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Columns

  • Amateur photographer preserved history

    Accompanying my column last week was a picture staged and photographed by Granville Blankenship in January 1920. That particular picture of pelts mounted on a barn won him a $4 cash prize.

    Granville described himself as an amateur photographer, according to his daughter, Mila Elam, of Bear Grove Township.

    Mila and her late husband, Loren Elam, were my "end of the road" neighbors when I was a newlywed in 1976. My husband, Dale, and I rented a house not far from the Elam homestead for a little over three years, and we became good friends.

  • Grocer fleeced in raccoon skin scam

    From the time of the earliest settlements in Fayette County, money was rarely used. The settlers bartered skins for goods.

    James Evans, whose father, Akin, was Fayette County’s sheriff and tax collector in 1836-1839, 1846-1849 and 1852-1854, wrote that if you did not have gold or silver to pay your taxes, you could catch a few raccoons and pay your taxes with their skins. You could not pay with paper money, as it was not legal tender.

  • Luster family has many tales to tell

    The Luster family made its way into the wilderness that was Fayette County before statehood. At the head of the clan was Archibald Luster, who with his wife, Malinda Yarbrough, lived in the southwestern part of the county.

    Some of their sons moved across the Kaskaskia River and settled in the Pinhook area, about four miles southeast of Vandalia. Archibald and Malinda were parents of nine children: Henry, born in 1778, Chana, William, Josiah, Malinda, Catherine, Mary, David and Philip, the youngest, born in 1801.

  • Old family photos spawn identity question

    Helen Luster, of the Pinhook community, and I have corresponded for several years now. In her occasional letters, she has shared with me old stories passed down through the Luster family, several of which I have repeated in this column.

    Last week, I received a note from Helen, accompanied by two pictures. She wrote about a mild controversy in the Luster family over the identification of a couple in an old photo.

  • Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a hopeless addict. I get like this every four years.

    Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a hopeless addict. I get like this every four years.

    I mean, I can't make it even a couple hours without a fix.

    Maybe I need a support group where I could stand up and say: "My name is Dave, and I'm an Olympic junkie."

    In most sporting events, I've gotten sufficiently cynical that I can hit the remote after a quick progress check. I have too many things on my "to do" list to just sit in front of the tube for hours.

  • Landes stood guard over Lincoln's assassin

    Henry Landes (Lan-dus) of Pennsylvania, who mustered into the U.S. Marines during the Civil War, kept a diary.

    This diary became an important piece of evidence when stories surfaced of a man living in Tyler, Texas, named John St. Helen, who claimed to be John Wilkes Booth.

    St. Helen/Booth said he had escaped from the surrounded barn in Bowling Green, Va., and wasnt dead after all.

  • Greathouse descendant shares history

    It has been 12 years now since my first contact with John D. Greathouse of Missoula, Mont.

    A nephew of Vandalias Civil War hero, Col. Lucien Greathouse, he had written looking for additional information on the family. Johns father was Isaac Ridgely Greathouse, son of John Stull Greathouse and his second wife, Catherine Waring, and Luciens younger half-brother.

    It is through John that I was able to share with you photographs of John Stull Greathouse and his son, Col. Lucien Greathouse, in full military dress, in last weeks column.

  • Col. Greathouse was courageous warrior

    As you may know, the Fayette County Genealogical & Historical Society publishes a quarterly magazine under the title of "Fayette Facts." This 60-page book is chock-full of research help on Fayette County families through church and courthouse records and family histories.

    What you might not know is that the society exchanges publications with nearly 40 other genealogical societies around Illinois and beyond. One of these is the Genealogy Society of Southern Illinois, which publishes "The Saga of Southern Illinois," covering 28 counties in the southernmost part of Illinois.

  • Governor's cuts for historic sites baffling

    What better time than the celebration of Abraham Lincolns 200th birthday for Vandalia and all other state historic sites to present the communitys ties to the most popular man in history. Unfortunately, it looks like we are going to be greatly hampered in our efforts to do that.

    In what is just the latest of bizarre twists of the Blagojevich administration, Governor Rod has cut $1.4 billion with a B out of the budget for state historic sites.

  • Aunt Frieda's trunk yields mysterious portrait

    Following years of living away from Fayette County, my dads oldest sister, Frieda Torbeck, decided it was time to return to her roots in St. Paul. She had left the area as a teenager, joining a neighborhood friend in a domestic job in northern Illinois.

    Many of the young women who went to the cities to work as housemaids and nursemaids, returned home, married and raised families, their grandchildren now living on the old family farms. But not Frieda.

    She found a position with a family whose mother had died and became housekeeper, looking after two children.