Monday, January 14, 2019

Charles Dadant, Bee-Culturist and the Story of the American Bee Journal (est.1861) in Hamilton, Illinois.

Charles Dadant, was born in 1817 in Vaux-Sous-Aubigny, a small village in eastern France, the second of seven children born to a small village doctor. He became interested in bees as he helped a neighboring priest remove honey from straw skeps at the early age of 12. Disillusioned with the business possibilities in France, he decided to accept an invitation of an old friend Mr. Marlot, then of Basco, Illinois, to come grow Champagne grapes and raise bees. In 1863, at the age of 46, he emigrated from France to America and settled in Hamilton, Illinois.

Charles Dadant
The growing of grapes here did not prove to be lucrative so he abandoned them in favor of honey bees. By the end of the Civil War, Charles had nine colonies of honeybees, and traveled with his young son, Camille Pierre Dadant across the Mississippi River to sell honey and beeswax in a neighboring town. His interest in making quality candles grew from his love and knowledge of beekeeping.

Charles was once the largest producer of extracted honey in America as well as one of the first to import queen bees from Italy on a large scale as he was unhappy with the common black or German bees he found here. He began a series of experiments on the size of hives and wrote a great deal on the large hive that appeared in both American and European journals.

In 1872 he was offered the editorship of the American Bee Journal, but refused because of his unfamiliarity with the English language. He learned to read the New York Tribune by digging at the words one at a time with a pocket dictionary so that he could then translate it back into French for his wife. Charles was a dreamer, a man with ideas and determination. He was the experimenter who became more widely known abroad than in his adopted country.

When his father wrote home to France that he had settled on a 40 acre farm north of Hamilton that he had purchased from Mr. Marlot, the rest of the family packed their trunks and started for the unknown land that Camille had only dreamed of. Camille was only 12 years old when his father brought the family to America. When he first saw the Mississippi he couldn’t believe how magnificent it was in its beauty, almost equal to a lake. He described living in the small log house that his father had built as the happiest time in his life.

Learning to read at the age of 4, Camille was more practical than Charles and was given the responsibility of carrying the purse strings at a very young age – he was the business man of the two. He built the business around his father’s knowledge and became a beekeeping leader. Every improvement and change for the better was made due to their own efforts and appreciated because of this. He would joke of a European business man and a little boy digging out oak trees and using a brush scythe to mow down all the hazel brush. The concept of a plow (pulling on the handles to go down and pressing down to bring it out of the dirt) went against all of his notions of mechanics. It was necessary for him to devote himself to the family farm and the sale of his father’s honey and farm products.

In 1871 when his father suffered from an asthma attack, it became necessary for him to take over the families 70 hives as well. Because there was no bridge across the Mississippi at this time, it was necessary for him to get up by 4:30 in order for him to get himself and goods to the ferry by 6:15. He considered himself lucky for many years that he was small because Captain Van Dyke never charged him for the ferry. He knew he was a grownup for the first time when the Captain held out his hand for a dime. He learned at a young age not to spend his money on candy or other desirable frivolities as it would be like throwing his money in the Mississippi for him and his family. He always got a good price for his wares when he sold them as he was a firm believer that “it pays to furnish good goods”.

In 1875 Camille married Marie Marinelli and took her to the same log cabin his father had taken his family to. In 1878, they began manufacturing foundation for their own use and later, for sale. As the business grew, they improved upon manufacturing methods and helped to finance the invention of the Weed sheeting machine, still in use today. In 1885, the revision of Langstroth’s, “The Hive and the Honey Bee” (PDF) was entrusted to them and four revisions appeared under their names from 1889 to 1899. Charles translated it into French and later it was translated into Italian, Russian, Spanish and Polish. Charles died in 1902 and Camille proceeded to produce four revisions of the book himself. In 1904, Camille retired and built a home in Hamilton on what is now North 7th street overlooking the Mississippi.

In his retirement he became a community leader helping to establish banks, the library, and was one of five to bring about the building of the dam between Hamilton and Keokuk. On his retirement, as he watched his three sons take over the business he stated; “So we have reared a family of beekeepers. Now they can speak for themselves and we can take a back seat and watch them work.” 

In 1912 however, his love of the honey bee beckoned to him once again. He assumed publishing of the American Bee Journal which has been published in Hamilton ever since. His goal was that the journal be the “finest publication on bees and beekeeping in the world.” Camille Dadant passed away in 1938.
Dadant and Sons is still in business with the sixth generation in control.

