March 18, 2011

Lost Milwaukee #6... Where have you gone, Miss Anderson?

So whatever became of Cora Anderson? After her proud walk out of the courthouse she wrote about her experiences. She penned a lengthy article that was published nation-wide. “This world is made by man – for man alone,” was her opening line. What followed was something between a feminist screed and defeatist endorsement of a male-dominated society. The only way for a woman to get along in the world, according to Cora, is to play the role that man has given her. To be young and beautiful is the best way to go about this. Cora makes her case for actions in a largely financial manner. She cites the high cost of women’s clothing and low pay for women’s work as a reason so many young girls are driven in to marriage (or vice, failing that). “Do you blame me to wanting to be a man in a man-made world? Do you blame me for hating to again resume wearing women’s clothes and just belong?”

Furthermore, Cora had discovered the secrets of what men say only in the company of other men. She dispels the myth that they kiss, but do not tell. “A man always tells. He is so proud of himself. A man always wears the favors women grant him like an Indian wears his scalps,” she wrote. Perhaps in an ironic nod to her own likely, yet unconfirmed, intimate relationship with Mamie, she added, “most men do not consider sexual sins of any consequence.” In the end, it seemed that her time as a man had soured her. She felt that one day, perhaps in a few hundred years in the future, a woman might be “the owner of her own body and custodian of her own soul.” But as for the present day, she only hopes for a women’s minimum wage law. She dare not even mention equality.

As for her own future, Cora never did go back home. She kept her job at Cutler Hammer for at least a few more months. In April of 1915, she was arrested at Broadway and Johnson (now Highland), near the heart of the Vice District (and just a few blocks from the current location of the HMI office). A beat cop stopped her at 3 am, staggering home. When he found out who she was, Cora claimed to reporters, he called her a “vile name” and tore open her dress to see how she was dressed underneath. She was facing 15 days in jail when she was unable to pay her $5 fine. At the last moment, friends stepped forward with enough cash to save her from jail. Later that year, Cora was picked up again, charged with vagrancy. She was found “in company with another woman and neither had worked.”

In the summer of 1919, Cora was arrested again. This time on the complaint that her and another woman had “rolled” a man for $60. He claimed the two had met him downtown, gotten him drunk, and when he awoke the next morning, he was missing cash. When the cops busted into her State Street flat, they found her in bed with her accomplice, 22 year old Emma June Williams. She told reporters that she had been married the previous year to a man named Blackman, but had left her husband months earlier after certain “disagreements.” Her lady friend had the charges dismissed, but Cora got 90 days probation.

Two months later, Cora got picked up on another charge of rolling a drunk. This time accused of making out $40. Given that she was still on probation, she likely would have been given jail time, but after this September 1919 newspaper notice, she disappears.

Of course, she does not really disappear, but my trail on her runs cold. The sad demise of Cora Anderson seems to have led her into a transient lifestyle that flies under the radar of surviving source material. Perhaps she finally did go back home to get parents and returned to nursing. Perhaps she emerged in another city, dressed nattily in a handsome suit with another pretty girl on her arm. Perhaps she stayed in town, pulling petty con jobs and thinking back on fonder times. Whatever happened, it seems that the person, who was for one stunning week the most famous Milwaukeean alive, left town anonymously and unnoticed, trying to find a place in a “man-made” world.

