Pekin’s Mardi Gras . . . in October?

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The annual tradition of Mardi Gras carnivals arose in the Middle Ages in Europe, originating as a practical way for cities and towns to get rid of all of their meat in preparation for the 40-day Lenten period of fasting and abstinence every February and March.

In those days, Catholics completely abstained from eating meat during Lent. Because there were no freezers or refrigerators all the available meat had to be eaten before Lent started on Ash Wednesday, since the meat otherwise would spoil long before Easter. Hence came the custom of having a “carnival” (Latin carne vale, “meat farewell”) on Shrove Tuesday, the last day before Lent begins. This community-wide celebration is called Mardi Gras (“Tuesday of fat”) in French-speaking Catholic countries. America’s most famous and popular Mardi Gras of course is the one held in the former French Catholic colony of New Orleans.

Many years ago, however, Pekin had its own Mardi Gras carnival. Unlike a traditional Mardi Gras, though, Pekin’s celebration took place in October instead of February or March. In fact, Pekin’s Mardi Gras wasn’t even on a Tuesday.

This event was held in downtown Pekin on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, Oct. 5-7, 1950, being sponsored by the Irin Grotto of Pekin, a local Masonic organization. News reports describe it as the “first annual” Irin Grotto Mardi Gras, but it’s unclear if the event became an annual tradition. (This was about two decades before the first Marigold Festival.)

A clown announces Pekin’s first Mardi Gras in early Oct. 1950 in this detail from a Pekin Daily Times advertisement.

The 1950 Mardi Gras featured a carnival midway with a circus calliope, a parade, live music from four bands (including a Hillbilly band and a Hobo band), a talent show, a Mardi Gras costume ball, and the crowning of a Mardi Gras king and queen. Attendees were encouraged to come to the carnival wearing outlandish costumes, and judges awarded prizes for the best costumes.

“Twenty-five cash prizes will be awarded for the different types of costumes worn by the children and adults at the Mardi gras street dance this evening,” reported the Oct 5, 1950 Pekin Daily Times. “The committee urges everyone and particularly the children to come in costume or comic dress in order to help make the festivities a success for the opening night.”

Mrs. Marilyn McCabe was the Mardi Gras hostess, Mr. Louis Dunkelberg was general chairman of the Mardi Gras, Mr. U.S. Sullivan was the parade chairman, and Miss Joan Shade was mistress of ceremonies for the Friday night talent show. Crowned Mardi Gras King during opening night ceremonies was Fred Peterson of 1010 Chestnut St., a maintenance man at Pabst Blue Ribbon in Peoria. During the Saturday night Mardi Gras ball in the girls’ gymnasium of the old West Campus high school building, Miss Ellyn Morse, 17, of Radio City (North Pekin), was crowned Mardi Gras Queen. Runners-up were Miss Norine Holiday of 300 Woodland Ave., Pekin, and Miss Marilyn Schaff of 1310 S. Ninth St., Pekin.

Children enjoy the rides on the Mardis Gras carnival midway along Elizabeth Street in downtown Pekin on Oct. 5, 1950. The photograph is from a newspaper clipping recently given to the library by Glen “Bud” Christopher, whose face is circled in the picture. With him in the “tub” are Larry and Billy Conarro. The boys weren’t playing hooky from school, though — the Daily Times said there was no school during Mardi Gras due to a teachers’ institute.

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#billy-conarro, #carnival, #ellyn-morse, #fred-peterson, #glen-christopher, #irin-grotto, #joan-shade, #larry-conarro, #louis-dunkelberg, #mardi-gras, #marilyn-mccabe, #marilyn-schaff, #norine-holiday, #u-s-sullivan

The PCHS dragon through the decades

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

It’s on the logo of the Pekin Police Department and it’s the school symbol and sports mascot of Pekin Community High School – a red dragon. How did the high school and the police department come to choose a dragon as logo and mascot?

