Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Dr. Henry H. Holmes at the University of Vermont, Burlington Medical School

  In my previous post, I noted that early life of Dr. Henry H. Holmes, birth name Herman Webster Mudgett, was reasonably ordinary and that he was an exemplary youth -- at least after weeding out the tales presented in sensationalist journalism.

  If the young Herman Webster Mudgett was indeed the model of morality, then how did he become the embodiment of evil that was Holmes?

  In the spring of 1882, Mudgett began his formal medical education at the University of Vermont at Burlington. At this time, he would be nearing twenty-one years of age and this would be his first extended experience away from family.

Pomeroy Hall, U of VT Medical School, 1880

  Consider this account provided by one of Mudgett's classmates.

"During his year at Burlington Holmes was rather retiring in his disposition, and to a very considerable extent he became the butt of his class. All kinds of practical jokes were put up and played on him, and he took them good naturedly and without any effort at retaliation. He had only one suit of clothes during the entire year that I knew him, and that was certainly not made for him. Where he got it the Lord only knows. The trousers were as baggy as bloomers, and the coat and vest large enough to fit a man twice as stout as Holmes. But it was the overcoat that was the masterpiece of grotesqueness in Holmes's costume. It was a brown check affair that reached to his heels and completely swallowed the fellow. The sleeves were so long that they completely covered the man's hands, and often the boys asked him why he didn't go to some dressmaker and have a tuck taken in them. Holmes had just about money enough to get through the term and didn't seem to mind the absurd appearance his clothes gave him.^1"

  Reading between the lines, the author reveals his snobbishness and cruelty. Holmes wasn't one of the boys and so his classmates bullied him. His bumpkin appearance and his poverty were ridiculed. The recollection continues:

  "He was sane enough, and a hard worker and there were no evidences about him anywhere that his mind was an unusual one, or that his life would develop any of the characteristics that have marked him a murderer. At the time I mean he certainly was not one who would have in any way been successful with women. There was nothing fascinating about him, nor did he display any desire for women's society. I met him once or twice in company with young women at Burlington, but at the time Holmes was decidedly bashful, and had almost nothing to say.^2"

  One noteworthy aspect of this is story is that Mudgett, to a remarkable degree, was exactly the opposite of Holmes. By the time his transformation was complete, Holmes had become a sharp dresser, a smooth-talker, a confidence man, a lady's man, a lady-killer. He had become obsessed with schemes to make money.

  In February of 1883, a news story appeared which foreshadowed Holmes' future: grave robbers were plaguing the outskirts of Montreal. The past winter, 145 corpses had disappeared, having been sent off to supply American medical schools with cadavers for dissection. As the story noted, "One-half of those brought to this city [Montreal] have been sent to Burlington, Vt., Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and as far as Ann Arbor.^3"

1. Holmes in College. Former Classmate Tells of His Many Peculiarities. April 29, 1896. Indiana State Journal (Indianapolis, Indiana), page: 2   
2. ibid.
3. Wholesale Grave-Robbery. February 8, 1883. Elkhart Daily Review (Elkhart, Indiana), page: 1 (What a perfect quote/segue, linking Burlington to Ann Arbor by the way of grave robbing and set in 1883!)

Next Up: Holmes at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

A Predator's Game is available in soft-cover and ebook editions through Amazon and other online retailers.
A Predator's Game, now available, Rook's Page Publishing.

Nikola Tesla, Arthur Conan Doyle and Dr. Henry H. Holmes are all characters in my  thriller, A Predator's Game.

Back page blurb of A Predator's Game.

Manhattan, 1896.

When the author Arthur Conan Doyle meets Nikola Tesla he finds a tall, thin genius with a photographic memory and a keen eye, and recognizes in the eccentric inventor the embodiment of his creation, Sherlock. Together, they team up to take on an "evil Holmes." Multi-murderer Dr. Henry H. Holmes has escaped execution and is unleashing a reign of terror upon the metropolis. Set in the late nineteenth century in a world of modern marvels, danger and invention, Conan Doyle and Tesla engage the madman in a deadly game of wits.

Martin Hill Ortiz, also writing under the name, Martin Hill, is the author of A Predatory Mind. Its sequel, set in 1890s Manhattan and titled A Predator's Game, is available from Rook's Page Publishing.

His recent mystery, Never Kill A Friend, is available from Ransom Note Press. His epic poem, Two Mistakes, won second place in the 2015 Margaret Reid/Tom Howard Poetry Competition. He can be contacted at


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