Thursday, December 18, 2014

Check out James T. Carrier's Books

James T. Carrier is a 94-year-old retired educator from rural West Frankfort who's written a number of books, including the five below. Now for the first time, these books are available here at IllinoisHistory.com.

I'm running a special of all 5 for $48 which is 20 percent off the price if you buy them separately. Click on this link if you're interested:



Here's a bit about all the books which generally fall under the categories of surviving killer tornadoes, the Great Depression, mine disasters or Franklin County in general.



A Little Bit of Heaven and a Whole Lot of Hell

160 pages. 5.5" x 8.5"
Rev. ed. 2nd printing
Paperback. $9.95
© 1998

A Little Bit of Heaven and a Whole Lot of Hell covers the story of a coal mining village and its people with emphasis on the Great Depression years focusing on the communities known as 18 Patch, Deering City and Caldwell.





Killer Mine Disaster

ISBN 0-9705471-7-X
130 pages. 5.5" x 8.5"
Paperback. $15.
© 2002

Killer Mine Disaster tells the story of the December 21, 1951, methane gas explosion at the New Orient Mine No. 2 outside West Frankfort. The disaster killed 119 coal miners, and remains one of the worst mine disasters in American history.






Killer Tornado

ISBN 0-9705471-0-2
112 pages. 5.5" x 8.5"
Paperback. $9.95
© 1998

Killer Tornado Hits Coal Mining Village tells the story of how the world's largest tornado -- the Tri-State Tornado of March 18, 1925 -- caused deaths, injuries and destruction in a rural coal mining village of Caldwell, in Franklin County, Illinois, with firsthand accounts of survivors. Contributors include Emogene Moore Swain, Vernon Dotson, Hosea Thomas, Sr., Pauline Kerly Wall, George Hand, Dorothy Stagner Maki, Arlena Stagner Reid, Eugene Reid, Robert Earl Pease, Genieve DePriest Nolen Coar, Ceble Willmore and Annamary Chance Stagner Jent. In addition Edd Wall, Marie Ford Payne and Mrs. Harry Neibel provided additional information.

The book also includes a story of the 1912 tornado that struck near Pershing, Illinois.





Them Good Old Wild Greens

100 pages. 5.5" x 8.5"
Paperback. $9.95

Them Good Old Wild Greens tells the story of "Hard Times" in the mining settlement of "18 Patch" in Franklin County, Illinois. Mr. Carrier grew up in those days and this is his own firsthand account of the struggle mine families had when the mines shut down or remained idled for lack of demand for coal.





Wilderness Survival

110 pages. 5.5" x 8.5"
Paperback. $9.95

Wilderness Survival is a story of how sons of unemployed miners avoided starvation and survived the Great Depression of the 1930s. It comes with practical tips and illustrations to show modern-day readers who to survive in the wilderness as well.



History, Mystery and Hauntings of Southern Illinois

Here's another Christmas idea for those who like to read about our region's supernatural past.

History, Mystery and Hauntings of Southern Illinois pulls straight from the case files of the Little Egypt Ghost Society led by founder Bruce Cline. The book covers their investigations and research of the supernatural throughout the 618 region.

This expanded and revised edition combines the first three volumes of Bruce's books into one. Each county is its separate chapter in this 320-page fully-indexed paperback. It's not too late to get one before Christmas.



Copies can also be purchased from booksellers around the region including the Book Emporium in Harrisburg, the Bookworm in Carbondale, The Country Porch in Marion inside the Illinois Centre Mall, The Buzz in Benton and the new King City Books in Mount Vernon.

I've also got books at GenKota Winery in Mount Vernon, the Dusty Attic in Equality, Harbison's Grocery down in Hardin County, Herrin Drug and Thornton's Market in Herrin, D & E Books in Olney, Shawnee Winery and From The Past Antiques in Vienna, the Rend Lake Artisans Shop off of Exit 77 at Rend Lake, the Little Egypt Arts Gallery on the Tower Square in Marion, and The Artisans Galleria in downtown Shelbyville.

To the north Taylor's Mini Mall in Fairfield carries my titles and the libraries in Flora and Olney have a few books left on consignment from our recent book signings.

I can always be reached at jon.musgrave@mchsi.com.

For a list of all the books available check out the list of books.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

New Edition of Boy of Battle Ford Now on Sale

For more than a century W. S. Blackman's, The Boy of Battle Ford has served as a classic when it comes to descriptions of antebellum Southern Illinois and as well as life as a soldier during the western campaigns of the Civil War.

Blackman turned 21 just weeks after the fall of Fort Sumter and the start of the American Civil War. More than four decades later he used his war journals as the basis of his autobiography.

From his boyhood years on the Battle Ford farm in Southern Illinois to his own life and death experiences on the battlefield, Blackman finds the lessons of life in his own struggles for bothy physical survival and spiritual faith.

The new 2014 abridged paperback edition is edited by Jon Musgrave with a new introduction, footnotes and a full index. The 240-page book retails for $18.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Brits Took Revenge 200 Years Ago Today

While we wait for ISIS to figure out which large city they want to target in the United States - Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., it's important to remember that it's not just New York City in 2001 or Pearl Harbor in 1941, that have been targeted by our enemies.

Today, August 24, 2014, is the 200th anniversary of the burning of our nation's capitol by the British in the War of 1812 (and the few years thereafter).

Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post tells the story.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Herrin Massacre Bus Tours Offer New Perspectives

The infamous barbed wire fence inside the Power House Woods where four dozen men were lined up and shot on June 22, 1922. Williamson County Historical Society photo.


After two successful tours in July and a long waiting list the organizer of the new Herrin Massacre Bus Tours has announced four more dates for August.

Amy Erickson of Carbondale, my former intern at the Williamson County Tourism Bureau, and later interim office manager at the Southern Illinois Tourism Development, came up with the idea earlier this year and is operating the tours out of the educational non-profit group CAPS (Connecting All Parents to School) with support from the Williamson County Historical Society.

The dates are this Friday, August 8, which still has some openings; Saturday, August 9, which is full; Friday, August 16 and Saturday, August 23. The tours are $45 per person, but there's a Family Friday discount where extra family members can join the tour for just $25. Get your tickets at HerrinMassacreTour.com or call Amy at (618) 751-2924. The price covers the bus tour, admission to the museums and lunch as well as souvenirs and giveaways.

Both tours are the same, but due to parking issues Friday tours start at the Williamson County Airport and the Saturday tours from the Williamson County Jail Museum behind the Marion Civic Center at 105 S. Van Buren St. I, Jon Musgrave, will once again be serving as the historical guide for all four tours.

The bus tour follows the events of the two-day outbreak of violence on June 21-22, 1922, from the ambush of guards and replacement workers at Fozzard Bridge, now under Crab Orchard Lake on the morning of the 21st, to the all-out battle outside the mine later that afternoon that would fatally injure three union men.

