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!

Chicagoland’s Sam Goody and Camelot music.

After moving to Waukegan in the late 1970’s and 1980’s, I remember it was about playing Billy Joel, The Stranger album over and over again. It was also about Faces, released in 1980, the tenth studio album for Earth, Wind and Fire. It was about Thriller, the album, by Michael Jackson in 1982 and Thriller, the song played in every local disco at the time. Most of the disco floors were blocks of color. There was one at Greenleaf and Washington in Gurnee and another in a plaza on Washington where I remember the colored floors. Then, there was Mirage by Fleetwood Mac, released in 1982. But I still played my 60’s and 70’s classics which included Band on the Run by Paul McCarthty and All things Must Pass by George Harrison. I shopped at Lakehurst Mall which included a Sam Goody shop as well as a Camelot music. I played piano and found that Camelot was a good place for sheet music.

Sam Goody was a music and entertainment retailer in the United States and United Kingdom, operated by The Musicland Group inc. Sam “Goody” Gutowitz opened a small record shop in New York. Though he had sales at his store, he truly was known for mail order of discount records and at the time in the 1950’s college students loved him. In 1978, the company was acquired by the American Can Company (later renamed Primerica), the owners of Minneapolis-based Musicland,[ Goody’s rival] Sam Goody continued to grow through both acquisitions and organic growth, including the launch of its website. It was purchased by Best Buy in 2000, sold to Sun Capital in 2003, and filed for bankruptcy in 2006 closing most of its stores.

Camelot was one of the largest retailers in the United States. It was founded in 1956 by two brothers, Paul and Robert David in Ohio and they had two shops which included Camelot music and the wall. The Wall was best known for its trademark “Lifetime Music Guarantee”, which offered free replacements for cassettes and CDs that had been damaged in any way. In some Camelot stores, you could step on a numbered floor circle triggering an audio mechanism. You could here a list of 20 hit tunes. At 70 years of age, David sold the company in 1993 to Investcorp. In 1998, the company owned 455 stores in 37 states. That same year, Camelot was bought by Trans World Entertainment including the Wall locations as well.

Tree top house

As a tribute to teachers, I could not take my eyes off of the best early pre-school television series on WGN where studio children acted as characters. The show began with Ms Mary Jane Clark presiding over a forest setting and the children would actually climb up to the tree top house at the end of show. Ms. Clark and her friend Mr. Widgin, a marionette, hosted the show from 1960-1962. This was live TV. Sometimes a stage was set with props including fake trees, and houses but no costumes and children moved with little rehearsal from places in the story. They told stories, sang songs and did craft projects. And she really talked to the children. Children seemed a little nervous but the cameramen helped if there was a problem according to sources. There really wasn’t a tree top house, above, it was located on another set and on the ground which may have been confusing for kids. It became even more successful largely to the gifts and grace of another vivid young performer and teacher, Mrs. Anita Kleever at WGN-TV in 1963 who hosted the story of Hansel and Gretel and won the Peabody Award.

Mary Jane Clark was born in Chicago in 1932 and had lived in River Forest as well as Oakbrook. She studied at Northwestern majoring in journalism and worked at American Airlines as a stewardess. She became Mary Jane Clark Dloughy in 1955. She recorded many commercials for WGN especially the Breck Girl and in the late 1960’s, she started her own employment business for women. She retired from her management company in 1980 and passed away in 2007.

Treetop House also holds the distinction of being the first Chicago children’s show to have a African-American host- Tasha Johnson. In 1970, Tasha Johnson hosted Tree Top House and in color. One copy of the Chicago Daily TV week with a beautiful picture of Tree Top House is available for purchase. I am not seller of the paper but I like to give credit to any picture online.

