Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Peoria's 1918 Spanish Flu Terror"

Peoria's 1918 Spanish Flu Terror
by Norman V. Kelly
Here in Peoria, Illinois the local newspapers reported the war news daily, listing casualties from the city and county of Peoria, Illinois. Just over 5,500 of our young men went off to ‘Fight the Hun,’ resulting in the death of 211 of them. However, on October 6, 1918 the headlines and stories reported a threat to the folks right here in town. They called it ‘La Grippe,’the Spanish word for the flu which was at that time reaching epidemic status and apparently heading our way.
Health Commissioner Dr. George Parker reported that Spanish influenza cases in Peoria were growing in leaps and bounds and he warned that the epidemic would only get worse. The news terrorized the area and folks began to retreat inside their homes as much as they could. Still the flu spread and on October 8, 1918 the good doctor ordered theaters, churches, and public gathering places to close. To add to our local problem, thirty-seven of our physicians were in the United States Army. Parker asked that every nurse in the area report to his office so he could get help to the folks that were in dire straights. They responded along with retired nurses and women that had nursing experiences. ‘Hospitals’ were opened up in vacant buildings and masks were handed out by the hundreds to worried Peorians. Still the epidemic spread.
More orders were issued banning gatherings of any kind, including funeral services. All of the city hospitals were over crowded and more vacant buildings were used to open up temporary, make shift hospitals to care for the influenza victims. Peorians, as always, from service clubs to single volunteers banned together to help wherever they could. Most businesses were closed, and the city took on a vacant look as the disease spread along with the fear and isolation.
Physician’s offices were besieged with new patients even though there was little if anything the doctors had in the way of proper medicines. The patients were advised to stay warm, try to remain isolated, and drink plenty of juices and water.
One set back as far as the epidemic was concerned was a huge gathering of folks downtown when the false news of the war ending became a wild rumor. These people broke the ban on assembling, and Parker was certain the epidemic would destroy the city. The number of flu cases did indeed increase but not as badly as the doctor had predicted. Mayor Woodruff ordered the inhabitants of the city to clean up their area, including the alleys,declaring that filth was a way for the disease to spread. This order did not come from Dr. Parker who doubted that cleaning up around the house would help. But…it did keep the healthy folks outside and away from their sick relatives.
As the city darkened, the factories began to close, the libraries and many of the restaurants and downtown businesses turned off their lights as well. By now there were 510 confirmed cases of Spanish Influenza in one stage or the other. Parker stated that there were probably many more unreported cases.
Throughout the ordeal the local authorities, led by Dr. Parker reminded people to stay calm, warm and hydrated. They asked every citizen to wear the gauze masks and simply avoid human contact if possible. The real heroes were the nurses that worked above and beyond the call of duty to help keep their city free of additional cases of influenza. Of course, many of them fell victim to the disease as well.
Within three additional weeks 525 more cases were reported, but mixed with the bad news was the fact that the disease seemed to be slowing down. That was good news to the beleaguered medical workers, but the fight was far from over.
Local newspapers reported that the Germans had agreed to treaty terms and it looked like it “Was over over there.” Still there were reports of Americans being killed and our local casualty flu count went up. The final count was 400 communities in the State of Illinois affected by the epidemic, and reports of deaths were coming in from all over. The big weapon against the flu seemed to be Vicks Vapor Rub, which of course was not a cure by any means. The final count here in Peoria, Illinois was 40 dead, many by complications of pneumonia.
By the end of October the major storm appeared to have passed. It was remarkable how a few sturdy doctors and nurses managed to take care of so many sick people. The volunteers, the Red Cross, the churches and the missions worked hundreds of hours to stop the spread of the plague here in town.It was a prideful time for Peorians and officials praised the folks that fought in the front lines to save their city. Personally I can tell you that the spirit of this town was lifted far beyond what any miracle drug could have provided.Of course we could have used one during those scary days of October 1918.

"Terror on a Downtown Streetcar"

Terror on a Downtown Streetcar

Actually this story began on a beautiful fall morning, October 5, 1918, a long way from the terror that the title suggests. It all started when the horrified children of Mr. John (Susie) Zik found their mother’s body in her bedroom between the bed and the wall. The manhunt that began there at 519 Mathew Street in Peoria, Illinois raced quickly across the city as the terrifying news spread. Before nightfall every officer of every description was out looking for the suspected killer, Peter Valha, a ‘friend’ of the victim and her family.
In 1918 there was no sleek rescue vehicle pulling up to the Zik home, no forensic experts, just a driver and his assistant. What they saw in that bedroom on Mathew Street would remain their own personal nightmares for the rest of their lives. Soon the house was crawling with detectives, the coroner and his assistants along with the chief detective himself. Outside the neighbors were joined by hundreds of gawking folks, whispering and talking among themselves. Murder had come to their peaceful neighborhood and it was a scary thing to behold.
Coroner William B. Elliott stood looking down at the victim talking to the chief detective. “Dead about an hour, sexual assault, I’d say. A bullet wound in the stomach, and a nasty wound here in the neck and an exit wound here. Poor thing.”
Officer Frank Pierce Carr was the oldest man on the force, and his duties nowadays were pretty much administrative. Frank at age sixty-five was content to let the younger officers seek the glory. He answered the telephone, listened then made a call to the call box very close to the Zik home. An officer answered and Frank told him what he had just heard.“Bill, an iceman just called saying he saw a suspicious man over on Helen Street. The man pulled a gun on him, so I feel certain he’s our man. I’ll send some men from here to meet you over there.”
The intense manhunt for Peter Vehla was on and it was going to be a long, long night indeed. Chief Rhodes asked for the help of the Peoria County Sheriff’s office and every retired cop in town joined in the hunt as well. As the news spread, a shiver of fear went down the spine of an awful lot of Peoria folks that early fall evening. Vehla was armed, he was dangerous, and there was no doubt that he would kill again if he felt he had to.
Streetcar number 364 was ready to move out of the barn as the motorman Joe Frazee eased the car forward. As his conductor, a man named Nicolson walked to the rear of the car they were on their way downtown. It was going to be a busy trip, and the two men were in for a long day. It was still dark that early morning of October 6, 1918, a day these two men would never forget. As the single light searched down the rail line the car moved to its first stop.
John Ferber was waiting at that stop and as he hopped on he greeted Joe Frazee, followed by Bert Underwood. At the next stop seven would-be-passengers waited for the car. The last man to enter was a man in a brown suit. He sat next to Ferber and asked him if he could have the seat next to the window. Joe agreed. In short order very close to 75 people shared their ride in old number 364, most of them still only half awake. On it raced, the click clack of the wheels lulling some folks back to sleep. The blue light from the spark above the car crackled in the darkness as the car made its way down its own steel highway.
A tall man clung to the strap dangling from the roof of the car. He seemed very interested in the man in the brown suit sitting next to Mr. Ferber. When his stop came up he managed to get close to the conductor. “See that man in the brown suit?’ The conductor looked. “Yeah, am I supposed to know him?”“No, but you soon will. I am certain that that is Peter Velha, the cops want him for murder.” Mr. Nicolson convinced the witness to stay on the trolley as the conductor stepped off to make a call from the police call box.
Officer Frank P. Carr answered the phone expecting yet another sighting of the killer lose in the city. He had gotten almost a hundred calls and had been up all night answering them. “Hold that car,” Frank yelled into the telephone, “we are on our way.”
Moments later Officers Carr, Hathaway and Siege were heading for Franklin and Adams in an open, Ford patrol car. The lights were on in the streetcar and most of the windows were down as they pulled up behind the stopped vehicle. Both doors were shut tight as the three officers approached the streetcar. Conductor Nicolson stepped off with the witness to converse with the police officers. The front and rear doors of the streetcar were opened as the four men entered, two in the rear and two in the front doors.
Slowly the four men walked down the narrow space between the seats, each officer waiting for a signal from the witness. The man in the brown suit sat quietly as he watched the men coming closer to his seat. The curious passengers watched quietly as well as the drama unfolded before their very eyes. Suddenly a loud, desperate voice screamed, “For God’s sake…don’t shoot!”
The loud report of a shot being fired echoed up and down the crowded car creating an instant stampede of seventy-five panicked people all trying to get out of the streetcar at the same time. The onslaught caught the witness and the three officers completely off guard as they were swept out of the car as if a giant dam had broken loose. The officers found themselves on their backsides on the street. Folks ducked behind trees and parked autos as they heard the report of another shot from within the car.
The conductor and the motorman were now outside as well, leaving the car sitting in total darkness. Joe Frazee went around back and managed to reengage the overhead power line. The lights flickered, went off then back on to stay. Cautiously the officers approached both open doors, guns drawn, looking for the man in the brown suit. It was eerily quite as they stepped aboard.
What was that noise? The officers looked down to the rear of the car searching for the source of the sound. Two men were jammed in their seats as Mr. Ferber methodically whacked the man in the brown suit on the head with a pistol. Thump…thump. The officers raced to the two men.
“You got him, sir. Easy there…you got him.”
“I got him?” the bewildered man said, handing the gun over to the officer.
The crowd began to gather around the car as the officers took Peter Velha off the trolley. “Where’s Frank?”
Officer Carr was found sitting on the top step at the rear of the streetcar.As Officer Hathaway reached for Frank, the old officer stood, falling into the arms of his old friend.
Officer Carr and the wounded, beaten and moaning Peter Velha were loaded into the ambulance and rushed off to the hospital. Bert Underwood had been wounded in the leg, but chose to be taken to the hospital by a friend.
At the hospital, Dr. Nahas told the officers that the wound to Officer Carr would probably prove to be fatal since it had entered the abdomen and was bleeding freely. In the other hospital room officers heard Peter Velha say, “I killed Mrs. Zik.” The lieutenant bent over the dying man, “Did you shoot Officer Carr?”The wounded man closed his eyes, “No, a passenger did.”
At 6:04 that evening Officer Frank Carr died from his stomach wound. Frank Carr was sixty-five years and seven months old. Killer Velha died of his gunshot wound to the chest and the multiple beatings about the head.
The coroner’s inquest was held over the bodies of Mrs. Zik, Frank Carr and Peter Velha at the same time in the coroner’s offices within the old Peoria County Courthouse. The hearing was standing room only as the facts of the brutal murder of Mrs. Zik unfolded, culminating in the death of Officer Carr, Peter Velha and the wounding of Bert Underwood. John Ferber stood out as the hero that had captured Velha, and the fifty-nine year old man brought quite a bit of laughter during his testimony describing the battle he had with the killer. After reliving the battle moment by moment he said, “Well, I guess I must of hit him a few times, because…” The audience laughed realizing that Ferber had struck the man many, many times according to previous police testimony.
On Tuesday October 8, 1918 Officer Carr was buried. Because of the ‘No Assembly’ rule in effect, due to the ravages of influenza, only a small group attended the officer’s services. Sixteen honor guard police officers represented the police department at the burial in Dunlap, Illinois where Frank Carr was born on March 5, 1853. He was buried with full honors at the Dickinson Cemetery

