Fascinating True Stories From the Flip Side of History

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A Crucifixion in Chicago – Podcast #217

During the early morning hours of March 9, 1945, Chicago police received a report of an automobile accident. Two patrolmen were sent out to investigate but found nothing. Then, as they cruised around in their patrol car, they heard a man’s tortured cries. He suddenly screamed, “Help! Police! Murder!”

They jumped out of their car and ran toward the elevated railway tracks in the rear of 1627 Clybourn Avenue. They were shocked by what they saw. There, right before their very eyes, they saw a man lashed to a 10-foot (3.05 m) wooden cross with his feet dangling at about 3 feet (91.4 cm) off the ground.

Clad only in his shirt and trousers, the weight of his body was supported by a 1” (2.54 cm) thick rope that had been tied around his waist. His hands and feet were tightly bound with additional lengths of rope, and 10 penny nails (3 inches or 7.62 cm long) were forcefully driven through his hands, unmistakably echoing the crucifixion of Christ with unsettling accuracy.

The cross itself was constructed of varnished 2 x 6 boards (approximately 3.8 x 14 cm) which had been joined together with new bolts. That, in turn, was fastened to one of the “X” crossbeams that helped support the elevated railway. Police estimated that the man had been pinned to that cross for somewhere between 10 and 30 minutes.

On top of his head was a crown crudely fashioned out of the thorny strands of a rose bush. Across his left breast was a superficial wound that had been produced with a razor blade or knife, possibly meant to replicate the Roman soldier’s act of piercing Jesus’ side with a spear following his crucifixion.

Lastly, there was a crudely-lettered sign nailed over his head—again, eerily similar to the sign placed above Jesus on the cross—which read, “Peace on Earth — the brother of Jesus Christ. This good man is choosen [sic] in sacrifice by the noblest greatest and finest inspiration for world peace. Let’s all follow for the good of all menkind [sic]. God bless him, Amen.” This was signed, “By the Unknown World Controllers.” (Note: There are slight variations in the text in different news reports.)

Once the officers got the man to the ground, they encountered great difficulty in releasing his hands. He quickly lapsed into a state of unconsciousness, so the decision was made to get him to a hospital ASAP. They transported him to St. Joseph’s Hospital, which was located approximately five blocks away. (It has since moved, and that facility no longer stands.)

In July 1951, shortly after his retirement from the police force, Captain Patrick O’Connell told the press, “If I live to be 200, I’ll never forget that. We took cross and all to St. Joseph’s Hospital, and there I pulled out the heavy nails driven through his hands into the timber.”

The victim was identified as 43-year-old Fred Walcher, although historical documents suggest he was older. Fredrick Walcher’s birthdate was recorded as December 2, 1897, making him 47 years old at the time of the incident. He emigrated from Austria to New York City, arriving on August 11, 1922. According to records, he was 5 feet 7 inches (170 cm) tall, weighed 140 pounds (63.5 kg), and had blonde hair and blue eyes.

Fred Walcher's Naturalization Record
Fred Walcher’s Naturalization Record

Dr. Paul San Filippi, a physician at St. Joseph’s Hospital, reported that Walcher’s condition was good. Subsequently, he was transferred to the county jail hospital for further monitoring.  While there, it was noted that the spikes driven through Walcher’s hands were positioned in such a manner that resulted in minimal bleeding. This led Dr. J.M. Houston to theorize that the spikes had been driven in by someone with medical expertise. He reasoned that only a person with medical knowledge would have been able to do so in such a way as to completely miss all blood vessels and bones.

Walcher told investigators that he was in his basement room at 1638 N. Halsted Street. At the time, he had been working as a porter in the tavern upstairs. At around 11 PM, a man burst into his bedroom and told him that there had been an automobile accident down the street and that he needed to come at once. Walcher immediately jumped into action, and upon his arrival at the site of what be his crucifixion, two additional men appeared and threatened him with their pistols. They then forced Walcher to drink something, presumably aimed at alleviating the pain they were about to inflict.

