Cordelia "Conkey" Hoover Engs Memoir
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University of Illinois at Springfield Norris L Brookens Library Archives/Special Collections Cordelia “Conkey” Hoover Engs Memoir EN37. Engs, Cordelia "Conkey" Hoover (1913-1995) Interview and memoir 1 tape, 65 mins., 23 pp. ILLINOIS COAL: THE LEGACY OF AN INDUSTRIAL SOCIETY Engs, a Taylorville resident during the coal mine wars, discusses her family, Depression, her father's experiences as a company man for the Peabody Coal Company, mine war violence, the Progressive Miners of America, strike breakers, immigrant mine workers, and the march to Virden. She also recalls her dance training in New York, career as a dancer and dance teacher, and her son's service in Vietnam. Interview by Kevin Corley, 1986 OPEN See collateral file Archives/Special Collections LIB 144 University of Illinois at Springfield One University Plaza, MS BRK 140 Springfield IL 62703-5407 © 1986, University of Illinois Board of Trustees Preface 'Ibis manuscript is the prcxiuct of a tape recorded interview conducted by Kevin Corley for a special project, ''Illinois Coal: The Legacy of an Industrial Society." The project 'WaS sponsored by the Illinois State Historical Library and furrled in part by the Illinois lhmlanities Council and the National FndO'iNDElt for the Hummities. Additional support came fran the Oral History Office of Sangmoon State University. Elsebeth Bucldy transcribed the tapes and SUsan Jones edited the transcript. Cordelia "Conkey" HoOV"er Fngs grew up in Taylorville, Illinois during the mine wars of the 1930s. In this IIBIDir she discusses her father's job at the mines and the violence that erupted including the bombing of Leah Reese's house. She also discusses her education, her dancing career and her son. Readers of the oral history mem:>ir should bear in mind that it is a transcript of the spoken ~rd, and that the interviewer, narrator and editor sought to preserve the infonnal, cOINersational style that is inherent in such historical sources. Sangannn State University and the Illinois State Historical Library are not responsible for the factual accuracy of the mem:>ir, nor for views expressed therein; these are for the reader to judge. The manuscript may be read, cpoted and cited freely. It may not be reprcxiuced in whole or in part by any IIEailS, electronic or :o:echanical, without permission in writing fran the Oral History Office, Sangmoon State University, Springfield, Illinois, 62708. Mrs. Conkey F.ogs, Taylorville, Illinois, August l, 1986. Kevin Corley, Intervie.wr. Q: Mrs. Fngs, w:ruld you please state your full name? A: My name is Cordelia Hoover Fngs. Q: was Hoover your maiden name? A: Hoo.rer 'WRS my maiden name. Grwer H.ool/er was my father . He 'WRS a canpany man at Number Nine. I liiBS in high school at the time, so that's how I could see things, as a high school girl W10 's father ~rke.d at the coal mine. Q: Vbat year did you graduate fran high school? A: I graduated in 1932. Q: 1932, arxi that 'WRS Taylorville High School? A: Taylorville High School. Q: How did you cane with the nane Conkey? A: 'lhat was given to ue by my brother. Rose 0 'Neil, 'Who 'WaS an author of her Kewpie books, I looked like a Kewpie by the nane of Conkey. And because I had a top knot, so that 'W8.S why he called. me Conkey. Q: How many people ~re in your fanily? How many brothers and sisters? A: I have one brother 'Who is a lawyer in tom, he 'W8.S a states attorney for eight years. Q: Wlat was his name? A: Scott Ho<Ner. Q: \-bat ws your father's full name? A: Grwer Clweland Hoover. The main reason people knew ani trusted my father, as he "Was the indepen:lent coach champion for the state of Illinois. He is the one We>'s team Taylorville and Carlinville played that meox>rable game ¥here Taylorville after hearing that Carlinville had gotten Notre DanE to play in their place they called Champaign and got the University of Illinois football team dowm here to play for Taylorville. They played the secorx:l half, however Taylorville was beating Notre Dame. An:i that's the first tilE that Illinois ani Notre Dame e.Ter tJ.Et any place. Red Grange said it was the mst important pro football gBIIE that has e.Ter been played before or since. 'Ihere ~emillions of dollars exchanged hands. People \Ere betting in New York, Clrl.cago, New-Orleans. I been all CNer the country ani heard people talking at the next table, men, about that football gBIIE. Q: l'bw W:lat was the year that game was played? A: In 1922. Q: Vhere was it played? A: &re at HoeNer Field mere the the hospital now stands. Q: Nw, did you. give the time arrl place of your birth? Vbere ~re you hom? A: I was hom here in Taylorville. Q: Vbat was the birth date? A: June 28, 1913. Q: So you ~dhave been about nine years old when the game took place? A: Yes, about. Q: }}) you rauember it very ~ll? A: Ch, yes, I ranember all the excitement because ~ had a Cadilac Fayeton mich was an open top. Big back seat, there \\Jere tw:) jtm1p seats arrl I -ould sit on the ju:np seats arrl have my tea parties or sanething at the gaaes. Yes, \E ~e always at the gaaes. Q: Tell tJ.E mre about your father then? How did he becane a coach? A: He has always wanted to be a coach. Wlen he was a young boy he ltEilt to Christian Brothers College in St. Louis. 'Ihey sent him down there when be was about ten years old, I guess because they couldn't control him at home. They'd take him to the West School in the carriage and :t;ut him out the front door ani before they had left he was out the back ani uptown. & just wa.sn' t getting Ula.t he wanted in school because he was a very bright man. Q: N:>w was that a Catholic school? A: It was a Catholic school, alt:hou.J;dl they ~re not Catholics. 