Article #36- Bobby's Adventures(cont)
Article #37- Tornado hits O'Fallon
Article #38- Extra-Ordinary
Article #39- 2006 Sesquicecentennial
Article #40- Street Names
Published May 19, 2004
Published May 26, 2004
Published June 2, 2004
Published June 30, 2004
Published July 14, 2004



 

 

Article#36-Bobby's Adventures  (cont)

So, what did kids do for fun in a small town in the 40's and 50's?  What was there to do during long summer days before air conditioning and water parks, not to mention Game Boys, Play Station and Xboxes and no, that's not a typo.  Lewis remembers his favorite childhood toys being "a stick and a box."  Big cardboard boxes became castles and forts and sticks were magically transformed into swords and arrows.  Such is the power of imagination and exploration with which little boys seem to be naturally endowed. 

In the last article, I told of young Bobby Lindemann's adventures with the lumberyard.  But, oh, there was so much more that captured his attention!


Young Bobby Lindemann on Main Street, C1948
Photo courtesy of Larry Lindemann

Let's start with Milo Terry's barbershop.  Now, just in case you were thinking that this young boy found a barbershop interesting, let me put your mind at ease.  No, it was the rain barrel out back that got his attention!  If you've never had the pleasure of yelling down a rain barrel, Bob himself admits that, "It's one of those things you have to experience to enjoy."  Apparently it creates a pretty fantastic echo.  Said Bob, "I am sure that my rendition of Gene Autry's 'Back in the Saddle Again,' when sung into the rain barrel, sounded much better than his version." 

The inside of the power plant (the building by the railroad tracks that now houses an Edward Jones office) was off limits but the constant roar of the big diesel engines could always be heard from outside.  One attraction to the power plant was the mist emitted by the cooling towers-always welcome on a hot summer day.  The brick building was covered with ivy and Bob, along with buddies Art Steiner and Donny Forbeck, spent hours shooting BB's at the chippies that nested in the ivy.  "In the daylight we didn't have much of a chance, but at night with a flashlight all the odds were in our favor," recalled Bob.

On a typical Saturday, Bob and his buddy Donny would go to the "show" in the old VFW Hall behind O'Fallon Garage.  "For 15 cents there would be a newsreel, another segment of a continuing serial such as Zorro, and a main feature.  The ones we really liked were Gene Autry and Hop-a-Long Cassidy.  Tom Mix was okay but just a little better than one of those lovie-dovie girl movies."  After the movie it was off to the elevator's storage shed where the stacks of grain sacks turned into mountains where Indians lay awaiting young Bob and Donny (aka the fiercest Indian fighters in the world).  Luckily they always had their trusty finger pistols with them and they never, EVER ran out of ammunition!

After they'd made civilization safe from Indians once again, the boys headed back to Forbeck's Tavern for their Saturday job of sorting soda and beer bottles into their respective cases.  Not only was it better than the Sunday job of cleaning out the spittoons-it also came with a soda or root beer for a reward.  Saturday night usually found them in Donny's family's quarters above the tavern, listening to scary programs like "The Shadow" or "Drag Net" or "The Green Lantern."

Oh, there were lots of things for a young boy to do in O'Fallon back then.  You could go to the ballpark on Elm Street and play games either with or against Mickey Mantel, Babe Ruth or Enos Slaughter.  Heck, you didn't even need a ball or bat or glove for those games!  Or you could watch your brother gather bees from the hives he kept at Mr. Ermeling's house near the bottom of the hill on Elm Street.  You could climb the water tower over on School Street or watch Mr. Keithly attempt to back his car out of his garage or listen to the men of the Civic Club making plans at Bill & Mabel's Café.


The entire Lindemann clan behind Bill & Mabel's cafe.
Photo courtesy of Larry Lindemann.

If you ask me, any one of these adventures sounds more interesting than Nintendo or Play Station or Xbox, but, I don't know-they might be right up there with "a stick and a box!"

 

Article#37-Tornado hits O'Fallon

Spring brings us so many things that nurture our spirits after the long winter; the first rays of summer sun, trees and flowers in parades of pastel blooms, birds singing harmonic melodies.  And tornados. 

Yes, this is the season of storms-those menacing, thunderous lightshows that both fascinate us and frighten us.  Storms always caused a tug-of-war in our family when I was a kid, particularly where wind was concerned.  Mom stood in the kitchen doing a jittery dance as she summoned everyone to shelter in the basement and Dad stayed out on the carport in defiance, almost daring the clouds to threaten his home.  Oddly enough, I married a storm watcher myself and so the tradition continues.  Or maybe it's just a "guy" thing.

