Davenport’s First Chinese Immigrants

In honor of Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month, we’ve put our minds to uncovering the earliest Davenporters of Asian descent: Chinese immigrants in the laundry business.

This advertisment ran daily in the Davenport Gazette daily from June 26-July 3rd, 1875, the first evidence of a “Chinese Laundry” available in the city:

We found no further information about the location at 115 East Second Street (between Brady and Perry) in the 1870s, or Sam Lee, who offered “All kinds of laundry work done in the best manner.”

The 1882-83 city directory for Davenport introduces Y. A. Lung and the Sing Wah (Wah Sing?) Bros.:

The 1885 Iowa state census for Davenport has both Lungs (Yee, Hen) and Wahs (Sing, James Em, Jo), all males in their twenties, living and working in laundries on Perry Street:

These are local newspaper advertisements from the spring of 1887 for both families’ establishments:

Hen Lee’s laundry at 434 Brady Street had been their competition since at least 1884, when the the first advertisement below appeared (Davenport Democrat, 15 Aug); the second is contemporary with Lung and Wah’s (Morning Democrat, 3 Apr 1887).

The “Chinese Laundry” locations labeled on the 1886 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for Davenport correspond with addresses in the ads: Ye Lung at 317 Perry, Sing Wah at 309 Perry (both on East side between 3rd and 4th Streets), and Hen Lee at 434 Brady (SW corner of Brady and 5th Streets).

These businesses were active from the 1880s through the turn of the century, though it was mostly their misfortunes that made it into the newspapers. Ye Lung’s laundry was robbed on October 26, 1886, and although the report employed several negative racial stereotypes about Chinese Americans (also African Americans and Irish Americans) in describing the event, we do learn that Lung (and perhaps others in the local Chinese community) had not assimilated as far as personal appearance went. It noted that he wore a single braid and traditional dress.

One of Hen Lee’s employees was badly beaten near the laundry in the early morning of September 20, 1896. Luckily for us, the report does provide the names of two Chinese men in Davenport that are not recorded elsewhere: the victim, San Yon, and his fellow worker, Joe Chin. Unfortunately, we have not found further information about either man.

Hen Lee himself appears to have been as much a perpetrator as a victim of crimes in the city. A January 1895 tobacco-chewing “match” between he and his neighbor, cigar maker Theodore Kuehl, escalated into a “shooting scrape.” (Daily Leader, 8 February) Lee pled guilty to “lewdness” before the police court in early April 1903; he had been found with a known sex worker Emma Kranz in a back room of his laundry. (Davenport Morning Star, 3 April) Sam Lee’s objection to being confused with this Han Lee, as reported in the Daily Times for April 3, lets us know that by this time there was a fourth laundryman of Chinese descent in the city; his establishment was located at 514 West Second Street.

Accidents also made the news. The Lung, Wah, and Hen Lee laundries all had their windows damaged at some point during this period. A man was pushed into Ye Lung’s window in July 1889; in December 1891, a man named St. Clair sent a woman named Nora Winston through Sing Wah’s front window with a punch, the result being “to thoroughly ventilate Sing’s place of business.” (Davenport Democrat, 11 Dec ) At Hen Lee’s, in April 1893, a “…howling spring zephyr ricocheted in some mysterious way across the railroad track and smashed the glass, leaving an opening big enough to shove a bale of hay through.” (Daily Leader, 7 April)

We’ll conclude this review of the history of Chinese Americans in Davenport on a positive note, by noting some positive reports, both involving Sing Wah. He was praised by the Davenport Democrat for his contributions to the Art Museum that opened in June of 1882:

Sing Wah was also among the group of Tri-City laundrymen who threw a Chinese New Year party for the First Presbyterian Sunday School teachers in February of 1894 (Davenport Daily Leader, 8 February). This was done in thanks for an invitation to the Church’s Christmas supper.

As always, please let us know if you have additional information on the early Chinese community in Davenport to share!

(posted by Katie)

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Davenport in the Digital Public Library of America

Would you like to explore the history of Davenport and Scott County but are unable to travel to our Special Collections Center to peruse our shelves and archives? With the dedicated work of the Digital Public Library of America and its contributors, you can easily access books, maps, and other sources from anywhere in the world. This extraordinary project, launched in the spring of 2013, brings together the digital collections created by libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions from across the country.

To find these fascinating items about our region, search for “Davenport, Iowa,” “Scott County, Iowa,” and other keywords to find desired titles and subjects. The search functionality is easy and simple for all users.

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. “Davenport, Iowa” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed May 14, 2024. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/11491ca0-c5ee-012f-8b69-58d385a7bc34

As we search for Davenport-related materials, we discover Civil War resources, contract cards for Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), and John Henry Hauberg Papers from Augustana College to name a few eye-catching results. One can also find and read several key histories of the area through this valuable resource such as the works of Mr. Harry E. Downer, Mr. Franc B. Wilkie, and many others. Other source materials such as Geschichte der stadt Davenport und der County Scott : nebst seitenblicken auf das territorium und den staat Iowa in German are also available.

“Davenport, past and present: including the early history, and personal and anecdotal reminiscences of Davenport ; together with biographies, likenesses of its prominent men ; compendious articles upon physical, industrial, social and political characteristics of the city ; statistics of every department of note or interest, & c. / by Franc B.Wilkie.” In the digital collection Making of America Books. https://name.umdl.umich.edu/afk4431.0001.001. University of Michigan Library Digital Collections. Accessed May 15, 2024.
Huebinger, M. & Co. (109) Sketch of Scott County. Scott County and Davenport City Offices. Descriptive Sketch of Davenport, Iowa.,Atlas of Scott County, Iowa. Containing Also Maps Of The Three Cities, Davenport, Rock Island, And Moline, Rock Island Arsenal, Rock Island Rapids And The Hennepin Canal. Compiled And Drawn From Surveys And Records By M. Huebinger, C.E. Davenport, Ia. 1894. Published By M. Huebinger & Co. M. Huebinger Fecit.,Text: Sketches of Scott County and Davenport, Iowa.. 1894. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, https://www.davidrumsey.com/luna/servlet/detail/RUMSEY~8~1~255375~5519766. (Accessed May 15, 2024.)
https://www.davidrumsey.com/luna/servlet/detail/RUMSEY~8~1~255375~5519766#

Interestingly, we also found one of the most treasured artifacts in our collection, this Map of the City of Davenport and its Suburbs from 1857. This map shows the early growth of the City and its surrounding communities.

Hogane, James T. “Map of the city of Davenport and its suburbs, Scott County, Iowa.” Map. Iowa: s.n., 1857. Digital Commonwealth, https://ark.digitalcommonwealth.org/ark:/50959/4m90f963p (accessed May 14, 2024). https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:4m90f963p

We discovered that other Iowa institutions have collections of Davenport materials like this postcard of the Suburban Island pavilion held at Grinnell College.

Pavilion, Suburban Island, Davenport, Iowa. 1910. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, https://digital.grinnell.edu/islandora/object/grinnell:18454. (Accessed May 15, 2024.)

Created by the Huebinger Brothers the next two items offer early views of the City of Davenport, its buildings and structures, and details about its history and people. To learn more about the Huebingers, specifically Melchior Huebinger, we invite you to watch our Opening the Box program on YouTube.

This short note was written by our famed Alice French, pen name Octave Thanet, is found at the Boston Public Library. Alice was a well-known author in the latter part of the 19th and the early 20th century. It has made us curious to find other letters and materials relating to her in different libraries. We have another resource for those interested in learning about this figure of Davenport’s history which is our Research Guide on Alice French.

Thanet, Octave, and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. “Alice French (Octave Thanet) autograph note signed to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Davenport, Iowa, 12 October.” Manuscript. [ca. 1870–1911]. Digital Commonwealth, https://ark.digitalcommonwealth.org/ark:/50959/5712ns20j (accessed May 15, 2024).

Lastly, we found these two maps in the DPLA long list of results. The first is the 1950 map of the Enumeration Districts of the City of Davenport. As many of you may know, the 1950 census was released two years ago. So if you want to explore the resources relating to this census, click on the map below!

Department of Commerce. Bureau of the Census. Office of the Associate Director for Decennial Census. Geography Division. (1/1987 – 7/15/2011). 1950 Census Enumeration District Maps – Iowa (IA) – Scott County – Davenport – ED 101-1 to 118. 1880-01-01/1990-12-31. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, http://catalog.archives.gov/id/19078337. (Accessed May 15, 2024.)

The second map and final item on this list is this unique-looking map created in 1957. It showcases the cities of Davenport and Bettendorf. It overlays images of each city on top of the respective areas that make up the municipalities.

Maporama. Davenport, Bettendorf / Maporama illustrated map enterprises. 1957. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, http://collections.lib.uwm.edu/cdm/ref/collection/agdm/id/33411. (Accessed May 15, 2024.)

We hope you have a delightful time exploring Davenport’s history and hope you go on an adventure to discover the past with this fantastic resource!

(posted by Kathryn)

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The Cyclone Events of May 9th and 19th, 1918

May 9, 1918 had been a dreary day in Scott County, Iowa. Earlier in the day rain and hail had covered the area. Finally, in late afternoon the skies began to clear and a rainbow appeared. In the small agricultural town of Eldridge, Scott County, Iowa, (population just over 200 at that time) those who lived in town were arriving settling down to dinner while those who lived on the numerous farms on the outskirts were finishing chores before their evening meal.

Witnesses in Eldridge would later say it was a large cloud that was passing overhead at about 6:30 p.m. that caught their attention. It quickly changed shaped as a portion of the cloud descended down in a swirling mass just north of town. As the winds began to roar, neighbors in town began to shout to each other that a cyclone* was heading their way and to take cover.

The Morning Democrat, June 9, 1957.

There was little warning for those on the northern outskirts of Eldridge. Those who could tried to shelter in cellars while others only had time to take cover in their homes or outbuildings. Many farms were in the direct path of the cyclone. By 7:00 p.m. the citizens of Eldridge on the southern edge of town called Davenport for help. The phone lines in the northern and central part of the town were down and those on the southern edge lasted just long enough for calls to be made.

The Davenport police department quickly gathered all the officers they could locate and phoned the hospitals for doctors and nurses. A caravan of cars raced towards Eldridge to assist. Local newspapers quickly picked up on the stories of those directly affected by the storm and printed them over the following days.

The Davenport Democrat, May 10, 1918. Pg. 1

Over twenty people suffered injuries. An estimated six houses in town were destroyed while two farms were considered total losses. Many more houses and farms suffered damage, but could be repaired.

Fred Bismark Rohlf, who worked for the Peter Schneckloth family, was outside when the cyclone hit. He grabbed onto the nearest tree which ultimately broke. Fortunately, the tree stump remained intact and Fred survived the storm.

The Daily Times, May 10, 1918. Pg. 1

Sixteen-year-old Emma Dammann had just returned home with her mother from town. Years later she would recount the event for the Morning Democrat on June 9, 1957. The pair couldn’t see the western sky as they entered the house and only realized a cyclone was coming when the roar of the wind could be heard. Mother and daughter had to go outside to get to the cellar doors, but the kitchen door refused to open with the wind pressure. Finally, the windows began to break and the door opened. Her mother went first and made it to the cellar doors.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader, May 10, 1918. Pg. 13

Emma had stopped in the doorway when she was suddenly sucked out by the wind. She was carried/dragged for about 300 to 500 feet before landing in a pile of debris. Neighbors saw her being carried by the wind and rushed to dig her out when the storm passed. Emma was hospitalized with a broken collarbone, twisted knee, cuts, bruises, and knocked out teeth. Her shoes were torn apart and her dress was shredded. The nurses at the hospital spent days combing the tangles from her hair so it would not be cut off. Her mother was injured by flying pieces of wood, but both recovered.

dpl2016-13.008a. The north side of Eldridge after the cyclone on May 9, 1918.

