The Incredibles

Part III

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By DOUG DEUCHLER

As River Forest's 125th anniversary celebration heats up again this fall, we return to our list of 30 notable River Forest residents. We've featured them throughout the spring and summer; here are five more.

And be sure to check out the sidebar, where we list upcoming anniversary events, and "Mob Scene," (on page 59) this week's Homefront feature on the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest's tour of the Grunow/Accardo home in River Forest.

 

Lawrence Welk (1903-1992):

Champagne music maker

1250 Ashland Ave.

 

Although the musician, accordion player, band leader and TV impresario was born on a farm in North Dakota, he grew up speaking German. As a result, Lawrence Welk always spoke English with a thick European accent. Early on he became determined to make a name for himself in show biz; he left his rural home on his 21st birthday and never looked back.

Welk immediately plugged into the musical world, playing weddings, barn dances and occasional radio gigs. From the beginning, he was known for his smooth, easy-listening style. He often told his band: "If they can't hum it after we play it, it's not for us." His 13-piece Big Band was often featured at Chicago's Aragon and Trianon ballrooms, and the Oriental and Chicago theaters during the 1930s and '40s.

During his River Forest years, Welk lived across from Willard School and attended St. Vincent Ferrer Church.

A good judge of talent, Welk's discoveries included clarinetist Pete Fountain, the "Lovely Lennon Sisters" vocalists, pianist JoAnn Castle, and accordionist Myron Floren. Welk's weekly TV variety show showcased what he referred to as "champagne music," which consisted mostly of well-known standards, polkas and novelty songs. During each broadcast, Welk often took ladies from his audience for a turn around on the dance floor.

Though some viewed his squeaky clean music and corny family entertainment as the musical epitome of the bland 1950s culture that produced Velveeta Cheese and Wonder Bread, during prime time every Saturday night his "musical family" touched the lives of millions of viewers. Audiences loved his perpetual bubble machine, his bubbly music and his trademark "Uh-one and uh-two." (His vanity license plate read: "A1 AN A2.") He performed at President Eisenhower's second inaugural ball in 1957. And he garnered more than 20 hit singles in the late '50s and early '60s.

Though it was the longest-running variety program on TV, The Lawrence Welk Show was cancelled in 1971 because both his advertisers and the network were convinced younger, hipper audiences would have more buying power. Welk's two biggest longtime sponsors were Geritol and Serutan ("That's 'nature's' spelled backwards.") After ABC dropped his show, Welk promptly signed a lucrative syndication contract and went right on producing it for a number of years, with even greater financial reward.

The Lawrence Welk Band continues to appear in Bramson, Mo., even though the bandleader has been deceased since 1992.

 

William C. Grunow (1893-1951):

Radio and poultry king

915 Franklin Ave.

The spectacular rags-to-riches career of William C.Grunow remains a thrilling example of the Roaring '20s business boom. After starting off as an accountant, Grunow formed his own manufacturing company in 1927 to produce Majestic radios, one of the first brands to use alternating current rather than messy, expensive batteries.

Its meteoric rise made Majestic the wonder stock of the late 1920s. Grunow's company also manufactured early electric refrigerators as well as phonographs that didn't require cranking. He became rich within two years, just on the brink of the Great Depression.

Grunow built his huge home (complete with gold faucets and a black onyx bathtub) at 915 Franklin Ave. Decades later this palatial estate became the residence of mob kingpin Tony Accardo.

During the depths of the Depression, Grunow founded General Household Utilities, which produced radios and refrigerators. But times were so hard the firm went bankrupt in 1935.

It was then that Grunow established his large-scale poultry business at Lake Geneva, Wis. called Val-Lo-Will Farms, Inc. This corporation, named for Valerie, Lois and William, Grunow's three children, was set up as an assembly line operation. Eventually there were 24 Val-Lo-Will Farms for raising and processing chickens in Illinois. There was a chain of Val-Lo-Will "chicken shops," too. One was located at 125 N. Marion St in Oak Park.

