Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

A Stroll through Egypt and Paradise

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

A Stroll through Egypt and Paradise

Article excerpt

A Stroll Through Egypt and Paradise. By Ernie Heltsley (2004, Privately published).

Researching family history can be a journey in itself. For Ernie Heltsley it proved to be a stroll through the mine fields of Egypt in southern Illinois and places near Paradise in Muhlenberg Co., Kentucky. Heltsley was born the youngest child of a coal-mining family in the depths of the Great Depression in Drakesboro, Kentucky, his father's home town. Throughout the 1920s and '30s, his family migrated back and forth between Eldorado, Illinois, and various mining towns in the Kentucky commonwealth, looking for the best opportunity that could be had in those trying times. His father, he wrote, didn't want to wait around for a handout, but took out on his own looking for work.

In full disclosure, Mr. Heltsle/s journeys in his research crossed paths with my own and for a time we communicated electronically concerning southeastern Illinois' nineteenth century as well as our mutual interest in the region's violent Prohibition Era gangsters, and our past experience as reporters for the Marion Daily Republican albeit in different decades. As a retired newspaper reporter of thirty-two years with the Arizona Daily Star, Heltsley connects the stories of his own upraising with the migrations of his ancestors, and with an eye for the general reader, he provides plenty of context for his history. In many ways his writing is as much travelogue as it is family history.

Why Egypt? What's behind the name of Paradise? Those were just some of the questions that piqued his interest, and he in turn provides answers for his readers. Twentieth-century gangsters such as the Shelton Brothers and Charlie Birger play as prominent role in the book as nineteenth-century characters such as John Hart Crenshaw of the Old Slave House fame and O. C. Vanlandingham, a businessman and landowner of Muhlenberg County in Kentucky as well as southeastern Illinois at Shawneetown. …

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