Cherished Memories Of Days When We Were All Together.



While doing research for another blog post, I ran across the above memorial in the McHenry Plaindealer from March 1946. I became curious was to how Pvt. Pearson passed. Was it fighting the Germans or over in the Pacific or fighting the Japanese? It turns out that is was something just as tragic, yet sadly, much more likely to be forgotten as it wasn’t on the battlefield.

William Pearson was born  in Pennsylvania in 1913 to William and Josephine. Before WWII he worked at the Sears, Roebuck & Co. as an assistant department manager. He was drafted in February of 1942 and was inducted by the Army late that month. Stationed at Camp Grant, near Rockford,  William was visited by his mother before he left for a training camp, Camp Crowder, in Missouri. Sadly, Pvt. Pearson never made it to Camp Crowder.

pvt. william pearson.JPG
Pvt. Pearson in uniform shortly before his passing.

On March 7, 1942, William and 230 other troops were on a train transport to Crowder when their train hit a passenger train, the “Will Rogers”, in a head-on accident. Both engines remained upright surrounded by wreckage and carnage. Two crew members of the “Will Rogers” and four soldiers, including William Pearson, were killed. He had the unfortunate distinction of being the first soldier from McHenry to be killed. An additional 25 crew members and 20 soldiers injured. Initially it was thought that a mix up in signals was what led up to the crash. In fact, at the time of the accident the “Will Rogers” had almost come to a stop. Unfortunately, the military train was traveling at about 60 MPH at the time of the collision.

Most of the soldiers who were killed or injured came from a wooden car that had another car kaleidoscope through it. (In train terms, kaleidoscoping is when a car literally runs through one or more other cars causing an effect like a kaleidoscope being closed, usually with grizzly results.) If took over 5 hours, and in some cases a blowtorch, to cut through the train to get to some of the dead and injured. Doctors, nurses and emergency crews from Monett, Neosho, Joplin, and Springfield were taken to the scene to assist the wounded. A special train was even dispatched from Neosho with medical personnel and supplies. Shortly after the accident, uninjured soldiers were taken to Camp Crowder.

An inquest was held by the Army and it turns out that human error was what lead to the crash. The engineer of the special carrying the troops, knew that the “Will Rogers” was coming through the area. However, he looked at his watch wrong and mistakenly thought his train would clear the area before the Rogers arrived.  

Fold3_Page_42_World_War_II_Honor_List_of_Dead_and_Missing_Army_and_Army_Air_Forces_Personnel_1946 (1)
William Pearson in the WWII Honor List of Dead and Missing Army Personal. DNB stands for Died Non-Battle.

William Pearson’s body arrived back in McHenry on March 11th, and services were held by the Peter M. Justen Funeral Home, conducted by the McHenry County council of the American Legion the next day. The religious service was held at St. Mary’s Catholic Church and William was buried in the St. Mary cemetery. The McHenry American Legion Post, No. 491, took part in the ceremony, as did a firing and color squad.

Before leaving for the service, William lived with his mother at the Mrs. Barlow farm at Chapel Hill, where he lived for five years. The Barlows, being Josephine Pearson’s sister and brother-in-law. After William’s death, Josephine Pearson remained living with the Barlows. Around 1946, Josephine and the Barlows moved down to Miami, Florida. She would live there until her passing in 1961. It’s possible that the memorial that Josephine left for William in the McHenry Plaindealer was her farewell to him as she was leaving the area.



“Death Toll 7 In Collision of Two Trains.” Decatur Herald 9 Mar 1942: 8. Web. 26 Oct 2017.

“Officials Probe Headon Train Crash.” The Pentagraph (Bloomington, IL) 10 Mar 1942: 1. Web. 26 Oct 2017.

“Today’s News In Pictures.” The Daily Sentinel (Woodstock, IL) 10 Mar 1942: 1. Web. 26 Oct 2017.

“Wm. Pearson of McHenry Crash Victim.” McHenry Plaindealer 9 Mar 1942: 1. Web. 26 Oct 2017.

“McHenry Man Killed.” Republican-Northwestern (Belvidere, IL) 10 Mar 1942: 8. Web. 20 Oct 2017.

“Rites For Soldier Killed in Crash of Trains Held Today.” Belvidere Daily Republican 11 Mar 1942: 8. Web. 20 Oct 2017.

“5 Local Men Safe As Train Crash Kills 7.” Belvidere Daily Republican 9 Mar 1942: 8. Web. 20 Oct 2017.

“Bodies of Victims of Trainwreck Sent Home.” Dixon Evening Telegraph (Dixon, IL) 10 Mar 1942: 6. Web. 20 Oct 2017.