The next morning four dozen men inside the mine surrendered with the understanding that they would be marched to Herrin and put on a train. Instead, increasingly larger mobs would stop them on the way into the city, eventually leading to an order to line them up against a barb wire fence and start shooting.

Some got away only to be shot and hung in the Harrison Woods immediately southeast of the city while six others were recaptured and taken to the Herrin City Cemetery where they were repeatedly shot and cut with knives in the presence of witnesses including big city reporters who had just arrived to cover the violence from the day before.

Another 20 men would die that day or later from their wounds received on the death march.

Barring a funeral taking place the bus will stop at the cemetery where recent research and excavations have confirmed the location of 17 of the original burial sites of the victims in the city’s former Potter’s Field in what was then Block 15 in the southeast corner of the original cemetery. Twelve of the victims are believed to be still buried there.

The tour also includes a stop at the Miners Memorial in downtown Herrin with a presentation from the Herrin Area Historical Society before returning for lunch and a tour of the Williamson County Jail Museum where the defendants were held later that year.

Personally, I think it's amazing what happened that day back in 1922, but even worse was the travesty of justice that took place afterwards when two trials ended with nothing but acquittals due to outright bribery of the jurors and the purchase of alibis for the defendants.

That breakdown of the rule of law led to an easy journey setting up the stage for the Klan War and Gang War that followed which eventually left more than six dozen deaths in its wake over the next five years.

One of the July tour participants recently e-mailed Erickson with a review.


"I'm from a coal mining family, a coal miner's daughter, and so connected to coal industry through my husband, my dad and mother's family. We are all involved. A friend read the article, and I immediately called, I wouldn’t be alive without U.M.W.A. It's a continuing struggle. I was enriched by taking the trip. Someone [who] hasn't read the book (Bloody Williamson) would really benefit."


I will also have my books and posters available for sale at the end of the tour or from my website at IllinoisHistory.com/Books.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Dec. 7, 1941 - An Infamous Date - In Color

Seventy-two years ago today was a date which has lived in infamy. The video below shows the only color film of the attack on Pearl Harbor.



Sunday, October 20, 2013

85 Years Ago - Gang War Heats Up

It's the 85th Anniversary of the Gang War between Charlie Birger and his men on one side and the Shelton Brothers on the other. Just one of the five main reasons why my home county is known as "Bloody Williamson."

The blood started spilling (in the Gang War) on Aug. 22, 1926, with a three-way shootout that left Harry Walker and Everett Smith dead at Thetford's roadhouse just north of Marion's Rosehill Cemetery on Illinois Route 37, yet still south of the J.W. Reynolds Monument Co. office on the east side the road.

No one took credit for the shooting though Harry's brother Ray was certain of the identity. Family members of the proprietor later told the story he had received a phone call warning him that the two men were there to kill him.

One of the more interesting tidbits about the incident involved the ethnicity of one of the band members. He was Hawaiian.

Early in the morning of Sept. 12 two gangsters Gary DeNeal's sources thought were Birger and Fred "Butch" Thomason opened fire at another two members of the Shelton Gang at the roadhouse on what's now Stotlar Road just east of the Burlington Northern R.R. crossing.

William "Wild Bill" Holland was hit and killed. Max Pulliam and his wife Mildred were wounded and taken to Herrin Hospital. Ray Walker and his wife were still inside the roadhouse when it happened and likely were the ones who took the Pulliams to the hospital.

Two days later Pulliam's family tried to sneak him out of the hospital in a hearse or ambulance (same vehicle was used for both) though it's not certain if they were trying to stage a funeral procession. Just outside Benton Birger and his men caught up with the ambulance and forced it to stop. If it wasn't for Pulliam's mother using her body to protect her son from Birger's blows, he likely would have been killed as well.

Later Birger would even admit to his role in the attack, "I and my men drove up and conked that fellow (hit him on the head)  until he fainted away. We showed him."

A day later on the 17th, Birger's men picked up another Franklin County felon named Lyle "Shag" Worsham they thought was snitching to the Sheltons. Newspapers had already identified Lyle's brother "Satan" Worsham as an associated of the them. Birger's men took Worsham south of Carterville where the machine-gunned him down in the road before taking him to an abandoned house by Pulley's Mill where they burned the body and house around it.

Meanwhile the Shelton Gang reconfigured one of their beer-running fuel trucks to an armored car. They debuted it on Oct. 4, with a machine gun attack on Birger's Shady Rest, a drive-by shooting of Art Newman and his wife in a car in Saline County, and another drive-by attack on Shaw's Gardens, a Birger-aligned roadhouse between Johnston City and West Frankfort on the Franklin-Williamson county line.

On Oct. 13 (or 14th according to some sources), Birger's men attacked the Shelton's main joint north of Herrin on what's now Illinois Route 148. On the 16th they raided the fluorspar mine in Rosiclare in order to steal their two machine guns they had locked up.

For more information on the Gang War and what happened next, check out my books Secrets of the Herrin Gangs co-authored by the Shelton's business manager and Inside the Shelton Gang co-authored and published earlier this year with Ruthie Shelton, the daughter of "Little Carl" Shelton, one of the nephews involved in that family's infamous activities.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Great Song and Just Had to Share

While looking up some antebellum songs for an upcoming project tonight I came across the great Mavis Staples singing Stephen Foster's 1854 classic, "Hard Times Come Again No More."

The year 1854 saw the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act that opened the territories to slavery, an act that ended the Whig Party and saw the creation of the Republican Party later that year. In Illinois anti-Nebraska Democrats like my fourth-great-uncle Col. E. D. Taylor, split with our U.S. Senator Stephan Douglas who had sponsored the legislation. Instead he joined former Whigs and emerging Republicans like Abraham Lincoln in beating back Douglas'-backed Democrats for the state elections that year. Some 21 years earlier Taylor had beat Lincoln in the latter's first race for the state legislature.


The triumph of the moderates like Douglas signaled the quickening march that would end with the start of the Civil War seven years later. From that point forward slavery would become the major issue of the day and the defining position between the parties.

Meanwhile, Foster managed to write a song that remains true and vibrant even to the present day.



Here's the lyrics. Feel free to sing along.

Verse 1.
Let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many tears,
While we all sup sorrow with the poor;
There's a song that will linger forever in our ears;
Oh hard times come again no more.

Chorus:
Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard Times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
Oh hard times come again no more.