All these memories were brought to mind when Audrey Lang brought me pictures of the old lumber company, some of which included the day a tornado rumbled through O'Fallon.  It was June 12, 1958, a date she remembers because the local paper printed souvenir reprints of the headline and also because her now-husband, Kenny, had just gotten back from picking up his brand-spanking new 1958 Chevy Impala when the tornado hit.  Audrey worked at the lumber company as well but was home when the storm arose.  She remembers her brother calling her and telling her to "come downtown, but make sure you walk," because of all the power lines that were down. 


Audrey S. Lang waving from the exposed front door
of C.J. Harris Lumber Co. after the tornado hit in 1958.

Adolph Haas' coffee cup was perched on top of the desk that stood against the front wall. Audrey recalls checking to see if the dust around the cup had been disturbed to verify that, while the entire front of the lumber company had been ripped off and been left lying on Main Street, in typical tornado fashion the coffee cup, along with the dust, had remained untouched.

Along with the lumber company, the Methodist Church at the corner of Church and Wood Streets also fell prey to the storm.  Actually, it was no longer the Methodist Church at the time.  Though many people still referred to it as such, the Methodists had moved into the brick building at the corner of Pitman and School Streets prior to building the sanctuary that became Williams Memorial Methodist Church. 

When the tornado hit in 1958, the white frame church, by then the O'Fallon Christian Church, was demolished.  Having lived as a child next door to that church, I remember feeling a knot in my stomach when we went to see the damage the storm had done.  It looked for all the world as though someone had stolen the church right out from under the roof and left the roof sitting on the ground.  Raleigh Jessup told me a story that's definitely worth passing on; a story that illustrates how a few good people doing what's right can preserve so much.  The bell that had hung in that church's bell tower was originally cast in the 1850's and hung in the Mt. Zion Methodist Church on the same grounds as the cemetery on Highway K.  The bell was moved when the congregation decided to move inside the city limits and became the Methodist Episcopal Church of O'Fallon in 1883.


The post-tornado remains of the O'Fallon Christian Church.

While clearing the wreckage from the tornado, the good men of the O'Fallon Christian Church decided that the bell should remain in the hands of the Methodists.  Raleigh vividly remembers working up at the church one Saturday and looking up to see five or six men from the Christian Church hauling a wheelbarrow up the street with the Methodist's beloved bell for a passenger.  "There was no ceremony about it," Raleigh told me.  "They just walked up to us and asked where they could set it!" 

That bell stood outside Williams Memorial Methodist Church and its peal signaled the beginning of worship all those years.  It's Raleigh's dream that it should find its way to a bell tower when the new sanctuary is built at the church's (now Crossroads Methodist) new grounds out on Tom Ginnever Blvd.  Knowing how persistent Raleigh can be when it comes to making his dreams a reality, I'd say it's a done deal.


Article#38-Extra-Ordinary

Last week I got a very nice e-mail from a man in New York City named David Reville.  An article had just been written about him in Hope Magazine and he wrote to tell me that he appreciated my efforts at telling the stories about "ordinary people."  David has an incredible project of his own; one I'd like to see us duplicate right here in O'Fallon.  He calls the project StoryCorps and with minimal equipment, he offers people the opportunity to sit in a sound studio for one hour to record their stories.  Grandchildren listen to grandparents tell their stories of immigration; wives often hear husbands tell of their war experiences for the first time; children listen to parents record the stories of how they met and fell in love.  For a mere ten dollars, people walk out of the studio with their stories preserved on a CD.  With their permission, David keeps a copy for a "library" of New York City's oral history.

What struck me about David's e-mail was his blatant reference to "ordinary people," a phrase that isn't exactly known for making one feel elevated or uplifted as though we have a story worth telling.  I think that anyone who undertakes genealogical research, at least in the back of their mind, hopes to find some ancestral link to royalty or military brilliance, and why is that, pray tell?  Well, it's because that's what our histories are based upon.  History is based on power-who has it, who's taking it away from whom, and what's being done with it.  In other words, extraordinary people doing extraordinary things.

I'd like to join David in his quest to put a new spin on where history comes from.  Think about the word "extraordinary" for a moment.  The dictionary will tell you it means "remarkable" or "uncommon."   But how would our history be written if, instead of focusing on extraordinary people, we recorded the stories of extra-ordinary people?  Instead of learning about the generals who blew up bridges, maybe we'd know more about the people who left their families for months at a time in order to build them in the first place.  Instead of the stories of kings and queens wielding military might, maybe we'd know more about the serfs who worked their lands and defended their castles.