The Story of the American Bee Journal, since 1912.

The story of the American Bee Journal, its origin, and Samuel Wagner, the first editor, must be closely associated with the Rev. L.L. Langstroth. In 1851, Langstroth had invented his movable-frame hive. In September 1851, a few weeks after a call on Langstroth, the Rev. Dr. Joseph Frederick Berg, pastor of a church in Philadelphia, visited Wagner and told him about this extraordinary beekeeper and his movable-frame hive and his beekeeping methods. They agreed that Wagner should go and see for himself, but it was not until August 1852, almost a year later, that he was able to do so.
After visiting Langstroth's apiary and seeing his hive, Wagner made a decision at a sacrifice to himself. He had corresponded with Dzierzon, discoverer of parthenogenesis, proponent of a practical system of beekeeping and author of a book entitled Rational Beekeeping. He had received permission to translate the book into English to be published for the improvement of American beekeeping. Wagner had made the translation, but it was never published. Recognizing the Langstroth movable frame hive as superior, he decided to encourage Langstroth to write a book instead; for his part, he would place all his store of information at Langstroth's service.

Langstroth quickly prepared the copy for the first edition of his book with the assistance of his wife, and Langstroth on the Hive and the Honey-Bee, A Bee-Keeper's Manual appeared in May of 1853.

Inasmuch as there were already two bee journals published in Germany, Langstroth made this prediction: "There is now a prospect that a Bee Journal will before long be established in this country. Such a publication has long been needed. Properly conducted, it will have a most powerful influence in disseminating information, awakening enthusiasm, and guarding the public against the miserable impositions to which it has so long been subjected."

Wagner established the American Bee Journal and its first issue appeared in January 1861, and from the start he had Langstroth as a contributor as well as an advisor. But after one year of publication, the Civil War resulted in the suspension of its publication until July 1866, when it was resumed.

To quote from Pellett's History of American Beekeeping, "The history of the American Bee Journal has been the history of the rise of beekeeping, and the one is inseparably linked to that of the other. Before this first copy of the first bee magazine in the English language appeared, there were few of the implements now in common use among beekeepers. Conventions of beemen had not been held, a practical smoker had not yet been invented, queen excluders were unknown, comb foundation was still to be perfected, the extractor had not come into use, nor had commercial queen rearing been suggested.

The early volumes of the Journal contain the names of many men of worldwide reputation in the beekeeping world. From the start, Langstroth was a contributor, but to mention a few of the others we would include Henry Alley, Adam Grimm, Moses Quinby, Elisha Gallup, Charles Dadant, Baron von Berlepsch and Dzierzon. Charles Dadant made his first contributions in November 1867, introducing himself as a newcomer from France. From then until his death in 1902, his name frequently appears as a writer in its pages.

For a long time, much space was devoted to the discussion of patent hives, and hundreds of different kinds received attention. In one year, 1869, more than 60 patents were recorded on hives and appliances, which gives one an understanding of the public interest in beekeeping at that time. Charles Dadant's defense of the Langstroth patented beehive, which appeared in the Journal, had an important place in the final judgment which awarded credit to the frail minister who profited little from his effort.

In the 1870's, a number of other bee publications were started, some of which continued publication for a time. Most made their beginnings after that of Wagner in 1872. The American Bee Journal was continued by Wagner's son with the assistance of Langstroth, who may have done most of the editorial work until January, 1873, when the Rev. W. F. Clarke became editor and owner. When Samuel Wagner resumed publication of the Journal after the Civil War, it was published in Washington, D.C., but when Clarke assumed its management, he moved the Journal to Chicago, Illinois.

Clarke's connection with the Journal was short - in July of 1874, Thomas G. Newman purchased the American Bee Journal. Thomas G. Newman continued as editor and publisher until April 1892, when George W. York joined the staff and the masthead of that issue lists Newman as editor and York as assistant editor. The announcement of the sale of the Journal to George W. York appears in the June 1897 issue and the masthead reads: "Published weekly by George W. York & Co."

York continued editing and publishing the American Bee Journal as a weekly. In the May 1912 issue, is published a letter, dated April 1, 1912 and signed by George W. York, that announced he had sold the American Bee Journal and his business to Camille Pierre Dadant, Hamilton, Illinois. The masthead reads: "CamilleDadant, Editor; Dr. C.C. Miller, Associate Editor." Thus the American Bee Journal was moved to Hamilton where it has been published ever since. In 1916 Camille Pierre Dadant hired Frank C. Pellett as staff correspondent. Pellett later was to be designated field editor, associate editor and editor.

