The mysterious saga of Crazy Mary…

One of the mysteries of Oswego and Kendall County history is just who the heck Crazy Mary was.

Alcohol consumption was a problem in the early 1870s, something that eventually led to the formation of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. But as that decade began, there was no formal anti-alcohol organization for women. The Sons of Temperance had, at various times, lodges in Kendall County towns, and male-dominated temperance groups were by far the norm.

On April 5, 1866, the Kendall County Record had reported from Yorkville that: “In the early part of January, a few of our citizens seeing that intemperance was gaining too strong a hold upon those determined to break loose from its fatal business and they formed Camp No. 1, Independent Order of Temperance.”

It wasn’t until December 1873 that the Women’s Christian Temperance Union was formed in Hillsboro, Ohio. In February of 1874, the Record reported: “An effort may soon be made here to inaugurate the Ohio temperance movement, which the newspapers style ‘the woman’s crusade against the saloons.’”

But before that, alcoholism was really running rampant in the community. And it wasn’t prevalent among men only. A woman and apparently an habitual drunkard with the first name of Mary was frequenting local saloons. On Sept. 20, 1870, Lorenzo Rank, the Record’s Oswego correspondent reported: “A loud argument against whiskey was furnished last night by Crazy Mary. She made the night hideous by her drunken shouts; went to the calaboose, or rather was dragged there. Troll was called up after midnight to assist.” Troll would be Oswego saloon owner George Troll. The authorities apparently figures since Troll sold her the liquor, he could turn out in the middle of the night and help coral her.

Who was Crazy Mary? We have no idea who she was nor do we know where she lived. She makes just two brief appearances in the Oswego columns of the Record in 1870 and 1871, but they were fairly memorable appearances at that.

On April 20, 1871 Crazy Mary got two mentions by Rank in his “Oswego” column:  “Crazy Mary was in town on a day last week and soon appeared in a very demoralized condition, lying around loose,” he wrote. “People should not give or sell her more liquor than she is able to stand under, none at all would be better. Parents should also try to teach their boys to leave her alone. Such cases ought to excite pity instead of furnishing sport for boys.”

The second mention of Crazy Mary in that issue wondered, “Who is ‘Crazy Mary?’ The Aurora people are troubled by her and they say she belongs in Kendall County.”

And that’s the last we hear of her, as she slips out of Oswego and Kendall County history. A person can’t help but wonder about her, though, one of Kendall County’s many history mysteries.

Looking for more Kendall County history? Go to their web site to see my weekly Reflections column in the Ledger-Sentinel.


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Filed under Illinois History, Kendall County, Oswego, People in History

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