Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Iroquois Theater Fire-- 105th Anniversary

While listening to WBBM-AM in Chicago this morning, I heard them mention that today is the 105th anniversary of the Iroquois Theater Fire on Dec. 30, 1903, which claimed the lives of 603 mostly women and children who were there for a holiday showing of the musical "Mr. Bluebird."

I've heard of it before, but very few people really remember it. At this point, I doubt that any of the survivors are still alive, and very sadly, most of the victims should gave been able to escape, but for doors that opened inward, as was the custom, and different door locks that people were unfamiliar with. Some doors were even chained shut in this building at 24-28 Randolph that boasted of being "absolutely fire proof." Well, nine years later, the Titanic was "unsinkable."

It still ranks as the single deadliest building fire in US history.

There was seating for 1,724, but almost 2000 squeezed in to see the movie. The fire started during the second act at 3:15, and at first, patrons thought it was special effects. Corpses were piled ten deep at the exits and 575 died that day with 30 more dying later.

It reopened a year later as the Colonial Theater and then in 1926, was torn down to make way for the Oriental Theater which still stands at the site.

Information from Wikipedia.

People remeber the Chicago Fire, which was devastating, but not this tragedy or the sinking of the Eastland in the Chicago River. Both killed many more people.

I Guess You'd Best Not Boast. --Old Coot

Monday, December 29, 2008

Captain Field E. Kindley, WW I Ace

I'd never heard of him before, but came across his name in the Fall 2008 issue of the Delta Sigma Phi Carnation. One of my fraternity brothers, Jack Ballard, Arkansas '49, has written a book "Warbird Ace: The Great War Exploits of Capt. Field E. Kindley."

Most people have heard of the more famous Eddie Rickenbacker, but few of Kindley. He flew with the famous "War Birds" Americans who trained in England with the RAF before joining the US Air Service. He flew Sopwith Camels throughout his military service overseas and earned the US Distinguished Service Cross and British Distinguished Flying Cross.

I went to Wikipedia for more information.

Kindley was born in Arkansas, but moved to Coffeyville, Kansas where he was part owner in a motion picture theater. He enlisted in the Kansas Army National Guard and transferred to the aviation branch of the US Signal Corps. He attended the School of Military Aeronautics at the University of Illinois where he was a somewhat unlucky and untalented pilot, experiencing many mechanical break downs and accidents and landed in the wrong place a few times.

Despite this lackluster start, he was among the first Americans to go to England for combat aircraft training in 1917.. In 1918, he was commissioned a First Lieutenant in the American Air Service.


His first flight in a Sopwith Camel after that, he crashed into the White Cliffs of Dover and after recovering was assigned to the RAF's 65th Squadron and had his first air-to-air kill June 26, 1918, over France.

In July 1918, the US Army formed the 148th Squadron and he transferred to it and had its first kill. While with the unit, he had 11.5 kills, ranking him third highest American Ace behind Eddie Rickenbacker and Raoul Lufberg.

His fourth kill, August 13, 1918, was likely that of Lothar von Richthofen, brother of the famous Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen, who was badly injured and never flew again.

He was killed after the war while demonstrating for General John J. Pershing at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas.

A Sopwith Camel F-1, said to be his and claimed to be the only surviving plane of that kind in the US, was used in the 1968 movie "The Blue Mac" an currently is at the Aerospace Air Museum in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Interesting Story. It Sounds Like He Was a Better Flyer in Combat Than He Was Otherwise. --Old Coot

Sunday, December 28, 2008

O'Hare Airport-- Part 2

Continued from yesterday.

Shortly afterward, three army officers were on their way to the Chicago area to pick the best of nine possible sites. The other city picked for a new Douglas plant was Oklahoma City (also on Route 66) It would build two-engine DC-3 transports referred to as the C-47 by the Army.

Other Illinois sites were Ford Airfield in Lansing, Rubinkam Airpot in Harvey; small airports in St. Charles, Aurora, and Joliet; undeveloped tracts near Orchard Place near Bensenville; and two open sites near Chicago's Municipal Airport (now Midway).

Orchard Place was chosen because of the availability of land, good drainage, and nearby railroads for transportation.

The airport adjoining the Douglas C-54 plant was originally called Orchard Douglas Field which is where the ORD luggage tags comes from.


Trees, fences and farm buildings were removed starting in July 1942, just one month after the project was accepted. Construction on the first building and all four runways also began. The main building was a 42-acre behemoth and construction began on that August 24th. Within three months, planes were being built.

Once the war ended, Douglas no longer needed it and asked the government if it could be converted into a civilian field to relieve congestion at Municipal Airport. permission was granted and Douglas dropped from name.

In 1949, Chicago Tribune publisher suggested the name be changed to O'Hare to honor WW II Navy ace Edward "Butch" O'Hare and City Council agreed. Municipal Airport's name was renamed for the Battle of Midway the same year (I didn't know that).

I have flown into and out of O'Hare many times. When i first graduated from college, I drove people back and forth to the airport from the Sheraton-Walden Hotel in Schaumburg and later from the Holiday Inn in Wheeling-Northbrook.

I also thought the ORD tags on luggage were from ORcharD Field, but now I know the D is from Douglas. You learn something every day. I also thought Midway got its way because it was midway through Chicago.

So, That's the Story of O'Hare. --Old Coot

White Christmas: Snow, Movie and Song

The Chicago Tribune came up with a lot of great facts about all things dealing with white Christmas from the weather to the movie to the song. You can view it at my blog http://downdaroadigo.blogspot.com.

It appeared in the Dec. 25th edition "I'm dreaming of a ...White Christmas (by the numbers)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

O'Hare Airport

The May 25th Chicago tribune had an article on O'Hare Airport in Chicago which was built in just one year. There were no environmental impact studies and less neighborhood opposition as there is with the planned expansion of these days.

There were some old photos as well with the hundreds who turned out for the ceremony to re-name Orchard-Douglas Field to O'Hare to honor WW II fighter pilot Edward "Butch" O'Hare, who had received a Medal of Honor from FDR in 1942. A vestige of the former name remains in baggage tags which read "ORD" for Orchard.

