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.

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