A look at
Minonk's past

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By Barth Weistart

While reading articles about people who had come to America around the end of the 19th century, I noted that in some cases they came to get away from the draft or because the land being farmed would not support their parents and siblings. Nobles controlled their countries and set the taxes. Small allotments of land and high taxes lifted peoples eyes to the opportunities they had heard about in America. There at least they could work hard, raise their families, and reach for the dream.

WARNING! If you would rather not hear sad stories or tragedies in your own life seem overwhelming, please click off this story. There will be other pieces about the past that will be more pleasing.

A Polish boy, named M. Stupa (sic), 7 years old,
son of a miner, died of lung fever on Monday,
and was buried in the Catholic cemetery next day.

The Minonk News
Feb. 3, 1888

Imagine the grief of the parents. They had made it to America. But not everyone could be farmers, so they took the job available to them: mining. Their son got sick. There wasn't much money for medicine, but they did the best they could. To be sure there were others with lung fever. It was a common diagnosis at the time. But this was their son and they couldn't do enough to save him. He was buried the next day, probably because they didn't have money for preparations and a proper casket. Other children must be provided for.

Page 2

Last week we recorded the death of M. Stupek, a miner's son, 7 years old, from lung fever. On Monday
morning, a brother of his, aged 3 years, succumbed to the same disease, and was buried in the Catholic cemetery. Fr. Innocent presided at the funeral ceremony on Tuesday afternoon.

The Minonk News
Feb. 10, 1888

The tragedy was greatest when a child died or was it? The long-term effects were greatest when a parent was missed. This was especially true at the turn of the 19th century. Insurance wasn't as readily available to protect a family. Housework was manual, and it took a mother full time (and then some) to maintain a family. The father needed a full-time job to earn money for necessities.

Jas. O'Rourk (sic) and wife are both suffering
from lung fever. They live in Geo. Kessler's
house, two doors above Dwight Webber's.

The Minonk News
Mar. 9, 1888

And in the same paper

Jas. O'Rourke, a miner, died of lung fever
yesterday, aged 50 years. His wife is very
low with same disease. He leaves 7 children.

What will she do when she recovers? What will happen if she doesn't recover? Marriage is an answer if she can find someone who will provide for 7 children who are not his own.

Page 3

Orphan trains brought children out of the large city ghettos to be placed mainly on farms as adopted sons and daughters or as servants until they reached a specified age. The county would step in and take children from parents who weren't able to take care of them. Did this happen to these children? Events happened so fast the paper didn't have time to consolidate their stories. Something had to be done fast to provide for the children, and the mother was deathly sick. We can only imagine what happened. A miracle, maybe. The children may have grown up around us with their given last name or a new one.

Gaetano Castelli met death in a horrible manner near mine No.1 at Toluca last week. He went upon the hill to run down some empty coal cars to be loaded and climbed upon a car to wait for another string to come down to start a car which he could not move.

The cars when they struck the one on which he was standing jolted him off and he was run over and cut in two. He was forty-six years old and leaves his wife and six children.

The Minonk News
Aug. 1, 1907

Who could face such a devastating scene? I couldn't. But the people back then did. If there were men in Toluca who had fought in the Civil War, they would probably know what to do.

Someone had to tell his wife. How could she cope with such news? Let's hope the children were told in a gentle manner and didn't hear the news at school or at play from peers. The children's lives had just been changed whether they realized it or not. The event was such a little thing. Waiting for help to move a car. It had probably been done hundreds of times before. But then life is fleeting and can end when we are least prepared or least expecting.

Accidents happened because we were Minonk and trains ran through our town. And people didn't have cash to spend on travel. And towns had taverns. And people drank.

Page 4 On Friday night last Minonk was the scene of one of the most awful tragedies limited to a single life which has ever entered its history. Michael Foy, with companions named John Gilbride and A. Miller, left Spring Valley on that night bound south in quest of the higher wages paid miners in that end of the state. They did not propose to enrich the Ill. Cent. by payment of fare, and upon their discovery in a freight car at this point, were bounced. Foy, as his comrades admit, had been indulging to some extent, and was determined to continue his journey on the train from which he had been ejected. Pursuantly, he and comrades proceeded to the lower end of the yards to catch her on the fly. His friends, satisfied that the speed was dangerously fast for such an effort, dissuaded Foy from the attempt, but with headstrong will he sprang for the open door of one of the box cars, but could not hold on, and fell so that the wheels passed over portions of his body, inflicting terrible and fatal injuries.

Denis Ryan went down and had the wounded man placed in the caboose of a train that happened to be going north, and he was taken up to the city, where he died a few hours afterwards, but not before Father Innocent was summoned at his request, and administered to him. A small sum of money was found in his shoe, which is all the property he left to his poor wife and three small children. His fatherinlaw, Luke Frain, came down Saturday afternoon and took the remains to Spr. Valley for interment.

The Minonk News
Sep. 21, 1888

Here was a man trying to improve his lot in life. He had a family and heard he could earn more money elsewhere. He had to be nervous. His buddies where with him and he had to show them he had it all together. But this night he wasn't allowed any mistakes. No not one.

Page 5

In these stories, there were 18 children involved. All of these people were helping to make America what it is today. Did you notice that the hazards that these people experienced are no longer? We have treatments for "lung fever" and it generally doesn't lead to death.

Railroads are gone from many small towns. We fly and it's hard to hop a jet. Coal cars are mechanized with means of stopping and starting them. Yet, we still die violently: in cars, by guns, using tobacco, using drugs, and even walking across a street. Only the devices have changed.

I wanted to write this article because these people lived in a great building period of America and died in ways that are foreign to us today. One article in an old news paper didn't seem to do justice for them.