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Still no answers to Elcho's 'man of mystery'
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This is a tale of mystery, intrigue and ultimately, madness. And it all happened just over a century ago, right here.

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Back in 1988, the Antigo Daily Journal wrote about William Sallman, Elcho's “man of mystery.” Mr. Sallman died in 1913 in a state insane asylum after attempting suicide on the grounds of the Langlade County Courthouse. The story was front page news at the time and sparked curiosity that remained when the 1988 recap was written.

But that was pre-crew daysand more importantlyprior to the Internet age, where today everything from a recipe for Rice Crispy Bars to ship manifests from the Andrea Doria is just a click away.

The crew stumbled upon that article a few days back and decided it was time to delve into the Web and fill in some blanks.

-----

But first, gentle reader, the crew needs to give a shout out to those who helped take a bit of the mysterynot all by any meansout of Mr. Sallman's life. They include the kind folks at the Langlade County Clerk of Court and the Register of Deeds offices and especially Leland Fischer, Antigo's “Genealogy Gopher,” who operates a remarkable website and maintains a distinctly curious mind.

There are puppies in Heaven for people like them.

-----

The headline, on that Aug. 13, 1913 day, was blaring.

“MAN OF MYSTERY” OF ELCHO DIES AT INSANE ASYLUM”

The article went on to state that Mr. Sallman died at a Winnebago hospital where he had been committed in June after a suicide attempt.

“Came many years ago from Germany but no clue to identity ever discovered,” the subhead read.

Newspaper articles, the first written on June 24, 1913 after Mr. Sallman's attempted suicide, and the second after his death, tell a story of two German brothers, perhaps of noble birth, who came to Wisconsin in search of adventure or perhaps fleeing an Old Country past.

What they found instead was insanity.

-----

But first there were years of prosperity.

According to U.S. Census records available, of course, on the Internet, William Sallman was born in October of either 1855 or 1858 and came to the United States as a young man in 1876, likely following his older brother, Otto, who immigrated here in 1875.

They settled, according to records in the Register of Deeds office, along the southwest side of Enterprise Lake, then as now an idyllic and beautiful location that later was swallowed up by the Kraftwood Gardens complex.

The men brought with them a large amount of valuable jewelry, which they claimed were family heirlooms, “but which they disposed of from time to time as the opportunity offered,” the newspaper reported.

“Stories of the two being noblemen from Germany were circulated for many years,” the Aug. 13 article read. “Some foundation for these rumors is found in the fact that both were extremely well educated and often spoke of Heidelberg University....”

In addition, for many years the pair received letters from Germany bearing some type of coat of arms, another indication of royal heritage.

The men may have been mysterious but they were not reclusive. William was constable of the Elcho township from 1893 to 1894 and a supervisor from 1895 to 1896. Otto was a supervisor in Elcho from 1899 to 1900 and constable from 1904 to 1905.

-----

For reasons still unclear, it all came crashing down.

Otto is listed in the 1900 census as being a widowed farmer, and he is not in the 1910 census. Newspaper reports indicated he committed suicide sometime during that period.

William is listed in the 1900 census as a single farmer, but by 1910 his occupation was a railroad laborer.

Apparently in that time period, he received a severe head injury that, while not fatal, was certainly mortal, leading to his death years later.

The newspaper reported that he took laudanum “in large quantities,” to deaden the pain, which must have crushed his spirit and mind as well as his body.

“His life was destitute of anything to interest him and lonesomeness and despair caused him to succumb to long sieges of melancholia,” the Journal reported.

His brother dead, Mr. Sallman lived in complete isolation at his Enterprise Lake homestead.

“He neither courted friendship nor accepted it when offered,” the Aug. 13 newspaper article said. “He was always quiet and morose, a great reader of good literature and well-informed upon science, political economy and an adept linguist.”

Mr. Sallman was arrested in October, 1904 for shooting a man in a quarrel. A jury disagreed on his guilt and insanity defense and he was freed, but he soon sold the farm “not desiring to remain in the country where his reputation was known to all,” according to the newspaper.

He journeyed to Oklahoma, where accounts indicate he lost whatever money he had, before returning to Elcho, like a moth to the flame.

-----

Which brings us to June 24, 1913,

“TIRED OF LIFE: TRIES TO END IT WITH POISON,” the headline read.

