Friday, December 7, 2012


For this week's story, we'll be staying in Section S of Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago.  Along the road stands an imposing monument:

Carved into the stone under a cross with palms and lilies is "In Memoriam - Dr. W.E.J. Michelet."  In front of the large monument is a flat stone set into the earth:

"Dr. William E. J. Michelet, April 19, 1922."  Although it is a large plot of at least ten graves, only Dr. Michelet lies there.  What can we find out about Dr. Michelet and why did he say "I have no personal enemies"? Let's take a look.
The first surprise to me is that the man with the French sounding surname was actually Norwegian.  Wilhelm (William) Emil Julian Michelet was born January 9, 1846 in Lillehammer, Norway to Jacob Post Michelet and Gregine Grythe Olsdatter Michelet.  Some accounts have him born in La Crosse, Wisconsin but the evidence seems to point instead to Norway.  William was the fourth of seven children born to Jacob and Gregine.  The family emigrated to Coon Prairie, Wisconsin in 1851. After his confirmation and a preparatory school attendance at Sparta, he studied at Northwestern University and Rush Medical College in Chicago.  He graduated from Rush and became a doctor of medicine in 1879.  By all accounts Dr. Michelet had a thriving practice.  His office was at 509 (now 1252) W. 12th Street in Chicago.
On a personal level, Dr. Michelet married Paulina Conts (Coats?) in 1883.  They had three daughters:  Edith W.E., born April 17, 1884; Lillian G.E., born in June of 1886, and Winifred P., born in June of 1889.  By the 1900 Census, Dr. Michelet and his wife were divorced, and all three of their daughters were living with him.  Their home was at 1016 Sheridan Road in Wilmette.  A newer house stands on that lot today.     
Dr. Michelet was a frequent contributor to medical journals: "The Medicus", "The Denver Medical Times", "The Toronto Medical and Surgical Record", "The Medical Bulletin", and  "The Medical Review". A quick Google search of "Dr. W.E.J. Michelet" brings up countless articles and letters of Dr. Michelet that are still consulted today, more than ninety years after his death.

The Chicago Daily Tribune of May 9, 1916 carried an interesting article about happenings at the office of Dr. Michelet:

Woman Caught Between Fires Is Dangerously Wounded and Man Is Shot.

Stray bullets, guided by the malaprop genie which officiates at most bandit battles, yesterday struck down a man and a woman on the shabby stairway which leads to Dr. W. E. J. Michelet's office  at 1252 West Twelfth Street.  Both were victims of two holdup men, who, after an unsuccessful attempt to rob Dr. Michelet, were covering their retreat with a brisk fire.

The injured are:

Mrs. Dora Krackow, mother of five and wife of Max Krackow, a merchant of 1500 West Twelfth Street, shot in the breast, condition serious.

Joseph Romanski, a barber, of 1302 West Nineteenth Street, shot between the shoulderblades, condition seriious.

Had Expected Holdup.

Dr. Michelet, who lives at 4143 Sheridan Road, and is reputed to be wealthy, complained last October of suspicious loiterers about his office entrance, and a policeman had been stationed there each afternoon from 5 to 7 o'clock to take care of any trouble.  The attack on Dr. Michelet's office occurred shortly before the time for the officer to take his post.

Romanski was sitting in the physician's office when Dr. Michelet opened the door to let a woman out.  From the glooom of the unlighted vestibule the two waiting bandits jumped forward and thrust their revolvers into the physician's face, ordering him to throw up his hands.  Instead of complying, Dr. Michelet slammed the door and ran back into his office to get his revolver.  He returned and opened fire, the roibbers retreating to the stairway, shooting back.  Several bullets struck the woodwork of the door, and one glanced, hitting Romanski, who had not moved from his chair.

Hit By First Shot.

Mrs. Krackow was coming up the stairs to visit a dentist in the same building when the holdup men brushed past her.  When Dr. Michelet held his fire for fear of hitting the woman, they opened up, and Mrs. Krackow fell at the first shot.

The robbers gained the street, separated, and made their escape through the fast gathering crowd.  Dr. Michelet gave up the pursuit after a short run, and with the aid of several men from the crowd carried Mrs. Krackow to his office.  He gave Romanski and Mrs. Krackow first aid treatment, while a call was being sent in to the Maxwell Street police station.

A patrol wagon full of policemen was sent to the scene and a search for the robbers was begun.

Mrs. Krackow was taken to the Michael Reese hospital.  She said the bullet which struck her was fired by one of the bandits.  Romanski was taken to the County Hospital.

That was not the end of the story - and Dr. Michalet felt it was time that his version of the story was heard:

Says He Had No Revolver In Office Battle and Did Not Know Men, As Charged.
Patient, Shot, Tells Story.

