How Elgin joined nation in celebrating end of World War II
"It was the biggest celebration I ever remember in downtown Elgin," said lifelong area resident Paul Jordan of V-J Day or Victory in Japan Day.
"We were all glad the war was finally over and people were so happy," he added of the momentous event celebrating the end to World War II -- an event now marking its 70th anniversary.
Jordan, who was a young teen at the time, said he joined thousands of people for the impromptu celebration in the city's central business district on the evening of Tuesday, Aug. 14, 1945. It was an event that continued into the early morning hours of the next day and not unlike many others that occurred across the country.
"A friend of mine and I arrived in Fountain Square, near the Tower Building, and it was wall-to-wall people. Somehow I ended up climbing on top of a city bus and rode it a few blocks south to the Grove Theater, across from the current Festival Park. There were many others who did the same thing," Jordan said, smiling.
Retired contractor Wally Wetzel, who was then a young boy, says he vividly remembers the enormous crowd on V-J Day.
"I was there selling "extras" of the newspapers. There were just so many people it was unbelievable," he said.
Both men said they recalled the historic day like it was yesterday -- the faces, the noise, and the festive mood.
Newspapers of the time recorded that downtown events drew all ages from older citizens to young children. The Elgin VFW Drum and Bugle Corps -- an award-winning group that hadn't played in more than a decade -- led several impromptu parades. Another was led by the city's mayor.
Tons of scrap paper was thrown on the streets and firecrackers were commonplace. All businesses that sold liquor were closed as well as most other stores.
A baseball game spontaneously broke out at Chicago Street and Douglas Avenue and the area was also the site of a snake dance. A few makeshift sheds in the area were lit on fire and quickly extinguished by firefighters. The incident was repeated later in the evening.
The next day the mayor and police chief complimented the community for an orderly celebration. At least four churches held thanksgiving services on the same evening including one that was open to the entire community. In addition to the announcement of peace, citizens rejoiced in learning that there was an immediate end to the rationing of canned fruit and canned vegetables and gasoline.
And, while much of the city was celebrating in the downtown, news of peace came differently to Ellen Weidner who lived on the city's northeast side.
"One of my neighbors shot off a cannon to celebrate the end of the war. I went and got my mother and told her I thought we were being bombed," she said.
Weidner says she soon learned that quite the opposite was true and the nation could finally look forward to peace. It was a happy time that was repeated across the city, nation, and world, and a day these Elginites say they will never forget.
About the photographs accompanying this story
The photos in this story were taken by Elgin photographer Ferris Moorhouse. Operating in the 1940s and 1950s from an upstairs studio in Elgin's downtown, Moorhouse focused primarily on businesses, horse shows, and weddings.
Like many others photographers, Moorhouse didn't want to miss the opportunities on V-J Day and headed out onto the streets with his Speed Graphic Camera -- commonly known as a "press camera." It was a slow and cumbersome device by today's standards and the photographer had be sure the shot was just right since it would take time to get ready for the next one.
After Moorhouse's death in the 1990s, his pictures passed to his son, Dale, who has since shared them with the Elgin History Museum.