December 7, 2015 Newsletter: Library Feature, Bigolin column, Oleson column, Party Line

10 tidbits you may not know about DeKalb’s Library


Edith Craig with historic painting.

DeKalb Public Library Communications Manager Edit Craig took time out from her frenetic schedule, rounding up 150,000 books, magazines, DVDs, CDs and other materials, to answer a few questions last week.
The library closed Monday (today) for the longest spell in its history—six weeks— since it opened 85 years ago in 1930. When they complete the move into their brand new $25 million expanded facility, they will triple their current size to a whopping 65,000 square feet. That is, once they complete the renovation of the original building and re-open that.
So I asked her some off-the-top-of-my-head questions (Answers are condensed so no direct quotes used. Words in parens are my comments):
QUESTION:Will the “secret” stairway hidden behind a door in the fiction room still be there?
ANSWER: It will have to go away because they must add a ramp and other improvements to that room to meet ADA requirements, which will be the new history-genealogy reference room when it is finally renovated next year. (Hopefully by August 2016.)
Q:Where will the new time capsule be placed?
ANSWER: The metal box about twice the volume of two shoe boxes will be placed in the wall next to the fireplace in the lobby of the new addition. It will contain various library-related memorabilia to be chosen by the library committee. Two items already guaranteed space are the winning poems written about Harry Dumpty. Youth winner Reagan Vanderbleek and adult winner Arlene Neher will hopefully read their entries at the grand opening next August. They plan to suggest it be opened in 50 or 75 years. By the way, that fireplace is LED lighted, meaning you can’t roast marshmallows in it. And they are leaving space above the fireplace for an eventual mural in case some artist wants to donate his or her talent.
Q: Who is Harry Dumpty?
ANSWER: He is the sculpture outside the new main entrance that looks just like Humpty Dumpty, but is only a cousin. (And he won’t fall down and break his crown because he is securely affixed. But you better watch out for thieves like the culprits who stole the painted Huskie awhile back. He was recovered and is now safely inside the glass doors of the fiction room.)
Q: What about that high tech book checkout system I heard about?
ANSWER: With the new Radio Frequency ID scanners, people will just swipe their card, then put the stack of books or other materials in a pile for the scanner to do its thing. (No human clerks involved. That doesn’t mean clerks will be out of a job, just repurposed to help staff the greatly expanded space. There will be video cams everywhere [not in washrooms though] to offer more security than in the past.)
Q: Why didn’t you get the full $11.6 million Secretary of State Jesse White supposedly brought with him last winter?
ANSWER: They have only allotted us $7 million of that so far and the remainder is held up by the state’s budget fight downstate, hopefully to be released by sometime in 2016. But it is there, in the bank earning interest for the state.
Q: What’s all this talk about raising taxes and TIF funds being necessary to help with the buildout.
ANSWER: That is all being worked out with the city council, city staff, and library officials right now.
Q: What new features will we see when you re-open?
ANSWER: Responding to community input gathered at several public sessions in 2012, we are adding three large meeting rooms to rent out, three private study rooms in the children’s section to check out for up to three hours at a time, and another four for adults once the old section is remodeled. Some high tech features include a computer lab, a collaboration room where a group can link up their laptops and display their projects on a large wall-mounted screen, and even teleconference (Skype). The library also bought three 3-D printers that can produce small objects like plastic models and clever designs. One is a plasma printer, even more high tech. We also bought a laster cutter to cut out various shapes. (They already have three full-time IT professionals on staff who can help the public learn how to use these new tech marvels.)
Q: With all the innovations and automated checkout systems will the hours be expanded, maybe 24/7 like fast food outlets.
ANSWER: We only plan to maintain our same hours at this time.
Q: What interesting artifacts and unusual finds have you discovered?
ANSWER: In one of our existing vaults a painting that looked like a Picasso was found in storage, but it is not his. Workers also uncovered green terrazzo flooring in the basement where the  new HVAC system will be installed. It will be preserved but the public will not have access to the utility room down there.
Q: What about the rare books and old plat maps, etc.
ANSWER: We found an old plat book and scanned it to place on our website for the public to peruse. But we have taken rare materials to the NIU Regional History Center and Archives for them to handle. (I already knew Dee Coover will keep the soon-to-be-restore original 1893 librarian’s desk for her new office, so didn’t ask Edith about that.)
After fielding all my questions she returned to the monumental task of tagging every item with the new bar code so those checkout robots can do their thing when they re-open Jan. 18. A professional moving company has been contracted to physically pack and haul all the contents of the old building over to the new side in three to four days.
Now something else exciting: Almburg Auctioneers will be at the library this Saturday, Dec. 12 to conduct a public sale of all the antiquated shelves and furniture, plus some other office-type items, from 10 a.m. to noon. You can get a sneak preview Friday Dec. 11 from 9 a.m. until noon.
Before leaving, I took a photo of Edith next to an original oil painting with quite a local history. It seems Ivan Prall had a photo of a hobo camp near his former home on Dodge Avenue in DeKalb by the railroad (and coal chute) taken in 1938. It is such an historic scene that he commissioned an NIU artist John Porter to reproduce it as a painting and then donated the artwork to the library in 2008. Ivan is now at Barb City Manor and I should go visit him to learn more about the story behind the hobo camp.
See you all at the ribbon-cutting on January 18. As you climb the steps, give Harry Dumpty a rub for good luck!
—Interview by Barry Schrader