M.G. Dadant, returning from college at the University of Illinois, joined the staff of the Journal in October 1918, and his name appears in that issue as business manager. A title he was to hold until the death of his father, Camille Pierre Dadant. About the same time, G.H. Cale, Sr., was employed to take care of the Dadant apiaries, and his name first appears in the October 1928 issue of the Journal as an associate editor, and later he became designated editor on the death of Camille Pierre Dadant in 1938.

During the 1940s through the 1960s, Journal editors and associate editors included M.G. Dadant, Frank C. Pellett, J.C. Dadant, Roy A. Grout and Adelaide Fraser. In 1965, Vern Sisson came on board, first as an assistant editor and later as editor during the early 1970s. Others assisting with the Journal during the early 1970s included Dale Maki and Jim Sheetz. Bill Carlile, long-time columnist and Dadant beekeeper, also assisted in editorship duties during the 1970s. In 1974, Joe Graham was hired as editor and he has continued in this position until the present day.
Camille Pierre Dadant had earlier written, "I want the American Bee Journal to be the finest publication about bees and beekeeping in the world." We, the editors who are continuing its publication, have this as our goal and guiding light.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Virden, Illinois, Coal Mine Massacre on October 12, 1898

It had been raining in Virden (25 miles south of Springfield, Illinois) for days. A cold October rain. Day and night, dozens of members of the newly formed United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) patrolled the railroad tracks which led northward toward the Chicago-Virden Coal Company mine.
Joining Virden miners, a contingent of 60 miners from Mt. Olive patrolled in shifts of 40, while the other 20 freezing and exhausted men slept in the hayloft of a friendly farmer's barn. Along with miners from Springfield and smaller surrounding towns, they watched and they waited.

The miners were organizing to fight back against the intransigence (refusal to change one's views or to agree about something) of the Chicago-Virden Coal Company. Despite an agreement arrived at between the new union and coal operators statewide in January of 1898 to settle a biter six-month strike, Chicago-Virden and a handful of other companies were determined not to pay the new higher wage scale of 40 cents per ton of coal mined.
All spring and summer, the coal operators made their preparations. They recruited African-American miners from Birmingham, Alabama, promising them high wages and good conditions. In this way they sought to drive a wedge between white and Negro miners. They built a stockade of four-inch oak around the mine. They hired ex-police from Chicago and private detectives from St. Louis and bought them brand new Winchester rifles. And now the train carrying strikebreakers sped north from St. Louis to the big Virden mine. 

It was October 12, shortly after the noon hour, when the miners stationed south of the mine spied the train coming. A miner posted on lookout fired a warning signal. And soon the train, carrying strikebreakers and armed train guards, approached the stockaded mine. Miners waited, armed with hunting rifles, pistols and shotguns. As the train slowed down at the depot, a shot rang out and then the battle began in earnest, continuing as the train moved along and then stopped in front of the stockades. With the miners in an open field they took the brunt of the carnage. To a mine guard who survived, the bloodshed conjured up images of the Spanish-American War then raging in Cuba and the Philippines.It was "hotter than San Juan Hill," he recalled. After ten minutes of mayhem, having received a gunshot wound, the train engineer thought better of stopping in Virden and continued on to Springfield, his strikebreaking cargo still aboard.
The union miners paid for their militant stand: eight died, four of these from Mt. Olive, and some forty were injured. The mine guards also paid a price: four dead and five wounded. And at least one Negro strikebreaker aboard the train was seriously wounded. For the UMWA, the victory was worth the cost. A month later, the company repented and granted the wage increase and Illinois became a bastion of union power in the coalfields for decades.

For years afterward, area miners remembered the Battle of Virden, the deadly toll it had taken, and its importance to the building of the union. In 1918, members of the nearby Girard, Illinois local addressed an appeal to the state union office for help. Two fellow union miners from Girard, who had been shot dead at Virden in 1898, had left widows who were now penniless. In making their case for special aid, the Girard miners proclaimed the following of their fallen union brothers: "By their blood we cam into being as prosperous, powerful free men." Proudly they added that "The stockades of slaves have been removed from all mines in our state...We stand today as most respected citizens." And once again they reminded union officials that "it cost blood to gain our recognition."

