The town hall at Humboldt is a one-story frame structure opposite the Odd Fellow Hall. It is about 40 x 50 feet and there was a crowd of upward of 150 people in it at the inquest. In addition to these, there were multitudes of the largest, “barb-wiredest” flies that have ever tormented a coroner and a lot of gentle listeners at an inquest. The windows of the town hall have wire screening in them, but instead of fly screen, it is two-inch mesh poultry netting attached to frames. Just what “make” of flies these “screens” were intended to keep out is not estimated, and many wondered why so many flies and of such scorpion propensities should levy on the audience.
The wind and the corn talk things over together.
And the rain and the corn and the sun and the corn
Talk things over together. — Carl Sandburg
Aug. 10-27, 1925. Coles County, IL.
Coles County had rolled into the deepest part of summer, with days of 90 degrees or more.
The heat had to be endured — there was just too much to do. There were church picnics and family reunions, orchestra dances and club outings. At the tiny town of Dorans, about a mile west of Anna Seaman’s farm, a nightly tent revival meeting ran for two weeks. “Our services are short during the summer weather,” advertised the First Christian Church.
The question of how Cora Stallman did, or did not, die had hung over the Lilleys’ farm for a week. It pulled Edith’s husband, Bos, out of bed early the Saturday before, and brought him hustling back home for the telephone. It barged into their conversations and upset their schedules. It kept both of them from sleeping.1 It was a heavy summer haze, hanging over everything. A body could hardly move under it all.
By the sixth day, the people of Coles County were tired. The suicide-or-murder question still hadn’t been answered. Cora Stallman’s curious death had made national papers, bringing 19 press agents to Mattoon. They chased the story, and the locals, like a honking flock of geese. For the journalists, too, their time in small-town Illinois was getting old. Telegrams in their pockets barked: Get a story or get home.
Fortunately for everyone, on Thursday, Coroner FS Schilling and the other investigators — State’s Attorney Charles Fletcher, Sheriff Tom McNutt, and Deputy Sheriff Frank Shirley — were ready to talk.
Just who is responsible for a “tip” to the metropolitan papers that a possible murder had been committed is a matter of conjecture. There were nineteen out-of-town reporters in this city on Saturday afternoon, it was reported by officials. All of these were from recent scenes of sensation and crime, equipped with cameras and prepared for a continued stay in investigating the Humbolt township tragedy to a finish. This city was their headquarters. Officials and citizens alike, town and country were the targets for questions and pictures, and details of which these people little dreamed were keenly illustrated in the work of the “newshounds.” Though the object of their search was not to be attained in the environs of this city on this occasion there was afforded a good closeup of metropolitan writers in action. A good idea was formed by many as to how sensational stories are written and the notes for them secured, a number of these questioned said today.
One of the city newswriters even went so far as to say that “he hoped this would hold on for another two or three days,” evidently intending to convey the impression that the assignments accorded them by their papers had proven a real “holiday.”