March 3, 2011

Lost Milwaukee #5... Milwaukee's "Girl-Man" on Trial

            Less than 24 hours after police picked up Mr. Ralph Kerwineo as he smoked a cigarette on a downtown street corner, Milwaukee’s “Girl-Man” was front page news. Reporters flocked around the prisoner as he calmly laid on a hard wooden bench in the woman’s holding area at the central police station. Still dressed in his sharp suit and coat, the prisoner was hardly refusing to speak. “Why did I quit wearing skirts?” He asked aloud. “It’s a long story.”
The prisoner refused to divulge his given name, but admitted freely to being a physically normal woman who had, for the past ten years, fooled everyone into thinking she was a man. The prisoner’s responses to the gathered newspaper men reflect an unburdened soul. He was glib. A query about his desire to get out of jail caused him to retort, “Do I look like a rummy? Do I look like I want to spend the rest of my life in jail?” He was cocky, bragging that no one ever questioned her as a man. As for Mamie, the spurned mate of ten years that had turned him out? “I got tired of living with her,” he said dismissively.
            The former Mr. Kerwineo had been more accommodating with the cops. He’d told them anything. By Monday, the papers were running Ralph’s real name, Miss Cora Anderson of Indiana. Mamie had been profiled as well. She told the papers there was no ill intent behind her actions. She was just worried about Ralph, she said. Worried that he could no longer tell the difference between their charade and reality. Ralph didn’t buy it. He pointed out that Mamie had gone to his employer with the same news two months prior. Nothing came of it, making Mamie all the more angry. While disagreeing on the end of it all, both women were adamant that they had entered into the situation for “the fun of it.” They wouldn’t dare call it a love affair. The papers used the term “chums” to describe the pair.
On Monday, Ralph was arraigned. Still dressed in his “natty male attire,” hundreds of on-lookers watched Ralph walk from the police station to the court house. As they lined the sidewalks, Ralph walked in small steps, ill at ease with the attention. In the courtroom, however, he loosened, even joking with the officers. District Attorney Edward Yockey allowed for bail, on the condition that the accused resume ‘proper’ dress. The Judge agreed, partially on testimony from a detective who said he was convinced that there was nothing “morally perverted” about the masquerade. “They are writing the last chapter of the life of Ralph Kerwineo,” Ralph told reporters afterwards. “When I leave this courtroom, Kerwineo will be dead.”
            “And who will take his place?” A reporter asked.
            “Cora Anderson.”
            A collection was taken up in city hall and in short time they had raised the funds for a new dress and corset. Cora at first balked at the idea of the corset. “I should say not!” She told the nurse dressing her. “It has been ten years since I had one on.” In the end, she wore the corset. Underneath, however, she was still wearing Ralph’s clothes.

Cora spent three nights in jail before her boss at Cutler Hammer personally posted her bail, and even slipping Cora an extra ten dollars for her troubles. Meanwhile, Edward Yockey was trying to get Cora charged with perjury, claiming she’d violated the law when she signed her marriage certificate with Dorothy. He also demanded that Mamie and Dorothy be arrested on vagrancy charges. The attending detectives, however, refused to sign either of the orders. Cora, now free, was boasting that she had been a “popular fellow.” She seemed to be a popular lady as well.
            Upon securing her release, Cora went back to the downtown flat she had been sharing with Dorothy. Both women had stuck to somewhat dubious claim that Dorothy had no inkling that Ralph was actually Cora. Mamie, not speaking to Cora, but talking freely to the newspapers, insisted Dorothy knew. Dorothy had fallen for Cora in a “spirit of fun,” Mamie said, “Just as I had.”
            Dorothy was mostly staying quiet. “Lay off of that stuff, kid,” she snapped on intrusive reporters. “Nix on the third degree!” She said she would stay with Cora only until the case was settled. “As a man I loved her. But when she donned skirts, that love died.” Dorothy’s mother wanted badly for her to return home. She pleaded with her via the papers, saying that had already lost six children to early death and had another in the hospital. She couldn’t bear now to lose Dorothy as well.

On Thursday, May 7th, Cora’s trial began. The Sentinel described her that day as being dressed in a “gray slipon, a chic black hat partly covering a black wig which greatly improved her appearance as a woman.” Much laughter was reported during the short trial, the packed house giggling when a detective was asked if the suspect had behaved like a lady when arrested. More laughs followed Cora’s own attorney asking her was a man or a woman. “I am a woman,” she replied proudly.

            Ruling that she had meant no ill intent, the judge suspended her sentence and set Cora free. He did, however, make a point of saying that had this been the case of a man acting as a women, the crime would be far graver. Outside the courthouse, with Dorothy gazing on affectionately, Cora announced that she would dress only as a woman from that day forward. She said she would leave Milwaukee and her notoriety behind to pursue a career in nursing. She also took the moment to publicly deny all offers to appear on the vaudeville stage. Several offers had been made to her, some for good money, but Cora did not wish to become a curiosity.
As she walked away, a woman burst forth from the crowd and grabbed her hand. “God Bless you, my girl,” She said. “No one is happier for you than I that you fooled the men for ten years as you did.” Cora shook her hand and walked away.

