Hello and welcome to our visitors! In the summer of 2015 the Pekin Public Library debuted this new weblog spotlighting our Local History Room collection. The weekly “From the Local History Room” column that is published in the Saturday Pekin Daily Times will be posted here. We welcome your comments and questions and research queries.
By Jared Olar
Last month we learned the name of the riverboat whose deckhands went on a drunken spree through the streets of Pekin on July 4, 1851 – the Lucy Bertram. This week we’ll take a closer look at the history of the Lucy Bertram, which plied the waters of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers during the heyday of the American steamboat.
As a matter of fact, there were two steamboats christened with the name “Lucy Bertram.” It was the first Lucy Bertram whose deckhands entered Pekin’s history. According to William J. Petersen’s “Steamboating on the Upper Mississippi” (1968), page 320, the Lucy Bertram was a 268-ton sidewheeler that was launched at St. Louis, Mo., in 1847.
The Lucy Bertram was one of the first three packet steamers of the St. Louis and Keokuk Packet Company, whose owners were apparently great fans of the famed Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott. The Lucy Bertram was named for one of the characters in Scott’s novel “Guy Mannering.” (Incidentally, Scott’s novels seemed to be popular not only with steamboat sailor but with trans-Atlantic seamen also, as there was an English trans-Atlantic ship named the “S.S. Guy Mannering” that brought English immigrants to the U.S. about this same period of time.) The St. Louis and Keokuk Packet Company’s first steamboat, launched in 1842, was the 211-ton Die Vernon, named for a character in Scott’s “Rob Roy.” The Lucy Bertram’s two companions were the Rob Roy, title character of Scott’s novel, and the Jeannie Deans, a character of Scott’s “The Heart of Midlothian.”
Retired steamboat Capt. F. A. Whitney of Centerville, Iowa, later shared some of his memories of steamboating during these years in a series of articles in “The Saturday Evening Post.” In his first installment, Whitney wrote (emphasis added):
“During the Civil War in the sixties, there was a packet line of steamers running between St. Louis and Keokuk. These were named the Hannibal City, Warsaw, Rob Roy, Lucy Bertram, Die Vernon, Hardy Johnson, and Andy Johnson. These were all splendid side wheel steamers. The crews were noted for their skill and popularity, their stewards and chefs were the best money could hire. Many a passenger made the trip on one of these boats to enjoy the accommodation, music and meals, for traveling at that time was indeed a pleasure. These boats being larger and drawing too much water could not go above the lower rapids at Keokuk, so there was another line of boats called the Northern Packet Company which ran its boats between St. Louis and St. Paul . . . .
“As these boats carried colored deck hands, some of them were always ready to entertain the passengers when at leisure by dancing, singing, diving in a pan of water for nickels, etc., and when the boat left the wharf at St. Louis for its up river trip at 4 p. m. the deck hands would sing as they hauled in the head line, ‘I roistered on the Rob Roy, I roistered on the Lee, I roistered on the Belle La Cross, she got away with me. The Libby is a good boat, and so am the Lee, but the Old Diamond Jo, she’s too much for me. Get on board, get on board, we’s goin’ up the river, get on board . . .,’ making up the words to fit the song as they hauled in the lines. Oh, those were the happy days.”
Pekin old-timer Emil Schilling said the deckhands of the boat we now know was the Lucy Bertram who were involved in the 1851 riot in Pekin were African-American, as was common on steamboats during this era.
Although Whitney mentions the Lucy Bertram in his recollections, that wasn’t the same steamboat as was involved in the Pekin riot. That was in fact the second Lucy Bertram, which according to Petersen (page 320) was a 698-ton steamboat built in 1863 for the St. Louis and Keokuk Packet Company which cruised up and down the Mississippi River until 1878. It was the second Lucy Bertram who plied the Mississippi’s waters during the Civil War, and in fact Petersen on pages 188 and 320 says she even assisted with troop transport for the Union Army:
“By 1864 the movement of steamboats was again in full swing up and downstream. On April 18 th more than one hundred soldiers from the Keokuk hospitals left on the steamboat Lucy Bertram to rejoin their regiments. Nine days later the Die Vernon took the Fifteenth Iowa to the front; and a month later the Lucy Bertram took the Forty-fifth Iowa Regiment downstream. . . .”
