‘Black Nance’ and her son, Private William H. Costley

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Four years ago, “From the History Room” shone the spotlight on William Henry Costley, a forgotten figure of Pekin’s past whose remarkable life story serves as a historical link between Pekin and the origins of the annual “Juneteenth” celebration.

We told the story of Costley, a Civil War soldier who served as a private in one of the Union Army’s Colored Troops regiments, in a column entitled, “Bill Costley – Pekin’s link to ‘Juneteenth,’” which first ran in the Saturday, June 20, 2015 Pekin Daily Times and later was republished at the Pekin Public Library’s “From the History Room” weblog. It was the third of four columns that have featured the members of the family of Nance Legins-Costley of Pekin, an African-American woman mentioned in Pekin’s historical records as “Black Nance,” who is remembered as the first slave freed by Abraham Lincoln (through the 1841 Illinois Supreme Court case Bailey vs. Cromwell).

The story of Nance Legins-Costley’s steadfast struggle to obtain freedom for herself and her children is told in the 2014 book, “Nance: Trials of the First Slave Freed by Abraham Lincoln – A True Story of Nance Legins-Costley,” which was written by local history Carl Adams, formerly of the Pekin area but now residing in Maryland. The Pekin Public Library has a copy of Adams’ book that may be checked out, and a second copy is in the Local History Room collection for in-library research.

Bill Costley was Nance’s third child and eldest son. U.S. Census records indicate that Bill was only about a year old when his mother won their freedom through Bailey vs. Cromwell. Through his research. Adams learned that during the Civil War Bill served in the Illinois 29th Regiment of Volunteers (Colored), which was one of the regiments sent to the Gulf of Mexico in June 1865, landing at Galveston, Texas, on June 19 and announcing that the war had ended and all of Texas’ approximately 250,000 slaves were free. The four-day celebration of emancipation that ensued is the origin of Juneteenth.

The gravestone of Private William H. Costley in Rochester, Minn., misspells his surname “Crossley” and gives an erroneous estimate for his year of birth. Costley, who was born and lived much of his life in Pekin, was one of the witnesses of the first “Juneteenth” on June 19, 1865.

More recently, Adams interest in the life of Bill Costley has motivated him to get involved with the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation. Members and supporters of NJOF aim to establish Juneteenth as a national holiday to be observed every third Saturday in June. “Since they are not asked for a day off work, nor on a Monday, they have hopes,” Adams said in a recent email to the Pekin Public Library.

This year NJOF kicked off their month-long observance of Juneteenth with nationwide flag-raising ceremonies on Monday, June 3, said Adams. The Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room also features a Juneteenth display all this month.

In related news, The Randolph Society, an honor society with a mission of recognizingd prominent individuals who have lived in and contributed to Randolph County, Illinois, has made Bill Costley’s mother Nance Legins-Costley a 2019 Randolph Society honoree. Nance was nominated early this year on Feb. 8, and the formal induction ceremony was held March 10 at the Randolph County Courthouse in Chester, Ill.

The Randolph Society chose to recognize Nance because she was a Randolph County native, having been born in Dec. 1813 in the boarding house of land surveyor Col. Thomas Cox of Kaskaskia, then the capital of the Illinois Territory. Nance’s parents, Maryland-born slaves named Randall and Anachy Legins, were legally classed as indentured servants of Cox, but effectively were Cox’s slaves. Nance later lived in Springfield after Cox moved there in 1822. In 1827, however, Cox’s estate was seized and auctioned off to pay his debts. At that time Nance and her sister Dice were both sold, and Nance was acquired by Pekin co-founder Nathan Cromwell, one of the men to whom Cox owed a great deal of money. Cromwell brought Nance to Pekin soon after that, in 1827 or 1828.

Under Illinois law, an indentured servant had to agree to the contract of indenture. However, Cox’s mother Jane later gave sworn testimony in court that she overheard Cromwell ask “Nance if she would go and live with him and said Nance refused and presented she would not.”

This refusal of Nance to agree to her indenture contract in 1827 was key to Lincoln’s eventually winning Nance’s freedom in 1841. Her last owner David Bailey could not provide evidence that Nance was really indentured to serve him, so the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that she was free – and since she was free, that meant her children Amanda, Eliza Jane, and Bill were not born of an indentured servant and therefore were free as well.

Pekin pioneer David Bailey, who belonged to a family of abolitionists, was the last owner of Nance Legins-Costley. Bailey let Nance and her family live as free persons while Abraham Lincoln steered through the Illinois court systems the legal case of Bailey vs. Cromwell. The freedom of Nance and her three eldest children was confirmed when Lincoln won the case in 1841.

The Randolph Society has published a biography of Nance Legins-Costley at its website. The biography, based mainly on Adams’ book “Nance,” may be read at https://randolphsociety.org/nance-legins-costley/

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Tazewell’s unincorporated communities: Allentown

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

One of Tazewell County’s older unincorporated communities has a history that reaches back to the county’s pioneer days: the farming hamlet of Allentown, situated at the intersection of Allentown Road (County Road 1600N) and Uhlman Road (County Road 2825E) in northeastern Tremont Township.

