The image was enlarged, colored, enhanced and in living color, accurately portrayed what downtown Elgin looked like in the late 1950s or early 60s.
The view was from about the Tower Building south starting at the Chicago Street intersection where the 1st National Bank once stood. In the little alcove on the ground floor was Fannie May and further south was Osco's Drugstore, Barnett's Clothing, the old Dickerson Hotel (I think it was the Dickerson, the Kelly Hotel was further north I believe), Jos. Spiess, of course, and so on down the block. My memory extends beyond what is visible in the photo. The Three Sisters was across the street and Woolworth's and S.S. Kresge's faced each other on either side of South Grove Avenue. J.C. Penny's was the third business in that triangle junction on DuPage Court.
In the snapshot of thriving Elgin now hanging in Ravenheart, cars with large fins are parked on the busy street and shoppers intent on the business of the day motor along the sidewalks. What thoughts did that one frame capture? What became of those people and their lives? We can't know. They are gone, forever.
We sometimes spend too much time trying to recapture what once was and can never be again because factors once in place do not exist any more. That was the mistake we made 40 years ago with the downtown pedestrian mall designed to bring back the past. And to some extent, we continue to make today simply by comparisons.
Those cars and people and businesses belonged to a different era, a different time, a different economy, a different political, environmental, racial, demographic, social, legal period. It can't be recaptured any more than the Renaissance. Nor should we want to.
The burden of age is nostalgia. What the photo shows is a vibrant healthy All-American city whose fortunes were about to dramatically and unexpectedly reverse in such a profound manner that decades would pass before it began to re-emerge.
They couldn't know that then on that sunny summer day, blissfully unaware as they hurried along toward their destinies.
In Woody Allen's movie "Midnight in Paris," the protagonist, Owen Wilson, is an aspiring writer who wishes he had lived in Paris during what he believed was its most productive, exciting and vibrant era _ the 1920s. While visiting the City of Lights, each night, he is magically picked up in a horse and carriage and transported to a party at which he meets Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and other literary giants of that era. Wilson is transfixed; he is in awe of the men and women he has only read about and is completely immersed in Parisian life just before the Great Depression.
But he discovers a shocking truth; the people of that era long to have lived in Paris in the 1890s, when Parisian life was far more exciting and compelling than now, they believe. Wilson cannot believe than anyone could want more than Paris in the 1920s.
Allen's message, of course, and one that plays here as well, is that we believe we are living in a jejune and wholly pedestrian period and wish we could have lived in one just past. Like the one in the photo hanging in Ravenheart.
We see energy and crowds and people hustling from department store to specialty shop and we wish it could be that way again. Just that. Not the recessions, wars and social upheaval that followed. Not the black and white TV with rabbit ears, transistor radios, two-lane roads, shortened life expectancy and quaint communications options. Just that blissful moment that we see in the picture.
And those frozen in that photo, whoever they were, no doubt remember when Elgin was REALLY a great place to live.
(Headline quote was from, appropriately, F. Scot Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby."