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Friday, July 31, 2009

Let's All Go to the Fair

The Lake County Fair opened this week in its new digs on Route 137 in rural Grayslake. The move has been controversial. However, the Fair has had many homes in its' 157-year history, including Waukegan, Libertyville, Antioch, Gurnee, Wauconda, and of course, Grayslake.

The Fair got its start as the Lake County Agricultural Society in the 1840s, by local nurseryman and horticulturalist Robert Douglas, who held arbor and floral exhibits at the county courthouse in Waukegan.

In 1852, the first county fair was held at the McKay race track in Waukegan. The fair's purpose was to encourage "better farming and livestock raising by holding annual exhibitions of all sorts of farm produce: fruit, vegetables, dairy products, items of home manufacture, poultry and livestock."

This artful arrangement exemplified what the fair association promoted--beautifully grown produce. This display was made by Fremont Township farmers and Prussian immigrants, Christian and Catherine Thomas, and exhibited at the fair, circa 1880. At the center of the apples and grapes are the Thomas's portraits, who were rightfully proud of the fruit of their labor. 

Tom Thumb (1838-1883) in 1863. Encyclop√¶dia Britannica online.

The fair also featured entertainers and horse harness races. In 1855, General Tom Thumb appeared at the Lake County Fair in Waukegan.
Horse harness racing at the Waukegan Fair, McKay's racetrack, circa 1878. Dunn Museum Collection

The McKay race track was located west of the County buidling on the north side of Washington Street. This image shows a harness race at the track, probably during the Waukegan Days Fair, circa 1880. The courthouse can be seen in the center distance.

Having the fair on the east side of the county was probably a burden for farmers and visitors. In 1854 it was moved to French's Farm in Libertyville, a more central location, but went back to Waukegan from 1855 to 1857. Farmers then convinced the county board to lease 10 acres in Libertyville for the fair's use. It was held at the Lake County Farm (Winchester House) location from 1858 to 1881.

In 1882, the fair moved to Appley Avenue (now Lake Minear) in Libertyville. This location was popular and used until 1925.

Shown at left are the Libertyville fairgrounds which included a racetrack, circa 1910.

In 1928, the fair was reborn in Antioch, where it remained through 1947. In 1948-49, it was again held in Libertyville at Memorial Field; 1950 in Gurnee; 1951-55 in Wauconda; and had its longest run in one location from 1956 to 2008 in Grayslake at Routes 45 & 120.

The Grayslake location was the former property of one of the fair's founders, John Gage (1802-1890). Gage's farm was often praised as being a "model for eastern and western farmers."

This photo shows the Fine Arts Department building at the Grayslake fairgrounds, 1968. Each year, local artists are encouraged to enter paintings and photographs to be judged for fair ribbons.

With the exception of four years, the fair has been held each year from 1852 to 2009. In 1861 and 1864 it was not held due to the Civil War. The fair board stated: "the times are too troublesome for holding of airs successfully on account of the volunteerings of so many of our labouring men for the war, and on account of the general depression all over the land, our people have no heart for such shows." And in 1926 and 1927 there was no fair, for unknown reasons.
Bud Slusser with his "team of pigs" at the Lake County Fair in 1968. Dunn Museum Collections.

There's something for everyone at the fair!

Diana Dretske 

Friday, July 24, 2009

McDonald's Fun-to-Go

You may have seen Ronald McDonald in the news this week as he met with a collector of Happy Meal toys. The occasion? McDonald's is celebrating the Happy Meal's 30th anniversary.

In 1977, Dick Brams, a McDonald's Regional Advertising Manager, commissioned the first Happy Meal and called it McDonaldland Fun-to-Go. The "Fun-to-Go" part of the name was because its mission was also to promote the new drive-through window service that was being introduced.

Two years later, the kids' meal was rolled out nationally with a Circus Wagon Train theme. The toy prize that came withe the meal became the key to its success and changed the way children ordered food.

In 1991, the museum accepted a set of eight McDino Changeable Happy Meal Toys into the permanent collection (above). It was an unusual addition to the tens of thousands of objects in the museum's care, especially since the toys did not have a significant relation to Lake County. However, they complemented the museum's advertising doll collection. Photo by Deanna Tyler

Each toy is shaped like McDonald's food items and unfolds or transforms into a different dinosaur. The McDinos were donated with their original packaging as shown in this photo.

