Rod Sellers
Southeast Chicago
Historical Society

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Southeast Chicago Historical Society

April, 2006                                                                                               Volume XX No. 2

A Few Words From the President:
    I was very happy to see the large turnout at our Annual Meeting.  The officers and museum volunteers are representatives of the membership of our organization and want to keep the membership aware of and involved with the important work we do to preserve and promote the history of the Southeast Side.  We welcome your input, suggestions, historical donations and assistance.  We especially appreciate your support.
    We operated “in the black” last fiscal year taking in more money than we spent.  The largest portion of our income was from monetary donations.  The largest part of those donations were memorials to Joe Mulac, our president and dear friend .  The largest expenditure was for a new computer system which has enabled us to move forward with digitizing many of the materials in our collections.  Another large regular expenditure is duplication and mailing of our quarterly newsletter. 
    The membership report at the meeting announced our current membership at over 210 of whom over 90 are life members. Welcome to new life members of our society, Frank Beberdick and Grace Sowa, and new regular members as well.  A reminder: a life membership in the society is only $75 and makes a wonderful gift.  And becoming a life member means that you will never again have to remember to pay annual dues and will never become past due with your membership.  Thanks to all members who have paid their dues.
    The nominating committee reported on a slate of officers for the upcoming year.  See next article for details.
    A report was made detailing activities, presentations, programs, and partnerships over the past year.  Some new additions to our collections were exhibited and described at the meeting.  Additional details about recent museum acquisitions and work are discussed in other articles in this newsletter. 
    Carolyn Mulac donated two wonderful books to the museum.  She gave us The Encyclopedia of Chicago in memory of her father and Women Building Chicago 1790-1990: A Biographical Dictionary  in memory of her mother.  These are wonderful resources and will be very useful in the future.  Stop by the museum to see these books. 
    Joann Podkul reported on our new outreach initiative to involve local schools in our work and to highlight local sites of historical interest possibly by marking them with plaques.  More to come on this as the program develops.    
     If you have any suggestions for projects or programs that you would like to see us undertake, please let us
know.  Stop by the museum or e-mail
Rod Sellers      President / Newsletter Editor

Annual Meeting / Annual Dinner    
    An election of officers for the Southeast Historical Society took place at our Annual Membership Meeting on March 25.  The slate of officers for 2005-2006 includes:
     President                 Rod Sellers
     Vice president          Barney Janecki
     Treasurer                 Carolyn Mulac
     Recording Secretary             Gloria Novak
     co-Corresponding Secretaries      Kevin Murphy & Joann Podkul
    The officers will be installed at our Installation Dinner on May 21 at the Crow Bar Restaurant, 4001 E. 106th Street.  See enclosed letter for updated information on the dinner and how to get your tickets.

Digital Projects
        We have begun to digitize items in our collections.  We started with various sets of 35 mm slides which have been scanned and transferred to CDs.  There are images from the Calumet river 1942 and 1954, Old Fashioned Days 1983, Labor Day 1992, South Chicago Bank 1983, Bicentennial Activities 1976, construction of the Skyway 1958, Wisconsin Steel, the CWP & S RR and more. 
    Several years ago we received a large number of slides  (1000+) related to the Lake Calumet Port and Calumet River.  Many of these have been processed.  They include several different boat trips on the Calumet River and Cal Sag Channel in the 1950's, early construction of the port at Lake Calumet, the dedications of the Cal Sag Channel Widening Project, the Port at Lake Calumet, and the O’Brien Locks.  This is the first time that these images have been viewed since they were mounted in a manner incompatible with any of our equipment.  There are some amazing views of the Calumet River in its heyday.  One view even shows the U-505 submarine in drydock at the shipyards at 100th Street prior to being moved to the Museum of Science and Industry. 
    We also digitized some 2x2 black and white negatives which have some very interesting historical views although some are not identified.  There are some old industrial scenes, some family portraits, streetscapes, and group photos of organizations and teams.  If you would like to help us identify these photos stop by the museum.

