No history of Salem would be complete without the history of the Lemen-Frakes House and the lives of the people who entered therein.
Benjamin F. Lemen was born in St. Clair County, Illinois in the year 1814, four years before Illinois became a state. He was the grandson of James Lemen, Revolutionary War officer and good friend of President Thomas Jefferson. James was also the founder of the first First Baptist Church in the State of Illinois, this also being the first Protestant Church in Illinois. B. F. Lemen followed his father's and grandfather's profession by also becoming a Baptist Minister and Missionary.
Rev. Lemen moved to Salem in 1842, the year of his marriage of Mary Putnam Rand, A Baptist Missionary and school teacher from a distinguished Colonial family of New Hampshire.
Mrs. Lemen received her college education in New England. After graduating from college, she was sent to Illinois to be a missionary. She arrived in Salem in 1834. She reorganized a Baptist Sunday School and also began teaching regular school. In 1839, the Illinois Baptist General Associaton gave her $500.00 to start a female seminary, which she did in Salem. She was also one of the organizers of the First Baptist Church of Salem.
Rev. Lemen had his house built the year he moved to Salem in 1842, the year he wed. The house was built on what was then the edge of town. Its architectural design is typical of the period. It is called a "I" House. A later addition made it an "L" House. Under the floors of the house are half-hewn logs. It is the oldest house in Salem today. The Lemens also had a summer kitchen built separate from the house.
The Lemen's (pronounced: Le as the "le" in lettuce, and men as the word men) were good friends of the Lincoln's and were frequently visited by Abraham Lincoln when he was in Salem. He spent the night with them on more than on occasion, one time being in June of 1849. He slept on the couch in the parlor, which he prefered. The couch is now located in the Lincoln Room of the Governor's Mansion in Springfield, Illinois.
Rev. Benjamin Lemen founded and became the first minister of the Second Baptist Church of Salem. It was the Baptist Church for the black Americans. They were not welcomed in the First Baptist Church at that time and probably not in any other church. It seems that the Lemen's were among the few real 'Christians' in Salem. Of course our ancestors of that time used the bible to prove their right to separation and downright dislike for blacks. Very sad. It seems people can use the bible to back up any form of hate that they have. Too bad more people don't imitate the life of the man they claim to follow, Jesus. Whether you look at him as the son of God, a prophet, a rabbi or just a man, he was way ahead of his time and lived a life all mankind should strive to emulate.
Three children were born to the Lemens. Rev. Joseph Goff Lemen, Esquire, the first born 20 Feb 1848. He was a law graduate from Harvard and later a graduate from Shurtleff College in 1876, as a Baptist minister. (Shurtleff College was the first college in Illinois, founded in 1827. It was located in upper Alton and was later purchased by Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.) He pastored the First Baptist Church of Salem, then moved to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where he founded the Children's Christian Home. He married Florence J. and had four children: Horace Roscoe Lemen, born 1872, was founder of the Western Printing Company of Omaha, Nebraska; Denny Putnam Lemen, Esq. an attorney in Sioux Falls, South Dakota who died at the age of 74 in December of 1950; J. Goff Lemen of Los Angeles, California; and Ethel Lemen.
Joseph Goff Lemen's great-grandson, David A. Lemen and family, still live in Council Bluffs today. The family still being prominent amoung its citizens. David visited this home in 1999 to spend the night in his ancestral home. David was the grandson of Horace Roscoe Lemen and the son of George Edward Lemen.
Ellen K. (Lemen) Denny, the second child of the Lemens, married Colonel W. N. Denny of Vicennes, Indiana in 1866. He was a Colonel in the American Civil War (War Between The States). She was National Organizer of the Temperance Movement, speaking throughout the midwest and the farwest, including the Arizona Territory. They also settled in Council Bluffs. Their first two babies died at birth. The third child was Mary Putnam Denny who grew to adulthood and married Walter Steffen.
