Wednesday, December 9, 2015


“Let’s remember Pearl Harbor,” most Americans at least 78 remember where they were when Pearl Harbor was hit. That song about Pearl Harbor was heard in very early 1942. 

“This Is The Army Mr. Jones,” also a song of 1942. As many as 23,200 men from this area went off to War and hundreds and hundreds of women volunteered for everything from the WAVES to WACS. At least 662 men from this area lost their lives in WW 11. Of course many came back wounded.  It Might surprise you to know that hundreds of divorces were granted in 1946 here in Peoria after the war.  That is a sad statistic I have never heard any so-called historian talk about.  Some other songs we sang during the war were these ditties:

“Bell Bottom Trousers,” (Coat of Navy blue )
“Keep ‘Em  Flying.”
“From The Halls Of Montezuma To The Shores Of Tripoli.”
“Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition.”

WW 11 here in Peoria brought thousands into this area to take the jobs that were here in our factories. Rosie The Riveter…Peoria house wives, did a remarkable job helping our war effort…and got paid less than men to do the same job. There was a song about them that was extremely popular called “Pistol Packin’ Mama.” Now thousands of folks were pouring into Peoria and the draft was on. Songs like “Mom I Miss your apple pie” were among the big hits.

Artie Shaw enlisted with his entire band and a lot of famous movies stars went off to war.  Another song sang by the Andrews sisters was “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company C.”  Here is a song we loved to sing on hayrack rides.   “Good Night Irene,” and Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me.” For dancers the big song was “I Don’t Want To Walk Without You”.  Of course my age group was a bit too young to get too ‘smoochie,’ but we caught on later. 1942 also brought us “Right In The Fuhrer’s Face.”  It was a silly novelty song that we all got a kick out of singing.

“Lilli Marlene,” never really caught on here, but the GI’s liked it while they were in England.  This song was written in the 30’s, and I think it was a German song. We had five USO places operating here in Peoria and one of them was designated’ For Coloreds.’ Sad, but that was who we were here in Peoria.
“I Left My Heart At The Stage Door Canteen” was a major song in 1943. The Stage Door was Huge in New York, but we had things like this in every major city in the United States.  All the live acts that played Peoria featured this song and many other patriotic songs that kept our morale up during those scary times.

“Marriages were UP…Morals were Down.”  That was a phrase we heard here in town.  Many young men about to go overseas married their high school sweet hearts. Sadly as I mentioned when they came back home to Peoria that high school girl had grown up and simply changed her mind about her ‘man.’  ‘Dear John’ letters were popular…or should I say unpopular during the war.
All of the critical Peoria war factories worked three shifts and most of our 242 taverns stayed open twenty to twenty-two hours a day.
A large portion of our army and air force was stationed in England preparing for ‘The Big Push.’  Brits were quoted as saying this:  The Yanks are over sexed, over paid and over here.” Good thing they were there…not only for them but the entire World.

Here is a song we liked: “They’re Either Too Young Or Too Old.” A sad lament from the ladies…most of the men 18-35 were long gone. As for the guys back here in Peoria there were some that the gals would not look at twice at one time…now they were ‘Kings.’

By 1943 there was some good war news but by the then casualties were mounting.  I remember the little flags in the windows. There were three at my house and sadly we saw some of them turn from blue to gold. In fact 662 were lost from this area in that war. Penicillin, a product of Peoria, Illinois was in mass production and saved countless lives.

Iwo Jima was ghastly and here in Peoria I think every household cut out that picture of the American Flag being raised on a mountain top there and put it on the front window.

After D-Day, June 6, 1945 a few new songs were popular. I remember them all.  “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To.” And one the ladies loved:  “Wonder When My Baby’s Comin’ Home?”

There were a quite a few songs about Hitler…and at the carnivals we threw baseballs at Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini stuffed targets. We rejoiced in 1945 when we heard Hitler was dead.  Truman announced that Japan had been hit with two Atomic Bombs and we knew that the war was finally going to be over.  My three brothers were going to come home and Peoria let loose with a great parade and party downtown on V. J. Day. I was there for all of it. The World was safe for the moment.

