They say the older the wiser, maybe

Sandy Vasko

    Many of our previous looks at the history of Braidwood took place in the 19th century, when mines were springing up faster than morels and hundreds of people speaking different languages, with different cultures all came together to work in dangerous jobs under difficult conditions.
    But as Braidwood aged, did all of that go away? Did the jobs get safer? Were there less murders? Were workers still organizing unions?
    Set the wayback machine for the beginning of the 20th century and we will try to answer those questions.
    First let's look at crime. The murder rate in 19th century Braidwood was high, at least two to three a year. In the first 17 years of the 20th century that I have researched, I found only two murders.
    The first in May 26, 1905, “John Gahangan, who has been in the County Jail since May 7th, charged with having killed Jonathan Hurst in Braidwood, Saturday last filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, asking that he be discharged or admitted to bail.”
    And from the Nov. 17, 1916 Wilmington Advocate, “This (Friday) morning the body of Kate Clark Smith, a colored woman, was found dead beneath her bed at her home in Braidwood, having been murdered by burglars, the rooms being ransacked.”
    The crime of robbery is a bit different. It seemed to have increased. We read on Dec. 11, 1908, “The second bold holdup in the past week occurred in Braidwood at about nine o'clock Wednesday morning when two strange men, one tall and one short man attacked Mrs. J. Austin near the race track one-half mile south of Main Street in that place knocked her down and robbed her of $20.75 and some papers, which were not of much value. The lady was badly injured from the blows she received and is said to be in a critical condition.”  
    “Mrs. Austin gave the alarm as soon as she could and a pursuit of the bandits was organized but has so far been unsuccessful. The authorities of Braidwood are satisfied that the holdup men are the same ones who, on Friday of last week entered Mrs. Clifford Roe's residence one mile east of the same place and threatened her with death if she did not hand over what money she had. The secured $2.00 and beat the woman because she did not have more money for them.”
    And on Oct. 22, 1909, “Smooth Sam” Hawley, who was surprised in the act of robbing the safe of the Braidwood post office, Oct. 2, by secret service operatives and placed under arrest, was sentenced to five years' confinement in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kan., Friday last by the United States District Court, in Chicago.”
    What about mining? What happened to it as the 20th century appeared?
    The answer is that it was still going on, but on a much smaller scale. Technology in the first two decades could not create the giant machines that would strip the coal from the surface, so shaft mining was still in progress and the now well organized miners seemed to be having it their way.
    We read this letter to the editor of the Wilmington Advocate printed on Nov. 3, 1916, “Braidwood, Ill., Oct. 31, 1916. Editor Advocate: May I ask a small space in your columns to call attention to an attack made by the “cackle” editor of the Braidwood Bulletin - printed in Wilmington - on me because I have a little printing job to his competitor who is a Republican, in preference to him a southern Democrat, and no credit to any party at that. He tries to mix me up with rat shops and unions. I paid union prices for the job he howls about, and I pay union prices for all work done for me, and the United Mine Workers Association have never had occasion to call me on my acts as I have always paid at the mine more than the scale of the U.M.W.A. calls for. Today the lowest prices for mining at our mine is 10 cents per ton higher than the scale.”
    We also have written that Braidwood was not the healthiest place to live but as the first two decades of the 20th century progressed, Braidwood citizens were still dying of diseases that had no cure.
    On Dec. 30, 1904, “The remains of Ling G. Hynd, youngest son of James Hynd, of Braidwood, who died at his home in that city, Wednesday last of pneumonia, aged 16 years, were brought to Wilmington for burial today.”
    And on Feb. 17, 1905, “The remains of Miss Hannah Byron, daughter of the late James Byron, of Braidwood, who died of lung complaint at St. Joseph's Hospital, Joliet were brought to this Wilmington Friday and taken to the residence of her uncle, Thomas Byron.”  
    On Dec. 10, 1909, “Miss Emily Dare, who worked in the Northwestern Telephone office in Wilmington, died Sunday last at the home of her mother in Braidwood. The young lady had been ill for some time and died from complications which followed a severe illness of typhoid fever. She was aged 21 years.”
    Yes, Braidwood had become wiser as the years went by. Though these were considered the “lean” years for Braidwood, those who had stayed knew things were getting better.