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The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
January 2007


Franklin MacVeagh and the Buffalo Nickel

While visiting Graceland Cemetery last summer with the History Club of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society, I came across a stone for Franklin MacVeagh (1837-1934). I was struck not only by the Scottish name and the long life, but the inscription, “Secretary of the Treasury of the United States of American from 1909 to 1913.” I have since found that he was instrumental in bringing about the Buffalo nickel.

MacVeagh was born on a farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania. His father died in the mid-1850s and his brother Wayne became his guardian. His brother remained a close friend for 50 years thereafter, while Wayne worked as attorney general during Garfield’s administration and also served in several ambassadorial posts.

Franklin graduated from Yale in 1862, and earned a law degree in 1864 from Columbia University. He practiced law in New York from 1864-1866. In 1866, he moved to Chicago, where he established a wholesale grocery company. He became a director of the Commercial National Bank, served there for 29 years. This bank later merged with the Continental National Bank in 1910.

He became a democratic candidate for the United States Senate in 1894, but lost the race and changed parties two years later. He was a founding member of the then all-male Chicago Literary Club in 1874, served as president from 1906-1907, and was a member for 60 years.

MacVeagh was appointed Secretary of the Treasury by Theodore Roosevelt, probably at the request of his successor William Howard Taft. His era was marked by efforts to modernize the federal government and MacVeagh promoted efficiency and economy within the Treasury Department. He resigned in 1913 at the end of Taft’s term, to be succeeded by William G. McAdoo.

For the people of today, perhaps his most enduring legacy is the Buffalo nickel, which was first issued in 1913. The previous design, known as the Liberty head nickel, had been minted since 1883. His son suggested to him that a new nickel would be “a permanent souvenir of the most attractive sort.” The engraver chosen was another Scot, James Earle Fraser, who trained at the Art Institute in Chicago (For more information on James Fraser see the October 1994 issue of the Newsletter). The first nickels were presented to outgoing President Taft and 33 Indian chiefs on March 4, 1913.

The above article was written by Society member, Dave Simpson of Brookfield, Illinois.

Pictured:  Franklin McVeagh

Scottish Home Fire

Most of you who have followed our history know that the Scottish Home was destroyed by fire in 1917 with the tragic loss of four lives. You might also know that the fire was discovered by two dogs around 2 o’clock in the morning. Topsy, a collie and McDougal, a Scotch terrier, awakened Mrs. Cummings who sounded the alarm. McDougal died in the flames.

The fire occurred on Sunday and action was taken immediately by the Governors who met in the office of John Williamson the next day. They promised to rebuild the home. The building was insured for $30,000, but the new construction would more than double the amount of insurance. Within two weeks sufficient funds were raised to rebuild. The war was raging in Europe, horses and building materials were difficult to obtain, but they began clearing the debris and construction began immediately.

A hand-written note from Mrs. Cummings, found in an old scrap book, answers a few more questions. She wrote that excavations “for rebuilding the home has begun”. The date was July 11, 1917. By December, the west wing was completed and the “family” returned. Some of the people had been living in a rented house, which Mrs. Cummings calls “the Hodri house.” One could assume that the middle section of the home containing the living room, dining room and kitchen were also finished.

December 1917 was a cold, snowy month. The temperature rose to 11° with a low of 3° and it was snowing on the 31st. The wind was gusting to 26 miles per hour. Prior to their moving, Cora Cummings wrote in the newspaper, “Do you suppose any of your readers have an old, able-bodied trunk they could spare? Most of our residents lost their trunks and valises (suitcases) in the fire last March. We are about to move into the new building and the old folks are sadly in need of receptacles in which to pack their belongings.”

Mrs. Cummings in her handwritten note says, “They came home in bobsleds from the Hodri house in Riverside.” What a scene that must have been! The Home was formally dedicated in June, 1918. As of this date the Hodri house is unidentified.

Pictured:  The Scottish Home just after the fire.  Note the silhouette of the fireman on the path to the left. 

Alan Cunningham

Alan Cunningham of Barrhead, Reffrewshire, Scotland, who, for the past four weeks has been visiting his brother John T. Cunningham, 3030 Sheridan Road, vice-president of the Saint Andrew Society, plans to return to East Orange, New Jersey to spend a few more weeks with his daughter before sailing for his native land.

Mr. Cunningham is greatly impressed with the way the Yankees do things. “You are not afraid to spend your money”, he said “and I like the importance you give to comfort and recreation. Your workingman and his family with his automobile, radio, telephone, picture palaces, etc., have a better time of it than our average workingman, but I think we live quieter more contented sort of lives.”

In remarking on our traffic problems, Mr. Cunningham told of writing home about the multitude of motors that crowd Michigan Avenue and other streets at almost every hour of the day. His nephew carried the letter to Mr. Cunningham’s brother-in-law in a small village in Ayrshire, who, upon reading it, said “Och aye. Nae doot the traffic is great. But if he’d ha’s ben doon Stewartron Cross th’ nicht he wud ha’e seen somethin.”