Check back next week for the final entry in the Cora Anderson series… Whatever Happened to Cora Anderson?

February 23, 2011

Lost Milwaukee #4... The Curious Case of Mr. Kerwineo

On May 2nd 1914, a beautiful Saturday afternoon, two Milwaukee police detectives arrested a well-dressed man at the corner of Tenth Street and St. Paul Avenue (now an area below I43). The man, known to hundreds in the city as Mr. Ralph Kerwineo, was so calm during the arrest that he didn’t even bother to put out the cigarette he’d lit as the cops approached him. He was being hauled in on a complaint made by his wife, Mamie. She charged that her husband of ten years… was actually a woman.
Mr. Kerwineo, resident of Milwaukee for eight years.
Cora Anderson was born April 6th, 1876 to an African American father and a half-blood Cherokee mother. She grew up in Kendallville, Indiana, a town so small, she would later say, you could "walk ten minutes in any direction, and be five miles in the county.” Cora eventually found her way to Chicago, where she enrolled in a nurse’s college. Cora was an exceptionally bright girl, but the ways of the school administration disheartened her. “Two-thirds of the physicians I met,” she remembered, “made a nurse’s virtue the price of their influence in getting her steady work.”
Miss Mamie White, aka Mrs. Kerwineo.

In Chicago, Cora met Mamie White, a young girl from Menasha, Wisconsin. Cora and Mamie quickly became inseparable. While the exact nature of their relationship is anyone’s guess, they were soon living together, commiserating about their “women’s place” in the world. They schemed to do something about it.

A private hobby of Cora’s had been “masquerading,” dressing as a man. Mamie knew of this hobby and, so far is know, had no issues with it. One night, on a joke, they claimed, Mamie suggested that Cora go as a man full-time. With a man’s wages, they two could avoid the advances of doctors and make a living on their own. The joke quickly became anything but. The world in which they lived had little to offer unmarried women, even less for unmarried women of color. They went about purchasing a suit of clothing (a piece at a time, as not to arouse suspicion) and Cora gave herself a short-cropped haircut. Cora, adopting a South-American heritage, became Ralphero Kerwineo, and the two left Chicago in 1904 as man and wife.
Cora Anderson in female attire.

 They bounced around the middle-west for two years, trying to find men’s work for Ralph and women’s work for Mamie. Details of this period are scant, but it appears that Cora was spending her time learning how to become Ralph. She studied men, how they stood and spoke. She practiced rolling cigarettes and smoking them. Smoking constantly, she recalled, to perfect the manly aspects of it. She learned to swear and spit. She even began to shave and worked up the courage to visit local barber shops.

After a brief stay in Cleveland, the two made their way to Milwaukee in 1906. There, Ralph found work at the Plankinton House (609 E. Plankinton) as a bellboy. They rented a downtown flat on Seventh street and presented themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Kerwineo. Times were good and no one suspected a thing. Ralph became something of sport, a common sight at down taverns. He even developed the reputation as something of a flirt. He took a job at Gimbel’s as a clerk and later moved on to the Cutler Hammer Company, where he worked in the office. Mamie worked as a coat-check girl at a downtown movie theatre.

But the good times did not last. Ralph’s wandering eye had been a constant source of worry for Mamie. He would return late in the evening or sometimes not at all. Mamie began reading psychology books and was worried that Ralph might be suffering from delusions. After so long in drag, Ralph admitted that he “could not quit being a man.” Mamie was worried that he’d met someone else and would reveal his secret. Ralph had his own complaints, mostly involving Mamie’s housekeeping. “I often got up early in the morning and would wash the windows," he later griped, "and would then go and do a man’s work all day long.”

