Christina Irene “The Skunk Lady” <I>Hand</I> Sullivan


Christina Irene “The Skunk Lady” Hand Sullivan

LaGrange County, Indiana, USA
Death 15 Nov 1925 (aged 75)
LaGrange County, Indiana, USA
Burial Howe, LaGrange County, Indiana, USA
Memorial ID 50604982 View Source

There is another memorial created for her at


Daughter of Mason and Clarissa Hand. The date of birth is really unknown. The death record says she was born June 19, 1850, the census records I found seem to say she was born about 1857 and her tombstone added many years after her death says she was born in 1845, so who really knows (smile). Since she didn't read or write maybe she didn't know either. I have found that she had several husbands but I don't know the order of them; They were William Fisher, Mr. Rolf, Alfred D. Selmer and Michael Sullivan.


SULLIVAN Christina H. Death 1925

Reference: bk. G, pg. 2, #3 - LaGrange County Death records

Christina H. Sullivan
Born: June 19, 1850
Father: Mason Hand
Died: November 15, 1925


HAND Christina Skunk Woman Article 1925

Reference: The LaGrange Standard, LaGrange, Indiana, 20 Nov 1925

.. "Crissy", Skunk Woman, Dies; Hovel at Howe Was Mecca for Thousands of Tourists

Chrissy, the woman who made Howe famous, is gone. "Crissy, the skunk woman," as she was called, departed this life last Sunday morning about seven o'clock, after an illness of several months from stomach trouble. Funeral service were held Monday afternoon at the little new home which townspeople had aided on building with the Rev. W. G. Ritkin of the Presbyterian church officiating. After a scripture reading and a prayer, the body of Crissy was taken to the old burial ground back of Riverside cemetery at Howe and laid beside her last husband, Michael E. Sullivan. That is, presumably, for no stone stands to mark Mr. Sullivan's resting place.

Who was Crissy, and why did she live as she did in filth and squalor, with only skunks and other wild pets for company? Did she choose her mode of living because of a broken heart, a bitter disappointment with the world? There is no mystery about Crissy's life, nor is there any romance. A great deal has been written by powerful imaginations about the little old woman who lived in a dirty, tumbled down shack at the edge of Howe and who was on speaking terms with skunks, but most of it was wrote in vain.

Christina Hand, for that was her maiden name, was born in the north east corner of Clay Township, LaGrange County, so many years ago and so unknown to the world that little is definite as to her age. Some time ago she remarked that she went to school with Silas McManus, the famous poet whom Howe justly claims; who taught in the neighborhood, but she sadly stated she "couldn't learn nothin." That would place her age at about eighty.

Her parents, so the story runs, were drowned one evening in Buck Lake, near their home, while on a fishing trip. It seems that while slightly under the influence of liquor, a quarrel was stated in the boat, but who won was never known, for both toppled over into the water and passed from this world, leaving Crissy behind.

But Crissy was of an age at that time to fend for herself. With her father she had helped haul ties to the new railroad that was pushing its way back into LaGrange County, the single line of steel that in the north was opening up the unexplored miles of Michigan to the lumber men.

If you want romance in her life, you may call her a pioneer. With her own hands, for she often jumped down from her wagon to swing the ties into place; she aided in the building of the roadway that opened up the rich farming country in which we now live in comparative comfort. But as she lived to see the luxurious motorbus roll by her door and the airplane fly swiftly over her head, she slipped back into the animal world, to the simplicity she understood.

She gradually fell into filthy habits, entirely forgetting the cleansing properties of water until her skin became a mottled gray, and her neighbors shunned her. Crissy added to her odorous quarantine by keeping skunks as pets, but she had a keen idea as to the value of skunk fur and long before skunk raising became a commercial enterprise, she was accumulating each year a creditable sum from her venturesome business. Seldom was she in actual want, as many seemed to think, and in the town of Howe there were always a few friends in whom she trusted and who helped her a bit in matters of financial advice.

She had no thought for the styles of the day. An old skirt, a woolen jacket and a calico waist, no stockings, and men's shoes comprised her wardrobe. And in her shack, down by the cemetery, there was no furniture, only a box for a table and a pile of straw for bed. Yet she was content.

During the last few years Crissy had more visitors than she cared for and more publicity than the people of Howe felt necessary. An enlarged photograph displayed in Elkhart bearing the caption, "If you want to see the dirtiest woman in the world, go to Howe," started hundreds to satisfy their curiosity. Newspapers in neighboring counties expressed surprise that the supposedly enlightened town of Howe would tolerate such a person.

