The Great Pin-Up Contest of 1944

We learn something new every day in Special Collections. This week’s fun discovery was the City of Davenport had a ship named after it in World War II and that ship inspired a local Pin-Up Girl contest here on the home front.

According to newspaper reports in July 1943, Davenport Mayor Ed Frick announced that a new navy ship would be named after our city. According to Frick, several local civic organizations, with the support of City Council, had written the Secretary of Navy asking a ship be named after Davenport.

The Navy listened and on December 8, 1943 the Mayor’s wife, Marea Frick, christened the ship the U.S.S. Davenport in the shipyard of the Leathem D. Smith Shipbuilding Co. in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Mayor Frick and a delegation from Davenport also attended the event. The city presented the ship with a gift of a combination radio and record player in the hopes it could be played over the ships’s communication system for all to enjoy.

The Daily Times, December 10, 1943. Pg. 20
The Daily Times, December 10, 1943. Pg. 20

The 303-foot frigate was expected to be used as an anti-submarine vessel assisting during ship convoys. It was finally ready for use by the Navy on June 1, 1944.

In August 1944, local newspapers announced the Retail Merchants Bureau of the Davenport Chamber of Commerce would be holding a Pin-Up Girl contest for Davenport ladies to be the official Pin-Up Girl of the U.S.S. Davenport.

Not only would the winner be the ship’s Pin-Up Girl, but she would also win the title of Miss Davenport and receive a $100 war bond.

The contest rules were very simple as listed below:

The Davenport Democrat and Leader, August 29, 1944. Pg. 14

The photos would not be judged locally, but sent to the U.S.S. Davenport and judged by crewmen on the ship.

Throughout the contest, local newspapers would post the photos of women who were entering the competition.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader, September 6, 1944. Pg. 7

By the deadline of September 14th, 43 unmarried women had entered the contest. The photos were sent on to be judged by the crewmen of the ship.

The Pin-Up Girl contest winner was announced on October 20, 1944. The crewmen selected Miss Dorothy Adams as their official U.S.S. Davenport Pin-Up Girl.

Miss Adams was a 21-year-old former Marycrest College student who lived with her parents at 1816 Middle Road. She was employed in the actuarial department of Modern Woodmen of American located across the Mississippi River in Rock Island, IL. Her brother, Allyn, was serving in the Navy overseas.

The crewmen on ship wrote to the Retail Merchants Bureau that they had appreciated the contest and asked for a large color photograph of Miss Adams to be sent to the them so it could be hung for the crewmen to see.

What ever happened to the U.S.S. Davenport or Dorothy Adams?

The frigate U.S.S. Davenport finished war time duties in 1945 and was quickly altered into a weather ship. By June 6, 1946 its service for the government was done and the ship was sold for scrap.

According to newspaper accounts, Dorothy Adams married Major George William Orr, a former Davenport resident, on July 27, 1946. After a candlelight wedding in the First Presbyterian Church in Davenport. The couple celebrated with friends and family in the Empire Room of the Hotel Blackhawk.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader, July 28, 1946. Pg. 22

The couple planned to live near Selfridge Field, Michigan after the wedding where Major Orr was the Commander of a squadron connected to the 56th Fighter group with the Air Force.

We were excited to come across this wonderful piece of World War II home front history. And we hope Dorothy Adams Orr remained proud of being part of our local Davenport history.

(posted by Amy D.)


  • Wikipedia contributors. “USS Davenport (PF-69).” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 20 Oct. 2017. Web. 27 Sep. 2019.
  • The Davenport Democrat and Leader, July 8, 1943. Pg. 12
  • The Daily Times, December 10, 1943. Pg. 19, 20
  • The Davenport Democrat and Leader, August 29, 1944. Pg. 14
  • The Daily Times, September 12, 1944. Pg. 20.
  • The Daily Times, September 14, 1944. Pg. 9
  • The Daily Times, October 20, 1944. Pg. 12

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When Davenport Went Electric

At 6:00 pm on Saturday, September 19, 1891, The Davenport Gas Company flipped a switch to turn electric lights on for the first time in the city of Davenport.

Perceptions of electric light varied amongst the Davenport citizens. Many marveled at the beauty it brought to the dusk sky. Some residents found that the lights illuminated the city as never before witnessed with gas lighting: “[T]he city had the appearance last night of being dotted with diamonds of the most brilliant hue.” [1] Some were chagrined by how the lights altered their favorite spots in the city. Although a minority of residents were not fond of the electric lighting, their criticisms were eclipsed by the rejoicing masses.

A controversy arose on this triumphant day for electricity. Residents who continued to pay for gas services from the Davenport Gas Company would be required to do so at increased rates although the quality would remain the same. Unfortunately, at that time, gas quality was deemed poor.

Regardless of this, “‘All Hail the power of Electricity'” was the overriding sentiment. Electricity brought more than mere illumination to the city: a company with aspirations to provide high quality light services with the plans of installing the “finest, best and most expensive machinery that could be had for the purposes” was also introduced. [2]

The Daily Times, Sept. 21, 1891, p. 1

Electricity services were provided by the Davenport Gas and Electric Company for a number of years. Competing companies on both banks of the Mississippi River began to emerge. Across the river, the Moline and Watertown Railway Company and the Peoples Power Company of Rock Island served their residents. People interacted with electricity in more ways than lights, they also rode on streetcars.

