‘Pekinites Alarmed’ in 1938 War of the Worlds radio panic

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

More than eight decades have passed since Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds” led panicked Americans to believe the East Coast had been devastated by a Martian invasion.

Welles’ adaptation of H. G. Wells’ classic science fiction story, which aired Oct. 30, 1938, was an episode of CBS’ series known as The Mercury Theater on the Air, and was delivered in the style of a news report. Welles played the part of an anxious radio announcer reading breaking news dispatches, and he did so convincing a job that thousands of frightened people across the country believed the earth had really been invaded.

The panic mostly affected the northeastern parts of the U.S. – but it reached even as far as Pekin, as was reported on the front page of the Oct. 31, 1938 edition of the Pekin Daily Times, in a story headlined, “Investigate ‘War of Worlds’ Radio Program; Thousands Thought Eastern United States Had Been Invaded,” with a subheadline, “Pekinites Alarmed.”

Those who were caught in the panic turned had missed the start of the show or did not hear later interruptions of the program, when it was explained that the program was to be presented in the style of breaking news. As the Pekin Daily Times reported, “Altho the program was preceded by an announcement of its nature and was interrupted by the additional statements that it was a dramatization of the Wells novel, thousands of listeners thought they were an actual news report.”

The ‘War of the Worlds’ panic of 1938 made the front page of newspapers across the country, including, as shown here, the Oct. 30, 1938 edition of the Pekin Daily Times.

Here are excerpts from the Daily Times story highlighting reports of panicked local residents that the newspaper staff had received:

“The ‘War of the Worlds’ radio program affected Pekin people just as it did others in communities thruout the country which listened to CBS between 8 and 9 p. m. CST last night.

“Scores of people admitted today they were disturbed to the point of extreme anxiety. One Pekin woman suffered a heart attack and fainted despite the fact that her son caught onto the idea immediately, and tried to explain to her.

“One Halloween party here was almost broken up when the bulletins and news flashes were broadcast. One woman sobbed; everybody wanted to go home to their children and loved ones, and when it looked as if the host could no longer control them, the program ended, and what they all thought was the end of the world turned out to be just another radio program. All heaved sights of relief but later when the hostess served luncheon, which she had very painstakingly prepared, nobody could eat.

“A Pekin business man said his wife became hysterical, and confessed he removed his better slippers and put on shoes ready to run, but added that he didn’t know where he would run. He said all the neighbors were at his house. . . .

“Several Pekin people called relatives in the east to inquire about their safety.

“It was reported that the pastor of the Mackinaw Christian church was informed of the ‘bulletins’ during the evening church service. He told the congregation that an alarming report had been broadcast, and advised them to go quietly to their homes. They gathered in the streets near the church while G. S. Stowell, amateur radio station operator, attempted to contact similar stations in the east to get information.”

#g-s-stowell, #h-g-wells, #orson-welles, #the-mercury-theater-on-the-air, #war-of-the-worlds

When ‘Zerwekh’ meant ‘ice cream’

This is a slightly updated version of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in May 2012 before the launch of this weblog.

When ‘Zerwekh’ meant ‘ice cream’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Residents of Pekin today have several ways to satisfy their ice cream cravings, including at Dairy Queen on Second Street, Double D’s or the Sweet Spot on Eighth, and Steak ’n Shake or Culver’s on Court. But there was a time when all the ice cream in town came from one place: Zerwekh’s in downtown Pekin.

The Zerwekh family no longer lives in Pekin, but they were long a fixture of Pekin social life and business thanks to the Zerwekh Brothers’ bakery and confectionary at 20 S. Fourth St.

“Both Robert Hill and Albert Zerwekh were popular caterers,” says the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial. “Zerwekh’s three-story pressed-brick building housed a bakery and confectionary on the ground floor and basement, and the Masonic Hall occupied the second and third floors. The building was considered a major contribution to the beautification of the city, and today has come to be known as the Times Building, for it houses the operations of the local newspaper. Zerwekh’s was famous for its ice cream, delicate ices, and soft drinks.”

