To think it all started with a wooden sign that read BILLIARDS that was donated to the museum recently.
Granted, it is a 12-foot-high wooden sign with letters on both sides, but it’s still just a sign. That sign and a license and receipts that came with this huge sign made me want to find out the story and the people associated with it.
My sleuthing led me back into the early years of Effingham and a family who moved here before the Civil War. Let me tell you the story of the Coleman family and near the end of my story I will tell you about the billiard parlor that became known as the Black Cat. This was a story that took me to Ancestry.com, Effingham directories, military records, census records, grave records, newspaper clippings, magazines and books about Effingham.
I will start with some information I found about the Coleman family in the 1883 “History of Effingham County, Illinois.” William S. Coleman was born February 25, 1811 in Knox County, Ohio. He learned the trade of a tinner in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, and worked at that in Lima, Ohio, where he did tinwork and sold stoves for about eight years. He married Matilda Alexander in 1833. In 1854, he moved his family to Missouri and taught school for three years. In 1857, William and family moved to Indiana, where they remained for two years.
It was Matilda Alexander’s brother, David B. Alexander, that made the William Coleman family decide to settle in Effingham in 1859. David B. Alexander, along with Samuel W. Little, had purchased 260 acres in Effingham County on the speculation that the railroad would come through what we now know as the city of Effingham. Alexander and Little made this purchase in 1853 with the intention of making a lot of money on this speculation. They laid out the plans for a town they called Broughton but it soon merged with Effingham on May 16, 1853.
Alexander and Little were disappointed in how slow the progress was for the railroad reaching Effingham, so they left for Kentucky. However, when the Illinois Central Railroad was completed in Effingham County by 1855-1856, they returned to start selling lots in Effingham. Alexander and Little started encouraging people to come to Effingham and purchase lots and start businesses. These two men gave the land for many churches to build on and they gave the land for the courthouse square. They were also instrumental in getting the county seat moved to the young town of Effingham in 1860. They reached out to family and friends encouraging them to move to the new little town of Effingham.
Coleman and his family came to Effingham in 1859 at the request of Alexander. When they moved to Effingham, Coleman entered into a partnership in a hardware store with Alexander. William used his skills as a tinner and his experience in selling stoves and the store flourished. But things would soon change with the start of the Civil War. Illinois needed men to serve and the county of Effingham sent many soldiers off to war.
The Civil War started on April 12, 1861. One of the first to go was William and Matilda’s son, Benjamin, who was a teacher. Benjami enlisted on April 20 and was mustered in on April 30 at Springfield. He entered as a Private in the 11th Illinois US Infantry. He served in Company G, which had many men from Effingham County. Another man from Effingham County was Hiram Newcomb, whose wife, Mary, followed the troops to help take care of the men. I’m sure that Benjamin made the acquaintance of Mary, who became known as “Mother Newcomb” to these soldiers. When his 100 days enlistment was up, Benjamin reenlisted for three years while at Bird’s Point, Missouri, and Hiram Newcomb was the 1st Sergeant for Company G.
As if Matilda Coleman didn’t have enough to worry about with her son Benjamin at war, on September 1, 1861, her husband, age 48, enlisted in the 5th Illinois US Cavalry. He was mustered in on December 30, 1861 at Camp Butler, Illinois. Now Matilda had a son and a husband in the Army during the Civil War. Her daughter, Sarah Ellen, was already married to Elias Knowles, but Matilda still had Adaline, Clarinda, Emma, David B., William, Frank and Charles F. at home.
Benjamin died April 1, 1862, of sickness (perhaps black measles) while at Savannah, Tennessee. This was shortly before the 11th would march to Pittsburg Landing for what would become known as the Battle of Shiloh. Benjamin is buried at Shiloh National Cemetery in Shiloh, Tennessee.
Hiram Newcomb had died on February 26, 1862 from wounds received in battle. Mary Newcomb did return to take care of the soldiers after she buried her husband back in Effingham. She was there at the Battle of Shiloh at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, on April 6-7, 1862. It was a horrendous battle.
