Helen Hiett Waller of Pekin, intrepid war correspondent

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

Among the women and men of Pekin who have risen to fortune or fame was Helen Hiett Waller (1931-1961), a talented journalist and war correspondent who is remembered as a cosmopolitan.

Helen Annette Hiett, daughter of Asa Burnett and Estella (Erb) Hiett, came to Pekin with her family about 1925. She excelled as a student and was the valedictorian of the Pekin Community High School Class of 1931. Shown here is her 1931 yearbook photo.

Starting out as a teenage reporter with the Pekin Daily Times, Helen was the valedictorian of Pekin Community High School’s Class of 1931. After graduation she went to Europe and reported on the Spanish Civil War. During World War II she was NBC’s war correspondent, remaining in Paris, France, during Adolf Hitler’s blitzkrieg and having to flee before the advancing Nazi tank columns. Later in the war, she sneaked into Nazi Germany and made it to Berlin.

Sadly, her fearlessness ultimately contributed to her untimely death at age 47, when she succumbed to injuries that she suffered while skiing in the French Alps in the summer of 1961. The Pekin Daily Times devoted a lengthy front-page obituary to her, paying tribute to her remarkable life. In his column, Daily Times publisher F. F. McNaughton observed, “Helen didn’t live out her years; but she lived a dozen lives.

In 1944, Helen wrote a book about her life and adventures entitled, “No Matter Where.” A copy of her book, which formerly belonged to one of Helen’s high school chums Roberta Lindstrom, recently was donated to the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection by Sue Price, in memory of her mother (who was a friend of Roberta). Interleaved with the book are old, browned clipping of her obituary and of the two columns that McNaughton wrote in her memory. The obituary, dated Wednesday, 23 Aug. 1961, reads as follows:

“Injured In Mountain-Climbing Mishap”

“Helen Hiett Waller, Ex-Pekin Newswoman, Succumbs In France”

“Life ended unexpectedly Tuesday morning in a hospital in the Chamonix Valley of eastern France for a former Pekin woman who had filled her comparatively short lifetime with adventure and achievement made possible only by a rare combination of brains, ability and ambition.

“Helen Hiett Waller, 47, who began her career as a reporter for the Pekin Daily Times while she was still a schoolgirl, and who spent exciting years reporting the Spanish civil war and World War II in Europe, died of a blood clot, following surgery to repair injuries incurred in a mountain-climbing mishap last month.

“Helen had spent the summer with her three children in Switzerland, and her husband, Theodore Waller, had joined them during this vacation. It was while the couple was climbing Mt. Perseverance that Helen was struck by a falling rock and suffering internal injuries.

“Her husband and the children remained with her until doctors assured them that she was recovering satisfactorily, and then returned to their home at Katonah, N.Y., to make preparations for the opening of school.

“Mr. Waller called the hospital Sunday and learned that a third operation had been necessary, but that his wife was getting along well. However, an embolism developed, and she died suddenly Tuesday morning.

“Born at Chenoa, Il., Sept. 23, 1913, she was the daughter of Asa B. and Estella Erb Hiett, who later moved to Pekin, where Helen attended school and was graduated from Pekin high school as valedictorian of the Class of 1931.

“She reported school news while still in the eighth grade, and after she entered high school worked part-time and during the summers for the TIMES.

“Her ‘nose for news’ led her all over town, as well as out into the Times area, and her ‘stick-to-it-iveness’ made her an extremely successful reporter, qualities which stood her in good stead throughout her years as a war correspondent.

“Upon completing high school, she entered the University of Chicago, receiving her degree there in three years instead of the usual four, and earning a grant to study at London University.

“A resident of many countries of Europe from 1934 to 1941, Helen made it a practice to live with families in Germany, Russia, France, Italy and Spain, learning their languages and their ways of life. She also spent some time working in youth camps in both Germany and Russia.

“During her years in Europe, she worked first for the League of Nations, editing a monthly review of international affairs. At the outbreak of World War II, she joined the staff of the National Broadcasting Company as a commentator and war correspondent, reporting from Paris until that city fell to the Germans and after that from Madrid, Spain.

“She spent most of the war years abroad, in the thick of things, where her experiences included flying to front-line trenches and reporting on-the-spot experiences during the air raids on Paris, Bordeaux and other European cities.

“Several times during the war years of the 1940’s, she returned to the United States and made personal speaking appearances in Pekin and Peoria.

“Following the war, she also spent some time in Mexico, where she wrote a book relating her experiences, which she entitled, ‘No Matter Where.’

“In 1945 she joined the New York Herald Tribune Forum as director, touring the world to arrange for hundreds of national leaders from foreign countries to visit the United States to participate in the Forum, which continued for a period of 10 years. Starting in 1946, Helen directed a Herald Tribune forum for high school youth, which brought students from 74 countries to the United States.

“Her marriage to Theodore Waller, who has been engaged in various federal government projects and the United Nations, occurred at Pekin Mar. 28, 1948.”

F. F. McNaughton devoted his “Editor’s Letter” that day to her death:

“So Helen Hiett is dead!

“If Dean, in his fone call, had asked us to guess, Helen is the LAST person we would have named.

“Helen ignored death.

“The last time we saw Helen was last summer when she and her wonderful children stopped at our cottage enroute to the Rocky Mountains where they were to risk their lives climbing; then, if they survived, they planned to shoot some rapids.

“This spring she wrote that they were going to Chamonix to climb this summer.

“It brought memories.

“In late winter of 1937 Ceil and I met Helen at Chamonix in the Alps. We climbed into a teleferique (basket on a cable) and were hauled over space (our first space flight) to the top of a famous mountain.

“Helen was not yet an expert skier. But she strapped on a pair of skis; then for several minutes she watched the experts of the world take off as they prepared for a big ski meet.

“Suddenly Helen took off.

“The last we saw of her, she went over the rim, head over heels. But when we, frightened for her and half frozen, rode the bucket back down, there was Helen.

