Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Park Forest Plaza Shopping Center, Park Forest, Illinois.

The Park Forest Commercial Center (later: Park Forest Plaza) was located at Forest and Lakewood Boulevards in the Village of Park Forest, Illinois.

The South Side planned community was centered around an open-air shopping plaza. Park Forest was coming into its own on 2,400 acres south of Chicago. 

A plan for a shopping center was announced on October 28, 1946. The growing suburb was incorporated as the Village of Park Forest on February 1, 1949.

Developed by Philip Klutznick, Nathan Manilow and Carroll F. Sweet, under the guidance of American Community Builders, Incorporated, the Village of Park Forest would feature a large, courtyard-type shopping center as its downtown. The open-air commercial center was designed by Richard M. Bennett of the Loebl, Schlossman & Bennett firm and occupied 54 acres. The site was located 36 miles southwest of downtown Chicago. 
A circa-1951 physical layout shows a partially-complete complex. At this time, there are over thirty tenant spaces. Stores would continue opening into the mid-1950s.

The shopping complex had a main retail level with basements beneath all buildings. Its first operational store, Park Forest Liquors, opened on December 15, 1949. A (10,000 sq. ft) Jewel grocery store was opened on March 9, 1950, and was fully air-conditioned, as were all of the stores in the shopping center. This was a big deal in the early 1950s.

The H&E Balaban Corporation, Holiday Theatre, showed its first feature on Saturday, October 28, 1950. On November 23, 1951, a (23,000 sq. ft) S.S. Kresge Five and Dime welcomed its first shoppers.

The Park Forest Community Center was a precursor of things to come in post-war America. The facility received a great deal of media attention in its early days. Retail buildings were situated around an expansive, landscaped courtyard, with a distinctive 37-foot-high Clock Tower as a focal point.

Promotional literature at the time described the cluster-type mall: "All shops surround a park area and are connected by permanent canopies for the protection of shoppers against the elements in every season. There are big supermarts, trendy gift shops, a modern drug store, and spacious free parking for 3,000 vehicles."

For its first 4 years, the Park Forest shopping complex had no anchor department store. Anchor department stores were eventually added. A 2-level (62,500 sq. ft) Goldblatt Brothers opened on October 7, 1953. This was followed by a 2-level (70,000 sq. ft) Marshall Field and Company store, the fourth satellite store, which opened on March 28, 1955. 
Philip Klutznick, pick in hand, participated in April 1954 groundbreaking for Marshall Field & Company's Park Forest store.

A 3-level (230,000 sq. ft) Sears Roebuck and Company opened, as the center's third anchor, on August 8, 1963. By this time, the complex, now promoted as Park Forest Plaza, covered approximately 700,000 leasable square feet.

Philip Klutznick developed the Park Forest planned community and Park Forest Commercial Center  (1949). Some of his other retail projects were Old Orchard Shopping Center (1956), Oakbrook Center (1962), River Oaks Center (1966) and Water Tower Place (1975) in Chicago.

The Plaza was the foremost South Side shopping center for several years. This changed in 1966, with the new River Oaks Center, 10 miles northeast, in Calumet City. Additional competition came from Lincoln Mall (1973), 3 miles northwest, in Matteson, and Orland Square, Mall (1976), 12.5 miles northwest, in Orland Park. Park Forest Plaz was soon in decline. The Goldblatt store closed in early 1981. 

The first plan to reinvigorate the struggling shopping facility was proposed in 1985. Cordish, Embry & Associates of Baltimore conducted the 20 million dollar facelift in the summer of 1986. The center's iconic Clock Tower was demolished. New facades and walkways were installed, and a pond and waterfall feature was set up in the center court.

The Centre of Park Forest was officially dedicated on August 29, 1987. Unfortunately, the renovation was unsuccessful. Another reinvention proposal was considered in 1993 but never initiated. In 1994, Sears closed their Park Forest Store. Marshall Field's moved out on March 29, 1997.

The Village of Park Forest purchased the struggling shopping complex in December 1995 and paid its delinquent back taxes. A new name, Downtown Park Forest, was bestowed. Chicago's Lakota Group was hired to conduct another revitalization. Their master plan was approved by The Village in 1997.

Over 364,000 sq. ft of vacant store space was razed. Sections of the vast parking area were converted to green space, and a Main Street thoroughfare cut through the center. The redevelopment project included creating a "Village Green Entertainment" area and renovating the old Bramson's store into a Village Hall.

New stores and services were signed. A freestanding (15,000 sq. ft) Walgreens Drug Store and a (17,500 sq. ft) Osco Drug Store were built. Additionally, an abandoned 1960s vintage Jewel-Osco store was reconfigured as a (64,000 sq. ft) Sterk's Super Foods Market.

Victory Centre was constructed where the Sears store was. This senior citizen complex consisted of two residential buildings, one being a 79-unit assisted living facility, with the other housing 95 independent living apartments.

Downtown Park Forest now encompassed around 312,000 sq. ft. Spaces were leased to Smooth Cuts Barber Shop, Miss Monica's Dance Studio, Hero's Hoagies & Ice Cream and the Capiche Jazz Club. Most work was completed by early 2001. The former regional shopping hub had been reinvented as a community-class venue.
Downtown Park Forest, c. 2001

Marshall Field's Park Forest Plaza building languished for several years while plans for its reinvention came and went. It was finally demolished in November 2010. Since opening in October 1950, the movie house at Park Forest Downtown has operated under six different names and has been renovated several times. Last known as the Matanky Realty Group's Holiday Star Theatre, it was permanently shuttered in September 2013.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Monday, June 5, 2023

Old Orchard Shopping Center, Skokie, Illinois. A Comprehensive History.

