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Friday, April 30, 2010

National Poetry Month

In celebration of April as U.S. National Poetry Month, I thought I would share poems from Lake County residents.

The Academy of American Poets began National Poetry Month in 1996. It is now held every April, when publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, schools and poets around the country celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture.

One of my favorite published poems about Lake County is The Legend of Mish-i-mi-nong by Robert Pearce of Chicago. Robert was inspired by Crab Apple Island on Fox Lake, the lotus beds, and Native American legends. He completed the poem in 1899 and sent it to his father, Frank Pearce, who was living in Leavenworth, Kansas.

In turn, Frank illustrated the poem and sent it back to his son with a note: "I have endeavored to engross and illustrate it with my pen as a birth-day gift to you. May you find interwoven in each line and page the love of your affectionate Father." Even this generation's letters are poetic!

This is one of 10 pages from the poem, which was published in red leather binding in 1909. Dunn Museum 93.6.1

The beauty of the lotus beds in Lake County's Chain o' Lakes region inspired many. An excerpt from a poem written by Colonel John Vidvard of Grass Lake in 1916 reads:

From far off India's shores there came one day a mighty wind,
That carried in its shapeless arms a seed of wondrous kind;
And loathe, foresooth, to let it fall on uncongenial land,
Soared and soared o'er mount and vail and oaks that grandly stand
'Till Illinois shores were reached, where mid rice and break,
The wind let fall this precious seed in the waters of Grass Lake.

Vidvard was a great booster and conservator of the lotus. However, he mistakenly identified the local plants as Egyptian lotus (nelumbium speciosum). This was a common misconception, no doubt fueled by the exotic appeal of a plant making its way across the world to blossom on our shores. The species of lotus that grows in the Chain O' Lakes is the American lotus (nelumbo lutea), a native to the northeastern United States. (Postcard of Lotus on Grass Lake, circa 1907, Dunn Museum 61.8.2)

In 1896, Robert Darrow compiled and published, Poems by Residents of Lake County, Ill. Robert wrote in his preface that "This little volume is published for the purpose of showing that Lake County has many writers of poetry, of whom it may be proud."

To herald the spring, I chose the following poem by Nannie Bliss Colby (1851-1924) from Darrow's book. Nannie married Byron Colby and resided in Libertyville for many years. 

by Nannie Bliss Colby

Winter has flung his sceptre down,
His dreary reign is over;
And in the meadows, erst so brown,
We catch a glimpse of clover.

The maples wave their crimson tips.
In every breeze that passes,
The violets kiss with dainty lips,
The pale, sweet, springing grasses.

The crocus lists its golden head
to catch the sun's first glances,
the brook, along its pebbly bed,
With merry ripple dances.

The lilac nods each lovely plume
At snow-drops, upward springing;
In all the air a faint perfume,
Sweet hints of spring are bringing.

The wild birds trill their sweetest song
Of greeting, praise or pleasure;
And mother earth, ice-bound so long,
Yields up her choicest treasure.

Oh, spring, thou time of birds and flowers,
We give thee fondest greeting;
Would we could stay thy passing hours,
And make thy joys less fleeting.

~ ~ ~

These samples are a small introduction to poetry. Hopefully they inspire other Lake Countians to take up pen and paper to create beautiful prose.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

