Technical Training at Chanute Air Force Base

Here in Champaign County the school year is drawing to a close. University students have finished their Spring semester, many have headed home for the summer, and K-12 students and teachers are eagerly awaiting their own summer break. For those individuals in the Air Force, however, education is often asynchronous. Basic Training is and was, generally, eight and a half weeks long and the technical training that followed could vary from six to 72 weeks depending on the career field that the airmen and officer’s followed.

Chanute Spotlight: The Curtiss JN-4D “Jenny”

The first airplane to reach Chanute Field was a Curtiss JN-4D “Jenny.” Traveling over sixty mph, Chanute Captain W.W. Spain passed over the base on Tuesday, July 3, 1917 at 11:25am. Residents from Rantoul and nearby Paxton gathered on the streets and watched from railroad tracks as the Jenny flew more than 1,000 feet above them.

Tornado Sirens in C-U

It is officially springtime and we are heading into ripe storm territory. Luckily for those of us in Urbana and Champaign, we have an abundance of tornado sirens to warn us of impending danger. These lifesaving devices that can be heard on the first Tuesday of the month during testing are actually a fairly old technology.

The Urbana connection to disgraced quiz master Charles Van Doren

Charles Van Doren died this month at the age of 93. Known for his participation and eventual guilty plea in the quiz shows scandals of the 1950s what made Van Doren’s rise and eventual fall spectacular was his background. His obituary in The New York Times puts it this way:

In the heyday of quiz shows in the 1950s, when scholarly housewives and walking encyclopedia nerds battled on “The $64,000 Question” and “Tic-Tac-Dough,” Mr. Van Doren was a rare specimen: a handsome, personable young intellectual with solid academic credentials, a faculty post at a prestigious university and an impressive family pedigree.

Greetings from Chanute! Let’s visit the Dining Hall

On March 16, 1992, former Chanute cook and World War II veteran Donald R. Hakala wrote to base historian Don Weckhorst asking for recipes from his time at the base. Hakala fondly remembered cooking in the Chanute kitchens and serving the men and women of the base breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the 1950s. By 1992 Hakala, was getting on in years and eager to revisit his life as a cook on the base to share the stories and recipes with his family and friends.

Luker's Pan-O-Cake

On March 29, 1940, Jackson Luker of Urbana, IL filed an application at the United States Patent Office for his angel food cake package called Pan-O-Cake. His patent claimed that the way the cakes were shipped and packaged uniquely protected the angel food cakes so that they could be transported and kept for multiple weeks without damaging the air cells within the cake. He was granted the patent in 1942. 

Tales from the General Store

Although I grew up in the piedmont of North Carolina, my mother and her family hails from the north Georgia mountains deep in Appalachia. The Foxfire books, which captured the oral history, crafts, and traditions of Appalachian culture, were a constant in our household. Imagine my delight upon discovering that south-central Illinois has its own version, Tales from the General Store, and that they are accessible for FREE through the Digital Public Library of America

Chanute Spotlight: Mary Ruth Clemons

Mary Ruth Clemons (1910-1992) was born in Marion, Illinois on February 18, 1910 to John Robert and Edith Caroline Grant Crenshaw. In the 1920s, Clemons attended Marion Township High School. Following high school, she enrolled in Browns’ Business College in Marion, Illinois. Browns’ was a chain of schools founded by George W. Brown in the 1870s that focused on specialized office jobs, such as bookkeeping, stenography, cashier work, and clerkship. During their 10-month school year, Clemons rigorously trained in bookkeeping, commercial arithmetic, writing, commercial law, business correspondence, spelling, shorthand, typewriting, indexing and filing in preparation for a secretarial career.

Professional Wrestling in Champaign-Urbana, Part 2

PART 1 looks at the early history (1926-1979) of professional wrestling in Champaign-Urbana. 

National wrestling took hold in the 1980s under the influence of Vincent Kennedy McMahon Jr. and Champaign started to hold shows in Assembly Hall. The first World Wrestling Federation (WWF now the WWE) live event held at Assembly Hall occurred November 5, 1988 with a near sell-out crowd of 14,000 fans. Attendees witnessed epic brawls from some of the periods most iconic professional wrestlers. The Tag Team Champions Demolition successfully retained over The British Bulldogs, Davey Boy Smith and Dynamite Kid. Intercontinental Champion the Ultimate Warrior also retained his title after a 3-min disqualification victory over the Honky Tonk Man, most likely the result of a smashed guitar on an opponent. The main event featured Hulk Hogan taking on the Big Bossman. This bout ended in a count out. This is the most successful live event in the history of Champaign in terms of attendance.

John Nathan Beers

The photograph of the gentleman in the snappy hat above is John Nathan Beers. Beers was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on October 24, 1849. In 1876, he married Izora Nebaker from Mahomet and had two children, Susan and Harry. Beers and his family came to Champaign in 1889, where he opened Beers and Davidson Real Estate and Insurance with James Wilson Davidson.

Chanute Spotlight: The Braun Family

Joseph F. Braun (1897-1962) and Bertha Hill (1901-????) moved to Rantoul, IL in the early 1920s. Joseph started his career in 1917 in the Eighth Balloon Company and was discharged in 1919. He re-enlisted two years later and moved to Chanute Field, where he remained stationed with Bertha until 1938. During their tenure at the base, Joseph and Bertha built an impressive family. From 1923 to 1940, they had seven boys, five of which were born at Chanute.

Professional Wrestling in Champaign-Urbana, Part 1

On March 1, 1926, a proposal was put forth to the Urbana City Council and Mayor concerning boxing, sparring, and professional wrestling in the city. Major cities like New York already established licensing systems to regulate combat sports, but other parts of the country still deemed them dangerous and immoral, and they remained unregulated. The Urbana proposal was presented as a local petition signed by hundreds of Urbana citizens. The proposal aligned with similar proposals made in Normal, Rockford, and Chicago to permit combat sports. Local news outlets felt that if Chicago passed the proposal, Urbana would as well. On April 20th, the ballot measure was presented as a simple yes/no measure to the people and barely passed with 1,952 votes for and 1,864 against. Although boxing and wrestling were very popular in the area for some time, they were now regulated sports that provided tax money to support the state. With a slim 86 vote margin, regulated professional wrestling was born in Urbana.

Fashion for Education: Champaign County Urban League Scholarship Fund

The Urban League of Champaign County (1961-2008) worked to improve the quality of black life in Champaign County for 47 years. Placing an emphasis on education, scholarship assistance was an ongoing activity of the organization since its earliest days. One way the Urban League raised funds was through the annual Ebony Fashion Fair.

Illinois Central Railroad Employment Cards

Illinois Central Railroad’s (ICR) history began in the 1830s with a series of federal land grant programs for economic improvement across the state of Illinois. The programs were supposed to expand the market for Illinois agricultural produce, but in reality, the state was left nearly bankrupt. One of these programs, the Land Grant Act of 1850, led to Illinois Central Railroad’s charter in February 1851. The original goal for ICR was to build a north-south rail line from Chicago to Cairo, Illinois with a total of 704 miles of track. After the initial railway was completed in 1856, the railroad’s expansion continued through 1882, at which time ICR provided a direct route from Chicago to New Orleans and was dubbed the “Main Line of Mid-America.”

Greetings from Chanute!: Thank You Donald O. Weckhorst

On May 30, 1946, fourteen-year-old Donald O. Weckhorst (1932-2015) attended his first Memorial Day celebration in his hometown of Appleton, Minnesota. The little town of Appleton was a proud and patriotic community.