Old Orchard Shopping Center's boundaries are Skokie Boulevard (US Rt. 41) on the east, Golf Road to the south, Lavergne Avenue to the west, and Old Orchard Road on the north, in the Village of Skokie, Illinois.

The Philip Klutznick American Community Builders embarked on developing a new Chicagoland shopping center. It was built as a joint venture with Marshall Field & Company. Old Orchard Center, designed by Richard M. Bennett of Loebl, Schlossman & Bennett, was developed on an 85-acre parcel located 18 miles northwest of downtown Chicago in suburban Skokie.

Original plans called for the mall to be anchored by four department stores; Marshall Field & Company, The Fair Store, Carson Pirie Scott and Sears, Roebuck & Company. This grandiose proposal was eventually altered, and only two anchor stores would be built as part of the original shopping center; Marshall Field & Company and The Fair Store.

Construction commenced in March 1955. When completed, the open-air facility encompassed approximately 1,079,000 leasable square feet. It consisted of a central retail level with basements beneath significant stores. Old Orchard Center was anchored by a 3-level (310,000 sq. ft) Marshall Field, 's stood in the middle of the shopping center. Marshall Field's held its grand opening on October 22, 1956.

A North Mall included the 7-story Professional Building and twenty-two retail spaces. 

The South Mall, comprising three store blocks, featured thirty-six stores and The Fair Store, a 2-level (83,000 sq. ft) building as the second anchor store. This Chicago-based store was opened on November 1, 1956.

A mall-wide grand opening was held on October 25, 1956. At that time, the retail roster included Lerner Shops, Baskin apparel, Chandler's Shoes, Baker's Shoes, Kay Howard ladies' wear, Broadstreet's men's wear and Burny Brothers Bakery.

Major inline stores were a (19,200 sq. ft) S.S. Kresge Five & Dime, (16,100 sq. ft) Walgreen Drug and Kroger supermarket (27,000 sq. ft). 

An underground concourse, The Arcade Shops, contained nine stores and services, including the Arcade Barber Shop, Arcade Currency Exchange and Arcade Easy Travel Bureau.

A 3-level (58,000 sq. ft) Saks Fifth Avenue debuted on November 10, 1958. 

The first theatrical venue in or around the mall was the Old Orchard Theatre, built 1/4 mile south of the shopping center on Skokie Boulevard. 
The 1,700-seat Raymond Marks and Martin Rosenfield (M&R) Old Orchard Theatre, 9400 Skokie Boulevard, opened with Judy Holliday in "Bells Are Ringing" on September 2, 1960.

The Fair Store was rebranded by Montgomery Ward in March 1964. In April, Ward's announced that the store would be expanded into a 3-level (114,000 sq. ft) operation. At the same time, the existing Marshall Field's was enlarged with a 4th level. With its renovation completed, this store encompassed 385,000 square feet.

A subsequent expansion of Old Orchard Center was done in the late 1970s. Two North and West Garages parking structures were completed in September 1977.

Saks Fifth Avenue relocated into a 3-level (114,000 sq. ft) building on the mall's northeast corner. The store debuted, with a preview opening, on November 10, 1978. The old Saks Fifth Avenue building reopened as Lord & Taylor on July 30, 1979.

By the late 1980s, Old Orchard had been bested by the region's newer, more trendy shopping venues, such as Woodfield Mall (1971) and Northbrook Court (1976).

A renovation of Old Orchard to make it into a more upscale shopping venue was announced in late 1991. This included an expansion of Lord & Taylor into a 3-level (115,000 sq. ft) structure. The enlarged store was reopened on November 10, 1993.

The mall's south end was demolished and replaced by a 242,000 sq. ft South Promenade. This extended to a 2-level (199,200 sq. ft) Nordstrom Store that opened on October 7, 1994. The South Promenade included the 10-bay Orchard Food Court and Cineplex Odeon Old Orchard Gardens Cinemas. This 7-screen venue was opened on December 16, 1994.

On the north end of the mall, the North Garage was razed. It was replaced by a 154,000 sq. ft North Promenade, which included a 3-level (206,000 sq. ft) Bloomingdale's on its west end. This store welcomed its first shoppers on September 2, 1995.

Moreover, two parking structures, the South and the new North Garages, were constructed. The reconfigured, 1.7 million sq. ft Old Orchard Center held its official dedication on September 1, 1995. New tenants included Abercrombie & Fitch, Ann Taylor, Barnes & Noble, Cache, FAO Schwarz, The Limited, Record Town, Talbot's and Victoria's Secret.

A second theater complex opened on the west end of the South Promenade in February 2006. The old and new multiples were collectively known as Loews Gardens Cinemas 13. The original venue was promoted as Cinemas 1-6, the second as Cinemas 7-13. The multiplexes were rebranded as Regal venues in 2012.

Meanwhile, Old Orchard Center was acquired by Australia-based Westfield in January 2002. Its name was changed to Westfield Shoppingtown Old Orchard in May. This lengthy moniker was truncated to Westfield Old Orchard in June 2005.

Westfield proposed a third major property expansion but eventually decided on a much smaller addition. Work commenced in July 2006. The Saks Fifth Avenue, and its Off-Fifth basement store, had been shuttered in July 2005. The building was torn down, with 63,000 square feet of new retail and restaurant space built.
Macy's took over Marshall Field's on September 9, 2006.

