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updated: 12/8/2011 11:27 AM

Electrified drunks, 'evil' Scouts made Elgin news in 1911

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"It's about time they took the collection plates away from the church doors."

"Getting horses and other animals out of people's basements is one of the best things the city could do."

"It's surprising to see that the school board banned dances at school functions."

These are some of the comments people might have made after reading Elgin's newspapers of a century ago. Here's a look at those and other stories that made area headlines in November and December 1911.

Scout problems: The fledgling Boy Scouts movement in Elgin took its first step toward official organization following a meeting of 20 prominent businessmen.

"Unlike the general belief, it has none of the military in its work," said a supporter. "Boys do not carry weapons, ammunition, and daggers."

A critic charged the upstart scouting movement involved leaders who are "without faith" and that the program compared to the "evil wrought by fraternities in schools." Scouting also encouraged boys to spend less time on school work and miss out on home life, he added.

Electrified drunks: Can electricity cause someone to become drunk? That was the question before the Elgin Police Magistrate when faced with a defendant who became intoxicated while riding the "Third Rail" -- the interurban streetcar from Chicago to Elgin.

The defendant claimed he became intoxicated because of the effects of the electrified rail. The Elgin official, who had tried hundreds of cases of drunkenness, said he didn't believe one could end up in such a condition in the manner described and fined the man $3.00 plus court costs. The defendant paid.

Child support: Mothers who were unable to care for their children would now be paid $10 per month for each child by the county, according to a new plan. It would also no longer be "classified as a crime" if a parent was unable to provide support for a child.

The plan was expected to save taxpayers money because the cost of caring for a child at a state institution exceeded that of keeping them at home.

Driver's test: More than 400 Elgin "autoists" joined others from across Illinois in facing a new state law that required a license to drive a motor vehicle.

The test, which would begin with the New Year, was expected to be "technical and cover the applicants knowledge of the machine" as well as consider his or her "character." Drivers would be asked to take their test in Chicago and pay an initial fee of $6 with renewals costing $1.

Church collections: "There has never been an admission fee charged," said the pastor of St. Mary's Church in Elgin in responding to a directive of the Catholic Church that there should be no collection plates at the church doors.

"There has been a collection box at the doors for the convenience of those who attend, but no one has had to feel that they were expected to contribute a dime, I hope."

The method for collecting contributions in the future would be left up to the ushers, the pastor explained. A representative of St. Joseph's parish -- the city's other Catholic church -- said contributions had never been requested at the church doors.

Black List objections: Men added to the city of Elgin's "Black List" -- a roster of those who were not allowed to purchase alcoholic beverages in the city -- had no way to get off the list once they had "remediated themselves," wives of some of the men told the city council.

Several of the councilmen added their support to the argument noting that the list was "a farce" and that it "disgraced" certain residents. The matter was referred to the city attorney for further review.

Healthier Elgin: What could be done to make Elgin a healthier place? In his annual report to the city council, the health officer recommended that the city require a greater distance between chicken coops -- common structures at the time.

He also recommended an isolation hospital for people with contagious diseases and suggested that houses that had been quarantined be fumigated before being occupied again.

The top official also advised residents against keeping horses, cows, and poultry in their basement and requested the removal of outhouses in downtown alleys.

School dancing: There was to be no dancing at Elgin High School functions, the Elgin Board of Education told the student body.

The decision was not a quick one and followed a "lengthy argument of the board."

The response greatly disappointed the junior class who hoped to schedule a dance in conjunction with a football recognition program.

Not to be outdone, the students arranged for their program at a private hall instead.

Santa letters: Do you believe in Santa Claus? That was the question posed to numerous community leaders who had their responses published in the newspaper.

"Of course," said a local doctor. "I have seen him come down the chimney, breeze in the door or appear unexpectedly.

"Some fools have worked themselves into a frenzy doubting Santa Claus because they feel he is only a creature of the imagination. But, when we eliminate imagination from our lives, we leave them dull and monotonous as the desert. Long live Santa Claus and the emotions he stirs in our lives."

Jerry Turnquist covers Elgin history. Reach him at

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