'Iheybuilt the Davis Qu:istian ~rial diurch here, my grandm>ther and greatgranduotber l:uilt that in newry of my great-grandfather. There ~re a lot of Hoov'ers, they lEre all very flamboyant. \hen my dad was eighteen he inherited CNer a million dollars. In those days that was quite a lot of mney. My mther was equally as 'it.2althy. So they w:>uld go to New York to shCMs and do everything that was wild arxl w:>nderful and had all sorts of cars. 3 Q: \Es he eNer a coal miner? A: Vhen the crash cane he lost eNerything. He didn't bat an eye lash. You wuldn't have thought that he ever had had anything. I don't ren:e:nber them wer w::>rrying about it. They just said, ''<h, ~11,11 ani changed their life style, ~h~s really quite renarkable when people 'llllere jumping out of windows in New York and camri.tting suicide. He just said, ''Oh, well,11 and started 011er • Q: Vbat did he i.twest his nxmey in? A: I really don't know. Q: \ere you still living at bane then in 1929 when the stock market crashed? A: Yes. I was still in high school. Yes, I was in high school. Q: How did that effect your life style? Vbere had you been living up to that time? A: It didn't effect my life style in the least. After the crash if I needed a new pair of shoes I didn't tell them. I cut out b..ltter cartons and stick in my shoe and go on. I never told anybody. I didn't have as many clothes as I did have ani mst of my friends still had things. A lot of them did, SOI.T£ of them didn't have anything either. But I was still elected prcm queen even with all the not having. Q: Vbere had you lived up until that time in 1929? A: My oother ani father b..t.ilt the Daniel Reese house. My grandnnther lived W:l.ere Doctor Slifer lives next door, they rn,ned the 't\bole block. W:len I grew up, with my brother, ~ every day lA'Ollld go out and win the v.hole yard fran the Kaiser. (laughter) Q: What does that IlEBil? A: 'Ihe Germans, the Kaiser Wilhelm. WJrld war One. Q: You 'Ware out playing gBDEs? A: ve \\l>Uld go out and play games. ve were just the tw::> of us and we ~shoot than and just go through the 't\bole bit of a war. ve had great iiMg:inations. \hen there was a football game my brother w::>Uld go out ani play the whole football gBl'lE all by himself. He w::>Uld tell DE to get in the staDia and yell. I \\Uuld be the cheer leader and do all the yells and arerything as he playe;i the football gBl'lE all by himself. Q: 'Ibat is interesting, tell ue mre about your childhc:xxl. A: About my childhood? Q: ~t things stand out in your m:i.ni? \\hat do you ranember best? 4 A: Vbat do I ratenber best? I remember my 100ther and father and how great they \\ere and how nice my brother was to ue. M:>st brothers ~ren 1 t. When he and all of his boyfriends w:>uld go to the picture show on Saturday afternoon I was always taken. Now he didn't object to it, it was just one of those things and all the boys took care of ue. But they wouldn1 t take their OWl little Sisters, rut they WJUld take me. Q: All right, so in 1929 ~the stockmarket crashed, ~t house did you DD\Te in to then? A: ve were in a smaller bungalow because the heat bills in that other house were so terrific, sort of a California l:mlgalow. Q: \-here was it located? A: It was on Vine Street. Q: And you lived there through A: We lived there and tried to hold on to it and do What \<e could. Until after the mine war, the miners ~ren1 t making very U1.1Ch and nobody was, we just lost the house. 'Ihen v.e DD\Ted into a house that1 s just right a:ross fran Ha:rroon1 s on the corner, it is called the Rick1 s house. It is a big tw:> story brick house. Q: \-hat year did you tDJVe in there? A: I had just gotten out of college, I ~t t:w> years to college, to Christian College down in Columbia, Missouri, because that was all the schooling that I wanted. I was heading for New York and the stage, that was ~re I en:ied up. Q: So, that was about in 1934 you left college? A: 1933. Fran then on things kept getting brighter ani brighter. I taught ~ing one year and after I w::rul.d get through with the pupils What the DDney was we go buy fcxxl. We had such a w:>nderful feeling in the family, we all lwed each other uuch and we vanted to help. 'Ihings were fun, I think I was very, very fortunate. Q: N::>w men your father first started w:>rking :in the mine, which mine did be wrk in? A: He W)rked at Ntmlber Nine. 'Ibere was a man there was a tipple check layman and they w:>rked up in the tipple, checked all the coal that cOIIes up. Q: And that was What he did? A: He did that. He was taking the place of another mm \\bo wanted to w:>rk dom below because he WJUld get mre mney. 'lhey had three other, four other rren try that job and they couldn1 t do it because it took a lot of mathematics. 'Ibey WJU!d have a sheet that was about a yard across and about a yard in length, about a yard square. Vben the day was CNer that w::>uld be filled with figures and my dad did that for thirty years. Cbe t:i.ue he cane hoi:IE and 'iiiE knew sarething was not quite right, he was unhappy about sanething and w:>rried. He v.uuldn't talk about it so we just sort of prayed and knew that things v.uuld w:>rk out. ~11, finally, he came hooe one night just 'i<trl.stling just as happy as he could, and brought his b.lcket in and put it down on the table. He was so dirty because my mother w:ruldn' t let him take a shower out in the coal mine. She said, "If you can get that dirty out there, Grover Hoover, you can bring that dirt b.cme to rre. ve will take care of it at bane, you are not going to take care of it out there." So she always had the bathtub ready for him and she always had the coffee ready men he came :in. He could have his cup of coffee and then they carried the extra cup and he ~t in the bathroan. 'lhey -w:ruld talk and I guess she'd wash his back and help him get the stuff off. Well, an)1'iay he 'NB.S so happy that night because he said he had not made a mistake, it was the machinery in Chicago that had naie the mistake. 1he adding machine or SODEthing ~sn't quite right ani they checked it there. 'lliey thought he was the one that was making mistakes but he -wasn't. In toose days they had to count all the coal cars out there and he w:>uld walk a mile. Che day he was there and walked out and there was SCJ[IE nen in the mine. He said he di.dn' t take anything to write down on and he said, ''You just 'Wait." So Grover walked dow:1 the coal car lane and all the -way back and then \Eilt in and sat down and started writing. He had IISIDrized all the numbers on the coal cars. Now those coal car numbers ~re like that, you know, they weren't like this. He had them all down and they ~e all perfect. He had a photographic meaory. Q: Vbat did he do in 1932 when the mine wars started? A: He was in the tipple when the mine wars started. Of course, nobody wrked for a Ybile. 