The name of Zerwekh appears in the very first Pekin City Directory, which was published in 1861: “Gottlob J. Zerwekh, proprietor of St. Louis Exchange, 87 Court St.” That was Gottlob Jakob Zerwekh, also known as Gottlieb, one of the many German immigrants who settled in Pekin in the mid-1800s. He and his wife Christiana F. Schnaitman were born in Württemberg. The 1860 U.S. Census shows Gottlieb and Christiana living in Peoria with their sons William G., age 3, and Albert, age 1. By the time of the 1870 census, they were living in Pekin, along with a daughter Bertha, age 3.

In that year, the Sellers & Bates City Directory lists “G.J. Zerwekh” as a “manufacturer of soda water” on Henrietta Street between Second and Third streets. Six years later, the city directory shows that he had entered into a partnership with Herman Karstedt. Their business, at the same location as in 1870, was “Zerwekh & Karstedt, manfr soda and mineral waters and ginger ale.” By 1876, Gottlob’s son William was a clerk at Schaub & Smiley’s, while Albert was a cook at Strader & Kennedy’s.

Albert next appears in the 1887 City Directory, listed as a baker and confectioner, with his bakery at 112-114 S. Fourth Street. Albert next shows up in the 1893 City Directory, having moved his bakery to 16-18 S. Fourth. That was about the time he built the Zerwekh Building at 20 S. Fourth.

This photograph of the Zerwekh Building, originally the home of Albert Zerwekh Baker & Confectionary, was printed in 1899 in “Cole’s Souvenir of Pekin,” a booklet of photos produced by Pekin’s pioneer photographer Henry Hobart Cole.

According to the “Zerwekh Family Tree” published at Ancestry.com, Albert was born Sept. 22, 1859, in Tazewell County. On Aug. 30, 1883, he married Ida F. Maus (1864-1940), daughter of Charles T. Maus and Hattie J. Prettyman. Both the Maus and Prettyman families were among Pekin’s earliest settlers and are prominent in our city’s early history. Albert and Ida had two sons, George Ernest Zerwekh (1884-1959) and Edward Schenck Zerwekh (1886-1983).

The family tree states that Albert died of colon cancer on 10 April 1908 after an illness of six months. He is buried in Lakeside Cemetery in Pekin. After his untimely death, his sons carried on the family business at the same location. The Pekin Sesquicentennial says, “Before the Soldwedels opened their new factory [in 1920], grocers had purchased their butter directly from local farmers, and ice cream had been supplied solely by the Zerwekh Brothers at 20 South Fourth (presently the Times Building); ice cream was available year round in their store, and they also supplied the local drugstores in all but the winter months, when the soda fountains were covered with plywood and used for Christmas displays. In the 20’s Zerwekh’s stopped making ice cream, so the new Soldwedel operation assumed the responsibility on a much larger scale.”

This photograph showing the interior of Albert Zerwekh Baker & Confectionary was printed in 1899 in “Cole’s Souvenir of Pekin.”

Later, the second floor of the Zerwekh Building was a popular venue for young people in town, because it served as a dance hall where bands provided live music. In 1941, however, the Zerwekh Building was purchased by F.F. McNaughton, owner and publisher of the Pekin Daily Times, which had moved next door to Zerwekh’s in 1905-1906. The Zerwekh brothers moved to California, where they died.

As for the aged Zerwekh Building, as we recalled last week, its long and varied history drew to its end in early Oct. 2013. The Daily Times moved out in late Aug. 2012, and the Zerwekh Building’s new owner, Tazewell County, demolished it the following year to make a parking lot.

#albert-zerwekh, #albert-zerwekh-baker-confectionary, #charles-t-maus, #christiana-f-schnaitman, #f-f-mcnaughton, #gottlob-jakob-zerwekh, #hattie-j-prettyman, #herman-karstedt, #ida-f-maus, #pekin-daily-times, #times-building, #william-zerwekh, #zerwekh-brothers, #zerwekh-building, #zerwekh-family-tree

Changing Times: a look back at the Old Times building

This is an updated version of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in August 2012 before the launch of this weblog.

