Lilacia Park

I have to smell the lilacs in May. It reminds me of Mom and Dad. After living in Downers Grove for over 30 years, I had no idea that I could smell the flowers at a historical park in Lombard, a neighboring suburb, only 15 minutes away. A friend had posted about her field trip to Lilacia Park on Facebook so I took a morning trip there last Sunday. It was the perfect day for the weather and photographs. A beautiful walk! Lilacia Park, an 8.5-acre garden, is located at 150 South Park Avenue, Lombard, Illinois. Yes, I could smell the lilacs but I didn’t think about the past, but the elegance of the moment.

Lilacia Park is aworld-renown horticultural showcase that features over 700 lilacs and 35,000 tulips annually. In 2019, the park was named to the National Register of Historic Places for its significant contribution to horticultural history in the United States. Lilacia Park is most recognized for being home to Lombard Lilac Time, a blooming festival happening during the first two weeks of May. Col. William Plum and his wife Helen Maria Williams Plum traveled to Chicago in 1869, where he wanted to practice, but also investigated areas outside of the city. One was the new village of Lombard which had been known as Babcock Grove.

He purchased land on the corner of Park and Maple. The estate would eventually be known as Lilacia, the Latin term for lilac. The couple had taken a tour to France and visited the famous gardens of Victor Lemoine where they fell in love with the lilacs. They bought the first two after touring the Arboretum. Helen passed away in 1924 and the Colonel lost interest in the estate. He tried to sell it to Joy Morton. It was Morton that told the Colonel that the collection had become so much a part of Lombard that they should remain there, and not at Thornhill Farm, now known as the Morton Arboretum. The Colonel passed away in 1927 and in his will, he dedicates the gardens to Lombard requesting it to become a public park. The home was used as a small library but was demolished when a new library opened in 1963, still dedicated to Helen Plum.

The park is open all year. Lilacia Park hosts many special events each year, including the Mutt Strut Annual 5K & 1-Mile, Movies & Concerts in the Park, Jingle Bell Jubilee, Holiday Lights, and more. Host your wedding at Lilacia Park!

In your Easter bonnet

The Easter parade was always planned, following the religious service on Easter Sunday. Never another day which was truly a way to celebrate Jesus. Easter parades involved women who were finely dressed in new clothes and hats. Having new clothes and expensive attire actually began in Europe in the early 4th century as a celebration to the resurrection. It symbolized re-birth, renewal and hope. In 1933, American songwriter Irving Berlin wrote the music for a revue on Broadway called As Thousands Cheer. It included his song “Easter Parade”, which he had been working on for fifteen years, and in which he had finally captured the essence of the parade. Both the song and the revue were tremendously popular. The song became a standard, and fifteen years later was the basis for the film Easter Parade. My family members remember the Chicago parade in 1939 taking place in front of the Drake hotel after services. Women of wealthy families would attend service and then head for a luxurious lunch. Another Chicago parade took place in on Michigan Ave in around the Fourth Presbyterian Church in 1927. Many dressed in fine clothes and bonnets. They were usually wealthy congregants and influential pastors.

The Easter parade is most closely associated with Fifth Avenue in New York City, but Easter parades are held in many other cities. Starting as a spontaneous event in the 1870s, the New York parade became increasingly popular into the mid-20th century—in 1947, it was estimated to draw over a million people. Its popularity has declined significantly, drawing only 30,000 people in 2008. It was cancelled in 2020 due to Covid but now the Easter parade and bonnet festival still exists. The Easter Parade & Easter Bonnet Festival is a spontaneous event that takes place every year in New York City. On Easter Sunday, Fifth Avenue (from 49th St to 57th St) is closed for traffic. The fun begins at about 10 am. The promenade of hundreds of people wearing weird, funny, and inventive costumes usually attracts crowds of spectators.