As he did with his Majestic radios and refrigerators, Grunow provided the best value at an affordable price. His chickens were among the first to be raised in sterilized cagesâ€"they never touched the ground. All their feed was milled at Grunow's own plant.

Grunow died of a heart attack in a 24th floor room of the Stevens Hotel in Chicago when he was 58. His descendents subsequently opened the Majestic Hills Ski Resort outside Lake Geneva, named for the Majestic radios of the '20s and '30s. Majestic Hills became a popular bandstand and concert venue during the 1960s.

 

Anthony Accardo (1906-1992):

"The Big Tuna" mob boss

915 Franklin Ave.

 

He had the longest career of any U.S. mobster. Tony Accardo, aka "Joe Batters" or "Big Tuna," served as the boss or chairman of the board of the Chicago Outfit from 1944 until his death in 1992.

Accardo was born in Chicago, the son of Sicilian immigrants. His father was a shoemaker. He grew up at Grand and Ashland avenues. As a teenage hood with the Al Capone mob in the 1920s, he participated in lots of Prohibition-era violence. Gradually he progressed from muggings and pocket picking to armed robbery and aggravated assault. By age 16 he became a high-ranking bodyguard, gunman and "enforcer."

In 1929 he participated in the infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacre of Capone rival Bugs Moran's gang on Clark Street.

"Joe Batters" received his nickname from his reputation for swinging a ball bat to mete out violence to rivals and others who'd displeased his bosses by failing to make their weekly loan-shark payments. By the '30s, with the end of bootlegging, the Mob turned its attention to even nastier stuff, like narcotics. During that era the Chicago syndicate drove all the non-Italian gangs out of business until the Mafia was in complete control of the city's illegal activities. Accardo became Paul "The Waiter" Ricca's second in command.

When Ricca went to prison, Accardo stepped into the position of acting boss of the Outfit in 1944. He often visited Ricca in the federal penitentiary masquerading as his lawyer to obtain direction. Eventually Accardo became the boss himself.

Under Accardo's leadership, the Chicago Outfit expanded its dominion, taking Las Vegas away from the New York mob.

During the '50s, he purchased the lavish Grunow mansion, 915 Franklin Ave., for a then-exorbitant $150,000. The black onyx bathtub reportedly served as his unofficial command post.

When six burglars foolishly broke into the Accardo home in search of cash and jewels, each was subsequently tracked down by syndicate hit men. Their throats were slashed. One was castrated and another disemboweled.

Later Accardo moved to a more modest 18-room ranch at 1407 Ashland Ave.

Despite everything that went on in his empire, Accardo never spent a single night in jail. In the 1950-'51 Kefauver hearings, Accardo took the Fifth Amendment 172 times. In 1960 he was sentenced to six years in prison for income tax evasion but the conviction was later overturned by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals because of "prejudicial" newspaper publicity during his trial.

Accardo ran the Chicago Outfit for 40 years until he died in his sleep due to heart problems at 86 in 1992.

 

Franklin Mars (1883-1934):

King of the chocolate bars

930 Ashland Ave.

 

He began selling candy for a living at age 19 in 1902. In 1920 the ambitious entrepreneur began his own Mar-O-Bar Company. By 1923 Franklin Mars introduced the Milky Way bar, which quickly became the largest selling candy bar on the market. It cost a nickel. The delicious, popular bar was a blend of sweet milk chocolate, corn syrup, milk, sugar, cocoa, malt, butter and frothy egg whites. Apparently it was the perfect combination.

In 1930, Mars launched another great success: the Snickers Bar. In 1932, during the Depression, he introduced a third popular nickel candy bar, The Three Musketeers, which could be split into three equal portions and shared with friends. In the early 1940s, Mars Inc. introduced M&M's, which would "melt in your mouth, not in your hand." This candy was especially popular with the troops during World War II.

One of Mars' plants was located at 2019 N. Oak Park Ave. in the Galewood neighborhood of Chicago.