Joseph Romanski, a barber at 1802 W. Nineteenth Street, who was accidentally shot in a battle between three unidentified men and Dr. W.E.J. Michelet, at 1252 West Twelfth Street, injected mystery into the affair yesterday by a statement to Capt. Barney Baer of the Maxwell Street station that the physician knew at least two of his assailants.

Dr. Michelet, on the other hand, said he had never seen any of the three men before.  He insisted they were robbers.  He said he had no revolver.

Makes Statement to Police.

"The police arrived on the scene shortly after the shooting in the afternoon," said Capt. Baer, "But Dr. Michelet had disappeared and we could not get in touch with him until this morning.  In response to my request he came to Maxwell Street station and made a statement.  He did not say the men were robbers.  He did not seem to suspect they were.  he said two came into his inner office and pointed revolvers at him and choked and beat him.  he resisted, and they ran.  He pursued them into the street.

"A third man in the hallway dressed in gray shot behind the doctor.  Whether he fired at the physician or at the fugitives the doctor said he did not know.  Joseph Romanski was shot probably by one of the three strangers while sitting in the doctor's outer office.  Mrs. Dora Krackow was shot while descending the stairway.  Both, according to their physicians, will recover.

Here's Romanski's Story.

"I had my men interview Romanski.  he said he was in the outer office when two men entered.  He said they paced up and down the room and cursed the doctor for stringing them along.  He said Dr. Michelet knew both men, but was withholding their names.

"I do not believe the affair was an attempted holdup.  Dr. Michelet has figure in two other mysterious affairs of much the same kind in the last eighteen months.  He was assaulted on both occasions by men he said were robbers, but in each instance he succeeded in frightening them off.  Since the last assault in October, we have kept a policeman at his office from 5 to 7 p.m.

"Dr. Michelet has had his office in the ghetto for thirty-six years and has a large practice which has made him rich.  He lives in a fine residence at 4143 Sheridan Road."

Dr. Michelet's Story.

Dr. Michelet talked about the affair with apparent frankness.

"I cannot understand why Romanski should have said I knew two of the men.  "I never saw them before.  They did not curse me in the outer office.  One sat with a paper before his face as if to avoid observation. When I summoned them into my office they sat down.  Then, when I was off guard, one of them sprang for me and said something to me in an undertone which I did not understand and finished with 'or I will blow your brains out.'  I believed him to be a robber.  His companion drew a revolver and also pointed it at my head.  I struggled with them and shouted for help.  They ran when I pursued, but I had no revolver.

"No Personal Enemies."

"As I ran through the hall a third man in gray fired a shot.  I do not know whether he aimed at me.  I did not get a good look at him and when I returned from the street he was gone.

"I have no personal enemies.  I own the building in which my office is located.  I am known throughout the district.  I come and go without fear.  I have never sent a bill to any one I have treated.  I have thousands of dollars outstanding.  If people are too poor to pay I do not ask payment.  I have never 'strung along' any patient.  I have enough money to practice legitimately, and have never had any inclination to do otherwise.

"If I knew any of the three men I should turn them over to the police without hesitation.  There is no mystery to this affair.  There was never any mystery about the other two similar affairs.  They were all merely attempts to rob me.  I am known to have money.  That is the reason I have been selected so often as a possible victim by holdup men."

I wish I could tell you that there was more to the story, but there is not. Dr. Michelet's name does not show up in the press again until his obituary in the Chicago Daily Tribune on April 20, 1922:


DR. WILLIAM E.J. MICHELET of 4143 Sheridan Road, died yesterday noon after a short illness caused by streptococci infection of the throat. Dr. Michelet was born in La Crosse, Wis.  He was graduated from Rush Medical College in 1879 and engaged in the general practice of medicine in Chicago for more than forty years.  He is survived by three daughters, a sister, and a brother.

MICHELET - Dr. William E.J. Michelet, April 19, 1922, father of Mrs. Edith Michelet Potter, Lillian Michelet and Mrs. Winifred Michelet Hetzler.  Notice of funeral later.

For those of you who read Norwegian, here is Dr. Michelet's obituary from "Coon Prairie" by Hjalmar R. Holand (1927): 

So, that's the story of the man with the imposing monument.  What was the real reason for the robbery attempts?  Did Dr. Michelet know his attackers?  We may never know.  But the fact is that for over forty years Dr. W.E.J. Michelet traveled from his home in Wilmette to his office in the ethnic ghetto to care for the poor.  By his own account, he never refused treatment if the patient could not pay.  For that alone, he deserves to be remembered.

May he rest in peace.

No comments:

Post a Comment