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Beacon reporter goes Way Back  in historical book about Aurora

Matt Hanley True Tales AurorIllinois. Mysterious Murders Presidential visits Blues Legends City Lights. Book published by American Chronicles; A History

Matt Hanley, True Tales of Aurora, Illinois. Mysterious Murders, Presidential visits and Blues Legends in the City of Lights. Book published by American Chronicles; A History Press Series.

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‘True Tales of
Aurora, Illinois’

What: Book signings by author and Beacon-News reporter Matt Hanley

When: Friday, 5-8 p.m. David L. Pierce Art and History Center, 20 E. Downer Place, Aurora; and Sept. 14, 6-8 p.m. Two Brothers Roundhouse, 205 N. Broadway, Aurora

Find more info on the “True Tales of Aurora, Illinois” Facebook page

Updated: September 24, 2012 7:43AM

In between reporting on a murder, a child abduction case and following leads on a school investigation that involved a convicted sexual predator, Beacon-News writer Matt Hanley didn’t have much time Wednesday to think about such mundane things as a book signing.

Even if it was for his own book.

“True Tales of Aurora Illinois,” written by the 34-year-old Hanley and recently released by American Chronicles, also contains a long subtitle that helps explain the book: “Mysterious Murders, Presidential Visits and Blues Legends in the City of Lights.” But actually, the description only touches upon the 13 chapters that take readers back in time to the best stranger-than-fiction local stories you’ll ever hear.

“True Tales of Aurora Illinois” really is a fascinating and fun read — including the gruesome murder stuff — about people and events in this city from the 1840s to the 1960s.

So why does a dedicated cops-and-courts reporter decide to write a history book about the town where he works?

To answer that question you have to understand Hanley’s fascination — some of his colleagues would label it an obsession — with The Beacon-News’ “Way Back Machine.” He likes to spend lots of time in the little microfilm room here in the office: So much so he admits getting possessive when he realizes (from that random pen or notebook paper left behind) some other reporter dared enter his sacred chambers.

From that little nook he’s come up with all these great historical stories The Beacon has run, many of them in our Storyteller section, for the past seven years. His initial Way Back article, the story of Aurora’s first murdered police officers, was published during the city’s 2005 Police Week.

Hanley’s done plenty of historical features since then. And one day he got the brilliant idea that a book could be made of this collection and other interesting additions. Much to his surprise, the South Carolina-based American Chronicles, which also published “Haunted Aurora” by local resident Diane Ladley, accepted his proposal almost immediately.

The result is an absolute treasure trove of historical stories of Aurora that include names like Orville Wright, Casey Stengel, John Dillinger, Abe Lincoln, JFK and Police Chief Frank Michels, who solved one of America’s most gruesome crimes of the 1920s.

“I like telling people stories about the community they might not know,” Hanley says of these tales that not only are fascinating in themselves but also helped shaped this community. Not only do these old stories “give glimpses to how Aurora used to be,” he notes, “they help us see the parallels between the present and the past.”

Hanley estimates 90 percent of his research came from newspapers. But he also praises Aurora Historical Society Executive Director John Jaros — “the most underappreciated and overworked person in Aurora” — for his help in tracking down even the most trivial details.

Hanley’s goal, he says, is to write a second version someday because there are many more tales worth publishing. Former Aurora Mayor Paul Egan and the men who died fighting the 1934 downtown Woolworth fire are just two examples he’d like to include in a second book — when he can carve out the time to do all the research.

In addition to being a talented reporter and first time author, Hanley is also the proud dad of an almost 3-year-old whose suggestion to his father for the book was to “use vowels.”

I tell that cute-little-kid tale not because it has anything to do with Hanley’s upcoming book signings, which I shamelessly plug, but because the news stories he’s had to write this past week have not been all that pleasant.

And we could all use a big smile now and then.

Which brings us to this official review of Hanley’s book: “True Tales of Aurora” is a darn fun read.

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