John Drury’s “This is Tazewell County, Illinois” (1954), page 210, offers this brief, partly erroneous, description of Allentown: “A village in Mackinaw Township is Allentown, with a population of 83. It is on the Pennsylvania and Illinois Terminal railroads. The village is located northwest of Mackinaw.

Edward James Allen (1810-1889), after whom Allentown is named, is shown in this old portrait posted to an Ancestry.com family tree by user “mljon09.”

In fact Allentown has always been in Tremont Township, though it is much closer to Mackinaw than to Tremont. The hamlet takes its name from a pioneer farmer of Tremont Township named Edward James Allen (1810-1889), whose impressive grave monument may be seen in Mackinaw Township Cemetery. Allen is buried there along with his wife Henrietta (Brown) Allen (1809-1906) and their sons, U.S. Army Corporal Harrison “Harry” Allen, who fell sick in 1863 while stationed with his regiment at Cairo, Ill., during the Civil War, and Harry’s younger brother Seth L. Allen, who inherited the Allen place after his father’s death.

Old Tazewell County plat maps mark the Allen farm as early as 1864. Prior to his migration to Tazewell County, Edward Allen, a New Jersey native, settled for a while in Miami County, Ohio, where his son Harry was born. Charles C. Chapman’s “History of Tazewell County,” page 661, shows that Edward Allen served as Tremont Township Supervisor from 1863 to 1865, then was re-elected Township Supervisor in 1867.

The farm of Edward J, Allen, namesake of Allentown, is shown in this detail of an 1864 wall plat map of Tazewell County.

An 1864 wall plat map indicates that a country school house was located adjacent to Allen’s Tremont Township farm, at a spot now close to the center of Allentown. The 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell County shows that school as the township’s School House No. 3.

The track of a proposed railroad is shown as a dashed line heading southeast through Edward J. Allen’s farm in this detail of the Tremont Township plat map in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.”

The same map shows that a railroad had been laid down next to the school house, tracking northwest to southeast diagonally through the middle of Edward Allen’s farm. The existence of the “Allentown” railroad depot near the school made the spot an ideal place to live, and very soon a little village had sprung up – the 1873 map shows 14 homes located near the railroad and the school, and more were soon to come. The village’s name, “Allentown,” first appears on the Tremont Township plat map found in the 1891 Tazewell County atlas. The following year the residents of Allentown built a community hall, called the Union Hall, where community celebrations, church services, club meetings, local elections, and performances by traveling musicians and vaudevillians were held. The Allentown Union Hall, now 127 years old, is still in use today, and a preservation group is devoted to maintaining the old building. The hall was added to the National Register of Historic Places on Aug. 12, 1988.

On the National Register of Historic Places, the Allentown Union Hall, now 127 years old, is still in use today, and a preservation group is devoted to maintaining the old building.

By 1910 Allentown had its own post office, and a second set of railroad tracks had been laid down – one set were the tracks of the Illinois Traction Co. and the other set were for the Vandalia Rail Road. Speaking personally, I first “discovered” Allentown while bicycling out in the countryside in the latter 1980s. Not having a map, I was curious to find out why the road was called “Allentown Road” and pedaled east from Pekin to see where the road led. “Aha! To Allentown, of course! Well, that makes sense.” At the time the railroad tracks were still there, but the prominent old depot and grain elevator was no longer in use – the elevator is still there but the tracks – once key to Allentown’s farming economy — have been pulled up. Traces remain of the old rail bed – a reminder of the village’s past.

Allentown Road cuts through the middle of Allentown in this aerial view looking eastward, published in John Drury’s 1954 “This is Tazewell County, Illinois.” The old grain elevator, by the railroad tracks in the upper right quarter of the photo, still stands today, though no longer in use.

The railroad had been laid through Allentown and past the school house by the time this 1890 plat map of Tremont Township was drawn.

By 1910, two railroads were in operation through Allentown — the Illinois Traction Co. and the Vandalia Railroad — as shown in the detail of a Tremont Township plat map.

Curiously, Allentown’s name is left off the 1929 plat map of Tremont Township.

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Bill Costley — Pekin’s link to ‘Juneteenth’

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in June 2015 before the launch of this weblog.

Bill Costley — Pekin’s link to ‘Juneteenth’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On May 2, 2015, this column featured a review of a new book by local historian Carl M. Adams about a notable early Pekin resident’s stalwart struggle for freedom — “Black Nance” Legins-Costley, who secured her freedom from slavery with the help of her attorney Abraham Lincoln in the 1841 Illinois Supreme Court case Bailey v. Cromwell. Adams’ book, “Nance: Trials of the First Slave Freed by Abraham Lincoln,” was recognized April 25 at the annual awards luncheon of the Illinois State Historical Society in Springfield.

This week, we will take another look at the family of Nance Legins-Costley in order to learn about Pekin’s historical connection to the origin of the celebration of “Juneteenth,” which is the oldest known public commemoration of the legal end of slavery in the U.S. “Juneteenth” refers to June 19, 1865, the day when Union soldiers under the command of Major General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston in Texas with news that the Civil War was over and all slaves were now free. Because Texas had been a part of the Confederate States of America, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation could not be enforced in Texas until then.

