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Westville, Illinois

In the early 20th century Westville was a coal mining town. The majority of its population of 2500 were ethnic Lithuanians. After the mines were closed, many of them left to Chicago. However, Lithuanians make up 4,7% of the local population of 4500 even today. The town has a Lithuanian cemetery (Cemetery Rd., Unionville; est. 1909 m., entrance is marked by words "IN MEMORY OF MIKE "RED" LAITAS"). Old tomstones have many archaic Lithuanian inscriptions (such as "Iliarus Urniezius mire 29 Rugsejo turedamas 66 metus amziaus paejo is Laumenu kaimo Kaltinenu parapijos, Taurages apskricio. Lai buna lengva sios salies zemele ilsetis. Mire 20 rugs. 1920 m.", translation: "Iliarus Urniezius died on the 29th of September at 66 years of age; he came from Laumėnai village of Kaltinėnai parish, Tauragė district. Let the ground of this country be easy for him to rest! Died 20 Sep. 1920").

Despite its very small size Westville had two Lithuanian churches. Unfortunately, both have been destroyed. Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic church was built 1897, closed 1989. Holy Cross old-style Catholic church (they did not recognize the decisions of Vatican I) was established in 1914 (in a former presbyterian church, 221 W. Main St., closed ~1960, demolished ~2000, the bell moved to Lithuanian cemetery while the former parish house now used as a residence). A short book has been published on the Lithuanian interreligious conflicts of the era: "A Short History of a Big Lithuanian Row in Westville, Illinois". It also describes a suicide / murder of priest Mikalauskas.

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  1. I happened to find this article at the Fort Wayne, IN library, one of the best places in the US for genealogy. It was from the Fort Wayne News, Tues. Eve., April 12, 1904, page 5, column 1. There’s a good chance that he’s buried at Sts. Peter & Paul at Westville IL, unless he was returned to Lithuania…? Doesn’t appear in FindAGrave.
    —————————————————————-

    MYSTERY AROUND THE DEATH OF BOY
    MAY HAVE BEEN MURDERED ON AN EMIGRANT TRAIN.
    FOUND DEAD ALONG TRACK

    Mystery surrounds the death of John Fanuszus, the Russian boy, aged nineteen years, found dead last week along the Wabash railroad between Fort Wayne and Peru, mention of which was made in the News. He was in company with a car load of emigrants, which passed through this city on Wabash passenger train No. 7. William Snyder, a brakeman on a freight train, discovered the body of Fanuszus beside the track. The Russian’s head was found buried four inches deep in the mud and the back of his head was broken open. The car load of emigrants was attached to the rear of the train, and, so far as can be learned, none of the train crew saw the boy fall off.
    Where the body was found there is straight track for three miles, so the movements of the train are not supposed to have thrown Fanuszus off. While the emigrants were at the station here some of them seemed to be angry, and this, together with the fact that none of the foreigners have inquired about the welfare of their countryman, leads some to believe that Fanuszus was struck in the head with some blunt instrument and then thrown from the train. The coroner is of the opinion that death was instantaneous. Fanuszus had a ticket to Westville, Ill., and in his pocket was found the card of Petras Tanuses, at Westville, Ill. The body is being held until Tanuses is heard from. {end}

    • Return of the body to Lithuania was I think very unlikely in those times. Very costly and hard to organize for relatives in Lithuania who were likely illiterate peasants.

      Also at those times it was generally considered that if a person goes to the USA it is for life or at least for decades. It was usually impossible for most emigrants even to visit homeland, as that would have required a ship journey – both costly and extremely time consuming (it would have been possibe only after getting out of job rather than on holiday). It was much different from today when we have relatively affordable and quick jet planes.

      I am not sure where he was buried, it may be yet another plausible option that he is buried somewhere near Fort Wayne where his body was found.

  2. I AT ABOUT 1980 VISITED HARTHORNE OKLAHOMA,WHICH AFTER MEETING SPEAKER OF THE US HOUSE OF REP. STATING THAT MANEY LITHUANIAN- AMERICANS LIVED I S/EAST OKLA .AND THAT A RANCHER OF LITHUANIAN HERITAGE WAS JUST IN HIS OFFICE ; CARL ALBERT SUPPORTED ALL THINGS ABOUT LITHUANIA.I VISITED HARTSHORNE AND MEAT THE MAYER MR SMITH WHO WAS LITH-AMER. WHO TOK ME TO THE CHATOLIC CEMETERY WHERE 1/3 OF THE GRAVE STONES HAD LITHUANIAN NAMES ,WITH ITALIAN COAL MINER GRAVES, I LEFT TWO BOOKS ON LITUANIA AND VYTAUTAS THE GREAT AT THE LOCAL LIBERY;THE MAYER TOLD ME OVER 200M MLITHUANIAN COAL MINERS WORKED AT THE CHOUNIE COAL MINES WHICH LITH WHERE I MAJORITY; I HOPE OUR YOUNGER LIT6H-AMER HISTORIANS WILL VISIT THIS REGION AND WRITE ABOU THIS HERITAGE IN OKLAHOMA !!!


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