The current expansion program began in 2001.

After Pearl harbor, the government was looking for places to build aircraft far from the coasts. The selection of the site for O'Hare took only a couple months. There was some opposition, but the necessities of war soon squashed it. Douglas Aircraft Co. needed a safe place to build their four-engine C-54 transport planes.

Orchard Place was rezoned from farm to industrial use. Neighbors in nearby Des Plaines and Park Ridge were more interested in the potential for local taverns to do business with the factory workers.

To be Continued. --Cooter

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Chain O' Lakes Facts and Figures

We are fortunate to live close to the famous Chain of Lakes here in northeastern Illinois. This is truley beautiful country (other than this winter).

Here are some facts:

### Originally home to native American. French explorers came to the area in the 1600s.

### Stretches from the Wisconsin border through Lake County and into McHenry County. Includes the Fox River, nine main lakes and many smaller bodies of water.

### In 1839, Hiram Buttrick built a sawmill in the Lake County town of Antioch, making it a hub for commerce.

### In the 1880s, a new rail line linked Chicago to Antioch, and the Chain of Lakes became a popular destination for Chicagoans.

### A big early tourist draw was riding boats through the thick lotus beds. Today, it is still a major inland recreational water system. Fishing is also a major sport.

### Local legend says Al capone regularly vacationed on Bluff lake in the 1930s.

What's Not to Like? --Da Coot

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dead Page-- Two Tuskegee Airmen

The Greatest Generation continues to die off.

GEORGE A. TAYLOR 1919-2008

Died June 21st in Chicago. When he left his hometown in Virginia, and enlisted in the Army Air Corps, he didn't tell anyone because so many blacks washed out of the program. He really surprised everyone when he returned with his wings. He became one of the original members of what is now called the Tuskegee Airmen.

His proudest day was when he and the other members were given the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor in 2007. He had a small replica made and wore it around his neck from that moment on.

He flew more than 50 missions with the 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group over Italy and was awarded two Bronze Stars, an Air Medal and four battle stars.


Died June 24th. Had a 21-year military career, retiring from the US Air Force in 1962. About 1,000 pilots trained at the segregated Army Air Corps unit at Tuskegee Army Flying School in Alabama during WW II. He was selected in August 1941, four months before the US entered the war. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in April 1842. Just five others had earned their wings before his class of three.

He was a member of the 99th Pursuit Squadron of the 322nd Fighter Group and served in North Africa and Italy.

His P-40 fighter was nicknamed "A-Train". In 2007, he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor with almost 300 surviving Tuskegee Airmen attending. He wrote a book about his service, "A-Train: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman."

Sadly, he recalled that while stationed in Walterboro, SC, German prisoner got privileges in theaters and cafeterias that were denied to black soldiers.

Two Truly Great Examples of Americans Who Had to Overcome Huge Obstacles to Serve.

Rosa Parks' Personal items to Be Auctioned

Guernsey's of New York City has been asked to auction off thousands of Rosa Parks' personal items by a Detroit probate judge. She left practically all of her estate to the Detroit based Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Seld Development, but her 13 nephews and nieces have been feuding over them ever since her death. An undisclosed deal has been reached with them, and part of it is this sell-off. Too bad they have so little respect for their aunt.

Arlan Ettinger, head of the auction house estimates the collection to be worth $10 million. Hopefully, a museum, university, or some other institution will buy it so it is not broken up.

Included in it are items such as: the Presidential Medal of Freedom presented by President Clinton, the dress she wore to the ceremony, a tattered schoolbook, "How to Speak and Write Correctly," a letter she wrote about King's house being bombed while she and he were at a meeting a month after the boycott began, and the hat she wore the day she refused to give up her seat.

July 3rd Chicago Tribune.

Now, That's Some History. --Cooter

Monday, December 22, 2008

Dead Page: Mr. Captain Crunch-- Star Trek


Helped develop Captain Crunch and helped develop dietary guidelines for the military.

Was a nutritionist with Quaker Oats for 30 years and helped develop Captain Crunch and Life cereals (like Mikey eat it).

Died July 29th in California. Worked at the Quaker Oats research facility in Barrington, Illinois from 1952 to 1983. With his background, he wanted foods that tasted good, sold well and were as healthy as possible.


Actress and widow of "Star Trek" creator.

Involved with Star Trek for more than four decades. She played Number One in the original plot (later Mr. Spock). Later became Nurse Christine Chapel and had other smaller roles on TV and in the movies. Also the voice of the ship's computer.

Both obituaries from the Chicago Tribune.

Do You Remember...

A friend sent me one of those much-forwarded e-mails recently. This one about things folks my age might remember. Young folks would just wonder what?

Do you remember:

When all girls had ugly gym uniforms.

It took awhile for TVs to warm up.

Nobody owned a pure-bred dog.

When a quarter was decent allowance.

All male teachers wore ties and female teachers wore dresses and high heels.

You got your windshield cleaned, oil checked, and gas pumped without asking, and FOR FREE.

You didn't have to pay for air and got trading stamps or glassware and maps.

It was considered a great privilege to be take out for dinner by your parents.

When schools threatened to keep kids back a grade if they failed...and THEY DID!

Playing baseball or football with no adults around to help kids with the rules of the game.

When kids being sent to the principal's office was nothing compared to what would happen at home.

There was no fear of drive-by shootings, drugs, or gangs.

Parents were the biggest threat to your life, but their love was greater than the threat.

I Remember All of These. How About You? --Old, Old Coot

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Smithsonian Jumping on Obama Bandwagon

The Dec. 12th Chicago Tribune also had an article about the Smithsonian's new exhibits in Washington, DC. Ten new exhibits are opening: five brand new and five centering on the life of Abraham Lincoln.

Five of them will feature the Obama-Lincoln connection and will also give the institution a jump on the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth in 2009.

The opening of the exhibit are tied to the inauguration on Jan. 20th.

The Smithsonian's American History Museum has "Abraham Lincoln:An Extraordinary Life" features 60 items used or owned by Lincoln, including the top hat he wore to Ford's Theater.

