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

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).

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, #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 is now 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, #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

Joseph Irwin, founder of the Pekin Daily Times

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 . . .

Joseph Irwin, founder of the Pekin Daily Times

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Pekin’s hometown newspaper, the Pekin Daily Times, has a history that stretches back to Oct. 1873, when the Peorians Joseph B. Irwin and Col. W.T. Dowdall bought and renamed a failed weekly paper called the Pekin Register (1856-1873), the successor of the Pekin Weekly Plaindealer (1854-1856), which in turn was born of the merger of the Tazewell County Mirror (1836-1854) and the Pekin Weekly Reveille (1850-1854).

The Pekin Times remained a weekly until Jan. 3, 1881, when Irwin turned the paper into a five-column daily. Ever since, the Pekin Daily Times has been published Monday through Saturday. But rather than trace the newspaper’s history, let’s take a look at the life and career of the paper’s founder.

Irwin’s life story is told in Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” pp. 720-722, as well as the 1894 “Portrait and Biographical Record of Tazewell and Mason Counties, Illinois,” 1894, p.254. Additional details are found in Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County.”

This portrait of Pekin Daily Times founder Joseph B. Irwin (1849-1900) appeared in Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County.”

Irwin was born Oct. 11, 1849, in Circleville, Ohio, the son of John E. and Catherine (Tobias) Irwin, who were natives of Pennsylvania. He passed his boyhood days in Circleville, receiving his schooling at Circleville Academy. His lifelong interest in local politics began in Ohio, where he served a term as city clerk of Portsmouth. In Jan. 1872, Irwin married Inez M. Fifer, a cousin of Illinois Gov. Joseph W. Fifer (1889-1893). They had two children, but both had died before 1879.

Irwin moved to Peoria, where he worked for the Peoria Democrat until 1873. After moving to Pekin and founding the Pekin Times in partnership with Dowdall, Irwin also served as school inspector for three years, and was elected Pekin’s city supervisor in the spring of 1894. In his day, the founder of the Pekin Daily Times was one of Tazewell County’s prominent newspapermen and politicians. Back then, usually journalists were openly partisan – politically independent newspapers were rare.

“When the first issue of the Times appeared [in 1873] there was no subscription list, as the paper had changed hands so often that its reputation was well nigh gone and the outlook was extremely discouraging. But by much hard work, natural ability and perseverance, our subject soon placed the paper on a solid basis, and as a newsy and literary production it ranked among the leading weeklies of the northwest,” says the Portrait and Biographical Record.

According to Chapman, “Irwin soon bought Dowdall out, and by untiring energy and rare business tact, built up a larger circulation than it ever enjoyed before. In July, 1877, Geo. E. Schaumleffle purchased a third interest of the paper.” Schaumleffle, born in Pekin in 1854, often wrote the paper’s editorials.

B.C. Allensworth’s Tazewell County history supplies these additional details: ““Irwin soon bought Dowdall out, and the county having passed into the control of the Democratic party, the paper was recognized as the organ of that party and prospered from that time on, when in May, 1886, it was purchased from Irwin by A.W. Rodecker, F. Shurtleff, Thomas Cooper, and B.C. Allensworth.”

After leaving the Pekin Daily Times, Irwin joined the Post Publishing Company and was made editor and manager of the weekly Republican Post, formerly called the Tazewell County Republican. Irwin’s time at the Republican Post was financially successful, but politically it was controversial. Allensworth mentions that Irwin “antagonized republican interest to such an extent that Colonel Bates” – Pekin historian W.H. Bates, who had retired from the Tazewell County Republican – “came back into the paper business with the Tazewell County Tribune.” Also in 1886, says Allensworth, Irwin founded the Pekin Daily Post, and he continued the publication of the Republican Post and the Daily Post until his death in Pekin on Jan. 13, 1900.

“There is perhaps no better campaigner among the politicians of the county than Mr. Irwin,” says the Portrait and Biographical Record, “who is well known to every prominent citizen in both parties, and being acquainted with all the main roads and byways in this vicinity, can get over and around Tazewell County and in every township and political center quicker than any other man. He has met with several business reverses, but his fine financial standing, business ability and honesty have never been questioned. Among politicians and newspaper readers generally he is conceded to be one of the best editors in the county.”