Davenport Republican, Jan. 25, 1901, p. 5.

In 1907, the Peoples Light Company usurped the Davenport Gas and Electric Company’s spot as the primary electric company in Davenport. The latter, located at Third and Farnum Streets, has been operating since 1855 when George L. Davenport started the Davenport Gas-Light and Coke Company, formerly known as Charles Herrick & Company.

The Peoples Light Company doubled its capital in March of 1895. The board of directors included A.W. Vander Veer, Jens Lorenzen, J.S. Wylie, A. Burdick, George T. Baker, George W. Cable, and James F. Lardner. At this time, their offices were temporarily located in the Masonic Temple until the completion of a new building. Charles W. Young was selected to become the manager of the company. He had a list of accolades recommending him for the job, such as a graduation certificate from Rose Polytechnic school in Terre Haute, Indiana, and work experience at the Missouri Electric Light and Power Company of St. Louis. [3]

The Daily Times, June 13, 1907, p. 4.

While the companies from the period merged, the cities along this stretch of the Mississippi River benefited from the electric light they provided. Gas lighting was a thing of the past.

First Album of the City of Davenport, Iowa – Link to DPL catalog record

(posted by Kathryn and Cristina)


[1] “Electricity On,” Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), Sept. 21, 1891.

[2] “The New Lights,” Davenport Democrat, Sept. 20, 1891.

[3] “Peoples Light Company,” Davenport Democrat, Mar. 22, 1895.

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The Davenport Bank & Trust Co. Building – A 13th floor oasis

On this Friday the 13th with a Harvest Moon expected in the evening, it is easy to think of superstitions. One we thought about earlier today was the superstition of taller buildings retaining or removing the number thirteen associated with a floor or room number.

Would it be bad luck to live or work on the thirteenth floor? We admit most of us rarely even look when we get on an elevator of a taller building to see if there is a thirteenth floor to visit.

Not many buildings in Davenport would have had to worry about the thirteenth floor debate as most downtown structures are just shy of reaching a thirteenth floor in height.

One exception is the Davenport Bank & Trust Building at 201-209 W. 3rd Street. It most definitely goes beyond thirteen floors.

With a little research we discovered that the original architects apparently had no thirteenth floor phobia.

In a 1957 Daily Times article highlighting the use of the thirteenth floor of the building it was seen as anything but a curse.

Originally designed as a penthouse with an outdoor patio, the thirteenth floor in 1957 housed a lounge for female bank employees who worked in the bookkeeping and proof departments located on the 12th floor. Female bank employees who worked on the first and second floors had a separate lounge on the second floor.

The women were allowed use of a living room, restroom and shower, kitchen stocked with food they could prepare, and the outdoor patio.

The Daily Times, August 26, 1957. Pg. 19

It certainly does not sound like a scary situation at all!

Maybe next time we ride up an elevator in a building with a thirteenth floor we will take a moment to stop and get out to look around. With any luck, we may find a penthouse lounge like the one that used to be in the Davenport Bank & Trust building.

(posted by Amy D.)

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Davenporters of Note: E.S. Hammatt

Edward Seymour Hammatt was born in Geneseo, Livingston County, New York on September 8, 1856, to Edward Rumney Hammatt and Eliza H. Phelps. He studied architecture at Lehigh University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After he completed his studies, he spent four years with leading architects from the firms of Ware & Van Brunt of New York and four years with H.J. Hardenberg & Napoleon LeBrum in Boston.

Upon arriving in Davenport in 1883 he opened an architectural office in the Whitaker Building which was built by John H. Whitaker.

Whitaker Building on the southwest corner of 3rd and Brady Street.
Times-Democrat, June 6, 1974, page 14.

E.S. Hammatt married Carrie Rathbone Barris, the daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Willis H. Barris, on June 7, 1888.

Marriage Return of Edward S. Hammatt and Carrie Rathbone Barris.

He died on August 24, 1907, after an illness of four years which begun with a gradual onset of paralysis which was later termed, paralysis agitans. Throughout his 24 year career, he demonstrated artistic talent and “enthusiastic devotion to his profession”. His office remained in the Whitaker Building until ill health spurred him to close. Mr. Hammatt’s resilience against his illness was evident because even when he was no longer able to work at his office, he continued to direct his draughtsman from home. In the months prior to his passing, he had concluded plans for the Hotel Monte Colfax in Colfax, Iowa, the remodeling plans of Miss Alice French’s home, and considerable changes to the Putnam block (“E.S. Hammatt to take a Rest”, page 7).

“E. S. Hammatt’s Life and Work.” The Davenport Democrat and Leader, August 26, 1907, page 8.

E.S. Hammatt not only was a well-known architect in Iowa but also of the west. He has been recognized in many National Register of Historic Place records for the buildings he designed. His accomplishment extend farther than his creative works. He was an active member of many clubs and organizations that benefited from his dedication and unflagging service.

Clubs & Organizations

  • Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, and a member of the Iowa chapter
  • Vestryman of Grace Cathedral
  • Member of Trinity Lodge, A.F.& A.M.
  • One of the organizers and always interested members of the Contemporary Club
  • Four years a member of the Irrawadi Canoe Club
  • A long and active member of the Davenport Outing Club
  • An indefatigable worker for the Academy of Sciences, on its publication committee, and for four years president of the Academy
  • He was many years secretary of the Sons of the Revolution of Iowa

Evidence of his prolific career can be found throughout the Quad Cities and the state of Iowa.

