Mischievousness Is Timeless

I often see stories in the old newspapers that remind me of something I learned a long time ago in my history classes — although circumstances are always changing, human nature never does.

In other words, people in the past could be just as mischievous as anybody in 2023.

I offer Exhibit A:

The August 29, 1879 Noblesville Ledger has a tale about a prank gone wrong, circa 1827, written by lawyer and local historian Augustus Finch Shirts.

According to Shirts, the first shipment of goods to a store in the new town of Noblesville included some “false-faces, lighted from the inside after night by phosphorous.” This new merchandise inspired “a gentleman connected with the store” to play a practical joke on the Shirts family’s hired girl.

One evening after darkness had fallen, the “gentleman” slipped on a lit mask, sneaked up on the Shirts house and stuck his head in the doorway, expecting to hear a shriek of terror.

Instead, the girl whacked him over the head with a wet broom she’d been using to scrub the floor. She smacked him so hard, she broke his false face into pieces and sent him reeling.

I doubt he ever tried that again.

(I have no idea why a store back then would be selling glow-in-the-dark false faces.)

Exhibit B . . .

A real stinker of a story appears in the March 13, 1940 Noblesville Daily Ledger.

In the mid-1890s the Bartholomew family of Carmel lived near a trapper who sometimes purchased raw fur which would perfume the entire neighborhood with a strong skunk odor.

The three Bartholomew sons griped about the smell so much that a neighborhood prankster decided to really give them something to complain about.

Getting his hands on a freshly skinned skunk carcass, he placed it near the Bartholomew’s mare and punctured skunk’s “gas tank” with a long pole.

The newspaper is torn here, but it appears he then buried the skunk’s remains and beat a hasty retreat.

Convinced a live skunk had gotten loose in their barn, the Bartholomews searched everywhere for it. Of course, there was no skunk to be found.

“What these boys said in their delimma [sic] was almost unprintable.”

The poor horse got the worst of it, though. A local minister borrowed her a week later and upon his return, he reported that not only did the mare still reek, the smell had become even worse each time he slapped her with the reins.

Finally, Exhibit C . . .

The November 15, 1918, Noblesville Daily Ledger contains an account of the wedding of Reverend Fred Wolff, the pastor of Arcadia’s Christian Church. The paper noted that Reverend Wolff, a well-known practical joker, had finally gotten a taste of his own medicine.

That evening, following the wedding, the newlyweds’ friends stuffed the reverend into a coffin acquired from a local undertaker and fastened the lid. (One corner was left up so their victim could breathe.)

Coffin and bride were then placed on a train headed to Noblesville.

In the meantime, their friends drove down to meet the train. When it arrived, they loaded the coffin onto their truck and rode through town, ringing a church bell like a fire alarm as they went.

The noise caught the attention of the sheriff and chief of police who stopped them.

At this point the pastor was freed, but was led off, handcuffed, to the sheriff’s residence where he was forced to deliver a short speech to a crowd of onlookers while his bride was presented with a huge artificial bouquet.

Only then were they allowed to return to Arcadia.

Notable Nineties Update: Mary Waltz added herself and three of her Jackson Central classmates— Peggy Yancey, Carol Rushton and Marianna Mounsey — to the list. Congratulations!

– Paula Dunn’s From Time to Thyme column appears on Wednesdays in The Times. Contact her at [email protected]