Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Lucinda Christian & "Professor" Isgrig's quackery

When Lucinda (Sprott) Christian died at 67 of breast cancer on Sept. 19, 1901, in Chariton, her obituary lamented that "her life has been one of patience in suffering." 

Born during 1834 in Pennsylvania, she had been brought to Van Buren County, Iowa, as a child by her parents and, during 1857, married Charles W. Christian at Keosauqua. They arrived in Lucas County just after the Civil War, in 1865, and his success as a grain and livestock dealer ensured that from a worldly goods standpoint, they lived comfortably. There were no children.

About her suffering we know less, but thanks to extensive newspaper reports during June of 1901 we do know that the Christians were victims of medical quackery that long ago summer as they hoped against hope that Lucinda's cancer might be cured. 

The Chariton Herald reported their encounter with "Professor" Isgrig, his brother, "Artie," and a woman who may have been the wife of one or the other, in its edition of June 13, 1901, under the headline, "Chariton Man Robbed."


A smooth confidence game was played on Mr. and Mrs. Charles Christian, a well-to-do and respectable old couple living in this city, last week, by a man posing as a faith curist, magnetic healer, and general friend of superstitious people with money, and Mr. Christian is short $114 as a result of the experience. The fakir gave his name as Isgrig, and on his printing he was known as "Professor." His brother and some woman were with him, and they stopped at the Gardner House during their stay. the "Professor" told people's fortunes, practiced his fake healing on all who would bite on is plan, and then suddenly, on Thursday night, folded his tent flaps and flapped away to pastures new, pretending that he was called to Fairfield by a woman who was lying very ill and wanted immediate magnetic attention.

The way the "Professor" beat Mr. and Mrs. Christian out of their money was very simple, and yet was carried out so skillfully as to prove beyond a doubt that Isgrig, or whatever his name is or ought to be, is a rascal of more than ordinary ability. He was called to treat Mrs. Christian for a cancer of the breast, and announced that his treatment would be a mixture of faith cure, magnetic cure, and gold cure. There was a subtle streak of humor in the "gold cure" proposition that did not develop until after the "Professor" had left town.

He made the usual passes over Mrs. Christian's ailment, and told her husband that it would be necessary to hang gold pieces soaked in vinegar about her neck if the best results were to be obtained. His specific prescription was to get six twenty-dollar gold pieces, soak three of them in vinegar and hang them in sacks over her chest, keeping the other three soaking in vinegar meanwhile, and changing the pieces every six hours. The treatment, he assured them, in connection with his famous faith treatment, would cause the cancer to vanish within a few days. Mr. Christian, hoping against hope that the fellow was right, procured the six gold pieces, and the "professor" hung three of them on Mrs. Christian's chest and put the other three to soak in vinegar. After six hours he changed them, and after six hours more he changed them again. On the next day he changed them again very carefully and thoroughly, and instructed Mr. Christian not to change them again for 48 hours.

That night Mr. Christian woke up in the middle to the night and got to thinking about the matter, and it struck him all of a sudden that that the fellow might be a fake. In spite of the "Professor's" instructions about leaving the coins alone, he went to his wife and examined the sacks on her chest, and found that they had indeed been changed, as instead of twenty-dollar gold pieces, there was nothing in them but silver dollars. Likewise, the three gold pieces in the cup of vinegar had changed to silver dollars.

Mr. Christian went to get an officer and have the "Professor" Arrested immediately, but when they hunted for him he had "flew the coop." He was gone to other fields, and had forgotten to leave the six gold pieces behind. So Mr. Christian is out just $114 in cash as a result of his experience with the magnetic man, but is in return effectually cured of ever dealing with such fakirs again. And it was the "gold cure" that did it, too.

Officers are now searching for the wily "Professor" and his companions. Isgrig is a tall lumbering sort of a man with blue eyes and a mustache, and usually wears a wide brimmed hat. He is a transient of the purest variety, and has made his living for years off of people who imagine there is something in fortune telling and faith cures. If he is caught he will undoubtedly go to the penitentiary.


Less than a week later, The Herald was able to report in its edition of June 20 that Lucas County's intrepid sheriff, Eli Manning, had apprehended the professor and his brother in Rock Island, Illinois, hurried them back across the state line to Davenport, Iowa, before formally making the arrests; then returned the suspects to the Lucas County jail in Chariton. The woman was allowed to go free.

It was carelessness on the part of "Professor" Isgrig that aided in his capture. While encamped at Chariton, he had commissioned handbills bearing his photographic likeness at The Herald office, then fled town without collecting them (or paying his bill). Sheriff Manning, upon learning that the suspects had changed cars at Fairfield before heading northeast to greener pastures, clipped his likenesses from the handbills and mailed them off to law enforcement agencies along the line. Isgrig was recognized by Rock Island police, investigating him for a spearate matter, and they alerted Manning.


The professor and his brother appeared in Chariton for a preliminary hearing on June 25, but much to the consternation of several parties, Charles and Lucinda Christian declined to prosecute.

The Patriot, in its edition of June 27, speculated as follows: "Why this was done we cannot say, but we presume it was for a money consideration on the part of Mr. Christian, he having in all probability received his money back together with enough to pay the costs which were considerable. It was a clear case, and a term in the penitentiary for these swindlers was about certain, so that the easiest way out of the scrape was to settle and skip, which they did."

"Professor" Isgrig made a final appearance in the Lucas County media two years later, in The Herald of  Jan. 15, 1903, where it was reported: "Professor Isgrig, the sharper who swindled Chas. Christian, of Chariton, out of $120 in gold, and was afterward captured by Sheriff Manning and then released by County Attorney Drake, has turned up again as a criminal in Waterloo. Isgrig went by the name of Dr. Lawrence, there, and induced a farmer to pay him $150, for which he would have a dream and get the farmer a wife. Since leaving here, Isgrig has served a term at Anamosa for stealing a cow from a Woodbury county farmer. He is a professional criminal, and should not have been allowed to escape punishment for his crime here."

No comments: