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World Leaders and Chicago Heights Share 'Worldly' Possession: Bloom Archives

Earle Opie's Heights-based company, Weber Costello, made only five of these mammoth globes, and Bloom High School has one of them.

Last week, I spoke of my ambitious intention to , starting with the city's nationally recognized historic place, .

In visiting Bloom, I bumped into a surprisingly helpful tour guide, District 206 Supt. Glen Giannetti. Eager to reveal the illustrious and overwhelming Archives room, Giannetti led me through the entrance, up a short set of stairs, past the shiny, sacred (and untouchable) Trojan head and down the hall to a room full of history.

The man in charge of the archives, Don Croarkin, fits into Bloom's history in his own right. He was a librarian at Bloom Trail High School for 35 years, retiring in May of 2000. Croarkin even had the school's library named after him and was inducted into the Bloom District 206 Hall of Honor in 2007.

How much does Croarkin care about Bloom? He volunteers his time to its history.

As we rummaged through the plethora of books and memorabilia, I looked over at a globe sitting on a desk and asked Don, "Is that the globe I've been hearing about?"

"No," he said, already aware of the famous globe to which I must be referring. "That's in the library."

In the back of the Archives room is an entrance to the library. We walked in and just to the right of that door was the biggest globe I'd ever seen. A 500-pound replica of our planet that I could fit comfortably inside.

I had seen photos of a globe like this, but they weren't taken at Bloom High School. One rather popular photo captured President Franklin D. Roosevelt striking an urbane pose, staring at a similar globe.

Croarkin informed me the  Chicago Heights-based company Weber Costello created Roosevelt's globe during World War II. It also spawned the same globe for British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the U.S. Office of War Information and the United States Army Air Forces. The company held onto a fifth, smaller version of the globe and donated it to Bloom High School upon going out of business in the '60s.

All of the globes were worth $3,200 when they were made and were an "official military secret," school librarian Carmelita Curl told the Chicago Tribune in 1990.

Weber Costello was asked to make the globes to assist the world leaders in strategy during the war. The school supply company, near the intersection of 12th Street and Washington Street, was known for prominently listing the city of Chicago Heights on all its maps.

Like most man-made items, the globe deteriorated over the years, sitting inside a history classroom. The school made plans to cut the globe in half and plant flowers in the remnants, but the library scooped it up and gave it a permanent home.

But this isn't a "the rest is history" story.

By 1990, the globe's wear and tear eventually became too much, and a Save the Globe Committee, which included Curl, helped raise money for it to be restored. The committee sold raffle tickets and requested donations from alumni and the community. They expected the restoration to cost $12,000, but the project ended up costing $8,700, plus another $1,000 for the custom made stand the globe now sits on.

Now, more than 20 years later, the globe has long outlasted the company that made it. It recently returned from its second restoration, poised to withstand another two decades in the Bloom High School library.

After spending sufficient time staring in awe at the globe and the wall of photos and news clippings next to it, I sat down with Don to talk about this artifact. After I had organized the much-needed background information and snapped some photos he shut off the library's lights and I was out the door, wondering how the words of any article could compare to actually seeing the blue and green face of history.

Some fun facts about the Weber Costello Globe:

  • The globe is 50 inches in diameter.
  • Measured in miles, the globe is a 157.7 scale model of Earth.
  • The globe is hollow.
  • The globe was made of several pieces of cherry wood glued and doweled together.
  • One of the original globes is believed to have been in the possession of Russian leader Josef Stalin for a time.
  • President Roosevelt received his Weber Costello Globe as a Christmas gift in 1942.

Check out the photo gallery above for brief a look into the history of the Weber Costello Globe, but I highly recommend a visit to Bloom High School's Dr. James D. Steckel Library, where you can examine the real deal. 

Come back next week for another installment in the Historic Heights: Bloom Archives series.

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