The History of Joliet – Chapter 16

By John Whiteside of The Herald News (used with permission)

Submitted by Nancy Vargo

“Stephen A. Douglas, the Illinois senator who squared off against Abraham Lincoln in the famed debate of 1858, was often seen in Joliet seeking political advice from newspaper editor Calneh Zarley.”

By John WHITESIDE of The Herald News

During the early history of Joliet and throughout the Civil War, one of the most outspoken voices in the city was Calneh ZARLEY. They called him Cal.

And Cal was a newspaper editor and owner of the Joliet Signal.

His father, Reason ZARLEY, was a veteran of the War of 1812 and one of the earliest settlers here. The father and his wife brought their eight children to Joliet from Pike County, Ohio, and settled on a farm just south of the city.

The ZARLEY Cemetery, full of pioneer graves, on Patterson Road started out as a family cemetery on a corner of the ZARLEY farm.

In 1846 at the age of 21, Cal bought the Signal. Under him, the newspaper continued to grow in circulation as well as popularity. The Signal dated its history back to the first newspaper, the Juliet Courier.

The Courier, which published its first paper on April 20, 1839, had started when a press was shipped to Ottawa by mistake and no one wanted to buy it. A dozen men from Juliet bought the press. After passing through several owners, the Courier was bought by William LITTLE in 1843. He changed the name to the Joliet Signal.

Cal ZARLEY, who was also Joliet’s postmaster through the 1850s, was a close friend of Stephen A. DOUGLAS, the Democrat who defeated Abraham LINCOLN for a U.S. Senate seat in 1858 and then opposed LINCOLN for president.

DOUGLAS, who was known as “The Little Giant,” was often seen in Joliet seeking political advice from Cal, especially during the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Naturally, Cal, who was a true Democrat, didn’t like LINCOLN and the new Republican Party. When the Signal covered LINCOLN‘s speech in Joliet in 1856, it referred to him as that “black Republican.”

When the Civil War started, Cal supported the war in the spirit of patriotism. But he wasn’t an abolitionist. He wrote bitter comments about the slaves and predicted they would flee from the South and flood cities like Joliet.

Under present-day standards, the newspaper editor would be probably judged as a racist.

George H. WOODRUFF, the local historian, who was a friend of Cal, wrote in one of his books, “Many will remember how sorely he (Cal ZARLEY) was affected and how sorely he inflicted upon his readers his gloomy prognostications of evil from the dreaded irruption of darkies from the south.”

WOODRUFF, terming Cal as Joliet’s war poet, printed a derogatory poem about blacks that had been printed in the Signal. The author said the editor was tormented by “chronic negrophobia.”

But WOODRUFF added, “He wielded a trenchant pen for the Union.”

In the late summer of 1862, in the midst of the Civil War, Cal ZARLEY mysteriously disappeared. Known as a man of habits seen at certain times each day on the streets, no one knew what had happened to his familiar face.

“For the first time in many years, he failed to make his appearance on the street or in the editorial sanctum,” WOODRUFF wrote in relating the mystery. “People soon began to get excited. The disappearance of so prominent a citizen, a man of such regular habits, whose appearance upon the street at a certain hour, moving a steady step, and thoughtful brow, his head full of grave editorials on the situation, and his heart burdened with a nation’s dangers, had come to be looked for as a thing fixed as the rising of the sun — the disappearance of such a man would of course produce great excitement as soon as known.”

All kinds of rumors spread about the disappearance. Some thought he had enlisted in one of the new regiments being formed for the war. Others, knowing how he hated the idea of a draft, speculated that he had fled to Canada to avoid the issue. A few joked that Cal had committed suicide in fear of 1,200 free slaves coming to settle in Joliet.

And still more, knowing how he disliked LINCOLN, said Cal had “gone to Washington to tell his old friend, Abe, how the war ought to be conducted,” WOODRUFF wrote.

But the mystery was solved six days later, when the Signal published this line: “Married in this city by the Rev. P. FARRELLY are Mr. Calneh ZARLEY and Miss Annie KEEGAN.”

“The public took a long breath again,” WOODRUFF said.

The newlyweds had simply disappeared on their honeymoon. They became the parents of five children.

Cal continued as editor of the Joliet Signal until the late 1870s. The Signal is one of the forefather newspapers — with several other newspaper names in between — of The Herald News.

Published July 14, 2001