Davenporters of Note: Julie Jensen McDonald

“I’ve set a lot of things in Iowa, and this is home.  I know it, and I think you should always try to write about what you know . . . And also, there are a certain set of values in Iowa that I think are useful to a writer like discipline, working hard, and being fairly open and unafraid of other people and other ideas.”

—Julie Jensen McDonald, Outstanding Iowa Women

Julie Jensen McDonald, author and journalist, was born on June 22, 1929, in Audubon County, Iowa, to Alfred and Myrtle Jensen.  She graduated from Harlan High School in 1947 and earned her journalism degree from the University of Iowa, graduating Phi Beta Kappa.  Her first writing job was the society editorship for the Rockford Morning Star and the Rockford Register – Republic.

But it certainly wouldn’t be her last.

She married Elliot R. ‘Jack” McDonald, Jr., a Davenport native, on May 6, 1952.  They moved to Washington, DC, and began a family.  And Julie Jensen McDonald began to write fiction, selling her first story for the princely sum of $6.50.  Her first novel, Amalie’s Story, was published in 1970.

The family moved to Davenport, and Mrs. McDonald soon became a correspondent for The Davenport Times-Democrat, just before the paper changed its name to The Quad-City Times.  She continued to write articles for local newspapers for almost fifty years, retiring from The Rock Island Argus in 2012.

During those years, she also wrote over thirty books—including historical fiction, biographies, cookbooks, local histories, and collections of personal essays—and several plays, some of which were produced by the Davenport Junior Theater and other local theater troupes.JensenMcDonald

Her work earned her several awards and an honorary degree from St. Ambrose University, where she offered lectures in fiction writing and journalism.  An avid supporter of her fellow writers, she taught at the University of Iowa Summer Writer’s Workshop, and provided seminars to elementary and high school students as part of a Writer-in-the-Schools residency program.  She volunteered at the Midwest Writing Center, and served as director for a time.

Mrs. McDonald’s community involvement didn’t stop at the literary:  she served as Chairperson of the Iowa Arts Council from 1969 to 1973, was a Trustee of the Davenport Art Museum and on the committee for the Figge Art Museum.  She also held memberships in the local chapter the PEO Sisterhood International, the Danish Sisterhood, the Scottish American Society of the Quad Cities, and Clan Donald USA.

Julie Jensen McDonald passed away on November 25, 2013, leaving behind a literary legacy that will be difficult to match.


Many of Mrs. McDonald’s books have been archived in our Special Collections Center, and the articles she wrote for the Davenport newspapers, as well as articles about her are included in our microfilm collections:

Pathways to the Present in 50 Iowa and Illinois Communities (SC 977.7 McD — there is also a circulating copy available)

High-Rise (SC 812.54 McD)

Nils Discovers America: Adventures with Erik (SC FIC McD)

Reaching: a novel (SC FIC McD)

Scandinavian Proverbs (SC 398.939 McD — there is also a circulating copy available)

The Watkins Man (SC FIC McD — there is also a circulating copy available)

Baby Black (SC FIC McD)

Chautauqua Summer (SC FIC McD)

Definitely Danish: Denmark and Danish Americans History, Culture, Recipes (SC 948.9 McD)

Ruth Buxton Sayre, first lady of the farm (SC 301.412 McD)

The Sailing Out (SC FIC MCD)

Young Rakes: a Novel (SC FIC McD)

Amalie’s Story (SC FIC McD)

The Ballad of Bishop Hill (SC FIC MCD — there is also a circulating copy available)

The Heather and The Rose (SC FIC McD — there is also a circulating copy available)

North of the Heart (SC FIC McD)

The Odyssey of a Museum: a short history of the Putnam Museum of History and Natural Science 1867-1992 (SC 708.73 MCD — there is also a circulating copy available)

Petra: “on this rock I will build…” (SC FIC McD)

A Diary of Personal prayer (SC 242.8 McD)

Good Graces: table prayers (SC 242.8 McD)

Danish Proverbs (SC 398.93981 Dan)




Hanft, Ethel W.  Outstanding Iowa Women. [Muscatine, Iowa : River Bend Pub.], 1980.  (SC 301.412 Han)

“Julie McDonald.” Quad-City Times, 25Nov2013.

Posted in Local History | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Library Closed for Thanksgiving Holiday!

The Davenport Public Library
and our Special Collections Center

will be closed

Thursday and Friday, November 28th and 29th

for Thanksgiving.

Turkey Note!

We WILL be open our usual hours on Saturday, November 30th

Enjoy your holiday!

Posted in Local History | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Turkey Fun Turkey Pun!

Turkey Note!It’s time to start thinking about writing those Turkey Notes again!

Don’t know what Turkey Notes are? Our best explanation for this Davenport tradition of sharing questionable poetry can be found here.

And our best staff efforts this year can be found here:

Turkey Note!3Turkey Always
Turkey Never
[Turkey says
Something clever]

Turkey Muskets
Turkey Rifles
Turkey read
Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles”

Turkey Pink
Turkey Gray
Boy, oh boy—
It’s next Thursday?!

Turkey Red
Turkey White
Turkey says
Please, don’t bite!

Turkey Quack
Turkey Moo
Turkey says
To serve tofu!

Turkey Kinged
Turkey Rooked
How do you like
Your Turkey cooked?

Turkey dull
Turkey bright
Turkey’s full
Thanksgiving night.Turkey Note!2

Turkey warm
Turkey cold
Thankful for these
Hands to hold.

Once again, we invite you to add your own verses in the comments—and to share them with your family and friends, too.


Turkey Silver
Turkey Gold
Turkey says
Turkey Notes never get old!

Posted in Local History | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Remembering the Rock Island Prisoner Barracks

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Rock Island Barracks. We remember this event in conjunction with Veterans’ Day.


“A Depot for Rebel Prisoners – The Government has concluded to make Rock Island a depot for rebel prisoners and will at once proceed to build prison barracks to accommodate twelve to fifteen thousand of the gentry. We are informed by a prominent military gentleman that it is prepared to make this a permanent depot, and that none but first class substantial barracks will be built. The work of erecting the buildings will be commenced at once, and pushed ahead as rapidly as possible.”

The Daily Democrat and News, July 27, 1863.

The news that a Confederate prisoner of war camp was about to be established in the middle of the Mississippi River (“Rock Island” in this case meant the island, not the city) may or may not have come as a surprise to local citizens by July of 1863. Davenport and surrounding towns had seen the designation of the Arsenal in 1862 and the creation of several local Union military training camps since the start of the war.

In addition, one camp, Camp McClellan, had already been divided to create Camp Kearny, which between April 1863 and April 1866 imprisoned just over 300 members of the Minnesota Territories Sioux tribe captured by the United States Army after the attack on the Lower Sioux Indian Agency in 1862.  So the idea of a prison wasn’t new, either.

On July 29th the Daily Democrat and News reported a site had been chosen on the island near the Colonel Davenport property. This put the prison on the north side of the island facing the Mississippi River and Davenport. Soon work was begun by 150 men to clear timber and build barracks.  Wells were also dug with great difficulty as limestone had to be broken through before the water table was reached.

Along with barracks, the newspaper noted that warehouses to store supplies for the camp were also being erected. A slaughter house was constructed and hogs moved onto the island in preparation for the arrival of prisoners and guards.  It was good timing as one hundred and fifty soldiers from the Invalid Corps arrived on November 13, 1863 in preparation for guarding the camp.

It wasn’t until November 1863 that work began on twelve buildings that would house guards, officers, and administrative offices. The Daily Democrat and News reported on November 20, 1863: “It will be several more weeks yet before everything is ready for the accommodation of the rebels.”

On December 1, 1863 the Daily Democrat and News ran a column describing what still needed to be built in the camp. The list included eight guard barracks; 10 officers’ quarters; headquarters for the Post Commandant, Provost Marshal, and clerical force among positions mentioned; another store house; coal house; and two stables. On December 2nd the Democrat published a call for donations of straw for the bedding of the Invalid Corps guards who had been stationed at the camp since November 13th.

The camp was still not prepared on December 3, 1863, when 468 Confederate prisoners arrived at the camp from the battles of Chattanooga, Tennesee. Most of the new prisoners were originally from Mississippi and arrived ill-prepared for the harsh winter of Illinois. By December 31, 1863, five thousand prisoners were in camp with more coming daily.

The Rock Island Barracks held Confederate prisoners from December 1863 until July 1865. Eventually, it sat on 12 acres of land that included prisoner barracks, guard barracks, officers’ quarters, administration buildings, supply buildings, and several hospitals.

