EIU Memories: Aaron’s Barbershop

I attended Eastern Illinois University during a time of change, when longtime fixtures of the community disappeared and new things rose. EIU’s campus is very different from when I first set foot there, but the town of Charleston has changed as well.

Aaron’s Barbershop was local institution, and I was lucky to get my haircut by the man himself. His shop, tucked in a strip mall across the street from campus, is empty now—a sad remnant of the past. When I look inside, I can still see the red bench where I waited for a haircut, and the glass case that held old hair care products and candy for sale, and an old cash register. A thin layer of dust covers the empty shelves.

Aaron Buchanan opened his barber shop in the University Village strip mall at Fourth Street and Lincoln avenue, across the street from EIU’s campus, in 1963 or ’64. He charged 50 cents. My dad attended EIU from 1963 to 1967, and he remembers getting his hair cut by Aaron.

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The Mystery of all Mysteries

How the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses influenced a generation of occult beliefs in Illinois.

Successive waves of European immigration left their imprint on the Prairie State, from the French and their Afro-Caribbean slaves in the 1700s, to the Scotch-Irish and Anglo-American Southerners in the early 1800s, Germans in the 1840s and ‘50s, and the great urban flood of southern and eastern Europeans in the 1880s and ‘90s. These immigrants brought their folk beliefs with them, including beliefs in witchcraft and the occult.

Anglo-American settlement first came to Illinois after George Rogers Clark claimed the Illinois Country for Virginia during the Revolutionary War. The earliest American settlers were Southerners who came up from Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and the Carolinas. Yankees and German immigrants followed close behind.

These Germans were known as “Forty-Eighters,” having fled central Europe after the failed liberal revolutions of 1848. In 1850, 81.1 percent of Illinois’ foreign born males came from Germany, Ireland, and England. Immigrants also continued to arrive from the east coast. In 1850, 67,180 New Yorkers and 24,756 Virginians moved into Illinois. Yankees from New England spread out across the Midwest, settling Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. These immigrants tended to settle land passed over by earlier pioneers, particularly western and northeastern Illinois.[1]

As these nineteenth century migrations occurred, occult beliefs and literature from the “Old World” continued to have an impact on the United States. In Stuttgart, Germany in 1849, Johann Scheible published a multivolume set of magical and occult texts from around the world called Geheimniß- und Offenbarungs-Bücher und der Wunder-Hausschatz-Literatur aller Nationen in allen ihren Raritäten und Kuriositäten (1849), or Secret and Revelatory Books and the Wonder-House Treasure Literature of all Nations in its Rarities and Curiosities.

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EIU Memories: Jackson Avenue Coffee

Students at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois always had a variety of choices when it came to getting their caffeine fix. I was no stranger to Java B&B in the MLK Student Union (I still can’t find a better scone…). There was Jitters & Bliss, and even Common Grounds for those students adventurous enough to drive to nearby Mattoon. When it came to local coffee shops, however, nothing beat the JAC.

Daily Eastern News hypes the opening of Jackson Ave Coffee in their April 25, 2002 issue.

Jackson Avenue Coffee, at 708 Jackson Avenue just off Charleston’s town square, was the brainchild of EIU alumni Ryan and Dulcy Dawson. They spent several months renovating the space before opening on Friday, April 26, 2002. Their intention was to create a friendly and relaxed environment where students could study and stay as long as they wanted. It was a fixture for students and local residents alike, and for at least one summer, was like my second home.

JAC was divided into two rooms, the front for the main coffee shop, and the back where patrons could play board games and where meetings and live events were held. Local artists displayed their artwork on the walls for sale on a rotational basis, and a few tables even doubled as chess and checkers boards. It was a fun, lively environment that became a showcase for Charleston’s creative community.

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EIU Memories: Will Rogers Theatre

Built in 1938 at a cost of $90,000 in Art Deco style, the Will Rogers Theatre has been a fixture of downtown Charleston, Illinois for generations. It was named after William ‘Will’ Rogers, a famous Cherokee actor, humorist, and newspaper columnist of the Progressive Era who died in a plane crash in 1935. When I was an undergrad at Eastern Illinois University, my Friday night routine was to walk down to the Will Rogers and watch whatever movie had been released that week.

