True crime has never been a more popular genre. At-home sleuths love to travel back in time to investigate and ponder mysterious deaths. But for local true crime enthusiasts, did you know that we have an infamous historic true crime case right here in Wheeling? Episode three of Henry, Murder Out the Pike, unpacks Henry Schmulbach’s involvement in the death of Hamilton Forsythe in 1878. Was it murder, manslaughter, self-defense, or just an unfortunate accident? You’ll have to listen and decide for yourself!
As discussed in Episode two and last week’s recap, saloons were an important part of Wheeling’s culture and social life during this era. As a brewer himself, Schmulbach would have worked closely with saloons and was known to enjoy them himself. Thus, on the night of August 14, 1878, Henry Schmulbach and Ham Forsythe went to a saloon known as Frank Walters Two Mile House. It was mentioned at the end of the last recap that this saloon was located on the current site of Vance Memorial Presbyterian Church. Schmulbach and Forsythe were drinking at this tavern, and Forysthe in particular became very inebriated. He then left the tavern and drove off with Schmulbach’s buggy and horses. When Schmulbach himself went to leave, he discovered the theft of his buggy and horses. Forsythe had driven to Stamm’s Tavern, another local saloon, and Schmulbach then followed him.
Stamm’s Tavern, also known as Stamms Four Mile House, was located on the current site of Stamm Lane along National Road and across from what is now Wheeling Park. Even beyond its involvement in this mysterious death, Stamm’s Tavern is notable in Wheeling’s history as the eighth president of the United States, Martin Van Buren, apparently stopped there in 1848. It makes you wonder what other Wheeling buildings and places are on the site of famous former saloons!
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Forsythe arrived first to Stamm’s Tavern, still clearly drunk. When Schmulbach arrived, he and Forsythe got into a physical struggle outside. Based on witness statements, it’s not exactly clear who started the fight. After Forsythe rolled or jumped out of the buggy, the two exchanged blows, with Schmulbach clearly emerging the winner. Forsythe never spoke again or regained consciousness. He died later that night, which was found to be caused by a concussion of the brain. Schmulbach apparently appeared sorry that he had hurt Forsythe. However, there was some question as to whether Forsythe fell out of the buggy and then hit his head on the sharp rocks on the road outside Stamm’s Tavern. While punches certainly could have caused his concussion, so could a fall. One clear takeaway from this death is that even in 1878, it was dangerous to drink and drive!
Ultimately, Henry Schmulbach was charged with the murder of Hamilton Forsythe and went on trial. He pled not guilty and was acquitted by the jury. This was thought to be due to the fact that, given that Forsythe had stolen his horses, Schmulbach may have been acting in self-defense. Also, Forsythe may have accidentally fallen and hit his head which could have caused his concussion. While most people in Wheeling seemed to agree with the verdict, even at this time Schmulbach was a well-connected businessman, and he may have influenced the verdict. Episode four will delve deeper into the potential corruption surrounding Henry Schmulbach.
In less than three weeks, it will be the 143rd anniversary of the death of Hamilton Forsythe. Although the case has long been settled, do you think Henry Schmulbach got away with murder? To hear even more about the death of Hamilton Forysthe, included full, re-enacted witness testimony, be sure to listen to the episode! And if you want to learn more about corruption and politics in 19th century Wheeling, listen to episode four, “Schmulbachism” and Politics, and check back next week for the recap. Finally, our bonus content for this week is footage of Hal Gorby and Ryan Stanton going through a collection of Henry Schmulbach’s handwritten business notes. It is behind the scenes of both the podcast and Henry Schmulbach’s life. Be sure to watch!
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• Katherine Leary is a summer intern at Wheeling Heritage. She is from Wheeling and is currently a senior at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts studying History.