During the 1930s, former Oak Park cop Jerry Kennelly, 34, who had been wounded during a robbery in 1934, was Franklin Mars' chauffeur. Kennelly hated the large gongs that cops used in their touring cars at that time, claiming they were hard to hear in noisy streets during peak traffic times. When the ex-officer came up with a rotating emergency light to be used on top of railroad cabooses, police cars, and other emergency vehicles, Mars provided the financial backing for his invention. In gratitude Kennelly named his creation the Mars Light, and that name is still in use.

Mars loved horses and cattle and ran his own farm called Milky Way in Tennessee. His hobby was breeding and racing championship horses. After his death, Mars' most famous horse, Galladhadion, won the 1940 Kentucky Derby and was said to be so "picture perfect" that he was painted by many artists of the period.

Mars died of kidney failure and heart ailments at the age of 51 in 1934.

 

Grace Hall Hemingway (1872â€"1951):

Artist, musician, clubwoman

551 Keystone Ave.

 

Though his father's emphasis on the "manly sports" of hunting, fishing, and boxing left an obvious mark on novelist Ernest Hemingway, his mother's enthusiasm for the arts also made a deep impression. He was both athletic and sensitive. He shared his father's passion for hunting but also displayed his mother's strong will and her dominating personality.

Though most people think of Grace Hall Hemingway as an Oak Parker, for the last several decades of her life she lived in a small home on Keystone Avenue in River Forest. She moved there during the Depression when she was unable to afford her mortgage payments, taxes and upkeep on her Oak Park home. But although she was never a good manager of finances, the widow adapted quickly to her reduced circumstances. She took up painting when her voice aged. She privately taught both painting pupils and voice students, gave art lectures, sold her desert paintings when she could, and rented out four rooms in her home to boarders.

Her move to River Forest, many reported, was good for her. She brought with her just a few family antiques, including the cherished melodeon that her mother had dragged from their house during the Great Chicago Fire when she was pregnant with Grace.

Hemingway improvised a studio and made many new friends, attracting a new following of music students and painting a large number of landscapes, especially desert scenes. Even though she had little income during her River Forest years, she was generous with donations, such as to the agencies that cared for the orphans of the Spanish Civil War. She tirelessly campaigned to get art into the public schools. She attended meetings of many groups and organizations, including the Art League, 19th Century Club, PTA, DAR and WCTU.

Whether singing, painting, or campaigning for local issues, Hemingway had always been a public performer before the feminist movement had fully redefined the roles of women. Though some thought her an overbearing snob, her energy and exuberance led her to always play center stage. She may have given up her opera career to marry a doctor but she stubbornly refused to give up her identity. At a time when women were always identified in the newspaper by their husbands' names (i.e. Mrs. John Farson), this doctor's wife always appeared as Grace Hall Hemingway.

Before her marriage she had been a successful music teacher with a well-trained contralto voice. She had a try at an operatic career in New York but gave it up in favor of marriage, although she published a number of now-forgotten songs. In the early 1900s she charged a stiff $8 an hour for voice lessons, earning as much as $1,000 a monthâ€"far more than her struggling obstetrician husband. He was often negligent about his fee collecting, so the couple often argued over money.

For decades, Hemingway conducted two choirs and an orchestra. She gave nonstop lessonsâ€"75 youngsters came to study music with her weekly, as well as adult soloistsâ€"and conducted rehearsals in her home. She insisted young Ernest, her second of six children and her eldest son, study music as a child, personally supervising his daily cello practicing.

Ernest always depicted his mother as a nag. He said he witnessed her emasculate his father. Dr. Clarence Hemingway had become increasingly moody, irritable and suspicious, ultimately shooting himself in 1928 with his own father's revolver. Today most sources recognize the doctor was struggling with a manic-depressive disorder. Rather than admit that his dad's challenges might have been a mental condition (and possibly a hereditary disorder), Ernest found it easier to blame his mother. His father's suicide tormented Ernest the rest of his life.

In 1950, a careless attendant tipped over her wheelchair at Oak Park Hospital and Hemingway sustained a head injury that seemed to accelerate her senile dementia. Yet when she returned home near the end of her life, she continued to play classical music with gusto. Ernest did not attend his mother's funeral.

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