Growing up in Evanston also meant another fall ritual - the arrival of students to Northwestern University. Banners were strung across the streets saying "Welcome NU Students" and special booths were set up in the stores and the banks to assist the NU students in opening new accounts, because then as now, a lot of money flows through Evanston because of Northwestern.
The peace of Evanston was broken on Friday September 23, 1921 as the morning newspapers blared their headlines: STUDENT LOST AFTER HAZING. Hazing had always existed at Northwestern as it did (and still does) at most colleges and universities. But it was always good natured fun - or so everyone thought. But the true story was different - very different. The article continues from the Chicago Tribune, September 23, 1921:
Search was started late last night for Leighton Mount, 18 year old Northwestern University freshman, when he failed to return to his Evanston home after participating in the annual freshman-sophomore fight which raged on the campus in the early hours of yesterday morning.
Two automobile loads of his fellow-classmen drove to the forest preserve directly east of the Glen View Golf club and began an all-night quest for the youth. It was thought he had been carried there, along with other first year college men, by the victorious sophomore battlers and is now incapable of finding his way back to civilization.
Meanwhile, the university authorities and the Evanston police are aiding Mount's distracted mother in her efforts to find her boy. Yesterday the lake shore along the edge of the campus was patrolled in the hope that he might have met "an adventure" similar to that of Arthur P. Persinger, the sophomore student who was bound to a breakwater near Calvary cemetery and rescued from probable drowning Wednesday night.
Leighton Mount lives with his parents at 1145 Judson avenue. Thursday he joined the freshman hosts when they mobilized to fight their rival class. Scrimmages occurred sporadically throughout the town and university grounds, and at 3 o'clock yesterday morning a band of first year men were lying in ambush near the Patten gymnasium.
Harry Cook, of 224 Dempster street, an Evanston High school student, saw the young Mount among this crowd. They had just captured and ducked a score of sophomores in Lake Michigan and were lying in wait for more victims. Then a larger band of their rivals swooped down upon them in the heavy darkness and several prisoners were taken. "I was captured with the rest," said Cook, "and made to drive a machine load of students to a spot beside the forest preserve. There the sophomores ordered their prisoners to undress and the naked men were abandoned. I don't know whether Mount was among those freshmen or not. He might have been in another auto."
Yesterday motorists traveling along the highways west of Evanston came upon several unclad unfortunates signaling for aid. Throughout the day they kept trooping back to town in all manner of makeshift garments. Some telephoned their parents and friends that they were in no danger. By nightfall, all but Mount were found.
Meanwhile his mother, Mrs. J. L. Mount, became apprehensive. She got in touch at Plymouth, Wis. with her husband, an educational man traveling for the American extension university, and he returned to Evanston shortly after midnight. He expressed indignation that the university had not undertaken an investigation earlier. He proposes to have the lake dragged this morning and to employ private detectives to prosecute the search. The latter searched the lake shore without success. Then, as twilight was falling, Mrs. Mount made the trip to the forest preserve in company with Harry Cook, his brother, Thomas and Detective John Geischecker.
Along the road they moved at low gear, calling Leighton's name and sounding the klaxon. Once they thought they heard a cry from the shadowy trees at their left, but it was too late to permeate the woods.
Mrs. Mount notified Dean Roy Flickinger. He told her all the missing students had been accounted for, she said, and failed to evince much interest. When a reporter from The Tribune attempted to interview Dean Flickinger, he gave word through his secretary that he had nothing to say.
President Walter Dill Scott was reached.
"There's nothing to it," he said. "The police are not worried and neither is the mother. I have learned that young Mount had intended to go away today for a short time and I have also received word that he was seen this afternoon driving his mother's car through the streets of Evanston."
This report had apparently also been given to Dean Flickinger also, for when Mrs. Mount telephoned him and declared that one of the Cook boys had been piloting her machine throughout the afternoon he immediately promised to do all in his power to aid the search.
"Leighton did not intend to go away today," she said, "and I know he would have sent word to me if he were able. I'm convinced that he was taken to the woods, probably mistreated, and is now lying helpless somewhere in that forest preserve. He was a good swimmer. I do not believe he could be in the lake."
Meanwhile word of the youth's disappearance spread through the dormitories and fraternity houses of Evanston. Early this morning, a party of freshmen, driven to the spot where the student captives had been taken, were searching the forest. They were conducted there by Harry Cook and a Tribune reporter.
