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updated: 1/30/2012 3:37 PM

Earthquake, divorce rocked Elgin in 1912

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Elgin was rocked by both a sensational divorce as well as an earthquake a century ago. The police department banned three new dances in the city, while the school superintendent said "no" to a new club from forming at the high school.

Here's a look at those and other stories that were making Elgin area newspapers in January 1912.

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Messy divorce: Love could be complicated in the good old days, too. A suit demanding $30,000 for "alienation of affection" was filed by the first wife of an Elgin dentist against the man's second wife.

The dentist of 20 years "gave society a thrill," according to the papers, when he separated from his wife two years earlier. During the divorce proceedings his first wife reportedly did not contest the case, but, three months after her former husband's marriage to a wealthy widow she filed a damage suit.

"I will make a fight," the dentist said. "The whole matter is one of persecution and even blackmail. My first wife received everything," he added.

'Fight Club' in Elgin?: There would be no boxing at Elgin High School, according to a directive from the school superintendent. The top official said he received a request from a physical education instructor asking permission to organize a boxing club.

"I refused to give permission for the formation of a boxing club," he said. When four boys were seen boxing in the school rumors circulated that the club had been organized anyway.

"The boys were just having a little fun," said the teacher. "The superintendent has forbidden boxing and there will be none," he explained.

Dances banned: The newly popular dances, the "Grizzly Bear," "Texas Tommy" and "Mommy's Slide" would not be permitted in the city, Elgin police said.

Any dance that involves hugging is a violation of city ordinances and would be punishable by disorderly conduct fines ranging from $4 to $200, they explained. Officials added that anyone wanting to do a dance like this should do so at home and "behind drawn curtains."

Police alarms: Faster response times in apprehending criminals in the downtown area was touted by Elgin police after the installation of a special alarm device.

Similar to an emergency system at the police station in city hall a short distance away, the new system at Chicago Street and Douglas Avenue consisted of both a flashing red light and a large gong that was activated in emergencies. Officers hearing or seeing the alarm were expected to call the station from the nearest telephone.

Mild earthquake: A mild earthquake rocked Elgin and parts of northern Illinois causing alarm but not any significant damage.

Buildings trembled in the city and dishes fell off shelves, prompting scores of calls to the police and newspapers. One bowler who had just released his ball during a game had a section of plaster fall on him prompting stitches to close the wound -- though the story was silent on whether the shaking helped topple his pins.

Some residents first thought the shaking was due to an explosion of dynamite in a downtown hardware store -- a product these stores were able sell at the time.

Police news: In other police news, the desire for young boys to see motion pictures and purchase cigarettes prompted various young men to break into slot machines in downtown businesses to steal coins.

Taking a less harsh approach than some might have expected, the police chief said, "the aim of their department is to help the people."

"I believe that the police department cooperating with the parents of wayward boys can do more to make them good citizens by giving them another chance rather than sending them to the reform school."

The police chief also showed his compassion when a man was arrested on charges of stealing chickens. The top official made arrangements for the man's destitute family -- one of many reported in the city at the time -- to receive free milk deliveries until the offender was able to obtain employment.

Mortality report: Citing it as the lowest death rate in 10 years, the city clerk released his annual report of deaths in Elgin.

Tuberculosis, pneumonia, heart trouble and cancer were among the leading causes of death followed by diphtheria and typhoid fever. Rounding out the totals were deaths from railroad accidents, alcoholism, and electrocution. Nearly one in 10 deaths was of children younger than 5 years old, while there were none for people older than 90 -- an age attained by far fewer people than today.

Made in Elgin: Finally, which of these products wasn't made in Elgin in 1912? Was it mattresses, beer, soap, voting machines or sausage? The answer is -- all were!

In order to showcase items made in the city, the Elgin Commercial Club -- now the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce -- was preparing for a three day show in February.

Designed to help residents as well as those outside the community realize the city was famous for more than "Elgin" watches and Borden's condensed milk, the club planned to have exhibitors featuring 59 of the more than 100 products made in Elgin.

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