The Art Museum is commemorating Lincoln's second inaugural ball which took place in its building, the old US Patent Office. More than 4,000 guests were there the night of March 6, 1865.

The National Portrait Gallery is showing Lincoln images and opening a new exhibit, "Presidents in Waiting," a look at the 14 vice presidents who went on to become president.

The National Postal Museum has an exhibit of plate proofs for stamps that have honored Lincoln.

It's a Lincoln-Obama Thing. --Old Coot

Going After the Obama Artifacts

The Dec. 12th Chicago Tribune had an article about historical groups getting Barack Obama artifacts. The DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago will receive some of the paintings from the walls of his senate office. The Old State Capitol in Springfield, which served as a backdrop (a Lincoln connection) for his Feb. 10, 2007 announcement of his intention of running for president and the August 23, 2008, announcement of Senator Joe Biden as his running mate.

Abraham Lincoln gave his famous "House Divided" speech there in 1858 and used it as his campaign headquarters in 1860. However, the article calls the Old State Capitol a reconstruction. I think it is he original, but was taken apart and rebuilt while a parking garage was put under it.

The Old State Capitol received a signed copy of the speech and the pen he used to sign it.

It's All Part of an Obama Thing. --Old Coot

Dead Page: USS Indianapolis Survivor-- Concentration Camp Commander-- Urban Historian

From July 27th Chicago Tribune Obituary Recap for preceding week.


Survivor of the USS Indianapolis sinking and ordeal and executive of Great Lakes Paper Co, died July 12th.


Last-known living commander of a World War II concentration camp who had been serving a twenty-year sentence for war crimes, July 21, in Zagreb, Serbia.


Urban historian at University of Chicago who helped put cities on the map for academic study. Also advised Democratic candidates including Adlai Stevenson, Robert F. Kennedy, and George McGovern, July 18th.

Woolworth's Cafe 1950s Prices

Don't you wish you had the money you have now, only back then. Look at these prices.

Bacon and tomato triple decker sandwich-- 50 cents
Triple decker chicken salad sandwich-- 65 cents
American cheese sandwich-- 30 cents
Banana split with half a banana and three scoops of ice cream-- 39 cents
Fresh orange juice 20 cents regular, 30 cents large
Milk shake with two scoops of ice cream-- 25 cents
Apple pie-- 15 cents a slice
Layer cake-- 15 cents a slice

Whoa, Nellie!!! -- Coot

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dead Page: Arrested Oswald-- "Stepping"-- Sportswriter

The Sunday, July 27th Chicago Tribune had a wrap up of notable deaths during the preceding week. There were quite a few of interest.


Dallas police detective who helped arrest Kennedy's assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald at the Texas Theater. That day sure made an impression on me. Died July 21st. He was a 21-year member of the Dallas police force.

When Oswald was arrested, there was a fight. Bentley was on the balcony, but raced down for the arrest. A well-known photo shows Bentley on the right in suit and tie with a cigar in his mouth. Oswald appears to have a cur on his forehead.

His brother-in-law, L.C. Graves was escorting Oswald when Jack Ruby killed him. He's say to his brother-in-law, "I arrested him and you let him get shot."


Master of the gliding and grooving dance called "Stepping.' Very popular in black clubs across Chicago and a big favorite of Herb "The Kool Gent" Kent. I understand this is somewhat like the "Shag" dance popular along the east coast at Beach Clubs. Died July 22nd.


Longtime Chicago baseball writer for the Tribune and other papers. He is in the Hall of Fame, created the Saves Rule for relievers, and was Major League Baseball's official historian. Died July 19th.

Enjoyed his articles and columns.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dead Page: Preservationist-- Jim's Dad-- D-Day and Luggage Conveyor

This page gets its name from what my seventh graders used to call Current Events where I would talk about people who had died, but whose lives touched ours or who live an interesting life.

LEIGH SILLS 1930-2008

A history buff and a driving force for getting Chicago's Old Town designated a historic district. Died Dec. 9th.

She took her history seriously. From Dec. 12th Chicago Tribune: "Unable to date historic homes in Old Town through building permits, Leigh Sills pored through the city's sewer logbooks from the 1870s,looking for sewer connections on homes rebuilt after the great fire that destroyed much of Chicago in 1871."

We need more folks like her.


Commanded the fleet in the Gulf of Tonkin incident that led to the escalation of the Vietnam War and whose son was Jim Morrison of the Doors. Now there is a combination.

Aboard the aircraft carrier Bon Homme Richard on August 2, 1864 when the destroyer USS Madddox engaged three North Vietnamese torpedo boats. President Johnson ordered air strikes against North Vietnam and Congress gave him the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that greatly expanded his powers to wage the war.

Obviously, his relationship with son Jim was strained.

Graduated from the Naval Academy in 1941 and as an ensign was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked Dec. 7th. In the last year of the war, he flew combat missions over Wake Island and Japan. After the war he was an instructor at the secret nuclear weapons projects at Albuquerque. He also organized relief effort for the 100,000 Vietnamese refugees in 1975.

Died Nov. 17th in Coronado, California.

FRANK L. ERL 1918-2008

Died Dec. 8th in Wheatin, Illinois.

During the Normandy Invasion, Army Captain Frank L. Erl led his troops in a ditch to seek cover from enemy fire. It is hard to say who was more surprised, he and his men or the group of German soldiers already in it. They dropped their weapons and surrendered.

A trained engineer, he also defused explosives and co-piloted glider planes, known as flying coffins for their crashes. He received two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star during the war. He definitely lived a dangerous life.

After the war, he joined Acco Industries in Chicago, and designed and installed the first luggage conveyor system at O'Hare Airport.

The Greatest Generation

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Did Blackbeard Sink His Ship On Purpose?

There has been talk in the past that the dear old Pirate ran the Queen Anne's Revenge aground off North Carolina on purpose to swindle the crew of their rightful share of the plunder.