What was initially meant for children and to draw young families to the restaurant, quickly became collectibles for adults.

To date, billions of meals and toys have been sold, and the toys and the Happy Meal packaging serious collector items. The cheap trinkets of the early Happy Meals have been gradually replaced with increasingly sophisticated toys, many of which are a tie-in to some existing toy line or motion picture.

Here is a close-up of the Meal-O-Don. Cute!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Hairdos and Don'ts

Women's hairstyles have changed a great deal over time. Thankfully.

To celebrate the evolution of hairstyles, I've selected photos of Lake County women from the museum's archives.

Sarah Jane Maynard (1836-1914) is shown here circa 1860. Her hairstyle and dress evoke the era 1854 to 1862, with her hair parted down the middle, and the small collar and wide bell sleeves on her dress.

She was the daughter of Jesse H. Maynard who started a brickyard in 1856 on Grand Avenue just east of Greenbay Road in Waukegan.

This photograph of Emily Coon Mason (1868-1953, second from left) and friends was taken circa 1892. Hair was worn up, and often curled or "frizzed."

Emily was the daughter of Reuben W. Coon, a prominent Waukegan newspaper man, lawyer, and State Senator.

Interestingly, at the same sitting the women were photographed from behind, giving us a delightful detail of their up-dos.

Emily's younger sister, Lucille Coon, is shown here from circa 1900.

In the first decade of the 20th century hairstyles transitioned from the more confined styles of the Victorian era to looser, fuller hairstyles. Volume was emphasized, and longer hairstyles featured hair parted in the middle with a noticeable part.

By the 1910s, large bows were all the rage for schoolgirls. Shown here are scholars from the McAlister School in Waukegan, circa 1916.

Look closely at the girls in the front row to see the different placement of the bows.

This 1925 Maple Grove School class photo is of Miss Josephine Kische (later Ullrich) and some of her scholars.

The photo features all the girls sporting the controversial "bob" hairstyle, which appeared during World War I. The "bob" evoked freedom from convention, and of course, women and girls loved it, because it was so much easier to care for. Its popularity skyrocketed by the 1920s when famous women like Coco Chanel began wearing their hair this way.

Women's Army Corps Captain E.M. Davis is shown in this circa 1942 photograph at her desk at Fort Sheridan. (BBDM 92.24.1882)

During World War II, women were expected to help with the war effort.

Hairstyles needed to be easy to manage, but also feminine and attractive. Hair tended to be shoulder-length or shorter, but always curled and rolled.

In honor of the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, I'm including a photograph from 1969. Here is Caryn Hayes at the cosmetics counter at the Fort Sheridan post exchange. (BBDM 92.24.1290)

The hairstyles of the 1960s were in transition from the big hair of the 1950s to flips and all their variations.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Faces of the Civil War

Civil War re-enactors meeting the public at Lakewood Forest Preserve. Photo by Chip Williams.

From 1990 to 2018, Lakewood Forest Preserve was the site of the museum's annual Civil War Days. The weekend event included hundreds of re-enactors, sutlers, storytellers, musicians, and even an Abraham Lincoln or two. 

The annual event was the largest Civil War re-enactment in northern Illinois, drawing an average of 5,000 attendees, and generating interest in Lake County's role in the war. Researchers from the public and the media have utilized the museum's Lake County History Archives, which includes muster rolls, letters, photographs, and bound volumes. For research assistance, please email

The news of the fall of Fort Sumter and the beginning of the war reached Waukegan by telegram on April 15, 1861. Nearly 2,000 Lake County men enlisted voluntarily during the American Civil War (1861 – 1865), out of a population of just over 18,000. Men enlisted into 75 different regiments, including the  37th, 45th, 51st, 65th, and 96th Illinois Infantry. 

Letter of George E. Smith, Jr. (Company D, 96th Illinois) to his sister Susannah D. Smith in Millburn, August 30, 1863 from Camp Near Estell Springs, Tennessee. Minto Family Collection, Dunn Museum 93.45.458.