The reason for the choice of a dragon is rooted in the city’s name, which, as we’ve discussed here before, is an older “Anglicized” form of Peking or Beijing, China’s ancient imperial city and modern capital. In origin our city’s dragon logo is the representation of a wingless Chinese dragon (or “lung”) – although the PCHS dragon’s form has varied greatly through the decades.

Pekin’s having been named in 1830 after China’s capital soon gave rise to a tradition of fanciful association with different aspects of Chinese culture. Thus, Pekin residents very early on took to calling their home “the Celestial City.” Later on Pekin’s professional minor league baseball team in the early 1900s was called the Celestials, and the old downtown Pekin Theater was decorated as a Chinese pagoda. Local businesses often used Chinese themes and written Chinese characters in their advertisements.

This tradition of fanciful association with China does not appear in Pekin high school’s earliest “Pekinian” yearbooks, but by the 1920s the occasional or rare drawing of someone or something Chinese begins to appear in the high school yearbook.

It wasn’t until 1937 that the classic PCHS logo of a Chinese wingless lung first appeared in the Pekinian. In that year and over the next few years the same logo was printed on the front cover of the yearbook. The same dragon logo also would be embossed on the high school gymnasium floor and painted on the side of PCHS buildings. This is the same period when the high school adopted “the Chinks” – an old colloquial and sometimes disparaging American slang term for Chinese persons – as the school symbol and team mascot.

Pekin Community High School’s official logo, featuring the school’s seal over a wingless Chinese “lung,” made its debut on the cover of the Class of 1937’s graduation yearbook.

For a few years in the 1940s, the PCHS dragon disappeared from the high school yearbook, but it reappeared on the cover and inside pages of the 1948 Pekinian. The 1948 Pekin yearbook depicted a traditional Chinese dragon, but one with small wings. The following year, a pencil sketch of a scene reminiscent of traditional Chinese art was printed in the yearbook – central to the scene was a large Chinese lung flying through the sky. Other Chinese-themed pencil sketches are found throughout the 1949 Pekinian.

The cover of the 1950 Pekinian, however, departed from the classical Chinese dragon tradition, instead featuring more of a cartoon-style European winged dragon. The class ring that year featured the same dragon representation as on the yearbook’s cover.

The PCHS dragon usually was not featured in or on the cover of yearbooks during the 1950s, but the dragon began to appear more frequently in the 1960s. It was in the 1965 Pekinian that Pekin’s long established tradition of Chinese-themed fancy reached its apotheosis. Not only did the yearbook feature the high school’s traditional Chinese dragon logo, but the cover drawing featured Chinese bamboo window blinds, and the sections of the yearbook were organized and titled according to traditional Confucian social classes. The yearbook staff perhaps had pulled out all stops that year to celebrate Pekin’s 1964 high school basketball state championship.

Four years later, the Pekin dragon reappeared on the 1969 yearbook cover as a classic Chinese lung within a gold-embossed medallion. The 1970 and 1972 yearbook covers had the same dragon in a gold medallion. Once only once more in the 1970s – in 1975 – did the PCHS dragon appear on the yearbook cover. That year it was a photograph of the old school logo painted on the side of a high school building.

Chinese themes grew more and more rare in the Pekinian during that decade, and during that time Chinese Americans visited Pekin to express their great offense at the use of “Chinks” as a team name, asking the school to choose a different mascot. The great majority of high school students and alumni favored keeping the name, but in 1980 District 303 Superintendent Jim Elliott decided, despite opposition, to retire the “Chinks” mascot permanently. He retained the Pekin dragon, however, and the cover of the 1981 Pekinian sported a photograph of the new PCHS dragon mascot costume at a basketball game.

The 1981 Pekinian was the first PCHS yearbook after the school mascot was changed from “the Chink” to “the Dragon.” The yearbook cover sported a photograph of the new mascot.

