Northern Illinois University

Jeffrey Chown

Northern Illinois Universtiy

Contact: Paolina Milana
December 7, 1998

Nearly 1,200 community members joined together to witness the premiere of "Barbed Wire Pioneers: Inventing a Community" last Thursday night at the historic Egyptian Theatre. As one film viewer commented after having to park his car in one of the only parking spots left -- nearly six blocks away from the theatre, "I think all of DeKalb County is here tonight."

Much of it was, including DeKalb Mayor Bessie Chronopoulos, Aldermen Miguel Checa and Steve Kapitan, and Jessie Glidden, Joseph Glidden's grand-niece. Some even came with their own barbed wire props, the most notable being an old walking cane fashioned from the actual 19th century barbed wire, created by barbed wire pioneer Jacob Haish.

"It certainly was a night where the entire community came together," said DeKalb City Manager Jim Connors. "Where my wife and I were sitting, we had long-time DeKalb residents aged 80-plus as well as people who had just moved here as well as ten- and eight-year olds. I came away from that film, after having lived in DeKalb for 30-years, with such an appreciation for its rich heritage, its roots, and for the pioneers who shaped America and our future. The experience of sharing this with fourth generation DeKalb residents as well as new residents was one that I've never felt in any other community I've ever been in."

Audience members, young and old alike, obviously enjoyed the film -- gasping at the film's depiction of opulence in the barbed wire inventors' homes and laughing upon learning that the DeKalb community of that time went without water for two days in order to damn the Kishwaukee River and impress decision makers into bringing Northern Illinois University (NIU) to the area. It worked then, as did the film now.

"I was very gratified to see such a wide representation of the DeKalb population come out to see our film," said the film's director Dr. Chown. "I always knew DeKalb had a lively interest in its culture and history, but I was truly humbled to see people, young and old, gathering together so enthusiastically to see our attempt at telling the story through the visual medium. And since the film debuted, I can't tell you how many congratulatory calls and e-mails we've received. The DeKalb community has a lot to be proud of and they've shown just how invested they are in letting the rest of the world know it."

The 50-minute documentary that highlights DeKalb's important place in history and tells the story of its nineteenth century inventors, Joseph Glidden, Isaac Ellwood, and Jacob Haish, who revolutionized the manufacture and distribution of barbed wire across the American West, was created by NIU Professor of Communication Jeffrey Chown and the graduate students from his documentary course. The documentary, which has won second place in the biography division at the prestigious Silver State Documentary festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, one of the most important university documentary competitions in the nation, enjoys the support of NIU's leaders as many attended the screening and were thrilled w. At the public's request, future screenings of "Barbed Wire" and copies of the video for sale are being coordinated and will be announced at a later date.

"We've already had a number of community members requesting copies of the film and offering their assistance in any future productions," said Chown.

Following the success of "Barbed Wire Pioneers," Dr. Chown plans to engage the Spring 1999 seminar students in producing a half-hour documentary on the life of Governor John Peter Altgeld. The completion of this film will coincide with grand reopening ceremonies connected with the multi-million dollar refurbishment of NIU's Altgeld Hall. For more information, call Dr. Chown at (815) 753-6989.