If I told you it was a past president of WIU, Alfred E. Bayliss, who took office in 1906, maybe you would take note and …move on.
But what if you were to hear that past-president Bayliss shares a connection to Abraham Lincoln—and to bodysnatchers?
(Now, don’t worry, WIU hasn’t jumped on the vampire bandwagon.)
But this story did arise because of an intriguing-sounding book.
Recently, WIU Campus Recreation employee Julie Terstriep (who also happens to be an alumna) started wondering about Western’s presidential past when she found herself engrossed in a good book, a true story that focused on the time period after President Lincoln’s assassination.
As she was reading, she came across a name that jumped off the page: the same name that marks the residence hall just east of where she works on campus.
“It mentioned that Clara Bayliss was at Lincoln’s reburial on behalf of her husband [Alfred], as he was a member of the National Lincoln Monument Association,” Terstriep explained.
Terstriep was reading the 2007 book written by Thomas Craughwell called Stealing Lincoln’s Body. According to its description on Amazon.com, the book
“provides an intriguing glimpse at a macabre but interesting footnote to the story of Abraham Lincoln: the tale of how, on election night of 1876, several Chicago counterfeiters attempted to abduct and hold for ransom the 16th president’s corpse. …”
Terstriep was curious about whether the Bayliss mentioned at the reburial could possibly be the same Bayliss who once led WIU. So she contacted Western Illinois University Archives, and did some more digging. She even contacted the author himself.
And it turned out her hunch was right. Here’s what she learned:
Born in Gloucester, England in 1847, Bayliss came to the U.S. at age six. By the time he was 12 he was supporting himself and working his way through the Hillsdale Academy in Michigan. At 16, Bayliss enlisted in the 11th Michigan Cavalry. He was present at the capture of Jefferson Davis.
He later became a principal at LaGrange High School in Indiana. Four years later, he moved to the position of superintendent of public schools in Sterling, IL. It was from this position that Bayliss came to WIU. During his years as president of Western, he was known for hand-picking faculty, believing that good teachers were “called” to the profession.
And, Terstriep learned, his wife represented him (as a member of the National Lincoln Monument Association) as Lincoln’s reburial in 1901 in Springfield.
“I just thought it was a really cool story,” she said.
But there’s still one question remaining: why wasn’t Alfred Bayliss at the reburial himself? There’s no clear answer.
But even if she doesn’t find one, she at least knows more about the history of her university now. And, she says, she’s prepared to win the next round of trivia!