Chapter Five:
Charles E. Wilson, Jr. and Jeanne (Wesley) Wilson (1976)


The eldest of the three Wilson children was born in Chicago on February 10, 1919.

He was a city boy during the school year but when summer vacation rolled around he was very happy to be packed off to Hingham for a few months as a “barefoot country boy.”

Travel in those days was not anything close to today when the drive from Chicago to Hingham takes a bit over two hours and from New Jersey can be made in less than 15 hours.

In the early 1920s, the Wilson family in Chicago had no car and didn’t really need one. Their apartment was just half a block from the Addison Street “El” – elevated train – station and one block from Lincoln and Addison, where one could get a Lincoln Ave. streetcar or an Addison St. bus. There were transfer privileges on all three, so you could go anywhere in Chicago on the streetcar for 7 cents (3cents for kids) or a dime on the El or bus. Charles recalled that they did go anywhere in the city, day or night, with never a thought about safety.

When the family wanted to go to Hingham, Uncle George Curwen would drive, and once there they didn’t go anywhere else. George bought a new, coincidentally named Gardner Touring Car in 1923 and had a “California Top” installed to make it a sedan-type car. When he bought a new Gardner in 1926 (with “a straight eight just like the bootleggers used” Charles noted) George gave the old one to Edwin; it was his first car. Over the next several years, the family came to refer to it at “The Old Jalopy.”

At the time, the 150 mile trip to Hingham took 13 hours. The family would leave at 4 AM in order to arrive in time for supper at 5 PM. Charles recalled that after leaving Chicago, much of the road to Hingham was gravel. “When we approached a stretch of paved road we all chanted, ‘I-see-cement, I-see-cement; hope it isn’t icy, I-see-cement.’ On a paved road we could sometimes get up to 45 mph. but 25 was more appropriate on gravel.”

The Gardner had no trunk but Edwin had an expanding luggage carrier that fastened on the left running board, providing enough room for suitcases and miscellaneous luggage, but making the left hand doors useless. The car floor was high enough off the ground that the propeller shaft was entirely under the car; there was no “hump” in the floor, so both front and back seats were quite roomy and comfortable. The spare tire was on the back of the car and Edwin tied two more spares to it to allow three flat tires before he had to take out a punctured tube and patch it. On a 1928 family trip to Michigan, Charles remembered his father telling his great uncle, Alfred Braithwaite, how glad he was they only had three flat tires on the trip there so he didn’t need to repair any inner tubes along the way.

          Charles E. Wilson, Jr. (age 2) and
     Julia Hurley Gardner (age 82) in Hingham
      Edwin Wilson and sons Lyman (left) and
     Charles camping with "the Old Jalopy" 1927

Charles, Lyman, Bess and Barbara Wilson 1931

Charles (right) and Lyman Wilson 1932

Charles E. Wilson, Jr. (1919 - 2003)

Photoengraving setup at R.R. Donnelley

As a boy, Charles attended Boone Elementary School in Chicago and then went on to Lane Technical High School where his father Edwin had studied as a youth. Continuing to follow his father’s footsteps, Charles Jr. attended the Armour Institute of Technology, which in 1940 became known as the Illinois Institute of Technology on Chicago’s west side.

He was active in the Ravenswood Methodist Church and the Boy Scouts of America, attaining not only the rank of Eagle Scout but also two “palms” for additional merit badges.

In 1936, Charles became an apprentice at the Chicago-based printing company R.R. Donnelley and Sons, the Lakeside Press. He would continue to work at “RRD” for more than 46 years, interrupted only by a break for service in World War II (see below).

Over time, Charles became an expert in photo engraving – the highly exact process of transferring a photo or other graphic image to the large copper plates that were actually affixed to the rotary printing press to run millions of impressions on huge rolls of paper.

With the arrival of color printing, the technology became even more complex and Charles was highly respected for his precision and steadfast devotion to perfection. There is perhaps no greater tribute to his skill and perseverance than a term that came into wide use around the photo engraving lab at Donnelley – the purest white color is the basis for metering all the other colors of the spectrum to ensure their accurate and consistent reproduction. At Donnelley’s, this was widely referred to as “Wilson White."

Time-Life was a major client of Donnelley and for many years both weekly magazines were printed in the huge plant on the south side of Chicago. Because the color on the cover (the lifeblood of any magazine competing on the newsstands) was critical, this work was usually entrusted only to “Charlie” Wilson.

