Month: May 2019

The Murder of Doctor Bull

bull lorraine
Lorraine Bull (Mix)

When Dr. George W. Bull, a wealthy New York widower, wanted to remarry in 1885, his adult children feared that he would “deed or try to give away his property,” so they attempted to have him committed to an insane asylum. He and his new wife decided that they’d rather live in Philadelphia.

They apparently were content enough for the next thirteen years, spending most of that time at 825 South 48th Street, within the boundaries of St. Francis de Sales Parish. Bull, retired, was a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (an Irish Catholic fraternal organization), and may have been an amateur painter with a penchant for religious themes. Sadly, he was also said to be an alcoholic, which is supposed to have killed him at age 64, though the death certificate read “aortic stenosis” (heart disease).

bulletin 1908During his final moments, around 1:00 AM on June 14, 1898,  his wife, Lorraine sent messengers to fetch the family doctor and “Father O’Neill, the pastor of St. Francis Catholic Church…of which Dr. Bull and his wife were members...” SFDS first Pastor, Reverend Joseph O’Neill, arrived just “in time to minister the last rites of extreme unction,” but the doctor, returning  from a Knights of Columbus meeting, was minutes late. Bull was buried from our parish (the building that today contains the school auditorium, which was then the chapel; the church was not yet built).

Soon afterwards, Bull’s son-in-law started a rumor that Lorraine poisoned her husband. He provided juicy speculative details to Thomas Wanamaker’s North American newspaper, which relentlessly pursued Lorraine in a series of sensational stories.

When the case came to trial, Lorraine was defended by Anthony A. Hirst, Esq. (the same lawyer who arranged the archdiocesan purchase of land to build St.Francis de Sales church).

The prosecution produced a pharmacist’s assistant from Osterland’s Drug Store, 46th and Baltimore (a used-furniture store today), who identified Lorraine as the customer who purchased mercury insecticide and “nervously” signed the name “Lillie Stokes” in the poison register. Lorraine swore that she had never been to Osterland’s. The neighbor next door at 823 South 48th — the other half of the twin — counter-testified that “Lillie Stokes” was the name of the black servant girl she had sent to that drug store to purchase insecticide on the 14th, and the register showed that the purchase was made at 5:00 PM – long after Bull had died. Under cross examination, the pharmacist’s assistant admitted that Bull’s son-in-law had come to the store and pointed out the entry in the register as “suspicious.” The servant girl could not be located.

The judge ordered Dr. Bull’s body to be exhumed from Holy Cross Cemetery, and when no poison was found, Lorraine Mix (she had, by this time, remarried) was declared innocent.

Lorraine sued Thomas Wanamaker and the North American Newspaper for libel and slander in 1904, and was awarded a fortune in damages, but this was not reported by local press. The powerful Wanamaker (son of the retail giant) then had the judgment against him quietly overturned as a mistrial – in a bold filing, modestly tucked into an obscure court record.

Meanwhile, Lorraine’s stepson-in-law worked on trying to have Bull’s will declared invalid.

Careful hints left by reporters that everyone acting in Lorraine’s defense was Catholic, intriguingly suggest a possible undercurrent of anticatholicism in the saga – which would have been consistent to the period.

Our Lady of the Bell: 1949

 

Our Lady of the Bell

Lovely Lady, we have come
To honor you today
Again as in our childhood days
We crown you “Queen of May”

 Our crown is not a garland gay
Of gold or jewels so rare
It’s little acts of kindness
And a little silent prayer

‘Tis by our hands this world is linked
‘Cross country, coast to coast,
It’s we who hear the great success
Of which our statesmen boast

 We place the call ‘cross land or sea
To England France or Rome
We hear the weary traveler say,
“Connect me with my home,”

We ring the bells of industry
That all the world might know
Peace has been restored again
And onward we must go.

We make the mighty railroads move
And planes soar overhead
The ships at sea can safely Pass
Because we called ahead

O Mother! Please be always near
And guide us day by day
Our task is not an easy one
So teach us what to say

 Let us never wander far
Nor in the darkness dwell
Keep us ever close to thee
“OUR LADY OF THE BELL”

In the early days of “land line” telephones, the many regional phone companies were grouped together as the Bell conglomerate, nicknamed “Ma Bell.” In those long-ago days of phones with handsets and cords and round number dials, long-distance callers had to be connected by an “operator” – an actual human “Telephone Girl” — sitting at a switchboard at the telephone company, expertly plugging and unplugging wires all day long.

This poem, which appeared in the 1949 Saint Francis de Sales Parish Monthly Bulletin (slightly abridged here), was written by Marguerite K. Eisenhart for “the Communion Breakfast of 1800 Bell Telephone girls in Philadelphia on May 15, 1949.” Many activities, from sports leagues, to glee clubs, to religious gatherings, were available to the Bell “Telephone Girls” and similar but separate organizations for male employees.

The poem captures a time and a place – when young women proudly entered the workforce to provide vital skills with important communications technology. Change was coming, though: just two years later, in 1951, the first direct long-distance dialing was introduced, allowing customers to dial their own long-distance calls without help from a “Telephone Girl.”

phone Northern_Electric_Model-500_1954