Top Navigation

Haunted History

October 29th, 2012

Some time last week a student came in to ask about the haunted hallways of Western’s campus.  After talking with other staff members in the archives, I learned that this time of year always comes with its fair share of interest in Western’s ghosts and the legends and lore of Macomb.  As a fan of classic horror films like Zombie and Halloween, weird fiction, and graphic novels like 30 Days of Night and the Walking Dead, this topic intrigued me greatly.  What better way to celebrate the season than to dive into some of our local spooky stories?


In the archives we have a range of material that explores the haunted history of Macomb, the Western campus, and nearby places in Illinois.  Our vertical file, writings by Dr. John Hallwas, and multiple other books contain some interesting pieces to satisfy one’s curiosity for ghosts, legends, and lore.


Two interesting categories in our vertical file, “McDonough County – Legends and Lore” and “McDonough County – Residents (Willey Family),” contain newspaper clippings of local lore.  The legends and lore folder has multiple clippings about the Gooseneck Ghost, an apparition that supposedly haunted a rural area just outside of Macomb in the early 1900s.  This collection also has some stories about the Lady in Black, the haunting of Simpkins Hall, and stories of a Madstone, which some believed could cleanse the bite of those bitten by a rabid dog.  The Willey Family clippings follow the development of what was initially thought to be a poltergeist encounter.  In early August of 1948 hundreds of little fires broke out in a farmhouse just south of Macomb in the area known as Gin Ridge.  After some two hundred fires broke out, the house eventually burned down on August 13, 1948.  While some initially attributed the fires to mysterious causes or a poltergeist, it was later determined that the thirteen year old daughter of Charles Willey, Wonet, had actually set the blazes.


In addition to our vertical file holdings, the archives also owns some interesting books that highlight local mysteries, hauntings, and scary stories.  Some popular titles include McDonough County Heritage by John Hallwas which has a few short chapters on local lore, Haunted Macomb by Garret Moffett, Haunted Peoria  by Stephanie E. McCarthy, Ghosts of the Mississippi River and Ghosts of Rock Island by Bruce Carlson, and Haunting the Prairie by Michael Kleen.  Although these books are not available to check out, we would be happy to pull them from the stacks for you to peruse in our reading room.  It’s the perfect time of year to curl up with a good book and scare yourself senseless!  Happy Halloween!
(By Lindsay Hiltunen)

Joane Cromwell Collection Available for Research Use

October 8th, 2012
Photo of Joane Cromwell Collection materials.

Here is a sample of some of the photos from the Joane Cromwell collection. This collection is comprised of photos, papers, scrapbooks, and other interesting pieces about a well-known artist. This collection is now available for public use and research.

Last week I completed working on the Joane Cromwell Collection.  The items in this collection illuminate the personal and professional life of a native Illinois artist who went on to have a vibrant career that spanned many decades.


Cromwell was born Catherine Strode on November 22, 1895 in Bernadotte, Illinois.  Her parents were Dr. William Smith Strode and Julia Brown Strode.  She grew up in Lewistown, Illinois, and became fascinated by sketching, painting, and exploring nature at a young age.  She graduated from high school at the age of sixteen and went on to pursue art studies at the Chicago Art Institute in Chicago, Illinois.  After three years of artistic study, Strode graduated with honors and moved to Los Angeles, California where she first adopted the pseudonym Joane Cromwell.


Once in California, Cromwell settled down in Laguna Beach and enrolled at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles.  During this time she was able to work with many notable artists, including Anna A. Hills, Loren Holmwood, George Demont Otis, Edgar Payne, Jack Wilkinson Smith, and Hanson Puthuff.  Throughout her formal art education and early in her career it was clear that Cromwell was establishing herself as a skilled painter of marine, landscape, and portraits.  Her work was characterized by a faithful use of color and an expressive style that was true to the subjects she painted.  In addition to being an acclaimed impressionist painter, Cromwell was an advocate for the arts and played a major role in the development and organization of the annual Laguna Beach Festival of Arts.  Over the years she maintained studios in various parts of southern California, including Glendale, Palm Springs, Hollywood, and Laguna Beach.  Cromwell was an active painter throughout most of her adult life and painted up until two months before her death in 1969.  Her work has been exhibited in fine galleries all across the United States, and examples of her work are known to be in private collections in North America, Europe, and Australia.  J. Edgar Hoover was an admirer of Cromwell’s work and he had one of her paintings hanging in his office at the FBI headquarters.  There are a few Christmas cards from Hoover included in this collection.


The Joane Cromwell Collection consists of various items that relate to the artist’s life and work.  The collection contains a wide range of materials, including photographs, photo albums, photo negatives, baby books, family letters, other correspondence, scrapbooks, journals, artist sales logs, newspaper articles, biographical notes, cards, artist show announcements, press releases, clippings, and other ephemera.  A few items of note include two signed and numbered prints from Hurlstone Fairchild, another landscape artist originally from Illinois.  This collection also contains a wooden studio sign from Joane Cromwell’s California art studio.  Now that this collection is processed and described we are pleased to offer it for public use.  Please stop by Archives and Special Collections to look into this marvelous collection.
(by Lindsay Hiltunen)

Here To Stay Book

July 10th, 2012

Here to Stay is a broad and compelling look into the lives of past residents in a downstate Illinois community—presenting the most varied array of small-town folks since Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology appeared a century ago. But it is much more. The introduction on “Living with the Dead” is an engaging account of both the impact of death in a nineteenth-century town and the social purposes of cemeteries like Macomb’s beautiful Oakwood. The biographical sketches of the buried “Permanent Residents” reflect every generation in that corner of America since the first settlers came, in 1830, emphasizing such universal themes as self-realization, social commitment, and the struggle to belong. The four insightful essays in the “Theatre of Memory” section probe into and defend cemeteries as complex cultural sites, which deserve our reflective engagement, historical appreciation, and vigilant preservation. The many arresting photographs by Kathy Nichols demonstrate the aesthetic appeal—and suggest the hidden mysteries—of such an historic cemetery as well. But uniting all the components of Here to Stay are the spiritual insights of well-known Illinois author John Hallwas, who explicitly crusades “to allow the local dead to inhabit our conscious-ness”—and who readily convinces us that “to realize the temporal dimensions of our place is to let it shape, and connect, and deepen us.”


Here To Stay is available for $17.95 at New Copperfield’s Book Service in Macomb, at the McDonough County Voice office in Macomb, and on Amazon.

Voices of the Hennepin Canal

June 29th, 2012

The third volume in the New Western Illinois Monograph Series, Voices of the Hennepin Canal: Promoters, Politicians, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, by Dr. Donald W. Griffin, is now available.


Voices is a 368-page historical account that begins in the 1830s with the start of surveys of canal-river routes to Lake Michigan and the East, the post war period of railroad expansion into the Midwest, the rise of farmer organizations, and the prolonged partisan debates in Congress on building the canal. Subsequently, the geographic focus is on surveys to determine the best route for the canal’s main line and feeder, and the 18-year period of construction. Finally, an indepth look at canal operations, including annual routine maintenance, repairs of the locks and dams, and the contsant patrolling of the canal and feeder to look for potential breaks in the prism banks, is provided. The text is complemented by ten maps, thirty-nine period photographs, and three appendixes.


The book retails for $35, and Illinois residents must add $2.71 in sales tax. To order the book send a check to: 


Archives and Special Collections
Malpass Library
1 University Circle
Macomb, IL 61455

Lindsay’s Semester Summary

May 10th, 2012


Photo of Joane Cromwell Collection materials.Here is a sample of items from the Joane Cromwell collection. This collection is comprised of photos, papers, scrapbooks, and other pieces about a well-known artist. We hope to have this collection available for public use in fall of 2012.

As the semester comes to a close, I can’t help but reflect on the amazing experiences I’ve had as a graduate assistant in the archives this spring.  In the last few months I was able to work on a variety of interesting projects and I hope this trend continues when I return for the fall semester.


My first major project was to process the Hainline Theatre Collection which is a few boxes of records from several regional movie theatres.  As a classic film lover it was interesting to see the historic admissions ledgers, movie logs, and box office statements.  I was able to see this project through from beginning to end and it was my first opportunity to create original cataloging for a manuscript collection.  I also recently completed processing and cataloging the congressional papers of former Congressman Phil Hare.  Hare was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 2006 and served from 2007-2011.  He was recently named to the Western Illinois University Board of Trustees.  Another project I will see through from beginning to end, but which is still a work in progress, is the collection of a well-known marine and landscape artist.  Stay tuned for more details about the Joane Cromwell collection this fall!