In the 37 years since then, the PCHS dragon has frequently appeared in and on the cover of the yearbook – but as a rule he takes the form of a classic European fire-breathing winged dragon, not a Chinese lung. The old school logo of the Chinese lung – which debuted on the cover of the 1937 Pekinian – may still be seen at the school and the stadium, and even appeared on the one of the pages of the 2011 Pekinian. This year’s Pekinian cover shows a European dragon amidst flames.

The cover of the 2017 Pekinian features a fiery European-style dragon rather than a classic Chinese “lung.”

Below is an extensive gallery of images showing examples of the PCHS dragon through the decades:

Pekin Community High School’s official logo, featuring the school’s seal over a wingless Chinese “lung,” made its debut on the cover of the Class of 1937’s graduation yearbook.

After being absent from the yearbook for most of the 1940s, the Pekin dragon returned in 1948 — but that year the Pekin dragon, while still recognizably Chinese in style, grew a pair of small wings.

Shown is a detail from a large charcoal-sketched drawing from the 1949 Pekinian, presenting a landscape scene with a flying Chinese lung done in the style of traditional Chinese drawings. Smaller details cropped from the same drawing appeared throughout the 1949 Pekinian.

This page from the 1949 Pekinian shows the high school cheerleaders posing around the PCHS dragon logo on the floor of the old West Campus gymnasium. At the bottom left are the high school’s old racially insensitive “Chink” and “Chinklette” mascots.

The Pekin dragon on the cover of the 1950 Pekinian again sports wings and is drawn more in a cartoon style, resembling a European dragon more than a Chinese lung. The same image was used for the 1950 PCHS class ring.

This page from the 1950 Pekinian shows the old scoreboard at the Pekin high school stadium, featuring the wingless Chinese lung from the school’s official logo. The current scoreboard also features the school’s wingless Chinese dragon.

In the 1965 Pekinian, Pekin’s long established tradition of Chinese-themed fancy reached its apotheosis. On the cover, the high school’s traditional Chinese dragon logo reappeared after a long absence from the yearbook, but this time the cover drawing featured Chinese bamboo window blinds, and the sections of the yearbook were organized and titled according to traditional Confucian social classes. The yearbook staff perhaps had pulled out all stops that year to celebrate Pekin’s 1964 high school basketball state championship.

Shown is the cover of the 1969 Pekinian. Both that year and in 1970, and again in 1972, the yearbook cover sported a classic Chinese lung in a gold medallion.

In addition to the embossed golden Chinese dragon medallion on the cover of the 1970 Pekinian, the same image appears as a drawing on the title page.

The only time after 1972 that the Pekin dragon appeared on the yearbook cover during the 1970s was in 1975, when a photograph of the school’s logo painted on the side of one of the high school buildings was featured.

The 1981 Pekinian was the first PCHS yearbook after the school mascot was changed from “the Chink” to “the Dragon.” The yearbook cover sported a photograph of the new mascot.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the Pekin dragon usually was drawn in a more cartoonish style, with no recognizable association with Chinese culture, as he is on the cover of the 1990 Pekinian.

Pekin’s dragon again appears in his old Chinese style on the cover of the 1995 Pekinian.

The 1998 Pekinian — the yearbook for the last year students attended West Campus — does not feature a dragon on the cover, but on the table of contents page a winged dragon silhouette leaves footprints and points ahead to the future as he “moves on” to the expanded East Campus facilities.

Naught but the Pekin dragon’s formidable claws appears on the cover of the 2000 Pekinian.

A fire-breathing red dragon appears on one of the pages of the 2010 Pekinian.

The Pekin dragon again shows signs of his Chinese-themed origin in the 2011 Pekinian.

The PCHS official dragon logo and old school motto appears on a page of the 2011 Pekinian.

On the cover of the 2012 Pekinian, the Pekin dragon appears as a European-style fire drake breathing multi-colored flames.

The cover of the 2017 Pekinian features a fiery European-style dragon rather than a classic Chinese “lung.”