The Lemen's third child was Lydia Gertrude (Lemen) Sobieski. She married Count John Sobieski, Prince Royal, heir to the throne of Poland, in this house on the 3rd of June, 1879.
Count Sobieski was born in Warsaw, Poland September 10, 1842 (the year the Lemen-Frakes House was built). His father was captured by the Russians in 1849 and was executed. His mother, Countess Isabella (Bem) Sobieski, was told she could remain in Poland, with their estates, the largest in Poland, if she would renounce her son's claim to the throne and adopt the Russian Orthodox religon. She refused to do either, which resulted in teh Countess and her son being exiled. They moved to an area of northern Italy, which was controlled by the Austrians. The Archduke, Maximilian, treated the Countess very badly, which eventually led to being exiled again, this time to England, where she soon died.
John, now only 12, stowed away on a ship for America, the U. S. Constellation, arriving in America on Washington's birthday. He joined the United States Army as a bugler. When the Civil War began, he remained loyal to the Union and fought in many battles, including the Battle of Gettysburg, of which he was wounded. He was present at the surrender at Appomattox and marched in the Grand Review.
After the War, he learned that the Archduke Maximilian was attempting to set up an empire in Mexico. He immediately went to Mexico, where he was commissioned a Colonel by the Republican Forces. Ironically, he was in charge of the execution of Maximilian, ending the life of the man who had so terribly mistreated his mother.
Count John Sobieski, who preferred being called Colonel, began touring the United States as a public speaker, which is what brought him to Salem, Illinois, where he met his bride to be.
After using this house as their home base, they finally moved to Missouri and eventually to Los Angeles, California, where their descendents live today. Their only grandson, John Gilhausen Sobieski, had three children, John, Lada and James, all successful in the Los Angeles area. His wife, Marilyn, was living in Pasadena in 1992.
Shortly before World War 1, Czar Nicholas II of Russia sent word to Count Sobieski that his throne would be returned to him. Unfortunately, the Czar and his family were executed by the Communists, therefore, the Royal Polish Family remains in America to this day.
The Lemens also adopted and reared his cousin, Anna Judson Lemen, daughter of Judson Lemen. She married first John C. Wibel, by whom she had four children: Charles Lemen Wibel of Centralia; Mary Rand Lemen Wibel, born 1882, married Walter H. Hafeli of Central City 1902 and had children: Harold Eugene and Freda M. Hafeli; Lulu (Wibel) Ardinger of Alton; and Hattie (Wibel)Ferguson of Peoria. They raised their family in Marion County, Illinois.
In 1909, Julius and Anna (Maier) Merten moved into the house. They rented it until 1914, when they bought it, which also included the guest house (which is now addressed as 334 South Castle). Julius was a merchant. He had Merten's Mercantile in Shattuc, Clinton County, Illinois. They were a German-American family. Their children moving into the home with them were Beatrice M. J. (Merten) Frakes of Salem; Maurice R. Merten of Detroit, Michigan; Eunice E. (Merten) Hicks of Salem; Floyd Howard Merten of Harvey, Illinois; and Clyde E. Merten of Salem.
Julius ran a Confectionary on the south side of the 100 block of West Boone in downtown Salem. It was the building that is connected to city hall.
In 1941, Julius' daughter Beatrice and husband, William Philip Frakes, bought the house. Their children, the late Rev. William Randolph Frakes of Collinsville, Illinois; the late Colonel Philip Howard Frakes, of Salem and Springfield, Illinois; and Julianne May "Judy" (Frakes) Thurman of Bakersfield, California. Judy's middle name, May, was for May (McMackin) Rainey, Dr. George Rainey's wife. William Frakes lived with the Rainey's when he moved to Salem from Indiana. The McMackin and Rainey families were very prominent in Salem. The first mayor being Colonel Warren E. McMackin. The Rainey's and the Frakes' were very close. The Frakes children all called her "Nana Rainey".