#col-w-t-dowdall, #george-e-schaumleffle, #illinois-governor-joseph-w-fifer, #j-b-irwin, #joseph-b-irwin, #pekin-daily-times, #pekin-history, #pekin-newspaper-history, #w-h-bates

Pekin wasn’t always a welcoming place

Here’s a chance to read one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in June 2013 before the launch of this blog . . .

Pekin wasn’t always a welcoming place

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Included in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection is an extensive file on a dark period in Pekin’s history: the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. The KKK attained prominence and prestige throughout the Midwest in the early 1920s, and was established in Pekin by a vaudevillian and respected community leader named Oscar Walter Friederich, owner of the Capitol Theater. Friederich was a Grand Titan in the Klan, supervising more than 40 Illinois counties, and Pekin was his regional headquarters.

In September 1923, Friederich and two other Klansmen, Silas Strickfaden and E. A. Messmer, partnered to buy the Pekin Daily Times, which thus became an organ of the KKK’s racist and nativist propaganda. Consequently, much of the Local History Room’s file on the KKK consists of copies of Pekin Daily Times articles and advertisements from the first half of the 1920s.

Almost as rapid as its rise was the Klan’s fall in the mid-1920s, due not only to organized social opposition to the KKK across the country but also to several public scandals that made national headlines. The Klan’s local fortunes in Pekin followed its national fortunes, and when the Klan fell into disrepute, the Pekin Daily Times nearly went out of business and Friederich had to sell the paper in June 1925.

An image from a darker time, this illustration appeared in a Pekin Daily Times advertisement for a major Ku Klux Klan gathering in Pekin — the “Klantauqua” — that took place in late August 1924.

A few other articles in the Local History Room’s KKK file touch on the related subject of Pekin’s reputation as a racist community unwelcoming to non-whites. Given Pekin’s past and reputation, sociologist James Loewen included Pekin in his 2005 study, “Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism,” which explores the phenomenon of U.S. communities that made it known to blacks that they had better be out of town by nightfall.

Obviously, the history of the KKK in Pekin had a lot to do with that reputation, but a closer look at Pekin’s history reveals that the reputation predates the Klan’s arrival in Pekin. For example, on July 24, 1933, the Pekin Daily Times printed a curious story at the bottom left corner of the front page, with the headline, “Now it is Explained: Why Negroes Don’t Light in Pekin; Once Upon A Time There Were Balls and Chains.”

This story followed a news report of the preceding week, published at the bottom right corner of the Daily Times’ front page on July 21, 1933, about a black man from Chicago Heights named James Davis, one of two blacks who had been arrested in Pekin as stowaways atop a C. & I. M. box car. The news report, which utilizes the racially derogatory language common in those days (which we will not quote here), says Davis’ companion went quietly, but Davis allegedly resisted arrest and attempted to escape.

Davis was brought to court the next day, and the judge told him, “The court after carefully considering the case fixes your fine at $25 and costs, but fine and costs will be remitted if you get out of town. The court will give you one hour to get out of the best city in the state.” Davis replied that he thought he could make it out of Pekin in five minutes.

The follow-up story, which again uses racially derogatory language, shows an awareness of Pekin’s reputation, observing, “There have been other stories about Negroes getting out of town in a hurry – one about a man that left the city hall in such a rush that he even forgot to eat his dinner, other talks of Negro families moving in town one day and out the next – until it seems that there must be that indefinable something about Pekin that keeps her population almost wholly white.

“Illinois population bulletins show that there are few other cities the size of Pekin that have no Negro population.

“William Gaines, one of our two black men, who is porter at the Tazewell hotel and who has been here for 30 years, explains the non-existence here of others of his race by the fact that Peoria is so near, and that Negroes in general prefer to live in larger cities.”

The story then relates a personal recollection of Emil Schilling, “one of Pekin’s lifetime residents who remembers everything that has gone on here for the past 50 or 60 years.” Schilling attributed the absence of blacks in Pekin to an incident that older men of the town had told him when he was a boy.

“He was told that there had been a gang of levee Negroes working as the crew on a river boat back in the days before the Civil war, 30 or 40 of them, that had gotten too much whisky at 20c a gallon and had begun to carouse.” According to this tale, the blacks were arrested and clapped in iron, and were sentenced to six weeks of labor on the city streets dragging a ball and chain.

Schilling said word of that incident spread up and down the Illinois River. On a trip to St. Louis during the 1880s, Schilling encountered a group of black dockworkers, and he asked one of them if he would like to live in Pekin. According to Schilling, the man replied, “No, suh, boss, no suh, that town ain’t no place for a n—–.”

