Friday, October 13, 2017

Witches, pickles and good fun at an 1893 party in Pittsburg, Kansas

Here's an amusing article I came across while doing some research on ... well, actually, my "research" involves so many tangential rabbit holes and browser tabs that I'm not sure quite how I came across this.

It was in the pages of the March 23, 1893, edition of The Pittsburg Headlight, a predecessor of The Morning Sun in the eastern Kansas city of Pittsburg. It details a spooky and supernatural-themed party that was hosted by "But Byrt" and Bella Maxwell 124 years ago. I'm fairly sure that "But" is a typo; there are a few stray references to a Bud Byrt in area history.

As for Bella, I'll have a little more about her after the article...

But Byrt and Bella Maxwell well deserve the name of being first in novel party entertaining.

They gave an example of it last evening at their "Witch Party," participated in by the Misses Larimer, of Weir City; Files, Ford, Beck, Lane, Williams, Baum, Donnelly, Carroll, Lindburg, Ramsey, Mrs. Benton of Ft. Scott; Messrs. Zellars, Otto and A.H. Greef, Baker, Sharper, Weygant, Goddard, Wardell, Orndorff, Callahan, Geo. Playter, Smith, Richey; Mr. and Mrs. Playter, Mr. and Mrs. Hogeboom, Mr. and Mrs. Campbell.

Refreshments of moon and star shaped sandwiches, cake, cocoa, chocolate, coffee, sweet pickles, fruit, etc., and water were served.

Dancing was the staple article of entertainment, although if you chose to have your fortunes told you just stepped into Rattle Snake cave where you would find a direct descendant of the witches of the time of Rogers Williams banishment.

The "Devil" also attracted a great deal of attention — it had been so long since he had been interviewed personally.

At the entrance a double blind door was first approached and at which very laughable contortions were gone through in order to affect an entrance into an exceedingly weird and dismal apartment very ably decorated with owls, bats, ravens, coffins, skulls, skeletons, devils, witches, spiders, wizards, snakes and other objects of extremely grewsome nature.

Light was shed by a new moon and stars and taken altogether with the mysterious rappings, etc., it was as perfect a — well you can at least imagine what it was like anyhow.

Souvenirs of silhouettes of various animals of an awe inspiring nature were drawn by each wizard and witch, there being two sets, and the wizard drawing the one to match that in possession of the witch, attended said witch to refreshments.

Many happy returns of the occasion were wished the host and hostess about 1 o'clock, when all departed stating the "climax had been capped" in the social world of Pittsburg.

Party co-host Bella Maxwell was Isabella (or Isabelle) Maxwell, a daughter of Edward Lilley Maxwell and Dorothy Gates Maxwell. She was 28 at the time and she went on to marry one of the men who attended this party — Otto Greef (no relation).

They had at least two children, but Bella died in 1900 at age 35, probably of child-birth complications, eight days after the birth of her son H. Frederick. The April 11, 1900, edition of the Pittsburg Daily Headlight states the following:
"Isabelle Dorothy, wife of Otto Greef, died at the family residence 407 West Euclid avenue this morning at 3 o'clock of blood poison. ... In November, 1894, she was united in marriage with Otto Greef, who with three children survive her. She was a most estimable woman, and her friends were many. She loved her home, children and husband, and she will be sadly missed by them. The sorrowing family and relatives have the sympathy of the community."
Husband Otto lived until 1937, when he died at age 69. Records do not indicate that he remarried. We can hope that he shared happy stories about the spook-themed 1893 party, which is possibly even where he first met his future wife.


  1. The second time I quote Fargo by the Coen brothers: "I'm not sure I agree with you 100% on your police work."

    This site gives the date of your article as March 16 (not 23), 1893 -- or might the same blurb have been published twice, one week apart?:

    "But" (or even "Bud") is not the first name of the individual in question, nor is "Byrt" his last name. Rather, "Byrt" is short for "Albert", just as "Bella" (Byrt's sister) is short for "Isabella", and both shared the last name "Maxwell" (before her marriage to Otto Greef) -- see:

    Thus, Byrt and Bella (Albert and Isabella -- elsewhere "Isabelle") were brother and sister who hosted the "Witch Party".

    Byrt sold bicycles as of 1894:

    Byrt's wife Estelle also died young (at age 38 in 1910), as did his sister Bella (as you stated above):

    Byrt and Estelle's son Donald fought in World War II, dying shortly thereafter:

    Donald's wife Thelma died in 1980 in Texas -- and there the clues stop for that particular branch of the family tree:

    A collateral descendant, Stephen E. Greef, is a genealogist, and presumably knows how to fit the remaining pieces of the puzzle together: and

    -- Executive Vice President in Charge of Ephemera Reunions

  2. If you're on Facebook, check out the group Historic Pittsburg Kansas where there's a c.1902 photo of the Greef house at 407 W Euclid.