“Today we think we worry over Berlin. There was a day when Berlin gave us terror. It was the day Hitler swept over France. We sat at our radios and with our own ears heard Hitler shout that history for a thousand years was being made as his panzer divisions swept toward Paris.

“Helen was NBC in Paris.

“She stayed so long that she finally had to flee across pastures. She slept in wheatfields.

“During the war she sneaked back into Germany – clear to Berlin.

“Helen started her newspapering as the Pekin Times high school reporter. Then thru Chicago University in 3 years; and off to Europe where she learned the language wherever she went.

“If I’m correct, she saw Mussolini and his mistress hanging by their heels.

“Helen always thought of herself as a girl; so it was fitting that her greatest work was with the youth of all the world. She ran the New York Herald-Tribune’s ‘Youth Forum’ and did an amazing job of presenting to the world the viewpoint of the youth of the world.

“Wherever she is – whatever height she is climbing – you can be sure Helen has Youth with her.

“Helen didn’t live out her years; but she lived a dozen lives.

“Pekin mourns her.

“And salutes her.”

A clipping from Helen Hiett Waller’s Pekin Daily Times obituary.

McNaughton devoted a second column to her in late November perhaps the following year, in which he featured a photograph of her grave near Mont Blanc, Chamonix, France.

The grave of Helen Hiett Waller near Mont Blanc, Chamonix, France, from a browned Pekin Daily Times clipping.

In that “Editor’s Letter” he wrote:

“You’ll recall we recently got a letter asking for a picture of the grave of Helen Hiett Waller at Chamonix, France. Helen’s sister, Margaret Whiteside, has sent this picture.

“Ceil and I once had ridden the teleferique with Helen to the top, and had watched her take off, dangerously, on skis.

“After she had wed and had 2 sons and a daughter, all under teen age, she still could not resist the urge to climb in the Alps.

“It cost her life, and on Aug. 24, 1961, 4 Alpine guides, as was the custom, carried her to this grave to be buried among others who rated danger above death.

“Helen had lived dangerously. For instance, while covering the war for NBC she fled thru wheat-fields ahead of Hitler’s blitzkrieg across France. (Later she slipped into Berlin during the war.)

“On Helen’s trips home, she never failed to have an SRO crowd when she reported to her home folk in Pekin’s biggest auditorium.

“On this Thanksgiving weekend we give thanks for wonderful memories. High among them are the memories of Helen Hiett Waller.”

#asa-burnett-heitt, #chamonix, #estella-erb-hiett, #f-f-mcnaughton, #french-alps, #helen-hiett, #helen-hiett-waller, #league-of-nations, #margaret-whiteside, #mont-blanc, #nbc, #new-york-herald-tribune-forum, #no-matter-where, #pekin-community-high-school, #pekin-community-high-school-class-of-1931, #pekin-daily-times, #pekin-history, #roberta-lindstrom, #theodore-waller, #united-nations, #world-war-ii, #youth-forum

Dedication of the Pekin Carnegie library cornerstone

By Jared Olar

Library Assistant

In recent weeks, we have looked back to the way the groundwork was laid for the construction of Pekin’s Carnegie library. By early 1902, the library board’s building committee had selected Paul O. Moratz as the architect to design the new library building, and Moratz had submitted his plans to the board on March 13, 1902.

This photograph from the 1930s shows Pekin’s old Carnegie Library, which was built to the design of Bloomington architect Paul O. Moratz in 1902-1903. The cornerstone was located to the right of the front steps. One of the two wrought-iron lamps at the entrance steps was saved when the library was demolished in the early 1970s. The lamp stood in the new library’s plaza until 2014, at which time it was restored and refurbished so it could be moved to the remodeled and expanded library’s new Local History Room.

In her 1902 account of the Pekin Public Library’s early history, Miss Mary Gaither told of the next steps in the process:

“In June, the reports of this Committee stated that the contracts had been let, as agreed upon, reserving certain details, and the bid of Mr. J. D. Handbury was, after due deliberation, accepted by said committee.”

In the bidding competition, J. D. Handbury had gone up against Conklin-Hippen-Reuling Co. and E. Zimmer & Co. All three construction firms were based in Pekin. Besides those three Pekin contractors, the building committee had also considered bids from a Peoria contractor and two or three Bloomington contractors.

After the selection of the contractor, the ground at 301 S. Fourth Street was prepared and staked off. Plans were then made for a grand public ceremony and parade in which the Carnegie library’s cornerstone would be dedicated and laid. Within the cornerstone a time capsule would be stored.

The date for the ceremony, which drew a large crowd of Pekin residents both great and small, was set for Tuesday, Aug. 19, 1902. The library board members at the time were Franklin L. Velde, William J. Conzelman, Carl G. Herget, Henry Birkenbusch, Ben P. Schenck, Mrs. W. E. Schenck, Mrs. J. L. Hinners, Miss Emily Weyrich, and (of course) Miss Gaither.

One of them items in the cornerstone time capsule was a telegram received at 9:04 a.m. on Aug. 14, 1902, from John Oglesby, private secretary of Illinois Lieut. Gov. William A. Northcott (1854-1917), expressing Northcott’s regrets that he could not attend the cornerstone laying ceremony.

Shown here is one of the invitations to the ceremonial laying of the Pekin Carnegie Library’s cornerstone and time capsule, which took place following a grand parade on Aug. 19, 1902.

It is likely that Pekin’s own historian William H. Bates (1840-1930) oversaw the selection and preparation of the contents of the time capsule, as he later did in the case of the 1914 Tazewell County Courthouse cornerstone time capsule. Bates’ obituary recalled that “He was at the fore in all public demonstrations” (i.e. celebrations or ceremonies), and it is telling that one of the items in the library’s 1902 cornerstone was the 1883-1884 library card of Bates’ own daughter Ida.

In any event, the contents of the cornerstone chiefly consisted of an assortment of documents and relics pertaining to the library’s early history, the history of the plans and preparations leading up to the construction of Pekin’s Carnegie library, lists of the local governmental officials in office at the time of the laying of the cornerstone, and mementos of the 38 local service clubs that took part in the cornerstone ceremony.

