Landmarks: Story of Roosevelt’s globe highlights revived Dixie Highway tour

For a little while, there was a big secret in Chicago Heights. Washington bigwigs were visiting. Mysterious shipments of valuable resources would arrive.

Something important was happening on the city’s East Side at a time when most of the world’s attention was focused on armed conflict that had engulfed the globe.

The secret turned out to be a gift for the president being put together in a workshop at 12th Street and McKinley Avenue, where the Weber Costello Company long had manufactured school supplies such as blackboards, erasers, maps and globes.

The firm’s top mapmakers, including chief cartographer B.E. Brown, of Steger, and Chicago Heights resident Arthur Wallmeyer, head of lithography, were recruited for the effort. They oversaw “nine months of secret and sometimes feverish activity,” according to an account published a few years later, on display at Bloom Township High School library in Chicago Heights.

“The War Department placed the full resources of the government at their disposal,” including supplying “secret geographical information” from the Office of Strategic Services. “Scarce materials needed in the plate making department were rushed by plane from all parts of the country,” the account states.

By the time it was finished, they had assembled a 50-inch globe that was “unique in mapmaking history.” Weber Costello described it as “the largest ever manufactured,” with a caveat.

“Actually, larger spheres have been made, but since they were planned for display rather than the shaping of world decisions, their maps have been drawn on the surface of the finished ball and they do not present the hairline accuracy of the 50-inch map,” the company stated in a promotional booklet.

The item originally planned as a Christmas present for President Franklin Roosevelt became part of the war effort. Identical copies were made for British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the U.S. War Department and other agencies. Midcentury newspaper accounts indicate Roosevelt’s model accompanied the president to a summit in Casablanca, Morocco, where world leaders plotted to drive their German and Italian enemies from North Africa.

Weber Costello made several of the 50-inch globes during the war and a few more by commission into the 1950s, marketed as The President Globe. In an advertising pamphlet from the ‘40s, the company printed an endorsement from Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, who had received the third one.

“The globe and its companion will serve a high purpose in our war effort, and I thank you again on behalf of the War Department as well as personally for your tireless work and splendid cooperation in the face of many difficulties,” Marshall wrote.

Marshall’s globe is on display at the American Geographical Society Library at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Roosevelt’s globe, which he initially situated prominently behind his Oval Office desk, is at his presidential library and museum in New York. Churchill’s globe is at his Chartwell estate museum in Kent, England.

Another of the 50-inch globes that had such a prominent role in World War II history was proudly housed at the Weber Costello headquarters.

Decades passed. Gradually the new-globe sheen faded and its WWII provenance became old hat. By 1964, Weber Costello’s globe had been loaned to Kline’s Department Store in Chicago Heights, which used it to promote its annual August sale of sheets, according to a Star Newspapers story from that year.

Not long after that, Weber Costello went out of business and the globe was donated to Bloom High School. By then, it had seen better days. In the early 1970s, the school threw it out, according to a 1990s newspaper story, but a social studies teacher retrieved it and placed it in his classroom. When that teacher retired, someone proposed splitting the cherry wood globe at the equator and turning it into two large planters.

Instead, a group of teachers undertook a public fundraising effort to restore the globe. Donations poured in from alumni, history buffs and community members. The School Board chipped in the remainder, and when word got out, the Chicago History Museum requested the artifact on temporary loan for a Chicago in Wartime exhibit marking the 50th anniversary of World War II in 1992. By the time it returned to Bloom, a special niche had been carved for the historic globe in the school’s library.

Tim Jacko, the school’s librarian, said it’s a great addition to the first high school in Illinois to be added to the National Register of Historic Places. Built in Art Deco style amid the Great Depression, the school also is filled with art from famous creators, some dating to the institution’s old building in the 1910s.

For many students, though, it’s just part of the backdrop of regular high school life.

“It’s kind of just there, and students are like, yeah, it’s the globe,” Jacko said.

Others, who might be more enthusiastic about its history and role in worldwide events, don’t get much of a chance to see this artifact.

“It’s a rarity that we have visitors come in and look at the globe, because we are a school,” Jacko said. “It’s not like people can come in off the street and take a look at it.”

But one of those opportunities is coming up June 22, thanks to a group of car enthusiasts who will once again drive the nearby Dixie Highway.

The Crete-based A’s R Us Model A Car Club revived the annual June event formerly known as Drivin’ the Dixie last year, though it was a last-minute effort.

Started as the Dixie Dash in 2002 as a 200-mile timed distance event from Blue Island to Danville along the historic named road, the car caravan transitioned the following year into a more relaxed touring format taking motorists from Blue Island to Momence with stops highlighting the rich history of the south suburbs.

It also became a fundraiser for efforts to promote the Dixie Highway as a destination in its own right, much like a similar national project along Lincoln Highway.

“We made it to the 100th anniversary of Dixie Highway in 2015, and that’s when we put up the story boards and signage that runs from Blue Island All the way down to Danville,” said Phillip Serviss, of Beecher, who’s coordinating the event. “By 2018, time moved on for a lot of people. People were tired and we turned it over to the Blue Island Historical Society as a keeper of the drive kind of thing.”

Drivin’ the Dixie returned for 2019 going from Momence to Blue Island, and then “the pandemic hit and destroyed lots of things,” Serviss said.

The break reenergized interest among the classic car crowd, “so we revived it last year and had about 60-65 cars,” he said. It was sort of a last-minute effort, without much publicity, but now “we have another year under our belt and we’ve refined the whole thing.”

Drivers, who can be in any sort of vehicle, will start in Markham, which “has really stepped up,” Serviss said, with breakfast at the Markham Roller Rink. And the route will extend south past Momence “along the original Dixie Highway” — now farm roads — to St. Anne, where a reception event is planned with food and live music. Details about participating are at

Just as in previous incarnations, Day Along the Dixie will feature stops highlighting points of interest, including a free ice cream cone in Homewood at one of the original Dairy Queen shops, and a history presentation by South Cook Explore map compiler and local history author Kevin Barron at Thornton Distillery, the oldest standing brewery in Illinois.

In Crete, a display will highlight the village’s plethora of Sears kit homes, including one street with a concentration of “six or seven of them.”

“If you didn’t know Sears had kit homes, you will after June 22,” Serviss said.

A presentation in the village of Grant Park will showcase how the grain elevator there works, and “the complexity of maintaining grain so that it doesn’t rot.”

Along with Bloom, historic buildings such as the Farm Museum in Momence, the Thornton Historical Society and the old Depot in Beecher will be open.

As in the past, the event is a fundraiser for maintenance and new signs along the Dixie Highway, a cause dear to Serviss.

“I was born in Harvey, raised in Homewood, when I got married I ended up in Glenwood and I’m back in Beecher now, so I’ve never left Dixie Highway,” he said. “It was the first north-south highway in the country, but it’s kind of a forgotten highway. We’re trying to not forget it.”

And it offers a chance to ensure other highlights of suburban history aren’t overlooked either, such as the Weber Costello globe tucked away in a corner of Bloom’s library.

“To see something like this, something that Churchill and Roosevelt used to plan the war, it’s kind of cool,” Jacko said. “Not to mention it has this link to Chicago Heights history. You get to see how this town contributed to the war. It’s a good experience.”

Landmarks is a weekly column by Paul Eisenberg exploring the people, places and things that have left an indelible mark on the Southland. He can be reached at