Saturday, June 13, 2009

Death of King of the Gypsies

Isaac Harrison
Born 1837
in Scherfield, Eng.
Killed Dec. 1, 1900
at Martin Station, Ala.

Elizabeth S.
Wife of
Isaac Harrison
Born May 17, 1831 in England
Died Sept. 20, 1895

Father and Mother Have Gone to Rest
The Ones We Loved So Dear
A Place is Vacant in our Home
Which Never Can Be Filled

Tombstone of Isaac and Elizabeth Harrison, King and Queen of the Gypsies, Section 23, Oak Hill Cemetery, Evansville, Indiana.

I moved to this southern Indiana city the summer I became 11 and it wasn’t long before I heard our city was the summertime residence of a caravan of gypsies. I understand Rom is the politically correct name today, but in my child’s mind they were gypsies and that is the term that was used. Anyway, according to what was said, they wintered in the South and came to Evansville when the leaves began to unfurl and the breezes became warm. It was said they camped in a park, but I never saw the vehicles in which they traveled.

When I began working at the downtown branch of our local library during my early college years, another employee used to regale us with stories of her friendship with a gypsy fellow and the places they went and the fun they had. She made him sound very glamorous and full of life.

A couple of years ago I decided to do a little investigating to see if the stories I had heard could be true. Most of the information I found came from newspaper articles and obituaries.

It was said that Isaac and Elizabeth Harrison were the King and Queen of the Gypsies and even though both died elsewhere, their bodies were brought back to this city and buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. It was also said that when the families came here, they all camped at a park, living in their colorful wagons until it was time to head South for the winter.

In every article I read, it was stated that the Harrison and Stanley families were highly regarded and Stanley Avenue in our city was named for one family member. I am still tracking down information to verify these stories, but I wanted to share a little about the King and Queen of the Gypsies now. Each family has its sorrow and shame and one such event in the Harrison family was the death of Isaac in 1900. Below is the newspaper account, which appeared in the Evansville Journal, Tuesday, 4 Dec 1900, page 1.

Of All the Gypsies in the United

Isaac Harrison Killed
Saturday at Selma, Ala.

Well-Known in Evansville Where
He Camped Every Summer.

He Was Slain By His Son.
The body Brought Here and
Placed in a Vault.

Elaborate Funeral Ceremonies to
Be Held Next Spring.

The remains of Isaac Harrison, leader of all the gypsies in the United States, and who was killed by his son, Harry Harrison, at Selma, Ala., last Saturday, arrived in Evansville yesterday and were placed in a receiving vault at Oak Hill Cemetery. The burial will be made next spring and the funeral ceremonies will be of an elaborate character.

The body was escorted to this city by Mr. Harrison’s oldest son, Richard, Maria Harrison, daughter of the deceased, and Mrs. Will Harrison, his daughter-in-law.

They brought the first news of the tragedy which will arouse all of the Gypsy camps. In Evansville, the announcement will cause great regret, as the murdered man was well known to a large number of citizens as an honest man.

The murder of the old man was a most distressing affair. It seems that Harry Harrison and his oldest brother Richard had not been on speaking terms for several years, Harry believing that their father was partial to Richard.

The sons had a quarrel in the camp at Selma about 10 o’clock Saturday morning and the father attempted to make peace. He separated the sons and Harry securing a Winchester rifle shot his father in the abdomen. The wounded man was given every attention, but he lived only a few hours. The murderer escaped, but is being [illegible] by a sheriff’s posse which started out from Selma. He is about 35 years old.

Isaac Harrison was born at Sheffield, England, sixty-four years ago, and had been a resident of the United States since 1860. He was very successful as a breeder and seller of horses and in trading and leaves a fair-sized fortune to his children, Richard, Valley, Will and Ben Harrison, Maria Harrison and Mrs. Belle Stanley. The latter is with her camp somewhere in Florida and the burial of the remains will not be made till she can come to Evansville, which will probably be early next spring. Mr. Harrison’s wife, who was known as the queen of the gypsies, died in Ohio five years ago. Her remains were brought to this city and buried in the Harrison lot at Oak Hill after a ceremony of great pomp, according to the gypsy rites.

The son Harry will, of course, be ruled out of all camps and the other children have offered a reward of $500 for his capture.

The Harrisons and Stanleys intermarried and came in the spring of every year with Isaac Harrison to Evansville, where they made their headquarters at Lake Park. Their winter camp has always been in Alabama, and the party escorting the leader’s remains to this city returned to Selma last night. They were deeply affected by the tragic death of their relative.

Mrs. Maria Harrison stated that she and her baby would make their home in future with her brother, Richard.


Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG said...

From Stephen McCalister on Facebook: Brenda...Ken McCutchan and I piddled around with the "Lake Park" aspect of this story. The nearest we could come, was that "lake park" was on the westside, a section of Helfrich Hills golf course known as Silver's Lake. At that time, it was known as "Rick-a-donnie" (sp?) Park. We could find nothing about it though, in the stories of Babytown, which Silver's Lake abutted, so we were never quite sure if that was true or not.

Leona Boswell said...

Harry Harrison was my gret great grandfather and Belle Harrison Stanley was my great great grandmother. I was told this story as a child but never really believed it until I read a newspaper article about it a few years ago.

Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG said...

Leona, thank you for commenting. I would be pleased to talk to you and share information about the Harrison and Stanley families. You can contact me at

jack jack said...

The post attributed to Leona Boswell was intended to be posted by my account name, Jack Pearce. They were my great great Grand parents, not hers. Leona is my wife and I must have been signed in under get name by accident.