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     September 11, 2017      #72-253 a2z

Ottawa mural tells Depression tale

Charles Stanley

About 150 people applauded as the veil was dropped Monday evening on Ottawa’s ninth Brush With History downtown mural.

Revealed on the south side of the First National Bank building was a three-panel image of the building’s east side similar to how it appeared during the Depression.

Key to the overall scene in the left panel was an open bank safe and plentiful cash.

The setting was explained by Peg Breslin, chairwoman of the Brush With History committee.

Olivet Nazarene University men's basketball coach Ralph Hodge has played a role as either player or coach in 855 of the schools 1,000 wins. Daily Journal file photo

Following the stock market crash of 1929, panicked Americans rushed to their local banks to withdraw their money, she said. The result was 5,755 banks closed between 1930 and 1932.

The closings had a domino effect, leading to business failures, lost jobs and lost homes.

“No part of the country was spared,” Breslin said. “Not Ottawa, not anywhere.”

Ottawa First National Bank official Don Harris said three of Ottawa’s four banks closed.

But the First National Bank, with more than $4 million on deposit and $1 million in cash, staved off depositor jitters by daily displaying an open vault with cash spilling out of it onto a sill in its front window on La Salle Street.

The ready cash on display, Harris said, “provided confidence that the bank would be able to handle all withdrawal demands.”

One of the banks that did close elsewhere in La Salle County, never to reopen, was the First National Bank of Ransom.

When Ottawa Mayor Bob Eschbach learned the Ransom building with its iconic granite columns and pediment was to be demolished, he approached the Ottawa bank to save and display the Ransom bank facade on the Ottawa bank’s south wall. The bank agreed, and paid to have the stone work brought to Ottawa and placed — with some necessary adjustments — to its building.

Soon after, the Brush With History committee was resurrected, which selected notable Chicago artist and muralist Thomas Melvin to move ahead with the design and execution of the panels.

The painted panels are on metal sign board and took a few weeks to complete, Melvin told The Times. The live models for the people depicted were Melvin's friends and members of his church.

The images, he said are a “troupe l’oeil”, which is visual illusion painting style that makes the subjects seem three-dimensional.

Olivet senior guard Chris Green, of Bonfield, who played for Kankakee Trinity Academy, is one of many players Coach Ralph Hodge credits for helping the Tigers reach the milestone of 1,000 wins. Submitted Photo

In the middle panel there also is a hidden image that is not too hard to detect.

Monday morning the panels were attached in the column recesses with bolts, the heads of which Melvin touched up with paint. Then a blue plastic tarp was placed over the wall until the unveiling.

Winds threatened to pull the tarp loose until the ropes were tied to Breslin’s blue Toyota Prius parked in the alley alongside the wall.

“What First National Bank told us in this moment was that they had our backs,” said artist and committee member Christy Myers. “That we are a strong community.”

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