In the fall of 1913, Ralph left Mamie, getting as far as Chicago before a change of heart sent him home. By the next spring, Ralph had left again. This time, Mamie went to the police and filed a complaint accusing Ralph of abandoning her. An officer, completely unaware the couple were both unmarried women, ordered Ralph to appear before on charges of wife abandonment. In early April, 1914, they both appeared before an officer, Mamie accusing Ralph of neglect and Ralph refusing to return home. Mamie, he said, was bigger than him and had become physically abusive. The officer, perplexed and amused by the ordeal, tossed the charges and told them to work it out on their own.
Dororthy Kleinowski, the second Mrs. Kerwineo.

Ralph, however, had not just met someone else. He’d married someone else. He met Dorothy Kleinowski, a pretty blonde manicurist, at a dance and fell in love. Dorothy was twenty-one years old, one of ten children (six more siblings had died before adolescence) living with her mother in a tiny Oakland Ave cottage. On March 24th, the couple was legally wed by the Justice of the Peace. By the time Mamie had Ralph hauled in to answer for his neglect, he was already settled with Dorothy in a Cedar Street (now Kilbourn Ave) apartment. When Mamie found out about the marriage, she was stunned. “How could he marry another woman,” she would wonder, “Without divorcing me first?”

On May 2nd, she told the police his secret. That afternoon, he was arrested on the ambiguous charge of Disorderly Conduct. For the next week, the Milwaukee “Girl-Man” would be the city’s most famous resident.
Check back next week for part two: Milwaukee's Girl-Man on Trial.

February 15, 2011

Lost Milwaukee #3... Step Right Up!

Let's take a break from death and mayhem for a while... here are a few random adverts from Milwaukee days past.

The Journal was running this contest in 1911. Taken out of context, some of these lines are pretty sinister… “Keep your eye on the Journal… The Journal staff photographer is after you…” I wonder how they asked people to prove they were in a particular photograph. And they even tell you to call in. “Yeah, that’s me, page six, the guy in the hat. Now send me my dollar… and leave me alone!”

OK, first things first… look at this little sketch here. Note the man’s hands. They are already in position to catch his troublesome false teeth, even though they have only fallen a few inches. It would not be possible to react so quickly to suddenly dislodged teeth. Therefore, I can only conclude that this man is not suffering from faulty denture paste. No, he can only be spitting his teeth out on purpose. Probably to scare the grandkids. Anyway… Wernet’s Powder is actually still around, although the boxes don’t seem to mention laughing, singing, coughing, or sneezing.

The Girl Who Did Not Care! The only title card used during this film simply said “Meh…” Hahaha. But really, the original title to this 1916 film was The Sex Lure. It had to be renamed before most cities would allow it to play. The plot involved a rich industrialist who adopts a girl after her father, a worker in the rich man’s factory, is killed on the job. The girl grows up (for some reason) bitter towards the man and gets her revenge by seducing him and busting up his marriage. The message of the film is a clear warning… never, under any circumstance, adopt a girl whose father you’ve killed.

Are you poorly? I like picking up bits of antiquated speech like this. It’s like shopping for retro clothing, only free. The next time I call in sick to work, I’m going to describe my condition as “poorly.” Anyway, this little ad appeared in 1911. Milwaukeeans finally had a cure for clogged bowels and sluggish colons… HOSTETTER’S STOMACH BITTERS. Hostetter’s had been making this little remedy since 1853 and were a well-established national brand by the time this ad ran. Although it is doubtful this potion could actually cure any of the illnesses mentioned in the ad (Malaria… really?!?), it could help out a home bartender in a pinch. The stuff was 94 proof… enough to make you well again, if only for the evening.

February 13, 2011

Lost Milwaukee #2.5 ... Mapping the Jewel Heist

Revisiting our first episode, I went back and checked out a vintage Milwaukee Map on the UWM libraries site to try to get a better idea of where the dramatic jewel heist chase of 1926 actually took place.
Here is an outline of the initial police chase on a modern map. Again, I have used MS Paint to cosmetic it a bit…
1. The two robbers that escaped the gunfire of Detective Mauger jump into the waiting taxi and proceed westward

2. Turning from Wells onto 13th and blasting towards Grand Ave (now Wisconsin) at a high rate of speed, the taxi draws the attention of a motorcycle cop, who attempts to stop the vehicle for speeding.

