100 years ago: Elgin residents' reactions to sinking of Titanic

  • Retan Hall, shown on the right, opened as a residence hall for Sherman Hospital nursing students in 1912. The main entrance of the hospital on Center Street is on the left.

    Retan Hall, shown on the right, opened as a residence hall for Sherman Hospital nursing students in 1912. The main entrance of the hospital on Center Street is on the left. Courtesy of Sherman Hospital

Updated 4/20/2012 4:20 PM

"Did you hear what the Elgin agent for the White Star Lines said about the Titanic?" "Those nursing students at Sherman Hospital now have their own residence hall." "I'm not sure the Elgin school superintendent is doing the right thing about the sexual hygiene classes."

These are some of the comments people might have made after reading the Elgin newspapers of a century ago. Here's a look at those and other stories that made area headlines in April 1912.

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Titanic aftermath: Elgin residents joined people from across the world in expressing awe at the sinking of the Titanic.

Following the tragedy, Elgin newspaper offices were "besieged with inquiries from those who wanted further information as to whether any local residents were aboard.

John Spiess, local agent for the White Star Line under which the Titanic operated, said, "No one who was bound for this vicinity was aboard the ship as far as I know."

He added that the company would have wired him if this had been the case. Spiess also said that he had considered booking passage on the ship during its return voyage but had not done so.

"A number from Elgin would probably have taken up passage on the new boat sometime in the summer," he explained.

One Elgin woman, who said she thought her brother was on board and that he was bringing her a large sum of money, felt that both he and the money were lost when the boat went down.


Nurses' residence: Retan Hall, the new home for student nurses at Sherman Hospital, officially opened its doors. The building, which was touted as a "model in every respect" contained a study hall or lecture room along with 15 bedrooms for the students.

Located at the southeast corner of Spring and Cooper streets, the building was later demolished for hospital expansion.

No sex education: "Elgin will not emulate the example of the Chicago Public Schools in proposing a sex hygiene course in the public schools," said the Elgin school superintendent.

"I have never seen a book on sex hygiene that is fit to be used as a textbook in the public schools."

The top official proposed instead to have local physicians give presentations to the parents and they, in turn, could present the material to their son or daughter.

"Elgin High School students are not immoral," he added in justifying his actions.

Short baseball career: Former Elgin baseball player Tommy Tennant found himself living many a young man's dream -- albeit briefly -- when he was advanced to play with the major league St. Louis Browns -- a team that would later become the Baltimore Orioles.


After just two at-bats and no hits, the upstart player was returned to the minor leagues in California.

"Elgin's auburn haired favorite should have appeared on the scene last season instead he was out rolling under the breezes of the Pacific," said a St. Louis newspaper.

"Tommy had the goods, but he came just one year late to land the regular job," added the newspaper.

While his professional experience was short-lived, it put Tennant in unique company as someone from Elgin who advanced to the play major league baseball.

Firearms ban: Saying it was similar to a Chicago law, Elgin adopted regulations limiting the sale of firearms.

Reports said the move, which was part of "a national trend to limit useless sale of deadly weapons" called for dealers to be regulated and that no firearm could be sold without permission from the city. Records were also required to be kept on gun ownership and the information made available to the local police.

Civil War battle remembered: Finally, as the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh during the Civil War passed, several Elginites shared their memories about the conflict that took eight local lives.

"It was one of the most awful battles of the war," said James Palmer a local undertaker. "Our whole brigade was in the 'Hornets' Nest' and had we not been in a dry ravine that formed a natural break work, I would not be here today.

"Those were three or four anxious weeks in little Elgin," said Eugene Clifford who would later become the city's corporation counsel.

Many did not hear for some time about the outcome, he explained. Most of the men involved were younger than 21 years of age and some were younger than 18, he added.


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