Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Happy Nouvelle Annee from Old Fort Wayne

Fort Wayne, Indiana carries that name because it was the site of several forts in early American history. The original structure was Fort Miamis built in 1697 by French settlers as one of a string of forts between Quebec and St. Louis. It was named for the Miami Indians who lived in the area.

By 1721, the fort had been rebuilt and renamed Fort St. Philippe des Miamis and continued to serve as a French trading post until 1747 when Huron Indians who were allied with the British burned it to the ground. Once again, the French rebuilt the fort and used it during the French and Indian War from 1754 to 1763.

Old Fort Wayne is now a living history museum that welcomes visitors. Next month, you can celebrate Nouvelle Annee at Old Fort Wayne and be transported back 260 years to the winter of 1751. At that time, the fort sheltered French soldiers and settlers as well as native people. The war was still a few years off, but Great Britain was already sowing the seeds of unrest by wooing the native tribes with better trade prices and other bribes.

The replica fort is of particular interest to Chicagoans because it was built by John Whistler, an Irishman who served with the British army during the Revolutionary War. Later, he immigrated to the United States and entered the U.S. army. Whistler helped build forts at Fort Wayne in 1798 and again in 1816. The last fort greatly resembles a fort he built in 1803 on Lake Michigan's shoreline - Fort Dearborn. Visiting the replica at Fort Wayne gives Chicagoans a new understanding of Fort Dearborn.

If the name Whistler seems familiar, that's because of an interesting side note. John Whistler had fifteen children with his wife Anna. One son, James McNeill Whistler, became a artist, famous for his painting of Anna, his mother.

The Incident at Fort Dearborn

During the War of 1812, Great Britain was successfully capturing U.S. forts. When Fort Michilimackinac fell to the enemy army, U.S. Captain Nathan Heald was ordered to abandon Fort Dearborn, give away the fort's supplies to the Potawatomi Indians and withdraw to Fort Wayne. There were 93 people living in the fort, including women and children who were the families of some soldiers.

Captain Heald destroyed the liquor and weapons in storage rather than give them op to the natives, which angered the younger braves. William Wells, a legendary frontiersman, was the uncle of Rebekah Wells, Captain Heald's wife. Wells rode like the devil to Fort Dearborn to try averting a confrontation between the soldiers and the Potawatomi, but by the time he arrived, the distribution of stores was completed. The army no longer had enough provisions to stay holed up in the fort and the natives were already incensed by the destruction of the weapons and liquor.

Wells, who lived with the Miami tribe as a boy and was married twice to native women, painted his face with war paint and prepared for the worst. The worst came soon enough.

The convoy was hopelessly outnumbered by the Potawatomi and many were killed, including Wells and 12 of the 18 children in the group. The rest were taken prisoner and on the following day, the fort was burned to the ground.

Traditionally known as the Fort Dearborn Massacre, some are now referring to it as the Battle of Fort Dearborn.

Where History Is Happening

Novelle Annee at Old Fort Wayne
Saturday, January 29
10:00 am - 5:00 pm
Experience a winter with the French of Fort Miamis. French military, civilians, and local native Americans will be recreating the daily life at a Fort on the frontier . Mail call, drilling, scouting the area, cooking, and sewing will be some of the events taking place during the event.

Byron Museum of History
Tuesday through Friday
10:00 am - 5:00 pm Saturday
10:00 am - 2:00 pm
The Byron Museum of History is dedicated to preserving the Byron area's rich history through exhibits, programs, and artifact preservation.
The Museum Complex consists of a large Exhibit Hall, the historic Read House, which was on the Underground Railroad and is a listed site on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, and an adjoining Gallery. Built in 1843 for the Read family by Pardon Kimball, the house was a focal point in early Byron.
Admission is free.

Amboy Depot Museum
Saturdays in January and February
10:00 am - 4:00 pm
The Museum is located in a former depot and division headquarters of the Illinois Central Railroad, is completely restored and includes the original brick tarmac surrounding the depot and the grounds of the former rail-yard.Within the museum are artifacts of both the history of Amboy and the Illinois Central Railroad.
The museum complex also contains a freight house with additional artifacts, a fully restored one-room country schoolhouse, a retired steam engine and a caboose.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

If you've lived near Lake Michigan long enough, you will have heard or read something about the Christmas Tree ships. This year, the Christmas Tree Ship arrived on December 3 at Navy Pier, welcomed by escort boats, a band, school choirs and throngs of children with their families.

United States Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw currently brings the Christmas trees for distribution to disadvantaged youngsters, but the Mackinaw is simply re-creating a long-standing tradition on the Great Lakes.

Christmas as we celebrate it today wasn't embraced by America until the mid-1800's. Our Puritan forefathers strictly forbade merry-making at Christmas time and December 25 wasn't declared a federal holiday until 1870. Christmas festivities were more common in the southern states and after the Civil War the custom of celebrating Christmas spread across the country.

Along with the celebration of Christmas came the Christmas Tree. Swaths of pine trees grew in the forests of northern Wisconsin, easy to harvest and sometimes even available for free. Retailers got the buyers lined up and all a resourceful person needed to do was get the trees from Wisconsin to Chicago. In the last half of the nineteenth century, that meant moving them by ship during the golden age of Great Lakes sailing.

Unfortunately, November is a treacherous month on Lake Michigan and many a ship loaded with Wisconsin pines never made it to the Chicago port. The Christmas Tree run was usually the last trip a captain made before the ice and snow made sailing impossible and it was always a calculated risk. If successful, the captain stood to make a profit almost as much as he earned during the whole rest of the year, but if a storm should blow up, he could lose both his profit and as his life.

The Rouse Simmons with Captain Herman Schuenemann at the helm is the subject of a well-known Christmas Tree Ship story. The Captain's older brother went down with his ship on a Christmas Tree run and the Rouse Simmons disappeared with her cargo and Captain Herman in 1912. The Captain's widow and daughters continued with the family business for a few years, stringing the new ship with lights and tying a pine tree to the top of the tallest mast in keeping with the Christmas Tree Ship tradition.

If you'd like to read more about the Rouse Simmons and the other Christmas Tree Ships, there are several good books available on the subject that would make excellent holiday gifts:

The Historic Christmas Tree Ship: A True Story of Faith, Hope and Love by Rochelle Pennington

The Christmas Tree Ship: The Story of Captain Santa by Rochelle Pennington

Lives and Legends of the Christmas Tree Ships by Fred Neuschel

Lutefisk for Christmas

In 1870, during what is known as the Golden Age of Great Lakes Sailing, nearly 65% of sailors on the Great Lakes were Norwegian. Sailing was a skill that many men brought with them from Norway and since the vast majority of Norwegian immigrants settled in the upper Midwest of the United States, the Great Lakes were easily accessible.

During an eight year period around that time, more than 110,000 Norwegians came to America, a migration wave bested only by the Irish. A rapidly growing population faced with limited industrial growth led to large numbers of young people searching for greener pastures outside of Norway.

Most set out for America and many wound up in Minnesota, just like Garrison Keillor's jokes about Sven and Ole on his Prairie Home Companion radio show. The Norwegian immigrants celebrated Christmas as Twelfth night so they had ample opportunity for feasts, including sausages, flatbrød (flatbread), smultringer (doughnuts) and home-brewed ale.

Lutefisk, dried cod soaked in lye, was not necessarily a Christmas delicacy, but as the Norwegians became Americanized, they seized on lutefisk as a unique remainder from the old days and incorporated it into their Christmas traditions. In fact, Madison, Minnesota has a giant fiberglass cod statue named Lou T. Fisk to commemorate their standing as the Lutefisk Capital of the United States.
Carriage Ride in Norwood Park
Saturday, December 18 4 - 7:00 pm
The Norwood Park Historical Society will host a Holiday Carriage Ride in an open horse-drawn carriage. Begins at the Noble-Seymour-Crippen House and proceeds around the Norwood Park neighborhood.
Each ride is approximately 15 minutes long, and the carriage can hold groups of 8 to 10 people. Participants should dress for the weather. Tickets may be purchased in advance; ride time slots are not guaranteed, as they are first-come, first-serve.
$8 for adults and $4 for children. For information and to purchase tickets, call 773-631-4633.
Participants can also enjoy complimentary hot beverages and baked goods inside the Noble-Seymour-Crippen House which is open noon to
4 p.m. and is decorated for the holidays.

Holiday Showcase at Tanner House

Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday until Decemeber 29,
1 to 4 pm
Come join us for our annual Holiday display. The Tanner house will be decorated by local designers; come check out what they can do! You even get to join the fun by voting on your favorite room design.
Normal admission will apply ($4.00 adults, $2 students & seniors, under 12 & AHS members free.)

