Commas aren't important? Not so, said Elgin attorney in 1910

Published: 2/8/2010 12:04 AM

Whoever said commas aren't important didn't hear what happened in Elgin a century ago this month.

Also making news was a dismissed teacher who claimed she was entitled to keep her job, a statue some said should not be erected, and a divorced woman who might have been taken advantage of one last time.

Here's a look at those stories and others that made area headlines in February, 1910.

Proper punctuation: Who says commas aren't important? When the city's liquor laws were rewritten three years, a comma was left out of a portion of the ordinance making the regulations void, said one attorney.

The law in question required allowed liquor establishments to remain open until 11 p.m. instead of 10 p.m., and prohibited them from opening before 5 a.m. or on Election Days. The city attorney said he would be reviewing the challenge and offering an opinion on the matter.

Groundhog Day: Without today's sophisticated weather equipment, people from a century ago put more faith in Groundhog Day predictions, right? Not so, according to D.R. Jencks who had been keeping Elgin weather records for nearly 45 years.

"It has been my observation that the Groundhog's Day prophesy is not a certainty," Jencks said. "The Groundhog business is only a story."

Using the groundhog to predict the weather was of no more value than trying to do so by observing the phases of the moon, he explained.

Unhappy teacher: Upset that she was being released from her job, a recently dismissed teacher addressed the Board of Education for over 50 minutes asking that she be allowed to keep her job.

The staff member's troubles reportedly began at an east side elementary school when she ordered the principal out of her classroom. From here, she was transferred to a west side school and had difficulty getting along with another staff member. The teacher was then moved back to another east side school, and following a poor job performance was told she was being relocated to northeast side school - an offer she refused.

"In as much as she has terminated her contract by her own action, she will not be reinstated," said one board member.

Confederate statue: "With scarcely an exception," Elgin's Civil War veterans, most of whom were members of the local chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic, expressed their distain with the proposal to erect a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Washington. D.C.

Lee was viewed as a "traitor" by 99 out of every 100 men who served in the Union Army, the story said.

"So long as survivors of the war live in the north or south, the feeling of both sections of the country will not be wiped out," it added.

Unionism dead: While union membership across the country was gaining strength, just the opposite was true at the Elgin National Watch Company.

"Unionism at the factory is dead," said a newspaper about the city's largest employers. The union, which represented primarily men in the machine and tool and areas of the factory, never attained a large membership. It was credited however, with bargaining a nine-hour workday, and was working for a weekly pay period and a 10 percent raise at the time of its demise.

Mind reading: Did he have a sixth sense? An Elgin woman, who had made the news earlier when she asked for a divorce from her husband because he possessed powers beyond normal humans, faced one last hurdle while in court.

The man somehow used his powers to find money she had hidden in a flour sack in the wall and she wanted it back, she told the judge. Her divorce was granted, but there was no requirement for the husband to return any money the wife said was hers.

Dairy woes: Elgin was known as a dairy capital of the world a century ago, but how were those trying to make a living in the business faring?

"In my first five years, I made about $200 profit a year," said one well-known dairy farmer. "The next year I came out about even. You can see for yourself. I don't spend much on clothes. I do not drink or smoke or have any expensive habits of any kind," he added. "It is necessary for man to be a pretty good judge of cattle to stay in business at all."

Famous Elginite: What kind of celebrities called Elgin home a century ago? One was billiard champion Harry P. Cline, a former Elginite, who won the 18.2 Balkline Billiard's World Championship in 1910.

Cline, who had faced Chicagoan Calvin Demarest for the title, competed in several games which were described as "distressingly slow" by the newspapers.

Differing from some other games, "18.2 billiards" requires a player to hit at least one object ball past a balkline - or line parallel to the end of the table - located at 18 inches from each rail or side of the table, after one or two points have been scored.

Funeral bargains: Finally, while the cost of living was rising steadily in 1910, there was one expense that was going down - the cost of dying.

Funerals in Elgin cost less than they did before and the price was continuing to drop.

What was accounting for the decrease? Funeral directors, who once concentrated on more elaborate Victorian-era funerals, were now offering lower-priced options. This was particularly touted as a boon to low income families who were greatly disadvantaged by the higher prices.

Jerry Turnquist writes about Elgin area history. Contact him at