The First Hundred Years of Knox CollegeŠ More or Less

While looking for good things in a local antique store, I came across a booklet entitled ''The First Hundred Years of Knox College, A Record of Achievement and Service.'' After a quick review, I knew I had to have this little effort for a number of reasons. On the cover, it had a reproduction of a stereoscopic view of ''Old Main'', taken in 1866, from the tower of the Galesburg High School, located on Broad Street. Old Main looked much the same as it does now, but it sits in a rural setting of small trees, wood fences and paths of uncertain materials. It was this first photo that drew my attention. I was surprised at how isolated Old Main looks, compared to the contemporary college campus that I know. However, the booklet became even more interesting.

On the inside cover is a reproduction of an 1837 map of Illinois that shows ''Galesboro,'' north and west of the larger Knoxville. Perhaps this original map was the reason that ''Galesboro'' showed up in some early texts about Illinois. Beyond the map is a reproduced daguerreotype photo of the founder of Knox College, George W. Gale. Judging from the photo, ''the Grinch'' could take lessons from Mr. Gale. But in his defense, I should note that photography was a slow process in those days and one had to sit very still. Extended smiles were beyond the capability of most folks of the day. Below the photo is a caption that notes Mr. Gale the ''Founder of Knox College, 1837.'' On the next page, it records that the book was published in Galesburg in 1929.

The subsequent text confirms that the charter for Knox College was obtained on February 15, 1837. Now, I'm no math major, but 100 years after 1837 puts it about 1937, not 1929. Even allowing for a little poetic liberty, I gotta wonder how it is ''The First Hundred Years of Knox College, A Record of Achievements and Service'' when it was published in 1929. I even thumbed to the end of the booklet to see if it contained a decade or so of predictions, but it did not. So who was responsible for the apparent rush to the press? Well, it doesn't specifically say, but the Foreword is by Albert Britt, then President of Knox College (and a distant relative of my wife, dare I say).

Nevertheless, the book has some interesting photos of early Knox graduates and some history certainly unknown to me. It mentions a gathering of ''fifty old men and women'' sitting on a platform built on the east side of Knox's Old Main, on October 6, 1928. Each of these individuals wore a badge which bore the legend ''I was here in '58.'' It was a reunion, of sorts, for the Lincoln & Douglas debate that was held at Old Main on October 7, 1858, 70 years earlier (yup, got that math right). Unfortunately, just a couple of pages later, this fine old Knox publication records (page 7): ''Twenty years later in 1857, the fifth of the seven great debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas was held on a platform erected on the Knox campus on the east side of Old Main, then a new building''(emphasis added).

Of course, in the spirit of ''Veritas'' proudly displayed on the Knox emblem, which also is emblazoned with ''MDCCCXXXVII'' (1837), I must be truthful that I am both pleased and relieved with these little errors or stretching of facts. As a graduate of Knox College, I thought that my frequent propensity for error was a personal failing, a blemish, a reflection of my failure to learn from Knox College. I now know that I am merely furthering the proud tradition of Knox College, as reflected in the 1929 booklet about the first 100 years (more or less) of Knox College. Thus these little typos, errors of facts, and conclusions that appear in this column from time to time are not really my errors. Rather, think of them as my subtle salute to the proud tradition of Knox College.

I feel so much better. And I wrote a whole article about Knox College and didn't even mention the decision about abandoning the fine old tradition of ''Old Siwash'' in the name of political correctness. Darn, never mind.


Uploaded to The Zephyr Online April 18, 2001

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