Ruth Johnson and Graceland Cemetery

Ruth

Ruth Johnson

Part 4 can be read here if you missed it...

The only fault that could possibly be found with Ruth Johnson was her taste in men; she fell hopelessly in love with a psychopath. From all other accounts she was a wonderful, devoted wife and daughter that should have been the envy of her husband.

Ruth Anna Johnson was a late Christmas present to her family being born on December 27, 1898. Her mother Eugenia Johnson, and father Charles Johan Johnson were both Swedish immigrants and Ruth was their third child. Eldest was son Carl Eugene Johnson at age four while Edith Ranghild Johnson was two years old at the time of Ruth’s birth. The following Christmas was not as cheery as the previous year unfortunately. With Ruth almost to her one-year birthday, Edith passed away on Christmas day in 1899.

Charles worked as a tailor and Eugenia doted on her children. Strict but loving, she watched her kids closely. Carl Eugene was a bright student who kept largely to himself. Ruth was quiet as well and held her Lutheran church and faith most dear to her. The family grew up in the Lakeview neighborhood on Aldine street just east of Clark, a few blocks from where Weeghman Park (later changed to Cubs Park and still later to Wrigley Field) was built in 1914. During her young adolescence the family moved from Aldine street to 3725 Maple Square avenue (now Magnolia avenue).

Ruth's parents, Charles and Eugenia Johnson

Ruth's parents, Charles and Eugenia Johnson

Around the corner from the new house was Holy Trinity Lutheran church where when she turned 14, Ruth’s mother let her join the church choir. Singing was her one true joy and it was said that if Ruth wasn’t home or in school, she could be found at her church singing. The shy girl was able to have her voice heard in all its glory while remaining a face in the crowd.

Eugenia would send Ruth and Carl Eugene to the Wanderer family butcher shop where Ruth blushed as she stole sidelong glances at the butcher’s boy. She remained nothing more than a customer until years later when Carl Wanderer was on a furlough from the army to attend his mother's funeral.

After having drifted apart and then being reunited, the two became pen pals and stayed front and center in one another's lives. Ruth's devotion to Carl would be on display while he was enlisted in the army during World War I. Despite the fact that singing in the choir was her one true joy, she quit the choir to avoid being put in the situation where another gentleman might ask to escort her home after choir practice. This despite the fact that she lived less than two blocks away, all of a four-minute walk.

Carl and Ruth kept up their correspondence of love letters and soon the talk of a future together came about. Eugenia voiced opposition to the seriousness of the pair though as she viewed Ruth too young but a man being sent off to fight in a trench has a shorter view of things and Wanderer was adamant.

“If I can’t put a ring on your finger this Christmas I won’t come home at all anymore.”

Over the next holiday leave from training in Georgia; Carl proposed and Ruth happily accepted. For over a year and a half the newly engaged couple would be away from one another; Ruth normally sitting in her room knitting or at church with her family while Carl bounced from training camp to training camp in advance of being shipped overseas.

Letters from Ruth would talk of wedding dates and guest lists. She asked Carl if he thought he could make it home in time for a wedding date of June 17th. The day would be her parent’s 25th wedding anniversary and Ruth wanted to honor her parents by getting married on the same date. Carl felt the weight upon his shoulders of his upcoming matrimony; he didn’t like it.

Ruth could hardly wait for the wedding. Ruth was a compulsive list maker and she had already compiled lists of items they would need for their life together as well as lists of possible baby names for their children. She shared all of her lists with Carl who always feigned amusement. He did not want a big wedding nor did he want to plan ahead for their children just yet. He prodded her to bypass a big wedding; think of the money that would be saved, he told her.

The frugal woman gave in, and on Wednesday, October 1st, 1919, Carl and Ruth had a quiet ceremony at Messiah Lutheran at 3309 N. Seminary. Carl had attended the church before he met Ruth and though she would have preferred to have had the ceremony at her church she was happy to be getting married and if it made Carl happy, she would do whatever was asked of her. The newlyweds returned to the Johnson family apartment on Maple Square avenue to celebrate with their families and a few friends.

Married life fit Ruth perfectly and it wasn’t long, right before Christmas, Carl came home one night and Ruth pulled him close and smiled ear to ear, a smile that could only mean one thing; there would be another stocking to hang the next Christmas.

It was the beginning of June when Ruth’s mother had begun to be worried that the expectant father of her grandchild might not be as excited as her daughter was. Her son-in-law had become distant. He spoke to the family less and seemed morose. That was when he was home; Eugenia took note of Carl not coming home one night at all. The mother feigned not noticing and didn’t say anything to her daughter, not wanting to disturb her.

Then it happened again. Carl went out and didn’t return until the next day. This time, Eugenia couldn’t let it go.

“Why didn’t Carl come home?”

Her daughter brushed off her mother’s concerns with,

“Oh, he went to see a friend”

Her mother pestered her further, not believing the explanation.

“Let him have a good time. I don’t want to draw the rein too tight. He must have some fun.”

