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True tales of Aurora

Former newspaperman’s book preserves “true tales of Aurora” Matt Hanley and I have something in common. We like to tell stories. True Tales coverBefore one can tell a good story, though, one needs to do his or her research. That’s another thing we have in common. We love a good research session. Alas, Hanley, who worked at The Beacon-News (as I did), wrote a book based on some of the stories he researched and wrote for The Beacon. He said he’s not making money off the book (After all, it’s not “Fifty Shades of Grey,”) but he is happy to have preserved important stories that are in danger of being forgotten.Matt Hanley Hanley said he wrote the book (“True Tales of Aurora, Illinois”) because he wanted to reveal stories that were never fully told. “I had written several stories for The Beacon-News in a narrative nonfiction form about some of the people and events that shaped Aurora,” he said, “as well as some of the people who were shaped by the city.” And who might some of those people be? Orville Wright visited Aurora, as did baseball Hall-of-Famer Casey Stengel, gangster John Dillinger and President John F. Kennedy. Readers will learn about the Aurora man who hired Abe Lincoln to defend his business and the police chief who solved the nation’s most gruesome crime. And that’s not all. Readers will learn the sad story of what happened to the man who recorded a landmark blues song in Aurora’s tallest tower and find out more about the humble boy who was awarded the Medal of Honor for incredible heroism. Hanley says his two favorite stories in the book probably were those about Casey Stengel, “because I’m a baseball person, and I knew so much about him before I ever realized he was in Aurora,” and Orville Wright. “It was fun reading the articles from the day Wright’s planes came and you could feel the awe. You could tell people were seeing something that day (flight) that they didn’t believe would be real. There were all these stories leading up to the day they came to Aurora’s Driving Park. There were details about how the planes were being shipped. And the flight lasted a couple of minutes and got as high as like 850 feet. It’s something we wouldn’t even blink at now. But people who saw it weren’t the same afterward. And there were people standing there that day who were alive when we made it to the moon. That gave me a lot of perspective.” Hanley also was touched while researching the life of Sonny Boy Williams. “With that one, I actually found out more things than were out there about him. That’s one story that wasn’t going to be preserved. He was a fascinating and tragic person, but little was known about him. I’m glad I got to bring back the real person for readers.” Hanley grew up in Hoffman Estates and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from the University of Illinois. He worked at the Elburn Herald and LaSalle News Tribune before being hired by The Beacon-News in 2003. For 10 years, he says, he covered “crime, politics, runaway chickens and obscure historical stories for the Beacon.” In 2013, he earned a master’s degree in education from Aurora University and in May was hired as assistant director of community relations for East Aurora School District 131. Hanley will be talking about his book from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 4 in the large meeting room at the Eola Road Branch Library. The full title of his tome is: “True Tales of Aurora, Illinois: Mysterious Murders, Presidential Visits and Blues Legends in the City of Lights.” “In my talk, I’ll cover some of the background in how I researched these stories, which I think can be helpful to other people doing personal or professional historical research,” Hanley said. “I’ll talk about some of the tricks of the trade I learned along the way about different resources for doing historical research, and I’ll go over a little bit about the book publishing business and what it’s like to write for a small publisher (The History Press) – and I’ll share some of the difficulties in turning newspaper articles into narrative nonfiction.” So, why didn’t Hanley decide to write a book about his hometown of Hoffman Estates? “It doesn’t have history like Aurora,” he said. “We had so many people come through Aurora or start here. And there are probably six great, great stories that aren’t in the book. There’s lot of cool stuff out there.” Is there a sequel in the works? “There are more than enough stories out there, but I’d have to find more than enough time to do them,” Hanley said. “I have a four-year-old and a 10-month-old, and I have a lot of things in my job that fall under my umbrella, including being the liaison with the alumni association. “But I am always tucking things in folders that might be interesting to do someday.” Hanley will have his books for sale ($20 each) at the Jan. 4 program, and he will take questions after his presentation.

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