While he was unable to identify any of his assailants, Walcher told police, “There were three men altogether. They asked me if I was willing to die for my ideals. I told them I was willing to die for my ideals.”

He said that they told him, “‘We will not kill you if you submit to crucifixion.’ Then they lashed me to the cross and drove the spikes through my hands.”

While Walcher was recovering from his wounds, police conducted a comprehensive search of his apartment. Among their findings were documents outlining an economic blueprint for a new world Utopia, plus some pro-Nazi literature. (Probably not the best thing to have while the US was actively at war with Hitler.)

Investigators were beginning to wonder if Walcher was a member of some sort of cult, and maybe, just maybe, he had been a willing victim in his own crucifixion.

While questioning him, Walcher kept repeating one name: Dr. Emil Bronner. Investigators headed on over to his apartment at 5652 S. Christiana Avenue and quickly determined that Walcher and Bronner shared similar political views.

“When I first met Walcher I was astonished to find he had worked out a program almost identical to mine,” Dr. Bronner said. “Lately he had got into a strange state of mind. The last six months he has been talking at many meetings. He always ended by saying that people were so stupid and ignorant that something violent was needed to awaken them. He said a crucifixion would do it.

“I believe that some men who heard him say these things got so worked up they decided to crucify him. I don’t mean they were angry with him; they were as much worked up as he was. They probably didn’t understand that he didn’t intend to be the victim.”

Certificate of Naturalization for Emil Bronner.
Certificate of Naturalization for Emil Bronner. (Wikipedia image.)

Back at the hospital, Assistant State’s Attorney Wilbert F. Crowley was finally able to get a bit of a confession from Walcher. He claimed that the crucifixion had been arranged to draw attention to his “American Industrial Democracy” plan, which aimed to redistribute global wealth. In theory, this would limit how much wealth one could accumulate, spread those riches out to others, and raise the living standards of the common man. Walcher perceived himself as a second Lincoln, one who would finally free the slaves of the world.

Walcher maintained his stance that when he initially proposed the idea of a crucifixion, he never envisioned himself taking on the role of the martyr. However, when the men did select him, he offered up little resistance.

Doctors told reporters that Walcher was expected to make a complete recovery. The press crowded into his hospital room, and he was thrilled that his utopian vision was receiving the recognition it warranted. He said, “I hope it will bring peace. I had rather be crucified than suffer bloodshed in war.”

And can you guess who was standing right by Walcher’s side? It was Dr. Bronner, who was gleefully distributing copies of his peace plan to all present.

Three days after the attempted crucifixion, Walcher was released from the prison hospital. Police continued their investigation but were unable to locate the three men who supposedly nailed him to that cross. (It’s pure speculation on my part, but I can’t help but wonder if Dr. Bronner had something to do with it.)

Captain O’Connell announced that Walcher would undergo a lie detector test to determine if he was aware of his attackers’ identities. However, this test was postponed due to Walcher contracting an infection in his left hand, which was effectively treated with penicillin. When the test finally took place on March 13, investigators concluded that Walcher had been a willing victim, but he still claimed to be unable to identify his assailants. To this day, they remain elusive, casting doubt on whether they ever truly existed.

After a police court hearing, Walcher was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. On March 29, 1945, Dr. David B. Rotman presented his report to Judge Victor A. Kula. Rotman concluded that Walcher exhibited signs of mental instability and required further medical treatment. He also characterized Walcher as a ne’er-do-well who was being manipulated by a fanatical group that promoted a scheme to bring economic prosperity to everyone. In the end, Walcher was fined $100 (approximately $1700 today) for disorderly conduct charge.

Following this event, the paths of Fred Walcher and Dr. Emil Bronner would diverge drastically. Walcher would pass away in relative obscurity in October 1964. Conversely, Dr. Bronner would find a new and unique way to spread the gospel of his beliefs.