Because of frequent changes, both on the cover and inside the magazines, dictated by late-breaking new events, his schedule was erratic. He would often be called in early, required to stay late and often worked on weekends. Yet he never complained; that was his nature in all things. He always saw things from the bright side.

Although he never discussed it, he kept in his files a letter from the head of research at Donnelley commending him and two co-workers on a process improvement idea they had submitted via the company’s suggestion system. The company was awarded a United States patent on the idea which listed Charles and the others as the originators. While the letter was warm and congratulatory, the message was also crystal clear; the idea belonged to the company and there would be no additional compensation because that was the way the suggestion box worked.

After several years of rotating shifts every six weeks, Charles elected to stay on the night shift (midnight to 8 AM) to establish a more routine home life. He remained a night worker for many years even as he continued to go in early and stay late to meet the ever changing demands and deadlines of getting his high quality work on the presses.

In the late 1930s, Charles met Margaret Jeanne Wesley who was known to one and all by her middle name; she always said she would have hated to be called “Maggie” although several of her forbears on her father’s side had been called exactly that.

Jeanne Wesley was born on January 25, 1921 in Evanston, IL. She was the oldest of the four children of Huber Reed Wesley (1897-1973) and Alice Mae Hetherington Wesley (1897-1967). The Wesley family lived in Villa Park, IL as Hub traveled the Midwest as an apparently successful salesman. The Great Depression hit the family hard, however, and when Jeanne was in high school they moved to Dallas, TX in search of better conditions.

Returning to Chicago to finish high school, Jeanne took business courses and landed a job as a secretary for the Chicago Title & Trust Co. in order to help support her parents, two sisters and a recently arrived baby brother.

On her 20th birthday, her engagement to Charles was announced and she received a diamond ring set in platinum as her birthday gift.

The Wilsons were married on October 11, 1941 at the Ravenswood Methodist Church in Chicago, attended by about 400 people, followed by punch and wedding cake and the traditional throwing of rice as the couple left the church. There begins an often-told family story that has endured for decades.

As they departed, a well-placed grain of rice found its way into Charles’ ear – and not just on the surface but deep into the ear canal. So instead of going to the buffet supper planned at the Wesley house, the young couple instead headed to the emergency room at nearby Ravenswood Hospital.

Jeanne recalled seeing “Chuck” (as she always called him) enter the hospital, still dressed in white tie and tails. Still in her wedding dress, she elected to wait in the car and it took some time to shake the errant grain of rice loose. Finally, it popped out and the wedding plans were back on track.

Back at the Wesley house, more than 50 people waited for dinner and viewing of gifts before the newlyweds set out on their honeymoon. Jeanne would often recall that “all the Wilson family and friends were in the living room at the front of the house and all the Wesley family and friends were in the kitchen and the back porch – we couldn’t wait to get out of there!”

After a honeymoon trip that included staying in a fishing cabin in the Ozark Mountains, a weekend in New Orleans and a trip along the Gulf of Mexico to Florida before heading home through the Smokey Mountains, the Wilsons took up residence in an apartment they had been fixing up at 6519 N. Richmond in Chicago.

Jeanne (Wesley) Wilson (1921 - 2011)

The bliss of the newlyweds was soon to be interrupted by the invasion of Pearl Harbor just over a month later.

Shortly before his death in 2003, Charles wrote this memoir of his army service:

“War clouds” began to gather in earnest in 1939 when the Germans invaded Poland. The U.S. Congress enacted the Selective Service System; I registered and was classified 1-A. My number was high enough that I would not be drafted for some time. We were married October, 1941 and when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor I was reclassified 2-A; married and working in an essential industry. Donnelley’s was making aircraft recognition manuals for the military.

“By autumn 1942 I felt I should be doing more; investigation showed that the Enlisted Reserve Corps was training men in the use of radar in Chicago, although the word itself was still secret. On December 2, 1942 I enlisted in the ERC over the objections of Al Ziegelbauer, my department superintendent at Donnelley’s. Jeanne went to work for the government agency Alien Property Custodian. My first assignment was to a math, physics and science refresher course at one of the Chicago schools on the near north side. Passing that successfully, I was assigned to Class #8, Electronics, at Northwestern University, a seven-month course on antennas, vacuum tubes, tuned circuits and just about everything else pertaining to radar units. It involved 8 hours of daily classwork and a great deal of homework. In those seven months I had time for little else.

