One hundred Tremont telegrams

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in October 2013 before the launch of this weblog.

One hundred Tremont telegrams

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Before the invention and the popularity of the telephone, the telegraph was the way to send important (albeit brief) messages quickly over a great distance. Cities and communities both large and small were connected by thousands of miles of telegraph wires that carried the messages from one telegraph office to the next — and almost every community had a telegraph office.

A glimpse into the heyday of the telegram is offered by Donald Nieukirk’s 36-page book, “One Hundred Telegrams Sent or Received at Tremont, Illinois, 1912,” published in 2001 by the Tremont Historical Society and Museum. It’s one of the books in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection.

To prepare his book, Nieukirk collated, edited and annotated a collection of Western Union telegrams from September and October 1912 that had been donated by Keith A. Toepfer of Tremont. The telegrams had come into Toepfer’s possession as a result of his mother Evalyn’s 1965 purchase of the old “Big Four” railway depot on West Pearl Street in Tremont — with the purchase of the building came all of its contents, including a large number of old telegrams. From that collection, Nieukirk selected 100 for his book, adding explanatory comments and notes.

“Now nearly ninety years later,” Nieukirk wrote in 2001, “they make a fascinating reading for local history buffs and afford revealing glimpses of the daily routine in an age gone by.”

Shown is a reproduction of one of the Western Union telegrams featured in Donald Nieukirk’s “One Hundred Telegrams Sent or Received at Tremont, Illinois, 1912.” The telegrams were found in the old “Big Four” railway depot on West Pearl Street in Tremont.

Here are a few of them:

Nieukirk starts off with a business telegram sent at 10 a.m. Sept. 3, 1912, from the G. W. Shemel Grain Co. to the Evans Elevator Co. in Decatur. The text of the telegram is nothing but a string of five words: “Stagger – chest – afforded – affixing – boundless.”

“What a confusing message with which to start!” Nieukirk writes. “Obviously it is a code of some sort. The reply was received in just a few hours.” The reply was, “Acceptance too late — will wire later if have good bids.” A similar encoded exchange is found on pages 33-34.

Another telegram, sent at 5:07 p.m. Sept. 5 by J. W. Lindeburg of Peoria to W. C. McQueen of Tremont, says, “Will call on you in the morning with the Cowell trunk line — new goods.” Nieukirk comments that in 1912 McQueen operated a furniture, carpet, wallpaper and paint business in the City Hotel Building. McQueen was elected mayor of Tremont in 1927 and served in that office for 20 years.

Sometimes the telegrams dealt with news of death or funeral arrangements. A “Night letter” sent at 8:07 p.m. Sept. 5 by Mrs. Martin Robison to the Rev. Lawther of Fairbury says, “Will you preach Martin Robison funeral sermon Sunday at ten A.M. — will take you to Washington to one o’clock train Sunday — answer if you will come to Morton or Allentown on Interurban — if you do not answer by return message – call on telephone.”

An urgent telegram, sent on Sept. 5 by Fred A. Johnson to Mary Phillips of Marblehead, Ind., reads, “Tell your mother that her sister not expected to live — come at once.”

Other telegrams are rather mundane, such as one sent on Oct. 13 from “Harry” to D. C. St. Clair of Pekin, which says, “Left comb and brush at saloon this morning — get it.”

Nieukirk’s telegrams also include a somewhat entertaining series of gossipy messages involving a number of residents of Tremont; Duncan, Miss.; and Memphis, Tenn., who wanted to find out if a young woman named “Maude” had gotten married.

The series begins with an inquiry from a Clara Tibbs on Sept. 21, 1912, and continues over the next two weeks through early October, but, frustratingly, we never get an answer to Clara’s initial question, and neither was Nieukirk able to find out who Maude was.

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The Dunkelberg telegrams

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This week we again examine some items that recently were donated to the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection. Last month the library received a donation of an assortment of mementos that provide some glimpses into the life of a Pekin family just a few generations ago.

