By Peter Biggins
Emily Biggins Williams, James Alfred Biggins, Sarah Biggins Kelzenberg, and William Alfred Biggins contributed to this story.
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After attending my 50th reunion at Loyola University in Chicago in June 2010, we stopped by my old house in Wilmette on our way to visit that Scallans. Scott McQuiston was cutting the lawn as we stopped in front of the house. I told him I grew up there, and he invited us in. As I walked through from the attic to the basement, many memories were triggered, resulting eventually in this article.
John Alfred and Jane and Jane Drueke Biggins were married in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1937. They had five children: Emily in 1938, Peter in 1939, James in 1941, Sarah in 1943, and William in 1947. During this period, the family lived in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, Michigan, in Chicago and Lake Bluff, Illinois, and in Glendale, Kirkwood, and Webster Groves, Missouri, more or less in that order.
Dad worked for Union Bag and Paper Company, selling corrugated boxes to big companies like Anheuser Busch. Mom stayed at home and took care of us. In 1958, however, she got a job working with a comptometer in the actuarial department of Washington National Life Insurance Company in Evanston.
The house was of average size and age for the neighborhood. The lot was 60 by 200 feet. The first floor had a living room with a fireplace, a dining room, a kitchen, and small library. The kitchen had a kitchen table in the middle. The children took turns washing the dishesby hand. There was no microwave. There was only one bathroom in the house, on the second floor. Eventually, a pantry was converted into a "powder room" where the pipes would freeze during the winter. The second floor had three bedrooms, in addition to the bathroom. The master bedroom had a walk-in closet. There was no shower in the bathroom--we just took baths. Later, a shower was added to the bathtub. One morning we woke up and a large oval portion of the living room ceiling had just fallen down. It was so weird. Mom & Dad had won some money at the track a few days before, and so they got to use the money to repair the ceiling.
Connected to the back of the house was a screened sun porch off the first floor. Above that, there was a screened sleeping porch off one of the the bedrooms. We took turns sleeping out there based on a schedule.
There was a stairway to the attic, where there was a playroom that later became a fourth bedroom, and a storeroom.
The basement had a laundry room, a ping pong table, and a workbench. Under the stairs was a dark room for developing photographs from negatives. The laundry early on had an old ringer washer and no dryer, but once they were available, we got a regular clothes washing machine and a dryer. We also had an electric “mangle”, which mom used to press sheets and table cloths and napkins – flat things. We had “pant stretchers” that mom had for our khaki pants. She would put them on the wire stretchers and then the metal mechanism made the frame bigger and the pants dried straight, except for the top part, which Sarah remember very clearly getting to iron.
In the middle of the back yard, there was a very large elm tree. Opening on the alley was a two-car garage with doors that opened manually. On the side of the garage facing the house there was a screened summer house with a barbecue pit nearby made of cinder blocks.
Dinners were eaten together as a family in the dining room. The table had a lace tablecloth. Mom's dinners were pork chops, lamb chops, ham, liver and bacon, steak, hamburgs, spaghetti, etc. On Friday, we Catholics abstained from meat and ate fish. We ate mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, and French fries. We had a special grid-like device for cutting the French fries from a raw potato. The raw French fries were placed in a basket and dipped into boiling oil in a fryer. Vegetables included corn, peas, beans and sometimes corn on the cob. After dinner we had hot tea in the cold months and ice tea in the warm months. There was discussion at the table and a lot of humor. Once I laughed so hard some ham came out of my nose. The children did the dishes. One would wash and one would dry. There was no dishwashing machine. For breakfast we had cereal: Wheaties (Breakfast of Champions), Kellogg or Post Corn Flakes, Ralston Wheat Chex, Nabisco Shredded Wheat, Kellogg Rice Krispies (Snap, Crackle and Pop). Sometimes, we made our own soft boiled eggs for breakfast. On weekends, Dad would make pancakes. We had an electric juicer that made orange juice from oranges cut in half. And we had a new product called Minute Maid, which was frozen concentrate in a small cardboard can that was melted in hot water and then opened and plopped into a quart container with water added--resulting in orange juice.
Every once in a while, we had to defrost the refigerator--until they invented the frost-free refrigerator, which kept frost from forming by blowing air around inside the refrigerator.
Beverages came in tin cans and glass bottles. Tin cans were opened with a can opener or a "church key." There were no aluminum cans with "pop tops." There were no plastic bottles. Soda pop came in 8-ounce glass bottles. Bags were made out of paper, not plastic.
St. Francis Xavier Parish had four parish priests; the pastor Fr. Philip Hayes, Fr. Frank Shaughnessy, Fr. O'Hara, and Fr. Dehnert. Fr. Dehnert taught English at the minor seminary in Chicago, Quigley Preparatory Seminary. Later, Fr. Myles P. McDonnell (1919-1990) was assigned to the parish. The children often walked to 6:30 am Mass during the week, walked home for breakfast, and then walked to school. The boys were altar boys and sang in a boys choir at Christmas. Except for the gospel and sermon, the Mass was said in Latin. Altar boys instead of the people responded to the priest, in Latin. There were always two altar boys at each Mass. The priest and altar boys faced the altar like the people. There was a communion rail where people knelt for communion and received the host on their tongue. We fasted before communion. Many people had missals that they brought to church which allowed them to read the Mass in English while the priest was saying it in Latin. Singing was done by the priest or choir, not by the people. Gregorian chant was common. The organist and choir director was George Arns.
Jim, Sarah, and Bill received their First Communion at St. Francis. We all were confirmed at St. Francis. Emily was married at St. Francis.
St. Francis parish is part of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Cardinal Stritch (1987-1958) was archbishop from 1940 to 1958. Cardinal Meyer (1903-1965) was archbishop from 1958 to 1965. Pope Pius XII (1876-1958) was pope from 1939 to 1958. Pope John XXIII (1881-1963) was pope from 1958 to 1963. Vatican II opened in 1962 but did not conclude until 1965. Pope Paul VI (1897-1978) was pope from 1963 to 1978.
The children went to St. Francis Xavier School, a short two-block walk from home. The girls wore uniforms and the boys wore shirts and ties. The teachers were the Sisters of Providence who were headquartered in St. Mary-of-the-Woods, near Terre Haute, Indiana. There were eight sistersone for each grade. Sister Helen Clare was principal and taught 4th grade. Sister Gertrude Eileen taught 5th grade. Sister Ann Bernice taught 6th grade. Sister Vincentia taught 7th grade. Sister Mary Gilbert (1917-2009) taught 8th grade. There was a lot of school spirit, due in no small part to the sisters. The sisters lived in an an old stucco house next to the school and across the street from the church. Sometime during the mid-1950s, a new building was constructed to the north for the sisters in the same style as the church and the old house was torn down to make more playground. The sisters are no longer at St. Francis School, but the school is thriving and has a wait list for admissions. Kindergarten and preschool have been added.
We always carried an ironed handkerchief with us. Grandma Biggins gave us handkerchiefs at Christmas.
School subjects at St. Francis Xavier included religion, reading, penmanship, grammar, arithmetic, geography, civics, art, and speech. All work was done in ink. Everyone had an Esterbrook fountain pen and ink bottle from which to fill the pen. The pens had an ink reservoir and interchangeable nibs. Writing was taught according to the Palmer Method. Addition, subtraction, and multiplication tables were memorized. Sister tested progress in arithmetic with flash cards that had the problem on one side and the answer on the other. Subjects also included history, geography, and civics. Art and speech were taught by lay teachers who came in once a week. At the top of all schoolwork, the children put the the initials J.M.J. for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
We also had Eversharp mechanical pencils and Papermate ballpoint pens, which we used outside of school. Cheap disposable ballpoint pens had not been invented yet. We had a mechanical Underwood typewriter at home.
Eighth grade boys served as crossing guards. They were denoted by a white belt that went around the waist and across one shoulder. The children came home for lunch. Many hours were spent in the school yard at recess, lunch time, and after school, playing basketball, baseball, and jump rope. There was a sandpit for high-jumping.
Mom baked chocolate chip cookies, and at Christmas she made cookies from cookie cutters shaped like a bell, star, and Christmas tree. Mom also baked apple and cherry pies using a rolling pin to flatten out the dough for the crust. There was always some dough left over to make after-school treats. We also had Nabisco Graham Crackers, Ginger Snaps, Oreos, and Salerno Butter Cookies. The Salerno family lived in our parish. Gloria was in Peter's grade.
The school had boys football and basketball teams that played in a league with other Catholic schools. The coach was Father Shaughnessy. He had a Chevrolet station wagon. Football practice and games were played at Washington Park on Lake Michigan (now called Gillson Park). Basketball practice was in the basement of the school, where the ceilings were really not high enough for basketball. Games were played at St. Athanasius parish in Evanston. Chicago Cubs announcer Jack Brickhouse lived next door to the school and spoke some years at the annual football dinner.
St. Francis was an Irish parish, though it was never spoken of that way. The priests, sisters, and parishioners were mostly Irish. Notre Dame was the favorite football team. Frank Leahy was coach through 1953. Quarterback Paul Hornung won the Heisman Trophy in 1956. The Notre Dame Victory March was sung in school. After school, the children sometimes watched a film in the basement of the school, such as "Knute Rockne, All American," "Boys Town," "Going My Way," and "The Bells of St. Mary's."
Our father was Irish and our mother was German. Their ancestors had come to America 100 years ago. But we mostly talked about being Irish. Maybe it was because our German grandparents lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and our Irish grandparents lived in Chicago. Maybe it was due to fighting two World Wars against the Germans. Maybe it was just because the Irish like to talk about being Irish, after being repressed by the English all those years. Still, we had a few vestiges of Germany in our house. Our Grandma and Grandpa Drueke went to Europe in 1950, and brought the older children back Omega watches. There was a pair of lederhosen that we had been given but nobody would wear. There was a zither that nobody played that belonged to Father Zugelder, our grandmother's cousin. And there was a German song on the wall that I don't remember, like "Ja, das ist ein schnitzelbank."
As children growing up with Irish Catholics, we were never quite sure we were one of them. Dad said we were Irish, but the name Biggins just did not sound Irish compared with Murphy, Kelly, O'Connor, Maguire, etc. When you told people your name, they would ask you how to spell it, or say it sounded English, or mistake it for Higgins. I only met one Biggins who wasn't a relative: John Biggins, an executive with the Elgin Watch Company, whom I caddied for around 1953 when he was a guest at Indian Hill Club in Winnetka. (In 2002, I retired and got hooked on genealogy. The first eye-opener was my great great grandfather's first name in the family Bible--Patrick. That sounded real Irish. I found books in the library that not only listed the name Biggins but also said it came from the Irish word beag which, ironically, means small. The U.S. censuse of 1850 said Patrick's wife was Bridget and the two of them were from Ireland. I found two other Biggins families living across the road from Patrick and Bridget, one with an 1890 biography that said they were from County Monaghan. Eventually, I had my DNA tested and found out I was not only related to people named Beggan, Beaghen, Little, and Bigham, but also to people named McGuire, McMahon, Carroll, McDonald, and McKenna--all names historically said to be descended from The Three Collas, brothers who lived in 4th-century Ulster.)
In addition to coaching football and basketball, Fr. Shaughnessy put on a Variety Show with the school children at the Central School auditorium. We sang "Once in Love with Amy" and other popular songs. Amy was two children in a horse suit.
The school had girls basketball teams. The coaches were graduates in high school. Kay Murphy and Sarah coached for several years. There were leagues across the city and suburbs. We mainly played against schools in Evanston, Winnetka, and even up to Hubbard Woods. Every Christmas break, St. Ignatius grade school in Rogers Park hosted a 3-day long city-wide basketball competition for girls.
