Tuesday, August 11, 2020


Book Signing: Lincoln in the Illinois Legislature

From our friends at the Bloomington Pantagraph and McLean County Museum Archivis...

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From our friends at the Bloomington Pantagraph and McLean County Museum Archivist Bill Kemp.
Illinois State Historical Society: Where History Never Gets Old

PFOP: Lightning menace to man and beast, past and present
On May 20, 1897, a heavy afternoon shower accompanied by a “brilliant electrical display” passed through the Lexington area, catching 18-year-old John Hays in open country upon a horse and

A Memorial Day memory of an Illinois teenager in the chaos of Pearl Harbor By D...

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A Memorial Day memory of an Illinois teenager in the chaos of Pearl Harbor

By Dr. Mark DePue, Director of Oral History
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library

Charles Sehe grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in Depression-era Geneva, Illinois. He learned early on to make do with what he had; survival depended on ingenuity and hustle. Money was always tight in the Sehe household, but Charles’ mother was determined that at least one of her six children would complete high school, and she fastened that dream on him.

Charles achieved his mother’s dream, graduating from Geneva High in 1940 before enlisting in the Navy. After basic training, his class was divided into two equal groups of 55 each; the first group was assigned to the USS Arizona. Sehe, number 56, and the rest of his class were sent to Bremerton, Washington, where the USS Nevada was undergoing repairs while in drydock.

Sehe’s initial battle station was one of the ship’s 5-inch guns, but after the slight-framed kid from Geneva dropped a couple of 5-inch rounds during a drill, he was reassigned. As fate would have it, his new station was high up on the Nevada’s mast, manning one of the ship’s searchlights.

A few months later, on a lazy Sunday morning in December, 1941, both the Arizona and Nevada were moored along battleship row in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, as were several other battleships and most of the Pacific fleet. Sehe’s plan for the weekend had been to take liberty on Saturday and see the town with a buddy assigned to the USS Arizona, then spend the night on that battleship. But once again fate intervened. Sehe was caught drying out his laundry in front of an exhaust fan, and drew three days kitchen duty for the minor infraction.

So it was that he was pulling kitchen duty on the USS Nevada on the morning of December 7th. “Seven o’clock, I got breakfast. Seven-thirty, I went to the head,” recounted Sehe during a recent oral history interview. “After the head, [I] washed up, getting ready for meals, you know? … Then the four or five of us in the head were sitting around, and all of a sudden, it jarred [us], boom! And I said, ‘Oh, they’re practicing fire. I ran to my battle station and oh my God, it was just unbelievable.”

What Sehe had felt was a Japanese torpedo slamming into the side of the Nevada. What he saw from his battle station was a harbor in chaos, with wave after wave of Japanese aircraft coming at them from all directions.

Here is how Sehe described what he saw that day from the ship’s mast in a letter to family members written 50 years later:

“The Nevada, with some of its boilers already lit on standby, got up enough steam pressure to get underway. As the ship slowly eased its way into the channel, passing the Arizona, a tremendous fiery explosion ripped the Arizona apart, showering the open deck crews of the Nevada with hot, searing, metallic debris, burning many of them to death.”

“I watched a second wave of high-level dive bombers now concentrating their efforts on the Nevada as we slowly proceeded up the channel, and heard cheers coming from crews of other ships, encouraging us onward,” his letter continued. “Although there were many near misses, as indicated by numerous waterspouts, numerous bombs made their mark and severely damaged the forecastle bridge and the boat deck area. The Nevada was given orders to beach itself so as to avoid blocking the channel to prevent other ships from entering or leaving.”

Sehe stayed with the Nevada for the rest of the war. After it was rebuilt and up-gunned, the venerable old battleship and the young man from Geneva saw plenty more action, including at the Aleutians, Utah Beach, the invasion of southern France, plus Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Charles Sehe, now 92 and living in Minnesota, still finds it difficult to share his memories of the Pearl

Music in the parlor of the Historic Edwards Place Among the treasures in the His...

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Music in the parlor of the Historic Edwards Place
Among the treasures in the Historic Edwards Place collection are a set of music books dating to the 1830s and 1850s that belonged to Helen Edwards and her daughter Helen Maria. The songs in these books once filled the parlors of Edwards Place with music at glittering legislative parties when Abraham Lincoln was a guest. Now, the Springfield Art Association is thrilled to bring that music to life once more with a concert in the parlors of Edwards Place. The Wild Columbines will play and sing music from the Edwards’s music books and explain its historical significance at a special concert in the parlors of Edwards Place.
Friday, May 29, 7 pm • $10
Call 217-523-2631

Happy birthday, Illinois State Historical Society!! On this date in 1899, the Il...

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Happy birthday, Illinois State Historical Society!!
On this date in 1899, the Illinois State Historical Society was established in Urbana, Illinois, by professional and amateur historians, archaeologists, doctors and lawyers, librarians and researchers, and civic-minded individuals who wanted to preserve, protect, and promote the history of the Prairie State. The Society set up its headquarters in Springfield the following year and has been the premiere not-for-profit advocate for Illinois history ever since.
Today the Society kicked off its 116th birthday celebration by announcing the establishment of the Third Century Fund, an endowment-building campaign to secure the Society's future for the next 100 years.
Longtime ISHS friends and supporters Rand and Pat Burnette invited ISHS Development Officer Tara Winters and Executive Director William Furry to their Jacksonville home today to present the Society with a $20,000 gift to support the Third Century Fund, and to kick off the endowment campaign.
Rand Burnette, president of the Society from 2001-2003, is professor of history emeritus from MacMurray College (he also taught at Carthage College, both in Carthage, Illinois and Kenosha, Wisconsin). Pat taught at MacMurray College and at Illinois College, and has an article published in the current Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society.
The Society's Third Century Fund is dedicated to see that the Society continues to fulfill its mission to "foster awareness, understanding, research, preservation, and recognition of history in Illinois." The Society is a registered 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization sustained solely by its membership and programs, and through donations and grants from corporations and individuals like you. To find out how you can support the Society's mission, make a donation, bequest, of otherwise contribute to the cause, call 217-525-2781 and ask for Tara.

Photo caption: ISHS Development Officer Tara Winter with Pat and Rand Burnette, founding contributors to the Society's Third Century Fund. Photo by William Furry.

Chicago History Museum "Illinois Resident Free Days" There's only one place in t...

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Chicago History Museum "Illinois Resident Free Days"
There's only one place in the world dedicated to the history of the Windy City--the Chicago History Museum, and for Illinois residents the museum is open free on the following days in 2015: July 4, August 17-21, 24-28, 31, and September 1-3. If you are an Illinois resident, take advantage of this unique benefit. The Museum is open Mon-Sat, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Sundays from noon 5 p.m. For group visits call 312-642-4600.
The CHM is located at the south end of Lincoln Park, 1601 North Clark Street, Chicago.
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