Thursday, January 9, 2020

The History of the Paleo-Indians of the Albany (Hopewell) Mounds in Albany, Illinois.

One of the most important archaeological sites in Illinois, Albany Mounds contains evidence of continuous human occupation over the last 10,000 years. The Albany Mounds date from the Middle Woodland (Hopewell) period (200 BC to 500 AD), older than either the Cahokia Mounds (700 AD to 1650 AD) or Dickson Mounds (800 AD to 1250 AD) of the Mississippian period.

The indigenous people who lived here as early as 500 BC were part of the Hopewell culture, so named because of their existence was first learned of on the Hopewell farm in Ohio where similar mounds had been built. It is not known what the people called themselves or what language they spoke.

While still obtaining food largely through hunting and gathering, Woodland peoples began practicing basic horticulture of native plants. Woodland peoples are distinguished from earlier inhabitants by the development of pottery and the building of raised mounds near large villages for death and burial ceremonies.

It is believed that their culture seemed to decline somewhere about 350 A D. From about 200 BC to 300 AD, the Albany Hopewell constructed over 96 burial mounds at this site. It was, and still is, one of the largest mound groups in the nation. It is the largest Hopewell culture mound group in Illinois. The Albany Hopewell built their mounds on the bluff tops above the village and on the terraces adjacent to the village.
The site was well suited to the Hopewell culture, which was not an Indian tribe, but rather a term referring to the period of time in Paleo-Indian history marked by trade, communication and a sharing of ideas throughout a very large area of the continent. They preferred to build their villages at the base of bluffs along the floodplains of major rivers, such as the Mississippi, that offered transportation. At Albany, with the adjacent Meredosia Slough which served as flood drainage for the Mississippi and Rock Rivers, there was an abundant source of food and water. The waters, forest, and prairie provided food and fuel for the Hopewell.

Today about 50 of the mounds remain, thirty-nine of the mounds remain in good condition, while eight have been partially destroyed through erosion, excavation, or cultivation. Other mounds were totally destroyed by agricultural activities, by railroad and highway construction, site looter, and still, others were destroyed in the process of being scientifically excavated in the early 1900s by the Davenport Academy of Natural Sciences.
Burial artifacts include non-local materials, indicating the existence of trading networks with Indians from other areas. The site of the nearby village remains privately owned. The mounds were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
In the 1990s the site was “restored" to a natural appearance and a prairie of about one hundred acres was re-established.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The John Turner Farmhouse at 1854 West Addison Street, Chicago.

Two horse-drawn sleighs wait in front of John Turner’s farmhouse at 1854 West Addison Street at Wolcott Avenue. Turner’s Lake View farm was about thirty acres. He was quite successful in business until he lost everything in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, including his house (but not the farmhouse, which was about 3 miles northwest of the farthest reach of the Chicago fire). The Turner farmhouse sheltered refugees during the Fire. Turner lost his house in the Chicago fire. Turner relocated his farmhouse tenant and took over the farm himself and raised sheep, stabled horses, and pastured cattle. Its been claimed that Turner had the 'magic touch' with animals.
Chicago Public Library Digital Collection: 1854 West Addison Street, Chicago. (No Date)
Chicago Tribune Article, Tuesday, November 20, 1888.
John Turner of Lake View is the proud possessor of an old-fashioned carriage which was used to convey William Henry Harrison through the streets of Chicago during the 1840 campaign [the 14th quadrennial presidential election, held from Friday, October 30th to Wednesday, December 2, 1840, which Harrison was elected the 9th President of the United States]. Mr. Turner then had a livery-stable at Clark Street. The carriage, which had been stored away for over twenty years, was dusted off and drawn by four horses in a parade Saturday night, the 17th of November.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Juan Rivera charged in 1992 for rape and murder, in prison 20 years, was exonerated January 6, 2012.

On August 17, 1992, 11-year-old Holly Staker was raped and murdered while babysitting two young children in Waukegan, Illinois. Ten weeks later, as a result of a tip from an informant, investigators began focusing on Juan Rivera, a 19-year-old former special education student, who had been convicted of a burglary and was on electronic home monitoring at the time of the murder.
Starting on October 26th, detectives questioned Rivera for four days, while he denied any knowledge of the crime. At the end of the fourth day, around midnight, after the interrogation became accusatory, he broke down, and purportedly nodded when asked if he had raped and killed Holly Staker.

