Illinois educator and detective team up to save local history

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

ZEIGLER, Ill. -- Felix and Oscar. The Lone Ranger and Tonto. Lucy and Ethel. Simon and Garfunkel.

There have been many unlikely dynamic duos, but perhaps none more unlikely than the educator and the detective. The two local men, who were thrown together by a chance meeting at a local restaurant, ended up solving the case of the disappearing history.

Seriously, Allan Patton (the educator) and Raymond Null (the detective) have collaborated on three books that provide a pictorial history of Zeigler.

Patton and Null knew each other growing up in Zeigler during the 1940s and 1950s -- when the west Franklin County community was a bustling coal mining town -- but went their separate ways after graduating from what was then Zeigler High School.

Met by chance

Patton began his lifelong education career in 1960 as a teacher at Zeigler grade school, and later took an administrative job with the Franklin County Regional Superintendent of Schools, where he remained for 14 years. He finished his career from 1988-1999 as superintendent of the Benton grade school district.

Null moved to South Florida, near Fort Lauderdale, and began a career in law enforcement. He retired as the chief investigator with the detective division of Broward County. Now, he lives in Herrin.

The men met by chance several months ago -- after more than 40 years -- at King's Restaurant and Lounge in Zeigler. The doctor and the detective rekindled their friendship and found a common interest in the history of their home town.

"I realized right away that Ray's interest in Zeigler's history was as great as mine," Patton said. "That first meeting set the wheels in motion, and things just sort of snowballed."

King's is known for good chicken, fish and conversation, and soon became a meeting place for Patton and Null as they began work on what would become, not one, but three volumes of historical pictures.

"We put out fliers and notices that we were looking for old pictures of Zeigler's history," Null said. "A lot of it was just word of mouth. And before long the pictures just started rolling in. At first we ... were afraid we wouldn't have enough. Now, we're sort of selective in what pictures we take."

The books tell the story of Zeigler in pictures, chronicling the rich history of the community from the days when it was nothing more than a mining camp through the 1930s and 1940s, when the community grew to more than 5,500 residents -- 4,000 more people than currently live there.

Learned a lot

Null and Patton said the project was a learning experience.

"I didn't know until we started this project that Zeigler had three coal mines, a company store, its own hospital, a newspaper and scores of other businesses," Null said.

Patton said he also learned during the project that the first recorded mine in Franklin County, Zeigler No. 1 Mine, owned by Bell & Zoller Coal, was dug in 1904. Later, Patton said, two additional coal mines were dug, giving the community the distinction of having three working mines.

More than 250 pictures were grouped in categories that included mining, people, businesses, events and schools. After the images were scanned -- the photos were returned to their owners -- they were stored on CDs, where they will be displayed at the Zeigler Public Library and made available for copying.

Null said the project, which the men paid for themselves, never had a frustrating moment. He called it "a joy."

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