Examples Of His Work

  • Trinity Episcopal Church, Davenport (1874)
  • Episcopal churches in Creston, Mapleton, Washington, Oelwein, Boone, Algona, Ottumwa, Spencer, and other Iowa cities and towns
  • Kemper Hall, Griswold College, Davenport (1885)
  • St. Katherine’s classrooms and dormitory, Davenport (1885)
  • Connor House, 702 12th Street, Rock Island (1888)
  • Edward Edinger House, 1626 W 26th Street, Davenport (1890)
  • Lincoln School, 7th Avenue & 22nd Street, Rock Island (1893)
  • Old Main, Augustana College, Rock Island (1893)
  • Entrance gates at Oakdale Memorial Gardens, Davenport (1895)
  • Black Hawk Watch Tower [2nd] Inn (1897-1915)
First album of the city of Davenport, Iowa
First album of the city of Davenport, Iowa
First album of the city of Davenport, Iowa
Trinity Church and Guild
Davenport Democrat, Wednesday, April 29, 1885
St. Katharine’s School
Old Main
The “Inn” Black Hawks Watch Tower
Davenport illustrated : Saengerfest Souvenir, July 1898

(posted by Cristina and Kathryn)


“E.S. Hammatt’s Life And Work,” Davenport Democrat and Leader, August 25,1907, 8.

“E.S. Hammatt to take a Rest.” The Davenport Democrat and Leader, February 20, 1907, 7.

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Davenporters of Note: Betty Adler

Portrait of Betty Adler by Davenport photographer J.B. Hostetler, ca. 1920. RSSC Image Collection, #VM89-002220

One hundred years ago this summer, Betty Adler was traveling through post-WWI Europe, sent by the Davenport Daily Times to “write special articles showing the effects of the war on the people of the allied countries” and “tell some of the hitherto unwritten stories of the things the women and children had to endure in the vicinity of the zones of actual fighting.” [1]

Betty Adler’s April 10, 1919 passport application, via Ancestry Library.

Miss Adler had moved to Davenport from Ottumwa and begun working as the society and woman’s editor for the Times in 1902, shortly after her brother, E.P. (Emanuel Philip) Adler, became its manager and publisher. Several years covering the city’s philanthropic women’s organizations and promoting her own social welfare causes via the paper’s “Glimmerings” column prepared her well to report with sympathy on the struggles of soldiers and average citizens during the war and in its aftermath.

Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), May 12, 1913.

Between June and September 1919, Adler witnessed the signing of the peace treaty at Versailles, thrilled to the victory parade marching through the streets of Paris, toured the Rhine Valley occupation zone with officers of the Third American Army, enjoyed a musical performance by the departing First Division of the A.E.F., lunched with Egyptian ambassadors, and met General Pershing in person, but she was also taking time to note the decimated French villages, the many “Refuge from Shells” signs marking cellars throughout the countryside, and the “…tired-eyed people, returned to the broken fragments of what had once been home…” [2] She listened to the stories of the boy who had lived in a cellar with his mother and four siblings for the entire duration of the war, the Flemish farm family robbed of their food and forced out of their cottage by German soldiers, the men of Lebbke shot and buried while still alive, and the massacre of civilians in Dinant, Belgium, including a man shot in front of his wife and and seven children.

Adler visited many battlefields and memorials to the soldiers who lost their lives in the fighting. She told of French soldiers buried alive by an explosion near Verdun, their guns still sticking up through the debris (p. 81), the remains of a German soldier –“just one leg encased in a riding boot” (p. 217) — in a shell hole near Ypres, among many other horrors. The “grave faces, reflecting memories” of the surviving doughboys still serving in France did not escape her notice. She described the grim work of the men assigned to the Graves Registration Service of the American Army, tasked with recovering the remains of the “hero dead,” (p. 23) and the Paris waiter who struggled to speak because his throat had been damaged by multiple gas attacks.

Adler praised the work of the American Red Cross and the Y.M.C.A and never failed to relay the gratitude expressed by the French and Belgian people for the aid received from the United States. She was suprised to find “plain, coarse, cotton flour sacks printed with mill names from the Mississippi to the Pacific, in glaring red and blue letters” kept as “treasured souvenirs” and placed on display in an Antwerp castle. (p. 243)

Within the Year After, facing p. 174.

She paid special attention to women’s participation in the war effort, devoting ink to the story of Anne Ross, the Cherokee “canteen girl” with the A.E.F. in Germany, the work of the eighty women of C.A.R.D., the Committee Americaine pour Les Regions Devastees de la France (American Committee for Devastated France) in Vic-sur-Aisne, and the plucky English women of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry who drove wounded French soldiers to hospitals during the fighting and prisoners of war from Germany back to France after the armistice. (p. 239)

Betty Adler’s dispatches to the Times were collected and published in the following year as a book titled Within the Year After, available at the RSSC Center.

SC 914 Adl

The work was well-received [3]:

“Her grasp of international affairs, keen insight, aggressiveness, sagacity and human understanding found brilliant reflection in her observations set forth with a directness which permitted the reader to vision the epochal events of that period, and the conditions in Europe with  a completeness that brought them into intimate touch with all that came to the notice of the writer.”

