Cora Stallman died on a farm, but she lived most of her life in the city.
Cora is a book I haven’t opened in years. She is a box with a dusty lid.
And yet, when I recently told a friend I was planning to write about Cora, she immediately answered: “Oh, I think about her a lot. I’m so glad she’s getting remembered.”
Cora stays with you.
For Cora, I pestered a medical examiner, and joined the historical society of a county I’ve never visited. I spent about two years of scattershot research on her. At the end of it, for a lot of reasons, I put her away. Maybe now it’s time to reopen the book, to blow off the dust.
Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 1-2, 1925. Humboldt, IL.
The story, as Thomas Seaman told it many times that bewildering summer day, to the sheriff, the coroner, the undertaker — it went like this:
This wasn’t his farm; it belonged to his wife, Anna. She was out of town and he was just staying here to help his sister-in-law, Cora Stallman.
On Friday night, Cora was in the farm’s cottage (or maybe the main house) and he slept on the cottage porch. He got up at 6 AM to milk the cow. He came back to the cottage and called for Cora but got no answer. Concerned, he searched the cottage, the main house, and the field. More concerned, he walked to the house of Anna’s hired hand, Boston “Bos” Lilley, and asked for help.
The two men spotted Cora at the bottom of a half-full cistern, next to the cottage. Using a wooden clothesline prop, they maneuvered her body out of the cistern and onto the grass. She was fully dressed, wet, and not responding. They tried to resuscitate her, but without luck. Water might have come out of her mouth. Bos went to call for help. Another hired hand, Ed Landreth, helped Thomas carry the dead woman into the farm’s main house.
By noon, the farm was buzzing with the sheriff, detectives, the coroner, the undertaker, farmhands, reporters, and others. All day long, cars on the farm road kicked dust into the August sunlight.