Last weekend someone told me the story of a Westfield State College professor who was murdered in the early 1900′s. I became very interested in this story because of the manner of his death. Someone knocked on his door and shot him. I became even more curious when I learned that this is the only unsolved murder in the history of Westfield MA.
Now when you think of Westfield and put the city in the context of the early 1900′s. You envision a small “town” where everyone knows their neighbor. Neighbors look out for each other and crimes of this magnitude are most likely off the charts. So why is it that this murder was never solved? Who wanted to murder a local college chemist professor? All questions that drove me to literally sit at my computer and do hours of research to try and find an answer. Unfortunately answers are few, but here’s what I learned:
Westfield MA. in the early 1900′s, believe it or not, was the center of something called the “Pure Food Movement”. During the turn of the 1900′s the industrial revolution had compromised the quality of food and welfare of humans in general. The FDA was established, but like all big government agencies, it was bought off by the big corporations to ensure their food met standard. Dr. Allyn, a chemist, started the “Pure Food Movement” and tested food to let people know what food was safe or unsafe for consumption. Dr. Allyn, in addition to teaching, wrote for a magazine called “McClure’s”, which for the time was a radical alternative form of press. It was known for exposing John D Rockefeller and for generally causing great pain for the government and elites of the day. It was a magazine that had the people’s best interest in mind.
Dr. Allyn caused so much of an uproar in the foods he deemed unsafe or not worthy of the “Westfield Standard” that he angered the American Chemist Society and was kicked out for railing against the FDA and federal government. They didn’t stop there. They appointed a committee to investigate Dr. Allyn and the “Westfield Standard”. It was clear that Dr. Allyn was a marked man. They hired private investigators, threatened him, tried to file suit after suit against him, but Dr. Allyn never backed down or quit. He brushed everything aside and continued with his work. One particular article that put a target on Dr. Allyn was his article against Coca Cola. He tried to warn parents to not let their children drink this beverage, which at the time contained the addictive and harmful drug cocaine.
Eventually “muckraking” a form of expose journalism led to the government having to pass the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. People such as Dr. Allyn, Upton Sinclair (writer of “The Jungle”), and Samuel Hopkins Adams were responsible for getting these standards for food and beverages passed. Obviously upsetting to major corporations who were putting cocaine, heroin, and other poisons in medicines, etc.
I could find little information about Dr. Allyn between the years of 1906 and his murder in 1940. I can only speculate that he continued to push back against the government, FDA, etc. I can only imagine that when someone knocked on his door shot him and left him to die, that it was because he probably was going to expose someone or something very powerful.
One curious thing to me is why Dr. Allyn’s death is listed as a “fun fact” on Westfield State College’s website. It doesn’t seem very fun or funny to me.
It’s amazing to imagine that someone in Westfield MA in the early 1900′s was fighting this battle. One can only imagine who or what was behind his murder.