Holiday Mansion Tours
Saturday and Sunday, December 18-19.
11:00 am - 3:00 pm
It's time to spice up the holidays with a tour of the splendidly decorated Victorian-era Martin Mitchell Mansion, the only home in Naperville on the National Register of Historic Places. Come learn about 19th century customs at our tours which run continuously from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and include an informative tour of the two-story 1883 Mansion and its Carriage House. Tickets are $8 general admission; $1 off for Naperville Heritage Society Sustaining Members; no advance registration required. Please come directly to the Mansion to purchase your tickets. Walk-ins are welcome for this holiday-focused tour with historic ambiance. The Weed Ladies Floral Designers Showroom in the Daniels House also will be open, and tour attendees will receive a special gift certificate to shop.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mormon Beginnings in DuPage and Will Counties

On the twenty-sixth day of November in 1829 Pierce Hawley claimed a portion of Section 30 in Kendall County, Illinois. Since it included a large stand of trees, locals called it Hawley's Grove for a while until Pierce sold his property and it took on the new name of Holderman's Grove. Originally from Vermont, Pierce had a hard time staying put anywhere.

Early Illinois history is peppered with Hawley references. Juliette Kinzie from Chicago tells of staying the night in Hawley's home during a particularly grueling journey. Aaron Hawley, Pierce's brother, was one of the few casualties of the Black Hawk War. Several Hawleys are buried in Naperville, including Pierce's daughter and Joseph Naper's mother.

Stephen Scott was also an early Illinois settler, living on the DuPage River. His son Willard often traveled to Peoria and broke his journey at the Hawley's just as Juliette Kinzie did. While there, he took a shine to Pierce's daughter Caroline and asked to marry her. Father Pierce agreed, but Caroline thought a few hours' courtship was rushing things, so Willard continued on his way.

A couple of weeks later on the return trip, Willard stopped by the Hawley House again and Caroline agreed this time to marry him. They spent their wedding night, as Willard loved to relate, with "the sky for our ceiling -- the stars for our light," under a tree in Plainfield.

Willard and Caroline are both buried in Naperville, the town which they helped grow from its earliest beginnings.

Pierce lived for a time in Naperville as well, becoming a valued member of the Methodist community that Rev. Jesse Walker was developing in his mission to the Potawatomi. But somehow, Pierce heard of Joseph Smith's preaching. As his son later wrote: "Mother at this time felt as though Father had almost committed the unpardonable sin in leaving the Methodist Church and joining the Mormon Church as they was both good Methodist members, but Mother soon got over hurt bad feelings and united with the same church and was one with her husband in faith and doctrine."

Along with other Mormons, the Hawleys (minus Caroline and husband Willard) moved to Missouri, then Iowa and Wisconsin. In the aftermath of religious persecution in Nauvoo and Joseph Smith's subsequent death, many Mormons moved out of Illinois under varying leaders. Brigham Young of course took a group to Utah, but the Hawleys went with Lyman Wight to Texas.

The Texas community flourished for a while. Pierce was chosen to be an elder and his daughter Mary Hawley became one of Wight's plural wives. Eventually Pierce soured on Wight's Mormon Church and along with his wife and married children, he moved to Indian territory in Kansas and then Arkansas, finally coming to rest on August 16, 1858 in Cherokee Nation, Arkansas, where he is buried.

More on the Mormon Story

Local history books from DuPage and Will Counties and even Chicago are great resources to learn more about Pierce and Aaron Hawley, but much of Pierce Hawley's story is also recounted in the book Polygamy on the Pedernales; Lyman Wight's Mormon Villages in Antebellum Texas, 1845 to 1858 by Melvin C. Johnson.

Written around the time that the YFZ (Yearning for Zion) Ranch was in the news, the parallels are obvious. Lyman Wight was a charismatic yet not-mainstream-Mormon leader, much like Warren Jeffs. Wight's religious compound was in Texas, just like Jeffs'. Both men also advocated plural wives and marrying very young girls.

Wight's group collapsed from within due to unrest and disillusionment. About two thirds of Jeffs' group have returned to their Texas compound, although Jeffs himself is serving time in a Utah prison for arranging the marriage of a fourteen-year-old girl. He still faces trial in Texas and the announcement that the Utah Supreme Court will not block extradition hit the newspapers, strangely enough, last week on November 26, which is where this research started!

Where History Is Happening

Christmas at Klein Creek Farm
Saturday, December 4 1:30 pm
Sunday, December 5 3:30 pm
Join "Christmas on the Farm" for an old-fashioned celebration. Visit with Santa and climb into a sleigh to take a picture. Learn the origins of several holiday traditions, and experience Victorian Christmas activities. Stop by a warming fire for caroling and spice cookies. And explore the visitor center to see a re-creation of the farmstead in gingerbread and candy.
Activities are ongoing throughout the event, and registration is not required.

Victorian Valentine's Dinner Party
Sunday, February 13
Looking for something really special to give this holiday? How about tickets to a culinary fantasy, a Victorian Valentine's Dinner Party in an 1880s building in historic Aurora? Join the Aurora Historical Society and Chef Amaury Rosado for a 5-course feast with wine flights in the grand Victorian style, with music and florals of the period, at Chef Amaury's restaurant.

Tickets are $150 per person and include food, wine, tax and gratuity. $50 of each ticket is tax deductible as a gift to the Aurora Historical Society (which thanks you very much!).

Julmarknad Christmas Market at Bishop Hill
Saturday, December 4
Sunday, December 5
10:00 am - 5:00 pm
The holiday season will be opened the traditional
Swedish way during Julmarknad, or Christmas Market in Bishop Hill.
The free events' attractions include Swedish folk characters,
traditional Swedish holiday decorations and quality gifts for the
holidays to be purchased. A special holiday exhibit called "Going to Grandmas" will be on display in the Steeple Building including a holiday Lionel Train display on the first floor. Trains will be running Saturday 10 am to 3 pm and
Sunday; Noon to 3 pm.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

October Lighthouse Collapse Lends New Meaning to “Fall”

In 1831, Chicago was still known as Fort Dearborn. Only three ships arrived that year – one of which was the Telegraph, bringing Joseph Naper and company – but the swampy little settlement was poised to be a boomtown.

Innkeeper Mark Beaubien built the first frame house that summer, an elegant improvement over the log cabins and wigwams that were its neighbors, but that was only the beginning. $5000 had been appropriated after a party of United States engineers recommended a lighthouse plan and building commenced in March of the same year.

The contractor for the project was Samuel Jackson or Johnson, depending on who’s memoirs you read. One of the stonemasons working on the construction was Stephen Downer, who was joined the following summer by his dad, Pierce. Pierce Downer later moved out to DuPage County and founded a little settlement that still bears his name – Downers Grove.

The walls of the lighthouse were three feet thick and by autumn the tower reached fifty feet high. Some of the citizens were concerned that the edifice seemed to lean a bit, but on October 30, Jackson took his detractors for a tour to the very top, a group that included “some ladies,” to show off how well-built the tower was.

But just a few hours later, Isaac Harmon wrote his brother, “about nine o`clock in the evening, down tumbled the whole work with a terrible crash and a noise like the rattling of fifty claps of thunder.” Mr. Jackson or Johnson said there must have been quicksand under the foundation, but Isaac and his neighbors were more inclined to believe “that it was all owing to the wretched manner in which it was built.”

Jackson started building again and the lighthouse was completed in 1832. It had a fourteen inch reflector that could be seen for up to seven miles away and had a bell as a fog warning signal. The illustration above shows this second lighthouse as it looked in 1857.

One of the light-house keepers, and in fact, the last keeper, was Mark Beaubien, who tried out many careers in young Chicago. He was in charge of the lighthouse in 1843 and again from 1855 until 1859. During some of those same years, he bought a house in DuPage County and operated a toll house along the Plank Road on the Naperville/Lisle Border, although his son seems to have been the actual toll collector.

Isaac Harmon lamented to his brother “we have had a flattener pass over the face of our prospects in Chicago. The light-house, that the day before yesterday stood in all its glory, the pride of this wondrous village, is now "doused." But Harmon needn’t have worried. This was only a minor setback in a town that has seen its share of rebuilding.

Chicago's Three Ships of 1831

When the Christmas carol "saw three ships come sailing in" they could have been singing about Chicago in 1831. While shipping was about to explode on the Great Lakes, in 1831 ships were still a rarity.

Chicago wasn't actually a city yet but a small village of log houses and wigwams squatting around Fort Dearborn. The fort, built originally in 1808, was burned to the ground during the War of 1812 by the native people in an attack known as the Fort Dearborn Massacre.

The fort was rebuilt in 1816 and used again by the military, but in the spring of 1831, the Napoleon arrived to remove the last of the troops. That was the first ship. In July, Joseph and John Naper's Telegraph brought settlers and supplies to the Chicago community. In November, Captain Stuart anchored the Marengo off shore in Lake Michigan for the last contact until winter was over.

