The Anderson Cemetery sits along East Tenth Street north and east of Irvington. Many older families in eastern Marion County are buried there. Some of the tombstones date back to the 1850s. One of those interred under an unassuming tombstone is Lucy L. McClain Hunter. (1840-1888). For the past couple of years, my friend and fellow local historian, Anne Hardwick, and I have been uploading information about the people buried here onto Find-a-Grave. Anne meticulously makes connections and builds family trees on the site. Researching nineteenth-century rural women can be challenging. So, when I encountered Lucy Hunter I assumed that there would be little information about her. I could not have been more wrong.
I first searched for her obituary in the Indianapolis newspapers. Few nineteenth-century women in rural Marion County received much notice in local papers but I always start there. As I suspected, I found very little other than a funeral notice so I assumed that I had reached a dead end. Something told me to dig deeper. Was Lucy guiding me from beyond the grave? Amazingly, I did find her but not in Indianapolis. She turned up in Washington D.C.
|Portrait of Lucy McClain Hunter (Courtesy of Google Books: John Collins McClain, Sidelines of a Business Man or the Meanderings of a Sigma Chi, Salt Lake City, 1913)|
The Hunters and the McClains
Irish immigrant, John Hunter, and his Pennsylvania-born wife, Mary Thompson Hunter farmed land on what would later become Irvington. Based on an 1855 map, it appears that the Hunters lived in a house along the Brookville Road near what is today Emerson Avenue. The northern part of the property was just beyond the Pennsylvania Railroad and would have later incorporated Butler University's Irvington campus.The Shimers and Sanduskys were their neighbors. Mr. Hunter served the country during the Mexican-American War. Upon his death in 1850, the Hunter land was divided between two of his sons, Thomas and William. An 1855 map notes that the "Heirs of John Hunter" possessed the land at that time. Only a mile away lived the McClains.
According to an autobiography by John Collins McClain, William and Mary McClain moved into Warren Township in 1854. Mary McClain's father, Josiah Bettle, operated a farm near what is today Kitley Avenue south of Washington Street and north of Brookville Road. After her father's death in 1863, Mary McClain inherited the Bettle farm. The McClains had several children. Anne Hardwick's thorough research indicates that most of the children attended Asbury College (later DePauw University). Two of their sons, like their father, became attorneys. Even one of their daughters, Lucetta, attended the school but did not live long enough to graduate. But what of Lucy McClain, the subject of our story?
|William A. McClain (1814-1881), the father of Lucy McClain Hunter, is buried in the Anderson Cemetery near Irvington. (photo courtesy of John Collins McClain)|
|An 1866 map of Marion County shows the farms of Thomas Hunter (far left) along Brookville Road and up into what would become Irvington and the McClain farm (right) just east of Irvington. (Library of Congress)|
Thomas Hunter and Lucy McClain Marry
We do not know if Lucy attended Asbury College. We do know that she married Thomas Hunter in 1860 at the age of 19 and that they settled on the Hunter farm just a mile or so away from the McClain farm along Brookville Road. An 1866 map of Warren Township shows that Thomas Hunter inherited 80 acres and that his half-brother farmed an adjacent 80 acres. Four years later Jacob Julian and Sylvester Johnson purchased the nearby Jacob Sandusky farm and founded Irvington. The Hunters would also sell their land to future Irvington developers. But something seems to have soured between Thomas and Lucy Hunter. What happened? We do not know.
