Friday, December 08, 2006

First Female U.N. Ambassador Dies

The Associated Press is reporting that former U.N. Ambassador Jeane Jordan Kirkpatrick has died. President Ronald Reagan appointed her as the first female American ambassador to the United Nations.

Though a native of Oklahoma, Kirkpatrick grew up in Southern Illinois in Fayette County and attended high school at Mount Vernon Township High School.

I had a chance to meet and speak with the former ambassador in 1985 or 86 when she returned to MVTHS as the keynote speaker for the Mount Vernon Conference, and I was a junior or senior. I later met her a second time at Georgetown University where she was on the faculty when I visited the school my senior year.

She was a true Reagan Democrat, who stayed the course when her party drifted away from confronting tyranny. Like an American version of Margaret Thatcher, she was impressive to watch in the news coverage of the early 80s and equally impressive in person later.

History will remember her well.

Jeane Jordan Kirkpatrick, rest in peace.

Update: Thanks to Power Line Blog for pointing out that Commentary has posted Kirkpatrick's piece, "Dictatorships and Double Standards" which helped lead Reagan to pick her as the face of America at the U.N.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Female Civil War Soldier's House to be Restored

Today's Quad-Cities Times outlines work ready to progress at restoring the home of Jennie Hodgers who served in the Civil War and lived most of her adult life under the name of Pvt. Albert D.J. Cashier.
The one-room house is small and unprepossessing. With its shuttered windows and the multiple padlocks that used to be inside its door, it's secretive, too _ much like the person who lived in it for some 40 years.

Now, to honor one of Illinois' most unusual Civil War veterans, plans are being made to move the 130-year-old Albert Cashier/Jennie Hodgers house back to its original site in the Livingston County village of Saunemin from a storage site in nearby Pontiac.

The house's secret was that Cashier and Hodgers were the same person.

Saunemin Mayor Mike Stoecklin told the reporter the house will be back in his city by the end of the year, but restoration will likely take longer.
He said a lecture by former Pontiac tourism director Betty Estes convinced him the house should be restored to its original site. Estes personally stepped in to save the house 10 years ago when Saunemin volunteer firefighters wanted to burn the house as a training exercise; she had it dismantled and trucked to Pontiac for safekeeping.

Way to go Betty, and thank you Mayor Mike for your work to preserve history and help figure out a way today's society can find value in it.

Blogger Angst Over Lincoln 200 Plans

Marathan Pundit, a/k/a John Ruberry, uses historian John J. Miller's comments in the latest National Review to highlight what both men see as problems in the planning for the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth in 2009.

As they pointed out, the first events are scheduled for little more than a year away in February 2008. They point to the makeup of the commission leadership as the key issue.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Sangamo Frontier Book Looks Good

Robert Mazrim's new book, The Sangamo Frontier: History & Archaeology in the Shadow of Illinois" looks interesting.

I've got a mini-review up for it at the Illinois Writers blog.

Although the publisher sent me two review copies I actually purchased the book last week in part because it might offer a hint of what archaeologists might find next year at the Old Slave House.

The book's title refers to Sangamo Town, which like New Salem, developed and died out within a generation in west-central Illinois in the area of the Sangamon River.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Ballroom Doors Gone at Hickory Hill

I talked with some of the project team at RATIO Architects this morning concerning the Old Slave House. One of the items discussed centered on the old ballroom that once occupied the front half of the second floor of the Old Slave House.

We had hoped that the old folding doors that once separated the front bedrooms and the hallway were still there just enclosed in the walls. Regrettably the team didn't find any doors last week.

However, they did find where the doors connected which might help them be able to reconstruct what they looked like. They didn't find any track in the floor for the doors and will check the top of the open on one of their future trips.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Crenshaw Rascal Ron Does It Again

Tuesday night before I talked with George Sisk about what had happened 10 years earlier on that date, I talked with my fellow Crenshaw Rascal Ron Nelson.

Ron was the one who started the research into the Old Slave House in September 1996 and found the first solid proof that the stories were real on November 4, 1996, up at the Illinois State Archives.

While we talked Tuesday about all that has happened in the last decade he told me about his new research project.

While I won't reveal what it is, it's definitely breaking new ground in what we know about a major social and political character from Illinois history who lived here in the 1820s and early 1830s.

As a preacher and a former resident of Hardin Co., Illinois, where he helped organize the county historical society, Ron's interests usually fall into one of two categories. It's either religious history, usually that of the early Baptists, or outlaws and counterfeiters, of which Hardin County had plenty in its early days.

I won't give any more details about his current project other than to say this new project surprisingly may fall into both categories.

Iles House & Museum of Springfield History

I just ran across Will Howarth's blog for the Iles House, the oldest residence in Springfield, Illinois.

It's been moved and renovated to house the new Museum of Springfield History — you know, all of the other history of our state capital that doesn't deal directly with Abraham Lincoln.

It's location at 7th and Cook places it on the edge of downtown and within walking distance of the various Lincoln sites.

Howarth's blog has some great pictures of the work being done as well as some older photographs from when the moved the house to its current location.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Hidden Floor and a Forgotten Window

The architects and researchers hired by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency have made some interesting finds in their two working trips down to the Old Slave House.

According to George Sisk the biggest surprises so far have been a second floor in the carriage way and a blocked-up window in the crawl space under the northeast bedroom.

The carriageway is the 19th Century "garage" on the rear side of the house that allowed horse-drawn vehicles halfway into the structure. From the picture you can tell it was as wide as the row of windows that are visible above the modern sliding-glass door.

In Crenshaw's day we have assumed that the "floor" of the carriageway was at ground level and just dirt.

George has long told of a story passed down in his family about his grandfather building the current floor in the family room that is now the former carriage way. His grandmother didn't like having to walk down down a few steps when entering the room and then walk back up in order to go to the room on the other side so his grandfather built the floor up to the same level as the rest of the house.

Apparently though, it was the second floor built across the carriageway. The researchers have discovered an earlier one about a foot or so lower than the rest of the floors on the first level.

While standing in the cellar beneath the northwest room of the house you can look through an opening in the inner foundation wall into the carriageway and can see the bottom of this floor above.

I had assumed it was the bottom of the floor I had walked across in George's family room. Apparently it is not, which from my memory would make sense because I had previously wondered about the lumber holding up the floor as it looked older and larger than typically used in early 20th Century carpentry.

Now the question is just how old is this floating mystery floor?

I don't think it's original. George's grandfather told of a story passed down in the area about how Crenshaw got a kick out of riding one of his horses into the carriageway because the horse liked to look at itself in the mirrors that hung on the walls.

Secondly, in 1942, a daughter of one of John Crenshaw's nieces who lived in the house in the 1840s, recalled the stories of her mother and aunt concerning the carriageway:

The second floor was a grand Ballroom. Mother and Aunt used to tell us about watching the beautifully dressed guests drive into the hall. They never got out of the carriage outside of the house and many do the same in California now.

[Source: Mrs. W. F. Brann. April 22, 1942. Letter to Mrs. A. J. Sisk. George Sisk Collection. Junction, Ill. (since transferred to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Ill.)]

The ballroom in question consisted of the front half of the second floor as the interior walls between the front corner rooms and the front hall contained folding doors much like modern conference rooms.

Though not visible to the thousands of tourists who toured the house when it was open, the indentions of where the doors once stood can still be seen from inside the corner rooms. I don't know if the architects have yet tore into those walls to see if the doors might still be there.

George had actually ran into the second floor when he installed gas heat into living quarters but had forgot it was there. The other intriguing find so far was a surprise even for him.

In the picture above there is a small window at ground level on the far right side of the foundation. This allows light into the cellar under the northwest room.

A second window has been discovered now in the foundation crawl space of the northeast room which would presumably be about the same distance from the carriageway entrance as the window above is, except on far left side of the picture.

