Does MPHS have photographs: Yes
Date of Interview: October 20, 1991
Interviewer: Gloria Natoli
Text of Oral History Interview:
GLORIA NATOLI: It is October 20, 1991. This is Gloria Natoli interviewing Earl Meeske at 918 S. Elm, Mount Prospect, Illinois. You are consenting to a recorded interview, is that correct, Mr. Meeske?
EARL MEESKE: Yes, I am.
NATOLI: The time is 11 a.m., and Mr. Meeske, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed and for signing the release form. Would you state your full name.
MEESKE: Earl Louis Meeske.
NATOLI: When were you born, and where?
MEESKE: I was born February 21, 1932, at 20 South Lewis Street, Mount Prospect.
NATOLI: Who were your parents?
MEESKE: My parents were Hilda Busse-that’s my mother-and my father was Fred Meeske.
NATOLI: And your grandparents? Do you remember your grandparents?
MEESKE: Louis Busse and Paul Meeske.
NATOLI: Did your grandparents live in Mount Prospect?
MEESKE: Paul Meeske lived over here on 58th, which was unincorporated, but the mailing address was Mount Prospect. Louis Busse originally was in Mount Prospect-had the general store here-and then he moved out to a farm in the country.
NATOLI: How long have you lived in Mount Prospect?
MEESKE: Fifty-nine years.
NATOLI: That’s all of your life, is that correct?
MEESKE: All of my life.
NATOLI: Have you lived at any other address in the village of Mount Prospect, other than 918 South Elm?
MEESKE: I got married and moved in here the year later. Prior to that I lived on a farm for a year, here in Mount Prospect, and prior to that I lived with my parents.
NATOLI: The farm that you lived at in Mount Prospect, can you tell us where that was?
MEESKE: Right by Golf and Mount Prospect Road. The home is still standing there. My wife was born there, my father-in-law was born there, and that was the old homestead. That house is still standing.
NATOLI: And when you lived with your parents, what address was that?
MEESKE: Well, 20 S. Lewis Street, where I was born –at home.
NATOLI: How long did you live there?
MEESKE: I stayed there until-let’s see. I went in the service when I was 21 years old. At that time they were building a home on Edward Street. So, when I came back out of the service I resided at 117 South Edward Street.
NATOLI: Is that home, then, at 20 South Lewis still standing?
MEESKE: Yes, it is.
NATOLI: When you were born, what was considered the downtown area of Mount Prospect?
MEESKE: What you see now. There wasn’t much on the south side of the tracks-maybe a real estate office, Kruse’s Restaurant Tavern. Most of the part was on the corner of where Van Dreil’s drugstore-that building was standing there at the time, the Texaco station on the corner where Fanny May’s is now, then residential behind that.
NATOLI: Now we’re talking about the location of [Route] 83 and Main Street?
MEESKE: [Route] 83 and Main Street was the most. There is a building on the corner there. That’s one of the oldest buildings in Mount Prospect. That used to be a barber shop in there and a tavern.
NATOLI: Which building is that, now?
MEESKE: It’s right on the corner of [Route] 83 and Main Street, the northeast corner. The next building over there is a newer building, but then the other part from there to the corner of Busse and Main Street, our old store was on that corner when that was built after World War II, so that actually was a residential home on that point.
NATOLI: Let me stop you there. When you say “our old store was built on that corner,” are you talking about your father’s store? MEESKE: Yes.
NATOLI: During what year was that built?
MEESKE: It was built after World War II was over. Prior to that it there was one of the Busse homes in town.
NATOLI: Okay. What kind of a store was that that your father had?
MEESKE: A supermarket.
NATOLI: Can you describe to us, at this point, the supermarket at that time. Is it the same as a supermarket today?
MEESKE: Oh, well, the idea, yes, but for size, no. We originally were down the street which is part of that Japanese restaurant. NATOLI: Where Sekura’s is?
MEESKE: Well, yes-one store over. That area right there was a general store years ago that my grandfather was partners with. Louis Busse was partners with William Busse, Sr., and that’s where my mother was born. My grandfather didn’t care for this- hat was a general store; he sold everything-so he moved out and went to farming. Anyhow, William Busse, Sr., started Mount Prospect State Bank, which is now First Chicago, and that was on the northwest corner of Busse Avenue and [Route] 83.
NATOLI: And William Busse is …?
MEESKE: My grandfather’s brother. Well, anyhow, his son William Busse, Jr., took over the store and later on my father went to work for him and bought into the business. William Busse, Sr., became Commissioner Busse, so William Busse, Jr., became president of the bank.
NATOLI: Okay, now when you say William Busse, Sr., became commissioner, at that time what were the commissioner’s duties?
MEESKE: Cook County commissioner.
NATOLI: Oh, okay.
MEESKE: Then my dad bought out and went into business for himself, married my mother, moved back upstairs where she lived and was born, and my sister was born up there.
NATOLI: Where again was that?
MEESKE: That’s approximately 115 South Main Street. The building is still standing, but it’s built over it. It was just a single building at the time, and that was built over and the rest of them were added on.
NATOLI: That’s interesting. Okay, so your dad married your mother and started this store.
MEESKE: Took over the store, yes. And then he just had a general grocery store.
NATOLI: Did it have a butcher shop?
MEESKE: Oh, yes. We had a full store-butcher shop, produce, groceries, the whole bit. The farmers would bring their eggs in and we’d give them credit on their bill and all that sort of thing. We even had a lot of chickens in the back. If you wanted a fresh chicken, we’d just go back and kill one for you and dress it for you. Everything was done the hard way.
NATOLI: And how did you get the beef in, then?
MEESKE: Oh, originally we brought from the beef peddler.
NATOLI: They had a beef peddler? They would deliver it to the store?
MEESKE: Oh, yes.
NATOLI: And the farmers would bring the chickens.
MEESKE: Some chickens, yes. A lot of eggs, mostly. They all shopped in the store and then we would just-you know, everybody charged years ago. You just credited their bill that way.
NATOLI: So when we come to the question, “Where did your family shop for groceries?” we know where they shopped for groceries.
NATOLI: But what about as far as clothes and shoes?
MEESKE: Well, we didn’t have a shoe store in town when I was a kid. We went to Des Plaines. Clothing, there wasn’t that much. Mount Prospect didn’t have a lot of stores like that. Des Plaines was the big shopping center for that sort of thing, their downtown. We’d go to Spieglers, which is now sold out, too. But we had Busse-Biermann Hardware Store, Wille’s Lumber and Fuel, barber shops, the general store where women could go in and buy material for sewing and all those kinds of needs.
NATOLI: And where were these stores located? In the area where they are now?
MEESKE: Well, mostly on Main Street and also on Busse Avenue, which is between [Route] 83 and Northwest Highway.
NATOLI: What about cars and buggies?
MEESKE: Buggies I don’t quite remember-just for joyrides.
NATOLI: You’re not quite old enough.
NATOLI: Were there automobile dealers at that time?
MEESKE: Yes, there was Busse’s automobile place, and that started, actually, on the corner where the bank went in years ago which is now. Well, there was an ice cream place there lately. I don’t even know what’s in there now. Then he moved over where the Mount Prospect Electric Company is. That used to be Busse Motor Sales. They moved out of there to where Vufich is now.
NATOLI: Was that owned by a relative of yours?
MEESKE: The Busses. That was one of the brothers. There was William, Albert, George, Owen and Louis-the Busse brothers.
NATOLI: And these were. ..?
MEESKE: They all had farms, and some went into real estate-insurance business, some went into the grocery business. They went into the banking business. Some of them had the Busse-Biermann hardware. Biermann married one of the Busse daughters and they had the hardware store. And then, of course, Albert had the Busse Buick which sold trucks, and such, to the farmers. George Busse was in real estate, or George L. Busse, his father. They had insurance and real estate.
NATOLI: Let me interrupt you a minute. These Busses, are they brothers of your wife’s grandfather or your wife’s father’s brothers or your wife’s brothers?
MEESKE: They’re brothers of my wife’s father. Excuse me, not my wife’s-my mother’s father.
NATOLI: Your mother’s. I’m sorry. So, your mother’s father’s brother’s were all in business in Mount Prospect.
MEESKE: Yes, in one way or the other.
NATOLI: All right. It sounds like, in fact, no one had any businesses except the Busses in Mount Prospect at that time. Do you remember any other names?