Twenty years after the victory which catapulted the UMWA to power in the Illinois coalfields, miners had to muster their rhetorical skills to ensure that the families of the Virden martyrs received their due. Today, a full century after the bloody Battle of Virden, there is an even more pressing need to explain how this intense battle cam about, who the union fighters were, what they achieved, and failed to achieved, and why the lessons of Virden are still relevant to working people today.

The essential prelude to the bloodshed at Virden was the great strike of 1897, which encompassed miners from West Virginia to Pennsylvania to Illinois and established the first agreements between coal operators and the UMWA. In announcing the strike, which began on July 4, UMWA national president Michael Ratchford declared that "Independence day" cannot be celebrated by American slaves in a more patriotic manner than to make proclamation to the world that they will no longer submit to industrial servitude. In Illinois, that "industrial servitude" was experienced daily by miners and their families. To begin with, miners endured the effects of a deep economic depression, the most recent sparked by a stock market crash in 1893. As a result, employment was highly uncertain. During 1897 in Macoupin County, for instance, miners worked an average of 179 out of a possible 300 workdays. For this they earned an average $190. Even in relatively good times, miners lost income because of the still widespread practice of "screening" the mined coal, which cut down on the tonnage recorded. Or they lost from the practice of underweighing, which happened often in the absence of a union checkweighman (a worker who checked the weight of the coal against the company's calculations).

As if meager and uncertain wages weren't enough, coal miners worked in an extremely dangerous industry. Illinois mines generally did not build up large amounts of methane gas, but this very fact led mine workers to spend less in protecting their investment underground. The four main categories of hazards were what miners referred to as bad top, bad roads, (inside the mine), bad shots and bad air. For miners and loaders (unskilled workers who only shoveled coal and did not do skilled undercutting with a pick), by far the most common cause of injury and death was bad top or a collapsing mine roof. In 1899, for instance, Frank Stroff arrived for work at a Madison County coal mine and worked for only twenty minutes when a gigantic piece of slate fell directly on him, instantly crushing the life out of him. The year before, just fifteen days after the Virden battle, Nicholas Lacquet went to work at a St. Clair county mine and was crushed by a falling top, living only a day more, and leaving a wife and a fourteen-year-old son to forge on without him.
Before 1897 most mining families faced the twin hazards of hunger above ground and death down below without benefit of a union. In 1892, two yeas after the UMWA was formed, the treasury of the Illinois District 12 contained the grand total of $5.40. The depression decimated the ranks of what unions did exist. On the eve of the 1897 strike, out of 35,000 Illinois coal miners in Illinois, only 400 belonged to the UMWA. Miners in DuQuoin, among other areas, were forced to sign "yellow-dog" contracts, in which miners pledged they would not join a labor organization. The 1890's had witnessed many defeats for workers and their efforts to organize against the greed of corporations. In 1892 workers waged a pitched battle against Pinkertons at Homestead in an effort to keep their union and such benefits as the eight-hour day. After the state militia arrived, Andrew Carnegie won that battle, and consequently workers witnessed the advent of twelve-hour days and the destruction of hard won gains. In 1894 the famous Pullman strike went down to defeat after President Cleveland called federal troops to Chicago to defeat the strikers. It was this deprivation of rights that made Ratchford's appeal to miners as slaves who sought liberty ring so true.
Despite the fact that a tiny minority of miners belonged to the union in 1897, coal diggers all over the state responded with a massive show of solidarity. Starting on July 15, in Mt. Olive, a bastion of unionism, miners undertook a grand march south through one coal town after another, calling miners out of the pits. "Gathering strength like a rolling snowball," as one reporter put it, the miners held impromptu rallies, won broad moral and material support from the communities they marched through, and often collapsed in a heap at the end of the day. In many towns, local merchants offered free food and drink and town officials offered city facilities for miners to meet and sleep. Women in coal mining families played an important part in their success. A Glen Carbon woman gave the strikers all the food in her house. She then brewed a large pot of coffee and came "trudging though the weeds with her little girl following behind with a basketful of teacups." "Do you want some coffee," she asked. "O, no mam!" they joked, "we don't want any coffee," as they devoured the two gallons in two minutes.

Who were the miners who led this fight? The best known was Alexander Bradley, a 32-years-old mule driver who worked in the Mt. Olive mines. Born in England in 1866, Bradley came to Illinois at age seven and within two years was already working as a slate picker in a Collinsville mine called "Devil's Hole." By the mid-1890's, Bradley had traveled widely throughout the Midwest, tramping with other unemployed miners to Chicago and taking part in the famous march to Washington, DC of Coxey's Army of the unemployed of 1894. Now living in Mt. Olive, Bradley led the march which stepped off in July, 1897. In the course of the strike, "General" Bradley, as he became known, developed a well-earned reputation as a colorful and charismatic figure.8 Arriving with his "troops" in Collinsville, for instance, Bradley sported "corduroy trousers, a light blue coat, white shirt, brown straw hat, toothpick (narrow and pointed) shoes, at least three emblems of secret societies and several rings on his fingers...[as well as] a light cane or a furled umbrella.

On other occasions Bradley wore a Prince Albert coat and a black silk top hat, and seemed to have an unflappable ability to inspire his fellow miners to continue the fight. Using ballads and cajoling and the presence of mass marches, Bradley inspired his fellows to fight for their "liberty" in the same way they braved the mines every day underground. Their time was coming, he assured his brothers and their families.

The strike and mass actions of 1897 developed new rank and file leadership, including recently arrived immigrant miners from Eastern Europe, who generally worked as unskilled loaders in the Illinois mines. Right beside General Bradley as he stepped off from Mt. Olive, for instance, marched a Slavic co-worker, probably Bohemian, who bore aloft a huge American Flag. Workers seemed to discover that mass action and inclusivity could bring victory.

New immigrants who had learned these lessons, including Bohemians, also would be among those who streamed into Virden from surrounding communities and who shed their blood at Virden on October 12. Compared to Mt. Olive miners, who included a relatively high proportion of new immigrants at this time - mainly from Croatia, Bohemia and Italy - Virden's mining work force was overwhelmingly English-speaking, both native-born and from England and Scotland. One National Guard officer at Virden, reflecting widespread anti-immigrant prejudice, suggested that "foreigners" from outside of town were responsible for the violence at Virden. Anti-immigrant prejudice also surfaced in the UMWA in the period after the 1897 strike. But when miners at a subsequent convention used the derogatory term "hunkies" to refer to Eastern European immigrants, a union leader recalled the role they had played in the great strike. "If it were not for those so called Austrians, Hunks and Bohemians before the '97 strike," he told the delegates, "you would not have what you have today. Those were the men who went out and ate grasshopper soup to help win the strike." As in 1897, the 1898 battle at Virden found new and old immigrants and native born joining together to enforce a determined solidarity. This time some would make the ultimate sacrifice for the union.

What did the union fighters of 1898 achieve? Most obviously, they secured nearly statewide recognition of the UMWA and turned back employers' attempt to undercut the newly won 1897 standards. In addition to the tonnage scale increase, which meant a wage increase, they won an eight-hour day for hourly workers, mine-run payment for coal (limited screening), official status for the union pit committee, and a check-off of union dues. The victorious strike also brought to the fore a new generation of younger, militant UMWA leaders such as John Walker, Adolph Germer, and Frank Hayes, all of whom became leaders also in the new Socialist Party of America. Illinois went on to gain the well-deserved reputation as the single largest, richest and most militant district in the UMWA. A generation of union fighters would remember the significance of Virden in securing Illinois' reputation in the larger national union and in the pantheon of labor history. In subsequent contracts the Illinois UMWA won October 12 as an official holiday - Virden Memorial Day - as a way to honor their fallen comrades.

Famed union organizer Mother Jones, the "Miners' Angel," was so inspired by the heroism displayed at Virden that she asked to be buried next to the "brave boys" who gave their life for the union. In tribute to them, she lies buried in the Mt. Olive Union Miners' Cemetery today."

A less obvious achievement of the Battle of Virden is something that did not happen: Republican Governor Tanner did not send in troops to break the strike. At Homestead and Pullman, government troops had played a decisive part in defeating workers. Unlike their corporate counterparts in these battles, the stubborn Illinois coal operators found that the State of Illinois would not so easily cooperate. T.C. Loucks and Fred Lukins of Chicago-Virden Coal initially expected and then desperately pleaded with Governor Tanner to call out the National Guard for strikebreaking duty. But he refused. Only after the gunfight in Virden did the troops arrive, and for the next month they prevented strikebreakers from landing in Virden.

Part of the explanation is that 1898 was a mid-term election year. In stumping for Congressional candidates, the Republican Governor Tanner competed with former Governor John Peter Altgeld, Democratic Party leader and darling of the Illinois labor movement. As a result, Tanner posed as the friend of the strikers.

