Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Great Rondout Train Robbery - Part Two

A crew of six men had set out and successfully stopped the train running the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul Line on the night of June 12, 1924. Consisting of a well coordinated strategy, some stolen cars and some inside information everything had been going according to plan. Using the railroad staff as labor, the thieves moved 63 marked Postal bags into four stolen Cadillacs in less than 25 minutes. However, during the loading of the stolen cars, two things happened that doomed the, until then, perfect crime.

First, brakeman Sandy McRae suggested to the robbers that he should set fuses (flares) down the line behind the train. Rondout was at an intersection and another train was soon due to arrive; it could possibly hit the train if the red fuses weren’t set out. Glasscock agreed and McRae set out to the back of the train to set the fuses. However, when he was out of sight, McRae saw his chance and made a break for the nearest farm house to alert the authorities.

Willie Newton in bed during the trial with his brothers around him.

After a few minutes, the robbers became nervous when McRae hadn't returned. Willie Newton was ordered to go and bring McRae back to the group. One side of the stopped train was illumined by the cars’ headlights and the other side was pitch black. Willie started heading out on the dark side of the train and realizing his mistake, he crawled back under the train to the illuminated side. Popping out from under the train, Willie startled his fellow robbers, one of whom opened fire, striking Willie five times. The wounds weren’t immediately life threatening but would soon require medical attention. The robbers, who were loading their cars, proceeded to place Willie in one the cars on top of some of the mail bags. Who actually shot Willie is a matter of debate, with the confusion of all that was going on; there are various accounts to what exactly happened including who pulled the trigger. However, most sources point to Brent Glasscock as the guilty party.With Willie seriously wounded and the police presumably on their way, thanks to Sandy McRae, the gang quickly left the robbery site and headed to Ottawa, IL to divide up the loot.

Soon local police and postal inspectors were on the case. Through good detective work, in less than four months all of the thieves were caught and were awaiting trial. Willie, who was lucky to be alive, spent the trial in a hospital bed, which was brought into the courtroom daily. Two of the robbers were particularly interesting in how they were captured.

Some of the recovered mail sacks.

Inspector Fahy, who was working with the gang, pretty much sealed his own fate. Since Fahy had a tendency to arrive at a crime scene in the investigation before he should have, other inspectors were quick to put it together that he had some kind of extra involvement in the robbery. Using a wiretap, inspectors caught Fahy having a conversation about the robbery with one of the robbers.

Mugshot of James Murray.

Willis Newton actually made it the farthest away, getting to Mexico. The United States didn’t have an extradition agreement in place with Mexico at that time, so legally law enforcement couldn’t arrest Willis on Mexican soil. However, Willis was known as a bit of a braggart. Playing on that, an undercover agent befriended Willis at a bar and told him of a rodeo in El Paso, Texas where he could show off  his horse riding skills. When Willis went to go to El Paso, law enforcement picked him up and sent him back to Illinois for trial. When he was arrested, Willis was said to be wearing a gaudy outfit for his moment of triumph at the rodeo. He proudly wore it all the way back to Illinois.

Picture of Brent Glasscock taken before the trial.

By the end of the November 1924 the trial was over and the robbers were on their way to prison sentences. In all, eight men were convicted: the Newton brothers, William Fehy, Herbert Holliday, Brent Glasscock and James Murray. Despite the amount of money stolen, most of the robbers received rather light sentences; the most time was given to Herbert Holliday who received 25 years. None of those convicted served their entire sentence and all were eventually released for good behavior.

Plaque at the spot of the robbery sponsored by state and local historical organizations.

 The mystery of the robbery is just how much was stolen. The $3 million is an estimate and of that, only about $1.5 million was reported to have been recovered. No one is really sure what happened to the rest of the loot. Brent Glasscock was reported to have buried much of his share, which never was accounted for. An old story has it that Willis Newton buried a bunch of his share as well. The problem is that he was supposedly heavily intoxicated at the time and had no idea if/where he actually buried anything. Some even think O’Banion’s gang may have received a cut. In the end, no one is exactly sure were the missing items are.

Thus ends one of the more exciting, if not peculiar, episodes of local history. It had everything you could base a movie on. If fact they did, The Newton Boys. The film that was based on the Newton's robbery career that culminated with the Rondout robbery and can be checked out at your Cook Memorial Library!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Great Rondout Train Robbery - Part One

Most people aren’t aware that one of the most audacious train robberies in the history of the United States actually took place just a few miles east of Libertyville. On June 12, 1924, just outside the small town of Rondout, robbers made off with between 2 and 3 million dollars worth of cash, liberty bonds and other valuables (estimate set in 1924).

Investigators searching for clues on train shortly after robbery.

The eight-man crew that pulled off this feat included professional thieves and a corrupt law enforcement officer; it was rumored at the time that they possibly even had mafia connections.  The caper itself was bold, simple and, with some inside information, relatively easy to pull off.  Of the people involved the most famous were probably the Newton Brothers. The four brothers (Willis, Joe, Willie and Jesse) were from Texas and had made a very profitable career of holding up banks and robbing trains. The Newtons aren’t as notorious as other outlaws, the reason probably being is that they never killed anyone in their illegal activities. As they saw it, they were into an alternate form of a business. They simply weren't killers.

Detective posing as one of the robbers during investigation.
In the early twentieth century, trains were known to carry loads of cash and other valuables for the Post Office for their pay roll and other financial needs.  Hitting the right train could mean the score of a criminal’s career allowing them to retire very wealthy men. One would just need to know which train to rob.

William Fahy during the trial.

William Fahy was thought to be a rising star among the inspectors of the Postal Service. However, he would give the robbers the date, place and time that the train loaded with goods would be. Also involved were Brent Glasscock, James Murray and Herbert Holliday. Glasscock was thought by some to be the brains of the operation. He and Murray had legal and illegal dealings with the Post Office and railroad delivery of mail. Glasscock would provide valuable information to make the robbery run smoothly and Murray would provide the place to sort and divide the stolen goods. Hebert Holliday was a volatile career criminal, who had pulled off a handful of robberies. All three possibly had connections with the mafia, most notably infamous Chicago mobsters, Dion O’Banion and Hymie Weiss.

One of the cars used in the robbery, taken in front of the detective bureau.

Around 10 p.m. on the night of June 12, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul line train slowed down right outside the town of Rondout to pick up their orders from the order hoop located on the Rondout Tower. That was the signal. Willis Newton and Herbert Holliday walked out from behind their hiding place dressed as railroad workers, holding red lanterns to get the train to stop. The rest of the gang had arrived driving stolen Cadillacs. They lined the cars up to provide light for the robbers to see what they were doing, as the surrounding area was open county.

After forcing the engine crew to stop the train, they started corralling everyone outside. Staff in the other cars turned off the lights and locked the doors of their cars, per postal regulations. The thieves had accounted for this and broke or shot out the windows of the cars and threw in canisters of tear gas to force the crew inside to open their doors.  At that point everything was going according to plan. The thieves had stopped the train and were about to unload the precious postal bags into the four stolen cars That's when everything started to unravel.
Be sure to check back in the next few weeks for the thrilling conclusion!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Arthur Sheldon

Arthur Frederick Sheldon was born and educated in Michigan, but by 1900 he was making his presence known in the Chicago business community. An up-and-coming businessman, Sheldon joined the fledgling Chicago Rotary organization and was responsible for coining its motto, “He Profits Most Who Serves Best.”

Building on his past experience as a sales manager, Sheldon developed a theory of salesmanship combining scientific method and ethical behavior. He formed the Sheldon Publishing Company, wrote several books including “The Science of Successful Salesmanship,” and also published a magazine titled “The Business Philosopher.”

Sheldon believed in a higher quality of salesmanship than the cutthroat “buyer beware” methods of the 19th century. Seeking to further his sales philosophy, Sheldon opened a correspondence business school in Chicago in 1902. His program followed a strict mathematical formula and could be applied to selling ideas or services as well as merchandise. Sheldon’s aim was to develop his students mentally, morally, and physically in addition to improving their salesmanship.

Sheldon’s methods must have struck a chord with the business community because by 1904, students were enrolling at the rate of 150 students per month. In 1915, at the height of his school’s popularity, over 10,000 students from around the world were enrolled in The Sheldon School.  

As his school became more successful, Sheldon moved his printing facilities from Chicago to the upper floor of the Schanck building in Libertyville, pictured above. He must have been taken by the beauty of the area; around 1908 he bought 600 acres in the small town of Rockefeller, now Mundelein. To improve the land, he dammed up a small stream to create a mile-long lake and started construction on school buildings and a home for his family.
The Sheldon School became a thriving part of the local communities. As its success grew, the school employed up to 195 local residents. Sheldon and his school grounds provided many opportunities for recreation and education for local residents. Evening classes offered shorthand, typing, and bookkeeping instruction. The upper floor of the main building had a large hall which was used for lectures, meetings, summer classes, and dancing. The grounds were available year round for swimming, picnicking, canoeing, ice skating and sleigh riding.
Because of the abundance of mail generated by Sheldon’s correspondence school, the local Rockefeller post office was upgraded from a fourth class to a first class operation. In 1909 the town’s name was changed to an acronym of the Sheldon School’s motto: Ability-Reliability-Endurance-Action.

World War I took many of Sheldon’s students away and his school fell into a gradual decline. He sold his property to the Catholic Diocese in 1921which used the land to build St. Mary of the Lake Seminary. Sheldon continued to speak to Rotary clubs and other service clubs throughout the world. He died at his ranch in Mission, Texas, in 1935.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Lake County Fair in 1914!

A few weeks ago, Lake County held its annual fair right here in Libertyville. Ever since the first fair held in September 1852, the Lake County Fair has been a huge hit with the citizens of Lake County. The fair was originally run through the Lake County Agricultural Society, which was established in 1851 to promote the interests and stress the importance of agriculture. Since 1928, the fair has been run through the Lake County Fair Association.

Photograph of the Lake County Fair in the 1910s.

One hundred years ago in September 1914, the fair was touted by the Lake County Independent Register as the “most successful exposition ever held.” Holding some new exhibits and acts that became staples to the modern fairgoer, the fair that year seemed to have it all. This was especially true for a generation that didn’t have televisions, computers or other forms of entertainment that we take for granted today. People also took to the fair in many different ways, automobile, horse drawn buggies, horseback, train or walking in what must of seemed like a merging of eras.

People attending Lake County Fair in 1913.

Live music is the highlight at almost any event, even today, providing something to dance to and setting the mood. The fair provided several different musical acts. This Included the Allandale Boys, who were asked to perform an additional day after their first performance was such a hit. Another form of entertainment presented was a moving picture film. The film was about a young woman who steals a mule, gets the mule into a automobile and ends up getting into a police chase. It was seen as having little plot, but entertaining none the less. 

Not surprisingly, one of the main highlights of the fair was the livestock. It was noted that the Horse Show exhibition was a little low due to a prominent citizen, Samuel Insull, being away at another show.  Overall the animal exhibits were still deemed impressive which were stocked with horses, cattle, swine and other livestock. As with any good fair, there were awards given out to the prize livestock.

The fairgrounds were very proud of their racetrack and had several events taking place on it. Different types of horse racing, paces and distances were performed. Horses weren’t the only ones to race as several local people, men and women, competed in foot races.

Flyer from the Lake County Independent in August of 1914.

Food was provided by various churches and organizations, which claimed to be “as good as the food from your table.”  The Women’s Christian Temperance Union provided an area for women and children to rest and a place to bring fairgoers who may have taken sick. Two things noticeably missing were alcoholic beverages, which were banned in Libertyville in 1913. Also games of chance were banned by the fair organizers as the fair didn’t have any room for such “con games”.

A concept that fair officials had to bring in people was to have a baseball game played every day.  Local towns put teams together and faced off on the diamond. One such match up was Greyslake beating up on Antioch by a score of 12-2.
Baseball game played at the Fair in early 1900s.

The weather was listed as being very pleasant, but the wind almost detracted two of the most publicized events. One stunt was to send a hot air balloon into the sky and have a “high diver” jump out and safely land using a parachute.

With great weather and plenty to do, the 1914 Lake County Fair exceeded organizers expectations. The Fair is a great reminder that while some aspects of life may have been more difficult in the past, the fair has always provided a great outlet to have fun.


Friday, July 11, 2014

The Amazing, Ever-Growing Libertyville, part 2

Welcome back to part 2 of local history librarians Sonia Schoenfield's and Jenny Barry's presentation about the growth of Libertyville presented to the third grade at Copeland Manor School this past May.

Do you ride your bike on the railroad tracks? We do!

The 1920s proved to be another time of big population growth for Libertyville. One of the big reasons for this was improved transportation providing better and easier access to Libertyville. Libertyville’s other rail line carried electric trains and ran through the southern part of the village. (The North Shore Bicycle path takes its place today).

North Shore Bike Path at Fourth Avenue, 2014

North Shore Electric Railroad Depot at Milwaukee Ave and Park Ave, looking east, after 1905
The first electric rail cars ran to Libertyville from Lake Bluff in 1903. About a decade later Samuel Insull obtained control of the electric railway system known as the North Shore Line and began improvements almost immediately. In 1924, due to increased volume on the North Shore Line, another line to the west of the North Shore was needed to accommodate the high speed inter-urban trains going to Milwaukee. The new line opened on June 5, 1926, with inter-urban trains to Chicago from Libertyville and Mundelein which ran once an hour.

In addition to the improved electric train line, there was something else that made traveling by car to Libertyville a whole lot easier…..paved roads.

Milwaukee Ave looking north from Church Street, before 1923

We take many aspects of life for granted in the 21st century, aspects that were not at all guaranteed in the 1920s. For instance, the 1920s saw many streets in Libertyville paved for the first time and parking lines were drawn on Milwaukee Avenue downtown.

On the other hand, some things never change. Motorists complain about the condition of the roads now, and they certainly did in the 1920s. As an example, we submit this letter nominating Milwaukee Avenue as "The World’s Worst Road" published in the Chicago Tribune, August 29, 1920:

"Sir: Allow me to nominate that unspeakable ten miles of drainage ditch they call a road north of Wheeling as Great Grandaddy of all the poor highway species. It is not fair to think of it in the same breath with honest, twentieth century transportation lines. It is the pariar [sic] of the highway family, the leper among even those other road crimes in Lake county.
Let the motorist who leaves Cook county concrete and ventures north through Half Day and Libertyville bid farewell to all he holds dear under his hood. Ten miles an hour over those awful chuck holes is breakneck speed. Faster is suicide. As far as I could learn, neither county nor township has worked the worst part of this disgrace this season. Holes are continuous through Antioch on the way to Lake Geneva."

Milwaukee Ave looking north from Church Street, after 1923

With better access to the town, Libertyville’s population grew by 75% between 1920 and 1930 - from 2126 to almost 4,000 residents .

World War II Veterans return home

Over fifteen million veterans returned to their homes after the end of World War II. After fighting in the war, these veterans could hardly wait to settle down and get back to a normal life. They started by looking for jobs. The public rallied around veterans, and employers were eager to hire them.

One of those companies was The Frank G. Hough Company of Libertyville. At the war's end, Hough made it his policy to hire only returning GIs and to pay them a nickel more than the going wage. With over 90% of the employees having served in the war, the state of Illinois acknowledged the company with an award for this outstanding practice.

The returning veterans needed somewhere to live. Between 1947-1949 over 300 homes were built as the Copeland Manor neighborhood between Milwaukee Avenue and the Des Plaines River and Lincoln Avenue and Glendale Road.

Houses being built on East Lincoln Avenue

The residents of Copeland Manor joined the rest of the country in creating the Baby Boom. Where are these kids going to go to school?

Copeland Manor School, 1957

Copeland Manor School opened in 1957.

Between 1940 and 1960 the population of Libertyville more than doubled  - growing from
3930 residents to 8560 residents!

This is the amazing, ever-growing Libertyville. Kids grew up in Libertyville like you; they went to Copeland School like you;  their dads might have driven on new roads to factories in town or maybe their dads took the train to work like your moms and dads take the roads and trains to their workplaces.

Go out and make some history!



Friday, June 27, 2014

The Amazing, Ever-Growing Libertyville, Part 1

Before the end of the school year, local history librarians Sonia Schoenfield and Jenny Barry were invited to speak to the third grade students at Copeland Manor School. Each spring the third grade completes units on the history of Chicago including the Great Chicago Fire and how transportation impacted the growth of Chicago and the growth of the suburbs.  Ms. Schoenfield and Ms. Barry accepted the challenge to show that Libertyville's growth was driven by many of the same factors. See if you can find the similarities between the developments of the two towns. The third graders at Copeland sure did!

Between 1880 and 1890, the population of Libertyville doubled!  Why?

On May 31, 1880, the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad pulled in to Libertyville for the first time. With daily freight service and, not much later, passenger service, commerce grew and so did the population.  Between 1880 and 1890 the population of Libertyville doubled from 221 to 550 people. Read more about Libertyville’s First Railroad in a previous blog post at http://libertyvillespast.blogspot.com/2013/11/here-comes-railroad.html

In 1895 an entire block of downtown Libertyville had to be rebuilt. Why?

