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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"Hale and Hearty" Clark Corser


This charming old-timer is Clark Corser (1817-1909), an early settler of Benton Township.

Clark and his parents, Nathaniel and Martha, and siblings set out from Vermont by covered wagon in 1831. They first settled in Indiana and then came to Benton Township, Lake County between 1838 and 1840. Clark was one of the county's first land purchasers, and spent his life as a farmer.

In 1850, Clark joined the California Gold Rush and spent a year there before returning home. Clark married Louisa Rachel Daniels of Caledonia, Wisconsin on October 30, 1851. Together they built two homes in the area of 33rd Street and Sand Ridge Road (now Sheridan Road), near the Dickertown School, and raised a family. After Louisa died in 1898, Clark lived with his oldest son, Robert, and youngest daughter, Mary, who was divorced.

Clark was to be the editor of the history of Benton Township for John Halsey's "A History of Lake County, Illinois" published in 1912. He passed away in 1909 before completing his work. He is buried next to his wife in Lake Mound Cemetery in Zion.

In 1918, children at the Dickertown School of Zion wrote their community's history, including a remembrance of Clark Corser: "He was hale and hearty, able to walk to Zion or dance a jig. He is well remembered by many of the children now in the upper grades."

Based on the congenial portrait of Clark, I'd bet that was a mighty fine jig.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Deck the Fort with Boughs of Holly


It's no surprise that the U.S. Army Post at Fort Sheridan had a bounty of decorations at the holidays. It was home to military families, and a home away from home for many servicemen and women.

In this circa 1914 photograph, Building 47 is festooned with a Christmas tree and what appear to be gifts. The haphazard way in which the tree is decorated looks like someone threw a roll of toilet paper at it, but the garland may be a string of popcorn. Note the dumb bells and pins on the racks on either side of the stage, an indication of this building's dual use as a gymnasium and theater.

"The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there." Excerpted from Clement Clarke Moore's poem 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.

Minimal decorations for the Signal Corps in the midst of the war in 1944. Standing with their Christmas stockings in Building 33 are from left to right: William Quada, Harold Foust, and Richard Freeman. This building served as a stockade from 1890 to 1970 when it became the Post Museum.

Decorations at Building 48, circa 1965. This building flanks the Fort's 169-foot Tower, and was constructed in 1890 as barracks, and later was used for Lovell General Hospital and headquarters' offices. The miniature replica of the Tower in the photograph was used on parade floats.

Soldiers putting up the holiday lights on the Tower, December 8, 1965.







The results of the all the hard work. A colorful light display, highlighting the Fort's most prominent architectural feature.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Here Comes Santa Claus


Mall Santas used to frighten me.

When I was about five years old, my mother took me to have my picture taken with Santa. She got me all dressed up and didn't tell me where we were going. When we got to the mall and I spotted Santa Claus in his makeshift village, I wouldn't go near him. We circled the perimeter of the mall court for a solid thirty minutes. To my mother's credit, she didn't pester me about it, and eventually, I worked up the courage to have the photo taken. That was the last one with Santa.

I'm no longer afraid of Santas, but I still keep them at a distance. I'm mildly fascinated by the whole Santa phenomenon. You know, the mall tour, the Macy's Day Parade, the inflatable yard decorations.

Santa is such an iconic figure in our culture that he is even represented in the Museum's Fort Sheridan photo collection.

Here, members of the Women's Army Corps receive cartons of Old Gold and Pall Mall cigarettes from Santa and his helper, circa 1945.






The side of the Pall Mall carton reads: "So Round so Firm So Fully Packed So Free and Easy on the Draw."

At right, this terrific, eclectic mix of holiday decorations, including Santa, decked out the Smith home on Bolles Loop, circa 1965.

Season's Greetings from the Fifth U.S. Army. The Fifth Army was headquartered at Fort Sheridan from 1965-1971. The toy soldiers flanking Santa are a nice touch for an Army post's Christmas decorations.