But first, let’s back up just a bit: Emanuel Theodor Heilbronner was born in Germany on February 1, 1908. He moved to the United States in 1929, but with Hitler’s rise to power, he shortened his last name to simply Bronner.

Emil Bronner Immigration and Naturalization Record.
Emil Bronner Immigration and Naturalization Record.

Prior to Walcher’s near crucifixion, Bronner had already developed his plan for world peace. He had copies of his plan printed up and generously distributed them at meetings and lectures whenever he could. This may be how Walcher learned of his ideas.

Bronner preached that there should be one worldwide country—The United States of the World—which would have a world congress consisting of one representative for every one million people on what he called “Spaceship Earth.” In addition, there would be just one religion, what he coined the “All-One-God-Faith.” What he envisioned was one super-sized country in which everyone was a member of a merged super-religion.

Here is just a sampling of his writings: “’The 2nd Coming of God’s Law!’ Mohammed’s Arabs, 1948, found Israel Essence Scrolls & Einstein’s ‘Hillel’ prove that as no 6-year-old can grow up free without the ABC, so certain can no 12-year-old survive free without the Moral ABC that mason, tent & sandalmaker Rabbi Hillel taught carpenter Jesus to unite all mankind free in our Eternal Father’s great All-One-God-Faith! For we’re All-One or none: ‘Listen Children Eternal Father Eternally One!”

And here’s another one: “1st: If I’m not for me, who am I? Nobody! 2nd: Yet, if I’m only for me, what am I? Nothing! 3rd: If not now, when? Once more, unless constructive-selfish I work hard perfecting first me, absolute nothing can help perfect me! 4th: Only hard work-God’s Law can save us, but if we teach only our clan, we’re all hated then! So, Hillel taught Jesus, we must teach friend & enemy, the whole Human race, the full-truth, hard-work, press & profitsharing Moral ABC’s All-One-God Faith, uniting the whole Human Race! For we’re All-One or None! As teach for 6,000 years the astronomers Abraham & Israel, since the year One! LISTEN CHILDREN ETERNAL FATHER ETERNALLY ONE!!! Exceptions Eternally? None! Absolute None!!!”

I think I’ll stop there. Why? Not because there isn’t more to read —there is plenty more—but the text is just too tiny to decipher. And his teachings—hundreds, maybe thousands of words of it, complete with many, many exclamation points—may be sitting on a shelf inside of your home right now. That’s because they are all squeezed onto a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 Hemp Peppermint Pure Castile Soap.

The Heilbronner family began making soap in Germany back in 1858, soon developing the first liquid castile soap. Dr. Bronner (who wasn’t a real doctor) apprenticed in one of his dad’s three soap factories before moving to the US. He begged his parents to follow him to America, but they were confident that Nazism wouldn’t last. Sadly, the family soap factories were seized and nationalized by the German government, his parents were deported, and then perished in the Holocaust.

While he claimed to have invented his famous peppermint soap in 1935, production didn’t begin until he formerly established his company in 1948. He also produced mineral salts, instant raw vegetable soup, seasonings, and a number of other health food/healthy living products.

According to the company’s website, while Dr. Bronner was delivering his All-in-One! lectures in Pershing Square in Los Angeles, he was also selling his Peppermint soap on the side. It occurred to him that people had a greater interest in the soap than what he had to say, so he decided to print his lectures on the soap labels. And that’s how all of that quirky text ended up on every bottle of soap that the company sells.

Today, Dr. Bronner’s is a fifth-generation family-owned business with sales reportedly in excess of $100 million per year.

Dr. Emil Bronner was 89 years old when he passed away on March 7, 1997. Call him odd, eccentric, or whatever, but he somehow continues to preach from the grave. He does that one bottle at a time, even if it takes a magnifying glass to read what he wrote.

Useless? Useful? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

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