On Thursday, December 10, 1931, most teenagers were probably thinking about the upcoming Christmas school vacation. But, Leo Buescher, 16, and his friend, Joseph Cissell, age 17, had big plans. They had cut school and started hitchhiking from their homes in Galesburg (population 28,300) to Aurora, where they hopped a Burlington freight train bound for Chicago (population 3.4 million). See second photo.
Their stated goal was to see the big city of Chicago first hand. After three days of hitchhiking and eluding the railroad police, they had covered 185 miles and arrived in Chicago. However, their overnight housing was an empty, unheated boxcar. Remember, this was in December, not July.
By the time the two young adventurers arrived in downtown Chicago (see third photo), they had spent what little money they had brought with them for food. So, after just one day, they had seen enough and decided to return home to Galesburg, hitchhiking west on Ogden Avenue.
On that same Sunday afternoon, Western Springs police officers Holgar Peterson and Roy Karstens were patrolling the north side of the village. Driving along Ogden Avenue, they noticed the young boys standing alongside the road. Hitchhiking was then, as it is now, against the law. So, the officers picked up the boys and brought them to the police station, which was then located on the first floor of the village’s water tower.
After listening to their tale of woe, the police apparently felt they had suffered enough and decided not to charge them. Instead, they placed a long distance phone call (expensive in those days) to the Galesburg Police Department, which contacted each of the boys’ parents.
After hearing the whereabouts of their son, Joseph’s parents agreed to drive the 168 miles to pick him up. They also brought him a fresh set of warm clothes. However, Leo was not as lucky. While his parents initially said they would come, they never arrived in Western Springs. But, in fairness, this was during the Great Depression and many people were hard pressed to pay for even the most basic needs.
Despite this, the people of Western Springs stepped forward to help. One resident provided Leo with warm clothing and another with lodging. In addition, the village provided him with a temporary job shoveling snow from the sidewalks around the water tower. See fourth photo.
After several days, the village was able to arrange a free pass on the Burlington railroad so that Leo could return home to Galesburg (see fifth photo) for Christmas, this time in a heated passenger coach.
So ended the boys’ great adventure to the big city of Chicago, and to little--but more friendly--Western Springs.