Schrader: '42 Daily Chronicle tells of DeKalb County blackout drill during World War II

Malta historians Carol and Dave Woodin brought me a stack of old newspapers last weekend to peruse. Several were from the fall of 1942, right in the middle of the World War II.

I saw headlines in the Daily Chronicle about blackouts and the drills to ensure they were successful.

In case those younger than age 75 don’t remember, it was feared that enemy planes could reach the Midwest and bomb military and key industrial targets, including our local plants like Wurlitzer, General Electric and Turner Brass. To avoid being a target, it was necessary to turn off or block all the lights in the cities and surrounding countryside.

A lot had been learned from the Nazi bombings of London in the Battle of Britain in 1940 and how they suffered terribly from German air raids. There were Civil Defense units in every American city, town, village and in the countryside.

Carol recalled how her father, Walter Dresser, was appointed air raid warden in his rural neighborhood around Annie Glidden and Dresser roads.

Besides the hard hats and patches, the warden’s only remuneration was an extra allotment of gas rationing stamps (Explain that to your grandchildren).

The warden’s job was to travel out at night and be sure every farm and residence in the vicinity had no light showing outside.

People could still have their lights on but had to cover the windows, doors and any other openings with shades, blankets or whatever material they had available.

An article in the DeKalb Daily Chronicle reported on a major citywide drill in the Sycamore area.

“Almost immediately after the warning signal had been sounded, people scurried into their homes and every light was extinguished,” the paper reported. “An imaginary fire at the bank was handled efficiently by Chief Butzow, the volunteers and some of the auxiliary men. … Sheriff William Runnels reported a 100% blackout in the rural communities under his supervision. … One defense plant working 24 hours daily could be observed with ease by watchers in DeKalb, but it was learned that during a test the government ordered that its lights should be turned off only for a five-minute period.”

Later in the story: “Reports from police authorities this morning were that no thievery had been reported in the city.”

Other news that caught my eye in those old papers were personal and society items from every village and township in the county and even beyond. Regular dispatches from correspondents covering such areas as Fairdale, Mayfield, Lee, Rollo, Ohio Grove, Esmond, Victor, Afton, Clare and Paw Paw were scattered throughout the paper.

The late Ina Glover, who was County News Editor at the Chronicle in the 1950s and ’60s, told me she had as many as 26 correspondents submitting news items at one time. I cannot imagine today’s editors having the luxury of that many people reporting the happenings from all around the county.

But then it came to me – we have come full-circle.

People can find all this personal and anecdotal news on Facebook and Twitter.

Things as trivial as a grandchild’s first tooth, what vegetables they picked in their garden or how many fish they caught on vacation can be found on those digital sites.

I wonder what people will be using to communicate with friends and neighbors in the next 40 or 50 years?

• Barry Schrader can be reached via
email at or by writing to P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115. Past
columns can be found on his website at