This window has been bricked up and covered with the cement stucco visible around the outer foundation wall.

Today, there is a cellar across the front half of the house that is accessable from the outside, and the smaller cellar under the northwest room accessible from the room above inside. As far as we know there has never been a cellar underneath the northeast room.

Assuming that the foundation walls under the northeast side of the house go as deep as the walls on the other sides and now that we know there was a window there, the question is now whether a cellar existed there or not?

If so, why did someone fill it in?

One intriguing possibility comes from a story passed down by a woman who moved into the house in 1851. In 1936, a local county historian interviewed her on behalf of a Springfield historian working with one of Crenshaw's descendants digging into the history of the house.

The elderly woman, whom we believe to be Mary (Leishtenberger) Ulmsnider, told the local historian the following:
One room had blood stain on the wall and the floor had been taken up and earth filled where the floor had been on account of the blood stains

[Myra Eddy Wiederhold. April 2, 1936. Letter to Frank E. Stevens. Charles C. Patton Collection. Springfield, Ill.]

Myra Wiederhold was the Lucille Lawler of Gallatin County in the mid-20th Century. She was the local county historian researchers used. She was the granddaughter of Henry Eddy who also was Crenshaw's attorney, and her sister married a grandson of Gen. Michael K. Lawler who was also a great-grandson of Crenshaw as well.

In her letter she most likely paraphrased what the old woman told her. If she paraphrased it in the order she heard it and if the speaker kept a logical order herself while telling the stories, then the reference to the blood stains likely is pointing to a room on the third floor since the sentences both before and after refer to items on that floor.

However, I've found it rare for people I'm interviewing to necessary keep a logical order when recalling events that happened decades earlier. Mostly it's just flashes and tidbits. If the blood stain reference was just a random thought, or if Myra simply misunderstood her source, then it could refer to a forgotten cellar under the northeast side of the house.

Of course, that leads to the next question of how was the cellar accessed? Was there another staircase from that room going down to it? If so, was there another staircase along the back wall of the northeast room going to the second floor like there is going to the northwest room?

Questions, questions, questions. The more researchers dig into the house, the more we find.

UPDATE! 12:47 pm November 1, 2006

The more I think about the floating floor in the carriageway the more I remember a conversation I've had with a Dempsey descendant sometime over the last few years.

The Dempseys never owned the house, but operated the coal mine at the bottom of Hickory Hill. According to their traditions the family lived in the Old Slave House at two different times, the first time in the early 1890s and again after the turn of the 20th Century.

I think someone once told me that it was their grandfather who had built the floor in the carriageway, but at the time I discarded the info because it didn't fit with what I already thought I knew (a problem that a lot of people have had with the Old Slave House).

As they operated the coal mine below the house that would explain the oversized timbers used to support the floor - they might be the same timbers used in the mine itself.

Just a thought and maybe a hypothesis.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Old Slave House Closed 10 Years Ago

Tuesday is the 10th Anniversary of the closing of the Old Slave House. Former owner George Sisk closed the site on Thursday, Oct. 31, 1996, after 70 years of operation.

This Saturday also marks the 10th Anniversary of Ron Nelson's discovery in the Illinois State Archives of the first solid proof that the stories were real.

I joined the research team of Ron and Gary DeNeal the following day.

Since then we've dug into attics and courthouse vaults in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas, pulling out clues to what really happened in Southern Illinois atop Hickory Hill.

In December 1996, Vincent DeForest of the National Park Service toured the house and told us then, if we could prove the stories, the Old Slave House would make one of the best sites in the entire country to interpret slavery.

Two years ago, the National Park Service looked at part of the research and agreed, adding the Old Slave House to its National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program in recognition of its kidnapping history as a station on the Reverse Underground Railroad.

Just after that I was able to publish our entire researching findings in a new book about the site, entitled, "Slaves, Salt, Sex & Mr. Crenshaw".

The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency purchased the house in December 2000. They acquired most of the antiques in 2003 and a few more items last year.

Yet the house remains closed.

People ask me all the time if the state plans to reopen the house.

Yes, that's what they intend to do, but no, they don't actually have any plans to do so. Good intentions are free. Plans requiring funding or authorization from above.

Since the Old Slave House closed 10 years ago, two of the three gas stations in Equality Township have closed as well. Tourism efforts by local leaders continue to be thwarted as the house and a number of other state-owned sites remained mothballed.

In the past four years IHPA has lost more than 40 percent of its staff in the Historic Sites Division. Even before they lost the staff they only had one employee in southeastern Illinois despite having five sites (Shawneetown Bank, Old Slave House, Rose Hotel, Buel House and Kinkaid Mounds).

The agency is now working on a historic structures report. Though announced this spring, the architects only started last month.

Progress is being made, but very slowly.

To be added to my notification list for updates on the site send me an e-mail with your contact information.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Preserving the Past Brick By Brick

Kudos to the Harrisburg City Council for considering a plan to save the city's remaining brick streets. Here's what The Daily Register said about it yesterday.
The proposed ordinance requires a permit before any work is done on a city brick street and the firm working on the street must carry a $1 million bond.

The street and alley commissioner is given the authority to issue rules for any excavation on a brick street and a “brick excavation license” is required.

The ordinance says the city will provide classes for contractors in the proper techniques for excavation of brick streets.

A "Brick Street Committee" of three to seven citizens would be appointed to handle affairs involving the future of the city’s brick streets.

The ordinance was developed by the city-appointed brick street study committee and the ordinance proposal was given council earlier this month by Dr. Ray Cummiskey, a member of the committee.
Don't know yet if it passed last night, but I'll along what I learn.

4th Annual Illinois Writers Fair

The Southern Illinois Artisans Shop up at Rend Lake is hosting the 4th Annual Illinois Writers Fair and booksigning Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

I'll be there with all my books. Come on up and enjoy the art.

Bring your checkbook or credit cards, there will be a lot of good books you'll want to buy.

Take Exit 77 on Interstate 57 and following the signs.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Saline Creek Village Inhabited By Ghosts?

The paranormal researchers who spent two nights at the Saline Creek Pioneer Village and Museum may have hit the jackpot in their search for evidence.

Saline County Historical Society President Eric Gregg spent two sleepless nights with the group from Tennessee this past weekend. I talked with him Sunday and he was stoked.

Brian DeNeal has the official story in today's Daily Register, so here it is in part:
Members of Southern Paranormal Experiences and Research have hours of audio and videotape to sort out, but they had enough strange pictures early Sunday morning they are eager to pour through the other data.

"One resembles a girl kneeling in the graveyard. We were all pretty impressed with that," SPEAR member Sandy Tullock said.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Beard Tagged to Run Lincoln Museum

Gov. Rod Blagojevich named Rick Beard as the new executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum complex in Springfield.

Beard has helped run some of the country's biggest museums and is leading the effort to commemorate the upcoming sesquicentennial of the Civil War in 2011 to 2016.

Read more about the appointment in the state news release.

French and Indian War Assemblage Saturday

From the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency:
PRAIRIE DU ROCHER, IL – One of the most historically correct re-enactments of an often little-known conflict will be held during the annual French and Indian War Assemblage scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, October 7 and 8 at Fort de Chartres State Historic Site near Prairie du Rocher, Illinois.

The colors will be raised at 9 each morning, and throughout the day visitors may watch teams of re-enactors portraying 1700s French and British units that fought in the French and Indian War.

Saturday, October 7 will feature live fire competitions. There will be a first place prize for the highest scoring French competitors, first place for the highest scoring British unit, and a traveling trophy for the overall first place unit.
The highlight of the weekend will be the Drill, Bayonet, Musket, Guard Duty and Officer’s competitions on Saturday. The winning unit will have “bragging rights” as being the best French and Indian War reenactment group.