In her book, “Seeing the Elephant: The Many Voices of the Oregon Trail” (2003), pages 198-199, Joyce Badgley Hunsaker includes passages from a diary or memoir of Fincelius Gray Burnett (Finn Burnett of Wyoming, frontiersman, 1844-1934) in which Finn Burnett says his uncle David was a captain of the second Lucy Bertram. Hunsaker reports Burnett as saying:
“Uncle David’s second clerk, Sam Clemens, used to count the sacks as the deck hands loaded them onto the boat. Then he’d count the barrels of lard as they’d come aboard. That’s right, Samuel Clemens. Mr. Mark Twain, himself. Of course, that’s before he was famous. I remember him being a rather spare-made man, quick-motioned, and spry. And in those days he was young. History made him out a river pilot, but I never knew him as such. To me, he was just Uncle David’s clerk.”
However, Hunsaker’s book includes both actual historical sources as well as fictionalized or imagined diary entries, and it’s not clear whether the Finn Burnett diary/memoir is real or imagined. In Hunsaker’s book, Burnett speculates that Twain’s character Huckleberry Finn may have been inspired by Burnett’s own childhood experiences growing up on the Mississippi River and traveling with his Uncle David on the Lucy Bertram.
By Jared Olar
On the last page of the very first Pekin City Directory, published by Omi E. Root of Peoria in 1861, is an entry for an “independent company of volunteer militia” called the “Pekin Zouaves.” This is how Root’s Directory describes this militia company:
“Organized May 16th, 1861. Number of members, 60. Annual days of parade, 22d February, 10th May, 4th July, 10th September, and 8th January. The following commissioned officers were elected, May 28th, 1861, for six years: G. W. Baker, Captain; H. P. Finigan, First Lieutenant ; L. B. Greenleaf, Second Lieutenant ; W. M. Olmsted, Third Lieutenant. C. R. Cummings, Orderly Sergeant ; appointed by the captain for one year.”
The reason this militia company was formed was one of the most important events in U.S. history – the Confederate States of America’s attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, which sparked the U.S. Civil War. Soon after, militia companies were established throughout the remaining United States to prepare to aid in the Union’s war efforts against the Confederacy, and the Pekin Zouaves were one of those companies.
But why was this company called “Zouaves”? The original Zouaves were a French army light infantry corps organized in 1830 – at first the French Zouaves were all Algerians from North Africa, and consequently their uniforms were Middle Eastern or Turkish in style. Romantically imitating the French Zouaves, other nations also established their own companies of soldiers wearing Zouave-style uniforms, including militia companies in Illinois and Missouri during the early months of the Civil War.
At the website www.infantry8thmo.org/HTMhistory.html is a “Brief History: 8th Missouri Volunteer Infantry (US) – The ‘Fighting American Zouaves.’” Following are excerpts from the “Brief History” (emphasis added):
“As a result of a direct order from President Lincoln to alleviate the prejudice against the Irish, the 8th Missouri Infantry was organized in St. Louis from June 12 to August 14, 1861. Over 600 Irish boatmen & deck hands left the St. Louis riverfront to fight under the command of Captain Morgan L. Smith. Originally from New York, he and his brother, Captain Giles A. Smith, also recruited troops from Bloomington, Illinois. The 8th MO uniform was that of the American Zouaves.
“The Peoria Zouave Cadets were organized in Peoria, Illinois 3/23/1861. They recruited up to war strength and left for St. Louis on 6/19/1861 but, upon their arrival, there was a disagreement and about half returned to Illinois to join the 17th Illinois. An under-strength company calling themselves the Pekin Zouaves from Pekin, Illinois, sent about 30 recruits from Peoria to St. Louis, and filled up the company. They mustered in as Company H. Neither company provided the ‘Zouave influence’ for the company since they were already being referred to as the ‘American Zouave Regiment.’ Company L sharpshooters were recruited in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
“The 8th MO served the duration of the Civil War and fought decisive battles under Generals Grant and Sherman. They became well known for their tenacity, displaying Zouave fighting techniques on the battlefield. Generals Grant and Sherman write about the 8th Missouri in their Memoirs. General Grant’s son, Frederick Dent Grant, writes in ‘At the Front With Dad’ about slipping into the Battle of Vicksburg at age 13 with the 8th Missouri. Eleven soldiers in 8th MO were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their actions during the Siege of Vicksburg.”
