Tag Archives: Heather Gustafson

The Bunker Hill Tornado

8 May

by Heather Gustafson-

The town I live in is Bunker Hill, Illinois. The most common way people give directions to their homes is “Go to the flag pole and…”  I’ve always wondered why they put a flag pole in the middle of the biggest intersection of Bunker Hill and curiosity got the best of me. In my research, I found that a gazebo used to site where the flagpole once stood. It was used for bands to perform in during special occasions and parades. Looking for more information, I found on the Bunker Hill Library’s website that in 1948 a huge tornado struck Bunker Hill with little warning. Up to 80 percent of the town was leveled, 19 people were killed, and 126 injured. Being about thirty minutes from the nearest hospital, and many people without homes, a refugee camp was set up at Meissner School which was one of the few buildings left standing. The school was used as refuge, a temporary treatment center for those injured, and a morgue until the injured and dead could be moved. To help with the devastation the Salvation Army, National Guard, Red Cross, American League and the Veterans of Foreign Wars post all pitched in to help Bunker Hill rebuild and cope with losses.The flag pole was later donated to replace the gazebo.


Meissner School in the Aftermath of the 1948 Tornado

I find it extremely interesting how much information I found searching for a flag pole in my town. A way of telling directions now has historical significance in my eyes. I encourage all of you to think of something simple in your town, something you pass by on a day to day bases and see if you can find history related to why it’s there.


Save the Church or Let It Be?

8 May

by Heather Gustafson-

Before attending SIUE, I graduated with my associates from Lewis and Clark Community College. During breaks I would spend a lot of time on the campus grounds admiring the beautiful architecture of the Main Complex, which is the building facing Godfrey Road. It is the original building from 1838 when the campus was Monticello Female Seminary. Beside the Main Complex is a church, which I found very odd on a community college campus and so I decided to look into it. The Godfrey Memorial Chapel was built in 1854 and originally located across the street in what is now a small shopping complex. The building, in 1979, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places for Illinois due to the fact that it was “one of the six most authentic copies of New England church architecture beyond the North Eastern United States.” It was moved in 1991 to the opposite side of the road on LCCC campus. I remember when I was younger, every time we drove past the church my grandparents would tell me how they watched the church being moved. At the time I didn’t believe them, I mean how could you move a building? The church is currently used as the music department for Lewis and Clark College, and appears to be in good shape.

I have made many observations over the years, which make me wonder if the chapel is being used in the most efficient ways. One observation I made during my freshman year at LCCC, when I was on a tour for orientation. The tour guide took us to each building giving a small description of the history and which classes were located in what building. However, she never mentioned any history about the church which I would assume would be a common question due to the fact that the college has no religious affiliations. Another observation was that the chapel of the building was never opened to the public (although it is open by appointment); all the music classes were held in the basement of the church. I find it a bit odd that the church was saved to be used as a roof for the music department. It’s a beautiful church and it’s sad that it isn’t being used to spread knowledge of the town or college history. It’s just there.

This Hallowed Ground

21 Apr

by Heather Gustafson-

This past weekend SIUE hosted an encampment, “This Hallowed Ground,” to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. This two day event included both discussions relating to the Civil War and re-enactors of both Union artillery and Union cavalry. Saturday didn’t bring out many people due to the dreary and cold weather, which give me plenty of time to speak with the re-enactors. They were very generous in sharing their camp fires and stories of what they knew about the Civil War.

The Captain’s wife of the artillery unit had a particular interest in women who disguised themselves during the civil war to join the fighting. Jennie Hodgers, an immigrant from Ireland, disguised herself as a man and joined the Illinois infantry during the Civil War. Due to the poor physical examinations during the Civil War, Jennie was able to slip by and fought for several years. After the war she kept up the disguise. It wasn’t until the senator she was working for backed over her with his car in 1911, that anyone had found out she was a woman. After pleading with him to keep her secret, Jennie was able to live a few more years as man until she was admitted into the Watertown State Hospital. I was informed that when women were found out they lost their pension, but due to petitions from her fellow comrades in infantry she was able to keep it and was buried with full military honors.

I thank the Captain’s wife for sharing this and many other stories with me. She mentioned she shared this story at every encampment she attended. As a historian I was appreciative of her sharing her knowledge with many others and helping to bring the large story of the Civil War in smaller accounts of one person’s story, to help connect visitors to the American past.