Tazewell County’s ‘Greatest Generation’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Our nation this week marked the 77th anniversary of the Empire of Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, that triggered the United States’ entry into World War II on the side of the Allies. From that point until the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany and Japan in 1945, the entirety of America’s military, industrial, and spiritual might was committed to the war effort.

By the war’s end, the U.S. had lost over 400,000 soldiers in a global shedding of human blood that included anywhere from 21 million to 25.5 million military deaths, 29 million to 30.5 million civilian deaths due to war or to crimes against humanity, and another 19 million to 28 million civilian deaths due to war-related famine and disease. The horrific human cost of the genocidal aims and expansionist ambitions of Germany, Italy, Japan, and the U.S.S.R. was an estimated 75 million to 85 million souls.

Most fittingly, the generation in America who bore that terrible burden of suffering, and who afterwards exerted themselves to rebuild and repair their broken world, has come to be known as “The Greatest Generation” (a title bestowed on them by retired NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw). With the blessed conclusion of that conflict receding further and further into the past – it’s now been more than 73 years since the end of World War II – each day that passes there are fewer and fewer men and women left to tell us of their experiences.

These were the fathers and mothers, the grandfathers and grandmothers, and great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers of the current generation. My own father, Joseph, is one of them – but he wasn’t old enough to be drafted until December of 1945, so he avoided all the fighting, instead spending what he says was the most boring year of his life in the U.S. Army’s peacekeeping forces near Manila in the Philippines. How stark is the contrast between his experience and that of those who had liberated the Philippines from Japanese occupation a year before – not to mention the experience of his older brothers who fought in Europe and the Pacific.

On Dec. 31, 1945, the Pekin Daily Times published a special “Victory Edition” that presented extensive lists of the men and women of Tazewell County who had served their country during World War II.

It is to help us to remember those times that the Pekin Public Library has provided opportunities this year to view oral histories such as “We Were There: World War II” (shown earlier this year on May 4) and “World War II POW Stories’ (originally scheduled for Friday, Dec. 7, at 11 a.m., but instead to be rescheduled to a time following the completion of the library’s repairs).

The library has a wide area of books and videos on World War II in its circulating collection. The above mentioned videos, however, are just two items among the resources related to the history of World War II that may be found in the library’s Local History Room Collection.

The three most notable World War II-related items in the Local History Room are three books that compile the stories of Tazewell County’s “Greatest Generation.”

Two of those volumes were the work of the late Robert B. Monge of Pekin, who in 1994 authored and edited “WW2 – Memories of Love & War: June 1937-June 1946,” a hefty 991-page book that collects personal stories, newspaper reports, and obituaries of Tazewell County World War II veterans and fallen heroes.

Three years later, in 1997, Monge collaborated with Jack Shepler and the Tazewell County Veterans Memorial Committee to produce the 261-page “Book Eternal: Tazewell County Veterans Memorial,” which tells of the planning and construction of the county’s Veterans Memorial located at the Tazewell County Courthouse lawn in downtown Pekin. “Book Eternal” also lists those whose names are inscribed on the memorial’s stones, which display the names of every Tazewell County soldier who died in the service of his country.

This photograph from the front page of the Pekin Daily Times’ “Victory Edition” on Dec. 31, 1945, reminded readers of the bravery and sacrifice of the soldiers who had been killed in World War II.

A decade later, in 2007 the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society compiled its own book on the experiences of our local World War II veterans: “Tazewell County Veterans of World War II: Remembrances – Pearl Harbor to V-J Day,” which extends to 488 pages.

About 11 years ago, former Pekin Public Library Reference Librarian Laurie Hartshorn collected and compiled the wartime stories and recollections of 16 local women. Their personal memories are collected in “Women of the Greatest Generation Tell Their Stories.”

The Local History Room Collection also has archival boxes and files of newspaper clippings and World War II-era magazines, and even several donated complete issues of the Pekin Daily Times from those years.

One of those newspapers is the “Victory Edition” of the Pekin Daily Times, published Dec. 31, 1945. The Daily Times that year devoted its traditional “Year In Review” issue to a look back over the nation’s and Pekin’s experiences of the previous four years, preparing and publishing a list of 143 young men from Tazewell County who had been killed in the war, along with extensive Draft Board lists of names of men from Pekin and Morton who been called up to serve their country, including the county’s women who had volunteered as Army and Navy nurses.

Section Two of this special edition is headlined, “6102 Tazewell Men On World War II Honor Roll,” with other headlines including, “Nearly Half of Morton’s 3116 Out of Uniform” and “2986 Are On Pekin List; Estimate 1400 Discharged.” A separate story, “62 Tazewell County Women Serve Country,” is devoted to the honored group of women who had volunteered as WACs (Women’s Air Corps), WAVES (women in the Navy), SPARS (Coast Guard auxiliary), and the Marines women’s auxiliary force.