As this column has noted previously, one of the members of the Pekin Zouaves was none other than Pekin’s pioneer historian William H. Bates (1840-1930). Of the five original officers of the Pekin Zouaves, Capt. G. W. Baker is listed on page 13 of the 1861 Pekin City Directory as “BAKER, GEORGE W. F., ambrotype and photographic gallery, cor. Court and Second ; bds. Tazewell House.” Thus, Baker was, like Henry Hobart Cole, one of Pekin’s early photographers.
First Lieut. H. P. Finigan was Henry P. Finigan, a Catholic Ulster-born Pekin attorney, land and real estate agent, and grain merchant. Finigan with his wife Margaret and Margaret’s parents together escaped the Irish Potato Famine and settled in Pekin. Henry’s date of birth is uncertain, because when he registered for the draft in June 1863, his age was written down as 31, but the 1870 U.S. Census says he was 34 at that time (that census also mistakenly gives his middle initial as “B.” rather than “P.”).
Second Lieut. L. B. Greenleaf was Luther Berge Greenleaf, born in Connecticut in 1834 or 1836, died August 1902 in Onarga, Ill. The 1861 Pekin City Directory says he was then a law student. His Onarga newspaper obituary says although he studied law, he instead became a journalist in Peoria, later moving to Kansas for a while, then finally settling down in Onarga.
Third Lieut. W. M. Olmsted was William M. Olmsted (1802-1872), who in 1861 was a clerk at Stephen Roney’s Hardware, 33 Court St., at the corner of Court and Second. Olmsted later was promoted to the rank of captain during the civil war. His grave in Lakeside Cemetery is one of the old Oak Grove Cemetery burials.
Lastly, Orderly Sgt. C. R. Cummings was none other than Columbus R. Cummings (1834-1897), a prominent Pekin businessman and land owner who subsequently served as Pekin’s 20th mayor (1875-1876), later moving to Chicago, where he became a Gilded Age railroad tycoon and banker. It was the heirs of C. R. Cummings’ great estate who in 1916 gave the Pekin public schools an athletic field with the stipulation that it should be named after the estate manager James M. James (1849-1918).
Here’s a chance to read one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in June 2013 before the launch of this blog . . .
City shuts down for pioneer’s funeral
By Jared Olar
Readers of the Pekin Daily Times in the spring of 1918 found a remarkable and attention-grabbing change in the layout of the front page of the Wednesday, May 8, edition.
A large portion of the top half of that day’s front was taken up by a man’s portrait framed within two large square boxes. Within the frame were the man’s name and the dates of his birth and death, along with an inscription in his honor: “James Morris James; Living, He Earned Respect; Dead, We Do Him Honor; February 14, 1849; May 5, 1918.”
The prominently displayed portrait of James Morris James accompanied a very lengthy story about his funeral. The story, which included the complete text of the remarks and eulogy given by Rev. E. C. Hawkins of First Methodist Episcopal Church, had three headlines: “ALL PEKIN PAUSES TO HONOR PIONEER,” “City Stops Activities this Afternoon for J. M. James funeral,” and “ENTIRE COMMUNITY FEELS BEREAVEMENT.”
But just who was James Morris James, and what was it about him that his death at the age of 69 from heart trouble brought the city of Pekin to shut down for a few hours in the middle of the week?
In finding to the answer to that question, we can gather a few initial clues by noting the list of pall bearers at his funeral. One of pall bearers was none other the Pekin’s mayor, Charles Schaefer. Besides the eight actual pall bearers, 20 other men were named was honorary pall bearers. Together, the list of active and honorary pall bearers included most of Pekin’s community leaders.
An even clearer indication of James’ prominence in his community is found in the text of Mayor Schaefer’s proclamation, dated Tuesday, May 7, 1918, which said, “Out of respect to the memory of the late Col. James M. James, who for half a century was closely identified with the progress of our city and this community and who always showed a willingness to aid every cause or improvement which tended to the betterment of our city and its people, the business men of our city are requested to suspend business for one hour, between 2:30 and 3:30 Wednesday afternoon, the time of the funeral of our departed worthy citizen.”