General Pershing sent Adler a letter of congratulations, which we are fortunate to hold in our manuscript collection:


For the greater part of her life, Betty Adler was an independent career woman, traveling freely, supporting causes, and living on her own at 409 E. 15th Street (after a few years with her brother and his wife at 629 E. 14th Street). She wrote short stories and other pieces, such as “The Tr-City Young Jewish Woman” in a special Iowa edition (Jews of Tri-Cities, December 14, 1912) of the Reform Advocate, a journal of Reform Judaism out of Chicago. That same publication included a profile of Miss Adler, and just following it, one of Henry Waterman, her future husband.

SC 296.0977 Jew
p. 33
p. 34

Betty Adler married Henry Waterman in Davenport on May 3, 1923. It was the first marriage for both; she was 48 and he 51. They lived together in Geneseo, IL, where Henry practiced law, for just under two short years — Betty succumbed to illness and passed away on February 16, 1925. She is buried in Mt. Nebo cemetery in Davenport.

(posted by Katie)

  • [1] Daily Times, (Davenport, Iowa), June 12, 1919, p.1.
  • [2] Adler, Betty. Within the Year After. Chicago: M.A. Donohue & Co., 1920, p. 21. Page numbers given hereafter within the above text refer to this title, a compilation of Adler’s dispatches and columns for the Times.
  • [3] “Betty Adler Waterman,” Daily Times, (Davenport, Iowa), June 12, 1919.
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The Skelley Girls

In the early 1920s, two daughters of Mr. and Mrs. James Apollinaris Skelley twirled onto the stage. Ann and Monica, the youngest of the Skelley family, delighted in dancing and performing for the local community. The Skelley family was not unaccustomed to finding members of their kin in the limelight. James Apollinaris, the chief electrician at the Rock Island Arsenal for 25 years, supported his children’s ambitions and artistic talents. One of his sons, Hal, performed in a Broadway show “Burlesque” with Barbara Stanwyck and starred in the movie version of “The Dance of Life.” He also traveled to Europe to pursue opportunities for his career. Hugh, another brother, was a well-known vaudeville performer and performed in a song-and-dance team with this wife, Emma Heit.

One of their first performances mentioned in Davenport newspapers was a prologue to “The Little Clown” in August of 1921. The Skelley girls performed this act with two other local girls and were not yet known by their moniker of “The Skelley Sisters.” Monica had a leading role as “Mary Miles Minter.”

“Plan Prologue at the Family.” The Daily Times, August 23, 1921, page 8.

The first week of 1922 Ann and Monica appeared in a prologue to Molly O at the Capital Theater. Molly O, a 1921 silent film featuring Mabel Normand, about a daughter of a working-class family who falls in love with an eligible bachelor. During his visit home before the show, Hal, their brother helped prepare them for the act. The young sisters were noted to be talented performers with “‘pep'” and natural talent for the stage even though they were still novices. They had flair for popular songs and dance like Hal.

“Davenport Girls Who are Following their Famous Brother on the Stage.” The Daily Times, January 5, 1922, page 10.

Their propensity for dancing was highlighted again a few years later when they introduced a novel dance style known to be “the wildest of all modern dance.” This dance was known as The Charleston. The Skelley Sisters showcased this dance at the Fort Armstrong Theater in August of 1925. The Charleston was a sensation which swept across the stage and ballroom.

Throughout this time, the Skelley Sisters performed in New York at a two-day vaudeville showcase at Keith’s Palace Theater and multiple times on local stages. Their fame continued to be reported in Davenport newspapers.

“Skelley Sisters Coming to Columbia Thursday.” The Daily Times, February 13, 1926, page 10.

The sisters continued to perform over the years adding to their repertoire. Dodie Lau Nieman joined her aunts’ song-and-dance team. Continuing in the family career, Monica Ann Smith and her sister, Mary Jean Woodward, performed as a reincarnation of their aunts as “The Skelly Sisters.” They performed throughout the Midwest.

“In Legion Stage Show.” Rock Island Argus, December 5, 1947, page 23.
“Skelly: Family carries on his show biz legacy.” Quad-City Times, September 5, 2000.

The history of the Skelley Sisters lives on in the dance halls and theaters of the Quad Cities.


“Dancing Act to Feature at the Fort Armstrong.” Davenport Democrat and Leader, August 26, 1925.

“Skelly: Family carries on his show biz legacy.” Quad-City Times, September 5, 2000.

(posted by Kathryn)

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Woodstock Performers in the QCA

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, 3 days of Peace & Music at Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York. 

Many of the musicians who performed at the festival have also played in the Quad Cities, some before and some after the weekend of August 15-18, 1969.

Were you at any of these shows, or at other concerts featuring any of these artists? Let us know in the comments!