"Shoot out at Larsons Barbershop"

Shoot-Out at Larson's Barbershop
November 13, 1933 dawned rather mildly here in Peoria, Illinois and the folks in downtown Peoria were active indeed. Over in Larson’s Barbershop at 3301 South Adams, men were waiting for an empty chair, talking, reading the morning paper and smoking. The two front doors were wide open and a pleasant breeze almost made the air breathable.
Detective Sergeant Robert E. Moran, Chief Detective Fred Montgomery and their side-kick Guy ‘Dusey’ Dusenberry were out cruising when Moran spotted a tall figure leaning inside the doorway of the barbershop. Dusey drove a block further, pulled over and moments later the three Peoria detectives were walking back towards Larson’s shop.
Russell Hughes, alias Guy West, a wanted and dangerous fugitive saw the three men walking towards him. Both his hands were in his pockets as he backed away from the open door. Moran entered first, followed by his detective friends. “Hold it right there, Hughes, don’t move.” Seconds later, according to a witness, “All hell broke loose.”
All three detectives screamed a warning and began firing their .38 and .32 caliber weapons, inter-mixed with the fugitive’s twin .38’s. The noise was deafening as bullets careened off the walls and barber chairs. Mirrors and windows shattered and the smoke from the weapons engulfed the room bringing visibility to almost zero.
Unbelievably Russell Hughes had made it to the doorway and just as he raced out Dusey spotted him. Seeing that Moran was wounded, Dusey tossed aside his empty pistol and grabbed Moran’s weapon. Dusenberry tore out the door and spotted Hughes running down the alleyway. Montgomery was right behind the young detective as he watched Dusey fire off another round. The fugitive staggered but stumbled forward. When the two detectives caught up with the man, he was falling face first into the gravel.
A crowd had gathered and many of the people were walking down the alley toward the detectives. “Stay back folks,” Montgomery yelled, bringing the crowd to a halt. Dusey stayed close to the body of Hughes as Montgomery walked back to check on Detective Moran.
The room was still smoky and the smell of the acrid gunpowder burned the men’s nose and eyes. A fan was turned on and Montgomery was able to look at his own wounds. Blood was leaking down from his chest and onto his leg. Moran was sitting in a chair. “Did we get him Fred?” Fred grinned, “We got the bastard, Bob, you Okay?” Moran smiled, “Good. I’m okay, I’ll live.”
For the first time Fred noticed a man lying on the floor. A damp cloth was over his face and Montgomery thought the worse. Lawson spoke up. “Fred, he’s got a nasty wound in the stomach, I called the police station for help.”
Moments later three squads of uniformed officers took control of the scene. Fred and Dusey raced off to Saint Francis Hospital with Bob, and an ambulance took Mr. Jenkins to Proctor Hospital, where he survived.
Detective Moran was taken to surgery and reported stable. His family, friends, and police officers milled about the hospital corridors waiting for news. The Newspapers were already selling extras in the streets, as the town folks heard the terrific news of the shoot-out down at Larson’s Barbershop.
The news from Moran’s doctor was not good, telling Mrs. Moran that her husband was suffering from an infection.
That was the morning headline here in Peoria November 15, 1933, and the news saddened the folks in Peoria. Before the day ended, brave Detective Moran died. He was only thirty-six years old. Folks from all parts of Peoria made their way to Bob’s home at 1859 Lincoln to pay their respects well into the late evening.
On Saturday hundreds of police officers from all over the state gathered in Peoria to honor their fallen comrade. Over at city hall the flag was lowered to half-mast, Bob’s desk was draped in black crepe and all offices were closed. Saint Mary’s magnificent church was standing room only for the requiem mass for Moran. Outside the streets were filled with folks just wanting to be part of the mourners even though the doors of the great cathedral were closed.
After the mass Father Sammon said of his fallen friend, “It is a rare case indeed when an entire city can gather to mourn but the death of Bob Moran is that case.”
With an honor guard of police officers, led by a squad of motorcycle police officers, the cortege left the church and headed for downtown Peoria where they paraded past the city hall. The tolling of the mournful church bells pealed once every minute in a final salute to Detective Moran. Folks all along the route bowed their heads in respect as the mourners went by. They then headed for Saint Mary’s Cemetery where Bob was laid to rest.
Bob Moran, husband, father, detective and friend of the city…gone now these 76 years.
Editor’s note: Norm is a local historian and author of several books on Peoria’s history.
Next month: Norm will bring us another story lost in the shadows of Peoria’s past.

