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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Andrew Carnegie and His Library Legacy


Before towns had public libraries they often had “reading rooms.” Waukegan had maintained one through its library association beginning in 1845, but the dream was always to have a true library for its citizens. If not for a generous donation from Andrew Carnegie in 1903, that dream may have taken many more years to be realized.

Andrew Carnegie visiting Waukegan, circa 1903. LCDM Collection.
Carnegie (1835-1919) was one of America’s most successful businessmen. He immigrated to the United States from Scotland with his family in 1848, and settled in Allegheny, Pennsylvania.

Carnegie worked at a cotton mill, Western Union and the Pennsylvania Railroad before beginning his own business in 1865—the Carnegie Steel Company.

Through his shrewd and often criticized business practices, Carnegie became the world’s wealthiest man.

He was convinced that education was life’s key and that people should have access to information for self-education. In this regard, he established the first Carnegie Library in his hometown in Scotland in 1881.

The first Carnegie Library in the United States was built in Braddock, Pennsylvania in 1889. Curt Teich postcard A23659 (1911).

The amount of money that Carnegie gave each town was based on U.S. Census figures, and averaged about $2 per person. Nearly all Carnegie libraries were built according to "The Carnegie Formula," which required matching contributions from the town that received the donation. Generally, this meant the people had to be willing to raise taxes to support the library. He also required that the town provide the building site, and free service to all.


The Carnegie Library in Waukegan, with its unusual semicircular shape and Ionian Greek style architecture stands at the corner of Washington Street and Sheridan Road. It served as the community’s library from 1903-1965.


Jack Benny worked as a pit musician at the Barrison Theater (on left in postcard above) until 1911, when he left Waukegan to perform in a vaudeville act with Barrison pianist Cora Salisbury. Postcard, circa 1907 (LCDM 61.8.101).


Carnegie's donations coincided with a time of expansion for many towns, and when states were seeing the need to establish public libraries. Waukegan Public Library, circa 1910 (LCDM 61.8.121).


Another view of the library, showing the unusual construction on the bluff at Sheridan Road, circa 1945 (LCDM 2006.17.2).

In all, Carnegie provided the funds to build approximately 1,900 public libraries in the United States and over 2,800 worldwide. It cost him over $41 million to build the U.S. libraries, and in his lifetime he gave away $350 million. After his death, the Carnegie Corporation of New York continued his tradition of philanthropy.

Waukegan's "new" public library is located on County Street, near the county courthouse. The Carnegie Library still stands on Sheridan Road, and there is much debate over what function the building can serve.

One of America’s greatest living writers, and Waukegan native, Ray Bradbury (1920- ), discovered books and a love of reading at Waukegan's Carnegie Library, benefiting from Andrew Carnegie's belief that “the man who dies rich, dies disgraced.”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Dinner


Holiday dinners are special for the traditional food and decorations, and for families and friends gathering to celebrate.

I searched the collection for images of holiday meals, and the ones that stood out featured soldiers and sailors. In these images, enlisted men are celebrating Christmas far from home.

This postcard from 1917 taken at the U.S. Naval Station Great Lakes shows young sailors having their Christmas dinner. I find this image particularly sweet as they smile for the camera, making the best of being away from home. Even though the table is crowded with so many seated for dinner, it also appears festive with white china and greenery for centerpieces.

This is the back of the Christmas Dinner postcard. Oddly, it is postmarked June 17, 1918. Maybe it was the only postcard available or it evoked the "Great life up here" that he writes about in the message.

This Christmas dinner was held at Fort Sheridan, circa 1930. At each place setting, the coffee cup is turned upside down and an apple is set on top. There are also gift items on each plate, including a pack of cigarettes and a cigar. The meal consists of pies, roasted meat, mashed potatoes and butter.

