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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-02-22



When 'the love that dare not speak its name' did
by Jim Elledge

This article shared 2905 times since Wed Jan 19, 2011
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At noon on Wed., March 28, 1894, 30-year-old Guy T. Olmstead shot William L. Clifford in the back four times—once in his "loins" and three times in the back of his head—as Clifford walked north on Clark Street, approaching Madison Avenue in Chicago's Loop. When the shots rang out and Clifford fell, a lunch-hour crowd burst out of local restaurants and swarmed Olmstead, who made no effort to run away. They yelled, "'Lynch him!'" as Olmstead waved his pistol, swore, "'I'll never be taken alive!'" and yelled at the top of his voice, "'Don't take my gun; let me finish what I have to do.'" Olmstead and Clifford had been lovers, but Clifford rejected Olmstead a few months earlier. Depressed and angry at himself, Olmstead had sought help to cure himself of his same-sex attraction. It failed, and out despair, he shot Clifford and then would have turned his pistol on himself had he not been prevented by the appearance of Officer Fitzgerald, who arrested Olmstead, got him away from the vengeful crowd and into a paddy wagon that took him safely to jail.

The details of the 29-year-old Olmstead's life are sketchy. Born in Catlin, Ill., located on the east-central side of the state, near the Indiana border, Olmstead had been sexually abused by a man who boarded with the family when he was a child. By his 12th birthday, Olmstead exhibited "signs of sexual perversity," a term of the time that often indicated same-sex sexual activity. He moved to Connecticut, earned his living as a teacher and married a young woman who was the daughter of a rich farmer. However, shortly thereafter he "'fell in love'" with one of her cousins, a "very handsome young man." Olmstead and his wife separated, and he moved to Illinois.

From October 1886 to May 1889, Olmstead was incarcerated in the Kankakee Insane Asylum, just south of Chicago, because he had been diagnosed a paranoid. According medical records, Olmstead had a full head of sand-colored hair and deep-set, small, gray eyes. At five feet, eight inches tall, he weighted 159 pounds. He was so wrinkled that he looked "at least ten years older than his actual age." His nose, ears, hands and feet were large, his penis "abnormally small." Released, he went to Chicago, found work as a wagon driver for a bakery, and then, in October 1892, became a mail carrier. He met Clifford, another mailman, while on the job. At the time, Olmstead was boarding at 357 Ohio Street in what was then called Towertown, a lively Bohemian neighborhood that welcomed queer men and women. Clifford rented a place at 635 West Adams Street at the threshold of one of Chicago's most notorious vice districts, West Madison Street, where queer men cruised day and night for other men and boys.

Although their relationship began platonically enough, Olmstead had "developed a passion" for Clifford by June 1893, which Clifford reciprocated, and the two became lovers. Then, despite their apparently mutual passion, Clifford broke off the relationship after a few months and tried to convince his ex-lover "to undergo medical treatment, offering to pay the expenses himself." Unable to deal with the breakup, Olmstead began to stalk Clifford, making his ex-lover's life miserable. In November, Olmstead contacted Clifford's family and told them he and Clifford had been married. Clifford was "so frightened, hurt, and angry," Olmstead later recalled, that he wanted the two of them to kill themselves. Olmstead quickly agreed to the suicide pact, but Clifford "backed out in a day or two." During the last days of November or the first of December, tired of Olmstead's unwanted attentions, Clifford gave the Chicago postmaster a group of "passionate" letters that Olmstead had written him. The postmaster fired Olmstead on Dec. 5. Although Olmstead appealed his firing, his petition was bluntly denied. During the appeal process and on the advice of his friends who knew about his "passion" for Clifford," Olmstead checked himself into Chicago's Polyclinic Hospital ( Jan. 7, 1894 ) , where he had Dr. Belfield castrate him in the hope of curing himself of his same-sex attraction.

Both physicians and lay people widely accepted the belief that men who engaged in habitual masturbation and/or same-sex sexual pursuits could be cured of their activities through castration. At times, castration was forced on men or boys, especially those who had been institutionalized. At other times, men or boys who were tired of the shame they felt because they were attracted to men would check themselves into hospitals, as Olmstead did, for the sole purpose of being castrated and saved from their horrific futures. A few others castrated themselves.