If you believe history doesn't have to be made of kings and presidents and the spoils of war, then you must believe that history is being made every day by extra-ordinary people.  All you have to do is look around you to find it.  Ask yourself, "Who built that building or that house?"  "Who started this organization?"  "Who had the foresight to do that?"  Our history is in the everyday things as well as the monumental.  Our stories of extra-ordinary people doing extra-ordinary things are what shape our communities, leave legacies and define who we are.

I talked to Lynn Orf the other day.  She'd come across a composite picture of many of the people who played a role in building O'Fallon.  I thought it was really nice of her to think of me and I immediately thought of sharing it with you.  None of these people will ever be in the history books.  That is, not unless we decide to redefine history and learn to treasure the stories of extra-ordinary people.


A composite photo from 1947 made by E. A. Keithley's son-in-law, Ted Markham.
Photo courtesy of Lynn & Bill Orf.


Article#39- 2006 Sesquicentennial

Two years from now in 2006, O'Fallon will have cause to party.  Two years from now O'Fallon will celebrate its sesquicentennial and for those of you who find that a tough word to swallow, let's just say it will be O'Fallon's 150th birthday.


The O'Fallon Historical Society's float for the Bicentennial in 1976,
built by Bill Westhoff and Raleigh Jessup.

Yes, I'm old enough to remember the Centennial, but just in bits and pieces.  I remember men growing beards though most of them were really goatees.  I remember Mom making matching calico "pioneer" dresses for us mostly because I remember my older sister pitching a fit about having to wear hers.  And I remember riding on a float that I think bore a sign that said something about "Little Princesses of O'Fallon" full of little girls in ballerina outfits and waking up in someone's living room having fainted from the heat.  So you can imagine I'm looking forward to the Sesquicentennial though I refuse to ride on a float bearing a sign that says "Middle Aged Ladies of O'Fallon."

At the last meeting of the Historical Society, plans for the Sesquicentennial were discussed and what I heard most folks saying was that, while they look forward to a variety of festivals and parades and general hoopla, they also hope that the true historical significance of the event isn't lost in a swirl of cotton candy and fireworks.  What I heard was a sincere desire, particularly relevant in such a fast-growing town, to pay homage to the people who came before; people who worked hard to make O'Fallon a place that others would want to move to.  It's not just simple melancholy that motivates them to tell these stories and preserve the images/images1.  They want to offer their "tip of the hat" and a salute for a job well done. 

Too few in number to put together a celebration as large as this, the Historical Society is eager to work with other groups to provide guidance and support in the historical aspects of the Sesquicentennial celebration.  As Jim Karll, president of the Historical Society said, "Of course, things will need to be included in the celebration to attract the interest of as many people as possible, but the emphasis should be on the people who have lived here for the last 150 years and the stories that tell about their lives in O'Fallon."  Hopefully, a meeting can be arranged in the coming months for all those who are interested in participating in organizing the Sesquicentennial to share their ideas.


The Log Cabin originally built in 1870 and now located in
Civic Park, houses the Historical Society's collection.
Photo courtesy of Raleigh Jessup.

The O'Fallon Historical Society was formed in 1974 and installed their first officers on July 4th  of that year.  William (Bill) Westhoff was president, Raleigh Jessup was Vice President, Rosella Moorhead was secretary and Lynn Orf served as treasurer.  Membership cost $2.50 in annual dues and you may be surprised to know that thirty years later, you can be a card-carrying member of the O'Fallon Historical Society for the bargain price of $5.00/year.  In 1974, there were 271 charter members, 18 honorary members and one lifetime membership to Harry Smith of the St. Charles County Historical Society. Most notable among their accomplishments over the years is the Log Cabin, originally built in 1870, that now houses the Society's impressive collection of photographs and furnishings.  Once located on Richard Patton's property at the corner of Veteran's Memorial Parkway and Hwy. K, the Historical Society took the old log cabin apart piece by piece when Schnuck's purchased the property in 1976 and reassembled it in Civic Park. It's only open during festivals that are held in the park but if a group would like a tour, Raleigh Jessup assures me it could be arranged.

