Wednesday, July 27, 2016

He Survived thru a Twist of fate: An Update......

I was recently contacted by one of my followers who had detailed knowledge about the recent post I made on Leo Mongoven.  Many thanks to Kimberly Watley for her kind permission to use her story here on my site.

It was February 14, 1929, Irish gangster George “Bugs” Moran was the target. It is believed, Al Capone ordered the hit. He didn’t contract Cupid, however.

Chicago wasn’t big enough for Irish and Italian mobsters to play well together. North and South side rivalries began with hijacking alcohol trucks during prohibition. (I was shocked to learn it had nothing to do with the Cubs and Sox too.)

Each gang sought control of an enormous underground network of bootlegging, prostitution and gambling markets. (Booze, sex, money and power, I guess somethings never change.)

To be number one in the nation, prohibition-era gangsters fought to eliminate their rivals. Bugs and his gang are credited with the first drive-by shootings, while Capone sought to gain control methodically.

The bloody climax between them resulted in seven of Bugs’ men being ambushed by gangsters dressed as police officers, in a North side Chicago garage.

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, went down in history, even though its intended target was missed.

Bugs had a bodyguard, Leo Vincent Mongoven, known on the street as Leo The Ghost. He earned his moniker because when the law came to call, he vanished.

The Ghost was never credited with saving Bugs because he was an amazing bodyguard. In fact, that story never made it to the public. Bugs didn’t make it to the garage on time because Leo was late picking him up.

A couple of years ago, long after I moved out of Chicago’s North side, I learned the other part of that story.

I was in my 160 year old house, out in the country, two hours from the big city. There was a knock at the door, a man and woman I’d never met stood on my porch. He was holding a camera, and she was wearing a floppy sun hat and had a nervous grin. They were in their 70's… I opened the door, smiled and asked if I could help them.

They started speaking over one another, excitedly. I stepped out onto the porch. She grabbed my arm, and apologized for barging in, but was hoping I wouldn’t mind her and her cousin taking photos of my house.

With a shrug, I said, sure. A house this old holds a lot of history for a lot of families.

As he fidgeted with his camera, she began to tell me about her great-grandfather who lived here in the 20's. With a twinkle in her eyes and child-like excitement in her voice, her memories flowed.

“When I was a kid, we played in that barn back there. All of us kids used to go in there, sit on the old tractor, pretend we were driving and plowing the fields. Grandmother worked her garden right over here, and she could grow anything. There were two big oak trees over there. Guess they are long gone now…”

I listened intently as she strolled down memory lane and he snapped pictures. I noticed her hand involuntarily drawn to her chest, as those memories she shared were deep in her heart. She was adorable.

He too had a lot of fond memories to share. He mentioned their great-aunt (Lauretta) whose bedroom is now mine, that was when I learned some behind the scenes elements of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre story.

When their aunt’s beau would come to town from Chicago, she would sneak him in through her bedroom window. But when the law came looking for him, the girl and her mother hid him in the floorboards of the attic.

“No, Leo isn’t here,” they would say.

Her boyfriend, Leo “The Ghost,” was visiting his sweetheart for Valentine’s Day, and was running late getting Bugs to that garage.

He was here, in my house, smooching on their aunt, thus saving Bugs' life.

To say I was fascinated is an understatement.

Not too long ago, I was in a nearby cemetery taking pictures of a Veteran’s grave who is the only local man I know of who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

While walking through, I found, The Ghost. 

P.S. In the blog post, it was written that he was late because he was picking up a pack of cigarettes. I'm a romantic and like the story I heard better.

So there you have it. Again many thanks to Kimberly for sharing her story with me and She's promised to pass along even more interesting places to visit and document that are just Off the Beaten Path.

                                           (Mongoven is the man standing at the far left).

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The OTHER Church on the Hill

Located about four miles east of Bradford is Boyd's Grove church. Organized in 1851 by six families that had been meeting in their homes, the name was taken from the settlement of Boyd's Grove which was once located to the north. The church was built at a cost of $800.00. The lumber milled on sight and the stone quarried over in Sparland.

Lightning struck the church in 1919 and it burned tot he ground, a total loss. That might have been the end of it but perseverance paid off and the church was rebuilt in 1921 and still stands, and holds services, to this day.  It's a quiet place on most days and the day we were there the sun was shining, the skies blue and wispy clouds floated overhead.

Boyd's Grove Church is located on the Wyanet-Walnut road. Turn left and follow the road South until you come to county road 200 N. The church is there on the intersection.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Last Full Measure

I was on a drive today and stopped off in Henry for a few minutes. While I was there I came across the Cromwell memorial and decided that would make for an interesting story for those who don't know the details.

John Cromwell was born in Henry in 1901. Being a farm boy he naturally gravitated to the Naval academy, graduating from there in 1924 and served initially in the battleship USS Maryland. Between 1927 thru 1929 he served in the submarine S-24.

By world war two he was aboard USS Sculpin as the prospective commander of an American wolf pack. By all respects his star was definitely on the rise.  That all changed on November 19th of 1943. The Sculpin attacked an enemy convoy and during the battle was forced to the surface. The result of the ensuing surface action resulted in the Sculpin being fatally damaged and the surviving crew forced to abandon ship.

However Captain Cromwell, who had survived the battle, was afraid of being captured as he possessed secret details to the upcoming invasion of the Gilbert islands. And so, in an act that earned him a posthumous Medal of Honor, he chose to stay aboard and go down with the ship. Today in a quiet park in a quiet town there's a WW 2 era naval torpedo, a symbol of one man's incredibly heroic act to safeguard the nation he loved so dearly. If you're ever down that way, stop for a moment, take off your hat, and give thanks for men like him who embodied the best that America has to offer.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Home of the Free...Because of the Brave

Tomorrow marks the Two Hundred and Fortieth anniversary of a grand social experiment. In the late 18th century a group of men came together. Doctors, Lawyers, Tinkers and Cobblers. A great debate raged on about what had never been attempted before.


Up to that point countries were ruled by Kings and Nobles who treated their people as serfs and peasants with little say in their own affairs. Indeed, that is how America began, as a colony of Great Britain, ruled by a King who decided the fate of the colonists from far across the ocean.

But in 1776 these men came together to propose the unthinkable. To throw off English rule and strike out on their own. It was a terrifying notion. No colony had broken away from it's mother land and many were fearful of what that country would do in retaliation for their actions. At that point in time the English army was the finest in the world. The Royal navy ruled the seas. America had no standing army, no navy. It had little chance of success.

And yet.......

Two Hundred and Forty years after that momentous decision here we are, the Greatest country on this earth. Along the way we've fought wars, stood up against evil and tyranny, Produced great poets, scientists, and military men. And yet thru it all we've Endured. Secure in our liberty and protected by a document that, while often challenged, still holds firm as  a shining light against the dark.

A Hundred years from now we will still be celebrating the 4th of July. We will still be singing our patriotic songs. We will still be standing and placing a hand over our hearts for 'Old Glory'.  Patriotism isn't dead, it's just not as talked about as much as it used to be.  Another Illinois native said it best. "That Government of the People, By the People and For the People shall not perish from the earth"

And so the Grand experiment goes on........