"The Shoemakers Son"

The Shoemaker
Norman V. Kelly
Chillicothe, Illinois was incorporated as a village on February 22, 1861 and as a nice little city along the Illinois River on February 11, 1873. Henry McNulty was a son of a shoemaker and came into that trade naturally. He dabbled in leather as well, repairing harnesses and making a living in and around Chillicothe. Henry was a decent citizen, but like a lot of us, he had a major flaw in his character. For Henry, it was slipping off to Peoria, Illinois to get drunk.
Trouble for Henry and his wife Elisa began in 1871, culminating in her having her husband arrested in 1872 for battery upon her person. Actually before the year was out the charges would include assault, public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. Sadly, the final charge against Henry McNulty was for the murder of his wife, Elisa.
Around three in the morning on September 23, 1872, Henry McNulty banged on his neighbor’s door screaming that something terrible had happened to his wife. It was not until five that morning that a physician told the investigating deputy, “When I found her in her bed she was cold and stiff.” Truth is, a friend of Elisa McNulty told reporters, “I’m surprised she lasted this long.”
Henry McNulty ended up in the Peoria County jail trying to understand the situation he was in. He was not a reluctant witness, answering every question put to him by the sheriff and his detectives. He told police he had had a few drinks but he certainly was not drunk. He stated that he woke up in the morning and found his wife dead on the floor. That was all he knew about the matter and was surprised that they had arrested him for murder.Police were inclined to believe him at first but a careful study of Henry’s arrest record convinced them to turn the matter over to the state’s attorney. The matter was voted on by the grand jury and Henry found himself indicted for murder, a capital offense, which made him eligible for the death penalty.
The small Peoria County Courthouse was jammed full that December 10, 1872 when the judge Peterbaugh called his court to order. In short order the jury was picked and prosecutor Kellogg told the jury that they were there to try a man that was guilty of killing his wife. Henry had a court appointed lawyer who told the jury that his client was an innocent man.
All of the witnesses were from Chillicothe and one by one they related the episodes of violence they were familiar with between Henry and his wife Elisa. The defense fought hard to keep some of the testimony from the jury, but the evidence was overwhelming. Finally, the prosecution put on the medical examiner to tell the jury how Mrs. McNulty had died.
“Mrs. McNulty died a painful death due to a violentblow to her left side. The force of the blow or blowsfractured two ribs and ruptured her spleen.”
On December 13, 1872, seven hours after they had received the case the jury indicated that they had reached a verdict. The foreman told the judge that they had found the defendant guilty of a capital crime and recommended death by hanging.
Bond was never even discussed, Henry had no money, so he just languished in jail awaiting whatever appeals he was allowed. On December 31, 1872 Henry was told that all of his appeals, including an appeal to the governor were denied. Henry McNulty would die for the murder of his wife. However, the very next day readers of the local newspapers were stunned to hear that the convicted wife killer had gotten a thirty-five day reprieve. Along with the reprieve Henry was told that his execution date was now February 7, 1873.
The condemned man sat in his holding cell in the Peoria County Jail listening to the carpenters building the gallows just for him. Just after one that afternoon of February 7, 1873 the sheriff’s deputies led Henry McNulty out of his cell. As Henry approached the gallows, he was escorted up the steps by the hangman. On the platform a padre stood waiting, holding a rosary and a bible.
At 1:22, when the sheriff pulled on the trap door rope, nothing happened. An alert deputy quickly bent over and yanked on the two bolts that were holding the trapdoor shut. The spectators jumped back as the loud crack of the freed trapdoor echoed in the high ceilings of the old jail. Henry McNulty’s body hurtled downward causing an audible snap in the man’s neck. As the crowd stood staring at the body, three physicians checked for a heartbeat. Finally, they nodded to the sheriff that Henry was dead. The sheriff cut the rope and McNulty’s body was put into a wooden coffin and carried off.
Was Henry McNulty guilty of a capital crime, a crime that made him eligible for the death penalty? A neighbor and friend of Mrs. McNulty later told reporters she had seen Elisa the very day before she died complaining of pains in her side from falling off a ladder. Did those injuries cause her death or did her husband kick her to death in a drunken rage? I guess it’s a wee bit late to be asking that questions, you think?
Editor’s Note: Norm is a retired private investigator, local historian and author.
Next Month: Norm will bring us another murder from Peoria’s bawdy past.

Talk About The Shoemaker
Do you think he did it?
Posted by trishan on 03/19/09
Do you think this man kicked his wife while drunk or did she die from other injuries?
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"Gangsters in Peoria History"

Gangsters in Peoria History
by Norm Kelly
After thirty years of researching Peoria’s history I can tell you there are a lot of gangster fans here in Peoria. Never, during my many lectures did anyone ask me about our churches, schools, or our industrial background. No, what they wanted me to talk about were gangsters in Peoria, Illinois. Frankly, I was glad because gangsters and sordid history is a lot more fun to talk about.
Peoria became a city in 1845 and we quickly rose head and shoulders above all the other river towns.Booze and beer propelled us along, and we grew like no other town, thanks to our location along the Illinois River and other factors. Never, and I mean never, was Peoria considered a gangster town nor were we referred to as a bawdy, wide-open town during our early history. Peoria was simply a great place to live, raise a family, and find a job.
Prohibition hit Peoria, Illinois harder than any other city because of our dependence on the breweries and distilleries. 1920 spawned the Roaring Twenties and gambling and prostitution really took hold here in the old river city during those thirteen years. Our reputation began to change from a Metropolitan, liberal town into a wide-open bawdy town. A place where a man could get a drink and dabble in the other vices the city provided. Still, you will never find any history of gangsters, nor was that label ever attached to the great town of Peoria, Illinois. Peoria had 79 murders during Prohibition and only one of them was connected in any way to bootlegging.
It was not until 1946, one hundred and one years into our history, that the word ‘gangster’ began to appear in the newspapers. That year brought us three ‘gangland style’ murders and the out of town reporters ripped into us with a vengeance. On the evening of February 21, 1946, Frank Kramer a local tavern owner was working inside his glassed in porch at his home on Farmington Road. A gunman, armed with a rifle, fired three shots, killing the well-known businessman. On a Saturday in September, 1946 the ‘bullet ridden’ body of Joel Nyberg was found on a golf course in Lacon, Illinois. He was a local small-time hoodlum who was out on bail pending his manslaughter conviction. On the evening of October 25, 1946, another gangland style murder hit the newspapers with major headlines. Phillip Stumpf, a gangster wannabe was driving on Big Hollow Road when a car came up behind him carrying four men with guns blazing. Police found eight holes in Stumpf’s car, and one in the back of his head.
In 1947, there was the kidnapping and murder of Flavel Feuger, a Bradley student which caused exciting headlines locally, and brought in at least a dozen reporters from large cities. Another notorious murder In 1947, that of Mr. George McNear, who was shot by a lone gunman outside his home, made major headlines. McNear was a very prominent Peorian and that murder was in the newspapers in many large cities across the United States. In July of 1948, Peoria’s own pet gangster, Bernie Shelton was shot down in the parking lot of a tavern across from Hunt’s Drive In. Reporters had a field day on that murder, and every story about Shelton that was ever written was reprinted and rehashed.
Those six murders ended the quaint reputation of Peoria being a bawdy, wide-open town. Newspapers from around the United States labeled Peoria a ‘ gangster town,’ and it stayed with us to this very day. One reporter, a man named Link, from Saint Louis was out after bloody details, and he hurt us the most. I am happy to say that he was indicted here in Peoria.
The FBI repeatedly reported that Peoria was as “safe as any other town its size.” Big city reporters, out for sensational headlines, would have you believe that machine gun fire was as common as fireworks on the Fourth of July. I am here to tell you that I was never able to verify the use of a Thompson Machine Gun in any of the 235 murders I wrote about over the years. Once the reporters left town our local reporters went about the task of reporting the coroner’s inquest and the actual facts surrounding the murders. But the damage had already been done, and the gangster reputation stuck.
Today, there are a lot of grandfathers in town that will tell you bloody details that will curl your hair. I have heard them all. Truth is, some of them have an element of truth to them, but most of them are just myths. I can also assure you that those same gentlemen will not believe a word of what I have just written. After all, gangsters and machine gun stories are a lot more fun than the simple truth. You can read all of the actual details in my books, only available in the Peoria Public Library.
Editor’s Note: Norm is a retired private investigator, historian and author. These stories are excerpts from his books, available in the Peoria Public Library. He welcomes your comments and questions.
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Tell what you think about Gangster in Peoria History.
Posted by bobm on 03/12/09

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" A Brief History of St. Mary's Cathedral"