Here is what we do know. By 1878, William and Mary McClain along with a son named Lorenzo "Dow" McClain, moved to Baltimore, Maryland. We also know that Lucy McClain Hunter went with them leaving her husband back in Indiana. In early 1878, Thomas Hunter tried to end his life in Richmond, Indiana. He was not successful and the local newspapers carried graphic descriptions of his suicide attempt. A few weeks later, he traveled to Jerseyville, Illinois on business as he was listed as a boot and saddle runner for a Boston company in the Indianapolis city directories. While in a hotel in that city, he killed himself. An Effingham, Illinois newspaper listed all of the letters in his possession at the time of his death including one to his wife, Mrs. L. Hunter in Baltimore, Maryland. Lucy's brother, Lorenzo made the sad trek to Illinois to retrieve Mr. Hunter's body for burial in the Anderson Cemetery north of Irvington.
|Thomas Hunter's simple tombstone in the Anderson Cemetery at 6501 East 10th Street.|
Lucy Hunter Opens Circulating Library in Baltimore
Lucy McClain Hunter began to rebuild her life in the east. She opened a circulating library on Charles Street in Baltimore in the late 1870s. Circulating libraries predate the public institutions that arrived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While some of these businesses catered to specific clientele, many provided the latest and most popular books of the time. One paid a monthly subscription and could "rent" a book or a periodical without having to buy it. These libraries specifically catered to the middle class and in particular to women. Often, the proprietors would also sell items that catered to female subscribers. Lucy Hunter sold stationery, album books, and greeting cards in her libraries.
She called her first library, the Baltimore Circulating Library and advertised profusely in the Baltimore newspapers. An ad in an 1881 edition of the Baltimore Sun on July 12, 1881, revealed that she offered "Delightful Summer Reading," complete with the latest novels, and "standard" literary magazines. Special summer rates were available. It is unclear where she obtained the money to start the venture, but she was highly successful. She did receive $1500 from a life-insurance policy from her deceased husband. It is possible that her parents might have also invested in the business, but we do not know. Two major events changed her life again. First, her father passed away in 1881. His body was transported back to the Anderson Cemetery. Secondly, a man named Enoch Pratt gave a million dollars to open Baltimore's first free-lending library in 1882. It looked like Lucy Hunter's era as a book lender was over. Why would residents of Baltimore lease books when they could obtain them for free?
But she wasn't finished and in fact, she would soon open a large lending library one block from the White House in Washington D.C.
|Ad for the Baltimore Circulating Library (Baltimore Herald, July 12, 1881)|
The Washington D.C. Circulating Library, 1882-1888
In the summer of 1882, E.S. Wescott placed an ad in the Washington Evening Star about a building "for rent" at 1749 Pennsylvania Avenue NW for $75 a month. The ad promoted "a handsome store room," "French plate glass windows," and several rooms upstairs. A later ad touted a view of inaugural parades from the upper windows. Lucy Hunter must have seen the ad and leased the property in either late 1882 or early 1883. By the summer of that year, she placed ads daily in the Washington Evening Star for her newly-opened circulating library.
Patrons of her shop had several options for payment. Subscribers could pay fifty cents a month or four dollars for the year. If a person wanted to check out two books at a time, then the rates went up to 75 cents a month or six dollars a year. Lucy offered over 3000 volumes. She eventually became so successful that she opened a branch at 1622 14th Street NW. Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jules Verne, Helen Hunt Jackson, and Mary Augusta Ward might have been some of the authors she carried. She likely partnered with publishing houses on obtaining the titles. Each January she sold off extra books.
So who patronized her libraries? It is tantalizing to imagine that because of her location so near the White House that some very powerful people might have subscribed. Senators? Wives of Senators? Representatives? Cabinet secretaries? First Ladies? We simply just do not know. She arrived at the end of the Chester Arthur administration and could have watched all of the festivities for the newly-elected Grover Cleveland administration from her shop in March of 1885. She soared with her new life in the nation's capital and then it all came crashing down.