Just over twelve thousand Confederate prisoners were held at the camp and nearly two thousand of them died. They are buried in the Confederate Cemetery on  Arsenal Island. One hundred and twenty-five guards also died at the camp, and are buried in what became the Rock Island National Cemetery, which is still active today.

(posted by Amy D.)


*Later called the Veterans Reserve Corps.

Sources Used:

Daily Democrat and News, August 11, 1863

Daily Democrat and News, August 18, 1863

Daily Democrat and News, October 23, 1863

Daily Democrat and News, November 13, 1863

Posted in Local History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Brilliant Nuptials of Elise Koehler and Theophilus Brown

Koehler Brown bride 4

On the 28th of November, 1913, Miss Elise Jane Koehler, daughter of Oscar and Mathilde Koehler, married Theophilus Brown at 7 o’clock in the evening at the Davenport Unitarian Church.

The Koehler family was very well known in Davenport, and the Davenport Democrat published a full-length column on the event two days later, adding color and detail to our archived photographs of the bride:

“She was dressed in a gown of white charmeuse made with full court train and trimmed in Carrick ma-Cross hand-made lace.  The long wedding veil of English tulle fell to the hem of the gown from beneath daintily fashioned cap of the tulle, that was wreathed with natural orange blossoms.  She wore as her only ornament a pendant of sapphires and diamonds set in platinum, the gift of the groom, and the bridal bouquet was of lilies of the valley in shower arrangement.  The bride carried her mother’s wedding handkerchief of lace.”

Koehler Brown Bride2

Although we have no images of the full bridal party in our collections, the wedding announcement tells us that the maid of honor was Otillie Koehler, the bride’s sister, and their two younger sisters, Ida and Hildegarde, were the flower girls.  The sister of the groom, Kate Brown, was the bridesmaid.

It also tells us that the attendants wore yellow and white, and carried yellow roses:

“The maid of honor and bridesmaid were both in yellow brocaded charmeuse dresses.  These were made intraine:  That of Miss Koehler being trimmed in yellow lace, and she wore gold ornaments in her hair.  Miss Brown’s dress was trimmed in white lace.”

For those interested in the fashionable details, the article goes on to describe the decorations of the church in great detail, and also the reception, which was at the Koehler home on 104 East Locust Street–even to mentioning the floral table arrangements for the guests who had to be seated in the basement!

For the researcher, there are genealogical gems as well:  the bride was escorted down the aisle by her uncle, as her father had passed away some time before.  The groom’s sister is named, as well as several out of town guests who might be part of the family tree, or at least provide geographical locations to search.  And there’s even mention of the bride’s grandfathers, both prominent men.

We wish all wedding announcements were this informative—and easy to find—but even with half the column inches, these resources can help bring the past to life!

Koehler Brown Bride


Sources Used:

“Brown-Koehler Wedding Brilliant Society Event.” Davenport Democrat, November 30, 1913, p.6.

Upper Mississippi Valley Digital Image Archive

Posted in Local History | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The West Side Railroad Ghost

Stories of ghostly lights on railroad tracks may be found all around the United States, and Davenport is no different.

In January 1876, the Davenport Daily Gazette covered the adventures of our own ghostly railroad specter. It may have been short-lived, but by the newspaper’s account was frightening enough to cause great excitement among west end residents.

According to the article published on January 15, 1876  the “wondrously strange spectacle” had started right before Christmas along the C. R. I. & P. Railroad tracks west of Fillmore Street. Around midnight, a ghostly light.described as brighter than a railroad worker’s oil lamp, would appear. The light would follow the tracks until it reached the yard of St. Mary’s Church (located at Fillmore and 6th Streets, and at that point would mysteriously disappear.

The Gazette told of the terror felt by the hundred or so citizens who had seen the spooky light. Locals guessed at the source;  one thought was the spirit of a victim of the three card monte men who had jumped from a train at that spot. a group of about ten men set out one night to capture the light, but fled in terror upon seeing it.

Interestingly, the newspaper noted that the light only appeared when the moon was bright.

The Gazette reported on January 17th that a group of fifty men went to the spot on Fillmore where the light was known to start to “interview the flaming ghost” on Saturday night. The men broke into groups along the track for a length of three miles and stayed from about midnight until 2:00 a.m. No flaming light appeared.

