World of other towns named Elgin can become downright confusing
By Dave Gathman firstname.lastname@example.org October 13, 2013 8:58PM
SUBMITTED PHOTO Nicknamed "the Lantern of the North," the partially collapsed 800-year-old Elgin Cathedral in Scotland fell into disuse when Protestants took over this part of the country.
DUNDEE vs. ELGIN
In the Fox Valley, Elgin has been the bustling manufacturing city while East and West Dundee have been much smaller and quieter towns since all three were settled in 1835. But a very opposite relationship exists back in Scotland.
The Scottish Elgin, far off in the northern Highlands, is relatively small. Farther south, Dundee, Scotland is a bustling industrial city and seaport with twice as many people as Elgin, Ill. and eight times as many as Elgin, Scotland.
During the 1980s a soccer player — er, that is footballer — from the Scottish Dundee visited our West Dundee. Speaking to the West Dundee Village Board, he noted that as he had driven into town from the North Shore, he had passed signs for Elgin, Dundee, Bannockburn, Inverness and Glenview. “I thought I was back in Scotland,” he joked.
Updated: November 15, 2013 6:10AM
By bringing the world instantly together, our Internet search engines also can make that world more confusing — especially if you live in or around a city with a name as popular as “Elgin.”
Yes, Elgin, Ill. is the largest place named “Elgin” in the world. But if you search for news from Elgin — or sign up to be automatically sent “Google Alerts” for news breaking in Elgin — it won’t always be clear whether what you;re reading has happened across the state, in the Deep South, across the Canadian border or even on the other side of the Atlantic.
Especially since the world, and these news events, contain at least three Elgin High Schools, and two Elgin Academies, three newspapers named Courier and two newspapers named Sun-Times.
Last spring School District U46 — based in yes, Elgin, Ill. — even had to send out a mass email explaining that a controversy residents might have read about involving a cheerleader with Down syndrome at “Elgin High School” was not taking place at the Elgin High School in Illinois.
In reality, that controversy was unfolding in a school district in central Ohio. And that Elgin High School isn’t even named after a city named Elgin. The school is located in Marion, Ohio, and it was named after five small towns in Ohio, the first letter of whose names form the anagram E.L.G.I.N.
Perhaps the most famous “Elgin” of all is the Elgin Marbles, a collection of revered ancient sculptures collected in the early 1800s from the Acropolis in Athens by the Earl of Elgin (Scotland). The Elgin Marbles have even been in the news lately as the Greek government is pushing to get those artworks back from their current home in a London museum.
That earl’s son became a popular governor general of Canada in 1847-1854, inspiring the naming of several paces in Canada. Toronto’s Elgin Theatre is one of the most famous in Canada, hosts much of the Toronto Film Festival and recently celebrated its 100th birthday. Towns named Port Elgin were started up in Ontario and New Brunswick (see below).
And here are some other Elgins those news searches may be sending you to:
Founded: ca. 1200 A.D.
Pronunciation of the name: with a hard “G” sound
This Highlands town in the far north of Scotland is where all things Elgin began. And indirectly, it’s the reason our own Elgin is called Elgin. A hymn tune was named after Elgin, Scotland, and when the James Gifford family founded the new town in Illinois, they decided to name the future City in the Suburbs after that hymn tune.
That happened in 1835. To say that our Scottish counterpart goes back a wee bit farther is an understatement. One tourist attraction in Elgin, Scotland is the semi-collapsed Elgin Cathedral, which dates back to 400 years before the Mayflower sailed.
A Scottish government tourism website states that “Elgin Cathedral is affectionately known as the Lantern of the North. From the time of its construction in the first half of the 13th century through to the time of its demise at the Reformation in 1560, this monumentally impressive building dominated the flat and fertile Laich of Moray. The proud boast by one of its former bishops, Alexander Bur (1362-97), that his cathedral was ‘the ornament of the realm, the glory of the kingdom’ is certainly borne out by a visit to this beautiful site.”
The website for Elgin, Scotland’s Elgin Academy (yes, it too has an Elgin Academy, though this one is what we would call a public school) explains that by 1603 — yes, 17 years before the Mayflower sailed — the Scottish Elgin had two different schools — “the Grammar School which instructed the pupils in Grammar ... and also The Sang School or English School which, among other studies, instructed its pupils in the playing of monaccords, lutes, ungindlies and scistors.” However, the two schools merged fairly recently (in 1791) to form the academy. And the academy now occupies an ultramodern steel and glass building erected just last year.
A recent story that ran in a business-news section in northern Scotland reported that Elgin, Scotland’s cashmere mill is facing tough times because the weather has been so warm in Europe lately that no one is buying cashmere sweaters.
If you want to get even more confused, the business section that reported this news appeared in a newspaper called The Courier.
Another tourist draw in Elgin is “a number of local distilleries including Glenmoray, Gordon & MacPhail and Glen Elgin most of which have open days for the public and whisky trails,” according to visitscotland.com.
The city’s website states that Elgin and the surrounding four towns within the Moray Local Government Council area rely heavily on whiskey and food processing and they have the lowest wages of any district in Scotland.
If you read the sports news in that Courier, you should beware that when they talk about “footballers,” they’re not talking about split ends and quarterbacks. Their “football” is what we call soccer.
And if you talk to someone from Scotland, you should realize that they pronounce the word “Elgin” wrong. The say it with a hard G, not “EL-JIN” but “EL-GIN.” We can say that they are wrong and we are right about that because our Elgin has four times as many people. But of course, the Scots might respond that they were saying “Elgin” their way for 600 years before we said it at all.
Founded: 1899; renamed Elgin in 1963
Pronunciation: With a soft “G”
The other-Elgin with the closest connection to ours lies in South Carolina, 20 miles from the state capital city of Columbia.
As our Elgin National Watch Co. saw sales and profit slip in the 1960s, its execs desperately tried to cut costs by moving the watch assembly work in 1963 to a town called Blaney, S.C., where labor was cheap. Blaney had been founded in 1899 by workers building the Seaboard Coastline Railroad and had been named after a railroad executive. Desperate for jobs, the Blaney-ans of 1963 were so much more proud of this big new factory and Elgin Watch’s worldwide reputation that they changed the name of the whole town to Elgin.
The South Carolina watch factory went belly up just four years later, a year after the Illinois one. But South Carolina still has its Elgin, even if that is still served by a Blaney Fire Department and a Blaney Elementary School. And the welcome signs at the entrance to town include the image of a big Elgin-brand clock.
Because of the watch company connection, the Carolinians know the correct way to pronounce the word, with a small “G.”
Anyone with Google Alerts got many notices about news stories from Elgin, S.C. over the summer because of a high-profile murder case. Fifteen-year-od Gabrielle Swainson had disappeared in August 2012 from her home in Columbia. Last August, a year after the disappearance, a 53-year-old man who had been dating Swainson’s mother admitted he had kidnapped her, killed her and buried her just outside Elgin. He led investigators to the grave site and they dug up her body as Columbia TV crews swarmed all over the story.
But the South Carolina Elginites would rather be known for something more dignified and positive than dumped corpses. The town website is headed “Town of Elgin, South Carolina: Home of the Catfish Stomp.”
Tomorrow: More Elgins, from the Atlantic to the Pacific