Juneteenth 2015 was celebrated on Friday, marking exactly 150 years since Union troops brought the news of freedom to Galveston. One of Granger’s soldiers in Galveston that day was none other than Private William Henry “Bill” Costley of Pekin (1840-1888), eldest son of Benjamin Costley and Nance Legins-Costley (though Union military records misspell Bill’s surname “Corsley”).

On his enlistment and muster papers, Bill Costley of Pekin is called “William H. Corsley.”

Bill Costley was mustered out of his regiment on Sept. 30, 1865.

We will now lend this column space to Carl Adams so he can share the results of his historical and genealogical research which tell the story of Bill Costley’s adventures during and immediately after the Civil War. (It was only this month that Adams located Bill’s final resting place, with the help of Rich Apri of St. Paul, Minn.)

  • * *

Bill Costley was the first male slave to be legally freed by attorney Abraham Lincoln as a result of the Bailey v. Cromwell Illinois Supreme Court case in 1841. He was an infant at the time. At age 23, Bill Costley decided to join the Union cause of the Civil War.

During the summer of 1864, the Civil War was going poorly for the Union Army on the Richmond-Petersburg front. Commander-in-Chief Lincoln was afraid he would not be re-elected president. To make matters worse, the Illinois 29th Regiment of Volunteers (Colored) had suffered more than 70 percent casualties at the Battle of the Crater — virtually wiped out, with all the officers either dead or wounded.

In spite of the fact they knew black men would have to fight with muskets at their front and bayonets held by white soldiers at their backs, 13 blacks from Tazewell County decided it was time to volunteer to reinforce the Colored Troops. Those brave 13 were William Costley of Pekin, his brother-in-law Edward Lewis, Thomas Shipman, George M. Hall, Joseph Hubbard, Richard Howard, Wilson Price, Thomas Tumbleton, Morgan Day, and the tightly knit family of William J. Ashby and his three sons, William H., Marshall and Nathan (one of those sons married a sister of Bill Costley).

At least two of them would not come home — Thomas Shipman of Pekin and Morgan Day of Elm Grove fell in battle, and their names are inscribed on the monument to Tazewell County’s fallen heroes outside the courthouse in downtown Pekin. And at least one of them was wounded — William Henry Costley. However, Bill Costley would participate in at least two more historic events before he returned home: the founding of the “Buffalo Soldiers” and “Juneteenth.”

Shown is the name of Bill Costley’s fellow soldier Thomas Shipman inscribed on the Tazewell County Veterans Memorial outside the Tazewell County Courthouse. Shipman, along with Morgan Day and William H. Costley, were among the 13 African-Americans from Tazewell County who fought to end slavery and restore the Union during the Civil War. Shipman and Day fell in combat, while Costley suffered a shrapnel wound to his shoulder.

Shown is the name of Bill Costley’s fellow soldier Morgan Day inscribed on the Tazewell County Veterans Memorial outside the Tazewell County Courthouse. Costley and Day were among the 13 African-Americans from Tazewell County who fought to end slavery and restore the Union during the Civil War.

General Ulysses S. Grant and the Union Army, sensing a quick victory, were eager to get the spring offensive started in March 1865, but heavy spring rains made movements difficult for horses and men alike, and wet ammunition was also a problem.

Finally, in the last week of March, the Union Army awoke from winter sleep and started to move. A fair-skinned black private from Tazewell County, Private Thomas Shipman, was one of the first to go. Assigned to the sharpshooters under Captain Porter, Shipman was killed trading musket balls with the rebel skirmishers on March 31.

Around noon on April 1, General Sheridan beat General Pickett at Five Forks. Private Bill Costley’s unit, the 29th Regiment of Volunteers (Colored), held part of the right flank of the Union line at Hatcher’s Run. The breakthrough prompted Grant to order a full frontal assault all along the line, spanning miles.

As Bill’s infantry line moved forward on the Confederate breastworks nearing Petersburg, an artillery shell blew an air burst to the front and to the left of Bill, close enough to knock him to the ground with sharp pain to the front left shoulder.

Bill was evacuated to the Regimental Aid Station. Dr. Clarence Ewen later wrote in Bill’s pension file (No. 524296) that he remembered Bill’s wound as badly bruised, but no blood, so Bill was ordered back to the front and, bravely, Bill went back into the fight — only to return the next day with intolerable pain.

So Bill was evacuated again, this time to Division for Triage, then on to the “Negro Only” facility at Point-of-Rocks near the pontoon bridge across the James River, and from there to City Point for transfer to a hospital at Alexandria, Va. Bill spent about five weeks in the military medical system. During this time Bill learned his family’s old friend, lawyer Lincoln, was killed as one of the last casualties of the War of the Rebellion.

Juneteenth — Freedom Day, June 19, 1865, for all of Texas slaves, about a quarter of a million souls.

The scene is the Gulf of Mexico in June 1865. The Civil War was over and Private Bill Costley was recovering from a shrapnel wound to his left shoulder, according to his pension file. After a month in the hospitals at Point-of-Rocks and Alexandria, Va., Bill Costley was returned to duty with his unit.

Most of the white Union soldiers were discharged for home, but most of the black soldiers still had a year of service, and the French had invaded Mexico during the war. Lincoln was dead, so Secretary of War Stanton ordered General U.S. Grant to dispatch the black units to the Mexican border as a show of force along the Rio Grande.