During the 1980s, Kerasotes Theaters divided the 1,100-seat auditorium and began showing movies on two separate screens. The Will Rogers was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, and designated a Landmark Property by the City of Charleston in 2011.

When I entered EIU as a freshman in the fall of 2000, Kerasotes still owned Will Rogers Theatre. They showed two films per week on two screens, one at 7:00pm and the other at 7:15. Movie tickets were only $2, and popcorn was cheap too. My first visit was to see The Replacements with a sorority girl named Valerie who my roommate introduced me to (for more on him, read my article on Carman Hall).

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Historic Methodist Campground in Des Plaines, Illinois

In 1860, members of the Methodist Church began having tent meetings along the Des Plaines River, and after a few years erected hardstand buildings at the site. The small spiritual community grew to 35 acres and contained a large tabernacle, approximately 100 cottages, 30-room hotel, cafe, and even a swimming pool.

I have fond memories of the old Methodist Campground at 1900 E. Algonquin Road. My dad and I would ride bikes along the Forest Preserve trail and venture into the campground for an ice cream or cold soda at the cafe. The camp sometimes hosted Civil War reenactments. I spent two summers at day camp there, and swam in the pool (which was open to the public) on hot days.

It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Unfortunately, severe flooding in recent years made renting the cabins undesirable, and only 20-30 are currently occupied. Water sometimes rose to the second floor. Heritage House, a cabin built in 1870, is sagging and appears in danger of collapse.

The camp’s core, around the snack shop and old hotel, appears well maintained, but it’s sad to see the state of disrepair in the rest of the camp. A New Age group plans to revitalize the location, but when I passed through last summer, it didn’t look like much progress had been made.

EIU Memories: Shannon McNamara’s Murder and the Trial of Anthony Mertz

On the evening of Monday, June 11, 2001, Eastern Illinois University’s campus was deserted. The temperature was in the high 70s and falling. Most of EIU’s 10,531 students had returned home for the summer, but several hundred remained behind for summer classes, or to relax in the town they had come to love. I was back home in suburban Prospect Heights, relaxing after a long day working for the local park district. I would enter my sophomore year in August.

In a second floor apartment on 4th Street in Charleston, just a few blocks from campus, a small group of friends drank and socialized. The apartment door and windows were open, allowing a pleasant summer breeze to circulate among the party. Laughter, music, and light from the open door sounded inviting to anyone who happened to pass by on the sidewalk below. It was a nightly ritual to unwind from spending hours in stuffy classrooms or at tedious, temporary summer jobs.

The next morning, in a three-story apartment building near the corner of 4th Street and Taylor Avenue, 21-year-old Shannon McNamara’s roommate discovered her strangled and brutalized body on their living room floor. Shannon, from Rolling Meadows, Illinois, was a physical education major and sorority sister of the Zeta Alpha chapter of Alpha Phi.

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EIU Memories: Chubby’s Pizza

As a student at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois, there was only one place to go after coming home from the bar at 2 am. You wanted something cheap and greasy, and Chubby’s had just what the doctor ordered. Though I wasn’t much for the bar scene, I ate my fair share of Chubby’s over the years. It was the largest pizza in Charleston for the best price, and just a short walk from campus.

Leon and Lisa Hall opened a Topper’s Pizza in the Midtown Plaza strip mall at 215 Lincoln Avenue in 1995. Topper’s is a restaurant chain founded by Scott Gittrich in Champaign, Illinois in 1991, but Leon and Lisa found themselves alone after the original location closed. After three years, the couple felt they weren’t benefiting from the franchise, so they decided to go their own way and rebranded as Chubby’s Pizza.

They kept the same menu but were able to lower prices because they were no longer paying franchise fees. “The Topper”, a 20-inch pizza with 12 toppings, became “The Big Chubby.” Why the name Chubby’s? Leon told the Daily Eastern News, “I’ve put on a few pounds since I’ve owned the place.”

Ad for Topper’s in the Daily Eastern News, c. 1998. Topper’s became Chubby’s that year.
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