INTERVIEW WITH ERNEST NEILL
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Neill: "Yeah. Well, as I remember the story, I got most of it from my mother, although it happened before she was born. She was born in 1847 and came here from Ohio as an infant. Of course, she was just relating a story she had heard from older people.
"The trouble started . . . Colonel John Miller, who lived out a few miles north of Batesville on what's now Highway Number Eleven--there's a big creek-bottom pond there--had some nigger slaves. One of the women was taken ill, and he called in a Dr. Aiken who lived further out.
"Dr. Aiken lived up to Polk Bayou here a few miles. And Dr. Aiken treated the nigger, and she didn't get along well, and Colonel Miller called in another physician, lived here in Batesville, a Mr. Burton. Mr. Burton was said to be a very high-tempered, dictatorial type of man, and he immediately denounced Dr. Aiken as having diagnosed the case wrongfully, and I think the nigger woman died.
"Well, Dr. Burton had two sons. One of them was named Phil and the young one, Nicholas. It seemed that Nicholas and Dr. Aiken were friends. In the outside, in the locality where Dr. Aiken lived there was a good many game. There was wild turkeys there, even when . . . within my recollection. And Nick Burton used to go out there and hunt with Dr. Aiken. They were good friends, and he didn't approve, he said, of his father's violent speech about Dr. Aiken, and remained friends with him.
"And by prearrangement rode out there towards his house one day to go hunting with him, and he was shot off his horse by someone hidden in the woods, from ambush. There was another man with him who hurried back to town and gave the alarm. The officers went out and they found tracks where some man had stood behind a tree and did the shooting. They followed the tracks down across the bayou and over to Dr. Aiken's house. They were quite confident that he was the guilty man. My recollection is they said that he was arrested, but I don't think he was ever tried. He left the country a while, then came back, lived out there at that place.
"Now Phil Burton had announced that he was going to kill him, and he did kill him later; these were the circumstances. One of the leading merchants here at that time was Charles P. Burr, who had a store down just below the courthouse. His wife was a daughter of Dr. Burton and a sister of the young man who was killed and of Phil Burton. And Phil hung around the Burr's store there and eventually carried a sawed-off shotgun, waiting for Dr. Aiken to show up. He was frequently came in to town, but he'd had his wife along with him, and they had an infant child, and before he would get to Main Street, he'd reach over and take the baby in his arms. But on this occasion, they'd come down the bayou and crossed the town, a-riding up Main Street, Dr. Aiken and his wife, and she had the little baby in her arms and when he reached over to take the baby, she shied her horse away and wouldn't let him take it. Phil Burton was already out in the street, and he walked out and shot Aiken, shot him off his horse and killed him. I don't think Burton was ever tried, to continue the case, time and again. Of course, they was people prominent and I guess the community, most of them, sympathized with him.
"Many years after that, my older brother was a young lawyer living in Little Rock at the time, along about 1902 or '3. Had occasion to go out west, was out in . . . I think in Oregon, with another young lawyer to take some depositions in a lawsuit pending in Little Rock, and met a man named Aiken--I think he was a witness-they were going to take his testimony. And he found out my brother was from Batesville, Arkansas; he says, 'Well, I was born near Batesville, Arkansas, and did you ever hear of any people with my name there?' And my brother mentioned one other man named Aiken that lived here, and he said, 'No, that's not the one.'
"He said, 'Well, there was . . . I understood there was a doctor Aiken that lived there way back many years ago who was shot and killed by a Mr. Burton,' and went ahead and retailed what he remembered of this story as I've been telling it.
"And as he finished this, Mr. Aiken says, 'Well, that's the truth.' He says, 'I was that baby. Dr. Aiken was my father, and of course I was just an infant then; I didn't know anything about it 'til later. My mother told me; said she immediately left Batesville, and after I got old enough to understand, she told me that she had known all along that my father had assassinated young Burton, and she had lost all respect for him, and she was . . . furthermore resented the fact that he would take me to protect him, knowing that Phil Burton was trying to kill him. Said she was also afeared that Burton might shoot anyhow and might kill me.'
"So that was a little sequel to the story."
