November 1929 was a frightening time in Champaign-Urbana. The Urbana Banking Co. suddenly closed on Oct. 21, eventually leading to a bank failure, the sentencing of its president and losses of up to 90 percent for many of its customers. A week later, the stock market crashed and two Champaign banks merged.
Weeks earlier, Champaign police stopped walking beats and purchased two more squad cars, increasing the fleet to two Fords and a Buick. Police needed rapid transportation to respond to modern crime, the police chief said.
In early November, a bandit tried to rob the Fisher State Bank, but the holdup was thwarted by a sheriff’s deputy who fired shots at the robber, who got away but later was captured in Chicago.
For a brief time, all was forgotten as attention turned to the big Nov. 9 showdown at Memorial Stadium between Illinois and Army. All area hotels were filled and as many as 50,000 visitors were expected for the game (it drew a crowd of 69,509 — 15,000 more than the next highest-attended home game that season). Illinois was ranked in the top 10 and although Army didn’t have a great team that year, it had a big following, including a moneyed crowd.
Illinois won 17-7, but the big story happened several hours later with a brazen holdup at a dance party at the Henry H. Harris mansion at the southeast corner of Church Street and Prospect Avenue in Champaign.
Zane Ziegler, a member of the technical investigations unit of the Champaign Police Department and the department’s historian, will recount the 90-year-old story of the Harris mansion robbery in a talk and slide show at 2 p.m. Saturday at the police department.
Ziegler’s talk is sponsored by the Champaign Police Historical Society and the Champaign County History Museum in conjunction with the historical museum’s annual meeting.
He said his presentation will include an original “wanted” poster, and handwritten notes describing the jewelry, furs and other items stolen from the posh party hosted by the Champaign industrialist who was president of General Alloys Co. of Boston.
Champaign Police Officer Clyde Davis (who later became the chief of police) was wounded in a shootout at the Harris home, and one of the robbers, C.W. Katchman (aka Katzyschman) died two days later from wounds he received.
Police at the time reported that the bandits got away with about $30,000 in cash, gems and furs. But once the excitement ended around 11 p.m., the party resumed, Harris said.
“Of course the party was continued,” he told reporters. “It was not over until 3 a.m. Sunday morning. Of the 150 people who attended, I think that about 80 or 90 were local people.”
U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, who announced in August that he would not seek re-election in 2020, said last week that he is reconsidering and could re-enter the race this week.
If he runs again, the Collinsville Republican said, it would be because he’d have a chance to become either the chairman or the ranking minority member of a major House committee.
“In light of Monday’s retirement announcement of Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Greg Walden, I have been asked to reconsider my own retirement plans,” Shimkus said on Facebook. “I have heard from fellow House members in Washington, as well as from constituents in my district and supporters throughout Illinois, who believe I can make a real difference if I get the opportunity to be a committee leader.
“I am currently weighing the pros and cons of the situation. I know that time is of the essence, so I expect to discuss the matter with my family when I return to the district this weekend and announce my decision immediately thereafter.”
Shimkus’ district includes Danville, parts of Champaign County and much of the rest of East Central Illinois.
A member of Congress since 1997, Shimkus wouldn’t have a difficult time restarting his campaign. He reported having $997,368 in his campaign fund on Sept. 30.
Five Republicans and two Democrats have filed statements of candidacy in the 15th Congressional District race, including Republicans John Bambenek of Champaign, Mary Miller of Oakland, Kerry Wolff of Altamont, Alex Walker of Mattoon and Lori Fuller of Highland and Democrats Kevin Gaither of Charleston and John Wesley Hursey of Collinsville.
It wouldn’t be the first time that Shimkus had a change of heart on a major political issue. When he first ran he pledged to serve no more than 12 years in Congress.
But in 2005 he said that Republican leaders, including President George W. Bush, had urged him to run again. He’s run seven times since.
Tom Kacich’s column appears on Sundays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.