The special edition also struck a somber tone, however, reminding its readers of “Nine Tazewell Boys, Missing In Action, Still Unfound; Families Hold Hope.”

But the mood throughout those yellowed pages was chiefly one of gratitude and joy – gratitude for those who had fought for freedom, and joy that the war was over and peace had returned. Looking back to celebrations and the utter relief at Japan’s surrender that ended the war – “V-J Day,” “Victory-over-Japan Day” – the special edition recalled that “V-J Day Was 1945’s Gayest Day In Pekin.”

In keeping with what Bob Monge wrote, may we never forget the men and women of that generation whose names are, or soon will be, written in God’s Book Eternal.

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#jack-shepler, #laurie-hartshorn, #pearl-harbor-day, #pekin-daily-times-victory-edition, #pekin-history, #robert-monge, #tazewell-county-history, #tazewell-county-veterans, #women-of-the-greatest-generation, #world-war-ii

Closing the Bicentennial Year, remembering the Centennial

Closing the Bicentennial Year, remembering the Centennial

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The state of Illinois’ Bicentennial Year draws to a close this Monday, Dec. 3 – the 200th anniversary of Illinois statehood – when concluding ceremonies will be held in the state’s capital of Springfield and in communities throughout the state. Pekin’s ceremony, during which Pekin’s Illinois Bicentennial flags will be lowered, will take place at 11:45 a.m. Monday on the Tazewell County Courthouse lawn.

Over the past year, local festivals in Tazewell County have incorporated the celebration of the state’s bicentennial, with members of the Tazewell County Illinois Bicentennial Committee displaying a bicentennial banner and flying the bicentennial flag in parades during events such as the Tremont Turkey Festival, Mack-Ca-Fest, the Morton Pumpkin Festival, the East Peoria Festival of Lights, and the Hopedale Celebration. The final local festival during the Bicentennial Year will be the Minier Celebration on Saturday, Dec. 1, where Bicentennial Committee members will again participate.

The official logo of the Illinois Bicentennial was officially unveiled at the Old State Capitol in Springfield on Jan. 12, 2017.

Displaying an official Illinois Bicentennial flag are (left to right) Christal Dagit, chairman of the Tazewell County Illinois Bicentennial Committee, Janna Baker, Tazewell County geographic information system coordinator, and Carroll Imig, Tazewell County Board member, all Bicentennial Committee members. The committee presented the flag to Baker at its final meeting on Sept. 25, in gratitude for her work on the Tazewell County Historical StoryMap, a state bicentennial project the committee had worked on throughout the year. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE TAZEWELL COUNTY BICENTENNIAL COMMITTEE

The Pekin Public Library’s celebration of the Illinois Bicentennial will conclude Friday, Dec. 7, when the 12th and final video in the library’s Bicentennial Series will be shown at 11 a.m. in the Community Room. Since that day is also Pearl Harbor Day, the 30-minute video will be an oral history project called “World War II POW Stories,” in which former World War II prisoners of war tell of their experiences of war and being held captive by the enemy.

Immediately following the video, at 11:30 am. in the Community Room popular local historian and writer Tara McClellan McAndrew will present “Becoming a State: the Illinois Way,” an informative and at times humorous program on Illinois’ road to statehood and the way Illinois’ legislators in Kaskaskia, the first state capital, crafted Illinois’ first state constitution and set up our first state government. Her program will last about an hour.

For the concluding “From the Local History Room” column in our Bicentennial Series, we will take a look back 100 years and recall the celebration of the centennial of Illinois statehood in 1918.

In December of 1918, Europe and the U.S. were holding Armistice talks in the aftermath of the end of World War I, and the Spanish Flu Pandemic was raging around the world and claiming the lives of anywhere from 20 million to 50 million people worldwide, including about 675,000 Americans. These facts cast a pall over Illinois’ Centennial celebrations – but the centennial was celebrated nonetheless.

The Illinois governor in 1918 – who presided over Springfield’s ceremonies marking the state bicentennial – was Frank Orren Lowden (1861-1943), a Republican. Lowden, a Chicago attorney, was the state’s 25th governor, serving from 1917 to 1921, and is remembered for taking action to end the Chicago race riot and restore order to the city in July-August 1919. The state population that year was about 6,275,000, about 260,000 of which lived in Chicago, then the nation’s second largest city, while Peoria’s population was about 70,000. (Today the state’s population is about 12.77 million, and about 21 percent of Illinoisans live in Chicago.)

