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Chrissy the skunk woman

August 28, 2010

While geocaching in the northern Indiana area we found this very interesting person.  Check it out… it’s quite a story!

Chrissy's grave in Howe, Indiana


It’s hard to believe there was such a person as Chrissy, the Skunk Woman. But there was – as anyone past 40 in the little northeastern town of Howe will tell you emphatically. Moreover, there’s a distinct suspicion that in her own fantastic way, Chrissy got more fun out of life that most cozy, conforming characters. She was rugged and robust. She achieved a perculiar fame – left-handed but, to her, enjoyable. She lived long – and she’ll be remembered longer.

FABULOUS CHRISSY was born Christina Hahn on a skimpy, poverty-ridden farm near Howe in Civil War times. Hers was a large, hungry family that got hungrier after the sad day Father Hand went fishing – reportedly with too many under his belt. At a likely spot, he heaved out his weighty anchor, failing to note that the rope was snarled around his leg. It was a fatal oversight that left Chrissy fatherless. Despite the Hand family’s subsequent lack of ample nutrients, Chrissy grew up stronger and healthy. She had a man’s coarse features and brawny shoulders. Her frame was pudgy and powerful and her early voice bull-strong. Chrissy could handle a team and dray with the best mule skinners of the day – and, ’tis said, out-cuss the less gifted.

When the Grand Rapids & Indiana (now the Pennsylvania) pushed a railroad through Howe about 90 years ago, Chrissy became a familiar sight – and sound! – hauling wagon-loads of ties for the railroad. As near as Howe old-timers can recall, it was about then that romance came into Chrissy’s life. She met and married an Irishman named Mike Sullivan. Apparently they got along fine – while it lasted. Chrissy was no ravishing beauty, but Mike had a failing, too. It came in a bottle, and at that time Howe had a distillery, which made things entirely too handy. At any rate,. poor Mike got to wobbling around in such a glow one night that he forgot about the new railroad. A train reminded him, with fatal effect. Stoically, Chrissy reassembled her departed husband and gave him a proper burial. After that, she bought a house and a small bit of land on the southeastern edge of Howe, close to the cemetery and a half-block from the railroad. There she lived alone until a new romance litteraly walked into her life, in the form of one Hank Kraut, a vagabond – sometimes called bum! – who ambled off the railroad, cadged a meal from Chrissy, and stayed.

“Hank wasn’t very bright,” recalled Clarence Taylor, rural mailman who lives close to the old Chrissy abode and knew her well. Hank stayed with Chrissy about three years. Then he got pneumonia and a gangrenous leg simultaneously. Chrissy nursed him tenderly, but presently Hank departed this world to join Father Hand and Mike Sullivan. It was after Hank’s death that Chrissy found her screwball niche in Fame’s hall. She’d become a town character by then. When she went to town she wore monstrous hats and, even on hot days, a long, thick coat.

Some men – and boys from the military academy – loved to heckle and bedevil Chrissy. She didn’t mind. In fact, she seemed to enjoy it and traded insults with the best of them. One afternoon, after a brief period of unusual peace, Chrissy paused at Taylor’s porch en route home. She seemed troubled. “Haven’t been joshed or insulted for days,” complained Chrissy. “That ain’t natural….”

Chrissy’s ultimate fame derived from her love of animals. She always had chickens, guinea pigs, dogs and cats in the house – and one day in the early 20’s she acquired some skunks. In no time, she had a half-dozen running around the house – not sissified de-scented skunks, but genuine, fully-equipped wild specimens. Somehow Robert Ripley got wind of it and presently featured Chrissy in his famed “Believe It or Not” feature.

Thereafter, tourists flocked to Howe on weekends to see her. Whenever a crowd gathered outside her home, Chrissy would emerge with two or three cuddly skunks adorning her shoulders. She’d dance a jig, sing a few folk songs – and gather coins tossed by a discreetly distant audience. That went on for several years until Chrissy, past 70, fell ill. Legend has it that town women who came to tend her, gave Chrissy a bath – and she promptly died.

Great story!

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