Perhaps he didn't according to marine archaeologists who have been diving on the wreckage. What they have found is that effort was made to get the ship off the sandbar. Piles of ballast were found away from the ship as well as cannons and anchors normally found at the front of the vessel, had been moved midship. This would eb an effort to lighten the bow so it would float off.

In addition, an anchor was found 450 feet away where there is a chance that it was being used as a winch.

Chris Southerby, chief archaeologist said, "If Blackbeard had intended to sink the ship on purpose, this seems like an awful lot of labour and effort to make it look good to the crew...."

From Dec. 8th London News Net.

Did he or Didn't He? Only His Beard Knew. --Cooter

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bits O' World War II History: USS NC Skate Park-- Loss of WW II Vets-- "Braceros" Get Paid

Some New News About an Old War.

1. USS NC SKATE PARK-- Wilmington's (NC)WECT 6 News of Dec. 13th reports that the decks of the battleship and WW II vessel USS North Carolina, tied up at the port, were turned into a skateboard park for the First Annual Red Bull Battleship Competition. Teams from skate shops around the state got together to advance in tournament play. I'm not sure this is a proper way to honor our veterans.

2. LOSS OF WW II VETS-- As of September 30, 2008, the Veterans Affair's National Center for Veterans Analysis put the number of surviving World War II Veterans at 2,583,000. Every day, about 900 more die. It is estimated that in another eight years there will be very few left. The passing of the Greatest Generation.

3. "BRACEROS" GET PAID-- During World War II, Mexicans who worked in the US as guest laborers had wages deducted by the Mexican government. At long last, after 63 years, that government has decided to pay them back.

Again, the Greatest Generation.

HMAS Sydney

The Nov. 19th West of West Australia.

Families traveled to the ceremonies to mark the 67 anniversary Nov. 19, 1941, sinking of the HMAS Sydney made all the more poignant this year by the discovery of the ship's wreck this past spring.

The Guided Missile Frigate HMAS Sydney, the fourth vessel to carry that name, will guide the HMAS Manoora to the site of the wreck 207 kilometers northwest of Geraldton.

Famous shipwreck hunter David Mearms and his team were commissioned by the Finding Sydney Foundation and found the wreck back in March, sitting upright 2500 meters down. Underwater shots indicate that "B" turret was hit by large calibre shells and taken out. Shells from the German raider Kormoran struck the Sydney every 4-6 seconds after the ship decamouflaged.

German accounts said that 50% of the Sydney's firepower was knocked out in the first minute or two of the battle.

The remains of one Sydney sailor whose body was recovered from Christmas Island, will be buried tomorrow.

There will be a RAAF fly past and a sunset memorial for the 645 crew members who lost their lives.

A Really Great Story.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The S-21

Back on my Dec. 5th blog, I wrote about the wreck of the US World War II submarine S-21 being found off the coast of Maine after being sunk in practice.

Here some facts about the vessel from dear old Wiki.

The S-21 (SS-126) was one of the first group of S-class submarines and launched August 1920 and commissioned August 1921.

It often served in the Panama Canal area until 1939, then went to New London, Ct, where it was maintained by a partial crew. In September 1940 it was returned to full duty. On Dec. 9th it sailed to the Panama Canal where it defended the Pacific approaches.

In June 1942, it was decommissioned and transferred to the United Kingdom as the HMS P.553. Returned to the US Navy in July 1944, it was again decommissioned and sunk in practice off the New England coast 23 March 1945.

It was 219 feet long, had a21 foot beam, 1X4 inch deck gun, 4 torpedo tubes and a crew of42,

It now sits upside down at 160 feet below the surface.

Now, You Know All About the S-21. --Da Coot

Did Someone Know About the Attack Beforehand?

The Dec. 7th Chicago Tribune had an article by Sam Roberts of the NY Times News Service regarding that age-old question, "Did someone in the US government know about the impending attack?"

"Specifically, who heard or saw a transcript of a Tokyo shortwave radio news broadcast that was interrupted by a prearranged coded weather report?" That would alert Japanese diplomats that war was imminent and they should destroy secret documents.

This "winds execute" message was intercepted as early as Dec. 4th.

Historians of the National security Agency have looked at the facts and concluded that this never reached Washington.

A Japanese message was intercepted and decoded Nov. 19, 1941, at an American monitoring station on Bainbridge Island, Washington, saying that the "winds execute" message would be given if war was imminent. Code names for possible enemies were "East wind rain" for the US, "north wind cloudy" for the Soviet Union, and "west wind clear" for Britain.

You can never convince me that someone couldn't have known about it, somewhere. There is no way we shouldn't have been on highest alert.

Who Knew? --Coot

Friday, December 12, 2008

More Pearl Harbor Stories

December 9th Aurora (Il) Beacon News. Michael Musko, 84, was 17 on Dec. 7, 1941 and in Pearl Harbor on board the minelayer USS Oglala which had also served in WW I.

He had joined the navy because he couldn't get a job in the small southern Ilinois town of El Dorado. He and his friend hitchhiked to Marion to enlist, but only Musko got in as his friend was overweight. He was not aboard the Oglala when it sank as he was ashore trying to tie lines to keep her afloat.

He was honored by the Navy League at the annual Pearl Harbor luncheon, along with other survivors of that day: Edward Block, Milton Card, Jack Loane. Another survivor, Hobart Van Deventer was unable to attend.

The Dec. 9th Marin (Ca)Independent Journal reported that seven members of the local Pearl Harbor Survivors Association were honored along with Walter Russell Potter, 90, who was a civilian crane operator at 1010 Dock next to Hickam Field, a major target of Japanese planes.

He and his team usually worked Sunday mornings, but had Dec. 7th off. When he heard the explosions, he made a mad dash to the field and arrived just as the second wave of planes came in. "Dead sailors were being carried into our shop and laid there along the railroad tracks. They looked like they were sleeping."

later, he lifted a 300-400 pound boring beam which was used to bore through the Oklahoma's hull.

He remembers the minelayer Oglala sinking next to the dock. It had been tied alongside the larger light cruiser USS Helena during the attack. A torpedo hit the Helena and damaged the Oglala which was moved so the Helena would not be pinned against the dock.

