“Looks like something from Mad Men,” younger people often say when they look at the sprightly cartoon character, Andy Aurora. Mad Men was, of course, the early-2000s television show about America’s advertising industry in the 1960s.
And they are 100 percent right.
Andy Aurora, the dapper cartoon gent behind the big red letter A is, indeed, from the 1960s, and he was, indeed, advertising a product.
The year was 1964 and the product was the city of Aurora. But let’s let the creative genius behind Andy tell the story.
Aurora was “known, but not nicely known,” said Gerald B. Morrow in a 2012 interview with Roald Haase of the Aurora Historical Society. “The city had been two years behind in paying its bills … [and] was putting its own local contractors out of business. We had no financial reputation.”
Appointed as city treasurer by Mayor Jay Hunter, Morrow found himself not just laboriously working the city out of municipal bankruptcy, but also dealing with the nationwide perception of Aurora as the punchline of jokes, a city often mocked, in the late 1950s, for the antics of its flamboyant mayor, Paul Egan.
As Hunter’s term as mayor drew to a close, and with solvency achieved, Jerry Morrow was given a new directive: create a public relations campaign to help restore Aurora’s reputation.
He approached The Beacon-News, and worked with Chief Artist John Jarvis to come up with the big letter A cartoon of a jaunty gentleman representative of Aurora spirit, and the slogan “I’m from Aurora, Illinois and PROUD OF IT!”
Aurora’s banks were persuaded to underwrite a special printing of the city’s financial report, which appeared in the Beacon on Monday, Sept. 14, 1964, and featured Andy prominently. His flashy hands and optimistic grin appeared again in a reprint on March 22, 1965.
“It [the report] was intelligible … for anyone with any amount of education, at least that was my intent,” Morrow said in the 2012 interview, “and Andy really clicked with the taxpayers.”
Included in the report was an explanation that the average city resident contributed, out of a $300 real estate tax bill, only an estimated $58 for city services.
Albert McCoy took office as mayor in 1965 and enthusiastically continued the Andy campaign. Copies of the report were put into the hands of every school child in Aurora. Decals of Andy were distributed to citizens, who were urged to represent Aurora wherever they went. Even today many an Auroran of a certain age remembers the decal on the family station wagon.
Eventually reports drifted back of Andy having been spotted in the Panama Canal Zone and even behind the Iron Curtain in communist-controlled places in Europe, according to a 1967 article in the journal Nation’s Cities.
Andy Makes a Comeback
After a few years, Andy was retired as a symbol of Aurora and might have disappeared into obscurity except for the Aurora Historical Society, which acquired ownership of the image. Even so, Andy went into the archives as little more than a fun peek into Aurora’s past. It was in 2012, when the historical society was putting together the city’s demisemiseptcentennial (175th anniversary) when then-curator Jennifer Putzier had an inspiration.
“Andy stuck in the back of my mind as something really special,” she said at the time. “I always felt he would have tremendous appeal to all segments of the population, (being) both cool and retro, (and nostalgic) to those who might actually remember him.”
Putzier printed the image as a postcard, and someone hatched the idea of asking citizens to take Andy along on their travels, to be photographed far and wide, spreading Aurora pride.
Once again, as Jerry Morrow said about the 1964 campaign, “Andy really clicked.” Hundreds of citizens obliged, posting to the historical society Facebook page their selfies and their *Andies* from places as far away as Senegal and Rwanda and as nearby as down the block where a streets crew was filling potholes.
At the end of the anniversary year, many of these photos were incorporated into a fast-paced three-minute video set to the song (Proud to Be An) Aurora Boy by Aurora songwriter Bradley Keven Green.
Looking back, Green says “You know, I didn’t write the song for Andy, it was more about how I feel about my home town. But listen for yourself and see if you don’t think it is a perfect fit.”
The video is embedded above and may be viewed on the society’s website, http://www.aurorahistory.net.
Bicentennial Ambassador Andy
Andy is about to get his third big assignment as an ambassador for Aurora.
As part of the Illinois Bicentennial, Aurorans will be asked to take pictures again to show the reach that Illinois and Aurora have had in the development of the nation, and the culture of the country.
Details will soon be available on the website, but meanwhile the Aurora Historical Society has reprinted the Andy placards and is selling them for $2 each (5×7) and $4 (8×10) at The Aurora Shop at the Pierce Art and History Center, 20 E. Downer Pl., 60505. Shop hours are noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
Returning from retirement is pretty impressive for any celebrity. Did Jerry Morrow ever expect to see Andy Aurora reappear after 4 decades in the file drawer? “No, never. If I had,” he said mischievously, “I would have retained the movie rights. And by the way, if (a movie) ever happens, I want Matt Damon to play me!”
About The Aurora Historical Society
In continuous operation since 1906, the Aurora Historical Society is one of the oldest institutions in the Chicago area. Come tour the 1857 Tanner House, visit changing exhibits at the David L. Pierce Art and History Center or make an appointment to do research at the History Center. For more information, visit the Aurora Historical Society website.
Read The Kane County History Series!
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- Kane County History: Aurora’s Maud Powell, World Famous Violinist
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- Kane County History: Experience High-Tech History at April 21 ‘Open Elgin’ Event
- Kane County History: Batavia, IL — ‘Windmill Capital of The World’
- TODAY: The Unsinkable Andy Aurora