Olmstead was discharged from Polyclinic on Feb. 5, 1894. However, as one might expect, he was not a picture of mental health. He now suffered from "hysterical melancholia" and checked himself into Chicago's Mercy Hospital. On Monday, March 19, 1894, Olmstead wrote to Dr. E.S. Talbot, a well-known authority on human sexuality:

[ I ] felt so miserable I concluded to enter a hospital again, and so came to Mercy, which is very good as hospitals go. But I might as well go to Hades as far as any hope of my getting well is concerned. I am utterly incorrigible, utterly incurable, and utterly impossible. At home I thought for a time that I was cured, but I was mistaken, and after seeing Clifford last Thursday I have grown worse than ever so far as my passion for him is concerned. Heaven only knows how hard I have tried to make a decent creature out of myself, but my vileness is uncontrollable, and I might as well give up and die.

Having undergone a horrific surgical procedure to become a "decent creature," Olmstead had to face the fact that the operation was unsuccessful, and he wondered if "the doctors knew that after emasculation it was possible for a man to have erections, commit masturbation, and have the same passion as before."

With his hope of transforming himself into a "decent creature" dashed, Olmstead internalized his homophobia:

"I am ashamed of myself; I hate myself; but I can't help it. I am without medicine, a big, fat, stupid creature, without health or strength, and I am disgusted with myself. I have no right to live, and I guess people have done right in abusing and condemning me. I know now that this disease was born in me, and will leave me only when my breath leaves me. And this is all the harder to bear when I think I might have been a gentleman but for this horror, which has made me attempt suicide, caused me to be incarcerated in an insane asylum three years, and resulted in my being locked up in a cell in an almshouse in Connecticut for three weeks. I have friends among nice people, play the piano, love music, books, and everything that is beautiful and elevating; yet they can't elevate me, because this load of inborn vileness drags me down and prevents my perfect enjoyment of anything. Doctors are the only ones who understand and know my helplessness before this monster. I think and work till my brain whirls, and I can scarce refrain from crying out my troubles."

Nine days later, Olmstead tried another procedure to rid himself of the "monster": He shot Clifford in the back, in broad daylight, in view of scores of witnesses. When the police searched Olmstead, they found a letter he'd written the day before headed "To Him Who Cares to Read," in which he briefly described his and Clifford's relationship: "Fearing that my motives in killing Clifford and myself may be misunderstood, I write this to explain the cause of this homicide and suicide. Last summer Clifford and I began a friendship which developed into love. ... Clifford's love has, alas! turned to deadly hatred. For some reason Clifford suddenly ended our relations and friendship."

In July 1894, Olmstead was tried, found guilty and sentenced to the asylum for the criminally insane in downstate Chester, Ill. In the meantime, he wrote a third letter to Talbot, discussing his body, his thoughts about Clifford, and the fact that he'd kept what he believed to be an "improvement in my condition"—the fact that his love for Clifford had waned, as had his "passion for other men"—a secret from everyone. Now, instead of feeling love or passion, he felt "sharp, shooting pains down the abdomen to the scrotum" that became "worse at the base of the penis." He kept his "improvement" a secret because he wanted others to believe he was still insane "to escape being sent to the penitentiary" and to ensure he'd be sent to an asylum instead. He didn't believe his actions warranted "such a dreadful punishment as being sent to a State prison." He ended his letter by asking Talbot if he really did "consider sexual perversion an insanity."

After being discharged from the Criminal Insane Asylum, Olmstead returned to Chicago, where he accused the city's postmaster, who had fired him years earlier for stalking Clifford, of being the leader of a conspiracy against him, and he demanded the postmaster return his testicles to him. He was quickly arrested and subsequently incarcerated at the Cook County Insane Hospital. Thereafter, he disappears from history.

While the Olmstead—Clifford case is interesting in itself, what may be even more fascinating is an editorial that was published in the Chicago Daily Tribune the day after Olmstead attempted to murder Clifford. In it, the author urges the Chicago court to take pains to ensure that Olmstead would receive a substantial defense so that he would be afforded the same amount of justice that was due any U.S. citizen: "It is evident that Olmstead has few friends and no money. He will probably be quickly tried and hanged, without benefit of clergy, unless the bench, acting together, shall intervene in his behalf at the earliest possible moment." In his plea, the author shows an amazing amount of empathy and even an understanding of queer life, observing that "Olmstead shot a man because he loved him." This may be the first time in U.S. history that "love" was associated with a same-sex relationship in a major publication with a mainstream readership. Typically, authors writing on the case used any number of euphemisms, such as "intimate friends," if they were trying to be objective, but "perversion" was also used to indicate a male-male relationship. But on March 29, 1894, one man believed that same-sex relationships could be based in something other than perversity or sin, and this love spoke its name in a Chicago newspaper.

