Much has been written about Dr. Herman Webster Mudgett and his murderous escapades in Chicago while using the alias Dr. H.H. Holmes. Thanks to Erik Larson’s best-selling book and many other books and shows, the murderous con-man will be forever linked to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
What many don’t know is that Holmes’ murders also have a link to our celebration of Flag Day on June 14th.
One of Holmes’ more probable victims was a young girl by the name of Emeline Cigrand. Emeline worked as a stenographer at the Keeley Institute in Dwight, Illinois which was a commercial medical facility for the treatment of alcoholism. It was founded in 1879 by Dr. Leslie Enraught Keeley and Ms. Cigrand was his stenographer. As fate would have it, Holmes’ business partner and future victim, Benjamin Pitezel was a patient there.
After Pitezel was discharged, Ms. Cigrand was made a very lucrative offer of $18 per week to come work for Holmes as a secretary for his A.B. C. Copier Company. She accepted, worked for Holmes for a period of time, and then suddenly disappeared. Her family was surprised by announcements that she was going to marry a man named Robert Phelps in Michigan. Phelps was never found but was physically described as looking suspiciously like Pitezel.
One individual very interested and skeptical about Emeline’s “wedding” was her cousin Dr. Bernard J. Cigrand. At the time of Emeline’s disappearance and very probable murder, Dr. Cigrand was a practicing dentist on Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago. He, as well as her parents, believed that Holmes had murdered her although a body was never found.
Before Dr. Cigrand became a dentist, he was a school teacher at Stony Hill School in Waubeka, Wisconsin. On June 14, 1885, he celebrated the first recognized observance of “Flag Day” by placing a small flag in an inkwell and asking students to celebrate June 14th as the flag’s birthday. From that point on, he fought for the recognition of Flag Day at the local, state and national level and became president of the American Flag Day Association and the National Flag Day Society. He claimed to have given over 2,000 speeches on patriotism and the flag and was a regular contributor to five Chicago newspapers including the Chicago Tribune.
In 1916, Dr. Cigrand saw his dream realized when President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed June 14th as “Flag Day”. Congress later signed the June 14th recognition into law in 1949.
The Cigrand family was never given closure by Holmes even after he was awaiting his execution for the murder of Benjamin Pitezel. They pleaded with him to disclose what happened to Emeline via mail to his jail cell and their pleadings fell on deaf ears.
Holmes was executed by hanging on May 7, 1896, at Moyamensing Prison in Philadephia and buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in an unmarked grave. Dr. Cigrand passed away on May 16th (strangely Holmes’ birthday) in 1932 and is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Montgomery, Illinois.
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