The Peter Schneckloth family lost everything in the cyclone. Their home was directly in the cyclone’s path. Mr. Schneckloth suffered a scalp wound, Mrs. Schneckloth suffered bruising and sprained ankle, and 5-year-old Ella Schneckloth suffered a similar fate to Emma Dammann. She was pulled into the winds and thrown about 50 feet. She survived with a broken collarbone and cuts and bruises.

The John Priest farm also was hit by the cyclone. John Priest suffered serious cuts and bruises, but his wife was more severely hurt with a broken arm, broken ribs, and internal injuries. The couple had taken shelter in their cellar, but the house collapsed during the high winds sending timbers and wood down on the couple. Nothing was left of their house.

On the Peter Arp farm, Mr. Arp had just returned from the fields when the cyclone struck. He had been putting the horses in the barn when they became frightened by the roaring noise. The horses bolted and trampled Mrs. Helena Arp who was nearby. The elderly Mrs. Arp suffered a broken leg, dislocated shoulder, cuts, and internal injuries. A coat and papers from the Arp home were later found twelve miles away in LeClaire, Iowa.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader, May 10, 1918. Pg. 13

The majority of other injuries were cuts and bruises caused by flying debris. Most did not require hospitalization.

It was estimated that the cyclone was about 900 feet wide and was on the ground for about six miles. Stories came out of a hen house being carried through the air and landing thirty feet away. The hen house remained intact and when inspected still had a hen sitting on a nest inside. An outbuilding was reported to have been picked up and carried over a house and then deposited on the other side. The most unusual occurrence may have been a 1500-pound horse that was in a field on the Dammann property. It was picked up and carried an estimated 1,000 feet and landed uninjured.

dpl2016-13.003a. On back is written” John Baker’s horse carried from Damann’s pasture to field east of town. Dario Wuestenberg, Eldridge, Iowa”.

By the next day, members of surrounding communities came to Eldridge to begin clearing away the debris and rebuilding. Those who lost their homes were welcomed into their neighbors’ while repairs were made. On farms, workers immediately began to rebuild barns and animal sheds before tackling houses. Damage was estimated at $200,000. With today’s inflation rates, that would be over 6 million dollars in 2024. Most families did not have insurance so funds were raised to help people rebuild.

dpl2016-13.004a. Lumber yard and Standard Oil.

Sadly, Mrs. Amelia Priest died from her injuries on May 13th. She was 59 years old and was buried in Fairview Cemetery in Park View, Scott County. Her husband, John, died on February 13, 1919 at the Scott County Poor Farm. He never fully recovered from his injuries.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader. May 14, 1918. Pg. 4

Sunday, May 19, 1918 proved similar weather to that of May 9th. The morning had begun with rain, but by lunchtime the skies were clearing. Bernhardt Hofsrud, his wife, and three children decided on an outing with their friends, the Brice Johnson family. The two families drove out to see the damage caused by the May 9th cyclone and then motored to nearby Crystal Lake to picnic.

As the two families enjoyed their lunch and fishing, they noted storm clouds gathering. They quickly loaded their cars and began the journey home with the Johnson family ahead of the Hofsrud vehicle. They were on the main road back to Eldridge when the storm began just north of the city. The Johnson vehicle turned off the tree lined road into a farm drive and ran into the nearby farmhouse for shelter.

Just as the Hofsrud vehicle entered into the stretch of tree line road a roaring sound was heard. Witnesses would later say there might have been more than one cyclone that day. All that is known is there was no time for the Hofsrud family to react before a large tree was pulled from the ground and crashed onto their car. Bernhardt Hofsrud was in the driver’s seat with his 18-year-old son Roy behind him. They both died from the impact. Mrs. Emma Hofsrud in the front passenger seat and her daughter in the back seat suffered injuries while another son fell off the rear seat on impact and survived unharmed.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader. May 20, 1918. Pg. 1

Bernhardt and Roy were buried next to each other in Oakdale Cemetery in Davenport. Emma Hofsrud would die on October 12, 1918. She recovered from her injuries, but newspapers reported she never overcame her grief at the loss of her husband and oldest son. Nine-year-old twins, Vincent and Vivian, would go to live with a relative in Chicago, Illinois after their mother’s death.

The Democrat and Leader, May 20, 1918. Pg. 3
The Democrat and Leader, May 20, 1918. Pg. 3

The May 19th cyclone(s) caused damage to farms, telephone lines, and Summit church near Eldridge, but the short length of time the cyclone(s) were on the ground reduced the damage compared to the May 9th cyclone event.

A final fourth death occurred on June 26, 1918 with the passing of Helena Arp, wife of Peter Arp, who was hurt during the cyclone when the horses trampled her in the farm yard. Mrs. Arp never recovered from her injuries and was buried in Pine Hill Cemetery in Davenport.

The Daily Times, June 27, 1918. Pg. 12

With donations from surrounding communities, Eldridge quickly rebuilt from both weather events. The only major building not rebuilt was an older vacant Presbyterian church on the north side of town that was destroyed on May 9th. Once the debris was cleared, the land sat empty until the town created Franklin Park.

dpl2016-13.006a. Remains of the Presbyterian Church.

The Richardson-Sloane Special Collections department is fortunate to have received a donation of photographs and postcards that provide evidence of this historic weather event of 1918.

(posted by Amy D.)

