Saturday, August 22, 2015

Clinton, Illinoios

Everything is green.  There are many corn fields on each side of the road as far as one can imagine.  And then there it was.  A sign that read “Welcome to Clinton”.   Nearby another sign boasting a population of just over 7,000 people.  In the thirties there were under 6,000 people.

 Clinton was founded in 1835 and named after DeWitt Clinton, an American politician.  It is reported that in 1858 Abraham Lincoln gave a speech in Clinton in which he famously said, ‘You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot 
fool all of the people all of the time”.

They dedicated their town square to President Lincoln.

Two centuries ago, Clinton was known as a place where Lincoln gave a speech.  Today, Clinton is best known for its Apple and Pork Festival.  However, for my sisters and me, it is best known as the place where our father grew up.

Dad died in November 1979 when I was thirty.  I left home when I was 18.  I never got to know who he was as a person.  I have a snippet of information here and one there.  Today I try to put the pieces together.  Who was this man?  I love this picture.  He has a spark in his eyes that I don't remember seeing in my dad.  He looks happy and carefree.  I'm sure this picture must have been taken before the war.  I wonder what he was doing the day this picture was taken.  Who took the picture?  Where were they?  It seems strange to look at this smiling handsome man and know so little about him.

He was a Certified Public Accountant who worked at Hughes Productions until his retirement.  He was a veteran of World War II who I believe was haunted by things he did and saw.  He was an outdoorsman – a hunter and fisherman.  He was a bowler.  After the war he flipped a coin.  College?  New Orleans and Jazz?  The later won the toss.  He worked in a plastics factory when his money ran out.  He met mom in California who talked him into college.  He earned a Bachelors Degree in Accounting from the University of Arizona in Tucson.  He passed his CPA exam and began working at Haskins and Sells. These are all facts but it doesn’t tell me anything about who he is or his character.

I'm not sure what I expected as we drove into Clinton for the first time.  We stood at the sign, taking turns posing for a picture.

We were armed with the 1933 Census data and knew his boyhood home address.  It was the first place we set out to find.  There it stood - in disarray.  It appeared that a second story had been added but we could imagine my Grandmother and Grandfather living there with their three children:  two girls and a boy.  They were poor.  His dad, Otto Gideon Pettyjohn died young. He was alcoholic. I never knew him.  I got out and looked around the corner house, aware that I was walking in the very place that dad called his home.  What must life have been like for him as a young boy?

Our next stop was the Catholic Church.  Dad was an alter boy at this Church.  Although the church doors were locked we did return later and went inside.  The priest was less than friendly and seemed annoyed by our presence.  The intense hatred dad had for the Church leaves much for my sisters and I to imagine.

We meandered around town and stopped to talk with people who were sitting on porches, a policeman who gave us directions and passerby’s taking a walk.  Other than the Priest, everyone was very friendly and welcoming.  

We had lunch at the Shack.  A restaurant that was there when dad lived there.  As we sat at the table we speculated about whether he had eaten there.  His family was poor.  Maybe he worked there.  Maybe he just passed by now and then. 
The Shack
We visited the graveyard.  It was a large cemetary with four sites and thousands of graves. We didn't have any idea where we might find our grandfather although we knew he was buried there.  At one point I said, "Stop the car. Let me get out."  I began walking when I heard Sue say, "Right there!  There is a Pettyjohn."  Sure enough there he was, Otto Gideon.  That was a little creepy!  How did that happen?
Before we left on the trip I did some research, as I always do, developing an itinerary that maximizes our time.  I found the C.H. Moore Homestead Museum.  When I described this to my sisters, I said, “This probably won’t be that interesting.  I saw a video on line, but lets try it anyway.”  It turns out that it was a great find.  And, this is the reason for the Apple and Pork Festival.  It is a fundraiser to fund the mansion's upkeep.  Imagine.  This small community of just over 7,000 residents swells to over 80,000 during the festival.

Joey Wooldridge

Joey Woolridge, tells us about the old mansion before we explore. It turns out she was a wealth of information and had passion for Clinton history.  She was more interesting than the mansion.  

The Mansion was built after the Civil War and completed in 1867.  It only took a couple of questions and Joey was off, talking about various families and Clinton history beyond the home.  At one point she disappeared and upon return she presented information about James Pettyjohn who owned the Pettyjohn Saloon in Kenney, Illinois, a short drive from Clinton.   This was our Great-Grandfather.  There was a murder in his saloon. It must have been a big deal.  How fun to learn this small detail!

We later found that James Pettyjohn, a farmer, was the first settler of Kenney, Illinois.  He came from Kentucky in 1839.  It feels amazing to hear about people who, in part, made it possible for me to be here today.

And so as we leave this quaint, friendly small town, I am left with three things about my dad:  he was the child of an alcoholic, he was haunted by the war, he hated the Catholic Church.  Dad was distant, a womanizer and later an alcoholic himself.  Although I didn't learn much more about him than I knew before the visit, it was special to be part of this little town for a few hours.  Questions are still unanswered.  What haunted him?  I can’t be sure, but the speculation that has swirled around the questions is likely at least part truth.

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