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  • Writer's pictureLawrence Lore

Hi Ho Silver!

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear! From out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats and the sounds of gunfire! The Lone Ranger rides again!

These distant sounds were heard in Lawrence County, Illinois by many radio listeners. The western hero with the white hat and horse called “Silver” particularly galloped through the minds of two Lawrenceville residents and a Sumner, Illinois woman who knew the masked man on the radio as a youth named Brace Beemer.

Brace Beemer, the voice of The Lone Ranger of radio, had a childhood connection with Lawrenceville. A newspaper article was found in the Irene Black Files written by Doug Carroll, in which he interviewed three local Lawrence County residents about their memories of Brace Beemer. The date of this interview is unknown.

Beemer portrayed The Lone Ranger for fifteen years and more than 2,000 radio broadcasts from 1941 through May 27, 1955, when the show left the airways. Beemer’s voice brought The Lone Ranger to life for more years than any other radio actor, and he made many personal appearances dressed as the hero during the series.

Brace Bell Beemer was born December 9, 1903, in Mount Carmel, Ill and he moved to Lawrenceville with his parents, Joseph and Bertine Beemer, around 1910. The Beemer’s stayed in Lawrenceville until 1917 before moving to Vincennes for about a year. The family then moved on to Indianapolis.

Memories of Beemer growing up in the Lawrenceville neighborhood around Arlington Elementary School were rekindled in Hazel Albright, her brother Lawrence Cunningham and Sumner resident, Ellen Pettyjohn after reading a feature article on his career and brief stay in Vincennes in an issue of The Valley Advance.

Cunningham was about six months younger than Beemer, and the two became best of friends living just a couple of blocks away from each other on Dubois Street. What the retired Texaco employee remembered most about Beemer was his vivid imagination; play acting as a child and undying love of horses. Beemer often made-up tales of horses, snakes and other forms of wildlife, Cunningham recalled. “Brace always liked horses and he could tell some good stories about them. He was a nice boy and always had an imagination about him,” Cunningham said.

The boys did not keep in contact after the Beemer’s moved from Lawrenceville because Cunningham spent much of his time working for a local dairy, he noted. However, when Cunningham learned in the 1940’s that Beemer had become The Lone Ranger, he wasn’t surprised at all. “It didn’t surprise me because Brace loved horses, had an imagination and was a good play actor as a boy,” Cunningham said.

“(Ellen) Pettyjohn, whose maiden name was McColpin, lived on Porter Avenue and recalled Beemer for another reason. She was a small girl at the time and Beemer, who was tall for his age, looked even bigger through her young eyes.

Beemer would walk past the McColpin house with his friend, Willard Hennessy. Hennessy lived on Porter Avenue and his family owned a large portion of land where now stand the Lawrenceville Armory, the United Methodist Village, Parkview Junior High School and the Lawrenceville Park, according to Pettyjohn. The boys had built a make-shift log cabin on the Hennessy property and would walk by Pettyjohn’s house to get to it, she said.

“Brace and Willard would walk past our house, and they were both rather tall and always had knives stuck under their belts. If I was outside and saw them coming, I would always hide because to me they seemed so tall. The knives in their belts looked scary to me at the time,” Pettyjohn recalled.

Pettyjohn laughed at the memory since Beemer and Hennessy never hurt anyone or intended to do so, she said. The boys were only play-acting. Her sons, Richard and Robert, grew up listening to The Lone Ranger on the radio. Unlike Cunningham, Pettyjohn didn’t know Beemer had been The Lone Ranger until after the series ended.

Hazel Cunningham Albright was the best friend of Brace’s younger sister, Catharine, his only sibling. The girls met on the first day of school and decided to become “sisters,” Albright said. They remained the best of friends until Catharine died. Albright remembers the Beemer’s stay in Lawrenceville well. She said the family lived there from 1910 to 1917 before moving to Vincennes. The Beemer’s stayed in Vincennes less than a year before heading to Indianapolis.

It was in Indianapolis that Brace enlisted with the U S Army Battery E, 15th Field Artillery during WWI. Beemer, who stood about six feet tall and weighed around 200 pounds at the time, became the youngest American to serve in WWI. Beemer was 14 yrs., four months and 12 days old when he enlisted, according to records of the US Adjutant General.

Joseph Beemer, Brace's father, owned a music store in back of the George I Nunn Drug Store on the Lawrenceville square. The store was located on 12th St where Montgomery Ward later operated a catalog sales office. The Beemer music store carried pianos, violins and other instruments. Customers also could find Victrolas, phonographs and records. Albright said Brace and Catharine grew up in a musical environment.