Both Matilda and Mary were born in 1817. Both women married in 1833. Now Matilda had a son who died and a husband who was serving and Mary had a husband who had died and a son who was serving. I can only imagine what those two ladies were going through. They did what they had to do because that’s just the way it was.
William S. Coleman attained the rank of Corporal. He was discharged on October 20, 1863 because of disability. He returned to Effingham but was so sick that it took a year for him to recover. His brother-in-law secured the position of Postmaster in Effingham for William. William held that from 1865 to 1869. After that, William and Matilda traveled out west as far as Utah. William taught for a couple of years in Colorado.
The boys who were still at home did not go with them. David B. and Frank lived with their sister, Sarah Ellen, and her husband, Elias Knowles. They were close with her son, James Alvin Knowles. Sadly, Frank died in 1870. William worked as a farmhand on the William Gillmore farm in West Township. He married Nancy Lirey on December 22, 1873 but died a few months later in February of 1874. Charles Franklin worked as an apprentice at the office of the Effingham Democrat starting in 1869 when he was 13.
David B. Alexander left Effingham in 1870 and moved to Nebraska, where he once again was a land speculator. He later moved to Los Angeles, California, and became quite wealthy. David B. Alexander died in 1899 and is buried at Angelus Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles.
William S. and Matilda returned to Effingham in 1873. They had lost their son, Frank, and shortly after their return their son, William, died. William S. did limited work in the hardware business but for the most part was retired. He died in 1883 and Matilda died in 1895. Both are buried at Oakridge Cemetery in Effingham. William has a military tombstone, as well as a tombstone that looks like a tree trunk with an eagle sitting on top. Sadly, one wing of the eagle has broken off. This tombstone has always caught my eye and I’m delighted that I now know the story of the man buried there.
The daughters were all married and Sarah Ellen and Clarinda “Clara” still lived in Effingham. Sarah Ellen married for a second time to Michael Beem and Clara was married to Rhynard Walters. Addie married James Beck and lived in Greencastle, Indiana, and Emma lived in Decatur, Illinois, with her husband, Joseph M. Blythe, a well-respected dentist.
The two boys still living in Effingham were David B. and Charles F. David worked in the hardware business that he ran for many years, Coleman Hardware. He learned the trade from his father. Charles F. worked at the Effingham Democrat paper as well as a newspaper in Columbus, Indiana. In 1881, Charles F. and George LeCrone started the Altamont News. Charles F. later moved to Vandalia and became the owner of the Vandalia Leader newspaper. He also served as mayor and a state senator. Later in life after the death of his wife, he moved back to Effingham. Charles F. and his wife, May (Kramer) Coleman, are both buried at South Hill Cemetery in Vandalia. Both David B. and Charles F. were successful businessmen and assets to their communities.
My story now turns back to David B. Coleman Sr. David B. and his wife, Josie, built a big house on Section Street and I was lucky enough to find a picture of it taken by Alfred Fitch. Coleman Hardware was located at 211 Jefferson Street. A sketch of it appeared in the 1903 book “Effingham, Illinois 50th Anniversary 1853-1903”. What was once his hardware business address is now known as 217 W. Jefferson Avenue.
David B. Coleman Sr. married Josie Kromer in 1875. They were both involved in the Effingham community. He was an alderman for the Second Ward in Effingham. He also was on the Board of Managers for the Commercial Club that was established in 1896. He was also involved with many fraternal organizations. The couple had one son, David Bateman Coleman Jr., who was born in 1890. They now had a beautiful home, a successful business, and a son to carry on the family name.
