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  • Dale C. Maley

History of Scibird brothers




John Scibird took the most active role of any Blade newspaper editor with respect to improving Fairbury.


The story of the Scibird family began with the birth of Bennett F. Scibird in Virginia in 1807. He married Elizabeth Shewey in 1826. Bennett and Elizabeth moved to the Preble, Ohio, area and had three sons. Their sons were John S. Scibird, Joseph H. Scibird, and Harvey Walter Scibird. John S. Scibird married Lydia A. Underhill in Preble, Ohio, in 1850.


All three sons eventually moved to Bloomington, Illinois. They also all learned the photography trade. John S. Scibird was the first son to move to Bloomington around 1856. By 1857, articles started to appear in the Pantagraph about the Scibird & Co. photography shop in Bloomington above the Post Office.


In France, the Zouave military unit wore colorful uniforms and performed impressive drills. The Chicago Nation Guard adopted the Zouave style uniforms and drill performances in 1859. The popularity of the Chicago Zouave Cadets prompted the creation of Zouave cadet units across the United States. A Bloomington Zouave Cadet group was formed. Joseph H. Scibird became their recruiting officer.


After the Civil War started, Joseph H. Scibird's Zouave cadet unit went to Springfield and became part of the 19th Illinois Infantry Regiment. Joseph rose to the rank of Major in the Union army during the war. Near the war's end, he married 17-year-old Frances Clark in 1864. After the war, Joseph returned to living in Bloomington.


John S. Scibird co-founded the Daily Leader. This Bloomington newspaper proved to be a lively competitor to The Pantagraph for nearly three decades.


In 1871, the Dimmicks commenced the publication of the Independent newspaper at Fairbury, and in 1876 C. B. Holmes started the Blade. These two newspapers were published until 1876 when J. S. Scibird became proprietor and combined the two with the title of Independent-Blade.


After buying and combining the two newspapers, John S. Scibird moved his family to Fairbury. In the 1880 U.S. Census, the Scibird family, including their five children, lived on Elm Street in Fairbury. John S. Scibird listed his occupation as an editor and publisher.


Joseph H. Scibird moved to Pontiac briefly and set up a photography shop. He then moved to Fairbury, where his brother lived, and set up another photography shop. While Joseph was living in Fairbury, he established the Fairbury Zouave Cadets. This unit was a group of forty boys aged ten to fourteen. Their uniforms consisted of red pants, blue shirts, red caps with blue tops, white stockings, and shoes. They had toy guns made under the direction of Major Scibird. The toy guns had pine stocks and tin barrels. Major Scibird's son Albert Clark Scibird was a Private in this group.


The Fairbury Zouave Cadets performed drill exercises at Fairbury public events. They performed at the Fairbury Fair. In October 1878, Governor Shelby M. Cullom gave a speech at Fairbury. The Zouave Cadets performed a drill exercise for the Illinois Governor.


In 1876 when John S. Scibird started publishing the Independent-Blade newspaper, Fairbury was still a wild town. Many taverns were required to quench the thirst of the coal miners working in Fairbury's five coal mines. John S. Scibird wanted to tame the city and used his newspaper to do it.


In an 1886 editorial, John Scibird scolded Fairbury's citizens and politicians. Scibird pointed out the Village Board took in a great deal of tax money from the saloons each year. None of this money was being used to combat the most significant problems Fairbury faced at that time. These problems included churches standing vacant, streets growing up in weeds, boys and hoodlums exercising their own home rule, no fire protection system, and no safe public water supply. Scibird thought this situation ought to make all citizens blush with shame.


Alma Lewis James, Fairbury Historian, recounted that Scibird's knowledge of reader psychology was practical. Instead of saying that twenty-five guests attended a function, he would state, with a flourish, that "a quarter of a hundred were present." Any gathering with any pretense of style was a "recherche." "Soiree" was another word he commonly used for a party, as was "soiree dansant." Scibird described weddings with a complete list of guests and the presents given by each.


In that era, a mansion was a house with a back stair or three or more chimneys. This latter was because they indicated the number of rooms the owner heated in winter, showing his scale of luxurious living. Scibird, like most other newspaper editors, did not follow this guideline. Scibird called any home bigger than a shack a "mansion." The new Isaac Walton home was the exception: this one was a "chateau."


Scibird's language flair was also exhibited in the ads he helped to compose. A local livery stable advertised itself as the "Seller's Equine Bureau." A Fairbury barber proclaimed that he made the "Pate De Foie Gras Hair Tonic," guaranteed to cure dandruff.


In the era of horses, Main Street always smelled like horse manure. On one occasion, other smells from piles of garbage, a poultry operation, and a slaughterhouse produced odors that were even more obnoxious than the horse manure. Scibird vigorously used his editorial column in the Blade to get the garbage cleaned up, and the poultry operation and slaughterhouse cleaned up.


After running the Blade for just five years, John S. Scibird passed away at age 51 in 1881 in Fairbury. His son ran the Blade briefly until it was sold. The subsequent owners were unable for many years to return the Blade to its success level under Scibird's leadership.


John S. Scibird and his brother Joseph H. Scibird were both valuable contributors to the success of Fairbury. John S. Scibird improved the quality of life for Fairbury citizens by using his newspaper editorial column to force needed changes. Both John and his brother Joseph were also Fairbury photographers. Joseph H. Scibird was a Civil War veteran who helped train many young Fairbury men with his Zouave Cadet group.


(Dale Maley's weekly history column on Fairbury News is sponsored by Antiques & Uniques. "No matter what the collector seeks, it's worth a trip to Antiques & Uniques" and by Doug and Dr. Charlene Aaron)




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