A memory of war-time

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This week we recall the life of one of Pekin’s World War II veterans. His name was Thomas Carson Abbey (1911-1999), and for many years he lived with his wife Catherine Louise Harms Abbey (1919-2001) at 905 St. Julian St.

Thomas Abbey was born in Peoria of a family that had previously lived in Pennsylvania. His first wife was Ellen Elizabeth Dorman (1914-1951) – he and Ellen had a daughter named JoEllen Florence (1934-2012), but they later divorced.

Abbey’s obituary in the Pekin Daily Times says he served in the U.S. Army during World War II, but the obituary provides no information about his military service. His service must have brought him to the Philippines by 1944, however. That detail can be deduced from a picture of a scene of grass huts and palm trees that he drew, evidently using a blue ink pen.

Abbey Drawing

Pekin World War II veteran Thomas C. Abbey (1911-1999) drew this scene of grass huts and palm trees while serving in the U.S. Army in the Philippines in 1944. IMAGE COURTESY OF DAVID AND CONNIE PERKINS

Abbey’s picture is now in the possession of David and Connie Perkins of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society, who received it from Marie Scott (1923-1999), a friend and neighbor of the Abbeys and Perkinses who had lived at 907 Chestnut St. The Abbeys had previously given the drawing to Scott, and she, knowing of David Perkins’ interest in history, passed it along to them when she moved from her home to an apartment. Scott died in late January 1999, just a few days before Thomas Abbey’s death.

Abbey signed and dated the picture “For Louise Abbey / Philippines Nov. 21 – 1944.” The Philippines had been conquered by the Empire of Japan in March 1942, and the picture’s date would indicate that Abbey drew it after the commencement of the American liberation of the Philippines in Oct. 1944.

The date on the picture does raise some questions, however. At first glance, one would think Abbey had drawn the picture and dedicated it to his second wife Catherine Louise while he was serving overseas in 1944. However, Thomas and Louise did not become man and wife until July 19, 1947, when they were married in Pekin. The dedicatory signature and date seem to be written in the same blue ink as the picture, yet a closer look suggests that the dedication lines were penned at some unknown later time, and the ink appears to be different from that of the picture. Presumably he dedicated the picture to her no earlier than July 1947.

After the war, the Abbeys both worked at Hiram Walker & Sons Distillery. Thomas later moved on to Commonwealth Edison, working as a mechanic there for 20 years and retiring in 1971. Catherine stayed at Hiram Walker for 31 years, retiring in 1975. Thomas died Feb. 1, 1999, while his widow survived for about two more years, passing away Jan. 1, 2001. Their obituaries say they were laid to rest in Glendale Memorial Gardens in Pekin, but most curiously, their names are listed in the South Bend (Ind.) Area Genealogical Society’s Michiana Genealogical Index as having been buried in Indiana – yet, puzzingly, the index does not identify their cemetery, showing instead a note saying “N/A” (for “not applicable”). These puzzling index entries are no doubt connected to the fact that Thomas’ daughter JoEllen lived in Eau Claire, Mich., to the north of South Bend, Ind.

As for Thomas Abbey’s ink drawing from the Philippines, the Perkinses plan to donate it to a World War II art museum located in the Washington, D.C., area.

#philippines-drawing, #thomas-abbey, #world-war-ii

Pekin’s theater tradition is long and varied

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in October 2011 before the launch of this blog . . .

Pekin’s theater tradition is long and varied

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The Showplace 14 out on Edgewater Drive, built on the former site of the Starlite Drive-in, is now the place to catch a motion picture on the big screen in Pekin – but older residents of Pekin still fondly recall a time when downtown was the place for movies.

A visit to the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room will reveal that downtown Pekin was once the home of seven theaters, some of which hosted live acts, plays and music before the dawn of the motion picture. One of them, the Vaudette, was located in a room of the Pekin Daily Times building that later served as the office of Times publisher F.F. MacNaughton (now demolished and used as a Tazewell County parking lot). The other six were the Dreamland at 302 Court, the Empire at 325 Court, the Unique in the Arcade building, the Idylhour at 405 Court, the Court at 439 Court, and – the best remembered of Pekin’s downtown theaters and the one that outlived the others – the Pekin Theater at the corner of Capitol and Elizabeth (now the front lawn of the Tazewell County Justice Center).

