An Oct. 11 presentation at Baldwin Public Library will include Birmingham Museum Director Leslie Pielack and Birmingham Police Department Cmdr. Scott Grewe to re-examine the slayings of the Utter family in 1825. Pictured is the marker of Martha Baldwin.

An Oct. 11 presentation at Baldwin Public Library will include Birmingham Museum Director Leslie Pielack and Birmingham Police Department Cmdr. Scott Grewe to re-examine the slayings of the Utter family in 1825. Pictured is the marker of Martha Baldwin.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Historical lecture series explores tragedy in Birmingham’s past

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published October 8, 2018

BIRMINGHAM — Just in time for the chilling and sometimes spooky fall season, the Birmingham Museum will present a three-part joint lecture series with events beginning at 7 p.m. in October, November and December to round out the city’s bicentennial celebration.

The first of the presentations will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11, at Baldwin Public Library. Museum Director Leslie Pielack will be joined by Birmingham Police Department Cmdr. Scott Grewe to re-examine the horrific slayings of the Utter family in 1825.

The records tell the story of Polly Utter and her daughter, Cynthia, who were murdered by an ax wielded by Imri Fish, a War of 1812 veteran who had been staying at the Utters’ boarding house. Dr. Ziba Swan was among the first to respond to the scene, and he ultimately donated half of his property to bury the victims in what would later become the historical Greenwood Cemetery.

“We’ll be reviewing the setting, the coroner’s notes, witness testimony, related reports to provide historical context and a modern perspective to this terrible act and its aftermath,” said Pielack in an email.

“It’s been really interesting reading these old court documents and the longhand they used back then,” said Grewe. “I think Leslie is going to be doing a lot of the background of the story, kind of laying out the land where things took place in relation to what’s there now. I’ll be talking more about what kinds of investigative tools they were working with back then, versus what could’ve been done today to solve a homicide.”

On Nov. 8 the series will continue with local historian Pam DeWeese, who will tell the crowd at the library about the stock market crash of 1929 that marked the beginning of the Great Depression.

Finally, on Dec. 13, Library Director Doug Koschik will discuss the Peabody family’s history in the city, the devastating loss that eventually created a new opportunity for them and for Birmingham, and the iconic Peabody restaurant that drew loyal customers for decades.

Pielack admitted that, like ghost stories around the campfire, the tales in the lecture series aren’t exactly joyful. But they’re true — and hey, ’tis the season, right?

“These incidents, while tragic in nature, are part of Birmingham’s rich history that we have been commemorating throughout the year as part of our bicentennial of the first land purchase in the city,” Pielack added in her statement, noting that plans to celebrate that purchase Nov. 30 are still being finalized.

There is no cost to attend the Disaster and Recovery in Birmingham’s History series. Call the Birmingham Museum at (248) 530-1928 or visit bhamgov.org/museum for more information.

Baldwin Public Library is located at 300 W. Merrill St. in downtown Birmingham.