Pekin from the air

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

When telling the story of Pekin’s growth and development, often the best way to explain the kinds of changes our city has seen is simply to show someone a picture.

The Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room has a trove of photographs from Pekin’s past – some of them in file folders, some of them clipped from newspapers, and some of them published in books on Pekin’s history.

Two photos in particular show the great changes in Pekin over the course of approximately four decades, from about 1950 to 1988. These are panoramic aerial views of Pekin taken from airplanes flying over the Illinois River (shown in the foreground) and looking east.

The aerial view from circa 1950 shows downtown Pekin and was published on pages 192-193 of the 2004 revised edition of “Pekin: A Pictorial History.” The panorama encompasses an area extending from a few blocks north of the old Pekin lift bridge south to Elizabeth Street, with a vista that stretches out well past the old Pekin Country Club golf course where Pekin Community High School’s East Campus (now sole campus) was built in the early 1960s.

The second aerial view was a photograph taken on Sept. 20, 1988 (a drought year, as the color of the vegetation and ground indicates) for a wall calendar produced and distributed by Skyflick. Taken at a higher altitude, this panorama extends from the new John T. McNaughton Bridge south to Broadway, and stretches out to the cornfields behind the Kmart shopping center area.

Comparison of the photos will show numerous structures in 1950 were no longer there in 1988, while others in 1988 did not yet exist in 1950. For example, not only was the new PCHS campus not there in 1950, but neither was the English Building or “Red Building” at the old West Campus. The old Neo-Gothic St. Joseph Catholic Church of circa 1950 would also be replaced by a larger modernist edifice about 20 years later.

But instead of my explaining what is in the 1950 panorama that’s no longer there in 1988, and what is in the 1988 panorama that wasn’t there in 1950, and what was in both of these photos but is no longer there today, just take a look and see for yourself – and remember.

Pekin riverfront and downtown circa 1950

Pekin from the air on 20 Sept. 1988

#aerial-views-of-pekin, #pekin-from-the-air

Kriegsmans and Crown

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This week we shine our spotlight on a book that was added to the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection last fall. The book, entitled, “The Story of Crown: The First 50 Years,” tells the history of Crown Worldwide Group, an international shipping and moving corporation that began in 1965 as a small moving company in Yokohama, Japan.

That moving company, founded by an American named James E. Thompson, was originally named Transport Services International (TSI), then became Crown Pacific in the early 1970s, and finally Crown Worldwide in the 1990s.

But what does the history of Crown Worldwide Group have to do with the history of Pekin or Tazewell County?

Turn to page 30 of “The Story of Crown” and read the chapter “Moving into Hong Kong,” and the answer will become immediately clear. There on that page is a color photograph with the caption, “The Kriegsman clan in Pekin, Illinois, early 1970s.” It is the Kriegsman connection that makes the story of Crown Worldwide a matter of our own local history – and is why a copy of this book was donated to the library by John M. Kriegsman of Kriegsman Warehouses on Koch Street in Pekin.

This photograph, from page 30 of “The Story of Crown: The First 50 Years,” shows the Kriegsman clan in Pekin in the early 1970s. Around that time, members of the Kriegsman family partnered with Jim Thompson of Transport Services International to start a new company in Hong Kong, a business venture that led to the formation of Crown Worldwide Group in the 1990s.

The chapter begins, “It’s November 1969 and Jim Thompson is sitting on the balcony of a hotel in Singapore having a drink with new friend Phil Kriegsman. It is their last night in Singapore before going home – Jim to Japan, Phil to Pekin, Illinois. They have a big decision to make. At the end of an eight-day trip to Hong Kong and Singapore, they have agreed to open a new company in Asia, specializing in the moving of household goods for expatriates. But in which of the two cities?”

Thompson and Kriegsman had met at a meeting of the Federation Internationale Demenageurs Internationaux (FIDI), an organization of independent moving companies. Kriegsman was then the head of Kriegsman Transfer Company, a moving and storage company with long roots in Pekin that reach back to 1913. Caterpillar then did business with one of Kriegsman’s competitors, but Kriegsman hoped that in teaming with Thompson to start a new company in Asia, they could woo Caterpillar away from one of his competitors. Thompson met the Kriegsman clan in Pekin, and they then opted to start the company in Hong Kong, where Caterpillar had its regional headquarters.

“The Story of Crown,” page 34, tells what happened next:

“The two men returned to their respective homes and started planning for the new venture. Phil had to convince his family and Jim had to come up with the money. They agreed to put in US$25,000 each to start up the company . . . One of the big decisions they had to make early on was who was going to run the new business. Both Phil and Jim had their own companies to look after and neither had time to focus on the day-to-day operations of a new company in another country. As there were no fewer than seven Kriegsman family members involved in the Kriegsman Transfer Company, it seemed reasonable to assume one of them would fit the bill. The position was offered first to Phil’s cousin John [NOTE: This is John M. Kriegsman of Kriegsman Warehouses], but he did not want to leave Pekin.