On Sunday, October 8 at approximately 1 p.m. there will be a tactical event (mock battle) in front of the Fort. This will be a good chance for the visiting public to see how 18th century military tactics were used.

The closing colors ceremony for the event will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday.

The French and Indian War Assemblage is sponsored by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (, which administers Fort de Chartres. The Fort is a reconstruction of the mid-1700s fort built by the French at that location. It is open Wednesday through Sunday for free public tours, and is located four miles west of Prairie du Rocher, Illinois on State Route 155.

These are pretty impressive events.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Register Covers Vendetta Book

Brian DeNeal gave me a good write-up last week in The Daily Register for my new book, The Bloody Vendetta of Southern Illinois, which can be ordered online here.

The story ended up with a list of Saline County signings. The first one this Friday I won't actually make. Blame the librarian at the Harrisburg Public Library. She's sponsoring me for a signing Friday at the Illinois Library Association conference in Chicago.

Josie at The Book Emporium will have signed copies of my book available though and I urge everyone to still go. Ernie Heltsley, author of the non-fiction "A Stroll through Egypt and Paradise" will be signing as well as Lois Barrett with her novel, "When the Earthquake Spoke". There may be some others there as well.

I will also be doing a book signing at the Harrisburg Public Library at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 16, and a signing and book discussion at 6 p.m. three days later on Thursday, Oct. 19 at the Eldorado Memorial Library.

Archeologist Lands Laclede's Home Site

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a great story today about the recent discovery of the location of Pierre Laclede's house near Fort du Chartres in Randolph Co., Illinois.

Laclede is probably the best-remembered French colonist in the Mississippi Valley as he later founded St. Louis. Laclede's Landing along the riverfront upstream from the Gateway Arch is named for him.

In today's story Georgina Guston interviewed Robert Mazrim, an archegologist at the University of Illinois, about his findings.

"The huge community that means so much to all of us, the big 200-year-old iceberg that is St. Louis, has a tip," Mazrim said Monday, "and it's sticking out of the ground in Southern Illinois."

Read the rest of the story headlined, "Pottery called clue to Pierre Laclede's first home".

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Book Signing Friday

Barnes & Noble Booksellers of Carbondale is hosting a book signing for The Bloody Vendetta of Southern Illinois tomorrow from 5 to 8 p.m.

I'll be signing copies of my latest book as well as Slaves, Salt, Sex & Mr. Crenshaw.

Come on out and say hello.

Book signings and tornado sirens don't go together to well.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Ancient Marks Generate Historical Interest

Two stories out today highlight how historians look for interesting marks in their research.

One story out of Quincy, Illinois, looks at an artifact that may date back to the earliest French exploration of Illinois.
August 13, 2006 (QUINCY, Ill.) - What's certain is that something's written in the stone. What's less certain is whether the markings have any historical significance.

Now, University of Illinois scientists have agreed to examine the limestone slab some believe proves French explorer Robert Cavelier de LaSalle was the first white man to see the upper Mississippi River in 1671 — two years before Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet made their famous trek.

The other story comes from today's Southern Illinoisan concerning research this summer into the history of the Thebes Courthouse in Alexander County.

A team investigating the Thebes Courthouse had heard of etchings in the beams. But after hours of tiptoeing across the rafters, they decided to give up on finding them.

"It's right there," Alan Hulstedt called out just as they had turned to leave. The senior in architectural studies pointed to the date “1845” carved by a builder into the Southern Greek Revival structure dedicated in 1848.

"One angle, the way the light came in, and it was there," Hulstedt recalled.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Congratulations Hardin County

Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn was at the historic Rose Hotel Thursday announcing the acceptance of Hardin County for the Illinois Main Street program.

Here's the release:
Elizabethtown – Lt. Governor Pat Quinn joined with local and state officials to salute Hardin County, which was officially inducted into the Illinois Main Street Program. Hardin County represents the first countywide community to achieve Illinois Main Street status.

Quinn unveiled the Illinois Main Street community sign. Signs soon will be placed at entrances to Elizabethtown, Rosiclare and Cave-In-Rock.

“From Elizabethtown’s historic Rose Hotel to Rosiclare’s American Fluorite Museum to Cave-In-Rock’s State Park – Hardin County is a place for tourists to truly experience the beauty and hospitality of Southern Illinois,” Quinn said.

Nestled in the scenic Shawnee Hills of Southeastern Illinois, Hardin County offers unparalleled natural beauty. Scenic roads guide residents and visitors along the Ohio River and through the historic river towns that make up the heart of Hardin County.

The quiet beauty of the area is matched by the resiliency of its residents who have fueled significant changes and improvements to the county, with many more changes on the horizon.

Visitors now can take a scenic ride on the Ohio River via the new Shawnee Queen River Taxi, or attend the Hardin County Heritage Festival. And residents can look forward to increased community education classes and small business seminars thanks to a partnership with Hardin County and the Workforce and Small Business Development Center at Southeastern Illinois.

“Hardin County is just another example of how hard work, volunteerism and dedication can keep a strong community going,” Quinn said.

Quinn was joined at the designation ceremony by Elizabethtown Mayor Eddie Rose, Rosiclare Mayor Harold Cowsert, Cave-In-Rock Mayor Perry Foster, and Hardin County Chairman Wendell Brownfield.

The Lt. Governor’s Office administers the Illinois Main Street program that is based on a national model that offers communities help with issues such as downtown improvements, historic preservation and economic development. Illinois is one of 40 states that belong to the National Main Street Program, administered through the National Trust for Historic Preservation. There are now 62 communities in the Illinois Main Street program.

Illinois Main Street represents one of the state's most effective public-private partnerships for economic development and community renewal. Since its inception, designated communities have reported net gains of more than 1,600 new downtown businesses and created more than 6,000 new full and part-time jobs. The Main Street program has spurred the reinvestment of more than $575 million in Main Street downtowns.

For more information about the Illinois Main Street program, please visit:

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Rubbish Find Rewrites Paper History

The Times of London has an interesting story about paper, or at least how some ancient trash is helping to rewrite the history of the article itself.
CHINA’S claim to have invented paper was strengthened yesterday when archaeologists announced a discovery that suggests it was in use at least 100 years earlier than thought.

A scrap of paper made from linen fibre was found by archaeologists picking through an ancient rubbish tip at the Yumen Pass, the gate between China and Central Asia.

Measuring only 1.6sq in, it is believed to have been made in 8BC, or 113 years earlier than the first known paper. Fu Licheng, the curator of the Dunhuang Museum, said: “This is very important evidence to show that paper was invented in China.”

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Bloody Vendetta is History

The Bloody Vendetta of Southern Illinois is finally done. I am so happy.

I started this book last year and had planned to take it to the printers last November, but a drunk driver intervened and reset by calendar.

Now the book is larger and goes to the printer Monday. It should be back on shelves by the last week of August.

The book is 240 pages, 6" x 9", trade paperback.

I've held off on taking orders to make sure I was finally ready. Well I am now.

For readers of I'm offering a pre-order price of $14.95, which is normally the regular price, but without the $3 shipping cost and I'll cover the sales tax if you are an Illinois resident.

Plus, every book ordered from will be autographed and dated.

But this offer is good only until I get the books back from the printers in about three weeks.

To make a secure order online all you have to do is go here and click the "BUY NOW" button.

Or, you can pay by check or money order. Just make it out to and mail to this address:
    PO Box 1142
    Marion IL 62959

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

New Writers Blog Begins

I've just added a new blog to the site focusing on Illinois writers and authors. It's entitled, the new "Illinois Writers Blog".

I plan on using this to plug new books and works by Illinois-based writers as well as those who write about Illinois.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Politics, History & Troubles

While I've been gone there have been some trouble developments with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

Former IHPA Director Maynard Crossland has sued the state for his dismissal and is blowing the whistle on political machinations in the supposed-to-be independent agency.