A few nights later, the mystery was solved.

GhostGazette reported on January 18th that a railroad worker had waited until midnight and caught three young boys at the tracks on Sunday night. In their possession were long tubes filled with oil and homemade rags made into wicks. Also long poles painted black had been fastened to the tubes.

The boys would walk along the lower edge of the track which kept them hidden from view. They would raise or lower the lights as they wanted then disappear with them into the area filled with trees near the church yard.

That, needless to say, was the end of the west side railroad spook light.

Does anyone know any other railroad ghost light stories around Davenport? We would love to hear about them!

(posted by Amy D.)

Posted in Local History | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Second Chance of Mr. Teeples

Well, sometimes, it happens.

Sometimes the same old story has a twist, and people are given a change to change the ending.

There was a fellow in 1857 by the name of Teeples who made the grave mistake of stealing a horse in Scott County, Iowa.

Unfortunately for him, Scott County had a Vigilance Committee—a kind of volunteer police force—to take care of things like that.

Mr. Teeples luck was bad from the beginning.  He was caught in the act of stealing the horse from its pasture and when the Vigilance Committee heard the news, they didn’t wait for the sheriff—they took the law into their own hands.

Mr. Teeples was immediately “tried” and sentenced, then tied up and dragged to a tree.

They hanged him until he was dead.

Or that’s how the story usually ends.

It seems that in their great haste to string up the horse thief, the Committee didn’t fashion a very good noose.  And Mr. Teeples was a burly man with a strong neck and decent acting skills.

The Committee went on their way and told Mr. Teeples’ friends to claim his body.

His friends went to cut him down and found him alive and well, if suffering from rope burns on his neck and a new appreciation for his own mortality.

So when the Vigilance Committee hurried back to try again, Mr. Teeples begged for his life and also offered the names of several other horse thieves and counterfeiters in the area.

The Vigilante Committee spared his life.

As we haven’t come across his name in the newspapers since, we wonder if his change of heart stuck?

(posted by Pat)



“Another Man Hung.” Davenport Democrat, July 7, 1857

Posted in Local History | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

All the Way Bach: The Music Students Club

MusicOn October 7 of 1883, three women met in the Episcopal rectory on 3rd Street to enjoy a musical afternoon. Celeste Fejervary, who was trained in voice, organ, and piano, Miss Gertrude Wilkinson, who also sang, and Mrs. David Garrett, wife of the Episcopal rector, decided to meet weekly to share performances and informal musical instruction.

They met throughout the winter, and added a new member the following year, Mrs. Robert Smith, who was the organist at Grace (now Trinity) Cathedral. They also decided on a name for their group: The Bach Club.

By 1885, the club had grown to ten, and by the next year, had twenty-five members and a new name: The Music Students Club.

The Club put on many performances, both for their members and as fundraisers, and continued their studies of the history of music, covering Italian opera to German composers, American musicians to the French oeuvre. In 1893, they put on a program for the National Convention of Amateur Music Clubs at the Columbian World’s Fair in Chicago—and won fourth place.

In 1931, the Club presented a paper at the Biennial Convention at the Iowa Federation of Music Clubs, in recognition of its position as the oldest federated club in Iowa. In 1958, The Music Students Club celebrated their 75th Anniversary.

Over the next fifty-five years, the club continued to explore the world of music, eventually merging with the Etude Club, the Music Lovers Club, and other local and like-minded organizations.

Recently, our Special Collections Center received a donation that includes early yearbooks, minutes, images, scrapbooks, and other items from many of the music clubs of Davenport.

We are pleased to be chosen to preserve the history of Davenport’s appreciation for music so that it will be still be available to the public when the Club celebrates its 150th Anniversary—and beyond.

*Wickham, Ina. “Music Club has Past, Future.” The Davenport Daily Times, 6Oct1958, p.15.

Posted in Library, Local History | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Sequestration Frustrations

Frustrated with the sequestration?   We are too!

Library of Congress header

Due to the temporary shutdown of the federal government, the Library of Congress is closed to the public and researchers beginning October 1, 2013 until further notice.

All public events are cancelled and web sites are inaccessible except the legislative information sites THOMAS.gov and beta.congress.gov.

