Early Days, Potawatomi, and Archer Avenue

Scharf Map, drawn around 1900, representing pre-settlement time overlaid with roads from 1900. Box in center is area discussed below. The triangular icon in its center represents the location of a Potawatomi village. The Des Plaines River runs diagonally toward the upper right and Chicago, the other valley directly east to Lake Michigan. The diagonal road in the same direction as the river is Archer Avenue.

Scharf Map, drawn around 1900, representing pre-settlement time overlaid with roads from 1900. Box in center is area discussed below. The triangular icon in its center represents the location of a Potawatomi village. The Des Plaines River runs diagonally toward the upper right and Chicago, the other valley directly east to Lake Michigan. The diagonal road in the same direction as the river is Archer Avenue.

Did you ever wonder what it was like here before Lemont was settled, before Illinois was a state?

Start by imagining you are walking one of the trails in our beautiful forest preserves, but look at what surrounds the trail and imagine the trail is not there. How would you go from place to place through this wilderness? Where would you be going, and for what reason?

The most convenient way to travel before developed roads was on waterways, rivers and streams that ran through the area. Most American Indian villages were located near water because food was abundant there and travel easier. However, some times of the year water routes were not passable and it was not easy to transport bulky possessions by canoe, so land routes were also needed.

Many people think that Native Americans followed trails that were originally animal trails, specifically deer trails. This is not the case. Deer graze and wander, and their trails are meandering and come to dead ends, as any hunter will tell you. Deer did not develop trails over distances, nor did they have a specific place to go; they only followed the food. So we must assume that trails were developed by Indians who wanted to go from one specific place to another. It may have been to connect seasonal camps, to visit neighboring villages, or even to wage war against an enemy.

One such trail followed what is now Archer Avenue. Let’s see why.

Developed trails would have connected places people wanted to go, and would have followed as close to the familiar waterways as possible, providing a route that was free of such obstacles as swamps that often lined the rivers. Therefore, where cliffs and valleys occurred, such as in the Lemont area, the easiest routes would be on the valley’s ridges.

People coming to northern Illinois from the south would follow the Mississippi River to the Illinois River into the Des Plaines River. From the east they would come through the Great Lakes to where there was a harbor and later Fort Dearborn was built. They also came from Indiana via the Saint Joseph River and Fort Wayne to Lake Michigan, or from downstate following the Wabash River northward. Fort Wayne was the “command post” for the Northwest Territories.

Following the Des Plaines River from the Illinois River, passing Joliet and continuing through the Des Plaines River Valley, just past what is now Lemont, the valley branches to continue northeast to Mud Lake and the Chicago River to present-day downtown Chicago. The other branch went directly east to Lake Michigan via the Calumet River.

At the place where the valleys merge is a forested area on high ground called Mount Forest Island. Today this is the intersection of Rt. 83, Archer Avenue, and 107th Streets. St. James at Sag Bridge and the Cook County Forest Preserves occupy this area, but in the earliest days Indian Villages lined these routes and trails developed between them. The ancient Indian trail that became Archer Avenue connected here to other trails, such as the Vincennes, Sag, and Sauk Trails, going to the south end of Lake Michigan and to the rivers in Indiana.

Across the Des Plaines Valley from this vantage point was an area called Signal Hill. From that place, high on the north bluff of the river, signals could be sent and seen down three branches of the valleys for many miles to the west, east, and northwest. Signal Hill is now part of Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve.

Ultimately, explorers, soldiers, surveyors, opportunists, merchants, tradesmen, squatters, and finally settlers followed the same routes. When construction started on the I&M Canal, a road was needed, and the old Indian trail between Joliet and the Chicago Portage (near 47th and Harlem Avenue) was followed to create Archer Avenue.

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“Newfie” Newfoundland Dog Stories – Gentle Giants

Seaman, the Newfoundland that accompanied Lewis and Clark on their expedition

Seaman, the Newfoundland that accompanied Lewis and Clark on the Voyage of Discovery

Maine Coon Cats were the subject of my last blog so today’s post will give equal time to dog lovers and feature the Newfoundland breed. Both a Maine Coon Cat and a Newfoundland Dog appear in my next book, The Mystery at Black Partridge Woods, which will be released soon!