The interrogation continued until 3:00 a.m. when investigators left to type a confession for Rivera to sign. Minutes later, jail personnel saw him beating his head against the wall of his cell in what was later termed a psychotic episode. Nevertheless, within a few hours, Rivera signed the typed confession that the investigators had prepared. The document, a narrative account of what the investigators claimed Rivera told them, was so riddled with incorrect and implausible information, that Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Waller instructed investigators to resume the interrogation in an effort to clear up the inconsistencies. On October 30th, despite Rivera’s obvious fragile mental condition, the interrogation resumed, resulting in a second signed confession, which contained a plausible account of the crime.

The jury trial began on November 1, 1993, with the prosecution’s case based primarily on the second confession. On November 19, the jury found Rivera guilty and the prosecution asked for a death sentence. The jury rejected it, and Judge Christopher C. Starck, a month later, sentenced Rivera to life in prison. On November 9, 1996, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed the conviction based on the cumulative effect of trial errors and remanded the case for a new trial.

On September 16, 1998, Rivera’s second jury trial began. Again, the prosecution primarily relied on the second confession. But, it also produced an eyewitness to the murder who identified Rivera as the man who stabbed Staker. The witness, Taylor Englebrecht, was one of the two children for whom Staker was babysitting when she was attacked, but he was only two years old at the time. On October 2, after deliberating 36 hours over four days, the jury found Rivera guilty, and Judge Starck again sentenced Rivera to life in prison. On December 12, 2001, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the second conviction.

On May 24, 2005, DNA tests eliminated Rivera as a source of the semen recovered from Staker’s vagina. On August 29, 2006, Judge Starck himself vacated Rivera’s conviction and ordered a third trial. Despite the DNA exclusion, Waller chose to retry the case.

On April 13, 2009, Rivera’s third jury trial began, again under Judge Starck. Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Mermel discounted the exculpatory DNA evidence, suggesting that Staker, at age 11, was sexually active, and DNA found at the scene was not that of her killer. He also suggested that the DNA might be Rivera’s, but was compromised by lab technicians. On May 8, the jury found Rivera guilty, despite the exculpatory DNA evidence.

On June 25, 2009, Judge Starck sentenced Rivera to life in prison for the third time.

Lawrence C. Marshall, Stanford University Law Professor, and co-founder of the Center on Wrongful Convictions was the lead attorney for the appeal of Rivera’s third conviction. He was joined by co-counsel from Jenner & Block LLP and the Center. Among the issues raised on appeal were whether the evidence had been sufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, whether Rivera had been denied his right to present a defense when Starck refused to allow his attorneys to present evidence rebutting the false claim of the police that Rivera knew facts only the perpetrator would have known, and whether Rivera’s confessions should have been suppressed on the ground that they were involuntary.

On December 9, 2011, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that Rivera’s conviction was “unjustified and cannot stand,” and on January 6, 2012, Waller announced that the State would dismiss the charges. Waller told the press that, “Today, I believe the right thing is to bring to a conclusion the case against Mr. Rivera by electing not to appeal the reversal of his conviction.” Juan Rivera had served 20 years in prison.
— Center on Wrongful Convictions

Police planted blood on Juan Rivera's shoes in Waukegan slaying. Chicago Tribune, December 10, 2014

Thursday, January 2, 2020

West End Park, Champaign, Illinois (1893-????)

Many street railways created amusement parks as generators of traffic. Not to be outdone, Harris set up the West End Park Company to operate such an amusement park for the Twin Cities.
A tract of land was set aside on West Church Street, just beyond the Champaign city limits. (This is the present-day Eisner Park.)  Here a pavilion, casino, bandstand, and grandstands were erected, baseball diamonds and tennis courts were laid out, and a 500-foot gravity powered “switchback railroad” (what we would today call a roller coaster) was built. (The Gazette devoted half a column to an ecstatic description of “the acme of sensations” to be enjoyed on the switchback railroad.)

