Answer Man: You don't know Blackjack

News-DemocratJune 11, 2014 

There is an area between O'Fallon and Troy that is known as Blackjack. I vaguely remember you (or someone at the BND) answering why is it called Blackjack. Could you find this? My father was from Blackjack. -- Shirley Mersinger Lodes

If anyone knows the straight skinny on this question, Brian Keller sure would appreciate a call.

Not only is he president of the O'Fallon Historical Society, but he also is closer to the subject than most: Two of his great-great-aunts and uncles along with a number of cousins are buried in the new Blackjack Cemetery (also known as St. John's Evangelical/Friedens).

Yet even he does not know how the name originated. A quick check of the 89 News-Democrat stories that mention Blackjack since 1994 also yields no clue. It apparently was never incorporated, according to "Illinois Place Names."

"It generally doesn't appear on maps, and I know many have no idea it was there," Keller told me. "I'm not sure where the name came from. Nevertheless, it did exist."

He proves it by citing a passage from page 441 of "The History of Madison County, Illinois, Illustrated, with Biographical Sketches of Many Prominent Men and Pioneers," published in 1882. It reads:

"South of Troy is what is known as the "black jack" district. It contains a good deal of fine land, is excellent for the cultivation of wheat, and the farms here sell at high figures. This part of the township is inhabited mainly by a German population, most of whom are good farmers."

It also made headlines on March 15, 1938, when the tornado and storm system that devastated the area around Union School in Belleville also swept through this area. It destroyed the Old St. John's (German) Evangelical Church and obliterated the school across the street at Lebanon and Troy-O'Fallon roads, about 31/2 miles south of U.S. 40.

Fortunately, both the school and church had been condemned and were no longer in use. A new cemetery was established about a quarter mile east on the Lebanon Road. Old burial records of the now-defunct St. John's Church are in the custody of Friedens United Church of Christ in Troy.

Still, the storm did a number on the old cemetery, which still exists at its original site, according to a Google map picture.

"The tornado picked up monuments weighing between 700 and 800 pounds, scattering them in every direction," according to a Belleville Daily Advocate picture cutline. "Many were broken and graves that were marked before the storm were left without identification."

But just why the area was called Blackjack as early as the 1800s remains a mystery. Best guesses are it could have been to honor Brig. Gen. John Davidson, who earned the nickname "Black Jack" while fighting with the Buffalo Soldiers after the Civil War, or John Logan, a colonel with the 31st Illinois Volunteers in the Civil War who gained the same label for his black eyes and swarthy complexion. It likely did not come from the popular card game, which was not called "blackjack" until the 1930s, according to casino.org.

Anyone wanting to see the tornado photos or cemetery information can shoot me an e-mail, and I'll send you JPEG and PDF files.

Where could I buy insects like lacewings, ladybugs and praying mantises as predators for my garden? -- N.S., of Cahokia

As you might guess, today you can find anything you want on the Internet as well as Alice's Restaurant. And thanks to Dr. Charles Giedeman, our gardening expert, I can give an easy source: the Territorial Seed Co. in Cottage Grove, Ore.

Established in 1979, the company offers all the critters you seek as well as nematodes, spider-mite predators, insect food and the book "Good Bug, Bad Bug." A praying mantis egg case, which can produce up to 200 young mantises in eight weeks, is $10.25. A package of 1,500 ladybugs, each of which will eat more than 5,000 aphids and other small pests in their one-year lifetime, is $15.75.

For ordering details, call toll-free 800-626-0866. By the way, Abundant Life Seeds, which also sold the insects, is now offering its product line through Territorial. For complete information, go to www.territorialseed.com, which also offers garden planning software (for $25 annually, free for the first 30 days) and a gardening help line at 541-942-9547.

Today's trivia

Who coached the Netherlands' pitching staff in the 2006 World Baseball Classic?

Answer to Wednesday's trivia: So-called "flying fish," of course, don't actually fly in the normal sense. But their powerful leaps from the water and use of their winglike fins to glide make it appear they do. In 2008, a Japan TV crew filmed a fish that spent 45 seconds in the air, according to the BBC. They can cover distances of 400 feet, reach speeds of 35-45 mph and hit altitudes of up to 20 feet above the ocean surface. There are about five dozen species of such fish that are thought to date back at least 66 million years. It's also interesting to note that they belong to the family Exocoetidae. That's from a Greek word meaning "sleeping outside" because it was once thought that the fish may have slept on the shore and then jumped back in the water in the morning.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

Belleville News-Democrat is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service