Verse 2.
While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay,
There are frail forms fainting at the door;
Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say
Oh hard times come again no more.
Chorus

Verse 3.
There's a pale drooping maiden who toils her life away,
With a worn heart whose better days are o'er:
Though her voice would be merry, 'tis sighing all the day,
Oh hard times come again no more.
Chorus

Verse 4.
Tis a sigh that is wafted across the troubled wave,
Tis a wail that is heard upon the shore
Tis a dirge that is murmured around the lowly grave
Oh hard times come again no more.
Chorus

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

'Inside the Shelton Gang' Plugged This Morning

WSIL-TV had me on bright and early this morning plugging "Inside the Shelton Gang," the new book by Ruthie Shelton and myself.



We will both be at Bookworm this Saturday, April 20, from 1 to 3 p.m. at a book signing, and at the Flora Public Library next Thursday, April 25, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Click on the Books link to order it and my other books online. Books ordered over the next few weeks will go out with Ruthie's autograph as well as mine.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Inside the Shelton Gang Book Out Saturday

Inside the Shelton Gang: One Daughter's Discovery will have its debut Saturday at the Wayne County Press office in downtown Fairfield, Illinois, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The book is written by Ruthie Shelton, daughter of "Little Carl" Shelton and grandniece of the infamous Shelton Brothers, and co-authored by Jon Musgrave of IllinoisHistory.com.

Inside the Shelton Gang tells the true story of what happens when a father’s wall of secrets begin to crumble and a family’s lost heritage of violence erupts from the front pages of history. For daughter Ruthie it’s a discovery that will forever change her life as she learns what it meant to be a Shelton in the days of Prohibition and the decades following, to be a member of a crime family that rivaled Al Capone’s for control of Illinois. 

While written from Ruthie's point of view, she's added stories passed down from her father and other relatives, as well as from folks she's met over the last few years researching the book.

I met Ruthie while researching for my ever-expanding history of Southern Illinois in the 1920s. We joined forces and IllinoisHistory.com is publishing the book. My role has been to flesh out the historical research she started on the gang, especially in the gang's early years in the 1920s.

It's been quite the experience and I think readers will enjoy the more personable approach to non-fiction writing that Ruthie brings to the table.

Books are available to order now at www.IllinoisHistory.com/books or simply click on the Books link at the top of the page.


Thursday, February 28, 2013

New Faces Lead Historic Preservation Agency

After a few years of little contact with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency that's changed with the resumption of the Illinois Amistad Commission. There's a number of new faces now.
  • Sara Meek is the new legislative liaison for the agency. She started Feb. 18 and made the news this week as she's the first person to hold that position in the agency which has been fraught with budget cuts over the last decade or so. She has a close relationship with at least one lawmaker, her mother, state Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur. I had a chance to meet with her last month at the first meeting of the new Amistad Commission in Chicago. She offered good first impressions and should help the agency. It's not just funding issues that the agency faces. At some point there will need to be legislative solutions if the agency will still be able to fulfill its missions.

  • Amy Martin is the relatively new director that I also got to meet for the first time at the Amistad Commission meeting. She started last May. She had previously served as acting deputy director of regional outreach for Illinois Main Street in the Department of Commerce and Community Affairs. First impressions: I like the fact she doesn't hesitate to say what she thinks, or at least what she thinks should be said when it comes to her agency. I also like what I've read about the new directions she wants to take the agency. More on that below.

  • Alyson Grady now heads the Historic Sites Division which oversees the Old Slave House among other sites. I have not met her yet but hope to do so soon. There's already been one major change in historic sites that makes sense from both a management and a tourism perspective. Grady announced last month that all five state-owned historic sites in Springfield will be under the management of a single site superintendent. More on that later as well.

  • Kristy Bond started Feb. 11 as the agency's new marketing director. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum used to have a position, but Bond's new job not only covers the museum but the agency's other locations statewide. 
Also in terms of personnel changes, Evelyn Taylor, the agency's long-time Constituent Services Division Manager who oversees the educational programs and publications is retiring. Her last day is today.

The 2012 Annual Report for the agency was her last major project.

In her previous position at the Illinois Main Street program Martin worked with communities to expand local economies at the intersection of economic development and historic preservation. That is an attitude greatly need in IHPA.

(It's not so much that her predecessors were opposed to it, but were more focused on maintaining whatever they could of the agency's core mission and responsibilities. Today the agency has suffered more in proportion to its budget and staffing than any other agency in the state. Martin, it seems, is ready to think outside the box.)

Here's what she told the State Journal-Register when she was hired last year.
"One of the things I hope to continue (at IHPA) is by generating revenue at all of the historic sites – it's important, especially important for us, to bring in that essential funding during these tough economic times," Martin said.

Martin declined to go into specifics about her plans, saying she will confer with her staff and review their accomplishments.

Martin said she applied for the IHPA position because of her Main Street background.

"I am very interested in how historic preservation can be used as an economic development tool," Martin said. "Through my efforts with that program at DCEO, I worked a lot with IHPA staff and historic preservation."

Did you notice that part about "generating revenue" at historic sites. That's been a major roadblock agency. They've not been expected to generate revenue. In fact, the General Assembly whether as individual lawmakers making threatening phone calls, or acting collectively, have actively discouraged the agency for generating revenue through one-time event fees or admission fees.

The historic sites division has gone from 148 to around 67 staff members in the last decade. That figure is a year or so old so it is probably worse now. Many historic sites, if they are still open, are down to just one full-time person. Obviously, the trend can't continue or the agency will be forced to close down additional sites.

Not only is that bad for history, but for local economies that rely on tourism to be a part of their economic mix. It's also bad for efforts to re-open the state's other sites which have been stuck in limbo for years if not decades. We're starting Year 13 of state ownership of the Old Slave House with no plan in site to re-open it. Even worse, it's around Year 67 for the Shawneetown State Bank historic site that remains closed.

That Martin actually recognizes the role her agency plays in economic development represents a major step forward. My biggest disappointment with 1990s-era Brent Manning at the Illinois Department of Conservation was his reluctance, and even denial, that state parks somehow didn't have a role in Illinois tourism.

I had a conversation regarding these themes a few years ago with Justin Blandford who's now tasked with overseeing five state historic sites in Springfield. At the time, he was with the Old State Capitol site, but was also acting as the interim director of the Historic Sites Division at the time. Coming up from a well-visited historic site he understood the issues of lack of coordination between sites and the simple fact that Springfield tourists who come to see Lincoln sites don't care about the administrative make-up of the agencies involved, they just want a coherent, entertaining and educational experiences.

He's explained the current moves at the start of the year to the Springfield paper.

"What we will be moving toward is where we have the flexibility to assign staff among all the sites," said Blandford. "While that seems like a very simple action, that did not happen very much in the past."

He said administrative staff also can be assigned to more front-line duties. "I also see myself doing more at all the sites," said Blandford.

Blandford, who is moving his office from the Old Capitol to the Dana-Thomas House, said the changes should not be noticeable in the day-to-day experience of visitors.