“However, John’s younger brother Jim was keen. A Vietnam War veteran, Jim Kriegsman was very much his own man and did not always get along with his family. As Jim Kriegsman puts it: ‘Being the most hated [in the family], they wanted me out of there in the worst way. I didn’t get on real well with my cousin Phil.’ In short, Jim was more than happy to leave Illinois. . . ‘I thought it was a great opportunity and I wanted to grasp it,’ he says.”

And the rest is (corporate) history . . .

Shown here in these images from page 33 of “The Story of Crown: The First 50 Years,” are the founders of Crown in the 1970s, who included two members of the Kriegsman family of Pekin.

John and Jim Kriegsman are the sons of the late John C. Kriegsman (1912-2005), who served as chairman of the board for Kriegsman Warehouses, and was very active in the community throughout his life.  Their cousin Phil was the son of John C. Kriegsman’s older brother Arthur T. “Art” Kriegsman (1900-1988), who also had been chairman of the board of Kriegsman Warehouses and also a pillar of Pekin’s community life. Regular readers of this column might also remember that F. F. McNaughton mentioned his friend Art Kriegsman several times in his daily jottings about the Pekin Kiwanis Club trip to Washington, D.C., in June 1932.

#art-kriegsman, #crown-worldwide-group, #james-e-thompson, #jim-kriegsman, #john-c-kriegsman, #john-m-kriegsman, #kriegsman-family, #kriegsman-transfer-company, #kriegsman-warehouses, #phil-kriegsman, #the-story-of-crown

A prank on a plank bridge

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in May 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .

A prank on a plank bridge

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In the past century and a half, several bridges have spanned the Illinois River at Pekin. Today’s “Pekin bridge,” the John T. McNaughton Bridge, was dedicated in 1982. Prior to that, Pekin’s bridge was a lift bridge that was built in the late 1920s and was dedicated on June 2, 1930.

Before that, however, Pekin not only had long had a railroad bridge, but non-rail traffic was able to cross the river over a plank bridge at the foot of Court Street .

This 1927 photograph shows the old plank bridge that used to span the Illinois River at Pekin. This photo, which was printed in the Pekin Daily Times in 1984, was the possession of Ernest Edwards of rural Pekin. His sister Irene is shown leaning on the bridge at the right.

That first “Pekin bridge” is probably not well remembered today, but in the lore of Pekin’s past a humorous anecdote about its construction and dedication has been handed down. The story is recorded in the 1949 Pekin Centenary, pp.39, 41, which tells of events during the time of Pekin Mayor John L. Smith (1885-1886). Before it had appeared in the Centenary, however, the story was told in the pages of the Pekin Daily Times on Jan. 16, 1930, and reprinted in the special bridge dedication edition of the Daily Times on June 2, 1930.

The Pekin Centenary says it was during Smith’s term that “the first plank bridge was built across the river here at a cost of $17,500,” the city council having taken a pass on a proposal to build a pontoon bridge for $14,500.

Around the same time, Pekin got its first electric street lights, contracting for a mere $5,000 a year to install and maintain them. The city decided to have a grand public celebration to inaugurate the new bridge and the new lights – but the bridge workers decided to celebrate in a way that wasn’t on the official program of events.

According to the 1930 Daily Times article, there had been some kind of falling out between the city’s bridge committee members and Earnest Kidd, the assistant foreman, and Kidd decided to get even by pulling a fast one on the city council with the help of the foreman, Jack Jennings.

As the Centenary relates, “Mayor Smith, himself, rode the first rig across the new bridge, in impressive ceremonies, but his triumphant opening was somewhat marred by the fact that much of the populace knew and the rest soon learned that Charles Holland had actually been first to cross the new bridge, thanks to a conspiracy with the workmen. The last of the planking was not to be completed until just before the mayor was to cross, but workmen labored through the night to lay the planking so that Holland could drive a carriage over the bridge at the crack of dawn, and then they hastily took up the planking again to be relaid for the mayor.”

The Centenary does not say what Mayor Smith thought about the prank, but the Daily Times story says that he and the aldermen were very upset and even sent Police Chief Tim Sheehan to have Holland arrested. Jennings and Kidd, however, were tall and imposing men, and Jennings told Sheehan that if he arrested Holland he would have to arrest him too, so Holland was left unmolested.

The story, of course, does not end there. On pages 67 and 69, the Centenary tells of the construction and dedication of Pekin’s new lift bridge 45 years later, and mentions that Holland, by then a well known and respected insurance man, was there too:

“The stock market had fallen apart in 1929, and the Great Depression was underway in 1930, and yet the record shows that in this year the new half-million dollar Pekin bridge was completed . . . Completion of that bridge marked one of the biggest celebrations in Pekin history. Rep. Martin B. Lohmann (now Senator) who led the fight for state funds, drove the first car across. It was Fred Moenkemoeller’s car, and this time they forestalled any double-shuffle such as had taken place at the opening of the old bridge by having Charles Holland, now getting along in years, ride across with the others in the first car. It was Holland, the reader will remember, who had driven over Pekin’s old bridge ahead of the mayor to be the first to cross, and make a joke of the opening ceremony.”