During the winter, the playground at Central School was flooded for ice skating. The boys had hockey skates and the girls had figure skates. We played a game called "pom-pom pullaway." Sarah has vivid memories of winter activities:
We loved to ice skate at Central School. We would walk over with our skates tied and hanging from our shoulders. The fire department flood it every Saturday morning and I loved to get there first and have the first blade marks on the ice. There was a warming shack with a fire that helped us when we were cold. I can remember fun “Red Rover” games and also “crack the whip”, which involved a group of 7-10 kids, holding hands in a single line. We would first all skate very fast and then the leader would stop and whip the rest of the group around. Great fun! Every year St. Francis school would have a “skating field day”, with races and other competition for different grade levels. They gave ribbons for the first thru third place. They also had a figure skating part and I loved that. Another winter activity was sledding and tobogganing across from Michigan Shores Club. We had some great runs that went down to the Wilmette Beach. Sometimes the biggest run would get icy and boy! was that fun (and probably dangerous, but who knew?).
Mom and Dad were big fans of Eisenhower. They voted for Dewey against Truman in 1948. I remember the famous erroneous headlines on the Chicago Tribune delivered to our home on November 3, 1948: DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN. I turned 21, the legal voting age, on election day in 1960 and voted for the first Catholic president of the United States. It was a great feeling. One of my classmates at the University of Chicago was a nephew of Kennedy's assistant Dave Powers and had him send me a signed photo of John F. Kennedy in 1961 with a cover letter from Priscilla Wear. The whole country was shocked when he was killed in Dallas 27 months later.
There were two major shopping areas. One was on Central Avenue at Wilmette Avenue and Green Bay Road, where the dime store, the Wilmette Theater, the barber shop, and Versino's sport shop were. There was a National Tea supermarket. And there was a Spudnut Shop, famous for their raised potato doughnuts. The Village Green was there, which included the Village municipal building, which had a spacious area of green grass.
Across Green Bay Road, was the Wilmette Library. Near there was Wilmette Savings and Loan, where we all had passbook savings accounts. Imperial Motors was there, too, where we went to look at Jaguars and other foreign cars. The Post Office was there--we used to read the WANTED posters, for lack of anything else to do.
The other shopping area was on Linden Avenue and Fourth Street. Lyman's Drug Store was there and it had a soda fountain. Kitty-corner from Lyman's was the "El" terminal. Another store on Linden Avenue was the Jewel supermarket. Next to that was a bakery. Sarah has fond memories of shopping:
For some reason I can remember riding my bike to the Jewel at lunchtime because Mom needed more Wonderbread. I can also remember riding my bike down to Wilmette Harbor after school to get freshly-caught perch for dinner. I don’t know about you, but I detested perch because it had so many bones.
We also went to Evanston for shopping. There was a store at Broadway and Central Street in Evanston,where we got ice cream cones. They also had bubble gum with comics and baseball cards. For shoes, we went up to Vose's Bootery on Central Street in Evanston, where we bought new shoes and had had new soles and heels put on old shoes. They had a fluoroscope that showed you where your toes were inside your shoes. Shoes were brown and made out of leather.
For our stamp and coin collections, we took the bus to Chandler's, a large stationery store on Davis Street in downtown Evanston. They also had the best selection of Classic Comics. Jim and I had a complete set in special Classic Comics binders. Marshall Field's had a store there, too.
There was one small shopping area on Lake Michigan in Wilmette called No Man's Land. It was on Sheridan Road near the border with Kenilworth. There was small shopping area with a theater called Teatro Del Lago, a music store, and other shops. South of that was a foreign used care dealer. Another attraction for children was the concrete ruins of a 1920s casino on both sides of Sheridan Road. One day we took our BB guns there and divided up sides and shot at each other. It was kind of scary; but, fortunately, no one was hurt. It was called No man's Land because, before 1942, it was unincorporated and neither Wilmette nor Kenilworth wanted anything to do with it. Now there are high-rise apartment buildings on the east side of Sheridan Road overlooking Lake Michigan and the fancy Plaza del Lago shopping center on the west side of Sheridan Road.
Shopping centers, later called malls, arrived in 1956. Old Orchard opened in Skokie with a Marshall Field's store. Edens Plaza opened in Wilmette with a Carson Pirie Scott store.
Our doctor was Dr. Pleiss. His office was in Winnetka, but he lived in our parish on Lake Street. When we got sick, he would come to our house. At one time or another, we all got the measles, mumps, and chicken pox. Immunizations were not generally available until the 1960s and 1970s.
Our dentist was Dr. Chinnock. His office was above Lyman's Drug Store in Wilmette, and he lived in our parish. His son Tom Chinnock was in my class. Dr. Chinnock was from Grand Rapids, Michigan, where mom grew up. Crest toothpaste with fluoride was not introduced until 1955. Before that we ususally had a couple of cavaties that had to be filled. After fluoride, we had no cavaties.
The children all had Schwinn bicycles, which they rode regularly to school, stores, and friends' houses.
During the summer, the children rode their bicycles to Wilmette Beach, on Lake Michigan. The water was cold, usually in the 50s. If the temperature got up into the 60s, it was called "polio water" and the beach was closed. There was a large building where we changed into our bathing suits. We put our street clothes into a basket that was checked. We had metal tokens pinned to our bathing suits. There was a raft, but you had to demonstrate that you could swim the distance to get out there. If you were successful, you got the letters WB cut out of felt that you had sewn to your bathing suit, allowing you to go out to the raft whenever you wanted to. We would swim for hours and hours. We never used sunblock.
Most streets in Wilmette were and still are made of brick. Another unique feature of Wilmette (and the Chicago area) is the existence of alleys. Alleys were incorporated in the original 1830 plan for the the City of Chicago. Like the city and other older suburbs, Wilmette was laced with alleys for garages and trash pick-up. One path between 806 Oakwood and St. Francis School was through an H-shaped alley, part of which was unpaved. The unpaved portion had potholes that filled with water when it rained and was affectionately known as the "mushy alley."