Operating hours remain the same, and a variety of special events, including the “History Comes Alive” living history program, will be scheduled again this year. Each site also will retain its unique look and identity, he said.

"We want to make sure people understand what this is not. This isn’t any quick and fast changes of these sites," said Blandford. "We hope this uplifts the confidence the volunteers, the community members, the business sponsors and the staff have in these sites.

"That's a major component of this: continuing to support morale and to give new confidence that all these sites are solid for what they do for the community, both economically and historically," Blandford said.

The staff cuts aren't so good but the agency appears to be responding in the right direction.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Video Shows Old Slave House Dig

The Illinois Archeology Survey posted a video earlier this year highlighting three digs from 2011, including the Old Slave House at Equality and the Cahokian complex near East St. Louis where the new interstate bridge will cross the Mississippi River.

The 13:13 minute video shows Illinois archaeologists out in the field.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

WBEZ Offers Nice Feature on Hull House

WBEZ 91.5 in Chicago offers a nice feature on the origins of Jane Addams' Hull House. John R. Schmitt has the story.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Herrin Massacre still stands out 90 years later

Today's the 90th anniversary of the Herrin Massacre on June 22, 1922.
HERRIN — It's been 90 years today since 20 replacement workers and guards died at the hands of a mob organized by the United Mine Workers of America in what's still the largest massacre of workers initiated by a union in America's history. A driver for the mine, later died from a separate ambush the day before, bringing the count to 21.

Three U.M.W.A. miners are also counted among the victims bringing the total to 24. They died following an attack on the Lester strip mine the previous day as well. The mine stood about a half mile north of the present-day Williamson County Pavilion and then halfway between the county's largest community of Herrin and the county seat of Marion.

The attack of June 22, 1922, quickly became known as the Herrin Massacre and helped blacklist nationwide the county as Bloody Williamson where more than 70 men, women and children were killed during a five-year period as Klan violence and a gang war followed in its aftermath.
For the rest of the story check out Part 1 of my five-part series can be found at the DailyRegister.com. 

Monday, June 18, 2012




Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tom's Place Owners Celebrate 15 Years at Historic Eatery

Lasse and Maryjane Sorensen, owners of Tom's Place, arguably the premiere food establishment in Southern Illinois, will celebrate their 15th year as owners of the historic restaurant in 2012. With the anniversary will come additional improvements.

The Southern Illinoisan ran a nice feature Sunday on the former 20s roadhouse. Today, Tom's Place "one of 3,000 worldwide to have earned a Wine Spectator Award and was awarded a five-star Award of Excellence from the North American Restaurant Association."

It's come along way since Tom Endsley opened his place around 1923 one and one-miles north of DeSoto on the hard road that was then Illinois Rt. 2, now U.S. Rt. 51. Fried chicken and frog legs topped the menu then. Now, "the menu will often feature items like guinea fowl, Boston lobsters, oysters from the Pacific Northwest and fish from both coasts."

This year, the Sorensens have many special plans for celebrating 15 years in the business, including special events geared at introducing new customers to Tom's Place by offering a lower price point. A calendar of events for the year will soon be released on the restaurant's website.

Among the highlights are a prime rib night, the annual Easter breakfast buffet, weekly wine dinners, a morel mushroom feast and an evening of Spanish cuisine.

The article didn't have nearly as much history as I would have liked, so here's a bit more from my Bloody Williamson research.

During Prohibition agents raided the roadhouse a few times, but unlike other establishments, Endsley focused on the food and entertainment.

On July 6, 1928, a prohibition agent visited Tom’s Place pretending to be a former druggist wanting to sell his stock of medicinal alcohol to Endsley. After they talked for a while Endsley brought out a couple of beers for the two men to drink.

A few days later a larger group of prohibition agents arrived and confiscated several bottles of “alleged home brew” from his ice book. The Murphysboro paper noted that the “men were socialable, bought cigars and sandwiches for themselves and some patrons who happened to be in there at the time. They called Tom by his first name and were congenially inclined.”

Endsley asked one of the agents why they raided him so much. “We told him he should just sell to his friends.”

In 1929, he advertised "Tom's New Place," though it's not clear if he meant a new location or just a new addition to the building.

The raids didn't bother his business. By the end of the decade he was hosting the Carbondale chapter of the Business & Professional Women's luncheons, as well as regular weekly dinners for bridge clubs. He added a miniature golf course no later than 1930 and three outdoor bowling lanes in 1931.

Endsley sold the restaurant to Joe Moroni in 1940, who took over Sunday morning, Sept. 1. Here's how The Daily Independent in Murphysboro covered it on Aug. 28.

Thomas Endsley, proprietor of the tavern for 17 years, verified reports of the deal today and said that “everything will be turned over to Mr. Moroni next Sunday morning.”

Mr. Endsley spoke of Moroni as an experienced caterer who formerly had the management of The Villa, a tavern not far north in State Route 3 of the Colony Club, near the Cape Girardeau “Y.” He expressed the wish that his patrons continue to favor the tavern of their preference.

Mr. and Mrs. Endsley intend to rest for several months. Then Mr. Endsley will turn his attention to some other pursuit, he said.

“Tom’s Place” was built on its reputation for fried frog legs and chicken, and good management. Mr. Endssey, who has been county supervisor for years from De Soto, for some time had intended to retire from the business. He had erected a splendid home at DeSoto with this in mind and enjoys a 150-acre tract for fishing and hunting in the “wilds” of the strip mine country, which he is developing.

Mr. Endsley said Moroni intends to retrain the present tavern personnel.

Moroni had a long history in the hospitality industry. His father Louis had previously operated the Ozark Resort at Creal Springs in the 1920s and 30s. Before that his father and uncles ran taverns throughout the country both before and during Prohibition.

Moroni ran the restaurant for nearly 28 years until he sold it to F. M. "River" Hewitt in April 1968.

Note: Post corrected on Nov. 6, 2013, changing P. M. Hewitt to F. M. Hewitt, the year of the sale to 1968, and Frank Moroni to his brother Joe Moroni.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Carmi — As It Appeared in 1928

While researching a query for someone tonight I just came across these videos linked from the White County ILGenWeb site.

I'm not familiar with downtown Carmi enough to recognize these buildings, but these films of scenes from 1928 provide a wonderful glimpse of life in the early 20th Century of Southern Illinois.

Here's Part II of the video, the only part I'm able to embed. This part includes residential sections, the First National Bank, the cemetery and golfers hitting the links at the local golf course. There's a school, presumably the high school as it's fairly large, and speaking of fairs, next up is the racetrack and grandstand at the fairgrounds.



Follow the link for Part 1 (17.11 minutes)

Thanks to Cindy Birk-Conley for offering the film to be uploaded to YouTube.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Feast fit for a governor, Egyptian-style, 61 years ago tonight

While researching the story of a young Herrin woman dating a member of the Shelton Gang back in 1920s, I came across this story of a feast prepared by her boss, Nick Tudoff, some 14 years later for Illinois' governor.