Many people of my age and older will remember that most of the buildings on Jefferson Avenue downtown originally had outdoor stairwells that led to the second floor. It was quite common for the owners to rent out that second floor space to lawyers, doctors, dentists or fraternal organizations. Many organizations used the second floor of David B. Coleman Sr.’s building for meetings and it was known as Coleman Hall. Coleman Hall was located at 211 1/2 W. Jefferson Street. Back then, the half number meant that it was on the second floor. In 1896, I found the Modern Woodmen of America No. 451 – Tall Timbers Camp meeting on the first and third Fridays on the second floor of Coleman Hall. The Venice Lodge No. 168 Knights of Pythias met every Thursday evening. David B. Coleman Sr. was a trustee for the Knights of Pythias No. 168. The Uniform Rank, Knights of Pythias No. 43 met on each Tuesday at Coleman Hall. A women’s group also used the second floor of Coleman Hall. They were called the Rathbone Sisters No. 3. Josie Coleman was a trustee for the Rathbone Sisters No. 3. This organization was the women’s branch of the Knights of Pythias. The Home Forum Benefit Order No. 133 also met at Coleman Hall and David B. Coleman Sr. was the historian. Coleman Hall was a busy place and was used a lot by these organizations. However, as the years passed, many of these organizations started waning in membership and Coleman Hall wasn’t used as often as it was in the past.
David B. Jr. had many advantages growing up in a family who was comfortably situated financially. I imagine that he helped out in the hardware store. Living on Section Street meant he was close to all of the street fairs that were held and I’m pretty sure he probably attended many of the plays and programs that were held at Austin Hall. In the 1910 census for Effingham, David B. Jr. is 20 years old and living with his parents on Section Street and is working in photo engraving. This leads me to wonder if he attended the Illinois College of Photography but our list we are compiling of students is still an ongoing project. In 1912, an advertisement has his parents’ home listed as one of the homes available for boarders and was listed in the category for houses with baths. These ads usually were aimed at students who would be attending the Illinois College of Photography.
David B. Coleman Jr. married Pauline (Salle) Thompson on April 20, 1917. On June 5, 1917, he registered for the draft and listed Pauline as his wife. His address was listed as 211 Section Street, which meant they were living with his parents. He also listed that he had 4 1/2 years prior military service at the state level as a Private. I assume that service must have been with the National Guard but I can’t quite make out what it says. That service didn’t stop him from being drafted during World War I. He served May 23, 1918, to January 13, 1919, as a Sergeant 1/c Supply Co., 43rd F.A. I do not know if he was sent overseas.
The 1920 census finds David B. Jr. and Pauline living at 111 1/2 Banker Street and Pauline’s sister, Freda Thompson, is living with them. David B. Jr. is working on his own as a sign painter and Pauline is listed as a musician in an orchestra. Freda Thompson is listed as an office girl for a dentist.
By 1924, David B. Coleman Jr. starts the Black Cat Billiard Parlor at 211 1/2 Jefferson Street in what had been his father’s Coleman Hall. The business below it is still a hardware store but it is now Boos Hardware and the owner is John Boos. At one point, there is a sign above Boos Hardware that says Black Cat Café. David B. Jr. runs the Black Cat Billiard Hall through 1933. In 1934, David B. Jr. and his wife, Pauline, move in with his mother, Josie Coleman. Josie Coleman died in 1936 and this is when I believe that David B. Jr. and Pauline decide to enter the world of “showbiz,” or as David B. Jr.’s grave marker reads he became a “Showman.”
It appears that some time before 1940, David B. Coleman Jr. sold his mother’s home. In the 1940 draft registration, he lists 211 1/2 Jefferson Street as his address. The draft registration also asked who would know his location and he listed Grover Norris, the Postmaster for the Post Office in Effingham. David B. Jr. and Pauline traveled all over working as a team. He was a magician and a hypnotist and Pauline was his assistant. In the world of showmen, David B. Jr. is remembered for his creation of “The Original Doc Hokum Medicine Pitch.” He was also written up in the “New Modern Coin Magic” magazine for his “Through the Pocket” effect. In the Magicpedia website, it also says that he was an orchestra leader before he became a showman. He also contributed articles and effects to the magazine The Linking Ring, which is the official magazine for magicians. It appears he was quite well respected in his field.