Jim Elledge's most recent book is the three-volume set Queers In American Popular Culture ( Praeger, 2010 ) . His A History of My Tattoo, a book-length poem, won the Lambda Award in Poetry. Visit his blog about Chicago outsider artist Henry Darger, The Grandma Moses of Perversity.

This article originally appeared in The Gay & Lesbian Review. See .

Elledge "Chicago's 'Man-Girl' Trial"—Sources of Citations—

"disorderly house": "Trail Pal of 'Bandit Girl.'" Chicago Daily Tribune 21 June 1923: 1.

"May Belmont": "Trail Pal of 'Bandit Girl.'"

"at the Erie": "Trail Pal of 'Bandit Girl.'"

"'We went together:'" "Husband of Sex Hoaxer, Prey of Dope, Goes Mad." Chicago Daily Tribune 22 June 1923: 12.

"'Nanny White:'" "Unmask 'Girl Slayer' as Man." Chicago Herald-Examiner 26 June 1923: 1

"whom she thought:" "Husband of Sex Hoaxer, Prey of Dope, Goes Mad." 12.

"'Fred dressed like:'" "Husband of Sex Hoaxer, Prey of Dope, Goes Mad." 12.

"wealthy insurance man": "Husband of Sex Hoaxer, Prey of Dope, Goes Mad." 1.

"'I'll never forget:" "Trail Pal of 'Bandit Girl.'"

"an evil, leering:" "Unmask 'Girl Slayer' as Man."

"paroled flapper bandit": Chicago Daily Tribune 8 June 1923: 40.

"whose name police": "'Blue Eyes' Doff Rouge for Tests as Girl Slayer." Chicago Daily Tribune 16 June 1923: 7.

"hot tip:" "Trail Pal of 'Bandit Girl.'"

"kicking, screaming oaths:" "Hold Man as 'Girl Slayer.'" Chicago Daily Tribune, 20 June 1923: 1.

"'My God! That:'" "Unmask 'Girl Slayer' as Man." Chicago Herald-Examiner 26 June 1923: 1, 3.

"'pal:'" "Trail Pal of 'Bandit Girl.'"

"When I saw:" "Hold Man as 'Girl Slayer.'" 1.

"faint heart n'er:" "Hold Man as 'Girl Slayer.'" 12.

"smoothed 'her' henna:" "Hold Man as 'Girl Slayer.'" 1.

"tiny, anemic, wild:" "Husband of Sex Hoaxer, Prey of Dope, Goes Mad."

"It'll take me:" "Trail Pal of 'Bandit Girl.'"

"the creature with:" "Husband of Sex Hoaxer, Prey of Dope, Goes Mad." 12.

"psychic hermaphrodites:" Brill, A.A. "The Conception of Homosexuality." Journal of the American Medical Association, 2 August 1913: 336.

"Half in whimsy:" "Husband of Sex Hoaxer, Prey of Dope, Goes Mad."

"Freddy swished 'her:'" "Trail Pal of 'Bandit Girl.'"

"winked coquettishly:" "'Man-Girl' Is Bored as Death Trial Opens." Chicago Herald-Examiner 2 Oct. 1923: 6.

"man-girl:" "'Man-Girl' Faces Tesmer Murder Hearing Today." Chicago Daily Tribune 23 June 1923: 3.

"'cake eating type:'" Lesy, Michael. Murder City: The Bloody History of Chicago in the Twenties. New York: Norton, 2007. 164.

"'Mrs. Carrick' didn't:'" "Trail Pal of 'Bandit Girl.'"

"'already identified four:'" Lesy 158.

"the fact that:" Lesy 166.

"held that the fact:" "Thompson Is Recognized as Wife by Court." Chicago Herald-Examiner 3 Oct. 1923: 1.

"While Thompson leaped:" "'Man-Girl' Is Acquitted as Tesmer Testifies." Chicago Herald-Examiner 4 Oct. 1923: 1, [ ? ] .

"'Everybody's been swell:'" Lesy 167.

"wanted to live:" "'Man-Girl' Is Acquitted as Tesmer Testifies." 1.

"a huge salary:" "Police Prohibit Man-Girl Going on Stage Here." Chicago Daily Tribune 7 Oct. 1923. 3.

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