A brief history of St. Mary's Cathedral
by Norman V. Kelly
Sunday, June 28, 1885 dawned bright with promise here in Peoria, Illinois. This day was to be a very special day for the Catholics living not only in Peoria County but many surrounding counties as well. Although it was indeed a Catholic day, the entire city and county of Peoria would participate. Some of them would just come for the exciting marching bands and the pageantry of the parade, but to many it was a religiously important day as well.
The excitement centered around the magnificent, breath taking beauty of the new Saint Mary’s Cathedral that was to be erected on Madison and Green Streets in downtown Peoria, Illinois. What Peorian, returning home has not felt the swell of excitement crossing the bridge to downtown Peoria? The sight of Peoria after a long auto trip is exciting enough, but over to the right, its two giant twin spires bathed in light, is the magnificent Saint Mary’s Cathedral.That landmark has been there throughout the years welcoming folks home.
Today would be the setting of the cornerstone for this great church and thousands would be here in town to witness the pomp and ceremony. Casper Mehler was authorized to begin the drawings of the plans for the church on April 22, 1894. Once they were completed the contractor, Mathias Schnell took over and the first stone was laid on May 15, 1884. Mr. Schnell was from Rock Island, Illinois, but most of the workers from the church were from this area.
June 28, 1895 was picked as the day when the cornerstone would be installed, even though considerable construction had already been completed. Folks, congregations, organizations, church leaders, and organized societies were invited to attend. People began coming into the city by every means of transportation available in 1885. The local folks made up welcoming committees and met the visitors at the train depot, escorting them to their own homes, hotels, inns and churches throughout the city.
Early on June 28, 1885, people from all over the state came together downtown to form the gigantic parade that would form up around the courthouse. Three of the largest and best bands in the state would lead the parade, followed by smaller bands and marching societies. Some of them were very large, including Knights of St. George, the Irish Hibernians, temperance groups and dozens of brightly dressed, exuberant groups. Spencer’s band, a very famous band, entertained as the groups formed and would also march in the parade.
By two that afternoon, clouds rolled in and a light drizzlebrought out colorful umbrellas, but the clouds soon passed. The Grand Marshal, Honorable Edward Spellman, signaled all was ready and the front band struck up a joyous piece and off they stepped up Adams, then up Main and over to Madison where they crowded up and around Green Street to the Cathedral. Thousands lined the parade route and then fell in behind the marchers as they all headed for the ceremonies. This certainly was an event open to the entire town and many felt pride along with the Catholics. Bishop John Lancaster Spalding made his way to the platform erected near the cornerstone and looked out at the huge, smiling crowd. He held up his hands and then welcomed everyone. The bishop then made his way to the altar with several priest to bless the cross. The bishop wore purple with a white rochet, while the priests wore white. Itwas a solemn occasion, but the happiness was evident in the faces of the crowd and the participants.
The contingent then made its way to the large cornerstone where the blessing of the foundation and the stone took place. A litany to the saints was spoken as the ceremonies ended. The bishop then spoke to the people gathered there at the great church.
The bishop spoke for several minutes about how the church had come about and invited everyone to keep the church alive and open to everyone. “This church shall be the center of light and power and unity for this whole diocese.” He then spoke elegantly about the City of Peoria, Illinois.“No man loves this city more than I do or is prouder of its present position, or hopeful for its future. There is no fairer site for a city in this country.” He then called upon pastors and people of other denominations to help support the building.
Bishop Spalding went on to tell the assemblage that he was certain that Peoria area’s population would be as many as 100,000 in the near future and that “This church will be built solidly, symbolizing the power and enduring life of the religion given to man by Jesus Christ.” THE CORNER STONE
Placed within the cornerstone, written in Latin was the history of the diocese here in the Peoria area. It included several other counties when it was founded by Pope Pius 1X in 1876. At that time there were 33 priests and 70 churches. By 1881 it had grown considerably and by 1885, there were 160 churches, 109 priests and several institutes, schools and academies.
Also placed within the cornerstone are several local newspapers, including the Transcript and a German paper as well. A list containing all of the members of the church in the diocese was included along with all of the priests names and churches. Several coins dated 1885 were included inside a small box.
The building was to be in the Gothic Style and dominate the area. The two spires climb two hundred feet from the sidewalk and the towers are massive, reaching a height of 76 feet. Fourteen by twenty-eight foot massive doors would adorn the main part of the church, which would be 85 by 76 feet in dimension. Since that glorious day the mighty Saint Mary Cathedral has been a beacon to visitors and the symbol of a city that has always been a wonderful place to raise a family. The church, because of the stately trees and the park like setting is even more beautiful than it was way back there in 1885.

When Bishop Spalding arrived here in Peoria early in 1877, he had a small, grayish, one-story church, located at Bryant and Jefferson. Almost from the very first day, Bishop Spalding told his parishioners that he had a vision for Peoria, for this diocese and his church. The holy man chose some property on Madison and Green for his new church. He chose this land because it was said to have been the first mission for LaSalle and Marquette. It was also very close to the first high mass that was ever said here in Peoria, November 21, 1698.
The bishop spent $20,000 for the property that he wanted, a hefty some in those days. By now the bishop’s plans had become a dream of his followers and by 1894 that dream was about to come true. Ground was broken for Saint Mary’s Cathedral on 4-22-1885. Just a short month later, May 15, 1885 the corner stone was laid amid a wonderful celebration, which you already know about.
THE MIGHTY DOORS OPEN Amid pomp and ceremony and marching bands, the Cathedral was once again the center of a celebration.After almost four years of work and an expenditure of almost $150,000.00 the mighty church was ready to open its doors to the people. It was May 15, 1889 when people gathered from far and wide to be part of history. Thousands gathered, both Catholic and just plain Peorians who knew a significant event when they saw one.Once the ceremonies began they would include two Archbishops, 80 priests and 40 altar boys. The solemn high mass was led by Bishop Spalding in purple and gold surrounded by the white clad priests. The organ was played by widely known Gerald R. Franks, accompanied by a huge chorus of melodic voices.
Reverend Henning gave a rousing two-hour sermon and never once even mentioned the Cathedral of Saint Mary.Why? Only the reverend knew the answer to that question and no one was asking.
In the 1930’s a church wide renovation was done to lighten the interior. Two Fluer-de-lis were installed, one for Joliet and one for Marquette. Again in 1953 the sound system was revised, and lighter, warmer paint was used for the interiors. Another huge crowd showed up on August 14, 1988 when the church was rededicated.
Although the Church has fallen on bad times, considering that in 1981 it was the epicenter for 238,000 Catholics located in 212 parishes, it is still a beacon. In my view it is no longer just a Catholic Church, but more of a symbol, a familiar sight to all of us. It has stood there in its mighty glory since 1885, may it stand another thousand years.
Mother Teresa, the most famous, pious woman the world has ever known, well, the modern world that is, was here in Peoria, Illinois in 1960. She came to spread her word and speak before a Catholic woman’s group. Her message is simple, “take care of the poorest of the poor.”
Mother Teresa, MC, that stands for Missionary of Charity was also here December 10, 1995. She came to thank the Sisters of Saint Francis for taking care of one of her nuns. There are at least six of Mother Teresa’s nuns here in Peoria, taking care of the poor out of Saint Mary’s Cathedral. People flocked around her and although it was a very cold day, Mother Teresa wore her famous sandals known to the world.
While here she told her followers that “I am a poor woman that prays.” She went on to say that “God had not called us to be successful, but to be helpful.”
Peoria has a magnificent artist here in town, although he is from Metamora as a boy. He is Lonnie Stewart and he has his studios on Water Street. He is truly famous for his sculptures and portrait paintings. At any one time his art is being viewed around the world. He traveled to Calcutta to meet with Mother Teresa, who was in a hospital at that time. He completed a portrait of her, and began a six-foot sculpture of the famous lady.
Mr. Stewart said of Mother Teresa, “She is not a tiny woman and I noticed that she had long arms and large hands.” He said of his work, “Notice that she has one foot in front of the other and she is looking over your head. I wanted her to be communicating with God.”
On November 29, 1998, a large crowd including six nuns from the Ministry of Charity crowded around the still hooded statue of Mother Teresa. They were anxiously waiting for their first glimpse of the work of Lonnie Stewart. After the appropriate speeches the moment arrived and once the cloth was dropped, oohs and aahs and applause rang out in appreciation. The work is located to the left of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, certainly the most appropriate site in Peoria.
Present among the well-wishers was Cilla Marc, wife of Charles Marc, the man that had financed the entire work and site erection. All seven children of the couple were in attendance as well. On the right hand side of the base of the work there is an inscription. Dedicated to the memory of Charles Marc. Mr. Marc died of cancer in 1997. When he met with Father Meyer it was suggested that this statute of Mother Teresa would be a wonderful remembrance. And so it was and will be for centuries to come.