President McKinley in Waukegan

On October 17, 1899, President McKinley (1843 - 1901) made a 15-minute stop at Waukegan on his way East, traveling on the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad. The Chicago & Northwestern Railway Station in Waukegan as it looked about 1910. The railroad had transported the ten foot-tall boulder in this postcard view from near the Lake Koshkonong reservoir in southern Wisconsin. It was placed at the depot at the foot of Washington Street as ornamentation about 1910. The boulder was removed about 1925 to make way for a station expansion. A similar boulder was placed by the railroad at their Kenosha station and is still there. LCDM 61.8.125. According to the Chicago Tribune, "Several hundred school children, each with a flag, were in the crowd that greeted the President at Waukegan. They were even more enthusiastic than the older and stronger lunged auditors." The President's address was devoted almost entirely to the situation in the Philippines. After defeating Spain in Cuba and in the Philippines in 1898, during the Spanish-American War, the United States needed to determine what to do with Spain’s former colonies (including Cuba, Philippines, Puerto Rico). McKinley said at Waukegan, "Some people say the President is carrying an unholy war in the Philippines, an unholy war to uphold the holy banner which these children carry in their hands." According to the Chicago Tribune these words were "a signal for great cheering and waving of flags on the part of the children." President McKinley (above left) speaking at the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad station in Waukegan, October 1899, LCDM Bess Dunn Collection. Imperialists argued that the U.S. should keep the colonies for themselves, using the Philippines as a trading port and military base. They also argued that if the U.S. did not claim the Philippines an European country would conquer the island after American troops left. The anti-imperialists, felt the U.S. should promote independence and self-rule for all people, and retaining the Philippines went against the reasons we had fought Spain. In the end, the Senate voted to annex the Philippines. In turn, the Filipino rebels, led by Emilio Aguinaldo, who had fought alongside Americans in defeating the Spanish, now turned against the Americans and waged a bloody insurrection—the Philippines Insurrection or Philippine-American War (1899-1902). In 1900, McKinley ran for a second term as President with Theodore Roosevelt as his Vice President. Worn by Ann Kelland Carfield of Avon Township, Lake County, IL (1822-1912). Made by the Whitehead and Hoad Company. LCDM 2006.4.40. President McKinley explained that "... there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and to uplift and civilize and Christianize them," though the Philippines had been Christianized for centuries. The 27th Infantry from Fort Sheridan had been sent to the Philippines. In 1902, President Roosevelt cited them for victories on the Island of Mindanao. This arrow (above) was brought back as a souvenir from the Philippines by a Fort Sheridan soldier. LCDM 92.24.72.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Grant Woods Forest Preserve

Grant Woods Forest Preserve in Lake Villa consists of over 1,118 acres of open prairies, woodlands and marshes teeming with wildlife.

The preserve was acquired by the Lake County Forest Preserves from 1976 to 1986, and an addition from 1990 to 1992. It is bordered on the north by Route 132 (Grand Avenue), on the west by Route 59, and divided by Monaville Road.

(Scarlet Paintbrush, Grant Woods - right)

In 1993, the Forest Preserve's staff forester discovered Kentucky Coffee trees growing in the preserve. This find is significant because the tree is not native to Lake County, and it is the first and only known occurrence of the tree in the wild in Lake County.

The tree's seed pods are known to be associated with Native American trade and games, and represent the likelihood that Native Americans frequented these grounds. Into the 1830s, the Pistakee lakes region was generally regarded as Potawatomi country. These Algonquin Native Americans planted corn and extensive gardens, and had villages, and burial grounds in the region.

Beginning in the 1870s, the area became popular for hunting and fishing. By 1882, when the Wisconsin Central Railroad was brought to Lake Villa by E.J. Lehmann, it spurred tourism growth, and more people began coming to the lakes from Chicago. Lake Villa Road, circa 1910, LCDM M-86.1.532

The most well known former land owners within the preserve's boundaries were the Stratton family and Otto Lehmann.

The Strattons arrived in Lake County from England in 1857. After John Stratton married Mary O’Boyle of Grant Township in 1872 they settled in the area of Lake Villa, within today's Grant Preserve. John became Lake Villa Township’s first supervisor in 1912, and his son William J. (1886-1938) followed in his footsteps.

William J. Stratton (above) went on to become the chairman of the Lake County Republican central committee in 1920, Illinois’ first director of Conservation (1925-1928), and Secretary of State (1929-1933). William's son, William G. Stratton (1914-2001), was Governor of Illinois from 1953 to 1961.

Otto Lehmann (1885-1953) was one of six children of Ernst Johann Lehmann and Augusta Handt Lehmann. Otto’s father founded the Fair Store in Chicago. Otto developed a 600-acre estate known as Chesney Farms (north of Grand Avenue), and over 100 acres are preserved within Grant Woods.

The main entrance to Chesney Farms was west of Route 59. The farm was known as a prestigious riding academy, and home to Otto’s prize Arabian horses.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Nike Missile Defense

This week President Obama and Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, signed a historic pact to scale back nuclear arsenals. This is a good step in the long and chilly history between the United States and Russia (formerly the Soviet Union).