"When the Civil War came on here, one very prominent citizen of Batesville, and I expect perhaps the most wealthy one, was Colonel Robert Smith. He lived up here on Main Street on property that now belongs to the family of Mrs. Theodore Maxfield. I think he built the house that's there now. He owned the entire block of ground, had it all under fence and, I'm told, part of it in orchard, and he owned nigger slaves, as nearly everybody did of any consequence at the time. They lived in houses on the property.
"When the federal troops came in here, General Curtis, I believe in 1863 . . . Everybody that had any money was said to have tried to hide it because federal troops were . . . had the reputation of committing robberies on people who were sympathizers with the South. Colonel Smith was said to have considerable gold coins-just how much, I don't think I ever heard-and he buried it out in his orchard. Troops stayed here some months and, when they left, he went to dig up his gold and found it was gone. He surmised or suspected that either the nigger slaves had taken it or had told some of the federal troops where it was. He thought probably some of the niggers might have seen him when he buried it at night. I believe that's all I remember about that."
Wolf: "Just go ahead."
Neill: "I remember very well indeed the night it burned. I was eleven years old. I went down there and saw it. The fire caught in a building just below there that belonged to Henders C. Smith, who was a son of Colonel Robert Smith we mentioned a while ago. He had a store just below there that was a wooden building. The fire started in his place, and it burned down, and the hotel that burned caught from that."
Wolf: "Um . . . You don't remember anything about the Batesville Institute-that was before your time, wasn't it?"
Neill: "No, that I believe, I think that burned in 1869. That was before I was born; I was born in '71. You know, I think it only stood there two months. I don't think it stood there for two months and it burned."
Wolf: "What stores were up and down the streets at your earliest memory, and who owned them, and so on?"
Neill: "Well, we begin way down there below . . . well, the place where the . . . the Padgett Lumber Company now is. I remember when that building was erected by Mr. Lytle Higgerson and his brother Charles Higgerson, who came here from North Carolina. Mr. Lytle Higgerson was the father of Dale Higgerson, or maybe it was Glen Higgerson. His wife was a sister to Mrs. Onda McDaniel. They built that store and occupied it for a few years and they didn't succeed. They failed somehow, I don't know why. Then they was a row coming up on that side of the street, my greatest recollection, there was a row of wooden buildings. I think they were just box, unpainted box buildings. They'd reach from the corner of the block above there clear on up to the Adler building, which is now the building that's owned and occupied by the Arkansas Wholesale Dry Goods Company. Now, there was a two-story brick building there that belonged to Mr. Simon Adler. That had . . . that building was built . . . that was on the site of the Institute. The Institute building burned, and this building was built on the same site by Hirsch and Adler, who were merchants, and Mrs. Adler was in business there, was my earliest recollection, and that house burned in 1881."
Wolf: "You mean the Adler building?"
Neill: "Yes. Let me see just a minute."
Wolf: "All right, what was next?"
Neill: "Well, that was in 1880, I remember now. That fire started in one of those wooden buildings below the Adler building, in a store that belonged to a man named Clap, who came here from Memphis. He had a grocery store and saloon, and it was supposed he set fire to get the insurance. The whole row of wooden buildings burned clear down to the street, to State Street, and burned the Adler building. Well, in trying to save the Smith building, which stood just above the Adler building, the men got up on top of the roof and took and spread blankets on the roof. It was just a shingle-roof building. The main building was the Smith building, was about a story and a half. And then on the side of that, right next to the Adler building, was just a one-story shed room. That was a low-roof structure. And the men would get up on that shed room and then step up onto a higher roof and spread blankets all over it and there was a number of wells there in that lower end of town, and that's the only way they had to get water unless they carried it from the bayou. They kept passing buckets of water; some men went in this little shed room and it had a window opening out and they'd pass the buckets up to the men on top and they'd pour it out, keep that roof from setting afire. Mr. Charles Gorshus, who was undertaker here then and in the furniture business. He was a father-in-law of Mr. John C. Boam, and the brother-in-law of Mr. I.N. Reed. And the young man who worked for him, Mr. Tom Joblan, who was a . . . belonged to this Joblan family here . . .they were in this little shed room passing buckets up, and a good big section of this brick wall at the Adler building fell and crashed down through the Smith building and killed most of them, killed Mr. Gorshus and Tom Joblan. I didn't see that fire; my mother didn't wake me up. That was in February, 1880. I remember now, I looked on Mr. Gorshus' stone out here not long ago, the day he died.
