"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

This tale of Windy City Witchcraft appeared in the "Chicago Tribune" for February 24, 1919:
Witches, brooms, incense, burnt salt, a lamb's heart with new pins stuck in it and burnt, rusty nails, plots, threats, a will, a priest, a dead man, a dead woman, and three live women. These are all mixed up in a strange story that a reporter for the Tribune tried to unravel yesterday.

Today, William L. Sehlke, 5033 South Loomis street, a masseur, says he will go to the Stockyards police court and ask for warrants for Mrs. Mary Vogel, 50 years old, a nurse living near Fifty-second street and Princeton avenue, who he says practiced witchcraft, and Miss Augusta Wilke, 21 years old, 5022 South Loomis street, an assistant forewoman in the plant of Armour &  Co., and his sister-in-law, whom he and his wife term an understudy for Mrs. Vogel.

Sehlke says he wants to have them put under peace bonds, as he fears they may harm him and his family. A lot of talk has started through the neighborhood following the death on Feb. 2 of Mrs. Mary Sleeth, 22 years old, 5009 Bishop street, wife of Victor Sleeth, an assistant superintendent for Armour &Co.

Mrs. Sleeth died of consumption and was a sister of Mrs. Martha Sehlke, wife of Sehlke, and Augusta Wilke. According to Sehlke and his wife, Mrs. Vogel was called to attend Mrs. Sleeth by Miss Wilke, and while Mrs. Vogel was ostensibly nursing the sick woman for a month she was "practicing witchery" over her.

She was ordered out of the house by the Rev. Father Phillips of the Franciscan Fathers of St. Augustine's church, Fifty-first and Laflin streets.

"Yes, I went over to the Sleeth home and found Mrs. Vogel there,"said Father Phillips yesterday. "She was burning salt in the oven and had some incense burning in the rooms. She was making motions with her hands, and I told her to get out, and she did."

Sehlke and his wife told the reporter an amazing story.

"My sister, Augusta, who is a forewoman over Mrs. Vogel, called Mrs. Vogel to attend my sister," Mrs. Sehlke said. "Mary would tell me of all the doings when the two were not around. She said Mrs. Vogel claimed I was a witch and was poisoning Mary for the benefit of two other women, Mrs. George F. Hellman, 3531 West Sixty-fifth place, and Mrs. Marian Sleeth, a widow and sister-in-law of Sleeth. Mrs. Hellman and Mrs. Sleeth were also supposed to be witches.

"Mrs. Vogel was burning salt and incense. She got a lamb's heart and put some new pins in it and burned it. This was to find out which of us 'witches' would be around that day and to cast a spell over the one that would come. On Jan. 23 I went over to the home of Mrs. Sleeth and found I had been locked out.

"They got my sister to make some kind of a will leaving about $1,200 insurance to her parents, two sisters, and her daughter Esther, 7 months old.

"Two weeks ago my brother-in-law, William Wilke, 2507 West Forty-seventh street, was sent over here by them," said Sehlke. "He died last Wednesday.

"I think that woman has slandered us enough, and I am afraid she and Augusta will come over here and start something. I am going to get out warrants for them."

Nobody would answer the bell at the Wilke home last night. Efforts to locate Mrs. Vogel were made in vain.

I haven't been able to find any more about this diabolical feud, which is a great pity.  It sounds like this crowd could've supplied me with years' worth of blog material.


  1. That's unique in my knowledge that belief in witches would flourish so strongly in such an urban setting so late in history.

    1. In the 1930s, there was a woman in Milwaukee named Anna Jurich who was a well-known "hex woman." She provided various spells, magical cures, etc., mostly to the local Yugoslav community. The state Board of Health finally went after her, but I don't recall how it was resolved. I've come across other similar 20th century cases. Witchcraft has a very persistent afterlife, even in modern urban areas. (Heck, there's a professional fortune-teller living just around the corner from my house!)

    2. Interesting. I wonder if, in the alienation people feel these days and in the scramble to believe in anything as long as it provides easy means of achieving goals, witchcraft is making a comeback now.

    3. I'm not sure it ever went away...

  2. "Mrs. Sleeth died of consumption"

    Well in that case it was a vampire that was involved, not a witch. Coming from New England i knows my vampires.

  3. "Mrs. Sleeth died of consumption"

    Well as a New Englander I can say if consumption was the cause then a vampire did it, not a witch.


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