MEESKE: Well, Van Dreil’s has been in town for a long time. There was one druggist Van Dreil bought it from, but I can’t remember his name. I remember it there. Then Keefer’s carne in, and Keefer’s was on Northwest Highway between [Route] 83 and Emerson Street. He had bought out, actually, this sort of a drug store-candy store, whatever you want to call it. It was set way back and then he moved it up front, which is now that Mary’s Hallmark store, or whatever it is-that Hallmark store that’s next to Fanny May.
NATOLI: How did all these stores advertise?
MEESKE: Well, in the Paddock publications.
NATOLI: Do you remember any favorite advertisements?
MEESKE: What do you mean, favorite?
NATOLI: Oh, like a horse and a buggy-that kind of an advertisement. Something that stands out in your mind.
MEESKE: Well, they had the downtown shopper in Mount Prospect that was hand-delivered allover Mount Prospect, and all the local merchants would advertise in that. That was very successful. That was more my time, after my dad sort of passed out of the picture and we took over the store.
NATOLI: Do you by any chance have any of the advertisements that your dad had during the time he had the store?
MEESKE: I think I have some around here, yes.
NATOLI: Would you be willing to let the Mount Prospect Library photocopy those advertisements?
MEESKE: Sure. I’d have to dig them out. I believe, though, we were going through something and we found some old ads. It’s unbelievable, the prices years ago.
NATOLI: That would be very helpful to us.
NATOLI: Now, do you remember some of the earliest factories in Mount Prospect?
MEESKE: Well, there was the-what the heck did they call it?-the creamery that’s by the water tower, which is not there anymore. That was torn down.
NATOLI: And where was that? Could you tell us the location?
MEESKE: It’s on Evergreen and Northwest Highway, where the water town is standing. It was a creamery right beneath it. The old fire station was there. It was a two-door fire station.
NATOLI: Oh, yes? Now, this creamery, had it been in business when you were growing up?
MEESKE: Yes. I was going out of business after that.
NATOLI: Do you know when it actually opened?
MEESKE: No, I wasn’t around for that, either.
NATOLI: Okay. But during the time, say, your early teen years, was it still around then?
MEESKE: Yes, when I was, I’d say, ten years old or in that area.
NATOLI: What did it do? Is that where you got the milk, etc.?
MEESKE: No, we didn’t get our milk from there. We got it from a regular wholesale delivery person.
NATOLI: Oh, that’s the milk for the store. What did the creamery do?
MEESKE: Well, I’m not too sure exactly what they even did-if people brought the milk to them. See, the farmers around here got out of dairy farming and they went to truck farming, and that creamery didn’t have any supply so it just closed up. So, they would actually go through and process it and then sell it to a wholesale place, I suppose.
NATOLI: Did they do the canned milk and the evaporated milk sort of thing?
MEESKE: I’m not sure, now. I don’t remember.
NATOLI: Do you remember any other manufacturers in Mount Prospect?
MEESKE: Well, on Pine Street, right now where the police and fire department is standing, was the old public works building. In that block they had pickle factories, they called them. They were warehouses that had large vats, and the farmers would bring their pickle crops in and they’d dump them in these vats and cure them.
NATOLI: They would bring the cucumbers, you mean?
NATOLI: Pickled cucumbers, right. And then they’d dump them in the vats and then somehow they’d end up in bottles to be sold to the. ..?
MEESKE: Oh, sure. They’d take them out of there and they’d put them in bottles or crocks and then ship them off to someone else.
NATOLI: Do you remember who owned that?
MEESKE: No, I don’t. I played in it, actually. When we were kids we’d go in and sneak in there and run around and play in there.
NATOLI: What would you do? Run around and grab a pickle?
MEESKE: Oh, of course.
NATOLI: That’s fun. So you didn’t have any problem. They didn’t object to the children going in.
MEESKE: No. The town was so small, everybody knew everybody. If you stepped out of line, your father knew it before you even got home.
NATOLI: How old was the town, say, when you were 10 years old? I mean, how many people were in this town at that time?
MEESKE: Well, how many people when I was 10 years old? Probably a couple of thousand or 1500.
NATOLI: Oh, so it was really small.
MEESKE: Oh, yes. I mean, our big highlight was, when television carne out we’d go over to Wille’s and he had a television set in the window and we’d sit outside and watch the television show.
NATOLI: So, did Wille’s have a television? Did he do anything else? Any events that the townspeople were involved in?
MEESKE: Any events?
