Metro-East Living

From the early days of Scott Field to a stolen ice box, history comes alive in old newspapers

German immigrant in Collinsville was the first lynched on US soil during WWI

German immigrant Robert Prager was dragged out of his Collinsville home and lynched by an angry mob in 1918. The city is telling his story at its history museum.
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German immigrant Robert Prager was dragged out of his Collinsville home and lynched by an angry mob in 1918. The city is telling his story at its history museum.

Looking back 100 years in newspapers always makes me feel better.

If people got through some of the stuff back then, we probably will survive what is going on now, I always think. And some of the stories remind me that we have no license today on goofy stuff.

It was a time when people were grateful World War I was over, or as they called it then, The Great War, or the War to End All Wars, as they had no idea World War II was on the horizon. Local boys were coming home from France, at least the lucky ones. The local air field was always in the news, like in this headline which caught my eye:

“Plane From Scott Field Lands Safely In Paris,” said a headline in the Belleville Daily News-Democrat.

It made me look, thinking that maybe it was some kind of an endurance race or something.

But the plane actually had landed in Paris, Misouri, because of mechanical troubles and ended up in the small Missouri town named for the more famous place. It is just 25 miles northwest of Mexico, Missouri. (There’s also a Versailles, Missouri, pronounced incorrectly by locals.)

History 1
Pictured are aviators training in Curtiss JN-4 Jenny at Scott Field in 1918. File photo courtesy of the 375th AMW History Office

In a story illustrating that violence at political gatherings is nothing new, Adolph Germer, national secretary of the Socialist Party, gave a farewell speech at his hometown of Mt. Olive, Illinois, that resulted in a skirmish.

Germer, who once lived in Belleville, was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for interfering with the World War I draft. His speech was judged not to be too radical by most, but afterward in the street remarks caused a pitched battle between a number of the 400 socialists present and four soldiers who had recently returned from France.

His sentence later was overturned on appeal. No word on what happened to the combatants.

There was plenty of petty crime back then, too.

“Adam Karr, wealthy foundryman, reported to police Thursday that an ice box on the back-porch of his home at 401 S. Jackson St, was raided by thieves Wednesday night,” the paper reported. “Everything but the ice was taken.

“Dishes which contained the viands were found in the alley here Thursday morning. Mr. Karr is so anxious to learn the identity of the culprit that he has offered $100 reward for the arrest.”

That was a lot of money back then. Must have been some good food. Wonder how many of those ice boxes you could have bought for a hundred dollars?

Music was an integral part of Belleville even back 100 years as these stories show.

“Large crowds witnessed Water Hurst pay a bet on the election to Emil Borg,” the paper reported. “It was stipulated that in case (P.K.) Johnson won (Belleville mayor — and he did) Hurst would have to wheel Borg in a small farm wagon from the Wenz Café to William Gaul’s saloon on the West Side and return.

“As long as the wheels turned Borg would have to play the cornet. If ( Wm.) Sauer had won, Borg would have had to pull the wagon while Hurst played the clarinet. Both men were exhausted when they finished.”

Then there was a musical fisherman as the paper reported.

“Patsy Daubach of the West Side returned home Thursday night from the Okaw River where he spent several days catching fish to fill the Lenten wants of the 100 block of Gold Street. Aubach is a firm believer in the power of music over the finny tribe and he attributes his remarkable catches to the fact that he always plays a clarinet while his trot-lines are out.”

This was a story of good intentions gone awry.

At a meeting of the Freeburg Village Board, someone reported “… on the investigation of the books of Village Clerk Chas Kessler and the startling announcement was made of a shortage of $3,700.48.

2020 Wally Spiers
Wally Spiers

“Kessler said he was as surprised as the rest of them,” the paper noted, quoting the Freeburg Tribune. Kessler had been village clerk for 14 years.

“While admitting he was short, Mr. Kessler told Mayor Reinheimer that if he were given a few weeks time the entire amount of his shortage would be paid back.”

Kessler said the combined duties of being the village clerk, a barber, the secretary of the board of education and the secretary of the cooperative store were too much work and apparently he got mixed up. The audit showed a shortage of $2 in his first two years as clerk but then increasing errors continued until the total reached more than $2,200 in the last two years.

“I’m going to make it good if they give me a chance,” he said. “I don’t know. I’ll get the money somewhere, I guess.”

He was bonded for $2,000 but the bond would have to be paid by neighbors.

About a month later, an announcement in the Freeburg Tribune said that Kessler had sold his barber shop and moved to Belleville with his wife and seven children. He shows up in later papers as a barber in Belleville. I can only assume he used the proceeds from the sale to pay his clerical mistakes.

I can commiserate. My one year as the treasurer of an organization was a cascade of mistakes and misunderstandings. At least I had the good sense to get out of office.

Wally Spiers: