Pekin students help put history on display

By Ken Keenan For Chronicle Media

Pekin High students Kayden Maquet and Chase Benson deliver a shadow box to the Tazewell County Clerk & Recorder of Deeds Office. (Tazewell County photos)

Thanks to the diligence of a Pekin High School teacher and his students, two components of area history have been joined together for the ages in the form of a shadow box mounted on the wall of the Tazewell County Clerk & Recorder of Deeds Office, in Pekin.  

First, a little background. Since 2021, the office has been home to a Medal of Honor awarded to Civil War veteran Dr. Thomas Murphy, of Greenville. During the Siege of Vicksburg, a pivotal effort by the Union Army in 1863 to take control of the last Confederate stronghold along the Mississippi River in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Murphy — a member of the 31st Illinois Infantry Volunteers — volunteered to cross the line of fire from both Union and Confederate forces to carry a message aimed at stopping Union forces from mistakenly firing upon one another.  

Living descendants of Murphy presented the Medal of Honor, enclosed in a picture frame with a photo of Murphy along with a map of the battle scene, to the Recorder of Deeds Office for public display. Fast forward to late 2023, when the Tazewell County Board finalized the decision to demolish the Arcade Building, built in 1905 at the intersection of Elizabeth Street and South Capitol Street in downtown Pekin.  

Enter Tazewell County Chief Deputy Dan Sullivan, who approached Pekin High School Career & Tech Education teacher Matt Proehl with an idea to use a portion of the Arcade Building’s interior wood beams for the construction of a shadow box, intended to more securely display Murphy’s Medal of Honor at the Recorder of Deeds Office.  

Once the project was completed, Pekin High students Kayden Maquet and Chase Benson delivered the shadow box to Tazewell County Clerk & Recorder of Deeds John Ackerman.  

“The original frame was just hanging loose and could risk being damaged,” Ackerman said. “We decided a shadow box permanently on the wall would be the best way to secure it. Sullivan suggested giving some of the historic wood to the students. The look, appearance and design of the shadow box (including locking mechanisms) was the brain trust of the teacher and students. It’s now mounted on the wall, and I can’t speak enough about the quality of the finished product. The attention to detail shows they took the project seriously.”  

The shadow box is roughly 15 inches tall by 22 inches wide, and Proehl said it contains as much of the historic wood as could possibly be used.  

“We wanted to make it really nice,” Proehl said. “I had the kids start with a collaboration of different ideas. We looked at different styles and picked what would work the best. We did the measurements, and once we got going — the different joints and such — it all came together. It was hands-on, using some of the machinery we had. The kids learned a lot. Kayden (Maquet) probably helped the most. I’m very happy with the end result.”  

Ackerman said plans are in the works to display a photo of the Arcade Building next to the shadow box.  

“It was a grand building, well-constructed and very elegant looking,” he said. “The Tazewell County

Board obtained it because the land was deemed to be valuable to the county for future development purposes. Also, the board deemed there was no use for the building in the condition it was in. Now we have a historical treasure, the Medal of Honor, protected by wood from a historic building. Historic preservation is something we have a passion for, and the shadow box is another item to be treasured into the future.”