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Look back: letters from Memphis, stolen wagons and community spirit

New poster designed by Neal Ormond IV for 175th anniversary (2012) Aurora. | AurorHistorical Society

New poster designed by Neal Ormond IV for the 175th anniversary (2012) of Aurora. | Aurora Historical Society

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Updated: January 11, 2013 6:01AM

Aurora is celebrating its 175th birthday this year. More information is available at To commemorate the anniversary, The Beacon-News is revisiting stories from 50, 100 and 150 years ago. Here’s what Aurorans were talking about this week ...

…in 1862.

An Aurora soldier serving in the Union Army wrote from Memphis, Tenn., where the 127th regiment of Illinois volunteers had set up camp. The unnamed soldier talked about his group riding a train South, taking their last look at Illinois soil, “not without the unhappy reflection that it might be for the last time.” When they arrived in Tennessee, the soldiers found the weather much warmer than Chicago and they were happy to toss off their overcoats. Although the camp was about two miles outside the city, the soldier had walked into Memphis and saw scores of vacant homes, buildings demolished and burned, and a downtown business district in ruins.

“Tonight, while I am writing, the firing of the picket guards and alarm of firebells tells me too plainly that we are in the enemy’s country,” he wrote.

… in 1912.

The chief of police was trying to determine who stole a wagon from an 11-year-old boy who had one leg.

Years prior, Joe Mainz had broken his ankle when he fell off the ice wagon and was run over. Joe’s right leg was amputated. Before he was even in school, the boy had a wooden leg. When he reached school, children called him, “Peggy”. As he grew older, the little boy could no longer use the wooden leg because it caused him great pain. So his father bought him a wagon and Joe’s brother volunteered to be the horse. Wherever Joe wanted to go, brother Frank would pull him.

Last Sunday, the brothers were in Mass at St. Mary’s Church when someone stole the wagon. Joe was forced to walk home on his wooden leg. Joe’s father was unable to buy a new wagon.

… in 1962.

The Beacon-News empty stocking fund had raised more than $1,700 to make sure no child was forgotten at Christmas time. By the time the fund was done, $2,799 had been raised, thanks to donations from hundreds of people including the Waubonsie Women’s Gold Club ($10), Ladies City Bowling League ($6.35), Charles B. Phillips ($25), and Girl Scout Troop 303 ($2.40).

Approximately 425 boys and girls from needy Aurora families would be guests of Santa Claus at the Dec. 22 Christmas party, where they would receive clothing, toys and Christmas goodies. On the second floor of the post office building, children watched Christmas movies and sang familiar holiday tunes.

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