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The Cleveland Collection – A Legacy of White County History

One hundred years from now, how will they regale the 2020’s?  That story remains to be told.  Thanks to the efforts of Barry Cleveland, we know quite a bit about how the roaring 1920’s played out in Carmi and White County.  A week ago, Cleveland sat down with WROY/WRUL News (Listen here) to provide an update on The Cleveland Collection, a catalogue of publications containing research from nearly 50 years including three complete decades and two half-decades.  He spoke at Kiwanis Thursday afternoon choosing to focus on the 1920’s.

His research is focused on the 120 years of newspaper publications he painstakingly goes through on microfilm at the Carmi Public Library.  There are plenty of accounts from the 1920’s and Cleveland concentrated his presentation on the first half of the decade which included Prohibition.

We didn’t have Elliot Ness and we didn’t have the FBI here in White County running down bootleggers.  We didn’t have State Police in White County; that didn’t come along until a little bit later in the ‘20s and they were basically hard road cops as [former White County Sheriff Bob] Duckworth used to say.  But, we had a Carmi police officer, usually a full time officer and sometimes a part time; we had one full time sheriff and one full time deputy and these folks were supposed to handle Carmi and the 500 square miles of White County.  Anyone who has spent some time in the country knows there’s an awful lot of woodlands and river bottoms and very isolated locations in White County ideal for stills and bootleggers.  There were lots of them and lots of mule whiskey manufactured during the ‘20s in White County.

Beyond prohibition, law enforcement had plenty of other crimes to work.

Knifings and shootings and murders and bank robberies and chicken thievery which was a major problem in the twenties.  One of the most famous murders in White County history, a fellow by the name of Frank Lowhone murdered a friend of his, Mack Nottingham and it happened on the courthouse block.  Lowhone never did give an explanation for why he did it.

Despite an appeal, Lowhone ended up being found guilty and was sentenced to die by hanging which leads into more interesting history notes thanks to Cleveland’s mining of records.

The hanging was conducted by Phil Hanna, called a humanitarian hangman.  He was actually a farmer from Epworth.  As a young man, Phil Hanna had witnessed a hanging in which the doomed man actually strangled to death.  At that point, Mr. Hanna decided that he would figure out a way so that a doomed man in the future would die of a broken neck; not die strangling for breath.  And so he did.  He oversaw Frank Lowhone’s hanging.  He oversaw Charlie Birger’s hanging later in the decade and by the end of the decade he had overseen about 60 executions by hanging.

Lowhone and Nottingham are buried just feet away from each other at Kuykendall Cemetery.  That’s just a touch of the stories and history kept alive thanks to the publications.  Cleveland also detailed several other facts and tales from yesteryear including an entertainment resort at Maunie, the Strand Theater, 3 Major League Baseball players who hailed from the area including Joel Inez “Sailor” Newkirk, his brother Floyd Elmo “Three Fingers” Newkirk, and numerous other notable White County citizens.

Learn more about how to get your hands on the collection below:

In club business, President-Elect Amanda Nelson said the club was making an investment to be an Investor with the White County CEO class and will also make donations to the Carmi Pickleball Club, This is for You event coming later this month, and also up to $1,000 to the White County 4H during their upcoming Livestock Auction.

Discussions continue on this year’s Corn Day, what would be the 96th annual, but the 95th in practice thanks to the CoViD-19 pandemic.

The club is also preparing to grow by a member, Jillian Garner who works at Banterra Bank, has filed paperwork to join the club in an official capacity, coincidentally 25 years after the club first allowed women to join.


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