Also placed in the cornerstone time capsule were a number of mementos and artifacts that are not directly related to the library, such as postages stamps, calling cards, an Oct. 1899 Pekin Street Fair brochure, and a Smith Wagon Co. catalog. Also included were five local newspapers, three of them from August 1902 and two of them from February 1896. The reason for including three August 1902 newspapers is obvious – they are issues with dates that are close to the day of the cornerstone laying: the Pekin Daily Post-Tribune of Aug. 18, 1902, the Pekin Daily Times of Aug. 16, 1902, and the Pekin Freie Presse of Aug. 14, 1902. (Pekin formerly had a German language newspaper due to the heavy influx of German immigrants to Pekin in the mid- to late 1800s.)

The two newspapers from February 1896 were the Pekin Daily Tribune and the Pekin Daily Evening Post, both of 13 Feb. 1896. They were chosen for the time capsule because that date was close to the day that the library became a municipal body of Pekin’s city government.

With the library cornerstone laid, construction proceeded apace and the new Pekin Public Library opened its doors to a proud and grateful community on Dec. 10, 1903, with a formal dedication ceremony on Dec. 14, 1903..

When we continue the story of Pekin’s library next week, we’ll turn our attention to some of the Carnegie’s library’s special furnishings – which included a pair of beautiful clocks.

#1899-pekin-street-fair, #ben-p-schenck, #carl-herget, #conklin-hippen-reuling-co, #e-zimmer-and-co, #franklin-velde, #henry-birkenbusch, #ida-bates, #j-d-handbury, #john-oglesby, #lieut-gov-william-a-northcott, #miss-emily-weyrich, #miss-mary-e-gaither, #mrs-j-l-hinners, #mrs-w-e-schenck, #paul-o-moratz, #pekin-daily-evening-post, #pekin-daily-post-tribune, #pekin-daily-times, #pekin-daily-tribune, #pekin-freie-presse, #pekin-public-library, #pekin-public-library-history, #smith-wagon-company, #william-a-northcott, #william-conzelman, #william-h-bates

Alfred W. Rodecker, judge and journalist

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in June 2015, before the launch of this weblog.

Alfred W. Rodecker, judge and journalist

By Jared Olar
Library Assistant

In the first few years of the 20th century, Ben C. Allensworth, a past editor of the Pekin Daily Times, undertook to update Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 Tazewell County history. Allensworth was assisted in that task by his friend and colleague Alfred Wilson Rodecker.

Rodecker, who generally was called Judge Rodecker, was owner and editor of the Pekin Daily Times. Relying on his own knowledge and experience, he wrote the historical account of the Tazewell County Bar for the 1905 “History of Tazewell County.” Rodecker also wrote Allensworth’s biography for the same volume, and as a newspaper owner and a former judge, naturally Rodecker’s own biography also was included in the updated county history.

Following are excerpts from that biography:

“Alfred W. Rodecker, Pekin, is the son of David Rodecker, who was born in Bellefontaine, Logan County, Ohio, in 1812, and of Jane (Wilson) Rodecker, born in Urbana, Champaign County, Ohio, in 1817. The parents were married in 1835, and moved to Peoria, lll., in 1838. . . . Failing health compelled [David Rodecker] to sell his business in that city, and he afterward located in Dillon, Tazewell County, where he conducted a general store. His death occurred in 1859, five children surviving him, four of whom are still living.

“Our subject was born in Peoria, May 15, 1844. For six years he attended the Hinman School, in that place . . . and afterward the country school in Dillon. On the 2nd day of April, 1862, he located at Pekin, went to work in the old ‘Register’ newspaper office, and has resided in that city ever since. In 1865 he entered Eureka College and, after completing his course, passed a year in teaching school and reading law. He then entered the law office of A. B. Sawyer, formerly of Pekin, and now of Salt Lake City.

“Being admitted to the bar, in 1869, Judge Rodecker formed a copartnership with M. N. Bassett, now Probate Judge in Peoria. This copartnership was dissolved at the end of three years, and he continued to practice alone until 1877, when he was elected County Judge of Tazewell County. . . . and served as Judge until 1886. This is the only office which he has ever held, except that of School Inspector in the City of Pekin, to which position he was elected to fill a vacancy in 1871. He was twice re-elected, serving in that capacity for a period of seven years. During this official term as School Inspector, he delivered an address to the first graduating class of the Pekin High School.

“On June 22, 1871, Judge Rodecker was married to Ida F. Fenner, in Tremont, Ill. Their son Thaddeus, business manager for the Times Publishing Company, is their only child.

“In 1886, Judge Rodecker became one of the proprietors of the Times Publishing Company, that plant having been purchased from J. B. Irwin. Since January 1, 1894, he has been actively connected with the publication of the ‘Daily and Weekly Times,’ two-thirds of the ownership being vested in him, and the other one-third in Dr. F. Shurtleff. [Note: Shurtleff’s wife was Rodecker’s half-sister Mary Rodecker.] The editorial management of the paper is in Judge Rodecker’s charge. The Judge is a trenchant writer. He does not affect especially literary finish, but has a terse way of stating all the facts involved in the treatment of a given topic.

“Accompanied by his wife, our subject has traveled extensively throughout the Southern States, having for a number of years made an annual trip through that section during the winter season. His published letters descriptive of conditions there — social, commercial, political, and otherwise — are highly appreciated by all those admirers of graphic writing whose pleasure it has been to read them.”

This detail from the 1925 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Pekin shows several homes near the intersection of Washington and South Fourth streets. The home designated 345 S. Fourth St. was the residence of Judge A. W. Rodecker (though in his lifetime the house number was 343). The lot is now occupied by The Golden Arms apartment building.

Rodecker’s biographical sketch concludes with the following laudatory appraisal of his life and character:

“The career of A. W. Rodecker furnishes an illustration of the possibilities of American citizenship. His early manhood was one of unremittent toil in the face of obstacles which, for many men, would have lost the battle of life. The incentive of a laudable ambition to deserve an honorable place among his fellow men; untiring industry and persistence in every endeavor, and, above all, a worthy, upright purpose in every undertaking, have been the elements of character contributing to the success he has achieved in life. In his personal relations, his loyalty to his friends has never been questioned. While he forgives a wrong, it must not be said of him that he has as yet reached such sublime heights as to forget the wrongdoer. With all those manly characteristics which stand for individual worth he is richly endowed, and be well deserves the honored place he holds in the hearts of those who know him best.”