R. Douglas Stuart

“A consignment of 1,400 pounds of poultry feed has been donated to the Scottish Old People’s Home by R. Douglas Stuart, president of the Quaker Oats Company. Mr. Stuart, who is a member of the board of governors, is much interested in the Home’s efforts at poultry-raising, and is generously assisting in this way. One hundred young pullets, raised this summer, will profit by this valuable donation.” It was reported that “the poultry yard supplied 116 dozens eggs during April.” 1927

Monument to Sir Walter Scott

In our last issue, we talked about a proposed monument in Chicago to Sir Walter Scott. The Society had celebrated the “Scott Centenary” with a banquet and had money left. The proposal was to duplicate the Sir Walter Scott Monument that is located on Princess Street in Edinburgh, Scotland. The original plans of the Monument were sent to Chicago in September 1871. The question was, did the plans escape the Great Fire which occurred in October of the same year?

In preparing the history presentation given on October 7 of this year, the answer was discovered. General John McArthur, President of the Society in 1871 addressed the question of the proposed Monument to Sir Walter Scott in his annual report. “As suggested by me at the last anniversary of our Society, the “Scott Centenary” has been honorably celebrated in this city, and I am gratified at bearing testimony to the unanimous and hearty co-operation of all nationalities in thus perpetuating the undying fame of the immortal author. Circumstances beyond the control of the committee prevented them from realizing a sum sufficient to erect a monument, as they desired, and for which the original design by Kemp was so kindly loaned by its owners, and so ruthlessly destroyed by the great fire; still, a surplus remains to the credit of that fund, and I would here suggest...the appropriateness of handing it over to the city to help build a commemorative monument of the old safes that are now being collected in Union Park with that object in view. In this way the record of the loss of the beautiful and original drawing could be preserved.” It is unclear if the monument of old safes was ever constructed.

A recent, but quick, visit to Union Park did not find a monument made of the old safes. Does anyone know where it is located?

Naming your Child

The Donald A. Campbell History Fund recently bought a used book on Ebay entitled “Scots in Michigan” by Alan T. Forrester. He writes about the traditions of naming and says the following was traditional:

The first son was named after the father’s father.
The second son was named after the mother’s father.
The third son was named after the father.
The fourth son was named after the father’s eldest brother.
The first daughter was named after the mother’s mother.
The second daughter was named after the father’s mother.
The third daughter was named after the mother.
The fourth daughter was named after the mother’s eldest sister.

“Official middle names were not always given, but when they were, they were typically the mother’s maiden name or another surname honoring grandparents, other relatives, or close friends.”

Soccer Match at Cubs Park

“Stardom of the soccer football world will be seen in action on Sunday afternoon July 17, 1927, at the Cubs’ Ball Park, in a game for the benefit of the Scottish Old People’s Home. An all-star team, picked from all teams in the Illinois State Football Association, will try to humble the pride of the Bricklayers and followers of the game know that the stars have a job on their hands. Robert Black, president of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society, is sponsor for the game in aid of the Home. William Wrigley, Jr., owner of the Cubs, donated the use of the park and it is expected that this stellar event in soccer football will draw a capacity crowd.

The Chicago Highlanders’ Pipe Band will be on hand to provide the proper atmosphere for the event under the leadership of Pipe Major Robert Sim. The Illinois Saint Andrew Society appreciates the generosity of Mr. Wrigley in donating the use of the Cubs’ Park to help the cause.” For tickets, individuals were to call Mr. Black whose telephone was Wabash 3440. 1927

New Items for our Historical Collection

We are pleased to have our first Civil War medal for the museum. Thanks to Dr. Stanford McDonald, who sent us the medal that belonged to his great uncle, William B. McDonald who served with the Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, 13th Company, E 18. If any of our readers have war medals, we would be happy to have them in our museum. Call (630) 629-4516.

William Nichol of LaGrange Park gave the collection a Scottish flag that he purchased many years ago in Toronto. It is said to have flown from a Scottish ship. He also gave us a copy of “Kyle’s Scottish Lyric Gems” published in Glasgow in 1880.

Bob McLeod gave the collection a WW I field jacket and the medals of his father, Robert J. McLeod, Sr., 37th Division, 145th Infantry, 112 Medical Corps. He served in the Solomon Islands, during WW II.

Museum Dates and Subjects

January 6, 2007 - This PowerPoint presentation will be about the Robert Burns Monument in Garfield Park. All of the Scottish organizations in Chicago worked together in raising the money to erect the statue. They often struggled in their cooperation, but had a great celebration when it was dedicated. A wonderful story.

February 3, 2007 - “Seven Minutes with Abraham Lincoln and His Scottish Connections” February is President’s Month, so we will consider all the Presidents with Scottish blood, especially Mr. Lincoln.

March 3, 2007 - We will consider the beginnings of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society in 1845. Was General George McClellan a founding member of the Society? If not, who was the McClellan who attended the first Saint Andrew’s Day Dinner?

April 7, 2007 - Many Scots came to Illinois in the 1840s to work in the coal mines. Braidwood and Coal City were heavily populated by Scots. Michele Micetich is the curator of the Coal City museum and will give the presentation. Part of Coal City was called Scot’s Hill and she knows all of the family names. Michele will bring various items from the museum as well. You will find it interesting.

The museum is open the first Saturday of each month, except July, August and December. Special arrangements to visit can be made by calling (630) 629-4516 and setting up an appointment. The museum is open at 9:00 a.m. and the presentation begins at 10:00 a.m. Attendance at these Saturday events is running between 35 and 50, including some children. Anyone is welcome and it’s a good place to meet your friends.

We serve coffee, tea and scones.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
Scottish-American History Club
2800 Des Plaines Avenue
North Riverside, IL 60546