“Troop Carrying Train Crashes.” The Edwardsville Intelligencer (Edwardsville, IL)  10 Mar 1942: 5. Web. 20 Oct 2017.

“Seven Die in Collision of Troop Train and Limited.” San Bernardino Daily Sun (San Bernardino, CA) 8 Mar 1942: 1. Web. 20 Oct 2017.

“In Memoriam.” McHenry Plaindealer 7 Mar 1946: 8. Web. 14 Mar 2017.



The McHenry Lyceum

During the early 1920s, Rev. Father Martin J. McEvoy of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church brought a series of concerts and other entertaining acts to McHenry in the form of a Lyceum. It combined education and entertainment in a variety of outlets such as lectures, concerts and a plethora of other performances. Lyceums took off in the early 19th century in New England starting what some have seen as the first adult learning program. Lyceums spread throughout the country and many times worked in circuits with performers who traveled around, much like a circus. Many of the performers were set up through Rev. McEvoy and the Dennis Lyceum Bureau and the Redpath Bureau.  

Arcadia Quartet
The Arcadia Novelty Quartet appearing in the Jan 21, 1926, Plaindealer.

In the spring of 1921, Father McEvoy set up four different performances for the town of McHenry. They were not religious in scope and were meant for the general public to attend. For the first three years, the acts took place at the Empire Theatre. (The Empire was at the location of the former McHenry Downtown Theatre.) Tickets were generally $1.50 but sometimes went up to $2 depending on the performer. Father McEvoy stressed that the Lyceums were not money makers, but a service to the community.  

Swiss Yodelers
Ad for Grobecker’s Swiss Yodelers from Nov 3, 1921, Plaindealer.

Many acts were vocal acts, such as the Arcadia Novelty Quartet and the Waldorf Male Quartet. Others were a mix of instrumental and vocal such as Mr. and Mrs. Glen Wells or Charles Cox & Co and even a Swiss Yodeling group. Most of the “mixed” acts tended to blend in humor or storytelling with the musical aspects of the performance. There was also Manlove: The Man of Many Faces, a comedic impressionist who left “many a wet eye” in the theater when he was done. There one act that seemed to stand out, the Jack Wood Quartet. The quartet featured multi-instrumentalists and singers, but the highlight was their bells. The bells were reportedly made by the same founders who cast the bells at St. Paul’s in London and was what the rest of the performance was based around. Many ads in the McHenry Plaindealer referred to them, not as the Jack Wood Quartet, but the Bellringers.

Charles Cox
From Feb 4, 1926 edition of the Plaindealer.

For the first three years, the Lyceum’s attendance faired well. They ended up moving over to the high school gymnasium for a larger venue. In its sixth season, the Lyceum was having a problem with lower attendance compared to previous years. Sadly, Father McEvoy passed away on February 1, 1926, after being struck with double pneumonia in the end of January. He was beloved by the entire community, not just his parishioners, and was only 46 at the time of his passing. Town businessmen pickup up the Lyceum programming and used the programs as a way to honor the memory of the late priest. Attendance seemed to pick up, but after the programs set up by Father McEvoy ran their course, the Lyceum wasn’t picked up again in McHenry.


“Bell Ringers At School Auditorium.” McHenry Plaindealer 15 Apr. 1926: 1. Web. 11 Jul 2017.
“Bell Ringers to Entertain Here.” McHenry Plaindealer 8 Apr. 1926: 1. Web. 14 Jul 2017.
“Betty Booth Concert Co.” McHenry Plaindealer  16 Apr. 1925: 1. Web. 12 Jul 2017.
“Lyceum Coarse Ends April 13.” McHenry Plaindealer 1 Apr. 1926: 1. Web. 14 Jul 2017.
“Lyceum Program To Be Given Tonight.” McHenry Plaindealer 11 Feb. 1926: 1. Web. 11 Jul 2017.
“Manlove Here Monday Night.” McHenry Plaindealer  4 Jan. 1923: 1. Web. 12 Jul 2017.
“McHenry Lyceum Course.” McHenry Plaindealer 13 Sep. 1923: 1. Web. 11 Jul 2017.
“Mr. & Mrs. Glen Wells.” McHenry Plaindealer 22 Nov. 1923: 1. Web. 11 Jul 2017.
“Popular Priest Dies Suddenly.” McHenry Plaindealer 4 Feb. 1926: 1. Web. 11 Jul 2017.
“Second Lyceum Course Number.” McHenry Plaindealer  7 Jan. 1926: 1. Web. 12  Jul 2017.
“Second Number, Lyceum Coarse, Monday Evening, January 18th.” McHenry Plaindealer 14 Jan. 1926: 1. Web. 12 Jul 2017.
“Second Number of Lyceum.” McHenry Plaindealer 22 Nov. 1923: 1. Web. 11 Jul 2017.
“$10 In Gold For Best Review.” McHenry Plaindealer 27 Sep. 1923: 1. Web. 11 Jul 2017.