At least two Navy ships, the USS Wilmington and the USS William Kennedy, were ordered to load 2,000 Union soldiers, including General Gordon Granger and the 900 men of 29th Regiment of Illinois Colored Volunteers, which was augmented with former slaves and dispatched to the Mexican border.

It was a rough ride. From Mobile, Ala., the ships were sent out into very rough stormy seas to disembark at South Padre Island near Brownsville, Texas. The weather was too rough to unload anyone and the Rio Grande was flooding. After two days, the Navy needed safe harbor, so they tried Aransas Pass near Corpus Christi for another three days, but it was still too rough to unload.

The senior Navy captain warned Granger they were running out of supplies and the nearest resupply was at Galveston. This would be a turning point of history for the state of Texas.

“June 18 — Arrived off Galveston, at Pier 21.” The sight was surprising, if not shocking, to see black uniformed sailors and soldiers working side-by-side with still enslaved longshoremen, who had never heard of an “Emancipation … what?” This discovery would travel up the chain of command very quickly.

So without further orders and under threat of martial law enforced by black armed soldiers, the entire populace assembled at Ashton Villa the next morning. General Granger stood on the second floor balcony to read General Order No. 3. At the last four words of the first sentence, “all slaves are free,” the entire throng was motionless. It seemed no one even breathed. While it took a while to sink in, the order soon turned into an explosion of emotion that has lasted now for 150 years — Juneteenth, Freedom Day, 1865.

Private Bill Costley of Pekin probably didn’t get much of a celebration when his mother was emancipated 24 years earlier, but he did not miss the joys of this party that lasted all day, into the night and again the next day. However, they were still under military orders. “June 21 — Put to sea.”

  • * *

After the war, Bill returned to Pekin, where in 1870 the Civil War hero found himself indicted for murder. Bill had encountered a convicted rapist named Patrick Doyle brutally attacking a woman in the street. Bill intervened, twice ordering Doyle to stop, and when Doyle ignored him, he shot and killed him. (The records of Doyle’s inquest detailing Bill Costley’s actions are still on file with the Tazewell County Coroner.)

The people of Pekin knew Bill and his family, though, and they also knew who Doyle was and what he’d been sent to prison for — so after a two-day trial, the all-white jury acquitted Bill Costley, finding the homicide justifiable due to Bill’s having come to the aid of a woman in need. (Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” page 296, has a brief reference to Bill Costley’s trial and acquittal.)

Adams’ research shows that Bill later left Pekin, moving to 320 Main St., Davenport, Iowa, and then to 1134 N. Ninth St., Minneapolis, Minn., where it’s possible some of his family had also moved. Though the years wore on, Bill’s old war wound continued to plague him. Bill kept complaining of shoulder pain to his Pension Board, so he finally was admitted to Rochester State Hospital in Rochester, Minn., in May 1888, and there he died five months later, on the night of Oct. 1, 1888. The ward notes say he had “expired before he could be undressed.”

William Henry Costley, war hero, Buffalo Soldier, and witness to the first Juneteenth, was laid to rest — under the name of “William H. Crossley” — in Rochester’s Quarry Hill Park, in the Rochester State Hospital Cemetery, located between 11th Ave. NE and Route 22, just north of Route 11.

Shown is the grave marker of Pekin Civil War veteran William H. Costley (surname misspelled “Crossley” in the inscription) in the Rochester State Hospital Cemetery, Rochester, Minn.

#buffalo-soldiers, #carl-adams, #edward-lewis, #george-m-hall, #joseph-hubbard, #juneteenth, #marshall-ashby, #morgan-day, #nance-legins-costley, #nathan-ashby, #patrick-doyle, #pekin-history, #richard-howard, #thomas-shipman, #thomas-tumbleton, #william-h-ashby, #william-h-corsley, #william-h-crossley, #william-henry-costley, #william-j-ashby, #wilson-price

Tazewell’s unincorporated communities: Midway

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Picking up once more on our series of profiles of Tazewell County’s unincorporated communities, this week we’ll move a few miles further down the road from Normandale to take a look at the village of Midway.

John Drury’s “This is Tazewell County, Illinois” (1954), page 97, briefly describes Midway Addition and explains the village’s name as follows: “On State 29, north of the Pekin Airport, lies the small village of Midway. It is about midway between the city of Pekin and South Pekin. Near it flows Lost Creek. The Chicago & North Western Railroad runs along its eastern border.”

Drury’s 1954 description is still pretty accurate today, the only difference being that the Chicago & North Western railroad on Midway’s eastern border is now the Union Pacific.

Like Normandale Addition to the north, Midway Addition took shape as a community in the years after World War II. Midway does not appear on the Tazewell County plat book in 1945 – at that time the land that would soon become Midway was owned by Catherine Fornoff and John M. Shade. Curiously, however, the 1955 plat map of Cincinnati Township – compiled only a year after Drury had included Midway in his book – designates Midway as an unnamed “SUBDIVIDED” parcel of land.

The land that is today the village of Midway formerly was owned by John Shade and Catherine Fornoff, as shown in this detail of a 1945 plat map of Cincinnati Township.

By the time this 1955 plat map of Cincinnati Township was drawn, Midway had been established on land formerly owned by John M. Shade. “Midway” is not named on this map, however, but is instead designated merely as “SUBDIVIDED.”