Richie Havens at the Masonic Temple on April 6, 1974

Times-Democrat Saturday, March 16, 1974 p. 7

Arlo Guthrie at the Adler Theatre on March 26, 1987

Quad-City Times Thursday, March 26, 1987 p. Go! 7

John Sebastian at the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival on July 1, 2000

Quad-City Times Thursday, June 29, 2000 p. 3

Canned Heat at the Masonic Temple on March 31, 1969

Times-Democrat Wednesday, March 26, 1969 p. 22

Creedence Clearwater Revival at RKO Orpheum Theatre on August 26, 1969

Times-Democrat Tuesday, August 19, 1969 p. 23

Sly and the Family Stone at Palmer College on November 18. 1974

Quad-City Times Thursday, November 14, 1974 p. 21

[Jefferson] Starship at the Palmer Auditorium on March 6, 1986

Quad-City Times Thursday, March 6, 1986 p. Go! 4

Joe Cocker at The Mark on August 22, 2001

Quad-City Times Thursday, August 23, 2001 p. B6

Johnny Winter at Davenport Municipal Stadium on August 23, 1970

Times-Democrat Wednesday, August 19, 1970 p. 29

Blood, Sweat and Tears at the Masonic Temple on May 24, 1969

Times-Democrat Thursday, May 22, 1969 p. 43

Crosby, Stills & Nash at The Mark on March 10, 1993

Quad-City Times Thursday, December 23, 1993 p. G5

Sha Na Na at the Masonic Temple on April 19, 1972

Times-Democrat April 21, 1972

Jimi Hendrix Experience at the Col Ballroom on August 11, 1968

Sunday Times-Democrat August 4, 1968 p. 7D


(posted by Cristina)

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Who Was George Davenport?

The Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Department of the Davenport Public Library is pleased to present another installment in our ongoing Local History Lecture Series this coming Thursday evening, August 15th, at 6:30PM in the Large Meeting Room at the Main Street location. Local historian Gena Schantz will help us to answer the question: ”Who was George Davenport?”

Ms. Schantz has been researching Colonel George Davenport and his family for decades; adding significantly to our knowledge of both the man and his milieu. Her 1991 Master’s thesis, “The Davenport House and Family on Rock Island: A Case Study in the Transformation on the Midwestern Frontier to 1858″ (SC 977.3393 Sch) belongs to our collection here at the Center, as do many of the sources she and others have consulted in pursuit of the early history of the Quad-Cities area. These include Franc B. Wilkie’s 1858 history Davenport, Past and Present (SC 977.769 WIL), genealogies, newspaper items, court records, and original documents written by members of the Davenport family, all assembled in this handy research guide on our website.

We also invite you to see a selection of the actual books, ephemera, archival materials, and images included on our George Davenport guide on display at the Center this month!

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Helen Van Dale: A woman of the criminal underworld Part II

Please read Part I of Helen’s story here.

Bold lettered headlines covered the front page of local newspapers on the morning of August 1, 1922 in Davenport, Iowa and Rock Island, Illinois. William “Bill” Gable, owner of a soft drink bar at 2319 Fourth Avenue, Rock Island had been gunned down with six bullets in front of his establishment at 12:05 a.m.

The Daily Times, August 1, 1922. Pg. 1

William Gable’s soft drink establishment was really a cover for illegal activities of gambling, prostitution, and alcohol. Located near the Rock Island Arsenal bridge that ran between Davenport and Rock Island, it was a prime spot for illegal activities that he and his next door neighbor, Helen Van Dale, engaged in.

In fact, early morning reports indicated the getaway car of the shooters fled over the Arsenal bridge into Davenport. Disappearing without a trace according to Rock Island Police Department officials.

Gable, it turns out, had moments before left a secret meeting with federal prohibition officers at the Rock Island Post Office. He was traveling alone that night back to his bar as the police officer assigned to protect him had been ordered to work in the police department that night instead of following Gable.

As Gable was secretly informing federal prohibition agents on local illegal activities when he was murdered, the U.S. government immediately assigned seven federal prohibition agents to come to Rock Island from Chicago to start an investigation into his death.

Rock Island Police Chief, Tom Cox, stated to newspapers that his department would do everything possible to find the guilty parties.

The Daily Times, August 1, 1922.

By the end of August, the William Gable case seemed stalled. Many of the eyewitnesses who spoke with police after the murder had decided to leave town in the weeks following his death. There were local rumors that men with Italian accents had been around town a day or two before the murder and had since disappeared. 

By the time Connor Looney, John Looney’s only son, was shot and killed in a street battle in Rock Island on October 6, 1922, it would seem from newspaper coverage that the murder of William Gable had been forgotten by local law enforcement.

The federal prohibition officers kept their focus though, as many illegal establishments in Rock Island were raided and closed. John Looney, Sr. left town and headed to New Mexico right before his establishments and house were raided on October 26, 1922.

As the Looney empire in Rock Island was collapsing, Helen Van Dale moved to Davenport to increase her businesses there. One of her largest establishments, the Palmer Inn on Nahant Road, thrived during this time.

The Rock Island Argus, December 6, 1922.

While Helen may not have needed women to work in her resorts in Rock Island anymore, her business continued as she not only found women for her Davenport establishments, but sent women to disorderly houses in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Peoria, Illinois as well.

It may have appeared quiet locally in relation to police activity, but federal authorities were still working. Helen found this out on November 24, 1922 when she, John Looney, Tom Cox, and twelve others were charged with illegal gambling, prostitution, and other offenses. Among those arrested were the mayor and city attorney of Rock Island.

The Davenport Democrat, November 24, 1922. Pg. 1

Federal officials were not done yet. On December 5th, Helen was arrested at her Palmer Inn under charges of violating the White Slave law (Mann Act) by taking a 16-year-old Iowa girl into Illinois and also violation of the federal prohibition act.  She was placed in the Scott County, Iowa jail pending charges in Iowa and faced extradition to Rock Island County, Illinois.