“Upon completion in June, Class #8 was assigned to Camp McDowell, just outside Naperville, IL. They had two radar sets; one long range (100 miles) and one short range (40 miles) so we got some valuable on-site training. I finished that course with the designation “Radar Repairman” and in late August was sent to a fort near Battle Creek, MI for active duty. Classes #1 thru #4 had gone on active duty as 2nd Lieutenants; #5 & #6 became Warrant Officers, but Classes 7 & 8 went in as privates. Timing is everything!

“In a week I was sent to Miami Beach for Air Corps basic training. All the hotels east of Collins Avenue had been closed to the public as a security measure, since shore lights seen from the ocean could be useful to submarines. The Air Corps had taken over the hotels as barracks, and I was quartered in the Seneca Hotel at 12th and Collins. Blackout conditions were rigidly enforced. Daybreak found everyone on the beach for physical training, ending with a 20 minute swim in the ocean, the best part of the day. Drill and field training was done in the public parks. Our meals were served in a mess hall on 12th Street, a block west of Collins. Flights marched back and forth as required, singing all the way. It rained nearly every afternoon through October so raincoats were carried every day.

“Jeanne resigned her job with the APC October 1st and came to Miami Beach. She rented an apartment on 12th Street, two blocks west of the Seneca Hotel and right across the street from the mess hall. Her roommate was Grace Wagner, whose husband John was in my flight, and everything became more pleasant for me. On Christmas Eve I was transferred to Camp Murphy, just north of West Palm Beach, and Jeanne got on a very hot, crowded bus with her baggage the same day. She registered in the guest house on arrival at Camp Murphy. Danny Kaye was on his way overseas with a USO troupe, but they were fogged in, so that night they put on a great show for us in the recreation hall. We had Christmas dinner together in the mess hall. It was a very hot and strange Christmas. Jeanne stayed at the guest house the maximum five days, then went to a hotel in West Palm Beach. A few days later she rented a house in Lake Park, just north of West Palm Beach with Maryella Wallace and Lois Hicks, each of whom had a baby. Two of the three would come out to camp each evening, and the other husband would come in to the house.

“Jeanne went to work for an importing company in West Palm Beach on the end of a long pier out into the ocean. Boats docked at the pier and unloaded bananas, rum etc. onto railroad cars right there. The numbers and size of scorpions and other insects on that pier was almost unbelievable.

“I was assigned to the long range radar set, concentrating on Ground Control of Interception (GCI), the forerunner of today’s aircraft controllers. Others at the camp were trained in gun laying, (long distance artillery control) and anti-aircraft defense. Training was intense; we had to learn the function of every vacuum tube, coil and condenser in the unit and how to recognize the problem when one failed. We had physical training and drill every day and there was entertainment in the recreation hall at night.

“The course was finished in April and I was transferred to Drew Field (now Tampa International Airport). I got a short “delay enroute” so Jeanne and I went home for a couple of days. Jeanne decided to stay in Chicago for a while since she was in the first stages of pregnancy. Upon going to Drew Field I was assigned to a platoon in the 465th Signal Battalion, Detachment 44, as a Radar Repairman, SSN 953.

“We underwent a two week combat training course and then spent several months manning the active radar station just south of Clearwater. There were four crews; each worked a six hour shift to keep the set on the air 24 hours a day. The repairman was crew chief, making out hourly reports on the performance of all units and doing such maintenance as was required. The large, (36”) circular scanning cathode ray tube that displayed all the planes in the 100 mile radius was manned by an officer who directed the operators of the three regular CRT screens to zero in on a certain plane for its azimuth, height, distance and IFF (Identification, Friend or Foe) response. He would then give the pilot course changes if necessary.

“I went home on a two week furlough in August and Jeanne returned to Tampa with me, renting a room there. The platoon was notified that we would be going overseas in November, and Jeanne went home in October per doctor’s orders, since she was then seven months pregnant.

“The platoon was transferred to Pittsburg, California a few weeks later to await the arrival of our radar set from the factory in Rochester NY. Our platoon commander had an opportunity to get space for us on the USS Monterrey, a luxury liner turned troopship, so we left from Port Chicago before the radar set arrived. Bunks on the Monterrey were stacked seven deep, but it was infinitely better than traveling on a Liberty Ship. The ship took evasive action all the way across the Pacific, so it took 28 days to get to Hollandia, New Guinea. This included stops at Christchurch, New Zealand and Brisbane, Australia. We were not allowed off the ship at either port due to the time constraint.