There was little concern about environmental health in those days. Our parents smoked cigarettes, and we did, too, once we reached age 15 or so. Our thermometer had mercury in it. We burned our leaves in the street and our paper trash out by the alley. The North Shore Mosquito Abatement District sprayed DDT into the sewers and on standing water with spray cans and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle with tank side car. At night, they sprayed the trees with a noisy DDT fogger truck. (I worked several summers for the District, including two summers on the Harley.) Rachel Carson's Silent Spring was published in 1962, and DDT was banned in 1972.
There was one telephone in the house. It had a party line, which meant that someone else could be talking on the phone when you picked it up to call and you would have to put it down and wait for them to get off. The telephone number for the Biggins residence was an easy one to remember: 6543. To make a call, you picked up the phone and waited for the operator to say "number, please." Then you said the number you were calling and the operator connected you. The operator worked at the Wilmette Telephone Company on Wilmette Avenue, a subsidiary of Illinois Bell Telephone Company, which in turn was a subsidiary of American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T). The manager of the Wilmette Telephone Company was Mr. Welch, who lived across the street from us. After a few years, our telephone number changed to Alpine 6543. Alpine was the designation for the Wilmette exchange. Later it was Alpine 1-6543. All phones were made by Western Electric, a subsidiary of AT&T, at its Hawthorne Works in Cicero, a western suburb of Chicago.
Two newspapers were delivered to the house every day: The Chicago Tribune in the morning and the Chicago Daily News in the afternoon. That meant two sets of comics and two crossword puzzles. Al and Jane were both into crossword puzzles, and the children followed suit. Comics included L'il Abner, Dick Tracy, Brenda Starr, Smilin' Jack, Gasoline Alley, Joe Palooka, Mark Trail, Mutt and Jeff, Nancy, Pogo, Terry and the Pirates, and Winnie the Pooh. Peanuts started in 1950. Every year on the Sunday before Halloween, there was a cartoon drawing on the cover of the Tribune Magazine called "Injun Summer" by John T. McCutcheon (1870-1949). In fact, "Injun Summer" had been running annually in the Tribune when Dad was a boy in Chicago. (See Tuxedo Junction.) There were two other newspapers we did not get: the Chicago Sun-Times (a tabloid) in the morning and the Herald-Examiner in the afternoon.
The children sometimes went to the Wilmette Theater on Central Avenue, which had a double feature and a newsreel every Saturday for 25 cents. The first movie was invariably a cowboy movie. Favorites were Roy Rogers (1911-1998), Hopalong Cassidy (William Boyd, 1895-1972), and Gene Autry (1907-1998). The theater was air-conditioned, something no one had at home in those days. When we got older, we went to drive-in theaters with our friends.
We listened to the Lone Ranger, Ozzie and Harriet, Superman, Captain Midnight, Mark Trail, Sky King, Jack Benny, and Bob and Ray on the radio.
We also listened to popular songs on the radio: I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover, Ghost Riders in the Sky, Mule Train, The Third Man Theme, Tennessee Waltz, Mona Lisa, Goodnight Irene, Hey Good Lookin, Rock Around the Clock, Oh Mein Papa, Sh-Boom, Mr. Sandman, The Great Pretender, Sixteen Tons, Ain't It a Shame, Hound Dog, Blue Suede Shoes, Don't Be Cruel, Blueberry Hill, Volare, Tom Dooley, I Walk the Line, That'll Be the Day, La Bamba, Mack the Knife, Kansas City, Chain Gang, The Twist. (The Beatles did not perform on the Ed Sullivan Show until February 1964.)
The first television we saw was the 1948 presidential election. The Petersens, who live in back of us on Eighth Street, brought their new TV over to our house to watch the convention. There was a magnifying glass in front of the TV to make the picture bigger. The color was bluish. The library in our home became the TV room when we acquired our first TV in 1949 or 1950. There were folding "TV tables" for eating meals while watching TV. We watched Bishop Sheen, the Cubs, Captain Video, Lone Ranger, I Love Lucy, Jackie Gleason, Ed Sullivan, The Morris B. Sachs Amateur Hour, Dragnet, What's My Line?, I've Got a Secret, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Groucho Marx, George Gobel, the $64,000 Question, Championship Bowling, and the Hit Parade.
We had a console with an AM/FM radio and a high fidelity record player. Records were 78 rpm, 45 rpm, and long-play 33-1/3 rpm with jackets. Our records included My Fair Lady, Oklahoma, South Pacific, Albert and the Ramsbottoms, An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May.
As kids, we were given crystal radio kits from which we made our own simple radios that had a weak signal but required no power source. Sometime in the early 1950s, I got a portable radio as a gift from my parents. It was about the size and weight of a lunch box, and contained several "A" batteries. In 1954 transistors were developed that could replace radio tubes, and I got one of these radios as a present from my parents. It was much smaller and lighter and had a black plastic case. You could almost put it in your pocket. It was powered by flashlight batteries.
Most people in Wilmette were Chicago Cub fans (except for my brothers Jim and Bill, who for some reason were White Sox fans). The Cubs record for the 15 years we lived in Wilmette was no different from other time periods. During that 15 years, they won 1,062 games and lost 1,416. Their best finish was 1959, when they were only 13 games behind the Natioinal League leader. Their worst finish was 1962, when they finished 42.5 games behind. The average for the 15 years was 29. The Cubs had players such as Andy Pafko, Phil Cavaretta, Roy Smalley, Hal Jeffcoat, Dee Fondy, Bob Rush, Hank Sauer, Ernie Banks, Wayne Terwilliger, Bill Serena, and Randy Jackson. Ron Santo did not join the Cubs until 1960. The games were announced by Jack Brickhouse on WGN-TV starting in 1948. Jack Brickhouse lived a block away from us at Linden and Eighth, almost next door to St. Francis School. He was not a Catholic, but he and his wife came to our school football dinners. We were also Bear fans, but professional football was not nearly as popular as baseball. Jack Brickhouse announced the Bear games on WGN radio.