This photo was taken in the Officers Club at Fort Sheridan, December 6, 1967. The room is decorated for the Officers Wives Club Christmas tea. A white aluminum Christmas tree with tinsel is prominently displayed at the center of the tables. Look closely you may be able to see that the platters of hors d'oeuvres include some in the shape of snowmen.

Happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sitting Bull - On This Day in History


One of the legends that has persisted in the annals of Lake County history is that the Native American, Sitting Bull, was imprisoned at Fort Sheridan in the late 1800s.

The confusion probably arises from the fact that a group of Sioux warriors were escorted to Fort Sheridan in early 1891. However, Sitting Bull could not have been among those men, because he had been assassinated months earlier on December 15, 1890.






Sitting Bull (c. 1831 – 1890) was a Sioux holy man, notable in American history for his role in the victory at the Battle of Little Bighorn against Lt. Colonel George Custer and the U.S. 7th Cavalry on June 25, 1876.

In the 1880s, he toured briefly with “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s Wild West Show. He is shown at left in a studio portrait with Bill Cody.

Sitting Bull urged his people to accept no further compromise and relinquish no more land to the U.S. Government. He participated in the "Ghost Dance," a ceremonial movement with a messianic message. Because of his great influence, his involvement raised fears of an uprising. Federal agents ordered Sitting Bull arrested, and in a pre-dawn raid on 15 December 1890, more than three dozen tribal policemen backed by military escort were dispatched to his cabin. In the ensuing chaos Sitting Bull was shot and killed.

Two weeks later, the Indian Wars came to a tragic end at Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota. Big Foot, another Sioux leader, led his people to an area he thought safe. Federal troops caught up with him and opened fire massacring 370 Lakota.


Shortly thereafter, 19 Sioux warriors were escorted to Fort Sheridan. The idea was to show the warriors the newly constructed fort with all its buildings, soldiers, and weapons, to impress on them the might of the U.S. military. Pictured above are the Sioux who were brought to Fort Sheridan, as photographed by George Lawrence.

Buffalo Bill Cody heard of their capture and asked the U.S. Government for permission to ask the men to join his Wild West Show. A letter dated March 1891, from General Miles states that Cody’s offer “would give them [Sioux] occupation for a year and a half without expense to the government; they would be away from the Sioux country during that time... [it] will educate them as to the extent, power and number of the white race.”

The Sioux warriors toured Europe with Cody, and returned to Illinois to perform at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Once no longer employed by Cody, the U.S. army allowed them to return to their homes.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Gordon Keith Ray and Pearl Harbor


I would like to commemorate the 68th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor with the story of one Lake County soldier and his family.

It was on the evening of December 7, 1941, while the Ray family was having dinner in their Diamond Lake home, when the music on the radio broke with the news of Pearl Harbor. Their son, Gordon Keith, was stationed at Schofield Barracks not far from Pearl Harbor.

In the spring of 1941, Gordon Keith Ray (1919 - 2006), had finished his senior year at the University of Illinois and received a commission in the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant. When he left home that July, his father Gordon, wrote in his diary: "this seemed like the end as we returned to an empty house, but Keith never let us down."

This photo of Gordon Keith on furlough was featured in "The Ray's" newsletter. LCDM 96.1.56 (right)

At the end of August, Keith was told that he was being assigned to a new post. He wrote to his father: "I don't know when the boat will sail; they're keeping it secret."

Gordon wrote back: "I hope you don't have to go to Hawaii, but if you do, take it on the chin, and trusting God."

As fate would have it, Keith was sent to Hawaii, and the family was devastated to hear the news of the attack on that December evening.

Gordon wrote in his diary: "We could only wait for news to come, but the days passed and no news came. Everyone tried to console us by saying that 'no news is good news,' but it didn't satisfy our anxiety."

On December 16, the Rays sent a cablegram to Keith, but there was no reply. Three days later, the U.S. Government broadcasted on the radio that anyone who had not heard from the War Department should be assured their boys were O.K.