Sorry, this post is a little long, but once started I couldn’t stop sharing. So if you’re busy, pick and choose the parts that interest you most – better yet, come back when you have time to be entertained!

A little basic info before I get into stories:

Newfoundlands are in the “giant” dog breed category. Their average weight is 100 to 150 pounds, but they have been known to weight over 200 pounds, with the record being 260 pounds!

People think of newfies as large, black, thick-furred dogs with huge heads and floppy ears. Black and white is another common color, and they can also be brown or grey. They live longer than most large breeds, an average of 12-14 years. They get along well with other dogs, preferring companions their own size. They shed and drool in abundance.

Known as “gentle giants”, they are sweet-tempered. They do not need much exercise and are very people-oriented. They follow their owners and like to lean against them. They are especially fold of children, and at one time were used as “nannies”. Nana, from Peter Pan, was Luath, a Newfoundland, writer J. M. Barrie’s much-loved pet.

They are also known for courage, endurance, and loyalty. Webbed feet make them natural swimmers and they have a natural instinct for rescue. Stories of people saved from drowning or dug from snowdrifts are numerous.

Newfies are remarkably intelligent. An example is Chloe, a Newfoundland owned and trained by Hazel Carter. Hazel has taught Chloe to help with household chores that include loading the washing machine, transferring clean clothes from washing machine to dryer, taking out trash, carrying shopping bags and putting groceries away,  collecting groceries from the pantry, and pulling weeds.

The following web sites have interesting pictures and videos. You will have to scroll and click through:
Click here for video about Chloe: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/real-life-stories/dog-can-cook-even-fetch-6195917
Click here to see pics and video clips with newfie and giggling baby and a newfies jumping from a helicopter for water rescue: http://barkpost.com/discover/10-greatest-things-about-newfoundland-dogs/

The history of the breed goes as far back as the Vikings, and it is said that in 1775 Newfoundland Island was named for the dog, not the other way around. This is debatable.

Newfoundlands often accompanied U.S. explorers and voyageurs as early as the 17th Century. They would lope along on land, following canoes down the rivers, hunting their own food along the way, available to pull burdens, perform rescues, and for companionship.

The pictures before and after this post are of Seaman, a Newfoundland who was owned by Merriweather Lewis and accompanied Lewis and Clark’s Voyage of Discovery, probably selected because he was smart, strong, and a good swimmer. Lewis wrote in his journal that Seaman was skilled at catching and killing squirrels, which Lewis found excellent to eat once “fryed.”

The Shawnees were much attracted by the dog, but Lewis refused to trade for him. Seaman would wander and explore on his own, but each morning would return to accompany the group on the next leg of the trip. One night a buffalo bull charged into the camp, which was saved from destruction when Seaman chased it off.

Timothy Alden, in his book of inscriptions and epitaphs of the day, wrote the only known account of Seaman following the expedition. Lewis had suffered from depression for many years and met an untimely and suspicious death in 1809. Alden writes of Seaman the following: “The fidelity and attachment of this animal were remarkable. After the melancholy exit of Gov. Lewis, his dog would not depart for a moment from his lifeless remains; and when they were deposited in the earth no gentle means could draw him from the spot of interment. He refused to take every kind of food, which was offered him, and actually pined away and died with grief upon his master’s grave.”

To end this post, I conclude with “Epitaph to a Dog”, written by the poet Lord Byron, thought by some historians to be one of the most moving tributes ever written. The poem is inscribed on the tombstone of Boatswain, a Newfoundland owned by Lord Byron. Boatswain’s grave and marker are larger than Byron’s own.

Epitaph to a Dog
by Lord Byron
Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferocity,
and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.

This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
if inscribed over human Ashes,
is but a just tribute to the Memory of
Boatswain, a Dog
who was born in Newfoundland May 1803
and died at Newstead Nov. 18th, 1808

When some proud Son of Man returns to Earth,
Unknown to Glory, but upheld by Birth,
The sculptor’s art exhausts the pomp of woe,
And storied urns record who rests below.
When all is done, upon the Tomb is seen,
Not what he was, but what he should have been.
But the poor Dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his Master’s own,
Who labours, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonoured falls, unnoticed all his worth,
Denied in heaven the Soul he held on earth –
While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven.

Oh man! thou feeble tenant of an hour,
Debased by slavery, or corrupt by power –
Who knows thee well, must quit thee with disgust,
Degraded mass of animated dust!
Thy love is lust, thy friendship all a cheat,
Thy tongue hypocrisy, thy heart deceit!
By nature vile, ennobled but by name,
Each kindred brute might bid thee blush for shame.
Ye, who behold perchance this simple urn,
Pass on – it honours none you wish to mourn.
To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise;
I never knew but one — and here he lies.

Statue of Seaman, the Newfoundland owned by Merriweather Lewis, outside custom house in Cairo, Illinois

Statue of Seaman, the Newfoundland owned by Merriweather Lewis, outside custom house in Cairo, Illinois

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Maine Coon Cats and Marie Antoinette

Maine Coon Cat and Rottweiler. Note the relative size!

Maine Coon Cat and Rottweiler. Note the relative size!

The Maine Coon Cat is the only show cat breed that originated in the United States. What does that have to do with Marie Antoinette?

The origin of the breed is speculative, but one legend has it that prior to her execution in 1793, Captain Clough was part of an unsuccessful rescue attempt to help Marie Antoinette escape from France. For one reason or another, the Queen never got on the ship, but it was already loaded with her possessions, which included six of her prized Turkish Angora cats. The ship sailed without her, but with the cats. Her pets reached Wiscasset, Maine, where they left the ship, interbred and developed into the Maine Coon Cat.

As speculative as is the origin of the Main Coon, so is the interbreeding. One legend is that they bred with bobcats, which explains the unusual size and tufted ears. Another version, due to the luxurious tail, is that they bred with raccoons. Doubtful as those theories are for genetic reasons, it is more likely they paired with long- or short-haired cats brought to the US in English ships; cats were kept on board to control rats and mice. One more story is that they may be descendants of cats off Viking ships in the 11th Century, as the breed shows much resemblance to the Norwegian Skogkatt, or Forest Cat.

Whatever the origin, the breed that developed has many unique qualities. The pictures above and below show their unusual size. They do not reach full size until three to four years, and have been known to approach 48 inches and near 30 pounds, which adds some plausibility to the bobcat theory, especially when one notes the tufted ears.

Unlike most cats, they are fascinated by and well adapted for water, with water-resistant coats and large well-furred paws, frequently with extra digits (called polydactyly, a fun word to impress friends). These features also make them well able to live in harsh weather, as the long and thick tail can be curled around themselves for protection and insulation, the wide heavily furred feet are like snowshoes, and the ears not only have tufts at the ear tips but inside to keep the ears warm.

As pets they are known as “gentle giants.” They are smart, affectionate, and playful clowns. They are also entertaining and known to be very vocal, making frequent yowling, chattering, chirping, and “talking back” vocalizations to their owners.

Why am I telling you about Maine Coon cats? It’s a way of introducing you to my next book, The Mystery at Black Partridge Woods, which is expected to be available in June. I have never personally owned a cat, but one of these charming pets is a minor character in the story, and when I was researching cat breeds to select one that could have been in the right time and place, I thought the breed was so interesting I wanted to share it with you. I hope you agree.

Maine Coon Cat—comfortable in harsh conditions. (Not to mention it’s also rather beautiful, don’t you think?)

Maine Coon Cat—comfortable in harsh conditions.
(Not to mention it’s also rather beautiful, don’t you think?)

 

Cover concept for my New Book due out in June is below. I’d love to hear your opinion of the cover design!

Email comments to: Pat@Patcamallierebooks.com


MBP_cover-comp1

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Exciting Announcements

Blog Posts will resume shortly, but I’ve been busy!
Below are three exciting announcements to explain why the March post is delayed!

Announcing:

The Mystery at Black Partridge Woods

The Lost Town of Sag Bridge lecture

The History & Anecdotes of Lemont, Illinois

The Mystery at Black Partridge Woods

Soon to be released by Amika Press, hopefully by June 2016.

Cora, Cisco, and Frannie will be back, and this time they will partner with a young scientist, Nikan Pokagan. In this second book of the Cora Tozzi series, the characters investigate a mystery from 1817 to turn the adventures of Nick’s ancestor into a historical mystery novel.

The Lost Town of Sag Bridge

Lecture, 7 pm, Thursday, March 31
Lemont Area Historical Society
306 Lemont Street, Lemont

Although it no longer exists, Sag Bridge was a thriving 19th century canal town, its land now a part of present-day Lemont.  Pat Camalliere, author of the popular historical mystery novel, The Mystery at Sag Bridge, will talk about how the background of Sag Bridge was used in the story, describing the town as it once was, including turn of the century transportation and ghost stories.  The program will include short readings and take place at the Lemont Area Historical Society, where part of the novel takes place. Participants will tour the Old Stone Church. Light refreshments will be served.  Registration required. (Lemont Public Library website, part of Good Reads Program)

The History & Anecdotes of Lemont, Illinois
6th Edition

This is not a new book, nor is it a book I wrote, but Kay Manning and I have dedicated our time as a gift to the people of Lemont, and have just finished revising and editing this fun collection of historical articles and stories about Lemont. The book was first made available in 1975 in a spiral-bound edition, written and compiled by members of the Lemont Historical Society. We have reorganized the book, added some new material, given it a new look, and made it available through Amazon. It will also be available in about a week at the Lemont Historical Society and soon other places in Lemont. Enjoy!

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Banking in the early days of Northern Illinois

Attempted robbery of Tedens Store on Stephens Street in Lemont, IL about 1930.  Photo courtesy Lemont Area Historical Society

Attempted robbery of Tedens Store on Stephens Street in Lemont, IL about 1930. Photo courtesy Lemont Area Historical Society

Contrary to what one might expect, early settlers of Northern Illinois, beginning in the 1830s, were not all poor. Some left eastern states for expected greater opportunity in Illinois and arrived with sufficient means to purchase land. They brought food, clothing, furniture, wagons, and livestock with them. They built their homes, cleared the land, planted crops. At that time, barter was the only means of exchange, so they had no need for banks. But as they made profits on their crops and businesses sprang up around them, towns grew and so did the need for banking services.

At first all that was needed was a place to keep valuable papers, money or jewelry. There was nowhere to store valuables, police magistrate was a part time job, and in Lemont, Smokey Row with its disrespectable saloons and brothels was getting established!

Tedens Hardware Store at 106 Stephen Street in Lemont had a vault that rented boxes for that purpose. The vault was said to be so strong that three attempts to break into it failed. The most recent was in 1930. Despite what looks like a great deal of destruction in the photo above, the robbers were unable to get to the contents of the safe. Tedens vault is still in the back of the main floor of the old building today.

Other banking needs gradually developed: the need to store payroll money or to exchange currency; businesses wanted capital for further development; the occasional loan was needed, when crops failed or for funds to buy land or develop businesses.

It was not unusual for banks in those days to operate inside other businesses that housed large vaults, such as general merchandise stores or companies with large payrolls. One could enter an archway and select from a grocery, barbershop, restaurant, or—yes—a bank.

One of the reasons bank services were very different in the early years was because there was no standard currency until 1900 when the gold standard went into effect. Prior to that federal, state, and private banks all issued currency in the form of bank notes, the value of which varied from bank to bank. It was common for employers, such as quarry owners, to pay their workers with scrip, perhaps good only at the quarry owner’s company store. It was very confusing to say the least.

Adding to the uncertainty and poor reputation, early banks were prone to failure due to poor management or misuse of funds. An example of such a failure was the Lemont State Bank, started in 1891 with capital put up through the interests of notable Lemont business owners. Skeptical of the entire banking industry, the town was initially hesitant to trust this new bank. However, one person the town did trust was the bank’s president, Tom Huston, so people put their savings into the bank.

Tom Huston was the town’s Civil War hero, who, after surviving a number of battles, was wounded and sent to a Confederate prison. As the young man watched the horrors around him and the deaths of many prisoners, he asked God, “Why them and not me?” He became convinced he was meant to survive for a purpose and it became the guiding principle of his life.