The mementos pertain to the family of Victor P. Dunkelberg (1869-1960), a Pekin businessman and former city alderman who has a brief biographical sketch in Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County.” The donated items include a 1931-32 Jefferson School Parent-Teacher Association membership card stub for Victor’s wife Martha Spoonhoff Dunkelberg (1871-1946), an American Legion Auxiliary membership card for Martha dated Oct. 15, 1932, and a grade school report card for Victor and Martha’s son Louis P. Dunkelberg (1896-1976).

The most interesting of the donated items, however, are five telegrams – the first sent to Victor Dunkelberg in March of 1892 and the other four sent to him in July of 1897. The first tells of the news of the passing of Victor’s mother Louise Prescott Dunkelberg (1845-1892), while the other telegrams deal with the sickness and death of Victor’s father Moses C. Dunkelberg (1838-1897), along with arrangements for his funeral and for the settling of his estate. Moses apparently had died in California.

The first telegram was sent from Chicago by Western Union, and was received at 216 Court St., Pekin. A handwritten text, it is dated “3 / 7 1892,” which apparently means March 7, 1892 (although the number 2 in “1892” is incomplete and looks like a 7). The brief telegram text says, “Mother died today. Be home tomorrow one thirty pm. Sent word to Larish and Edd,” and is signed, “M. C. Dunkleburg.” That is Victor’s father Moses C. Dunkelberg, but it’s unknown who “Larish” and “Edd” were.

This telegram, sent March 7, 1892, communicated the news of the death of Mrs. Louise St. Clair Prescott Dunkelberg, mother of Pekin attorney Louis Prescott Dunkelberg. The telegram is among several mementos of the Dunkelberg family recently donated to the Pekin Public Library's Local History Room collection.

This telegram, sent March 7, 1892, communicated the news of the death of Mrs. Louise St. Clair Prescott Dunkelberg, mother of Pekin attorney Louis Prescott Dunkelberg. The telegram is among several mementos of the Dunkelberg family recently donated to the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection.

The four remaining telegrams were sent from Los Angeles, Calif., by the Postal Telegraph-Cable Company. They all came from a certain “I. R. Dunkelberger,” and he addressed them to “Victor Dunkelberger, Pekin, Ill.” The “-er” suffix on the surname apparently was a variant form of this family’s name. I. R. Dunkelberger obviously was related to Victor and Moses, but the exact nature of their kinship is unknown. The published obituaries of Victor and Martha Dunkelberg in the Pekin Daily Times do not mention anyone of that name among their next of kin. It could have been a brother of Moses Dunkelberg.

The first of these four telegrams, dated July 12, 1897, says, “Condition same will write today Letter and draft reach you about tomorrow Your Father don’t know we wired.” Two days later came a telegram saying, “Your Father greatly improved, Wire at his request Will write.” But three days later, Moses passed away, and the next day, July 18, I. R. Dunkelberger wired, “Will send Body Tuesday W F Co or come myself.” The last telegram, sent later the same afternoon, says, “Start Tuesday with remains. Letters Administration necessary immediately here protect property, No Executor named in Will. You and Ruby sole beneficiaries, If desired wire me immediately Jointly requesting my appointment Administrator.”

Victor’s parents are both buried in Lakeside Cemetery in Pekin. Curiously, although the telegram says his mother Louise had died on March 7, her gravestone shows her date of death as March 8. Victor and his wife Martha are also buried in Lakeside Cemetery, as are their sons Ferdinand C. Dunkelberg and Louis P. Dunkelberg. The younger son, Louis, was a long-time Pekin attorney with a law office on the second floor of the old Pekin Times Building at the corner of Fourth and Elizabeth streets. Louis P. Dunkelberg served as Tazewell County State’s Attorney in the early 1930s, and his most prominent case was the failed prosecution of three Tazewell County Sheriff’s deputies for the beating death of Tazewell County jail inmate Martin Virant in 1932.

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