The Greatest Generation.

Lake County, Illinois, History

In the Dec. 9th Daily Herald, columnist Diana Dretske wrote of the county's French connection, going all the way back to French Jesuit missionary Jacques Marquette and trader Louis Jolliet who are believed to have landed at the mouth of the Dead River in whatis now Illinois Beach State Park in Zion. By 1695, there was a trading post built on a bluff above Lake Michigan at current-day Waukegan.

In 1763, the whole area was turned over to Britain after the French loss in the French and Indian War.

In the 1830s, a settler of German and a settler of Scottish ancestry named Jacob Sprecht and John Strang came to the area. Each had fought in the Napoleonic Wars.

Jacob Sprecht, (1788-1874) was a native of Darmstadt, Germany, and had been conscripted into the French Army. He and his wife Anna Elizabeth migrated to the US and settled near Milburn in 1843 and became farmers.

John Strang (1779-1866) was a seaman and impressed into British service where he fought French forces at the Battle of the Nile. As a result of the battle, he temporarily lost his eyesight.

In 1835, he and wife Margaret Clellan migrated to Canada. Three of his sons found employment on the Illinois-Michigan Canal and later settled in Milburn in 1838. John and Margaret joined them the following year.

I lived in Lake County for 18 years in Vernon Hills and Round Lake Beach. I also taught middle school in Round Lake for 33 years.

A Bit of History, Local-Style. --Cooter

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Kimball Hill Homes Bites the Bullet

A major homebuilder in the Chicago area and US has ceased to operate as a result of the current economic mess all the greedies have gotten us into. The Dec. 7th Chicago Tribune had an article by Mary Ellen Podmolik about the company named for the man "who brought the 'GI bath' to the northwest suburbs and who put Rolling Meadows on the map called it quits last week..."

Kimball Hill began building homes in 1951 on 600 acres of farmland that would become Rolling Meadows by offering small ranch homes to military veterans who used their GI Loan to cover the cost.

These homes featured two or three rooms, one 5 X 8 foot bathroom, no basements, and deep lots. On some days, 20 homes were completed in assembly line fashion. There was nothing elegant or extravagant about them, but, they were AFFORDABLE, starting at $13,400 and less. Most young families today would turn their noses at these. What, ONLY ONE BATHROOM???

Many a family made their move from Chicago to the suburbs via these homes.

Today, the Rolling Meadows Historical Society is housed in an exact replica of one of these homes, a real trip back to the fifties.

These homes also meant something personal to me and my family. When my dad transferred to Chicago to work at Quaker Oats' home office at the Merchandise Mart, he rented a Kimball Hill home at the corner of Kirchoff and Flicker Lane in Rolling Meadows and we lived there for a year before moving to another massive housing development called Winston Park in Palatine.

My brother went to Kimball Hill Elementary School,named for the builder.

Another Victim of he GRBs. --Cooter

USS Frederick Funston (APA-89)

On Dec. 8th, I wrote about Norman Hartnett serving on board the USS Frederick Funston during WW II. I did a follow up on the ship in wikipedia.

This attack transport served in both the Army and the Navy during WW II and was also in the Korean War. It was the lead ship of its class of two and heavily armed with anti-aircraft guns to protect the troops it carried. It was named after a Medal of Honor-winning US Major General.

Launched in September, 1941, it served first in the US Army before going over to the navy. where it was commissioned in April 1942.

It took part in the invasions of Sicily and Salerno in the Mediterranean and then went to the Pacific where it took part in the attacks on Saipan, Leyte, Luzon, and Iwo Jima.

It later saw some service in the Korean War and was scrapped in 1969.

A Little-Known Vessel, But Did Its Part. --Cooter

Some More on Jack Jouett, Unknown Hero of the Revolution

Back on Nov. 28th, (Speaking of New England) I wrote about Jack Jouett who rode to warn Thomas Jefferson and the Virginia legislature that the British were coming to capture them at Charlottesville. I'd never heard of him before.

While browsing some blogs, I came across that name again, this time in one about the back roads of Kentucky. For some reason, I recalled the name.

There were pictures of a historical marker and his home in Woodford County, Kentucky, where he moved after the war.

The marker reads that Captain John (Jack) Jouett (1754-1822) built the home around 1797 and that he was a hero of the Revolution having ridden all-night to warn the Virginia legislature including Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry as well as three signers of the Declaration of Independence about an approaching British force intent on their capture and possibly worse.

he was also a member of the Kentucky Separation Convention and father of famous portrait painter Matthew Jouett.

The house is located off McCowan's Ferry Road in Woodford County.

And You've All Heard of Paul Revere. --Cooter

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Last Flight from the Tempelhof

Associated press reported that the last plane left from Berlin, Germany's historic Tempelhof Airport October 29th. Its history spanned World War II, the Cold War, and Germany's rebirth. Just before midnight, a DC-3 and a Junkers JU-52, both from the 1930s took off and the runway lights went off forever.

The future of the 900 acre site is still to be known.

It officially opened as an airfield October 1923, but had been used for flights before that. The current configuration and structure took place when Adolf Hitler decided to create an "air stadium" with massive stone blocks and pillars, along with 49 buildings, 7 hangars, and 9000 offices.

During World War II, German fighters scrambled from it to intercept Allied bombing strikes.

In 1948, it played a central role in the Berlin Airlift when the Allies supplied West Berlin with the food and necessities to keep it going after land transportation was cut off by the Soviets.

Here's Hoping They Keep Some of the Structures. --Old Coot

Bits O' History: USS Kitty Hawk-- Edmund Fitzgerald-- Princeton's Trees

Speaking of sunken ships, aircraft carriers, and trees. Some New News About Some Old Stuff.

1. USS KITTY HAWK-- This aircraft carrier is being decommissioned and a group in Wilmington, NC, is working to get it docked alongside the battleship USS North Carolina. Here's hoping they get it.

The Kitty Hawk, CV-63 was commissioned in 1963. The movie "Seven Days in May" was filmed aboard it.

