Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Des Plaines History Center welcomes the 2014 baseball season!

Manuscript of the Month, April 2014
"1995 Official Yearbook of the Des Plaines Chiefs"
by guest blogger Benjamin Ill

While combing through the archives located within the Des Plaines History Center, I came across a box titled “Local Baseball Teams.” Being a red-blooded American, I pounced on the box and enthusiastically rifled through its contents, and what I found was the 1995 Official Yearbook of the Des Plaines Chiefs. The Des Plaines Chiefs were an amateur baseball team, formerly the Kenosha Chiefs, that moved to Des Plaines in 1995. The yearbook itself contains a few pages of advertisements for local businesses, a copy of the teams 1995 schedule, player biographies, official scorecards, and an interesting article entitled “Business Before Baseball.” Historians or local history enthusiasts can utilize this document in a number of different ways.

The “Business Before Baseball” article found within the yearbook provides a number of insights regarding amateur baseball and the process in which a team can form. The new stadium, “Oakton Plaines,” was the result of Oakton Community College (OCC) and Kenosha Chiefs Owner Scott Barter realizing a mutually beneficial relationship through amateur baseball. For Scott Barter, it was an agreement that provided his baseball team with a much needed home. For OCC, it was a way to make much needed improvements to its baseball facilities. Realizing the mutual need and the opportunities a new stadium would create for both parties, the $575,000 dollar stadium project was agreed upon. The new facility was to include lighting, seating for 1500, concession and restroom facilities, locker rooms, and parking for 300 cars.

The article also provides information regarding investment and revenue. For instance, the $575,000 dollar stadium was broken down into different tiers. 4 investors contributed the bulk of the funding to the tune of $425,000 while 30 investors made up the remaining $150,000 with a minimum investment of $5,000. The group would then expect a return on their investment, projecting $159,775 in revenue generated in the first year by billboard advertisements, concession sales, and field rentals for local organizations and tournaments.

The team itself created an opportunity for local high school and college baseball players to continue playing throughout the summer. With 37 games scheduled between May and August, the Des Plaines Chiefs were expected to not only provide local players with a competitive opportunity, but also provide affordable entertainment for the local community throughout the summer. Upon examination of the players biographies found within the yearbook, 11 players listed on the roster attended OCC, 9 players attended other colleges, and 9 players were from local area high schools.

This Yearbook is very interesting for a number of reasons. First, who knew there was an amateur baseball team in Des Plaines?! I was born and raised in northwest Chicagoland and have never heard of the team. Second, the business side of amateur baseball is highlighted within the yearbook, providing insight into the cooperation necessary between an organization and locale in creating a successful stadium project. Third, it provides interesting insight into the players and coaches that made up the team. By leafing through this document an interesting, pure American story can be told regarding Des Plaines and its involvement in Americas Favorite Pastime!        

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Photo of the Month, March 2014
"Admiral Music Maids"
by guest blogger Patrick Vonesh

Greetings, and I hope you are all celebrating Women's History Month. Keeping with the same theme, the museum has uncovered an interesting pair of photos. Pitcher Teddy Hamilton and Outfielder Pauline Crawley are pictured in their Music Maid uniforms. In case people in the community were unaware, the Music Maids were a team in the National Girls Baseball League (NGBL) which ran from 1944-1954. This story is especially important to Des Plaines history, as the team was based out of the town. According to the images, the team played at "Admiral Stadium which was near Pesche's property on River Road" (between Golf and Rand). The NGBL is known as "Chicago's Forgotten League" and has peaked historical interest in recent years. 

 Teddy Hamilton, pitcher

Pauline Crawley, outfield

A website was founded for the preservation of the league's history, and a documentary appears to be in the works. Along with images and video, there are player bios that have been filled in by family members. This is where you come in: Calling all family members of Music Maids! We seek more information about the baseball league from people in the community. Pictures, uniforms, oral histories: these can all help to save the story of "Chicago's Forgotten League."
If you have more information on the Music Maids, Admiral Stadium, or other baseball topics in Des Plaines, please contact History Center staff. We also encourage you to share information with people trying to make a documentary on the NGBL at http://www.nationalgirlsbaseballleague.com/. Any information would benefit our shared history of Des Plaines.