However, Howe knew Crissy, and Crissy knew Howe, and together they had lived without damage to the self-respect of either, going their own ways. But the publicity she was getting began to worry the people of Howe abit, and a fund was started to build her a new home. Crissy, to everyone's surprise, had a little money of her own, and it was with her savings, added to the sale of her picture, that a new abode was built. She submitted to a good "Clean-up," gave up her skunks, and donned fresh apparel, for she was glad to do anything for her friends in Howe.

But a recurrence of stomach troubles, which had weakened Crissy considerably in the last year or so brought her to her bed and she had been a resident of her new home only a month or so when she died. Nor was it a pining for her old habits, her pets which she gave up, that brought her eccentric life to its close, for Crissy rather enjoyed being clean and apparently looked forward to a new life.

Just how many times was Crissy married is a matter for dispute. Some say three times, some say four, but at any rate her 1st husband was Michael Sullivan, who while tramping the country with an umbrella mender some thirty or so years back, took a fancy to Howe and to Crissy and decided to stay. Mr. Sullivan will be remembered by many in Howe as a willing worker, but a little addicted to strong drink. It was liquor that hastened his end about twenty five years ago. Returning one evening from Sturgis, he used the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railway track as a resting place where he might clear his slightly muddled head. His body, cut to pieces, was found after the southbound evening train had passed.

No one seems to know whether Crissy had any children or not. Some say there was a a daughter living in Grand Rapids, but the fact cannot be verified. A nephew, the son of a half-sister, owned a small store in Howe many years ago and some of the land east of the station is still in his name. It is said he lives in Chicago now, but no one is sure.

Though nobody knows the intimate facts of Crissy's life, Crissy could relate many stories of old-settler days in Lima township. She and her father often carted grain to the old distillery in Howe and wool to the mill at Ontario. Just a few months ago she recalled the old days when rabbit-skin shoes were very common.

Crissy left to the world a reputation and a few lots of land in the town of Howe, and Judge James S. Drake this week appointed Samuel B. Nichols of Howe administrator of her estate.

Crissy, the skunk woman, is gone. Thousands in nearby counties, town and cities have seen her, perhaps talked to her, for she was pleasant spoken, even merry, at times. Her fame was built solely upon a structure of dirt and skunks, and a suggestion of mystery because she chose to live apart.


Excerpts from "A Family Named Hand" by Ethel Hand Armstrong (my great aunt)
While we were in Howe, we also visited a cousin of father's who lived there. She was a sort of village character. Her name was Christina Sullivan and at some point in her life she had been married but I think that she was a widow. (Marcia's note: maiden name Hand.) Everyone in town knew her as "Old Crissie." She lived in a filthy old shack that she shared with cats, dogs, chickens and skunks. There were no screens and they all came and went as they wanted to. She was very tickled to see father because it had been a lot of years since they had seen each other. Of course, she did not recognize him until he told her who he was. She danced around him and hugged and kissed him and kept laughing and saying, "I didn't even know my own cousin Jonty." (Marcia's note "Jonty" was John Harvey HAND, my grandfather and her 1st cousin.) Later she hugged and kissed us all and asked us to come in. She pushed cats and skunks off chairs and when we acted uneasy about the skunks she said, "Oh they won't hurt you" and they never did. She asked us to eat but after seeing the animals sharing the table and dishes, we made excuses. She wanted us to at least drink tea with her but after watching her scoop tea leaves from the saucepan she always had on the back of the stove with her filthy hands, we were not thirsty. She was a happy person and was always singing. The young people of the town got their kicks from coming to her house and asking her to sing and dance for them. She always did, I guess and they gave her money for her dancing. It was probably the only source of income she had. That was years before Social Security and I don't think she was on welfare. She would lift her long dirty skirt to about half way to her knees and jig and clog and sing funny little ditties. I don't know how old she was but she wasn't young.
Goldie and I walked to Howe to visit her several times during the years we were in Sturgis. (Marcia's note: It is about six miles from Sturgis, Michigan to Howe, Indiana.) We could safely go that far and even accept rides from passing cars then. We use to enjoy a day spent going to visit Old Crissie. Several years later the Health Department got involved and condemned her house. The town's people took up collections and had projects to raise money and built her a small comfortable home in another part of town and moved her into it, but only allow her take one of two pets with her. She only lived a few months in the new location. I think that she just couldn't stand the change and longed for her old life and just couldn't adjust. (Marcia's note: The John HAND family left Sturgis in 1921, so I thought Christy probably died before that but additional resources have now confirmed that she died 15 Nov 1925 in Lagrange Co., IN. She is buried in Riverside Cemetery, Howe, Lagrange Co., IN.)...

The complete story can be found at


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