Bowling was a popular pastime, with the invention of automatic pinsetters by Brunswick and AMF. Mom and dad had their own bowling balls and shoes. The children rented them at the bowling alley. We watched Don Carter and Dick Weber bowl 300 games on TV.
We played tennis at Washington Park (now called Gillson Park) with wooden tennis racquets.
We played golf at the par-60 Community Golf Course in north Evanston and south Wilmette, along the city sanitation canal. Seven holes are in Wilmette, 11 in Evanston. Sometimes we paid.Sometimes we just played a couple holes back and forth during off hours. It is now call the Frank Govern Memorial Golf Course.
We lived through the early years of the Cold War, anti-Communism, and the nuclear arms race. The Domino theory argued that if one country fell to Communist forces, then all of the surrounding countries would follow. There were periods of relative calm, but also recurring points of tension. The Korean War lasted from 1950 to 1953, ending with a truce at the 39th parallel. The Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, with Checkpoint Charlie. The Cuban Missile Crisis occurred in 1962. In school, we went through exercises to protect us from nuclear fallout. I siren would go off and we ducked under our desks and assumed the fetal position, lying face-down and covering our heads with our hands.
On April 27, 1951, General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) passed through Wilmette on his way from Chicago to Milwaukee with his wife and son. We went to see him and applaud as he drove north on Sheridan Road. We saw him at Linden Avenue. He was on his way to receive an honorary award from Marquette University. The night before, he had addressed 55,000 people at Soldier Field in Chicago. Earlier that month, President Harry S. Truman had dismissed him as commander of U.S. forces in Korea for criticizing Truman's policies in Korea. MacArthur retired after 52 years of service. A 1992 article in Time by Garry Wills said "the people supported MacArthur against Truman, 66% to 25%, according to Gallup" and "85% of journalists surveyed backed Truman." In a farewell address to Congress earlier that month, MacArthur recited the words of an old Army ballad: "old soldiers never die; they just fade away." In 1952, MacArthur became Chairman of the Board of Remington Rand (later Sperry Rand and Univac) and had an office in the Farrell mansion in Rowayton, Connecticut, where Peter worked for Hewitt Associates from 1995 to 1998. See Wilmette Life, May 3, 1951, page 20.
On weekends, Dad would drive the family to Chicago to go to the Lincoln Park Zoo where we would see Bushman the gorilla and Mike the polar bear and get a box of Cracker Jack with a prize at the bottom. From there, it was a short distance to visit our grandparents and cousins at the University Apartments at Sheffield near Fullerton across from the tennis courts and the El.
The main car route into Chicago was Sheridan Road to Lake Shore Drive. Eden's Expressway opened in 1951, but it ran through western Wilmette. So, we mostly still took Sheridan Road and Lake Shore Drive.
There were three ways of getting to downtown Evanston on public transportation: the El, the North Shore, and the Evanston Bus, which we caught at Central Street in Evanston.
Air travel was out of Midway Airport on Cicero Avenue between 55th and 63rd streets in Chicago. O'Hare did not become the main airport until 1962. Once when we took our father to Midway for a business trip, we were each given 10 cents for the pop corn machine. There was a supply of bags, and you put your dime in and a measure of pop corn emptied into your bag. Well, something happened to the machine and the pop corn just kept coming out. It did not take long to figure out that we could all get pop corn on the one dime by using the unlimited supply of bags. Airplanes had propellers rather than jet engines. The Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 jets did not start service until the late 1950s, and then only on long hauls.
There were several summers in the 1940s when Emily and I went to Michigan to visit our Drueke grandparents and cousins. This usually included a few weeks at our grandparents' cottage on the east side of Coldwater Lake between the 4H Club and the Isabella County Park, about 80 miles northwest of Grand Rapids. The address of the Park is now 1703 N. Littlefield Road in Weidman. Sometimes the whole family went. They went by car and inevitably had a flat tire. In the summer of 1949, Emily and I flew from Chicago to Grand Rapids by themselves on a Capital Airlines DC-3. In 1961, Capital Airlines became part of United Airlines.
We lived six blocks from Dyche Stadium (Ryan Field since 1996) in Evanston, where Northwestern University plays football. We often snuck into games on Saturday. There was also a baseball field (Rocky Miller Park since 1984) where we would go to watch the team play and get broken bats. In 1953, McGaw Hall was built, where Northwestern plays basketball. In 1956, the NCAA Final Four basketball playoffs were held at McGaw Hall (Welsh-Ryan Arena since 1984). Peter and Jim bought four tickets, with the intention of scalping two. It did not work as they were caught by the FBI and forced to cough up their extra tickets. (They were still able to use the other two tickets.)
The family had an English Bulldog named Salute to Jeeves. He was the son of a champion, Salute. Although he was never trained to obey commands, he did agree to live in the kitchen. Slobber would fly whenever Jeeves shook his headwhich could be annoying around the breakfast table. One day he escaped and was running around a school yard with several other dogs. The dog catcher came and all the dogs ran away, except Jeeves, who ran right into the open door of the dog catcher's van. Another time, Dad and my brother Jim decided to show Jeeves at the dog show at Navy Pier. They asked me to take Jeeves around the ring. The poor dog, straining at his leash, threw upa great embarrassment.
There was a ping pong table in the basement when we moved in. Many hours were spent at the game. In the summer, the table was moved out to the summer house attached to the garage in the backyard.
Mom and Dad were avid bridge players. They played often with Dad's brother Dick and his wife Virginia. They taught all their children to play so that whenever they needed a third or fourth player there would always be one available. The need to do homework for school was not a valid excuse.