The woman in question had been shot during a robbery of Tudoff's restaurant and the neighboring confectionery where she worked as a waitress. Interestingly, her suitor had been shot and killed the night before east of Herrin.

The Daily Independent of Murphysboro carried the following story on Dec. 19, 1940, about an Egyptian feast prepared for Gov. John Stelle, who was from Southern Illinois and was later buried at McLeansboro.

It's late as I write this. I'm full, but still my stomach's growing with anticipation.

Murphysboro and Herrin Men Carry Foods to Governor

Stelle in Role of "Pharoah" Receives From Egypt Rich Morsels and Red Wine

SPRINGFIELD, ILL., Dec. 19 -- (UP) -- Gov. John H. Stelle played the role of "Pharaoh" last night when a delegation of legionnaire friends appeared at the executive mansion bearing baskets laden with food from the "Little Egypt" area of Southern Illinois.

The food, it was said, consisted of the Governor's favorite dishes. Main course was Italian ravioli cooked in broth made from the "fat of the lamb of Egypt" and served with a sauce seasoned with "spices grown down Egypt way."

Other dishes included thick bacon rolled in corn meal, Italian garlic sausage, Italian peppers seasoned in wine vinegar, Egyptian corn crust bread, Egyptian peaches and red wine.

Supervising the final preparation of the food was Chef Nick Tudoff of Herrin. Others present included:

Loren Margrave, Tom Shannon, John Bandino, Harry Calcertino [probably Calcaterra], Frank Felts, Harvey Yuill, Harry Pollock, W. D. Toll, C. V. Walker, Paul Harris, and James Bailey, all of Herrin; and Ray Hubbs and Gordon Franklin of Murphysboro.

Some time ago the Herrin-Murphysboro boys asked if they could expect "Governor John," Illinois' first Legionnaire governor, to take time out for a feed on genuine Italian ravioli, pork in a corn meal jacket, pickled peppers, salad, meat, and the wine that is read in "Little Egypt,"-- meaning the wine of the grape as the American boys with forebears in sunny Italy know how to make it.

"John" said: "Come arunning," and the delegation left by car Wednesday afternoon with provisions in great hampers dispatched ahead of them.

The state's "First Lady" promised to look in on the party last night.

Governor Stelle has many Legionnaire and other friends down south in Illinois.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Interstate 57 Marks 50 Years of Traveling

MARION, Ill. (Sept. 26, 2011) -- Today marks the 50th anniversary of first dedication of Interstate 57.

On Sept. 26, 1961, Gov. Otto Kerner dedicated the first 30-mile stretch of the Chicago to Cairo superhighway. At the time motorists could drive only from Marion down to Dongola.

The Southern Illinoisan quoted Kerner at the time claiming the route through the Shawnee Hills as “one of the most scenic to be found in the entire 41,000 mile national interstate system.”

Illinois had 1,589 miles of planned interstates, but only about one-third ready and open to the public.

Kerner bragged that when completed, the interstate system “would make it possible for motorists to leave the point where we are assembled today and drive from coast to coast and from border to border without encountering a single traffic light.”
Work on the interstate began in the 1950s. At the time engineers priced the 50-mile stretch “though the hill county of southern Illinois” at $21 million, according to an Oct. 17, 1959, article in the Mt. Vernon Register-News.

Interstate 64 was part of the original plans for the state’s interstate system, but not Interstate 24. Originally, planners called for I-64 to cross the region from Vincennes, Ind., to St. Louis, intersecting I-57 at Salem. Only due to strong pressure in Indiana to move the interstate closer to Evansville helped pulled the route down to Mount Vernon.

Although not part of the original system, U.S. Rep. Ken Gray hinted at the future I-24 as early as Mar. 8, 1960, according to the Register-News.

By using a southerly alignment of Route 64 it may be possible to utilize Interstate 57 from a point south of Mount Vernon, Ill., to Pulley’s Mill south of Marion, Ill., and a newly constructed road from Pulley’s Mill across the Ohio River to Nashville, Tenn., and points south,” Gray said, accurately predicting the eventual route.

When I-57 opened in 1961, only the 20-year-old Motel Marion stood close to the interstate, luckily for them as a new Route 13 had opened along DeYoung St., on the north side of Marion a couple of years earlier. The four-lane portion of Route 13 only ran from Fair Street on the east side of Marion west to Illinois Route 148. From there it was just two lanes to Carbondale.

The Motel Marion added a new pool and completely rebuilt their rooms to compete for interstate travelers, bragging about Georgia cypress paneling, glass shower doors and lavanettes in the bathrooms. The sleeping rooms included walnut furniture, brown and tweed carpeting, television sets and colored telephones.

Marion Castellano broke ground on the first modern multi-story hotel on DeYoung St. in the summer of 1960. It opened eventually as the Travelodge in Nov. 1962. It later became the Family Inn and then the Heritage Inn before closing in the 1980s.
Rep. Gray’s brother Ralph Gray opened up the Marion Gray Plaza motel in the summer of 1963.

Ralph Gray and three Harrisburg businessmen developed the 101-room Ramada Inn on the east side of the interstate in Marion which opened in July 1967. The coffee shop had half barrels in the ceiling and became the city's first Cracker Barrel when it opened. Today the inn is operated as a Days Inn.

Carbondale Holiday Inn owner Stan Hoy announced plans for a new Marion hotel in 1968. The new Holiday Inn with then just 100 rooms opened in June 1969. It later became a Travelodge and finally an Executive Inn before closing in the last decade. A new Holiday Inn Express is currently under construction in the city up on The Hill.

Gov. Kerner came back to the region on Nov. 1, 1962, to open the next stretch of I-57 from Marion to Johnston City. The West Frankfort interchange opened the following year and by 1965, the interstate opened for traffic as far north as Mount Vernon.

One interesting tidbit about the original construction. when the state bought the land for Exit 30, the I-57 interchange with Illinois Route 146 east of Anna, a small park had to be relocated. Known as King Neptune Park, it was the final resting place of a 700-pound hog whose patriotic duty during World War II helped generate $19 million in sales of war bonds.

Eventually, his remains and a marker was placed along Route 146 a few miles east of the interchange. In recent years though a new marker has been placed at the Trail of Tears Welcome Center along the interstate just north of the interchange.

Dedications and ribbon cuttings continue 50 years after the interstate opened. State and local officials will open Marion’s newest ramp onto the interstate off of Morgan Avenue this Thursday.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Black Hand and the West Frankfort Riot

I'm working on a new book — think of it as another bite-size morsel of Bloody Williamson — but this time of a chapter of Southern Illinois' history that's been all but forgotten. It's a chapter that Paul Angle should have included in his book but missed because Oldham Paisley didn't include newspaper clippings of it in his scrapbooks.