Other wonderful Easter celebrations planned on Easter Sunday throughout the country:

New Orleans Like so many occasions in New Orleans, Easter Sunday is celebrated with a parade…actually three. The oldest Easter parade in the city is the one founded by Germaine Wells in 1956. Most are Christian so as many have said, it a spritual time in the city. Therefore, Easter gets its fair number of parades dedicated to different issues and topics, such as The Historic French Quarter Easter Parade, Chris Owens French Quarter Parade, and the Gay Easter Parade. The Historic French Quarter parade starts at Antoines restaurant at 9:45 and arrives at the St. Louis Cathedral for mass at 11:00. There are also Easter Bonnet awards.

The Easter Parade on Union Street in San Francisco is another popular event on Easter Sunday. The parade begins at 2pm but there is also Easter bonnet contest as well. Other parades and contests are available to see at Golden Gate Park.

Chicago History Museum

The first time I visited the Chicago Historical Society, which is now the Chicago Museum, was the day after the death of John F. Kennedy. It was a field trip planned in advance with friends to celebrate my 9th birthday that my Mom did not want to cancel. After arriving, I remember seeing the bed that Abraham Lincoln died in and also seeing different guns representing the Union and Confederate Armies. It was a somber event, for many of us kept thinking about the irony of this trip after the recent assassination of our President John F. Kennedy who was also shot in the head in on Friday, November 22, 1963. My actual birthday was on the Thursday, the 21st, though we planned to celebrate on Saturday, November 23rd since we were off of school. Taking my own little ones, to the museum in the 1990’s, they, too, were fascinated with the gun collection, and Lincolns bed, but also loved the clothing that Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln wore on the evening of the assassination. We also enjoyed the beautiful historical paintings and dioramas throughout the building. Learning more about the true Chicago Fire was another interest that sparked our attention.

The museum has been located in Lincoln Park since the 1930s at 1601 North Clark Street at the intersection of North Avenue in the Old Town Triangle neighborhood. The CHS adopted the name, Chicago History Museum, in September 2006 for its public presence. Later that year, the museum celebrated a grand reopening, unveiling a dramatic new lobby and redesigned exhibition spaces. Signature exhibitions such as Chicago: Crossroads of America and Sensing Chicago debuted, while an old favorite, Imagining Chicago: The Dioramas, was restored and updated.

Today, the Chicago History Museum, Stephen Burrows, Scotty Piper, Patrick Kelly, Willi Smith, and Barbara Bates—five stories within the folds of fashion. The clothing we wear and the styles we embrace often reveal what we value and what we aspire to, ultimately helping us understand ourselves and the world in which we live. The clothing collection consists of more than 50,000 pieces, ten never-been-exhibited ensembles were selected to tell the remarkable stories of these five designers. Vivian Maier was an extraordinary photographer who took pictures of real life and many on the streets of Chicago. Maier died before her life’s work was shared with the world. She left behind hundreds of prints, 100,000 negatives, and about a thousand rolls of undeveloped film, which were discovered when a collector purchased the contents of her storage lockers.

Remembering Dr. King: 1929–1968 invites visitors to walk through a winding gallery that features over 25 photographs depicting key moments in Dr. King’s work and the Civil Rights movement. And there is much more to the museum, that includes a variety of programs, publications, temporary exhibits, and online resources such as virtual fieldtrips, on-site fieldtrips and you can host an event. The museum offers a great gift shop with wonderful historical and fictional books about the city. You can also purchase kids’ books that offer a solid look at American history. You can buy apparel as well home goods.

The Field Museum

Every time we would drive by I would announce to my car friends and family…That is where the gorilla lives! I was four years old in 1959 when I visited the Field Museum and saw Bushman, the gorilla, in his mounted wall case, staring at me as if he were out to kill. He was going to get me and I ran. My parents caught me before I found myself lost among the mummies and man eating dinosaurs. I would not return again for many years to come. Bushman came to Chicago in 1930, a poor orphaned gorilla to arrive at Lincoln Park Zoo and in October of 1950 he escaped from his cage, roamed the kitchen at the zoo. Confronted by a garter snake that scared him, he quickly ran back to his cage. He died in 1951. He was afraid of a garter snake???