Unfortunately for the cause of broader labor solidarity, the way he did this was to whip up the miners' racial, class and nativist prejudices against "imported labor." At one point, while careful not to mention the question of skin color, Tanner boasted that he would not allow Illinois to become a "dumping ground for the criminal and idle classes of other countries or other states." Tanner was undoubtedly gunning for votes. But, aside from the low quality of this kind of "help" for the miners, it would be a mistake to see only election strategy at work. A good deal of the credit for the Governor's "pro-labor" stand must go to the strikers of the previous year who had convinced the large majority of the state's coal operators, and the state's political establishment, that they had no choice but to deal with the UMWA if they wished to get their precious coal to market. The union had garnered a great deal of public sympathy for their cause. After all, nearly all the coal companies had already signed with the UMWA. Because of the militant solidarity displayed in 1897, that is, Governor Tanner had little choice in 1898.

And what of the limits of miners' success in the Battle of Virden? That would have to be the powerful and ongoing scourge of racism in the region.

Ironically, just as the divisions between native-born and immigrant miners were beginning to weaken, those separating Negro and white miners seemed to grow stronger. This is despite the fact that African -American union miners, mainly from Springfield, were among those who patrolled the tracks approaching Virden in a show of solidarity with their Virden brothers. In addition, a group of Negro union miners in Alabama, learning that operators sought to trick Negro workers into serving as strikebreakers in the nearby town of Pana, held a meeting that denounced the scheme. Moreover, most of the penniless Negro miners and their families who arrived in Virden refused to serve as strikebreakers once they learned the truth of the situation. But the operators' divide and conquer tactic was partly successful. It seemed to many Illinois miners that "Negro" and "strikebreaker" meant the same thing.

This misidentification made it easier for Governor Tanner to pose as a friend of labor, as he subtly played on the racial prejudices of working people. In the larger international context, such ideas of racial superiority were critical in mobilizing the entire nation to fight wars against the Spanish Empire in 1898 and then against the heroic Filipino independence movement during these years. Closer to home, at least in part as a result of the racist dynamics of the strike, the Negro population of the region's mining towns remained quite small. Compared to the other major unions of the day, the UMWA succeeded to an impressive degree at including Negros in its ranks. But the racially segregated nature of the mine workforce in this corner of Illinois pointed to the challenges for forging working-class solidarity which lay ahead."

In 1900, Cal Robinson, a negro man, stood before the Illinois union convention and spoke of the work to be done, "There are five shafts in and around Springfield, all supposed to be managed by good union men, and in these shafts no colored men work, simply on account of their color... If you do what is right in this matter, gentlemen, you will have none of your Virden and Carterville riots, and no blood will be spilled. If this discrimination is blotted out you will never hear of such riots as we have had in this State. This discrimination means that when the negroes are barred from these shafts and if there is a strike ordered at these places, the operators will say they will get negroes from the South and that they will run the shafts. Gentlemen, we should get closer together; it behooves all to do this; it will stop all friction."

By Carl Weinberg, Illinois Labor History Society 
Edited by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

On Sam Leone's four-mile stretch of Chicago's Touhy beach, lifeguards made more than 10,000 rescues during his 40-year career.

In 1925 a young lifeguard at Clarendon Beach -- then the crown jewel of Chicago's beaches -- impressed his bosses with his watchful eyes and dramatic rescues, soon earning a promotion to beach director. There was a catch: Instead of going back to Clarendon, the lifeguard would be transferred to Rogers Park Beach, a scraggly, broken-up four-mile stretch centered at Touhy Avenue, with a loosely organized lifeguard crew and a spotty safety record.

Sam Leone
"The Tyrant of Touhy Beach."
The lifeguard, 25-year-old Sam Leone, made the most of his opportunity. During the next 40 years, until his death in 1965, he improved lifesaving methods; whipped his 75-man lifeguard crew into a tough, alert and well-trained unit; developed a corps of "junior guards" into one of the city's biggest and best recreational programs; and racked up one of the best safety records at any beach, anywhere. Along the way, Leone took on the role of second father to thousands of Rogers Park youngsters and earned the reputation as Chicago's greatest lifeguard.

"When Sam came around, it was like God walking into the place," says Joe Pecoraro, the Chicago Park District's recently retired superintendent of beaches and pools, who, as a young lifeguard, first knew Leone in the 1950s. "Sam was one of the best beach people in the world."