One of the official charges against Helen was bringing a young woman into her 4th Street Rock Island establishment for prostitution. While working there, the young woman and Helen reportedly quarreled and a “city official” intervened and attacked the woman with a beer bottle. Due to her serious injuries, the woman was transported to Peoria, Illinois where she later died.

This charge matched a rumor that had circulated since late Spring 1922, that William Gable had walked into Helen’s establishment to visit and witnessed Police Chief Tom Cox attacking a young working woman who had argued with his girlfriend, Helen Van Dale. Cox was rumored to have beaten the woman severely with a glass bottle. It was said this was the final action that convinced Gable to go to federal authorities and get out of the illegal underworld.

Helen’s boyfriend, Police Chief Tom Cox, was arrested and charged with planning the murder of William Gable with John Looney and Lawrence Pedigo, Looney’s Chief Lieutenant. Soon after Cox’s arrest, his wife visited him in jail.

According to newspaper reports, Helen was upset while in jail that many of her friends did not support her. There may be some truth to that report, as news was released on December 12th that Helen had made an official statement implicating many of her former friends and boyfriend in illegal activities.

Helen Van Dale, one of the most powerful women of the local underworld, was ready to talk.

The Daily Times, December 7, 1922. Pg. 1

By March 1923, Helen had been released from Scott County, Iowa jail on bond and was ready to be a state witness in Illinois testifying against former boyfriend Tom Cox and Lawrence Pedigo (as Looney was still on the run). With the promise of being a state witness, Helen worked a deal not to be held in the Rock Island County, Illinois jail on her charges.

In mid-March 1923, the trial of Mayor Harry M. Schriver, Police Chief Tom Cox, and Lawrence Pedigo commenced. The men faced charges related to graft, illegal gambling, and alcohol. Helen, and surprisingly her ex-husband Lester Smith, would have prime roles in the trial.

Smith testified that in May 1919, shortly around the time of his marriage to Helen, he asked Tom Cox if he could open a house of ill-fame. He received permission from Cox and as long as he bought alcohol from John Looney, thus he would be under Looney’s protection. Smith soon asked Cox if he could open another establishment. Cox eventually agreed with another smaller establishment for Smith. He then inquired if it were true that he was with Helen Van Dale. Smith replied that she was his wife.

The Daily Times, March 23, 1923. Pg.

Soon after, Smith found Tom Cox and Helen were in a relationship and Cox had Smith arrested repeatedly and fined hundreds of dollars. Even after Helen divorced Smith, the arrests continued along with recommendations by police officers that Smith should consider leaving town.

When Helen finally testified she admitted there was a large party at her establishment next to William Gable’s the night of his murder. Attending the event were Police Chief Tom Cox, her sister “Dimples,” Rock Island Police Detective Charles Ginnane (who committed suicide right as the scandal broke in November 1922), Davenport Policeman Pat Dietz (who was working with federal prohibition agents unbeknownst to those at the party), and U.S. Prohibition agent R. C. Goss (also working undercover). She stated that when Tom Cox learned that William Gable had been murdered next door he didn’t respond and continued to partake in the party at Helen’s establishment.

The Daily Times, March 22, 1923. Pg. 1

Schriver, Cox, and Pedigo were found guilty on their charges.

The Daily Times, April 7, 1923. Pg. 1

The charges against Helen were dropped. No evidence was ever found relating to the beating death of the young woman by Tom Cox. Helen quickly returned to the Palmer Inn and her business.

Helen married for the fourth time on July 19, 1923 to local salesman Edward H. Wriedt. Wriedt was a World War I veteran and belonged to a well-known (and respected) family that had been in Davenport for years. He had been widowed after only 15 months of marriage in 1918. This was his second marriage.

Helen’s former underworld partner, John Looney, was arrested on December 1, 1923 as he returned from Mexico to his ranch in New Mexico. He would fight extradition to Illinois, but he would eventually be returned.

In September 1924, Helen filed for bankruptcy in Scott County stating she was living in Davenport. In her claim, she stated she had $1,386.18 in debt with no income.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader, September 22, 1924. Pg. 11

On October 13, 1924, former Police Chief Tom Cox died from heart problems or an illness of the brain, depending on which newspaper was reporting, in his home. His case was still pending on appeals. He was survived by his wife of many years and a married daughter.

On April 23, 1925, Edward Wriedt died from pneumonia at his parents’ home after an illness of about five months. Even though Edward was married to Helen, his father stated on his son’s death certificate that Edward was a widower. No mention of Helen was made in the obituary.

Being his legal wife, Helen appears to have been given the body for burial. She purchased a lot in Fairmount Cemetery in Davenport and buried Eddie there.  The funeral took place at the parents’ house. It is unknown if Helen attended.

In July 1925, John Looney went on trial for eleven indictments related to the shooting of his son and William Gable. Similar to the trial of Cox, Schriver, and Pedigo, this trial fascinated local residents.

Lawrence Pedigo, once Looney’s Chief Lieutenant, testified against his former boss. Pedigo’s testimony clearly outlined not only the connection between Looney and Cox, but also that Helen was a main part of the underworld decisions as well. “Heinie” Lee, Helen’s ex-brother-in-law and others also testified and in the process implicated Helen as being one of the three main figures in local crime.