The sailing season was ruled by ice on the Great Lakes, sometimes not breaking up until May. Captain Stuart was probably racing to get back to Detroit before the lakes froze. Meanwhile, Chicago started building their lighthouse again to be ready for spring's first schooner.

Where History Is Happening

Holiday Mansion Tours at Naper Settlement
December 4-5, 11-12 and 18-19
11:00 am - 3:00 pm

It's time to spice up the holidays with a tour of the splendidly decorated Victorian-era Martin Mitchell Mansion. Come learn about unique 19th century customs on three weekends in December. Tours include an informative walkthrough tour of the two-story 1893 Mansion and its Carriage House. Please come directly to the Mansion to purchase your tickets. Walk-ins are welcome for this holiday-focused tour with historic ambiance.
$8/person includes $2 off discount coupon for the Museum Store; no advance registration required.

Candlelight Tour and Homespun Holiday Market at Garfield Farm
December 4 -5
3:00 - 7 pm
Take time away from that chaotic rush of the holiday season and join us at Garfield Farm Museum for our annual Candlelight Reception. Interpreters wearing period clothing will share with guests what life was like for people during the height of the horse and wagon era. There is no charge for the Candlelight event, but donations will be accepted.

Once Upon a Christmas at Lisle Station Park

Saturday, December 4
3:00 - 8:00 pm
Sunday, December 5
11:00 am - 4:00 pm
Join us at the Museums at Lisle Station Park for old fashioned holiday fun! Enjoy crafts and hayrides, Christmas trees decorated by the Heritage Society, Santa, brick oven baking and more! Don't forget to peruse some antique gift items in the Lisle Heritage Society gift shop.

Holiday House Tour with Norwood Historical Society
Saturday, December 4
3:00 - 8:00 pm
Visitors may check in and begin the tour at the Norwood Park Senior Center and obtain descriptive tour booklets, entrance passes, and route maps, as well as listen to a presentation about community architecture and history and a live musical ensemble. Tour includes five neighborhood homes decorated for the holidays, plus one local place of worship. Includes free admission to Chicago's oldest house, the 1833 Noble-Seymour-Crippen House.
Admission is $20 in advance and $25 at the door, with discounts for groups of 10.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Farming the Illinois Prairie

Illinois became a state in 1818, and a steady stream of settlers arrived due to land grants from the War of 1812 and the opening of the Erie Canal in New York.

The earliest settlers in northern Illinois came from the New England states. They were used to rocky soil and heavy forests. The prairies of Illinois were viewed with distrust by many.

Sure, the land wasn't nearly as hilly and studded with rocks, but there weren't many trees on it either. Yankee farmers took that to mean the soil was too poor to support trees and would therefore make lousy farmland.

Little did they know that centuries of grasses had enriched the soil, growing tall and falling back to the earth to decompose with the help of plentiful rain and sun. The land was fertile enough, but the thick thatch of grass roots was difficult to slice through with the plows available to early nineteenth century farmers.

Kate's book Ruth by Lake and Prairie tells of how Joseph Naper, born in Vermont, brought a group of settlers to Illinois in 1831. Just a few years later, another Vermont man arrived in Illinois as well. He was a blacksmith by the name of John Deere and he opened up shop about 80 miles west of Naper's Settlement in Grand Detour.

While farmers were busily clearing land, it was tough work to turn over the prairie soil with traditional cast iron plows. Deere tinkered with the shape of the moldboard to turn over the sod more efficiently and used polished cast steel instead of iron to slice through the soil with greater ease.

Deere sold the first "Plow that Broke the Plains" in 1838 to Lewis Crandall, a local farmer, who was so pleased with how it worked, soon every farmer in northern Illinois wanted one. In the next ten years, Deere sold 1000 plows and 10,000 plows in the ten years after that.

Due to a disagreement with his partner, Deere moved his operations to Moline, but you can still visit the John Deere Historic Site in Grand Detour. The site has regular hours during the summer season, but if you call and arrange a tour, you can still visit Mr. Deere's home during the winter as well.

The Rutabaga: A Settler's Godsend

The mid 1800's wave of settlers moved into an Illinois that was still quite primitive. Until the Black Hawk War in 1832, native peoples farmed, hunted and lived on the prairies, but there were very few settlements of Europeans. Chicago itself wasn't even founded until 1833 and it only had about 200 inhabitants at the time. Since there were few places to buy food, settlers needed to bring provisions with them or grow it themselves.

Many settlers arrived by schooner through the Great Lakes, and they had to wait until the ice melted before setting sail which could be as late as April or May. If they walked across the country, they still had to wait for the worst of the thaw to be over so that the wagons could get through the mud and swollen streams.

Either way, settlers simply couldn't arrive at their Illinois destinations in time for spring planting. Even if they were able to protect seedling crops during midsummer's blistering heat, there wasn't enough time for most crops to ripen before the first frost.

The rutabaga, however, was one crop they could plant. Considered a "winter vegetable," rutabagas prefer the coolness of autumn and many claim they taste sweeter after a frost. Both the greens and the roots are edible and the roots keep well for a long period of time.

The folks from Naper's Settlement arrived in mid-July. No doubt they brought as many provisions as possible with them but it is also recorded that they planted rutabagas soon after they settled in order to make it through that first winter.

Where History Is Happening

An Evening with Teddy Roosevelt,
Elgin Gala Benefit
November 6
6:00 - 9:00 pm

Join us for our first-ever benefit, featuring premier Teddy Roosevelt reprisor Joe Wiegand, our silent auction, and more! Silent auction items include a Hawaiian vacation and other noteworthy prizes. Tickets still available, call now before they're gone!.
$35 for members, $40 for non members
RSVP by calling the Museum at 847.742.4248

History Explorers - Potowatomi and Pioneers
November 20
10:00 - 11:30 am
Find out what the pioneers learned from the Native Americans in the early days of the county through stories and hands-on activities for children ages 9 - 11.
$5 per resident child, $7 per non-resident.

Annual Christmas Fest and Bake Sale Warrenville Historical Society
November 6
9:00 am - 4:00 pm
Come to Christmas Fest 2010! The Warrenville Museum Guild members are in hustle-bustle mode preparing for the 26th Annual Christmas Fest & Bake Sale.This year's event will be held at the Warren Tavern. Keeping with tradition, the event will feature gift baskets, seasonal decorations, gift items, handmade tree ornaments, and baked goods.
The 2010 raffle will feature Snowmen Gathering, a professionally framed cross-stitch design great for the winter and holidays.Other raffle prizes include a hand-stitched Santa and a Snowman Elf Draft Dodger to block those winter breezes.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Photographing the Recently Deceased

In preparation for a teen writing class around Halloween, Kate did a little research on Victorian post-mortem photography.

The 2001 Nicole Kidman movie "The Others" was Kate's first introduction to post-mortem photos. Since then, she's read a few books on the subject, and thought it was a sufficiently macabre subject to hold the interest of blasé teenagers.

One website called it "almost cliché" to find photographs or daguerreotypes of dead relatives when paging through old family albums, but it wasn't a cliché that Kate had ever stumbled upon before.

Until this past month when she popped into her computer a CD that was distributed at a family reunion over the summer. Several funeral photos featuring the recently deceased were among the wedding and baby shots, including the one accompanying this article.

Post-mortem photography became popular and then faded away just before and just after the year 1900, due mainly to the refinement of photography itself. The daguerreotype process was patented in 1839, but capturing a person's likeness remained an expensive and exclusive luxury for decades. Sitting for a photo was a rare splurge.

Still, a photo was a precious reminder of a loved one more personal and evocative than a lock of hair or an amateur sketch. And if your last chance to photograph your loved one occurred just before they were buried, what other choice did you have?

Memento mori photographers tried to make the deceased look as lifelike as possible, as if the subject had just fallen asleep in a chair or on the bed. But some photos clearly show a figure in rigor mortis with their eyes open standing fixed to a frame or leaning at a desk. Another common practice was to paint eyes into the photo over the subject's eyelids to make them look more life-like.

Family groupings where one child in the group has obviously passed on were also common, however creepy it seems to us today. Many photos also exist of parents holding their dead babies for their only portraits, which actually has become common practice once again in hospital settings for still-born or terminally ill infants.

Once photography became cheaper and more wide-spread, people began to take lots of photos on lots of occasions and the need for memorial photography "died away."

Rest in Peace, Museum of Funeral Customs

The Museum of Funeral Customs used to be right outside the entrance to Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield where Abraham Lincoln is buried. Interesting more to history lovers than those seeking sensationalism, it was a nifty little treasure trove of funeral lore.

The Victorians were particularly adept at celebrating death-in-life, perhaps due to Queen Victoria's forty years of mourning for her beloved husband Albert. Funeral clothes, hearses, flowers, embalmers - all were explained in the museum for visitors who have become less and less involved in the mourning process. Not so long ago, families prepared and waked their loved ones at home, often burying them on their own acreage, but today a whole industry takes care of the tasks involved.