Pekin’s own Illinois Centennial celebrations consisted of a public assembly at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 1918, in the old theater of Pekin Community High School (the former West Campus). The gathering included music and singing – including a collective singing of the official state song, “Illinois” – as well as addresses given by former Illinois Gov. Charles Samuel Deneen (1863-1940), who had served as the state’s 23rd governor from 1905 to 1913, and former Illinois State Rep. James Frank Gillespie of Bloomington (1869-1954), who served in the Illinois General Assembly from 1913 to 1914. The organizers of Pekin’s celebration evidently sought to make the event bipartisan – Deneen, who is best known for putting down the infamous Springfield race riot of 1908, was a Republican, while Gillespie was a Democrat and later became a U.S. Congressman.

The only mention of the Illinois Centennial in the Dec. 3, 1918 Pekin Daily Times was an inside-page brief. The centennial celebration was bumped from the front page by major news from Europe and Washington, D.C., regarding the Armistice talks at the end of World War I.

This photograph from the 1919 Pekinian yearbook shows Pekin Community High School as it was at the time of the Illinois Centennial in 1918. Pekin celebrated the state centennial with a community program at the high school theater on Dec. 3, 1918. The high school board members at the time were H. J. Rust, William Fair, A. Van Horne, F. C. Gale, and D. F. Velde.

Our knowledge of Pekin’s celebration of the Illinois Centennial is, sadly, very limited, because several issues of the Pekin Daily Times from that week are missing. The issue of Dec. 3, 1918, is available in the library’s microfilms in the Local History Room – but, remarkably, the issues of Dec. 2, 4, and 5 have not been preserved on microfilm.

Consequently, the only information on Pekin’s celebration on Dec. 3, 1918, that we can glean from the Pekin Daily Times comes from a single 26-line announcement, entitled, “Observe Centennial,” on an inside page of the Dec. 3 issue. That announcement makes reference to a published program of events that had appeared in the Dec. 2 issue, and no doubt a story about the Centennial program appeared in the Dec. 4 – but we cannot tell what was said about the Illinois Centennial in those issues.

Furthermore, the announcement in the Dec. 3, 1918 issue of the Daily Times is the only item in that issue regarding the Illinois Centennial. Bigger news overshadowed the centennial in the Daily Times. The front page of that issue was filled with news of the Armistice talks in Europe, including a report on how the office of the U.S. Presidency would continue to function during the months that President Woodrow Wilson was in France for the talks.

That issue of the newspaper also had a story on warnings from the U.S. Surgeon General’s Public Health Service regarding the persistence of the deadly Spanish Influenza – and, sadly, the paper that day ran a few death notices of infants and children who had succumbed to the flu – oh so common an occurrence in newspapers during those months.

A century later, the old Pekin high school building where the state centennial was celebrated is no more, and Chicago with a population of 2,687,682 is now only the nation’s third largest city (after New York and Los Angeles) – but neither is the world today grieving for millions of lives lost and nations ruined in the immediate aftermath of an unprecedented global war, nor harrowed by a worldwide pandemic, nor are Illinois’ major cities today racked and crippled by cruel race riots.

For all the troubles and challenges that the people of Illinois face today, life in Illinois in 2018 is still safer, healthier, and more prosperous than it was in 1918. As Illinois endured its troubles and faced its challenges in 1918, it can do the same in 2018. If Illinois is around for its Tricentennial in 2118, we may hope that generation will look back in gratitude and with wisdom for the state’s achievements and failures of the previous century.

#a-van-horne, #armistice, #carroll-imig, #chicago, #chicago-race-riot-of-1919, #christal-dagit, #d-f-velde, #f-c-gale, #gov-charles-samuel-deneen, #gov-frank-orren-lowden, #h-j-rust, #illinois-bicentennial, #illinois-bicentennial-committee, #illinois-centennial, #janna-baker, #pekin-celebration-of-illinois-centennial, #pekin-community-high-school, #pekin-daily-times, #spanish-influenza-pandemic-of-1918, #springfield-race-riots, #state-rep-james-frank-gillespie, #storymap-of-tazewell-county, #william-fair, #world-war-i

Early Tazewell County’s first banks

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in December 2014 before the launch of this weblog, republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

Early Tazewell County’s first banks

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

When much of Illinois was still a wilderness, what did Tazewell County’s pioneers do for money?

In their first years after arrival, the pioneer settlers didn’t use money, but instead relied on barter. Before long, however, they were able to make use of the rudimentary makings of a monetary and banking system. In his 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” pages 870-872, Ben C. Allensworth provides an account of the development of the county’s financial system (which tracked closely with the development of the state’s and the nation’s financial system).

“In the early days of the settlement of Tazewell County,” Allensworth writes, “its merchants exercised the functions of banks by safe-keeping the money of the people and selling them bills of exchange . . . The old safes of those days, with their impressive size, showing great round rivet heads indicating immense strength, called ‘Salamanders,’ remain only a memory of the older citizens of today.”