Hands down, my favorite project, which will also be completed in the fall, involves creating an exhibit about the Decker Press collection.  Over the last few months I was able to research the history of the Decker Press, including the tragic way the press ended, as well as finish the groundwork for an archival exhibit.  I’ve finished the exhibit narrative so I will be ready to create the display first thing in September.  In addition to the major projects I’ve worked on, I’ve also been able to work on many smaller projects, such as answering reference questions, investigating requests, inventorying (and trying on) the hats from the Burl Ives collection, and all sorts of different things.


While I’m looking forward to the fun reading, gardening, fishing, Brewers baseball games, and traveling that summer has in store, I’m also looking forward to starting back in the archives next fall.  I hope you have a great summer and I’ll see you next semester!
(by Lindsay Hiltunen)

A Tribute to Great Performers

February 28th, 2012

Duke Ellington with Western President John Bernhardt and his wife Ramona (1974).

As I was flipping through the photo files the other day I came across some neat photos of performers who have visited Western.  With Black History month coming to a close I thought it would be appropriate to spotlight some African American celebrities who have come to campus throughout the years.


On January 16, 1974 legendary jazz musician Duke Ellington and His Orchestra were supposed to perform in Western Hall.  The jazz legend was also scheduled to put on an afternoon lecture and concert series.  Unfortunately the activities were postponed due to illness.  The events were rescheduled for February 21 and everything went according to plan this time around.  Duke Ellington conducted an afternoon seminar of classes, music clinics, and workshops that were free and open to the public.  That evening, Ellington and the orchestra performed to a grateful and enthusiastic crowd.  Ellington, the originator of some 2,000 jazz and blues songs, graced Western with his skilled musicianship and loving personality, overall, a rare treat for WIU students and the local community.


In February of 1974 the campus hosted “Blues Fell upon Me This Morning” which was a blues festival featuring blues greats B.B. King (and his guitar Lucille), Willie Dixon, and Muddy Waters.  The Musicians brought smooth licks, dynamic rhythms, and sultry beats to a packed Western Hall on the 16th.  Concert goers were treated to a few hours of classic blues and fan favorites.  It’s amazing to think that one week you could be at a top rate blues festival and then a few short days later you could be at a Duke Ellington concert all in the heart of Macomb!

Bill Cosby performing for WIU Parent's Day in 1979.

Not all prominent African American performers at WIU were musicians.  In fact, one of the most beloved performers was comedian Bill Cosby, who performed at Parents’ Day on November 10, 1979.  The WIU Heritage Ensemble served as the opening act for Cosby’s performance in front of a full house in Western Hall.  Cosby recollected personal stories from childhood and also talked about his experiences as a parent.  He openly shared his hopes as a parent, one of them never to “be square like my parents.”  However, when it comes to music, Cosby admitted to relying on his father’s standby phrase “turn that crap off!”  Cosby further mused over how his children listened to their stereos so loudly that they played for “themselves and their friends in Europe.”  Cosby’s routine seemed to be the perfect blend of parental wisdom mixed with remembrances of childhood.  This turned out to be the proper balance for the Parents’ Day crowd as students and parents alike gave Cosby a standing ovation.

Chuck Berry at WIU Homecoming in 1988.

Another interesting piece of performance history came after the Homecoming Game in October 1988.  Chuck Berry had been booked to play after the football game.  The team was coming off a tough streak of road games and they were nervous heading into Homecoming.  As it turns out, WIU beat the NCAA Division II team from Northwest Missouri State 63-3 and Berry went on to be the perfect way to end the victorious evening.  The then 60 year old musician, known affectionately as “The Father of Rock and Roll,” graced the energetic audience with his characteristic performance of classic hits, easy licks, duck walks, and tons of personality.

Ray Charles performs at Western Illinois University, circa 1993.

It is clear to see that Western has a rich history of amazing performers.  A few others I came across in the photo files and the back issues of the Courier include Ray Charles, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, the Fifth Dimension, Dizzy Gillespie, the comedian Sinbad, and countless other performing artists.  If you are interested to learn more about performers who have come to WIU or want to explore any of our various collections, please stop by the 6th floor of Malpass library or contact us by phone or e-mail.  We look forward to seeing you in the Archives!

(by Lindsay Hiltunen)

Welcome to Our New Archives Graduate Assistants!

February 15th, 2012

In January the Archives and Special Collection Unit welcomed two new graduate assistants.  Betty-Jo Gordon and Lindsay Hiltunen both have Master’s degrees in Library Science, and they are pursuing second Master’s degrees in History here at Western.  I will allow both of them to introduce themselves.

Betty-Jo doing some research.