“We arrived in Hollandia December 18 and were there about two weeks. The mess hall was a big tent and the thermometer in it stood at 112 degrees on Christmas. We were notified that the radar set had been damaged in a train wreck and had to be returned to Rochester NY to be fixed. We were then sent to a camp on Biak (one of the Schouten Islands in Sarera Bay) to await its arrival. A week or so later our mail caught up with us – we hadn’t had any since leaving the States - and I learned Alan had been born from a Hallmark birth announcement that had been sent to everybody. Jeanne’s message to me thru the Red Cross came about two weeks later.

“The radar set arrived in early May. It was a Navy unit designed for use on board ship, but this unit had been mounted in two trailers, one of which had the parabolic antenna on top. Each was towed by a six ton truck, and a gasoline powered AC generator mounted in a small trailer made up the set. It was designed for use in invasions by the Marines. The plan was that we would use it in the invasion of Okinawa on April 1, but it arrived too late for that.

“The rest of our time on Biak was uneventful except for one bombing raid on another camp about three miles from ours in which about 20 people were killed. I had taken my 35 mm camera and a few rolls of black & white film along with me. The censors wouldn’t allow any undeveloped film to be sent out so I visited the supply depot and managed to get some developer, hypo and paper. A visit to a dump yielded an airplane landing light and some stuff I could use to make brackets, so I managed to construct a makeshift enlarger using the camera as film holder and lens.

“When people saw the pictures I was printing, word spread and soon truckloads of men were coming to our camp to have their pictures taken. Bob Stewart, a radar operator, was working with me, and we got some 100 foot rolls of 35 mm film from the supply depot, refilled the cartridges I had and started taking pictures of people in earnest. They were happy to pay 5 guilders ($2.50) for 3 pictures and by the time we finished I had sent home enough money for the down payment on our first house. We never did get a red safe light, but found that moonlight was a satisfactory substitute.

“We left Biak in early August on an LST, (Landing Ship, Tank) headed for a staging area in the Philippines to prepare for the invasion of Japan. Two days out we ran into a typhoon, a really memorable experience on an LST. The waves would force the bow of the ship up and out of the water until almost half of the ship was out of the water. It then fell with a thunderous crash, bounced a couple of times and then all was silent. About 45 seconds later the bow started out again and the process was repeated. This lasted all night, making sleep somewhere between difficult and impossible, and most of the next day. Several days later we received the news about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and by the time we reached Manila, Japan had surrendered.

“Instead of a staging area we were sent to a replacement depot where the radar set was transferred to a platoon newly arrived from the States and we all went on the list to go home. One’s place on the list depended on the number of “points” he had earned. One point was given for each month of service in the States and two points for each month overseas. Battle stars were worth five points each and points were awarded for marriage and for each child. I had a total of 62 points. There were several hundred thousand men on Luzon, most of whom had more points than I and it looked like I faced nearly a year wait. I was, therefore, transferred to a Military Police unit and sent to Korea in November as part of the Army of Occupation.

“I was quartered in a dormitory at the University of Korea in Seoul, where I had a chance to meet college students who were anxious to improve their English by talking to Americans. Two young fellows were especially eager and took me to restaurants and other places I would never have dared to visit alone. Most Koreans were very wary of Americans, fearful that we were just replacing the Japanese and would be just as oppressive. Most of the other Americans would have nothing to do with the Koreans, calling them “gooks”, but I really enjoyed associating with them and found them highly intelligent.

“One morning I was assigned to a detail where 10 of us were lined up and the officer said “Each of you take one of those trucks and follow me.” He then sprinted to the first truck and took off. I had never driven anything bigger than a Jeep, but fortunately had had friends in the motor pool who had explained double clutching to me. We drove about five miles on streets crowded with pedestrians and people pulling carts. By some miracle I kept one of the other trucks in sight and arrived at the destination safely.

“When I had an interview to determine where I would be sent, it was discovered that my 62 points were enough to send me home immediately. Most of the other Americans in Korea were newly arrived from the States and had fewer points, so in two weeks I was on the way home. The voyage home was rough; we hit another typhoon and had to detour some 500 miles around it, but the APC (auxiliary personnel carrier) I was on rode much better than an LST. The only worry started when we took on enough water to make the bottom bunks unusable.

“We got to Fort Lewis in Washington about December 19. On December 23 I found myself on a troop train bound for Camp McCoy, WI. The cars were the old ones with fixed (not reversible) seats. Every other seat faced opposite to the one before it, so four people shared a sort of square compartment, two of them riding backwards. We had three men in each compartment, with our barracks bags in the fourth seat. Sleeping was somewhat less than comfortable, but I heard no complaints; we were on our way home! Troop trains had the lowest rail usage priority, so we spent a lot of time on sidings. It was another strange Christmas. We arrived at Camp McCoy December 27.