'Ihat's the night he cane down out of the tipple and walked in with his sheet to han:l to sooe of the bosses in there. \bm he got home that night -we \ere eating dinner, this is how I know of it. We ~re eating dirmer and the telephone rang. I got up and answered the phone because I was the youngest and could answer the phone. I said, "Daddy, sc:ll'ebody wants to talk to you." So he got up and \Eilt to the phone and he said, "Sure, of course, I w::>n' t." And that is all he said. Vben he got back my mother said, ''Well, is everything all right, Grover?" And he said, ''Yes, honey. I just saw sarething at the mine tonight they don't want ue to see." Q: W:lat was that? A: Later on he told us, of course, not then, rut later on. He said that there ~e three uen When he wmt in the office. He knew one of than and he said the other tw::> he knew Yhat they ~re, he knew that all hell was going to break loose dam here because he said they ~re really tlrugs. He said they ~re high class thugs, rut he said they ~re thugs. He said, "It looks to ne like they brought in soae of the mafia gang to help break it up. Sane of the boys frcm the mafia," that's what he said later on. One of the uen lives in Taylorville ani SCll:le of the people 'WJUldn't let their ~ters date him because of the father, ttrl.ch the son couldn't help rut that s what happened. Sane of thE:m did settle in Taylorville am live here. But people sort of shied away fran than for a long time. Q: tiJw you are talking about the thugs? A: The tlnlgs, yes. They "Were strike breakers is what they "Were. Q: .tbw ~re these tlnlgs guards for Peabody or did they Wlrk the mine? A: 'Ihey "Weren't going to w:>rk in the nd.ne, what they "Were going to do rr.Jere break Progressive heads at night. Grover knew that sanething awful was going to happen that night when he w;mt in arxi saw than aiXi what was on the table by than. They had all sorts of dynamite and everything out at the mine. Anybody could get hold of it one side or the other. Q: Did he ever see anyone take dynamite? A: No, he didn't. If he did, he never said anything about it. But he knew sanething awful was going to happen that night. Tw or three Progressives "Were beaten really badly. Q: Vbat was the names of the Progressives that got beaten? A: I don't know. I can't remember. Q: W:lat ~re the names of the thugs that he saw? A: He never told us who they ~re. He said, "Because I don't want you to get in trouble." Q: .tbw did he go Progressive then, your father? A: No, my father was a canpany man. Q: J:bt in the union at all? A: He didn't have to be in the union. He 'WaS a canpany man arxi they didn't belong to a union. lhat's the night that they blew up the Breeze Courier. They did that to get the soldiers here because John L. Lewis' group ~ehaving an awful t:in:e, the Progressives \o.lere doing pretty "Well. A lot of people in town liked than because they \o.leren1 t violent people. They lere nice people. Naw, my boyfriend who was Lambert Adamson arxi his father 'WaS Bill Adamson, they "Were nice people. His dad was a shot put in the coal mine, one of the best, ani so was his uncle. But after the mine ~s they bad to leave tow:l.. Sane people were asked to go back to w;)rk but they waren't. They finally ~t to Peoria ani w:>rked at Allis Chaln:ers up there. But that ruined that young boy's life because when he got ready for college there wasn't any nx>ney, there wasn't anything. Q: Tell n:e, how many strike breakers came into the ccmwnity in 1932 and 1933? A: \ell, I just couldn1 t tell you the IllJilber. 'Ihe reason they got the soldiers is because fran this comer up here it, that road wa.sn1t there, but l1hen you TNEmt across a little bridge out here and hit that road Mrs. Conkey Fngs Q: Towards Langleyville'l A: Langlyville road fran that corner clear to the mine on each side as close as they could get cars ~e parke:l. 'lhere were cars in the ditch because they TfJOUldnIt let anybody in and that iS my they had to blOW the place up dOWltown to get troops here so they could stop all this. They weren't ~rking the mine at all, they were at a standstill. Q: So are you saying that ~blew up the Breeze Courier themselves? A: lhat is right. They blamed it on the Progressives. Fwerybody in toWl. knew that. That "WaSn't a big secret, now maybe they thought it \VaS going to be but everybody said ¥211, no they did it themselves in order to get the soldiers here. Ray Tanbazzi, who 'WaS the one that helpe:l blow up the bridge out here, the Midland track, he was a very young man and it ruined his life. He v.ent to prison and he was just as gentle, kind, and s-waet a gpy as you ~dever want to Il2et. It just ruined his life. Q: Now, did you know him personnaly'l A: Yes. 'lhe reason I knew him is he admired ~dad so. '\<hen Gr011er dr011e up to go to ~rk then Ray Tan and the other Progressives, who liaS one of the leaders, they got on his running ooard. In fact, it was my boyfriend's father got on the other running board and they went this way. They let my dad through and I was talking to my dad on the front porch swing before he died. He said, "Conkey, you know I was a fool that day." He said, ''lhey could have turnEd on 1l2 in a minute, they were mad." Q: Yes, the pickets? A: The pickets, he said they \ere mad. But he said, ''When I went by they all cheered, they all yelled, 'Yea, Gr011er ,get than.' They \\ere all mad that day. I was a fool , " he said• "I never went back." Q: He never T,Ellt back to the mine? A: N::>, not tmtil after it was safe, so he could go in and out without strikers there. But Ray Tanbazzi, I was ~rking computers at the State Capitol \1i1en they first started out. He ca:ne up to see 1l2 and he said, "Are they treating you all right?" He used to follow ne aroun:l e:.~ery place and say, "Are they treating you all right? Because if they aren't I will do sco:ething about it." He said that my Dad was the bravest man he ha:i ever l<:t'lor.n, because he said that took guts. Q: To go in to ~rk'l A: To go into -work that day and he was the only one they let in. 'lhey didn't let the bosses in. Gr011er was there at the mine all by himself except for the night l~E.tcbnan. Q: WJu1d that have been in about <:)ztober of 19321 A: I believe so. It's kind of hard to sit and reme:ober back dates. Q: Yes, but when the mine first slrut down? A: Yes, I remember the night that they baibed Leah Reese's house. There was a house on the corner on Vine Street and they were on Walnut. No, I can't remember the street, it nms side of Hamon's grocery store. kl.yway the Reeses lived in that house on the corner. There was a straight shoot fran our house to theirs across a big wide yard, so men the banb hit we got the full blast. N:>w, Gilbert Large lived next to us and the Jones boys lived across the street fran us. They had been on my dad's football team and Noah had been on the team too. I'm man.tioning these people because when the banb blasted it shook my bed. I was sound asleep and I di.dn' t know lihat had happened. I jumped up to get in the hall and I could hear my mther say, "I can't fi.rrl the door." She was so scared she couldn't find the door in her bedroom. She didn't have her bedroom slippers on when she cao:e to the door, which is unheard of, she w:::ruldn' t walk in her bare feet anyplace. But anyway, we net in the hall and myDad cau:e running out of their bedroan. He was -pllling his pants on over his pajamas and he \'BS saying, 'My God, 'tlibat did they do, bomb Reese's house?" I said, ''Yes, I guess. I don't know." He said, "I better go see if they need any help." So he went out the front door and I rushed out on the front porch because I \'as w:>rried about him. I didn't know 'What was going on up there. As he got out in front here -was Gilbert Largecoming out of his house, Noah Jones caning out of his house, the Jones boy. Mr. Jones across the street was caning out of his house. All the nen wmt up there together to see if they could help the Reeses. Q: Vhere any of those men Progressives that came out of the houses? A: I don't know lllhether the Jones' were or not. Q: Vbo got blamed for the banbing of Reeses house? A: He was a Progressive lawyer, ani the people that got blamed for that were of course Jolm L. lewis' boys, the strike breakers. But they thoughtif they scared Mr. Reese and scared them that way they w:>u.ld -plll back and w:>Uldn' t do anything. So the front porch was a shambles. '!hey had one blast and then another one cao:e right afterwards. If he had stepped out on the front porch before that second blast went it w:>u.ld have gottenhim, but it didn't. Then after that I WJUl.d lie in bed and w:>nder if they "Were going to bcmb Gilbert Larges house because by that time they were getting the soldiers in toWJ.. They got them in tOWl in a hurry.Now my step-grandunther had taken over the Colonial Hotel. My aunt, Mrs. Hoover, had gone south and had rented her the hotel to nm. So, mygrandm:>ther leased it, my steJtgrandunther. She had it all full of the army officers. Gilbert Large s garage up on top where the Trinity M:>tor is now on the third floor, they put tents up there. That's where the soldiers stayed. 'lhey fixed showers dOWJ. ~ethey washed cars. They fixed showers dO'Nl1 there for than so that they had all the facilities they nee::ied • Q: IiJw, do you know mere tmst of these mi.litia men were fran? Did they came from different cities in Illinois? 9 A: Yes they ~re all Illinois National G..tard. Q: 'Was there a Clrl.cago regi..uEnt that cane in, have you ever heard al:xmt that? A: <he of the captains 'WB.S fran Chicago, one of than was fran Peoria. Q: Qlat ~re their l:l.almS, do you know? A: t'b , I have no idea. I should renanber them because I met them at the hotel. Q: 'Ihat is okay, I just thought you might remember. All right. A: But as a young girl, I thought they ~re old n:en but, of course, they really -weren1 t. Q: W:lat was the general feeling in the cCIJilllility? Your father apparently sympathized with the Progressives. A: I think a lot of people did, although GrO'ITer never said anything. But it is because of his football days and because everybody knew 'W"hatever his w:>rd was that it was true. I mean, if he made a bet with you he w:ruld do sooething, he ~ld do it. If he mei you noney, he v.JOUld pay it, he was honorable. He was just like John Wayne plays in his rrovies, he was that type of man. He really was. Q: And how long did he stay out then, you said a couple ~eks before he went back? A: I:b, I don't think it wa.s that long because they soon had it fixed up so they could get back in. 'Ihey had people there to let than in. Q: fu.t once he ~nt back to r.\Qrk in the mine he UllSt have continued to sympathize with the Progressives during the next tw:> or three years? A: I suppose he did rut he just didnIt talk about it. He didn't want us mixed up in it. Q: W::>uld he have ever helped the Progressives out a little bit? A: I think that probably the night that he saw sooething happening, I have no doubt, that he didn1 t tell scm! of than to stay off the street that night. In fact as I look back and I was thinking, because I knew you were caning tcxlay, I was thinking that I had a date that night with Lambert and no one had any noney. So we had popcorn and we sit in front of the fireplace and talk, sit out on the porch on the swing or whatever. Dad took him hoo:e that night ~hwas very unusual. I always had w:>ndered if he wasn't afraid that Lambert might be picked up going ha.re and he wanted to tell Lambert, to tell his dad sooething, I don't know. Q: N:>w, 'W"hat was Lambert's last name again? A: lldamson. Q: .Adamson. A: His urx::.les name was M:Clure. He finally wrked for the Georgia Pacific out here afterwards. But it just broke up families. It broke uprelationships and some of the people ~re so bitter. I have a friend lNbose father was one of the bosses at the coal mine. She was such a union person and about the mine wars, she wasn't even old enough to know what was going on. But she has an idea ani her idea is all wrong. Q: Wlat is her idea? A: That the Progressives ~re DEail people and they ....-eren1 t, they ~re just nice people. Sooe of the union people were just nice people but they ~re all caught up you see. Mr. Argust had been a union man and he was such a gocxl strong union man that Peabody hired him. 'lhat is the waythey do, if the union people get too strong then the companies hire than. Q: I see. A: And he had a bodyguard that he brought in fran West Virginia, his nane was Sarge Msran. Sarge was big. He was the m:>st gentle man, he never raised his voice. I said, "Sarge, that1 s not the way a sergeant's supposed to talk." But he was just a darling man. His wife was just a dear. I lwed them both but he was Mr. Argust1 s bodyguard. And everyplacethat Mr. Argust ~the was a crack shot and that is all he wanted. Q: Did you know the Vichery Boys? A: Yes, I did. Q: Vbat ~re they like? A: Rough, tough and llEBil. Q: (laughs) Now, were there tw:J of than? A: Yes. Q: ttlat were their names do you remanber? A: Was it Roy, was one of than Roy? Q: Might have been. I know there was one G.L. Vichery, one of them was called Bonnie I think. A: I always thought of them like sane wild West desparado or something.They always WJUld sean so unreal to ne. Q: I:bw is that? A: That they could do some of the dastardly things they did. Mrs. Conkey Fngs Q: \<bat did they do? A: 'Ihey w:ruld just beat people up or just all sorts of things, anything to devil sCJ~Iebody. Q: 'Ibey l~DU1d beat up the Progressives? A: Yes. Q: They \ere guards of krgust? A: Yes, they ~re part of the strike breaking that ~re down here. But, as I said , my dad tried to keep us away fran all that that he could. Q: Vbat about the Wilson boys, did he know them? A: No, I didn't. Q: Had you heard of than, Joe ani Abe? A: Yes, I had heard of then. You see, Taylorville had been a very small town, a very gentle and old town. You could walk downtown or walk sa:neplace in the dark ani you waren't going to be hit, nobody was going to IIDlest you. N:>body was going to break in your house, just ~ren't that kind of people here. Q: ~11, once the mine war was CNer ••• A: WJen the mine wars caoe ani BODE of those people stayed. 'Ibey brought people in fran, I hate to say it alxrut sane of them because sane of than are my friends. But SOliE of then, they had a different type of life, a different type of backgrourrl ani life l.llearlt different to them. Q: You are talking about the strike breakers? A: I am talking about the people they brought up from the southem part of the state. 'lhey called then swanp angels. A lot of then stayed and took the place of the miners that could not get their jobs back or didn't ~t their jobs back. 'Ihey \\ere afraid if they v.Elt to ~rk, they Y.UUld be ld.lled c:loTNn below. '!hey l\0\lld have been because the feeling was so terrible, nch was ridiculous because really they ~e experts. 'They ~re 'etting rid of nen who tAere really experts and bringing 1lEl1 in vtto ~en t, mich was ridiculous. Q: Were these miners fran down south. A: Yes. 'Ihey '~!Ere bringing than in and bringing other people in~ hain't mined fran down south and they lAeren't nice people. Willy Hiel would have a fit rut I would tell that to his face. 'Ihe Whole towt changed. Q: \-bat was your father's feelings toward these strike breakers? Mrs. Conkey Engs A: He just said they ~re a b.m:h of low brow goons and that was what he said about than. Q: \+bat about later men the mine wars was aver, did these people continue to YDrk in the mines ani live in the cannmity? A: Yes, that's what changed the carm..u:rl.ty. Q: So it has always been bad si.oce? A: Yes, it hasn't been the same. After I got out of high school it changed, it started changing. Orer at the end. of Cherokee Street there is a bridge they call Cemetery Bridge. Fran the end. of the Cemetery Bridge on the south side as far as you can see, clear way past the radio station ani clear to the ~st ws a great big forest. I mean it ws a lot of trees, a 'Whole lot ani they lllere great big. It was a virgin place and they didn't plant it because s~times it YDuld floo:l. W:l.oever 0\1l[ledthat lanl let the Progressives go dam ani they cut w:xxl. They cut all winter and that's the way they kept their houses warm. A: tb, the Progressives ~dn't, I suppose, if they could have bought it. But they didn't have any nnney, their salaries ~re gone. MJst of these men lllere very gcxxi ln.m.ters ani there was a lot of good game arourd here in those days and they all had great big gardens. See they v.ere French ani Italians and Germans. Descerxlents, maybe the first generation ani they all knew how to garden and they cannei. I am doing this through what I know of my friend.s Tthose fathers ware Progressives and, of course, I had friends ~se fathers were on the other side. Q: Instead of using coal? A: Yes, because they v.DU.l.dn' t sell than coal. Q: They WJUl.dn't have bought it anyway liUUld they? 'lhe Progressives? Q: Wlat was the largest group of than? A: Well, arourd here, of course, it is Italians. Q: \-here did nnst of the Italian Progressives live at that time? A: Just like they do now, some live in Taylorville on this side and SCJIIE live aver here out in Huittville. Scm:! live in Kincaid and Langley, they live all around. Q: Did they pretty ~11 all stay together as a group in their conm.mi.ties? A: No. Q: But they lived together like in Langlyville ani certain areas of the town? A: 'lhat is the funniest part about Taylorville, there isn't any good end of Taylorville or there isn't any bad erxi. You've got beautiful houses on the vwest side, on the north side and on the south side. It's urrusual because IIDSt toWlB they all IIDV'e \lest, l:ut this toWt hasn't. Some of your loveliest homes are on the east side, mich you think w:ruldn' t be now. Ani the Italians, they are all mixed in with all the rest us. Just sorre of us have been here a vbole lot longer. Q: Wly ~re the Italians IIDre likely to turn Progressive? A: I think some of them stayed with the mine. Soma of them ~nt Progressive because one of the mines dOWJ. south ~a Progressive mine and they had relatives down there Who ~re Progressives. They knew that the Progressive mine never had any trouble and they never had any strikes. 'lhey always got a raise in their salary that they wanted, they got it all with out fanfare and rutting heads and cracking krn.Jckles. Th.ey Ymlted to go the easy way because, Italians are dear ~et people, l:ut they are not what you '.~.UUld call going to pick up a gun and fight. Th.ey naie very poor soldiers. It isn't their fault, they are just not naie that way. Now, the Germans are made that way. Q: Vbo 'Aere the leaders of the Progressives? Wlat etlmic group? A: Well, Lambert's dad -was French. Q: Lambert's dad was the leader? A: He was one of them. So many of the leaders, some of them, ~re Italians, too, like Ray Tanbazzi. Th.ey just thought it was the best for the c0lll1l.llli.ty and best for everything. Q: \tiD was the strongest Progressive leader in the cOOIII.ll'li.ty? A: N:>w, that I couldn't tell you. Q: Ware there different Progressive leaders like in Kincaid and Tovey, in Langleyville, in Huittville, in Taylorville? A: I think there was just one that brought than all together but I think they all had little units because they couldn't w::>rk out in a great big bunch. Now there 'IAl:lS something about a parade, I -was not here at the tine. But there was sonething about the union gave everybody white shoes, new shoes and they had a parade. Q: The Progressives gave than the shoes or the UMW? A: lhion, I don't know \1hich one. But it started down at the hospital and they all had on ~te shoes, my IIDther said. She said they ~re all scared to death because they figured the other side w::>uld really get in there and cause trouble. It w:mt off with out any trouble. Q: So that w::>uld have been men you 'Oere gone to college? A: No, that was ~nI was in New York studying dancing. Mrs • Conkey F.ngs Q: That \\UU.ld have been about 1933? A: About. Q: 9.mner? A: It was the Sl.lll1Iertime. Q: And they all garte them white shoes to wear? A: Yes, they garte than white shoes. It was in a letter I had, I wish I had sarted same of those letters. Q: Was there any probla:ns that came about because of that parade? A: She said they ~re afraid, but she said afterwards that nothing had happened and everylxxly was very grateful. But it wa.sn' t a nice time. One day my uncle Ert Hoover, who was president of the First Trust and Saving Bank, and that was a Peabody Coal Company bank. 'Ihey had the bank because of this trarendous payroll out here. 'Ihey didn't loan noney, they didn't do any thing except cash paychecks. 'Ihat' s \Yhat it was for. Several million dollars canE in here every other \\eek on the Wabash fran St. louis to the bank and then they started cashing paychecks. Anyway he was standing out in the square talking to his brother who was the keeper of the Great Seal for the State of Illinois. He was urxler the Governor. 'Ihat was his job. Uncle Bill was a handsame man and he ~re gorgeous suits, they ~re just beautiful. All handmade, all British type and these tw:> brothers ~re talking and the soldiers put them in the courthouse along with everylxxly else because they didn't want anybody talking, congregating on the square. You could not congregate on the square. My mother at the same time was trying to get to the Piggly-Wiggly which was on the ~st side on the square. 'Ihey stopped her and put her in the courthouse and here these three enled up in the courthouse together. My nother said it was hilarious. She said Uncle Bill 'WB.S incensed and so was Uncle Ert to think that they ~dput than in. He was calling Peabody Coal Canpany to get--now, I w:>n't tell you the ~rds, but the air was blue. Get their toy soldiers (laughter) and let him out of there, he had a bank to run. Q: So, did he get out? A: &lre he got out. And so did my m:>ther, she said, ''I have to fee:i my family W:lether you people strike or not." Q: I think I know what you are talking about. It was the Virden March, they ~e going to march to Virden rut they w:ruldnIt let them get out of town. A: I guess that was it. Q: They YDUtld up throwing than all in the courthouse that day. A: So that's what it was. Mrs. Conkey Fngs Q: Yes. They tore up the courthouse throwing stuff out and things like that. There wa.s supposed to be quite a few people throW\ in there at that time. A: Yes, it was that tmb that was thrown in there. My mother and my tw uncles ~e in there but they ware just innocent bystanders. (laughter) My uncle was very upset rut they finally let him out in nothing flat. En:l of Side One, Tape One A: It was unbelievable. Girls that had been good friends, because of the Progressives and the union, their friendships ~re gone. Q: Did you loose friends fran it? You ~re kind of in the middle being a canpany person. A: Camille Vbitney, Camille ~Fadden, her father was the head surveyor, for the Peabody Coal Company and her grandfather was SQI:Iething or other in the coal canpany, a founder or scmething, with Peabody. I don1 t know What he was but be 'WB.B an officer and my future sister-in-law, Mary Ho011er, her father was editor of the Breeze Courier. Q: W:lat was his IlBIIE? A: lonnie Martin, he was w::>rking for Mrs. Reed who owned the paper. There 'WB.B a Breeze then and a Courier. Q: later the tw::> newspapers uerged? A: 1he tw:> newspapers uerged. Ole was a Dem>crat paper and one was a Republican paper. Q: Wlich one was Dawcrat? A: 1he Breeze. Q: Did the Breeze buy out the A: 'Ihe Courier bought out the Breeze. Q: \-ere they DemJCratic then? A: No, they are Republican now. Q: Eller since? A: Eller since. Q: 'lbat's interesting, in a Demxratic county. (laughter) A: I know', it sounds ridiculous. But that is the way it happened. I don1 t know v.ihy they let it happen l::ut they did and some of the Democrats were very Vi2althy people so I donIt know my things like that do happen. But I know the feeling and the hatre:i. \ohm I cane hc::mE. for a visit, you could feel the electricity in the air. It was electrical. If you can feel things when you walk into roans or you go into places, whether they are friendly or not, ~11, if you walked into this town you knew it wasn't very friendly. It was any mirnlte SOIIEthi.ng could explcxie. It was very unhappy.. Q: Were there certain storekeepers and things that sold to the Progressives mainly? A: tbw, I've talked to several of the storekeepers and they are all gone now. ll:le was Mel Calloway and another one Alfred Slatton and there was Calloway's grocery store on the square. But some of these m:m. that I talked to afterwards, and I don't know how it happened to cODE up at a party or something, and they all said they had given a lnm:ired dollars to the union because the coal canpany had wanted them to. 'Ihey said it would be better for the town if Jolm L. could get in because the company was for Jolm L. lewis, there was no doubt about that. 'Ihey all said that they made a great mistake, they should have gone with the Progressives because it changed the whole bit of the tovn and ~ ~re the losers. 'Ihe coal cooxpany might have 'iliOn rut ~ were the losers as a town. Q: I see, so Peabody Coal Ganpany gave a hundred dollars to the store keepers? A: tb, the store keepers gave a hunired dollars to the coal company, to Jolm L. Lewis rut the coal cooxpany had asked them to. Q: To try to get them on their side? A: Yes. But it wasn't pretty. Q: Tell ne about your schooling then, you say you ~nt to dance school then 1933? A: I went to Cllristian College for twJ years. I had a dance teacher at Cllristian who was very outstanding, she had studied with Martha Graham, Ted Shawn, and Ruth Saint Dermis. She had called Ted Shaw:J., ~was one of the w:>rlds best dancers, well known, and he had ne dance for him, mich he hated to have people do but as a favor. She wanted to know if I had ability, and he said yes I definitely had ability, to go to New York because that's mere I should go. So I went to New York and studied a little bit m:>re. This tine I took, instead of ballet which I had done and a.lm:>st ererything else, I took a lot of tap because I wanted to get on a stage badly. I wanted to get in the chorus, I wante:l to do it, I just had to do it. Vben I was three years old my mother and father took ma to the Ziegfield Follies. Now you usually don't take children who are three years oid to the Ziegfield Follies. But they took me, they took me to the Waldorf Astoria in New York. I sat up in the dining room, I ate just exactly like I was a grown up because I had been trained to and I lwed my mther and father, I wanted to do what they wantei n:e to do and enjoyed it. I remember next to us was Marilyn Miller who was a Ziegfield girl. ffi1e was so beautiful and, of course, I was blonl and I was a pretty little girl. I donIt reuenber this, rut my m:>ther said that Marilyn Miller got up and cBJ:Ie over to the table to talk to ne. I said then I recognized her, I said, ''Oh, I saw you last night and you were beautiful." And she said, ''Yes, I saw you in the audience." So that is why I lNB!lted to go on the stage. So I was in the Rockettes for alllihile but that was fun. It is harder w:>rk than if you ~e well, a day laborer and w:>rking real hard, that