NATOLI: Yes. There is a reference here to a Wille’s Hall.
MEESKE: I don’t remember a Wille’s Hall.
NATOLI: So by the time you came along, there was no Wille’s Hall. There was just the Wille’s television.
MEESKE: Well, no, it was Wille’s Lumber and Fuel, and they delivered mostly coal. They had just a little, little store out there. And then, of course, as the family and the kids got more involved in the business and progress became more out here-the coal was going out and they began going into more hardware and lumber, and they were getting into everything. They had a TV store there, and they even got into sporting goods and the whole bit.
NATOLI: Now, talking about your father’s store, how many people did he employ in his store?
MEESKE: Well, when we sold it out in 1973 there were 25 of us working there.
NATOLI: Oh, that’s a big operation.
MEESKE: Well, yes it is. It took a lot of people because we did a lot of service-oriented work. We delivered groceries and took phone orders, put your groceries up for you and that sort of thing, so it took a lot more help to do that.
NATOLI: You mean, you went to a person’s house and actually put the groceries away?
MEESKE: I did that when I was a kid to the farmers. They would be out in the field. I was about 13 years old when I was delivering groceries, and I’d go out to the house and I would just walk right in-nobody locked the door around here-and I’d take all the perishables and put them in the refrigerator and place everything else on the table. We had folding boxes that we would take back with us, and we kept reusing them all the time. They were stackers. But in town, no. If the lady were home, she would unpack it herself. We would just put it out.
NATOLI: Now, when you talk about the farmers, where were these farms?
MEESKE: Oh, everything around here was farms. Where I am sitting was a farm. Anything south of-even where Lions Park was, from there on all the way to south of the railroad tracks to Mount Prospect Road, that was all farms. All the way from there to the tollway, which was not a tollway, but down there. Everything was farms.
NATOLI: When did the character of the town start to change from farming to residential?
MEESKE: Well, that was back during the Depression, I think. Somebody else came in as a developer and started developing the town. Bought so much land from the farmers, and started developing these houses and designed the streets, and they went bottom up. They had different names on them; then the Busses sort of took it over in the real estate and developed it more so.
NATOLI: How old were you, about, at that time, when you first noticed that all of a sudden it’s not all farms anymore and all of a sudden there’s more houses coming up?
MEESKE: Well, the whole town was gradually expanding. The lots you couldn’t give away. Today they’re priceless. I think the biggest movement was when we started coming over to this side of the creek. Things started developing in this area and just kept spreading. That’s about 35 years ago. My father said, “When I bought out here, I was crazy moving this far out in the country.”
NATOLI: Oh, for heaven’s sake. Now, in the creamery, do you have any idea how many people they employed, or the pickle factory?
MEESKE: No, I don’t.
NATOLI: Do you remember any particularly interesting stories about the early factories? Like there is a reference here, do you remember the night the power plant burned down?
MEESKE: No, I don’t.
NATOLI: That must have been way before your time.
MEESKE: Of course.
NATOLI: Where did the children hang out? For example, where did you hang out when you were growing up?
MEESKE: I didn’t hang out. I had to work. Hangouts we didn’t really have. I suppose you could say Van Dreil’s drugstore. They had a soda fountain in there. That would be like a hangout where the kids might eat at night, or something like that. Most of the kids were occupied because they had chores to do around the house.
NATOLI: Well, like on a Friday night or a Saturday night.
MEESKE: That would be down there. When we were kids, you’re talking about.
MEESKE: Yes, then I said the highlight would be to go sit in front of the window. Television came in and they were very expensive. You couldn’t afford them, and we’d sit there in front of his windows and watch the TV shows. Or, the church over here at St. Paul’s would have on Wednesday nights in the summer, you’d have outdoor movies. They’d set up a screen against a garage and watch Mickey Mouse and stuff like that.
NATOLI: How old were you at that time?
MEESKE: Grade school.
NATOLI: Now, when you got to be a teenager, did you have a place to hang out? Was there a lovers’ lane, more or less?
MEESKE: What’s that, a lovers’ lane?
NATOLI: Well, I think you still remember that, Earl.
MEESKE: Well, they’re all built up now.
NATOLI: But where was that?
MEESKE: I think the most popular spot was on Lincoln, just west of Busse Road. There was a slough in there which is now Hanolin Heights. Some guys-you could get back in there, and they had a lot of trees built in there, so NATOLI: What’s a slough?