"Well, then the next big fire was along there on that side of the street was in 1883 . . . I tell you, when the Hender Smith building burned and the hotel adjoining burned. Well, then, coming across Spring Street-Central Avenue they call it now-there was three brick buildings there . . . were there . . . I don't know when they were built. They was called the Case block. They belonged to Mrs. Sale Case, who was Dr. Joe Case's mother. Now, her husband, George Case, had built them back sometime, but I don't know just when. I don't remember of ever hearing. They were there at my earliest recollection. And Mr. Goodwin . . . the Goodwin Drug Store was occupied by Goodwin. And the other two rooms, now see, were occupied by different people at different times. The Fraley building was just above the Goodwin Drug Store-was there at my earliest recollection-and also the Sam Ellen Drug Store just above it. They've just torn down the Sam Ellen Drug Store now, you know. A John Meyer looked up the records on that and told up generally, and he told me about when they thought those buildings were erected but I . . . somehow I can't remember just when it was. It was back further than I can now remember. It was in the seventies, though. I think it was about seventy-five.
"Then just . . . it was an open space above the Allen Store that wasn't filled in 'til superior competitors years ago. Then they was some more wooden buildings along there, clear on up to the corner. The space that's now occupied by where the Sterling Store is . . . now stands . . . was an old wooden building, one story, with a high roof, had a attic on it that originally had been built by Dr. John F. Allen and E.R. McGuire, as I've understood, way before the war, and they had a mercantile business, Allen and McGuire. E.R. McGuire was Clint McGuire's father. And it's said that that is . . . the upper story of that building was where the first Methodist Conference was held here. Now just what year that was, I don't know, but it's way back in the . . . I reckon in the 1830's, at least that far back. Now that old building is still standing. It belonged to Mr. Marcar Wycough and when he got ready to build what's now the Sterling Store, he moved that building back toward the bayou, and it's one of those buildings back there towards the railroad, still standing there, State Street is Broad Street now . . .
"Well, now, as we come on across Broad Street, Mr. Max . . . Theodore Maxfield and brothers had a stone building there- not the one that the drug store's in, however. That wasn't built-that place was vacant-but there were two rooms. They had the dry goods room and the grocery room, which is now occupied by the Theodore Maxfield Company. Later on, he built this other store, built another room, below aside, which is now occupied by the Broadman(?) Drug Store, and occupied all three of those rooms, store.
"Now over on the other side of the street, starting way down at the foot of Main Street, I can remember when C.T. Rosenthal built that two-story s tone building that's now occupied by the Batesville Wholesale Grocery Company. Mr. Rosenthal came here, I think, back in the seventies, the late seventies. And he first went into business further up the street there . . . I . . . somewhere along about where the Fraley building is-I believe it was in the Fraley building-when he first had a store there. There was a man partnered with him named Stewart, Rosenthal Stewart, retail hardware. They didn't stay . . . Mr. Stewart didn't stay very long; he left. Then Rosenthal bought that corner down there and built that stone house.
"Then, crossing State Street and coming up right on the corner where there's a filling station right now, John W. Glen had a two-story frame building occupy the store. And just above that was a brick building that, my earliest recollection, was occupied as a livery stable, but I don't know who owned it. And later on, W.G. Moore, a man from Tennessee, came out here and bought that old place and renovated it and fixed it up and made a store out of it. And then just above that, where the Kelly Restaurant now . . . Kelly Caf?is, was the W.E. Bevins Drug Store. Now that was there at my earliest recollection. Mr. Bevins built that store, and occupied it-that is, the lower floor. The upper floor was used for lodge rooms, I think. Then above the Bevins Drug Store, reaching on up to the alley, there were about three box buildings that were variously occupied, just small businesses. The one right next to the alley was occupied as a saloon until the end of the year 1881, when liquor first was petitioned out of Batesville. Called the Pearl Saloon. A man named Joe Morrison from Newport owned it and operated it. Then just crossing the alley coming up the street is a three room . . . the two stone buildings there. . . I think . . . my first recollection is those were wooden buildings. They occupied by George Minican, and they were wooden buildings; there were about three buildings there, reaching clear on up to the brick building on the corner of Central Avenue.