I wish everyone a great Women's History Month! Now, star asking around town about the Music Maids.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Object of the Month, March 2014
“T-shirt: NOW Walkathon”
by curator Philip Mohr

The Des Plaines History Center is commemorating Women’s History Month with a shirt from the Des Plaines-Park Ridge Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW). The year 1982 was a special time for NOW in Illinois. This was the tenth and final year they pushed for the Illinois state legislature to ratify the national Equal Rights Amendment. It must have seemed like a now-or-never moment for equal-rights feminists in Illinois. The June 30, 1982, deadline passed without the amendment’s ratification.

The Des Plaines-Park Ridge NOW carried on its work. They hosted a ten kilometer “Spirited Walk for Women’s Rights” starting at Lake Opeka and “through Des Plaines”.  It was held on October 31 (Halloween), which allowed a play on the word spirit. The day also included speeches in support of the NOW agenda. Proceeds from the walk went toward the chapter’s expenses: their newsletters, events, training, and public activism.

Unfortunately, we do not have much information about the turnout for the walkathon or any pictures from the event. The History Center is fortunate to have this shirt as well as some administrative records and newsletters from the local NOW chapter. On the left is the letter mailed with Walkathon pledge cards (click to enlarge). If you have more information on the Des Plaines-Park Ridge NOW or on this walkathon, please contact the Des Plaines History Center at 847-391-5399 or contact@desplaineshistory.org.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Manuscript of the Month - February 2014

An Oration, Delivered at Wheeling, Cook County Illinois, July 4, 1839, Being the Sixty 
Third Anniversary of American Independence, by Augustus H. Conant, Farmer.
Chicago: Rudd and Childs,. Printers, 1839.

by Benjamin Ill, guest blogger

On July 4, 1839, a farmer from Des Plaines gave an oration at a celebration of American Independence held in Wheeling, Illinois. What began as enthusiastic praise for the national spirit and a reminder of the nation’s unfettered character quickly turned into something the attendees did not expect. Augustus H. Conant, an active member of the Unitarian Church and local temperance movements, began to speak out against the institution of slavery. Conant stated that “while we pride ourselves on being the freest and one of the most enlightened nations of the earth, shall it be told that a system of oppression and wrong receives the sanction of our laws, and millions are crushed under a despotism a thousand times more galling than the British yoke?”

The questions raised by Conant in Wheeling reflected the greater sectional crisis that had gripped the nation since its inception. How can the United States of America claim all the enlightened arguments of liberty and rights for all mankind if it still allowed slavery to not only survive but flourish? While most northern states had outlawed slavery and moved toward an economy predicated on wage labor, the southern states had remained an agricultural society that was dependent on slavery. Generally speaking, the debates over slavery fell into two major categories; moral and religious arguments, and free labor arguments. Many abolitionists, such as William Lloyd Garrison spoke out against the evils of slavery, not only for the obvious reasons that humans should not be held as chattel but also that such an institution bred moral corruption that undermined family values. Free labor arguments, politicized by the Free Soil Party, argued that slavery was an inefficient and outdated practice that undermined a healthy economy based on the labor of free men.

The oration given by Augustus H. Conant [the Des Plaines History Center holds facsimile copies of the publication] touches upon both of these main arguments, and implores the gathered to see the practice for what it was, and declared that “Would not the poorest son of New England shed the last drop of his blood sooner than yield his family to slavery, to be torn from his bosom, and separated from each other, and driven like brutes from their homes, to labor, toil, and sweat for the benefit of a Southern planter?” He continues to explain that the north was not free of the shame of slavery, regardless of whether or not the states were free states or slave states, as the nation was one nation, and one states shame was the whole nation’s shame. He goes even further by addressing the threats of secession, as he declared that “The South has everything to fear from such an event, while we have comparatively nothing.”
Besides being a very well constructed and argued speech, Conant’s oration is fascinating because it draws the major arguments against slavery together into a single condemnation, which was rather rare at the time as most anti-slavery arguments were based on one thing or another, usually moral arguments and free labor arguments. In a brief history of Conant’s life written by his friend Robert Collyer it states that “Mr. Conant was denounced, reviled, and invited to eat his words,” illustrating the unpopularity of Conant’s position, even in a free state such as Illinois. However, as Mr. Collyer explains, “Instead of doing that, he went to Chicago, and got the oration printed out at his own expense, sent it flying broadcast over the settlement, and so became known at once as one of the champions for freedom in that part of the country.” While this entry only touches on a few points made by Augustus H. Conant, the document housed in the archives here at the Des Plaines History Center serves as a terrific example of the political and social conflicts that plagued the country from its beginnings to the Civil War that would erupt over twenty years after Conant gave his speech in Wheeling.