Search was made along the roads with the aid of searchlights. Then the freshmen, calling his name in concerted shouts, entered the woods. No answer but the echoes.
|Leighton Mount and his Mother|
Mount's disappearance rocked the conservative Republican city of Evanston, Illinois, the home of Northwestern. Before we look further into the strange tale, let's see what we can "dig up" about Leighton Mount.
Leighton Mount was born August 26, 1903 in Boise, Idaho to John Livingston Mount (1872-1961) and Pearl M. Leighton (1874-1972). Leighton Mount had a sister, Helen A. Mount (1898-1995) who unlike Leighton was born in Michigan.
John L. Mount and Pearl M. Leighton were married in Otsego, Michigan on September 24, 1896. John was 24 and reported his occupation as "Teacher"; Pearl was 23 and reported her occupation as "Student." They were married by John's father George L. Mount, a "Minister of the Gospel."
The 1900 US Census shows the young married couple living in Otsego Township where John was "Teaching School." They said they had been married for three years and had one child: Helen, born in 1898. They told the census taker that they owned their house free and clear, that John and Pearl could both read and write and that they were all able to speak English including 2 year old Helen.
Quite a few changes took place for the Mount family by the time of the 1910 US Census. They were now living across the country, in Portland, Oregon at 91 East 62nd Street. John was 38 and salesman for a book company. Pearl was 36 and an "Artist for a Painting Company." Helen was 12 and the new arrival, Leighton was 6. Living with them also were Pearl's parents: 65 year old Amos Leighton (1844-1926) and 57 year old Lottie Healy Leighton (1852-1939). Amos was working as a "Manufacturer" for a Lumber Company. As it had been in the 1900 census, John told the census taker that they owned their house free and clear.
The 1920 US Census would be the last one for Leighton Mount. This time the family was living in Evanston, Illinois at 1511 Maple Avenue:
|1511 Maple Avenue, Evanston, Illinois|
47 year old John Mount said he worked for a university. 45 year old Pearl said she was a "Collector" for a university. The rest of the house was occupied by 21 year old Helen A. Mount and 16 year old Leighton Mount. This time they were renting an apartment as opposed to owning a house as they had in the past.
We know from the Tribune article above that in 1921 the Mount family had moved into a duplex at 1145 Judson in Evanston:
|1145 Judson, Evanston|
and that Leighton's father J.L. Mount was working as an educational man traveling for the American extension university.
In his article about the Leighton Mount case for the NU newspaper North by Northwestern, author Matthew Zellner explains the history of the Class Rush at Northwestern:
In 1921, Leighton Mount was an incoming freshman at Northwestern excited for the class rush. The class rush, traditionally held the Wednesday before the start of classes, was a rite of passage for incoming freshmen that took the form of an organized battle between the freshman and sophomore classes.
Class rush at Northwestern and many other schools had developed out of the “cane rush.” Canes were a symbol of distinction and honor in Victorian society, and it was impressed upon freshmen that they were forbidden from carrying them. Sophomores were tasked with enforcing this prohibition by any means necessary, until an annual competition was held in which freshmen could fight for the right to bear canes. This competition was called cane rush. It often took the form of a wrestling match over a single cane, in which each class would strip naked and grease themselves, then fight for the most hands on the cane.
After canes began to go out of style, class rush became more like an intense game of capture the flag. One night before classes, the lake shore would be divided up into a sophomore zone and a freshman zone. Each class would then attempt to sneak across the divide, kidnap opposing class members and “duck” them into the lake. Soon, it also became a tradition to kidnap “high-ranking” members of the opposing class during the week leading up to night of rush. Kidnapped students were sometimes taken as far away as Wisconsin and forced to hitch rides home.
By the time Leighton Mount was a freshman, class rushes had been going on for almost twenty years and had become highly organized. The Student Council even had a “Scrap Committee” that only a year earlier had been tasked with developing rules for class rush at the request of Northwestern President Walter Dill Scott in order to decrease the amount of injuries. Scott did not consider the rush to be in violation of Northwestern’s anti-hazing policy at the time, which defined hazing as “an interference with the personal liberty of another.”
On the night of September 22, 1921, according to a report in the Evanston News Index, Leighton kissed his mother goodbye and told her he was off to the “big scrap.” Leighton was then next seen near the old Patten Gym around 3:30 in the morning, after having ducked some sophomores. It would be the last time he would be seen alive.