3. After firing shots at the bike cop, a squad car joins the chase. More shots are fired as the cab nears the then-Muskego Ave bridge. The police hold their fire for fear of wounding passers-by.

4. The cab looses the cops after they are slowed by snow and slush. At the time, this was near the intersection of National and Greenbush. Today, Greenbush is known as S. 4th Street.

Checking the map, the apprehension of the men proves that they didn’t have much of a plan once they ditched the taxi cab. The Driver reported that they fled the car when KK met S. Bay (A). Two men where picked up at Stewart Street “Soft Drink Parlor” (B) and the other was found shortly thereafter (C), hiding in a burlap potato sack in the basement of an Allen Street (now E. Becher) home.

That must have been one hell of a big sack of potatoes…

February 9, 2011

Lost Milwaukee #2... Eight Days of Terror in 1935

For eight days in the fall of 1935, Milwaukee was gripped with panic. Five vicious dynamite blasts in five days had turned public buildings into armed camps. Newspaper accounts of the time say the city was nearly put under martial law. Then, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, the reign of terror ended in one final, deadly explosion.

It started on the night of October 27th. A dynamite bomb placed in a drainpipe underneath Shorewood’s Village Hall (3930 N. Murray) rocked the building, damaging the foundation and shattering nearby windows. The panic began less than 24 hours later when two braches of the First Wisconsin National Bank were bombed. The first was just past six o’clock, causing structural damage to the 3602 W. Villard location. The second was a half-hour later at Farwell and North (now a US Bank branch).
The police were now certain the crimes were connected with the recent theft of 150 lbs of TNT from a local CCC project site. The next two nights were quiet, but on Halloween evening the panic would reach a pinnacle as two police precincts were targeted. At 6:45 the fifth district station at N 3rd and Hadley was hit, a bomb blowing a hole in the wall and nearly injuring several officers. Fifteen minutes later, the third district station at 12th and Vine suffered minor damage from similar attack.

Armed guards now stood watch over Milwaukee Police stations as detectives worked feverishly to track the stolen dynamite. Hundreds of tips poured in. A southside poolhall was raided but none of the forty-five men brought in were able to provide any clues. Wild rumors flew that the bombers were driving a stolen police cruiser. All the while the city held its breath.

A warning letter from the bomber sent two days before his death

The campaign of terror came to an end in horrific fashion. The bombers, twenty-one-year-old Hugh “Idzy” Rutkowski and 16-year-old Paul “Shrimp” Chevanek were building a massive ‘super bomb’ in a sheet iron shed behind 2121 W Mitchell St. One of pair was attempting to set an alarm clock that had been rigged up as a timing device when it went off. The explosion ignited some of the stolen dynamite stashed in the shed, nearly one hundred pounds worth. The two bombers were killed instantly, reduced to bits of flesh and bone. A nine-year-girl in a neighboring house, Patricia Mylnarek, was also killed. 11 people, including several members of the Mylnarek family suffered serious injuries. The blast tore through the block, damaging 40 buildings and shattering windows for blocks in all directions.

Rutkowski’s motives were never fully explained. Described at the time as the leader of a small gang and a social misfit, he was a petty crook with a rap sheet ranging from car theft to “parking.” He was unable to find work and his family suspected he had lost his mind. Found after the blast were barely-literate letters from Rutkowski to the police, demanding cash to stop his spree. He mocked the cops in broken sentences like “Polis gard sity ha ha ha – poooey on g mans.” The letters led police to believe he had intended the bomb for downtown… possibly targeting a movie theatre.

Journal illustration of the damage

It was four days before the cops could positively identify Rutkowski as the bomber. They finally matched his fingerprints to those of a severed and charred hand found on a garage roof a block away from the blast. It was found the same day little Patricia was laid to rest. 2,400 people attended her funeral service at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church. Another 25,000 filed past her casket during a two-day wake.

Patricia Mylnarerk, 9-year-old vicitm

The mangled remains of the two bombers were also put on display. They were held at the county morgue and according the Journal, were “visited by thousands.” That Saturday, the two were buried in a single casket at Forest Home Cemetery.