When I finally did go back with my own children, I was shocked how little he was and my young toddlers thought he was kind of cute. Go figure! They were more interested in the dinosaur named Sue in the early 2000’s. SUE’s sex is actually unknown; this T. rex is named for Sue Hendrickson, who discovered the dinosaur in 1990 during a commercial excavation trip north of Faith, South Dakota. At more than 40 feet long and 13 feet tall at the hip, SUE is physically the largest Tyrannosaurus rex and she was quite expensive for the Field Museum to obtain. Sue is probably the most celebrated dinosaur in the world today. You can see her in Griffin Hall today.

The Field Museum is one of the largest natural history museums in the world. The museum is named for it major benefactor, Marshall Field and also houses artifacts from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.  In order to share with future generations, the exhibits assembled for the Exposition, Edward Ayer convinced the merchant Marshall Field to fund the establishment of a museum.

Today, some exhibitions come and go. You can see how a giraffe’s heart pumps and explore the speed of a cheetah, which is an exhibition that closes January 9, 2022. Some of my current favorites are Inside Ancient Egypt where you can visit the largest collections of mummies in the United States along with an amazing collection of birds. If you walk through the doors of the East, that is where the gorilla lives located in his glass cage.

Holiday trip to the Museum of Science and Industry

Chicago museums were an integral part of my childhood field trips as well as my own little ones to follow. Most field trips as a child and parent were hours spent at the Museum of Science and Industry. It almost scared me away because in some of my early trips, there was a boom I cannot describe and still have no idea what exhibit produced the sound. For me, watching the chickens hatch was so exciting, exploring the 1960’s ranch house of the farm and suburbs, Telefun Town, where there were no cell phones, but we had fun talking in phone booths. My true love was Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle since I was fascinated by dolls and miniatures. My first souvenir from the museum was a Japanese doll dressed in beautiful red silk to add to my collection. Millions have enjoyed the castle and my daughter, too, could not take her eyes off the intricate displays behind glass.  For my son who was a train fanatic and got his first train at the age of two, it was the magical towns and miniatures trains that he could watch for hours like the 3,500 square foot model railroad. Other exhibits we enjoyed were the coal mine, the museums first exhibit, and German submarine U-505.

It was truly Yesterday’s Main Street that was the highlight of Baby Boomers generational experience at the museum. You could get travel the cobblestone streets and see the following:

  • The Berghoff restaurant
  • Chicago Post Office
  • Commonwealth Edison
  • Finnigan’s Ice Cream Parlor and Photo Studio
  • Gossard Corset Shop
  • Jewel Tea Company grocery
  • Jenner and Block Law office
  • Lytton’s Clothing Store
  • Dr. John B. Murphy’s office
  • The Nickelodeon Cinema
  • Chas. A. Stevens & Co.
  • Walgreens Drug Company

Unlike the other shops, Finnigan’s Ice Cream Parlor and The Nickelodeon Cinema can be entered and are functional. Finnigan’s serves an assortment of ice cream and The Cinema plays short silent films throughout the day. And, believe it or not, getting our picture taken at the arcade studio where we could dress up and drive our 1920’s car was the best. The one included in this article was when my now 30+ children visited yesteryear and delighted in strolling the cobblestone streets while having a treat at the old-fashioned ice cream parlor. I have another of my daughter and I during her high school years. I am not sure if the museum still offers the car photo to guests.

The Museum opened in 1933 in Jackson Park actually housed in the former Palace of Fine Arts from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. During the holidays, it began in 1942 with a single tree. Today, the Museum’s annual celebration featuring a four-story, floor-to-dome Grand Tree, surrounded by a forest of more than 50 trees and displays decorated by volunteers to represent the holiday traditions from cultures around the globe. Other new exhibits include No Time Like the Future, The Henry Crown Space Center, Transportation and Ship Gallery.