Lucy, a ladies' clothier, was one of the first operational tenants in the 20 million-dollar addition. This store began business in July 2007. California Pizza Kitchen relocated into the expansion. McCormick & Schmick's Seafood & Steaks welcomed its first diners on December 6, 2007. Westfield Shoppingtown Old Orchard now encompassed approximately 1,788,800 leasable square feet and contained 150 stores and services.

The Orchard Food Court was reconfigured as the Wilde & Green Natural Market & Restaurant. This (30,000 sq. ft) facility housed eighteen food stations, with hot foods, a grill, a salad bar, a sushi shop and a coffee bar. There were also a small greengrocer and a rooftop restaurant and bar.

Installed and maintained by a Toronto-based company, the culinary complex opened on July 25, 2011. Unfortunately, it failed to catch on and was shuttered on June 23, 2013. By this time, the mall's two multiplex cinemas had gone through a succession of owners; Loews (1998-2006), AMC (2006-2010) and the Regal (2010-2016).

Both theaters were shuttered in June 2016 and renovated into state-of-the-art, dine-in luxury theater venues. The CMX Cinebistro Old Orchard (the old Cinemas 1-6) had a soft opening on December 15, 2017. On the opposite side of the mall, the CMX Market Cinema Old Orchard (the old Cinemas 7-13) was opened on July 27, 2018.

Westfield's American and European property portfolio was merged into the holdings of Paris-based Unibail-Rodamco. A new company, known as Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, was created in 2013. The merger did not include Westfield shopping centers in Australia and New Zealand.

A look into the future:
Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield unveiled a new landmark vision in December of 2022 for Westfield Old Orchard that will create a North Shore destination unlike anything else in Chicagoland, featuring best-in-class retail, modern residences, chef-led dining, entertainment, gourmet markets, and upscale health and wellness amenities.
Click Pictures for Ginormous Images.

The development plans also feature a park and event space designed as the center's focal point and social gathering place. Under the center's of native trees and plants, paved pathways will wind through lush landscaping and comfortable seating, leading to an open-air plaza where local events, concerts, farmer's markets, and festivals can take place. More plans for the development will be unveiled in early 2024. A tentative completion date is 2030.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Chicago Waiters Strike Food Poisoning Epidemic of 1918.

In the summer of 1918, police launched a major raid at the offices of Chicago's waiter's union. They rounded up over 100 servers working in the local restaurant industry on suspicion of food poisoning.
The waiter's strike of 1903 occured the same year that Mickey Finn was arrested.

The raid was unlike anything the city had seen before, and it came after the swanky Hotel Sherman hired an undercover detective to investigate an alarming amount of food poisoning among the hotel's well-to-do patrons.
The Sherman Hotel hired a detective to investigate after an alarming number of diners became ill.

What the detective discovered was astonishing: the city's waiters had been purchasing 20¢ packets of an illegal powdery substance that, if ingested, would cause violent gastronomical problems. The drug was later found to be "tartar emetic," a concoction produced by W. Stuart Wood, a pseudo-pharmacist who manufactured the drug with his wife.

Wood named the drug "Mickey Finn powder" as a tribute to the conniving saloon owner arrested just 15 years earlier. Many believe this was the origin of the saying "slip a Mickey" as a reference to being drugged or knocked unconscious by a spiked beverage or meal.

The drug bust at the waiters' union explained the cause behind countless reports of food poisoning across Chicago in previous weeks.

Customers at restaurants, clubs, and hotels in the city were getting sick, shaking and vomiting uncontrollably after consuming what authorities suspected was food laced with some sort of drug. Police confiscated envelopes filled with the Mickey Finn powder adorned with a written warning on them:

“One of these powders may be given in beer, tea, coffee, soup or other liquid. Never give more than one powder a day. These powders are to be used by adults only.”

Among those arrested in the raid were two men who worked the union headquarters' bar, along with the president of the subsidiary bartenders union, officials from the Waiters and Cooks unions, and Wood, the mastermind behind the powder drug.

According to a report by the Tribune, the customers that had fallen ill during the food poisoning epidemic were mostly "prominent Chicagoans" who hadn't tipped their waiters generously.

Even before Chicago waiters plotted against stingy tippers, another bout of mass food poisoning occurred during a swanky event at the University Club, where dozens of the city's elite, including the mayor and the governor, had gathered and become gravely ill two years prior in 1916.

More than 100 guests at the soiree, held in honor of Chicago's new archbishop George Mundelein, became sick after consuming chicken soup at the event. It turned out that the food had been spiked with arsenic by Nestor Dondoglio, an Italian anarchist who advocated for class revolt and had only meant to poison Mundelein himself.

Dondoglio had disguised himself as an assistant chef named Jean Crones and slipped in among the kitchen staff unnoticed before carrying out his revenge against the city's influential crowd.

After both of these food poisoning incidents, Chicago's food industry descended into fear and chaos.
Captain William O'Brien and Dr. John Robertson examine poison phial's in the room of Jean Crones, the anarchist who poisoned 300 elite guests.

The city's public was on high alert. Food tasters were hired for the city's St. Patrick's Day festivities as waiters across Chicago continued to strike and, in some cases, still poisoned stingy restaurant tippers.

Though separated by decades, Dondoglio's, the waiters, and Finn's stunts all sought to revolt against Chicago's wealthy. Later, drugs and poison would escalate from a means of punishment to a method of murder.

In 1923, Chicago storekeeper Tillie Klimek — nicknamed the "Poison Widow" — made headlines after being convicted of killing her third husband by poisoning his meals. Later, she was linked to the murders of at least 14 other people and animals.

