To the members of the Elgin Area Historical Society and Museum, it's nothing short of serendipitous that an Elgin National Road Race trophy from 1912 is back in town.
The so-called Illinois Cup won by racer Charles Merz is on display at the Elgin History Museum, along with Merz's racing helmet and goggles, his World War II victory medal and pilot wings, and a few photographs, including one signed by legendary World World I pilot and race car driver Eddie Rickenbacker.
The items were purchased in November at a Maryland auction by a group of 12 members of the historical society and the Fox Valley Model T Club, historical society board member Maurice Dyer said.
The Elgin road races, which ran one to three times a year from 1910 to 1920 (and 1933 to coincide with the World's Fair), was one of the country's major races, Dyer pointed out.
"The racers really appreciated it because of the layout of the track. It was a good, fast track for them," said Jeff White of Elgin, who first spotted the Merz memorabilia in an auction flier.
The flier mentioned an Illinois race, so White magnified the photo on the auction's website and saw the word "Elgin" engraved on the trophy.
White immediately called Dyer, and the two agreed they should pursue it.
"We knew that basically in our lifetime -- I'm 65 -- this is not going to happen again. This is a fluke of nature," White said.
The Elgin National Road Race featured eight trophies over the years, Dyer said.
In addition to the one now in Elgin, the location of only three trophies is known: One is at the Western Reserve Historical Museum in Cleveland, one at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum, and one at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., Dyer said.
The historical society's annual fundraiser was less than a week later, so Dyer and White set out to spread the word and solicit donations from members.
Altogether, the group won the auction with a $13,000 bid, and paid about $15,000 including shipping and auction costs, Dyer said.
The auction lot bought by the donors includes lots of photographs and memorabilia unrelated to Elgin. Dyer said the group will contact other museums to see if they are interested in the items.
White said he's glad Elgin finally has a trophy of its own.
"Here we are in Elgin, Illinois, where the doggone race took place, and all we (had) are some photographs," he said. "And then, lo and behold, the trophy shows up."