Sunday, January 13, 2008

Montgomery County research trip

I used a vacation day Friday to conduct further research on the subject of my next biography, baseball Hall of Famer Ray Schalk, in his native Montgomery County, Illinois.

The day opened with a breakfast meeting with Bill Dees and Bill Cornman, two community leaders of Litchfield, Ill., Schalk's hometown. (He was born in the tiny town of Harvel, but the family moved to Litchfield about the time Ray started school.) Litchfield sits along I-55 (and on the former famed Route 66), roughly midway between Springfield, Ill., and St. Louis.

The two Bills answered my questions about the geography and history of the community, and they offered contact information for further information. They also provided directions to the former Elks Club building (current photo above), where Ray's father was the long-time janitor.

Litchfield became Litchfield largely because of its connections to 4-5 railroads, and it remains on a key rail route. That point hit home when Bill and I, on our way to the site where Ray Schalk played his first semi-pro game, sat in our cars for more than 15 minutes while a couple of freight trains did their thing.

My next stop was Hillsboro, the county seat, where I spent a couple of hours in the clerk's vault searching for birth, marriage and death information on the Schalk family. The result was not as complete as I had hoped. Curiously, a few of the Schalk children's birth certificates were not filed until 1941 -- nearly six decades after the fact -- and some couldn't be found at all. That stumped even the county clerk's aide Tricia (sp?), who so graciously stepped up to help me. I also checked in with Mike Plunkett, editor of the local paper, The Journal-News.

Finally, I drove over to Nokomis, home of the Bottomley-Ruffing-Schalk Baseball Museum -- dedicated to Montgomery County's three members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. There, Jim Eisenbarth allowed me to computer-scan several photos for use in my book. The prize was an image of Schalk, as a scrawny 16-year-old, barely filling out his first semi-pro uniform (representing the Litchfield Arcos).

All in all, it was a most productive day!

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