|Jessi Haish LaRue with a portrait of Jacob Haish|
My maiden name is Haish.
No, I’m not rich. I don’t own a bunch of cool historical artifacts. And a lot of people don’t know the history behind my maiden name. (These are all assumptions I hear fairly regularly.)
But growing up, I still took a lot of pride in my last name.
My dad sparked the interest when I was in elementary school. He showed me a family tree that was created by a distant relative, Jeff Marshall, in 1996. He told me that my 4th great uncle was Jacob Haish, and said that if I had been born a boy, my name would have been Jacob.
“Jacob Haish was very important to DeKalb and Sycamore.”
From there my father introduced me to local history and told me all about my barbed wire baron ancestor; he showed me the book “From Oxen to Jets,” which has an iconic photo of Jacob Haish’s mansion. I wanted to see the home, but my dad told me it was demolished in the 1960s. I was crushed.
Instead, we took a tour of the Ellwood House. There, I was able to learn more not only about Isaac Ellwood, but Haish’s involvement in the city, such as his contributions to the library and hospital. My dad also drove me to the location where Haish’s mansion once stood. I was instantly convinced that Haish was the coolest of the three barbed wire barons, and that he had done the most for the city. (Maybe I’m a little biased.)
My first brush with “fame” was years ago when my family left a restaurant in Sycamore. Someone was standing near my mom’s car, pointing out the vanity license plate. He wanted to know if we were related to Jacob Haish, and joked about us being rich. It’s a big misconception; Haish didn’t have any children to pass his wealth to, so his money went toward all those charitable projects after his death.
Barbed wire history was only briefly discussed during my time in Sycamore schools; but when Haish’s name was mentioned, I remember receiving some skeptical side-glances from classmates. But when the teacher would ask if I was related I would proudly boast “Yes, he is my GREAT-GREAT-GREAT-GREAT uncle!” But honestly, I didn’t know too much more about him. We don’t have a historian in the family, and, to the dismay of many people I’ve met, we don’t have any cool barbed wire artifacts. Those things are usually scooped up by collectors.
Even though I recently got married and decided to change my last name, my Haish pride still lives on. I took my husband on the Ellwood House’s final tour of its 2015 season, and told him as many facts as I could while we walked. Then I excitedly took him to the visitor’s center to show him the Haish furniture collection. It meant so much to me to be able to share that with him. I’ll always be a Haish girl at heart.
Although it may not come with fame, glory and wealth, being a Haish comes with some serious family pride and some neat perks. I’ve met people, through email and in person, who were so excited to learn that I was a descendant of Jacob Haish. And thanks to these people, I’ve learned more about my family’s history than I could have imagined possible.
Now that I’m out of college, more than anything I've wanted to dive into the history of Jacob Haish. And now I'm doing it -- right here on this blog through research and interviews with my family members, local historians and fans of barbed wire history. I'm hoping my background in writing, journalism and photography will really come into play through this project and on this blog. Maybe someday, this will even become a book.
If you are interested in sharing your Jacob Haish story, or can point me in the right direction to one, please feel free to send me an email at JHaish09@gmail.com.