Unfortunately, the Museum of Funeral Customs closed in the spring of 2009 due to lack of funds. Perhaps one day, it will be resurrected for a new generation of history buffs.

Where History Is Happening

All Hallows Eve at Naper Settlement
Friday and Saturday, October 22 and 23
6:30 - 10:00 pm
During Naper Settlement's All Hallows Eve, the usually calm and quaint 12-acre museum village is haunted by a diabolical menagerie of spirits, vampires, werewolves, witches and otherworldly creatures of the night. Joining them are some of the most sinister characters and criminals of the 19th century including Lizzie Borden, Count Dracula and others who roam the grounds or take up residence in the historic houses and businesses.
Not recommended for children under 8 or those who might scare easily.

Terror on the Railroad at the Illinois Railway Museum
Fridays and Saturdays October 22 - 30
7:00 pm - 11:00 pm
Experience our new demented attractions in our fourth year... Trespass on the abandoned Train of Chills and attempt to reach your destination on the possessed Screamliner. Terror on the Railroad will stop you dead in your tracks...
Tickets $12 each.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Picture-Perfect History

During research for Ruth by Lake and Prairie, Kate pored over paintings, engravings and sketches from the 1830's to try picking up clues about the era. Photographs from that time simply don't exist. A patent for the daguerreotype process would be granted in France in 1839, but it would be some years before it was widely used. Abraham Lincoln had his first daguerreotype taken in 1846.

Since so much of Ruth's story takes place during a schooner voyage, Kate was particularly interested in descriptions and images of towns along the coasts of the Great Lakes where the Telegraph may have docked. That's why it caught her eye when a report came out recently about restored daguerreotypes of the Cincinnati waterfront.

Taken in 1848 by Charles Fontayne and William Porter, the multiple images create a panorama of almost two miles of shoreline with incredible details including signage on the shops.

Alas, all of the ships at anchor are side-wheel steamers with not a schooner in the bunch, even though sailing ships would continue to be used for many more years. Two history buffs in 1947 used the ship names visible in the image to pinpoint the date on which they were all anchored in Cincinnati at the same time: September 24, 1848. Then they analyzed the shadows of the image to determine at what time the daguerreotype was taken. Their guess was a little before 2:00 pm.

There is a clock face on the image, but at just one millimeter in diameter, the two gentlemen couldn't make out the time, even with a magnifying glass. After this recent restoration, however, and using a microscope scanner, the clock face became visible. The time is 1:55!

Experience this remarkable daguerreotype for yourself. You can view each of the images and zoom in on the one with the clock tower.

The History of the Daguerreotype

People were experimenting with photosensitivity as early as the 1400's, but it was French artist Louis Daguerre who worked out the kinks in the nineteenth century.

Daguerre and his partner Nicéphore Niépce took the experimentation farther from the silver nitrate and bitumen-based methods already known. Niépce died in 1833, but Daguerre continued to tinker.

An accident involving a mercury thermometer in 1835 led Daguerre to advances in his method and he produced the first image with his process of exposure, development and fixation in 1837.

Daguerre secured a patent for his process in Britain on August 14, 1839. He attempted to secure a patent in France as well, but on August 19, 1839, the French government offered the secrets of the daguerreotype "as a free gift to the world." France did, however, award Daguerre a pension for his discovery.

Where History Is Happening

Shadows of the Blue and Gray
Saturday, October 9
9:30 am - 9:00 pm
Sunday, October 10
9:00 am - 3:30 pm
Events at City County Park in Princeton, Ill.
include the 33rd Illinois Volunteer Regiment Band, Civil War Fashion Show, President and Mrs. Lincoln, a period dance and night cannon firing,

Battle Demonstrations occur on Saturday and Sunday, with Union and Confederate troops meeting on the field of battle as infantry, cavalry, and artillery.

Admission is $7 for ages 12 and older, $3 ages 4 to 11, and free for children under 4 accompanied by an adult. Wagon tours of camps are $1. Bleacher seating for battle is $2, or bring your own lawn chair.

Scarecrow Harvest Festival at Midway Village Museum

Saturday and Sunday , October 9-10
12:00 am - 5:00 pm
Lots of fun fall activities for the entire family, including demonstrations of rare antique threshing and bailing machinery, square dancing in our 1905 barn, old fashioned games by our 1902 one room school house and horse drawn wagon rides around the Village.
Food and fall treats will be available in Burritt's Town Hall Cafe.
Admission cost: $6 adults; $4 students and children (3 to 17). Members are always free.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Walking the Plank in Naperville

Many towns in Illinois have a "Plank Road," including Naperville. But have you ever wondered what a plank road was?

Dirt roads were the norm in Illinois. They were rutted and dusty when dry and muddy bogs when wet, making travel between towns difficult. Grain, mail and passengers needed to be transported via wagon, stagecoach and horse, so in the mid-1800's plank road corporations were formed.

These corporations financed the road-building and collected tolls from the travelers in order to return their investment and hopefully grow wealthy. Joseph Naper, the founder of Naperville, was one such investor, along with a few other local businessmen including George Martin who built the mansion now available for tours at Naper Settlement.

The Southwestern Plank Road ran from Chicago on to Naperville, generally following an old Indian Trail. Today, Ogden Avenue, named after Chicago's first mayor, roughly traces the same route.

Mark Beaubien, who ran a tavern in Chicago before it was Chicago and also served as a lighthouse keeper, moved out to DuPage County and ran a tollbooth and tavern along the old Plank Road. Toll charges were 25 cents for a two-horse team vehicle and 3 cents for each sheep herded down the road. Some say raised borders along the edges kept wagons on the road so they couldn't avoid the tollbooth.

Unfortunately, railroads were also being built during this same time. The Naperville company refused to let rails through town in an effort to preserve their Plank Road investment, but they just couldn't compete. The company lost money and the Plank Road, which had used up the area's white oak population, either rotted or was "repurposed" by farmers.

Beaubien's tavern was moved and is now open to view as one of the museums at Lisle Station Park. On the north side of Ogden at the Lisle/Naperville border is a monument marking what's left of the Beaubien family cemetery.

Boone County Pioneer Fest This Weekend

For the first time in several years, Kate will not be able to take part in the Boone County Autumn Pioneer Festival. But that doesn't mean you can't!

The festival is free, although donations are welcome to help preserve and recreate local history on the grounds. Soldiers, Native Americans, Farmers, Norwegian immigrants and many other people from Boone County's past will be on hand with gardens, camps, cabins, foods and handicrafts.

Kate has been particularly interested in this festival because the main character from her book Ruth by Lake and Prairie grew up to marry a man who had land in Boone County. Ruth married Harlyn Shattuck and moved out to Boone County to raise her family on Harlyn's acreage.

Ruth died while in her forties, perhaps from complications after her tenth lying-in, but Harlyn soon remarried to take care of his large family, and even increased it by a few. Some of their descendants still live in the area and you can travel down Shattuck Road to the Shattuck Grove Cemetery to see Ruth's grave.

For information on how to get to the Pioneer Festival, see their webpage at the Boone County Conservation District
Stacy's Tavern Day in Glen Ellyn
Sunday, September 26
1 pm - 4:30 pm
Live animals, crafts, demonstrations, music, museum tours, bake sale, 1840's school room, rope making, and much more. Included with admission is a celebration of old time music and dance with Common Taters Band. The band will perform inside the History Center building.
Tickets can be purchased at the door on September 26 or in advance for a discounted price at Stacy's Corners Store located at 800 N. Main Street.
Call 630-469-1867 or email: info@gehs.org for more information.

Kline Creek Farm
September 11
1:30 pm - 3:30pm
Blacksmithing Demonstrations
Stop by the wagon shed to see the blacksmith repair equipment and demonstrate the tools and techniques of the trade. All ages. Free. Call (630) 876-5900.

Elgin Cemetery Walk

Sunday, September 26
12:00 pm - 3:30 pm
An autumn tradition in the Fox Valley, the Society's historic Elgin Cemetery Walk is held on the fourth Sunday in September. Visitors to scenic Bluff City Cemetery are guided to gravesites of "former" residents, portrayed by actors in period costumes, who share something of their lives and times. Among them may be a founding pioneer or early doctor, a war hero or crafty politician, a teacher or banker. With a cast that changes each year, these vignettes provide a glimpse of Elgin's rich heritage through the lives of its citizens.
The cemetery is located on Bluff City Boulevard, approximately 1/2 mile east of the intersection with Liberty Street (Rt. 25). Bluff City Boulevard is located one block south of U.S. 20 on Elgin's east side. This beautiful and historic cemetery is the final resting place of many prominent Elginites and has many fine examples of elaborate headstones and mausoleums.
Advance tickets available at the Museum and Ace Hardware
$6 Society members and advance purchase
$7 adults day of event
$3.50 under 17.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Learning about Lincoln through his Poetry

On Sunday, September 6, 1846, Abraham Lincoln sent his friend Andrew Johnston a poem. It was the second canto of work he started a couple years before when visiting his old home in Indiana during the 1844 campaign.