After the publication of the updated Tazewell County history, Rodecker survived for another five years, dying Oct. 4, 1910. His widow Ida lived for another four decades, dying in Pekin at the age of 89 on Jan. 23, 1941. Their only child Thaddeus (who himself named one of his sons Alfred Wilson Rodecker) died of a sudden heart attack on May 1, 1933, and his obituary, written by his co-workers at the Daily Times and expressing shock and grief, was printed on the front page of that day’s paper.

Thaddeus’ obituary described his parents as “builders of the Times building and highly respected citizens.” (That refers to the old Times building at 405 Court Street, before the newspaper moved to the Zerwekh building at 30 S. Fourth St.) Thaddeus and his parents are buried in Lakeside Cemetery in Pekin.

The former location of Judge Rodecker’s home as it appears in a recent Google Maps satellite view.

#a-w-sawyer, #alfred-w-rodecker, #alfred-wilson-rodecker, #ben-c-allensworth, #david-rodecker, #dr-f-shurtleff, #golden-arms-apartments, #ida-f-fenner, #j-b-irwin, #jane-wilson-rodecker, #judge-rodecker, #mary-rodecker, #pekin-daily-times, #preblog-columns, #thaddeus-rodecker

Actress Susan Dey’s story began in Pekin

By Jared Olar
Library Assistant

In past decades, it was the practice for a community’s newspapers to collect and regularly publish birth announcements. Before changes in medical privacy laws, lists of daily births would be provided to newspapers by hospitals or public health departments. These announcements would often be printed on a specific page set aside for community or “society” news, but depending on the period of time and the place when the baby was born, a newspaper might run a birth announcement almost anywhere – even on the front page.

One such announcement provides us with the topic of this week’s “From the History Room” column. On Dec. 10, 1952, at the bottom of the rightmost column on the front page, the Pekin Daily Times published the following birth announcement, giving it the unusual and humorous headline, “Another Dey Today” —

“A baby girl, weighing six pounds, four ounces was born this morning in Pekin Public hospital to Mr. and Mrs. Robert Dey, 701 S. Sixth street. The baby is the second daughter of the couple. The father is the city editor of the TIMES, having joined the editorial staff about nine months ago. ‘No name yet,’ says Bob.”

The baby girl was given the name of Susan Hallock Dey. She is one of several entertainment celebrities whose stories began in Pekin.

Susan Dey’s first acting role was as Laurie Partridge in The Partridge Family (1970-1974). Dey, shown in this 1970 public domain ABC publicity photo, was born in Pekin in 1952, but her family moved to New York when she was very young.

The birth of actress Susan Dey was announced at the bottom of column eight on the front page of the Dec. 10, 1952 Pekin Daily Times.

Her father, Robert Smith Dey (1925-2016), was a native of New York State and son of an immigrant from Switzerland. With the help of the G.I. Bill, Robert graduated from the New York University School of Journalism and began a three-decade journalism career as a reporter in his home state, later taking a position at a paper in Pennsylvania before joining the staff of the Pekin Daily Times in March 1952. (The 1952 Polk City Directory of Pekin lists Robert as a newspaper reporter living at 701 S. Sixth St.) Her mother, Ruth Pyle (Doremus) Dey (1925-1961), was an Indiana native and a trained nurse. After Susan’s birth, Robert and Ruth had two more children.

The Deys did not remain in Pekin – about a year or two after the birth of their daughter Susan, Robert was hired as a city editor for the Gannett Company in Westchester, New York. He later became the editor of the Standard-Star in New Rochelle, New York. His daughter Susan was only eight years old when his wife Ruth died. Robert later married Gail Shellenberger (1920-2008), who had been born in Ohio.

In 1968, when Susan was 15, her stepmother Gail sent Susan’s photo to a New York modeling agency. Susan Dey did not work as a model very long, for in 1970, at the age of 17, she was hired to play the role of Laurie Partridge in the television series The Partridge Family – one of her best-remembered roles, even 46 years after the show was cancelled at the end of its fourth season. Her role of Laurie Partridge launched a very successful career both in television and in movies, with her greatest success due to her award-winning role of Grace Van Owen on the 1980s television drama L.A. Law.

Susan Dey has been retired from acting since 2004. The house at the corner of Sixth and McLean streets in Pekin, where she lived as a baby and toddler, is still there.

The Dey family lived at this home in Pekin when actress Susan Dey was born at Pekin Hospital in Dec. 1952.

#gail-shellenberger-dey, #grace-van-owen, #l-a-law, #laurie-partridge, #pekin-daily-times, #robert-smith-dey, #ruth-pyle-doremus-dey, #susan-dey, #the-partridge-family

Some pre-1914 obituaries from Tazewell County

This is an updated reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in May 2014, just before the launch of this weblog.

Some pre-1914 obituaries from Tazewell County

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Of the resources available in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room, perhaps it is the online obituary index that gets the most use, since obituaries are excellent sources of information for genealogists. The library’s index covers obituaries published in the Pekin Daily Times from Oct. 3, 1914 to the present year – but also includes a handful of obituaries from the Daily Times and other Tazewell County newspapers from prior to 1914.

Until a few years ago, the library’s obituary index was a large file of typed index cards, but the index has been completely digitized and is accessible on the internet through the library’s homepage, at www.pekinpubliclibrary.org, under the “Research” tab, on “Local History Room” page.

The obituary index entries provide the date that each obituary was published in the Pekin Daily Times, along with the page and column numbers. Using that information, an obituary can then be retrieved from the library’s microfilm reels of the Pekin Daily Times.