Eugenia, with a mother’s concern, felt something wasn’t right but she retreated to the shadows. Her daughter was happy and far be it from her to share her suspicions and ruin that happiness.

The day of the murder Carl Wanderer coolly sat for breakfast with his father-in-law Charlie, his mother-in-law Eugenia, his brother-in-law Carl Eugene and his pregnant wife Ruth. They all chatted gaily and he made a date with his wife to see a moving picture that night. Jack London’s novel The Sea Wolf had been made into a film and was playing at the nearby Pershing Theater. Showtime was at 8 o’clock.

After having finished breakfast Wanderer took his young bride aside and instructed her to go to Lakeview State Bank and withdraw $1,500, nearly all their savings, so that they could move it to a bank closer to their home. It was time to look for their own home he told his wife.

The newlyweds currently took up one bedroom of the two-bedroom apartment shared with her parents and brother Carl Eugene who had been relegated to the front sunroom. Ruth had been after Carl for some time to get a home of their own and with the baby approaching, she believed Carl was finally giving in to the idea.

After getting back from the bank, Ruth sat in the parlor of her parent’s apartment. She had recently purchased new yarn, in both pink and blue, and was knitting socks and booties for their expected child. Ruth was known as a good seamstress and knew she would have an outlet for whichever color turned out to be unneeded. Ruth hoped upon hope that would be unnecessary though and that she would not have to sell any superfluous garments; she wanted twins.

There was no plan to buy a house. There was no plan for a future together. Carl Wanderer was a psychopath and brutally took Ruth’s life. He left a woman who worshiped him to spend her last moments in what must have been heart wrenching fashion. While she lay dying herself, one of the poor woman's last thoughts was the realization that she had also lost her baby.

Pink and blue baby clothes sat in a crib nearby like the old, macabre yarn oft credited to Hemingway; the saddest short story ever written-

For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.

 

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Ruth Johnson's grave in Graceland Cemetery.

Ruth Johnson's grave in Graceland Cemetery.

Visiting Ruth's grave has led to Graceland Cemetery becoming one of my favorite spots to visit in Chicago. If you haven't visited it before, go. Grab a map at the entrance and tour around. Lorado Taft, brilliant sculptor of the Fountain of Time sculpture on the University of Chicago midway, has one of the most unique cemetery sculptures you'll find; the Eternal Silence watches over the grave of early Chicago settler Dexter Graves and is worth the visit on its own.

But there is so much more. Just driving or walking through Graceland you'll see the names of streets you travel all the time but never knew the backstory to; Kinzie, Kimball, Wacker, Altgeld, Medill, Hoyne to name a few.

Like architects? Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan, John Root, Mies van de Rohe, and Howard Van Doren Shaw are all buried here.

Titans of industry? George Pullman, Potter Palmer, Phillip Armour, Marshall Field all have tombs or mausoleums that need to be seen.

Sports? How about Jack Johnson and Ernie Banks?

Part park, part art gallery, part history museum, part religious site; Graceland is a bit of everything and something that all can like.

And if you go to Graceland Cemetery, I'd ask that you visit Ruth's grave to pay your respects. She sounds like she was an angel and I love the thought that we are keeping her memory alive.

 

Part 6 coming Friday, June 1- Earl Masters and the Creepy Clowns of the John Robinson Circus

 

This blog aims to fill in the gaps where there is unknown, correct fallacies where they have branched away from the truth, and most importantly, to entertain and enlighten. It has been sourced from research for my upcoming book Kisses for Julia, Bullets for Ruth: The Mystery of Carl Wanderer & the Ragged Stranger.

 

Lorado Taft's sculpture The Eternal Silence stands over the grave of early Chicago settler Dexter Graves.

Lorado Taft's work The Eternal Silence stands over the grave of early Chicago settler Dexter Graves.

Howard Van Doren Shaw's grave.

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  • Keep going....this is good

  • I am really grateful to the owner of this website who has shared
    this impressive post

  • Love your research. Great story.

  • MR. HENDRICKS:

    It’s with exhilaration, delight and depression that I congratulate you. I’ve been a Hecht & MacArthur buff for years. When I learned about The Ragged Stranger and the parts they played in the story, I had pipe dreams that it would make a swell yarn to see how Hecht & MacArthur got together in the first place.
    You sort of beat me to it. You’re a damn fine writer. I look forward to publication. It’s good.

  • In reply to Duffy:

    Thank you for your kind words. MacArthur & Hecht were quite a pair, I can imagine sitting in a smoke-filled room listening to them tell stories while swigging scotch would have been quite the experience. While my writing of the pair ceases with the end of the Ragged Stranger story, I'm sure there is more than enough material surrounding them to put together another tale. I recently touched on MacArthur in a little more depth in a recent blog post here and will be publishing blog posts this week and next that look at Hecht more closely. Thanks for following along.

  • Sorry about the opening typo.

  • In reply to Duffy:

    No worries, it's an unusual spelling that trips most people up. Thanks again for following along.

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