Lightning strikes historic Elgin home

May 13, 2010 9:11:57 PM PDT
A lightning strike apparently touched off a massive fire that destroyed an 1891 mansion in northwest suburban Elgin.

The fire happened early Thursday morning.

No one was hurt in the blaze, but the Wuestenfeld House was destroyed. Known to neighbors as 'the castle,' the mansion is located at 552 East Chicago Street in Elgin. Artist Daniel Skaggs spent 14 years restoring the home to its former glory.

"It was not just a house burning. It was a beauty," said Skaggs as he picked up what can be saved from the home. He lost most of his belongings, including his art work.

The loss includes period fixtures, inlaid tiles, restored wood -- all testaments to a gothic artist's pursuit of authenticity.

"Some of the stuff was from England. I ordered overseas to get wallpaper printed from the Palace of Westminster. It had some nice stuff in there," said Skaggs.

The local fire marshal suspects lightning struck the building around 2 a.m. and moments later the entire upstairs was engulfed in flames. When Skaggs bought the place in 1996 it was a rundown multi-apartment complex. Now he shares it with just one tenant-- a fellow artist who treasured her belfry.

"I was terrified. I was screaming. My throat's still sore from screaming," said Cheryl Parrish. "He restored everything so beautifully. He just, you know, he put so much love into the wood and the doors."

The castle is a celebrated work at the Elgin History Museum. In the late 19th Century, builder Christian Wustenfeld wired Thomas Edison's home and the White House. The castle was his respite from the challenge of overseeing the development of the region's electronic trolley car system.

"If electricity destroyed the house and he was so influential in electricity, it is a strange coincidence," said Steve Stroud, Elgin historian.

The irony is not lost on Daniel Skaggs and even though most of his art -- and his home -- are gone, he has faith.

"I am a man of god. I have faith in Jesus Christ, so I just figure he's going to give a new direction to my life," said Skaggs.


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