The Pekin Theater was not the first theater to exist at that location. Going back to 1879, we had the Turner Opera House, later known as the Standard Theater, the Celestial Theater and finally the Capitol Theater. When the Pekin Theater was built in 1928, one of the walls of the Capitol Theater became the south wall of the new structure.

This vintage photograph, printed in late 1928 or early 1929 in the Peoria Star, shows the newly-opened Pekin Theater. The marquee displays the title of the comedy romance, "Moran of the Marines," starring Richard Dix, Ruth Elder, and Roscoe Karns, a silent film that came out in 1928.

This vintage photograph, printed in late 1928 or early 1929 in the Peoria Star, shows the newly-opened Pekin Theater. The marquee displays the title of the comedy romance, “Moran of the Marines,” starring Richard Dix, Ruth Elder, and Roscoe Karns, a silent film that came out in 1928.

The Pekin Theater opened Nov. 27, 1928, with a dedication ceremony and a show featuring a jazz orchestra, vaudeville acts, and a feature film, “The Show Girl,” starring Alice White. Designed by Chicago architect Elmer F. Behrns, who specialized in palatial themed theaters, the Pekin Theater was built in a grand vaudeville style by Mrs. Anna B. Fluegel. However, it was toward the end of the vaudeville era and early in the golden age of cinema, so Mrs. Fluegel’s theater made most of its money showing movies. Making the most of Pekin’s fanciful association with Beijing (Peking), China, the theater was elaborately decorated inside and out like a Chinese pagoda and prominently displayed a Buddha statue.

With the passage of years, however, eventually the Pekin Theater fell victim to the poor economy of the 1970s, and the theater’s last manager, Harold Williams, closed its doors in the early summer of 1975. Owner Robert Monge, who had bought it from the Fluegels in 1971, attempted to reopen it in December 1975 as the Pekin Dinner Playhouse, but that plan fell through, as did Monge’s 1980 proposal to reuse it as a medical office building. Utilities were disconnected in 1981, and the building began to deteriorate.

There were several more attempts to save and repurpose the theater during the 1980s. It was added to the National Registry of Historical Places in August 1983, and Monge considered giving it to the Committee for the Historic Preservation of Pekin in 1983 and 1984. When those ideas went nowhere, in 1985 he offered it to the Pekin Civic Center Authority Board – but the state rejected the board’s plans to turn the old theater into a civic center.

By 1986, Monge regretfully announced it would cost too much to save the old theater. Furnishings were auctioned off in December 1986 and January 1987, and the last of Pekin’s downtown theaters fell to the wrecking ball in March 1987.

#moran-of-the-marines, #pekin-history, #pekin-theater, #pekin-theaters, #peking, #robert-monge, #the-show-girl

Little’s near death experience

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Reading through the microfilms of the Pekin Daily Times on file in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room will provide a researcher with a wealth of information about the history of Pekin and Tazewell County. But the old newspapers of nearby communities also often have a lot to tell us about Pekin’s past.

A case in point is a remarkable anecdote related in the May 2016 issue of the Tazewell County Genealogical and Historical Society Monthly. The anecdote is an extract from the April 17, 1863 edition of the Peoria Morning Mail telling of the near death experience of a former Pekin resident named Little.

With the headline of “BURIED ALIVE,” the article uses the colorful, florid rhetorical style popular in those days to tell of how Little very nearly met his end when he was buried by people who thought he’d already met his end.

“A novel method of entertainment took place a few days ago, in the South Western part of this county,” the article begins. (“This county” means Peoria County.)

“A man who had been previously living in Pekin, had found out the effect of potations of ‘old rye,’ and on the whole, rather liked it.”

Or as we would say today, he was an alcoholic with a serious drinking problem.

