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

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.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

This Day in Illinois History - Jan. 15

On this day in Illinois history, Jan. 15, 1924, Williamson County Sheriff George Galligan asked Gov. Len Small to withdraw state militia troops from the county.

The sheriff had requested troops following government-led raids staffed by hundreds of members of the Ku Klux Klan against bootleggers and others in Herrin and surrounding communities

Though sanctioned initially by federal authorities, incidents of abuse that took place in the raids had risen to the level of diplomatic complaints by the counsels of France and Italy on behalf of their citizens in the county.

Anti-Klan sentiments had risen and the sheriff (with this two full-time deputies) had no way to guarantee the public safety.

Klan and anti-Klan forces negotiated and worked out an agreement on the night before at a meeting at Herrin City Hall. On the 15th at 11 a.m. Galligan made his request to the governor to remove the troops.

Over the next few days he and his men conducted raids on bootleggers, but received no help from Klan supporters or their hand-picked local police.

The peace lasted six days when the Klan violated the agreement and began raids of their own.

After additional raids and reprisals, chaos erupted early in February and the governor ended up sending nearly a thousand troops to control the county.