Rev. Hawkins’ glowing tribute to James’ memory is one more indication of just how highly esteemed he was. So also was James’ obituary, which was published in the Monday, May 6, 1918, edition of the Pekin Daily Times. His obituary was unusually long and included a detail biography, and nestled beside the obituary was a paid advertisement – an expression of appreciation from Farmers National Bank and an announcement that the bank would close at noon Wednesday for James’ funeral. As his obituary states, James joined the bank’s board of directors in 1884, became its vice president in 1905, and became the bank president in 1911.
The following passages from his obituary tell of James’ other activities in Pekin’s business life and economic development:
“Mr. James . . . . in November, 1861, began working at the printing business on a local paper, and later, for a short time, was employed on the old Illinois River Railroad (now Chicago, Peoria & St. Louis Railroad.) In October, 1863, he secured employment as a clerk in the dry goods store of C. B. Cummings & Brother, remaining with them until 1870, when he became bookkeeper for Columbus R. Cummings, railway contractor and builder. His duties including the caring for the local affairs of his employer, and since 1879 he has had charge of both the bank and extensive farm interests of Mr. Columbus R. Cummings, after the removal of the latter to Chicago. Mr. James was a member of the Cummings Harvester Company and its president, while it was in business, from 1889. . . .
“He was also president of the Pekin Mutual Building & Loan Association, and was active in all improvements made at Lakeside cemetery of which association he has been treasurer since its organization.”
James also was directly involved and especially involved in the reclamation of the Lima Lake Drainage District. His obituary says, “About five years ago, in company with a friend, he saw the possibilities of reclaiming this large body of land on the Mississippi, near the city of Quincy, and making it a productive garden spot in place of a waste swamp. He interested Mr. David Mark Cummings in this project, and to show the confidence Mr. Cummings had in his agent, Mr. James purchased from time to time tracts of land aggregating about eight thousand acres, and at the time of his demises, plans for the reclamation of this and the adjoining district were just about to be perfected. . . . His interest was so intense in its success that he seemed to forget that he was unconsciously overtaxing his physical strength in the effort he was making to serve the interest of Mr. Cummings in the development of this drainage district. Even upon his deathbed he expressed an intense desire to live until this matter should have been brought to a successful termination.”
It is evident, then, that his prominent place in the community was chiefly due to his role as agent and custodian of the vast Cummings estate in Pekin and the surrounding areas. As this column has previously noted, Columbus R. Cummings was one of the wealthiest and most influential men in Pekin, and served a single term as Pekin’s mayor. Stung by the failure of his bid for reelection, however, Cummings abruptly gave up the mayoral office, not even finishing out his term, and moved to Chicago, where he became a powerful railroad tycoon. After leaving Pekin, Cummings employed James to manage his estate.
Though James’ funeral had brought Pekin to a temporary standstill, today, 95 years after his death [NOTE: now 99 years], probably few Pekin residents remember him. Yet there is a lasting public memorial to his life: James Field, across Broadway from the former Pekin Community High School West Campus. David Mark Cummings and his wife Ruth were two of the four people who, on June 5, 1916, sold nine lots in Pekin’s old Colts Addition to Pekin School District of Tazewell County, the predecessor of Pekin Public School District 108. The land was sold to provide an athletic field and playground for the school children of Pekin, with the stipulation that it would be named for James. It was only a few years ago that the field was restored through the efforts of the Save James Field Committee. It is now supervised and maintained by the Pekin Park District.
Here’s a chance to read one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in May 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .
Columbus R. Cummings, 20th Mayor of Pekin
By Jared Olar
After Pekin was incorporated as a city in 1849, for the first 25 years its history the city of Pekin was headed by mayors who served one-year terms. During that time, 18 men were elected mayor, several of them winning a second term. In 1874, however, the people of Pekin decided city government would operate more smoothly if city hall didn’t have a changing of the guard every year. That’s when Pekin began to elect mayors who would serve two-year terms.
Columbus R. Cummings (1834-1897), Pekin’s 20th mayor, was the first of our mayors to be elected to a two-year term, holding office during the years 1875 and 1876. The following biographical sketch of his life is drawn from the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection, including the 1894 “Portrait and Biographical Record of Tazewell and Mason Counties, Illinois,” the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial, “Pekin: A Pictorial History” (1998, 2004), and Cummings’ obituary published in the New York Times.