Red Faber Pitches in McHenry

In the summer of 1935 St. Mary’s softball charity game proved to be a memorable one. It pitted teams from the McHenry Elderly Men and St. Mary’s Holy Name Society and featured a bonus game that between the Married Men vs. the Single Men.  People were really looking forward to the game as it featured Major League Baseball Hall of Famer, Red Faber. Faber spent over twenty years pitching for the White Sox and was a crucial part of the 1917 World Series team. The recently retired Faber owned a home in Pistakee Bay and was in town for the summer.
Red Faber
Photograph of Red Faber taken in 1917, from the Library or Congress.
The umpire was a famous wrestler of the time, Charles Peterson. Like Faber, Peterson was in town as he owned a vacation home in Pistakee Bay. It was thought that the event was to be so well attended that extra stands were built just for the game. The game did not disappoint as over 500 people were in attendance. Faber, who won 250 games in the major leagues, won 12 to 10 against the team led by St. Mary’s Msgr. Charles S. Nix. In the second game, the single men won against the married men, 9-8. Faber and Johnson weren’t the only big names playing in the game. Some names that played are still known in town today. Freund, Miller, Justen and Altoff just to name a few.

“Red Faber To Pitch” McHenry Plaindealer 25 Jul. 1935: 1. Web. 7 Mar 2016.
“Red Faber Now A Local Resident” McHenry Plaindealer 1 Aug. 1935: 5. Web. 7 Mar 2016.


The Early Years of St. Mary’s

During its history, McHenry has been home to several different churches. One of the most recognizable has been St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Its started with many of the German settlers in the area who wished to go to church services spoken in their native language. At the time, they had to go up to St. Johns the Baptist Catholic Church in Johnsburg. In 1894, a group of citizens and trustees got together with the intention of building a church on the east side of town. In May of that year, they bought the brick school house in town for $900 with plans of, at least temporarily, using the building as a church. That August, the Church hosted a picnic, with over 3,000 people attending, and were able to raise over $1,600 to help with construction costs. The event featured many different activities including races, music, refreshments and much more. Later that month the church started hosting religious services in the completed building.

By 1898, the Church sought to construct a building that was a more permanent house of worship. Through fundraising events, subscriptions and other donations, St. Mary’s was able to start building and continued with construction as money came in. In the summer of 1898, St. Mary’s hosted a festival which raised a considerable amount of funds. People came from all over McHenry County as well as Buffalo Grove, Elgin and Chicago. Church construction was finished in February 1899. St. Mary’s was viewed as an impressive structure, and the parishioners very much appreciated the implications of the construction as they finally had their Church. To celebrate the Church hosted a large fair soon after opening. Part of the celebration included the McHenry Military Band, singing by the Elgin Quartet, a large lunch, and other entertainment.

Its architecture is of a clean, gothic style. The building is 105×50. The foundation is of Joliet stone, surmounted by very handsome white brick, from Racine, Wis. It will be heated by steam and have a seating capacity of 550 persons. In the interior there are three aisles. The height of the ceiling, which is arched, rangers from 28 to 36 fee. The interior will be frescoed and finished in a style second to no church in the state.

  • Description from the January 11, 1899 McHenry Plaindealer

After two years of working on the Church, the parishioners spent about $20,000 constructing the building. In just a few years, they had about paid off all of the debt. Church leaders had hoped to have a dedication ceremony performed, but had to delay due to various reasons. St. Mary’s is part of the Diocese in Rockford and the dedication would be run through it. In November 1901, the Diocese was finally able to come east and dedicate the churches of St. John’s in Johnsburg and St. Mary’s. St. Mary’s has always an important part of the community of McHenry. A place were people were married, laid to rest, socialized and a myriad of aspects of one’s everyday life. Even today, St. Mary’s remains one of McHenry’s most recognizable structures.


“A New Church.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 24 Jan. 1894: 5.
“Churches Dedicated.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 14 Nov. 1901: 1.
“Grand Picnic.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 15 Aug. 1894: 1.
“New German Church” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 11 Jan. 1899: 1.
“The Brick School House.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 2 May 1894: 5.
“The Fair Closed” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 15 Feb. 1899: 5.
“The German Fair” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 8 Feb. 1899: 5.
“The German Festival” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 17 Aug. 1898: 5.
“The German Picnic.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 29 Aug. 1894: 1.
“To Dedicate Churches.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 31 Oct. 1901: 1.