In the early 1920's the Old Timer enjoyed going on Sunday drives with his father, who often drove to favorite places along the Kankakee River. They visited along the river in Indiana and into Illinois and many times drove their 1919 Oakland along the river road to an area marked by the sign: "The Garden of Eden, Choice Lots for Sale." The story this month is about that interesting area.
Many old clippings were glued to an old store ledger of W.H. Patterson, entries in the book dated 1857-58-59. The clippings covering most of the old book were circa 1890-1900, and one page told the story about that unusual "Garden of Eden."
The newspaper's headline read as follows: "Our Garden of Eden -- Adam and Eve's First Habitation is Located in Illinois -- Relics to prove it -- Petrified Apple has toothmarks of original sinners -- Old Dan Parmalee Also Exhibits head of the Serpent that Tempted Eve."
The article, written in about 1890, continued: "The original Garden of Eden has been found. It is located in Illinois along the banks of the beautiful Kankakee River. It was discovered by Dan Parmalee, who is a noted pioneer, trapper and hunter. Sad to say the Garden of Eden is to be sold at auction. It is to be knocked down untder the auctioneer's hammer next Tuesday because the original discoverer and owner is unable to pay the mortgage placed upon it when in need of funds."
"The Garden of Eden" and "Old Dan" Parmalee are among the most attractive curiosities from the great Kankakee swamps region, replete with interest for the outdoor enthusiasts. The "Garden" is situated on the bank of the river at Indian Town, a few miles west of the Indiana Line.
When originally discovered, it was merely an island in the great swanp, covered with a dense growth of trees and shrubs almost tropical in appearance. In the summer, all were covered with vines.
It is still a pretty spot, although by draining the swamp it has been surrounded by prosperous farms and most of the timber has disappeared.
"The river sweeps with a graceful curve, and the trees shut out the view of the neighboring farmhouses."
The story told how Parmalee tried to prove the identity of the spot as the original Garden of Eden and claimed to be the owner of many relics to prove his story. Among those relics was the apple tree on which grew the apple with which the serpent tempted Eve. The apple itself turned to stone, while the head of the serpent, also petrified, and other relics mentioned in the Bible were also claimed by Parmalee.
The contour of the apple was distinctly marked where two large bites were taken from it. The serpent's head was diamond shaped, like that of an adder. The apple tree showed every mark of great age, and still bore fruit to tempt the passerby, so said the writer of the article.
He wrote that Dan was firm in his belief that it was the original tree, but what is more, he claimed that Adam and Eve still lived on the island and would point them out to any visitor.
"Adam" was a giant black oak on the river bank and "Eve" was a smaller white oak growing nearby, extending her arms, appealing to Adam. Among other curiosities in the Garden was a two-headed calf, which was born in the garden, offered by Dan as a sacrifice, and afterwards stuffed by its owner.
"It was about forty years ago (about 1860) that "Old Dan" discovered the Garden of Eden. He had lived there for several years before he discovered its "sacred character." He came to the swamp as a young man and settled down to follow the life of a hunter and trapper. At that time the swamp afforded small fur-bearing animals, deer, bear and wild fowl bred there by the thousands. Parmalee soon became noted not only as a hunter and trapper, but as a fighter. He was over six feet tall and strong in proportion. After a few encounters, the men of the country avoided any but friendly intercourse with him.
"It was on a trip to Momence forty years ago, when Parmalee was in the best of health and strength, that the incident which changed his whole life happened.
"Momence, now  a thriving town, was established where the Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad crosses the Kankakee River. Then a mere village, rough and lawless, the young men of the town feared Parmalee, and agreed to set upon him and give him a whipping at the first opportunity. Two of the strongest of them attacked him, and after a fearful fight Parmalee was overpowered and dreadfully beated. Not content with beating him with their fists, his assailants kicked him about the body and the head.
"He managed to reach his home in the swamp eight miles away, where he was ill for days. It was when he recovered, or appeared to recover, that he discovered that he was living in the Garden of Eden. It was soon evident that while his body had recovered, his brain was affected by the shock.
"Old Dan has never swerved from his conviction that he is the owner of the most valuable spot on earth, and he set about collecting evidence to sustain it. The petrified apple, the apple tree, the petrified serpent's head were discovered in succession and exhibited to the incredulous. Soon the enthusiam of the archeologist took possession of him and he collected all kinds of relics. He dug into the graves of Indian chiefs and secured hundreds of arrow heads, spear points, tomahawks, pipes, skulls and other relics. All these were kept in his small house on the river bank and exhibited with great pride.
"Parmalee had a wife and children when he made his unfortunate trip into Momence, but his sons grew and struck out for themselves, his wife died, and he was left alone on the river bank."
It was about 1890 when old Dan's house burned down during the night, Most of his valuable collection of relics, his guns, traps, and other property were destroyed, and he was forced to dig a home in the river bank for the winter. All that was saved from the fire was the two-headed calf, the serpent's head and the petrified apple, though the garden remained as it was before the fire.
The article went on to say that on the following Tuesday Dan Parmalee would be dispossessed of the sacred soil that he had cherished for 50 years. Even the burrow home on the river bank was to be sold. The complete article evidently was not placed in the old ledger, so the story ends with the sale of the garden.
The old ledger came from the estate of Mrs. Katie Kelsey and was loaned to the Old Timer by Marcia Shurte of Lowell.
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