For more on the history of Fort Sheridan and the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve Explore the Fort.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Lake Michigan in Winter


This is one of my favorite views of Lake Michigan. It's a colorized postcard of the Waukegan shoreline made by the E.C. Kropp Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I use this circa 1910 image in my lectures on Lake County history, usually when speaking about the last Ice Age that ended around 15,000 years ago. That's the "truth of art." You use what you can to illustrate a point, even if it's not quite accurate. Ken Burns did that expertly in his Civil War series, and kudos to him for bringing that moment in American history to life for us all.


This 1899 photograph shows a fishing tug frozen in Waukegan harbor. Lake Michigan was a vital part of Lake County's development and economic growth, from the 1840s. Winter ice build-up in the harbor could cause mayhem for even the most experienced sailors and fishermen.

In 1963, the News-Sun reported that five fishing tugs were frozen in the ice a mile off shore. Lucky for them, within a day they broke through, unlike Ernest Shackleton's harrowing 1914-1916 Antarctic expedition.

Large chunks of windrow ice are visible in this 1913 photograph of the harbor and lighthouse. This photo is credited to E.W. Plonien. During a normal winter, 17 to 29 inches of ice grows in sheltered harbors and bays on Lake Michigan.

Break water, looking north from lighthouse, Waukegan, January, 1947.

The ice formations along the lakeshore are quite remarkable. It's worth a trip to the Waukegan harbor in mid-winter to see the frozen waves over the docks and piers.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Going to the Chapel


When planning an exhibition, the museum's collections staff consider which archival materials and objects will best tell the story, and often choose an item based on how recently it has been displayed.

For the current exhibition on World War II, "Keep 'Em Flying: How the Homefront Helped the Frontlines," staff wanted to feature at least one wedding dress. The exhibit was a great opportunity to showcase a beautiful dress from the museum's textile collection. In the end, two wedding dresses and a woman's Red Cross uniform jacket were chosen.

The exhibition's focus is to highlight a grant project digitizing tens of thousands of World War II images from the collections. The majority of the images are postcards made by the Curt Teich Company between 1941-1945. A selection of about 200 of these postcards are featured in the exhibition, along with Civilian Defense booklets, and photographs from Fort Sheridan.

Exhibiting textiles takes special preparation, and may require mending or steaming. Shown here is collections assistant, Deanna Tyler, steaming Marcelline Czernik's wedding dress with distilled water. The process took several hours in order to proceed with the utmost care, and to make the dress as presentable as it was on the wedding day. Note that Deanna is wearing a white cotton glove on the hand touching the dress. This prevents the transfer of oil from her hand onto the fabric.

Marcelline Czernik married her high school sweetheart, Chester Vasofsky, on January 22, 1944, as seen in their wedding photo below. The bride purchased an off-the-rack dress at the Globe Department Store in downtown Waukegan. With the war raging, it was the only style available.

After steaming, Marcelline's dress and veil were placed on a museum quality mannequin. Archival tissue was used to fill out the dress's shape. The dress is shown on display in the World War II exhibition (below).












As staff was preparing one dress for exhibition, another war-time bride's story came to light as a museum exhibits intern told of her grandmother's wedding dress made from a parachute. After inquiries, it was confirmed that the dress had a unique Lake County story to tell, and the family was willing to donate it to the museum's permanent collection. The timing was perfect to be included in the exhibition. The unique nylon dress (below) needed some steaming before being dressed on a mannequin and put on display.

Carol Rosalie Kirkpatrick (left) on her wedding day at the First Baptist Church in Waukegan, on September 6, 1947. Her dress was made from a parachute that her fiance, John Smelcer, sent home while stationed in Okinawa, Japan. The white nylon parachute was fashioned into a bridal gown by the bride’s mother. It was fairly common for servicemen to send pieces of parachutes to loved ones back home, but rare to send the whole thing.

Both wedding dresses are on display through January, 2009.

(Since making this post, the exhibit's closing date has been changed to May 3, 2009).