Here are some of the details Crossman brought forward in his lawsuit.

Don't know if any of these are true, but the administration is racking up a number of losses in the courts when it comes to former employees.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Mission Trip Blog Up & Running

In less than 10 hours I will be leaving for a mission trip with my church in Marion and another one in Andalusia, Alabama. We're heading back to Chernivtsi, Ukraine, where we last went in July 2004.

I've signed up and learned how to update the blog by e-mail as well as add an audio blog by phone.

Check out the new Ukraine Mission Trip 2006 blog for more.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Liberator and the Fourth

The folks over at Power Line blog have two great pieces dealing with Abraham Lincoln and Stephan Douglas.

The Eternal Meaning of Independence Day recalls two speeches made by Douglas on July 9, 1858, and Lincoln, the next day, during their famed race for the U.S. Senate.

Douglas downplayed the Declaration of Independence in his support for popular sovereignty and the Dred Scott decision. Lincoln, as he did repeatedly through the campaign, stressed the importance of those important words about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
If [immigrants to America since 1776] look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration [loud and long continued applause], and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world. [Applause.]

The second post, Thinking about the Great Liberator, deals with Lincoln's effort to preserve the Constitution even though he took extreme measures to do so.
The constitutional powers of the commander-in-chief in time of war are critical to the system established by the framers. Lincoln's analysis and exercise of the commander-in-chief's war powers during the Civil War both serve to illuminate those powers. Given the Supreme Court's decision in the Hamdan case this past week, it may be an opportune moment to revisit some history.

Lincoln's primary aim as commander-in-chief was of course the preservation of the Union — the restoration of democracy and the rule of law among the seceding states. He meant to demonstrate that "among free men, there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and that those who take such appeal are sure to lose their case, and pay the cost."

Both articles offer reminders of history's lessons too often ignored.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

New Dig Eyes Site of 1730 Battle

The Pantagraph of Bloomington has an interesting article this week on Parkland College Professor Len Steele's search to find the exact location of a major battle between the French and Illini Indians on one side and the Mesquakie on the other.

The French account of the 1730 siege of a Mesquakie fort, the remains of which are buried beneath rows of corn, are the “the beginning of history in McLean County,” the Parkland College professor said. What remains below the ground are buried trenches and dug-in houses, musket balls, arrow points and various tools and goods, such as blades from hinged French knives.

It was the last stand for the Mesquakie, who were outnumbered in the fortified grove near the Sangamon River, Steele said. There were up to 900 people in the acre-size fort, including women and children, and 1,400 French and Illini troops around them during a 23-day battle, he said.

The professor, his wife, 10 students and a woman whose family has owned the farm since the 1800s have been at the dig site near Saybrook several hours four times a week for the last three weeks, and the class is scheduled to end today. But Steele said he may extend the dig.

People had lived in the area about 12,000 years, but the military accounts are the first written histories for the area, he said.

Not familiar with Saybrook's location, well here's a map.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Benton eyes TIF for Wood Building

Kudos for the Benton City Council after deciding to pursue a tax increment financing (TIF) district for the redevelopers of the historic Wood Building on the square of the Franklin County seat.

The developer's plans for the building, "include a banking facility, retail space and studio, and 2- and 3-bedroom units on the top floors."

Now if the city would consider expanding the proposed TIF for the rest of the downtown, help the county build a new courthouse, and merge with West City, the community would be set.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Historians stake claim for Fort Crevecouer

Fascinating article in the State Journal-Register today by Michael Smothers of Copley News Service. A group of outside historians is challenging the long-thought-settled location of the first French forts built in the Illinois Country in the late 17th Century.

Following the script I've seen over and over Smothers managed to find a state-employed historian who disagreed and is backing the traditional site of near Peoria.
Marty Fischer of Macomb, whose research inspired the reappraisal, believes Fort Crevecoeur, long believed to have been built in 1680 on the Illinois River in the Peoria area, actually was constructed at Beardstown.

A research team eventually is expected to travel to farm country just south of Beardstown in search of evidence - shifted dirt, rotted wood pylons, maybe iron nails three centuries old - to, perhaps, resolve that question.

So far no one has found solid proof that the Peoria or the Beardstown locations are the location of the first French fortified settlements, but Fischer's research is based on some intriguing clues.
The Fischer theory is steeped in possibly ground-breaking discoveries, thanks to satellite photography, that offer fresh clues to historians.
  • Who built a 600-foot-long earthen wall, once at least 15 feet high and at least several hundred years old, on a high rocky bluff just down and across the river from Beardstown?

  • What is a perfect rectangle of ditches, 450 feet in circumference, doing in a farm field nine miles south of Beardstown on the highest plateau in the area?

  • Why was a very old ditch apparently carved between the beds of two streams to encircle a flat, sandy knoll that once was lapped by a wide bay jutting from the river just south of town?

  • What happens when you trace the 40th degree of latitude on two dozen maps produced by early French explorers to its intersection with the Illinois?

On those old maps, you find Fort Crevecoeur, which La Salle, Henri de Tonti and about 25 men built in January 1680 before abandoning their attempt that year to reach the mouth of the Mississippi River from Canada.

On modern maps, you find Beardstown.

Just when you think that all of historical mysteries are solved someone comes around with a new answer.

Way to go Marty Fischer. Keep researching and keep digging. The answers are there somewhere.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Grant Announced for Old Slave House

The newest round of Illinois Transportation Enhancement Grants have been announced including $400,000 in federal highway funding for the Old Slave House.

The funds are to be used for engineering work and a historic structures report. Added to the $150,000 of state funding already announced for a historic structures report, this will allow the agency to likely conduct archeaological surveys and possibly engineering work on visitor services such as restrooms.

IHPA officials asked me for help on this grant last fall both in gathering letters of support as well as helping find the links to the site and transportation issue. While the main link is the site's recognized status as one of the last, if not the last, station on the Reverse Underground Railroad still standing.

Other links included John Crenshaw's role as a road supervisor for the 19th Century version of Route 13 between Shawneetown and Eldorado, as well as his role as a contractor in the first effort to build a railroad between those two towns in the late 1830s.

Overall, almost $2.9 million in grants are headed to Southern Illinois.

Other projects include the following:

  • Cairo - Confluence Tourist Welcome Center at Fort Defiance (I think this would be in the old Toll House) - $673,000.

  • Chester - Tourist Welcome Center in Segar Park near the Mississippi River bridge. This is something needed with the opening of the World Shooting Sports Center at Sparta later this year - 385,000.

  • Saline County - Engineering work for extension of the Tunnel Hill State Bike Trail from Harrisburg to Eldorado to eventually connect the city-owned bike trails in Harrisburg and Eldorado - $110,000.

  • Metrpolis - Brookport - Engineering work for the proposed George Rogers Clark Discovery Trail between Metropolis and Brookport to follow an old railroad grade between the two towns that also crosses through Fort Massac State Park - $354,000.

  • Mount Vernon - Downtown streetscape improvements - $500,000.

  • Rosiclare - Downtown streetscape improvements - $50,000.

  • West Frankfort - Downtown streetscape improvements - $427,000.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Drought Leads to Archealogists to Buffalo

The Chicago Tribune ran a interesting story Saturday on a buffalo prehistoric archealogical find on the Illinois River. It now appears that buffalo roamed the prairies long before historians thought they had moved east from the plains.

But even better, one of the buffalo was found with a broken rib along with a Woodland Indian spearpoint, suggesting a story of how prehistoric Indians from around 1,000 to 200 B.C. used a narrow cossing point on the Illinois River as a funnel to hunt bison.