MEESKE: Oh, you know, water in there and, in fact, they have peat in there. They had problems in there when they were building homes. But it was like a water basin. It’s not really a pond, but it’s a …
NATOLI: Did your dad ever talk to you about when he was young, if there was a lover’s lane, or where. ..
MEESKE: No, he didn’t say anything about that. He just told me some of the mischievous things that he got into. Years ago the kids didn’t have time for those things. My dad’s father was a parochial school teacher over here at St. John’s on Linneman Road. You came back from school, you put your clothes on and went out in the field and worked.
NATOLI: But there had to be some way that the men met their girlfriends. From time immemorial there is some time in your life
MEESKE: Years ago, your parents didn’t discuss that with you. It was personal. It was “in-the-closet” stuff. You didn’t talk about that-at least my parents didn’t.
NATOLI: Was there somewhere special that the businessmen got together to talk?
MEESKE: Yes, they had the Lion’s Den. Then that was on 83, Main Street, under the stores. They had it fixed up. They called it the Lions Den. That was very active in town, and the Lions Club did a lot for the town. You had the fire department. That was very active. It was all volunteer. My dad was on that, my brother was on it, I was on it. I guess everybody was-if your father was on it, as soon you became age enough, you became on it. You always chased the fires. We never had too much big fires in town. The biggest fire that I can remember, besides our store, but prior to that was-in fact, it was on my 18th birthday. We had a bowling alley in town here. The name of it was Gonelle’s Bowling Alley. That burned out. That was a big fire. The floors dropped all down in the basement and everything else.
NATOLI: What did they use to fight fires at that time? Did they have the hoses and the fire trucks?
MEESKE: Sort of the same thing we have today. They were not as modern, but, you know, we had regular pumpers and that.
NATOLI: How many people were on the volunteer fire department?
NATOLI: Thirty at one time?
NATOLI: And what were the approximate ages?
MEESKE: Well, you had to be 21 to get on. I was 21 when I got on officially.
NATOLI: And your father? He was a volunteer, too?
MEESKE: Yes, you had a chief. Frank Biermann was chief. My dad was first assistant chief, and Eddie Haberkamp was second. Well, he was second assistant chief, but that was chief of the rural area. We had a rural truck and the farmers supplied us with a truck. We fought the fires for them, but they supplied us the equipment. In exchange, we used it if we needed it in town. Then we always had two trucks.
NATOLI: Now, when there was a fire, was it generally contained easily?
MEESKE: Yes. That’s why I say there that one there we had. That, at that time, to me was the biggest fire we had.
NATOLI: Did that burn down to the ground?
MEESKE: No, it just gutted out the building. We saved the rest of the buildings. Next door to it was Busse Biermann’s Hardware Store. We saved that. I mean, it didn’t get that far.
NATOLI: Go back to your general store, your father’s general store. Was there a cracker barrel in that store?
MEESKE: Not a cracker barrel, but they used to have-well, as a novelty one time, we had a barrel of olives. You could go in there with a dip and fill up your old Mason jar and bought olives that way. That was sent in from Spain. That was just a novelty. But we had cookies and like crackers-that was all bulk. It would be sitting in a stand with a little door on it, a viewing glass door you had to snap open and take out what you want, fill up your own bag and weigh it that way. We didn’t have the old stove and cracker barrel.
NATOLI: Okay. I guess that was before your time. Some of these questions are for, obviously, people a little bit older than you. Do you remember any of the parades downtown?
MEESKE: Do I remember parades?
NATOLI: Yes, parades, Fourth of July.
MEESKE: I got involved in parades. I don’t know if you know that.
MEESKE: I did some work on some of the parades, and then I got in charge of the Fourth of July parades and some we had for Mount Prospect’s fiftieth anniversary. I was in charge of fiftieth anniversary parade. That was a biggie. We had thirty bands.
NATOLI: Oh, my gosh. And where did you get them from, these bands?
MEESKE: Well, we had the Air Force, the Navy, the Army, the Marines, and then we had high schools and then we had the drum and bugle corps. We had them doing a competition during the time of the parade, so they would be graded and compete for it. We had the Shriners Black Horse Troops, all their Indian troops and clowns and stuff like that.
NATOLI: That sounds wonderful!
