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.
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”→
“Women who stepped up were measured as citizens of the nation, not as women… This was a people’s war and everyone was in it.” – Oveta Culp Hobby (as quoted on the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C.)
World War II was the first time in American history that women were allowed to enlist in the military. Even today, these groundbreaking women remain on the sidelines of WWII history and many of their stories have been forgotten. Few of these women faced enemy fire or had the opportunity to serve overseas, but they were heroic nevertheless. When it was not expected of them, they left their homes and their families to serve their country. They served as essential behind-the-scenes members of the military, serving as officers, recruiters, clerks, storekeepers, control tower operators, nurses, pharmacists, and more. Women could enlist in special reserve units of the military starting in 1942, including the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC, dropping the “Auxiliary” in 1943 to become WAC), United States Naval Reserve WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, Coast Guard SPARS, and Air Force WASPS (Women Airforce Service Pilots). The Army Nurse Corps (ANC) was established in 1901 and the Navy Nurse Corps in 1908, but these women were not considered part of the Army or Navy until later, when they were given retroactive veteran status. The approximately 350,000 women nationwide who enlisted in these reserves “released a man to fight” overseas. Whether they enlisted out of patriotic duty, sense of adventure, or another reason, they became an essential part of the military. Continue reading “Hidden Heroes of WWII: an honor roll for DeKalb County women (Part I)”→