Changing Times: a look back at the Old Times building

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This week we’ll take a look back at the history of the Pekin Daily Times newspaper and of the buildings where the Daily Times has been located since 1906.

The Times Building was longtime a landmark in downtown Pekin, while the new home of the Daily Times is a much newer structure built in 1989 by Rick Woith, recently retired owner of Rick’s TV and Appliances.

In the May 5, 2012 “From the History Room” column, we recalled how the Zerwerkh family came from Württemberg (now in Germany) and settled in Pekin around 1861. Albert Zerwekh (1859-1908) established himself as a successful baker, and in the early 1890s he built the Zerwekh Building to house his bakery and confectionary at 20 S. Fourth Street.

At the time the Zerwekh Building was erected, the Pekin Daily Times was just one of five newspapers that were based in Pekin. All five of Pekin’s papers were located on Court Street, and the home of the Daily Times was at 405 Court Street (which more recently was the address of Timothies Interiors). In 1905-1906, however, the Daily Times relocated to a newly-built structure adjacent and attached to the Zerwekh Building.

A lost landmark of downtown Pekin, the Old Times Building — originally the Zerwekh Building — was the home of the Pekin Daily Times from 1906 to 2012. The building was demolished six years ago, in Oct. 2013.

After Albert Zerwekh’s death, his two sons carried on the business for another two or three decades. Other businesses and organizations also occupied the Zerwekh Building during this time, such as the Masonic Lodge and Noel Funeral Home (antecedent of Henderson Funeral Home), as well as attorneys and insurance agents.

For a while a vaudeville theater operated in the space that later would become the office of Times owner and publisher F.F. McNaughton. In the early 1920s, when the Daily Times was owned by Ku Klux Klan Grand Titan Oscar W. Friedrich, the hall on the second floor (which is now the Times newsroom) reportedly was used by the KKK for recruiting socials. In the 1930s, it was a popular venue for young people in town, serving as a dance hall where bands provided live music.

After the Zerwekh brothers closed their business and left Pekin, in 1941 F.F. McNaughton, who had come to the Times in 1927, bought the Zerwekh Building. The Times operations thus spread into the first floor area where the bakery and confectionary had been. At the same time, McNaughton installed a rotary printing press in the basement. That press served the paper until the summer of 1971, when a new offset printing press was installed in the Times press room – a part of the building that had been added in 1905-1906.

Under the McNaughton family, the Daily Times was established as a pillar and bulwark of the community and Pekin’s civic life. McNaughton died Dec. 29, 1981. The family sold the Times that year to Howard Publications of California. In 2000 the newspaper was sold to Liberty Group, now known as GateHouse Media Inc. and soon to become Gannet Co.

With the advance of years have come technological advances that have transformed how newspapers are printed and published. The rise of the Internet also has had a severe impact on newspaper circulation numbers. Together, these trends have led to staff reductions and consolidation of operations across the industry. That is why, although it was still produced in Pekin, the Times has been printed on the GateHouse press in the Peoria Journal Star building for several years. The last run of the 1971 offset press was in Sept. 2007, and the press was sold and parted out earlier in 2012.

The next major change for the Pekin Daily Times came the weekend of Aug. 25-26, 2012, when the newspaper returned to Court Street, specifically 306 Court St., a few blocks west of its pre-1906 location. In the seven years following that move, the Pekin Daily Times operated from the former Rick’s TV and Appliance building, built by Rick Woith in 1989. In September, the Times newsroom and production of the newspaper were relocated to the Journal Star Building in Peoria.

Looking ahead to the fate of the Old Times Building, in January 2012 the Daily Times reported:

“GateHouse Media Inc., which owns the Daily Times, sold the current Daily Times building to Tazewell County for $255,000 in September 2011, after the paper had been trying for years to unload the historic yet deteriorating and drafty old building. With staff reductions over the years, the building became too big for the paper’s space needs. The county intends to raze the building, along with the building next door, to create a county parking lot.”