"Now that brick building on the corner of Central Avenue was always called the W.E. Maxfield Building. And it had his name printed on it, my earliest recollection. It was a two-story building, and W.E. Maxfield had been in the mercantile business there, but I have no recollection of that. I can't remember that far back. I don't know when he ceased to do business there. It was occupied by other people at my earliest recollection. When a fire occurred down there and burned out the Minican store, burned all that frame row and gutted the Maxfield building, and then turned on up going south on Spring Street and back there on the corner of Spring Street and College Avenue was a livery stable belonged to J.C. McGuire. It burned that, and burned up four or five head of horses and mules. That occurred in the early eighties-I can't say just what year. And then the Minigans rebuilt, built those two stone rooms, and Mr. John C. DeVaughan, who'd married Miss Nettie Gorshus was operating the business, built the two-story stone building just above that, that's now occupied by a . . . there's a furniture store, a snap.
"Now, then, as you cross Spring Street where the Earnhard building is, there was an old rattletrap of a wooden building there that was variously occupied. A Mr. McGuffin had an auction store there for years, and then the next room was a saddle shop. And then, just above that is a building now belongs to Jim Luster's family. I don't know just how it's occupied now. I think Mr. Reed owned all that property along there at that time. I think he built that stone building that's now the Luster Building. And the first occupant I remember was a Jew named James Lowen, and he had a store there 'til about 1894 or '95, when he sold out and moved away. Then, coming above that building, the Lowen Building, was the old Charles P. Burr Store, Edwin T. Burr, I mean (had a son named Charles P. Burr). Later occupied by . . . Reed Company.
"And then, up next to the courthouse, where the Guard building now stands-a big two-story concrete block building-was a little wooden building that belonged to John Cannon, who had a bakery and a grocery store there, and a restaurant. I think he built the house. That was the only restaurant in Batesville for many years when I was a boy.
"Then we came to the courthouse. Of course, the courthouse that was there at that time, to my earliest recollection, I think it was built about 1855 or '56, as I understand. It was torn down around 1891 or '92, and another brick buildings were erected, which lasted there 'til about 1940.
"Well, now, across Broad Street, coming up where the Fitzhugh building now is was a wooden building; my earliest recollection is it belonged to Thomas Womack. He occupied it with a store, mercantile business, and just back of that-south-joining it, which is now what's the south half of the Fitzhugh building, was another wooden building was occupied as a hotel, was called the Centennial Hotel and belonged to Dr. Moses McClure. He owned it and occupied it and operated a hotel in it for many years. I don't remember--it finally burned--I don't remember just what year. Then as you're coming further up Main Street where the two stone rooms are now, one of them occupied by the Heuer Shoe Store and the other one by the Jacobs girls, there was two ironclad buildings in there, just frame ironclad buildings, originally. I don't remember who owned them and who built them. I know there was a while that Poke Jones, W.P. Jones's father, had a store in the first one, and they say . . . Dickenson had greengrocer's store in the other one for a while. Mr. Jim Luster bought those buildings, tore them down and built those present stone buildings there. Well, just above that, the first store building I remember there, other building, was a . . . there was a good big frame building, occupied with a grocery store, by a man named MacChesney. I can't remember when that was built. And above that was another little wooden building, it was occupied by S.A. Hale and J.C. Fitzhugh as a bookstore, and they had the 5 and 10 cent counter there, the first one that ever came to Batesville. I don't know what year that was, but I think it was about 1880 or something like that before they built across the street where the Conway's Wholesale Dry Goods Store now is.
"Well, for some time, that was the only stores along there. The next building, however, was a dwelling that set back from the street up there on the corner where the First National Bank building is, and the drug store next to it. That the residence of Aaron W. Lyon. Mr. Lyon was one of the earliest settlers came here and I understand he had a drug store a while; he was one of the founders of the Presbyterian Church. I remember him quite well, his family, had a wife and two daughters, one son: Miss Mary Lyon, Miss Hetty Lyon, and a son named Woodruff, or Woodrow, they called him Wood Lyon. He was just a year or two older than me. He wasn't prosperous in his later years. His wife was a musician. I think she just about made the living teaching music. They finally moved to California."
Wolf: "What became of the children?"