Glessner House

By Caryl Clem:

Mrs. Frances Glessner started Monday Morning Reading classes on November 21, 1894 to explore great scholars and experts’ works with 25 or more Chicago ladies. The tradition to inspire and provoke thoughts is still alive and thriving.  Standing indestructible on stone blocks at 1800 Prairie Street, the Glessner House is a Chicago cornerstone.  Visibly Glessner’s outside is stern, simple architecture, an original Richardson Romanesque, inside gracious airy rooms. The Glessner home was deeded to Chicago after the couple’s deaths as a museum to provide a place for great minds to find expression and appreciate culture.

William Rainey Harper, Yale graduate became President of the University of Chicago from 1891-1906.  He wanted woman faculty newcomers to be able to meet prominent Chicago wives throughout Chicago. He approached Frances Glessner for suggestions and the Monday Morning Reading classes were born. The Who’s Who of Chicago’s aristocratic Southside met educational trailblazers from a variety of cultures.   Many of the faculty wives were living in crude conditions while homes were built.  The city seemed foreign and difficult to maneuver for these university women.  Friendships emerged during the meetings that made strangers to Chicago feel welcomed.

John Glessner’s farm machinery business finesse resulted in the formation of International Harvester. He instigated the mergerof the largest farm implement companies together to end the reaper wars. He devoted his after work hours to serving various organizations to improve life in Chicago. The following are just the tip of his social iceberg:  Citizen’s Advisory Board to Chicago, Chicago Relief and Aid Society, Chicago Orphan Asylum, Rush Medical Group, Art Institute of Chicago and trustee of Chicago Orchestra Association.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation in 1966 did not want to see the Glessner house meet the fate of other homes of the Gilded Age suffering neglect and eventual tear down.  The home was fortified for continued use. The architect Henry Hobson Richardson died before he could see his completed masterpiece. Rumors abound that a white entity is seen floating in different rooms in the house leaving a telltale trail of cold air. John Drury mention in his book, Old Chicago Houses, that rooms were a laboratory for  the Institute of Technology  designing aptitude tests for students to identify what career choice best suits their personality and strengths . Glessner house is now a museum.

https://www.glessnerhouse.org/programs

Chicago’s Botanic Garden, Proof of Chicago’s Early Nickname

By Caryl Clem

The Chicago Horticultural Society joined forces with the Forest Preserve to acquire 385 acres of land in 1965. The new venture was named Chicago Botanic Garden. The ability to view over 20 unique gardens designed with plants that thrive in Chicago’s environment opened in 1972. Mother Nature is on parade featuring 26 million plants. . Plants from a variety of countries that do well in this climate are on display. In 1837 when the city was incorporated, Chicago’s first seal had Latin phrase, “Urbs in Horto” translated to “City in a Garden”. This vision had become a reality.

Mayor William Ogden was inspired by a famous landscaper from New York in 1828, Andre Parmentier, who stated, “botany was a science; landscape in horticultural gardens was an art.” Previously large city gardens had mazes, walkways, water fountains or statues with a few blooms. while the smaller English cottage gardens were dominated by flowers. Blending the two designs was the new trend. Gardens were a symbol of stability and cultural artistic appreciation. Chicago’s image needed the comforting atmosphere of a garden to offset the labor unrest in a growing industrial giant.

Chicago Botanic Garden reclaimed swampy undesirable land creating waterfalls, a small lake, bridges and breathtaking exhibits.  Their motto, “We cultivate the power of plants to sustain and enrich life” can be experienced throughout the nine laboratories, nine islands, 4 nature areas, and 6 miles along the lakeside. Labeled lush foliage and drought resistant hardy plants renew your interest in expanding your yard’s potential as you examine the possibilities.  Exhibit buildings offer art and botanical related exhibits. Even though one edge hugs the Highland Park Golf Course, you are in a private domain removed from city activity. Members have access to free plants and seedlings, concerts, free parking and a variety of events. 