2. EDMUND FITZGERALD-- The Nov. 30th WBAY TV in Green Bay, Wisconsin reported that Matt and Alya Pfeil paid $610 for two lighted frames thought to be from the Edmund Fitzgerald.. They plan to display them publicly and Alya is to paint pictures of the ship that sank Nov. 10, 1975 in the gales of November.

3. PRINCETON'S TREES-- The December 5th Daily Princetonian reported that this Ivy League school not only has many historical buildings, but also historical flora, namely trees.

The two oldest trees on campus are the Twin American Sycamores which date back to the Colonial era in front of the McLean House. They were reportedly planted in honor of the repeal of the Stamp Act.

There is also Cannon Green with its two rows of pre-Civil War ash trees.

Now, You Know the Sunk and Wood of It. --Cooter

USS Oriskany Sinks Lower

And you thought once a ship sank, that was that. Not so.

Rebekkah Allen had an article in the Nov. 28th Orlando Sentinel saying that part of the thrill of diving down to the wreck of the USS Oriskany near Pensacola is touching the flight deck, but that is no longer as safe as it was thanks to Hurricane Gustav which disturbed the Big O's final resting place and caused it to settle ten feet farther down which greatly increases the dangers of doing so.

The USS Oriskany, CV-34, an aircraft carrier launched in 1945 and that saw service in the Korean and Vietnam wars was purposefully sunk in 2006 to provide and artificial reef and dive spot. The flight deck was originally 135 feet down, five feet beyond the recreational diving limit. This could be overlooked. But, not 15 feet.

The USS Oriskany was named after a Revolutionary War battle.

Mean Old Hurricane. --Cooter

Our Dumb Century

The Fun Trivia Site (a great place to go) had a history test based on headlines from the humor site The Onion.

I got 7 of 10 correct. See how well you do. These were all give the date unless otherwise noted. (Oh yes, they were also multiple choice.) You just have to know it. The "headlines" were great which is why I had to include this quiz.

1. "Kennedy slain by the CIA, Mafia, Castro, LBJ, Teamsters, Free Masons."

2. "US loses Vietnam War. Ford urges all Americans to salute Vietcong victors."

3. "World's largest metaphor hits iceberg" ship and year. I missed this one. They had the ship twice with two different years.

4. The best headline: "Bleeping two-foot tin ball threatens free world: America suffers major defeat in space-gizmo race." Year and name. This was hilarious.

5. "Pretentious, goatee-bearded coffeehouse types seize power in Russia."

6. "Berlin Wall destroyed by Doritos-sponsored Super Bowl Halftime Spectacular."

7. "Science conquers sky with Wright brothers' flying machine. Heaven expedition slated for next year."

8. "Famine-wracked Ethiopia makes desperate plea to U2." Missed it by this much.

9. ""Al Capone's reign of tax-evasion terror ends." Missed it also.

10. "President Wilson calls for creation of useless governing body." Treaty and year.

Answers BELOW.

How Do They Keep Coming Up With All These Funny Headlines? --Cooter

1. 1961
2. 1975
3. Titanic 1912 (I had Titanic 1914)
4. 1957, Sputnik
5. 1917
6. 1989
7. 1903
8. 1984 (Who'd know this?)
9. 1931 (Who'd know this, Either?)
10. 1919 Treaty of Versailles

Monday, December 8, 2008

Pearl Harbor Again

I am trying to gather as many names and stories of the survivors as I can before it is too late.

The Dec. 8th Metro West Daily News of Massachusetts reported that 18-year-old Norman Hartnett was at the former Gorman Theatre on Dec. 7, 1941, and was walking across Kendall Street when he learned of it.

He begged his mother to enlist but she wouldn't let "Gabby" (named after the Cubs catcher) do it for a year. When he was finally able, the Navy overlooked his weight, 114, which was three pounds too little.

He became a radioman on the attack transport USS Frederick Funston and took part in five invasions: Sicily and Salerno in Italy, and in the Pacific: Saipan, Guam, and the Philippines.

"I was a 19-year-old kid and so frightened. I thought the ship would be attacked. It was chaotic. The British were in charge of all aircraft in Sicily and were dropping bombs around our ship during the invasion where they shouldn't have."

The Dec. 8th Oneida (NY) Daily Dispatch reported that Pearl harbor Survivor Ford Hitt died December 7, 2007, at almost the same instand as the attack. He was always very involved with the remembrance of the attack and his family attended this year's in his place.

Another survivor, Ralph Osterhout said he was just out of high school and a fellow worker was complaining about the "raw deal" Adolph Hitler was getting. This so maddened him that he enlisted.

He was at Hickam Field on Dec. 7th, and preparing to relieve another man on the portable radio when he heard someone saying Japanese planes were approaching. Minutes later, they saw them coming in three at a time in V formation with their red circles. They dropped something and then there were explosions.

A badly wounded man ran in, bleeding and yelling for help. They drove him to a hospital in a jeep and when they returned, found the back of the jeep riddled with bullets.

The oldest member of their PHSA chapter is now 89. At the first ceremony at the Legion, there were 35 survivors in attendance, but that number has been dwindling.

The Greatest generation.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Pearl Harbor Anniversary-- 2

The December 7th Wichita (Ks) Eagle reported that Paul Aschbrenner of derby, originally from Waterloo, Iowa, was on the USS Oklahoma during the attack. He climbed down a turret and got into the oily waters and swam to safety.

It is getting harder to organize the Pearl Harbor observance as there are fewer survivors and others are less able to move about. It is estimated that Kansas has about 60 survivors from that day.

The PHSA once numbered at 20,000. It is now down to 4,800.

Wichita was transformed almost over night into a major manufacturing center for the war effort.

The Greatest Generation.

Pearl Harbor Anniversary

Today marks the 67th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other US bases in the Pacific. This event plunged the country officially into World War II the following day when Congress approved FDR's request for a declaration of war.

WJHC Channel 7 in Panama City, Florida, on Dec. 4th had a news item on two of The town's Pearl Harbor Survivors, Ronnie Earl. 90, and Newton Brooks, being honored by the Naval Divers Unit.