*Cyclone was the term used to describe the tornado of May 1918.

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The Karolyn Hall Luther Photograph Collection

April showers have been giving us a good soaking these last few days of the month — hopefully we will see no flooding along area waterways as a result. The waters of Davenport’s Duck Creek often jumped their banks in the past, and thanks to Karolyn Hall Luther, we have evidence of an instance in the late 1940s-early 1950s. Sometime during this period, Karolyn (and her husband Roy) photographed a summertime flood at her residence, the Davenport Motor Court trailer park at 3202 Harrison Street (close to the Creek). She saved her black and white snapshots in a scrapbook, the pages of which her family has kindly donated to the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center. We’ve recently digitized and uploaded the images in the Karolyn Hall Luther Photograph Collection (#2023-11) to the Upper Mississippi Valley Digital Image Archive (UMVDIA). A selection of these flood photographs is here:

We’ve identified some of the residents of the trailer court from the handwritten names on the images, but please let us know if you have any more information about these families or the location!

Karolyn’s scrapbook includes additional photographs of the trailer court in dryer times, the Davenport waterfront, other scenes in the city, and members of her family inside the Conservatory at Vander Veer Park. As she worked as a nurse at the Annie Wittenmyer/Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home in the early ’40s, there are also some photographs of the staff and children there.

We hope you enjoy this glimpse into the life of a Davenport couple in the 1940s!

(posted by Katie)

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In Memoriam: Mike Weir

Charles Michael “Mike” Weir was born December 8, 1947 in Ottumwa to Gerald and Catherine Roberts Weir. He was a 1966 graduate of Ottumwa High School. He married Janice Downing on December 31, 1970.

Mike Weir was hired on January 29, 1983 to be the Davenport Public Library’s Bookmobile Attendant and Driver. He first drove the retro 1973 Gerstenslager Transit (City Bus) Style bookmobile until it was retired in 1986.

Bookmobile #2 1973-1986

The Davenport Public Library’s next mobile library was the Moroney bookmobile Model BF260 which ran from July 1986 through December 2003.

Bookmobile #3 1986-2003

Both of these iconic library bookmobiles and their drivers/attendants were well known and cherished around the City of Davenport.

After The Library decided retire their bookmobile services, Mike stayed on and became a Senior Clerk in the Customer Service Department on July 1, 2004. He primarily worked at the Annie Wittenmyer Branch until it was closed in 2005, and then he worked at the Fairmount Library when it opened in 2006.

He retired in January 2013 after 30 years of working at the Davenport Public Library.

It is with sorrow, that our treasured bookmobile driver passed away on April 14, 2024 at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City. We wish his family, his colleagues past and present, and any patrons who knew him well during this time.

Please enjoy these photos of Mike from his time spent at The Library!

(posted by Kathryn and Cristina)

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A Quiet Spring Wedding in April

One of our favorite types of materials in our collections are photographs, particularly portraiture. We have a number of collections that feature these types of photographs. One such collection is the Free Studio of Photography Collection which contains photographs taken by the Hostetler and Free Studios.

The portrait we would like to highlight is labeled “Miss Elna Johnson”. It was taken by J.B. Hostetler around 1918. This young lady is wearing a light colored dress with a dark fabric accenting her waist and the bottom part of her skirt. The dress also is embellished with dark colored embroidered details on the top, bottom, and the cuff. She looks stylish with the additions of a dark hat, pearls, and a tasseled purse.

As part of the digitization project, the staff of the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center researched each image with assistance of the handwritten notes by the photography studio. In some cases, we are unable to find information on the individual(s) in the images because they were visiting from outside the area, they were in the Quad-Cities for a brief time, or the name on the envelope didn’t provide us enough information to make a connection with the people in the photos.

Happily, we were able to learn more about “Miss Elna” and her life. Based on information in the Iowa Births and Christenings Index, Elna Pauline Johnson was born October 28, 1897 in Sheridan Township, Scott County, IA to William J. and Matilda (Hofmeister) Johnson. The record was amended in 1943, so it is difficult to read the handwritten changes. She grew up in northern Scott County around Eldridge.

On December 17, 1901, a letter to Santa was printed in The Daily Times for Elna Johnson sharing her Christmas wishes.

According the Federal Censuses, Elna and her family moved from Sheridan Township to Davenport around 1910. It lists William as a carpenter for all three census, and in the 1920 Census, it states his employer as the “Arsenal.”

An interesting article was found published on October 25, 1913. It states that Elna had a farewell party thrown for her by Edna Pahl because her family was going to move to Arkansas. But conversely, in an article published on October 19, 1913, the Bodfer’s Club had a farewell for Elna Johnson who was going to be leaving soon on an extended trip with her parents through the southwest. From the research we have done, we believe they never moved to Arkansas and there may have been some confusion amongst her friends about her long trip.

Elna attended Davenport’s public’s schools as well as far off schools on the East coast. She graduated from Taylor School in 1912. She received her high school degree from Davenport High School in 1918. Based on information published in The Daily Times on September 24, 1918, Miss Elna Johnson she continued her education by attending the Mt. Ida School Seminary for Girls in Boston, Massachusetts from the fall of 1918- early summer of 1919. The school is a young ladies’ finishing school. She graduated in June 1919. She also received a visit from her roommate at Mt. Ida who was from Fort Smith, Arkansas.

After her graduation Mt. Ida Seminary, she moved back to Davenport to live with her parents. She also began to actively participate in social events and organizations like she used to before she left for school. Over the years, she was a member of the following: Delta Kappa Epsilion, Bodfer’s Club (Bodfer’s school), Lend-A-Hand Club, St. John’s Methodist Episcopal Church’s Gleaner’s (Kleaner’s) society.

In between Elna graduating from high school and going of to Boston, she was courted by a young Mr. Walter E. Drummond of Davenport. The announced their engagement in July 1918.