MEESKE: It was something, yes. We even got a little shot on TV on that.
NATOLI: Well, now it’s going to be the hundredth anniversary, I understand.
NATOLI: Seventy-fifth? Are you still involved in parades and all that?
MEESKE: No. That was my last parade. That’s it.
NATOLI: Well, maybe they can come and ask you for your expertise.
MEESKE: I’ll be glad to help that way. We worked on that almost two full years.
NATOLI: Two years?
MEESKE: And we had floats. It was something else. We closed off 83 from 58 to Rand Road. We started at Lions Park, came out of there, took Lincoln over to 83 and went right up 83 all the way and then over to Highland and from there to the high school where it dispersed.[Side 2]
NATOLI: Mr. Meeske, you have just given us a gift of 16mm film of the parade.
MEESKE: The fiftieth.
NATOLI: The fiftieth anniversary parade, and on behalf of the Mount Prospect Library, I want to thank you very much for that gift.
NATOLI: Now we’re going to continue with the interview, and we won’t be too much longer. Now, you more or less answered the next question, which says, “Did the town decorate for holidays?”
MEESKE: Oh, yes. Every Fourth of July they had flags up allover town. Of course, for the fiftieth anniversary, we really decorated up the town. We even painted the water tower gold.
NATOLI: Okay, and what about for Christmas?
MEESKE: Christmas decorations, sure. Stores always did that stuff. And then the Chamber of Commerce would put out stuff. It got better as the years grew, but. ..
NATOLI: Well, what about the early decorations, even though maybe they weren’t as gaudy, if I might use that word. But they were more meaningful at that time, weren’t they.
MEESKE: The merchants did the inside of their stores and the store windows. You know, had maybe music piped outside. Those were days that you couldn’t replace.
NATOLI: Was it more of a religious significance, the decorations at Christmas than they are today?
MEESKE: Yes, yes. [tape interrupted]
NATOLI: Mr. Meeske, when you were a child and growing up, how did people come downtown?
MEESKE: Downtown to Mount Prospect?
MEESKE: Well, they had their cars. They drove downtown. Came in with trucks, whatever.
NATOLI: Okay. What kind of cars? Were they like the Fords?
MEESKE: Well, it was mostly Buicks. [laughter]
MEESKE: Well, they had Fords and Chevrolets.
NATOLI: If people wanted to get out of town, say to downtown Chicago, what did they use?
MEESKE: The train, mostly the train.
NATOLI: The Mount Prospect trains?
MEESKE: Yes, the same. You know, we had train lines going through. They were steam-driven.
NATOLI: Was it at the same location it’s at now?
NATOLI: Were there events at the train station in addition to the usual train traffic?
MEESKE: No, not really.
NATOLI: Like maybe during the war. Did they have. ..
MEESKE: Oh, when you send the soldiers off?
NATOLI: Right, right.
MEESKE: They did that out of Arlington Heights.
MEESKE: We didn’t have a VFW at that time.
NATOLI: Do you remember riding on the train?
MEESKE: Oh, yes.
NATOLI: Where did you go?
MEESKE: Downtown Chicago.
NATOLI: What sorts of things were shipped to and from the Mount Prospect depot, if you know?
MEESKE: Well, at one time, it used to be the farmers would be their sugar beets down here. They grew sugar beets around here. And which is now a parking lot for the commuters, which just had a side rail where the freight train would drop off the cars, and then they would bring their sugar beets and they’d load up these cars and haul them away. But. ..
NATOLI: So, as you said earlier, …
MEESKE: The mail train. They delivered mail by train. They had an arm that stuck out-not a human arm, a regular arm. As the train would go by, they had a bag attached to the side of the train, and it hit the spot and it would grab the bag and that’s how you’d get your mail sent out.
NATOLI: Oh, that’s interesting. Do you have any idea of what years that was that the mail train was as you described?
MEESKE: Yes, I would say up into the ’40s they were still doing that.
NATOLI: You were saying earlier that Mount Prospect evolved into a truck-farming industry. There was not too much dairy around here. Was it ever a dairy community?
MEESKE: Years back. That’s when the creamery was, you know, active from here, and it was dairy and truck farming. But then the farms got more or less away from the dairy. That’s a sevenday job, twice a day, and they went into truck farming very heavily. They grew all the vegetables and everything, you know-everything from corn to onions, tomatoes, whatever. They were
NATOLI: Were those vegetables shipped by train?
