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Minonk's Famous People

by Dave Uphoff - February 15, 2010

Few people know of the famous people in Minonk's past, namely, Lorado Taft, Knowlton L. Ames, and Flovia Arcaro, all of whom lived in Minonk back in the late 1800's and early 1900's.

Lorado Taft ranks among the greatest of American sculptors. His statues and sculptures can be found in museums and parks all over the country. He was a professor at the Art Institute in Chicago and an associate professor at the University of Illinois.

Born in Elmwood, IL his family lived in Minonk from 1868 to 1871 where his father was a teacher at Minonk High School. In August of 1920, Mr. Taft returned to Minonk for a visit. Over 3000 people assembled in the City's west side park to hear Mr. Taft give a short speech and also to join in a picnic dinner.

The Minonk News-Dispatch had this to say about his visit. "Particularly was he impressed with the good roads and beautiful streets, the stately trees and splendid, comfortable, modern homes; the churches, library and business houses, all coming in for well-earned words of praise.

"Possibly most of all, however, was he pleased to see the large gathering of over 3,000 people, assembled in the city park enjoying the company of their fellow citizens and good music instead of the croaking of frogs in the old pond that fifty years ago occupied that spot."

Flavia Arcaro was a vaudeville entertainer and movie actress in the early 1900's. She was born in Texas in 1876 and eventually moved to Minonk. She left Minonk in 1901 to become a stage actress in New York. Later she went into movies and received top billing with famous actors like Eddie Foy. The only time she returned to Minonk was in 1921, but she did write letters periodically to the newspaper to keep people informed of her latest movie. In one of her letters she wrote,

"On New Year's day I thought of "The ViVisectionist" being shown in Minonk and wondered if, it was liked or not. "The Devil's Darling" is my favorite, so am anxious to know if you get it. "The Ace of Death" was released about three weeks ago. I hear it is a very big' seller. Also "The Secret Agent" is a recent release. Yes, I like very much to get the Minonk paper-there are many items that interest me."

Flavia returned to Minonk in 1921 for a short visit. Her return was described in the Minonk News-Dispatch as follows:

"After an absence of twenty years, Flavia Arcaro, famous prima donna, stepped off of a Santa Fe train on Monday evening looking as fresh and young as if she had been gone for but a day. Surprise was in store for her on every hand because every one of her many friends recognized her instantly, it was her first visit back to her old home time after having gone out into the world, single handed, and carved her way into fame in her chosen profession. For she is famous, and shows a record of achievement that is marvelous and wonderful."

The Minonk News-Dispatch always referred to Minonk as her hometown and the Royal Theatre would show her latest movies. Flavia died in New York in 1937 at the age of 60.

Knowlton L. Ames was the son of Miner T. Ames who operated the Minonk coal mine in the late 1800's. Knowlton gained his initial fame as an athlete at Princeton University. According to Wikipedia, "he scored 730 points for Princeton from 1886 to 1889, including 62 touchdowns. The achievement of scoring 730 points is an unofficial college football career record, although only records set since the NCAA began keeping records in 1937 are considered official." He was named to the first-ever All-America list in 1889 and was given credit for inventing the drop kick in football.

Ames nickname was "snake". He was born in Minonk and attended prep schools out East but spent the summers working with his father in Minonk at the mines. He was Purdue's first football coach in 1891 and during his two year tenure the team went undefeated.

Ames returned to Minonk after his father's death in 1892, to run the Minonk coal mine. During his management, the miners had a strike in which a miner was killed. He sunk the new mine north of Minonk but eventually departed for Chicago where he had a career in finance and publishing. He founded the Chicago Journal of Commerce and was chairman of the board of Booth Fisheries Company.

Knowlton L. Ames had a tragic ending to his phenomenal life when he shot himself in the back seat of his car while waiting for his chauffer to buy an item in a store in Chicago in 1931. He had lost all of his wealth in the stock market crash. He was 63.

The Minonk News-Dispatch ended a story about his death with the following quote:

"One can realize, who knew him as Tonica Ryan did, how the crash in the stock market "took" him. He was very wealthy, but he was a plunger. He never could brook defeat in any line of endeavor. When it came with cruel force, his pride forced him to dodge it."

Knowlton L. Ames from Walter Camp's 1894 book, "American Football"