Lewis Kraft was a hard-nosed, no-nonsense politician. He was a ward captain when George B. “Boss” Cox owned Cincinnati. In fact, Kraft replaced Cox as captain of the Eighteenth Ward west of Race Street. Like Cox, Kraft ran a saloon where poker and craps games ran unmolested by the law. Every election, Kraft delivered the votes of the Eighteenth Ward to the Cox ballot and the Boss made sure that Lew Kraft was comfortably rewarded.
Kraft was married, but he and his wife, Catherine, had no children. Instead, Kraft was devoted to a number of nephews, especially Fred Schneller, who followed in Kraft’s political footsteps and at one time served as Clerk to Cincinnati City Council.
Most contemporary reports describe Kraft as a taciturn businessman, focused on making money. He kept his position as an insider’s insider in the Cox Machine by keeping his mouth shut. As a consequence, very few of his acquaintances knew of his deep belief in spiritualism or his intense relationship with a spiritualist medium from Covington. Her name was Jessie Clinger and she died around 1900.
Lew Kraft was devastated by Jessie’s death and sought other clairvoyant mediums to communicate with his departed soulmate. One medium who obligingly hosted many séances for Kraft was a woman named Plymouth Weeks. She had a checkered career involving a number of arrests for fraud, but she presented herself as a mainline to the spirit of Jessie Clinger and Kraft visited her often, so often that Catherine Kraft thought they must be having an affair. She told the Cincinnati Post [10 November 1914]:
“I went to [Plymouth Weeks] and begged her not to separate my husband from me. She said, ‘Why do you think I want your husband? I have a husband of my own. Yours comes to me for sittings of a business nature. That is all.’”
Well, not exactly. Through Madame Weeks, the spirit of Jessie Clinger counseled Lewis Kraft that he should have an heir, and that she would work with Plymouth Weeks to provide a “spirit child.”
Madame Weeks certainly needed some sort of assistance. She was 51 years old (about the same age as Kraft) and unlikely to produce a child without intervention of the highest type.
Or, as it turns out, the lowest type. Plymouth Weeks visited a local maternity hospital run by a phony doctor named Annie Florein. Cincinnati had several of these maternity hospitals in 1902. In a pinch, they performed abortions, but they usually offered a private facility where unmarried women could deliver an infant away from gossip. They also arranged adoptions.
Madame Weeks found a likely infant at Dr. Florein’s hospital, brought it home, and told Lew Kraft that this was the baby he had fathered with the spirit of Jessie Clinger. Kraft bought the story completely. He was so generously grateful that Madame Weeks had no difficulty convincing Kraft that the late Jessie Clinger wanted another child two years later.
Kraft named the first boy Louis Junior (Kraft’s name was Lewis, but he often used the standard spelling) and the second boy Fred, after his favorite nephew. He was shamelessly attached to them, although they lived with Plymouth Weeks. Catherine Kraft reported:
“He would call Madame Weeks up by phone and call her ‘mama’ in my presence. I felt so hurt and humiliated I would get up and leave the room.”
Imagine Mrs. Kraft’s dismay when Lewis Kraft died on 10 March 1914. Although he provided a comfortable situation for his widow, Kraft specifically identified Louis Kraft Jr. and Fred S. Kraft as his own children and heirs to a considerable portion of his estate.
Even though almost no one other than Lewis Kraft really believed that the two “spirit children” were really his offspring, it created a scandal when a woman named Dora Funk Guien appeared and filed suit to claim Louis Kraft Jr., aka Louis Weeks, as her own flesh and blood child. The real father, she claimed, was a no-account laborer from Washington Court House named Albert Haus. Dora testified that she had come to Cincinnati, unmarried and pregnant, and gave birth in Annie Florein’s hospital. After Plymouth Weeks took her son, she hired Dora as a wet nurse. Dora lived at the Weeks house until baby Louis was weaned, then went home to the country and married a man named Guien.
The trial occupied much of November and December 1914, with front page articles almost every day. Much dirty laundry got aired. Theories blossomed. Was Mrs. Kraft behind all this, trying to break the will? Did Dr. Florein expect some sort of reward for helping Dora Guien get a share of the inheritance? Why hadn’t anyone stepped forward to claim little Freddy Kraft, the other “spirit child”?
In 1914, there were no blood tests, no DNA scans, nothing other than testimony under oath to determine who had procreated whom 12 years earlier. After months of such proceedings, Judge William H. Luedders of the Probate Court ruled that it was all moot anyway. Lewis Kraft was free to name anyone he wanted as beneficiaries of his estate. It mattered not a whit whether Louis Jr. or Freddy were the fruit of his loins. The only concern was the welfare of the children. They were doing just fine with Madame Weeks and so they should remain with her.
And so they did, for quite a while. Louis Jr. graduated the Ohio Mechanics Institute, married in 1927, worked as an engineer and moved to Kentucky in the 1950s. Freddy lived with Madame Weeks until just before she died in 1934. He married in 1936 and remained in the Cincinnati area.
Catherine Kraft died in 1917, but not before she was sued by Annie Florein, who claimed Mrs. Kraft had reneged on a deal to give her $10,000 as a reward for uncovering the real mothers of the alleged “spirit children.”
This article was reposted with permission from Greg Hand, editor of Cincinnati Curiosities