Friday, June 02, 2006

New Union County Museum Opens Saturday

The former Cobden Museum has a new name and location with an opening set for Saturday.
The Union County Museum, located in downtown Cobden at 117 Appleknocker St., next to the post office, will have a grand opening at 1 p.m. with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house for people to view the very first display of historical items from all over the county.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Fort de Chartres Ready to Host Rendezvous

PRAIRIE DU ROCHER -- The French are returning to southwestern Illinois.

The Midwest’s largest gathering of 1700s era soldiers, settlers, traders and campers, the 36th Annual Rendezvous at Fort de Chartres, will be held Saturday and Sunday, June 3 and 4, at Fort de Chartres State Historic Site near Prairie du Rocher.

Rendezvous features 1700s military units, traditional craft demonstrations, period music and dancing, an 18th century fashion show, black powder shooting events, cannon firings and more from the time when France controlled what is now the State of Illinois. All activities are free and open to the public, and many feature public participation. The event is cosponsored by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and Les Coureur de Bois de Fort de Chartres.

Each day’s activities begin with the Opening Ceremony and Posting of Colours at 10 a.m. The Retreat Ceremony ends each day’s activities at 4:30 p.m. Reverend Albert Kreher, St. Joseph’s Church, Prairie du Rocher, will lead Mass at Fort de Chartres Chapel at 8 a.m. Sunday, June 4.

If you are looking for something to do this weekend take a drive over to Randolph County. It's well worth the trip.

For more details and the daily schedule see the IHPA news release.

Opium, Bleeding & Other Hardin Co. Cures

The Daily Register had an interesting article yesterday that goes along with the Anna Bixby/Bigsby references in the entry below.

Brian DeNeal's article focuses on four early 19th Century medical books found two decades ago during the remodeling of an Elizabethtown commercial building. They are believed to have belonged to William Warford, an early Hardin County physician.

Local Authors Needed for Event

The Anna Bixby Women's Center is hosting a two-day Seven Windows/One View event at the Saline County Fairgrounds on Friday, Aug. 18, and Saturday, Aug. 19. As part of the festivities they want to host a local author book fair on Saturday.

Each author will conduct their own sales. The women's center is asking for 10 percent of the sales in lieu of any upfront registration costs. The whole event is an outreach for the center which serves as emergency housing for domestic abuse victims in a seven county area in Southeastern Illinois. They also sponsor and conduct numerous other anti-domestic violence awareness and prevention programs.

Authors interested in participating should contact Diane Taborn at the center at 618-252-8380 and provide a 50 to 60 word description of their works and themselves as soon as possible because they are starting work on a brochure and advertising. Diane can also be reached by e-mail at abixby (at)

As a historical note the center is named for Anna Bigsby, the patron saint for battered women in southeastern Illinois. A mid-19th Century midwife who lived in Hardin County Anna was chased off of a bluff by her second husband. That husband Eson Bigsby believed Anna had buried the fortune of her first husband out in the woods. Anna apparantly survived the fall, which by my research likely took place around the time of the Civil War.

"Dr. Anna" is also remembered for "discovering" the plant that caused milk sickness in cows and humans who drank the milk from sick cows. She was supposedly shown the plant by a woman folklore only recalls as "Aunt Shawnee". For more historical information check out .

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Old Slave House Status Report

Just returned this afternoon from a trip to the Old Slave House where IHPA officials, including Historic Sites Division Manager Paula Cross, had arranged a tour for a Federal Highway Administration official whose name I admit I didn't catch.

Gallatin County tourism officials were also present. Last year they were successful in securing the designation of an official spur off of the Ohio River National Scenic Byway along Route 13 to come down Route 1 to the house.

That's the first transportation tie-in. The second is a major grant application IHPA submitted last year for a transportation enhancement grant for the Old Slave House, or the Crenshaw House as they continue to call it.

The highway official was about 120 pages into my book and asked good questions during the tour.

Cross also noted that principals from Ratio Architects had met with officials from the Illinois Capital Development Board to negotiate their contract for the historic structure report.

Due to the limited funding - $150,000 - they will apparently be doing just the report, no archeaological work and most likely no repair work.

As to book updates, I'm am for all practical purposes out of the paperback edition of "Slaves, Salt, Sex & Mr. Crenshaw". All I have left are about 15 returns sent back to me from the distributor. I am only selling these to individuals or bookstores when they have seen the books first as these are not pristine copies, and a few are damaged.

The paperback was the 2004 edition. I still have plenty of copies of the 2005 expanded and revised hardcover edition.

I won't print a new paperback edition until I've almost sold out of the hardcover one. At that point it will likely be an abridged edition without some of the back matter from the hardcover. It will though include any correction or new research finding that's been found since the hardcovers came out.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

New People Count Set for Hub of the Universe

The Marion City Council authorized funds Monday to pay the U.S. Census Bureau for a special census to be conducted later this year.

Marion was the 139th largest incorporated place in Illinois in the 2000 Census, and the third largest in the Southern Illinois region outside the MetroEast. Only Mount Vernon and Carbondale were larger.

The Census Bureau currently estimates that Marion has grown by 818 residents since the 2000 Census for a new total of 16,853. The city council thinks the city has grown even faster and I agree.

The bottom line is that if the city has grown at least 500 residents then the cost of the special census will be covered by the increased per capita funding the city receives from the state. Anything over that is gravy.

What's interesting are the population figures for Williamson County. Enumerators counted 61,296 residents in 2000, which meant that the county had finally recovered from the four-decade downward spiral that began in the 1920s following the Herrin Massacre and the general switch from underground coal mining to surface mining that eliminated thousands of jobs.

The 2000 population figure for the county was only 204 residents more than in 1920. The downward trend ended following 1960 when the population was 46,117, or just 1,019 more than we had in 1910.

Despite the booming economy now, the fastest population growth actually took place in the first two decades of the 20th Century when the county went from 27,796 residents to 61,092 in just 20 years.

Herrin went from a post office in a prairie to the largest community in the county during those same two decades. (People have wondered if it will survive the upcoming closing of the Maytag plant. Trust me, it will. The community has survived far worse economic and social upheavels).

Interestingly, the Census Bureau estimates that in 2002 Marion surpassed Mount Vernon as the region's second largest community. Between 1990 and 2000 Mount Vernon lost 719 residents. By 2004 the Census Bureau estimated they only grew by 68 for a total of 16,337.

The 2000 Census also showed that Williamson County had surpassed Jackson County as the largest county in the region outside the MetroEast with 1,684 more residents. Census estimates through 2004 show the gap widening to 4,823 as Williamson County's population is now projected to be 63,094.

Population isn't the only way to measure the region, there's also retail sales.

Figures from the Illinois Department of Revenue show Marion edged past Carbondale for the title of the region's top retail trade center in FY2004 (the latest year available online) with $427.1 million in retail sales versus Carbondale's $426.9 million. The difference is even greater comparing the counties. Jackson County businesses reported $578.2 million in taxable sales. In Williamson County the figure was $679.0 million.

Besides the increased government funding the new census will provide hard data to replace the estimates now in place. The new data, if it shows the growth that's apparent, should help in the effort to attract new outside investment in the region in terms of new industry and other businesses.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Old Slave House Backer Dies

Assistant House Majority Leader Lou Jones, D-Chicago, a strong backer of the Old Slave House died yesterday Chicago media are reporting.

Jones visited the house towards the end of the spring legislative season back in 1997 during a trip organized by the then local state Rep. David Phelps, D-Eldorado.

The site fascinated her and the other members of the Black Legislative Caucus who were able to attend. That fascination led to funding and she's been the House leader the state representatives in the 118th District had gone to in their efforts to secure additional funding for the site.

She was an interesting lady who has suffered long with poor health. I wish her family, friends and staff well.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

How Many Cabins To Make A Village?

Tom Kane has a good article in today's Marion Daily Republican about the cabins of Olde Squat Inn northeast of town.

