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Six degrees of Elgin?

When Matt Orth came from Ulysses to Marion last year to open his agricultural spraying service, Central Ag Air, at Marion Airport, he was a newcomer to Marion.

However, did he already have a connection to town of which he was unaware? Perhaps.

A popular and oft-referenced parlor game of the past two decades is “Six degrees of Kevin Bacon,” named after the Hollywood actor. I’ll always remember him first and foremost in his big screen debut as ROTC officer Chip Diller in the bawdy fraternity comedy “Animal House,” but others will recognize him from “Footloose,” “Apollo 13,” “Tremors,” or countless other roles.

The game is played by trying to link Bacon to any other Hollywood celebrity through six or fewer connections. It’s based on the theory of six degrees of separation, the notion that any two people in the world can be linked through six or fewer relationships, which means we all know someone who knows someone who knows — well, you get the picture — who knows Kevin Bacon.

As is often the case with frequent readers, you’re likely scratching your head at this point wondering, “What do Matt Orth and Kevin Bacon have to do with the Historic Elgin Hotel,” which you thought you were going to read about from the title, right?

Well, in the case of Orth, there might just be a connection to one of the hotel’s former owners. As we reported all the way back in 1968, the Elgin was purchased by ag sprayer Daryl Esslinger, who intended to turn the building into a flight academy, as well the base for his three-state spraying service.

We haven’t talked to Orth about it, but is it really much of a stretch to imagine a string of ag pilots stretching back to connect him with Esslinger, and therefore, the Elgin Hotel?

Now, if you were to choose a Marion old-timer like me, the game wouldn’t be much fun. As I recall (an increasingly laborious task, by the way), my grandfather was part of a group of Marion investors who owned the Elgin for a brief period of time. One degree, boom, done. You’ll have a better time looking up Kevin Bacon “Animal House” clips online.

But it could be a fun game to play when talking with newcomers to town, or when you’re sitting next to someone on an airplane. What line of connections might a person have to one of Marion’s oldest and most storied buildings?

The city of Marion anteed into the game Monday with its decision to issue $800,000 of industrial revenue bonds for the Elgin, which will be marketed by The Historic Elgin Hotel LLC, the company set up by Jeremy and Tammy Ensey to own and operate the hotel.

The money will not come from the city, but from private investors who purchase the bonds and take on the risk, and hotel revenues will be used to pay them. Whether the hotel performs well or poorly, local tax dollars aren’t involved beyond property and sales tax abatements.

If everything plays out the way we’d like to see it, the Elgin Hotel could be in for a good, long run entertaining guests in our fair city, and every one of those will have a reason to spread the “Six degrees of Elgin” game wherever they go. That’s not totally outlandish, though yes, it is a little bit out there.

And remember, one of those players might just lead directly back to Kevin Bacon, who might just decide it was a connection fun enough to make a trip to Marion with some of his Hollywood buddies. OK, yes, that’s totally outlandish.

Then again, a few short decades ago, so was the thought that the Elgin could actually be a hotel again. Where there’s Bacon, there’s always hope.

— david colburn

Last modified May 12, 2016

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