Similarly, in 1931, a woman in Chicago's Rogers Park community was suspected of using flypaper to poison her husband's drinks when she believed he was having an affair. Then in 1942, a couple died of cyanide poisoning at the famed L'Aiglon Restaurant in River North, and later it came out that the woman in the couple was a mistress.

While this trend of mass poisoning bloomed in the 1920s and 30s Chicago, these days, pulling off such a crime would be virtually impossible.

"The truth is it's generally not easy now to poison on a wide scale," said food safety specialist Benjamin Chapman of the Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences at North Carolina State University.

He added: "Cases of intentional poisoning tend to be small — and often a flavor or a taste will tip people off something's wrong. Using our food systems to poison is just not the most efficient, effective way to get at people."

Mickey Finns have since transformed into knock-out drugs made out of clonidine. The drug continues to be the go-to method for scammers and thieves.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

The Story of the 1874 Millstadt Illinois Ax Murders on Saxtown Road.

The small Village of Millstadt is located just a few miles from Belleville, a long-established and prosperous town across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. Millstadt has always been known as a quiet community. It was settled long ago by German immigrants who came to America to work hard, be industrious, and keep to themselves. It was a place where nothing bad could ever really happen, or at least that's what the residents in the latter part of the nineteenth century believed. However, the murders that occurred on Saxtown Road forever shattered that illusion. When a local German family was brutally slaughtered in 1874, it created a dark, unsolved mystery.

On March 19, 1874, Carl Stelzenreide, age 70, his son, Frederick, 35, Frederick's wife, Anna, 28, and their children, Carl, 3, and Anna, 8 months, were found brutally murdered in their home on Saxton Road, located outside of Millstadt. The grisly crime was discovered by a neighbor, Benjamin Schneider, who had arrived at the Stelzenreide home early that morning to collect some potato seeds from Carl Steltzenreide. As he approached the house, he found that the area was eerily still. The horses and cattle fenced in the front lot had not been watered or fed, and no one cared for the morning chores.

Schneider knocked on the front door, but no one answered. He called out and looked in the window, but it was too dark inside the house to see anything. Finally, he turned the knob and pushed the door open. As he stepped in, he looked down and saw the body of Frederick Steltzenreide on the floor, lying in a large pool of blood. The young man had been savagely beaten, and his throat had been cut. Three of his fingers had been severed. Panicked, Schneider began looking for the other members of the family. He found Anna and her children lying on a bed. All of them had been bludgeoned to death, and Anna's throat had been cut. Her infant daughter, Baby Anna, was lying across her chest, her tiny arms wrapped around her mother's neck. Her son, Carl, was found next to her. His facial features were unrecognizable because of the brutal blows he sustained to his head. All three of them had apparently been murdered as they slept. In a separate bedroom, Schneider found Carl Steltzenreide. He had been struck so often, apparently with an ax, that he was nearly decapitated. His body was sprawled on the bloodstained floor, and it was later surmised that he had been roused from his bed by noises in the house and struck down as he attempted to come to the aid of his family.

As Schneider looked frantically around, he realized blood was on the floor, spraying wildly onto the walls and staining the room's ceiling. He saw chips and indentions in the plaster that were later determined to have been made by a "Maddox," a combination tool with the head of an ax and a large blade resembling a garden hoe. 

The only survivor of the carnage was the family dog, Monk. He was found lying on the floor next to Anna's bed, keeping watch over the bodies of the mother and her children. Monk was known to be very protective of the family and downright vicious toward strangers. This fact would lead investigators to believe that the killer, or killer, was someone known to the family. They also thought the killer entered the house through a rear door, first killing Anna and the children. Carl was killed when he heard the struggles in the bedroom, and Frederick was killed last. He had been sleeping on a lounge near the front of the house and was murdered after a hand-to-hand struggle with the murderer.

Schneider quickly left and summoned help. The authorities called nearby Belleville for assistance, and several sheriff's deputies and detectives answered. Soon after arriving, Deputy Sheriff Hughes discovered footsteps leading away from the house. As they were examined, it was noted that the prints had been made by boots cobbled with heavy nails, making them very distinctive. Hughes also found indentions in the ground that looked like someone dragging a heavy ax had made them. He followed the tracks for about a mile, and at the end of the trail, he found a pouch of partially chewed tobacco covered with blood. He deduced that the killer had been wounded during his attack on the family and had attempted to stem the bleeding with chewing tobacco. This popular folk remedy was believed to draw the infection from a cut. The footprints, and the bloody tobacco pouch, led the police to the home of Frederick Boeltz, the brother-in-law of Frederick Steltzenreide. 

Boeltz was married to Anna Stelzenreide's sister, and there had been a dispute between Boeltz and Frederick Steltzenreide because $200 that Boeltz had borrowed and never repaid. The two had quarreled over the debt several times. Boeltz was friends with an itinerant farm worker named John Afken, who had once worked for the Steltzenreide family and harbored a grudge against Frederick. Afken was a large and powerful man who made his living as a "grubber," a backbreaking occupation that involved clearing trees and rocks from farm lots. He was considered an expert with an ax and other hand tools and was feared by many because of his quick temper. He also possessed another characteristic of interest to the investigators – he had a full head of light red hair.

Carl Steltzenreide had died clutching a handful of hair precisely the same color.

The bodies of the Steltzenreide family were prepared for burial by ladies from the Zion United Church of Christ in Millstadt. This gruesome task was carried out in the Steltzenreide barn, which still stands on the property today. 
The original barn stands on the Stelzriede land since it was built.