PITTSBURG - Some people collect stamps or coins. Jim Grisley of Pittsburg collects log cabins.

Most of the cabins date from before the Civil War. He has 14 buildings on his Pittsburg property and seven of them are for rent as part of a bed and breakfast business he calls Olde Squat Inn. Not one of the 14 buildings is newer than 1874.

I've never been out to see the place though I know I should.

The most interesting aspect of the story comes towards the end of the story. Besides the 14 cabins standing, he has 17 in pieces in storage ready to reassemble. Overall, his goal is 100.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Lincoln Museum Celebrates Anniversary

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield celebrated its first birthday today. Some 600,000 visitors have toured the exhibits since opening. For comparison the Bill Clinton Presidential Library only attracted 500,000 visitors its first year.

I was up in Springfield last week. Although I was supposed to be researching I decided I really didn't want to and walked on over to the museum. It was my first time touring.

The "Ghosts in the Library" multi-media event is fabulous. Even though I thought I recognized the technology before it started, I actually became more confused as the presentation ended. If you haven't noticed, I was paying more attention to how everything worked rather than the content.

Still, the content in that theatre should serve as an excellent opener to students to what historic letters and documents can reveal.

Compared with the "Ghosts" the "Eyes of Lincoln" presentation isn't as technologically impressive. I would strongly encourage anyone to see that one first.

Although the history is presented in such a way to be entertaining and engaging, I understand the flak the library's received for its disdain for facts if they don't fit the decor (in the case of the rug in the Emancipation Proclamation room or the fake generic regimental flag in the "Ghosts" presentation). For that, the flak is deserving.

However the Disney-fication of history complaint is a bit too harsh. None of the displays are real. It's a brand-new building, so fake and entertaining are OK if it works to convey the message.

The real problem is the poor condition of the historic sites across Illinois controlled by the state. Here's where history really took place.

For these sites, lack of staff has kept more than half the sites shuttered and mothballed for years, and those sites lucky enough to be open have limped along with hours only for five days a week. A recent announcement for part-time seasonal hires at some of the sites will help, but not if they are filled with political hacks and not persons enthralled by history.

The state does not have a long-term plan to open and staff the sites it owns. That needs to change, or all the efforts made so far to preserve history will be just that — history — with nothing left to show for it.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Architects Selected for Old Slave House

The Illinois Capital Development Board may have forgotten the state capital was in Springfield when they relocated their April meeting to Chicago yesterday, but they didn't forget to select an architectural firm for Project # 104-620-002, which the state likes to inaccurately describe as "Renovate the Crenshaw House".

Surprisingly in my view CDB tabbed Ratio Architects Inc out of Champaign, Illinois, and Indianpolis, Indiana, for the project. My money was on White & Borgognoni Architects from Carbondale who did the work on the Old Rose Hotel in Elizabethtown and on some big historic preservation projects for the state in Springfield.

Still it will be interesting to see what becomes of the this project. There's $150,000 attached and CDB and IHPA can't seem to agree on a definition of what's included for the price. CBD uses the verb "renovate". IHPA limits their statements to basic repairs and weatherproofing, as well as a historic structures report.

From the budget front, have not heard any news about funding for the site, though the budget talks between the governor's office and the Democratic leaders controlling the Illinois House and Senate have broken down and everyone's taking the next week or so off.

In case you're wondering who's at fault. It's the Republicans' somehow.

The chances of a major capital projects bill passing are looking slim to none, though there's hope in the House for a scaled-down $500 million package for school construction.

Still it will be interesting to see what happens next. I look forward to meeting the good folks at Ratio.

Is the Region Ready for a Heritage Area?

The Southern Illinois broke the story yesterday about SIU's efforts to get Southern Illinois designated a National Heritage Area.

Having attended some of the meetings, I can tell you that this is not a panacea. It's like everything else in the region. It's not the designation. It's what we do with it that will make the impact.

Still, it's a step in the right direction. I'll have more later.

Here's the SIU page with more information.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

'Serious Christians', Politics & History

Last Thursday, fellow Illinoize blogger Dan Johnson-Weinberger, took a gentle swipe at religious conservative voters in his post, "Meeks, Blagovich, Topinka...".

(Meeks reminds me that those Christians who take the teachings of Jesus seriously are economically liberal — chasing the money-changers out of the Temple and all that).

My first response is that only those who don't know much about economics are economically liberal. Not only do socialism and communism don't work, they also deny the existence of the individual, his needs, desires, work and responsibility. Capitalism works not because it was ordained by God, but because so far it's the best system that caters to the individual.

Now for the spiritual response. I had actually been thinking for the past few weeks about the misconception you have, because a surface reading of the scriptures would back up your position.

New Testament Christianity is all about the personal responsbility of the believer. Only I can make a decision about accepting Jesus. My parents couldn't do it for me, and I in turn won't be able to make that decision for my children. I can dedicate them to God in a church ceremony after their birth, as my parents did with me (a first for our Southern Baptist church).

Parents can set their children on the right paths, but there will come a time when each and every child will mature and have to make their own decisions and take responsibility for them.

The money changers in the Temple bit has nothing do to with economics. It's about respect for God. The money changers had turned a place of faith into a commercial bazaar that profited from those with faith.

Your belief that "serious Christians" must be economically liberal is actually from the Luke's Book of Acts which tells the early history of the church following Jesus' ascension.

Before that, Jesus had told the diciples, "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John was baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 1:4-5 NIV)

Ten days later during the Jewish Feast of Weeks, also known as the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit filled the group of believers giving each the power to speak in every tongue so that no matter where the Jewish pilgrims to the Temple came from in the Roman Empire and beyond, each heard them speaking in their own language.

"Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs - we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "what does this mean?" (Acts 2:7-12 NIV)

Keep this in mind. At the crucifixion, among his believers only John, likely the youngest of the Apostles, and the women in his ministry remained to witness his death.

By the time of Jesus' ascension into Heaven 40 days later, many of those who had previously fled in fear had returned and the church of believes numbered 120 according to Luke (Acts 1:15).

On the Day of Pentecost following the gift of the Holy Spirit that morning Peter preached what may have been the greatest sermon ever delivered by man. "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins," summed up the message.

"Those who accepted his messaged were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day." (Acts: 2:41)

I mention this only to set the stage for the verses that come next, the verses that you originally sought dealing with the first Christians in Jerusalem.

"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2:42-47)

So why don't Christians today do the same? It's a good question.

The first thing to remember is that Luke was writing a history of the church. He wrote two books later compiled into the New Testament, the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts.

In the latter book he begins by writing, "In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen." (Acts 1:1-3).

In the former he began as follows:

"Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled[a] among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught." (Luke 1:1-4)

Luke wrote the Book of Acts no earlier than late 61 or 62 A.D., or about three decades after Pentecost and the church of his description. It's very likely that the early church in Jerusalem was unique.

At this point all of the Christians were Jews. The apostles went to the Temple in Jerusalem every day to pray and preach. This didn't sit well with the Sanhedrin, the Jewish elders, of whom only one or two openly professed themselves as believers. They fought and plotted against the believers, and even jailed the leaders, but to no avail.

"All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. (Acts 4:32-35)

More persecution followed as did continued growth. Eventually, the apostles found it necessary to find assistants for the distribution of food. From this crisis they appointed the first seven deacons to the task.

"So the word of God spread. the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith." (Acts 6:7)

Stephen, "a man full of God's grace and power, did great wonders and mirarculous signs among the people." He also generated opposition from the Synagogue of the Freedman, who found witnesses to testify falsely against him before the Sanhedrin. Stephen didn't defend himself, but instead proclaimed his faith and pointedly accused his accusers of their failings.