Construction got underway in April 1893, but various problems delayed the opening until Saturday, June 17th. That evening, large crowds came out to the still-incomplete park, completely swamping the streetcars provided for them. Trains of at least three cars were run, moving huge crowds until the park closed at 11 p.m. In fact, there was one minor accident, when an emergency stop of a fully-loaded three-car train which had the motor car in the middle of the train caused the leading, motorless car to break free, bruising a few passengers. The street railway built a siding into the park, and installed a new passing siding along the line on Church Street to downtown Champaign, to increase its crowd handling capability.

Harris was very careful that West End Park has the best possible reputation. From the first announcement of the project, and in all the advertising, it was emphasized that intoxicants were not allowed, and that order would be strictly kept.

During the winter of 1893-94, further improvements were made in West End Park. A new refreshment pavilion was built, and the casino which had formerly served this purpose was extended and remodeled as a summer theater, seating about 600 people. A three-lane bowling alley and a shooting gallery were also added. City water was piped in, “modern” arc lighting installed, new landscaping arranged, a photographic studio set up, and a new dancing pavilion erected which “gives the dancers such seclusion as is desired” (according to the Gazette). The Florence Miller Burlesque and Vaudeville Company were engaged for the opening week of the season, beginning in April of 1894.

Beginning in 1894, elaborate Fourth of July celebrations were staged at West End Park. Band concerts, baseball games, dancing, acrobatic shows, and of course a grand fireworks display, were among the attractions that year. Such celebrations continued every July Fourth for a number of years.

The whole purpose of West End Park was to generate streetcar traffic. At first, the park itself had no admission charge, but later, there was a 5¢ entry fee. A free admission ticket to the park was given when you paid 5¢ to ride the interurban streetcar to West End Park. 

None of the structures survived.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Twin Lakes Amusement Park, Paris, Illinois. (ca.1954-ca.1983)

The Twin Lakes Park, located at the northern limit of the City, comprises some 37 acres in two tracts and the water area adjacent to them. In addition, there is a large water acreage with no park development on the shoreline.

The small amusement park had a carousel, bumper cars, miniature train ride, Tilt-a-Whirl, the Scrambler, a kiddie car and airplane ride, a roller coaster, an arcade, and a high swing ride, along with a "Goofy Golf" miniature golf course.

The park had a bathhouse and shelter, a picnic area, boat rentals, and tour boats, a dance hall, a professional league baseball diamond, Archery range, lighted horseshoe courts, a concession and novelties stand and the West Lake Scout Camp.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Storyland (Amusement) Park, Elk Grove Village, Illinois. (1957-1961)

Storyland Park was a fairy-tale story experience for young children. It opened on May 1, 1957, at Higgins Road and Touhy Avenue in Elk Grove Village by an enterprising ex-ice skaters Durell Everding (who also owned Santa's Village), Shirley Taylor, George McIlvaine, and Ray Abney.  They constructed exhibits attractive to children and adults on the theme of Mother Goose and Fairyland.
The Storyland owners had about 22 exhibits starting out and were striving to add one per week to the total. The owners constructed all the exhibits themselves. The storybook figures and houses were constructed of plastic and concrete. Everding and Abney doing the heavy sculpturing work and Miss Taylor the painting, and McIlvaine, who worked during the week with his father in an electronics manufacturing business, responsible for the mechanical work.
A sausage and cheese factory (If you know the company name, please comment) was the entrance to the park. Visitors had to go through the factory to the entrance to Storyland Park. It was noted that most children would hold their noses on the way through, only to be delighted to be welcomed by an 8-foot high figure of Mother Goose. 

Storyland Park's claim to fame happened in June of 1957 when a deer named "Brownie" gave birth to triplets, adding to the park's animal population which also included a midget cow weighing 125 pounds, ducks, rabbits, and deer. Since deer rarely have triplet fawns, this made the news around the area. There was a small duck pond where a child could fill a barge with seed, press a button that starts a tugboat which pulls the barge in circles. The live ducks chase the barge to get the seed and sometimes upset it in their eagerness for treats.
Among the amusement park, kiddie rides were several mechanical storybook exhibits. A child can push a button and one of the Storyland characters will perform.  At Red Riding Hood's house, a wolf pops out of the window and snaps his jaw. At another exhibit, a button prompts a cow to jump over the moon. 
Other mechanical operations included the white whale Moby Dick which spouts water 10 feet in the air. There was a gingerbread house that proved such a dangerous attraction for Hansel and Gretel, depicted in plastic figures. A little girl figure drenched in rain; in keeping with the poem - "Rain, rain go away."
For some yet unknown/undiscovered reason, in July of 1961, the owners of Storyland withdrew an application to build Storyland amusement park at Busse and Landmeier. (Unknown why they left their old location.) The Elk Grove Townships site was zoned for single-family residential development, which the application, submitted 6 months earlier, to change the zoning to B-5 general commercial district was denied. 