#beijing, #pekin-chink-mascot, #pekin-dragon, #pekin-high-schools, #pekin-history, #pekins-racist-reputation, #pekinian-yearbooks, #racism

News of Pekin’s first riot

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In recent weeks, this column recalled two local historical events that may be called “the worst and the first.” The Little Mine Riot of 1894 was Tazewell County’s worst riot, while Pekin’s first riot happened in 1851.

In both cases, the riot involved a group of workers, but the similarity between the two riots begins and ends there. In 1894, it was an acrimonious dispute between miners and the mine’s owners, but in 1851 it was simply a case of a steamboat’s deck hands drinking to excess.

The standard histories of Pekin and Tazewell County offer much more information about the Little Mine Riot than of the 1851 riot in Pekin. We know many of the details of the Little Mine Riot, but of the 1851 riot we know only the date (the Fourth of July), that the group of rioters was large, and that they worked off their fines on a chain gang doing maintenance on Pekin’s streets.

Pekin historian William H. Bates wrote the first-ever historical sketch of Pekin about 19 years after the riot of 1851, so it’s perhaps no surprise that he doesn’t even provide the name of the steamboat, let alone the exact number of rioters who were arrested. Much later, Pekin old-timer Emil Schilling said there were about 30 or 40 rioters – but it seems it would have been an unusually large steamboat to have had that many deck hands.

These gaps in Pekin’s historical record can be filled in with information found in a newspaper report of the riot of 1851. No doubt news of the riot made the papers in Tazewell County. Even without radio, television, or the Internet, within days rumors and hearsay of the riot would have spread throughout central Illinois. And so, less than two weeks later, Tazewell County’s neighbors in McLean County were able the read the following report in the Bloomington Pantagraph of July 16, 1851:

“Considerable of a riot occurred at Pekin on the 4th inst. It seems that the hands belonging to the steamer Lucy Bertram got on a spree while she was lying at that place, whereupon they assaulted some of the citizens, but no very serious damage was done. Eighteen of the crew were immediately taken before the mayor to be tried for rioting. Seventeen of them were convicted and fined $55. One was acquitted, one paid the fine, one gave security, and the balance were placed upon the streets to work out their fines.”

This article on Pekin’s first riot, from the July 16, 1851 Bloomington Pantagraph, was provided by Ken Lacey of the Manito Historical Society.

This report – a copy of which was graciously provided by Ken Lacey of the Manito Historical Society – provides the steamboat’s name (the Lucy Bertram) as well as the number of deck hands arrested (18 – a good deal less than 30 or 40), even informing us of the disposition of the charges against the 18 deck hands. Only 15 of the hands had to work on the chain gang to pay off their fines of $55 each (quite a considerable sum in those days).

These are the kinds of details that naturally fade from memory with the passage of time. The inflation of the number of deck hands from 18 to 30 or 40 is the kind of thing that, like a tall tale, grows in the telling and retelling.

#little-mine-riot, #pekin-history, #pekins-first-riot, #william-h-bates

Library’s Pekinian yearbooks go digital

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The Pekin Public Library’s Pekin Community High School yearbooks are among the areas of the library’s Local History Room collection that get the most use, whether it’s someone looking up old friends or researching family history, or simply reminiscing about old times. The Pekinians are invaluable sources of information about Pekin high school history.

For many years, the library’s “Pekinian” yearbook collection has been available for patrons to peruse or for photocopying yearbook pages or student pictures. With the passage of time, however, inevitably the older volumes suffer wear and tear.

With the goal of reducing wear to our yearbooks and protecting them from damage in order to preserve them for the future, the Pekin Public Library has had its Pekinians for the years from 1908 to 2014 scanned and digitized by OCI Records Conversion in Oklahoma.

Each yearbook from 1908 to 2014 has been scanned from cover to cover, and the scanned images have been burned to individual disks. These scanned images were then uploaded to a portable external hard drive that library patrons may use in Adult Services.