The Old Times Building succumbed to the wrecking ball on Oct. 7, 2013.

#albert-zerwekh, #f-f-mcnaughton, #gannet-co, #gatehouse-media-inc, #howard-publications-of-california, #kkk, #ku-klux-klan, #liberty-group, #noel-funeral-home, #oscar-w-friedrich, #pekin-daily-times, #pekin-masonic-lodge, #peoria-journal-star, #rick-woith, #ricks-tv-and-appliance, #times-building, #timothies-interiors, #zerwekh-building

The Pekin Times’ plaindealing predecessor

This is a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in June 2014 before the launch of this weblog.

The Pekin Times’ plaindealing predecessor

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The Pekin Daily Times, dates its debut as a daily paper to January 1881. Before that, the Times was a weekly paper, having published under the name of the Pekin Weekly Times since October 1873. However, the history of the Pekin Daily Times reaches back even further than that.

As Charles C. Chapman says in his 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” page 43, the Times was the successor or offspring of several earlier newspapers that were printed in Pekin. The story begins in 1850 with the Tazewell County Mirror, which at the time was the only newspaper printed in Tazewell County. In the fall of 1850, a rival paper, the Pekin Weekly Reveille began printing.

Then in 1854, both the Mirror and the Reveille were bought by Merrill C. Young, who consolidated them under the name of the Pekin Weekly Plaindealer. The Plaindealer was printed until the winter of 1856, when Young sold it to Thomas J. Pickett, who renamed it the Pekin Weekly Register. After changing hands several times, the Register finally was purchased in 1873 by W. T. Dowdall and Joseph B. Irwin, who rechristened it the Pekin Weekly Times, and then changed it to a daily paper on Jan. 3, 1881.

Shown here is a detail from the top half of the front page of the July 24, 1856 edition of the Pekin Weekly Plaindealer, a predecessor of the Pekin Daily Times.

This column previously has discussed the handful of copies of historic local newspapers that the Pekin Public Library has in its keeping. As previously mentioned, the oldest newspaper in the library’s archives is an edition of the Tazewell County Republican from 1860. Also in the library’s archives are vintage individual editions the Pekin Weekly Times, the Pekin Evening Tribune, the Pekin Freie Presse (Pekin’s most successful German-language paper, dating from the time when the majority of Pekin’s citizens were German immigrants or children of German immigrants), and even a historic reprint of the first edition of the Pekin Daily Times.

While that copy is the library’s oldest newspaper, the library’s files in the Local History Room also include a photocopy of the front page of the July 24, 1856, edition of the Pekin Weekly Plaindealer. In its appearance and overall feel, this edition of the Plaindealer doesn’t bear much resemblance to what we today would expect from a newspaper. In fact, like most newspapers of that period, it doesn’t have that news in it. This excerpt should give a good idea of most of its contents:

“A FEW HINTS TO BACHELORS. – If you intend to marry – if you think your happiness will be increased and your interest advanced by matrimony – be sure and look where you are going. Join yourself with no woman who is selfish, for she will sacrifice you – with no one who is fickle, for she will become estranged – have naught to do with a proud one, for she will despise you – nor with an extravagant one for she will ruin you. Leave a coquette to the fools that flatter around her; let her own fireside accommodate a scold. Come not near a woman who is slatternly, for she will disgust you; and flee from one whom loves scandal as you would flee from old Nick himself!”

Those who would like to find out what else that newspaper has to say may consult the library’s photocopy in the Local History Room.

#joseph-b-irwin, #merrill-c-young, #pekin-evening-tribune, #pekin-freie-presse, #pekin-newspaper-history, #pekin-weekly-plaindealer, #pekin-weekly-register, #pekin-weekly-reveille, #pekin-weekly-times, #tazewell-county-mirror, #thomas-j-pickett, #w-t-dowdall