WABASH RIVER PEARLS
Standing Room Only
Lawrence County Historical Society enjoyed the presence of over 60 guests who attended the presentation on Monday evening Sept. 22. The society sponsored Anne Marie Marx owner and operator of Jewel Craft Jewelry store Main Street, Vincennes for the program at the museum.
Ms. Marx told the standing room only crowd that she came to Vincennes in 1979, has been in business for 34 years, coming from a past life of farming and construction business. Anne wore on her right hand a beautiful product of her knowledge and skills—a priceless and beautiful Rosebud Wabash River Pearl ring in its unique gold setting crafted by Anne Marx several years ago.
She told the history of the mussel business along the Wabash River, of the button factories at St. Francisville, IL and Vincennes, IN, with a display of the large muscle shells (as big as your hand) similar to those used to make the pearl buttons in those factories. She spoke of the “Great Indiana Pearl Rush” and of her own visits to “Pearl City” a number of times.
The Wabash Pearls are natural, valuable and restricted. Most harvesters were individuals who loved the water, boating, and the challenge of hunting muscles. They lived along the river in their small well-kept camp homes. Ms. Marx shared a story of one visit to Pearl City on a date with a Vincennes policeman; the Pearl City resident was extra friendly and offered her and her date a drink or a sandwich. She asked her date why he was so friendly, and he replied, “I arrested him once”.
She told of field trips by students and a professor from Ball State University who visited each year. At the end of her presentations, she always read a poem about “WABASH RIVER PEARL”, (which was included in her program this evening). The last year that the students visited her; the students recited the poem, an impressive tearful experience for Ms. Marx.
In 1991 the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) issued a moratorium restricting the harvest of muscles. Stiff fines are enforced if that law is disobeyed. The agricultural use of chemicals has contributed to the decrease in Wabash River Pearls, which was only found in about 1 out of 3 muscle shells in the early 1900’s.
President Mike Neal closed the hour long program with a show of hands, “how many are attending a Historical Society Program for the first time?” Many were first time guests.
Membership is welcomed and encouraged by paying dues of $25 for an individual, or $35 for a family to Lawrence County Historical Society, PO Box 425, Lawrenceville, IL. 62439. Volunteers to do special projects ( of your own choosing if you desire) are also wanted.
This article was written by F. Price, and the photos were taken by S. Shearer. Another photo by F. Price will appear on the website under events.