Cummings was born in Canton, St. Lawrence County, New York, on Oct. 14, 1834, one of the 11 eleven children of James P. Cummings and Clarissa Wilson. His father was a well-known attorney. When he was 16, Cummings became a school teacher, later working as a store clerk in Ogdensburg, N.Y. Leaving that job, he moved to Chicago and worked in the store of Potter Palmer for a short time. In 1859, however, he got a better job working for the Illinois Harvesting Machine Company in Pekin. His brother Cornelius B. Cummings came to Pekin at the same time, and the brothers went into business together as dry goods merchants under the name of C.B. Cummings & Co.
Their partnership ended in 1861, but Columbus went on to other successful endeavors, becoming a prominent businessman and landowner. Through his wife Sarah Caroline Mark, Columbus became the heir of David Mark, whose real estate holdings were the largest in Tazewell County at the time of his death. “C.R.” was one of the owners of the Pekin Railway Construction Co. and later was president of the Pekin, Lincoln & Decatur Railway. He also was one of the founding trustees of the Pekin Agricultural and Mechanical Association.
The 1974 Sesquicentennial summarizes his political career in Pekin in this way:
“With due credit, during his administration Pekin paid off all bonds on the due date – a rare achievement in those days, as already indicated. However, when Cummings sought re-election, he was defeated by 33 votes in a hard-fought campaign against A. B. Sawyer. Cummings became embittered, never again appeared at city hall, did not preside over the vote canvass, and shortly thereafter left Pekin and moved to Chicago. An Englishman in a predominantly German community, Cummings may have had other reasons for his dissatisfaction.
“He became even wealthier after his move to Chicago, and both he and his descendants were quite philanthropic through the years, making sizeable endowments to many institutions. But nary a penny was given to Pekin, which paid handsomely for much of the land which later was purchased from the Cummings estate. Until quite recently, the Cummings estate, now known as the Adwell Corporation, still maintained an office in Pekin, but that has recently been moved to Jacksonville, Illinois.”
The words “became even wealthier” are an understatement. In fact, “C.R.” became one of the nation’s millionaire tycoons of the Gilded Age, and the New York Times obituary calls him “the Well-Known Chicago Capitalist.” He was president of Union National Bank and a large stockholder in First National Bank, and was a member of the syndicate that sold the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad to W.H. Vanderbilt. The town of Cummings, now a part of Chicago, was named after him in 1882. Originally called Irondale, the town was rechristened Cummings when a Nickel Plate Railroad station was established there, because Cummings was the first president of the Nickel Plate. He also was president of the Lake Erie & Western Railroad and of the Peoria & Evansville Railroad. He died at his Chicago home at 1641 Indiana Ave. on July 12, 1897.
Today, one visible remnant of the Cummings estate remains prominent in Pekin – James Field. Columbus’ son David Mark Cummings, born 1866, married Ruth Dexter in 1893, and had two daughters, Edith and Dorothy, and a son, Dexter. David and Ruth were two of the four people who, on June 5, 1916, sold nine lots in Pekin’s old Colts Addition to Pekin School District of Tazewell County, the predecessor of Pekin Public School District 108. The land was sold to provide an athletic field and playground for the school children of Pekin. A few years ago it was restored through the efforts of the Save James Field Committee, and is now supervised and maintained by the Pekin Park District.
By Jared Olar
The annual tradition of Mardi Gras carnivals arose in the Middle Ages in Europe, originating as a practical way for cities and towns to get rid of all of their meat in preparation for the 40-day Lenten period of fasting and abstinence every February and March.
In those days, Catholics completely abstained from eating meat during Lent. Because there were no freezers or refrigerators all the available meat had to be eaten before Lent started on Ash Wednesday, since the meat otherwise would spoil long before Easter. Hence came the custom of having a “carnival” (Latin carne vale, “meat farewell”) on Shrove Tuesday, the last day before Lent begins. This community-wide celebration is called Mardi Gras (“Tuesday of fat”) in French-speaking Catholic countries. America’s most famous and popular Mardi Gras of course is the one held in the former French Catholic colony of New Orleans.
Many years ago, however, Pekin had its own Mardi Gras carnival. Unlike a traditional Mardi Gras, though, Pekin’s celebration took place in October instead of February or March. In fact, Pekin’s Mardi Gras wasn’t even on a Tuesday.