Fifty five years ago: The Chicagoland tornadoes of 1967

For me, it was in the late afternoon after school and I was playing outside at a friends. We were planning our weekend and the weather had been beautiful for April with high temperatures in the 70’s. It was a time of no cell phones or computers on April 21st, 1967. But Father called from the front porch after getting home for work early, that I needed to get home. Strange, it was not dinner time when the usual call from Mom went out. My own home was about a half a block west from where I had been playing and I was shocked as I glanced at the western sky. I suddenly noticed that the trees, the birds were quiet for April and the sky was a heavy gray, tinged with a smudge of green. Like the massive snowstorm months before, Chicago’s weather was about to change.  Something in my heart told me that the call to home was not a good one and I raced to the front porch, my Dad sat in his chair. He loved storms and that was his spot regardless of the severity but this time he told me and Mother, who was standing inside the front door, that we needed to be in the basement immediately. At no other time in my short life, do I remember that command. Mom and I headed for the basement, me first but Mom kept trying to get him to come in as she stood on the basement stairs, scared.

The first tornado, better known as the Belvidere tornado, struck approximately at a little before 4 pm where the Chrysler plant near 1-90 witnessed the destruction of over 400 cars. Then, the destruction continued to the town of Belvidere where hundreds of homes were damaged but it was just at the time that school was getting out and buses were being loaded at the high school. Elementary students were already on the buses but over 1,200 high students were dismissed and tried to get back into the building. According to sources, twelve buses were rolled over and students were flung like leaves into the field. Thirteen of the 24 fatalities and 300 of the 500 injuries in this tornado occurred at the high school. At 5:03, Lake Zurich and surrounding suburbs felt the effects of their own tornado where over 75 homes were completely destroyed. Moving rapidly with no warning as had been described by many residents that there was no noticeable roar until upon them. It ripped through Seth Paine Elementary School, tearing down thick brick walls but leaving clocks showing 5:05 pm.  Many people were caught in their autos as they were returning home from work. Mike Doyle has written an interesting book about the Belvidere Tornado.

But it was the Oak Lawn tornado that was on its way to my neighborhood in Calumet Park and according to meteorologists, the worst storm of the day. According to sources, at 5:15 pm. an off duty Weather Bureau employee saw a rotating cloud mass over his house in Romeoville. Windows were blow out at a restaurant at at McCarthy Road and 127th and an observer at the Little Red School House at 99th and Willow Springs Road saw a funnel.

The tornado touched down just east of 88th Avenue between 105th and 106th Streets at 5:24 p.m., 24 minutes after the tornado warning was issued for Cook County.  But it continued hitting homes and crossed the Tri-State Tollway, hitting a drive-in movie near Chicago Ridge finally moving to the heart of Oak Lawn. It was here that many homes were leveled. It was here that one of my parents best friends was hurt As we later learned, he was sitting in traffic at the intersection of 95th Street and Southwest Highway where a light pole smashed into the top of his car crushing him as he was heading to pick up his daughter at the Oaklawn Roller Rink. He did survive. The greatest total of life took place there. Between 25 and 40 automobiles, halted at this intersection for a traffic light, were thrown in all directions, some carried northeast at least a block and set down on the Oak Lawn athletic field.

The Oak Lawn Roller Rink was completely destroyed but his daughter had left early and was safe from the destruction. Four were killed at the rink.  Fortunately, as the tornado passed over the Dan Ryan Expressway and headed our way, it began to dissipate causing lighter damage to vegetation, roofs and garages. According to sources, it finally moved offshore as a waterspout at Rainbow Beach, where we swam as kids. My father summoned us out of the basement as he had watched the storm pass over from the front porch. Though the clouds were high then, he knew the damage west had been serious. At least 10 tornadoes raked northeast Illinois, three of which were violent, F4 tornadoes. In the wake of the twisters, 58 were dead, more than 1000 were injured, and there was nearly half a billion in damage costs. Kevin Korst is the Local History Manager for the Oak Lawn Public Library and the author of “Images of America: Oak Lawn” and “Images of America: Oak Lawn Tornado of 1967”.

(Original article revised and written in 2018)

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.