It told the tale of an “unkempt, disheveled figure of a tall, shaggy haired and bearded man” found in a stupor on the courthouse lawn. Beside him were two empty bottles of laudanum.

Awakened by Officer Hill, Mr. Sallman exclaimed, “What, am I still alive? Lord, this is awful. Last night when I went to sleep, I thought I would wake up in the happy hunting ground.”

He told Officer Hill that, “I was tired of living. I wanted to end it all. Oh, my head hurts so. I thought sure I had ended it all.”

The officer, trying to persuade Mr. Sallman to accompany him to the lock-up, offered to play the role of executioner.“There is a big axe at the jail and when we get down to the jail I will hit you over the head and end it all,” the officer said, according to the spirited article.

“Yes, yes,” Mr. Sallman replied. “That's just the thing.”

Instead, following an examination a few hours later, he was judged insane. He “had not yet recovered from the laudanum that he had taken,” the newspaper reported. “He was, however, entirely satisfied.”

He was dead two months later, just in his mid-50s.

“His body will be interred at the asylum cemetery,” the newspaper reported. “There is no information as to whether he has any living relatives.”

The Internet can answer some questions but not all.

Was Mr. Sallman of royal birth? What happened to the gems he and his brother brought to Elcho? And what terrible accident caused the transmogrification of an educated farmer, active in his community, into an unkempt drug-addled inmate?

The answers may be buried in an insane asylum cemetery.

(Hidden Places is an occasional column that looks at some of the more unusual or just plain strange places and events of the northwoods and occasionally farther afield. Got an idea? Give us a call at 715-623-4191 or e-mail adjlisa@solarus.net.)
space

The sign at the Enterprise Lake boat landing is very near the location of William Sallman's farm in the early 1900s. At left is the Antigo Daily Journal clipping from Aug. 13, 1913 detailing Sallman's, Elcho's “man of mystery,” tragic end.

Still no answers to Elcho's 'man of mystery'
space
This is a tale of mystery, intrigue and ultimately, madness. And it all happened just over a century ago, right here.

-----

Back in 1988, the Antigo Daily Journal wrote about William Sallman, Elcho's “man of mystery.” Mr. Sallman died in 1913 in a state insane asylum after attempting suicide on the grounds of the Langlade County Courthouse. The story was front page news at the time and sparked curiosity that remained when the 1988 recap was written.

But that was pre-crew daysand more importantlyprior to the Internet age, where today everything from a recipe for Rice Crispy Bars to ship manifests from the Andrea Doria is just a click away.

The crew stumbled upon that article a few days back and decided it was time to delve into the Web and fill in some blanks.

-----

But first, gentle reader, the crew needs to give a shout out to those who helped take a bit of the mysterynot all by any meansout of Mr. Sallman's life. They include the kind folks at the Langlade County Clerk of Court and the Register of Deeds offices and especially Leland Fischer, Antigo's “Genealogy Gopher,” who operates a remarkable website and maintains a distinctly curious mind.

There are puppies in Heaven for people like them.

-----

The headline, on that Aug. 13, 1913 day, was blaring.

“MAN OF MYSTERY” OF ELCHO DIES AT INSANE ASYLUM”

The article went on to state that Mr. Sallman died at a Winnebago hospital where he had been committed in June after a suicide attempt.

“Came many years ago from Germany but no clue to identity ever discovered,” the subhead read.

Newspaper articles, the first written on June 24, 1913 after Mr. Sallman's attempted suicide, and the second after his death, tell a story of two German brothers, perhaps of noble birth, who came to Wisconsin in search of adventure or perhaps fleeing an Old Country past.

What they found instead was insanity.

-----

But first there were years of prosperity.

According to U.S. Census records available, of course, on the Internet, William Sallman was born in October of either 1855 or 1858 and came to the United States as a young man in 1876, likely following his older brother, Otto, who immigrated here in 1875.

They settled, according to records in the Register of Deeds office, along the southwest side of Enterprise Lake, then as now an idyllic and beautiful location that later was swallowed up by the Kraftwood Gardens complex.

The men brought with them a large amount of valuable jewelry, which they claimed were family heirlooms, “but which they disposed of from time to time as the opportunity offered,” the newspaper reported.