A comparison of county maps from the 1950s with current maps shows that Midway’s geographical extent has not changed since the village was established. Midway’s western boundary is Illinois Route 9, while the railroad tracks mark the eastern boundary. The village consists of a northern and southern section that are not linked with each other – one must use Route 29 to move between the northern and southern streets. The northern section has only three streets: Woodford Drive (east-west), First Street (north-south), and North Street (east-west). The southern section is larger, having seven streets – three east-west streets: Garman Road, Main Street, and South Street; and four north-south streets, numbered First, Second, Third, and Fourth. The only difference between Midway’s 1950-era street layout and today’s layout is that Third and Fourth streets are now linked at their northern ends, whereas originally both streets ended in cul-de-sacs.

The fact that both Pekin and Midway have streets numbered Second, Third, and Fourth sometimes leads to confusion, since Midway is designated by the U.S. Postal Service as “rural Pekin.” It’s easy to spot the difference between a Pekin and a Midway address, though, because the street numbers of Pekin’s Second, Third, and Fourth streets never have more than four digits, whereas Midway’s have five digits.

The households in Midway are in South Pekin School District 137. Fire protection is provided by the Cincinnati Fire Protection District, volunteer fire department whose 14 members operated out of a station is on Chester L Road a short jog south of Midway.

Midway is also the home of Crossroads Full Gospel Church, located at 13895 First St. In the way of businesses, Midway’s most well-known is Watkins Marine in the southern section of the village at 13950 Illinois Route 29. Across the road from Midway’s South Street is Becks Farm. In the northern section, a tavern, Stones Midway Tap, is located at 14202 Illinois Route 29. Just north of Stones Midway Tap is Mayberry Brothers Discount Truck & Van Accessories, at 14320 Illinois Route 29, and just north of that on the west side of Route 29 is the Pekin area’s Recycling Center.

This detail of a 1957 highway map of Tazewell County shows the village of Midway.

#becks-farm, #chicago-and-northwestern, #cincinnati-fire-protection-district, #crossroads-full-gospel-church, #mayberry-brothers-discount-truck-and-van-accessories, #midway-addition, #pekin-area-recycling-center, #stones-midway-tap, #tazewell-county-unincorporated-communities, #watkins-marine

Entertaining the Pekinese

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The metropolitan areas and larger cities of the U.S. naturally serve as nation’s cultural centers. These are the kinds of places that can support a philharmonic orchestra, and that are always included on the itineraries of musical groups when they plan concert tours.

Smaller cities, however, or towns lacking a suitable venue for a concert, or that are unlikely to draw a sufficient audience to make a concert stop worthwhile, tend to get overlooked. Pekin is one of those cities. Pekin has never had its own philharmonic, but we do boast the Pekin Park Concert Band (successor of the Pekin Municipal Band) that presents summer concerts in Mineral Springs Park on Sundays. Further in the past, Pekinites were also entertained by Gehrig’s Band, and Pekin’s local theaters also regularly staged plays and hosted vaudeville acts.

For about seven decades, popular bands and singers and classical performers were also brought here by the Pekin Concert Association, which until it disbanded recently would book and finance an annual concert series. The decision to disband, according to former PCA member George Beres, was regrettably made due not only to declining membership but to difficulty in securing a suitable venue. In the past concerts would be presented in the Pekin Community High School theater – originally in the former West Campus, later in East Campus’ F. M. Peterson Theater. Within the past decade, though, reserving the PCHS theater became impractical, since acts had to be secured well in advance. In its final seasons the PCA sometimes hosted concerts at a local church.

PCA records kindly supplied to the Pekin Public Library by George Beres listed all of the musical acts in every concert series from the 1948-49 series until the 2006-07 series. The acts’ names, however, are usually abbreviated and not always easy to interpret for those not familiar with popular serious musicians of the past.

Thus, the records show that the first Pekin Concert Association concert series in 1948-49 featured “Templeton, Lloyd, Dilling, Col. Operatic Trio.” A notation on the record indicates that “Dilling” was Mildred Dilling (1894-1982), a renowned harpist. “Templeton” is probably the pianist and composer Alec Templeton (1909-1963), while “Lloyd” is possibly the British composer George Lloyd (1913-1998). “Col. Operatic Trio” refers to the Columbia Operatic Trio, whose members varied over the years.

Subsequent PCA concert series brought such musical performers to Pekin as the Tucson Arizona Boys Choir, the Angelaires, David Bar-Ilan, The DeCormier Folk Singers, Guy Lombardo, The New Christy Minstrels, Serendipity Singers, The Four Freshmen, Chanticleer, The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, The Brothers Four, and The Cornet Chop Suey Jazz Band. Several of the artists and groups made more than one return visit to Pekin courtesy of the Pekin Concert Association.

