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.
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.
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.
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.