As said above, the Daily Times microfilm collection begins with the issue published on Oct. 3, 1914, and continues to the present year. The index, however, is even more current, as the library updates it almost daily, whereas the microfilms are current up to the end of 2018 (when all microfilming ceased worldwide). Print editions of the Pekin Daily Times may be consulted for obituaries published since the end of February.

Sadly, there is little recourse for those looking for obituaries that were published in the Pekin Daily Times prior to Oct. 3, 1914. Most copies of Pekin Daily Times issues prior to that date have perished, many having been destroyed in a fire at the newspaper building about a century ago, while other bound volumes of the paper reportedly “disappeared” during and soon after the years in the early 1920s when the newspaper was owned by three members of the Ku Klux Klan.

However, a number of stray issues of the Daily Times from prior to Oct. 3, 1914, have survived, and in fact the library has one of them – the Aug. 16, 1902, edition of the Pekin Daily Times that was preserved in the cornerstone time capsule of the former Pekin Carnegie Library that was built in 1902. Also included in the time capsule were copies of an 1896 Pekin Daily Evening Post, an 1896 Pekin Daily Tribune, and a 1902 Pekin Daily Post-Tribune.

Besides those pre-1914 newspapers, the library archives also include a single issue of the April 13, 1860 edition of the Tazewell Republican, which was donated to the library a few years ago by Timothy Williams of Pekin. There are no formal obituaries in that newspaper, because the custom of publishing biographical tributes of “ordinary” community members who had died was only then starting to catch on. The only thing even remotely like an obituary or death notice in the April 13, 1860 Tazewell Republican was the following short paragraph on page 2:

“The body of the man drowned off the steamer Gaty, something like a month ago, was found on the banks of Spring Lake yesterday or the day previous. The body was identified by the hands, the forefinger of one having been cut off. – Peoria Union.”

The April 13, 1860 edition of the Tazewell Republican newspaper ran this advertisement for the steamboat Sam Gaty on page 3. On the facing page of the same edition was a news brief on the recovery of the body of a Sam Gaty passenger who had fallen overboard and drowned.

On page 3 of the same newspaper is an advertisement that lists the schedule of the trips that the steamboat “Sam Gaty” made between Pekin and Peoria – but while we know the steamer’s full name, the newspaper doesn’t breathe of word of the name of the drowned man. His name probably had appeared in previous issues of the paper, and so the editor, seeking to economize on space on the page, must have decided it wasn’t necessary to repeat the victim’s name.

Unlike the 1860 copy of the Tazewell Republican, the time capsule’s 1896 and 1902 newspapers do include a few obituaries and death or funeral notices, which were added to the library’s online obituary index for the benefit of genealogical researchers in 2014. To each of these index entries have been added research notes indicating that they were printed in newspapers from the Library Cornerstone.

The library’s reference staff will assist genealogists who would like to obtain copies of these pre-1914 obituaries and death and funeral notices, which are listed below. (Note that three individuals had their obituaries published in more than one newspaper.)

Franklin E. Myers, 28, of rural Green Valley, died Feb. 12, 1896 in Pekin, in the Feb. 13, 1896 Pekin Daily Evening Post
Frank Myers, 28, of rural Green Valley, died Feb. 12, 1896 in Pekin, in the Feb. 13, 1896 Pekin Daily Tribune
William Schaumleffel of Pekin, died Feb. 1896, burial Feb. 13, 1896, in the Feb. 13, 1896 Pekin Daily Evening Post
William Schaumleffle of Pekin, died Feb. 1896, burial Feb. 13, 1896, in the Feb. 13, 1896 Pekin Daily Tribune
Samuel Russell, 74, of Pekin, died Aug. 17, 1902, in the Aug. 18, 1902 Pekin Daily Post-Tribune
Bryan George, 6, of Pekin, died Aug. 18, 1902 in Pekin, in the Aug. 18, 1902 Pekin Daily Post-Tribune
George J. Breaden, died Aug. 1902, in the Aug. 18, 1902 Pekin Daily Post-Tribune
George Joseph Breaden, died Aug. 16, 1902 in Pekin, in the Aug. 16, 1902 Pekin Daily Times
Mrs. George H. Youngman, 26, died Aug. 13, 1902, in the Aug. 16, 1902 Pekin Daily Times

A brief genealogical note about this last death notice – according to the Find-A-Grave website, “Mrs. George H. Youngman” was Cora A. (Buck) Youngman, born July 18, 1876, daughter of Oliver and Hannah (Hammitt) Buck, married George H. Youngman on June 7, 1899, and buried in McLean Cemetery, McLean, Ill.

#bryan-george, #cora-a-buck, #cora-a-youngman, #franklin-e-myers, #george-joseph-breaden, #ku-klux-klan, #mrs-george-h-youngman, #pekin-daily-evening-post, #pekin-daily-post-tribune, #pekin-daily-times, #pekin-daily-tribune, #pekin-library-cornerstone-time-capsule, #pekin-public-library-obituary-index, #preblog-columns, #sam-gaty, #samuel-russell, #tazewell-republican, #timothy-williams, #william-schaumleffel

News of days gone by: the 1st Pekin Daily Times

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

“Citizens of Pekin, here your daily is!”

With these words, the Pekin Daily Times made its debut 139 years ago this month. It began as a four-page broadsheet, with five columns to a page, published by Joseph B. Irwin and W. T. Dowdall, and delivered by four newsboys: Ad Merrill, Charley Wagenseller, Benny Irwin, and Johnny Michael. Joseph Irwin and Dowdall had purchased the Pekin Weekly Register in 1873 and rechristened it the Pekin Weekly Times. On Jan. 3, 1881, Irwin and Dowdall made the risky decision of starting a daily edition of their newspaper.

It was only the second time anyone had ever published a daily paper in Pekin (there was an abortive attempt to publish a daily paper in 1876, when William H. Bates put out a daily called The Pekin Daily Bulletin for nine months, from Jan. 3 to Oct. 5, 1876), and even after the Pekin Daily Times was born, for a while Irwin and Dowdall continued to publish a weekly edition alongside the Daily Times. Over the decades the Daily Times continued to thrive in a local market that included several other weeklies, but one by one its rivals shuttered their offices or were purchased by the Pekin Daily Times, until by the mid-20th century the Daily Times was Pekin’s only newspaper.

