Happy Halloween to all the ghosts, hobgoblins, vampires and ghouls who will be participating in this year’s festivities. The Halloween festivities have certainly changed with the times (some for the better, like in 1913, the children and youth of Farmington loved to set fire to dry leaves in the streets), but some traditions were immemorial. One of these long-lasting rituals tells horror stories. This month, I’m going to turn things around by telling the story of the Hippach Family Curse (of Hippach Field Fame). While Hippach’s Curse mostly centers around their hometown of Chicago, Farmington may have been affected by the evil spell. Let’s travel to Chicago shortly before the turn of the last century.
Mirth, joy and pure happiness filled the streets of Chicago in 1893. The Colombian Exposition, better known as the Chicago World’s Fair, was held in the city of Chicago, reflecting the atmosphere of the 90s cheerful. While many enjoyed the invention of the Ferris wheel and the ornate buildings (one of which was Farmington’s own WG Mallett), darkness loomed just outside the fair grounds. A man named Dr HH Holmes was building a hotel. This hotel was not a place for people to get a good night’s sleep after a day at the fair, but rather a twisted and macabre house of horrors. For you see, Dr. Holmes was not a doctor, but rather a serial killer who used his “Murder Castle” to torture and kill many innocent bystanders. At the time of construction, many contractors were hired to complete the building. One of the companies that installed the building’s windows was Tyler & Hippach Glass Company, owned by Louis Hippach (father of Howard Hippach, Abbott School class of 1914). By installing these windows, some believe that a curse has been inflicted on the Hippach family. In the years to come, it seems the curse has manifested itself in some pretty tragic ways.
In December 1903, Louis Hippach’s two eldest sons, Robert and Archie, attended a matinee at the Iroquois Theater in Chicago. In attendance, a fire broke out in the “absolutely fireproof” building (as the new theater called it in the newspapers when it opened in 1903). Between the smoke, the flames and the terrible crushes, hundreds of people lost their lives. Sadly, the two oldest Hippach boys perished.
After the death of her two oldest sons, Ida Hippach fell into a deep depression. A little over eight years later, Ida (with her daughter Jean) decided to go on vacation to Europe to calm her nerves and enjoy the company of one of her two remaining children. When it was time to return home to America, Ida and Jean boarded a White Star Line ship in Cherbourg, France for its maiden voyage. This ship had previously disembarked from Southampton, England. This ship also called in Queenstown, Ireland, en route to New York. This ship was the RMS Titanic. In a lucky moment for the family, Ida and Jean survived the shipwreck (Ida also gave first-hand testimony).
While death was eluding Jean at that time (and much longer than that since she died in the 1970s), death would sort of return to her on September 28, 1914. On that day, Jean and his little one friend were driving in an automobile. Suddenly an eight-year-old boy ran in front of the car and was struck by it. The boy sadly passed away. Exactly one month later, on October 28, tragedy struck the Hippach family again. Howard, 18, a recent Abbott Boys’ School graduate, drove his car with his dog. At some point during the ride, something happened that knocked Howard off the road. The car rolled over and Howard was crushed to death.
Louis Hippach decided to fund the creation of the Howard H. Hippach Memorial Athletic Field at Abbott School in Farmington, which the field opened in June 1916. What is interesting to note is that almost exactly one and a half a fire later destroyed the roof of the Abbott School dormitory, being the first domino in a series of events that led to the school’s closure around 1930. Did the curse contribute to the failed Abbott school? We may never know.
Layne Nason is a Farmington historian, specializing in the history of Abbott School for Boys and Farmington during the Great War.