The Des Plaines History Center invite you to follow our daily tweeting of Augustus Conant's diary: @conant_tweets.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Photograph of the Month, February 2014
"Peter Reiter and the Parade"
by Patrick Vonesh, guest blogger

President Abraham Lincoln was was born on this day in 1809, and his memory has remained intact throughout the generations that followed his death in 1865. This truth is especially evident in Illinois. Here at the Des Plaines Historical Society, Lincoln, and more importantly the Civil War’s memory is just as alive as it was to contemporaries. All of this is made possible by the countless pictures and oral histories that the museum houses. Having amassed an inventory of 6500 plus photographs, negatives, tin types, slides, and digital photographs the museum uses the images to tell the history that is not written down.

While Abraham Lincoln will always be an important figure in the United States, locally, Des Plaines has many heroes of the Civil War that made their lives here following the conflict. In this photograph, the annual Fourth of July parade is about to commence. Having done some research, the picture seems to be from the years 1907-1912. The congregation of parade participants are not just men honoring the nation’s birth, they are also being honored themselves for service in the Civil War. One man, Peter Reiter (seen here holding the American flag at left) was a veteran of the Civil War, and active in the Grand Army of the Republic until his death in 1922.

Peter was born in Deidricheim, Germany, on February 11th, 1837 and came to America an immigrant. According to his oral history, “he worked at farming, teaming, was janitor at Old North School in Des Plaines, and was a special policeman for a while when he was 63 years of age.” A true jack of all trades, Peter also managed to serve his country from 1862-1864. Having fought or supported ten battles during those two years, Peter was finally discharged honorably due to the close of the war. Not being wounded in battle was a miracle for how long he served and the brutality of the skirmishes, but the silent killer of the war may have still found Peter. Disease and bacteria were prevalent in the field hospitals and diarrhea due to dysentery took many lives. Peter appears to have been exposed to an intestinal disease that remained with him throughout the duration of his life. Despite these ailments, Peter lived to be eighty five years old, and had seven children with his wife Catherine.

Peter was given citizenship in 1882, “said to be the result of his service in the Union Army.” I urge everyone to look around at the people who serve our country right here in Des Plaines and throughout the United States, and realize that times have not changed much from President Lincoln and Peter Reiter’s era. Men and women still are willing to serve their country, even if they just arrived recently to the United States. I look forward to profiling more service men and women from Des Plaines in the future.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Object of the Month, January 2014
"Sheet Music: Des Plaines"
by curator Philip Mohr

Des Plaines adopted the slogan “You Will Like Des Plaines” in 1919. At the time, the Village of Des Plaines was a growing satellite community of Chicago. Trains passed through several times per day carrying freight or passengers. Commuting to and from Des Plaines and other towns had already become a fairly simple task. The village’s promoters competed against similar suburbs trying to attract residents around Chicago. “You Will Like Des Plaines” was a simple appeal to people considering settlement in the growing suburban communities.

Many individuals and organizations used this slogan to boost Des Plaines. Robert F. Risser, president of the Des Plaines Commercial Association, suggested adopting the tagline in 1919. It had been in use by local realtors for at least a few years already. Soon after, Jack Eaton wrote a poem that incorporated “You Will Like Des Plaines” into its chorus and fourth verse. Eaton was not actually a member of the Des Plaines Savings & Loan Association, but was closely associated with it through friendship. He was also a prominent figure in Elks Lodge No. 1526. Resident Savena Ahbe arranged the words to a popular hymn. This printed sheet music based on Eaton’s words became the official song of the Lions Club of Des Plaines in 1924.