Lucy Hunter's Conversion
Hundreds of miles away in Boston, Massachusetts Mary Baker Eddy chartered the very first Church of Christ of Science in 1879. Her theological tome outlining her philosophy had been growing in popularity. Could subscribers at the Washington Circulating Library lease this book from Lucy Hunter? In the spring of 1888, Lucy discovered that she had stomach cancer. An associate named "Miss Pollock" arrived to help to manage the library. She also introduced her to Christian Science. As her condition worsened, Miss Pollock contacted other nearby Christian Scientists to pray with Lucy. If newspaper accounts are to be believed, these new folks prevented Lucy's friends from seeing her. They even barred her mother, Mary McClain, from her bedroom because she tried to bring a doctor. Although there was little that could be done for patients with stomach cancer, there were some medical treatments that could have been administered to help with the pain; however, the Christian Scientists prevailed and Lucy Hunter died an "agonizing death."
The manner in which she died received national attention. Even a newspaper in Leavenworth, Kansas carried the story mainly because of the Christian Science "mania" taking root in the country. The Baltimore Herald editorialized,
She was attended to by two faith curists from Baltimore, who doubtless prayed very fervently for her recovery, but the patient died in spite of their prayers. How long will it be before the law steps in to take hold of people who thus trifle with human life?
Lucy Hunter Comes Home
Mary McClain held an auction of her daughter's massive library and other inventory on June 15, 1888. Nearly 2500 books and periodicals along with stationary, jewelry, and furniture went up for bid. In her will, besides naming her mother as her executor and chief beneficiary, she left her surviving brothers each 20 dollars. Her niece, Clara Mitchell, received her watch and cameos while Lizzie Barnes received her wardrobe and bible.
Her mother and likely her brother Lorenzo, brought Lucy Hunter's body back for burial in the Anderson Cemetery near where she had spent her youth and early marriage. A funeral was held in the home of her uncle and aunt, George and Frances Hill, who lived near downtown Indianapolis on East Street.
In the span of her forty-seven years of life, Lucy McClain Hunter, had gone from a farm girl to a proprietor of one of the largest circulating libraries in Washington D.C. Her trajectory was remarkable.
|Lucy McClain Hunter is buried next to her husband and near her parents and siblings in the Anderson Cemetery.|
Lucy McClain Hunter's siblings, many of whom are buried in the Anderson Cemetery, also had remarkable stories. For instance, one brother, Charles Sumner McClain, participated in the rescue of the crew of the Greely expedition in the Arctic. Lorenzo Dow McClain resided in several cities, including Washington D.C., where he assisted Civil War veterans and their families obtain pensions. Another brother, John Collins McClain, who graduated high school with future President William Howard Taft in Cincinnati, became involved in the mining industry in both Alaska and Utah. His autobiography or musings can be read in the link below.
Sources: McClain family information: John Collins McClain, Sidelines of a Business Man or the Meanders of a Sigma Chi, (Salt Lake City), 1913; Baltimore--City Directories and 1880 Federal Census; Washington D.C. Library--"For Rent," Ad, Evening Star, June 27, 1882, 2; Ad, Evening Star, November 3, 1883; January sales--Ad, Evening Star, January 17, 1885; Ad, Evening Star, June 25, 1885; "Specials" (Ad), Evening Star, March 17, 1886, 6; "Stationery," Evening Star, March 31, 1886, 5; Number of volumes--Ad, Evening Star, May 15, 1886, 7; "Books," (Ad), Evening Star, July 22, 1886, 4; Lucy Hunter's Will--Evening Star (District of Columbia), May 26, 1888,3; Auction of Library--Evening Star, November 24, 1888; Landlord and ad for 1749 Pennsylvania NW--Ad--Evening Star, December 18, 1888; For Rent--Ad, Evening Star, February 26, 1889, 2; Death notice--Indianapolis Journal, April 29, 1888; Articles about her death: Leavenworth Standard, May 7, 1888; Daily Times (Richmond, VA), May 8, 1888. Thomas Hunter's demise and death: Fort Wayne Daily Gazette, January 11, 1878; Indianapolis News, January 11, 1878; The Effingham Democrat, February 7, 1878. Life Insurance--Indianapolis News, June 27, 1878.
I would like to thank Anne Hardwick for her collaboration on this post. I would also like to thank Steve Barnett and Deedee Davis.