Allensworth then cites Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County” for his information on the county’s first bank, the Shawneetown Bank, founded in Pekin in 1839 as a branch of the Bank of Illinois. Col. C. Oakley was the bank president, Charles A. Wilcox was the cashier and William C. Docker was the clerk. The Shawneetown Bank “had but a short run and closed its doors in 1842, because of the collapse of the great improvement system, inaugurated about this time by the State of Illinois,” Allensworth says.

Shown is an example of an early bank note circulated as currency in Pekin about the middle of the 1800s. According to Ben C. Allensworth’s Tazewell county history, the bank note was of dubious value, so it was sent “into the West for circulation, as far away from home as possible, that it might not be returned for redemption so easily . . . We are told that it utterly failed of credit and was soon withdrawn.”

Allensworth’s account continues, “The first firm to do a regular banking business in Pekin, which has been handed down from one organization to another to this day, was that of G. H. Rupert & Co., established in 1852, although Mr. James Haines, a member of this firm, had opened an office for banking the year before as a branch of a Peoria bank.”

As we have noted previously in this column, the mansion of Gideon H. Rupert (1799-1877), which he built in 1862, was for a long time the location of Henderson Funeral Home, while James Haines (1822-1909) was a younger brother of William Haines, one of the co-founders and original plat-holders of Pekin. “It is from Mr. Haines we get the most information as to the methods and practices of the first bankers of Tazewell County,” Allensworth says.

The remainder of Allensworth’s account of the circumstances that led to the establishment of the banking firm of G. H. Rupert & Co. is here excerpted:

“We had no regular banks of issue in Tazewell County until the National banks were organized. Some of our older citizens remember that there was current money issued by a bank called the ‘Prairie State Bank of Washington,’ some time before the War, but the writer has been unable to get reliable information as to this.

“There was reported an incident as occurred at the counter of this bank at this time, which was characteristic of those days. A certain Doctor came to the bank and is said to have deposited $200 in gold. A short time after he wished to withdraw his money, when he was offered the paper issue of the bank for his demand, which he refused to take, demanding gold instead.

“It is said, the doctor, to end the altercation, drew his pistol and compelled the payment of gold . . . .

“Banks of issue of other States, and of cities of our own State, flooded the country with currency of doubtful value. This currency was mostly based on State bonds, and the less valuable these securities were the more profitable it was to circulate the currency based on them.

“Southern and Eastern banking associations would send their currency into the West for circulation, as far away from home as possible, that it might not be returned for redemption so easily. . . .

“This currency of ante-bellum days, based on securities of fluctuating value, was more or less discredited in different parts of the country, often depending on the distance it was from its place of redemption, but more frequently because of the changes of the market value of the State bonds on which these issues were based. . . .

“But the people grew tired of these constant changes in the value of their money and refused to use it longer. The currency became so obnoxious to the people that they came to designate it by such names as Wild Cat, Red Dog and still more opprobrious titles.

“It was at this time that the banking firm of G. H. Rupert & Co. did the people of Pekin and vicinity a great service. All our currency had become more or less discredited, and yet the people must have money to facilitate their transactions in business. G. H. Rupert & Co. adopted as their own issue the currency of the Platte Valley Bank of Nebraska, guaranteed on each bill put out by them, and thus relieved the stress for a good currency in Tazewell and surrounding counties.

“This was a very courageous act, and the approach of the Civil War, with its resultant crashes in all business enterprises, tested to the breaking point the credit of this banking firm.

“But, notwithstanding the terribly adverse conditions, they made good their guarantee to the people, redeeming in gold, dollar for dollar, this Platte Valley currency, thereby establishing a precedent of good faith which, up to this time, has been faithfully followed by all the banks of Tazewell County.”

#banks, #charles-a-wilcox, #col-c-oakley, #g-h-rupert-and-co, #gideon-rupert, #illinois-bicentennial, #james-haines, #preblog-columns, #shawneetown-bank, #william-c-docker, #william-haines

Was there something fishy about Illinois’ nickname?

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Once upon a time, back in the Age of the Mississippi River Steamboat, there was a packet steamer that was named after the state of Illinois.

The boat, a side-wheeler, was designed and built in Pittsburgh, Pa., by Capt. Richard C. Grey, superintendent of construction of the Northern Line. She was a 523.77 ton vessel, 230 feet long, 36 foot beam, with a 5 foot 5 inch hold. Designed for speed, her cylinders were 22 inches in diameter and she had a 7-foot stroke, which is what made it possible for her to set a record in 1867 for the 700-mile run from St. Louis, Mo., to St. Paul, Minn., making it in just 69 hours and 48 minutes. Along with a sister steamer named after the state of Iowa, she was launched in 1860 and plied the waters of the Upper Mississippi for 12 years.