Many of the sources that researchers and staff at the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center rely upon are unfortunately unavailable “until further notice”. The Library of Congress’ historic newspaper website “Chronicling America” is inaccessible, as is the National Archives and many of their records.  There can be no blogging, no tweeting, no posts to Facebook during the shutdown.

All Presidential libraries are closed, so teachers across the state will need to reschedule their Iowa History Study field trips.  Limitations on the National Historical Publications and Records Commission grant funding go into effect as well.

The New York Times printed an article on May 3, 2013 sharing concerns about the sequestration and the Library of Congress. Quoting from that article by Jennifer Steinhauer:

“The Library of Congress is home to an unrivaled history of the nation’s wars, presidencies, culture and place in the world.

Millions of Americans use the library each year through research visits and on tours, or by checking out its Web site or registering their claims to copyright.

The Library of Congress spent $1 million in fiscal 2012 to digitize parts of the collections, but that budget will be reduced to $500,000 in the current fiscal year. As with all across-the-board cuts made under sequestration, the fear is that it will take the library years to dig itself out.”

Some of the websites remain active because of cooperative agreements with non-federal institutions, such as the relatively new site “Founders Online.” So you can still access thousands of records from George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison and see firsthand the growth of democracy and the birth of the Republic on that site.

Here’s hoping that today’s government officials can approach these issues with the vision of those Founders…and soon.

(Posted by Karen)


Posted in Local History | Leave a comment

Davenporters of Note: Ernest Carl Oberholtzer

2272 - Oberholtzer

Ernest Carl Oberholtzer, 1955

Ernest Carl “Ober” Oberholtzer was born in Davenport, Iowa on February 6, 1884.  His parents divorced when he was six, and he and his mother went to live with his maternal grandparents, Ernest and Sarah Carl, at 126 East 6th Street.

When he was seventeen, Ober had a bout of rheumatic fever so severe that his doctor gave him one year to live.   However, Ober recovered enough—and caught up on his schoolwork well enough—to be accepted to Harvard.

After graduating, and with prospects of a career in landscape architecture, Ober visited the Minnesota-Ontario border for a summer and soon decided that he’d rather spend his life exploring, observing, and writing about the untouched wilderness of northern Minnesota.

His stories captivated their audiences, as did his marvelous photographs of the area, some of which are archived in the Special Collections Center of our library :

2268 - Moose

Quetico Provincial Park, 1909

2282 - Native Family

DuBrochet, Ontario, 1912

When he was thirty-five, Ober bought Mallard Island, near Quetico National Park, and lived there for the next fifty years, lecturing and lobbying for the preservation of the land and the culture of the Ojibwa tribe, with whom he had become good friends.

2279 - Oberholtzer Home

Mallard Island, Minnesota

Although Ober never lived in Davenport again during his lifetime, he and his mother remained close until her death.  She left him her house at  35 Oak Lane in Davenport and a shop at 422 West Second Street. The income from the business supported him for the rest of his life.

2273 - Oberholtzer and mother

Ernest and Rosa Oberholtzer, c. 1920

Ober helped form the Quetico-Superior Council, which was established to protect the area from developers and commercial businesses.  He agreed to serve as president for the first few years, though his fellow members managed to kept him in that position for almost thirty.  In 1934, President Roosevelt appointed Ober the leader of a Quentico-Superior Committee, giving him federal backing for his conservation work.

To make a long, interesting story woefully short, Ober continued his preservation efforts  throughout his life, and was instrumental in pushing through several laws protecting the natural resources not only for Minnesota, but for the entire country.

On March 22, 1967, the Department of the Interior recognized his contribution by presenting him with their Distinguished Service Award—the highest honor they can give a private citizen.

Mr. Oberholzter died on June 6, 1977 in International Falls, Minnesota, and is buried in Oakdale Cemetery.  His gravestone reads as follows:

Ernest Carl Oberholtzer
His Indian name for Storyteller
Feb. 6, 1884–June 6, 1977



Historical Photograph Collection, Davenport Public Library

“Oberholtzer Dies; Famed Naturalist.” Davenport Democrat, June 8, 1977,  p. 30.

Paddock, Joe. Keeper of the Wild: The Life of Ernest Oberholtzer (St. Paul, Minn.: Minnesota Historical Society Press), 2001.

Upper Mississippi Valley Digital Image Archive


Posted in Local History | Tagged , | 1 Comment