On the evening of Sunday, October 8, 1871, a fire breaks out in Chicago, just to the southwest of the city’s center. It had been a dry fall, and the fire quickly spread. Over the next 30 hours, the central area of the city burned, spreading across roughly 3.3 square miles of the city, leaving over 100,000 people (1/3 of the city) homeless, and about 300 people dead. Much of the city was left smoldering in ashes and rubble. The fire was known as The Great Chicago Fire, and today marks the 150th anniversary of the blaze.
In 1871, my 3rd great-grandfather, Johann Adolph Wilhelm Mueller, was a brickmaker in Lake View, and had owned his own brickyard for about six years. While it is a populous Chicago neighborhood now, at that time, Lake View was a rural township just north of Chicago city limits, with about 2,000 residents, and was known for its celery fields and emerging brickyards. Thomas Moulding had established the first brickyard in the township in 1863 on Southport Ave., and started using the clay along the Chicago River to make bricks. Very soon, others, mostly Germans like my 3rd great-grandfather, set up brickyards nearby. After the Great Chicago Fire, their bricks literally helped rebuild the ravaged city. This is the story of my brick-making ancestors. Continue reading “After the Fire: the Chicago Brickmakers”→
This is the story of a special tree in our family: the Drake Maple.
In 1986, my grandpa, Ed Drake, decided that he wanted to spruce up some of the landscaping at his house. He went to a nursery, and with the help of his horticulturally-trained son-in-law, picked out some bushes for the front of his house. They picked out some yews and spireas, and bought a pretty lilac bush to plant by the front bedroom window. As they were walking around the lot, the salesman learned my Papa’s last name, Drake. He said, “I have a tree with your name on it!” He convinced my Papa to also purchase a small maple tree, the Drake Maple.
The Drake Maple is a variety of Acer rubrum, and has brilliant fall colors. A U.S. patent for this new variety was filed by Virgil James Drake (no known relation to our Drake family) in January 1973. This variety is particularly unique in its fall coloring. It is described as “having distinctively colored leaves turning from green to a colored border through shades of blue violet to red and yellow,” and was discovered by V.J. Drake in Van Buren County, Michigan in September 1967. V.J. Drake was able to propagate seedlings through cuttings of the original tree. By the time my grandpa acquired one in 1986, it was available at a few nurseries throughout the United States.
My Papa planted his new tree in a place of honor, directly in front of his house. Every fall, it shows off its brilliant colors. The edges of the leaves turn red, and often the middle of the leaf turns from green to yellow. At different times, the tree may look red or orange from afar, and the variety of color in its leaves becomes apparent at close range. My grandparents loved to watch it change colors every fall, and it was often the backdrop for family photos. I have never seen another one in person. In more ways than one, this “family tree” is quite special.
Shortly after the start of the war, hospitals nationwide were facing a severe shortage of nurses and nurse’s aides. Many of the highly skilled young nurses were recruited into the military nurses corps, leaving a dire shortage of staff at civilian hospitals. To help fill this need, the American Red Cross worked with the Office of Civilian Defense to train 100,000 volunteers to be nurse’s aides. In DeKalb County, Mrs. Ulla May Schreck and a committee began training Volunteer Nurse’s Aides in June 1942 under the instruction of Elaine Fisher, R.N. Other instructors and coordinators included Nancy L. Hennis, Katherine Kane, Ruth E. Lankton and Bernice E. Schwirtz. Continue reading “Hidden Heroes of WWII (Part V): DeKalb County Volunteer Nurse’s Aide Corps”→
This week my Papa would have turned 100 years old. My grandfather, Edwin William Drake, was born on May 2, 100 years ago in Genoa, Illinois. He was welcomed by his parents, Charles and Emma (Medine) Drake, and an older brother, Charles. He grew up on a farm near Genoa, and graduated high school during the Great Depression. He met and fell in love with my grandma, Millie Kaiser, just before she joined the WAVES during WWII. After she left the service, they were married in June 1946. They had two daughters and four grandchildren. He lived in the Genoa area for his whole life. He was a farmer, business owner, public servant, and foreman. He accomplished many things during his life, but his family was everything to him. Papa loved his family dearly, and loved to spend time with them whenever he could. Continue reading “Papa’s Centennial Birthday”→
The Women’s Ambulance Safety Patrol, or W.A.S.P., should not be confused with the Women Airforce Service Pilots of WWII. These home front WASPs were prepared to serve their community and country if an emergency ever arose. They were prepared to drive and service ambulances, provide first aid and canteen units, and more. The Women’s Ambulance Safety Patrol was first established by a group of Rockford women in the spring of 1940. This was the first women’s ambulance program in the country. In a letter to Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt in February 1941, Rockford Lt. Mary E. Trosper wrote, “We are preparing fervently for the time when we shall be called upon to defend America. […] These women are put through rigid courses of training in first-aid, military drilling, auto mechanics, convoy transportation and in some units, the use of firearms. Our ultimate aim is to interest every able-bodied woman to prepare systematically for the defense of America in the homes, in the schools and in industries. Who can foresee what tasks will fall the lot of American women in the coming year? Whatever they be, the Women’s Ambulance Safety Patrol will be adequately prepared to fit snugly in the great wheel of National Defense and will cooperate to the utmost in the organization and training of American women for American defense.” Continue reading “Hidden Heroes of WWII (Part IV): DeKalb County WASP”→