Hi, my name is Betty-Jo Gordon and I am from Arizona.  I originally grew up in New Lebanon, OH and moved to Arizona in 1999.  I have an Associate’s degree in Library Technology from Mesa Community College, a Bachelor’s degree in Museum Studies from Arizona State University, and my first Master’s in Library Science is from Simmons College.  In archives I like to do a variety of activities.  I like processing, digitization, convergence, and making/researching exhibits for display.  My favorite areas for historical studies are Ancient, Medieval Europe, Japan, and Native American studies.  When I am not reading homework I can be found reading fiction books or playing with my dog, Lemi.

Lindsay preparing some photos for a project.

Hello everyone.  My name is Lindsay Hiltunen and I am originally from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, although I have lived for the past several years in the Washington, DC metro area.  My Library Science degree is from Catholic University and I also have some graduate coursework from George Mason University.  From 2008-2010 I was a Librarian with DC Public Library and before coming to Western I was the Gifts Coordinator for the University Libraries at GMU.  In archives work I am most interested in processing, preservation, reference, cataloging, and digitization.  As a student, my primary research focus is American history, with special interests in industrial history, labor history, the Civil War, and popular culture.  My thesis research will focus on the historical memory of the 1913 copper strike in Upper Michigan.  When I’m not at work, attending classes, or doing reading for school I enjoy record collecting, photography, vegetable and herb gardening, hockey, football, traveling, and going on adventures with my dog.


Both Betty-Jo and Lindsay have an interest in updating and maintaining the blog, so stay tuned for more posts related to current projects, local history, upcoming events, spotlights on collections, and neat images from the photo files.  And of course, welcome to Betty-Jo and Lindsay!

New Museum Coming to Rock Island

December 13th, 2011

The Karpeles Museum will open its newest location in Rock Island in early 2012. According to the organization, Karpeles is “the world’s largest private holding of important original manuscripts and documents.” They will be located in the former christian science church on 22nd street. I don’t know much about the organization, but it might be worth a visit just to check out the building. It’s an impressive facility.

The first exhibit at the museum will be about Mark Twain, in celebration of the 100 years since his death.

Check out the museum’s website at Be warned: it has cheezy music.

Farewell Heather

September 16th, 2011

Friday, September 23 will be Heather Richmond’s final day in the WIU Archives. She has accepted an exciting job working with digital collections at the Missouri State Library in Jefferson City.

Heather arrived at WIU in January 2008, and she quickly made herself an invaluable part of both the Archives and University Libraries team. She has been instrumental in implementing new technologies in the Archives and has worked very hard at getting our many manuscript collections into the online catalog. She has also been successful at bringing classes into the Archives, promoting the IRAD and other collections throughout the region, and on processing collections, both large and small. Her experience, archival insight, and dedication to excellence will be missed greatly by us.

We wish Heather the very best in this new and exciting venture in her professional and personal life.


Graduate Assistantship, WIU Archives

September 14th, 2011

Graduate Assistantship, Western Illinois University Archives and Special Collections, Macomb, Illinois

The Archives and Special Collections Unit at Western Illinois University (WIU) Libraries announces a graduate assistantship for individuals who hold an ALA-accredited degree and who desire a subject master’s degree.  The program allows candidates to pursue a graduate degree in one of 34 degree programs while working 20 hours each week in the Archives and Special Collections Unit.  Many academic archival positions now prefer or require a subject master’s degree, and this is a chance to get that important credential while simultaneously gaining excellent professional archival experience.

We are looking for someone interested in any and all areas of archival work, including appraisal, arrangement, cataloging, digitization, public service, records management, etc.  Specific duties will be tailored to the candidate depending upon interest and unit need.  You will work alongside a collaborative, knowledgeable team of one faculty member and three staff members.  The unit has a strong commitment to public service and excellent print and digital collections focused on regional history, public records, and university archives.  There will also be opportunities to learn from library faculty and staff members in other departments.   

Benefits include a graduate assistant stipend of $920/month plus a full tuition waiver.  Summer study and employment opportunities are also available.  Candidates must be offered full acceptance into a WIU graduate program before work commences.    

To learn more about Archives and Special Collections at WIU, visit

To learn more about the Graduate School at WIU, visit

Contact Dr. Jeff Hancks at or (309) 298-2718 with questions or to submit a resume, cover letter, and the names and contact information for two professional references.  Preferred starting date is January 2012.  To allow maximum time to gain admission to a graduate program, applications will be reviewed immediately upon receipt.  Position open until filled. AA/EO employer.