The corpses were in such horrific condition that a number of the women became sick while washing them and had to be relieved. The killer had savaged the bodies so severely with his ax that the adults were nearly decapitated, and the children were bloodied and pummeled beyond recognition. It was brutality like nothing these small-town folks had ever seen before.

The family was laid to rest on Sunday, March 22, at Frievogel Cemetery, just a few miles from their home on Saxtown Road. The news of the massacre spread across the region in newspaper accounts and even appeared on the front page of the New York Times. The terror and curiosity that gripped the area brought more than 1,000 people to Stelzenreide's funeral service.

Immediately after the burial, Deputy Hughes arrested Frederick Boeltz and John Afken on suspicion of murder. Boeltz initially resisted arrest but then demanded to be provided with a bible while locked away in the Belleville city jail. Afken, on the other hand, was said to have displayed an uncanny lack of emotion. He accompanied the officers to jail and remained silent while in custody. During the Coroner's inquest that followed the arrest, Boeltz refused to face the jury, and when shown photographs of the victims' bodies, he refused to look at them. The two men were brought before a grand jury in April 1874, but the jury could not indict them. They believed there was insufficient evidence to connect them to the murders. Both suspects were released a week later. 

Although the authorities could not indict their main suspects, the investigation into the two men's activities and motives did not end. Investigators believed more strongly than ever that Boeltz was somehow involved in the murders, and they based this on the fact that the cash and valuables inside the Steltzenreide house had been undisturbed. They believed there was a motive that was darker than mere robbery for the crime – and that Boeltz was definitely involved.

Just a few days before he was killed, on March 16, Frederick Steltzenreide confided to some friends and neighbors that he had just received a substantial inheritance from relatives in Germany. He was at an auction when he broke the news and was seen carrying a large willow basket covered with an oilcloth. Rumor had it that the basket contained the inheritance, which Frederick had collected at the bank just before attending the auction. 

The Steltzenreide estate was reportedly worth several thousand dollars at the time of the murder. Investigators surmised that the wholesale slaughter of the family might have been an attempt to wipe out all of the immediate heirs to the estate. They believed that Frederick Boeltz, motivated by his dislike for Frederick Steltzenreide and his belief that he would inherit the money because of his marriage to Anna's sister, had hired John Afken to commit the murders. It was a viable theory to explain the massacre, but the police could never make it stick.

Boeltz later brought suit against the Steltzenreide estate to collect whatever money he could. He was eventually awarded $400, and soon after, he and his family moved away from the area and vanished into history.

John Afken remained in the Millstadt area, and the legend is that he was often seen carrying a gold pocket watch. When asked where he had gotten such an impressive timepiece because it seemed much nicer than anything he could afford, Afken would only smile. Some whispered that the pocket watch looked exactly like one that Carl Steltzenreide once owned.

The Steltzenreide home was torn down in August 1954. According to a report in the Millstadt Enterprise newspaper, the property owners, Leslie Jines and his family, were "glad to tuck the tale out of the way with whatever ghosts are there." The owners found it easy to get rid of the cursed, old house, but the ghosts that lingered there were not so easily dismissed. 

Randy Eckert was a more recent owner of the property and a house that stands at the site. In 2004, he told a reporter from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he believed the land where the murders took place was haunted. His first experience occurred when strange noises awakened him and his wife one morning. They both heard the sounds of doors opening and closing in the house, although nothing was disturbed. They weren't the only ones to hear something. The family dog, sleeping at the foot of the bed, was also awakened by the mysterious sounds and was terrified and shaking. Eckert added that the sounds were repeated many times over the years, always around the anniversary of the murders.

Chris Nauman, who rented the house from Eckert in the early 1990s, reported his chilling occurrences: "It was 6 o'clock in the morning, and there was a loud knock on the door. At the same time, my girlfriend heard someone walking up the steps in our basement." Al startled by the sounds, Nauman quickly checked the front door and the basement stairs but found no sign of visitors or intruders. The next day, he shared his story with Randy Eckert, asking him about the anniversary of the Steltzenreide murders. Eckert confirmed it for him – the ghostly happenings had occurred on March 19, the anniversary of the murders.

Nauman still remembers the effect this had on him, "A cold shiver ran up my spine."

To this day, the slaughter of the Steltzenreide family remains unsolved. While many suspects have been suggested over the years, there is no clear answer to the mystery. The area where the house once stood along Saxtown Road has changed very little since 1874, and it's not hard to imagine the sheer terror of those who lived nearby after news of the murders began to spread.

HOW MILLSTADT GOT ITS NAME.  Although the village name was officially spelled as “Centerville” in the records of the Recorder of Deeds of St. Clair County, the German settlers usually used the European spelling of “Centreville.” George Kuntz was appointed the town’s first postmaster on June 7, 1843. When the application was first made for a post office at “Centreville,” that name was rejected in Washington, DC, since there was already a post office in Centreville in Wabash County, Illinois. 

It is reported that the petitioners then translated the name “Centreville” into German and came up with the name 'Mittlestadt' or 'Middlestadt.' Either the writing was not clear, or the officials in Washington could not read the German writing because the name that was approved was “Millstadt."

Thus from 1843-1878, the people in town lived in Centreville but got their mail at the Millstadt Post Office. On September 14, 1878, the Board of Trustees of the Village of Centreville passed a revised ordinance to change the village's name to the ‘Village of Millstadt,” so the village name and the post office name were the same. 