“Johnson-Drummond Engagement Announced.” The Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), Jul. 20,1918, page 6.

101 years ago Elna Pauline Johnson married Walter Ewart Drummond on April 12, 1923 in Davenport. They had a quite wedding with 25 attendees at St. John’s Methodist Episcopal Church now known as St. John’s United Methodist Church.

Walter and Elna had one child, Kent Gorham Drummond. He was born on August 31, 1925. They lived in Davenport according to the United States Federal Census. They did appear to move for Walter’s job at certain points of their lives together.

Walter passed away on June 17, 1943 in Galesburg at the aged of 46. We could find no record of Elna remarrying. Based on information in her obituary published in the Times-Democrat on December 29, 1967, Mrs. Walter Drummond died at the home of her son in Findlay, Ohio. Both Elna and Walter are buried at Pine Hill Cemetery.

Bibliography

“Miss Brunquell Gives Graduation Party.” The Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), Jan. 27, 1912, page 6.

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/166439161/elna-pauline-drummond?_gl=1mdvbek_gcl_au*MTYyMjMxMzI2LjE3MTI5NDQzNDQ.

http://www.umvphotoarchive.org/digital/collection/scdpl/id/6124/rec/14

(posted by Kathryn)

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The Mysterious Airship of April 1897

The first mysterious sightings were reported in a Sioux City, Iowa newspaper article on February 3, 1897. Something was seen floating in the night sky by local citizens near Hastings, Nebraska. The object was described as lingering about 800 feet off the ground with a bright light that beamed in the darkness. Then it circled around in the sky before disappearing into the horizon as quickly as it had appeared.

Sioux City Journal (Sioux City, Iowa), February 3, 1897. Pg. 3

For the next three months, sightings of an airship in the night sky were reported in Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, and Michigan. Residents of Davenport responded to the news with both amusement and fear. Would the mysterious airship visit them? They began to search the night sky for strange lights.

According to newspaper accounts, the airship would usually appear in the night sky between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m. Some people noted it disappeared from the sky around midnight while others saw it until almost 5:00 a.m. Sometimes it left and then returned while others saw it briefly only once. As sightings became more frequent, news of the object would be telegraphed to surrounding towns to see which direction the object flew throughout the night.

The first thing most people noted was the large white light that would shine from the front of the airship while two smaller lights were seen on the body. At first, people might think they were seeing stars in the sky, but soon realized the unusual movement of the lights were not stars or a planet. It was noted that the lights faded in brightness as the object flew, but became brighter when the object stopped and hovered over an area.

The white front light was described as larger than the headlight on a train. There is some discrepancy with one of the colors of the two smaller lights. The majority of accounts mentioned one smaller light being red in color. The other smaller light was observed to be white by some witnesses while others thought it might be light green in color. The two smaller lights were each estimated to be the size of a human hand.

The shape of the airship was described as an upside-down schooner or cigar-shaped with a smaller basket or canoe-shaped object attached. There were two wings or fan-like projections attached to the main body as well. Newspapers reported the airship was about 30 feet in length according to witnesses. A modern 90-passenger school bus is about 35 to 40 feet in comparison.

The airship was spotted above rural farms, small towns, and cities alike. This meant on any given night you might have a handful of witnesses to hundreds of people viewing the flying mystery. There were those in the newspaper columns who doubted a mysterious airship was traveling over midwestern states. The Davenport Democrat poked fun at the stories in early April 1897 as most sightings had been in the western part of Iowa along with Nebraska and Kansas. They joked that sea serpents were falling out of favor and those who were seeing a flying airship might need to stop their alcohol consumption or seek medical help.

The Davenport Democrat, April 4, 1897. Pg. 2

By April 8, 1897, The Davenport Democrat reported that the airship had been seen in Belle Plaine, Iowa. Belle Plaine is a little over 100 miles from Davenport and near the larger city of Cedar Rapids. The witness descriptions were of an airship that appeared in the southwest horizon about 9:00 p.m. Rising and falling in the sky under complete control it circled the area. As the airship was soon reported in Cedar Rapids and Burlington, the Davenport newspapers reported on the growing fear of the “Flying Dutchman” as it was nicknamed.

Davenport Morning Star, April 9, 1897. Pg. 1

It seemed everyone had an opinion on the flying object. Some thought it was a star that seemed to move in the night sky. Others were certain it was a flying airship. The remaining people thought it was a great hoax, hysteria, or people drinking too much at night. Soon there were those looking to make copycat airships in the night sky as a prank. They began to fly balloons or kites with lights attached as soon as darkness set in. Most pranksters were eventually found out as their creations never had the height or size of the mystery airship.

The Davenport Democrat reported on April 10, 1897 that the flying aircraft was seen in Rock Island, Illinois (our neighbor across the Mississippi River). It was thought to be about a half mile off the ground and had a noise similar to an electric motor. The witnesses were Rock Island police officers. The Democrat took full opportunity to poke fun at the situation.

The Davenport Democrat, April 10, 1897. Pg. 1

The Daily Times reported on April 12, 1897 that a secretary for the Trans-Mississippi Exposition (to be held in Omaha, Nebraska in 1898) received a letter with an Omaha postmark from an A. C. Clinton stating that he was behind the flying airship and he wanted a large enough space to display his ship at the exposition. He would arrive at their offices on April 17th to meet on the subject. The question seemed to be if the letter was authentic or another airship-inspired prank.

The Davenport Democrat reported on April 13th that several hundred people may have witnessed the mysterious flying object over Davenport after 8:00 p.m. the night before. Reporters said it was hard to see as there was a break in a cloud-filled sky as a thunderstorm was approaching. The light from the front of the ship was described as pure white in color that seemed to flare up and glow as it traveled through the sky. It slowly flew away towards the horizon then stopped briefly while the light flared again, then it disappeared into the gathering storm clouds. The newspaper reporter did write that it could not have been a star seen that night, but what it actually might have been was unknown. The Daily Leader in Davenport asked again if people were drinking alcohol before seeing the flying airship.