It will be important later to remember that the rush activities took place with the tacit approval of Northwestern's president Walter Dill Scott.
|Walter Dill Scott|
The Chicago Tribune from the next day, September 24, 1921 added some additional information to the story but deepened the mystery:
Sunday, September 25th dawned and Leighton Mount was still not home - but according to the Chicago Tribune nobody seemed very worried:
Anxiety over the disappearance of Leighton Mount, Northwestern freshman who dropped out of sight during the class rush Wednesday night, seemed somewhat dissipated last night by rumors that he merely had allowed himself to be spirited away as a hoax. It was reported he would return home today or tomorrow. That likewise was the report Friday night.
Chief of Police Charles W. Leggett of Evanston called off the search for the youth, following a conference in his office with Walter Dill Scott, president of the university and Mayor Harry P. Pearsons. Chief Leggett said all 3 were in accord in the opinion that young Mount's disappearance was in no way connected to student activities, his alleged despondency or a clandestine love affair. He said university authorities had received information tending to substantiate a report that the boy is being held, a willing prisoner, in Chicago.
Even the actions of J.L. Mount of 1145 Judson avenue, father of the boy, were indicative that no grave concern was being felt for the youth's safety, although Mrs, Mount was said to be prostrated with grief. Mr. Mount announced he was going to see Chief of Police Fitzmorris and demand a city-wide search by the Chicago police. He did not see the chief.
He spoke of engaging private detectives to prosecute a search and of offering a reward. He did neither. Apparently incensed at the apathy of the university authorities, the father decided to protest to the board of trustees of the institution. All arrangements were made for a visit to Oliver T. Wilson of Lake Forest, chairman of the board last night, but at the last moment Mr. Mount announced he would have to call the trip off, as he did not wish to leave his wife alone.
"There is no great hurry," he said. "If Leighton is dead we would be too late anyway, and if he his being held prisoner he probably is being well taken care of and he will be found."
One university official is said to have stated the boy was kidnapped for publicity purposes. Mr. Mount said he had asked detective Sergeant Bourke to investigate this rumor and that the policeman reported it was without foundation.
"I never heard the report and I haven't made an investigation of any kind," said Bourke. "I told Mr. Mount we could do nothing until formally requested by the Evanston police unless he could furnish us with information that the boy is in Chicago."
It was recalled that Frank Vaughn, then president of the sophomore class, was kidnapped and held for three days in a shack west of Evanston in 1914.
On Monday, September 26, the Tribune reported that Leighton Mount had come home! ...or had he???
The return home of Leighton Mount, the missing Northwestern university freshman, was reported this morning. He was recognized as he tried vainly to get into his home, 1145 Judson avenue, Evanston.
Gilbert Kelling**, 943 Ashland avenue, Evanston, a member of the state constabulary, was driving in Judson avenue at one o'clock. He saw a Buick car stop at the home of Carl Jefferson, 1137 Judson avenue. there were five men in it.
Kelling, fearing robbers, drove off. He stopped about a block away, and from there watched the quintet. He saw a man jump from the machine. The man had on an overcoat much too big for him. As he passed under an arc light midway between the machine and the Mount house Kelling got a full view of his face. Kelling says it was Leighton Mount, whom he has known for years.
The light that the elder Mount had said would be burning for the return of his boy was not burning. The man believed to be young Mount ran up the front steps and tried the door. It was locked. he then ran to a side door. He was no more successful there. He went to the back door. He could not get in there, either. From that time on he was not seen. He had disappeared somewhere in the neighborhood.
Meantime the Buick had driven away and Kelling had notified the father of the student and the Evanston police. Within a short time the police were engaged in the new hunt.
Kelling says the driver of the Buick was a man about 30 years old with several days' growth of beard. Kelling described the party as resembling "bums." He thought they might be blackmailers who had brought young Mount home and sent him into the house to demand money from Mount's father.
**The Tribune continually referred to "Kilbert Kelling" throughout its reporting of the Leighton Mount disappearance. Per ancestry.com the correct identification is "Gilbert Kelling," (1899-1928) a chauffeur for Mrs. P. D. Rathbone, 536 Sheridan Road, Evanston. I will refer to him by his correct name, notwithstanding what the Tribune called him.
By Tuesday, September 27, the Tribune moved the story of the "missing" Leighton Mount from the front page back to page five:
Northwestern university fraternity houses were searched yesterday by order of the student council in an effort to find Leighton Mount, the 18 year old freshman who disappeared Thursday morning following the annual fight between the first and second year classes. The order was given as the result of persistent rumors that young Mount was being held prisoner by sophomore members of one of the "frats."
"I am convinced he went away of his own accord," declared Allen Mills, who is in charge of the student's search.