“But report says that his home was found not to be the best possible place for that kind of enjoyment, inasmuch as there was a woman there who bore his name, and governed the household.”

That is, Mrs. Little was unhappy about his drunkenness and wouldn’t allow him to drink at home. In fact, it appears that Little and his wife may have been separated due to his alcoholism.

“This induced the male department of the establishment to vacate the premises whenever it was deemed necessary to have a ‘tear.’ The last instance of this kind is that to which we now particularly refer. The man went over to Lancaster, as the place where he could make his visit most successful.”

Lancaster was a small village northwest of Glasford – what’s left of it is centered around the intersection of Glasford Canton Road and South Coats Road.

“As is quite natural in such cases, he imbibed too largely, and became drunk – dead drunk – in fact, almost dead without the drunk. So far gone was he that some thought he was a ‘goner,’ and sent for a Justice of the Peace to hold an inquest, and ‘sit upon the body.’ But that functionary had grave doubts whether he had any legal right to usurp the prerogatives of Coroner Antcliff, and applied to the law to learn his duty. At the same time another messenger had been dispatched for the female department of the household at Pekin.

“These movements, of course, took time, and the inhabitants became uneasy at the protracted delay. They at last concluded that the Little defunct ought to be buried. He was taken to the graveyard, a hole dug, and the body covered with the ‘clods of the valley,’ in this case represented by a very loose sand.

“Contrary to all precedent in civilized countries, the head of the corpse was left above ground, because, as one of the officiators observed, it was ‘possible he was “possuming,”’ and then the Little wife would like to look upon the ‘dear deceased,’ when she came.

“At this stage of the proceedings, it was suggested that the fume of a Lucifer match applied just below the nasal appendage, had a marvelous resuscitation power in case of apoplexy.”

Matches in those days were commonly called “Lucifers” due to their high sulfur content which generated a potent stench when burned. An old word for “sulfur” is “brimstone,” and the stench and the flame of these matches reminded people of the “fire and brimstone” of hell, which in turn reminded them of Satan, formerly known as Lucifer.

“The experiment was tried. At the first application the dead man arose from his ‘oozy bed,’ at the second he exclaimed, ‘what in h—ll are you doing here?’ At the third the flexors and extensors of his right arm were put into rapid operation, and it is said that some of those engaged in the affair, think that the game of ‘raising the dead’ is not exactly a safe business.”

That’s a verbose way of saying that Little was so shocked and upset that he punched a few of the people there.

“The Justice of the Peace did not encroach on Coroner Antcliffe’s prerogative – Coroner Antcliffe had no prerogative in the case, as the ‘case’ had gone beyond his jurisdiction, and the Little wife from Pekin had arrived just in time to welcome her Little husband, not a clay-cold clod, but warm, living and well-to-do. All parties satisfied with the result, went home.”

This detail from a page in the 1861 Root's City Directory for Pekin lists a "John Little" who had a brush with death near Glasford in 1863.

This detail from a page in the 1861 Root’s City Directory for Pekin lists a “John Little” who had a brush with death near Glasford in 1863.

The May 2016 Monthly notes that the 1861 Pekin City Directory lists a “John Little,” a wood turner who lived on Market Street, on the south side of the street, at the first door east of Capitol Street. No doubt that’s the Little who is the subject of the Peoria Morning Mail’s article. The Illinois Veterans Index 1775-1995 says John Little of Pekin, born about 1822 in New York State, served as a private in Company F of the 11th Illinois Cavalry during the Civil War, entering a three-year term of service on Nov. 29, 1861, but being discharged for disability at an unknown date prior to the end of his three years. Little’s brush with death near Glasford must have taken place after his discharge.

#buried-alive, #dead-drunk, #glasford, #john-little, #lancaster, #pekin-history, #peoria-morning-mail, #roots-city-directory

The Dunkelberg telegrams

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This week we again examine some items that recently were donated to the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection. Last month the library received a donation of an assortment of mementos that provide some glimpses into the life of a Pekin family just a few generations ago.

