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. 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.”

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How did Pekin get its name?

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in December 2011 before the launch of this blog . . .

How did Pekin get its name?

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The question of how Pekin got its name is shrouded in a haze of mystery and legend, but the resources of the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room can help bring the question into better focus.

All the standard reference works on the history of Pekin and Tazewell County affirm that Pekin was named in 1830 by Ann Eliza Cromwell, wife of Major Nathan Cromwell, one of Pekin’s earliest settlers. However, early accounts disagree about the year she gave Pekin its name.

Local historian Fred W. Soady’s 1960 paper, “In These Waste Places,” says, “After the completion of the plat of the new town in 1830, Mrs. Nathan Cromwell, for reasons still obscure, gave the city the name of PEKIN, and thus it has remained to the present,” adding in a footnote, “It is speculated, and a common legend in Pekin, that the city was so named by Mrs. Cromwell on the belief that the site was exactly opposite the site of Peking, capital of China.”

The first known published sketch of Pekin’s history is found in the 1870 Pekin City Directory of W.W. Sellers & W.H. Bates, which says: “In 1829 a survey of ‘Town Site’ was made by William Hodge of Blooming Grove, then County Surveyor . . . The survey made, and the town laid out, Mrs. Cromwell being called upon, exercised her share of women’s rights in that early day by christening the embryo city of the new Celestials, PEKIN. Why she thus named it the legendary history of the days gone by fail to record, and we can only surmise that in the plenitude of her imagination she looked forward to the time when it would equal in size that other Pekin – the Chinese City of the Sun.”

During the 1800s, “Pekin” was the standard English-language spelling of the Chinese capital, Peking or Beijing.

Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” substantially repeats the same account, though he dates Hodge’s survey to 1827 (apparently a printer’s error for 1829). “Doubtless with a prophetic eye [Mrs. Cromwell] could see a brilliant future for their town in the not far distant time, and, therefore, gave to it the name of Pekin, we suppose after the celestial city of that name,” Chapman comments.

The story that Pekin was named after Peking (Beijing) appears to be an authentic tradition handed down by Pekin’s original settlers. Chapman quotes from the 1860 diary of Jacob Tharp, who came to Pekin in 1825. In his diary, Tharp gives an account of how the town’s proprietors (including Major Cromwell) surveyed and laid out the original town in 1830, and comments, “The gentlemen were much exercised about the way in which to lay off the celestial city.” His comment seems to be the earliest allusion to the story that Pekin was named for China’s Celestial City Beijing. “The Celestial City” has long been one of our city’s appellatives.

However, these old accounts do not mention the “common legend” to which Soady refers, that Mrs. Cromwell believed Pekin was on the opposite side of the earth from Peking. Perhaps that legend is only a later embellishment of the original tradition. It is worth noting, however, that Pekin, Ill., and Beijing are at about the same latitude on the globe – about 40 degrees for Pekin, about 39 degrees for Beijing.

Our city is not the only U.S. community with that name, nor was it the first. For example, Pekin in Washington County, Indiana, got its name around the same time as Pekin, Ill. There is also a small eastern Ohio community called Pekin, located near Minerva in Brown Township, Carroll County. Ohio’s Pekin may have received its name prior to 1815, judging from a statement in the 1921 “History of Carroll and Harrison Counties, Ohio.” Is it just a coincidence that Pekin, Ohio, is also at about the same latitude (39 or 40 degrees) as Pekin, Ill., and Beijing, China?

Several of our city’s first settlers came from or through Ohio – but did any of them know about Ohio’s Pekin? Could that have been what suggested the name to Ann Eliza Cromwell? It might be a worthwhile project for a contemporary researcher of our local history to investigate that question.

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Early historical accounts indicate that Pekin, Ill., was named for the capital of China, Beijing or Peking. During the 1800s, a common English-language spelling of China’s capital was “Pekin,” as shown in this detail of a map from an 1874 grade school geography textbook, “Monteith’s Independent Course — Elementary Geography,” by James Monteith, page 62.

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