In George Smith's letter (above), he let his sister know that her letter had arrived while he was on "Piquet." Picket duty was an advance outpost or guard that watched for enemy movement. This duty was the most hazardous work of infantrymen in the field. Many picket guards were targets of snipers. This portrait of George was included in the History of the 96th Illinois published in 1887.

State of Illinois records noted 1,890 Lake County men served in the war. Local historian, Elijah Haines, calculated over 2,000. The majority enlisted with the 96th Illinois Infantry, which had the unusual distinction of being a joint venture of two counties, Lake and Jo Daviess, since neither had enough companies to form its own regiment. 

Susannah "Susie" Smith, was a great letter writer to her brother and his comrades. It was commonly felt that the folks back home should correspond regularly with the soldiers to keep their spirits high. Susie Smith also supported her brother by sending care packages filled with paper and envelopes, and spices to enhance his army rations. She also made quilts for wounded soldiers, and was an editor of a pro-Union paper, The Millburn Union Casket.

Susannah "Susie" Smith, circa 1865. The photo was donated along with other photographs, letters, and diaries by Smith's granddaughters, Katherine Minto and Lura Minto Johaningsmeir. Minto Family Collection, Dunn Museum, 93.45.54. 

Many local recruits credited John K. Pollock (left) for their enlistment. Pollock was a farmer of standing in the Millburn area. He was elected captain of Company C by the men of the 96th Illinois. 

Edward Murray (right) of Newport Township was one of Pollock's recruits. He described his enlistment as follows: “I was in the harvest field working when a Mr. Pollock came to me and wanted to know if I would enlist…. After some conversation, I did…. On the appointed day we met in Searle’s hall [Waukegan]. After the signing of the roll call, we became soldiers... I now realized that I was a soldier and could not come home without a permit. Accordingly, I was permitted to come home and finish up my harvesting.”

About 10% of Lake County's enlisted men did not survive the war. However, all the soldiers mentioned in this post did.

The story of Edward Murray and his comrades is now featured in the book The Bonds of War by Diana Dretske (2021). The book was inspired by a Civil War portrait in the Dunn Museum's collection, and is the most extensive examination of the 96th Illinois Infantry since the regiment's history was published in 1887. The book is available at the Dunn Museum's gift shop and SIUPress. 

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Great Anniversary Festival

John Adams, the second president of the United States, declared, “I believe that [the Fourth] will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.”

This postcard (circa 1930) is a view of the Battle of Concord, April 19, 1775 diorama once featured at the Milwaukee Public Museum.

The American Revolutionary War (1775 – 1783) was the culmination of a political revolution in which the thirteen united former British colonies rejected the right of Great Britain’s Parliament to govern them and formed a Continental Army to fight for independence.

Though the war began in 1775, our nation's independence is dated to July 4, 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress.

In 1776, small celebrations, including toasts to the new nation were made, but the first official celebration was held July 4, 1777 in Philadelphia. The custom spread to other towns quickly and included parades, games, military displays, and fireworks.

The first Fourth of July celebration in Lake County, Illinois, was held in 1844 at the confluence of Second and Third Lakes, in today’s Village of Third Lake. Nearly 100 people gathered from neighboring communities, including Nathaniel Vose, who acted as the celebration’s “marshal,” Amos Bennett and his family who were the first African American settlers in the county, and Reverend Dodge of the Millburn Congregational Church.

David Gilmore, a settler from Massachusetts, made chowder, and other families brought pumpkin pie (made from pumpkins harvested and dried the previous fall), sorrel pies, and seed cakes.

After the meal was eaten, Reverend Dodge gave a prayer for the freedom of the slaves in the South, and Nat Doust read a copy of the Declaration of Independence.

Since there were no fire crackers or fireworks, but people wanted a bit of noise to celebrate, B.F. Shepherd said, several boys “got hold of a little powder, wet it and filled some wild goose quills… when they were touched with a live coal they would go around in all directions.”

Two Revolutionary War veterans are buried in Lake County. Henry Collins (1763-1847) served in Massachusetts from 1781 to 1783, and is buried in the Mount Rest Cemetery in Newport Township. Reuben Hill (1765-1858) served in New York State from 1780 to 1783, and is buried in the Wauconda Cemetery.

(Postcards in this post, unless otherwise noted, are circa 1905 - 1915)