Lincoln was living in Springfield at the time with his wife Mary, his young son Robert and baby Eddie who had been born earlier the same year. The young family appeared happy, settled in a larger home with their two healthy sons.

Sad times of course were in Lincoln's future, including the deaths of three of his children and the struggles of our country during the Civil War. But sad times were in his past as well. Lincoln lost his mother when he was only nine and his sister died young in childbirth.

Much has also been speculated about Ann Rutledge, the young woman with whom Lincoln had an "understanding." She died of fever before they could marry and Lincoln was said to have mourned deeply.

Many reports exist of Abraham Lincoln's melancholy nature and he was fearful that the bouts of depression would overcome him one day. Reading this poem gives a little insight to this fear.

In the cover letter to the poem Lincoln writes: "The subject of the present [poem] is an insane man. His name is Matthew Gentry. He is three years older than I, and when we were boys we went to school together. He was rather a bright lad, and the son of the rich man of our very poor neighbourhood.

"At the age of nineteen he unaccountably became furiously mad, from which condition he gradually settled down into harmless insanity. When, as I told you in my other letter I visited my old home in the fall of 1844, I found him still lingering in this wretched condition. In my poetizing mood I could not forget the impressions his case made upon me."

The poem's last lines read:

"O death! Thou awe-inspiring prince,
That keepst the world in fear;
Why dost thou tear more blest ones hence.
And leave him ling'ring here?"

Treatment for insanity lacked much in the nineteenth century. Imagine the dread he must have felt seeing his friend literally go crazy when they were youths together and then suffer from depression himself for the rest of his life.

You can read the poem in its entirety for yourself at the Lincoln Boyhood National Park website.

Champagne Lincoln Could Have Sipped?

While this story comes from the Baltic Sea and not Illinois, the time period is right for Abraham Lincoln.

Divers in July found the wreckage of a ship that may have sunk in the early 1800's. On board, they discovered bottle of champagne that were still intact and have been bringing them to the surface in secrecy.

Because of the cold temperature of the Baltic Sea, experts expect the champagne may still be drinkable and hope to sell the recovered bottles for $68,000 each.

Wouldn't it be interesting to sip bubbly that President Lincoln may have had the opportunity to drink? That experience could be yours if you have an extra $68,000 in your pocket!

Where History Is Happening

Granville Cemetery Walk
Sunday, September 12
1 pm - 3 pm
Learn about local characters of the past at the Putnam County Historical Society's annual cemetery walk 1-3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 12 at the Granville Cemetery.
Cemetery walks offer a glimpse into the past and a closer look at those who helped shape local history. During this free program, groups will be escorted through the cemetery to visit historic grave sites including those of Hawthorne, Whitaker, Ware, Hopkins, Kessler, Hartman and Naumann.

Boy Scout Exhibit in Aurora
Until September 11
12 pm - 4 pm
On My Honor: Celebrating 100 Years of Boy Scouting is now open until September 11! Come visit it at the David L. Pierce Art and History Center, 20 E. Downer Place, Wednesday - Friday 12-4pm. Open Saturday, September 4 and 11th as well. Admission is FREE!

Rockford's Tinker Swiss Cottage Recruitment Fair

Thursday, September 23
5:00 pm -7:00 pm
Come and visit Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum and Gardens and learn about the variety of volunteer opportunities that are available, from leading tours, to helping in the gift shop, to helping plan and create Tinker's Heirloom gardens.

Garfield Farm Museum's Archeology Program
September 22 -26
Registrations are now being taken for individuals who wish to help with the historic archaeology excavation. September's two week session will begin September 22 - 26 and 29 through October 4. Volunteers will be working alongside college and graduate school archaeology students. Volunteers 14 - 17 years of age may participate with parent permission. Younger students accompanied by a parent or guardian may also participate.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Who's That Tall Fellow in the Stovepipe Hat?

During the summer of 1941, the Ottawa Daily Republican-Times ran a grainy photograph showing a Civil War-era crowd standing in front of a house which they claimed was the only photograph known to exist of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas from their debate series.

Since then, every reference to this photo has included the newspaper clipping, but the photograph has never been authenticated since the original disappeared and the newspaper reproduction isn't clear enough for study.

This summer, three Civil War researchers reported that they found the original in Somonauk.

Bevin Wold, Chet Wold and Gerard Brouwer were looking for information on volunteer soldiers from Leland. Their search led them to the Marie Louise Olmstead Memorial Museum. There, displayed in a period frame on the wall, was the "lost" photograph, exactly where it had been for decades.

Attached to the frame was a small note indicating that the photo was of Lincoln on the day of the debate. The house has been identified as that of Henry F. Eames, a local banker, and the carriage is similar to one preserved bythe La Salle County Historical Museum in Utica. Tradition says that carriage transported Lincoln to the debate in Ottawa.

The photograph was removed from the Marie Louise Olmstead museum and taken to a photographer's to be reproduced and enlarged for further study. The three researchers are clearly thrilled to have found this important bit of history, hidden in plain sight, and they are busy trying to put names to the faces in the crowd.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

New Marketing Piece for Kate's First Book

Illinois elementary schools often teach early American history between now and Thanksgiving, so now is the perfect time to remind teachers that Ruth by Lake and Prairie, the factual story of an 1831 girl who settled in Naperville, Illinois, is available to supplement their textbooks.

To help spread the word, a new book trailer has been created. Please feel free to take a look and pass it on to parents or teachers who may be looking for new material to catch the interest of their elementary students during westward expansion studies.

Where History Is Happening

Champaign County's Lincoln
Through December
1 pm - 5 pm
The Early American Museum gives a glimpse of what Champaign County was like when Lincoln spent time here. Includes a moving horse buggy to simulate travel on the prairie and a depiction of Alschuler's studio where the fourth known photograph of Lincoln was taken.

21st Annual Heirloom Garden Show
Sunday, August 29
11 pm - 4 pm
The Heirloom Garden at Garfield Farm Museum increases awareness in the loss of genetic diversity in the plants that provide us food, fiber, medicine and enjoyment. Exhibits with the gardeners are spread about the shaded farmyard with its rustic board fences and the sounds chickens, sheep and oxen punctuating the chorus of cicadas and crickets on a late summer sunny day. Also visible since the 2009 show, will be last fall's restored south wall of the 1842 barn and its newly restored roof just begun in mid-August.

A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum

Saturday, August 14
4:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Effective August 1, 2010, temporarily, they will not be open for walk-in visits until further notice. Pre-arranged, prepaid group tours of 20 or more and facility rental will still be available. Contact the museum via email, voice mail and traditional mail.The A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum's mission is to promote, honor and celebrate the legacy of A. Philip Randolph and contributions made by African-Americans to America's labor history. At our facility this celebration begins with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, as we educate the public about their legacy and contributions.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Toast to Illinois' Early Settlers!

When Kate was writing Ruth by Lake and Prairie, she read all the accounts by the settlers she could get her hands on. Ruth's brother, Robert Nelson Murray, lived to be an old man, outlasting most of his contemporaries. About 50 years after the founding of Naperville, The Inter-Ocean, a Chicago newspaper, sent a reporter to interview Mr. Murray.

They found him sitting outside the general store on an old box, whittling. He was not yet 70 years old, and while some folks did live into their 80's, they were the exception rather than the rule. Illness, accidents, childbirth and hard work took their toll.

The reporter apparently was amused by Murray's "countrified" ways and his tales of the old days. It makes for a delightful interview and a very important resource for the researcher.

One of Murray's stories is about voting for Andrew Jackson in the 1832 Presidential election. Murray says he was eighteen at the time, and while the majority of the settlers voted for Henry Clay, "there were twelve other fellows who liked whiskey and black strap just as I did."

That's the kind of off-hand comment that authors love because it highlights a little domestic detail that can add realistic depth to a story.

Kate did a little extra research on the drinking habits of early Americans. Rum was actually the favored spirit in the original colonies, and was made in America from imported sugar cane, but after the American Revolution disrupted trade with the Caribbean, whiskey became more common. There were plenty of Scottish and Irish immigrants around who were distilling whiskey from excess grain.

Early Americans drank alcohol all day long. In many cases, it was healthier. Polluted water caused illnesses like cholera and even safe water often needed to stand to let the mud settle out. Milk could kill you, as it did Abraham Lincoln's mother, if your cow was eating poisonous plants.

Wine-making was not successful in the colonies and beer spoiled too quickly to transport it to far-flung settlements, so hard liquor was most common. Old recipes exist to make whiskey toddies and flips and other drinks -- like Mr. Murray's whiskey and black strap.