Mr. Earl remembers: "When the building started shaking I asked the Sergeant what's going on and he said that's the marines doing maeuvers. Then two seconds later he says no, no, no it couldn't be that; they don't do that on Sunday. We both went outside and saw that it was airplanes with red meatballs on the side. We knew it was Japanese planes, we knew it was war."

The local Pearl Harbor Survivors Association used to have 28-29 people at meetings, but it is now down to 2 or 3.

Evidently, servicemen referred to the Japanes insignia as meatballs. I've seen it mentioned as such before.

The Greatest Generation.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Pearl Harbor Survivors

Dec. 7, 1941, "Day That will live in Infamy."

Taken from various accounts of papers around the nation.

Yuba City, Az, resident Joe Langdell, 94, will be going to the ceremony at the USS Arizona Memorial. He was on the Arizona that day and is a member of the USS Arizona Reunion Association and the Feather River Chapter of the PHSA.

The Arizona Association meets every five years, and the next one was scheduled for 2011, but moved up to this year because of rapidly declining membership.

Langdell intends to have his ashes interned with his shipmates aboard the Arizona, a service available since the mid-1980s.

About sixty survivors are expected to attend the ceremony.

From Dec. 4th Appeal-Democrat.

FROM THE SANIBEL-CAPTIVA ISLANDER (FL)-- Eugene Spencer, 96, moved to Sanibel in the mid-70s and will attend the 66th Annual Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Reunion in Fredericksburg, Texas. He was a First Class Petty Officer on the destroyer USS Dobbins during the attack.

He remembers, "The boats were floating in oil. The people were jumping from the ships into the water."

FROM THE DEC. 5TH FRAMINGHAM (Mass) TAB-- Gerald Halterman, 87, was stationed on the USS Oklahoma that day. He was evidently not on board and was unable to get a gun and found cover near a ball field and watched the attack. He remembers after the attack that the guards were so nervous he wouldn't go out at night for fear of getting shot.

The Greatest Generation.

Pearl Harbor Anniversary Tomorrow

Dec. 7, 1941, a Day That Will Live in Infamy. That day's 67th anniversary is tomorrow.

The December 3rd Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana had an article by Michelle L. Quinn about Pearl Harbor Survivor Raymond Crane, 83, who spoke at the Hammond Rotary Club's annual Pearl Harbor luncheon.

At the time of the attack, Crane was a 16-year-old Navy Machinist Mate 2C on board the USS Maryland. He knows it only took the USS Oklahoma, tied up alongside, six minutes to capsize, but his sense of time that day is very skewed.

He had been at mass on the Maryland when he heard someone saying there was a Japanese plane flying overhead and looked out a porthole just as the first bomb went off and sirens began. After that, it was pandemonium.

"We went to our stations, which were at the bottom of the Maryland. We said our prayers, and we could feel the boat rocking as the ties to the Oklahoma pulled apart."

"After awhile, we heard some people overhead, so I hit the porthole with a dog wrench. An officer opened it and asked how long we'd been down there, and we told him we'd reported to our station earlier that morning. He looked at us and said, 'That was yesterday! You boys have got to be hungry!!!'"

He remembers a hole being cut into the Oklahoma's capsized hull and four sailors being pulled out from the same battle station he occupied.

That's a Lot for a 16-Year-Old to Experience. --Cooter

Friday, December 5, 2008

Pearl Harbor Survivors Reunion

The Dec. 3rd Fredericksburg (Tx) Standard reports that more than 100 Pearl Harbor Survivors will gather in Fredericksburg Dec. 4-7th for their 67th national convention. (Actually, I thought they didn't form until the 1960s.)

Sunday, the anniversary of the Day of Infamy, a special program will be held at the National Museum of the Pacific War, beginning with a missing-man flyover by jets while local churches ring their bells. It will conclude with a flyover of vintage WW II aircraft and a 21-gun salute.

Who knows how many other reunions there will be as these men (and women) are getting very old?

A Salute to You. --Cooter

Bits O' History: Return to England-- Sub Found-- NC Shipbuilding Co.

Some New News About Old Stuff.

1. RETURN TO ENGLAND-- On Nov. 19th, WDBJ 7 of Roanoke, Va. reports that WW II Ace Bill Overstreet will be returning to England for the first time in 60 years to visit the airfeild, talk with former pilots and even some former enemies. He was in the 357th fighter group which escorted bombers on missions over Germany. His P-31 Mustang was called "The Berlin Express."

2. SUB FOUND-- The Nov. 14th New Hampshire Sentinel reports that a sunken WW II submarine was found off the Maine coast. It was sunk by the US Navy for training purposes, about 12 miles off Portland, Maine. The 221-foot long S-21 was found by Joe Cushing.

It was used by the navy to train pilots and destroyer crews to detect and engage enemy sunmarines.

3. NC SHIPBUILDING CO.-- The North Carolina Shipbuilding Company broke ground on the banks of the Cape Fear River at Wilmington in February 1941, and launched its first vessel Dec. 6, 1941 (which would be tomorrow, 67 years ago). At the highth of production, there were more than 24,000 workers operating 24-hours a day. Operations ceased in 1946 after 243 ships had been built.

Photos are on display at the Cape Fear Museum until Dec. 31, 2008.

Now that some operation and clearly shows America gearing up for the war well in advance of our entry.

Now You Know. --Da Coot

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

National Museum of Amercan History Reopens

The November 21st Chicago Tribune ran this article by Brett Zongker, AP.

The Star Spangled Banner is so threadbare that you can see through some of the tattered sections.

The museum, which draws millions of visitors a year, has been closed for two years (I didn't know that) and had an $85 million overhaul and reopened Nov. 21st with a three day festival.

The Star Spangled Banner hung near the entrance for nearly 200 years as it slowly fell apart. Now, it is a centerpiece and is in a climate controlled gallery which should help.