After the war, he settled in Lemont and became well respected. He was elected to the village board, and then was made police magistrate, known for his honesty, courage, compassion and understanding. His task was not easy, as he held this position during some of Lemont’s most challenging years, dealing with such matters as large numbers of immigrants, labor disputes, early Smokey Row, and the Quarry Massacre of 1885. But he worked hard to develop his beloved Lemont: he helped build a subdivision, solicited manufacturers to locate in Lemont, helped start Pure Aluminum, organized the Lemont Electric Light and Power Company, and helped to form the Lemont State Bank.

At first the bank was a successful venture and helped the town. That is, until the owners started to speculate in the purchase of wheat, using bank capital to finance the investments. The bank failed, and some people lost all they had.

Huston was devastated, and burdened with guilt. The people would not have put their money into the bank, and lost it, if they had not believed in him. On February 12, 1897, he went to a hotel in Chicago and registered under a false name. On February 14, hotel management broke into his room and found him dead. On the mantle nearby was a flask of whiskey from which a single drink was gone, and an empty 3 ounce bottle of carbonic acid. The weight of the bank failure and his part in it was too much for his great character.

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Cops and Robbers – Lemont Style

Martin "Big Six" Sicks (left) and Michael Geary (right), convicted of robbery of Clearing State Bank, captured in Lemont, IL. Photo from Chicago Tribune, July 10, 1921.

Martin “Big Six” Sicks (left) and Michael Geary (right), convicted of robbery of Clearing State Bank, captured in Lemont, IL. Photo from Chicago Tribune, July 10, 1921.

Bank robberies are a serious business, but the robbery of the Clearing State Bank that took place on July 9, 1921, definitely had comic aspects ala Keystone Cops, although in this case Lemont cops got the upper hand in the end.

The gang of six was led by Martin “Big Six” Sicks, a notorious bank robber with a reputation for big heists, and Michael Geary, a convicted cop murderer and prison escapee. Geary had been serving two life sentences for killing Policeman John Rowe and civil war veteran H. J. Stevens in a holdup of a Lake Street ticket station. He had escaped in 1917 from the old penitentiary, was recaptured after two weeks, and escaped again in 1920 when he and eight other prisoners tunneled under the stockade from the honor farm at Lockport, IL.

The men had planned carefully—so they thought. On a Saturday morning the bank would be full of cash from the Corn Products payroll and because it was a weekend there would be few bank employees. One man stayed behind the wheel of the getaway car, two guarded the street, and three entered the bank waving guns. They forced the customers and employees into the vault, grabbed all the cash and bonds in sight, ran from the bank, jumped into the getaway car, and headed southwest on Archer Avenue.

Laughing and congratulating themselves on the ease of the robbery, the men counted their take— $15,000. But the fun was just about to begin. Soon they heard sirens; it appeared that a bank teller had set off an alarm, and a police car was in hot pursuit. Traffic was heavy on Archer, as people came out to enjoy the fine day. Neither car made much headway as they dodged through and scattered cars right and left. When the robbers got to Main Street, they decided to turn toward Lemont in an attempt to elude the police car.

Instead they found the road full of people on foot, heading to their favorite fishing spots, picnic areas and swimming spots at the quarries on a lovely summer day. Can you picture it: hordes of children and adults watching the cars speeding toward them?

The frustrated robbers were blaming each other when one had a brilliant idea. He grabbed handfuls of bills and coins and threw them out the window of their car. Children and adults scrambled madly, crawling around to grab what they could. The following police car screeched to a halt to avoid the crowd and policemen tried to move the people from the road and recover the bank’s money. They soon realized the money was lost and made their way slowly through the scrambling crowd to resume their pursuit, having lost valuable time.

Meanwhile, the gang roared into town. Geary grabbed an armful of money, ran from the car into a private home. He threw money on the owner’s bed, and told her he would make her rich if she kept her mouth shut. Amazed, she ran from the house. Geary settled himself comfortably on the back porch and pretended to read a paper, thinking he could fool the police that way. The other robbers felt they would have a better chance to escape if they split up, so they deserted the car and ran off in different directions.