Those who would like to make copies of images from the digitized yearbooks can ask to borrow the external drive. Library staff can show patrons how to plug the external drive into one of the library’s public computers in the Adult Computer Lab, and then assist them if the patrons need help with printing off images or saving copies of pages to a personal flash drive.

The original Pekinians will remain in the locked Local History Room cabinet, and the more recent yearbooks that have not yet been digitized will still be available there. Just ask a librarian to get them out for you.

The growth of Pekin over the past century or so may be seen in this comparison of the senior class photographs from the very first Pekinian in 1908 with those of the 2014 Pekinian. In 1908, the entire senior class fit on a single page, but in 2014 the first page of senior photos only goes from Adams to Beasley.

#1908-pekinian, #2014-pekinian, #digitized-yearbooks, #pekin-community-high-school, #pekin-high-schools, #pekin-history, #pekinian-yearbooks

Postcards from Pekin’s past

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Thirteen postcards featuring scenes from Pekin’s past were added to the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection this summer, thanks to a donation from library volunteer Ruth Williams.

The postcards had belonged to Ruth’s late mother Freda (Wagner) Grezetich, and some of the older postcards had been collected by members of the Wagner family.

Six of the postcards are featured here. Of the six, four of them feature vintage photographs from around the time of the late 1800 or early 1900s. These vintage cards show the original plank Pekin bridge which was replaced in 1930, the pre-West Campus Pekin High School that stood where Washington School is today, the former St. Paul’s Evangelical Church that stood in the 600 block of Ann Eliza Street, and a scene of a train during flooding along the shores of Worley Lake in the vicinity of Pekin’s Auto Row.

Two cards are somewhat more recent, featuring photographs of Pekin Memorial Hospital and Pekin’s downtown in the 1970s that were taken by Pekin professional photographer Jim Deverman.

Visit the library’s Local History Room if you’d like to see the other seven postcards.

#jim-deverman, #pekin-history, #pekin-postcards

Little Mine Riot – the aftermath

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

A few weeks ago, we recalled the Little Mine Riot of 1894, which was Tazewell County’s most serious incident of civil unrest in its history.

In February of this year, the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society received a donation consisting of five pages of a legal claim for damages filed on June 22, 1894, by the brothers Edward and Peter Little, owners of the Little Mine which had been wrecked by the rioting miners on June 6.

The Society printed copies of these five pages from the Little brothers’ suit for damages in its Monthly, Aug. 2017, pp.1983-1988.

As we noted in the previous column, local historian Ben C. Allensworth said the Littles filed a claim for damages to their business and were awarded $7,710.60.

But the amount of their award was considerably lower than their claim, as the pages from their suit reveal.

The Littles filed for damages in the amount of three fourths of the value of their mine and its buildings and machinery. Their claim says their property was valued at $19,138.50, and they wished to be reimbursed in the amount of $14,353.87. That means Tazewell County paid them a little more than half of what the Little brothers sought.

Among the numerous items included in the inventory was the Power House Building; one 125 H.P. Westinghouse engine; steam pumps, heaters, and connections; several large tools including two electric coal drills and a coal mining machine; benches and numerous small tools, a steam heating apparatus; the Engine House; the Boiler House Building; two hoisting cages and the hoisting engine; and 4 kegs of aspheltum. The inventory included a claim for $1,000 of damages to the main shaft and mine, $185 of damages to the tramway and dirt dump, $150 for eight coal buggies and one water box that had been destroyed, and $38 for the escapement shaft that had to be torn up to rescue a mule that was trapped in the mine when the rioters poured oil down the shaft and ignited the oil to destroy the mine.

The Littles also included in their tally of losses and damages a Springfield rifle, a double barrel shotgun, a single barrel shotgun, and six revolvers, which had been “borrowed by E. LITTLE & BRO. and carried off by mob,” along with a 32-caliber Winchester rifle “carried away by mob and lost” and three revolvers “stolen by mob.” These were the weapons the Littles had used in their attempt to drive off the angry miners, resulting in the death of miner Edward Flower and the murder of the Littles’ employee William Dickson.