Hundreds of former lifeguards and junior guards gathered on the 100th anniversary of Leone's birth in 1900 to honor his life, work and reputation. Appropriately, the gathering took place at his old headquarters at Touhy Avenue and the lake, which was renamed Leone Beach in his honor.

In that summer of 1925, the new director of the Rogers Park Beach decided that some changes were needed in the name of safety. Leone quickly became one of the most ardent and effective backers of defensive lifeguarding. "It used to be that our job was to go down after the bodies," he once said. "Now we practice what we call preventive work."
Sam Leone and his boys in a long boat. Early 1930s.
Leone's rules were simple: Lifeguards showed up on time and stayed until their shifts were over. They didn't leave their posts unless they were relieved. If one swimmer entered the lake, the lifeguard launched his rowboat and watched from a mobile position in the water. Guards could never talk to girls. They paid constant attention to everyone on their beaches, especially the youngest children and the piers, drop-offs and other danger spots. "I'm a real Simon Legree in training them," Leone told the Chicago Tribune in 1943, "but lifeguarding is a tough job and it's a job that has to be done right."
The hot-tempered Leone demanded excellence from his guards and he got it. Although he stood only 5'8", Leone, who had been a fleet boxing champion during World War I, could beat the stuffing out of men 50 pounds heavier and 20 years younger. When a lifeguard got out of line, Leone would invite him into the beach's little gym for a "boxing lesson." The threat alone was usually enough to keep his troops in line, but 1930s junior guard Scotty MacLagan witnessed at least one unhappy recipient of Leone's form of discipline. "It took me a long time to get to like Sam after I saw that," MacLagan says.

In 1940, Leone fired two guards for a drowning that happened on their beach at 4 a.m., long before they were on duty. After they pleaded their case, Leone relented and rehired them.

"But that's a little scary for a kid just out of high school, to get fired for something that happened when I wasn't even there," says one of the guards, George Doscher, a retiree living in Lombard.

"Sam Leone was the Vince Lombardi of lifeguarding," says 1940s junior guard and 1950s lifeguard Ed Kahn, a retired chemical company executive living in Burr Ridge. "There was no nonsense and there was no arguing. Just his look was enough to make grown men wilt."

Leone's leadership-by-intimidation wouldn't fly today, but no one could argue with his results. During his 40-year tenure, only seven drownings occurred on his four-mile stretch of beach, while his guards made more than 10,000 rescues, a safety record believed to be unmatched anywhere.

Leone's lifeguards were the first in Chicago to use two-way radios for emergency communication, a portable resuscitator for rescue breathing, a diving helmet and early versions of scuba. Leone's favorite innovation, however, was using a motorboat.

His pride and joy was the Alert, a 22-footer that he salvaged and rebuilt in 1930. The Alert was known as the fastest boat on the lakefront, hitting a top speed over 50 m.p.h. Just as important, Leone had designed it to take a pounding from the waves.

In 1956, a faster boat came along: the Prowler, a 28-footer out of Wilmette. The Prowler was useless in the waves, but on a flat day it could beat the Alert head on. "Sam did not take this lying down," remembers then-lifeguard Jim Miller, now chairman of Murphy & Miller, a Chicago-based air-conditioning distributor. Leone took the Alert back into the beach's workshop, acquired a more powerful engine and modified the body to better handle the extra speed. "Three weeks later, the boat's back on the water," Miller recalls. "It was once again the fastest thing on Lake Michigan."

Leone always hammered into his lifeguards the need to be watchful, and he took that lesson seriously himself. By 1950, the Tribune estimated, Leone had personally saved more than 500 people. But his most-publicized rescue -- though he would have preferred less publicity on this one -- took place on Jan. 24, 1940. A neighbor phoned the beach to report a man clinging to an ice floe, and Leone launched a rowboat to investigate. He returned several minutes later with the victim, a very cold and wet Doberman pinscher, who gave Leone's face a big, slobbery lick just as they reached shore, to the delight of the reporters who had gathered. "That made the papers in Europe and all over the United States," remembers Leone's daughter, Carla Billings, who now lives in San Diego. "That's where Sam got internationally famous."

When Leone arrived at Touhy Beach in 1925, he inherited a loosely organized group of about 20 kids between ages 6 and 16 called "junior guards." These young people helped watch the beach during the pre-season and on hot, busy weekends. In exchange, the junior guards got T-shirts and the right to play with rowboats and other equipment as they prepared to become lifeguards themselves.
Leone and his longtime assistant, Fran Conway, soon came up with bigger plans for the junior guards. They kept the juniors on beach patrol part of the time, but also set up a wide range of activities: swimming and rowing lessons, softball and football games, lifesaving and artificial respiration classes, picnics on the beach, rides in the Alert and many others.