is hard w:>rk. '!hen I got out of that and I went into a Broadway show ''louisiana Purchase.'' I was going on a road show and another show after the ''L:>uisiana Purchase" was through and it was going on the road. I canE hooe and my mther was ill so I stayed hone and taught dancing. She played the piano beautifully, she had studied at Julliard so she vas quite an artist. I got her to play for my pupils and got her well that way. So I had about five hunired dance pupils arourrl this part of the COimtry. Q: Wlat year was that you came back then? A: About 1936 or 1937. Q: Th.en you taught dance here for how long? A: Alxrut three or four years, three years and I went back to New York. That's men I met my luJsband and got married and that is it. Q: \\hat was his IlBIIE? A: Russell Fngs. Q: You ~e married in New York? A: t\b , I was married in Riclm:>nd , Indiana. Q: Did you have children? A: I had one son,yes. He was just like his grandfather. At that time I was divorced because my husband had an unfortunate problan and it wasn't going to be nice to raise a son with that unfortunate problan. So I got a divorce. :aren though I loved my lu.t.sband I realized it was not going to help my son one bit, in fact it 'INa.S going to be anything rut l011ely. So he grew up with his grandfather. He turned out to be just like his grandfather. 'Ihe same kind of man. Just like a John 'Wayne IIDVie, that's the way they acted. My son volunteered to go to Viet Nam because he thought, like a lot of people, he felt we were our brother's keeper. He did think that it WiS very necessary. If people wanted soma form of goverrment, not to have another form pushed ~their throat. \-hat he said, "I'm fighting the anti-Christ." Because they are against religion, they are against God. And he said, ·~s is why I have got to go do it." He was with the Green Berets. He was "t\Ullilded the first tine quite badly and he got a silver star for it. The second. time he went back, he went back because he said they 'Were going to help m:ne orphans out. In IIDVing the orphans out he was killed. But he was doing ~the -wanted and what was right. Q: \-hat was his name? A: Russell Engs. Except I called h:im Ned. Q: W:lat year did he die? A: In 1968. Then I started VDrking, as soon as he was gone, I started ~rking for the PCM's. I started to go to the governor and didn't get to see him so I talked to Paul Po~ll. I asked if he ~ld back me and ~ would get petitions out. About ~minutes later he told the people all over the place, "Send out the petitions," he said, "I want you out on the street." Get these signed and ~ did. v.e sent those to the Illinois Delegation in Paris and they TAere delivered. 'Ihat was the first break in the chink in their anmr. Just a little break but they put all those petitions and there ~re thousands and thousands and thousands, truckloads. Q: And what was the p..u:pose of the petition? Get the PCM's released? A: Yes. Q: Was this after the war then? A: tb, it was \\bile the war V~BS still going on. But you see Jane Fonda made me so gosh darn mad 'When she ~t to Hanoi and forced one of the PGls to cane and talk to her. I was so mad at her that if I had seen her I WJUld have skinned her. I probably still will if I see her. You know, that young lady is not welcane 'litl.ere there are veterans at all. &.lt ~ feel very strongly about her because she was a traitor, that was being a traitor. Q: Vbat exactly had she done now? A: She ~t to Hanoi to tell them that they TAere the good guys and we TAere the bad guys • Q: I see. And vtlat was that about, she got a FaJ to come talk to her? 0:1e of our POWs? A: Yes, one of our PeWs, they had to go talk to her. Q: I see. A: She said she made a mistake since then but she did make that mistake. Q: All right now, after your divorce did you stay in New York then? A: tb, I came l:lone. I came hooE and raised my son in Taylorville. Q: So you lived with your father? A: I lived with my father and took care of him until he die:l. Then I took care of my grandfather and my great-atmt. I took care of my IIDther until they all died. I IDJ\Te:l my son to Texas. In Texas there ~re thirteen of us and "~Ae l:uilt a library. Q: Vbat year was that you tlDiled to Texas? A: In 1952. They said it couldn't be done but~ built a library. It is equivalent to the one in Taylo:tVille except it is in a nicer building. Q: \\bat city is that? A: Carthage, Texas a very small town. Q: \ttat brought you there? A: I have a cousin that lives there and since I was alone that was a gcxxl place to go because ~ ~e just like sisters. Q: lbw ~re you supporting yourself at that time? A: How was I supporting myself? Anyway I could. I was selling antiques. I had a house full of six generations of antiques. ve had cane originally from vest Virginia and everybody that cane had tlDiled everything they had collecte:l there and then they tlDile:l it. I had those ~big houses, all the stuff that was in than. Three years ago I had a sale and it was t:w:> football fields, equivalent, it was a building that big. Two football fields because the tv.u b.lildings were side by side full and they kept saying, "But Conkey, how did you get all that stuff in that little house?" (laughter) I said it 'Na.S packed up underneath and do'illll, besides that I ha:l five hundred guns that ~re my sons. I had becane a Federal Firearms dealer because my son couldn't collect guns at that age. He wanted to have a mlBeum and he wante:l the UllSeum for veterans who v.ere disable:l or whaterer. He wante:l to show the battlefields of W:>rld war One, ~. show history, it was all history. ~ wanted to show that for the people in this part of the v.crld to see and to help the veterans too who neede:l it. So I just sold all that and I rrean, I sold it. I don't have anything left. I didn't want it left, it ~too much trouble. Q: W:lat have you been doing in the last few years? A: Last few years? I am a receptionist, three days a ~ek for Children and Family Services. I ~rthe phone and take rressages, things that a receptionist does. Q: Wl.ere do you do that at? A: CNer on Spencer. Q: There is an office in Taylo:tVille? A: Yes, we have an office here. My gcxxlness, the am:runt of people that beat on little children. I got about five phone calls these last three days fran people answering the hot lines, so you know there is a lot going on in Christian County which is very sad. .