The police, led by Chief of Detectives Michael Hughes, cordoned off the area, but as word spread through the town crowds of people assembled, talking in groups in the streets, running around looking for crooks—and money—and further impeding the police.

Ultimately, Sicks and Geary were found hiding under a sidewalk, one man was said to have been found hiding in a coal bin in someone’s basement, and another was found hours later on the northwest side of town, hiding in the bushes and mumbling about bad luck and “this cursed town.” The fate and identity of the remaining robbers is lost to history.

While Michael Geary waited in county jail for transfer to Joliet, a loaded revolver and a number of saws were found in his cell. He died in Joliet penitentiary in 1935 of a heart attack.

In the end, $7000 of the stolen $15,000 was recovered. No Lemont resident turned in missing money.

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Happy Holidays – The Best Christmas Gift

The Best Christmas Gift

The Best Christmas Gift

The best Christmas present I ever received was a painting set. I was twelve years old that Christmas. Perhaps you remember how intensely a twelve-year-old can focus on a wanted item. It was all I could think of, yet I can’t begin to tell you now why I wanted it. I had no known talent for drawing, nor had I ever shown any interest in visual art, either appreciation or the desire to create it. Yet, for some reason, I wanted the tools that would open the world of creative art to me.

My parents were baffled, and resistant. “You’ll never use it!” my mother said. This was our second year in our own home, and we were not well-to-do, still struggling to furnish the house and make ends meet. Such an expensive request was not welcome.

When the family opened presents on Christmas Day, I was handed a large heavy box, and inside was the longed-for paint set. I stared at it without a word—I had been convinced I would never get it, and couldn’t believe what I held was for me. It was not just any old paint set but the king of all paint sets! Inside were about fifty tubes of oil paint, cakes of watercolors, an assortment of brushes, palette knives, charcoal sticks, linseed oil, a wooden palette, canvases, a professional-looking sketch pad, a collapsible easel, instruction books, color-mixing guides—all very adult and awe-inspiring.

You’re probably thinking the present brought out a hidden talent that became an important part of my life; but no, my mother turned out to be right—I never used the paints. Here is what I did do: I valued them. I’d take them in secret to a quiet corner, open the box and pick up each tube, memorizing the names of the colors, opening the ones I was unfamiliar with to put the visual with the name, thumbing through the instruction books over and over, handling the knives, palette, and canvases, not wanting to get them “dirty” by using them, making a few swipes with charcoal on scrap paper. I’d assemble the easel, prop an empty canvas on it, and play-act painting for hours on end—then carefully pack it all away as it came, sparkling new and unused, hiding it until “next time.” It was so valuable I was afraid of using anything up.

What I don’t remember is what ultimately became of the set. I grew up, of course, got involved in teen activities, then married and moved on, leaving behind the things of my youth in the family home. My mother probably ran across it in the attic and threw it away, shaking her head and thinking it had been a wasted gift. But I never forgot it, nor the feelings it engendered in me. Sixty years later I can still picture it in detail, still feel the awe of owning such a thing.

Before she died, I told Mom how important that gift had been, the knowledge that she loved me enough to give me something useless (in her mind) just because her daughter wanted it so bad. Telling her made her smile, but she didn’t remember the occasion. It didn’t make any difference that she didn’t remember. That’s the way between mothers and daughters.

Happy Holidays to all!
It’s been a great year, with the birth of granddaughter Mia and the publication of The Mystery at Sag Bridge. Thank you for sharing it with me!

 

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History for Halloween – The Ghosts of Sag Bridge

Photo courtesy Richard Hoyt Lee

Photo courtesy Richard Hoyt Lee

The late 1890s seems to be when ghost activity peaked in the area of Sag Bridge, Illinois, now the northeast corner of Lemont. Many ghostly tales, some well documented, began here.

In late December, 1897, a rash of new sightings and hauntings was stirred up. Some said it was due to the discovery of the skeletons of nine Indians, well documented by scientists from Chicago. Professor Dosey determined the skeletons were several hundred years old, one being over seven feet tall. This was not the first time: skeletons had been turning up in and near Sag Bridge for years. But now villagers began reporting phantom Indians on horseback riding through the town at night, and other visions of roaming spirits. Some felt this was due to the fact that the skeletons had been disturbed, and demanded they be reburied. Some were reburied, but some were sent to the Field Museum in Chicago.

