Saturday, November 16, 2013

Norman Elwood Hammerstrom (1899-1970)

Norman Elwood Hamerstrom
Chemist, Author, Farmer
Born November 29, 1899, Washington, D.C.
Died May 15, 1970, East Moline, Illinois

Norman Elwood Hamerstrom was born on November 29, 1899, in Washington, D.C. The census taker caught up with his family in Galesburg, Illinois, in June 1900. That record shows Hamerstrom (spelled Hammerstrom) as having been born in February 1900. Most records, including Hamerstrom's World War I draft card (which he signed "Norman Elwood Hamerstrom"--one m), give a birthdate in 1899. Hamerstrom's mother, Emily Amanda Akeyson Hamerstrom (1866-1932), daughter of Swedish immigrants, was listed as married in 1900, but her husband, John, was not to be found.

Norman E. Hamerstrom was a chemist. In 1918, he worked for Gulick-Henderson, a Chicago firm of chemists and metallurgists. Hamerstrom attended the University of Illinois for at least three semesters in the early 1920s. In 1924 he collaborated with Richard F. Searight (1902-1975) on a story, "The Brain in the Jar," published in Weird Tales in the November issue that year. The story was reprinted in Weird Tales in June 1936. We should note that the November 1924 issue was the first under the guidance of Farnsworth Wright and the first issue in nearly half a year. Perhaps Wright recruited the young author.

Hamerstrom's mother was born in Galesburg, Illinois (hometown of Carl Sandburg). The Hamerstrom and Akeyson families lived in that city for many years. Norman Hamerstrom was enumerated there in the 1900 and 1920 censuses. By 1930, his life had taken a different turn, for Hamerstrom was listed as a patient at the East Moline State Hospital for the mentally ill. He was a farmer and so not incapacitated. Hamerstrom was still there in 1940 and died in East Moline, Illinois, presumably in the hospital, on May 15, 1970, at age seventy.

Norman Elwood Hammerstrom's (Hamerstrom's) Story and Letter in Weird Tales
"The Brain in the Jar" (Nov. 1924, reprinted June 1936)
Letter to "The Eyrie" (Jan. 1925)

Further Reading
Only the story itself.

An undated postcard of the Watertown Insane Asylum before it was renamed East Moline State Hospital in 1909. The facility was called "the castle on the Mississippi," and it was enormous. Norman Elwood Hamerstrom spent most of his adult life at the hospital. I doubt that the reverse of the card reads anything like "wish you were here."
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley


  1. For a little more about Hammerstrom, see the Daily Illini (16 October 1924) via the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections,

  2. Hi, Stephen,

    Thanks for the message. Do you have a page number or a title of the article?