Lover’s Quarel, 1890’s Style

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AT NOON on Wednesday, March 28, 1894, thirty-year-old Guy T. Olmstead shot William L. Clifford in the back four times—once in his “loins” and three times in the back of his head—as Clifford walked north on Clark Street, approaching Madison Avenue in Chicago’s Loop. When the shots rang out and Clifford fell, a lunch-hour crowd burst out of local restaurants and swarmed Olmstead, who made no effort to run away. They yelled, “‘Lynch him!’” as Olmstead waved his pistol, swore, “‘I’ll never be taken alive!’” and yelled at the top of his voice, “‘Don’t take my gun; let me finish what I have to do.’” Olmstead and Clifford had been lovers, but Clifford had rejected Olmstead a few months earlier. Depressed and angry at himself, Olmstead had sought help to cure himself of his same-sex attraction. It failed, and out of despair he shot Clifford and then would have turned his pistol on himself had he not been prevented by the appearance of Officer Fitzgerald, who arrested Olmstead and got him away from the vengeful crowd and into a paddy wagon that took him safely to jail.

The details of the 29-year-old Olmstead’s life are sketchy. Born in Catlin, Illinois, located on the east-central side of the state, near the Indiana border, Olmstead had been sexually abused by a man who boarded with his family when he was a child. By his twelfth birthday, Olmstead exhibited “signs of sexual perversity,” a term of the time that often indicated same-sex sexual activity. He moved to Connecticut, earned his living as a teacher, and married a young woman who was the daughter of a rich farmer. However, shortly thereafter he “‘fell in love’” with one of her cousins, a “very handsome young man.” Olmstead and his wife separated, and he moved to Illinois.

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