From Here: Former reporter Molly Parker (born in Perry County, raised in Johnson County) explores the people, places and things that make Southern Illinois unique.
DU QUOIN — One of my favorite parts of the job is getting letters and emails from readers. I particularly like, now that I’m home, recognizing a lot of the senders’ names.
I recently opened an email from Irma Duncan of Du Quoin. Irma, and her husband, Dawson, were great friends of my grandparents Harold and Lucy Parker, both of whom have passed on. The couples burned through many evenings dancing into the night across Southern Illinois’s various holes-in-the-wall. “I wish everyone could have had as much fun as we did,” Irma told me in a recent phone call.
Pretty much everyone in Du Quoin knows the Duncans. The family name goes way back, even before their son, Rex Duncan, was elected mayor (his term expired this year after he was defeated in April by Mayor Guy Alongi).
In 1928, Abner Duncan, Dawson’s father, co-founded Dawson and Duncan Furniture Store. The store eventually became Duncan and Fry Furniture and was co-owned by Dawson and his business partner Granville Fry. The popular business eventually closed its doors in 1989, and was converted into the present-day library and City Hall on East Poplar Street.
Also, Irma’s father, Loren Davis, for years and years ran Davis DX Station, located across form the Grand Theatre.
The surprise email
Now back to that email from Irma. I was thrilled to find out the new connection I shared with this impressive lady. I was unaware that years ago she worked as a freelance photographer for The Southern Illinoisan, mainly shooting news events around the Du Quoin area. She was a stringer from 1983 to 1991. She described the wages as low but the job as fun, so not much has changed in that regard.
Though I didn’t know, I am not surprised at all. She is the most tech-savvy 90-year-old that I’ve encountered. In fact, her birthday present from family on July 27th was an iPad.
Irma has always loved taking photos, since childhood, and still never leaves home without a camera, occasionally sending in photos of news value to the Du Quoin Evening Call.
In her email, she attached a couple of photos she’d taken at the SIU campus in 1948.
The photo was of President Harry Truman. And then another one followed of his wife, Bess, and daughter Margaret.
Truman’s Southern Illinois visit
How cool that Irma was there, not only to witness this history, but to record it. Presidents just don’t take "whistle-stop" cross-country tours aboard trains these days, but I sure wish they did. Irma was 23 at the time, and she and her mom went to see Truman, as did thousands of others. She dug up the photos years ago while working as a stringer. The then-photo editor at The Southern Illinoisan informed her the newspaper was missing its historical prints from that day, and asked Irma if she had taken any. Of course, she had. She spent hours digging up the negatives, and sent them in.
Irma said she doesn’t remember what type of camera she owned at the time, but guessed that it was a Canon – her preferred brand – and that it probably was a point-and-shoot without any type of zooming capabilities. Which means she was really close to Truman that day, enjoying a proximity to America’s leader that wouldn’t be allowed in current times.
According to The Southern’s archives, Truman and his family arrived in Carbondale on Sept. 30, 1948, and addressed an estimated 4,000 people at Shryock Auditorium at SIU.
Another 4,000 listened to the speech over loud speakers. An estimated 3,000 people lined the streets of Carbondale to watch his motorcade as Truman rolled through various towns in a red convertible.
For all the talk of heading into a bloody 2016 battle, 1948 was quite the presidential election year. Truman’s 1948 campaign against Republican Thomas E. Dewey, governor of New York, has been referred to as one of the “greatest campaigns of the modern era.” Very few thought he could win. Having watched last week’s GOP primary debate, the first of the season, it was a great Monday night treat to examine Irma’s photos, read some of Truman’s speeches he delivered in this region, and brush up on my presidential election history.
That race, of course, was so unlikely for Truman that the infamous headline came to be in the Chicago Daily Tribune announcing “Dewey Defeats Truman” that he later posed with, telling the press, “That ain’t the way I heard it.”
So it’s quite something that he made such an elaborate trek through Southern Illinois just two months prior to winning a second term.
It wasn’t just one stop either, but seven.
According to the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum, Truman had the following schedule through Southern Illinois that day:
8:55 a.m. – West Frankfort
10:15 a.m. – SIU Carbondale campus
Truman’s speeches in Southern Illinois
You can read some of his speeches, compiled by the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, where he provides plenty of shout-outs to local elected leaders and candidates, including the late Clyde Choate, a longtime state representative whom Truman had previously presented the Congressional Medal of Honor for his acts of bravery in World War II, and Paul Powell, then-Illinois Secretary of State, whom Truman went on to serve as an honorary pallbearer for in his funeral before some $800,000 was found in boxes in his suite at the St. Nicholas Hotel in Springfield.
During the Eldorado stop, according to archives, Truman told the crowd he rode into town with then-Mayor John Upchurch and Powell, “who has entertained me most highly on this trip, and he told me all about Illinois and this part of the state – a great Democratic stronghold, this is.” Sixty-seven years later, Southern Illinois’s Democratic roots are shifting, and trending Republican at the ballot on national political races as the GOP makes inroads in this region, though people still tend to vote Democrat at the local courthouse/county board level.
During a recent stop at the Paul Powell Museum in Vienna, for another upcoming column, I also happened to snap this picture of Truman in his convertible that’s hanging at Powell’s former home in Johnson County.
Thanks to Irma for passing along those photos. She’s quite the lady. I’ll add accomplished photojournalist to the many reasons I admire her.
On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI
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Region: Southern,Local,City: Carbondale,Region: Carbondale
via The Southern
January 3, 2022 at 10:01PM