"Several times have we been called on to record deeds of blood and villainy. And now, we undertake to record the most appalling crime in this State in several years. An investigation by an official revealed a scene that would make the stoutest heart quail. Should the discovery of the murderer have been made by the neighbors of the murdered family assembled around the bodies at the Coroner's inquest, there would have been no need for a judge or jury, for the excited populace would surely have torn them limb from limb."

Like many others, the Stelzriede family immigrated to southern Illinois from Germany.

They settled in a small rural track of land known as Saxtown, about five miles south of today's Millstadt, which remains steeped in German heritage today.

Saxtown in 1874 was a small, close-knit collection of families trying to survive by farming the land amid an economic depression.

On March 17, 1874, when Benjamin Schneider needed to borrow some potato seeds, he ventured to his neighbor's small log cabin home.

Schneider noticed the Stelzriede land was quiet. Nobody was bustling around doing the family chores. The horses and cattle had not been watered or fed. Schneider knocked on the front door.

There was no answer.

He looked in the windows. Nothing. Schneider went back to the front door and walked inside. What he found was the aftermath of a crime so gruesome it would eventually captivate the entire nation.

65-year-old Carl Stelzriede was lying in a large pool of blood, throat cut from ear to ear, his body nearly decapitated.

In the next room was his 36-year-old son Frederich, skull crushed and throat slashed.

Next to him was his 28-year-old wife Anna and their children, three-year-old Karl and eight-month-old Anna. All had been bludgeoned to death, believed to be by an axe.

The bodies were all found cold.

Word of the Saxtown murders blared on the front page of the New York Times.

Meanwhile, the small German farming community was horrified.

So what happened that horrific day in Saxtown? Police began looking backward.

About six weeks before the Stelzriede family was brutally murdered, a German farmer was shot and killed in broad daylight. Later, another farmer was nearly beaten to death in his wagon.

Before the murders, Frederick Stelzriede told some friends he had just received a substantial inheritance from Germany.

The Stelzriede estate was reportedly worth several thousand dollars at the time of the murder. Police now tied themselves to the theory that the murder of the family was intended to eliminate all heirs to the estate.

Police discovered that very little was taken from the home, leading them to believe the motive was personal.

Two separate rewards of $1,000 were offered to solve the crime, but that caused more problems. Private investigators soon flocked to Saxtown, hoping to claim big money, giving police tips on nearly everyone.

There was one survivor of the carnage of Saxtown, the family dog, Monk. He was found lying on the floor, quietly watching over the bodies.

Monk was said to be vicious toward strangers, so police believed the murderer was someone who was friends with the family.

And there were suspects.

Frederick Boeltz, who had a poor reputation in Saxton before the Stelzriede family's slaughter, was the first name on the list.

Boeltz was married to Anna Stelzriede's sister and had borrowed $200 ($5,325 today) from the Stelzriede family and never paid it back. That debt led to a long-standing feud with Frederich Stelzriede.

Police theorized Boeltz believed he would inherit the family farm and money if he was the only living relative, which gave him motive.

Inside the home, police found blood-covered tobacco. Outside, they discovered footprints leading away from the house.

Next to the footprints were large marks in the ground, which officers speculated had been made by someone dragging an axe as they walked.

For more than a mile, police tracked the prints to see where they led.

Along the trail, they found a pouch of tobacco covered with blood. They walked and walked until the footprints came to a stop right at Boeltz's front door.

After initially resisting arrest, Boeltz was charged with murder. At his trial, according to the paper, he "almost fainted at the ghastly sight" when shown pictures of the bodies.

For reasons lost to history, the jury found Boeltz not guilty. He later sued the Stelzriede estate and was awarded $400. He moved away from Saxtown and was never seen again.

Police then turned to a second suspect. A friend of Boeltz named John Afken also occasionally worked for the Stelzriede family.

Like Boeltz, he had a long-running grudge against Frederich Stelzriede. Afken was a large and powerful man who made his living with an axe.

He also had a bad temper and was feared by many in Saxtown. But he had one other characteristic that interested the police the most: He had the brightest red hair in town.

In fact, it was the exact same color as a clump of hair Carl Stelzriede was found clutching as he lay dead in a pool of blood.

Afken was taken to jail but was later released for reasons unknown.

Unlike Boeltz, he stayed in Saxtown. Legend says from then on, he would always carry an expensive gold pocket watch with him. If he was asked where he acquired such an impressive piece on his small salary, Afken just smiled.

Carl Stelzriede once owned an identical pocket watch.

Eight more suspects would eventually be arrested. All ended up being released.

On March 22, 1874, more than 1,000 people attended the Stelzriede family's burial.

Shortly after that, money came from relatives in Germany to have the family's remains moved to the more well-kept Walnut Hill Cemetery in Belleville, where an obelisk was being constructed in the family's memory.

But when a grave digger appeared to move the bodies, Saxtown residents rushed to the scene and blocked his path. And they brought their weapons, which may have included an axe. The grave digger left empty-handed.

There is no Saxtown today, just a short, winding country road. If you head west from Millstadt, Freivoel cemetery will be on a hill to your right. There you'll find tombstones from the 1800s, many rendered unreadable by the erosion of time.

That cemetery is where Stelzriede's family was buried, but you won't be able to find them.

They are in five unmarked graves, next to a family member who died years earlier.

Meanwhile, 10 miles away at the Walnut Hill Cemetery, the nine-foot obelisk towers over the grounds paying tribute to the slain family.

Incredibly, after the Saxtown murders, the log cabin stood. Longtime Millstadt resident Butch Hettenhausen had family grow up in the house.