The museum's central core has been made easier to navigate. An atrium has been made in the five-story v=building with a skylight. Six artifacts including an 1865 telescope from Vassar College, a statue of George Washington, and a "Dumbo car from a 1960s Disneyland ride, mark the wings of the three exhibit halls which are organized into themes.

There is even a CP30 costume from the "Star Wars" movies. A picture with the article showed a "Whites Only" lunch counter that helped spark the Civil Rights Movement. Probably from the Woolworth's in Winston-Salem, NC.

Go to the Museum. -Old Coot

Pearl Harbor Survivor Recalls That Day

Richard Nisson, 92, of Plymouth, Massachusetts, will attend a Pearl Harbor Remembrance ceremony at Yarmouth town hall Dec. 2nd. He currently is in a hospice with cancer.

On Dec. 7th, he was an ensign on the seaplane tender USS Curtiss which had just arrived in Pearl Harbor two days earlier. That morning, he was climbing a ladder when he heard the planes and was wondering why the air force was practicing so early on a Sunday morning.

Once topside, he saw a plane banking with a "big red meatball" on its wings and saw smoke billowing from Battleship Row.

A Japanese minisub fired a torpedo at the Curtiss, but missed, but a Japanese dive bomber crashed into one of the ship's cranes.

The November 24th Plymouth Patriot Ledger showed a picture of the USS Curtiss at Pearl harbor with smoke billowing up from it.. Wikipedia says that the ship was hit and 19 died. Repairs were completed in four days.

The Pensacola Naval Aviation Museum will honor Pearl Harbor survivors Dec. 7th.

The Greatest Generation. Cooter

Bits 'O History: Slave Ship Found-- Illinois Sites Closing-- Nostalgic Toys Comeback

Some New News About Old Stuff.

1. SLAVE SHIP FOUND-- The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that the remains of the Spanish slave ship Trouvadore, which sank in 1841 off the Turks and Calcos Islands have been found.

Survivors included 192 Africans whose descendants today make up some of the residents of the islands.

2. ILLINOIS SITES CLOSING-- The Nov. 28th USA Today reports that 12 state historic sites and 7 parks closed Sunday because of a $2 billion state deficit.

3. NOSTALGIC TOYS COMEBACK-- Tinker Toys, Nerf Footballs, Easy-Bake Ovens, Big Wheels, Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets and other "classic toys are making a comeback because of the depressed economy. These items, which are not as high-tech and as such, not as expensive are selling well.

Now, You Know. --Cooter

My Wife's Memories of the OLA Fire

My wife attended school at a nearby Catholic school and knew some of the survivors and victims. Her father had a little corner store in the neighborhood that served the Our Lady of Angels School and she spent a lot of time there and got to know neighborhood residents.

She said that a lot of the families began moving out of the area and out to the suburbs after that.

50th Anniversary of the OLA Fire in Chicago-- Part 2

Continued from yesterday.


Grace Riley was 23 that day an an emergency room nurse. She was cutting the clothes off a first-grade girl when the girl said, "Oh nurse, my face hurts so bad." She looked up and saw the girl's face was totally burned. As more children were brought in the acrid smell of burnt flesh became overwhelming.

The memory and smells of that day are still with her. She also helped place bodies on the floor so gurneys were available for the living.

There was an extensive graphics section including cut-away view of the building.

One graphic showed the injuries and deaths by room. It went room (grade), number of students, escaped, injured, and killed.

207 (5th/6th), 40, 39, 1, 0
208 (Seventh), 47,21, 13,13
209 (eighth), 55, 45, 8, 2
210 (fourth), 57, 14, 15, 28
211 (eighth), 64, 23, 17, 24
212 (fifth), 55, 6, 21, 28

What struck me was the number of students in these classes.

At the time of the fire, there were 1600 students and 30 faculty members. The fire began at approximately 2:15 PM.

You can find more information at

One of Those Times You Have to Wonder Why It happened.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Dead Page: Doolittle Raider, Great Escape Leader-- Pearl Harbor Survivor


A member of the Doolittle Raiders died Nov. 25th. On April 1942, a group of B-25 bombers took off from an aircraft carrier and launched an attack on Tokyo that did wonders for US morale and seriously upset the Japanese psyche.

These men all knew it was a one-way trip and that there was not going to be enough fuel to return to the carrier.

Jones and his crew bailed out over China and Jones, with the aid of Chinese people, was able to get back to the US.

Another Doolittle survivor, Ed Horton, Jr., died last week in Florida.

Jones was later shot down in North Africa in December 1942 and spent two and a half years as a POW at Stalag Luft III and led a digging team in the Harry tunnel in the even later known as the Great Escape.

Nov. 29th Arizona Daily Star.

From Dec. 5th San Antonio Express-News. Jones was born in Oregon and grew up in Tucson. Graduated from Univ. of Arizona. Commanded the No. 5 bomber of the 16 B-25s and took off from the USS Hornet to attack Tokyo and four other cities. Later rose to the rank of Major General in the US Air Force.


Was buried at the Tennessee Veterans Cemetery after serving a long time as the chairman of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association in the state.

On Dec. 7th, he was a technical sergeant with the 34th Combat Engineers and claims that they fired the first shots of the US in the battle. They were ordered to Schofield Barracks, but only made it as far as Wheeler Field.

The Greatest Generation.

50th Anniversary of OLA Fire in Chicago

Today marks a very sad day in the history of Chicago, the 50th anniversary of the Our Lady of Angels School fire that claimed the lives of 92 children and 3 nuns. It took place December 1, 1958. Today, these kids would have been 67-71 years of age.


Max Stachura stood helplessly trying to get his nine-year-old son Mark to jump from the window of his burning classroom. He was trying to get his son to jump into his arms, but Mark was too afraid.

His mother Mary arrived at the scene and saw that he was waving a statue of the infant Jesus which they learned later that he had won in a class competition earlier that day.

They had to watch as the other children pushed him back into the flames. His body was later identified by a crumpled up homework paper in his pocket.

The cause of the fire has never been conclusively identified and no one has ever been held accountable for the tragedy.

However, schools across the country now have fire drills because of it.

From the November 29th Chicago Tribune

A very Sad Day.