At Christmas in 1956, a cribbage tournament was held in the Biggins household. Each person played each other person. Dad devised an elaborate scoring system. The winner was Mom. Thus began a Christmas tradition that was to go on for 14 years: the Annual Biggins Cribbage Tournament. Dad had a trophy designed, and the the winner's name was inscribed each year. Dad and Bill each won three times. Mom and Sarah each won two times. Peter, Jack Williams, Jim, and Emily each won once. Sarah currently has the plaque from the trophy in her possession. The trophy itself appears to be lost to posterity.
In 1952, Emily went to Marywood High School in Evanston. From there she went to Clark College in Dubuque, Iowa, and Mundelein College in Chicago. In 1956, Emily graduated from Mundelein College. After post graduate work in dietetics at Stamford University and the University of Minnesota, Emily became a dietician at Evanston Hospital. There she met a personnel administrator, John David Williams. In 1962, Emily and Jack were married at St. Francis Xavier Church. Jack served as head administrator for hospitals run by the Sisters of Charity in Galveston, Texas; Long Beach, California; Henderson, Nevada; and Redding, California. After Jack retired from hospital administration, Emily and Jack owned and operated a computer store in Redding and the Lighthouse Inn in Florence, Oregon. They have five children.
In 1953, I went to Quigley Preparatory Seminary in Chicago to study for the priesthood. In 1956, I changed my mind about the priesthood and enrolled in Loyola University in Chicago. In 1960, I graduated from Loyola University. In 1962, I received an MBA from the University of Chicago. I went on active duty in the U.S. Army for six months and started work in 1963 with Allstate Insurance Company. In 1964, I married Marilyn Carroll in Glenview, Illinois. I went on to work for the Chicago and North Western Railway, Hewitt Associates, Xerox, Ford, and LTV. We have four children.
In 1955, Jim went to Loyola Academy on the campus of Loyola University in Chicago. In 1957, Loyola Academy moved from Chicago to Wilmette, which is where Jim graduated. From there, he went to Marquette University in Milwaukee for two years and Loyola University in Chicago for two years. In 1963, he graduated from Loyola University. He worked for Illinois Bell Telephone for a year and then joined the Navy, went to Officers Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, and served on active duty for 30 years, retiring as a Captain. In 1969, Jim married Anne Roarty in Washington, D.C. They have three children. Jim's career included tours of duty on three Navy ships.
In 1961, Bill went to Loyola Academy in Wilmette for high school. When Mom and Dad moved to the Keys, Bill finished high school at Marathon High School. He attended the University of Florida in Gainesville and California State University in Sacramento. While at CSU, he met Christie Ann Mays. They were married in 1986 in Golden Gate Park.
Dad died in 1979. Mom died in 1998. Emily lives in Las Vegas. I live in Connecticut. Jim lives in southern Maryland. Sarah lives in Phoenix. There's no one left in Wilmette.
Scott McQuiston, current owner of our house at 806 Oakwood, summed up our visit in June 2010: "I sense you had a very happy time here with many special memories for you." He added, "I can say in the two short years we have lived here we have been very happy."
Email from Sarah Braden, September 21, 2016
"WONDERFUL, FASCINATING, etc. My family moved from Evanston to Wilmette in the early 1950s at 10th & Ashland, moving to 1234 Ashland in 1958. Mom & Dad had six kids starting in 1945 through 1960. Dad died too young in 1970 (he was an Internist on staff at Evanston Hospital) and mom stayed in the house until 1990. We went to Central School and the First Congregational Church of Wilmette.
"In the Addendum was an email from PATTI GENKO who was reminiscing about her childhood dentist, and doctor (Dr. Josephine Earlywine ... a Wilmette Institution!) but she also wondered about Dr. Savage? I believe she's thinking of Dr. John Savage who was a surgeon - and a peer of my dad's - and a lovely, gentle soul. He operated on me a couple of times over the years. If you can reach her and send this along, she might find it interesting.
"Thanks again - I am the self-appointed family genealogist and am terribly impressed with your research in general."
Email from Classmate Tony Fermann, September 19, 2016
"About 10 years ago I gave my 1953 8th Grade Scrapbook to St. Francis. I got it back recently so I could scan it into the computer and then I returned it to St. Francis. It had many pictures and articles (about 300 scanned images). Hope you enjoy."
Tony sent me a thumbnail drive of the entire scrapbook. Below are a few selected images.
Email from Patti Genko, January 17, 2015
"Just was reminiscing about Wilmette and read your blog. I was born in Evanston at St. Francis in 1957.
"My grandmother and mother lived in Wilmette, 213 6th Street, in a old white stucco bungalow with an enclosed front porch on a double lot. The house was torn down to make room for a new red brick home many years ago but I still have some old pictures of it that I found going through my Mother's estate this year.
"Mom and Dad while working at Lyman's! Dad was a pharmacist and Mom was a cashier! They lived in Evanston in an apartment when I was first born there.
"I remember riding my bike to Linden corners (or whatever we called that little neighborhood) where the "L" was, and shopping at the 5 and 10. There was a gas station next door where I would pump up my bike tires. They also had a great bakery on that block. We would buy our Bismark's there filled with jelly. Sometimes I would get Suzy Q's and eat them in front of the Jewel. There were a few women's dress and shoe stores in that neighborhood back then too. Up the block there was as park and they would flood that in Winter and that was our skating rink. I loved that we could walk to the grocery store or ride a bike to that shopping area and explore the neighborhood.
"I have many fond memories of Wilmette at two different times in the life. We moved to Wilmette to stay with my Grandmother after my Grandfather had passed, and also when we were building a home in Libertyville, we stayed with Grandma for half a year.
"The first time I was in Kindergarten and I attended Laurel School. (What intersection was that on?) I have great memories of going up those steep old stairs in that three story brown brick building, to the classroom, and playing in that large school yard surrounded by majestic oaks and elms and so many squirrels, grey, red, black. They were everywhere! Remember how noisy the blue jays were? There was a healthy population of those noisy birds in our neighborhood too.
