Untangling the events of Cora Stallman’s last day alive is no simple task.
The most obvious solution would be to get sheriff’s records or a transcript of the inquest testimony. Many years ago, I contacted the Coles County coroner’s office, hoping to do just that. The coroner himself was kind enough to search for me. Sadly, nearly all documents related to Cora’s case had disappeared in the intervening decades. “Sometimes the basement floods,” he said with some regret.
On the first day of Cora Stallman’s inquest, Edith Lilley was in the witness chair twice. Both times she had plenty to tell — and yet, she hardly figures in the resulting newspaper accounts. Her testimony was mentioned only at the ends of articles, when it was mentioned at all. Maybe this oversight was due to when she testified, halfway through the event, after people had been sitting in the stuffy town hall for hours. Or maybe it was simpler than that. A farm wife, despite knowing Cora as a person and friend, could not compete against the allure of learned experts — even ones who knew her only as a body. The newspapers wanted to hear from doctors and scientists, so that’s who they put on the front page.
This woman’s face drifted up to me this week. She came out of a pile of photos, a randomly selected card in a shuffled deck of memories. It has been some days, but I keep going back to her although — and maybe because — I have no idea who she is.
Some years back, I was doing a cemetery walk with friends. While trying to talk about styles of grave markers, I had a momentary brain freeze and sputtered: “One of those… Oh, you know! The sticky-up kind!”
It was not a great moment for me, although my friends thought it was hilarious. So to spare you a similar moment, I’ve put together a few examples.
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.
Drama teacher, world traveler, film actress, and single woman on the go.
This Unearthed post has been challenging and personal for me.
My blog avatar is a photo of my great-great aunt, Edith Mack. When I began this project, I wanted her to be the guiding spirit of my research. What I know of Edith is fantastic. I dearly want to do her justice and tell her story well.
However, what I DON’T know of her life is also extensive. Putting her life in my usual chronological format has been like trying to climb a ladder with missing rungs. The gaps from event to event are long.
But as she might say: The show must go on. Instead of a timeline, this one will be more like a scrapbook.
This is not the last time I will write about her. I’m not done with her yet.
By August 5, Cora Stallman had been dead for five days, but investigators seemed no closer to finding out how that had happened. The truth continued to evade them like a silver fish in a summer pond, always a second beyond their grasp.