Not only Indians haunted the area. There were tales of a horse-drawn hearse traveling along Archer Avenue, pulling an infant’s casket, which was seen to glow through the viewing window. A county policeman reported chasing several figures in monk-like robes until they vanished before his eyes. A priest is rumored to have seen the ground rise and fall as if it were breathing.

Much of this activity seems to have been near St. James at Sag Bridge, a church in the middle of the forest, surrounded by a cemetery dating back to the early 1800s, years before the church was built. It is said that the site was originally an Indian village and an ancient Indian burial ground. Even in daytime, the property gives off an eerie atmosphere.

A story told about St. James at Sag Bridge also happened in 1897. Two musicians, Professor William Looney and John Kelly, had provided entertainment for a parish event, which went on until 1 a.m. Not wanting to travel back to their homes at this late hour, they opted to sleep overnight in a small building on the property. Looney was awakened during the night by the sound of galloping hoofs on the gravel road and looked out the window. He could see nothing to account for the sound, and gradually it faded.

Looney woke Kelly to tell him what had happened, and as they spoke, the sound returned. Both men looked out, and as the sounds again faded the form of a young woman appeared in the road. The sounds again approached, and this time horses and a carriage were seen coming part way up the drive. The woman danced in the road until she entered shadow, and the horses and carriage disappeared, only to start again a short time later. Each time they appeared, something new was added to the scene, and the woman began to call, “Come on!” as she disappeared.

The men reported the incident to local police the next morning, and it was verified that NO drinking had taken place to account for the tale. Since that time, similar sightings have continued to be reported by respectable residents. It is said the ghosts were the spirits of a young parish helper and housekeeper from the church, who fell in love and decided to elope. The man told his young lover to wait part way down the hill while he hitched the horses, but as he was coming for her, they startled, bolted, the wagon was overturned, and both were killed.

Today St. James at Sag Bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places, and still operates as a Catholic Parish. If you attend Mass there on a Sunday morning, you will park on this very hill, and walk through the cemetery, and you will see ushers pull ropes to ring the church bells, and you will think you have been transported back in time.

Is it any wonder that I set my novel, The Mystery at Sag Bridge, in this very special place?

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Prohibition Days In Lemont, Illinois – An Amusing Anecdote

Previous posts have told of both Lemont’s Smokey Row and relations to the Chicago mob. You might say today’s story embellishes on that theme. The story is part of Lemont lore, and likely is essentially true, as the original versions quoted names and gave more details. I’m giving an abbreviated version here.

An establishment once existed at 108 Stephen Street in Lemont, named The Palm Garden, registered as a “soft drink parlor”. The classification was a misnomer, as many such places were in those days, as it catered to appetites for something stronger than “soft drinks.” Food, drinks, pool, and dancing in an upstairs room were available. The owner was described as debonair, and his place took on that personality. His name was not one that would normally be associated with mob activity, but who knows?

On an evening in August, 1932, federal agents entered, barred the door, and announced a raid. As patrons poured out the back door, agents arrested the owner and ordered the patrons to go home. The patrons did not go home. Typical in Lemont in those days, they were not about to be deprived of the excitement of the occasion. They gathered in the street to watch, and soon were joined by patrons of other such “parlors” when word of the raid spread. Thoroughly enjoying themselves, and likely not completely sober, they stood around listening, hearing breaking glass, and other sounds of demolition emanating from inside the building.

No place in Lemont had been raided for many years, and no raids were expected. Neither the local nor county police were participating. Was it a real raid, someone in the street asked, or a clever scheme to rob the place? The idea caught on. The county police (in Justice, IL) were called and told there was a holdup in Lemont.

The federal agents inside had become nervous of the large crowd, and called for backup. When additional agents arrived, they were stopped by the crowd, who refused to let anyone into the building until county police got there.

