Saturday, April 23, 2022

The Wright Brothers Visit to Aurora, IL 1910 4th of July Weekend

The Wright Brothers in Aurora!

Back in 1910, William Howard Taft was our 27th U.S. President, the "Fight of the Century" between Jack Johnson and James J. Jeffries was happening in Reno, Nevada (Jack Johnson won by TKO), and locally, the Sherer Building and the Fox Theater Building were opening. Also, the new concrete bridges were built and about to open.

"Aurora's New Bridges to be Dedicated Next Monday"
Beacon News July 2, 1910
"This view is taken from the upper story of the
Grand Army Memorial Hall on the island and is looking
East, showing the new bridge spanning the channel of the East
branch of the Fox. The bridge over the west channel, just
completed is an exact duplicate"

1910 Aurora, IL
RPPC Tracy Duran Collection

What else was going on in Aurora? Well, let's go back to the first week of July 1910. Many folks from all around visited Aurora to see the downtown decorated with flags and patriotic bunting. Along with this beautiful sight of patriotism for the 4th of July, people from all around came to the Aurora Driving Park, located where the Riddle Highlands subdivision is now off of Lake Street and Illinois Ave.

Monday, February 21, 2022

A Unique Book by Dr. Bernard J. Cigrand

 With today being President's Day, I wanted to share a very unique piece of my collection.  This book, "Lincoln - Prophet and Patriot" was written by local dentist Dr. Bernard J. Cigrand (1866-1932). 

The book was self-published in 1925. Dr. Cigrand is best known ad "The Father of Flag Day" for his 30 years of advocacy leading to President Woodrow Wilson declaring the holiday in 1916. This book is an assemblage of Dr. Cigrand's  writing and poems in Lincoln's life and career accompanied by numerous illustrations and plates in various forms along with facsimiles and tipped in articles on newsprint. 

This volume specially dedicated to his friend Floyd Eckart, an attorney residing in Woodstock, IL.  There is a signed postcard from Dr. Cigrand to Floyd E. Eckart telling him the book was at the bindery and would be arriving soon that is dated December 1, 1931... just a few months before Dr. Bernard Cigrand passed away on May 16, 1932.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Al Capone in Aurora... or was he?

Al Capone
Not caring since he's smarter 
than the cops! 
Or so he thought...
808 North Lake Street
Aurora, IL

What does this building at 808 North Lake Street have what no other building in Aurora has (that we know of)?  A direct line of history to the one and only.... Al Capone!

In 1931, the court proceedings were underway for Al Capone for Tax Evasion. It was found that this building was part of Al Capone's bootlegging syndicate. Several men were arrested for their involvement with Al Capone's bootlegging syndicate in Aurora from this location. So, the next time you're driving down Lake Street and go past this house, just remember that it is a history with Al Capone.

June 6, 1931
Decatur Herald
Federal agents had broken up an enterprise that was attributed to Alphonse "Scarface" Capone which distributed 10,000 gallons of alcohol weekly to the Midwest and operated a "protection system" under which liquor could be transported over hundreds of miles of highways. 
There were 20 men connected with the scheme and had been arrested in raids at the Aurora, Illinois headquarters (808 N. Lake Street) and also in Waterloo, Iowa.

The Aurora syndicate had been under the leadership of Mike Myers, a Capone lieutenant and had been operating for four years. Since November of 1930, there were undercover agents working to obtain the evidence on which arrests were made.

High-grade alcohol was made by the combining of re-cooking moonshine whisky. The sale prices were from $3.00 to $4.00 a gallon (around $50.00 in 2021 currency). 

Monday, October 18, 2021

"Soul Seekers"


Soul Seekers
Tracy Duran

She was sitting in a dark room with a few candles lit so that she could imagine. Not sure why he never showed up and she couldn’t understand why he went away for so long. Then the sing-songy whistle comes about in the air again.  Then she hears the singing that always follows. It's always the same song when she thinks of him.

♫I follow the Moskva

Down to Gorky Park

Listening to the wind of change...♫

The drone of the notes helps her meditate to where she sees his face. Just his face in the candlelight. She listens for the song again. The song faded away. It feels like it has been 10 maybe 15 minutes, then she hears it again very softly.

♫The future's in the air

Can feel it everywhere

I'm blowing with the wind of change...♫

She can now see him, sitting on the floor just several feet in front of her with the candles around him. He has his eyes closed tightly and he is calling for her.

“Lizzie, can you hear me?” he says in a hushed, nervous tone.

She tries to speak but she feels choked up. She can’t believe that she is hearing his voice. The music fades along with his image.

It feels like an hour has passed. She's concentrating so intently to have him come back. She thinks of him constantly to try to get her into his mind. Suddenly the whistling starts again. She feels very cold yet electric at the same time. She feels like she has more energy to talk. She's not as nervous as she was before.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Sears, Roebuck & Co.'s Aurora History - The Beginning to the Finale

Sears, Roebuck & Co.~Aurora, Il  ~ 1928-2020

Sears, Roebuck & Co. 
Broadway & Downer
The ending of an era. 

Sears, Roebuck & Co. was first founded by Richard Warren Sears and Alvah Curtis Roebuck in 1892. The operation began as a mail ordering catalog company and began opening retail locations in 1925.

The first Sears, Roebuck & Co. department store came to Aurora in 1928. The original location was at 69-75 S. River Street up until 1935-1936 where it moved to the corner of Broadway and Downer (currently a parking lot).

Sears Golden Jubilee
Beacon News
June 28, 1936

The Sears, Roebuck & Co. was at the Broadway and Downer location up until the 1960s when Northgate Shopping Mall opened. Northgate was originally the "Aurora Driving Park" where there was a large field for many events, including a visit from the Wright Brothers and their "Flying Machine" back in 1910. When Northgate opened with so many shops, this was the beginning of the retail decline in Downtown Aurora.

Sears, Roebuck & Co.
Merchants Bank in background

Sears, Roebuck & Co. 

In 1975, a $1 billion building project that focused on 6 square miles on the eastern edge of town that included a new concept, Fox Valley Mall, that encompassed 1.2 million square feet. Sears then moved to this location as one of the four anchor stores (along with JCPenneys, Marshall Fields (now Macy's), Lord & Taylor (which became Carson Pirie Scott in January of 1996).

Sears Northgate Lake Street location

 In place of the Northgate location, Bergner Weise/Bergner's took over.  In 1989 Bergner Weise/Bergner's bought Carson Pirie Scott.  Carson Pirie Scott was originally Block & Kuhl which moved from its original location on the corner of Galena and Stolp (now Stolp Island Social/Aurora Arts Center) to Fox Valley Mall and their second location where Sears Northgate used to be.

After years of declining sales, Sears' parent company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on October 15, 2018 and chose to close its many stores including our Fox Valley Mall location. On December 26, 2020, demolition was started at the Fox Valley location.

Centennial Real Estate Company, owners of the Fox Valley Mall, began demolition of the former Sears store. The plan is to construct Midrise Multiple Family dwellings at the Sears site. This will be a new beginning for the mall which opened in 1975. The retail portion will go from the current 1 million square feet to approximately 500,000 square feet, basically transforming the mall into more walkable, mixed used development. 

Beginning of the end 2020
Sears Fox Valley demolition
Mural by Gregg Valley 2019