Since her sister ship was named after the state of Iowa, her sister was christened the Hawkeye State. And since she herself was named after the state of Illinois, she was given the name Sucker State.

No, really, that was her name.

“Sucker State.”

Because, though the nickname is rarely heard anymore, in 1860 it was Illinois’ best known nickname – even more popular than “the Prairie State,” which was the name of two other Mississippi River steamboats named after the state of Illinois back then, the first built in 1847 and the second in 1850. (These and other steamboat facts may be found in William J. Petersen’s paper, “Floating Namesakes of the Sucker State: Some Upper Mississippi Steamboats,” published 1940 by the Illinois State Historical Society in “Papers in Illinois History and Transactions for the Year 1939.”)

The Northern Line packet steamer Sucker State, which was christened with an old nickname of the state of Illinois, plied the waters of the Mississippi River from 1860 to 1872.

I know what you’re going to ask next. No doubt you’re wondering why our neighbors acquired nifty nicknames like the Hawkeye State, the Show-Me State, the Bluegrass State, the Hoosier State, and the Badger State, while good ole Illinois got stuck with “the Sucker State.”

One may be forgiven for supposing it has something to do with Illinois’ tradition of corrupt politics and government (a long history that our Illinois Bicentennial Series has shown to have begun in the days of the Illinois and Indiana territories). But no, that’s not the reason.

The probably unsatisfying answer to the question, “Why ‘Sucker State’?” is, “We really don’t know for sure.”

But historians have made a few pretty interesting guesses, and one of their guesses seems to be most likely to be the right one.

First let’s address what looks like the least probable guess. According to the website NetState.com, this guess is found in Malcolm Townsend’s 1890 “U.S.: An Index to the United States of America.” Townsend says that some people in his days sought the explanation of “Sucker State” in common lore about the old pioneers of the Illinois prairie. “Evidently, the prairies were filled, in many places by crawfish holes. Travelers were able to suck cool pure water from these holes using long, hollow reeds. According to Malcolm Townsend, whenever a traveler would happen upon one of these holes, he would cry out ‘A sucker, a sucker!’

This guess has little to go for it, being unsupported by earlier historical witnesses. There’s no good reason to believe the nickname derives from the literal act of sucking water (something that is hardly unique or distinctive about Illinois’ pioneers).

The most common explanation for the nickname was that which is given by Charles C. Chapman in his 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” page 78:

“The low cognomen of ‘Sucker,’ as applied to Illinoisans, is said to have had its origin at the Galena lead mines. In an early day, when these extensive mines were being worked, men would run up the Mississippi river in steamboats in the spring, work the lead mines, and in the fall return, thus establishing, as was supposed, a similitude between their migratory habits and those of the fishy tribe called ‘Suckers.’ For this reason the Illinoisans have ever since been distinguished by the epithet ‘Suckers.’ Those who stayed at the mines over winter were mostly from Wisconsin, and were called ‘Badgers.’ One spring the Missourians poured into the mines in such numbers that the State was said to have taken a puke, and the offensive appellation of ‘Pukes’ was afterward applied to all Missourians.”

Townsend in his 1890 book mentions the same explanation: “An old miner said to them ‘Ye put me in mind of suckers, they do go up the river in the spring spawn, and all return down ag’in in the fall.’

In this guess, then, it’s not Illinoisans sucking water, but Illinois miners being compared to migratory sucker fish.

This guess is both earlier and more plausible than the above mentioned one. Even so, it may strike one as a bit too creative or strained – as if someone was trying a bit too hard to explain not only why Illinoisans were known as “Suckers,” but also why Illinoisans used the derogatory term “Pukes” for their neighbors in Missouri.

In questions like these, the earliest known explanation is not always the correct one, but it usually is. For this particular question, the earliest explanation is that given by Illinois Gov. Thomas Ford in his 1854 “A History of Illinois.” Ford said the first settlers of southern Illinois came to be called “Suckers” as an analogy to the “suckers” (young sprouts and shoots) of the tobacco plant.

“These poor emigrants from the slave States were jeeringly and derisively called ‘suckers,’ because they were asserted to be a burthen upon the people of wealth; and when they removed to Illinois they were supposed to have stripped themselves off from the parent stem and gone away to perish like the ‘sucker’ of the tobacco plant. This name was given to the Illinoisans at the Galena mines by the Missourians.”

It is probably no accident that both Ford and Chapman mention the mines at Galena – it seems that really is where the nickname “Sucker” was first given to Illinoisans. Ford’s explanation appears earlier than Chapman’s explanation, which makes Ford’s explanation more likely – but it cannot be held to be certainly true.