Shown here is the top half of the front page of the Pekin Public Library’s copy of the first edition of the Pekin Daily Times, Pekin’s second — and only successful — daily newspaper.

The Times has changed hands several times since Irwin and Dowdall brought it into being, including an ugly two-year period in the early 1920s when it was owned by three leading members of the Ku Klux Klan. The paper enjoyed its greatest success and prosperity under F. F. McNaughton’s leadership, who came to the Times in 1927 and passed away in 1981, when the McNaughton family sold the paper to Howard Publications of California. In 2000 the newspaper was sold to Liberty Group, which later renamed itself GateHouse Media Inc. In the last months of 2019, Gannett Co., owner of the USA Today, and GateHouse merged, so the Daily Times is now a Gannett paper.

In an editorial column apparently written by Irwin on page 3, the publishers announced the new daily paper and issued what amounts to a mission statement for their journalistic endeavor. Here are excerpts from that column:

“For a long time the citizens of Pekin have wished that they might have a daily paper printed in the place – they have wanted a home daily. This statement will not be disputed any where.

“The issuances of this sheet materializes that well-defined wish into a living reality – a palpable fact. The PEKIN DAILY TIMES is born. How long it will live depends entirely upon the good people of Pekin and Tazewell county. If it lives it will be because the people of Pekin and Tazewell sustain it. If it dies, it will be because they do not sustain it. . . .

“That a good daily paper will be of great value to Pekin, no man in his senses will deny. For years Pekin has been over-shadowed, ridiculed, sneered at and derided by the numerous daily papers of the burg on the river just above us. It has been the butt and laughing-stock, a standing subject for the cheap jibes and jokes of these papers forever. We had to bear it because we had nowhere else to go for our daily news. Pekin should have self-respect enough to change this condition of affairs at the first opportunity. That opportunity now presents itself. . . .

“We have many evidences going to show that Pekin has just entered an era of renewed prosperity. All the signs are most encouraging for our little city. It now only needs a daily to vitalize its yet partly dormant energies, to encourage its embryotic enterprises, and to thoroughly advertise its growing prosperity and its very many splendid advantages.

“The DAILY TIMES itself, from day to day, must tell the story of what it is to be. Would you know what this is, you must read it. This only do we promise: That so long as it lives it shall be in every way a credit to Pekin. Its quality shall be as good as a liberal outlay of money can make it.

“Citizens of Pekin, here your daily is! If you like it and want it to live, patronize it. If you don’t like it and don’t want it to live, don’t patronize it.”

The first edition of the Pekin Daily Times filled its front page with news that had come over the telegraph from Washington, D.C., Columbus, Ohio, Grand Haven, Mich., St. Paul, Minn., and New York City, as well as international news from Paris, France, and Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. In keeping with the usual practice of 19th century newspapers, two whole columns of the front page were given over to local advertising. An opinion column on page 2 warned of the political and cultural influence of the Mormon religion, and decried the Mormon practice of polygamy (which the Mormons did not formally renounce until 1890).

The last page of the paper was taken up by local news – but not what we today would expect of local news coverage. The local news in the first Pekin Daily Times was a long string of items of a prosaic or even mundane nature, chiefly being announcements of family visits, out-of-town trips of Pekin residents, community events, or how Pekinites had enjoyed their sleighing and bobsledding during the New Year’s holiday. As an example: “Ben Towner, of Teller, Col., is in the city on a visit to old friends. He was the second city marshal of Pekin, after it became a city, and is well known by all the old residenters.

Perhaps the most remarkable local news item in the Daily Times’ first edition was the announcement that Eugene Hyers had been granted a divorce from his wife Anna in Peoria Circuit Court, accompanied by the libelous comment that Mr. Hyers “was drawn into a very unfortunate marriage with a woman who had neither honor or virtue and we congratulate the young man upon his release.

Definitely not the kind of “news” that would ever make it into print today.

A copy of the first edition of the Pekin Daily Times is on display in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room.

#ad-merrill, #anna-hyers, #ben-towner, #benny-irwin, #charley-wagenseller, #eugene-hyers, #f-f-mcnaughton, #johnny-michael, #joseph-b-irwin, #kkk, #mormons, #pekin-daily-bulletin, #pekin-daily-times, #pekin-weekly-times, #polygamy, #the-bulletin, #w-t-dowdall, #william-h-bates

The Pekin Public Library’s early history: A glimpse inside a time capsule

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

A glimpse inside a time capsule

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Each week this column delves into the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection to see what we can learn about various aspects, anecdotes and artifacts of Pekin and Tazewell County history. This week we’ll turn our attention toward the history the Pekin Public Library itself, by taking look at a few of the contents of the library’s Cornerstone Time Capsule collection.

As both longtime residents of Pekin and attentive visitors to the library know, the current library building is not the first one to be erected on it site. Prior to the construction of the current library in 1972, Pekin’s readers were served by a smaller structure that stood at the corner of Fourth Street and Broadway, where the library’s sunken plaza is located today. [NB: Since the 2015 remodel and expansion of the library, the old sunken plaza is no more, replaced by a quiet reading room and a grove of trees with water drainage.]

That earlier structure – one of the nation’s many Carnegie libraries, built in 1902 under the patronage of famous American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie – was the first building constructed in Pekin to serve specifically as a public library. To celebrate that milestone in Pekin’s history, a formal dedication ceremony took place on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 1902.

On that occasion, the library’s cornerstone was laid – and within the cornerstone was placed a time capsule containing an assortment of documents and relics pertaining chiefly to the history of the plans and preparations leading up to the construction of Pekin’s Carnegie library.

The time capsule remained sealed for 70 years. When the old library was replaced with a new, expanded facility in 1972, the cornerstone was opened and the contents of the time capsule were found to be in a very good state of preservation. For many years after that, the cornerstone materials were stored at Herget Bank, later being transferred to the Pekin Public Library’s own historical archives.