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Shireland Theme Park, Hampshire, Illinois, (1988 & one month in 1991).

On May 28, 1988, Thomas J. Smrt held the grand opening for a new shire horse-based theme park on Dietrich Road and Lake Street in Hampshire, Illinois. 
The park covered 111 acres and contained a 68,000-square-foot circus tent as well as four 10,000-square-foot exhibit tents.
The concept centered around the horses, however, it also incorporated traditional clown shows. It followed a medieval theme, with area names like "dragon wood" (a small forest which incorporated a tram ride, animatronic dragons, and "shire knights riding shire horses). At the end of summer 1988, Shireland shut down for unspecified reasons and did not reopen until 1991.
It was only open for a month in 1991, after which it closed permanently. The property sat mostly untouched for 15 years thereafter and became a popular place for urban exploration groups to take photographs.
In June 2005, Smrt sold the property to a developer who began demolishing the existing buildings but had no specific plans to develop the property.

Shireland Dragonwood Tram Ride

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Riverside (Amusement) Park, aka Old Homer Park, Homer, Illinois. (1905-1928)

W. B. Mckinley bought the ground for Homer Park in 1904 and C. B. Burkhardt leased & started Homer Park in 1905 (for a short time the park was called "Riverside Park," finally being referred to as "Homer Park.").
The Illinois Traction System interurban line put the amusement park in on the banks of the Salt Fork River to encourage the use of the interurban line. The park recreation included pocket billiards, boxing, swimming, a bathhouse, bathing pool, steel boat rentals and fishing, toboggan slide, and a skating rink. A new pavilion with white maple floors and wide verandas were perfect for dancing along with the free use of their piano.
Today, it is referred to as the "Old Homer Park." The acreage today is just trees, bushes, etc., and still floods along the river after large amounts of rain. In the beginning, featured within the park was an old covered bridge that served as a bridge across the Salt Fork River, eventually, it collapsed. 
The "Old Homer Park" land was later purchased by Mr. & Mrs. William Edwards, local residents. The Edwards donated the site to the present Homer Forest Preserve, part of the Champaign County Forest Preserve.

Compiled by Neil Gale. Ph.D.
Special Thanks to the Homer Historical Society.

Kiddieland Park, Rockford, Illinois. (1950-1962) - Sherwood Park Kiddieland, Loves Park, IL. (1962-1967) - Sherwood Park, Loves Park, IL. (1967-1977)