Downtown DeKalb and Barbed Wire


Mike Mooney car dealership building at 204 N. 4th Street.


By columnist Steve Bigolin

Both the team of Joseph Glidden and Isaac Ellwood, as well as their rival Jacob Haish, started the mass production of barbed wire fencing in buildings located in downtown DeKalb.  The former building still exists although the latter does not.
When Haish arrived here in 1853 he erected a long, narrow, two-story wooden structure to serve as his carpenter shop, as he operated as both a lumber dealer and contractor for 20 years.  He would later convert the top floor into his wire factory.  The building stood in the 500 block of East Lincoln Highway, on the south side of the street, approximately where KJ’s tavern is located today at 518.  Its use changed many times over the years, and it was finally torn down in 1936, making it one of the downtown’s oldest edifices, and it looked the part.
The Glidden-Ellwood partnership put up their first factory on the east side of South 2nd Street, adjacent to the railroad, in 1875.  This was known as the Barb Fence Company.  It remained in operation until 1881, when the mammoth works of the I. L. Ellwood Manufacturing Co. came online.  After 1881 the South 2nd Street plant became the Superior Barb Wire Co., run by Isaac’s older brother, Hiram.  At an uncertain time the building was greatly enlarged, and eventually divided into offices and shops, with the upper portion of its main facade covered in aluminum siding.
I.L. Ellwood Co. extended across two square blocks north of the railroad, between 4th, 6th, Locust and Oak streets.  North 5th Street’s first two blocks were vacated by the city in order to facilitate construction of the complex, and as a result ever since has started at the 300 block.  Locust Street from the 4th to 6th, according to old-timers, was not a public thoroughfare for years, but part of the factory’s property, with train tracks bisecting it.  The warehouse was on the south side of Locust, and stood until the late 1970’s, an ancient-looking brick structure as I recall.  The 4th Street end of the factory was not its main entrance either; 6th St. actually was, that section being the Gatehouse.  The doorway on North 4th dates from the building’s conversion into a car dealership after World War II.   Original brickwork survives along the north side, off Oak Street.
Jacob Haish took until 1881 to retire use of his carpenter shop as his wire factory. He erected a two-story brick building on the north side  of the 500 block of East Lincoln Highway at that time, extending  from 6th to almost 5th Street.  After the turn of the 20th Century it grew to three floors, which it remained until a storm damaged it in the 1920’s.  When Haish retired in 1916 the plant became Nehring Electrical Works.  The City of DeKalb purchased it in 1979, and it was demolished for the McDonald’s restaurant now there.  The late Paul M. Nehring and I (Steve Bigolin) sued unsuccessfully to save the building.
That portion of I. L. Ellwood Manufacturing Co. which had been various car dealerships is currently for sale or lease – some 60,000 square feet.
—Steve Bigolin