If you’re wondering where most of this information came from, you need not look much farther than the printed music itself. At the top of the page are the regular credits, who wrote the music, who wrote the lyrics, who arranged them together. The language for the lyricist is ambiguous. In 1964, workers at the Des Plaines Public Library asked for the name of the lyricist. A few month later, the paper published the answer from someone who had moved away but still received the Des Plaines Suburban Times. Knowing that the lyricist was Jack Eaton and a member of the Des Plaines Savings & Loan Association gives us clues about Jack’s biography and the origins of the song.

More information about the music’s publication is at the bottom of the page. This is where we can see the Lions Club’s adoption of the song. We can also look at the opposite page to see the businesses and organizations that the publisher (the Lions Club) fit the theme of “You Will Like Des Plaines.”

Still, the side of the folder opposite the music offers more Des Plaines history. It lists many reasons for living in or doing business in Des Plaines. Researching and discussing this list would be an entire project itself. If you have more information on any topic in this blog please contact the Des Plaines History Center at 847-391-5399 or contact@desplaineshistory.org

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Manuscript of the Month, January 2014
"The Lee Family Bible"
by guest blogger Benjamin Ill

Family bibles are fascinating. Besides the obvious aesthetic appeal of a giant, ornately designed piece of book-art, they can be a treasure trove of information regarding family marriages, deaths, births, and in some cases family stories and lore. While perusing through the Des Plaines History Center archives, I came across a box I was hoping to find titled “Lee Family Bible.” Within, I found a large beautifully detailed 1872 Bible published by William Harding in Philadelphia. Family bibles were often used to record family milestones, and keep such information in one place for posterity. In the Lee Family Bible, these recorded sections can be found at the center of the book, smack dab between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament.

The first section is marriages within the Lee Family, and the records show dates of marriages ranging from 1849-1967. On November 1, 1849, Hiram Jefferson married Harriet A. Shrigley. Such information, while simple and not seeming to contain much information, can be a great starting point for historians and those interested in family and local genealogy. It shows a marriage connecting the Jefferson and Shrigley families. By flipping over the family births section of the bible, we can determine that Hiram Jefferson was born on December 22, 1817, making him 32 years old when he took Harriet Shrigley’s hand in marriage. By turning to the family deaths section, we can determine that Hiram Jefferson passed away on July 29, 1896 at the age of 79. Harriet Shrigley, born on April 12, 1822, married Hiram Jefferson on November 1, 1849 at the age of 27, and passed away on August 14, 1911 at the age of 89.

The family Births section is a tremendous way to record children’s births and determine the family members during a given generation. For instance, Hiram and Harriet had five children; May J. Jefferson, born in 1852, Kittie Jefferson, born in 1853, Joseph L. Jefferson, born in 1856, Harriet N. Jefferson, born in 1857, and Emma A. Jefferson, born in 1859. Referencing the marriage records again, we can see that Hattie Jefferson married Fred L. Lee in 1880, Kittie Jefferson married Frank Lee in 1882, and Joseph Jefferson married Edith M. Hurlbert in 1894. From there, tracing births can be difficult if the children listed under births do not have a specific parentage detailed, which is the case for the Lee Family Bible. However, we can see that Hiram and Harriet had three grandchildren born in the 1880’s; Maude S. Lee born in 1881, Mamie F. Lee in 1883, and Leonard S. Lee born in 1884. Thus family bibles make it possible to establish a basic three generational story.

The Lee Family Bible, besides being a gorgeous example of late-nineteenth century book design and publishing, can also serve as an example of the wealth of family and genealogical records found in local and family archives. Whether searching for the lineage of family member, or trying to establish dates of birth, marriage, and death for a specific person in study, family bibles can provide a great basic record and even serve as the springboard for a more in-depth attempt to discover a family tree.