February 1, 2011

Lost Milwaukee Episode 1 - Daylight Jewel Heist! Gun Battle with Cops!

Welcome to the first installment of Lost Milwaukee, a new feature of the Historic Milwaukee, Inc blog. Each week, we will be taking a look at an unusual or amazing news item from Milwaukee's past.

Today’s entry involves a daring daylight robbery, a high-speed gun battle, and a case of very swift justice. Our story begins on April 1st, 1926. Four Michigan ferryboat hands, absent of cash, have schemed to knock off a local pawn dealer. The target of the heist is the Milwaukee Loan Office, 406 West Wells (a location now underneath the Frontier Airlines Center). At 10 am, three armed men burst into the office, shoving the proprietor, Siman Rueben, to the floor and emptying his cash register and safe. The plan was for the three to pack the loot into suitcases and dash up the block to North 5th and Wells, where 42-year-old John Malloy, the architect of the crime, would be waiting in a running taxi cab.

However, unbeknownst to any of the participants, a police detective, Henry Mauger, was transacting some business next door to the pawn shop. In a case of outrageously bad fortune for the gang, Detective Mauger stepped out onto Wells Street just moments after the robbers fled the shop. Seeing the men running with heavy cases, and hearing the shouts of Mr. Rueben, Mauger quickly surmised what was happening and drew his pistol. Just as the men had rounded the corner, he opened fire. 38-year-old William Knight, the slowest of the gang, was hit twice, one shot blowing off the tip of his right ear and the other striking and crippling his leg.

Milwaukee Sentinel Illustrations

 The plan now in shambles, the remaining two jumped into the waiting taxi with $500 cash and over $15,000 worth of watches and jewels. With a pistol to his neck, the driver was ordered to “drive like hell.” He tore up Wells, executing such a violent turn onto 13th Street that a motorcycle cop gave chase. Unaware why the taxi was driving so recklessly, or who the passengers were, the officer attempted to force the car to the side of the road. Malloy fired several shots from the vehicle as it sped southward. At 13th and Clybourn, a squad car joined the chase, with Malloy peppering lead at his pursuers. As the bandits zipped across the Muskego Avenue Bridge (now the N Emmber Ln Bridge), the police remained close behind, but with the roads still slick and snowy from a recent storm, they were unable to keep up and by National Avenue, the gang was lost.

A city-wide hunt was stymied for 30 minutes until a frantic call from Harry Ulirch, the hostage taxi driver, told police that they men had fled his cab at Bay and KK. Starting from that point, police and detectives blanketed the area, quickly finding and arresting 32-year-old John Vitalis and 20-year-old Clarence Fitz, the two who had escaped from Detective Mauger less than an hour earlier. Bafflingly, the two were apprehended at a Stewart Street “soft drink parlor”, less than four blocks from where they had ditched the taxi. Malloy had been a bit craftier, but not much. He was found a short time later, hiding in a potato sack in the basement of an Allen Street (now Becher St) house, just as close to the spot where they’d left the cab as his two thirsty accomplices.
Surprisingly, the most shocking part of this story is not the two salts who decided to have a quick drink while they held fifteen grand in hot loot and every cop in town was giving chase. The real shock comes when the men were convicted and sentenced… the following day. Just twenty-four hours after the crime, arrest, and confession of the gang, a judge hit the three bagmen, Knight still in bandages and likely crippled for life, with 3-20 years each in state prison. Malloy, being the ringleader, was hit with 3-30 years. That afternoon, the men were shackled and loaded on a train bound for Waupun. 

This is a far longer post than we will usually be making, but this story proved just too interesting to skip. Especially fun was the Sentinel’s special artwork for the story. The Journal tried too, but they don’t really capture the moment as well…
 Of course, the Journal did add some ‘pain lines’ to the wounded man, so that’s something. But they seem to show Knight being shot from behind (which he was), whereas the Sentinel shows his falling backwards, arms akimbo...
In fact… with a little MS Paint treatment… now he's ready for Super Sunday...

"Touchdown Jordy Nelson!"
Sources: Milwaukee Journal, April 1 & 2, 1926; Milwaukee Sentinel, April 2, 1926.