David B. Jr. and Pauline even appeared in a 1946 edition of Life magazine article entitled “Magicians’ Wives.” Pauline is shown with her husband right after he had hypnotized her, placed a board of spikes on her bare midriff, and then placed a 97-pound anvil on top of her and banged out the “Anvil’s Chorus” with a sledge hammer. When she came to, she said she felt fine and that the spike marks would soon disappear. Now remember, folks . . . David B. Coleman Jr. was a showman and this act was definitely an example of showmanship.
Let’s take a look now at what was going on in Effingham with the Black Cat Billiard Parlor. The Black Cat Billiard Parlor is not listed in the phone directories for several years starting in 1934. However, I do find it again in 1937. Two local men are now paying David B. Coleman Jr. rent because they now operate the Black Cat Billiard Parlor. Those two men were John “Jack” Ealy and Ambrose “Tuck” Thoele. While I don’t have all of their paperwork from the years they were the proprietors of the Black Cat, I do have many bills and receipts from 1937 through 1940. However, the Black Cat Billiard Parlor lasted for many more years.
Jack and Tuck were both from Effingham County. Jack married Florence Bock of Shumway in 1925. Tuck married Leona “Onie” Zehner in 1936. I can see that by the receipts that Jack and Tuck tried to use area vendors as much as possible. There are receipts from Yemm’s News Agency (located near the Heart Theater), Dr. Pepper Bottling Co. (123 Railroad Street in Effingham), Midwest Dairy Product (Effingham), F.D. Brown – Wholesale Candies and Tobacco (Effingham), O.F. Stine Candy Co. – Cigars, Pipes, Candies and Novelties (Flora), and 7 Up Bottling Company (Mattoon). Their rent was paid to D.B. Coleman at the rate of $37.50 a month as shown on the seven receipts I have from 1937 to 1939.
During World War II, Tuck served in the Navy and Jack ran it until Tuck came back home. I don’t know how long Jack stayed involved with the Black Cat Billiard Parlor. I do find him listed in 1948 as operating Ealy Realty from his home on North Fourth Street. He later moved his office to the northeast corner of Jefferson and Fifth Street. It was located right next to the Little Chef Café (one of my favorite places to eat). The 1950 Hoffman City Directory lists the Black Cat Billiard Parlor – A.J. Thoele, Proprietor, so it appears that Jack was focusing on his realty office. In 1955 and 1956, there are no listings for the Black Cat Billiard Parlor. In 1957, I find Stag Billiard Parlor listed in the same location where the Black Cat had been. I find the Stag Billiard Parlor there still in 1960. That’s also when I also see a new billiard parlor open, the M&M Pool Hall, above the Walgreen Drugstore at the corner of Jefferson and Banker. The last phone book I have is 1961 and the Stag Billiard Parlor is still listed. I don’t know how much longer a billiard parlor was located in Coleman Hall because the rest of the 1960s phone books aren’t available.
David B. Colemen Jr. died in 1954 after suffering a heart attack. Pauline died in 1963. He was booked to perform in a few months at an IBM convention and his death was quite a shock to many people. David and Pauline are both buried at Oakridge Cemetery in Effingham.
The next time you are in downtown Effingham, take a look at the second floor at 217 W. Jefferson Avenue and remember Coleman Hall and the people throughout the years who climbed those steps. If you have time, keep driving east on Jefferson until you get to Gate 2 at Oakridge Cemetery. Go slow and look to your right for the tombstone with the eagle on top. That’s the grave of William S. Coleman and wife Matilda. To the north of it are the tombstones of David B. Coleman Sr. and wife Josie, and next to them are their son, David B. Coleman Jr. and wife Pauline. My story started with a 12-foot-tall BILLIARDS sign and ended up telling the story of the Coleman family of Effingham. I sure enjoyed telling their story and I hope you liked it too. At the Effingham County Museum, we tell the story of Effingham County one picture, one person and one place at a time.
If anyone has more information about the Black Cat Billiard Parlor, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call or text me at 217-821-2427. I’m still doing military write-ups and looking for pictures of country schools too. So if you want to help me tell these stories, please contact me.