One of the most remarkable features of this 1933 Pekin Daily Times story is the complete absence of any reference to the Ku Klux Klan, even though the KKK’s popularity in Pekin during the first half of the 1920s is obviously relevant to this question. This is a glaring omission that was probably intentional on the writer’s part.

While it’s unclear how much weight should be placed on Schilling’s recollections, his tale would suggest that Pekin’s reputation as a community unwelcoming to blacks predates the Civil War. That would not be surprising, given the fact that until the Civil War Pekin was a Democratic, pro-slavery political stronghold. One of the important factors in shifting Pekin to an anti-slavery Republican stronghold was the influx of German immigrants around the mid-1800s.

However, while the German influence was crucial in the shift of Pekin’s politics, it also helped make Pekin less desirable as a place to live for non-German-speakers, both white and black. As a result, “The small black population and many of the older white families moved to Peoria,” according to an April 13, 1989 Peoria Journal Star column by retired Peoria Journal Star editor Charles Dancey of Pekin.

The practical results of these cultural and demographic trends can be tracked in the U.S. Census: in 1900, only four blacks lived in Pekin, in 1910 only eight, in 1920 (just before the KKK arrived) a total of 31, in 1930 only one – and in 1940 not a single black person was left in Pekin.

#e-a-messmer, #emil-schilling, #kkk, #oscar-walter-friederich, #pekin-daily-times, #pekin-history, #pekins-first-riot, #pekins-racist-reputation, #racism, #silas-strickfaden, #sundown-towns, #william-gaines

Two generations of tragedy and loss

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s another chance to read this old Local History Room column, first published on 18 May 2013 before the launch of this blog and then posted here on 16 Nov. 2016. We’re re-posting it here to help draw attention to our upcoming program on the riverboat Columbia disaster. At 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 30, local author Ken Zurski, who published a book in 2012 entitled, “The Wreck of the Columbia,” will come to the Pekin Public Library to talk about the disaster which claimed the lives of 87 of the boat’s 500 passengers. Most of the victims were from Pekin. For Mr. Zurski’s program, the library will display articles and photographs of the disaster, along with the 48-star U.S. flag from the Columbia which was salvaged the day after the wreck by Columbia survivor Roscoe Maxey of Pekin. The flag was donated to the Pekin Public Library in 1986 by Roscoe’s son Justin Maxey.

Articles and photographs pertaining to the 1918 wreck of the riverboat Columbia are currently on display in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room. Local author Ken Zurski will give a lecture on the Columbia disaster at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, 30 March 2017, in the library’s upstairs Community Room.

Two generations of tragedy and loss

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This weekend, the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society will conduct a cemetery walk remembering victims of the July 5, 1918, Columbia riverboat disaster. The cemetery walk will be from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, May 19 (with a rain date of Sunday, June 2), at Lakeside Cemetery in Pekin, where most of the 57 Pekin residents who died in the wreck of the Columbia are buried.

Local interest in the Columbia disaster was renewed last year [2012] with the publication of Ken Zurski’s “The Wreck of the Columbia,” the first book-length treatment of this tragic event that brought grief to a great number of families in Pekin and the surrounding areas. Eighty-seven people drowned when the Columbia struck a sandbar and collapsed and sank near Wesley City (Creve Coeur).

In his book, Zurski tells the stories of several of the victims and survivors, and of some who avoided falling victim to the disaster through unforeseen circumstances that prevented them from going on the fatal cruise. Among the stories not told in Zurski’s book is that of a Columbia victim named Hazel Marie Bowlby, who was 21 when she died.

The photograph of Hazel Marie Bowlby was taken the winter before she drowned in the wreck of the Columbia. PHOTO PROVIDED BY GAYLA ERLENBUSCH, LUCILLE'S GRANDDAUGHTER

The photograph of Hazel Marie Bowlby was taken the winter before she drowned in the wreck of the Columbia. PHOTO PROVIDED BY GAYLA ERLENBUSCH, LUCILLE’S GRANDDAUGHTER

In January, Hazel’s relatives supplied the Pekin Daily Times with copies of old photographs of Hazel, along with a copy of a letter that Hazel wrote to her sister about a year before the disaster. Copies of the photographs and letter have been forwarded to the Pekin Public Library to be added to the library’s Local History Room collection.

