'Vicious dogs,' 'open gambling' make Elgin news in 1910

Published: 7/28/2010 12:00 AM

"Vicious dogs," misuse of police badges, and "open gambling" were just a few of the stories making Elgin area news a century ago.

City officials also said "yes" to a live boxing match, while disallowing a filmed one. And, the Wing Park pool - not normally a place associated with controversy - became just the opposite as who could swim there became a matter of contention. Here's a look at those and other stories that made area headlines in July 1910.

Banned in Elgin: "The city can ban and show what it sees fit," said Elgin corporation counsel in disallowing a film of the controversial Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries heavyweight fight.

Filmed in a sweltering 100-degree heat in Reno, Nv., the contest pitted former heavyweight champion Jim Jeffries against Jack Johnson - an African-American. The fight was stopped after 14 rounds as Jeffries lay on the canvas receiving the "10-count" and Johnson became the new heavyweight champion of the world.

"It is degrading, demoralizing, and calculated to produce racial hatred," said the president of the Elgin Y.M.C.A. of the movie.

Unrest across the country eventually led to passage of federal law banning the transportation of such films across state lines.

Live fight: If they couldn't see a fight in the theaters, then watching one live would be better.

With "beer flowing freely," over 300 men gathered around a makeshift ring along the east side of the Fox River just north of town to watch a South Elgin fighter engage in a "grueling bout" with an Elgin man. The contest ended as a draw in the sixth round with the combatants splitting about $50 collected from the onlookers.

Those in attendance consisted primarily of Elgin bartenders and other employees of the city's liquor establishments - businesses required to be closed on Sundays.

Not so special: City employees carrying "special stars" were going to have them recalled, noted Elgin officials.

The practice of issuing police badges came under fire when it was discovered that they were possessed by several minors who were city employees. City officials said they would be issuing "special buttons" instead which would allow some city employees to ride the streetcar system for free - one of the major benefits of possessing "special stars." Most employees of the sewer department would still be allowed to keep their "special stars" to keep order among various "labor gangs" working under their charge.

The right to swim: "We want to use the Wing Park pool too," was the message a number of women sent to the Elgin Park's Commissioners.

They stated women were just as "expert" at swimming as many men and should not need to remain "silently and humbly at home" while the "men enjoy a plunge in some cool swimming pool."

The concerned women asked for "dressing rooms" just for them and that one day a week at the pool be dedicated to just female swimmers. While the park commissioners said they would do "whatever is in their power" to meet the requests, their delay in acting prompted some women to use their shawls to set up makeshift changing rooms.

It's a gamble: "Open Gambling" going on in Elgin? "No," said the Elgin police chief, but the top official did acknowledge that, "Gambling houses are about the hardest thing we police have to deal with."

"The police wouldn't have to look very far to find a half dozen places where poker games are run openly every night of the week."

Bark and bite: "Complaints about vicious dogs have been frequent at the station," said Elgin's mayor.

"It is dangerous for dogs to run loose without a muzzle and I am taking no chances with mad dogs," he added. Dog owners have had since the first of the year to get a license and only about a third have done so, he said. To enforce the law, the mayor requested the police chief put on extra police manpower.

Ready, set ...: Finally, preparations were moving quickly ahead for the Elgin Road Races - contests that were attracting the nation's finest drivers and mechanics.

Planned for late August on a eight-and-a-half mile course on roads west of Elgin, the races even saw the donation of a large $4,000 silver trophy by the Elgin National Watch Company to be awarded to the winner. The recognition of the Elgin races by the American Automobile Association was said to put the contests on par with the highly regarded Vanderbilt Races held on Long Island. Just what happened at these exciting contests will be reported next month in this column.