MEESKE: No, no, no. They trucked that down to Chicago to South Water Market. And. .
NATOLI: So the biggest thing, the trains were more or less used for just this beets.
MEESKE: Commuters, and they’d drop off freight.
NATOLI: And mail.
MEESKE: And mail, yes.
NATOLI: Now we’re going to do a follow-up. What is your fondest memory of early downtown Mount Prospect?
MEESKE: Oh, I don’t know. I still remember walking up Busse Avenue from where I lived, going uptown in the winter and snow on the ground. I know that winter seemed much more-we had more snow when I was a kid. Walking uptown and seeing this snow coming down and neon lights in the background. I always remember that. That was, you know, real small and real fond memories. A great time.
NATOLI: Okay. How has downtown Mount Prospect changed over the years? Do you like the changes or was it better the way it was?
MEESKE: Well, I liked it at one time better than the way it is today because Mount Prospect downtown, as you know, it’s just hanging on. You know, the shopping centers. People go out to the shopping centers. You’ve got a lot of stores closed up that we had at one time. I don’t know how many barber shops and a couple of shoe stores. We had two dime stores, we had men’s stores, boy’s stores, women’s dress, apparel-there was a couple of those. And for little children, we had a variety. I mean, a lot of different things. You could shop downtown, just walk around from store to store.
NATOLI: Was it more or less at that time more of a community-type thing that everyone knew everyone and it was a social occasion?
MEESKE: Everybody-the old saying, “One hand washes the other.” Everyone would shop with each other, you know. And even when we had carnivals in town, I mean, that money that was raised was I going back right into the town. We bought fire trucks with it. The fire department had a carnival once a year-every other year, actually. They split it with the VFW. And then the Lions Club every year. Those were events that people participated in. You might be working a booth and take a break, and the person on the other side of the counter would come in and work your booth and you’re out on the other side of the counter spending money. All of it went right back into the town. And as the hands washed each other, I mean it was great. Now, the town’s populated. The people aren’t interested in this. It’s a nice bedroom community, but, you know, from where I came from, the area has changed a lot.
NATOLI: Are you saying that there was a closeness early on that is lacking today?
MEESKE: Oh, sure.
NATOLI: Because it’s becoming more of a metropolitan-type area.
NATOLI: From a farming community, the evolution.
NATOLI: And, for example, when Randhurst came into the community, was that a development that the townspeople were very interested in?
MEESKE: Oh, sure.
NATOLI: And did it work out? Can you just comment on it briefly?
MEESKE: Well, Randhurst was a big boost to Mount Prospect, you know, like O’Hare was a boost to the suburbs. But it did affect a lot of the people downtown. It didn’t affect our store, because we had a grocery store. They didn’t try the grocery store there. Nobody wanted to go grocery store shopping in a shopping center like that. It did affect some of the other businesses. Some of them were ready to retire anyhow, so who’s to say?
NATOLI: So instead of maybe passing it down or selling their store, they just closed down. Is that what happened?
MEESKE: Yes, right.
NATOLI: So it did contribute, really.
MEESKE: The dime stores, you know. That was a fine business anyhow. At one time we had two. Now we have nothing downtown like that. You can go to any store and get that stuff today. At that time, that was built out in the country also. We had a slogan at the time. Our town motto was at one time, “Where friendliness is a way of life.” And then even prior to that, “Where town and country meet.” Well, there is no town and country meets anymore. Okay? Now the slogan is, “Where friendliness is a way of life.” There’s a degree to that. This is a friendly town. Of course, I’m partial to it, and I know a lot of people, obviously, because I’ve been around for a few years. But. ..
NATOLI: But I would agree with you, too. I’ve only been here three or four years, and people in Mount Prospect are very friendly.
MEESKE: Yes. We’ve got a good municipality, very well managed, very well run. I’ve got a warm feeling towards the fire department. I put fifteen years in there. And I was fifteen years on the police pension fund, plus many other kind of things- arades and that sort of stuff and all the other jazz.
NATOLI: Would you say, then, that Mount Prospect has kept a little bit of the hometown atmosphere, even though it has evolved from 1,500 people to how many thousand today?
