Century-old journal makes long trip home

2013-03-18T00:00:00Z 2013-03-19T00:11:03Z Century-old journal makes long trip homeJoyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222 nwitimes.com

Scrawled in pencil, Max Ahlgrim took note of every day happenings, from his children's clothing sizes to the depths of points along the Kankakee River.

He sketched ideas and kept track of debts he owed and those owed to him.

His journal, which he kept tucked in his shirt pocket, gives a glimpse of day-to-day life at the turn of the 20th Century.

One of Ahlgrim's journals recently surfaced, taking a long trip -- much like Ahlgrim did himself in 1875 when, as a 17-year-old boy, he traveled from Chicago to find land suitable for a family home along the banks of the Kankakee River near what is now Shelby in southern Lake County.

"To personally hold something from 112 years ago is amazing," said John Hodson, founder of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society.

How the journal got into Hodson's hands is a tale of mystery and puzzlement.

Hodson, who revels in investigating the history along the Kankakee River, spotted some photographs on a website. The photographs were provided to the site by a man named Marc Buhrmester.

Hodson began to track down Buhrmester and found the Dayton, Ind.-man's telephone number.

He called Buhrmester who told Hodson he had found the box of glass negatives at a flea market.

Buhrmester mentioned there was some sort of journal or diary in the box. Buhrmester  -- who had done some historical sleuthing himself on the items -- shipped the photographs and journal to Hodson.

"I collect old photographs. This guy had a box of glass negatives," Buhrmester said of his "find" some six years ago at a flea market at the Tippecanoe County fairgrounds.

How the box of negatives and the journal got to the flea market, Buhrmester said, may never be known.

"I started looking through them and saw the Ahlgrim Park sign," Buhrmester said. He did an Internet search on Ahlgrim Park and found some information. He initially sent the glass negatives to a Mishawaka-area man who had an interest in the Monon Railroad.

But, he kept the journal.

"I often wondered what that journal was all about. I knew it was really old," he said, adding something told him that he should hang on to the little book.

Then he was contacted by Hodson and sent him the journal along with the photographs.

Hodson began his research to try to find out who wrote the journal and when.

"I thought I could find out who wrote it," he said.

Hodson began piecing together the puzzle. He found information on Max Ahlgrim, including a list of his children's names. They matched a list of names in the journal.

Page-by-page, Hodson deciphered the entries until he was confident he had found the author of the journal which had entries ranging from 1899 to 1901.

He went further. Knowing the journal could hold special meaning for Ahlgrim's family, Hodson tracked down one of Max's grandson's, Kenneth Jones, who lives outside of Lowell.

At 86, Jones is Ahlgrim's youngest grandson. He isn't sure if he's the only surviving grandson, said Jones, as Max and Ida's brood located their families across the country.

"I was born in North Carolina and my folks moved here when I was 6," Jones said, recalling his grandfather and his time at Ahlgrim Park.

When Hodson contacted him, Jones said, he was surprised to hear about the journal, but told the historian to keep it.

Hodson intends to do just that and to share it with others interested in the history of the Kankakee River.

The journey of the journal, Hodson hopes, will spark interest in people to preserve history and to tell stories of people like Max Ahlgrim.

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