“Things moved fairly fast (for the army) at Camp McCoy, and I got my discharge on the morning of New Year’s Eve. No time
was wasted in getting to the railroad station, buying a ticket and calling home. Jeanne met me at the railroad depot that afternoon
and I finally got to meet Alan. It was the best New Year ever!!!”   

                                                       Charles E. Wilson, Jr.
                                                                                                                                                       March 26, 2003

Back home after the war, Charles returned to work at R.R. Donnelley and for the first two months he and Jeanne shared an apartment with their friends Ruth and Roy Thompson. But soon that photo money from Biak came in handy when they found a very small, unfinished home for sale “out in the country” in an unincorporated area near Des Plaines, IL.
Three days after they moved in, the shallow well ran dry; it was a serious challenge for the young family with a toddler under two years old. For a time they relied on jugs of water brought over by both sets of parents but when the spring thaw arrived, they built a 5000 gallon rainwater cistern with the help of friends and relatives. The cistern and a community water truck that brought drinking water from Park Ridge, IL from time to time allowed the Wilsons to remain in the tiny house on Stolting Road for two and a half years.

On Christmas Day 1946 a second son joined the Wilson family, making living quarters just a little tighter. So in the early summer of 1948 they jumped back into the red-hot postwar housing market. They found a Cape Cod style home with an unfinished second floor ready for expansion; they bought it and put the little house on Stolting on the market. After a single listing in the Chicago Daily News, the realtor received three bids and many more requests to put down a deposit.

The Wilson family in Hingham 1954
Ida Gardner Curwen is 3rd from left;
Bess Gardner Wilson is 2nd from right

But just three days later, the Wilsons learned that the owner of their new house had sold it to someone else. Fortunately, they were able to find a similar home in the next block at 306 N. Knight, Park Ridge. Although this house was not quite as large as their original find, it offered lot of improvements over where they had been living, not the least of which was city water. They remained in the house on Knight for four years, adding a third son during that time.

In the summer of 1952, the Wilsons found a much larger home at 617 N. Washington Street in Park Ridge, just around the corner from the Eugene Field Elementary school. With one boy entering third grade, another starting first and a third who would be ready soon, it seemed like the right place. The Wilson family remained on Washington Street for 13 years, during which time a daughter joined three brothers to complete the family.

           Family night at Donnelley's 1957

Thirty years went by quickly as they tend to do. In 1965, the family moved to a new home in Arlington Heights, IL and one by one the children went off to college and to start families and careers. In 1982, Charles retired from R.R. Donnelly after 46 years of service.
Charles and Jeanne had taken over the family home in Hingham as part of his inheritance after his mother passed on in 1976. They used it as a weekend home but those weekends were filled with lots of maintenance and repair work since not much had been done since Edwin had died over a decade earlier.

In 1979, Charles and Jeanne purchased the small house located next door to the west jointly with the neighbors on the other side, Bruce and Carol Strade. The house was rented out until 1985, when they razed it, allowing the Strades to build a garage on their half of the lot while the Wilsons made theirs into lawn, since the old house had been built right up to the lot line.

In 1981, preparing for retirement, Charles and Jeanne had the house in Hingham remodeled, removing the old kitchen and attached utility shed. Moving the back wall of the house twelve feet south permitted construction of a new kitchen and dining area. Building a fireplace into the west wall helped convert the old dining room into a family room. The former parlor on the east side of the house was made into a bedroom and the small bedroom behind the parlor was converted to a bathroom and closet. Another small room on the west side of the house became a laundry room, and a corner of George Curwen’s sleeping porch was closed in with a door into the front hall, making space for a coat closet.

As Charles later wrote, “All these changes helped make the house, built in 1856, into a comfortable home for the 1990's.”

The Wilson retired permanently to Hingham in the summer of 1982. Over the next 20 years they made a happy life for themselves there with extensive travel and spending lots of time with their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Charles suffered a massive heart attack on November 14, 2003 and died instantly. Jeanne stayed on in the house alone for nearly a year but in the fall of 2004 she moved to the Pine Haven Christian Home in Sheboygan Falls, where she remained until her death on July 2, 2011.

Today the Gardner-Wilson home in Hingham is owned by a new family who will add their story to the old place. There can be no doubt that Hingham has played a major role in the history of the Gardners and the Wilson, and that Charles Wilson was determined that his family's story should not be forgotten.

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