As it happens, it was also by analogy that plant sprouts first came to be called “suckers.” The Online Etymology Dictionary says “sucker” is a Middle English word from the late 1300s meaning a young child who has not yet been weaned. By the 1570s the word had begun to be applied to plant shoots, since the shoots were like little “children” of the plant. Sucker fish aren’t mentioned in literature until 1753, and it wasn’t until 1836 that the American slang term “sucker,” meaning a fool, someone with childlike naïveté who is easily tricked, first appeared (and no, it was not in reference to Illinoisans).

Whether the nickname derives from reed straws, fish, tobacco sprouts, or fools, the Illinois General Assembly in 1955 decided the state should instead be known as the “Land of Illinois,” voting to adopt that as our state’s official nickname. Today “Prairie State” is still sometimes heard, but “Sucker State” is rare, heard very little outside the circles of Illinois historical study.

#capt-richard-c-grey, #galena, #gov-thomas-ford, #illinois-bicentennial, #land-of-lincoln, #prairie-state, #riverboats, #steamboats, #sucker-state

Sober voters were rare in early elections

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in July 2013 before the launch of this weblog, republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

Sober voters were rare in early elections

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

We have recently recalled the story of the beginnings of permanent white settlement in Tazewell County. With the establishment of new settlements came the rudiments of governmental structures and civic life – and that means politics and formal elections.

William H. Bates wrote the first published history of Pekin, which was included in the 1870 Pekin City Directory. One of the features of Bates’ history is his compilation of Tazewell County and Pekin “firsts,” and thus on pages 7-8 of the city directory we find the story of what Bates called Tazewell County’s first election. (It would be more accurate to say that it was the first election to be held in what would later become Tazewell County.)

Bates wrote, “The first election was held at the house of Isaac Dillon (sic) on the first Monday in August, 1826, this being, at that time, a part of Peoria county. The election was for Governor and other officers. We are not informed who received a majority of the votes nor the number polled, but the day was a gala one and of sufficient importance to be commemorated by a banquet. When the voting was concluded Jesse Dillon went to a neighboring cornfield and procuring an arm-full of roasting-ears, they were boiled, together with a ham, in a fifteen gallon iron kettle, and then served to the assembled crowd of election officers and yeomanry, constituting an out-door feast worthy of the occasion and heartily and thankfully partaken of by the people.”

The 1887 Pekin City Directory, pp.11-12, repeats that account word-for-word, but adds at the end, “Nathan Dillon was elected Commissioner on this occasion.

The story of Nathan Dillon, traditionally known as the first white settler in Tazewell County, was told in a recent Local History Room column, including extensive excerpts from Dillon’s own account of his arrival that had been quoted in Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County.”

In addition to the story of his pioneer adventures, Dillon also wrote an account of the beginnings of civic institutions and elections in Tazewell County, and Chapman also incorporated that into his county history, on pages 711-712.

Dillon’s recollections begin with his tale of the election at Springfield in August 1822. According to Dillon, whiskey (that is, the excessive consumption of whiskey) was the fuel that powered the engine of state and local elections in those days, as politicians tried to win elections by getting the voters drunk out of their minds. (Perhaps not too different than elections today?)

Dillon said that the candidates, Kinney, Parkinson and Edwards “had a long bench ranged along side of the court-hose, on which they set their liquors. The polls were held in the interior. We all got plenty to drink . . . and a general frolic occurred; but what has surprised me as I have reflected upon these early days, we had no fighting. The great evil was, that every candidate had to fill his portmanteau with whisky, and go around and see and treat every voter and his wife and family with the poisonous stuff, or stand a chance of being defeated. . . .

In the winter of 1823, I emigrated to what is now called Dillon Settlement, in this county, 10 miles from Pekin, and 17 miles from Peoria, where I spent the season in quietude; my nearest neighbor living in Peoria, except one by the name of Avery, who had raised his cabin at Funk’s Fill. But things did not remain in this condition long; for during the same winter the Legislature made a new county, with Peoria for the county-seat, embracing all the country north of Sangamon county. Phelps, Stephen French and myself were appointed Justices of the Pace, for the new county, which extended east as far as Bloomington and north and west to the State line. We sent our summonses to Chicago and Galena, and they were promptly returned by our constables.

March, 1824, we held an election at Avery’s, Wm. Holland, Joseph Smith and myself were elected County Commissioners. The whole county was embraced in one election district. The number of votes polled was 20; had some whisky on the occasion, but it was well tempered, having been imported a long way by water; and we did not succeed in getting on as great a spree as we did at Springfield.”