The Davenport Democrat, April 13, 1897. Pg. 1

Reports in rural Scott County, Moline, and Rock Island that night were more detailed. A witness in Scott County said the object appeared to be cigar-shaped. In Moline, it was first spotted after 7:00 p.m. As in Davenport, the bright front light was the first thing noticed. Some said it had a funnel-shape to it. Most agreed it stayed moving in the sky at a rapid pass for about an hour. In Rock Island, passengers getting off arriving passenger trains reported they had watched the object in the sky as they approached the station. The Rock Island Argus did report that clouds blocked some of the view. Most witnesses on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River agreed the object seemed to move quickly, was in the area for about 40 minutes, and the most noticeable thing about the experience was the bright front light. They could still see the light even when the clouds began to gather. What was it? No one was sure, except most agreed it was not a star or a planet.

The Dispatch (Moline, Illinois), April 13, 1897. Pg. 1

Then the newspapers picked up a surprising story out of Kalamazoo, Michigan from April 14, 1897. Residents near Pavilion, Michigan reported an airship exploded in the sky in the early hours of April 13 into April 14, 1897. A couple who reported the incident were tending a sick horse late into the night. They described the bright front light, smaller lights on the side, and propellers. The object moved at a rapid speed then it disappeared the same time they heard an explosion or thunder. The next morning a nearby farmer found a large metal coil on his property. Another local resident found a propeller-like piece on his farm. Another resident had been shingling a barn the day before. The next morning, he and two other men returned to finish the job and found the roof covered with small pieces of metal. Sadly, it appeared to be the end of the mysterious airship.

Muscatine News-Tribune (Muscatine, Iowa), April 15, 1897. Pg. 3

Then the announcement from Waterloo on April 16, 1897 that the airship had been found in that city! The forty-foot airship was found tucked away on the circus grounds behind the cheese factory and with it was the builder, Professor Jourgensen, along with his log book of his adventures flying over multiple states. Thousands flocked to see the airship and the news was reported from coast-to-coast in newspapers. The great airship mystery was solved!

The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa). April 17, 1897. Pg. 6

But, some took note that the materials used to build the craft were extremely heavy. Under questioning, the story soon fell apart. This was probably the most elaborate airship hoax created. Several business men in town designed and crafted the airship from $60 worth of materials, wrote the log book, and paid a man named Feathers from another town to be Professor Jourgensen. The stunt made Waterloo briefly famous.

All eyes returned to the night sky, but with no results. The mysterious flying airship had vanished. A. C. Clinton never appeared for his appointment in Omaha on April 17th to meet with the Trans-Mississippi Exposition board. Was that letter real or a hoax? Had there ever been an airship over the midwestern states that Spring of 1897? Was it a planet, star, or comet? Was there an A. C. Clinton who died when his airship exploded over Pavilion, Michigan? Was it mass hysteria, or as Davenport newspapers liked to promote, too many people staying up late drinking? Or was it a UFO that exploded over Michigan or simply returned from wherever it came from.

The Davenport Democrat, April 29, 1897. Pg. 2

We will let you ponder the answer as you search the night sky.

(posted by Amy D.)  

Resources:

  • Sioux City Journal, February 3, 1897. Pg. 3
  • The Davenport Democrat, April 4, 1897. Pg. 2
  • The Davenport Democrat, April 8, 1897. Pg. 4
  • The Davenport Morning Star, April 9, 1897. Pg. 1
  • The Daily Times, April 9, 1897. Pg. 2
  • The Davenport Morning Star, April 10, 1897. Pg. 1
  • The Davenport Democrat, April 10, 1897. Pg. 1
  • The Daily Times, April 12, 1897. Pg. 3
  • The Davenport Morning Star, April 13, 1897. Pg. 7
  • The Davenport Democrat, April 13, 1897. Pg. 1
  • The Dispatch (Moline, Illinois), April 13, 1897. Pg. 1
  • The Rock Island Argus (Rock Island, Illinois). April 13, 1897. Pg. 3
  • The Daily Leader, April 13, 1897. Pg. 2
  • The Davenport Morning Star, April 13, 1897. Pg. 7
  • The Muscatine News-Tribune (Muscatine, Iowa), April 15, 1897. Pg. 3
  • The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), April 17, 1897. Pg. 6
  • The Davenport Democrat, April 19, 1897. Pg. 1
  • The Courier (Waterloo, Iowa), April 21, 1897. Pg. 12
  • The Davenport Democrat, April 29, 1897. Pg. 2
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Dr. Jennie McCowen’s “Women In Iowa” (1884)

What better way to celebrate both Women’s History Month and Iowa History Month than to highlight an historic essay about Iowa women written by a woman of Davenport, Iowa for a journal of Iowa history?