Still, the family prayed for news from Keith.

It was Monday, December 22 at 8:30 a.m. when Gordon and Marie Ray received a telegram from their son saying, "Am all right, why not?"

The same day they received a letter from Keith written on December 9:

"Dear Folks, I don't know when you will get this, but I thought I'd drop you a line to let you know that I'm still kicking. We seem to be in a war and are working 24 hours a day. I'm really doing things, but I'm afraid I can't tell you anything now. When I get home, I'll have some real stories to tell of air raids, blackouts, and defense work in the field. Lots of rumors, but not much war. Don't believe everything you hear from Washington or Tokyo. They both tell a lot of lies. Love, Keith."


The Ray Brothers resort on Diamond Lake was a popular hang-out for picnics, dancing and the community to gather. In 1943, the "V" for Victory collage of local servicemen was displayed prominently at the resort. (above) LCDM 96.1.51

On May 2, 1944, Keith came home from the war. He wasted no time filling up on Ray Brothers' hamburgers, shakes and pies.

December 5, 1944, almost three years to the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Gordon Keith Ray married Betty Gridley at the Gridley home in Libertyville. LCDM 96.1.61

Keith received an honorable discharge in October, 1945. He went on to become a professional engineer, and received international recognition as an authority on the design and construction of concrete pavements for roads and airport runways.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Palatine, Lake Zurich & Wauconda Railroad


After the Civil War, Chicago's population boomed, and the city became the railroad hub of the nation. Railroad lines stretched out from the city like tendrils, reaching and connecting a myriad of small towns, and an entire nation.

The first railway into Lake County was the Chicago & Milwaukee Railroad which arrived in Waukegan to much fanfare in 1855. (right)

By the 1870s and 1880s, many towns in Lake County had railroad depots, including Grayslake, Gurnee, and Lake Villa. Though Wauconda seemed forgotten, the townsfolk dreamt of having a railroad come through its borders to connect Cook County to Wisconsin.

Finally, in 1911 work on the Palatine, Lake Zurich & Wauconda (PLZ & W) Railroad began. The last obstacle to making the dream a reality was purchasing land on Lake Zurich Golf Club property.

Golf Club founder Charley Wood and other members of the club learned that the railroad could not condemn cemeteries. Doctors who were also club members went to the county morgue for the unclaimed bodies of four deceased men. They buried the men and put up a sign to mark the “ad hoc” cemetery and stop the railroad from acquiring the land. Fortunately for Wauconda, this only caused a short delay while the railroad rerouted its tracks.

In 1913, an 1885-built engine named “Old Maud” was purchased from the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad and the new line was in business.

Real photo postcard of the dedication of the new railroad with the first train arriving in Wauconda. (above)

PLZ&W abandoned depot in Lake Zurich, photographed about 1965.

Unfortunately, the railroad struggled for many years, never attracting passengers during the winter months and losing customers to the growing popularity of automobiles and trucks. In 1924, only 11 years after its promising start, the dream of the PLZ&W Railroad came to an end.

A PLZ&W Railroad overpass in disrepair, photographed about 1965.

There are no remains of the PLZ&W to be found. The site of the Wauconda depot is now home to Wauconda's Police Department.


Map showing the PLZ&W Railroad line. Created by Richard Whitney and used in his book, "Old Maud: The Story of the Palatine, Lake Zurich & Wauconda Railroad." 1992.

Nationwide from the 1950s and 1970s, enormous amounts of rail heritage were abandoned and ripped up, including railroad lines and New York's original, legendary Pennsylvania Station. Nostalgia for railway history has sparked an interest in preservation. Though it's too late for the PLZ&W, other aspects of railway history are being saved from demolition or preserved in museums.

The nation's largest railway museum is located in Union, Illinois. The Illinois Railway Museum’s mission is dedicated to preserving the history of rail operations in and around Chicago (including the area’s extensive trolley operations), as well as the entire country.