Museum News
    We have received several interesting historical donations in recent weeks. 
    Rudy Gomez, visiting from Denver Colorado, donated several issues of “Sparks”, a monthly magazine published by Wisconsin Steel.  The donation included the first edition of the magazine from March 1938 and issues in our collection now run through February 1949 although there are some missing dates.  The magazines are available for viewing at the museum and have some very interesting articles and photographs.   We encourage readers to donate plant magazines and union newspapers from local industries and unions.  Our collection includes very few magazines from United States Steel South Works so if you have any or know someone who has issues of this publication consider donating them to the museum. 
    The East Side Library during its move came across some historical items which they donated to our museum.  Among the items were scrapbooks and  albums with newspaper clippings related to the South Chicago Centennial in 1936, the East Side Centennial in 1951, numerous articles written by Freida Zimmerman, articles related to the Port at Lake Calumet, several publications and studies related to the steel industry and more.
    We received a copy of the “hot off the presses” Chicago Neighborhood Map 3rd Edition.  We were contacted by the publishers a few months ago and made suggestions to more accurately reflect the neighborhoods on the Southeast Side.  Chicago is divided into 77 communities which have legally defined boundaries for purposes of the census and other legal matters. The SE Side communities include South Chicago, South Deering, the East Side, and Hegewisch.  Neighborhoods are loosely defined as “where people say they live”.  So the boundaries of neighborhoods change over time, are constantly evolving and are a very local matter.  In our discussions we considered whether to include SE Side neighborhoods like Irondale, Millgate, and Cheltenham but decided not to recommend their inclusion because these terms are no longer commonly used by most current residents.  There were also discussions about the boundaries of neighborhoods.  Where is the “border” between Vet’s Park and Slag Valley?  What are the boundaries of the Bush?  We do not claim to be the final authority on the matter but we did have input into the final version of the map.  The new edition includes 237 Chicago neighborhoods including the newly added Vet’s Park, Slag Valley, Arizona, and Avalon Trails.  The map is published by Big Stick Inc. and is available for $50.  We have mounted our copy of the 3rd edition map and it is available for viewing at the museum along with the 1st and 2nd editions of the Chicago Neighborhood Map. 

Museum Projects
    We have several projects going on at the museum in hopes of making our materials more accessible and more “user friendly” to our visitors.  Joann and Kevin are working to catalog and organize the wealth of materials in our vertical file.  There are some true treasures in the collection but they can be overlooked easily.  Barney has been doing a wonderful job of logging in new donations and finding a home for them.  Every item that comes in must have an accession sheet which describes the items in the donation and a locator sheet which tells where the item has been stored or displayed.  This requires great attention to detail and tremendous organizational skills.  Clarence and Alex are our trouble shooters.  They are involved with setting up and repairing exhibits, with helping to identify unknown photos and artifacts, and with obtaining donations of materials especially those related to heavy industry.  They recently brought three large boxes of trade magazines relating to the steel industry and other items from Wisconsin Steel.  These items need to be organized and cataloged.  Gloria keeps track of our membership and correspondence and numerous other details which keep us functioning in some semblance of order.  Carolyn takes care of income and expenses, financial records and paperwork necessary to maintain our non profit status. 

SE Side Notable
    Dr. Daniel Andrew De Laurentis is an assistant professor in the Aeronautics and Astronautics Department at Purdue University in West Lafayette Indiana.  His roots are in the Southeast Side of Chicago.  His great uncle is our own Alex Savastano and his family is well known in the South Deering community.  Dan has an impressive list of accomplishments including working with NASA, the Office of Naval Research, and publication of several articles and research studies in the aerospace community. 

Newsletter Article
    The article on the next page of your newsletter is a biography of former East Side resident Leonard Syler.  The article in the print version of our newsletter was edited to fit one page. The full version is available here in the on line version of the newsletter.   On April 21, 2006 at 10:00 AM at Oak Hill Cemetery a ceremony will rededicate his grave and unveil a Civil War veteran’s headstone.  Oak Hill Cemetery is located at 6445 Hohman Avenue in Hammond.  Members of the public are welcome to attend. 