After World War II, tensions developed between the two powerful nations, which came to be known as the Cold War (1947-1991). With this new enemy, Americans feared a Soviet bomber attack, similar to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

By 1953, the U.S. Army began building Nike air defense systems around U.S. cities, industries and military installations. Nike missiles were the first operational, guided surface-to-air missiles able to detect, track and destroy enemy aircraft. Nike Ajax missiles, Fort Sheridan, circa 1965 - Dunn Museum 92.24.872

The Chicago area had 23 Nike missile bases with four sites in Lake County — Fort Sheridan (C-98), Libertyville (C-92 and C-94), and Barrington (C-84). These sites, and all Nike systems in the upper Midwest were supplied and maintained through Fort Sheridan.

Though the missile sites were relatively obscure facilities with small structures on the surface, people in Lake County were aware of them, but probably not their operations. Nike Air Defense Installation making adjustments on a Nike missile, 1960 - Dunn Museum 92.24.1312

Within a decade of their creation, Nike missiles became less crucial in the defense of the U.S. as the Soviets changed military strategy from bombers to Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). Nike missiles were designed to strike enemy aircraft, not other missiles.

John Wilkins, Electronic Fire Control Systems Repairman, shown in the guided missile shop, Building 128, Fort Sheridan, April 4, 1969 - Dunn Museum 92.24.1244

By 1974, all Nike missile sites were deactivated. Since then the abandoned bases have been used for other purposes. Some were given to school districts, or in the case of the Barrington site (on Quentin Road near Lake Zurich) temporarily housed county records and the collections of the Lake County Discovery Museum.

In 1991, the two most intact Nike installations in Illinois were documented for historic preservation purposes — site C-84 in Barrington and site SL-40 in Hecker. The Barrington site had operated only with the first generation of Nike missiles known as Nike Ajax, with a range of only about 25 miles.

This photo was taken April 18, 1960 of Lt. Clarence Coates, C Battery, 1st Missile Bn., 517th Artillery, showing the Nike Ajax missile to visitors Oraldo Boggia (l) and John Cortesi. Boggia was an Italian exchange student at Northwestern University. He was sponsored by the Highland Park Rotary Club, of which Mr. Cortesi was a member. (Dunn Museum 92.24.1289)

The missile silos at Fort Sheridan were filled in (for safety) by the Lake County Forest Preserve District which was deeded the land in 1993.

For more on the history of Fort Sheridan: Fort Sheridan military lesson plans and photo cards.

For more on the successful transfer of Fort Sheridan to the Lake County Forest Preserves go to the Section 106 site: Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

19th Century Advertising Trade Cards

In the last part of the 19th century, it was common for storekeepers to place an advertising card in the bag with your purchase. The trade cards typically had a pleasant image with an advertising slogan on the front, and full advertising text on the back.

Ad cards had been around for decades, but were mainly printed in black and white. In 1876, chromolithographic technology took printed ephemera to a new level, delighting Americans with multi-colored prints, posters, labels, and trade cards.

The cards were a cheap and effective way to advertise, and with thousands in distribution they became a collecting craze.

Between 1880 and 1900, Americans collected and traded the cards, and spent evenings pasting them into scrapbooks.

Companies were fond of creating series, making the collecting even more fun and challenging. Shown above are three in a series of cards for Rice's seeds (1887).

With the rapid industrialization of the United States and development of new consumer markets, manufacturers competed aggressively for shoppers. The trade card was an effective advertising medium, which heralded an extraordinary variety of newly manufactured goods from soap to baking powder, and flower seeds to stationery.

Today, historians use the cards as not only an indicator of the types of products that were available, but also of consumer habits, social values, and marketing techniques.

Take for example the cards above, in the same series from Rice's Seed Company, with a carciature of a potato as an Irishman, and an ear of corn as a Native American. Though such images may have been perfectly acceptable, even humorous, to the majority of 19th century Americans, they are regarded as insensitive today.

The era of trade card collecting waned in the late 1890s. Advertisers turned more to newspapers to get the word out about new products, and it was also the dawning of the American picture postcard, which became its own collecting phenomenon.