Black strap is a type of molasses that is created from the third boiling of sugar cane. After each boiling, more sugar crystals are formed, and the syrup that's left behind gains more of a "burnt" taste and color. That's why black strap is black compared to the earlier "golden" molasses.

In Ruth by Lake and Prairie, whiskey and black strap is passed around by the men during their Fourth of July celebrations on the schooner. In the pursuit of research, Kate admits that she did try a whiskey and black strap herself.

Let's just say it must be an acquired taste!

In the Days before "Just Say No" Came to Our Schools

While researching whiskey and black strap and the drinking habits of settlers in the 1800's, Kate found a few interesting stories in The Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois, Volume 2 by Paul Selby.

In the chapter on Kendall County, the writer tells some stories about school customs in the first half of the nineteenth century. Until larger number of German immigrants arrived, Christmas was not really a big deal. The Charles Dickens version became common only after Queen Victoria took up the custom from her German-born husband and most early Americans celebrated Christmas like an ordinary Sunday.

By the 1840's, however, customs started changing, and one odd one was called "Barring Out." A few days before Christmas, the pupils at the local one-room school would bar the door against the teacher until he promised them a treat for Christmas Day. Apparently, some students went even farther by throwing the teacher in the river, tying him up, or burying him in a snow bank. A few teachers resigned their positions rather than face the mob of students, but at least one "was forced to treat his pupils to 'blackstrap' and all the boys became drunk."

Where History Is Happening

Preserving History at Lombard's Victorian Cottage
Wednesday, August 11
1 pm - 4 pm
Learn how canning and preserving food was done in Victorian times and how those skill are applicable to modern living. At the Lombard Historical Society's Victorian Cottage Museum.

Neville Collection Open House in Elgin
Sunday, August 29 1:00 pm
This is a second chance to visit Aubrey and Rachel Neville's fantastic dairy and carriage collection and to roam their extensive gardens! You will see antique horse carriages, industrial wagons, and many different types of dairy bottles. A feature of this event is the garden walk, which includes a 2 acre tall grass restored prairie, woodland gardens, a butterfly garden, ponds, and a creek. Call the Museum to make reservations at 847.742.4248. Directions will be emailed or sent to you. Admission: $5 donation to the Museum.

Geneva's 175th Birthday Party

Saturday, August 14
4:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Residents are invited to bring their picnic baskets for an old fashioned community party in celebration
of Geneva's 175th birthday. The celebration is designed to not only
commemorate a historic milestone, but to encourage residents of all ages to interact with each other and literally get to know their neighbors. Entertainment will include dance performers from the Geneva Park District and a performance by storyteller Terry Lynch.
The evening will culminate with music provided by the
Fox Valley Concert Band. The picnic will be held on the courthouse lawn at Third and James Streets. The party is in cooperation with the City of Geneva, Geneva
Chamber of Commerce, Geneva Park District, Geneva Public Library, and the Geneva History Center.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Naper's Settlers Arrived at the DuPage River 179 Years Ago This Week

We don't know the exact date when Joseph Naper, his family and his friends arrived at the banks of the DuPage River, but it was most likely around July 15, 1831, according to several sources who were recorded some years after the event. That would be this week!

When Kate was researching and writing her first book, Ruth by Lake and Prairie, she made an effort to go out to a local prairie and see what it looked like in the middle of July to pick up details of what the settlers must have experienced.

Northern Illinois is pretty darn hot and humid in July. But 1831 happened to have been a relatively cool year. Spring was a long time coming and the sailing season on the Great Lakes started later than usual because the ice didn't break up at the normal time. Contemporary letters also mention a cool, wet June. It may have been fairly warm when Naper's group headed out from the Chicago settlement to walk to their new home, but the prairie must have been quite green and lovely still.

Chicago wasn't much of a place yet. There were only native wigwams and log homes. Mark Beaubien had started work on his Sauganash Tavern, which would be the first frame house in the area, but he wouldn't be done until autumn. Wagon-makers, and thus, wagons, were few, most likely owned by the folks who already lived here. They probably rented them out, but research shows that settlers often brought wagons with them when they came west by ship like Naper did.

They would remove the wheels and tie them to the masts. The square wagon box would be lashed to the deck with other cargo. Once at their destination, they could reassemble the wagons.

John Murray, Ruth's father and Joe Naper's brother-in-law, drove the settler's cattle overland from Ohio and was there to greet them when their ship arrived. Once the wagons were reassembled and packed, they hooked up the oxen John had brought to pull the wagons.

Most folks are aware that Chicago was a huge swamp and wagons had a lot of difficulty in the mud. Since it had been a late, wet spring, these settlers must have had a very difficult time of it. Research shows that often they would hitch several pairs of oxen to one wagon, pull it to drier ground, unhitch the oxen, and go back for the next wagon.

It took the settlers three days to walk the twenty-six miles to the DuPage River. With many wagons and an especially soggy swamp, they may still have been in site of Lake Michigan at the end of the first day!

Experience the Settler's Prairie for Yourself

Like Kate, you may want to stand in an actual northern Illinois prairie this week and imagine that you are one of Naper's settlers from Ruth by Lake and Prairie. Much of the original prairie has been plowed up or built over, but there are still a few places that are either original or restored.

One of the best places to find original prairie is in very old graveyards. Yes, the settlers long ago dug the holes for graves, but they didn't plow the land, so it continued to grow in the natural way. Conservationists will often collect seeds from old graveyards to help create prairie restorations with native plants.

The Belmont Prairie in DuPage county boasts some original prairie, but there are also some restored areas that are worth a trip. Both the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn and Fermi Lab in Batavia have been working on prairie restorations.

If you visit, use all your senses to put yourself in the shoes of the early Illinois settler. What can you smell and hear? How does it feel to walk through such tall grass? How about the bugs? Imagine yourself barefoot, for nearly everyone went barefoot in the summer to save on shoe leather, walking for three days in the July sun.

Now imagine how you would explain hitting the highway in an air-conditioned SUV to Joe and the rest of the group! Our forefathers were certainly a hardy lot!

Where History Is Happening

Links to some upcoming events:

Norwood Park 136th Birthday Party
Saturday, July 24
12:00pm - 4:00pm
and 5:00pm - 10:30pm
The Norwood Park Historical Society celebrates the city's 136th anniversary with two free events on the grounds of the Noble-Seymour-Crippen House.
Re-enactor Kevin Naughton sets up a Mini Civil War Encampment camp on the lawn from noon to 4 p.m.
Guests are encouraged to visit him, ask questions, and learn all about the life and times of a Civil War soldier.
In the evening, bring your blanket and picnic dinner after 5 p.m., and dine al fresco on the front lawn of Chicago's oldest home. At 8:30 p.m., a comedy will be shown. While these events are free, donations will be gladly accepted.

Steam Century Mystery
Saturday, July 17
2:00 pm until 10:00 pm
Midway Village Museum in Rockford invites guests into the fantastical alternative history that is known as steampunk. Steam Century Mysteries presents "It came from the Arbor or The Implications of Ill-Gotten Memoria Upon Community Hematology." Guests will experience a unique, truly immersive Victorian era science fiction/fantasy with the entire Victorian Midway Village as a backdrop. A special barn dance and steampunk vendors are also part of this event.
Group reservations and Victorian costumes are encouraged!
Cost is $35 per person and $30 for museum members. Recommended for ages 14 and up unless accompanied by a parent.
Registration required.

Summer Sundays at the Colonel Palmer House

Sunday, July 18
1:00pm -4:00pm
Join us for a peek at 19th century farming and household chores.Take a wagon ride through the field, learn to shuck and
shell corn and then grind it to make meal. Try your hand at kneading bread, shelling nuts, and making butter. Then try
doing laundry in a wash tub with a wringer, cleaning rugs on a clothes line or piecing a quilt on a treadle sewing
Demonstrators will encourage you to give it a try. Fun for kids and adults alike. Tour the historic home and learn Palmer family history from costumed staff. Displays and a craft area for the children. Admission is free.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Unearthing Buried Secrets about Our Local History

Kate recently spent an afternoon at Garfield Farm in LaFox near Geneva helping with the archeological dig that was held for two weeks during June. After taking part in the Joseph Naper Homestead dig in Naperville, Kate was excited to find yet another project where she could help and learn more about Illinois in the early 1800's.

If you go out to Garfield Farm today, the main feature is the brick inn that stood off the Chicago-St. Charles road. Timothy and Harriet Garfield bought an already-existing farm and built the inn in 1846. They dug the clay from the banks of the river, molded and fired the bricks, and then built the handsome structure that you can visit today.

The inn offered meals, lodging and stabling for travelers horses as they traveled up to or down from Chicago. A separate ladies parlour added elegant privacy to this still-rustic frontier landscape. Gentlemen could buy whiskey and tobacco to enjoy in the taproom which was less refined.