You see, two years before the Herrin Massacre, three years before the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, four years before the Klan War, five years before the rise of Shady Rest, six years before the Gang War, seven years before the big media trials and eight years before Charlie Birger's hanging, there was the West Frankfort Riot.

It had all the ingredients of what happened later — vigilante justice, riots in the streets, striking miners, anti-Italian mobs, gruesome murders, well-publicized trials, a hanging in Marion's Paradise Alley and, of course, organized crime.

In many ways it was just the latest wave of violence that had rippled through the region in the decade or so before national Prohibition. It had been fueled in part by factions and elements of the Sicilian mafia emigrating to the Egyptian Coal Belt.

Known also as the Black Hand, they extorted and killed, bombed and harassed both fellow Italians and their American neighbors. Their actions, and the counter-actions they generated, left a trail of distrust and bloodshed that stained the region's name.

The book's title will most likely be "'DeSantis the Doomed' and the Curse of the Black Hand." The name's inspired a booklet published in 1921 following the hanging of Settimi DeSantis. A Williamson County court ordered the death sentence for his role in a double murder south of Royalton the year before.

The picture above is him just minutes before his death as the Catholic priest, Father Seneese of Herrin, gives him comfort. I believe it's Sheriff Melvin Thaxton in the back (though I'm still trying to confirm that). The photo is an enlargement of one of four in the possession of the Williamson County Historical Society in Marion.

West Frankfort, Johnston City, Willisville and Whiteash were just some of the communities that saw bloodshed. I'm still looking for descendants of some of residents, victims and participants of that time period for additional stories and photographs. Anyone with more info please contact me.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Best Movie of the Year - The Help

Went and saw "The Help" tonight at the theater. After a summer of popcorn movies of super heroes, teen wizards and battling robots, it was great to watch a film that showed some heroic actions at a scale we all can relate. Excellent movie. The best I've seen this year.

Teachers I highly recommend this one for your classes. It's more than a history lesson. It's a life lesson in character and self worth.

The trailer doesn't do it justice, and this is one I suggest don't look at the trailer, just go and be pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Video of the 1937 Flood at Cairo

Don't know much about this video other than it's been on YouTube for less than a year. The footage is from the 1937 Flood at Cairo. It starts with the toll house at the approach to the Mississippi bridge on the south side of the city.

For the latest on flood news check out the "flooding" category at Southern Illinois Tourism News.

Monday, April 25, 2011

How the 2011 Flood Compares with 1937 at Cairo

The National Weather Service is predicting the Ohio River will crest next Tuesday at 60 feet at Cairo, a half a foot higher than the record Flood of 1937.

[For more, check out my posts at Southern Illinois Tourism News.

I talked with Louise Ogg of Tamms this afternoon. She's a former city librarian at Cairo and local historian who remembers the 1937 flood.

"I was nine years old. We got out of school and went boating every day."

One difference she noted between then and now were the levees. Cairo's got more protection today than it did. A quick check of my Red Cross book on the '37 flood disaster gave the figures (I knew I bought that book off of eBay for a reason). In 1937, the levee offered protection only up to 60 feet. Today that protection extends to 64 feet.

Another thing she brought up was the dynamiting the levee that took place back then. In order to help save Cairo, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dynamited a levee downstream in Missouri to take some of the pressure off.

Again, from the Red Cross book, "The Ohio-Mississippi Valley Flood Disaster of 1937: Report of Relief Operations."

A Threatened Second Disaster
Simultaneous with the havoc in the Ohio Valley was the insistent threat of another major disaster in the valley of the Mississippi River below Cairo, Illinois. New levees constructed after the Mississippi Flood of 1927 were being put to a severe test for the first time.

If they failed, the fertile, low-lying cotton plantation country on both sides of the river to the Gulf of Mexico would become an inland sea. Another million persons might be forced to flee. Thousands of homes would be destroyed. The livestock loss would be staggering.

The Spillway Is Flooded
On January 25, the "fuse-plug" levees along the Missouri shore of the Mississippi River near Cairo were dynamited by U.S. Engineers to relieve the pressure on the sea wall of that city.

This action was part of a definite plan devised since 1927. Cairo stands upon a narrow and low-lying neck of land at the confluence of the Ohio and the mighty Mississippi Rivers. The city's sea wall can withstand a stage of 60 feet; more than that brings disaster.

In anticipation of what was now happening, and for the purpose of slowing the velocity and reducing the depth of flood waters in the Mississippi, the Engineers, under an act of Congress, had purchased flowage rights through a 130,000 acre strip of rich plantation land extending from Bird's Point to New Madrid, Missouri.

Across the face of this $21,000,000 spillway, they constructed a "fuse-plug" levee of low height. Around the back of it, they built a very strong and high levee to protect the adjoining countryside. Property owners, tenant farmers and share crops who continued to live in the area naturally hoped that there would never be a government warning to evacuate.

But it came several days prior to January 25.

The effect of the spreading of the water over the spillway is seen in the fact that the river at Cairo fell from 58.6 feet on the afternoon of January 25, to 57.9 feet on the morning of the 28th; and then resumed a slower rise until the crest of 59.6 feet was reached on February 3 and 4. The rate of rise decreased materially as far upstream as Paducah, Kentucky.

Louise said families of some of those squatters between the two levees turned and sued the city of Cairo in 1987 in a case that was settled out of court.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Population Figures Show Who's Gained, Lost 2000 to 2010

Details will be available within the next 24 hours for better population breakdowns, but there's what the U.S. Census Bureau offers up right now.



Click in the top right corner of the graphic to take it full screen and make is readable.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

This Day in Illinois History - Jan. 18

On this day in Illinois History, Jan. 18, 1813, the first deeds were filed with the county clerk in Gallatin Co., Illinois, then a brand new county just getting off the ground in southeastern Illinois.

Gallatin County had been created the previous September and stretched from nearly Vincennes, Ind., south down the Wabash and Ohio to the mouth of Lusk Creek at modern day Golconda.

Johnson County, organized at the same time started at Golconda and ran down the Ohio to its mouth and then up the Mississippi to the Big Muddy. The county line followed that river to around modern day Blairsville, in Williamson County where a trail from the Rosiclare area heading to Kaskaskia cross the river.

Everything to the south was Johnson, everything to the west of the Big Muddy was Randolph and everything to the east was Gallatin.

Interestingly, the first deeds filed in Shawneetown, or Shawanoe Town, as it was then known, were for properties in Kentucky.

John Hart of Gallatin County transferred to Adolphus T. Hubbard of Warren Co., Ky., two tracts of land in Madison Co., Ky. The first was next to the William Hicks’ plantation. The second dealt with another 1,000 acres. M. S. Davenport and Ephraim Hubbard witnessed the deeds.