Placed in the cornerstone time capsule were five local newspapers, three of them from August 1902 and two of them from February 1896. The reason for including three August 1902 newspapers is obvious – they are issues with dates that are close to the day of the cornerstone laying: the Pekin Daily Post-Tribune of Aug. 18, 1902, the Pekin Daily Times of Aug. 16, 1902, and the Pekin Freie Presse of Aug. 14, 1902. (Pekin formerly had a German language newspaper due to the heavy influx of German immigrants to Pekin in the mid- to late 1800s.)

The reason for including the two newspapers from February 1896 is probably not obvious to anyone not well versed in the library’s history, however. Those newspapers – the Pekin Daily Tribune and the Pekin Daily Evening Post, both of 13 Feb. 1896 – were chosen because that date was close to the day that the library became a municipal body of Pekin’s city government.

The library’s history did not begin in 1902, but in fact reaches back to 1866, as we read in one of the documents placed in the 1902 cornerstone: a “History of the Pekin Public Library” written by Miss Mary Gaither. “On November 24th, 1866, a large number of the ladies of Pekin met to organize what was for many years known as the ‘Ladies Library Association,’” Gaither wrote. Also included in the cornerstone was one of the handwritten invitations to that meeting.

On March 5, 1883, the Pekin Library Association formally incorporated under the laws of the State of Illinois – the original, sealed articles of incorporation from 1883 also were included in the cornerstone time capsule.

Ten years later, on Feb. 6, 1893, the Library Association petitioned the city to have the library and its collection handed over to the city’s ownership. The process of transferring the library from private to public control was completed three years later, in 1896.

Shown here is part of the front page of the Feb. 13, 1896, Pekin Daily Tribune, one of the newspapers that was preserved in the 1902 Pekin Public Library cornerstone time capsule.

Shown here is the top front of the outer sleve of the Feb. 13, 1896, Pekin Daily Tribune, one of the newspapers that was preserved in the 1902 Pekin Public Library cornerstone time capsule.

#andrew-carnegie, #carnegie-library, #ladies-library-association, #library-cornerstone, #mary-gaither, #pekin-daily-evening-post, #pekin-daily-times, #pekin-daily-tribune, #pekin-freie-presse, #pekin-library-association, #pekin-library-cornerstone-time-capsule, #preblog-columns

When ‘Zerwekh’ meant ‘ice cream’

This is a slightly updated version of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in May 2012 before the launch of this weblog.

When ‘Zerwekh’ meant ‘ice cream’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Residents of Pekin today have several ways to satisfy their ice cream cravings, including at Dairy Queen on Second Street, Double D’s or the Sweet Spot on Eighth, and Steak ’n Shake or Culver’s on Court. But there was a time when all the ice cream in town came from one place: Zerwekh’s in downtown Pekin.

The Zerwekh family no longer lives in Pekin, but they were long a fixture of Pekin social life and business thanks to the Zerwekh Brothers’ bakery and confectionary at 20 S. Fourth St.

“Both Robert Hill and Albert Zerwekh were popular caterers,” says the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial. “Zerwekh’s three-story pressed-brick building housed a bakery and confectionary on the ground floor and basement, and the Masonic Hall occupied the second and third floors. The building was considered a major contribution to the beautification of the city, and today has come to be known as the Times Building, for it houses the operations of the local newspaper. Zerwekh’s was famous for its ice cream, delicate ices, and soft drinks.”

The name of Zerwekh appears in the very first Pekin City Directory, which was published in 1861: “Gottlob J. Zerwekh, proprietor of St. Louis Exchange, 87 Court St.” That was Gottlob Jakob Zerwekh, also known as Gottlieb, one of the many German immigrants who settled in Pekin in the mid-1800s. He and his wife Christiana F. Schnaitman were born in Württemberg. The 1860 U.S. Census shows Gottlieb and Christiana living in Peoria with their sons William G., age 3, and Albert, age 1. By the time of the 1870 census, they were living in Pekin, along with a daughter Bertha, age 3.

In that year, the Sellers & Bates City Directory lists “G.J. Zerwekh” as a “manufacturer of soda water” on Henrietta Street between Second and Third streets. Six years later, the city directory shows that he had entered into a partnership with Herman Karstedt. Their business, at the same location as in 1870, was “Zerwekh & Karstedt, manfr soda and mineral waters and ginger ale.” By 1876, Gottlob’s son William was a clerk at Schaub & Smiley’s, while Albert was a cook at Strader & Kennedy’s.

Albert next appears in the 1887 City Directory, listed as a baker and confectioner, with his bakery at 112-114 S. Fourth Street. Albert next shows up in the 1893 City Directory, having moved his bakery to 16-18 S. Fourth. That was about the time he built the Zerwekh Building at 20 S. Fourth.

This photograph of the Zerwekh Building, originally the home of Albert Zerwekh Baker & Confectionary, was printed in 1899 in “Cole’s Souvenir of Pekin,” a booklet of photos produced by Pekin’s pioneer photographer Henry Hobart Cole.

According to the “Zerwekh Family Tree” published at Ancestry.com, Albert was born Sept. 22, 1859, in Tazewell County. On Aug. 30, 1883, he married Ida F. Maus (1864-1940), daughter of Charles T. Maus and Hattie J. Prettyman. Both the Maus and Prettyman families were among Pekin’s earliest settlers and are prominent in our city’s early history. Albert and Ida had two sons, George Ernest Zerwekh (1884-1959) and Edward Schenck Zerwekh (1886-1983).

This newspaper ‘cut’ of Pekin confectioner and baker Albert Zerwekh was printed at the bottom right corner of the back page of the 13 Feb. 1896 issue of the Pekin Daily Tribune.

The family tree states that Albert died of colon cancer on 10 April 1908 after an illness of six months. He is buried in Lakeside Cemetery in Pekin. After his untimely death, his sons carried on the family business at the same location. The Pekin Sesquicentennial says, “Before the Soldwedels opened their new factory [in 1920], grocers had purchased their butter directly from local farmers, and ice cream had been supplied solely by the Zerwekh Brothers at 20 South Fourth (presently the Times Building); ice cream was available year round in their store, and they also supplied the local drugstores in all but the winter months, when the soda fountains were covered with plywood and used for Christmas displays. In the 20’s Zerwekh’s stopped making ice cream, so the new Soldwedel operation assumed the responsibility on a much larger scale.”

