The Irvington Maiden

Last summer the assigned topic for the Noble Writers was “Noblesville, Indiana”.  A new literary journal, The Polk Street Review, was going to be published locally, and our group wanted to support that effort.  As a resident of another town, I didn’t know much about Noblesville, to be honest.  I offhandedly remarked to a friend: “I wonder if there is a nefarious character in Noblesville history that would make an interesting subject for a ballad.”  She told me about DC Stephenson.

Nefarious doesn’t begin to describe him!  But as I researched his corrupt political career, a more honorable subject came to light.  A young woman from Irvington, Madge Augustine Oberholtzer was an Indianapolis teacher of underprivileged children before she was brutally abused by “The Old Man” as DC like to be called.  She died of the wounds he inflicted, but not before she could make a legal deposition about that night in April of 1925.

No one asked Madge Augustine Oberholtzer if she would like to give her life in order to shatter the KKK and destroy the Indiana political machine.  She did not get to choose, but the impeccable character of her life enabled justice to triumph over corruption right here in the courtroom of this small Midwestern city.  Her ordinary life accomplished an extraordinary feat.

This ballad could be about the evil, corruption, deceit, and bigotry of one man and his empire, but really, it’s about an ordinary young woman who became a lynchpin upon whom the trajectory of our state pivoted.

Before reading this article you had probably never heard of Miss Oberholtzer.  My purpose in writing this ballad is to make Madge Augustine Oberholtzer more renowned than her despicable perpetrator.

The Irvington Maiden

For Madge Augustine Oberholtzer (1896-1925)

.

Across the dinner table her auburn hair aglow

.        softly in the gaslight;

Lowering her eyes she hoped her interest wouldn’t show

       in the fading twilight.

Her host spread the word and his homemade wine,

“By this time tomorrow that miss will be mine.”

.

A serpent clothed in sheepskin, he lured the single lamb

       out into the open.

He charmed her with slick words, Grand Dragon of the Klan;

.        her plans to meet him – broken,

But his henchmen escorted her into his domain.

Drunk against her will, they dragged her on his train.

.  

.        A butterfly caught in his web, no one heard her cry.

.        .        “I am the Law,” he roared, pompously craven;

       “My Hooded Order owns this State; courts turn a blind eye.”

.        .        “Please, let me go,” faintly implored

.        .        .        the Irvington Maiden.

.   

       To one so young we owe a great debt!

.        Her fate: uncover hate—

       In this state we will not forget

.        .        the Irvington Maiden.

.

The Pullman car sped north as he brutally raped

.        and chewed her like a savage.

A fatal dose of mercury—her only sure escape

.        from him and being ravaged.

His man drove her home to her childhood bed;

Four painful weeks later she was dead.

.  

.        Grief swallowed up by anger charged the County Seat

.        .        to lynch the lawless thug, shamelessly brazen.

.        Outraged decency and justice ripped away the sheet—

.        .        his Empire lay naked in the blood

.        .        .        of the Irvington Maiden.

       To one so young we owe a great debt!

       Her fate: uncover hate—

.        In this state we will not forget

.        .        the Irvington Maiden.

.        .        She achieved what had eluded many a man:

.        .        Her dying declaration broke the back of the Klan!

Cowardice in hoods no longer marching in the street—

.        an ordinary girl had slain the Dragon!

Triumph claimed its sacrifice; the vict’ry bittersweet

       for Madge Augustine Oberholtzer:

.        .        the Irvington Maiden.

.        To one so young we owe a great debt!

.        Her fate: uncover hate—

.        In this state we will not forget!

.        To one so young we owe a great debt!

       Her fate: uncover hate—

       In this state we will not forget

.        .        the Irvington Maiden.

.

(c)2011 Catherine Howie

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~ by cathyhowie on June 20, 2012.

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