Hazel, born in 1897, was a daughter of John C. and Susie Wertz Bowlby. She had an older sister named Lucille and a younger brother named Elmer. “She was my grandmother’s only sister,” said Gayla Erlenbusch, Lucille’s granddaughter.

Shown are (back row) Lucille Bowlby and Hazel Marie Bowlby, and (front row) Susie Wertz Bowlby, Elmer Bowlby, and John C. Bowlby. PHOTO PROVIDED BY GAYLA ERLENBUSCH, LUCILLE'S GRANDDAUGHTER

Shown are (back row) Lucille Bowlby and Hazel Marie Bowlby, and (front row) Susie Wertz Bowlby, Elmer Bowlby, and John C. Bowlby. PHOTO PROVIDED BY GAYLA ERLENBUSCH, LUCILLE’S GRANDDAUGHTER

From the copy of the letter that Hazel’s relatives have supplied, we know that in the summer of 1917 Hazel worked for the Pekin Daily Times – writing to her sister Lucille, Hazel typed the letter on stationery bearing the newspaper’s letterhead, and mailed it in a Pekin Daily Times printed envelope. In her letter, Hazel says she may need to borrow $5 from Lucille, and indicates dissatisfaction that the Times’ general manager and managing editor Charles Utter had not given her any raises in pay.

Erlenbusch said that her grandmother Lucille could have ended up as one of the Columbia’s victims along with her sister, if it weren’t for a sisterly spat.

“Hazel and her sister were both supposed to go, but they got into an argument. Apparently they both wanted to wear the same blouse. So my grandmother got mad and decided to stay home,” Erlenbusch said. Hazel went alone, the last time any of her family saw her alive.

Hazel was one of the many victims who had been on the boat’s dance floor. Her body was one of the last to be recovered, according to Erlenbusch. “My great-grandparents sent my grandmother to identify her,” she said. Hazel was buried in Green Valley Cemetery.

Lucille Bowlby stands at the grave of her sister Hazel the day of her funeral, at Green Valley Cemetery. PHOTO PROVIDED BY GAYLA ERLENBUSCH, LUCILLE'S GRANDDAUGHTER

Lucille Bowlby stands at the grave of her sister Hazel the day of her funeral, at Green Valley Cemetery. PHOTO PROVIDED BY GAYLA ERLENBUSCH, LUCILLE’S GRANDDAUGHTER

We can well imagine how painful Hazel’s death was to her loved ones, but it must have been especially hard on her father, John C. Bowlby, as it was the second time death had shockingly struck someone close to him.

As told in Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” on Feb. 19, 1895, John’s first wife Belle Wallace Bowlby was shot to death by her own brother Albert Wallace, who was living with his sister and brother-in-law on the old Wallace homestead in Dillon Township. John and the Bowlbys’ hired man Lawrence Lyman also suffered very serious gunshot wounds in the incident.

What led up to the crime was the death of Belle’s and Albert’s father, Andrew Wallace, who was killed in 1890 by James Connell in self-defense. Andrew left his estate to Belle, which “led to bickering between Mr. and Mrs. Bowlby and Albert Wallace, who made frequent demands for money, and when refused, is said to have made threats against Mr. and Mrs. Bowlby,” Allensworth writes.

Finally, one night Albert took a shotgun and, aiming through a window, fired at John’s head. “Bowlby, whose hand was on his forehead, had several fingers blown off and a number of shot entered his head. Mrs. Bowlby sprang and opened the door, when she was shot in the stomach. Lyman was shot twice in the leg, and was badly burned in the face by the powder,” according to Allensworth. Belle died two days later, while Lyman lost an eye. John eventually recovered and remarried.

After the shooting, Albert borrowed a neighbor’s horse and rode to Pekin, where he surrendered to the sheriff. Asking why he was turning himself in, he said, “You will find out later.” He was convicted of murder on Oct. 28, 1895, and sentenced to death by hanging. He was executed on March 14, 1896 – the last legal hanging in Pekin.

#albert-wallace, #charles-utter, #elmer-bowlby, #hazel-bowlby, #john-c-bowlby, #ken-zurski, #last-execution-in-pekin, #lawrence-lyman, #lucille-bowlby, #murder-of-belle-wallace-bowlby, #pekin-daily-times, #susie-wertz-bowlby, #wreck-of-the-columbia