MEESKE: Yes. I think you can see that even with the building that’s downtown. We’re not going high-rises, so we, you know, want to keep this as a bedroom community. It’s a good, best school system. You don’t have, like some of these towns have, thirteen-story high-rises downtown and that sort of stuff, so we are staying on a smaller scale.
NATOLI: Is there anything additional that you’d like to add? Anything special that you’d like to add about living in Mount Prospect years ago other than what you’ve already stated?
MEESKE: You know, I never lived in the city. Compared to what the city kids grew up with, I couldn’t say. We had a lot of room to roam. I could walk down the street with my shotgun, go across the railroad tracks, I’m right out in the farmland and go pheasant hunting or rabbit hunting. And we could build forts in the fields next to us. We kids played together, you know. Had our own baseball games in any old lot we could get our stuff, I guess. So we had a lot of activities. We didn’t have gangs and all that stuff.
NATOLI: Did not?
NATOLI: So that’s one of the changes. It leads into my next question. How had Mount Prospect changed over the years, and, obviously, the gangs is the change not for the better. Do you like the changes or was it better the way it was?
MEESKE: Yes, I think we’re getting-well, the whole area. There’s just too many people. There’s so much traffic. We’re getting around with two-lane highways. Now it’s busy, busy, busy-rush hour around here all the time. I don’t like it. I like the small community.
NATOLI: What changes do you like, if any? Or do you think this is a community that should not have grown to the population that it has or it should have attempted to stay small?
MEESKE: Well, you can’t. It’s inevitable that you’re-like I said, before you couldn’t give a lot away, and now you can’t find one to build on. Just from my personal view, from being small and growing up with small, I liked it. But progress grows along and you grow with the progress. If you don’t grow with it, well, then you just step on aside.
MEESKE: I still consider Mount Prospect a small little town. We don’t have a lot of the factories and high-rises. I still like it the way it is, but, man, oh, man, the traffic from allover.
NATOLI: I’d like to ask a question as far as Randhurst. From my personal point of view, it appears that-well, I’ll just ask you. Do you think that the shopping center of Randhurst has really helped Mount Prospect or has hindered it? Do you think we should have more shopping centers in this area or not?
MEESKE: Okay. The shopping center, Randhurst, when that was built, that was the cat’s meow, the big thing. Okay, that was way before Woodfield. We were neglecting the downtown. So were the village presidents. They had only eyes for Randhurst. I told them, “Someday you’ll be shooting a shotgun or a cannon down there and you’re not going to hit anybody because you’re going to get competition.” It turned out to be truth. The downtown did get neglected. Parking was a big thing. I was on the ad hoc committee, prior to getting into real estate, so I got out. I didn’t have conflicts of interest there. They are now going to try and do something with that triangle there, and if they do it properly, they may spark up some enthusiasm for it. You can’t have big stores, only the small stores-you know, the ma-and-pa store sort of thing. I believe that they should be building something for the senior citizens, either condos or rentals, and then putting some stores on the bottom. We got all the transportation we need downtown-buses, trains. We’re close to everything. Now, if they just give them some stuff where they can go in and shop in and then fill some stores up. And I’m not saying thirteen stories-five stories, six stores, something like that. Maybe high as the bank, maybe not as high. But do something there. Parking’s always killed us. When we used to have two lanes going through town on 83, we parked right on 83. Randhurst came in-no more. They made it four lanes. You know, that did take a toll on a lot of the business people.
NATOLI: So based on-you know, there’s a general philosophical view that history goes in a circle. So, based on that, with these big shopping centers, is it more or less your philosophy that if we went backwards, kept the big shopping centers but also built up the small town with little ma-and-pa stores, that they could make a come-back and that would be good for the Mount Prospect downtown area?
MEESKE: Downtown area, yes.
NATOLI: That’s what you’re saying.
MEESKE: Not everybody wants to go to a shopping center, you know, and they like the personal service you get from a ma-and-pa place. If you look at downtown Arlington Heights, they’ve got a lot of stores still like that.
NATOLI: Okay, I have one final question. If there was one thing you would want the children to remember about the history of their hometown, Mount Prospect, what would it be?
MEESKE: Their growing-up time.
NATOLI: Their growing-up time? Okay. Well, thank you very much for allowing us to conduct this interview, and especially thank you for the 16mm film. I’m sure everyone’s going to enjoy watching that parade.