The magic of the Colleen Moore Fairy Castle

One kindergarten student went to the Museum of Science and Industry, loving the baby chicks as her favorite exhibit. I did too and so did my own children. But when I begin another trip in the room with the Colleen Moore Fairy Castle,I am constantly in awe. I am quiet and so overwhelmed by the intricate detail of the amazing workmanship, artistry and beauty every time I visit. Maybe I have missed something again. I always do. But one year, I finally bought a book before the Internet was a resource.

The creation is the ultimate dollhouse/castle donated by Colleen Moore to the museum in 1949. She was a  Hollywood icon and one of the highest paid actresses. She conceived and designed it with about one hundred Hollywood craftsman and designers between the years of 1928 to 1935. She spent about a half a million on the castle. It has toured the US raising over a half a million dollars to give to children’s charities. Currently, the castle has 11 rooms and wonderful stories to go with each room.

The following describes each room and the finishing touches that were fascinating to me and my children:

Kitchen: It was not just the Mother Goose fairy tale murals on the walls. The best thing I liked is the kitchen of the witch from Hansel and Gretel.

Dining Room: The tapestries on the walls are so intricate that you cannot see the stitches at and the silver ware and plates on King Arthurs table are made of gold. So many pieces are over 100 years old.

Cinderella’s Drawing Room: The floor is made from China combined with quartz and jade. There is a beautiful of mural of Cinderella. A grand piano with an illustration inside the top is an instrument I always wanted to play on. I took piano lessons for many years and taught lessons.

Great Hall: On walls, windows and the ceilings there are amazing drawings of several fairy tales. There is a rosewood table that has Cinderella’s slippers on it and the chairs of the Three Bears. Of course, the balusters throughout and the stairs are gold.

Chapel; On the prayer bench is a small bible. The smallest in the world and printed on real type. I always stared at the electric pipe organ with gold pipes and music pours from it. The stained glass windows are actually made with diamonds and emeralds taken from Moore’s brooch.

Library: Is a sea motif in beautiful blue shades. There are pictures describing the classic literature of Gullivers Travels and Robinsoo Caruso. There are over 100 real books in the library many of them handwritten by famous authors.

Princess Bathroom and Bedroom: The bath tub is silver and real water can flow from the dolphins mouths on both sides of the tub. The bed is the same that Sleeping Beauty, my favorite Disney character, slept in. There is also a golden harp instrument that I always wanted to play

Prince’s Bathroom and Bedroom: The bathroom is upstairs with a mirror filled jewels. The bedroom has a huge white bear rug with real mouse teeth that I was always a little afraid.

Attic: This is just like most attics. Things that used to be in other parts of the castle are stored in the attic.

Magic Garden: Another favorite of mine. I loved the cradle that rocked the baby and you could actually see Santa Claus all year round.

Remembering Chicago street cars

She was 100 in 1999 and said the biggest change she had seen during her life in Chicago was not having streetcars though that was before the Internet and cell phones. She probably would have spoke differently. At one time, Chicago had the largest railway system in the world. The street cars began in 1859 with a horse-drawn cart running along a single rail track down State Street. However, they were replaced with cable cars and then replaced again with electric streetcars powered by an overhead trolley. Over 3,000 passenger cars existed.

As a girl, my Aunt used to ride the red street cars for only a nickel back in the early 1900’s and she said she could go anywhere in the city of Chicago for that cost. They also had a free transfer privilege where you could switch from one car to another. The streetcar industry began to decline in the 1920’s because of automobiles but at the time her family could not afford a car so she was a regular streetcar customer. A white band surrounded a pole to indicate where the car would stop. And according to my Aunt, you only had to wait a few minutes for the next car. There were over 100 routes throughout the city. A motorman stood in front of the car while the conductor was in the back where people loaded onto the car. The conductor rang a trolley bell to let the motorman know they were ready to go.