Mount's father is puzzled by the report made to the police yesterday by Gilbert Kelling, 943 Ashland avenue, Evanston, that he had seen the missing student leave a machine, try all the doors of his home at 1145 Judson avenue, in a vain effort get in and then vanish. Mr. Mount said that for a time, when he was out, the house was locked, but he cannot understand why his boy did not return later.
It seems the investigation was going nowhere fast as we can see by the Tribune from the next day, Wednesday September, 28th, the seventh day after Mount's "disappearance":
Police Captain Dennis McEnery of Evanston searched the Delta Upsilon fraternity house yesterday at Northwestern university for Leighton Mount, the freshman who disappeared last Thursday following the annual struggle between the freshman and sophomore classes.
The search was made at the instigation of Mrs. Mount, who insisted her son was being held captive in the fraternity house. No trace of the missing youth was found.
Mrs. Mount expressed dissatisfaction with the way Chief of Police Leggett was conducting the search. The Evanston police accuse Mrs. Mount of withholding information.
So now the finger pointing begins. Seven days since the disappearance of Leighton Mount and neither hide nor hair of him had turned up anywhere - except for the dubious middle-of-the-night identification by Gilbert Kelling. Could Northwestern University President Walter Dill Scott have anything to do with this? He has already dismissed the disappearance as "there's nothing to it."
Now we come to one week after the screaming headline ("Student Lost After Hazing") about the disappearance of Leighton Mount. Interesting how quickly the word "hazing" disappeared from Tribune accounts.
Thursday, September 29, 1921, the story in the Tribune was pushed back to five lines on page seventeen:
Search that continued far into the night for Leighton Mount, Northwestern university freshman, who has been missing since a class "scrap" of last Wednesday proved futile.
They say that there is nothing older than "yesterday's news." That certainly seems to be the case with the disappearance of Leighton Mount. From screaming headlines to five lines on page seventeen just one week later, to total disappearance from the pages of the Tribune. The next article about Leighton Mount comes on November 25, 1921, two months after his disappearance:
Encouraged by the hope that his son is still alive, J.L. Mount of 1145 Judson avenue, Evanston, announced last night that he would pay a liberal reward for any information concerning the whereabouts of Leighton Mount, the Northwestern freshman who dropped out of site during the class rush Sept. 22.
Despite the failure of two months' search throughout the country for the lad, Mr. and Mrs. Mount expressed confidence last night that their boy was not dead and that their efforts would yet be successful.
Even the promise of a liberal reward turned up no new information as to the whereabouts of Leighton Mount. Somebody must know what happened to him!
Nothing-nothing-nothing. Finally a small article on July 21, 1922, 301 days after he was first reported missing:
The disappearance led to a nationwide search last year. On his third day in school, Mount joined his freshman classmates in the annual "prom fight" with the sophomores. When the student combat ended at 3 o'clock in the morning Mount was gone. The lake was dragged and numerous theories were investigated. No trace of him was found, however. Mrs. Mount said she is employing private detectives to continue the search.
And NU President Walter Dill Scott is again heard from, in the Tribune on September 15, 1922, almost one year after Leighton Mount disappeared:
Students and faculty of Northwestern university united yesterday in deciding that "proc" night - due Wednesday by custom of time immemorial - shall not be held and shall be banished forever. It's the annual scrap to a finish between freshmen and sophomores.
President Walter Dill Scott gave as the reason for the decision (the) mystery surrounding the disappearance of Leighton Mount, a student during "proc" night last year. He's never been seen since by Evanston folk, and a rumor spread that he had been held by his feet in the lake until he drowned. This "absurd" rumor hurt the university, Dr. Scott declared, and it was decided to avoid any such possible danger in the future.
So "proc" night with its slugging matches and its bruised and broken head goes out and in its place comes a comparatively sedate pushball game between the two classes on November 11.
With that, Northwestern University brought the matter of the disappearance of Leighton Mount (which had "hurt the university") to a close. NU President Walter Dill Scott hoped that with any luck he would never hear the name of Leighton Mount again.
So, will we ever know what really happened to Leighton Mount? Was he living comfortably on a Caribbean island with JFK, Elvis and Marilyn Monroe? Was he kidnapped by aliens? Did he commit suicide over his unrequited love of stenographer Doris Fox? Was he walking around in the fog of amnesia as his mother suggested? Was he put into the FBI witness protection program unbeknownst even to his own parents? Believe it or not, the strange story of Leighton Mount is going to get even stranger! Stay tuned for "The Shocking Conclusion to The Strange Disappearance of a Northwestern University Freshman - Leighton Mount" coming to this blog December 1st.