Neill: "They all went out there. I had a letter from Sadie, the youngest daughter, several years ago. I had seen printed in the . . . one of the Little Rock papers . . . a communication from Miss Mary Lyon. That was the older daughter. She had seen something in the paper about Batesville and she wrote this letter to the Democrat, inviting somebody to write her, but she didn't state where she lived, and I wrote Mr. Harry Maxfield when I read her communication in the Little Rock paper; I think it was in the Arkansas Democrat. I wanted to answer it. I wrote Mr. Harry Maxfield-I had his address-asked him if he knew where she was and he wrote back and said he didn't know, that he'd lost track of them. They didn't live in San Francisco, but he'd make some inquiries. Well, it was a good long time after that before I got another letter from him saying that he just had found out where they lived, that Woodrow-Wood, the boy-was dead, and that Miss Mary had died in the meantime, and Sarah, the young one who was called Sadie, was living at this place, and gave me her address. And I wrote her and gave her the information her sister had wanted and we corresponded past two or three letters. Now that's been several years ago. I don't know but what I may have in my scrapbook, may have her letter; think I have.
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"The store that's now occupied by the Barnett's Food Store, that building was erected by Mr. R.D. Williams, who came here from Evening Shade in 1887. He'd been a merchant up there; he was the father of Mrs. R.A. Dowdy. He built that building and went into the mercantile business, and remained there for several years, and he sold out to the Barnett brothers. However, he didn't sell that building. And the next two stone buildings above that, well, they used to be . . . way back, there was a row of frames that reached from the R.D. Williams Store clear on up to about where the Post Office property begins, just a row of frame buildings there, occupied different purposes--grocery store and a butcher shop and other things. They burned on the 7th day of July, 1897, on a Sunday. I remember that very distinctly. Burned down and the fire . . . It was quite a windy day and the fire went across the street and burned Mr. R.D. Williams' dwelling house, which was up there about . . . oh, it was up there just about where that little picture gallery is . . ."
Neill: "Lewis's. That dwelling, maybe a little bit further down the street, burned that and burned it clear down to the corner. They was all wooden buildings, and jumped across the street and burned the old Neely home.
"Now the Neely was a two-story brick building right where the Barnett brothers' big store is, that is . . . Right on the corner of the block was a little office building, about a three-room brick store. That had been Judge Neely's law office, I'm told here the other day, and his dwelling was there. It was one of the finest buildings in town, I guess, for many years, had a shingle roof or it'd been burned down."
Wolf: "Well, where was Rose's office? Wasn't that up . . ."
Neill: "That was the upper end of this block."
Wolf: "Well, now, he was here when you . . . uh . . . were a boy, was he?"
Wolf: "Here was here when you were a boy growing up, was he?"
Neill: "No. No, he left here before the Civil War, went to Little Rock."
Wolf: "Oh, he did?"
Neill: "Mm hm."
Wolf: "Oh, I didn't know that."
Neill: "His son, George Rose, was born here in 1860, in that house. The Barnett brothers bought the property. Bob Earnheart owned it. I remember when they, when they . . . You can't remember . . . Can you remember when they was a dwelling stood there, where Pete Philips's . . ."
Wolf: "I suppose I can. It seems to me that I can remember that."
Neill: "Well, now, that was U.M. Rose home. It was a very nice one-story building; and by the way, it sits down on the back end of that block."
Wolf: "It's still there."
Neill: "Still there. Barnetts moved him back and Earnhearts still continue to occupy it."
Wolf: "I wonder when that was built."
Neill: "The . . . built . . . Judge Rose built it, as I understand. I don't know what year he came here. I do not know. Now, my maternal grandfather, John H. Byers, died in 1855, and Judge Rose was here then. I know Judge Rose told me one time, the first time I ever met him, that he remembered my grandfather very well, and of course, his brother Judge William Byer, and liked him and admired him, and told me some incidents that happened when they were practicing lawyers here together. I don't know what year he came here, but he was made chancellor. The legislature created a separate chancery district for Pulaski County way back before the Civil War, and I've seen it stated in some of these historical books that Judge Rose went to Little Rock, was appointed chancellor, and moved to Little Rock. And he was there when the Civil War started."
Wolf: "There were no stores below the place where Padgett Lumber Company is and where the wholesale grocery is, right across the street. There were no stores down in the lower . . ."
Neill: "No, there were dwellings along there. There was a dwelling at the time the Higgersons built that stone building where the Padgett Lumber Company now is. They tore . . . tore away a dwelling house. I don't remember who occupied it, but the one just below it was the old Alexander place.