"Then in 6th grade we lived with Grandmother again and I attended Central School. I rode my bike everywhere including to uptown Wilmette by the railroad and the "other" Lyman's Pharmacy.
"My dentist was Dr. Chinnock as well! I don't have great memories of him as I ALWAYS had a bunch of cavities to fill! My pediatrician was Dr. Earlywine (sp?) and she ran her office in downtown Wilmette. Was there a Dr. Savage in that dentists office too?
"We were also members of St. Francis and I would walk with Grandma to Mass every Sunday from our house it was a long walk. I also remember walking to and from Central School. For a 6th grader that was also a long walk!
"Do you remember Peacock's ice cream? We went to the No Man's Land shop once or twice and then when it moved over to Skokie Road across from Fannie Mae and near Old Orchard, that was our lunch spot of choice to get a Green River or Cherry Phosphate, and hot dogs, and the BEST chocolate chip ice cream EVER!
"Thanks again for sharing all this! Love to see more people be able to contribute pictures and stories here."
Email from Brenda Whaley Kennedy, August 22, 2014
"I will start by introducing myself. I have been in New Canaan for 22 years after having raised 4 children in Darien from 1974-1992. We, too, were members of St. Thomas More Church. Your name did not ring a bell so I am sure that our paths never crossed.
"The reason I came upon all this information about your family was the simple fact that I Googled Jack Brickhouse and was trying to remember where he lived in Chicago. I thought, at one time, it was on the south side near my grandparents. That’s when I started reading about your childhood in Wilmette. I grew up in Racine, Wisconsin and my dad had the first television in the neighborhood. He owned a heat treating business and was asked by Motorola to give a talk about his recent trip to Russia and in return they presented him with a TV. We, too, had a magnifying device to make the screen larger.
"So many of the childhood experiences you had, were so familiar to me and my family. There is something special about growing up in the Midwest.
"My daughter and her family lived in Winnetka for about 7 years and I just loved going to visit her. We always had to make that trip to Racine to buy Kringle and to see the homestead and the Racine Zoo.
"I won’t keep going on but wanted you to know that I enjoyed reading about your family history."
Email from Sara J. Ofenloch, April 17, 2014
"By way of my brother in the Denver area, I received a copy of your story about growing up in Wilmette. I too grew up from 1955-1966 in a house on 7th and Greenleaf. We moved from Chicago in the spring of 1955 and I began St. Francis in April as a fifth grader with Sr. Mary Catherine. The class had already mastered fractions - I had no clue. The most vivid of these memories is having Sr. Mary Gilbert - then Principal - as our eighth grade teacher. All sixty-three of us in one room! No one was going to split us up!
"There were so many Catholics on our square block we thought there could hardly be another faith! I only hope my children have had such wonderful memories about neighborhoods and small communities like I did. So again thank you so much and I have passed it on to others I thought might enjoy the story and memories as well."
Email from L. S., August 6, 2013
"I read your account of growing up in Wilmette in the 1950’s that was posted on Facebook, and it was a wonderful trip down memory lane for me. I am a bit younger but grew up in Wilmette and attended St. Francis Church and Sunday School my whole life until I left for college in 1969.
"What an amazing place and what amazing times they were to grow up! Thank you for sharing these memories and oh my what a memory trip. And gosh darn these memories and photos make me think to my Mother who had stories and photos that made her seem ancient! Now the times have moved on!"
Email from Barb Dhein , August 6, 2013
"I was so touched by your article that I found on facebook tonight about growing up Wilmette and your days at St. Francis.
"As I read it I kept asking myself "why do I know the name "Peter Biggins"? The world is VERY small. When you mentioned your wife, Marilyn Carroll Biggins the light went on, very brightly I might add. We're related....albeit, a little removed!!!
"This could be a good time to pour yourself a cup of coffee. This won't be short but, I hope you'll find it worth your time.
"My name is Barb Dhein and I am the daughter of Jim (died in '77) and Barbara Schaefer Dhein (almost 87 and going strong). My grandmother, Mary Carroll Dhein, (also the mother of Don) and your father/father in law were cousins. Marilyn, you might remember her and/or her brother, Tom. He married Marie Henrick and they had two children, Sheila and Tommy. He was a character and I'm sure if you met him you'd most likely remember.
"I have such vivid, wonderful memories of Bunny in the day. I was a little kid when she lived in Park Ridge. At the time my parents lived a few blocks away and when "Gram" Dhein would visit sometimes we'd see Bunny and Mickey. This was long before the days of Johnny.
"Let's make the world smaller. Back when I was young and dumb I had visions of stardom. I played the guitar and sang, actually did that professionally for a while a few years later. When I was a junior in high school my Mom and Dad took us to Ft. Lauderdale for spring break. I got to stay with Mickey and Johnny for a few days. One night Johnny let me get up and sing "Born Free" at the Monmartre in Miami where he was headlining. What a thrill that was! I had such a ball with them. Over the years, unfortunately, we've lost touch.
"In your article you mentioned Joe Hyler and Kay Murphy. Joe's nephew, Bill Rees, and I were St. Francis into high school "sweethearts". Bill's son, Tommy, is the quarterback at Notre Dame. That certainly is in keeping with your ND memories of St. Francis. Joe's sister, Peggy Rees, is still in the parish. I met him briefly at the "All School Reunion" a few years ago.
"While still pursuing music in my 20's I moved to California and lived with Kay and her brother Bob for a short time until I found an apartment. Louise Murphy, their Mom, and my Grandmother Schaefer were great friends. When we moved to Wilmette Kay's younger brother, Tommy (now deceased) was my first friend. I am still pretty close to the family. I so enjoyed seeing her in your graduation picture.
"All your pictures are fabulous. Marilyn, I don't think I realized how much you and Mickey look alike. The recent picture of the two of you really struck me. It was great fun for me to see that and all your home page pictures."