“Catherine and I used to go into the music store and Mr. Beemer would always give us a piece of candy. The Beemer’s were not poor when they lived in Lawrenceville, but were poor by the time they lived in Indianapolis,” Albright commented. Ironically it was the curiosity of a newfangled machine called the radio that ruined the Beemer music store, Albright stated. People were turning away from buying pianos and phonographs to listen to the radio, she recalled.

Joseph Beemer closed the music store and became the manager of the old Malcolm Hotel, (also in Lawrenceville) which later burned down. After the fire, the Beemer’s moved to Vincennes.

Albright remembered Brace as an outstanding boy for more reasons than his physical size. “Brace was nice and the kind of boy that was the cream of the crop. He was good friends with my brothers Lawrence, Lafayette and Holmes, and the Stansfield boys, John, Cap, and Frank. They were all outstanding boys,” Albright said.

The boys often rode horses in Smith Grove, the land where the Lawrence County Memorial Hospital is now located. The area took its name from a prominent family at the time, Albright said. The Cunningham and Smith families both owned horses and Brace rode them often. “I think Brace may have gotten his ideas about the Lone Ranger from riding horses in Smith Grove,” Albright disclosed.

As time passed, Albright would visit the Beemer family in Indianapolis and she was there the night Brace returned from getting the station manager’s job at WXYZ in Detroit. WXYZ created the Lone Ranger in late 1932 and the early part of 1933. Brace went to work for the radio station in 1932.

“Brace came home that night and talked about the interview. During the interview there were technical problems and Brace said he didn’t need the job anyway and was about to leave. The owner liked his attitude and hired him,” Albright recalled.

Albright said the Beemer family was always nice and that Bertine Beemer, Brace’s mother, was a charming woman. Brace often mentioned her, and compiled a book of poems that interested the family.

Newly acquired information, courtesy of Edwin Wiswall's daughter, Faye Rains of Chattanooga, TN, reveals that Brace Bell Beemer was a great-great-grandson of early Lawrence County settler, Victor Buchanan, Sr. (1762 - 1843) and his wife, Rebecca (Tucker) Buchanan, who brought their extended family to present Lawrence County, IL from present Trimble County, KY in 1819. Brace Beemer's gr-grandparents, Hiram Bell & Elizabeth (Buchanan) Bell were married on September 22, 1823, in Lawrence County. Brace's maternal grandfather, Robert Bell, was born in Lawrence County in 1828, but became a judge and newspaper publisher in Wabash County where Brace was later born.

While Mt Carmel may claim Brace Beemer as their native son because he was born there, Lawrenceville has more of a genealogical right to him and ultimately, became his childhood home. Not only were his formative years spent riding horses and play-acting with his friends in Lawrenceville, but on October 7, 1915, the Lawrenceville Republican published a report about the local scout troop in which he was mentioned.

The Lawrenceville Boy Scouts hiked to Indian Creek that Saturday and spent the day in the open. They built a fire and found a flat stone on which to cook their bacon, wieners, and potatoes. Then the boys ran rescue races. Wearing their scout coats and carrying their staffs, they ran 60 yards, made a stretcher of their coats and staffs, lifted a wounded boy on the stretcher and raced back. The newspaper reported that a race was held to settle a tie between Paul Markman and Miles Adams winning over Brace Beemer and Marion Culp.

In 1928, October 17, Miles Adams, his former Scout friend, wrote a letter home to Lawrenceville from France during his service in WWI and mentioned that he had seen Brace Beemer and that he was “dog robbing” or acting as an orderly for a lieutenant.

Through the years the name Brace Beemer continued to appear in the Lawrenceville newspapers. In 1969, Talbert Kelley, a local newspaper reporter, wrote that Mrs. Ethyl Flanders, was Brace’s teacher when he attended elementary school in Lawrenceville. She stated that as a boy, Brace was mischievous in school, indulging in boyish pranks, such as teasing girls and other fun things, but he was also exceedingly bright.

Brace even gave a nod to his hometown on March 30, 1953 in the 2,376th episode of the Lone Ranger that was broadcast on the ABC radio network. With his deep rich voice, he thrilled many residents with the telling of "The Looting of Lawrenceville", despite the 28-minute show having nothing to do with Lawrenceville or the state of Illinois.

Brace Beemer died unexpectedly of a heart attack March 1, 1965, at age 62, on his ranch near Oxford, Michigan. He was buried in White Chapel Memorial Park Cemetery in Troy, Oakland County, Michigan. When Brace died, he really did own a horse named Silver. The stallion was age 27 and old and cranky but Brace’s widow vowed to keep the great white stallion with the thundering hooves until his natural death.

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