The boys (the program was all-male until 1970) couldn't sign up fast enough. In 1926, Leone's second year, he had 40 junior guards; in 1929 he had 64; and in 1938 he had 125. By the 1950s, the number usually topped 300.
Through the years, Leone and his program won over the hearts of the beach's neighbors. By 1948, the Rogers Park News declared, "Almost every youngster in the neighborhood knows the Rogers Park Beach director as a second father."

Dozens of "Sam's boys," now in their 50s and 60s, still feel that way. "You always wanted to please him," remembers 1940s junior guard Dick Shiman, longtime teacher and swimming coach at Loyola Academy in Wilmette. "If you were at the chin-up bar and Sam happened to walk by, you'd want him to see that you could do 10 pull-ups. Almost as if he were your dad -- you'd say, `Hey, Sam, watch me.'"

On June 26, 1954, Leone and his guards made one of their greatest rescues, saving dozens of lives without even getting wet.

Around 9:30 on that Saturday morning, Leone surveyed the beach. It was shaping up to be a sunny, hot day -- a big improvement from the violent thunderstorm that had passed a couple of hours earlier. Despite the peaceful scene, he quickly realized that something was wrong: The sand stretched out 50 to 100 feet farther than the normal water line, and water marks on the piers showed the lake level had dropped six feet or more.

Within minutes, Leone and his lifeguards cleared about 150 swimmers and sunbathers off the beach. Then the lake came rushing back in an eight-foot wave, covering the athletic fields at neighboring Loyola Park and sucking two 500-pound lifeguard towers into the water like matchsticks. By recognizing the phenomenon known as a seiche, Leone and his crew may have saved dozens of lives.

The "Great Seiche of 1954" killed eight people at Montrose and North Avenue Beaches. Soon after it hit, Leone and several of his guards headed down to Montrose in the Alert to dive for bodies. They retrieved several victims in that first practical use of scuba for search and recovery in the Chicago area.

As Leone aged, he showed no signs of decline, except for his hearing. By 1950 he was about three-quarters deaf, from years of lake swimming and working with noisy motors.

Leone learned to read lips fairly well, but phones presented a problem. He rigged up a second extension on the beach phone, on which a co-worker could listen. "Every word that the caller said, I would repeat; Sam would read my lips, and he would answer on the other phone," beach custodian Tony Rizzo remembers. "He fooled many people into thinking that he got his hearing back."

But he didn't fool everyone. Lifeguard Allen Hyman, now a Miami-based risk management director, remembers fielding a phone call from Mayor Richard J. Daley in the early 1960s. "The mayor called and said, `As long as I am mayor, you'll never have to worry about losing your job,' " Hyman recalls. "Sam said, `Thanks, I appreciate that.' Then the mayor said, `How the hell are you hearing me? You're deaf!' and Sam had to give it away."

Leone planned to retire from the beaches at age 65, after the summer of 1965. But his doctor found lung cancer that year while treating a fractured rib. Leone steadily declined over the summer and died on October 8, 1965. The following year, Touhy Beach was rededicated as Sam J. Leone Park and Beach -- the only Chicago park named for a lifeguard.
1966 Dedication 
Perhaps the more fitting tribute, however, has been the continued success of the Leone Beach junior guard program. With more than 300 kids -- both boys and girls -- the program continues to thrive, with the same types of activities that Leone put in place 94 years ago.
For many years, the Leone Beach junior lifeguard program was the only one of its kind in the country. Now, almost every major beach in the country has some form of a junior lifeguard program. Meanwhile, junior lifeguarding spread south along Chicago's lakefront in the 1970s, aided by the Park District's Pecoraro. "We saw what Sam was doing and we went from there," he says. Today, all of Chicago's beaches have junior lifeguards, though the Leone program remains the biggest.

The philosophy of the program has changed little since Leone's day. "We try to make the kids see a part of life they otherwise might not become acquainted with," Leone told the Tribune in 1964. "The leadership they show is very gratifying. I teach them, and they come right back and do a better job running activities than I could do."

You see regular kids start thinking of themselves as something special and that can really change their lives.

By Chris SerbChicago Tribune

Edited by Neil Gale, Ph.D.