Glimpses of Pekin from Cole’s ‘Souvenir’

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

Glimpses of Pekin from Cole’s Souvenir

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

A few months ago, we recalled the life of Pekin’s pioneer photographer Henry Hobart Cole (1833-1925). During his long and productive career, Cole created a vast collection of images of Pekin and the surrounding area beginning soon after his arrival in Tazewell County in 1879. In 1899, Cole published a selection of his photographs in a small booklet called “Cole’s Souvenir of Pekin, Ill.”

“Cole’s Souvenir” served as a memento for visitors to Pekin and a way to promote Pekin as a good place to live and do business – and, of course, also helped to promote Cole’s own photography business. But for us today, it is a memento of days long gone, granting glimpses of Pekin homes and businesses as they appeared in 1899. Many of them no longer exist, but others are still around, with new families or new businesses in them.

“The city of Pekin, county seat of Tazewell County, one of the wealthiest and most fertile in Illinois, has a population of about 10,000, is situated on the east bank of the Illinois River, a beautiful stream, navigable for the finest steamers,” Cole wrote in the introduction of his “Souvenir.”

He went on to praise and extol Pekin for its system of railroads, its shipping facilities – “second to no city in Central Illinois, and rates are correspondingly low” – its coal mines, its “low rents, cheap markets, low taxes,” its “mineral springs, the best water in the state,” and “last, though not least: a courteous and sociable people.”

The files of the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room contain a few copies of “Cole’s Souvenir.” Later editions of the “Souvenir” featured drawings or engravings – including a “bird’s eye” panoramic view of Pekin – rather than reproductions of Cole’s actual photographs, but the first edition is entirely photo reproductions. A few examples are presented here:

#coles-souvenir-of-pekin, #henry-hobart-cole, #pekin-high-schools, #zerwekh-building

Who was Benjamin S. Prettyman?

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

Who was Benjamin S. Prettyman?

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On the shelves of the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room is the 1864 edition of the “City Charter and Revised Ordinances of the City of Pekin, Ill.,” a relatively slim volume that comes to only 154 pages counting the index.

Perhaps most people would say the 1864 city charter generally makes for some dry reading, since it is only a collection of laws and regulations, with no narrative or characters or plot. In all its pages, this book mentions but one person by name, on page 29, at the start of the section on the charter’s amendments.

The first amendment to the charter was approved by the Illinois General Assembly on Feb. 10, 1849, a few months before the town of Pekin would be incorporated as a city. The amendment ratified the town board’s decision granting and confirming title to “the ferry across the Illinois river within the corporate limits of said town of Pekin” to “Benjamin S. Prettyman, his heirs and assigns.”

Who was this Benjamin S. Prettyman who had the distinction of being the only individual named in the 1864 Pekin City Charter? The answer is readily available in another book in the Local History Room collection, the 1893 “Portrait and Biographical Record of Tazewell and Mason Counties,” pp.457-461. Prettyman’s biography which appears in that volume is longer than most, indicating his prominence in the early history of Pekin and Tazewell County. An even lengthier biography of B.S. Prettyman was published in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County, Illinois,” pp.30-31, and his portrait adorns the title page of the atlas.

This portrait of Benjamin S. Prettyman was printed in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.”

Benjamin Stockley Prettyman was born Nov. 21, 1819, in Smyrna, Delaware, the only son and second child of Lewis and Harriet (Mason) Prettyman. Lewis brought his wife and five children to Tazewell County in 1831, “journeying up the Delaware to Philadelphia, thence to Pittsburgh, and from there down the Ohio and up the Mississippi. The boat upon which they journeyed from St. Louis to Pekin was the second that made the passage up the Illinois.”

Lewis Prettyman settled on land by the Mackinaw River that had never been broken by a plow. He built a fort at the river bank – this was the year before the Black Hawk War – and later built a log cabin at the forest’s edge “and broke the prairie soil with the first wooden mold-board plow introduced into the neighborhood.”

His son Benjamin was intellectually gifted, but had the common experiences of growing up in a pioneer family on the American frontier, which including being mostly self-educated since there was little access to formal schooling. Benjamin’s father served twice as County Surveyor, which led Benjamin to serve four years as Deputy Surveyor. It was during those years that Tazewell County, which formerly extended from the Illinois River to Sangamon County and included the city of Chicago, was reduced to its present boundaries. As deputy surveyor, Prettyman was one of the commissioners who divided the smaller county into townships around 1841.

Prettyman’s duties led him to begin legal studies in 1844 under Judge Robbins of Springfield. “He went to the office of Logan & Lincoln, but it was crowded with law students, and Logan advised him to get some legal books, adding that he would loan him such volumes as he desired. In March, 1845, he was admitted to the Bar of Illinois, at Springfield, and afterward settled in Pekin, which then had a population of four hundred.”

Prettyman’s connection to Pekin dates to as early as April 1840 – it was in Pekin at that time that he married Sarah A. Haines, daughter of William Haines, one of Pekin’s founders. He and Sarah had a large family, and one of their sons-in-law, Daniel Sapp, later became mayor of Pekin. Benjamin’s father-in-law “owned a mercantile establishment, a distillery, as well as the ferry and other important interests here.” That is how Prettyman came to be mentioned in connection with the Pekin ferry in the 1864 city charter.

Besides the family interest in the ferry, Prettyman also played a prominent role in bringing the railroad to Pekin and helping to extend rail lines throughout central Illinois. In addition, Prettyman was elected Mayor of Pekin in 1862. His 1893 biography says, “During the war he was twice elected mayor of Pekin, and served in the same capacity several times afterward.” Other published lists of Pekin’s mayors show only his 1862 term in office – during the other times he apparently served temporarily as acting mayor.

Prettyman’s 1893 biography notes that he then had “the distinction of being the oldest attorney in Tazewell County.” He died April 8, 1895, and is buried in Lakeside Cemetery in Pekin. His home in the 1100 block of North 11th Street still stands today.

Benjamin S. Prettyman’s home on 11th St. as it appeared in 1872 is shown in this lithograph from the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.”

Last month a descendant of Prettyman’s daughter Nellie donated to the Pekin Public Library Prettyman’s own copy of “Pekin and Environs,” a late-nineteenth-century compilation of photos of Pekin homes and locales. Prettyman signed his name in the book twice. Some of the images from “Pekin and Environs” appear in Rob Clifton’s 2004 “Pekin History: Then and Now.”

Shown here is Benjamin S. Prettyman’s signature from his copy of “Pekin and Environs,” a compilation of photographs published circa 1890.

#benjamin-prettyman, #pekin-history, #william-haines

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

The Third Degree: Chapter 25: Aftermath and Epilogue

With this post to our Local History Room weblog, we conclude our series on a pair of sensational deaths that occurred in Pekin, Illinois, during the Prohibition Era. The Local History Room columns in this series, entitled “The Third Degree,” originally ran in the Saturday Pekin Daily Times from Sept. 15, 2012, to March 2, 2013.


By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Chapter Twenty-five

Aftermath and Epilogue

Voters finally achieve deputies’ ouster

The failure to convict Deputies Ernest L. Fleming and Charles O. Skinner of Martin Virant’s death provoked abortive attempts during the spring and fall of 1933 to oust Tazewell County Sheriff James J. Crosby and remove his entire force of deputies.

It was no surprise, then, that Crosby decided not to run for re-election in 1934. Crosby had two very good reasons not to run again: in addition to the simmering discontent over the Virant affair, Crosby’s health remained fragile following the nearly fatal heart attack he had suffered in November of 1932. To replace of Crosby, the Tazewell County Democrats put up Lawrence Lancaster, while the Republicans opted for Pekin Chief of Police Ralph C. Goar.

In 1934, voter antipathy toward the Republican Party over the Great Depression was still very strong, and the midterm elections that year would again prove to be a near total rout nationally as well as at the state and local levels. In light of those facts, it is a testament to the intensity of popular dissatisfaction with the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Department that Goar’s photograph would end up on the front page of the Nov. 7, 1934 Pekin Daily Times under the headline, “ONLY G.O.P WINNER.”

The election of Goar ensured that the county would get a sheriff who would “clean house” and replace the deputies who were seen by many as Crosby’s cronies. Evidently voters did not trust that would happen if they replaced the Democrat Crosby with another Democrat. Goar also had an added advantage with the voters: He was the law enforcement officer who had personally arrested Deputy Skinner and had provided the grand jury with important testimony against him.