"You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him — you who have received the law that was put into effect through angles but have not obeyed it." (Acts 7:51-53)

The speech infuriated those present. Without a ruling, the crowd dragged him out and stoned him to death making him the first Christian martyr for his faith. With their taste of blood unquinched, the mob then attempted to destroy the church.

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godley men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them into prison. (Acts 8:1-3).

That's what happened to the church, all in a matter of months, no more than a year or two following the resurrection.

Obviously, persecution didn't stop the church. It was just dispersed. It's also the last time the church was described in such a way, and probably the reason why Luke emphasized it so as it represented something different than the gatherings of believers three decades later.

So what about economic systems? Does the Bible say anything to Christians about economic policy? It actually does in two places in the New Testament. Both Matthew and Luke in their Gospels related Jesus' parables on the talents, a unit of currency worth about $1,000.

The two parables are different account, but similar in theme. In both cases someone with money entrusts various portions of it to others to invest and protect for a length of time. In both cases, those who grew their amounts were rewarded proportionally. Those who did nothing with it, but didn't lose any, were punished for their inaction.

First, it should be noted that most commentators view these passages as warnings to believers not to waste the spiritual gifts they have been given. Still, there are lessons of a monetary nature that Christians should overlooked.

If you're not a Christian this may not apply to you, but as a Christian who believes my political beliefs - actually all of my public actions - should reflect on my spiritual beliefs, then I take this seriously. I don't like being called a hypocrite.

The last thing to explain is why I see no moral authority in progressive tax rates as economic liberals do. The tax of the Old Testament (and carried into the present through the New Testament) is the "tithe". I'm oversimplifying it a bit, but that was just a 10 percent flat tax payable by everyone (or at least every producer).

If Illinois needs a higher flat tax rate than the current 3 percent, then that's a legitimate political argument for society to decide. I personally think raising taxes will hurt our economy. For the most part that's what general tax increases do.

To call for a more progressive(ly worse) tax rate structure as a moral need, I will strongly oppose because I see no scriptural reason for doing so.

It's the responsibility of society to take care of those most vunerable. That's not liberal or conservative, Christian or whatever. What we are debating over is how we accomplish our collect responsibility.

That's what so many are finding fascinating about a possible candidacy by Senator Meeks. He skews across the ideological divide that defines the modern Democratic and Republican parties. I'm not in his camp — yet; but if he decides to seriously enter the race, his candidacy will challenge me to review how I weigh my vote.

Call for Papers

The Illinois State Historical Society’s Symposium Committee is announcing a call for papers on the theme "Knowledge on the Prairie," for presentation at the 2007 Illinois History Symposium in Springfield.

Papers, panels, presentations, and video documentaries on all aspects of Illinois history will be reviewed, with special consideration given to topics and presentations focusing on teaching in the classroom. Proposals are welcome from scholars, graduate students, teachers, amateur historians, filmmakers, museum curators, librarians, and geneologists.

Proposals should include a one-page description of the proposed topic, a list of primary sources to be used, and the presenter’s curriculum vitae. Deadline for proposals is June 30, 2006.

The 2007 Illinois History Symposium will be held in conjunction with Illinois State University’s 150th anniversary on the campus in Normal. For more information about the symposium, call the Society office at 217-525-2781.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Road Party Wednesday at Vandalia

America's first interstate highway turns 200 this week and promoters of the original National Road are hosting a party for its bicentennial Wednesday at the old State Capitol in Vandalia.

Wally Spiers has more on the party and the road's history in his column in yesterday's Belleville News-Democrat.

You can also get more information at

Monday, February 27, 2006

Late Winter / Early Spring Book Signings

As the weather keeps getting warmer there seems to be more and more opportunities for book signings and presentations.

Saturday, March 4
Science Center of Southern Illinois, University Mall in Carbondale from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Book signing while the store conducts a major sale to reduce inventory before they move to a new location.

Sunday, March 12
The Reitz Home in downtown Evansville, Indiana at 224 S. E. First St. at 2 p.m. I will be doing a 45-minute presentation about the history of the Old Slave House and the book.

Saturday, April 1
Southwest Indiana Book Expo at the Scales Lake Pavilion (800 W Tennyson Rd, Boonville, Indiana) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sponsored by the Warrick County Historical Society.

Old Mansion Transforms Into New B & B

Tourism and historic preservation are mixing in the development of the 1913-era Wall Manor into a new bed and breakfast inn for Mound City and Pulaski County.

The Southern Illinoisan has Dixie Terry's story in today's issue. The inn's website is

Kudos to new owners Don and Robin Stacy for their work and investment into this project as well as to the new day-to-day innkeepers Jim and Rita Barger.

Tourism on the west side of Southern Illinois seems to be taking off south of Route 13 with the private sector, particularly the local wine industry leading the way. It's good to see that tourism growth spread south as well.

Wall Manor will be a nice complement to the still fairly new Grand Chain Lodge further up the Ohio in eastern Pulaski County.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Mine Wars Interview Online

Thanks go out to David Purcell for sending me a link to an online transcript of a 1972 interview with his grandfather Henson Purcell of West Frankfort.

The Purcell was a retired newspaperman who recalled the violence of not only the gang wars of Charlie Birger and the Shelton Gang in the 1920s, but the more-overshadowed, and actually deadlier clashes between the United Mine Workers of America and the Progressive Mine Workers of America in the 1930s.

I'm not up fully on the UMWA and PMWA fully other than I often heard hushed whispers of events while reporting myself in Harrisburg in the 1990s. The last PMWA-organized mine (Saraha) wrapped up operations during my tenure at the Daily Register.

Purcell's interview starts with an overview of the struggle with a particular focus on the Battle of Mulkeytown in Franklin County.

It's a good read. There's a link to it from the Events page here at

Friday, February 03, 2006

Bidding Begins for Old Slave House work

The state is moving forward with the Old Slave House project announced last week.

The Capital Development Board, which oversees state construction projects, advertised for yesterday. The Professional Services Bulletin provides the details:

The scope of work provides for planning and beginning the renovation of the Crenshaw House, including a Historic Structures Report which will provide a description and prioritization of the restoration work to be done. The initial work will focus on making the building weather-tight. This may include roof replacement/repair, restoring windows, siding, flashings and weather seals. The scope of work also provides for the abatement of asbestos containing materials and lead.

The selected firm will be notified of the time and place for the orientation meeting by the contract executive or the project manager. The meeting shall be attended by the firm’s project manager, consultants and a person authorized to make scheduling and financial commitments for the firm.

Finally, it's clear just how much the $150,000 project will cover. Not only do we get the historic structures report, but also the basic repairs hinted at during the news conference.

What's left for future projects will be construction of any visitor services facilities (i.e. bathrooms and the such) as well as the big project of restoration, which could come down the road even after a site is opened.

From another source I found out that there is some discussion of IHPA trying to get at least one staffer to split time between the various IHPA sites in southeastern Illinois.

The good news still is the project is real and moving forward. Bids are due in two weeks on Feb. 16 and the agency will meet to select the winner at their April meeting.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Old Slave House Funding Update

Jim Muir's story in today's Southern Illinoisan has literally generated interest around the world for the Old Slave House after UPI sent out a story a little over four hours ago. It's already on the websites of the Washington Times, Science Daily and, my favorite so far, Monsters and, a site based in Glasgow, Scotland.

[UPDATE: It's now reached India at the site.]

The good news for me is that both Jim and UPI mention the name of my book, Slaves, Salt, Sex & Mr. Crenshaw.

The bad news is that UPI misread Jim's story and has incorrectly labled the house as a station on the Underground Railroad....

[PHONE RINGS. Intrepid blogger picks up phone.]

UPI is sending out a correction. Just got off the phone with them.

[UPDATE: Here's the corrected version.]

Next issue. Is the governor coming down or not?

