worked as a sign painter when he moved to Mooresville in the Spring of 1874 to live with his aunt and uncle, Jim & Ann Marine.  In addition to sign painting, Riley wrote articles and humorous quips for the local newspaper, the Mooresville Enterprise, as well as for other Morgan County newspapers.  When trade was slack, Riley would slip around the block to hang out with local photographer and Civil War veteran Jarvis P. Calvert at his art and photography studio on East Harrison Street.

The Mooresville Masonic Lodge was located on the second and third floors of the Perce Building beginning in 1869.  From around 1900 to 1920, the first floor and rear sections housed various businesses, including a harness shop, a tin maker, and a plumber.  It became medical doctors’ offices during the 1920s.

From the 1920s through the 1960s, the first and second floors of the Perce Building were used by the Mooresville telephone exchange.  Today, the building is a one-story structure.