By Doug Oleson, seasoned columnist

Is there anything as beautiful or inspiring as Christmas music? Practically every musician from Nat King Cole to Bob Dylan and Doris Day to Lady Ga Ga have tried their hand at it.
Personally, I prefer the old traditional Christmas hymns the best. As familiar as they are to us, just how much do we know about some of our favorites?  Just the other day I ran across a book, “The Spirit of Christmas,” by Virginia Reynolds in which she explores the history of many of them.
“Joy to the World,” for instance, was written by Isaac Watts in 1719, based on Psalm 98. It was one of more than 600 hymns the English minister penned in his lifetime. Lowell Mason, the first music teacher in an American school, wrote the music for it. He often referred to it as “Antioch,” the Syrian city where Jesus’ disciples were first called Christians.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I always get chills when I hear this Christmas Eve.
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!” was originally intended for Easter when Charles Wesley wrote it in 1739. Wesley, who co-founded the Methodist Church, wrote over 4,000 hymns. Several years later, in 1840, an organist named Felix Mendelssohn put the words to music in an unforgettable holiday classic.
Whenever I hear it, I can’t help thinking of the Charlie Brown Christmas TV special, Both are personal favorites.
One of the more popular Christmas hymns, “O Come All Ye Faithful,” was written by John Frances Wade, a Roman Catholic, in Duoay, France, in 1740. it was often referred to as “The Portuguese Hymn.” John Reading wrote the music a century later, in 1840.
Surprisingly, the music to many of the hymns we enjoy today were not added until many years after the words were written.
Perhaps the most beautiful hymn of all is “Silent Night.” Joseph Mohr penned the words to this classic in 1816, two years before Franz Gruber wrote the music for it. For many years, there was a folk legend that Mohr, a village priest in the little Austrian village of Obendorf, wrote the hymn at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve when the church’s organ broke down, which apparently isn’t true, Reynolds claims it was first performed on Christmas Eve, 1818, in St. Nicholas’ Church.
When Mohr passed away, he donated all his wealth to charity.
“O Holy Night” was composed by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure in 1847, the same year he persuaded his friend Adolphe-Charles Adam to contribute the music. At first, the hymn was denounced by a French bishop as “a lack of musical taste and total absence of the spirit of religion.” Fortunately, others did not agree.
Edmund Hamilton Sears, a Unitarian minister and graduate of Harvard’s Divine School, wrote the words for “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” in 1849. A year later, Richard Storrs Willis came up with its enchanting melody. Ironically, the two men never met.
Besides a very popular Christmas hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” also has one of the more interesting stories as to how it came into being. On Christmas Eve in 1866, Phillip Brooks was walking over the same stones in Bethlehem as the Holy Family, trying to imagine what they went through. He was so moved, he penned this classic hymn for a children’s Sunday School class two years later. At his request, church organist Lewis H. Redner came up with the music for it.
Often referred to as “Luther’s Cradle Hymn,” it is believed that Martin Luther sang “Away in a Manger” to his own children during the 15th Century. No one really knows who actually wrote the words since it first appeared anonymously in a Lutheran publication, “Little Children’s Book for School and Family” in 1885.
Interestingly, when Franz Schubert penned “Ave Maria” in 1825, he intended it to be a secular piece of music. Little did he know.
No one is certain exactly when “The First Noel” was actually composed. Some say it may actually date back to the 13th Century, making it one of the oldest known hymns. The first known recorded version of it appeared in 1853 in William Sandys’ “Christmas Carols.”
In the same vein, the genesis of “Angels We Have Heard on High” also isn’t clear, although there are legends that Pope Telesphorus ordered a version of it sung every Christmas Eve, beginning in the Second Century, which would make it even older. The version we know today is actually a combination of two different parts that were joined together in the 19th Century.
Another very old hymn is “Good Christian Men, Rejoice.” Possibly dating back to the 14th Century, worshipers at the Moravian Mission in Bethlehem, Penn. sang the carol in 13 different languages in 1745, including Dutch, Latin, Greek and even Mohawk.
For those who might prefer a little more modern Christmas music with a little twist, they might want to listen to: “The Bell That Wouldn’t Jingle” by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, “Come on Christmas, Christmas Come On” by Ringo Starr, “”Christmas Island” by Bob Dylan, “Father Christmas” by the Kinks, “Gabriel’s Message” by Sting, “Birthday Card at Christmas” by Jethro Tull, “Christmas is Here” by the cast of Saturday Night Live, and “Santa Claus and His Old Lady” by Cheech and Chong.
I’m only mentioning them, not recommending any.
Whatever style you might enjoy, Christmas music is still the most beautiful and inspiring there is.
—Doug Oleson


From the Party Line…..(as overheard by Barry Schrader)