The mementos pertain to the family of Victor P. Dunkelberg (1869-1960), a Pekin businessman and former city alderman who has a brief biographical sketch in Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County.” The donated items include a 1931-32 Jefferson School Parent-Teacher Association membership card stub for Victor’s wife Martha Spoonhoff Dunkelberg (1871-1946), an American Legion Auxiliary membership card for Martha dated Oct. 15, 1932, and a grade school report card for Victor and Martha’s son Louis P. Dunkelberg (1896-1976).

The most interesting of the donated items, however, are five telegrams – the first sent to Victor Dunkelberg in March of 1892 and the other four sent to him in July of 1897. The first tells of the news of the passing of Victor’s mother Louise Prescott Dunkelberg (1845-1892), while the other telegrams deal with the sickness and death of Victor’s father Moses C. Dunkelberg (1838-1897), along with arrangements for his funeral and for the settling of his estate. Moses apparently had died in California.

The first telegram was sent from Chicago by Western Union, and was received at 216 Court St., Pekin. A handwritten text, it is dated “3 / 7 1892,” which apparently means March 7, 1892 (although the number 2 in “1892” is incomplete and looks like a 7). The brief telegram text says, “Mother died today. Be home tomorrow one thirty pm. Sent word to Larish and Edd,” and is signed, “M. C. Dunkleburg.” That is Victor’s father Moses C. Dunkelberg, but it’s unknown who “Larish” and “Edd” were.

This telegram, sent March 7, 1892, communicated the news of the death of Mrs. Louise St. Clair Prescott Dunkelberg, mother of Pekin attorney Louis Prescott Dunkelberg. The telegram is among several mementos of the Dunkelberg family recently donated to the Pekin Public Library's Local History Room collection.

This telegram, sent March 7, 1892, communicated the news of the death of Mrs. Louise St. Clair Prescott Dunkelberg, mother of Pekin attorney Louis Prescott Dunkelberg. The telegram is among several mementos of the Dunkelberg family recently donated to the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection.

The four remaining telegrams were sent from Los Angeles, Calif., by the Postal Telegraph-Cable Company. They all came from a certain “I. R. Dunkelberger,” and he addressed them to “Victor Dunkelberger, Pekin, Ill.” The “-er” suffix on the surname apparently was a variant form of this family’s name. I. R. Dunkelberger obviously was related to Victor and Moses, but the exact nature of their kinship is unknown. The published obituaries of Victor and Martha Dunkelberg in the Pekin Daily Times do not mention anyone of that name among their next of kin. It could have been a brother of Moses Dunkelberg.

The first of these four telegrams, dated July 12, 1897, says, “Condition same will write today Letter and draft reach you about tomorrow Your Father don’t know we wired.” Two days later came a telegram saying, “Your Father greatly improved, Wire at his request Will write.” But three days later, Moses passed away, and the next day, July 18, I. R. Dunkelberger wired, “Will send Body Tuesday W F Co or come myself.” The last telegram, sent later the same afternoon, says, “Start Tuesday with remains. Letters Administration necessary immediately here protect property, No Executor named in Will. You and Ruby sole beneficiaries, If desired wire me immediately Jointly requesting my appointment Administrator.”

Victor’s parents are both buried in Lakeside Cemetery in Pekin. Curiously, although the telegram says his mother Louise had died on March 7, her gravestone shows her date of death as March 8. Victor and his wife Martha are also buried in Lakeside Cemetery, as are their sons Ferdinand C. Dunkelberg and Louis P. Dunkelberg. The younger son, Louis, was a long-time Pekin attorney with a law office on the second floor of the old Pekin Times Building at the corner of Fourth and Elizabeth streets. Louis P. Dunkelberg served as Tazewell County State’s Attorney in the early 1930s, and his most prominent case was the failed prosecution of three Tazewell County Sheriff’s deputies for the beating death of Tazewell County jail inmate Martin Virant in 1932.

#dunkelberg-family, #dunkelberg-telegrams, #louis-dunkelberg, #pekin-history, #victor-dunkelberg