Talk About It!
What do you know about St. Mary's Cathedral?
Posted by trishan on 04/17/09
Norm Kelley has given us the history of one of Peoria's significant landmarks. Have you been there? What was your impression?
Comments (0) 04/17/09

"A Hallmark Murder"

A Hallmark Murder
by Norman V. Kelly
Pretty Mildred Hallmark, age 19 boarded a streetcar in downtown Peoria, Illinois on the rainy night of June 16, 1935. She was heading for her home at 1100 E. Maywood. Once she stepped off the car she vanished. Her nude body was found grotesquely sprawled across a fallen tree in Springdale Cemetery. Her murder brought terror to the hearts of folks in Peoria, and sparked a massive manhunt for her killer.
Gerald Thompson, age 25, was a handsome, likeable young man, who worked at Caterpillar and lived in Peoria Heights. When he was arrested for the murder of Miss Hallmark, his friends, neighbors and family were positive that the police had the wrong man. As it turned out, they were wrong…dead wrong.
Detectives, as in most murder cases, received hundreds of ‘tips,’ but only three eventually led them to Thompson. The most important witness was a rape victim herself. Detectives grilled the young killer for 26 hours up on the third floor of city hall. Investigators questioned the suspect relentlessly, allowing short breaks, a bit of water and then more questions. One by one the victim’s garments were dropped into Thompson’s lap. Horrified, he rocked backwards forcing an officer to catch his tilted chair. First the battered and mud splattered hat then the rest of the victim’s clothing were floated onto his lap. Moments later he was sobbing and in a complete break down. Once he recovered his confession was recorded. At least a thousand people filled the streets below, waiting for a word from the police. Finally, a detective went over to the open window. A roar went up as he said, “He did it, he confessed!”
Lovable Gerald Thompson turned out to be Peoria’s first serial rapist. His little black book guided the police to his brutal conquests, naming at least sixteen women. Mildred Hallmark was raped and died from a broken neck from a powerful blow to her chin during the assault. Mildred managed to inflict a nasty bite on her killer’s thumb.

On July 22, 1935, spectators, mostly women, filled every inch of space as the most sensational trial of the thirties began in the Peoria courthouse. Once the doors were opened a mad rush ensued causing one of the doors to be damaged by the rampaging women bent on getting a seat. Outside many hundreds of people lined the walkway between the jail and the courthouse to get a glimpse of the now famous Gerald Thompson. Jurors clamored to be chosen and it took two days to complete the task.
Thompson was well represented and once the trial got underway, hundreds remained outside hoping somehow to get a seat. The highlight of every murder trial often comes when the defendant takes the stand in his or her own defense. The debate raged between the lawyers over the admittance of Thompson’s confession. Thompson took the stand, but the jury was dismissed. He tried to convince the judge that his confession was coerced. Still the spectators heard from the man of the hour, and it was dramatic indeed. When it was admitted as evidence, Thompson’s chances of an acquittal flew out the window. The battle raged between the lawyers in the sweltering heat of the July trial. The State put on quite a show, with witness after witness adding to the nails in the defendant’s coffin. On July 31, 1935 the jury found the defendant guilty, recommending that he be executed.
While a prisoner in the county jail, Thompson received many visitors. He was engaged to Lola Hughes, and every time she visited the local newspapers printed photos and many quotes from Gerald Thompson. Pornographic pictures were stolen from Thompson’s bedroom and were sold on the streets of Peoria for twenty-five cents. He also caught the eye of some local women that not only wrote him, they were allowed to visit him.
Thompson was taken to death row in the state prison in Joliet to await his execution and the finalization of the mandatory appeals. On October 15, 1935, Gerald Thompson was strapped into ‘Old Smokey’ as they called the electric chair. His last words were printed in the local newspapers. “Good-bye. I hope God will accept me.” Mr. Hallmark, also a Caterpillar man, witnessed the execution of the man that had destroyed his daughter. “Thank God that’s over,” he said as he stepped down from the chair he used to watch the killer die.
Gerald Thompson was buried in Macomb next to his grandfather, a war hero. June the sixteenth of 2009 will mark the seventy-fourth anniversary of Mildred Hallmark’s murder. Her disappearance, the discovery of her body, the manhunt for her killer and the murder trial here in Peoria were sensational, terrifying news in Peoria, Illinois in 1935.
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Tell what you think about A Hallmark Murder.
Posted by bobm on 03/12/09