Dillon’s account ends at that point. Chapman then tells of the August 1826 election – but Chapman’s account is almost a verbatim transcription of Bates’ story from the 1870 Pekin City Directory, even though Chapman didn’t using quotation marks. The only real differences between Bates and Chapman are that Chapman corrects Bates’ mistaken reference to “Isaac” Dillon (which was an error for “Nathan” Dillon), and also adds to Bates’ statement about the feast “thankfully partaken of by the people.”

To that, Chapman added the tongue-in-cheek comment, “nor do we know that whisky was served, yet we cannot say it was not.”

#drunk-voting, #early-elections, #illinois-bicentennial, #jesse-dillon, #nathan-dillon, #preblog-columns, #stephen-french, #voting, #whiskey, #william-holland

The Great Chatsworth Train Wreck of 1887

This is a revised version of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in Aug. 2012 before the launch of this weblog, republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

The Great Chatsworth Train Wreck of 1887

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

One of the worst railroad disasters in Illinois history was the Great Chatsworth Train Wreck of 1887.

The disaster happened in Livingston County, not Tazewell County, so at first glance one might not think it was relevant to Tazewell County history. Nevertheless, the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room has a file specifically on the Great Chatsworth Train Wreck.

A look into that file will quickly reveal the local connection. The main item in the file is a photograph of the disaster that had been reprinted in 1927. The photo caption says, “Although it happened in 1887, all of 40 years ago, one need only say ‘Chatsworth wreck’ in this part of the country and everyone knows what is meant. This picture of the famous wreck belongs to Chris Ziebold, Sr., 1213 Henrietta street, Pekin.

Notably, this photo was the basis for one of the engravings that illustrated the Harper’s Weekly account of the wreck in the issue dated Aug. 20, 1887.

This photograph of the Great Chatsworth Train Wreck of 1887 was owned by the late Chris Ziebold of Pekin, and was used as the basis for an engraving that illustrated the Harper’s Weekly report on the wreck.

This Harper’s Weekly drawing illustrating its report of the Chatsworth train crash is clearly based on the above photograph.

However, besides the local connection of the photograph, the disaster itself, in which at least 80 people died and probably hundreds were injured, touched the lives of many people throughout central Illinois. The train’s passengers no doubt included residents of Tazewell County.

The wreck, which happened shortly before midnight on Aug. 10, 1887, has been ranked as either the second or third deadliest train disaster of the 19th century. The number of dead has been placed at between 81 and 85 (reports at the time estimated more than 100 dead) and the number of injured anywhere from 169 to 372.

On the evening of Aug. 10, a Toledo, Peoria & Western train pulled out of Peoria, heading east through Eureka and Chenoa on the way to Niagara Falls. The train included two steam engines, six fully loaded passenger cars, six sleeper cars and three cars for luggage (and perhaps more cars). Aboard the train were as many as 700 people who had been attracted by a special offer to visit the famous falls on the New York/Canadian border.

At a point about three miles east of Chatsworth, the train began to accelerate down a slope and reached a speed of about 40 mph. At this point the train began to cross a wooden trestle bridge over a creek. The first engine made it over the bridge, which then collapsed behind it, causing the second engine to slam into a hill side. Most of the cars behind the engine telescoped into the second engine and each other.

One of the survivors, J. M. Tennery, was on the first sleeper, whose passengers escaped with only a fright or minor bruises. He said, “I got out in safety, and the scene presented to the eye and ear was one I wish I could forever efface from my memory.”

Instantly the air was filled with the cries of the wounded and the shrieks of those about to die,” said a report in the Chicago Times. “The groans of men and the screams of women united to make an appalling sound, and above all could be heard the agonizing cries of little children as in some instances they lay pinned alongside their dead parents.

Rescuers and searchers comb the Chatsworth train wreckage in this Harper’s Weekly drawing.

News of the wreck quickly spread by telegraph. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of onlookers descended on the scene, and many of them claimed “souvenirs” or even robbed the dead. That led to erroneous speculation that the bridge had been sabotaged for the purpose of robbing the train. In fact, however, it was a tragedy caused indirectly by the weather.

The summer of 1887 was a drought year in central Illinois. Worried that sparks from their steam engines could start an uncontrollable brush fire, on the day of the wreck the TP&W Railroad conducted a controlled burn near the bridge. Apparently the fire was not completely extinguished, and the flames severely charred the wooden trestle under the bridge, leaving it unable to support the train’s weight.

Four days later, the TP&W gathered the debris into a massive heap and set it on fire, even though it is very likely that not all the dead had been recovered from the wreckage. The burning of the wreck is the reason for the uncertain tallies of the dead and injured or even the exact number of cars in some reports.

Survivors attend their dead loved ones at the scene of the Chatsworth train wreck in this Harper’s Weekly drawing.

