Once Upon a Time

Multi-talented John Wall was in demand as an orator

This cover page was used for the sheet music of one of John Wall's patriotic songs written in 1918. | Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress
Posted: Dec. 30, 2018 12:01 am Updated: Dec. 30, 2018 12:17 am

John Edmund Wall was known around Quincy for many things. He was a printer, lawyer, orator, philanthropist, writer, political activist, poet, an influential citizen and a songwriter.

He was born in 1864 to Edmund Wall and Catharine Gaffney Wall. His father was from Maryland and served in the Union Army during the Civil War. After the war, Edmund Wall was active in Democratic politics and served on the city police department. He was a perpetual candidate for many city offices.

John Wall began working at age 11 carrying newspapers for The Quincy Daily Herald. Later he became a printer, setting type for The Quincy Daily Journal. While working, he attended Chaddock College and received his law degree in 1893. In 1896 he formed a partnership with George H. Wilson. The firm Wilson & Wall practiced general law. In his law practice, Wall was a defense attorney and on occasion assisted the prosecution. His most famous case was being part of the prosecution of the Pfanschmidt murder trial in 1912.

Newspaper articles described him as a "staunch Republican." At the 1898 Illinois Republican Convention held in Camp Point, Wall was nominated for county judge. He was praised as being the best candidate, but he lost the election. Instead he became assistant state's attorney under his partner, George Wilson.

Wall again ran for judge in 1909, this time for the Illinois Supreme Court from the Fourth Judicial District. He lost. On June 30th The Quincy Daily Journal ran a lengthy article about his character and fitness for the job but said that because it was a democratic newspaper, it would support his political opponent. The paper lamented the partisanship in politics saying, "No party lines will ever be strong enough to take from us our pleasant memory of John Wall as one of our printer boys. … We shall always in some small measure, enjoy his successes and his achievements."

By 1912, John Wall had broken with the Republicans and joined with Teddy Roosevelt and the Progressive Party, also known as the Bull Moose Party. He was a known orator and spoke for an hour and a half in Augusta at a Progressive Party meeting.

Wall seems to have become most active in politics and oratory during World War I. He again changed his political affiliation and was supporting the Democratic candidate, President Woodrow Wilson, for re-election. He thought Wilson was the true descendent of Theodore Roosevelt and enacted many of the Progressive Party's policies.

Wall was in demand as a speaker and spoke frequently about Wilson to large crowds in 1916. The Quincy Daily Herald on Aug. 21 described Wall, "as a student of public affairs and as an orator with unusual ability to express his opinions." Wall said, "I honestly think Woodrow Wilson is the greatest president of the United States since the time of Abraham Lincoln."

Although he had been a candidate for several Adams County offices as a Republican, Wall broke with the party over war preparedness, which he said was only popular in the eastern part of the county. He saw Wilson as a man of the people and a patriot by keeping the United States out of the European war and focusing on issues that would benefit citizens. The local Democratic Party decided its campaign kickoff would be called "John Wall Night." The party planned a large rally in Washington Park.

Once the United States entered the war in 1917, Wall vigorously joined fellow Quincyans in war work. Among other things, he was Adams County campaign chairman for War Savings Stamps. He was praised by the Illinois War Stamp committee for holding a county meeting, exceeding its quota and making Adams one of the leading counties of the state in stamp sales.

Among his other talents, Wall wrote songs for voice and piano: "Remember Boy, This Land of Ours," with composer Edith Hyman Shontze, in 1917; "We're Off To-day For The Mighty Fray," with composer May Trescher Brady, in 1917; "Everybody Loves a Soldier," with composer Harris O'Farrell, in 1918; and "On The Road To Old Berlin," with composer Lulu M. Felt, in 1918.

Wall's songs were sung locally and in the surrounding area even before they were published. From France, Quincy soldiers wrote home to say how much they appreciated the songs. Three of his songs are archived in the Library of Congress as part of the collection "The Library of Congress Celebrates the Songs of America."

"On The Road To Old Berlin" begins:

"Hurrah for the Tommies, boys, Hurrah for the French!

Down with the Heinies, to the bottom of the Trench!

With Old Glory in the can, boys, this war we sure must win.

And plant the flags of Freedom on the Castles of Berlin."

In 1917, The Quincy Daily Journal said, "Quincy has a habit of stepping into the limelight." The newspaper went on to praise Neysa McMein for her art, Katherine Holland Brown for literature, and John Wall and "Pot" Pfeiffer for war songs.

After the war, Wall continued to be described as "Quincy's gifted orator." He was chosen to speak at the ceremony honoring Quincy's 36 soldiers who died in the war. As reported by The Quincy Daily Whig on Dec. 5, 1918, he read the names of each soldier and said, "though dead they still live, resting peacefully under French skies, they are with us in spirit today. … In the hearts of freedom, they shall live forever."

John Wall died in 1937 and is buried in Woodland Cemetery. He was survived by his wife, Belle Conley, whom he married in 1899. Throughout their lives they had dedicated their time and money to many Quincy organizations. He was so well thought of in the community that in 1923, it was suggested he run for governor of Illinois or even be a candidate for Congress. John T. Simmons said in a letter to the editor in the Dec. 18, 1923, Quincy Whig Journal, "He would make us a good one."


Arlis Dittmer is a retired medical librarian. During her years with Blessing Health System, she became interested in medical and nursing history -- both topics frequently overlooked in history.



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"All Citizens Want To Hear John Wall Tonight." Quincy Daily Herald, Sept.

28, 1916, p. 6.


"Brennan Stand Gives Hope For Favorite Son." Quincy Whig Journal, Dec. 18, 1923.


"Chaddock College." Quincy Daily Whig, June 4, 1893, p. 8.


Cook, Bob. "1912 Pfanschmidt Murder Case still Cited Today." Quincy Herald Whig, April 27, 2012.


"County Officers Named." Quincy Daily Whig, Aug. 30, 1898, p. 1.


"Hear John Wall Tell Why He's For Wilson." Quincy Daily Journal, Sept. 28, 1916, p. 1.


"John E. Wall." Quincy Daily Whig, Nov. 6, 1898, p. 3.


"John E. Wall -- Personal." Quincy Daily Journal, June 30, 1909, p. 4.


"John Wall and ‘Buck' O'Farrell Write Song." Quincy Daily Whig, Feb. 21, 1918, p. 9.


"John Wall Lost Weight In Trial." Quincy Daily Herald, April 22, 1913, p. 6.


"John Wall Pays A Glowing Tribute to Golden Stars of Adams County." Quincy Daily Whig, Dec. 5, 1918.


"John Wall Speaks To Progressives." Quincy Daily Herald, Oct. 16, 1912, p. 5.


"John Wall To Campaign For Wilson." Quincy Daily Herald, Aug. 21, 1916.


"New Law Firm." Quincy Daily Whig, Dec. 1, 1896, p. 3.


O'Farrell, Harris and John E. Wall. "Everybody Loves a Soldier Boy" (sheet music). lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/ihas/loc.natlib.ihas.200208194/


"Quincy and War Music." Quincy Daily Journal, Dec. 19, 1917, p. 6.


"War Saver Praises John Wall's Work." Quincy Daily Herald, June 18, 1918, p. 5.