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updated: 8/18/2011 3:33 PM

Road Races, whooping cough among Elgin headlines in 1911

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While an estimated 100,000 people witnessed the highly successful second annual Elgin Road Races in 1911, it was an event that was also marred by tragedy and protest.

In other news, Elginites were shocked when they learned what use city officials were making of an empty museum in Lords Park.

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And, the ill-mannered behavior of the "Newsies," or boys selling newspapers, prompted some strong action from the police and city attorney.

Here's a look at those and other stories making Elgin area headlines in the late summer of 1911.

Obnoxious "newsies": "Extra, extra. Read all about it!" While the image of young boys selling newspapers on street corners might be symbolic of life a century ago, many people at the time said they were greatly disturbed with the behavior of the "newsies."

Acting on complaints from citizens, the chief of police and the city attorney met with these scrappy street vendors -- some whose voices could reportedly be heard four blocks away -- asking them to refrain from such shouting. The young merchants were also asked to stop pushing newspapers in the faces of perspective customers as well as joining with their fellow "newsies" in surrounding others to stop them from leaving until they made a purchase.

Pricey dog pound: "The secret's out," said one newspaper. Reports surfaced as to how Elgin was able to deal with its more aggressive dog ordinance, while at the same time finding a use for the then-unoccupied museum -- now the Elgin Public Museum -- in Lords Park.

City officials used the $30,000 structure for a dog pound. Determining how to use the building, which was called a "white elephant" by the previous mayor and "all kinds of bad names by the city council" according to the story, reportedly "send shivers up and down the backs of the municipal dads." Who leaked the story to the newspapers and who conceived the plan for the pound was not disclosed.

Local epidemic: Whooping cough is well contained by immunizations today, but what was described as an "epidemic" in 1911 reminds us of some of the more unpleasant aspects of life in the "good old days."

Unable to limit the spread of the disease by quarantining the 250 patients -- most who were children younger than 16 -- city health officials instructed family members to greatly restrict their contact with the youth and their clothing. Fresh air would be helpful, they added, but patients should not be brought near others on city streets and sidewalks.

One east side woman even held a party attended by hundreds of former patients who had suffered with the disease and recovered.

First flights: A number of local residents got their first glimpse of an airplane when a "monoplane" which was part of a Chicago air show sailed briefly over the city.

The sight prompted a newspaper to retell the story of Elgin's "Uncle Dan" Guptail who experimented with flight years before the Wright Brothers. Guptail said his "sailing sheet" -- a device made of light wood covered with fabric and propelled by a pilot who moved the wings like oars -- could have been perfected if he had an extra $100 to devote to the project.

Road Races: Finally, an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 spectators crowded into Elgin for the second annual Elgin Road Races in late August 1911.

Held on an eight-and-a-half mile course bordered by Highland Avenue, Coombs Road, Route 20, Larkin Avenue and McLean Boulevard, the contests drew the world's best drivers and cars, many who competed at the Indianapolis 500.

Three drivers' deaths: The death of a mechanic and two drivers along with a grandstand collapse prompted an Elgin minister to express his distain with the competition.

"The races are crueller than the brutal bullfights of Spain," he said. "They are no better in spirit than the gladiator contests of early centuries in the arena of the Roman Coliseum."

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