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Chapter 8



Most of us are eager to have a glimpse of the future and can't resist listening to seers who claim to know what lies ahead. Some forecasters who read the stars or gaze into a crystal ball or analyze swings in the Dow-Jones industrials are often way off the mark.

Some Elgin predictions have been surprisingly accurate, although the projections of Elgin's population made by professional planners looking 20-25 years a head have usually been too high. The city plan of 1917 prepared by E. H. Bennett assumed the population would reach 44,500 by 1940. The U.S. Census that year reported 38,333. In 1935 Robert Kingery, who had been secretary of the Chicago Regional Plan Commission, estimated that 52,000 would be living in Elgin in 1960. The actual count was 49,447. Howard R. Olsen, general manager of the CRPC was closer in 1954 when he predicted a population of 65,000 in 1980. The count was 63,798. In 1979 the U. S. Census Bureau projected a maximum population of 93,942 by the year 2000. Since Elgin's population in 1990 was 77,010, there will have to be substantial growth in the next few years to reach that level.

Elgin was once illuminated by electric arc lights on top of several towers, most of them 125 feet high, scattered about the city. Alderman A. C. Barclay was clairvoyant in 1907 when he warned that "every light tower in Elgin has been up 25 years and should be taken down before they all fall down and kill someone." Fortunately there were no fatalities, but the tower on the Academy campus collapsed and fell across Park Street when hit by a falling oak tree in 1913, and one near the Lord School on the west side was brought crashing to the ground by the Palm Sunday tornado in 1920.

The same year Alderman Barclay looked ahead, two other predictions were announced, only one of which could come true. Mayor Arwin E. Price had been bounced out of city ball in a landslide in 1903 and was rated an underdog when he returned to the Political arena four years later. As usual, he was denounced by the drys and the press. The Daily Courier asked voters, "Do you want to be represented by a man who hands around cheap saloons and who caters to the depraved in the community?" The paper declared, "Price's defeat will be so emphatic that he will be down and out for all time."

The Daily News agreed with the Herold-Germania's conclusion that Price could not be trusted and that "his chances are nil]." Supporters of the leading contender, Judge John H. Williams, predicted a plurality over Price by more than 500 votes.

What was Price's opinion? "I'm elected mayor of Elgin, son," he affirmed without hedging in a pre-election interview, "just as certain as God made little apples." And he was, squeaking by Williams, 1,860 to 1,730.

Some election predictions are really certainties. In a world where few things remain the same, there is at least one constant: A Democratic Presidential candidate has not carried Elgin Township since 1852. Franklin D. Roosevelt swept every state except Maine and Vermont in 1936, but in Elgin be received barely a third of the vote. James G. Blaine, Thomas Dewey, and Barry Goldwater never made it to the White House, but they were landside winners in Elgin.

The Democratic Party reached its lowest depth in Elgin in 1924. Calvin Coolidge, the Republican winner, carried every precinct with a total of 10,860 votes. His Democratic opponent, John W. Davis, received only 815.

During and after the Civil War, the Democrats were tagged with the label of secessionists. Battlefield experiences reversed the political attitudes of many Elgin veterans who had gone to war as Democrats. The Protestant German and Scandinavian immigrants who arrived in Elgin in the last quarter of the nineteenth century became loyal adherents of the Grand Old Party. Watch manufacturing influenced Elgin's political coloration. The large numbers of women employees contributed to numerous two-income families which gave the community a middle class (and Republican) aura not usually found in industrial cities. When Swis watch imports increased in the'30s, the low tariff policies of the Democrats did not appeal to local voters.

Once established by historic circumstances, economic conditions, and a favorable religious and ethnic mix, a political pattern tends to be self-perpetuating. Life is full of surprises, as those who attend high school class reunions often discover, but they are not likely to occur in the way Elgin votes for President.

The Washburne Marriage

Meeting for the first time only a week before the event, Carleton W. Washburne and Heluiz Chandler were married in Los Angeles in 1912. Their sensational prenuptial agreement, which freed the couple from fidelity, made the nation's front page.

The bride's mother in Philadelphia was said to be completely prostrated from shock. In Elgin, where the bridegroom had graduated from the local high school four years earlier, his reputation had prepared this otherwise staid community for the unusual. Although noting that it "ignores conventions in a ruthless manner," The Daily News stated the wedding caused no undue comment or excitement here "as young Washburne was widely known for his eccentricities."