While most of the pages of the Littles’ claim papers are a typescript with some handwriting, the final page is a difficult-to-read handwritten document dated Sept. 11, 1894, issued by a committee of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors and signed by all committee members. The document concludes, “Our Committee recommends the payment to the Little Brothers, in full [i.e., in fulfillment] of all claims against Tazewell County, the sum of Seven Thousand and Seven Hundred Ten Dollars & Sixty Nine Cents in three equal payments.” Allensworth’s account perhaps has a typographical error, showing 60 cents instead of 69 cents, but otherwise the stated award is the same.

A few weeks after the destruction of the Little Mine in Groveland Township during a labor riot on June 6, 1894, the mine owners filed a claim for damages with Tazewell County. Shown is a portion of the first page of their claim. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE TAZEWELL COUNTY GENEALOGICAL & HISTORICAL SOCIETY

#edward-flower, #edward-little, #little-mine-riot, #peter-little, #tazewell-county-history, #william-dickson

Steamboat deck hands run riot in early Pekin

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Earlier this month, we reviewed “Early Times in Pekin and Tazewell County,” an essay written by Pekin’s pioneer historian William H. Bates and published in Shade’s Monthly, May 1913 (reprinted in the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly, June 2017, page 1945).

We also recalled the Little Mine Riot of 1894, the most serious civil disturbance in Tazewell County history. That, of course, wasn’t the first time public safety and order were disrupted in our area. As it happens, Bates’ essay from May 1913 also tells of the first riot in Pekin’s history, which took place about a year after Pekin became established as a city under Illinois law:

“The first riot took place in Pekin, July 4th, 1851, when the deck hands of one of over one hundred steamboats plying the waters of the Illinois, under the influence of too much ‘fire water,’ nearly terrorized the inhabitants of the young city. The citizens rallied to the support of the marshal, and after a hard fight, the rioters were arrested and fined. The boat officials would not pay their fines, so with a ball and chain locked to a leg of each rioter, they had to work out their fines by repairing the steamboat levees.”

Pekin’s first riot in 1851 is said to have been the fault of about 30 or 40 drunken deckhands of a steamboat. Shown here at Pekin in this photograph that Henry H. Cole took circa 1890 is another later Illinois River steamboat, the Mazileon, whose deckhands were not, as far as we know, responsible for any riots.

Bates does not identify the city marshal who suppressed the riot. He refers to the same riot in the historical essay he wrote for the old Pekin City Directories, but neither does he name the city marshal in his city directories. That and one or two other details of that incident may be found in a 12-page history of the Pekin Police Department prepared in 1942 as part of an annual report for the city government. We reviewed that 12-page history in this column in March 2013, in which we told of the appointment of Pekin’s first city marshal, Thomas Cloudas, by Pekin’s first mayor, Bernard Bailey. The March 2013 column summarized the incident in these words:

“In those days, Pekin had very much the character of a rough frontier town, and the city marshall had much more to do besides rounding up stray hogs and cattle. Perhaps most of the criminal offenses in Pekin from the 1850s through the 1870s involved alcohol-fueled violence. One such incident was Pekin’s first riot on July 4, 1851, when a steamboat’s drunken deck hands ran wild throughout the city. Cloudas rapidly collected a force of Pekin citizens who engaged in a battle with the deck hands in the city streets and finally, after a hard fight, managed to subdue and arrest the offenders.”

It apparently was the same riot that Pekin old-timer Emil Schilling remembered in a newspaper article published in the July 24, 1933 Pekin Daily Times. In June 2013, this column discussed that article and Schilling’s 1933 recollections of the riot and the punishment that the court imposed on the rioters, whom Schilling said were black (a detail not mentioned by Bates). Schilling believed (whether rightly or not) helped to foster Pekin’s reputation as a place where blacks were unwelcome.

#henry-hobart-cole, #mazileon, #pekin-history, #pekins-first-riot, #thomas-cloudas, #william-h-bates