The farm stayed in the family for generations until the last of the family, Elva Ruth Garfield turned it into a museum on early farming life in 1977. It is rare among living history museums in that all of the buildings belong to the site where they are currently found instead of being moved from their original sites.

While the Garfields started the innkeeping business, they purchased the land from the Culverson family who lived in a log house that they built in 1836. No doubt the Garfields also lived in the log house until the brick inn was built.

Many other buildings have been built on the grounds, including a hay and grain barn, a horse barn and several other structures. In the last twenty years the 1840's Atwell Burr house was also moved onto the grounds. But the original log house disappeared long ago.

Locating the foundation for this cabin was one of the goals of the archeological program, as well as finding artifacts from the era. A dig in 2006 revealed the cellar and a five-year investigation is planned.

The day that Kate went, the archeologist was continuing from the previously revealed cellar. Most of the land around there had been cultivated through the years, so artifacts have been churned into the ground, mixing beer tabs with old pottery, but there were a few interesting finds.

Glass, both old and new, and ceramic shards were found, as well as brick, worked flint chips and nails.

Although the first session has passed, volunteers will be needed for the second session in September. If you are interested in helping with the dig, you can register by contacting the farm at info@garfieldfarm.org.

Congratulations to Our Bookfest Winner!

The Glen Ellyn Bookfest was held downtown on Saturday, June 19, sponsored Glen Ellyn's Downtown Alliance. Shops hosted local authors for book sales and signings.

Kate enjoyed hanging out at the Vintage Living Store, a charming couple of rooms overflowing with old photos, textile, jewelry and other treasures. Chatting with visitors about local history and their own writing aspirations was quite enjoyable!

Visitors were able to sign up to win a family pass to the Naper Settlement Living History Museum. The drawing was held and congratulations go to Luisa from Glen Ellyn! Luisa was thrilled and said it was the first time she had ever won anything. Her pass for two adults and two children is in the mail to her now.

A big thank you to Luisa and all the other people who stopped by to buy books and say hello! Hopefully, Glen Ellyn will hold another Bookfest next summer!

Where History Is Happening

Links to some upcoming events:

Summer Fashion Show
Saturday, July 31
12:00pm - 3:00pm

Come be a part of the Flagg Township Museum Summer Fashion Show and Luncheon!
See the show or be a model yourself! We will be serving a light lunch before the show.
$25/ticket-includes the luncheon and fashion show.
Contact: hubhistory@gmail.com or 815-762-6199
Seating is limited.

Guided Walking Tour of Somonauk Street
Sunday, July 4
1:00 pm

Guided walking tour of historic Somonauk Street are led by Stephen Bigolin on the first Sunday of the month throughout the summer. The tour takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Handouts are included.t
$5 per person
Begins at Sycamore Farmer's Market, Somonauk and Elm Street.

1840 Durant House Museum

Sundays until
1:00am -4:00pm

Visit this season for the utmost in 19th-Century hospitality and innovative living history programs!
Our dynamic approach breathes new life into history and highlights the extraordinary realities of 1840s life. Pastimes, laundry, food preparation, and tools are just a few of the regular features. Complete your trip back in time by trying a few period games and toys, as well as heirloom arts and crafts.
Be sure to also visit Sholes Schoolhouse across the road from the Durant House.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Local Brewery Figures in National Lore

Naperville was first settled by New Englanders, but German immigrants were right behind them -- and they brought the beer.

Although Naperville was first settled by New Englanders of Irish and Scottish extraction, a wave of German immigration occurred soon after and they brought their beer-brewing tradition with them.

One of the early brewery operators was Peter Stenger. Peter and his wife Barbara arrived from Bavaria with most of their large family. The oldest daughter, Anna, remained in Bavaria with her husband, but the other nine children immigrated with their parents to America.

Peter Stenger purchased a small brewery already in operation in Naperville and with his sons, built it up into the largest brewery in Naperville. Peter also hired a young master brewer who had been apprenticed in Dortmund and worked as a brewer in several German cities.

This young man impressed Peter with both his brewing and business skills. The legend has it that Peter was so impressed, he encouraged the young man to become a permanent employee of the Stenger Brewery by marrying one of the boss's daughters.

Apparently, the young brewmaster was not interested in becoming Peter's son-in-law, because in 1872 he left Naperville and traveled west to Colorado where he purchased a share in a Denver bottling company. Soon, he acquired the entire company, and by 1873 he had also bought the Golden City Tannery, turning it into the Golden Brewery.

That brewery in Golden, Colorado still brews beer bearing the young brewmaster's name, which was Adolph Coors. Some Illinois folks remember when one couldn't buy Coors beer on this side of the Mississippi, but few remember that he started his American career in the Chicago area.

Adolph Coors died in 1929 at the age of 82 after falling from a Virgina hotel window. Some accounts say it was an accident, but others say it was suicide. The 1929 date is suggestive, but the Crash was still some months off. Perhaps the old brewmaster, forced to manufacture malted milk because of Prohibition, had simply had enough.

Meet and Greet Authors at Glen Ellyn's Bookfest

On Saturday, June 19, Glen Ellyn's Downtown Alliance will be hosting its first Bookfest. Many of the shops downtown will host local authors for book sales, book signings and chats about writing with more than 30 authors on hand from 10:00 am until 1:00 pm.

As one of the authors, Kate will be set up at the Vintage Living Store, a charming shop filled with antique "found treasures." A map listing each shop and author will be available at downtown stores, or you can download a copy now.

In addition to authors scattered throughout downtown, programs for children, families and adults will take place all day. Learn about "Local Underground Railroad History' from Glennette Tilley Turner or hear spine-tingling tales of suspense by Marie Ringenberg. Later in the afternoon, adults can join authors J.A. Konrath and Charlene Baumbich for cocktails.

Elizabeth Berg will be the keynote speaker at Glenbard West High School Auditorium and will sign books as well. Her presentation as well as some other events require tickets, so see the Glen Ellyn Bookfest website for details and a schedule of all the events.

Bookfest promises to be a fun event for readers, writers and shoppers of all ages, so plan to come by for a bit. Be sure to say "hello" to Kate at Vintage Living when you do!

Where History Is Happening

Links to some upcoming events:

Free Admission for Dad on Father's Day at Naper Settlement
Sunday, June 20
1:00pm - 4:00pm
Dads are free with paid admission for their child or another adult from 1-4 p.m. on Father's Day, Sunday, June 20. It's also a Settlement Sunday with free ice cream sundaes and all the toppings.

Garfield Farm Archeology Volunteer Opportunity
June 16 - 20
September 22
Morning or Afternoon Shifts
Garfield Farm, an 1840's farmstead and tavern, has started excavating the site of the original 1830's log cabin. If you've always wanted to be an archeologist, here's your chance to feed your inner Indiana Jones. Volunteers can register to help by contacting the museum at 630 584-8485 or by e-mail at info@garfieldfarm.org.
Work began June 9, continues until June 20, and will resume for two weeks in late September. If you are unable to volunteer, but have a desire to see the dig, you can also arrange to visit the site by contacting the Farm.

Log Cabin Days at Naper Settlement

Friday and Saturday,
June 25 - 26
10:00am -4:00pm
Sunday, June 27
1:00am - 4:00pm
To highlight the preservation of log cabins, Naper Settlement will be celebrating Log Cabin Days from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 25 and 26 and from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 27.
This weekend is the debut of new hands-on activities in the Log House. Experience pioneer activities including carrying a yoke and bucket, grinding corn, building a fence, open hearth cooking and more. Visitors who can name the seven U.S. presidents born in a log cabin will win a prize. Activities are included free with regular admission.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Remembering Some of America's First Soldiers

When the United States of America was a very young country, there wasn't a lot of gold in the treasury to pay for a standing army. Still, there were wars to be fought such as the War of 1812, the Mexican War and of course the American Revolution.

One way the government could pay its soldiers was to offer bounty land grants for their service. Discharged soldiers applied for a warrant, and if the warrant was granted they could apply for a land patent which made them owners of a portion of the land in the public domain.

Certain swaths of land were set aside for war land grants. Sometimes the soldiers actually took possession of their land, but often they sold their grants to speculators and took a smaller amount of ready cash rather than move their families to an unknown territory.

A large chunk of western Illinois was set aside for soldiers who served in the War of 1812. Each soldier was eligible to receive 160 acres of land. Where that 160 acres was located was determined by lottery.

Many of the soldiers chose not to travel out to Illinois, which wasn't even a state yet when the bounty land was being granted. Instead speculators bought out a lot of the claims and amassed large holdings. Pioneers from the east often ignored the speculators' claims, however and simply settled down where they wished, "squatting" until they were kicked out or could legally stake a claim.

The United States government felt they had the right to grant these lands because no one of European extraction was currently claiming them, but the native people of course felt very differently. This same area was home to several Native American tribes who already were using the land for farming and hunting and didn't see why they should have to give it up.