In the aftermath of the wreck, railroads shifted away from wooden passenger cars in favor of safer and sturdier steel. Also, not long after, musician Thomas P. Westendorf penned the folk ballad, “The Bridge Was Burned at Chatsworth” (also known as “The Chatsworth Wreck”), which was sung at a 1937 memorial service. A state historical marker was placed near the wreck site in 1954.

A state historical marker was placed near the site of the train wreck in 1954. PUBLIC DOMAIN IMAGE FROM WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

#chris-ziebold-sr, #great-chatsworth-train-wreck, #illinois-bicentennial, #j-m-tennery, #preblog-columns, #railroads, #the-bridge-was-burned-at-chatsworth, #thomas-p-westendorf, #toledo-peoria-western, #tpw-railroad

A further look at Pekin’s old fire companies

This is a revised version of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in Sept. 2011 before the launch of this weblog, under the title “Pekin Fire Department has a blazing history,” republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

A further look at Pekin’s old fire companies

By Linda Mace and Jared Olar
Library assistants

The Pekin Public Library’s Illinois Bicentennial video series continues next Friday, Nov. 2, with the showing of a video with a topic perhaps fitting for the season of Hallowe’en and All Souls Day: on-the-scene footage of the archaeological excavation of the former Tharp Pioneer Cemetery that used to be located at the site of the Pekin Schnucks grocery store.

In the 1980s the old Douglas School building was torn down and replaced by K’s Super Saver (now Schnucks), and during construction human remains were discovered that had been overlooked when the former cemetery was closed and its burials transferred to Lakeside Cemetery. The video is about 70 minutes in length, and will be shown at 11 a.m. in the library’s Community Room.

Earlier this month we recalled the Great Fire of 1860 which sparked the formation of Pekin’s original volunteer fire companies. This week we will take a further look at the early days of Pekin’s fire companies and municipal fire department.

This photograph from the May 15, 1921 Peoria Journal-Transcript shows Pekin’s municipal fire house and trucks. In those days the Pekin Fire Department was based in the old City Hall building at the corner of Fourth and Margaret streets.

Another vintage photograph from the latter 1800s shows Pekin’s old City Hall building and fire house at the corner of Fourth and Margaret streets, with firemen posing with their horse-drawn equipment.

As we saw previously, in the aftermath of the Great Fire, three independent fire companies were formed: the Independent Hood and Ladder Company No. 1, Rescue Company No. 1, and Defiance Hose Company.

In 1880 two more volunteer companies were organized: the “Wide Awake” and “Protection.” By 1894 the “Wide Awakes” had a partially paid department. Fire stations were built and torn down as they became obsolete. Equipment was purchased and modernized.

Pekin fire company volunteers show off their 1884 Ahrends “Eagle” steam pumper, a horse-drawn fire-fighting machine.

In those days fire-fighting machinery was brought to the fires on horse-drawn wagons. But with the advent of the automobile toward the end of the 19th century, before long the days of horse-drawn fire wagons were at an end. By the early 1920s Pekin’s fire department had converted to automotive ladder trucks and pumper trucks.

But how did the public get word to Pekin’s early fire companies that they were needed to put out a fire?

The answer is found in “Pekin: A Pictorial History,” which says that by 1884 “the city had installed a Gamewell Street Box Fire Alarm system. This system allowed the public to communicate alarms directly to the fire department from pull boxes located throughout the community.”

And just how would one operate these? The 1903-1904 City Directory listed the instructions, as follows:

FIRE ALARM STATIONS, PEKIN, ILLINOIS. TO KEY HOLDERS: RULE ONE. Upon positive information of a FIRE near your signal station. BREAK THE GLASS, UNLOCK THE DOOR AND PULL THE HOOK DOWN, THEN LET GO. RULE TWO. Should you hear the small bell ringing inside (which is an indication that an alarm is being sent over the lines), wait until small bell stops ringing: then close outer door, which puts box in circuit. Now open door and pull hook down once and alarm will be sent in. * THIS RULE IS IMPORTANT AND SHOULD BE OBSERVED. * RULE THREE. DO NOT PULL THE HOOK DOWN MORE THAN ONCE. RULE FOUR. Never leave the Station from which you give the alarm until the Fire Department arrives, and then tell them where the fire may be, unless the fire will show itself. RULE FIVE. In using a TELEPHONE FIRE ALARM STATION CALL up the TELEPHONE OFFICE. When they answer, you repeat slowly and distinctly: “FIRE! FIRE! Station No.–, giving the number of the station you are at.”

Our modern “9-1-1” emergency system is obviously much faster and more efficient.

Pekin firemen test the hoses on the fire departments new $13,000 fire truck in this Jan. 29, 1928 Peoria Journal-Transcript photograph.

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