One of those musical groups that came to Pekin more than once during the PCA’s early concert series was the de Paur Infantry Chorus, an all-male, all-African-American choral group that was organized and conducted by Leonard E. de Paur (1914-1998), a gifted conductor and composer who founded the Lincoln Center Out of Doors programs in New York City. While serving in the U.S. Army infantry in World War II, de Paur was assigned to an all-male chorus – that experience led to de Paur’s founding the de Paur Infantry Chorus after the war. The chorus’ members initially were 35 men from the Army’s 372nd Glee Club, though later on men from other branches of the Armed Services and even civilians were included. The chorus performed a repertory of art songs, military songs, Caribbean folk music and traditional spirituals. Signing with Columbia Records in 1946, the chorus soon began a 10-year reign as Columbia’s top-performing group. Following that success, de Paur decided to discontinue the chorus in 1957, producing the de Paur Opera Gala in its place. In the early 1960s, however, de Paur formed the De Paur Chorus, which toured worldwide until it was disbanded in 1968.

Leonard de Paur, founder and conductor of the de Paur Infantry Chorus, directed his choruses in concert in Pekin three times, courtesy of the Pekin Concert Association.

Leonard de Paur brought his Infantry Chorus to Pekin twice – first during the PCA’s 1950-51 concert series, and again during the 1952-53 concert series. The de Paur Chorus also performed in Pekin during the PCA’s 1963-64 concert series. George Beres attended their concerts here and says they put on an extremely good show.

A number of fascinating and enlightening anecdotes of the de Paul Infantry Chorus’ visits to Pekin in 1950 and 1952-3 may be gleaned from an article from the Winter 1954 issue of “Etc.: A Review of General Semantics” (Vol. XI, No. 2, pages 144-147), a copy of which may be found in the archives of the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room. The article, entitled “Educating the Pekinese” and written by Clotye Murdock, associate editor of Ebony magazine, sheds a revealing and edifying light on the racial attitudes of the residents of the then-all-white city of Pekin. Included in Murdock’s article are the following excerpts from a letter by Leonard de Paur in which he sketched the chorus’ visits:

“We have a date coming up which suggests an interesting angle in the area of race relations. It involves a town highlighted by Life magazine about a year ago as a center of gambling and assorted other shocking vices. The town is Pekin, Illinois (near Peoria), where there is no discernible Negro population. Pekin has no decent hotel, and it is around this lack that the story revolves. We first performed in Pekin during 1950. In the routine booking of hotel accommodations it became evident that we would have to stay in Peoria, where we were housed at the Marquette Hotel when we earlier gave a concert for Bradley University. As a matter of general information, we advised the concert committee in Pekin of our plan to hotel in Peoria . . .

“Shortly thereafter, we received an invitation from the committee to stay in Pekin as house guests of some of the town’s leading citizens. We wanted to decline at first, because the routine of the road is designed for hotel living. We avoid house-guesting, because of the headaches involved in dispersal and collection, so we tried a gentle demurrer. They persisted, and assured me that all we need to do would be to arrive in the town. They would take over from that point. And they did just that.

“Our bus pulled up to the site of the concert to find a fleet of cabs ready to taxi us to our respective homes. A leading lawyer [Note: this was Grace United Methodist Church member Bernard F. Hoffman, 1912-1972, a founding member of the Pekin Concert Association who for most of his life was one of Pekin’s most active community leaders] had organized things and hovered by making sure things moved on schedule. Supper found us the guests of the Methodist Men’s Club. The post-concert reception was held at the YWCA. Next morning, it developed we were truly ‘guests’ – our money was absolutely no good, breakfast, lunch, and the like for 34 men notwithstanding. Along the streets we were lionized to the hilt, so much so that my curiosity boiled over. This was too good, too organized. I sought the answers.

“They were simple and enlightening. Peoria has had, as you know, its racial difficulties (schools, restaurants, etc.), and Pekin had them in even more virulent fashion. There was an organized effort made, some years ago, to keep Negroes out of Pekin, and the one family which dared move to the town finally gave up and fled. There have been no Negro residents since that time.

“But God bless ’em, there are people of conscience in Pekin, and this racial ‘void’ had obviously troubled them. Our appearance proved to be an opportunity for them to use our visit as a ‘demonstration of democracy’ project. I also suspect they wanted to see some colored folk close-up.

“The result was that this year when we were asked to return to Pekin, housing needs were oversubscribed. And the people involved are the ‘leadership’ element in the town – the thinking and acting and policy-forming group. As a symptom of what may well be an ever-widening turn of mind, I find it heartening . . . .”

The de Paur Infantry Chorus’ experiences of Pekin serve to illustrate what popular singer Billy Joel once said about some of the most beneficial qualities of music: “I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.

#bernard-f-hoffman, #clotye-murdock, #de-paur-chorus, #de-paur-infantry-chorus, #de-paur-opera-gala, #ebony-magazine, #educating-the-pekinese, #gehrigs-band, #george-beres, #leonard-de-paur, #pekin-concert-association, #pekin-municipal-band, #pekin-park-concert-band, #pekins-racist-reputation, #racism-in-pekins-past, #sundown-towns

A mailbag full of spam

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

It has now been more than eight years since the Pekin Public Library launched “From the History Room,” beginning with the April 23, 2011 column “Glee club not just a modern phenomenon” by Reference Assistant Linda Mace (about the Girls Glee Club mentioned in the 1915 Pekin Community High School catalog).

“From the History Room” started as a weekly newspaper column published in the Saturday edition of the Pekin Daily Times. Since July 21, 2015, an expanded or augmented version of each week’s new column is also posted every Friday at the Pekin Public Library’s “From the History Room” weblog (Fromthehistoryroom.wordpress.com).

