Friday, April 18, 2008

80th Anniversary of Birger Hanging Saturday

Tomorrow, April 19, is the 80th anniversary of hanging of Charlie Birger, Southern Illinois' most famed gangster.

He was the last man executed by hanging in Illinois and by all accounts most deservedly so. Officially he was sentenced to death for his role in the conspiracy to murder Joe Adams, mayor of West City, Illinois, but was responsible for a number of other deaths, including that of Lory Price, the first Illinois State Policeman to die in the line of duty.

I grew up hearing the family stories about Birger and his hideout, Shady Rest. My grandmother's family, the Angels, lived less than a half mile away from the site to the northwest.

There were stories of gangsters passing counterfeit money in my great-grandparents' store, of Birger offering my grandmother and another friend a ride into Crab Orchard, the offer of medical help for my grandmother's baby sister, and the plaster dog my grandmother and her future husband won at the grand opening of the barbecue stand Birger had established right along the hard road between Marion and Harrisburg.

It wasn't until junior high did I learn about Paul Angle's book, "Bloody Williamson" and Donald Bain's "War in Illinois" since republished as "Charlie and the Shawneetown Dame".

None of the books included my family's stories, but they proved to me there was something real to them.

There was a cheesy western song written after the hanging. Southern Illinois' "original, caustic acoustic band", The Woodbox Gang, has resurrected it and made it sound cool. Here's the video from their performance last fall at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

3 comments:

Occassionallythinking said...

I just stumbled upon your site as I have been reading about the Old Slave House. I'm very impressed by all of the work you have done!
My grandmother's parents owned a small 'resort' (as they called it) where people came to swim, picnic and casually pass the days away to escape from daily life. Several nights a week, Charlie Birger's 'gang' would come in, after hours, and lock the gate as they left in the early morning hours, leaving 'Round Pond' as clean as they found it. The family extended the same 'courtesy' to the rivals of Birger as to not alienate any of them. As the story goes... members had all come to an understanding, of sorts, that their time at the lake would be off limits and all would be safe. My grandmother was only about 4 or 5 but remembers how safe she felt as she rode with her father through the streets of Old Shawneetown to do the bank deposits, knowing that Charlie Birger was keeping an eye out for them.
Thanks, again, for keeping a small part of Southern Illinois History from being totally lost.
Sherrie Hill
St. Louis, MO

Jon Musgrave said...

Sherri,

Do you have any pictures or postcards of the resort at Round Pond during that time period? Was it this resort that had a dance hall with a tree growing through the middle?

If you read this please e-mail me at jmusgrave@onecliq.net

Jon Musgrave
IllinoisHistory.com

Anonymous said...

I was born and raised in Harrisburg,Il.I have a post card of birger gang on a car by Mitchell wondering what it is worth.my email is childressmissy@hotmail.com