Branded a "free love contract," the agreement included provisions that the marriage did not give one spouse control or possession of the other and would terminate immediately as soon as one ceased to love the other. In case of separation, financial responsibility was to be equally divided.

Bert Leston Taylor, columnist for the Chicago Tribune, satirized the marriage in rhyme:

This nuptial pact shall not coerce
Our own sweet wills a single jot.
We'll chop 'for better or worse'
And all that rot.

Since you love me as I love you,
Herewith a sacred troth we plight.
Each to the other will be true:
If not-good night!

Since the pact stipulated that each would be self-supporting and maintain one-half of the household expenses, Heluiz went to work after the wedding. She eventually gained widespread recognition as the author of children's literature. Washburne became a leader in education and developed an innovative system in Winnetka where he served as a school superintendent form 1919 to 1943.

He spent several months practicing passive resistance with Mahatma Ghandi in India, authored more than a score of books, and eliminated fascist influence in the schools of northern Italy after World War II. A founder and president for several years of the Progressive Education Association, he subsequently was appointed professor of education at Brooklyn College and Michigan State University.

Oh, about that loosely tied marriage that dispensed with "till death do us part." Carleton and Heluiz were the parents of three children and remained happily married for more than fifty-six years until his death parted them in 1968.

Buster Brown's House

If this story were a fairy tale, it would read something like this:

Once upon a time a little boy was lost on the streets of Chicago. The police, calling him Buster Brown, cared for him until they located his parents. His mother and father, who were very poor, offered him for adoption by a family that could raise him properly. An attorney and his wife received permission to bake Buster to live with them in Elgin. They lived happily ever after in a big house.

The story is true, as far as it goes, but it doesn't have a happy ending, and it omits some pertinent facts:

In August, 1908, police picked up a waif wandering the streets of Chicago. He was about three years old, dressed in a white buster brown suit, and didn't know, or wouldn't give, his name. Blond and blue-eyed, described as winsome and mischievous, he became a center of attention while authorities sought his identity and parents.

The press, which featured him on front pages, dubbed him "Buster Brown." He had scores of visitors at the police station who were seeking lost children and others intent upon adoption. Among the latter were attorney William A. Paulsen and his wife, Anna, who lived in Elgin. They were said to have lost a son about two years previously and were eager to provide a home for Buster Brown.

Police investigat' on eventually turned up Buster's parents, who were impoverished and in ill health. It turned out that the child had not strayed but had been abandoned. Paulsen met with the mother and father, and at a juvenile court hearing they agreed to give the boy to the Elgin couple.

And so Buster, now re-named John Paulsen, and his new parents boarded a Milwaukee Road train. "Long before the party reached Elgin," reported the Daily Courier, "the news of Buster's presence had spread through the train, and many smiles and greetings were showered upon him. Similar demonstrations followed his journey through the streets of Elgin, to all of which he responded merrily, waving his hand and shouting 'Hello' to everyone."

The Paulsens' large home, still standing at 303 River Bluff Road, had a rolling lawn and a scenic view of the Fox. Buster delighted in its attractions, which included dogs and poultry. A few weeks later he acquired a sister. The Paulsens were given a little girl from a foundling home. She was about Buster's age and was named Mary.

Somehow Buster's adoption proceedings didn't uncover some disturbing facts about attorney Paulsen, who was no longer practicing law. He had been convicted on a charge of embezzlement when a bank he headed had failed in 1886. Paulsen had the reputation of a hustler. From an office in the Elgin National Bank Building, for example, be ran a mail order business, the Wapaul Electric Company, which sold a device he claimed would double a pound of butter. Complaints from purchasers of the "butter dubbler" sparked an investigation by postal officials.

Paulsen was the owner of the Elgin Wagon Works, located in Dundee, when it was thrown into bankruptcy. There were other reversals. About a year after John and Mary came to live in the big house, the family moved to Chicago.

The Paulsens later quarreled and separated. Anna and the children were supported for a time by Joe Gonder, who had once been the family chauffeur. The husband, whose subsequent ventures involved an arrest for writing a sizable worthless check, would not visit his wife nor contribute to the support of the children so long as Gonder was interested in them.

In 1913 William A. Paulsen sued for custody of the children. During the court hearing his wife died in Cook County Hospital, penniless and a wreck from opiates. The children were subsequently adopted by other families. Buster Brown, who became John Paulsen and once lived in a big house in Elgin, was raised to maturity on a farm in Indiana. Life is seldom like a fairy tale.


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