Over the years our “mailbag” has been filled with a great deal of positive responses from people interested in matters of Pekin’s and Tazewell County’s history. Sometimes it’s a simple message of gratitude or praise, but we’ve also benefited from the historical insight of our readers. Several of the “From the History Room” weblog posts/columns were prompted either by queries from readers or by fascinating information that has been provided.

Nevertheless, there is one drawback to running an internet blog: by far the greatest proportion of “responses” to our history columns don’t come from real human beings at all (which is to say, they’re not really responses at all). As the author of “From the History Room,” one of my responsibilities is to check the blog’s Spam Folder to see if any genuine comments were mistakenly sent there. I must admit that Word Press has provided an effective and accurate spam-catcher. It’s very rare for me to find a genuine comment trapped there, and only once in the past four years have I had to delete a spam comment that somehow made it through the Word Press spam filter.

A wall of spam outside of the the Cannon Theatre in Littleton, Massachusetts, during the first day of ticket sales for Spamalot. PHOTO BY ‘FREEZELIGHT’ at https://www.flickr.com/photos/63056612@N00/155554663/

Scanning through the spam folder is usually a mild annoyance, but at times the emotion of annoyance yields to mild amusement as I read the bot-generated fake messages that spammers, hackers, and identity thieves hope to post in our weblog’s comment boxes. I thought I’d select a few so you might get an idea of what I get to read every week:

Probably our most prolific source of spam comes from “Tankli Tunkli,” which seems to be based in the nation of Georgia in the region of the Caucasus Mountains, between the Black and Caspian seas. I could understand if someone from the U.S. state of Georgia were interested in Tazewell County’s local history, but it’s highly unlikely that Georgian nationals care a whit about Nathan Cromwell, W. H Bates, or Everett Dirksen.

Many of Tankli Tunkli’s most recurrent spam messages sound pretty innocuous. Here are two examples that were sent using different Gmail accounts:

“I discovered your site from Google and also I need to say it was a fantastic find. Thanks!”

“Can you inform me what platform are you using on this website?”

I always have to roll my eyes at the thought that a spammer programmed a bot to spit out this question. But then, the bot is incapable of knowing that the Word Press blog it is spamming is a . . . Word Press blog.

We also get quite a lot of messages that are nothing but gibberish or a series of sentence fragments strung together. Here’s one that allegedly came from Buildyourownshedsite.wordpress.com:

“We were 3000 miles from your own home when my heart gave up as well as over 50% of it died and scarred over, put simply cannot pump ever again. As the latest member of Toy Story series, the movie tells the tale of how Woody leads his squad to obtain free of day-care center to obtain back to Andy. WHERE TO BUY Buying a guitar from your physical retail music store lets you.”

Then there’s the foreign-language gibberish, like this one from Udonax:

“Muito obrigado ao DEs artrite reumatГіide coceira e outros colaboradores neste fГіrum para informar turnГЄ cГ¬rculo maravilhoso da minha famГ¬lia do HavaГ¬ nos.”

The hard-working bots at Tankli Tunkli also spewed out a series of blessedly brief but unimaginatively dull spam messages, each one of them purportedly coming from different people, like so:

Chara: “Do you have any type of ideas for writing articles? That’s where I always battle and also I simply end up looking vacant screen for very long time.”

(Hey, Chara, I know the feeling . . .)

Isabell: “Your website has exceptional material. I bookmarked the website.”

(Thanks, Isabell – or should I say, “Tankli very much!”)

Percy: “I located your internet site from Google and I have to say it was a wonderful find. Thanks!”

(Ah, that one again . . .)

Bessie (Tankli): “Do you have any type of ideas for composing articles? That’s where I constantly battle and also I just finish up gazing vacant display for lengthy time.”

(You and Chara seem to have the same problem . . .)

Jean: “Hi there! Such a nice short article, thanks!”

(This one is pretty funny, because anyone who has read my history columns knows very well that not too many of them could be called “short.”)

Here’s another gibberish message from Vegetta777 Skywars. I think it’s one of my favorites, as it appears from it that Vegetta777’s claims regarding the tale of the San Diego tiger have in fact been disproved by the fact that a head of hair is a good sun-shield:

“Based on the latest polls, we’ve got a statistical dead heat in Iowa on all parties of the aisle. Finally, currently has the tale of the San Diego tiger. FALSE: Head of hair acts being a shield with the sun.”

Here’s a sample spam message that is a common variation of a message that appears in our spam folder every week. This one comes from King4d (Valtrex.news):

“Hey there! I know this is kinda off topic but I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest authoring a blog article or vice-versa? My blog goes over a lot of the same subjects as yours and I believe we could greatly benefit from each other. If you happen to be interested feel free to shoot me an e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you! Fantastic blog by the way!”

Well, King4d, that’s really “kinda” you to say and all, but really, writing weekly posts for “From the History Room” is quite enough for me.

I’ll wrap this up with just a few words of advice courtesy of our regular spammers. “Wilhelmina” wanted the readers of “From the History Room” to know that, “The Tiller. This assists to improve its stability.” On the other hand, “Sherlene” wants you to remember, “Tolerance – Do not over-trade your accounts.

Got that?

