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posted: 12/21/2012 4:00 PM

Streetcar hooligan arrested in Elgin, 100 years ago

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The last streetcar to leave the Dundee area for Elgin each night was called the "Owl Car" and some of the "rowdy" behavior that went on in 1912 finally led to an arrest.

Also, many were wondering why tons of food brought by train from Chicago was dumped in a gravel pit east of Elgin.

And, the arrival of an African-American woman to fill a stenographer's job in the city turned out to be far more than an ordinary experience.

Here's a look at those and other stories that made Elgin area news in late 1912.

Longtime weatherman: "This makes fifty years that I have kept the weather records of Elgin, at morning, noon, and night, and I think that I will retire next year," said D.R. Jencks.

The volunteer weather forecaster "took office" in December 1862 and faithfully served the public by recording every rainfall, snowfall, hailstorm, thunderstorm, high wind ever since.

"I hope to find a young man who will take up the work before I retire," he added.

Streetcar rowdies: What is now a rather tranquil section of the bike path along Duncan Avenue between Elgin and East Dundee was far from peaceful a century ago.

Then the route of an interurban streetcar between the two communities, the interurban made news because of the "Owl Car" -- one of the last streetcars to return to Elgin from the Dundee area. The "rowdyism" on board -- particularly involving some who had visited the Dundee area liquor establishments -- finally culminated in the arrest of one of the offenders.

Contaminated food? Was the food contaminated as some officials said, or was it dumped to raise food prices in the Chicago area?

That's what many were wondering after seeing tons of potatoes, meat, fruit and other commodities dumped from a train into a gravel pit east of Elgin.

Newspapers said Chicago officials claimed the food was unfit to eat, but others charged that there was an oversupply of food in the Chicago area and this was being done to maintain prices.

Guards were placed around the property and Elgin area residents were prohibited from taking any of the food. The same practice reportedly occurred during the holiday period the previous year.

Seedy station: It was time for a change in conditions at the downtown waiting station for streetcars, a number of Elgin women told the city's mayor.

"Flirting," "boy and girl hanger-on-ers," "tobacco smoke," and "throwing of dice for cigars" were some of the biggest concerns of the women.

"It's disgusting to even talk about it," said one woman.

"I admit that it's not in the best condition, but we are handicapped," said the company's superintendent.

The official said a new front was being planned for the building which would help the ventilation.

Police blotter: In police news, Elgin police arrested a man who tried to burn down one of the city's churches.

"Bibles are wrong, especially the part about the killing of cattle and the eating of meat," the suspect claimed.

What was probably the city's first car theft occurred with the stealing of a car from the city's downtown -- a vehicle that was later found destroyed by fire in Wing Park on the far west side.

And, a man who tried to enter the city jail several times because one of the prisoners owed him money finally got his wish and was detained in the area by police. Records show the offender was handed a fine several times more than the amount he was trying to collect from his fellow detainee.

African-American hiring: What started out to be a rather ordinary hiring of a new employee at the Elgin State Hospital -- now the Elgin Mental Health Center -- turned into much more when the new arrival was found to be an African-American.

Arriving from downstate with the necessary credentials from the Civil Service board, the young woman appeared "smiling and well pleased with her appointment" as a stenographer. In a short period of time, her co-workers left the office and she was left to work alone.

The hospital superintendent contacted downstate officials who said that the employee had "no right to remain in Elgin, Illinois, if her appointment is not to the satisfaction of the superintendent." The young woman said she planned to remain until provided a similar position elsewhere, but left rather unexpectedly the next day.

Dear Santa: Letters to Santa from several hundred children were published in the newspapers with requests ranging from doll buggies to sleds.

"Don't forget the poor children for if you do not have enough for them do not bring me any," said one girl -- a sentiment repeated by a number of other young people.

Organized by the Salvation Army, a holiday fund was contributed to by many individuals, businesses, and organizations. Over 300 less fortunate children were invited to a party in a downtown hall to see Santa -- a gathering that included many of donors who came to see the expressions on the children's faces.

• Jerry Turnquist writes about Elgin area history. Email him at

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