There may be a lot of folks who don't know O'Fallon has a Historical Society or don't know how to go about joining.  They meet quarterly at the Log Cabin in Civic Park and if you're interested, you can contact Jim Karll at 272-8160 for more information.  I'm sure you'll find yourself warmly welcomed.

I have my doubts as to whether or not we'll be able to duplicate the play that Kate Terry wrote on the founding of O'Fallon, enacted by willing (and probably some not-so-willing) citizens for the Centennial in 1956.  We will certainly miss her talent and charm this time around.  But there is more than one way to tell a story and many stories have been collected since then.  Some oral histories have been recorded, pictures have been catalogued and fifty years worth of new stories have been lived out.  There is so much to tell; so much to celebrate.

 

Article#40-Street Names

I've driven through more small towns in Missouri and Illinois than you can shake a stick at and it seems to me that the vast majority of them fall into one of two categories:  those that name their streets after presidents and those that name them after trees.  It's a pretty predictable pattern, really.  If you're driving down Main Street in Small Town, Missouri looking for a house on Jefferson St., you can bet it will be two blocks down from Washington St.  The only problem with finding a house on Maple Street in Small Town, Missouri is that trees don't come in any particular order.

Here in O'Fallon, we did things a bit differently.  We started out to be a tree city having named one of our downtown streets "Elm."  But that's about as far as we got.  From then on, the streets were named for places or buildings or whole families, but not one president and only one tree.  There's a lot of old-fashioned, Midwestern logic to our street-naming process here in O'Fallon.  For instance, Wabash Street was named for the railroad whose tracks it runs along.  Church Street was named for the Methodist Episcopal Church and I'm glad they named it when they did because Post Office Street doesn't sound nearly as charming.  And, of course, School Street got its name from the first public school erected at the corner of Pitman and School Streets.


The O'Fallon Methodist Church, later the Christian Church, 
at the corner of Wood & Church Streets. The church was
destroyed in the 1958 tornado.

It's fitting that the school should have been built on Pitman Street because Professor Richard H. Pitman, for whom the street is named, was described as "an educator of unquestionable qualifications with a marked natural aptitude for the instruction of pupils."  It's entirely possible that the phrase "unquestionable qualifications" was merely a euphemism for "You'd best not question his qualifications" since this was long before the days of accreditation and the NEA.  Professor Pitman, prominent among O'Fallon's Methodists, also opened the first Sunday School in O'Fallon at the Masonic Hall on Elm Street in 1880.  They enrolled 86 children.

In 1878, Professor Pitman erected the Woodlawn Female Seminary in a location that was, at the time, on the outskirts of town at what is now the corner of Woodlawn and Veteran's Memorial Parkway.  I don't know which took the name "Woodlawn" first; the seminary or the street but surely one was named for the other.  In later years, the Seminary was the home of the colorful Miss Marsha Williams, benefactor of Williams Memorial Methodist Church, now Cornerstone Methodist Church.

Also in the late 1800's, there was a farm on the east edge of town that occupied eighty acres to the north of the railroad tracks and one hundred acres to the south of them.  On the western edge of the property there was a rutty, gravel road that went south to where Bill's Service Center is now.  The only name that road had was one that wasn't used in polite conversation but somewhere along the way it was named for the folks who owned the farm:  Gerhardt and Elizabeth Sonderen.  Their grandson, Frank Amptmann, told me that his grandfather came here from Germany and married Elizabeth Westhoff whose family gave them this plot of land where they grew wheat, corn and alfalfa and Gerhardt spent his non-farming hours working at the Convent.  Frank's mother had died in childbirth when Frank was only four years old and he and his sister grew up on this farm with their grandparents.  He said the old railroad crossing off Wabash St. was the old road that used to lead to where the house and barn sat.

 
Gerhardt & elizabeth Westhoff Sonderen for whom Sonderen Street
was named. In 1923, the Sonderen built Wildwood Saloon,
 now Ethyl's Wildwood Saloon.
Photo courtesy of Frank Amptmann and the folks at Ethyl's.

After Gerhardt passed away in 1948, the land north of the tracks was sold to the Eggering family, hence the street named Eggering on the edge of Forest Park Subdivision.  The acreage south of the tracks was also sold and Country Life Acres was built in its place.  This is the same farm land where the wild sage fields grew that gave name to the Sage Chapel, one of the first African American churches in O'Fallon.

There are a lot more streets around O'Fallon that have names that hold stories.  There's Knaust Road, Koch Road, Hembrock, Orf Rd. and others.  If you know the story behind a street name, call me and I'll be sure to pass it on.