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Friday, August 28, 2009

Preparing for Halloween


It's a little early to be thinking about Halloween, unless you're a museum planning for an exhibition. The Halloween: Superstitions & Traditions exhibit will be open September 5th to November 1st.

With installation coming up in just a few days, staff is busy writing label text, selecting artifacts, and steaming Halloween costumes in preparation for display. Here, Collections assistant, Becky Gates, steams a circa 1960 Blue Fairy costume on loan from a private collector.

The exhibit will feature vintage Halloween collectibles such as costumes, trick or treat bags, noisemakers, Jack-o-Lanterns, and postcards.

The origins of Halloween trick or treating are very old, and connected to Celtic and Roman culture, and also harvest traditions. While doing research for the exhibit, I also came across photographs in the collection of Raggamuffin Day. Though this day is associated with Thanksgiving, its parallels to Halloween are striking, including that people (especially children) dressed in costume and went door-to-door begging. The photo of adults dressed in costume for Raggamuffin Day in Waukegan is from 1903.

The Thanksgiving masquerade or Raggamuffin Day existed as late as the 1930s and then, according to sources, suddenly vanished. Afterward, Halloween costumes and parades gained national popularity and Raggamuffin Day was all but forgotten.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Mundelein Turns 100!



This year marks the village of Mundelein's 100th birthday. Actually, Mundelein was settled in 1835, but the village incorporated in 1909, making this the centennial celebration. Curt Teich large letter postcard for Mundelein, 1950 (OCH-1817).

There are three things that stand out in my mind about Mundelein: St. Mary of the Lake Seminary, International Eucharistic Congress of 1926, and the community's long struggle to find a permanent name.

Since I've already addressed the Eucharistic Congress in an earlier post (2-20-09), I'll explain the town's search for the perfect name.

The first name associated with Mundelein was Mechanics Grove in 1835. The name is straightforward and refers to its people who "worked with their hands," and "grove" indicates there was once a large stand of trees.

When the Wisconsin Central Railroad came to town in 1885, land was needed for a depot. John Holcomb, a prosperous local farmer, donated 20 acres for the depot and the community became known as Holcomb. That name did not last long as people quickly realized that a stakeholder in the railroad was William Rockefeller (John D.'s brother), and forthwith renamed the town Rockefeller in 1886.

They may have hoped that by adopting that name, the town would receive some special compensation from the Rockefellers. Local legend claims that William visited
once. He rode the train to the Rockefeller depot, got off the train, and got right back on. Postcard of the depot in Rockefeller, circa 1905. Courtesy of private collector.

In 1909, Arthur Sheldon bought acreage in Rockefeller for his business school. He had buildings constructed and a large number of students came from across the country. The school's motto was: Ability, Reliability, Endurance, and Action. The people of Rockefeller were so taken by Sheldon and his motto that they adopted the acronym AREA for the town's name. Postcard of summer session at Sheldon's School of Business, circa 1910. Courtesy of private collector.

That name sufficed until 1920 when Sheldon's school went bankrupt. Conveniently, around that same time, the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, under the direction of Cardinal Mundelein, was looking for a considerable amount of land on which to build its new seminary. Construction began in 1920 of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary.

It is believed that the citizens of Area were so enthused about the seminary plans, and the new firetruck they received from Cardinal Mundelein, that they agreed to rename their town Mundelein in 1924. Though not everyone was happy. The non-Catholics, and there were quite a number of them, did not think the name was appropriate. Postcard of Cardinal Mundelein at seminary cornerstone ceremony in Area, 1920. Courtesy of private collector.

The stage was now set for the International Eucharistic Congress to arrive in 1926, and for the town of Mundelein to be put on the world's map.

After eighty-five years, I think we can be fairly certain that the people of Mundelein will keep this name.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Rare Maerlein Family Photograph


The museum's collections staff assists about 1,700 people each year. Many of these individuals need access to the Lake County history materials or the Teich postcard collection. They contact us by phone and email, and a portion of them visit the archives to complete their research.

We've had visitors from Europe, Canada, and across the United States. Lake County residents often stop in for one to two hours to pore over historic maps, photographs, manuscript collections, or to utilize our special library. It's not unheard of for researchers to make an appointment to spend an entire day, or even several days to fully delve into their research topic.

Recently, a couple visiting from San Diego, California, spent a day digging into their family's Lake County roots. They gave me a list of family names and asked if there might be any photos or other materials related to them. One of the surnames on the list was Maerlein or Merline.

A query of the archives database showed a couple of items of interest, but I recalled a collection of photos related to the part of the county they were researching that weren't yet catalogued on the computer. After checking the inventory for the Wagner Collection, I found the name Merline listed, and pulled the photograph to show the researcher.


Handwritten on the back was: "Merline family, daughter married Titus." No other information was known, other than the family was from Fremont Center. When I showed her the photograph, she was overjoyed. It was an extraordinary find for her. The photograph was of her grandmother and great grandparents, and the only photo of her great grandparents she had ever seen.

What turned out to be a great discovery for her was also a bonus for the archives. The researcher was able to identify the individuals in the photograph as John and Margaretha Maerlein, and their daughter Anna. Anna married John "Joseph" Titus in 1907.









After returning to California, the researcher sent me a note to thank me for assisting her and making a quality copy of the photo for her. She wrote: "I consider it one of my treasures, because I have few or no pictures past my grandparents' generation."

Finds like this don't happen every day, but they do happen, reminding me of the great value of organizing and making these materials available to people around the world.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

German U-Boat in Lake Michigan Waters

This week it was reported that Russian military submarines are patrolling the coast of the Eastern United States in international waters. The incident has raised eyebrows, but most analysts cough it up to the Russian's flexing their muscles and checking U.S. surveillance capabilities.

This isn't the first nor the last time a foreign nation's sub has been near or in our waters.

A view of the German U-boat, UC-97, courtesy of the Eastland Disaster Historical Society.

Immediately following the end of World War I, the United States was still in the process of paying off its war debt. The United States Navy expressed an interest in acquiring several surrendered German submarines for display purposes in conjunction with a Victory Bond drive. Early in 1919, UC-97 and five other German U-boats were allotted to the United States by the British Government.

UC-97 was commissioned by the German Imperial Navy on September 3, 1918. The Chicago Tribune reported on August 17, 1919 that the sub was credited with sinking seven merchant ships, although other sources note that this class of submarine (UC III) conducted no war patrols and sank no ships. It was surrendered to the United States in November 1918.

Once the sub cleared the locks and entered the Great Lakes, it began a series of visits to American ports on Lakes Ontario, Erie, Huron, and Michigan. Though scheduled to visit Lake Superior ports as well, the voyage had to be cut short due to wear on the engines.

In August 1919, the U-boat started back down the coast of Lake Michigan toward Chicago, maknig a stop in Waukegan.








This series of photos was taken of the U-boat docked in the Waukegan Harbor, and being inspected by the local citizenry.

This photo of the submarine appears to have been taken from inside a truck or automobile.









































On June 7, 1921, the U-boat was sunk as a target by the USS Wilmette on Lake Michigan 20 nautical miles off the coast of Highland Park.

Ironically, the USS Wilmette was originally built as the SS Eastland of the infamous Eastland Disaster. In 1915, the SS Eastland--a Great Lakes day passenger and transportation ship--turned over after pulling away from her berth on the Chicago River, drowning 812 people out of over 2,500 passengers - the greatest single loss of life in Great Lakes nautical history.

In 1917, the U.S. Navy purchased the salvaged hull, cut it down in height and rebuilt it into the training vessel USS Wilmette, which served until it was scrapped in 1948. Prior to using the UC-97 for target practice, she was stripped of all armaments, propulsion and navigational equipment.

The German U-boat's wreckage was located in 1992 by A&T Recovery, but its location has not been released to the public.