For more on the early days of Gallatin County check out the "Handbook of Old Gallatin County and Southeastern Illinois" available at www.IllinoisHistory.com/books.

This Day in Illinois History - Jan. 17

On this day in Illinois history (actually yesterday since I'm a day late), Jan. 17, 1927, members of the Birger Gang kidnapped the first member of the Illinois State Police to die in the line of action. A few hours later he was murdered in a wheat field near Du Bois in Washington Co., Illinois.

Lory L. Price's assignment on paper was to patrol Illinois Route 13 between Harrisburg and Carbondale. His secondary role was to serve as the eyes and ears of Gov. Len Small in the turbulent Egyptian Badlands of 1920s Southern Illinois.

Price wasn't the only one to die that night. Another carload of gangsters kidnapped his wife Ethel Price, a pregnant school teacher who had taken the spring semester off. They shot her and dumped her body in an abandoned mine's air shaft on what's now the grounds of the Williamson County Shrine Club on Route 37 north of Marion.

Price had known and had been friends with both Carl Shelton and Charlie Birger for more than a decade by that time, according to the story Price's half-brother William Dufour told me back in 1994.

A few months after the second trial acquitted the perpetrators of the Herrin Massacre, Gov. Small hired Price, a World War I veteran, to be a motorcycle cop on the newly opened stretch of Route 13.

His job wasn't Prohibition enforcement and he continued his contacts with all sides. Birger, in particular, would tip him off to the whereabouts of stolen cars when good rewards had been offered. The pair would then split the reward.

There are three versions of what happened the night of his kidnapping and death, Birger's, Art Newman's and the one told by Gary DeNeal's source for "A Knight of Another Sort," who took part.

The event took place following the open warfare between the two gangs in the fall of 1926, the murder of West City Mayor Joe Adams in December, and the burning of Shady Rest a few days before.

Price was finally acting like a cop, investigating and getting close to the more junior members of the gang locked up in the Williamson County Jail. There he may have learned that one of the prisoners was booked under an assumed name, and really was somebody else, one of Adams' two killers nonetheless.

If so, he also managed to talk to the killer's fellow gunman and younger brother who perished in the attack and destruction of Shady Rest. Price definitely was one of the last to visit the cabin before its destruction. How much had he put together and how much had he reported back to the governor.

It's my contention that Newman was most responsible for the night's events. He had decided that Price was too much of a liability and whose long-term relationship with Birger would keep the gang leader from doing anything about it. By ordering the other carload of gangsters to kill Ethel, rather than just keep her safely out of the way while they scared Price, Newman must have thought that it would force Birger's hand. It did.

Some of the accounts indicate Newman fired the first shot at Price.

Ethel probably died on the 17th before midnight. Lory likely was shot and killed after midnight in the early morning hours of the 18th. His body wasn't found until Feb. 5. Ethel's body wasn't found until later in June.

More about the events of the Price murders can be found in DeNeal's book as well as "Bloody Williamson" by Paul Angle, though not the background. For that you'll have to wait until my upcoming book, "The Bloody Years."

Sunday, January 16, 2011

This Day in Illinois History - Jan. 16

On this day in Illinois history, Jan. 16, 1862, Col. Edmund D. Taylor supposedly met with Abraham Lincoln in the White House and suggested the use of treasury notes printed on banking paper to be used as legal tender. These notes, as they became known, were the nation's first greenbacks.

I write supposedly because the letter from Abraham Lincoln written in December 1864, confirming this incident has been declared "spurious" by some historians. That it once hung on display in Lincoln's tomb and its whereabouts today unknown doesn't help the matter.

There's a second letter on the 16th that served as a letter of introduction for "Mr. Taylor" to Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. However, it's not clear if this was a reference to Col. Taylor, as Lincoln would have known him, or to another person named Taylor.

The earliest reference I've found comes from a Feb. 24, 1876 issue of the Decatur Local Review. In a series of news briefs on the front page the following references Col. Taylor and the greenback, though the identity of the "professor" is unknown to me at this point.

"The professor is becoming jealous of the greenback popularity of Col. Taylor, and it is said that is the reason why the professor refuses to put up the ticket."

It's very oblique but it does mention Taylor and the currency in the same breath.

Taylor and Lincoln's acquaintance dated back three decades when Lincoln first ran for the legislature following the Black Hawk War. Lincoln lost that election. Taylor won.

Though on opposite sides most of their lives, for one point in the mid 1850s, or at least in 1854, the two became political allies in the fight against Stephan Douglas, then the state's senator. Lincoln was a new Republican and Taylor, an anti-Nebraska Democrat.

I first came across E. D. Taylor in the pages of Springhouse magazine. Gary DeNeal, my fellow "Crenshaw Rascal" in the search for the real story of the Old Slave House came across Col. Taylor who was John Hart Crenshaw's brother-in-law. Taylor also held the mortgage on the Old Slave House for many years.

I didn't realize it at the time, but Taylor was one of my fourth-great uncles (my great-great-great-great uncle). His father, Giles Taylor, was Crenshaw's father-in-law and my fifth-great grandfather.

Taylor played an important role in the development of Chicago as the receiver of public monies at the federal land office. He later got into banking in Indiana, coal mining in La Salle County and real estate development in Chicago.

Although his role in the greenbacks is questioned, his financial acumen is not. Nor was his son-in-law's who served as comptroller of the City of Chicago.

On Nov. 8, 1855, the Alton Weekly Courier reprinted news from Chicago about Taylor's business skills.

Several sales of real estate have been effected within the week of importance. Col. E. D. Taylor sold $68,000 worth of property on cash and short time. Less than seven years since the same property cost the Col. but $8,000. A nice little transaction. But such is not an uncommon occurrence in Chicago.

Taylor, who was born Oct. 18, 1804, at Fairfax Courthouse, Va., died Dec 4, 1891, in Chicago.

Friday, January 14, 2011

This Day in Illinois History - Jan. 14

On this day in Illinois history, Jan. 14, 1919, the General Assembly ratified the 18th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibiting the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages.

Section 1. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

Section 2. The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

Congress passed the Volstead Act implementing the amendment on Oct. 28, 1919. President Woodrow Wilson vetoed the bill, but Congress overrode the veto and the law went into effect Jan. 17, 1920.

The same day Illinois became the 26th state to ratify the amendment, so did lawmakers in Arkansas (25), Indiana (27) and Missouri (28). Five more states ratified it the next day (Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire and Oregon), and another five did so on the 16th putting it over the hump needed for the super-majority. (North Carolina, Utah, Nebraska, Missouri and Alabama). In all 46 states ratified the amendment. Only Connecticut and Rhode Island did not.

