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Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Boys of Summer


The Chicago Cubs are having a wobbly season, but it's summer and that means baseball!

The game we know and love today developed in the 1840s and 1850s. This photo was taken about 1885 and is from the Museum's Lux Family Collection.

By the Civil War in 1861, baseball was so popular it was being played by the soldiers in prison camps, and five years later, baseball was referred to as the national pastime.

The rise of the game’s popularity correlates with the rise of manufacturing jobs in the United States. This economic boom increased the size of the middle class and gave families more leisure time to play and watch sports.

U.S. Army Fort Sheridan baseball team on the post's parade grounds, circa 1900.

Grayslake baseball team, 1905. Pictured are Dr. William Clarke, A.A. McMillen, Rev. Schultz, William Brandstetter, George Thomson, Fred Battershall, R.W. Churchill, J.T. Morse, and George Fredericks.

In Lake County, Lake Forest Academy organized a team that played its first game in 1867 against the Waukegan Amateurs. Local baseball teams regularly played against one another beginning in the spring of 1871. Teams such as the Pioneers and Lake Shores of Waukegan, the Nine of Lake Forest Academy, the Prairie Boys of Libertyville, and the Highlanders of Highland Park played each other for championship titles. Wauconda was the archrival of Lake Zurich, and Grayslake of Monaville (east Fox Lake).

This terrific photo shows a crowd cheering on the Fort Sheridan team, circa 1930. On June 9, 1944, the Fort’s team played an exhibition game against the Chicago White Sox at the Fort, beating the Sox 8 to 6.

Thought I'd include the "Girls of Summer," too. Here members of the Women's Army Corps play ball on the parade grounds, circa 1950.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Blarney Island, Grass Lake


Blarney Island in Grass Lake is one of the most unusual bars in the world, since you can only get there by boat. It also has a reputation for boisterous partying.

In the beginning, there was Shorty's Place, also known as Rohema. This resort, like so many others on Grass Lake, offered boat ride tours of the lotus beds. Shorty built his place about 1906 when the waters were unusually low. The change in water level created a small peninsula which jutted into the lake.

Here, Shorty's "Rohema" is shown from the waters of Grass Lake looking back at the resort clearly on land. This real photo postcard was made about 1910.

This beautiful colorized postcard view of the lotus beds gives a sense for what the fuss was about. People flocked to see the lotus beds which covered vast acres of Grass Lake. The flowers still grow on the Chain, but are limited to "no wake zones." The best time to see the blooms is in July.

A slightly later view of Shorty's place, about 1915. It is difficult to tell from this view, but Shorty's is still on land.

Some historians have identified "Shorty" as Shorty Shobin. Though in local papers of the day articles referred to him simply as "Shorty." In 1908, the McHenry Dam was built across the Fox River and the water levels began to rise. A paper reported that the dam was "blasting [Shorty's] hopes... Each day he watched the water increasing on his domain."

This photograph taken of Shorty's Rohema is a rare close-up of the resort, and the man on the porch may be Shorty himself. If so, it's the only known photo of Shorty in the Museum's collections. An unidentified woman is standing next to a rowboat planted with flowers.

It is not clear at what point Shorty sold his business, but by 1923, the name Blarney Island is in place with Jack O'Connor as the proprietor. Some have claimed that Shorty lost his resort to Jack O'Connor in a poker game. O'Connor's original resort reportedly burned down and he used Shorty's former site to start his business anew.


This picture postcard from about 1925 gives an incredible perspective of Blarney Island across the lotus beds. Today, the area around Blarney Island is open water.

Locals claim the water level did not rise high enough to create the resort "island" until 1939 after the Stratton Lock and Dam was built, making historians realize that a lot of information has been lost to time. Why would O'Connor call his establishment Blarney Island in 1923 if it was still on land?

This close-up of O'Connor's Hotel Blarney shows clearly how the resort is built on pylons. Again, there is a rowboat planted with flowers, very reminiscent of Shorty's Place, and probably a popular gardening decoration of the time.

The spring thaw of 1952 nearly destroyed the entire building. Ed Walters, the owner at the time, decided to rebuild and used remnants of the original structure to maintain Blarney Island's history.

Blarney Island still exists, and is open everyday, but remember, you can only get there by boat!

Monday, May 4, 2009

National Postcard Week



The first full week of May each year marks National Postcard Week (in the U.S.). Early in the 20th century, postcard enthusiasts sent "Postcard Day" cards on May 1st, but the modern celebration began in 1984 as a way for sellers and collectors to promote the hobby of postcard collecting.

I thought it'd be fun to share some of my favorite postcards from the Museum's Lake County collections. There are about 2,700 postcards in that collection (not to mention the millions in the Teich Archives). So, I concentrated my search on the Chain of Lakes area and found examples of several types of postcards.

One of my all-time favorite views is this colorized one from Stilling's Summer Resort at Pistaqua Bay, Illinois. The message is written on the "front" of the card as required on early postcards. Mildred wrote: "Dear Helen. This is the only postal that they have here." And what a lovely one, indeed.

The reverse side of the postcard shows the address, a McHenry postmark, and a penny stamp. The address side of the postcard was only for addresses until 1907 when a space was created for the message.

Real photo postcard of the Wisconsin Central Railroad at the Antioch depot, circa 1910. Train enthusiasts will love this view for obvious reasons, but I enjoy the slice of life aspect of the people and their baggage, and the milk can sitting on the platform. Photo postcards were as popular as printed views. As an added bonus to historians, they are a unique documentary record because the photos got little or no touch-ups in production, unlike picture postcards which were often altered.

C.R. Childs is probably my favorite postcard producer. I'm partial to Childs because I love photographs, and his are exquisite. Also, Childs produced hundreds of views of Lake County. The Museum has about 600 of them in its collection. This photo postcard of Lake Marie, Antioch is from about 1913 and is typical of the quality of the Childs Company of Chicago.

Charles R. Childs (1875 – 1960) started producing postcards in 1906 and continued into the 1950s. As shown on the reverse of the Lake Marie postcard, it is stamped "Salesman's Sample." This indicates that the card was taken around by a company salesman to potential buyers such as general stores, and ice cream parlors. The store would order a quantity or might even commission a specific view.

This Curt Teich Company chrome printed postcard from 1956 (6CK500) for the George Diamond restaurant in Milwaukee, Chicago and Antioch always makes me chuckle. In a good way. It's a terrific representation of steakhouses of that era, and also reminds me of my grandfather who loved to grill steaks in his backyard. George Diamond is seen here preparing a steak in front of one of his open charcoal broilers.

Happy Postcard Week to one and all!