Training Detectives | Newberry

Training Detectives

I was going to take this to the Greater eBay Community, but I decided that, after all, the constant readers of this blog are people of such a high standard of perception and intellect that they ought to be useful for something. So I am going to consult you first about one of the mysteries of the week.

You have submitted a number of puzzles this last week, perhaps so that we would have things to worry about over the holiday (during which you will NOT donate anything, remember?) You sent us a wooden nickel good for a free stein of beer during the Centennial of the World’s Columbian Exposition, making us wonder where you learned such willpower. You sent us a number of magazines which made us wonder how Charles Bukowski got hooked up with Hull House. And you sent us a shrinkwrapped miniseries on VHS with one box opened and lacking the tape, making us wonder whether you’ve used your VCR since and what kind of jerk….

But this is all by the by. Another item is so rife with possibilities that we might do better to publish an anthology of stories, each demonstrating another theory of why it exists.

It’s this October, 1897 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. Old issues of Atlantic Monthly are generally worth a dollar or two of anyone’s money, so it’s not all that exciting. It DOES have an article by Henry B. Fuller on how Chicago’s cultural achievements are growing.

What makes it interesting is that it is encased in a faux leather binder for use in a library. Not just any library, mind you, but the library of a parlor car on a train. In gold on the cover are the words “Atlantic Monthly” and the name and address of the railroad. This looks like a nifty little railroad collectible, and thus worth a bit more than your average 120 year old issue of the Atlantic.

Too much to hope for, I suppose, that it would be from one of our wildly famous railways: the Union Pacific, the Short Line, the Reading, the B&O, the Pennsylvania…. No, this one advertises the Birmingham & Glencoe R.R. This is a very small railroad. So small that it does not, so far, appear to have actually existed.

The Newberry has a great collection of railroad material, as you’d know if you ever read the other parts of this website. And when I passed the question along to a few curators, expecting they would have information on any Illinois railroad at their fingertips, they replied that they couldn’t find anything. The geniuses who lurk out there on the Interwebs seemed flustered, too. Google and Bing and the boys babbled about railroads serving Birmingham in England, or Glencoe not far from it, but had nothing to add about an Illinois line.

Ah, but there is this address. I put that up to my consultants out there in computerland. And I was, naturally, treated to an actual photograph of the house built at that address in 1879. So it appears the Birmingham & Glencoe was in somebody’s home.

The leading explanation is that the binder was a practical joke, a housewarming present to someone who had just moved to Glencoe from Birmingham, or someone in the household who wanted something fancy for the magazines the family subscribed to. Running a distant second is the idea that someone could have run a small railroad from an office in his house (but how many people WANT to go from Glencoe to Birmingham, or vice versa?) Farther back in the pack is the idea that this slipped through a hole from another dimension where there WAS a Birmingham & Glencoe. Running fourth is a suggestion that someone had the cover printed just to drive all of us here out of our minds. This is the least likely suggestion, because anyone who knows us would realize this is redundant.

So, over to you. Do you know anything about someone in Glencoe who might have treated The Atlantic Monthly to an apparently bogus cover? Inquiring minds await YOUR suggestions.

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