“Women of Iowa” appeared in the October 1884 issue of the State Historical Society of Iowa’s Annals of Iowa. [1] The author, Dr. Jennie McCowen (sometimes McCowan), was one of the first women graduates of the State University of Iowa’s School of Medicine (1876), the founder of the Working Woman’s Lend-a-Hand Club in Davenport (1886), and a practicing physician with offices at 106 West 4th Street. [2]

McCowen examined 1880 federal census data to bring to light the 80,000 [2] Iowa women “…at work at various gainful occupations.” (98) She found those engaged on many levels in a wide range of business enterprises, from mining company trustees and bankers to millners and grocers; a growing number of saleswomen, bookkeepers, cashiers, and clerical workers in both businesses and government agencies; plus a prison matron and a reform school director. Women insurance agents, librarians, writers, publishers, visual artists and art instructors, sculptors, potters, china painters, and scientific illustrators were also enumerated, along with school teachers and administrators, university and college professors. Women profiting from their patented inventions (for a thermometer, an egg beater, a griddle greaser, a door screen attachment, a photograph album, and an ironing board) were also mentioned. In her own field of medicine, McCowen counted women doctors, nurses, midwives, pharmacists, and a few “lady dentists.” Among the “…pursuits popularly supposed to be monopolized by men…” there were Iowa women who made products such as brick, tile, brooms, tools, machine shop products, mattresses, buggy tops, paints, saddles, surgical appliances, windmills, tents, agricultural implements, and washing machines. (99)

McCowen was quick to point out that women were underrepresented in the statistics she reported. A “large number of women working in conjunction with husband, father or other male relative are not reported as workers for wages,” she said. (100) On the 26 midwives recorded in the census, she remarked that “… it is believed that this latter figure falls far short of the actual number.” (108) There were also women who found “supplementary employment,” such as the “raising of poultry, the keeping of bees, and the raising of silkworms” (99) to consider. She believed that the gathering of labor statistics about women should be improved, and toward that end, she led the Association of American Women in persuading the Labor Bureau of Iowa to include “such queries as would show adequately the relations of women to labor” to their questionnaires. (102) [4]

That women’s performance in certain occupations was superior to men’s was another point ventured: Presumably anectdotal evidence told her that shorthand secretaries wrote more neatly, cashiers counted more quickly and accurately, and bookkeepers arrived at their figures with greater care. Women county school superintendents were preferred by “the testimony of those teaching under them.” (101) Indeed, the reason Iowa ranked so highly among U.S. states in the field of education, she concluded, was because the institutions were “largely in the hands of women.” (103) And the promise that women would improve the workforce in the future could be seen in the number of academic prizes won by female students in Iowa. Finally, she noted that Unitarian Universalist and Christian women ministers in Iowa found greater success with rebuilding “peculiarly trying parishes” than had the men before them. (109)

McCowen took it as a given that women wanted to work outside the home. To her, it was “inevitable” they would “…seek some outside occupation by which they might not only support themselves but also provide for…those depending upon them,” as products made in factories replaced those women had traditionally labored to create in a domestic setting. She was confident Iowa women felt that “…whatever is right for them to attempt is possible for them to accomplish…” (98)

Iowa women’s unpaid work was also highlighted in the article. McCowen praised the “various benevolent and philanthropic enterprises,” run soley by women in the state, such as sewing schools for “neglected girls,” projects of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and social reform efforts of fraternal societies’ auxiliaries. Those who served as religious leaders, participated in foreign and domestic missions, advanced the cause of women’s suffrage, practiced as naturalists and healers, and formed societies for the study of literature, history, art, and other subjects were also worthy of her note, as were the women educators and medical workers who volunteered time to their professional societies.

To trumpet the acheivements of Iowa women, McCowen turned to local examples: A “young lady of Davenport is doing most valuable original work in tracing the life history of the insects of the State, rearing and sketching the larvae in all stages,” a “young lady of Princeton has prepared the illustrations for a new work on zoology by one of the professors of the State University,” and a “lady of Muscatine whose specialty is entomology…has written a number of papers upon this subject, which have been read before the State Horticultural Society and printed in its reports.” (105-6) [5] Mary L. D. Putnam’s election to the presidency of the Davenport Academy of Science in 1879 was a great source of pride, as was the number of women members active in the organization, Davenport women’s support of the Clarissa Cook Home for Aged and Friendless Women (“built and maintained in comfort by the legacy of a lady”), and her own service as Iowa vice-president of the Association for the Advancement of Women, state director of the National Association for the Protection of the Insane and the Prevention of Insanity, and president of the Scott County Medical Society.

We salute you, Dr. Jennie McCowen, for lifting up Iowa (and Davenport, Iowa) women!

(posted by Katie)

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[1] McCowen, Jennie. “Women In Iowa” Annals of Iowa, 3rd Series, Vol. III (October 1884), pages 97-113. In The Freedom of the Streets: Work, Citizenship, and Sexuality in a Gilded Age City (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), page 44, historian Sharon E. Wood indicates that McCowen’s strong “interest in changing the debate on women’s employment” inspired her to “seek out a wider audience” for the research she had originally completed for the Association for the Advancement of Women by submitting the report to the Iowa Commision for the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial in New Orleans.

The essay “Women in Iowa” had its origins in McCowen’s 1884 report for the AAW’s Committee of Reforms. As the newly-minted vice-president of the Iowa chapter that year, she answered the required questions about taxes and property ownership, but was also motivated to investigate the prior years’ topic of women’s employment in Iowa in more detail. Wood says Her “interest in changing the debate on women’s employment” and on the agenda of the AAW that “embraced paid employment as a source of personal and social virtue.” [Wood, 36]she submitted the report to the Iowa Commision for the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial in New Orleans and from there it got the attention of the Annals? [Wood, 43-44]

[2] McCowen’s many additional accomplishments are detailed in her obituaries in the 28 July 1924 editions of the Davenport Democrat and Leader and the Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa).

[3] I could not determine how McCowen arrived at this final figure, but the names of the occupations held by Iowa women in 1880 are found in the reports 1880 Census: Volume 1. Statistics of the Population of the United States and 1880 Census: Volume 2. Report on the Manufactures of the United States.

[4] Wood, Freedom of the Streets, page 45.

[5] Please let us know if you have any information about who these “ladies” might be!

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Come Tarry A While: Special Collections on Display at All Three Locations!

The Richardson-Sloane Special Collections staff members designed four displays highlighting materials from its collection. Displays are scheduled to be at each library location throughout the year on a quarterly rotation.

Each of the displays discussed below will be at that particular library location from now until June 1st. After June 1st, the displays will be moved to a new library location. If you missed the display at a specific library location, you can visit another location to see the display.

All the displays include a case of materials from our collections as well as two posters featuring more content about that topic!

Davenport Public Library at Eastern
Library History

Our display at the Davenport Public Library at Eastern showcases materials and artifacts from The Library’s history including decorative porcelain featuring the Carnegie Library, a copy of the Carnegie Library’s dedication, and library promotional items. One of our favorites is a selection of library cards offered to our patrons over the years!

The posters showcase each of our library locations including wheeled libraries and our illustrious history of library directors.

Learn more about The Library’s history on our website page, A Brief History of Davenport Public Library.

Davenport Public Library at Fairmount
Upper Mississippi Valley Digital Image Archive

Davenport Public Library at Fairmount highlights one of our most treasured and used resources, the Upper Mississippi Valley Digital Image Archive. UMVDIA is a consortium of 13 institutions digital collections from the Quad Cities region ranging from Muscatine, Iowa to Galesburg, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa to Bishop Hill, Illinois. Historical and cultural institutions from these communities have digitally preserved their collections to share on this online platform for the last 22 years!

Our display features materials we have digitized and have added to this resource as well as a behind-the-scenes look at how we digitize our materials.

Davenport Public Library at Main
Huebinger’s Printing History

The display at our Davenport Public Library at Main location features the works of Melchoir Huebinger. Melchoir Huebinger was an German immigrant to Davenport in the 1880s. He was a surveyor and cartographer as well as a publisher of many maps and atlas of Davenport and Iowa. He also owned a photography studio in Davenport which documented its residents and community through the art of photography. To learn more about Mr. Huebinger and his works, Katie Reinhardt, our Special Collections Librarian, presented a program called Opening the Box: The Maps and Atlases of Melchoir Huebinger.

The German American Heritage Center and Museum is hosting a Kaffee und Kuchen program about this fascinating man on March 24th.

Davenport Public Library’s Special Collections
Local Businesses in Special Collections

Our final display is located in our very own, Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center featuring collections relating to Davenport’s local businesses. It includes flyers, instructional booklets, and catalogs of the various businesses’ wares. While it is in Special Collection, a special artifact will be showcased: Victor Animatograph Cine 16 mm camera.

Another resource to explore local business is our research guide about the Newcomb Loom Company.

Come tarry a while at each of our library locations and learn more about our community’s rich history through the collections of the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center.

(posted by Kathryn)

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Total Eclipse of the Sun: March 7, 1970

April 8, 2024 will be an exciting day in the Quad Cities as we are expecting the first solar eclipse in our area in 54 years. We are expected to get an 83.70% view of the full eclipse at 1:58 p.m. that day.

The last time a full solar eclipse was visible in the Quad Cities was March 7, 1970. Winter was lingering that year, but the weather was predicted to be in our favor with partly sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-40s. A nice break from the colder temperatures and snow that had lingered on. With an early Easter (March 29th), there was most likely hope of warmer weather soon.

While most people likely hoped for clear weather to see the eclipse outside, there was another way to see it live. The March 7th eclipse was the first one to be broadcast live on national television. Not only was it to be live, but CBS news broadcast the event in color! As most television shows were still in black and white, this was an exciting event. It was even encouraged to watch it on television over watching in person to protect your eyes from sun damage.

Slightly less than half of U.S. households had color televisions in 1970. If you wanted to buy one from Long’s TV Sales and Service at 2139 W. 3rd Street in Davenport you might be able to find a sale on new color sets. A 14″ screen portable color television was on sale for $257 ($2,042.87 using an inflation calculator for 2024) while a large 23″ screen color television was going for $458.88 ($3,647.59 using the same calculator).

The Times-Democrat newspaper. March 6, 1970. Pg. 7

The Times-Democrat Newspaper was full of eclipse details leading up to the event. One main concern, as previously mentioned, was damage to eyes from looking directly at the sun. Besides watching it on television, other suggestions were to visit the John Deere Planetarium at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois or making homemade devices to enjoy the eclipse while protecting your eyes. The eclipse was to start at 11:10 a.m. with full coverage lasting three minutes starting at 12:25 p.m. The event would end at 1:37 p.m. according to the newspaper.

The Times-Democrat. March 5, 1970. Pg. 32.

The weather held out with relatively clear skies and those who ventured out marveled to newspaper reporters about the experience in the March 8th Tines-Democrat edition. About 275 people did visit the planetarium and were able to view the eclipse. Many were surprised that due to the Quad-Cities location, the eclipse did not cause the area to darken as they expected. Dr. Melbert Peterson, from Augustana, said that at least 75% coverage was needed to have darkness fall while locally the area only saw 70% coverage.

The Times-Democrat. March 51970. Pg. 2

While the solar eclipse of March 7, 1970 was the last eclipse in our area for the twentieth century; we have blogged before about the last eclipse in the Quad Cities from the nineteenth century which took place on August 7, 1869. This blog, found here, features not only a solar eclipse, but the appearance of a mysterious wild boy as well!

We are all looking forward to the April 8, 2024. The Davenport Public Library will be hosting an Eclipse Watch Party at our Eastern branch from 12:30 – 3:30. All branches of the library will also be handing out solar eclipse glasses at the customer service desks. Glasses started being handed out on March 1st and are while supplies last so get yours today! For more information on the party or glasses, please click here.

As for the eclipse of March 7, 1970, the Quad Cities was soon covered in cold temperatures and snow when a late-winter storm hit the area on March 9th. It really was a lucky break in the weather that allowed the eclipse to be viewed. The interest in outer space was not disappearing from local headlines though. There was already great interest mounting for Apollo 13’s return to the moon scheduled only 35 days later on April 11, 1970.

(posted by Amy D.)

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