Conceiving the Journey to Mount Carroll

What to Do in Downtown Carroll County

Poffenberger's Tavern napkin

One of John's homes away from teaching was downtown Mount Carroll, a place on Main Street called Poffenberger's Tavern, or Poffy's. The shoebox-shaped storefront tavern, originally located at 109 West Market Street when it opened in 1923, moved to 123 West Market in July 1967 where it remains today, known as Charlie's II. The building was first a cigar store and poolroom when young Walter Poffenberger went to work for his father, Frank. The legends of Poffy ran deep with generations of Shimer graduates. Warner Johnston recalls the longtime owner, who died February 11, 2003 at the age of 94, fondly - "He would serve anyone who could see over the bar."

Patricia Thomas has vivid memories of the interior:

"Inside was with two three-quarter size pool tables, a long wooden bar, and a big round table in the back. The wallpaper was broad, vertical red and white stripes, and the high ceiling was pressed tin. Also, there was a jukebox and an old barber's chair just inside the front door, and a few scraggly plants in the front windows." Thomas notes that the Shimer crowds usually hung around the round table near the back and, in the unlikely event that the police came checking for underage drinkers, students could - and were known to - escape out the back door.

A number of strange drinks were mixed in this tavern, as evidenced by the article written in the April 17, 1967 edition of The Excalibur. What was stranger to some was the fact that students could actually partake in liquor, something not lost on Alan Dowty. He graduated from the campus in 1959, a time when if any alcohol was found in a student's room that unlucky person was usually expelled by the end of that day. As a student, bars maintained lists of those 21 or over, undoubtedly provided by the college, and aggressively refused to serve anyone younger. Thing had "loosened up considerably" by the time he returned six year later to begin teaching. Johnston notes that his first year on campus there was a policy of no alcohol on campus though this later was changed so that students over 21 could have liquor in their rooms provided they signed a pledge not to supply it to minors. "It was generally honored, as was the ban on smoking in the rooms."

There were two other bars - Sievert's, a local pizzeria that did card the visiting students, and, though not as popular with the college crowd, Sunnyside Tavern, but none could match wits to the atmosphere the students found at Poffy's. Thomas recalls Bellairs loved the phrase imprinted on the cocktail napkins (Poffy's Tavern: Where intellectuals foregather) and he held court there almost every night.

Speaking of police, Priscilla Bellairs relates John's encounter with the memorable law enforcer of Mount Carroll, Officer Orville Flink. Warner Johnston says Flink could best be described as "a mashed potato with legs," laughingly thought by Bellairs to be the lone policeman in the college town.

"When John left Shimer, and prepared to drive out of Mount Carroll for the last time, he found that Flink had ticketed his car for overtime parking at a meter, a five-cent offense. John, in a burst of defiance, tore up the ticket and tossed it out the window as he drove past Flink for the last time." But Flink got the last laugh: Priscilla says the ticket and its fine followed John through all his addresses, increasing to $200 by the time they settled in Haverhill.

Johnston remembers another story about the rather large patrolman: "When the town council required him to start carrying mace - no doubt in case the Shimer folk rebelled - he wore it in the small of his back, where he could not get to it without taking off his belt."

Another locale Bellairs visited was the post office. Former student Robert Falk recalls that when St. Fidgeta became popular it became an expensive problem for its author. "John had a large number of copies to send to friends and wrote a personal message in each one before wrapping and taking to the post office. Being an actual published author made him quite a celebrity to the guys at the post office. About an hour after John had returned home, he got a call from the post office. The caller explained that after John had left, he and his coworkers started wondering what John's book looked like so they unwrapped one. When they looked inside, they found the personal message which John had written. They unwrapped another book and again found a personal message. Several more revealed the same thing. The problem was, the post office explained, that a personal message turned a book into a first class letter and thus no longer qualified for the special book rate (which I recall being five cents per pound). John was asked to come back to the post office to pay the additional postage which was, I think, thirteen times as much."