It should surprise no one that “Sherlene” is merely the fake handle of someone or something called “Nigerianforex.”

Nigerian For Ex. Of course.

Learn more about Pekin and Tazewell County history, read past columns, view slideshows and photo galleries, post comments and suggestions, and keep up to date on the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection at https://fromthehistoryroom.wordpress.com/. We love hearing from you – real people, that is, not spambots.

#from-the-local-history-room-column-and-weblog, #mailbag-full-of-spam, #perils-of-blogging, #spam, #spamalot

Pekin’s pioneer teeth-pullers

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Where did Tazewell County’s pioneers go when they needed to have their teeth checked? The answer, somewhat surprisingly, is that they probably went to the nearest barber or wig-maker.

That fact can be gleaned by a book entitled, “Open Wide – This Won’t Hurt: The History of Dentistry in the Peoria Area,” published in 2000 a Peoria dentist named Curzio Paesani. A copy of Paesani’s book is included in the Local History Room collection of the Pekin Public Library.

Paesani traces the early history of dentistry in America to the landing of a fleet of ships on the shores of Britain’s American colonies on July 6, 1630. Among the English colonists who landed on that date were “three barber-surgeons who were known to treat teeth.” Long ago, barbers did a lot more than just haircuts. Paesani says colonial wig-makers were also known to work on teeth.

Barbers in America continued to wear several different hats even in the 1800s, though in that century formal standards of professionalism and training for dentists were developed. Directing our attention to our own neighborhood, Paesani relates on pages 2-3 that, “In the very early years, even before Peoria was a city, there was a barber pole at #8 Fulton Street, between Water and Washington streets, and on this pole was advertising for cupping and leeching. The owner of this shop was a barber by the name of Fredrich Buffie. He also did dentistry: pulling teeth, opening ‘gum boils’ and providing other services such as the use of leeches for general bleeding.”

The business listings of the 1861 Roots City Directory of Pekin, page 83, shows a single dentist: “DENNIS DR. J. W., Court, north side, 2d door west Capitol.” That means Dr. James Webster Dennis had his dentist office at about the spot that is today occupied by the western half of Pekin National Bank. Cross-referencing Dr. J. W. Dennis in the residential listing of the 1861 city directory, we find on page 22 that Dr. Charles J. Dennis worked in the same office as Dr. J. W. Dennis.

Listed in the 1861 Roots City Directory of Pekin were the brothers James and Charles Dennis, two of Pekin’s earliest dentists. They and their older brother Robert also practiced dentistry in Peoria.

A decade later, the business listings of the Sellers & Bates 1870-71 City Directory of Pekin now showed two dentist offices: those of C. J. Dennis and Albert H. Day. Day’s office was at the “nw cor Court square, over Steiner & Marx’ millinery story.” That’s very close to the former office of the Dennis dentistry practice, which has moved to “ss Court 3 d e Third (upstairs)” – that is, 309 Court St., approximately where the Pekin Times offices are today. The directory shows that Charles (“C. J.”) and J. W. Dennis were still working together as dentists. Six years later, however, Dr. James W. Dennis is listed at 309 Court St. without Charles, while Dr. Albert H. Day is still practicing dentistry at the same spot. A year after that, a third dentist, Dr. Henry H. Fitch, had set up his practice at 427 Court St.

Paesani provides the following survey of Pekin’s earliest dentists on page 77 of his book:

“In an 1870 business directory, an ad for dentists C.J. and J.W. Dennis promoted ‘artificial teeth.’ Pekin had a number of early dentists; one of the first was Dr. H.H. Fitch. He was born in Moor’s, New York, on April 10, 1846. He practiced dentistry in Lee, Massachusetts, moved to Pekin in December 1876, and opened his office. He died suddenly on May 2, 1895. Dentists in Pekin in 1905 included Drs. R.C. Horner, Albert Van Horne and R.C. Willett. Dr. Horner was president of the Peoria County Dental Society in 1906. Dr. Willett moved to Peoria to limit his practice to orthodontia. Other dentists who followed were Drs. C.E. Reed, W.A. Thrush and C.G. Cleveland. Dr. Horner retired in 1933 and moved to Washington, D.C. Dr. Cleveland practiced in Pekin until he was 80 years old.”

It should be noted, however, that the 1870 Pekin city directory has no Dennis dentistry advertisement for “artificial teeth.” Paesani was rather referring to an ad in the 1870 Peoria city directory, reproduced on page 7 of Paesani’s book, in which Dr. Robert G. Dennis advertised artificial teeth made of vulcanized rubber. The ad says the teeth would be made “to the beautiful style of work of which he and C. J. & J. W. DENNIS, Dentists, of Pekin, are the only manufacturers in Central Illinois.” Dr. Robert Dennis first appears in the Peoria city directories in 1859. Robert, Charles, and James were brothers, sons of Thomas James and Martha (Webster) Dennis of Pennsylvania.

#curzio-paesani, #dr-albert-h-day, #dr-albert-van-horne, #dr-c-e-reed, #dr-c-g-cleveland, #dr-charles-j-dennis, #dr-henry-h-fitch, #dr-james-w-dennis, #dr-r-c-horner, #dr-r-c-willett, #dr-robert-dennis, #dr-w-a-thrush, #fredrich-buffie, #pekin-dentists