This event was held in downtown Pekin on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, Oct. 5-7, 1950, being sponsored by the Irin Grotto of Pekin, a local Masonic organization. News reports describe it as the “first annual” Irin Grotto Mardi Gras, but it’s unclear if the event became an annual tradition. (This was about two decades before the first Marigold Festival.)
The 1950 Mardi Gras featured a carnival midway with a circus calliope, a parade, live music from four bands (including a Hillbilly band and a Hobo band), a talent show, a Mardi Gras costume ball, and the crowning of a Mardi Gras king and queen. Attendees were encouraged to come to the carnival wearing outlandish costumes, and judges awarded prizes for the best costumes.
“Twenty-five cash prizes will be awarded for the different types of costumes worn by the children and adults at the Mardi gras street dance this evening,” reported the Oct 5, 1950 Pekin Daily Times. “The committee urges everyone and particularly the children to come in costume or comic dress in order to help make the festivities a success for the opening night.”
Mrs. Marilyn McCabe was the Mardi Gras hostess, Mr. Louis Dunkelberg was general chairman of the Mardi Gras, Mr. U.S. Sullivan was the parade chairman, and Miss Joan Shade was mistress of ceremonies for the Friday night talent show. Crowned Mardi Gras King during opening night ceremonies was Fred Peterson of 1010 Chestnut St., a maintenance man at Pabst Blue Ribbon in Peoria. During the Saturday night Mardi Gras ball in the girls’ gymnasium of the old West Campus high school building, Miss Ellyn Morse, 17, of Radio City (North Pekin), was crowned Mardi Gras Queen. Runners-up were Miss Norine Holiday of 300 Woodland Ave., Pekin, and Miss Marilyn Schaff of 1310 S. Ninth St., Pekin.
By Jared Olar
It’s on the logo of the Pekin Police Department and it’s the school symbol and sports mascot of Pekin Community High School – a red dragon. How did the high school and the police department come to choose a dragon as logo and mascot?
The reason for the choice of a dragon is rooted in the city’s name, which, as we’ve discussed here before, is an older “Anglicized” form of Peking or Beijing, China’s ancient imperial city and modern capital. In origin our city’s dragon logo is the representation of a wingless Chinese dragon (or “lung”) – although the PCHS dragon’s form has varied greatly through the decades.
Pekin’s having been named in 1830 after China’s capital soon gave rise to a tradition of fanciful association with different aspects of Chinese culture. Thus, Pekin residents very early on took to calling their home “the Celestial City.” Later on Pekin’s professional minor league baseball team in the early 1900s was called the Celestials, and the old downtown Pekin Theater was decorated as a Chinese pagoda. Local businesses often used Chinese themes and written Chinese characters in their advertisements.
This tradition of fanciful association with China does not appear in Pekin high school’s earliest “Pekinian” yearbooks, but by the 1920s the occasional or rare drawing of someone or something Chinese begins to appear in the high school yearbook.
It wasn’t until 1937 that the classic PCHS logo of a Chinese wingless lung first appeared in the Pekinian. In that year and over the next few years the same logo was printed on the front cover of the yearbook. The same dragon logo also would be embossed on the high school gymnasium floor and painted on the side of PCHS buildings. This is the same period when the high school adopted “the Chinks” – an old colloquial and sometimes disparaging American slang term for Chinese persons – as the school symbol and team mascot.
For a few years in the 1940s, the PCHS dragon disappeared from the high school yearbook, but it reappeared on the cover and inside pages of the 1948 Pekinian. The 1948 Pekin yearbook depicted a traditional Chinese dragon, but one with small wings. The following year, a pencil sketch of a scene reminiscent of traditional Chinese art was printed in the yearbook – central to the scene was a large Chinese lung flying through the sky. Other Chinese-themed pencil sketches are found throughout the 1949 Pekinian.
The cover of the 1950 Pekinian, however, departed from the classical Chinese dragon tradition, instead featuring more of a cartoon-style European winged dragon. The class ring that year featured the same dragon representation as on the yearbook’s cover.