The county police chief and four officers soon arrived, sirens blaring and carrying sawed-off shotguns. They pushed past the crowd, ignored Lemont’s police chief and mayor who had arrived on the scene, surrounded the building and demanded the agents open the doors.

The feds didn’t open up. They were afraid of the crowd. This led the police to think it WAS a real holdup, so they broke down the doors, to cheers from the crowd.

After a brief, nonetheless frightening, confrontation, the real situation was determined and the Palm Garden owner was handed off to Lemont’s police chief, who arrested him and took him to the Village Hall.

While Lemont officials were dealing with the prisoner, a new Lemont officer arrived on the scene to assist. He was not recognized by county police, was treated with suspicion and ultimately held and brought to Justice for further processing. Lemont’s police chief now had to rescue his own officer.

When all was said and done, federal agents demolished much of the Palm Garden, hauled off or destroyed furniture and fixtures, destroyed an extensive inventory of liquor, and by 3 o’clock in the morning everyone, including patrons, had gone home.

The next day the owner was released on bail and returned immediately to clean up his place, intending to reopen as soon as possible.

There were no more raids in Lemont. One can only guess at the reason. I’ll let you in on my guess: I think the Feds decided to let Lemont take care of Lemont.

This story is typical of Lemont lore, and one of the things that makes me glad to live here.

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Railways Promote Recreation

Postcard of Dellwood Park, ca 1901, colorized. Presently this area is part of Lockport, not Joliet. Ruins of the stairs and dam remain. Photo courtesy of Lemont Area Historical Society.

Postcard of Dellwood Park, ca 1901, colorized. Presently this area is part of Lockport, not Joliet. Ruins of the stairs and dam remain. Photo courtesy of Lemont Area Historical Society.

When I walked through Dellwood Park in Lockport for the first time, I came across a crumbling staircase and the remnants of an old dam. Only after I checked on-line did I realize what I had stumbled across, a unique treasure from the early 1900s, related to my last blog post about the Chicago and Joliet Electric Train, also called street car or trolley.

When the railway owners realized the train routes were not operating at capacity on weekends, they got into the entertainment business to increase ridership. It wasn’t a new idea. During the construction of the sanitary canal in the mid 1890s, one of the steam railroads had organized tours of the canal construction sites, capitalizing on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to offer riders sights of one of the man-made wonders of the world in progress.

The Chicago Joliet Line’s answer is pictured above—Dellwood Park. The train dropped riders off right at the entrance to the park. The park opened in 1905, and included picnic grounds, a carousel, a lake with boats for rent, a boathouse and dancing pavilion, dance bands, and a grandstand with sulky races. Up to 15,000 visitors came on weekends. The pavilion burned down in the 1930s, after operating for more than thirty years. Today the lake is gone too, but Dellwood Park remains as a picnic area, and visitors can still see the dam and the stairs that overlooked the lake, and walk along a limestone bluff.

In nearby Romeoville, about halfway between Lemont and Dellwood Park, the train stopped at another popular spot, this one privately owned. Around 1915, Ebenezer Bruce, the owner of Bruce Quarry, was struggling to keep the business going. Brick and concrete was becoming a more popular building material than the limestone the quarry had produced for many years. Ebenezer came up with the idea to let springs fill the quarry. He brought in sand for a beach, installed a parking lot, bathhouse and lunch counter, and people came by car and by train from up to forty miles away to the sixteen-acre lake and Romeo Beach. The shrewd businessman didn’t stop there. In the winter he cut blocks of ice off the lake which he stored in an adjacent icehouse for summer use. The clear spring water was an asset to both enterprises.

In 1973 the quarry was sold to Commonwealth Edison, who drained the lake, thinking it would be used as a cooling pond for their coal plant. It was ultimately resold, and today nothing remains.

I can’t conclude without mentioning one last place many south-siders will recognize, the Landmark Restaurant, also known as Marlene’s Catering—also no longer in business. The building on Archer Avenue in Bedford Park was originally constructed as a substation serving the Chicago Joliet line. After the line ceased operation, it was operated as a dime-a-dance hall, and then became a popular restaurant and catering establishment for the next forty-four years, until closing at the end of 2014.

It was also reputed to be haunted.

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