Last week I was told he wasn't part of the delegation, but Jim had it in the story that he is. However an earlier phone call from a tourism official who was trying to find out about tomorrow's event had been told that he couldn't. The latest news release from the state doesn't mention him and the journalist I talked with doubted he would come back since he toured the region yesterday.

[In Jim's defense, he was working on the story last week for the Saturday or Sunday edition. That may have been the current plan as of last week.]

The most interesting thing about the article was the reference to the site actually reopening.

Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Norris City, announced last week the state will appropriate $150,000 in funding to renovate the facility that was built more than 170 years ago and has been vacant for nearly a decade.

Phelps said the funding will be used for a twofold purpose.

"We have secured the $150,000 to help renovate the Old Slave House and to also help get it up and running," Phelps said.

Later on he hinted when it could reopen.

Phelps said he expects the Old Slave House to be "up and running" by the end of this calendar year.

As I noted last week, I'm still not sure where the money is coming from. I rechecked my notes from December when I called on the status for possible funding. At that time I was told the money is coming from previously-appropriated unspent allocated funds.

Because of the amount involved I thought it was the capital money Phelps had been working on with the governor last spring. This suggests old money that was still in the hopper. Just how old no one can tell me.

Better yet, it's looking like the money is coming from the General Revenue fund which would allow the governor to not only use the funding for capital projects like any renovations, but also for staffing, a necessity if they want to open before the end of the year.

Shovel Attack Criminal Reforms - Parts 4-7

I'm tired of dragging this out with one idea a day so here are the last four suggestions to plugging the loop-holes in the state's criminal justice system when dealing with DUI offenders and victims.

  • Double Compensation under Crime Victims Assistance Act — $27,000 or $28,000 doesn’t cover much in the way of medical expenses when surgeries are performed. While the legislature has increased the amount covered over the years it has only kept up with general inflation, not medical costs which have increased much faster. Make it retroactive also to any victims of a crime committed in FY2006.

  • Demand Crime Scene Blood Alcohol Testing — BAC testing today is mostly voluntary with incentives offered to drunks for taking the test. If they take the test they don’t automatically get their license suspended. However what’s the incentive for persons with licenses already suspended? At the very least this loophole should be changed so that it is mandatory when the suspect does not possess a valid driver’s license for any reason. Frankly though the state’s implied consent rules should be expanded to include anyone operating a vehicle on a public roadway and all DUI suspects should be tested. Police should have the right to gather evidence at the scene where reasonable evidence suggests an impaired driver.

  • Target the Source — Require law enforcement officers to inquire of DUI suspects where they obtained their alcohol or drugs. Currently this is not on the Illinois State Police forms used by local police departments. While suspects may refuse to answer – this is their right, those that do would be providing authorities with information for future investigations if the same establishments appeared over and over. It would also highlight targets for victims looking for compensation. In my case this wasn’t asked.

  • Develop Suspended Driver Hot Sheets for Local Police — Require the Illinois State Police or the Secretary of State’s Office to compile a list of local drivers with suspended licenses cross-checked against vehicle registrations and license plates. This type of data could help aggressive police agencies to target suspended drivers who keep driving, a segment of the population which according to police are among the most likely to be involved in other criminal matters.

    So what do you think? Tips, comments, constructive criticisms and suggestions wanted.

    Cross posted at Illinoize.
  • Monday, January 23, 2006

    Shovel Attack Criminal Reforms - Part 3

    Continuing from my previous posts about needed changes in Illinois' criminal laws (Shovel Attack Criminal Reforms - Part 2"), here's the third proposal:

  • Impound Drunk Driver’s Weapon of Choice, Their Cars — If a vehicle is used in the commission of a crime such as a DUI, or is involved in a wreck where a DUI citation is issued, or illegally enters private property (such as being parked in someone’s front yard), the vehicle should be impounded until the DUI case is resolved for the two-fold purpose of public safety by taking a drunk’s vehicle away from him, and securing assets for the court to take in the event that the suspect is unable to pay any fines or court-ordered restitution. If the vehicle title is held by a lender then they would only be able to secure the vehicle if they followed former repossession procedures.

    Quickly now, tell me what's wrong with this proposal? Where are the holes that need to be plugged. Keep in mind that the vehicle used in by the drunk driver with the 11-year-old suspended license in my little incident has been driven since he posted bail and got out of jail. There are multiple vehicles at his house so this isn't the case of the only vehicle in the family.

    Cross-posted at Illinoize.
  • Sunday, January 22, 2006

    Shovel Attack Criminal Reforms - Part 2

    Continuing from a previous post about needed changes in Illinois' criminal laws (Shovel Attack Criminal Reforms - Part 1"), I propose the following:

  • Stop New Car Titles for Drivers with Suspended Licenses — At the present time, according to police, the state must still issue car titles to individuals who are not legally allowed to drive. I’m sorry, but if you have a suspended or revoked license you should not be able to buy another vehicle in your name until your driver’s license is available again.

    So what do you think?

    Cross posted at Illinoize.
  • Saturday, January 21, 2006

    Shovel Attack Criminal Reforms - Part 1

    I'm hoping the headline got your attention. That's what it's there for. You see, two-and-a-half months ago I was hit by a drunk driver — with a shovel.

    Actually, that's the cute way to say it. The looks on people's faces when I say it is priceless. Shock and sympathy quickly transform into something else, usually into a contorted face of someone trying to stifle a smile or outright laughter.

    That doesn't bother me. Getting hit by a drunk driver is something people understand. Getting hit by a drunk driver wielding a shovel isn't.

    Long story short, he got out of the truck, grabbed a shovel from the bed of his pickup and tried to "teach me a lesson" in his words by attempting to decapitate me with a shovel blow to the head. I put my arm up and survived with only a fractured elbow and damage to my ulner nerve which still prevents me from using my left hand completely.

    What I thought would be a few hours in the ER with X-rays and stitches stretched into a five-day stay at the hospital and two surguries. By the the cops talked to me again the second time in the ER that night I was madder at the system than the assailant. You see, if the drunk had been prosecuted and punished properly for his earlier crimes he wouldn't have been on the road that night, or ended up in the front yard where the incident took place.

    Since then I've discovered a number of flaws with our system of justice and I've asked my local lawmaker to consider them for new legislation. Rather than outline them all at once, I'm going to use this forum to discuss them one at a time so the comments can reflect each proposal on its own merits.

    The first proposal deals with the state employees who for some reason must threaten the public safety by operating under a gag order. Law enforcement people I talk to can't believe this is real, but it was explained to me by a state employee.

    Empower Secretary of State Employees — According to workers at the drivers license facilities; they are not allowed to report crimes they see on the job. For example, they could watch someone drive up drunk, stumble inside, reek of alcohol, admit to just drinking a fifth of Scotch, and ask to get their license renewed. Rather than keeping a drunk driver off of the roads they are required to serve him and allow him to drive off. I haven’t found out the reasoning, but it seems that this policy violates the general state law that citizens are legally bound to report crimes.

    I'll published the next proposal tomorrow.

    Cross posted at Illinoize.

    Thursday, January 19, 2006

    State to Release Old Slave House Funding?

    Got a call today from Springfield. Great news for the Old Slave House.

    It appears that the officials from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Capital Development Board will be in Gallatin County next week for a big announcement.

    The big media shindig is set for 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Old Slave House outside of Equality.

    It looks like the governor's office is finally releasing funds secured through the efforts of state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, in last yeart's budget.

    The amount is $150,000 to be spent on a historic structures report which is where they bring in the architects to study the physical history of the site and look at any structural issues that need to be addressed.

    Obviously there's more to it than that, but that's the best information I have at the present.

    The next step is the one that Open it NOW! Friends of the Old Slave House has been calling for, either secure operating funds for the site, or turn it over to a new regional non-profit group to operate.

    Wednesday's announcement won't reopen the site, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.