The Great Libertyville Fire of 1895
Cigar maker Max LeBeau was up late working to finish cigar orders.  Around midnight, Max rose from his chair, walked to the front of his shop and looked out the window. What he saw sent a cold chill up his spine. Huge flames were leaping skyward in back of Schanck’s Hardware store on the corner of Sprague (now Cook) and Milwaukee (Rolland’s Jewelers, across from Picnic Basket). Max called “Fire! Fire!” rousing many people from their sleep.

Bucket brigades quickly formed because there was no fire department. Despite the efforts of the people carrying buckets, and primarily because of a lack of a readily available water supply, fighting the fire proved a losing battle.  What started at Sprague Street ended one block north at High Street (School Street today). Buildings on the west side of Milwaukee were untouched, but on the east side, 27 frame buildings were completely destroyed.

Instead of being defeated, the citizens of Libertyville rallied. Downtown Libertyville was stronger than ever as evidenced by a 1903 Lake County Independent article stating:

“Libertyville’s remarkable growth within the last few years is mainly the result of the great fire of 1895, which wiped out the entire business section. Since then the grit and energy of its businessmen have materialized into what might be termed a united effort to build a new and ideal city on the ashes of the old town.”

Between 1890 and 1900 the population of Libertyville grew by over 50% from 550 to 846 residents.

Libertyville’s Connection to the Great Chicago Fire
One of the only buildings standing after the Great Chicago Fire was the Water Tower of which the masonry was done by Libertyville’s own Ansel B. Cook.


Stay tuned for a look at the 1920’s and post-WWII Libertyville population booms in our next post.



Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Wet or Dry in Libertyville?

On June 26, 1913, Illinois Governor Dunne signed the Illinois Municipal Voting Act granting Illinois women the right to vote for Presidential electors, all local offices not specifically named in the Illinois Constitution and on any “local option” issues. Clara Colby of Libertyville became the first woman in Illinois to cast a ballot under the new law by voting in a July 5, 1913 election seeking approval to take out bonds to build a new village hall. Mrs. Colby’s vote and the votes of other Libertyville women carried the election and construction on the new village hall was approved. This was just the beginning of the influence of the women’s vote in Libertyville elections.

In early 1914, effort began in earnest to place a local option issue on the ballot for the April election. The question to be answered by the voters of Libertyville Township was “Shall this town become Anti-Saloon Territory?” or, should Libertyville ban the sale of alcohol and become a “dry” town. At a January 4 meeting, the Reverend George McGinnis, an officer of the Illinois Anti-Saloon League, predicted that Libertyville would be the site of one of the fiercest wet/dry battles in Illinois and that it was likely that women’s votes would push through the dry agenda. Needing 127 petition signatures to put the issue on the ballot, the local dry supporters gathered 159 signatures. The wet/dry battle in Libertyville was on.

Citizens sprang to action. At a Citizenship meeting at the Methodist Church ladies were invited to learn more about the voting process and listen to a speaker explain “The Relation of the Citizenship to the Temperance Cause.” Dr. A. H. Churchill permitted his office to be used for the preparation of literature for mailing. Said one of young women stuffing envelopes, “If the town goes dry we girls ought to get quite a bit of credit for it, and I think the newspaper should say so too.”

The Dry forces did not rest on election day, April 7. A thorough canvas was made of the country districts; cars, surreys, buses and single rigs were used to bring farmers and their wives to town to vote. The ladies rest and instruction room in the Jochheim bakery building was besieged all day by women seeking direction on how to mark ballots.
At the end of the day, Libertyville voters had spoken. The vote fell out along gender lines:
Women voting dry – 312, wet -137
Men voting dry – 341, wet - 402
Total dry - 653, total wet - 539.
Libertyville was to become a dry town by a 114 majority. Had women not voted in this election, the men’s votes would have assured Libertyville remained a wet town.
The Wets immediately filed a protest claiming that women were instructed right at the polling station and friends stepped in to the booth to help. Their biggest argument was that since the Illinois Supreme Court had not yet ruled on the constitutionality of the Illinois Municipal Voting Act, all of the votes cast by women were illegal and should be thrown out. Ultimately, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the Illinois Municipal Voting Act and the election results stood. The six saloons in Libertyville were forced to cease business and the sale of alcohol became illegal.
The Wet/Dry issue was once again on the ballot in 1916. This time the men’s majority was also in favor of a dry town. Libertyville remained dry until the end of National Prohibition in 1933.