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He immediately stopped and called my attention to the fact, saying, "Mr. Richmond, that is certainly not correct. The shell is not correctly labeled. That shell is surely not Spondylus Spinosus, but is the Argonauto Argo."
. . . Of course I was very much astonished to find that he should know anything about them, but I found, upon further conversation, that he was perfectly familiar with the science of Concology, and also equally well acquainted with the science of mineralogy. My astonishment increased when, a little further along, he picked up the skull of an Indian that had been found on a Western battlefield, and remarked, "Ah! that man received a terrible blow upon the right parietal bone. See it has fractured the temporal bone and the zygomatic process": and remarked further, "he must have been a man of considerable age, as the lambdoidal suture is almost obliterated."
He passed around the collection and repeated a quotation in Latin, with which, by mere chance, I happened to be familiar, and I continued the conversation as though he had spoken to me in English.
Then he repeated a sentence in Greek. I discovered that he was evidently trying to exhibit his best phases intellectually, and remarked to him that it was something unusual to find a visitor so well acquainted with the sciences and languages.
He then took from his pocket a certificate from the late Rev. Dr. Barker, President of Allegheny College. The certificate stated that he had examined Mr. James Nelson in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French and German, and that he took pleasure in stating "that he found him one of the best linguists it was ever his pleasure to meet."
Nelson said that he had obtained the certificate, as he desired to obtain the situation of principal in some school or academy.
We then passed into the laboratory, where we found on a shelf some apparatus that I had used in the stomach of Daniel Brewster, who had been poisoned by arsenic. I found him perfectly familiar with all the tests for detecting poisons, and apparently as much so with my galvanic, electrical, magnetic and chemical apparatus as I was myself, or even more so.A. B. Richmond thought he was in the company of an unusually learned man, as measured against the scale of his own erudition. A. B. was, of course, celebrating himself as one "well acquainted with the sciences and languages," and, further, as the sole proprietor of a law practice, a laboratory, and a museum. By the time he wrote up this account in the winter of 1870, A. B. had become even more successful, and in the twentieth century a local historian in Meadville would declare that A. B. had been as famous as Clarence Darrow for his clever defense of hopeless cases.
In going into the laboratory one day, he asked me if I had an emery wheel, for polishing. I showed him one, which he said was not rightly constructed, and described to me a method of constructing one which I had heard was used in the Auburn Penitentiary, in the State of New York.
I remarked to him jocularly, "Mr. Nelson, this is the way they polish cutlery in the Penitentiary. Were you ever there?"
He turned suddenly upon me, and his eyes fairly blazed with fire, with a look like a tiger ready to spring upon its victim, as he said, "What do you mean?" and a more fiendish expression on a human countenance, I think I never saw. But he perceived from my look, that it was only in joke. He said that he had seen that one in use in polishing cutlery when there on a visit.But Nelson had not been there on a visit. He had spent a decade there as a prisoner. He was, then, Edward Howard Rulloff, who had escaped very recently from the Ithaca jail and had fled westward to Meadville. He worked at night not because his eyes hurt him but because daylight might reveal his identity to those who could earn a generous reward by capturing him.
The immeasurable vanity of the man had been displayed before his accomplishments were paraded to the astonishment of Mr. Richmond, and to as little practical purpose, except its own gratification.In Crapsey's view, Rulloff had played a trick on the "estimable" president of Allegheny College, the Reverend Dr. John Barker, and he had imposed himself on the most intelligent part of Meadville's population. He was "a mountebank murderer." Meadville, in his view, had had a narrow escape: Rulloff might have been taken at face value without his evil becoming apparent until too late. Crapsey saw Rulloff as an impostor and titled his book The Man of Two Lives--one life virtuous and the other vile. Rulloff was a dissembler, a demon in disguise.
though he was undoubtedly a great scholar, possessed of various literary attainments, still there was a species of insanity or monomania which affected all his intellectual faculties, prevaded [sic] his whole soul and irresistably [sic] controlled all his actions, and that such being the truth, he was not morally or legally accountable for his deeds.(Monomania, in the psychology of the day, was lunacy brought on by a fixation with one thing. In 1851, Melville had given monomania an enduring fictional life in Ahab's quest for the white whale; in 1859, Dickens displayed monomania in A Tale of Two Cities in Dr. Manette's constant treadling at his spinning wheel. It was a form of madness especially congenial to the nineteenth-century imagination.)
While in the office of Mr. [Duncan] Robertson, Edward got himself into trouble by trying to assist another, a friend of his, who was in distress, out of trouble. What the precise nature of that trouble was we do not know, as the matter was kept private, but we are assured by those who ought to and do know that it was no misdemeanor, that it was nothing disgraceful to Edward, but on the contrary it was highly creditable to him, inasmuch as he sacrificed himself and his own interests and happiness to honorably save another.This is unreliable nonsense. Ham had no independent corroboration of any honorable self-sacrifice. He had only Rulloff's word to go on, and he trusted it even though (he would later admit in the preface to his book) Rulloff never trusted him.
Excerpted from Rogue Scholar: the Sinister Life and Clebrated Death of Edward H. Rulloff by Richard W. Bailey Copyright © 2003 by Richard W. Bailey. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted October 2, 2003