Kiddieland Park was founded by Ernest W Gutzmer, Leslie E Gutzmer and Ernest R Gutzmer in the late 1940s. It was located northeast of Rockford on Illinois Highway 173 adjacent to Loves Park and the River Lane Outdoor Theater. Illinois Highway 173 was later renamed to Forest Hills Road, and the park's new address became 5810 Forest Hills Road. 
Kiddieland Park opened in 1950 and was billed as "fun for the whole family." Kiddieland Park was the first local area amusement park since the demise of Harlem Park in 1928, and Central Park's closure eight years earlier in 1942.
Amusements included children's auto rides, boat rides, and pony rides, and the featured attraction; the "Rockford Limited", one of the largest and most modern small gauge trains to be built in recent years. The train which was highly detailed was equipped with sway action springs and air brakes on each wheel which was powered by a 22-hp engine. The engine and train were completed after nearly two years of building in the shops of the “Miniature Train Company” of Rensselaer, Indiana. The train offered young and old a real thrill as it pulled in and out of the station, the engineer would blow the train's whistle. The train which was 76 feet in length traveled over 31,000 feet of track. They would also add a large merry-go-round to the park in September 1950 just north of the refreshment stand.
In 1951 Kiddieland Park featured seven rides, along with concession stands and other attractions, enlarging the park that could accommodate thousands of visitors nightly. The sound of carnival music and the smell of popcorn, cotton candy, and other foods were in the air. The park was open daily from 4 PM to 10 PM and Saturdays and Sundays from 2 PM to 10 PM during the summer months. The park would remain open on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays during the school year until weather forced it to close for the season. Ticket prices at the time were 15¢ each or 2 tickets for 25¢.
There were several contests at Kiddieland over the years. In 1953 during the month of June, Kiddieland Park ran the ‘Name Me’ contest where you could win prizes naming the parks new arrivals, a pet Deer, Skunk, and two Raccoons, or you could bring a box top from Wheaties (a General Mills breakfast cereal) which entitled you to a free ticket on any ride.
The park would eventually grow even larger and add more rides including; Tubs of Fun, Tilt a Whirl, a Boat Ride, a children's Roller Coaster with an oval layout, Rock-O-Plane, Scrambler, a Haunted House, a Merry-go-Round, Bumper Cars, live Pony Rides and of course the miniature train and other attractions like food and novelty stands. Two performing chimps, owned by the Kling family of animal trainers, named KoKo and Tico were added into the park for side-shows.
In 1957 the newest addition to the Rockford area's entertainment facilities, Sherwood Lodge, which was a part of Kiddieland Park, located just south of the park on Forest Hills Road. The spacious 5000 square foot lodge was functionally beautiful, featuring a modern kitchen, plumbing, heating, electricity and a public address system that made it ideal for social or business purposes. The lodge was available on a rental basis for parties, banquets, balls, weddings, dances, and fundraising events, it was ideal for both small and large gatherings. Because of its design, combining log walls and an arched roof with sound cushioning tile, the building had perfect acoustics, excellent lighting, a dance floor, and stage. Many family reunions, Christmas parties, business shows, wedding receptions, and other social functions were held here. During the 1960s and '70s, there were many "battle of the bands" contests held at the lodge. 
Controversy arose in January 1962 when the city of Loves Park annexed the rural property on which Kiddieland was situated. Kiddieland Park owner Leslie Gutzmer stated that he would prefer not to be annexed to either Loves Park or Rockford. In addition to Kiddieland Park, the annexation also included Woodward Governor, Rockford Blacktop Construction Company, the Seven-Up Company Warehouse, and the American Chicle Company, who all opposed being annexed to Loves Park. 

In February 1962 papers were filed in court for the dissolution of Kiddieland Park. The park would continue to operate. In October of 1962, the park underwent a change in ownership and the new owners were Milton W. Kling Sr., president, Ronnie L. Kling, vice president, and Milton Kling Jr., as secretary-treasurer. They renamed Kiddieland Park to “Sherwood Park Kiddieland”. The Klings family were animal trainers; they owned several chimps who would entertain at Kiddieland Park and at other affairs. The Klings would obtain the chimps when only months old and raise them as one would a child, with diapers and baby clothes and kept in a playpen until they were old enough to climb out on their own. The ride ticket prices increased for adults and children - 15¢ each ticket or 7 tickets for a $1.00. You could buy a Budget Book of 30 tickets for $4.00.
When long-time owner Milton Kling Sr. turned the park over to his sons, the Sherwood Park Kiddieland name changed yet again by dropping the “Kiddieland” from the name to make it “Sherwood Park” for the continuation of its final years. 

In December 1967 with a major expansion planned, Sherwood Park planned to purchase the giant wooden racing roller coaster, the "Jetstream," including its colorful lighted sign, from the just-closed Riverview (Amusement) Park in Chicago. Because of insurance concerns, the roller coaster was never rebuilt. But... the Carowinds Amusement Park in Charlotte, North Carolina, opened a new coaster in 1968, the "Thunder Road," a racing wooden coaster, with two trains (one for each side) from Riverview's Jetstream Roller Coaster. 

In 1977 the Warner-Lambert Company would purchase Sherwood Park and Sherwood Lodge for an expansion project. Sherwood Lodge and the wooden buildings at Sherwood Park were donated to the Black Hawk Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America. The Boy Scouts with the help of many volunteers dismantled the buildings and moved them to another location. The rides were sold. And then... Kiddieland Park, Sherwood Park, and Sherwood Lodge were gone forever.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.