The PCC car was her favorite which only last a short time from 1945-1946. The streetcar company known as Chicago Surface Lines would not give up on their streetcars. Four companies formed the CSL: the Chicago Railways Company, Chicago City Railway, Calumet and South Chicago Railway, and Southern Street Railway which continued with Hammond, Indiana until 1940.

The new public agency Chicago Transit Authority took over Chicago Surface Lines and the streetcar system in 1947. They began to integrate the surface lines with the city’s elevated train network. The last street car journeyed down Vincennes Avenue on June 21, 1958. James O’Neil talks about his memories as a child with streetcars and living near a large streetcar, later bus, “barn,” as they used to call it. He used to have quite a collection of paper transfers.

Many years ago, I took my son to Illinois Railway Museum where he saw the red street car that my Aunt talked about. He was too young when she passed away but his love for everything on rails was passionate. The Illinois Railway Museum is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization which is owned entirely by its volunteers. The museum receives no state or federal money for its operations. All capital and operating costs are paid by individual donations and revenue derived from tickets and on-site sales. Currently, they are closed until early May but they are always looking for volunteers.

 

 

Christmas Tree Shimmer

By Caryl Clem

Communities across America kick off the Christmas Holidays with Tree Lighting ceremonies. This tradition was almost short circuited. A pastor lit a Christmas tree in the late 1890’s in a small town in Pennsylvania. The tree was torn down by townspeople who feared evil spirits had possessed the tree. First, Boston held a tree lighting ceremony on December 24, 1912. Chicago was a leader in spreading the idea of Christmas festivals starting with the grandeur of a giant shimmering tree. Mayor of Chicago, Carter H. Harrison, Jr. held the first official Chicago Tree Lighting in 1913 in Grant Park. Attended by 100,000 enthusiasts, the festival was planned by the President of the Art Institute, Charles L. Hutchinson according to Glessner House website.  The first President, Grover Cleveland, had an electric tree in the Oval Room for his granddaughters.  Ten years after the grand Chicago affair, President Cleveland presented a 3,000 bulb tree in the Ellipse on Christmas Eve. The magic of illuminated trees overcame the original mistrust of using electricity.  New York City in Rockefeller Center celebrated their first tree lighting ceremony in 1933.

Edison’s business partner, Edward H. Johnson invented the first string of white, red, and green bulbs in 1892 which he proudly displayed on his tree in a parlor window overlooking Manhattan in New York City. The first lit Christmas tree emerged. Johnson resourcefully hired a reported to take pictures. Only the rich could afford to hire a wireman (labor $1,000) to install a string of bulbs ( $300-$350 each).  General Electric was offering bulb strings for sale in 1903. The prices dropped after World War II, increasing the popularity of Christmas lights.

Every child hears stories of Christmas Magic. I was convinced these stories must be true after one glance at “bubble lights” on our family Christmas tree. I could sit and stare mesmerized by the bubbling glow amidst the popcorn strings, dangling cookies and bright tinsel.  After the introduction of “BUBBLE lites” by the NOMA Electric Corporation in 1946, competitors produced similar lights with the names Kristal Snow and Sparkling Bubble Lamp. The idea for bubbling inside a light was inspired by 2 popular selling items from the Montgomery Ward’s store. An accountant, George Otis combined the traveling light action in an illuminated Juke box with the shape of a Glow Light Candle. He filed a patent in 1935 that he later sold to NOMA. He was hired as a designer who played an active in improving lights in the years to come. The founder of Ward’s was a Chicagoan,  Aaron Montgomery Ward starting his business  in 1871 with the idea to sell to rural farmers the goods too far away for them to normally purchase. By 1923, the business had expanded to 244 stores in various states.

By the light of a shimmering tree, feel inspired by this year’s holiday magic!