Sheriff Goar did not waste any time in getting around to the housecleaning at the Sheriff’s Department – on Dec. 1, 1934, his first day in office, it was out with the old and in with the new.

“Deputy Sheriff Fleming, who is retiring,” reported that day’s Pekin Daily Times, “will move to his residence property at 614 S. Eleventh street and Sheriff-Elect Ralph Goar will move into the jail residence . . . . Goar will assume the duties of sheriff. Elmer Eiler will be the office deputy under Sheriff Goar and Earl H. Whitmore of Pekin and Arthur Puterbaugh of Mackinaw are to be the outside deputies, Mr. Whitmore being the chief deputy. Sheriff Crosby, Deputies Fleming and Skinner will remain in Pekin, but have made no announcement of their future plans . . . .”

Elliff departs, but no comeback for Dunkelberg

The failed prosecutions of Fleming and Skinner, and the unraveling of the case against Petje, also did little to endear voters to Tazewell County State’s Attorney Nathan T. Elliff, who perhaps wisely did not seek a second term in 1936. Instead, it was a race between Democratic candidate R. L. Russell, a former mayor of Pekin, and former State’s Attorney Louis P. Dunkelberg, who had been defeated by Elliff in 1932.

However, Dunkelberg again was defeated at the polls. He would not seek his old office again, but would remain in Pekin, where he was a part of the law firm of Dunkelberg and Rust, located on the second floor of the old Pekin Times building. Dunkelberg died on March 27, 1976, at age 79. He is buried in Lakeside Cemetery in Pekin.

As for Elliff, he also never again sought his former job of state’s attorney. In 1940, he joined the U.S. Department of Justice, returning to his law practice in Pekin in 1947 and becoming an active community leader. He died on Dec. 3, 1993, at age 88, and also is buried in Lakeside Cemetery.

Tazewell County State's Attorney Louis P. Dunkelberg lost his bid to regain his office in the 1936 elections. Photo by Konisek, Feb. 26, 1928, Peoria

Tazewell County State’s Attorney Louis P. Dunkelberg lost his bid to regain his office in the 1936 elections. Photo by Konisek, Feb. 26, 1928, Peoria

Poor health, heart troubles claim Black, Reardon, Allen, and Crosby

Most of the other main players in this drama died much earlier than Dunkelberg and Elliff. After successfully defending Deputies Fleming and Skinner in the Virant manslaughter trial, Jesse Black Jr.’s health failed. Following several months of illness, Black died on Oct. 11, 1935, at age 64. His fellow attorney in the Virant case, William J. Reardon, died of heart trouble on June 27, 1941, the day before his 63rd birthday. Black and Reardon are both buried in Lakeside Cemetery.

After losing his re-election bid in 1932, Tazewell County Coroner Dr. Arthur E. Allen, who investigated the Lewis Nelan and Martin Virant deaths, continued his medical practice in the Green Valley until 1946, when he moved to California. He served as house physician for the Santa Fe Railroad at Los Angeles until suffering a heart attack in March 1961 from which he never fully recovered. He died at age 82 on May 30, 1963, in West Los Angeles, and is buried in Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego.

Not quite five years after the end of his single term as Tazewell County Sheriff, James J. Crosby at age 72 succumbed on May 23, 1939, to the heart problems that had plagued him for several years. The Pekin Daily Times published a front page obituary and tribute to Crosby, recalling his many years as a local teacher and school administrator, and respectfully passing over the controversies of his time as sheriff. He is buried in Lakeside Cemetery.

Fleming, Skinner, and Garber summoned to Highest Court

The Daily Times showed similar respect for Fleming, who died at age 81 on March 22, 1955. His obituary notes only that he was “a former Tazewell county sheriff for several terms and a baker here for many years.” He was entombed in Lakeside Mausoleum.

After Sheriff Goar dismissed him from the Sheriff’s Department, Skinner later moved back to East Peoria, where he died at age 54 on June 7, 1938. He is buried in Springdale Cemetery in Peoria. Deputy J. Hardy Garber also left the area after Goar dismissed him. He served in both the Army and Navy during World War II, settling in Des Moines, Iowa, after the war. He died on March 26, 1968, at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Iowa City, and was buried in Glendale Veterans Cemetery in Des Moines.

What of the Nelan defendants?