"I have a picture of my mother in the house," he said. "It's dated 1905, so she would have been about five years old."

The cabin stood until 1954 when it was torn down. According to Millstadt Enterprise, Leslie Jines was the owner and decided enough was enough. "We are glad to tuck the tale out of the way with whatever ghosts are there," Jines said.

But the barn that hosted the horses and cattle on that gruesome night still stands tall, with hatchet marks visible in the wood.

In 1986, Randy Eckert, who lives nearby, bought the land and built a small house on the cabin site. Eckert, who was raised in Millstadt, was always intrigued by the legend of Saxtown.

"I always wanted to buy that farm," Eckert said. "I decided to live in the house for a couple of  years."

That did not last long.

Eckert said he and his wife noticed strange things happening every year around the anniversary of the killings.

One event has never left his mind.

"We were sleeping, and we had this small dog, and the dog woke us up. It was just shivering like crazy," he said. "My wife got up and said, 'Do you hear something?' and I said, 'Yeah.' Then all of a sudden, we heard a dog howling from like 100 years ago."

Then it got stranger.

"Then we heard someone pounding on the door. The door to the house has glass windows, and it's a tiny house. One step out of the bedroom, and you can see the door, and that door was bounding. Somebody was beating on that door," he said. "I walked straight to the door, never seeing anybody out the window, and the closer I got, the sound disappeared. When I got to the door, there was nobody anywhere."

That was enough for Eckert, who moved out and decided to rent the house.

"I always tell renters the house's history," he said. "You must be in the right frame of mind to live there."

For some reason, the renters don't stay long. Eckert said he's probably had a dozen people move out.

Many reported strange occurrences around the anniversary of the killings, even if they didn't know the date.

But some love the history of the place.

Spencer Shaw is the latest resident.

"I love it here," Shaw said. "When we were looking at moving in, Mr. Eckert told us the history of the house, and we were like, 'Oh my God, that's so cool!'"

Shaw says despite being so far out in the country, his front yard is a busy place. "Cars are driving past the house all the time. They slow down and take pictures. It's like I live in a famous place."

So far, Shaw has yet to experience anything that rivals Eckert's. But he knows the big test is in March.

"The anniversary. That's when everything is supposed to happen around here. I plan on staying. Of course, my mind could be changed."

The Belleville Advocate wrote 1874: "The Saxtown murder will pass into history with the additional word 'mystery' pinned to the name."

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

The Tom Thumb, America's First Steam Locomotive (1830), at the 1933/34 Chicago World's Fair.

In the 1820s, the port of Baltimore was in danger. The threat came from the newly opened Erie Canal and the proposed Chesapeake and Ohio Canal construction that would parallel the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland. These new water routes promised a commercial gateway to the West that would bypass Baltimore's thriving harbor and potentially hurl the city into an economic abyss. Something had to be done.

The local entrepreneurs looked across the Atlantic to England and found an answer in the newly developed railroad. In 1828, the Maryland syndicate, led by Charles Carroll ─ a signer of the Declaration of Independence ─ broke ground for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The railroad aimed to connect Baltimore with the Ohio River and the West. Initially, the railroad's power was to be provided by horses. However, it soon became apparent that animal muscle was no match for the long distances and mountainous terrain that would have to be traveled. The solution lay with the steam engine.

By 1830, the B&O Railroad had extended its track from Baltimore to the village of Ellicott's Mills, thirteen miles to the West. The railroad was also ready to test its first steam engine, an American-made locomotive Peter Cooper of New York engineered.

It was a bright summer's day and full of promise. Syndicate members and friends piled into the open car pulled by a diminutive steam locomotive appropriately named the "Tom Thumb" with its inventor at the controls. The outbound journey took less than an hour. On the return trip, an impromptu race with a horse─drawn car developed. The locomotive came out the loser. It was an inauspicious beginning. However, within a few years, the railroad would become the dominant form of long─distance transportation and relegate the canals to the dustbin of commercial history.

Mr. Cooper's engine boiler was smaller than today's kitchen oven in a standard size range. It was about the same diameter but at most half as high. It stood upright in the car and was filled with vertical tubes from above the furnace, which occupied the lower section. The cylinder was just 3½ inches in diameter, and the speed was achieved by gears. No natural draught could have been sufficient to keep up steam in so small a boiler, and Mr. Cooper used a blowing apparatus driven by a drum attached to one of the car wheels, over which passed a cord that in its turn worked a pulley on the shaft of the blower.

Mr. Cooper's success was such as to induce him to try a trip to Ellicott's Mills; in an open car, the first used upon the road, already mentioned, having been attached to his engine and filled with the directors and some friends, the speaker among the rest, the first journey by steam in America was commenced. The trip was most enjoyable. The curves were passed without difficulty at a speed of six miles an hour; the grades were ascended with comparative ease; the day was fine, the Company in the highest spirits, and some excited gentlemen of the party pulled out memorandum books, and when at the highest speed, which was 8 miles per hour, wrote their names and some connected sentences. The return trip from Ellicott's Mills, a distance of thirteen miles, was made in 57 minutes, averaging 6.8 miles per hour. The top speed was about 10 miles per hour.

But the triumph of this Tom Thumb engine was not altogether without a drawback. The great stage proprietors of the day were Stockton & Stokes. On this occasion, a gallant gray of incredible beauty and power was driven by them from town, attached to another car on the second track. The Company had begun making two tracks to the Mills and met the engine at the Relay House on its way back. From this point, it was determined to have a race home; the start being even, away went horse and engine, the snort of the one and the puff of the other keeping time.