< that is part of the depression we are in, although Mr. Reagan says we aren't, we sure are. Q: All right any other A: I haven't anything you stripped ne bare. (laughter) Except a few secrets and I will keep those. Q: Any life reflections you ~uld like to share with ne? A: Oh, yes go ahead. Q: :tb, anything you v.JOUld like to share with ne? A: Oh, no, (laughs) I thought you ~re going to share with ne. You see I have an awful lot of young people that cane here. That gentlanan calle:l ne one night, I have knoWJ. him for a long time, he said he could no longer take care of his son, could he bring him aver and leave him. So I had him for three years. I have had three or four girls whose mthers had p.1t than out in the middle of the night. Of course, people don't realize it is against the law to p.lt a child out rut they do it anyway. Q: J:bw old W:lere the children? A: A girl W1B fifteen and the other one was seventeen. Q: So they came CNer and stayed with you then7 A: 'lbey CariE CNer and stayed with ne. 'lben I have young people, Who cane and want to talk. They're having problems and they know I '11 listen, no matter what they tell ne they know I ~n't be shocked. My son use:l to cane heme and tell ne the darndest things that mst sons \\UUldn't tell their mthers. 'Ihey ~dn't even tell their fathers. 'lbey'd say ~n you ~re a chorus girl, it ~n't shock you. Some of than are very religious, you know, (laughter) rut they don't realize that. So they think I'm far-out. 'lbey do cane and talk to ne. Q: Okay, my don't ~ stop here. End of Side Two, Tape One
|Title||Engs, Cordelia "Conkey" Hoover - Interview and Memoir|
Coal Mines and Mining
Coal Mines and Mining--Strikes and Lockouts, "Mine Wars"
New York NY
Progressive Miners of America (PMA)
Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975
|Description||Engs, a Taylorville resident during the coal mine wars, discusses her family, Depression, her father's experiences as a company man for the Peabody Coal Company, mine war violence, the Progressive Miners of America, strike breakers, immigrant mine workers, and the march to Virden. She also recalls her dance training in New York, career as a dancer and dance teacher, and her son's service in Vietnam.|
|Creator||Engs, Cordelia "Conkey" Hoover (1913-1995)|
|Contributing Institution||Oral History Collection, Archives/Special Collections, University of Illinois at Springfield|
|Contributors||Corley, Kevin [interviewer]|
|Digital Format||PDF; MP3|
|Relation||ILLINOIS COAL: THE LEGACY OF AN INDUSTRIAL SOCIETY|
|Rights||© Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. For permission to reproduce, distribute, or otherwise use this material, please contact: Archives/Special Collections, University of Illinois at Springfield, One University Plaza, MS BRK 140, Springfield IL 62703-5407. Phone: (217) 206-6520. http://library.uis.edu/archives/index.html|
|Collection Name||Oral History Collection of the University of Illinois at Springfield|
|Title||Cordelia "Conkey" Hoover Engs Memoir|
|Source||Cordelia 'Conkey' Hoover Engs Memoir.pdf|
|Rights||© Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. For permission to reproduce, distribute, or otherwise use this material, please contact: Archives/Special Collections, University of Illinois at Springfield, One University Plaza, MS BRK 140, Springfield IL 62703-5407. Phone: (217) 206-6520. http://library.uis.edu/archives/index.html|
University of Illinois at Springfield
Norris L Brookens Library
Cordelia “Conkey” Hoover Engs Memoir
EN37. Engs, Cordelia "Conkey" Hoover (1913-1995)
Interview and memoir
1 tape, 65 mins., 23 pp.
ILLINOIS COAL: THE LEGACY OF AN INDUSTRIAL SOCIETY
Engs, a Taylorville resident during the coal mine wars, discusses her family, Depression, her father's experiences as a company man for the Peabody Coal Company, mine war violence, the Progressive Miners of America, strike breakers, immigrant mine workers, and the march to Virden. She also recalls her dance training in New York, career as a dancer and dance teacher, and her son's service in Vietnam.
Interview by Kevin Corley, 1986 OPEN See collateral file
Archives/Special Collections LIB 144
University of Illinois at Springfield
One University Plaza, MS BRK 140
Springfield IL 62703-5407
© 1986, University of Illinois Board of Trustees
'Ibis manuscript is the prcxiuct of a tape recorded interview conducted by Kevin Corley for a special project, ''Illinois Coal: The Legacy of an Industrial Society." The project 'WaS sponsored by the Illinois State Historical Library and furrled in part by the Illinois lhmlanities Council and the National FndO'iNDElt for the Hummities. Additional support came fran the Oral History Office of Sangmoon State University. Elsebeth Bucldy transcribed the tapes and SUsan Jones edited the transcript.
Cordelia "Conkey" HoOV"er Fngs grew up in Taylorville, Illinois during the mine wars of the 1930s. In this IIBIDir she discusses her father's job at the mines and the violence that erupted including the bombing of Leah Reese's house. She also discusses her education, her dancing career and her son.
Readers of the oral history mem:>ir should bear in mind that it is a
transcript of the spoken ~rd, and that the interviewer, narrator and editor sought to preserve the infonnal, cOINersational style that is inherent in such historical sources. Sangannn State University and the
Illinois State Historical Library are not responsible for the factual accuracy of the mem:>ir, nor for views expressed therein; these are for the reader to judge.
The manuscript may be read, cpoted and cited freely. It may not be reprcxiuced in whole or in part by any IIEailS, electronic or :o:echanical, without permission in writing fran the Oral History Office, Sangmoon
State University, Springfield, Illinois, 62708.
Mrs. Conkey F.ogs, Taylorville, Illinois, August l, 1986. Kevin Corley, Intervie.wr.
Q: Mrs. Fngs, w:ruld you please state your full name?
A: My name is Cordelia Hoover Fngs.
Q: was Hoover your maiden name?
A: Hoo.rer 'WRS my maiden name. Grwer H.ool/er was my father . He 'WRS a
canpany man at Number Nine. I liiBS in high school at the time, so that's how I could see things, as a high school girl W10 's father ~rke.d at the coal mine.
Q: Vbat year did you graduate fran high school?
A: I graduated in 1932.
Q: 1932, arxi that 'WRS Taylorville High School?
A: Taylorville High School.
Q: How did you cane with the nane Conkey?
A: 'lhat was given to ue by my brother. Rose 0 'Neil, 'Who 'WaS an author of her Kewpie books, I looked like a Kewpie by the nane of Conkey. And because I had a top knot, so that 'W8.S why he called. me Conkey.
Q: How many people ~re in your fanily? How many brothers and sisters?
A: I have one brother 'Who is a lawyer in tom, he 'W8.S a states attorney for eight years.
Q: Wlat was his name?
A: Scott Ho
|Collection Name||Oral History Collection of the University of Illinois at Springfield|