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Saint Mary’s library exhibits past mysteries

| Thursday, November 13, 2014

LibraryPhoto courtesy of Jill Hobgood
“Just when you thought we were a sleepy little college, think again,” says Jill Hobgood, marketing and outreach librarian at Saint Mary’s College.

Hobgood, along with circulation librarian Lisa Karle, reference librarian Ula Gaha and College archivist John Kovach, spearheaded the latest exhibition at the Cushwa-Leighton Library, “Saint Mary’s Case Files: Strange but True People and Events,” which will run through Dec. 10.

The exhibition displays original research by the investigative team with featured stories from the Saint Mary’s newspaper archives, Hobgood said. The exhibit follows an exhibition on Sr. Madeleva Wolff, the College’s third president, who was honored with a four-part lecture series, “Madeleva Mondays,” at the Library during the months of September and October in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Sr. Madeleva’s death.

In conjunction with the current exhibition, the library will also host “Library Mystery Night” on Dec. 5 with prizes and refreshments for student teams.

“Some people just associate mystery nights with someone dressing up and pretending to be murdered, but ours aren’t really like that,” Hobgood said. “It’s more putting together a story and solving  an overall question by finding clues all over the library. The library is closed, so we’re the only ones in here. If you’ve ever wanted to run and yell in the library, this is a good opportunity.

The current exhibition began as an idea by the librarians and Kovach after they discovered odd headlines in the newspaper archives, Kovach said.

“When you are hunting around and go to the sources where you think something will show up and you find out it doesn’t, the next thing you want to do is ask yourself, ‘Whats the real story here?” Kovach said.

The first story featured in the exhibit was found when Hobgood and Kovach were hunting for something completely different, but stumbled across an enticing headline in an 1892 newspaper, Hobgood said.

“In the newspaper, I found this article that this woman named Lillie Johnson was recently coming home from the school that she was attending, this so-called convent school in South Bend, Indiana,” Hobgood said. “I thought, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this school must be Saint Mary’s.

“So this turned out to be quite an infamous story. Lillie was coming home from college only after playing a major part in assisting a murderer, even though she wasn’t the murderer of the victim. She drove the getaway buggy.”

The second featured part of the exhibit displays the case of Aline Ellis, who was a graduate in 1899 and attended Saint Mary’s along with her younger sister.

“After graduating, in 1902, she married a Notre Dame professor, who was head of the English department for over fifteen years,” Hobgood said. “Within a month, he was poisoned after eating a bad can of ham, and Aline was rather spectacularly arrested in Philadelphia for being the perpetrator.

“There were headlines for weeks and weeks, wondering if she poisoned him, if he was dying, if she was running off with this other guy, if she pawned the family jewels. It was really sensational.”

Because Ellis’ story is so complex and yet to be solved, Hobgood said the Library staff chose her as a subject of the “Library Mystery Night.”

“We’ve done serial killers, thefts and more,” Hobgood said. “This one on Aline Ellis is really cool, since her story has so many twists and turns. Supposedly, when Aline went to the store and purchased this can of ham, she specifically said to the clerk, ‘I don’t suppose it’s poisoned, is it?’ There’s a lot to this story, and we’re excited to explore it with the students.”

Kovach said another interesting part of doing this sort of archival research and display is deciphering the truth of the content.

“In a lot of these eras, what you’ll find is that the newspaper articles are not exactly bylined,” Kovach said. “So you don’t know where any of these people are getting any of their information. It’s more about what is going to sell the newspaper back then.”

“One day, a newspaper will be saying something absolutely happened, and then another newspaper a few days later will say this report is completely untrue,” Hobgood said. “So you have to go and read a lot of it to get an idea of what really went on.”

Another feature of the exhibit is the mystery of the disappearance of two famous sculptures on campus of stone dogs, Hobgood said.

“The dog statues turn up in album after album of past students, and there are poems and stories in the College’s literary magazine ‘Chimes’ about them, and then one day, after a certain year in the 1900s, there is nothing,” Hobgood said.

Kovach said the disappearance of the statues is shocking, as the figures were features of many student scrapbooks that he has studied, including that of Mary McCandless, an alumna and namesake of one of the College’s dorms.

“So … these two dogs are here until the 1920s, and I can’t imagine if after that year, that the students who know of the dogs wouldn’t mention them being gone,” Kovach said. “They are a large size and are stone. A couple of students actually called the dogs the ‘end of the road’ or the ‘end of the line,’ as they were boundary dogs for the campus, in a way.”

Though Halloween may be over, Hobgood said the exhibit keeps up the spirit of mystery and hair-raising eeriness.

“Some of these things we found were just little bits and pieces, and we got to flesh them out into these big mystery stories,” Hobgood said. “This was the most fun exhibit ever.”

The exhibit is at Saint Mary’s Cushwa-Leighton Library in the front lobby now through Dec. 10. Students can sign up for the “Library Mystery Night” near the exhibit.

About Kelly Konya

Kelly Konya is an English major bred on Catcher in the Rye and Roman cornettos.

Contact Kelly