The best news I got all week came from a Page 2 column Saturday by Editor Eric Olson in the Daily Chronicle. He revealed that a company had digitally scanned all the Chronicles back into the 1890s up to 2004 and they are now online to peruse. and you can get a free week’s trial. There is an annual fee if you want longer access, but the price is well worth it. Go to and search for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle archives.
I went online to search, using Ney Grange as a sample. Starting in 1930 the Grange was mentioned in nearly 50 articles in 85 years. What a great treasure trove of information! There is already free access to the Sycamore True Republican archives online, made possible by the Joiner History Room, so now we have a second great resource at our fingertips, reachable from the comfort of home via our smart phone or laptop.
Moving on, I ran into Brian Bemis at a holiday party the other day and lamented how they had four or five Hondas stolen. The police report in the paper said somehow they obtained keys and just drove them off the lot overnight. Seems Honda Civics are the Number One target of car thieves these days. I heard that Sycamore police stopped one suspicious driver, but he took off at a high rate of speed. They have found one car, but who knows where the other four will end up, probably parted out by a chop shop or even disassembled and shipped overseas for re-assembly.
I recently overheard Mario Fontana telling his Sycamore Rotary table-mates about his “extreme winter golfing” and had to call and ask him more. It seems he has taken part in winter golf matches in another city downstate and so came up with the idea of drilling a small hole halfway through his balls, then gluing in a tiny colored streamer (like an icicle on a Christmas tree I guess) so it could be found in the snow. He said it worked very well for him, but shortened the ball’s flight. Now there’s an extremely dedicated golfer.
Then at the Ney Grange meeting last month I learned that my old schoolmate from G-K days Roxy (Nelson) Carey had lost her beloved horse Rosie who died at age 25. She thought that would be her last horse. But then her daughter showed her a Halflinger named Major that is four-years-old that has been trained by the Amish to pull a cart. The deal was made and now Roxy is “back in the saddle again” at age 79 and loving every minute of it. You may see her being pulled by Major in the next G-K Days parade I bet.
I fondly recall Roxy and her sister Pinky riding by our house on Baseline Road in the early 1950s and stopping to let me stroke the noses of their mounts. I think I even got to ride once, holding onto Roxy or Pinky for dear life as they galloped down the road. Their grandfather, Doc Corson, lived up the hill from our country home, and was also a horse lover. I already told the story in one of my columns how he was the last farmer in the county to farm solely with horses. I got to ride the hayrack once in awhile when they clip-clopped past our place.
If you drive by the corner of North Fourth and Lincoln Highway in DeKalb this week you will notice a newly-installed post near the corner. It will soon be topped by the Winged Ear historical marker that is moving there from First and Lincoln, after a flap with the Veterans organization over infringing on their memorial park. I hear that RFD-TV broadcasters Orion Samuelson and Max Armstrong will be in town Saturday to film inside the DeKalb Methodist Church and maybe the marker as well, even interview some DAAHA (DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association) officers. I need to get Max’s new book “Stories from the Heartland” so he can sign it for me. I already read Orion’s life story.
Of course if you don’t want to read about agriculture, there is always Cindy Crawford’s new book “Becoming” released this year as she was about to turn 50 on Feb. 20. It contains some stories about her early days in DeKalb.
I wanted to experience the ambience of a real bookstore, since Barnes and Noble shut down here a year ago, so stopped by the Woodfield Mall last week enroute back from the airport where we had dropped off our son. To my utter dismay they informed me that NO bookstores are left there since Borders closed. What is this world coming to?
Speaking of books, I sat next to Allan Aves at the Congressman Kinzinger event last week. It reminded me he had wanted my Volume 2 of columns for his granddaughter who is pictured inside. So now it is in the mail, I promise Allan. By the way, both editions (2010 and 2015) are on sale this month for a special combined price of $30 for those who can’t think of anything better to give their grandparents or even grandkids. They are available at Lehans in DeKalb, plus Sweet Earth and Sycamore Antiques in the county seat; also a few at the Genoa museum and Oak Crest gift shop. If you reside in the southern part of the county and want a set, just call me.
—Barry Schrader, DeKalb County Life editor
Oops from last week…
Editors always worry that there will be an error or typo in each publication, AND this blog is no exception. Last week I spelled Robert Kauffman’s name wrong in one place, then called him “Robert Howard” in another sentence. Howard is his father’s name. In the photo cutline (description) of Steve Bigolin leading a downtown tour, I placed him in front of the Hearing Help Express building, when he was actually standing next to the old Chronicle building across the street. The photo I had originally planned to use showed him with his tour group at the Hovis (former Elks Lodge) building. No big deal, but I like to be accurate! Please point out any errors to me every time you spot one. I may run a contest to see who can find the most….
—Barry Schrader  can be contacted at


History Mystery Photos



The top photo shows an anvil on the ground. Where is it located and who owned it?
The second photo shows three DeKalb Park District employees stopping work to pose for the camera. Where are they and what will be installed there?

See answers at bottom of posting.


FAV Foto of the Week

Ringling Brothers Circus in Chicago, Ill. on Nov. 24, 2015. Curtis Clegg

Always looking for great photos among the local photographers, I asked Curtis Clegg to send me one of his favorites from the Ringling Bros. Circus he recently photographed. Here is a great action photo of a woman being shot out of a cannon high in the air. She landed across the ring on a giant air mattress, so the stunt went as planned.
If you have a favorite shot you are willing to share, email it to me at with an explanation.


Answers to History Mystery Photos

The anvil is at the gravesite of Phineas Vaughan, DeKalb’s first blacksmith, in the Evergreen Cemetery at 7th and Taylor streets. He requested that it be placed on his grave.
Second photo shows (from left) Andrew Sarver, Eric Pinter and David Kessen from the park district installing the post on which the Winged Ear historical marker will be placed later this week. It is being moved from Veterans Memorial Park at First and Lincoln to this park at 4th and Lincoln Highway. The easiest way to get close enough to read the inscription is to drive onto Locust, go behind the Unitarian Fellowship and park on the north side of the building.


                         That’s all folks!


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