Chicagoland’s Hegewisch Records

Moving to Dolton from the south side of Chicago in the early 1970’s, my record collection expanded. Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s first album, Carol King’s Tapestry, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Deja vu and 64 of the Greatest Motown Hits (4 albums) and more became an obsession. As well as my shopping trips to Hegewisch Records & Tapes which was a legendary store that was located first in the Hegewisch neighborhood on the southeast side of Chicago. The store started in 1965 as a novelty shop selling sundries as well as records and music. The record and music operation moved to its Calumet City location in 1974 at 522 Torrence Ave. Other south suburban locations were in Richton Park and Merrillville, Indiana. It was founded by Joe Sotiros. And the store had everything including accessories and t-shirts. Here, you could meet a number of bands for record signings and concerts such as Elton John, Cheap Trick, Van Halen, Roger Daltry. Even the Blues Mobile from the Blue Brothers movie showed up. A dear friend who played drums for a group called Thunder got to meet Wishbone Ash, an incredible rock and blues group. It was nothing to wait in line for hours to see favorite bands and nobody complained. I will say again….no one complained since we all had something in common that we loved.

But on Friday, the 13th, September in 1991, Joseph was murdered on his ranch in Crete. He was found by friends because they had not seen him for a few days and were concerned. They contacted the police immediately. This has haunted his sister Brenda for years since no arrests have been made. The Calumet City store changed hands after his death but closed its door about a year after. The store was finally demolished to make way for a Walgreens.

In Merriville, Indiana, Hegwewisch was a staple from the mid -1980’s through the 1990’s. However, as what happened to most record shops, Circuit City and Best Buy took over with better sales and finally the shop was closed. The building was torn down as well located on Rt 30. Today, Lisa, Joe’s niece, has a Facebook site that truly honor the memories of the record shop. My daughter who is 30+ loving the music of that era, like me, has always said that the Baby Boomer’s generation of music can never be matched.

Chicagoland’s Rose Records

My first experience flipping through 45’s was traumatic. After getting my first portable record player, my Mom took me shopping in 1968 and said I could buy 3 45’s and she didn’t want to spend a whole lot of time. I picked Woman, Woman by Gary Puckett and The Union Gap, even though I loved the melody but have you got cheating on your mind for a girl in fifth grade, was not really what I was thinking about. My second choice, Bend me, Shape Any Way You Want To. But in junior high, my love for rock and roll in the late 1960’s began to expand and I couldn’t wait to buy records which included Spirit in The Sky by Norman Greenbaum, the newest in psychedelic rock. My girlfriend and I would travel downtown from the southside of Chicago on a Saturday on the Illinois Central, get off at Randolph, head over to Wimpy’s and then Rose Records on Wabash. My first album purchased at Rose was Blood, Sweat, and Tears, released in 1968. The building was two-stories later becoming Tower. The escalator was up and the elevator was down. Records were arranged by label and catalog number, and since most people didn’t have those memorized they had copies of the Schwann catalog in the bins so you could look up the numbers.

According to the Tribune, Rose Records is especially noted for its flagship store at 214 S. Wabash Ave., which Aaron Rosenbloom developed and ran from the earliest days of the firm. It is one of the world`s largest record stores, with 100,000 titles on cassettes, CDs and LPs. In 1931, he and his brother, Merrill, founded Rose Records as ”Rose Radio,” retailing Zenith, Emerson and Detrola models. They later added phonographs and records. They had an excellent collection of classical music. Early Chicago bands had entertained at the Rose such as the Smashing Pumpkins who played in 1991.

In the 1980’s, there were 49 outlets but by the early 1990’s, stores began to close because of the cut throat prices at Circuit City and Best Buy. Many of the stores opened during the chain’s expansion were in suburban malls with high traffic flow, but rents at those locations were high, and the spaces were too small for the stores to maintain the wide selection Rose was known for. When Rose moved into outlying markets like Milwaukee and Madison, where it wasn’t as well-known, it had trouble capturing a significant market share.

Today, a Rose Records exists in Germany which includes house music since 2011 but not related to the Rose of Chicago.

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.

When did all of this dyeing of the Chicago River and St. Patrick’s Day Parades begin?

Today, it is amazing how popular St. Patrick’s Day has become for little ones at school. Their major focus is trying to build traps to catch leprechauns, which I didn’t do, though my kids did at home, opening windows to grab those creatures. But for many suburban Chicago kindergarten children, several talked about taking a family fieldtrip to see the river dyed green. One girl brought pictures to show the beauty of the green Chicago River. One talked about seeing the parade with Aunt Sue. One mentioned her friend who was Irish step dancing in the parade. In the 1970’s, I also remember viewing the river one year celebrating lunch with friends in college, but we were standing closer to Union Station. In the 1990’s, I remember standing with my own little ones near the bridge by the Wrigley building; fascinated by the river as well as the pipe and drums of the bagpipe players. In 1962, the Chicago Journeyman Plumbers Union Local 130 dumped 100 pounds of the dye into the Chicago river just to have some fun. It was green for an entire week. Ever since, it has become a St. Patrick’s Day tradition; happening prior to the infamous St. Patrick’s Day parade, which became an official event in the 1950’s.