An American Story
by Rod Sellers

       This is the story of an American hero.  Not a Patton, nor a Roosevelt, nor a Carnegie, not even a Daley.  He was a person who lived many of the themes common in American history.  Immigration, urbanization, industrialization, military service to country were not concepts in a textbook to this man.  They were experiences in his life.
       Leonhardt Sailer was born in a small town in southern Germany named Hermaringen in the district of Wuerttemberg Germany on September 21, 1834.  His parents were Georg Sailer and Ann Elisabetha Schanzer.  He was christened the following day.  Like so many others of that era he sought a better life in the land across the sea.  In 1850 he came to America on a steamship, the Corinthia, and landed at New York.  He did not see the Statue of Liberty nor did he enter the US though Ellis Island.  These were things that came later.  Leonhardt was among the early waves of immigrants to the United States when most immigrants were coming from northern and western Europe, from Ireland, Germany, and Scandinavia. 
He settled in Pennsylvania, met Katherine Yingst, who was born in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania in 1839, and they were married on May 19, 1856.  The couple lived in North Annville Pennsylvania and in a short time they had three children, Lydia (12/20/1859), John (9/22/1861), and Leonard Jr. (3/29/1863).  While they were raising their family, the Civil War began and in early July of 1863 the Battle of Gettysburg took place about 60 miles from the Sailer's home.  Leonhardt was drafted into military service on September 26, 1863 and at the age of 29 his life was about to change radically.
       It was about this time that he began using the Americanized version of his name, Leonard Syler.  Leonard was assigned to the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 71st Regiment, Company E known as Edward Baker's California Regiment.  Although the regiment was called the “Volunteers”, Leonard was drafted and assigned to that unit.  The 71st Regiment was originally recruited in Philadelphia in April and May of 1861 under a commission from President Lincoln granted to Edward Baker, U. S. Senator from Oregon.  After 1100 men were recruited, the 71st was  mustered into service for three years.  Prior to Leonard’s service the regiment was involved in numerous major battles, including Antietam Creek and Gettysburg where they lost one half of their effective strength.  At the time of his military service Leonard was described as 5 feet 7 inches tall, 150 pounds, with gray eyes, fair complexion, and light brown hair.  The Pennsylvania 71st spent the winter of 1863-64 mostly in winter quarters until the spring campaign began.  The  71st was part of the Army of the Potomac then under the command of Ulysses S. Grant.  Grant’s  strategy was to move south toward the Confederate capital, Richmond.  Leonard and his fellow soldiers of the 71st fought in major battles at Wilderness on May 5-7, at Spotsylvania from May 9-19 and at Cold Harbor on June 3, 1864.  Union casualties at Cold Harbor numbered 13,000 and it is the only battle about which Grant said, "I would not fight over again under the circumstances.  I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made."  Leonard Syler probably also had regrets about Cold Harbor.  He received multiple wounds in the battle.  He suffered wounds to the inside of his left leg between the knee and ankle, to his left arm, and to the stomach.  He was taken to a military hospital in Virginia.  Cold Harbor was the last battle for the Pennsylvania 71st.  The original term of service for the regiment was three years and the regiment was withdrawn from the battlefield under cover of darkness, returned to Washington, then to Philadelphia and mustered out of service on July 2, 1864.  Of the twenty-two hundred who had served with the 71st, only one hundred and fifty-three returned.  Those whose full terms of service had not been completed, including Leonard Syler, who had been drafted for three years, were transferred to the Pennsylvania 69th on June 12, 1864.  Leonard was assigned to Company A of the 69th. 
       After recovering from his wounds Leonard rejoined his new unit on June 14, 1864.  He reported to the 69th in time to participate in a battle at Reams Station Virginia on August 25, 1864.  Leonard and other soldiers from the 69th were captured at Reams Station and became prisoners of war.  They were sent to Belle Isle prisoner of war camp in Richmond Virginia until paroled on October 8, 1864.  He was returned to the 69th October 21.  He was on furlough from October 31 to November 15.  The 69th participated in several other battles leading up to Appomattox in April of 1865.   Leonard was mustered out of military service on July 1, 1865  and he received an honorable discharge. 
       After the war, Leonard, age 31, returned to his family in Pennsylvania and five additional children were born, George (12/18/1868), Samuel (5/10/1870), Katie (3/10/1876), Annie (12/10/77), and Minnie (6/14/1883).  In 1879, following the advice of newspaper editor Horace Greeley who allegedly urged "go west, young man,"  the family moved from Pennsylvania to Colehour, a neighborhood in the Village of Hyde Park south of Chicago.  At the time Chicago’s southern boundary was 39th Street and its population was approximately 500,000.  The Colehour area became part of Chicago in 1889 and is now known as the East Side.  Chicago’s population in 1890 was over one million.   The Syler family lived at 10631 Green Bay Avenue.  Leonard was one of the charter members that established St. Petri’s Church on the East Side in 1885.  He  worked in the steel industry as did many southeast siders.  He went to work for the Iroquois Iron (later Iroquois Steel) Company located south of 95th Street on the east side of the Calumet River.  Iroquois later moved to a site built on landfill at the mouth of the Calumet River across the river from the huge Illinois Steel South Works plant.  Leonard was a water tender.  Water tenders were responsible for making sure that the blast furnace stack had enough cooling water on it, or keeping the water levels in the steam boilers at the correct level. The blast furnaces had to have enough cooling or they would melt through, while any steam operated equipment had to have the correct water level or it would explode. The steam operated the steam blowing engines (later steam turbines) that blew the hot blast into the furnace.  It was a very dangerous job in a very dangerous industry.  When water and molten metal mixed together an explosion often occurred.  In fact, on September 6, 1910 at 11:15 pm, a serious explosion occurred at Iroquois Steel.  Leonard's son John, age 49, was seriously injured and later died as a result of his injuries on March 4, 1911 at South Chicago hospital. The explosion also killed John's son, Herbert, who was only seventeen years old when he died on September 7, 1910 and four other men.  Another son, Leonard Jr., was a carpenter contractor who built St. Petri's Church located at 10251 Avenue L in 1891.  His name (spelled Seiler) is etched on the cornerstone of the church.  The Syler family was active in St. Petri's church for many years. 
       In 1889 Leonard applied for a military pension based on his Civil War service but it was denied apparently because of  confusion about his name.  Leonard retired from Iroquois in 1901 and reapplied for his military pension.  This time the pension was approved.  He received his last pension check in the amount of $27 on July 4, 1916.  He died on August 11, 1916 at the age of 82.  At the time of his death he resided on Chicago's East Side at 10444 Avenue M.  He is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery on Hohman Avenue in Hammond Indiana.