The PCHS dragon usually was not featured in or on the cover of yearbooks during the 1950s, but the dragon began to appear more frequently in the 1960s. It was in the 1965 Pekinian that Pekin’s long established tradition of Chinese-themed fancy reached its apotheosis. Not only did the yearbook feature the high school’s traditional Chinese dragon logo, but the cover drawing featured Chinese bamboo window blinds, and the sections of the yearbook were organized and titled according to traditional Confucian social classes. The yearbook staff perhaps had pulled out all stops that year to celebrate Pekin’s 1964 high school basketball state championship.
Four years later, the Pekin dragon reappeared on the 1969 yearbook cover as a classic Chinese lung within a gold-embossed medallion. The 1970 and 1972 yearbook covers had the same dragon in a gold medallion. Once only once more in the 1970s – in 1975 – did the PCHS dragon appear on the yearbook cover. That year it was a photograph of the old school logo painted on the side of a high school building.
Chinese themes grew more and more rare in the Pekinian during that decade, and during that time Chinese Americans visited Pekin to express their great offense at the use of “Chinks” as a team name, asking the school to choose a different mascot. The great majority of high school students and alumni favored keeping the name, but in 1980 District 303 Superintendent Jim Elliott decided, despite opposition, to retire the “Chinks” mascot permanently. He retained the Pekin dragon, however, and the cover of the 1981 Pekinian sported a photograph of the new PCHS dragon mascot costume at a basketball game.
In the 37 years since then, the PCHS dragon has frequently appeared in and on the cover of the yearbook – but as a rule he takes the form of a classic European fire-breathing winged dragon, not a Chinese lung. The old school logo of the Chinese lung – which debuted on the cover of the 1937 Pekinian – may still be seen at the school and the stadium, and even appeared on the one of the pages of the 2011 Pekinian. This year’s Pekinian cover shows a European dragon amidst flames.
Below is an extensive gallery of images showing examples of the PCHS dragon through the decades:
By Jared Olar
In recent weeks, this column recalled two local historical events that may be called “the worst and the first.” The Little Mine Riot of 1894 was Tazewell County’s worst riot, while Pekin’s first riot happened in 1851.
In both cases, the riot involved a group of workers, but the similarity between the two riots begins and ends there. In 1894, it was an acrimonious dispute between miners and the mine’s owners, but in 1851 it was simply a case of a steamboat’s deck hands drinking to excess.
The standard histories of Pekin and Tazewell County offer much more information about the Little Mine Riot than of the 1851 riot in Pekin. We know many of the details of the Little Mine Riot, but of the 1851 riot we know only the date (the Fourth of July), that the group of rioters was large, and that they worked off their fines on a chain gang doing maintenance on Pekin’s streets.
Pekin historian William H. Bates wrote the first-ever historical sketch of Pekin about 19 years after the riot of 1851, so it’s perhaps no surprise that he doesn’t even provide the name of the steamboat, let alone the exact number of rioters who were arrested. Much later, Pekin old-timer Emil Schilling said there were about 30 or 40 rioters – but it seems it would have been an unusually large steamboat to have had that many deck hands.
These gaps in Pekin’s historical record can be filled in with information found in a newspaper report of the riot of 1851. No doubt news of the riot made the papers in Tazewell County. Even without radio, television, or the Internet, within days rumors and hearsay of the riot would have spread throughout central Illinois. And so, less than two weeks later, Tazewell County’s neighbors in McLean County were able the read the following report in the Bloomington Pantagraph of July 16, 1851:
“Considerable of a riot occurred at Pekin on the 4th inst. It seems that the hands belonging to the steamer Lucy Bertram got on a spree while she was lying at that place, whereupon they assaulted some of the citizens, but no very serious damage was done. Eighteen of the crew were immediately taken before the mayor to be tried for rioting. Seventeen of them were convicted and fined $55. One was acquitted, one paid the fine, one gave security, and the balance were placed upon the streets to work out their fines.”
This report – a copy of which was graciously provided by Ken Lacey of the Manito Historical Society – provides the steamboat’s name (the Lucy Bertram) as well as the number of deck hands arrested (18 – a good deal less than 30 or 40), even informing us of the disposition of the charges against the 18 deck hands. Only 15 of the hands had to work on the chain gang to pay off their fines of $55 each (quite a considerable sum in those days).
These are the kinds of details that naturally fade from memory with the passage of time. The inflation of the number of deck hands from 18 to 30 or 40 is the kind of thing that, like a tall tale, grows in the telling and retelling.