For a basic overview of Prohibition in the Prairie State, check out Bootlegging in Illinois from the April 2001 edition of Country Living.

To say it was a failure understates the problem. Congress offered the 21st Amendment to repeal it which states ratified quickly in 1933.

Congress also rejected it as late as last week when lawmakers read the U.S. Constitution on the House floor. Rather than read the entire text, they read the document as amended, thus they skipped over the 18th Amendment, but did include the 21st.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

This Day in Illinois History - Jan. 13

'Uncle Bob' Wilson born in 1836

His parents are unknown and despite having fathered supposedly hundreds of children, he died without family at the age of 112.

On this day in Illinois, Jan. 13, in 1836, a slave child named Robert Wilson was born on a plantation near Richmond, Virginia. He would be known in his old age, and remembered long after his death as "Uncle Bob."

For at least the last 25 years of his life he repeated stories that he had been used as a stud slave on seven different plantations, the last of which was the house on top of the hill outside of Equality, Illinois.

Residents knew it then as John Crenshaw's Hickory Hill Plantation. Today it's known as the Old Slave House.

His role of a stud slave probably took place in the 1850s as he was back in Virginia when John Brown was hung on Dec. 2, 1859.

He entered the Civil War on the Confederate side with the 16th Virginia Infantry. An Associated Press article about him from his 111th birthday in 1947 described him as a "batman," which wasn't a Gotham crime-fighter but a term for an orderly or servant to an officer. A United Press wire story after his death the next year described his duties as having "to shine boots for a Confederate officer."

After the war he was a Baptist minister at times. He made it back to Gallatin Co., Illinois by the late 1920s or 1930s. He lived in Equality briefly following the 1937 flood that devastated Shawneetown and moved to Chicago sometime later in the decade.

He eventually made it to Chicago and was transferred to the Elgin State Hospital in 1942 suffering some illness. At the time he was not surprisingly, the oldest inmate in the veterans colony there.

He's smiling in almost all of the photographs I've seen of him. The stories from his time in Elgin show him quick of wit. Once when Gov. Dwight Green visited the institution Wilson hit the politician up for a donation to his tobacco fund. With a posse of reporters and photographers trailing his tour, Green couldn't refuse and gave him a 50-cent piece which he long treasured as his lucky coin. When he lost it, Green sent him another one for his 111th birthday.

Wilson also told the secret to his long life to the staff at Elgin, "I never drank, chewed, or stayed out late until I was 11 years old." Good advice for us all.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

This Day in Illinois History - Jan. 12

Back on January 12, 1899, a young woman named Hulda (Young) Mitchell gave birth to a baby boy that she and her husband Charles named Alvis M. Mitchell.

Mechanically-inclined he grew up in Saline County and developed an interest in the mechanical wonders of the day. After World War I in 1919 and 1920, he served as a mechanic with pioneer aviatrix Ruth Law who had broken the long-distance flying record in 1916 by flying non-stop from Chicago to New York State.

He remained a lifelong interest in aviation and helped found the Egyptian Flying Club here in Southern Illinois.

But it's not for aviation that Mitchell is best remembered. Cameras also interested him and he opened a professional photography studio in Harrisburg in the 1920s where he worked alongside his first wife.

One day in late September or October 1926 (and probably the latter), a member of the Charlie Birger gang came into the shop to pick him up. Charlie wanted some photos taken. The Gang War between Birger and the Shelton Brothers had already started and the body count was beginning to stack up.

Mitchell took at least five shots out at Shady Rest that afternoon, two with Charlie and 15 other members of the gang on the Hupmobile in front of the cabin, one with the gang on the porch and another with the gang just off to the side with their weapons drawn in a pose. The fifth shot included just the cabin, car and firearms, plus Charlie's dog which sat on the roof of the car.

Eighteen months later he also covered Birger's execution in Benton, taking at least six shots of the hanging. He had practice covering the hangings of Rado Millich, Joe Chesnas and Joe "Peck" Smith in Marion, Harrisburg and Shawneetown all within the year before.

During the Depression he became a locksmith and in 1942 he moved to Carbondale where he operated Mitchell Office Supply. After suffering from cancer for a year, he died on August 31, 1962.

Random Connections Between Preachers and Bootleggers

It's interesting the connections that I find while researching. During the wee hours of last Sunday morning I came across the obituary of Roy Shaw, a member of the Charlie Birger gang of bootleggers in the 1920s.

Shaw ran a roadhouse on the county line between Johnston City and West Frankfort on Route 37. The Sheltons shot it up a few hours after they debuted their armored car in October 1926. A few weeks later they burned it to the ground and planted dynamite in the ruins to blow up Birger when came to look. He didn't and they retrieved the dynamite to use in the aerial bombing of Shady Rest.

[To read more on the incident buy my new book, Secrets of the Herrin Gangs.]

Shaw is one of these guys on the periphery of my research, but his name keeps popping up ever more frequently. For example, the obituary.

I had found the obit before, but this time I recognized another name, Wendell Garrison, the pastor of Second Baptist Church in West Frankfort who officiated his funeral back at the end of November 1962. You see two weeks ago my church, Second Baptist of Marion, started with a new interim pastor in the pulpit after ours had retired following 30 years at the church. The new guy was Wendell Garrison too.

Of course I just had to ask. That evening I did and it was a good news/bad news situation for my research. Yes, it turns out it's the same pastor, but the bad news was he couldn't remember the man. It's been 48 years, and he had only been at the West Frankfort church for three months at that point. It's also quite possible and likely that Shaw wasn't even a frequent church attendee or even a member.

In talking with Garrison he told me he was from around Opdyke in rural Jefferson Co., Illinois. That was interesting because I had just came across a short blurb about how that village got its name. It ran on the same day in the Mt. Vernon Register-News as a wire story that Leslie Simpson, another member of the Birger Gang getting paroled.

The story from March 24, 1950, told how Opdyke got its name also dealt with a preacher, though this one was Methodist not Baptist and his name wasn't included. Back around 1870, give or take a few years, the L & N. Railroad laid tracks through Jefferson County.

... a contractor named Opdyke proposed to the original townsite promoters that if they would name the town after him, he would donate a handsome bell for the M. E. Church, then under construction. The bargain was agreed upon, the bell was delivered, and the town so named.

In 1950, the newspaper noted the bell still remained in use.

When I asked Garrison if he knew the story, that one he did, and even remembered the name of the church.

For next Sunday I'll just have to remember to ask him about another criminal from the 20s, a youth named David Garrison from Mount Vernon who robbed a number of gas stations and was almost recruited by Charlie Birger to kill West City Mayor Joe Adams.

Garrison and his partner Alva Wilson were thieves, not killers and told Birger so. The next night they were arrested at Albion. Both ended up testifying against Birger at the Adams murder trial the following summer.