Editor’s Note:  Norm is a Peoria historian.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Long Time Ago

On May 24, 1878 there was a bit of excitement downtown because the old courthouse that was built in 1836 in Peoria, Illinois was being torn down. 

People stood around the perimeter or sat on old chairs or boxes and just watched.  Now there were no bright yellow Caterpillars tearing up the place just men and a few mules and all kinds of tools lay around. But still, there was movement over there and for the older men of Peoria that beat just sitting on a bench telling lies.  There were rumors that there might be treasure of some kind hidden in the walls or a maybe something interesting in the old corner stone that was put in place so many years ago.

One of the workers was along side the building virtually working alone.  A few younger men watched and suddenly they moved up a bit closer.  The man held a bottle in his hand momentarily before he quickly tucked it inside his jacket.  Now that was curious the men thought so they called out to him to show them what he found.  That frightened the worker and off he ran away from the courthouse yard and ran down Jefferson Street with the men chasing after him.  Within a few blocks they gave up but the younger man named Mike Brady was persistent and finally caught up with the fleeing worker.  Witnesses said that the two men talked for a few moments before the worker handed over the whiskey bottle to the Mr. Brady and grabbed the twenty-five dollars he was offered and disappeared.  Triumphantly the new owner of the old whiskey bottle went back to his friends and proudly held the bottle up in the air.  “I got it,” he said, with a huge grin on his face.


The small group gathered beneath one of the old elm trees as Brady carefully opened the bottle, sniffed its contents then poured a small amount of the whisky in his palm.  That action brought a round of laughter from the men and an angry reaction from the young man.  “It’s just water! Twenty-five dollars for a bottle of water. I’m gonna go find that guy.”

Only then did the young man look at the label.  The label clearly stated that the bottle was from a local distillery and dated 1878.  The trick made the local newspapers and Mike Brady stayed away from the courthouse from then on, according to his ‘friends.’


If there was a peak time for our distilleries and breweries in Peoria before the turn of the century it was probably 1878. There were 14 distilleries in Peoria at that time distilling thousands of gallons of ‘booze’ into bottles and barrels and shipping it ‘Hither and yon,’ as folks used to like to say.  We had a lot of wealthy whiskey and beer Barons here and their product, at least the whiskey was often referred to a ‘High Wines.’  Do you think High Street might have gotten its name from that phrase?  The owners bragged about the high taxes they were paying and that comment was hurled at the do-gooders and anti-whiskey people that were relentless in their attacks on ‘Demon Rum.’  All during the Civil War our local beer and whiskey makers paid well over thirty-five million dollars annually to help support the Union cause, and they were proud of that fact. The local farms in Peoria and surrounding counties virtually lived off the massive tons of grain these distilleries bought, and yet even some of them, especially their wives and church members continued their assault on the liquor industry. Those attacks eventually led to the dreaded Prohibition Era.


In 1878, Valentine Jobst was awarded the contract to build a City Workhouse and promised he could do it for $10,791. I am assuming he was the same Val Jobst that did so many construction jobs around here.  Well, I feel certain it was a relative at least.  The site for the building was at the foot of Grant Street. The workhouse was a unique building and it was built to house people who owed the city money in the form of fines.  They even had an area for women.  To me it was totally unconstitutional but it lasted for over forty years and was never challenged.  The city fathers got tired of having the police officers arrest a person for some kind of violation, having trials and the people simply did not pay the fines.  Now the courts would sentence the man or woman to the workhouse where he or she would work off the fine.  The prisoners were paid fifty cents a day so some of them were incarcerated for up to six months.  Most of the men and women sentenced in booze related charges went in and out of the ‘jail’ for as long as they lived.  They closed the doors the day Prohibition began in 1920.


On June 9, 1878 thousands of people flocked to the river to watch a boating classic called the Mississippi Valley Rowing Association held on the Peoria Lake. Later a grand ball and reception were held with Governor Cullom as the guest of honor. “A hot time in old Peoria, Illinois

Editor’s Note:   Norm is a Peoria Historian and author and monthly contributor to 50 Plus NEWS & VIEWS.