Email from Anthony (Tony) Fermann, July 15, 2013
"I recently came across your article about "Wilmette in the 1950's" - Great Job - It brought back many good memories.
I am attaching some pictures I think you might like (and want). Some of these are from school days and some are from class reunions."
Email from Ann Crilly McConnachie to my sister Sarah, May 19, 2013
"Brought back lots of memories even though I didn't move there until the late 50s. When you think about it and in the big scheme of things, we all had a pretty good childhood. And Wilmette, though not as diversified as the South Bronx, was a pretty good place to grow up."
Note from Steven Franden, May 6, 2013
"After the 50th reunion of the class of 1956 from SFX, our classmates have ket in touch! Through them I received your wonderful article about Wilmette. All those memories which we shared - even going to wave at MacArthur!
"Your brother, Jim, was my scout leader at SFX and I always thought he was the nicest guy on earth. I was credit manager at Marsall Field and Company for several years and in the 70's my wife and I bought the Donahue's house at 4th & Washington.
"Later we moved to Barrington and then to Pasadena, California. For the past 32 years we have lived in Austin and watched it grow into a metroplex while retaining its laid-back welcoming atmsphere. I remember both you and Sarah. I even remember visiting your house and playing ping pong with Jim. Please remember me to them.
"Both my older brother and I were caddies at Indian Hill. Our first house was at Thornwood and 23rd (Hunter) before we moved to 918 Ashland, living close to Plaza del Lago. We swam at the ruins. We were members of Michigan Shores and tobagganed on Suicide Hill in the Winters. Remember the Choo-Choo Hamburger place next to the Wilmette Theater? What a great place to grow up! Tell Jim to call me. I would love to hear from him. All the best."
Email from Marion Welch O'Neill (Barney), April 16, 2011
"My sister Sylvia Welch sent me your wonderful story about growing up across the street from us. Thank you and your "helpers" so much for a very thorough and rich rendering of our childhood milieu. I remember marvelous times playing in the neighborhood with you and Emily and Sarah and the whole gang. In my reminiscing about the old neighborhood I fondly think of many a rainy afternoon in that great screened summerhouse in your backyard playing Parcheesi and cribbage.
"I often go back to visit friends and walk by 54 Crescent and your house. What a marvelous place to grow up!
"Many thanks again. My warmest regards to you and your family, and to the Biggins kids who ran around with us."
Email from Tom Kirsch, April 16, 2011
"Let me introduce myself. My name is Tom Kirsch and I graduated with your sister from SFX in 1957. All I can say is your historical perspective of Wilmette in the 50's is wonderful. I have sent a link to your site to all the SFX 57 contacts that I have been able to find. I know Sarah lives in Aurora, CO, but I don't have an email address. We are having our 50th HS reunion this year. I went to Loyola Academy and LU and our reunion is in June. New Trier's reunion is in October. I'm hoping to have a mini gathering of SFX alums that will coincide with the HS reunions. Attached is a picture of our graduating class with names of the graduates.
"It's interesting that Sarah went to Laurel school for kindergarten, I and the rest of the class went to SFX with Sr. Mary Rose. At the time she was about 95 years old.
"Working on this project is a blast and I hope it comes together for a fun event. Even if some folks can't attend, I hope to build something like your site where everyone can contribute."
Email from Downing Slayton, March 31, 2011
"Just wanted to send you a note to let you know how much I enjoyed your Wilmette story............it felt like I wrote it myself. I attended St. Francis, graduating in 1949 and lived on 5th street in Wilmette. We used to spend time at "No Man's Land" at the old building, played golf (for free) at the Evanston Community Golf course, caddied at the Indian Hill Golf Club (after going to Mass at St. Joseph's.....and leaving early!), snuck into Dyche Stadium for the Saturday Northwestern football games (our house was 4 houses north of Isabella, so we could also rent parking spaces for those attending the game), etc., etc,, etc. One time Freddy Linstrom (Northwestern baseball coach) hired me to be the bat boy for one of the games. He paid me a dollar and gave me a bat and a new ball............... I'll never forget the good times we had in Wilmette. Thanks again."
Email from Patrick Leary, Ph.D., Curator, Wilmette Historical Museum, December 6, 2010
"I just wanted to tell you how much I have enjoyed reading your article about growing up in Wilmette in the 1950s, to which someone sent me the link today. I wish that we had many of these photos in our collection here at the Wilmette Historical Museum, but in any case I’m very glad to have available such a richly detailed account of life in the Village 60 years ago. If I could ever look anything up for you here, or if you ever want to find a permanent home for any of your childhood memorabilia, please don’t hesitate to get in touch."
Donald Liebenson, Chicago Tribune, June 25, 2010
100 years of faith, community and very white sneakers,At St. Francis Xavier School's centennial, alumni remember friends, sports triumphs and lots of shoe polish
At the open house that preceded St. Francis Xavier School's centennial celebration and all-class reunion Saturday in Wilmette, alumni walked through the school noting the changes ("This used to be the main office"), greeted former classmates and shared memories.
Joe Huyler, who graduated in 1953, brought black-and-white photos spanning his years at the school, among them a team photo of the eighth-grade football squad that "beat everybody." Huyler pointed to a rooftop glimpsed in the background and said, "(Legendary Chicago sportscaster) Jack Brickhouse used to live behind the school. We'd sit on the front lawn with him and talk baseball and sports. He was a real affable guy."
Alumni came from as far as Singapore to attend and dated back to the Class of 1931. In a phone interview, Wilmette Village President Christopher Canning, a graduate of rival St. Joseph's School, called the reunion "a great event" for the community and the families who sent their children to the school. He noted that the two schools with their smaller class sizes had combined to create Wilmette Catholic, the football team that won the North Shore Catholic League in 2009. "It's good to know the teams can play together and have success on and off the field," he said.
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