So intent was I to peek inside the little white house, stepping up the first step of the wooden risers, that I didn’t realize August Ekdahl was standing right there, cobbling a shoe. I let out a little gasp of startled surprise as my heart skipped a beat, then quickly realized it was just a mannequin, wondering if the children playing in the schoolyard across the way had noticed my moment of panic.
It was a cold but brilliant day, with the kind of sunshine that makes one want to be out-and-about, exploring. I was northbound through the town of Western Springs, a few destinations on my docket with a time to spare and made the impulsive decision to explore the little white house in a small park I often pass by.
As much as I love the cathedrals and museums, halls of learning, justice, and governance, I also appreciate the little framed structures of history that dot our Land of Lincoln and speak of the pioneers that settled. Many of them cleared the land and farmed, others followed with goods and trades and established towns.
August Ekdahl was a Swedish immigrant who eventually settled in what is now Western Springs. A cobbler, he built a small house and set up shop in 1887. While shoes were already being manufactured in factories in Chicago, land beyond the city limits was still open prairie. August worked in his shop, raised a family, and even shared his space with a postmistress.
I’ve been thinking a bit about these small post offices. Not only did they provide a more accessible place for people to pick up and send their mail, but, they also brought people into towns, which provided the opportunities for farmer and townsfolk to talk, share stories, exchange goods. I still look forward to trips to the post office to buy stamps and mail letters and packages, and I usually plan other errands around them, though I do it in my mocha colored VW with latte interior instead of a horse and buggy.
I also been thinking about local historical societies and the vital role they play in preserving history. There are the large, deep pocket organizations that bring about the grand scale preservations and I applaud them and the work that they do. There are also the smaller organizations; the grass-roots historians whose passion is to save the one room schoolhouses, general stores, and the homes of founding mothers and fathers. They are folks are a mighty band of preservationists who hold in their purpose the salvation of our past. The Western Springs Historical Society is one such group. I’m sure you know of others.
Back to my brief encounter with Mr. Ekdahl.
Here he is, cobbling shoes,
The August Ekdahl house is more an outdoor museum and is unique in its approach. Risers are all around the building, leading to windows from which to peer inside, with information posters on the outside walls of the building. I couldn’t help but think of what a great place it would be for an afternoon field trip with children or grandchildren, with a picnic lunch, a visit to the post office or a local shoe repair shop.