Stephen has served as Chairman and secretary of the Salem Historical-Patriotical Commission; Chairman of the Greater Marion County Young Republicans; Region 5 Director for the Federation of Illinois Young Republicans (over 24 southern counties of Illinois); Secretary-Treasurer for the William Jennings Bryan Memorial Mural Committee, which is now in the Marion County Court House; Foster Township Trustee for the Marion County Genealogical & Historical Society; Secretary of the Log Cabin Republicans of St. Louis. He was elected Clerk of Foster Township in 1977. Stephen was also a member of Temple Solomon in Centralia, Reform Jewish Synagogue.
Nathan, Corporal Courtright, carried on the military tradition of the family by serving in the United States Military. He joined the United States Marines Corps and saw action in Somalia. He returned to Salem and then attended Western Illinois University. He moved back to Salem and married Angela Jaye (Albert)Riley and they have daughters, Jillian Rebecca Riley and Madison Jaye "Madie" Courtright. Nathan finished his schooling at Eastern Illinois Univeristy, getting his bachelor's degree in law enforcement. In 2009, he is employed at the prison in Vandalia, Illinois. Angie recieved her masters degree from Eastern and in 2006, is a school teacher Rome School in Dix, Jefferson County, Illinois.
Philip Howard Frakes died in this home on Friday, 16 September 2005. He is the first person to die in this house in the 163 years since it was built in 1842. Monna (Conant) Frakes died in this house on 29 September 2019. They are buried in Sandy Branch Cemetery, Foster Township, Marion County, Illinois. They are greatly missed by their family and many friends.
The Lemen-Frakes House has seen a lot of history in its years of existence. It has been the lodging place of religious leaders, educators, politicians, presidents, royalty and historians, making it one of Illinois' great historical landmarks.
Is The House Haunted?
Yes, it is. But not in a bad way. There are ghosts and spirits who show their presence in the house, but never in a negative way. My family has experienced ghosts and spirits in this house for years.
When my Aunt Judy FRAKES THURMAN was young, she and her friend, Richard F. SOMER, were playing on the upper back porch when they saw a ghost. Here in Richard's own words, "It was a bright spring day, either a holiday such as Easter or Decoration Day (as we called it then) or perhaps an early Sunday afternoon. Judy and I were standing at the southwest corner of the back porch, upstairs. We both turned at the same time to see the door at the inside corner of the L-shaped porch being pulled shut by a gray withered hand on the knob. We ran down the porch stairs and into the kitchen, where Judy's mother was cooking. We were convinced, of course, that the ghost was Lincoln's. Nobody has been able to prove otherwise!" Richard lived one block over at 301 Castle, back then. He now lives in New York.
My cousin, Pam SEE, was sleeping over one night. She was sleeping on the couch in the living room (Parlor). She woke up and saw a woman standing over her. She told us the next morning about it. My cousin was an adult and wasn't dreaming. She said she felt peace from the woman and new she was just checking to see that all was alright, so my cousin said that she just rolled over and went back to sleep. My guess is that it is Mrs. Mary RAND LEMEN checking to see that her guests are still fine. She had many a weary traveler spending the night in her home.
My dad, as have the rest of us, has clearly heard someone walking upstairs and on the stairway even though there is no one there.
We have a good friend, Vickey (MEYER)(McWHIRTER) MORRIS of Patoka, who is a psychic/medium. She came over for dinner one day and told us that there was a Civil War Soldier, ghost, standing at our front door. He was guarding the house. That was actually a good feeling to know he was there. And every time she comes over she says that there is a presence on the stairway. She only feels positve energy, nothing negative in the house.
I have had my covers pulled off my in bed. Things have been knocked off my bed when I have layed them there. A playful ghost. Not sure who that is.
The Ghosts and spirits who share our house are friendly and we welcome them.
Joseph Goff Lemen
Prince John Sobieski and wife Lydia G. (Lemen) Sobieski