At first, the gray had the best of it, for his steam would be applied to the greatest advantage on the instant, while the engine had to wait until the rotation of the wheels set the blower to work. When the engine's safety valve lifted, the horse was a quarter of a mile ahead, and its thin blue vapor showed excessive steam. The blower whistled, the smoke blew off in vapory clouds, the pace increased, the passengers shouted, the engine gained on the horse, and soon it lapped them him. The race was neck and neck, nose and nose, then the engine passed the horse, and a grand hurrah hailed the victory.
The first steam engine to operate on a commercial track in the United States, the Tom Thumb became famous for its race against a horse-drawn car on August 25, 1830, from Ellicott's Mill to Baltimore.

But it was not repeated; for just at this time, when the gray's master was about giving up, the band which drove the pulley that drove the blower slipped from the drum, the safety valve ceased to scream, and the engine for want of breath began to wheeze and pant. In vain, Mr. Cooper, his own engineman and fireman, lacerated his hands to replace the band upon the wheel. In vain, he tried to urge the fire with light wood; the horse gained on the machine and passed it, and although the band was presently replaced, and steam again did its best, the horse was too far ahead to be overtaken and came in the winner of the race."

The Tom Thumb was salvaged for parts in 1834.

In the 1933-34 Century of Progress World's Fair in Chicago, the Tom Thumb and the DeWitt Clinton steam locomotives were part of the "Wings of a Century" transportation pageant: 
A one-horse chaise (shay), a light, covered, two-wheeled carriage for two persons.

"Just south of Thirty-first Street, on the lakeside, you may watch the dramatization of this century of progress in transportation, the pioneer in the field of communication. On a triple stage, in an outdoor theater, two hundred actors, seventy horses, seven trail wagons, ten trains, and the largest collection of historical vehicles ever to be used, operating under their own power, present "Wings of a Century." Here is the "Baltimore Clipper," the fastest boat of them all. From 1825 to 1850, the "Tom Thumb," the first locomotive of the B&O, the De Witt Clinton, from the old Mohawk & Hudson (New York Central), the Thomas Jefferson (1836) of the Winchester & Potomac (first railroad in Virginia) than the old "Pioneer," the Northern Pacific engine of 1851 a giant locomotive of today (the 1930s) and the 1903 Wright brothers' first airplane.
This replica of the DeWitt Clinton was built for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.
Note the barrels of water for the engine.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

The DeWitt Clinton Steam Locomotive at the 1893 and 1933/34 Chicago World's Fairs.

The New York Central Railroad built the DeWitt Clinton in 1831, which began the Mohawk & Hudson Railroad (M&H), a New York City predecessor (NYC)They also built this working replica of the DeWitt Clinton for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

The Tom Thumb Locomotive was the first American-built steam locomotive to operate on a common-carrier railroad. It was designed and constructed by Peter Cooper in 1829 to convince owners of the newly formed Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O;  now CSX) to use steam engines; it was not intended to enter revenue service.

In the 1933-34 Century of Progress World's Fair in Chicago, the DeWitt Clinton and Tom Thumb steam locomotives were part of the "Wings of a Century" transportation pageant: 

"Just south of Thirty-first Street, on the lakeside, you may watch the dramatization of this century of progress in transportation, the pioneer in the field of communication. On a triple stage, in an outdoor theater, two hundred actors, seventy horses, seven trail wagons, ten trains, and the largest collection of historical vehicles ever to be used, operating under their own power, present "Wings of a Century." Here is the "Baltimore Clipper," the fastest boat of them all. From 1825 to 1850, the "Tom Thumb," the first locomotive of the B&O, the De Witt Clinton, from the old Mohawk & Hudson (New York Central), the Thomas Jefferson (1836) of the Winchester & Potomac (first railroad in Virginia) than the old "Pioneer," the Northern Pacific engine of 1851 a giant locomotive of today (the 1930s) and the 1903 Wright brothers' first airplane.
A one-horse chaise (shay), a light, covered, two-wheeled carriage for two persons.

There is a one horse chaise, like George Washington traveled in, and covered wagons and stage coaches of the California Gold Rush 1848 to 1855 days."

The DeWitt Clinton was the first steam locomotive built for service in New York State, and it made its inaugural run on August 9, 1831, connecting Albany and Schenectady in New York State. It ran on rails made of wood or iron, laid on the ground to create a track.
This replica was built for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Official Photograph. Note the barrels of water for the engine.

It was named after DeWitt Clinton, the governor of New York State responsible for the Erie Canal, a competitor to the railroad. DeWitt Clinton's first run was a success, and it helped to pave the way for the development of the railroad industry in the United States.
At the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, aka St. Louis World's Fair, held in 1904.

The DeWitt Clinton was a 0-4-0 steam locomotive.

0-4-0 represents one of the simplest possible types, with two axles and four coupled wheels, all of which are driven.
The locomotive was powered by a coal-fired boiler, with a top speed of about 15 miles per hour. The DeWitt Clinton was a small locomotive. It played an essential role in demonstrating the feasibility of steam-powered locomotives in the United States for transportation purposes. It paved the way for the rapid expansion of the railroad industry and the subsequent development of the American transportation system.
Lionel O-Gauge DeWitt Clinton

Lionel O-Gauge DeWitt Clinton. (0.25" to a Foot) [runtime 12:41]
It was Also Available in H
O-Gauge (3.5 mm to a Foot). 

Comparing this train with modern trains, the 15 miles per hour was considered a terrific speed, and the accommodations afforded by the coaches were considered the height of comfort.


Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.