On July 31, 1925, John Looney was found guilty on all charges and was sentenced to one to five years in prison. He still had nine other counts to be tried for including the murder of William Gable.

The Daily Times, July 31, 1925. Pg. 1

Helen appears to have kept busy during Looney’s trial as on July 20, 1925 her name appeared in The Rock Island Argus for a drag race against her sister in Moline, Illinois. They had been trying to see who had the faster car. It was reported they had reached speeds of 40 mph when stopped by a motorcycle officer. Both were fined $7.00.

On August 19, 1925, Helen Van Dale, John Looney, and seven others were officially indicted for the murder of William Gable. She was located and arrested on charges of complicity in the murder of William Gable on September 20, 1925 and taken to Rock Island County jail. She quickly began talking to prosecutors.

The Rock Island Argus, September 23, 1925.

Helen said she heard John Looney, his son Connor, and Tom Cox plan the murder of William Gable on July 28, 1922. Officials arranged for her to remain in formal custody until the trial of John Looney.

On November 23, 1925, jury selection began in Galesburg, Illinois for the trial of John Looney. The courtroom was able to hold over 300 people and was filled daily.

Of special interest was former local school girl, Helen Van Dale. Newspapers reported that Helen had attended St. Mary’s Academy in Knoxville, Illinois near Galesburg and many older residents could still remember her.

On December 14th at 1:00 p.m., Helen Van Dale took the stand against John Looney and she did not disappoint the crowd. From her sometimes coy answers about what type of establishments she ran to her detailed account of the meeting that took place between the Looneys and Tom Cox before the murder of William Gable, she had the audience captivated.

One of the more interesting exchanges Helen testified she had threatened to kill Looney if he ever wrote her up in his scandalous newspaper, The Rock Island News, he used to blackmail local residents. Helen said Looney responded no one could kill him as he was protected by the devil.

On December 23, 1925, John Looney was found guilty of the murder of William Gable and sentenced to fourteen years in prison.

Charges against Helen were not pursued in the case. The days of Looney’s underworld empire had ended. Helen was a 32-year-old widow who had somehow managed to avoid jail for her crimes, but now lacked the power and protection she had previously.

Helen’s name made the local newspapers on December 11, 1926, when her sister, “Dimples”, committed suicide by taking poison after drinking and arguing with her second husband, George Voege (also known as George Fay and once connected to John Looney), in their apartment at 412 ½ Second Street in Davenport. She left behind two young sons from her first marriage. She was eulogized in the newspapers as a beautiful social butterfly of the criminal underworld.

Lillis D. Voege, known as “Dimples” or the alias Edna Smith, was 24 years old. She was buried in Fairmount Cemetery. Her sons, John and Victor, would be raised in Davenport and then Peru, Illinois by Lillis’ mother, Nancy.

There is not much on record for Helen in the following years. On March 28, 1929, Helen married Irvin Joseph Wonders of Davenport in Clinton, Iowa. She was arrested along with her husband in a beer raid at their Davenport apartment in January and April 1932.

The Daily Times, April 1, 1932. Pg. 6

On May 29, 1931, Helen’s second husband, Henry Van Dale, dies at age 37 in Soldiers’ National Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He had been a veteran of WWI.

In June 1934, Helen was arrested for keeping a disorderly house at 227 ½ Perry Street in Davenport. She was fined $30 and released. In December of that year she was arrested for being intoxicated in public. In court, she refuted the charge stating she had only had four beers so couldn’t have been intoxicated. The Police Magistrate agreed with her claim in court and released her from the charges.

Davenport Police Department Blotter. December 13, 1934 arrest of Helen Van Dale for intoxication.

On July 11, 1935, Helen’s third husband Lester Smith died from alcoholism in Yuma, Arizona.

About 1935, Helen and her husband Irvin moved to Peru, Illinois along with her mother and nephews. The 1940 United States Census lists the couple as owning a lunch room.

In April 1941, Helen filed for divorce from Irvin, but no evidence exists the divorce was ever finalized.

In August 1943, Helen was arrested along with other women in the Peru, Illinois area working in prostitution. The case against Helen and the others collapsed when main witnesses refused to testify and left the area.

On November 4, 1943, Helen’s husband Irvin and another man were killed when the car Irvin was driving was struck by a train in Davenport. The two men had been working on a house Helen owned on Nahant Road to restore it. It is unknown if Helen hoped to return to Scott County and resume her resort here. She chose to remain in the Peru area after Irvin’s death.

The Daily Times, November 5, 1943. Pg. 1

Helen buried Irvin in the same lot in Fairmount Cemetery as her fourth husband, Edward.

On February 28, 1944, Robert J. Rathburn, Helen’s first husband, died in East Moline, Illinois. 

John P. Looney died in 1947 in a tuberculosis sanitarium in El Paso, Texas. He had served 8 ½ years of his 14 year sentence.

On July 2, 1949, Helen’s father, who had divorced her mother years before, died in Peoria, Illinois. He had remarried and worked as a fireman for the Central Illinois Light Company. Helen was listed as Helen Wanders of Peru, Illinois in his obituary.

For many years where Helen died or was buried was lost in records. With the many marriages and aliases used by Helen it was difficult to trace her.

With finding her fourth and fifth husbands and her birth certificate, we are finally able to answer those questions.