“Stories of the two being noblemen from Germany were circulated for many years,” the Aug. 13 article read. “Some foundation for these rumors is found in the fact that both were extremely well educated and often spoke of Heidelberg University....”

In addition, for many years the pair received letters from Germany bearing some type of coat of arms, another indication of royal heritage.

The men may have been mysterious but they were not reclusive. William was constable of the Elcho township from 1893 to 1894 and a supervisor from 1895 to 1896. Otto was a supervisor in Elcho from 1899 to 1900 and constable from 1904 to 1905.

-----

For reasons still unclear, it all came crashing down.

Otto is listed in the 1900 census as being a widowed farmer, and he is not in the 1910 census. Newspaper reports indicated he committed suicide sometime during that period.

William is listed in the 1900 census as a single farmer, but by 1910 his occupation was a railroad laborer.

Apparently in that time period, he received a severe head injury that, while not fatal, was certainly mortal, leading to his death years later.

The newspaper reported that he took laudanum “in large quantities,” to deaden the pain, which must have crushed his spirit and mind as well as his body.

“His life was destitute of anything to interest him and lonesomeness and despair caused him to succumb to long sieges of melancholia,” the Journal reported.

His brother dead, Mr. Sallman lived in complete isolation at his Enterprise Lake homestead.

“He neither courted friendship nor accepted it when offered,” the Aug. 13 newspaper article said. “He was always quiet and morose, a great reader of good literature and well-informed upon science, political economy and an adept linguist.”

Mr. Sallman was arrested in October, 1904 for shooting a man in a quarrel. A jury disagreed on his guilt and insanity defense and he was freed, but he soon sold the farm “not desiring to remain in the country where his reputation was known to all,” according to the newspaper.

He journeyed to Oklahoma, where accounts indicate he lost whatever money he had, before returning to Elcho, like a moth to the flame.

-----

Which brings us to June 24, 1913,

“TIRED OF LIFE: TRIES TO END IT WITH POISON,” the headline read.

It told the tale of an “unkempt, disheveled figure of a tall, shaggy haired and bearded man” found in a stupor on the courthouse lawn. Beside him were two empty bottles of laudanum.

Awakened by Officer Hill, Mr. Sallman exclaimed, “What, am I still alive? Lord, this is awful. Last night when I went to sleep, I thought I would wake up in the happy hunting ground.”

He told Officer Hill that, “I was tired of living. I wanted to end it all. Oh, my head hurts so. I thought sure I had ended it all.”

The officer, trying to persuade Mr. Sallman to accompany him to the lock-up, offered to play the role of executioner.“There is a big axe at the jail and when we get down to the jail I will hit you over the head and end it all,” the officer said, according to the spirited article.

“Yes, yes,” Mr. Sallman replied. “That's just the thing.”

Instead, following an examination a few hours later, he was judged insane. He “had not yet recovered from the laudanum that he had taken,” the newspaper reported. “He was, however, entirely satisfied.”

He was dead two months later, just in his mid-50s.

“His body will be interred at the asylum cemetery,” the newspaper reported. “There is no information as to whether he has any living relatives.”

The Internet can answer some questions but not all.

Was Mr. Sallman of royal birth? What happened to the gems he and his brother brought to Elcho? And what terrible accident caused the transmogrification of an educated farmer, active in his community, into an unkempt drug-addled inmate?

The answers may be buried in an insane asylum cemetery.

(Hidden Places is an occasional column that looks at some of the more unusual or just plain strange places and events of the northwoods and occasionally farther afield. Got an idea? Give us a call at 715-623-4191 or e-mail adjlisa@solarus.net.)
space

The sign at the Enterprise Lake boat landing is very near the location of William Sallman's farm in the early 1900s. At left is the Antigo Daily Journal clipping from Aug. 13, 1913 detailing Sallman's, Elcho's “man of mystery,” tragic end.
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ANTIGO DAILY
JOURNAL
612 Superior Street
Antigo, WI 54409
Phone: 715-623-4191
Fax: 715-623-4193
Mail to: Fred Berner
MapOnUs Location: (local)

WEEKLY
JOURNAL
EXPRESS
612 Superior Street,
Antigo, WI 54409
Phone: 715-623-4191
Fax: 715-623-4193
Mail to: Fred Berner
MapOnUs Location: (local)

*Member WNA & NNA

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