Jump ahead another 50 years or so, and Pekin celebrated the opening of the new John T. McNaughton Bridge. Holland had died long before, of course, but one of the leader dignitaries at the 1930 festivities, Martin Lohmann, was there for the bridge dedication in 1982.

Lohmann’s name is attached to another bridge across the Illinois River: the Shade-Lohmann Bridge at Creve Coeur, named in joint honor of Lohmann and former Pekin Mayor J. Norman Shade.

#charles-holland, #earnest-kidd, #fred-moenkemoeller, #jack-jennings, #john-t-mcnaughton-bridge, #martin-b-lohmann, #mayor-j-norman-shade, #mayor-john-j-smith, #old-plank-bridge, #pekin-bridges, #pekin-police-chief-tim-sheehan, #plank-bridge-prank, #shade-lohmann-bridge

Presidential family ties

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Last week we recalled President Herbert Hoover’s brief whistle stop in Pekin on Nov. 4, 1932. The library also recently exhibited mementos and articles having to do with the links that various U.S. presidents have had with Pekin.

To continue with this “presidential” theme, this week we will take a look at one of the volumes in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection. It’s a 792-page book entitled, “American Presidential Families,” compiled and edited by Hugh Brogan and Charles Mosley, and published in 1993 by Burke’s Peerage & Baronetage, a 191-year-old company that specializes in the genealogy of the nobility and royalty of Britain and Ireland. Burke’s interests also extend to the genealogy of notable or powerful families of some of Britain’s former colonies, which is why they prepared a volume on the ancestry and descendants of American presidents.

Shown are the heraldic arms of Sir John Bernard Burke, Ulster King of Arms (1814-1892). His company, Burke's Peerage, is the publisher of "American Presidential Families." IMAGE PROVIDED

Shown are the heraldic arms of Sir John Bernard Burke, Ulster King of Arms (1814-1892). His company, Burke’s Peerage, is the publisher of “American Presidential Families.” IMAGE PROVIDED

“American Presidential Families” includes biographies, family histories, and genealogical charts for every U.S. president from George Washington to Bill Clinton. For some presidents, the genealogies are extensive and detailed (Washington’s family history alone fills pages 45-99 of this book), while others came from families of whose ancestry not very much is known (as is the case with Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, Ronald Reagan, and Clinton). Of President Jackson’s ancestry, for example, we know nothing more than the names of his parents, his paternal grandfather, his paternal great-grandfather, and only the surnames of his maternal grandparents. As for Andrew Johnson, almost nothing certain is known of his father’s ancestry, while on his mother’s side only his maternal grandfather and great-grandparents are known.

Given the United States of America’s origin from 13 of Britain’s North American colonies, it’s natural that the genealogies of all U.S. presidents trace back to England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. In most cases, it’s the president’s direct paternal line that goes back to Britain or Ireland, while his ancestry may indirectly go back to other European countries. However, we have also had a few presidents whose paternal line goes back to the Netherlands or Germany – and, of course, very recently we had a president whose father was born in Kenya but whose mother had a typical white American ancestry originating in Britain (though President Barack Obama’s genealogy of course is not found in the 1993 “American Presidential Families”).

Something else that should not be surprising to learn is that many of our presidents were related to each other. In fact, genealogists have found that a very large number of Americans of white European ancestry share at least one common ancestor who lived from eight to 11 generations ago. The kinship of several of the earliest presidents, however, was much closer than that. Thus, while George Washington’s popular title “Father of His Country” isn’t literal, Washington was in fact related by blood or by marriage rather closely to a number of the first presidents: James Madison, for instance, was the second husband of Martha Washington’s sister, while Zachary Taylor was George Washington’s third cousin once removed. Other presidential family ties were somewhat more indirect or convoluted – Lincoln’s second cousin Mary Sophia Lincoln was the first wife of William Ramsay Brown, whose second wife was Mary Johnson Stover, younger daughter of President Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s vice president and successor.

Like many other Americans, quite a few presidents were descendants of European aristocracy and royalty. This is particularly true of George Washington, whose paternal lineage has been traced through the centuries father-to-son all the way back to Maldred, Lord of Allerdale, younger brother of Duncan I, King of Scotland – the same Duncan who was killed by Macbeth on Aug. 14, 1040. By virtue of their descent from noble families in Britain, many U.S. presidents are known to be distant cousins (sometimes very distant).

The lives and accomplishments of most of our presidents have been remarkable and memorable. The intertwining and entangled branches of the family trees of American presidents are not at all unique or remarkable, though. Rather, they are representative of the same kind of intermingling that has created numerous genealogical connections between most American families – the kind of extensive family ties and common ancestry that constitute the tangible substance of a nation, which may be thought of as groups of families grown very large.

#abraham-lincoln, #andrew-johnson, #barack-obama, #burkes-presidential-families, #george-washington, #presidential-genealogies