Of the three defendants in the Nelan case, Edward Hufeld later served in the Army during World War II, returning to East Peoria after the war. He never married, and he died at age 62 at Proctor Hospital in Peoria on March 20, 1965, being buried in Fondulac Cemetery, East Peoria. Frank Keayes Jr. moved to Pekin, dying at age 82, also at Proctor Hospital, on Dec. 26, 1982, also being buried in Fondulac Cemetery.

As for John Petje, following his acquittal on charges of murder, he remained in East Peoria and lived until age 62. On March 26, 1943, the Pekin Daily Times reported on page 2 that “Mr. Tetje (sic) was found yesterday afternoon at 2:30 o’clock hanged by a light cord fastened to a door sill in his house on S. Main Street.” The following day, the Daily Times reported that a coroner’s inquest jury ruled Petje’s death a suicide “while despondent over ill health.”

The reports of Petje’s death do not mention the Nelan case, saying only that Petje was “a prominent East Peoria citizen” without explaining what had made him “prominent.” He is buried in Parkview Cemetery in Peoria, the same cemetery where the family of Martin Virant laid him rest.


The decision to re-tell the scandalous history of the Lew Nelan and Martin Virant killings came about in the late summer or early autumn of 2012, when David Perkins of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society shared with the Pekin Public Library copies of some old Pekin and Peoria newspaper articles and funeral home records pertaining to the Nelan and Virant cases. At first it appeared that the stories could be succinctly reviewed in two or three weekly “From the Local History Room” columns in the Saturday Pekin Daily Times. As I researched these stories, however, it became clear that they needed a much fuller treatment which would call for an extended re-telling in a weekly serial format in the newspaper.

Prior to the publication of the “Third Degree” serial in the Pekin Daily Times in 2012-2013, the deaths of Nelan and Virant had been all but forgotten in Pekin. The late Robert Dubois, during his tenure as Tazewell County Coroner, once told me of the Nelan and Virant cases in a conversation with me around 2003. Dubois, who had read the inquest file on Virant’s death, explained at some length how the evidence and observations at the death scene made obvious that Virant was already dead before he was hanged. Though I found the facts Dubois recounted to be remarkable, I did not commit these details to memory (not even the victims’ names) and soon forgot our conversation, and only remembered that he had talked about it while I was in the process of researching their deaths for the Pekin Public Library’s weekly “From the Local History Room” column.

I doubt very many others in our day besides men such as Coroner Dubois or those with an interest in local history knew of Nelan and Virant and the controversies surrounding their deaths, which were probably all but forgotten in Pekin and Tazewell County prior to 2012. Although the saga frequently was front-page news in 1932-1933, the long and sorrowful story was reduced to a single paragraph on page 69 of the 1949 Pekin Centenary, which included a historical narrative that was mainly researched and written by retired Peoria Journal Star editor Charles Dancey:

“The discovery of the body of Martin Virant, a material witness, in the Tazewell county jail caused a storm which lasted for months. After the inquest there was a near lynching of accused deputies, who were later tried on manslaughter charges that Virant died under the ‘third degree’. Even after their acquittal, there was an effort to impeach the entire sheriff’s office on the part of the Tazewell county board of supervisors.”

That somewhat inaccurate paragraph would later appear in almost identical form in the historical narrative of the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial volume, on page 173:

“After a material witness named Martin Virant was found dead in his cell at the Tazewell County Jail, there was a storm of public outrage which nearly resulted in the lynching of some accused deputy sheriffs. (They were subsequently tried for manslaughter on charges that Virant died under the ‘third degree.’) There was an effort to impeach the entire Sheriff’s office by the County Board.”

As we have seen, the few lines in the Centenary and Sesquicentennial volumes omit several important details and really only begin to hint at that “storm which lasted for months.”

#arthur-puterbaugh, #charles-dancey, #charles-skinner, #coroner-arthur-e-allen, #earl-h-whitmore, #edward-hufeld, #elmer-eiler, #ernest-fleming, #frank-keayes, #hardy-garber, #jesse-black, #john-petje, #lawrence-lancaster, #lew-nelan, #louis-dunkelberg, #martin-virant, #nathan-t-elliff, #r-l-russell, #ralph-goar, #robert-dubois, #sheriff-james-j-crosby, #the-third-degree, #william-reardon