SE Chicago Historical Society Calendar
April 21, 2006        Friday        10:00 am        Oak Hill Cemetery
            Rededication of Gravesite of Leonard Syler
Join family and friends of former East Side resident and Civil War veteran, Leonard Syler at the unveiling of a Civil War headstone at his gravesite.  Oak Hill Cemetery is located at 6445 Hohman Avenue in Hammond, Indiana.

April 29, 2006        Saturday    10:00 am - 12 noon    Calumet Park Field House
            Tour of the U. S. Coast Guard Station at Calumet Harbor
Join local historian Rod Sellers and Chief Warrant Officer Herbert "Jim" Harmon for a presentation and tour of the U. S. Coast Guard Station at Calumet Harbor.  Program begins at 10:00 am at the Calumet Field House, 9801 S. Avenue G in Chicago, location of the Southeast Chicago Historical Museum with a brief presentation and continues with a tour of the Coast Guard Station. 

May 21, 2006        Sunday        12:30 pm        Crow Bar Restaurant
            Southeast Chicago Historical Society Annual Installation Dinner
23rd Annual Dinner of the Southeast Historical Society will be held at the Crow Bar Restaurant.  Social hour begins at 12:30 pm. and dinner will be served at 1:30 pm.  Cost of dinner is only $15 and tickets may be obtained at the East Side Chamber of Commerce or at the Southeast Chicago Historical Museum

June 11, 2006                  Sunday                1:00 pm                         
           South Chicago Historical Walking Tour          
Join local historian Rod Sellers for a walking tour of the Commercial Avenue shopping district in South Chicago.  The tour begins at 93rd and South Chicago Avenue and will end at Immaculate Conception Church at 88th and Commercial Avenue. The tour will last approximately 90 minutes.  Wear comfortable walking shoes.   

Teachers' Center
National Endowment for the Humanities
Illinois University