Black Hawk took a stand in 1832, but he didn't get the backing he hoped for and was defeated by U.S. troops. The Native Americans were relocated west of the Mississippi and European settlers continued to arrive in droves to stake their homesteads.

Abraham Lincoln's only military service was during the Black Hawk War until he became Commander in Chief of the Union Army during the Civil War.

Very Brief History of Memorial Day

Originally known as Decoration Day, the day of remembrance was first observed on May 30 in 1868. General John Logan made the proclamation earlier that month to decorate the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington Cemetery.

The Southern states who were at one time Confederate chose not to recognize the holiday and decorated their veterans' graves on a different date until after World War I when the day of remembrance was expanded to include soldiers from conflicts beyond just the Civil War.

While those who sell cemetery wreaths would like you to decorate the graves of all loved ones who have passed on, Memorial Day was specifically intended to remember and honor those who served our country in the military.

Where History Is Happening

Links to some upcoming events:

Reddick Mansion Tours
Beginning May 31
Sunday, Monday & Wednesday - Friday
11:30am - 3:00 pm
12:00pm - 3:00pm
The Reddick Mansion stands facing historic Washington Square in Ottawa, Illinois, and was built in 1858 for the then-costly sum of $25,000. Mr. Reddick served as a state senator. Mr. Stephen A. Douglas was one of the many politicians entertained at the Reddicks' home. This mansion has been restored to its original splendor and is open for tours. $ 5.00 per person

Railroad Days Galesburg

Saturday, June 26
9:00am -5:00pm
Sunday, June 27
10:00am - 4:00pm
Galesburg Railroad Days annual event celebrating the city's rich railroad heritage with a carnival, exhibits, a street fair, railyard tours, 5 & 10K run/walk, hobby train show, die cast toy show, flea market, rib cook-off, entertainment, beer garden, Saturday night Teen Dance 8 - 11PM, car show on Sunday and much more. Over 40 events----most of them free.

Rockford Area Historical Museum
Summer Hours begin June 3
Thursday, Friday and Saturday 1-4 pm
The Museum features a wide variety of artifacts, ranging from the prehistoric to the historic, representing more than 150 years of Rockford history. It also houses the largest collections of research and genealogical material in northern Kent County, pertinent to people, places and things of the past.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Illinois Pioneers Traveled by Sailing Schooner as Well as by Prairie Schooner

While most local citizens are aware that Joseph Naper founded what became known as Naper's Settlement and was later incorporated as Naperville, few people are familiar with the details of Joe's journey.

We usually picture wagon trains heading west, also known as "prairie schooners." But Joe had an actual schooner. Father Robert Naper was a ship builder and Joe and several of his brothers followed the family trade, building, owning, sailing - and wrecking - many different ships.

Joe sailed a regular run in Lake Erie from Buffalo to Cleveland, housing his young family in a small town near Dunkirk, New York. His brother John, also a ship's captain, operated out of Ashtabula, Ohio, where father Robert settled when the boys were young. Friends and family from both New York and Ohio joined their settlement journey, including sister Amy Murray's family; Amy's married daughter, Sarah; Sarah's in-laws; and several others.

While the exact dates are uncertain, we know the journey started in Buffalo around May 30. They traveled to Ashtabula to pick up more settlers and then sailed across Lake Erie, navigated up the St. Clair Flats to Lake Huron, swung around Mackinac into Lake Michigan and anchored offshore near Fort Dearborn about mid-July. It took another three days by wagon to reach the DuPage River.

Not all of the families stayed at Naper's Settlement. Some moved on to Wheaton, Plainfield and Lockport while others stayed in Chicago.

Joe sold his share in the Telegraph, the schooner that transported the
settlers, but John continued as a ship's captain for several years before
becoming a full-time farmer in what would eventually become Lisle.

The month of May was designated as Heritage Month in Naperville a few years ago, with events and activities happening all month long. Event hosts include:

* City of Naperville
* DuPage Children's Museum
* Naper Settlement
* Naperville Park District
* Naperville Public Library and
* North Central College.

There's still two weeks of Heritage Month Activities if you want to check out the calendar at NaperSettlement.org.

For kids interested in learning more about the schooner journey, or for adults who like a quick read, Kate's book "Ruth by Lake and Prairie" tells the story from the point of view of Naper's twelve-year-old niece, Ruth Murray. The book has a "Little House" feel and is available from the book's website, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders, Anderson's Bookshops and Naper Settlement.

1000 Teenagers and Chicago's Mayor Daley -- How Scary is That?

On Saturday, May 15, Mayor Daley's Book Club held their Spring Conference. Kids from 7th through 12th grades have been meeting in school libraries and branches of the Chicago Public Library all year long, reading and discussing books. At the Spring Conference, teenagers by the busload arrived at DuSable High School to attend workshops and meet authors.

At the suggestion of a fellow author, Dyanne Davis, Kate submitted a proposal to teach a workshop at the Conference. She was thrilled to be accepted and was busy preparing when she got a call from the organizer inviting her to be a "special guest."

As a "special guest," Kate got to hang out in the V.I.P. green room with the other guests, among which was award-winner Allan Stratton. But she also had to sit onstage with the guest authors, with officials from Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Public Library, and with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.

Don't forget this was also in front of 1,000 teenagers sitting in the audience and staring up at the stage.

Fortunately, there was no public speaking required of her during that Opening Ceremony. Nerves were conquered, all went well, and Kate went on to lead two classroom sessions on "Creative Non-Fiction: The Reality TV of Literature."

The kids were great, the discussions were interesting, and meeting a bunch of new authors is always a joy. Photos and video will be posted at Kate's website soon, but you can read more about it now at K.C. Boyd's blog.

Where History Is Happening

Links to some upcoming events:

The History of the Pickle
Norwood Park Historical Society

Wednesday, May 26
The pickle was in its heyday in Chicago in the late 1800s. Important Chicago firms including Clausen and Libbey had large farms in the area which ended with the Great Pickle Blight of 1911.Learn about this history from pickle expert, David Leider. The free event will be held at the Noble-Seymour-Crippen House and is open to the public.Pickle "treats" will be available to attendees.

I do! Chicago Ties the Knot
Chicago History Museum
Opens Saturday
May 22
The exhibition explores an array of wedding traditions through costume and tells how some of those traditions were standardized by Chicago retailers to create the wedding industry we know today.

Wedding from the Past

Kline Creek Farm
Friday through Monday May 21- 24
10am until 4pm
Learn about wedding traditions, and see the farmhouse in preparation for a wedding. Free. Registration not required.

Vintage Wedding Gown Display

Western Springs Historical Society
Opens May 29
10am until 12pm
4pm until 6pm during the French Market
The Western Springs Historical Society will feature a new exhibit of vintage wedding dresses and accessories from its collection, donated by Western Springs' residents through the years. Dresses featured cover the period between 1855 and 1945.
Volunteers researched the dresses and their wearers, as well as repaired the dresses for the show. Unique and touching stories about the brides and grooms, particularly around World War II, will be part of the exhibit.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

May Is Heritage Month in Naperville

Learning more about the founding families of Naperville is especially pleasant during these beautiful spring days as there are so many out-of-doors places to see their influences.

Certainly there is the Naper Settlement living history museum, but that's not the only place to view history. Just down the street from the Settlement is Naperville Cemetery where you will see headstones bearing the same names as many of our streets.

The cemetery used to be north of downtown, so some of the earliest settlers were moved along with the cemetery in the mid-1800's. The oldest markers can be found on the south end nearest Washington Street, but do explore further for other interesting remembrances like the pyramid, the elephant and the stone cowboy hat.

Much of the downtown area has been rebuilt over the years, but you can still see glimpses of the past, carefully preserved. One way to learn about the town's landmarks is to take a walking tour. You can pick up complimentary tour brochures at the Pre-Emption House or download them from the Settlement's website.

Naperville is unique in that it was "colonized." That is, a group of families chose to settle together with the intent of creating a town rather than individual homesteaders eventually banding together.

Joseph Naper drew the plat for the town and gave it his name, but the settlement also included the families of his brother John, his sister Amy and a few others. Some families settled down along the DuPage River. Others fanned out into Wheaton, Lockport and Chicago.

Some families already homesteading in the area, like the Hobsons and the Paines, also became part of the Settlement, while new families arrived on a regular basis, pushing the western frontier ever farther.

Although the earliest settlers were New Englanders, mainly from Scotland and Ireland, a large population of German immigrants arrived soon after. At one time, Naperville was well-known for its beer-brewing! Underground tunnels were constructed that kept the beer barrels cool and later served as mushroom-farming rooms.

The cultural make-up of the city continues to change today. For instance, the Park District now runs a Cricket league for the enjoyment of the many Naperville residents from India.

When Joe Naper and his neighbors relocated, it took them over a month to sail from Ashtabula, Ohio to Chicago. They would be mighty surprised to hear how little time it takes to fly from India!