Thursday, April 22, 2010

Midewin Heritage Association Promotes Understanding of Natural History of Midewin land

The Midewin Heritage Association offers citizens the chance to assist the US Forest Service in documenting the history of the land that is now the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

According to the Association's website: "The purpose of the Midewin Heritage Association is to promote an understanding of the rich cultural and natural history of the land which today is Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie; along with those surrounding areas having a historical connection to this land. To this end, the organization assists the U.S. Forest Service in researching, documenting, recording and preserving the various aspects of Midewin’s past. We also assist in the presentation and interpretation of those historical and cultural records of Midewin’s history, and its significance. We encourage the support and development of local, state, and national programs promoting the understanding of the history of Midewin. And we hope to foster partnerships for the mutual benefit of organizations, agencies, local units of government and individuals concerned with the history of Midewin and the surrounding area. If you see a value to these goals, now is the time to join the Midewin Heritage Association."

According to the Midewin Heritage Association's website, current projects include:

"Heritage Workdays: Our scheduled workdays for 2010 include farmstead restoration and recording bunkerglyphs.

Oral History Recorder: Interview (or transcribe interviews of) people who had families who farmed on Midewin or who worked at the Joliet arsenal.

Archivist: We have many documents/artifacts to sort through and catalog."

If you would like to get learn more about the group, or get involved, there are contact numbers and activity calendars at the Midewin Heritage Association's website: 

If you are interested in exploring and documenting the cultural and natural history of the land that is today the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie---from prairie to family farms to Joliet Arsenal to Midewin--the Midewin Heritage Association might be the place for you!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Oral History of the Joliet Arsenal, Interview with a Woman who worked in Munitions

by ann baskerville

I recently had the opportunity to interview a woman who worked at the Joliet Arsenal from 1942-1944.  Although I had known this woman the entirety of my adult life, I had no idea of her experiences working for the arsenal, nor any idea of the dramatic experiences she endured as a result of her work at the Joliet Arsenal.

She worked in the fuse bay, making bombs.  One of the chemicals involved in the making of the bombs, tetral, caused her to develop tetral dermatitus.  She was in St. Joe's Hospital in Joliet for two months and required 14 blood transfusions.  All of her hair fell out.  She "shed every bit of skin off of my body, and my teeth turned grey."

She remembers a Catholic Sister working at St. Joe's remarked, "Oh my God, you're like a fish!" upon seeing her peeling skin.  Many Sisters worked at St. Joes, she said, doing all tasks including scrubbing the floor by hand.  

Although she could not return to working in the Joliet Arsenal after her release from St. Joe's, she vividly remembered many details about her two years helping build bombs for the war effort.  She remembered many creeks near the Joliet Arsenal ran red from TNT residue.

She remembered the tragic Group 2 explosion.  She remembered that some of the "boys who were killed were not yet 18 years old."  Therefore, their parents were not eligible for any benefits.  She remembered a "a supervisor and two of my female coworkers collected money to give to the parents of the boys under 18."

Gas was rationed during war time so she often carpooled with friends from her farm outside Wilmington to the Joliet Arsenal.  One friend rode in the trunk. Men made 99 cents an hour and drove from Streater, Ottawa, and Onarga.  She has a friend from Tampa, Florida who made 1.035 an hour working as an electrician.

Finally, she remembered some farm families chose to move their homes out of the Arsenal when the government began buying land for the arsenal.  For example, the house pictured below, now located near St. Rose Church of Lima in Wilmington, Illinois, was originally in the Arsenal.