This photograph showing the interior of Albert Zerwekh Baker & Confectionary was printed in 1899 in “Cole’s Souvenir of Pekin.”

Later, the second floor of the Zerwekh Building was a popular venue for young people in town, because it served as a dance hall where bands provided live music. In 1941, however, the Zerwekh Building was purchased by F.F. McNaughton, owner and publisher of the Pekin Daily Times, which had moved next door to Zerwekh’s in 1905-1906. The Zerwekh brothers moved to California, where they died.

As for the aged Zerwekh Building, as we recalled last week, its long and varied history drew to its end in early Oct. 2013. The Daily Times moved out in late Aug. 2012, and the Zerwekh Building’s new owner, Tazewell County, demolished it the following year to make a parking lot.

#albert-zerwekh, #albert-zerwekh-baker-confectionary, #charles-t-maus, #christiana-f-schnaitman, #f-f-mcnaughton, #gottlob-jakob-zerwekh, #hattie-j-prettyman, #herman-karstedt, #ida-f-maus, #pekin-daily-times, #preblog-columns, #times-building, #william-zerwekh, #zerwekh-brothers, #zerwekh-building, #zerwekh-family-tree

Changing Times: a look back at the Old Times building

This is an updated version of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in August 2012 before the launch of this weblog.

Changing Times: a look back at the Old Times building

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This week we’ll take a look back at the history of the Pekin Daily Times newspaper and of the buildings where the Daily Times has been located since 1906.

The Times Building was longtime a landmark in downtown Pekin, while the new home of the Daily Times is a much newer structure built in 1989 by Rick Woith, recently retired owner of Rick’s TV and Appliances.

In the May 5, 2012 “From the History Room” column, we recalled how the Zerwerkh family came from Württemberg (now in Germany) and settled in Pekin around 1861. Albert Zerwekh (1859-1908) established himself as a successful baker, and in the early 1890s he built the Zerwekh Building to house his bakery and confectionary at 20 S. Fourth Street.

At the time the Zerwekh Building was erected, the Pekin Daily Times was just one of five newspapers that were based in Pekin. All five of Pekin’s papers were located on Court Street, and the home of the Daily Times was at 405 Court Street (which more recently was the address of Timothies Interiors). In 1905-1906, however, the Daily Times relocated to a newly-built structure adjacent and attached to the Zerwekh Building.

A lost landmark of downtown Pekin, the Old Times Building — originally the Zerwekh Building — was the home of the Pekin Daily Times from 1906 to 2012. The building was demolished six years ago, in Oct. 2013.

After Albert Zerwekh’s death, his two sons carried on the business for another two or three decades. Other businesses and organizations also occupied the Zerwekh Building during this time, such as the Masonic Lodge and Noel Funeral Home (antecedent of Henderson Funeral Home), as well as attorneys and insurance agents.

For a while a vaudeville theater operated in the space that later would become the office of Times owner and publisher F.F. McNaughton. In the early 1920s, when the Daily Times was owned by Ku Klux Klan Grand Titan Oscar W. Friedrich, the hall on the second floor (which later was to serve as the Times newsroom) reportedly was used by the KKK for recruiting socials. In the 1930s, it was a popular venue for young people in town, serving as a dance hall where bands provided live music.

After the Zerwekh brothers closed their business and left Pekin, in 1941 F.F. McNaughton, who had come to the Times in 1927, bought the Zerwekh Building. The Times operations thus spread into the first floor area where the bakery and confectionary had been. At the same time, McNaughton installed a rotary printing press in the basement. That press served the paper until the summer of 1971, when a new offset printing press was installed in the Times press room – a part of the building that had been added in 1905-1906.

Under the McNaughton family, the Daily Times was established as a pillar and bulwark of the community and Pekin’s civic life. McNaughton died Dec. 29, 1981. The family sold the Times that year to Howard Publications of California. In 2000 the newspaper was sold to Liberty Group, now known as GateHouse Media Inc. and soon to become Gannet Co.

With the advance of years have come technological advances that have transformed how newspapers are printed and published. The rise of the Internet also has had a severe impact on newspaper circulation numbers. Together, these trends have led to staff reductions and consolidation of operations across the industry. That is why, although it was still produced in Pekin, the Times has been printed on the GateHouse press in the Peoria Journal Star building for several years. The last run of the 1971 offset press was in Sept. 2007, and the press was sold and parted out earlier in 2012.

The next major change for the Pekin Daily Times came the weekend of Aug. 25-26, 2012, when the newspaper returned to Court Street, specifically 306 Court St., a few blocks west of its pre-1906 location. In the seven years following that move, the Pekin Daily Times operated from the former Rick’s TV and Appliance building, built by Rick Woith in 1989. In September, the Times newsroom and production of the newspaper were relocated to the Journal Star Building in Peoria.

Looking ahead to the fate of the Old Times Building, in January 2012 the Daily Times reported:

“GateHouse Media Inc., which owns the Daily Times, sold the current Daily Times building to Tazewell County for $255,000 in September 2011, after the paper had been trying for years to unload the historic yet deteriorating and drafty old building. With staff reductions over the years, the building became too big for the paper’s space needs. The county intends to raze the building, along with the building next door, to create a county parking lot.”

The Old Times Building succumbed to the wrecking ball on Oct. 7, 2013.

#albert-zerwekh, #f-f-mcnaughton, #gannet-co, #gatehouse-media-inc, #howard-publications-of-california, #kkk, #ku-klux-klan, #liberty-group, #noel-funeral-home, #oscar-w-friedrich, #pekin-daily-times, #pekin-masonic-lodge, #peoria-journal-star, #preblog-columns, #rick-woith, #ricks-tv-and-appliance, #times-building, #timothies-interiors, #zerwekh-building

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