Wolf: "Oh, yeah."
Neill: "It was Alexander's father and mother lived there. The family continued to own it until fairly recently, I think . . . And then there were dwellings clear on down to the end of the block, and the same way on the other side of the street."
Wolf: "Is that house just below the Padgett Lumber Company an old one?"
An unidentified woman says, "I was just going to ask that question."
Neill: "Yes, I don't know how old. It was there when I first, was there when I remember it, first remember it, and Mrs. Alexander, and her daughter, Miss Emma, lived there, my earliest recollection."
Woman: "Well, you never did mention in there that when Mr . . what was that jeweler up here . . .?
Woman: "No, that other one. Mr. Alexander's Jewelry Store, I never did hear you mention. He had a jewelry store for years on Main Street, didn't he? Old Man Alexander?"
Wolf: "N.M. Alexander . . ."
Neill: "Oh, yes."
Woman: "You never did tell about that."
Neill: "Yes, Mr. Alexander was a jeweler here as far back as I remember. His jewelry store was on the north side of Main Street in a little wooden building that's right along there about where the Burr's Store is now, or someplace right along there."
Woman: "It's up that hill. When I first remember it, it was where the country light (?) tower or right in there."
Neill: "Well, somewhere along in that vicinity. Might not have been quite down as far as the Burr's store."
Wolf: "This McAdams girl who was interested in old houses around here told me the other day that the house just back of Conway Hale's is known as the Lion House."
Neill: "That's L-I-N-E-S (Ell Eye En Ee Ess) Lines. It's another Aaron Lines. This old gentleman we was talking about a while ago was Lyon, L-Y-O-N. Well, now this other man was Aaron Lines. I don't know if it's "W" or not, but he was an Englishman, a cobbler, shoe repair. He lived in that house a while. His son was here a couple years ago from California and he was born and grew up here, somewhat, and told me that she didn't remember about living up there, but remembers about living across the bayou. I remember Mr. Lines quite well because of the way he treated me and my brother (laughs).
"When I remember him back there, down there on Broad Street, you know my father's office is still there. He occupied that, and from there on out, when I was a boy, there were two other little box buildings spaced along that belonged to the McGuire estate, and by the time I . . . this incident occurred, Mr. Lines had a shoe shop in the one that was out nearest to South Street, and that lot was about four feet below the level of the street, and the back room was four or five feet above the ground, you know, and they had a little stairway, about like a ladder, leading from the side door down to the ground, and of course, in those days they weren't much firewood cut in the woods. I mean they brought it in in eight-foot lengths and got someone to chop it up on the premises, nearly everybody . . . Had plenty of niggers and fellows that liked to chop wood, and the prevailing wage was 25 cents for chopping up a wagon load.
"Well, my brother and I used to chop wood before; I used to get in twenty cords every late summer, early fall here, and we'd hack it up in during the winter, saw it up. The only way we had to make any money was to get out and chop wood, so sometimes during the winter, when we could get away, we'd go out and chop wood for other people. So this Saturday afternoon, we'd chopped all Saturday morning and got enough wood to last us over the week.
"We went down looking for jobs and found old man Lines down there, had a load of poles, some of them were about sixteen feet long instead of eight feet (laughs). There was a lot of snow on the ground. Then asked him if he wanted it chopped up, and he said yes. Asked what he would pay and he said, 'Well, twenty-five cents.' That's all he ever paid. That's all we expected, so we went down there and worked away and it took us all afternoon to chop it up in about sixteen-inch lengths, and after we got it chopped up, we went and told him it's all chopped up, and he says, 'Well, you'll have to bring it in and stack it up in the back room.' Well, we said, we didn't bring them that way, and he said 'You'll have to do that, or I'm not going to pay you to do it.' So we had to do it. We had to climb that little old stairway and lug that stuff around, carry it up that porch. . . so I can't forget Mr. Lines."
Wolf: "Well, now, Virginia McAdams told me another thing that I didn't know before. She said that the Theodore Maxfield house was known as the Pioneer House. Now I hadn't heard that before and have no idea why it . . . why it would be called the Pioneer House."
Neill: "I do not know. I don't remember ever hearing that."
Wolf: "I don't know."