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"Early Peoria Killers"

Early Peoria Killers: Williams & Brown
by NORMAN V. KELLYLet me take you back to Peoria, Illinois in 1850 when the city was all of five years old. We began at the edge of the Illinois River, just a small trading village, named after the local Peoria Indian. We grew… my how we grew and Peoria attracted every kind of folk imaginable. Not all of them worth having, I might add. Among those undesirables were George Williams, Thomas Brown and Tom ‘Tit’ Jordan. On that cool November first, 1850, they were down at the stockyards hunting for someone to rob. Once they zeroed in on their victim they stalked him most of the day.The victim was Harvey Hewett and he was in town selling off a large herd of cattle. After a successful day of moneymaking he headed out of town alone in his horse drawn buggy. Near what we call Adams and Spring Streets he was waylaid, beaten senseless, robbed and left for dead. He died nine days later, but during his lucid moments he gave a very good description of the three men that had attacked him. A huge posse was formed and off they went heading south to apprehend the three killers, known personally by local tavern denizens. In those days thieves and killers were usually run down and hanged at the nearest tree. Folks in Peoria expected the same fate to meet these three killers as well.THEY’RE ALIVE!News that the posse had captured rather than hanged the culprits was indeed surprising news. However, Thomas Jordan had escaped to New Orleans and the Peoria Sheriff had personally contacted the Governor of Louisiana for help in getting Jordan back to Peoria. Here in Peoria, the newly appointed Judge William Kellogg held the murder trial of Williams and Brown on November 20, 1850.The prosecutor got into evidence the signed statements of the victim, Harvey Hewitt and it took but a very short time to find the killers guilty. They of course blamed the missing killer, Thomas Jordan for the actual killing.On November 27, 1850 Judge Kellogg sentenced the two men to die by hanging, setting the date of December 29, 1850 as the execution date.A DANGEROUS MOBA rumor started in town that the hanging would be postponed sparked a mob to storm the small courthouse demanding that the two killers be hanged or turned over to the enraged mob for justice. The out gunned Sheriff was forced to step out of the way. Brown and Williams armed only with a brick and a knife fought off the rioters, injuring two and actually killing one man. Once they had the killers out of the jail they were helpless. Surprisingly the two beaten men were returned to the jail. Local reporters at the time stated that the leaders had forgotten to obtain a rope prior to the attack. So, Williams and Brown survived the mob, but still faced the hangman. As it turned out the postponement had been warranted because the judge was waiting for Jordan to return to Peoria. The court wanted the two condemned men to testify against Jordan but that never happened. Jordan was later tried but escaped the death sentence. Judge Kellogg set the hangings for January.AN OUTDOOR HANGINGJanuary 15, 1851 dawned, blustery and frigid as folks began to gather at thegallows constructed out in the prairie, which we now know as Sanford and Second Streets. Our population at the time was just over six thousand but by the time the hanging got underway over fifteen thousand folks were in attendance. The crowd roared as the wagon containing the two condemned men pulled up inside the fenced in area. Deputies cleared the way as they brought the terrified men out of the wagon and up the gallows steps. The crowd surged forward once again and soon the fence was flat on the ground.Once up on the platform the two men turned to face the sea of angry faces. The noise began to lessen and soon the crowd stood silently looking up at the condemned men. The hangman guided black hoods over each killer’s head as the padre mumbled prayers. As the executioner led the two men to the trapdoor, he deftly slipped ropes about their necks. The snap of the opening trapdoor rang out in the cold morning air hurtling the men to their deaths. A mighty roar went up and then silenced as the bodies began to twist slowly at the end of the ropes. The two attending physicians pronounced Brown, then Williams dead. The bodies were cut down and put into pine coffins. Two horse drawn hearses carried them off to a pauper’s grave. For a moment or so the folks stood silently, then one by one they turned and walked away. The event marked the first public hanging in the City of Peoria’s history.Six other hangings would take place in or on the courthouse property here in town. Two other convicted killers would die in the electric chair in Joliet.Editor’s Note: Norm is a local historian and author. His book, UNTIL YOU ARE DEAD, detailing all of Peoria’s executions is available in the Peoria Public Library. (
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Posted by bobm on 03/12/09

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Norm is a local historian and author who most recently wrote a story entitled, "The Mystery of the Missing Manuscript" for The Big Read Peoria Reads which incorporated local history into a story about the 2009 book choice The Maltese Falcon. His book, UNTIL YOU ARE DEAD, detailing all of Peoria’s executions is available in the Peoria Public Library. Much of his writing comes from his real life experiences as a private detective in Peoria. Norm welcomes your comments and questions and can be reached at