According to NPR, the green dye was originally part of the city’s effort to clean up the river’s waterfront areas, which had long been a depository for Chicago’s waste. Mayor Richard Daley had originally proposed dyeing part of Lake Michigan green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, he was persuaded by his friend Stephen M. Bailey, who was the business manager of the Chicago Plumbers Union. They used to use an oil based dye but now the dye is a powder that spreads easily. Two boats are used; one to drop the dye into the river and the other to actually steer it. Over the last 65 years, this has become such a proud tradition that other Chicago suburbs have dyed lakes or streams in their area such as Lake Katherine in Palos Heights for a St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Throughout the United States, other cities such as Tampa, Florida and cities in Texas, are following Chicago’s tradition.

According to Choose Chicago, Chicago is one of several U.S. cities that drew large numbers of Irish immigrants in the 1800s. By 1850, about one-fifth of the city’s population was Irish. What was an unofficial parade that began in 1843, became legendary and official. The parade also has a parade queen and Grand Marshal every year. The city of Chicago actually has three parades that are extremely popular. The South Side Irish Parade and the The Northwest Side Parade. Alone, this year over 100 floats and 15 bands was involved in the South Side Parade. The parades are probably some of the largest in the country.

Sambos

We moved to Dolton in 1970, living at 152nd and Chicago Road. Mom and I began going to church at Faith United Methodist, which was located at 15015 Grant Street, only a few blocks away from our new apartment. For awhile, I was involved in the church, and I became a Sunday school teacher, but it was after church services that I enjoyed the most. We headed out to 633 E Sibley Boulevard for Sunday brunch at Sambos. Many breakfasts and lunches were spent at Sambos, many days of the week, probably until 1978. I remember having the best pancakes and how much Mom loved her coffee. At one time, it was only 10 cents. I shared experiences with many friends from Thornridge as well as Thornton Community College, now South Suburban College. After a few drinks for me in later years, at night, it was time for coffee and another sobriety breakfast. Though back then, friends would also hang out at the Denny’s in Calumet City for that reason. Illinois had more than 20 locations of Sambo restaurants, including many situated in Chicago’s south and north suburbs. Downers Grove, Countryside, Arlington Heights, Bridgeview, Glenview and Elk Grove Village to name just a few.

The first restaurant opened in 1957 in Santa Barbara, California. Though the name was taken from portions of the names of its founders, Sam Battistone Sr. and Newell Bohnett, the chain soon found itself associated with The Story of Little Black Sambo. Battistone and Bohnett capitalized on this connection by decorating the walls of the restaurants with scenes from the book, including a dark-skinned boy, tigers, and a pale, magical unicycle-riding man called “The Treefriend.”The restaurant was expanded to more locations. In late 1963, it had restaurants in 16 cities—in California, Oregon, Nevada, and Arizona. By 1969, the company had grown to 98 locations. By the late 1970’s, there were 1,117 Sambo restaurants in 47 states. All have been closed for many years, though the original stayed open in 2020 but changed its name. It is owned by the grandson of Battistone and is called Chad’s now. 

The owners did not set out to create trouble, and they were successful, raking in over 380 million dollars a year when Jimmy Carter was President, but in many places, the murals on the wall did not sit well in communities that were fighting for civil rights, and the little black sambo had been considered racist even before the business opened, though they took pride in their murals. But as the late 1970’s progressed, more and more restaurants, especially in the East, were confronted with lawsuits against the name. The company renamed some locations, such as the Jolly Tiger, but it didn’t work. In March of 1981, they tried, “There is no place like Sams.” By November of 1981, they filed for Chapter 11 and continued to fail. By 1982, all but the original Sambos were sold. Several were sold to Bakers Square or Denny’s.