Eula E. Wonders, also known as Catherine/Katherine Helen(e), died December 11, 1951 in Peru, Illinois. She is buried in Fairmount Cemetery next to her last two husbands and her mother who died in Peru in August 1952. While Edward and Irvin have headstones, Eula and her mother’s graves are unmarked.

Unmarked grave of Eula E. Wonders at Fairmount Cemetery, Davenport, Iowa. Her husband Irvin’s headstone is on the left and husband Edward’s headstone is on the right. Helen and her mother Nancy are buried in between the two. Photo taken July 2019.

No obituary or funeral service information was located in our search.

While we may have answered the question of what became of Helen Van Dale, we are left feeling there are so many more questions than answers to her life story.

It appears from her probate (a copy was filed in Scott County, Iowa under Catherine Helena Wonders as Helen owned property here) that Helen was financially secure when she died. Did she plan on making a return to Scott County one day to reopen her long-shuttered business?

We don’t know if she continued in illegal activities in Peru until her death as the last prostitution-related arrest we located was in 1943.

Did Helen choose to be buried as Eula or was that was a decision her family made after her death?

Finally, we wish there was a written record of Helen’s dealings during the Prohibition era’s criminal underworld. 

Without that, we highly recommend reading the newspaper accounts of the trials Helen was involved in to learn more about the criminal empire started by John Looney.

(posted by Amy D.)


  • The Davenport Democrat and Leader, December 12, 1922. Pg. 9
  • The Daily Times, March 10, 1923. Pg. 20
  • The Dispatch, March 22, 1923. Pg. 8
  • Iowa, Select Marriages Index, 11758-1996.
  • The Davenport Democrat and Leader, September 22, 1924. Pg. 11
  • The Dispatch, October 14, 1924. Pg. 9
  • The Daily Times, April 23, 1925. Pg. 6
  • The Rock Island Argus, July 20, 1925. Pg. 4
  • The Davenport Democrat and Leader, September 23, 1925. Pg. 1
  • The Daily Times, December 5, 1925. Pg. 20
  • The Davenport Democrat and Leader, January 11, 1926.
  • The Daily Times, January 25, 1932. Pg. 4
  • The Davenport Democrat and Leader, June 18, 1934. Pg. 2
  • The Daily Times, December 14, 1934. Pg. 6
  • Arizona, County Coroner and Death Records, 1881 – 1971.
  • 1940 United States Federal Census.
  • The Times (Streator, Illinois), April 4, 1941. Pg. 7
  • The Decatur Herald (Decatur, Illinois), August 10, 1943. Pg. 14 
  • The Rock Island Argus, August 20, 1943. Pg. 4
  • The Daily Times, November 5, 1943. Pg. 1
  • The Dispatch, February 28, 1944. Pg. 13
  • Scott County, Iowa Probate #24699 Catherine Helena Wonders
  • Fairmount Cemetery, Davenport, Iowa GVA Lot#217
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Summer 2019 Internship Experience

This summer, The Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center had the wonderful opportunity to have Tyler Watts, a senior at St. Ambrose University, intern with us. He is interested in a career in the library and museum profession. During his time in Special Collections, he was able to get a glimpse of different types of work we perform to preserve and describe our local history and genealogical collections. Tyler acquired hands-on experience of digitization of photographs and textual materials, encapsulation and book preservation, and archival processing. We have asked Tyler to share his experiences in the blog below.

Best of luck with your future endeavors, Tyler!

From May 23 to July 25, I worked in the Special Collections as an intern.  The experiences I have had up to now and continuing are helpful for understanding what the job requirements and duties are for working in special collections.  One of the first activities that I did was to get familiar with the Special Collections area and to know the layout of the area.  This was done by a tour of the facility which showed each of the sections followed by an explanation of what each area was used for or what types of materials were housed in a particular piece of storage. I also had a formal orientation in the employee area where I informed the policies for working at the library.

As an intern, I had plenty of activities to do and learn for Special Collections.  One activity I did was to read and reflect on articles published by professionals in the library field and explore a variety of educational websites dealing with archives and special collections related information.  By reading and exploring these sites, I learned a lot about different processes and what steps to take to be successful in the archives.  These also have shown me the background knowledge of the various task perform in special collections and how to do each accordingly, so these were completed as accurately as possible as well.  The activities were done in conjunction with the readings which has also been helpful since the hands-on experiences help with the visual aspect and to understand how things need to be done in a certain way.  The activities which I worked on were:  assisting with creating a display of NASA materials for the Summer Reading Program, mounting bookplates, encapsulating a document using Mylar and double-sided tape, basic tear mending on a page and digitize materials using the KIC scanner and flatbed scanner.  Another was sorting some newspaper clippings in chronological order and creating an inventory of items donated in a manuscript collection.

            In conclusion, I found the summer internship experience in the Special Collections very important and helpful.  The experience has helped me to understand the process and the care of each item more carefully and what is needed to be done for the types of artifacts and how to handle them as well.  The internship has also reinforced my decision to work in this area after I am done with college.  I found the experience enjoyable as well and I will be thinking of ways to improve my education for the position as a result.

Below are some images of our stuffed animals performing the same task Tyler learned during his internship.

Animal Interns in Special Collections.

Animal Interns in Special Collections.

Animal Interns in Special Collections.

Animal Interns in Special Collections.

Animal Interns in Special Collections.

(posted by Tyler)

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